Saturday, January 31, 2009

GOP Should Tell Luke Messer Where To Go

Word is out that former state representative turned Ice Miller lobbyist Luke Messer is letting it be known that he thinks he should be the candidate to replace U.S. Rep. Dan Burton. Messer quit the state legislative job to which he had been elected shortly after he helped with the passage of Gov. Mitch Daniels' Major Moves legislative initiative, leaving it to party insiders to pick his replacement. Ice Miller made millions off legal work it later performed on the deal to privatize the Indiana Toll Road. Later, another state lawmaker, Rep. Bob Kuzman, joined Ice Miller as a lobbyist as well after he helped steer legislation allowing gambling at the state's two horse race tracks. Ice Miller had lobbied for passage of the legislation on behalf of its gambling clients. This week, Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer announced he would step down from his elected job to become a lobbyist for Ice Miller. Word on the street is that he plans to run for Marion County Sheriff next year.

Enough is enough. People who simply run for elected office to bolster their financial status and abandon the offices to which they were elected when the first job opportunity presents itself should not be rewarded by the voters with another elected office. These people made their choice. They put their own financial reward ahead of the voters. Now just go away. Don't come back and ask us to entrust you with yet another elected public office. Whatever happened to civic virtue?

Benner: Can't Big-Time Sports Budge During Hard Times?

You don't normally hear things like this from guys like Bill Benner, who makes his living as director of communications for the ICVA, but these aren't normal times. Reacting to the news of the CIB's financial meltdown and the pink-slipping of 25 front-office employees at the Indianapolis Colts (had anyone heard that news in the local media?), Benner asks if it isn't time for professional sports teams to share in the sacrifices of these hard times. Here's a little of what Benner had to say in his IBJ column:

But here’s where the conflict comes in, and it doesn’t pertain specifically to the Colts and Pacers, but to the overall culture of professional and major college sports: Even as the economy spirals downward, no one gives a thought to bringing some kind of fiscal sanity to the overall enterprise.

Is there anyone—commissioner, owner, executive, coach, athlete, agent—willing to be part of a shared sacrifice in these tough times? Other than eliminating lowlevel jobs, virtually nothing has been done with regard to the continued escalation of costs, salaries and the burden they place on the communities and fans.

It’s business as usual. The way some Major League Baseball teams have spent for free agents, you would think these are the best of times. We should expect no less as the NFL prepares for its offseason, and there will be plenty of second-guessing if the Colts don’t spend big to shore up weaknesses. The NBA has handcuffed itself to guaranteed contracts that make it possible for a bum like Jamal Tinsley to get $7 million from the Pacers for sitting on his duff in Atlanta (and yes, bad on the Pacers for striking that deal in the fi rst place) . . .

In the meantime, the stadium and fieldhouse aren’t going away and CIB has to deal with today’s economic realities. Despite what a Colts executive says, it’s not “ludicrous” to wish for a cooperative solution to unforeseen circumstances on an international scale.

I don't agree with Benner's last comment that the CIB's financial woes were caused by "unforeseen circumstances on an international scale." The CIB would be facing a $20 million shortfall regardless of economic circumstances because the business model created by the CIB under the lease agreement with the Colts ensures that there are inadequate revenues to pay for the stadium's operating and maintenance expenses. The CIB leaders and Mayor Bart Peterson made the decision to go ahead and build the stadium before this funding gap had been resolved, believing that creating a crisis that demanded a solution was the preferred route to getting what they wanted. It is refreshing, however, to hear someone from the ICVA crowd take the side of the taxpayers for a change. His comments are going to upset a few people used to having their way at the taxpayers' expense.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Another Tax Cheat In The Obama Administration

Yet another key nominee of the Obama administration has been caught cheating on his taxes according to ABC News. Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Obama's pick to run the Department of Health and Human Services, couldn't get by without a chauffeured car like he enjoyed as a top Senate leader when he lost re-election four years ago. A big Democratic contributor furnished Daschle with a Cadillac and driver for the past four years as part of a consulting gig he set up for him with InterMedia. Daschle never paid any income tax on his expensive fringe benefit until he began the vetting process to become HHS Secretary. Now, Daschle is belatedly paying over $100,000 in back taxes, interest and penalty. A Daschle spokesman says he "deeply regrets the mistake." This little hiccup should pose no problem for Daschle since tax cheating didn't disqualify Timothy Geithner to be Treasury Secretary. And Daschle will only have to tend to welfare cheats in his new job, not tax cheats like Geithner. I'm curious why Obama's accountant hasn't told him he needs to amend his tax returns to reflect the six-figure gift he received courtesy of Tony Rezko when he helped Obama purchase his Chicago mansion.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Blagojevich Appears At Trial And Speaks But Is Not Sworn In

Gov. Rod Blagojevich, heeding the advice of people to whom he's talked during his national media blitz this past week, gave as stirring and convincing defense of the impeachment charges leveled against him in a nearly hour-long speech before the Illinois Senate this morning as he possibly could have done. I was able to listen to most of the speech broadcast live over the Chicago Tribune's website. I don't think a criminal defense professional could have done any better job than the governor did in defending himself. Interestingly, the Supreme Court Chief Justice presiding over the trial did not ask that Blagojevich be sworn in before he made the statements at his trial. The Chief Justice invited him to stick around afterwards, but the governor said he would be on his way. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn is expected to be sworn in later this afternoon immediately upon the completion of the impeachment vote. He and his family have already prepared for the move to Springfield. Wisely, the governor headed for the airport to catch a taxpayer-paid ride back to Chicago before his gubernatorial privileges are cut off. The Senate retired for the lunch hour so both parties could caucus prior to the prosecution's rebuttal arguments, debate and final vote this afternoon. Rich Miller of The Capitol Fax has a good rundown of today's impeachment trial.

UPDATE: The Senate voted unanimously to impeach him. Seeing Sen. Jimmy "The Bagman" DeLeo (D-Chicago) among the assorted characters standing up at press conference of Senate Democrats called to pat themselves on the back for their action today was pretty hard to stomach. DeLeo was busted earlier in his legislative career acting as a bagman for corrupt judges in the Cook County Circuit Court. By virtue of a last-minute change in testimony by his roommate, he was spared a jail sentence. The voters of Crook County have continued to send him back to Springfield where he continues to engage in nefarious activities. I have a feeling that Blagojevich will get the last laugh with some of these guys, if there is any justice in this world.

Liberals Missing In Action On Obama's Faith-Based Spending

For the past eight years, liberals bashed President George W. Bush and his support and funding of faith-based initiatives. They are remarkably silent when it comes to President Barack Obama's plan to increase spending in this area. Whatever Bush did out of that small White House office is peanuts compared to what is included in President Obama's "stimulus" plan, which contains $100 million for faith-based organizations through the Compassion Capital Fund.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

House Passes Obama Stimulus Bill

The House passed Obama's $819 billion spending plan to kick start the American economy by a 244-188 vote tonight. All Republicans and eleven Democrats voted against the pork-laden bill, including Indiana's Rep. Brad Ellsworth. If someone can explain to me in simple terms how this new spending plan will help out-of-work Americans where the trillions in new spending this past year failed, please share. As far as I'm concerned, this is nothing more than a huge pay off to the special interest groups which backed Obama's successful campaign. What else would you expect from a Chicago politician? The Democrats are kicking out of office Gov. Rod Blagojevich for comparatively petty pay-to-play games in the Land of Lincoln, while they're patting President Obama and themselves on the back for a job well done.

Laugh Of The Day: Carl Drummer To Become Ice Miller Lobbyist

WISH-TV's Jim Shella reports on this interesting development on a day when people are digging themselves out from a major snowstorm which hit the Indianapolis area. It seems that our good friend Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer is stepping down to become a lobbyist for Ice Miller, the same law firm that has been representing the township for years at considerable cost to the taxpayers. It also happens to be the law firm of Marion County Republican Chairman Tom John. Shella says of the announcement:

Center Township Trustee Carl Drummer plans to step down next month.

Carl Drummer replaced the late Julia Carson as Center Township Trustee when she won a seat in Congress. Now, after 12 years in office and numerous suggestions that he seek higher office, Drummer plans to become a lobbyist at Ice Miller , a downtown law firm.

