August 31, 2007

Corrente over Flanders for the First Circuit Judgeship?

Carroll Andrew Morse

National Review Online Capitol Hill correspondent David Freddoso is reporting that President Bush is leaning towards appointing Robert Corrente to the First Circuit Court of Appeals over Robert Flanders, the choice recommended by former Senator Lincoln Chafee...

In March 2006, liberal former Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R) had been asked by the White House to submit three names as possible nominees, from which the President planned to choose. But Chafee, ever dodgy in his dealings with George W. Bush, only submitted one name, that of Flanders. An active member of the state GOP who is described by sources in the state as a “real Republican,” Flanders is also publicly supported by conservative Gov. Donald Carcieri (R.). He happens to be a personal friend of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D., R.I.), causing speculation that his confirmation would have been relatively easy.

But the White House was upset that Chafee submitted just one name, and interpreted this as an attempt by the senator to force President Bush’s hand. As a result, Flanders’s recommendation has languished for well over a year with no action taken. The administration is said to be leaning instead toward nominating Robert Clark Corrente, the current U.S. attorney from Rhode Island, whom Chafee had earlier recommended for a federal district judgeship.

A significant local impact of this decision may be its effect on Operation Dollar Bill, the Federal probe into corruption at the Rhode Island statehouse currently being led by Corrente.

The Problem with Relying on the Government

Marc Comtois

I ended a previous post on the plunging poverty rate with the observation that relying on the government is insidious because such reliance leaves people in the lurch when programs on which they depend get yanked out from under them. Such is the case of the "1,900 to lose childcare aid tomorrow."

I'm sympathetic to their situation. Unfortunately, whenever government has to choose between scaling back or going broke, someone is going to have to bear the burden. In Rhode Island, social welfare programs are usually hit when cuts are made because, simply put, they are one of the largest portions of the budget. The 1,900 are those who were on the margins of an arbitrary qualification line for receiving child care subsidies. Now, they have to find a solution without the government.

Parents are turning to neighbors, friends or even older siblings to care for children who previously attended a licensed facility with trained teachers and staff that offered food and transportation. A total of 1,500 working families will lose subsidies tomorrow. That’s more than 20 percent of the families in the system today.

“It’s a difficult time. Clearly the state is facing some significant budget challenges. We’re just going to have to deal,” said Karen Leslie, the president and chief operating officer for the YMCA of Greater Providence. “It’s going to be incumbent on us to find creative ways to meet this need. The alternative of children being left home alone is not something we are willing to accept.”

Did you get that? Minus government, they will have to "find creative ways to meet this need." Why did it take government cuts to prompt such "creativity"? {As SusanD adds: "H'mm, like the 'old' days." Yup. It's apparently "creative" to rely on one's own family or community. --ed.}

Because when the safety net becomes more like a security blanket, there is no sense of urgency.

Let's also not forget that, according to DHS guidelines:

* Parents choose their provider and may use more than one provider to
meet their child-care needs. Options for care are:
o enrollment in a licensed child-care center or after-school
o enrollment in a certified family child-care home;
o care by an approved relative of the child in the relative’s home;

o care by an approved provider selected by the family in the child’s
So, at least some of the family members and relatives who will be watching the newly unsubsidized kids have been doing it all along. Now they just won't get paid.

Re: Researching from Outside the Library

Donald B. Hawthorne

As a former member of the East Greenwich School Committee, I read Justin's post about Pat Crowley's comments on the Burrillville teachers' strike with a certain bemusement.

Justin touches on one of the really big issues about RI teachers' union contract negotiations: It is my experience that it was the teachers' union who demanded that the negotiations be conducted in private with no taxpayer visibility to their contract demands and the ongoing status of negotiations. All while many union members - teachers, primarily - whined publicly about how they were being treated unfairly.

Things will only change - and the Pat Crowley's of this world will only have credibility - when the contract demands are made public to the people who pay their salaries and benefits.

It is only with greater visibility that the hidden secrets of these union contracts will seep into the public's consciousness. For example, I was the person in Rhode Island who blew the extreme (9-12%/year) salary increases buried in contractual step increases into the public domain with this 2004 ProJo editorial.

While the particular issues will vary somewhat by district, here are excerpts from a 2005 post about the tactics used by the teachers' union to accomplish its contractual goals in the East Greenwich negotiations.

The formal labor dispute between the residents of East Greenwich and the NEA teachers' union is now over. However, the dispute showed the true colors of the union and many teachers. With the veneer stripped off, residents have learned many valuable lessons.

First and foremost, we learned - by their practice of work-to-rule - the union and numerous teachers were willing to use our children as pawns in an attempt to avoid a health insurance co-payment. They even had the audacity to say publicly that work-to-rule was not hurting our children.

Second, the union demanded to be made whole financially via full retroactive pay for last year even though our children's educational experience could not be made whole - due to their work-to-rule actions.

Third, they confirmed how teachers-union contracts are the antithesis of good teaching practices when they stressed that work-to-rule was a contractual right - while at the same time protesting that they wanted us to treat them like professional workers. They stated publicly that before-school and after-school assistance was not part of their job description. They dared us to take them to court if we believed they were not working the legally proper hours.

Fourth, they insulted residents by claiming that a majority of us could afford to hire tutors for our children but have been receiving these services free from public school teachers for years. Teachers also claimed that they - not parents - were responsible for our town's favorable test scores.

Fifth, they showed how they live in a make-believe world when they said that no one in the private sector works overtime without getting paid and, if they're off the clock at 5 p.m., you can bet they're out the door at 5. They also claimed more than 50% of residents earn at least $500,000.

Sixth, we also learned they would make verifiably misleading comments to get what they want, including: (i) Taxes in East Greenwich aren't that high compared to other communities; (ii) Insurance co-payments would result in pay cuts to teachers; and, (iii) East Greenwich pays lower than other districts.

These are not honorable people. It is clear now that these union negotiations are nothing less than one big racket, rigged to yield financial gain to the union. They certainly are not for the benefit of our children or for excellence in education...

Unfortunately, work-to-rule and other management rights issues are specified in RI General Law, which means it is impossible to change these rules at the local level...

The 2005 post includes links to many other posts on those East Greenwich negotiations, RI public education and union issues, and broader public education issues. They can be found in the Extended Entry section below.


In a nutshell, here was what I thought the negotiating position of the East Greenwich School Committee should have been on some of the key financial terms of the contract.

Other postings include:
Background Information on the East Greenwich NEA Labor Dispute
The NEA's Disinformation Campaign
East Greenwich Salary & Benefits Data
More Bad Faith Behavior by the NEA
The Debate About Retroactive Pay
Would You Hurt Our Children Just To Win Better Contract Terms?
The Question Remains Open & Unanswered: Are We/They Doing Right By Our Children?
Will The East Greenwich Teachers' Union Stop Their Attempts to Legally Extort Residents?
You Have To Read This Posting To Believe It! The Delusional World of the NEA Teachers' Union
So What Else is New? Teachers' Union Continues Non-Productive Behaviors in East Greenwich Labor Talks
"Bargaining Rights are Civil Rights"
The NEA-Rhode Island's Pathetic Attempts to Manipulate East Greenwich Residents
What's Wrong With This Picture: 800 Applicants for 14 Teaching Jobs & the NEA Says There is a Problem

In addition to financial issues, management rights are the other big teachers' union contract issue. "Work-to-rule" or "contract compliance" only can become an issue because of how management rights are defined in union contracts. The best reading on this subject is the recent report by The Education Partnership. It is must reading.

Other editorials and postings include:
ProJo editorial: Derailing the R.I. gravy train
ProJo editorial: RI public unions work to reduce your family's quality of life
ProJo editorial: Breaking the taxpayer: How R.I. teachers get 12% pay hikes
Selfish Focus of Teachers Unions: Everything But What Is Good For Our Kids
Tom Coyne - RI Schools: Big Bucks Have Not Brought Good Results
The NEA: There They Go, Again!
A Response: Why Teachers' Unions (Not Teachers!) Are Bad For Education
"A Girl From The Projects" Gets an Opportunity to Live the American Dream
Doing Right By Our Children in Public Education Requires Thinking Outside The Box
Debating Rhode Island Public Education Issues
The Cocoon in which Entitled State Employees Live
Are Teachers Fairly Compensated?
Warwick Teachers' Union Throws Public Tantrum
Blocking More Charter Schools Means Hurting Our Children
RI Educational Establishment: Your Days of No Vigorous Public Oversight & No Accountability Are Ending
Two Local Examples Reinforce Why Today's Public Education System Will Never Achieve Excellence

American education is failing to keep up with other countries around the world. This has long-term consequences for our country's economic strength and our standard of living.

The Deep Performance Problems with American Public Education
Freedom, Hard Work & Quality Education: Making The American Dream Possible For ALL Americans
Parents or Government/Unions: Who Should Control Our Children's Educational Decisions?
Now Here is a Good Idea
Milton Friedman on School Choice
Issuing a Call for a Higher Quality Public Debate About Education
Is Merit Pay for Teachers a 'Crazy Idea'?
Reporting False Performance Data Under No Child Left Behind: Why Are We Surprised At Dishonest Behavior By The Educational Bureaucracy?
Lack of Merit Pay Reduces the Quality of Teachers & Our Schools
Will We Measure Educational Performance by Inputs or Outputs?
Paycheck Protection: Allowing You to Keep Your Own Hard-Earned Monies
"Shut Up & Teach"

Researching from Outside the Library

Justin Katz

In a comment to my post on the Burrillville teacher strike, Pat Crowley challenges me as follows:

Justin, I wish you would take the time to really investigate the issues instead of having this ivory tower, knee-jerk reaction.
This relates to something that has bothered me as I've followed news reports about the Tiverton teacher negotiation: the he said/she said regarding the contracts, especially, in Tiverton, with respect to some healthcare proposal by the union. As far as I can tell, the contracts and the specific proposals are not available to the public. Indeed, the school committee went into closed executive session to discuss it. I'm certainly willing to research these matters; heck, I'll probably be sufficiently interested to produce some pretty charts. It seems to me that, if the unions think they're objectively in the right, it would probably serve them better to get the information out there than to waste soundbites insulting the other party to negotiations. Send me the info, Pat, or direct me to it if I've missed it, and I'll be happy to do my homework.

August 30, 2007

Winners are Democrats. Troubled Souls are Republicans. Even When They're the Same Person.

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Projo news department got Coventry Town Councilman Anthony Colaluca's party correct when he won his 2006 election

In [Coventry Town Council District 2], incumbent Republican Greg Laboissonniere was ousted by a political neophyte, Democrat Anthony Colaluca, 23, by a close margin,
…but skipped over any fact-checking or consulting of their own archives when reporting on his recent encounter with the law (h/t Scott "I am the Duck" Duckworth)…
Town Councilman Anthony Colaluca was charged with driving while intoxicated after he was stopped on Arnold Road near New London Avenue shortly before 1:30 a.m. on Saturday, the police said…

Colaluca, a Republican, was elected to the District 2 seat on the Town Council last November. Efforts to reach him for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.

This was Coventry, not East Greenwich. It doesn't make sense that a reporter or an editor would guess "Republican" when preparing a story about a town official whose party affiliation they didn't know -- unless there was some kind of bias at work.

U.S. Marines Didn't Commit War Crimes in Haditha, U.S. Press Disappointed

Marc Comtois

I heard a story on NPR this morning about the trial of Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich--a leader of the Marine squad accused of killing 24 civilians in Haditha a year and a half ago. (NPR also included multiple excerpts from an interview that Wuterich gave to CBS' Scott Pelly---here's the text version of the NPR report). All in all, it was a decent job of telling the story, but there was something missing. The story didn't include this:

Since May, charges against two infantrymen and a Marine officer have been dismissed, and dismissal has been recommended for murder charges against a third infantryman. Prosecutors were not able to prove even that the killings violated the American military code of justice.
That from the NY Times (h/t). It makes it a little more clear that maybe, just maybe, the war crimes charges were a little tenuous to begin with. Now, there were certainly some problems. One officer has been convicted because his actions delayed the investigation months after the incident. But while there appears to have been negligence up the chain-of-command, the Uniform Code of Military Justice (USCMJ) is a different ruleset than U.S. criminal law and gives fighting men leeway in these matters.
Experts on military law said the difficulty in prosecuting the marines for murder is understandable, given that action taken in combat is often given immunity under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

“One could view this as a case crumbling around the prosecutor’s feet, or one could see this as the unique U.C.M.J. system of justice in operation,” said Gary D. Solis, a former Marine judge who teaches the laws of war at Georgetown University Law Center and at West Point.

Prosecuting the Haditha case was especially difficult because the killings were not thoroughly investigated when they first occurred. Months later, when the details came to light, there were no bodies to examine, no Iraqi witnesses to testify, no damning forensic evidence.

On the other hand, some scholars said the spate of dismissals has left them wondering what to think of the young enlisted marines who, illegally or not, clearly killed unarmed people in a combat zone.

“It certainly erodes that sense that what they did was wrong,” Elizabeth L. Hillman, a legal historian who teaches military law at Rutgers University School of Law at Camden, said of the outcomes so far. “When the story broke, it seemed like we understood what happened; there didn’t seem to be much doubt. But we didn’t know.”

Walter B. Huffman, a former Army judge advocate general, said it was not uncommon in military criminal proceedings to see charges against troops involved in a single episode to fall away under closer examination of evidence, winnowing culpability to just one or two defendants.

In the first place, this is a story about predispositions. Some of us are predisposed to give the military the benefit of the doubt in these matters, other are not. What is egregious, though, is when the individuals are exonerated and are not still given the benefit of the doubt. Witness the disappointment in the Times piece.
If the legal problems that have thwarted the prosecutors in other cases are repeated this time, there is a possibility that no marine will be convicted for what happened in Haditha....

Regardless of what happened to charges against the other defendants, there is still great public pressure on the Marine Corps to investigate and punish any wrongdoing in a case in which so many civilians died.

It seems that what the Times really wants is to criminalize war and those who prosecuted it: from the Commander-in-chief on down. Surprised?

Rocco DiPippo: "If we let them down, we forever lose the right to call ourselves a moral people."

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Islander Rocco DiPippo, recently returned from Iraq, makes his Pajamas Media debut today...

When detailed pictures of the police stations were dropped on my desk, I looked them over and thought, “How the hell will I get this job get done?”

After six months of difficult work, all 17 police stations had been completed, on time and within budget. That was accomplished in what has been called one of the most dangerous places on earth.

The main reason the police station project succeeded was that most of the Americans and Iraqis assigned to it learned to trust and respect each other, to cooperate, and to focus on a common goal, seeing it through completion. Without the mutual trust and respect, the project would have failed.

So it is with the effort to stabilize Iraq – without trust and respect between coalition and Iraqi security forces and ordinary Iraqis, no amount of weaponry or diplomacy will succeed in bringing peace there. And nothing can accelerate that process more than a firm commitment from the US that it will stand side-by-side with the Iraqi security forces, and with ordinary Iraqis, until peace and stability is at hand – no matter how long that takes to achieve.

Read the whole thing.

Clinton's Funny Money Man Gave to Rhode Island Candidates

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to today's New York Times, the Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton has decided to forgo some large campaign contributions from a dubious source…

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign said yesterday that it would give to charity $23,000 it had received from a prominent Democratic donor, and review thousands of dollars more that he had raised, after learning that the authorities in California had a warrant for his arrest stemming from a 1991 fraud case.

The donor, Norman Hsu, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Democratic candidates since 2003, and was slated to be co-host next month for a Clinton gala featuring the entertainer Quincy Jones.

Mr. Hsu, who is in the apparel business in New York, has been considered a fugitive since he failed to show up in a San Mateo County courtroom about 15 years ago to be sentenced for his role in a scheme to defraud investors, according to the California attorney general’s office.

Mr. Hsu had pleaded no contest to one count of grand theft and was facing up to three years in prison.

The travails of Mr. Hsu have proved an embarrassment for the Clinton campaign, which has strived to project an image of rectitude in its fund-raising and to dispel any lingering shadows of past episodes of tainted contributions.

It's not just the Clinton camapaign returning the contributions; a number of other Democrats across the nation feel that Mr. Hsu's background is sufficiently murky to justify their severing of financial ties with him…
Al Franken, a Democratic Senate candidate in Minnesota, said he would divest his campaign of Mr. Hsu’s donations, as did Representatives Michael M. Honda and Doris O. Matsui of California and Representative Joe Sestak of Pennsylvania, all Democrats.
But what about the Rhode Islanders who have accepted money from Mr. Hsu this cycle…

Contributions to RI Federal Candidates from Norman Hsu

2/28/2007Reed, Jack$200
2/28/2007Reed, Jack $2,300
3/15/2007Kennedy, Patrick J$1,000
6/28/2007Kennedy, Patrick J$1,000
(Congressman Kennedy also took $4,200 from Mr. Hsu in 2005).

Will Rhode Island's Democrats apply the same standards as their leading national candidate, or do they believe that rules about accepting suspicious donations can be applied a little more loosely when you're from Little Rhody?

Crowley, You Charmer

Justin Katz

Patrick lays on the charm in the public-media negotiation process with the Tiverton school committee:

Union spokesman Patrick Crowley replied, "It's unfortunate that the School Committee has not taken the time to do the math accurately, and in addition to our mediation request we're going to suggest that they get math remediation as well."

Yup, that's the voice of an organization that just wants to reach a fair compromise with the district so that its teachers can continue improving childrens' lives. I'm not ready to come down on Patrick too hard, though; for all I know, it's his job to play the bully role so Bob Walsh has room to play the reasonable guy.i

A Finger Here, a Finger There

Justin Katz

I've been meaning to note the chutzpa of retired state employee Robert Davis's recent letter to the Providence Journal:

Why is The Journal so preoccupied with the money that state workers make?

Recent articles have explored who is the highest-paid state worker and how much overtime is being paid, as if the state workers were the ones at fault for Rhode Island’s financial trouble.

Here’s a suggestion: Why not look into how much the bond issues that voters approve every election are costing the taxpayers?

Last election, they approved about $200 million in bond issues without blinking an eye. Most voters didn’t even know what they were approving. They just looked at that title in big letters and said, “That sounds good; I’ll approve that!”

We've had this discussion before (in part in the comments to the posts linked here), but the bond issues do so well because they often are good ideas and often seem to be the sorts of things that government ought to do (such as road infrastructure work). The reason I refuse to vote for them out of principle is that I get the impression that the government gives away all of its revenue to special interests — notably unions and the poverty industry — and then comes back to the taxpayers for more in order to pay for things that ought to be central to its budget.

By contrast, the pill of public labor has the distinct flavor of utter waste, as Arlene Violet described a few weeks ago:

Another contributor to overtime is the staffing minimums in contracts. When there's a call for a rescue, many firefighters' contracts require a fire engine to accompany the call complete with four firefighters. Think about that for a moment. Why is a fire truck going to a call? ...

At the Adult Correctional Institutions, a guard cannot be called from another building to compensate for staff shortages in a facility. Other guards have to be called in, even if they haven't put in their full work week yet. The "call in" triggers overtime. So on Monday, a correctional officer not scheduled to begin work until Tuesday night gets time and a half if he goes in on Monday. The warden can't jigger schedules to avoid more than 35 hours per week. ...

Out in the private sector if you are a boss you are management. Your salary already reflects your responsibilities and the fact that you work extra hours. Allen LeBeau makes $88,537.72 in base pay as a supervising nurse at Eleanor Slater Hospital. He piled on $126,000-plus in overtime, apparently because he's on call! Psychiatrists earning six figures get overtime. Their counterparts in the real world get peanuts for answering calls outside of working hours. Quite plainly, if someone is in management or professional staff there should be no overtime. Period.

Another poor practice is employees getting called in for overtime based on seniority. Politicians have dealt away management rights. When overtime is necessary, the boss cannot call in workers at the lower pay levels but must call in the higher paid people. Even a rotation of overtime among employees would help stem costs.

August 29, 2007

Povery Rate Plunges, but....

Marc Comtois

According to the Census Bureau--and incoherent indicators aside--the U.S. Poverty rate has decreased significantly. Good news, right? Well, for some...

Elizabeth Burke Bryant, executive director of Rhode Island Kids Count, was quick to hail the findings as “good news for Rhode Island families.”
....but not others:
Still, Kate Brewster, executive director of the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College, called the Rhode Island numbers “unacceptably high” and said they “don’t tell the whole story.”

“The reality is that the federal definition of poverty is an inadequate measure of the number of Rhode Islanders who are unable to meet their basic needs,” Brewster said. She said the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Rhode Island — $965 a month — would eat up nearly 60 percent of the income of a family of four living at the poverty level — $20,650 for a family of that size.

And neither could miss the chance to, well, advocate:
Advocates used the data to bolster their calls to beef up state assistance programs for low-income residents.

“Rhode Island is clearly making progress,” said Burke Bryant of Kids Count. “We must continue to invest in quality childcare, early education and affordable health care for low-income families.”

Burke Bryant and Brewster praised Governor Carcieri and the General Assembly for increasing financing of adult-education and job-training programs, but criticized cuts to the childcare assistance program for low-income working parents. “Government work-support programs are a lifeline to making ends meet,” Brewster said.

Cold, hard reality, enter Stage Right:
Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal echoed their support for adult education, but warned that the state’s bleak fiscal prognosis may preclude expanding social-service programs, or even avoiding further cuts. With a projected deficit in the neighborhood of $300 million if the state does not cut spending or raise taxes, the governor has already begun talks with his department heads about how to close that gap.

“Unfortunately, the state is facing yet another very difficult budget year,” Neal said. “Our primary challenge is to find ways to reduce state spending while continuing to protect our most vulnerable citizens.”

OK, no surprises. But Robert Rector at Heritage has studied the data and reminds us that "poverty" is a little different in the U.S. of A. then the rest of the world:
For most Americans, the word "poverty" suggests destitution: an inability to provide a family with nutritious food, clothing, and reasonable shelter. But only a small number of the 37 million per­sons classified as "poor" by the Census Bureau fit that description. While real material hardship certainly does occur, it is limited in scope and severity. Most of America's "poor" live in material conditions that would be judged as comfortable or well-off just a few generations ago. Today, the expenditures per person of the lowest-income one-fifth (or quintile) of house­holds equal those of the median American household in the early 1970s, after adjusting for inflation.

The typical American defined as "poor" by the government has a car, air conditioning, a refrigera­tor, a stove, a clothes washer and dryer, and a micro­wave. He has two color televisions, cable or satellite TV reception, a VCR or DVD player, and a stereo. He is able to obtain medical care. His home is in good repair and is not overcrowded. By his own report, his family is not hungry and he had suffi­cient funds in the past year to meet his family's essential needs. While this individual's life is not opulent, it is equally far from the popular images of dire poverty conveyed by the press, liberal activists, and politicians.

With regards to children, Rector concludes:
The main causes of child poverty in the United States are low levels of parental work, high numbers of single-parent families, and low skill levels of incoming immigrants. By increasing work and mar­riage, reducing illegal immigration, and by improv­ing the skill level of future legal immigrants, our nation can, over time, virtually eliminate remaining child poverty.
Additionally, Rector doesn't think welfare reform has gone far enough and notes that there are no work requirements for recipients of food stamps and public housing and that "the welfare system continues to encourage idle dependence rather than work and to reward sin­gle parenthood while penalizing marriage."

Brewster et al would have us continue to raise the amount we spend on child-care assistance programs because, they say, that is the only way that single-parents can afford to go to work. Perhaps. But for families with two parents another solution is the one followed by my parents and, I'm sure, millions of others: work more, and work in different shifts so that one parent is always home with the kids. That's nothing new, folks. But it's hard, which I fully recognize.

And that's what makes falling back on the government such and easy, and insidious, "temporary solution." It de-motivates and fosters an unhealthy reliability that leaves people in the lurch when programs they depend on get cut, whether because of a politician's whim or for because of government fiscal problems.

Incoherent Indicators

Carroll Andrew Morse

Poverty appears to be down, both in the United States as a whole, and in Rhode Island in particular. According to the annual figures released this week by the Census Bureau, the national poverty rate fell from 12.6% to 12.3% and the Rhode Island poverty rate fell from to 12.1% to 10.5% between 2005 and 2006. The good news is that Rhode Island has ended its four-year streak of poverty levels greater than 90% of the national rate. The bad news is that Rhode Island's relative poverty rate still hasn't dropped below the level it was at just before the beginning of welfare reform in 1996…

Year US Poverty
RI Poverty
RI Rate as Pct
of US Rate
1993 15.1% 11.2% 74.2%
1994 14.5% 10.3% 71.0%
1995 13.8% 10.6% 76.8%
1996 13.7% 11.0% 80.3%
1997 13.3% 12.7% 95.5%
1998 12.7% 11.6% 91.3%
1999 11.9% 10.0% 84.0%
2000 11.3% 10.2% 90.3%
2001 11.7% 9.6% 82.1%
2002 12.1% 11.0% 90.9%
2003 12.5% 11.5% 92.0%
2004 12.7% 11.5% 90.6%
2005 12.6% 12.1% 96.0%
2006 12.3% 10.5% 85.0%

(Interestingly, there was a corresponding spike in the Massachusetts poverty rate, from 10.1% to 12.0% while the RI rate was dropping. Maybe we should ask Jon Keller for his thoughts on this).

A second piece of bad news is that Rhode Island's one-year decline in poverty rate was accompanied by a one-year decline in median income -- the second largest decline observed in the data…

StateMedian Income,
Change from
1.Delaware$52,833 -$1,574
2. Rhode Island$51,814-$1,068
3. Maine $43,439 -$700
4. Iowa $44,491 -$495
5. Missouri$42,841 -$469
6. Colorado$52,015-$260
7. Michigan$47,182-$251
8. Ohio$44,532-$235
9. North Dakota$41,919 -$168
10. Georgia$46,832-$118
11. Wyoming$47,423-$90

The other 39 states saw their median incomes increase between 2005 and 2006. (Kansas, incidentally, had a median income increase [+$1,133] that was larger than RI's decline, showing that there's really nothing the matter with Kansas -- nor with the 14 states that did better than Kansas in the rankings!)

For both of these metrics, there is a danger of inferring too much from single-year numbers, but a simultaneous, dramatic drop in both poverty rate and median income suggests something unusual. Whether the strangeness is methodological or a real effect is yet to be determined.

Early Review of Primary Mistake

Carroll Andrew Morse

And speaking of books, the American Spectator has an early review of Steve Laffey's forthcoming book on the 2006 Rhode Island Senate campaign, Primary Mistake: How the Washington Republican Establishment Lost Everything in 2006 (and Sabotaged My Senatorial Campaign)

A good portion of Primary Mistake is devoted to Laffey coming to terms with why, as an American citizen who met the constitutional requirements to serve in the Senate, people kept telling him he couldn't run. He recalls getting similar treatment when he first decided to run for mayor of Cranston: The party establishment told him he couldn't run because they already had a candidate…In the end, Laffey's story is really about the frequently ignored difference between the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Political parties are about winning elections and wielding power. Ideological movements are about ideas and values. Confuse the two and you wind up with something like the Chafee-Laffey primary contest.

Another Take on Blue States

Carroll Andrew Morse

Speaking of blue states, in his forthcoming book The Bluest State: How Democrats Created the Massachusetts Blueprint for American Political Disaster, Boston political analyst Jon Keller offers this short diagnosis of the problems with national-scale liberalism, all too evident in the state politics of our neighbor to the north (via Adam Reilly of the Boston Phoenix)…

Democrats have limped through a generation of tenuous grasp on national political power in part because they’ve been infected with the Massachusetts viruses I’ve described: addiction to tax revenues and a raging edifice complex couched in disrespect for wage earners; phony identity politics without real results for women and minorities; reflexive anti-Americanism in foreign affairs; vain indulgence in obnoxious political correctness; self-serving featherbedding; NIMBYism; authoritarian distortion of the balance of governmental power, all simmered in a broth of hypocritical paternalism.
Any of that sound familiar to Rhode Island residents?

Burrillville Teachers to Students: Let the Pawns Skip School

Justin Katz

Shame on the Burrillville teachers for striking. As the people — especially parents — of that town are discovering, there is no better example of the teachers' unions' profoundly unreasonable power than their failure to obey the law and decline to strike. The district should fire anybody who doesn't show up for work tomorrow, and we all should take the Burrillville teachers' bad example as reason to end teacher unionization in this state.

As a first step, I wonder whether a movement could be formed to make it mandatory that future strikes in Rhode Island will be punished with lost jobs, with the deadline for contract signing a few months before the first day of school.

August 28, 2007

Jumping into a Blue State

Justin Katz

During a recess, one of the school committee members, a man to whom I frequently wave as he walks his dog by my house, came over to ask what brought me out this evening. For the time being, it's probably to the good that my answer was simply "to become more involved" (with a reference to my daughter's entry into the school system): as it turns out, he's a state employee and a social worker.

Ours should be a society in which he and I could not only continue to wave during dog walks, but enter into contentious debates about our philosophical and political differences while continuing to do so. As a blue-state conservative (and a constitutionally insecure one, at that), I worry that similarities of general interests, prioritization of the intellect, and temperament are too easily overwhelmed by passion and personal investment.

I imagine I'll have more basis to judge as I become more involved (and more recognized).


Justin Katz

... They actually managed to delay me by involving my extended family in the plot. My brother-in-law's mother-in-law is moving, and we claimed her washing machine; of course, it had to be taken this evening (of course). But they are too tricky by half, because they moved the school committee meeting from the high school library to the high school auditorium, making them visible by the entrance as I pulled in.

