Archive for November, 2006

BigBoxophobes

November 30, 2006

What is it with this insane hatred of Wal-Mart? San Diego is the latest city going off the deep end:

Supporters of the ban argued that Wal-Mart puts smaller competitors out of business, pays workers poorly, and contributes to traffic congestion and pollution. Opponents said the mega-retailer provides jobs and low prices and that a ban would limit consumer choice.

Never mind the message the city council members are sending to Wal-Mart. They are also telling residents where they may or may not shop.

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Private lives

November 30, 2006

How much of a private life should a public figure be allowed to have? I ask not because I think I have a better answer than everybody else but because it’s an important question that’s more urgent to discuss than it ever was. By now, most of you probably know the story of Allen County Republican Chairman Steve Shine (here are The News-Sentinel version and The Journal Gazette one). About all we know for sure, based on the published accounts, is that Shine and his wife had an argument or a confrontation (depending on how strongly you want to word it), police were called, and police said Shine tried to keep his wife from leaving by yanking the key out of the car but ended up breaking it off in the ignition.

That’s not much of a story, and all we can even infer from it is that there is some tension in that household and some anger that has to be worked through. If Shine were not a public figure, such a story would have never seen the light of day. Even stories involving actual domestic battery aren’t usually considered newsworthy — there are, sadly, just too many of them. But Shine is a public figure, so now his family has to work out a private matter with the added burden of public scrutiny.

Does this go too far in subjecting a public figures to standards most people don’t have to face? Sometimes the answer is easy. A police chief cited for DUI is justifiable Page 1 news, even though most DUIs don’t even make the paper. But a school principal doesn’t deserve to be on the evening news for a too-tall-grass citation any more than anybody else does. Sometimes, as in this case, we just have to let our instincts tell us if disclosure goes too far. My instinct gives me a creepy feeling in such cases, as it did for this story. I think it’s a story the press did partly just because it could and partly because it feared a charge of cover-up if it did not report it.

I hope others who are trying to ask themselves the question do it honestly, without regard to their political affiliation and no matter what they might personally think of Shine. Whatever standards are set for him have to hold for all other public figures, too. And if we leave people in the spotlight no zone of privacy, we should not be terribly surprised if fewer and fewer people seek the scrutiny that comes with public service.

If you’ve followed this story in the blogosphere, you will have noticed a certain lack of restraint in the coverage and, in some cases, undisguised glee at Shine’s unwanted publicity. This is the future. The mainstream media, for all their faults and despite making the wrong call sometimes, at least agonize over where the line should be drawn. We are in an era where no holds are barred. What can be out there will get out there. Everyone should at least think about this a little. Next time around, it might be your privacy on the line.

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The crusade marches on

November 30, 2006

The City Council proposes two ordinances — one that would "opt out" of the county’s tough new anti-smoking ordinance. That would give council members time to discuss the possibility of introducing the second ordinance, which would be even tougher than the county’s ban, which was tougher than the city’s current ban. The proposal does not require a public hearing, we are told, but there will probably be one as a "courtesy." How kind our public servants are to us.

Everyone seems to want to slow down to give business owners time to deal with whatever new reality the council concocts:

There’s something inherently unfair about making restaurants make a decision about their future in 30 days. We should opt out so we don’t change anything for the time being,” said Sam Talarico Jr., R-at-large.

[. . .]

“I want to hear from the small mom-and-pop bars and taverns,” Talarico said.

The only options being considered are staying with the city’s current ban, adopting the county’s ban or going even further than the county; in other words: tough, tougher or toughest. If the council were all that concerned about business, you’d think the option of returning to the pre-ban days in which businesses made their own decisions would at least be mentioned. But people who are on a holy crusade never look back.

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And a dead duck, too

November 29, 2006

I knew if I kept looking at the polls, there would finally be some good news:

“I think his goose is cooked,” John Norton, a retired political science professor at Pennsylvania’s Lebanon Valley College, said of Kerry. “He wasn’t in a strong place to begin with and then his reaction to his most recent gaffe nailed the coffin.”