Drummer's resignation comes at a time when both the governor and the mayor want township government eliminated, but the Democratic officeholder said that has nothing to do with his decision.

Drummer said the poor relief he administers is more important now than ever. "

Township government, in my opinion is much needed, but it also was a time that I have an opportunity to go on and do some bigger and better things and also continue to advocate for township government," said Drummer.

Drummer also serves as president of the Township Association. He said his political career is likely over.

A special election by precinct committeemen will choose his replacement. His resignation won't be official for a couple of weeks.

Drummer has been fleecing Center Township taxpayers for years. Unfortunately, unless you read the Indianapolis Business Journal and local political blogs, you wouldn't know that. As part of his consolidation plan, supported by the Kernan-Shepard Commission, Mayor Greg Ballard wants to eliminate township governments and transfer their duties to the consolidated municipal government. Drummer has been paying Ice Miller for the last several years to lobby the Indiana General Assembly on behalf of the Center Township Trustee's Office to protect his fiefdom. Is this an indication that Drummer believes township government, at least in Marion County, will be eliminated this year? Let's hope. Imagining how Ice Miller will market Drummer's services is an entertaining thought. Sort of like that Seinfeld episode where Kramer is in a bachelor auction and Elaine is trying to think up positive things to say about him. "Uuum. He has a GED. He has good taste in clothing . . . "

Tax Cheat Geithner Hires Goldman Sachs Lobbyist As Chief Of Staff

So much for Obama's stiff new ethics rules barring lobbyists from serving in his administration. He waived the new rule for the number two guy at the Defense Department so a lobbyist for a major defense contractor could join his administration. He named George Mitchell, a paid pimp for Middle Eastern emirs, as his top Middle East envoy, and now the tax cheat he appointed to run the Treasury Department is naming a lobbyist for Goldman Sachs as his Chief of Staff. Politico reports:

Newly installed Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner issued new rules Tuesday restricting contacts with lobbyists – and then hired one to be his top aide. Mark Patterson, a former advocate for Goldman Sachs, will serve as chief of staff to Geithner as the Treasury Department revamps the Wall Street bailout program that sent an infusion of cash to his former employer.

Patterson’s appointment marks the second time in President Barack Obama’s first week in office that the administration has had to explain how it’s complying with its own ethics rules as it hires a bevy of Washington insiders for administration jobs . . .

“This is exactly the kind of thing that makes the American public suspicious of politicians. You say one thing and do another,” said Melanie Sloan, founder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Treasury spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter lauded Patterson’s “long history of public service in the U.S. Senate, both as a staff director of the Senate Finance Committee and policy director for the Senate leader.

“He brings significant expertise to the job of chief of staff and has agreed to a far-reaching ethics pledge to remove any hint of a conflict of interest,” she added. According to that pledge, Patterson will be prohibited for the next two years from participating in Treasury decisions related to Goldman Sachs and the specific issues on which he lobbied.

Still, Sloan and financial service lobbyists question how Treasury will make those determinations. “Goldman so permeates the markets, how can you separate them out?” Sloan asked.

Change you can believe in, right?

Wellpoint Profits Drop; Health Insurance Premiums Soar

While the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression continues to have a deflationary impact on home values and salaries, the story is much different for health insurance premiums. I just got a notice from Anthem that my health insurance premium is increasing 25% in March. I've had zero claims over the last year (my deductible is $2,500). The Star's Dan Lee reports that 4th quarter profit for the health care giant, Wellpoint, dropped from $859 million from a year ago to $331 million. "While our enrollment levels are being impacted by rising unemployment, our customer retention rates remain very strong," CEO Angela Bray says. "As employers continue to reduce their workforces, we have alternatives for the impacted employees through individually-purchased products or government-sponsored plans," Bray adds. I've got news for those folks. If you have to purchase your own health insurance, you probably won't be able to afford it. My health insurance premiums have increased by double-digits every year that I've had a policy with Anthem. Something is terribly wrong with this picture.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

CIB Bankrupt: Grand Won't Ask Colts To Shoulder Burden And Early Wants To Give More To Pacers

Despite facing a complete financial meltdown, the leaders of our Capital Improvement Board refuse to ask Colts owner Jim Irsay to shoulder some of the costs of maintaining the costly Lucas Oil Stadium which made him a billionaire, and those same leaders plan to reward the billionaire Simon family with more subsidies for their Pacer team to keep them in Conseco. That's the untenable view the CIB delivered at its monthly meeting this afternoon. The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy reports that the CIB now concedes that its financial woes go way beyond the $20 million annual operating deficit it deliberately incurred in building Lucas Oil Stadium and giving away virtually all income-producing opportunities to the Colts franchise. Other facilities, including Conseco, are running a $5 million deficit. Even worse, the financial meltdown has led creditors of the CIB to call in $43 million in loan and insurance obligations. By next year, the annual operating deficit of the CIB is expected to top $40 million.

Here's the rub that will really make you raw. The CIB plans to renegotiate the lease with the Pacers , giving the Simon family an additional $15 million a year subsidy for its Pacer franchise. CIB Vice President Pat Early discussed the Pacers lease since CIB President Bob Grand is conflicted out because he personally represents the Simon family. O'Shaughnessy explains Early's explanation for why we must give more subsidies to the billionaire Simons:

Pat Early, the board's vice president, said the Pacers are expected to use their option to renegotiate their lease this year. He said the CIB will have to take on more of the expenses of running Conseco if it wants to keep the team in Indianapolis."All we've established is that the business model we're working with now can't work in the long term," Early said. "We havent' figured out a solution, but I believe it's in the best interest of the city to have the Pacers stay in that building."

Bull! This team can't make money because the fans won't attend their games. They got sick and tired of a team full of players with nothing better to do than shoot up the town, get into brawls, hang out with drug dealers and frequent strip clubs. It is absolutely unconscionable to think that the taxpayers should have to dig deeper into their wallets to pay for the bad business decisions of this franchise. How greedy and self-serving can the Simons be to the people of this community. Thousands are being laid off every day because of this deep recession and these people think the taxpayers should shell out more to subsidize their playground.

Despite the CIB facing bankruptcy, President Bob Grand refuses to ask Irsay to make some concessions in the one-sided agreement Mayor Bart Peterson and his predecessor, Fred Glass, negotiated with the Colts. "Grand said he was not ready to ask the Colts to renegotiate a deal that many have criticized as too generous," O'Shaughnessy reports. "He said the board will review grants for the arts and other groups, work with others and find a way to manage the facilities."

O'Shaughnessy notes that the CIB's Treasurer Ann Lathrop expressed the dire financial condition of the CIB. "The situation is so dire that board treasurer Ann Lathrop said auditors are reviewing the CIB's finances as a "going concern," a term used to suggest that its near-term viability is in question," O'Shaughnessy said.

It's obvious that neither Grand nor Early are on the taxpayers' side. They are in the pockets of the sports team owners and the people who financially benefit from their presence in this town. Mayor Ballard needs to find a new team to run the CIB. If these guys can't tell the Simons and Irsay that enough is enough, then he needs to find someone who can. That is, if all of those free, front-row tickets he and his family have accepted over the past year hasn't completely corrupted his thinking.

UPDATE: Is Bob Grand violating his pledge to Mayor Ballard to wall himself off from any discussions concerning the Pacers' lease at Conseco Fieldhouse? Check out this quote from the IBJ: “The challenge is to renegotiate,” CIB President Bob Grand said of the lease. “[The Pacers] have an option to have these discussions.” I guess only a fool would have ever believed that Grand would abide by the agreement, effectively removing nearly one-half of the CIB's business from his plate. Note that Grand had to move for a reconsideration of a vote taken at an earlier board meeting at the CIB's December meeting approving a long-term parking lease agreement with Wellpoint. It slipped Grand's mind that the nation's largest health insurer was one of his firm's client when he voted on the parking lease agreement. His law firm is registered to lobby for Wellpoint. Grand is one of many lobbyists employed by the firm. He is also the firm's managing partner.

