Friday, July 31, 2009

Indianapolis Making Strides With Sidewalks...Not Enough Strides Though

In the 2007 City-County Council election, I helped my friend Steve Terrell with campaign strategy and canvassing the District 22 landscape. In the end, like many Democrats that year...including Bart Peterson, we got trounced by a Republican, Council President Bob Cockrum.

Regardless, I think we fought a good fight, and we brought up many of the issues that we now see playing out across the city. One of those issues we talked about was the dire need for sidewalks for our residents because there are just too many places where people have to walk in the street to get places. Indianapolis is not a pedestrian-friendly city. In New York or Chicago, for example, when you walk a mile, you're likely doing it on sidewalks. In Indianapolis, you're taking your life in your own hands. This morning, we were reminded about how important sidewalks can be.

The Indianapolis Star reported that an infant and a man were critically injured when struck by a hit-and-run driver on the Eastside this morning near 21st and Franklin Road. As the story comes to a close, it makes the specific note that no sidewalks exist in the area of the incident.

Now, this story is not a political issue, and let me make it clear that I'm not blaming anyone but the hit-and-run driver for this. This person needs to be caught and brought to justice. In another way, though, this horrible story underlines just how much we need better sidewalks in the city. It's ludicrous that people and cars should share the same right-of-way.

When we brought the sidewalk issue up on the campaign trail, Cockrum would often cite cost as the prohibitive factor. Yes, it does cost money for sidewalks. Yes, it does cost money for public transportation. However, at Monday's City-County Council meeting, Cockrum and a handful of his Republican caucus on the council (after campaigning against tax increases) voted to raise the taxes in Mayor Greg Ballard's CIB bailout plan. Again, I'm all for the Colts being in this town and for Lucas Oil Stadium's economic benefits, but I'm also for paying for sidewalks and public transportation.

It is a big problem, and we are making strides. City planners have done a nice job putting in new policies that require sidewalks for new and updated developments, but many of our older, developed areas without sidewalks will not see new development for decades. You have that issue in Decatur Township on Mann Road and on High School Road.

Mann is a major north-south route through the township. It's supposed to be widened but 20 years down the road. Usually every time I drive down the road, I see people carrying groceries, walking to work, jogging, etc. on the shoulder of the road because there are no sidewalks. It forces you, as a driver, to go out into oncoming traffic many times just to avoid these folks. When you talk to people in the area about sidewalks, they seem to agree with you that they are necessary, but they don't want them on their property.

High School Road is very similar. Besides being the home of an elementary school, an early childhood center, a middle school and a high school just south of Kentucky Avenue, it's also a residential area and the home of a park full of baseball and softball diamonds. Needless to say, there are kids everywhere. There are no sidewalks and no development upcoming.

It's a quandry, and I'm not sure what the answer is, but that disturbing story in this morning's Star definitely would seem to drive home the need to at least look at sidewalks city-wide. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a tragedy to wake everyone up. I urge you to turn a thought or even a prayer towards the victims of that hit-and-run accident this morning.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Star Cautions Bennett To Slow Down on Reform

New Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Tony Bennett, has wasted little time putting his own stamp on the office he now sits in. His move forward fast leadership style and shaking up of the conventions has been applauded by reform now folks and has been criticized by teacher unions and school administrators. Bennett's style stands in stark contrast to that of Dr. Suellen Reed who steadily led the state's education fortunes for years through Republican and Democratic administrations.

Today, the Indianapolis Star warned Bennett in their editorial that he had better tread more carefully than he has been or lose those foot soldiers he may need to make his sweeping reforms including teachers, administrators, and even the Indiana Professional Standards Board.

Of course, things started off rocky with many of Indiana's school administrators and teachers vocally supporting Bennett's General Election opponent, Dr. Richard Wood. Bennett won the race by a little over two percent of the vote. In his defense, it was likely an anti-Mitch Daniels vote cast by the education community. Dr. Wood ran a nice campaign, but it wasn't nearly as vigorous as it could have been with him taking time off for a safari in Africa as the race heated up. More administrators were appalled when Bennett showed up to a meeting with them dressed very informally.

Then, he drops his "enforcement at all costs of the 180-days rule" at their feet with little or no discussion. Now, he's pushing for radical changes in teacher and administrator licensing again with what many are calling little or no discussion. Kind of sounds similar to another Republican politician in Indiana's leadership style...hmmm...

Of course reform in Indiana schools is sorely needed. I'm not sure bringing in content experts who can pass a teaching test or allowing business leaders to run schools without taking education-based leadership courses is the right reform, either. My father always used to say that a good teacher can teach anything, and I agree with him. It's important to know the content, yes. It's also extremely important to understand how the student mind works. It's important to understand how information is processed and how it can be best delivered. Teachers don't necessarily just teach content. Give me a professional educator anyday over a content expert or a CEO when it comes to schools.

I absolutely 100 percent agree with Superintendent Bennett when he says, as he did in a WIBC interview yesterday, that teacher licensure has been a series of rules piled on top of other rules on top of other rules and needs to be fixed from the ground up. He said our rules received a D in a national survey of the state teacher licensing rules, and I do believe it. On reform though, I think that rather than an edict from Mount Daniels, we need to work together on a plan that's best for Indiana students. It's about the students and not about how quickly we can move to reform schools.

In that same WIBC interview, Bennett chastised those that he said were criticizing him for moving too quickly. I applaud the Superintendent for wanting to move quickly to reform our schools, but it's about getting the reforms right and not about getting the reforms quickly. It's about involving all stakeholders...from parents to administrators to teachers to business leaders to politicians. After all, it's corny, but a vibrant public education system is one of the greatest things a society can provide its citizens.

We do need reform, but, I agree with the Star, we need to work as a team to get it done.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Prosecutor's Race Update and Jon Stewart

In case it was not clear in earlier blogs on the subject, it now appears that only Greg Bowes is non-committal on whether he will run against the Democratic Party slate for the office of Marion County Prosecutor.

Both Terry Curry and Butch Shroyer have pledged to bow out. You can add David Orentlicher to the list. I spoke with him yesterday evening, and David O. says he will not run against the slate. So...let's look at what we have here when it comes to Prosecutor on the D side..

Greg Bowes (not sure what he plans to do after slating if he doesn't win)
Terry Curry (pledging not to run against slate)

David Orentlicher (pledging not to run against the slate)

Lowell "Butch" Shroyer (pledging not to run against the slate)

Jon Stewart absolutely destroyed Bill Kristol a couple of nights ago on the Daily Show when it came to Sarah Palin and the topic of health care.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Bill Kristol Extended Interview
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Public Transportation Would Benefit Indy

I had a fun time in Chicago. It was great and relaxing, and I didn't even use my car. The first thing I did was park my auto at a friend's apartment, purchase a three-day pass for the CTA, and hop on a train for downtown to check in to my hotel.

I only was in one car after that, a taxi. Other than that, I was riding the CTA.

