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.

State Chamber of Commerce Offers Opinion on Superintendent of Education Position

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce wants to have the Superintendent of Public Instruction be an appointed position instead of an elected position. The current officeholder, Glenda Ritz, received 1,332,775 votes from the citizens of Indiana. By contrast, Gov. Pence received 1,275,424 votes. (Our incoming Secretary, Treasurer, and Auditor of state all received somewhat less than 800,000 votes.) Superintendent Crouch received that convincing vote total in a surprise upset of the previous occupant, Tony Bennet. If someone like Mr. Bennett had been appointed rather than elected, the citizens of Indiana never would have had the opportunity to give him the bounce, regardless of how strong the sentiment was.

The Chamber has apparently been on the side of making the position appointed for some time. I can’t say that their reasoning is simply sour grapes because Bennett couldn’t hang on to the job. However, in some quarters, the ostensible reason for legislating Ritz out of a re-election bid is because the discord between her and Gov. Pence’s appointees on the State Board of Education is unseemly. Reducing the Governor’s influence in Board composition doesn’t seem to be under consideration. For example – just off the top of my head – maybe it would be a good idea to group school districts into regions and have a number of regional representatives on the school board.

Also, just by the way, it seems at least slightly odd for the Chamber of Commerce to be having a significant influence (if they do) on educational policy. Maybe a little like having the rail roads weigh in on highway policy. Sure, the railroads rely on the highways for various things, but maybe they wouldn’t design the system in a way that was best for all of us.

A Decade of Masson’s Blog

I date the beginning of this blog from November 15, 2004. Prior to that, I had been holding forth on national politics on, I think, a blogspot platform. After the November 2004 elections, I felt like there were plenty of people offering opinions on national issues. My first post was an ode to a young dog of mine I had to put to sleep because of a cancerous tumor on her liver. A couple of weeks later, I started reporting on state issues and was off and running from there.

My productivity has ebbed and flowed over the years — probably as a mirror of my productivity out in the real world. My favorite time to blog is probably the beginning of the legislative session when none of the introduced bills have yet been filtered by the legislative process. These bills are easy to digest, frequently entertaining, and generally come at a time when I have a lot of energy. Later on in the session, the important bills get technical and complicated, things move fast, and my energy level is down. In any event, my best work has to do with reading and writing about the bills during the legislative session. The rest is often filler. The summers and falls feature fewer entries, less focus, less objectivity, and more off hand opinion. Over the years, as I’ve mentioned before, other social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook have scratched the blogging itch in a way that has decreased postings here.

The state blogosphere was pretty sparse when I started. The Indiana Law Blog and Advance Indiana are probably the only blogs I followed then that are still around today. Lots of bloggers have come and gone during that period. A decade is an eternity in Internet time. But there is one blogger in particular I want to mention: I particularly mourn the passing of Doghouse Riley during that period. Once he got going, his writing was like an avalanche falling down a mountain onto the target of his wrath. It was a thing of beauty.

My tenure has been marked by relatively little wrath; more of a nerdy interest in the political. Low key sarcasm and mockery is more my style. Maybe it’s a Gen-X thing. Probably the issue I followed the most extensively and gained me the most readership was Daylight Saving Time. Back in December 2004, I didn’t even know how to say it right, referring to “Daylight Savings Time”

This has been the basic problem with daylight savings time legislation in the past. The state splits about 50/50 as to whether to have it or not. Most folks who think about it have a fairly strong opinion one way or the other. The folks who are in favor of it are divided between Eastern time and Central time, so they have been losing the fight for decades. Now, we have one party rule and a governor who apparently thinks it’s a good idea, so maybe it has a chance.

Guess it did have a chance.

If I had to pick a favorite blog post over the years, it would probably be “Chrysler and the Indiana Bankruptcy.” It had a lot of things going for it I liked. I was jousting with some fellow bloggers; I did some reasonably thorough legal analysis; the complexity of the underlying subject matter lent itself to specious, disingenuous, and self-serving characterizations in other places; I was skeptical of Richard Mourdock before it was cool; I’ve had cause to reuse the original piece over-and-over again.