Another Obama Appointee Needs A Waiver

President Barack Obama hailed his new ethics policy prohibiting appointees in his administration who previously lobbied on matters pertaining to their job in the government. Obama had to waive that rule for his number two pick at the Defense Department, a lobbyist for giant defense contractor Raytheon, and he may need another waiver for his choice for Middle East envoy, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. Bloomberg News reports that Mitchell's law firm, DLA Piper, represented the Dubai government in defending its ruler against charges that he kidnapped young boys from other countries and enslaved them as jockies in camel races among other matters. Bloomberg says Mitchell's firm was paid about $8 million by the Dubai government in connection with a child-trafficking lawsuit.

You may recall that Mitchell, along with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, had to give up his appointment co-chairing the 9-11 Commission because of his financial ties in representing Middle East interests at his law firm. The firm claims Mitchell did not work directly on the Dubai matter; rather, he "mainly focused on growth and management at the firm of almost 4,000 attorneys and 65 offices worldwide, and high-profile projects such as an investigation of steroid use in Major League Baseball." Bloomberg adds, "Mitchell’s firm had extensive lobbying clients and offices in the Middle East ranging from the leader of Dubai to a Kuwait construction firm contracting in Iraq." "The firm also has offices in Egypt, Oman, Qatar and Abu Dhabi and has an affiliation with a law firm in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia."

Bloomberg asked Mitchell if he planned to recuse himself from any matters in his new role because of his law firm's clients. Mitchell said, “I haven’t made any judgment on that.”
“I have to wait and see,” Mitchell said. “I will be resigning from the firm and terminating all private business activities.” It is an interesting choice Obama has made. Mitchell has basically spent the past several years getting very wealthy representing various Middle East interests. Now, he's going to be a representative of the U.S. government? Bloomberg cites a political law attorney as saying "Mitchell may need a waiver from Obama’s new policy on ethics and lobbying, which says government officials must wait two years before working on matters 'directly and substantially' related to pre-government employers or clients even if they weren’t registered lobbyists."

Star Backs Ban On Municipal Workers Holding Elected Office

An Indianapolis Star editorial weighs in on the side of legislation sponsored by Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) which would bar local government employees from running for elected public office. The editorial reads, in part:

Instance after instance of municipal employees getting elected or appointed to city and county councils and then voting themselves pay raises and other benefits have prompted a state legislator to propose a ban on that double service . . .

The principal arguments against DeLaney's legislation are that the public gains from the special knowledge of firefighters and police officers and such; and that these workers have the same right to be citizen-legislators as do members of the General Assembly, who may vote on matters that affect them as teachers, chiropractors or (in DeLaney's case) lawyers.

The answer is that potential conflict outweighs expertise in these credibility-challenged times, and state legislators vote only indirectly on matters affecting their livelihoods. The difference is in degree, but the difference matters.

The editorial reminds us of the conflicts created by firefighter councilor Monroe Gray, but it also raises one that has been largely ignored by the local media, Lincoln Plowman. The editorial takes this swipe at him:

In the meantime, The Star found examples of public employees voting themselves pay hikes and otherwise raising conflict issues throughout the state -- including here, where City-County Council member Lincoln Plowman was named by Mayor Greg Ballard to a command position in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department, where he is an officer.

Another Bus Stop Hold Up

WIBC is reporting that a 14-year-old boy waiting at a bus stop on Indianapolis' eastside along Forest Manor became the latest victim of a hold up. Early this morning, a gunman offered the boy a ride to school. When he declined, the gunman demanded his MP3 player and his money. The boy gave him his MP3 player but told him he didn't have any money. The gunman struck the boy on the back of the head with his gun before departing according to police spokesman Matt Mount, who said he does not believe this morning's robbery is related to the four which occurred on a single day last week.

UPDATE: The Star has a story up here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bayh Votes To Confirm Tax Cheat As Treasury Secretary

The Senate voted 60-34 tonight to confirm the nomination of Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary, notwithstanding the revelations that he cheated on his taxes and employed an undocumented worker as his domestic housekeeper. Sen. Evan Bayh voted to confirm Geithner, while Indiana's Sen. Richard Lugar joined most Republicans in opposing his confirmation. Several Democrats joined Republicans in voting against Geithner, including Feingold (D-WI), Byrd (D-WV) and Harkin (D-IA). Independent Bernie Sanders also voted no.

Democrats Include Bill Of Attainder In Stimulus Bill To Punish Illinois Governor

The Illinois Senate begins its impeachment trial of Gov. Rod Blagojevich today and some lawmakers are suggesting the impeachment trial will be over by Thursday. The Governor, himself, told ABC News this morning that the "fix is in" and he will be impeached without a fair trial. He also told Diane Sawyer he had considered appointing Oprah Winfrey to Obama's U.S. Senate seat, but that's for another conversation. Congressional Democrats aren't taking any chances on the governor being booted by week's end. They've included in Obama's federal stimulus legislation a provision that looks an awful lot like a Bill of Attainder, which is specifically prohibited by our U.S. Constitution. The provision would restrict the State of Illinois' access to the federal funds as long as Blagojevich remains as governor. It reads:

None of the funds provided by this Act may be made available to the State of Illinois, or any agency of the State, unless (1) the use of such funds by the State is approved in legislation enacted by the State after the date of the enactment of this Act, or (2) Rod R. Blagojevich no longer holds the office of Governor of the State of Illinois.The preceding sentence shall not apply to any funds provided directly to a unit of local government (1) by a Federal department or agency, or (2) by an established formula from the State.

What is it about Gov. Blagojevich which leads other Democratic politicians to commit unconstitutional acts to punish him? Democrats may want to reconsider pushing Blagojevich too far away. A new round of subpoenas by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago issued the day before the Governor's arrest in early December included requests for records involving Obama media guru David Axelrod and close personal adviser Valerie Jarrett. Both are now top White House aides.

Why There's Still Hope For Republicans

Inevitably, when Democrats gain total control of government, they begin doing very stupid things. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi telling us that including money in Obama's federal stimulus spending bill for birth control is good for the economy is a perfect example of this. Pelosi had this exchange with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hundreds of millions of dollars to expand family planning services. How is that stimulus?

PELOSI: Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those - one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So no apologies for that?

PELOSI: No apologies. No. we have to deal with the consequences of the downturn in our economy.

What's next? Implementation of China's one child per family rule?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Another Lawmaker Becomes A Lobbyist

The Indiana General Assembly is rapidly becoming nothing more than a breeding ground for lobbyists. Former Sen. Bob Meeks (R-LaGrange), until last year the Senate Republicans' point person on the budget, has registered to lobby for Boyle & Associates according to the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette. Meeks announced last May that he would not be running for re-election, citing serious health problems. "According to his lobby registration form, topics he might be lobbying on include alcoholic beverages, budget, licensure, economic development, education, energy, property tax, regulation, taxation and telecommunications," the Journal Gazette reports.

Efforts in recent years to impose a time out period on ex-legislators before they can become lobbyists have been thwarted by the legislature. The same thing is happening this year with Sen. Mike Delph's proposed lobbying reforms. "Apparently, Indiana lawmakers aren't getting the message about sleazy politics in Illinois that will bring down that state's governor," Star editor Dennis Ryerson laments in his column today. The only thing the public can conclude is that at any given point at least one lawmaker is auctioning off his services to the lobbying community and the leadership of the General Assembly thinks that's just fine. There are now more than 30 former lawmakers who are registered to lobby the General Assembly.

Lawsuit Against City And NIFS Raises Questions About Off-Duty Security Work By City Police

An Indianapolis physician is suing the City of Indianapolis, one of its police officers and the National Institute of Fitness & Sports (NIFS) and its manager in the U.S. federal district court for the Southern District of Indiana, alleging his constitutional rights were violated and his privacy invaded when he was arrested in NIFS' locker room by an undercover Indianapolis police officer and charged with public indecency. A Marion County criminal court later dismissed the charge on the grounds that the State's evidence against him did not demonstrate that a crime was committed. Discovery in the civil case has concluded, and the defendants have filed for summary judgment. Based on the briefs filed by the parties, the case raises serious questions about the relationship of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and the clients of its police officers who moonlight as private security officers.

