Monday, April 30, 2007

The Circus Has Left Town

The Circus has left town--a fitting description for the ball juggling and high wire acts performed by the Indiana General Assembly to piece together a budget for the next biennium. The good news is that it is supposedly a truly balanced budget--at least on paper. The bad news is that it is built on a foundation of quicksand. Yes, lawmakers will boast that they are providing you $550 million in property tax relief over the next two years. But to pay for that relief, the legislature is gambling on two new land-based casinos being established at the state's two horse race tracks at a buy-in cost of $250 million, plus added gaming revenues collected from the casino industry.

If the legislature had done nothing about property taxes, the average property tax bill would rise by 24% when tax bills come out over the next 4 weeks. Under the legislation passed by the General Assembly, your property taxes are still going up on average 24%. What about the $550 million in tax relief? You're going to have to wait until the end of November to receive a rebate check from the state, which will equate to reducing your property tax increase from a whopping 24% to 8%. That's still higher than property taxes have increased in recent years--a figure closer to 5%.

What House Minority Leader Brian Bosma calls a "harebrained idea" is the plan conceived by House Speaker Pat Bauer to deliver the tax break via a "check in the mail" instead of a credit directly on your tax bills. That's because Bauer wants legislators to be able to send a mailing to all taxpayers taking credit for the rebate check. As Bosma pointed out in debate, mortgage companies will immediately recalculate monthly mortgage payments for those homeowners who escrow their property tax payments, as they are required to do so under federal law, for at least the next year to account for a 24% increase in property tax bills, thereby wreaking havoc on homeowner's budgets. This is government at its worst.

More importantly, there is no guarantee the revenues upon which the $550 million in tax relief are based will materialize. If there are delays or financing for the horse race tracks don't materialize, legislators will have to be called back into a special session to fix the property tax problem they refused to fix with this legislation. Even if the funding materializes, it only partially fixes the problem of mammoth property tax increases for the next biennium. All bets are off in two years. Moreover, there is no assurance local governments won't increase taxes further. In fact, that is certain to happen, particularly here in Marion County where Mayor Bart Peterson failed to win support for his IndyWorks plan to further consolidate local government services into Uni-Gov. His plan died because African-American legislators in Marion County were more concerned about protecting the jobs of Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer and other recently elected African-American trustees than in improving the delivery and efficiency of government services. As a consequence, Carl Drummer will be allowed to go on fleecing Center Township taxpayers.

The legislature has also provided local governments with the option of raising additional revenues through the local income tax option. While these increases theoretically could lower property tax bills, the legislation does not ensure this. Marion County has had the local income tax for years, and it has never produced the property tax relief its proponents claimed it would bring taxpayers. So in the final analysis, after all the talk this session, legislators achieved no true property tax reform, and the taxpayers come up the big losers in the end game.

Gov. Mitch Daniels has something to crow about. The legislature approved his plan to provide health insurance to the poorest of Indiana's uninsured called "Indiana Check-Up." A 44-cent increase in the cigarette tax will pay for the new program, which is estimated to generate about $220 million. Unfortunately, not all the money raised by the cigarette tax increase will be used to pay for the program. Of the increase, 33 cents will go for the health insurance plan while the remaining 11 cents will be used to fund pet projects of legislators, including increased Medicaid coverage for pregnant mothers and the state's tobacco cessation program.

The Governor also won a partial success on full-day kindergarten. The legislature approved $92 million in funding for FDK; however, it is not a mandatory, statewide program. It merely gives local schools the option of receiving grants from the state if they desire to start up FDK.

And I shouldn't forget the best part of all. Remember, lawmakers earlier in the session approved a pay raise, which will boost their annual pay by at least $10,000 a year, bumping the average pay for the part-time legislators to well in excess of $50,000. Gov. Daniels has already signed that pay increase into law. In the 11th hour, lawmakers came back and provided leaders and key lawmakers an additional $500 bonus. At least a couple dozen legislators in both houses will benefit from this last-minute gift to lawmakers for a job well done.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Aaron Hall: An Easy Victim

A friend of Aaron Hall's family tells AI that Aaron Hall stood a mere 5'4" and weighed less than a 100 pounds. He was a nice guy, who like so many young people in Crothersville, got mixed up in drugs. Leslie Horton, a 38-year-old native of this small southern Indiana town, left when she was 18 but recently returned with her husband. She's too familiar with the culture of drugs prevalent among the area's youth. She lost her own brother four years ago after he jumped from a speeding car according to police, or was thrown from the car as Horton believes.

Horton knew Aaron's older brother, Tom, much better than she knew Aaron. She describes Aaron as an "easy victim." Horton said she ran into Hall in a local bar about a year and a half ago soon after he had been released from jail and spoke to him. Horton was unsure why Aaron was jailed. He was depressed and suicidal as Horton described him. The home where Hall was beaten on April 12 involved a party of underage drinkers. Horton fears drugs caused him to be hanging out on that afternoon with men much younger than him. She insists, like Hall's family, that Aaron was not gay. Although he was single at the time of his death, Aaron is survived by a daughter, Day-z Mae Hall.

Horton doesn't know the persons accused of killing Aaron, but she understands that the men are bigger than him. Almost every man in Crothersville was bigger than Aaron to hear Horton describe him. It is inconceivable to her that it would take two men to beat up the small-statured Hall as police allege happened. One of the men accused of killing Aaron, Garrett Gray, is the son of Jackson County Deputy Coroner Terry Gray. It was in Gray's home where Aaron was beaten, and it is where his body was later hidden in a detached garage before police found it 10 days later. According to police, the accused claimed Hall was gay and began fighting with him after he grabbed one of the men's crotch and asked for oral sex.

This aspect of the tragic beating death of Aaron really bothers Horton. Before police publicly announced the arrests of Coleman King, Garrett Gray and James Hendricks, rumors were circulating around town claiming that the accused were saying Aaron was gay and that he had AIDS according to Horton. She worries that this might be part of an effort to shift the blame away from the accused and towards the victim by stigmatizing him in the hope of getting off easy. In a small community like Crothersville, virtually no potential juror would come to the case without prior knowledge of "alleged" or "rumored" facts. "While hate crimes are certainly terrible, people are losing sight that this man was not gay in the slightest, it was a ploy to make their crime seem justifiable since it seems to be condoned by some evil people in this world," Horton said. This defense strategy is referred to in legal circles as the "gay panic" defense.

As AI has noted on numerous occasions, Indiana is but one of five states without a hate crimes law. A hate crimes law allows prosecutors to seek a harsher sentence if the accused committed the crime based upon the offender's bias towards the victim's race, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc. If Indiana had such a law, there would be no incentive for a defendant to use the person's sexual orientation as a means of escaping culpability for a serious crime. In this case, the prosecutor has charged King and Gray with murder and voluntary manslaughter. It is conceivable a jury could acquit the two of the more serious murder charge while convicting them on the lesser manslaughter charge carrying a much lighter sentence. Hendricks, who was present during the beating and allegedly helped King and Gray dump his body while he was still alive, was charged with aiding a criminal--a Class C felony. His bond was set at $25,000.
Attempts by AI to learn more about the crime from local authorities over the weekend proved unsuccessful. A phone operator at the Jackson Co. Sheriff's office referred questions to the Indiana State Police's Jerry Goodin, a public information officer. Goodin did not return a message left for him. He is the identical twin brother of State Rep. Terry Goodin (D). Jackson County Coroner Andy Rumph also did not return a voice mail message left with him on Saturday.

Second "Disturbance" At New Castle

WRTV is reporting there was another incident at the New Castle Correctional Facility on Friday following the riot earlier in the week, which the Daniels' administration described as a "minor incident". "A chemical agent was used on some inmates following a rebellion after lunch Friday," 6News' Rick Hightower reported. "In Friday's incident, one inmate had to be decontaminated after being overcome by a chemical agent." "No prison workers were hurt."

Hightower reports that the families of offenders are complaining that they have been unable to have contact with their incarcerated family members since Monday's riot. He also reports that area residents are not happy that the administration is downplaying the significance of what happened earlier in the week. "Whoever made the decision to say that it wasn't a riot, I think it made a lot of people uneasy around here and a lot of people really uncomfortable," said Tim Logue.

Has ABC's Brian Ross Become A Tool For The Democratic Party?

I used to have a great deal of respect for the investigative news reporting of ABC News' Brian Ross, but his latest outing of Bush State Department official Randall Tobias as a customer of the D.C. Madam, who is currently being prosecuted by federal authorities for running a prostitution ring, makes me think he's more interested in helping Democrats bring down Republicans than he is in fair, unbiased investigative journalism. When the woman known as the D.C. madam, Deborah Palfrey, was unable to sell her book of customers she turned them over to ABC News' Brian Ross for free according to a story in today's Star. Her list of customers reportedly includes more than 10,000 names and phone numbers, including some of D.C.'s most powerful. Apparently only Republicans frequent escort services to hear Ross describe it. As Think Progress writes, quoting Ross:

ABC News’ Brian Ross revealed tonight that the list of customers of an alleged Washington-based prostitution service includes White House and Pentagon officials as well as prominent attorneys.

