December 1, 2007

How I Came to Believe in God, and Why I Shouldn't Try to Be Steve Laffey

Justin Katz

To a completely unrelated post, Theracapulas (who has commented under a variety of names over the past six months) explains the problem with Anchor Rising and the RIGOP:

As to why someone like you would say that you agree with a socialist like that URI professor is flat out perplexing. Dan Yorke didn't say that only wealthy people should have children. He said only people who could afford children should have them. She then said that was riddiculous. She's a socialist.

The point behind all this is that you're simply not a fighter, and that's why this blog is so uninspiring. Have you ever posted anything about how we need to move to a voucher system in rhode island? No, you'd rather dance around stupid points with Pat Crowley, and confuse everyone in the process. But that's just one example.

You're passive. That's the problem with the RI. GOP, but it's not just you. Gio Cicione is passive. Governor Carcieri is passive. And the members of the legislature besides Trillo, they're downright laughable. State Senator Ed Bates anyone? lol

The party needs fighters like former Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey and Joe Trillo. We don't needs people like you who dance around issues and go into way too much stupid detail as opposed to making clear, straight forward points.

Putting aside Thera's odd definition of passivity — which somehow includes a man with my schedule, not to mention a businessman who ran for and won the governor's seat and (albeit a little late) laid off hundreds of state workers — I guess the place to start, in my response, is with my conversion to Catholicism. Here's the shortened version of that story:

About eight years ago, I began to feel that the atheism to which I'd stumbled during problematic teen years wasn't adequate to make sense of the world as I was experiencing it. Yet, I'd accepted so many principles, and had learned to have emotional affinity for such a segment of society, that I felt awkward trying to believe in God. My approach to the first stages of conversion was twofold: I attacked the intellectual precepts that I now know to have been faulty by reading opposing argumentation, and I began noticing acceptance of God within the culture to which I'd acclimated. The latter strategy sounds (and is) a little silly, from a certain point of view, but having been a teenage rock/pop junky, for instance, finding religious references in Cat Stevens, Bach, Bob Dylan, and Beethoven and realizing that George Harrison wasn't nuts to be the believing Beatle helped me to develop the emotional configuration of a man in whose culture believing in God is actually a possibility. Just so, conversion requires not only the appearance of intellectual necessity, but also emotional impetus and a spectrum of tiered affinity (from Dylan to Harrison and ultimately to explicitly Christian musicians).

The relevance is that Rhode Island needs to be converted to conservative ideas. As much emotional impetus as the threat of utter collapse may provide, and as much as conservative prescriptions may be obvious necessities, for the state to be saved, its culture and its people must change in ways that touch upon identity.

As it happens, I agree that Rhode Island needs fighters — people to slap the citizens awake and to kick the agents of somnambulism out of the room. That's the central reason that I was so reluctant to support Steve Laffey's bid to take his political career out of the state. But I'm not he; I tried on the taking-no-guff hat long ago and wound up miserable and hurtful. I won't by any means be the last man in the room to throw a punch, but in some folks, belligerence isn't a tool, but a beast. In some folks, it's a comedian. I'm of the former sort, and I've learned that I'm more effective (and happier, to be sure) channeling my fight to other fronts of the war.

The Dan Yorke exchange that Theracapulas misconstrues is an example of the role that, it's fair to say, Anchor Rising in general seeks to fill. Kathleen Gorman said, "You think only wealthy people should have children?" Dan Yorke said, "Yes! Now we're getting somewhere! Only people who can afford it should do it."

Now, we on the right understand (or assume) that Yorke isn't condemning hardworking young families that make the gamble, with reasonable odds, that their professional efforts will pay off with sufficient rapidity to support a growing family. But those approaching the conversation from another direction — the significant number of Rhode Islanders whom we must convert — are susceptible to Gorman's spin/delusion that such families are of a kind with those who procreate without a thought to raising their children and look to the government for indefinite assistance. Note that it was her spun version of Yorke's position that she called "crazy," not (as Thera respins it) Yorke's toned down explanation.