According to the plaintiff's brief, NIFS employed off-duty IMPD officers as private security employees for the health club based on the recommendation of Sgt. Jim Waters. NIFS' manager, Jerry Taylor, also requested the assistance of IMPD to investigate allegations that some patrons of the club were engaging in inappropriate behavior, a request granted by Sgt. Waters. Police officers who conducted investigations at the club, numbering four to six, were granted free memberships at NIFS to perform undercover investigations. The value of these free memberships ranged from $5,530 to $10,815 over a 3-year period according to the plaintiff's brief. At least one of those officers asked Taylor to write an "attaboy letter" to his superiors, a request he granted.

To assist IMPD with the investigation, NIFS compiled a "watch list" of patrons to target for inappropriate behavior. A patron landed on the watch list based on such behavior as "following, staring, or getting too close to" other patrons. NIFS refused to furnish the plaintiff a copy of the watch list during discovery but assured plaintiff he was not on the list. Prior to the plaintiff's arrest, however, he had complained to Taylor about another member's concern that Taylor had made "derogatory statements about homosexuals" to another patron in discussing inappropriate sexual behavior in the men's locker room. Taylor made a note of the physician's complaint, but he maintains that he did not target him because of his complaint.

NIFS forwarded the names of people on the watch list to IMPD, and IMPD, breaking with its own policy, shared privileged investigatory information with NIFS that not even criminal defendants are allowed to receive as discovery in their own trial according to the plaintiff's brief. The plaintiff sought discovery of e-mails and communications between IMPD and NIFS, but the documents produced were so heavily redacted the plaintiff's complained they were of little value. The plaintiff's attorneys have asked the Court to sanction the defendants for refusing to supply or destroying the original communications by deeming that they included information targeting the plaintiff for arrest. NIFS also refused to produce a list of off-duty police officers who worked at the club, although the defendants say the arresting police officer was working undercover for the department at the time of the plaintiff's arrest.

Plaintiff claims that Taylor was "morally incensed that homosexual activity was occurring at his facility", referring to it as "perverted male behavior", "problem of perversion" and "male perverts". Plaintiff believes Taylor had a motive to get him arrested after he complained to him about derogatory statements he heard he had made to another patron. Taylor had also complained in notes that some of his own employees at NIFS were "not w[ith] the program."

In the case of the plaintiff, the arresting officer claims he saw him stroking himself and masturbating while showering. The arresting officer concedes that he had to peek through a small opening in the shower curtain for the shower stall in which plaintiff was showering to observe the alleged behavior. The officer claims the plaintiff followed him into the steam room and made repeated eye contact with him without engaging him in conversation. When the officer went to shower, he claims the plaintiff followed him and chose a shower stall diagonally across from his. Through gaps in their respective shower curtains, the officer says he observed the plaintiff make eye contact with him, fondle his genitals and masturbate with an erect penis. The plaintiff was later told by the police officer he was being placed under arrest. He was handcuffed in front of other club patrons, told that his membership privileges were being revoked and hauled away to the police station where he was booked on public indecency charges.

Plaintiff believes that he had a right to solitude and seclusion while he was showering behind a closed curtain, and that the police officer should not have been spying on what he was doing from an opening in his closed shower curtain. The plaintiff complains that the club terminated him without offering him an opportunity to explain his side of the story. NIFS and its manager insist they cannot be liable for violating the plaintiff's constitutional rights because they are not a public actor. The plaintiff, however, maintains that NIFS "conspired or acted in concert" with governmental officials to deprive him of his civil rights. A ruling from the Court on the defendants' summary judgment motion may not come for another three months.

Regardless of whether the plaintiff prevails on the merits of his case, the relationship between IMPD and NIFS raises troubling questions. The employment opportunities, free club memberships and "attaboy" letters NIFS offered to IMPD officers raises potential conflicts of interest in the execution of their law enforcement responsibilities. I have complained in the past that private security companies are able to employ IMPD officers in uniform, using their police patrol cars and equipment, without any compensation to the City. Other cities require payment and, in some cases, controls the off-duty assignments given to its officers. The FOP complains that this would result in the loss of work for city police by driving up the cost of their services and subject the City to liability. As this case demonstrates, the City is being sued for police officers' actions regardless of whether it received any compensation for the police officers' off-duty work. Because of the conflicts of interest which may also arise from their off-duty work, the City clearly needs to adopt policies to protect the public from law enforcement abuses to curry favor with the police officers' off-duty clients.

More On Bill To Bar Government Employees From Holding Elected Local Office

Advance Indiana told you earlier about a bill Rep. Ed DeLaney (D-Indianapolis) is sponsoring to bar local government employees from holding elected public offices. The Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy has more on the legislation today. "The cost in public confidence is too great to have this continue," Delaney told O'Shaughnessy. "I think we will get better candidates if people don't think government is an insider's club," he added. He tells O'Shaughnessy that heard lots of complaints from voters about a political system "rife with potential conflicts of interests."

The Indianapolis City-Council is exhibit A for this problem. "A police officer, a firefighter, an employee in the county assessor's office and a city human resources worker currently hold seats on the Indianapolis City-County Council," O'Shaughnessy writes. That list includes police officer Lincoln Plowman (R), firefighter Vernon Brown (D), county assessor employee Mary Moriarty Adams (D) and city human resources worker Dane Mahern (D). Two of the council members defended themselves:

  • "I think people bring some knowledge from their full-time employment," said Republican Lincoln Plowman, a major in the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. "I field lots of questions from other council members and constituents about police work, and I'm usually able to answer them."
  • "We are supposed to be a citizen legislature," said Mary Moriarty Adams, a Democratic council member and employee of the county assessor's office. "It's hard to curtail some potential conflicts and allow others."

So what other conflicts of interest are there, Mary? A city-county council attorney who chairs a committee which has jurisdiction over many issues in which his law firm has a direct interest? Members should self-police themselves and call out other members on these matters, but they don't because so many like her are conflicted themselves. Moriarty's bio on the council website makes no mention of her employment with the county assessor's office. She formerly worked for a nonprofit that receives federal funds and before that worked for the Indiana Housing Authority. Both jobs potentially created Little Hatch Act violations.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Caption This

I can think of several different captions for this photo from Mayor Greg Ballard's Luau this afternoon (no, I didn't attend), but none of them would be nice. Any suggestions? Hat tip to Patriot Paul for the photo.

Michelle's Expensive Taste In Earrings

During last year's presidential election, Michelle Obama poked fun at President Bush's $600 stimulus tax rebate plan. She suggested at the time there was little you could do with that amount of money than buy something like a pair of earrings. “You’re getting $600. What can you do with that?" she asked. “Barack’s approach is that the short-term quick fix kinda stuff sounds good. And it may even feel good that first month when you get that check. And then you go out and you buy a pair of earrings.”

It turns out that $600 wouldn't cover the purchase of earrings for Michelle. Barack's approach was to buy her a $5,000 pair of diamond earrings for her birthday last year. Michelle promptly returned the earrings to the jewelry store where he purchased them and exchanged them for a $12,000 pair. Quoting a store employee, the Sun-Times' Michael Sneed writes, "Michelle came in, returned the earrings, looked around and picked out something a little more classic, with bigger stones, that was twice the price. She wanted to check with her husband first -- then Barack came back in and bought what she wanted -- which happened to be what I suggested originally!" The store employee added, "It was pretty typical of a married couple. But that was what was cute about it."

CIB To Blame Economy For Budget Shortfall

You could see this one coming from a mile away. CIB officials, facing a $20 million operating deficit for the Lucas Oil Stadium, are portraying the problem as an economic-driven problem. The IBJ's Scott Olson writes in the business newspaper's latest edition:

Members of the Capital Improvement Board are expected Tuesday to address budget challenges driven by a weak economy and $20 million operating deficit for Lucas Oil Stadium.

The cash-strapped CIB also manages and operates the Indiana Convention Center, Conseco Fieldhouse and Victory Field, as well as provides some funding for the Cultural Development Commission, Arts Council of Indianapolis, Indiana Black Expo and Indiana Sports Corp.

