AP: Toll Road Operator in Financial Trouble

Rick Callahan, writing for the Associated Press, reports that the Indiana Toll Road is in financial trouble and that the Indiana Finance Authority has sent a 90 day letter ITR Concession Co., a subsidiary of Cintra-Macquarie, requiring the company “to show that it can meet its obligations to its lenders in compliance with the company’s lease responsibilities.”

The Toll Road operator is reportedly considering bankruptcy and selling its interest in the toll road to someone else. We are something like 11% of the way through the 75 year lease at this point.

Journal Gazette: State’s Infant Death Statistics Grim

Niki Kelly, writing for the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, has an article entitled “State’s infant death statistics grim.” She is reporting on information received by the Indiana Commission on on Improving the Status of Children.

•Indiana’s 2012 infant mortality rate is 6.7. It was only the second time in more than 100 years it has dipped below 7.

•Two-thirds of all deaths under the age of 18 are infants.

•One baby dies every 13 hours in Indiana.

Among the issues listed were premature births and low birth weight, congenital malformations, sudden infant death syndrome, and the mother’s smoking or obesity.

Sounds like a lot of the resulting education campaign is going to focus on telling women not to smoke and drink and telling them to breastfeed. None of those are bad things, but I’m not surprised that the efforts will focus on relatively cheap and morally righteous scolding rather than, say, spending a bunch of money combatting the sorts of poverty that is usually associated with poor infant health. Also, just throwing this out there: I find that breast feeding advocates can go a little overboard on the zealotry.

“If I pay a man enough to buy my car, he’ll buy my car”

Sheila Kennedy has a post discussing Indiana’s economic activity and sales tax. She references an Indiana Business Journal report indicating that low wages are bad for business and hurt the economy. Discussing Indiana’s heavy reliance on sales taxes, she also references Standard & Poor indicating that “the slowdown in wage growth for most Hoosiers means they’re not spending much more money than before. And our wealthiest residents tend to save a greater share of their income and spend it on untaxed services.”

None of this is surprising. Sales taxes are known to be more volatile than property taxes, declining as the economy declines — which is often when government expenditures are most needed by the citizens. And discretionary consumer income drives the economy because as Mr. Ford reputedly observed, “if I pay a man enough to buy my car, he’ll buy my car.”

But wages are kind of a tragedy of the commons sort of thing. As a business owner, focused on profits, you’d probably be ideally situated if you can produce your stuff with low wage labor and sell your stuff to people with high wages. But, as more businesses pursue this model, there will be fewer and fewer high wage customers. Eventually the economy stagnates.

Like the man said, “pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.” A little bit of greed makes the economic system hum. Too much greed will make the whole system seize up.

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child

I guess the news about Vikings running back Adrian Peterson hitting his kid in the name of discipline has prompted some new discussions about corporal punishment – a fancy term that helps us avoid saying “hitting kids.” I see from this Baltimore Sun editorial that the U.S. is joined only by Somalia in refusing to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child ‘in part because the treaty aimed at ending child trafficking includes language about “acting in the best interest of a child.’ That, in turn, has been interpreted by some in the U.S. Senate as anti-parental rights or anti-spanking.” But, when you have Somalia on your side, you’re in pretty stout company.

You can tell that this devotion to spanking is going to resist any number of studies showing that spanking children doesn’t help them. I think that’s at least in part because there is a deep cultural distrust of happiness in this country. Hard work and suffering are inextricably linked to probity.

Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.

Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.

Proverbs 23:13-14.

I suppose some parents think they need to hit their kid to make them behave. I don’t blame generations past who thought that’s the way things had to be. But now we have studies and experience showing that you can raise good kids without hitting them and, in fact, are more likely to raise good kids if you don’t hit them. Hitting your kids these days reflects a lack of patience and a lack of imagination.

It’s not o.k. to hit anyone else in the world except the most defenseless person who trusts you most? Seems legit.

R.I.P. Ron Melichar

I was sad to learn of the passing of former Tippecanoe County Circuit Court Judge Ron Melichar. He served as a Circuit Court Judge for three terms, from (I believe) 1984 – 2002. Before that he was a member of my firm (well before I joined!). He and our founding partner, Fred Hoffman, practiced together for quite some time.

By the time I joined the firm, Ron had been the Circuit Court judge for quite some time and I came to enjoy the trivia questions he put up on the white board in the court room. Although, to be honest, I can’t remember if it was a daily or weekly question he liked to put up. I can’t say I knew him well, but he was an enthusiast of the civil war, vacations in northern Michigan, and the Chicago Tribune.

Rest in Peace, Judge Melichar.

Any Given Sunday

Sheila Kennedy has a good post this morning on the similarities between football and religion; particularly the group dynamics involved. She mentions an anthropologist named Harvey Whitehouse who has suggested that belief in the supernatural is incidental to religion – what really matters are the rituals that foster group cohesion, creating personal bonds that people are willing to die for.

Rather than generate new content on this (hopefully) lazy Sunday (not to be confused with lazy Muncie), I’ll just cut & paste my comment:

Reminds me of an extension of the development of complex organisms in the first place. First the replicating single-cell organisms had no worries – resources were abundant. Then they replicated themselves into scarcity. But, those who started eating the others had abundance. Then it became an arms race, cells combining to develop offensive and defensive mechanisms. Those who were most successful in defending themselves while eliminating the competition replicated the most DNA.