The thing about Chicago's system of transportation (and those of you familiar with it will corroborate this) is that everyone uses it. No one really drives in downtown Chicago except for tourists and taxi drivers. According to the CTA, 1.7 million people ride the system EACH DAY! There are folks in suits on the "L" and on the buses. Other folks look like they are carrying everything they own. There are folks carrying shopping bags or take-out food, and the ever-present tourists on board with souvenirs and suitcases.

The CTA connects to both major Chicago airports and has light rail "METRA" and "South Shore" rail service that runs through to outer suburbs like Gary. It's of course a system that's developed over the entire second half of the 20th Century and is now trying to update for the 21st Century with upgrades to several stations currently in progress. Each station is staffed by helpful CTA employees, and I never felt unsafe even on the high-traffic Red Line. Each of the buses and trains are driven by real people. In short, the CTA is a jobs jobs jobs magnet.

For riders, a variety of ways to ride the CTA exist in various fare packages. Visitor's passes are available at CVS locations as well as other stores in the Chicagoland area.

I think Indianapolis could benefit in more ways than just traffic relief from a public transportation system. Of course, it would be on a much smaller scale than the Windy City's system, but, even an investment in the IndyGo bus system to upgrade it into a true public transportation system for all of the metro area, would be a big step forward.

Light rail is what we really need though. I would be a frequent user of a vibrant integrated train-bus system. There's nothing for Hoosiers to be afraid of with this. Let's imagine a Westsider's interaction with the system. You can drive your car to a nice parking area (perhaps a new use for the old parking lots at the old Airport Terminal?) and ride the train down to Union Station where IndyGo buses potentially pick you up and take you to work, to shopping, to dinner, whatever.

I know IndyGo is trying to make strides forward with their Greenwood to Indy runs, and the bus system is also working on a northern express route but there's nothing out there for folks on the Eastside or Westside. The system is very non-user friendly.

As a side effect of using public transportation and ditching my car in Chicago, I know I walked more. If you know what I look like and my level of physical activity, you might be surprised to know that I walked so much that I put blisters on my feet. I left the city feeling good and refreshed as well as a sense of accomplishment that I walked a few miles each day. I definitely now want to keep it up.

In the meantime, I recommend that when you're in Chicago, try out the CTA. I enjoyed the ride!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Democrats Beware! Republicans Draw Your Legislative Districts after Next Census

To those Indiana Democrats just getting used to Democratic representation in Congress, don't get too comfortable. Because Jill Long Thompson failed to win election 2008, Governor Mitch Daniels now gets to appoint the final member of the panel to review the upcoming Congressional redistricting. That means that you may be losing your Democratic representative as early as 2012.

There are several methods the Republicans could use to draw the Congressional Districts. Of course, they are the same methods the Democrats used in 2001 during the last redistricting period.

Districts 1 and 7 are currently scored by most experts as safe for the Democrats. Districts 3, 4, 5, and 6 are currently scored as safe for the Republicans. That leaves District 2, 9 and the Bloody 8th as swing districts. They all went blue last time, but there's no guarantee that will happen after they are re-adjusted. Nothing is safe once the Republicans' map drawing software begins to draw the districts.

There is an excellent website that goes into the redistricting battle. Go to to be entertained for a while and actually educated about redistricting. I have spent hours playing and re-playing the simulations.

One more thing...State Senate Districts will be drawn by the State Senate, and the Indiana House districts will be drawn by the House. There will be a knockdown dragout battle for control of the Indiana House to see which party gets to draw those districts.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Personal Prerogative: Facebook Obsession!

Ok. I admit it. I am addicted to Facebook, and, apparently, I'm not the only one. From mayors to councillors to congresspersons, many pols are embracing social networking sites as unique ways to get in touch with their constituents and friends.

I wanted to see who on the City-County Council is embracing Facebook. So, I was bored Thursday night and started searching for Councillor names. Here's what I found.

Jose Evans-District 1, Ryan Vaughn-District 3, Michael McQuillen-District 12, Brian Mahern-District 16, Dane Mahern-District 19, Susie Day-District 20, Benjamin Hunter-District 21, Jeff Cardwell-District 23, Mike Speedy-District 24, Lincoln Plowman-District 25, and Ed Coleman-At Large. It was impossible to determine if some like Joanne Sanders were on the site. Some, like President Bob Cockrum, were clearly not online. Mayor Ballard has a page.

After wasting an hour there, I decided to move up the food chain. Of course President Obama has been utilizing Facebook. He's joined by all nine Indiana Congressmen with only Andre Carson having a discernable personal page instead of a politician page. Both Evan Bayh and Richard Lugar are represented with politician pages, and Bayh has a personal page. Lugar's page has a link to a site that says he is running for re-election in 2012.

Governor Daniels has two and a half pages including a personal page and a politician page. He also has several folks urging him to run for President. There's some anti-Mitch sentiment too, including this interesting nugget. Lieutenant Governor Skillman has a personal page, a politician page, and, apparently, a fan club.

Other state officeholders on Facebook include Richard Mourdock, Todd Rokita, and Tony Bennett (who has linked his Twitter account with his Facebook account). I won't even go into the 100 potential members of the Indiana House and the 50 potential members of the Indiana Senate. I'm sure they're on there, too. Some are among my Facebook friends.

That's a lot to chew on. I guess it just goes to show how a social networking site that started as simply a way for college students to communicate has become a powerful tool for the politician to communicate with the masses. Oh the time I waste on Facebook. It's fun though.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bayh Raises D Dander Again!!

Heading into an election year, Evan Bayh finds himself as one of the most powerful but frustrating Democratic forces in the State of Indiana.

The Democrat voted yesterday with the gun lobby while the Republican senior Senator in Indiana, Richard Lugar, voted against the gun lobby. According to the Indianapolis Star, Bayh was one of only 20 Democrats to vote to allow people to carry concealed weapons into other states. Lugar was one of two Republicans to vote against it in a measure that fell two votes short of what it needed to pass.

Bayh also has voted this year, according to the Indianapolis Star, to end the semi-automatic gun ban in Washington, D.C., bar the city's registration requirements for most guns, and drop criminal penalties for possessing an unregistered firearm in the city. He also voted to allow Amtrak passengers to carry weapons in checked luggage and voted to allow folks to carry concealed weapons into National Parks. Lugar agreed with Bayh on the Amtrack and national parks bills, but he voted to continue to allow the status quo to continue in D.C.

As far as the concealed weapons measures, I firmly agree with Lugar on the crossing state lines issue. I guess I don't see why it's such a problem to carry a permitted concealed weapon into a national park although I could totally see why you wouldn't want to do so, too. Maybe preventing terrorism? I would, however, have voted in a minute to block weapons on Amtrak trains and would have agreed with Lugar that D.C.'s rules should have continued to stand.

Of course, Washington D.C. voters have no voice in the U.S. Congress that can vote. They have a non-voting delegate in the U.S. House even though the District has more people living there than in the State of Wyoming. There is no representation in the U.S. Senate. That's another blog post altogether.

Bayh also is non-committal and sounds really really on the fence or leaning against any public option on health care. Bayh voted flatly against the President's first budget and then weeks later had the nerve to send out a letter saying how he had worked with the President in the first 100 days.

