Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Remembering Robin Williams

Posted By on Tue, Aug 12, 2014 at 12:13 PM

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The one time I met actor and comedian Robin Williams, it wasn’t the brilliance of his performance that impressed me.

It was the quality of his friendship.

I met him, briefly, in New York some years ago. I was there to attend a fundraiser for the Christopher Reeve Foundation.

Reeve and his wife, Dana, shared birthdays with the actors Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, as well as newswoman Barbara Walters. They all decided to have a high-ticket birthday party together – and donate the proceeds to spinal cord injury research.

I rode the escalator up with movie actor Aidan Quinn, a moment that doubtless imprinted itself more deeply in my memory than it did his. It was truly a star-studded event.

None shown more brightly than Williams, who provided the evening’s entertainment.

He and Reeve met in college, roomed together for a while and had remained close friends ever since. When Reeve suffered an injury while horseback riding that left him a quadriplegic, Williams was one of the first people to visit him in the hospital. He came in demanding, humorously, to be part of the medical team. Reeve wrote later that was the moment he knew he would be able to go on.

That night, Williams dazzled.

He did a routine that was partially scripted and partially improvised, one filled with lightning shifts from one deftly crafted character bit to another and quicksilver observational pieces. As I watched him, I was stunned that anyone could have a mind that agile and insights that penetrating.

After the show was over, I wandered up to the front of the big room. People crowded around Williams. All of us wanted to do the same thing: Tell him how much we enjoyed his performance. He moved around from person to person, accepting the compliments graciously. He thanked each of us supporting spinal cord injury research.

And his friend Chris.

All the while he was talking with others, he kept glancing over in Reeve’s direction solicitously, trying to make sure his friend was all right.

At one point in the evening, Williams huddled with both Reeves. Williams and Dana leaned over Reeve’s wheelchair, talking and laughing, the intimacy of their body language that of people who love each other.

Reeve died in 2004. His wife, Dana, passed away a little more than a year and a half later.

And now Williams is gone, likely by his own hand.

He apparently had battled depression for the past year and had fought with addiction and other demons for many years. In that way, he was like so many other people.

The tributes that flowed following news of Williams’ death focused on the wizardry of his stand-up routines and the energetic versatility of his acting. They listed one great performance after another, a series of moments in which he touched audiences.

All of those are memorable, but, in the days following his death, I find myself thinking of that moment at the Reeve dinner, when Williams leaned close in with his good friend and his good friend’s wife, his every movement and gesture demonstrating love, support and concern.

And I hope that someone somewhere somehow now is trying to show Robin Williams the same kind of friendship.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Kids counting on us to address inequality

Posted By on Thu, Aug 7, 2014 at 4:00 AM

COURTESY OF TOBAN BLACK VIA FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS
  • Courtesy of Toban Black via Flickr Creative Commons


By Andrew Bradley

More than one in five Hoosier children are stuck living in poverty, and they need Indiana's policymakers to tackle innovative policy solutions to help secure their future. Data recently released by Kids Count and the Indiana Youth Institute reveal that the poverty rate for Indiana's children has worsened over the past decade, jeopardizing the economic well-being not just for today's kids, but also the social and economic future of our state. But poverty doesn't have to be a forgone conclusion for Hoosier families: by implementing "two-generation" policies that do double duty by helping parents put themselves on the pathway to economic success while simultaneously putting kids on the path to educational and personal success, Indiana can turn around a decade lost to economic decline.

While the Kids Count data book has some bright spots for Indiana children, including gains in health coverage and educational attainment, the worsening economic trends show where Indiana's policymakers' attention needs to turn. The data finds that as of 2012, 22.1% (350,000) of Indiana's children were living below 100% of Federal Poverty Guidelines (FPG), down 0.5% from a year ago, but up dramatically from just 15.7% in 2004. The rate of child poverty has worsened even since the recession ended in 2009, when 19.9% of Hoosier kids lived in poverty. The Kids Count data also suggests that the lack of economic security of Indiana's kids' parents and communities endangers the whole family. A full 30% of Indiana's children have parents that lack secure employment, up from 28% in 2008. Perhaps most disturbing is the increase of Hoosier children living in areas of concentrated poverty, up almost four-fold from only 3% (48,000 kids) in 2000 to 11% (182,000 kids) in 2012.

Sadly, these figures only confirm the research that we at the Indiana Institute for Working Families have been reporting: our working families have suffered a 'lost decade' economically, made worse by a policy climate inhospitable to low-income Hoosier families. According to our 'Status of Working Families in Indiana 2012' report, Indiana has seen a 30% increase in child poverty since 2007, the 8th largest increase in the U.S. and greater than that of all our neighbors in that period except Michigan. Beyond the narrow federal measure of poverty, we know that 38.7% of Hoosier children live in low-income families (that is, those below 200% FPG), ranking 32nd in the nation. These are working families, too: 72.8% of Indiana's low-income families already work, with low-wage jobs only on the rise. In fact, 41.5% of Indiana's children under 13 from working families were living below 200% of the poverty line in 2012, ranking 33rd in the nation according to Working Poor Families Project data.

It would be negligent (not to mention na•ve) for Indiana's policymakers and advocates to pin their hopes solely on the educational gains of children and rely on Hoosier kids to grow up to solve the state's deep-rooted problems of poverty on their own. That's because when children grow up poor, the effects of poverty often don't melt away even under the best of circumstances. According to a study by the Urban Institute, "persistent poverty among children is of particular concern, as the cumulative effect of being poor may lead to especially negative outcomes and limited opportunities." The stark truth is that after a decade of growing child poverty, Indiana's policymakers and advocates commit malfeasance by avoiding serious attempts to alleviate the economy's impact on low-income families.

