January 31, 2005
The Geopoliticization of World's Oil & Gas Industry
Irwin Stelzer has written a sobering article in the February 7, 2005 issue of the Weekly Standard on what he calls the "geopoliticization of the world's oil and gas industry."
His key point is:
...it can't be said that the free play of supply and demand ever set prices in the oil market. But we are now seeing an even more profound uncoupling of the oil industry from anything resembling the model characteristics of market economies. Governments rather than traditional commercial enterprises are increasingly taking control. And those governments often have interests quite hostile to ours.
In support of his thesis, Stelzer makes the following points:
...America remains highly dependent on Saudi oil, the production of which is controlled by state-owned Aramco, an instrument of the Saudi government's foreign policy...
[Through] the Iran-China Chamber of Commerce, established in 2000,...state-owned companies in China [are] buying oil from state-owned companies in Iran...
The China Petroleum & Chemical Company (Sinopec) also signed a 30-year natural gas purchase deal to help the mullahs get their gas industry moving and agreed to invest in the development of the Yadavaran oil fields in return for Iran's agreement to sell it 150,000 barrels per day of crude oil...
As Gal Luft and Anne Korin pointed out in the March 2004 issue of Commentary (subscription required), China "has sold ballistic-missile components to Iran as well as air-, land-, and sea-based cruise missiles...Even more significantly, China has provided Iran with key ingredients for the development of nuclear weapons," and China's Fiber-Home Communications Technology is building a broadband network in Iran.
Sinopec agreed to spend $300 million to develop natural gas resources in Saudi Arabia...The Sino-Saudi oil-for-arms trade has included the sale by China of ballistic missiles with a range of 1,800 miles and capable of carrying a nuclear warhead...
China clearly aims to position itself as an alternative to America as an ally and armorer of countries that oppose U.S. foreign policy...China also tends toward countries that are key suppliers of the oil that keeps the wheels of American commerce turning...
We cannot forget that the real price America is likely to pay for the Clinton-Gore years will not be from inappropriate sexual dalliances, but from that administration's peculiar dealings with China, which Bill Gertz outlines in his 2001 book entitled "Betrayal: How the Clinton Administration Undermined American Security." Character does matter in the end.
Gertz has also elaborated previously on the growing threat from China in his 2000 book entitled "The China Threat: How the People's Republic Targets America."
Canadian prime minister Paul Martin just visited Beijing and came away with a broad-ranging deal to cooperate in a wide variety of energy projects, including plans for a pipeline and ports that would allow...oil from Alberta's tar sands to move to Canada's west coast for export to China...According to their joint communique..."Canda and China share the view that the United Nations and other multilateral institutions have an essential role to play in the development of a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world."
...[Chinese] President Hu Jintao has agreed to invest $100 billion in Latin America in a variety of energy-related an dother partnerships...
Most threatening is the arrangement made with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, a man with close ties to Fidel Castro and who claims his country is under "a new U.S. imperialist attack." China has agreed to invest over $400 million in Venezuela's oil and gas industry, and to buy 120,000 barrels of that country's fuel oil each month. Chavez has made it known that he plans to use the proceeds of his oil industry to fund sales of cheap oil to Castro, and he has not denied rumors that he plans to finance revolutionary groups in other Latin American countries. Moreover, he has announced that he is no longer bound by his exploration and development deals with American companies ConocoPhillips, Harvest Natural Resources, and ChevronTexaco, putting into question the reliability of supplies from Venezuela, which account for 15% of U.S. imports...
We cannot forget that any long-term consequences here were made possible by Jimmy Carter's ignoring of well-documented voting irregularities which allowed Chavez to "win" what most other observers said was a stolen election that he should have lost. (Or, as Power Line subsequently said when talking about Carter and Iraq: "Jimmy Carter isn't just misguided or ill-informed. He's on the other side.")
Stelzer continues with the litany of problematic developments:
CNOOC, China's third largest oil company, is preparing a series of acquisitions in Asia that will allow China to acquire the resources it needs to fuel its growth and extend its influence into countries in which its commercial presence has until now been insignificant...
Putin has been developing what astute observer Roger Boyes calls "a new policy instrument" to reassert Russian power. That instrument is "the Russian gas and oil-exporting companies that already all but dominate Europe's energy supplies...According to the IEA, by 2020, natural gas will account for 62% of Europe's energy consumption, and Russia will supply two-thirds of that gas...
Germany already gets 35% of its oil and 40% of its gas from Russia...
Russia is using its reserves to...make Germany, France and other countries heavily dependent on Putin's goodwill...[Putin can then] rely on German and French self-interest to tip those countries to his side in any dispute with the United States...
Ronald Reagan must be turning over in his grave since he led the effort to stop a Soviet pipeline to Western Europe, thereby denying the Soviets both hard currency and political leverage.
The list of other efforts contrary to American self-interest continues:
Russia also plans to use its ample reserves of oil and gas to extend its influence in Asia. It has already agreed to allow Japan to finance an oil pipeline from eastern Siberia to the Pacific, from where it can be transported to Japan...and allow Russia to export to several Asian nations as well as Japan...
Perhaps most important is Russia's use of oil to cement relations with China...Putin has offered China National Petroleum Corporation a piece of Yukos, the Russian oil giant that produces 1 percent of the world's crude oil, and that Putin effectively renationalized...Putin's siloviki, which includes his old KGB chums, is now firmly in control of Russia's oil industry...
Putin's offer to the Chinese of a branch connection with the pipeline joint-venture with Japan...
At the same time, there is a new report about the growing number of Russian spies in our country.
The core issues raised by Stelzer were also raised in a 2004 book by Bill Gertz called "Treachery: How America's Friends and Foes are Secretly Arming Our Enemies."
Stelzer sets up a potential endgame conflict scenario:
Russia and China are using state-owned companies that are not bound to profit-maximize to achieve their long-term goal of weaving a web of relationships that will stand them in good stead in any diplomatic confrontation with the United States. Whether America can continue to rely on its private sector to provide us with comparable clout is no longer certain. After all, when companies that have to maximize profits compete with companies that seek to maximize national influence and power, the latter will engage in projects that the former simply cannot.
Does anyone doubt that these actions amount to nothing less than economic warfare against the United States?
Will anyone pay attention and act before it is too late?
A recent news article also highlights the strong presence of Chinese spies in America.
RE:WITMO (Where is the Moral Outrage)
To continue in my role as a WITMO amplifier and hope provider, I would like to point to a new book by Larry Schweikart and Michael Patrick Allen, A Patriot's History of the United States : From Columbus's Great Discovery to the War on Terror. Schweikart was interviewed at FrontPage about the motivation for writing the book, which boiled down to Schweikart finding "a numbing similarity in all the U.S. history textbooks: they all seemed heavily tilted to the left." He sought out Allen and both agreed that a joint venture to set the record straight was worthwhile. They have hopes that the book will be able to capture some of the market, especially high school, homeschool and a few "conservative" higher education outlets. As for puncturing the "mainstream" academic market, the authors are
. . .less optimistic. The academy is unique in the social and economic culture of the United States, in that it is essentially immune from the market forces that discipline every other activity. I highly recommend a book by my fellow Ohioan, Richard Vedder, Going Broke By Degree, on this topic. But here’s what we have: the faculty (aided and abetted by leftist administrations) sets the intellectual agenda. Trustees cannot control them, parents cannot control them, and even the students---who are less willing to put up with left-wing demagougery---really can’t control them. In the first place, faculty have an iron grip on hiring. No conservative can even get close to a final three cut-down in a search. Mike and I are rare, rare exceptions, and there are a few. But you’ve seen the numbers. In most universities it’s 10:1 liberal to conservative.The examples of Bill Felkner and Schweikart and Allen give us hope, tempered by a realistic analysis of the overwhelming ideological hurdles in academia, that it is worth the attempt to equalize the ideological situation within the Ivory Tower. The question remains whether the old Tower can be refurbished or if it will have to be torn down and replaced.
Worse, there is no competition, because the mind-set of those at the top convinces them that all of their competitors have the same views they do, so they steadily drift further left. . .
However, I can’t completely lose hope. In my lifetime, I’ve seen something occur that I would have thought impossible---the demise of the MainstreamMedia (MSM) and the rise of “alternative” or “conservative” voices with almost as much power and influence, including the Internet and sites such as Frontpagemagazine.com . Twenty-five years ago, who would have predicted that the “big three” would be in a news ratings free-fall, or that a radio host like Rush Limbaugh would have as much influence over a large part of the country as the New York Times? So given that it happened in the media, anything’s possible. But right now, I don’t see educational reform on the horizon. I hope I’m wrong.
Finishing the Line
In his commentary in the Providence Journal, which Don mentions in the previous post, Rhode Island College student Bill Felkner does the single most important thing for government reform:
Let's draw a straight line: The school teaches the "perspective"; graduates get jobs at the state Department of Human Services and the Poverty Institute; the DHS testifies (using Poverty Institute "research") to the State House on how well programs are doing. How can we blame politicians for developing ineffective programs when they are guided by biased testimony?
He doesn't draw the line far enough, though, to illustrate that it is actually a loop. Note Felkner's explanation of the approach to welfare that his school advocates and that the Rhode Island government follows:
Welfare programs are employment- or education-focused, further defined by "strict" or "lenient" requirements. Rhode Island has a "lenient, education-focused" model, and the proposed legislation advocates greater leniency.
In summary, not only are educators populating the state bureaucracy with ideologues, not only are educators helping to develop policies and put the shine on those already instituted, but the policies that these educators advocate are focused on increasing the customer base for yup educators. Consider the emblematic story of Providence's April Brophy, told in the Providence Journal last June. Ms. Brophy and her husband divorced, then he became disabled, so her child support payments were miniscule. State assistance helped, but it wasn't enough, until:
BROPHY'S BOSS wanted her to start working Saturdays. But Brophy had no one to care for her youngest child, Bobby, then in kindergarten. When the situation could not be resolved, Brophy quit, and entered an eight-month case-management program at Rhode Island College.
"It ignited my passion for social justice," Brophy said.
There Brophy learned that as kind as her social worker had been, she had neglected to tell Brophy that there were dozens of training and education programs open to her, part of her welfare benefits. The social worker had mentioned only two: RIC's case-management program and a certified nursing-assistant program. ... Brophy received her certificate in case management in May 2003 and tried to get a job in the field. ...
A few months later, she landed her current job: organizing for Rhode Island Parents for Progress, an advocacy group for low-income working families. ...
She says she has regained her sense of self-confidence. She hopes to go back to school to earn an associate's or bachelor's degree in social work. She now earns $11 an hour -- the highest salary she has ever received.
Described from a business point of view, Ms. Brophy is an ideal customer of the education industry. Not only did she complete the circuit between educators and government funds in her own case, but she is now employed to find other such human conductors. Seen in this light, the "perspective school" that Felkner now attends has a clear conflict of interest in its dealings with state policy, and the corruption is manifest along the entire loop, including the corruption of the ideals of higher education.
As I highlighted in response to the Projo's piece on Brophy, one can in good faith and with charitable intentions put forward solutions that align with one of two worldviews. Corruption aside, Rhode Island's more common worldview believes that people's particular difficulties must be addressed in the most expedient way possible: giving to them what the government has collected from others. The worldview that I favor puts the responsibility for people's lives in their own hands, believing that human nature creates a marketplace that incorporates every aspect of society, from economics to familial culture to religion, and that people ought to be allowed empowered, in modern Marxist jargon to seek their own balance.
As a nuclear family, the Brophys were doing just fine on $35,000 per year. According to Rhode Island College's Poverty Institute, a family of four needs $48,000 in combined income and handouts to get by. Unless we break this cycle whereby interest groups set policies that siphon tax dollars in their own direction while creating incentives for people to make unhealthy decisions, our state will eventually find itself attempting to subsidize everybody with revenue from nobody, and our culture will only generate more messes to mop up with public green.
Where is the Moral Outrage?...Again and Again
When I first wrote the "Where is the Moral Outrage?" posting, I did not plan for it to become a series. Soon, another posting followed. There is a growing counter-response, as Marc has noted (here, here, here).
Now we have our own Rhode Island story in today's ProJo.
Talking about the Rhode Island College School of Social Work (SSW), one quote in the editorial by Bill Felkner says it all:
As one faculty member put it, "The SSW is not committed to balanced presentations, nor should we be."
Don't you just love the sound of words dedicated to rigorous intellectual exploration and academic freedom?
The public side of this tale dates back to a ProJo story published last November 14.
If you want further background information, go to Bill's website. It is another sad and sorry tale about the state of the American academy.
Bill has now had an article entitled "Indoctrinated into Inadequacy" published in FrontPage.com magazine. He writes about how the behaviors at the SSW limit academic freedom:
My taxpayer-funded school proclaims it only teaches from a liberal/progressive “perspective.”
My taxpayer-funded school produces research to support this “perspective.”
My taxpayer-funded school demands political activism to advance this “perspective.”
Bill then describes how the system perpetuates itself:
The Rhode Island legislature – which is 85 percent Democrat in the House and 83 percent Democrat in the Senate – pass legislation that requires that administrative positions in the government’s welfare and social work departments be filled by SSW graduates - further perpetuating its leftwing “perspective.”
...Once “social work” meant government workers at the welfare office. Today it encompasses private clinical therapists, government administrators, policy analysts/researchers, and lobbyists...
In every state, social workers are involved with health services, labor services, foster care and welfare services. They design, influence and implement policies in your state. We are even taught how to create policy simply with our actions. Social workers, sent with their marching orders from Rhode Island School of Social Work, carry a single and persistent theme – the prescribed “perspective” is the only solution, regardless of the issues...
Bill then connects these practices to an unsettling conclusion about how costly the loss of academic freedom is - both within the academy and within our society:
How does this loss of academic freedom affect not only me but also Rhode Island? Besides the loss of intellectual diversity that spawns creativity and empirical knowledge, it has a more tangible and costly influence to our economy and more importantly to the poor.
One requirement of graduation is that we lobby the State House on social justice issues. I selected the Education and Training bill, because it is the core of welfare reform, a career interest of mine.
Welfare programs are “work-“ or “education-first,” further defined by “strict-“ or “lenient-requirements.” Rhode Island has a “lenient-education-first” model and the proposed legislation advocates more leniencies. At first glance, statistics provided by the school seemed convincing in supporting this approach. However when I read the entire study I found it inadequate.
The Rhode Island General Assembly receives testimony from the Department of Human Services (DHS) on the effectiveness of Rhode Island’s welfare program. This testimony is driven by research produced within the halls of Rhode Island College, the same research used to solicit support from students. But is it valid?...In layman’s terms - it’s survey material, not experimental data. So I looked for more.
The US Department of Education and US Department of Health and Human Services commissioned random assignment design studies for the explicit purpose of evaluating the impact of welfare programs. The Manpower Research Demonstration Corporation (MRDC) produced these reports.
Results show the model promoted (and imposed) by the Rhode Island School of Social Work is the least effective and most costly.
Virtually all variables studied (earning, poverty-reduction, job-security, self-sufficiency, effects to minorities, etc...) show “lenient-education-first” programs under-performed the other 3 models...
If random sampling studies are preferred - and are available - why doesn’t the school use them? Is this state school in pursuit of knowledge or a political agenda? The answer is obvious.
Correcting for ideological prejudice is relatively simple if the will is there. A simple comparison to other states can identify solutions that work. The US Census supplied demographic data used in a recently released Cato Institute report that ranked states on a variety of issues. With Rhode Island spending so much more proportionately on welfare compared to other states, it is both disconcerting and revealing to see rankings in the bottom 15-20 percent on most performance categories including ‘teen-pregnancy’ and ‘poverty-reduction.'
...The MRDC research makes very clear the comparative disadvantage of using Rhode Island’s education first program, “the (work-first) programs generally produced larger five-year gains in employment and earnings than did most of the (education-first) programs.” (Links for studies at www.collegebias.com)
With Rhode Island ranking 3rd in per-recipient spending, 6th in tax rates, 46th in business tax-climate, and among the lowest in welfare efficacy (36th poverty-rate - 49th caseload-reduction - 46th teen-pregnancy - 41st job-entry - 40th earnings-gain), wouldn’t all of Rhode Island’s citizens benefit from more effective programs? The poor become self-sufficient, funds become available for others, and taxpayers might even get a break.
Our policy class at the School of Social Work “teaches” that a comprehensive welfare state, one devoid of work-requirements, is the optimal form of government. Our professor flatly declared: "Students need to decide whether they agree with (my opinions) and whether they belong in social work."
As has been said elsewhere in past years, the last bastion of Marxist thought is the American university. Their ignorance would be laughable - except that these fools are indoctrinating many young minds with their Liberal Fundamentalism.
Thank goodness for the liberating presence of technology that allows alternative views to be expressed and heard in places like this blog site. There will be a public debate on these issues, regardless of whether certain people at the SSW want it or not. And the rest of us won't run from empirical data.
A letter to the editor in the February 8, 2005 ProJo responds to Bill Felkner's editorial in a curious way.
What the letter's author completely misses is that this debate has absolutely nothing to do with caring about/for the needy and working to help alleviate their needs. It has everything to do with the lack of intellectual honesty of certain so-called advocates who both willfully choose to ignore empirical data regarding what makes the most effective public policy and then punish those who don't hold firmly to an orthodoxy disconnected from reality. And these people proudly tout their ideologically-driven ignorance!
Brian Bishop has added his voice to this debate in an editorial published in the ProJo. Marc has covered it well in a separate posting, so this addendum is being added only for the purpose of completeness.
Justin has also offered up some additional thoughts.
David French, President of Freedom for Individual Rights in Education, (FIRE) wrote a letter on January 28 to John Nazarian, the President of Rhode Island College. A powerful letter, it can be found about halfway down the first page on this website. FIRE's blog site can be found here.
Separately, I found one statement on the "Expectations of Students" for the Policy Class to be quite interesting:
Maintenance of complete confidentiality regarding issues that may be raised in class. Discussions that occur here stay here and are not meant to be conveyed into public spaces.
This has led Bill to respond:
If two of our assignments are to lobby for social justice issues, and building public support is part of those campaigns, how can we do that without discussing them in "public spaces"?
This "expectation" wouldn't then be a gag order for only politically incorrect opinions, would it? Nah, why would anyone think that?
John Nazarian, the President of Rhode Island College, responded on February 15 to the FIRE letter mentioned above. His letter can also be found about halfway down the first page on this website.
There was a ProJo article about the new Dean of the RIC SSW. Some of her comments raised the issue of "social justice," which led to this separate posting of mine on the question of "What Does Social Justice Mean?"
One of the RIC SSW students has published a letter to the editor in the ProJo.
Justin has done a great job of challenging the comments in this letter. Since the letter clearly sums up the radical world view of these left-wing zealots, I would encourage you to read Justin's excellent posting.
From the April 24 edition of Rhode Island Policy Analysis' On the Radar comes this news:
Finally, we can't talk about the sorry state of Rhode Island's social safety net without this Bill Felkner update. Bill is a mid-career masters student at the taxpayer financed Rhode Island College School of Social Work. Bill has greatly offended the liberal ideologues who run the school (along with the affliated Hypocrisy, oops, I mean Poverty Institute) by pointing out that the data used by the school to lobby the General Assembly is far from evenhanded. He has even, heaven forbid, pointed out that Rhode Island's dismal performance record in getting people off welfare suggests that we might want to change our approach to that used by better performing states. This questioning of ideolgical idols has led to Bill's tires being slashed, and repeated references to various committees in an attempt to get him tossed out of the SSW. The latest chapter in this sad saga involves a masters program requirement that a student serve an internship with a policy advocacy organization. Bill has obtained one in Governor Carcieri's office, to advocate for the Governor's welfar reform proposals. Sounds great, right? Not if you are the faculty at the (taxpayer financed) RIC SSW. They have pointed out to Bill that one of the requirements is that the internship be with organizations that advocated "progressive" change. Bill naively thought this meant changes that achieved progress, as in better results. The faculty explained that it meant policies that passed a liberal ideological litums test. The net result is that as of last week, Bill's faculty adviser at RIC SSW had yet to contact the Governor's Office to discuss Bill's proposed internship. Let's be clear: at a taxpayer financed institution, this is outrageous! If you think so too, why not call RIC President John Nazarian on (401) 456-8101, or email him at email@example.com.
January 30, 2005
The Driving Forces in Iraq
To mark the historic elections today in Iraq, I republish, here, a column from December 10, 2001, that has been available in full only in my book, Just Thinking: Volume I. A view that was then extreme has proven predictive, and I, for one, do not question that the world is better for it.
Congratulations to the people of Iraq for having come to a point that was all but unimaginable only three years ago. How fortunate the world is that so many Americans are brave enough to do the hard work necessary, that our leaders are willing to move doggedly ahead with necessary action, and that the people of Iraq have stood with us by standing up for themselves.
"No leader of any country, no matter how cruel, inhumane or stupid he might be, would purposely deny his own people the necessities of life," wrote Al Taylor in an October 23 letter to the editor of The Providence Journal.
Upon digging up the edition of that paper with "Saddam Wouldn't Be That Bad to His People" for this column, I was surprised to discover that it had the same author as an email that I recently received attacking my essay, "Who Are These People?" I say "surprised," not "shocked." But maligning Mr. Taylor is not my intention. He has just provided such a concise albeit extreme example of a way of thinking that I quote him directly to avoid accusations that I am creatively rebuffing arguments that nobody is making.
The letter then states that "the people of his country [are] the only reason any leader exists." This is a noble, demand-side view of leadership. Antithetically, through my wife's experience as a bar tender for an exclusive beach club, I've observed that certain members of the modern aristocracy still feel that the average citizen is alive expressly for the purpose of serving them. Although other views exist, the prevailing political philosophy in most of the Western world today places leaders, as does Mr. Taylor, in the role of the chauffeurs of their people.
However, maintaining the good graces of their passengers is a particularly modern prerequisite for governments. That Al could so dogmatically state his assumptions is a testament to how much good our culture and our country have done in this area over the past few centuries. Assuming that today's truth has been held as true always and by all is a natural inclination. Nevertheless, it is a distinct privilege of the long-removed descendants of revolutionaries to be able to forget the reality that spurred the movement toward representative government and to believe that the entire world has been won over by what is so obviously the proper relationship of government to people.
Our fortunate problem in America is that we have difficulty comprehending that a leader would decimate his people to pursue unattainable ends. To the extent that U.S. (or U.N.) sanctions are to blame for suffering in Iraq, our nation can be forgiven by the fact that we couldn't have anticipated that they would be allowed to go this far by that nation's leadership. It took a long time for the situation to degrade to its current state, and the shifty, watchful eyes of every despot and potential despot in the world oblige the United States to avoid the appearance of rewarding Saddam's willingness to play chicken with his own people in the back seat.
If the Iraqis were empowered to research a balanced explanation of the causes of their predicament, it is likely that their distress would eventually become sufficiently intense to spark a revolution. To avoid an overthrow, Saddam uses the pervasive strategy of dictators everywhere: deflecting blame toward the United States. Outside the stadium where the dictator's is the only voice, foreign spectators, right down to lowly letter writers, act as spokespeople for his propaganda if they do not place him at the hub of their analyses.