"If all people waited until they had enough money to support their children," asserted Gorman, "there would be no children in the world." As a thirtysomething in my particular circumstances, I can't do otherwise than agree with the statement, isolated of itself. I take it to be my role, therefore, to seek to explain why the statement, isolated of itself, does not require agreement with Gorman's social program. In doing so, I'm also offering counsel to the fighters on my side as to how they might tweak their message for maximum persuasive effect.

How well somebody undertaking such a role actually performs it is always a legitimate area of critique, and I'll cup my meager talents in my palms and plea that I can only do as well as I can do, while always striving to do better. If my writing confuses, I can only apologize and note that I'm merely a humble carpenter. If it's the role itself, however, that you dislike, then I'll suggest that perhaps you aren't my audience. It would certainly be more entertaining for me to crash and burn, frothing with righteousness, but I doubt it would be more effective in the long run.

And if Theracapulas believes that he can create a more inspiring blog, I encourage him to start his own. Heck, I encourage him to come out of the shadows with a real name, begin submitting Engaged Citizen posts, and perhaps to become a contributor to Anchor Rising.


I'm not sure why Thera's so sure that I've never advocated school vouchers; I've done so every time it's remotely relevant to the point that I'm making. Of course, I'm more apt to describe what it is I'm actually advocating — parental school choice, as a matter of principle and practicality — than to plaster my posts with the "voucher" buzzword. The word "voucher" has already been raised as a net for ideological volleys, and at any rate, I'd like to leave open the possibility that a more feasible approach to school choice doesn't involve a voucher system.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

While I understand what you are saying, I am a bit older than you and have become increasingly intolerant of stupid liberals. It is an intolerance with stupidity, not other points of view. If someone wants to argue that a square is really a circle, I am not one to engage, as I won't waste my time. Some will call me beligerant; so be it.

And this is just the point I am at with those who fight every attempt to reform the many problems we face in this state. Just listen to the poverty crowd and the union crowd each and every time an idea is floated to stem the problems we face. I liken it to dealing with the Palestinians. In fact, just look at those in Sudan calling for the death of the teacher who allowed a teddy bear to be named Mohammed. Are these people you can "negotiate" with?

When another 15 years go by, Justin, and you find yourself making the same arguments with the same people, and you look back and see that you have been right every step of the way, and they have been wrong, yet we've acquiesed each time to them, and our problems are now worse - well, there comes a point that you just throw up your hands and say the hell with these stupid bastards, I am not going to even listen to them anymore.
That is where I am at, Justin. It sounds like Thera my be too.

Now, as far as your statement:"I'd like to leave open the possibility that a more feasible approach to school choice doesn't involve a voucher system", just what do you have in mind?

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at December 1, 2007 12:12 PM

Without endorsing the analogy, but accepting it for the sake of discussion:

Are these people you can "negotiate" with?

No, but in the case of our state, they're people with whom we have to live, and who hold the bulk of power. "To hell with them" isn't an active (as opposed to passive) reaction.

As for vouchers, I'm not proposing anything in particular. One way or another — whether the "vouchers" are an actual slip of paper or an abstract allocation of money — the thought is ultimately the same. I just don't want the word to catch us up as we work toward a solution.

For example, it may be to our benefit to rephrase the issue as a tax decrease. In other words, rather than citizens paying the same taxes and, if they're parents, receiving a credit (or voucher) for money to use for schooling, it might be more effective rhetorically to present the exchange as one that doesn't take the money in the first place. (There's a fairness to that, and a clarity of what the school system is actually doing in its current composition: mandatory billing of parents, and everybody else, for the education of children.

I wasn't objecting to "vouchers," just explaining why I try to avoid the word when I'm arguing for school choice.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 1, 2007 1:07 PM

Mike is preaching to the chior because nobody else listens to rants and raves. An audience consisting of the mutual admiration society won't get you very far. I'm probably as old as Mike but luckily have not become jaded to the point of stupidity. I suppose that is because I'm part of the "union crowd."