“There are thousands of names, tens of thousands of phone numbers,” Ross said. “And there are people there at the Pentagon, lobbyists, others at the White House, prominent lawyers — a long, long list.” Ross added that the women who worked for the service, potentially as prostitutes, “include university professors, legal secretaries, scientists, military officers.”

On Friday, Ross broke the news that U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias had frequented the escort service. Ross added new details to that story tonight, recounting how he asked Tobias in a telephone interview “if he knew any of the young women, their names. He said he didn’t remember them at all. He said it was like ordering pizza.” Under President Bush, Tobias oversaw a program helping men in poor countries “develop healthy relationships with women.”

Ross used the fact that Tobias had urged abstinence in his role organizing AIDS relief for the Bush administration as a ratonale for singling out Tobias among Palfrey's tens of thousands of customers.

Today's Star reports that the Tobias disclosure has many in D.C. on edge. But if you are one of Palfrey's customers, fear not unless you are a Republican. Remember, Ross was responsible for breaking the Mark Foley page scandal late last year. Although Ross got the information from Democratic operatives months earlier, he sat on it and waited to disclose the information until it had a maximum impact on last year's congressional elections and after it was too late for Republicans to replace Foley on the ballot, ensuring a pickup of Foley's seat by the Democrats. Ross carefully picked his target, Foley, so he could point up Republican hypocrisy on the issue of family values and opposition to gay rights. Ross initially misled ABC viewers by suggesting Foley had engaged in explicit e-mails with an under-age male page. In fact, the page reported on by Ross was not underage. That was a big mistake to make because it inferred that Foley had broken a federal law he helped to enact to protect children from online predators.

Don't get me wrong. Foley deserved to be outed just as other members of Congress deserve to be called out when they are engaging in unethical or illegal conduct. Except when it comes to the Kennedy family or other major Democratic players, ABC has a history of sweeping it under the rug. Ross' efforts didn't end with Foley last year. He reported that then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) was implicated in a congressional bribery scandal despite denials from the Justice Department. And this just isn't a partisan Republican complaining here. Others in the mainstream media found Ross' report out of line. As Media Research reported at the time,

Meanwhile, on FNC Morton Kondracke recommended that "ABC should remember Dan Rather and the Bush National Guard case where they didn't do the right thing and say, you know, we can't prove the story and just get rid of it." And Jeff Birnbaum revealed that "ABC did not call the Speaker until an hour before the broadcast" and "that ABC did not check for an official response from the Justice Department, which seems sort of basic here."

So when 20/20 reports on other customers later this week, you can bet Ross will only be able to identify folks working at the Pentagon, the Bush White House and others linked to the Republican Party who used the services of the D.C. madam. But I think it's a pretty safe bet that there are an equal number of high profile Democats on her call list as well.

Would Someone Please Rein In Ivy Tech?

Ivy Tech learned long ago that it wasn't going to get its way with the legislature on the merits of its performance so the school, instead, uses our tax dollars to reward key legislators with plum jobs. The school was no doubt calling in its chits this past week when Democratic lawmakers attempted to slip into a conference committee bill a provision which would have required an equal split in Democratic and Republican appointments to the school's board. Recall that the school's board thwarted Gov. Daniels wishes by tossing out the application for the president's job of Carol D'Amico, the school's vice president, in favor of businessman Tom Snyder, who lacks any prior higher education experience. As the Star's Mary Beth Schneider reports:

Politics and lingering furor over the selection of a new president for Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana came close to upsetting delicate state budget negotiations Saturday.

Gov. Mitch Daniels was angered to discover that a provision inserted into one draft of the proposed budget would have forced him to appoint equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans to the college's 14-member board of trustees. No
similar stricture applies to any Indiana university.

Saturday morning, Neil Pickett, a top Daniels aide, said the governor would veto the budget unless the provision was stripped out.

Soon after, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Crawford, D-Indianapolis, said the measure had been removed much earlier.

The Ivy Tech board has become politically sensitive since it voted recently not to appoint Daniels' preferred candidate, Carol D'Amico, as the new president of the community college. Crawford is on the Ivy Tech payroll, as is House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend. Crawford is manager of community relations and outreach programs, while Bauer is vice president of external partnerships.

The provision would have required that no more than 55 percent of the 14-member board be of one political party. That would have meant that the board would have to be split with seven Democrats and seven Republicans, because even an 8-6 split would exceed 55 percent.

Daniels has appointed nine members of the board of trustees and soon will have six other appointments to make as the terms of people appointed by Democratic governors expire. If the measure had stayed in, that would have meant Daniels would have had to appoint Democrats to achieve political balance.

Could Speaker Bauer and Rep. Crawford have been concerned that a Board dominated by Daniels' appointees might question the wisdom of the school serving as a job-entitlement provider for key Indiana lawmakers? By way of the Indiana Law Blog, we would note this new item on Mary Beth Schneider's online Star story. "The outgoing Ivy Tech president, Gerald Lamkin, has been at Bauer’s office throughout much of the final hours of the session." And why would the outgoing president have a need to be in Bauer's office this afternoon pray tell me? In addition to Bauer and Crawford, the school has also provided jobs to former Senate President Pro Tempore Bob Garton (R) and Rep. Craig Fry (D).

Pouring more salt in the wounds, Ruth Holladay blogged this week about some not-so-nice parting words at a going away party for retiring Ivy Tech President Gerald Lamkin made by none other than Lamkin and his wife. Holladay wrote:

Mrs. Lampkin took the stage first, proclaiming that "no outsider" is going to shake up the Ivy Tech family.

Then, Lampkin himself made his speech, saying, "Only a Hoosier can run our Ivy Tech. And I'm god damned proud to be a Hoosier."

Some of us thought Carol D'Amico was a Hoosier, too. Born in Canada, she moved to New Castle with her family when she was growing up and received degrees from Ball State University and Indiana University.

With this kind of thinking, it's no wonder Ivy Tech's performance under Lamkin was so dismal. Holladay reports Snyder plans to stay in his new position no more than 2 years. Quoting from a recent IBJ story on the school's performance, Holladay said, "Given Ivy Tech's dismal graduation rate, reported by the Indianapolis Business Journal on Saturday -- 15 percent in some on some of its campuses -- no wonder he's already thinking of an exit strategy."

Holladay also repeated the charge of D'Amico that she was deliberately overlooked for the job as president because she's a woman and because she wasn't up to the job because her husband suffered from Parkinson's disease. Holladay wrote, "Meanwhile, she's continuing to work out the details of her settlement with the Ivy Tech system -- a severance package strengthened by two big concerns: that higher-ups at Ivy Tech (including Lampkin) had vowed that a woman would never run the system, and that Carol herself couldn't do the job because her husband is crippled." "He has Parkinson's which has nothing to do with D'Amico's qualifications whatsoever." Although the Americans with Disabilities Act might see a connection between such a comment and discrimination."

Legislature Flunks Property Tax Reform Test

The Indiana legislature set out to do something big with property taxes this year. They promised to overhaul the system, make local governments less reliant on the tax and provide meaningful relief. Instead, they've come up with a plan that is a band-aid approach at best which rewards favored special interest groups and creates more problems than it solves.

The plan lawmakers have crafted promises over $500 million in property tax relief over the next two years. That's all lawmakers can say it does because of the shaky finances upon which it is based. To fund the tax relief, legislators are selling out to the owners of Indiana's race tracks in central Indiana by granting them a right to purchase franchises at $250 million a piece to operate land-based casinos at the tracks, which to hear the track owners complain, have never made money. You see, it's the duty of Indiana taxpayers to come to the rescue of these selfish track owners every time they come running to the legislature to complain they need help. Only legislators tainted by the influence of shady lobbyists would base a property tax relief bill on an expansion of gambling for the sole benefit of two privately-owned horse race tracks.

And remember, this is a one-time windfall. Don't buy the promises of new gaming revenues generated from these two land-based casinos, and don't be surprised when the newly-opened casino in French Lick closes down as a result of the extra competition. Every expansion of gaming in Indiana has been met with similar promises, and each time the result is the same. We don't have enough money to fund our schools with state funds, our property taxes keep rising and the quality of our public schools keeps getting worse.

Making this so-called property tax relief plan even more pathetic is a plan to mail rebate checks to property owners rather than reducing their tax bills. According to the Star, the rebate checks will have the effect of reducing the average increase in tax bills from 24% to 9%. "The idea -- conceived by House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend -- is lawmakers' latest attempt to resolve a looming property tax crisis brought on by a number of legislative decisions made in previous years," the Star reports. "What could be more ridiculous than billing people (and) sending part of it back?" Bosma asked. And he's right. Many homeowners pay their tax bills by escrowing payments out of each month's mortgage payment. Mortgage companies will still increase your monthly mortgage payment to satisfy the double-digit increase homeowners will experience this year. You'll have to wait until late in the year to get your rebate check--at which time lawmakers will no doubt send out a taxpayer-financed mailing to take credit for the check you just received in the mail. Big deal. My taxes still went up, and you chose a method which wreaks havoc on my monthly budgeting.

And I forgot the best part of the plan. Your income taxes are likely to increase as well. Local governments will be allowed to increase local option income taxes to pay for public safety costs and their unfunded pension liabilities. You're supposed to get a tax break on your property taxes to offset the increased income tax. If you believe that's going to happen, you also believe in the tooth fairy. That promise has been made and broken every time the local option tax has been tapped by local governments.

