Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Council Feasibility Study Shows P3 Criminal Justice Center Not Possible Without Big Tax Increase Or Deep Budget Cuts

Mayor Greg Ballard told us that he can rely on a public-private partnership agreement to deliver a brand new criminal justice center for not a dime more than we're paying for our existing criminal justice facilities. So the City-County Council decided to perform an independent feasibility study rather than relying on the financial analysis the Ballard administration paid millions to KPMG to assure us its P3 formula was the most cost efficient way of getting that new criminal justice center. Not surprisingly, the independent study found KMPG's financial analysis was riddled with errors, omissions and just plain misrepresentations that add up to a shortfall of at least $37 million during the first 8 years alone.

KPMG conducted a Value for Money ("VfM") analysis to compare the total payments under the P3 method versus what it would cost to procure a criminal justice center under a more traditional procurement method. Because KPMG had contingency payments riding on the success of the P3, it naturally skewed its results to support the pre-ordained P3 model. The independent report for the council identifies how KPMG produced its desired outcome:

  • KPMG’s VfM used an arbitrary and unsubstantiated discount rate of 5% in calculating the net present value of the City’s costs under the proposed agreement with WMB. This artificially deflated the present value of the proposed overall WMB project cost by over $191M compared to using a more appropriate and recognized discount rate. 
  • KPMG’s VfM arbitrarily ignored the entire Design-Build project delivery method available to the City under I.C. 5-30. Similar to a D-B-F-O-M delivery method, the Design-Build method would allow the City to finance a guaranteed construction price and transfer much of its design and construction risks to the winning Design-Build team. 
  • KPMG’s VfM used unsubstantiated and yet highly-unfavorable assumptions to estimate the City’s alternative public, tax-exempt financing capabilities, including using an unjustifiably expensive 30 year A- rated bond plus 75 basis points. This bond rating was arbitrarily low and unsupported by the City’s existing AAA credit rating. Indianapolis maintains a AAA credit rating with two rating agencies and a AA rating with the third. Rather, far more supportable estimate would assume the City could reasonably issue a Bond through the Building Authority backed by a COIT pledge from the City with a AA municipal bond plus 50 basis points. This would significantly reduce the net-debt service payments and overall costs for the city to finance the project itself. There would be no need for a referendum, and the Building Authority is not subject to debt limitations. 
  • KPMG’s VfM estimated the City’s operation costs for the proposed facility at $10.25 per square foot of space. A standard industry survey put the average operating cost per square ft. in Indianapolis at $7.95 in 2013, or conservatively adjusted to $9.10 in 2015. Importantly, Building Authority (which currently operates both Jail and City-County Building) independently quoted the cost per square foot as $6.25 to operate the proposed justice center in 2019. Including funding of life cycle costs, the Director of the Building Authority estimated costs to be $8.08 in 2019. Given the vast experience of the Building Authority, we believe this is the appropriate figure to estimate the present value of operating and maintenance costs. 
  • KPMG’s VfM includes an unnecessary “operating risk adjustment” cost to the City for alternatively operating the facility itself. This calculation, however, assumes an unreasonable and unsubstantiated 80% likelihood of an operating outage and assumes that the City is incapable of negotiating a separate operating agreement sufficient to avoid this risk. 
  • KPMG’s VfM assessment includes a state tax adjustment amount that is wholly inappropriate, because local governments do not receive any state corporate tax-revenue. As such, WMB paying corporate taxes is not a value-add for the county.
In short, the independent study for the council concluded that allowing a private developer to build, operate and maintain a new criminal justice center for the next 35 years is not the most cost effective way to procure a new criminal justice center. A city-financed, design-build approach would cost the city $516 million less than entering into the 35-year P3 agreement with WMB Heartland Justice Partners. What it means is that if the council approves the P3 agreement with WMB, it will become necessary either to make deep cuts elsewhere in the budget or raise taxes. And, of course, it also contradicts the one-sided reporting of the Indianapolis Star, the IBJ and other local media to advance all things related to this latest scheme concocted by corrupt political insiders to defraud Indianapolis taxpayers, who will still be out $15 million wasted on this project to date if its scrapped in favor of the design-build approach recommended as the most cost-effective approach. 

You can read the full report by clicking here

Indianapolis Star Story Accidentally Proves RFRA Law Doesn't Give License To Discriminate Against Gays

A former employee of the Gannett-owned newspaper once told me that a senior management employee told the newspaper's employees their job wasn't to simply report the news; it was to frame and shape the news. The lie that made its way several times around the world over the past week that Indiana had passed a law providing businesses a license to discriminate against gays became the truth regardless of the actual text of a law informed and formulated by decades of judicial opinions as a consequence of the way the Indianapolis Star chose to frame and shape the reporting of Indiana's RFRA law. If you read an online story on the Star's website today, "How Indiana's RFRA differs from federal version," the newspaper accidentally reveals the true meaning of the law, not the false, hysterical description opponents of the law have used to brand anyone associated with its passage as a bigot, with whom most of the media have blindly sided in this pathetic debate.

To be sure, as the story's analysis reveals, there are differences in the text included in the federal RFRA law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 and the state law Gov. Mike Pence signed into law last week. None of those changes, however, support the opponents' argument that the law gives a license to Indiana businesses to discriminate against gays, even with the gratuitous comments thrown into the story made by opponents of the law. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who coauthored the federal law describes the differences as "significant, legal differences," and that Indiana's law "in no way resembles the intent or application of the federal RFRA." His words were polite compared to former Indiana Supreme Court Justice Frank Sullivan, Jr., who described RFRA as "code for we need to deny gay and lesbians the civil rights they are asserting." Sullivan told the Star this "is obvious because the same people — including lawmakers and lobbyists — who were pushing for the failed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage are now behind the RFRA law." Don't you just love it when a supposedly respected judge paints with such a broad brush?

So what are these "significant, legal differences" between the federal and state law? The first difference raised by opponents centers on the inclusion of for profit corporations in the state law's definition of covered persons. The federal RFRA law failed to provide a definition of the "persons" allowed to assert a religious liberty right as a defense to action compelled by a law, but the Supreme Court in the Hobby Lobby case relied upon the definition provided in the Dictionary Act for the U.S. Code, which includes in the definition of a person "corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies and joint stock companies." The opponents rely upon this supposed expanded definition to argue it broadens the idea of who has the right to religious liberty. The opponents' argument fails because nobody can argue with a straight face that covered persons under Indiana law is broader than the federal law.

The second point on which the opponents argue the state law is written more broadly than the federal law is the inclusion of religious liberty claims that include not only those cases where a person's religious freedom has been burdened but also when it is likely to be substantially burdened by government action. The opponents claim this has the effect of expanding the type of claims covered persons can assert under the law. That argument similarly fails because the proponents point out that federal courts have interpreted RFRA to read "likely" into the statute so that one doesn't have to be already injured before asserting a claim. As the proponents point out, it's the difference in whether the relief being claimed is compensation for an injury already suffered or an injunction to prevent a violation. In other words, there's no real difference between the federal law as applied by the courts and the Indiana law as written.

The final major point on which the opponents claim Indiana's law differs from the federal law is that it allows a party in a judicial or administrative proceeding between two private parties to assert a religious freedom defense under the act. The opponents suggest this makes it easier for businesses sued by persons discriminated against because of their sexual orientation to raise their religious beliefs as a defense to their discriminatory actions. In the years following the passage of the federal law, it has been interpreted in four judicial circuits covering half of the states to allow cases between private parties as well as those cases brought by the government to invoke RFRA if the burden is imposed by the law relied upon to assert discrimination occurred. So the Indiana law incorporates the prevailing rule applied in at least half of the states already. As the proponents point out, in virtually every case where discrimination based on sexual orientation was the basis of the underlying claim in cases between private parties, judges have ruled the government had a compelling interest in enacting the underlying nondiscrimination law to overcome the defense raised under RFRA. So again, this is another red herring where the opponents want you to believe that administrative bodies and judges in red states will rule against gays because that's just the kind of people they are.

