February 28, 2005

Prejudicial Views on Social Security

Justin Katz

Seeing that I'm among the younger set that supports President Bush's Social Security plan, I take umbrage at Froma Harrop's condescention:

The folks are going to stop the kids from doing something stupid. Many have known world war and a great depression. They saw the pitiful old people that Social Security lifted from the gutter. And they've spent a lot of time thinking about retirement.

So what if the young people are receptive to letting go of guaranteed benefits? They're also more receptive to hang-gliding and riding motorcycles in the rain.

Besides, the children are too busy to focus on the debate over privatizing Social Security. They are working long hours and raising families. To them, retirement seems unimaginably far off.

Let's stop there. Harrop doesn't define "kids," but since they're "working long hours and raising families," I imagine it would be safe to extend the category out to, say, thirty-five. That seems a little too old for dismissal as a bunch of uninformed hang-gliders — especially if we back up to a previous paragraph with a curious echo to the one just quoted:

The people don't want [the President's plan]. They want a benefit that, however modest, is guaranteed. And they see no need to "save" a program that's fine until 2042 -- and may not need much fixing even then.

Myself as a hard-working, family-raising kid, I'll be sixty-seven that year. If it makes sense to plan for retirement at all, it makes sense to consider the state of Social Security around the time that I may (or may not) manage to retire. And actually looking at the poll that Harrop leverages for a quip suggests that I'm not alone in my concern. When she scoffs at the "mere 17 percent" who believe that a "crisis" looms, she conveniently ignores that another 55% believe that the system "has major problems." Although she attributes skepticism about the amount of required fixing in 2042 to a vague "they," 64% of the poll's respondents "think the Social Security system will... be bankrupt" that year.

Other results from the poll offer another lens through which to view Harrop's statement that the "President's plan to privatize Social Security is clearly headed for political oblivion." Just a couple of months into a major education campaign on the issue, there's obviously a great deal of thinking that can still be forced. It's true that 55% think allowing "people who retire in future decades to invest some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market and bonds" would be a "bad idea." However, that percentage is less than the "bad idea" scores for:

  • "Further reducing the total amount of benefits a person would receive if they retired early" (57% bad idea)
  • "Increasing Social Security taxes for all workers" (60%)
  • "Increasing the age at which people are eligible to receive full benefits" (63%)
  • "Reducing retirement benefits for people who are currently under age 55" (67%)

Take particular note of that last one. Given a better understanding of the options that are actually available, perhaps the 30% who believe that "most Americans would receive higher Social Security benefits than the government would provide" were they allowed to invest now would match or surpass the 40% who think their benefits would have been higher if they had invested a portion of their lifetime Social Security taxes already. If there's that much skepticism about the future of this nation's economy, it oughtn't be difficult to make citizens question how the government will find the money that is supposedly "guaranteed."

Froma Harrop may wish to convince her readers that "the quest to privatize Social Security is truly a lost cause," but I suspect that we kids will have the stubbornness of geezers if admitting a "lost cause" makes one of our retirement. Perhaps Harrop and the rest of our elders should ask themselves whether the young'ns are truly uninformed or are just less able to see 2042 as a year that might never come.

February 24, 2005

What If This Was Our Daughter or Sister or Wife? What If It Was "Only" A Stranger's Life? Part II

This posting builds on a previous posting about Terri Schindler-Schiavo.

Digging further into the case only raises additional deeply unsettling questions, questions that deserve thoughtful responses and not the casual ending of a human life.

The first major question has to do with Terri’s physical and mental condition. As you read the following, remember that she has been denied any rehabilitation therapy since at least 1993:

Nurses who tended to Terri Schiavo…have stated in affidavits provided by her family that the 41-year-old has exhibited clear-cut behavior indicating she is conscious and aware of her surroundings.

In stunning testimony, one nurse, Heidi Law, a certified nursing assistant who took care of Terri when she was at Palm Gardens Nursing Home in Largo, Florida, in 1997, said that the severely disabled woman formed words such as "mommy, "momma," and most hauntingly, "help me."

"While it is true that those patients will flinch or make sounds occasionally, they don't do it as a reaction to someone on a constant basis who is taking care of them, the way I saw Terri do," claimed Law in a formal deposition…

The testimony…contradicts widespread perceptions that Terri is a nearly brain-dead or comatose woman living in a vegetative state…

That the disabled woman acknowledges the presence of her parents, responds to music, and follows the movement of objects such as a balloon has long been known and documented by videos…

attested by a second caretaker, Carla Sauer Iyer, a registered nurse who was at Palm Garden from 1995 to 1997:

"Terri's medical condition was systematically distorted and misrepresented," stated Iyer in her own affidavit..."When I worked with her, she was alert and oriented. Terri spoke on a regular basis while in my presence, saying such things as 'mommy' and 'help me.' 'Help me' was, in fact, one of her most frequent utterances. I heard her say it hundreds of times. Terri would try to say the word 'pain' when she was in discomfort, but it came out more like 'pay.' When I came into her room and said 'Hi, Terri,' she would always recognize my voice and her name, and would turn her head all the way toward me, saying, 'Haaaiiiii,' sort of, as she did. I recognized this as a 'hi,' which is very close to what it sounded like, the whole sound being only a second or two long. When I told her stories about my life, or something I read in the paper, Terri would sometimes chuckle, sometimes more a giggle or laugh.”

Numerous affidavits on Terri's condition, including some referenced in this posting, can be found here and here. An overview of medical observations on Terri over the last 15 years can be found here. All of this information paints an entirely different picture of Terri from what Terri's husband and his attorney have been stating publicly for years now.

There have been frequent media reports that Terri suffered from eating disorders. However, this posting notes:

…there was never a determination by any court nor the Florida Department of Health that Terri Schiavo ever suffered from any eating disorder, bulimia, anorexia or compulsive behavior that would lead to a heart failure at the age of 26.

Indeed, Florida’s Department of Health had completely and absolutely cleared Terri’s general practitioner of any negligence or wrong-doing in her case. This was after the physician had been accused by Terri’s husband of ignoring evidence of an eating disorder.

Additionally, at the time of her mysterious medical episode, Terri Schiavo stood 5’3” and weighed somewhere between 115 and 118 pounds – a slim, but normal stature and weight. [Her husband is said to be 6'6" tall and weigh about 250 pounds.]

This posting notes:

Dr. William Hammesfahr, a world renowned neurologist wrote a complete report…in September, 2002, revealing that medical tests conducted after her collapse did not show evidence of a heart attack. In the emergency room, a possible diagnosis of heart attack was briefly entertained but then dismissed after blood chemistries and serial EKG’s did not show evidence of a heart attack.

I would strongly encourage you to read the entirety of Dr. Hammesfahr's report. Among other things, it will allow you to contrast the depth of his examination analysis with the shallow analyses of a doctor who has twice "examined" Terri and then declared her to be in a persistent vegetative state. Here are some impressions and observational excerpts from Dr. Hammesfahr's examination of Terri:

Impressions: The patient is not in coma. She is alert and responsive to her environment. She responds to specific people best. She tries to please others by doing activities for which she gets verbal praise. She responds negatively to poor tone of voice. She responds to music. She differentiates sounds from voices. She differentiates specific people's voices from others. She differentiates music from stray sound. She attempts to verbalize. She has voluntary control over multiple extremities. She can swallow. She can feel pain...

Communication: She can communicate. She needs a Speech Therapist, Speech Pathologist, and a communications expert to evaluate how to best communicate with her and to allow her to communicate and for others to communicate with her…

ENT[Ear, Nose, Throat]: The patient can clearly swallow, and is able to swallow approximately 2 liters of water per day (the daily amount of saliva generated). Water is one of the most difficult things for people to swallow. It is unlikely that she currently needs the feeding tube…

Spinal Exam: The patient's exam from a spinal perspective is abnormal. The degree of limitation of range of motion, and of spasms in her neck, is consistent with a neck injury.

All of these observations explain why her parents are seeking further medical tests of Terri before any action to starve her to death is taken. Terri’s husband and the judge have been blocking these testing requests.

The second big question is whether her husband’s past behaviors and current intentions are ethical. As her husband, he is Terri’s legal guardian. Ask yourself whether he is acting in her best interest and deserves to remain her guardian where he has the power over life/death decisions.

There is significant uncertainty about what happened on February 25, 1990, the day Terri sustained her injuries:

The main evidence comes from a bone scan taken on March 5, 1991…This scan indicated numerous broken bones in various stages of healing, including compression fractures, a broken back, pelvis, ankle, bone bruises and ossifications.

Board certified radiologist Dr. Walker read the scan in 1991 and interpreted the results as abnormal, which he attributed to either an accident or earlier trauma…a) the injuries indicated by the scan occurred on or around the time that Terri Schiavo collapsed; b) the abnormalities on the bone scan were not typical of someone suffering cardiac arrest and collapsing to the floor; and, c) the fractures…are not typical of patients bedridden only thirteen months…

On October 24, 2003, renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden [former chief medical examiner for New York City]…disclosed that with low potassium and no elevated enzymes, it would be extremely rare for a young woman to collapse as Terri did from a heart attack. When asked what the bone injuries suggest to him, Dr. Baden replied, “Some kind of trauma. The trauma can be from a fall, or the trauma can be from some kind of beating…It’s something that should have been investigated in 1991 when these findings were found.”

The same posting contains the thoughts of psychiatrist and expert witness Dr. Carole E. Lieberman, including a profile of Michael Schiavo. The posting also states:

Prior to Terri’s collapse, there were serious financial problems in her marriage and her husband tried to control her behavior. He was fired from six jobs in two years, some of which he held only two weeks. They often lived on her income, which Michael often spent on himself. He monitored her odometer and isolated her from her family and friends. On the day of her collapse, Michael and Terri had a bad fight after he accused her of spending too much money at the hairdresser…

So, what really happened on February 25, 1990? We know that Terri fell in her home and sustained serious injuries. We know that Michael Schiavo, who was trained in CPR, oddly did not administer CPR to his wife.

A previously mentioned posting add the following observations:

Why isn’t [Judge] George Greer and the court interested in how Terri Schiavo sustained the injuries in 1990?…

…after the Schindlers became aware of the bone scan report in November, 2002, they tried to file a report with the police of a possible battery on Terri but that the police refused to get involved…

Prior to 2002, Terri’s medical records had been kept sealed under court order at the request of Michael Shiavo. The bone scan surfaced when the Schindler’s former attorney, Patricia Anderson, obtained some of the medical records through discovery…

The hospital admittance records from 1990 show evidence of trauma to Terri Schiavo’s neck…

There is reportedly an order on file issued by Michael Schiavo that upon her death, Terri Schiavo will immediately be cremated, no autopsy.

Dr. Hammesfahr's report includes these words:

Interestingly, I have seen this pattern of mixed brain (cerebral) and spinal cord findings in a patient once before, a patient who was asphyxiated.

Another posting discusses how Terri did not receive adequate care and offers further insight into their marital problems at the time Terri sustained her injuries:

...medical records show that Terri has never been evaluated or treated by an orthopedic surgeon for the multiple injuries revealed in the bone scan, which may have a profound bearing on her current medical condition...

In testimony given during the 2000 trial, Terri's girlfriend and co-worker said [see item #6 on left side listing] Terri discussed getting a divorce and moving in with her. She also testified that the couple had a violent argument on the day of Terri's collapse, which prompted her to urge Terri to not stay at home that night – a suggestion Terri disregarded.

"There are only two people who know what happened that night that she collapsed. And one of them is trying to kill the other who is too disabled to speak," Anderson told WND at the commencement of the trial last month.

What has her husband Michael been doing over the years since 1990? Denying her any rehabilitation services, for starters, as this excerpt notes:

Michael Schiavo, although being awarded nearly $1.7 million from medical malpractice claims on the representation that he would provide rehabilitation services for his wife, refused to do so shortly after receiving the money and instead has used the money earmarked for Terri’s rehab to be used for legal fees to obtain a court order to end her life.

But it hasn't been just a failure to provide rehab over the years. I would strongly encourage you to read closely the information at this site, which highlights the numerous times since her injuries that her husband has ensured Terri did not receive either quality care or humane treatment. Equally powerful reading is selected information on Michael's character and actions from this site. In aggregate, the documents paint a damning picture of the man.

Here is some additional information on questionable behavior by her husband and Terri’s responses to him during these intervening years:

"I made numerous entries into the nursing notes in her chart, stating verbatim what she said and her various behaviors, but by my next on-duty shift, the notes would be deleted from her chart," claimed Iyer in potentially devastating detail. "Every time I made a positive entry about any responsiveness of Terri's, someone would remove it after my shift ended. Michael always demanded to see her chart as soon as he arrived, and would take it in her room with him."

Iyer claims that she "became fearful for my personal safety" and was terminated after she called police about comments and activities at the nursing home relative to the Schiavo woman. "When Michael visited Terri, he always came alone and always had the door closed and locked while he was with Terri," the affidavit alleges. "He would typically be there about twenty minutes or so. When he left Terri would be trembling, crying hysterically, and would be very pale and have cold sweats. It looked to me like Terri was having a hypoglycemic reaction, so I'd check her blood sugar." The glucometer reading would be so low it was below the range where it would register an actual number reading. I would put dextrose in Terri's mouth to counteract it. This happened about five times on my shift as I recall. Normally Terri's blood-sugar levels were very stable due to the uniformity of her diet through tube feeding." [These events led Iyer to speculate the unproven/unprovable idea that Michael Schiavo could have been injecting Terri with insulin.]

Added Law, the nursing assistant, "When she was upset, which was usually the case after Michael was there, she would withdraw for hours... Several times when Michael visited during my shift, he went into her room alone and closed the door. When he left, Terri was very agitated, was extremely tense with tightened fists, and sometimes had a cold sweat. She was much less responsive than usual and would just stare out the window, her eyes kind of glassy."

A previously referenced posting shares the following:

Nurses have reported hearing Michael Schiavo make such comments as "When is that bitch going to die?"… [Iyer] says that she recalls him making statements such as "Can’t anything be done to accelerate her death, won’t she ever die?" "Michael would be visibly excited, thrilled even, hoping that she would die", Iyer recalled. "He would blurt out, 'I'm going to be rich' and would talk about all the things he would buy when Terri died which included a new car, a new boat and going to Europe."

This posting has further information on George Felos, Michael Schiavo's attorney, and the information does not reflect well on Felos' personal values.

Another posting notes that:

On September 3, 2004 Father Rob Johansen wrote in his blog ["Thrown Back"] about what Cheryl Ford, a nurse from Tampa who has been very active in the efforts to save Terri's life, found in her review of Terri's medical records.

... Cheryl had recently undertaken, on behalf of the Schindlers, a review of medical records from when Terri was first admitted to Woodside Hospice. Woodside Hospice is run by Hospice of the Florida Suncoast.

It is of interest to note that Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, was a member of the Board of Directors of Hospice of the Florida Suncoast until the Terri Schiavo case began to attract widespread public attention a few years ago.

In her research, Ms. Ford found a document titled "Exit Protocol" in Terri's file. The document is on Hospice of the Florida Suncoast "Patient Care Notes" stationery, and is dated April 19, 2001. This document lays out, in clinical detail, the procedures to be followed in bringing about Terri's death by starvation and dehydration.

That protocol is part of a broader set of questions regarding the role the hospice is playing in this case:

The original hospice mission is to care for, support and manage the symptoms of the terminally ill until a death occurs in its own natural timing. Every hospice nurse and physician knows that hospice is supposed to neither hasten death nor seek to cure the terminal illness. Hastening the death of a patient goes against everything hospice stands for.

Although Terri Schiavo's case will be decided in a Pinellas County courthouse, any hospice that accepts a chronically ill patient has violated not only the spirit of hospice and the mission of hospice, but the federal regulations governing hospice.

In addition, there have been a series of very questionnable decisions by the judge plus some seriously overlapping conflicts of interest between the judge, his colleagues, the hospice, and George Felos. I find the number and nature of these conflicts to be most troubling, raising further ethical concerns.

Many of the ethical issues in this case are discussed in this article:

[George] Felos's well-known ties to the euthanasia movement...has been a member of the infamous Hemlock Society...

Michael Schiavo's principal witness, Dr. Ronald Cranford,...perhaps the leading medical proponent of the pro-death movement...

[One peer reviewed medical journal article] revealed that 43% of patients sent to that hospital with a diagnosis of PVS [persistent vegetative state] were not in a vegetative state at all...

