Indiana: Where decapitation is apparently enough of a problem that we need a law about it

The AP is reporting that Sen. Brent Steele thinks Indiana needs a law addressing decapitations. Now, obviously Indiana has a law on the books against murder. And there are aggravators to enhance sentences and even the death penalty for some situations. But, Sen. Steele sees a need to address decapitation specifically:

The chairman of the state Senate Judiciary Committee says Indiana needs stronger penalties for decapitation.

Republican Sen. Brent Steele of Bedford cites a gruesome beheading in Oklahoma last month as the reason for the change. He has asked staff to draft legislation that would add decapitation or attempted decapitation to the crimes punishable by life without parole or the death penalty.

Actually, the real problem is that somehow under the current law decapitation is not regarded as mutilation or dismemberment subject to the enhanced penalty.

I get that beheading is viscerally more shocking to a good many people. Personally, I see dead as dead. As a victim, I’m not sure I’d care if the person killed me by cutting my throat enough to make me die versus cutting my throat clean through to the back of my neck.

Religion, Social Conformity, Isolation, and Politics

I came across a comment in the Guardian (h/t Barry) which discusses the demographic shift in religious belief in the U.S. and predicts long term doom for the Republicans. It’s entitled “Godless Millennials Could End the Political Power of the Religious Right.” The column notes the prospects for short term success for the Republicans but predicts long term problems because the short term success in deep red states ought to be even greater. I’ve seen the doom of one political party or another predicted too often to put much stock in it. In political circles, short term success is the only kind of success there is. The voting public doesn’t seem to have a sufficiently long term memory for political parties to build up (or cost themselves) a lot of equity. (Pundits seem to be even more immune from long term accountability for good or poor prognostications.) In the past, I’ve seen predictions of a permanent Republican majority. More recently, I’ve seen predictions that will put Democrats in the majority based on demographic shifts that are always just around the corner.

Normally, those demographic predictions are based on race — e.g. Latinos vote for Democrats more often. The Guardian comment discusses religious belief. Its premise is that Americans, particularly millennials are becoming more godless.

What we’re seeing may well be the first distant rumblings of a trend that’s been quietly gathering momentum for years: America is becoming less Christian. In every region of the country, in every Christian denomination, membership is either stagnant or declining. Meanwhile, the number of religiously unaffiliated people – atheists, agnostics, those who are indifferent to religion, or those who follow no conventional faith – is growing. In some surprising places, these “nones” (as in “none of the above”) now rank among the largest slices of the demographic pie.

Even in the deep South, the Republican base of white evangelical Christians is shrinking – and in some traditional conservative redoubts like Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky, it’s declined as a percentage of the population by double digits. Even Alabama is becoming less Christian. Meanwhile, there’s been a corresponding increase in the religiously unaffiliated, who tend to vote more Democratic.

It may well be that the religious right loses its clout. However, the two party system being what it is, I would expect that if that happens, the Republicans will attempt to shift somewhat to stake out territory that gives them something close to a 51% stake in the electorate. (Power being what it is, political factions tend to want to be large enough to retain power but small enough that they share it as little as necessary.)

With that long lead up, what captured my interest is the premise. If America is becoming less religious — and I don’t pretend to know if the premise is sound — why now? The column suggests something like a backlash against the religious right’s treatment of gays and lesbians. Millennials regard bad treatment of those groups as an anachronism and hostile rhetoric against them as unacceptable. People who feel this way leave their various churches and, with such departures, the antipathy of the remainder toward gays and lesbians is higher as a percentage, and the rhetoric grows more extreme; causing a vicious cycle.

I’m more inclined to see aversion to rhetoric about the sinfulness of gays and lesbians as more of a symptom than a cause. I mean, why now? Certainly the public acceptance of gays and lesbians has grown dramatically. But why the sudden shift? I’m going to go with the Internet as a force multiplier accelerating the acceptance of the gay community. As I understand it, more people came out publicly as gay in the 70s and increasingly thereafter. This forced friends and acquaintances to deal with homosexuality as being something experienced by real people, including friends and relatives, and not as some kind of cartoonish abstraction that’s easy to hate. The Internet made it easier for people to come out and more likely that straight people would come into contact with gay people in every day life. The Internet does this by reducing isolation as an influencer of human behavior. By learning that other people think like you, it becomes easier to express your opinions and stand behind your beliefs. You learn that you’re not crazy and you’re not alone. You’re more likely to speak up and stand up for yourself.