"Is Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act the same as the federal version that became law two decades ago," the Star reporters asked in the opening sentence of their story today. "Not quite," they answered. They continued, "Indiana's RFRA is similar, but not identical. And there's debate about how much those differences matter." Now that you know the differences between the federal and state law, would you agree that those differences are a distinction without any real differences?

The Hypocrisy Behind RFRA Outrage

So now nine CEOs from companies like Eli Lilly, Cummins, Anthem and Angie's List have sent a letter to Gov. Mike Pence and Indiana's legislative leaders repeating the lie made up out of whole cloth by the opponents of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") that the newly-enacted law gives businesses and individuals a license to discriminate against gays. This so-called "corporate social advocacy" of tying a state's social policies to a willingness of these companies to do business in some places is a growing and disturbing trend, particularly because of the selective and hypocritical outrage of the out-of-touch elitists who run these companies.

Imagine our state officials being lectured by corporate executives who not only ship jobs overseas to some of the countries with the worst human rights abuses like China where organized religion is virtually non-existent, but actually pay bribes to their government officials for the right to do business there as Eli Lilly has been called out by our own government for doing. They aren't just shipping jobs to lower paid workers overseas. Some of these companies actually lobby Congress to ease work visa rules to flood the country with even more foreign workers, dashing hopes of many American workers of finding a decent paying job when they graduate from college to help pay down the mountain of debt they incur getting a higher education in this country.

When Cummins was asking Indianapolis taxpayers last year to shell out millions in public subsidies to build new corporate offices in downtown Indianapolis, I don't recall the leaders of the company conditioning the generosity of Indianapolis taxpayers on its state leaders agreeing to enact or not enact a law that until it was proposed in Indiana this year-- after being passed unanimously by the House of Representatives and approved by the Senate with only three dissenting votes before being signed into law by President Bill Clinton, an action which was followed by at least 18 other states and countless number of court decisions in more than a dozen other states establishing essentially the same standard of review in cases involving religious freedom claims. Likewise, Eli Lilly expressed no concern about the state's social policies when it sought and obtained hundreds of millions in tax abatements from the city. And the NCAA, convention industry, NBA and NFL, et al. didn't give a hoot about how Indiana treated anyone other than themselves when they sought and obtained billions of dollars in subsidies from state and local taxpayers over the past three decades for their new sports and convention facilities.

The hypocrisy meter breaks when it comes to the reaction of Mayor Greg Ballard and Angie's List's CEO Bill Oesterle to the passage of Indiana's RFRA. Mayor Ballard just a few short years ago had to be reminded by this blog that Indianapolis enacted an ordinance in 2005 that prohibited a business owner in the city-owned City Market from refusing to provide service to gay customers because the business' owner disagreed with their lifestyle, and then only reluctantly agreed to enforce the law after much hand-wringing, claims by some of the city's largest law firms that the law didn't really mean what it said and, incredibly, even public claims by the council members and some gay rights advocates that the law they sponsored and backed didn't say what it really said. It's too bad these folks are incapable of reading Indiana's RFRA law. If they had bothered, they would know there is nothing in it that gives anyone a license to discriminate.

So Mayor Ballard has issued a new executive order restating what the 2005 ordinance already states, demanded that state lawmakers change state law, and the City-County Council has passed a resolution denouncing the newly-enacted RFRA law while holding hands with Angie's List's CEO Bill Oesterle, whose company stands accused in a class action civil lawsuit of defrauding its consumer members by providing positive ratings for businesses which pay hefty fees to advertise with his company, while downgrading businesses which refuse to pay protection money to rate favorable treatment on Angie's List. Mayor Ballard and a bunch of our city council members want to reward Angie's List's unacceptable business practices with $18.5 million in public subsidies to expand its operations, a move Oesterle now says is on hold because of the new state law. I'm sure the fact that his company has never earned a profit in its two decades of existence despite no shortage of fools willing to invest in it had anything to do with it, but let's jump on the bandwagon of mislabeling RFRA supporters as bigots because it makes me look good. It's all about appearances, after all, not actual substance.

Who said Hoosier Hysteria was all about basketball? Well move over basketball. There's a new game in town being played. Let's call it Hoosier Hypocrites.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Freedom Indiana Now Admits Indiana Law, Like Federal Law, Already Permitted Discrimination Against Gays

After vilifying the Indiana General Assembly and Gov. Mike Pence for supposedly enacting a form of RFRA that discriminates against gays, Freedom Indiana finally owns up to the fact that Indiana's civil rights law never protected gays from discrimination. In fact, not even the federal Civil Rights Act protects gays from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Even when Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, there was no serious push made to expand federal civil rights protection to persons based on sexual orientation.

In a press release issued this morning, Freedom Indiana is now seeking the legislative solution it didn't seek before it cast RFRA as representing something it did not:
The "Fairness for All Hoosiers Act" legislative proposal would: 
• Update the state laws against discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations to provide protections for LGBT Hoosiers. 
• Clarify that the recently enacted RFRA cannot be used to allow discrimination prohibited under state or local laws. 
"If we don't act now, we will continue to do irreparable harm to Indiana's economy and our ability to attract top talent and jobs to our state," Katie Blair said. "We're presenting this solution as a way to start rebuilding our reputation and to move on from this harmful legislation by ensuring protections for all Hoosiers."
Let me repeat, both federal and the state's civil rights law permit discrimination against persons based on their sexual orientation. That's always been the case. While some Indiana cities, including Indianapolis, have enacted human rights ordinances with expanded civil rights protections for gays, those local ordinances are viewed as being very weak in terms of enforcement and remedies.

So will Freedom Indiana be issuing an apology to Gov. Pence and state lawmakers for falsely accusing them of passing a law that discriminates against gays? Don't count on it, and don't count on any honest reporting by the useless State House media that has aided and abetted Freedom Indiana and other opponents of RFRA in representing this legislation to the state and the nation as something it never was.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Woman Behind The Orchestrated Attack On RFRA: Meet Katie Blair

If you're one of those rallying against Indiana's RFRA law, Advance Indiana thought you should see the woman who has orchestrated the statewide and now national attack in the media against it in an effort to villainize anyone of faith, in particular those of the Christian faith. Meet Katie Blair. The idea of recasting RFRA as short-hand for all things anti-gay was her brainchild. In this role she has found more success than gaining supporters for government-funded abortions to all women on demand in her former role as director of activism for Planned Parenthood of Indiana. A few months after leaving her next job at the state Democratic Party as director of the 51% Club, she became advocacy coordinator for the ACLU of Indiana. See Blair speaking at this State House rally for Planned Parenthood of Indiana in 2011. The ACLU, incidentally, supported the original federal law signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993.

George "The Fraud" Stephanopolous Grills Pence On RFRA

The irony in watching ABC News' George Stephanopolous, a former attack dog media spinner for President Bill Clinton, grill Gov. Mike Pence on his decision to sign Indiana's version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRF"). While Stephanopolous, a closeted homosexual, was flacking in the Clinton administration, President Clinton signed into law the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") to bar recognition of same-sex marriages, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell, which statutorily recognized the military's policy of barring gays from serving in the military and this now condemned law known as RFRA. To this day, Bill Clinton remains the only president in the history of the United States to sign into law discriminatory laws against gay people. The hypocrisy of these people is beyond the pale. Gov. Pence handles himself well under questioning by the faux newsman. As I've said on numerous occasions, I don't believe a federal or state RFRA law is needed; however, I won't stand by and watch as a bunch of carnival barkers commandeer the public stage and make this law out to be something it has never been since the federal law was enacted more than two decades ago. Yep, there's truly a sucker born every minute.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Angie's List Uses RFRA As Excuse For Canceling Plan For Taxpayer-Financed Expansion

Which came first? The chicken or the egg? Less than a week after news reports surfaced of a Pennsylvania class action lawsuit being filed by its members alleging a scheme to defraud its members by claiming it provides unfiltered consumer reviews of service providers, Angie's List announced that it is putting on hold its plan to tap $18.5 million in taxpayer subsidies awaiting approval by the Indianapolis City-County Council, blaming the enactment of RFRA for its decision.