The sad part is that legislative leaders will be patting themselves on the back for a job well done before the day's over. A group of grade-schoolers could have come up with a more reasoned plan than the plan devised by this sorry group. But just like our public school systems, there's always a reward for bad performance. You see, lawmakers will enjoy a $10,000 a year pay raise they enacted for themselves this year if they fool us into re-electing them to office for another two years in 2008. And the same problems they set out to fix this year will be back bigger than ever before when they convene in 2009.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Hall's Alleged Killer Is Deputy Coroner's Son

There's yet another strange twist in the brutal hate crime killing of Aaron Hall, a thirty-five-year old Crothersville man who his attackers believed was gay according to police. One of the men charged with killing Hall, Garret Gray, is the son of Jackson County Deputy Coroner Terry Gray according to the Crothersville Times. Gray's home is where the brutal beating took place, and it's also where police recovered Hall's body in a garage wrapped in a tarp. Police found the body last Sunday, or nearly 10 days from the time Hall's body was first dumped in a ditch by Hall's attackers. The body was reportedly recovered by Garrett Gray and Coleman King two days later and hidden in Gray's garage.
John Hodge, a friend to whom Gray text-messaged a digital image of himself holding a badly beaten Hall like a game trophy, reported seeing blood in Gray's home and in his pickup truck after he visited the home the day following the attack according to a report in the Seymour Tribune. An anonymous commenter who first pointed out to this blog that Garrett Gray's father is a deputy coroner observed, "After death, a body starts to putrefy within three days." "Hall's body (dead 10 DAYS) was found in Gray's very own garage," the anonymous commenter adds.

The Crothersville Times notes that Terry Gray acted as a spokesperson for the family of 10-year-old Katie Collman of Crothersville, who was sexually assaulted and murdered in 2005. "In January 2005, 10-year-old Katie Collman was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered near her home . . . Ironically, it was Terry Gray, Garrett Gray's father, who served as the Collman family spokesman during the investigation and court proceedings," the paper writes.
News reports indicate that Hall's body was sent to Louisville to be examined. Clearly there is a potential conflict of interest in the Jackson County coroner's office in the handling of a case so close to one of its own staff.

Hate Crime Outrage: Accomplice Charged With Class C Felony

A 21-year-old man who watched while two of his friends brutally beat a 35-year-old Crothersville man, Aaron Hall, and helped the men drag his body from the house and dump it in a ditch while Hall struggled for his life has been charged by the Jackson County prosecutor only for assisting a criminal, a Class C felony, which carries a sentence of no less than 2 years and not to exceed 8 years. Jackson Circuit Court Judge Bill Vance set Hendricks' bond at just $25,000 at the accused men's initial hearing earlier this week according to the Seymour Tribune.

The two men who beat Hall because they thought he was gay, Garrett Gray (19) and Coleman King (18), are charged with murder, a Class a felony, and voluntary manslaughter, a Class B felony. Gray and King could serve as little as 6 years and no more than 20 years if they are found guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder. The accused will no doubt use the "gay panic" defense to arouse sympathy from the jury in hopes of getting off on the manslaughter charge. By including the lesser charge, the prosecutor ensured this as a possible outcome in the case.

Under Indiana law, a person such as Hendricks, who "knowingly or intentionally aids, induces or causes another person to commit an offense commits that offense." In other words, the prosecutor could have charged Hendricks with murder or voluntary manslaughter as he charged Gray and King. What is particularly disturbing about Hendricks' charging is that Hall was still alive when he helped Gray and King dump the body. If he had attempted at any point to obtain assistance for Hall, he might still be alive today. Here's how the Seymour Tribune's Aubrey Woods describes the crime:

Gray, who turned himself in to police Sunday, and King admitted to police that they beat Hall after Hall grabbed King's crotch and made comments questioning King's sexuality, according to court records.

Those comments came as Hall, Gray, King and Hendricks drank beer and whiskey at Gray's home on the afternoon of April 12, police said.

King told police he went first to Gray's home about noon that day and found Dylan Nease, Gray and Hendricks there, according to records. King said he and Hendricks drove Gray's truck to Crothersville to buy alcohol and they picked up Hall on their way back to Gray's house. A short time later, Nease left for work, and King said everyone began drinking beer and whiskey, according to records.

After Hall's comments to King, both King and Gray admitted hitting Hall and dragging him out of the house to Gray's truck, police said.

Gray also told police he had hit Hall at least a dozen times and that King had struck Hall about 75 times, with his hands and boots.

Hendricks' role in the crime came as Hall was driven to an area south of Crothersville and dumped, according to court records . . .

Investigators say they first learned of Hall's death last weekend through John Hodge, after he called police Saturday to say he had information about Hall's disappearance and death.

Hodge told police he received a text message and video photo from Gray on his cell phone while at work on the night of April 12, police said. The picture showed Hall standing between King and Gray, who both had their arms around Hall.

Hodge told police Hall also appeared to have a swollen black eye and a "very large" swollen lip.

Hodge said he talked to Gray one more time before he got off work at 6:45 a.m. April 13 and heard screaming and yelling in the background through Gray's telephone.

Hodge said he went to Gray's home that day and talked with Gray and Hendricks, and they told him about what had happened to Hall, according to the court records. Hodge said he also saw what appeared to be blood inside Gray's home and in his pickup.

Hendricks told Hodge they had dumped Hall's body in a ditch on a county road, records state, which police later determined was just south of County Road 800S and east of County Road 1025E.

Hendricks later took Hodge to where Hall's body was dumped, and Hodge told police about seeing Hall dead, according to court documents. But Hall had apparently been able to move. Instead of in the ditch where he was left, Hall was found in a field, Hodge told police.

Hodge also said he was later told that Hall's body had been moved to a garage at Gray's residence.

So according to Wood's account of the crime, we are told Hendricks was present when Hall's beating took place, he helped Gray and King dump Hall's body in a ditch, and he returned to the site where Hall's body had been a day later to confirm Hall was dead. The indication is that Hall was still alive when his body was dumped because Hall's body had moved from the ditch where he was dumped to a nearby field. Although Woods' account doesn't mention it, WHAS reported that Gray and King returned to the scene after the body was first dumped, whereupon Gray fired two shots at Hall "because they said they had to kill Hall or they would go to jail." WTHR reported that Gray and King wrapped Hall's body in a tarp and moved it to Gray's garage two days after Hall's body was first dumped where it was later discovered by police.

Interestingly, the autopsy report as reported by Woods makes no mention of any gun shot wounds. "An autopsy on Hall, whose body was found Sunday wrapped in a blue tarp behind cabinets in Gray's garage, revealed Hall had several injuries to the face, a broken nose and broken ribs," Woods wrote. Neither Woods' or WTHR's report makes mention of any shots being fired by Gray at Hall.

While John Hodge, a recipient of a text message from Gray with a photo of Gray and the badly beaten Hall attached, first reported Hall's death to police. According to Wood's account, he waited at least a week before notifying police after he went with Hendricks to view Hall's dead body in the field. Hodge has not been charged with a crime.

It is worth noting that the Indiana media have been very slow to report on what has to be one of the most brutal hate crimes committed in Indiana in recent memory. The details of Aaron Hall's killing are equally as bad as the gay hate crime killing of Matthew Shepard in 1998 in Laramie, Wyoming. The state's largest newspaper, the Indianapolis Star, has reported nothing about the hate crime. Other than the local newspaper account, media coverage has been limited to local television stations, including WTHR, WHAS and WRTV. By comparison, there has been numerous blog stories on the horrific crime, including Commonplace Book, Bilerico, Pam's House Blend, and Shakesville.

It is even more disappointing that not a single Indiana GLBT group has spoken out publicly about the crime. This after the Indiana legislature once again stopped efforts this year to enact a hate crimes law in Indiana. Our state is one of only 5 states in the country without such a law, including Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina and Wyoming.

Woodlan Takes Parting Shot At Sorrell And Media

The East Allen County School System just doesn't get it. Yesterday, school officials held a press conference to blame Amy Sorrell and the media for the media brouhaha which erupted after the school first disciplined and then took steps to fire Sorrell for allowing an editorial promoting gay tolerance to be published in the Woodlan Junior-Senior High School's newspaper. The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette's Krista Stockman writes:

Administrators said by taking the issue to the media, it inflamed what would have been just a routine personnel matter, turning it into a national story. District administrators have heard from people across the country on the issue in recent months, many who chastised and ridiculed them, Novotny said.

“Sadly, a significant majority of the comments received have been rude and disgusting character assassinations that could lead one to conclude that many who preach tolerance and observation of First Amendment protections do so only to provide themselves a forum and a protection for their own foul-mouthed commentary,” she said.

As part of the settlement, Sorrell had to issue an apology stating that she did not intend her actions or comments over the last three months to suggest that administrators were intolerant toward homosexuality. The settlement also dictated Sorrell and East Allen issue a joint statement in which Sorrell acknowledged that EACS has the right to regulate school-sponsored publications and EACS acknowledged students have certain rights under the First Amendment.
Novotny said administrators accepted Sorrell’s apology.

