Category Archives: Uncategorized

No Doubt

Yesterday’s post dealt with the issue of arrogance, and the difference between religious faithwhich requires a certain suspension of doubt–and the sort of unquestioning certainty that leads to all manner of horrific acts in the name of religion.

Which leads us to a consideration of Dick Cheney.

Not that Cheney’s views appear to be founded in religion; from all appearances, the only person he worships–or respects– is the man he sees in the mirror (and I rather suspect that the man in that mirror is not the one most of us see).

Ever since the Senate released its report on torture, Cheney has been everywhere, defending the indefensible. It’s important to note that, while he has characterized the report as “crap,” he has not suggested that its descriptions of “enhanced interrogation” are inaccurate. He has not denied that 26 innocent people were falsely arrested. He has not denied that one of those innocent people died.

Instead, Cheney defends it all. He has expressed absolutely no remorse for any of it–not even the death of the innocent man. He insists he would “do it again.” Against the evidence of experienced interrogators, he insists that the tactics worked. Against the testimony of men who were themselves tortured, this man who never wore his country’s uniform insists he knows best how to conduct warfare. Against the consensus of the world community, he justifies the use of tactics America has historically condemned.

Because he’s right, and the rest of the world is wrong.

Cheney is a stark reminder of what evil really is–not a Satanic figure intentionally setting out to do harm, but power allied with un-self-aware moral arrogance.

 

 

But I’m Not a Racist…

Chris Harris, a member of the board of the Hooks Independent School District in Texas, is in hot water for a “seasonal” message he posted on social media: the text reads “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas” across a photo of–wait for it– a KKK member in full regalia.

When criticism erupted, he responded by saying that he realizes what he posted “was inappropriate and offended people.” He went on to say he’s deeply sorry and to insist that he’s “not a racist.”

What do people like Harris think it takes to be a racist? A burning cross? Maybe a lynching or two?

Let me offer a couple of clues to the clueless.

If you refer to the members of any group–blacks, Jews, Muslims, gays–as “them” or “those people”–thus inferring that members of that group share certain (generally negative) behavioral characteristics–you’re racist.

If you think demeaning jokes–comparisons of black folks with monkeys, for example– are funny, and “no big deal,” yeah, you’re a racist. Big time. (If you listen to race-based jokes and don’t protest to the “comedian”, you are at least a fellow-traveler; if you forward tasteless emails you’ve received, you are definitely a racist.)

If you thought Mitt Romney’s healthcare plan for Massachusetts was an innovative, business-friendly approach to health care, but the Affordable Care Act–aka “Obamacare”– is UnAmerican socialism, you’re a racist. (And a twit.)

If you are surprised and offended by people protesting the Grand Jury decisions not to indict the police officers who killed Garner and Brown–if you just can’t understand why people might react with anger over those decisions–you are either racist or intentionally clueless (same difference).

If you are a public official who thinks posting a picture of a Klansman is just another way of saying “Happy Holidays” you aren’t only racist, you’re too f**king dumb to hold public office. Or, probably, to get out of bed most mornings.

 

 

Meditation on Money as Political Heuristic

heuristic is a “rule of thumb,” usually derived from experience. For example, when I get an email telling me that my inbox is full and I should immediately click on this link to ask my “administrator” to expand its capacity, use of a heuristic tells me to delete the message as spam (or worse).

Heuristics are valuable time-savers, but they can also lead us to unwarranted conclusions, by oversimplifying complicated issues.

I’ve been thinking about the increasing use of campaign contributions as a heuristic in voting ever since the midterms. Full disclosure: our daughter was one of the three (successful) candidates for the Indianapolis Public School Board whose endorsement by an “out of state” organization and ability to raise money was the basis of assertions by opponents that they were somehow less committed to public education than candidates who were not endorsed and who raised very little money.

Suspicions about money are understandable in the wake of Citizens United, in an era when Super Pacs, 527s, “dark money” from people like the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, Karl Rove and others regularly advance the prospects of special interests. But all endorsements and all funding sources aren’t equal.

If a candidate or campaign is endorsed by an organization with which you have significant policy disagreements, that’s obviously a legitimate reason to withhold your support, but the mere fact that an endorsement comes from a national group is not. Being national–even being “out of state”– is not in and of itself nefarious. Similarly, candidates who raise only trivial amounts of money either aren’t considered viable by most donors or aren’t working very hard–and neither is a positive sign.

Let’s take an example: When Freedom Indiana was fighting HJR 3, the ban on same-sex marriage, help from national organizations like Lambda Legal and the Human Rights Campaign was critical to that effort–and to the effort to raise essential campaign funds.

What is important is transparency.

We need rules and mechanisms that permit voters to know where candidates are getting their money and what it is those contributors stand for. (Also–although since Buckley v. Valeo the Supreme Court has consistently failed to recognize it– we need rules limiting the amount of money that any particular person or organization can contribute, directly or indirectly.)

I’ll be the first to agree that the current rules governing campaign funding–if one can even dignify them as “rules”–aren’t helpful.

