November 30, 2007

Cranston's Creche

Monique Chartier

Thanks to Mayor Michael Napolitano (D) who has tried to summon the Ghost of Controversy Past, the front lawn in front of Cranston City Hall will not have a manger scene or any religious decorations this year.

In December, 2003, then Mayor Steve Laffey (R) invited Cranston residents to place religious and seasonal decorations on the front lawn of Cranston City Hall. Mayor Laffey, then Treasurer Randy Rossi and the City of Cranston were sued.

The first displays to appear on the lawn included a menorah and a creche. Grace C. Osediacz, a citizen of Cranston and the plaintiff in this matter (“Plaintiff”), considered the placement of these displays on the City Hall lawn to be a demonstration of support of religion by the City and its Mayor.

In 2004, citing a 1984 ruling by the US Supreme Court, US District Judge William E. Smith ruled that both religious and seasonal decorations can be displayed on the front lawn of Cranston City Hall. In December of 2004, 2005 and 2006, Mayor Steve Laffey decorated the front lawn pursuant to Judge Smith's ruling. From the article in today's Providence Journal:

But the judge, while finding that Laffey’s display passed constitutional muster, ruled that the mayor could not pick and choose specific displays without violating the free-speech rights of the city’s residents.

The decision left Laffey with two options: open the 2004 display to any and all decorations or sponsor a city-run spectacle complete with religious items and secular holiday trinkets.

Laffey went the latter route and the controversy dissipated with time.

Until this year. First term Mayor Napolitano has eschewed religious items for the front lawn at City Hall. Instead,

On Wednesday, Mayor Michael T. Napolitano, a Democrat, will switch on 50,000 white lights on the trees and bushes surrounding City Hall.

A high school choir will croon and Santa Claus will pose for photographs with children in the foyer.

The Mayor is reported to have said that it is his prerogative to do so. Presumably it is. But if so, why did he consult with the ACLU prior to making his decision? And publicly acknowledge doing so? Was he so uncomfortable with his decision and the potential public relations fallout that he wanted someone standing next to him for affirmation and a co-share of the blame? Or did he think that his "involvement" of the ACLU, which has in the past mounted legal challenges to the presence of religious items on government property, would lead an inattentive public to believe that the matter had not been settled and that he was averting controversy by seeking their counsel?

The ACLU in turn, which apparently suffers from only partial amnesia in the area of court rulings and public policy, chose not to point the Mayor towards the 2004 court ruling involving his predecessor but instead commended the decision and referred to "recognizing the importance of religious neutrality by the government".

Can we only have religious neutrality with the complete absence of religion? District Judge Smith did not think so:

Nothing in Lynch or its progeny suggests even remotely that a holiday display, either sponsored by the City or allowed to be displayed on City property, must be sanitized of all religious content in order to be constitutional.

Yet this seems to be the goal of Mayor Napolitano who, in addition to placing only seasonal decorations at City Hall, has not yet corrected a statement by one of his spokespersons who (religious scholars, take note) is single-handedly attempting to redefine the meaning of Christmas in secular terms.

“I think this is definitely a little bit more of a sincere approach and more of a real approach to the true meaning of Christmas,” said Ann Marie Harty, a spokeswoman for the mayor.

RE: Rhode Island's Literal Depressed Status

Marc Comtois

There may be a reason the state as a whole is so depressed: not enough Republicans!

Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or independents to rate their mental health as excellent, according to data from the last four November Gallup Health and Healthcare polls. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans report having excellent mental health, compared to 43% of independents and 38% of Democrats. This relationship between party identification and reports of excellent mental health persists even within categories of income, age, gender, church attendance, and education.


What are the implications of these findings?

Correlation is no proof of causation, of course. The reason the relationship exists between being a Republican and more positive mental health is unknown, and one cannot say whether something about being a Republican causes a person to be more mentally healthy, or whether something about being mentally healthy causes a person to choose to become a Republican (or whether some third variable is responsible for causing both to be parallel).

Previous analysis...shows that a number of variables are related to self-reported mental health -- including, in particular, income. Because Republicans have on average higher incomes than independents or Democrats, part of the explanation for the relationship between being a Republican and having better mental health is a result of this underlying factor. The same is true for several other variables.

But the key finding of the analyses presented here is that being a Republican appears to have an independent relationship on positive mental health above and beyond what can be explained by these types of demographic and lifestyle variables. The exact explanation for this persistent relationship -- as noted -- is unclear.

OK, I can hear the wisecracks coming. But I'll see your "blissfully ignorant" and raise you an "optimistic about the future." Regardless, I think the path to a happier state is clear, don't you?

The Wiretap Law & Joe Klein II

Carroll Andrew Morse

I may have been wrong about the Dems reaching the outskirts of reasonableness on the issue of Foreign Intelligence Security Act reform.

The text of the Democratic FISA reform bill that passed the House in mid-November empowers the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General, without a court order, to authorize the surveillance of non-United States persons located outside of the United States suspected of having contacts within the United States -- but only for 45 days. The relevant section is Section 105C…

Sec. 105C: (b) Emergency Authorization -- Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General may jointly authorize the emergency acquisition of foreign intelligence information (as defined in paragraph (1) or (2)(A) of section 101(e)) for a period of not more than 45 days if --

(1) the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General jointly determine that--
(A) an emergency situation exists with respect to an authorization for an acquisition under section 105B before an order approving the acquisition under such section can with due diligence be obtained;
(B) the targets of the acquisition of foreign intelligence information under this section are persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States who may be communicating with persons inside the United States;

Under this law, after the 45 days have run out, an intelligence agency would have to cease surveillance immediately if a party under surveillance contacts the United States -- even when that party is a non-United States person, located outside of the United States -- unless the operation had been given prior sanction by the courts.

But what about the section 105A(a)(2) exception discussed in the previous post, which seems to create a seven-day good-faith grace period in cases where non-United States persons unexpectedly have contact with parties inside of the US? Wouldn't 105A(a)(2) override any other provision and allow surveillance to continue for a week, while the proper warrants were obtained?

The answer may be no, because of one little adverb…

Sec. 105A: (a)(2) If electronic surveillance referred to in paragraph (1) inadvertently collects a communication in which at least one party to the communication is located inside the United States or is a United States person, the contents of such communication shall be handled in accordance with minimization procedures adopted by the Attorney General that require that no contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party shall be disclosed, disseminated, or used for any purpose or retained for longer than 7 days unless a court order under section 105 is obtained or unless the Attorney General determines that the information indicates a threat of death or serious bodily harm to any person.
To understand the problem, consider the following not unreasonable scenario. American intelligence agents know that a terrorist leader is running a terrorist cell from his base in Farawayistan. They have evidence that his cell has contacts in the United States, but are not sure who or where they are. To try to learn more about them, the DNI and AG authorize monitoring of the cell-phone traffic into and out of Farawayistan.

Now, what happens if the terrorist leader doesn't make a call to his American contacts until 46 days after the start of the operation?

The monitoring of the call between Farawayistan and the United States cannot be claimed to have been "inadvertent" if discovering the identities of a terrorist group's American contacts was a goal of the surveillance. Therefore, by the letter of the law, the seven-day grace period from 105A(a)(2) does not apply, returning us to where this debate began: in order to conduct effective surveillance, i.e. to not be required to hang-up in situations where the targets of foreign surveillance unexpectedly contact the United States, while fully complying with the law, American intelligence agencies will have to obtain court orders when monitoring the communications of foreign nationals on foreign soil.

Fortunately, there does seem to be a straightforward solution available here. Drop the notion of "inadvertently" from the 105A(a)(2) exception and create a broad rule that says whenever a foreign national under surveillance contacts the United States, an intelligence agency has 7 days in which they are allowed to continue surveillance; at the end of the seven days, the government must either have obtained a warrant, if surveillance is to continue, or else be required to destroy the information related to the United States person that was listened in upon. Then drop everything from sections 105B and 105C that might imply that court orders are ever necessary to conduct surveillance of foreign nationals who are outside of the borders of the United States.


Congressman Peter Hoekstra, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, had an article in yesterday's National Review Online explaining his opposition to the Democratic version of FISA reform .

T.F. Green Runway Expansion May Not Be Affordable Right Now

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Cynthia Needham of the Projo, the state budget situation may kill plans for the proposed Green Airport runway extention…

In a letter last week to the chairman of the [Rhode Island Airport Corporation] board, Warwick Representatives Joseph M. McNamara and Eileen S. Naughton criticized the agency for not keeping the Federal Aviation Administration and the Rhode Island public better informed about their spending plans for the proposed longer runway.

Their frustrations come on the heels of an FAA letter last month to the Airport Corporation saying it will contribute only $150 million to the runway extension project at Green, despite estimates that project costs could total more than $500 million. That letter also raised questions of whether the runway plans have grown too costly and possibly overreaching, given the transportation needs of passengers at T.F. Green.

The FAA’s contribution would leave the Airport Corporation, an independent state agency, responsible for a bill of $350 million or more if it wants to implement expansion plans. The agency says it may eventually float bonds to pay its share....

In an interview last month, Airport Corporation CEO Mark Brewer (who will step down as CEO today to run the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport, in New Hampshire) said the corporation will plan on looking at other funding sources including floating bonds or increasing passenger facility charges once it selects a preferred expansion alternative, next year.

If it does choose to float bonds, it will need approval from the General Assembly, which must sign off on bonding for any state agency, including the Airport Corporation.

