Friday, January 13, 2017

Common themes among Obama's good-bye and Holcomb's hello

Posted By on Fri, Jan 13, 2017 at 9:48 AM

One speech said hello.

The other said goodbye — sort of.

As I watched new Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s inaugural address and outgoing President Barack Obama’s farewell address, I was struck by their similarities.

Even though the governor and the president are very different men who belong to different parties — Holcomb’s a Republican and Obama’s a Democrat — they approached their big moments in much the same way.

They started by varying the venue.

Most gubernatorial inaugurations take place at the Statehouse, where they’re often outdoors. Holcomb and his team, perhaps mindful of the frigid experience that was Gov. Mike Pence’s first day in office four years, opted to move the event to the Pepsi Coliseum at the State Fairgrounds.

It was the right call. Most people who attended Pence’s swearing in on the west steps of the Statehouse couldn’t wait for him to get through his speech because they just wanted to get inside and get out of the biting cold.

Moving the speech indoors in spacious accommodations meant the people in attendance could devote their full attention to what Holcomb said — and not be diverted by the task of attempting to restore feeling to their fingers and toes.

Obama, too, shifted the locale.

Traditionally, a president’s farewell address is a short talk delivered from the Oval Office. Obama opted to take to the road and deliver his 50-minute speech in front of a huge and raucous crowd at McCormick Place in his adopted hometown of Chicago.

This, too, was a fortunate choice, because speaking before a crowd helped drive home the president’s primary theme — that self-government requires the active and enthusiastic participation of citizens. It’s a do-it-yourself project.

Both speeches shared a common tone, one that was frankly celebratory — and, for that matter, was an implied rebuke to President-elect Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again.”

Holcomb and Obama both said, in effect, that, even though much work remains to be done, America and Indiana already are great.

Holcomb’s speech had a refreshingly muted quality, one that signaled a matter-of-fact approach to governing. While he parceled out the obligatory dollops of praise to his immediate predecessors — fellow Republicans Mitch Daniels and Pence — and paid the customary tribute to Indiana’s frontier history, he pivoted quickly to work at hand.

Speaking to a state that has been torn apart in recent years by battles over divisive social issues, Holcomb cited examples from all walks of Hoosier life as models of the pioneer spirit. Perhaps most telling was his touting of the late Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut, an ordained minister and moderate Republican who was a loud and persistent critic of the state GOP’s infatuation with and indulgence of the religious right.

From there, the new governor plunged into what may be the biggest challenge confronting Indiana — and everywhere else, for that matter — in the coming years: the search for skilled labor. The numbers show that there will be a severe worldwide labor shortage by 2030. The places that are welcoming to good workers will prosper. Those that aren’t, won’t.

By juxtaposing Hudnut’s story with the coming economic challenges, Holcomb sent a powerful signal.

Indiana no longer has the time or luxury to engage in foolish fights over symbolic social issues.

Obama’s speech also delivered some messages.

He reminded Democrats who remain upset — okay, furious — about Trump’s election that supporting the peaceful transfer of power from one freely elected president to another was the duty of every citizen in a democratic society.

That said, he stopped well short of pledging support to the new president. If anything, Obama suggested that he was eager to play the role of being Trump’s primary adversary until the Democratic Party has a new leader.

He encouraged people to stay active and — in another rebuke to Trump — said democracy fails when citizens surrender to fear, anger and cynicism.

The heart of his speech, though, was about the complexity of the world and the need for a mature understanding of citizenship if we are to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Holcomb and Obama both sounded like adults, men who have a grown-up understanding of an often harsh but beautiful world.

One said hello while the other said goodbye.

But they both did it with grace.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Mike Pence, Trump whisperer?

Posted By on Wed, Jan 11, 2017 at 10:50 AM

  • Illustration by Donkey Hotey via Flickr Creative Commons

There's a hidden hand guiding affairs in the nation's capital and that hand comes from Indiana.

It belongs to Mike Pence, the now-former Hoosier state governor and soon to be vice president of the United States.

While I have been out here working on an independent reporting project and doing two radio shows from NPR's D.C. studios, I've been struck by a disconnect between the near panic among much of the American public about the prospect of a Donald Trump presidency and the quiet serenity of Washington's governing class in response.

During the two shows we did, at least 70 percent of the emails and social media questions and comments expressed either anxiety or outrage about Trump's election.

The nation's power structure doesn't seem to be experiencing the same feelings.

There's a reason for that.

"Mike Pence is going to be the most powerful vice president in our lifetimes – and maybe in the history of the country," longtime Republican political strategist Cam Savage told me.