I will say that it's more difficult to lurk when you're one of five people in the audience in such a large room. (Especially when you sit beneath the American flag before the pledge!) Perhaps some of my fellow interested townsmen just haven't found their way over from the library (or perhaps some of them were diverted toward the cheerleader practice that I can hear through the exterior door).

Truth to tell, with the teachers' union still without a contract, I expected at least a slightly larger crowd. A similar expectation may be what led them to move to the auditorium in the first place. (Although I haven't seen an itinerary.)

Maybe I'll be home early.

United States Leads All Developed Countries -- Even Those With Universal Health Care -- In Cancer Survival

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to a study published in The Lancet Oncology medical journal, the United States has the best cancer survival rate in the developed world. The tables below are from an article on the study published in Britain's Daily Telegraph (h/t Andrew Stuttaford)…

Female Cancer Survival Rates
N. Ireland51.0%
Czech Republic49.3%

Male Cancer Survival Rates
N. Ireland42.0%
Czech Republic37.7%

"Survival rate" was defined as "the number of patients who are alive five years after diagnosis".

The Telegraph article, focused on Britain's poor showing in the study, contains a couple of notable observations…

  1. For women, England was the fifth worst in a league of 22 countries. Scotland came bottom. Cancer experts blamed late diagnosis and long waiting lists.… Prof Richard Sullivan at Cancer Research UK said: "Cancer is still not being diagnosed early enough in all cases."
    But wait – I thought this wasn't possible in a country with a "universal" health care system. Don't universal health care proponents promise that universality guarantees that everyone will have their illnesses diagnosed early?

  2. A second article, which looked at 2.7 million patients diagnosed between 1995 and 1999, found that countries that spent the most on health per capita per year had better survival rates.

    Britain was the exception. Despite spending up to £1,500 on health per person per year, it recorded similar survival rates for Hodgkin's disease and lung cancer as Poland, which spends a third of that amount.

    Contrary to what the folk-Marxists out there argue, not every problem can be solved by increasing the resources controlled by government. How money gets spent matters. And big government bureaucracies are simply not the best option for making medical decisions that will have life or death impacts on individual people.

Religious People Have the Right To Assemble Too

Carroll Andrew Morse

Someone needs to tell the facilities manager at the Rhode Island State House that the government can’t deny members of religious groups the right to assemble when the same right is extended to secular groups. From Elizabeth Gudrais in last Wednesday's Projo

Marco Schiappa, associate director for facilities management with the Department of Administration, told the State Properties Committee yesterday morning that a state policy — apparently both longstanding and long ignored — prohibits use of the State House or its grounds for religious purposes.

“We’ve either got to change the procedures, or we’ve got to stick to the procedures,” he told the committee.

Schiappa said he discovered the policy after assuming his current job six months ago. Because policy has conflicted with practice for so long, Schiappa recommended that the committee approve the Sept. 1 day of prayer, but offered this warning: “We want to make it clear that this may not be something that will be allowed in the future”…By the end of the day, Schiappa said he had asked lawyers whether changing it to allow religious events would cause any legal problems in light of the constitutional prohibition on establishment of religion. If not, Schiappa said, he expected the policy would be changed, subject to approval by Department of Administration Director Beverly Najarian.

Mr. Schiappa should be equally as concerned with running afoul of the Constitutional provision (that he seems unaware of) preventing government from interfering with the free exercise of religion.

In reality, it is highly unlikely that anything will come of this. Limiting the right to assemble because a demonstration has been deemed "religious" by the government is so clearly unconstitutional, even the ACLU opposes it…

Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU’s Rhode Island chapter, called the policy “unconstitutional to the nth degree” and said his group “would be prepared to sue in a minute” if the state began enforcing it.

Brown said the State House was explicitly opened to demonstrations with a religious theme after a 1974 lawsuit over the state’s rejection of a group’s request to hold a prayer service in the rotunda to condemn cuts to the state’s welfare program by Gov. Philip W. Noel.

“In light of that history,” Brown said, “to see a policy that explicitly prohibits what a federal court said was constitutionally required is pretty shocking.”

However, the response from the Diocese of Providence on this matter is very, very disappointing…
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence declined to take a strong stance against the policy. “The state has every right to regulate the use of their buildings and their grounds,” diocese spokesman Michael Guilfoyle said.
Render unto Caesar and all, but the Diocese is wrong to take the position that public expression based on faith is somehow not worthy of the same protections from government extended to public expression based on any other motivation.

Finally, Monday’s Political Scene column from the Projo listed a few other prohibitions regarding demostrations at the state house that are not currently being enforced…

Just this year, the nonprofit advocacy group Ocean State Action has broken just about every rule on the list.

For instance: “No music allowed in the State House during normal business hours, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.”

The group often begins or ends protests in the rotunda with a song. The group also assists Marriage Equality Rhode Island in sponsoring protests in favor of same-sex marriage, protests that usually include music.

Also: “Sleep-outs on the State House grounds are prohibited.”

Ocean State Action helped coordinate an overnight demonstration, including tents, to protest proposed budget cuts.

It is unclear why the religious group provision was the only provision that caught Mr. Schiappa’s eye.

Virtual Blackjack is No More a “Lottery” than Real Blackjack Is

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Katherine Gregg in today’s Projo, Rhode Island lottery officials aren’t planning to let little things like the voters or the meaning of the law get in the way of their quest to expand gambling in Rhode Island…

With the threat of casino gambling looming in Massachusetts, there is a move to bring “virtual blackjack” to Twin River, possibly as early as next month.

Lottery Director Gerald Aubin confirmed yesterday that he has asked GTECH and a second vendor, International Game Technology (IGT), whether they are interested in supplying an initial 18 machines that simulate a live blackjack game by allowing five or six players to sit at a table, signaling their moves — hit me again, double-down, split — electronically to a “dealer” on a video screen….

In interviews yesterday, both Aubin and state Rep. William San Bento, the chairman of the legislature’s Lottery oversight committee, said they believe, and have been assured by legal advisers, that voter approval is not required because the machines do not, in their view, constitute the introduction of a new form of gambling in Rhode Island.

“If you look at the components and the definition” of a video-lottery terminal, Aubin said, the new multiplayer games familiar at many commercial casinos and introduced by the Delaware Lottery last year are “absolutely nothing different than what we have.”

Governor Carcieri agrees. Though he was an avowed opponent of the Harrah’s-sponsored Narragansett Indian casino proposal on last year’s state ballot, spokesman Jeff Neal said: “The governor is aware of the Lottery division’s plan and does not object. Based on the information the governor has been given, these virtual table games are no different in substance from a video-lottery terminal. As a result they are perfectly allowable under current statute.”

Sorry folks, but the central concept of a lottery is a random selection of winners. Something where your own skill and/or the skill of other players involved changes the odds of winning is not a lottery.

August 27, 2007

Lament of a Newly Engaged Citizen

Justin Katz

I feel as if I should be speaking up about the town fees that are rapidly increasing before my eyes, but I really haven't done my homework on them.

I present as an extenuating circumstance the vast learning curve: Tiverton has a lengthy planning document. There's a massive spreadsheet for the budget. There are countless meetings that I haven't attended. And I don't want to invalidate future action on my part by establishing a history of blind statements.

Am I rationalizing? Is this part of the reason that an apathetic public tends not to become active on general principle (i.e., without a specific issue prompting involvement)?

Motivation for Infiltration

Justin Katz

My decision to attend this week's town council meeting was not a reaction to Ed Achorn's latest Projo column, but it could have been:

LOCAL OFFICIALS in Rhode Island talk a good game about financial woes, but they act as if they have money to burn. And they will keep on doing it — as long as taxpayers, through their silence and apathy, tell them: "Go ahead. Feel free to toss my money on the fire."

Behind Government Lines

Justin Katz


I've infiltrated a Tiverton Town Council meeting. They attempted to delay me by placing a slow-driving woman in my path, but I persevered. I expected an attempt to drive me away with boredom, but they inadvisably postponed the actual meeting to make way for professional interviews for labor counsel. No doubt, however, they'll follow up with the minutia of the town's business, at which point my endurance will surely be tested.

But my resolve must be strong if I wish to prevent the town from driving me out of my house with taxes and fees. My secret weapon, as you can plainly see, is that I have the capability to entertain myself during the long dull stretches by posting somewhat silly commentary on Anchor Rising. I am a bit concerned, though, that my fellow citizens' lack of attendance may give me away, as my typing is conspicuous in the largely empty room.


A respectable crowd has showed up, although I should note that it's a very small room.


In retrospect, "respectable" might have been an overstatement. Given the small number of chairs put out in the first place, it would be more accurate to say that the room was non-empty.

Pull String for Talking Points

Justin Katz

A short while ago, Congressman Langevin, speaking to Dan Yorke, did me the favor of reminding me why I've ceased to listen to politicians' public performances. I think I could just about hear the sound a ballpoint pen makes against yellow legal-pad paper as he checked off each item on his talking-points list (multiple times). The implicit dishonesty of it all is mind numbing.

For instance, paraphrasing: "The American people are tired of the failure of the administration and this Congress [meaning the pre–'06 election, Republican Congress, of course] to address the issues that it cares about — healthcare, the environment, education, yadda yadda." Among the items that are finally being addressed, now that the Democrats run the Congress, according to Mr. Langevin, is — get this — renewing the No Child Left Behind Act. Yes, the very act that the administration backed to its shame (for many reasons). If I were Yorke, I'd have asked why Congress's approval ratings continue to drop, well below the President's, if Americans are so impressed by the Democrats.

Another for instance: Yorke had Langevin on the show to challenge the congressman's line in a news report stating that his constituents had sent him a clear message of disapproval of AG Gonzalez (but not as clear as their message in support of presidential impeachment, mind you). Mid-interview, a caller informed Yorke that he had attended one of the town meetings from which Langevin was drawing these messages and that the main topic of conversation was their anger at the failure to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. Thereafter, Langevin included immigration on the repeated list of topics that Rhode Islanders "care about."

Presumably, since he's so concerned about the "clear messages" that his constituents send him, our congressman will spearhead legislation to combat sanctuary cities, the hiring of illegals, and the porous nature of our borders.

Hasbro Internationalizes A Great American Hero

Marc Comtois

G.I. Joe--"A Real American Hero"--is now based in Brussels. That's what Hasbro and Paramount have decided as they seek to bring a new GI Joe movie to the big screen. (h/t)

Who needs A Real American Hero? Not Paramount or Hasbro it seems. The studio's live-action feature film version of G.I. Joe will no longer revolve around a top-secret U.S. special forces team but rather an international operation.

In a follow-up to their confirmation that Stephen Sommers will direct G.I. Joe, Variety offers this new description of the team: "G.I. Joe is now a Brussels-based outfit that stands for Global Integrated Joint Operating Entity, an international co-ed force of operatives who use hi-tech equipment to battle Cobra, an evil organization headed by a double-crossing Scottish arms dealer. The property is closer in tone to X-Men and James Bond than a war film."

Wow. A Real Globally Integrated Hero! Can we assume that this "double-crossing Scottish arms dealer" is Destro since he was one in the comics? And does that mean there will be no Cobra Commander in it?

So why the changes? Hasbro and Paramount execs recently spoke about the challenges of marketing a film about the U.S. military at a time when the current U.S. administration and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are at a low-point in global polls. When a studio makes a film as expensive as G.I. Joe will likely be, they want to know that as many people as possible around the world will want to see it. In other words, G.I. Joe -- "A Real American Hero" -- is a tough sell.

Gee, you'd think that the Hasbro's Corporate headquarters was in a Blue state...Well, at least this proves that all big corporations are led by evil, money-grubbing conservatives, right?

To Fix Education, Fix Families First

Marc Comtois

Julia Steiny wrote in the ProJo on Sunday:

Over the course of this summer, I studied a whole range of troubled kids. Instead of seeing them from the outside as the upsetting little pains-in-the-tush they are, I tried to get a glimpse of their lives. I met kids recovering from sexual abuse, neglect, violence, drug involvement, or their parents’ drug involvement. I talked to the community workers who deal with kids whose lives have been torn apart by a parent going to prison or because the state removed them from their families. Distressed kids sit in our own kids’ classrooms all over the state. We can’t just put them all out — or ignore them.

Focus instead on the family.

Because when we put these kids out of our communities into alternative schools and residential placements, we encourage the root problem to fester and get worse. Alternatives — shelters, group homes, the Training School — provide very expensive, rarified worlds that have nothing to do with a kid’s real life.

Yes, of course, psychiatric hospitals, foster care, and group homes will always be necessary. But we overuse them unconscionably. We have to stop waiting until kids are in a crisis.

Schools have plenty of problems of their own. But when it comes to troubled behavior, the solutions often lie in the homes. If we fix the family’s dysfunction, we fix the context that is producing a kid’s wiggy behavior. And if the family can’t be fixed — addiction is often the reason — terminate parental rights, and search among the child’s relatives for a healthier permanent family.

Only by helping the families can we stem the social chaos streaming through the schoolhouse doors.

And this compassion will be far cheaper than what we’re doing now.

Along this same vein is a book review by Bradford Wilcox in the August 27 issue of National Review. The book--The Natural Family: A Manifesto, by Allan C. Carlson and Paul T. Mero--contains some interesting theories and prescriptions.

...Allan Carlson and Paul Mero’s The Natural Family: A Manifesto...give[s] us an engaging and accessible primer on the importance of the “natural family” for the American experiment in ordered liberty. They define the “natural family” as “the fundamental social unit, inscribed in human nature, and centered around the voluntary union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant of marriage for the purposes of satisfying the longings of the human heart to give and receive love, welcoming and ensuring the full physical and emotional development of children” — and sharing a home based on a common social and spiritual life. By turns philosophical, political, sociological, and economic in its subject matter, The Natural Family makes three particularly important arguments.

First, as against the libertarian vision of [the CATO Institute's Bruce] Lindsey et al., Carlson and Mero correctly argue that the natural family, not the individual, is the “source of ordered liberty, the fountain of real democracy, the seedbed of virtue” for the nation. They point to a large body of social-scientific research that shows that children who grow up with their married parents make markedly better citizens than their peers who are not so fortunate. For instance, one study of 20,000 American adolescents funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that teen criminality was lowest among children from intact married families and that parental involvement, supervision, and closeness were highest in these families. They also point out that family breakdown leads inevitably to what should be a libertarian nightmare — the rise of Leviathan, as the state steps in to establish order and supply social services when the family breaks down.

This argument is borne out by, among other things, our nation’s recent history with crime and policing. As George Akerlof, a Nobel Prize–winning economist at Berkeley, has observed, it was no accident that a tidal wave of violent crime, police hiring, and prison building swept the country in the late 1970s and 1980s, following closely in the wake of the nation’s retreat from marriage in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Starting in the late 1960s, because of this retreat, growing numbers of poor and working-class teenage boys and young men ceased to be socialized by fathers and wives; consequently, they were much more likely to get into trouble and stay in trouble than their peers of an earlier era. This led, in turn, to the effort of Republicans such as Rudy Giuliani to reach for “Big Government” law-and-order solutions to reassert order in communities hit hardest by the breakdown of the natural family.

Second, Carlson and Mero rightly argue that strong families depend upon much more than sentiment or even the right “family values.” In our day, affluence, state programs, and the organization of work and leisure have all conspired to strip the family of its traditional functions — economic production, leisure, moral education, and religious education — and to minimize the practical and economic dependencies linking spouses, children, and parents to one another. Accordingly, in many families, sentiment is the only real tie that binds, even though — for many families — sentiment is much too fragile to serve as the basis for an enduring common life together. Thus, Carlson and Mero argue that we must re-functionalize the home — by encouraging measures such as home-based work and businesses, a “family wage” for parents who have to work outside the home, home schooling, and home-based care for elderly parents. In sum, the natural family will be renewed only when our economic and practical lives bind us more tightly to our spouses, children, and parents.

Third, an implicit if not always explicit message communicated by The Natural Family is that the Republican party and the larger pro-family movement have not accomplished much in their three-decade effort to promote pro-life and pro-family policies. Carlson and Mero argue that the larger pro-family movement has been beset by squabbling, and a desire to go negative — that is, focus on the latest assault on family life — to keep the coffers full. Although they do not say much about the Republican party explicitly, they do point out that the average four-person family is now paying a lot more in taxes than it did in the 1950s — despite the fact that the Republicans have had numerous opportunities over the last 30 years to take a serious stab at remedying the tax burdens of families with children in the home. More fundamentally, they point out that most family-related social trends — from illegitimacy to pornography to the marriage rate — have worsened since the Republican party’s ascendancy started in 1980.

So what might be done to turn around the nation’s four-decade retreat from marriage? While acknowledging the importance of cultural renewal, Carlson and Mero present a number of creative public-policy ideas that would help renew the natural family.

On the legal front, they propose that state governments reintroduce “fault” into laws governing divorce — to give greater legal force to the marriage vow, to increase spouses’ confidence in their marriages, and to ensure that innocent spouses are not hit with the loss of property and child custody just because their spouse wants out of the marriage. On the tax front, the authors contend that the personal-income-tax exemption for children should be increased to $5,000, that the current $1,000 child tax credit should be indexed to inflation, and that families should be given generous tax credits for their Medicare and Social Security taxes when they are caring for children and elderly parents (20 percent for each child 13 and under, and 25 percent for each parent or grandparent in the home).

Policies such as these would lend legal and financial power to the natural family, and deepen the dependencies that sustain it. In turn, by shoring up the nation’s best department of health, human services, and justice — i.e., the natural family — these policies would reduce the need for the expansion of local, state, and federal government. Now there is a cause around which conservatives can unite.

Perhaps Governor Carcieri reads NR?

Does the IWW Want to Criminalize the Receipt of Private Income? An IWW Leader Responds

Carroll Andrew Morse

I paid a visit to yesterday’s Industrial Workers of the World rally in North Providence, nominally a protest against the North Providence police department in response to the events of the August 11 confrontation between IWW protester Alex Svoboda and the North Providence Police. Mark Arsenault and Lynn Arditi describe the rally in today's Projo. While there, I was able to offer IWW organizer Mark Bray an opportunity to respond to my description of the IWW as an organization whose ultimate goal is to criminalize private income…

Anchor Rising: I wrote a blog post last week, after reading the preamble of the IWW Constitution, characterizing the primary goal of your organization as the criminalization of all private income in re-organizing how work is done in the world. Is that accurate or not?

Mark Bray: Our goal is to have democracy in the workplace, so that people that work in a specific place, as a group, can decide how the product of their labor is distributed. We are not saying that everyone ought to be paid necessarily the exact same amount of money or anything like that, but rather as we have democracy in society and municipalities, we ought to have it in our workplaces too. That’s the long term message of the workers' union.

AR: Would you call yourself a socialist?

MB: I wouldn’t call myself a socialist, no. If you read up on the history of the union, it was founded by some people that were socialists, such as Eugene Debs. There are overlapping features with the IWW and other political organizations, but it is not a political party and does not follow a specific "ism". It has similarities with other political ideologies, philosophies, and groups. There are socialists who also want democracy in the workplace, but there are ways in which we differ.

For example, Eugene Debs and many other socialists broke away from the union in the early 1910s because they disagreed on issues. In the 1920s, a lot of union members broke away to form the Communist Party. You can see that communism and socialism, as political ideologies, headed in different directions. It would be incorrect to characterize the IWW as communist or socialist.

As the primary organizer of the rally, Mr. Bray had to move on before I could ask the follow-up that my second question was leading towards. I'll throw it out here for discussion, for anyone who’d like to take it on.

Whether you want to call it socialism, communism, Marxism, Trotskyism, or something else, collectivization movements throughout history have failed to produce the combination of freedom and prosperity that capitalism has. I don’t doubt the idealism that’s driving the younger members of the IWW, but that kind of idealism was present also in earlier collectivization movements and did not prevent them from taking disastrous turns. So why do the members of the IWW, or anyone else at this point in history, think that their particular system of collectivization will succeed, when all of the others, across many times, places and cultures, have failed?

Gonzales Resigns

Carroll Andrew Morse

From the New York Times...

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, whose tenure has been marred by controversy and accusations of perjury before Congress, has resigned. A senior administration official said he would announce the decision later this morning in Washington.

England Continues to Ask for Calamity

Justin Katz

Hot on the heels of news that gun crimes are up since Britain banned guns comes this controversy:

The database, which goes live next year, is to contain details of every one of the 11 million children in the country, listing their name, address and gender, as well as contact details for their GP, school and parents and other carers. The record will also include contacts with hospital consultants and other professionals, and could show whether the child has been the subject of a formal assessment on whether he or she needs extra help.

It will be available to an estimated 330,000 vetted users. Some of those allowed to check records, such as head teachers, doctors, youth offender and social workers, are uncontroversial, but critics have questioned why other potential users, such as fire and rescue staff, will have access to the database.

The concern is that, with so many children listed, and with so many people able to access it (with however many more able to find ways to break into it, I'd add), this database will be ripe for misuse. Apparently, the government already gets that, though:

The security fears are fuelled further by the admission that information about the children of celebrities and politicians is likely to be excluded from the system.

August 26, 2007

Go West, Young Welfare Recipient

Justin Katz

I thought this sentence was a parody — or at least a cynical paraphrase — when I first saw it on Instapundit, but it's an actual quote from a news story:

Record low unemployment across parts of the West has created tough working conditions for business owners, who in places are being forced to boost wages or be creative to fill their jobs.

Here's more from the article itself:

Established baby boomers, including retirees, have been moving into Montana for the mountain views and recreation, bringing with them money for new homes that fuel construction job growth, said Swanson.

Along the way, younger people have moved away searching for bigger paychecks as the state's wages still lag behind other areas and are slowly increasing overall. Now, the aging work force is unable to expand to meet the demands of the job market, Swanson said.

He said the problem is compounded by the fact that employers, accustomed to paying relatively low wages, have been slow to increase salaries. Montana wages have historically been among the lowest in the country, and still rank near the bottom. The silver lining for workers is that wages are now growing at the third-fastest rate among U.S. states.

Kinda makes a Rhode Islander wonder whether it mightn't help our disproportionate number of poor people make the healthy move to a booming economy, as in Montana, where one can start at over $20,000 a year working for McDonald's, if we were to cease contributing so much public dough to their inertia.

My Poor Imitation of Augustine, ie, re, re re Confessions

Marc Comtois

Justin, I understand your argument and I may have appeared to have crossed back and forth over a line, so the lack of nuance is my fault. My initial post and response weren't an either/or, but an elaboration that one's perspective of "generic stranger" changes over time.
And I do think this is a fairly nuanced argument. It just has been my experience--and I acknowledge that we equate our own experience with societal generalities at our own peril--that my kids have neither the intellectual nor social sophistication to make the logical jumps you ascribe as possible; ie; that someone else may be a dad and I should be wary, so I should be wary of my own dad. I simply don't agree that kids can make the extensions such that the societal prescription against trusting men is that no dad's can be trusted.

I certainly am not arguing for the over-zealous do-gooders who see a predator in every man. My only perspective is the one I have, that of a Dad--and coach--who can live with being profiled if that allays the fears of parents. I'm confident my actions--getting to know me--will take care of the rest (I hope). I suppose it could be compared to the traffic-camera debate, for instance: if you have nothing to fear, then don't worry. Perhaps I'm stepping back over the libertarian line on this, I don't know. But my gut reaction is to understand the reason why society has gotten to this level of suspicion while also recognizing that it's too bad it has. In the meantime, I think it's up to individuals in their private interactions to show that any initial fears former strangers may have had can be forgotten.

I think you're arguing that our admittedly too-cautious approach--the thickening of the cocoon--is actually perpetuating the problem and causing long term defects in our a priori view of men in particular and other people whom we don't know in general. And if "society increasingly pushes aside the very people who most needed its direction...." well, hasn't it always been thus? Maybe this is too cynical, but I think that these socially maladjusted individuals have always been around, we're just more aware of them now. That was another point in my original post, mass-media certainly increases the decibel level on these things and affects our perception--and resultant reaction--to tragedies of all types. And now we could get into a multi-beer discussion on cause and effect, but I won't.

Look, I know that I'm arguing from primarily a personal level. I recognize that by buying into profiling even in its lightest form that I may, somehow, be contributing to some big-picture consequences for all men. (Heck, maybe it's because I have only daughters). But I'm just not as concerned over your "what ifs" on this one, that's all. We should certainly take the "do-gooders" to task when they go too far, we just might not agree on how far that is.

Rerere: Confessions

Justin Katz

Marc — Of course your children don't see you as untrustworthy, and of course, you haven't taught them to. But about whom are we speaking? I referred to "cultural truisms."

Although I do so very hesitantly, let's put aside the possibility that the do-gooders would treat you no differently, with respect to your own children, than they would some other presumedly predatory male. The point remains that this accepted level of precaution includes their father. In other words, that male hand on the billboard could be dad's. The soccer coach whom the league has instructed not to have physical contact with the children is dad. Whatever signals your children absorb from the society around them with respect to men's "potential for violence and sexual aggressiveness" will present no exception for their father. (And here I emphasize that fathers are — or should be — the central male figures in children's lives.)

Do you think your children will not pick up on the differences in the ways in which others treat you and your wife? Your comments about one's own familial circle of trust are inarguable (although applicable to both genders)*, but it was the public profiling for which you initially admitted support. The different mentions of coaches draw the distinction most clearly: In one post, they're to be warned beyond an invisible barrier from the children; in the next, they're within the trusted circle. (I note also that you seem to be shifting from "like all other men" to "strangers" in general.)

Obviously, there's a churning range of causes and effects, from the explicit directives of an individual parent to the vague impressions perpetuated in popular culture, and to some extent we're arguing at different ends. I'm not arguing that any particular person "acts in an untrustworthy manner" because he feels "that people unfairly don't trust" him. I'm arguing that the general image — the general profile — of men as vessels of predation in varying degrees of restraint has repercussions in the relationships that girls and women form with them. (I actually had females in mind, as much as males, as those reaping loneliness and isolation.)

It seems to me that this shift in social interactions, subtle though it may be, will tend to increase the number of grown men with a poorly formed ability to develop relationships. The effect is heightened, I'd say, by the barriers that are increasingly being built between boys and men, hindering the ability of the former to find healthy routes toward becoming the latter. (There's a whole 'nother tangent, here, in the power that then moves to government and cultural players to offer images for emulation.)

Because society doesn't function in an "us getting along with them" manner (we're all both us and them), your prescription against the stranger's isolation misses the mark:

But I don't think that being mistrusted simply because you are a stranger is a permanent sentence to loneliness or isolation. By engaging your community-volunteering, church, school — you can cease becoming "the other" and begin becoming part of the neighborhood. But it takes time.

If part of the problem is that men are sliding into a sense of isolation, society must draw them into involvement. Any man who takes determined steps to become involved is heading in the right direction of his own accord. (Although any man who takes too determined steps to gain trust would surely arouse suspicion.) In other words, in the modern attempt to lay out clear rules and procedures, society increasingly pushes aside the very people who most needed its direction.

* The manner in which and reasons for which we treat men and women differently when it comes to trusting them with our children relates to a peculiar obsession with sexuality and sexual acts in our era. Surely there are other ways in which adults can abuse children, some of which might actually do more harm in the long run than fondling.

ProJo: Teacher Benny's "All over the board"

Marc Comtois

The ProJo reports that teacher benefits in RI are "all over the board" and gives some stats in the differences among plans by district and differences in buyback options. It's an old and familiar tune around here, but the central point is worth repeating:

Last year, after a decade in which health insurance emerged as a critical and contentious contract issue, 33 of the state’s 36 districts required some form of cost sharing. But teacher contribution still trails private sector workers in the state by a wide margin — although in some communities teachers are paying far more than other public employees.
Hey, school boards and city councils are as at fault as the unions here, folks. In the world of collective-bargaining, they haven't been up to snuff (even granting their amateurish experience versus those employed by unions solely to bargain). But maybe going forward, they can take Rhode Island Federation of Teachers President Marcia Reback statement--that “to the people I represent, health insurance is as important — if not more important — than salaries"--as a way to prioritize negotiable line-items. But perhaps the biggest line-item that can be dispensed with is the asinine "buy back" options that are still included in nearly all state contracts--teacher and otherwise. It can't be that difficult to determine if an employee is covered by their public-employee spouses health insurance, can it?

Forbidden Opus

Carroll Andrew Morse

Kudos to the Providence Journal for running the Opus comic strip deemed too controversial for the funny pages by a number of major newspapers, including the Washington Post.

The spiked strip can be seen here, at the Salon magazine website.

RE: Confessions - A Response

Marc Comtois

Justin, in your response to my "confession," you wrote that:

the price of your peace of mind is not paid by you, but by your children: in the effects of a personal and cultural mindset that requires even daddy to be lumped with predators.
Well, as for the personal, my kids certainly don't lump me in with their vague notion of untrustworthy big people--much less a predator. I'd venture to say that most kids feel the same about those they know because, well, the know them. Those they don't know, the other if you will, do fall into the vague category of untrustworthiness, though. But being among the untrusted is only a temporary category.

Your worries about "room for male role models" or "possibility of trust crucial to the development of future relationships" seems to presume a permanent categorization of strangers into those not-to-be-trusted. In my experience, that isn't the way it works. While the presumption of guilt is there--and I don't really like any more than you--it can be overcome by the day-to-day actions and behavior of an individual. Today's stranger is tomorrow's coach and the next day's friend.