The growing awareness of the difficulty in diagnosing PVS, and the widespread errors in making the diagnosis, have led many leading hospitals...to routinely reassess patients referred to them as PVS...

...[Terri's parents'] were informed [in 1993] that Michael had cut off their access to Terri's medical information...Michael had the legal authority to issue the order, which remains in place to this day...

[Later in 1993,] Terri had a serious urinary tract infection and that Michael had ordered the nursing home not to give her treatment, which would have consisted of a simple course of antibiotics...the nursing home eventually gave Terri the antibiotics anyway. [Could this be an example of why she was then moved from the nursing home to the hospice?]...Michael admitted [in a court hearing] that he had ordered the nursing home to deny Terri treatment for the infection and that he knew the infection, left untreated, would have caused Terri's death...

In 1998, Michael petitioned the court to remove Terri's feeding tube...was the first time that Michael had ever claimed such a wish on Terri's part [not to be kept alive in her condition]...

The judge then appointed a guardian ad litem, Richard Pearse, to investigate Michael's fitness as guardian and to make a recommendation about Terri's feeding tube. Pearse interviewed the various parties, including doctors, and issued his report in December 1998 recommending against Michael's fitness as guardian and against removing Terri's feeding tube...In February 1999, George Felos filed a "suggestion of bias" against Pearse and demanded he be removed as guardian ad litem...In April 1999, Pearse filed a request that he either be given further instructions or discharged...[noting] that there would be due process difficulties if the case proceeded to trial without Terri having an independent guardian ad litem...[the judge] discharged Pearse without appointing a successor...

All of which is why the following comment makes so much sense:

You have to ask yourself, why a Judge would continue to allow this [ceasing to provide a feeding tube] without ordering that Terri Schiavo have, at the very least, six months of therapy just to make sure that he's not killing someone that has every right to continue fighting for her life…

As observers from afar, we cannot independently confirm the veracity of all of the information described above. But reasonable people must admit that the information pattern raises enough material questions about the behavior of Terri’s husband and the judge to have grave concerns.

And that leads us back to the more fundamental question about what value we will place on human life, including that of a disabled woman. If we begin to say it is okay to kill off "weak" human beings, think where that will take us over time. It will take us to a place where certain people will seek to play "God" so they can set the criteria for who lives and who dies. Why not then an elderly parent or a young child, should either become a financial or emotional burden? The freedom to do such great evil will only invite more profound evil over time.

Holocausts do not begin with operational concentration camps; they start on a smaller scale and steadily break down our resistance while many people plead that they are "too busy" to pay attention and get involved.

The stakes are enormous here and there is no neutral ground. Not to decide is to decide. The fight for Terri’s life is another battle to determine whether we are to live in a culture of life or a culture of death.

February 23, 2005

Lest We Forget

Mac Owens

Today is an important date in American history. Sixty years ago today—February 23, 1945—a Marine patrol from Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment reached the summit of Mount Suribachi, the highest point on the volcanic island of Iwo Jima. It was the fifth day of the savage battle for the island, which would last another 31 days and kill nearly all of the 22,000 Japanese defenders and 6,825 Marines and sailors. Another 19,000 Americans were wounded during the 36-day operation. One out of every three Marines was either killed or wounded, including 19 of 24 battalion commanders. Twenty-seven Marines and naval medical corpsmen were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions on Iwo, 13 posthumously. In the words of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, "Among the Americans who served on Iwo Island, uncommon valor was a common virtue."

After reaching the summit of Mt. Suribachi, members of the patrol raised an American flag that one of the Marines had brought with him. It was too small to be seen from the beach, so the Marines raised a second, larger flag. AP photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the second flag raising on film. The result was the most famous image of World War II.

Rosenthal’s photo also has come to symbolize the Marine Corps as a fighting force. In 1954, the sculptor Felix de Weldon rendered the photo into three dimensions, creating the Marine Corps Memorial that stands near Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

As subsequent events in such places as Inchon, the Chosin Reservoir, Hue City, Khe Sanh, and Fallujah have proven, uncommon valor continues to characterize the Marine Corps. But is hard to imagine anything worse that the living hell those men experienced on seven square miles of volcanic island.

An Alternate Reality for Social Security

Justin Katz

Perhaps its cause is an irrepressible idealism on my part, but I still find myself stunned and disheartened by the stooped-to depths of political dishonesty. In this one sentence, Rep. Patrick Kennedy appeals to a completely alternate reality to score political points among people whom he assumes to be uninformed and/or stupid:

Since the president took office and began squandering the Clinton surpluses, the federal government has treated Social Security like a credit card -- borrowing from the Social Security surplus to pay its other bills.

First of all, "the Clinton surpluses" never amounted to money in hand. Rather, they were projections into the future based on a booming economy. (Although, I suppose that if any body can squander something it doesn't have, it's the federal government.) Second of all, the money that Social Security raises each year began being filtered to the federal government's general funds via bonds long before President Bush ever stepped into the White House.

From there, deconstructing Kennedy's "facts" is a tedious matter that I leave to interested readers. (For example, the suggestion that "Social Security would be unable to pay full benefits in 2021, instead of 2042 or 2052," ignores the obvious reality that Bush's private account program is meant to supplement benefits that Social Security will eventually be unable to finance.) I offer a summary piece by Donald Luskin as a helpful antidote.

Overall, in building his phony version of political reality, Kennedy is either a dupe of his own rhetoric or a con man. The story is that Bush has been "squandering the Clinton surpluses," in part because he tapped the Social Security trust fund, money that he "borrowed for big tax breaks." Yet — yet! — Kennedy's counter-proposal is "the ASPIRE Act, which would give every child an investment account at birth [for which the government would] put in a seed contribution, and match parental contributions for lower-income children."

In other words, a Congressman who has declared that he's "never worked a f***ing day in [his] life" prefers giving government-funded, redistributionist hand-outs to eighteen year olds to allowing working citizens to keep more of the money that they earn. A man wealthy by default wishes to ensure the importance of the government teat to the common citizen by taking money from the hands of parents, filtering it through the grubby ones of government, and then handing it back to adolescents just as they exit their parents' legal guardianship.

Somehow, I don't think Kennedy's concept of "an ownership society" matches that of believers in a free market and individual independence. The difference is who does the owning, and the alternate reality that he's striving to bring about is not one in which Americans should invest hope... or votes.

February 22, 2005

George Washington and the Hebrew Congregation of Newport

Mac Owens

On Washington's birthday, it is useful to remember why the founding of the United States, with its recognition of the equal natural rights of all, was such a boon to mankind. An emanation of the American Founding was religious freedom and tolerance. The folks at Powerline remind us of a particularly powerful example of the meaning of tolerance: the exhange of letters between President Washington and the Hebrew congregation of Newport. Most people are familiar with Washington's magnificent letter, but they should also read the congregation's letter :

Permit the children of the stock of Abraham to approach you with the most cordial affection and esteem for your person and merits ~~ and to join with our fellow citizens in welcoming you to NewPort.

With pleasure we reflect on those days ~~ those days of difficulty, and danger, when the God of Israel, who delivered David from the peril of the sword, ~~ shielded Your head in the day of battle: ~~ and we rejoice to think, that the same Spirit, who rested in the Bosom of the greatly beloved Daniel enabling him to preside over the Provinces of the Babylonish Empire, rests and ever will rest, upon you, enabling you to discharge the arduous duties of Chief Magistrate in these States.

Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People ~~ a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance ~~ but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: ~~

deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine: ~~ This so ample and extensive Federal Union whose basis is Philanthropy, Mutual confidence and Public Virtue, we cannot but acknowledge to be the work of the Great God, who ruleth in the Armies of Heaven, and among the Inhabitants of the Earth, doing whatever seemeth him good.

For all these Blessings of civil and religious liberty which we enjoy under an equal benign administration, we desire to send up our thanks to the Ancient of Days, the great preserver of Men ~~beseeching him, that the Angel who conducted our forefathers through the wilderness into the promised Land, may graciously conduct you through all the difficulties and dangers of this mortal life: ~~ And, when, like Joshua full of days and full of honour, you are gathered to your Fathers, may you be admitted into the Heavenly Paradise to partake of the water of life, and the tree of immortality.

Done and Signed by order of the Hebrew Congregation in NewPort, Rhode Island August 17th 1790.
Moses Seixas, Warden

Your Freedom Is Slipping Away

I have updated an earlier posting to report on the unbelievably anti-democratic actions late last week in the Rhode Island State House.

Speaker Murphy and his cronies are stealing our freedom in broad daylight. And they don't give a damn.

Do you?

What If This Was Our Daughter or Sister or Wife? What If It Was "Only" A Stranger's Life?

My wife heard last night the sad and horrible news of the death of one of her dearest friend's daughter. We grieve for that wonderful family, whose kindness to others - including my wife - has never known any limits. Having been fortunate enough to be present at the birth of our three children, I cannot imagine anything more painful than having to bury one's child.

And that leads to a related story about Terri Schindler-Schiavo, which has been in and out of the news for a while now. Last week, however, a posting by Greg Wallace got my attention. Here is an excerpt:

She is not dying. She has no terminal illness. She is not in a coma. She is not on life-support equipment. She is not alone, but rather has loving parents and siblings ready to care for her for the rest of her life. She has not requested death.

Yet a battle rages regarding whether Terri Schindler-Schiavo should be starved. She has sustained brain injuries and cannot speak or eat normally. Nevertheless, the only tube attached to her is a small, simple, painless feeding tube that provides her nourishment directly to her digestive system.

Her legal guardian is her husband, who already has another woman -- by whom he also has children. He wants Terri's feeding tube removed. Of course, he could simply allow her to be cared for by her parents and siblings, and get on with his life, but he refuses...

Some say that Terri's family should "let her go." But this is not a matter of "letting her go," because she isn't "going" anywhere. If, however, she is deprived of nourishment, then she would slowly die in the same way that any of us would slowly die if we were deprived of nourishment. It is called starvation.

What makes this an even more poignant human love story is the content of a written settlement offer made by Terri's family to her husband, Michael, on October 26, 2004. You can find the letter here. In that letter, her immediate family offers to:

Take Terri home and care for her at their own expense.

Never to seek money from her husband, Michael, including from past malpractice awards. He would also be able to keep all assets from their married life.

Sign any legal documents allowing her husband to divorce her, should he desire that, while still allowing him to retain all rights to her estate upon her natural death in the future as if he was still married to her.

Allow Michael to retain visitation rights, if he so wished.

Forgo any and all future financial claims against Michael.

Michael has rejected their offer; the only acceptable outcome for him is to see Terri dead.

The love of this family for their daughter and sister is reinforced in postings here and here by fellow Rhode Islander, Chuck Nevola.

I would also encourage you to return to the family website for more on this case.

Going back to Greg's original posting and taking the issue to a more philosophical level:

If the courts permit that to happen, then why should that permission apply only in Terri's case? There would be no way to limit it to her case alone. Countless others would follow, and their deaths would be described as "letting them die" instead of "killing them." Where, indeed, does the state get the authority to starve people? Court decisions permitting this lack all authority, as Pope John Paul II teaches in "The Gospel of Life" (section 72). These decisions cannot be obeyed, because they are not binding on the conscience and are in fact acts of violence.

A horrible day is upon us: Michael Schiavo will have the legal right to begin starving Terri to death today.

This ghastly outcome should be neither the values nor the law of America. But it is now on the verge of becoming just that.

What would be our response if this was our daughter, our sister or our wife? Could our response be muted just because Terri Schindler-Schiavo is a "stranger" to all of us? Why should there be any difference?

Or, consider this: What if, by some awful twist of fate, one day you personally were in Terri's place and your family was stopped from saving your life, caring for you, and showing tender love for you? And what if everyone else was "too busy" to care?

I hope our society will find a greater respect for the preciousness of all human life - regardless of whether they are family, friends or someone we have never met. Let's begin by saving Terri Schindler-Schiavo's life.

February 20, 2005

Dictator Chavez of Venezuela

Carroll Andrew Morse

Sunday's Projo had a good op-ed about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's increasingly dictatorial behavior. In case you may have heard from some sources that Chavez is a legitimate democrat, here is a full explanation of why he is not.

February 19, 2005

Chafee Vs. Clear Skies

Mac Owens

In his most recent e-mail newsletter, Sen. Chafee touts his alternative to the president's Clear Skies legislation for reducing air pollution. The centerpiece of Chafee's plan, the Clean Air Planning Act (Carper/Chafee) is a significant reduction in carbon dioxide levels.

Chafee claims that he is "committed to addressing this serious problem with sound environmental regulation of the power industry while striking a balance among public health, the economy, and energy efficiency." But his plan would achieve its goals at high economic cost. I tried to explain why in an op-ed for the February 18 edition of the Newport Daily News:

The Nobel Prize Laureate Friedrich von Hayek once described his discipline, economics, as “the study of the unintended consequences of human action.” The idea that human action generates unanticipated and unintended effects has serious implications for policy makers: one who would propose legislation and regulations must be aware of their likely impact—both intended and unintended—on the incentives of human actors. The latter are often far more significant than the former.

Trade-offs between the costs and benefits of environmental legislation illustrate Hayek’s point. And clean-air legislation in particular provides a case in point. The intended consequence of such legislation as the Clean Air Act is to achieve a significant reduction in smokestack emissions, especially from coal-burning plants that produce electricity. But a major unintended consequence of such legislation has been to increase demand for clean-burning natural gas, causing its price to triple over the last six years from $2 per thousand cubic feet to $7 today. Since June 2000, the run-up in gas prices has cost U.S. consumers over $143.7 billion, according to Industrial Energy Consumers of America, an organization of large industrial gas users. The demand for a clean environment is a reasonable one, but the unintended consequence of legislation to improve environmental quality is to increase the demand for natural gas. Since this increase in demand will most likely outpace increases in supply, the result will be an even more dramatic rise in the price of natural gas in the future.

Recent history suggests why this is true. When Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 1990 to reduce smokestack emissions, electric utilities basically had two options available to them: first, they could have replaced older coal plants with newer, more efficient coal plants that emitted less carbon; second, they could have switched to natural gas. Since the former alternative was far more expensive than the latter, the utilities largely chose to switch to natural gas.

Now the Senate is poised to pass legislation that will lead to the same sort of unintended consequences as the 1990 amendments did. Senate Democrats and Republicans alike are pushing a plan that would require a 90 percent reduction in coal plant emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury. In addition, the plan would establish binding limits on carbon dioxide equal to 1990 levels.

Why does any of this matter to Rhode Islanders? After all, 98 percent of the Ocean State’s electricity is already generated by natural gas. But what happens to the price of natural gas if states such as Massachusetts, where natural gas provides 30 percent its electrical generation, Connecticut (13.4 percent), New Hampshire, and Vermont (one percent each) shift to natural gas, the most likely response to the proposed Senate plan, since projections for construction of clean-coal plants, with their long lead times and high cost, are little more than wishful thinking? Both industrial and residential consumers of the premium fuel would face sharp price spikes.

There is a reasonable alternative to the Senate plan that makes clean-air regulations more realistic: the president’s “Clear Skies” legislation, which calls for a more reasonable 70 percent cut in emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury. It would also allow utilities to use the same cap-and-trade system that has reduced sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides by about a third since 1990. The goal of the Clear Skies legislation is reachable, because utilities know that such emission-control technology exists.

Of critical importance, the measure would place no mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions. Instead the White House is sensibly earmarking $2 billion for research and development on clean-coal technologies over the next decade, including almost $1 billion for construction of an emission-free coal-to-gas power plant, with facilities for safely storing carbon underground. The Administration is also calling on companies to voluntarily reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The principle that human action leads to unintended consequences leads to the conclusion that Congress should approve the Clear Skies legislation rather than the Senate alternative. At the same time, Congress needs to take every reasonable step it can to stimulate a balanced mix of domestic energy sources. This task is especially urgent for states like ours that are heavily dependent on natural gas.

February 18, 2005

Teachers & Unionization II

Marc Comtois

Picking up on Andrew's theme, I thought it worthwhile to post a comment and response to an earlier post of mine from Jim, who took the opportunity to convey his perspective on the teacher/union topic:

it's awfully easy and simple to blame the unions, isn't it?

why don't you put a little less effort in blaming unions for the shortfalls and start placing the blame where it belongs.