“We put together a budget, and we’re in the middle of evaluating what we’re going to do,” said Bob Grand, CIB president. “With the significant economic decline, we’ve got a lot of questions to address.”

Grand declined to speculate on what funding decisions might be made.

This budget problem has nothing to do with the state of our current economy. It has everything to do with a deliberate decision by Mayor Bart Peterson and former CIB President Fred Glass to give away the store to Colts' owner Jim Irsay, even after they learned the legislature would not give the CIB authority to use revenues intended to retire the bond debt on construction of the new stadium for operating expenses. Irsay pays no rent on the stadium and pays nothing to maintain and operate it. He collects all of the game day revenues and half of the non-game event revenues. He also pockets one hundred percent of the advertising revenues from the stadium.

Watch also for the CIB to use the funding problem for the arts as leverage to convince the legislature it needs a state-funded bailout. Olson writes, "The city’s Cultural Development Commission, which has drawn $12.5 million in grants and public money to promote Indianapolis’ artistic side, also could learn how much support it will receive from CIB." “We’ve been in negotiations with them about their needs,” Grand said.

The answer to this problem is really simple. You go back to Irsay, just like Peterson and Glass should have done before construction began on the new stadium., and tell him he will have to give back some of the taxpayers' money. Sorry, Jim, but you are the biggest welfare recipient in the state of Indiana. You're going to have to cut back on your lavish lifestyle just a little and share this burden with the rest of us.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama: Do As I Say, Not As I Do On Government Ethics

Two days ago, President Barack Obama announced tough new ethics rules for his administration which barred former lobbyists from joining his administration and working on issues related to their former employment. Today, Obama waived those rules for his number two pick at the Pentagon, William Lynn, a lobbyist for Raytheon, one of the Defense Department's largest contractors. Obama ordered:

"I hereby waive the requirements of Paragraphs 2 and 3 of the Ethics Pledge of Mr. William Lynn. I have determined that it is in the public interest to grant the waiver given Mr. Lynn's qualifications for his position and the current national security situation. I understand that Mr. Lynn will otherwise comply with the remainder of the pledge and with all preexisting government ethics rules.”

Sen. John McCain is disappointed in his former rival's decision. "I am disappointed in President Obama’s decision to waive the “revolving door” provisions of the executive order for Mr. Bill Lynn, his nominee to serve as deputy secretary of defense,” McCain said. “While I applaud the president’s action to implement new, more stringent ethical rules, I had hoped he would not find it necessary to waive them so soon.”

And He's Still Fighting

In the first clip, Gov. Rod Blagojevich explains at a press conference this afternoon why he believes he is not being afforded an impartial impeachment trial in the Illinois Senate. He takes questions from reporters in the second clip. Specifically, the governor complains that the Senate rules do not allow him to call witnesses. If he could, he would call folks like White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, White House Adviser Valerie Jarrett and Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. to offer testimony that he didn't try to sell a Senate seat. He would also call Sen. Kennedy, Sen. John McCain and other governors who supported the reimportation of prescription drugs from Canada similar to a program he attempted but was blocked by the federal government. He complains further that the Senate rules do not permit him to confront allegations contained in the House report, which he contends were not subject to cross-examination. He likens his situation to the cowboy in the old West accused of stealing a horse. One guy says, let's hang him. Another guy says, let's give him a fair trial and then hang him. Blagojevich says he's not even being afforded a fair trial before his public hanging. His contention is essentially that he was out herding cattle when the horse was stolen.

Mayor Richard Daley says the governor is "cuckoo." I say he's crazy like a fox. Watching Blagojevich defend himself in this afternoon's press conference, he reminds me of former President Bill Clinton defending himself during his own impeachment. You can't help but be impressed by his tenacity and confidence against all odds. Unlike Clinton, Blagojevich isn't facing an incompetent special prosecutor with zero experience as a prosecutor and who pursued the case against the president like he was writing an appellate brief. If Clinton had faced U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald instead of Kenneth Starr, he would have been dead meat just like Blagojevich now finds himself. The Illinois legislature knows he will wind up in jail just like his immediate predecessor, George Ryan. The Democrats are trying to remove his stain as quickly as possible before its reach begins to cover them. The people who've been in bed with him for the past six years, including President Barack Obama, have no desire to remain there.

WTHR's Jefferson Target Of Unfair Attack By GLAAD

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has launched a patently unfair attack against WTHR reporter Steve Jefferson over his reporting on the murder of an Indianapolis couple, one of whom was a transgender person. This is what GLAAD says it finds offensive about Jefferson's reporting and led it to label him "The Worst" in news coverage:

A December 28 crime report on detailing the murder of a transgender woman and her boyfriend in Broad Ripple, Indiana used the incorrect name, the wrong pronouns and described the transgender victim’s life in a generally offensive manner. Taysia Elzy a transgender woman, and her boyfriend Michael Hunt were found murdered in their home on December 26. The article, “Family of murder victim speaks out,” uses a male nameto describe Taysia and uses male pronouns and identifiers throughout the piece. The story also repeats a police statement with the problematic phrase, “alternative lifestyle,” neglecting to put quotes around it. GLAAD called and e-mailed crime reporter Steve Jefferson and offered extensive resources for correcting the faulty coverage. The story clearly violates Associated Press style guidelines which state, “Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly.” Instead of taking our advice the reporter rebuffed our educational efforts saying in an email, “I did not do this story based on lifestyle.” Jefferson furthered, “Our goal is to catch the killer- NOT promote your cause.” He also said he did not use female pronouns because he said the transgender victim “was NOT post-op.” WTHR has yet to change this story.
GLAAD subjects Jefferson to a standard different from the victim's own family. GLAAD complains that Jefferson "used the incorrect name, the wrong pronouns and described the transgender victim’s life in a generally offensive manner." The victim's given legal name was Avery Elzy as indicated by Elzy's state-issued driver's license. Biologically, Elzy was born a male, although she had begun a transformation to become a female and had adopted a female name, "Taysia." Jefferson interviewed members of Taysia's family, who still referred to her as a brother. "I called him an hour later and let him know I was not coming to his party," Theresa Elzy, the victim's sister, told Jefferson. Jefferson quotes an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spokesman as indicating Elzy lived an "alternative lifestyle."

I don't think anyone could accuse Elzy's family of insensitivity on this matter by still referring to her birth-assigned gender, and I don't think anyone should infer that intent from Jefferson's reporting. People can quibble with the IMPD spokesman's use of "alternative lifestyle", but I think we should also be able to agree that not all cross-dressing individuals are transgender. The facts in a case like this could confuse anyone. Let's not impute bad motive where none exists. Groups like GLAAD should work to make reporters like Jefferson sensitive to their concerns, but labeling him the "The Worst" is way out of line. GLAAD's misplaced response to Jefferson's reporting does a disservice to the very cause it seeks to promote. Jefferson let the group get to him by questioning his style of reporting and responded a little too harshly, but let's not make of this anything more than what it really is--an honest mistake.

Senate Republican Leadership Blocking Lobbying Reforms

Sen. Mike Delph's efforts to bring greater transparency and accountability in lobbyist-legislator interactions is getting no respect from the Senate Republican leadership this year. A Star editorial hits the nail on the head:

The Senate leadership's disinterest (and it's not any better in the House) in closing the huge loopholes in existing regulations is disappointing. The close ties binding lobbyists to lawmakers have fueled public cynicism toward the General Assembly, a fact that should alarm lawmakers. Instead, they fight to guard the status quo.

The reforms pushed by Delph and [Pat] Miller are moderate and practical. They would promote better transparency in the legislative process and erect reasonable safeguards against corruption.

Opponents, confined to the ranks of lobbyists and lawmakers, have failed to mount any persuasive arguments against the proposals. If the bills die, as it appears they will, it will be only because legislators want to keep the stream of gifts, meals and job offers flowing. That may be in lawmakers' best interests, but it's not in the public's.

Sexual Misconduct With Employee Past No Impediment For New Agency Head

The man Gov. Mitch Daniels tapped to be his Director of the Department of Administration was fired from his previous job running the American Red Cross for having an extramarital affair with a fellow employee. The Star's Bill Ruthhart writes of Mark Everson:

Everson, 54, will run the Department of Administration, which manages the state's vehicle fleet, real estate purchases and state government center while providing support services to other agencies.

