Monday, June 1, 2015

Is this Glenda Ritz’s time?

Posted By on Mon, Jun 1, 2015 at 2:00 PM


As I write this, Indiana’s political world is wondering whether Glenda Ritz, the state’s embattled Superintendent of Public Instruction, will give it a spin.

Ritz dropped word on Facebook that she’ll be making “a special campaign announcement” at Ben Davis High School this Wednesday. This, in Hoosier politease, suggests Ritz intends to run for governor.

Throwing her hat into the proverbial ring would make Ritz the third Democrat seeking that party’s nomination to run against Mike Pence in 2016. John Gregg, who came within a well-publicized whisker of beating Pence in 2012, and Karen Tallian, a state senator from Portage, are the other strivers.

Scott Pelath of Michigan City, the Democratic House minority leader, may have seen Ritz coming when he took himself out of possible gubernatorial consideration last week. He said he didn’t want to be part of “a free for all.” Too bad: while it might have taken Pelath a little while to imprint his Northwest Indiana mug on the minds of the state’s southerners, whose take on folks from “d’Region” tends to be suspicious, he looks like a bonafide contender, a Democrat who can speak to Hoosier practicality without throwing principles of social and economic justice under the bus.

Ritz, on the other hand, probably has reason to think this is her moment. First, she scored a remarkable upset over a Republican incumbent during a Republican landslide. Second, as head of the state’s school system, she holds what is arguably Indiana’s most important job. The governor, as we have seen, can (quite literally) mess with lots of things, but until Indiana get its education act together, nothing, repeat, nothing here will ever truly change.

Which brings us to the likeliest reason Ritz may run: Conflict.

If Glenda Ritz runs for governor, you can chalk up yet another gaffe to Mike Pence. Pence has tried everything he can think of, including jerry-rigging an alternative, extra-constitutional, education shadow cabinet, to render Ritz irrelevant. It’s been a running battle that Ritz, though outnumbered and outgunned, has managed to survive.

Most Indiana polls are all but anonymous. We have no viable statewide media; our various regions are almost stupefyingly self-contained. This makes political image-building of the kind necessary for a statewide campaign grindingly tough and very expensive. Thanks to Mike Pence’s increasingly obvious obsession with getting rid of her, Glenda Ritz has become the closest thing Indiana Democrats have to a star. She is the face of resistance to one-party Republican rule.

It would be nice if Ritz could run on a record of accomplishment as Superintendant of schools. But Indiana’s wholly political dysfunction when it comes to kids and learning makes that impossible. Prior to getting into electoral politics, Ritz served on the board of the state teachers’ union, ISTA — a favorite Republican demon. She was also employed as a school librarian.

Ordinarily, this resume would fall short of a ticket to the governor’s mansion. But this time is not ordinary. One-party overreach by Republicans has become Indiana’s biggest issue. No one knows more about this than Glenda Ritz.

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Friday, May 29, 2015

Hoping gay rights go away

Posted By on Fri, May 29, 2015 at 2:00 PM


It’ll go away.

Most children know this feeling. It usually comes on the heels of a major howler, a mess so big there’s no hiding it but, hey, maybe no one will notice…

This appears to be the prevailing attitude of the Indiana Republican legislators who control something called the Legislative Council. The Legislative Council determines what issues to study over the summer in preparation for next year’s legislative session. The formation of summer study committees can be a useful way of diving more deeply into business left over from the previous session.

Surely you remember what happened during the previous session of our state legislature? Four letters should suffice: RFRA.

But when Republicans decided which issues to study this summer, the mess created by the RFRA was not on the list.

Nothing to see here!

These, of course, are the same Republicans who went into the past legislative session thinking they were going to send a message to the rest of America. They wanted everyone to know that just because some judge said it was OK to let gays get married, that didn’t make it right.

So Indiana passed a religious freedom law, allowing people to discriminate against gays as a matter of conscience.

