• Gary should look to Detroit's comeback

    Meteorologically, we still have two weeks of summer, but today certainly marks the end of the summer season in most people’s minds. Looking back on this summer, I have to say it wasn’t good for the Region.

    Some good things may have happened, but in my mind, they’re negated and then some by all the violence in Gary, as well as in the towns that make up Lake County. For a stretch in July and August, the local papers resembled the Chicago stations and media, which have reported murder after murder almost daily for several years now.

    Recent police action has stemmed the violence, for now, but Gary remains a stark portrait of poverty and industrial decline. I’d imagine it’s also far from the minds of most Northwest Indiana residents who don’t live there, a place they only mention in the context of where not to drive while passing through the Region.

    The issue of regulating guns to curb violence is so contentious that nothing ever gets done about it. But regardless of where one stands on that, I don’t think you can affect major change in Gary, or anywhere else with the same ills, without addressing poverty and inequality, which at the end of the day is also a conversation people don’t want to have. The aforementioned Region residents would probably be content to just keep ignoring Gary.

    But, I have one idea that could possibly work: follow Detroit’s lead.

    I know, I know: Detroit has been the go-to image of urban decay for years even before the city declared bankruptcy in 2013. In the two years since then, however, the city has been on a quiet upswing. The very low real estate prices have attracted major corporations, which have created jobs and attracted employment seekers. Cheap housing has also attracted creative people, which has created a small but vibrant artistic scene. Crime has also dropped, and many new businesses have opened. All of which is impressive, considering that within this very decade, Detroit was as desolate as Gary, only bigger.

    Instead of focusing on an airport project that’s in all likelihood years from coming to fruition or clinging to its steel heritage while the industry keeps shrinking, Gary should instead focus what resources it has on trying to attract people with its cheap land and potential for rebirth, like Detroit. They even have something of an advantage: Surely there are some Illinois businesses for whom taking a chance on Gary would be worth it to escape their state’s sky-high taxes.

  • Governor Plays Politics Over Sound Education Policy

    Indiana Governor Mike Pence announced his 2015 legislative plans for education in a speech last week (you can read it here). The meat of the plans, by which I mean the ones that affect school-aged Indiana children directly, should arouse skepticism.

    In his speech, the Governor spoke of the importance of pre-kindergarten programs, but announced no plans to try to obtain more funding for it. One might remember that earlier this year, the Governor rejected federal funding that would have gone toward expanding pre-K for low-income children in the State.

    Pence also strongly supports more funding for charter schools. This, despite the fact that charter schools statewide received much lower performances grades this year than public schools. Among the schools with “D” grades were a few in Gary and one in East Chicago.

    This isn’t to say charter schools as a whole are a bad idea, and that public schools are always sterling. But they don't seem to be working in our state, and spending more on something that isn’t working is like continuing to use teaching methods that aren’t reaching the students.

    Continuing to fund underperforming schools and denying funds for poor kids' pre-school doesn't sound like serving the state. What they sound like is political maneuvering from our Governor at the expense of it.

    In education alone, Pence’s resistance to Common Core and his stances that rankle teachers make him a polarizing figure, but nothing stinks of politics more than his working relationship with Glenda Ritz. Ever since the State Superintendent was elected in 2012, the Governor has tried to undermine her at every turn. He’s finally disbanded his alternative education committee which he created solely to challenge Ritz's authority, but he’s still trying to remove her from the picture.

    There are elected officials who govern, and there are those who are just ideologues. Our Governor, unfortunately, is the latter instead of doing his job as the former.

  • Governor should drop politics, accept Medicaid expansion

    Today was the final day for open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. But the status of the law in Indiana is somewhat nebulous.

    Certain parts of the law are supposed to be enacted through the states. However, many Republican-controlled state legislatures have refused to cooperate on them.

    One such element is a federally-funded Medicaid expansion that every state is entitled to receive. However, this part of the law hasn’t been so universally ignored. While some Republican governors have declined it, others have accepted it.

    And occupying the netherworld between the two is our Governor, Mike Pence. Instead of accepting it outright, he instead wants to rework the funds into the already-existing Healthy Indiana plan. The main difference between the two is that Pence’s plan would require eligible recipients to pay a bit into it, whereas the outright expansion would not.

    His plan almost collapsed in November because the state didn’t file for Federal review on time. Thankfully, the Feds granted an extension to keep the existing Healthy Indiana plan and figure out his proposed expansion. Still, it probably won’t be implemented for some time.

    All the while, Indiana’s uninsured rate stands at 15 percent. Here in the Region (Lake and Porter County), the U.S. Census lists it as above the state average. Estimates also suggest that the refusal to expand Medicaid led to thousands of deaths nationwide for people without healthcare access.