In the state where "Bayh" is a name that brings smiles to people's faces, folks tend to creep around and whisper to each other rather than talk about Evan Bayh out loud and in Democratic meetings. There's a lot of tiptoeing going on out there. As for me, I continue to support Bayh, but it doesn't mean that I'm not disappointed in some of his choices as a legislator. It doesn't mean that I can't point out where he tends to diverge from traditional Democratic values. Bayh has never been a died in the wool Northeastern Democrat, but he comes across sometimes as a master pol who is always looking for what's next rather than for what's right.

With no Republicans immediately stepping forward to give Bayh any competition in the upcoming 2010 election, you have to wonder what it's going to take to get Evan Bayh to listen to his own base. The truth is, I don't think he cares much about his base's issues because his traditional base is somewhere over towards the center right. When you get target all the independents, get left leaning AND right leaning moderates and get weak Republican opponents, you end up being one of the most successful fence straddlers in the country. Oh yeah...except for that Lugar guy.

If you go to Evan Bayh's Senate re-election site, you'll find nothing there but a place to join the Senator's e-mail list and a place to donate. Not much substance...hmmm....

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Buyer In Your Bedroom: Inside the Mind of Indiana's 4th District Congressman

A few weeks ago, Congressman Steve Buyer of Indiana's 4th District made the absurd statement that smoking lettuce amounts to the same thing as smoking cigarettes. Well, he didn't say cigarettes, but that's what he meant. The comment that Buyer made in an open session of Congress made him the target of such programs as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and became somewhat of a viral video for a while.

Of course, this was anything but the first goofy thing the Monticello Republican has said. Back in 1992, he voted for a term limits bill, but his values must have changed. He is now serving his 16th year in Congress. Buyer once advocated dropping nuclear weapons into caves in Afghanistan as an appropriate step in the War on Terror. Buyer, a veteran of the Gulf War campaign who once used his dusty combat boots as a campaign prop, scored a ZERO in the legislative ratings for several years running from the Disabled American Veterans. Buyer has accepted thousands and thousands from issue lobbies such as the pharmaceutical and tobacco industries in campaign contributions.

So, Indiana's 4th District Congressman now wants to TAX YOU FOR HAVING SEX??? In a purely odd bit of political posturing, Roll Call reports that Buyer wishes to have folks that engage in risky behavior such as unprotected sex pay higher health care premiums. Buyer said, “Someone who smokes, drinks, participates in bad conduct and behavior, unprotected sex, maybe bad things happen to them, maybe they should pay higher premiums...That is a radical thought, isn’t it?” Yes, it is radical. It would also amount to a "baby tax" since you can't have kids without having unprotected sex.

Clearly, this must be posturing, right? With Buyer, I'm not so sure. He clearly feels untouchable in his own district, and voters out in the 4th District (heavily Republican by registration) have done anything but send him a message of protest returning him with healthy margins each time he runs. In 2002, Buyer even knocked off Congressman Brian Kerns after reapportionment elimintated Kerns Congressional district in the year before. I guess the Republicans in the 4th District must like him or something.

It makes you feel bad for the folks in the 4th that want to feel the winds of change. There's really little more than a sliver of a glimmer's chance of beating Buyer in this district, but that chance will likely get even more slim. Redistricting happens in 2011 after the census, and it's very likely Buyer's district will be left alone or move into the safer column. Republicans will draw the districts with Governor Mitch Daniels having the final appointments to the board that reviews the redistricting (more to come on that later this week). We all know what a great job the GOP did in redistricting Texas. They did such a political hack job on those districts that they were eventually thrown out in court.

One can only hope that Buyer decides to resign to run for the Senate if and when Senator Lugar retires so that statewide voters can send him back to Monticello with a <> stamp on his forehead. Of course, nothing says he has to resign. I guess we'll be dealing with this guy for a long long time to come.

The Buyer Circus continues. To the national media, the quote machine's name is pronounced, "BOO-YER." We do emphasize the "BOO."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Palin Ethics Probe

From the Associated Press: Click here for story

I'm certain there's probably more to come on this one on current (soon to be ex) Governor Palin's ethics problems.

Gary Garbage Fight Trashes Mitch's "Island of Growth" Theory

Well, the trash surrounding the death of Michael Jackson has been pushed off the front page of his own hometown by...the trash.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Mayor Rudy Clay and the City Council of Gary cannot come to an agreement on a private contract for trash pickup. Thus, the trash continues to pile up on the street corners in Indy's 5th-largest city.

According to the Journal, the problem began last year when Clay decided to privatize the trash pickup to cut costs. Several sanitation workers lost their jobs, and a contract was apparently signed, sealed, and delivered without any approval by the City Council or even a bid process. Thus, a court threw out the contract earlier this spring and forced the city to refund the money. The people of Gary are mad because they now receive a bill to pickup their garbage with Mayor Clay saying that the $12 bills were cheaper than an up to $40 tax before.

Under the law, the Journal writes that Mayor Clay apparently opened the contract up for bidding and took the only bid that was submitted back to the council for approval, but the Gary City Council voted it down with six of nine votes going against the contract.

Gary's battle highlights the always-interesting state of Lake County politics, but it also underlines the always tenuous state of city and county government. In cities across the state, mayors are having to make tough choices right now because since 2004, they have seen less and less money from the state of Indiana. Governor Daniels has forced local communities to do the same with less.

While Governor Daniels has been out there touting that the state is doing fine (despite its double-digit unemployment, teetering privatization strategies and a healthy, yet artifically, created surplus) the local governments in this state have raised taxes, cut services, and been forced to make decisions like Mayor Clay made last year on trash pick-up.

You know, given his recent appearance in the police blotter, it's probably a bad idea to bring up former Lieutenant Gubernatorial candidate Dennie Oxley II, right now, but he often said that Mitch Daniels' "Island of Growth in a Sea of Despair" metaphor during the 2008 campaign was bull. He said that he didn't know what island he was on, but that it was "fantasy island."

News like this from Gary underlines just how write Oxley was.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Remembering the Lunar Landing 40 Years Later

One of the most amazing accomplishments in the history of humanity occurred 40 years ago. On July 20, 1969, two American men, Purdue's own Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, landed on the moon while astronaut Michael Collins orbited above in the command module. It was and still is an awe-inspiring moment to think about.

At the risk of misusing the word, it's somewhat ironic that the man who described this momentous occasion to so many people worldwide died nearly 40 years to the day that the Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon. In fact, on July 17, 1969, the Apollo 11 crew was well on its way to the moon having launched a day earlier. On July 17, 2009, we lost Walter Cronkite, who brought this amazing moment into the living rooms of so many around this planet.

So, I am pleased to post this video from NASA Television celebrating the 1969 Lunar Landing through the eyes of Walter Cronkite. Please enjoy!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Newton County Prosecutor Apparently Prosecuted Cases Without Active License

From the WOW file, the Indianapolis Star and the AP reported this morning the Republican J. Edward Barce, the Prosecutor of Newton County (just south of Lake County) may have been prosecuting cases without an active license!

This is a weird, weird, weird story. Of course, we have heard of cases where clearly unqualified folks were elected to public offices. Those cases have tended to involve other offices. I can't say that I remember ever seeing a prosecutor continue to practice without an active license. The article states that 91 other county prosecutors have the necessary documentation to legally practice law in Indiana.

