Monday, July 31, 2006

Can BMV Problems Get Any Worse?

When the Bureau of Motor Vehicles' new computer system first went online, it resulted in long delays at license branches to renew drivers licenses and perform other transactions. Then we learned that drivers licenses could no longer be performed online. Then we learned that law enforcement could no longer rely on the system because it was spitting out bogus driver data. Tonight AI hears from Jeff Newman in Greenwood that he just received license plates and other correspondence from the BMV addressed to a woman who lived at his address nearly 20 years ago!

A few days ago, an Indianapolis Star editorial wrote: "Bureau of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Joel Silverman admits that 'we didn't do as well as the customer expects.' That's the understatement of the year." The Star had this advice for Gov. Daniels: "The governor . . . needs to send a clear message to his BMV chief: Fix this mess soon or find another job." This mess may be one that is beyond fixing. Perhaps scrapping the whole system and starting anew may be the best option at this point. Incidentally, the vendor for this multi-million dollar computer software disaster is Unisys. Is anyone aware of any projects Unisys has performed successfully for the State of Indiana recently?

UPDATE: The Star's Mary Beth Schneider takes a look today at whether the BMV can wait out the glitch-ridden, $34 million dollar computer system. Schneider writes, "To many BMV customers, and some current and former employees, the system is a $34 million boondoggle that at best was poorly and prematurely implemented and at worst ought to be scrapped before the state wastes any more money on it." If the administration has its way, there's no way it will scrap Unisys' disastrous computer system Schneider reports.

Surprise: Lauth And Cook Are Feuding

The Orange Co. Circuit Judge unsealed court records today in the lawsuit brought by the Cook Group against its Blue Sky casino partner, Lauth Property Group, because the law says he must. And we learn that the two are fighting over control of the casino, Cook claiming that Lauth forfeited one-half of its 50 percent stake in the casino when it failed to meet a deadline for lining up its financing--just as we reported last month.

But fear not, Daniels' newly-appointed Gaming Commission Chairman William Barrett says the Commission is probing the matter and is completely on top of the matter. “We plan and expect the French Lick project to open on time,” Barrett told the Indianapolis Star. Never mind that the matter was completely brushed over by the Commission's Executive Director Earnest Yelton at its last public meeting. Having dealt with Mr. Barrett in a litigation matter in the past, his comments are as reassuring as if they came from a fox guarding a henhouse. So much for aiming higher with this appointment Gov. Daniels.

UPDATE: The Star's J.K. Wall has more details about the dispute. He indicates the dispute boils down to Lauth's claim that Bill Cook insists on spending too lavishly on the project, while Cook believes Lauth is treating the project "as if they were building a Best Buy or Home Depot." Personally, I have to side with Bill Cook. This project would not have been possible without his tireless efforts over the years to restore the French Lick Springs Resort and West Baden Springs Hotel to their former grandeur--an important historic preservation project for the state. He is said to have dropped up to $100 million into this project. Lauth's personal investment has been a drop in the bucket by comparison. Lauth's personal attacks against Cook in its lawsuit are quite offensive when you consider it wouldn't have had a seat at the table but for the good grace of Cook. It sounds like Cook's attorneys have it right: Bob Lauth is "greedy."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Marriage Is Like Trix: It's For Kids

Reacting to the recent New York and Washington court decisions denying any right to marriage to same-sex couples, Dan Savage explains in a New York Times opinion column today how both courts basically found that "marriage is like a box of Trix: It's for kids." Savage writes:

In New York, the court ruled in effect that irresponsible heterosexuals often have children by accident — we gay couples, in contrast, cannot get drunk and adopt in one night — so the state can reserve marriage rights for heterosexuals in order to coerce them into taking care of their offspring. Without the promise of gift registries and rehearsal dinners, it seems, many more newborns in New York would be found in trash cans.

At least the New York court acknowledged that many same-sex couples have children. Washington’s judges went out of their way to make ours disappear, finding that “limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to the survival of the human race, and furthers the well-being of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by the children’s biological parents.” Children, the decision continues, “tend to thrive in families consisting of a father, mother and their biological children.’’

A concurring opinion gave the knife a few leisurely twists: due to the “binary biological nature of marriage,” it read, only opposite-sex couples are capable of “responsible child rearing.” These stunning statements fly in the face of the evidence about gay and lesbian parents presented to the court. Similar evidence persuaded the high court in Arkansas to overturn that state’s ban on gay and lesbian foster parents.

What the New York and Washington opinions share — besides a willful disregard for equal protection clauses in both state Constitutions — is a heartless lack of concern for the rights of the hundreds of thousands of children being raised by same-sex couples.

Even if gay couples who adopt are more stable, as New York found, don’t their children need the security and protections that the court believes marriage affords children? And even if heterosexual sex is essential to the survival of the human race (a point I’m willing to concede), it’s hard to see how preventing gay couples from marrying increases heterosexual activity. (“Keep breeding, heterosexuals,” the Washington State Supreme Court in effect shouted, “To bed! To bed! To bed!”) Both courts have found that my son’s parents have no right to marry, but what of my son’s right to have married parents?

A perverse cruelty characterizes both decisions. The courts ruled, essentially, that making my child’s life less secure somehow makes the life of a child with straight parents more secure. Both courts found that making heterosexual couples stable requires keeping homosexual couples vulnerable. And the courts seemed to agree that heterosexuals can hardly be bothered to have children at all — or once they’ve had them, can hardly be bothered to care for them — unless marriage rights are reserved exclusively for heterosexuals. And the religious right accuses gays and lesbians of seeking “special rights.”

Savage does manage to find a silver lining in these disappointing court decisions. "If heterosexual instability and the link between heterosexual sex and human reproduction are the best arguments opponents of same-sex marriage can muster, I can’t help but feel that our side must be winning," he says. "Insulting heterosexuals and discriminating against children with same-sex parents may score the other side a few runs, but these strategies won’t win the game."

Kennedy Thinks Roberts and Alito Misled Senate

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who voted against the confirmation of both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, pens an opinion column for the Washington Post in which he argues that the two misled the Senate during their confirmation hearings about their judicial philosophies. Kennedy says the two promised the Senate Judiciary Committee a "neutral, modest judicial philosophy"; instead, they have given us "an activist's embrace of the administration's political and ideological agenda."

Kennedy notes that Kennedy and Alito voted together more than any other two justices on the Court--91% of the time. Kennedy offers examples of how the two are eroding civil liberties and undermining the rights of minorities:

During Roberts's hearing, I asked him about his statement that a key part of the Voting Rights Act constitutes one of "the most intrusive interferences imaginable by federal courts into state and local processes." In response, he suggested that his words were nothing more than an "effort to articulate the views of the administration . . . for which I worked 23 years ago."

Today -- too late -- it is clear that Roberts's personal view is the same as it was 23 years ago. In League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry , the Supreme Court held that Texas's 2003 redistricting plan violated the Voting Rights Act by protecting a Republican legislator against a growing Latino population. Roberts reached a different view, concluding that the courts should not have been involved and that it "is a sordid business, this divvying us up by race."

The same Roberts who wished the federal government would leave Texas alone was unconcerned by federal intrusion into Oregon's approach to the issue of assisted suicide. In Gonzales v. Oregon , a majority of the Supreme Court held that the Justice Department lacked the power to undermine Oregon's Death With Dignity Act. However, Roberts joined a startling dissent by Justice Antonin Scalia, stating that the administration's actions were "unquestionably permissible" because the federal government can use the Constitution's commerce clause powers "for the purpose of protecting public morality" . . . .

Similarly, Alito had a pattern of ruling against individuals in Fourth Amendment cases -- including a case involving the strip-search of a 10-year-old girl. When questioned, he insisted that one of the judiciary's most important roles "is to stand up and defend the rights of people when they are violated." But Alito cast the deciding vote in Hudson v. Michigan , in which the court decided -- contrary to almost a century of precedent -- that evidence gathered during an unconstitutional search of a suspect's home could be used to convict him.


The evidence against Roberts and Alito leads Kennedy to conclude that judicial nominees must be pressed to provide more candid answers about their judicial thinking. He wants the Judiciary Committee to replace the short round of questioning by each of the committee members with a more in-depth inquiry. "[I]t is essential we learn enough of their legal views to be certain that they will make good on the simple promise etched in marble outside the Supreme Court: 'Equal Justice Under Law, '" Kennedy says.

Guatemalan Baby Adoption Boom To Be Halted Under New Rules

An AP report takes a look at the impact the ratification of an international adoption treaty is likely to have on the number of babies being adopted by Americans in Guatemala. The AP's Juan Llorca says one in every 100 babies born in Guatemala are currently adopted by Americans. He writes:

Critics say Guatemala has become a baby farm where adoptions are too easy and prone to corruption. Defenders say it offers the children a better future, and that legal corners are cut only to spare Guatemalan women the stigma of unwed motherhood or relieve them of another mouth to feed.

For now, willing parents can get Guatemalan babies by paying thousands of dollars to notaries who act as baby brokers, recruiting birth mothers, handling all the paperwork and completing the job in less than half the time it takes elsewhere. The process is so streamlined that Guatemala outpaces all other countries in the percentage of its children put up for adoption in the United States.