    At worst, Governor Pence’s actions seem like he’s just kicking the issue down the road until people forget about it. This could backfire hard, as with each new figure, the ACA appears to be embraced more with every passing year. At best, he’s just playing politics, trying to expand benefits while also appearing to not give in to the President.

    I’m guessing the latter, but all the time we wait on the Feds to approve Healthy Indiana is time poor Hoosiers don’t get Medicaid coverage. And on top of that, Pence’s political gambit appears to not be working, as polls on both sides are painting him as accepting the expansion. Considering those two factors, the Governor should just accept the expansion and move on. The state will be better off for it.

  • Governor's disconnect is bad for Indiana

    Barely a week after the passage of SB 101, the state legislature and Governor Mike Pence hastily added new language to outline certain (but not total) legal rights related to sexual orientation (the reception to the fix among LGBT rights groups has been pretty tepid). But that was after the state received tremendous blowback from all but the most lockstep members of the political right, and our governor entered the national spotlight somewhere between a villain and a laughingstock.

    This isn’t the first time Pence has been on the national stage in a less-than-stellar fashion. Earlier this year was the short but notable saga of Just IN. We’ll never know if it was, as Pence claimed, simply a press release site rather than a state news source. Even if it was, though, the glaring obviousness of its negative reception highlights a sort of disconnect shown by this Governorship.

    If that disconnect went no further than a boneheaded PR snafu, it would be forgivable. But it’s manifested in other ways that maybe haven’t gotten the national media’s attention, and are no laughing matter at all.

    After the Mitch Daniels era, state taxes were very low, so low that both parties seemed to agree more revenues were needed. Yet one of Pence’s first acts as Governor was another tax cut. Another thing on which both parties seem to be in agreement was that public education funding is too low. Instead, Pence still focuses on charter schools, clashes with Glenda Ritz at every turn, and dropped Common Core without much of a plan for what would replace it.

    Simply put, Pence seems to be more of an ideologue than an effective governor. The cynical speculation is that he’s getting in good graces with a narrow sector of the conservative base so he can run for President (an idea that, if it were a longshot before, seems like an impossibility now). But maybe he truly believes in every decision he’s made. Unfortunately, that ideology is clashing pretty starkly with the reality of what’s happening in his state.

    Fortunately, a few recent events have bridged that disconnect. Even if his fix for SB 101 may not be perfect, he at least heard everybody and was driven to do something. Also, in relation to the HIV outbreak downstate in Austin, he’s swallowed his political views on anti-drug measures and approved a needle exchange, which seems to be the right thing to do.

    These were both extreme instances that were too obvious to ignore, but nevertheless, they still poked holes in the ideological bubble in which our Governor seems to reside.

  • Halfway through 2016, what's come to pass?

    July is finally here and with it came the halfway point for 2016. I know, it went by fast, right?

    A lot has happened these past six months, for sure. But what has been happening around the Region? And more importantly, halfway through, are my predictions for what would happen this year coming true, or do I look like fool?

    Let’s take a look:

    • Obviously, the results of the state’s Governor and Senate races remain to be seen. Until Indiana makes its decision, these goes down as a no-decisions.
    • The Dunes pavilion banquet hall looks like it’s going to get its liquor license. Point for me.
    • Barely a peep so far this year on that South Shore expansion. But I was right about seeing bikes on the train. Two points.
    • The USW and ArcelorMittal agreed on a new three-year contract. That’s a welcome bit of good news for the local steel industry, especially amidst the reports of closures and layoffs that seemed frequent for a little while there. I’m not sure this will put an end to market uncertainty in the face of globalization, but I’ll happily surrender a point here with this outcome.
    • Is Illinois still dysfunctional? Consider the saga of the George Lucas Museum that wasn’t: The city wanted it. The state wanted it. Communities in need of jobs wanted it. Star Wars lovers from Portage to Milwaukee to Peoria wanted it. The only ones who didn’t want it were a handful of people dedicated to the preservation of the city’s parks, even though the park land in question was actually a parking lot. And in the end, they won, scaring Lucas off and killing the project. Obviously, this is small potatoes compared the state’s other problems, but  I'm focusing on it because dysfunction that’s comical is in rather short supply, and i'm trying to do something light and fun here. I’m taking the point on this one.
    • The World Series is still months away, but the Chicago Cubs are looking tough. When people talk about them having a chance, they’re serious, not saying that with an eye roll or a caveat about curses. Coincidentally, this season has corresponded with the U.K. voting to leave the European Union, which some alarmists are saying is the first step toward the splintering of Europe and other disastrous worldwide repercussions. So unless the Cubs fall into a post-All-Star Game swoon, maybe it isn’t too late to start preparing for the apocalypse…

    So, thus far, my predictions stand at three correct, one incorrect, and three to be determined. Not bad…

  • I changed my mind on body cams...and have an idea!