The proposal had already been sent back to committee once after reaching the full council due to growing skepticism about the future viability of a company that has never turned a profit in its two decades of existence and was scheduled for a vote by the council at next Monday's meeting when the class action lawsuit with damning allegations was filed against the company. The lawsuit, in essence, claims the company's consumer ratings have more to do with advertising fees paid by the service providers it rates than actual reviews made of the service providers by its paid consumer members. Naturally, the Gannett-owned Indianapolis Star accepts the faux reasoning offered by the company's CEO for putting its taxpayer-financed expansion plan on ice because it fits the newspaper's agenda:
Angie's List is canceling its Eastside headquarters expansion over the passage of the religious freedom bill, its founder and chief executive officer said Saturday. The CEO of the online consumer ratings service based in Indianapolis said he could not in good conscience partner with the state over the proposed $40 million expansion and hinted that moving some parts of the company out of state is "on the table."
"We are going to re-examine our options for a HQ," Oesterle said.
"We are putting the 'Ford Building Project' on hold until we fully understand the implications of the freedom restoration act on our employees, both current and future," Oesterle said in news release.
"Angie's List is open to all and discriminates against none and we are hugely disappointed in what this bill represents," Oesterle said.
I'm sure it had nothing to do with the distinct possibility its taxpayer-financed expansion plan was about to be voted down by the council, even after the company hired a team of high-paid lobbyists to help secure its passage.

RFRA Opponents Showing More Of Their Backside

The manipulation of public opinion through false information has no bounds. I've said before that I believed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") legislation was totally unnecessary; however, the fact remains RFRA never was characterized as representing government-sanctioned discrimination against any group of people, in particular gays, until the debate came to Indiana after 19 states had already enacted state RFRA laws modeled after the version passed by Congress more than two decades ago.

When RFRA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993, it overwhelming passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support. Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), an outspoken critic of gay rights, was one of only three senators to vote against it. When Illinois passed RFRA in 1998, then-State Sen. Barack Obama voted for it. It is shocking and disturbing that one side of a political debate can be allowed to advance phony arguments with the full backing of the media.

A point I don't hear discussed is the fact that under both the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, and Indiana's Civil Rights Act, an employer is permitted to discriminate against a person based on their sexual orientation. An employer cannot discriminate under those laws based on a person's sex, race or religion, but it can discriminate based on a person's sexual orientation. Why aren't the opponents of RFRA focusing their attention on changing those laws instead of claiming RFRA does something it doesn't do?

It's no wonder we now live in a country where an element of the government can assassinate a president, civil rights leaders and other world leaders with impunity and carry out false flag events and propaganda campaigns against its own people and have the media castigate the discerning citizens among us as crackpot conspiracy theorists. Creating false realities is now the modus operandi.

Greg "I'm The Most Transparent Mayor" Ballard Has No Government E-Mail Account

The IBJ's Kathleen McLaughlin tells us Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard has no government e-mail account to document his communications among staff members and the public. It's funny because he had an e-mail account he used as a candidate. Are we to believe he stopped using e-mail when he became mayor? Or has he continued using a private e-mail account to conduct official communications in order to skirt Indiana's Access to Public Records Law?

The state's Public Access Counselor Luke Britt takes the position an e-mail communication is a public record regardless of whether a public or private e-mail account is used if it involves an official communication of a public official, although there are no rules, statutes or case law affirming that legal contention. "When a public official avails himself of any communication medium, whether it is phone, email or text message, he is availing himself of the Indiana access laws when communicating in his official capacity," Britt said in an October opinion on a Lake County complaint.

McLaughlin's story notes that a number of City-County Council members, including the council president, Maggie Lewis, use private e-mail accounts. The main reason council members use private e-mail accounts is because they figured out early on that the mayor's office spied on their e-mail communications. When the shoe is on the other foot and it's the council trying to pry e-mail communications out of the administration, which has been the case with respect to the ROC investigation, the council has had to resort to obtaining an order from a judge to force the administration to turn over public documents, including e-mails.

One of the things that McLaughlin's story doesn't delve deeply into is the use of texting for communications. It's very frustrating when you see public officials, including council members and administration folks relying heavily on text messaging during official meetings. It's obvious that some council members have a private conversation going on during council meetings often about a matter under debate at the meeting. Lobbyists close to council members who have members' personal cell phone address are able to communicate one-on-one with them during legislative deliberations, giving them an unfair advantage over the public. Members of the public must sit sometimes for hours waiting to offer public testimony, only to be given a very short time allotment to express their views.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Fortune Magazine Names Daniels One Of World's Top 50 Leaders

Reach for your barf bucket. Fortune magazine includes former Gov. Mitch Daniels on its list of the world's greatest 50 leaders. He shares the top ranking list with late night comedian Jimmy Fallon, NBA commissioner Adam Silver, NBA player Lebron James, China President Xi Jinping, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, pop star Taylor Swift and Whole Foods' CEO John Mackey. Try convincing me Fortune Magazine isn't run by the CIA. Please, God, when does it end?

Harry Reid Won't Seek Re-Election

Harry Reid
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will announce he won't be seeking re-election to his Nevada Senate seat. Reid survived a very close re-election battle in 2010, and he says he doesn't want to soak up campaign resources for himself as Democrats try to regain control of the Senate. Reid also says the severe eye injury he sustained earlier this year from a fall while exercising weighed in his decision.

There hasn't been much mention of this in the media, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), an ophthalmologist by profession, has been assisting Sen. Reid during his recovery in his attempts at regaining sight in his injured right eye. Reid recently praised Paul for his encouragement and expert advice and wanted to let the people of Kentucky know just how "thoughtful, considerate and kind" their junior senator is.

Councilor Joe Simpson Won't Face Ethics Charges

This has to be the most ill-conceived plan to discredit a critic ever concocted by the Republican City-County Council leader Mike McQuillen. Yesterday, McQuillen put out a press release which read:
This evening’s City County Council Ethics Committee will review and decide whether Councillor Joe Simpson violated ethics rules when he refused to recuse himself from voting on public safety issues – despite having an open lawsuit against the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. This will be the first time the public has the opportunity to hear the charges and voice their concerns with Councillor Simpson’s behavior. Councillor Pam Hickman, the Ethics Committee Chairwoman, canceled a previously scheduled Ethics Committee meeting.
“Councillor Simpson has refused to act in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the City Code. An elected official voting on issues directly related to an agency they are currently suing is a clear conflict of interests and I am glad Councillor Hickman has finally realized this needs to be addressed”, said Council Minority Leader Mike McQuillen.
Some of you may recall that Councilor Simpson was arrested by IMPD a couple of years ago under rather bizarre circumstances for inquiring about a police investigation of a break-in of a home next to his home. Simpson was later acquitted of the charges and sued the department for violating his civil rights. Simpson chairs the ROC Investigating Committee, which is charged with trying to determine how the Department of Public Safety could have possibly entered into such a one-sided, $20 million long-term lease at a run-down, ill-suited building owned by an individual with close political ties to Mayor Greg Ballard. As more and more damning information about the deal came to light during the course of the investigation, Republicans began a push to discredit Simpson by saying he had a conflict of interest in chairing the committee investigating the deal. The committee member pushing Simpson to recuse himself was Councilor Ben Hunter, who is a former, long-timer IMPD police officer and one of the key backers and sponsors of the proposal to locate the ROC at Eastgate Mall, whose owner contributed generously to Hunter's campaign. WRTV reports on how this call for an ethics investigation of Simpson ended:
Ethics charges against an Indianapolis city-county councilor were dropped Thursday in a unanimous decision by the ethics committee.
District 9 Councilman Joe Simpson (D) was accused of committing an ethics violation when he refused to recuse himself from voting on public safety issues despite having an open lawsuit against the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.
An ethics committee meeting scheduled to discuss the matter Thursday lasted just minutes, ending in a unanimous vote to drop ethics charges against Simpson.
The meeting followed a closed-door executive session by the ethics committee.
No public comment was heard at the meeting, and councilors did not discuss reasons for dismissing the charges.
The committee is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans, and chaired by Council Member At-Large Pamela Hickman (D).
It's too bad my fellow Republicans weren't as interested in investigating former City-County Council President Ryan Vaughn for the blatant manner in which he used his council leadership position as a profit center for his law firm and its clients.