Recent developments support that.

It can be seen in the news that former U.S. Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana, will become Trump's director of national intelligence.

Coats and Pence come from the same part of Indiana's ideological landscape. They're firm social conservatives with strong libertarian leanings at the points of the political spectrum that do not clash with their theological underpinnings. They speak each other's language.

Coats's appointment signals to Congress, which spent a day deriding Trump's dismissal of American intelligence efforts, and other parts of official Washington that they are being heard.

In addition to being a purebred conservative, Coats is also a tenacious, unrelenting advocate for his positions.

Years ago, when I was in D.C. working on a newspaper profile on Coats, I heard story after story from members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate about Coats's ferocious, in-your-face competitiveness. The tales of his play — all sharp elbows, hard drives and, even in middle-age, determined dives to grab loose balls — in pick-up basketball games in the House gym were legendary.

I learned as much when I interviewed him at the time. We went around and around on some relatively minor point, me probing and pushing, him responding with a tight-lipped smile that said, "You can keep trying all you want, but I'm not moving."

The message Coats's appointment sends to the power structure is this: You're upset we have an incoming president who says he doesn't want and won't pay attention to daily intelligence and security briefings. Fine. We'll send in a pit bull to make sure that he must pay attention.

Signs of Pence's hand also can be seen in the move to make Trump's much ballyhooed wall along the Mexican border a congressional decision rather than a presidential one. The move extricates Trump from a tricky political problem – following through on a promise to have Mexico pay for the wall upon which he could not possibly deliver – and removes some of the power to create international incidents from the new president's hands.

Pence's performance thus far has been remarkable, in large part because it reveals a disciplined willingness to stay out of the spotlight many people — including me — doubted was part of his makeup.

When Pence was governor, his press operation became the subject of jibes for sending out news releases and announcements for even the most trivial developments. If the governor said gesundheit to a sneezing senior citizen at a photo op, we journalists were sure to get an alert about the incident.

In this new role, though, Pence has willingly faded into the background. Sensitive to the fact that he serves a chief who seeks the limelight the way a junkie craves his next fix, Pence has been willing to tame his own need to be noticed. Instead, he works quietly, reassuring members of the Congress in which he once served that everything will be okay, that he will be the ears for a president who never stops talking long enough to listen.

That's why official Washington is so calm about the prospect of a Trump presidency.

They see Trump as a wild horse who has been haltered, corralled and who soon will be tamed.

The horse whisperer is from Indiana. His name is Mike Pence.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Dick Lugar becomes a verb

Posted By on Tue, Jan 10, 2017 at 8:48 AM

Elder statesman status seems to agree with Richard Lugar.

As he shows me around the cluttered offices of the Lugar Center here in the nation’s capital, the former six-term Republican U.S. senator from Indiana steps slower than the rat-a-tat-tat quick-step he walked with during his first years in politics.

His mind, though, is still quick and agile. As he points to some memento of an important event, Lugar provides tight thumbnail descriptions of the players involved and cogent analysis of the moment’s significance.

The Lugar Center is in the middle of a move to new digs. Some offices in this soon-to-be-vacated space are empty. Others have books, papers, plaques and awards stacked upon them.

That includes the table that we come to sit beside — the famous Nunn-Lugar table at which Lugar and former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Georgia, hatched plans to have the rapidly disintegrating Soviet Union reduce its stockpile of nuclear weapons.

The table is covered with papers and trophies. It’s perhaps the only historical artifact in the world that doubles as temporary storage space.

Lugar walks me through how he and Nunn persuaded the Russians to disarm. The story is like other ones in which Lugar helped solve a problem. It involves a lot of moving back and forth between the Russians, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, a lot of stroking of presidents, a lot of studying, a lot of hard work.

I ask Lugar how, again and again, he could fashion solutions when others couldn’t find them.

His answer is self-deprecatory — and deflective. He talks about the good work of many people.

Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, has a better response.

When I ask Daschle what made Lugar so effective, even with people who disagreed with him on ideological grounds, Daschle says people trust Lugar and his word. Trust, Daschle says, is the currency of the U.S. Senate. Without it, the place cannot function.

But Lugar’s effectiveness, Daschle continues, also sprang from another part of his nature.

“Dick always led by listening first,” Daschle says. Lugar found possible areas of agreement because he asked and paid attention to the answer.