However, Indiana's policymakers have a history of taking two steps back for every step forward on child poverty. This year, the Institute included as part of our 2014 policy agenda a proposal to smooth out the 'Cliff Effect' that happens when a $0.50 bump in income leads to the loss of up to $8,500 in quality child care benefits. This low-cost proposal was introduced as a bill during the recent session of the General Assembly, but it didn't go far in the Statehouse. Indiana also currently has the potential to take a step forward with a pilot program that could lead to universal pre-kindergarten. But the state would take at least two steps back if it follows through with the idea of "obtaining a Head Start and a Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF) block grant to fund prekindergarten or early learning education programs in Indiana", which would in effect take from the futures of infants and toddlers in order to fund a program for 4 year olds.

To reverse the trend of inadequate policies, Indiana must intentionally invest where its needs are the greatest: in the economic well-being of both Indiana's kids and their families. To see permanent improvement in Indiana's stubborn child poverty problem, the state should purposefully seek to implement "two-generation solutions" that help the whole family by giving an economic boost to low-income parents while providing the foundation of future success for their kids. While the term isn't new, advocates including the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Aspen Institute are now championing state-based two-generation policies that focus on adult-focused systems that serve low-income parents and children. Many of the strategies dovetail with initiatives that Indiana has already begun to explore, and have the potential to benefit parents by helping them develop marketable education and skills while also improving kids' chances at success by providing a more secure and stable home environment. Here are a few examples:

* Provide education & training to both generations at once: parents are better able to earn high-quality degrees and credentials (which would help Indiana reach its 'Big Goal') when children have access to high-quality childcare and families are supported with wraparound services. An example is CareerAdvance in Tulsa (described in this brief by CLASP), which provides skills training for parents leading to a degree in health sciences while simultaneously connecting to child care, transportation, and links to services such as HeadStart that provide "intensive parenting support".

* Multiply the impact of workforce development: combine the Indiana Career Council's new Sector Strategies Taskforce with the current momentum of early childhood education in the state. According to the Aspen Institute, the "combination of high quality early childhood education (preschool through 3rd grade) with sectoral job training leading to high skill/high wage employment, supplemented by wrap-around family and peer support services, will lead to long-term academic and economic success for low income families".

* Expand access to financial literacy and assets for all members of the family: policies that unlock economic opportunity and financial literacy are more powerful when they impact every family member. Indiana's federal representatives should support child savings accounts and financial education for low-income students, while simultaneously removing asset limits and encouraging prize-linked savings for parents, all key parts of Indiana's Assets & Opportunity Network agenda. Meanwhile, Indiana should be careful to protect existing policies such as the state's Earned Income Tax Credit against attempts at 'simplification' that would strip away important tools with little in return for working families.

This is just the tip of the iceberg: Indiana's policymakers and advocates can immerse themselves in a whole arsenal of research studies and policy proposals that provide options for customized state-based two-generation solutions. Beyond that, stakeholders should stay tuned in late 2014 for the most up-to-date data and policy recommendations from the Institute's upcoming 'Status of Working Families in Indiana' report. Armed with the data of Indiana's decade-long, untreated crisis of child poverty and a full toolbox of two-generation solutions, the state has no excuse not to make progress towards reducing the poverty rate of Hoosier children and their families in 2015.

Andrew Bradley is a senior policy analyst at the Indiana Institute for Working Families — a program of the Indiana Community Action Association (INCAA) — The IIWA conducts research and promotes public policies to help Hoosier families achieve and maintain economic self-sufficiency.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

3 strikes for suit against clean power plan

Posted By on Tue, Aug 5, 2014 at 12:00 PM

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At the end of a week of hearings where thousands of Americans showed their support for the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed limits on dangerous carbon pollution from the nation's power plants, 12 state attorneys-general filed a far-fetched lawsuit against the agency. The AGs will have to be satisfied with a little filing-day publicity, because that's all their suit, West Virginia v. US EPA, is going to get them.

The AGs' lawsuit has at least three fatal defects that will cause the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to dismiss it in the judicial equivalent of a heartbeat. Let's look at them one by one.

Too Early

The first defect in the AGs' lawsuit is that they have sued before EPA has issued the final standards, which are not due until June 1, 2015, under the schedule set by President Obama in his Climate Action Planand his accompanying memo on power plants. It is well-settled law that the courts review only final actions. They don't review proposals.

We've seen this movie before. In 2012, a handful of would-be coal-plant developers attacked EPA's proposed standards for new plants. The Court of Appeals dismissed the case, Las Brisas Energy Center v. EPA, in a one-paragraph order, succinctly ruling: "The challenged proposed rule is not final agency action subject to judicial review."

Too Late

The AGs know the pickle they'd be in if they openly challenged another proposal, and so they have styled their lawsuit as a challenge to a 2011settlement agreement in a case called New York v. EPA. But there are three problems here: First, the settlement is a red herring, because its deadlines passed unmet years ago; what governs now is a schedule established by the President. Second, a settlement agreement is even less a final action than a proposed rule. And third, even if it were final action, the AGs' challenge to it comes way too late.

Some background: In 2006, New York and others (including NRDC) challenged the Bush-era EPA's refusal to curb power plant carbon pollution under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act. The Court of Appeals put theNew York case on ice while the Supreme Court considered a similar case concerning carbon pollution from motor vehicles. In its landmark decision, Massachusetts v. EPA, 549 US 497 (2007), the Supreme Court held that carbon dioxide is indeed an air pollutant subject to curbs under the Clean Air Act. The Court of Appeals then sent both cases back to EPA for new decisions.