As our fight against terrorism intersects with our desire to stop the needless languishing of the people of Iraq, we cannot allow our resolve to be curbed by beliefs about how leaders should act in an ideal world, or even how they do act in the Western world. With so many people's lives at stake in both initiatives, our actions cannot be indecisive or delayed.
So-called "smart" sanctions that would more efficiently target Saddam and not his people should, perhaps, have been instituted several years ago, but now they merely represent an attempt to salvage a wreck of a strategy. They may serve to duct tape the steering column in place, but on the unpredictable path of postSeptember 11 international affairs, they will not hold. Further sanctions would only prolong the unnatural circumstances of the Iraqi people and extend Saddam Hussein's reign. His rhetoric and his oppressive might would come to outweigh, even more, the drive of his people to be free of him. Yet, for the same reasons, we cannot simply cease the sanctions.
To give the children of Iraq a deservedly promising future, we must ensure that the nation's tyrannical leader is replaced by a government that agrees with Al Taylor... at least about a driver's responsibility to his passengers.
January 28, 2005
RE: Lincoln's Nixing of the Spelling Bee
As Justin said, leave it to Rhode Island . . . An additional excerpt
The administrators agreed, Newman said, that a spelling bee doesn’t meet the criteria of all children reaching high standards -- because there can only be one winner, leaving all other students behind.What's next? If we take their logic to its, um, "logical" conclusion, the following will also have to end:
"It’s about one kid winning, several making it to the top and leaving all others behind. That’s contrary to No Child Left Behind," Newman said.
A spelling bee, she continued, is about "some kids being winners, some kids being losers."
As a result, the spelling bee "sends a message that this isn’t an all-kids movement," Newman said.
Furthermore, professional organizations now frown on competition at the elementary school level and are urging participation in activities that avoid winners, Newman said. That’s why there are no sports teams at the elementary level, she said as an example.
The emphasis today, she said, is on building self-esteem in all students.
"You have to build positive self-esteem for all kids, so they believe they’re all winners," she said. "You want to build positive self-esteem so that all kids can get to where they want to go."
A spelling bee only benefits a few, not all, students, the elementary principals and Newman agreed, so it was canceled.
1) The most obvious is that there should be no more grading system. An "A" only benefits a few students, giving them an advantage in the competition for college slots. Besides, it hurts the self-esteem of those not receiving "A"s
2) No more school-related athletics. What would be the point. There can be no more State Champions as the other competitors would be "left behind" and, again, would have their self-esteem challenged.
3) No more lines, such as in the cafeteria or in fire drill musters. Being first in line would imply preferential treatment for the first student in line. The situation could damage the self esteem of those not in front of the line, particularly the last child in line. In effect, other than the first child, all others would be "behind."
4) All state and federal mandated testing should end as it is inevitable that some students/schools/districts will not perform as well as others and it could damage their respective self esteems. This is simply not fair. Er, wait a second.....
Could that be their point, after all?
Hmmmm. D'ya think they could be making some sort of political statement at the expense of the kids?
Naw......not in Rhode Island.
Easier to Slow the Front than Vivificate the Back
Leave it to Rhode Island school administrators to prove that our educational system is run by people for whom "no child left behind" translates into action as "no child gets ahead":
The Lincoln district has decided to eliminate this year's spelling bee -- a competition involving pupils in grades 4 through 8, with each school district winner advancing to the state competition and a chance to proceed to the national spelling bee in Washington, D.C. ...
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda Newman said the decision to scuttle the event was reached shortly after the January 2004 bee in a unanimous decision by herself and the district's elementary school principals.
The administrators decided to eliminate the spelling bee, because they feel it runs afoul of the mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. ...
The administrators agreed, Newman said, that a spelling bee doesn’t meet the criteria of all children reaching high standards -- because there can only be one winner, leaving all other students behind. ...
"There was no debate at all. It was one of the easiest decisions," the assistant superintendent said because "there was no question among the administrators" that a spelling bee was "contrary to the expectations" of No Child Left Behind.
Note, particularly, that this decision now closes the children's route to state and national competitions. That doing so was "one of the easiest decisions" indicates that perhaps the district ought to leave the superintendent and principals behind.
(via the Corner)
Finding the Balance in President Bush's Inaugural Address
At the risk of trying the patience, or interest, of some, I offer one last (I promise) analysis on President Bush's Inaugural Address. Today, the Providence Journal's Philip Terzian succinctly encapsulated what Bush's speech was all about. :
George W. Bush declared that "the great objective of ending tyranny is the concentrated work of generations." To some, he seemed to be conjuring up the Kennedy ghosts in a quest to liberate a fractious world. To others, he was parroting the boilerplate rhetoric of American idealism.
Which was it? It was both. It can hardly be news to say that the American republic regards itself as a beacon, a "shining city on a hill," to inspire daughters and sons of liberty around the world. That has been our civic religion, with minor variations, from the time of John Winthrop to Thomas Jefferson to Theodore Roosevelt and onward. Kennedy, after all, said that the "long twilight struggle" would "not be finished in the first hundred days . . . nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin."
The difference between 1961 and 2005, however, is experience. Bush's objective in Afghanistan was to show that when tyranny takes the form of terrorism, it must be punished. In Iraq his intention, as I take it, is to demonstrate that freedom is naturally intrinsic, that tyranny can be attacked, and will be assaulted if it stands in the way of a larger objective -- in this instance, a just settlement of the Arab-Israeli struggle.
In that sense, Bush is an advocate, not an evangelist, of freedom. He recognizes that the "long twilight struggle" against terrorism demands the toleration of imperfect regimes -- Pakistan, Russia, China -- and that exhorting the world to embrace freedom involves risk (Taiwan), as well as reward (Ukraine). The point is not that the United States can make impossible things happen, or will lead the charge in a dozen different places, but that American power means certain principles, as well as prosperity and military strength.
Marketing a Better World
Apart from catharsis, the griping of the previous post raises a point worth considering. It's important that individuals and groups are stepping forward across Rhode Island to spur the state in a better direction, and it's great that we're beginning (slowly) to find and work with each other. It's also important for everybody from unknown bloggers to Edward Achorn of the Providence Journal to shine lights into the messy corners of the society in which we live. And it's great that we've got at least one prominent figure, Mayor Laffey, stepping forward to prove that change is possible. Still, amid all these good trends, we have to make one task a priority.
We have to construct a positive vision of what Rhode Island will be like if others join us to effect change. Decreasing corruption is an appealing goal of itself, but we need a clear and easily accessible picture of what it will mean for the experience of the average citizen.
Even writing and thinking about culture and politics as often as I do, I've found that the vision of the future that inspires me comes in flashes of limited scenes. We're early on in the process of change, of course, still assessing the damage and its proximate causes. Nonetheless, it behooves us to form a reasonably thorough concept with time lines and milestones of the future toward which we hope the painful steps ahead will lead.
Grab for the Goods, or Stand for the Good?
Heading back from the post office, where I'd hoped to find waiting any of a handful of checks that I desperately need, I heard a caller to the Dan Yorke show who's in a position with which I've some personal experience. The guy had just incurred $25,000 of debt so that his wife could acquire her teaching certification, and now she's "paying her dues" as a substitute, waiting to get fully into the system. His emotional dilemma (although he sounded as if he'd made up his mind) was between his understanding that Rhode Island needs deep reform and his personal proximity to one of the state's gushing arteries of wealth. Take the reasonable side... or get his wife "in there" first?
Well, odds are he's going to have a long time to think about it, and I'm not referring to the slow rate of reform. The deal that teachers have in Rhode Island is so good and, frankly, the job can (as opposed to should) be done with such ease, when it's become habitual, that job seekers far outnumber open positions. Oh, one hears predictions and has for years of a mass retirement/teacher shortage, but one also observes those many teachers hanging in there years beyond expectations.
During my wife's experience subbing in Rhode Island, there were some among her peers who'd been waiting for nearly a decade for their "dues" to be paid. I suppose after that amount of time one becomes used to the telephone calls before dawn dictating the location of the day, and certainly by that time, the family has had to find a way to make up for the pitiful pay and cover the further costs in time and money to maintain the certification over the years. What's awfully difficult to get used to, however, is the lottery of politics and nepotism, whereby one never knows whether a school system will fill openings from the sub pool, from the teachers' and/or principal's buddy lists, or from out of state.
The more time I spend scrambling to stay above water at the submerging end of Rhode Island and I've been getting my shoulders wet for six years now the more I appreciate how thorough of a governmental and cultural change is necessary. Look around, and you'll discover deep problems that leave very little reason for optimism just about everywhere.
Take the trades. Noticing how much better my brothers-in-law have done with trades than I have with my degree, finding the opportunities for which my education prepares me to be scarce, and thinking it a healthy day-job balance to my various opinion and artistic endeavors, I've been looking to get into the apprentice process as either an electrician or a plumber. Financial circumstances, however, preclude my taking classes beforehand, so the only viable option is to take a job completely green.
In the past couple of weeks, I've called over a hundred companies, and meeting with some of each trade, I've found one response to be overwhelmingly common: Demand is so great that a journeyman will have absolutely no trouble finding work, and "experienced" apprentices will have little. But for the same reason, tradesmen are loath to slow themselves down training somebody new, and those willing to make the investment quickly reach their maximum. By Rhode Island law, you see, they can only have one apprentice per licensed tradesman.
Suppose I'm an entrepreneurial type who notices that nobody seems to be able to find a plumber for anything short of an emergency. To respond to that opportunity, I'd have to be an apprentice for at least four years, working an average of 2,000 hours per year and taking relevant classes for 144 hours per year before I could take the test to become a journeyman, paying various fees along the way. Then I'd have to work for a master plumber for another year before I could take the test to become a master myself. Finally able to start my own business, I could then hire one single apprentice to begin the process over again.
That may or may not seem reasonable; a bachelor's degree generally takes four years, after all, and that may qualify the graduate for nothing more than an entry-level job. But two factors must be taken into account. The first is that the starting point and necessary education for the work that most college grads do are largely determined by the market. If a region has an extremely high demand for a particular service, college mightn't even be necessary.
The second is more relevant to Rhode Island's comparative environment. In Massachusetts, the apprentice requirement for plumbers is three years and only 100 hours of schooling during each one, with one more year and another 100 hours of classes before taking the master's examination. From the individual's perspective, that's not a huge difference. But from the marketplace's perspective, it is.
Starting everybody green, and assuming everybody passes the tests immediately, after 12 years, Rhode Island's system will have turned one master plumber into four masters and four journeymen, able to take eight apprentices. The Massachusetts system? Double in every category. Not only will twice the customers receive service, but twice the unemployed people can step onto the career path. Moreover, the gap ripples outward into the economy in innumerable forms from the cost of home renovations to the rates of pay for less-skilled jobs.
If you're still reading this lengthy venting session, you're probably wondering... well, you're probably wondering why. What are the takeaway points? The first is that these little instances of additional security for people who are already established permeate Rhode Island society, and they represent a tremendous drag on the state as it moves toward the future; this is unjust to those starting out in the state, and it doesn't bode well for quality of life trends for anybody. The second is that the willingness the drive to change must be so thorough as to encompass areas that most people not vested in the status quo don't give any thought.
As I said, there is not much room for optimism.
January 27, 2005
Thwarting Ideological Compromise in Connecticut
The Family Institute of Connecticut notes an interesting development on the same-sex marriage front in that state:
Even Rep. Staples and the Courant are beginning to realize that Love Makes a Family is an extremist organization. But they should not be surprised by LMF's position. It follows naturally from the group's misreading of Connecticut public opinion on same-sex "marriage." Pro same-sex "marriage" legislators and the Courant are aghast at LMF's "all or nothing" push for same-sex "marriage" because they are slightly more tethered to reality. LMF, on the other hand, may really believe its own spin about the fictional "Planet Connecticut," a land where an "enlightened" majority favors same-sex "marriage."
If so, Connecticut's pro same-sex "marriage" media establishment bears some of the blame. Today's Courant piece, for instance, uncritically touts a UConn poll purporting to show that a majority of state residents favor civil unions and a plurality favors same-sex "marriage."
LMF's ardent persistence continues the lesson that the various rebel civil servants around the country imparted when they shrugged at the law and began handing out marriage licenses: the prudent and practical among same-sex marriage's supporters aren't really spokesmen for their cause. This applies to their ability to fairly negotiate (for lack of a more appropriate term) at each stage of the society-wide debate, and it applies to the amount that the other side ought to take them as representative.
(Reluctantly) Deconstructing Peggy Noonan
We cannot leave Iraq and should not leave Iraq. . . We have to stay, and we have to win. I define winning as the yielding up of, at the least, a relatively stable society unafflicted by governmental sadism and dictatorship, and, at the most, a stable society in a fledgling democracy that demonstrates, with time, that the forces of Arab moderation, tolerance and peacefulness can triumph. Such an outcome would give so much good to the world. What a brilliant beacon this Iraq could be, and what a setback to terrorists, who thrive in darkness.In another piece, a eulogy to President Reagan, Ms. Noonan wrote of the ideals that guided the President as he guided America.
I do not feel America is right to attempt to help spread democracy in the world because it is our way and therefore the right way. Nor do I think America should attempt to encourage it because we are Western and feel everyone should be Western. Not everyone should be Western, and not everything we do as a culture, a people or an international force is right.
Rather, we have a national-security obligation to foster democracy in the world because democracy tends to be the most peaceful form of government. Democracies tend to be slower than dictatorships to take up arms, to cross borders and attempt to subdue neighbors, to fight wars. They are on balance less likely to wreak violence upon the world because democracies are composed of voters many of whom are parents, especially mothers, who do not wish to see their sons go to war. Democracy is not only idealistic, it is practical.[emphasis mine]
In his presidency he did this: He out-argued communism and refused to accept its claim of moral superiority; he rallied the West, rallied America and continued to make big gambles, including a defense-spending increase in a recession. He promised he'd place Pershings in Europe if the Soviets would not agree to arms reductions, and told Soviet leaders that they'd never be able to beat us in defense, that we'd spend them into the ground. They were suddenly reasonable.Given her criticism of President Bush, one wonders if Ms. Noonan has forgotten the many "experts" who said that President Reagan was being unrealistic. In her aforementioned rebuttal, she attempted to reconcile her present view with the "overreaching" that was done by President Reagan. Her reasoning falls short as it seems to me to be an excercise in contradiction.
Ronald Reagan told the truth to a world made weary by lies. He believed truth was the only platform on which a better future could be built. He shocked the world when he called the Soviet Union "evil," because it was, and an "empire," because it was that, too. He never stopped bringing his message to the people of the world, to Europe and China and in the end the Soviet Union. And when it was over, the Berlin Wall had been turned into a million concrete souvenirs, and Soviet communism had fallen. But of course it didn't fall. It was pushed. By Mr. Know Nothing Cowboy Gunslinger Dimwit. All presidents should be so stupid.
For a half century our country faced a terrible foe. Some feared conflagration. Many of us who did not were convinced it would not happen because the United States was not evil, and the Soviet Union was not crazy. The Soviets didn't want war to achieve their ends, they wanted to achieve those ends without the expense and gamble of war. We rolled them back, bankrupted them, forced their collapse. And we did it in part through a change of policy in which Ronald Reagan declared: From here on in we tell the truth. He called the Soviet Union an evil empire because it was a) evil and b) an empire, and c) he judged a new and stark candor the way to begin progress. We'd already kissed Brezhnev; it didn't work. And it wasn't Reagan's way in any case.In short, while she praised Reagan for telling the truth, she believes that now, given the changed "context," we can only tell the truth so long as it doesn't make anyone "accuse us of conceit, immaturity or impetuousness"? Given the persistently negative reaction to the President seen in Europe, I think this wish is one doomed to be unfulfilled. Ms. Noonan must accept that some countries continue to cling to the belief that the world is politically multi-polar. With this mindset, they view the U.S. as the biggest pole that needs to be balanced and will take steps, such as in the UN Security Council, to limit our actions in the hope of balancing our power. Platitudes would only quell the criticism temporarily.
Today is quite different. The context is different. Now we are up against not an organized state monolith but dozens, hundreds and thousands of state and nonstate actors--nuts with nukes, freelance bioterrorists, Islamofascists, independent but allied terror groups. The temperature of our world is very high. We face trouble that is already here. We don't have to summon more.
Healthy alliances are a coolant in this world. What this era demands is steely resolve, and actions that remove those who want things at a full boil. In this world we must speak, yes, but softly, and carry many sticks, using them, when we must, terribly and swiftly. We must gather around us as many friends, allies and well-wishers as possible. And we must do nothing that provides our foes with ammunition with which they can accuse us of conceit, immaturity or impetuousness.
As Ms. Noonan's own writings, and history, have shown, the ideals expressed so effectively, and frequently, by President Reagan were key to ending communism. She is afraid that President Bush's speech calling for the extension of freedom could call more trouble down upon us. Could it call any more than Reagan did? This comes close to blaming us for the (predicted) actions of others. Additionally, she clearly exhibits an old-school, "realist" school of foreign policy stance.
Here is an unhappy fact: Certain authoritarians and tyrants whose leadership is illegitimate and unjust have functioned in history as--ugly imagery coming--garbage-can lids on their societies. They keep freedom from entering, it is true. But when they are removed, the garbage--the freelance terrorists, the grievance merchants, the ethnic nationalists--pops out all over. Yes, freedom is good and to be strived for. But cleaning up the garbage is not pretty. And it sometimes leaves the neighborhood in an even bigger mess than it had been.Yes, just as President Reagan's actions did in Nicaragua, Grenada and El Salvador and his words inspired in the old Eastern Bloc. Regardless, Noonan forgets that the President spoke of how it would take generations of Americans to spread the freedom of which he spoke.
The comparisons between President Bush and President Reagan have been made before. One can't help but think that Ms. Noonan recognized the similarities when she wrote of our current "gunslinger":
George W. Bush has given our soldiers something to be proud of, something they can understand and respect. He is, now, after all he's been through the past two years, Mr. Backbone. He has demonstrated to a seething and skeptical world that America can and will stand and fight for a cause, see it through, help the tormented and emerge victorious.Cobble these excerpts together and I think we can see that, in the past, Ms. Noonan appreciated it when ideals were voiced. I don't think that she has stopped believing in them, which is why I don't understand why she was so critical of the President. Is is a case of "wrong place, wrong time"? Could she believe that the Inaugural Address was the wrong forum for the President to speak of higher ideals? Should Reagan have called to tear down the wall in Berlin when he did? Wasn't that a case of asking for much more than was possible while risking the anger of both foes and allies as we took on more than the U.S. could "handle" at the time?
It is important who he is. George W. Bush is an American of the big and real America. He believes in it all--in the vision of the founders, in the meaning of freedom, in the founding and enduring ideas of our country. He believes in America's historic insistence on humanity and not inhumanity in war, and he appears to have internalized the old saying that "one man with courage is a majority."
I used to wonder if George W. Bush's biography didn't suggest a kind of reverse Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was born in low circumstances and rose with superior gifts. Mr. Bush was born in superior circumstances and rose with average gifts. And yet when you look at Mr. Bush now I think you have to admit--I think even clever people who talk loudly in restaurants have to admit--that he has shown himself not to be a man of average gifts. Backbone is not an average gift. Guts are not an average gift. The willingness to take pain and give pain to make progress in human life is not an average gift.
All in all these are amazing qualities in a political figure, and in a president. There's a headline for you: America appears to have a president worthy of its people.
One thing about these excerpts does strike me, though: they were all contained within pieces written by Ms. Noonan prior to her taking a leave of absence to be a political consultant on the President's campaign. Could it be that Ms. Noonan's time in the belly of the political beast, where so much focus is put on practical and pragmatic political solutions, has inured her against the purpose of voicing the ideals of a nation? I don't know. I do know that I appreciate Ms. Noonan's political acumen and writing. I will continue to read her with pleasure, even though I think she has gotten carried away with literary deconstructionism. Remember, Ms. Noonan, most Americans aren't literary critics. Instead, they want to believe that their country is a force for good in the world. The President reminded us that it is by using soaring rhetoric that spoke to the higher ideals of a nation. To paraphrase something that I previously wrote: The President made this speech to present the case for a cause, extending freedom, that is greater than the protection of our own nation's self-interest. At the same time, he showed that our nation's self-interest depended on pursuing that higher cause.
Technology: Vehicle of Liberty
Idealism, however, isn't the sole spine of "the democracy strategy." The strategy seeks to address a very concrete issue: technological compression. Technological compression is a fact of 21st century existence -- and it is the superglue now bonding American foreign policy idealism (promoting democracy) and foreign policy pragmatism (survival via realpolitik).
An article of mine in The Weekly Standard's Jan. 3, 2005, issue frames it this way: "Technology has compressed the planet, with positive effects in communication, trade and transportation; with horrifyingly negative effects in weaponry. Decades ago, radio, phone cables on the seabed, long-range aircraft and then nuclear weapons shrunk the oceans. Sept. 11 demonstrated that religious killers could turn domestic jumbo jets into strategic bombers -- and the oceans were no obstacles. 'Technological compression' is a fact; it cannot be reversed. To deny it or ignore it has deadly consequences."
Translation: There is no "over there." Everybody lives next door. All local gossip can become international rumor in an instant. With weapons of mass destruction in the mix -- particularly if biological or nuclear weapons are employed -- a tribal war in Saudi Arabia or a border firefight in Asia can rapidly escalate to global disaster. . .
Sept. 11 demonstrated that we cannot tolerate the wicked linkage of terrorists, rogue states and weapons of mass destruction. Terrorists plus rogue states plus weapons of mass destruction: That's the formula for hell in the 21st century. Rogue states are inevitably undemocratic, authoritarian states -- typically secular or religious tyrannies.
Given modern technology and the role tyrannical states play in facilitating or exporting terror, a democratic offensive against tyranny is realpolitik. The explicit American goal is to advance free states where the consent of the governed creates legitimacy and where terrorists are prosecuted, not promoted. (via Instapundit)
Senator Reed, Iraq and Troop Strength
Reed called a recent Pentagon pledge of a long-term military presence in Iraq "helpful prudence." And he deemed it a welcome change from Bush administration skimping on Army troop strength in Iraq and its "disingenuousness" about the cost of the war.The first paragraph holds the "compliment," the last is the straw man. In emulation of Senator Reed, let me be the first to warn against legalizing the killing of civilians in Iraq, OK? The point is, I don't believe that the Bush Administration has signaled that they plan on "phasing out" of Iraq any time soon. This was essentially confirmed by Reed himself.
Reed warned against any steps to withdraw or "phase out" the U.S. military force in Iraq and pledged legislative efforts this year to increase the size of the Army by at least 30,000 troops. He spoke in a telephone conference with reporters.
Reed specifically applauded this week's renewed expression of the U.S. commitment by Lt. Gen. James J. Lovelace. Lovelace, the director of Army operations, said leaders assume that troop strength in Iraq will hold at the current level of 120,000 for at least two more years.Thus, Reed has clearly warned against something that he knows isn't going to happen.
Given that, I do agree with Reed that more troops are needed. As one who believes in the President's call for the global spread of freedom, I also believe that more ground combat troops will be needed to help secure that freedom. We need more boots added to the pool of troops that can be rotated in and out of Iraq and other hot spots.