Truth be told I became a union member when I was nearly thirty. I was on my second home and doing quite well in the private sector and worked a heck of a lot less hours. This neverending battle between the haves and those who perceive themselves the have nots gets very tiresome. The people who run for office and ultimately win that office are the people who should be the object of our rage.

Posted by: michael at December 1, 2007 5:56 PM

I happen to think that everyone so far is wrong -- a little bit. People should have children when they have a reasonable expectation that they then can or at least have the capability or can obtain the means to care for them. There has to be some level of thought and preparation. Just as people should have some kind of blueprint in mind when they get married, the same should apply to having children -- because it's in the best interests of children to be brought up in as stable as possible emotional, as well as financial environment.

Of course, that's one of the main reasons (beside the religious/moral argument) that marriage should occur prior to having children, because it generally leads to a greater level of stability on a number of levels -- for the children. That doesn't mean "wealth," it means having the ability or capability to support oneself and potentially others with the basic necessities of life (and no, Ipods and X-Boxes are not necessities). I've known plenty of "poor" people who've done just fine, because they live within their means. People shouldn't be trying to have children, because they know in the back of their minds that the government will shield them from consequences.

I think what Theracapulas may have been trying to say in so many words (if I may be allowed to put words into his mouth), is that Anchor Rising tends towards the cerebral -- which some may seem to be a "passive" exercise. The difference might be something like the study of philosophy, versus the study of mechanical engineering. Since God came up in the post, the best religious analogy that I can think of would be about someone having faith, but not acting upon it, i.e., "faith without works is dead."

I happen to think that cerebral discussion has it's place as a part of the solution, since it's all but disappeared on the left side of the spectrum. If you don't propose good, conservative solutions to problems, they're certainly not going to come from big government liberal types. However, if people don't then take those proposals and then do something to act upon them, for instance by proposing legislation or by speaking up at hearings, or whatever, then, perhaps the question might be asked, what ultimate good is it? It'd be the equivalent of lighting a candle, and then putting a bushel over it -- or having a candle, but not lighting it to begin with.

PS We should all be content to let Steve Laffey be Steve Laffey. He's been doing a good enough job at it.

Posted by: Will at December 1, 2007 6:14 PM


You're missing part of the point: the alternative to passive is not frenetic, as Thera treats it, but active, and I'd argue that even operating and contributing to this blog is active, no matter how cerebral.

And it's certainly not true, besides, that all we at Anchor Rising do is think and write.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 1, 2007 7:57 PM


Consider this.

You remind me of my little brother, a 12 year old who plays basketball. He's got a boatload of talent. He's a great shooter, and he can make a mean pass to the open man.

But here's the problem. He's passive.

Players on other teams, with about half as much talent as him, get more rebounds and steals, and drive to the basket more, (and thus score more points).

You, in politics--and in this sense I believe you're a good representative of most conservatives in this state--are like my little brother in basketball. Intellectualy, youre leaps and bounds ahead of the liberals. But they're agressive. You're passive. They fight. You don't. And therefore, they win and you lose.

Lets go back to your statement about Goram's socialist position.

You said, at least on some level, you agree with Goram about the fact that people who can't support kids should have them.

That's insane.

Let's take your example about your own situation. You said you can provide the basic neccestities for your kids, like food and clothing, but don't know how you'll pay for their college. Therefore on the surface you agree with her statement.

How those two positions amount to an agreement in any sense? She thinks people who can't put food on the table or clothes on their bodies should have kids. That's a far cry from not being sure where the college tuition is coming from. Food and clothing are necessities. College isn't.

The fact that you're willing to align yourself with her on any level is perlexing. It goes back to my point that you're afraid of a good fight.

I'm more than willing to tell you why Governor Carcieri isn't much of a fighter, but I'm going to save that for another time.

And I will remain anonymous for now. As the supremene court has ruled, anonymous free speech is protected under the constitution.