EPA moved forward on vehicles under the Obama administration, but did nothing on power plants. So in 2010, New York and the other petitioners told EPA they'd go back to the Court of Appeals if the agency did not act. Rather than face the unwelcome task of explaining its continued inaction to the court, EPA agreed to a schedule for proposing and taking final action on both new and existing power plants under Section 111(b) and (d).

Subsequently, the settlement faded away into historical irrelevance. EPA failed to meet its deadlines, even after several agreed extensions. The petitioners did not invoke their only remedy, to go back to court in the originalNew York case. As noted already, EPA is acting now on a schedule set by the President.

But even if the settlement agreement were behind EPA's current actions, it would be far too late for the AGs to challenge it. The AGs had their chance to object when EPA published the proposed settlement in theFederal Register in December 2010. Section 113(g) of the Act required publication of the proposed settlement and gave any member of the public at least 30 days to argue to EPA or the court that it would be "inappropriate, improper, inadequate, or inconsistent" with any requirements of the Clean Air Act. This is when the AGs could have stepped in. But they didn't show up. It's too late now to challenge the settlement.

(Footnote for those who want to chase rabbits down rabbit holes: The AGs claim that an exception allows them to raise their objections far after the proper time. But the exception doesn't remotely apply. For one thing, the exception is found in another section of the law pertaining to challenges tofinalactions. A settlement on a schedule for future rulemaking is even farther from a final action than a proposed rule. So the exception that sometimes allows late challenges to final actions creates no basis for a late hit on a settlement agreement. In any event, the late-hit exception requires something utterly missing here: the late challenger has to show that he couldn't have raised his objection when the alleged final action (here, the settlement agreement) took place, and that something haschangedthat creates a grievance he could not have raised earlier. The AGs claim that "something" was EPA's issuance of mercury standards under Section 112 in 2012, which they now claim bars EPA from regulating carbon pollution under Section 111(d). But the mercury standards were no surprise. Everyone knew they were coming when the Section 111 settlement agreement was open for public review. The AGs said nothing.)

Too Lame

It comes down to this lame argument: The AGs claim the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments prohibit EPA from regulating existing power plants'carbon dioxide emissions under Section 111(d) because EPA has regulated existing power plants'mercury emissions under Section 112. As my colleague Ben Longstreth and I have shown, this is just grasping at straws. No court is going to buy the argument that regulating power plants' hazardous emissions extinguished EPA's authority to curb their carbon pollution. In fact, the Supreme Court has already determined that EPA may regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants in American Electric Power v. Connecticut, 131 S. Ct. 2527 (2011).

You can find the full response to the AGs' argument here. To summarize, everyone agrees that Congress wrote Section 111(d) in 1970 to fill a gap. It provides authority to curb existing sources' emissions of any dangerous pollutants that are not covered by two other provisions – Section 110 (covering six "criteria" air pollutants, such as those that form soot and smog) and Section 112 (covering "hazardous air pollutants," such as those that cause cancer). The wise drafters of the Clean Air Act foresaw that existing industrial sources would emit air pollutants that endanger public health and welfare, but that did not fall under those two sections. Thus, Section 111(d) directed the Administrator to "establish emission standards for any existing source for any air pollutant (i) . . . which is not included on a list published under section 108(a) or 112(b)(1)(A) but (ii) to which a standard of performance under subsection (b) would apply if such existing source were a new source."

In 1990 Congress made extensive changes to the hazardous air pollution section and, in the process, deleted the specific subsection that the pre-1990 Section 111(d) had referenced (Section 112(b)(1)(A)). To fix this, the drafters in the House and Senate each made conforming amendments to Section 111(d) so that it no longer referred to the deleted portion of the hazardous air pollutant section.

Here's where things get a bit unusual. Normally, the House and Senate conferees reconcile the different versions into one final bill. In this case, the conferees inadvertently includedbothof the duplicative amendments at different pages of the final statute, Pub. L. 101-549. Only the House version appears in the U.S. Code, the reference book of convenience for our federal statutes. But the Supreme Court has made clear that it is the Statutes at Large, not the U.S. Code, that govern. U.S. Nat'l Bank of Oregon v. Independent Ins. Agents of Am., 508 U.S. 439, 488 (1993). Soboth provisions are the law of the land.

Andfairly read, each one focuses on the pollutant. Each one says that if a pollutant from existing industrial sources endangers health or welfare, but is not covered by Section 110 or Section 112, then Section 111(d) is there to fill the gap.

Even if one could read the House provision, standing alone, the way the AGs would wish, then it would conflict with the Senate provision, and both are in the final law. If they genuinely conflicted, the law would be ambiguous, and under the Supreme Court's governing case,Chevron v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837 (1984), it would be EPA's job to adopt a reasonable interpretation. This EPA has already done, holding that carbon pollution standards under Section 111(d) are not blocked by the mercury standard under Section 112.

The D.C. Circuit will not buy the AGs' lame 111/112 argument, even when it comes before the court in a proper case brought after EPA issues final carbon pollution standards. And neither will the Supreme Court.

***

In short, the AGs are too early, too late, and too lame. It's too early to bring a proper case against the standards. It's too late to object to the settlement agreement (which is moot anyway). And their central argument about Section 111 and 112 hasn't a chance of succeeding.

But they did get a little press coverage. . .