Or, perhaps more accurately, today's stranger is my kid's coach tomorrow; and my friend as the weeks and months pass. Because we are really talking about the background stuff that adults engage in, over the heads of our children. The kids aren't "in" on the upper level dialogue and protocols that are constantly in play. (At least they shouldn't be, but I realize some parents let their kids in on everything. TMI). It's all a vague set of warnings and caution to them. Maybe your are correct that the net affect is a climate of mistrust. But I think that by properly educating our children--showing by example--how we adults get to know each other and build trust we inculcate in them the judgment and prudence necessary for them to function in society.

Kids don't know that every soccer coach gets a background check conducted on them. They just know that that person is coach, can be trusted on the field because Mom or Dad say it's OK. A subtle line has been crossed. You've been upgraded from presumed predator to trusted supervisor (albeit, usually if your being supervised--from afar--by Mom and Dad!). Now some parents will still frown on you giving hugs to their kids. But we all have different levels of trust. Trust has to be earned, right? I don't think that has changed.

I think what has changed is that because we are a much more mobile society, we don't have the same long-standing family or social networks in place to help do the vetting for us. So we have become overcautious or we've resorted to "the state" to help us (ie; background checks for coaches). And it can go too far--way too far--like that billboard or in parents who don't trust anyone.

But I don't think that being mistrusted simply because you are a stranger is a permanent sentence to loneliness or isolation. By engaging your community-volunteering, church, school--you can cease becoming "the other" and begin becoming part of the neighborhood. But it takes time.

I think it's a stretch to link our society's changed trust-building "system"--no matter how knee-jerk and overcautious it is--as a causal factor in demeaning the self-esteem of men to the point where they lash out in a predatory fashion.

Anyone who acts in an untrustworthy manner because they feel that people unfairly don't trust them probably had a few wires crossed in the first place. The psychologically paranoid will always find some reason to justify their paranoia, won't they?

I won't belabor this any more. Just to be clear, I think it is sad that we as a society feel we have to be more cautions than we used to, as I believe I indicated in the original post. However, what hasn't changed is that we all still have to earn the trust of those we don't know. The barriers are higher--and some do go too far--and it may take longer to do so (and some parents will never fully trust you), but it isn't an impossible task.

August 25, 2007

More on the president's VFW speech

Mac Owens

"Sophisticated" writers and policiticans continue to criticize the president's invocation of Vietnam during a speech last week before the VFW. As everyone knows, he argued that a premature withdrawal from Iraq would lead to the same sort of bloodbath as ocurred in Vietnam after the US Congress perpetrated the most shameful act in American history--literally pulling the rug out from under a US ally faced with a threat to its very existence.

One Democrat who has not joined the chorus of howels is my friend and fellow Marine infantry veteran of Vietnam, Jim Webb. Maybe that's because of an op-ed he wrote for the Wall Street Journal in April of 2000. Speaking of the final offensive that led to the North Vietnamese victory, Webb placed a great deal of the blame on the "Watergate" Congress. Webb wrote:

"This Congress was elected in November 1974, only months after Nixon's resignation, and it was dominated by a fresh group of antiwar Democrats. One of the first actions of the new Congress was to vote down a supplemental appropriation for the beleaguered South Vietnamese that would have provided $800 million in military aid, including much-needed ammunition, spare parts and medical supplies.

"This vote was a horrendous blow, in both emotional and practical
terms, to the country that had trusted American judgment for more than
a decade of intense conflict. It was also a clear indication that
Washington was abandoning the South Vietnamese even as the North
Vietnamese continued to enjoy the support of the Soviet Union, China
and other Eastern bloc nations. The vote's impact was hardly lost on
North Vietnamese military planners, who began the final offensive only
five weeks later, as the South Vietnamese were attempting to adjust
their military defenses.

"Finally, the aftermath of Saigon's fall is rarely dealt with at all.
A gruesome holocaust took place in Cambodia, the likes of which had
not been seen since World War II. Two million Vietnamese fled their
country — usually by boat — with untold thousands losing their lives
in the process. This was the first such diaspora in Vietnam's long and
frequently tragic history. Inside Vietnam a million of the South's
best young leaders were sent to re-education camps; more than 50,000
perished while imprisoned, and others remained captives for as long as
18 years. An apartheid system was put into place that punished those
who had been loyal to the United States, as well as their families, in
matters of education, employment and housing. The Soviet Union made
Vietnam a client state until its own demise, pumping billions of
dollars into the country and keeping extensive naval and air bases at
Cam Ranh Bay."

Good stuff. I hope Jim will argue that the president is correct, at least with regard to his Iraq-Vietnam analogy.

Of Free Market Slaves and the Doomed Capitalist

Justin Katz

Some comments from Michael, of Rescuing Providence, touch on basic differences of assumptions and perspectives. The first was to my "Proud to Be Non-Union" post:

I never expected the folks here at Anchor Rising to be pro-union, but the depth of misunderstanding concerning organized labor and the willingness to serve as lackeys to powerful corporate thugs is unbelievable. When will people realize that most of us will never be rich! Our system, once fair and healthy now works against the individual. We are not the "investor class." Without organized labor we'll be no better off than the slaves in China. Unions are not the enemy.

Perhaps I've a tin ear for this tune, but it sounds as if Michael is expressing doubts that individuals can at the same time be autonomous and substantial. To wit, the only counter to powerful corporations is powerful union organizations (with or without their influence on powerful government). The only way to avoid servitude is to submit to collective management.

My own perspective, as one of those unaffiliated slavish lackeys, is that I have sufficient personal value to my employer to negotiate fair terms; if we cannot agree, then either I am not achieving what I ought or he is not conducting business as he ought. Whichever proves true, artificially perpetuating the relationship would maintain a state of affairs that ought to change. Worse, forcing my employer to give me more than he believes I'm worth will not make him a better businessman; it will lead him to move the burden of his bad practices elsewhere (and with the benefit of my talents).

A company may seek to exploit those workers who are not individually indispensable, but it will seek to capitalize on — and retain — the talents of those employees who make themselves valuable in their own right. But through the dictation of employment terms, a union draws a line between those who are within its fold and those who are not. Unionists present the latter group as too-wealthy executives (or greedy, nepotistic politicians), but the pain of their smaller pie is more likely to be felt by lower-tier professionals and those who are not employed at all (a group that can include former members of the union). In The Road to Serfdom, F.A. Hayek suggested that Nazism was "a sort of middle-class socialism... to a large extent a revolt of a new underprivileged class against the labor aristocracy which the industrial labor movement had created." I couldn't help but think of Rhode Island's current situation when I first read Hayek's next paragraph:

There can be little doubt that no single economic factor has contributed more to help these movements [i.e., fascism and National Socialism] than the envy of the unsuccessful professional man, the university-trained engineer or lawyer, and of the "white-collared proletariat" in general, of the engine driver or compositor and other members of the strongest trade-unions whose income was many times theirs.

Contrary to Michael's protestations, to those whose lives are adversely affected by being outside of the union's embrace, the union is the enemy. And to the extent that we accept his view of employers as the enemy, those folks are only the more without friend. The only way to ensure that nobody is harmed by outsiderdom would be to force everybody into the same group; in other words, to bring about communism. Unfortunately, if our initial premise is that the individual cannot combat the will of those who are more powerful, it makes little sense to consolidate power totally. Those wealthy thugs will find themselves in the best position to transition into powerful positions in a system that will now allow them even more liberty in controlling circumstances to their advantage.

This ties into the reason that Michael is right about communism, but that it is in all of our interests to prove him wrong about capitalism:

Communism in its purest form might actually work, however, nothing is pure and communism was doomed before it got started, thankfully taken down by human nature. Human nature, in my opinion anyway, is what will be the downfall of capitalism. Too few have too much, whether earned or inherited. The system as we know it is destined for collapse, maybe in our lifetime.

The relevant quality in human nature is the inclination to seek improvement of one's own situation. Communism restricts the majority's ability to do so significantly, while increasing the planners' ability. Capitalism, by contrast, is designed to thrive on individual autonomy, so the same quality in human nature asserts itself as restrictions placed on others, increasingly by means of restricting everybody such that those whose advantages place them beyond an initial barrier have freer rein. Regulations — and unions — ensure that the truly powerful are less likely to find themselves threatened by competition, and the remedy is to enable that competition.

I'd note that the complaint of human nature applies backwards in the logical progression to unions, and is visible in another of Michael's comments to the first-linked post:

I have no desire to defend public or private unions. I only speak of my own experience. My union leaders are not thick necked thugs. Local 799's president is a front-line highly decorated and respected firefighter and an attorney, our vice-president is a fellow Bishop Hendricken grad, class of '80 and a class act, our secretary treasurer is one of my best friends, a great firefighter and better rescue lieutenant and a CPA. The image of unions as a bunch of thugs who care nothing about anything but themselves is plain wrong.

No doubt all of Michael's friends and fellow union members are good guys; I've no desire to treat them as Michael treated corporate executives when he lumped them together and called them "thugs." But note their close-knit nature, as Michael frames it. Note also the other attributes by which he describes them: an attorney, a private-school graduate, and an accountant. These are people who may indeed turn out to be rich, and who are certainly not a misnegotiation or two from slavery. I humbly suggest that there's a disconnect between the union rhetoric and its apparent reality.

Be all of this as it may, I'm among those who believe that firefighters and rescue workers ought to be well compensated for their work, which means that I agree with most of what Michael writes in a final comment:

I could go into detail about the lives I have saved (there are many) and property I have protected but I would rather not. The reason I do what I do and risk my health and my family's welfare is because my union negotiates benefits that our elected officials would take away in a heartbeat to fund somebody's friend's project, create a job for somebody's cousin or simply line their pockets. As taxpayers we should want the best equipped, staffed and trained personnel available. Instead, the sentiment in business, more for less, has pervaded our public safety agencies. Don't think for a second that thousands would line up for my job if I quit tomorrow and there was no reward. My job is hard, as I'm sure yours is. I'm not wealthy but I make a good living and have my union to thank. That my living is funded by taxpayer dollars does not make me less worthy. I have no intention of quitting unless things get so bad I can no longer afford to be a firefighter. If that happens, I'll get by, I always have. I made a lot more money before I became a firefighter.

As taxpayers, we should want the best equipped, staffed, and trained personnel available, which is why I'm not sure that unions are necessary to give them a boost. Under a healthy system, were elected officials to abuse their power at the expense of the security and safety of their constituents, somebody or, in a worst-case scenario, some tragedy would expose their behavior, leaving them open to electoral or even criminal repercussions. Paying critical personnel well below their worth would not be long sustainable.

As we see in Rhode Island, however, the clout of special interests, including unions, keeps our system from being a healthy one. The evidence that leads Michael to speak of the "heartbeat" speed of corruption is, in part, made so — and made to be accepted by way too many Rhode Islanders — by the interplay of powerful forces in the state. If everybody forms activist groups in their own interests, there remains only a battle between groups, all with some degree of sympathy for the corrupt behavior of the others. This is not to say that Michael or any of his coworkers condone or engage in corrupt behavior, but although there is a spectrum along which to balance principle and the insider-mentality, human nature will tend to present a group's benefit to one's self as deserved, but the benefits to others from their competing groups as suspect.

Re: Confessions

Justin Katz

There is reason for concern, Marc, that in your statement of the trade-off as between your "peace of mind" and "the safety of [your] kids" on one side and "being presumed a predator" on the other, you are missing negatives to the former and exaggerating the benefits of the latter. Arguably, the price of your peace of mind is not paid by you, but by your children: in the effects of a personal and cultural mindset that requires even daddy to be lumped with predators.

Where is the room for male role models (let alone heroes)? Where is the possibility of trust crucial to the development of future relationships? Although I don't have any relevant data (and wouldn't be sure how to collect it), personal experience with failed relationships, including others' divorces, leaves me suspecting that "the side of caution" is also the side of loneliness and isolation.

Furthermore, it is at least plausible that said isolation has a reinforcing corollary in the exacerbation of men's tendency toward dysfunctional expression of their sexual drives. The lifelong suspicion against them, expressed most intimately in the difficulties it creates in their personal relationships, may actually manifest in predatory behavior. Thus from the fears and insecurities of parents is a world created that more readily creates monsters — becoming such because they are presumed to be so, anyway, and kept at arms length from what should be normal behavior with adults — and stigmatizes innocents as presumed victims, spreading among them a dulled version of the deleterious psychological effects that actual victimhood can cause.

We must take what precautions we personally feel necessary, of course, but extending those precautions to the level of cultural truisms — to the point of plastering billboards with a picture of a man's hand holding a child's as if to cross the street, with impropriety insinuated in the caption — makes a harmful virtue of cowardice.

Confessions of a Potential Profilee

Marc Comtois

Jeff Zaslow (h/t):

Are we teaching children that men are out to hurt them? The answer, on many fronts, is yes. Child advocate John Walsh advises parents to never hire a male babysitter. Airlines are placing unaccompanied minors with female passengers rather than male passengers. Soccer leagues are telling male coaches not to touch players.

People assume that all men "have the potential for violence and sexual aggressiveness," says Peter Stearns, a George Mason University professor who studies fear and anxiety. Kids end up viewing every male stranger "as a potential evildoer," he says, and as a byproduct, "there's an overconfidence in female virtues."

Now social-service agencies are also using controversial tactics to spread the word about abuse. This summer, Virginia's Department of Health mounted an ad campaign for its sex-abuse hotline. Billboards featured photos of a man holding a child's hand. The caption: "It doesn't feel right when I see them together."

Sorry, but I'm OK with profiling men this way because, well, men are the overwhelming majority of sexual predators. But I also think the objections raised against this practice have merit. The urge to cocoon our kids has certainly been heightened in the over-protective society we now live in.

30 years ago I could ride my bike two miles to the local 5 and dime to buy a pack of baseball cards. My wife and I wouldn't think of allowing our kids to do that now. Heck, if we did we may even get accused of neglect!

So what has changed? In short, everything. Today's mass media broadcasts every local tragedy to the world "community" in seconds. When confronted with those stories--and especially the images of police tape and head-shot of some missing or dead cherub--we all feel "it could happen here" and take the necessary steps to protect our kids. Add in that we simply don't have as many kids as we used to--making them all the more precious--and the cost/benefit analysis of over-protection vs. tragedy tilts toward "caution." Of course, the trick is to do it without scaring the bejesus out of them!

In many ways it was a simpler time when I grew up, if only because we were all a lot more blissfully ignorant than we used to be. I suspect a lot of the same tragedy occurred back then, but we weren't made aware of it instantly. Today, we have Amber Alerts from Nevada or live Flood Coverage from Ohio blaring at us from several competing all "news" channels at any time of day, including in those after-school hours. How different from a world of 3 commercial channels pumping out game shows, soap operas and reruns instead. Our culture has certainly changed and the reality is that, like it or not, it fosters the angst-ridden, worry-wart parent in all of us.

If the price I have to pay for a little peace of mind and, perhaps ultimately, the safety of my kids is being presumed a predator--like all other men--then so be it. My priority is my kids first, my pride second. I think most parents can relate to that.

Still, it is sad that it's come to this. But err on the side of caution is a cliche because...well, you know.

August 24, 2007

A Vocabulary Lesson for Lima

Justin Katz

Here's a lesson in the proper application of the word "unscrupulous" for Charlene Lima:

Unscrupulous vendors in Thailand have been selling meat of the deadly puffer fish disguised as salmon, causing the deaths of more than 15 people over the past three years, a doctor said Thursday.

Clearly those vendors need increased fines and a requirement for continuing education.

The NY Times: All the Bad News That's Fit to Print

Marc Comtois

On Sunday, the NY Times published and op-ed by 7 soldiers from the 82nd Airborne in which they explained their reservations about the way the War in Iraq is going. An excerpt:

Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, “We need security, not free food.”

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are — an army of occupation — and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.

Their credibility is obvious and their piece has generated much debate (google and ye shall find). Yet, the most credible response in support of the current effort in Iraq may be from 7 other soldiers who also served there.
Of the almost 3,000 soldiers from the Army's storied 82nd Airborne Division currently serving in the hottest of Iraqi neighborhoods, seven felt confident enough in their misgivings to sign an opinion piece. They should not be surprised that many of their comrades--including the seven undersigned here--find their work to be misguided.

The 2nd Brigade is responsible for two dangerous areas of Baghdad: Adihamiyah and Sadr City. Airborne troopers there have seen the worst al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army can throw at them and the Iraqi people. But the whole story is that the Iraqis and soldiers in their sector have not yet been fully affected by the surge of troops and operations, which have barely been in place two months.

But I call your attention to the last line of the author bio tag: This Op-Ed was originally submitted to the New York Times, which declined to publish it. (h/t)

What a fine display of editorial responsibility, huh?

Hillary: Republicans Would Benefit from Terror Attack

Marc Comtois

What to make of this?

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday raised the prospect of a terror attack before next year's election, warning that it could boost the GOP's efforts to hold on to the White House.

Discussing the possibility of a new nightmare assault while campaigning in New Hampshire, Clinton also insisted she is the Democratic candidate best equipped to deal with it.

"It's a horrible prospect to ask yourself, 'What if? What if?' But if certain things happen between now and the election, particularly with respect to terrorism, that will automatically give the Republicans an advantage again, no matter how badly they have mishandled it, no matter how much more dangerous they have made the world," Clinton told supporters in Concord.

"So I think I'm the best of the Democrats to deal with that," she added.

The former first lady made the surprising comments as she explained to supporters that she has beaten back the GOP's negative attacks for years, and is ready to do so again.

So what's she saying? Well, apparently she's acknowledging that the public views any generic Democrat as weaker on terror than any generic Republican. But she's also trying to say that she's the best one of the worst, I guess. I think she botched this one.

Drawing the Iron Curtain?

Justin Katz

Perhaps I'm just noticing examples more, of late, but there seems to be an increasing stream of worrying news items, such as the following, coming out of Russia:

Russia's armed forces chief of staff on Thursday described as "hallucinations" Georgia's claim that Russian warplanes had violated its border on Tuesday, Interfax news agency reported.

Georgia, which has accused Russian aircraft of dropping a missile near its capital Tbilisi earlier this month, said on Wednesday two more Russian jets had illegally crossed its borders. Russia has rejected the claims.

"It must be that our Georgian colleagues are starting to suffer from hallucinations," General Yuri Baluyevsky said.

I'm beginning to see this January 2003 post as naive and to worry that we'll too soon be looking back on the palpable excitement of the '90s in wistful lament at our subsequent loss of illusion (a pleasant fantasy that the new millennium quickly proved, of course, to be naive). How much of the next ten years' politics will suffer the turbulence of mass longing to reenter the dream?

A Mob in Their Own Minds

Justin Katz

There's something fun about this, but there's also something just a bit creepy, too:

Our fourth Mp3 Experiment was our biggest mission to date. 826 people downloaded the same mp3, pressed play at the same time, and had a blast together on Lower Manhattan’s beautiful waterfront.

The video brings to mind the solitude in a crowd that technology is abetting. Once one might have asked somebody else what he or she was reading in public, for example. Or if a group of people were behaving in an curious manner while all reading from the same text, interested passers-by could secure a glimpse. Note the uninvolved guy about midway through this headphone-based group event who tries to get an answer as to the story.

Reading through a graphic murder scene in Richard Wright's Native Son for a college course, something almost felt wrong about the fact that my future niece was playing in the next room. I often wonder, when I see people in public with headphones, what world might be playing out in their heads. At least the MP3 Experiment folks were mostly smiling. Imagine if they were not.

August 23, 2007

That Old-Time Education

Justin Katz

Victor Davis Hanson takes a worthy (albeit brief) look at modern education and makes some suggestions:

We should first scrap the popular therapeutic curriculum that in the scarce hours of the school day crams in sermons on race, class, gender, drugs, sex, self-esteem, or environmentalism. These are well-intentioned efforts to make a kinder and gentler generation more sensitive to our nation’s supposed past and present sins. But they only squeeze out far more important subjects.

The old approach to education saw things differently than we do. Education ("to lead out" or "to bring up") was not defined as being "sensitive" to, or "correct" on, particular issues. It was instead the rational ability to make sense of the chaotic present through the abstract wisdom of the past.

So literature, history, math and science gave students plenty of facts, theorems, people, and dates to draw on. Then training in logic, language, and philosophy provided the tools to use and express that accumulated wisdom. Teachers usually did not care where all that training led their students politically — only that their pupils’ ideas and views were supported with facts and argued rationally.

He also thinks that an Master's degree ought to count as qualification to teach, in order to fill classrooms with people with "real academic knowledge rather than prepped with theories about how to teach."

The President, Iraq and Vietnam

Mac Owens

The president has taken a lot of heat for his reference to Vietnam in yesterday's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. it appears to be the case that he is the only person in the United States who is not permitted to refer to Vietnam when speaking about Iraq. My take on the reaction to his VFW speech is here on NRO. The title of the NRO piece refers, of course, to Bugs Bunny's second best known line: "What a maroon."

What Black Men Think

Marc Comtois

I recently caught a C-SPAN Q&A with Janks Morton, Jr., who was promoting his new film, What Black Men Think. It attempts to dig into some of the problems--both cause and affect--facing African-Americans today. According to his website:

Since the triumphs of the civil rights legislations of the early 1960′s havoc and decimation has been wreaked on the black family with a specific devastation on the black man. With negative imagery of the media, the failed policy of the Great Society and modern era black leadership abandoning tenets that historically held the community together, a new form of mental slavery has perpetuated an undeclared civil war in the black community…
Reviews have been positive.
What Black Men Think is highly recommended as an excellent alternative to the mainstream propaganda which would have us internalize the worst beliefs about an unfairly maligned segment of society. Perhaps more importantly, this groundbreaking documentary ought to serve as an overdue wake-up call for young African-American assume the responsibility of reprogramming their own minds in a positive manner instead of voluntarily internalizing a self-defeating mentality which amounts to little more than the 21st Century's equivalent of slavery...

Three cheers to Janks Morton for making a film which constructively employs a marginalized segment of the black intelligentsia as a valuable resource. Though often scorned as traitors by their more liberal colleagues, in this instance they are presented as well-meaning role models with viable proposals for their people, as opposed to being the unwitting pawns of a power structure only interested in maintaining the status quo.

Some of those conservatives are people like Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams, both of whom have written extensively on the failure of both the progressive "Great Society" and the self-appointed "leaders" of the African-American community to alleviate the social ills suffered within the African-American community.

Morton's primary goal is to shatter some myths about black men

The film sets out to debunk stereotypes that he said have been perpetuated for so many years that they have struck the black community to its core. Stereotypes that have insulted, demoralized and humiliated. That have left others intimidated by black boys and black men...

Morton appears on screen in dark shades, "Matrix"-like. "More than one hundred years ago," he said, "Harriet Tubman was quoted as saying: 'If I could have convinced more slaves they truly were slaves, I could have freed thousands more.' ''

At another point, the screen rolls up. Rolls down, deliberately out of focus. Morton said, "How could you have bought into the false castigations that keep you from one another?

"You sit idly by and watch your media distort your images. You know that the government stratifies you. You know that the black leadership exploits you, and you choose to do nothing."

A recent column by Sowell lends support to Morton's claim that the self-appointed black leaders and progressive whites--to whom the media run for pontification on all things African-American--offer a distorted picture:
The poverty rate among black married couples has been in single digits since 1994 but the left has shown no more interest in why that is so than they have shown in why many millions of people have risen out of poverty in Latin America or in China and India.

Where progress can be plausibly claimed to be a result of policies favored by the left, then such claims are made.

A whole mythology has grown up that the advancement of minorities and women in America is a result of policies promoted by the left in the 1960s. Such claims are often based on nothing more substantial than ignoring the history of the progress made prior to 1960.

Retrogressions in the wake of the policies of the 1960s are studiously ignored -- the runaway crime rates, the disintegration of black families, and the ghetto riots of the 1960s that have left many black communities still barren more than 40 years later.

Williams echoes Sowell's allusion to a better time for African-Americans:
During the 1940s and '50s, I grew up in North Philadelphia... It was a time when blacks were much poorer, there was far more racial discrimination, and fewer employment opportunities and other opportunities for upward socioeconomic mobility were available. There was nowhere near the level of crime and wanton destruction that exists today. Behavior accepted today wasn't accepted then by either black adults or policemen.
Morton agrees and joins them in asking African-Americans to recall a time before the '60's, when times were tougher for African-Americans, but they were strong in their families and were more self-sufficient:
In the film, Morton and others, conservative and liberal, concede there are real difficulties in the black community. "The real, real deal with black people right now -- we have the highest divorce rates, we have the highest over-40-year-old single rates," Morton says on screen. "We have the lowest marriage rates. The highest out-of-wedlock birth rates. What I'm saying to you is . . . one generation ago, we didn't look like this."

As the movie rolled at the recent one-time showing at the Avalon Theatre, there were knowing nods throughout the crowd, as if the movie confirmed theories.

"As black women, we've been led to believe there are no good men, that they are all in jail," Thembelani Smith, 32, an IT project manager, says after the film. "That isn't even true. Sometimes because the messages are imbedded in your head, you are quick to judge. That movie was long overdue. It's good to have these kinds of conversations."

Yes it is.

Surprise! President Clinton Lied!

Marc Comtois

According to Newsweek:

In September 2006, during a famous encounter with Fox News anchor Wallace, Clinton erupted in anger and waived his finger when asked about whether his administration had done enough to get bin Laden. “What did I do? What did I do?” Clinton said at one point. “I worked hard to try to kill him. I authorized a finding for the CIA to kill him. We contracted with people to kill him. I got closer to killing him than anybody has gotten since.”

Clinton appeared to have been referring to a December 1999 Memorandum of Notification (MON) he signed that authorized the CIA to use lethal force to capture, not kill, bin Laden. But the [CIA] inspector general’s report made it clear that the agency never viewed the order as a license to “kill” bin Laden—one reason it never mounted more effective operations against him. “The restrictions in the authorities given the CIA with respect to bin Laden, while arguably, although ambiguously, relaxed for a period of time in late 1998 and early 1999, limited the range of permissible operations,” the report stated. (Scheuer agreed with the inspector general’s findings on this issue, but said if anything the report was overly diplomatic. “There was never any ambiguity,” he said. “None of those authorities ever allowed us to kill anyone. At least that’s what the CIA lawyers told us.” A spokesman for the former president had no immediate comment.)

Remember, when Bill was President, we were told that having Hillary as First Lady meant we were really getting a Presidential two-fer, right? Keep that in mind...(more here, h/t).

Rhode Island Higher Education Top-20 Rankings

Carroll Andrew Morse

Brandie Jefferson of the Projo's 7-to-7 blog has an item about Bryant University's top-20 ranking by the Princeton Review in the category of "career and job placement services"

Bryant wasn't the only college to be ranked in the top 20 -- or maybe the bottom 20, depending on the category -- in the national survey.

Brown University did well in a number of positive categories…

  • (6) The Toughest to Get Into
  • (5) Best College Radio Station
  • (13) Best College Theater
  • (2) Happiest Students

The University of Rhode Island, however, was top (or bottom 10) in a number of negative categories…

  • (10) Professors Get Low Marks
  • (10) Professors Make Themselves Scarce
  • (10) Their Students (Almost) Never Study
  • (9) Dorms Like Dungeons

And Providence College also ranked in a number of categories that they probably won't be mentioning in their recruiting brochures…

  • (1) Homogeneous Student Population
  • (8) Little Race/Class Interaction
  • (19) Everyone Plays Intramural Sports
  • (4) Lots of Hard Liquor

Not that it's living up to the stereotypical reputation of a b-school or anything, but job placement was the only category that Bryant University placed in…

  • (9) Best Career/Job Placement Services

Roger Williams University and Salve Regina University didn't make any of the top-20 lists.

Rhode Island College, Rhode Island School of Design, and Johnson & Wales University appear not to have been considered in the rankings.

August 22, 2007

Every Which Way but Truth

Justin Katz

Perhaps for the sake of being clever, John Derbyshire ignores a thing that is very odd for a conservative writer to ignore. Granted, the related twofold goals of his review of Robert Spencer's book Religion of Peace? — Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn't give him a narrow context in which to work. It would be difficult, I'll concede, to argue both that Christianity and Islam are alike in their "magical thinking," which must necessarily make way for the advance of secularism among those with empirical inclinations, and that the "moral universalism" and "humane forbearance of the Prince of Peace" are the West's weaknesses (not secularism) against the Islamofascist threat, while still admitting that a great many of the strongest advocates against that ideology's encroachment count themselves as followers of said Prince.

Derbyshire manages to leave this consideration out of his piece through the tidy mechanism of a declaration that "Spencer can't have it both ways." That is, he can't insist that Christianity contributed much that Derbyshire agrees is good in Western society — "science and political progress" — without also having contributed to the unthinking (and suicidal) acceptance-ism that tends toward "impulses to hate [their own] culture and yield to its enemies." Through this mechanism, it becomes Derbyshire who gets to have it both ways. Toward his first goal:

To us pagans, it looks rather as though science only really got going when the power of faith had ebbed from its late-medieval high point; and then, it got going mainly in those north European nations that had embraced Protestantism after the Reformation. ...

To people who eschew such [magical] thinking — people who prefer to ground their beliefs in the strict rules of evidence used in modern law and science — Mohammed’s flying through the air to Jerusalem on a white steed is no more preposterous than the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception; and so, God’s instructions to us through Mohammed are no more or less likely to make us better or worse than his instructions through Christ.

But toward his second:

It may even be that Robert Spencer suspects, at some level, that this sickness in the Western soul has its roots in Christianity, just like — according to him — every other aspect of our civilization.