    A few months ago, I wrote a piece expressing skepticism about placing body cameras on police officers. Well, I take that back, and am now behind the idea.

    What changed my mind was the recent case of Samuel Dubose, who was shot and killed during a traffic stop by University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing. A video recorded by Tensing’s body cam caught the whole sequence of events, showing pretty clearly that the shooting was unwarranted. As a result, Tensing is now facing a murder charge, and this case hasn’t met with the controversy and heated difference of opinion that's accompanied other high-profile police killings recently, because frankly the video made what happened pretty open-and-shut.

    This is a pretty convincing argument that body cams would take away the ambiguity of police actions, and also assure that officers uphold the law instead of abusing it. But I say it’s foolish to stop there. Rather than simply keeping the upholders of the law honest, why not do the same with those who make laws, by which I mean our elected officials?

    Okay, we won’t put body cams on every politician, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have cameras rolling on them while they’re governing us. And I mean during all parts of governing, not just the pandering floor debates on C-SPAN, but every committee meeting, every meeting with constituents (or lobbyists), and every drafting of new bills. To go along with this, there should be legislative rules stipulating that anything that isn’t discussed on one of these recordings is disqualified from consideration.

    Most people probably won’t watch it (I admit it sounds like the most boring reality show imaginable), but the point is every step and every minute of the system at work would be recorded. Imagine: no more backroom meetings, no more secret favors or deals that benefit their cronies at the expense of everyone else. And we’d see our elected leaders in all their sweaty, swearing, down-and-dirty glory, which might finally put to rest the idea of the electorate voting based on a candidate’s persona over policy.

    Despite the backlash to the country’s surveillance apparatus in recent years, it’s very likely the age of Big Brother is here to stay. If we can’t beat it, we can at least return the favor. Be their Little Brother, so to speak…

  • Indiana smoking ban a good model for vaping

    Even if you don’t smoke yourself, you know what it’s like if you’ve been in a public or private place with someone who is smoking. As someone who’s sensitive to secondhand smoke, I must say that at least in this instance, e-cigarettes have a leg up on actual tobacco. I don’t intend to start vaping myself, but being in an enclosed space with someone who does is preferable to regular secondhand smoke.

    Or is it?

    For those who don’t know, an e-cigarette or vaporizer is a small device in which a sometimes-flavored chemical liquid is added, and then dissolved into a water vapor for the user to inhale. It’s advertised as a cheaper and safer way to get your fix without the dangers of regular tobacco products.

    Funny, because as recently as within the last five years, I seem to remember vaping being pushed as a way to help people quit their smoking habit, not as a way to replace it. Or at least the people I knew who vaped seemed to do so to wean themselves off their nicotine addiction, not just satisfy it in another form.

    Whatever the case, it’s grown into a multibillion-dollar-a-year industry, but continuing research seems to hint that it’s not as safe as advertised. While health organizations even admit more research on the topic is needed, there's evidence that the chemicals in vapor are harmful. And I might be wrong: though it's not noticeable like secondhand smoke, secondhand vaping might still be putting chemicals in the air for others to inhale. “Less harmful than tobacco” doesn’t mean it’s completely harmless.

    Three states have public vaping bans, as do a handful of communities nationwide, though the trend is probably just beginning. Indiana’s smoking ban enacted in 2012 represents, I think, a pretty good model for regulation.

    Unlike several states which banned smoking in all public places and businesses, Indiana exempted gambling establishments, tobacco sellers and smoking lounges, private clubs, and bars that only allow customers over 21. It also allowed for towns and counties to legislate and enforce their own regulations, which many do (Crown Point is one such town in Northwest Indiana, though local ordinances are relatively scarce in the Region).

    I like any smoking ban for the selfish reason that it’s more pleasant when an establishment isn’t filled with smoke, but I think Indiana’s terms are fair. It keeps public places and places where there might be kids free of smoking, while allowing adults the choice of whether or not to do so, or if they want to frequent places which allow it.

    Those terms will be just as fair when the wave of vaping bans comes about (and it will).

  • Indiana Toll Road bankruptcy shows downside of leasing highways

    If you spend as much time scouring the web for political stuff as I do, you know that roads have become a point of contention in the debate about government spending (“roads” being shorthand for public necessities that some say should be privatized). If recent events in Indiana are any indication, at least the issue of literal roads can go down as a loss for the privatization crowd.