Imagine their surprise when, instead of being embraced by a grateful nation, our Republicans’ message was received like a slap in the face. Even the Republican mayor of Indianapolis seemed stricken by his colleagues’ self-absorption. It had taken years, he said, to make the state’s capitol a welcoming destination. Now conventions were threatening to go elsewhere.

Given all this, you’d think Republicans would want to use the summer for a little reflection. At the very least they might devote themselves to a study of What’s Happening 101.

Better still, they might set about doing what virtually everyone — from the state’s business leaders to Indiana’s branch of the American Civil Liberties Union — is calling for and include LGBT people under the state’s civil rights code.

Right now civil rights protections are afforded LGBT people in Indiana cities and towns that choose to pass nondiscrimination ordinances. That’s fine if you live in Indianapolis or Ft. Wayne. Otherwise, you’re out of luck.

Democrats wanted gay rights to be a summer study subject. They see that the only way to clean up the RFRA mess is to cancel the damage by passing civil rights legislation protecting LGBT people on a statewide basis in 2016.

This should be easy. But as long as Indiana is effectively a one-party state, it’s going to be hard. Too many Republicans still believe that LGBT people do not qualify as common citizens, entitled to the same protections as the rest of us. For these Republicans, serving gays is not a public obligation, but an altruistic act of generosity.

As long as Republicans felt they only needed to talk to themselves, this wasn’t a problem. Then everybody else heard what they were saying and...kablooey.

That’s why this summer they’ll close their eyes and hope it goes away.

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Another Season has begun

Posted By on Mon, May 25, 2015 at 12:15 PM


In Indianapolis, Memorial Day means The 500. It’s checkered flags and household banners proclaiming, “Welcome race fans!”

But where I live, in Long Beach, Indiana, Memorial Day means that The Season has begun.

The Season is summer. It’s a three-month stretch that lasts until Labor Day. The Season is a routine and a ritual. A lot of people plan their lives — and livelihoods — around it.

The first thing you notice about the Season is that it’s like somebody’s flipped a switch. One day there’s nothing happening; the next day a party’s in full swing.

All of this is thanks to our proximity to the city of Big Shoulders, otherwise known as Chicago. Long Beach has been a playground (some would call it a colony) for Chicagoans since the 1920’s.

That’s my story. My grandparents, who lived in Chicago’s Sauganash neighborhood, began renting a house here some time around 1950. They came with their friends, Kate and Stephen Turabian (Kate wrote The Student’s Guide to Writing College Term Papers, still in print and once, reputedly, the second bestselling book in history — beaten only by The Bible. It has, alas, fallen by the scholastic wayside, overtaken by the Internet.), as well as my parents and me.

Summer people, we rarely saw the kinds of preparations that took place before our arrival. In the case of our cottage, located back in the woods, this generally entailed a good dusting and plenty of leaf raking.

Down on the beach, though, things were more ambitious. Nowadays, the weeks leading up to Memorial Day are a kind of bulldozer jamboree, as many lakefront homeowners hire earthmovers to flatten the foredunes between their houses and the beach.

These foredunes are nature’s first line of defense against storms and potential flooding. Covered with a lush scalp of marram grass, which catches the wind and reflects golden light at sunsets, the foredunes are also quite beautiful.

But it is hell, apparently, to have to lug your jetski over a foredune to the beach. What’s more, foredunes make it hard to see the lake from the ground floor of a beach house. Since there seems to be an unwritten rule that every window of a beach house must provide the equivalent of a postcard prospect (lest the tenants feel gypped), those offending foredunes have to go.

Of course, by the time Memorial Day rolls around, the lake wind has usually obscured the bulldozer tracks that, up until that time, make the beach look like an industrial site. Perhaps it also blows sand through those windows with their unobstructed views.

In any event, come the beginning of the season, our streets, where wild turkeys once roamed, are taken over by Chicagoans. Walkers, joggers, bicyclists, skateboarders: all manner of locomotion is on display, as are the kinds of body types you get after the dark passage of another Midwestern winter. It’s as though everybody’s been hibernating, only to wake up and find themselves transported to a kind of Riviera.