Gannett Headline Irony: Federal Aid Needed To Fight Heroin Addiction

A headline story in the Gannett-owned Indianapolis Star reads: "Federal aid needed to fight heroin addiction, expert says." My retort: "Dismantle the CIA to shut down the funding source of international drug trafficking operations and to end the tyranny, chaos and madness inflicted upon the world by its black hand." Gannett throws yet another ironic headline at us: "San Francisco joins those planning to boycott Indiana." Ah, yes, Baghdad by the Bay where the CIA introduced LSD, Rev. Jim Jones, the Black Panthers and every other counter-culture movement of the 1960s. Sorry, Gannett, but not all Americans are the blind followers you expect us to be.

UPDATE You doubt me?:
U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency officers in Colombia allegedly participated in sex parties with prostitutes paid for by local drug cartels and received money, gifts and weapons from the groups they were investigating, according to a report released Thursday by the Office of the Inspector General.
Citing Colombian police officials, the report said there were allegations that at least nine DEA agents “solicited prostitutes and engaged in other serious misconduct while in the country.”
The 131-page report looked at allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment from 2009-2012 within the Department of Justice’s law-enforcement branches, including the FBI, the DEA, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the U.S. Marshall Service.
While the report found that there were “relatively few” allegations of sexual misconduct during that period, the DEA in Colombia seems to stand out.
In particular, the report found that local Colombian law officers allegedly arranged “sex parties” for DEA agents with prostitutes over the course of several years. Those parties were held at the agent’s government-leased quarters and were allegedly paid for by local drug cartels. A Colombian official said he sometimes held onto the agent’s weapons during the festivities.
The report also echoes the concerns of a DEA inspector who looked into the case and determined that because the parties took place in locations where the agent’s “laptops, BlackBerry devices and, other government-issued equipment were present,” it created security risks for the officers, “potentially exposing them to extortion, blackmail or coercion.”
While some of the DEA agents questioned denied the allegations “the information in the case file suggested they should have known the prostitutes in attendance were paid with cartel funds,” the report found.
Prostitution is legal in parts of Colombia — including the capital — and the DEA Inspector told investigators that it was “common for prostitutes to be present at business meetings involving cartel members and foreign officers.”
Eventually, seven of 10 agents admitted that they attended parties with prostitutes and the DEA imposed penalties ranging from two-day to 10-day suspensions.
The Office of Inspector General investigation was sparked, in part, by the 2012 Secret Service sex scandal in Cartagena, Colombia. In that incident, eight Secret Service members were fired and a handful of others were reprimanded for hiring prostitutes in the run-up to the Summit of the Americas, which brought together the hemisphere’s leaders.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Pence Issues Signing Statement On RFRA

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Amidst an avalanche of criticism, dire consequences and warnings coming from its opponents, Gov. Mike Pence joined 19 other states and the federal government in enacting the state's own Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Here's the statement he issued after signing SB 101 into law:
“Today I signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, because I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith. 
“The Constitution of the United States and the Indiana Constitution both provide strong recognition of the freedom of religion but today, many people of faith feel their religious liberty is under attack by government action. 
“One need look no further than the recent litigation concerning the Affordable Care Act. A private business and our own University of Notre Dame had to file lawsuits challenging provisions that required them to offer insurance coverage in violation of their religious views. 
“Fortunately, in the 1990s Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—limiting government action that would infringe upon religion to only those that did not substantially burden free exercise of religion absent a compelling state interest and in the least restrictive means. 
“Last year the Supreme Court of the United States upheld religious liberty in the Hobby Lobby case based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, but that act does not apply to individual states or local government action. At present, nineteen states—including our neighbors in Illinois and Kentucky—have adopted Religious Freedom Restoration statutes. And in eleven additional states, the courts have interpreted their constitutions to provide a heightened standard for reviewing government action. 
“In order to ensure that religious liberty is fully protected under Indiana law, this year our General Assembly joined those 30 states and the federal government to enshrine these principles in Indiana law, and I fully support that action. 
“This bill is not about discrimination, and if I thought it legalized discrimination in any way in Indiana, I would have vetoed it. In fact, it does not even apply to disputes between private parties unless government action is involved. For more than twenty years, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act has never undermined our nation’s anti-discrimination laws, and it will not in Indiana. 
“Indiana is rightly celebrated for the hospitality, generosity, tolerance, and values of our people, and that will never change. Faith and religion are important values to millions of Hoosiers and with the passage of this legislation, we ensure that Indiana will continue to be a place where we respect freedom of religion and make certain that government action will always be subject to the highest level of scrutiny that respects the religious beliefs of every Hoosier of every faith.”
It will be interesting to watch and see what the organizations threatening to boycott Indianapolis as a convention city will do now since they can't hardly pick one of the 19 other states to move their conventions and trade shows if they are being true to their word.

UPDATE: Even Miley Virus is raging against Gov. Pence. It's a full frontal Illuminati assault!

You're an asshole @govpenceIN ✌️-1 cc: the only place that has more idiots that Instagram is in politics@braisoncwukong thank you for standing up for what is right! We need more strong heterosexual men fighting for equality in both men and women! Why are the macho afraid to love muchoooo?!?

It looks like Gen Con isn't going anywhere despite all of the table pounding before Gov. Pence signed SB 1 into law. Let's face it, what city in in this country is going to take care of the leaders of these organizations who make the decisions about where to host a convention better than the thick wallet Indianapolis gives to Visit Indy to take care of these folks to make sure they keep coming back year after year? The only other city that "entertains" these decision-makers as lavishly as Indianapolis is Chicago. Sorry, Illinois enacted RFRA quite a few years ago. In fact, a man in the State Senate by the name of Barack Obama voted for it.

Susan Brooks Ponders Senate Run

U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks sent out an e-mail to her friends and supporters just minutes after Rep. Young sent out his e-mail discussing a potential run for the seat now held by retiring Sen. Dan Coats. A crowded field of candidates in the 2012 Fifth District primary to fill the seat formerly held by Dan Burton paved the way for her election to Congress. Here's her message:
As you're by now aware, Senator Dan Coats announced on Tuesday that he will not seek re-election to the United States Senate in 2016. I'm sure that many of you, like me, had hoped to see him continue his service. I told him as much earlier in the year, but it is easy to understand his decision to forgo another campaign and pursue other endeavors. His commitment to Indiana and America, for nearly four decades, is the embodiment of leadership. His integrity and decency have been, and will remain, a model for anyone who chooses public service. On behalf of David and our family, I extend my thanks to Senator Coats and his wife, Marsha, for all they have done. 
Over the last 48 hours, I, like other Republican leaders across our state, have been receiving encouragement to consider running for this open seat. It's humbling to have that consideration and support, but as Senator Coats showed us with his deliberation over the last several months, it's not a decision to make quickly or lightly. So I wanted to share with you first, my friends and supporters who have invested so much in my campaigns and service in the House, that I will take some time in the near term to talk to Republicans around the state about what they are looking for in our nominee for 2016. We certainly want to continue the principled leadership that Senator Coats has practiced over his term.
Indiana Republicans are fortunate to have probably the deepest bench of capable leaders of any state in the country. That fact is not lost on me as I consider a candidacy that could put me up against some of my friends and colleagues who are also running or considering it. But a vigorous, well run primary, based on good ideas and focused on a constructive debate about the future of America, can be very beneficial to our party and our state.
Thank you again for all of your support over the last four years. If you have thoughts about this race or the 5th District, please feel free to email me at susan@susanbrooksforcongress.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Todd Young Ponders Senate Run

U.S. Rep. Todd Young confirms in an e-mail message to supporters and friends that he is pondering a run to fill the U.S. Senate seat current held by Sen. Dan Coats in seeking contributions for his campaign committee:
. . . Since he made his announcement, I've received countless emails, voicemails, and text messages from Hoosiers like you encouraging me to run for that Senate seat. Your support has been overwhelming, and I can't thank you enough for the kind words over the past few days. Running for the U.S. Senate is a big decision, but it is something that Jenny and I are prayerfully considering and working through as a family.
Because this is such a big decision, I'm not ready to decide anything today. When I am ready to make an announcement, though, I want you to be one of the first to know. Just text YOUNG to 67463 to get my Senate announcement, whatever it may be, via text message as soon as it's made.
In addition, March 31 is the first FEC deadline of this election cycle. No matter what I decide, this is a crucial deadline for all candidates. While my family and I work through this process, I have less time to focus on fundraising. Can you help us remain in a position of strength by making a secure, online contribution today of $5, $10 or $25? It would really mean a lot to us at this time.
Thanks again for all your support over the years, and for your encouragement this week. We'll make an announcement about the future in due time.