Adding further insult to injury, Superintendant Kay Novotny attributed the 8-year veteran teacher's actions to her "relative youth and inexperience" and issued her a written reprimand for "neglect of duty and insubordination." Novotny accused others of engaging in "character assassination" for commenting publicly about the school's apparent "intolerance" towards gays. By blaming Sorrell and the media for this mess, Novotny and other school officials have completely missed the point on where they went wrong. The media attention and criticism directed at the school had nothing to do with anything Sorrell said publicly; rather, it was the school's own comments about the incident which ignited a national firestorm.

When this issue first arose, Principal Ed Yoder explained why Sorrell should have obtained prior approval for Megan Chase's editorial promoting gay tolerance. In a letter to the journalism staff and Sorrell after the editorial ran, Yoder accused them of exposing the school's students to "inappropriate material." If an editorial about gay tolerance is "inappropriate" in the eyes of the school, it raised a serious concern about what the school's policy was on gay tolerance. Assistant Principal Andy Melin told the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, "there is no policy and didn’t think the board should have to go as far as to write one." Sorrell's attorney hit the nail on the head. “They are blaming Amy for how they’ve been portrayed in the media, but they still haven’t accepted responsibility for any of their own conduct, and if there was anybody that was in a position to repair their own public image, it’s them,” Proctor said. “All they would have to do is issue a formal policy on tolerance regarding homosexuality and free speech, but throughout this they’ve failed to do that.”

Sorry, Superintendent Novotny, but Amy Sorrell and her students demonstrated far more maturity and experience than you and your staff throughout this entire ordeal. Your parting shots at Sorrell and the media make you and your school's administrators look even smaller than they already appeared in the eyes of the public. If this is what you take from this incident, we can only assume you will be condemned to making more foolish errors in judgment in your future management of this public school.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Tobias Resigns Amid Ties To D.C. Madam

Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias, a former Eli Lilly CEO, has resigned his position in the Bush administration today after ABC News confirmed he was a frequent customer of a woman charged with running a prostitution service for D.C. elites. ABC News' Brian Ross reports:

Deputy Secretary of State Randall L. Tobias submitted his resignation Friday, one day after confirming to ABC News that he had been a customer of a Washington, D.C. escort service whose owner has been charged by federal prosecutors with running a prostitution operation.

Tobias, 65, director of U.S. Foreign Assistance and administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), had previously served as the ambassador for the President's Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief.

A State Department press release late Friday afternoon said only he was leaving for "personal reasons."

On Thursday, Tobias told ABC News he had several times called the "Pamela Martin and Associates" escort service "to have gals come over to the condo to give me a massage." Tobias, who is married, said there had been "no sex," and that recently he had been using another service "with Central Americans" to provide massages.

Tobias' private cell number was among thousands of numbers listed in the telephone records provided to ABC News by Jeane Palfrey, the woman dubbed the "D.C. Madam," who is facing the federal charges. In an interview to be broadcast on "20/20" next Friday, Palfrey says she intends to call Tobias and a number of her other prominent D.C. clients to testify at her trial.

Is this the tip of the iceberg? There must be a lot of nervous pols in D.C. tonight after Tobias' resignation. An online Star report tonight by Maureen Groppe notes only that Tobias resigned for "personal reasons."

Marion County Property Tax Debacle

While there has been considerable discussion in the mainstream media about the sharp increase in property taxes statewide due to the first reassessment in 6 years--a 24% increase according to the Legislative Services Agency--there has been no discussion of what is happening in Marion County. The Indiana Legislative Insight's Ed Feigenbaum drops this bombshell. He reports that homeowners in Marion County will see an average increase of 25% in their tax bills, while businesses will see little or no change. Feigenbaum writes:

Estimates appear to show that residential assessments across Marion County will increase more than 25%, relatively consistent with surrounding counties, but the vast majority of business assessments there have not changed since the 2002 reassessment . . . unlike at least two surrounding counties (business values increased, on average, by more than 25% in Hamilton County and almost 20% in Hancock County). In Marion County, preliminary numbers suggest business assessments increasing by single-digit percentages.

Say what? Apparently the positive business climate, expansions, economic growth, rising commercial property value since 1999 (the valuation date for the 2002 assessments), and trending has been overlooked locally, leading to concerns that such minuscule increases in business assessments, combined with the 2006 elimination of the inventory tax, will likely produce larger than expected tax shifts to homeowners across Marion County.
Even more troubling is the fact that "60% of the business assessments" in Marion County haven't changed since 2002 according to Feigenbaum. He notes that there were a lot of complaints 5 years ago that the business assessments came in too low, causing a shift in tax burden to homeowners. The timing of this news could not be worse for Marion County homeowners. "Rising property taxes combined with the steady number of foreclosures, rising interest rates and a projected decrease in new housing starts could have disastrous effects on the Indianapolis housing market (and developers gripe that unsold houses are not treated as inventory, as e.g., a car dealer’s unsold vehicles would be)," Feigbenbaum writes.

So how could Marion County's township assessors fail us so badly? It might be easy for the newly-elected assessors to blame their predecessors, but Feigenbaum says not so fast. "With many fingers are pointing to the township assessors in office from 2002-06, some are also questioning why some of the incumbent assessors have failed to make corrections since January," he writes. "In the midst of this, the new Marion County assessor is trying to assert more control over the assessment process, and, not surprisingly, is finding some pushback from the majority of township assessors," Feigenbaum adds. "Some are also questioning why the Department of Local Government Finance so quickly approved Marion County’s ratio study . . . a move that prompted complaints from assessors across the state," he concludes.

Maybe this explains why Marion County's tax bills aren't being mailed until June. Perhaps someone didn't want this devastating news to Marion County homeowners to hit while the legislature was in session (and somebody might actually do something to address the mess) and before next month's municipal primary election where voters could express their outrage.

I think the time has long since past to turn the job of assessing property over to real professionals. Let's stop leaving this critical task to unqualified political hacks. Let's eliminate township assessors, along with all township government in this state.

Karl Rove A No-Show In Evansville

The White House offered the excuse that a "scheduling conflict" arose which kept Bush advisor Karl Rove from keeping his speaking engagement last night before the Vanderburgh County GOP's Lincoln Day dinner in Evansville. The dinner's emcee said it was "heavy national security stuff" that kept Rove in Washington, D.C. according to the Evansville Courier Press. RNC Chairman Mike Duncan (Who?) stood in for Rove.

It seems more logical that Rove's growing legal problems concerning his role in the political firing of several U.S. attorneys may have had more to do with his absence than any "national security stuff." Rove was hit this week with a subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee, which is investigating the firings. My question is why any GOP organization would want Rove to speak to their group? After all, Rove is too close to the various players in a whole host of corruption cases involving members of the GOP. His success at scapegoating others for the messes he creates (e.g, Valerie Plame) may be coming to an abrupt end. When the U.S. attorney firing scandal erupted, it appeared Rove's strategy was to lay the blame on former White House counsel Harriet Miers. All roads, however, appear to lead back to Rove.

UPDATE: I omitted the fact that the Justice Department's Office of Special Counsel also launched its own investigation of Karl Rove's White House political operation this week, which most assuredly has him more concerned than the congressional investigation.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Crothersville Man Brutally Killed Because Attackers Thought He Was Gay

Yet another man's life may have been taken because his attackers believed he was gay according to the family of a Crothersville man who was brutally beaten to death. The gruesome attack was equally as brutal as the killing of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming several years ago which gained national notoriety and led most states in the country to adopt hate crime laws. Aaron Hall was struck by one of the attackers boots at least 75 times before he was dragged down a flight of stairs, loaded into a pickup truck and dumped in a ditch according to WTHR. Two days later the attackers returned and found Hall dead in a field near where he was dumped. They wrapped his body in a tarp and hid it in one of the attacker's garages.
WHAS offers a different account. "Supposedly the victim, Aaron Hall, grabbed one of the suspects, Coleman King, in his private area and asked for oral sex." That led to a fight among the men which went on for hours according to WHAS. According to this account, the men returned later to the ditch where he had beed dumped and one of the attackers fired shots at him." Authorities learned of the killing after one of the attackers text-messaged a photograph of the badly beaten man with one of the attacker's arms around him. WTHR reports on this disturbing hate crime here in the Hoosier state:

Crothersville - There are new details in the murder of a Crothersville man whose body was found hidden in a garage earlier this week. Court documents show the suspects severely beat 35-year-old Aaron Hall, then dumped his body in a ditch. The victim's family now calls the murder a hate crime.

When Thomas Hall read court documents describing his brother's death, he was stunned. "It was a brutal crime against my brother and I feel this is a hate crime," said Thomas Hall. Police found Aaron Hall's badly beaten body hidden inside a garage on Sunday. Charged in connection with the murder were 19-year-old Garrett Gray, 18-year-old Coleman King and 21-year-old Robert Hendricks. Police made the arrests after receiving a tip from Garrett Gray's friend.

The tipster got a multi-media text message on his cell phone from the suspects. In the photo, Aaron Hall appeared with the suspects' arms around him. Hall had a swollen lip, a black eye, and appeared badly beaten.

Police say on April 12th, Hall and the three suspects were drinking at Gray's house. The suspects told police Hall grabbed Coleman King and questioned his sexuality. That set off the deadly beating.