I know polls two years out aren’t worth much. Still makes me feel good. Adieu, John, adieu.

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The real rate

November 29, 2006

Maybe there’s some truth to the complaints of education officials that those who changed the graduation-rate formula did so to make public schools look bad. It’s much easier to push a school-choice agenda if high schools are graduating only about 75 percent, as the new calculation says, rather than 90 percent, as the old one did. But couldn’t it also be said that, using the old formula, educators were artificially inflating the graduation rate to make themselves look better than they deserved to? The response of the public-education establishment isn’t encouraging. Here’s someone from a Grant County school system, being about as defensive as officials in every other part of the state:

Dee Ballinger, director of guidance at Eastbrook High School, said although the new formula will help schools track students, it will be a very trying effort for school systems.

"There are a lot of issues that are hard for us to swallow," he said. "We want to explain to people why it is different. It is not that we have fewer people graduating. It’s the calculation."

Both ways of calculating the graduation rate are arbitrary, and you could make good arguments for either one. It depends on whether you want to count include things such as GED takers and those who take longer than four years in the success column, and whether you assume that kids who leave for a new school system graduate in four years. The important thing is to have a system everyone understands. It would also be helpful if the formula were the same, or close to the same, in every state so we could compare our rate to that of others. Whatever the real non-graduation rate is, whether it is 10 percent or 25 percent or something in between, it represents kids who aren’t completing the most basic step they will need in the future. Instead of mounting a PR campaign to tell us their side of the story, educators need to share their ideas for reaching more of those kids.

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Woman’s work

November 29, 2006

Women talk more than men. Use more words. Says so here. Big surprise.

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Real harm

November 29, 2006

Many studies have demonstrated a link between violent media, such as video games, and aggressive behavior in children. What if science can show there’s a real, longterm effect on the chemistry of the brain, as a study by Indiana University hints at?

Teens who play violent video games show increased activity in areas of the brain linked to emotional arousal and decreased responses in regions that govern self-control, a study released on Tuesday found.

The study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to record tiny metabolic changes in brain activity in 44 adolescents who were asked to perform a series of tasks after playing either a violent or nonviolent video game for 30 minutes.

Attempts to forbid the sale of violent video games to children have failed in several states. If it could be shown that they cause actual harm, would that change the nature of the debate? Or would it still be a First Amendment issue? Most law dealing with juveniles (sexual-consent provisions, for example) hold that children don’t have the same ability as adults to make informed judgments. Even if I know violent video games will change my brain chemistry, maybe I want to play them anyway. But would letting the kids play with them fall into the same category as letting them drink? Just wondering.

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A woman of the female persuasion

November 29, 2006

From a letter to the editor in the Indianapolis Star: "Roger W. Schmenner, associate dean of the Kelley School of Business Indianapolis, wrote (My View, Nov. 6) that small and mid-sized businesses are "a driving force" in today’s economy. I’d like to add that women-owned businesses are the leaders of that driving force." Women-owned? It’s not just that a copy editor didn’t catch a dunderheaded contributor’s mistake — the Star put women-owned in the headline, too. Am I the last person on the stinking planet who still uses "man" and "woman" as nouns and switches to "male" and "female" for the adjectival form? Would you say man-owned? Well, would you, huh, huh?

I feel much better now.

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Don’t worry, bee happy

November 29, 2006

Just when I think I’m in danger of becoming a total cynic, along comes a story that renews my faith in America and the simple virtues that made us great. Who among you hasn’t yearned for the days when wide-eyed beauties would step before the microphone, adjust their crowns and assure us earnestly that they believed in world peace and ending hunger? Forget those empty-headed sluts in Playboy who said they valued sincerity and long walks on the beach? These were real American girls. Those days aren’t gone completely, friends. Consider the case of Marisa Yochum, a senior at DePauw University, who has just been named Honey Princess by the Indiana State Beekeepers Association. Is that honor going to her head? Certainly not:

"I wrote about how using honey over sugar as a sweetener can make an impact on global warming," Yochum tells the Plymouth Pilot News in a story detailing her award. The newspaper’s Joseph Raymond writes that Yochum described how "processing sugar takes several steps using chemicals and contributes to global warming by producing greenhouse gases. Using honey in place of sugar can help reduce these emissions, according to Marisa," he reports.