I ask Daschle if Lugar paid a political price for his willingness to consider others’ views. After all, Lugar was defeated in a 2012 Republican primary by a challenger championed by special interests who chided him for not being conservative enough, even though Lugar’s voting record was only slightly to the left of conservative firebreather Strom Thurmond’s.

Daschle’s mouth twists into something between a grimace and a tight-lipped smile. He says members of the Senate now use the Hoosier’s name “as a verb.”

If they think about working with a member of the other party to get something done, they back away from the idea “because they’re afraid they’ll be Lugared,” Daschle says.

Lugar talks of his defeat — and the seeming repudiation by the Hoosier voters he’d served for so long of his “come, let us reason together” approach to governing — in muted terms. He would have liked to return to the Senate, he says, because he still had things to do there, but he couldn’t. So, he finds other ways to contribute. Life goes on, he almost shrugs.

His wife of 60 years, Charlene, is more forthcoming. She says the loss hurt, even though it was somewhat expected from the beginning of the campaign.

She says the moment she was both “the saddest for” and “the proudest of my husband” came the morning after he had lost, when he went back to work in the Senate as if nothing had happened.

After he left the Senate, Lugar formed the Lugar Center, which works to improve global food security, foster disarmament, measure the effectiveness of foreign aid and encourage bipartisan approaches to governing.

It’s important work, Lugar says, and it keeps him busy.

The Lugar Center soon will move from this Rhode Island Avenue address to new space at the historic Willard Hotel, a gathering place for power brokers for nearly two centuries. It’s also halfway between the glitz and self-indulgence of the Trump International Hotel and the stately call to duty that is the White House.

That’s Dick Lugar, still trying, always trying, to find that elusive common ground.

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Finance roads the right way

Posted By on Mon, Jan 9, 2017 at 9:18 AM


This is a note of hope to the General Assembly’s Funding Indiana's Roads for a Stronger, Safer Tomorrow Task Force, known by its friends and family as the FIRSST task force.

The hope is FIRSST will continue the work done on House Bill 1002 modernizing Indiana’s road financing policies. That bill has begun its travels and travails through the sausage machine of state government.

The guiding factors in a road finance bill, where new construction is not the center piece, should be road use and safety, plus changes in the costs of maintenance and reconstruction.

H.B. 1002 allows a 10 cent increase in the 18 cent tax per gallon of gasoline. This is double the increase in consumer prices since the last change in 2003. Was 10 cents an estimate of what a gullible public would accept?

Or is it because the bill creates an index for future increases based on the changes (does that include decreases?) in consumer prices and personal income? [We cannot believe legislators know how personal income is determined, and how it overstates income as any ordinary citizen would define it.]

The gas tax was a good idea for the past 100 years. It was a good proxy for distance traveled. Incidentally, it was also a moderate measure of vehicle weight, efficiency, pollution, and speed of travel.

In recent decades, improvements in vehicular efficiency have decreased the revenue potency of the gas tax. To raise the tax further encourages drivers to choose vehicles and usage patterns that reduce gas consumption. The tax is no longer a road use tax as much as an environmental statement that many legislators would not like to consider.

If we want to tax road use, let’s get serious. The proposed annual $150 tax on electric vehicles simply punishes car owners who decided not to support the petroleum cartel here and abroad. [Full disclosure: I own a Prius, a hybrid not found in the legislation I‘ve read.]

Likewise, the proposed annual $15 increase per vehicle produces revenue, but abandons the concept of a use tax. Instead, institute odometer readings. It’s easy with the EZ Pass we’ll all have when we start tolling selected roadways.

Toll roads make sense. You want to drive a premium road, you pay a premium price. With EZ Pass in your car, police can monitor your speed, which they rarely do now.

Information about a vehicle, its weight, footprint, horsepower, etc., is available from the manufacturer and has a bearing on safety and congestion.

The elephant in the conference room is taxing trucks. Trucking companies don’t want to pay for the highway damage trucks do. Manufacturers and merchants don’t want to pay higher trucking fees and consumers don’t want to pay higher prices. Drones are not ready to take the big loads, yet.

FIRSST has its work cut out for the next two years. Let’s hope they are courageous enough for the task.
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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The big lesson for schools

Posted By on Tue, Jan 3, 2017 at 8:48 AM


One of the Indiana General Assembly’s top challenges this year, we’re told, will involve funding and launching a larger pre-kindergarten program for Hoosier schools.

Getting young children started in school earlier is a good thing. The research shows that those early years are a period when young minds are most receptive to learning. Letting them lie fallow has been a missed opportunity for far too long.

But expanding Pre-K won’t solve Indiana’s education problems.