David Doniger is the director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate and Clean Air Program. He rejoined NRDC in March 2001 after serving for eight years in the Clinton administration, including as director of climate change policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This is first stint at NRDC, which began in 1978, Doniger worked on clean air issues for 14 years, helping to win the Montreal Protocol to stop depletion of the ozone layer and the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990. Now he works on efforts to cut the pollution that causes global warming in the U.S., and to reach agreement on global emission cuts.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

Reduced hours for all or layoffs for a few?

Posted By on Mon, Aug 4, 2014 at 4:00 AM

By Maryann O. Keating Indiana Policy Review

At dinner, the four year old reported that her nursery school classmate, Billy, had a bad day and acted mean. When asked what the teacher did, the four year old replied wide-eyed, “She took away Billy’s job.” Most of us can empathize with Billy’s symbolic loss of group identity. However, adult unemployment generally is beyond personal control and represents as well a loss of income in addition to emotional grief.

In the U.S., most employed workers in good standing are eligible for unemployment compensation on being laid off. If actively seeking and willing to accept another position, they receive partial wage compensation to tide their families over a temporary loss of income.

Eligibility and compensation vary by state. For example, 43 percent of those unemployed in Hawaii in 2011 were receiving benefits averaging $416 weekly, but in Mississippi only 27 percent of those unemployed received benefits averaging $190.

Unemployment compensation (UC), a federal-state partnership, is funded almost totally by employers. At the federal level, the overall UC program is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor and each state maintains its own unemployment insurance agency; in Indiana it is the Department of Workplace Development. Generally, benefits to those eligible are paid up to 26 weeks. In periods of high and rising unemployment, “extended benefits” may be paid for 13 to 46 additional weeks. During the Great Recession of 2008, benefits in some states were extended to 99 weeks. Unemployment compensation is a federal entitlement and each state is required to pay claims from its fund balances.

Currently, employers are required yearly to pay federal unemployment taxes (referred to as FUTA) of 6 percent on the first $7,000 earned by each of their employees.

Employers can take a credit up to 5.4 percent of this amount if they fully comply with their state unemployment taxes. FUTA taxes are used to cover the costs of administering unemployment compensation programs in all states and pay one-half of the cost of extended unemployment benefits (during periods of high unemployment). From this Federal Unemployment Account, states borrow, if necessary, to pay claims for unemployed residents.

Indiana began borrowing from the FUTA fund in November 2008 and presently has an outstanding loan balance. Because of outstanding loans, Indiana, along with two other states in 2010 and 19 others in 2011 are referred to as credit-reduction states. As such, employers in those states are required to increase federal unemployment tax contributions to repay loans and restore funds earmarked for that state.

Following the 2008 recession, many workers exhausted their unemployment benefits and others dropped out of the labor force completely. In response, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012 proposed a policy aimed at helping employers retain skilled workers and employees retain their jobs with partly recompensed benefits during economic turndowns. This policy proposal is referred to as short-time compensation or work sharing.

In such a Work Share program, employers reduce the hours and wages of all workers in a particular group. All impacted workers are entitled to supplement their reduced paychecks with unemployment compensation. Work Share contrasts with completely laying off individual members of a particular work group. The 2012 Act offered federal revenue for a limited time to states to implement the program and educate employers about the program.

Indiana missed the deadline for receiving about $2 million in federal dollars to initiate the program but retains the opportunity to reconsider Work Share during this next legislative schedule. The Act also provides 100 percent federal reimbursement for Short Time compensation costs for up to 156 weeks (three years). The Center for Economic and Policy Research estimated that Indiana could have saved more than $17.1 over three years by adopting the program and substituting federal revenue for state unemployment costs.

So, should Hoosiers attempt to get the Work Share measure passed in the General Assembly?

The Indiana Institute for Working Families and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce are reported to be proponents. The Department of Workplace Development opposed.

Immediately, the implementation of the program raises questions. Is this an attempt by government to disguise unemployment? Should we be concerned about an increase in the number of households dependent on government income? Does it signify more federal involvement in workplace hiring decisions? Will it add to the national debt by introducing general tax revenue into a program essentially funded by employers? How much discretion do firms have in deciding how to implement the policy? Would the program affect economic growth by reducing the flexibility of employers and employees in adapting to long-term economic and technological changes?

Highlights of the Department of Labor guidelines indicate that before a request for short-time compensation is considered for government approval there must be a needed 10-percent workweek reduction for the affected unit. Employers cannot have significantly reduced the workforce during the preceding four months and must demonstrate need for reducing work hours in terms of the existing program. Employees would not be required to conduct a job search to receive pro-rated benefits, and employers must continue to provide full health and retirement benefits to all affected workers. If the workforce is unionized, the union must give consent to the request.

The goal of the Work Share proposal appears to address economic turndowns of relatively short duration. It does not attempt to deal with negative social effects associated with long-term unemployment. What happens when years after a recession ends, businesses of all sizes are slow to restore full-time status to workers?

A better program might be to allow businesses to focus on expansion and job creation, rather than jumping through the compliance hassles associated with more complicated unemployment compensation regulations.

Existing unemployment compensation policy is far from perfect, and we have no sure way of knowing the unintended consequences of this new Time Share proposal. We do know that unemployment is quite painful — even for four year olds having a bad day.

Maryann O. Keating, Ph.D., a resident of South Bend and an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is co-author of “Microeconomics for Public Managers,” Wiley/Blackwell, 2009.

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Friday, August 1, 2014

Pious leadership shows its true colors

Posted By on Fri, Aug 1, 2014 at 2:00 PM

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When I wrote in this space last week about Indiana’s conspicuous indifference to the plight of the border children, I didn’t consider the possibility that private households could and might take up the noble task that government was performing in Massachusetts and shunning here.