The sad thing is, if you read the article, that it looks like Barce may actually get away with this. This still is a completely irresponsible act by someone charged with prosecuting criminals. The AP reports that Barce's act has placed the convictions in some of the cases he has prosecuted perhaps in peril.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

It's Saturday...a Time To Say Thanks

It seems like not a day goes by that someone doesn't tell me that they read this blog. It almost happened yesterday, but I got a Facebook chat message from a City-County Councillor telling me that he reads it. I know the readership is growing, and I truly appreciate all of your comments.

I just wanted to say thank you for taking time to read my opinions and taking a part in these discussions. It's truly an honor to have so many people say they read and enjoy the blog and tell me that they've made it a part of their day. So, to you reading this right now, I say a heartfelt thank you. I know I don't have all the answers or come to the same conclusions that you might. Always feel free to tell me what you are thinking.

In the coming month, I will be returning to my "day job" as a public school educator so my blogging will likely not be as frequent. I will try to do a better job this year than last year at posting everyday I possibly can. I know it's incredibly frustrating to get attached to a blog and then have it go on hiatus for months at a time. I will try not to be that blogger.

When you see me, keep telling me the good, the bad, and the ugly of what I write here or feel free to do so through other channels. I will listen. Unlike SOME (not all) other bloggers, I don't believe my opinions are the only ones that matter. I will continue to try to make it worthy of your time. Thanks again.

Your friendly neighborhood blogger,
Jon Easter

Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite 1916-2009

Just a few minutes ago, the word came down that Walter Cronkite has died at the age of 92. Cronkite served as the anchor of the CBS Evening News from 1961 until his retirement in 1981.

At his height, he was often considered the "most trusted man in America" and continued to be active doing various projects in and out of journalism through just a few years ago. Cronkite's report of John F. Kennedy's death remains one of the most seminal moments in television and American history. He also reported the lunar landing for CBS nearly 40 years ago. He was also famous for reporting on location in Vietnam and bringing he horrors of that war home to the American viewer.

Cronkite was known for his slow, measured delivery and taught himself, according to a Wikipedia article, to speak at about 40 words less per minute than the average American so that he could be understood.

An amazing journalist, commentator, and hero to all in the field, Walter Cronkite will be missed...AND THAT'S THE WAY IT IS.

And two great legends...a tribute to both of them...

NASA Risks Lives to Finish ISS; Plans to Scuttle It In 2016

Two days ago, Hoosier Dr. David Wolf boarded the space shuttle Endeavour and began a journey with six other astronauts to the International Space Station. Endeavour's current crew along with six future crews have trained, planned, and sacrificed to ride to space and help finish the ISS. Shuttle missions to finish the International Space Station will, if on schedule, end next year.

NASA's plan is then to turn elsewhere for space flight and give the Discovery, the Atlantis, and the Endeavour a well-deserved retirement. Unfortunately, the six vehicle shuttle fleet (test vehicle Enterprise was first) is missing two shuttles with the Challenger and the Columbia gone but not forgotten. Twelve United States astronauts, one Israeli astronaut, and one American teacher have died in the pursuit of space exploration in the space shuttle. While the two shuttle disasters did not have anything to do with the actual construction of the International Space Station (Challenger exploded in 1986, and Columbia had no way to dock to the ISS) the two disasters have shown how dangerous and deadly spaceflight can be. Right now, the Endeavour orbits the Earth on its way to the ISS with, what NASA calls, minor damage due to foam that fell off the external fuel tank during launch.

Yesterday, "Friend of the Blog" Christopher Jackson told me in a casual Facebook chat that he was e-mailing NASA. Interested, I asked why. He then told me that NASA is planning to de-orbit the International Space Station in 2016. That means that in just seven years, this in-space laboratory will be allowed to fall into the Earth's atmosphere and purposefully be crash landed into the Pacific Ocean. The Washington Post published an article on the plan. Read more about it here.

Why are we continuing to put our astronauts' lives in danger and spending money to finish the station if we are just going to abandon it in seven years? I'm bewildered and surprised.

I have always been a big proponent of human spaceflight. I remember growing up with pictures of the Saturn V rocket and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon posted on my walls. Human spaceflight has captured our imagination and enriched our culture for years. Consumer products such as Tang, freeze dried food, velcro, and other items have come from space exploration.

NASA now arrives at a crossroads for the program. Budget cuts and funding issues have drained its operational budget. The United States economic situation has not been good for NASA. So, my question now is that knowing we are just going to let the station die in seven years; why continue to build it? Why continue to put lives on the line to finish the space station if there's no commitment to it? We have come this far and spent this much to just let that money fall into the Pacific Ocean.

We know the ISS will not last forever, but, as the article says, it should operate without issue through the 2020's. There's not anything that we can use it for after the shuttle program is allowed to pass into the record books?

This story just makes no sense to me.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Personal Prerogative: Some Random Thoughts on Random Issues

Okay, I'm taking a little personal prerogative today to comment on a wide range of subjects. I hope you enjoy. I guess this is my "Andy Rooney" feature.

Senate Confirmation Hearings for Sonia Sotomayor
Boy, the Senate Confirmation Hearings for Judge Sotomayor are bringing out the best and the worst on the Senate Judiciary Committee. There's more grandstanding going on there than at the State Fairgrounds. It's fun to watch the dance between Sotomayor and the Senators. I am extremely proud of Senator Al Franken of Minnesota who was able to cut through the bull yesterday and get Sotomayor to admit that even though she watched Perry Mason that she could not remember the name of the only case that Perry lost. That's why it's important to have Franken in the Senate. Maybe he will live up to being the "people's proxy" after all.

On the Air...Clark Howard and Steve Simpson
I don't always agree with him, but I find Clark Howard's radio show very informative and interesting. He clearly seems to be further right than I am politically, but we need more consumer advocates these days. Furthermore, I don't know that there's a better program on WIBC than Steve Simpson's show. That was a great move by WIBC and the late Tom Severino. Steve is the perfect moderate voice of humor, news, politics, and interviews. The only negative is that there's not enough of it. It's full of ads!

Live Signs...ENOUGH!
When is this city going to crackdown on a public safety issue known as the "live sign holder." It is annoying to be within any number feet of a certain pizza parlor and see an employee dancing around holding a sign for a pizza deal. That pizza place isn't the only one taking advantage of this. I don't know how many buy one get six free live signs I saw for fireworks. I am more likely to NOT visit a place with signs like this. I understand it's a First Amendment right, but I believe there are also "time, place, and manner" ordinances the City-County Council can put on this. It is good to see people working though.

Live Traffic Barricades...ENOUGH!
Why is it legal for places to hire security guards to block traffic so that patrons can get out of parking lots? On 10th Street, there are two businesses west of Girls School Road that have hired brave security guards to walk out in the middle of the road and stop traffic so that cars can turn. I think this policy should be outlawed. One is at a T intersection with a one-way stop sign. It slows down traffic, and it causes issues. There are two neighborhoods in this area as well as several major businesses in the area that decide not to take this course of action.