Hello, summer! Another Season has begun.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Why David Letterman matters

Posted By on Fri, May 22, 2015 at 4:00 PM


The notion that David Letterman used to rent the house across the street from ours in Broad Ripple could easily have been an urban legend.

My wife and I were having drinks with another couple at a party. It turned out they had lived on our intersection years before, when Letterman was doing the weather for a local TV station. They used to see Dave, they said, leaving the house each day on his way to work. They didn’t claim to know him; he kept to himself.

It’s funny: Had we been told the person in that house had been, say, Jane Pauley, or even Richard Lugar, the story would not have mattered as much. David Letterman is something else.

It’s not just hometown pride. The fact Letterman “made it” certainly counts for something, but plenty of people from Indy have achieved great things in the larger world.

Critics, colleagues and fans had lots to say about Letterman’s contribution in the weeks leading up to the farewell broadcast of his nightly show. They talked about how he reimagined the talkshow format, the public access-like goofiness of some his recurring bits, his sardonically self-deprecating sense of the absurd.

People said he could be prickly and aloof, hard to know.

But one thing was strikingly clear in those last shows. The outpouring of affection for Dave from his peers didn’t seem like the usual showbiz schmaltz. They really appeared to respect this guy.

My son Graham went to Broad Ripple High School, Letterman’s alma mater. Graham told me he thought those who found Letterman weird had things backward. Letterman, said Graham, was actually a consummately normal person coping with a very weird world.

Dave, in other words, was our Everyman.

Someone else observed that Letterman was devoted to his work. He wasn’t in it for the glamour, never indulged in red carpet glitz. This was characterized as being particularly Midwestern: what counted with Letterman, what got him off, weren’t the perks, but the job itself. “You do what you must do,” as a fellow Midwesterner, Bob Dylan, once sang, “and you do it well.”

Memory also plays a part. His hometown called to Letterman in ways many of us could appreciate.

Atlas Supermarket, on College Ave, was the kind of store that created its own community. Going there every week felt like staying in touch with family — I still have my blue Atlas check cashing card, No. 31088.

Owner Sid Maurer famously hired a teenage Dave to be an Atlas bag boy in the ‘60s. When Dave got the job at CBS, Sid posted congratulations on the Atlas parking lot marquee.

Sid died in 2000. I attended his memorial service at, I believe, Temple Beth-El Zedek. I remember it being a gray and rainy day. On my way out, I passed Letterman, standing in a corridor, earnestly commiserating with a couple of old friends.

It was the one time I’ve seen him in person. Somehow that mattered. It mattered a lot.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

It’s still Wrigley Field

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2015 at 12:10 PM


I was dreading this.

As longtime readers know, yours truly is an inveterate Cubs fan. It’s a family affliction with me, passed down by my dad and his dad before him. My son has a Ferguson Jenkins bobblehead in his study in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I’ve been going to Cubs games at Wrigley Field in Chicago since I was seven-years-old. That first time my dad and I (with maybe several hundred others) saw Warren Spahn and the Braves defeat the Cubs on a dank and drizzly September afternoon. The ballpark was redolent with the convoluted aroma of cigar smoke, yellow mustard and spilled beer.

I loved it.

I didn’t know it then, but I was learning something about history that day. In time I would come to understand that real history is made of shared experiences. The ballpark my dad shared with me was pretty much like the one his dad shared with him. As the years passed, the differences between our respective generations would become increasingly acute. But thanks to Wrigley Field, there was also something all of us had in common. A history.

So I was more than a little concerned when the Cubs new owners, the Ricketts Family, began tearing down the bleachers and erecting enormous electronic screens atop the outfield walls.

The Ricketts, of course, said that these changes were a necessary part of doing business in the 21st century. Contemporary sports fans want — no, make that demand — the kind of full sensory overload that only a jumbotron, complete with massive player portraits, instant replays and an endless gush of statistics, can deliver.

A mere baseball game, in other words, is no longer enough. I get this. Baseball is boring. But that has always been part of its charm. Going to a baseball game is a way of taking it easy. That’s why they call ballparks parks.