Posted by: Theracapulas at December 2, 2007 10:27 AM

"Theracapulas", the fight is at the General Assembly, which is constitutionally vested with a disproportionate amount of power. Governor Carcieri has been terrific and if we pull out of this fiscal nosedive, it will be because he led the way. But he would be the first to emphasize the importance of electing the right legislators - ones who will act for the good of the state and won't wield the tax and regulatory guns to enrich special interests and get themselves pointlessly re-elected.

That fight will not be won on a blog but at the voting booth and during the preceding campaign. However, an important part of that fight is education and dissemination of information. Quite simply, the facts are wholly against the elected officials who have made Rhode Island the seventh highest taxed state, bestowed upon it the worst business climate, racheted up unjustified social programs, etc, etc.

And that's where a blog comes in. In the fight for better government, it has the same important role (though, let me hasten to add, with a smaller audience) as radio, television/cable, newspapers - aggregating and disseminating information. [That's why it is disturbing when the news dept of the state's paper of record mis-reports, mis-represents or fails altogether to cover an important issue or event. By doing so, they are abandoning or even subverting an important responsibility.]

Now, do you disagree with this characterization of the situation? And, either way, what do you feel this blog is doing or not doing that makes it a passive fighter?

Posted by: Monique at December 2, 2007 11:18 AM


Here's what I wrote immediately following my initial transcript of that exchange on Dan Yorke:

I suspect, however, that my agreement with Ms. Gorman might be superficial: The emphasis on money and affordability, it seems to me, allows a spin (or else a delusive elision) by which practitioners in the welfare industry steal more agreement than they actually deserve.

Are you suggesting that I'm aligning myself with somebody who is either spinning the issue or else is making elisions out of delusion? My point was (and I actually think this much ought to have been clear from the beginning) that the terms of the discussion cost those on our side, and gain those on the other side, support among many of the folks whom we need to convert to our way of thinking in order to save the state.

In explicating your position, you illustrate that you understand precisely the distinction to which I wanted people to come between different parents.

As for anonymity, I wasn't threatening anything... merely saying that you could become more active if you weren't anonymous. But to the point (in case you were insinuating something more), your free speech rights do not give you a license to comment anonymously on our Web site. We grant that ability, and we have the right to take it away. (Again, not that I'm threatening anything.)

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 2, 2007 11:24 AM


Don't get me wrong, Governor Carcieri's heart is in the right place. But he plays politics when he shouldn't, and stands behind liberal republicans who don't deserve his support. (I can back this up with examples, and I think you all know who I'm talking about, but just say the word and I'll be glad to do it.)

To win elections, we can't be passive and say that socialists like Goram make any points whatsoever. We can't work together with these people. They have no point, and it's because of them that the state's finances are in the toilet. We have to work against, not with people like that.


I still can't understand why you'd say you agree with Goram (Gorman, Golem, whatever that socialists name is) at all, or on any level? Why should someone who works hard like I do, have to pay tax money to support some lazy welfare recepient who can't afford her own kids? How can you say that you agree on any level, or in any shape of form with such a person?

As far as anonymity goes, I wasn't saying I had a right to leave anonymous comments on your blog. This is, afterall, your blog. I was just saying that I think anonymity should be my perogative.

So you know, I didn't mean to insult you. (And I hope I didn't.) I was just trying to point out that you, and the RI GOP in general, better start getting more agressive on all fronts.


Posted by: Theracapulas at December 2, 2007 1:45 PM

The Governor should be more vocal in his beliefs against abortion "rights". I for one think we are one Supreme Court appointment away from making real progress for the Pro Life cause.

One can dream, right!

Jim Nieberg

Posted by: Jim Nieberg at December 2, 2007 1:58 PM

You're still missing my objective: in expressing a limited (and quickly questioned) agreement with a specific statement of what's-her-name's, I was seeking to undermine her spin (by highlighting the distinction that you note) and to alert those who argue against her (e.g., Yorke) that they'd do well to choose their words such as to do the same.