Gov. Mike Pence Declares Health Emergency In Scott County Due To HIV Outbreak

Drastic measures: Governor Mike Pence said Wednesday he's mulling a needle exchange and other programs aimed at curbing the rise in infection rates that has been tied to intravenous drug use in southern Indiana
An unprecedented outbreak of HIV infections in rural Scott County in southern Indiana has caused Gov. Mike Pence to take steps to declare a public health emergency in the county. According to news reports, at least 72 79 persons have tested positive for HIV. Public health officials attribute the recent infections to needle sharing among drug users, leading some lawmakers to call for establishing a needle exchange program to limit the spread of infections.

A spokesman for Gov. Pence told Fox 59 News that Gov. Pence opposes a needle exchange programs as an anti-drug policy; however, he may allow an exception to help curtail new infections in the affected areas. "To be clear, as we hear this [legislative] amendment today, Governor Pence opposes needle exchange as anti-drug policy and he stands by current law,” said deputy state health commissioner Jennifer Walthall. “(However) with regard to needle exchange he is considering a focused limited program for the sole purpose of addressing this epidemic in Scott County.”

UPDATE: This story has gone international. The popular Internet tabloid, The Daily Mail, has picked it up.

Here's the text of a press release issued by Gov. Pence's office today, which indicates the number of confirmed cases has been increased by 7 from 72 to 79:
Governor Mike Pence today declared a public health emergency in Scott County due to an outbreak of HIV that has reached epidemic proportions. The declaration was issued in Executive Order 15-05, which orders the state to coordinate a multi-agency response, and provides additional resources and tools to tackle the outbreak.
The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) has identified 79 confirmed cases of HIV originating in Scott County related to the outbreak in southeastern Indiana. Typically, Scott County would see fewer than five new HIV cases in a year. All cases are linked to injection drug abuse. This is an epidemic.
Since the outbreak was first identified in late January, ISDH has worked closely with local health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug treatment facilities, local medical providers, and other State agencies to contain the outbreak and get treatment for those who test positive for HIV. A medical team from CDC arrived in Scott County on March 23 to help with following up on contacts of HIV positive individuals and analyzing data. Additional CDC personnel will arrive next week.
Governor Pence met with the CDC on Monday and visited Scott County on Wednesday to talk with local officials, health professionals and concerned citizens and informed them that he would be declaring a public health emergency in Scott County.
“Scott County is facing an epidemic of HIV, but this is not a Scott County problem; this is an Indiana problem,” said Gov. Pence. “The people of Scott County are working hard to address this crisis, and with additional state resources and new tools provided by this emergency declaration, I am confident that together we will stop this HIV outbreak in its tracks.”
Executive Order 15-05 orders ISDH to set up an incident command center to coordinate HIV treatment and substance abuse treatment and requires state and local health, law enforcement and emergency response agencies, as well as health care providers and hospitals to cooperate and assist in disaster response. In addition ISDH will set up a mobile one-stop shop to assist individuals in enrolling in HIP 2.0, offering vaccinations, and providing identification information.
The order, upon the recommendation of officials from the CDC, also authorizes Scott County health, safety, law enforcement and local officials to take the actions they deem necessary to respond to the epidemic, including designing and implementing under the supervision of ISDH a targeted, short-term needle exchange program for the sole purpose of containing the epidemic.
In addition, ISDH is launching a regional public awareness campaign, called “You Are Not Alone,” which focuses on drug treatment, infection prevention, safe sex, needle disposal and HIV testing and treatment. Viewers are encouraged to contact the HIV services hotline or addiction hotline for local treatment and care resource. The three-month campaign will include digital and social media ads, billboards along the Interstate 65 corridor, radio, and will be featured in the free local paper, The Giveaway.
For more information, call the HIV assistance hotline 866-588-4948 and the Addiction Hotline at 800-662-HELP(4357)

Indiana's Real Indiana Jones Dies

Don Miller, the man at the center of national intrigue nearly a year ago when dozens of FBI agents descended on his home in Rush County supposedly for the purpose of seizing and examining an incredible collection of artifacts he collected during his well-traveled career has died at the age of 92 according to the Indianapolis Star. An electrical genius, Miller worked at times for NASA and the Russian government developing communications equipment for their space programs. The FBI's interest in Miller reportedly pertained to legal questions concerning some priceless antiquities among his vast collection, including Aztec, Egyptian and Ming Dynasty artifacts. As the Star notes, Miller was never charged with any crimes and no lawsuits were ever filed against him in the year following the raid on his home.
. . .  Miller never faced any charges related to his collection. No lawsuits were filed against him in the year since the seizure. In his final months, townsfolk told The Indianapolis Star he had disappeared from public life.
And even after his death, progress of the federal investigation remains shrouded in mystery. FBI Special Agent Drew Northern declined to comment about the case Tuesday night. Officials from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis anthropology department, which is assisting the FBI in identifying and preserving the artifacts, also would not comment.
But a legal expert told The Star it could take years, if not decades, before experts can sort out the legalities of the thousands of objects seized by the government.
"Even just figuring out which ones are illegally possessed in the United States is an enormous task when he's purchased them over so many years, so you can see why this is such a difficult problem to solve," said David B. Smith, a Virginia-based attorney with a background in asset forfeiture.
"Without his help, it's just going to be enormously difficult to figure out which ones he legitimately purchased, which are legal and which ones aren't," Smith said. "It's a huge problem." . . .
It is not known to what extent the FBI had spoken to Miller about his collection before his death. Miller's relatives could not be reached by phone Wednesday. Northern described the agency's investigation only as "ongoing."
But if the case goes to court, it's likely the law will not be on the side of Miller's estate, Smith said . . . 
Internet sleuths at the time suggested a far more nefarious reason for the raid, which coincided with the ongoing search for the missing MH370 Malaysian Airlines plane, which seemed to vanish without a trace. Miller supposedly invented technology to locate a transponder for a missing plane through triangulation even after the beacon had failed. The missing MH370 plane had among its passengers several engineers who helped develop cloaking technology to help aircraft evade radar detection. The Chinese employees on board the plane worked for Freescale Semiconductor, an Austin, Texas-based company. No remnants of the plane or the remains of its passengers have been found since it went missing more than a year ago.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Eric Holcomb To Become First GOP Senate Candidate To Enter Race To Succeed Dan Coats

A man totally controlled by former Gov. Mitch Daniels, Eric Holcomb, is planning to announce his plans to seek the U.S. Senate seat now held by his current boss, Sen. Dan Coats. Holcomb just stepped down from his job running Sen. Coats' state office in order to mount a campaign for the seat now open in 2016 as a result of Coats' decision not to seek re-election. Holcomb is expected to have the same establishment folks behind him that his former boss, Mitch Daniels, counted on to put him in firm control of the state GOP apparatus for more than a decade.

Holcomb is a professional political hack. He worked as a campaign manager, aide and Indiana State Republican Party chairman under Daniels before joining Sen. Coats' district office staff. He has no strong ideological leanings at all, but he can be counted on to carry water for the political insiders who use the political process to enrich their personal fortunes.