Not by a long shot.

The only way we solve the problems with our schools – public or private, choice or charter – is by having a different kind of discussion that we Hoosiers have had thus far about education.

Most of our focus for at least the past 20 years has been on the means of delivering education. Should we create a school choice system? Are charters a good idea? Or should we invest more money into improving our existing public school system?

These are good and important questions, but they don’t address the fundamental question:

What do we expect from our investment in education?

In the beginning, long, long ago, we knew the answer to that deceptively simple question.

Our rationale for having government – the taxpayers – assume the responsibility and expense for paying for a public education system was Jeffersonian in nature. We paid for schools as a shared public obligation (and compelled all young people to attend up to a certain age) because education was deemed essential to developing people to assume the responsibilities associated with citizenship in a self-governing society.

Over the years, that has changed. The Indiana Chamber of Commerce long has argued that a primary – if not the primary – focus for our schools should be on churning out skilled workers for businesses to employ.

That argument, of course, raises a question. If the primary purpose of our education system is to prepare labor for businesses, why don’t we just hand over the responsibility – and the expense – of providing education to the business community?

Lately, there’s been a new contention. Spurred perhaps by voucher programs’ inability to produce improved test scores that are in any way proportional to the huge investment of public funds in them, school choice advocates such as Indiana House Education Committee chair, Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, now have started saying that education should have a new goal.
And that is empowering parents.

But that, too, raises a question. If the purpose of education is to make parents feel good about their kids’ schooling, then why are non-parents – or, for that matter, parents whose children already have finished school – being asked to pay for education, too?

Those questions of who bears the expense aside, the real reason we need to determine what we want our schools to accomplish is that those schools – public or private, choice or charter – cannot possibly succeed if they don’t know what their primary purpose is. It is almost impossible to arrive at a destination if one does not know what that destination is.

The only way that happens is by accident.

And hoping for happy accidents isn’t sound public policy.

For at least a generation, we Hoosiers have been so preoccupied with questions that focus on which educational road we want to take that we haven’t bothered to ask where we want the educational journey to end.

Or we have assumed that there can be several, often mutually contradictory, destinations.

That’s why education policy in Indiana too often has resembled a clown car at the circus. It drives in circles, does some entertaining crazy 8s and ultimately goes nowhere.

The Indiana General Assembly plans to focus in the next few months on where and how it will expand the state’s Pre-K educational options. That is to the good.

But even finding ways to invigorate young minds when they’re most ready to learn won’t solve our education problems because it won’t answer that simple but hard question:

Where do we want to go?
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Monday, January 2, 2017

Let business take responsibility for itself

Posted By on Mon, Jan 2, 2017 at 1:34 PM

It’s time for business leaders to stop seeking subsidies from the same public sector they deny adequate funding to do its job.

Businesses complain of a shortage of qualified labor. Is it government’s responsibility to train the labor force? Are our elementary and secondary schools to be merely preliminary settings for vocational training?

What does business do directly to improve the labor force? If they find too many workers disabled by illiteracy, drugs and alcohol (a common complaint in this state), do they sponsor work prep programs, including alcohol and drug treatment efforts? Do they increase wages to attract more qualified workers? Do they separately or collectively offer intensive training programs for workers?

Many firms believe government or workers themselves should pay to prepare for work and for specific occupations. Most often firms don’t want to pay the taxes or fees necessary to support such education because workers are not bound by contract to repay the investment.

Where is business in economic development? Indiana uses a combination of federal, state, and local funds to attract and retain firms. The amount and use of private funding for such efforts is hidden from public view.

One means of subsidizing businesses is through Tax Increment Financing (TIF) districts. These districts use the increased future property taxes paid in a developing area to repay bonds sold to raise funds for the sewers, streets, etc. needed in that area.

It’s still a valid idea; however, it often grows beyond its initial boundaries and intent, without providing necessary infrastructure and maintenance. TIF districts also delay the receipt of local revenues for ordinary, but growing government functions (police, fire, schools, and libraries).

The biggest subsidies reduce or eliminate business taxes. Other subsidies reduce or refund taxes to firms that increase employment. Additional subsidies come from curtailing or weakening the enforcement of regulations.

Indiana also subsidizes large-scale commercial and residential developments beyond city boundaries by impeding their annexation. Too often these developments escape paying taxes for essential city services.

These many subsidies create Indiana’s “good business environment,” but they may be hazardous to the public’s well-being.

Economic developers and businesses tell legislators all these subsidies are needed to combat competition from other places. It’s time to prove it; give us evidence, not just uncorroborated stories and supposition.