Over the years, I’ve noticed an affinity for certain broad topics – health care, education, religion, privatization, nostalgia for the “good old days,” and the nature of labor. But also a focus on certain narrower matters: daylight saving times, license plates, and the Toll Road for example. But there has been absolutely no plan. From time to time, people ask me why or how I do this. It’s simply a matter that I enjoy writing. I enjoy reading. I enjoy holding forth on topics of interest. And, so I do what I enjoy doing. When I feel like writing, I do it. When I don’t feel like writing or don’t feel like I have the time. I let it go. While I could probably have greater readership and have produced better things over the years if I had a less whimsical approach to this, I probably would have burned out years ago.

The experience has been almost entirely positive. I have met a good number of great people through this blog, and become closer to others. I hesitate to mention anyone in particular for fear of excluding the others, but just as an example, “HoosierOne” has become a dear friend of the family, welcome at family dinners, and a great favorite of my kids.

At times, this blog has felt like a public space with remarkable discourse among the readers. Certainly I have learned a great deal from others at those times. Other times, particularly when one of the dedicated trolls has taken an interest in my blog, the discourse has devolved into something less valuable. But that’s the Internet for you.

So, I’ll keep mashing away at the keyboard from time to time and hope something more or less readable comes out. Thanks for reading.

County Consortium Considers Toll Road Bid

The AP is reporting that the LaPorte County commissioners are considering an attempt to acquire the Toll Road whose operators have gone into bankruptcy. ITR has filed bankruptcy, and Gov. Daniels was incorrect when he said in 2006 that “even if they go under, we have our money and we’ll still own the toll road” and in 2008 “the leasing consortium goes bankrupt, the toll road reverts back to the state’s control.”

The Indiana Finance Authority has declined to take action to take control of the road, apparently reasoning that the road requires maintenance too extensive for the state to afford despite the doubling of the tolls that has taken place since 2005.

With respect to the seven county effort to take over the toll road:

[LaPorte] County Commissioner Da­vid Decker said having a nonprofit comprising the seven counties through which the 157-mile road passes – Lake, Porter, LaPorte, St. Joseph, Elkhart, LaGrange and Steuben – bid on the lease would be better than allowing another private firm to gain control of the road.

The consortium is engaging consultants to help them out.

Nice Shootin’ Rosetta!

I’m pretty excited about the news that the European Space Agency landed a module on a comet. Although, I’m kind of bummed that the harpoons didn’t work. Saying we harpooned a comet makes humans seem pretty badass. And right now, the situation might be precarious. With almost no gravity, the lander weighs less than a sheet of paper on earth and the comet is outgassing as it approaches the sun which apparently creates a bit of a wind. The screws on the landing legs may be securing the lander, but it will be a while before we know for sure.

But, even without the harpoons, the planning and math necessary to land a tiny spacecraft on a comet 30 million miles away is audacious.

As Phil Plait of the Bad Astronomy blog puts it:

After 10 years of travel through the depths of space, and at least that long beforehand filled with meetings, designs, construction, and a launch in 2004, the Philae spacecraft was successfully released from its Rosetta mothership. Then, seven hours later, it made history.
. . .
It’s difficult to overstate this achievement. The comet is moving on an elliptical orbit that takes it just outside the orbit of Jupiter (850 million kilometers from the Sun) and as close as 186 million km sunward (just inside the orbit of Mars). The Rosetta spacecraft had to travel for a decade through space to catch up to its target, flying past two asteroids—Lutetia and Steins—as well as getting a gravitational boost by swinging past Mars and even Earth. It was a long, cold journey, which finally brought it alongside 67P in August 2014.

Humans can ban together collectively and achieve amazing things. We forget that way too often, envisioning ourselves as reasonably competent individuals surrounded by idiots in a world that only gets worse and never better. (Never mind, as Louis CK points out, everything’s amazing.)

Collegiality in the Legal Profession

I had the opportunity to see the Indiana Supreme Court at work today as they held oral arguments at the Stewart Center. (See this prior entry for details on the case.) Afterward, there was a lunch reception with the Tippecanoe County Bar Association and the Justices in attendance. Justice Rush said a few words and, in particular, mentioned how important the collegiality of the local bar membership was in her development as a lawyer.

I could not agree more. In fact, during my interview with the law firm I ended up joining, I remember asking about how the local lawyers got along. Coming up through school, I had somehow picked up the message about how cut throat lawyers were. That was never my style, and it was a concern of mine moving from my job with the Legislative Services Agency to private practice.