A conservative favorite, State Sen. Mike Delph, is also weighing the possibility of entering the race. He currently serves as general counsel for CarDon & Associates, a provider of long-term health care services. Delph blogged of his interest in the Senate seat in commenting on Coats' retirement announcement.
In less than 24 hours, I have heard from supporters and well wishers from across the state of Indiana encouraging me to consider running for the United States Senate. I will be honest to let you know that I am interested in considering this opportunity. I know there are many "big names," both Democrat and Republican, that are in the mix. But I have been an underdog before and have proven time and time again that I know how to win even against steep odds, all the while holding firm to my beliefs and value system. This campaign, if I chose to enter it, would be no different. Faith, freedom, and family used to mean something in America and in Indiana. Now, according to the cultural and media elite, if you espouse such positions you are considered old fashion and politically incorrect. This needs to be confronted in this campaign.
It's been eleven years since I had the honor of serving the then 6th, now 5th Congressional District in the office of Congressman Burton. This indeed was one of my most memorable professional experiences as each and every day I was able to help a constituent with a problem. It is the reason why I serve in the Indiana Senate, to help people, ALL people. I have never turned away a request for help whether someone votes for me or not. It's the People's government and whoever is chosen by the people must have a servant's heart, not to mention a keen intellect.
As Beth and I pray and consider this with my 5 daughters, please know I love Indiana and I love America. As long as I am able I will fight for the values, ideals, and traditions that made America great and the beacon of hope, freedom, and opportunity that so many people from the rest of the world struggle and die to enter. Our America is worth fighting for, and I am a fighter! Thank you Coats family for allowing Dan to serve us! Thank you Marsha for allowing Dan to serve! Thank you Dan for being you and representing us all so well in Washington, DC!

Derek Eitel's Debut In Major League Baseball

My nephew, Derek Eitel, is entering his sixth year as a minor league pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks at the Diamondbacks' spring training facility in Scottsdale, Arizona. Last year, he was elevated to the Reno Aces, the franchise's triple A baseball team. This week, he was excited to get the opportunity to pitch in a preseason game between the Diamondbacks and the Dodgers, his debut in major league pitching. The two teams have a notorious rivalry. Watch the YouTube clip as Derek is one of four players and coaches to be tossed from the game for hitting a batter. Derek assured his parents tagging the batter was not his intention. The Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks 7-4. The announcer had a little difficulty pronouncing Derek's last name. It's pronounced "Eye-tle."

UPDATE: Here's another video which shows all of Derek's pitches during his brief MLB debut.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Indiana Passes RFRA, Sky Is Falling

I'm not advocating for the passage of a state Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA") modeled on a similar federal law enacted with bipartisan support in 1993 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, which has been upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, but does its passage really mean really bad, horrible things will happen if Gov. Mike Pence signs legislation passed by the General Assembly into law? Call me skeptical, but the sky is falling meme is reigning supreme as the media stirs up a lot of Hoosier hysteria over that very prospect. WTHR's Bob Kravitz jumped into the fray today, sounding the alarm bells.

What's next? Boycotts of Indiana, and Indianapolis in particular, when it comes to hosting sporting events (like the Final Four) and conventions?
The "religious freedom bill'' is this close to getting passed, and not only does it leave me queasy on a personal level, it makes me wonder if events and other conventions will look differently at one of the best sports/convention towns in the country.
Jason Collins, the openly gay basketball player, tweeted this the other day: "@GovPenceIN, is it going to be legal for someone to discriminate against me and others when we come to the Final Four?''
Um, yes, Jason, it will be. Once it's signed into law – and there's every reason to believe this controversial and wrong-headed law will make it to Pence's desk in short order – the answer is, yes, businesses will have the right to discriminate. The only thing that will be missing with be a Jim Crow-like "No LGBT Allowed'' sign over businesses, even if it's implied . . . 
Do we really want to become Arizona? The state that refused to recognize the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday, and ended up losing its 1993 Super Bowl bid and the estimated $200 million that would have come with it? The same Arizona that has just dealt with this same religious freedom bill the past year and has cost itself concerts and conventions? Or how about 2010, when Arizona's immigration laws once again left Arizona in the dust regarding conventions and other events?
So to answer Jason Collins' question, the answer is, yes, businesses will have the right – the “religious freedom'' – to deny you service . . . 
The Indianapolis Star followed quickly with a warning that the city's largest convention, Gen Con, might move its annual convention elsewhere if Gov. Pence signs the legislation into law.
The organizers of Gen Con, the city's largest convention in attendance and economic impact, are threatening to move the event elsewhere if Gov. Mike Pence signs controversial religious freedom legislation that could allow business owners to refuse services to same-sex couples. 
"Legislation that could allow for refusal of service or discrimination against our attendees will have a direct negative impact on the state's economy, and will factor into our decision-making on hosting the convention in the state of Indiana in future years," said Adrian Swartout, owner and CEO of Gen Con LLC, in a letter sent to Pence just hours after lawmakers sent the measure to his desk . . .
It looks pretty bleak. Right? Until you consider all of the other states which will have to be boycotted, and that's a pretty lengthy list. Nineteen states have RFRA laws to be precise, including a number of states with notable convention and sports destination venues, such as Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia. Now you know the rest of the story.

Senate Committee Approves Renovated Carroll Stadium Plan For Indy Eleven

The Senate Tax & Policy Committee amended out out of HB 1273 this morning a funding mechanism for an $83 million soccer arena for the Indy Eleven minor league soccer team and replaced it with a plan to renovate Carroll Stadium. The Senate plan would allow for $20 million in bonding authority for renovations to the stadium to enlarge it from a 12,000-seat facility to an 18,000-seat facility, which would remain under state control. If Indy Eleven owner Ersal Ozdemir wants something better, State Sen. Luke Kenley told him to put up his own money. "How fancy or how nice the stadium will be will depend on what he wants to put in," Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, told the Indianapolis Star. "The amount of money we're putting in would rehabilitate the current stadium."

The source of funding to pay debt service on the $20 million bond issue remains the same. The Professional Sports Development Area ("PSDA") would be enlarged to encompass the stadium grounds and a planned new hotel Ozdemir is building at Illinois and Market Streets. The PSDA captures sales and income taxes that are used by Indianapolis' Capital Improvement Board to support the various sports palaces and convention center it oversees. Taxpayers are obviously still on the hook to pay for the costs of the renovated stadium, not just as much. One burning question is who will be responsible for the costly, long-term maintenance costs of the stadium. If Ozdemir's lease agreement is no different than the Colts or the Pacers, it  means taxpayers will be picking up 100% of those costs.

According to the Star, Ozdemir was non-committal on where he stood on the proposal and whether he was willing to put up any of his own money, calling it "a great step forward. "We've always said we want to be part of the solution. It's just difficult to say, where we are now. We believe in this. If this works out to be beneficial for all involved, we will always be at the table." Ozdemir will never put up a dime of his own money. The power brokers will tell Ozdemir that he can sell the naming rights to this state-owned facility, and they'll count that as his personal contribution to the project.

Sen. Dan Coats Not Seeking Re-Election

This is very good news. Sen. Dan Coats will not be seeking re-election according to Indianapolis Star political columnist Matt Tully. “You reach a time,” he said, “ when you have to acknowledge that it is time to step aside. And when you realize you have a responsibility to turn things over to the next generation. We have a deep bench and there probably hasn’t been a better time to do this.” Well, that time came and went long ago when Coats left the state permanently in 1998 for greener pastures as a Washington influence peddler before making a surprise reappearance in the state when his successor stepped away from the Senate in 2010. This latest stint in the Senate should be worth a few million dollars more to the Coats household.

Tully is throwing out several potential candidates who might jump into the race to succeed Coats, including three members of the Republican congressional delegation, Susan Brooks, Todd Rokita and Marlin Stutzman, along with former GOP Chairman Eric Holcomb. None of these choices particularly excite me. Let's hope some other candidates emerge. My concern is that Coats might choose to retire from the seat early, allowing Gov. Pence to handpick a replacement. After all, that's how Coats made it to the Senate originally. Gov. Robert Orr appointed him to fill Dan Quayle's seat following his election as George H.W. Bush's vice president.