Of course we’re also exploiting bees for our own selfish ends, but nothing’s perfect.

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Everybody’s at fault

November 28, 2006

In the great Gary gun case of 1999, by which the city attempts to hold manufacturers and sellers liable for the misuse of weapons, I think the best opinion was rendered by Lake Superior Court Judge James Richards, who dismissed the Gary case in 2001, saying the city "cannot fault businesses beyond its jurisdiction for the crimes committed by others." But a judge has resuscitated the case, ruling that a federal law aimed at shielding the manufacturers and dealers from liability is unconstitutional. There are a lot of issues at stake, including whether such a law can be made retroactive and whether an entire business enterprise can be shielded from the kind of lawsuits everybody else must face.

But the bedrock issue seems pretty easy to grasp: Either people are responsible for their actions, or they aren’t. Certainly, as Gary alleges, "manufacturers and gun dealers sold handguns they knew would end up in the hands of criminals." Car makers and dealers also know some of their vehicles will end up in the hands of people who drive them with reckless abandon, and makers and sellers of alcohol know some of it will be consumed by spouse beaters. Anything can be misused, and if we make liability or such misuse a standard legal principle, the list of lawsuits will get very long, and the number of people willing to manufacture and provide anything will get very small.

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Payback

November 28, 2006

I don’t care much one way or the other about the woman who put the peace-sign Christmas wreath on her house. I suspect we might differ on politics, but that’s what makes life interesting. What’s more than a little annoying is the attempted smackdown by her howeowners association:

The association in this 200-home subdivision 270 miles southwest of Denver has sent a letter to her saying that residents were offended by the sign and the board "will not allow signs, flags etc. that can be considered divisive."

The subdivision’s rules say no signs, billboards or advertising are permitted without the consent of the architectural control committee.

These associations and their "control committees" have been quasi-governments full of fussy little bullies who have probably been looking for payback since the second grade.

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Give piece a chance

November 28, 2006

Dang. Who knew worldwide peace was so easy?

Yoko Ono is calling for the anniversary of the death of her husband, John Lennon, to become a day of worldwide healing.

In a full-page advertisement appearing in Sunday editions of The New York Times, Ono urges readers to mark the anniversary by apologizing to those who have suffered because of violence and war.

“Every year, let’s make December 8th the day to ask for forgiveness from those who suffered the insufferable,” writes the former Beatle’s widow, who signs the letter Yoko Ono Lennon.

A small point, however. Do I have to apologize only to those I may have personally caused to suffer because of violence and war, my little piece of the insufferable? Or must I apologize to all of them? Or do we divvy the victims up somehow?

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John Doe vs. the rest of us

November 28, 2006

If a plaintiff is already required to have his name and address on a sex-offendry registry, available to all Hoosiers, including in an online data base, how much more potential harm can for him can there be in not letting him sue the state anonymously?

On Wednesday, the Indiana Court of Appeals will consider whether the Marion County man, convicted of child exploitation and possession of child pornography, can remain anonymous in pursuing his suit or, as Plainfield maintains, must reveal his identity in making his allegations in court.
The plaintiff sued the Hendricks County town over a 2002 ordinance banning people on the registry from public parks and recreational areas. Saying the prohibition violates the U.S. Constitution, the offender claims disclosing his name would put him and his young son at risk of harm from vengeful citizens.