All this will likely end once the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions takes effect in the United States. The U.S. will then require all foreign adoptions to meet tougher international standards, which Guatemala ratified in 2003 but has yet to implement.
The story tells of one mother who has given the last 5 of her 10 children to American parents. Mothers who give up multiple children are suspected of being paid for the children. What is clear is that the notaries are making a lot of money off the adoptions. They charge up to $19,000 for notarizing the paperwork required for the adoptions, which typically cost $30,000. Their work is not, however, always above board. Lloca writes:

But in the last six months alone, the government has brought 30 criminal cases against notaries for falsifying paperwork, allegedly providing false birth certificates and even creating false identities to avoid having to involve the birth father or the parents of underage birth mothers.

Reading this story in the Indianapolis Star this morning I was reminded of a controversial incident which arose during the confirmation hearing of Chief Justice John Roberts. FOX News' Brit Hume reported that the New York Times had been looking into a legal way of unsealing the adoption records of Roberts' and his wife's two adopted children, who were both born in Latin America. The NY Times later said that it simply was asking questions and that it only made initial inquiries.

The New York Times was roundly condemned for looking into the Roberts children's adoption records. I now wonder if reports of the unseemly manner in which some Americans have essentially purchased babies in Latin American countries like Guatemala is what prompted the New York Times to begin asking questions about how Chief Justice Roberts and his wife were able to so easily adopt two Latin American children.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Second Annual Indiana Black Pride

Indiana Black Pride is hosting its second annual Black Pride Festival August 9-13. The festival's main event will take place on Saturday, August 12 in Watkins Park (Fall Creek & Martin Luther King) from 12 noon to 7:00 p.m. Entertainment from Martha Wash will be presented later that night at 9:00 p.m. at the Murat Egyptian Ballroom at 502 N. New Jersey. For more details, click here.

Mel Gibson Meltdown

It looks like there was a little more to Mel Gibson's drunken driving arrest in Malibu early Friday morning than initially reported. Gibson's arrest reportedly triggered the actor of "Passion of the Christ" fame to launch into an anti-semitic tirade with the arresting police officers. A police audiotape reportedly captures Gibson saying:

"F*****g Jews... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson then asked the deputy, "Are you a Jew?"

The report says that during the arrest Gibson repeatedly said, "My life is f****d." TMZ's In The Zone, claims that the sheriff's department whitewashed initial reports on Gibson's arrest by indicating the arrest took place without incident. The sheriff's office is now saying that the arrest report to be turned over to the district attorney will not be sanitized and that no favoritism will be shown to Gibson.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bauer Wants Carter To Investigate High Gas Prices

Crude oil prices have nearly doubled in the past 18 months from about $40 per gallon to just under $80 per gallon--reaching new record highs. House Minority Leader Pat Bauer (D) can't understand why average gas prices have increased by more than a $1 per gallon during this same period of time from $1.75 to $3.00. He thinks Attorney General Steve Carter (R) should investigate oil companies for price gouging because their profits have risen. The Star reports:

In a press release, Bauer said Carter should consider going to Gov. Mitch Daniels to declare a state of emergency in order to give the attorney general added powers to prosecute particularly outrageous examples of gouging.

In a letter to Carter, Bauer said his request was spurred by complaints he has received from constituents upset about gas prices that have gone over the $3 per gallon mark in recent days. Gasoline prices and oil company profits have increased more than 30 percent from a year ago, according to reports.

“People are finding it difficult to afford to fill up their vehicles so they can get to and from work,” Bauer said. “It is hard to listen to their concerns, then read newspaper accounts that tell us that the total earnings among the five largest oil companies have gone up more than 30 percent from a year ago.”


Bauer's call for an investigation of price gouging is completely absurd. Firstly, the conditions for a state of emergency as defined by statute are non-existent. Secondly, there is no evidence of any price gouging. By statute, price gouging occurs if: (1) the amount charged grossly exceeds the average price at which fuel was readily obtainable within the retailer's trade area during the seven (7) days immediately before the declaration of emergency; and (2) the increase in the amount charged is not attributable to cost factors to the retailer, including replacement costs, taxes, and transportation costs incurred by the retailer. This clearly has not occurred.

Nobody likes paying higher gas prices, but as long as crude oil prices continue to skyrocket and oil companies have to meet blending regulations to comply with new environmental emissions regulations, consumers are going to have to pay more at the pump. Unfairly accusing oil companies of fraud isn't going to do anything to solve the problem of gas prices. A continued push for alternative energy sources should remain our central focus. Bauer knows there's nothing Carter or Daniels can do. But by asking them to do something they can't do, he can then blame them for failing to act. That's cheap politics anyway you look at it.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Roob's Former Employer Will Have To Wait Until Year's End for Payoff--If Then

The Daniels administration is further delaying Mitch Roob's plan to hand over administration of most of the agencies' welfare programs to a group of private contractors, including ACS, where he worked as a vice president immediately prior to joining the administration as FSSA Secretary. The AP's Ken Kuzmer writes:

The lengthened timetable is a setback for FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob's plan to solve problems with fraud, waste and delays in awarding benefits by outsourcing the system to private vendors.

Some critics of the plan, however, have questioned whether Roob and FSSA were rushing into privatization and risked repeating other states' mistakes. North Carolina this month canceled a five-year, $171 million deal to create a new Medicaid billing system because it said the contractor, Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Services Inc., failed to meet its deadlines.

Affiliated, where Roob was a vice president before taking over FSSA last year, also is part of the IBM team that's negotiating for the Indiana contract. Roob said he has no remaining financial interest in Affiliated.

Roob and FSSA began soliciting interest from IBM, Affiliated, Bermuda-based Accenture Ltd. and other companies last year and had planned to begin turning work over to the winning bidder this month. Then Daniels announced in May that he would make the decision on the contract and appointed a team of top aides from agencies besides FSSA to review the plan. He has already given them more time for the review.

The "review team" Daniels created to give the appearance that Roob is not involved in the decision-making is expected to complete its work within the next few weeks according to Daniels. "I would like to see us begin the transition, certainly, this year," Daniels said. "... Then again, it's more important to get it right than to get it quickly. That's why I had the special review, that's why I gave them an extension, and I'll give them another one if they need it."

The Governor said, "Our food stamp error rate is high, our recovery rate is terrible, and we've had fraud problems. ... So I would think that [USDA] would be pleased at the prospect of reform, but they'll take whatever time they'll take." So what the hell has Mitch Roob been doing for the past 18 months to clean this mess up--other than trying to outsource everything to private contractors?

Star's Library Report Yields First Investigation

Kevin Corcoran's exhaustive investigative piece describing in great detail what went wrong with the Library Board's construction of the new central library has yielded its first criminal investigation. Corcoran reports in today's Star that a Marion Co. grand jury has been convened to look into the ties of former Republican Board member Mark Bowell to the firm he publicly pushed the Board to hire as the project's construction manager. It's funny how it works. This relationship has been publicly known for about four years, but a criminal investigation is only launched after the Star focuses attention on the matter. Is that why the Star is sitting on a story about Eric Miller? Is someone at the Star protecting him from an investigation that would likely ensue if the newspaper reported on what it knows about Miller and his supposed nonprofit organization, Advance America?

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Chief Justice Randall Shepard To Speak To Federalist Society

The topic is "The Indiana Constitution." The speaker is Chief Justice Randall Shepard. And the host is the Federalist Society. That would be the same group that Chief Justice John Roberts insisted he had never joined. And it's the same group that successfully launched a coup against Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court because its members thought she would be too liberal on such matters as gay rights. They don't like what they call activist judges--that would be judges who believe in something as dangerous and threatening as a constitutional right to privacy. The self-described "conservative" organization is also a frequent critic of the American Bar Association, which it believes is too liberal.

So what will Shepard tell the group? Will he remind them that "Indiana was an early and noteworthy participant in using its bill of rights to defend personal liberty" in such matters as the fight against slavery, the right to counsel, protection against double jeopardy and unreasonable searches and seizures? Will he remind them that the Indiana Constitution "provides a great variety of protections for citizens which are not contained in the Federal Bill of Rights"? Will he tell them of examples which "provide occasions when a litigant who would lose in federal court may win in state court"? And will he tell them that he is "determined that the Indiana Constitution and the Indiana Supreme Court be strong protectors of those rights"? These are all his own words.

You can hear what Shepard has to say to the group on Friday, August 18, 2006 at 12:00 p.m. at the Indianapolis Marriott Downtown. The cost is $25 for members and $20 for students and government employees. If you're an attorney, you can pick up 1 hour of CLE. Contact Robin Beck at (317) 236-2455 for more information, or you can e-mail her at beck@icemiller.com.

IOSHA Investigating Star Photographer's Death

Editor & Publisher reports today that a state OSHA investigation is taking place into the death of Star photographer Mpozi Tolbert. E&P writes:

Indiana state officials are investigating whether The Indianapolis Star violated state workplace safety requirements, following the death of a Star photographer who collapsed in the newsroom earlier this month.

"We became aware that there was a death at the work site and we are investigating to determine whether or not there were OSHA violations associated with the death," said Tim Grogg, a special assistant commissioner with the Indiana Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration office. He said the agency became aware of the death within the last two weeks, but did not know if the employer had reported it as required by state law.

"Anytime we become aware of it, whether it is reported by the employer or another way, it is our statutory duty to do an investigation," Grogg added. "I don't know how many people [at the Star] they have had an opportunity to interview, but they have been to the site within the last two weeks."