1) too little funding. Many teachers don't even have the supplies to do the job. "No Child Left Behind", while it has it's good points, particularly that it's beginning to give some accountability, isn't addressing this. Indeed, if a school is labelled as "poor performing", instead of revamping, funding and improving it, the act actually ENCOURAGES the pulling of the students on a quasi-voucher system and placing them in other schools. THAT, my friend is no solution. That's doubling up the problem.
2) too little parental participation, in fact, how about looking at the total apathy that parents (in general) have toward education. The prevalent attitude of parents is "teach my child!" without any thought to the fact that a child's first teacher and indeed, most important teacher is the parent.
3) poor administration on so many levels, from the federal all the way down to the schools. This is being worked on, but there is much room for improvement. Many times, the politics of the situation are outweighing the need for REAL improvement.

The problems are complex. Unions are the least of the issues at hand.

I responded:
I agree that the problems are complex. And it is easy to blame the unions for unrealistic expectations in their bargaining positions. Teachers are well-paid in this state, many parents and taxpayers feel its time that children's scholastic performance starts to reflect that.

As far as NCLB, and related to the above, I understand there are funding problems, but couldn't some of this be alleviated by less education money going to pay teacher's salaries and benefits? Additionally, it's my understanding that under at least some of the standards set forth by the state or federal government (though not necessarily NCLB) schools have a period of time to show improvement. For instance, my daughter's school has reached milestones that are required to have been reached in 2011. You imply that at the first sign of noncompliance, that's it. I don't believe that's the case. Nonetheless, if the children are helped by being pulled from a bad school, isn't that the goal? We can't forget that this is not about keeping the teacher's or school administration or the state comfortable, it's about providing kids with the best education possible.

Having attended PTO, Parent/Principal nights (work to rule is in effect in Warwick...) and School Committee meetings, I can attest that not enough parents take an active part in their children's education. However, looking back at my younger days, the same dynamic was true when I was a kid. I was lucky enough to have parents who were among that core group of parents who always seemed to have been involved. in school functions. However, how exactly can this acknowledged problem be addressed? How can parents be forced into participation? On this one, I'm not sure.

Poor administration is a problem and always has been. Such is the case when a bureaucracy is involved, be it local, state or federal. More layers = more problems. In an ideal world, states and localities would dictate the standards and have more immediate control over the course of the education of the kids in their communities. Unfortunately, in Rhode Island, it seems that the educational needs of the children has taken a back seat to other matters, be they political or financial. It's time that changed. If the example I pointed to at the Stony Brook school is any indication, it looks like we just may be turning the corner.

I'd point out that I try to be positive when I can and Jim, ironically, chose to respond to a post in which I had given credit to some teachers for bettering their school. While Jim is correct in pointing to a whole suite of issues that affect education, the fact of the matter is that--and though Jim may feel it is the least of the problems--readjusting the union's expectations is also the easiest to fix via citizen intervention. By maintaining school budgets at current funding levels, but spending less on teacher pay and benefits, it seems to follow that more money can go to other, perhaps even more innovative, educational programs. For instance, a parent outreach program with the goal of encouraging more parent participation, could be funded by money saved.

I understand that the problem goes beyond money. Educational priorities also need to be examined, as do some of the philosophies implemented in recent years. One example would be the idea of "mainstreaming," which sounds benevolent on the face of it, but in reality can detract from the learning environment of (at the risk of being un-PC) "regular" students. No doubt, not all mainstreamed students are distractions, but some are. The idea that slower students can benefit from being in the same class as quicker-learning students is probably true, but a reverse effect on the quicker kids is also possible, isn't it?

These are just some off-the-cuff ruminations intended to get a conversation started. It is easy to point out problems. At the very least, Jim has prompted me to wonder: what are some solutions?

Wallace's Prime Directive

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at NRO, Myrna Blyth references a famous panel discussion involving Peter Jennings and Mike Wallace. Here’s the extremely short summary. Jennings and Wallace were asked to place themselves in the positions of American reporters somehow embedded with an enemy military unit. During their assignment, they learned of plans to ambush a group of American soldiers. The question: should they try to warn the Americans? Wallace, and eventually Jennings, came to the conclusion that, as a matter of journalistic principle, they should not. Tim Graham provides a link to a fuller account of the discussion.

This discussion is referenced from time to time in discussions about the media and the military. As far as I know, since the original panel, no reporter has taken an occasion of equally high profile to either reaffirm or repudiate Wallace’s Prime Directive -- a reporter is bound to act in a way that allows a story to develop as if he or she were not there, regardless of the consequences. Do reporters still believe in Wallace’s Prime Directive?

Though he never stated it, my feeling was always that Wallace’s Prime Directive unfairly singled out members of the military as less worthy of protection from journalists as other citizens. Allow me to use the following example to make my case. A reporter is doing a story on teenage alienation. In the course of his story, he discovers a group of teenagers are planning to blow-up their high school. Does Wallace's Prime Directive apply here also, i.e. is he forbidden from interfering with what would develop if he were not present?

February 17, 2005

Mayor Laffey to Run for...

Justin Katz

After his speech for a gathering of (mostly) Portsmouth Republicans, Mayor Laffey took a sweeping path to not answering a question about whether he'll challenge Lincoln Chafee for a seat in the U.S. Senate. It didn't take much listening between the words to hear a "yes" — albeit an indeterminate one.

Considering that the sweeping path led through Laffey's motivation for entering politics — fixing things that he sees broken first-hand — and his repeated preference for the "knocking on doors" aspect of the occupation, my ear picked up tones suggesting that the choice may not be between senator and businessman, but between senator and governor. Personally, I think sending Stephen Laffey to the U.S. Senate would be a waste of talent for Rhode Island. Given his particular strengths and chutzpa, he'd do us much more good here than in Washington. (And it isn't a certainty by any means that he could beat a Democrat for Chafee's seat, even if he manages to best Chafee in a primary.)

As for the rest of the event, it was certainly worth the time to attend. The sore need, however — one that organizer Deborah Mitchell Young cited as a reason for inviting bloggers — was to bring fresh ideas and, more importantly, passion to a largely atrophied state party. There's a clear split, a rejuvenating split, coming within the RI GOP, displacing those who've become accustomed to the quality in Rhode Island politics that raises "business as usual" to the level of a virtue.

Come to think of it, perhaps the question mark for Mayor Laffey, as smart as he is, punctuates a shrewd intuition to wait for the necessary intraparty disruption to occur so that, rather than ride one side of the resulting wave away from the action, his cohort can fill the trough that results.

One observation, offered with emphasis on its mildness: during his speech, Mayor Laffey's frequent statements of "I did" became jarring. When I've heard him speak on the radio and in other venues, I haven't noticed a similar self-referentialism. So perhaps it was the audience. Perhaps he was tired. But the mayor should take care to remember that "we" sounds incomparably better than "I" when it can be understood to mean the same thing.

I've posted some related thoughts on Dust in the Light.

Teachers & Unionization I

Carroll Andrew Morse

Full disclosure first. My father was a high school teacher, and a good one, so I’ve been exposed to this issue from multiple angles.

There is a fundamental problem with unionization of the teaching profession. The fundamental assumption behind unionization is that, in certain kinds of jobs, any individual employee can be easily replaced, meaning individual employees have no leverage in salary or work-condition negotiations. When employees can be easily replaced, unionization is appropriate.

But this is not true of the teaching profession. Teaching is a talent. If a hospital severs it relationship with a superior heart surgeon there is no guarantee that the surgeon that replaces him will be as good. A hospital administration must factor this into its dealings with the surgeon. In the same way, when a school district drops a superior English teacher, there is no guarantee that the replacement will be as good.

Unions are not designed to deal with talent. Valuing seniority over ability is way of saying individual ability is not important. Just like management of jobs that do not require talent, unions view their individual members as interchangeable parts. And after a while, when teachers and their unions treat themselves like interchangeable parts, so does the society around them.

So what is the answer?

You know that professional athletes in the major sports are unionized, correct? Well, they are not, in a strict sense, unions. Each individual athlete negotiates his own contract, within parameters negotiated by the “union”. Good teachers, students and communities would benefit if they represented themselves via a "guild" or "professional association" instead of a union…

Why We Blog

Peggy Noonan's latest editorial discusses the world of blogging. She makes the following general comments:

The bloggers have...freedom. They have the still pent-up energy of a liberated citizenry, too. The MSM [main stream media] doesn't. It has lost its old monopoly on information. It is angry.

But MSM criticism of the blogosphere misses the point, or rather points.

Blogging changes how business is done in American journalism. The MSM isn't over. It just can no longer pose as if it is The Guardian of Established Truth. The MSM is just another player now. A big one, but a player.

She then describes the power of the blogosphere:

1. They use the tools of journalists (computer, keyboard, a spirit of inquiry, a willingness to ask the question) and of the Internet (Google, LexisNexis) to look for and find facts that have been overlooked, ignored or hidden...What they are looking for is information that is true. When they get it they post it and include it in the debate. This is a public service.

2. Bloggers, unlike reporters at elite newspapers and magazines, are independent operators. They are not, and do not have to be, governed by mainstream thinking. Nor do they have to accept the directives of an editor pushing an ideology or a publisher protecting his friends...[it] is true of bloggers: It's a story if they say it is. This is a public service.

3. Bloggers have an institutional advantage in terms of technology and form. They can post immediately...This is a public service.

4. Bloggers are also selling the smartest take on a story. They're selling an original insight, a new area of inquiry. Mickey Kaus of Kausfiles has his bright take, Andrew Sullivan had his, InstaPundit has his. They're all selling their shrewdness, experience, depth. This too is a public service.

5. And they're doing it free...This too is a public service...That you get it free doesn't mean commerce isn't involved, for it is. It is intellectual commerce. Bloggers give you information and point of view. In return you give them your attention and intellectual energy. They gain influence by drawing your eyes; you gain information by lending your eyes...They get something from it and so do you.

6. It is not true that there are no controls...What governs members of the blogosphere is what governs to some degree members of the MSM, and that is the desire for status and respect. In the blogosphere you lose both if you put forward as fact information that is incorrect, specious or cooked...The great correcting mechanism for people on the Web is people on the Web...their agendas are mostly declared.

7. I don't know if the blogosphere is rougher in the ferocity of its personal attacks...If you can't take it, you shouldn't be thinking aloud for a living. The blogosphere is tough. But are personal attacks worth it if what we get in return is a whole new media form that can add to the true-information flow while correcting the biases and lapses of the mainstream media? Yes. Of course.

In a nutshell, the liberty which is at the heart of the American experiment requires an engaged, informed citizenry. Citizens can only be engaged and informed when there are genuine public debates on major issues.

Over the years, the MSM became a one-sided ideological engine whose mission - implicit or otherwise - was to promote its view of the world. That inhibited open public debates. Politicians promoting their own self-interest have been no less prone to trying to control and limit the public debate. (Just look at Rhode Island House Speaker William Murphy, for example.)

By contrast, we do not try to stifle disagreements because our underlying motivation is to lift the quality of the public debate and let the best ideas win. We have conservative political leanings at AnchorRising. But not even all of us have identical views on all the issues. That is not only okay, but we celebrate it. It is why we will criticize certain ideas of other conservatives when we believe they are expressing misguided thoughts. We expect no less in return. That is why we welcome other sites which express alternative opinions in conflict with ours. After all, this is America!

The bottom line is that most bloggers are not afraid of open, even contentious, public debates. Democracy is, by its nature, a messy process. I believe that the blogosphere's major contribution, the "what we do," is to bring a fearless focus on putting previously unpublished empirical facts into the public debate, thereby lifting the rigor of the debate. That has advanced the cause of freedom.

In closing, it is no less important to keep a perspective on "how we do it." With that in mind, I would reiterate a quote from William Voegli that was contained in a separate posting:

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.

February 16, 2005

And Then There Were Five

Justin Katz

Anchor Rising is ecstatic to announce a fifth contributor: Mac Owens. Mac is an associate dean of academics and professor of national-security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport; he's also a contributing editor for National Review Online. Rhode Island is fortunate to have the likes of Mr. Owens as engaged citizens, and Anchor Rising will certainly be the better for its providing him a platform.

AEI - Campus Bias Symposium

Marc Comtois

While we have focused on the case of Bill Felkner and Rhode Island College quite a bit, it is worth noting that the "phenomena" of campus bias is by no means restricted to our little corner of the nation. The American Enterprise Institute held a symposium on Monday (transcript can be found at AEI) on the topic. Stanley Kurtz at NRO received a report from a contact that provides a good summary of the views expressed by the panel. Most striking, however, was the stance taken by Roger Bowen of AAUP. According to Kurtz's contact, Bowen stated:

1. It is no surprise that most faculty in social sciences are liberals, since those fields traditionally have been about questioning identity, writing "progressive" history, and other causes.

2. Among liberals, there is a tremendous range of opinion, and critics such as Klein are simplifying their ranks.

3. Outsiders haven't the "expertise" to police the faculty. Professors have undergone rigorous training that makes us trust their judgment more than that of journalists and the public.

4. Folks such as David Horowitz are mounting an intimidation campaign. (Bowen recalled his own experience having his class visited in the early 80s by rabble-rousers at Accuracy in Academia).

5. Conservatives prefer going into business, while liberals have a stronger social bent.

6. Most students come into college with too many conservative prejudices and they need to be shaken up.

7. He has never heard of a hiring committee that asked a candidate about political affiliation.

8. Finally, he said, "So the faculty is Democrat. So what?"

David French of FIRE took him on, but Bowen resorted to circular debate tactics and would admit to nothing.

Incidentally, the AAUP has a different focus in the discussion of "Academic Freedom." Whereas students and those outside of academia define academic freedom as: 1) being able to hear and voice a diverse set of opinions within the context of a given course and 2) not hearing ideological based opinions on subjects outside of the subject matter of a course, the AAUP, in a recent meeting on academic freedom, appeared more concerned with other things.

. . . three issues of concern to faculty and others in the academic community. The policy statements address corporate funding of academic research, background investigations on faculty, and academic freedom and electronic communications. For a summary of these policies, read our press release.
They also released a statement on the efforts by Students for Academic Freedom, comparing them to the John Birch society. While the rhetoric of this statement does indeed sound high-minded, one must remember that they disregard the very real power dynamic in the classroom.

The AAUP casts themselves as the less powerful in the academic/government relationship. They believe that the power of government, brought on by the 9/11 attacks and the Bush Administration, by intimidation and resource (both financial and documents) restriction, will stifle the willingness of academics to speak up and challenge the conventional wisdom. In this, they cast themselves as the weak half of a particular power dynamic.

In contrast, they are blind to a similar dynamic that occurs in the classroom. They fail to recognize, or outright ignore, that they hold the power over the students in the teacher/student dynamic. High-minded rhetoric about academic debate sounds good but it ignores the very real perspective of a student. Even if a student can challenge a professor in class without repercussions, it is naive to believe that a student will actually exercise such academic freedom. Rare is the student who will submit coursework arguing against the conventional scholarly wisdom on a hot-button issue, much less expecting that their work will get a fair reading. I don't mean to impugn those professors who both have their biases and are responsible scholars who can divorce themselves from those biases when grading a paper based on its intrinsic scholarly quality. However, to expect students to believe that a professor can do such a thing is unreasonable. In school, we are generally taught to give the "right" answer, after all. It is a big leap to give an "answer" that is not "right" and expect to get a good grade for it.

As such, academic discourse on controversial subjects, whether germane to a particular course or not, is stifled. The result is a flawed belief among faculty and students that the majority of people on campus share the same opinion on a set of issues: silence equals consent. While groups like FIRE and SFAF can help, in the end it will be up to individual students, like Bill Felkner, to challenge the system, grades be damned. In the secular universities of modern day America, academic martyrdom may prove to be the only way to effect change. How's that for post-modern irony?

ADDENDUM: Thomas Sowell has his own opinion on Academic Freedom withij the context of the Ward Churchill controversy:

However symptomatic Professor Churchill may be of what is wrong with academia today, his situation has nothing to do with academic freedom. His remarks that provoked so much controversy were not made in a classroom or even on campus.

There are no real grounds for firing him under current rules and practices -- which tells you what is wrong with those rules and practices. Professor Churchill is protected by tenure rules that are a much bigger problem than this one man or this one episode. . .

Should a professor of accounting or chemistry be fired for using up class time to sound off about homelessness or the war in Iraq? Yes!