This doesn’t readily line up with today’s cultural drift. Sitting outdoors, listening to the occasional crack of a batted ball, being overtaken by a sudden burst of live action, isn’t where it’s at.

It seems we prefer life mediated. Screens are everywhere, from our wrists, to our desktops, to billboards. We float across a sea of imagery, the like of which once only existed in dreams. Somewhere a boundary was crossed and, effortlessly, we shifted from being spectators to virtual participants — emphasis on virtual.

I fretted that going to the new Wrigley Field would now be like entering a baseball simulacrum, that I would be bombarded with a digital onslaught of sights and sounds designed to distract me as much as possible from the actual game.

But I was curious. When an old friend said he had tickets, I was there.

And you know what? It’s not bad. The green grass of the field still buzzes, the ivy on the walls is coming back. They prohibited smoking years ago, so there’s no cigar smell, but there’s plenty of yellow mustard to slather on your hot dogs and people keep spilling beer.

Yes, those screens are huge. But they’re not as intrusive as I feared and hey, there are worse things than seeing an instant replay on a close call at second. Apparently I am not quite the 20th century guy I thought I was.

Have no fear, Cubs fans. It’s still Wrigley Field.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

DNR gets an earful about Dunes State Park

Posted By on Fri, May 15, 2015 at 1:35 PM


This mess started with a good idea.

By any measure, the Indiana Dunes State Park is one this state’s most extraordinary public assets. Located on Lake Michigan, in a landscape where the science of ecology was born, the park is one of the state’s most popular public destinations — it was recently named one of the top ten state parks in the nation by USA Today.

It is also about to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Maybe that’s why the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, the agency that oversees state parks, finally decided to rehab the park’s old pavilion building.

That building dates back to 1930. It’s a wonderful old deco structure, built in a time when public architecture seemed to have a knack for making people who used it feel special, like they were being transported out of their everyday lives to a place where better things might be possible.

Over the years, though, the DNR neglected the building for lack of funds, allowing it to fall into disrepair.

So the news a few years back that the DNR wanted to partner with someone to rejuvenate the pavilion was welcome. This, however, would be a “public-private” partnership, a type favored by Indiana politicos, wherein public resources are made available for private profit.

Such partnerships allow Indiana to brag about its low taxes — a good thing given the state’s low level of average household income. But I digress.

The DNR put out a call for proposals. But, it claims, there were only two respondents worth considering. One of those, a group calling itself Pavilion Partners LLC, won.

This group, which includes a fellow named Chuck Williams, a former chairman of the Porter County Republican Party and member of the Indiana Dunes Tourism board, was willing to put up several million dollars to make things happen. This meant no tax dollars would be needed — the kind of deal Hoosier state government types have been conditioned to consider sweet.

But Pavilion Partners isn’t interested in just fixing up the pavilion. They also want to build a conference center on an empty lot next door. They get a 35-year lease with two 15-year renewal options.

In exchange, the state gets $18,000 a year and two percent of gross sales.

People in Northwest Indiana are not apathetic when it comes to the Dunes.

They’ve spent 100 years fighting to save this landscape, and many of them take it personally when bureaucrats and developers look at the lakeshore and see nothing but dollar signs.

People here were disgusted by the clueless, seemingly computer-generated renderings they saw of the proposed conference center. Many objected to turning a public treasure into a private business. Most of all, they were outraged by the high-handed way the DNR went about making this deal. Work had already begun on the pavilion when a public meeting was held April 6. But this meeting was “an open house,” and no public comments were allowed.

Not that the public didn’t have plenty to say. Hundreds of us showed up at the Dunes Visitor Center outside Chesterton. Some were picketing. Others offered petitions.

Another, more formal, meeting was hastily called for April 15. It, too, was packed. Of the 52 people who spoke that evening, 50 spoke against the project.

Things have only gotten worse for the DNR and Pavilion Partners since then. The Hoosier Environmental Council, the Indiana chapter of the Sierra Club and the Citizens Action Coalition have lined up against the deal, joining early opponents Save the Dunes and the Izaak Walton League.

