Friday, December 30, 2016

Driving While Caffeinated? California Prosecutor Pursues Outrageous Case

Yahoo reports on a bizarre prosecution taking place in California:
If you picked up a coffee this morning on your way to work you were driving in the same condition that Joseph Schwab was when he was pulled over and arrested for “driving under the influence.” Schwab, a California man who was pulled over by an agent of the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control department, is now fighting back.  
Guardian reports that Schwab was initially placed in custody after the Alcoholic Beverage Control agent claimed he was driving erratically. The 36-year-old blew a 0.00% on a breathalyzer but was taken to the country jail anyway. There he had his blood drawn, but that test came up negative for every illicit drug on the list as well as alcohol. Not satisfied that Schwab had already passed both tests, law enforcement sent his blood off to a lab in Pennsylvania for another scan. That test showed that the only thing in Schwab’s veins other than blood was caffeine. 
Despite all of this, Schwab was eventually charged — a full 10 months after he was initially pulled over and arrested — with a DUI. Now, Schwab’s lawyer, Stacey Barrett, is demanding that the case be thrown out. If the court decides to proceed, Schwab wants to see how a jury feels about the whole situation. 
The chief deputy district attorney for the county said the DUI charge was not due to the caffeine in his system, but as every other test has shown that Schwab was clean as a whistle, his lawyer insists that’s all it possibly could be. The deputy noted that the office was “conducting further investigation,” though failed to explain what that actually means.
Consider if this prosecution actually succeeds and a prohibition on driving while having coffee in one's system sweeps the country.  Imagine how many more traffic accidents there were be with half-asleep motorists behind the wheel.
I've often argued that Indiana gives prosecutors too much authority that allow them to pursue baseless charges and judges too little latitude to dismiss those charges.  I remember a few years ago when Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry prosecuted a charge against a young man for illegally possessing a gun because he had a picture of a gun (not him holding the gun, just a picture of a gun) on his phone.  The judge couldn't dismiss the charge which meant that the accused had to go through all the way to the end of the process, risking a criminal conviction, to escape the charge which he ultimately did when a bench trial ended in acquittal. 


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Indiana Democratic Party State Chairman John Zody to Seek Re-Election; State Democrats Should Ask "Why?"

News today is that Indiana State Democratic Chairman John Zody is seeking re-election.  He made the announcement today in a letter to his "Democratic Friends."

In the letter, Zody touts his accomplishments since taking over the helm of the state Democratic Party in 2013:
Our efforts in Communication have led to drastic increases in the Party’s presence on social media, formulation of a rapid response effort during each legislative session, helping train county party organizations on social media and driving a constructive narrative that not only supports candidates and talks about what we are “for”, but also strikes a strong contrast when
John Zody
necessary against political opponents.
 
On the fundraising front, your State Democratic Party has worked to support candidates at the local, state and federal levels. The Party created and implemented a full-time municipal election staff position during the 2015 election cycle that helped candidates primarily with campaign organization, but also worked to raise money to help in races across the state, where we had success. And, because of these efforts and that of our candidates and so many others, thousands more Hoosiers are living in cities led by Democratic Mayors. With your help, we have implemented absentee mail programs across the state and have had record success at our key annual fundraising events. In doing all of this, we continue to place a high priority on making sure that donors – big and small – see a return on the investment they make to our Party.
Missing from the Zody letter are any specifics regarding elected officials he helped get elected.  I guess he could tout the election of Joe Hogsett as Indianapolis Mayor in 2015, though I really doubt he had much to do with Hogsett's election which was a foregone conclusion long before Election Day.
After this past election, Indiana Democrats should be screaming for change.  Despite having an excellent shot at the Governor's race and the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Dan Coats, the Democrats came up woefully short and even lost a statewide incumbent, Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz.  Meanwhile the Republicans continue to hold supermajorities in the Indiana General Assembly and GOP candidate Donald Trump won Indiana easily despite late polls showing the possibility of a tight race.
My two cents from the right is that the Indiana Democrats need to rethink the issues they expect to win on.  Hoosier Democrats were certain that their opposition to RFRA was going to be the ticket back to power. But, perhaps not surprisingly given the conservative nature of the Hoosier electorate, favoring LGBT rights over religious freedom was not a winning message.  Being anti-RFRA scored the Democrats points with the media, but not with voters.
Indiana Democrats need to get back to issues that appeal to working men and women, not focus on social issues that excite, but does not expand, their base.  It is a lesson that the national Democrats need to learn as well.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut Passes Away