E&P also discusses the ongoing war of words between former Star columnist Ruth Holladay and Star management over the emergency response to Tolbert's medical distress. If Indianapolis residents want to know what's going on with this skirmish, they're going to have to rely on Internet blogs. The Star and other local mainstream media outlets aren't covering the story--at least so far. Hat tip to the Indiana Law Blog for catching yet another.

Washington State Court Says No To Marriage Equality

The Washington Supreme Court ruled today that equal protection, due process and equal rights under the state's constitution do not require that same-sex couples have the same opportunity to marry as opposite-sex couples in upholding the state's Defense of Marriage Act. The vote was 5-4 with 3 separately written dissenting opinions in the case cited as Andersen v. King County.

As troubling as the New York high court's ruling against same-sex marriages a few weeks ago was, the Washington decision today is even more shocking. Like New York, Washington has added to its civil rights law sexual orientation as a protected class. The Washington state constitution also includes an equal rights amendment which specifically bars discrimination based on sex. Against this backdrop, five justices of the state's high court concluded that gay and lesbian persons are not members of a suspect class.

Unbelievably, the Court used enactment of non-discrimination laws covering sexual orientation as an argument against treating gays and lesbians as a suspect class. This the court said was evidence that gays and lesbians are not powerless; instead, they are exercising increasing political power according to the court.

The court also attempted to distinguish sexual orientation from other classifications. While conceding that there had been a long history of discrimination against persons based on their sexual orientation, the court's majority found that the gay and lesbian plaintiffs had failed to demonstrate that sexual orientation was an immutable, not behavioral characteristic. You've got to be kidding! The court might as well have said that homosexuality is a mental disorder. It is simply unacceptable that any reasonable person could continue to assert that sexual orientation is chosen, not acquired at birth. But that's exactly what this court concluded.

Once the court reached that conclusion, it need only apply the highly deferential rational basis test for determining whether DOMA past constitutional muster. Applying its rational basis standard, the Court looked at the narrower question of whether the state had a legitimate interest in allowing only opposite-sex couples the right to marry as opposed to the broader question of whether the state's claimed interest was advanced by denying the right to marry to same-sex couples, which the dissenting justices urged for purposes of this analysis.

It all becomes very simple then for the court under this narrower view. Only opposite-sex couples can procreate and thereby ensure the survival of the human race , and the well-being of the children is promoted where children are raised in the homes of their biological parents. The state can thus meet the very low bar required for demonstrating its legitimate interest in enacting DOMA--it bears a reasonable relationship to the state's interest in promoting procreation and child-rearing.

It should be explained that the Washington court interprets its state equal protection clause as the antithesis of its counterpart in the U.S. Constitution. While the federal equal protection clause secures equality of treatment by prohibiting hostile discrimination against a class of persons, Washington's equal protection clause secures equality of treatment by prohibiting undue favor for a specific minority group the court explained. Because DOMA, in effect, confers a benefit on the majority group, equal protection for state constitutional purposes is not implicated the court reasons.

Marriage the court's majority maintains is a fundamental constitutional right. It's a fundamental right conferred only on opposite-sex couples though. The court explains this by ascribing legal significance to the so-called "community standard", which instructs the court that there is no societal commitment to relationships between same-sex couples as there historically has been to opposite-sex couples. And while the state's equal rights amendment does prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex to be sure, denying the right to marry to same-sex couples is not a form of discrimination on the basis of sex the court assures us.

In one of the dissenting opinions, Justice Mary Fairhurt couldn't contain her displeasure with the majority's decision. "Unfortunately, the (majority) are willing to turn a blind eye to DOMA's discrimination because a popular majority still favors that discrimination," she wrote. And that really is what it all boils down to in the final analysis.


To say the court's decision is a disappointment is an understatement. Gay marriage advocates were confident of victory in the Washington court if nowhere else. The AP shares the reaction of an openly gay legislator:



"There aren't words to describe how hurt people in the gay and lesbian community are. There's a lot of tears and a lot of anger right now. Emotion is raw," said state Rep. Ed Murray, a Seattle Democrat and one of four openly gay state lawmakers.


There's another big decision pending in New Jersey, but after the disappointments in New York and Washington, there is little hope of a favorable decision there. In these decisions, it strikes me that the courts do a lot of hand-ringing in their opinions. We know it's not right, but there's nothing we can do about it. It's always been that way. It's the will of the majority. Well, once upon a time it was the will of the majority that institutionalized racism against African-Americans was acceptable. Many of the most important battles in the civil rights movement were won in the court room in the face of opposition from the prevailing majority view. Those judges who rendered those decisions placed a higher value in promoting the greater cause of equality over bowing to the wishes of the majority. It's unfortunate that our judiciary has become so politicized that it cannot muster the courage to give meaning to the most important protections in our constitution.

Daniels Helping Eric Miller

Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) is helping his old nemesis Eric Miller extend his power over Indiana state government. The Star's Mary Beth Schneider reports today that Gov. Daniels has formed a political action committee (PAC) to help Republicans retain their majority in the Indiana House of Representatives. With all but one or two of the party moderates banished from the House GOP caucus and a candidate field that is the most ideologically conservative in recent history, Republican control of the Indiana House after this November's election will mean that Advance America's Eric Miller will have more votes in his pocket to push his extremist agenda than at any other point.

Schneider reports that Daniels' PAC has already amassed $200,000. "If we did not have an agenda, it might not matter so much," Daniels said. "But we do, and to keep the state moving forward, it would really make a big difference that we have a leadership that will hear our bills and give them a fair hearing." And House Speaker Bosma appreciates Daniels efforts. "He realizes that the biggest . . . political battle in this election cycle will be the battle for control of the House," Bosma said. "I personally encouraged him to go for it." Sorry Gov Daniels, but advancing Eric Miller's agenda is not what I call moving the state forward. It's more like moving Indiana back into the dark ages.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Washington Supreme Court Set To Rule On Gay Marriage Tomorrow

The Washington Supreme Court will hand down its long-awaited decision tomorrow on the constitutionality of denying same-sex marriages the legal right to marry. A lower court ruled that the state's Defense of Marriage Act violated the state constitution's equal protection clause. New York's high court recently rejected a similar argument under its constitution. Last year, the Indiana Court of Appeals also rejected a similar argument under Indiana's constitution. AI will bring you more when the decision is made public.

Gibson Involved In Scuffle With Deputy During Black Expo

WTHR-TV reports that City-County Councilor Ron Gibson (D) got into a scuffle with a Marion Co. Sheriff's deputy during Black Expo while trying to enter the Blu Lounge as a "VIP Guest" along with several female companions. Deputy Jean Burkert claims that Gibson had slurred speech, put his hands on her and shoved her a couple of times when she asked the crowd of people outside the club to move back. Gibson's account is quite different. He says:

My name was on the VIP list at Club Blu," Gibson said. Councilman Ron Gibson made the VIP list at The Blu Lounge, located on South Merdian Street near Union Station. The owners reserve the VIP room for special guests, but on July 16th, Gibson and his two friends tried to get in among a huge crowd. "Out of nowhere, this deputy, white female in uniform, comes up and starts yelling, 'You need to move back and move back now'," Gibson said. "I did drink that night," Gibson said, "But it was within a seven-hour span." Gibson insists he never touched Deputy Burkert and calmly addressed her. "I said, 'I am city councilman Ron Gibson, and I would never talk to people like that and yet alone my boss.' She said, 'You are not my boss. Frank Anderson is my boss'," Gibson said. "I was totally sober," Gibson said. "I was in my right mind. I was respectful towards her. I never raised my voice."
It's troubling that Gibson can't help but mention in his interview with WTHR that Deputy Burkert is "white" and everyone standing outside, including himself, was black--the clear implication being that he was picked on by her because of his race. Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi (R) is investigating the incident, but the smear campaign against Deputy Burkert is in full swing. According to WTHR's report, the sheriff's office reported that Deputy Burkert was suspended by Sheriff Anderson for 3 days after a domestic disturbance incident in 2003. And Sheriff Anderson is now investigating why Burkert was working part-time at an establishment that serves alcohol in violation of departmental policy. You can see where this one's headed. Deputy Burkert is likely to pay big for crossing Gibson, right or wrong.

Police Nab I-65 Sniper

Acting quickly on a tip a concerned family member shared with a reserve deputy, the Delaware Co. Sheriff's office moved quickly in investigating and then arresting Zachariah Blanton in connection with the I-65 sniper shootings over the weekend that left one dead and another injured. Indiana State Police and Gov. Mitch Daniels made the announcement of the arrest, but it was the hunch of that lone reserve deputy's hunch that led police to Blanton. The news reports haven't named the reserve deputy yet. He was said to be an acquaintance of Blanton.

According to Delaware Co. Sheriff George Sheridan, Blanton has prior arrests for sex crimes and theft. He has not yet been adjudicated for those crimes according to Sheridan. Presumably he was charged as a juvenile for those crimes because of his age, although Sheridan didn't specifically state that. He is, however, being charged as an adult for murder, attempted murder and criminal mischief for the shooting spree he went on over the weekend.

The Star reports that State Police Superintendant Paul Whitesell said the 17-year old Blanton was "remorseful and cooperated with investigators." “I would call that a confession,” Whitesell said. Often these cases seem to drag on for weeks, months or even years, and it is later learned that there would be several missed opportunities during the course of the investigation. That cannot be said of this case. Law enforcement did it's job and did it well.