Government officials are forever talking about the importance of public input. “Be part of the solution,” they say. Well, they’re getting an earful over at the DNR.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Why Mad Max? Why now?

Posted By on Tue, May 5, 2015 at 2:55 PM


It seems every time I turn on the boob tube, it’s more of the same: highspeed mayhem, explosions and an ever-higher body count.

And that’s just the trailer for the latest Mad Max sequel, Fury Road.

I haven’t seen this movie; it doesn’t open until May 15. But I think I’ll skip it. Who needs more of “the old ultra-violence,” as Alex DeLarge, the bowler-hatted hooligan in Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange so quaintly put it — when the world is awash with the regular stuff?

Take your pick, from beheadings to mass abductions, drone strikes to the demolishing of entire towns, the 21st Century’s proving itself bottomlessly adept at wedding archaic forms of cruelty with the latest industrial know-how.

Compared to what appears to be going on in Mexico, Syria, Nigeria or Iraq, the daily rat-at-tat of assorted shootings in this country seem like the morsels pretentious restaurants serve between courses as palate fresheners.

I remember when the first Mad Max film came out, in 1979. It was a stark, low budget revenge fantasy — a comic book with live actors that added yet another wrinkle to a new wave of films coming from Australia. The movie’s dystopian fixation on space and speed was inspired by the 1973 oil crisis. As co-screenwriter James McCausland wrote: “George [Miller] and I wrote the script based on the thesis that people would do almost anything to keep vehicles moving and the assumption that nations would not consider the huge costs of providing infrastructure for alternative energy until it was too late.”

Given this context, you could say the movie had a certain metaphoric cache. It also chimed with the theory, embraced fulsomely by successive generations of arrested-adolescent (mostly) males, that film at its best is about nothing so much as unadorned action.

Depictions of violence, of course, are as old as dramatic art itself. The Greeks, from whom we derive our understanding of tragedy and comedy, were forever stabbing, gouging and disemboweling. These acts, or their threat, were ways of showing how much the lies, delusions, and weaknesses of the characters mattered. Violence equaled consequence.

But today it seems violence has become a default mode for lack of imagination. Acts of violence are strung together and called a storyline. This is what overtook the 1980’s Mad Max sequels, Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome, wherein high octane bombast was confused with mythmaking. Violence, it turns out, is like noise. The more you use it to get peoples’ attention, the louder it needs to be. In the end, instead of feeling the fear and pity the Greeks tried to evoke, people feel desensitized.

In this, life seems increasingly to imitate art. The idea of hijacking passenger jets and flying them into skyscrapers and other buildings is, at its core, nothing if not cinematic. The 2008 terrorist storming of a luxury hotel in Mumbai weirdly recalled Irwin Allen’s all-star disaster flicks from the 1970’s.

That’s why I’ll skip Fury Road. The trailer tells me more about the future than I can bear.

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Monday, May 4, 2015

Mike Pence and the Koch Brothers

Posted By on Mon, May 4, 2015 at 10:45 AM


I don’t care where you’re from, it is hard to imagine a more beautiful city than Indianapolis in the Spring. The flowering trees, the carpets of creeping phlox and now, the yard signs saying PENCE MUST GO.

As outrage over Gov. Mike Pence’s signing of the “religious freedom” act percolated throughout the country, friends from other states called me to commiserate about what had befallen Indiana.

The first thing I told them was that this retrograde insult to our state’s well-being was far from the worst thing that could happen. The grassroots protests it sparked were actually inspiring. I had never seen so many people mobilized in favor of social justice in these parts.

But then I told them something else: Watch out.

As tempting as it’s been to see Pence and his ilk as representing some kind of throwback that’s passed its sell-by date, this battle’s just begun. What’s happening in Indiana could just as easily be a preview of coming attractions. While the RFRA debacle made Indiana appear out of step to most people, a small but powerful contingent still thinks of this place as a model for the way things should be. They loved the way Mitch Daniels corporatized the state, never mind that Hoosier incomes remain among the lowest in the country. As far as this crowd’s concerned, Pence’s mistake was more about style than substance.

