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The Origin of Abdul

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

This weekend will mark a historic milestone in human achievement and accomplishment, it’s my birthday.  However, instead of engaging in the usual shameless self-promotion that marks the Abdul existence the other 364 days of the year, I decided to give you a gift.  That gift is an explanation of how I became me.  No I don’t mean the rocketship that landed in Kansas, or the cosmic rays, the gamma bomb explosion or the radioactive spider.  I am talking about my political bent.    You have to admit, it’s not every day you come across a guy named Abdul-Hakim Shabazz with a conservative-libertarian political bent.

In fact, in my younger days you would have probably mistaken me for Bobby Seale or Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. provided they had a jheri curl and wore a Members Only jacket. I freely admit I was a lot more liberal in my teenager years. I wasn’t quite ready to lead the Black Liberation Army, but we were moving up the ranks rather quickly.

So what happened?

In the late 1980s, my Dad’s government obligations had us relocate to Europe. We lived in West Germany and I attended college in Munich. While there, I did a lot of traveling, particularly behind the old Iron Curtain. Most revealing for me was a trip to Prague in what used to be Czechoslovakia. We were taking a tour of the city when I saw hundreds of people in a line outside of store. I asked the tour guide what they were in line for? I thought they were there for concert tickets, but it wasn’t, it was shoes. He told me people stand in line for hours for shoes and are lucky to find two the same size. To add insult to injury, this was during the 70th anniversary of the Soviet Revolution so there were giant banners of Lenin all over the place.

That image was fresh in my mind when I came back to the United States to finish my education. I was attending Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb, Ill., right outside Chicago. I had discovered talk radio and was listening to WVON-AM, the urban talk station out of the city on which I heard a steady stream of people complaining about how miserable their lives were and how white folks wouldn’t give them anything. After seeing real poverty abroad, I couldn’t believe how people here whined that they weren’t getting enough food stamps and government assistance. I found it annoying and insulting but that’s not what pushed me over the edge.

What sealed the deal for me was my attempt to join a “black” campus organization. My Dad had encouraged me to join one of those groups, so I decided to follow his advice and re-establish my “roots.” The first meeting was like something out a bad Spike Lee film. Here I am in a room full of young students, who for most were the first generation of their family to go to college, so they are under tremendous pressure. And the fact they are city/urban kids going to school in predominantly rural environment didn’t help. So what message do they get from the cast extras from a “Different World” who were running the meeting? Instead of one of encouragement and support they get the “You know these white people don’t want you here. They just want your money and then they will kick you out. The only people that really care about you are us. Any questions?”

That is when I politely stood up and said, “You Negroes cannot be serious!” And left. I could not believe the idiocy I was hearing. Instead of encouragement and support, these guys were perpetuating the victim mentality. These kids needed hope and reassurance, not fear mongering.

I switched my major from engineering and computer science to broadcasting, excited that way I could bring a different message of self-empowerment and assurance to folks who truly needed it. There was no need to wait on anyone to do something for you when you are perfectly capable of doing it yourself. And to top it off, there was nothing more fun than writing a television commentary or newspaper column to tell the poverty pimps and enablers that they were full of you know what.

The same thing was true for graduate school, law school and most of my professional commentator life. I have been preaching the message of self-reliance, individual liberty and personal responsibility. And embedded in that is an empathy for individuals who are truly in need that we as a society should do all we can to help lift them up so they can stand on their own two feet.

Yes, I get a lot of grief for having my opinions, but I came by them honestly and I don’t apologize for them. I truly believe the best political philosophy is one that believes the answers to society’s problems lie in the individual who doesn’t sit around waiting for others or the government to do something for them and then complaining when it doesn’t happen.

I’ve thought this way for 20 years and I honestly think if more people did, this world would be much better off, or at least mine would.

Just Say Joe

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Well, it’s not every day I get asked to leave a political event where the public is invited, but Sunday was one of those days.  The Joe Hogsett Mayoral campaign held a “jobs fair” at Marian University.  The point of it was for Joe to go into more details about his plans to put a few thousand teens to work next year should he become Mayor.