He also said the United States expects to continue to rotate active-duty soldiers through yearlong stints in Iraq and to try to tap reserve forces more.This last is a good move as I believe we need more active duty soldiers to carry the load. The Guard and Reserves have gone above and beyond anything we could have imagined. There is a history of using the National Guard in foreign wars.
"You're going to need more soldiers" to maintain that pace, Reed said, particularly since the strain of the Iraq deployment is beginning to show in weaker recruitment and retention rates in the National Guard and Army reserves.
Reed noted that the Army's wartime "operational tempo" depends on keeping large numbers of Guard and reserve troops on active duty. Because those soldiers tend to be older and more committed to family and career than active-duty Army, they have become the first to decide in significant numbers against reenlisting, he said.
"The heart and the core" of the Guard and reserves -- young captains and senior enlisted personnel -- are beginning to say, "I can't be called back again in six months or a year" because of the wear and tear on jobs and families, Reed said.
Largely to relieve the strain on these reserves, Reed and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., sponsored legislation last year that expanded the Army by 50,000 troops. Reed said they will try this year to add another 30,000 troops to the currently authorized active-duty force of 502,000.
In 1903, important national defense legislation increased the role of the National Guard (as the militia was now called) as a Reserve force for the U.S. Army. In World War I, which the U.S. entered in 1917, the National Guard made up 40% of the U.S. combat divisions in France; in World War II, National Guard units were among the first to deploy overseas and the first to fight.What is different now, to my knowledge, is the nature and duration of deployment that the members of the Guard and Reserves are experiencing.
Following World War II, National Guard aviation units, some of them dating back to World War I, became the Air National Guard, the nation's newest Reserve component. The Guard stood on the frontiers of freedom during the Cold War, sending soldiers and airmen to fight in Korea and to reinforce NATO during the Berlin crisis of 1961-1962. During the Vietnam war, almost 23,000 Army and Air Guardsmen were called up for a year of active duty; some 8,700 were deployed to Vietnam. Over 75,000 Army and Air Guardsmen were called upon to help bring a swift end to Desert Storm in 1991.
A recent memorandum from Lt. General James Helmy to the US Army Chief of Staff, written on December 20th 2004, regarding US Army Reserve troop readiness has revealed the depths of the problems experienced by the Reserves and National Guard. (PDF) I urge all to read it. It is a sobering assessment, but hopefully it will provide an impetus for reform. Some of the burden of the Reserves and Guard will be alleviated by the expansion of the regular Army by adding 30,000 more troops.
In war, there are always mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them and make the appropriate adjustments in strategy, tactics and policy. Hopefully, the experiences of how the Guard and Reserves have been handled thus far in the Iraq War and the broader War on Terror will lead to a better understanding of what we can expect from, and what we owe to, our citizen soldiers. Yes, these people "signed up" for this and they are obligated to serve. But their superiors, both in the military and in the Administration and Congress, are obligated see to it that our soldiers, marines, and sailors are treated fairly.
In these times of heated partisanship that bleeds over into nearly all policy debates, it is difficult to remove our ideological blinders and try to look objectively at an issue. This is especially true if we may find ourselves agreeing with those with whom we usually disagree. At times, it has appeared to me as if Senator Reed has used problems in the War in Iraq for partisan gain, especially during the recent Presidential campaign. In contrast, General Helmy has consistently exhibited a genuine concern for those under his command and has been championing reform. However, regardless of past perceptions I may have had, in this specific case, I believe both General Helmy and Senator Reed are doing their part to look out for the men and women in our military. For that I commend them.
January 26, 2005
Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part VII
The January 17-23, 2005 issue of the Providence Business News had an article which discloses that Providence has the fifth highest tax burden among the largest U.S. cities. The article begins:
In a new study that's sending shock waves through local business and political circles, the commercial property tax burden in Providence ranks fifth highest among the nation's 55 biggest cities, behind Chicago, Detroit, New York City and Des Moines. Boston ranks sixth.
To put the picture into even starker context, Providence's commercial tax burden is 70 percent higher than the average of the 55 surveyed cities...
Providence's commercial property tax burden is 17 percent higher than Boston's...
Comments from Peter Marino, director of policy at the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC), explain why the tax burden is so high:
A lot of it depends on what's growing. Residential properties are growing in value, whereas commercial values are growing less strongly. If the city did nothing to alter the equation, that additional tax burden would shift to residential properties. But the city has made a conscious choice to maintain the same level of taxation on business and residential properties, despite the difference in valuation, which means percentage-wise the burden falls harder on commercial.
In other words, instead of dealing with the real problem of governmental overspending and the resulting high taxes, Providence politicians and bureaucrats have made a conscious choice to shift a portion of the tax burden from Providence residents to the Providence commercial sector.
The political and economic consequences of these actions can be easily deduced:
Undercharging Providence residents will be popular in the short-term and provide the opportunity for current politicians to increase their odds for re-election. However, businesses will have an economic incentive to leave Providence due to this tax burden - and they will act on the problem at some point in the future. When they do leave, that will reduce tax revenue without reducing government expenses. Somebody will have to pay the difference. But, since that has not happened yet, current politicians incur no personal political or economic price for failing to tackle today's structural problems. They gladly push the problems off to others in the future knowing that, by the time the true price has to be paid, it will likely be someone else's political problem.
However, even that analysis ignores the opportunity cost that is the unspoken and unquantifiable loss. Providence is a beautiful city with a lot of potential to be a great place to do business. But businesses are economically rational actors and one quick look at the tax burden will ensure they don't seriously consider locating in Providence. Nobody can ever know how many "could have moved my business to Providence but didn't" stories exist. That will mean less job growth around Providence, which increases the probability that state residents will have to look outside Rhode Island for jobs. That increases the potential for all of us to lose the company of both good friends and family. Quite a price to pay, isn't it?
Even if the politicians choose to ignore reality, the business world cannot. As James G. Hagan, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, said:
"When you're one of the highest-taxed cities in one of the highest-taxed regions in the country, it's pretty difficult to attract investment and to even keep the investment you have."
Hagan pointed out businesses are the engine of economic growth and consequently require a less punitive tax environment...Hagan asserted that the city must cut spending and negotiate better labor contracts...
This leads back to the need to address the problem of government spending - which consists of both high current spending and the continuous growth in spending at a rate in excess of both inflation and the growth in taxpayers' incomes. The article continues:
...to begin dealing with the high property tax burdens faced by Providence and other Rhode Island communities, it will be necessary to take steps to further control costs, particularly in public educational systems. On average, school spending is growing 2.5 times the rate of inflation and is projected to continue this rate of growth through the rest of the decade.
In other words, under the status quo, the problem of an excessive tax burden is projected to worsen over time. I have written about the additional consequences of this trend:
Even so, this debate is about more than current taxation levels and today's family budgets. It is about freedom and opportunity for all – and family budgets in the future. The greatness of our country is that people can live the American dream through the power of education and hard work.
High taxation and mediocre public education create a disincentive for new-business formation in Rhode Island. That means fewer new jobs, and less of a chance for working people to realize the American dream. It also means people have an economic incentive to leave the state – and the ones who can afford to do so will continue to leave.
Unfortunately, the ones who cannot afford to leave are the people who can least afford the crushing blow of high taxation and mediocre education. The status quo dooms these families to an ongoing decline in their standard of living. That is unjust.
This should not be our vision for Rhode Island. Nonetheless, it is our current trajectory unless enough people stand up and challenge the status quo.
RE: Why Teachers' Unions (Not Teachers!) Are Bad For Education
Marc's posting highlights another outstanding piece by Terry Moe. I would encourage you to read both Marc's fine posting and the entire editorial by Moe, which you can access in Marc's posting.
As a former East Greenwich School Committee member, I would like to expand on several of Marc's points:
First, I agree that parents need to make their voices heard about educational issues in their town, including the impact of "work-to-rule" actions on their children. Marc is right that silence equals consent to the status quo - and the union will not stop pushing to maximize its self-interest during that silence. However, I would add this cautionary note. The most frequent comment I received from parents - by far - while serving on the committee was: "I agree with you, I want to openly support you but I am afraid to speak out because I do not want my children to suffer as a result." What a sad commentary on the politics of public education. The impact of this potential threat should not be underestimated and dictates that others of us who don't face the same threats must lead the change efforts.
Second, people should not underestimate the long-term impact on teachers from working in a union environment that blocks change, punishes excellence and protects mediocrity. Public school teachers desperately want to be considered "white collar professionals." Yet, many of them buy into a work environment that provides lifetime tenure, outrageously rich benefits and pensions, equal pay simultaneously to the best and worst teachers while resisting accountability and making the removal of bad teachers nearly impossible. In the end, public school teachers cannot have it both ways - they are either professionals or they are unionists. Right now, some of them hide happily behind the union label and that makes those teachers part of the problem.
Third, the public education bureaucracy is also a significant part of the problem because they have no incentive to challenge the mediocrity of the status quo. They should not be expected to support meaningful change since their economic (including healthcare and pension benefits) and professional self-interests are largely aligned with the unions. As a result, the bureaucracy can easily outlast parents who raise concerns, wearing them down until the parents simply give up and go away.
Fourth, a quick perusal of Linda Chavez' book entitled "Betrayal : How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics" drives home the point that this is all about money and power politics. The lack of competition and proper incentives in the public sector creates a fundamental impediment to change, a point I have made in a previous posting.
Fifth, the power politics angle is only reinforced when you look at the balance of power in union contract negotiations. On one side of the table, you have a part-time volunteer school committee aided by an educational bureaucracy with the wrong incentives and who will be dealing with the union long after the committee members move onto other activities in their lives. On the other side of the table, you have the national teachers' unions with essentially unlimited money and political muscle. In Rhode Island, that structural problem is compounded by having nearly 40 tiny school districts individually going up against national unions. All the unions have to do is find a weak spot in one of the tiny districts and then they use that concession as a negotiating hammer with all the other districts.
There are all sorts of contract "tricks." Here is one of the more current ones: The union agrees to have teachers pay a percentage co-payment on health insurance premiums but... most deals have either dollar caps which make the percentage irrelevant or the teachers receive other new cash payments (for things like professional development) which just happen to offset the amount of the co-payment. And the unions and teachers really believe that they have made a concession in such a deal! The taxpayers - whose hard-earned monies fund these contracts - are often the last to know that a bait-and-switch was pulled on them.
Why are all of the above points important? Education is the gateway to the American Dream for all citizens. Yet, we are failing to provide a quality gateway for our children. The performance of public education in America is absymal as we have one of the weakest performing educational systems in the industrial world. It is not for lack of spending money: We have tripled our per-pupil spending in real terms over the last 40 years, a period of time which coincides directly with the growth in power of the teachers' unions. More money won't fix the structural problems highlighted above. Only competition from true educational choice will solve the problems.
As an aside, I find it particularly ironic that certain liberal U.S. senators (who often have sent their own children to the most elite private schools) consistently do the bidding of the unions to block the inner city black children of Washington, D.C. - who are stuck in the worst public education system in our country - from receiving the educational vouchers which would give them educational freedom and a fair shot at living the American Dream. The unions and their cronies are willing to risk creating a permanent underclass so they can maintain their chokehold on public education in America. That is morally offensive.
Competition from true educational choice is the only thing that can bust this underperforming and overcharging monopoly. With choice, comes accountability for performance results. I would gladly support merit pay and no cap on the maximum salaries for great teachers in exchange for having true educational choice and accountability, including the ability to fire poor teachers. That will never happen as long as we have a union-dominated public education system. Years of experience have led me to conclude there is no viable middle ground.
Well, silliness from the opposition continues unabated, as shown in this ProJo letter to the editor. Part of the letter states:
Of course unions must take a hard line in order to secure certain rights for their members, but, as Ms. Ohanian says, "positing teachers' need for a living wage and adequate working conditions as proof of their disinterest in what's good for children is one more page in the corporate-politico agenda of deprofessionalizing teaching and gutting public education."
Time and time again, we hear about how important it is to educate our children, yet any time a financial dispute arises, the teachers are the ones who bear the brunt of the public disdain...
For a contrasting viewpoint that is fact-based instead of opinion-based, see this earlier posting.
Sometimes, there are simply no words available to respond adequately to sheer, utter nonsense. Today's ProJo contains one such ridiculous letter to the editor. Here are two choice quotes:
Merit-pay plans are contentious and divisive. They rarely have objective criteria. Merit pay is nothing more than a means of cloaking management favoritism in meritocratic mumbo-jumbo. The results are that a healthy group dynamic is undermined, morale is lowered, and higher-level employees receive the bulk of the money available...
Institute merit pay and those who compromise the integrity of their teaching to curry favor with administrators and parents will be rewarded. Taskmaster "unpopular teachers" who maintain the integrity of their classrooms (and whose students can demonstrate achieved goals of learning and attainment of critical skills) will be punished...
Those of us that live and work in the real world know that merit-pay plans work well because competitive pressures of the marketplace allow the natural alignment of good individual performance and good system-wide outcomes. By contrast and without realizing it, the author of the letter has just presented the core reason why the existing union-dominated government monopoly of public education is structurally incapable of working effectively and efficiently. Only true competition will get us the results our children deserve.
Justin has added some valuable, additional perspective on the letter referenced in Addendum II.
To further clarify my final point in the original posting, I don't believe charter schools - as currently defined - can be the answer. Marc has already shown (here, here, here) how the teachers' unions and public education bureaucracy will play power politics and/or will selectively twist data to knock performance by today's charter schools. All in all, there are too many ways for them to manipulate the status quo, thereby ensuring the existence of an uneven playing field. Even though there may be well-performing individual charter schools, these postings and the Washington, D.C. experience reinforce how the educational establishment will make every effort to sabotage any broad-based implementation of a truly competitive alternative.
Therefore, for all the reasons noted above, charter schools today represent only incremental changes that leave the status quo in place and will not be able to deliver a broad-based, high-quality public education. We must seek more significant structural changes to the status quo. Our children, particularly the most disadvantaged, need and deserve nothing less.
Another nonsensical letter has now appeared in the ProJo. Here is the first sentence:
Only the naive can truly believe that merit pay will reward superior teachers and shun incompetent ones.
Sometimes foolish people make your case for you. It's almost enough to make you feel embarrassed for them.
Why Teacher's Unions (Not Teachers!) Are Bad for Education
Their behavior is driven by fundamental interests . . . jobs, working conditions, and the material well-being of teachers. When unions negotiate with school boards, these are the interests they pursue, not those of the children who are supposed to be getting educated. . .Yes, and so it goes in Rhode Island, too. I appreciate the wonderful job that teachers do and I don't begrudge them fair compensation. Yet, as Don has recently shown, Rhode Island teachers are well-compensated. They must remember that they are paid by the taxpayers and the taxpayers can't continue to give-give-give without seeing some results. In fairness, at least in my town, it looks like the teachers are doing a great job bringing the schools up to the standards outlined in No Child Left Behind. I hope all Rhode Island school districts follow suit.
When the teachers' unions want government to act, the reforms they demand are invariably in their own interests: more spending, higher salaries, smaller classes, more professional development, and so on. There is no evidence that any of these is an important determinant of student learning. What the unions want above all else, however, is to block reforms that seriously threaten their interests -- and these reforms, not coincidentally, are attempts to bring about fundamental changes in the system that would significantly improve student learning.
The unions are opposed to No Child Left Behind, for example, and indeed to all serious forms of school accountability, because they do not want teachers' jobs or pay to depend on their performance. They are opposed to school choice -- charter schools and vouchers -- because they don't want students or money to leave any of the schools where their members work. They are opposed to the systematic testing of veteran teachers for competence in their subjects, because they know that some portion would fail and lose their jobs. And so it goes. If the unions can't kill these threatening reforms outright, they work behind the scenes to make them as ineffective as possible -- resulting in accountability systems with no teeth, choice systems with little choice, and tests that anyone can pass.
I believe that the overwhelming majority of teachers and school committee members genuinely care about the welfare and best interests of students. However, as Moe points out, Teacher's Unions are advocates for the teachers interests, not for those of the students. The School Committee, while it does set standards and seeks to look out for the students education, is also occupied with budgetary constraints and must be cognizant of its responsibility to the taxpayers. Thus, there is one group that should have the interests of the students as their primary concern: Parents.
In the end, it is the parents who have to make their voices heard. It is parents who have to watch as their kids are used as pawns, such as when "non-union-mandated" work-to-rule "policies" are in effect and after-school programs and educational field trips are suspended pending resolution of contract disputes. It is the parents who are taxpayers and must let the school committee know when an idea is good or bad. Unfortunately, as in so many other political issues, there is a silent majority. In this case, it is the parents. They are to be reminded that, in the realm of politics, silence equates to consent.
January 25, 2005
Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part VI
If you want to read another sordid tale about Rhode Island politics, check out Ed Achorn's latest editorial in the ProJo.
Here are a few excerpts:
The people who led the fight against a constitutional convention in Rhode Island - members of an organization called Citizens for Representative Government - went to great lengths to cover their tracks. But all roads seem to lead to Guy Dufault, the labor and gambling lobbyist.
The public-employee unions put up the money to run phone banks, air TV and radio ads, and print posters in narrowly defeating a constitutional convention, 52 to 48 percent, on November 2. Mr. Dufault acknowledged on Friday that he filled out most of the group's campaign-finance report now on file with the Rhode Island Board of Elections.
But you wouldn't know of Mr. Dufault's role by reading that public document. He kept that carefully hidden from the public...
What's the upshot of this?
I don't know if any of this constitutes filing and signing a false report...But it does seem puzzling that Mr. Dufault and Citizens for Representative Government chose to make it so difficult for the public to find out who was running the show. Why bother?...
Maybe Citizens for Representative Government did not want citizens to find out easily that it was a prominent State House lobbyist for the public-employee unions and gambling interests who fought to deny people the chance to shake up Rhode Island government with a constitutional convention. (Now, citizens will have to wait until at least 2016.)
That seems to be the way the game is played.
After reading the entire editorial, I would encourage you to pause and think about whether this deceitful political behavior is consistent with the values of the American Founding and the principles embodied in our Declaration of Independence.
Would George Washington or Thomas Jefferson have endorsed such behavior? Of course not.
Does this kind of political behavior reflect the values of our own Roger Williams? Not a chance.
And we should not tolerate it either.
To put it in perspective, I would direct you to a previously mentioned quote from Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute:
In the end, however, no constitution can be self-enforcing. Government officials must respect their oaths to uphold the Constitution; and we the people must be vigilant in seeing that they do.
The Founders drafted an extraordinarily thoughtful plan of government, but it is up to us, to each generation, to preserve and protect it for ourselves and for future generations.
For the Constitution will live only if it is alive in the hearts and minds of the American people. That, perhaps, is the most enduring lesson of our experiment in ordered liberty.
We have a long way to go in Rhode Island. Our moral obligation as American citizens calls us to nothing less than a passion for protecting our God-given liberty. Only when that passion stirs deeply in the hearts and minds of enough Rhode Island citizens will we shorten the distance we must travel to see a better day.
Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part V
Governor Carcieri issued his State of the State Address on January 18. The following excerpts from that speech highlight the structural problems we face in this state:
A good government lives within its means and does not overly burden its taxpayers...by any measure Rhode Island's taxes are among the highest...in the country...Taxes in Massachusetts - once known as Taxachusetts - are now among the lowest, 40th.
To keep this economy growing, we must lower taxes so Rhode Islanders keep more of what they earn. To do that, I am developing a five-year tax reduction plan. This plan will be broad-based, benefiting as many Rhode Islanders as possible. I will also propose that new lottery revenues be dedicated to direct property relief. We must work together to make tax relief a priority.
But tax relief is impossible unless we get serious about controlling spending. Two of the spending issues we must address this year are: state employee health care and pensions.
We are currently negotiating with all the major state employee unions for co-sharing of their health care premiums. Rhode Island is one of only five states in the country where employees do not co-share. 45 states do. Massachusetts employees pay 20% of their premiums. Since the vast majority of taxpayers co-share their premiums, it is only fair that those of us who work for them do as well...
Without any reforms, the taxpayer bill for pensions will rise from $188 million in the current year, to $283 million next year, a $95 million increase in one year! This is an urgent problem and we must work together on a reform plan...
We now have eleven public charter schools serving 2,200 students, 90% of them from urban districts. These schools are thriving. They thrive because they are innovative, challenging, and family-friendly. Every one of them met its performance targets this year. But we don't have enough of them, particularly in urban communities. Over 500 students are currently on the waiting list to enroll in a charter school. I will submit legislation removing the moratorium on charter schools passed last year. This moratorium is not fair to our children and we need to end it now.
Getting better education results means implementing these reforms, not spending a lot of money. Our spending per pupil is already seventh highest in the nation. The increase in state support for education over the last five years has averaged 6% a year, over twice the rate of inflation. And, by the way, the level of state support for urban schools is one of the highest in the nation. The 5 urban core cities got almost $80 million, 63% of the increase in those 5 years. So, let's find new ways to be more effective.
Reforming the state pension system will save school districts nearly $18.5 million next year. Providence alone will save over $3.0 million. My new state health care contract will allow school districts to piggy-back on the state's low cost. Combining such purchasing will save municipalities additional millions.
In summary, among the 50 states, Rhode Island (i) has the 5th highest overall state and local tax burden, per the Tax Foundation; (ii) is one of only 5 states where state employees have a zero co-pay on their health insurance premiums; (iii) has one of the richest state pension programs; (iv) spending per pupil is the 7th highest; and (v) limits educational choice. This is not a formula for success.
Take a minute and ask yourself the following questions:
Who opposes health insurance premium co-payments for state employees?
Who opposes changes to a grossly underfunded state pension program?
Who demands school contract terms that result in overpaying for underperformance?
Who blocks educational choice for those who need it most?
In other words, who is not a friend of Rhode Island working families, retirees and children?
Andrew's Latest up at TCS
Legislative Union Leaders "Show [Us] the Money!"
Out of last year's political scandals came a law that is shedding new light on the financial ties between some of the state's part-time, $12,285-a-year lawmakers and major corporate and union players at the State House.Among them were the following:
In the first batch of filings made last week, it was reported to the public . . . [s]everal high-ranking Democrats in the House and Senate are not only pro-labor boosters on Smith Hill but also full-time union employees.
Senate Whip Dominick J. Ruggerio - $163,717 in salary and benefits as the administrator of one arm of the Laborers' International Union of North America. (Ruggerio estimated his salary alone was $122,000).
Deputy Senate majority leader John J. Tassoni Jr. of Smithfield - $79,060 in salary alone as business agent of Council 94 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employeesa deputy Senate majority leader.
Sen. Frank A. Ciccone III - $135,177 for various positions. As an elected officer of the Laborers' union affiliate known as Local 808, Rhode Island Judicial, Professional & Technical Employees, Ciccone made $15,600 as the business manager for the local that represents about 17 bargaining units within state government, including RIPTA, E-911 and court employees, plus a number of Johnston school employees. He is also a field representative for the Rhode Island Laborers' District Council headed by Ronald Coia. (Ciccone estimated he made ($80, 000 in salary alone).
Deputy House Whip Paul Moura - $91,663 as health and safety field specialist for the New England Laborers' Health & Safety Fund. (Moura estimated he made $55,000 in salary alone).