Let business demonstrate that Indiana is “a state that works.” Let’s see the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the dozens of trade associations haunting the State House go back to their members and place responsibility for business success where it belongs — on business leadership.

Indiana could be a leader. Announce we will no longer pay businesses to locate or expand here. If you need a subsidy to be here, maybe you don’t belong here.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Bill Hudnut and the great heart that built a city

Posted By on Tue, Dec 20, 2016 at 1:44 PM


It’s fitting, I suppose, that it was Bill Hudnut’s heart that gave out at the end.

He asked an awful lot of that heart of his. He gave so freely of it, wearing it not just on his sleeve, but on his face, in his smile, on his back, in his handshakes and as part of his hugs. He was a man who lived and loved large.

That meant he could be hurt, often and easily.

I have known many political leaders, but never one who was as sensitive to slights or who agonized as much over missteps as Mayor Bill did. He cared so much and he tried so hard to do the right thing – to help people – that it wounded him, right to his core, when they failed to understand what he was trying to do or when he did not measure up to his own high standards.

In some ways, it’s surprising he lasted as long and did as well as he did in politics. Most politicians develop hides of steel, protective skins to sheath and defend their tender places.

Bill Hudnut never could do that well.

He was what he was.

A man who was all heart.

He will be remembered, accurately, as the mayor who built the Indianapolis that thrives today. People will tell tales of how he brought the Colts to town, how he saved the Pacers, how he launched Circle Centre Mall and revitalized the downtown, how he shepherded us through the great blizzard of ’78, how he served as a voice of racial reconciliation, how he was everywhere, doing everything, as mayor from 1976 to 1992.

All of that is true and worthy of tribute.

But I’ll remember him in other ways.

In recent times, I saw him most often in the Adirondacks in upstate New York, where some of my wife’s family lives and where he and his family have had property for more than 80 years. He and his wife of more than 25 years, Beverly, and my wife and I would get together for lunch or dinner. We’d laugh and tell stories.

As mayor of Indianapolis, Bill had a deserved reputation as a man of vision, one who saw the big picture. He was the leader who saw possibilities others missed and could transform a dream into a reality as tangible as the bricks in a building or the cement in a street.

In the Adirondacks, he could be and was something and someone else, a man who could enjoy small and simple pleasures. He loved walking along a dirt road while holding Bev’s hand, telling his friends stories about his son Chris’s basketball games, or just soaking up the mountain air and the smell of the pine trees.

The last time we got together out there, he and Bev sat on a bench overlooking a small mountain lake near their home. He had his arm draped over his wife’s shoulders as he gazed out at the water.

And he said in a soft voice, straight from that great heart of his:

“It’s beautiful here when the sun sets.”

Bill Hudnut died Saturday night. He was 84.

In a valediction that he penned himself before his death, Bill said he wanted his epitaph to be: “He built well and he cared about people.”

And so it shall be.

In the same valedictory, Bill, all heart to the end, forbade mourning at his passing. He urged us instead to rejoice in life, in pleasures large and small, in the opportunities for service and joy that each new day brings.

I’m doing my best to honor his wishes.

If I see Bill again, I will tell him the tears that were in my eyes as I wrote this were tears of joy.

It will be true.


And that great heart of Bill Hudnut’s will forgive me for not telling the complete truth.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

War is on sense, not Christmas

Posted By on Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 9:14 AM

Many of the good folks of Knightstown, Indiana, are in a lather.

They’re upset because the town has had to pull down a cross that sat atop an evergreen in the town square. Every year, the tree is decorated for the holidays.

This year, a Knightstown resident sought the help of the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana to prevent the town from putting the cross on the tree. The ACLU filed suit and, amid some harrumphing, the town retreated.

“It is with regret and sadness that the Knightstown Town Council has had the cross removed from the Christmas tree on the town square and is expected to approve a resolution at the next council meeting stating they will not return the cross to the tree,” the council posted on Facebook.

That didn’t please some Knightstown residents. They put crosses up in their yards. They rallied at the square.

“This is the demonstrative of the erosion of free expression of religion,” a local minister told The Indianapolis Star.

He added:

“It’s my hope in the future, someone would be able to put forward the case under the First Amendment, that such displays do not violate the establishment of the First Amendment.”
Several things need to be said here.

The first is that I should disclose that I’m a former executive director of the ACLU of Indiana.

The second is that this issue has been before the nation’s courts over and over and over again. And again and again and again the courts have ruled the same way. The courts have said government has no business deciding what religions it likes and what religions it doesn’t.