Derbyshire may cloak his reference to the Christian "sickness" with a "may" and an "according to," but a fair reading of what follows suggests that it is, in fact, what he himself believes to be true. So, from his point of view, no, Christianity did not provide "the seed-bed from which modern science grew," but yes, it did conspire — two millennia into its lifespan — to make us cowards perhaps fated to a "religion of slaves."

A bit of common knowledge that Derbyshire gives not the merest consideration is that the “diversity” and open-borders movements are of secular and progressive origin, with their roots at least in part in relativism about such things as religion — the very relativism that he displays when he compares "preposterous" doctrines. The West's potentially fatal problem isn't that Christians believe that they must roll over for conflicting ideologies in the name of peace, but that secularism, both of itself and in the degree to which it has corrupted Christianity, has promoted the idea that it doesn't matter whether or not Christianity is true.

This is why — or one reason why — he errs in his suggestion that "even if it were true that the church midwifed science... following delivery of the newborn, the midwife's services are no longer required." The metaphor (although no doubt carefully chosen for this reason) wrongly excludes the possibility that the church has a crucial role to play in a scientifically educated society. Christianity produces "a civilizationally-suicidal view" only when blended with the notion that the religion itself doesn’t matter, whether the destruction comes at the hands of a more aggressive converting power or as a result of unfettered “advancement” plucked clean of inconvenient moral restrictions.

Derbyshire picks the anti-religion provocateur Christopher Hitchens as his example of a secularist whom he'd trust for "standing and fighting against jihadism" more than a Christian and the dhimmitic, retiring Dutch Roman Catholic Bishop Tiny Muskens as his example of why. Once again, the key is that which is ignored: these two men are notable mainly for their uniqueness within their categories. When the jihadis come a'callin', whom would you rather have on your side: Derb's conservative Christian peers or the world’s secular liberals? Obviously the former, because people with faith in their own beliefs will defend those beliefs, even if they scrutinize a doctrine of just war as they do so.

U.S. Incomes Aren't Falling

Marc Comtois

That this NY Times story on how "U.S. incomes are falling" is being seized upon by those looking to denigrate the "Bush economy" (and continue playing the class warfare card) is, well, unsurprising. Too bad the premise of the piece ain't exactly true, according to U.S. News economist/columnist James Pethokoukis (commenting on a derivative story published in the Boston Globe):

"More Americans making ends meet with less money," was the headline atop a Boston Globe story Tuesday morning. The newspaper went on to tell its readers that Americans in 2005 earned a smaller average income, when adjusted for inflation, than in 2000, $55,238 vs. $55, 714.

What the story notably failed to tell readers is that incomes have been on the rise since 2002, a fact I gleaned from a different version of the story on the New York Times website. (The original version of the Times story had a misleading headline "Average Incomes Fell for Most in 2000-05," but it was later changed to "2005 Incomes, on Average, Still Below 2000 Peak." The Globe story also said that Americans' total income in 2005 was $7.43 billion. I'm pretty sure it's "trillion," not "billion.")

It might have also been nice had either story mentioned the great likelihood that the Internal Revenue Service data the newspapers relied on will show further income gains for 2006 and 2007, given the state of the economy and the continuing rise in real wages. I would have also liked to have the seen the two stories give a nod to the fact that government numbers tend to overstate inflation, and thus real incomes probably did even better than the official numbers show. How about this for a fair headline: "Incomes Grow for Third Straight Year, Though Still Below 2000 Peak"?

Woulda, shoulda, coulda....Now how would that have advanced the class-warfare agenda, James?

T. Blumer at Bizzyblog (here and here--h/t) has much more info that takes apart the Times analysis as does Tom Maguire, who points out that the Times implies it is referring to individuals when it is using household numbers and also makes this interesting point about these wages vs. time stories:

The problem with a study comparing cross-sections of the economy at two different times is illustrated by the absurd initial headline, which read "Average Incomes Fell for Most in 2000-5"....A group of people filed tax returns in 2000. Five years later, some of those people had died, retired and had no taxable income, or otherwise fled the tax reach of Uncle Sam. Let's say, hypothetically, that the typical person has fifty years as a taxpayer, so that in five years there would be ten percent turnover. In this guess, 90% of the Tax Year 2000 group is still filing in 2005. And in addition to those filers, a whole new group of high school and college grads as well as new arrivals to our verdant shores will be filing.

So - mathematically it is possible that every last manjack (and womanjack) in the 90 percent who filed in both 2000 and 2005 had a higher income in 2005. If the oldsters who retired and died made more than the newbies to the job market, the average income could still fall.

In which case, the headline would be what - people are dissatisfied even though 90% earn more than five years ago? Hey, that could even be true - maybe folks expected ten percent real wage boosts and only got five percent (on average); maybe new job entrants are disappointed by their current station in life relative to their expectations.

However, the IRS numbers are not helpful in gauging people's expectations, are they? Nor are they helpful in telling me what percentage of the 2000 group had a higher income in 2005.

Finally, Engram at Back Talk makes the point that actual after-tax household income is higher now than it was in 2000.
Average after-tax household income was $62,500 in the year 2000, but that income value was already exceeded by the year 2004 (with an average value of $62,900). For 2005, the numbers will look even better. Isn't the the New York Times trying to convince us that we are still lagging 2000 income values even as of 2005? Yes, but the New York Times is wrong....

Even when looking at after-tax income (i.e., even when taking into account the Bush tax cuts), the top 20%, unlike the median income group, had not recovered their 2000 income levels by 2004 (update: actually, the values are an exact tie, so the rich have just gotten back to where they were by 2004). Numbers like these should come with a government warning because they could easily cause one's liberal head to simply explode.

I guess that explains the continual economic mis-reporting: they are only engaging in self-preservation!

If You Want No More Games, Take Away the Ball

Justin Katz

New Hampshire employs more public employees per citizen than Rhode Island does — so explained the Rhode Island NEA's Bob Walsh in a comment to this post:

Mike - Well, I am not a Marxist (unless Groucho counts) but I assume you know by now that the "New Hampshire" miracle is really the New Hampshire mirage. NH, in fact, has 24,700 state employees in total (source: Governing Magazine, which lists RI at 17,500). More importantly, NH has 188 state government employees per 10,000 population (31st nationally) versus RI at 164 per 10,000 population (40th nationally).

Although I noticed that Mr. Walsh didn't address the fact that led commenter Mike to introduce New Hampshire into the discussion in the first place — that the larger state runs on significantly less public money — I'm always intrigued by arguments that Rhode Island isn't floating somewhere near the bottom of the pool and poked around for Bob's source. And sure enough, not only does New Hampshire have more state and local employees per 10,000 population (188 and 475, respectively) than Rhode Island (164 and 353), but Connecticut (196 and 463) and Massachusetts (187 and 425) do, as well. Of course, it bears mentioning that only Connecticut pays its public workers more and that Rhode Island's median household is significantly poorer:

As you can see, Rhode Island is the only one of the four states with an average public employee salary that is higher than the median household income. (The two data points aren't comparable to each other for a variety of reasons, though. For one thing, the salary numbers are averages, which is arguably more appropriate when discerning how much the average worker costs the state, while the income numbers are medians, which gives a better impression of the general wealth of the state's citizens by diminishing the effect of outliers. This consideration is probably far outweighed, however, by the fact that the income is for households, while the salaries are for individuals and often represent only a portion of a "public employee household.")

The information in the above figure ties in curiously with something that Walsh goes on to say:

We also have a higher cost of living, and our public sector compensation is generally in line with MA and below CT (which is our market).

The interesting — all too typical, from a public union guy — point is that Rhode Island, despite being poorer, has both a higher cost of living and union compensation packages to match the wealthier states. No wonder we feel so strained!

Now add pensions into the analysis. When it comes to public employees' contributions to their own pension systems (according to Bob's source), Rhode Island ties Massachusetts for the lowest percentage (13.4%, versus CT's 16.2% and NH's 22.3%). Not surprisingly, when it comes to the highest contributions from the public, Rhode Island (23.2%) is only outdone by Connecticut (31.5%) — a state with notably low returns on pension-related investments.

Here enters a counterintuitive finding that illustrates just how sunken Rhode Island is:

Somehow, Rhode Island manages to charge public employees a lower percentage of their pension plans, while still charging them more actual dollars than all states but Massachusetts — at the same time that it's charging its citizens a comparably high dollar amount. One possible reason for this result is that Rhode Island's pension offerings are just too generous. Walsh prefers a different spin:

This is an extremely important point regarding pensions - teachers already contribute 9.5% of salary towards their own pensions, and while the combined management contribution (state and local) is listed as over 22% of salary in the coming year, the vast majority of that contribution is related to the existing unfunded liability, and the sustaining contribution needed to actually support the pension for the individual teacher is less than 4%. So, if you did manage to stop the pension system on a going forward basis, the vast majority of the contributions would still need to be made in addition to a match for a 401-k type system. We need to stay on the path toward full funding of the system, without any more game playing, and when full funding is realized, the state and local contribution needed will be under 4% combined.

Check with the pension board, do your own math, consult with the experts, etc. - these are the actual mathematical facts - keeping the pension systme intact is cheaper, and it provides a better benefit in almost all respects.

(Explained another way - every time the pension system was underfunded in one way or another - early retirements, banking crisis, marked to market, less than market rate return, etc. - it was as if the state borrowed the money at 8.25% (the average expected annual yield on the fund.)

I suspect that I'm not alone in believing it unwise to structure our state's financial recovery around an assumption that our leaders will stop their "game playing." There's always something or other that needs to be financed; there's always some crisis causing fiscal insufficiency. I further suspect that I'm not alone in allocating much of the blame for previous "game playing" to the unions themselves, and their muscle in electing the very candidates who've created this situation.

Note how Walsh doesn't miss a step in spinning on behalf of the poverty industry, as well as his own: "We have more poverty in Rhode Island, and deal with it charitably, which matches the values of the majority of folks in our state" Clearly, he's not willing to see Rhode Island's welfare system as a competitor for overdrawn state and local funds. Also clearly, the NEA hasn't found a way to elect candidates who will forgo all other instances of waste and corruption for the sake of those two.

Not only would a 401K system likely save us money amid the corruption that we must expect, but it would get that money out of the hands of the legislators whom the unions work so hard to put into office.

Anachronistic History: Ruth Simmons on George Washington

Marc Comtois

In a ProJo story about the annual reading of George Washington's Letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Brown University President Ruth Simmons is quoted thusly:

She touched upon the moral contradictions underlying the noble desires of past leaders who were eager to uphold freedom, despite an indifference to the injustice of slavery.

“We all know that these lofty and compelling ideals were largely omitted from discourse when it came to Africans and Native Americans.… In failing to apprehend the corrosive evil of slavery and the immoral inequities that it was to create for generations of descendants, Washington compromised his legacy as a moral leader,” she said.

This is simplistic. Historians agree that Washington's views on slavery certainly evolved from his early manhood up until he freed many of his slaves in his last will. For Simmons to opine that he "fail[ed] to apprehend the corrosive evil of slavery and the immoral inequities that it was to create for generations of descendants" betrays a blindered view of history. The fact is, Washington was hardly indifferent and fully recognized the evils of slavery.

In a letter to the Marquis de Lafayette on May 10, 1786, Washington wrote:

The benevolence of your heart my Dr. Marqs. is so conspicuous upon all occasions, that I never wonder at any fresh proofs of it; but your late purchase of an estate in the colony of Cayenne, with a view of emancipating the slaves on it, is a generous and noble proof of your humanity. Would to God a like spirit would diffuse itself generally into the minds of the people of this country; but I despair of seeing it. Some petitions were presented to the Assembly, at its last Session, for the abolition of slavery, but they could scarcely obtain a reading. To set them afloat at once would, I really believe, be productive of much inconvenience and mischief; but by degrees it certainly might, and assuredly ought to be effected; and that too by Legislative authority.
In September of that year, he wrote to John Mercer:
I never mean (unless some particular circumstance should compel me to it) to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted, by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure, and imperceptible degrees.
He wrote to Charles Pinckney on March 17, 1792:
I must say that I lament the decision of your legislature upon the question of importing Slaves after March 1793. I was in hopes that motives of policy, as well as other good reasons supported by the direful effects of Slavery which at this moment are presented, would have operated to produce a total prohibition of the importation of Slaves whenever the question came to be agitated in any State that might be interested in the measure.
Or Lawrence Lewis, in August of 1797, that:
I wish from my soul that the Legislature of this State could see the policy of a gradual Abolition of Slavery...
Yet, amidst this, he very clearly did equivocate with regards to his own slaves. For instance, in his letter to Tobias Lear on April 12, 1791, concerning the anti-slavery laws in Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, as the capital then, would be Washington's home and he was concerned with how to maintain his own slaves without having them freed (As they would be if in Pennsylvania for over 6 months). And he went to secretive ends to assure his hold on them: case it shall be found that any of my Slaves may, or any for them shall attempt their freedom at the expiration of six months, it is my wish and desire that you would send the whole, or such part of them as Mrs. Washington may not chuse to keep, home, for although I do not think they would be benefitted by the change, yet the idea of freedom might be too great a temptation for them to resist. At any rate it might, if they conceived they had a right to it, make them insolent in a State of Slavery. As all except Hercules and Paris are dower negroes, it behoves me to prevent the emancipation of them, otherwise I shall not only loose the use of them, but may have them to pay for. If upon taking good advise it is found expedient to send them back to Virginia, I wish to have it accomplished under pretext that may deceive both them and the Public; and none I think would so effectually do this, as Mrs. Washington coming to Virginia next month (towards the middle or latter end of it, as she seemed to have a wish to do) if she can accomplish it by any convenient and agreeable means, with the assistance of the Stage Horses &c. This would naturally bring her maid and Austin, and Hercules under the idea of coming home to Cook whilst we remained there might be sent on in the Stage. Whether there is occasion for this or not according to the result of your enquiries, or issue the thing as it may, I request that these Sentiments and this advise may be known to none but yourself and Mrs. Washington . From the following expression in your letter "that those who were of age might follow the example of his (the Attorney's people) after a residence of six months", it would seem that none could apply before the end of May, and that the non age of Christopher, Richmond and Oney is a bar to them.
Clearly, Washington wasn't above subverting his ideals the closer the issue of slavery got to home. However, he also recognized the evils of slavery even if his actions failed to align with this recognition. One common defense of Washington's actions is encapsulated at the website:
Washington did not lead a public fight against slavery, however, because he believed it would tear the new nation apart. Abolition had many opponents, especially in the South. Washington seems to have feared that if he took such a public stand, the southern states would withdraw from the Union (something they would do seventy years later, leading to the Civil War). He had worked too hard to build the country to risk tearing it apart.
Historian Dorothy Twohig elaborates:
For Washington, as for most of the other founders, when the fate of the new republic was balanced against his own essentially conservative opposition to slavery, there was really no contest. And there was a widely held, if convenient, feeling among many opponents of slavery that if left alone, the institution would wither by itself. Ironically, the clause of the Constitution barring the importation of slaves after 1808 fostered this salve to the antislavery conscience by imparting the feeling that at least some progress had been made.
Further, Twohig explains that Washington, essentially an aristocrat, was nervous about the emotionalism of many abolitionists (particularly Quakers). To that end, she observes:
...given his accurate conception of his own great and pivotal role in the infant country and his fears for the survival of the Republic itself, it is far from likely that he was ever sorely tempted to open as a national issue the Pandora's box that the Constitutional Convention appeared to contemporaries to have closed for the next twenty years.
It is a tragedy that neither he nor the other Founders took action sooner, but their primary concern was with safeguarding a nascent nation, even if that meant sacrificing the central American ideals of freedom and liberty in the process.

However, it is last will and testament that probably indicates his final, and true, feelings on the matter of slavery.

Washington once told a visiting Englishman that slavery was neither a crime nor an absurdity, noting that the U.S. government did not assure liberty to madmen. "Until the mind of the slave has been educated to understand freedom, the gift of freedom would only assure its abuse," Washington explained.

His will, drafted a year later, said otherwise. He wrote that he wished he could free all the slaves at Mt. Vernon, but couldn't because some belonged to his wife's heirs, and he didn't want to divide families. Unless Martha or her heirs freed the Custis slaves as well, families would be broken up. [Henry] Wiencek [author of The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White] believes George was trying to persuade Martha to use her influence on her heirs to free the Custis slaves--but she did not. Washington also stipulated that the freed children be taught reading, writing and a trade.

"His will was a rebuke to his family, to his class, and to the country. He was well ahead of people of his time and place," Wiencek said. "This is George Washington's true legacy. He'd said the slaves weren't ready for freedom, but at last he said they must have it because of their humanity."

Yet, as historian Dennis Pogue comments:
Washington's will swiftly gained the public attention envisioned by its author, appearing in print almost immediately, with no less than 13 editions published in 10 different cities in 1800 alone. And yet, if Washington hoped that the decision to free his slaves would compel large numbers of his countrymen to follow his lead, he was sadly mistaken.
His final act, though noble, didn't inspire the sort of change that he foresaw. He tried--if only fitfully and sometimes half-heartedly--to end slavery. He could have done more. Yet, Simmons' critique that Washington "fail[ed] to apprehend the corrosive evil of slavery" is clearly wrong. He knew it was immoral and that its existence ran counter to the claims of the American Revolution, but he felt his hands were tied by the practical politics of the day. Further, it is unfair of Simmons to expect that Washington could have had the Delphic vision to see "the immoral inequities that [slavery] was to create for generations of descendants." Like the other Founders, Washington believed that slavery would wither away. He was clearly wrong. Nonetheless, he recognized that to succeed, slaves (or former slaves) needed to be educated and prepared for a life of freedom before actually being set free.

Ultimately, Washington's failure was one that became more obvious as time went on. He and the other Founders kept the nascent Republic together by acceding to the political practicalities of the day. This meant acquiescing temporarily--as they truly believed--over the issue of slavery. Retrospectively, it is indeed a failure to uphold the American ideals of freedom and liberty for all.

Perhaps Simmons was trying to say that the failure to deal properly with the slavery issue shows that Washington and the other Founders weren't really as great as we should have hoped. Such an argument is hardly new, especially in academic circles. But Simmons has taken a now-common recognition of the acute failure of the Founders with regards to slavery--a critique that is deserved, if in context--and applied a layer of hyperbole that that results in skewing the perspective too much the other way. It is both undeserved and innaccurate. Washington's writings indicate he was at times rueful, at times hypocritical, and at times idealistic about the issue of slavery and its eventual end. Such conflicting thoughts and actions made him all the more human and make it all the more remarkable that he was able to do what he did.

August 21, 2007

Woolly Thinking on The Presidential Race

Carroll Andrew Morse

Peter Woolley, political science professor from Fairleigh Dickinson University, began his op-ed on the 2008 Presidential race published in Monday’s Projo with this sentence…

Don’t assume that 2008 will represent an easy Democratic win over the Republicans.
The article is mostly about how a third party candidate might change the dynamics of the Presidential race, upsetting the presumed Democratic victory. But presumed by whom? The opening sentence raises the question of why anyone should expect an easy Democratic victory in 2008, when a recent national poll has shown the current Republican frontrunner 7 points ahead of the current Democratic frontrunner.

A number of academics and journalists seem to be wandering dangerously close towards the ground occupied famously (and possibly apocryphally) by theater critic Pauline Kael in 1972…

Nixon can't have won; no one I know voted for him.

Joseph Montalbano: Personally Opposed to but Publicly Supporting the Right to Take Bribes

Carroll Andrew Morse

The cases against current Senate President Joseph Montalbano and former Senate President William Irons go before the State Ethics Commission today. Jim Baron has described the charges in the Woonsocket Call

The principal complaint against Irons is that, while receiving commissions from CVS Pharmacies and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island in his private insurance firm, he helped kill legislation opposed by the two companies.

The main Montalbano complaint arises from legal work he did for the town of West Warwick as an attorney in private practice, concerning land abutting the site of the proposed Narragansett Indian casino in that town, while he voted on casino questions in the Senate and in committee.

Senator Montalbano’s defense counsel Max Wistow, last seen arguing that requiring any financial disclosure by elected officials was unconstitutional, has a new strategy for defending his client. Now, Mr. Wistow argues that state legislators have constitutional immunity from laws against bribery, as long as the bribes are specifically intended to buy votes. I kid you not. Here’s the Associated Press' description of the defense (via 7-to-7)…
Montalbano's attorney, Max Wistow, says there was no conflict-of-interest. He also says the state constitution allows General Assembly members to vote however they choose without fearing criminal prosecution or other penalties.
The provision of the state constitution referred to is Article VI, Section 5
Immunities of general assembly members. -- The persons of all members of the general assembly shall be exempt from arrest and their estates from attachment in any civil action, during the session of the general assembly, and two days before the commencement and two days after the termination thereof, and all process served contrary hereto shall be void. For any speech in debate in either house, no member shall be questioned in any other place.
Note that Section 5 is in no way limited to actions by the Ethics Commission, so the Wistow/Montalbano position is that legislators cannot be prosecuted for selling their votes in any court or tribunal in the state of Rhode Island.

Of course, like a good lawyer, Wistow is also arguing, as a matter of fact, that Senator Montalbano didn’t take bribes that he can’t be prosecuted for. This may take a favorite meme of the Democratic party -- “personally opposed but publicly in favor” -- to its boldest heights ever, as Senator Montalbano tells the public that, though he doesn't personally take bribes, he has instructed his legal team to support the right of those who want to take them to be able to do so!

Do you think that "Proudly Pro-Choice on Accepting Bribes" would make a good bumper sticker for the Montalbano campaign in '08? It certainly seems that it would be an accurate one.


The Ethics Commission has rejected the argument that legislators have blanket immunity from the law where their votes are concerned. Bruce Landis of the Projo reports...

The state Ethics Commission yesterday rejected all of state Senate President Joseph Montalbano’s motions to dismiss ethics charges against him, including his claims that the state and federal constitutions protect him from prosecution based on his votes....

[Ethics Commission lawyer Jason Gramitt] said that the1986 amendment [to the RI Constitution] specifically cited “use of position” as something subject to the ethics rules. He asked, rhetorically, what is a more central “use of position” of a legislator than voting on bills?

Problems Overcome

Justin Katz

My Projo piece from last Friday is now up. I mention it for those who haven't read it, for those who wish to read it in Projo html, for those who'd like to help me create the illusion that I can drive readership, for those who have the time and inclination to play "find the edits," and for those who disbelieved me.

Shutting Down Freedom of Speech

Donald B. Hawthorne

Duncan Currie writes in The Libel Tourist Strikes Again: How to Kill a Book You Don't Like:

In late July, Cambridge University Press announced it was destroying all its remaining copies of Alms for Jihad, a 2006 book exploring the nexus of Islamic charities and Islamic radicalism. At the same time, Cambridge asked libraries around the world to stop carrying the book on their shelves. The reason? Fear of being sued in a British court by Sheikh Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi billionaire who ranks as one of the world's richest men--and whose suspected links to terrorist financing earned him a mention in Alms for Jihad.

Cambridge issued a formal apology to bin Mahfouz, and posted a separate public apology on its website...

Neither [authors] Burr nor Collins joined the apology. Both American writers and U.S. citizens, they stand by their scholarship. "We refused to be a party to the settlement," says Collins, a professor emeritus of history at the University of California-Santa Barbara. "I'm not going to recant on something just from the threat of a billionaire Saudi sheikh." What's more, he adds, "I think I'm a damn good historian."...

According to Ehrenfeld, there are "at least 36 cases" since March 2002 where bin Mahfouz has either sued or threatened to sue (mostly the latter) in England over the documentation of his alleged terror connections. He is the most prominent Saudi "libel tourist," the moniker given to those who exploit British law to silence critics. "It's had a tremendous chilling effect," Ehrenfeld argues, on those seeking to investigate bin Mahfouz and other Saudi bigwigs...

Therein lies the deeper significance of this case. Bin Mahfouz has a habit of using the English tort regime to squelch any unwanted discussion of his record. In America, the burden of proof in a libel suit lies with the plaintiff. In Britain, it lies with the defendant, which can make it terribly difficult and expensive to ward off a defamation charge, even if the balance of evidence supports the defendant...

Many "charities," it seems, have fueled Islamic radicalization across the globe and given tangible assistance to terrorists. As Collins points out, the book is extensively referenced with hundreds of footnotes.

More than two years ago, the London Times warned that "U.S. publishers might have to stop contentious books being sold on the Internet in case they reach the 'claimant-friendly' English courts." So why hasn't this become a cause célèbre for American publishing firms and journalists?

"There's been very little mainstream media coverage" of the Alms for Jihad story, observes Jeffrey Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Bonus Books (which published Funding Evil). This lack of outrage is "absolutely appalling," Ehrenfeld says. "They are burning books now in England, and we are sitting here doing nothing." As for her own legal struggle, she says, "It's been a very lonely fight. It still is."

A tremendous chilling effect, indeed. And where is the outrage?

Lack of Strikes Would Be No Surprise

Justin Katz

According to 7 to 7, none of the teachers' unions in the eight districts that are currently without (or soon to be without) contracts are planning to strike:

With Rhode Island schools scheduled to start opening next week, teacher unions in eight districts have not signed new contracts -- including Providence, the state’s largest district, with 26,000 students and 2,100 teachers.

Contracts in Burrillville, East Greenwich, Exeter-West Greenwich, New Shoreham, Providence and Tiverton are due to expire Aug. 31. Teacher contracts in Jamestown and the Ponaganset regional district shared by Foster and Glocester expired June 30. ...

So far, no district is threatening to strike. Representatives of the state’s two teacher unions, the National Education Association of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, say they think teachers will report to work as usual, even if a new contract is not in place by the time school starts, although they emphasized that decision is up to individual districts.

Putting aside the fact that teacher strikes are illegal, with the state flat-funding schools and the public mood increasingly hostile to the status quo, it would be unwise to pick highly visible fights, just now. Of course, I can't speak to the possibility that school committees aren't pressing this negotiating advantage hard enough.

August 20, 2007

Proud to Be Non-Union

Justin Katz

Commenting to my initial mention of my latest Providence Journal op-ed, Michael writes:

I wonder why you find satisfaction in the "non-union" designation. I've worked for years in the construction trades and for the most part found union carpenters and their non-union counterparts have equal skills and ethics, only the union guys are making a fair and decent living and the non-union guys are struggling to make ends meet. Also, I've never seen an incompetent union carpenter, some non union contractors hire people with little or no skill.

The first thing to note is that I (in addition to my clients, I might add) am a manifest beneficiary of non-union contractors' willingness to "hire people with little or no skill." I'll add to that their willingness to throw employees into situations for which they are not clearly prepared. I've been doing this work for about two and a half years, before which time I scarcely knew how to denail a 2x4, and market demands threw opportunities at my feet that never would have come my way in a controlled system. Before my first year of experience was complete, I was running a job (under my boss's close watch, of course), and I had gained sufficient experience to begin finishing basements on the weekends. I suppose that some shifts in union tectonics might have yielded the same results, but I suspect that I'd still be "doing my time" and would certainly be further from the realistic possibility of going out on my own.

This ties into an overstatement on Michael's part, which in turn recalls the central argument of my column: some "non-union guys" are doing just fine — many of them because they have become contractors themselves. They earn a healthy living by fostering a healthy market, by which I mean one with competition.

Although space constraints didn't enable me to expound upon the "establish players" to whom my piece makes reference, union shops are clearly among them (perhaps chief among them). As Milton and Rose Friedman explained in Free to Choose, "A successful union reduces the number of jobs available of the kind it controls." The relevant method of accomplishing this reduction is through licensure and other requirements for working. Increasing the regulations that weigh down an industry will increase the value of an organization that addresses those impositions, and the cost of overcoming the obstacles (and then some) will be passed on to the consumer.

Why am I satisfied to be non-union? First, because I can advance as quickly as my talents allow, even razing my own career path. And second, because I am not part of a system that is ultimately unhealthy for society and exploitative of consumers and the workforce both.

Rasmussen: Giuliani Opening a National Lead, But What About Individual States?

Carroll Andrew Morse

I know it’s early, but a primary (ha ha) point here is to put certain quarters of the Republican coalition on notice that the idea that “George W. Bush screwed things up so badly, we never stood a chance” will not be accepted as an excuse for losing the 2008 Presidential election. From Rasmussen’s latest national head-to-head polling…

  • Rudy Giuliani 47%
  • Hillary Clinton 40%
  • Fred Thompson 43%
  • Hillary Clinton 46%
And for those who point out (rightly) that state-by-state results as more important than nationwide results in the American electoral system (a factor that Republicans like to consider before going into an election, not after) here is Rasmussen’s latest from Ohio (survey conducted August 8)...
  • Rudy Giuliani 44%
  • Hillary Clinton 43%
  • Fred Thompson 43%
  • Hillary Clinton 44%
...and Wisconsin (survey conducted August 15) …
  • Rudy Giuliani 44%
  • Hillary Clinton 45%
  • Fred Thompson 41%
  • Hillary Clinton 45%
However, a definite warning sign for Republicans is Florida (survey conducted August 9), which went for George W. Bush in both 2000 and 2004…
  • Rudy Giuliani 44%
  • Hillary Clinton 49%
  • Fred Thompson 40%
  • Hillary Clinton 53%
Finally if the trend of strong national support for Giuliani coupled with multiple battleground state toss-ups continues, expect progressive support for “National Popular Vote” to mysteriously disappear.