According to Gregg:
The three are among the most prolific sponsors of legislation dealing in one way or another with labor issues, employee legal rights and, in Ciccone's case, a bill to eliminate lifelong tenure for judges.Further, Gregg's story details the following illuminating conversation between Moura, Ciccone and Ruggerio:
"This is new. I don't think they are aware of it," Ciccone said in a brief exchange with Moura at the State House before the reports were filed.While it is indeed encouraging to see that Ruggerio feels he has nothing to hide, the degree these gentlemen are insulated from the average taxpayer is evident in Moura's statement regarding how little he makes. There really is nothing else to say.
"But I don't have a problem telling people what I make," Ciccone said.
Moura's reply: "Maybe they should file out of an abundance of caution."
Ciccone: "No big deal."
Moura: "That's fine with me, too. When they see how little I make, they'll realize its no big deal anyway."
Added Ruggerio a short time later: "I didn't think we were obligated to file that, but we're going to file anyway because obviously we have nothing to hide."
January 24, 2005
Clamming Up the Terrorists
They may have invested millions in acquisition and sacrificed hundreds of lives, but there's one thing that the terrorists haven't counted on:
... the latest example of the sea's, or at least the coast's, medical potential comes from researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. There, scientists, working under a grant from the Department of Homeland Security, dosed quahogs with the botulism toxin. They discovered that something from the shellfish neutralized the poisonous enzyme, a potential bio-terrorism agent.
Bal Ram Singh, a chemist, and his colleagues increased the dose until it was enough to paralyze and kill the population of a town of 1,000 people. But the botulism has little effect on the clams, except to cause them to secrete a mucous that turned the water they were in cloudy.
I don't imagine many men and women of our armed services would mind a steady supply of my mother-in-law's stuffies. And I can only hope that initial plans are underway to equip each EMT vehicle with a pot of chowder.
Commentary as Job Interview
Related to Marc's posts (here and here) on Peggy Noonan's reaction to President Bush's inaugural speech, Patrick Sweeney of Extreme Catholic delves into some of the relevant theological considerations. He also makes this story-behind-the-story suggestion:
Perhaps Peggy Noonan thinks she's in the running for William Safire's job.
This is ankle-biting envy. This is offering a "Good, but I could have done better" criticism.
Too much cynicism paints the world in nasty tones, but positioning is inevitably a part of decisions, particularly among writers and particularly among opinion writers. Noonan's credibility is such that readers should doubt neither her sincerity nor perspicacity in picking up on something significant in the President's speech. Still, it must be difficult, at her level of success, to close one's mind to the benefits of dissent from the conservative Republican line.
Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part IV
My town of East Greenwich has an increasingly ugly dispute between School Committee officials and teachers' union officials. The dispute has been highlighted in local newspaper articles (here, here, here, here, here).
Comments by National Education Association (NEA) teachers' union officials remind me of words spoken years ago by Soviet officials, whose views of the world were subsequently shown to have no connection to any form of reality.
As the union cranks up its disinformation campaign to intimidate East Greenwich residents, let's contrast their Orwellian comments in recent newspaper articles with the facts:
Comment #1: The School Committee needs to get serious. Taxes in East Greenwich aren't that high compared to other communities.
Data from the Tax Foundation notes Rhode Island has the 5th highest overall tax burden and the 4th highest property taxes. Minor town-to-town variations are irrelevant. As you read on, remember that the NEA doesn't think you are paying enough in taxes.
Comment #2: The School Committee offer was completely unacceptable. It must make a financially reasonable offer.
The offer included a 3.5% annual salary increase for each of the 10 job steps over 3 years.
We frequently hear of 3-4% annual salary increases for teachers. But that is very misleading. That's because most school districts have 10 job steps, and teachers move up the ladder. Every continuing teacher, up to step 10, automatically moves up one step per year, yielding huge salary increases written into contracts and all but hidden from the public.
Based on 2003-2004 data, here is what the committee offer means: 97 teachers are in job steps 1-9 and each of them will get 9.5-12.5% annual salary increases. The remaining 132 job step 10 teachers will get 3.5% increases each year.
Does any rational person think that a salary increase as high as 12.5%/year is financially unreasonable to the person receiving the increase? Or that a minimum salary increase of 3.5%/year is financially unreasonable?
The offer also included a 10% co-payment on health insurance premiums, up from a zero co-payment. With healthcare insurance costing about $13,600/year, that equals a payment of roughly $1,360/year.
The average state employee across America pays about a 15% co-pay. It is much higher in the private sector. E.g., employees at my company pay 24% co-pay on health insurance and 30% co-pay on dental insurance. Meanwhile, the NEA-RI whines here about the prospect of paying 10% without a dollar cap or new, offsetting cash payments elsewhere in the contract.
If teachers don't use health insurance, they currently receive an uncapped annual payment equal to 50% of the annual premium cost or $6,800/year. 71 district employees received this amount, costing us nearly $500,000/year. I know of no corporation that does any sort of buyback cash payment like this.
The offer included capping the buyback at $4,500/year.
The offer also included no retroactive pay back to September. Note how the union has zero incentive to settle on reasonable terms as long as they get retroactive pay.
The offer doesn't even tackle other issues: East Greemwich is one of only fifteen districts in the state to offer tuition reimbursement and the only district to pay full reimbursement. Department chairs receive an extra $7,000/year while only teaching two periods. Extra stipends are paid for any additional work, such as coaching. Health insurance is fully paid for two years after retirement for people with at least twenty years of service.
Comment #3: We do not deserve a pay cut in any fashion...Teachers would ultimately be getting the raw end of the deal.
Here are two salary increase examples under the latest committee offer for teachers with bachelor degrees:
Job step 5 beginning teacher: $43,389 in 2003-2004 to $57,490 in 2006-2007, a 32.5% total salary increase over 3 years for an annual increase of 9.8%/year. Job step 10 senior teacher: $60,663 in 2003-2004 to $67,258 in 2006-2007, a 10.9% total salary increase over 3 years for an annual increase of 3.5%/year.
Even after paying about $1,360/year (in pre-tax dollars, no less) for a 10% co-payment on health insurance, that is some pay cut and some raw deal.
Nor should anyone forget that union surveys show Rhode Island teachers are already the 7th highest paid among the 50 states - and nobody ranks our statewide public school performance anywhere close to that high.
Comment #4: Teacher pay is lower than what other districts offer.
According to the Rhode Island Association of School Committees' teacher data report for 2003-2004, East Greenwich salaries rank as follows:
The top job step 10 salary was the 7th highest out of 36 districts.
The job step 5 salary for beginning teachers was 9th highest out of 36 districts.
East Greenwich is fortunate to have many professionally successful parents - who value education, speak English as a first language, and ensure their kids do their homework and come to school with food in their stomachs. We provide a better than average working environment and still pay above average salaries. Bluntly speaking, given our working environment, we should be able to attract good teachers while paying slightly below average salaries.
Comment #5: The union takes exception to comments that teachers were hurting students by working under [minimal] contract compliance, saying to keep students out of this.
Students at East Greenwich High School are now conducting peer tutoring because teachers are not making themselves available before and after school to help. Parent volunteers are needed as dance chaperones because teachers won't show up. The senior project has been cancelled. Some field trips have been cancelled. Parents are talking all over town about how the students are being hurt. To which, the union says:
Comment #6: Teachers are still accomplishing what is expected of them legally. If we are not working the hours that we are supposed to work, then they should take us to court.
Ah, the attitude of true, white-collar professionals.
As committee member Gregson stated: "We're giving them all the money they got last year and we're giving them all the benefits that they got last year and they're going to make the kids suffer by refusing to do the same amount of work as last year.
The union insists pay increases be retroactive to last September so they can be made whole - but our children won't be made whole. That makes it hard to believe the union's statements about how they care deeply for our children.
Comment #7: For the last twelve years there haven't been any previous problems during negotiations.
After years of giving away 9-12% annual salary increases, zero co-pays, and 50% buybacks on health insurance, is it any wonder that there were no problems in the past? Outrageous union demands met up with spineless responses from politicians and bureaucrats - and the demands naturally won.
Comment #8: Upset that the School Committee publicly releases specific details of the negotiations instead of working with the union to finalize a deal.
The NEA wants to return to the gag order rules originally imposed by the union so they can conduct their legalized extortion act without public scrutiny.
Comment #9: Can we be a team? Can we start working together?
The school leadership has put a reasonable offer (for Rhode Island) on the table. These words are nothing but a demand for unilateral surrender.
School Committee Chair Bradley has stated that the committee is only trying to make sure the NEA accepts terms - just like the rest of us - live with.
There are still many egregious terms and conditions in this latest contract proposal. It is outrageous to grant anyone 9-12% annual salary increases, have a co-payment less than 20%, and pay any form of insurance buyback.
Seeing how difficult it is to even get a simple 10% co-payment on health insurance confirms yet again how there are structural problems to public education that only true competitive choice can fix.
It also shows yet again how the demands of public sector unions impede excellence in our schools. Excessive contract demands translate into not only a growing tax burden for residents but also less money for academic programs and facility maintenance. Unions block merit pay for the best teachers while ensuring that the worst teachers get the same compensation as the best teachers. And we wonder why public education performance in America ranks so poorly among countries in the industrial world. It is appalling.
But you have to start somewhere. And that is why I am proud of our new committee's stance. I hope others will speak up in support of their efforts so we can begin to see the first signs of real change.
January 23, 2005
Conservatives Against Bush's Speech II
Bush advisers said the speech was the rhetorical institutionalization of the Bush doctrine and reflected the president's deepest convictions about the purposes behind his foreign policies. But they said it was carefully written not to tie him to an inflexible or unrealistic application of his goal of ending tyranny.I agree with the "senior administration official," though I do think that some nervous folks in the Administration couldn't handle criticism from the right and are trying to placate those, such as Peggy Noonan and William Buckley, who raised an eyebrow at the speech. I think it was the criticism by these pundits, rather than any from abroad, that shocked the Administration and precipitated this ill-advised spin control, if that is actually what is going on.
"It has its own policy implications, but it is not to say we're not doing this already," said White House counselor Daniel J. Bartlett. "It is important to crystallize the debate to say this is what it is all about, to say what are our ideals, what are the values we cherish."
"It is not a discontinuity. It is not a right turn," said a senior administration official, who spoke with reporters from newspapers but demanded anonymity because he wanted the focus to remain on the president's words and not his. "I think it is a bit of an acceleration, a raising of the priority, making explicit in a very public way to give impetus to this effort." He added that it was a "message we have been sending" for some time.
It is also interesting to discover that some of those whom I earlier cited as supporters of the President's vision actually may have had a hand in helping craft the speech.
The planning of Bush's second inaugural address began a few days after the Nov. 2 election with the president telling advisers he wanted a speech about "freedom" and "liberty." That led to the broadly ambitious speech that has ignited a vigorous debate. The process included consultation with a number of outside experts, Kristol among them.I guess that explains why people such as Hanson and Kristol voiced their support. It doesn't change my thinking on it, though. Yes, I have an idealistic streak, but it is informed by my sense of history and a belief that, by taking the long view, we can accomplish that outlined in the speech. Some have pointed out that similar ideals were explained by President Reagan. It doesn't have to be done via military action, and it doesn't have to be accomplished in 10 years. Rather, it is a policy worth following because in the age of terrorism, it is best for the United States to "clear the swamps." The byproduct will be freedom in much of the rest of the world. This freedom will be generated by the internal pressure applied by the oppressed and suppressed who will take their cue from the example set by the U.S. In some instances the U.S. will take more direct action, in others less. In all cases, it is our example that will lead the way. Never mind what the intellectuals or politicians say, pay attention to what the people say. They don't carry the cynicism of so many of the "elite." They aren't afraid to hope.
One meeting, arranged by Peter Wehner, director of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, included military historian Victor Davis Hanson, columnist Charles Krauthammer and Yale professor John Lewis Gaddis, according to one Republican close to the White House. White House senior adviser Karl Rove attended, according to one source, but mostly listened to what became a lively exchange over U.S. policy and the fight for liberty.
Gaddis caught the attention of White House officials with an article in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs magazine that seems to belie the popular perception that this White House does not consult its critics.
Gaddis's article is, at times, strongly critical of Bush's first-term foreign policy calculations, especially what he calls the twin failures to anticipate international resistance to Bush's ideas and Iraqi resistance to peace after the fall of Baghdad. But the article also raises the possibility that Bush's grand vision of spreading democracy could prove successful, and perhaps historic, if the right choices are made in the years ahead.
The former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky also helped shape the speech with his book about the hopes of democratic dissidents jailed by despots around the world. Bush recommended the book, "The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror," to several aides and invited Sharansky, now an Israeli politician, to the White House in mid-November to discuss it, according to one official.
January 22, 2005
The Giant's Footprint and the Little Guy's Plea
The temporary part-time job delivering Christmas packages in Tiverton that I took to cross the financial finish line in December greatly helped me to gain a sense of my new hometown. (We bought a house here in July.) The most significant impression that the town makes is the dividing line that runs roughly in the area of Route 24. Tiverton south of the highway is one town; Tiverton north of the highway has an entirely different feel. I live north of the highway, where talk of the town's "village style" jars a bit against quotidian experience.
Be that as it may, rattling around in a delivery truck, I developed a tremendous appreciation for the town as a whole. The writer's assessment: it would be a fantastic setting for a novel, or perhaps a series of novels. Much of the town is just beautiful. The process of development has left little surprises, like the driveway off one of the main streets that rambles back only a couple hundred yards to a shack that might as well be miles removed from civilization. And several neighborhoods are a young family's dream.
Unfortunately, personal experience suggests that dreaming is now all that young families can do. Even my circa 1950 neighborhood, full of blue-collar workers and their young children, is claiming prices that, at best, require change-in-the-sofa mortgage payments. Tiny houses with just enough land to call a proper yard cost well over a quarter-million dollars.
All this is preamble to my admission that I'm entirely unable to choose a side on the matter of business development:
Monday's hearing invited the public's views on a zoning proposal designed to encourage smaller-scale retail proposals that would fit into Tiverton's village style. The hundred or so who attended the meeting largely agreed that the zoning proposal was still not restrictive enough.
Some Tiverton officials and council members have sought retail development to raise new town revenue and avoid increasing taxes. But raising revenue at the expense of the town's village character seems to be unpopular in Tiverton. ...
Tiverton faces the dilemma confronting most lovely old towns. The cost of town services is always rising, and a major way to meet that cost without raising taxes or cutting services is to add to the tax base by attracting more taxable business.
Just about the time that real estate prices in my rented hometown of Portsmouth hit twice the number that I had believed was the highest they could possibly go, I began to wonder how much town governments and those households with the time and money to invest in influencing its policies would really care if less wealthy families, some of them fixtures in the towns, were driven out. I even made a video blog (vlog) expressing my acceptance of the natural ebb and flow of a region's society.
Still, its citizens all being equal, a town ought to do its best to meet the needs of all of them, which means enabling them to stay if they wish to do so. Higher taxes will, without doubt, mean that some of them will have to become citizens of somewhere else.
Not having yet had the opportunity to delve into Tiverton's finances, this is only a guess, but surely there is fat to trim in the "services" category. And surely my townsman Richard Rounds's sentiment that the business "giant leaves mighty 'footprints' that get filled in with slop" ought to be balanced with the sentiment that the fading "little guys" leave a hole when they fall away.
Or are we the slop?
"The Road to Fiefdom"
The article focuses largely on the influence within Blue metro regions of public-sector employees, and the unions to which they belong. Strikingly, this power is no longer concentrated within the unions; many former public employees have now become elected offficials . . .It is safe to say that these observations seem especially pertinent to Rhode Island.
The growing, or at least persistent, power of municipal governments has the effect of turning naturally Blue cities even more azure. Most private-sector employees in New York City backed Mike Bloomberg; most public employees voted for Democrat Mark Green. Bloomberg's anti-tax, anti-spending campaign was a direct threat to the jobs of many city workers, who feared having to find new ways of earning their living. Because their jobs are on the line in every election, government workers are especially mobilized in politics: Although they account for only a third of the workforce in New York, Malanga notes, public sector employees represented 37 percent of the electorate in 2001.
Not only local politics but national politics are affected by this shift in composition. Because government workers are reliably Democratic, and because Democrats need to maintain their metro base even as they woo suburban voters with promises of middle-class subsidies, the municipal and government workers' unions are big players in the national Democratic movement. This is a predictable, if unconscious, response to the unions' power at the local level. The natural result of overregulation and business-hostile bureaucracy is economic weakening within cities as firms flee to the suburbs and friendlier areas. The unions have turned their cities and school systems into private fiefs. Now, to preserve their power and their members' paychecks, then, public sector unions have to try to extend their reach beyond municipal boundaries.
For generations, the Democratic party was the party of private-sector unions. Now that the trades union movement in the States has been broken, the donkey has a new rider. If Republicans want to ensure better government and preserve their political predominance, weakening these public sector unions has to be high on our agenda. (via Instapundit)
The Argument All Along: Uncertainty
It is, and has been, encouraging that the Providence Journal editorial page is willing to argue on the side of rational response to Saddam Hussein:
The AP saw no reason to seek further comment on that news [that 120 Iraqi scientists who had been working in weapons programs were being paid by the U.S. government to work in other fields], but we think it speaks volumes. Some people want those volumes to just go away, but the fact remains that whatever happened to the WMDs -- they were in Iraq at some point, and then disappeared -- Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and the U.S., Iraq and the world are safer now that he is gone. ...
... while Saddam may have scrapped his WMDs, he kept his WMD scientists, and worked to break U.N. sanctions -- rather than just ending them by proving he had indeed destroyed his WMD arsenal. Instead, he scammed billions from the United Nations. He did not spend it on food or medicine for Iraqis. Nor did he spend it exclusively on palaces.
So what were those 120 scientists doing before they fell into U.S. custody? Scholarly research? At least now we needn't worry about learning the answer the hard way.
It's easy to forget that even after September 11 people were arguing for the cessation of sanctions. There's still reason to fear that weapons slipped out of the country before the war, and the frightening quality of WMDs is that "stockpiles" and "large-scale production" aren't necessary to do inconceivable damage. Considering the Ba'athists' efforts to facilitate renewed WMD production once the country's activities didn't need to be routed through the corrupt caverns of the United Nations, an alternate historical timeline may well have seen a more-massive terrorist attack within our borders by now whether evidence of Iraq's involvement would satisfy the true disbelievers or not.
January 21, 2005
Conservatives Against Bush's Speech
Peggy Noonan thought the President's Inaugural Address did not have the right tone.
The inaugural address itself was startling. It left me with a bad feeling, and reluctant dislike. Rhetorically, it veered from high-class boilerplate to strong and simple sentences, but it was not pedestrian. George W. Bush's second inaugural will no doubt prove historic because it carried a punch, asserting an agenda so sweeping that an observer quipped that by the end he would not have been surprised if the president had announced we were going to colonize Mars.There were two particular points on which she seemed to fault the President's speech. First, she didn't fully agree with the theory of history he outlined.
[T]he administration sees history as dynamic and changeable, not static and impervious to redirection or improvement. That is the Bush administration way, and it happens to be realistic: History is dynamic and changeable. On the other hand, some things are constant, such as human imperfection, injustice, misery and bad government.I believe she allowed her more realist-conservative side to govern her analysis, as evidenced by her above comment that "some things are constant, such as human imperfection, injustice, misery and bad government." Yes, that is so. But that shouldn't stop us from attempting to change or help where we can. To the President, the spread of freedom is the best method to do just that, whether it sounds too idealistic or not. This leads to the second problem Ms. Noonan seemed to have.
I think what was was particularly troubling to her stemmed from her own belief, as expressed repeatedly in the column, that the President was proposing to make Earth like Heaven.
This world is not heaven. . .I think she was being oversensitive to the religious imagery that the President wove throughout the speech as he attempted to explain his ideology of freedom. While she has the (correct) notion that Earth is not and cannot be Heaven, I think she is misreading the President's intentions. I don't think he wants liberty to spread so that we can make Heaven on Earth. I will grant Ms. Noonan that there is something of the missionary in the President's speech. As such, perhaps his larger goal is to extend liberty and freedom to all men so that they can worry less about their worldly problems and begin thinking more about what comes After. When men don't have to worry about food, shelter, or being killed, they can turn their minds from the physical to the metaphysical, in whatever form it may take.
The president's speech seemed rather heavenish. It was a God-drenched speech. . .
It seemed a document produced by a White House on a mission. . .
. . . Ending tyranny in the world? Well that's an ambition, and if you're going to have an ambition it might as well be a big one. But this declaration, which is not wrong by any means, seemed to me to land somewhere between dreamy and disturbing. Tyranny is a very bad thing and quite wicked, but one doesn't expect we're going to eradicate it any time soon. Again, this is not heaven, it's earth.
Ms. Noonan also commented that, "The speech did not deal with specifics--9/11, terrorism, particular alliances, Iraq. It was, instead, assertively abstract." To me, such things are best left to the upcoming State of the Union speech. The world doesn't watch State of the Union speeches. (Heck, few Americans watch them!), so the President chose to express his ideals in a forum in which he knew the world would be watching. Thus, I'd venture he's saving more specific proposals for the State of the Union Address.
Finally, Ms. Noonan thinks that the speech, especially the ending --"Renewed in our strength--tested, but not weary--we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."--, was "over the top." She chalks this up to a White House suffering from "mission inebriation." Further, she "wonders if they shouldn't ease up, calm down, breathe deep, get more securely grounded" and offers that "[t]he most moving speeches summon us to the cause of what is actually possible. Perfection in the life of man on earth is not." Again, I disagree with Ms. Noonan's premise that the President proposed that, through universal liberty, we can make Heaven on Earth.
Overall, she seemed a bit deaf to what the average person heard in the President's speech. Why? Perhaps she has heard, and written, too many speeches herself and can't help but apply a professional's critical ear and eye to them. Perhaps she has been too long in the New York/Washington corridor among the other wonks and has become too surrounded by the clarion call of "NUANCE!!" to resist applying the standard herself. Whatever the reason, I just think she got this one wrong. Doesn't mean I'll stop reading her though.
We must remember that one of the special qualities of men is that we aspire to tasks that many believe are impossible. Yet, we all need a reason to take on these tasks and usually our motivation is tied to self-interest. It takes inspiration to motivate us to look beyond our own desires to attempt something for a higher cause. Yesterday, President Bush attempted to provide that inspiration. He reminded that there are few more noble causes than extending our hands to other men, half a world away, so that they can experience freedom of both body and soul.
UPDATE: It seems William F. Buckley has also cast a slightly disapproving eye at the President's speech, mostly based on its linguistic style. Well, at the risk of quibbling with another brilliant mind, I'd have to say that few regular folk can approach Mr. Buckley's ability to analyze the linguistic and epistemological inconsistencies of a speech. Few would even think to try. Here's a taste of Mr. Buckley's weighty analysis:
Mr. Bush said that “whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny.” You can simmer in resentment, but not in tyranny. He said that every man and woman on this earth has “matchless value.” What does that mean? His most solemn duty as President, he said, was to protect America from “emerging threats.” Did he mean, guard against emerging threats? He told the world that “there can be no human rights without human liberty.” But that isn’t true. The acknowledgment of human rights leads to the realization of human liberty. “The leaders of governments with long habits of control need to know: To serve your people you must learn to trust them.” What is a “habit of control”?Yikes. Great stuff for us pointy-head types, but again, I don't think the Average Joe would even attempt to subject the President's speech to a microscope with the resolution of Mr. Buckley's. To employ an analogy: Mr. Buckley is at MIT, most of us are in Jr. High Science class.