As you all know I am all for putting people to work, because when a person has a job,  he or she is a lot less likely to break into my place and take my stuff.

So there I was at the Physical Ed Center at Marian University, when I got a call from Hogsett’s campaign spokesman telling me the event was not open to media. I thought that was odd, especially since the campaign was asking parents to sign waivers so their kids’ images could be used in “promotional literature”.  So I asked the spokesman instead of being there as media, what if I stayed as someone who was interested in getting information on job opportunities for his nephew who happens to be one of those unemployed young black men that everyone talks about these days.  No such luck.

So instead being my usual annoying self I decided to leave. I would have loved to stayed and heard how many businesses Joe has lined up for his summer jobs plan, what makes his plan different from the one that the Ten Point Coalition announced last week that already has a funding component to it to help find jobs for youth in the city’s six highest crime neighborhoods or for that matter what’s different than what Greg Ballard’s administration is currently doing with its 40 different partners that employed about 40,000 youth last year. But like I said, no such luck.

Oh well, that’s life in the big city, some days you get your job done other days you just have to wait until you get to your numerous media platforms to share your thoughts.

 

 

God and Cable

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Whenever someone asks me to describe my attitude towards religion I always say it’s like cable TV. I tell them God is like cable and religion is the cable company.   I really do like cable, it gives me lots of choices, stimulates me to occasionally think outside the box, makes me laugh, cry and I’m really grateful for it.  I find the cable company annoying.  It’s always looking to raise my rates, limit my choices, is always telling me how it’s better than the other cable companies and then gets an attitude problem if I try to switch providers.

An interesting analogy, don’t you think?  Especially when it comes from a guy named Abdul-Hakim who smokes Davidoff Cigars, drinks Macallan Scotch and loves bacon, just call me a walking paradox with a big smile and healthy perspective on life.

I bring this up because of a recent study by the Pew Research Center showing the fastest growing faith in America is “none of the above”.

According to the survey, the number of people who believe in God, but don’t really associate with any faith grew from 16.1 percent of the population to 22.8 percent.  That puts them second in line as the largest “denomination” in the country after Evangelical Protestants.

Welcome to the club, my brothers and sisters.  And by the way, most of the “nones” the study found are Generation X and Millennials.

There are numerous reasons why individuals will choose God over religion; the desire to find one’s own path, a general skepticism of organized religions, or the inability to see religion as relevant in their life.

For me personally, I have always objected to someone telling me that to talk to my Creator I need a middleman.  I consider myself a pretty smart individual and can figure it out on my own.  And what I’ve figured over 40-something years is that God wants you to say please, thank you and don’t be a jerk.  How hard is that?

I also find it pretty objectionable when someone tells me that the only way to get to a pleasant afterlife is to follow their tenants.   No offense, but I’ve always found that to be a bit contradictory.  Here’s why.  If we assume, and rightly so, that God is all powerful, nothing is beyond his/her capability and he really likes us, why would he give us only one way to hang out with him in the next world?   It seems to me an individual of capable of not only creating this vast universe, but virtually infinite forms of life, thought, people, plants, animals, etc. would have some flexibility on how you get to meet up when it’s all said and done.

Now this doesn’t mean you will get to be his “right hand man” but it never made sense to me that there’s only one way to get to heaven; unless of course in order for you to stay in business you need to tell people that not only is your product better than everyone else’s, the only way to find true happiness and peace is to buy it and anything else is not only sub-par, but will make your afterlife miserable.

Now you see why I like cable, but have never been big fans of the cable company.  Now where’s my remote control?

Tea Party Takes It on the Chin

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

You might not be aware of this, but the folks who call themselves the “Tea Party” took it on the chin in last Tuesday’s primary.

There was a major fight taking place at the ground zero of Indiana Republican politics; Hamilton County.   It was a fight between the Hamilton County GOP and the “Constitutional Patriots” and the Constitutional Patriots lost, several times.

