On the Federal Front: Around the Horn

The U.S. House of Representatives was on a week-long recess, which means our delegation was back home and visiting with their constituents around the state. The Senate, however, remained in D.C. working. Both will continue on the job in Washington starting next week until their recess around Memorial Day. A few news and notes:

* Congressman Larry Bucshon, M.D. (IN-08) held a job fair in Terre Haute on Wednesday in coordination with WorkOne Western Indiana, Indiana State University and the Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce. The event, held at Indiana State University’s Hulman Center, afforded potential employees the opportunity to meet with employers hiring in the Wabash Valley. A special emphasis was given to hiring veterans.

* Bucshon recently attended the Indiana Chamber’s I-69 Regional Summit in downtown Indianapolis. He was fresh from the floor vote in Congress on health care reform and also took time to meet with Chamber executives to discuss the topic.

* Congressman Jim Banks (IN-03), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, issued the following statement on Thursday regarding reports that the Trump Administration is considering sending more American troops to Afghanistan:

“I am glad that President Trump is willing to seriously consider the request of his commanders on the ground, who are asking for additional forces. We’ve been at war in Afghanistan since 2001, but in recent years, decisions about troop levels have been based on politics instead of military strategy. We’ve invested too much blood and treasure in Afghanistan to tolerate a stalemate or defeat. I look forward to learning more about the administration’s plans in the coming days.”

* U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly has released his Foundation for Families Agenda – a series of policy proposals aimed at improving the quality of life for Hoosier families. Included in the policy agenda:

  • Paid family and medical leave
  • Expanding access to pre-K and quality childcare options
  • Affordable higher education
  • Equal pay for women

Donnelly released a video explaining his agenda. He stated, “I am unveiling the Foundation for Families Agenda because we need to ensure our policies and priorities support hardworking Hoosier and American families. When our families succeed, so
does our economy. The foundation for our families should include family leave, options for affordable childcare and pre-K, access to an affordable college education, and the assurance that Hoosier women are paid equally when they do the same job as their male counterparts. These are common sense ideas that I am hopeful we can advance in a bipartisan manner in the Senate.”

* Many news organizations are speculating that a potential candidate to be the new FBI director might be the current president of Anderson University, John Pistole. Pistole is former deputy director of the FBI (and led significant counter-terrorism efforts) and past head of the Transportation Security Administration. He has declined all requests for interviews since the speculation began, but a few friends and family spoke to the Indy Star.

* Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson has been tapped to serve on President Trump’s national commission investigating the integrity of American elections; see The Northwest Indiana Times story. Vice President Mike Pence is chairing the commission.

Feds Raid Township Trustee Office

The reason the Indiana Chamber continues to push for local government reform is the opportunity to provide more effective services with more efficient use of taxpayer money.

The fact that some township trustees continue to draw the scrutiny and action of authorities only adds to the logic of modernizing Indiana’s local government system. A portion of the latest from Lake County (the Northwest Indiana Times has the full story):

FBI and IRS agents raided the Calumet Township Trustee’s office and removed boxes full of documents and at least one computer shortly after noon Thursday as part of a federal investigation of the office.

Bob Ramsey, the supervisory agent for the FBI office in Merrillville, said his office, the Internal Revenue Service in Merrillville and state police are taking part in a joint operation.

Calumet Township Trustee Mary Elgin, who operates one of the largest township government units in the state, couldn’t be reached for comment. She has been under official scrutiny for her office’s spending on assistance to Gary’s low income residents and the use of take-home cars.

The state has been threatening to take over the finances of her office if she doesn’t reduce administrative costs. Elgin is suing Gov. Mike Pence to stop enforcement of a 2013 law that would significantly reduce her control over more than $5 million in annual spending.

The law requires Elgin to reduce the property tax rate supporting her township assistance program to less than 12 times the average of the state’s 1,008 townships. Calumet Township’s tax rate has been as much as 22.6 times the state average. Elgin said her tax rate is much lower when the impact of state-mandated property tax cuts are calculated.