August 19, 2007

Crossing the Line

Justin Katz

Anchor Rising will not allow itself to be used to make specific threats of personal violence. Bobby Oliveira's comments are no longer welcome here. If he manages to get through our defenses (which is probable, given that he's on AOL), please let us know so that we can promptly delete his comments.

I've closed the comments section to this post, because it doesn't seem fair to talk about somebody who is forbidden from responding, even if the comments are legitimate. This doesn't mean, by the way, that the discussion will be allowed to simply move to a different post.

Maybe I'm Just Paranoid...

Justin Katz

... but this sort of news is beginning to sound less and less like a series of flukes:

Libertyville-based DMH Ingredients has filed a federal lawsuit against Changzhou Kelong Chemical Co. Ltd., saying DMH found metal shavings in 11,200 kilos of aspartame artificial sweetener the Chinese company shipped in 2005.

What's going on over there?

The Business of the Union, the Business of the State

Justin Katz

Whenever I read about arrangements such as Paul Edward Parker describes at the end of his Projo piece about state worker overtime, I wonder how polluted the public budget is with similar tricks and instances of advantage-taking:

One area that [Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals Director Ellen R. Nelson] hopes to address is a contract provision for union business. Union officials who also work for the state can be scheduled for weeks off, with pay, to handle union-related duties, such as meeting with other workers. But those union officials can also put in for extra shifts that week and be paid overtime, at the same time the state may be paying someone else overtime to cover the union official’s regular shift.

Nelson did not offer a solution, saying she wants to hear suggestions from the unions.

One suggestion that I would make is to declare that union business is not public business, and union duties ought to be financed via union dues. (At the very least, there would be a reduction in the money that unions would have on-hand to throw into the political ring.)

I also noticed, in the piece, an echo of a point that I've made before:

One reason state administrators find overtime more attractive than hiring additional workers is the benefits package that state workers receive.

“We have absolutely one of the richest benefit plans around,” [Department of Administration Director Beverly E.] Najarian said.

[Rhode Island Council 94 Executive Director Dennis R.] Grilli countered, “I think we’re getting a fair wage and benefit package. I don’t think it’s excessive.”

Note the strategic misdirection from the union guy: Grilli doesn't address the comparisons, merely asserts his opinion. Suffice to say that his view of fairness isn't surprising.

Also not surprising is another one of the aforementioned tricks:

Najarian described how the employees’ shares for health insurance are calculated. For most Rhode Island state workers, it is based on a percentage of the worker’s pay. In other states, including Massachusetts, workers pay a percentage of the insurance premium.

That makes a difference because, as health-care premiums escalate, the State of Rhode Island picks up a larger share of the cost.

Najarian also said that Rhode Island state workers pay less than their counterparts in Massachusetts — or in private industry.

She said the premium for a family health-care package is $16,148. Most Rhode Island state workers contribute 2.5 percent of their pay. With an average state worker having a salary of $46,600, the employee’s share would be about $1,165.

But a survey Najarian cited showed Massachusetts workers contributing 25 percent of the premium. The same formula applied in Rhode Island would result in employees paying $4,037 each.

When multiplied by roughly 15,000 full-time workers, the difference between the two formulas would be $43 million.

August 18, 2007

Assurances of Unscrupulousness

Justin Katz


First published in the August 17 edition of the Providence Journal.

It's a suspicious thing for a legislature's press release to use the word "unscrupulous."

"Unscrupulous" is a word for activists and marketers. When a representative body uses it to describe some of its constituents --- in this case, building contractors --- one suspects that it bubbled up as a talking point from the dark places of the statehouse, where laws are sold and bought. It's an adjective that novelists use to label minor businessman-type characters as "very bad."

This is not to say that there are no unscrupulous contractors in Rhode Island, but the specificity with which the General Assembly has targeted those in the construction industry and its notions about what actions will remedy the supposed problem give the impression that somebody behind the scenes stands to gain from the measures taken. It is telling that the 2007 anti-unscrupulosity bill (H6511Aaa) creates, as one of its provisions, seats for two builders' associations on the Contractors' Registration and Licensing Board. And it is not surprising that the law's matron in the House of Representatives, Charlene Lima, is the very same woman who tagged an after-your-bedtime amendment onto the state's budget seeking to thwart privatization of government jobs.

Call her the Champion of the Established Player.

Suppose that a carpenter discerns several ways in which to meet clients' needs more efficiently and inexpensively --- and with more scruples--- than contractors for whom he's worked. After years of the legislature's "protecting consumers," if he intends to undertake projects costing above the piddling amount of $1,000 (labor and materials), that well-meaning carpenter will have to register as a contractor (for $200), take up the lawyerly art of contract writing (including research of the various items that must be included in the language of each contract), acquire insurance for half a million dollars, and figure out what, exactly, will fulfill the requirement for "continuing education" (followed by paying for and participating in applicable courses). All of this before so much as handing out business cards, under threat of a devastating $5,000 fine ($10,000 for subsequent offenses, although one would hope that the first batch of cards counts only as one).

It would be exaggerating to call any of these requirements barriers, but even hurdles create disincentive, particularly in an industry populated by workers who picture concrete, not cursive, when they hear of "forms." An obstacle course of regulatory hoops would seem less apt to trip up schemers who require just the sort of advantage that paper shields can provide in the marketplace than craftsmen who merely wish to ply their trade.

This dynamic applies more broadly than just to the trades, of course. For all the astonishment at the disproportionate remuneration of CEOs, the lack of consequences for such mammoth waste is too often treated as inexplicable. That a national CEO for UnitedHealthcare, for example, could in one year earn 150% of the combined salaries of the 2,000 employees of RI's St. Joseph Health Services (including two hospitals and an assisted-living facility) suggests that something more than mutual insider backwashing is thwarting competition.

Healthcare is a heavily regulated industry, to be sure, but regulations and restrictions provide a safety cushion for incumbents generally. Registration/licensure, continuing education, industry-specific, and even minimum wage requirements all dam the flow of competition, while doing little more than adding administrative costs for corporations, category killers, and Big Box stores. Established players can pass on those costs to customers with an ease of inverse proportion to the difficulty that upstarts and up-and-comers have addressing the same necessities. Moreover, in a world of rapid transportation and instantaneous communication, the capability of moving facilities overseas makes larger companies the ones that benefit from the possibility of excising regulatory baggage.

Notwithstanding the good intentions of those who would wield the law to protect the little guy, nothing is so much to his advantage as freedom. That includes the freedom to make bad choices, as well as the freedom to profit from others'. Immoral and unfair business practices can be prosecuted; complaints can be filed and posted for the public. More importantly, businesses can leverage the poor behavior of their competition. If the goal is to stop wrongdoers, their deeds can be judged when done. Instead, the General Assembly has sought to "give consumers some assurance" in advance and encourage potential contractors to hedge, rather than strive, lest they stumble on "a rule or regulation promulgated by the board."

Just as one cannot deny that some contractors are crooks, one must acknowledged that not all of those who would wield the law have good intentions. Who will protect Rhode Islanders from unscrupulous legislators, and what assurance is available that those we elect are aware of their own responsibilities to us?

Broder talks to Fred Thompson

Marc Comtois

In case you missed, it David Broder talked to Fred Thompson and got some insight into what concerns the pending (c'mon already!) candidate:

The approach Thompson says he's contemplating is one that will step on many sensitive political toes. When he says "we're getting a free ride" fighting a necessary war in Iraq with an undersized military establishment, "wearing out our people and equipment," it sounds like a criticism of the president and the Pentagon.

When he says he would have opposed adding the prescription drug benefit to Medicare, "a $17 trillion add-on to a program that's going bankrupt," he is fighting the bipartisan judgment of the last Congress.

When he says the FBI is perhaps incapable of morphing itself into the smart domestic security agency the country needs, he is attacking another sacred cow.

Thompson repeatedly cites two texts as fueling his concern about the country's future. One is "Government at the Brink," a two-volume report (PDF- vol.1 and vol.2--ed.) he issued as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee at the start of the Bush administration in 2001 and handed to the new president's budget director as a checklist of urgent management problems.

The difficulties outlined in federal procurement, personnel, finances and information technology remain, Thompson said, and increasingly "threaten national security."

His second sourcebook contains the scary reports from Comptroller General David Walker (example-ed.), the head of the Government Accountability Office, on the long-term fiscal crisis spawned by the aging of the American population and the runaway costs of health care. Walker labels the current patterns of federal spending "unsustainable" and warns that unless action is taken soon to improve both sides of the government's fiscal ledger -- spending and revenue -- the next generation will suffer.

"Nobody in Congress or on either side in the presidential race wants to deal with it," Thompson said. "So we just rock along and try to maintain the status quo. Republicans say keep the tax cuts; Democrats say keep the entitlements. And we become a less unified country in the process, with a tax code that has become an unholy mess, and all we do is tinker around the edges."

Thompson readily concedes that he does not know "where all those chips are going to fall" when he starts challenging members of various interest groups to look beyond their individual agendas and weigh the sacrifices that could ensure a better future for their children.

But these issues -- national security and the fiscal crisis of an aging society with runaway heath-care costs -- "are worth a portion of a man's life. If I can't get elected talking that way, I probably don't deserve to be elected."

OK, that's fine and dandy, but Fred better get in quick. Right now, Rudy is starting to regain some momentum and put some distance between himself and Sen. Clinton.

August 17, 2007

Assistance to the Established Player

Justin Katz

Although programming problems (as I've been given to understand) have kept it in print-only limbo, I've got an op-ed in today's Providence Journal about the ways in which, under the headline of protecting the "consumer" from "unscrupulous" free agents (including construction contractors), government generally (and the General Assembly in particular) creates a regulatory regime that ends up protecting established players from the anti-corruptive of competition.

I'm particularly satisfied that the piece gave the Projo reason to add the fact that I'm a "non-union carpenter" to my biographical line.

So go on out and put down the fifty cents for a Friday edition of the Providence Journal, and if you're so inclined, it couldn't hurt to send the suits a note explaining that you did so out of interest in the opinions and writing of the Anchor Rising gang.

Something Smells Fishy About State Beach Concessions

Marc Comtois

This puff piece on House Deputy Majority Leader Peter G. Palumbo (D., Cranston) that details his efforts as a summertime vendor at the Misquamicut Beach Cafe provokes some questions.

It’s about 3 p.m. on a hot summer day, and Peter G. Palumbo, a deputy majority leader of the state House of Representatives, is greasing doughboys.

Sweat beads on his forehead as he briskly rubs pieces of dough on a tray of frying oil in the Misquamicut State Beach Cafe.

“Just in case we run out,” he says. “You can never have enough.”

Though the Cranston Democrat is better known for making laws on Smith Hill, he has a non-legislative summer job here in Westerly, as the sole contractor of the beach’s cafe and sundry shop.

For the past six summers, Palumbo has traded in his suit and tie for a T-shirt and shorts, a hall of squabbling representatives working the room for a kitchen of bubbly teenagers working the grills.

His business, T.J.& Company, Inc. also operates the concession stand at Scarborough Beach. Hmm. A Deputy House Majority Leader, who's been in the RI House since 1994, holds the contracts for two (out of 10) State Beach concession stands going back 6 years? Huh.

The companies that held the concession contract at Scarborough and Misquamicut, respectively, through the end of the 1999 season, were Roberto's Enterprises at $41,500 and Plaza Deli at $26,550. These contracts were rebid in the winter of 1999 and were to run from Memorial Day 2000 to Labor Day 2003.

The ProJo article isn't clear if Palumbo has also operated the Scarborough concessions for 6 years. It only states that "his relatives run" the place. There also isn't a clear indication given by the bid documents as to who won the Scarborough contract. The bid list is vague for Scarborough, which lists four vendors but, as I indicated, doesn't make clear who was awarded the contract. Here were the bids:

Del's of South County - $46,700.00
Robert J. Zenga, Jr. - $48,500.00
Roberto's Enterprises, Inc. - $50,100.00
TJ & Company - $61,777.77

The list for Misquamicut indicates only one vendor, Diversified Foods, Inc., with a bid of $56,100. It looks like Diversified initially got the Misquamicut contract, but something went awry because it was re-bid in 2001 for the 2002-2003 season. In fact, an addendum to the re-bid clarifies what happened in 1999. In addition to the Diversified bid, T.J. & Co. submitted a bid of $45,177.77, Plaza Deli a bid of $40,556 and Del's South County a bid of $39,500. So, despite being high bidder, Diversified was the winner. You'll see that this is a pattern {and well it should be, see pending explanation.--ed.} with the Department of Environmental Management, who awards these concession contracts. {Thanks to Chuck R. who points out in the "comments" section that of course DEM awarded the contracts to the "high bidder" because the $ amount given is the amount that the vendor pays to DEM. As Jonah Goldberg often remarks, "Homer nods," ie: "DOH!"--ed.}

Back to the 2001 re-bid. Here they are:

TJ & Company - $60,007.77
Polydoros Petrou - $53,000.00
Bricins, Inc - $50,100.00
Robert Ferrante - $41,510.00
Northstar Concessions - $45,151.00
Olympic Pizza - $38,355.00
Plaza Deli - $45,150.00

This time, TJ & Company won thanks to their high bid. (I haven't looked to see if the amount promised to DEM is equal to that actually delivered.)

At the end of 2003, the DEM decided to bundle the bidding for 10 State Park concession stands into one request. Unlike the past contracts, these were for five years, running from 2004 through 2008. Was this done to be efficient? I don't know. But the result was that almost every concession operation received only a single bid and every vendor that submitted a bid managed to win itself a contract. T.J. & Co. got Scarborough for $51,777 and Misquamicut for $48,777.

What does all of this mean? I don't think the state is well served by bundling contracts, and long-term ones at that, like it did. There is no way to prove any sort of collusion, but it seems strange that most of the vendors managed to be sole-bidder on one or two concession operations and thus won by default.

Palumbo doesn't appear to have been treated any different than other vendors: He won two contracts the last go-round by participating in a less-then competitive process. But receiving no special treatment in an obviously screwed up process isn't an excuse. Whether it's fair or not, it just smells fishy when the Deputy House Majority Leader wins 2 out of 10 State Beach concession stand contracts.

DCYF Asks for More

Marc Comtois

Via 7to7:

Rhode Island must hire almost 50 social workers at the state's foster care agency to meet national guidelines. That's according to testimony today from Patricia Martinez, the director of the Department of Children, Youth and Families.

She spoke before a state Senate committee investigating how DCYF handles children in foster care. A federal civil rights lawsuit filed this summer alleges that the agency failed to stop the abuse and neglect of some children in its care.

The lawsuit by the state's child advocate alleges that DCYF social workers are overwhelmed -- especially in its Providence office.

A national advocacy group recommends a standard of 14 families per caseworker. Martinez says achieving that goal would require hiring 44 social workers and four more supervisors.

Fifteen new social workers are starting the job in September.

Like it or not, and altruism aside, more workers cost more money. And right now, DCYF hasn't shown an ability to be able to abide by a budget:
The DCYF is on pace to spend its entire first-quarter child-welfare budget by mid September, agency director Patricia Martinez said yesterday. And a provision passed in the state budget prevents state officials from shifting money to cover the shortfall until the beginning of the second quarter, Oct. 1.

...the situation is also complicated by the Assembly’s decision this year to release the DCYF’s financing in four quarterly payments in an attempt to control department overspending — a control applied only to DCYF this year, according to House Finance Committee Chairman Steven M. Costantino.

“We were very concerned about overspending in DCYF. Every year they would come to the Assembly for a supplemental request and we’d find out that a half year has gone by and they’ve already blown by their budget,” Costantino said.

Last year, for example, the Assembly approved a $17.9-million supplemental appropriation (including federal dollars) at the end of the session on top of the DCYF’s $293-million budget.

The quarterly allotments, Costantino said, were a safeguard put in place after the Assembly agreed to restore partial financing for services to 18-to-21 year olds in state care, which the governor had proposed cutting. The plan also required the DCYF to redesign its system to save money by improving department inefficiencies.

“There has not been a lack of money for DCYF over the years,” Costantino said. “Unfortunately, it seems that there has to be a major financial crisis to make change.”

Now for some math. In FY 2008, the budget contains the following for Social Caseworkers and Supervisors (dollar values include cost of salary and benefits):

DCYF - Cost to Employ FY 2008
PositionNumberTotal CostCost/FTE
Chief Casework Supervisor6$575,288$95,881
Senior Casework Supervisor2$171,742$85,871
Casework Supervisor II51$3,791,322$74,340
Social Caseworker1$60,720$60,720
Social Caseworker II233$13,280,321$56,997

Adding 44 more Caseworkers--and I'm assuming they would be at the lower, and more numerous, "Social Caseworker II" rate rather than the regular (perhaps grandfathered?) Social Caseworker rate--would cost $2,507,868.

Adding 4 more supervisors--assuming at the CS II rate--would tack on $297,360 for a grand total of $2,805,228 to bring Rhode Island's DCYF in line with the recommendations of a "national advocacy group." The result would be $20,684,621 earmarked to personnel costs for caseworkers. One caveat: this is if we use 2008 numbers, not projected (at a what, 4-5% increase per FTE?) 2009 numbers.

Martinez's request for more caseworkers also helps to determine the current number of DCYF cases. Assuming each caseworker is to have 14 cases and there would be 278 Social Caseworkers, that works out to 3892 cases. I'm not sure if Supervisors also have a distinct caseload over and above those of the caseworkers they manage. Even if they do, that still puts the total caseload at around 4,000.

Like it or not, personnel costs aren't going down and the bottom line is that DCYF is going to require an additional $3 million. Where is it going to come from? And can we trust DCYF to spend the money wisely? Democrat House Finance Chair Constantino obviously doesn't and DCYF has done nothing to prove him wrong.

Look, "screwing the youth" isn't the way to go, but, as I've written before, those who are charged with protecting our most vulnerable kids simply have to be more fiscally responsible and get their priorities in order. Kids first, perks second.

ProJo: In Foreclosure, there's profit!

Marc Comtois

What to make of the "Housing in R.I." section displayed prominently on today's frontpage?

Let's see,, how ironic, Both condo sales and foreclosures are rising. Weird. Aw gee, Foreclosures taking a toll on Providence neighborhoods that's sad. Not just here either? Nation's mortgage woes put brakes on construction of homes, apartments. Yikes.

Wait a sec, I wonder.....I've seen those house flipping shows....hey look! Buying foreclosed property: What to watch out for. Oh, and What to do if foreclosure looms, yeah whatever....take me to the....

Foreclosure ads in

Talk about your journalistic and advertising symbiosis!

Heck, I recognize there are opportunities out there given current housing market conditions. (Full disclosure: I spent a summer as a cleaner of recently foreclosed homes). But isn't it a little weird for the ProJo to have a bunch of stories on various aspects of the current crunch all seem to lead into their own foreclosure advertisements?

August 16, 2007

No Easy Endings

Justin Katz

One tires of the bad-faith rhetoric of modern feminists, social libertines, and vitriolic do-gooders:

"We know there are some people out there who long for a return to the 'idyllic' 1950s when women knew their place was in the kitchen," the groups wrote, "but we do not expect to hear echoes of it emanating from a gubernatorial court brief!"

That's from a letter that the Rhode Island affiliates of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for Women, along with the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Association of Social Workers/Rhode Island, sent to Governor Carcieri complaining about negativity toward no-fault divorce included in his recent legal brief on same-sex marriage. The bad faith, of course, comes with the imputation that the "idyllic" aspect of the era for men was the ability to deliberately oppress or beat their wives, which (one gets the impression) they were as apt to do as to love and respect them in their more-distinct roles. No fault divorce, the guardians of idyllic modernity claim, has led to "a reduction in domestic violence," and no doubt, they see the current generations of men as pining to trap women once again in more secure marital bonds so that they need no longer feign the unnatural kindness that is the only protection against Single Life Part 2.

That some of us retrograde men wish to strengthen marriage precisely to tame our more bestial brethren must be incomprehensible to the letter's writers. Yet, somehow the requirement of justification for divorce seems not to have drained the equality and mutual respect from our parents' and grandparents' marriages. Somehow, personal experience suggests that men tend to be the least harmed parties after divorces no matter who initiates them, with women and children having worse results, in that order.

Of course, it can't be denied that women's standing in society has improved in the recent past, including increased awareness of spousal abuse and a decrease in cultural male chauvinism. But are we to believe that this aspect of our cultural evolution will slip away, rather than continue to define strong marriages, if divorce becomes less of an easy out?

There are gradations of what people would call legitimate reasons for legal dissolution of a marital bond, but as a general proposition, when there is abuse, there is fault. If one spouse desires an end to the marriage, reforms of divorce laws could consider that to be the fault, such that the divorcing spouse faces some sort of consequences to the benefit of the divorced spouse. Knowledge of an easy out cannot help but adversely affect individual calculations of self control, whereas more certainty of a lifelong commitment increases the need to get along — as well as the incentive not to harm.

All differences are reconcilable, given time and motivation. By the same token, all partnerships can be corrupted when their existence is a perpetually open question, and as Carcieri's brief put it:

By inadvertently allowing for opportunistic divorce, the law created a whole new class of inequality as many women and children entered poverty through divorce, and the quality of life for the entire family was reduced.

RE: Who's Making Way for Buddy? Nobody

Marc Comtois

According to 7to7, who got this from WPRO Station Manager Paul Giammarco:

Program Director Paul Giammarco said the details of the station's line-up of talk show hosts will be announced later. Giammarco said that the station's four existing hosts, St.Pierre, John DePetro, Rush Limbaugh and Dan Yorke, will all remain at the station.

"Ron, John, Rush and Dan are important members of our station's line-up," he said. "Each provides the public with their unique perspectives on local, regional and national issues, and the forum for the public to engage, be entertained and be informed."

"Right now," Giammarco said, "everyone is going to be here."

My hunch is that Buddy will team with long-time pal St. Pierre in the mornings. If that's the case, such a move would also help lessen the tension between Cianci and DePetro during any "cross-over".

Who's Making Way for Buddy?

Justin Katz

On the radio with the man himself, Ron St. Pierre just announced that Buddy Cianci will be joining WPRO. They didn't mention whom he'll be replacing, though; I imagine they're leaving it to the host to tell his own audience.

It may or may not be related, but I caught Dan Yorke making an odd off-hand comment yesterday afternoon that he thought it might be time to start fresh somewhere else. Could he be being pushed aside, or is he maybe discouraged at the changing face of the station? Rhode Island might just be wearing him out. Or maybe the two on-air moments are completely unrelated, and Buddy will slide in elsewhere on the schedule.

August 15, 2007

A Native Immigrant

Justin Katz

From time to time throughout my life, I've been asked whether I was from another country. As far as I can recall, the question has always been posed by females, so I've generally taken it as an intended compliment — some variation of "So are you exotic as well as dashingly handsome?" (On the other hand, perhaps I have some subtle, undiagnosed speech impediment that women especially pick up as an accent, with foreign birth being the charitable interpretation.)

Well, today, the Filipino maid of the family for whom I've been working asked my nation of origin, with her explanation being that some of her immigrant friends back on Long Island are carpenters. I think I'll go with the assumption that she thought a carpenter listening to Chopin must be Polish, rather than consider whether I ought to feel stuck in a job that Americans just won't do.

Does the IWW Want to Criminalize the Receipt of Private Income?

Carroll Andrew Morse

The “Industrial Workers of the World” have been drawing some media attention due to their North Providence protest where one protester, Alex Svoboda, was hospitalized after a confrontation with police. In a Richard C. Dujardin article in today’s Projo on the latest developments, a local IWW leader briefly describes the history and the mission of the organization…

[Mark Bray], a candidate for two master’s degrees at Providence College in areas of European and American history, said the IWW was formed close to a century ago to help protect the rights of workers, though its Providence chapter experienced a revival during the last year.
However, Mr. Bray seems to have soft-pedaled his organization’s stated purpose. The IWW Constitution describes much more ambitious goals than “protecting the rights of workers". Here is a section of the preamble…
Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work," we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wage system."
Seems like Mr. Bray missed a chance to get the watchwords printed by the mainstream media. I wonder why he decided to go with the milder description. Anyway, the IWW Constitution continues…
It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.
So here’s the question: Given the goals described in their Constitution, isn’t it fair to say that a primary goal of the IWW is the criminalization of private income?

Getting to the Bottom of One of the Governor's Auto Insurance Vetoes

Carroll Andrew Morse

A staff report from today’s Pawtucket Times makes it sound like both Governor Donald Carcieri and the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce support allowing insurance companies to authorize automobile repairs whether or not the owner gives permission…

The Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce applauded Gov. Donald Carcieri's rejection of three bills that attempt to regulate the relationship between the insurance and auto repair industries and plans to urge the General Assembly not to override the vetoes….

Of the three auto repair shop bills, one, Carlin said, would forbid an insurance company from authorizing repairs to a vehicle on behalf of its owner. He said the chamber believes that would "stifle competition and reduce consumer choices.

The description of the bill provided in the trade journal Auto Body Repair News (don’t you love the breadth of information that the Internet allows access to!!!), however, describes a situation that is a bit more complicated. According to ABRN, the purpose of the new law is to prohibit individuals from signing over their power to make repair decisions to an auto insurance company …
Carcieri also vetoed a measure (H 5550) that would have provided that a customer of a body shop may designate a representative to authorize repairs to their vehicle, but that the designee could not be an insurer or the auto body repair shop, or an employee or agent of either.
But according to the text of the bill available on the General Assembly’s website, the ABRN report isn't quite right either…
(a) The owner of a motor vehicle shall not designate another person or entity to authorize repairs to a motor vehicle unless the vehicle's owner shall confirm in writing that the authorization given to a licensed auto body repair facility is his or her choice of facility.

(b) An insurance company may not authorize repairs to a motor vehicle on behalf of the vehicle's owner in violation of subsection (a) above.

In other words, under the proposed legal change, insurance companies would not be allowed to write blanket provisions into their policies saying they have the right to authorize repairs; policy holders would have to individually opt-in and directly notify a repair facility that the insurer was being empowered to make decisions on their behalf, before the insurer could legally assume the power to do so.

It’s not often that I say this, but I’m with the General Assembly on this one (unless there's something hidden elsewhere in the law that changes the meaning of this bill). And if insurance companies think that assuming their policy-holders' right to make repair decisions is something of value to them, they can write policies that offer their customers incentives to take the extra steps required to comply with the new law.

No Need to Worry About Chinese Toys -- but What About the Russians?

Carroll Andrew Morse

But Marc, how are you going to explain it to your daughters when they learn that the North Pole has been recently claimed by the Russians

Two Russian minisubmarines returned safely to the surface at the North Pole on Thursday after diving to the sea bottom to plant a Russian flag and collect geological samples…

The expedition was part of an effort to bolster Russian claims to about 460,000 square miles of sea floor believed to hold lucrative deposits of oil and natural gas. Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, Russia's claim depends not on dropping the Russian flag, but on proving that its continental shelf extends to the pole.

No Need to Worry About Chinese Toys

Marc Comtois

Upon hearing that Mattel was recalling several toys made in China, including the much-beloved Polly Pockets that can be found living throughout my house, my wife decided to explain the situation to my inquisitive daughters. (Incidentally, they had already noted before that a lot of toys were made in China).

Anyway, my wife explained that some of those toys weren't safe, etc. and the people who made them were "recalling" them for safety reasons. To which my clever daughters replied, "Well, we don't have to worry, then. All of our Polly Pockets came from the North Pole!"

My wife said she didn't tell them that sometimes Santa outsources to China.

{N.B. We don't have any of the unsafe Polly's in our house.}

August 14, 2007

On Journalism

Marc Comtois

A couple few related thoughts on today's journalism. First, former NY Times Magazine editor William Katz on today's journalists (h/t, via Powerline):

There have been many changes in journalism since World War II, but the most striking has come in the resumé of the journalist. Of course, there have always been college graduates in journalism. Even Ernie Pyle, the everyman reporter of World War II, had studied at Indiana. But what we've had in the last 50 years is a deluge of college graduates. They have brought some improvements. But they've also brought into journalism the culture, attitudes, and arrogance of the academic world.

I don't suggest that all was sublime before the sheepskins arrived. For every great paper of the past, there were twenty we'd like to forget....But there have been, especially since the sixties, disturbing trends in journalism. Just as Hollywood, in its hiring practices, has replaced talent with education, journalism is in danger of replacing experience with report cards. Journalism is not a profession. There is no specific body of knowledge required, and there is no licensing. What is needed is a sharp set of skills, high powers of observation, and a humility about how much we can understand quickly, and these come only from experience. But when you've gone through Yale or Stanford, when you've been told how smart you are, when you got 700s on your SATs, you start to believe what mom has whispered in your ear. You start to think that you "know." It's a kind of self-inflicted grade inflation. I'm bright, therefore I'm right.

The impact of this attitude has been profound. As reader Sparks said, there has been a separation between journalism and its audience, and I believe it derives directly from the separation between our universities and the nation. College graduates, especially from supposedly elite schools, see themselves as a class apart. They are encouraged to do so, especially by the sixties crowd that still patrols the hallowed halls.

A disconnect is partly responsible, but so is an often misplaced attempt to show "both sides" of a debate. Whether intentional or not, showing both sides can make the viewpoints of a minority of 10% seem equitable to that of the other 90% (via The Remedy):

For example, the most recent Wall Street Journal economic forecasting survey, from July, shows that 49 out of 60 forecasters expect real GDP to grow at an average annual rate of 2%, or faster, in 2007. Of the remaining 11 forecasters, only two expect growth of less than 1%, and only one expects a recession. For 2008, the forecasters are even more optimistic, with none expecting recession.