In every major mayor’s race (Carmel, Westfield and Noblesville) the Constitutional Patriot party-backed candidate lost.   Not only that, but the Patriots lost in almost every council race where they endorsed a candidate and where they did have a “win” it was in name only because those candidates already had ties to the establishment GOP.

I spoke with Hamilton County GOP chairman Pete Emigh about these guys and to paraphrase him he said, “they are sick and tired of the tea party crap and it’s time to put this insanity to out to pasture once and for all so they can save their Republican Party from the crazies.”

And it wasn’t just Hamilton County where the Tea Party was beaten.  In Richmond, Indiana not only did the Tea Party-backed candidate lose in the mayoral primary, but former State Treasurer candidate Don Bates, Jr. resurfaced to complain about “outside forces” that engaged in “threatening tactics, intimidation, lies and distortions, and character assassinations.”   We call it campaigning in the big city.

And even in the quaint hamlet of Nappanee the Tea Party candidate for mayor got beat so badly in the primary, someone had to call 9-1-1.

Now does this mean the tea party in Indiana is dead, not necessarily.   Next year is the 2016 election and I am sure they will be out in force to try and influence the U.S. Senate race as well as whatever other primaries they can get their hands on.

They remind me the “Hydra” organization in the Avengers’ movies; cut off one of its heads and two grow back in its place.  These are the first shots in what is about to be a major civil war within the GOP.

 

Voter, Heal Thyself

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Whenever I get into discussions about low voter turnout and the solutions to the “problem”, I always fall back on the title of this blog post.

I recently sat on a panel with former Marion County Clerk Beth White and IUPUI Professor Sheila Kennedy for the Indy Chamber about voter participation and why it was so low.

(You can actually listen to that spirited discussion here).

During the discussion I decided to engage in what most people think is political heresy, I said I don’t think low voter participation is a bad thing, especially if people aren’t going to get informed about the candidates and the issues.

As I have stated before on numerous platforms, a bunch of people coming together to make an uninformed decision doesn’t make it a good decision, it makes it a stupid decision.  I prefer people stay away from the voting booth if they have no idea what they’re doing.

However, if we must have more voter engagement, I think there are a few things we can do.

First, we should strive for a more informed voter.  This is why I thought legislation this past session which would have compelled high school students to take a civics test prior to graduation was a good idea.

Secondly, and most importantly, I think getting rid of gerrymandering will make for more competitive races and bring out more voters.

And third, no offense to my friends in politics, I think a better crop of candidates overall is more likely to attract more voters,  If you can find people who are smart, charismatic and passionate, you are likely to get more people to show up at the polls.

But fundamentally, it’s the voter’s responsibility to take civic engagement seriously enough to not only show up, but know exactly what they’re showing up over.  Honest people of good intentions  can debate what that level of knowledge should be, but just walking in and marking a ballot and leaving with no clue as to what you are voting for or about is much worse than staying home and doing nothing.

And if you don’t believe me, take a look around you the next time you go to the polling place.

Three Cheers for “Balti-Mom”

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I’ve been preoccupied this week with Statehouse matters so I haven’t had the chance to really chime on the situation in Baltimore.  Allow me to correct that now with a shout out and “you go girl” to Toya Graham, the Baltimore mother who has been seen around the world smacking her idiot son upside the head and pulling him out of the protests.

Graham has been hailed in many corners for taking action and criticized by others.   Since I am in the cheering section, allow me to address the criticism.  Some critics have said that if Graham had been a better parent, her son would not have been out there.  Not really, I have four brothers and come from a responsible, middle class two-parent household, but I still had one brother who had a penchant for finding trouble and my parents usually had to go out and find him.

Secondly, Graham has been criticized for smacking her son, with child psychologists saying she should not have used violence to get her point across and she was sending the wrong message. I am sure they will remember that if those same experts ever find their child in the middle of a protest, dressed in a hoodie to conceal his identity as he goes down to start destroying other people’s personal property and put his own life and safety at risk.