There is no high moral principle that prevents it. What prevents it are tenure rules that have saddled so many colleges with so many self-indulgent prima donnas who seem to think that they are philosopher kings, when in fact they are often grossly ignorant or misinformed outside the narrow confines of their particular specialty.

Over the years, the notion of academic freedom has expanded beyond autonomy within one's academic field to faculty governance of colleges and universities in general. Thus professors decide whether the institution's endowment can be invested in companies or countries that are out of favor among the anointed, or whether students will be allowed to join fraternities or the Reserve Officers Training Corps.

There is nothing in specialized academic expertise which makes professors' opinions on issues outside their specialty any better than anyone else's opinions. In no other institution -- religious or secular, military or civilian -- are people who make decisions that shape the institution unable to be fired when those decisions lead to bad results.

The combination of tenure and academic self-governance is unique -- and explains much of the atmosphere of self-indulgence and irresponsibility on campus, of which Professor Ward Churchill is just one extreme example. Re-thinking confused notions of "academic freedom" is far more important than firing Professor Churchill and thereby turning a jackass into a martyr.

"Don't Worry, We'll Find a Way to Tax You..."

Marc Comtois

Within my recent post on gambling is the observation, which is by no means an original thought, that government makes much revenue off of vice. The ironic flip side is that as government tries to "legislate morality" in the sense that they attempt to modify behavior (I'm thinking cigarettes here) by raising the cost, they also succeed in driving down demand. Thus, while initial revenue via a tax (such as the cigarette tax) will grow, the government will be forced to raise the tax to maintain the revenue stream as demand drops. In the case of the cigarette tax, more activist policies, such as making bars and restaurants smoke-free, futher exacerbates the problem of a tax-on-vice revenue shortfall by adding even more restrictions and dampening demand further. In short, government policy succeeds in demonizing, and taxing, a revenue stream out of existence.

A similar situation may be occurring with the gas tax. I first heard this story on Rush Limbaugh's show while driving around yesterday. I wish I could say I was surprised.

College student Jayson Just commutes an odometer-spinning 2,000 miles a month. . .his monthly gas bill once topped his car payment. . .

So Just bought a fuel efficient hybrid and said goodbye to his gas-guzzling BMW. . .And that saves him almost $300 a month in gas. It's great for Just but bad for the roads he's driving on, because he also pays a lot less in gasoline taxes which fund highway projects and road repairs. As more and more hybrids hit the road, cash-strapped states are warning of rough roads ahead.

Officials in car-clogged California are so worried they may be considering a replacement for the gas tax altogether, replacing it with something called "tax by the mile."

Seeing tax dollars dwindling, neighboring Oregon has already started road testing the idea.

"Drivers will get charged for how many miles they use the roads, and it's as simple as that," says engineer David Kim.

Kim and his team at Oregon State University equipped a test car with a global positioning device to keep track of its mileage. Eventually, every car would need one.

"So, if you drive 10 miles you will pay a certain fee which will be, let's say, one tenth of what someone pays if they drive 100 miles," says Kim.

The new tax would be charged each time you fill up. A computer inside the gas pump would communicate with your car's odometer to calculate how much you owe.

The system could also track how often you drive during rush hour and charge higher fees to discourage peak use. That's an idea that could break the bottleneck on California's freeways.

"We're getting a lot of interest from other states," says Jim Whitty of the Oregon Department of Transportation. "They're watching what we're doing.

"Transportation officials across the country are concerned about what's going to happen with the gas tax revenues."

Privacy advocates say it's more like big brother riding on your bumper, not to mention a disincentive to buy fuel-efficient cars.

"It's not fair for people like me who have to commute, and we don't have any choice but take the freeways," says Just. "We shouldn't have to be taxed."

But tax-by-mile advocates say it may be the only way to ensure that fuel efficiency doesn't prevent smooth sailing down the road. [emphasis mine]

What's the message here? Buy fuel efficient cars and see tax/mile policies instituted....or don't buy fuel efficient cars because tax/mile policies are going to be instituted. My guess? Few people will buy those cars anyway, the gas tax will stay and tax/mile policies will be instituted. For some reason, I just don't trust government. Do you?

February 14, 2005

Of Gambling, Casinos and Economic Growth

Marc Comtois

For the record, I thought I'd register my opposition to the placement of a casino in Rhode Island. However, I do support the people of Rhode Island being able to vote on the matter, so long as it is presented legally (unlike the fiasco last summer). During the controversy last summer, I posted about a research detailed in a ProJo Oped piece by Richard A. Hines of the Advisory Board of Citizens Concerned About Casino Gambling. Hines took a look at the socioeconomic impact made by the Connecticut casinos on the communities surrounding them. Hines found that the revenue claims touted by the casinos in Connecticut were overstated and that, in fact, Lincoln Park and Newport Grand generated more revenue, per capita, for the state of Rhode Island than did Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun for Connecticut.

But on a per-capita basis, Rhode Island actually collects more from Lincoln Park and Newport Grand than Connecticut collects from Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun. Per-capita revenue from these sources in Rhode Island is $186, compared with only $115 in Connecticut.
To repeat from my aforementioned post
to me anyway, the social costs have always outweighed any purported financial "gains" that a gambling casino would bring to the state. Hines further explains that the Conneticut communities that host the casinos have seen "increased traffic, demand for emergency services, crime, and need for affordable housing, schools and other municipal services have driven public expenditures far higher than any increased revenue from the casino taxes" and he provides figures to support his claims. (I note that he doesn't make apparent all of his sources for these figures, though many appear to be from various State of Connecticut studies.)
For some examples of these social costs, read either my original post or Hines' piece or this study.

I bring this up because there is now a new drive to vote on casino gambling via a new referendum that, it is hoped, will pass constitutional muster. Meanwhile, BLB Investors, a firm trying to purchase Lincoln Park, is doing its best to prevent the building of a casino in the state. In this effort, it has the qualified support of Governor Carcieri.

On Monday, BLB. . . offered to purchase Lincoln Park from its British parent company, Wembley plc, for $435 million. . . it is seeking an 18-year contract spelling out its tax rate and state approval for 1,750 additional video-slot machines at Lincoln Park. In exchange, the company has pledged to spend $125 million on renovations and an expansion of the track. . . .

The most dramatic element in the 10-page bill is the parity clause.

The state gets about 60 percent of revenues at Lincoln Park and Newport Grand. The casino that Harrah's is proposing with the Narragansetts would pay a much lower tax rate. Last year, the Las Vegas company offered to pay on a sliding scale that ranged from 25 percent to 35 percent.

The parity clause that BLB proposes essentially says that if Harrah's gets a 25-percent tax rate, Lincoln Park's tax rate must be lowered to that same level.

Brown University political science Prof. Darrell M. West said that if the clause passes, "it would guarantee there would be no casino. . . . It really is a killer amendment for a casino" West said lawmakers would not want to bring in a casino if it meant lowering the state's take from Lincoln Park. Such a move "would bankrupt the state . . . nobody in state government can allow that to happen because so much of the state budget now is dependent on gambling revenue."

Gambling revenue accounts for about 11 percent of the state's income. This fiscal year, slots at Lincoln Park and Newport Grand are expected to generate $255 million for the state.

Within the proposal is an attempt to cater to the needs of the Narragansetts (OK, it's an attempt to buy them off).
The legislation also calls for 5 percent of the revenue from the 1,750 new machines to go directly to the Narragansetts "for the purpose of encouraging and promoting economic development."

The 5 percent would provide about $6.3 million to the tribe when the new machines are installed. Within 10 years, the figure could grow to $9.3 million a year, according to estimates by the state Economic Development Corporation, based on data from BLB.

The draft bill also provides for "a hiring preference and training program at the facility with respect to qualified applicants" from the tribe, and a preference for "contractors owned and controlled by" tribe members.

When compared to the money they can make off of a casino run in their name, I doubt the Narragansett's wil be amenable to this offer.

As far as the Governor's qualified support of BLB's offer, the qualifications were outlined in this story

Governor Carcieri, who fiercely opposes plans to build a casino in Rhode Island, said this week that he would entertain the possibility of more VLTs at Lincoln on three conditions: BLB could not add hotel or convention space; some of the new slot revenue must be dedicated to property-tax relief; and another share of that new revenue must go to the Narragansett Indians.
I've already spoken on the last qualification, and I think that the Governor and BLB are dreaming. The other two seem reasonable, but the Governor's qualified support points to the degree to which the tentacles of gambling have a hold on the state government and its operating needs.
The money from Lincoln Park is too good for Carcieri to pass up.

In the past 12 months, gamblers there have lost more than $306 million in the slot machines, according to the Lottery Commission. The state's share was nearly $184 million. (The state also took in $50 million from its other slot parlor, Newport Grand.)

Gambling at the Lincoln and Newport sites, and from traditional lottery tickets, accounted for 11 percent of all state revenues last year. Each year, gambling represents a larger and larger portion of the state's income. Only the state income and sales taxes bring in more money.

The money is easy revenue for a state that hasn't seen an income-tax hike in years. It helps build roads, teach children and provide health care for the poor. (This story also details how Video Slots addict people, I urge all to read it)

Nothing like generating revenue through vice to accomplish virtuous ends, huh? I'm not being a Pollyanna: I realize this goes on all of the time. Cigarette Tax, Alcohol Tax, Gas Tax, etc. Yet, while these gambling related machinations are interesting, as I've said before, the root problem is not the particular gambling vehicle: the problem is that the state has come to rely on gambling to such a high degree.

I believe that the most overlooked argument for or against a casino, or gambling in general, centers around the degree to which state revenue will rise or fall. This fosters a "quick-fix" attitude and increase the attractiveness of the "casino solution" in both the general population and the state government. With this solution deemed a legitimate possibility, a whole host of economic side effects occur. The best argument against gambling as a revenue generator is that a reduction or elimination of this revenue could handicap Rhode Island's spendthrift government. Conversely, by relying on gambling, government continues to get the sustenance it needs to grow and to "provide much-needed services." Easy money is a disincentive to fiscal responsibility.

Secondly, the casino and gambling revenue stream paradigm subtract from efforts to promote more stable and "virtuous" businesses. While small businesses may not be so fast to generate revenue for themselves or, via taxes, for the state, they do offer better jobs with better pay than do casinos. The same can be said of larger companies.

To the Rhode Island State government, gambling revenue has become a drug. As the cigarette lawsuit settlement windfall has disappeared, our lawmakers turned to another "get rich quick scheme" in an effort to fund a plethora of "pet" and, yes, needed programs. (If nothing else, we can be confident that the more money the General Assembly has at its disposal, the more money it will spend, including much that will be used towards patronage and, thus, the further entrenchment of the same old political actors). Whether we should approve a casino or not is not what we should be debating. Whether we should depend on gambling to the degree we do is the real question that needs to be asked and answered.

An Example That Should Inspire

Marc Comtois

Julia Steiny provides an example of a school that has improved through the work of its teachers.

When the Rhode Island state authorities designated North Kingstown's Stony Lane Elementary only "moderately performing" last year, the school staff was miffed. Indeed, they were so not-okay with the label, brainstorming about how to ramp up their students' performance dominated their meetings with each other.

This year, Stony Lane was designated high-performing, improving and a Regents Commended School. Whew! That was quick. But that's what a school can do if lots of different subsets of the school community are regularly talking over all the things, big and small, that might make a difference.

Steiny also gave an example of how the turnaround occurred. The main vehicle was communication.
I recently crashed an ongoing meeting in which each grade level, except kindergarten, talked with the teachers working with the children at the grade level below about how to strengthen their program. First, the kindergarten teachers talked with the first-grade teachers, and after an hour they left and the second-grade teachers sat down with the first- grade teachers, and so on and on until the fifth grade had finished its say.

I witnessed the changing of the guard when the first-grade teachers left and the third-grade teachers joined grade two. After a certain amount of shuffling and getting coffee, a very take-charge second-grade teacher named Brenda Glover said: "Okay, we're here to find out what you need from us." She paused a moment, then quickly amended: "And don't say math facts."

The third-grade teachers looked up, glanced at one another and said quite emphatically: "Math facts." Everyone in the group either groaned or laughed. But they went on to explore a variety of ways of practicing and re-enforcing the basics of arithmetic. Second-grade teacher Diane Henault mentioned that "Every week we're trying to get the families to work on math facts. And every single morning, right after announcements, we do 42 problems in three minutes. I'm trying to get the answers to be automatic. My question to you is: can I start letting some of them touch multiplication?"

Before that question could be answered, Rose Cameron, third-grade teacher, asked if the second-grade teachers mix together problems requiring both addition and subtraction? Well, it turns out that they don't, at least not very often. Cameron says, "I'd really appreciate it if you did mix more because I have a lot of children who don't even see the signs. They all need to go back and check to see what the problem is really asking of them. Even the really smart ones." The second-grade teachers look at one another, nod, shrug, murmur assent and make a quick note. They'll mix the functions more. Done deal. Crack closed.

These conversations across the grade-level seams went on all day, and in this way all sorts of small, but important alignments take place.

It heartens me to see changes being implemented. What is worth remembering is that this process was prompted by a negative report by an oversight authority under the spectre of state and national standards, such as President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act. As the example of Stony Lane shows, criticism can motivate and inspire. So, though they may have griped about the evaluation process and its results, the teachersl put in a genuine effort to "prove them wrong." They succeeded and preserved their reputation while at the same time putting in place a process that benefitted the consumer of their product -- the children. All that parents ask is that their kids get the best education possible, no matter what inspires it or how it is effected. The teachers at Stony Lane are to be commended.

February 12, 2005

A Perfect World Without Merit

Justin Katz

Joseph Buffardi, of Cranston, believes that introducing the concept of merit to teachers' career advancement is a utopian idea:

In a perfect world, one could make a case for instituting merit pay for teachers. But this is not a perfect world.

As a public-school faculty member for over 30 years, I will grant that not all administrators are unscrupulous. However, give that kind of control and decision-making power to some administrators, and the door is open for favoritism, patronage, fraternization, discrimination, cronyism, political maneuvering, and manipulation by management -- causing on-the-job discord among teachers concerned with individual performance.

Buffardi glosses over two related considerations. The first is that public schools don't exist for the purpose of providing teachers with a harmonious workplace. We should all prefer teachers to be content with their lot, because professional satisfaction surely results in better teaching, but they aren't the first concern when it comes to education. The students are.

The second consideration is that the environment in which those students learn is ultimately the administrators' responsibility, and they are not unaccountable if their shenanigans affect the children's education. Perhaps some teachers are uncomfortable with such duties, but as a group, they have shown no fear of raising issues with the local community, and it is part of their job to make a case when they see things going awry.

Even if merit becomes a euphemism of favoritism, I'm not persuaded that rivalry, even a little bit of divisiveness, among teachers wouldn't ultimately benefit the students. The "healthy group dynamic" that Buffardi praises can manifest as mob groupthink. Moreover, his subsequent assertion that "it's no secret that an unscrupulous principal can hand-pick teachers and parents to form a rubber-stamp committee" casts doubt on the actual state of the "group dynamic."

Teachers wary of merit need insist only that such rewards be placed on top of reasonable union-negotiated raises. That Buffardi characterizes functional merit-based systems as the stuff of fantasy makes audible an interesting philosophical echo of the recent spelling bee fracas in Lincoln. There, administrators claimed to interpret "no child left behind" as synonymous with "no child gets ahead." Given that mentality in the public school system, opposition to merit pay sounds a bit like a "no teacher left behind" policy.

The Providence Journal Sets Precedent

Justin Katz

As I've suggested before, this case may not have been a big deal if decided in court, and it will probably be even less so since the judiciary didn't get involved at all:

The [Tiverton] School Committee still has to work out some legal details, but it decided to extend the health-care benefits of retired teacher Cheryl McCullough to her spouse, Joyce Boivin. The couple, who live in Swansea, were married last June in Massachusetts.

There may be future cases that attempt to push this sort of decision further and further, but if McCullough's contract extends the benefit to a spouse recognized in her state of residence, then the legal implications of extending the benefit to a spouse recognized in her state of residence are very limited. Things would be different if Rhode Island law explicitly forbid recognition of same-sex marriages in any form, but it does not.

