Can Anyone Explain This?

Scott DesJarlais is a rabidly pro-life congressman from a reliably red district in Tennessee. He’s also a doctor who cheated on his wife with at least two of his patients, and was caught on tape encouraging one of them to have an abortion. In a rational world, you’d expect him to lose the primary election following those revelations. You’d be wrong.

I’ll let Ed Brayton (Dispatches from the Culture Wars) take it from here…

“Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who pressured a woman—one of two patients he admitted having affairs with—to get an abortion in the 1990s, appears to have narrowly avoided becoming the fourth Republican incumbent to lose a primary this year. With 100 percent of precincts reporting on Thursday, he led state Sen. Jim Tracy by 35 votes—34,787 to 34,752. (The results are not official and a recount is possible, although the state has no law mandating one in such circumstances.) The abortion revelation emerged after DesJarlais’ 2012 primary, when the only thing standing between him and reelection in the deeply Republican district was a token Democratic candidate in the general election.

But after his reelection, the dominoes continued to fall. Divorce transcripts released two weeks after the race revealed that he and his first wife had decided to abort two pregnancies. That proved a problem for the congressman, who is adamantly pro-life: Per his website, “Congressman DesJarlais believes that all life should be cherished and protected. He has received a 100% score by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the oldest and the largest national pro-life organization in the United States.”

My favorite part of this was that his opponent put out an ad calling attention to DesJarlais’ hypocrisy and this was his response:

DesJarlais spokesman Robert Jameson called the piece “just the sort of disgusting gutter politics we’d expected from [U.S. House Democratic leader] Nancy Pelosi and her allies in Washington.”

Yeah, that’s disgusting. No, not the fact that he cheated on his wife multiple times despite his allegedly “pro-family” principles. Not the fact that he did it with his patients, which can get your medical license yanked and is probably the single biggest ethical breach a doctor can make. Not the fact that he encouraged one of his mistresses to get an abortion despite his self-declared opposition to abortion. No, it’s disgusting to point out that vile behavior. But remember, DesJarlais is exactly the kind of guy who lectures liberals about moral relativism and says his religious values guide him.

If those things don’t disqualify you from winning an election full of allegedly pro-family, pro-life voters, what the hell could possibly do so?

My question exactly.




It Seems To Me I’ve Heard This Song Before…

Gannett has “spun off” its print media holdings into a separate company, and not so coincidentally, the Indianapolis Star is once again cutting staff.

The Indianapolis Newspaper Guild announced that the newspaper will reduce newsroom staff and management by another 15 percent over the next few weeks. That will leave the employee count at 106, down from the current 124, and substantially below historic levels.

The paper plans to cut five of its remaining 11 photographers and the entire staff of the copy desk. The Guild said the cutbacks mark the sixth round of layoffs at the Star in six years.

In a story detailing the changes, Star Editor Jeff Taylor wrote that the paper was

“taking steps to significantly recast our newsroom in coming weeks. We will expand our reporting staff, further sharpen our focus on being responsive to the interests of our readers in real time, and deepen our community connections.”

Taylor said more reporters will be dedicated to investigative, business and “quality-of-life” coverage.

More investigative reporting. Right. And I have a really nice bridge to sell you….

If memory serves, each of the previous rounds of cuts has been accompanied by these same promises–and each time, the promises have proved hollow. At this point, there is more actual news in the IBJ and more “news I can use” in my monthly neighborhood paper, the Urban Times, than in the Indianapolis Star

This isn’t nostalgia for the way things never were. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the Star was never a first-rank newspaper. It did, however, have investigative reporters. It did have statehouse reporters, and a city beat staffed by people who had some institutional memory and the cojones to call ‘em like they saw ‘em–people who reported on the nitty-gritty of government and didn’t waste precious column inches fawning over elected officials.

Today’s Star–with its “McPaper” insert– panders to celebrity watchers, hypes new restaurants and “hot properties,” pads the paper with vapid “human interest” features, and runs paid obituaries and advertisements where news used to go. None of this requires that quaint thing we used to call journalism. On the rare occasions when the Star reports on public matters, it is often painfully apparent that the reporter didn’t understand the issue sufficiently to write a coherent story–a deficiency shared by whoever is currently copyediting. (The garbled prose and typos in so many articles suggests that the copyediting function has already been dispensed with.)

The problem is, in the absence of a newspaper of general circulation performing the time-honored “watchdog” function, We the People have absolutely no way of holding our elected officials accountable. The recent recycling deal is a perfect example: the Mayor’s office reported that the vendor would recycle 80-90% of the trash collected, and the paper uncritically repeated that assertion. The actual contract requires the vendor to recycle less than 20%. If we had a real newspaper–with enough real reporters–someone would have read the contract and noted the discrepancy.