"And they're saying what's why they killed him. Because he was gay. And he wasn't gay," said Thomas Hall. "I don't know any crime on the planet that deserves that type of punishment." Court papers show Gray and King brutally attacked, then photographed Hall. King hit him with his boots at least 75 times. The suspects told police they dragged Hall down the steps, loaded him into Robert Hendricks' truck, and dumped his body in a ditch. They say they went back two days later, and found Hall in a nearby field. That's when they tell police they wrapped the body in a tarp and hid it in Gray's garage.

The homicide has left Aaron Hall's family horrified.

"My brother at times was a handful and I can see him getting beat up, but brutally murdered...a hate crime? I don't know what to say," said Thomas Hall.

Aaron Hall's funeral is Friday morning in Crothersville.

The suspects are being held in the Jackson County jail. Gray and King are charged with murder. Hendricks is charged with assisting a criminal. All three will stand trial in October.

Sadly, the Indiana legislature once again defeated legislative efforts to enact a hate crimes law just weeks ago. Indiana is just one of 5 states in the country without a hate crimes law. Homobigoted efforts by the American Family Association, Advance America and the Indiana Family Institute put the fear in lawmakers if they dared vote for any piece of legislation which included the words "sexual orientation" or "gender identity." These religious right groups falsely claimed the legislation criminalized thought and provided special protections for "homosexuals and cross-dressers."

Will Aaron Hall's death be enough to wake up the Indiana legislature to what is happening in a society where these intolerant fundamentalists are creating an environment of hate, which leads people to commit the absolute worst crimes against a person because they happen to be gay, lesbian or transgender, or in Aaron Hall's case, simply believe he's gay?
A video clip of the WTHR report by Jenny Runevitch can be viewed by clicking here.

Sorrell Gets To Keep Job--At Another School

Amy Sorrell, the Woodlan Junior-Senior high school journalism teacher and advisor to the student newspaper which published Megan Chase's editorial promoting gay tolerance, gets to keep her job after school officials spent the last two months trying to fire her. It would appear the growing and sympathetic national attention for her plight was more than school officials could handle. She will have to move to another high school in the East Allen County School system where she will teach English and be barred from teaching journalism for three years--an apparent face-saving move for the disgraced administrators responsible for this mess.

Clear Channel Pressured Over Gay Tolerance Billboards

The religious right is reacting with the standard bullying technique it employs against anyone promoting tolerance of gays and lesbians. In response to the Faith In America billboard campaign in Indianapolis, Clean Channel Outdoor Advertising is being inundated with e-mails from the religious right demanding the billboards in Indianapolis be removed. As AI previously reported, two of the billboards which went up last week were quickly vandalized by person(s) who object to the message of explaining how certain passages in the Bible reaffirm that people are born gay, and that Jesus taught tolerance and acceptance of such people. The billboard messages have been purchased for a 30-day period.

Local religious right leaders deny responsibility for the vandalism, but they share the vandals opinion about the billboards. WRTV quotes the Indiana Family Institute's Curt Smith as saying, "I think homosexuals are noted in the Bible in a couple of key passages that were an example of sexual sin that is decried by God," Smith said. He insisted the Bible does not confirm the message of tolerance and acceptance promoted by the billboard campaign. The American Family Association's Micah Clark accuses the Faith In America Campaign of promoting a lie, which is the same word spray-painted on one of the vandalized signs. "Each misleading item is not too difficult to explain for people with a basic knowledge of the Bible, but in today’s post-Christian society fewer and fewer people have such Biblical literacy," Clark recently wrote on the AFA's website. "Just like the wolves in the flock, mentioned in Acts 20:29-30, those paying for these billboards know that they can lure some people astray with false doctrine and in so doing, weaken the primary obstacle still blocking the total fulfillment of the extreme homosexual political agenda," Clark added.

If you want to express support to the billboard's owner, Clear Channel, you can contact the company by e-mail by clicking here.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

WISH-TV Investigates New Castle Prison Riot: Many Unanswered Questions

WISH-TV's "I-Team 8" is finding more questions than answers as to why yesterday's prison riot at New Castle happened. Here's a summary of some of the issues raised by WISH-TV:

  • The timeline of DOC doesn't match what employees are saying. Employees say the riot has been brewing for weeks and actually started at breakfast and not at mid-day as told by DOC Commissioner David Donahue.
  • Employees claim the facility is short-staffed. Donahue says the facility is not short-staffed, but Arizona officials decided last week to stop sending new inmates because the facility is under staffed.
  • Arizona officials complained that the facility is also short of trained staff. They complain that GEO, the private contractor managing the facility, pulls staff from other areas without properly training them for their new roles. Donahue thinks the GEO staff did a "phenomenal job.
  • Why was Donahue delivering a speech in Gary about homelessness today instead of spearheading an investigation to learn what happened?

WISH-TV adds, "I-Team 8 has found the staffing problem is not limited to Geo Group and the New Castle Facility." "It continues to be a serious systemic problem throughout Indiana DOC facilities." "Governor Daniels was not available to respond to our questions."

Marion County Democrats' Hypocrisy On Consolidation

Abdul Hakim-Shabazz makes an excellent observation about Mayor Peterson's push for IndyWorks this legislative session--an effort to consolidate township government functions into Uni-Gov. It seems the Democrats have no problem doing away with the suburban township trustees' offices, but they oppose any effort to do away with the Center Township Trustee's office, long regarded as one of the most corrupt and inefficient township trustee offices in the state. Shabazz writes:

I honestly thought I would never live to see the day that a Lawrence Republican is for consolidation and a City Democrat opposed it. There are two proposals on the table to consolidate government in Marion County. Democrat Bill Crawford and Republican Jim Merritt both have ideas. The two big differences are a freeze in the tax levy and the elimination of the Center Township Trustee's office.

The levy freeze isn't what caught my attention as much as the Democrats are opposing the elimination of the Center Township Trustee. The logic is simple, if the other township trustees go away, why shouldn't the Center Township Trustee join them? Under Merritt's proposal the Health and Hospital Board would take over poor relief, which is the Trustee's main job, which it apparently doesn't do very well because it costs more than $2 to administer $1 of poor relief. It's sitting on more than $12 million in the bank and owns a lot of property that should be on the tax rolls.

That sounds to me like a model for the type of waste and inefficiency that Mayor Bart Peterson has rallied against and should be eliminated. However, House Democrats like Bill Crawford and Greg Porter say it's a non-starter and deal breaker. I say if it's good enough to eliminate the other township trustees (which I am all in favor) then the Center Township Trustee should go also.

It seems like a big exercise in intellectual dishonesty that the people who supported consolidation for the past two sessions for all the other townships in Marion County would oppose it when it comes to an office that by all objective accounts is the poster child for consolidation. And now that I've pointed out their inconsistency, hopefully they will see the error of their ways and not let their short-comings turn into blatant hypocrisy.

I couldn't agree more with Shabazz' point. I would only add that there might be a lot more public pressure to do away with this office had the Marion County prosecutor's office investigated the boxes of evidence dropped in its lap this past year concerning corruption with the Center Township Trustee's office courtesy of the reporting by the Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis Business Journal and local blogs like this one. It's too bad we don't have a federal prosecutor like Chicago's Patrick Fitzgerald in Indianapolis. Otherwise, we would have seen a grand jury impaneled long ago.

Bloggers Persona Non Grata At Indianapolis 500

Joh Padgett learned today what has become too apparent to casual observers of the racing industry like myself: The Indy Racing League is eating NASCAR's dust. Padgett, who publishes Monticello blog, contacted the Indianapolis Motor Speedway office and spoke to Tim Sullivan about the process for obtaining press credentials for the 500. Sullivan told Padgett the 500 didn't credential any blogs or online journalists. Padgett co-produces Dan Niswander's video blog show Fun to the Nth Degree, which is a YouTube-based show where Dan Niswander attends various events around Indianapolis "to show whan kind of fun can be had here." Reacting to the IMS' "no blogger" policy, Padgett writes:

It continues to amaze me how large organizations like IMS continue to be reticent to working with online journalists. In the Internet Age you only have one chance to get it right when a situation like this arises. Those entities that work with online journalists tend to reap the rewards of increased exposure to a younger more tech savvy audience attractive to advertisers. In an industry so sponsor sensitive as motorsports, you would think the folks at IMS would be averse to picking a fight with a blogger over such a minor request. I didn't ask for much, just simple courtesy normally extended to other journalists - some of them even locals!

As someone who has been attending the Indianapolis 500 for about three decades, I'm not in the least bit surprised by the IMS' attitude towards blogs. The IRL has demonstrated time and time again that it is inferior in every aspect to NASCAR. You wouldn't have thought it would have been possible 15 years ago to take the "greatest spectacle" in sports and turn into just another ho-hum sporting event, but the IMS and IRL, both under the control of the Hulman-George family, have managed to do just this. No longer can it claim to have the greatest drivers in racing. They've long since headed to NASCAR or Formula racing. Most of the drivers in the 500 have virtually no name recognition and a nearly invisible fan base. The sentiment of one blogger sums up the state of the IRL:

The 2007 season looks to be a complete model of last season. The same four drivers are going for the victories and making a run at the championship while the rest of field watches and wonders from behind as a cloud of smoke blows by them.