This is why Pence and his Republican fellow travelers in the Statehouse seem more flummoxed than chastened by the blowback over RFRA. Instead of passing legislation making equal rights available to all Hoosiers, in every part of the state, they hired a public relations firm. Indiana, they want you to know, “welcomes everybody.”

This especially includes the Koch brothers. This billionaire brother act, whose fortunes are derived in large part from fossil fuels and chemicals, have recently declared their intention to contribute almost $900 million to candidates in the 2016 national elections. This is more money than the Republican National Committee and that party’s two congressional campaign committees raised in 2012.

The Kochs have also backed ALEC, the bill-writing factory that supplies conservative Indiana legislators with material concerning environmental regulations, agriculture and industry.

When Christy Denault, Gov. Pence’s communications director, resigned in the wake of the RFRA meltdown, Pence immediately filled that position by hiring a fellow named Matt Lloyd. Lloyd, whose history with Pence goes back to the governor’s days in Congress, “is leaving his job running communications for Koch Industries,” according to the Indianapolis Star.

It turns out Lloyd is not the only Koch connection in Pence’s camp. Marc Short, Pence’s former chief of staff, is now president of Freedom Partners, the political piggy bank the Kochs will use to distribute all that money they intend to spend in 2016.

With friends like the Kochs, it’s no wonder some people thought Gov. Pence could be presidential material. Whether or not his embarrassment over the RFRA is any more than a speed bump remains to be seen.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Design and Michigan City’s NIPSCO plant

Posted By on Tue, Apr 28, 2015 at 1:00 PM


From street lights to desk lamps, more and more of us are taking notice of how things work and what they look like. Part of this has to do with our craving for whatever’s new. But design matters in other ways, as well.

I think about design every time I approach the lakefront in Michigan City. The north end of town opens up to Lake Michigan. There’s a harbor that, in summer, is crowded with pleasure boats; a long pier with an iconic lighthouse at the end may be the single most photographed site in Indiana.

Then turn your gaze one click to the left. On the harbor’s western bank is a gargantuan coal-burning power plant, built and operated by NIPSCO, the Northern Indiana Public Service Company.

To tell you the truth, gargantuan hardly begins to describe this facility. It’s actually a kind of history of modern American energy production rendered in architectural terms. Its first iteration, still standing, and clearly visible, was completed in 1931. This industrial deco-style plant, with its three smokestacks, must have been the biggest building in town at that time.

It provided sufficient energy for a large part of Northwest Indiana until the late ‘60s, when expansion was deemed necessary. This addition, completed in 1970, dwarfed the original plant. It consisted of a featureless box-like structure and towering stack, rising up like a great middle finger. A cooling tower was added, giving newcomers the false impression that Michigan City, like the Simpsons’ Springfield, is nuclear-powered.

Today, a third expansion is taking place. Prompted by clean air regulations, it is another enormous cube, a behemoth jutting out to the lake’s edge. Its cost, we are told, has been estimated at $250 million. This latest addition is meant to be understood as progress. Since it burns coal, NIPSCO’s Michigan City plant has been an historic polluter, casting plumes of toxic emissions across the lake and into neighboring states. The new building houses scrubbing technology, which is said to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions by 80 percent and nitrogen oxide by 35 percent.

Given the demonstrable harm that burning coal does to public health, this is helpful, to say the least. In 2010, Abt Associates of Cambridge Massachusetts calculated that, in Michigan City, 29 deaths, 45 heart attacks and 450 asthma attacks could be linked that year to living in proximity to a coal-burning plant.

But when I look at the NIPSCO plant and how it has grown over the years — at the sheer size and, frankly, the ugliness of it — I wonder about design. To see all it takes to make coal a less toxic form of energy is to wonder whether we should still be going down this road. The way the NIPSCO plant has grown over the years looks more like dependence than progress.