Star's Ryerson Hits Back At Holladay: Labels Attack "Erroneous", "Reprehensible" and "Outrageous"

Indianapolis Star Executive Editor Dennis Ryerson hit back hard against Ruth Holladay's assertion that the newspaper's response to a photographer's medical distress in the newsroom contributed to his untimely death. Ryerson in an e-mail to Star employees launched into an attack of Holladay's account of what happened on the night Mpozi Tolbert collapsed and died suddenly. He writes:



Erroneous and hurtful information about circumstances surrounding Mpozi Mshale Tolbert's death were (sic) posted on a blog this morning and have been widely distributed. I am personally offended that a 37-year journalist would write these kind of things without following the first law of journalism: "Check it out!"

Here is the response we are providing to people asking for comment:

All of us at The Star are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague, Mpozi. We feel it is imperative to correct false statements made on the internet. Any Star employee can call 911 from Star phones. In fact, employees and our security staff used Star phones to make calls that night.

It is reprehensible, frankly I find it outrageous, that somebody would use this very sad circumstance to lambaste The Star and its owners.

At this point in his e-mail, Ryerson launched a broadside attack on Internet blogs. "But that noise is what passes for fact these days in too many blogs," Ryerson said. "This is why I insist, and will continue to insist, that we set ourselves apart from that noise by providing complete, credible, fair reporting, in every section every day, in print and on line."

Editor & Publisher reported today on the Star's vehement denial of Holladay's claim that employees were blocked from dialing 911 from newsroom telephones. "Star Senior Vice President & General Manager Ali Zoibi [was prompted] to issued a firm denial," E&P writes. "All of us at The Star are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend and colleague, Mpozi." "We feel it is imperative to correct false statements made on the Internet. Any Star employee can call 911 from Star phones. In fact, employees and our security staff used Star phones to make calls that night."

The Star management refused to speak to E&P beyond the facts they released in Zoibi's written statement. E&P also notes that the Indianapolis News Guild is not satisfied with the Star's response and seeks more answers. "We just don't know all the facts yet," Tom Spalding, a guild local vice president, said Tuesday. Given Holladay's hint of litigation in her earlier report, Ryerson may have been advised by counsel to limit his comments on the matter. Also, according to E&P's report, the blog Ryerson referenced in his e-mail was not a local blog but rather a nationally-known journalistic blog, Poynter.org.

For her part, Holladay has modified her account significantly on the 911 call matter in response to Ryerson's denial of her claim. She writes:



Reporters and editors were frantically trying to dial 911, but they didn't know they had to get an outside line first. That's why some had to resort to cell phones. Can you imagine trying to call 911 and getting stalled? Or calling security and getting confused questions rather than a response? No wonder people thought they couldn't call 911- they couldn't. They didn't know the procedure. Whose responsibility is that? Also, some people were told, that night, that all 911 stuff had to be routed thru security. Security was called, but that was another set of problems (lack of English skills on behalf of the person working).

In her original account, she said flatly, "[T]he setup in the newsroom . . . DOES NOT ALLOW REPORTERS OR EDITORS TO CALL OUT ON 911. Her original assertion was simply misleading. There was no formal rule prohibiting 911 calls from being made from the newsroom. If you have to dial an extra number to get an outside line on your phone system, wouldn't common sense indicate the same would be true for a 911 call? Her original account left you with the impression that all emergencies had to be routed to security, who in turn placed 911 calls. No such requirement formally existed as even she now admits. As for the cell phones used to make 911 calls, weren't some of those company-issued phones?

But she quickly points out the matter of the blocked freight elevator as EMTs attempted to taken Tolbert down the elevator. And on that point she raises a legitimate concern. She compares the current management to that under the Pulliam family. "Back in the day when the Pulliams owned the joint, an emergency protocol was taped or pasted to every secretary's desk -- that was when each department had one secretary and the newsroom several," Holladay writes. "The drill was first call 911, then call security," she adds.

Holladay asserts that she e-mailed her concerns to Ryerson and publisher Barb Henry following Tolbert's death. "I told Barbara I believed that the newsroom would be greatly helped in dealing with this trauma if, in the aftermath, there was CPR training, defibs, and a first responder. etc. I said I thought it would help the newsroom deal with sorrow, anguish and guilt," Holladay writes. "Her answer was compelling. She said there was 'sorrow, yes, but no guilt.' What did you expect her to say Ruth? "It's our fault Mpozi is dead." Let's be realistic about this.

Last year Holladay wrote a column about former IU Law School Associate Professor William Bradford, which portrayed him as a conservative victim of the law school's liberal political correctness crowd. Later, Holladay penned a column admitting that many of the orginal claims laid out in her column turned out to be untrue. She had been duped by Bradford. Has Holladay been duped by one or more of her former colleagues at the Star? Or did she just fail to "Check It Out" as Ryerson insists? Holladay definitely raises valid concerns about the newspaper's preparedness to respond to emergencies of this nature. But her original account, given what we now understand, at least appears to have been somewhat over the top.

Teen-Ager Questioned In I-65 Sniper Shootings

WTHR-TV is reporting that Indiana State Police are questioning a 17-year old teen-ager in connection with the I-65 sniper shootings that left one man dead and another injured. Police have recovered a weapon from the teen-ager, and there is evidence placing him at the scene of both the I-65 and I-69 shootings according to WTHR. If the teen is the shooter, then ISP must be lauded for nabbing the shooter so quickly before anyone else became his next victim.

Shocker: Former Star Columnist Blames Newspaper For Photographer's Death

Until recently Ruth Holladay was a regular columnist for the Indianapolis Star. Today, she is writing her own blog, and one of the first posts she has made is a scathing attack on the Star's handling of Star photographer Mpozi Tolbert's sudden collapse and death in the Star's newsroom during one of its busiest hours of the day. Shockingly, Holladay reveals that while Tolbert lie on the floor gasping for breath, no one in the crowded newsroom could place a 911 call because the Star prohibits such calls being made from the newsroom; instead, a call had to be made to security, which in turn placed the call. Holladay explains in horrifying detail:

Mpozi Tolbert was only 34 years old when he collapsed and died in the newsroom of the Indianapolis Star on July 3.Now there's some quaint, old-school, hackneyed journalese for you -- "collapsed and died."

What utter bullshit. Mpozi did not just fall down with his heart at a standstill, victim of a massive stroke or aneurysm.That would be tragic but at least within the realm of reason -- stuff happens. People die, even young, seemingly healthy adults.But the truth is far worse, and it will never be printed in the Gannett-owned Star.

Mpozi -- a vibrant young black male, a bicyclist-about-town, a guy who never met a stranger, the sweet soul of tolerance and curiosity -- was a victim of an inept, profit-driven, cheap, small-minded company.

Gannett is the most financially fat corporation in the now largely souless newspaper industry. But it can't afford the time or money to teach its employees CPR or employ a security team with a first responder or have on hand a pair of defib paddles to revive a man down. (Something Wal-Mart, Target and McDonald's have all managed, as they should).

Gannett, with all its goody-two-shoes emphasis on ethics right down to its practice of hassling employees to ensure that everyone's driver's license is up to date, car insurance in place, etc., has, or had, a setup in the newsroom which DOES NOT ALLOW REPORTERS OR EDITORS TO CALL OUT ON 911.

Note to outraged readers: I am told that little oversight has been corrected. Can anybody say litigation?Here's the timeline of what happened that night, according to those on the scene.

Mpozi came into work about 6 p.m. He was sitting in his Aeron chair in the heart of the newsroom on the second floor, at the photo desk, spooning a little Ben n Jerry's and joking around with a couple photo interns.

He began having trouble breathing -- he began wheezing. The sound quickly became so loud, "like a rusty accordian," one woman reported, that it could be heard directly above him into the open 3rd floor photo department.

The time that all this was going down is the witching hour in the newsroom -- the place was packed with copy editors, city editors, reporters, designers, etc., all racing towards deadline. They did what they could and what was obvious -- call his mom in Philadelphia to see if he was on any medication or had a health condition. Call 911.That's when the Christless fiasco began.

That night, nobody could dial 911 from the newsroom. Gannett wants all such calls to go thru to security, at extension 4900 and located on the first floor, so that security can exert control.The woman working security that night, who got the calls from the second floor, does not speak English with much skill. So she had a hard time getting a grasp on the situation and began asking a lot of questions rather than getting on the horn right away to 911.

Meanwhile, horrified, frantic copy editors and others whipped out their cell phones to dial 911.

During this time, Mpozi went from being very red in the face to turning blue.Two copy editors, a man and a woman, gave him CPR. But it must have been too late -- the sound coming from his lungs was more of a death rattle.

Calls to 911 got thru by 6:25 p.m. The EMTs arrived just before 6:30 p.m. from Wishard, just minutes away.

He was paddled 3 times by them before he was taken out of the building at 6:37 p.m.

On the way out, the first floor freight elevator -- which had to be used to accomodate the size of the ambulence gurney -- was blocked.The Indiana Department of Labor is investigating. Thanks be for that, at least.

The local Indianapolis Newspaper Guild is on the case as well -- they want some answers and they want CPR training, something not legally required in Indiana but obviously available at decent companies with a moral base. They want answers.

An autopsy so far has shown nothing, but more tests are still being conducted. Nothing can bring this talented guy back to life, But everything possible should be done from here on out to make Gannett accountable to its employees and the brass at The Star reponsive to the besieged workers there.

I will continue to follow this story. As a journalist for 37 years, who spent 28 years at The Star, including six years under the Gannett jolly roger, I have an obligation. That's my version of ethics, anyhow.