Gov. Rauner Orders Chicago Film Company To Return $10 Million Gift From Gov. Pat Quinn

A day after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a clout heavy Chicago film company had received a $10 million check from the state of Illinois courtesy of outgoing Gov. Pat Quinn, Gov. Bruce Rauner has ordered the company to return the money since the land it claimed it intended to purchase with the state money was not listed for sale according to the owners of the property. From the Sun-Times:
 “The administration has very serious concerns about the lack of supporting documentation and the failure of the Quinn administration to abide by normal procedures for issuing grants,” Rauner spokesman Lance Trover said. “Following a review, Gov. Rauner has ordered the $10 million grant to Cinespace be terminated and the funds returned.”
Cinespace applied for the grant on Nov. 13, less than two weeks after Quinn lost the governor’s race to Rauner. The former governor’s administration approved the grant on Dec. 1, and the $10 million grant check went out on Dec. 19, records show.
There’s no evidence that the studio has spent any of the grant money to date. Rauner is giving Cinespace until May 7 to return the all the money, plus interest.
Cinespace President Alex Pissios didn’t return telephone and email messages seeking comment about the grant — one of five grants totaling $27.3 million that his studio got while Quinn was governor.
Quinn said through a spokesman that while he didn’t personally play any role in awarding the most recent grant, his administration supported expansion of Cinespace’s North Lawndale campus because of the jobs it would create.
Angie's List says it deserves an $18.5 million grant because it will create jobs, and that's apparently enough of an assurance for our Indianapolis City-County Council, which has given away hundreds of millions of tax dollars to private developers and businesses over the past decade. The  company has never turned a profit in its two decades of existence and runs a business in a manner that anyone with the least of business ethics would have serious misgivings about. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that our elected officials aren't representing the taxpaying public when they pick and choose winners and losers in a Lottery game that is fixed for a small group of political insiders, the people they really view as their masters.

UPDATE: Wow. I had this one pegged right. Cinespace wasted no time returning the $10 million to the state with interest. Mr. Pissios acknowledged that the other parcels were already under contract to be purchased by other straw buyers.
Cinespace Chicago Film Studios returned a $10 million grant, plus interest, to the state of Illinois on Tuesday — a day after Gov. Bruce Rauner demanded repayment in the wake of a Chicago Sun-Times investigation that found the money wasn’t being used. 
Cinespace was given the state grant a few weeks before Gov. Pat Quinn left office to help it buy seven industrial properties around its North Lawndale campus, where the hit series “Chicago Fire” and other TV shows and movies are filmed. 
But in a letter to Rauner’s administration, Cinespace president Alex Pissios acknowledged Tuesday that six of the properties “have been sold or are under contract to other third parties” since the state sent Cinespace the grant check on Dec. 19. 
The Sun-Times reported Sunday that Quinn’s administration awarded the grant without any appraisals to justify the projected purchase prices or any other documents to indicate that Cinespace had been in negotiations to buy the properties.
Yep, a classic property-flipping scheme was in the works before the whistle blower tipped off the Chicago Sun-Times reporter.

Ted Cruz Still Not Eligible To Be President

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was born in Calgary to a U.S. mother and a Cuban-born father. He became a U.S. citizen only by virtue of the Immigration & Naturalization Act, which naturalizes certain children born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent under certain circumstances. Only natural born citizens are eligible to be president--those born on American soil to U.S. citizen parents who don't require an act of Congress to make them a citizen. That was my position when Cruz' name surfaced as a potential president two years ago, and it hasn't changed because the U.S. Constitution hasn't changed on that point since its adoption in 1787 as much as people sought to read it out of the Constitution during the 2008 presidential election.

Cruz' candidacy is an affront to any person who espouses a belief in strict interpretation of the Constitution. I heard WIBC's radio talk show host Tony Katz saying that he wished Cruz would not run for President because he thought he would make a much better choice as a Supreme Court nominee should a Republican win the office in 2016. The fact that Cruz insults the least informed by claiming he's a natural born citizen makes him unfit to serve as a Supreme Court justice as well as president, notwithstanding his Harvard law degree. It tells us he's willing to twist the law to mean anything that serves his own personal agenda. We already have a president who thinks and acts that way. Why would anyone who believes in the rule of law ever support someone like Cruz for president or anything for that matter?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Angie's List Hires Ice Miller To Lobby Council Members For $18.5 Million Subsidy

The City of Indianapolis' online lobbying database reveals that Angie's List recently retained several lobbyists at Ice Miller to lobby the Indianapolis City-County Council on its behalf for approval of a controversial $18.5 million subsidy to the company on top of the more than $14 million in public incentives the company has received from the state and city. Democratic lobbyists Lacy Johnson and Carl Drummer have teamed with two of the law firm's Republican lobbyists, John Hammond and former Marion Co. GOP Chairman Tom John, to lobby council members prior to next Monday's full council meeting at which a vote is expected to occur on final passage. The hiring of Ice Miller suggests the company is struggling to assemble the necessary votes required for its passage. Advance Indiana is told Lacy Johnson, in particular, has been targeting skeptical black council members.

Curiously, WCTY has failed to upload the archived video of last Monday's Metropolitan & Economic Development Committee meeting at which the controversial subsidy was approved for the second time with only one dissenting vote after the full council sent it back to committee earlier this month. Advance Indiana is told representatives of Angie's List were asked to comment on pending litigation filed by consumers and shareholders against the company, but they refused to discuss them. Most recently, a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the company's members in the state of Pennsylvania alleging the company engaged in a scheme to defraud its paid members by making them believe they were receiving an unfiltered, consumer-driven rating service for service providers. Instead, the lawsuit alleges that Angie's List manipulates service providers' reviews, ratings and search result rankings based on advertising fees paid by the services providers. The company has never turned a profit during any calendar year of its two decades of existence despite its growing revenues driven by the advertising fees it collects from service providers, which is more than triple what it collects in membership fees from consumers.

UPDATE: The Indianapolis Star has a story up now on the latest class action lawsuit against the company, which begins:
With a critical vote on a tax-incentive package looming, Indianapolis-based Angie’s List has been hit with another class-action lawsuit, the company’s third in four years.
And unlike past allegations, this complaint cuts to the heart of the company’s chief selling point — the trustworthiness of its consumer reviews.
Filed March 11 in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, the lawsuit alleges that Angie’s, an online consumer review service, manipulates company ratings that are sold to its subscribers as impartial user reviews.
It does so, the lawsuit claims, by giving paid advertisers preferential treatment, such as boosting their visibility on the site and suppressing negative reviews.
“Angie’s List does not help members find the ‘best’ service provider, but rather the one who paid the most money to Angie’s List,” the complaint says. “This certainly is not ‘always placing the interests of the consumer first,’ ” as the company says in its public filings.
Debra DeCourcy, an Angie’s spokeswoman, said it is company policy not to comment on pending litigation. The company’s lawyers have not yet filed a response in court . . .

Woodruff Skirts One-Year Revolving Door Law By Working For INDOT Contractor As Independent Contractor

The ethically-challenged former high-ranking INDOT official and ex-state lawmaker, Troy Woodruff, has lived up to his reputation again. Last year, Woodruff initially sought a waiver from the Indiana Ethics Commission to accept employment with an INDOT contractor, RQAW, after he left the state agency under an ethical cloud over charges he had engaged in self-dealing activities to benefit family members while working at the agency. Woodruff later withdraw his waiver request, saying he had decided to start up his own business. An Indianapolis Star report today claims Woodruff has been working as an independent contractor the the engineering firm, which a loophole in Indiana's weak ethics law permits him to do.

As the Star reports, Woodruff had recently approved contracts with RQAW in excess of $500,000 before he requested a waiver last year from the one-year cooling off period. It's actually must worse than that. RQAW had actually been suspended by INDOT from doing work for the state because of faulty work it performed on bridges in Gary. In his position as INDOT chief of staff, Woodruff participated in a decision to lift RQAW's suspension so it could resume doing business with the state. RQAW, like many engineering firms in this state, has a penchant for hiring political hacks who are not engineers and making big campaign contributions to help the firm get its share of no-bid contracts. Pay to play is the Indiana way.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Class Action Lawsuit Exposes Angie's List As A High-Tech Protection Racket

Protection rackets have long been synonymous with organized crime syndicates that operate in major U.S. cities and other parts of the world. Traditionally, crime syndicates would divide up cities into exclusive territories over which particular crime families would operate. Businesses located within a crime family's territory would be compelled by threats of violence or economic harm to pay protection money to the crime family as a condition of doing business. While once common in U.S. cities, federal and state RICO laws were enacted to aid law enforcement in shutting down many once thriving organized crime families. They are, however, still quite prevalent in other parts of the world, including neighboring Mexico and Sicily where up to 80% of businesses pay protection money to the mob.