That’s likely the real reason the Knightstown Council threw in the towel and pulled the cross down. Their lawyers told the council members they were going to spend a lot of taxpayer money fighting a battle they were destined to lose.

The third thing is that this debate isn’t about faith. It’s about government.

No one is trying to stop individuals from expressing their faith, Christian or otherwise. No one is attempting to stop private citizens from putting crosses, nativity scenes or representations of Jesus in their yards, on their windows or atop their roofs.

What they are trying to do is stop government from elevating one faith – or, for that matter, any faith – above another.

I know it is part of religious right’s propaganda effort to argue that the ACLU has “declared war” on Christmas and religion.

If that were true, then the ACLU clearly doesn’t know how to fight. By my count, the ACLU took down one cross in Knightstown — from the town square — and saw dozens of others pop up. If the goal of the people at the ACLU was to keep people from expressing their faith, then they’re failing miserably.

But that’s not what they were trying to do.

They were trying to keep some citizens from using the power of government to force other citizens to support or honor a faith not of their choosing.

Using government power to force someone else to honor your faith isn’t called religious freedom.

It’s called tyranny.

Advocates for the religious right like to point to public opinion surveys that show a majority of Americans support the idea of allowing government to endorse one faith or another.

That’s a nonsensical argument. The First Amendment – like the rest of the Bill of Rights – is one of the things we take off the table and say are not up for majority approval.

We, for example, do not take a vote to make Jacob a Lutheran if he would prefer to be a Baptist. Nor do we use the authority of government to force Jane to go to a church, a synagogue or a mosque if she just wants to stay home.

The First Amendment says those decisions are Jacob’s or Jane’s choice and responsibility.

Their right, in fact.

The holiday season is about faith. We all should honor that faith in whatever fashion each of us feels is best.

We don’t need government’s help to do that.

And, this holiday season, that freedom is something to celebrate.
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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Trump, the GOP and the looming threat to come

Posted By on Wed, Dec 14, 2016 at 11:06 AM

  • Lora Olive
Donald Trump’s presidency may present problems for Democrats and progressives, but it promises to be a disaster for Republicans and conservatives.

That much is clear from the news he’s generated and the moves he’s made since his surprise election last month.

The people with whom Trump is surrounding himself suggest as much. One can search his proposed Cabinet and staff at length and not find the name or face of a single GOP A-lister or conservative heavyweight.

Instead, he’s surrounding himself with people who have no experience with government or public service. In some cases – his secretary of education nominee comes to mind – the person selected has spent countless hours and millions of dollars expressing nothing but contempt for government.

Trump’s faith is at the least counterintuitive. He seems to think people will perform well in jobs they believe are beneath them.

But his selection of personnel is only part of the problem.

It is the way Trump plans to use the people around him that poses the greatest threat to Republicans and conservatives.

For all their caterwauling about media bias and a liberal hegemony, conservatives and the GOP have dominated the American debate for nearly 40 years. Even in years when Democrats have held office and power, conservatives have dragged the American center to the right.

In the early 1970s, a Republican president considered a reactionary right-winger – Richard Nixon – proposed a guaranteed minimum family income for all Americans. Now, even a self-proclaimed democratic socialist – Bernie Sanders – would consider such an idea politically untenable.

Conservatives and Republicans achieved this dominance because they approached the work of governance with greater intellectual coherence and discipline than their opponents did. At the heart of their approach to governing were two bedrock ideas.

The first was a faith in the power of free markets. They believe – or at least they believed – that a system of lower taxes, fewer regulations and minimal trade barriers would make it easier for businesses to create jobs, which would benefit everyone.

Critics could and did argue that conservatives often conflated (and confused) benevolence with greed, but it didn’t matter. The notion that free markets are unmixed blessings was an article of faith to conservatives.

Trump’s Carrier deal and other economic development moves are a direct challenge to that faith.

To persuade Carrier to keep an as-yet-to-be-determined number of jobs in the United States, Trump had to both lean on his vice president-elect, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, to provide significant tax breaks to the company but he also had to threaten to cancel the government contracts Carrier’s parent company holds and to impose higher tariffs on the company should it make its products anywhere but in the United States.

Both the dedicated tax breaks and threats of reprisal are classic protectionist moves – interventions in the workings of the market most intellectually honest conservatives abhor.

The second bedrock belief was in America’s autonomy. Part of conservatives’ historic distrust of the United Nations, for example, sprang from a concern that ties with international organizations or even other countries would limit our ability to determine and act upon our own national interests.

