Interim Committee on Commerce Focuses on Tax Breaks for Biomedical Device Industry

The Interim Committee on Commerce and Economic Development seems to have focused almost entirely on the biomedical device industry during their interim meetings. See, this draft final report of the committee. That was the task assigned to it by the Legislative Council. I’m not sure whether they have discretion to go beyond legislative council assignments. They produced this draft resolution urging tax breaks for the biomedical device manufacturers. Specifically, the resolution expresses grumpiness about the federal medical device excise tax. To counter this, the resolution suggests reworking of the patent income tax exemption and the venture capital income tax credit as well as passing a “new markets jobs act providing for a state income tax credit” available to the medical device and biomedical industry.

None of this is necessarily bad policy (maybe it is – I’m just not informed enough to know) or nefarious, but it does give an example of how money begets money. You use your economic influence to get law and policymakers to focus on the well being of your economic interests in a way that’s not available to those with fewer resources.

Shawshank and Privilege

With Ferguson over the last couple of months and the 2014 Isla Vista killings several months before that, white male privilege (as compared to the experiences of women and racial minorities) has been brought more under the microscope — at least over social media. I’m going to walk on eggshells here. As an upper middle-class white guy, there is mostly only downside if I offer opinions on questions of race and privilege. Where I see nuance in those questions, others might see me as offering self-serving qualifications that justify or blind me to my privilege. “Shut up and listen” probably isn’t bad advice. I’m pretty good at listening, but shutting up has long been a problem for me.

Maybe it shows I’m too steeped in pop culture, but at some point during my musings about the race and privilege question, The Shawshank Redemption came to mind. Seems to me that Andy Dufresne could be excused for thinking that he had it pretty rough. He was cheated on, unjustly charged with and convicted of murdering his wife, served twenty years in jail, and only made it to a better place through patience, industriousness, and crawling through “a river of shit” before coming out clean on the other side. So, you can imagine he might be skeptical if told that he owed his life on the beach in Mexico to his privileged status as a white man.

And, yet, it’s true. Certainly Andy’s (fictional) path was not easy, and he prevailed in the end because of admirable personal qualities and actions. But the fact is that Andy prevailed in ways that simply would not have been available to his black friend, Red. For example, the education and social connections that leads to Andy becoming a banker never would have been available to Red back then (and would be much, much less likely even today). Red (even if he had the tax background), unlike Andy, probably gets thrown off the roof before Hadley settles down and takes his tax advice. The warden probably never lets a black guy near the books for the illegal accounts. Even with a suit & tie, Red probably can’t just waltz into the bank and withdraw large sums of money without drawing suspicion.

From Andy’s perspective, he went through hell to get to that beach in Mexico. He has reason to feel like he earned every bit of what he has, and having someone attribute it to white, male privilege may well provoke a negative reaction. And, still, without white, male privilege, he would probably be dead or in jail. He had and took advantage of opportunities not available to Red.

I see this movie-as-metaphor to be more descriptive than proscriptive. It may be a trite example in any case. I’m not presuming to advise anyone to act or feel differently on this issue than they do. But, for my part, I felt like the metaphor offered me some insights into the dynamics involved.

Woman Accused of Trafficking Cellphone to Inmate

I spent much of the last month taking depositions of inmates at various state correctional facilities, including the one at Wabash Valley, so this story about a woman accused of attempting to traffic a cell phone caught my eye.

Prison officials said Elainey Michele Reynolds, 22, of Marion failed to clear a metal detector at the maximum-security facility shortly after 9:30 a.m. Monday. Visitor processing custody staff became suspicious after Reynolds indicated that a body piercing was the cause. She then went to the restroom to remove the piercing. After claiming she threw the metal piercing away, the restroom was searched and a cell phone was found in a trash can, authorities said.

Just as an aside, even though working at these places has to be challenging and grim, I have to say that my experience with most of the employees who helped us get in and out and arrange the depositions were almost all pleasant, polite, and professional.

Federal Separation of Powers – Revisited

Back in 2011, I posted:

I had a high school history teacher who, periodically, would draw three circles on the chalkboard representing the three branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. Depending on what era in history we were looking at, the respective circles would be bigger or smaller. Possibly there was a better visual representation to be had, but the basic notion was that, where one branch refused or declined to act, the other ones would expand into the vacuum.

Speaking of three rings, Congress has largely looked like a circus for the past generation or so. And that, as much as anything else I believe, is why we have seen the Presidency and the Supreme Court looming larger in our lives. This might also be why “limited government” is mostly a fantasy — at least if its proponents seek to achieve it through gridlock and inaction. The branches would have to affirmatively limit themselves and the other branches. Inaction simply leads to one of the other branches stepping into the breach.