Unbelievable! A big thanks to Ruth for sharing this story with everyone. And welcome Ruth to the blogosphere. A big hat tip to Taking Down Words for introducing Ruth's Blog on this very sad note.

UPDATE: Hollady has updated her original post to clarify the time line of events. According to Holladay, Tolbert audibly began gasping for breath at 6:10 p.m. That means 15 minutes elapsed before the 911 operator was reached at 6:25 p.m. by her account.

South Bend Equality Supporters Not Going Away

Although the South Bend Common Council narrowly defeated a gay rights ordinance earlier this month, supporters of the ordinance from South Bend Equality tell council members that they're not going away. Wearing buttons that read "Still Not Protected", about 20 supporters gathered at Monday night's meeting to express their disappointment with the council's 5-4 vote against the adoption of the human rights ordinance. The South Bend Tribune's Jamie Loo writes about what supporters had to say during the council's privilege of the floor:

Mishawaka resident David Carter, who owns property in South Bend, said the council's decision on this issue is "egregious." Discrimination against gays in employment, housing and education is still happening as well as gay bashing in the city. Carter said he has a friend in South Bend who was severely beaten for being gay.

"Council members (Charlotte) Pfeifer, (Roland) Kelly, (Ann) Puzzello and (Al) Kirsits, your vote was just, proper and the right thing to do. I leave you with two words: Thank you," Carter said. "Council members (Derek) Dieter, (David) Varner, (Erv) Kuspa, (Timothy) Rouse and (Karen) White, no matter how you try to explain your vote, the fact is you voted in favor of wrongful discrimination against gay people.

"You have sent a message that it's OK to discriminate and sent a signal that it's OK to assault gay people. I leave you with three words: Shame on you."

Council President Rouse, D-at large, answered Carter's strong words immediately after Carter left the lectern.

"We need to make it clear that this body will not stand for personal attacks against anyone sitting here," Rouse said. "If that's what you intend to do, you need to cease and desist."

"It's not an attack, this is fact," Carter said from his seat.

Robert Holmer said when he discussed his support for the ordinance at his workplace, Wal-Mart, one of his co-workers became uncomfortable. The employee reported him to a manager and said Holmer seemed to have "gay tendencies." Holmer, who is heterosexual, said Wal-Mart protects employees from sexual orientation discrimination. But if he worked anywhere else in the city, Holmer said he could've lost his job because of his co-worker's complaint.

Redman thanked all of the council members for their hard work on the issue, particularly Pfeifer and Kelly for sponsoring the ordinance. As a child, her mother taught her that "anything that is worthwhile is worth fighting for," she said. Redman said it's sad gays have to fight for the right to be treated fairly."But I would add too that if it takes a fight, then that's what my mom taught me to do. And that's what I will have to continue to do. So thank you, all of you, for all your hard work. I'd like to tell you that it's over," she said "But I'm afraid I don't think it is yet."

"Is there another (speaker)," Rouse asked looking into the audience in council chambers.The question was met with silence, then Rouse slamming the
gavel.

"Council is adjourned," he said.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Daniels Talks Tax Hike Again

It was bad enough that Gov. Daniels pushed for a tax increase last year, but he's already began talk of making a similar push next year. Daniels tells the Bloomington Herald-Times that he will once again urge the legislature to increase the cigarette tax to enhance the state's fiscal health and pursue education initiatives, such as full-day kindergarten. Daniels tells the Herald-Times:

“It’s my intention to go at this in a fairly large way,” he said. “The starting point is to bring our cigarette tax to the level of other states. Our cigarette tax is the lowest in the Midwest by far.”

Indiana’s tax is now 55.5 cents per pack.When announcing earlier this month that state government ended the fiscal year with a surplus, he said it took any need for tax increases off the table. But he amended that after a reporter’s question, saying he would be open to higher cigarette taxes.

He said if he did propose that, it would be made solely with hopes of reducing smoking. He made the same claim in proposing increases of 25 cents per pack last session. But it failed to clear an initial House committee controlled by fellow Republicans and vanished as an issue.

Here's why Daniels want to increase the cigarette tax. The state of Indiana did not end this past fiscal year with a balanced budget contrary to his claim. If you remove the tax amnesty and other budget gimmicks the administration performed to make it appear the state ended the budget cycle with a surplus, there's still a sizeable hole in the budget to be filled. Ending the current fiscal year with a balanced budget is going to be more of a challenge because he's not going to have an amnesty program to boost state revenues by $200 plus million. Presumably, Daniels doesn't want to ask his agency heads to squeeze out more savings from their budgets.

Daniels is correct that Indiana's cigarette tax is lower than most surrounding states. But 55 cents a pack is still a pretty steep tax if you're a smoker, which I am not. If by some stroke of luck Daniels was successful in convincing the legislature to raise taxes on cigarettes by 25 cents next year, the tax increase would not take effect until July 1--after the end of the current fiscal year. However, cigarette tax collections would surge near the end of the year as smokers stock up on cigarettes before the tax increase takes effect, thereby helping to fill the state's budget hole.

Republican legislators like Luke Kenley and Jeff Espich seem to think a cigarette tax is unlikely unless the revenues are tied to health care initiatives. For me it's just a matter of the state living within its means. State revenues are in fact growing, allowing the state's budget to grow. It's just not big enough growth to satisfy those with the urge to spend more, which apparently includes Gov. Daniels. So much for the nickname President Bush gave him--"The Blade". The cigarette tax is also one that falls unevenly on middle and lower-income taxpayers, who are already being crushed by skyrocketing gas prices. Let's hope this idea is dead on arrival just like this proposal was met this past year.

Young Outfoxes Liggett In Construction Dispute

The Indiana Court of Appeals releases an opinion today involving a construction dispute between two former legislators, Rep. Dean Young (R-Hartford City) and Rep. Ron Liggett (D-Red Key), with the court ruling in favor of Young. The case does, however, raise some serious issues pertaining to Young's ethical conduct as an attorney.

Liggett owns a construction company and used Young as personal attorney for his business. Young entered into a contract with Liggett to build a home for him for $230,000. Young drafted the contract after Liggett had already broken ground and had begun contruction on the home. He inartfully revised the form contract the parties' signed to make it appear that changes in the original contract could be made by oral agreement of the parties. He did not, however, explain to Liggett that another provision of the contract required that all change orders be in writing and signed by both parties. Liggett claims that Young made an additional $30,000 in material upgrades after he began construction, which increased labor charges by $35,000, both above the orginal contract price of $230,000.

Young paid Liggett the full original contract price amount, but he refused to pay him any more because Liggett had failed to execute signed, written change orders with him. Assuming Liggett's claims are true, he wound up building Young's home at a considerable loss to his construction company. Without the additonal funds, Liggett was unable to pay one of the material suppliers, resulting in a lawsuit against his construction company. Liggett filed a third-party complaint against Young seeking recovery, but the trial court granted Young summary judgment based upon the requirement that change orders be in writing and signed by both parties. Liggett had also claimed that the contract should be void as a matter of law because Young had violated Rule 1.8 of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct prohibiting certain transactions between lawyer and client. The court found that Young hadn't violated Rule 1.8 because the rule does not apply to "standard commercial transactions between the lawyer and the client."

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling on both its interpretation of the contract and Young's compliance with Rule 1.8. Judge Sullivan concurred with the court's affirmation of the lower court's ruling on the interpretation of the contract, but he dissented from the court' s ruling with respect to Rule 1.8. Judge Sullivan writes:


In my view, there is a large question as to whether Dean’s drafting of the construction contract and the manner in which is was phrased violated Professional Conduct Rule 1.8(a).

To be sure and without question, Dean, as Liggett’s attorney, entered into a "business transaction" with Liggett. The contract formalizing that transaction was not transmitted "in a manner that [could] be reasonably understood by [Liggett]." It is certainly reasonable that Liggett could construe the contract to authorize additional changes by consultation, and notwithstanding Paragraph 8 of the contract, such changes would be valid and enforceable without a specific writing for a specific change. Even if otherwise, Dean, as the attorney and the person in a superior position, was required to advise of the "in writing" provision of Paragraph 8 as controlling over the "consultation" language of Paragraph 12(b).

Procedural niceties aside, basic fairness, as well as Professional Conduct Rule 1.8(a), dictate that the Youngs not benefit, as a matter of law, from the contract as interpreted by the trial court and by the majority opinion here. Conversely, Liggett should not be denied, as a matter of law, fair and equitable compensation for the labor and materials which were provided to enhance the value of the residence constructed.

I have to agree with Judge Sullivan's dissent. The appearance of Young's over-reaching influence in his dealings with Liggett is quite disturbing. Young and Liggett had a very cordial relationship as former legislators in the Indiana General Assembly, and Liggett obviously placed a lot of trust in Young as his personal attorney, notwithstanding the fact that they were members of opposite parties. Young appears to have taken advantage of that relationship to the detriment of a friend, colleague and client. I think it unfortunate that the majority treated Rule 1.8 so lightly when applied to the facts of this case.

You can read the full text of the case by clicking here. Hat tip to the Indiana Law Blog for catching this one. As a side note, Mark GiaQuinta represented Liggett in his appeal. He is the son of retiring Rep. Ben GiaQuinta (D) and is a former Ft. Wayne city council member. His brother Phil is running this year to replace his father in the House. Liggett is also seeking to regain the seat he lost two years ago.