You can't say the same about NASCAR. With more than double the number of drivers in the field, even the least known NASCAR drivers have a bigger following than most of the IRL drivers. NASCAR's online following is particularly strong. There's no shortage of blogs following NASCAR. Blogs like NASCAR Ranting and Raving Blog keep NASCAR fans up-to-date on the comings-and-goings.

The Indianapolis 500 has an annual tradition. The IMS hands out free tickets to every state legislator and dozens of other state and local officials to attend the race. Someone might want to consider whether that strategy is helping in any way draw new fans to the event, let alone the thousands of fans who've been abandoning the event in recent years. When you can walk up to the ticket window on the day of the race and purchase a ticket, it really hits you how bad a turn the 500 has taken. Once upon a time the race was automatically sold out the next year by virtue of ticket renewals turned in by the previous years' attendees. The IMS would be wise to study NASCAR and learn why the racing fans of the future belong to NASCAR--before it's too late, if it's not already too late.

Illinois Lawmakers Make Fun Of Transgender Bill

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown takes members of the Illinois House to task for their poor attempt at humor when debating an important piece of legislation for transgender persons. Persons who undergo gender-altering surgery under the guidance of a licensed medical professional are presented with problems in a variety of situations if they must still maintain a birth certificate identifying them with the sex with which they were assigned at birth. Such individuals can petition a court to change the assigned sex on their birth certificate, but Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) thought the process could be made a little easier. Feigenholtz good intentions, however, took an ugly turn when the bill was brought up for debate. As Brown explains and relates the pain it brought to a friend of his:

Illinois legislators really yukked it up last week over a proposed law that would have made it easier for individuals who have switched genders to get a new birth certificate.

Before the House swatted down the legislation on a 32-78 vote, the Republican floor leader joked that he'd thought about getting a sex-change operation, too, so that he'd smell better and wouldn't have to shave. Not to be outdone, the Democrat presiding over the debate called for the vote in a falsetto voice. Funny guys.

I totally missed the story, but it didn't escape the attention of my friend, Diane Schroer, an Oak Lawn native who some of you will recall from past columns was still known as Dave when we roomed together in college and later when she spent 25 years in the Army, much of it in Special Forces.

Diane, it turns out, just had her sexual reassignment surgery a month ago .
. .

It's one thing to make fun of somebody in the abstract, but quite another to make fun of somebody like Diane, who is living in the Washington, D.C., area and supporting herself as a consultant on high-risk homeland security programs.

When a "regular guy" like Diane steps forward to say that she spent her life as a woman trapped inside a man's body, it causes other people to at least consider the possibility that such things are possible . . .

When she was still known as Dave, Diane was an Airborne Ranger with more than 450 jumps to her credit.

If our state legislators have the balls, they should invite her down to Springfield and she can tell them all about it.

I was somewhat surprised to learn that one of the lawmakers who made offensive comments about transgender persons was Rep. Bill Black (R-Danville). Bill Black is a man with whom I worked very closely while I was on the House Republican Staff in Illinois. I spent several months living in the home of Bill's father in Danville back in 1986 when I coordinated Bill's first elective bid for the Illinois House. It was a very close but successful campaign. I always had a great deal of respect for Bill and his wife, Sharon, who both had careers as public educators. He was more moderate in his views than many Republicans. He was a pro-choice candidate in a heavily-Catholic area, which made his election all the more difficult against a pro-life opponent.

A press release from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was particularly critical of Black's comments. “Maybe you went somewhere and a voodoo doctor said you were now a man, where you had been a woman,” Black is quoted as saying. Another legislator suggested the state issue sex-change documents to deer as well according to the press release. The release reads, in part:

Rose and Black have sunk to new lows with their repugnant and boorish comments. Comparisons of transgender people to animals have no place in civil discourse about public policies intended to make the lives of transgender people easier and less onerous. Black’s mocking and diminution of transgender people and their hard work to change their gender identity is nothing but a transparent attempt to question the humanity, the dignity and the bodily integrity of transgender people.

“The Associated Press story reports that Black’s remarks were greeted with ‘hoots from his colleagues.’ They will all do themselves and their constituents a great service by learning more about the transgender people in their districts and in their state. We urge that the educational discussions with Illinois legislators proceed in due haste before these buffoons are presented with another serious policy proposal that concerns transgender people.

“As public debate over how we treat each other goes forward, let Don Imus be a lesson for us all. There will be no more profit or pleasure to be gained by describing the lives of others in contemptuous and derisive terms. We’ve had enough of trash talk from public figures and elected leaders.”

I don't know what could possibly have been going through Bill's head to make him use this form of degrading humor on a subject that is so important to those affected by it. I hope Bill takes Mark Brown's criticism to heart, though, and publicly apologizes to his friend, Diane, and every other transgender person he offended with his insensitive comments.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Daniels' Office: Riot A "Relatively Minor Incident"

If I hadn't heard it with my own ears, I wouldn't have believed it. During WTHR's 11:00 p.m. newscast, Dave MacAnally quoted a spokesperson for the Governor's office as describing today's prison riot as a "relatively minor incident." (See video clip here) Let's face it, the inmates took over portions of the prison for several hours, setting fires and vandalizing the facility, two prison employees and seven inmates were injured and, according to WTHR, prison employees were held hostage for a short time. That's not a "relatively minor incident."

There's an interesting item in the Star tonight. It's reporting Arizona officials had already decided against sending any new inmates to New Castle because of "security concerns" with the facility. The Star writes:

But even before Tuesday's riot, Arizona officials had decided to stop sending inmates to the New Castle prison because a recent visit raised "serious security concerns.

"Dora Schriro, director of the Arizona Department of Corrections, visited the New Castle Correctional Facility on Thursday and found insufficient staffing for her state's 630 inmates, said Katie Decker, a spokeswoman with the department. Schriro also was concerned about where officers were stationed.

"She advised the operators of that prison that she was going to halt the transfer of inmates until these issues were resolved," Decker said. "There were serious security concerns.

"Decker said only 37 correctional officers were assigned to the Arizona inmates Thursday. She could not say what that number should have been but said 131 officers would have been required if all 1,260 Arizona inmates had already been transferred.

She declined to comment on whether those staffing levels could have contributed to the riot.

Arizona's concern that the facility was not adequately staffed matches some of the concerns expressed by prison employees to local media following the riot. Officials for the Daniels' administration, however, were quick to dismiss those concerns, including Daniels. "Daniels said the fact that the prison is privately managed did not have anything to do with the riot, and his office released a history of disturbances at Indiana correctional facilities to help support his point," the Star reported. "In fact, the management there responded beautifully, as did the public authorities," said Daniels, who has sought to privatize parts of state government. It doesn't look like Arizona is buying the explanation though. The contract appears to be in question as far as they are concerned according to the Star report.

House GOP Tries To Blast SJR-7 Out Of Committee

House Republicans demonstrated today that they haven't given up on getting a third reading vote on SJR-7--the discredited amendment designed to enshrine discrimination into the Indiana Constitution against unmarried couples. Rep. Ralph Foley offered a motion in the House Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee to ensure a third reading vote on the discriminatory amendment, but the Committee adjourned without voting on the motion. Foley issued this press release in response to the Committee's action:

Today in the House Rules and Legislative Procedures Committee, Representative Ralph M. Foley (R-Martinsville) presented a motion that would allow Senate Joint Resolution 7, the Defense of Marriage Constitutional Amendment, to be allowed a 3rd Reading vote by the end of session, April 29th. Under House rules, all bills must have passed a 3rd Reading vote by April 10. The democrat controlled committee abruptly adjourned without acting on the motion.

“As a former Chairman of the Rules Committee, I couldn’t help but note that when the committee previously voted on SJR 7 it neither passed, nor failed, but resulted in a 5-5 tie,” said Foley. “I asked the committee to follow the rule book and requested that the measure be reconsidered for debate before the committee adjourned. I did not anticipate an immediate adjournment, leaving work undone.

“I believe it is important that we address this amendment with full discussion. Two years ago 76 state representatives voted for the amendment receiving overwhelming bipartisan support. I am unsure the course of action the majority will take, but I can assure this will not deter the legislature from enacting important legislation such as property tax reform, getting a fully balanced honest budget and other important work before the General Assembly in these remaining days.”

It is a pretty sad statement of the thinking within the House GOP caucus to be pursing the mean-spirited amendment at a time when the legislature is pressed with addressing serious issues, such as the budget, property tax reform and funding health insurance for the uninsured. For Foley to suggest this last-ditch effort would "not deter the legislature from enacting important legislation" is disingenuous on his part. How pathetic that the House GOP would rather turn the last week of the legislative session into a train wreck for no other reason than to express homobigotry.

An Epidemic Of Homelessness Among GLBT Teens

A study by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has uncovered shocking numbers about teen-age homelessness in America. Between 20 and 40 percent of homeless youth identify themselves as gay, lesbian or transgender, while fewer than 4% of the general population identifies themselves within one of these categories. The study explains why so many GLBT youths wind up homeless and the ill-treatment they receive in shelters designed to protect them.