Of course, as I've previously said, it increasingly seems that judges can find precedent anywhere and anyhow they wish, so even there, a school board's decisions either way are of little consequence. What's interesting, though, is the Providence Journal news department's analysis. (Perhaps "speculation" would be a better word, because staff writer Michael McKinney offers no substantiation. Indeed, his independent quotations minimize the significance of the case.) Here's the headline and first paragraph of the piece:

Towns providing benefits to married same-sex couples

A decision by the Tiverton School Committee this week may signal that Rhode Island is beginning to recognize the legitimacy of same-sex marriages among Massachusetts couples by affording them the same benefits as heterosexual couples.

There are two ways to interpret the spin: either the Projo is merely attempting to exaggerate controversy to sell newspapers, or it is attempting to frame the public's understanding of the issue and the precedent with an eye toward future same-sex marriage cases. Neither option instills much confidence in the objectivity of its reportage on this matter.

February 11, 2005

Thinking Out Loud by Way of Indirect Warning

Justin Katz

This aspect of the article to which Don links in the previous post particularly caught my eye:

Ban anyone, other than a "recognized employee of a news organization," from videotaping or taking photographs of House sessions and House committee meetings "without the express permissions of the speaker."

I'm aware of the tendency of the blogosphere to inflate its importance. Nonetheless, although I'm sure it's incidental, this proposed rule almost sounds like an anti-blogger policy. The House simply can't have people hanging around with their digital video cameras and potentially offering streaming video to the entire world through the Internet when something interesting happens, now can it?

Well, I happen to have a digital video camera, and there are a number of bloggers with huge audiences who are just fascinated by the power of the New Media. Speaker Murphy isn't exactly Dan Rather, but video of a blogger being dragged out of the state house or having his equipment confiscated would raise a whole series of interesting questions — from the status of bloggers as news gatherers to citizens' right to an open government.

I have sparse time to be making that sort of political statement, but the lure of this particular gauntlet may prove too strong to resist. Hopefully Mr. Murphy will save both of us the time and trouble.

Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part IX

This posting continues a periodic series on Rhode Island politics and taxation, building on eight previous postings (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII).

In addition, this posting also builds on previous postings (here, here, here as well as other postings by Justin and Marc here), all of which have noted the difficulty Rhode Island Speaker William Murphy has had in respecting his oath of office and the rule of law as it relates to the separation of powers constitutional amendment.

Now that he has relented, at least on the surface, from thwarting the will of the people regarding separation of powers, Speaker Murphy is now looking for new ways to thwart the ability of Rhode Island residents to follow State House political activities and exercise their duties as citizens. Katherine Gregg of the ProJo tells this latest story in an article about proposed House rules changes. In that article, she highlights some of the possible changes:

Shorten the time that lawmakers -- and the public -- have to scrutinize bills, including the multibillion state budget, before final votes.

Ban anyone, other than a "recognized employee of a news organization," from videotaping or taking photographs of House sessions and House committee meetings "without the express permissions of the speaker."

Spare lawmakers from having to disclose on whose behalf they have introduced a bill, such as a special-retirement bill.

Free committee clerks from having to keep minutes, including records of who testified pro and con...

...a proposal to give the majority leader, the minority leader and the speaker "voting rights" on every committee...

...raise the threshold from 30 signatures -- which comes close to matching the number that voted against Murphy's reelection as speaker -- to 42 of the 75 House members.

In the article, Ms. Gregg also noted certain responses to these proposed rules changes:

H. Philip West, the executive director of Common Cause, accused the House Rules Committee of trying to "restrict public access to information about public officials doing public business."

Others who turned out for last night's State House hearing on the proposed rule changes used words like "drastic," "burdensome" and "unncessary" to describe the efforts by House leaders...

In response to these concerns, Speaker Murphy claimed:

...we are just trying to run the House of Representatives more efficiently...

Just like Mussolini promised to make the trains run on time?

Ed Achorn of the ProJo continues the public debate with an editorial that discusses these proposed changes:

The man who holds the most powerful political position in Rhode Island, House Speaker William Murphy (D.-West Warwick), is trying to assert that power...

Far more ominous, though, are recent moves to enhance his power at the expense of the public. House leaders have rolled out proposed rules changes that could make Rhode Island politics even more of an insider's game, with less opportunity for the public to play a meaningful role and check bad ideas or potential corruption...

Information is power. The longer information can be kept from the public, the more powerful government agents can be...

Politicians understand that public knowledge of government is perhaps the greatest check on their power. That is why the Founders drafted the First Amendment, which barred the government from controlling the press...

Watch carefully, your freedom continues to be at risk.


A more recent ProJo article confirms the worst fears of freedom-loving Rhode Islanders. Here are some of the frightening excerpts:

The end-of-session maneuvering that has enabled state lawmakers to vote on major pieces of legislation -- without advance public notice or hearings -- could become the norm at the Rhode Island State House, rather than an exception, under new rules approved by a committee last night.

Early in the session, House committees would still have to give the public 48-hour notice of their hearings on proposed legislation.

But even that rule could be waived by "the consent of the majority."

It would not apply, after a certain point, "to House bills returned from the Senate with amendment."

And a committee could, by majority vote, consider bills "not previously distributed in print or electronically to its members."

And from April 14 on, the 48-hour minimum-notice requirement that the legislature has imposed on all other government bodies, across the state, would go out the window.

A one-day notice requirement would take its place and what that could mean is this: A bill approved by a House committee on a Tuesday afternoon could potentially be put to a vote by the full House the following day...

...a proposed ban on the use of "video or photographic equipment" by anyone except "credentialed representatives of the news media,"...[led to a compromise]...the new ban would only apply to the use, by House members themselves, of video and still-cameras in the House chamber and committee rooms.

...the Rules Committee also backed off on another proposed rule change that would have reduced the amount of time between House Finance Committee approval and a full House vote that the $6-billion state budget has to be available for public scrutiny...

...For instance, the two Republicans pounced on this sentence: "A committee shall not consider any public bill or resolution not previously distributed in print or electronically to its members except by a majority vote of the members present."

Last year's House rules had a similar provision, but it required "the unanimous consent" of those present -- not a simple majority -- for a committee to take up a previously unseen bill...

The Republicans also questioned the need to make anyone who wanted to know how a committee voted to put that request in writing...

Barely mentioned last night was the removal from the House rules of a long-standing requirement that legislators identify, in writing, "any lobby group, individual or other entity," on whose behalf they have introduced a bill.

In its place, the House Rules Committee is proposing this language: "Upon presentation of testimony before a committee, the prime sponsor of a bill or a resolution shall provide to the committee the name of any individual, group or organization responsible for the substantive basis or text of the bill."...

The full House is expected to vote next week on these rules. Will you speak up before it is too late?


Well, it happened:

Veteran Republican lawmakers tried last night to school newer members in the House on what it was like in the days when special pension bills were rammed through the legislature -- unseen -- on voice votes, and lawmakers were unable to pry loose bills that might have averted the state's devastating banking crisis.

But the majority in the House voted again and again last night to roll back the clock to the way it used to work at the Rhode Island State House.

They voted down a Republican-backed effort to prevent House committees from considering -- and even voting -- on bills without any prior public notice, as long as a majority gave their consent.

They rejected a suggestion that the House adopt for itself the same minimum two-day public-notice requirement the legislature has applied to all other state and local agencies, from town councils, zoning boards and school committees on up.

They rejected a proposal that would have required House Speaker William J. Murphy's leadership team to let them see, in writing, every piece of legislation on which they are being asked to vote.

On a 39-to-28 vote, they also adopted new rules that will make it easier for the Democratic majority to make decisions that previously required "unanimous consent," and harder for anyone on the outs with the leadership to pry a bill from a committee to the House floor for a vote.

And what did Speaker Murphy and his ilk have to say in response to criticism?

... "For us to get things done, in my opinion, these rules are reasonable," Crowley said...

Deputy House Whip Paul E. Moura, D-Providence, told the Republicans to "stop acting like the Philadelphia Eagles. You lost the game. Stop crying."...

...one after another, Murphy's legislative lieutenants rose to try to disabuse the freshmen of the notion that the public-notice requirements and other reforms ...were anything more than "a scam."...

Ed Achorn of the ProJo has commented on the vote:

But most people understand some basic facts of human nature: Unchecked power corrupts. Secrecy allows the powerful to serve themselves at the expense of the public. Citizen participation, openness and transparency are the hallmarks of well-run governments.

Mr. Murphy and his allies have made it harder for those outside their inner circle to know what is going on in time to influence legislation. They have given themselves greater power to ram through bad bills. They have made the majority -- as defined by House leaders -- immensely powerful.

Those outside Mr. Murphy's circle are no longer guaranteed that they may even read legislation before it comes to a vote. And the House refused to abide by the same open-meeting disclosure requirements it imposes on cities and towns...

Rhode Island's recent history amply demonstrates what happens when checks on power are removed. In the banking crisis, citizens and taxpayers suffered devastating financial losses, and the public's faith in its government was dealt a grievous blow...

What a sad day for freedom in Rhode Island. How un-principled. How un-American.


Former state legislator Rod Driver has written an editorial entitled "Rhode Island House: Back to the Bad '80's" on the issues addressed in this posting. Here are a few highlights:

Feb. 17, 2005, was a dark day for Rhode Island. In the 1980s, special pension bills had been slipped through the General Assembly unseen. Credit-union regulatory bills were quietly killed, without even a committee vote. A bill to eliminate credit-union liquidity reserves was passed under false representations. These and other outrages cost Rhode Islanders hundreds of millions of dollars.

So in the early '90s, the House of Representatives adopted some new rules. Committee chairmen were required to honor sponsors' requests for consideration of their bills. The public was to be notified of hearings on bills. Members were to be allowed to see bills before voting on them, and the House would pass no more than 40 bills in one day...

But in 2005, Rep. William Murphy (D.-West Warwick) was re-elected speaker, by a vote of "only" 45 to 30. So on Feb. 17, a majority in the House acted to give the speaker virtually every bit of power that the position might previously have lacked -- shutting out the minority entirely. During a four-hour debate on the rules for 2005, the majority rejected 20 attempts (by Representatives Savage, Watson, Gorham, Long, Amaral, Voccola, Menard, Caprio, Smith, Ehrhardt and others) to preserve some of the safeguards...

Last year's rules provided that if a committee chairman fails to consider a bill at the sponsor's request, the speaker "shall" send the bill directly to the House for consideration. The new rules say that the speaker "may" do so -- at his or her discretion.

A petition to discharge a bill from committee will now require the signatures of 38 representatives, instead of 30. (The no longer sufficient 30 is the number of votes Rep. John DeSimone got in his unsuccessful race for speaker.)

Among other new rules, the speaker, the majority leader, and the minority leader may drop in on any committee to vote on any bill.

A committee may consider a bill without notice to the public and without copies' being distributed. It only requires the acquiescence of a simple majority of the committee members who happen to be in the room.

Representatives may now have little opportunity to see bills before voting on them. Bills may be distributed as late as half a day before the House votes -- and sometimes not at all.

A bill may skip the committee process entirely and be passed immediately on the floor unread, unless one-third of the members object. Even in the 1980s, any one member could insist that a bill go through the committee process.

And if any power for the speaker and majority leader has somehow been overlooked, the new rules may now be suspended without the consent of the minority leader...

Why would any representative think these activities or the new rules are acceptable? For that matter, why does the majority routinely do whatever the speaker wants?

The answer lies in a simple, unwritten, self-fulfilling rule: To get one's bills passed, a representative needs the blessing of the speaker. And to earn this blessing, the representative must do whatever the speaker wants.

This irresponsible process will not change until legislators add more calcium to their backbones -- or Rhode Island voters and media pundits start paying attention. We Rhode Islanders criticize the General Assembly, but we traditionally re-elect our representatives and senators, or promote them to higher office, oblivious of their records...

Driver then lists who voted for these unfortunate new rules. He asks a good question each of us should ask ourselves: Why do we re-elect or promote the very people in RI government who consciously strip away our freedoms?

Does our passivity get us what we deserve? What have you personally done to improve the quality of the political debate in Rhode Island?

An Example of Abusing History for Rhetorical Advantage

Marc Comtois

If you're interested, over at Spinning Clio I've posted on how a piece of historical "fact" has been misused to support the oft-used "the-Founders-weren't-religious" argument. (Fair warning: it deals with treaty language.)

Hanson Offers Ten Reasons Why We Need Democracy in the Middle East

Marc Comtois

In our continuing effort to expose Rhode Islanders (and others) to conservative thought, I highly recommend reading Victor Hanson's Why Democracy?:Ten reasons to support democracy in the Middle East. Hanson begins with a helpful summarization of the various views of the predominant foreign policy "schools":

Neoconservatives hope that a democratic Iraq and Afghanistan can usher in a new age of Middle Eastern consensual government that will cool down a century-old cauldron of hatred. Realists counter that democratic roots will surely starve in sterile Middle East soil, and it is a waste of time to play Wilsonian games with a people full of anti-American hatred who display only ingratitude for the huge investment of American lives and treasure spent on their freedom. Paleoconservatives prefer to spend our treasure here at home, while liberals oppose anything that is remotely connected with George W. Bush or refutes their own utopian notions of a world to be adjudicated by a paternal United Nations. All rightly fear demonocracy — the Arafat or Iranian unconstitutional formula of "one vote, one time."
I recommend reading the piece in its entirety, but for those short on time, here's a summary of the answer to a question Hanson poses, "So why exactly should we support the daunting task of democratizing the Middle East and how is it possible?":
1. It is widely said that democracies rarely attack other democracies. Thus the more that exist in the world — and at no time in history have there been more such governments than today — the less likely is war itself. . .

2. More often than not, democracies arise through violence — either by threat of force or after war with all the incumbent detritus of humiliation, impoverishment, and revolution. . .

3. Democracies are more likely to be internally stable, inasmuch as they allow people to take credit and accept blame for their own predicaments. They keep their word, or as Woodrow Wilson once put it, "A steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by a partnership of democratic nations. . ."

4. The democratic idea is contagious. We once worried about the negative Communist domino theory, but the real chain reaction has always been the positive explosion of democracy. . .

5. In the case of the Muslim world, there is nothing inherently incompatible between Islam and democracy. Witness millions in India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Turkey who vote. Such liberal venting may well explain why those who blow up Americans are rarely Indian or Turkish Muslims, but more likely Saudis or Egyptians. The trick is now to show that Arab Muslims can establish democracy, and thus the Palestine and Iraq experiments are critical to the entire region.

6. Democracy brings moral clarity and cures deluded populaces of their false grievances and exaggerated hurts. The problem in the Middle East is the depressing relationship between autocracies and Islamists: Illiberal governments fault the Americans and Jews for their own failure. Thus in lieu of reform, strongmen deflect popular frustration by allowing the Wahhabis, al Qaedists, and other terrorists to use their state-controlled media likewise to blame us rather than a Mubarak, Saudi Royal Family, or Saddam Hussein. . .

7. We fret rightly about the spread of weapons of mass destruction. But the truth is that we worry mainly about nukes in the hands of autocracies like China, Iran, or North Korea. . . We cannot expect a successful democratic Germany or Japan to sit back and watch criminal states like Iran and North Korea go nuclear without expecting them to do the same — thus the need now to support democratic agitation in Tehran and elsewhere.

8. The promotion of democracy abroad by democracy at home is internally consistent and empowers rather than embarrasses a sponsoring consensual society. All sensible Europeans and Americans eventually ask themselves why freedom is fine for us but not for others. . .

9. By promoting democracies, Americans can at last come to a reckoning with the Cold War. If it was wrong then to back a shah or Saudi Royal family ("keep the oil flowing and the Commies out") or to abandon Afghanistan after repelling the Soviets, it is surely right now not to repeat the error of realpolitik. . .

10. Like it or not, a growing consensus has emerged that consumer capitalism and democracy are the only ways to organize society. We are not at the end of history yet — wars and revolutions may well plague us for decades. But if we cannot achieve universal democracy, we can at least get near enough to envision it. . .