I walked off without my cell phone for the first time in a long time the other day and was disappointed with how much I am dependent on the thing. How did I ever survive the first 25 years or so of my life without one and the last five or six years without a really souped up one?

L ca O l Stad m
Glad they are finally fixing the big signs on Lucas Oil Stadium. Forrest Lucas has been very patient. I would have been calling Greg Ballard, Bob Cockrum, and CIB head Bob Graham every day. It was a bad thing for the city and made us look low class. I mean, we couldn't afford the stadium, but the outsiders that visit don't have to notice that we couldn't. Not fixing the sign for months apparently was the product of a complicated trio of sign contractors. It's just another sign of the vaccum of leadership in city government because no one spoke anything on the issue until the problem is being solved. Oh well...I thought it was hilarious for a while the sign said the C LTS played there.

Well, that's all for this edition of my Personal Prerogative. If you wish to take your own Personal Prerogative, feel free to comment!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Prosecutorial Pile-up: Democrats Debate; Brizzi Silent

(Left to Right: Greg Bowes, Terry Curry, David Orentlicher NOT PICTURED: Lowell Shroyer)

The 2010 Prosecutorial Election is well under way. So far, there are two candidates officially in the pool on the Democratic side with two still sticking their toes in the deep end, and everyone is wondering what incumbent Prosecutor Carl Brizzi is thinking.

For the Democrats, the desire to retake the office is palpable. It's unbelievably been 16 years since Democrat Jeff Modisett turned the office over to Republican Scott Newman, and, with close wins over Jim Osborn and Melina Kennedy, Carl Brizzi has somehow managed to keep his job as Prosecutor.

As previously discussed, the race on the D side is a two-horser officially right now. Marion County Assessor Greg Bowes brings name recognition into the race as the only sitting elected official to be in the running. Also in the race is longtime Deputy Prosecutor and former candidate for the office Terry Curry.

Bowes insists that Prosecutor is the job he really has wanted and that his experience as an attorney qualifies him for that job. While Bowes has name recognition with the electorate, is it really good to be remembered as the guy that assesses your property taxes? Curry's longtime experience as a Deputy Prosecutor makes his qualifications readily accessible, but where Bowes does not struggle with name recognition (good or bad), Curry may. While Democrats know him, the countywide electorate...not so much.

Also participating in the discussion as outsiders right now are Lowell "Butch" Shroyer and former State Representative David Orentlicher. Butch Shroyer may best fit the "central casting" requirement for the Prosecutor job as well as anyone. He looks the part. He also has courtroom experience as a defense attorney and investigative experience as a former Beech Grove Police Detective. Orentlicher or "David O." is probably the biggest name in the pool. David O. has shown a long record of winning high profile, expensive, and difficult races. His hair-thin win over Jim Atterholt to claim the 86th District's Indiana House seat is evidence of this ability to raise funds and win close races. Shroyer faces similar problems as Curry when it comes to name recognition. Orentlicher is an attorney, but I think many still see him as a legislator rather than a Prosecutor. He talks about his work on child abuse legislation and as a criminal law professor on the campaign trail.

The four Democratic candidates met at the Warren Township Democratic Club meeting on July 9 and debated for a couple of hours. I did not attend the meeting, but folks that did have told me that all four of them did a nice job in the forum. I send big kudos to the Warren Township Democratic Club for putting this forum together.

Each Democrat has great strengths, but they also have significant weaknesses. Also what is not known is who will abide by the Marion County Democratic Party slating agreement and drop out of the race if they lose at the slating convention. Will any of these folks bypass slating or will another Democrat come out of the woodwork after slating?

If any of the candidates wish to clear up any confusion on this, please feel free to make your positions known to me, and I will publish them on this blog. Also, if you have a specific response to anything I blog about, I will publish your response unedited. I don't ever want to blindside anyone I blog about...especially if he or she is a Democrat.

Carl Brizzi

On the Republican side, Carl Brizzi sits in the chair at the moment, but he has to be number crunching to see if he wants to work really really hard and spend a lot of money to win the race for a third term. If Brizzi loses in a county that has become even more Democratic than it was when he defeated Melina Kennedy (with negative campaigning, attack ads, and two to one spending) in 2006. You know the Republicans will want a good candidate for the race and one that's ready to fight. The Marion County Prosecutor is one of the most powerful offices in the state because the individual in that chair can investigate and prosecute state officials. We all know that Mayor/Governor/State School Superintendent/Treasurer/Senate Leader/House Minority Leader/Attorney General Mitch Daniels doesn't want that.

Does Brizzi, who clearly wants to move to another office, want to risk losing to a Democrat and blemish his undefeated record? Does he have the energy to try for another term, and can he honestly answer the question, "Will you serve out your term as Prosecutor if re-elected again?" I think those are all liabilities not to mention the public perception that crime isn't getting any better in the city and the other perception that he treats it as a part time job while concentrating on his WIBC weekend radio gig. I have to admit; he's a fairly entertaining radio host.

If he doesn't run for Prosecutor again, who does from the Republican side? Does it open up an opening for someone like former Prosecutor Scott Newman or someone from the past. I don't know enough about Republican politics to know what's up, but you figure something must be. Brizzi not running might open things up for State GOP Leader Mitch Daniels to designate someone to run. Brizzi has a huge bankroll for his campaign right now, but he seems to be playing it cautious. Number crunching, I suspect.

The picture is clearing a bit, but there are still many twists and turns to come in the Prosecutorial Pile-up for 2010.

Jon Stewart on the Sotomayor Confirmation Hearings

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Jon Stewart also talked about the rise and fall of former MLB star Lenny Dykstra as a financial guru. He takes another shot at Jim Kramer in the piece. But, I also think that Lenny kind of resembles someone sitting in the Mayor's chair on the 25th Floor of the City-County Building. Again, I just think he RESEMBLES him. I'll leave any other connections to someone else.
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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In My Inbox This Morning

I am the very proud owner (or leaser) of a 2008 Chevrolet Malibu. Not only am I completely satisfied with my car and my decision to lease an American product, I have kind of had a front row seat as General Motors has been going through its metamorphosis from General Motors Corporation to General Motors Company. This morning, I received the following e-mail. Nothing particularly groundbreaking or political. I just thought it was interesting.

"Dear Jon Easter,

Today we are pleased to announce there is a new GM. Please take note that General Motors Corporation, Saturn LLC, and Saturn Distribution Corporation sold a substantial amount of their assets to a new legal entity, General Motors Company ("GM" or "New GM"). This email is being sent by New GM on behalf of both General Motors Corporation and New GM.

We want to keep you informed about updates that are relevant to you. General Motors Corporation, Saturn LLC, and Saturn Distribution Corporation are transferring your personal information (e.g., your contact information and vehicle purchase history) to General Motors Company. General Motors Company has substantially the same privacy policies in place as General Motors Corporation had. If you have already opted out of receiving marketing messages from General Motors Corporation, New GM will honor your decision. If you would like to change your preferences, visit To review the New GM Privacy Statement, click here.