President Obama’s executive order on immigration, and Gov. Pence’s executive action in opposition – joining a lawsuit by various pieces of various state governments – made me think of that post from a couple of years ago.

Simply stopping one branch of government is not, by itself, enough to stop the other branches. They can and probably will expand their reach until affirmatively checked by one of the other branches. In fact, I think Obama is, to some extent, trolling Congress here – baiting it into action. The political calculation is probably that regardless of which way Congress jumps, you’ll get some mix of better immigration policy and/or his Republican opposition making themselves less popular with Latinos. Additionally, despite the rhetoric to the contrary, I don’t get the feeling that President Obama is actually a big fan of a strong executive — at least not as much as his recent predecessors. So, rhetoric and action pushing back on a stronger executive might be welcome. (That last sentiment is more speculative than the former.)

Pence & Zoeller Exchange on Immigration Challenge

Maureen Groppe has a story on some interesting wrangling between Gov. Pence and Attorney General Zoeller regarding Gov. Pence’s desire to get Indiana involved in litigation over President Obama’s executive order on immigration.

Instead of pursuing an action against the President over immigration as requested by Gov. Pence, Attorney General Zoeller has given consent to Gov. Pence to hire outside counsel. At issue seems to be IC 4-6-5-3 which I can’t quote because the General Assembly’s new online Indiana Code is terrible and only in PDF. But, it says that state agencies (defined broadly as including any instrumentality of the state) cannot hire outside counsel without consent of the Attorney General.

I wonder if it will be the Office of the Governor suing the President or if it will purport to be the State of Indiana bringing suit. If it’s the latter, I wonder what the basis would be for Gov. Pence to unilaterally bring suit against the President on behalf of Indiana while maintaining his ability to criticize the President for unilateral action on behalf of the United States.

SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!

Niki Kelley, writing for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, has an article about this year’s installment in the perennial effort to have the General Assembly remove its ban on allowing businesses to sell alcohol to Hoosiers on Sundays. It’s not that our good friends in the State House don’t want us to get our drink on during the Sabbath — they just want us to plan ahead, drink and drive, and/or do it with craft beer straight from the brewery.

Kelley reports:

Hoosiers for Sunday Sales, a coalition of consumers and retailers, launched an effort Tuesday in support of legislation allowing alcohol sales on Sundays in drug, grocery, liquor and convenience stores.

According to HSS, this push is about consumer choice, convenience, and, yes, freedom. (Not mentioned – profits.) You don’t want to be against freedom, do you, General Assembly?

The liquor store association, which opposes the move, warns ominously of the dangers of deregulated liquor sales being sought by out of state interests. (Foreigners pushing freely available alcohol on Hoosiers?! What’s next, jazz cigarettes?)

“We tell you this today as a tale of caution because efforts to deregulate the sale of alcohol continue to be funded here by non-Hoosier interests with some local faces for appearances and window dressing. It’s not a Hoosier groundswell,” he said.

The liquor store concern is that they feel like, to compete, they would have to be open an extra day, increasing their overhead, and they would lose market share when, for example, the family picks up their beer with the weekly Sunday shopping at a big box store.

It’s easy for me to throw stones in either directions when the competing interests try to dress up what amounts to economic self-interest in the language of noble public policy. My personal preference is to have liquor sales available on Sunday. The prohibition specific to alcohol and specific to Sundays is anachronistic and arbitrary.

Happy Harvest Festival!

This is a re-post of my 2011 Thanksgiving entry which I liked quite a bit.

I’ve blogged about this before – 2007, in particular, but in the recent past, I’ve come to learn that the “First Thanksgiving” has only a nodding acquaintance with the mythology we’re taught in school. At the end of the day, it boils down to our country’s harvest festival and, as such, the literal history probably isn’t that important.

As I recall the version I learned in school, the Pilgrims left England because they hated religious oppression, they arrived a Plymouth Rock, hewed a settlement out of the wilderness, received the help of some friendly Indians; in particular an English speaking one named Squanto; they were taught how to plant corn with the help of fish fertilizer; and then, at harvest time, had a feast to celebrate.

The reality is a little more complicated. The Pilgrims mostly did not think the right kind of religious oppression was underway in England. The Pilgrims had left England and settled in Holland for about 10 years; but, among other things, they thought the environment was a little too permissive for the kids and that the congregation was losing its identity. Their trip was poorly timed, bringing them to New England in November 1620. While on the Mayflower, the Mayflower Compact was created and signed in response to the suggestion of certain passengers that, once in the New World, they would be at liberty to do as they pleased.