Eventually you get to where combining the organisms means forming packs and tribes and groups. And you’re not just replicating your DNA; you’re replicating memes like religious beliefs. The meme that surrounds itself with defense mechanisms and arranges for elimination of competing memes is more likely to replicate itself.

Few people are willing to die for their football team; but to a lot of people the particulars of the football that gets played is incidental. They don’t love their team because their team is objectively “the best.” Or even because the particular players on their chosen team remain the same from year to year and they feel a personal bond with the personnel. Rather, it’s a pretty clear “us” versus “them” event, and by choosing an “us,” you get to be part of a group. I don’t think that I’m atypical in finding most sporting events more exciting if I adopt a rooting interest – even an arbitrary one.

Science Wants You To Coddle Your Teenagers To Help Them Learn

Rachel Morello, writing for State Impact Indiana, has a story about doctors recommending later school start times for middle schools and high schools to accommodate adolescents need for sleep and thereby improve their ability to learn while they’re at school. This will never catch on because life is a morality play, and anything that seems enjoyable or pleasant is immediately suspect. Can’t coddle “kids these days”(tm) you know. Misery builds fortitude which is why piling on homework and yelling at students to work harder will always be a more popular approach to education by policy makers.

A couple of health care news items

Rick Callahan, writing for the Associated Press, has an article entitled “Health-care fears loom large in gay marriage cases.” The article discusses how health care benefits can be a strong motivating force for gay partners who want recognition of their relationship as a marriage which entitles them to their partner’s health care benefits.

Yesterday, Tony Cook, writing for the Indianapolis Star had an article on Seema Verma, an individual who works as a health care consultant for the State of Indiana, designing the “Healthy Indiana Plan” while working as a vendor for that plan.

No time to comment, but it’s unfortunate that health care protection can be so variable even while it’s so important to our lives, meanwhile it’s hard to escape the suspicion that the system is corrupt, and we’re chumps enriching some privileged few who have gamed the system.

Police and Optics

Dave Bangert, writing for the Lafayette Journal & Courier, has a good column discussing the issue of military hardware in the possession of local police forces. West Lafayette has, most notably, a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle (MRAP).

The column was unsurprisingly prompted by the news and images coming out of Ferguson, MO where the available evidence so far suggests the police are behaving badly. And the images coming out of that community are full of police in riot gear with military grade hardware. But, to date, the primary damage has come from a fairly ordinary sidearm wielded by the police officer who killed Mike Brown.

The use of scary looking tools in Ferguson has done the police more harm than good. So far as I know, the actual uses of force employed by the police in Missouri have been fairly conventional. The deployment of high tech, menacing, military grade (I’m not sure exactly what this term means, but it’s been employed a lot) hardware has been mostly for show. I don’t know that the police have actually used capabilities that wouldn’t have been available to them 35 years ago.

On the other hand, the optically menacing display is feeding the narrative of jack-booted thugs run amok with its center-piece being the shooting of Mike Brown in the manner described by witnesses sympathetic to Brown and hostile to the police. If the Ferguson police have their own, less inflammatory narrative where the shooting was justified, it is being drowned out through a combination of police silence, horrible optics, and probably a healthy dose of good old fashioned being in the wrong.

As for West Lafayette and other communities, I think the relationship between the police and the communities they serve is going to be far more important than the particulars of the hardware available to the police forces. It’s critical to have a police force that is drawn from and active in the community being policed. We are fortunate to have that in Tippecanoe County. St. Louis County and Ferguson, not so much.

Indiana Issues Statewide Report on School Bullying

Rachel Morello, writing for State Impact Indiana, has a story on the State’s report on school bullying. Consisting of about 9,400 reported incidents:

Data collected by the Indiana Department of Education shows 44 percent of cases reported during the 2013-14 academic year were verbal and 21 percent physical. The rest involved written or electronic threats, as well as social relational issues.

Eric Weddle, writing for the Indianapolis Star, also had a story on the subject.

The data collected is an initial step. It’s tough to make too much of it right now, but the report creates something of a baseline. Lack of any reported bullying might be a red flag that schools are not being observant or forthcoming. Bullying is not easily defined, but the State took a stab at it:

Overt, unwanted, repeated acts or gestures, including verbal or written communications, that create an objectively hostile school environment for targeted students that place them in reasonable fear or harm or affects their mental health or school performance.

I know I had some difficulties as a kid. Being a scrawny, academically oriented boy doesn’t exactly endear you to some of the bigger, less-academically oriented boys who (more often than not) had chaotic home lives to deal with. (Bringing to mind Warren Zevon’s line, “You know, the Sheriff’s got his problems too. He will surely take them out on you.”) And, I recall being on the giving end for at least one kid who became a target among the boys because he seemed to have a much greater affinity for the girls in the class than the boys. (Years later, I sought him out on Facebook and apologized — he didn’t seem to remember me, so there is a good chance my behaving poorly was more of a minor problem for him).

What I don’t get is the hue and cry from parents who apparently think maintaining civility in schools is going to soften up their kids. You want your kid to be tough? Let him treat you the way you’d apparently have him act in school. Maybe let his siblings beat him around if that’s what you’re into. Leave it at home though. Getting my books dumped, getting my arm punched repeatedly, and being harassed for using 5 syllable words didn’t make me a better person. It turned me into a vengeful trial attorney. I think we can all agree we don’t need any more of that.