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“Work” is Not a Dirty Word

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

When did “work” turn into a four-letter word?

Did I miss something? I thought working, so you could be independent and not have to rely on others, was a good thing; apparently not according my colleague Erika Smith at the Indy Star.

Smith penned a column about changes that are coming to Indiana’s food stamp program.   The big change is that if you are an able-bodied adult with no kids, you can only get food stamps for three months out of a three-year period, unless you’re working or in a job training program for at least 20 hours a week.

The federal government had waived work requirement for Indiana, but the state decided not to reapply. However, if the economy heads south, it can.   It’s estimated this would impact about 65,000 of the 877,000 people on food stamps to the tune of about $102 million annually.

Smith laments this change, saying we’re picking on the poor, and because there’s no living wage, there’s no incentive for people to go to work. Here’s an incentive to work, survival. If you want to eat, you’ll work.

Work is also not just good for body, but it’s good for the soul. Remember your first paycheck and how you felt that it was money that you earned and the feeling of independence that came with it?   I still have a photocopy of my first check from my first full-time broadcaster job.

And on top of that, if you don’t give people a reason to get off the dole, they never will. It’s the family member who stays on your couch and keeps telling you that eventually he will look for a job. If you don’t light a fire under his rear end, eventually he will take root.

And by the way, this isn’t the first time the state has had to light the fire under folks. A couple years ago, the Department of Workforce Development changed the rules so that when you filed for unemployment you had to report to Work One center on a regular basis to prove you were looking for work.   Guess what? A few thousand people dropped off the unemployment rolls. Imagine that. Even in the latest HIP 2.0 proposed expansion the state has incorporated a jobs element so individuals can become self-sufficient.

So requiring someone who is able-bodied to either get a job or let the state help them find one in order to get assistance is not a bad thing. And yes, we should look at removing some of those barriers that keep those who made a mistake decades ago from finding stable work. But don’t tell me that it’s better for an able-bodied person to get government assistance rather than gainful employment.

The last time I checked, welfare and food stamps were supposed to act as trampolines, not hammocks.  Work is not a four-letter word, but lazy is.





Give Locals Video Gaming

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I think I’ve found a possible answer to some of Indiana’s local government money problems, video gaming machines.

Allow me to explain.  You see, I was in my home state of Illinois this past weekend taking care of the usual legal business, and while there I spent some time Friday night in one of my favorite watering holes in downtown Springfield, a place called the Brewhaus.  I discovered it when I was a graduate student in the mid-90s.  It was a classic dive bar; gross bathrooms, funny smelling carpet,  the booths that weren’t in the best shape.  But the alcohol was cheap and the people were awesome.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and I noticed some major changes.  New furniture, the old carpet was replaced by wooden floors, you could use the bathroom without wearing a protective HAZMAT suit and they had video poker machines.   Yes, video poker machines that actually paid out.  Because in Illinois, video gaming  in bars is perfectly legal and has been since 2009.  And it’s not just the bars and taverns that benefit by using the proceeds to fix up the place.

According to the Illinois Gaming Board, over the last 12 months,  video gaming has generated hundreds of millions in revenue and $180 million in taxes over the last 12 months for state and local governments, $150 million for the state and $30 million for the locals.  And in the land of tax caps and growing needs, video gaming in bars  just might be what Indiana’s local governments need.   The state already allows pull tabs in bars so this really wouldn’t be an expansion of gaming, just allowing another form to take place on the premises.     And you don’t have to worry about minors being exposed to gaming, since they aren’t supposed to be in a bar in the first place.

By the way, electronic gaming machines are already out there.  According to the Indiana Gaming Commission, since 2011, more than 5,300 illegal gaming machines, i.e. “Cherrymasters” , have been confiscated, either by seizure or voluntary compliance.

Of course a lot of this would fall under whether putting video gaming in bars would be “expansion”, some of us would argue that it isn’t since pull tabs are already allowed, I know how my friends in the Legislature operate.  And the impact on the casinos and horse tracks would have to be figured out as well.

At the very least we can all bet, pardon the pun, that it would make for an interesting discussion.



Here Comes the Judge

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Now that a federal judge has ruled Marion’s County system of selecting judges is unconstitutional, it’s time to come up with a new system to pick the individuals who impartially dispense justice.

For those of you who aren’t aware, under the old system Democrats and Republicans got to pick the number of judges based on the spots that needed to be filled, it was 16 total in the last election.  The candidates ran in the primary and the top eight Rs and Ds got to fill those spots.

I always thought that was a bit odd, however to the political operative in me it makes sense that the two parties figured out a way to protect their candidates.

Now that this system is on the way out the door, might I suggest a new one?

I have never believed judges should be elected.  No offense, but I am not a fan of someone who is trained in the law to be subject to the whims of some angry folks come election time.  But, the reality is that a purely merit-based system likely isn’t going to happen, so might I suggest a compromise; a merit-based system with a retention component.

The way it would work is a bi-partisan panel would be appointed by the Governor based on recommendations by the political parties and the panel would appoint the judges.  To keep things even, no party could have a majority of appointees.  And the candidates must have practiced law at least seven years.  Once appointed the judges would serve six-year terms and then be subject to retention by the voters.  It is somewhat similar to the system used to appoint Appellate judges here in Indiana.