I guess I can take some comfort from the fact that Ken Masugi at Claremont seems to approve of the speech. Masugi notes that the tones were more Lincolnian than Wilsonian and calls on Harry Jaffa to bolster his case.
Finally, James Taranto takes exception with those who think the President' s speech was too idealistic (see above).
[T]hose who fault Bush for an excess of idealism, or an insufficiency of realism, are not grappling with the conceptual breakthrough of his speech, which is to declare the idealism-realism dichotomy a false choice. A key passage:The President made this speech to present the case for a cause greater than protection our own self-interest. At the same time, he showed that our self-interest depended on pursuing that higher cause.We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.The lesson Bush drew from Sept. 11 is that "realism" is unrealistic--that the "stability" that results from an accommodation with tyranny is illusory. To Bush, there is no fundamental conflict between American ideals and American interests; by promoting the former, we secure the latter. Maybe he'll turn out to be wrong, but for now the burden ought to be on those who, in the wake of Sept. 11, hold to a pre-9/11 view of what is "realistic."
Noonan is right that "ending tyranny in the world" is a fantastically ambitious aspiration, one that isn't going to be realized anytime soon. But Bush didn't promise to do it in the next four years or even in our lifetimes. He said it was "the ultimate goal" and "the concentrated work of generations."
UPDATE II: I forgot to mention that Victor Hanson also approved of the President's tone. I would also hazard that, given his most recent article, that Norman Podhoretz does too, but that is only speculation. Finally, it also looks like some of the folks at the Weekly Standard, particularly William Kristol and Joseph Bottum, also believe the President's speech was historic. (Granted, David Gelernter gives in to the "darkness" of linguistic analysis, but he quibbles over the words while he agrees with the meaning behind them).
This will be it for updating this post. If necessary, I will compile a new post to sum up any further arguments over the speech as they come to light. I expect such will be the case.
A Needle Dropped in the Liberal Echo Chamber
Perhaps my age is getting to be such that it is becoming unseemly to trawl among students' letters to their collegiate newspapers for material. Still, by watching a babe taking its first steps, one may come to a fuller understanding of the precariousness of two-legged movement. Similarly, by considering students' expression of their professors' views, one may further appreciate the attributes beneath the careful construction of their ideology.
Such is the case with Anthony Maselli's recent letter to the University of Rhode Island's The Good 5¢ Cigar, "Safety not guaranteed to all students." After narrowing his context to the "liberal environment" of a university within "the most wealthy and secure, free nation on Earth," Maselli finds reason to suspect the presence of darkness:
I was leaving class in Quinn Hall at the end of last semester, and I noticed a sticker on someone's office window. It stated that the office is a "Safe Zone" for gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals. If this sticker were posted in some kind of corporate or public building, I might have appreciated this welcoming sentiment. But, being a self-proclaimed non-discriminatory university campus, I found the message to be unsettling. It forced me to ask myself this question: If this office is a "Safe Zone," what part of this university is an unsafe zone? I wondered if there was a sticker on the inside of the door that reads, "You are now entering the unsafe zone." Certainly there is not, but isn't that what the message suggests?
Forgiving the letter's writer for proclaiming himself to be a non-discriminatory university, consider how he has discerned evil not by its manifestation, but by what he believes to be its opposite. In the most free nation on Earth, in one of the most overwhelmingly liberal environments that nation's culture has to offer, a room professed to be a haven within a haven within a haven is evidence that maybe "some of us should think twice before we walk out our front door in the morning."
One imagines the office's owner, presumably a professor, congratulating him- or herself for this show of faux bravery. The great majority of people in America let alone on a campus wish homosexuals no harm. But of course we understand, as the professor surely intends to convey, that the "safety zone" goes much further than mere security and tolerance.
Thus we see how devotees of a certain worldview pursue its ends not with evidence and debate, but with negative proofs and euphemism. Keep an eye out for this dynamic in more-sophisticated explanations of what tolerance demands.
Thoughts on the President's "Big Idea"
January 20, 2005
Revisiting Election 2004 Exit Polls...Again
. . . a closer examination of the voting data shows decreased, not increased, polarization. If 2004 had been a really polarizing election, one would expect that Bush's vote percentages would go up in the red states compared with 2000, but that they would go down in the blue states. But this is not what happened. A comparison of the Bush vote in 2000 with his vote in 2004 shows that in the 29 red states, he gained an average of 3.3 percentage points. In the 19 blue states, he gained an average of 3.0 percentage points. (In the three switchers, he gained an average of 1.7%.)Busch elaborates further that the President significant gains in many traditional liberal/Democrat demographic categories, too. As to his point that the President made big gains in cities, and inasmuch as Rhode Island is often viewed as a political "city-state", I wonder what the voting numbers were in Providence? I suspect that there is still some ground to be made there. (via Powerline)
Bush gained big in reliably liberal bastions like Hawaii (+8 percentage points), Rhode Island (+7), Connecticut and New Jersey (+6), New York (+5), and Massachusetts (+4). Altogether, he improved his vote proportion in 48 states—of which only 5 improved by less than 1%. His vote share dipped in only two states, one very blue (Vermont, where he fell from 40.7 to 38.9%) and one very red (South Dakota, from 60.3 to 59.9%). An examination of voters by type of community shows that Bush's biggest gain by far was among big-city dwellers (+13 percentage points), while his suburban and rural support remained stable.
Politics of Charter Schools III
Yesterday, the general consensus was that charter schools have gotten a bad rap. Their opponents -- teachers' unions and school superintendents -- say that charters siphon money away from the public schools and that they lure the best students from the local districts.Perhaps if more public school teachers and administrators had worried about the kids they were teaching and less about their benefits and power, there wouldn't have been a challenge from charter schools in the first place. They are now reaping what they have sown.
But, according to charter league president Robert Pilkington, 59 percent of charter school students are minorities and more than half qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, which means they are poor. Moreover, 18 percent of these students are children with special needs. . .
What separates charter schools from their traditional peers is that they operate outside most of the bureaucracy that governs district schools. They are also characterized by having small classes, innovative thinking and greater parental involvement.
Ron Wolk, the founder of Education Week, says the public school system is so entrenched that it can't be fixed by tinkering around the edges. What the nation needs is a parallel school system that challenges the bureaucracy. Charter schools, he said, could be a big part of that solution.
Caveat: I recognize the fine work and effort of the majority of teachers. It is not their teaching ability nor their commitment I disagree with, it is their unwillingness to apply the open-mindedness taught in the classroom to themselves as they consider non-traditional, extra-public education methods.
A Note on the Interview
Email conversation with Sheila Lennon has persuaded me that my statement that "the news department of the Providence Journal is practically campaigning for a change in the law" should, instead, have read "the news department of the Providence Journal has practically advocated for same-sex marriage." Lennon may not find that language any more accurate, from her point of view, but it better conveys what I've found to be the truth as I've followed the Projo's coverage for Dust in the Light.
I can only insist that I intended no distortion and was merely attempting convey the palpable bias without tripping up the question with argumentation.
After some self-debate, I've gone ahead and made the change. However, I haven't noted it in that post because it doesn't strike me as enough of a shift to merit the distraction from the important part of the interview: Mr. Jacoby's answers.
Jeff Jacoby: An American Conservative in New England
Sitting around a pub's chest-high table with new acquaintances, a blue-state conservative will look for signs of ideological sympathy. In New England, should the Boston Globe arise in conversation, the canny conservative need only drop one name, before sipping his beer to disguise the true import: Jeff Jacoby. The Globe's bio gives an inkling as to how reactions to the gambit might differ:
Jeff Jacoby became an op-ed columnist for The Boston Globe in February 1994. Seeking a conservative voice to balance its famously liberal roster of commentators, the Globe hired him away from the Boston Herald, where he had been chief editorial writer since 1987.
Given Jacoby's unique standing in New England as well as his online renown, Anchor Rising is grateful that he agreed to spend some of his time discussing terrorists in the Left's view, Jewish voters, the claims of biological fathers, same-sex marriage, the arts, the Internet, and (of course) the experience of being conservative in New England with us.
Anchor Rising. What sort of reception and feedback do you get as a prominent conservative in such an infamously liberal state and region?
Jeff Jacoby. It varies. From some readers, the reaction is shock and awe. There was a lot of this especially during my first few years at the Globe, when the letters to the editor poured in from Globe readers appalled that their paper was making room for opinions that were so, ugh, conservative. There are still plenty of responses along those lines, but I also hear from a lot of readers who are glad that there is at least one corner of the Globe where they can read something compatible with their own view of the world. Readers elsewhere in the country, coming across one of my columns for the first time, often ask if I'm about to lose my job for wandering off the Northeast liberal plantation. There was a lot of that especially during the 2004 campaign.
AR. Do you find that the adversity helps you hone your ideas and develop material?
JJ. Yes, in this sense: I know that what I write is going to be vetted a lot more closely by liberal dissenters than a liberal columnist's work is likely to be. I'd better be able to back up what I'm writing, because it is almost certainly going to be challenged. But apart from that narrow sense, I wouldn't say that I thrive on being in the philosophical minority at the Boston Globe, or in Massachusetts, or in the mainstream media. I've been a conservative since I was in junior high school it's the way my brain works, and I don't think that would change if I were writing deep in the heart of Red America.
AR. I first became familiar with your work on David Horowitz's FrontPageMag.com. How has your audience even your career changed since the Internet, and especially since blogs, broke into the public consciousness?
JJ. Less than you'd think. I am the world's worst self-promoter and have made virtually no use of the Internet at all to build my audience share. I wish I had a nickel for every person who has told me I should have a Web site (or asked me why I don't). There is a JeffJacoby.com, but so far it is simply a sign-up form for anyone who'd like to get my columns by email. I haven't created a blog or joined an existing one, and I marvel at columnists who actually have time, energy, and ideas left over for blogging after their "real" writing is done.
All that said, the Internet has unquestionably expanded my readership; I hear from far more readers, and from much farther afield, than was the case when my Globe column began in 1994. I get email from around the world, and radio talk shows often come calling after seeing a column linked on RealClearPolitics.com or posted on Townhall.com or JewishWorldReview.com, for example. I don't know that the nature of the readers themselves has changed, though. I'd guess that I'm read by a lot more conservatives than I used to be and also by a lot more people who get all their information from screens, not newsprint.
AR. It has been much noted that "the Catholic vote" swung from 50/47 for Gore/Bush to 52/47 for Bush/Kerry; I suspect the shift will continue in Republicans' favor. Meanwhile, Bush votes among Jews increased from 19% to 24%. What do you foresee happening there?
JJ. I wrote on this topic a few weeks before the election. I think that American Jewish voters are slowly growing out of their nearly umbilical loyalty to the Democratic Party. The youngest cohort of American Jews are the most likely to consider themselves Republican; the oldest are the likeliest to still think the 11th Commandment is "Thou Shalt Vote for the Party of FDR." 2004 was actually the third election in a row in which the Jewish Republican vote improved, and I wouldn't be surprised if the 24% recorded by exit polls actually understated the shift. Obviously a lot depends on the candidates in any given election year. But to the extent that the well-being and security of Israel remains a cutting issue with Jewish voters (it is a key issue with many non-Jewish voters too, of course), more and more of them will be attracted by the pro-Israel stance of the GOP.
AR. Reading your column about Yasser Arafat's death and reactions thereto, I recalled a chilling letter to the editor that the Providence Journal published a little over a month after 9/11/01. As an assumption in his argument for ending sanctions in Iraq, the writer declared that "no leader... would deny his own people the necessities of life." Why is it, at bottom, that such people cannot understand the nature of our enemies?
JJ. Because to do so would be to abandon their utopian belief that people are basically good. The left cannot accept that some people willingly choose to do evil they feel more comfortable explaining the terrorism or wanton slaughter or gas chambers or gulag as a response to unfairness or poverty or a lack of reasonableness on our part. Our worst enemies cannot be appeased with concessions. We can either defeat them or be defeated by them. But that is something the useful idiots, as Lenin called them, never seem to grasp.
AR. Michelle Malkin recently wrote on her blog that she couldn't bear to watch the video of 3-1/2 year old Evan Parker Scott being handed over to his biological mother after believing that his adoptive parents were, in your words, "his rock." In your column on the topic, you noted the questionable character of Evan's biological father as well as his delay in establishing paternity. But the hand-over would be heartbreaking, it seems to me, no matter his biological father's qualities. Is there an essential principle that you think ought to be followed in all such cases? What action do you think ought to be taken in similar circumstances in which an upstanding biological parent has a legitimate claim?
JJ. The decision should not turn on the claim of a biological parent, upstanding or not. It should be based on the child's best interest. Evan Scott should not have been taken from the stable home he had lived in all his life a home anchored by a married mom and dad who clearly loved and cared for him. Period. A biological mother who placed her newborn for adoption should not be permitted to change her mind 3-1/2 years later. And the law should be changed so that no man has a "legitimate claim" to his biological child unless he married the child's mother. (Nor should he be responsible for the financial support of that child.) Evan Scott's biological father was nothing more than a sperm donor. It defies common sense and decency that he should now have liberal visitation rights with Evan, while the little boy's true mom and dad Dawn and Gene Scott never get to see him again.
AR. You've written a number of straightforward and obfuscation-dispelling columns about same-sex marriage. To my experience that's a particularly rare action for a member of the New England media. In Rhode Island, for example, the news department of the Providence Journal has practically advocated for same-sex marriage, and even conservative talk radio hosts claim an inability to see anything wrong with it. Why do you think something so clear to you and me barely seems to register as a real argument among New England opinion makers?
JJ. Same-sex marriage, like the mainstreaming even celebrating of homosexuality generally, is one of those ideas that you have to believe in to be in the media or opinion elite, especially in a blue state. Just as you have to believe that the United States is a rogue nation led by a crazed cowboy, just as you have to believe that there is no more fundamental qualification for a federal judge than unblinking support for easy abortion, so you have to believe that the understanding of marriage that has prevailed for 5,000 years is a manifestation of ignernt redneck bigotry. Maybe it's a question of DNA. Or maybe it really is true that we come from utterly different origins: Conservatives are from Mars, liberals are from San Francisco.
AR. Not unrelated to the previous questions: You're on the Council of Overseers for the Huntington Theatre Company. How did that come about?
JJ. Interesting question with an interesting answer. I used to host a weekly show for New England Cable News. "Talk of New England" was nothing fancy I would choose a topic and invite some relevant guests to come on the program and chew it over for an hour. The topic one week was government funding of the arts which I opposed and one of my guests was Michael Maso, the engaging managing director of the Huntington Theatre Company. As I recall, we had a spirited debate, in which I called for abolishing the National Endowment for the Arts and he made the usual litany of arguments for its existence. In the course of the show or perhaps during a commercial break I mentioned that I was a longtime subscriber to the Huntington, and a regular, if modest, contributor. A couple days later, Michael called to ask if I'd be interested in bringing my unconventional view into the Huntington as an Overseer. Which I was glad still am glad to do. (No minds have been changed on the subject of the NEA, though.)
AR. As a conservative with interests in the arts, I've noticed a number of figures who share our combination of conservative principles and artistic predilections. (National Review's Jay Nordlinger prominent among them.) Are we a silent cohort? A growing movement? What?
JJ. How about simply normal? Music- and theater-lovers come in all philosophical shades, just as football- or soccer-lovers do. And vegetarians, poets, motorcyclists, and gardeners. There is no more reason to assume that only liberals are interested in the arts than to assume that only conservatives are interested in business. But don't do Jay Nordlinger the disservice of lumping me together with him as someone with "artistic predilections." His knowledge of classical music is encyclopedic; when he reviews a performance, you can take his opinion to the bank. I couldn't write an intelligent review of a play if you held a gun to my temple. When it comes to drama, I'm simply another Chance the Gardener: I like to watch.
AR. Fine arts seem an odd area of society from which to find conservatives absent with the arts' long tradition and cultural significance. How can conservatives reclaim a place? Or do you think it'll happen organically, as aesthetic trends move away from rebellious nonsense to plain ol' high-quality work? Do these sorts of considerations affect your activities with the Huntington? Elsewhere?
JJ. I suspect that what is true in academia and the media is true in the arts: The leftwing hegemony has become so pronounced that conservatives either avoid the field altogether or, if they want to rise in it, suppress their political views. A friend of mine, a musician in a Top 5 symphony orchestra, is a devout Christian and an ardent conservative. His views are known to some of his colleagues, but he is careful not to be too blatant in his non-leftism. In recent years, a counterattack from the right has begun on campus. Whether it will succeed or not remains to be seen, but maybe conservatives and other non-leftists with an interest in the arts need to follow suit. I promise to do my part I think I'll start by (finally) reading Roger Kimball's The Rape of the Masters.
AR. Any plans for a book?
JJ. I am the world's slowest writer. Two columns a week is absolutely a full-time job for me. I am in awe of people who can toss off a couple columns in a few hours, and spend the rest of their time hosting daily talk shows, editing journals of opinion, or writing books. All of which is a roundabout way of saying: No, not yet.
What can one do but marvel that Providence Journal page B.01 columnist Bob Kerr would commit this to print:
It's a day to be silly. We're not just inaugurating a president; we're inaugurating a whole new way of life in which the entire country becomes its own reality show. People watch us from other places, waiting for the next pileup, the next collision, the next national obsession with a criminal lowlife. We seldom disappoint our worldwide audience. ...
We'll be living a cartoon tomorrow. Let's act appropriately.
I'll try to get some friends together for an informal seminar on what books, if any, might show up on the shelves of the George W. Bush Presidential Library when it's built sometime in 2010 over a prairie dog hole in west Texas. The Little Engine That Could? A Golfer's Life? The Pet Goat?
What can one do but offer a shake of the head, a hearty laugh, and a suggestion that the liberal media has been living in a cartoon for as long as anyone can remember. (The laugh, by the way, is at the spectacle of the last denizens refusing to see Toontown in live-action.)
And yes, I want credit for resisting the obvious Democrat-related quips about a "national obsession with a criminal lowlife."
January 19, 2005
Memo to the President
"Lukewarm" support for the FMA is just fine, Mr. President. See my piece today on NRO for details.
Respectful Competition: A Basic Requirement for a Healthy Democracy
A previous posting highlighted how the coarsening of our public debate in America has resulted from the use of extreme language that only seeks to intimidate, not to persuade.
Subsequently, there was the usual talk after the election about how the conservative winners should "moderate" their views, a code word suggesting that capitulating on key principles to liberals who lost the election was the only proper course of action. What a bunch of silly nonsense!
Politics, like business, is a competitive, contact sport. No one in their right mind believes that businesses become successful by not seeking a competitive advantage. Nor does anyone in their right mind believe that businesses become successful by appealing only to the most narrow customer base. Finally, no sensible person believes that corporate monopolies have any incentive to maintain the highest level of excellence that is a natural result of living in a competitive world.
Why should the competition for the best political principles and public policy initiatives be any different?
The losers in the 2004 election did not articulate a viable, competitive alternative vision for where America should go in the future. The best thing that could happen to our country right now would be for them to stop calling people names and start thinking outside the box. After doing that, they should come back into the public debate with innovative thinking that offers a truly competitive alternative to the winners of 2004.
Two current examples drive home what happens when there is a lack of competition in the political arena: Rhode Island politics and the spending habits of the U.S. Congress. The Rhode Island legislature is 85% Democrat, which means the minority party cannot, by itself, stop legislation. That means the majority party has no need to build a majority coalition outside its own ranks and no need to build a broader consensus. The citizens of Rhode Island are worse off because the lopsided majority means there is no competition for the best policy ideas and no way to stop officials from acting against the best interests of the citizens whom they were elected to serve. There would be the same problem if the state legislature was 85% controlled by Republicans; the pork-laden excessive spending by the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress reinforces that conclusion.
To sum it all up, I offer you a quote from William Voegeli, who wrote:
The inevitable post-election blather about unity fails to make the crucial distinction. A healthy democracy does not require blurring political differences. But it must find a way to express those differences forcefully without anathematizing people who hold different views.
Michael Barone wrote an interesting commentary on March 14, 2005 in which he suggests that the Democrats are out of gas. If true, there is a vacuum waiting to be filled by some new, creative leaders.
Liberalism: Propagation via Redefinition
Liberals have a practical reason why they won't say what they ultimately want, and a theoretical reason why they can't say it. The practical reason is that any usably clear statement of what the welfare state should be would define not only a goal but a limit. Conceding that an outer limit exists, and stipulating a location for it, strengthens the hand of conservatives—with liberals having admitted, finally, that the welfare state can and should do only so much, the argument now, the conservatives will say, is over just how much that is.As Voegli points out, it is this constant liberal redefinition and bar-raising of what makes a well-developed person, and by extension a "perfect" society, that keeps their political engine running. Remember, as the enlightened elite, they know best what is best for the rest of us, after all. As such, there is no end to what government is "morally" required to do because they constantly re-define the ideals they deem important. One check to this growth, to their ability to use government to "help" us, is the size of the burden that the taxpayers are willing to bear. However, on this point, Voegli worries
Keeping open, permanently, the option for the growth of the welfare state reflects the belief that the roster of human needs and aspirations to which the government should minister is endless. Any attempt to curtail it would be arbitrary and wrong. . .
This gets us to the theoretical reason why liberalism cannot incorporate a limiting principle or embrace an ultimate destination. Given humankind's long history of sorrows, most people would consider securing "abundance and liberty for all," ending poverty and achieving racial justice, a pretty good day's work. For LBJ it was, astoundingly, "just the beginning."
Liberal intellectuals who drew up the blueprint for the Great Society regarded peace, prosperity, and justice as achievements that were not merely modest but troubling. They lived with a strange dread—that if Americans' lives became too comfortable the people would decide that the country had been reformed enough, thank you, even though liberals knew there was still—always—work to be done. In 1943 the National Public Resources Board, which FDR hoped would chart the course for a renewed, enlarged post-war New Deal, advocated the recognition of various welfare rights, including the right to "rest, recreation and adventure." In a speech he gave to the Americans for Democratic Action in 1948, the group's first chairman, Wilson Wyatt, rejected "the view that government's only responsibility is to prevent people from starving or freezing to death. We believe it is the function of government to lift the level of human existence. It is the job of government to widen the chance for development of individual personalities."
The threat goes beyond taxes, spending, borrowing, and regulating that increase without limit. It culminates in a therapeutic nanny state that corrupts both its wardens and its wards. Convinced that they are intervening, constantly and pervasively, to assist the growth of people who would otherwise stagnate, the enlighteners don't need coercion to enfold the people in a soft totalitarianism. The objects of this therapy, meanwhile, may grow accustomed to it, and ultimately prefer being cared for to being free; or conclude that being free has no value apart from being cared for.[emphasis mine]Well, here in Rhode Island, it certainly seemed that the citizenry embraced Johnson's stance when he spoke that day in Providence. Yet, that was the past, and, with leaders like Cranston Mayor Laffey and Governor Carcieri, attitudes are changing.