This concern was so profound Republicans a generation ago made a trip Bill Clinton took to Russia when he was a young man a huge campaign issue.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s report – which has been supported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation – that Russia influenced this year’s presidential election on Trump’s behalf undermines any notion of American autonomy.

The fact that Trump has dismissed the report with little more than a sneer – disparaging the record of the last Republican president, George W. Bush in the process – indicates that this is not a great concern of his. So does the fact that he’s about to nominate for secretary of state someone who has no foreign policy experience and whose sole qualification seems to be his friendly relationship with Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Perhaps that is why traditionally conservative Republican U.S. senators such as John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Marco Rubio of Florida either have expressed concern about Russia’s involvement in the race or even called for an investigation.

They’re doing so because they know the truth.

For Democrats, Donald Trump is a problem.

For Republicans, he’s a threat.

A serious threat.
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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sen. Donnelly promises to protect Medicare

Posted By on Tue, Dec 13, 2016 at 2:22 PM

With a new session of Congress just a few weeks away, there are already concerning discussions underway about privatizing Medicare. Let me say unequivocally to you now: I have opposed and will continue to oppose privatization of Medicare.

Privatizing Medicare, or turning it into a voucher system, would take seniors back to a time where they have to make difficult financial tradeoffs if they get sick and need good health coverage. It would mean higher out-of-pocket costs for seniors and higher insurance premiums for younger Americans.

Every day, across Indiana and our country, millions of seniors rely on Medicare for the quality, affordable health care it provides. More than 1.1 million Hoosiers are enrolled in Medicare today, and thousands more will join in the next few years. It is central to the promise that, after years of hard work, seniors have earned the right to the peace of mind that they will be able to access care.

To that end, I have consistently opposed efforts to privatize Medicare. And I will oppose any effort to end Medicare as we know it or turn it into a voucher program in the future.

Before the implementation of Medicare and Social Security, millions of seniors were uninsured and risked having to choose between healthcare and poverty. Thanks to Medicare and Social Security, nearly every senior now has health insurance coverage, and poverty among seniors has been dramatically reduced.
Recently, President-elect Trump nominated Congressman Tom Price of Georgia to be the next Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, a position that in part oversees Medicare. Because of Congressman Price’s long record of pushing to privatize Medicare and undermine the promises made to our seniors, I will vote against his nomination.

If my colleagues or President-elect Trump have constructive ideas that would strengthen Medicare, reduce the costs of care and crack down on waste, fraud and abuse, count me in. But if they want to phase out Medicare, or privatize the system, count me out.

And, just as Indiana’s seniors have worked for a lifetime counting on the guarantee of Medicare, the young men and women working hard today expect to have Medicare available when they retire. I am committed to ensuring that we keep that promise to them as well.

As always, I am hopeful that there will be opportunities for bipartisan cooperation in the new year on common sense policies that will benefit Hoosier families. I will not stop fighting until every Hoosier who wants a job has one, until we have ended the tragedy of servicemember and veteran suicide and until we have addressed the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemics that are devastating communities across Indiana and our country. But when it comes to Medicare, I will not support any effort that would put us on a direct path to ending Medicare as we know it.

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Monday, December 12, 2016

Indiana rides the economic roller coaster

Posted By on Mon, Dec 12, 2016 at 8:42 AM

After the 2016 election, some people saw sunshine ahead with a return to greatness. Others expected moonless nights with a great nation degraded.

Indiana has few anticipations. We really don’t know Governor-elect Eric Holcomb. Is he the second coming of Mike Pence, as his supporters believed? Or is he Pence 2.0 as the billboards of his opponents declared.

This much we do know, the state’s public relations folks aren’t as enthusiastic about the latest state economic news as they were just six months ago.

Last week the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Indiana’s real Gross Domestic Product (affectionately known as GDP, the inflation-adjusted value of goods and services produced in the U.S.) grew in the Spring or second quarter of this year by a 1.25 percent annual rate. This was a smidge over the 1.16 percent at which the whole country grew.

We enjoyed a very slim lead over Montana for the honorable 25th place in growth among the states. Contrast this with the ballyhooing last June when Indiana’s GDP growth was reported as first among the nation’s 50 states during the last quarter of 2015.

First! The air up there was so rarified, the height alone caused shivers down the Hoosier spine from South Bend through Plymouth, Kokomo, Franklin, Columbus, Crothersville, all the way to Jeffersonville.