There are at least a half-dozen other institutions publishing surveys, and all of them report very similar results among the 100 or so active professional forecasters. Except for two well-known economists (Nouriel Roubini at New York University, and Gary Shilling of A. Gary Shilling & Co.), who are not in many surveys, a super-duper majority of professional forecasting economists believe the economy will continue to expand during the next year and have believed so for the past four or five years.

Despite this, an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll taken in late July found that 68% of Americans thought that the economy was either in recession already, or would experience a recession sometime during the next 12 months. Interestingly, this is not much of a change from the past. This same survey question has been polled at least five times since September 2002. Each time a robust majority of between 65% and 85% of respondents thought a recession was either underway or would occur within the year. Americans have been bearish on the economy for quite some time.

So when the media offers the standard Expert A vs. Expert B dynamic, there is no weight given to percentages. The impression is that each represent equal numbers of "Experts" in their field. To this, Richard Reeb adds:
Westbury's criticisms is not, be it noted, directly merely at the left wing bias of the major media, which can be counted on to give bad news when the news is good, on everything from the economy to the war in Iraq, not to mention congressional investigations of the Bush administration. It goes to the professional perspective of all journalists, who indiscriminately reduce "opinion" to the level of a commodity that sells best when it is controversial. That's what spikes sales and ratings....For example, if the administration is one of which the media disapproves, presenting an unending stream of negative news can be passed off not as bias but as presenting "the other side" to the administration's view.

Westbury admits, as he must, that economists can be wrong, so there is warrant in certain circumstances for presenting a minority view. That goes beyond the demand for fairness to the matter of the truth.

ADDENDUM: Additionally, Providence Phoenix editor Ian Donnis thinks the ProJo is engaging in some upper-level, editorial hypocrisy by publishing a critique of an editorial "incident" concerning then-NY Times publisher Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger Jr. and Rupert Murdoch while it has quashed attempts to to do similar navel-gazing within its own pages.

Presidents of Brown, RWU, Salve Regina, and URI Condemn Britain's Academic Boycott of Israel

Carroll Andrew Morse

A large group of American University and College Presidents have signed a letter published in the New York Times, attributed to President Lee Bollinger of Columbia University, condemning the decision of Britain’s new University and College Union to academically boycott Israeli Universities…

Boycott Israeli Universities? Boycott Ours,Too!

As a citizen, I am profoundly disturbed by the recent vote by Britain’s new University and College Union to advance a boycott against Israeli academic institutions. As a university professor and president, I find this idea utterly antithetical to the fundamental values of the academy, where we will not hold intellectual exchange hostage to the political disagreements of the moment. In seeking to quarantine Israeli universities and scholars, this vote threatens every university committed to fostering scholarly and cultural exchanges that lead to enlightenment, empathy, and a much-needed international marketplace of ideas.

At Columbia, I am proud to say that we embrace Israeli scholars and universities that the UCU is now all too eager to isolate—as we embrace scholars from many countries regardless of divergent views on their government’s policies. Therefore, if the British UCU is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy, then it should add Columbia to its boycott list, for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish. Boycott us, then, for we gladly stand together with our many colleagues in British, American and Israeli universities against such intellectually shoddy and politically biased attempts to hijack the central mission of higher education.

Included amongst the signatories are President Robert L. Carothers of the University of Rhode Island, President M. Therese Antone of Salve Regina University, and President Roy J. Nirschel of Roger Williams University(*).

President Ruth Simmons of Brown University has issued her own letter condemning the boycott…

The University and College Union’s decision to consider support for a boycott of academic institutions in Israel has rightly aroused concern among the members of the Brown University Community. I have followed this issue closely and with mounting dismay.

Institutions of higher learning go to extraordinary lengths to defend the free flow of information, the unfettered exchange of ideas, and the primacy of well-reasoned argument. Defending these fundamental principles is not merely a matter for debate. With those principles in place, the academy cannot exist.

A boycott of the sort your organization is considering – a measure that attempts to silence or marginalize the scholars of an entire nation – is inimical to those fundamental principles and could do great harm to colleges and universities. Supporting such a boycott of scholars from Israel or any other part of the world is not an option for people who are dedicated to the core principles of the academy. As president of Brown University, I write to inform you that we strongly support Israeli universities and will assist them in efforts to protect scholars from political pressure of the kind the forthcoming debate intends.

A quick search of the websites of Providence College, Bryant University and Rhode Island College didn't turn up any individual letters or statements regarding the boycott.

(*)Title and body corrected to include President Nirschel's signature on the NYT letter, inadvertently omitted from the original post

August 13, 2007

When the Good Times Aren't So Good, What Will the Bad Times Be Like?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Elizabeth Gudrais has an article in today's Projo on the National Conference of State Legislaturesannual state budget survey ($$ required to view the original). This year's study ranks Rhode Island #1 in the country in terms of tax increases between this year and last. The Projo article contains none-too-surprising reactions from the usual suspects; House Finance Chariman Steven Costantino says the NCSL methodology is flawed, Gary Sasse of the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council says that Rhode Island’s poor fiscal condition is because other areas of the budget are being starved to pay for entitlement spending, and Ellen Frank of the Rhode Island Poverty institute says the message from these kinds of reports is that Rhode Island needs to find new ways to raise taxes.

However, in terms of planning for the future, the most important feature of the NCSL study may be its warning that we've been living through good times that are about to come to an end…

Of the 45 states that have already reported, 23 ended fiscal 2007 with surpluses equaling 10 percent or more of state general-revenue spending, due in many cases to higher-than-expected revenue receipts. Many states were able to increase their reserve funds — Tennessee, for example, by more than $200 million…[but] for other states, the boom times appear to be coming to an end. The NCSL report fingers fiscal 2006 as “the peak for state fiscal health this decade.” On average, the report says, the growth in state surpluses and higher-than-budgeted tax collections are slowing down.
If the forecast is accurate, fixing the structural problems in Rhode Island budget is not something that can put off for much longer.

Karl Rove Resigns

Carroll Andrew Morse

I suspect this news arriving via the Wall Street Journal might generate some buzz in political circles (h/t Drudge)...

Karl Rove, President Bush's longtime political adviser, is resigning as White House deputy chief of staff effective Aug. 31, and returning to Texas, marking a turning point for the Bush presidency.

Understanding Your Misunderstood Unitary Executive

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at the University of Chicago's Law School faculty blog, respected liberal legal scholar (and U of C faculty member) Cass Sunstein has posted an informative item on the meaning of the "unitary executive" (h/t Instapundit)...

Those who believe in a unitary executive need not think that the president can defy the will of Congress, or torture people, or make war on his own. The principle of a "unitary" executive involves only one thing: The president's hierarchical control over implementation ("execution") of federal law....

In American constitutional law, the idea of a unitary executive is nothing new. It goes all the way back to the founding. The Constitution does not create a "plural" executive; Article II, section 1 vests executive power in one person, the president of the United States. The decision to create a unitary rather than plural executive was debated and decided. So in a way, everyone agrees that ours is a unitary executive. (Franklin Delano Roosevelt insisted on that point, and was especially dismayed when the Supreme Court ruled otherwise in its decision holding that the heads of the FTC are not the president's at-will employees)....

The most important point is that the claim for the unitary executive is not a general claim about the President's power to act on his own or to contradict the will of Congress. You can believe in a strongly unitary executive branch while also believing that the President cannot make war, or torture people, or engage in foreign surveillance without congressional authorization. You can also believe that the president can do a lot on his own, or a lot in violation of Congress' will, while also accepting the view that Congress can create independent agencies and independent prosecutors. In short, the debate over the unitary executive is an important but narrow one, and it is a small, distinct subpart of the general debate over presidential power.

A concrete example of a plural executive system that you might be familiar with would be the state government of Rhode Island, where four different elected officers (the Governor, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, and the General Treasurer) are charged by the state Constitution with enforcing the laws made by the state legislature.

August 12, 2007

Dictating the World to the Rest of Us

Justin Katz

This represents less of a movement than the Jackass movies — albeit mildly less adolescent and significantly less influential — but it is somewhat emblematic of a certain way of thinking: As noted by Bobbie Johnson's Guardian-related blog, some blogger in California (I think) has taken it upon himself to recategorize books that stores have placed in the science section:

Four copies of (Michael Behe's) The Edge of Evolution were discovered once more in the science section.

I flip a copy and read the back. Here's the beginning of the first quote from the back cover: "Until the past decade and the genomics revolution, Darwin's theory rested on indirect evidence and reasonable speculation..." (Dr. Philip Skell, Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at Pennsylvania State University, and member of the National Academy of Sciences). That's not true! I am emboldened by this bare-faced lie from this well-respected elderly chemist, pick up all four copies, and stroll upstairs.

Now, I aim for accuracy in my recategorization, and I was still slightly mad at the lies on the back cover (read the "Editorial Reviews" at Amazon for a sampling), so I sought out the most appropriate section of the store:

Behe's lie-covered volume now rightly resides in the Religious Fiction section (click on the image to see the label). A job well done.

The act itself is little more than a prank, causing mild difficulties to the stores and customers who might seek to find these books, and it's only fair to note that the blogger also moved Chris Hitchens's latest anti-religious screed, so embarking on a counter-crusade would be a bit of an overreaction. But a slice of the discussion on Johnson's blog brings out a bit of a scent that permeates the science/religion battle. Writes one commenter:

That´s the suppression of free speech, and not rationalisation.

Replies another:

I disagree. To burn or ban the book is against free speech. To move it to a section more appropriate to its contents is librarianship.

I suppose the latter commenter might have a point if the librarian-vandal had informed the employees of the store about the books' new locations. In unilaterally removing them from the shelf on which others will expect to find them, however, he is, indeed, suppressing free speech in a way not unlike unplugging the microphone of somebody speaking at a legitimate rally.

A Greater Toll than You Know

Justin Katz

It would seem that our discussion of civil rights and E-ZPass toll booths was not far fetched:

Generally mounted inside a vehicle's windshield behind the rearview mirror, E-ZPass devices communicate with antennas at toll plazas, automatically deducting money from the motorist's prepaid account.

Of the 12 states in the Northeast and Midwest that are part of the E-ZPass system, agencies in seven states provide electronic toll information in response to court orders in criminal and civil cases, including divorces, according to an Associated Press survey. ...

"You bring up the I-Pass records [in court] and it destroys credibility," said Levy, who has used such records two or three times for such purposes.

There remains a certain appeal to the argument that those who don't do things for which they don't want to get caught have nothing to fear. But again, the range of things for which it is advisable not to get caught can shift. Somewhere down the road, the lawyer may ask you: "So just where were you heading across the Newport Bridge on May 21st if not to make a donation of time by attending an event on behalf of that upstart candidate?"

An Archival Tete-a-Tete

Justin Katz

In the comments to the previous post, Tom W provides a link to his Narragansett Times debate with Bob Walsh, which is still available on RI Policy Analysis as a PDF.

The Problems Go 'Round and 'Round

Justin Katz

Following up on my (probably poorly stated) previous post, a specific instance of the conversation's various subthreads is illustrative, beginning with the following, from Thomas:

The average teacher salary in RI for 04-05 was $53,473 (I know Frank will say it's higher, but I don't think he's given us figures and a source yet, so I'll stick with the RIPEC figure). That put us 8th in the nation, right after Mass.

In order to reasonably compare states, you need to control for cost of living. ($50k goes a lot further in Kansas than in RI). Using the MERIC-COLI to do so, RI 's indexed teacher salary is $41,841, which puts us 34th in rank (national average is $43,647).

John says, "..., as a percentage of its average private-sector worker's salary, is the highest in the country, and has been since at least 1990."

Looking at Bureau of labor stats for 2005, John is correct. RI teacher salaries are 1.44 times the average private salary, which is higher than any other state. However, we have to ask whether this ratio is generated by very high teachers salaries, or something else.

The BLS average private industry salary for RI for 2005 was $37,067. That put is at 22 in rank. The national average was $37,374, so we were slightly below the average, but slightly above the median.

However, if you index this figure as well, RI's becomes $29,004, which puts RI private salaries at 47th in rank, and substantially below the average of $36,338. (The ratio of indexed teacher salaries to indexed private salaries remains 1.44)

So, here's another way of looking at the data John gives us: RI teachers make more, relative to private sector workers, than teachers in any other state. However, relative to cost of living, our teacher salaries are about at the national average. The primary reason for the high ratio is that, relative to cost of living, our private sector salaries are very, very low.

Tom W responded, in part:

The premise that we must factor in cost of living one the one hand is valid, but on the other is not. In the private sector few companies say "gee, just because you live in RI we're going to pay you more."

On which John expands, (again) in part:

Of course, some will immediately point out that this reflects our mix of businesses -- output per hour worked in retail and restaurants being lower than, say, biotech. But that only begs the question of what has caused RI's mix of industries to tilt toward low labor productivity operations. Which, of course, brings us back to our education system, and the quality of the work force it produces (as well as the extent to which our generous social programs are attracting an influx of low productivity workers, and our high taxes and poor schools are keeping high productivity industries from investing here). All food for thought.

I'd rework the workforce-supply side of John's reply — implying that inadequate schools produce a low-quality workforce, which, I gather, attracts low-paying employers — to suggest that, whatever the quality of their education, Rhode Island youths on their way to promising careers find it necessary to leave the state. Thus, not only do we attract that "influx of low productivity workers," we also keep only that segment of our native sons and daughters. As Tom W correctly noted, private businesses don't readjust salaries based on employee location; rather, they conclude that they can't afford to pay workers what they would require in Rhode Island and therefore locate elsewhere.

So one of the a priori positions that affects the debate over statistics is to what teachers' salaries ought to be compared in order to determine whether they are fair. After justifiably calling me on an aspersion against him in the comments to the previous post, Bob Walsh calls it "spin" to "compare average private sector wages in total to teacher wages." Given the degree to which these issues are all connected, however, it seems a perfectly legitimate comparison, especially if we're looking at it in a national context.

A few years ago, I posted a pie chart on Dust in the Light illustrating (with very rough data) that the average teacher could afford to pay one other family's housing costs (including mortgage) and still have the state's average post–tax and housing remainder. (And that didn't include benefits.) The national pie chart is substantially different.

Furthermore, with the need to "attract good people" leveraged so often to justify teachers' compensation packages, it's surely relevant that Rhode Islanders would hardly need more than the national average incentive to leave their below-average private sector for the education industry. That is especially true in a state in which all industries that are not tied to the location (e.g., because they offer services such as healthcare and retail) are fleeing. As I pointed out the following day those few years ago, almost all of Rhode Island's fastest-growing occupations are location-specific, and Elementary and Secondary Schools topped the list, exactly an area of the profession in which Mr. Walsh admits that supply exceeds demand.

What other than — or perhaps I should say "in addition to" — unions is keeping teachers' salaries moving in the opposite direction of that which market forces would suggest?


Looking back at the sorts of posts that I was able to write in the mid '00s, I can't help but lament their falling away. The specific examples linked above helped to provide the impetus for me to join with Andrew and Marc and start Anchor Rising. For those wondering about my motivations, that is the sort of thing that I wanted, and continue to want, Anchor Rising to provide.

Nowadays, I frequently wonder whether the effort that I'm actually able to make is worthwhile. Would that I could quantify and analyze every problem that Rhode Island has, but those very problems require me to put aside the unpaid research for labor. This damned, damned state.


Somebody else's Google search reminded me of a post that I wrote about a year ago in response to a statement by Bob Walsh that "working on the issues related to poverty will help teachers help students," with reference to SAT scores. A chart that I put together back then seems relevant to the current discussion:

The key point is that, at least in these three towns, SAT scores correlate with average income, but not with the poverty rate (by which measure Barrington and Tiverton are nearly identical) and certainly not with teacher salary. As I said when I first published this chart, a town such as Central Falls (or Tiverton, for that matter) would be well advised to lower teachers' salaries and redirect the savings toward such improvements as will increase average household income — and with the emphasis not on welfare-style poverty programs, but on working/middle-class economic activity programs.

August 11, 2007

Toward Fruitful Conversation

Justin Katz

I would never gainsay the importance of data and evidence to polemics, nor would I parade the pure primacy of reason, but I can't help but be amused at the failure of evidentiary debate to advance the discussion concerning Rhode Island's educational system.

As is so often the case, skepticism and credulity appear to find their impetus in tacit, nearly subconscious, understanding of the issues involved. Which is to say that there are deeper philosophical differences in play, and whether it is more effective and efficient to place them head to head or to fight the war through the proxy of agreeing upon a set of data is very much a debatable question.

Post-Modern Conservatives

Marc Comtois

Over at Spinning Clio (two mentions in a week!), I've posted about the Post-Modernism of Russell Kirk. I know, I know...but if your interest is pique, please take look.

August 10, 2007

Moderate by Moderate Left

Justin Katz

The problem with the cult of moderation is that it requires there to be two extremes equidistant from the middle line of wisdom, or else it must define the two opposing groups as the extremes, no matter where they actually lie. To present his — certainly welcome — "compromise" position of sending abortion policy back to the states, Radly Balko must write as if the current advantage to one side is not relevant in comparing the two and as if neither of the two supposed extremes has ever promoted such a solution.

Consider this instance of ostensible even-handedness on his part:

Hendershott criticizes the pro-choice movement for trying to suppress information that might injure its cause. In one particularly interesting passage, she discusses General Electric's remarkable "4D" ultrasound imaging system, a technological innovation that renders striking images of fetuses in the womb. In 2002 G.E. marketed the product in a national campaign aimed at young women, showing expectant mothers bonding with their unborn children while Roberta Flack sang "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." The technology was enormously popular. 4D ultrasound stations even began to appear in shopping malls.

Abortion rights proponents leapt into action, fearing that too-real images of unborn fetuses might cost them popular support. After pressure from pro-choicers, G.E. pulled the TV ads, pulled testimonials from its website, and began marketing the technology solely for medical purposes. Several states banned the use of ultrasound for "nonmedical" purposes, including New York, where then–Attorney General Eliot Spitzer subpoenaed 34 anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers for "practicing medicine without a license" because they used the technology.

The 4D controversy is a striking example of how one side of the abortion debate used the law to suppress the flow of information to expectant mothers out of fear of what that information might do to their cause. But Hendershott has little to say about similar efforts on the anti-abortion side. Pro-life lawmakers, for example, repeatedly have attempted to prohibit physicians who receive federal funding from even discussing abortion with their patients, particularly at overseas military hospitals.

On one side, a major private company was cowed into minimizing the marketing of an "enormously popular" product, and an attorney general undertook a campaign against the product's users. On the other side? Some lawmakers "repeatedly have attempted" to attach strings to federal funds to doctors. Why, the two sides are practically mirror images! (Perhaps in a funhouse.)

The reality is that the federalist argument as been an organic part of the pro-life movement for at least as long as I can remember. That is why there is so much emphasis on simply overturning Roe v. Wade. Because of his desire to cleave a middle road, however, Balko insists that no mere erasure of the ruling would suffice:

For such a scenario to emerge, the Supreme Court would need to do more than overturn Roe. It would have to make it clear that the regulation of abortion is a police power reserved to the states, and that it will no longer entertain attempts to override abortion policy made by the states. That approach wouldn't be perfect, and it wouldn't satisfy the hard-core activists on either side of the debate, but it would be far preferable to what we have now. As it stands, the Supreme Court is one vote from overturning the decision, with two pro-Roe justices — Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens — generally considered the members most likely to retire.

Unfortunately, judging from the Court’s recent ruling in Gonzales v. Carhart (which upheld a congres­sion­al ban on “partial birth” abortions) and the fair-weather approach to federalism taken in cases like Gonzales v. Raich (which upheld a federal ban on medical marijuana), a decision overturning Roe probably would leave the door open to a national ban. The divisive debate would continue.

Divisive debate would continue, no doubt, upon the striking of Roe, but the method of abortion's nationalization must be considered: Only the judiciary can create laws without broad political wrangling. That is what makes it such a dangerous body once it becomes a tool for activism. The Supreme Court does not need to find compromise positions across the spectrum of opinion on a particular issue in order to decide its cases; it merely dictates the law.

The medical marijuana reference exposes Balko's inclination to make immoderate equivalencies: The legislative process came first, with the Supreme Court merely permitting it to stand. There's quite a difference — which one might call "democracy" — between legislative activism and judicial, and the same sequence of events when it comes to abortion is unlikely.

The fact that pro-life groups are constitutionally barred from significant successes at the state level has created incentive for them to act nationally. Were abortion to become a state matter again, the incentive would shift toward activism at that level. There would, no doubt, be a concerted push on both sides for the national solution that each favors, but here, it is the issue's divisiveness that ensures that it will stop at the states. At least in the near term, the only consensus that is likely to emerge via the democratic process is that the federal government oughtn't meddle.

And that's fine by me. I believe that the allowance of abortion is a horrible moral stain on our society, and I will argue against it at every tier from the personal to the international. At the same time, I believe in the process of public discourse and gradual change as the most effective way to minimize the stark manifestation of evil in our society. When the abortion debate levels out into a lower-key cultural battle for hearts and minds, with local victories achievable through discourse, grace can begin to show the maggotted bride called self-deception for what she is.

August 9, 2007

What's Wrong with RI Education

Justin Katz

For anybody who has not already done so, wading through the comment-section discussion appended to my recent post on teachers and education is well worthwhile. Having followed it in progress, myself, I've observed a point that apparently needs stressing before such conversations proceed: Unions are not the only problem that requires fixing in Rhode Island's public education system. Still, it draws too-bold lines of responsibility to state, as the NEA's Bob Walsh does in the comment thread, that unions "don't hire or fire/retire [their] members, just represent them between those two points in time."

Teaching is, by its nature, a rewarding career. Adding in the vacations, breaks, and holidays that it has traditionally promised as perks makes up for much of the difficulty of the work. While most of us will agree that, beyond these attractions, teaching ought to be a very well paid profession, through their undue political muscle as well as their organization of such invidious negotiation tactics as "work to rule," Rhode Island teachers' unions have brought the pay, benefits, and security of the job to such a disproportionate level (in relation to other careers) that corruptive consequences have been sure to arise in both the teacher-education industry as well as the hiring process.

At the other end of the teacher's career, it's somewhat disingenuous to claim that retirement ends her or his relationship with the union. Teachers never really retire from union representation. And between hire and retire, unions play a role in the problem that mikeinRI, a teacher himself, articulates:

Perhaps the biggest weakness in our schools... are the principals. Not because they don't try or are incapable, but because their hands are tied by contracts and administrators. We need to restore some power to the principals, to allow them to lead schools in a particular direction, to be advocates for reform, and to reward those teachers who are willing to move forward and work for reform. Those [who] don't want to, won't. But the consequences will be financial ones.

Enough is wrong with Rhode Island's public education system that we could spend endless hours arguing around each other about where best to focus reform efforts, but unless teachers' unions begin to rethink their role and their self-presentation, they will face a growing clamor for their cessation, punctuated every time any district's contract is up — even every time somebody's friend, family, or neighbor finds it necessary to leave the state and every time non-union workers find themselves sighing at their dim prospects for a true retirement at any age.

The Faces of Anchor Rising

Justin Katz

We've been surprised to learn, over the past year or so, how many people don't entirely get how much of a group project Anchor Rising actually is. If the ventures of one of us bring a particular reader to the page, that writer has seemed to become the "face" of the blog for him or her. So, we've had local artist Colby Cook (email) create some portraits to give y'all a face with which to associate each post and to better convey the aggregate personality of Anchor Rising.


As yet, we're unable to present a portrait of Mac Owens, but as soon as I'm able, I'll add one to this post. I'll do the same with any new contributors.

Roland Benjamin: “A very sound case can be made that the proponents of recycling as an environmental cause are being manipulated by quasi-public and private interests looking to monopolize the entire process in the state.”

Carroll Andrew Morse

Roland Benjamin, South Kingstown resident and member of the town GOP Committee, has thought in great detail about his town council's move towards restricting citizens who want to pay someone to pick up their trash to a choice of one company. All of Rhode Island should take note, because as Mr. Benjamin explains, the issues are as much statewide as they are local...

Roland Benjamin: Living in South Kingstown, and being fundamentally conservative, the trash hauling issue strikes a chord with me. In a letter to the South County Independent editor I wrote a few months back, I discussed what the inevitable regression of enabling and encouraging a monopoly would be. The central landfill monopoly is at the core of the “problem” here, yet the solution offered merely layers another monopolistic bureaucracy on top of the already dysfunctional one.

The publicly stated issue here is that the landfill is running out of space and the only solution will be to increase diversion (recycling) rates. Towns that do not comply with diversion targets will face higher per ton rates for its residents. On the one hand, there is a sense of embarrassment that a town as “progressive” as SK has the third lowest recycle rate in the state. Ironically, 4 of the 5 worst communities have no Republican representation on their respective Town Councils, while the 3 of the top 5 communities are balanced, non-partisan and/or Republican controlled.

But forget that for a moment and consider an alternative motive driving the “need” to recycle. In the central landfill’s annual report, it’s not hard to miss the margins on recycling. The cost to operate the recycling center is about $3.9 million as referenced in section 8-2-3 of the Solid Waste Management Report from 2006. With revenues of $7.5 million from recycling in 2005, the operating margin for recycled waste management is 48% compared to 7% for traditional waste. The RIRRC is simply doing what any business would do by trying to expand its more profitable product line. The downside to citizens is that the surplus generated from recycled material processing gets transferred to the state. In 2005 and 2006, that transfer was a combined $11+ million. We’re talking about a tax here that gets buried in the quasi-public world of waste management. So SK is faced with a choice: a) pay higher rates for regular waste (thus balancing operating margins at the landfill and enabling higher transfers to the State coffers), or b) send more recyclable waste to the landfill and allow greater transfers to the State coffers.

The Town of SK has decided that option (b) is optimal because, in their opinion, no one wants to pay tipping fees at double the current rate. But the societal cost of that choice will mean putting several independent haulers out of work and greatly limiting the service provided to and choices of the taxpayer. So what are the real consequences of choosing option (a) then? Reports state that tonnage rates will increase by approximately $30/ton if SK does not meet diversion targets. The average SK individual generates 0.425 tons per year of non-diverted waste according to this study, on page 5 of attachment 1. Essentially, this means the town is going through all of this effort to save the typical resident $12.50 per YEAR!!! Yet the cost (regardless of funding source) to contract the study and to administer the single franchise Request for Proposal will at least partially offset the $12.50 per resident savings in tipping fees. And if lawsuits arise from disabling companies to do business in town, regardless of the merits of the cases, legal fees will further devalue any savings to the residents. It may be cheaper for us to simply pay the higher rates to the landfill!!!

This is all occurring while technologies to manage Municipal Solid Waste are developing and shrinking. The central landfill is currently evaluating these technologies that can convert waste to electricity through gasification and other technologies. Additionally, the town could take advantage of the advancements in the shrinking footprints, throughputs, and costs of these technologies, but the easiest route is simply to charge more. With NO competitive price pressures (and with the power of the legislation) they will just increase the price to the taxpayer.

This issue is only about recycling on its surface. Prevailing wisdom is that recycling is absolutely needed to address the shrinking resource of land in Johnston. A very sound case can be made, however, that the proponents of recycling as an environmental cause are being manipulated by quasi-public and private interests looking to monopolize the entire process in the state. The taxpayer of SK has nothing to gain going down the path of single franchise and would cede control of the waste management to a small handful of bureaucrats and some of the largest pseudo-monopolies in the world with no price controls on the horizon and no incentive for innovation.

One Republican Frontrunner Almost Tied with Senator Obama; the Other Still Trails

Carroll Andrew Morse

For the first time in several weeks at least, there’s a major split in how well the Republican Presidential frontrunners are doing against one of the major Democratic candidates as measured by Rasmussen's head-to-head polling (survey conducted August 6-7)…

  • Rudy Giuliani 43%
  • Barack Obama 44%
  • Fred Thompson 39%
  • Barack Obama 46%
Three quick comments…
  1. Was it the invade Pakistan comment, or is it just a generic wearing-out of his freshness that’s causing Obama to lose support to the GOP frontrunner with more executive experience?
  2. If Obama loses the electability argument, he’s going to get crushed by the Clinton machine.
  3. This result is a sign that Fred Thompson has pushed the non-candidacy phase of his candidacy as far as is useful.

Net Root Hypocrisy

Marc Comtois

Didja hear about the netroot capo who had to settle with the SEC? Matt Drudge (of course) broke the story that, according to the NY Times, blogger Jerome Armstrong is paying close to $30,000 in fines to the Securities and Exchange Commission because he promoted the stock of a company on his blog and didn't tell anyone he was being "compensated" for it (here's the settlement). Roger Simon observes:

Now, as we all know, sleaze and corruption are not unique to either side of the political spectrum. But Armstrong, Kos & their netroot cronies have made a big deal out of clean government (and they should). So this kind of allegation speaks even more deeply to their ethics, as it it would for anyone in that position.

Moreover, this behavior, if true, besmirches blogging in general, harming all of us who take this enterprise seriously as a criticism of the activities of mainstream media....I'll give Armstrong the benefit of the doubt for now. But he owes us all a complete and thorough explanation of how this came to be. Otherwise, he might as well quit blogging. He and his integrity are toast.

All those followers of Kos should be especially interested in this. I hope they don't respond defensively, because if they do, the grounds for communication between intelligent Americans will be even worse than it is. How will we be able to take their pronouncements seriously?