Lyndon Johnson gave one other memorable speech in 1964. At a campaign rally in Providence he climbed onto his car, grabbed a bullhorn, and summed up his political philosophy: "I just want to tell you this--we're in favor of a lot of things and we're against mighty few." The Democrats' problem is not that they, like Seinfeld, are a show about nothing. It's that they are a show about everything, or anything. (At one point, the Kerry-for-President website referred to 79 separate federal programs he wanted to create or expand.)
January 18, 2005
The Power of a Podium
A 230-word piece in the Providence Journal nicely captures the good that disputatious writers like Edward Achorn and (to a much lesser extent... for now) us here at Anchor Rising can do:
[RI House Speaker William] Murphy had said he would seek an advisory opinion from the state Supreme Court, but said today that he has changed his mind.
"While I still believe there are merits to the legal questions involved in this issue, I have reached this decision to expedite the implementation of separation of powers and to honor the will of the people," he said.
Sen. Michael Lenihan, who plans to introduce legislation implementing the changes involved in separation of powers, said Murphy's decision was a surprise, but should help move the process along.
We, the people of Rhode Island, have a long, long way to go, but at least we've earned this glimmer of an indication that things can change that things are changing already.
Labels as a First Step Toward Finding Deeper Meaning
I received the December 2004 issue of The Proposition, a publication of the Claremont Institute. As a graduate of Harvey Mudd College, one of the Claremont Colleges, who also satisfied the requirements for a political science major at Claremont McKenna College, I found one of the quotes in the issue to be an interesting perspective on a world that simply adores putting labels on most everything:
The idea that government should be limited in its powers and that we should be a moral, self-governing people was commonsense wisdom for America's Founders, and it remains so for Americans who love freedom and constitutional government. The problem today is that many people simply don't understand these principles. From liberal intellectual elites, to most of the media, to those government "experts" who exert increasing control over our lives, the most influential people and institutions are trying to turn America into something other than the free country it has always been.
In conservative politics these days there is much talk of "Neo-Conservatives" and "Paleo-Conservatives" and "Libertarians." Because of our 25 years of hard work...there is talk now of what it means to be a "Claremont Conservative." When asked what this means, we explain that a Claremont Conservative is someone who believes in the principles of the Declaration of Independence - that all men are created equal, and that government exists to defend our natural rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A Claremont Conservative agrees with Alexander Hamilton that citizens are capable of governing themselves through "reflection and choice," and that we do not need bureaucratic experts telling us how to raise our children or run our businesses. A Claremont Conservative thinks the opinions of American citizens are as important, if not more, than the opinions of bureaucrats.
You can see the various projects of the Claremont Institute at their website and discover several of my personal favorites: "A User's Guide to the Declaration of Independence" website, the "Rediscovering George Washington" website, and the "Vindicating the Founders" website.
America would benefit greatly if all citizens developed a deeper understanding of the principles on which the founding of our great nation was built. Happy reading!
There is a wonderful posting at Power Line about the Claremont Institute and the Claremont Review of Books. I also heartily endorse Marc's comments about the latter publication; it is a must read for anyone serious about politics.
State Senate Offspring Judicial Apprenticeship Program Continues
A relative choiceDoesn't it seem that Ms. Koelsch has had to do a lot of explaining recently? Just last month questions concerning a similar spate of judicial jobs being filled by the relatives of former or current State Senators, including Senate Majority Leader Montalbano's son, also prompted an explanation from Koelsch and others. Perhaps if the state courts, at all levels, simply stopped hiring the relatives of State Senators, regardless of their qualifications, such explanations would not be required. Given the reported pool of applicants for these jobs, 25 for a data entry position filled by Montalbano's son and 37 for the position filled by McBurney, I think it safe to say that these sons of senators probably didn't hold qualifications so unique that not hiring them would have been some sort of employment injustice. Unfair? Perhaps. But chalk it up as the price of being the kid of someone who is "serving" the citizens of Rhode Island.
Another member of the family of longtime state Sen. John F. McBurney has landed a job in the state courts.
The senator's nephew, Gregory M. McBurney, was given the $28,147 job that his son, John F. McBurney IV , had held, as an administrative aide in the jury commissioner's office, until his promotion in November to a higher-paying spot -- which had been held, until her promotion, by the daughter of former Senators Paul and Sandra Hanaway.
Court spokeswoman Dyana Koelsch said Gregory McBurney, 23, was deemed the "most qualified" of 37 applicants by jury commissioner Eugene McMahon , because he had a bachelor's degree in justice studies from Roger Williams University, and "was in the top 5 percent of his class, [the] National Honor Society and on the dean's list. He also is highly experienced with computers and Windows applications."
But Koelsch made a point of distancing Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams from this and other recent court hires with close Senate connections.
In an e-mail to Political Scene, she wrote: "Please note that hires in lower courts DO NOT fall under the operational control of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, but statutorily are the sole function of the administration of the individual court.
Senator McBurney could not be reached for comment.
Gregory McBurney, who was identified by Koelsch as a nephew of the longtime Pawtucket senator, began his new job last week.
Now, I must emphasize that highlighting these hirings is neither intended to besmirch the name of any involved nor to indict without evidence. However, I can accuse those involved of not heeding the explicit words of our State Constitution and thus contributing to the perception that Rhode Island is a corrupt state. The Rhode Island Constitution, Article 3, Section 7, states:
Ethical conduct. -- The people of the state of Rhode Island believe that public officials and employees must adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct, respect the public trust and the rights of all persons, be open, accountable and responsive, avoid the appearance of impropriety and not use their position for private gain or advantage. Such persons shall hold their positions during good behavior. [emphasis mine]It was George Washington who believed that men followed their own interests above all else, that it was "interest, the only bonding cement," that dictated men's actions. Rightly or wrongly, it is in a Rhode Islanders nature to cast a cynical eye at politicians and their actions. Thus, we must ask, in whose interest is it to have relatives of legislators hired by the state judiciary?
January 17, 2005
No Gods Before the Lord Your God
Matthew Jerzyk of Providence has a particularly restrictive view of the appropriate content of public monuments:
We have hundreds of places in our city for monuments of the Ten Commandments; they are called churches. Our public spaces, however, should be reserved to memorialize our common faith in government. For example, if any city official wants to use my tax dollars to erect monuments, I would suggest that he or she start with a monument to the U.S. Constitution.
Our common faith in government? God forbid!
"I Have A Dream..."
Excerpts from Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" Speech - Aug. 28, 1963
"Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of slaves, who had been seared in the flames of whithering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundered years later, the colored America is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the colored American is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.
One hundred years later, the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we have come to our Nation's Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every Anerican was to fall heir.
This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed to the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked "insufficient funds."
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice. . .
I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by their character. . .
With . . . faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphomy of brotherhood.
With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvacious slopes of California.
But not only that, let freedom, ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.
When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, 'Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.'"
Prepared by Gerald Murphy (The Cleveland Free-Net - aa300) Distributed by the Cybercasting Services Division of the National Public Telecomputing Network (NPTN).
January 16, 2005
Small Ethics Issues vs. Big Ethics Issues
A more cynical analysis might conclude that it is an example of a state body hounding the governor to accomplish partisan objectives.
While I support the goals of ethics reform, I believe it would be well for the Ethics Commission (and The Journal) to keep the dimensions of these alleged lapses in perspective. We are fortunate to have a governor who brings substantial integrity, intellect and energy to the task of getting things back on track in Rhode Island. This nitpicking is an unnecessary distraction.
Trying to learn about the Rhode Island political labyrinth, one continually finds whole areas in need of thorough research. People myself included just don't have that kind of time. Perhaps if they persist in being unafraid to turn impressions into questions, reform can advance without each citizen's having to become an expert on local government.
January 15, 2005
Finding the Same-Sex Marriage Story
This story appeared almost two weeks ago, but I wanted to do a little research and give the matter some thought:
The School Committee requested clarification from the courts after Cheryl McCullough, who worked as a health teacher and guidance counselor at Tiverton High School for 27 years, applied for health insurance for Joyce Boivin, whom she married in their home state of Massachusetts nearly seven months ago.
Gay Rhode Island blogger Woneffe thinks that, if "the judge determines that the Tiverton School Committee should recognize this couple as married, it could work as an end-run around Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's insistence that no out-of-state same-sex couples can wed in Massachusetts." Of course, in this era, any judicial precedent seems an open invitation to end-runs around any law, but I don't see how Woneffe's suggestion applies specifically, from Massachusetts' perspective.
Regarding the law to which he refers, all sides of the debate essentially agree that it only restricts couples whose marriages won't be recognized in the state in which they live. In the case at hand, McCullough and Boivin aren't residents of Rhode Island, but of Massachusetts, which obviously recognizes its own same-sex marriages.
Unfortunately, the length of time that I currently have to dig for laws and union agreements is insufficient to clarify a lawyerly ambiguity (which I've emphasized in the following), but UCLA attorney Lynette Labinger points to the pivotal point both in the judgment and the precedent that it would set:
"Nobody is disputing the validity of the marriage," she said. "The only issue as far as we're concerned is the agreement between the School Department and the union, which recognizes a marriage as long as it's valid in the state it's entered in."
As I suggested, I wasn't able to find the contract or the union's specific language dealing with marriage. It may be that Labinger is laying the groundwork to expand a relatively benign clause in future cases. If the union's agreement with the school department is that marital validity is determined according to state of residence, then a ruling in favor of this couple might not be a big deal. Discussion could and should be had over whether Rhode Islanders should extend benefits to out-of-state commuters that aren't available to our fellow citizens, and it would surely be a concern that the allowance would, without a doubt, be cited as unfair and requiring the courts to change Rhode Island marriage law for its own citizens. Nonetheless, state of residence provides a fairly stark line.
More concerning is the possibility that Labinger did not misspeak that "entered in" is the actual language of the contract. In that case, a ruling in favor of the couple could mean that teachers' union negotiations essentially dictated Rhode Island law. A judge could easily find that under the terms of the contract school departments must recognize the same-sex marriages at least of couples who moved to Rhode Island from Massachusetts, and perhaps those who merely managed to procure a license somehow. Once that's accomplished, it's hard to believe that this state of affairs could long apply solely to teachers.
Of course, it may be a cynical route toward optimism to recall that a number of things apply only to teachers, in this state. For one thing, readers might find it more scandalous that the sixty-year-old McCullough retired in 1996, barely into her fifties!
January 14, 2005
Comparative History Helps Put Iraq in Perspective
We now look back in awe at World War II, the model of military success, in which within four years an unprepared United States won two global wars, at sea, on the ground, and in the air, in three continents against Japan, Italy, and Germany, and supplied both England and the Soviet Union. But our forefathers experienced disaster after disaster in a tale of heartbreak, almost as inglorious as the Korean mess or Vietnam tragedy. And they did things to win we perhaps claim we would now not: Shoot German prisoners in the Bulge, firebomb Axis cities, drop the bomb — almost anything to stop fascists from slaughtering even more millions of innocents.Thus, despite all of the personal and more widespread tragedy and failure that occurred during World War II, Americans, both current and contemporary, have correctly viewed the efforts of the U.S. as admirable and good. Time and the passions of proximity provide perspective when looking at the truly "Big Things" accomplished. Would it be that more people could take off their ideological blinders and see history while it is being made in Iraq.
Our armored vehicles were deathtraps and only improved days before the surrender. American torpedoes were often duds. Unescorted daylight bombing proved a disaster, but continued. Amphibious assaults like Anzio and Tarawa were bloodbaths and emblematic of terrible planning and command. The recapture of Manila was clumsy and far too costly. Okinawa was the worst of all operations, and yet was begun just over fourth months before the surrender — without any planning for Kamikazes who were shortly to kill 5,000 American sailors. Patton, the one general that could have ended the western war in 1944, was relieved and then subordinated to an auxiliary position with near fatal results for the drive from Normandy; mediocrities like Mark Clark flourished and were promoted. Admiral King resisted the life-saving convoy system and unnecessarily sacrificed merchant ships; while Bull Halsey almost lost his unprepared fleet to a storm.
The war's aftermath seemed worse, to be overseen by an untried president who was considered an abject lightweight. Not-so-quite collateral damage had ruined entire cities. Europe nearly starved in winter 1945-6. Millions were on the road in mass exoduses. After spending billions to destroy Nazi Germany we had to spend billions more to rebuild it — and repair the devastation it had wrought on its neighbors. Our so-called partisan friends in Yugoslavia and Greece turned out to be hard-core Communist killers. Soon enough we learned that the guerrillas in the mountains of Europe whom we had idolized, in fact, fought as much for Communism as against fascism — but never for democracy.
But at least there was clear-cut strategic success? Oh? The war started to keep Eastern Europe free of Nazis and ended up ensuring that it was enslaved by Stalinists. Poland was neither free in 1940 nor in 1946. By early 1946 we were already considering putting former Luftwaffe pilots in American jets — improved with ample borrowing from Nazi technology — to protect Europe from the Red Army carried westward on GM trucks. We put Nazis on trials for war crimes even as we invited their scientists to our shores to match their counterparts in the Soviet Union who were building even more lethal weapons to destroy us. Our utopian idea of a global U.N. immediately deteriorated into a mess — decades of vetoes in the Security Council by Stalinists and Maoists, even as former colonial states turned thugocracies in the General Assembly ganged up on Israel and the survivors of the Holocaust.
After Americans had liberated France and restored his country, General de Gaulle created the myth of the French resistance and immediately triangulated with our enemies to reforge some pathetic sort of French grandeur. An exhausted England turned over to us a collapsing empire, with the warning that it might all turn Communist. Tired of the war and postbellum costs, Americans suddenly were asked to wage a new Cold War to keep a shrinking West and its allies free. The Department of War turned into the Department of Defense, along with weird new things like the U.S. Air Force, Strategic Air Command, Food for Peace, Alliance for Progress, Voice of America, and thousands of other costly entities never dreamed of just a few years earlier.
And yet our greatest generation thought by and large they had done pretty well. We in contrast would have given up in despair in 1942, New York Times columnists and NPR pundits pontificating "I told you so" as if we were better off sitting out the war all along.
Essence Magazine Makes a Stand II
When I told Michaela that Essence was to be commended for expressing a very appropriate — and conservative — point of view, she didn't want to agree. "I don't think it is a conservative point of view. We are not saying it is all wrong. Personally I like a lot of the music. I started my career at Vibe. I have been a stylist for some music videos. The problem is it's the only thing we have to choose from, the only images we see of Black women. We don't want to shut it down but we do want to bring more balance to the way Black women are described and depicted.'Davis obviously shied away from being associated with a "conservative" cause, and that is fine. The motto of my undergrad alma mater is "Acta non Verba" (Deeds not Words), and Essence's actions speak louder than any words they may utter denying an alignment with conservate thought. In my previous post I also offered that perhaps in this instance, and in many others, ideological labels are not the best way to classify a "movement."
[Essence's] desire to promote more positive images, while knocking down negative and derogatory imagery, of and for young African-American women aligns them squarely with many conservatives. It is in such undertakings that the ideological walls that partition the fields of consensus can be broken down. Ideologues on the Left and Right need not agree on everything for them to join in a worthy cause that speaks to the core of their respective beliefs. It is inappropriate, callow and disrespectful to objectify young women.I guess the difference lies in the degree to which those of differing ideologies would tackle the issue. While Davis says Essence doesn't "want to shut it down," I suspect that many conservatives would.
A General Cloud of Suspicion
Dan Yorke railed against this possibility on Wednesday:
Under pressure from law-enforcement officials who want to use the roadblocks again, Governor Carcieri is deciding whether to ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider a 1989 decision that sobriety checkpoints violate the state Constitution.
If Carcieri goes along with Attorney General Patrick Lynch, who wants him to put the question back before the court, it would open the possibility of a reversal that would allow checkpoints after a 15-year ban.
Rhode Island is one of just eleven states that currently have such bans in place. However, Yorke pointed out that we're at least that unique in amount of corruption. And a general ability to pull over cars without any reason for suspicion whatsoever would be a power-abuser's dream. It would also seem to create a ready source of revenue for an already corpulent governing system. Note the statistics in Tennessee:
Elder, Lynch, MADD and other proponents cite a massive, 12-month demonstration project in Tennessee in which nearly 145,000 vehicles were stopped at 882 checkpoints during 12 months in 1994 and 1995.
Only 773 drivers, less than 1 percent, were arrested on drunken-driving charges, hundreds were arrested on other charges and 7,351 were given other traffic citations.
Yes, it's absolutely true that about 94% of people stopped pulled away with no penalty but lost time. That said, of the remaining 6%, around 91% were arrested or cited for violations that had absolutely nothing to do with the reason such stops are allowed. Those don't sound like "police roadblocks to fight drunken driving" to me; they sound like general searches without probable cause that sometimes happen to catch drunk drivers.
Still, part of Yorke's anger came from the apparent apathy of his audience. So, in the event that the ban looks likely to collapse, I propose a compromise: police may set up roadblocks, but they are completely forbidden from busting drivers or their passengers for any violation not having to do with alcohol. (With exceptions for those rare instances in which they come across a car with a corpse in the backseat.)
Cutting the Safety-Net Industry
Schools of social work offer little to no education on how to run a business. Thus, some social workers have no concept of how to succeed without getting a check from the government. It would help the public if some of these social-work schools ended their profiling of 50 percent of the country, and taught some basic concepts of self-support to social workers.
Course number 205 could be titled "Accepting Your Capitalist Society." (Come to think of it, I could use a few pointers on self-support, myself.)
January 13, 2005
Driving a Stake into the Heart of the Mainstream Media
Peggy Noonan has nailed an issue, again, as only she can do. Here are some excerpts from her latest editorial, in which she discusses Rathergate and the busting of the mainstream media monopoly in America:
The Rathergate Report is a watershed event in American journalism not because it changes things on its own but because it makes unavoidably clear a change that has already occurred. And that is that the mainstream media's monopoly on information is over. That is, the monopoly enjoyed by three big networks, a half dozen big newspapers and a handful of weekly magazines from roughly 1950 to 2000 is done and gone, and something else is taking its place. That would be a media cacophony. But a cacophony in which the truth has a greater chance of making itself clearly heard...
The MSM [mainstream media] rose because it had a monopoly. And it fell because it lost that monopoly...
What broke [the monopoly]? We all know. Rush Limbaugh did, cable news did, the antimonolith journalists who rose with Reagan did, the internet did, technology did, talk radio did, Fox News did, the Washington Times did. When the people of America got options, they took them. Conservative arguments rose, and liberal hegemony fell.
All this has been said before but this can't be said enough: The biggest improvement in the flow of information in America in our lifetimes is that no single group controls the news anymore...
Is there a difference between the bloggers and the MSM journalists? Yes. But it is not that they are untrained eccentrics home in their pajamas. (Half the writers for the Sunday New York Times are eccentrics home in their pajamas.) It is that they are independent and allowed to think their own thoughts. It is that they have autonomy and can assign themselves stories, and determine on their own the length and placement of stories. And it is that they are by and large as individuals more interesting than most MSM reporters...
Only 20 years ago, when you were enraged at what you felt was the unfairness of a story, or a bias on the part of the storyteller, you could do this about it: nothing. You could write a letter...
The most successful bloggers aren't bringing bluster to the debate, they're bringing facts--font sizes, full quotes, etc. They're bringing facts and points of view on those facts that the MSM before this could ignore, and did ignore. They're bringing a lot to the debate, and changing the debate by what they bring. They're doing what excellent reporters would do...
The same change is even beginning to happen right here in Rhode Island. Information is power and information is now beginning to flow more freely. The facts about how high taxes in our state unnecessarily burden working families and retirees is now becoming more public. How those high taxes are driven by sweetheart deals where outrageous demands by public sector unions are agreed to by spineless politicians and bureaucrats - this, too, is becoming more public.
Isn't freedom wonderfully liberating? People committed to empirical facts and doing right by all citizens have nothing to fear. People committed to sweetheart deals do have something to fear - because both facts and history are not on their side.
Change - irreversible change - is beginning to happen. Let the real competition for the best ideas get underway here in Rhode Island and all across America.
Can Ohio's BestRX Drug Plan be Projected Nationally?
Heinz and Lewis accurately described the genesis and highlights of the Ohio plan.
Negotiations between the pharmaceutical industry (PhRMA) and a coalition of labor, church and consumer organizations (led by the Ohio AFL-CIO) resulted in "Ohio's Best Rx," a first-in-the-nation program that will slash drug prices for uninsured Ohio residents of any age who earn less than $22,450 per year, and uninsured Ohio families that bring home less than $44,000 per year.As to the last claim, the program will be initially funded by the Ohio taxpayers, but it is anticipated that the need for such support will disappear once the program is up and running. (Cue: Conservative skeptics, you may now raise your eyebrows). All and all, it would appear that Ohio's BestRX is an attractive bi-partisan solution to reigning in increasing drug prices. In fact, I could find none who argued against the program. One potential opponent, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), as mentioned by Heinz and Lewis, was heavily involved in negotiating the plan. Kurt Malmgren of the PhRMA summarized his organization's view of Ohio's BestRX plan:
Ohio's Best Rx program, which begins this week, enables these Ohioans to buy drugs for the same average price paid by state employees and retirees, plus an additional $4 in fees ($3 to cover the pharmacy's professional services and a $1 transaction fee, to cover the program's administrative costs).
The potential benefit is enormous. Today, for example, a 30-day supply of the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor costs uninsured Ohioans up to $130. But if the state pays an average price of, say, $70, Ohio's Best Rx participants would pay just $74 -- a discount of more than 40 percent. A mail-order option will provide even greater saving.
What's more, these deep discounts are achieved without a big new bureaucracy. The program won't cost taxpayers a dime.
America's pharmaceutical makers understand that for some the cost of prescription medicine can be a challenge . . . We believe Ohio's Best Rx will provide a significant discount while preserving consumer choice, access and the ability of doctors and patients to determine the best treatments. Study after study show that patient health improves when they get the drugs they need. That is the mission and the goal of all pharmaceutical makers.With the PhRMA endorsing the plan, it would seem that the road is clear for other states to negotiate similar deals with the pharmaceutical companies. As such, I would have to say that perhaps there is room within the drug company profit margins for them to offer a bit of relief to their consumers. However, will lower prices result in smaller profit margins, thus affecting their R&D budgets and their concomitant incentive to produce newer and better, as well as less profitable, yet much-needed, drugs? What if similar programs are instituted nationwide? Perhaps such fears should be held in check. According to Heinz and Lewis
We realize that drug companies are not charities. But by making Ohio's Best Rx the model for a national plan, focused on the uninsured, the companies would not only generate goodwill; they might even eventually increase their profits. Whatever profits are initially sacrificed because of lower prices could well be made up or even exceeded through increased volume from millions of new customers suddenly able to afford needed medications.Maybe so. The willingness of the PhRMA to agree to the plan indicates to me that they hold a similar hope that this "Ohio model" will provide for sufficient profits to fund R&D, etc. I just wonder if they can be expected to support this model on a nationwide basis. If Ohio's plan proves successful, I suspect we will find out.
Wake Up, Speaker Murphy!
This posting builds on a string of other postings by all of us here at Anchor Rising.
Ed Achorn of the Providence Journal is back with yet another editorial about how Rhode Island House Speaker William Murphy appears committed to thwarting the will of the people, as expressed in our approval on November 2 of the separation of powers constitutional amendment.
Mr. Achorn writes:
Mr. Murphy holds the most powerful political post in Rhode Island. He managed to cling to that power last week after a bitter challenge by Republicans and dissident Democrats.