Crossing Up Cicilline

Marc Comtois

So, Providence Mayor Cicilline thinks he's made quite a deal with the Providence Crossing Guard union because he negotiated down the hourly wage of new guards from $16.95 to $11.20. The truth of the matter is that guards are guaranteed a four hour work day, so it is essentially a 20 hour, $224/week salaried position. This is to make sure the kids cross the street and the cars stop. Providence, Cranston and Warwick are the only cities in the state that pay crossing guards. The efforts, and results, of Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey against the Cranston crossing guards are well-known, and Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian made a deal last year that was more than this taxpayer could accept. The Providence deal doesn't strike me as any sort of "deal":

  • Taxpayer-funded free health care for life for all crossing guards with 10 years' service.
  • A guaranteed four hours of "work" a day -- though only part of that time is spent supervising children crossing streets -- letting guards rack up a total of 20 hours a week and thus be eligible for city pensions. The guards will use up the extra time by patrolling schools and doing whatever principals tell them to do, said John Simmons, the mayor's director of administration.
  • Protection against privatization of the crossing-guard program (Cranston discovered that private companies were willing to deliver the service at a much lower cost). The contract stipulates that layoffs cannot exceed 10 percent of the workforce.
  • Minuscule co-pays for health insurance. Crossing guards would pay only .006 percent of their base salary for an individual program, and .0138 percent of their salary for a family program. Do the math: If their annual salary is about $8,006, they would pay $48 a year for the individual plan. (But at least the city got its foot in the door by requiring some co-pay!)
  • Free dental coverage.
  • Extra money if they don't participate in the health plan -- say, because a spouse on the public payroll already gets free coverage. Crossing guards would get $750 a year for declining the individual plan.
  • Another $8 a day from the taxpayers, to go into a fund to pay for drug prescriptions, vision care and "wellness" benefits.
  • Another $8 a day per guard to go into the Laborers' pension fund.
  • An extra $1.20 per day per guard to go into a Laborers'-connected legal fund.
  • Time off, with pay, for three crossing guards to engage in union negotiations.
  • Paid vacations.
Look, I don't mean to attack the individual crossing guards: they can't be blamed for wanting a good deal. Nonetheless, these are the types of agreements that add up to create the huge government/union Shelob, never sated, always hungry and always happy when the political Gollums bring her another juicy morsel of taxpayer money. Until taxpayers start taking elected officials to task, by either voicing their complaints or kicking the Gollums out of office, Shelob will engorge herself and continue to grow, ever looking for more.

February 10, 2005

RE: A Wacky Idea

Marc Comtois

Hm. Well, now it's my turn to think out loud. Dems-->Repubs has been done before, especially in the south. But I somehow doubt such would occur here. Instead, what would probably happen is that Langevin would become characterized as an "independent" Democrat. My guess is that the "politics of the polity" in Rhode Island would be slow to change, if at all. In fact, now that I think of it, Rhode Island takes great pride in being the rebel....it's been that way since, well, Roger Williams ---> and then the Constitution! So, somehow I think most Rhode Islanders would embrace playing the part of the "rogue" state..."Rogue Island" was coined many years ago, after all.

Re: Re: Foregone Conclusion, a Wacky Idea

Justin Katz

You raise some interesting points, Marc, and you've sparked a wacky idea — just an out-of-the-box consideration, really, but...

Assuming that we don't manage to change the political culture in Rhode Island to begin unseating incumbents, and given current political trends, what are the chances that a Langevin in the tenth or fifteenth year of his reign might switch parties? If Republicans continue to cement their position in the federal government, and if the Democrats continue to refuse to risk losing their kooks, I wonder if a relatively conservative, relatively young senatorial Democrat mightn't find it in his state's interest (and his own) to make the switch.

Just thinking out loud.

RE: A Foregone Conclusion

Marc Comtois

A commenter to Justin's post remarks:

One would hope that maybe Steve Laffey would challenge Linc for the Republican nod. Of course the White House would probably offer the traitorous Chafee the same support it gave Arlen Specter. In a Kennedy-Chafee race, truly a contest of empty suits I think I would have to abstain. Should Langevin throw his hat in the ring, I could be comfortable voting for him against Chafee.
To which another responded:
I respectfully disagree. Unless RI Democrats run someone to the right of Chafee, I think Republicans should faithfully pull the Chafee lever. Failure to do so would elect yet one more liberal Democrat and bring Harry Reid one vote closer to being Majority Leader.

Further, dumping Chafee so that a civil war will break out in the RI GOP would be a death knell for the Republican Party in that state. RI is not secretly waiting for the true conservatives to ride back in and save them from mushy moderates. To the contrary, RI is one of the most liberal states in the nation. The only kind of Republican that can win there is the liberal kind. It's this kind of thinking --- that conservatives should demand nothing less than ideological purity --- that has destroyed the GOP in Illinois, New Jersey, and California.

As they say: "Aye, thar's the rub!" That Chafee is a Republican benefits all Rhode Islanders because he belongs to the party in power, even if he is a bit out of the Republican mainstream. Some view his "rogue" status as a political benefit and he garners much admiration for his "independent" nature, much like Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. However, there is a difference between he and the two senators from the Pine Tree State. While they may be independent, Chafee is more, well, "loose." To wit, Senator Chafee has:

  • Come out against and then for the President's Social Security Reform proposal.
  • Vacillated over whether to "stay" a Republican.
  • Voted for the wrong Bush.

And these are just a few recent examples.

In essence, Chafee has continued to be a pain in the neck to the conservative core of the Republican party. And though some view him as just another "independent" Northeast Liberal Republican like Snowe and Collins, Chafee's actions have convinced many Ocean Staters that he is less "independent" and more "loose cannon."

What Republican, other than Chafee, should conservatives support? The first rule of Rhode Island politics is name recognition. Thus, I think Governor Carcieri, a "kinder, gentler" Republican, is the type of Republican who would be palatable to both the Republican core and the Rhode Island electorate at large. Steve Laffey is a firebrand, and we conservatives love his style, but he would have a tough time selling himself to many of the traditional RI liberal voters. Yet, Laffey does have the aura of a populist about him, and that can be just as appealing as party affiliation or political ideology to many undecided voters.

Langevin has that name recognition and his life story is compelling, capped by his heroic triumph over personal tragedy to hold a U.S. House seat. He is a rare pro-life Democrat in a heavily Catholic state, which allows traditionally conservative Catholics to vote with their Democrat predispostions with a clear conscience. In short, he's the strongest Democrat candidate in the field.

I think Langevin would beat Chafee and lose to Carcieri in a close race. A contest between he and Laffey would be fun, but Langevin would win by 4-6 points because Laffey's hard-charging style simply turns some people off and alienates union households (and we know how many of those are in Rhode Island).

Politically, supporting Langevin would be a mistake for conservatives. It would be a risky venture to rid the Republican party of Chafee now in the (faint?) hope of recapturing the seat at a future date with a more ideologically "pure" candidate. Given the political proclivities of the Rhode Island polity--"we will remove no incumbent unless he's REALLY corrupt (or inept)"-- if Langevin ever won the Senate seat, he would be extremely difficult to dislodge.

If Republicans were to get rid of Chafee, it would have to be done in the Republican primary. However, if the attempt failed and he survived, it would be politically wise to support him in the general election. Romantic notions have no place in politics: maintaining political power (senate seats), even by electing a candidate whose views lay outside of the ideological norm of the party, is preferable to losing power, even if the perception is that the loss in power would be more illusory than real. Voting for a Democrat, no matter how appealling he may be, for the sake of ousting an ideological pariah would probably result in a near-permanent surrendering of both Senate seats to the Democrats, especially in a state dominated by Democrats. Thats the political angle.

However, there is also another angle: following your conscience. Who would be the best man for the job? If the race is indeed Chafee v. Langevin, I believe it would be Langevin. I disagree with him on some of his political stances, but I also agree with him on some issues that are significant to conservatives. The political differences between he and Chafee are marginal, but on the single biggest conservative issue, abortion, it is Langevin who is pro-life while Chafee is pro-abortion. Also, Langevin supported the Iraq War, while Chafee didn't. Langevin strongly opposes the President's Social Security Reform proposals, while Chafee has been tepid. However, probably the most important factor is this: Langevin simply isn't as "kooky" as Chafee.

Thus, the quandry. Should conservatives take the political gamble and support a Democrat in the hope of pulling a thorn from their side, even if it could mean permanent loss of national power for RI Republicans? Does the fact that the Langevin is conservative on some key issues serve as a pallative? What of the risk that the seat could eventually be filled by one more ideologically liberal than Langevin? However, this last is mitigated by an earlier point: Rhode Islanders do love their incumbents. Thus, if conservatives are willing to have Langevin as their Senator for six years, they had better be ready to have him as their Senator for thirty years. For some, especially those for whom abortion is the most important issue, this will be entirely acceptable.

ADDENDUM: A comment by The Senescent Man reminded me that I had neglected to point to a similar conversation on his blog. He is very optimistic about a Steve Laffey run.

A Foregone Conclusion (Or Is It "Forgone"?)

Justin Katz

Ramesh Ponnuru raises a sore point for Rhode Island conservatives:

If Langevin wins the Democratic primary, I'd be open to the idea that conservatives should support him over Chafee. Langevin at least votes pro-life most of the time.

I'll admit that I don't get out there and network as much as I should, but my sense is that there's a whole lot of antipathy to Chafee among Rhode Island conservatives. In fact, I've never observed even hesitance when I've half-joked that we should make it a cause to unseat him, regardless of who would take his place in the Rhode Island delegation.

Unless the choice is between Chafee and Patrick Kennedy, even a liberal Democrat may benefit from conservatives' skipping that line on the ballot. Personally, I think there's a strong argument to be made that our long-term interests are better served by letting the seat slip, clearing the boards for the looming intra-Republican scuffle, and attempting to rebuild the state's political balance once that hard first step is over.

Of course, the wonkish wisdom of the move may not ultimately be a factor anyway. Especially taking into account Senator Chafee's general conduct and demeanor since September 11, many of us just don't have the mastery of our emotions to actively assist in perpetuating the embarrassment.

February 9, 2005

Two Comparisons via Diorama-Like Assemblages

Justin Katz

Only seventeen years old, and one Charlestown, Rhode Island, high school student already has the contemporary "no thought required" art world all figured out:

Jeffrey Eden devised his award-winning project less than 30 minutes after his high school art teacher asked him to express a thought or two in a three-dimensional way. ...

The student's diorama-like assemblage juxtaposes Hitler quotes with statements by Mr. Bush, Nazi swastikas with American flags, desert-colored toy soldiers with olive plastic figures. And so on.

He's got the Rhode Island education establishment figured out, too. Apart from an A from Lynn Norton, his teacher, Eden took home a "silver key" at the Rhode Island Scholastic Art Awards, and the work, "Bush/Hitler and How History Repeats Itself," is on display at the Seekonk, Massachusetts, Alperts Furniture Showplace. And to cap it all off, he's gotten art-world manna: publicity.

The man who "phoned TV stations and newspapers to complain about a high school student's art project" has gotten publicity, too. The Providence Journal begins its follow-up article by reporting that a "few of Paul Lewis' friends called him an 'angry Republican' yesterday." By way of contrast, the grownups who've pushed young master Eden into the spotlight haven't anything to say — teaching our state's youth another important lesson about the liberal strongholds of education and art:

Leaders of the art association refuse to identify the three judges who picked the project entered by Jeffrey Eden, a junior at Chariho Regional High School, to be one of the winners in the three-dimensional category.

Mary Wayland, who chaired the awards committee, and Christine Mullen, a teacher at Mt. Hope High School and president of the Rhode Island Art Education Association, say they want judges to have the freedom to make decisions without worrying about a public outcry.

No explanation of opinions is required. Standing up for principle isn't the job of the fifteen "teachers and professional artists." Even Ms. Norton doesn't step forward to edify the public about the work's merits — or defend the A that she gave it. Instead, the initial article saved that space for Jeff Eden to illustrate his further mastery of the artist's empty-nuance dodge:

He thinks they show that the work is comparing Hitler and President Bush -- not equating them.

"I felt I was clear about what I was trying to get across," he said. "I believe those who misconstrued the artwork didn't take the time to really read into it."

Those who do take the time to do some reading would discover the following:

To the right of President Bush, Eden's handwriting said "No justification" and "Saddam had no affiliation with the Taliban and there are no weapons of mass destruction."

We can only speculate that the fact that nobody has ever cared whether Saddam was affiliated with the Taliban was the reason Ms. Norton withheld the "+" from the grade. Or perhaps the artwork is brilliant after all... if its point is that one needn't be concerned with facts while making facile "comparisons" of the sitting President of the United States to one of the greatest monsters of the twentieth century.

Either way, there are at least sixteen adults who would be well served by the multipart educational supplement that Rocco DiPippo suggests for the seventeen year old. Perhaps during the "hour of post-liberation death camp videos showing the bodies of Hitler's victims being bulldozed into mass graves" one of the professional artists could contrive a "diorama-like assemblage" comparing bitter New England liberals with Iraqis dancing in the street and crying for joy at the opportunity to vote.

Of course, the desire of the former to secure the "freedom to make decisions without worrying about a public outcry" has meant that one side of the juxtaposition would be faceless. Luckily, the other side would have plenty of pictures, even though they were provided at the risk of their subjects' losing the freedom not to be decapitated.

RIC v Felkner: A New Voice

Marc Comtois

We have written of the educational travesty being committed against Bill Felkner by the Rhode Island College School of Social Work before. Now, similarly outraged, Brian Bishop of The Foundation for Intellectual Diversity at Brown University has produced a well-reasoned explanation as to why so many of us find the actions of those who run RIC's School of Social Work intellectually wrongheaded and discriminatory.

The extent to which various paradigms of benefit provision lead toward independence is the fundamental measure of welfare's effectiveness, according to both social workers and "wascally Wepublicans." As would be expected, the greatest debate in substantive welfare reform is how to characterize the results of different approaches.

In Rhode Island, such debate is expected to take place at the School of Social Work at Rhode Island College. But recent public scrutiny indicates that the school views itself as an advocate for a single outlook, rather than as an academic institution considering, with openness, the merits of diverse methods.

The School of Social Work -- joined at the hip to RIC's Poverty Institute -- operates on the premise that government benefits confer personal dignity, especially as opposed to dogged self-reliance or private charity.

The school's charter appears to suggest that it is a failing of the rest of society that folks lie in mean estate, and thus the responsibility of society to provide for them in a nonjudgmental way. It teaches that a panoply of benefits are virtual rights for potential recipients. If any of the assistance available under the ironic rubric of promoting family "independence" is not used, the program is condemned as inflexible.

Thus, the latest marching orders for School of Social Work students is to lobby, as part of a required course, for extending educational benefits to those on welfare beyond the first two years of eligibility. The reasoning behind extending benefits is that a new mother either has little choice about spending these early years with her child or might prefer to do so.

Bishop explained Felkner's case and contrasted the attitude of the RIC SSW with the students at Brown University who "recognized what their faculty did not: that a refusal to permit certain ideas to be expressed based on presupposition about their merits is an embarrassment to the tradition of liberal education." While I'm heartened to see such "activism" by Brown's students, I'm not surprised that there seems to be little faculty support. (Though the fact that Bishop's foundation is at Brown is cause for hope). Nonetheless, Bishop properly asked the Rhode Island government to put the heat on the state funded schools to insist on academic diversity.
It is not the business of the state to tell private institutions what constitutes a proper academic environment, but these are state institutions. Thus, it is not only proper but paramount for the legislature to adopt a similar academic bill of rights for the state's university and its colleges, as these schools seem disinclined to confront their failings on their own.
We shall see.

ADDENDUM: A "source" tells us that, thanks in large part to the efforts of Brian Bishop, RI State Senator Kevin Breene will be submitting a bill that will allow the RI Board of Governors for Higher Education to implement an Academic Bill of Rights. Presumably, this will be applicable to all of the schools under the purview of the board: URI, RIC, and CCRI. When the bill becomes available online, we will post it here.

February 8, 2005

Rhode Island Politics & Taxation, Part VIII

This posting continues a periodic series on Rhode Island politics and taxation, building on seven previous postings (I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII).

Our friends at Rhode Island Policy Analysis do some fine work. You can find a running commentary on the latest news in our state on their website here.

Here is a posting from February 1:

The Government Performance Project was originally a groundbreaking multi-year effort at the Maxwell School of Government at Syracuse University to measure the managment performance of the fifty states, using a consistent set of criteria for efficiency and effectiveness. It has recently spun off into a separate organization funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Yesterday, they published their 2005 "Grading the States Report."

Rhode Island received an overall grade of "C+" for the management performance of our state government. It would have been higher but for the fact that we were one of only two states that received a "D+" in people management (no state scored lower). Why? Do you have to ask?