Arriving in New England at the beginning of winter was a bad idea. Fortunately for the Pilgrims, the Native Americans along the coast had been decimated by disease – leaving empty villages with at least a little in the way of food and supplies. The eventual site of Plymouth Colony was in an area that had been cleared by the Patuxet before they had been ravaged by smallpox.

The Pilgrims were assisted by Squanto (Tisquantum), a Patuxet who had been kidnapped years earlier and enslaved by Thomas Hunt and taken to Spain to be sold. Some friars intervened, and Squanto was not sold. He made his way to England and worked for some time as a shipbuilder. After about 5 years away from America, he got back to find his tribe had been wiped out by disease. Shortly thereafter, he seems to have been captured by the Wampanoag people and may have still been a captive when he was acting as an intermediary between the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims; leading to some tension later on between Squanto and Massasoit, the Wampanoag leader. Squanto may have been playing the two sides against each other to some extent. I even read that the actual Thanksgiving feast was as much a display of arms and strength among the competing sides as a celebration of the harvest. I’m not sure how much to credit that.

Regardless of the beginnings, what I think is important to remember is that the tradition stems from a time where people can and did starve. Survival was uncertain from year to year where a bad harvest could mean famine in the winter. People had an incomplete understanding of the science behind weather and agriculture, so Native Americans and Europeans mixed their gratitude with a fair amount of superstition, believing, perhaps, that angry gods would cause famine in the future and gods who felt well respected would be more beneficent. Even without incorporating the supernatural, gratitude is entirely appropriate. I am thankful to live in a society (if not necessarily a world) with a secure food supply. And, of course, I have a lot of other things for which to be grateful – a loving family, a good job, and a warm place to sleep primary among them.

So, take stock of what you have going for you; and if you’re not cold and hungry tonight, you have it a lot better than a good chunk of the multitudes that have lived over the course of human history. And, if you think your good fortune is attributable to God or the Great Spirit or Ceres or Demeter or being responsible for good harvest; by all means offer thanks to them as well. Gratitude isn’t a limited resource; but should be spent freely.

Eric Turner resigns

A statesman, policy wonk, and dedicated public servant retires. These are sentiments not reflected in this article about the retirement of long time representative Eric Turner or, so far as I’m aware, by anyone else reflecting on the legislative career of Rep. Turner.

Tony Cook’s article is entitled “Rep Turner, plagued by scandal, formally resigns.” He announced his intent to retire back in September following a brouhaha involving his efforts to kill legislation behind closed doors that had the potential to cost his family piles of money in the nursing home business.

Gov. Pence Seeks to Ennoble Hoosiers by Reducing Food Stamp Benefits

In another installment from the Economy as Morality Play Department, we have Gov. Pence making the moral case for cutting food stamps.

The Indiana Family and Social Services Administration announced last month that beginning in 2015, it would no longer request a waiver to the federal work requirement for certain people who use the SNAP program. Up to 65,000 single Hoosiers could lose food stamp benefits unless they are working 20 hours a week or attending job training.

Asked about whether this action targets poor people, Gov. Pence responded “I’m someone that believes there’s nothing more ennobling to a person than a job[.]” The article, however, reminds us that “there were 2 million people in the Midwest seeking jobs, but only about a million jobs available. And that’s not counting the thousands of people who are no longer counted as unemployed because they gave up looking for a job.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, the assumption here is that poor people need food stamps because they’re lazy and only if they have to choose between work and starvation will they get off their butts and get a job. That assumption is not, by and large, based on evidence. My sense is that people who cling to this world view do so in large part because it’s scary to acknowledge that the world is often uncontrollable and unfair; that you can be willing to work and still go hungry.

Walgreen gets hammered for $1.4 million for pharmacist privacy violation

The facts of the case are a mix of pharmacist privacy violation and good old fashioned baby mama drama. The trial happened awhile back, and the Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.

Short version of facts:

Plaintiff got her birth control filled at Walgreen for years. Peterson was having sex with her off and on. At some point, Peterson starts dating a Walgreen pharmacist named Withers. Plaintiff gets pregnant with Peterson’s kid, and Peterson also contracts herpes. Peterson lets the pharmacist/girlfriend Withers know that he may have exposed her to herpes. Withers goes digging into Plaintiff’s medical record. Pharmacist/girlfriend says she didn’t share the information with anyone, but not long after, Peterson has an email exchange with Plaintiff bitching about how she never even got her birth control refilled in July and August. Plaintiff files suit against Walgreen and Withers for malpractice. The jury found her damages to be $1.8 million and found Walgreen/Withers jointly responsible for 80% of the damages.

I’d like to see how the jury went about measuring damages in this case. Generally, I trust juries when deciding questions of liability. I’m frequently more skeptical of the math they do to calculate damages when they do find liability.