I don’t know how it is in other localities. Maybe the reputation of lawyers as cut throat jerks is overblown generally. But, here locally, I have only seen a handful of lawyers who fit the bill. That sort of nonsense doesn’t get out of hand because the Tippecanoe County legal community is a small one. If you make a habit of jerking people around and treating them poorly, word is going to get around pretty fast. Suddenly your handshake agreements are going to turn into a lot more work, and your ability to get things done for your clients is going to disappear. So, there is a built in incentive to behave yourself. Beyond that, maybe it’s a Midwestern thing, but the lawyers in town have always been very easy to work with and very willing to share knowledge.

It’s a great place to be a lawyer, and I’m happy I ended up here.

Historically Low Turnout

Kyle Bell, writing in the South Bend Voice, has some charts indicating that Indiana’s voter turnout was the lowest in the nation in a midterm election that was historically low in terms of turnout.

Indiana ranked as the worst state in voter turnout. Only 1.35 million of the 4.8 million adults eligible to vote showed up to the polls on Tuesday, giving the state a horrifically low turnout rate of just 28 percent. Turnout was even lower among the voting age population at only 26.8 percent — barely 1 in 4 adults in the state.

Dave Bangert, writing for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, suggests that the Republican success still counts as a “mandate” regardless of the turnout.

Consider this comment the morning after the election on “The Diane Rehm Show,” where a lamenting listener wanted to know if it was fair to discount the mandate Republicans were claiming because of historic low turnouts.

The panel assembled on the public radio show entertained the idea, at least long enough to do the math to suggest that, given a crummy 30 percent turnout, it took just 16 percent of the voting population to set the course for the nation, for states and for local governments. (In Tippecanoe County, turnout was right at 30 percent.)

But that’s a false proposition, akin to calling a football team’s victory something less in the standings because the stadium was 30 percent full.

A win’s a win’s a win.

I agree that a win is a win. But a win isn’t necessarily a mandate. If you view the election as a sporting event and the electorate as mere spectators, the analogy holds up. Bellyaching about the turnout is like saying the winning team still isn’t very good because they’ve only played weak opponents. But you can only play the games on the schedule. So, it’s a little unfair to criticize a win under these circumstances.

However, citizens shouldn’t be spectators in their own democracy, and I think the “mandate” question suggests a more active role by the electorate — it’s a conceit that the electorate has spoken to endorse the views of the winning candidates. In this case, there has been an acquiescence. With votes from something like 16-17% of eligible citizens, the winning candidates obviously have the right to govern; but any claim that we can discern the “will of the people” from this election is disingenuous. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. The people simply have not spoken. They stayed home instead.

White Guy Zeitgeist

Nationally, the Republicans had a pretty good day and the Democrats had a pretty bad day. (The Democrats had an oddly good day — mostly personality driven — where they managed to field candidates in our local Tippecanoe County races.)

The human mind being what it is, I immediately began looking for analogous situations. To me, this one feels a lot like 1994. Being a white man, I’m sensitive to the white guy zeitgeist. (Punk bands searching for a name – feel free to use that). Maybe I’m projecting a whole lot of crap on the electorate that doesn’t belong there, but I think the white men were feeling angry and picked upon and were, therefore, more motivated to vote. I remember having that feeling in 1994 as a college student as well. Dennis Miller had a bit about how, as a white guy, he was everyone’s asshole that resonated with me at the time. Over the years, I’ve developed more of an appreciation of race and gender based privileges and an ability to not take criticisms on those subjects personally. But that kind of equanimity isn’t universal.

I’m not trying, by the way, to make the case that whatever crap white guys have been taking lately isn’t justified to a greater or lesser extent. But even justified criticism provokes a response. If I’m correct about the white guy zeitgeist, the response of feeling picked upon is to be more motivated to vote. If the rest of the electorate chooses to stay home, you have a situation where something like 16 – 17% (30% turnout times 55% of the vote) chooses the House of Representatives and 1/3 of the Senate.

If it is like 1994, then we’ll see a lot of unproductive slavering over the President — particularly in light of the strengthened filibuster the minority Republicans are giving to the Democrats & the Presidential veto — followed by a Presidential election where things get reset a little bit.