He was convicted of child exploitation and possession of child pornography, and we’re supposed to sympathize with his contention that the state might put his young son at risk? Neither does Ken Falk, Ken Falk, legal director of the ACLU of Indiana, which is representing the plaintiff, who thinks the man’s identity is irrelevant. "He could be any one of hundreds of sex offenders who live in or around Plainfield who might want to use the park," Falk said. Presumably Falk was just trying to make a legal point and wasn’t trying to reassure Hoosiers when he reminded them of those hundreds of sex offenders who just want to be left alone to prowl the parks anonymously.

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Carrots and sticks

November 28, 2006

If "three strikes and you’re out" is a reasonable step, why isn’t "two strikes and you don’t get out early"? Donna Ellis says, reasonably, that if Charles Boney had not been released from prison early after he was sentenced for robbing her, his second conviction, he would not have been avaiable to take part in the slayings of a woman and her two children. Boney’s lawyer is not so reasonable:

Pat Renn, who represented Boney in his two-week trial in January, said he understands Ennis’ feelings as a victim but said it would be poor public policy to prevent early releases for those convicted more than once.

"It doesn’t give any incentive to change behavior," Renn said.

Well, yes it does. If you know you’ll have to do the full amount of time for a second offense, maybe you’ll stop after the first one. Defense lawyers seem to think carrots are the only way to change behavior. Sticks work, too.

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Fat and silly

November 27, 2006

Well, we’ve had women’s studies and black studies and lesbian studies and disability studies and ethnic studies, none aimed at a real education, all just  full of "victims" railing againts the larger oppressive society. So this should come as no great surprise:

In December 2004, she helped found the organization Size Matters, whose goal was to promote size acceptance and positive body image. In April, the group sponsored a conference called Fat and the Academy, a three-day event at Smith of panel discussions and performances by academics, researchers, activists and artists. Nearly 150 people attended.

Even as science, medicine and government have defined obesity as a threat to the nation’s health and treasury, fat studies is emerging as a new interdisciplinary area of study on campuses across the country and is gaining interest in Australia and Britain. Nestled within the humanities and social sciences fields, fat studies explores the social and political consequences of being fat.

What kind of joke can possibly be made here? How do you make fun of something this far beyond parody?

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Goodbye to the bonus

November 27, 2006

A sign of the changing times:

In many companies, the year-end bonus is becoming a quaint memory of earlier times, when an extra envelope from payroll in December was an almost certain reward for everyone in a firm.

"We’re seeing the holiday bonuses disappear," says Brian Drum, president of Drum Associates in New York. "Thirty-five years ago, when I first dealt with a lot of companies that used to pay the so-called Christmas bonus, it was a gift. Today, as companies are becoming larger and consolidated, they are giving because it’s performance-related." Tying rewards to the performance of the company serves to motivate workers, employment specialists say.

My first newspaper job was with a small family-owned chain, and the Christmas bonus was an expected part of the compsensation package — our bonuses amounted to about one paycheck. One of the biggest differences when I moved to a paper owned by a big nationwide chain was the absence of those bonuses. I’ve also seen other things go away, such as the Christmas party and the company picnic, which makes it more than just about money. The rituals that are vanishing were part of a culture in which employee and employer could expect a long and trusting relationship.

I can understand the argument about basing bonuses on performance rather than mere presence. But there’s also something to be said for the small touches that make all workers feel appreciated.

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Building boom

November 27, 2006

Local school districts aren’t the only education institutions enamored of brick-and-mortar projects:

Ball State University students will see a lot of changes to campus in the coming years – a new residence hall, a renovated dining hall, a high-tech media building and a new recreation center.

The university isn’t alone in its construction boom – other Indiana schools are building or planning new facilities to attract students and support academics.

Indiana University trustees approved in September an estimated $55 million plan to improve and expand athletic facilities. Last month, Purdue University opened new pharmacy lab space almost twice the size of the school’s previous lab. Indiana State University is planning a new $24 million recreation center and recently completed an $8 million renovation of a three-story residence hall.