We would like to remind you that dealers of GM vehicles will continue to service GM vehicles and honor GM vehicle warranties."

Inmate Population Growing...Money for DOC is Not! Mitch's solution...SHUFFLE THE DECK CHAIRS that headline is a little sensational, but the flatlining (net budget cut) of the Department of Correction's budget raises concerns when one of our state's maximum security prisons has been breached by three inmates. Two of them remain on the lam after Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's security detail captured one of the escapees near the Mayor's Michigan summer home. They escaped this past weekend from the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.

Last week, we also learned that Governor Daniels and the state want to play prison musical cells with inmates by moving them around to different facilities (as if that will solve the prison bed shortage crisis). Eastside neighborhood activists like "Friend of the Blog" Zach Adamson are fighting this move by the state which would move out women from the Indiana Women's Prison on Randolph Street and replace them with a male re-entry program at that facility. The fight is chronicled in this article from the Indy Star. The decision had been made to make the changes, and none of the neighborhood groups were apparently contacted about the decision.

All of is mess is definitely scary in the light of the prison break in Michigan City. It also again shows why it's so difficult to understand DOC budget flatline (net cut). Don't forget that the prison riot at the privately-run medium to minimum security New Castle Correctional Facility happened under this Administration's watch.

The problem is our state's prisons are at 99 percent capacity. You wonder if something else other than moving people around is perhaps the right answer. Indiana has somewhere near 27,000 inmates according to the Columbus Republic, and the paper reports that number increases by four percent each year. If that number is correct, there will be over 1,075 more incarcerated individuals entering the system.

Yet, state officials have pushed for budget flatlining (cuts) in the DOC. It kind of makes sense why folks on the Eastside like Zach Adamson are a little skeptical about Mitch Daniels' DOC's plan to move inmates around. When is it a rainy day so we can dip into that $1 billion surplus?

The shuffle of inmates will also shuffle the staff of the facilities moving jobs...for example...from Brownsburg to MADISON! Perhaps another way to cut costs?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Ballard Strikes Back?!??!!!!???

Friend of the blog Abdul-Hakim Shabazz (the host of Abdul in the Morning on 1430) and a pretty reasonable guy most of the time has written on his blog, Indiana Barrister, that all may not be lost for Greg Ballard.

The blog post says that Ballard's in no mood to step aside and that polling has been done that shows several positive indicators for the Mayor. I'm not sure where the polling came from, Abdul doesn't say.

One of the most surprising aspects of the polling, as Abdul reproduces it (having said he has not seen the hard data), shows that Ballard would likely win an election today by a similar margin as he won in 2007. It also shows, according to Abdul, that the Mayor is doing well on crime and that voters polled feel that Ballard is competent and a "good man but doesn't connect with them emotionally."

This poll flies in the face of what has been written about Ballard and the 2011 Mayoral race in Republican and Democratic circles. The fact that no exact polling source is cited makes me raise an eyebrow about the soundness of the polling data. If this is, for example, an internal Ballard poll, he may be suffering from the "don't tell me no bad news" syndrome. Abdul also writes that Ballard scores well with Republicans and moderate Democrats. I find that last portion hard to believe.

I would love to see the hard data, and I hope Abdul will publish it when he gets ahold of it. I am extremely shocked by these numbers, and I truly think there must be some problem in the data or the mechanism of the poll. For example, what questions were asked? How were they asked? What was the sample size, and who was interviewed? I think that this poll might be a shot across the bow of fellow Republicans that might be thinking about running for Mayor against Ballard in the primary.

No matter if the poll was slanted or stilted, Democrats too need to realize that winning an election over a well-funded incumbent will be difficult. I think sometimes we on the left side of the ledger just think that the office is ours for the taking. I've been guilty of that. Ballard, I believe, still scores "nice guy" points with the crowd, and perhaps folks are more willing to forgive him for any mistakes because of his political neophyte status. The Democrats will also likely have a protracted primary season with some candidates not deciding to follow the party line and bypassing slating. One way or another, it looks like 2011 will not be your normal municipal election.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Christian Group Takes Aim At Bruno

Should we be shocked? A "pro-family" Christian group is calling for Sacha Baron Cohen's latest flick Bruno (about an over-the-top gay fashionista and his goofy travels in the U.S.) to be banned. Read the full story here.

Cohen's last turn as one of his characters, Borat, also raised some right wing eyebrows. Still, I have to wonder if Bruno will be as enlightening as Borat was. I thought...while absolutely hilarious...Borat served as an interesting social commentary from the perspective of a far far outsider to our country. It was a movie, of course, but certainly some of it played out as a documentary pulling out some of the prejudices from an unsuspecting group of regular people who actually believed Baron Cohen was the strange journalist from Eastern Europe.

I have yet to see the offending movie (though I plan to do so later today), but the article does bring up a very very good point. The movie is rated "R" which means "Restricted" or no children under 17 admitted without an adult. Perhaps the movie should be "NC-17" or worse, I don't know...I have yet to see it, and I bet many in the "pro-family" group have yet to see it, too. Baron Cohen probably will see an increase in his bottom line as curious moviegoers turn out to see a movie that, no doubt, will probably be banned somewhere in the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

I did see the movie, and it's pretty uncomfortable in parts even for me. I felt sorry for a certain 2008 Presidential candidate for a while and then...I didn''ll just have to see it. If you liked Borat, you'll probably like Bruno. The movies are very similar in plot just with different characters.

Some of the "pro-family" "Christian" groups that are protesting the movie are exactly the folks that the movie is spotlighting. There's some biting social commentary buried in all the sexual humor and uncomfortable moments. I laughed a lot, but I also left the theatre thinking that the movie was nowhere near as funny or important as Borat was.

Bottom line on the movie, if you are the kind of person that finds sexual humor uncomfortable or are easily offended, go see Transformers again.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Young Republicans Elect Audra Shay Chair...Yes...that Audra Shay

In case you didn't notice the smell of elephant in town, Young Republican National Federation has had its national convention here over the past few days. According to the Daily Kos, they have elected Audra Shay as Chair of the organization. The Huffington Post has also documented the controversy here.

Shay drew fire over some her responses to friends' Facebook posts on her profile. If you want to read what they were, click on the links above. I'd rather not repeat them here on this blog.

Bottom line is that the Young Republicans National Federation apparently doesn't have a problem with someone who might be Anti-Muslim, Anti-gay, or Anti-African American. I don't know Ms. Shay personally, but Shay's election has already started a Facebook Group in protest of her election.

You wonder, too, how a 38-year old might be still considered a "Young Republican" in this day and age. I believe 35 years old is the cutoff for Young Democrats. At this rate, John McCain may still be eligible.

Old Airport Terminal Area Being Taken Over...BY WEEDS

The Old Airport Terminal is starting to show its now-abandoned status. As I drove by it last Thursday, I noticed the old parking lots adjacent to the old terminal starting to be overtaken by weeds. It's a sad end to the former gateway to Indianapolis.

I've heard from various sources that the office building portion of the old terminal continues to be in use, and someone mentioned to me that some of the fixtures were being taken out of the terminal portion. The miles of asphalt adjacent that used to house short and long term parking as well as all the rental car agencies sits empty and is being allowed to deteriorate.