When communities were formed almost exclusively by physical proximity, it was much harder to communicate and much harder to learn whether you were alone or whether your beliefs were shared by at least some others. When communities were formed by geography, it was much easier for powerful minorities to control the conversation and create the illusion of social norms and enforce that vision by, in effect, dividing and conquering.

I think I’ve mentioned a passage before from Howard Bloom’s “Global Brain.” He discusses a study by a guy named Schanck of a New York town in the 30s. It seems to have been populated by people who were nominally Baptists and the community was dominated by a minister’s daughter. Publicly almost all of them would declare the sinfulness of things like cards, liquor, and tobacco. Privately many of them would engage in those things.

How completely the anointed had commandeered collective perception became apparent when Schanck asked the closet dissenters how other people in the community felt about face cards, liquor, a smoke, and levity. Hoodwinked by suppression, each knew without a doubt that he was the sole transgressor in a saintly sea. He and he alone could not control his demons of depravity. None had the faintest inkling that he was part of a silenced near-majority.

Here was an arch lesson in the games subcultures play. reality is a mass hallucination. We gauge what’s real according to what others say. And others, like us, rein in their words, caving in to timidity. Thanks to conformity enforcement and to cowardice, a little power goes a long, long way.”

My suspicion, based in no small part – I must confess – on projection of my own experience, is that people aren’t just suddenly reacting to gays. Rather, I expect that a lot of people have long been dubious about the socially conservative behavioral components of religion — antipathy to, for example, gays, dancing, sex, gambling, alcohol. To one degree or another, probably based a lot on their geographic community, that large minority or even majority were perhaps too timid to speak up because they thought they were more isolated in their opinion than was actually the case. This might go not just for those behavioral components but also for a skepticism of religion itself. I grew up Presbyterian and in a family that wasn’t especially ardent about its religion, and I have never been shy about sharing my opinions. But even I felt a strong social conditioning against speaking out about my non-belief. The Internet (along with living in a geographic area with a wide range of beliefs and a non-trivial number of non-believers) has reduced that inhibition by bringing me into contact with others of similar thinking.

So, I wonder if that’s what’s really going on with the millennials. From day one, they grow up immersed in the Internet and exposed to the wide range of beliefs of the millions (are we at billions yet?) of people online. Social conformity based on isolation has to be reduced. (Social conformity based on a howling, mostly anonymous mob might be a thing, however.) What this means for politics is anyone’s guess, however. Prognostications are usually wrong.

Sheila Kennedy on why Gov. Pence will not seek preschool grant money

Sheila Kennedy has a post entitled “Pence, Pre-school, and the Right Wing Base”. The back story is that Indiana had the inside track to get $80,000,000 in federal grant money to fund pre-kindergarten education for Hoosier children. In a surprise move, Gov. Pence decided that Indiana would drop out of the race. He cited vague concerns about entanglement with the federal government. I speculated that Gov. Pence’s presidential ambitions were the explanation.

Sheila suggests a related but more local and specific rationale: opposition by the likes of the Indiana Family Association because it would fund competition to church day cares:

We’ve seen this movie before. Every time the state legislature tries to pass minimum health and safety standards for daycare and preschools–usually, after a tragic accident at some unregulated, unsafe facility– conservative churches mount a hysterical assault on “big government,” and claim a religious right to be free of pesky (too-expensive) rules about nutrition, fire safety, minimum ratio of caregivers to infants and the like.

Churches operating daycare and preschool operations that don’t want to comply with health and safety standards are a big part of Governor Pence’s base. Those churches clearly didn’t want federal money funding safer competitors, and the Governor just as clearly got the message.

Toll Road Bankruptcy: We Don’t Automatically Get Our Road Back

The Associated Press has an article entitled “Toll Road An Epic Mess, Donnelly Says”. The operator to whom we leased the Indiana Toll Road for 75 long years has gone bankrupt about 10% of the way through the lease term. One of the selling points, back in 2006, was Gov. Daniels saying “if the leasing consortium goes bankrupt, “the Toll Road reverts back to the state’s control.””