If it takes huge amounts of human, financial, technological and environmental resources to create what is then called “energy,” maybe we should be working harder to develop new, more efficient forms. This is what design can tell us, why it matters.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

Hemp: still too scary for Indiana

Posted By on Fri, Apr 24, 2015 at 2:22 PM


When I was in college, back in the last century, I had a friend who went to Purdue University. We’d gone to high school together; John had been a solid student, involved in sports and student government.

But when he got to college, John, like just about everybody else in those days, let his hair grow long and adopted the Army surplus look that passed for fashion.

One day, during summer break, John showed up at my house. He had something he wanted to share: a baggie full of marijuana he said grew all over around West Lafayette.

This, of course, was ditch weed. Hemp. It grew wild in uncultivated fields like a kind of muscle memory from Indiana’s agricultural past. As we soon found out, it made for awful smoking.

Hemp used to be a cash crop in Indiana. During World War II, the Federal government encouraged farmers to grow it as part of the war effort. It’s a versatile fiber that can be used in an amazing array of products, from lotions and soaps to biofuel.

It could still be a boon for Indiana farmers. According to the Congressional Research Service, the annual U.S. market for industrial hemp-based products is currently more than $580 million.

Last year the state legislature passed a law legalizing the cultivation and processing of industrial hemp. They had no problem doing this because, as my friend John and I found out, hemp carries virtually no THC. And without THC, there is no getting high.

Unfortunately, though, our government is still so freaked out about reefer madness that it has a hard time letting actual facts about marijuana, of which industrial hemp is a cousin, get in the way of its paranoid policies.

For example, before going ahead with hemp cultivation, Indiana felt compelled to get the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s blessing. Additional legislation to expedite this process was proposed this year. It sailed through the House, but was killed in the Senate after the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council fretted that what amounts to smoking rope is too dangerous a notion for Indiana to embrace. More “study” is required.

But as the history of America’s prohibition of marijuana shows, the act of prohibition itself has only served to perpetuate ignorance and mythology. Genuine scientific research has been inhibited by illegality, which has, in turn, prevented us from both fully enjoying this plant’s attributes and understanding its side effects.

So a state like Colorado, with the intellectual gumption to reject government-perpetuated paranoia, has become what amounts to a living laboratory. Almost a year and a half after legalization, Colorado reports a 41 percent decrease in all drug arrests, better regulation of its medical marijuana industry, improved youth prevention and mental health efforts, a decline in youth use rates, traffic fatalities at near historic lows, the lowest unemployment rate since 2008 — and more than $40 million revenue in marijuana taxes.

What might that number be if it included, say, biofuels made with hemp? As long as Indiana’s bureaucrats cling to the paranoia of prohibition, it will be some other state that finds out.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Who owns the beach in Long Beach?

The State of Indiana weighs in

Posted By on Mon, Apr 20, 2015 at 5:00 PM


From small things big things sometimes come.

That’s what appears to be happening up in my neck of the woods, Long Beach, Indiana. This week a judge in nearby Michigan City will hear a dispute pitting a small group of beachfront homeowners against an alliance of citizens and environmental groups, as well as the State of Indiana. The stakes are high. At issue: whether an assertion of private property rights outweighs the public trust.

My family started vacationing in Long Beach in the late 1940’s, after my Chicagoan grandparents began renting a cottage there. Days were spent swimming and roving up and down the beach. In the evenings, somebody might light a campfire. My dad and I tried sleeping on the beach once — a bone-chilling experience.

The town of Long Beach was founded in the 1920’s. Since most Chicagoans (with the notable exception of Al Capone, who built a house here said to be in the shape of a gun) tended to cluster in the small towns dotting the Michigan coast, Long Beach remained under the Big City radar.

There was always money along the beach. But in the 1960’s, an average CEO made 20 times what a worker did; not 200 times, which is the difference today. Affluence was visible, but retained a certain modesty.

And when it came to the beach itself, people didn’t hassle one another. It was understood: everybody was here to relax and enjoy one another’s company.