Voters should be able to look at the sources of a candidate’s support, and make their own judgments about what that support means, and whether they agree or disagree with the positions of the endorser or contributor. In the school board race, voters had that information, but in far too many situations, they don’t know who is behind the “Grandmas and Kittens PAC.” We need far more–and more frequently reported– information than we currently have, and we need enforcement of the rules (few and weak as they are) that do exist.

That said, all money isn’t evil and all issues aren’t exclusively local. Rules of thumb have their place, but they need to be properly applied.

 

 

 

Love and Marriage…Even in Indiana

Talk about a surprise! Yesterday, the Supreme Court refused to hear any of the appeals of lower court same-sex marriage rulings. There were seven of them, and in all seven,  both sides had urged the Court to grant review — a rare occurrence and, as a Scotusblog post noted, one that almost never fails to assure review.

So–what are the consequences of the Court’s decision not to decide? Per Scotusblog again:

First, as a direct result of Monday’s action, same-sex marriages can occur when existing lower-court rulings against state bans go into effect in Virginia in the Fourth Circuit, Indiana and Wisconsin in the Seventh Circuit, and Oklahoma and Utah in the Tenth Circuit.

Second, such marriages can occur when the court of appeals rulings are implemented in federal district courts in three more states in the Fourth Circuit (North and South Carolina and West Virginia) and in three more states in the Tenth Circuit (Colorado, Kansas, and Wyoming).  The other states in the three circuits where bans have been struck down had already permitted same-sex marriage, under new laws or court rulings (Illinois, Maryland, and New Mexico, which have been counted among the nineteen states in that category).

Third, four other circuits — the Fifth, Sixth, Ninth, and Eleventh — are currently considering the constitutionality of same-sex marriages.  Of those, the Ninth Circuit — which had earlier struck down California’s famous “Proposition 8″ ban and uses a very rigorous test of laws against gay equality — is considered most likely to strike down state bans.  If that happens, it would add five more states to the marriages-allowed column (Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, and Nevada), which would bring the national total to thirty-five.

With thirty or more states recognizing same-sex marriages, the odds of the Court weighing in at some future time to uphold bans–to reverse the “facts on the ground”–is somewhere between nil and never.  We may never know what led to yesterday’s decision to abstain, but it was one of those times when not deciding is deciding.

Perhaps the conservatives on the Court preferred slowing the inevitable to issuing an opinion that would almost certainly have been pro-equality.

Even Micah Clark, Indiana’s pre-eminent culture warrior, conceded the inevitable; the Star quoted him as saying that  “socially conservative” advocacy groups will now focus their efforts on legislation intended to “protect churches, nonprofit groups, and businesses that deny services to gay couples on religious grounds.”

Since churches and most religious nonprofits are already “protected” by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment–something social conservatives seem to have trouble grasping–I assume Clark and his ilk will mostly try to “protect” merchants who want to discriminate against LGBT folks. That didn’t work for white southerners whose “religious beliefs” precluded offering services to black people, and it isn’t likely to work here, either.

Yesterday, love and real family values won a big one.

 

Time for Ballard to Go

The City of Indianapolis is seeking bids for a massively expensive Justice Center. This huge and complex project–which makes a lot of sense, conceptually–is being headed up by a twenty-something administrator on behalf of the Ballard Administration.

The Indianapolis Business Journal requested a copy of the Request for Proposals the City issued in July. Its request was denied, and the excuse for that denial was so ridiculous that even the Pence Administration’s public access counselor has protested.

The City is claiming that the information in a Request for Proposals is confidential. Think about that.

An RFP is supposed to be publicly distributed to any and all developers or development teams that might conceivably be interested in bidding on the project. By definition, the information it contains is public, and the IBJ–not to mention members of the City-County Council who have also been kept in the dark–are entitled to see it.

Marc Lotter, the Mayor’s spokesman, responded that the RFP was released to “three qualified bidders,” and that it would not be made public until after a successful bidder has been chosen.

Why would an honest, aboveboard administration hand-pick three bidders, and proceed to share information only with those developers? Why would it keep the terms of the proposed project secret until the City is legally committed to proceed?

The whole purpose of an RFP is to cast a wide net; to encourage genuinely competitive proposals from anyone or any team qualified to perform. “Pre-selecting” those who will be permitted to respond undercuts the entire purpose of the exercise.

At best, pre-selection of a small group of developers makes it likely that responses will be less competitive and the project will be more expensive. At worst, secrecy and pre-selection are intended to ensure that the “right” people get the City’s business.

The Justice Center is estimated to cost over $500 million dollars. Quite a plum project. When that much tax money is being spent, the need for transparency–the need for public assurance that the project is being handled ethically and in a fiscally-responsible manner– is obvious.

The City says that the RFP contained “trade secrets” necessitating secrecy. As the public access counselor noted, “If an RFP sent out into the marketplace does indeed contain trade secrets, it stands to reason that the secret is out once it goes to potential contractors.”

Unless, of course, those “secrets” are only going to one’s cronies.

Up to this point, I have attributed the many ethically dubious decisions of the Ballard Administration (the 50-year lease of our parking infrastructure, the garage no one uses in Broad Ripple, etc.) to those advising our “accidental’ Mayor, who has always seemed in over his head.

Maybe I  have underrated him. Maybe he really does know what he’s doing.

Either way–puppet or puppet master–he needs to go.