I would say that Mayor Greg Ballard should urge the Airport Authority to redevelop the area, but we know that would make him show leadership. We wouldn't want to make Hizzoner wrinkle his brow over this one. Someone should be standing up and urging the Airport Authority to look at the situation, and maybe they are. Perhaps it's time to "Call 6 For Help" or give channels 8, 13, and 59 a call.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Obama Photo Causes Stir

That photo is causing some interesting conversation at least on morning programming. It shows President Obama and French President Sarkozy apparently checking out the lady in the pink dress. Apparently, the Obama "check out" was the product of a bad photo angle. Obama, in the video, appears to be watching the step and preparing to turn around to help another young lady down the stairs.

Whatever happened, the picture of President 44 is better than this one of President 43.

See the discussion on GMA here.

Jose Evans Responds To Comments on Mayoral Marathon Post

After I contacted Jose Evans and made him aware of the poster "Arnie" and his comment that Evans plans to run for Mayor with his own slate of candidates to go around the Democratic Party slating process, Evans responded by e-mail to my offer to respond to Arnie's claims.

He wrote, "Everything is going according to my plan. They know I'm here!"

Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Motor Voter Suit Turns To Indiana

The Associated Press reports that advocacy groups say Indiana is violating federal law requiring voter registration assistance geared towards low income voters. What the AP calls a "coalition of advocacy groups" have filed a lawsuit against the state alleging Indiana is not giving enough voter registration assistance to low income voters at public assistance offices and, thus, is violating the "motor voter" law. Indiana is one of several states the groups such as "Demos" are suing. Another suit is to be filed in New Mexico as well.

The AP writes Demos numbers report that in the first two years "motor voter" legislation, 2.6 million voters were registered through public assistance offices, but that those numbers have dropped considerably since 1996. In some states, it's down as much as 90 percent.

The "motor voter" law, signed into law by Bill Clinton, not only allowed registration through state-run motor vehicle offices but also state-run public assistance offices as well. Brenda Wright of Demos told the AP that two to three million new voters could be registered annually if the law was followed completely. The groups settled with the State of Missouri in earlier suits.

It should come as no surprise that Indiana would violate these laws. Of course nothing is proven yet in court, but this is, after all, the state that passed one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation. That law has stood up thus far in court, but it is very clear that in practice it does potentially disenfranchise voters. Elderly voters that don't drive had to suddenly go back to the DMV to register for an ID card or a drivers license...just to vote. All of this when the actual proof and case load for voter fraud is exceedingly low. According to a Brennan Center for Justice study, there is more of a chance of a person getting struck by lightning than actually committing voter fraud by impersonating another person.

The two issues are linked. They both serve to disenfranchise voters who typically vote Democratic. If they do get registered, then, the Voter ID law makes it even tougher for these folks to vote. This has long been a ploy of the Republicans. If you still don't believe me, study the Republican-led Florida voter purge system in advance of the 2000 Election.

It's sad because it always seems like the Democrats want to make it easier for people to vote while the Republicans want to make it tougher.

Mayoral Marathon Follow-up

I have contacted Woody Myers and Jose Evans to get their reactions to some comments filed on my Mayoral Marathon post yesterday. One anonymous poster makes some accusations about Myers residency, and another poster made a claim that Jose Evans plans to run for Mayor with his own slate of candidates. If the potential candidates respond, I will post their responses as blog posts.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mayoral Marathon

When Barack Obama announced he was running for President, it was February of 2007. Many moons later, and after a few jokes from the candidate that some children that were born early in the Presidential race were walking, talking, and on solid foods, Obama's marathon ended with him crossing the finish line first after a brutal primary season and a nasty general election campaign. The race to become the next Indianapolis Mayor is beginning to resemble the long slog that took place in '08. It's heating up...ON BOTH SIDES OF THE AISLE.

In the Democratic corner, officially unannounced but serious candidates Melina Kennedy and Joe Hogsett are making the rounds. Hogsett and Kennedy are very cordial towards one another and are definitely the most visible candidates dancing around to various Democratic club functions and activities all across the city. Others seem to be targeting more regionally. Those less visible folks include former State Party Chair Kip Tew, former Congressional candidate Woody Myers, City County Councillor Jose Evans, and a few others I'm sure I'm missing.

Of the group, Hogsett and Kennedy have made the best early effort. They have been seen at the Gaslight Inn Democratic luncheons on Mondays at noon. They've also been spotted on Indy's Southside where the other candidates have been much less visible. The other candidates may have some moolah, but Hogsett and Kennedy seem to know that boot leather helps win campaigns among Southside Dems. They are a rather independent bunch that has felt underappreciated and forgotten at times. Don't be surprised if this early work doesn't pay off in the end.

On the Republican side, Greg Ballard sits in the chair on the 25th floor of the City-County Building, but bloggers and party wonks alike...even on the Republican side...are wondering how long the man can take the rigors of the job. Ballard does not have seemingly any political gifts. While that may have charmed folks in 2007, it seems like that it won't work again in 2011. Thus, many have concluded, including fellow blogger Terry Burns over at the Indianapolis Times that Ballard may be hankering to pull a "Palin" and turn the city over to a true leader. I honestly don't see the man as a quitter. I don't think he will run again. He didn't seem to like to campaign in 2007 and dumb-lucked his way into a, for the Democrats, shark-infested political climate. He was wearing the shark repellent. Now, it appears there dissention in his own ranks.

Republican Mark Miles, as the Indianapolis Times pointed out, seems to be making a move up the pile, and who knows what part-time Prosecutor, part-time radio host, Carl Brizzi is doing amassing a new campaign war chest. Brizzi has to be doing the numbers to see if a win in 2010 is possible as Prosecutor or if he might want to step out and spend time shoring up support for a Mayoral run. If he does step out, does that serve as a way for a Scott Newman to re-enter the fray as Prosecutor? The Republican Party's house is not nearly in order either, and the situation is entirely different than the Democratic side.

Whatever happens it makes for great political theatre. Watching the Democrats maneuver for an office that, by registration numbers, should be a Democratic office and watching the Republicans tiptoe around the big elephant in the room called Greg Ballard (who has much more campaign money already amassed than he dreamed about during his 2007 run) and his lumbering and languishing tenure as Mayor. Who knows what third party shenanigans might come out of the woodwork? Ed Coleman, we're talking to you. It makes for great newspaper copy, and it makes the bloggers happy, too...AND WE'RE JUST GETTING STARTED!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Franken To Sit in Sotomayor Hearings

New Senator Al Franken will be a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee when it takes up Confirmation Hearings on President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Sonya Sotomayor.

The newly-minted Minnesota Senator said to the Associated Press that he is not a lawyer, but he hopes to serve as the "People's proxy" on the Judiciary Committee. The Senate votes on the confirmation, but the Judiciary Committee is the first hurdle for the somewhat controversial (at least amongst the far right) Sotomayor.