I think that would make for a decent compromise. The best and the brightest get appointed.  The political parties get their say.  And the voters get the final word.  What could be more judicial in approach and practice?




In Zoeller’s Defense

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller has caught a lot of grief over the last few months for  defending Indiana’s marriage statute.   Because he defended the statute which defined marriage as one man and one woman, some people think his motivation was that he was opposed to same-sex marriage.

In all the time I written about the Attorney General’s office defense of the marriage statute, I never asked Zoeller what his opinion was, because to be  frank it didn’t matter.   He is an attorney and the State of Indiana is his client and absent some bizarre circumstances, the Attorney General has a duty to defend the law, regardless of what he thinks about it.

And just like he carried out his obligation to defend the prior marriage statute, guess what, Zoeller will defend the new law which says same-sex marriage is legal in Indiana.  He’s already instructed the County Clerks to start issuing marriage licenses.  I am willing to bet money his office has been going through volumes of Indiana Code as it applies to marriage to inform lawmakers how the new rules will apply to same-sex couples, because that is what the Attorney General does.

As lawyers, we have a duty to defend our clients within all ethical bounds.  When we start picking and choosing which cases we will and won’t do simply because we have a different ideological bent than the client, we start to run into problems.  I would argue it would be ground for malpractice if he didn’t.

When Zoeller defended the state’s marriage statute, he was doing his job and now that there is new statute, guess what, he will keep doing his job.

Me, A Liberal? Seriously?!

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

I have been called a lot of not so pleasant names in my 40-something years of living on this planet, and most of them were true.   However, whenever I get called a “liberal” I have to take a little bit of an issue.

In the wake of recent legal decisions, my position on same-sex marriage has gotten some folks rather worked up. Usually these are people who spend a rather unhealthy amount of time obsessing over other people’s sex lives as opposed to going out and having one of their own.  I’ve always said if you don’t like gay marriage, don’t marry someone who’s gay.

I’ve always  considered myself more fiscally conservative and socially libertarian.  I support vouchers and school choice, as well as right to work, reducing welfare and reforming entitlements.  I think the income tax should be replaced by a consumption tax.  However when it comes to people’s private parts, I believe they are just that, private.

In a nutshell if the issue doesn’t cost me money or infringe on my personal freedom or property, I have a hard time getting worked up over it.   Same-sex marriage falls into that category.  I just don’t see how two individuals who have given their informed consent to be in a lifelong relationship and legally assume responsibility for each other is a bad thing.

And please spare me the “what about the children”?   I can make an argument that on average that people who can’t have children on their own sometimes make better parents than ones who can since they have to jump through more hoops to get them and they can’t just go hook up in a bar one night and then leave us taxpayers with the bill for the next 18 years.

And while we’re leaving the ridiculous argument about can someone marry their horse?  That was an episode of Jerry Springer.

I could go on all day about this, but I have more important things to do.  But in a nutshell, there is nothing “liberal” about supporting or not opposing same-sex marriage. If anything folks who label themselves as conservatives should celebrate consenting adults exercising their personal liberty and freedom and agreeing to take responsibility for each other.  Would you rather the government do it?

Now I have to go buy some flowers for my wife because that’s the only marriage I get excited over.

Ebola and Paranoia

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

When I go down the list of things that I worry about, the Ebola virus is not one of them.

As you may be aware the Center for Disease Control announced Monday the first diagnosed case of Ebola here in the United States.   According to media reports, the unidentified man left Liberia on September 19 and arrived in the United States on September 20.  He did not show any symptoms of Ebola and he is now in an isolation unit in a Dallas hospital.

Now this is the point where people start to freak out and images from The Walking Dead or a George Romero film start to come into play.

I am always amazed at the paranoia when it comes to this sort of thing, especially since Ebola is not an airborne pathogen.  You have to come into physical contact with the person.  Or you have to exchange bodily fluids.

So unless you’ve been to Liberia lately, or have exchanged urine, saliva, feces, vomit, or semen with someone with Ebola, then I don’t think you have anything to worry about either.

There are plenty of other things in this world to be paranoid about, just look over your shoulder.


In Wal-Mart’s Defense

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Although I am more of a “Target” person, I find myself in the odd position of using this space to defend Wal-Mart.

I was recently in my boyhood neighborhood on the South side of Chicago checking on my parents who are getting up there in years.  I took my Dad grocery shopping and instead of hitting the usual Jewel-Osco, he wanted to go to Wal-Mart instead.

The store in the Chatham neighborhood,  near 85th Street and the Dan Ryan expressway  and a seven-year long battle took place before it could locate on the site of a former steel company.

When Wal-Mart unveiled its original plans, it was met with opposition from unions and activists, who according to media reports at the time used every political and zoning trick in the book to try and keep it out of the city.

And then the recession hit; people needed jobs and more importantly, Chicago needed tax revenue.