A Times investigation found her office spent almost as much on employees’ salaries and benefits and business vendors, as it did on direct assistance for  emergency shelter, utilities, health care and food. Elgin puts her administrative costs at 37 percent of her budget.

 

 

 

Reporting Truth is More Important Than Speed

When you work as a reporter at a small community newspaper, you learn early on that making a mistake – grammatical, factual or otherwise – will typically earn you a public flogging by way of scathing letter to the editor. So, you double- and triple-check your facts before printing.

But, something has happened in this 24/7 news cycle and Twitter-as-news cycle. Accuracy and truth in reporting has become less important than being the first to break a story.

I was shocked to observe it happening during the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. For example: The name of the shooter most news outlets had been using all day was the wrong name (it was the shooter’s brother). The first victim – the shooter’s mother – wasn’t, in fact, a teacher at that school. At one point there was a second shooter, and then there wasn’t.

Bad information. Just plain wrong. But it was out there and people were repeating it. Re-tweeting it.

It seems history is repeating itself with the Boston Marathon attack.

Shortly after the blasts, one news outlet said 17 people were killed. We all know that the actual number is three. Another outlet reported that a Saudi national was in custody and being guarded at a local hospital as a suspect. It turns out the innocent man was held down by frantic people in the crowd who thought he’d had something to do with it. He was never in police custody as a suspect; just recovering at a local hospital, like so many others.

Then, two days after the bombings, news outlets and social media erupted that a suspect had been arrested. An hour later: No arrests. It wasn’t until the Boston Police Department and FBI confirmed there had been no arrest made in the attack that the claims died down.

It dawned on me during the early moments of the Boston Marathon attack that as news consumers, we’re all part of the problem. We all want the information as quickly as possible. We re-tweet and share on Facebook the moment things are announced, whether or not stories contain a credible source. An “unnamed” or “unofficial” source does not count as credible, people.

Like so many Americans, Sandy Hook will always be on my heart. As a journalist, my mind will also linger on the shooter’s brother, who not only lost his family and has to live with the pain his brother caused, but whose name was vilified for the better part of a day, despite his innocence.

In the future, do your own fact-checking and wait for a named source. Contact the news outlet to let them know you value accuracy over rapidity.

It’s time to demand better.

Dept. of Justice Shuts Down Popular Poker Sites

The U.S. Department of Justice seized the online domains of poker sites operating in the United States (not based here, but serving players here, mind you) over the weekend. Last year, Reps. Barney Frank, Ron Paul and others were trying to find ways to fully legalize and regulate these sites in the U.S. As the article points out, 8 to 10 million Americans play on these sites. Additionally, I recall PriceWaterhouseCoopers released a study a few years ago showing legalization of online poker could raise $34 billion in tax revenue over 10 years for the federal government. This topic is just beginning to heat up, and I’ll save my comments on the matter for the comment section, lest there be no confusion that the Chamber necessarily endorses my position on this:

Reporting from New York and Los Angeles— A thriving online poker industry catering to Americans but operating from abroad to evade U.S. gambling laws could be wiped out by criminal charges against top executives in the business.

Eleven people, including the founders of the three largest poker sites open to U.S. players, were charged by a federal grand jury with bank fraud, money laundering and violating gambling laws. The government also is seeking to recover $3 billion from the companies.

The FBI had shut down two of the sites, Full Tilt Poker and PokerStars, by Friday evening and were working to do the same with the third, Absolute Poker. Online visitors were greeted with a message saying, "This domain name has been seized by the F.B.I. pursuant to an Arrest Warrant," and an enumeration of federal anti-gambling statutes and penalties.

An estimated 8 million to 10 million Americans play poker online for money; thousands of them earn their living on the sites, according to a players advocacy group.

Congress tried to shut down the industry by enacting an anti-gambling law in 2006, but most sites found ways to work around the vaguely worded measure. Since then other members of Congress have proposed bills to legalize Internet gambling, but they have failed to reach a floor of either chamber.

In the community of players, news of the indictments unsealed Friday in federal court in Manhattan landed like a bombshell.