Thirdly, Graham has been attacked for saying the reason she was upset and lashed out was that she did not want her son to be another Freddie Gray.  Well, seeing how several police officers have been charged with murder and manslaughter in Gray’s death, excuse me for not getting upset over that point.

So let’s recap shall we.  A mom who told her hard-headed son to stay away from a bad situation that could put his life in danger finds out he disobeyed so she goes and gets him, smacks him upside the head and embarrasses him on national TV.  Drive 700 miles west and go back about 30 years and that would have been my mother doing the exact same thing under those circumstances.

You go girl!

 

The Return of RFRA

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Just when Indiana lawmakers thought they were past the controversy regarding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) a religious group plans to call on them to revisit the issue.

The Indiana Pastors Association says it will deliver a letter to the Governor and lawmakers on Monday telling them the RFRA “fix” is an “attack on the First Amendment and religious liberty.”

RFRA supporters say the law was necessary to protect religious freedom while opponents said it would allow for discrimination against the LGBT community.

Lawmakers changed the law to say it could not be used a defense in cases involving discrimination, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

In an e-mail to supporters, the Association said they wanted to deliver “a clear message to our elected representatives that those that voted for the FIX and those that had anything to do with its passage opened the door for the trampling of our liberties, betrayed us, exhibited a cowardly capitulation, and have opened the door for oppression. ”

Both the Speaker and Senate President Pro Tempore say repeal is not going to happen.  David Long went so far to say this week that the group’s comments that the fix hurts religious liberty were “probably one of the most ignorant statements I’ve heard in a long time.”

And to make life even more interesting is that these guys are so far off the reservation that the Indiana Family Institute has told them to take a hike.  IFI has removed the Pastors Alliance as one of their subsidiary organizations, because guess what, even IFI thinks doing a press conference and bringing this back up is the worst idea since Eve decided to take a bite out of the apple.

The news conference is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday.  Hilarity will ensue at 1:03 p.m.

 

The Statehouse Psyche

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Earlier this week, I got to play judge at an event called “Hoosier Idol”.  It’s an annual event at the Indiana Roof Ballroom hosted by the Mental Health Association of Indiana.

Along with WISH-TV’s Jim Shella and WTHR-TV’s Angela Buchman, we got to judge a number of “legislative acts” just like the judges on American Idol.

Yes, Indiana lawmakers have a lot of hidden talents, and some of those talents should stay hidden.   (Hey, that’s my job as a judge).  But a lot of them can really surprise you.

State Senator Mark Messer plays the trumpet and the cello.  State Senator Melanie Wright has quite the dance moves  (The name of her troupe was “Right to Work It”).  State Senators Pete Miller and Erin Houchin could probably take their singing voices on the road to Vegas and there’s something about State Representative Cindy Kirchofer yodeling and wearing a traditional Swiss outfit that makes me want to grab a cup of hot chocolate.

The goal of the evening is to raise money for mental health.  And afterwards most of us go out and enjoy each others company over cocktails and conversation.

Not only was the evening a blast and for a good cause, I also felt it was good for what I call the “Statehouse psyche”.    Let’s face it, if you think Indiana has taken it on the chin in the past few weeks, you should been at ground zero when all this was going on.  It was not a fun place.

However, when everyone was in a place where they could not only have a good time, kid each other in good humor and  do their part, both Republican and Democrat, for a good cause it really helped change the atmosphere and did wonders for our own mental health.

I was glad to be a part of it and look forward to next year’s event, however, I’ll take a pass on the Elvis impersonator.

 

Behold, the Budget Breadowns

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

As Indiana lawmakers begin their budget negotiations in earnest, I figured now would be a good time to do a public service and let you know where the House, Senate and Governor’s Office stand. Here is the bird’s eye view of the budget plans.  I have links at the bottom for more specific details.    Note, lawmakers will also have to find a few hundred million dollars to trim because of an anticipated revenue shortfall.