The saddest part of all this is that newspapers remain profitable–just not profitable enough to satisfy Gannett and its shareholders. Gannett doesn’t seem to understand that cutting staff may boost profit margins in the short term, but the lack of substantive content will doom the enterprise in the long term.

And the long term isn’t very far away.



Save the Date

I’ve written before about  Uncharted: The Truth Behind Homelessness.

The film focuses on how Indianapolis deals with its homeless population. It illuminates the issues that all major cities have to confront about their homeless citizens: downtown panhandling, homeless camps in the way of urban gentrification, underfunded human services, and endless debates over whether local government has an obligation to provide services to homeless people and if so, the nature of those services.

You won’t be surprised to learn that Indianapolis doesn’t do very well dealing with these issues–which may be why Mayor Ballard has thus far refused filmmakers’ invitations to view the documentary. That’s too bad; I have seen it twice, and I can attest to the fact that it is meticulously even-handed; interviews with a number of City representatives are included, and there are no “bad guys” hung out to dry.

Plus, it is a really gripping, well-done film.

The filmmakers, A Bigger Vision, have invited the community to attend one of two free screenings at the IMA on August 30th, at 1:00 pm and 4:00.

You can get tickets here.

You can see a trailer here.

The issues are anything but simple, and (despite the Mayor’s evident fears) their treatment is non-accusatory. Anyone concerned with the quality of life—let alone the quality of mercy– in Indianapolis should make an effort to attend one of the upcoming showings.







Crazy and Scary

Crazy Republicans are making life miserable for the dwindling number of rational party members, and the same phenomenon (often involving the same people) is giving Christians a really bad name.

Loony tunes example number ten zillion:

Several news sites have reported on a rant by Christian Radio Host Rick Wiles, in which he shares his hope that the Ebola epidemic spreads to the US and “wipes out every last atheist and gay person in the country.”

“Now this Ebola epidemic can become a global pandemic and that’s another name for plague. It may be the great attitude adjustment that I believe is coming… Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography and abortion.”

Leave aside the decidedly “unChristian” desire to see people with whom you don’t agree die in agony (what was that thing about “turning the other cheek”?), what leap of “logic” leads this zealot to believe that a horrific disease will be selective, and that its selectivity would be based upon his version of biblical “truth”?

Talk about creating God in one’s own image…

What’s really terrifying is that it is only a small step from this sort of faith-based delusion to a desire to help “God’s work” along, by bringing a pathogen to the U.S. and unleashing it. If you think that possibility is far-fetched, consider what the KKK, skinheads and other True Believers have been willing to do to protect their own racial or religious hegemony.

It’s time for the good Christians–and the good Republicans–to take their religion and their party back from the lunatics who are currently dominating the public face of both.


Crime and the City: Some Unsolicited Advice to the Next Mayor

Several years ago, when Bart Peterson and Sue Ann Gilroy were running for Mayor, the IBJ asked Morton Marcus and yours truly to write a series of dueling recommendations to the eventual winner, titled “Letters to the Next Mayor.” My recollection is that they discontinued the feature fairly early on, but in that spirit, I’d like to offer some unsolicited advice to the winner of next year’s mayoral contest.

Give public safety back to the Sheriff.

When Greg Ballard was elected, one of the first things he did was take the newly combined IMPD away from the Sheriff, and assume responsibility for public safety. That was my first clue that he had no idea what he was doing. This wrongheaded move was prompted more by machismo and ego and the fact that the Sheriff was a Democrat than by any requirement of good governance.

Back when I was Corporation Counsel, I urged Bill Hudnut to consolidate IPD with the Sheriff’s department and give the new entity to the Sheriff. There was a reason for that advice. For one thing, there’s efficiency: a mayor has multiple responsibilities–public works, parks, economic and community development and numerous others–that compete for his time and attention, while the Sheriff is a constitutional officer whose sole responsibility and focus is criminal justice.

It isn’t simply a matter of efficiency, however. Good government and good politics both weigh in favor of letting the Sheriff take primary responsibility for IMPD.

Good government requires clear lines of accountability. When voters are going to the polls to vote for a mayor, they must “grade” an incumbent on what Ed Koch used to call the “How’m I doing?” scale. The multiple responsibilities of the office require voters to balance the incumbent’s record on crime against multiple other aspects of performance; as a result, the message sent by voters will necessarily be mixed and subject to different interpretations. Voting for a Sheriff whose entire portfolio is policing allows for much more direct accountability.

Politically, taking charge of public safety was foolish–what we might call an “unforced error.” When Ballard was elected, he told everyone who would listen that crime was going to be his “Number One” priority, and invited voters to judge him on that basis. They will, and it won’t be pretty.

Sometimes, the political game of “Mr. Macho” works. More often, it comes back to bite you.