The store has been a welcome shot in the arm for that area.   The folks in that neighborhood are employed and they have a grocery store that is reasonably priced.  In addition, development has started to go up around Wal-Mart.  There is a Lowe’s hardware store next door and more plans are in the work to bring more businesses to the area.

Now there are those of you who will complain about Wal-Mart’s wages and benefits, however if you do some investigation, you’ll find that the retailer’s full-time employees don’t do too badly and part-time employees can move up the ladder if they stay long enough.  And seeing what the wages were for a lot of the folks didn’t have a job BEFORE Wal-Mart showed up, I don’t think they’re complaining too much.

So does all this mean I will switch to Wal-Mart instead of Target?   Not at all.  But for thousands of families on Chicago’s south side, Wal-Mart is perfect for them.


Will Ballard Run for a 3rd Term?

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Whenever I am asked whether Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard will run for a third term, my answer is pretty simple.  It depends on the day you catch him; some days he is gung ho, other days he’s ready to call it a day.

Ballard ignited a lot of speculation about his future this past week when he confirmed to a local reporter that he’d been having some conversations with Cathedral High School to possibly takeover as their President.

That news (which I speculate was leaked by a Democrat with ties to the school) got Indy’s political class in a tizzy.

But putting the feeding frenzy aside, it’s easy to see why Ballard hasn’t made a decision yet.   As I’ve written in other forums, while he enjoys being Mayor as he gets older, he’ll be 60 this year, there’s always the question about the energy for another political campaign, especially when you have a city to run also.

In addition, Cathedral isn’t the only place that’s had the Mayor on its radar screen.  And whatever decision Ballard makes won’t be a solo one, his wife Winnie will have a lot of say in his decision to run.

If he does run, it will be tough race, but I think he can win.  The Democrats’ own polling, I hear, has him beating both Joe Hogsett and Ed DeLaney.    If he doesn’t run, there are a lot of names being thrown out as to who might run in his stead, the one that peaks my curiosity the most is IMPD Chief Rick Hite.

Regardless, I can assure whatever decision Ballard reaches it will be both thoughtful and balanced and have the best interests of his family and city at heart.   And while I would like to see him hold the office for a third time, if he decides to call it a day the fact that he beat the Marion County Democrats twice is a nice consolation prize.


State Public Access Counselor Says Ritz Office Violated Public Records Act

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

The Indiana Public Access Counselor has issued an advisory opinion saying it believes the Department of Education violated the state’s public access law when it failed to respond to my request last year for e-mails regarding former Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Tony Bennett.

A copy of the opinion can be found here.

The request sought information regarding e-mails that included the former Superintendent and his top staff which might have been data mined by Glenda Ritz’s employees once they assumed office.

The request for the e-mails was filed August 5, 2013.   Ritz’s office acknowledged they had received the request for but failed to act on them.

In a response to the Public Access Counselor,  Ritz’s office blamed the delay on a change of staff and the fact they had received numerous requests for documents regarding the former Superintendent.   Her office also claimed that the request was without merit because they intended to reply in due time.

However, the Public Access Counselor’s noted that although the request might have been voluminous,  that a year’s time was ample to comply.  It also said the Department did nothing prior to the date the complaint was filed to narrow the focus of the request, nor did it stay in semi-regular communication as recommended.

Since the issuance of the opinion, we have reached out to Ritz’s office seeking information as to when our request for the e-mails will be fulfilled.  They have not responded yet.

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

by Abdul Hakim-Shabazz

Normally when I go cover a city budget address, I don’t expect to walk into the middle of a controversy.

Here’s what happened.  I went to the Indy City-County Council meeting Monday night to cover the Mayor Greg Ballard’s budget address.  In the Council Chambers, several Democratic Councilors displayed signs saying “Hands Up…Don’t Shoot”  And it included a stick-like figure with his hands up.  This is obviously the Councilors trying to show “solidarity” with what’s going on Ferguson, MO.

I have several issues with this.

  1. We still don’t know all the facts with respect to what happened.
  2. This was done on the day of the 10th anniversary of the death of IMPD Officer Jake Laird.
  3. Numerous young black men have been gunned down in Indy this year by other black men and no one has displayed a sign for them.

Now with that said, I did send a text message to two of the Councilors (there were about six total) who displayed the signs to find out what they were thinking.  One declined, but Vop Osili of District 15, did get back with me.  Here was his response…

“The issue of white police officer-on-black-youth homicide has pervasive nationally for generations.  So many people, me included, feel increasing sensitivity about the ease with which kids (and I am aware many are far from being angels) can be singled out, gunned down and the person responsible walk away and resume life in a fairly short time.  There is no humor here and no disrespect to the memory of our slain officer, none whatsoever.  But there is a generational fear in so, so many families and decades of public nonchalance have hardened people to the plight.”

I fully understand that in some communities there is tension between the black community and law enforcement, and I will give Osili some props for getting back with me even though we disagree.

However, and you knew that was coming, I don’t think the Indianapolis City-County Council was the right place to do this sort of thing. I think it sends the wrong message and only causes more problems than it hopes to address because I think it can be interpreted as something against all law enforcement and not one individual who might have gone rogue.

What do you think?