    The Indiana Toll Road was sold in 2006, and it operations were transferred from the state to the private Indiana Toll Road Concession Company. The company is a subsidiary of two foreign companies: the Spanish firm Cintra and the Australian McQuarrie Atlas Roads.

    A quick perusal of the company website shows that Cintra is a major company that owns toll roads and parking (presumably the much more profitable of the two) throughout the world. In other words, they know the business well. McQuarrie, on the other hand, is just part of a larger investment bank. The site for their transportation company features some information about their private highway holdings, but seems much more designed to woo investors into buying a stake in their operation.

    Though this might not be a good investment, if the Indiana Toll Road is any indication: today, the Indiana Toll Road Concession Company filed for bankruptcy.

    I can’t say I’m surprised. The toll road costs a few bucks to use each time. Even if you use an I-Pass or E-ZPass and get a discount, that adds up if you use it a lot. Whether you regularly or only occasionally commute to Chicago, of course you’re going to take the cheaper (i.e., free) routes. As for cross-country driving, a quick search on any map program can find a similar route across Northern Indiana on toll-free roads that’s only a few more miles and a negligible amount of time longer.

    There are times when a private road nearby isn’t a bad thing. Quite often when there’s a long traffic delay or construction, it might be worth the few bucks for a faster trip. And during one of the crippling blizzards we had last winter, when the public roads were covered in snow and all but shut down, the Toll Road was relatively cleared and made for a smooth ride into the city. But when trying to turn a profit, you can’t just rely on being the alternate choice. Traffic jams clear, construction doesn’t last forever, and it doesn’t snow all the time.

    Something to think about before the Illiana toll road construction starts up.

  • Internet Service: Is it a utility?

    The Internet. It is something that we all use on a daily basis. Does that kind of frequent use make it a necessity? This is a question that the FCC and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) hope to answer in the coming years.

    Why is the FCC trying to classify the Internet as a utility? The simple answer is ‘Net Neutrality’. Net Neutrality is the idea that all sites on the Internet should be given equal priority when loading, which simply means that all sites will load at the same rate of speed. Classifying Internet service would ensure that net neutrality is enforced.

    The reclassification as a utility would be a huge blow to ISPs. The reasons that net neutrality is coming to a head now is because of the increase in video content on the Web. Video content takes up much more bandwidth compared to text and picture based content. The added load of video content has started to put a strain on the relationship between certain video streaming sites and ISP’s. Most notably Netflix and Comcast. Comcast had threatened to throttle the streaming speeds of Netflix’s site unless Netflix paid a ‘streaming fee’.

    I personally think that classifying Internet service as a utility is an appropriate action. For the average citizen, Internet service is definitely a necessity. Getting a job, acquiring information, and basic communication is now dependent on access to the Internet. Allowing Internet service providers to restrict speeds to certain sites is a slippery slope to allowing them to restrict access altogether to certain sites that don’t pay a fee. Creating these kind of paywalls would also have an adverse affect on smaller sites and start-ups who can’t afford to make deals with every ISP in order to guarantee that their content is able to be accessed. Small businesses have enough barriers to overcome, let’s not add another.

  • ISTEP debacle presents standardized testing reform opportunity

    You might have seen headlines recently about the state legislature wanting to cut the length of ISTEP testing for Indiana students. If you haven’t been following this issue, the gist of it is that Indiana’s decision to reject Common Core wasn’t very well thought out. The rejection meant the state had to hastily draw up its own curriculum and standards, and with that its own standardized testing.

    The resulting exams are estimated to take up a whopping 12 hours of classroom time to administer. Now, amid bad press and criticism from the education community, the factions of government are blaming each other while rushing to mend this debacle.

    Indiana’s specific case aside, the effectiveness of standardized testing like ISTEP has been a topic of debate for years. I’m not a teacher, and I don’t know the numbers offhand about the success rate of ISTEP or other tests (if there are any solid numbers). All I can add to the conversation is my experience in school.

    I think the best example would be the Spanish classes I’ve taken. In high school, I took Spanish for three years. I had three great teachers, and all three years, the classes consisted of assignments that involved either writing words and sentences or speaking in front of the class in Spanish. In other words, we learned by actually using the language.

    In college, I took four semesters of Spanish. I had good professors each time, and we did some similar coursework to what I’d experienced in high school. But the majority of our curriculum consisted of homogenized (you could say “standardized”), one-size-fits-all online multiple choice exercises. I passed the classes, but while I actually learned at least some Spanish from high school, I mostly just forgot everything from college as soon as I finished each assignment. Similar, I’d imagine, to how many students forget all the stuff on ISTEP or any other big test as soon as they finish taking it.