No one knows what promises Mr. Murphy had to make to secure the 45 votes he obtained in that fight, to his unimpressive challenger's 30. But, during the fight, he did something shocking, even by the standards of Rhode Island politics. He signaled his intention to essentially nullify a constitutional reform known as separation of powers, which had been duly passed on Nov. 2, after years of debate and struggle, by more than 78 percent of the state's voters.
These voters trusted in the power of the ballot to redress their grievances. Mr. Murphy betrayed that trust. He announced that the Rhode Island Constitution -- no matter what the voters say -- still gives the General Assembly the power to operate state-sanctioned gambling, through control of the Lottery Commission, and exert other executive functions.
Such a contention seems, to me, to stretch law, common sense, and the English language into unrecognizable shapes. The voters, after all, officially amended the state constitution to read: "No senator or representative shall, during the time for which he or she was elected, be appointed to any state office, board, commission or other state or quasi-public entity exercising executive power under the laws of this state. . . ." That would seem to offer no wiggle room for legislators to run the executive functions of the Lottery Commission or other boards. (In no other state is there even one legislator allowed to run the lottery that way.)
Our Declaration of Independence clearly and eloquently states that "governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." We, the people of Rhode Island, gave our consent on November 2 to the separation of powers amendment. Any power that William Murphy has as House Speaker is also derived from our consent.
However, another posting contains a word of caution from Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute, who said:
In the end, however, no constitution can be self-enforcing. Government officials must respect their oaths to uphold the Constitution; and we the people must be vigilant in seeing that they do.
Speaker Murphy: We, the citizens of Rhode Island, have already spoken and we demand that you drop your proposed actions. Your actions violate the separation of powers amendment and they violate fundamental principles of American freedom dating back to our country's founding.
Wake up, Speaker Murphy! The old days of corrupt Rhode Island politics are over. The old days of showing a callous disregard for the will of the people of Rhode Island are over. Show respect for your oath of office and for the rule of law.
January 12, 2005
The Politics of Charter Schools: Addendum
Good (under-reported) Economic News
. . . the preliminary data . . . show a gain of 157,000 non-farm workers for the month, bringing the total increase for 2004 to 2.2 million. This is the largest number of jobs created in one year since 1999, even greater than in the year 2000 as the tech stock bubble was hitting its zenith. Unfortunately, this still represents a 175,000 decrease since Mr. Bush took office. . .Add to this the fact that there seems to have been a $1 billion surplus in December. This is the worst economy in 50 years?
An even more positive assessment of job growth . . . is reflected in the Household Survey . . . performed each month by the Census Bureau . . . shows an increase of 2.5 million jobs since Mr. Bush took office, and a 4.5 million rise from the January 2002 recession low. . . [note: read the piece for why the discrepency between the two surveys].
Another highly publicized campaign fallacy was that Americans are making less money today than before Bush was inaugurated. . .when Bush took office, the average weekly pay for production or non-supervisory employees was $485. In December, it was $536 -- a 10.52% gain. This increase in wages -- also contrary to politically oriented assertions -- is greater than the 9.77% rise in inflation during this four-year period as measured by the Consumer Price Index (through November 2004). . .
during the Bush "depression," [consumer net worth] rose to a new all-time high of $45 trillion by the end of 2003 -- yes, even greater than at the stock bubble peak in March 2000. Without the final data for 2004, it is safe to assume that this net worth is significantly higher today given last year's 9% increase in stocks (S&P 500), and a likely similar gain in residential real estate values. . .
When Bush took office, 66.2% of Americans owned their own homes. By the end of 2003, this number had jumped to 68.6%, and will certainly be higher when 2004's final numbers are in. This is a 2.4% increase in Bush's first three years in office. To put this in perspective, such ownership only rose by 0.8% during the "boom" of President Clinton's second term. In fact, this percentage only increased by 1.8% during Clinton's two terms. . .
under President Bush, the GDP has increased every year from 2000's $9.7 trillion. Even in the midst of the recession of 2001, our GDP still rose to $10 trillion. In fact, if we hit analysts' estimates, 2004's number will be $11.5 trillion -- a full 18% higher than when Mr. Bush to office.
RE: Where is the Moral Outrage
January 11, 2005
These are unexpected arguments to hear from conservatives, since they usually deny that disproportionate statistics can be taken as proof of discrimination. When it comes to employment discrimination or affirmative action, conservatives will blithely insist that the absence of minorities (in a work force or student body) simply means that there were too few "qualified applicants." And don't bother talking to them about a "glass ceiling" or "mommy track" that impedes women's careers. That's not discrimination, they say, it's "self-selection."In fact, according to Lubet, conservatives are engaging in a bit of self-selection of their own by not selecting a career in academia.
Conservatives abandon these arguments, however, when it comes to their own prospects in academe. Then the relative scarcity of Republican professors is widely asserted as proof of willful prejudice.
Perhaps fewer conservatives than liberals are willing to endure the many years of poverty-stricken graduate study necessary to qualify for a faculty position. Perhaps conservatives are smarter than liberals, and recognize that graduate school is a poor investment, given the scant job opportunities that await new Ph.D.s. Or perhaps studious conservatives are more attracted to the greater financial rewards of industry and commerce.I would say that he is correct, but would emphasize that, in his attempt to hoist conservatives on their own petards, he has managed to skewer the assumptions held by himself and his fellow liberals concerning affirmative action, hasn't he? However, be that as it may, it is this classically liberal elitist bit that both illustrates and confirms the attitudes of so many liberal academics:
It is completely reasonable for conservatives to flock to jobs that reward competition, aggression, self-interest and victory. So it should not be surprising that liberals gravitate to professions -- such as academics, journalism, social work and the arts -- that emphasize inquiry, objectivity and the free exchange of ideas. After all, teachers at all levels -- from nursery school to graduate school -- tend to be Democrats.So you see, conservatives simply don't care about anyone but themselves. It is too bad that those virtues that Lubet ascribes to liberals, "inquiry, objectivity and the free exchange of ideas," are too-often quashed, either aggressively or passively (or passive-aggressively?) within so many ivy-covered walls. To be fair, Lubet recognizes that the stifling of debate is not good for his profession, but to me he comes across as only luke-warm to the idea. It is also predictable how he attempts to assign a negative connotation to "competition" and "victory" by lumping them in with "aggression" and "self-interest," the latter two having lost any sense of the "positive" in today's English language.
Besides the more organized conservative movements, there are indications that change may be affected "from the bottom up." A new book, God on the Quad: How Religious Colleges and the Missionary Generation Are Changing America by Naomi Schaefer Riley (who was recently interviewed by National Review), surveys the state of conservatism, particularly of the religious sort, in our colleges. Riley cleverly tags the current batch of conservative college students with the label "Generation M" (M is for Missionary) and states that they
participate in the typical model of college behavior. They don't spend their college years experimenting with sex or drugs. They marry early and plan ahead for family life. They oppose sex outside of marriage, as well as homosexual relationships. Most dress modestly and don't drink, use drugs, or smoke. While they would disagree among themselves about what it means to be a religious person, they all assume that trying to live by a set of rules, generally laid down in scripture, is the prerequisite for a healthy, productive, and moral life.Riley focused on traditionally religious institutions, including many that have purposely set themselves up to be "conservative" academic institutions. While the graduates of these schools, at least as portrayed by Riley, appear to be proactive in wanting to take the conservative message to the "un-enlightened" (ie, that's their "mission") in the blue states, the same willingness to engage liberals can't be said for many of the academic bastions from which the "Gen-Mers" come.
For conservatives a more heartening picture is provided by a recent piece in City Journal by Brian C. Anderson. Surveying more "traditional" universities, Anderson details how a more secular conservatism is spreading, even into the halls of the Ivy League.
The number of College Republicans, for instance, has almost tripled, from 400 or so campus chapters six years ago, to 1,148 today, with 120,000-plus members (compared with the College Democrats’ 900 or so chapters and 100,000 members). And College Republicans are thriving even on elite campuses. “We’ve doubled in size over the last few years, to more than 400 students,” reports Evan Baehr, the square-jawed future pol heading the Princeton chapter. The number of College Republicans at Penn has also rocketed upward, says chapter president Stephanie Steward, from 25 or so members a couple of years ago to 700 members today. Same story at Harvard. These young Republican activists, trudging into battleground states this fall in get-out-the vote efforts, helped George W. Bush win.Anderson notes how today's college conservative is not much different from his liberal counterpart: both tend to like the same music, the same movies, and the same pop-culture. In short, politics is the only discernable difference, specifically, the War on Terror. Other dividing lines are affirmative action policy and "family values," with conservative students against abortion and for more women having kids within a traditional family: in short, the Ozzie and Harriet ideal. However, according to Anderson, most young conservatives agree wtih their liberal peers, rather than their ideological elders, that gay marriage is acceptable. (Perhaps when Generation M, at least the secular version, begins to marry, this attitude may change).
Students have become conservative for a variety of reasons. Some have reflexively come to reject the demonization of the Western Culture with which they identify and from which they sprang. Others reject the liberal ideology that has been proven wrong on communism and various other subjects, especially when said ideology is being "rammed down" their throats. Finally, some simply enjoy being a campus rebel. Thus, we are left with a bitter irony for liberals. The liberal professoriat of today's colleges, those who comprised the very 60's counter-culture that challenged and eventually took over the academy, is now itself being challenged by a conservative counter-culture. In essence, liberals have become "the man." How funny is that.
January 10, 2005
It's a Mad, Mad World Eh, Liberals?
Questions of schadenfreude's sinfulness aside, I have to thank Northeast Dilemma for pointing on New England Republican to an uplifting column by Katha Pollitt. I daresay that, with this paragraph, Pollitt opens wide the thickets that hide the secret path to a sunnier political perspective:
Sometimes I think America is becoming another place, unrecognizable. David Harvey, the great geographer, tells the story of a friend who returned to the United States last spring after seven years away and could not believe the transformation. "It was as if everyone had been sprinkled with idiot dust!" Some kind of mysterious national dumb-down would explain the ease with which the Republicans have managed to get so many people agitated about the nonexistent Social Security crisis -- at 82 percent ranked way above poverty and homelessness (71 percent) and racial justice (47 percent) in a list of urgent issues in a recent poll -- or about gay marriage, whose threat to heterosexual unions nobody so far has been able to articulate. Mass mental deterioration would explain, too, how so many Americans still believe the discredited premises of the Iraq War -- Saddam Hussein had WMD, was Osama's best friend, was behind 9/11. But even as a joke it doesn't explain the way we have come to accept as normal, or at least plausible, things that would have shocked us to our core only a little while ago. Michelle Malkin, a far-right absurdity, writes a book defending the internment of the Japanese in World War II, and before you know it Daniel Pipes, Middle East scholar and frequent op-ed commentator, is citing Malkin to support his proposals for racial profiling of Muslims. And he's got lots of company -- in a recent poll almost half of respondents agreed that the civil liberties of Muslims should be curtailed. Pipes's proposals in turn seem mild compared with the plans being floated by the Pentagon and the CIA for lifetime detention of terrorist suspects -- without charges, without lawyers, in a network of secret prisons around the globe. Kafkaesque doesn't begin to describe it -- at least Joseph K. had an attorney and the prisoner of "In the Penal Colony" got a sentence.
The thought-lite handling of the first few issues that she names may frustrate with their expected irksomeness and pretension, but by the end of the ramble, a light-hearted conservative will surely smile in appreciation of how dramatically liberals' world must seem to be falling apart. How crazy America must seem to those who've built an entire worldview on the denial of key organizing principles.
It's alright to be wrong, of course, but it's critically telling that Pollitt doesn't pause even for a moment between blaming first Americans' stupidity and then their fear to wonder whether she's the one who's missing something. Having not read her work more than incidentally, I won't speculate as to her intelligence, but there's a yellow powdery substance scattered between the lines of this particular column, and I think she gives it the proper name: "fear dust."
For the sheer irony of it, I think somebody ought to submit the above paragraph from Pollitt to Andrew Sullivan for his Malkin Award.
Just in case you still haven't made it to the magazine store for the latest issue of National Review, Marriage Debate Blog has posted another excerpt of my piece therein.
The Providence Journal editorial page gets curiouser and curiouser:
Of course, there will never be perfect separation of powers, all human institutions having varying levels of permeability between them. Still, the separation of powers between Rhode Island's judiciary and the two other government branches has worked pretty well. ... most politicians, and judges, are well-meaning and honest. They seek the esteem of the public that comes from honorable service. Indeed, the desire for public approval is a major reason why many get into the relentless privacy-robbing of politics and government in the first place.
Corruption, personal problems and political pressures sometimes come into play -- humans aren't robots -- but all in all, the system works well for the citizenry of Rhode Island. And it promises to continue to do so, regardless of procedural changes involving budgets, and the occasional foibles of politicians and judges.
I haven't yet become sufficiently familiar with the Projo's writers to be able to identify the authors of specific editorials, but there are certainly significant differences of opinion and style. I wouldn't presume (honestly!) that the paper feels the need to respond to Anchor Rising (i.e., that this editorial is in part a response to a previous post of mine). Still, I have to wonder:
The news media obtain and publicize more information about wrongdoing; the Internet acts as both a lively transmitter of government information and a venue for vivid commentary; and squads of good-government groups keep politicians, other government officials, and the rest of us on our toes.
On the substance, the editorial could easily be a response to thoughts expressed here and, I've no doubt, expressed by many people throughout the state. In the interest of continuing the exchange of vivid commentary, the following line of thought begs further reply:
Back to the subject of judiciaries: They must be as independent as possible. In our system of separation of powers, you don't want judges captive of either the executive or the legislative branch, lest the rendering of justice be perverted. ...
Most important in this discussion, however, is that legislatures -- at both the state and the federal level -- are the constitutionally designated source of appropriations, for the judiciary and all other parts of government. ... Indeed, the majority of states keep the governor's office completely out of the annual process that creates judicial budgets.
Thus, that the Rhode Island General Assembly last year tacked on to the state budget a proviso to prevent the governor from amending the judiciary's annual budget request seems more an embrace of separation of powers than a rejection of it.
As true as such points may be in general theory, adding the Rhode Island context to the picture raises two problems. The first, more direct, problem is that unless I've dramatically misunderstood the background it doesn't convey the appropriate impression to say that the tacked-on proviso "prevented" the governor's taking such action. It's a power Rhode Island governors have had; "prevent" makes it sound as if the potential to amend represented a new, aggressive strategy on the part of the executive that the legislature moved to preempt.
That shift in emphasis leads to the second, broader, problem: odd as it may seem, Rhode Island's governmental difficulty lies largely with its legislature. Under normal circumstances, I'm inclined to err on the side of granting that branch more power than the others, considering that it is a deliberative body of elected representatives. However, in our political landscape, which is so skewed as to leave legislators without challengers for multiple decades and which is dominated by special interest groups (especially unions), that benefit has proven of limited value.
To step back toward general theory, when the government-reform movement involves elevating the powers of the executive to counter a corrupt legislature, the legislature's move to take a budgetary component of balance of power from the executive and its interest in leveraging legalism to maintain imbalance hardly seem to indicate an embrace of that reform.
January 7, 2005
A Tithed Tease
I just noticed that NRO has posted the first section of my "One Man's Marriage Trap" piece. It's only about a tenth of the whole, so now there's another step for you to take:
- Read the excerpt.
- Buy the magazine.
- Write to the editors promising that you'll buy additional issues in which my work appears.
(FYI, I've compiled extended quotations and citations related to the piece here.)
Here's What I Don't Get
So, in doing some research for yesterday's post about questionable interactions between the judiciary and legislature in Rhode Island, I came across (and linked to) a Providence Journal piece on what appears to be a regular practice of nepotistic hiring between the two branches. Yet, today I read about some Ethics Commission charges against Governor Carcieri:
For the second time, the Ethics Commission yesterday found probable cause to believe Governor Carcieri broke the state ethics law, this time by failing to file a financial disclosure statement last spring. ...
The commission had already found probable cause to believe Governor Carcieri violated the state ethics law when he accepted tickets from Fleet Bank to watch a New England Patriots game in December 2003 from the bank's private box at Gillette Stadium.
I should disclose that I don't know all of the intricacies of the Ethics Commission and its stated purposes. The work that it does is certainly important. That said, I'll admit that I'm less concerned about questionable form-filing and tickets valued at $1,791 (given to a millionaire) than I am about the possibility of a private intragovernment job search service. Honest question: will the Ethics Commission be looking into that, or do we need another one?
RE: A Law Degree of Separation
Appearance of ImproprietyThese are only examples. There are more. For instance, these questions were some of those originally asked by Achorn and enraged Tarantino (as posted by Don)
Both the Rhode Island Constitution and the Code of Ethics state that public officials and employees should avoid the appearance of impropriety. However, an appearance of impropriety is not prohibited by law. Nonetheless a reasonable person might question whether an official may remain impartial on the issue. It is up to the individual public official/employee to determine whether he or she should participate or not.
Situations where there may be an appearance of impropriety, but actions that are not prohibited by the Code of Ethics might include:
* An employee who is in a position to influence others to obtain a position at her agency for her best friend from college.
* A public official exaggerated his accomplishments while running for election.
Is it healthy for legislators -- some of whom work for law firms whose members appear before the courts -- to exclusively set the budgetary parameters for judges' compensation and working conditions? Can judges who strike budget deals with legislators render impartial decisions on constitutional matters that profoundly affect legislators?There are plenty of reasons to raise questions, especially when we can't be too sure that RI Citizens will even be made aware of important "open meetings." I would venture to say, given the history of political corruption in the Ocean State, Tarantino's indignation at Achorn's "innuendo" rings hollow to many Rhode Island citizens. "If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck. . ."
Finally, I can understand why Tarantino has taken umbrage to the tough questions Mr. Achorn has asked. However, I believe that he can stop his research on behalf of the Lottery Commission now, for it "appears" we already have an idea as to what his "honest opinion" regarding Separation of Powers and legislators on the Commission will be. But then again, I don't want to engage in innuendo.
January 6, 2005
A Law Degree of Separation
The thing about lawyers as about salesmen is their ability to persuade people into forgetting well-formed opinions and garnered knowledge about their occupation. Of course, most lawyers are ethical, and many rise beyond that boundary to become downright admirable. The point is that they've honed an approach to addressing problems that one oughtn't forget when dealing with them particularly when dealing with them in public debate.
Generally speaking, until they are judges, it is less their calling to determine what the law is than to argue that what it is plausibly serves a client's interest. In most of our dealings with lawyers, in other words, we hire them to make our causes their own, and it is easy to think the best of somebody who's on our side.
I'm certainly writing in broad strokes, here, but my purpose is to suggest that lawyers will inevitably and rightly bring their talents to bear when arguing their own interests. As John Tarantino, Esq., writes in a Providence Journal piece, lawyers try their best "to represent clients zealously," and one would expect them to do no less when their "client" is an issue about which they care. In Tarantino's case, the craftsmanship is evident in the very first clause:
EDWARD ACHORN recklessly expressed the fear that our courts could be governed by the will (and perhaps the whim) of the legislature, rather than by the rule of law.
What, the reader may wonder, is reckless in Achorn's expression the manner or the substance? Such phrases as "his drive-by-shooting style" would seem to suggest that it is the manner that's reckless. But Tarantino's prayers "that the public never loses faith and confidence in our courts" suggest that the recklessness is in some degree related to Achorn's effectiveness.
Indeed, for all of his aggrieved personal offense, Tarantino never explains whether expressing the particular fear of an ethically compromised judiciary is reckless because it is impossible or because it is not to be feared even if real. He never says, that is, whether our "faith" should derive from evidence or from force of will.
Note that, although Tarantino is one of the lawyers researching the question at hand ("how the separation-of-powers amendment affects" the Lottery Commission), he offers not a shred of argument about it. He asserts the complexity of the analysis, saying, "There are no clear-cut answers to many constitutional questions." But he does not describe the complexity involved, nor the ease with which decisions pertaining thereto can be "shaded" to cut in one side's favor.
Although I'm not accusing Mr. Tarantino of anything untoward, an appeal to complexity is precisely what one would expect from a lawyer seeking to make the law say something that it does not; falsehood is often declared to be truth when buried under mounds of complexity. Again, the following may simply be error not a crack in a deceptive construction but it seems to me that a critical consideration could be slipping through a rhetorical loop in this paragraph:
Why? Because the legislature decided last year to allow Chief Justice Frank Williams the ability to exercise greater control over the judiciary's budget. Now, for those who truly are interested in separation of powers, isn't that a good thing? Shouldn't the judiciary have greater control over its budget? It seems to me that an independent judiciary (something we all want) is better served when the chief justice has reasonable control over the court's budget.
That reads a bit too much like a lawyerly maneuver pushing the rallying cry of "separation of powers" to knock down the related pillar of balance of power. By design, the judiciary is not "independent" on budgetary matters; however, it is now only dependent upon one other branch of government. Tarantino admits this when he calls the new policy "a sharing of budgetary control along lines that make sense." Why that makes sense is another aspect of the debate that Tarantino does not engage, but I'd suggest that an independent judiciary, which we do all want, is better served when:
- A single other branch does not have sole control over its purse strings, and
- Circumstances aren't such that the members of the judiciary who are real flesh-and-blood people, not abstract scales balancing justice and churning out raw data on constitutional questions might be tempted to assent to mutual corruption (Anybody who doubts that such a thing could happen should research the last few generations of the Bevilacqua family.)
At this point, readers can be forgiven for having been distracted from perceived indicators that "extrajudicial influences" mightn't be so imaginary not the least because Tarantino never addresses them. Instead, he portrays the judiciary as the victim of "target practice." As if the one branch of our government run by unelected judges-for-life is just a delicate collection of public servants.
In deference to the feelings of this selfless elite, "decent persons will want to see how the issues Mr. Achorn complains about are presented, make their way through the courts, and ultimately are decided before they pass judgment." Of course, once the gavel has struck, the judgment of decent people will be absolutely moot. Writes Tarantino:
By the way, that is a good thing, not a bad thing. The courts are the places where these difficult issues should be resolved. Our courts, not our legislature, not our lawyers, and certainly not our newspaper columnists, should decide constitutional questions.
Not, apparently, by a passive public of decent people, either, whose trial subscription to the constitutional regime dictated by judges can never be cancelled.
Re: Chafee and McKay Oppose Electoral College
The Linc Chafee quotation in Marc's post illustrates why Chafee's so infuriating. Not only does he stand apart from his party, but he does so for reasons that are either deceptive or, if principled, just plain foolish. (Personally, I think it's the latter.)
By population, Rhode Island is 0.37% of the national total. By electoral college votes, Rhode Island is 0.74% of the national total. In a surface-level analysis, therefore, abolishing the college would halve Rhode Island's electoral importance. But it's worse than that.
Flattening the complexities of voter turnout, in an extremely close two-party race, the candidate who won a bare majority of the Rhode Island vote would claim about 0.37% of the minimum necessary to win the national popular vote. With the current system, on the other hand, that candidate gains 1.48% of the national minimum. In this scenario, Chafee's suggestion would quarter Rhode Island's importance.