Rhode Island's Literal Depressed Status

Carroll Andrew Morse

The number and kinds of lists that Rhode Island is placing near the bottom of is starting to get just plain ridiculous. Here is yet another one from an organization called Mental Health America

Using data from nationally representative surveys conducted by the United States government, Mental Health America created two different rankings of the states: one showing the state rankings of depression and one showing the state rank in terms of suicide rates.

Four different measures of depression and mental health status were used to develop one composite measure of the level of depression in a given state. The four measures were: (1) the percentage of the adult population experiencing at least one major depressive episode in the past year, (2) the percentage of the adolescent population (ages 12 to 17) experiencing at least one major depressive episode in the past year, (3) the percentage of the adult population experiencing serious psychological distress, and (4) the average number of days in the past 30 days in which the population reported that their mental health was not good….

  • (12) Vermont
  • (16) Massachusetts
  • (20) New Hampshire
  • (38) Connecticut
  • (41) Maine
  • (48) Rhode Island

November 29, 2007

The Wiretap Law & Joe Klein

Carroll Andrew Morse

Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein is taking a bit of a beating from the left side of the blogosphere for his reporting on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act legislation passed by the House of Representatives on November 15th. Here is a once-modified version of what Klein wrote to touch off the controversy…

The Democratic strategy on the FISA legislation in the House is equally foolish....Unfortunately, Speaker Nancy Pelosi quashed the House Intelligence Committee's bipartisan effort and supported a Democratic bill that -- [Rush Limbaugh] is salivating -- House Republicans believe would require the surveillance of every foreign-terrorist target's calls to be approved by the FISA court, an institution founded to protect the rights of U.S. citizens only....

(In the original version of this story, Joe Klein wrote that the House Democratic version of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would require a court approval of individual foreign surveillance targets. The bill does not explicitly say that. Republicans believe it can be interpreted that way, but Democrats don't.)

The best way to figure out what the proposed law means (and if either version of Klein's description was accurate) is to recap its evolution.

The temporary electronic surveillance law that the United States is currently operating under says that…

Sec. 105A: Nothing in the definition of electronic surveillance under section 101(f) shall be construed to encompass surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.
This makes clear that the monitoring of any communication involving one party outside of the United States is to be treated as a foreign intelligence operation, outside of the jurisdiction of the court system. If an intelligence agency is listening in on someone who is located in a foreign country, and the person under surveillance unexpectedly calls a contact in New York City, right now, no court approval is required to keep listening.

The current section 105A expires in February. In October, the Democrats proposed this as a permanent replacement…

Sec. 105A: (a) Foreign to Foreign Communications -- Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, a court order is not required for the acquisition of the contents of any communication between persons that are not United States persons and are not located within the United States for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence information, without respect to whether the communication passes through the United States or the surveillance device is located within the United States.
Unlike the present law, this law would have placed only communications where both parties were outside of the United States beyond the jurisdiction of the courts. And somewhat distressingly, situations involving parties outside of the United States communicating with parties inside of the United States were not explicitly treated. A new subsection under section 105A appeared, on its surface, to set some rules for cases where only one party to a commuication was outside of the U.S…
Sec. 105A: (b) Communications of Non-United States Persons Outside of the United States -- Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act other than subsection (a), electronic surveillance that is directed at the acquisition of the communications of a person that is reasonably believed to be located outside the United States and not a United States person for the purpose of collecting foreign intelligence information (as defined in paragraph (1) or (2)(A) of section 101(e)) by targeting that person shall be conducted pursuant to --
(1) an order approved in accordance with section 105 or 105B; or
(2) an emergency authorization in accordance with section 105 or 105C.
...but in reality, it didn't. The "emergency authorizations" section 105C (as well as the "orders" section 105B) applied, as did the new section 105A, only to situations where both ends of a communication involved non-United States persons outside of the United States…
Sec. 105C: (b) Emergency Authorization -- Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General may jointly authorize the emergency acquisition of foreign intelligence information for a period of not more than 45 days if --

(1) the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General jointly determine that...
(B) the targets of the acquisition of foreign intelligence information under this section are persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States;
(C) the targets of the acquisition are reasonably believed to be persons that are not United States persons;

The proposed revisions offered no guidance on what legal procedures were to be followed when a target of surveillance located outside of the United States unexpectedly called a "United States person" inside of the United States. The new, narrower scope of the law could easily have been interpreted by the courts to mean that intelligence agencies were expected to immediately cease surveillance on communications that crossed the border -- even communications originating from known terrorist cells -- until a warrant was in order.

House Republicans saw this loophole in the Democratic proposal as a problem. They prepared an amendment to the bill that would have made clear that surveillance of electronic communications could continue, without a court order, any time that an acknowledged al-Qaida operative located outside of the United States contacted someone within the United States. Rather than have to vote on this amendment, the Democratic leadership pulled their bill off of the floor.

But the version of the bill that passed on November 15th (on a mostly party line vote) contained an even broader version of Republican amendment. The House-approved version starts off with the language of the initial Democratic version of section 105A (a), expressly placing communications involving two ends outside of the United States into the realm of foreign intelligence gathering not subject to court approvals. Then, through yet another subsection, the bill addresses situations involving foreign surveillance targets who unexpectedly make a contact within United States. The bill says that intelligence agencies may continue to listen and that they have seven days to get court approval of surveillance of the party within the United States…

Sec. 105A: (a)(2) TREATMENT OF INADVERTENT INTERCEPTIONS -- If electronic surveillance referred to in paragraph (1) inadvertently collects a communication in which at least one party to the communication is located inside the United States or is a United States person, the contents of such communication shall be handled in accordance with minimization procedures adopted by the Attorney General that require that no contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party shall be disclosed, disseminated, or used for any purpose or retained for longer than 7 days unless a court order under section 105 is obtained or unless the Attorney General determines that the information indicates a threat of death or serious bodily harm to any person.
Finally, it appears that the Democratic Congress has entered the realm of the reasonable on this issue! I am still of the opinion that communications crossing the border should simply be treated as foreign communications, but allowing seven days to obtain a warrant is an acceptable compromise.

Finally, back to Joe Klein. He did appear to mis-state the scope of the Democratic proposals. Even the original version would not have required court orders for all foreign surveillance targets, only those that made direct contact with persons in the United States and/or United States persons. But Klein's bashers are also being a tad disingenuous. If there was any major liberal/progressive objection to the original Democratic FISA bill on the grounds that it was a bad idea to require American intelligence agencies to cease surveillance operations when a foreign surveillance target unexpectedly called someone within the United States, that objection wasn't made very forcefully. Liberals seem to willing to accept either version of the bill, showing less of an interest in the content of surveillance law, than in just passing something that isn't President Bush's.

Rhode Island's Charitable Giving

Carroll Andrew Morse

The discussion about the northeast's charitable giving continues. Rhode Island, in particular, has traditionally done poorly in the Catalogue for Philanthropy's "Generosity index", which uses "average adjusted gross income (AAGI) to the rank of each state's average itemized charitable deductions". Rhode Island ranked 47th in the Generosity Index compiled from 2005 data.

The Catalogue for Philanthropy's methodology, however, has been criticized for failing to take into account regional differences in the value of a dollar and, in response, The Boston Foundation compiled an analysis of charitable giving in November 2005 that included state-level cost-of-living and tax-burden adjustments to income. Though the Boston foundation refused to rank the states, this is how I characterized the findings of their study…

The Boston Foundation's charitable giving metric places Rhode Island in the middle of the pack. States most similar to Rhode Island are Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arizona and Montana.
Well, according to the Providence Business News, the Catalogue for Philanthropy has come back with a methodology of their own for insulating their results from cost-of-living concerns. In their most recent survey, the Catalogue looked only at charitable giving from earners guaranteed to have lots of disposable income no matter where they live, specifically, earners who reported an income of $200,000 or more. ($200,000 was also chosen, I suspect, as it coincides with the top range reported by IRS in its breakdown of number-of-tax returns by income level).

Guess who's dead last in charitable giving effort coming from the $200,000+ tax bracket…

Wyoming residents with incomes of $200,000 or more per year gave the most to charity in 2005, followed by residents of Oklahoma, South Dakota, Arkansas and Utah, the nonprofit Catalogue for Philanthropy said in its 11th annual report. Their peers in Rhode Island gave the least, followed by New Jersey, Alaska, Hawaii and West Virginia….

"Over the past 11 years nationwide, in the over-$200,000 income bracket, income increased 17.9 percent and charitable giving increased 24.6 percent. In Rhode Island, that income bracket increased by 6 percent, while its charitable giving increased 7 percent.", [said Martin Cohn, a spokesman for the Catalogue for Philanthropy].

Are our stingy upper-income residents making the rest of Rhode Island look bad? And perhaps more importantly, given that the numbers in the PBN story suggest about $80,000,000 missing from charitable programs (about $6,500-per-earner to bring Rhode Island up to level of other states, times about 12,000 tax returns of $200,000 or more, according to IRS figures), although there is no guarantee that all of this money would be going to local charities, doesn't this suggest that there is something to Governor's Carcieri's call for local charities to do more, not in terms of charities exerting greater effort, but in terms of local donors stepping up to give the charities more to work with?

A Place to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

Carroll Andrew Morse

For those of you with a little extra cash to burn, I've found a website where you can put money down on propositions like this one

By the year 2150, over 50% of schools in the USA or Western Europe will require classes in defending against robot attacks.