    The difference significantly affected my opinion on standardized testing and curriculum. The way to effectively learn anything is to practice, to utilize it in daily life.

    Governor Mike Pence’s decision to reject Common Core very well may have been political (Common Core has become a target of the conservative movement of late), but since Indiana’s in the position of creating new curriculum, we should take this opportunity have a real conversation about how to effectively teach our kids. A conversation that includes the issue of standardized testing.

  • It's the ISTEP, stupid!

    You might have missed it in the news, but one of the most wide-reaching laws of the new millennium, one that had support across the political spectrum and was touted as a major achievement that would fix our education system, might be dying a quiet death.

    The No Child Left Behind Act, signed into law in 2002, was an extensive piece of legislation with many different parts. But one thing about it everyone seems to agree on is that its strong focus on standardized testing was ineffective, putting tremendous pressure on schools and teachers without effectively teaching students.

    Well, almost everyone.

    Indiana just signed a law instituting stricter standards for ISTEP testing. Specifically, there’s a much higher pass-fail cutoff, which it’s estimated will immediately increase the percentage of students failing - which will, in turn, drop letter grades for certain schools. Which could, if such ratings persist, cause control of said schools to go from their community to the state.

    To a cynical observer, considering the state’s unfavorable policies toward public education since the Mitch Daniels administration, this could be construed as a way to force public schools into state control or closing. But even if these new standards were meant to positively motivate students and schools, it’s hard to see that happening after it’s been tried already, especially since Indiana’s new standards are higher than NCLB.

    Why is the state taking this route? They rebuffed federal standards by rejecting Common Core, and yet now they’re doubling down on the standardized testing focus that was a pillar of NCLB.

    The answer, I think, is that much anti-Common Core fervor is less about finding an effective education policy than a rallying cry for small-government ideologues. Well, it doesn’t matter if it comes from the state level or federal level: when something doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. And does anyone want to argue more standardized testing and stricter accountability standards have worked?

  • It's time to talk about drug policy reform in Indiana

    In 2014, in response to a growing heroin problem, some Porter County police began carrying naloxone, a drug that curbs the effects of opioid overdoses. Now, with heroin-related deaths in Lake County numbering in the dozens over the last three years, the county is considering equipping their police with naloxone kits.

    Last year, you might also recall, saw an HIV outbreak downstate caused by needle-sharing. This resulted in the establishment of the state’s first needle exchange program.

    These actions by the state and local authorities are the right things to do. Still, they are responses to problems becoming too big to ignore, as opposed to a solution that fixes the overall problem. Indiana’s drug laws are still firmly of the mentality of the old War on Drugs, a policy that seems to have less proponents every year.

    In creating the needle exchange, Governor Pence and Republicans swallowed their strong anti-drug stance and acknowledged such a measure was necessary. That was a good start, but this opportunity should be taken to address major drug policy reform as a whole, specifically treating drug use as a crime instead of a health issue.

    We wouldn’t be the first state, either. One of the most high-profile states to do so was New Jersey, which replaced prison sentences for nonviolent drug offenses with court-ordered treatment. Notably, this change had bipartisan support in the state and was signed into law by Republican Governor and current Presidential candidate Chris Christie.

    It might be early to judge New Jersey’s success or failure. However, the country of Portugal notably reformed their drug policy top to bottom in 2001. The results weren’t perfect (no policy is, really), but certainly much more effective than a hard-line drug war.

    In New Jersey, treatment for one person costs about half that of incarcerating them. But more than saving tax dollars, it’s simply more humane to treat an addict and give them another chance at life, rather than locking them away and forcing them to live with the stigma of a felony conviction when they leave prison.

    I doubt you’ll see much debate about this subject in this Indiana’s gubernatorial campaign this year, but it’s a conversation that should be had.

  • Lake County polling goes to court

    In light of all the candidates jumping into the 2016 Presidential race, let me take the opportunity to urge my fellow residents of Lake County to pay attention to a case currently before the Indiana Supreme Court: State of Indiana v. John Buncich.

    A little background: Senate Enrolled Act 385, passed by the state legislature, requires a study on consolidating Lake County voting precincts that cater to 500 voters or less. The law is ostensibly aimed at making the polling process more efficient.

    The law was struck down by the Lake County Circuit Court for violating the State Constitution, which prohibits passing local or special laws related to elections, among other things. The case went before the state Supreme Court on Thursday, which is set to rule on it.