So, I’ve been surprised to see that more than 200 of the refugee kids have been placed with Hoosier sponsors.

I’ve not been surprised by the peevish, partisan, pandering response from our GOP leadership.

First State Sen. Brent Steele chides the feds for not warning Indiana officialdom this horde of foreigners was being “dumped” on our holy soil.

The Gov. Mike Pence tells them to go back where they came from.

Which, for many, is roughly equivalent to saying “Go to hell.”

After dispatching a stern letter to President Barack Obama as to the unfairness of burdening Indiana with the (speculative) cost of educating all these parasites, Pence demanded they be deported and that he be notified if any others show up.

Not that he didn’t feel “deep compassion for these children,” mind you.

Now, let’s grant that failure to give a state a heads-up that it is about to become part of a headline-making humanitarian crisis is a sin of omission. But let’s also agree that it is a venial transgression at worst, considering the numbers involved and the potential degree of state government involvement in these kids’ welfare, if any.

Small grievances, small men. Where Pence and Steele and their peers of both political parties see a problem — and somebody else’s problem — other Americans great and ordinary see innocent young victims of violence and poverty who are ours because they are here. Yes, bureaucratic and political and logistical sorting-out must be undertaken; but for God’s sake, where is the simple Christianity these powerful conservatives profess at every wink of the camera? Must Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts play the role of Good Samaritan, East Coast liberal foreigner stopping to help the wretch the righteous ones leave to the devil?

“I was a stranger, and you took me in. What were you thinking?”

It’s just so wearisome. The poor, the weak, the marginalized, the ones who most need help from the pious keepers of the Statehouse are the least likely to become a priority. Indeed, keeping their grimy hands out of the treasury to which the well-heeled have virtually unquestioned access is a proud goal of “fiscally responsible government.”

Sometimes, real money is at stake. Inner-city schools and city services may be hurting, but the business lobbies like tax cuts.

Sometimes, it’s ideology trumping practicality and common sense.

Spurning the gift of Medicaid expansion, a federal windfall even other Republican states have accepted on behalf of their low-income constituents, is a textbook example. Making a public show of protest over acts of charity toward desperate children, rather than thanking the people who stepped up, is a poetic one.

Just once I wish these guys would amaze me and toss their script. And I’ll tell you something else: Next time one of my rightwing kibitzers challenges my side to personally care for the downtrodden for whom our hearts bleed, I’ll say here, we did it, and the good deed got duly punished.

Dan Carpenter is a freelance writer, a contributor to Indianapolis Business Journal and the author of “Indiana Out Loud.”

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Phoenix: Rising from the Ashes of Abuse

Posted By on Wed, Jul 30, 2014 at 4:00 AM

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I sat on the edge of her bed, held her hand and took a deep breath, preparing for the worst. She played the audio file on her cell phone.

Her long-time boyfriend's voice echoed in my ears as he hurled insults and obscenities at her like steak knives into a wall. His words stung me as if I was standing with them that night, an invisible third party to abuse I was never meant to see or hear.

I heard his fists violating her flesh. I heard her teary pleas to him, to God, to anyone begging for the physical assault to end. The sound abruptly ended just after. She had an old-model phone and only so many seconds of hell could be documented at a time.

Her hands — one wrapped in mine, the other barely cradling the evidence of her abuse — were weathered and pale. Her long, fiery hair fell around her hunched shoulders, shielding blackened bruises and tears from open view. I never knew brokenness, bravery and beauty to co-exist with such brilliance.

With the help of less than a dozen strangers, she parted ways with her abuser and embarked on a dangerous but hopeful journey to justice, restoration and safety.

That night, I found myself on the bathroom floor, allowing in every emotion I stifled in her presence. I cried for her. She was just one woman, and yet she was every person who found abuse where love, trust, and safety should have been. She was me. I prayed I would never see her again, that her absence from my life would mean she defied the odds stacked against her and flourished like the phoenix she was.

Still, the statistics haunted me:

One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.

Nearly 60 percent of black girls have experienced sexual abuse before age 18. One in six boys will be sexually abused by age 18.

17.3 percent of Indiana high school girls have been raped or sexually assaulted.

Reflecting back on the rise of the phoenix I'd gone to assist earlier in the day, I realized that while I was supposed to be strong for this woman, she was the strongest person in the house.

This woman, the phoenix, changed my entire trajectory in a brief few moments. She destroyed the inklings of my savior complex. She taught me the role of the victim advocate is not one of rescue missions, but of reciprocity. We held each other together, when we both would rather fall apart.

Behind each horrifying statistic are living, breathing people. Each time I stand in front of an Indiana high school health class of 30-some teenage girls, I wonder how many of them have been violated by a person they knew and loved. I try to reconcile the fact that a fourth of them may suffer domestic abuse.

Dismantling patriarchy, the origin of gender-based abuse, requires far more than basic victim outreach services. The harsh realities of abuse make reactionary programs, those that assist people who have already been affected, necessary. But how do we heal and grow from the damage that patriarchy has already done and prevent continuous cycles of abuse?

To transcend patriarchal ideology, we need proactive approached to gender inequity.

Today, I do not know what happened to the woman who changed my life. I hope she is well. I hope she is as free as the bird I imagined her to be. I wish I could thank her.

