My 2011 Year in Review

Family PortraitIt's "year in review" week!

There's just enough time between the Christmas holiday and New Year's Eve for people to get bored, but it's not a good time to launch new TV shows or announce new political initiatives, so we have to have something to keep us entertained.

(As a kid this meant me listening to countdowns of the top one billion songs on the charts for that year, and somehow a Celine Dion or Aaron Neville song always made it into the top five...this was painful, but perhaps reflects more poorly on me and the particular genre of music station I was listening to than it does on all of the music produced in those years.)

But it's been an unusually full year for me, so I thought I'd take a moment to reflect back on what that has included:
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Political transparency and Bing Welch's health

PosingToday's Palladium-Item editorial "Politics cheats citizens" calls out the ways in which local political maneuvering can do a disservice to voters, in this case with the less-than-transparent approach that was taken to handling the unfortunate health issues affecting Richmond City Council's District 5 representative, Bing Welch, during the recent election campaign:

Whether it is the 2009 Christmas Eve Senate passage of a huge, and hugely controversial, health care reform measure by Democrats narrowly controlling the U.S. Senate or, closer to home, Republicans and Democrats waiting until after a general election to craft their respective political handiwork, this is the stuff that alienates and isolates the public from those who have sworn to represent their best interests.

Through any such conversation we must of course be sensitive to Mr. Welch's experience along the way.  I certainly wish him the best in recovering his health, and appreciate the years of time and service he has given to the Richmond community and the residents of District 5.  It's not easy to be a political figure in the public spotlight even when you're healthy, and so we know that it must have been particularly hard on Bing and his family to have health concerns and questions about his ability to serve in that role all mixed in together.

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Starting the creative day

Another mugI work in a world with a lot of artificially constructed structures and images, and those structures and images have a lot of straight lines, right angles and cold, industrial, unfeeling surfaces.  Computer monitors, e-mail composition windows, 8 1/2 x 11 paper with black lines on it, rectangular desks, rectangular parking spaces in dark grey rectangular parking garages, and so on.

It's also the case that I try to do creative work: building interactive and engaging websites, collaborating with people to find innovative solutions to challenging problems, creative writing, creative thinking, and more.

Sometimes it can be a challenge to do creative work surrounded by pieces of infrastructure that don't elicit creativity, and that sometimes even discourage it.

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U.S. out of Iraq? Not yet.

I'm really glad that most all U.S. military forces are leaving Iraq this month; this is long past due.

Most of the media coverage this week seems to be glossing over the significant detail that the U.S. investment in Iraq, in terms of personnel and dollars, will continue.  Instead of uniformed troops from the military, we'll have 15,000-16,000 people there in the form of other government employees and private contractors.  We'll be spending almost $4 billion there in 2012.  These numbers are lower than what we've been investing, but they are not small numbers, and they still represent a significant commitment on the part of U.S. taxpayers, let alone on the part of the soldiers still on the ground.  We can't afford to start thinking or talking as though our involvement in Iraq is through.

It also seems appropriate that when we talk about the human life lost in the course of the U.S. presence in Iraq, we avoid artificial exclusions based on nationality.  The story and cost of war is incomplete if you only recognize the count of killed and wounded on one "side" of any conflict.  As we consider this particular milestone, let us reflect on the totality of what has been sacrificed, taken or destroyed along the way.

Changes in Indiana pro bono legal service funding

Whitewater Valley Pro Bono Legal OfficeWhen you walk into Shane Eddington's office at the Whitewater Valley Pro Bono offices in downtown Richmond, the scene is a little like something out of a John Grisham novel: the heroic lawyer working away at all hours amid piles of legal documents in a windowless office with just one assistant on staff, trying to help the most vulnerable members of our community who couldn't otherwise afford legal services.  Divorces, custody battles, landlord-tenant disputes, managing the assets of the departed and other various issues come across his desk all day long; most of the people he sees can't afford to pay much of anything, but really need his help.

Even if Eddington's role as Executive Director of the organization isn't as dramatic as you'd find in a legal thriller, the need for reduced rate or free legal services in our area has never been greater, and the prospects for funding sources to meet those needs are changing rapidly.

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When you lose track of millions in taxpayer dollars

Alzando manosThe state of Indiana recently discovered it had lost track of $320 million in taxpayer dollars, payments collected from corporations over the last couple of years. This during a time when the state was cutting funding in the millions of dollars for superfluous things like education.  The problem was attributed to a "programming error," presumably in the software used to manage state accounts.

Here were some of the phrases state administrators and legislators are using to describe the error:

  • "eye-catching"
  • "unique"
  • we maybe need a "fresh set of eyes"
  • "bank error in your favor"
  • "We drew the Community Chest card"
  • "glitch"
  • "It did seem...those payments were light"
  • "Christmas came early"
  • "We know what happened and we're correcting it."

Am I the only one who's a little bit disturbed at this trivialization of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars being hidden away for years, even if through omission or oversight?

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