Everson has worked for the governor before, as deputy director in the Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush when Daniels served as OMB director. Everson said Thursday his past work with Daniels was a key factor in taking the administration department job . . .

Everson served as commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service for four years before being named president and chief executive officer of the American Red Cross in May 2007.

He was forced to resign from that job in November 2007 after having an inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate.

Everson said the circumstances of his Red Cross departure were "regretful" and he was "very sorry about it."

"I've gone through some real, obviously, personal knocks in the sense that I'm now divorced after 23 years (of marriage), so it was not an easy period," he said. "But it's been some time ago now, and I'm thankful for this new opportunity."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fisting Is The Key To Obama's Relationship

The media drooling over the Obama's love life just won't end. This so-called "Dr. Love" tells us why Barack and Michelle's marriage is so romantic. "Fisting" is one of the ways the two sexually connect according to Dr. Love. This so-called expert seems clueless as to the more common meaning of the term, "fisting."

Get A Clue, Mr. Mayor

The out-of-towner, last in the ratings radio talk show host is spouting off again this morning about something he knows nothing about in an effort to discredit critics of Mayor Greg Ballard, who just happened to have something to do with his upset win over Bart Peterson in 2007. Abdul Hakim-Shabazz spins this little yarn this morning:

There’s word on the street that some of the local activists folk may show up at the Mayor’s Community Luau this Saturday (1-4 p.m. at the IMS Pavilion ) and cause a stir.

Apparently they have some issues with the administration and who it uses to lobby and they think the “People’s Mayor” has forgotten the people.

This is America and everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I don’t know if raising a big stink at a charitable event meant to get food to the hungry and raise money geared towards underprivileged kids is the best way to express your grievances with your government.

You’ll probably get attention, but not the kind you’re looking for.

Having been contacted by the person supposedly responsible for planning what Shabazz calls "Disturbia", I can assure you his narrative of this particular organizer's intent is completely mischaracterized and probably done so deliberately. The person's intent was not to disrupt or in any way cause a stir at the event; rather, it was to have a friendly conversation with the Mayor about the many concerns supporters of his election have with the past and future direction of his administration. I suppose if he bothered to invite them into his office to discuss their concerns, such talk wouldn't be necessary. If the Mayor or members of his administration believe they are helping matters by feeding bits of information to Shabazz to go on the attack against the very people who paved the way for his election, they had better re-think their strategy. Permanently alienating the best allies you had in your narrow election victory is not a smart idea.

Indy School Kids Held Up

This is really pathetic. Fox59 News reports that four different groups of school children on Indianapolis' northeast side were held up at gunpoint this morning and robbed while waiting for a school bus.

UPDATE: The Star has a story online now. One of the assailants pistol-whipped one of the students in the face. The Star report provides a description of the car the robbers were driving but no description of the assailants. "There were differences in the details of the people responsible for the robberies, but Mount said the victims generally agreed that three people were involved and the car was a silver or gray four-door, possibly a Dodge Intrepid with a damaged door on the driver's side and a temporary paper license plate.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Who Rates In The Land Of Lincoln?

If you're the man who is about to become the next governor of Illinois, you would think the Obama administration would role out the red carpet treatment for you at the inaugural festivities. Not so for Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn. He had a ticket in a standing-only section yesterday for the swearing-in ceremony. "After a security agent told those in his group to get down because they were blocking the views of others, Quinn was forced to kneel on the Capitol grounds next to a tree," reports the Tribune's John McCormick. Illinois State Treasurer Alex Giannoulias, Obama's basketball playmate with questionable ties to organized crime, got the royal treatment. He was seated on the main platform with Obama and said "he felt as if he were on a movie set because of all the celebrities seated near him, including basketball legend Earvin 'Magic' Johnson." Gov. Rod Blagojevich stayed back in Illinois to attend to other more pressing matters like getting fingerprinted again at a federal courthouse, while his wife received her walking papers from her employer. Former U.S. Rep. Mel Reynolds (D-Chicago) got seated in a celebrity-filled section where he got his picture taken with actress Halle Berry. Reynolds served time in a federal prison for child molestation and tax evasion. He was also supposed to spend additional time in prison for bank fraud but President Bill Clinton commuted his sentence.

Obama Not Amused By Biden's Dig At Chief Justice Roberts

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden held a meeting with senior White House staff to officially swear them into the new administration. Biden, who appears clueless as to what and to whom he is about to administer the oath, pokes fun at Chief Justice John Roberts' memory in reference to the mistakes both Obama and Roberts made during the administering of Obama's oath. [See update below--Obama retook the oath tonight with Chief Justice Roberts] If you watch Obama's reaction to Biden's comments, Obama is not at all amused. As this new administration attempts to charter new territory on the extent of government control over our daily lives, there will no doubt emerge legal challenges and rightfully so. Chief Justice Roberts, who appears to have a reasonably reliable 5-4 majority, could emerge as the de facto loyal opposition with Republicans so far outnumbered in Congress to serve as a check on the extremes. I suspect Obama appreciates this, even if Biden doesn't it. The last thing he wants to do is alienate the Chief Justice. I'm a little confused as to why Obama asked Biden to administer the oath to the President's staff.

Constitutional Scholars: Obama Should Retake Oath

A San Francisco Chronicle story today cites several constitutional scholars as saying President Barack Obama should retake his oath of office because of the misstatement of it by Chief Justice John Roberts. "In giving the oath, Roberts misplaced the word "faithfully," at which point Obama paused quizzically. Roberts then corrected himself, but Obama repeated the words as Roberts initially said them."

This would not be a first according to the story. Both Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Chester Arthur did so under similar circumstances. Ironically, Chester Arthur was probably the first and only other president until Obama to skirt the constitutional requirement that a president be a natural born citizen. Arthur lied about his date of birth because his father had not yet become a U.S. citizen at the time of his birth, a fundamental requirement for being a natural born citizen.

Obama's father was a Kenyan citizen at the time of his birth and all times thereafter. Accordingly, he was born with dual citizenship and fails the natural born citizenship requirement. Obama also later became an Indonesian citizen after he was adopted by his step father, Lolo Soetoro. His name was legally changed to Barry Soetoro. It is unclear if or when his legal name was ever changed back to Barack Hussein Obama. I think the NBC issue is of a little more concern than whether the oath was properly recited word for word, but I'm not a Harvard law graduate like Obama and Roberts so what is my opinion worth. And what is the oath worth if the person reciting it didn't use his actual legal name?

UPDATE: Well, somebody at the White House took the concern seriously. Obama retook the ceremony in the Map Room of the White House:

At 7:35 pm, Roberts administered the oath of office again to Obama in the Map Room. Robert Gibbs said the WH counsel, Greg Craig, believes the oath was fine Tuesday, but one word was out of sequence so they did this out of a "an abundance of caution." "We decided it was so much fun..." Obama joked while sitting on a couch. Obama stood and walked over to make small talk with the pool as Roberts donned his black robe. "Are you ready to take the oath?" Roberts asked. "I am, and we're going to do it very slowly," Obama replied. Oath took 25 seconds. After a flawless recitation, Roberts smiled and said, "Congratulations, again." Obama said, "Thank you, sir." Smattering of applause. "All right." Obama said. "The bad news for the pool is there's 12 more balls."

Nationalization Of Banks On The Way

The $700 billion TARP bailout plan for the nation's financial sector has failed. FOX Business News commentator Stuart Varney says to prepare for a complete nationalization of all of the country's major banks in the coming days and months. As Varney put it, New York is no longer the financial capital. That title now goes to Washington, D.C. Get used to it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Illegal Alien Obama Aunt Enjoys Inaugural Activities

Despite ignoring a deportation order after her asylum application was denied years ago, Obama aunt Zeituni Onyango was spotted taking in the inaugural festivities in the nation's capital at the ritzy Mayflower Hotel. Onyango had been living in a public housing project in Boston until her illegal status was reported late during last year's presidential election, whereupon she went into hiding somewhere in Cleveland. The New York Times says her deportation order has been stayed while she pursues a green card application.