Posted by: Justin Katz at December 2, 2007 2:00 PM

For some time now the RIGOP has been not so much a political party as a conglomeration of independent contractor politicians, operating under the (hollow) shell of the “Party.”

Some by ideology have really been Democrats (e.g., Chafee, Avedesian), and for some mysterious reason have clung to the Republican label even though they’d feel more at home in the RI Democrat Party (perhaps they don’t want to rub elbows with the corruption – Irons, Celona, Harwood, Montalbano etc etc etc). We’ll call these “RINO’s” (“Republican in Name Only” for those not already familiar with the term).

Others are merely mercenaries who have had no particular political philosophy other than “what’s in it for me” (e.g., Traficante, Levesque) – folks who’ve maneuvered into sycophantic accommodation with the Democrat power structure – and have enjoyed favors for being obedient and keeping the RIGOP that way. We’ll call these “VICHY REPUBLICANS.”

The Vichy Republicans and RINO’s, while espousing a “big tent” philosophy for cover, have presided over the neutering of the Republican Party in RI: they’re ball-less dogs sitting at the feet of the Democrat table, waiting for scraps to be thrown and hoping they don’t get kicked. Little wonder the “big tent” has kept getting smaller and smaller, and is now a pup tent.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the “real Republican” base is beginning to stir.

Don Carcieri beat out RIGOP-anointed Bennett to become the Republican nominee, and in a terrible year for Republicans was reelected (whereas “moderate” Chafee went down to defeat). Chafee himself faced a primary challenge from much more conservative Steve Laffey, who would have won were it not for Democrats crossing-over and hijacking the Republican primary (at the behest of Chafee). Chafee is no longer registered as a Republican. Patricia Morgan is gone as Party Chair, replaced by the more conservative and aggressive Gio Ciccione.

The RI Republican Assembly (a/k/a "the Republican Wing of the Republican Party") has climbed from obscurity though exclusion to “can’t ignore” status within the RIGOP, and indeed is rapidly becoming the SPECIAL FORCES OF REPUBLICANISM in Rhode Island.

Between the Democrats’ corruption (RISDIC; Operation Dollar Bill) and fiscal mismanagement (you think it’s bad now, wait until you see the figures for the unfunded pension liabilities due to their union giveaways), there is real potential for Republicans to regain lost ground and, I believe, become the majority party in Rhode Island.

The Democrat Party is hostage to corruption, public sector unions and the welfare industry – and an aggressive political party that represents THE REST OF RHODE ISLAND represents the MAJORITY of Rhode Island. Purge the RINO’s and Vichy’s from the RIGOP (or at least marginalize them into irrelevance) and the RIGOP could take control of this State.

Which would be a good thing, for that is the only hope this State has – continued Democrat control will only result in continued corruption, financial mismanagement, bad schools, bad roads and a laggard economy.

Posted by: Tom W at December 2, 2007 11:17 PM

Between the Democrats’ corruption (RISDIC; Operation Dollar Bill) and fiscal mismanagement (you think it’s bad now, wait until you see the figures for the unfunded pension liabilities due to their union giveaways),
Posted by Tom W at December 2, 2007 11:17 PM
Yeah, anyone know when those unfunded pension figures have to be released, January 1, 2009 is sticking in my mind?
Should put the final stake in the heart of the "it doesn't matter that police and fire have bloated staffing levels and retire at 41" crowd.