[The report notes:] "Constrained by union regulations, Rhode Island does not have a much freedom in hiring as many other states...Career advancement for union employees is largely based on seniority...Very few state employees receive performance reviews, due to union objections...Rewarding employees for good performance is also a challenge, where time spent on the job has a much greater effect on salaries."

And we wonder why in so many areas, from education to infrastructure to helping the needy, Rhode Island taxpayers spend much more (in relative terms) than other states, but get much worse performance? Thank you Frank Montanaro.

Here is an additional comment from the report:

Generous pensions will put a lot of stress on the budget for fiscal year 2006, because pension contributions are slated to go up from 12 percent of employee pay to 17 percent to keep up with actuarial calculations.

Rhode Island is a state that has the potential to be greater than it currently is. Both of the issues highlighted above result from demands from the public sector unions that get translated into specific and onerous contract language. Our state will continue to wallow in an unnecessary and expensive mediocrity until we have the courage and critical mass to tackle this issue.


Marc has a recent posting that elaborates on the significant direct influence organized labor has in the state legislature. A ProJo editorial has also weighed in on this matter. It contributes to a better understanding of the issue raised in a recent editorial in the Providence Business News, which added the following commentary about the Pew report:

...the report found that just 10 percent of state employees in Rhode Island are evaluated on a regular basis. That is simply unacceptable.

We hear so often of the stronghold that labor unions have on state government here and that kind of statistic is evidence of how strong that hold is. It represents the results of pro-labor lobbying efforts at the Legislature and concessions in contracts that eventually impact the day-to-day operation of state government.

Failing to evaluate 90 percent of state employees on a regular basis is a recipe for mediocrity – or worse. It isn’t fair to taxpayers who directly pay the salaries for these workers and it isn’t fair to those hard-working state employees who may fail to be recognized – or perhaps, promoted – for their efforts.

February 7, 2005

"Get On Board Now" — Good Advice, That!

Justin Katz

The guys at PRESSblog, a Rhode Island blog for marketers, have reviewed a number of Southern New England blogs "to determine what value they might have to advertisers." Although I may be, you know, mildly biased, I think they give some great advice when it comes to Anchor Rising:

Will Appeal to: Republican candidates for office, especially in Rhode Island. In fact, a savvy candidate would look to get on board now to help early fundraising. It can also appeal to organizations supporting conservative causes, including those pushing for a federal marriage amendment or, more locally, opposing a Rhode Island casino.

I'd also add a general consideration that PRESSblog doesn't mention, perhaps because it's somewhat outside of the offline advertising model. As described in a recent article about comment spam, blogs are disproportionately powerful when it comes to reaching the top of the list created by search engine algorithms. Investment in a few relatively inexpensive, long-running ads could ensure that a particular site makes the first page of a Google search for relevant terms.

So, for any of a host of reasons, any savvy candidates out there should feel free to email me at any time to help with our their fundraising!

It occurs to me that we haven't noted the paid text ads that we already have on the Sponsors tab at left.

As a general policy, although we will attempt reasonable diligence, advertising doesn't necessarily equal endorsement. If we've experience with an advertiser's product, we will likely write about it, and if we need something that an advertiser has on offer, we would probably take the opportunity to try it out. We also welcome feedback from readers about their own experiences.

RE: Airing the Lottery Commision's "Chaos"

Marc Comtois

As Justin wrote last week, none of us were really surprised that "independent" lawyer Joseph Tarantino sided with the Legislature on whether their members could legally stay on the Lotto Commission given that Separation of Powers had been passed. (He said "Yes"). Now, it has been reported that Tarantino managed to profit financially, too.

The Lottery Commission's recent legal opinion from lawyer John A. Tarantino suggesting it was outside the purview of a separation-of-powers constitutional amendment carried a $16,375 price tag.

That's more than $1,000 a page for the 14-page opinion.

Tarantino, a lawyer with Adler Pollock & Sheehan, is also defending Lincoln Park -- the greatest provider of lottery revenue -- in its federal corruption trial.

The Lottery Commission, at its Nov. 22 meeting, had voted 7-2 to hire Tarantino and John A. "Terry" MacFadyen III, of MacFadyen, Gescheidt & O'Brien, to give separate opinions regarding commission and separation of powers.

The motion, which came at the suggestion of the commission chairman, Rep. Robert E. Flaherty, D-Warwick, allocated a total of $50,000 for the two opinions, according to commission lawyer Robert M. Silva.

MacFadyen is not moving forward his opinion, Silva said, because of the "changing landscape" around separation of powers, specifically House Speaker William J. Murphy's decision not to seek an advisory opinion from the Supreme Court on whether lawmakers can stay on the commission.

But just for the record: C. Leonard O'Brien of MacFadyen, Gescheidt & O'Brien is the defense lawyer for another of the defendants in the Lincoln Park bribery-conspiracy case: Nigel Potter, former chief executive of Lincoln Park's British parent company.

That Tarantino was paid for his report isn't surprising, but the revelation of the incestuous relationships between the Lotto Commision, it's advisors and the Lincoln Park fiasco is indeed cause for an alarmed, if not surprised, eyebrow raise.

February 6, 2005

Where is the Moral Outrage? Part IV

The problem of intellectual harassment in academia is so pervasive that, I am sorry to say, Where is the Moral Outrage? is now an ongoing series. This posting builds on previous postings here, here, and here.

Marc has highlighted several other recent examples of a Brown University professor and Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado.

In further commentary on Ward Churchill, Power Line highlights another example of the pathetic behavior within the academy. In that posting, they quote Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprises Institute:

First, "freedom of speech" on most major university campuses nowadays is a fraud. When America's greatest living historian of the antebellum south, Stephan Thernstrom [of Harvard], is prevented from teaching that course ["The Peopling of America"] because black students protest against a white man teaching it, you know that free speech is over. I work at a place staffed with people who should, by the quality of their work, be in major university chairs, but they are not because the universities do not want people with those ideas. So nobody should think that there's "freedom of speech" to defend.

Continuing on, they then expand on the Thernstrom situation:

In 1988 three students accused Professor Thernstrom of "racial insensitivity" in teaching his "Peopling of America" course as a result of his discussion of Jim Crow laws and his quotation from Southern plantation journals in a lecture. The response of the Harvard administration to the students' baseless charges against him left Professor Thernstrom profoundly unsatisfied:
I felt like a rape victim, and yet the silence of the administration seemed to give the benefit of the doubt to the students who attacked me. Maybe I was naive, but I expected the university to come to my defense. I mean, that's what academic freedom is about, isn't it? Instead I was left out there by myself, guilty without being proven guilty. I could not even defend myself, because the charge of racism and racial insensitivity is ultimately unanswerable.

Professor Thernstrom decided for the foreseeable future not to offer his "Peopling of America" course. "It just isn't worth it," he said. "Professors who teach race issues encounter such a culture of hostility, among some students, that some of these questions are simply not teachable any more, at least not in an honest, critical way."

The American academy should be ashamed of itself. This is behavior we would expect out of the former Soviet Union, not America.

February 5, 2005

Fanaticism, in Essence

Justin Katz

People hold religious, social, or any other beliefs in varying degrees. Some treat them as relative, and whimsically; belief is a matter of perspective, so everybody's beliefs are equally true, including the changing beliefs of an individual over time. Such people are metastatically dangerous, in their way, but the more palpable threat comes from the opposite end of the spectrum: those for whom beliefs are to be so rigidly held that they cannot be questioned, even implicitly through the equal endowment of rights to speech and association.

That, in essence, is fanaticism. One can believe that Truth requires total abstinence or that Truth permits untrammeled indulgence without being a fanatic. In contrast, one can coat even moderation in fanaticism if the possibilities of both licentiousness and prudery are unspeakable.

There's a strong whiff such negation in the preemptive removal of a Ten Commandments monument from Roger Williams Park in Providence:

CITY LAWYERS confirmed last week that they began thinking about removing the monument, given to the city in 1963 by the Fraternal Order of Eagles, after getting a complaint from a local taxpayer, A. Gregory Frazier, a former lawyer who volunteers for the ACLU. ...

Given the "politically sensitive" nature of the matter, [Deputy City Solicitor Adrienne G. Southgate] says, city lawyers were happy to find a solution that would avoid litigation and at the same time spare the city the expense of removing the monument itself.

Assistant solicitor Raymond Dettore... told Raymond Bonenfant, the secretary, that the monument would have to be removed, and the Eagles could have it back if they so wished. ... In August, Steven Brown, the ACLU's executive director, reminded the city that the monument was still there and needed to be moved. Feeling anxious about the delay, Southgate directed Bob McMahon, deputy parks superintendent, to cover the monument with a tarp.

However, city solicitor Joseph M. Fernandez says that when he mentioned the tarp to Mayor Cicilline during a briefing, Cicilline blocked Southgate's order, saying covering the Ten Commandments with a tarp didn't seem appropriate.

Fernandez said it was the first time the Ten Commandments display came up in their conversation, and doesn't know if the mayor knew about the plans for the monument before that day.

Perhaps it's the direct symbolism of the case — with the monument out in the open on a substantial expanse of public land. Or perhaps it's the way in which bare hints of lawsuits and a private group's "reminders" brought about the swift removal of a monument that was a fixture in the park for more than four decades, almost without the awareness of a single visible elected representative. But the episode makes absolutely clear the impossibility of compromise, or even of coexistence between ideologies.

Contrast the monument's purgation with this aspect of its history:

At first, the Eagles rejected the proposal [to send copies of the Ten Commandments to courthouses throughout the country], concerned that since there are three different versions of the commandments it might be seen as coercive or sectarian. But that changed when a group of Protestant, Jewish and Catholic laymen produced a version acceptable to all three groups.

The same general approach could accommodate other groups whose religions don't incorporate the Decalogue at all. It would be possible for public discussion to distill the relevant significance of the monument in the public square and, identifying echoes in the other traditions, develop a solution. When the fanatical ideology demands an absence of a particular form of expression on public land, however, no such compromise is possible — only denial and disparagement, as Stan Strain, from Modesto, California, illustrated to perfection in his letter to the editor of the Providence Journal:

I object to having religious writings and objects on public land. However, I would tolerate them if the government allowed another monument of equal size next to each one, stating that Jesus Christ is a mythical figure, and those who believe in imaginary gods and demons are suffering from a form of mental illness.

A healthy society will emphasize that which is shared, or at least comparable, between the cultures that it comprises. When the only permissible compromise is the erasure of all cultural heritage, the void that remains is a monument to fanaticism.

American Crusade for Life Unhallowed

Justin Katz

Miguel Guanipa's voice of reason has been trapped on my To Post list for a while:

Wherever there are children who dare recite the Pledge of Allegiance in a public school, judges who think the Ten Commandments should be displayed in the halls of justice, school principals who dare recite a prayer at a commencement affair, or citizens who dare suggest that offensive sexually explicit material should be removed from the hands of sexual predators, there you will inevitably find the ACLU valiantly persevering in its culturally dissonant crusade against them, until the cautionary voices of reason are finally silenced.

February 4, 2005

Oil-For-Food Update

Marc Comtois

According to an interim report by Paul Volcker, Benon Sevan, head of the Iraq/UN Oil-for-food program was as corrupt as was suspected.

An interim report by a commission investigating the U.N. oil-for- food program in Iraq said the former head of the program had violated the U.N. Charter by helping a company run by a friend obtain valuable contracts to sell Iraqi oil.

The conduct of Benon Sevan, a Cypriot official who ran the program between 1997 until its demise in 2003, was a "grave and continuing conflict of interest" and "seriously undermined the integrity of the United Nations," the report concludes. (source)

Some point out that the reputations of both Volcker and the UN are on the line. Volcker's report has caused many Iraqis to call for justice.
Anyone who stole from the UN's oil-for-food program for Iraq must stand trial and the money be repaid to the Iraqi people, Iraq's Human Rights Minister said.

Bakhtiar Amin praised Thursday's report by Paul Volcker, the former head of the US Federal Reserve charged with probing corruption in the program, and said it revealed that even UN dignitaries were not above robbing the poor for profit.

"It shows that some so-called dignitaries had not an iota of shame in their bones, no conscience and no morals," Mr Amin told Reuters in an interview.

"They profited as parasites on the misery of an impoverished nation."

It seems that "some of these so-called dignitaries" had an interest in maintaining the status quo in Iraq. Saddam Hussein in power meant money in their pockets. No Saddam, no money. But the UN's, and international community, couldn't possibly have opposed the War in Iraq for something as lowly as their own interests, could they?

WITMO (cont): Brown University President on Intellectual Diversity

Marc Comtois

Brown University President Ruth Simmons spoke about intellectual diversity on campus at her Spring Semester Opening Address on Wednesday.

After her speech. . .Simmons responded to students' questions on. . . the impact of faculty sharing political opinions in class. . .

Simmons began by telling the audience that one of the questions she receives most frequently when visiting Brown alums and parents around the country is, "What is the University doing about the lack of diversity of opinion on campus?" She said that students on campus of all political stripes have told her of "a chilling effect caused by the dominance of certain voices on the spectrum of moral and political thought."

Such a chilling effect is detrimental to education and intellectual inquiry because "we are often creatures of habit when it comes to learning. . .Familiar and appetizing offerings can certainly be a pleasing dimension of learning, but too much repetition of what we desire to hear can become intellectually debilitating," she said. . .

Simmons posed several questions she said should be addressed. . . whether Brown is "suppressing expression, limiting debate (and) fostering hostility to particular ideas and different perspectives. . .Why do so many hold up Brown as an example of the way that universities today circumscribe free expression?"

Simmons said a reasoned challenge to a perspective is "the most important obligation of scholarship" and the duty to enter debates lies with students themselves.

"Unchallenged opinion is a dark place that must be exposed to light," she said.

. . . To that end, Simmons said she would ask faculty leaders to produce a report for the Community Council that will explore "the climate for open debate on the campus" and suggest any remedies for improving students' "perceived sense of freedom ... with regard to expression and debate."

In the question-and-answer session following the speech, Danny Doncan '05 asked Simmons about the impact of faculty sharing their opinions and political positions in classes.

Simmons said though freedom of expression must apply to all, including faculty, "there is a relationship of power that exists in the classroom." She said her advice to professors would be "to ensure that every student feels empowered to enter into debate."

"One thing that's very hard for us to do as faculty is really (to) withhold enthusiasm for a subject. ... I remember when I was first starting as a faculty member, I discovered that the more I talked in class, the less the students did."

. . . With regard to Simmons' announcement of the new lecture fund, Etan Green '08 told The Herald he thought it was significant that the three most visible speakers last semester were Howard Dean, Noam Chomsky and Jesse Jackson. Green wondered if the new fund would work.

"With the significant leftist leanings, will anyone take advantage of (the fund), and will anyone show up?" he said.

Simmons is to be applauded for making this effort. Initially, I believed she was being either naive or disengenuous when she stated, according to the report, that challenging a point of view is "the most important obligation of scholarship" and that it was up to the student to engage in debate. However, in answer to a question, she later acknowledged the "relationship of power. . . in the classroom" between professor and student and recommended that every professor should "ensure that every student feels empowered to enter into debate." This left me to conclude that she understands the problem.

Apparently, so does the University of Colorado, which is taking steps to address the actions of Ward Churchill, "who likened World Trade Center victims to a notorious Nazi" and has lied about being an American Indian for the purpose of adding credibility to his radical teachings. The whole brouhaha started when Churchill was invited to speak at Hamilton College. (via Instapundit and The Belmont Club)

"It's Fun to Shoot Some People": How Headlines Don't Reflect the Story

Marc Comtois
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A senior U.S. Marine Corps general who said it was "fun to shoot some people" should have chosen his words more carefully but will not be disciplined, military officials said on Thursday.

Lt. Gen. James Mattis, who commanded troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and is slated to be portrayed by star actor Harrison Ford in an upcoming Hollywood movie, made the comments at a conference on Tuesday in San Diego, California.

"Actually it's quite fun to fight 'em, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front with you, I like brawling," Mattis said.

The reason he won't be disciplined is because the context in which he made the statement, which has been downplayed and certainly wasn't as "sexy", was
"You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil," Mattis said during a panel discussion. "You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
Now, I can understand the reluctance to officially condone such sentiments, but there are quite a few people, men and women, who share Mattis' sentiments.

A sidebar to the story: it is mentioned that Harrison Ford will portray Mattis in a movie. The movie is about the aborted assault on Fallujah in April 2004. The movie will be based on the book No True Glory: Fallujah and the Struggle in Iraq : A Frontline Account by Bing West, an imbed reporter who was with the U.S. Military during the battle.