The money is for real, though it's not really a bet; it all goes to charity

The bet money, treated as a donation to the The Long Now Foundation, must be paid at the time the Bet is made, and is tax-deductible immediately. The entire amount goes into a long-term investment portfolio called the Farsight Fund --- its assets are in "Endowments", a mutual fund managed by Capital Research and Management Company.
So how about it -- are you willing to bet against a prediction like…
By 2050 most geologists will agree that most of earth's oil and gas reserves were not produced by decaying plants.

November 28, 2007

A Backwards Lesson in Government Structuring

Justin Katz

A point of extended discussion at tonight's Tiverton Charter Review Commission meeting was how citizens can be given some sort of budgetary power when 86% of the budget is untouchable by them because it is bound up in contracts. Looking at a flow chart of the budgetary process in Tiverton, commissioner Frank Marshall asked who is ultimately responsible for budgetary decisions.

After quite a bit of debate, the answer is: ultimately the voters. And how do they know whom to hold responsible?

Personally, I don't see the big mystery about giving the voters a greater say in those "untouchable" contracts: give them the electorate's power over the key negotiator. Tiverton's executive authority currently rests with a town administrator whom the town council hires. Perhaps if he were elected, the town would have a point man whose employment would more directly rely on citizens' getting the government that they desire or, alternatively, an elected watchdog in the town government.

Changing the administrator to the mayor strikes me as within the purview of a charter review commission.

Keeping the Blanket on the Parties

Justin Katz

My suggestion to have the Charter Review Commission reconsider asking the voters whether they'd like to have partisan elections was just shot down. A commission member who wasn't here for my spiel last time, Frank "Richard" Joslin (I'm almost positive), himself a member of the town Democrat committee, spoke against me, making two points to which I would have offered rebuttal had I had opportunity:

  1. It's a small town, and everybody who cares to vote (or gets involved) knows who belongs to what party.
  2. His fellows on the Democrat committee are very ideologically diverse, so it serves no end for voters to know that they are all Democrats for the purpose of electing them.

Regarding the first point, I'd offer my testimony that Richard is patently wrong — and in a way that highlights the problem of the supposed non-partisan elections: When I began looking into the party affiliations of Tiverton's elected officials, I had to look for such things as political donations and old, pre-non-partisanism election results. Is this the marker of good government? That a piece of information about elected officials ought to require private-eye-style investigations? The idea that the circumscribed group that currently participates in the running of the town of Tiverton ought to have largely exclusive access to an absolutely relevant bit of data is a recipe for exclusion, apathy, and stagnation.

This bleeds into my response to the second point: Whether party affiliation should be a consideration while voting ought to be a decision that the voter makes for him or her self, not a dictation from the limited group that makes the rules. Moreover, if party affiliation means nothing, then why does Tiverton have a Democrat Committee in the first place? And why does that committee promote its members for town offices?

Clearly, whether Richard's fellow Democrats are liberal, conservative, or simply cantankerous, there is something that they have in common that causes them to gather and work together, and inasmuch as the party is a political organization, that something would seem relevant our self government. Richard may not like the idea that people might hold his party affiliation against him (one of his expressed concerns), but then perhaps he ought to question why he is involved with the party in the first place.

And frankly, given the condition of this Democrat-run state — for which condition the municipalities bear their share of blame — it is preeminently rational for voters to hold their party affiliation against them.

Governing the Empty Seats

Justin Katz

Alright. I realize that a Charter Review Committee meeting is hardly likely to generate passions and intrigue, but the Tiverton town hall is mostly empty. The committee is currently discussing ways to market the meetings.

The truth is that even the "big" meetings of town government types — the town council and the school committee — are sparsely attended as a matter of course. Individual issues sometimes bring their own crowds, of course, and that ought to indicate something: Any contingent that made an effort to attend these meetings could have a disproportionately large effect.

Disappointingly, it seems as if the only organized group that pervades state and local governments in Rhode Island — the Democrat Party — has slipped by default into the role of conducting the meetings (so to speak). Arguably, that pervasive presence saves certain well-known special interests the effort of attending at times that their numbers aren't needed.

I should emphasize that I'm not saying that the particular members of a town government such as Tiverton's (much less its minor councils and committees) are stand-ins for special interests. However, there's a cumulative effect to imbalanced participation, as well as a sort of potential energy of political action.

Don't Forget the City and Town Budgets

Marc Comtois

Question: What is this?

35-40 - East Greenwich, Middletown, Portsmouth, Newport, Warwick, Woonsocket

37.5 - Bristol, Glocester and Jamestown

35 - Burrillville, Cranston, Cumberland, East Providence, Exeter, Foster, Little Compton, Narragansett, North Smithfield, Scituate, Smithfield, South Kingstown

34 or 32.5 - West Warwick

32.5 - Tiverton

30 - Warren

Answer: The number of hours required to qualify as a full-time, benefits-garnering town employee for the towns listed. (If your town isn't listed above, it either requires 40 hours or didn't provide the information). And who knows what other perks these employees might get.

I provide this because--while we tend to focus on the state budget--we can't forget that our municipalities also need to cut back. All of our cities and towns usually get state aid. I'm guessing there won't be that much this year and local governments better get ready.

There is more information at the RI Municipal Affairs Office. The above came from the "Collective Bargaining Agreements In Rhode Island Cities & Towns". There is also: "Health Insurance Provisions Municipal Collective Bargaining Agreements"; "Municipal Salary Survey"; and the "City & Town Council Salary and Fringe Benefits Survey." Reading these will make you laugh, cry (or maybe even relieved).

Welfare Cash Time Limits

Marc Comtois

The ProJo reports:

Thousands of poor Rhode Islanders have received cash welfare benefits for longer than five years, the time limit adopted by state leaders during the sweeping welfare changes of a decade ago intended to push poor families into the work force.

Nearly half of the state’s 10,755 families receiving cash assistance last year had been on welfare rolls for more than five years, according to data provided by the Department of Human Services. And nearly one quarter of the families had been on cash assistance for more than 10 years.

The story seems skeptical that much savings can be generated by enforcing time limits because many of those on the rolls are exempt for various reasons. Further, according to the ProJo, these exemptions partially explain how "the state had the third-highest number of recipients on welfare as a percentage of population in the nation last year." Part of that is because around 40% of all cases in Rhode Island are "child only", whereby a child is provided cash instance even if the parent no longer qualifies.

And tucked in the story is this bit of data:

Rhode Island is not unusual in its decision to cap welfare benefits at 60 months over a person’s lifetime. Thirty-seven states have a 60-month limit and five states and the District of Columbia have no limit, according to an analysis provided by the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College.
Apparently, we're not that far from the norm after all. Really?

I wasn't sure where the Poverty Institute got it's information. The only reference I could find was in a press release from them, "FIP Facts." Item 10 states, "Rhode Island’s Time Limits are Consistent with the Majority of States. Rhode Island has a 60 month time limit for adults on FIP. Thirty-seven (37) other states have a 60 month time limit and 5 have no time limit." This didn't sound right to me, so I went to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services web site and dug around. The below table seems to dispute what the RIPI states:


There are also many more supporting tables located here. So how did the Poverty Institute determine that 37 states have a 60 month time limit? They are using the lifetime limits states have implemented, which are often different than consecutive month time limits (these are the "Shorter Termination Time Limit" states in the above table). For instance, in Connecticut you can only receive assistance for 21 consecutive months and are capped at 60 months over your lifetime. In Massachusetts, you can receive assistance for 24 out of 60 months, but there is no lifetime cap.

Additionally, Rhode Island is one of 7 states classified in the above table as "60-month reduction or replacement time limit" which are states that have a 60-month time limit but continue to provide some level of support even after the limit has been reached.

In short, the Poverty Institute didn't tell the whole story. Their numbers imply that Rhode Island is just like the vast majority of states, which have a 60 consecutive month time limit. The truth is that Rhode Island is really only 1 of 7 states that offer 5 consecutive years of regular cash assistance but will continue to pay more for longer if deemed necessary.

Arguing from Opposite Sides of the Dollar

Justin Katz

As an early-grave-working father of three children, whom my wife and I deliberately brought into the world at a relatively young age ourselves (by modern standards), with nowhere near the income nor savings that an accountant might require to balance out the cost of progeny, I find myself strangely split in my agreement with both parties of the following exchange from the Dan Yorke show:

URI Feinstein hunger center director Kathleen Gorman: How is a woman going to go to work making a minimum wage job or a low wage job if she doesn't have some help with child care?

Dan Yorke: Why did that woman have a child in the first place, not to be able to afford it on her own?

Gorman: You think only wealthy people should have children? That's crazy!

Yorke: Yes! Now we're getting somewhere! Only people who can afford it should do it. That's the core philosophy! Only people who can afford it should do it. We got there. Do you agree?

Gorman: Absolutely not. If all people waited until they had enough money to support their children, there would be no children in the world.

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

I don't believe that only "wealthy people" should have children, and I suspect that Yorke does not either. Moreover, the notion of having enough money requires clarification: Have my wife and I come up with the resources to keep our children healthy and well nourished? Obviously. Do we currently have any feasible plan for paying for the grander expenses of the future, such as college? Nope.

Life requires a bit of playing by ear. (And I'd note that Yorke and my shared Church requires us to believe that God is ultimately calling the tune.) Indeed, it would be a mistake to leave out the possibility that having children can play a crucial role in fostering responsibility in the parent — a point of principle that applies regardless of socioeconomic standing. The irreducible notes in the melody are not income and savings, but openness, intentionality, and a willingness to sacrifice.