Educators hope the new facilities can attract students.

Build it and they will come? Did all these people go to the same seminar? Can pretty new campuses substitute for quality courses and good instructors? Do students want a pleasant environment or a shot at a good future?

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A matter of time

November 27, 2006

I don’t know if this writer doesn’t understand the difference between part-time and full-time legislatures, but the article ignores the distinction:

For more than two decades now, the 150 members of the Indiana General Assembly have earned a base salary of $11,600, a relative pittance compared to legislative pay in neighboring states. Comparison shoppers need look no further than Illinois, where lawmakers recently approved a 9-percent, post-election pay raise that would increase legislative salaries from $57,619 to $63,143.

"We could send them five senators for that," said Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond.

The comment underscores the general response of shock and awe that Indiana lawmakers conveyed when told what their Illinois counterparts are bringing home.

"I’ve been looking into a transfer to Michigan, where the base salary is ($79,650)," joked Rep. Duane Cheney, D-Portage.

There are about a dozen full-time legislatures in the nation, Michigan’s and Illinois’ among them. They meet all year, and the legislators get an annual salary. In Indiana, our part-time legislators are paid per diem.

It may well be that our legislators deserve some kind of a raise. They are willing to give up part of their lives for public service, after all. But unless we’re going to make it enough for a full-time job, the General Assembly will continue to draw the same kind of people it now does — i.e., people who can take off from their normal jobs a few months a year — and continue to not attract the "middle class."

Whether we should make our legislature full-time is an entirely different level of debate. Because it ignores that angle, this story is about much less than it appears to be.

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Guilt without punishment

November 22, 2006

If no purpose would be served in sending George Weller to prison, what purpose was served in trying him in the first place?

The defense said the tragedy was a terrible accident, caused when Weller lost control of his 1992 Buick after he mistook the accelerator for the brake pedal. But Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley consistently held that it was a crime that should be punished.

Johnson said Weller "has never once expressed in court any remorse for his actions. I will never understand his stubborn and bullheaded refusal to accept responsibility to put this matter to rest for everyone, including himself."

Was he guilty of anything besides not giving up his driver’s license when he should have? Many of us will sooner or later have to make the same decision, and I wonder how we’ll handle it? Was he tried because he killed so many people instead of one? Were his actions deliberate, or is that just what grieving people want to think?

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Roll on

November 22, 2006

Happy 50th anniversary to the Interstate Highway system. I’m probably a little less enthusiastic about it than this guy, a little sadder about some of the small-town flavor of the country that it helped kill off. But there’s no question about the ways in which it reshaped this country, and it was Big Government that did it. The federal government has always been a prime mover, so to speak, in this country’s transportation development (as perhaps it should have been), from the early roads and its involvement with the railroads to today’s highway funding and airport enabling. That’s worth remembering in debates over issues such as Amtrak subsidies. It may or may not be a good idea to push rail travel, but let’s at least not say it’s an overreaching departure from the usual for the government.

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Share the wealth

November 22, 2006

We can go on talking and talking about the unintended consequences of raising the minimum wage, the inapprorpriateness of such government involvement in the private sector and the simple facts that most people make more than the minimum wage and most of the people who make the minimum are not poor, but it will continue to fall on deaf ears. I suspect it’s because many of the people who champion the minimum wage believe as this guy does:

"It’s something that’s time has come," said state Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond. "The economy is doing relatively well, and it’s time to share it with the workers."

Wealth, you see, is not created by by people who think they’ve found a need or a niche and respond by risking their time, effort and capital. There is just this big magic pot of money, and as it fills up, the money just needs to be passed around. No many how thinly we slice the pies, there will always be people around to make sure the pies keep coming.

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The straight scoop

November 21, 2006

Those lousy, unreliable Democrats. You put them in office to further your agenda, and it turns out they are as, um, diverse in their opinions as other Americans:

Last week’s election results may be more of a mixed bag for gay rights supporters than many originally thought.