More FSSA Outrage

Confirming that his administration is more concerned about rewarding political contributors and business cronies than cleaning up state government, Gov. Mitch Daniels has confirmed that FSSA Secretary Mitch Roob's former employer is now the only bidder left in the competition for a $1 billion privatization deal at FSSA. Roob worked as an executive at ACS, along with former Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, immediately prior to joining the administration. The Star's Tim Evans writes today:

A $1 billion proposal to privatize the application process for welfare benefits in Indiana now has a favored candidate: a group that includes the most recent past employer of the state's social services chief.
Gov. Mitch Daniels recently confirmed that the only group left in negotiations is an IBM-led team of 10 companies that includes Dallas-based Affiliated Computer Systems, which is where Indiana Family and Social Service Administration chief Mitch Roob worked just before joining state government.

"If there is a move forward," Daniels said, "it seems certain it will be IBM." If approved, the group would collect and manage information on poor, disabled and elderly Hoosiers who apply for state welfare benefits. Currently, about 2,500 state employees make those decisions for about 1 million people.

Having just one candidate for such a large and important contract may provide fodder for critics of privatization and political foes of Daniels and Roob, although an expert on government ethics said the situation doesn't necessarily pose a conflict of interest.

The entire procurement process for this contract has been a complete joke. Everyone knows that it was preordained that ACS was going to get this contract. This project has nothing to do about improving services at FSSA; it's all about lining the pockets of political friends and associates that have aided you in the past, and will most certainly aid you in the future. When the process came under attack because of Roob's past employment with ACS, Gov. Daniels' response was simply to install a Kangaroo court to finish the job Roob had all but completed. ACS' financial windfall will come at the expense of our state's most needy citizens. So much for aiming higher.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Library Mess

The Star's Kevin Corcoran lays out an exhaustive investigative piece of the mismanagement by the Indianapolis-Marion Co. Library Board in the construction of a new central library, which is now over $50 million over budget and two years behind schedule. Corcoran spares no one of criticism--there's plenty of blame to share. It raises serious questions about the self-dealing of several board members and the quality of legal services being provided by the Board's law firm, Tabbert, Hahn, Earnest & Weddle. Corcoran's report depicts many bad actors in this sad ordeal and a prevailing culture of "what's in it for me" among the various players.

Corcoran's story is so lengthy that it is actually divided into chapters, something I haven't seen in a Star investigate report, at least recently. If you want to find out why the construction of the new central library has been plagued with so many problems, this report is a must-read. Corcoran and the Star should be applauded for devoting this much news space to this important public project. Let's hope the Mayor and the city-county council (and that includes Republican members) accept responsibility for allowing this problem to get out of hand and take the appropriate steps to ensure better management and oversight over this non-elected Board.

I-65 Sniper

An alarming report of random shootings along I-65 last night has claimed the life of one and injured another. Police closed a 14-mile stretch of I-65 about 40 miles south of Indianapolis to investigate the shootings. Two other shootings, which may or may not have been related also occurred on I-69 about 50 miles northeast of Indianapolis. Two vehicles were struck in those shootings but no one was injured. The AP report on the shootings is here.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

"KKK" Scorched On Terre Haute Family's Lawn

An African-American couple living on the northside of Terre Haute awoke Friday morning to find the letters "KKK" scorched into their front lawn and the tire on their son's car slashed. The FBI is investigating the incident as a hate crime according to the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. Karin Grundin writes:

A day after a northern Vigo County couple found the letters “KKK” burned into their front yard, the FBI joined the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department in the investigation.

“It’s not a joke. It’s not a prank,” said Sheriff’s Lt. Tim Gossett, classifying the probe as one into a hate crime, based on race. Gossett, along with an FBI agent, spent part of Friday afternoon interviewing Emanuel and Amelia Smith.

The Smiths reported Thursday morning to a sheriff’s deputy that someone had singed their well-manicured lawn, scorching 6-foot initials for the Ku Klux Klan into the grass. A tire on their son’s Dodge Neon also was flattened outside the Smiths’ home on North 38th Street, just south of Marquette Avenue.

“This is 2006. You just don’t think of this type of thing happening,” said Amelia Smith, who works as a bank branch manager. “People still have hatred toward African-Americans.”


Incidentally, Indiana is one of only four states in the country which does not have a hate crimes law, which provides for enhanced penalties for crimes motivated by bias, such as a person's race, religion or sexual orientation. Indiana does have a reporting law which requires law enforcement agencies to gather statistics on hate crimes.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Jewell Harris Indicted

Jewell Harris, the owner of the Gary Steelheads of the CBA and a former top political advisor to former Gary Mayor Scott King, has been indicted by the feds for allegedly defrauding the city of Gary out of $1.5 million. The AP reports:

A prominent Gary businessman who once was former Mayor Scott King's top political adviser was indicted Friday by a federal grand jury on charges that he defrauded the city of more than $1.5 million.

Jewell Harris Sr., 66, owner of the Gary Steelheads of the Continental Basketball Association, is accused of billing both the city and a contractor for the same work on the city's $45 million baseball stadium.

Harris was released Friday on an unsecured $20,000 bond.

A telephone message seeking comment was left Friday by The Associated Press at Harris' office at the Steelheads. A call to another of his businesses, Enterprise Trucking and Waste Hauling, went unanswered.

Harris has previously denied any wrongdoing, saying no one had ever accused him of breaking any laws. But there had been indications that he was the target of a federal investigation . . .

King resigned in March after 11 years as mayor, saying he needed to earn more money to pay for his children's college. King said last month that records on construction of The Steel Yard baseball stadium were among the thousands of pages of documents that investigators asked him to turn over.

King, who split with Harris in 2003 in a dispute over an initiative the mayor was pushing, said he was saddened to hear about the indictment. King said it is embarrassing to him that someone who twice managed his mayoral campaigns has been indicted.

"From everything I know, it clearly indicates this was somebody out on his own for himself _ if these allegations are true _ not on behalf of an administration, or a city or an organization," he said.

When the downtown ballpark was being built in 2001, Harris was a lobbyist and consultant for the city and represented King in dealings with city departments and boards and outside agencies.

The indictment alleges that Enterprise was already under contract with the city to haul demolition material from sites in the city, when he "compelled" a vendor to enter into a contract for his company to do the same work.

"This is another sad chapter in what seems to be an ongoing abuse of the public's trust in northwest Indiana," said Joseph Van Bokkelen, the U.S. attorney for northern Indiana.

Does Bokkelen have King in his sights next?

Is Stifler Gay?

For your Friday fun is this item from the New York Daily News "Daily Dish" about actor Seann William Scott, best known for his role as Steve Stifler in the American Pie movies:

Sean William Scott turned heads when he showed up at Los Angeles gay bar Heat on the arm of David Geffen.
I suppose anything's possible. David Geffen is the openly gay movie mogul. Maybe he's just looking for a little help finding his next movie role. Or maybe Scott wasn't just acting when he stood next to Justin Timberlake at the 2003 MTV Movie awards show in this photo scantily attired with Justin's photo emblazened on his briefs and tight T-shirt.

Consumer Groups To Fight For Repeal of Realtors Protection Law

WRTV reports tonight that several consumer groups will join forces to fight to overturn Indiana's new Realtors Protection Law, which effectively put discount brokers out of business in Indiana. As WRTV described the new law, real estate brokers are required to provide full services, including listing, showing, negotiating and closing the deal if they wished to qualify as a broker-agent and collect a fee for their services. That denies consumers the "right to choose and save money" WRTV explained.

Tonight's story included an interview with Angie Hicks of Angie's List, as well as John Slimak, the former local head of Home Yeah, which closed its operations here after the new law took effect because its discount/limited services program represented 62% of its business; those services could no longer be offered under the law. Slimak opened a new discount brokerage business, but his fees are considerably higher than the discount fees once charged by Home Yeah. Advance Indiana reported exclusively on the impact of the new law on Home Yeah last March.

In a telephone interview Rep. Tim Harris, the author of the "Realtor's Protection Law", conceded that he had been advised by the U.S. Justice Department not to push the passage of the new law because of its anti-trust concerns. He said he was satisfied by others that the new law would not be anti-competitive. Surprisingly, he indicated he might be willing to consider revisions to the law if evidence of its anti-competitive nature can be demonstrated. WTHR indicated that, in addition to Angie's List, the Consumer Federation of America and other unnamed consumer groups will seek to repeal Indiana's new law.

Advance Indiana and Indiana Law Blog have reported extensively on this new law since its enactment, while most of the mainstream media have virtually ignored it. Last month, the Louisville Courier-Journal had a story, which picked up on AI's original reporting on the impact the new law had on Home Yeah. The Indianapolis Business Journal picked up on the story a week later. None of the MSM reports have credited either the Indiana Law Blog or Advance Indiana for the earlier reporting on this issue, even though they relied heavily on those reports for their stories.

UPDATE: Inside Indiana Business has posted on its website a press release Angie's List released seeking the repeal of Indiana's Realtors Protection Law. You can read it by clicking here. Hat tip to Indiana Law Blog for catching this item.