Why All The Empty Seats At The Parade?

After seeing the enormous crowd on the Capitol Mall this morning for Obama's swearing-in ceremony, I was struck by all of the empty seats in the bleachers along the parade route. Politico's Ben Smith offered this explanation:

A few readers noticed, and wondered about, the empty spaces and seats along the parade route, a contrast to the massive crowd on the Mall. "

A great day - but also a cold, crowded one. Some folks left early," explains Inaugural Committee spokesman Josh Earnest.

I attended Reagan's first inauguration in 1981 with my parents. We purchased tickets to all of the events, but the big gala hosted by Johnny Carson at the Kennedy Center was over-sold and we were left out of that event. The Reagan Inauguration Committee, however, made up our loss by giving us great seats next to the President's reviewing stand and near the entrance to the north side of the White House. I know those tickets sold for about $200 a piece back then. I'm wondering if a lot of the attendees simply didn't purchase the pricey tickets to have a seat along the parade route. It seemed odd that there were so many empty seats with the supposed record crowds in attendance.

After the parade, we attended the ball at the National Museum of American History. The Tommy Dorcey Band performed and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. served as emcee. It was the only ball at which the President and Mrs. Reagan danced. The crowd was overwhelming, making it difficult to enjoy. You were packed into the ball like sardines. I remember the escalator feeding you up to the second floor with no room to go when you got to the top. Women's long gowns were getting stepped on and torn. There were celebrities all around if you could make them out. We were complaining to a young guy standing next to me about how everyone was pushing too hard to get closer to the stage. He nodded his head in agreement and then joined his father, Vice President George H.W. Bush, on the stage with the rest of the Bush family. I had no idea who Jeb Bush was until his father introduced him.

UPDATE: The Washington Post is reporting that thousands of ticket holders got shut out of the inaugural ceremony because the large crowd had overwhelmed security, forcing the closure of gates before all ticket holders could be admitted.

Official Obama White House Website Insults Bush

So much for uniting the country. The One has the audacity to use his official White House website to hurl insults at outgoing President George Bush on, of all things, Hurricane Katrina, referring to Bush's "broken promises" and "unconscionable ineptitude":

President Obama will keep the broken promises made by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. He and Vice President Biden will take steps to ensure that the federal government will never again allow such catastrophic failures in emergency planning and response to occur.

President Obama swiftly responded to Hurricane Katrina. Citing the Bush Administration's "unconscionable ineptitude" in responding to Hurricane Katrina, then-Senator Obama introduced legislation requiring disaster planners to take into account the specific needs of low-income hurricane victims. Obama visited thousands of Hurricane survivors in the Houston Convention Center and later took three more trips to the region. He worked with members of the Congressional Black Caucus to introduce legislation to address the immediate income, employment, business, and housing needs of Gulf Coast communities.

President Barack Obama will partner with the people of the Gulf Coast to rebuild now, stronger than ever.

Obama Era Begins

Barack Hussein Obama just took the oath of office and his presidency officially begins. Obama was noticeably nervous and stumbled over the presidential oath as Chief Justice John Roberts recited the official oath to him. Roberts had to repeat a couple of lines for him at the beginning. I don't recall a president in my lifetime botching the oath. Will anyone notice? Who forgot the teleprompter? Drudge has the text of his inaugural speech here. Not a particularly memorable speech from a literary standpoint. The one line I liked particularly: "Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations." It's a variation of a line delivered by the late-President Ronald Reagan.

UPDATE: And then there were these bitter words from Rev. Joseph Lowery:

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen. Say Amen'...

Jeffery White Out As John Marshall Principal

John Marshall Principal Jeffery White, viewed by proponents of education reform as a bright spot in efforts to reform IPS' failing school system, is out of his job as principal. The Star's Andy Gammill reports on this unfortunate development:

White, whose first year on the job was chronicled in The Indianapolis Star in 2007, is leaving the job mostly because of stress-related heart problems last month, he said. But he's also resigning in part because of challenges outside of his control.

For instance, White felt he had a strong team in place last school year but then had to send many of those staffers to other schools as part of the district's plan to reorganize Marshall, as federal law requires at schools that consistently fail to meet federal benchmarks.

In three years, he had four different direct supervisors and three different sets of assistant principals assigned to him. In his first year, a student was raped on her way to school; in the second year, a tornado hit the school; and this school year, a student was shot.

"That's just enough; I'm tired," he said. "The stress is getting to me. I've had some health issues. It's getting to me."

Perhaps White's biggest mistake to some was his decision to buck the Center Township gang and challenge Andre Carson for the 7th District special election slating last year. IPS Superintendent Eugene White openly aided Andre Carson's election last year, allowing him to use IPS schools to stage political events. White tells Gammill that his future plans may include a revival of his political aspirations. White might want to consider switching parties. I don't see room for his independence in the Marion County Democratic Party.

Gay Bishop's Invocation Cut From HBO Broadcast

The GLBT community reacted with anger when Barack Obama chose Rick Warren, a fervent supporter of California's Proposition 8, to deliver the invocation at his inauguration ceremony today. To placate gays and lesbians, Obama added an openly gay Episcopalian bishop, Eugene Robinson, to the “We Are One” concert at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, which was televised live on HBO. The Obama Inauguration Committee, however, decided to keep Robinson's prayer as part of the pre-show, which meant it never aired. The Obama Committee tried to blame Robinson's omission on an "error", but the Washington Blade confirmed with HBO that the Committee made the call to exclude Robinson. '"The producer of the concert has said that the Presidential Inaugural Committee made the decision to keep the invocation [by Robinson] as part of the pre-show,' HBO said in a statement." The Blade reports:

The omission of Robinson’s invocation prayer from the broadcast could be viewed by some gay activists as another slight by Obama and his inaugural planners. Activists raised strong objections last month when the Inaugural Committee announced that megachurch pastor and gay rights opponent Rick Warren would deliver the opening prayer at the inaugural swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20.

Warren emerged last year as a strong supporter of California’s Proposition 8, which repealed the state’s same-sex marriage law. In statements on behalf of the ballot proposition, Warren compared gay marriage to incest, drawing expressions of outrage from gay activists . . .

“Many in the gay community saw Robinson’s selection to deliver Sunday’s prayer as an olive branch,” said gay blogger Michael Jensen.

“Wherever the fault lies, this is yet another unfortunate turn involving GLBT concerns over Obama’s selection of Rick Warren to deliver the prayer at Obama’s inauguration,” Jensen said.

A gay band, LGBA, is scheduled to participate in today's inaugural parade. Eleven members of Indianapolis' Pride of Indy band are included in the group. The band made appearances at both Clinton inaugurations, but it did not march in the parade.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Obama Delaying Digital Conversion To Help Campaign Contributor

Did you wonder why Barack Obama suddenly decided to delay the long-planned conversion of television transmissions from analog to digital before he even takes office? It turns out that a telecom adviser and former lobbyist for his transition team, R. Gerard Salemme, is a government relations executive for Clearwire, which partners with Sprint in providing its wireless data network. By delaying the conversion, Sprint and Clearwire will stall their major competitor, Verizon, from acquiring a spectrum for its own new generation wireless broadband network.

The Examiner's Tim Carney confirmed that Salemme is advising the Obama transitition team on telecom policy, but his name is nowhere to be found on Change.Gov, Team Obama's official transition team's website. Obama's transition team did not return Carney's calls seeking comment on the obvious conflict of interest. Carney writes:

Clearwire’s executive vice president for “Strategy, Policy and External Affairs” is R. Gerard Salemme. Writer Julian Sanchez reported Wednesday on the website Ars Technica that Salemme is serving on the Obama transition team as a telecom advisor. Clearwire told this columnist that Salemme is on leave to help craft Obama’s telecom policy.

Clearwire provides infrastructure for Sprint’s wireless data network. In layman’s terms, Sprint pays Clearwire to connect your Blackberry to the Internet.

The fates of Sprint and Clearwire, as well as their competitors, particularly Verizon, are tied up with the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) actions on digital television because wireless broadband (high-speed Internet over cell-phone signals, in effect) is tied up with the FCC’s actions on digital television . . .

