Speaking of Crazy…..

There have always been paranoid people running around, but when did we start electing so many people who are, as they say, “lightly tethered to reality”?

Case in point: a few days ago, Talking Points Memo reported on a fiasco in Idaho, where a routine bill to bring the state into compliance with federal rules governing child support collections–needed in order to avoid losing $46 million dollars in federal money–failed because conservative legislators said it would have subjected the state to Sharia law.

State Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, a Republican from the small northern community of Cottonwood, raised the objection during the House Judiciary and Rules Committee hearing. She testified that the federal law Idaho was adjusting to incorporated provisions of an international agreement regarding cross-border recovery of child-support payments, the Hague Convention on International Recovery of Child Support and Family Maintenance.

None of the nearly 80 countries involved in the treaty — which the U.S. entered in 2007 — are under Sharia law. But Nuxoll and other skeptics said their concerns were valid because some nations in treaty informally recognize such courts. They added that the provisions of the deal wouldn’t leave Idaho with the authority to challenge another nation’s judgment, particularly if it were under hard-line Islamic law.

Idaho uses federal programs to process in-state and out-of-state child support payments, and compliance with the federal rules is required in order to continue doing so.  Without access to the federal tools, parents who are owed child-support payments will have no way to get those payments.

Apparently, Senator Nuxoll and her “black helicopter” colleagues consider hungry children a small price to pay for averting the imminent threat of a “Sharia law” which they couldn’t define if their lives depended on it.

Just shoot me now.

 

Show Me the Money…

Wasn’t “show me the money” a repeated demand in that Tom Cruise movie, Jerry MacGuire?

The phrase seems appropriate in light of recent news from Indiana’s budget mavens; according to several media reports, state lawmakers will have about $213 million less to spend during the next two years than they thought they would.

And why might that be? After all, we’ve been assured by our elected officials that Right to Work and similar measures would grow Indiana’s economy and fill our coffers, that the ability to hire workers for low wages (because we all know that’s what Right to Work was all about–low wages) would bring “job creators” in droves to our state.

It didn’t seem to occur to our economics-challenged lawmakers that people who work for less have less to spend and less to tax.

The General Assembly’s logic reminds me of the old joke about the business owner who bragged that he was selling more widgets than his competitors, because he had priced his below cost. When he was asked how he expected to make any money, he said he’d make it up on volume.

Low wage workers don’t pay a lot of taxes, and widespread reductions in disposable income translate into less business for retailers and other business establishments, so the amount of tax paid by those businesses is also less than it would otherwise be.  

Nor has Indiana seen the promised influx of new enterprises. Businesses tend to gravitate to places that can offer a high quality of life, and low-tax states like ours can’t compete with places that can spend more money on schools, transportation, parks, public art…. When you don’t have any natural amenities–seashores, mountains, great weather–the absence of those niceties is really noticeable.

You’d think our lawmakers would notice that constantly chasing the lowest common denominator hasn’t worked, but they’re doubling down. This session, it was repeal of the Common Construction Wage.

We’re circling the drain, while our “frugal” lawmakers wonder why they can’t show us the money.

 

Real World Choices

In 1980, I was the Republican candidate running for Congress against Andy Jacobs, Jr..

Andy was an enormously likable and popular guy, who consistently won in a Republican district.  I never failed to make the point that the most important vote he cast was for Speaker of the House. If voters preferred that the GOP (which then included lots of fiscally-conservative, socially moderate, sane folks) control Congress, they needed to cast their votes accordingly.

It wasn’t a very persuasive argument. People like to believe that individual lawmakers (and Presidents, for that matter) can make more of a difference than they really can. And in all fairness, in 1980 there were a lot of officeholders in both parties who worked across the aisle.

That was then. Paul Krugman recently summarized where we are now.

There has never been a time in American history when the alleged personal traits of candidates mattered less. As we head into 2016, each party is quite unified on major policy issues — and these unified positions are very far from each other. The huge, substantive gulf between the parties will be reflected in the policy positions of whomever they nominate, and will almost surely be reflected in the actual policies adopted by whoever wins.

Krugman goes on to list the vastly different political priorities of today’s Republicans and Democrats, and to offer some reasons for what he calls the greatest partisan polarization since the Civil War.