I won't be counted among his biggest fans, but former Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut certainly understand the importance of image both in scoring unprecedented political success and his tireless promotion of the city he clearly loved.  The Indianapolis Star reports on the passing of a local political icon who, more than anyone else, shaped modern day Indianapolis:
After years of battling illness, former Indianapolis Mayor William Herbert Hudnut III has died at the age of 84. 
Hudnut's family on Sunday announced that memorial services for Indianapolis’ longest-serving mayor are still being planned. Supporters will have the opportunity to attend two
public services: one in Indianapolis and one in Washington D.C. 
“On behalf of our family, I would like to thank everyone for their outpouring of love and support during this difficult time.  It was a real gift to Bill that he had an opportunity to hear how much he meant to family, friends, colleagues, and neighbors — and to the communities he served — through your notes, cards, letters, personal visits, and comments on his CaringBridge posts,” his wife, Beverly Hudnut, said in a statement. “So many wonderful people helped us in so many ways these past couple of years— and we will be eternally grateful."
In anticipation of his passing, Hudnut penned his own epitaph:
"One cannot choose how one finishes the race, only how one runs it. I would not have chosen a long, slow slide into complete heart failure, but I tried to cope with it with 'gaiety, courage and a quiet mind,' to borrow from my mother who in turn was quoting Robert Louis Stevenson .... It has often been remarked that life is a journey, not a destination. About the destination, 'I believe, Lord, help thou mine unbelief.'  I leave this earthly life at peace, with faith and trust in a future that will carry me beyond the bourne of space and time, but also with wariness of plotting the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell. 
"There is much I cannot fathom about the afterlife. Will there be recognition? What part of me, if any, survives? Forever, or just until I am forgotten? A little reverent agnosticism seems to be in order, because 'now we see through a glass darkly.' More positively, 'we walk by faith and not by sight.'"

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Indianapolis Mayor Hogsett & Task Force Offers Refreshing New Approach to Building Justice Center

The last year of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard's term was dominated by an effort to push through a proposal for a Justice Center.  The chief focus of the Ballard plan was always a "private partner" who would essentially own the $1.75 billion facility while many local government offices would rent out the facility for 35 years before owning it.   The savings up front from this private-partnership proposal would be more than offset over the course of the lease of facility.  Translation: under the Ballard proposal future taxpayers would have paid dearly for taxpayers today possibly saving a few bucks.
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett

The Ballard administration fought hard to keep the details of the Justice Center proposals from the public.  But when those details inevitably emerged, it was discovered that the savings didn't add up. Shortly after the initial proposal, the Ballard administration began to cut back to save money, cuts that would have gutted much of the benefits of a new Justice Center.  Eventually the proposal was scrapped when it failed to get council approval. The failed plan still cost Indianapolis taxpayers $16.5 million for consultants and attorneys.

This month the Indianapolis Criminal Justice Reform Task Force released a 120 page report which appears to do a much better job of recognizing the needs of the criminal justice community and accepting input from  reaching out to all players who will be affected by the project.  Mayor Hogsett appears to be supportive of the Force's recommendations.

One of my initial concerns with the Ballard proposal was the separation of criminal and civil courts into different facilities miles apart.  The fact is much of the work in criminal court cases is attending frequent status conferences which might last 5 minutes, if that.  The Ballard plan would have made it extremely difficult for small firm and sole practitioners, whose chief practice is in the civil courts, to also provide representation to criminal clients.   Attending a criminal court proceeding might only take a few minutes of an attorney's day and then he or she can go back to the law office or deal with other matters in the civil court.  If attorney has to spend an hour or so on a 5 minute criminal court matter, because of the need to travel to another facility, that attorney is going to be less inclined to take on that criminal case.

The Task Force report specifically addresses this issue and emphasizes the importance of keeping the civil and criminal courts together, particularly in a location that is close to downtown which is convenient for attorneys and others in the Indianapolis legal community.  This was not a priority of the Ballard administration, which at one time strongly considered building a new Justice Center near the old Indianapolis airport on the far west side.  While Task Force report doesn't rule out the near-downtown GM Stamping Center, the site finally settled on by the Ballard administration as the location of the Justice Center, but it indicated it was unlikely choice given the owner's changed plans on selling the property.  Ultimately, the Task Force suggests the location decision should be left to those most impacted by the decision, judges, attorneys and others who will regularly use the Justice Center.  This again is a refreshing change to the Ballard administration approach of making a decision while offering only an after-the-fact dog and pony show in which the administration pretends to take public input.