    The law applies only to Lake County, proponents claim, because it has a high number of such small polling precincts. However, plaintiff John Buncich, Lake County Sheriff and Chairman of the Lake County Democratic Party, argues that the law would make voting more difficult for Lake County residents.

    Buncich is not wrong to be skeptical. The last half-decade or so has seen the rise of voter ID laws in several Republican state legislatures, supposedly to ensure voter integrity, even though the extent of “voter fraud” is beyond minuscule (Indiana passed such a law before the slew of other states followed through). Such laws have disproportionally made voting more difficult for poor and minority voters in those states. And a lot of those same states have also cut down on early voting programs and restricted voting hours.

    Is the law aimed at Lake County a similar attempt by a Republican legislature to place voting obstacles on a strongly Democratic corner of the state? To be fair, Lake County’s turnout in last year’s election was only 27 percent, so maybe it is just about streamlining the process. I’d at least like to think that the Republicans' reasoning is out of practicality, not a partisan move to limit democracy for their benefit.

    But even if they are acting in good faith, I’m still against such polling place consolidation. I believe citizens should be given every opportunity to vote. If that means several precincts that cater to a relatively smaller number of people, so be it. The cost of keeping those polling places running is a small price to pay for democracy.

    However the Court rules in this case, all Lake County Residents planning to vote should pay close attention to their registration status and their assigned polling place. There’s still plenty of time to get everything in order before next year’s primaries and elections.

  • Left lane legislation lunacy

    We’ve all heard of the nanny state, passing laws for our protection whether we like it or not. Well, brace yourselves for its party animal cousin, the “bro state.” 

    You might not have heard the term (as far as I know, I just now made it up), so allow me to explain: Like so many quintessentially “bro” things (eating mountains of chicken wings, drinking contests, staying out all night partying during the workweek, racing your midsize sedan down suburban streets), the bro state appeals to the more primal instincts in every male. And also like those things, no matter how bad the idea is when you actually think about it, the bro state is going to do it anyway.

    The bro state has made its mark in Indiana, in the form of the state’s new left-lane law. Basically, the law stipulates that drivers in the left lane of interstate highways must change lanes to allow vehicles going faster than them pass, even if that vehicle is speeding. Failure to do so could warrant a $500 fine.

    So starting July 1, keep that in mind if you’re getting on I-65 to go downstate, or are heading east on I-80 or I-94 (it’s not a huge problem if you’re headed west, as left lanes become turn-only lanes once you cross into Illinois). Even if you’re driving the speed limit or the unwritten but acceptable few mph above it, and the guy coming up behind you is a reckless speed demon, it’s still your responsibility to get over and let them pass. In effect, Indiana has put speeders in the right.

    This is but a taste of the havoc the bro state could unleash on the Hoosier State. Soon, speed limits could become speed minimums, followed by the advent of speed cameras like our neighbor in Illinois, but instead used to punish those who drive too slowly. Then, not only will more environmentally friendly vehicles be banned, but the obnoxious practice of coal-rolling will be made mandatory…

    Okay, maybe my paranoid imagination is overreacting. But this is still a stupid law. If someone’s driving dangerously slow on the highway, I could see that warranting a ticket, but people observing the speed limit should not be punished and certainly not have to yield to reckless drivers who are breaking it.

    We’ve all come across cars going slow on the highway. And we’ve probably passed them, left them behind, and continued on our trips without a second thought. We don't need laws legislating etiquette on the highway or elsewhere that puts irresponsible actions like speeding in higher legal standing.

  • Liquor fine for Dunes banquet hall, but not the beach

    The Dunes pavilion refurbishment and banquet hall plan has advanced all summer with seemingly little hindrance, despite some local and vocal opposition. But the project has hit its first major snag: alcohol sales.

    As it currently stands, alcohol is not allowed on any of the Dunes’ beaches. Alcohol sales are permitted by law inside and within 100 feet of the pavilion, provided the operators have a liquor license. And on September 10, Pavilion Partners LLC, who is overseeing the project, had their application rejected by the Porter County Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

    If that doesn’t sound like much of a snag, you don’t know a whole lot about the restaurant business. Aside from fast food operations, liquor comprises a large part of sales for eateries of all stripes. And in fine dining, which is what the new banquet seems to be aiming for, drinks are not only a big chunk of change, but arguably a bigger part of the experience than the meal. Even though the hall would offer the beautiful view of the Dunes, it would still be at a big disadvantage if its cocktail hours were limited to Shirley Temples.

    The opposition to granting the hall a liquor license seems to stem from the fears that it will eventually lead to allowing alcohol on the beach. Well, my opinion on the banquet hall (which I’ve already talked about this summer) boils down to this: if the hall is the only extent to which private parties can be reserved, I’m okay with it. If the liquor stays there, too, that’s fine with me.