"Everyone’s in panic," said David Tuthill, a 22-year-old in Las Vegas who makes his living playing online and in casinos. "Everyone sort of knew in the back of their minds that a day like this was possible — and maybe even inevitable — but it’s really just shocking now that it’s here."

Two of the 11 defendants were arrested Friday morning in Utah and Nevada. Federal agents were said to be working with Interpol to capture defendants located overseas.

None of the companies responded to requests for comment.

UPDATE: Interesting article from the Daily Caller on April 22 regarding this topic.

Looking Behind the Ranking Numbers

Two pieces of seemingly conflicting news that came out late last week:

Indiana ranks sixth overall and first in the Midwest on Area Development magazine’s list of “Top States for Doing Business,” but Forbes placed the state 29th on its “Best States for Business and Careers” list.

These are just two of the numerous state rankings that are published throughout the year, but why is Indiana ranked so highly by one publication while falling below the middle of the pack in another?

A little digging reveals that the way the data is compiled varies extensively. According to the Area Development web site, the magazine conducted a “flash survey” of a select group of respected consultants who work with a nationwide client base. The consultants were asked to name their top 10 state choices in eight selection criteria, which include lowest business costs, most business-friendly and corporate tax environment, to name a few. All of the criteria were given the same weighting. Find the complete article and rankings here.

For the Forbes list, the ranking measures six categories (none of which were the same as the Area Development list, with the exception of business costs). Then, 33 points of data were factored in to determine the rankings in the six main areas, with weight given to business costs. The data came from 10 sources (such as the Census Bureau, FBI, Tax Foundation, Department of Education) with research firm Moody’s Economy.com as the most-utilized resource. Find the complete article and rankings here.

Already, these are two dramatically dissimilar methods for calculating rankings. A little farther down in the Area Development article, the writer even admits that if the criteria were regrouped into three categories, the rankings would see significant change.

Just keep in mind that the way the data is interpreted is often subjective and that the rankings one sees may be utilizing very different measures.

The good news, however, is that in general Indiana is ranked very highly and the state boasts a business-friendly environment – evident by the new and expanding businesses around the state despite the difficult economic times. The Indiana Chamber will, of course, continue to be a key player in helping ensure the state’s business success.

Wanted Dead or Alive

March 14 was the 60th anniversary of something I venture to say that 99.5% of us have seen or heard of. None of us, however, aspire to be part of this piece of history.

The debut of the Fedreal Bureau of Investigation’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitves list was March 14, 1950.

How did it start? According to the agency web site, the year before an International News Service reporter asked the following question: Who were the "toughest guys" the FBI was pursuing.  

Bank robbers and political activists were popular figures through many of the early years. Today, terrorists, serial killers and drug traffickers are among the notorious top 10, with Obama Bin Laden at the head of the list.

Trivia: Ruth Eisemann-Schier was the first female on the list in late 1968. She participated in the kidnapping (orchestrated by her boyfriend) of heiress Barbara Jane Mackle. Gary Steve Krist was captured, but Schier eluded authorities until March 5, 1969.

Not So Fast, Governor

So we have Our Man Mitch, a guy who’s changing government for the better and won re-election with overwhelming support even when the top of the ticket trended the other way, and our poor neighbors got stuck with this guy (not to mention George Ryan before him):

Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich and his Chief of Staff, John Harris, were arrested today by FBI agents on federal corruption charges alleging that they and others are engaging in ongoing criminal activity: conspiring to obtain personal financial benefits for Blagojevich by leveraging his sole authority to appoint a United States Senator; threatening to withhold substantial state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members sharply critical of Blagojevich; and to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official actions – both historically and now in a push before a new state ethics law takes effect January 1, 2009.

Point Indiana. But please join me in wishing our Illinois neighbors the best so they can recover and get on track with some semblance of honest governance in the near future.

Illinois Fun Fact: According to Frugal Hoosiers, that means 4 of the last 7 Illinois governors in the past 50 years have gone to prison. (On the upside, 3 of their last 7 governors have not gone to prison.)