The author of books such as Lies and the Lying Liars That Tell Them and Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot was sworn in today and officially becomes the Democrats' 60th seat in the Senate. Of course, this is extremely important because no Republican can theoretically filibuster any issue if all the Senate Democrats are healthy, in the chambers, and vote as a block. There are plenty of questions in that regard as both Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts have been ill and are battling health ailments.

Franken should definitely make things more interesting in the Senate. Many of the pundits are saying that he should tone down his act and be boring. I, on the other hand, believe that Franken should use his acerbic wit where necessary. This man, after all, took the arsenal of the right, Norm Coleman, and Fox News stars such as Bill O'Reilly. The people of Minnesota elected Al Franken to be their Senator. Yes, that Al Franken...famous for his "one man band" reporting on SNL...Stuart Smalley, too.

While he should not make the Senate a Saturday Night Live skit, I do believe that he should not be afraid to use his gift for comedy to point out demagoguery which happens all the time in the Senate. If you want to be the "People's Proxy" as you say you do, Al, I urge you to use all your tools.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Obama and the Gay Community

President Obama called GLBT leaders to the White House on June 29 to give them some more lip service and somehow show to them that he has their interests at heart despite actions of his office seemingly to the contrary. This blogger finds himself extremely disappointed with the pace of change in this regard.

Yes, I know that Obama has been dealing with about 100,000 problems and issues since he sat his butt down in the Oval Office chair for the first time on January 20. That said, he has relatively easily dispatched with a few other campaign promises like withdrawing troops from Iraq, bolstering military support in Afghanistan, attempting to shut down Guantanamo Bay's prison camp, and other items on his list.

The President has shied away from things like the Defense of Marriage Act and the Clinton-era "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. In fact, he rankled the ire of the GLBT community when his Justice Department actually defended both DOMA and "Don't Ask Don't Tell" in a couple of different court cases.

So, I guess the GLBT community is wondering, when is its change going to come? When will be a better time to deal with these two morally wrong policies other than now?

What President Obama seems to know is that his show is the only show in town when it comes to pushing GLBT issues. Certainly, no national Republican candidate will ever be allowed to survive a primary season with pro-GLBT stances. No third party candidate at this point has shown any traction in this area and, in fact, tend to go the other way on many of these same issues.

Hearing criticism, Obama called this meeting at the White House and threw out a wimpy bone to the community by extending some...not all...benefits to same-sex federal employees. That policy expires the day he leaves the Oval Office.

I realize the pace of change is slow and this does not compare favorably with the fight for Civil Rights that came to a denouement with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Race is not a concern here, but discrimination and prejudice both are. Many GLBT activists have been out there and advocating for these rights since well before the Stonewall Riots in 1969.

So, President Obama, with a "filibuster proof" majority in the Senate and a huge majority in the House, isn't it time to stand up for what is right in America. It's time to push for the repeal of DOMA, and it's time to rip up that Executive Order that punishes our fighting men and women in the military for wanting to be able to be who they are inside. Mr. President, the time to act is now, and the ball is in your court.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Palin Shocker

Leave it to the Wasilla Winker to bring me back from my self-imposed holiday hiatus.

On news dump day, a day before a holiday weekend, Governor Sarah Palin decided to announce her resignation from her position as Governor of Alaska. As in so many political decisions she's made before, it makes me scratch my head. Palin bales out pretty much just past midway through her term as Governor. Was it her own personal ambition that has triggered this decision or is there something more sinister at work?

Palin has little to show for her time in office. Of course, with all due respect to Alaska, what is there really to do up there? Her approval ratings have plummeted from a high in the 80's during her first two years in office to the 50's. That is largely due to some controveries that arose as well as the uneven preformance as John McCain's running mate. She went from being the GOP-proclaimed "most popular Governor in America" to being the butt of jokes and SNL impersonations.

That's beside the point, if she does plan to run for President in 2012, what does she plan to run on now? Other than a controversial gas pipeline bill she signed, the Governor has done very very little. Does she really think the United States is going to elect a candidate whose main qualification for the job is that she was the Mayor of Wasilla and had a little over half term as Governor of the country's smallest (by population) state?

Yes, I know being Governor of Alaska is probably complicated in its own way. Alaska is rich in resources, but, according to an article in Vanity Fair by Todd S. Pundrum, Alaska is rich in political corruption. Its capital, Juneau, is not accessible from the rest of the state unless you boat or fly in. Palin has not been untouched by corruption complaints and controversies.

I just can't put my finger on any rational reason why Palin would resign. This HAS to spark interest in her dealings as Governor of Alaska. Is there some obscure or seemingly mundane detail buried in some file somewhere that will make things more clear? I'm sure reporters across the nation will be digging in deep to see if they can prove something somewhere.

All this does underline that Sarah Palin is indeed a mysterious and intriguing person. Only a person with a lot of guts would stand up and announce her resignation the day before the nation's birthday in perhaps an attempt to upstage our July 4th celebration with talk of Palin politics.

I guess time will tell why Palin decided to resign. We know from her past history that she will likely not do much talking to the media. Maybe she'll go on David Letterman now.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

July 4th Reflections (Blogger Going On Hiatus This Weekend)

"[P]atriotism... is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime." ~Adlai Stevenson

As we approach our country's 233rd birthday, I have some thoughts about America and being an American.

Regardless of your politics, July 4th is not a political holiday. It's an American holiday. This time of year, no party has a corner on the "patriot" market. In the past, some people have tried to portray themselves as ultra-patriotic because they wave the flag or believe in certain tenets. I believe the definition of patriot is much broader and certainly no pithy blog post can describe it.

It just feels good to be an American even though we have so many problems and so many things to solve. We need a better health care option for Americans, for example. This time of year, though, that political fight takes a back seat. We honor those men that had the courage to stand up against an overwhelming foe. They risked their lives to declare independence from the British crown and to form this nation. It was a nation they birthed, but it has grown in so many different ways and directions.

If those original signers could be alive today, what would they think of this double digital, web-obsessed, celebrity-hounding, materialistic society the U.S. has become? I think they would be proud. We are all those things. Out of those things, however, the United States has a great capacity for doing good in this world. Think how different the world would be today if those early signers of the Declaration of Independence had not stood up and said, in one voice, "ENOUGH!"

There are certainly aspects of the world that would be different...and, honestly, not necessarily for the better. On the whole though, we do live in a country that, I believe, has done far more good for this world than bad. I suppose I could be wrong, and it's difficult to quantify. I can't believe how far this country has come in so many ways.

We still have far to go, but, when you look at it, it was a miracle that we got this far. The Revolutionary War was won because we outlasted the British will more than anything. The Civil War and slavery nearly tore the country apart. Our fighting men and fighting women have bravely battled and continue to battle in foreign lands for all of us. The long walk uphill for civil rights continues in so many ways. Still, let's hope the miles ahead outnumber the miles behind.

What changes will we see in our lifetimes? Begin measuring it on July 4th. Last July 4th, I didn't have this blog. I didn't have this computer, and I still had my father. Change is constant and fast over time, but our creator...whomever you believe that was...allows us to slowly feel the changes.

Those changes in all our lives have brought us to the 233rd birthday of this great country. Happy Independence Day! Happy Birthday America! It's been an amazing ride, and we're just getting started.