The reason presidential candidates don't "make an investment in Rhode Island" is their confidence that the state's citizens will either vote for them (Democrats) or not (Republicans), by wide margins. Chafee, rather than hammering that point, is lamenting the fact that each state gets only one vote in the House in the event of an electoral college tie. In that case, Rhode Island would count for 2% of the total and about 4% of the minimum to win.
The conspiratorially minded among us might have reason to wonder whether Chafee isn't in truth an extreme Republican partisan working beguilingly to limit the influence of New England liberals.
Chafee and McKay Oppose Electoral College
"Under the current system, the only states that get any candidate visits are the battleground states," said Chafee. "As a Rhode Islander . . . I'd like to see the presidential candidates make an investment in Rhode Island. The last election came down to just Ohio and Florida."Apparently, the journalist who penned the piece also opposes the Electoral College. I assume this from the immediately detectable amount of editorialization in Scott McKay's "news" story. In describing how the Electoral College was formulated, McKay wrote
What is more, Chafee said, is that a tie in the Electoral College in a presidential election would push the decision into the House of Representatives, where each state would get one vote. That, Chafee said, would not be a representative system.
It is an irony of the 21st century that presidential elections in an era of the Internet and international jet travel are decided by the Electoral College, a system established by men -- no women were allowed to vote -- who communicated by quill pen and horseback mail and traveled by clipper ship.As one familiar with the debate, and perhaps I'll post substantively on that in the future, it is easy for me to detect the anti-Electoral College "talking points" within McKay's prose. The allusion to modern items like the internet and jetplanes provided to accentuate the implied archaic nature of the Electoral College; the true but gratuitous line that "the Electoral College, a system established by men -- no women were allowed to vote"; that it was "erected" because the Founders didn't "trust" the average citizen, which is true but leaves a lot of the context out; and the tiresome recitation of how only white male property owners voted and how this small and exclusive group chose the President.
The system was erected by the men who founded the United States in 1789 because they did not trust average citizens. Voting was restricted to white males who owned property. And they only allowed those voters to select one segment of the U.S. government -- the federal House of Representatives.
U.S. senators were chosen by legislatures until 1913, when popular election of senators was established. The founders established the Electoral College -- which in those days was made up of community and political leaders -- to pick the president.
Now, perhaps McKay intended to convey that it was Chafee and Feinstein's argument that he was presenting. If so, he did a poor job of making that point clear. However, that he started a paragraph with the declarative "It is an irony that..." indicates to me that Mr. McKay has taken it upon himself to editorialize against the Electoral College within a news story. As such, I would urge him to confine his personal sentiments to the editorial pages where they belong.
Meeting in RI
As a result of the separation of powers legislation passed in November, legislators are barred from serving on Rhode Island's executive boards and commissions. Governor Carcieri has proposed a new slate of members for the Rhode Island Lottery commission. Senate President William Murphy, however, claims the lottery commission is exempt from the separation of powers law. To help me understand why this might be so, and what the lottery commission actually decides, I decided to look up the Rhode Lottery Commission website. I figured a record of votes, meeting minutes and meeting agendas would be publicly available.
So, far I haven't been able to find the information anywhere online, despite Rhode Island Secretary of State's Matt Brown's efforts to make information from all government meetings in Rhode Island electronically available. (Here is a Brown University Study on how well the open meetings law passed in 2003 was complied with, and a Projo summary of the report.)
Given the current state of affairs:
1. Why not amend the Open meetings law to state that any action requiring a vote that is not posted electronically within 30 days of passage shall be deemed null and void.
2. Let's suggest to the current lottery commission members -- legislators or otherwise -- that if they are too busy to fulfill the basic function of informing the public of what they do, they should resign for that reason alone.
Stepping Out to Charge Back In
Congrats to Will Ricci, of the NFRA of RI, for being named editor of the Rhode Island HQ pages of GOPUSA. The more conservatives in this state can reach beyond its borders, the better our chances of forcing change.
Will's got some blog-like posts of news from around Rhode Island, and he's in the process of updating the various local links. Be sure to express your opinion on his online poll asking about support for Chafee's reelection. (My response shouldn't be a surprise.)
Fear of the Paraethical
A familiar refrain from Harry Staley of the Rhode Island Shoreline Coalition:
Why am I concerned? Why can't I be like those Rhode Islanders who embrace this state's special brand of ethical conduct?
Unfortunately, I was taught, albeit in other states, that the very perception of wrongdoing or improper influence by those granted the public trust -- particularly those in the judicial system -- was the quintessential "no-no." Apparently, not in Rhode Island! Not for us the ethical standards of Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Holmes, Brandeis or Cardozo. Our leaders know better how to take care of us -- or is it how to take us?
Kinda makes you wonder if the state's politics ought to be on the list of items that all real estate agents must divulge to prospective buyers. (Hey, they have to mention any possible paranormal activity.)
January 5, 2005
You Can't Remove the Commandments
Although I have more to say about this issue (and will hopefully do so in the near future), the Providence Journal editorial page's position on the removal of the Ten Commandments from Roger Williams Park is worth a separate cheer:
It would be as easy to expunge our Judeo-Christian heritage as it would be to erase our classical heritage -- seen in everything from the Greek-inspired love of argument, reasoning and scientific analysis to the handsome columns that adorn our public places. The Ten Commandments are part of our common inheritance; they helped shape our laws and culture.
The few fanatics who are bothered by a Ten Commandments monument in a city park would cite the First Amendment's "Establishment Clause," which supposedly guarantees the absolute separation of church and state. The actual language of the amendment, however, and the conduct of Americans for centuries suggest that something far different was stated and intended: that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
(I do have to admit, though, that it sometimes seems that the editorial position of the paper depends mostly on who was able to make it to the relevant meeting.)
Re x 3: And Never Shall They Meet
Re: Re: And Never Shall They Meet
I hope it was clear from my previous post, Marc, that my "complaints" are mostly tongue in cheek. With respect to Providence Monthly, I don't know how much being mentioned therein would help particularly given our differing audiences. I also enjoy the feeling of challenge to reach the point at which Rhode Island media can no longer ignore us. (And being ignored makes for less internal conflict when jabbing them on the national stage.)
It has, however, been a point of contention between us for years that Sheila Lennon insists on pretending that Dust in the Light doesn't exist. In that case, I know it's deliberate, and she's ostensibly meant to be the Providence Journal's link to the online scene.
Essence Magazine Makes a Stand
When asked how the magazine decided to take a stand, the editor, Diane Weathers said, "We started looking at the media war on young girls, the hypersexualization that keeps pushing them in sexual directions at younger and younger ages."Apparently, the people at Essence were inspired by the success of groups such as Dads & Daughters, who took action against Abercrombie & Fitch for their half-naked marketing style. Essence was further encouraged and confirmed in their beliefs by the protests of the students at all-women Spelman College and their male peers from neighboring Morehouse College who successfully kept rap artist Nelly off of the Spelman campus. Though the cause for which Nelly intended to promote during his appearance at Spelman, bone marrow donations, is worthy, the students were rightfully indignant over some of the lyrics to his songs. Though they may have sacrificed some good in their protest over something unacceptable, their actions called attention to the problem of hip-hop's incessant objectification of women. (It's not only hip-hop men, some hip-hop women and some female pop singers do a good job of objectifying themselves [CLICK AT YOUR OWN RISK]).
Things got deeper, she says, because, "We started talking at the office about all this hatred in rap song after rap song, and once we started, the subject kept coming up because women were incapable of getting it off their minds."
At a listening session that Weathers and the other staffers had with entertainment editor Cori Murray, "We found the rap lyrics astonishing, brutal, misogynistic. ... So we said we were going to pull no punches, especially since women were constantly being assaulted."
Essence certainly isn't the first African-American publication to take on this issue, but that shouldn't diminish their effort. They are not only interested in the way these negative images affect America's young black, and white, women, they are also concerned with how these images are interpreted around the world. As such, they've tapped into the larger issue of how the American Mainstream Mass Media's portrayal of their version of American culture plays to international stereotypes and doesn't accurately reflect "real" America. However, international perceptions aren't of immediate importance. Rather, encouraging healthy and wholesome examples for young girls to emulate, no matter what their race, should be a priority. Kudos to Essence for helping to make it so.
I don't pretend to know the political leanings of either Stanley Crouch or the editors and staff of Essence, but, at the risk of imposing a stereotype, I feel confident in stating that they are left-of-center in their politics. Yet, in this instance such a generalization is not accurate or even appropriate. Their desire to promote more positive images, while knocking down negative and derogatory imagery, of and for young African-American women aligns them squarely with many conservatives. It is in such undertakings that the ideological walls that partition the fields of consensus can be broken down. Ideologues on the Left and Right need not agree on everything for them to join in a worthy cause that speaks to the core of their respective beliefs. It is inappropriate, callow and disrespectful to objectify young women. On that, we should all agree.
RE:And Never Shall They Meet
January 4, 2005
And Never Shall They Meet
I share Bil Herron's consternation at not making the cut for the latest local-media dip into the blogosphere. Unfortunately, neither Anchor Rising nor Dust in the Light nor The Ocean State Blogger has Bil's obvious reasons to blame. No, in our case, it's not a lack of effort; it's just us the price of being counterculturalists.
The only three blogs that Jen Senecal mentioned in her Providence Monthly piece were Providence Journal blogger Sheila Lennon (of course), woneffe ("a mix of urbanism, politics, and gay issues in and around Rhode Island, along with some wonderful photographs"), and The PRESSblog ("a source for marketing news, ideas, and ad reviews, all focused on the Rhode Island marketing scene"). With the exception of PRESSblog, which appears to be politically neutral, the common theme of all the others (including those to which woneffe links to "spread the wealth") is easy to spot.
Oh well. I suppose it's best, when working for change, not to be too cozy with the keepers of the status quo. Being a good sport, though, I will offer one bit of advice to the folks at Providence Monthly. If you're going to make some of your content available online, putting up the piece about things that are... online might be a good idea. I'm sure the folks at PRESSblog would agree.
Health Care & Big Pharma IV: Some Solutions, No Single Answer
As Justin recently pointed out
There are a number of topics in which we find other countries getting away with practices that would have dire consequences were the United States to emulate them (the atrophied militaries of Europe come to mind). That, it seems to me, is the price that the U.S.A. pays for being the U.S.A. The question of the century may very well be whether we're a sufficiently mature people to acknowledge and accept it.Within this context, the question Americans face when it comes to drug prices is whether we are willing to continue to subsidize the rest of the world. It is becoming increasingly apparent, to those inside and outside of the U.S., that we are not. Unfortunately, this deeper issue has been masked by the prospect of a short term solution: the importation of cheaper drugs from foreign countries. What has not been discussed in this debate is that the short term savings accrued by purchasing cheaper drugs from other nations (who impose price controls) will eventually disappear as normal market forces gradually come into play.
But are drug prices really that high in the U.S.? A recent study concluded that, while the U.S. does pay more for drugs than other countries,
the differences are not nearly as large as they appear at first glance. The higher prices in the United States are concentrated among a subset of brand-name drugs and among those without insurance covering drugs. Some U.S. health plans obtain price concessions from manufacturers similar to those obtained by national governments. (1)While the particular point regarding specific drugs may be true, it is this “sub-set” of brand name drugs that are those most desired by Americans and are attractively priced overseas. Further, even if insurance companies do bargain with pharmaceutical companies for lower prices, the current focal point of controversy is concerning those whose drugs are not covered by insurance. Here in Rhode Island, the quick solution to the dilemma has been to approve the importation of cheaper drugs from Canada. Perhaps a better and longer-term solution would be to network the uninsured and those without prescription drug coverage so that their purchasing power would be greater, as proposed by RIPIRG.
It is important to explain that price controls in Europe has fostered a parallel trade market for pharmaceuticals within the European Union.
For many years the varying methods of price control of medicines by national governments in the European Community (and elsewhere) have resulted in wide variations in prices. Parallel traders buy products in low pricing Community countries and sell them, generally relabelled or repackaged, in high pricing Community countries. This practice diverts sales revenue and profits from the manufacturers to the traders, distributors, pharmacists and, in some measure, to the sickness funds and to some patients. While parallel trade appeals to those who gain financially, its basis is a market distortion that poses a significant threat to the future of the research-based pharmaceutical industry.(2)What many in the U.S. are pushing for is essentially an extension of the European parallel trade market into our country. Under this system, it appears that everyone but the pharmaceutical companies benefits. If it is assumed that “Big Pharma” can currently afford to take the hit, the question that should be asked is: for how long? How long before R&D is insufficiently funded? How long before drug companies determine that broad-based price increases are the only method by which they can continue to finance R&D and maintain a profit motive? The answer is that we are fast approaching this point. Drug companies are aware of parallel markets and have countered with drug price “convergence,” whereby one price is set and charged to all nations. This so-called “euro price” has a negative affect on those who can least afford it.
The primary losers from 'euro' pricing will be consumers in low income countries who will face higher prices or loss of access to new drugs. In the long run, even higher income countries are likely to be worse off with uniform prices, because fewer drugs will be developed.(3)In Europe, they have come to realize that parallel trade itself is not enough to keep drug prices low. For the first time, these countries are instituting cost-sharing plans (what we would call co-payments) for their drugs. Such was proposed as early as 1997, in a study that
policy should aim to contain growth in pharmaceutical expenses by means specific to reimbursement rather than direct price controls. By encouraging doctors to prescribe and customers to use generics, competition is enhanced to bring down drug prices. More emphasis is being laid by government in educating customers to cost-awareness and cost-benefit ratios with regard to pharmaceuticals.(4)Key to this program is making consumers and doctors aware of cheaper generic drugs. However, unless co-payments are indexed to actual drug costs, and not just a simple flat-fee, there is no consumer incentive to select a cheaper generic version over an established drug.(5) In Germany,
Starting in 1989, a maximum reimbursement for a given medicine replaced a flat prescription fee. This change in reimbursement exposes the patient to the price of a prescribed product. Using a product-level panel data set covering several therapeutic categories before and after the policy change, I find that producers significantly decrease prices after the change in potential patient out-of-pocket expenses. Price declines are most pronounced for brand-name products. Moreover, branded products that face more generic competitors reduce prices more.(6)The availability of generic drugs is dependent on patent expiration. Some seek to shorten the length of drug patents in hopes of quickening competition within a given drug class. Others have offered more innovative solutions.
To restore competition to all parts of the pharmaceutical industry, we propose a new institute at the National Institutes of Health that would compete with the private sector for pharmaceutical intellectual property by establishing competition for research and development contracts open to public and private institutions; retain the resulting patents; and grant cost-free, nonexclusive licenses to all qualified producers.(7)This seems an attractive option that sets up the government as a competitor, not a sole developer, in drug R&D and provides for some measure of free-market development competition. Taking it a step further, some believe that entirely publicly supported research, even if “considerably less efficient on a dollar-per-dollar basis than patent-supported research” would be beneficial.
The main reason for this conclusion is that patent monopolies lead to enormous economic distortions, including expensive sales promotion efforts, research into "copycat drugs," incentives to conceal unfavorable research findings, and other inefficiencies that economic theory predicts would result from a government-created monopoly. The gains from publicly supported research, coupled with a free market in the production of drugs, could reach into several hundred billion dollars annually within a decade.(8)Thus, government inefficiency, manifested as more tax-dollar expenditure, is deemed an acceptable loss on the way to reducing overall drug costs. The only problem it is rare indeed when a government program becomes more efficient over time. It could be reasonably expected that there will come a point where the government inefficiency would eventually approximate the “losses” from higher drug prices that had been projected and that the sole-source government program was intended to deflect.
It seems, then, that we have a few reasonable, long-term solutions available to us. Yet, these must be weighed against how they conflict with true "free-market" economics, especially business incentives. For we must not forget that pharmaceutical companies are businesses, albeit ones that traffic in goods that are deemed beneficial to mankind. This makes them unique. As the rhetoric has risen, so has the basic assumption that health care, and drugs, are a "right." In such an environment, profit motives and the bottom-line get lost or are deemed inhumane aspects of the conversation. However, profit motive is the most important aspect of the entire debate. Without incentive, why make a product? Without adequate R&D funding generated from drug sale profits, companies will be unable to develop newer and better drugs. However, how do we ensure that the profits are not beyond reasonable? The answer is: We can't, only competition can. As such, the ideal way to tamp down prices would be to encourage competition through true free-market principles. Unfortunately, this probably won't happen so long as other countries, large insurers and the U.S. government continue to negotiate prices with Big Pharma.
With no real prospect for real reform, it seems there are four reasonable options available to attempt to bring prices down. The first is for individuals and small groups to unite and negotiate side deals of their own with the pharmaceutical companies to try to solve their acute drug cost problem. The second would be to encourage competition by limiting patent exclusivity, though not to such an extent as to adversely affect product return-on-investment for the drug companies. Third, and following from the second, with increased competition a concerted effort to make patients and doctors aware of cheaper alternatives to "first in the market" drugs combined with variable co-payments will reduce demand and foster competition. Fourth, and last, the viability of a plan to turn the NIH into a drug developer within a competitive environment, and not just a research funding device, should be investigated.
Obviously, there are other ideas out there that I have not touched on. My goal in writing these posts was to clear up in my own head what the "Big Pharma" debate was about. The fundamental point I have taken away from my research is that the average citizens of the United States are not operating on a level playing field with the rest of the world. Unfortunately for us, the rest of the world isn't going to suddenly decide to pay higher prices, and thus share the burden of R&D, on their own. Given this, all we can really attempt to do is implement small reforms, some of which I have outlined above. Hopefully, these can lessen our burden as we await market forces to impact the rest of the world and tilt the playing field back to equilibrium. Absent that, we are left to accept that so long as we are the world's dominant power we will be held to a higher standard...and higher prices.
(1) J.L. Wagner and E. McCarthy, “International Differences in Drug Prices,” Annu Rev Public Health. 2004;25:475-95.
(2) I Senior, “Is parallel trade in medicines compatible with the single European market?,” Pharmacoeconomics. 1992;1(Suppl 1):70-6.
(3) P.M. Danzon, “The economics of parallel trade ,” Pharmacoeconomics. 1998 Jul;14(1):135-7.
(4) G. Emilien, “Future European health care: cost containment, health care reform and scientific progress in drug research,” Int J Health Plann Manage. 1997 Apr-Jun;12(2):81-101.
(5) S.M. Ess, S. Scheeweiss, and T.D. Szucs, “European healthcare policies for controlling drug expenditure,” Pharmacoeconomics. 2003;21(2):89-103.
(6) N. Pavenik, “Do pharmaceutical prices respond to potential patient out-of-pocket expenses?” Rand J Econ. 2002 Autumn;33(3):469-87.
(7) P. Stein and E. Valery, “Competition: an antidote to the high price of prescription drugs,” Health Aff (Millwood). 2004 Jul-Aug;23(4):151-8.
(8) D. Baker, “A free market solution for prescription drug crises,” Int J Health Serv. 2004;34(3):517-26.
They Just Don't Get It
Both postings noted how House Speaker Murphy and Senate President Montalbano were going to maintain the legislative meddling in certain executive matters in spite of the 78% voter approval in November of the Separation of Powers constitutional amendment.
Ed Achorn of the Providence Journal has another editorial in today's newspaper about the June 2004 power grab by the legislature on behalf of Chief Justice Frank Williams.
The editorial highlights the magnitude of our ongoing problem here in Rhode Island. Specifically, it notes how the legislature cut the governor out of future budget decisions affecting the judiciary and did so without going through the Judiciary Committee and without any public hearings at the time.
Achorn raises two questions, the first being whether such a change is even constitutional. Here are his thoughts on his second question:
Does cutting the governor out of the budget -- removing one of the public's protections against legislative and judicial collusion -- create too close and cozy a relationship between judges and legislators?
Is it healthy for legislators -- some of whom work for law firms whose members appear before the courts -- to exclusively set the budgetary parameters for judges' compensation and working conditions? Can judges who strike budget deals with legislators render impartial decisions on constitutional matters that profoundly affect legislators? Does a direct track between judges and legislators -- cutting out the executive branch -- contribute to justice, and the perception of justice, in Rhode Island?
There was no time to ask those questions, or obtain answers. Frank Williams got what he wanted, and the public got shoved aside.
Is this the Rhode Island we aspire to? Is this behavior consistent with the principles of American constitutionalism?
These actions are a disgrace and we shouldn't tolerate more of the same old unprincipled behavior by our public officials.
They just don't get it. Unfortunately, history tells us that they won't stop until all of us join in speaking up loudly and clearly against such undemocratic actions.
January 3, 2005
Giving "Career Politician" a Whole New Meaning
John Arcaro, an independent challenger for Pawtucket's seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, directed my attention to an October piece about his race. I'm still naif enough to think this stunning:
[Rep. Elaine A. Coderre] hasn't had an opponent for her House seat since 1986, when Raymond G. Berger, a Republican who opposed her in 1984, ran and lost again in what was then House District 78.
Almost twenty years! What, under those circumstances, is the difference between being an elected representative serving a series of terms and being a career employee? (Except, of course, that employees can lose their jobs because of changes in the marketplace or the business private-sector employees, that is.) Whatever the lack of challengers might indicate about Pawtucket and Ms. Coderre, it certainly suggests that ours is not a healthy democracy.
Arcaro jokes, in correspondence, that his campaign offered "an amazing show of fiscal conservatism": he spent $21.39 to Corderre's $4,817.12. Think about that. For the price of a case of beer, he took 30% of the vote and forced the state Democrats to expend 225 times more in resources.
Being more an ideologue than a player, I've never given much thought to political strategy, but in a system as sick as ours, it would surely be for the health of the state for random people to up and run for office. Forcing campaigns even in relatively safe districts would spread out the Democrats' resources, chipping away at their monetary advantage in areas in which they actually face competition.
And who knows a keg might win the race!
January 2, 2005
The State of Literary Capitalism
On Friday, I went to Barnes & Noble in Middletown to see if the store had one or both of the magazines in which my work currently appears. I couldn't find any copies of Newport Life, and the two copies of National Review on the rack were two-issues old. Well, I just called to ask whether the new one had come in yet, and the associate with whom I spoke said he hadn't seen it. With the holidays and all, he told me, magazines don't receive a high priority.
He was very helpful, so I didn't get the impression that I was dealing with one of those retail clerks whom Jay Nordlinger calls "little suppressors" (after the bookstore chain The Little Professor; see the email at the end of this Impromptus for the archetype). Nonetheless, the young man on the phone implied that he, personally, would have seen any new issues, and yet I had to tell him what section to look in. (At least, that's how I took his question, "Have you ever been here before?")
More suspiciously, as he perused the shelves, he asked, "Do you mean ISR?"
"No, what's that?"
"The International Socialist Review."
This same store was the one at which I bought Andrew Sullivan's Virtually Normal some months ago while researching my NR piece. And oddly enough, the clerk who helped me that time looked none too comfortable standing at my side and scanning the hodgepodge of material from erotic fiction to social science tomes in the Gay & Lesbian section. (Silly theocon that I am, I had wasted my time searching the Politics & Government and Social Sciences sections.)
January 1, 2005
Happy New Year!
I've put my personal thoughts about the coming of the new year over on Dust in the Light. But I wanted to be sure to wish Anchor Rising readers a happy New Year's Day, as well.
We've got plans to make 2005 an interesting, successful year for Anchor Rising, and we hope you'll be playing a role.