We were “Booming” according to Gov. Pence and then-Lt. Gov. Holcomb. However, the thrill was gone when the data were, as usual, revised. Indiana sank from first to 13th place for 2015 Qtr4. Now more air is out of the state’s balloon as we have dropped to 25th place in 2016 Qtr2.

Hoosiers still wonder, “How hard was the hit when the Great Recession took us down? How much of a rebound did we have?”

The last peak, before the U.S. and Indiana economies began to contract, was in 2007 Qtr4. Then, Indiana ranked 16th in economic size with 1.92 percent of the nation’s output. By the bottom of the recession, in 2009 Qtr2, Indiana had lost $27 billion in constant 2009 dollars, or 9.5 percent of its pre-recession output. During the same six quarters, the nation’s GDP fell only 4.2 percent.

Since that economic trough, Indiana’s GDP grew by 17.2 percent, helping us retain 16th place in size, but with a slightly smaller share of the nation’s total output, which grew by 14 percent. Over the course of this business cycle, Indiana’s real GDP grew by only six percent compared with the U.S. advance of nine percent.

If we feel we’ve been on a roller coaster, but not gone far, it’s true. Our decline was the fifth most severe in the nation, but our upward movement since then has been the tenth strongest. Only Michigan had a more dramatic fall and bounce back.

Less volatility might be soothing, but our total experience was better than that of 23 other states and far better than the three least volatile states: Louisiana, Maine and Mississippi.
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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Make the House the people's house again

Posted By on Thu, Dec 8, 2016 at 8:29 AM


In the waning days of the presidential campaign, when he thought he was likely to lose, President-elect Donald Trump routinely complained that the system was "rigged."

He was right — but it's rigged to benefit him and the Americans he represents.

Angry Hillary Clinton supporters and other activists have focused their ire on the Electoral College. They point to the fact that Clinton won more than 2 million more popular votes than Trump did and they say that the Electoral College perverts the will of the people.

They want to see it abolished — or reformed so that the winner of the popular vote always wins the election.

There's another way to solve this problem they ought to consider, because the problem is larger than the presidency.

The Electoral College's total of 535 votes reflects the membership of the two branches of Congress, the 100 U.S. senators and the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Originally, the different sizes of the memberships of the Senate and the House were supposed to reflect the two chambers' different purposes. The fact that every state, however small or large, had the same number of senators — two — was supposed to reflect the fact that each state had the same standing within the federal government.

The House, on the other hand, was supposed to reflect the voice of the people. That's why it was called "the people's house." And its membership was supposed to grow as the population of the United States grew.

That's the way it worked until the 1920s.

Then, amid rising concerns in rural states about waves of immigration from Europe filling cities, Congress decided to change its system of apportionment. It capped the membership of the House of Representatives at 435.

And, except for temporary expansions when Alaska and Hawaii became states, that's the way it's stayed since 1929.

The effect has been to give voters in less-populated and rural states an increasingly disproportionate voice not just in terms of who occupies the Oval Office or who sits in the U.S. Senate, but who rules the House of Representatives.

The people's house.

In 1929, the year the cap was installed, America had a population of slightly more than 90 million people. Most Americans then lived in the country or in small towns.

Now, we are a nation of slightly more than 325 million, and roughly 63 percent of us live in urban areas.

That change isn't reflected in our system of selecting the president, U.S. senators or members of the House of Representatives.

The fact that our government isn't set up to represent the will of the majority any longer has had unfortunate effects.

The first is that it has undermined confidence in the idea that all Americans have the same voice in their country's affairs. The brutal fact is that a Wyoming resident's vote is worth more — much more — proportionately than that of a resident of California, Texas, New York or Florida.

This leads to the second problem.

Because small states and a minority of Americans have more weight within the system than they should, time and again we see concerns that matter to a majority of Americans — gun violence, affordable health care, income inequality — shoved aside or ignored.

We are supposed to be a nation in which the will of the majority prevails while the rights of the minority are protected.

Now, though, we live in a country in which we live, in the words of a friend of mine, under the tyranny of the minority while the will of the majority is ignored.

The solution to this is go back to the old system and have the membership of the House of Representatives keep pace with population growth — to make it the people's house once more. The Senate could remain as the bulwark of small states' interests and prerogatives.

And have the Electoral College continue to reflect the membership of the two chambers of Congress.

Some will argue that increasing the House's membership would make things more unwieldy and add to the federal government's dysfunction.

Maybe, but it's also possible that a reconstituted House would see its mission as implementing the people's will rather than thwarting it.

That would be a welcome change.

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