Because this is not, in fact, true, the AP article says that Gov. Daniels “misspoke.” It’s plausible that Gov. Daniels believed that to be true but was wrong. But, even if we give him that benefit of the doubt, I still wouldn’t call that “misspeaking.” He said what he meant to say.

I have not driven the Toll Road in years. (Once again, a big thanks to the motorists of Northern Indiana for subsidizing the roads of southlanders like me. That’s mighty nice of you.) So, not having seen it, I can’t say first hand what it’s condition might be. Political opponents of the toll road deal have an incentive to paint the conditions as a scene out of the Road Warrior, soaked in the urine of hobos.

Sen. Joe Donnelly called the situation “a mess of epic proportions” and has asked the Indiana Finance Authority, which owns the toll road, to ensure that road conditions are safe, toll booths are staffed, and rest plazas and restrooms are clean.

“The people of northern Indiana and the entire state of Indiana deserve better and were promised better,” he said.

Travelers have complained of long waits at toll plazas, bridges that haven’t been repaired in more than a year and rest stops that reek of urine, Donnelly told The Times in Munster.

According to the article, however, the State gets the road back only if the post-bankruptcy, restructured entity defaults on its obligations. My sense (without having read the lease in several years) is that, absent a pretty bright line default, getting the road back for subjective concerns about road conditions would happen only after lengthy, scorched earth litigation.

State forgoes $80 million pre-kindergarten grant opportunity

Chalkbeat and Matt Tully have articles reporting that the governor has chosen to drop out of an opportunity to get $80 million in pre-kindergarten education grant funding.

Tully reports that the State’s chances of getting the grant were very good:

Pence’s Family and Social Services Administration had worked with the state Department of Education and others on the grant since the federal government rejected a previous application last year. The state’s odds had greatly improved this year, as the federal government recently announced in the Federal Register that Indiana was among just two states, along with Arizona, that had qualified to apply for up to $20 million annually, for up to four years. The two states were labeled “category one” states; they were eligible to apply for substantially more money than the other 13 states.

The explanation from the Governor’s office was vague, citing concerns about getting involved unnecessarily with the federal government and generalities about “untested and unproven objectives in federal policy.” The cynical mind, however, immediately jumps to Gov. Pence’s presidential ambitions.

Even bearing in mind that our share of this federal money is coming out of our pockets anyway and will now be going to some other state instead, I think we can all agree that forgoing $80 million to improve the education of young Hoosiers is a small price to pay to ease the minds of Iowa and New Hampshire caucus and primary voters.

Indiana Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments at Purdue

For those of you in the Lafayette area who are interested in seeing our state Supreme Court at work, you might want to check out the oral argument set for November 10, 2014 at Loeb Playhouse in the Stewart Center.

The case under review is Kramer v. Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Inc. (pdf), which was a split decision before a panel of the Court of Appeals. Judge Najam wrote the majority opinion with Judge Crone concurring while Judge Baker dissented.

The Supreme Court summary of the factual background of the cases states:

[A] child’s pre-adoptive placement (with the Kramers) failed when the child’s biological father came forward. The father established his paternity and successfully contested the adoption. The Kramers then sued the adoption agency (Catholic Charities) alleging negligence for failing to discover the father’s registration with Indiana’s Putative Father Registry.

At issue is whether the timing of the adoption agency’s review of the putative father registry was negligent, whether the adoption agency had a duty to check the registry, and whether the adopting parents waived their ability to bring this claim when they signed the agency’s release form. As luck would have it, I discussed the release/waiver issue in a blog post for my law firm when the Court of Appeals decision came out in March.

Separating Ourselves from the Michiganders

Maureen Hayden, writing for CNHI, has an article entitled “Retracing a border incites tensions between Hoosiers, Michiganders” (h/t Indiana Law Blog).

The issue has to do with surveying the border between Indiana and Michigan. (If you’re a Michigander, dependent on hand-based maps, that’s the area between the palm and wrist.) When the original survey was performed in the 1820s they used wooden posts, most of which are long gone. The boundaries are generally known, but small differences can lead to problems. So, the states agreed to re-monument the border.

The new snag is that it’s taken awhile to get going, and Michigan doesn’t think the original cost estimate is reasonable. Apparently the original estimate from 2009 figured for about $1 million in expenses with each state footing half the bill. But, Michigan thinks that the estimates weren’t accurate Michigan anticipates that the true cost is more like $2 million.