At least 13 of 50 newly elected House and Senate Democrats oppose same-sex marriage, with two of those backing constitutional amendments to ban such unions.

[. . .]

Indiana’s three new representatives, meanwhile, offered no clear stance on civil unions, and at least two campaigned against gay marriage. Their victories drew uneasy support from gay activists.

"We are happy with the election of these three people," said Indiana Equality Chair John Clower. "They helped remove the party in control that has not been supportive on issues of concern to GLBT people in our state."

But he noted the three were just "marginally better" than the GOP incumbents they will replace.

Ellsworth, who supports the marriage amendment, defeated Rep. John Hostettler, who backed a House bill to stop federal courts from ruling on marriage-related issues.

Joseph Donnelly and Baron Hill, the state’s other new House members, are social conservatives who maintain ambiguous or hostile stances on gay rights issues.

At least the focus is on legislators, where it belongs, rather than on the courts.

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Don’t sweat it

November 21, 2006

Bet you thought our student anarchists were keeping a low profile these days:

Anarchist students of the Purdue Alliance of Libertarian Socialists, in solidarity with the Purdue Organization of Labor Equality and the oppressed workers of the world, are currently engaged in a hunger strike and camp-in, the purpose of which is to pressure Purdue University to stop having its apparel maunfactured in sweatshops.

What a well-fed student in America considers a sweat shop might seem like salvation to someone begging on the streets in the Third World, but never mind that. Isn’t a hunger strike a little organized for anarchists? And "libertarian socialist" is a completely nonsensical term.

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Diversity blues

November 21, 2006

I guess if the police chief is happy, we should be happy:

Mixed in with the many white male faces that seem to dominate the applicant pool every year, the number of Hispanic and Asian faces jumped out at York.

“This year, I was really impressed with the diversity of the turnout,” said York, who noted he did not have any numbers on the ethnic makeup of the applicant pool. “If anything, I was disappointed in how few African-American females showed up, but as far as male Hispanics and male Asians, I was really impressed.”

According to data provided by police, as of August, 16 of the department’s 422 patrol officers and officials were Hispanic. Three were Asian or Pacific Islander.

Since York became chief in 2000, pushing for a diverse force has been a priority for the department. For the past year and a half, long before the current recruiting tryouts were set to begin, more steps were taken to get minority candidates to apply for a career in law enforcement.

I am sorry that it appears I will have such a slim chance of getting a speeding ticket from an African-American female officer, but I look forward to having a Pacific Islander tell me to "move it along, sir, nothing to see here." It gets so tiresome having people who look just like me being the only ones who can remind me of all the laws I can’t keep track of.

I do hope, as Neanderthal as it might sound, that our officers, as diverse as they are, will be mostly aware of the blue of their uniforms and what that represents.

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Terms of endearment?

November 21, 2006

I think people who keep saying Gov. Daniels is too unpopular to earn a second term should remember that two years is a long time in politics. I likewise thing this sentiment is overly optimistic and suffers from the same shortsightedness:

He’s not tall enough to play Goliath in real life, but Gov. Mitch Daniels is looking like a giant for any Democrat to challenge in 2008.
Sure, he was blamed for his party’s loss of the House of Representatives on Election Day. But in pushing an agenda of change, Daniels is dominating state government and politics.
Daniels has made a big enough splash that he may scare off strong potential opponents like Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson, who would have the dilemma of running for re-election as mayor next year while also campaigning for governor.
Even before the Nov. 7 election, it would have been impossible to predict what voters will think of Daniels in 2008. He chaperoned a change of pace many Hoosiers weren’t ready for, but let’s wait and see how those changes play out. Now, the unpredictability is total. A certain dynamic will develop between the Daniels administration and the Democrat-controlled House. One will be seen as more right — or at least more reasonable — than the other, and that will determine just about anything.
I don’t know anyone smart enough to figure that out right now, and any people who say they can should be regarded with deep suspicion.

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