    But, though I hate to be a buzzkill, I agree that the beaches should remain alcohol-free. Aside from the potential for more garbage and the dangers of impairing swimmers or hikers on the trails, I frankly and selfishly would rather not have the peacefulness of the Dunes spoiled by that loud drunk we’ve all had to tolerate at a bar or sporting event at some point. Even though by and large most people who might take some drinks to the beach aren’t that person, it’s not worth risking.

  • Liquor on Sunday will do no harm, stats show

    Indiana might finally do away with an archaic law that’s long outlasted the enthusiasm for its enforcement.

    Are you ready for this, fellow Hoosiers? Pretty soon, Sunday liquor sales might be coming to our state!

    True, you could still buy drinks at a bar or restaurant any day of the week. But Indiana is one of 12 remaining states that still cling to old blues laws forbidding the sale of alcohol in stores on Sunday. So if you want to buy any beer or spirits to take home, you better do your shopping between Monday and Saturday.

    For now, at least, although that might change because the Indiana House passed a bill allowing Sunday sales last week. Currently, the bill is still being debated and amended in the statehouse.

    College students and party animals might rejoice if this bill becomes law, but I doubt life will change much in the Region or the state as a whole. It won’t hurt, though, for when I say little will change, that includes changes for the worst.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control, Indiana is on the lower end of alcohol-related deaths per year. It’s also about average on the annual tally of drunk-driving deaths, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Some of the other 11 states with no liquor on Sunday have similar statistics to Indiana, though some are worse. Also, some states that do allow liquor have low rates in both studies.

    The old saying goes “correlation is not causation,” but there’s not even a consistent correlation. And frankly, it seems unlikely that one more day of sales will drastically alter the statistics in Indiana.

    What will change is grocery stores will move more inventory, and liquor stores will get one more day of sales. And that wouldn’t just mean more in-state buyers. As every Northwest Indiana resident knows, the closer you get to the state line, the more liquor and tobacco shops you see because they’re taxed so much more in Illinois. So, liquor stores would likely see the most benefit from more business.

     

  • Little things to do for MLK Day

    Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. If you have the day off, there are things you can do to make the most of your free time in the spirit of this day, rather than wasting it lounging around. If you’re at school or work today (Indiana’s inconsistent like that), well, it’s still possible to squeeze some things in and make this more than just another Monday.

    Here are a few little things you can do for today (also known as “the least you could do”):

    • Do a good deed: Today is a big day for volunteering in communities across the country. But if you’re unable to be directly involved in any major charity endeavors or causes, even doing little things are good. For example, help your neighbors without expecting anything in return, whether it’s something simple like helping with menial tasks or chores or something major. If someone you know is in need of personal guidance or emotional support, be there for them.
    • Look at how the other half lives: There’s a bigger world out there, one where things are more complex than your limited experience. So, instead of judging all people or events through the lens of your own individual worldview, look at the bigger picture. Read up on different perspectives on the world and its issues, and do so leaving your personal standards and biases behind (as a matter of fact, it’s not a bad idea to even intentionally seek out things toward which your first reaction is disagreement). You’ll come to understand other people and the world better, and see that things didn’t all the sudden become perfect after the Civil Rights era.
    • Talk to each other…and listen: See above. Also, you won’t see much of this in an election year (and so far, it’s looking to be a pretty nasty one), but it’s possible to talk about things like adults, with civility, substance, and facts instead of irrelevancies and cheap shots. New perspectives can only enlighten you, even if they don’t change your mind. So, start a conversation.

    After doing one or all of these things, ask yourself: would it really be so hard to behave like this every day, rather than just one day a year when you feel like you have to?

     

  • Low turnout, lower information

    Republicans are claiming that they have the mandate of the voters to govern after their midterm victories two weeks ago. Well, that is how our system works, or is supposed to work. In practice, though, our election results might not definitively reflect what the people want.

    This is especially true of these midterms, which saw the lowest turnout since World War II at less than 37 percent. At best, this is reflective of only the more dedicated voting blocs. But even for those who do vote, the choices they made may not be truly representative of their beliefs.

    Polls often tell a different story about what people want than the officials they elect. Probably the most high-profile example of such disparity is Obamacare: the name is viewed very negatively, but everything under the law is very popular, and people who live where the law was fully implemented love their new insurance. Polls similarly show a majority of the public supports immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, even a seemingly controversial assault weapons ban.

    And yet, they don’t vote that way.