Family conflict is the primary reason so many GLBT youths end up homeless. At least half of those studied reported a negative experience when they came out to their parents. Another 26% were kicked out of their homes. Another one-third experienced a violent physical assault as a consequence of coming out. GLBT homelessness leads to serious mental health issues, substance abuse problems, dangerous "sex for survival" conduct, and general victimization everywhere they go from an intolerant society, including those institutions designed to protect them the report found.

The study found juvenile justice facilities to be filled with violently homophobic inmates. GLBT youth complain of being harassed and raped by both inmates and staff, particularly the gay male youth. As one respondent described it, staff members think that “[if] a youth is gay, they want to have sex with all the other boys, so they did not protect me from unwanted sexual advances.” Making matters worse has been efforts by the Bush administration to promote government-funded, faith-based groups, who morally oppose homosexuality, to run juvenile justice programs. "A number of faith-based providers oppose legal and social equality for LGBT people, which raises serious questions about whether LGBT homeless youth can access services in a safe and nurturing environment," the report says. "If an organization’s core belief is that homosexuality is wrong, that organization (and its committed leaders and volunteers) may not respect a client’s sexual orientation."

Shelters for homeless youth often provide no refuge for GLBT youth. The report describes horrific conditions at such shelters:

The majority of existing shelters and other care systems are not providing safe and effective services to LGBT homeless youth. For example, in New York City, more than 60 percent of beds for homeless youth are provided by Covenant House, a facility where LGBT youth report that they have been threatened, belittled and abused by staff and other youth because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

At one residential placement facility in Michigan, LGBT teens, or those suspected of being LGBT, were forced to wear orange jumpsuits to alert staff and other residents. At another transitional housing placement, staff removed the bedroom door of an out gay youth, supposedly to ward off any homosexual behavior. The second bed in the room was left empty and other residents were warned that if they misbehaved they would have to share the room with the “gay kid.”

LGBT homeless youth at the Home for Little Wanderers in Massachusetts have reported being kicked out of other agencies when they revealed their sexual orientation or gender identity. Many also said that the risks inherent to living in a space that was not protecting them made them think that they were better off having unsafe sex and contracting HIV because they would then be eligible for specific housing funds reserved for HIV-positive homeless people in need orientation or gender identity and may expose LGBT youth to discriminatory treatment.
The report has a number of recommendations it makes to help deal with the epidemic level of homelessness among GLBT youth. One that jumped out right away was the problem the youths have in accessing social and health services without the consent of an adult. If you're on the street because your parents kicked you out of the house, it's a little hard to get parental consent. Not surprisingly, the report recommends specific housing programs for homeless GLBT youth. On the topic of adoption, the report recommends repealing laws which prohibit single and partnered GLBTs from serving as adoptive or foster parents. It's sort of a vicious cycle when you think about it. We have a puritan, religious culture teaching intolerance, which leads parents to throw their kids in the street because of their sexual orientation, and then we outlaw the people most understanding of their kids' plight from assuming the parental responsibility their natural parents abandoned. There must be a Christian message in there somewhere that people are missing.

Locally, I've not noticed any reporting in the mainstream media about how GLBT youth are treated in shelters and the Marion Co. juvenile system. I've heard anecdotal evidence of gay youths complaining about the intolerance of the faith-based organization providing services to the Marion Co. juvenile system. Indiana Youth Group, a not-for-profit organization, provides a drop-in and program facility for GLBT youth, but it does not function as a shelter. I attempted to contact Jill Thomas, Program Coordinator for IYG, to comment on the report's findings and any efforts which it might be undertaking to deal with the problem locally, but she did not return my phone call.

A big hat tip to Donna P. for passing along this study to me.

Bad Day For Governor Daniels

Today's headlines say it all. "Full Scale Riot In Indiana Prison." "Property Taxes May Spike 24%.". The prison riot at Indiana's newest prison, New Castle, is garnering nationwide attention with live coverage on the cable news networks. The prison is privately-run by the GEO Group, a major contributor to Gov. Mitch Daniels' campaign committee. A decision to house inmates from Arizona, touted as a way to generate revenues for the Department of Corrections, instead has brought disorder and disgrace. Because a private contractor is involved, this will likely produce more criticism of Daniels' ambitious initiatives to privatize many state services. With the news on property tax front, Gov. Daniels had better be working around the clock with legislators to provide meaningful property tax relief before the legislative session ends this week.

Billboards Promoting Tolerance Defaced

Two of nearly 20 billboards which the Faith In America organization erected in Indianapolis have been defaced by vandals. The Star's Robert King reports:
A billboard on Kentucky Avenue carried the original message “The early church welcomed a gay man” but had the word “man” sprayed with black paint, [Rev. Jeff] Miner said. It has been repaired. Another at 10th Street and Mitthoeffer Road had the words “Lie, lie, lie” spray painted in red over the original message “Jesus affirmed a gay couple.” “I think it shows the lengths some people will go to suppress ideas rather than have a dialogue,” Miner said.

Several church leaders in the city say the ad campaign is built on false statements and distorted readings of scripture. But Rev. Andy Hunt of Body of Christ Community Church said vandalism is always a wrong response. “It ignites passions whenever someone brings a lie against the god you worship,” Hunt said. “But we can’t go down to their level.”
What Rev. Hunt fails to understand is that by preaching intolerance towards gays and lesbians he is only encouraging this kind of response to any theological interpretation of the Bible which differs from his. By calling Rev. Miner and others who support this interpretation of the Bible liars, Rev. Hunt is failing to practice the principles taught by his own religion.

Monday, April 23, 2007

When In Doubt, Play The Gay Card

Illinois State House reporter Rich Miller has a great blog on Illinois politics called the Capitol Fax Blog, which I visit almost daily to keep up on what's happening in my native state. One item on his blog today really caught my attention because of the homobigoted rhetoric AI has observed religious right groups, such as Advance America, the America Family Association and the Indiana Family Institute, using in Indiana to oppose any legislation attempting to provide equal treatment to gays and lesbians. Miller notes the "hyperbolic rhetoric" the Illinois Family Institute used in a recent e-mail alert to its members in opposition to public pension legislation, which would allow domestic partners to designate a surviving spouse for purposes of survivor and death benefits under the state and teacher's retirement systems. Miller writes:

I’ve been on the Illinois Family Institute’s e-mail list for quite some time now. Usually, I just chuckle at their hyperbolic press releases. I chuckled a little more than usual today, however, and thought I’d share it with you.

First, the bold-faced headline…

IFI E-Alert: Contact Your State Rep. Today About The “Homosexual/Shack-up Teachers Bill” - Ominous legislation will equate shack-up couples and homosexual partners with married spouses.

Now, the lede, which is fairly sedate…

HB 1331, sponsored by State Representative Julie Hamos (D-Evanston), amends the Illinois Pension Code, to allow a designated domestic partner to qualify as a surviving spouse for purposes of survivor and death benefits.

As amended, HB 1331 changes the Downstate Teacher Article of the Illinois Pension Code as well as the Chicago Teacher Article.

Scroll down a bit, however, and you’ll see this…

The assault on traditional American culture continues. This legislation, HB 1331, might as well be called the “Homosexual/Shack-up Teacher Bill”, as it most certainly will attract non-traditionalists and homosexual activists to Chicago classrooms. Make no mistake, this bill will be provide an incentive to draw non-traditional and homosexual activist teachers to come to Illinois schools.

So a pension equality bill becomes a gay recruitment effort in the public school system in the eyes of these homobigots. It seems the biggest concern from a public policy standpoint should be the fiscal impact, but that doesn't even rate a mention in the IFI's e-mail alert. Miller asks of his readers, "Do you think this stuff works? If so, please explain it to me." The comments he received from readers are divided over whether their homobigoted rhetoric works. I guess it just proves the modus operandi for these folks is pretty much the same in every state.

Peyton Meets Bush

It was an opportunity for President George W. Bush to honor the Super Bowl winning-Colts. The super star status of QB Peyton Manning was ever prevalent, though, during the White House visit according to a Star report. “So a lot of people here in the White House compound have been really looking forward to seeing Peyton Manning,” Bush said Monday on the South Lawn. “They wanted to see a guy who gets more air time than I do.”

I've always wondered who gets more out of these press events--the President or the celebrity/sports heroes being recognized. At least some of the players were excited about having their picture taken with the President. "Players pulled out personal cameras to get photos with Bush, the Star reports. "They did the same with another political star and football fan who showed up for the ceremony — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice," the newspaper adds.
The Star also has a video clip of the White House visit here.

ACLU Sues Over "In God We Trust" Plate

The ACLU of Indiana has filed a lawsuit in Marion Superior Court concerning the issuance of the "In God We Trust" license plate. An AP story gives the appearance the case is based on an equal protection claim as opposed to a religious separation claim. The plates are being issued like the regular Indiana license plate in that no special fee is charged to offset the administrative costs as is the case with other specialty license plates. The AP's Ken Kusmer writes:

A legal complaint filed Monday challenges the constitutionality of the year-old law that created the "In God We Trust" specialty license plate, saying its supporters receive preferential treatment not available to supporters of other specialty plates.

The lawsuit filed in Marion Superior Court in Indianapolis claims motorists who request the "In God We Trust" plates receive preferential treatment because they do not have to pay a $15 administrative fee that the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles collects. The administrative fees are added to other fees whose proceeds promote the causes of the other specialty plates.