If it's all about the money, then the Gormans of the world can create the easy illusion that single parents who persist in having children ought to be seen as in familiar circumstances to anybody who ever had to take a night job to cover the cost of braces. That's clearly how this Gorman framed her rejoinder, and I worry that a too-resounding "Yes!" from Yorke may strike populist chords that need not resonate beyond the gimme choir.

November 27, 2007

Clarity for Safety's Sake

Justin Katz

I missed last night's Tiverton Town Council meeting because, on top of dealing with some essential technology problems with my arsenal, we had a bit of toxic contamination in the home. Well, that's probably exaggerating: we broke one of those energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs and, realizing that they contain mercury, the obsessive in me had to research the danger.

One hopes that even a hypochondriac would find significance in the fact that just about every panic-laced missive on the topic refers to the exact same story, about a Maine mother who shattered a bulb in her daughter's room and wound up two grand in the hole because the uncleaned spot on the shag carpet registered a too-high mercury level. But even a merely cautious parent might find cause for confused concern in the fact that the EPA's clean-up guidelines for mercury spills state both:

Never use a vacuum cleaner to clean up mercury


If vacuuming is needed after all visible materials are removed, vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag (or empty and wipe the canister) and put the bag or vacuum debris in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

The bottom line is that the bulbs contain very little mercury (less than 5mg in gaseous form), and the average break-and-clean will diminish the risk with each step, even if done all wrong:

  • Some particles stay in the bulb.
  • Some particles drift off into the air.
  • Some particles stick to the shards.
  • Some particles get caught in the vacuum bag.
  • Some particles get caught by the body's natural defenses.
  • And some particles get absorbed with no deleterious effect.

Still, as I do with every quotidian danger, I wish some group or agency were given exemption from lawsuits in order to offer candid statements of risk and effect for the growing number of substances that we know to be harmful. So what if the safety threshold for mercury is 300 nanograms per cubic meter. What happens to the human body if that doubles, triples, quadruples? What would be the likely intake breaking the bulb right under one's nose? A foot away? Ten feet away?

The variables are manifold, of course, but for citizen laypeople, it'd be enough to know whether we're lighting campfires in the jungle or shooting blowtorches in the hay barn. And then I can get to wondering if my blue-state conservatism is somehow related to a periodic childhood practice of smashing fluorescent bulbs in the dumpster garages of my apartment complex, right after picking at the asbestos pipe insulation in the laundry room...

House District 22: Unofficial Results

Monique Chartier

Frank Ferri: 878

Jonathan Wheeler: 553

Carlo Pisaturo: 228

With all four precincts in Warwick's District 22 reporting but before the opening of approximately 25 mail-in ballots.

Story about today's election - before the polls closed - in the Warwick Beacon.

Thanks to Will Ricci for calling me with the results.

Bakst's Worthy Question

Justin Katz

Charles Bakst presents a question that he thinks the governor ought to ask himself, and although my way of answering it mightn't be what Bakst expects, I think it's a worthy consideration:

I said Carcieri would say he wasn't calling them bad people, only that they'd made bad decisions. [URI Feinstein hunger center director Kathleen Gorman] said, "Point to me the first person who never made a bad decision in their life. I think he is calling them bad people." She termed him "very mean spirited."

I prefer not to think of Carcieri that way. He certainly doesn't think of himself that way. But if I were he, I'd ask myself: "What am I saying that's coming across wrong? How can I demonstrate I really do care?"

Bakst's first question is both silly and a bit of a trap. It's not Carcieri's presentation so much as his conclusions and beliefs that are branding him. My suggestion is that he could both prove his sincerity and highlight the inadequacy of the expected "I really do care" answer from the usual suspects by making room in his schedule for explaining his beliefs directly to the kids and adults most dramatically affected by his conclusions.

How does he demonstrate that he really cares? By speaking truth to powerless, thereby giving them more power — in the form of confidence — to make better decisions.

Sometimes, We Just Have to Agree to Agree

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the comments section of a recent post mentioning his book Rescuing Providence, after thanking Anchor Rising for the plug, Providence firefighter Michael Morse wrote…

I can't say I agree with a lot of your views, but they are always interesting and thought provoking.
However, upon reading sections from his most recent Projo op-ed, like this one…
Our society once prided itself on rugged individualism, fairness and the ability to take care of ourselves, and our own. The tide has turned. People now expect to be taken care of.
…or this one…
Taxpayers pay for a service and deserve to get their money’s worth. It is a sad day when a proud, effective force must be diminished to cater to a growing population that takes government services for granted, and treats emergency vehicles as their private taxi service.
…I have to say that I can't see much disagreement at the level of basic philosophical views!

Belo Corp Subdividing?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Any local media watchers care to speculate on whether this announcement via CNN's means anything significant for the future of the Providence Journal...

Belo Corp. will present at the UBS 35th Annual Global Media and Communications Conference in New York on Tuesday, December 4, at 9:00 a.m. EST, providing an update on the Company's operations and its plan to create separate newspaper and television businesses.

Even the Crossing Guards Get It

Marc Comtois

The ProJo's Edward Achorn takes notice of the ongoing Warwick Crossing Guard debate and thinks he detects a sea change:

[H]ere’s some good news for Rhode Island: A slumbering giant, the great silent majority, may be awakening at long last to the crisis this state is facing.

The evidence?

Last week, the Warwick City Council voted unanimously — 9 to 0 — to reject a contract Mayor Scott Avedisian negotiated that would give lifetime family health-insurance benefits to retired one-hour-a-day school crossing guards.

When was the last time you heard of a municipal board in Rhode Island, a state where public-employee unions have virtually dictated public policy, rejecting a negotiated contract — and unanimously, at that?

The vote was a stinging rebuke of the generally well-liked and well-respected Republican mayor. It happened for one reason: Citizens are finally paying attention, and speaking out about what they perceive to be outrageously generous benefits for special interests on the backs of taxpayers.

By midweek, the city had notified Michael Molloy, president of NESCTC Security Agency, which runs the crossing-guards program in Cranston, that Warwick will be seeking bids for privatizing the program.

“This has been an awakening of the public, and a political renaissance in this city,” said Mr. Molloy. He was struck, during recent public meetings, by how passionately citizens felt about the issue.

“The mood has changed,” said Robert Cushman, a City Council member who has relentlessly raised questions about costly benefits for crossing guards.

“Most politicians will always listen to the people who make the loudest noise. If the largest group starts making the most noise instead of the small groups, things are going to change,” he said.

Along with a story about the Council's decision in this past Friday's Warwick Beacon, was a picture of 84 year old crossing guard Bill Thomas, with the following caption:
Bill Thomas, 84, who says he became a crossing guard 10 years ago to stay active, crosses a student near Greene School Wednesday morning. Thomas believes dropping health coverage for crossing guards would reduce costs and address taxpayer concerns. But, he says, eliminating the guards would be a mistake.
I think we can all agree with Mr. Thomas that dropping health care (and retirement pay) for these part-time employees makes fiscal sense. And no one is saying we should drop the crossing guards, per se, just that we don't need to compensate them so extravagantly (if at all).

Leading Education News -- From Block Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

Gloria S. Redlich of the Block Island Times has her ear to the ground on a number of education trends that will be reaching all Rhode Island communities very soon.

1. Apparently, Rhode Island school committees are already hearing that flat funding of education aid, or perhaps even an aid cut, is being planned for next year…

Because the state is experiencing a $450 million shortfall, [Block Island School Committee member Sean McGarry] said, “They will be going to flat funding, which means we’ll get the same or less than last year.” In contract negotiations with teachers, the percentage of co-pay for health insurance will be a bargaining issue, with school committees determining which provider each district chooses.
2. Unfortunately, Committeeman McGarry doesn't seem to understand the basics of education finance in Rhode Island. He thinks a "funding formula" is intended work to Block Island's benefit…
Pointing out that Rhode Island is one of only two states that do not have a funding formula to work from, McGarry said there is a proposal on the table to set a minimum for each district. With more tax money coming in from urban communities, where there is usually a larger industrial base than from rural areas, he thinks the proposal would benefit the island.
If Rhode Island's education problems were really rooted in tax-generating urban districts being drained of their resources by surrounding smaller districts, then the solution would be to reduce redistribution between communities and let the urban districts keep more of their tax money. But that's not what's happening. What is happening is that residents of Rhode Island's less-urban districts (including Block Island) are already paying for a large chunk of urban district education expenses via statewide taxes in addition to paying their own expenses; meanwhile, the urban districts are demanding "more" from the surrounding communities and think that a "funding formula" is the best way to get it.

If there is a funding formula proposal that "would benefit the island", it is because Block Island already receives so little state aid (less than $1,000 per-pupil compared with the nearly $7,000 per-pupil paid to the big districts), formula advocates feel it is necessary to raise Block Island's aid share via a minimum aid provision, to mask an obvious example of how the state aid structure is of no benefit at all to many Rhode Island communities. Of course, if Block Island and the other RI communities who right now receive barely anything from the state get to hold on to some extra money in the interests of preventing the formula from appearing too lopsided, it will mean that the communities in the middle of the pack will end up paying for the entire increase in subsidies to the urban districts that the funding formula is designed to implement.