The Task Force report does a good job of addressing the need for improved inmate medical care, particularly in the mental health area.   Also, the Task Force emphasizes the need for technology to be included in the plans. Many counties, for example,  employ video feeds for initial hearings that are fairly routine.  There is no such technology available in Marion County/Indianapolis, however.  If an inmate is required at a hearing in this county, he or she has to be physically transported to the courtroom, walking in the same hallways and riding the same elevators as others who might be at the City-County Building on other, non-criminal, matters..  The frequent need to transport inmates not only increases the danger to the public, it is extraordinarily labor intensive. Technology could dramatically cut back on the need for in court appearances.

The end of the report addresses financing the facility.  The Task Force starts by recognizing the significant savings from a consolidation of government offices currently scattered throughout downtown.  Various funding mechanisms are discussed, including traditional bonding and the possibility of a public-private partnership.  While the latter is offered as an option, it doesn't appear to be an approach favored by the Task Force or Mayor Hogsett.  Let's hope that doesn't change.

I'll keep my fingers crossed on Justice Hogsett's Justice Center proposal. But the initial review looks promising.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The 2016 Presidential Election: The "Landslide" That Was Anything But

When I first heard the claim, I was stunned.   According to President-elect Trump claims, he won a "massive [electoral college] landslide victory."  Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus and the Trump transition team publicly made similar claims.


It just isn't so.  Quite the opposite in fact.  The 2016 presidential race was one of the closest races in American history.

Being a political nerd, I keep a lot of electoral information at hand.  A friend had claimed awhile back
that President Obama had won in a landslide, I developed a historical table to show that friend's claim was all wet. The elections Obama won in 2008 and 2012 actually were some of the more close presidential elections we have had.

The 2016 election was even closer than those.  Donald Trump (assuming no "faithless" electors) will receive 306 electoral votes on December 19th, while Clinton is on tract to receive 232.  Turned into percents, Trump will receive 56.9% of the electoral votes while Clinton gets 43.1%.  That 15.8% difference means the 2016 election will be the 10th closest electoral college vote of all time.  In this century, only the elections in 1916, 1960, 1976, 2000 and 2004 were closer.

If you look at key states, you will see how easily that Hillary Clinton's defeat on Election Night could have turned out to be a victory.  She lost three states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, by a total of 79,887 votes.  If just over half those votes had flipped from Trump to Clinton, Clinton would have been elected President.  Thus, the election was decided by less voters than live in Kokomo, Indiana.   Going back to percents, we are talking .031% of the 127,677,038 million cast that decided the election.

I guess the Trump "landslide" claim shouldn't come as a surprise.  Trump and his supporters tend to live in  a world in which they get to make up their own "facts."  But they are not alone.  Democrats are also making absurd claims about the "huge" popular vote victory Clinton received.  Current tallies have her leading Trump by 2.8 million votes.

I do agree that the popular vote means little in our election scheme.  I don't agree, however, with the Trumpkins claim that their candidate could have won the popular vote if he had chosen instead to campaign in highly populous, albeit heavily Democratic states like California and New York.  The fact is if the election were decided by the popular vote, Clinton also would have adjusted her strategy, which would have offset much if not all of Trump's change in tactics.

Dispensing with that argument and focusing instead on the numbers, we see that Clinton won the popular vote 48.07% to 45.99%.  That is a difference of 2.08%, making the 2016 election the 9th closest popular vote race in history.

To recap the 2016 Presidential election featured the 10th closest electoral college vote in history with the 9th closest popular vote margin.   Certainly not a "landslide."

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Russians Hacked Republican Emails Too But Chose Not to Leak Them

The New York Times reports:
WASHINGTON — American intelligence agencies have concluded with “high confidence” that Russia acted covertly in the latter stages of the presidential campaign to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances and promote Donald J. Trump, according to senior administration officials.
Russian President Vladimir Putin

They based that conclusion, in part, on another finding — which they say was also reached with high confidence — that the Russians hacked the Republican National Committee’s computer systems in addition to their attacks on Democratic organizations, but did not release whatever information they gleaned from the Republican networks.