The plaintiff bringing the case, Mark Studler, said he pays an additional $40 for one of the popular environmental plates depicting an eagle above the word "Environment." Of the total fee, $25 goes to a state trust to purchase land set aside for conservation or recreational purposes and the remaining $15 is for the administration fee.

The 2006 law establishing the "In God We Trust" plate waives the administrative fee.

"Therefore, those who obtain an 'In God We Trust' license plate are afforded the opportunity to make an affirmative statement through display of the plate without any additional cost while Mr. Studler must pay additional fees for his environmental license plate," the complaint said. Studler is being represented by the Indiana branch of the American Civil Liberties Union.

As AI previously reported, the state is robbing the state's highway fund to subsidize the issuance of the "In God We Trust" license plates to the tune of about $6 million a year. If you check out the BMV's website, you will see the agency declares the "In God We Trust" to be a regular license plate. Persons renewing their plates while visiting BMV license branches are offered a blue or green plate by BMV employees.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Reagan Judge Warns Amendments Will Warrant History's Censure

It is a law review article I regret not reading sooner, and it's a law review article the proponents of SJR-7 and amendments like it wish had never seen the light of day. A prominent Reagan-appointed judge whose name has been on the short list of conservatives as a potential nominee to the Supreme Court has written a scathing law review article of efforts to amend both the federal and state constitutions to ban same-sex marriages. "Lawmakers possess many legitimate ways to protect traditional marriage," J. Harvie Wilkinson, III, of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in the Duke Law Journal last fall. "But in filling founding charters with amendments fellow Americans perceive as punitive, we both do damage to the rule of law and embark on a course that will warrant history's censure."

Wilkinson's well-reasoned arguments against same-sex marriage amendments cannot be easily dismissed by social conservatives. He's equally as critical of the Supreme Court's decision in Lawrence v. Texas striking down Texas' same-sex sodomy law and the Massachusetts Supreme Court's ruling legalizing same-sex marriages in Goodrich. Wilkinson is critical of those opinions not because of their outcomes as much as they demonstrated an inherent lack of faith in democracy. Indeed, he calls the outcome in Lawrence "eminently just and humane." On the subject of gay rights, Wilkinson sees the democratic process moving in the right direction insofar as most states on their own initiative repealed sodomy laws and, in the case of same-sex relationships, an increasing number of states are recognizing civil unions.

Whatever his disagreement may be with the court decisions in Lawrence or Goodrich, Wilkinson is far more concerned about what the response has been from those advocating federal and state constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriages. While proponents of the amendments offer them as a cure for "judicial overreaching", Wilkinson sees the end result quite differently. Describing how the amendment empower judges more than ever, Wilkinson writes:

In fact, the amendment empowers judges. Its effect will be the opposite of what its backers intend. The proposed amendment would withdraw the debate over same-sex unions further from the democratic process than the courts did in Goodridge and Lawrence. Judges always have the last word when it comes to constitutions. They would be the ultimate interpreters of ambiguities that are the common and perhaps inevitable byproducts of drafting compromises. And although legislatures can reverse judicial interpretations of current laws with new laws, they cannot easily reverse interpretations of constitutional texts. As a result, the proposed amendment presents the ultimate irony: it would give final authority to the same judges that the amendment's proponents have accused of overreaching.

So quite to the contrary, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages will not take the issue away from judges because of the ambiguity it creates. Recall that the proponents of SJR-7 have stated time and time again that the amendment is not ambiguous. Wilkinson focuses on two terms within the proposed federal amendment, which are also included in SJR-7: "marriage" and "incidents of marriage." To many people, the term "marriage" is rather straight-forward, but it's not as cut-and-dried according to Wilkinson. "Under a narrow reading, marriage represents a legal status that states may define however they wish," he suggests. "The amendment simply forbids states from conferring that status -- however states define it -- upon same-sex couples." "States could still give same-sex couples the benefits traditionally associated with marriage through civil unions or domestic partnerships," he opines. "An alternative reading, however, would treat "marriage" as encompassing the rights and privileges to which the term has historically referred," he adds. "The amendment would thus forbid states from conferring those benefits upon same-sex couples."

As I and other opponents of SJR-7 have suggested, Wilkinson agrees the term "incidents of marriage" really opens up a can of worms. His observation about the term deserves the attention of everyone. He writes:

In particular, it is unclear what "incidents" the amendment places outside state and federal constitutions. The incidents of marriage typically include certain government benefits and special property and inheritance rights, among others, but these rights are defined almost exclusively by the states. The amendment might change this, by making the "incidents" of marriage a constitutional term of art. Courts would have to decide whether the amendment governed the incidents of marriage however they are defined by state law -- meaning that the amendment would apply to differing benefits from state to state -- or whether the amendment required courts to develop a uniform federal definition of the incidents of marriage. Existing jurisprudence offers precedent for both interpretations. For example, the Fourteenth Amendment provides in part that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." The Supreme Court has derived its definition of "property" under this amendment from state law, but permitted courts to give independent content to "liberty." Both approaches to the marriage amendment are possible, and judges would decide.

Nor would this be the end of the matter. If courts adopted a universal definition of marriage's incidents, what would they include? For instance, would a right be an incident of marriage if it were associated with marriage in every state, or in some proportion of states? Furthermore, under any approach, courts would need to decide whether incidents include only rights that are exclusive to marriage -- such as the special tax treatment given to married couples -- or whether they include rights made available on the basis of marriage and a few other special relationships, such as those relating to health insurance, hospital visitation, and rent control in many states. The interpretative difficulties run on and on.

Wilkinson dismisses the argument of proponents who insist their interpretation is best and that is how the terms will be interpreted by the courts. "The question is not how the ambiguities should be interpreted, but who will be responsible for the interpreting," he writes. "Although the proposed amendment seeks to remove the judiciary from the same-sex marriage debate, the amendment will thrust the court further into the debate by giving judges that power." "It will validate federal judicial oversight of marriage and all that pertains to it."

Wilkinson shudders at the thought of enacting a federal amendment on the subject of marriage. "It is particularly sad that the amendment would impose national uniformity on the subject of domestic relations, an area that has long been a preserve of state and local control," he writes. "For in contrast to the national government's "few and defined" powers, "[t]he powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and the properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State." "Domestic relations are the coin of the local realm," he opines. "In fact, the Supreme Court has rejected a broad interpretation of Congress's power to regulate interstate commerce precisely because it could logically give Congress the power to regulate "marriage, divorce, and childrearing." It is ironic that the very people who traditionally argue in favor of state and local power versus federal power are proposing to hand so much power in the area of marriage to federal judges.

On the subject of state amendments, Wilkinson analyzes specific state amendments, including those very similar or identical in language to SJR-7. While proponents insist the language of SJR-7 acts only as a limitation on what judges can do, Wilkinson sees it differently. In describing amendments similar to SJR-7, Wilkinson writes:

Other amendments, however, employ a variety of textual prohibitions designed to prevent both courts and legislators from creating any legal status similar to marriage. Other state amendments prohibit not only the recognition of same-sex relationships, but also receipt of the "incidents," "benefits," or "rights" of marriage by same-sex couples. The Oklahoma and Kansas constitutions, for instance, first define marriage as the union of one man and one woman and then provide that "[n]either th[e] Constitution nor any other provision of law shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups." Similarly, in Ohio the state may not "create or recognize a legal status for [same-sex] relationships . . . that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effect of marriage.

More importantly, Wilkinson explains in his article why state amendment are unnecessary. "Only one state currently recognizes same-sex marriage and not once has a state been forced to recognize a same-sex marriage celebrated elsewhere," he notes. "Indeed, every appellate court to consider the issue post-Lawrence -- with Goodridge being the exception that proves the rule -- has left it to state legislatures to define the boundaries of marriage." Wilkinson sees no need for an amendment where a state like Indiana has already enacted a Defense of Marriage law. "State law then, as a clear expression of public policy, precludes the forced recognition of same-sex marriage and renders state constitutional amendments superfluous, at least to the extent they purport to deny such recognition," he observes.

Wilkinson sees the amendments as nothing more than "a preemptive strike against what some hypothetical court in some hypothetical jurisdiction might some day say." This he says is "an insufficient basis" to amend a constitution. It should, instead be used as "an extraordinary mechanism -- a tool of last resort properly reserved for situations which present no other choice." "To amend a constitution preemptively, in anticipation of the proverbial rainy day, is, simply put, gratuitous." But Wilkinson makes an even more important point. "No constitution should ever assign its citizens pariah status," he states. "No constitution should relegate its citizens so symbolically and semipermanently to the shadows of national life."

Wilkinson's articles covers much more than I've discussed here, which is equally as important. This article should be "must reading" for every member of the Indiana General Assembly before they ever contemplate another vote on SJR-7. Unlike people like myself and other opponents of SJR-7, the proponents simply cannot dismiss Wilkinson's views as simply being "political" or based upon his own personal agenda. In fact, Wilkinson's candor in discussing this hot-button social issue will most assuredly make it next to impossible for him to win an appointment to the Supreme Court--a position for which he is eminently qualified. Wilkinson has done his country a great favor by laying the arguments out against same-sex marriage amendments to his own professional peril.