3. I'm not sure if this involves a misprint or something misheard, but this sentence from Ms. Redlich's story may contain a wealth of insight into the state's future plans…

In an attempt to consolidate services and reduce expenditures, the state is also looking to reduce the numbers of school districts from 36 to six, thus reducing the number of superintendents.
Generally, when consolidation has been discussed in Rhode Island, the number of regional districts discussed has been five, one per county. Where the number six comes from, I am not sure.

And "reducing the number of superintendents" means that strong consolidation, i.e. full regionalization, rather than a plan that involves combining certain administrative services like purchasing, is under consideration. The main purpose of strong regionalization is to let politicians choose which tax bases outside of their constituencies they'd like to exploit, rather than to let parents choose schools which are best for their kids.

November 26, 2007

Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts on the Stem Cell Breakthrough

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts has issued a statement on the stem cell breakthrough that was reported last week in two major scientific journals…

As a strong advocate for all forms of stem cell research, I am excited to learn that scientists are able to manipulate skin cells into embryonic cells that could lead to the development of treatments, and hopefully cures, for the most debilitating and life threatening diseases of our time. This is a wonderful discovery that opens the door to a new avenue of stem cell research. I encourage our Congressional delegation to push for greater federal research dollars for every type of stem cell research.

We must continue to pursue each and every scientific opportunity in this sector to save lives, prevent suffering and create research opportunities in our highly skilled biotech economy here in Rhode Island.

The Lieutenant Governor’s statement also made mention of her current efforts regarding adult stem cells…
Lt. Gov. Roberts is currently working with leaders in the General Assembly to submit legislation that will ensure expanded banking of cord blood, a different type of adult stem cell. Roberts hopes to implement a system in hospitals across the state for public cord blood banking which increases research opportunities and can save lives in Rhode Island.
Lt. Gov. Roberts assembled a report on stem cell research possibilities earlier this year that can be read at her official website.

Why We'll Probably Never Have High-Speed Rail in New England

Carroll Andrew Morse

Megan McArdle of the Asymmetrical Information blog identifies the major limitation of what's supposed to be Rhode Island's high-speed rail link to the rest of the Eastern seaboard…

Why is America's high-speed rail so dreadful? The Acela delivers you, at enormous added expense, to Boston one hour ahead of the regional. On the DC-to-NY run, the added benefit is 10-15 minutes. The answer is that the Acela uses existing track, which is twisty, the better to serve every congressional district between here and Boston. Real high speed rail needs to be fairly straight, for the same reason you don't take hairpin turns at 120 mph in your car.
Alas, any transportation project that would require moving train tracks is a non-starter is this part of the country, doomed by the difficulty of finding an acceptable straight-line route through the densely populated region. I like the way this commenter at Ms. McArdle's site put it…
Since the railpath must be wide and straight, the only way to build it would be a totalitarian use of eminent domain that would be tolerated only by third-world dictators and first-world liberal elites. This would involve literally steamrolling over everyone in the way for hundreds of miles, destroying families, communities, and businesses in the fashion of William T. Sherman.
And even if a reasonable straight-line path were available, the nimby obstructionism prevalent in northeastern politics would almost certainly prevent anything new from being built.

Meet Jonathan Wheeler, Candidate For State Representative, District 22

Carroll Andrew Morse

This Tuesday, there will be a special election in House District 22 (Warwick) to fill the seat of former state Representative Peter Ginaitt, who resigned at the end of the 2007 session. Running as a Republican in the race is Jonathan Wheeler. Mr. Wheeler has juxtaposed at his campaign website a set of numbers he believes best summarize Rhode Island's problems and the need for fresh soultions...

  • Rhode Island is 46th in HIGHER EDUCATION spending, but 3rd in WELFARE spending.
  • Rhode Island is 49th in PARKS AND RECREATION spending, but 11th in GOVERNMENT ADMINISTRATION spending.
  • Rhode Island is 41st in TRANSPORTATION spending, but 4th in VENDOR payments.
  • Rhode Island has the 9th HIGHEST DEBT in the nation.
This past weekend, Anchor Rising had the opportunity to ask Mr. Wheeler about his run for office...

Anchor Rising: What's motivating you to get involved with the unique challenges presented by Rhode Island politics?

Jonathan Wheeler: Another Democrat in the General Assembly is not going to fix the problems that Democrats have created over the last five decades. Until we get better balance in the General Assembly, until there are enough Republicans and like-minded Democrats to sustain a veto, and to occasionally stop the Democrats from doing things that right now there are no impediments from them doing, things are not going to change or improve.

AR: Everyone, except the Democrats in the General Assembly, seems to know that the state is facing a multi-hundred million dollar deficit…

JW: It's $450 million.

AR: That's the conservative estimate. What can be done?

JW: We need to control spending. Clearly, the Democrats in the General Assembly have made no effort to control spending. In the Providence Journal a few weeks ago, when they were talking about the deficit, they were laughing about it. There's not a damn thing funny about it. We need to start over, with something close to zero-based budgeting. We need to make every government agency justify their existence and their budget. Until we do that, we cannot expect anything to change.

AR: You are in a three-way race. Any thoughts on the dynamics of that?

JW: There's me, the Republican. There's Frank Ferri, who won the Democratic primary but was unendorsed, and there's Carlo Pisaturo, who's running as an independent, and is a former Democratic councilman in Ward 5. So really, it's me against two Democrats, because Carlo, although he is running as an independent, is a Democrat. He's not refused to caucus with the Democrats; I asked him that during our debate – you're running as an independent, who are you going to caucus with -- and he wouldn't commit. So he's a Democrat.

AR: If you win, when you head up to the statehouse, would you take on a signature issue?

JW: At this point, we don't have the luxury of any signature issues other than controlling spending and controlling taxes. The business climate here we all know is 50th out of 50. Rhode Island has the worst business climate in the country. Until we control spending, reduce taxes, and root out corruption, we are never going to attract business to this state. And until we attract business to this state, we're never going to improve the economy. In my mind, to any responsible legislator, that can be their only signature issue right now.

We're in a crisis, and everyone in the General Assembly -- everyone in state government -- needs that to be their most important thing.

The 2008 Political Season Looks to Be Fully Underway

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here's the January calendar for the Presidential nomination process, which finally seems to have settled, from CBS News

  • The Iowa caucuses will start the nominating process on January 3.
  • Wyoming GOP county caucuses follow on January 5
  • …followed by New Hampshire on January 8
  • …and Michigan on January 15.
  • South Carolina Republicans and Nevada will vote on January 19
  • South Carolina Democrats likely will be on January 26
  • …and Florida on January 29.

But even with all of the focus on the Presidential race, a few intrepid souls are already preparing their campaigns for the Rhode Island General Assembly. Here's Jim Haldeman (and supporter) over the Thanksgiving weekend letting South Kingstown know that he plans to run another energetic race in House District 35…


And in just a few minutes, Anchor Rising will post its interview with Jonathan Wheeler, the Republican party's candidate in Tuesday's General Assembly special election in Warwick...

November 25, 2007

I, Mindless Taxpayer

Justin Katz

There's that learning curve again. Amidst all of the things that I've had to learn as a homeowner (not including carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and so on), it took me until today to realize an important part of my town's tax structure: In addition to my annual property tax bill for the Town of Tiverton, I pay property taxes to the North Tiverton Fire District. Part of what confused me about the bills is that the NTFD also charges me for my water usage (leading me recently to question why my water bill was so much higher than it ought to have been, because I confused the taxes for the water charge). What's worse is that the fire district taxes have nothing to do with, you know, the fire department.

According to a 2006 report on Rhode Island Fire Districts (PDF), Tiverton and Portsmouth are the only towns in the state with fire districts that provide "water supply only." Yet until this year, the North Tiverton rate was just at the average for the state, even as its per-usage water rate (PDF) is well above the average — third highest in the state.

It's also interesting to note the intramunicipality comparison. North Tiverton is the working-class side of town, but for some reason, its rates are higher all around than those of the Stone Bridge Fire District. Our taxes are $0.62 per $1,000 of property value to their $0.30, and our water costs $5.32 per 1,000 gallons to their $3.90. It may be the case that it is just extremely difficult to get water to residents of North Tiverton, in which case it might be unfair to jack up the prices for the rest of the town, but one would have to break down all town expenditures by fire district in order to see whether it's fair to break out this particular cost.

Whatever the case, both the additional tax and the cross-town differences bear further research. They also don't cool my ire about the truly terrible water pressure in my neighborhood.

The Way Jerzyk's World Works

Justin Katz

I'd like to, if I may, correct a couple of misconceptions on Matt Jerzyk's part without thereby lending credence to the parts of his post to which I don't think response merited:

... please provide me one woman in the entire state of Rhode Island who, when confronted with the reality of having a child and whether to have that child and the status of her relationship with the child's father, stops and thinks, "Why am I worried?? I can get on Welfare and life will be alllll good!" That's not how life works, folks. And I guess if Don Carcieri ever left his cushy East Greenwich neighborhood and visited the low-income areas of his state he would realize this!

The key flaw of Jerzyk's rhetoric (or its key ploy, if you prefer) is the moment that he picks in the series of decisions that leads to out-of-wedlock children. Indeed, although I don't wish to make presumptions as to his actual familiarity with such people, it seems to me that Jerzyk, despite his "visit[s] to low-income areas," has a far too belittling view of their decision-making capabilities. Can't low-income women, to wit, consider the possibility of children when they elevate their relationships with men such that they become potential fathers of their children? In the progressive world, it seems, low-income women can't do otherwise than have sex first and ask questions later, the poor, dear, disadvantaged savages Others.