Posted by: Mike at December 3, 2007 8:53 AM

For some time now the RIGOP has been not so much a political party as a conglomeration of independent contractor politicians, operating under the (hollow) shell of the “Party.”
Posted by Tom W at December 2, 2007 11:17 PM
Yes, but the same is true of RI Democrats.
You have the more or less right thinking ones (say Lombardi or David Carlin or that Jan Malyk (sp) from Warren) who would be Republican if there was a 2 party system.
You have your corrupt but pragmatic ones (think Caprio, Harwood, Murphy, Montalbano and most of the past and present GA leadership) who give way to the unions and Progressives to the extent they have to-but not one inch more-and who deep down hold the union/welfare/Progressive trika in as much contempt as you or I.
There are the union hacks like Ruggiero, Bea Lanzi, Montanaro, etc. who could care less about the Progressives other than as pawns for their own profit.
Then there are the pragmatic Progressives like Paiva-Weed, Sissyline and Gordon Fox who will sell out their beliefs in a minute for power.
Finally, you have the cuckoo-clock, "bring on the strightjackets", "Free Mumia" Progressives like Josh Miller, Segal, Jerzyk, Betsy Dennigan, Art Handy, Brewster, Henry Shelton and the entire cast at the Phoenix and RI Future. This last group has no connection to the real world (as long as Daddy's money holds out) and while the nosiest, is actually the least credible threat.

Posted by: Mike at December 3, 2007 9:20 AM

Tom W,

Great Post. Anchor rising should be reporting the things you just pointed out. Not what the Tiverton Commission on Dog Catching is doing, or saying that socialist Golum makes good points.

Posted by: Theracapulas at December 3, 2007 9:34 AM

While I hear what you are saying, your message is one that a) gets lost, and b) confuses people, due to your hypersensitivity with offending anyone.

In fact, that is precisely why this state is such a mess. Everyone knows everyone and they don't want to offend anybody so we continue the slide towards disaster.

Worrying about what people think of you is not the hallmark of a leader. Surely you've heard the expression, "the truth hurts."
There is no candy-coating the problem in this state. Those who try won't fix a thing.

Posted by: Mike Cappelli at December 3, 2007 10:39 AM

"While I hear what you are saying, your message is one that a) gets lost, and b) confuses people, due to your hypersensitivity with offending anyone."

Maybe I'm hypersensitive, but Justin has never been afraid to "offend" me, all in the spirit of moving the discussion along. Offending somebody with facts, or perceived facts is one thing, insulting a person's livlihood, character and honesty quite another. I've given Justin's opinions a lot of thought, and am not shy when it comes to sharing those ideas. The insults I endure go in one ear, out the other.

Posted by: michael at December 3, 2007 11:35 AM

>>Yeah, anyone know when those unfunded pension figures have to be released, January 1, 2009 is sticking in my mind?

GASB - Government Accounting Standards Board - has two "rulings" in place, so-called "GASB 43" and "GASB 45."

GASB 43 deals with OPEB ("Other Post Employment Benefits) besides pensions. GASB 45 deals with pensions.

What these do is force state and municipal governments to disclose (essentially on an accrual basis rather than a cash basis) the present value differential between what they've promised state / local employees in retirement benefits, and the money they've actually put aside to to pay for what they've promised.

The reporting requirements are phased in based upon the size of the entity - states, large municipalities (cities), then towns.

The State of RI pension system - which includes teachers - currently has an unfunded liability of almost $5 BILLION (yes, that's billion with a capital "B").

The State OPEB is something between $400-600 million (I don't know if this includes teachers).

Then throughout RI there's the municipal side unfunded liabilities for police, fire, miscellaneous employees.

Thanks to the Democrat General Assembly Rhode Island is fiscally screwed. The RIGOP could capitalize on Rhode Island's lack of capital - the Democrats made the mess, now we need the Republicans to clean it up.

Posted by: Tom W at December 3, 2007 11:49 AM

Tom, between the RINO's and the Vichy's, dont' forget there's the "Jackvony's"

Posted by: George at December 3, 2007 5:35 PM

"The RIGOP could capitalize on Rhode Island's lack of capital - the Democrats made the mess, now we need the Republicans to clean it up."

Yup. And invoking some too-often ignored principles of the GOP to achieve it: fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, improved business climate. The opposite of these things has put Rhode Island in its present non-feasible condition.

Posted by: Monique at December 3, 2007 10:12 PM
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