I have a new mantra now: May we burn down the pillars of patriarchy and rise from the ashes, loved, safe and restored. n

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Suffer the children

Posted By on Fri, Jul 25, 2014 at 4:00 AM

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Massachusetts welcomes the border children, at least its fair share of them. Texas calls out the National Guard to turn back their “invasion.” And Indiana, which has grown its own immigration laws in defiance of the federal government, goes all Switzerland in the face of a historic life-and-death crisis of conscience.

Who would have bet otherwise? Massachusetts children are better-schooled, better-fed and better-doctored than those in red states, and Gov. Deval Patrick must have felt the public was with him when he made the controversial choice to reach out to children desperate enough to risk their lives to reach harbor in a country they knew to be no sure thing. Children who are regarded first and foremost by President Barack Obama and his opportunistic adversaries alike as a problem.

What they are at worst, some 60,000 of them “invading” a rich country of 300-plus million, is an inconvenience. What their own lives are is a continuum of violence, fear and foregone dreams that cannot be written off to tough luck by any citizen of the United States with a heart and brain.

And with a genuine commitment to the Scriptures that are proclaimed so freely in the red states.

“I believe that we will one day have to answer for our actions and our inactions,” Patrick said of his offer. “My faith teaches that if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him but rather love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

The governor, a Protestant, had stronger language as well to bring to bear, his words hauntingly ecumenical.

“My inclination is to remember what happened when a shipful of Jewish children tried to come to the United States in 1939 and the United States turned them away, and many of them went to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps,” he said. “I think we are a bigger-hearted people than that as Americans, and certainly as residents of Massachusetts.”

Overstated? OK, but by how much? If violence and destitution in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador were not at depths below human tolerance, parents would not be sending their children off alone on a journey they might not survive to a destination that promises nothing. Regardless of the political complexities that make receiving them problematic, the country where they land hungry and frightened must make their welfare a national cause.

And “cause” has another important meaning. Loath as is any American politician, even a Deval Patrick or a Barack Obama, to raise the specter of the Empire of the North, it is not as though we are exempt from the strife and poverty that drive flight from neighbor nations.

We buy the dope that enriches and empowers the gangs. We sell them their guns. And at a deeper, more pervasive level, we have helped mightily to shape and misshape the economies that fail to provide the essentials for people to stay put. Go home? Undocumented immigrants would love to. It’s not all our fault that home is not an option, but Latin Americans were not shouting “Yanqui go home” all those decades just because we were the wrong color or talked funny. And it’s certainly not their fault that deindustrialization and outsourcing have crippled our own economy.

History’s never been the strong suit of American voters, and politicians are more than content to work with that. The Middle East, a topic for another day, is evidence enough. But even a little history shouldn’t be necessary for Americans and their leaders of all stripes to go all Massachusetts and put their immense resources behind the safety and humane disposition of these faces of the future of the Americas. Countries around the world with a bare fraction of our wherewithal have taken in vastly greater numbers of refugees. We can meet this challenge; and perhaps set a brand-new and productive tone to the larger immigration debate in the process.

Dan Carpenter is a freelance writer, a contributor to Indianapolis Business Journal and the author of “Indiana Out Loud.”

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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Bigger government (building) needed

Posted By on Thu, Jul 24, 2014 at 4:00 AM

Shortly after I arrived at the Statehouse nearly two decades ago, lawmakers revived talks about constructing a new government building north of the Statehouse where there’s now a parking lot.

It never happened. But the need hasn’t gone away.

Lawmakers still work in cramped cubicles tucked in tough-to-reach spaces. And many of the state’s appellate court judges work in offices rented by the state, while other court functions are spread across private buildings.

But most importantly, the building doesn’t serve the public well.

Legislative committee rooms remain undersized and often incapable of handling the crowds that come to testify on bills. And school kids and other groups who come to the Statehouse have no space to organize or greet a tour guide or just stash their coats.

Of course, constructing a new government building is not cheap. When lawmakers debated the issue some 15 years ago, they envisioned a building that would have cost roughly $200 million. If the state borrowed that cash, it would likely make payments of about $16 million annually for 20 years.

The original buildings plans would have created enough space for judges, lawmakers and extra parking. That would have freed up space in the Statehouse for expanded offices and committee rooms.

There’s no doubt that same building would cost even more today. And for many Hoosiers, that would likely be a waste of government money. After all, Gov. Mike Pence last year cut funding to universities and is planning to do so again this year. He sold a plane to try to save cash – even though the state finished the fiscal year with some $2 billion in the bank.

And money is the primary reason the building hasn’t happened yet. Back in 2001, then-Gov. Frank O’Bannon vetoed a bill that authorized a judicial building. And a few years before that, then Gov.-Evan Bayh nixed similar plans for a building on that parking lot, the Indianapolis Business Journal reports.

Later, Bayh did oversee the construction of a second state office building just west of the Statehouse. That houses dozens of state agencies and is part of the larger state government complex that includes a larger office building and the Statehouse.

But the state has outgrown its space. It spends more than $31 million annually in lease payments for state agency space — a number that doesn’t include the rental costs for court offices, according to a story last year in The Journal Gazette.

Now lawmakers have asked the state’s Office of Management and Budget to study the feasibility of a new building.

One key question is whether a new building could actually save the state money by alleviating the need to rent office space.

But the focus of the study should be on how a new building could serve the public. Could an expansion make legislative and court hearings more accessible to Hoosiers? Will a new building allow for improved technology that makes monitoring government easier?

Could a new building offer students and other visitors a better educational experience?

If the answers to those questions are yes, policy makers should take a serious look at spending the money for a new judicial and government center. But if they’re no, then justifying the additional costs should be difficult.

Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tax simplification is no simple matter

Posted By on Mon, Jul 21, 2014 at 8:59 AM

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The Governor and his select invitees to his closed tax conference last month praised simplifying Indiana’s tax code. It is an idea better loved by Americans than baseball, apple, pie or motherhood.

There is no question that our national and state tax codes are enormous tomes when printed, complex and detailed beyond belief. How did they get that way? Blame the legislators who give special privileges to persons and businesses willing to plead their arguments (live or in cash).

For example, Indiana exempts $1,000 from taxation for each person in your household. Then, if the taxpayer and the spouse are 65 or older, they each get an additional $500 exemption. Plus, if the taxpayer or the spouse is blind, there is another $1,000 income exemption.

Wouldn’t it be simpler to count a person as a person without regard to age or disability? Why the exemptions for some blind persons and not all blind persons? In fact, why is blindness favored over other disabilities?

Do these exemptions clog our tax code because we desire to encourage having babies? Perhaps, we wish to help the poor and believe they tend to have more babies than the wealthy. We want also to aid people 65 and older, in part because we think they are more needy than younger Hoosiers.

The complexities of our tax codes arise from our fundamental concerns about being fair. When a good case is made to legislators about the difficulties of one group compared to another group, our elected representatives respond by making laws to treat the two groups differently.

We don’t just tax property, we tax the form of ownership (owner-occupied or renter-occupied). We differentiate between agricultural, commercial, and industrial uses. When a church is converted to a condominium, the land is taxed as residential rather than in religious use.

Some, who piously plead for tax simplification, want to extend the sales tax to services. Well, perhaps not all services. Often they will exempt medical services; then someone has to decide if teeth whitening or straightening is cosmetic or necessary for mental health. Maybe an argument could be made to exempt attorney fees from sales taxation. I doubt realtors want their commissions taxed. I know my barber is opposed to a tax on his services. And funeral directors? Are we going to make death more expensive?
Although it would be simpler to tax all consumer transactions, there is strong reason for not taxing services. Such a tax can be a direct tax on labor. You might as well raise the income tax.

When the plumber comes to my home, he charges for parts (which are subject to the sales tax) and for his time separately. Put a 7 percent sales tax on his time and you reduce his income by more than double the 3.4 percent of the Indiana income tax.
If we are going to have tax simplification, let’s understand what we are doing, or is that asking too much?

Friday, July 18, 2014

A private sector option for safer streets

Posted By on Fri, Jul 18, 2014 at 1:18 PM

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We were in Edinburgh at the Pixy Theater waiting to hear the Wright Brothers play. For reasons I cannot explain, I began to think of the growing concern about public safety in communities across the state. It was an incongruous series of thoughts in that delightful setting.

What is the essential problem? Too many guns is one answer we hear. Inadequate policing is another. Insufficient attention to mental health problems. Prison sentences that are too short. Breakdown of the family. All these and others are valid arguments, but let’s try to get to the core of the issue.

Family members killing other family members is not the central fear most of us share. Mass shootings by deranged individuals make national headlines, but are not systemic problems of our Hoosier communities. Our concern arises from the ongoing violence among young people in urban areas. We wonder if, somehow, we could be incidental victims of flare-ups of street violence or drive-by shootings.

One solution to this problem is neglected too often: change the lives of these youngsters by increasing job opportunities for them.
Controlling the ownership of guns is desirable. Putting more police on the streets might be helpful. Yet, the life-changing effects of steady, well-paid employment are monumental.

The costs of putting more police on the streets are enormous. What if those funds were used to create useful jobs, at good wages, for young people (ages 16 to 25)? Some estimates indicate that an additional police officer, with supporting resources, costs $100,000 per year. How many jobs could be created, with necessary supporting resources, for $100,000? Probably three, no more than four.

How much more money is needed to bring the police forces of our major Indiana cities up to “full” strength? Five million dollars? Twenty million? Who is going to pick up the tab for this?

If we go to taxpayers, they will, as ever, deny government the funds to increase policing. What if we went to taxpayers and asked them for contributions for safer streets? Could we raise the funds from individuals and businesses in place of taxes? It’s an iffy proposition, but one worth considering.

Citizens and businesses are worried about their cities’ attractiveness for new residents and expanding businesses because of their reputation for street crime. One need think of only Indianapolis and Gary in this regard. Are those citizens and businesses sufficiently concerned to make voluntary contributions to a non-governmental organization that would train and find employment for young people? This could be a major funding opportunity for the many foundations in our communities. Do we need the compulsion of taxes to make our streets safe?

We hear the argument that many of the young are unprepared for jobs. Then let this private sector organization prepare them. The idea is to open opportunities without the encumbrances of government.

Mr. Marcus is an economist, writer, and speaker who may be reached at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.


Friday, July 11, 2014

Pence will be schooled for end run around Ritz

Posted By on Fri, Jul 11, 2014 at 10:20 AM

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Gov. Mike Pence misjudged his role when he effectively rendered meaningless the job of Glenda Ritz, whom voters chose to be superintendent of public instruction. He also misjudged the sure-to-come political fallout that will be worse than he expects.

The Libertarian Party of Indiana supports more school choice than Ritz would prefer. Still, that is absolutely no reason to cut her off at the knees as Pence did when he pushed the State Board of Education to alter its rules so that the board can immediately overturn any procedural decision made by Ritz (until now, that would come up at the next meeting) and board members may add agenda items with neither Ritz's consent nor advance public notice. This came after a 7-3 vote of members that he appoints.

Libertarians remind Pence that Hoosier voters elected Ritz, not Pence, to the head of Indiana's schools.