A few years ago, a former employee of Angie's List shared with me some rather startling stories about how the company conducts its membership-based consumer rating service and likened it to an extortion racket. The former employee said the ratings of service providers relied upon by the company's consumer members were largely bogus because good service ratings were driven more by advertising dollars paid by the service providers being rated than actual consumer reviews of the businesses by the company's paid members. The former employee even suggested that employees of Angie's List would write bogus positive ratings to service providers which advertised with the company, and write negative reviews of companies which did not advertise with the company. In the case of the latter, the former employee said the company would make the negative ratings go away if the service provider plopped down money and started advertising on Angie's List. What the employee described was, in effect, a high-tech form of the protection rackets crime families ran across major cities in this country for decades.

During public testimony concerning a proposal before the Indianapolis City-County Council to provide $18.5 million in public subsidies to Angie's List, which is in addition to the more than $14 million the company received from the state and city just a few years ago, Democratic mayoral candidate Larry Vaughn described Angie's List as a company that sells bumper stickers and syndicates on the side in a way that crushes many small business owners in this city and elsewhere. A new class action lawsuit filed this month in the federal district for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania lays out detailed allegations which confirm, for the most part, the damning claims related to me by the former employee and Vaughn's depiction of the company in urging council members to deny any additional public subsidies to the company, which has never turned a profit in its nearly two decades of existence, perhaps one of the view things differentiating it from the protection rackets run by organized crime syndicates.

According to the class action lawsuit, Angie's List does not provide the unfiltered, consumer-driven rating service it sells to its consumer members. Instead, Angie's List manipulates service providers' reviews, ratings and search result rankings based on advertising fees paid by the services providers, which can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. How does Angie's List manipulate its ratings? The lawsuit lays out three basic scenarios:
  • A service provider shows up higher in search results on its search engine based on whether a service provider pays to advertise on its site, not based upon actual consumer reviews. The lawsuit says this has the practical effect of duping its members to choose a service provider listed higher on its search engine result
  • Angie's List suppresses negative reviews of service providers who pay to advertise on the site by either not counting a company's negative reviews in its overall rating behind the interface its members see, or by making negative reviews of a service provider not readable by its members.
  • Finally, Angie's List threatens to suppress positive reviews of service providers if the provider refuses to purchase advertising from the company. 
The lead plaintiff in the Pennsylvania lawsuit says her experience as an Angie's List member who relied upon the company's consumer ratings in choosing a home improvement contractor are emblematic of the experience of other members. Janell Moore relied on Angie's List to select a contractor to remodel her kitchen. At that time, Angie's List displayed no negative reviews for this contractor, which failed to do the job Moore hired the contractor to perform and refused to repay her the $4,000 she paid to the contractor. Moore submitted a negative review of the contractor after her experience and, lo and behold, she was able to see for the first time negative reviews other consumers had written about the same contractor before she had hired it to remodel her kitchen. One of the reviews complained about the exact same issue Moore had with the contractor. When Moore asked an Angie's List representative about the prior suppression of negative reviews, the employee did not blame the suppression of the negative reviews on a technological glitch or an oversight; rather, the representative attributed it to the fact that the service provider had paid advertising fees to the company. Moore later learned from another contractor she used that it paid Angie's List to appear at the top of their list. 

The class action lawsuit points to Angie's List increasing reliance on service provider advertising fees in support of its contentions, noting that it earned more than three times as much from service provider fees last year than it earned from membership fees paid by its members. In addition to breach of contract and covenant of good faith and fair dealing, the class action lawsuit charges the company with fraud, unjust enrichment and violation of Pennsylvania's unfair trade practices and consumer protection law. The lawsuit seeks to void Angie's Lists membership agreements, the payment of restitution to members, the disgorgement of its ill-gotten gains, and an injunction to bar the company from continuing to engage in the deceptive consumer practices, along with punitive and exemplary damages. 

Before the City-County Council agrees to write a check to Angie's List for $18.5 million, the company's executives should be required to answer questions about its business practices. We certainly wouldn't tolerate our City-County Council giving our taxpayer dollars to the Gambino crime family. Why should we tolerate public handouts to a company accused of running a high-tech protection racket for businesses which pay protection money to Angie's List to provide favorable search results for consumers who rely upon it to make consumer choices? 

Please click here to view the class action lawsuit in its entirety. Hat tip to fellow blogger Paul Ogden for bringing our attention to the filing of this class action lawsuit. 

Cash-Strapped Illinois Gave $10 Million Grant To Film Company To Buy Land That's Not For Sale

Alex Pissios. | Sun-Times files
Alex Pissios
It's little wonder the state of Illinois finds itself in dire financial straits when it gives away money to businesses like it grows on trees. A Chicago Sun-Times report says the state's economic development agency gave a Chicago film studio a $10 million grant to acquire real estate for its west side campus where several television shows are produced, including "Chicago Fire," shortly after Gov. Pat Quinn lost his re-election bid last year. The company cashed the check but never used the money to purchase any real estate. That's because the property it said it intended to use the money to acquire is supposedly not even for sale.

If that's not bad enough, the Sun-Times report says this isn't the first grant Cinespace Chicago Film Studios has received from the state. When it received the $10 million grant late last year, it had already cashed grant checks totaling $17.3 million, including a recent $1.3 million construction grant for which it had received four letters of non-compliance. The state wrote grant checks to the film company totaling $16 million while it was still trying to get the company to comply with the $1.3 million construction grant.

An aide to former Gov. Pat Quinn told the Sun-Times there was nothing nothing out of the ordinary with the state writing lump sum checks to companies to purchase real estate when it involved creating jobs. "To get these deals done, you have to have liquidity," the aide says. "There was quite a bit of due diligence and discussion, which is totally in keeping with these types of grants." There was absolutely no paperwork to prove the company had any land under contract or had been in negotiations to acquire any of the property. The only requirement of the grant was that Cinespace agree to put in at least twice as much of its own money as it spends from the state grant acquiring land.

In case you hadn't suspected, politics seemed to play a role in the generous grants to Cinespace, which is a family-owned business owned by real estate developer Alex Pissios, who looks the part of a mafia don. The Sun-Times reported last year that Pissios owed the city debts for unpaid taxes and code violations while obtaining news tax breaks from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year. The Sun-Times says a lot of the grant money has been deposited into a politically-connected bank, Belmont Bank & Trust. Its president is James Banks, brother of Chicago Alderman William Banks. Its board includes former State Sen. James DeLeo and Fred Barbara. DeLeo was ensnared in the infamous Operation Greylord investigation back in the 1990s for serving as a bag man carrying bribes to Cook Co. judges. A plea agreement allowed him to keep his seat in the legislature at the time. He now owns Tavern on Rush in Chicago. Barbara, a close friend of former Mayor Richard Daley, made a fortune hauling garbage for the city of Chicago.

If you read between the lines in the story, you can figure out why the parcels of property Cinespace claimed it intended to acquire were likely not for sale by the owners. Two of the properties were just acquired by other buyers. In the case of one of the properties, the purchase price Cinespace listed on its grant acquisition was nearly double what the new owner, automobile dealer Joe Perillo, paid to purchase the property in January. It's quite obvious the plan was to allow politically-connected individuals to use the generous state grant money to flip the properties for a quick, tidy profit--at least until the anonymous state employee contacted the Sun-Times and a reporter started asking questions about the generous grant. How did we ever arrive at the point in this country where our government is allowed to write checks to a select few private business owners? Language contained in both the U.S. and state constitutions is supposed to prohibit this sort of thing from happening, but warped and corrupt interpretations of those documents have rendered them meaningless.