Indeed. And Red State (schadenfreude, anyone?) reminds:
So, let's review: one of the founding members of the left blogosphere not only got his start in politics by predicting races on the basis of whether "Earley's natal Jupiter (that's being transited by Jupiter), is being dragged down by his south node there as well," he's now settled with the government over charges that he failed to disclose a conflict of interest when the law (as well as a basic sense of ethics) would have required him to do so. As noted at the time, this allegation in particular is troubling because of allegations that Armstrong was engaged in a hype-for-hire scheme in which he failed to disclose conflicts of interest with respect to his political career as well.

Now, lo these many months ago, in the course of exercising his remarkable powers of persuasion to make sure that the rest of the liberal bloggers kept quiet about the whole situation, Armstrong's long-time blogging partner and book co-author Markos Moulitsas said this:

Jerome can't talk about it now since the case is not fully closed. But once it is, he'll go on the offensive. That should be a couple of months off.

Well, it's actually been a year. But the case is apparently fully closed. We eagerly await Vis Numar "going on the offensive" to explain whether he did or did not fail to fulfill his legal obligations to disclose that he was being paid to tout a stock. More Markos:

My request to you guys is that you ignore this for now. It would make my life easier if we can confine the story. Then, once Jerome can speak and defend himself, then I'll go on the offensive (which is when I would file any lawsuits) and anyone can pile on.

Well, folks, the world awaits. Is an "offensive" from Armstrong coming? I mean to say, beyond deleting diaries at MyDD that make reference to the settlement (I am told that the "inflammatory" diary title in question was "Jerome Armstrong Admits Wrongdoing." The Google Cache has not caught it yet.)? Is Kos going to file a bunch of lawsuits now, to clear his name of the charges that the campaigns in question were really paying Armstrong in order to get favorable treatment from Kos? Or will another eerie silence fall over the left blogosphere like it did when this story originally arose?

The initial response over at Daily Kos? Drudge is Gay!!!!

How very "progressive." (As Glenn R. puts it, "What is it with the lefty types and gay slurs?").

Wonder what some of the local bloggers think of all this. (So far, crickets chirping...)

N.B. In the "Comments," RI Future's Matt Jerczyk points out that it wasn't Kos himself who posted that "Drudge is Gay", but one of his many "diarists." Point taken. Instead of originally pointing to a "Kos" response, I should have used the more accepted "Kossack" to avoid any conflation between the Kosfather and his fellow travelers.

New Charter Middle School Planned for Central Falls

Carroll Andrew Morse

Is Rhode Island's statewide moratorium on charter schools, currently slated to end at the of the 2007-2008 school year, really going to be allowed to lapse? According to Rochelle Lefebvre of the Pawtucket Times, officials in Central Falls must believe so…

Students may be soon be able to enroll in [Central Falls’] first charter school that, if approved by the General Assembly, could open as soon as September 2008.

Angelo Garcia is the director of Channel One, the city's social service agency, and the Ralph J. Holden Community Center.

He said he has been in communication with the Rhode Island Department of Education recently about the proposed school....

The school, which would be called Segue, would offer seats for about 240 local middle-school-aged children. Charter school advocates suggest a new facility would take the burden off Calcutt Middle School, which now houses nearly 700 students.

Hopefully, Central Falls will be able to repeat the experience of Providence, where two of the top three middle schools (out of nine total) are charters.

On the other hand, I wonder what charter advocates will have to give up to get the legislature to cooperate with their plans? Watch out for the General Assembly demanding that charter-school employees surrender their right to a secret ballot when voting on union issues (a provision quietly slipped into some proposed charter legislation earlier this year) as the price for allowing new charters.

Daily Show "Reports" on Cape Wind Opposition

Marc Comtois

Yeah, Jon Stewart has honed his knives at the expense of many a conservative...but here he takes a stab at some liberal hypocrites.

Via Watthead.

Aphorisms in Abundance

Justin Katz

Michelle Malkin's promotion of a book called 50 Rules Kids Won't Learn in School: Real-World Antidotes to Feel-Good Education has led to quite an extensive collection of aphorisms in her comments section. I'd add three:

  • People don't have to be equally valuable to be of equal value.
  • Sometimes people are to blame for their own hardships.
  • Overcoming your own obstacles is the surest way toward true rewards.

August 8, 2007

The Sound of the Empire's End

Justin Katz

Promising and active young professionals (among others) are fleeing Great Britain:

BRITAIN is facing a mass exodus of people looking to escape the crime and grime of modern living.

The country’s biggest foreign visa consultancy firm has revealed that applications have soared in the last seven months by 80 per cent to almost 4,000 a week. Ten years ago the figure was just 300 a week.

Most people are relocating within the Commonwealth — in Australia, Canada and South Africa. They are almost all young professionals and skilled workers aged 20-40.

And many cite their reason for wanting to quit as immigration to these shores — and the burden it is placing on their communities and local authorities. The dearth of good schools, spiralling house prices, rising crime and tax increases are also driving people away.

Reading the whole article, Rhode Islanders may feel that the problems (and individual citizens' solution) sounds really, really familiar.


It's a little off topic (depending how broad you take the topic to be), but coming across the statistic at the end of the following paragraph shortly after writing this post, my first thought was that we've an indication of who remains when the family and future–oriented folks look for bluer skies (emphasis added):

Today, the sexualization of girls begins in infancy with 12-month sized rompers announcing, "I'm too sexy for my diaper." At age four, it's The Bratz Babyz, singing "You've gotta look hotter than hot! Show what you've got!" At six it's a pouty, scantily dressed My Scene Bling Bling Barbie draped in diamonds. By 12, it's Ludacris singing ( Ruff sex): "make it hurt in the garden." Fully brainwashed by 13, lap dancer is by then considered a more desirable profession than teacher, as one British survey of 1,000 teenage girls found to be the case by a 7-1 ratio.

(via Mark Shea)

Run to the City (or Town) of Refuge

Justin Katz

Apparently, I'm not the only resident of Tiverton who knows that something wicked is this way coming:

The Rhode Island budget deficit will bankrupt the state in just a few years. I wonder if most of the state’s citizens are aware of just what this means:

• Governmental collapse.

• Extreme cuts in essential services, such as police and fire departments.

• Rapid deterioration of the school system.

• Cessation of public construction projects, as well as lack of maintenance for public buildings, roads and bridges.

• Major rise in the crime rate.

• Mass exodus of the best and brightest people and businesses and resulting tax-base erosion, worsening downward spiral.

Only a change in our welfare-state mentality can fix this!

Reading Stephen Miller's letter brought to mind a thought project (or perhaps a quixotic inquiry) that I've been meaning to explore: What could towns do, or begin doing, to insulate their citizens against Rhode Island's coming freeze?

Whether or not townies would be willing to insist on policies that must be followed, or elected town officials would be willing to implement them, is a separate question. But it occurs to me that the joint attendance of Mr. Miller and myself at a town council meeting would represent a sizable contingent of the involved citizenry scattered among the folding chairs. Where would we even start with our complaints and suggestions?

Calvin Coolidge, Movie Star

Marc Comtois

Believe it or not, there has never been a movie made about Calvin Coolidge.

[Cue laughtrack.]

OK, that is ENTIRELY believable. Over at Spinning Clio I post about a new documentary that looks at the presidency of "Cool Cal" and attempts to revise some of the impressions we have about him. In short, it is proof that "historical revisionism" is far more than the liberal shibboleth that so many assume. (OK, done preaching). So, if you're so inclined, check it out. (We've also mentioned him around here from time to time).

In the meantime, here are a couple Coolidge timeless quotes that show that conservatives could learn a lot from our 30th President.

  • "We do not need more material development, we need more spiritual development. We do not need more intellectual power, we need more moral power. We do not need more knowledge, we need more character. We do not need more government, we need more culture. We do not need more law, we need more religion. We do not need more of the things that are seen, we need more of the things that are unseen.

    It is on that side of life that it is desirable to put the emphasis at the present time. If that side be strengthened, the other side will take care of itself."

  • "Real reform does not begin with a law, it ends with a law. The attempt to dragoon the body when the need is to convince the soul will end only in revolt... It is time to supplement the appeal to law, which is limited, with an appeal to the spirit of the people, which is unlimited."
  • "We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. The things of the spirit come first. Unless we cling to that, all our material prosperity, overwhelming though it may appear, will turn to a barren sceptre in our grasp... Man has a spiritual nature. Touch it, and it must respond as the magnet responds to the pole."

  • A Government-Created Monopoly That’s Complete Garbage

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Jon Pincince of the RI Law Journal, blogging both as someone interested in Rhode Island legal issues and as a South Kingstown resident, provides an interesting summary of the trash hauling situation in his town. Apparently, the South Kingstown Town Council is leaning towards implementing a system that makes it illegal for anyone but one company, selected by the town, to haul trash. This is not a change to a system of “free” (i.e. paid for through tax dollars) municipal trash collection, as residents will still have to individually contract with the favored trash hauler. However, they will have only one company which they are allowed to choose, if they don't want to carry their trash to the town's transfer station themselves. Pincince comments…

    Apparently we will not be allowed to hire someone else to do it for us, at least not someone else of our choice. Not only will we no longer be allowed to contract with RPE or other local haulers, but if my neighbor’s enterprising kid wants to offer a service to his neighbors, and he will do it less expensively than the Town’s chosen company? Competition be damned. We’ll have to haul it ourselves or call the chosen one.
    According to the Liz Boardman article in the South County Independent referenced by RILJ, at least one current South County trash collector is already planning to fight the monopoly ordinance in court, arguing that a town has no legal basis to prevent a company able to meet licensing requirements from running a trash collection business…
    [Leo Roode, owner of RPE Waste Services,] plans to fight Town Hall over the loss of business.

    “We have contracts with our customers and we have a substantial investment in South Kingstown - we probably have $300,000 invested in our clients there,” he said. “We’ll sue the town and will keep picking up trash until the Supreme Court tells us we can’t.”

    And already, two of the problems intrinsic and endemic to government monopolies have begun to raise their heads…
    1. One size fits all mandates: The pricing scheme the town wants to impose gives no consideration to the fact that family-households create more trash than single-person households…
      The bid asks for quotes on basic service - weekly collection of one 35-gallon trash container and two 64-gallon recycling bins - one for paper and one for bottles and cans. Residents creating additional trash would have to put it in a special bag….But critics said 35 gallons isn’t enough.

      “It’s stupid to think a customer has only 35 gallons of trash a week,” said Leo Roode, who owns RPE Waste Services in Wood River Junction. “The poor working slob with four or five kids might get one 35-gallon can for $15 a month, but [then] has to buy two or three bags a week for the extra trash. It’s right back up to what it is now

      It’s expensive enough to raise children these days. Do we really need to penalize families for their trash collection too?
    2. Tipping the scales in favor of certain companies: Once the most important aspect of business becomes dealing with the government, rather than making a quality product, or providing a good service, funny things start to happen. Sometimes, for instance, specs get written that can only be satisfied by big companies with lots of resources to devote to something other than a company’s core business…
      Under the terms of the bid, the hauler has to find a vendor to make [special bags for trash that exceeds the 35 gallon limit] and is responsible for getting them on the shelves of local stores, where residents can buy them.

      Finding someone to make the bags and marketing them seemed impossible to Roode.

      “Who has resources to do it? Allied, BFI, someone owned by investors, not some family,” he said. “They can pull 20 people in to get the bags in the stores.”

      Mandates like the above have led several South Kingstownites to wonder if a big, out-of-state trash hauler had a hand in writing the bid…
      “This bid was written by one of the three big haulers. It’s too detailed. The town didn’t come up with it,” Roode said.

      “On the business end, the RFP reads as if a Professional Trash Hauler vendor wrote this document,” [South Kingstown Republican Town Committee chairman Dave Coté] wrote in an e-mail to the town manager. “Please confirm how the RFP was created.”

      [South Kingstown Public Services Director Jon Schock] said he wrote the bid, along with Ellen Rynasiewicz, an employee of the Public Services Department, and John Merritt and Matt Zettek of Merritt Communications. It was based on specifications from other towns with similar plans but was modified to the fit the town’s needs.

    Acceptance of bids will begin later this month, and the Town Council will make its decision sometime in September or later.

    Finally, one footnote: Facing similar circumstances, the town of Narragansett has decided for the time being that it can meet its local trash collection needs without driving the local trash haulers out of town. From Randal Edgar in the Projo...

    The town wants to know what South Kingstown residents would pay for curbside pickup should that town choose a single hauler.

    If the cost is reasonable, Narragansett might consider the single-hauler approach, local officials say. Otherwise, Town Council members have said they prefer staying with a system of multiple haulers, who would have to be licensed and offer recycling.

    Five months ago, it appeared the two towns might seek bids together from single haulers, but Narragansett council members concluded that hiring one hauler would put smaller, local haulers out of business.

    Obama Strikes Out on Softball Question about Hardball

    Marc Comtois

    I heard about this on the radio this morning, and blogger Extreme Mortman (h/t) also caught it:

    Asked whether, if he were president now, he’d honor Barry Bonds in the White House, Obama said:
    “First of all he’s still got to hit one more. .. He hasn’t done it yet, so we’ll answer the question when he does.”
    Mere hours before Bonds hit his record-setting homerun, Obama hadn’t figured out his thoughts on whether he’s a hero or a villain? What difference would it have made before or after number 756? How would that additional homerun have affected Obama’s thoughts?

    Baseball may seem trivial next to, say, bombing our allies in Pakistan — but the Barry Bonds story does present fascinating and profound social issues for America. Many Americans have strong opinions on him. Apparently Obama is not among them.

    A strike out for the Senator.

    Yes, a simple question that should get a simple answer, no? And now that Bonds has broken the record, what will Sen. Obama say? By now he should have had time to have focus-grouped the question to see what the "right" answer is.

    Counteracting "Progressives"

    Justin Katz

    As it happens, I agree with Jonah Goldberg's response to conservatives who are concerned about the reemergence of the term "progressive" as a trick to maneuver opponents into the rhetorical position of "against progress":

    Re: the need for conservatives to come up with their own label. No thanks. Sure, I'd like to have "liberal" back — at least to describe traditional libertarians — but I would oppose tooth and nail the idea of casting aside the word conservative simply to market it better. That's the logic of "compassionate conservatism," Kempism, and other schools of thought which hold that conservatism needs to adopt liberal assumptions in order to be "relevant." The fact that conservatives are willing to stick by their ideas and label is a sign and source of conservative strength, not weakness. Coming up with some "progressive" sounding label for conservatives merely concedes an argument we need not concede. Conservatism didn't need the adjective "compassionate" and it doesn't need any other clever repackaging. It is what it is. If we need to embrace some new reforms that's fine. Conservatives understand that times change. But just call them conservative reforms. Or just call them reforms conservatives can get behind.

    Nonetheless, while I wouldn't have the Right pursue a deliberate strategy of name-changing (market tested, as it were), I do think it might be helpful to consolidate a rejoinder to the "against progress" slander into a comparative term. The first step is to articulate the problem with marching under the banner of Progress — namely, that it offers no qualifiers addressing toward what, by what means, or with what protections progress ought to be pursued. As anybody who has spent time debating progressives will have observed, they've a peculiar certainty that their current views define the future and a frightening faith that it can be dictated with only token efforts to preserve the uncapturable treasures of our tradition.

    So what, if not opposite, would be opposed to Progress and progressives? It sounds a tad clunky, but the word to which I keep returning in my search through dictionaries and thesauri is Maturity, which would make us, I suppose, maturists.

    August 7, 2007

    A Parade of Ideological Conformity

    Justin Katz

    Well, look, clearly it was wrong of the city fire department — with its openly devout Christian fire chief — to order its men to participate in a faith-based parade during which they were subjected to aggressive and offensive suggestions as to their own religions... oh, wait a sec; that's not how the story goes:

    In 28 years of responding to fires and saving lives, Fire Capt. John Ghiotto of the San Diego Fire Department never thought his job would require him to attend a Gay Pride parade.

    "I've dealt with finding bodies in burning buildings, traffic accidents with kids, but I've never been so stressed out before until this incident," Ghiotto told in an exclusive interview.

    Ghiotto and three other firefighters filed a sexual harassment complaint against the city's fire department last week after being forced to attend the parade in uniform despite objections they made to superiors.

    “I don’t want anybody else to go through this. This is a whole different ball game. I think our officials up above need to look at this,” Ghiotto said.

    The firefighters claim parade attendees made obscene gestures, uttered inappropriate remarks and displayed lewd behavior that made them uncomfortable. They also demanded a work environment without discrimination and harassment.

    The four men allege they were ordered by a battalion chief to attend last month's parade and feared consequences for failure to do so, since refusing to follow a direct order constitutes disciplinary action.

    If the men refused to follow the direct order, they could have been suspended on the spot and stripped of any chance for a promotion, according to their manual, Ghiotto said. It was Ghiotto's first direct order.

    Ghiotto, engineer Jason Hewitt and firefighters Chad Allison and Alex Kane filed the complaint, which includes detailed descriptions of their allegations. Their fire station is along the parade route.

    “You could not even look at the crowd without getting some type of sexual gesture,” Ghiotto said in the complaint. “The experience left me feeling humiliated, embarrassed and offended by this event.”

    San Diego fire chief Tracy Jarman, an open lesbian, said she apologized to the men, according to a statement. Jarman said any kind of sexual harassment is "unacceptable, and is never tolerated" in the department.

    "I am deeply concerned and troubled by the allegations that have been made. I take them seriously," Jarman said in a statement.

    The FoxNews article stresses that the order came from a battalion chief, but according to Ghiotto's complaint (PDF):

    I asked the chief if he was giving me and my crew a direct order to attend this parade , and he said "yes". He was given a direct order from Chief Carle via chain of command that engine 5 and the on duty crew was to participate in the parade.

    Not surprisingly, we also get another example of an assumption of bigotry being used to invalidate legitimate complaints and opinions. According to Chad Allison:

    I have heard that Assistant Chief Jeff Carle attended a meeting with the Local 145 and made us out to be a group of guys that have issues with homosexuality and that he was in the parade and did not see anything offensive .

    The sexual-harassment aspect of this story is not the fundamental travesty. Rather, it is the enforcement of an essentially religious worldview that ought to be the subject of the complaint. I know libertines and secularists find the suggestion irksome, but it does not make the subject of their zealotry any less of a religion that they declare it to be Nature and Truth.

    What the New Wiretap Law Means

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    An NSA agent listens into a cell phone call between parties in Great Britain and Iran. This is what he hears…

    All materials and personnel are in place. We await further orders.
    Immediately, the party in Great Britain receives a return call…
    Begin operations in 2 hours. All primary targets are to be destroyed.
    Now, the NSA monitor detects a third transmission, originating with the party in Great Britain, to a party in Providence, Rhode Island. The message is…

    …but wait, should the NSA keep listening at this point? A number of Democrats in Congress and ACLU-types say not necessarily, arguing that when foreign calls reach the United States, any government agency involved in surveillance has to hang up, unless they have previously obtained a warrant for the party on the American side -- even if they didn’t know the identity of the party on the American side before the call was made.

    This is the central issue involved in the changes to the wiretapping law signed by the President on Monday. The new law makes clear that phone calls and other electronic communications that involve one party beyond the borders of the United States are to be treated according to the rules governing foreign intelligence gathering. 181 Democrats in the House and 28 in the Senate voted against this. Mark Steyn has best described the strangeness of the minority position on this issue…

    If the U.S. government intercepts a call from Islamabad to London about a plot to blow up Big Ben, it can alert the Brits. But, if the U.S. government intercepts a call from Islamabad to New York about a plot to blow up the Chrysler Building, that's entirely unconstitutional and all record of it should be erased.
    All four members of Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation; Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, and Congressmen Patrick Kennedy and James Langevin, voted to require the government to cease surveillance in certain situations where phone or other electronic communication trails originating in foreign countries unexpectedly lead to contacts in the United States.

    2. The new statutes not only adapt intelligence law for cases where one party is outside of the United States, but as an OpinionJournal editorial from July 27 pointed out, they also clarify the handling of certain cases where both ends of a call are outside of the United States…

    If an al Qaeda operative in Quetta calls a fellow jihadi in Peshawar, that call may well travel through a U.S. network. This ought to be a big U.S. advantage in our "asymmetrical" conflict with terrorists. But it also means that, for the purposes of FISA, a foreign call that is routed through U.S. networks becomes a domestic call. So thanks to the obligation to abide by an outdated FISA statute, U.S. intelligence is now struggling even to tap the communications of foreign-based terrorists.
    3. The Boston Globe states that the new law allows the executive branch to conduct "oversight-free surveillance", but that’s not true, even at the most basic level. According to the text of the law…
    `(h)(1)(A) A person receiving a directive issued pursuant to subsection (e) may challenge the legality of that directive by filing a petition with the pool established under section 103(e)(1). (Note: The “person” referred to above would basically be the employee of a telecom company. The “pool” would be the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, the special court designated by Congress to hear domestic surveillance cases.)

    `(B) The presiding judge designated pursuant to section 103(b) shall assign a petition filed under subparagraph (A) to one of the judges serving in the pool established by section 103(e)(1). Not later than 48 hours after the assignment of such petition, the assigned judge shall conduct an initial review of the directive. If the assigned judge determines that the petition is frivolous, the assigned judge shall immediately deny the petition and affirm the directive or any part of the directive that is the subject of the petition. If the assigned judge determines the petition is not frivolous, the assigned judge shall, within 72 hours, consider the petition in accordance with the procedures established under section 103(e)(2) and provide a written statement for the record of the reasons for any determination under this subsection.

    Protest Against Stephen Tocco

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    The Rhode Island Republican Assembly forwards this notice about a demonstration being held in Smithfield tonight...

    There will be a resignation rally on Tuesday 8/7/2007 at 7:00pm @ Smithfield Town Hall (64 Farnum Pike, Route 104).

    The purpose is to demand that disgraced former Capitol Police Chief Stephen Tocco resign from the Town Council.

    Thomas J. Morgan of the Projo has the details on the former police chief's (who is now the town council President) direct involvment with corruption...
    [Jeff Neal, spokesman for Governor Donald Carcieri,] declared on June 7 that Tocco had been “temporarily reassigned” while the governor’s office examined the police chief’s role as a facilitator of bribes in municipal corruption cases in the 1980s and 1990s. The issue arose after a reporter uncovered records in the archives of the U.S. District Court that had lain unnoticed for more than a decade...

    Tocco, according to the transcript of the trial of Garafano, the former Providence public works director, testified under oath that he had negotiated bribes and carried thousands of dollars in bribes on a number of occasions both to Garafano and to Louis S. Simon, then public works director in Pawtucket during the administration of Mayor Brian J. Sarault. Simon and Sarault pleaded guilty and served jail terms. Garafano was convicted and sentenced to prison.

    Tocco committed these acts while he was also an officer of the Capitol Police, he testified.

    According to an earlier Thomas Morgan article, however, Smithfield Democrats (including Tocco himself), don't see what all the fuss is about...
    Tocco, who also is president of the Smithfield Town Council, said he intended no change in that position.

    “Sure, I’ll remain on the council,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I?”....

    When Tocco sought election to the Smithfield Council in 2004, he apparently neglected to mention the skeleton in his closet to Larry Mancini, the chairman of the Democratic Town Committee. “It was never disclosed to me in any capacity,” Mancini said last week. “If it was disclosed to me and to those who participate in the candidate-selection process, I think we would have weighed that in the context of a viable candidate.”

    Mancini added, however, “Knowing him as a person and having the ability to assess his qualities in my mind would have outweighed the negativity.

    After all, if we didn't have people to carry the bribes, how would any business get done in Rhode Island?

    Re: The "Scott Thomas" Saga at TNR Continues

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    According to Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard, Scott Thomas Beauchamp has recanted his controversial New Republic articles concerning the conduct of American troops in Iraq...

    THE WEEKLY STANDARD has learned from a military source close to the investigation that Pvt. Scott Thomas Beauchamp--author of the much-disputed "Shock Troops" article in the New Republic's July 23 issue as well as two previous "Baghdad Diarist" columns--signed a sworn statement admitting that all three articles he published in the New Republic were exaggerations and falsehoods--fabrications containing only "a smidgen of truth," in the words of our source....

    According to the military source, Beauchamp's recantation was volunteered on the first day of the military's investigation. So as Beauchamp was in Iraq signing an affidavit denying the truth of his stories, the New Republic was publishing a statement from him on its website on July 26, in which Beauchamp said, "I'm willing to stand by the entirety of my articles for the New Republic using my real name."

    Instapundit has a complete round-up here.

    Two for the Price of Three

    Justin Katz

    I'm not sure why the Providence Journal is making such a big deal about public workers' overtime. My understanding is that such employees' benefits packages cost significantly more than 50% of their salaries, so it's cheaper to have them work extra hours than to bring on somebody new to share the workload. If there's a problem, it seems to me that the solution is to bring down benefits to a sufficiently reasonable level that it is more cost effective to spread the labor (and the wealth). That way, more people could make a reasonable amount of money doing a reasonable amount of work.

    August 6, 2007

    Unionizing Bloggers?

    Marc Comtois

    Only the "reality-based" community could come up with this:

    ...a loosely formed coalition of left-leaning bloggers are trying to band together to form a labor union they hope will help them receive health insurance, conduct collective bargaining or even set professional standards.

    "I think people have just gotten to the point where people outside the blogosphere understand the value of what it is that we do on the progressive side," said Susie Madrak, the author of Suburban Guerilla blog, who is active in the union campaign. "And I think they feel a little more entitled to ask for something now."

    But just what that something is may be hard to say.

    In a world as diverse, vocal and unwieldy as the blogosphere, there's no consensus about what type of organization is needed and who should be included. Some argue for a free-standing association for activist bloggers while others suggest a guild open to any blogger -- from knitting fans to video gamers -- that could be created within established labor groups.

    Others see a blogger coalition as a way to find health insurance discounts, fight for press credentials or even establish guidelines for dealing with advertising and presenting data on page views.

    "It would raise the professionalism," said Leslie Robinson, a writer at "Maybe we could get more jobs, bona fide jobs."

    While bloggers work to organize their own labor movement, their growing numbers are already being courted by some unions.

    "Bloggers are on our radar screen right now for approaching and recruiting into the union," said Gerry Colby, president of the National Writers Union, a local of the United Auto Workers. "We're trying to develop strategies to reach bloggers and encourage them to join."
    Sitting at a panel titled "A Union for Bloggers: It's Time to Organize" at this week's YearlyKos Convention for bloggers in Chicago, [Kirsten] Burgard said she'd welcome a chance to join a unionized blogging community.

    "I sure would like to have that union bug on my Web site," said Burgard, a blogger who uses the moniker Bendy Girl.

    Madrak hopes that regardless the form, the labor movement ultimately will help bloggers pay for medical bills. It's important, she said, because some bloggers can spend hours a day tethered to computers as they update their Web sites.

    "Blogging is very intense -- physically, mentally," she said. "You're constantly scanning for news. You're constantly trying to come up with information that you think will mobilize your readers. In the meantime, you're sitting at a computer and your ass is getting wider and your arm and neck and shoulder are wearing out because you're constantly using a mouse."

    Sheesh. Yes, they're serious. At least the KOS crowd. Not everyone is too keen on the idea, though:
    "The reason I like blogging is that it's very anarchistic. I can do whatever I want whenever I want, and oh my God, you're not going to tell me what to do," said Curt Hopkins, the founder of the Committee to Protect Bloggers.

    "The blogosphere is such a weird term and such a weird idea. It's anyone who wants to do it," Hopkins said. "There's absolutely no commonality there. How will they find a commonality to go on? I think it's doomed to failure on any sort of large scale."

    Unsurprisingly, there's decidedly less support for a union movement among conservative bloggers.

    Mark Noonan, an editor at Blogs for Bush and a senior writer at GOP Bloggers, said he worries that a blogger union would undermine the freewheeling nature of the blogosphere, regardless of its political composition.

    "We just go out there and write what is on our mind, damn the critics," he said. "To make a union is to start to provide a firm structure for the blogosphere and that would merely make the blogosphere a junior-league (mainstream media). ... Get us a union and other 'professional' organizations and we'll start to be conformist and we'll start to be just another special interest."

    I can see it now: Anchor Rising becomes targeted as a "scab blog". Will there be "virtual picketing"? An electronic "card check"?

    Rocco DiPippo on Iraq, in His Own Words

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Rocco DiPippo was the guest on this weekend’s 10 News Conference on WJAR-TV (NBC 10). Rocco offered his observations about conditions in Iraq and his criticisms of the media's coverage of both the surge and the rebuilding operation. The entire program is available here.

    Rocco is also making some of the firsthand videos he took while in Iraq available on his Autonomist website.

    August 3, 2007

    The Cost of a Job That Can't Be Done

    Justin Katz

    It is certainly worth reminding ourselves that parents, as a group, bear some of the blame — most of it — for children doing poorly in school. But inasmuch as parents don't draw government salaries, receive paid days off, or claim retirement benefits for their efforts, the public rightly makes schools an area of particular concern.

    The problem that teachers' advocates face in attempting to redirect attention toward parents is that two obvious questions emerge: If the job is undoable, why do we pay so much for it? And what can we do to maximize the benefit of the dollars that we spend? Not surprisingly, folks at Anchor Rising would tend to suggest that the best solution is to increase opportunities for teachers, students, and parents who desire success, and to increase consequences for those who do not. (Ah, there's the rub.)

    A school choice program, combined with merit-based teacher compensation, would accomplish both.