Here's how the world has appeared to work for the human beings (of all races and classes) whom I've known in every setting from an Ivy-League-in-all-but-name campus to the navy-blue-collar commercial fishing docks: Having frequent and direct contact with similarly situated people whose poor decisions have proven dramatically detrimental discourages like behavior. Observing that those people receive increased benefits — not to mention increased creds toward the coveted victim status — enables poor decisions, especially when the detriments are still hypothetical, and tangential to the action under scrutiny (as conception is, in the hyper-sexed modern mind, a tangential consequence to the perceived benefit of casual sex).

Generally speaking, women don't expect to become pregnant from one-night stands or otherwise promiscuous behavior. When the consequences of that outcome are more dire, however, the pre-fling calculation is more likely to be made in terms of risk than of hypothetical possibility.

It is without a doubt a difficult balance to strike — that between raising up children who've had the misfortune to be born into such circumstances and easing the burden of adults' loose behavior. I'm still haunted, however, by this article out of England a few years ago:

In Britain, surveys indicate that for many teenagers becoming pregnant is an aspiration: the benefits and cheap local authority housing available is seen by some as a reason to become pregnant - especially for teenagers from impoverished or broken homes. A recent poll by the Family Education Trust indicated that 45 per cent of single pregnant teenagers had either wanted to conceive or "didn't mind" that they had. The introduction of £5,000 worth of free nursery care to enable pregnant teenagers to return to school is seen by many as a "perverse incentive" to attract young girls into parenthood.

As Robert Whelan, the director of the Family Education Trust, points out: "The scale of state help directed at young single parents is such that girls who do not have babies are losing out."

Jerzyk's fallacious reasoning with respect to the way the world actually works twists that very concern on its head with his notion of familial advantages:

Ask teenagers in Barrington what two parents got them. Two parents does not equal a nurturing family environment. Two parents can be working high-stress jobs as lawyers and doctors in Barrington and never be home for their kids. Or two parents can be working long-hours jobs as janitors and CNAs in Pawtucket and never be home for their kids.

Or two parents can construct a not-uncommon household (such as mine) in which one parent earns the predominant income, and the other stays home with the kids or takes on a decreased workload. It would seem that progressive families are all overworked and miserable, with two parents being hardly preferable to one. But a child with only one parent around, whether he or she is working as a janitor or a lawyer, has next to no chance of such a living arrangement. (And that's letting Jerzyk slide on his assumptions that Barrington households are not nurturing and that they're all two-parent.)

Between the progressive ideology of and the excessive "safety net" preferred by those who are driving this state into the ground, it becomes a moralist's question to ask whether young women ought to be having sex with men whom their children would be better off without. It becomes a sign of an oppressor to expect too much of the poor things.

Re: Let's Make Everybody Special

Monique Chartier

Let us not forget that in this area can be found yet another dubious "Rhode Island, We're Number One!" rating.

From a February 8 Providence Journal article by Jennifer Jordan:

Rhode Island already claims the highest percentage of students in special education in the country – 21 percent compared with the national average, 13.7 percent

What is the drawback?

It costs far more to educate a special-education student in Rhode Island – $22,893 a year, compared with $9,269 for a regular-education student.

How have we achieved this distinction? A Jennifer Jordan article in the May 20 ProJo identifies over-diagnosis as a major factor. And the "target" is equally disturbing.

"Too Many Minorities in Special Ed"

Seven school districts in Rhode Island are labeling too many students of color with learning disabilities they may not have and placing them into special education, a problem that has sparked a federally required review by the state Education Department.

In Central Falls, Hispanic students are almost 10 times more likely to be labeled “mentally retarded” than their non-Hispanic peers.

Black students in Providence are five times more likely to be classified as “emotionally disturbed” than other students.

Native American students in South Kingstown are 16 times more likely to be categorized as “learning disabled” or “other health impaired,” a category that includes attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

East Greenwich, Narragansett, Newport and Woonsocket were also cited for disproportionately identifying black, Hispanic or Asian students with learning disabilities, according to state education officials, who have been meeting with district leaders to find out why.

The State Director of Special Education, Kenneth Swanson acknowledges that

REFERRING TOO MANY students to special education in general is a statewide and national problem that needs to be addressed by an overhaul of the education system, Swanson said.

Special education has become a fix-all, educators say. In some cases, students having trouble learning to read, students acting out, and students with speech issues are being shuttled into special education instead of getting academic or behavioral help.

On a side note, "overhaul" sounds like an overly-dramatic, not to mention unnecessarily expensive, response to this problem. Is this not a simple matter of tweaking (or enforcing) the guidelines for the diagnosis of students?

Returning to Justin's post, the question of the funding source of special education takes on an even greater importance if the state education system has identified (wrongly, it appears in many cases) a disproportionate number of students for these programs. But whatever size the special ed population in the state shakes out at, the idea of sliding part of that bill across the city line has no basis in logic, accountability or good governance.

Equal Like a Dream Versus a Song and a Dream

Justin Katz

It would have been too much, I suppose, to hope that the New York Times would take the opportunity of the recent stem-cell breakthrough to correct a longstanding falsehood in its analysis spin of the issue to date. It is, nonetheless, disappointing that it persists:

Early in the controversy, opponents, including Mr. Bush, often said they supported studies using so-called adult stem cells that involve cells extracted from blood and bone marrow. But those cells have more limited potential than embryonic stem cells, and proponents of embryo experiments said it was like comparing apples to oranges. The reprogrammed skin cells, by contrast, appear to hold the same properties as embryonic stem cells, more an apples-to-apples comparison.

Perhaps one can say that there's nothing factually incorrect in the quoted paragraph, provided one limits "potential" to meaning "theoretical potential." As I've noted before (for two), "so-called adult stem cells" have already produced cures and treatments. One cannot say, however, that the recent "findings have put people on both sides of the stem cell divide on nearly equal political footing." One side is willing to dive into an ethical morass on the oversold promise of any-day-now medical miracles, as long as we plow through objections to killing embryos and cloning. The other side now has not only a slate of present-day accomplishments, but a very high likelihood of entering the very same miracle race.

November 24, 2007

Let's Make Everybody Special

Justin Katz

I know it's de rigueur to advocate for those who require additional help in school in an effort to bring them as near to the average line as conceivably possible, but something just seems wrong (in certain lights, immoral) about opposing this change, as described in the Rhode Island Catholic, in a state with as bleak a future as ours:

Changing the way special education is funded and provided in non-public schools by eliminating the state regulations and exclusively following the federal regulations. These federal regulations require the LEA, local education agency or, more simply, school district, where the non-public school is located to provide special education funding and eliminate the current state standard under which the LEA where the child lives, if it is different, would also contribute services if there was an additional need. For example, a special needs child lives in Providence and attends a non-public school in Johnston, under the current regulations, if necessary, that child would receive special education funding or services from the non-public school, and the Providence and Johnston school districts. If the proposed changes are accepted by the board, the funding would only come from Johnston, and if there was additional need the school district where the child lives would not be required to contribute services. The school district where the child lives is exempt from providing services despite the fact that the child lives in Providence, his parents pay school taxes to Providence, and, as one Catholic school parent pointed out, the child could very well go on to live in Providence after graduation.

Firstly, if the argument for money from Providence is that the child's parents pay taxes in that city, then what's the argument for money from Johnston? Simply that the school is located there? It seems to me that one might just as well argue that Cranston ought to contribute because the private school's special education teacher pays taxes there, or Westerly ought to contribute because the child's grandmother lives there, and after all, he might opt to live closer to her after graduation.

Secondly, not to sound cruel in my naivété, but why ought special needs equate to special privileges? One parent's reasoning makes the current system sound fundamentally unjust:

Mary Lennon, whose daughter attends a Catholic school and receives special education services, addressed the board Wednesday night about the effect these proposals would have on her daughter. She called on the board to continue to make Catholic education a viable choice for parents of children with special needs. "Children with disabilities will face enough challenges in life. A well-planned Catholic education with the right supports in place will sustain them," she said.

As it happens, I'm currently looking into Catholic schools in part because the Tiverton school district doesn't offer any sort of gifted/talented program. Why should my children languish in a system that I don't believe to be sufficient for their needs — having heard from parents whose children went far astray because they weren't adequately challenged in it — even as my tax dollars finance attendance at my preferred school for children who clear Rhode Island's lowered special-needs bar? Why, for that matter, shouldn't Catholic education be "a viable choice" for all taxpaying citizens, no matter the advantages or disadvantages of their children?

I don't know the specific dollar breakdowns pertaining to special needs students in private school. I suspect the parents still pay some of the tuition, and I can sympathize with the argument (which I could imagine making, myself) that private schools might shy away from accepting such children unless they were able to make up some portion of the extra cost of educating them. It just seems wrong, though, for only the wealthy and the challenged to be able to escape undesirable — and decreasingly funded — schools.

Having Parties in Tiverton

Justin Katz

Although it's not online, a letter of mine encouraging my fellow residents of Tiverton to ask the Charter Review Commission to reopen the question of partisan elections is in the current issue of The Sakonnet Times:

To the editor:

At the latest Charter Review Commission meeting, member Frank Marshall made a successful motion to strike from the commission's to-do list consideration of a ballot question that would bring party labels back to Tiverton elections. We don't need them, he asserted; everybody who gets involved in local government is there simply to work hard for and do right by the town. Even taking his assertion as a given, however, it is immaterial to the question of whether the political parties to which those well-intentioned citizens belong ought to be publicly known.