    One conclusion might be that polls are only representative of a sample of the population, but then, the same can be said about an election where only slightly more than a third of the electorate voted. A more likely explanation: people vote without knowing exactly what they’re voting for.

    It’s easy to say people vote for attitude and personality more than issues, and that’s probably true to a certain degree. But as someone who reads and follows the issues and candidates for even small local offices as much as I can, I can honestly say voter misinformation goes beyond simply not paying close attention. While voting this Election Day, even I didn’t know at least half of the people running on my ballot. Candidates for certain Lake County offices had little to no coverage in local papers and not even so much as a yard sign as far as name recognition.

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s gone to vote and had this reaction to their ballot. I'd imagine most people probably just select the party with which they identify…which might partially explain why so many incumbencies rarely budge and issues rarely make any headway.

    Low information and low turnout are both bad enough, but put together, it not only explains why American democracy is beyond dysfunctional, but makes you wonder how it ever wasn’t. And it’s a problem without any apparent solutions. I mean, how do you get the majority of the electorate to care about the issues enough to vote but not get taken in by empty campaign platitudes?

  • Net Neutrality Pt. 2 - A Challenge to the Status Quo

    How long can the monopoly game continue?

    Cable and internet service providers have a stranglehold on the industry. This becomes painfully obvious every time that we try and find a new or cheaper provider. There isn’t one. You essentially have a choice between Comcast, AT&T, or maybe a 3rd provider if you are lucky enough. Some areas don’t even have that many choices. This lack of competition has allowed companies to be able to charge whatever they want for a subpar service with no government intrusion. However, there has been a disturbance in the business model for these giants. That disturbance is Google Fiber. Google Fiber is a new internet service that is touting speeds up to 100 times faster than the average broadband connection in the United States. Google also offers free internet to customers for a one-time $300 construction fee.

    Now before you pick up your phone to switch providers, keep in mind that Google Fiber is still in its infancy and only available to a few select areas, and Indiana is not in any current expansion plans. While Google Fiber has seemed to rattle the larger internet service providers in the areas they provide services, it is just not in enough markets to make a difference, yet. As it stands now, getting the service in your area is a bit like winning a lottery that you didn't enter.

    It will be a long time before Google Fiber is relevant to a majority of customers because of the one factor keeping Comcast and AT&T on top: The high cost to enter the industry. It takes a lot of time and money to create the infrastructure needed to provide high speed internet and cable. This barrier to entry is one reason there is no new actual competition to cable and internet providers.

    So what can you do? Write your local representative and tell them how you feel about this. It is easy, I swear!

     

    Miss the introduction to this post? Read it here.

  • NFL in NWI? Dream on!

    State Representative Earl Harris of East Chicago spoke during the NFL season of placing a team right here in Northwest Indiana. Imagine: one day years from now, around this time of year, the Region might be hosting the Super Bowl…

    Yeah, I don’t have to elaborate on how farfetched this idea is. But I’m going to anyway.

    An NFL team would need a pricey, state-of-the-art stadium. The Colts’ Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis cost over $700 million, and that was actually on the cheaper end of things. Stadiums built since its opening in 2008 have soared past $1 billion, and in most cases, the cities or counties had to pay a good chunk of it.

    It’s been so hard to get towns to raise funds for expansion of the South Shore that the project seems as if it’s decades from ever happening. But who knows? Maybe citizens and communities will be more willing to fund a new complex that many of them won’t be able to afford to attend.

    Even if they are, there’s also the question of where such a stadium would be located. We wouldn’t have to just make room for the stadium itself, either; the state of the Region’s public transit would make driving the default mode of transportation to games. This would require many acres of parking lots, or at the very least a number of parking garages. For reference, the Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium complex, including parking, spreads across 150 acres.

    Then there’s the task of building a fan base. Northwest Indiana has historically been Bears territory and also has healthy contingents of Colts and Packers fans. In addition to competing with those teams, the structure of the NFL’s TV contract (where the whole league negotiates with the major networks, rather than each franchise seeking their own TV deals) would put the Region team at a disadvantage. All our “local” network affiliates are, in fact, Chicago stations. And while they might conceivably show Northwest Indiana’s team as their second game each Sunday, they’re always going to give the Bears precedence.

    Believe it or not, an NFL team in the Region is not entirely unprecedented. The Hammond Pros played seven seasons in the 1920s. But back then, television didn’t exist, and the NFL was a nascent organization of small-town teams playing in tiny stadiums in front of handfuls of fans for little profit. The Pros were also only based in Hammond, playing all their games on the road as a travelling team.

    In that NFL, the Region was capable of housing a team. Now, it’d be like trying to drive a golf cart in the Indy 500.