In the months before the election, it was largely documents from Democratic Party systems that were leaked to the public. Intelligence agencies have concluded that the Russians gave the Democrats’ documents to WikiLeaks.
...
It is possible that in hacking into the Republican committee, Russian agents were simply hedging their bets. The attack took place in the spring, the senior officials said, about the same time that a group of hackers believed to be linked to the G.R.U., Russia’s military intelligence agency, stole the emails of senior officials of the Democratic National Committee. Intelligence agencies believe that the Republican committee hack was carried out by the same Russians who penetrated the Democratic committee and other Democratic groups. 
 The finding about the Republican committee is expected to be included in a detailed report of “lessons learned” that Mr. Obama has ordered intelligence agencies to assemble before he leaves office on Jan. 20. That report is intended, in part, to create a comprehensive history of the Russian effort to influence the election, and to solidify the intelligence findings before Mr. Trump is sworn in. 
...
 The New York Times article goes on to provides details on the DNC hacking:
 Intelligence officials and private cybersecurity companies believe that the Democratic National Committee was hacked by two different Russian cyberunits. One, called “Cozy Bear” or “A.P.T. 29” by some Western security experts, is believed to have spent months inside the D.N.C. computer network, as well as other government and political institutions, but never made public any of the documents it took. (A.P.T. stands for “Advanced Persistent Threat,” which usually describes a sophisticated state-sponsored cyberintruder.)
 The other, the G.R.U.-controlled unit known as “Fancy Bear,” or “A.P.T. 28,” is believed to have created two outlets on the internet, Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks, to make Democratic documents public. Many of the documents were also provided to WikiLeaks, which released them over many weeks before the Nov. 8 election.
Unfortunately, I doubt the intelligence agencies' review ordered by President Obama will include a comparison of the paper ballots in Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois versus the computer tallies in those states. Computer hackers have shown how easy it is to insert malicious code into a computer software program and flip a number of votes to change an outcome. Did it happen in 2016? Highly unlikely. But those of us concerned about the integrity of the ballot should always welcome review of the paper trail in states and localities that use computer generated tallies sans any sort of review to ensure those tallies reflect actual votes cast.

While some Republicans unbelievably welcome foreign interference with an American election to get a result - the defeat of Hillary Clinton - they wanted, several Congressional Republicans, include Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) recognize the extraordinary danger of such interference and have joined Democrats in calling for hearings into the Russian role in the 2016 election.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Zionsville School Board Approves Drug Testing of Students Involved in Extra-Curricular Activities

This story flew under the radar last week as I worked on other things.  I do not agree with the notion of a public school drug testing anyone, even children, without even a hint of drug use.  People should not have to prove themselves innocent.   Further, I do not understand why students involved in extra-curricular activities are being singled out.  If anything, it is the ones who are not involved in those activities who are more likely to be drug users.  The Indianapolis Star reports:

After years of delays, rising tensions and hours of discussion, a proposal to randomly drug-test Zionsville High School students was approved Monday night.
The Zionsville School Board voted 3-2 in favor of the new policy which requires any students who elect to participate in extra-curricular activities or park on school property to consent to random drug tests.
Students who fail a drug test will be required to enter and complete a drug counseling program.
The approved plan is a variation of one supported years ago by the Zionsville Student Rights Union. They also proposed that only students who park or participate in after-school programs be tested, but the union plan wanted students to face no consequences at school, and for positive results to only be reported to parents.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Indiana Taxpayers to Pay Dearly to Save 800 Carrier Jobs, While Company Still Sends 1300 to Mexico

Donald Trump held a rally in Indianapolis today to take a victory lap, a celebration of a deal he and Vice President-Elect and current Indiana Governor Mike Pence reached to keep Carrier from moving its operations from Indianapolis to Mexico.  Trump claims that the deal shows there will be
consequences for other companies that try to move operations overseas.  If you redefine "consequences" as large taxpayer handouts, Trump appears to have a point.  

The 10 year deal to keep Carrier in Indianapolis will cost Hoosier taxpayers $7 million.  While saving 800 jobs in Indianapolis, Carrier still plans to move 600 of those 1,400 Indianapolis jobs to Mexico.  Add to that another 700 jobs at a separate Huntington, Indiana plant that is relocating to Mexico and Indiana is still losing 1300 Carrier jobs to Mexico at the same time the company is receiving a big pile of taxpayer money.

Although Candidate Trump threatened "the stick" of a special tariff against particular companies that move operations to other countries and then sell goods back to the U.S., the fact is as President he can't legally do that.  So instead President-Elect Trump resorted to good old fashioned bribery.

There is a name for the Trump-Carrier deal.  It is called corporate welfare, i.e. crony capitalism.   Government should ever be in the business of picking winners and losers in a capitalist system. To do so is a distortion of the free market which hurts consumers and ultimately workers.  Further, the Carrier deal tells the CEO of every company that the government will give them money to stay in the United States if they threaten to outsource jobs.  The Carrier deal sets a horrible precedent that will cost American taxpayers dearly in the years to come.  It is not to be celebrated.