Despite the implication of arguments for nonpartisan town government, being openly affiliated is not unseemly. Exactly what it means to "do right by the town" is not a matter of clear and objectively identifiable decisions; it's a matter of subjective preference and ideology. A candidate's party affiliation will tell citizens something about what his or her approach and priorities will be.

School Committee member Leonard Wright is the Tiverton Democratic Committee Vice Chair. Is he governing less as a Democrat because the school committee is nonpartisan? Town Council President Louise Durfee has run for governor as a Democrat, a Democrat governor's director of the DEM, and contributes to Democrat candidates for higher office. In what way is she nonpartisan? Four members of the Charter Review Commission --- Cecil Leonard, Frank Joslin, Raymond Medeiros, and Stanley Zeramby --- were publicly endorsed by the Democratic Committee, which offered voters rides to voting locations, and of which they are all members. How, exactly, was their election nonpartisan?

These revelations aren't meant to imply inappropriate behavior on these folks' part, but with all of the care and concern that interested citizens will observe among elected and appointed members of the Tiverton government when it comes to observing open meetings laws, avoiding quorums for non-meeting events, and so on, this deliberate omission seems incongruous. I'll confess to the hair-trigger on my suspicions, but when people in government (politicians all, ultimately), throw a blanket over a particular appurtenance, I can't help but worry about the allowances of secrecy.

The commission meets again on Wednesday, November 28, at 7:00p.m. at the town hall, and its policy is to listen to the open-mic suggestions of the public. Whichever party it may benefit, the people of Tiverton are better served by truth in labeling than by a pleasant illusion of nonpartisanism, and all we need do is ask.

November 23, 2007

A Primer on the Stem Cell Breakthrough

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. Remind me what all the hubbub surrounding stem cells is again.

Theoretically, illnesses caused by damaged or destroyed cells can be cured, if replacement cells can be created. Stem cells are a promising source of replacement cells.

2. So why don’t we use already cell therapies, wherever new cells would help?

Finding replacements is not easy. You can’t just drop any ol’ cell into a damaged area of the human body and expect it to take up the required function. Using the right cell for the right problem is necessary.

3. And stem cells are the answer, because…

They can be used to create any specialized type of cell.

Every cell in the body, literally within its DNA, contains all of the information necessary to produce every kind of tissue; heart, brain, nerve, bone, etc. that makes the body up. Given that we humans start out as a small set of cells (ultimately just a single cell), our cells at earliest stage of life must be flexible enough to use DNA information to produce any kind of tissue.

If doctors and scientists can find a source of these flexible cells -- stem cells -- and learn how to manipulate their growth, they may be able to create specialized cells useful in many therapies.

4. So let me rephrase question 2. Why don’t we already use cell therapies, wherever new cells created from stem cells would help?

Let me rephrase answer 2. Finding stem cells to make into replacements is not easy.

Until now, the primary source of stem cells fully capable of becoming any kind of tissue has been embryos, but acquiring embryonic stem cells requires destroying an embryo. This raises obvious ethical concerns.

And even if embryonic stem cells can be turned in to the appropriate cells for a cure, they cannot be readily transplanted into a sick patient, because of the body’s natural rejection of tissues that come from a foreign body.

5. What's the big breakthrough everyone is talking about?

Scientists announced a truly amazing discovery last week: the process of a stem cell turning into a specific tissue cell is apparently not as one-way as had been widely assumed. It is possible to take regular cells from an adult human and turn them back into stem cells. The Washington Post has provided a pretty good summary

[Dr. Shinya Yamanaka’s team at Kyoto University] identified four genes in mouse skin cells that, when operating at high levels together, can turn countless other genes on and off in just the right pattern to make skin cells almost indistinguishable from embryonic stem cells….

Because the rejuvenated cells did not come from embryos and behave slightly differently from embryonic stem cells, Yamanaka named them "induced pluripotent stem cells," or "ips" cells (pluripotent means "able to become virtually every kind of").

He immediately tried the same technique on human skin cells….He coaxed the ips cells to become nerve cells, heart cells that beat in the dish, and other major cell types. And he showed that they were exact genetic matches to the skin cells they came from, suggesting that tissues or organs grown from them could be transplanted into the donor of the skin cells and not be rejected.

Dr. James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison discovered a similar process around the same time.

6. How is the transformation done?

Literally, by reprogramming DNA….

Yamanaka put copies of [the] four genes into retroviruses, Trojan-horse-like viruses that insert their genetic payloads into the DNA of cells they infect. Once infected, the skin cells took on virtually all the characteristics of embryonic ones….

At the same time, Thomson, Junying Yu and colleagues were racing ahead. Working from an initial list of 14 genes that seemed to make human cells embryonic, they gradually narrowed their recipe to just four genes, too….

His cells passed the same tests as Yamanaka's, though in his final recipe, two of the genes he used were different.

"Apparently there are various ways to get to Rome," said Rudolf Jaenisch, a stem cell researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass. "We don't have to do it like the egg. We can do it differently."

7. In politically charged science debates, the claims sometimes get ahead of the reality. Any reason to be skeptical here?

Well, James Thomson is the same scientist who discovered embryonic stem cells about a decade ago, so if he thinks this is for real, there is obviously something to that.

Dr. Yamanaka and Dr. Thomson haven’t quite made the claim that they've produced stem cells, but cells that are very close to stem cells. Some more observation and experimentation is needed before it can be claimed that they are 100% true stem cells.

The process of creating the stem cells involves certain cancer risks, but because there are mulitple ways to induce the transformation into a stem cell, the researchers in the field seem confident that this problem will be worked around. But I'll repeat the warning in the question -- in politically charged science debates, the claims sometimes get ahead of the reality

With certain diseases that originate at the genetic level, generating your own stem cells will not be a solution, because the stem cells will contain the same defects causing the illness, so solving the rejection problem and allowing cells from another person to be transplanted will continue to be investigated.

8. For the more technically minded, can you be any more specific about any of this?

Well, I suppose I could re-print the abstract from Dr. Thomson et. al’s article appearing in the journal Science

Somatic cell nuclear transfer allows trans-acting factors present in the mammalian oocyte to reprogram somatic cell nuclei to an undifferentiated state. Here we show that four factors (OCT4, SOX2, NANOG, and LIN28) are sufficient to reprogram human somatic cells to pluripotent stem cells that exhibit the essential characteristics of embryonic stem cells. These human induced pluripotent stem cells have normal karyotypes, express telomerase activity, express cell surface markers and genes that characterize human ES cells, and maintain the developmental potential to differentiate into advanced derivatives of all three primary germ layers. Such human induced pluripotent cell lines should be useful in the production of new disease models and in drug development as well as application in transplantation medicine once technical limitations (for example, mutation through viral integration) are eliminated.
Er, that makes it all clear, right?

November 22, 2007

Taxpayers Brainwashed; Government for Sale

Justin Katz

In a relatively short op-ed, Republican state office holders Nicholas Gorham (Coventry) and Laurence Ehrhardt (North Kingstown) make it clear to anybody who reads the paper how dire is the need to vote a large segment of our current slate of legislators right out of office:

On Oct. 10, the Tax Foundation ranked Rhode Island 50th — the worst in the country — in its State Business Tax Climate Index. ...

On the morning of Oct. 30, the very day of the House session, State House leaders, including the House’s own fiscal advisers, were making final preparations for the Revenue and Caseload Estimating Conference, scheduled for the following morning, Oct. 31. In this meeting, the flow of money from taxes is calculated, and the cost of various government programs is projected.

As it turned out, it was a very bad morning. ...

Starting at 4 p.m. on Oct. 30, every AFL-CIO bill placed on the calendar for override of the governor’s veto passed the Democratic-controlled House and Senate by large margins. Vetoes on another 15 bills were overridden as well.

At a time when everyone recognized the state faced a severe fiscal crisis, the Democrat-controlled House and Senate overrode vetoes on a total of 25 issues. Of this total, four either raised taxes or increased the cost to the public of using government services; fifteen raised the cost of government outright; and three restricted the governor’s ability to act as the chief executive without legislative meddling.

Everybody's Out to Get Them Young

Justin Katz

We're rightly wary when credit card companies target college kids. (I'm still smarting from the puncture that I received in the bull's-eye.) So why is the New York Times treating it as some kind of a rights story that pharmaceutical companies are no longer targeting young women with discounted birth control?

The change is due to a provision in a federal law that ended a practice by which drug manufacturers provided prescription contraception to the health centers at deeply discounted rates. The centers then passed along the savings to students and others. ...

Some college clinics have reported sudden drops in the numbers of contraceptives sold; students have reported switching to less expensive contraceptives or considering alternatives like the so-called morning-after pill; and some clinics, including one at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Me., have stopped stocking some prescription contraceptives, saying they are too expensive.

Attempting to argue the contrary, one affected student illustrates the error in thinking that easy access to contraceptives doesn't encourage kids to have sex:

"The potential is that women will stop taking it, and whether or not you can pay for it, that doesn't mean that you'll stop having sex," said Katie Ryan, a senior at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks, who said that the monthly cost of her Ortho Tri-Cyclen Lo, a popular birth control pill, recently jumped to nearly $50 from $12.