Just because Ritz and Pence differ does not mean he has the statutory authority to do her job. If Pence has a problem with her personally, too bad. Part of being an adult is dealing with people you disagree with. Besides, the governor does not have dictatorial powers. Sometimes he'll have to work with people who are - horror of horrors - not from his party. She does happen to be the only one, as all other state offices are Republican, as are both houses within the General Assembly. What would happen if a Democrat and Libertarian won statewide office this year? Would he try this stunt again?

Right now, Article 8 of Indiana's constitution prescribes an elected leader for our schools. Should it still be elected or would appointed superintendents work better? That's a great question, just like whether or not our constitutionally prescribed county coroners should be elected or if Indiana ought to switch to appointed medical examiners. It's a topic deserving of a lot of debate. Pence took the chicken's way out by pushing for what amounts to an edict without any serious debate.

The right way to address this would be to seek an amendment to Indiana's constitution.

Would amending the Indiana Constitution be frustrating? You bet.

That's the point. It's not supposed to be something done in a snit. Hint: This is a snit.

Changing the state constitution would entail passing legislation in two consecutive legislatures - in this case, the to-be-elected General Assembly will start its 2-year term in 2015, and another will be in 2017. Once passed, it would have to go before voters as a referendum in 2018 at the earliest - 2017 is an off-year for Indiana elections. By then, Pence would be hot and heavy in his campaign for president...er, he'd only fewer than two more years left on his tenure as governor, presuming he's re-elected.

This doesn't take into account how this egregious overreach will rile up the Democratic base. Our hunch is that this would bring Democrat donors to hand over their checkbooks, run for office themselves, take off work to campaign on Election Day - anything to make the Statehouse not-so-Republican. And as for Pence's re-election efforts, don't be surprised if he faces very strong opposition in 2016, with the rallying cry of ENOUGH!

And this doesn't take into account how this egregious overreach will create strange-bedfellow political alliances that will make passage of such an amendment very, very difficult. We Libertarians will be joined by others outside of the Democrat Party who find this power grab beyond the pale.

Pence's overreach deserves whatever political dope-slapping he receives. And he will receive a huge dope-slapping, loud and clear. Count on it.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Prosecutor indicts lawmakers about guns

Posted By on Thu, Jul 10, 2014 at 4:00 AM

John Krull
  • John Krull

Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry snorted.

I’d just asked him a question about the new gun laws adopted by the Indiana General Assembly, including one that allows people to bring guns onto school grounds.

Curry shook his head and said that he and other prosecutors have tried to tell state lawmakers that some of their ideas, such as allowing guns to be brought onto school grounds, aren’t good ones from a public safety point of view.

“They (state legislators) have made it clear that they’re not interested in hearing what we have to say,” Curry said.

Curry and I are in a studio, recording an interview for a radio program I host. It’s a Thursday morning. (You can hear the interview here.)

About 40 hours after Curry and I talked, a couple of people bumped into each other on a crowded sidewalk in Indianapolis north side neighborhood Broad Ripple in the wee hours of the morning. In true National Rifle Association fashion, both people decided to stand their ground and pulled out guns.

By the time they finished blazing away, seven people had been shot.

Then, later that same day, Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department Officer Perry Renn and two other policemen responded to a “shots-fired” report on Indianapolis’s east side. When Renn and the other officers got to the scene a little before 9:30 p.m., they found Major Davis Jr. brandishing an assault rifle.

Davis fired on the officers. Renn fired back.

The exchange of gunshots wounded both men.

Davis ended up being transported to an Indianapolis hospital in critical condition.

Renn wasn’t so lucky.

The police officer died a little before 10 p.m. – maybe half an hour after he responded to the call for help.

And the city mourned.

Those tragedies had yet to occur when Curry and I talked, but they aren’t isolated incidents.

By the time the prosecutor and I sat down together, Indianapolis already had recorded more than 70 homicides this year. The city was on pace to threaten its 16-year old record for murder and mayhem in a calendar year – a dubious achievement, to be sure.

Curry made it clear in the interview that many factors are responsible for the homicide explosion in the state’s largest city. An illegal drug economy and culture – an ongoing problem that fuels both despair and violence – contributes a great deal to the abundance of tragedies in the community. A lack of meaningful educational and career opportunities also adds to the difficulties.

But the free flow of guns, Curry made clear, plays a role, too.

And it is not a constructive one.

He scoffed at the notion that the state legislators were toughening penalties for people using firearms during the commission of a crime. He pointed out that, at the same time that lawmakers made it possible for people to bring guns to school, they also adopted a new law that would decrease the time served for people who illegally use a gun.

Curry’s comments mirror those made by Indianapolis’s public safety director, Troy Riggs, when I talked with him a few weeks – and about another 20 murders – ago. Riggs said easy access to guns imperiled the city’s citizens.

Both Curry and Riggs also expressed frustration that state lawmakers weren’t interested in hearing from the public officials who have to deal directly with the consequences of gun-related violence.

And their criticisms came just a few weeks after a committee meeting in which state legislators berated citizens who were concerned about gun violence – and, in some cases, had lost loved ones in gun-related incidents.

The lawmakers made it clear they didn’t want to hear from those folks, either.

So, our legislators won’t listen to the prosecutors and law enforcement officials who have to deal with the explosion of gun violence we have in our state’s cities. They won’t listen to people who have lost family members and friends to guns. And they won’t listen to citizens who care about the carnage we’re seeing on our streets and in our neighborhoods.

All of that raises this question: When the subject is guns, just who the hell do Indiana’s elected representatives listen to?

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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