Airing the Lottery Commission's "Chaos"

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal is urging "Governor Carcieri, House Speaker William Murphy and Senate President Joseph Montalbano to sit down together and work out some of the kinks in the implementation of separation of powers." While kinks should surely be worked out as quickly as possible, I'd prefer that these three Rhode Island leaders sit down before an audience for the discussion.

It's not that I distrust the governor to stand his ground, but the ordeal — especially when it comes to the $1.5-billion-a-year Lottery Commission — stinks so badly that all handling thereof ought to be done in the open air. The editorial uses the words "chaos" and "confusion," but as is often the case, putting all of the various pieces on the table, those qualities appear sown, not inherent.

At some point, the Lottery Commission hired lawyer John Tarantino to investigate whether the separation of powers amendment affected its composition. Tarantino, readers may recall, wrote a harsh commentary piece for the Projo attacking Ed Achorn for his "dangerous" rants about government corruption, and promised to offer his "honest opinion" about the "complex issue" that he was studying. Well, surprise, surprise, he's found as some folks, Ed Achorn perhaps among them, might have predicted:

Tarantino, of Adler Pollock & Sheehan, said the state Constitution grants the General Assembly "absolute power with respect to all matters pertaining to gambling. . ." He said separation of powers does not "appear explicitly or implicitly to undermine this precedent."

When I first read that Tarantino had been hired by the Commission itself, I thought the fact had a ring of independence. However, the same article reporting the fruits of his analysis explains that heretofore, the Commission consisted of three senators, three representatives, and three gubernatorial appointees. In other words, the question that the nine members charged the lawyer with answering was whether six of them could retain their positions.

In the meantime, House Speaker William Murphy and Senate President Joseph Montalbano raised questions "about the effect of the separation-of-powers amendment on the Lottery Commission and the Coastal Resources Management Council" (in Tarantino's words). As Ed Achorn says, the "political firestorm grew so hot that Speaker Murphy wisely backed off and pledged to respect the will of the people."

Even so, the three house representatives on the Lottery Commission insisted on staying put until Governor Carcieri's appointees are ready to take their place. And the Senate Judicary Committee has produced a perhaps prohibitively arduous questionnaire requiring those nominees — who are unpaid volunteers — to divulge full maps of their personal and financial lives since they turned eighteen.

The picture that emerges is of a legislature striving to keep its grip on the Lottery Commission for as long as possible. One can only imagine the nefarious intentions that the governor scuttled by maneuvering to keep the Commission attendance short of the five members needed to do any work at its first meeting of the year. But just to be safe, perhaps all negotiations and meetings ought to be pursued in full public view.

February 3, 2005

Letting the Executive Be Executive

Justin Katz

As a partial follow up to my previous post about the interwoven connections among the (let's call it) influencing class in Rhode Island, I note that the state's judiciary has permitted the governor to switch healthcare providers:

The state Supreme Court ruled today that the state can award the contract for its employees' health insurance to UnitedHealthcare of New England, over the objections of competitor Blue Cross & Blue Shield.

The high court said the state did not manage the bidding process as well as it could have, but still conducted it in good faith.

"We recognize the unfortunate fact that the state's officials did not handle the task of awarding the state's health care contract with the level of expertise that would be desirable," the court said in its ruling. "Any mistakes made during the process simply do not rise to the level of palpable abuse of discretion." ...

The United Contract will save Rhode Island taxpayers $25 million over the next three years, Carcieri said, and also enable Rhode Island cities and towns to save by contracting with United for the same administrative rate as the state.

While I'm glad that the executive branch secured the approval of the judiciary, in this case, trusting judges with the gauging of "abuse of discretion" in state business matters makes me a bit uneasy. Perhaps I'd feel differently if Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel could conceivably face any sort of adverse consequences from being overruled — especially since the executive branch has lost its say in the judiciary's budget.

Media Bias - or Just Incompetence?

During his State of the Union speech, President Bush introduced an Iraqi citizen with these words:

One of Iraq's leading democracy and human rights advocates is Safia Taleb al-Suhail. She says of her country, "we were occupied for 35 years by Saddam Hussein. That was the real occupation. Thank you to the American people who paid the cost but most of all to the soldiers." Eleven years ago, Safia's father was assassinated by Saddam's intelligence service. Three days ago in Baghdad, Safia was finally able to vote for the leaders of her country - and we are honored that she is with us tonight.

Subsequently, in praise of an American soldier who had given his life for freedom, the President said:

One name we honor is Marine Corps Sergeant Byron Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas, who was killed during the assault on Fallujah. His mom, Janet, sent me a letter and told me how much Byron loved being a Marine, and how proud he was to be on the front line against terror. She wrote, "When Byron was home the last time, I said that I wanted to protect him like I had since he was born. He just hugged me and said: 'You've done your job, mom. Now it's my turn to protect you.'" Ladies and gentlemen, with grateful hearts, we honor freedom's defenders, and our military families, represented here this evening by Sergeant Norwood's mom and dad, Janet and Bill Norwood.

The National Ledger captures a very poignant moment that followed when Safia Taleb al-Suhail turned and hugged Janet Norwood:

The symbolism was striking. A mother had lost her patriot son so that this woman--a person she had never met before--would have the opportunity to be free. Janet Norwood had her son's dog-tags wrapped around her hand while Safia Taleb al-Souhail's index finger was still slightly stained with ink from her first vote.

It was a moment to make every patriot proud.

By contrast, The Washington Post described the hug with the following words:

The emotional highpoint of last night's event came near the end when Bush introduced the parents of a U.S. Marine from Texas, Sgt. Byron Norwood, who was killed in the assault on Fallujah, Iraq. As Norwood's mother tearfully hugged another woman in the gallery, the assembled senators and representatives responded with a sustained ovation, and Bush's face appeared creased with emotion.

Just "another woman?" And the mainstream media insists it carries no bias. Well, it is either bias or incompetent reporting - their choice.


Power Line offers this update:

A reader says that the Post has now updated its story so that the offending paragraph now reads:
The emotional highpoint of last night's event came near the end when Bush introduced the parents of a U.S. Marine from Texas, Sgt. Byron Norwood, who was killed in the assault on Fallujah, Iraq. As Norwood's mother tearfully hugged Safia Taleb Suhail, leader of the Iraqi Women's Political Council, the assembled senators and representatives responded with a sustained ovation, and Bush's face appeared creased with emotion. Suhail also was a guest of the White House sitting with the first lady in the gallery who had been introduced by Bush earlier in the speech as "one of Iraq's leading democracy and human rights advocates.

No credit to Power Line, however, for pointing out the Post's blunder.

New, Improved and Expanded

Marc Comtois

Heck, may as well pile on. . . For those of you who drop by my Ocean State Blogger site, I thought I'd prepare you for a new site design. (Nothing big, but it's an improvement). Secondly, over at OSB I've announced another new "niche" blog, called Spinning Clio. Thanks!

With a Tweak Here and There

Justin Katz

For anybody who's interested: now that the issue of National Review with my piece on Andrew Sullivan has slipped into the back catalogue, I've posted a version of my contribution over on Dust in the Light, with the title "The Foibles of Longing."

February 2, 2005

Call for More Troops II

Marc Comtois

I previously endorsed a call for more troops championed by Sen. Jack Reed. Now, an open letter from a bi-partisan group (really!) has done the same. An excerpt:

The United States military is too small for the responsibilities we are asking it to assume. Those responsibilities are real and important. They are not going away. The United States will not and should not become less engaged in the world in the years to come. But our national security, global peace and stability, and the defense and promotion of freedom in the post-9/11 world require a larger military force than we have today. The administration has unfortunately resisted increasing our ground forces to the size needed to meet today's (and tomorrow's) missions and challenges.

So we write to ask you and your colleagues in the legislative branch to take the steps necessary to increase substantially the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps. . . There is abundant evidence that the demands of the ongoing missions in the greater Middle East, along with our continuing defense and alliance commitments elsewhere in the world, are close to exhausting current U.S. ground forces. For example, just late last month, Lieutenant General James Helmly, chief of the Army Reserve, reported that "overuse" in Iraq and Afghanistan could be leading to a "broken force." Yet after almost two years in Iraq and almost three years in Afghanistan, it should be evident that our engagement in the greater Middle East is truly, in Condoleezza Rice's term, a "generational commitment." The only way to fulfill the military aspect of this commitment is by increasing the size of the force available to our civilian leadership.

The administration has been reluctant to adapt to this new reality. We understand the dangers of continued federal deficits, and the fiscal difficulty of increasing the number of troops. But the defense of the United States is the first priority of the government. . . We can afford the military we need. As a nation, we are spending a smaller percentage of our GDP on the military than at any time during the Cold War. We do not propose returning to a Cold War-size or shape force structure. We do insist that we act responsibly to create the military we need to fight the war on terror and fulfill our other responsibilities around the world.

The men and women of our military have performed magnificently over the last few years. We are more proud of them than we can say. But many of them would be the first to say that the armed forces are too small. And we would say that surely we should be doing more to honor the contract between America and those who serve her in war. Reserves were meant to be reserves, not regulars. Our regulars and reserves are not only proving themselves as warriors, but as humanitarians and builders of emerging democracies. Our armed forces, active and reserve, are once again proving their value to the nation. We can honor their sacrifices by giving them the manpower and the materiel they need.

I was initially against increasing the troop levels, but a better understanding of the way the military operates, such as how people are cycled in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan, has made me rethink my initial assumptions. Before the War on Terror, before 9/11, and in the aftermath of the Cold War, a solid case could be made for "downsizing" the military. Since 9/11, our foreign policy goals have changed and it seems it would behoove the Pentagon and the Bush Administration to also adjust. Am I saying that more troops will enable us to be a more effective (gasp) EMPIRE? No, and I refuse to get into semantical games over the definition of empire. (I think the recent elections in Iraq and Afghanistan give proof to the motives of the "American Empire.") Instead, as one who believed in the ideal of spreading freedom as expressed by the President in his Inaugural Address, I think that all of the tools for effecting that spread of freedom -- be they diplomatic, political or military -- are necessary. Simply put, more ground troops will allow the U.S. to cover more ground.

February 1, 2005

Pope John Paul II

News reports have arrived in the last hour or so that Pope John Paul II has been hospitalized.

Whether this is the time at which God calls his servant home or not, I found myself stopping this time upon hearing the news to ponder the enormous contribution he has made to the world and the cause of good over the last few decades, including:

His example of piety and devotion.

The grace and forgiveness he showed after being shot.

His deep and influential writings on major religious, political, and economic issues that have influenced many of us and defied simplistic categorization.

The strength of his leadership in the fight against Soviet communism, especially in his Polish homeland.

His reaching out to people everywhere as he traveled around the world combined with his overt challenges to many societal practices.

The valiant fight against disease that has ravaged his own body in recent times.

I doubt there will be another pope like this one for many, many years and the world is a better place due to his service.

Horrible wrongs have occurred in the American Church in recent years. In contrast to those misdeeds, Pope John Paul II's life provides all of us with a role model of devotion to God. I believe we would be better off both individually and as a Church in the future if we paid greater attention to the example he set before us.

God bless you, Holy Father.

Rusted Trash at Low Tide

Justin Katz

Boy, I'll bet — rather, I hope — that, after Sunday, Joseleyne Slade of Providence had her fingers crossed that the Providence Journal wouldn't publish her letter:

The world was in mourning for the thousands killed by or suffering from the tsunami. That disaster he did not plan, but the awful desolation that is accompanying his unilateral attack on Iraq is his responsibility. In an unjustified and illegal war, more than a thousand very young American soldiers have been killed and horribly wounded, and thousands of Iraqi civilians, most of them innocent, have been slaughtered. The end of this disaster is not in sight.

Of course, human beings are capable of transforming vitriolic attacks that turn embarrassing into escalated hatred of their object. But the more healthy choice that all Republicans of good will should hope Ms. Slade has followed is to ponder the imponderable that more prominent figures have voiced: "What if Bush, the president, ours, has been right about this all along?"

When Lives Votes Are on the Line

Justin Katz

I've been pondering Lane Core's suggestion that Sen. Kennedy's fire-breathing speech last week was an attempt to set himself up for further histrionics after a calamitous election day in Iraq (emphasis in original):

But it occurred to me today — I wish it had done so last week — that Kennedy's speech was not occasioned merely by the election in Iraq. No, it was occasioned by his expectation of a debacle in the election.

And what should I come across but an article about Rhode Island's federal representatives:

All four members of the delegation explicitly rejected the call -- from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and other war critics -- to start pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq immediately and to set a timetable for total withdrawal. But all four were cautious in their assessment of post-election Iraq, stressing that this week's advances do not guarantee a successful democracy.

Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy said he doesn't "differ with the sentiment" behind calls for bringing the troops home, "but we don't want to give up on the success that we've created."

"We've moved the ball toward the goal line here. It doesn't make sense to pull out now," said Kennedy, a son of the Democratic senator from Massachusetts and the only member of the local delegation who backed Mr. Bush's decision to invade Iraq.

It's easy to be reasonable in retrospect. Let's see how quickly that "goal line" moves — and how quickly Papa Ted manages to recast any scripts that he'd already prepared.

WITMO (cont)

Marc Comtois

A Letter to the Ed. in today's ProJo calls to mind another example of polemics over scholarship. William Beeman is a Professor of Anthropology and Theatre, Speech and Dance as well as the Director of Middle East Studies at Brown and a long time critic of President Bush's policies. He has been accused of having some questionable facts at hand in the past. He predicted abject failure in Afghanistan. In the aforementioned letter, Karl F. Stephens, M.D. wrote

As Iraq gets its first free elections, I hope that Brown University Professor William Beeman and his disciples will have a chance to read "Assignment Afghanistan," a report about post-liberation Afghanistan by Washington Post writer Pamela Constable, in the February Smithsonian magazine.

She gives a moving account of Afghanistan's first election, describing "farmers and herders who lived hard lives on meager land" having "an almost childish excitement, a look both nervous and dignified: a feeling of hope . . . gazing down on the [ballot] as if it were a precious flower."

And while a free and open society has attendant ills -- hey, we have corruption, crooks, and ethnic differences right here in River City, folks! -- the Afghanistan she describes is far different from the one predicted by Professor Beeman when he pontificated in the pages of The Journal and on the local airwaves at the time of its liberation.

One can easily forget that all the "War is not the answer" bumper stickers and posters first appeared when we entered Afghanistan -- well before Iraq.

I don't have the time to detail some of the "facts" and opinion proffered by Prof. Beeman, but suffice it to say that if his stance is the norm on the Brown faculty, perhaps another Ivy League school should join Columbia in investigating its Middle East Studies group.

Lincoln Spelling Bee is Back

Marc Comtois

To dot an "i" and cross a "t", the Lincol School System has reinstated the Spelling Bee that was once presumed to conflict with the No Child Left Behind Act.

School officials, who said last week Lincoln wouldn't participate in the state spelling bee this year, were eating their words yesterday.

Lincoln's four elementary schools and its middle school will hold school spelling bees this week and next week, and the winners will face off in a district-wide bee Feb. 17, the School Department announced yesterday.

"It's something that a lot of people have an interest in doing, so we're going to do it," Schools Supt. John Tindall-Gibson said. . .

The decision against participating came after last year's spelling bee when school principals gathered for a "debriefing." They told Asst. Supt. Linda A. Newman they felt the spelling bee didn't foster children's self-esteem and conflicted with the goals of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind education law because it didn't allow all students to succeed. However, even the School Committee chairman didn't know about the decision until newspapers and talk radio got wind of it last week.

Because three of the five principals who helped make last year's decision have since retired, Newman and Tindall-Gibson spoke last week of reconsidering participation for next year. . .

Although Lincoln's change of heart came just two days after the cancellation made the front page of the Providence Journal, the release said "thoughtful reconsideration" informed the reversal.

Thoughtful reconsideration, and a lot of input, it would seem. "Thank you for phone calls, in-person conversations, and e-mails regarding the district-wide spelling bee," the School Department's statement said. "We heard your concerns and respect your opinions."

The things to take away: 1) The phone lines rang with protest so they reinstated 2) 3 of the 5 decision makers had retired. Any chance this was a parting shot against the NCLBA? Regardless, it's good that it's back.