Education (General Funding)

  • House – Increases funding by $469 million over the next two years.  (4.7% increase over the total biennium).
  • Senate – Increases funding by $466 million over the next two years.
  • Governor – Increases funding by $200 million.  (2% in the first year, 1% in the second year)

Education (Complexity Index)

  • House – Eliminates “reduced lunch” as a category for determining funding distribution.
  • Senate – Uses “public assistance” as main criteria for determining funding distribution.
  • Governor – Defers to Legislature

Higher Education

  • House – Increases operations funding by $47 million over the next two years.  (3.5% total increase)
  • Senate – Increases operations funding by $220 million over the next two years.
  • Governor – Increases funding by $40 million over the next two years (2% total increase)

Roads/Transportation

  • House – $200 million increase for roads over the next two years.  $6.5 million for mass transit.
  • Senate – $400 million increase over the next two years.
  • Governor – $300 million increase over the next 2 years.

Corrections

  • House – $94 million in new dollars for operations and diversion.  No new money for prison beds.
  • Senate – $181 million in new dollars for operations and diversion.
  • Governor – $43 million increase over the next two years for operations, $51 million for new beds at Miami and Wabash Valley Correctional Facilities.

Regional Cities Initiative

  • House – $20 million over the next two years.
  • Senate – $20 million over the next two years.
  • Governor – $84 million over the next two years.

Surplus (At the end of the biennium)

  • House – $1.850 billion
  • Senate – $1.851 billion
  • Governor – $1.993 billion

Average Biennial Spending Growth

  • House – 2.23%
  • Senate  – 2.21%
  • Governor – 1.34%

A summary of the House Budget Proposal can be found here.

A summary of the Senate Budget Proposal can be found here.

A summary of the Governor’s Budget Proposal can be found here.

 State Impact Indiana has analysis of how schools fare under the different funding proposal formulas.

 

Indiana’s “Income” Issue

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

We spend a lot of time talking about stagnant wages here in Indiana.   And while this may sound cruel, the individuals most responsible for this are the ones with either no skill set or they let they let skill set fall by the wayside.

Allow me to explain.  According to the most recent state revenue forecast Indiana is expected to fall short of about $156 million over the next few years in income tax collections, much of that is attributed to “wage growth uncertainty” despite gains in employment.  In English that means the jobs are being created, however the wages aren’t necessarily rising as a whole.

Instinctively, that would lead you to believe that while jobs are being created, they aren’t the “good paying jobs” that people need to make a living.  That’s not entirely true, in fact, the opposite tends to be true.  The “good paying jobs” are being created, the problem is finding the people to fill them.

Allow me to explain, over the last couple years, Indiana has gained about 100,000 jobs.  More than half of them pay above the average weekly wage of $813  (that’s a little more than $42,000 annually). Now get this, the largest growth sector has been in manufacturing, which pays on average $1,095 a week, nearly $57,000 annually.  That’s not a bad bit of change.  Throw in your spouse who works and you can have a comfortable lifestyle because Indiana is not that expensive a place to live. CNBC rated the state as the sixth cheapest in the nation.

Now let’s compare that to some other numbers, while Indiana has a high school completion rate of nearly 90 percent only 35 percent of Hoosiers between 25 and 64 had at least an associate’s degree.  That’s a pretty big drop off.  And even when we get people enrolled in higher education, there is still a completion issue.  Only 30 percent finish within four years and  50 percent finish within six years.

You see where this is going.  The facts are pretty clear, the more education and training you have, the more likely your income will rise.  Now this is where someone will some point out a very successful person who did not have any post-secondary education.  However I think we can all agree that for every exception, there are millions of people who are the rule.  And I can assure the ones who did well without a formal education aren’t hiring high school dropouts to manage their finances.

The state is doing its part to expand career readiness.  Whether it is reworking school curriculum to make students more college and career ready, programs through Ivy Tech (full disclosure, I teach there) or the free training programs through the Department of Workforce Development there are numerous opportunities for individuals to improve their lot in this world.  Unfortunately, not enough people are taking advantage of it.  If they were, maybe there wouldn’t be more than one million Hoosiers on some form of government assistance.