Howey Spotlights Pence & Welsh Differences On Stem Cells

Rep. Mike Pence (R) and his Democrat congressional opponent Barry Welsh provide contrasting views on the debate over embryonic stem cell research as Brian Howey explains in a recent column. Congress overwhelmingly approved federal research dollars for medical research using embryonic stem cells, but the bill was quickly returned to Congress this week when President Bush used the bill as his first opportunity to exercise his veto power. Both Senators Richard Lugar (R) and Evan Bayh (D) supported the measure. But the ideologically rigid Pence has been vocal in his opposition based upon his unyielding pro-life positon. Brian Howey quotes from Pence's speech on the House floor this week:

You see, I believe that life begins at conception and that a human embryo is human life. I believe it is morally wrong to create human life to destroy it for research. And I believe it is morally wrong to take the tax dollars of millions of pro-life Americans, who believe that life is sacred, and use it to fund the destruction of human embryos for research. This debate then tonight is not really about what an embryo is. This debate is about who we are as a nation and whether we respect fully half of our country.

Howey contrasts Pence's view with those of his opponent Barry Welsh. Quoting Welsh, Howey writes:

Barry Welsh is a pastor at the Laurel United Methodist Church near Rushville and is also the Democrat running against Rep. Pence. Rev. Welsh explained, "Tens of thousands of unneeded embryos are discarded as hospital waste each year. HOSPITAL WASTE. President Bush surrounded himself with children who were produced outside of a woman's body by science, and God bless each of them, but they would have been created in the petri dish regardless. That was shameful of President Bush to try to deceive us with that staged announcement."

Welsh continued, "The question is actually, should these embryos be used to find solutions to ailments, or be hospital waste, as they are now. President Bush chose hospital waste. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a doctor, voted for research because he knew it would lead to cures, he is a smart man, and I would have voted the same way. President Bush, not a doctor, makes a medical decision with this veto that once again shows why he and his supporters have a disapproval rating of over 60 percent. As someone that has experienced family members with Alzheimer's, which also struck Ronald Reagan down, and other cruel diseases that could be cured from this research, I find it disturbing that President Bush chose this time to use the first veto of his Presidency."

I suspect that far more people in Pence's district side with Welsh's more practical and compassionate position, particularly those with family members suffering from any number of medical malodies for which the reseach could provide breakthough treatments.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bopp Wins Again In Effort To Turn Judges Into Legislators

Christian right lawyer Jim Bopp wins yet another case in his legal campaign on behalf of fundamentalists to turn judges into legislators. The Indiana Daily Insight picks up on a decision handed down in Kansas on the subject:

In Kansas Judicial Watch v. Stout, No. 06-4056-JAR, a U.S. District Court judge rules that the Kansas judicial canons that prevent judicial candidates from effectively announcing their views on disputed legal and political issues and from personally seeking public support and contributions are unconstitutional, and enjoins Kansas officials from enforcing them. Terre Haute attorney James Bopp, Jr., Indiana Republican National Committeeman, was lead counsel for the plaintiffs. Bopp, who also successfully argued the U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the Minnesota judicial canon held unconstitutional in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002), says that“the free speech rights of judicial candidates and citizens in Kansas have been vindicated.” The court held that the pledges and promises clause, which prohibits candidates from pledging or promising conduct in office other than the faithful and impartial performance of the duties of office, and the commits clause, which forbids candidates from making statements that commit or appear to commit them with respect to cases, controversies, or issues likely to come before the court, are overbroad because they sweep in legitimate speech, causing judicial candidates’ speech to be chilled. The clauses fail to properly limit their prohibition to pledges, promises, and commitments to “decide an issue in a particular way.” The court reasoned that the State has interpreted the clauses, through advisory opinions issued by its Ethics Advisory Panel, to “operate as a de facto announce clause,” the clause held unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in White. The court also considered the constitutionality of the clauses as applied to a questionnaire sent to judicial candidates by plaintiff Kansas Judicial Watch. The questionnaire requested that the candidates state their views on policies and court decisions related to taxation, same-sex marriage, the death penalty, and various other issues. The court found the clauses were unconstitutional as applied to the Questionnaire because the questions “merely require the candidates to announce their views on disputed legal and political issues,” speech protected by the Supreme Court’s decision in White. The court found that the entire solicitation clause provision, which prohibits candidates from personally soliciting or accepting campaign contributions or publicly stated support, is unconstitutional because it fails strict scrutiny. This clause, according to the court, “prohibits an entire class of speech relating to campaigns, which is intended to influence voters in the election.” The court also found that the solicitation clause is unconstitutional as applied to the Questionnaire and as applied to prospective judicial candidates who desire to seek signatures from citizens so that they can qualify as candidates.

That's right. Judges will now have to announce their opposition to such controversial subjects as same-sex marriage, the death penalty and so on to appeal to special interest groups in order to win election as judges. This means no independent judiciary. Judges will have declared their positions on matters coming before the court in advance so attorneys on the opposite side need not bother seeking a fair hearing for a case bearing on the subject matter. Bopp has a very similar case challenging a similar Indiana rule, which is currently pending in the federal district court in Northern Indiana. Record another victory for the American Taliban. God save us all.

Teen-Age Hoods Threaten Downtown

WTHR-TV had an alarming report about the rise in violent attacks being committed on downtown patrons by loitering teen-age hoods. Mall security bounces them out at 9:00 p.m. every night, whereupon they begin preying on innocent downtown patrons. WTHR reported that more than 2,000 such criminal incidents had happened in the area during the past year. One couple came to Indy for a weekend get-away. When the husband made the mistake of stepping outside of Houlihans to have a smoke, he was approached by a group of teen-agers who began beating him up for no apparent reason. After badly beating him, the teen-agers simply walked off. A shooting took place right in front of Houlihans last weekend.

Mayor Peterson and IPD better figure out how to get a handle on this right away. There are certain times that I simply won't go to Circle Centre Mall anymore, namely Friday and Saturday nights, because these thugs are menacing all over the mall, often deliberately bumping into you with hard pushes. This kind of activity has completely destroyed Cincinnati's downtown. If people don't feel safe going downtown, they will flock to restaurants and shopping malls in the suburbs. The City has made too much of an investment in downtown Indy to let these low-lives destroy it. Unfortunately, most of these teen-agers are African-Americans. Any effort at cracking down on them will be criticized for being racist.

Democrats Support Brizzi Idea For Jail Overcrowding Today

While Democrats panned an idea tendered by Prosecutor Carl Brizzi (R) at a committee meeting last night to lease additional bed space from the Indiana Department of Corrections and voted it down, today his Democratic opponent Melina Kennedy and Sheriff Anderson (D) took ownership of another one of the ideas Brizzi shared with the council last night by declaring their support for it. The two both say they support Brizzi's plan to lease additional jail bed space from Corrections Corporation of America, the private contractor which runs Marion Co. Jail II presently. The Star's Vic Ryckaert writes:

“We cannot have partisan bickering when it comes to solving our jail overcrowding problem,” Kennedy said today. “This has got to stop.”

Kennedy’s opponent, Republican Prosecutor Carl Brizzi, announced the idea at Wednesday’s meeting of the City-County Council’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee.

The facility, operated by Community Corrections of America, could house an additional 200 inmates for $42.75 per inmate each day, Brizzi said. The company could also rebuild the jail to house 220 more inmates.

The report doesn't indicate how the Democrats propose paying for the additional jail bed space--a key reason they gave for rejecting Brizzi's $1.5 million plan to lease space from the Department of Corrections. Kennedy released a press statement today calling for a long-term, comprehensive approach to jail over-crowding, which will cost $3.5 million. She wants to hire more prosecutors, public defenders and establish a night court--all ideas previously suggested by Brizzi.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Democrats Kill Brizzi's Jail Overcrowding Plan

Placing partisan politics ahead of dealing with Marion Co.'s serious jail over-crowding problem, the Democrat majority of the city-county council's Public Safety and Criminal Justice Committee killed Marion Co. Prosecutor Carl Brizzi's plan to alleviate the problem. Specifically, Brizzi sought an appropriation of $1.5 million from the Sheriff's budget for 2006 to fund 220 jail beds at New Castle, which the Indiana Department of Corrections is willing to lease to the county. Council Democrats substituted Brizzi's plan with a meaningless resolution.

Based on the discussion at tonight's meeting, it was clear Democrats were looking for any reason or excuse to kill the proposal simply because it might benefit Brizzi's re-election efforts. Committee Chairwoman Mary Moriarty Adams' strident partisanship and disrespect to Brizzi was a disgrace. City controller Bob Clifford told the committee members there was no money in the budget, and that the city would have to borrow the funds, raise taxes or take the money from other budget items. It's funny that he never seems to have trouble finding money for Mayor Peterson to hand out in the form of corporate welfare everytime one of his business cronies shows up with his hand out. Democrat committee members seemed to pretend the problem had already been dealt with. Their questions to Brizzi were more focused on trying to blame his office for the problem rather than looking for a solution to the problem.

Only one member of the public testified at the hearing. David Certo gave an impassioned plea on behalf of the folks living in Woodruff Place just blocks from the killings last month that left 7 family members dead. He listed any number of things the city seems to find money to spend on that should have a lesser priority than keeping criminals off the street. Council Democrats' reaction was to dispute Certo's premise that either of the men had been released from the jail early due to jail-overcrowding. Brizzi quickly set the record straight that at least one of the men had been released early over the objections of his office.

Where's Sheriff Anderson? He should be at the forefront in trying to solve this problem, but he seems to be missing in action.