After years of wrangling and negotiating, Congress and the FCC set February 17, 2009—between the Superbowl and the NCAA tournament—as the date for all TV broadcasting to switch to digital.

This will free up a huge swath of frequencies, which the FCC has auctioned off to other telecommunications firms. One buyer was Verizon, who will use this spectrum for its wireless broadband networks (again, providing Internet for Blackberries and similar devices).

Salemme, a former telecom lobbyist who has given thousands to Obama, including $5,000 to Obama’s transition team, has helped Obama craft a policy that will benefit Salemme’s company. This is just the sort of arrangement that led to years of Democratic outrage over the Bush administration’s energy policy.

Sanchez’s detailed and well-reported article on Ars Technica called to light these conflicts of interest—and the fact that Salemme’s name is nowhere to be found on As of yesterday, the Obama transition team still hadn’t addressed the concerns or added Salemme’s name. The transition team did not return a phone call or respond to an email request for comment from this author.

Almost unanimously, Capitol Hill staff and industry sources this week expressed certainly that Obama would get his way, meaning the long-scheduled transition would be delayed. While Obama proposes this delay as a boon to consumers, it’s hard to ignore that it provides a huge profit opportunity to one of his donors who secretly helped him craft the policy.

Carney aptly observes that this is "not a great beginning for transparency and ending corporate influence in Washington." You can bet Salemme will be rewarded by his employer for a job well done. Julian Sanchez has the details of Salemme's financial support for Obama at Ars Technica:

Enter Gerry Salemme. A telecom industry veteran; former lobbyist; and Clearwire executive vice president for strategy, policy, and external affairs, Salemme has also been a generous Obama supporter. Early in the primary season, Salemme gave the maximum $2,300 to Obama for America, and then in August threw in another $10,000 to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fundraising committee that accepts large contributions and carves them up between the party and candidate. (An apparent typo in the OVF's FEC filing credits this donation to "R. Gerard Salemine." OpenSecrets shows the cash as split into $5,400 for the Democratic National Committee's Services Corporation and two contributions of $2,300 to Barack Obama, which on face would seem to exceed Salemme's cap for the primary and general combined.) Once the race to the White House was won, Salemme scrounged another $5,000 for the transition effort.

Terrorist Ayers Denied Entry Into Canada

At least someone hasn't lost perspective on treating a terrorist like a terrorist should be treated. The Canadian border officials denied entry to terrorist William Ayers, an old friend of President-elect Barack Obama. He had been invited to speak in Toronto on his ideas about how best to educate marginalized students in the urban environment because he's had so much success at that in Chicago (NOT). Only in America could a guy who went around bombing the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon and police stations be hired to work for a taxpayer-financed institution of higher learning, elevated as someone to admire and respect on education matters and allowed to serve as an adviser to a future president. That he would be denied entry into Canada should come as no surprise. The country is denying access to American's convicted of drunk driving. Why should they welcome known terrorists like Ayers?

Indiana's $3 Billion Stimulus: How Will It Be Spent?

President-elect Barack Obama plans to enact an $835 billion stimulus plan soon after taking office. Indiana's share is projected to be $3 billion according to an AP report. How should Indiana spend its $3 billion? This is what Gov. Daniels wants to do with it:

  • $1.5 billion for Medicaid
  • $800 million for education for operating expenses and projects
  • $740 million for roads and bridge projects
  • $340 million for local communities
  • $400 million for ongoing state projects

"It is one-time money. It will come and it will go in two years or less. It is very important to invest it wisely in one-time expenditures," Daniels says of the windfall. So half the money will go to the same people who already get free health care courtesy of the taxpayers. A little more than a quarter will take care of pay for the teachers' unions. The road contractors will make off with about a quarter of the money; they are so generous with those campaign contributions. And the remaining one quarter will be sprinkled around for various pork barrel projects. What's in it for you? I'm not faulting Gov. Daniels for this spending plan; I am, however, faulting the wisdom of our federal government in spending another trillion dollars it doesn't have to spend on top of the trillions of dollars the government has already spent over the past year for the sake of economic stimulus.

Political Hack Roundup

Chief Deputy Kery Forestal of the Marion Co. Sheriff's office wants to be the next U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of Indiana and Bart McAtee is running as a Republican for Marion Co. Sheriff. If Forestal doesn't get the marshal's job, he'll run as a Democrat for county sheriff. That's this morning's political hack roundup from the Star's Brendan O'Shaughnessy. Forestal and McAtee both worked for Bart's father, Joe McAtee, when he was the Republican sheriff. The McAtee family switched party allegiances and supported Sheriff Frank Anderson when Joe lost his bid to retake the sheriff's office to former Lawrence Mayor Tom Schneider. Kerry Forestal says he has always been a Democrat. Are there any professional candidates for U.S. Marshal or county sheriff? [UPDATED--An earlier version indicated Forestal was formerly a Republican]

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Obama Immigration Plans Could Disrupt State Legislation

A few Indiana lawmakers are again trying to crack down on Indiana's undocumented workers by penalizing employers who break the law by hiring them as the Star reports this morning. These legislative efforts, even if successful, would be undermined in a big way if President-elect Barack Obama delivers on the promises he made to Hispanic groups. Obama supports McCain-Kennedy, the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform proposal which would provide a path to legalization for many of America's undocumented workers and their families.

In the last Congress, Obama weighted down the proposal in the last Congress with a worker visa amendment, which effectively led to its defeat. That was part of a Democratic strategy to make sure the legislation didn't pass under President Bush and allow Republicans to take credit, thereby boosting their standing among the country's fast-growing Hispanic population and aiding its key author, Sen. John McCain. It worked beautifully, as Obama erased the gains President Bush made among Hispanic voters in the past two elections to eke out his narrow wins. The additional support Obama gained among Hispanic voters was enough to flip the key red states he turned blue in last year's election.

Obama has nominated Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano to run the Department of Homeland Security. Ironically, Arizona is one of those states which passed legislation like that being proposed in Indiana despite its large Hispanic population. That led to the exodus of many undocumented workers and their families to other more hospitable states like Texas. Napolitano supported McCain-Kennedy even as she supported efforts in her own state to go after undocumented workers by penalizing employers. Napolitano talked tough during her confirmation hearing, pledging to go after employers. "You have deal with what is drawing people across the border, and that is a job," she said. Nonetheless, that rhetoric clashes with the views taken by the new president.

Obama's plans to legalize tens of millions of undocumented aliens, however, will likely clash with his organized labor supporters. With the economy tanking and growing unemployment, labor will push back against any efforts to make it easier for the undocumented to find jobs in the U.S. Confronting this issue could prove to be one of the biggest challenges he faces in his first year in office. Both Hispanics and organized labor contributed heavily to Obama's win. Obama could throw a quick bone to labor with the quick passage and signing of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would essentially do away with elections to organize union workforces; however, early signs are that no quick action on that controversial legislation will occur in the early days of his administration.

After comprehensive immigration reform lost in the last Congress, the Bush administration stepped up enforcement efforts, including a requirement that employers fire workers with "no match" letters (i.e. social security number doesn't match the employee's name) and began conducting more raids on businesses known to employ undocumented workers. Some think Obama may relax Bush enforcement rules instead of pushing for comprehensive immigration reform early on, pushing that back to a later date in his first term. Some of those rules are being challenged in the courts. Congress will also have to reauthorize E-Verify, the federal database which helps employers check the status of employees to ascertain whether they can work in the U.S. legally.

Watching Obama deal with this delicate issue in tough economic times will be interesting. It's going to take some fancy dance steps to avoid alienating key constituencies. One of his first tests is whether he will enforce the law and deport his aunt from this country. She ignored an earlier deportation order after her application for asylum was turned down. She has been living in a public housing project in Boston for the past several years. Although Obama professed ignorance of her status during the campaign, it is highly doubtful he wasn't aware of her status and had not written letters of support on her behalf, likely on his U.S. Senate letterhead. The aunt attended his swearing-in ceremony as a U.S. Senator. Will she attend his inauguration? Or is she still in hiding?