    Candidate Whitehouse and Beacon

    Marc Comtois

    The ProJo's Mike Stanton helps to narrow the focus on the Beacon imbroglio to the Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's involvement:

    The report also focused on efforts by Beacon’s then-CEO, Joseph A. Solomon, to solicit campaign contributions for Whitehouse’s Senate campaign. From May 27, 2005, to June 30, 2005, the report says, 14 Beacon employees, board members and related consultants gave $15,600 to Whitehouse.

    “Based on discussions with several of the donors, Solomon offered to personally reimburse them for their donations, and two employees told us that they accepted his offer and were reimbursed,” the report said.

    Reimbursing contributions is illegal. A Beacon spokesman said last night that the company learned of the contributions last summer, and referred the matter to the Federal Elections Commission and the Rhode Island State Police.

    During the same period, the state’s auditors also found e-mails among Whitehouse, Dufault and Beacon executives discussing pending Beacon legislation at the Rhode Island State House. As an aide to then-Gov. Bruce Sundlun in the early 1990s, Whitehouse had helped reform Rhode Island’s troubled workers’ compensation system, resulting in the creation of Beacon.

    The e-mails “appeared to provide the candidate with possible material for a commentary in favor of the Beacon-proposed legislation,” the report says....Beacon later asked Whitehouse to hold off, and no commentary was published.

    Whitehouse told The Journal last night that he had asked Solomon to organize a fundraiser, but that Solomon instead collected checks. Whitehouse said it was “unfortunate” — and he was unaware — that any donors had been reimbursed.

    Regardless of whether or not Whitehouse was aware of how Solomon rounded up the cash, the fact is that Whitehouse was clearly willing to help promote Beacon and a close reading of some of the emails excerpted in the report (go to pages 296-7) reveal a possible quid pro quo. Whitehouse was prepared to advocate for Beacon by submitting a commentary to the ProJo. Further, the emails give strong evidence that the potential commentary piece was actually "ghost-written" by Beacon and Guy Dufault: Whitehouse just needed to put his name on it. However, for reasons explained in the emails excerpted in the report, Whitehouse ultimately did not submit a piece to the Journal. Thus, there is no conclusive evidence that a quid pro quo was exercised even if the intent seemed to be there.

    The summary of the pertinent emails is in the extended section of this post.

    During the period 6/16/2005 and 6/23/2005, we found several Emails between Solomon, a vice president, the owner of Cornerstone and the candidate {Senator, then-candidate, Sheldon Whitehouse-ed.} which appeared to provide the candidate with possible material for a commentary in favor of the Beacon-proposed legislation. On 6/16/2005, Solomon wrote to the candidate and provided documents which he claimed, "address the 'lowest possible price' concern."

    On 6/16/2005, the candidate replied to Solomon and stated, "[The owner of Cornerstone] {Guy Dufault--ed.} said he'd draft something for me to look at, and I'm not sure what your key issues are in all of this. There is the 'lowest rates' issue, the out of state business issue, the mutual fund issue (what does this do to for-profit status?), the NCCI issue, the board changes (BM or just the sub?) and the general great job done point. I need some focus. Thanks." Solomon forwarded this response to the owner of Cornerstone on 6/17/2005.

    On 6/22/2005, a vice president sent the candidate an Email with a three-page document, written in the first person, but for which the author is not identified; it appears to be a letter or statement in support of the Beacon-supported legislation. In his Email, the vice president wrote, "please accept this rough draft for your consideration."

    On 6/23/2005, the same vice president sent another Email to the candidate and stated, "before you submit anything to the Journal--we may have hit a snag at the state house. Inexplicably, the Speaker put the bill over until Friday. This, of course, limits the availability of a veto override. [Solomon] is to meet with the speaker at some time tonight. he is here now...just wanted to give you the heads up before you submit anything. We're worried about some kind of deal, thus the always, thanks for the support.

    Later on in the day on 6/23/2005, the vice president sent the candidate another Email and copied Solomon and the owner of Cornerstone. In the subject line, he wrote, "I just spoke to [a Beacon board member], can you hold off on the commentary piece until we know the date of the override? Thanks so much."

    An Internet search for news stories on or shortly after 6/23/2005 did not identify statements made by the candidate related to Beacon.

    For Fathers, Responsibility Should Come with Choice (If Only of One Option)

    Justin Katz

    Of course, I'd argue that moral laws would forbid abortion whatever the father's opinion, but I'm sympathetic to the incremental gain that some Ohio lawmakers are seeking:

    Several Ohio state representatives who normally take an anti-abortion stance are now pushing pro-choice legislation - sort of.

    Led by Rep. John Adams, a group of state legislators have submitted a bill that would give fathers of unborn children a final say in whether or not an abortion can take place.

    It's a measure that, supporters say, would finally give fathers a choice.

    "This is important because there are always two parents and fathers should have a say in the birth or the destruction of that child," said Adams, a Republican from Sidney. "I didn't bring it up to draw attention to myself or to be controversial. In most cases, when a child is born the father has financial responsibility for that child, so he should have a say."

    As written, the bill would ban women from seeking an abortion without written consent from the father of the fetus. In cases where the identity of the father is unknown, women would be required to submit a list of possible fathers. The physician would be forced to conduct a paternity test from the provided list and then seek paternal permission to abort. ...

    With the proposal, men would be guaranteed that voice under penalty of law. First time violators would by tried for abortion fraud, a first degree misdemeanor. The same would be the case for men who falsely claim to be fathers and for medical workers who knowingly perform an abortion without paternal consent.

    In addition, women would be required to present a police report in order to prove a pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

    If the mother can force the father to take responsibility for his actions, then the father ought to be able to do the same, making due commitment to share the burden as much as possible. I know the self-centered slogan is "my body, my choice," but the reasoning is the same for both parents: both made the choice to use their bodies for sex, and both are morally obliged to accept an always possible and entirely foreseeable consequence. In this case — with a human life at stake — both ought to be legally obliged, as well.

    Even Though Void or Because Void?

    Justin Katz

    A quick online search didn't lead to the actual documents, but based on the Providence Journal story about the various legal briefs filed in the case of Rhode Island's granting a same-sex divorce, it appears that just about everybody argued predictably, mainly based on broader perspectives than the narrow question facing the court. The one exception comes from the governor:

    Carcieri's brief — signed by Indiana lawyer James Bopp Jr. and local lawyer Joseph S. Larisa Jr., former Republican Gov. Lincoln C. Almond's chief of staff — noted state law says divorces can be granted even when marriages are "void or voidable by law."

    "The Family Court can thus proceed with the divorce petition without a response from this court addressing the legality or the validity of the marriage," the brief said. "Indeed, because of the significance of this issue and the lack of necessity for this court to consider it, the policy of the State of Rhode Island on the issue of same-sex marriage is most properly left to the people to establish through referendum or, at minimum, through the legislative process."

    Matching the quoted language suggests that the following is the relevant statute (emphasis added):

    Marriages void or voidable — Civil death or presumption of death. — Divorces from the bond of marriage shall be decreed in case of any marriage originally void or voidable by law, and in case either party is for crime deemed to be or treated as if civilly dead, or, from absence or other circumstances, may be presumed to be actually dead.

    Contra Carcieri et al., this language appears to indicate a "because," not an "even if" — with which I agree, and for which I would welcome the legal consequences. If the court grants the divorce using this law, it seems to me that it would, in effect, be doing so on the grounds that the marriage is void anyway. That would represent a definitive statement that Rhode Island's public policy does not permit same-sex marriage.

    August 2, 2007

    Beacon Mutual Mess Redux

    Marc Comtois

    The State DBR (Department of Business Regulation) has released it's own report (300+ pages) concerning the Beacon Mutual scandal (before the Governor shook it all up). As the ProJo 7to7 blog summarizes:

    Here are some of the report's specific findings, according to the DBR:

    -- Certain employers related to board members and other favored employers were given unsupported discounts.

    -- Charitable contributions were made to institutions related to board members and senior management with little or no evidence to support the efficiency of the contributions.

    -- Commissions were paid to select agents, although minimum performance thresholds in their contracts were not met.

    -- Management, favored agents and some clients enjoyed golf trips and other perks constituting unsuitable expenditures.

    Probably nothing new, but it's always good to be reminded of the corruption, huh?

    MORE: ProJo has more details here ("golf trips and pricing favors were the norm") and Mike Stanton explains some of the political connections that have been exposed.

    Executives at the old Beacon Mutual Insurance Co. played politics in a number of ways, a state report alleged yesterday — attempting to “buy votes” at the State House, offering preferential treatment to companies connected to one lawmaker, hiring a state representative to do collection work, making questionable payments to a prominent political operative and orchestrating possibly illegal contributions to the U.S. Senate campaign of Sheldon Whitehouse.
    More to come...

    Rasmussen: Both Republican Frontrunners Leading Senator Clinton

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    OK, it’s really a statistical dead heat, according to a Rasmussen head-to-head poll conducted July 30-31…

    • Rudy Giuliani 46%
    • Hillary Clinton 45%
    • Fred Thompson 46%
    • Hillary Clinton 45%
    Meanwhile, Senator Clinton remains the heavy favorite in Rasmussen’s daily polling of likely Democratic primary voters (results reported August 2)…
    • Hillary Clinton 43%
    • Barack Obama 21%
    • John Edwards 12%

    Middleboro Gambling: Breaking the Law for a False Panacea

    Marc Comtois

    David Mittell:

    Like marijuana and hanging, casino gambling is against the law in Massachusetts. Yet by the power they invested in themselves, the 2,387 obliged the town and its officials to bear witness in favor of the $1 billion casino; and within moments selectmen signed a 21-page agreement binding themselves to do so.

    I know people who would be just tickled to have a binding arrangement for selectmen to support their using lethal force against backfiring motorcyclists, amplified radiophiles and the like. That is absurd, of course, but the legal issue is the same: How can officials be bound to support an activity that is currently against the law? What of their oaths of office? What of the oaths of those who may be elected in the future, who may in good conscience be against the casino? What of oaths if circumstances change?! If the town’s lawyers and planning board prove to have been right? If environmental review foretells catastrophe? Selectmen I have covered have often taken longer to consider a motion to adjourn than Middleboro’s selectmen took to sign on the dotted line. Perhaps the 21 pages of small print will explain everything.

    What Middleboro really did on Saturday was to place a bet on the town’s future. Like all bets it was against the odds. It was a sincere bet that their children’s children will live better in a gambling town than in the unconvincingly promoted “Cranberry Capital.” (The real Middleboro today is not a bog!) Good evidence that future reality is probably to the contrary was available; nonetheless, the bet was eagerly placed. That is why it is a bet against the odds, and why gamblers lose more often than they win. The lure of gambling is the illusion that the improbable, which can happen, will happen.

    Perhaps they should turn their eyes to us? Dan Yorke was talking yesterday about how Rhode Island's estimated gambling revenue from Twin River and Newport Grand is going down, down, down. Part of it is because the state has become less effective than the Connecticut casinos at attracting the kind of people who willingly like to have their pockets picked. (Aside: and a new, full-fledged casino in Middleboro won't help our "plight" any!) Should Massachusetts ultimately go ahead with a casino, Connecticut will suffer the same reduction. Will the answer be more and bigger casinos? For, as I've often stated, perhaps the biggest addicts to state-sponsored gambling are the state governments who spend to the cap. And expect to keep spending a seemingly endless supply of gambling dough. Unfortunately, it is just as likely that the (State) house will go bust.

    Providence Takes its Message to Other Communities of Pay-and-Go-Away to a New Level

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Brian C. Jones reports in this week's Providence Phoenix on efforts by the city of Providence to enforce local-residency hiring preferences that can extend to privately-owned businesses…

    It’s been nearly a quarter-century since Providence enacted an ordinance giving city residents the first crack at jobs from companies and organizations benefiting from grants and other financial arrangements with the city.

    Now, the law is beginning to help substantial number of workers get jobs. Almost 200 residents have received jobs, about half at the Renaissance Providence Hotel, which opened this year in the former Masonic Temple near the State House [but Sara Mersha, executive director of Direct Action for Rights and Equality,] questions whether the city is fully implementing the program, requiring that all businesses doing work with the city be included in the program, not just those receiving grants and tax breaks….

    At issue is a 1985 city law creating a First Source program, in which organizations benefiting from city funds try to fill jobs from an official list of job-seekers before recruiting outside Providence.

    Mersha says DARE discovered the dormant ordinance before Mayor David N. Cicilline took office in 2003, and urged him to start it, which the new administration did.

    But dissatisfied with the city’s progress, DARE, Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, and five city council members sued, winning a ruling from Superior Court Judge Stephen J. Fortunato that led to a 2006 consent agreement pushing the program forward.
    But because of the structure of Rhode Island’s finances, where a large chunk of state tax revenue is used to subsidize the city of Providence, First-Source raises serious fairness issues. Providence is basically telling the rest of Rhode Island…
    • You’re going to send us a big chunk of your tax payments to subsidize our city…
    • …while we’re going to use the power of city government to send you to the back of the line, as much as we get away with, if you come to apply for a job here.
    Though Providence's pols may have decided that big cities have a special right to ignore principles of fairness and providing equality of opportunity, the rest of the state doesn't have to agree. The treatment of non-Providence residents as second caste citizens is a perfectly valid issue to be raised when Providence officials put forth their various plans to shore up city finances by increasing taxes on non-Providence residents (via statewide tax increases) so that bigger transfer payments can be made to Providence.

    Rhode Island Lawyers Versus Iranian Terrorism

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    The Bloomberg wire service is carrying this terrorism-related legal story that has a Rhode Island connection…

    The Iranian government must designate an official to answer questions under oath from a lawyer seeking to seize Persian artifacts in the U.S. on behalf of victims of a 1997 Jerusalem terror bombing, a judge ruled.

    A lawyer for nine of the victims is trying to enforce a $409 million default judgment obtained against Iran four years ago that made the nation legally responsible for training the bombers.

    ``The Iranian government is going to have to comply with the rules of this court instead of trying to interpose delay and stymie the process,'' plaintiffs' lawyer David Strachman said yesterday in a phone interview. ``They have to comply with the rule of law.''

    Iran hired U.S. lawyers last year to fend off Strachman's efforts to enforce the judgment by seizing and selling Persian antiquities in the possession of the University of Chicago and the city's Field Museum.

    Iran's lawyer, Thomas Corcoran Jr., has argued that the antiquities, about 300 clay tablets from the Persian Empire estimated to be 2,500 years old, are protected by the federal Foreign Sovereigns Immunity Act.

    The Rhode Island connection is Mr. Strachman, a partner at the local law firm of McIntyre, Tate and Lynch. (The Lynch is William J. Lynch, who also happens to be the chair of Rhode Island’s Democratic Party.)

    Author Daniel Pipes has more detail on the facts of the case at his weblog.…

    After suicide bombers set off bombs in the Ben Yehuda mall in Jerusalem in 1997, killing five and wounding 192, Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack. Several of those wounded were Americans; with the assistance of Providence, R.I. lawyer David J. Strachman, five of them subsequently filed a federal lawsuit against Iran and Iranian officials (Jenny Rubin, et al vs. the Islamic Republic of Iran, et al.) on the basis of Iran's having financed Hamas, which made Tehran legally responsible for the actions of Hamas. The judge in this case, Ricardo M. Urbina, noted that Iran budgets "between $50 million and $100 million a year sponsoring various organizations such as Hamas."

    But the Iranian regime would have nothing to do with the case and boycotted the proceedings. The plaintiffs won by showing that the bomb maker in this attack, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, had been trained by Iranian agents, and they won monumental damages totaling $423.5 million.

    How to collect? Ever creative, Strachman, targeted some 20,000 antique clay tablets of Persepolis, dating from about 553 B.C.-330 B.C., the oldest Persian tablets with alphabetical inscriptions. These have been housed in Chicago since as far back as the 1930s, at the University of Chicago and the Field Museum and Strachman claimed them on the grounds that the university had acknowledged that they rightfully belonged to Iran.

    And this is not the first terrorism case that Mr. Strachman has been involved in. He also helped win a $116 million dollar judgement against the Hamas organization. As the Boston Globe reported in January of 2004
    A Rhode Island federal judge has ordered the Palestinian militant group Hamas to pay $116 million to the family of an Israeli couple gunned down by terrorists in Israel...

    "What it means is that private individuals can utilize the legal system to join the international fight against terrorism," said David J. Strachman, the lawyer representing the family of Yaron and Efrat Ungar. "It empowers the victims."

    Hamas gunmen sprayed the Israeli couple's car with bullets in 1996 on the road near the Israeli city of Beit Shemesh. Three Hamas militants went to jail for the killings, but their families sought to hold the group's leadership responsible, as well.

    The families became the first to file a lawsuit under a law Congress passed in 1991 allowing suits in US courts against foreign terrorist organizations. Their victory allows them to try to seize Hamas assets on US soil.

    So, despite the new ad that Justin pointed out earlier today, never let be said that Anchor Rising fails to give positive coverage to trial lawyers when it's appropriate!

    Reform-Minded Ad

    Justin Katz

    Speaking of opposition to parasitic lawyers, please be sure to see what our newest advertisers have to say.

    The more y'all click the ads, the more likely sponsors are to renew and the more likely others will be to give us a chance. Believe me that they do pay attention.

    Putting Out the Litigatory Fire

    Justin Katz

    These two items aren't directly related, but reading them in close proximity to each other, I discerned some dots that could be connected. First is RI Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva Weed's defense of the General Assembly's failure to reform our state's fire code:

    Following enactment of the new code in 2003, the Senate has responded when necessary with legislation to address concerns that were expressed to us about the code by the business community. Clarifying the code’s flexibility in 2005 is one example. Additionally, Sen. V. Susan Sosnowski championed the effort to create more flexible options for fire safety in churches and houses of worship. Using the flexibility of the existing code, I worked to ensure that consideration was given for bed-and-breakfast establishments. The Senate provided substantial staff support to the Council of Churches and the Bed and Breakfast Association in these successful efforts to find workable and practical interpretations of the code.

    I'm not sure what "concerns" the "business community" has "expressed" to the legislature, but I've heard tales from electricians on various jobsites, and seen evidence, of ridiculous requirements that cost much more money than they appear to be worth. I've also discovered that the school next to my house is being rebuilt in part so that the younger children can actually enter the cafeteria, which the current code forbids.

    On to the next, which is a bit of autobiography from Eric of Classical Values (who is not speaking of Rhode Island, specifically):

    After spending years running a very popular but commercially unsuccessful nightclub, I was advised (by some attorneys who meant well) that the ideal career change for me would be to sue business owners for non-compliance with the ADA.

    "Attorneys fees are there by statute!" I was told.

    Great. Now that I was out of business, I could be born again as a despicable parasite and help ensure that other business owners would be put out of business. It struck me that if I became a homeless derelict, I'd be doing more for the world than if I helped ruin other people's businesses. (It didn't help much that one of the many reasons my business failed was that the building was cited by the fire marshall for inadequate handicapped access, and there was no way to remedy this without major alterations to the building, which I did not own, for patrons in wheelchairs who never came.)

    Senator Paiva Weed makes much of the fire code's flexibility, but there's flexibility, and then there's flexibility. I'd suggest that the flexibility of business owners and taxpayers to switch jobs and rebuild buildings should not count.

    August 1, 2007

    The President and Popular Opinion in a Republlic

    Mac Owens

    In number 71 of The Federalist, Publius (Alexander Hamilton) makes an important point about the relationship between popular opinion and the executive. He argues that there is a difference between “the deliberate sense of the community” and “transient impulses.”

    There are some who would be inclined to regard the servile pliancy of the Executive to a prevailing current, either in the community or in the legislature, as its best recommendation. But such men entertain very crude notions, as well of the purposes for which government was instituted, as of the true means by which the public happiness may be promoted. The republican principle demands that the deliberate sense of the community should govern the conduct of those to whom they intrust the management of their affairs; but it does not require an unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion, or to every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests. It is a just observation, that the people commonly INTEND the PUBLIC GOOD. This often applies to their very errors. But their good sense would despise the adulator who should pretend that they always REASON RIGHT about the MEANS of promoting it. They know from experience that they sometimes err; and the wonder is that they so seldom err as they do, beset, as they continually are, by the wiles of parasites and sycophants, by the snares of the ambitious, the avaricious, the desperate, by the artifices of men who possess their confidence more than they deserve it, and of those who seek to possess rather than to deserve it.

    Republican government requires that the actions of the president reflect the deliberate sense of the community rather than transient impulses because the former is in accordance with the interests of the community, properly understood. To ”deliberate” and thereby determine the “the deliberate sense of the community” means to free oneself from the passions

    When occasions present themselves, in which the interests of the people are at variance with their inclinations, it is the duty of the persons whom they have appointed to be the guardians of those interests, to withstand the temporary delusion, in order to give them time and opportunity for more cool and sedate reflection. Instances might be cited in which a conduct of this kind has saved the people from very fatal consequences of their own mistakes, and has procured lasting monuments of their gratitude to the men who had courage and magnanimity enough to serve them at the peril of their displeasure.
    Over at The Remedy, the blog of the Claremont institute in California, Richard Reeb applies this reasoning to the war in Iraq. Here is the key passage:
    Our government was not designed to fall prey to the most powerful faction or to be dominated by the most powerful branch. This is not a government by plebiscite but one of three separate branches, each as independent as possible of the others. Thus, Congress is free to pass any bills it wishes, the president is free conduct foreign policy and wage war as he determines, and the courts are free to decide cases on the merits.

    This constitutional distribution of offices gives this government of, by and for the people its distinctive character. A large body like the Congress is best equipped for deliberation, a single executive for decisive action and a small number of supreme judges for jurisprudence. The object is not to cause deadlock but to enable each department to have a will of its own and to ensure that the actions the government takes are based on what the founders called the “deliberate sense of the people” rather than transient impulses.

    More specifically, the health of our republic depends less on the popularity of decisions, although no policy can be maintained for long in the teeth of determined popular opposition (the recent immigration bill is a case in point), but on the wisdom of those decisions.

    President Bush is not defying the will of the American people by prosecuting the war in Iraq but is following the consent he was given when he was re-elected in 2004. He was elected to exercise his best judgment for four years, not for four months or four weeks, or however long his political opposition believes, or professes, to be his limit.

    Here is the whole thing:

    Victory in the War Depends on Our Nation's Character

    Deliberate Sense of the People v. Transient Impulses

    A nation’s character, like that of a human being, is clearest when hard decisions must be made. The present moment, when the United States is committed to winning the war against Islamo-fascists at home and abroad, may well be the occasion for making or breaking us. We must prevail in Iraq or we will face fearful consequences.

    Following the 2006 congressional elections, President Bush abandoned the soft footprint strategy that limited us to winning back regions held by the enemy without holding them, and replaced it with what has been called a “surge.” This entailed increasing substantially the number of troops and authorizing them to seek out and destroy al-Qaeda terrorists, die-hard Baathists from the old regime, and sectarian militias.

    Our object remains to facilitate self government by the Iraqi people, be they Shiite, Sunni or Kurd, not only to defeat their most dangerous enemies but to demonstrate that success depends ultimately on their accepting more of the responsibility, as policemen and soldiers, yes, but also as loyal citizens, in that effort.

    The most encouraging developments have included clearing out Baghdad and provincial areas and winning over the suspicious and the wary elements of the population. Our forces have routed the enemy more than once, but the greatest challenge has been to prevent them from returning or simply moving on and terrorizing another region.

    The key to holding areas taken is local support, which entails Iraqis alerting coalition forces to the identity and/or location of hostile forces, followed by the movement to the coalition side of militias that had formed to fill the void left by departing Iraqi or coalition forces.

    It strikes critics of the war effort as odd, if not shameful, that people who once opposed us are now fighting with us on the same side, but surely it is wise to accept support from wherever it comes. The more Iraqis turn against those who terrorize them and join forces with their liberators, the better off they are and the more likely that our combined efforts will be successful.

    However much progress we make in Iraq, none of it counts for anything unless our nation supports the effort. Even though the evidence is growing that the surge is working, the vast majority of Democrats in Congress are writing it off as hopeless, regarding defeat as inevitable, if not desirable. That a few Republicans have joined them makes the situation more perilous because the Democrats may thereby override presidential policy or overturn presidential vetoes of congressional restrictions, deadlines or funding cutoffs.

    Our government was not designed to fall prey to the most powerful faction or to be dominated by the most powerful branch. This is not a government by plebiscite but one of three separate branches, each as independent as possible of the others. Thus, Congress is free to pass any bills it wishes, the president is free conduct foreign policy and wage war as he determines, and the courts are free to decide cases on the merits.

    This constitutional distribution of offices gives this government of, by and for the people its distinctive character. A large body like the Congress is best equipped for deliberation, a single executive for decisive action and a small number of supreme judges for jurisprudence. The object is not to cause deadlock but to enable each department to have a will of its own and to ensure that the actions the government takes are based on what the founders called the “deliberate sense of the people” rather than transient impulses.
    More specifically, the health of our republic depends less on the popularity of decisions, although no policy can be maintained for long in the teeth of determined popular opposition (the recent immigration bill is a case in point), but on the wisdom of those decisions.

    President Bush is not defying the will of the American people by prosecuting the war in Iraq but is following the consent he was given when he was re-elected in 2004. He was elected to exercise his best judgment for four years, not for four months or four weeks, or however long his political opposition believes, or professes, to be his limit.

    The unpopularity of the Iraq war with Democrats and others has not made it any less in our national interest to have allies in the heart of the Middle East in the war against Islamo-fascism. Nor does it make any less likely the consequences of our defeat.

    However tragic the loss of even one American life in that effort truly is, we must keep our perspective, remembering that thousands more were lost in Vietnam and Korea, not to mention the two world wars. The news media, more than any other institution in America, magnifies the costs of the war and caters to the “transient impulses” rather than the deliberate sense of the American people.

    It has taken, and will take, longer to defeat the enemy in Iraq and elsewhere than anyone imagined, but that is no reason to give up. The American nation grew to prominence, both moral and political, because of the character our people. As long as we love liberty and appreciate the virtues of self government, we will prevail. But if we permit ourselves to be misled by demagogues and narrow partisans, we will reap the whirlwind.

    Obama Prepared to Invade Pakistan?

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    According to ABC news, Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama will announce today that he is prepared to invade Pakistan, a nominal U.S. ally, to advance the War on Terror…

    In a strikingly bold speech about terrorism scheduled for this morning, Democratic presidential candidate Illinois Sen. Barack Obama will call not only for a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, but a redeployment of troops into Afghanistan and even Pakistan — with or without the permission of Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf.
    Of course, this is the same Barack Obama that told the Associated Press he has absolutely ruled out using U.S. troops to prevent genocide in Sudan (unless the U.N. grants permission, presumably), no matter how bad the situation gets…
    Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said Thursday the United States cannot use its military to solve humanitarian problems and that preventing a potential genocide in Iraq isn't a good enough reason to keep U.S. forces there…

    ''We would be deploying unilaterally and occupying the Sudan, which we haven't done. Those of us who care about Darfur don't think it would be a good idea.''

    One way to look at this is that Senator Obama, if he becomes President, is willing to use the U.S military to defend America’s traditional security interests, but not for fundamentally humanitarian missions. (this would be a sharp contrast from the administration of President Bill Clinton, who was criticized for using the military to do “global social work”).

    However, an equally valid interpretation is that Obama has succumbed to the Democratic Party’s usual foreign policy incoherence, and is (unintentionally) telegraphing the message that the best way for others countries to protect themselves from American military action is to proclaim hostility to the United States and/or the basic norms of civilization as loudly as possible, because Democrats have internalized the McGovern/Carter era philosophy that punishing allies does more to bolster America’s standing in the world than attacking enemies does.

    The Eye That's Always Open

    Justin Katz

    Tom Shevlin sees Big Brother in the arrival of E-Z Pass:

    ... a recent ABC survey found that almost three-quarters of Americans support expanding our surveillance apparatus including eighty six percent of Republicans who support Rudy Giuliani and over seventy percent of registered Democrats.

    So what's the big deal? Why care? Because America was founded on the premise that the individual must be protected from the intrusion of government and the expansion of the surveillance state strikes directly at the heart of our personal liberty.

    Just think about how a not-too-distant future trip to the Providence Place Mall could play out.

    My first thought upon hearing the E-Z Pass news was that we'll likely find toll-booths beginning to pepper our highways once the General Assembly decides that an automatic debit system for tolls would sap sufficient aggravation to get away with further bleeding of the public. Tom and my reactions aren't mutually exclusive, of course.

    Another item across which I've just stumbled:

    Privacy advocates have long viewed red light cameras with the suspicion that the devices were the first step down a path of increased surveillance. Those fears may come true as the city of Oakland, California has revealed that it is working with the state legislature to secure a change in the law that will allow red light cameras to become full-scale surveillance cameras. In a memo from the Oakland Police Department dated June 26, Police Chief Wayne G. Tucker recommended that the city's lobbyist be ordered to advocate a new law in Sacramento.

    "The legislation would also allow the use of those (red light camera) images for evidentiary purposes other than the enforcement of red light violations, such as reckless driving, assaults, public nuisance activity, drug dealing, etc."

    The easy comfort that all of those people who support additional surveillance likely offer to each other is that those who do no wrong need have no fear. The problem is that those who would abuse power are often masterful in labeling a convenient batch of activities as "wrong" according to the law. Think, for example, political speech.

    Sometimes a prudent caution requires a novelist's imagination; toward that end, consider that social surveillance equipment could track the movements of multiple people, helping to determine when meetings have happened. Inchoate opposition groups could be scuttled before they begin even to dream of effecting substantial change, perhaps with a first-class-mailed fine for jaywalking.