Bush Nominates Gay Physician To Replace Tobias As Global AIDS Coordinator

The Washington Blade is reporting that President Bush has nominated gay physician Mark R. Dybul to be U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, replacing former Eli Lilly CEO Randall Tobias of Indianapolis. The Blade writes:

If the U.S. Senate ratifies his nomination, Dybul would replace pharmaceutical industry executive Randall Tobias as head of a $15 billion program initiated by Bush and approved by Congress to combat AIDS in developing countries, with a focus on Africa. Bush appointed Tobias to another administration post.

"[Dybul] is widely recognized as someone highly qualified for this position," said Carl Schmid, a gay Republican activist who serves as federal affairs director for the AIDS Institute, a national AIDS advocacy group.

Dybul currently serves as acting U.S. global AIDS coordinator and chief medical officer at the State Department.

According to the Blade, if Dybul is confirmed, he would become only the third openly gay person to hold a U.S. ambassador position. President Clinton appointed James Hormel as ambassador to Luxemburg, and Bush appointed in his first term Michael Guest as ambassador to Romania.

Tobias' appointment to the position always struck me as kind of odd. Lilly did absolutely nothing to develop drugs to treat HIVAIDS before, during or after Tobias served as its CEO. But perhaps the administration wanted someone from the pharmaceutical industry who had not profited from HIV/AIDS drugs since part of what the global AIDS coordinator does is help distribute drugs to third-world countries. It appears Dybul might substantively be more qualified for the position, though, than Tobias was.

Pence Immigration Plan For "Society's Elite"

Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform does a pretty good job discrediting Rep. Mike Pence's immigration reform proposal, which AI has been highly critical of, in an opinion piece in today's Star. Stein, who opposes any plan which would provide a legalized path to citizenship for the nation's nearly 12 million illegal immigrants, thinks Pence's plan is completely unrealistic. I agree, but for different reasons. He thinks Pence's "would benefit society's elite who would be insulated from the effects of the policies they encourage, reward those who have broken our laws, but do irreparable harm to the majority of Americans." In particular, he takes aim at Pence's plan to allow the privatization of the issuance of work visas:

The Indiana congressman wants to privatize U.S. immigration policy, permitting big business to import unlimited cheap labor at the expense of U.S. workers and taxpayers. By doing so, we would reward the same special interests that have helped create the huge mess in which we now find ourselves. Employers working with recruiters and labor contractors have been the primary culprits attracting low-wage illegal immigrants who strain community resources. These are the last people who should be placed in charge of the henhouse.

During the first three years, the Pence plan would allow unlimited numbers of new "W" visa foreign workers and their families to enter and work in the U.S. labor market. Thereafter, the Department of Labor would set a cap based on criteria of its own choosing.

The plan requires illegal immigrants to leave the country, fill out some papers at what Pence calls "Ellis Island Centers," and then return to the U.S. as "W" visa-holders. The Department of Homeland Security, now besieged by millions of applications constituting years of work, would have only three business days to approve millions of new applications. Can anyone spell c-h-a-o-s?

The Pence plan would outsource the administration of U.S. immigration policies to private, for-profit job placement agencies that would handle sensitive and critical data such as criminal history records and fingerprints. However poorly the government is administering our immigration policies, their theoretical goal is to protect the interests of the American people. The goal of a private job-placement agency is to place as many foreign workers as possible and make money. Public interest would at best be a remote priority.

Six years after receiving the "W" visa, the former illegal immigrants could apply for a path to citizenship -- amnesty -- which means that someone who entered the country illegally would get an advantage over someone who remained outside and played by the rules. That is both unfair and immoral.

Stein's observations about the pitfalls of privatizing the issuance of visas are right on point and echo concerns AI has raised previously. What Pence fails to understand is that many illegal immigrants have not only jobs but family members, including spouses and children, he expects them to abandon and return to their native country in hopes that their work visa is successfully processed, and that they are permitted to re-enter. The sheer numbers of people involved make the plan completely impractical. He expects to process as many visas in a few days as the government currently processes over several years. After the last amnesty program took effect, it took the former INS years to eliminate the backlog of cases which resulted from a few million cases. No we are talking about at least 3 times as many cases.

No Charge To American Evacuees From Lebanon

The State Department reversed itself and decided that Americans in Lebanon would not be charged a fee for the expense of the U.S. military evacuating them. CNN reports:

In addition to frustrations at the pace of U.S. evacuations, others, especially Democratic lawmakers, expressed outrage that evacuees initially were going to have to pay to leave.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ended the controversy Tuesday night, using her authority under the law to waive the fees people would have paid to the government.

"She wanted to go the extra mile to remove any possible worries that people might have. She understands they're in a very difficult situation," McCormack said.

"Any American who wants to get out of Lebanon is going to have that opportunity. And there will be no charge for that."

That didn't take long.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Ex-Christian Coalition Leader Ralph Reed's Political Career Implodes


He's been the boy wonder and darling of the Christian right. But tonight the former head of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, saw his political career go up in flames as he was handily defeated by his opponent in the GOP primary to become Georgia's next Lt. Governor. He lost to a little-known state senator Casey Cagle. Reed was plagued during the campaign by his close ties to disgraced D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Congressional probes revealed that Abramoff had funneled millions to Reed while advancing the gambling interests of Indian tribes. The AP reports:

In attack ads and televised debates, Cagle hammered away at Reed's connections to Abramoff, and asked whether Reed could face criminal charges for accepting more than $5.3 million from two Indian tribes. Reed has not been charged with a crime and has said repeatedly that he regrets the work he did with Abramoff. Reed said he was vindicated by a two-year Senate probe . . .

Reed's campaign prompted some Democrats to cross party lines Tuesday to keep him off the GOP ticket. Lifelong Democrat Randy New, 52, of Atlanta said he cast a
ballot in a Republican primary for the first time for one reason - to defeat Reed. He added that he sent out an e-mail to friends and business associates this week encouraging them to do the same.
One down and many to go.

HHGregg, GE Money Bank & Consumer Fraud

After buying my refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, washer, dryer, telephone and flat-screen TV all from HH Gregg, I've decided I won't be doing anymore business with this Indiana-based company. The purchase of my flat-screen TV a little more than a year and a half ago for $2,500 on an 18-month/no interest deal on my HH Gregg credit card has left a sour taste in my mouth towards both HH Gregg and GE Money Bank. To put it bluntly, the deal wasn't as advertised.

Although I am an attorney, I must admit that I did not closely read all the fine print when I purchased my TV, but I thought I knew enough about an offer to purchase something at no interest for 18 months that it wasn't necessary. I thought as long as I made my monthly payments that at the end of the 18 months the TV would be paid off without any interest. Well, I'm sure that's how HH Gregg still sees the deal. The deal carries a disclaimer that reads like this:

With your hhgregg credit card this is a same-as-cash offer. Monthly payments required and based upon 3% of the monthly unpaid balance. Interest accrues from date of purchase if not paid in full by the end of the 24 months. The annual percentage rate varies based on 14.73% plus prime rate. Credit approval required. Minimum finance charge = $1. A credit service of GE Capital Consumer Card Co., Mason, Ohio.


What HH Gregg doesn't tell you is that GE Money Bank will be charging you a monthly fee they call "Charge Gard Insurance." In my case, this amounted to an additional $18 a month, or a total of $324. That amounts to 13% of the purchase price of my TV. When I got my first bill, which arrived in my mail box less than a week before the payment was due, I discovered the additional charge and complained to HH Gregg. I was told by HH Gregg to contact GE Money Bank because that was their charge and not HH Gregg's. The person I spoke to at GE Money Bank never really explained to my satisfaction what the charge was for, although he insisted it was disclosed in the credit agreement I signed and it was for my personal benefit.

When I received my second bill, in addition to the $18 fee, GE Money Bank tacked on a late fee charge of $25. After I called GE Money Bank and screamed about the late charge, pointing out the fact that GE hadn't bother to send it to me until it was almost due, the person on the telephone agreed to waive the late charge. I typically mail my checks about 5 days before the payment is due. According to GE Money Bank, it takes longer than that for my check to arrive when I mail it from Indianapolis to Orlando. Needless to say, I had to argue on 2 or 3 additional occasions about an extra $25 fee being tacked on to my bill supposedly because it was paid late. What I believe is happening is that their mail center deliberately holds the mail for a few days in hopes of racking up late charges to encourage consumers to make their payments online. I've experienced this same issue with one of my other credit card accounts with MBNA.

I finally made my last payment in May. My statement stated the "payoff" amount, which I promptly paid to GE Money Bank. End of matter? Not quite. I received another bill last month for an unpaid balance of $2.13. My initial reaction was to say screw them--I'm not paying it. Knowing that GE Money Bank would ding me on my credit report if I didn't pay it, I mailed a check to them. This month I received another bill from GE Money Bank saying that I still owed $15 for a late fee on the $2.13 balance, a $1 minimum finance charge and $0.17 for that damn Charge Gard Insurance. I immediately called GE Money Bank and after screaming for about five minutes at the poor guy on the end of the line, he agreed to graciously waive the fees and consider my account paid in full. For his kindness, I told him to cancel my credit card, and that I would not be doing business with either HH Gregg or GE Money Bank again.

I'm sorry, but what these companies are engaging in is consumer fraud by any other name. To make matters worse, the consumer finance industry has pretty much bought off Congress and most of the state legislatures so that our laws are written in such a way to permit these companies to engage in these deceitful practices. If you don't believe me, just ask any bankruptcy attorney about the new bankruptcy law written for the benefit of the credit card industry to the detriment of the nation's consumers. Is there anyone left in politics who is willing to stand up for the little guy against these predators?