My own shorthand–my own “litmus test” is simple: I’ve given up voting for the “best candidate,” or even for the “lesser of two evils.”  I vote for the candidate whose party is currently pandering to the least dangerous special interests.

We know who calls the shots in the party of Mike Pence, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers. Even if a slightly less rabid nominee emerges, he (it is very unlikely to be a she) will owe his soul to the theocrats and plutocrats of the very far right.

That’s damaging enough in Indiana, as we’ve seen. But it’s truly unthinkable at the national level; among other things, the next President is likely to fill several Supreme Court vacancies.

You don’t have to be thrilled with the Democrats, or a fan of Hillary Clinton (to be candid, I’m neither), to understand your real-world options.

 

 

 

Shenanigans and the Proposed Justice Center

The Ballard Administration’s proposal to build a new Justice Center complex across the river from downtown just hasn’t smelled right for a whole host of reasons.

No one seriously doubts the need for such a facility, but critics have raised a host of legitimate concerns about this particular proposal. The excessive secrecy with which bids were solicited and evaluated raised red flags. The decision to use private financing via a lease/purchase when a public bond issue would be significantly cheaper makes no sense. The Council’s fiscal analyst has challenged the accuracy of claims that cost savings would cover lease payments without a need to raise taxes.

It isn’t just fiscal concerns, important as those are. Prior administrations have spent millions of dollars and much political capital building a robust downtown; what will happen to that downtown market if lawyers and other justice system enterprises (from bondsmen to court reporters) no longer work, shop and eat in the center city?

Architects and city planners have panned the design, and criminal justice reform groups have warned that going ahead as currently planned will foreclose needed changes to a dysfunctional system.

The Administration has ignored the critics, shrugged off the concerns and intensified pressure on the Council for a quick approval. That insistence on the need for haste has been unseemly, considering the huge amounts of money involved and the important issues raised, and Councilors on both sides of the aisle have expressed a desire to engage in a far more thorough and public review.

Unseemly, however, wasn’t the word that came to mind when I read the following in the Indiana Lawyer. 

Indianapolis City-County Council Chief Financial Officer Bart Brown said councilors have told him they’ve been offered up to $50 million in projects spread among five districts if they vote to approve the proposed $1.6 billion criminal justice complex.

The Administration has dismissed these allegations as “rumor,” and I certainly have no independent evidence one way or the other. It seems highly  unlikely, however, that five City-County Council members would invent such a story out of whole cloth.

As I wrote last month,

a deal this complex and expensive, intended to span this long a time-frame, needs to be done right. That means it needs to be thoroughly vetted by all stakeholders. I get suspicious when we’re given a short window within which to commit vast amounts of public money, and when the purported need for speed is based upon dark warnings that we need to move quickly in order to “lock in” benefits we aren’t even sure are there. 

I get a lot more suspicious when those lobbying for speed are offering a quid pro quo.

I suspect that someone stands to make a lot of money, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t us taxpayers.

Evidence of Wrongdoing? We Have the Solution!

Of course, it is Texas. Still….

The House Bill 2918 introduced by Texas Representative Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) would make private citizens photographing or recording the police within 25 feet of them a class B misdemeanor, and those who are armed would not be able to stand recording within 100 feet of an officer.

As defined in the bill, only a radio or television that holds a license issued by the Federal Communications Commission, a newspaper that is qualified under section 2051.044 or a magazine that appears at a regular interval would be allowed to record police.

This is exactly the sort of measure for which the Yiddish word “chutzpah” was invented. (For you non-Yiddish-speakers, “chutzpah” has been defined–inadequately–as “gall or nerve.” The standard illustration is a kid who kills his parents and then throws himself on the mercy of the court because he’s an orphan.)

The ubiquity of cameras has uncovered troubling and evidently none-too-rare incidents of police misconduct, most of which have involved the fatal shootings of unarmed black men. You might think that the appropriate response would be aimed at correcting the problem: better training, psychological testing to weed out the bad apples, etc.

But no.

Since it appears that cameras have made it harder to get away with unconscionable behavior, we should get rid of the cameras. Problem solved.

These people have no moral center. Worse, they have no shame.