Michigan insists that a survey crew needs to spend eight hours a day occupying a point on the boundary to get an accurate global positioning reading from satellites, for example. Indiana surveyors think the same work could be done in less than three hours.

“If you do it their way, it costs about $1,600 a day. If you do it our way, it costs $600 a day,” [St. Joseph County Surveyor John] McNamara said. “You can see how fast the extra costs add up.”

Indiana has only appropriated $500,000. So, it sounds like the states are going to haggle over the budget before they get started. Michigan should figure a way to get a bridge involved so Indiana could give them $1.7 billion the way we are to Kentucky.

The economy rewards leverage

As is his wont, Abdul just stirred the pot a little by saying on Facebook:

Ok, let’s make a deal. I’ll concede “income inequality” if you concede “work ethic” inequality.

That’s true, as far as it goes, but as he acknowledged in the discussion thread, the correlation is imperfect. It’s an old theme around here, but seems worth repeating.

Much as we’d like it to be, the economy isn’t a morality play. The economy doesn’t reward virtue. It rewards leverage. Hard work is one kind of leverage, and probably the most accessible form for the average person. Talent is another. Already having money is a big form of leverage. Controlling a bottleneck in the economy (e.g. monopoly or money supply) is yet another.

From the perspective of the person who makes the money, by and large, it seems like a function of their hard work and talent. They are acutely aware that they busted their ass, and they’ve seen, probably carried the load for at one time or another, any number of people who were lazy and talentless. What is often less obvious to someone in that position are the people who are also busting their asses with much less (or no) payoff. And even harder to recognize — on account of Upton Sinclair’s observation about the perspicacity of one whose salary depends on not being perspicacious — is when one’s own good fortune depends on siphoning off some portion of the value created by others.

The lack of insight into the condition of others is not unique to the well-to-do, of course. Just to pick an example, my guess is that there is a high percentage of employees who have no idea that their employer pays extra to Medicaid and Social Security on behalf of the employee for the privilege of employing them. While they no doubt have their own stressors in life, they perhaps don’t know what it’s like to continue thinking about work most of the day, every day, clocked in or out — where the next client is coming from, whether existing clients will renew their contracts, whether your vendors are cheating you, whether you have the company’s third quarter paperwork in order, etc.

In any event, the economy is complicated. We all have our problems. But, by and large, a person’s prosperity is not a good proxy for insight into the person’s moral character.

SCOTUS Declines to Hear Same Sex Marriage Cases. Lower Court Opinions Stand

The United States Supreme Court has issued its order denying to grant the petitions for certiorari to review the same sex marriage decisions by the various Courts of Appeal. The 7th Circuit had issued its opinion written by Judge Posner which upheld District Court Judge Young’s opinion issuing an injunction which nullified Indiana’s ban on same sex marriages.

Following an opinion by the Court of Appeals, the Clerk of the Circuit Court issues a mandate (See Fed. R. App. Proc. 41). This certifies the opinion to the lower court whose decision was under review. The Court of Appeals issued a stay which prevented the Clerk from issuing the mandate. The terms of that stay says that it terminates automatically if the Supreme Court denies the petition for certiorari. That has happened. Therefore, the stay on the 7th Circuit Clerk has been lifted. The 7th Circuit Clerk is now, I believe, free to issue the mandate, certifying the opinion to the lower court. That should probably happen as soon as the 7th Circuit Clerk can process the paperwork. Once that happens, Judge Young’s initial injunction will resume and Indiana’s prohibition on same sex marriages will be nullified.

A World Class Transportation System

Writing at Strong Towns, Charles Marohn notes that he has a book coming out entitled “A World Class Transportation System.” He is frustrated with the not-even-rising-to-the-level-of-a-Band-Aid approach to transportation policy. Our policymakers try only to come up with funding solutions for our current, outdated, system — and are not successful.

Transportation policy in America needs to focus on building cities that are financially productive and then connecting them with high speed, high capacity roadways. We built the interstate. Cross it off the list. We’re done. It’s now time to use that investment – to mature that system – to start getting more out of it.

Might be worth checking out.

Related – 50 years ago, on October 1, 1964, Japan began high speed rail service – Tokyo to Osaka at 130 miles per hour. Faster than we manage even today in the U.S.