People will tell you that things began to change about 10 years ago. Folks, Chicagoans mainly, began showing up and buying lakefront property. In many cases, they tore existing homes down to build much bigger ones. Some bulldozed the foredunes — sandy hillocks covered in marram grass — between their homes and the beach.

It seems at some point during this time, a few of these homeowners got the idea that they didn’t just own the lots on which their houses stood. They owned the beach — all the way to the water’s edge.

Never mind that they don’t pay taxes on this bonus land. Never mind that there are no records definitively backing up such claims.

These beachfront homeowners claim the beach as their private property because, well, because they can. Now they are suing the State of Indiana to make their assertion real.

A much larger group of homeowners, the Long Beach Community Alliance, formed three years ago to defend traditional public access to the beach. They tried to negotiate an amicable agreement with the beachfront owners. The beachfront owners went to court instead.

Save the Dunes, one of Indiana’s oldest environmental groups, and the Great Lakes Alliance, intervened. Eventually the State of Indiana had to get involved.

As then Indiana Assistant Attorney General William Daily wrote in 1978, state and Federal case law going back to at least 1893 shows that Indiana owns the Lake Michigan beach up to what is called “the ordinary high water mark.” That mark is determined by “physical markings,” usually taken to be where those foredunes begin.

This, however, has not deterred the beachfront owners’ side. They seem determined to colonize this little part of Indiana for themselves. If they somehow win, this will be a very big deal. Not just for Long Beach, a town whose name will suddenly be meaningless, but for the very idea of public trust.

We all know that money talks. In Long Beach we’re about to find out if it owns a bullhorn.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Barack and Mike: odd couple indeed

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2015 at 12:45 PM


Politicians, believe it or not, are people just like you and me. If we get frustrated with the dysfunction we see tying up government at state and federal levels, imagine how the politicians who have to put up with this each and every day must feel.

It seems some of them have decided there’s got to be a better way: let Big Business take over.

How else does one explain the recent rapprochement between Pres. Barack Obama and Gov. Mike Pence?

Pres. Obama’s tribulations with Congress are practically legendary. From healthcare reform to immigration policy, every time he adopts an idea Republicans once favored, those same Republicans throw it back in his face. If he says “tomato,” Republicans are bound to say “tomahto,” just to make him wince.

As for Pence, he found out the hard way that even a one-party government, like the one we have in Indiana, isn’t enough to keep embarrassment at bay. The “religious freedom” debacle and a ham-handed attempt to create a state-sponsored news service were rude reminders that, like it or not, even Indiana has to get with the 21st century.

What’s a chief executive to do?

Pine, it seems, for the so-called efficiencies of the private sector. On April 10, Gov. Pence sent a letter to members of Indiana’s Congressional Delegation urging them to support two major trade deals being promoted by Pres. Obama: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Obama is asking Congress to give him fast-track authority to push these deals through; Pence supports that, too.

Pence pointed out that, according to the Department of Commerce, total Indiana goods exports set a record $35.5 billion in 2014. He, like Obama, believes these trade deals will make that number even bigger.

The trouble is that these trade deals, like their predecessor, NAFTA, appear to have a whopping potential to not only undermine the middle-class by undercutting pay and degrading environmental regulations, they also cut to the bone of national sovereignty.

As Zach Carter wrote in the Huffington Post, and Michael Shank reported in U.S. News & World Report , “Foreign corporations operating within the U.S. would be permitted to appeal key American legal or regulatory rulings to an international tribunal. That international tribunal would be granted the power to overrule American law.”

These tribunals, made up of corporate lawyers, would have the power to order taxpayer compensation for health and environmental policies that might threaten foreign investors’ “expected future profits.”

A case like this recently took place in Ecuador where, under NAFTA provisions, that country lost a $2.4 billion judgment to Occidental Petroleum. At a time when our export trade is booming and corporate profits are at record highs, it is hard to see what we might gain by enacting international treaties designed to privilege global corporations over national and state governments.

Unless, that is, your view of government has grown so jaundiced from our dysfunctional politics you imagine tycoons can do a better job.

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