Ms. Ryan, 22, said she had considered switching to another contraceptive to save money, but was unsure which one to pick. She has ended up paying the higher price, but said she was concerned about her budget.

"I do less because of this — less shopping, less going out to eat," said Ms. Ryan, who has helped organize efforts to educate others on campus about the price jump. "For students, this is very, very expensive."

What Katie inadvertently highlights, here, is that — although sex is just another activity for which one must make sacrifices and balance desires — kids have the impression that sex can't be avoided. A dramatic increase in the price of antacids obviously won't stop people from eating, but it may affect their dietary choices. Why should our society treat sex as if it is less amenable to self-control than eating?

I'd suggest to young Americans that they take a moment to consider who has an interest in encouraging a loose addiction to sex. The entertainment industry, the advertising industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and (yes) the abortion industry all stand to gain financially from a broad impression among the Ms. Ryans of the country that closing their legs is simply too difficult a feat of self mastery.

Gobble Humbug

Justin Katz

Perhaps it oughtn't be the case — me being a family-oriented traditionalist and all — but I'm not a devotee of Thanksgiving. It might be my workaholism. It might be my lack of interest in football. And I'm not a big fan of turkey. (In part because tryptophanic considerations trigger a workaholic aversion.)

It's always nice to have a day off, of course, but with so much to accomplish in too little time, the frantic lethargy of the holiday tends to give me the shakes. I'm eager to be convinced otherwise, but it would strike me as rude to break out the laptop in the midst of an extended-family gathering. (Even a quasi-drunken, football-induced, introverted trance would seem more acceptable.) So when conversation ebbs — conversation that tends toward work, anyway — or when I've previously heard the story being told, I find my thoughts drifting toward things that I might otherwise be doing. And one can only discretely check an empty cell-phone emailbox so many times.

Yet there's something in the illustration on today's Providence Journal editorial page that awakens a longing in me. It's of a partygoer departing from a house on a snowy evening back in the days of animal-drawn carriages. Back when the trip to the family gathering was a larger part of a holiday — and a relaxing stroll, at that, rather than a high-speed race through advertisement-adorned airwaves. Back when folks provided their own entertainment: a dance or a recitation or some kind of performance.

Is this a dysfunction of modernism, I wonder? There is nothing to stop we of blogs, gadgets, news cycles, and passive (massive) entertainment from setting the kids before a piano or pulling each other off the couches to dance. It would feel awkward, though, wouldn't it? The sheer abnormality of the thing would encourage the feet toward dragging. How many of us even know the steps? And if we're going to stand at the window and watch the children run around outside, we might as well split our attention to the television.

To some extent, these things are what we make of them, much like thankfulness itself, and just as I'm inclined to find the hand of God in life, I'm inclined to find the angle at which justifications for thanks come into view. It may help, this year, that I've now got a fully functional Web browser on my phone. That probably would have made a wintry carriage ride more tolerable, too.


I observed an interesting cultural development at the family dinner that I attended this afternoon: One twenty-something member of the family brought a game for the PlayStation for which the player uses a specialized guitar-style device to play along with songs on the screen, and the crowd in the younger boy's bedroom watching the action (and taking turns, of course) gave me the impression of an old-time gathering around the piano. It may exist already, but I'd suggest that the software designers would do well to release versions for holidays.

Somehow it wouldn't quite be the same as the old sing alongs, but it'd be close. Of course, even as I took my turn with the fake guitar, I couldn't help but wonder whether the young man who'd brought it wouldn't have been better served playing with a real one instead of investing so much time in the game over the past year. Thus does modernity seek to fill the cultural void that it creates, but always with something less, and something farther removed from the imagination.

A Curious (Un)Dynamic

Justin Katz

I suppose the truth of the following depends on the measure by which one gauges "control":

"There is no plan to subcontract people out of these jobs. It hasn't been studied. It's just kind of like shooting from the hip to justify those cuts," said Richard Ferruccio, president of the prison guards' union. "It's not about being cost effective, it's about control. They have more control over the outside vendors than the state worker."

If one is merely talking about the power to hire and fire, then contract workers allow more control, but it seems to me that Ferrucio's union mentality misses the fact that there's a freedom to being an independent contractor — and, more importantly, that freedom is in general a good thing.

In a healthy employment environment, the employer can allocate his workers to various roles as necessary and merited. He has a stronger hand in determining feasible salaries and benefits. Therefore (as one sees in plentiful evidence in the construction field), subcontracting can be an attractive option, allowing the worker to set his own wages and determine exactly what work he wishes to do. Of course, there are plenty of advantages to being a regular worker, from consistency to the capability of long-term growth.

In Rhode Island's public sector, however, union demands (and the pliant politicians who requite them) have — as Ferruccio admits — diminished the employer's control of regular workers to the extent that the state is being driven out of businesses, so to speak. The unions, in effect, are subcontracting companies that can't be fired.

Happy Thanksgiving

Marc Comtois

The First Thanksgiving 1621 by Karen Rinaldo

Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after have a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors; they four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week, at which time amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

Edward Winslow, Mourt's Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, 1622, Part VI

November 21, 2007

Thanksgiving Dinner

Monique Chartier

For those who are hosting (or bringing a dish ... or even just your appetite), Dave Barry has some tips.

Great American Turkeys

Tips for Not Hosting Thanksgiving Next Year

[Heads up: the last one is pretty tasteless.]

Quibbles with The Gobbler

The Entitlement Mindset of Rich and Poor

Marc Comtois

A relevant thought for the day from Claremont's Richard Reeb:

Entitlements ought to be understood only as goods or honors that we have earned, not something we think that we, or someone else, ought to have. That necessarily and unavoidably entails taking from one person or group and giving to another. The impolite word for that is theft. It impoverishes the victim and corrupts the beneficiary...

There is no point in being charitable toward what is truly not a charitable, but rather a greedy and a covetous, impulse, this political game called income redistribution. People who advocate it call themselves liberals (or progressives since liberalism got a bad name in the 1980s), but liberal people don’t demonstrate any moral virtue by forcibly taking someone else’s money instead of donating their own.

...the words of the Declaration of Independence clarify the matter: one is entitled only (though this is no small thing) to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, meaning that all must respect, and the government that we establish should secure, the free exercise of those rights.

The pursuit of happiness is not merely following one’s passions or inclinations but making the decisions and forming the habits which sustain one’s life, enhance one’s liberty and attain one’s happiness. None of this is easy, nor can it be, but it is easy to understand: one works to enrich oneself and not a king, aristocrat, dictator or bureaucrat, not to mention citizens who choose not to work and expect you to support them.

The entitlement mentality is so strong and pervasive that both the well off and the poor have fallen prey to it. In this democratic country, it has become a political creed that there is a permanent "underclass" that deserves to be supported. But no less a force are the wealthy farmers, businessmen and bureaucrats whose subsidies, write offs and sinecures fill their pockets and distort the marketplace.

Decent people are rightly critical of what they call "crazy" government programs that waste billions of taxpayers’ dollars. But the recipients of those giveaways are not crazy by any means, except perhaps crazy like a fox.

But maybe the foxes watching the Rhode Island hen house have finally out-foxed themselves.

Negotiating Our Own Demise

Justin Katz

A comment from the "stunned" Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva Weed in yesterday's Projo article raises a couple of beguiling questions:

As a tradeoff for the new work requirements and time limits the state adopted in 1996, she said, Rhode Island made subsidized health care and childcare available so, she told the luncheon audience, talk today about "cutting welfare" to save any significant money would have to mean significant cuts in health and childcare.

First of all, with whom was the state "trading off" for work requirements? Is this another instance of Rhode Island's negotiating with the recipients of its largesse?

Second, if the health- and child-care benefits were a substitute for cash, anyway, why should the state treat them any differently as far as cuts are concerned? Of course, we'd probably be right to suspect that the "trade off" was actually a transfer to a give-away made more secure by the infamous "what can we do" factor. "What can we do? Let the children suffer?"

It's one thing to take away the money for somebody's cable bill. It's another to take away the extra food money that we gave him so that he could afford to pay his cable bill himself.

Even Those Who Think Iraq is a Tragedy Should Resist Offering Commentary That is a Farce

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the Washington Post, John Podesta, Lawrence J. Korb and Brian Katulis make a case against the success of the American military surge in Iraq that includes this sentence (h/t Mickey Kaus)…

But the progress being made at the local level often undermines the stated goal of creating a unified, stable, democratic Iraq.
Isn't this the liberal internationalist's way of saying that we must let the villages be destroyed in order to save them?

Can We Have a Rhode Island "Phoenix"?

Marc Comtois

No, not a statewide version of that Phoenix, but a state that rises from the ashes, born anew. That's essentially what the ProJo has editorialized about this morning.

Rhode Island can use this crisis to reinvent itself, operating more efficiently and more realistically in a competitive world, making changes that would benefit its citizens for years to come. If, on the other hand, the governor and the legislature try to do again what they have done for the last several years — apply patches, raise fees or selected taxes, and leave behind massive out-year deficits — they might well hasten the pace of the state’s decline.

Systematic change must take place, starting now. These changes would not be pleasant initially, but it is hard to see how they can be avoided if the Ocean State is to recover any time soon.

After emphasizing that higher taxes is definitely not the answer, the ProJo provides its own wishlist of reform.

  • Reform the benefit and pension packages of state and municipal employees by increasing retirement ages, implementing a 401(k)-style retirement plan, using realistic cost-of-living numbers to calculate yearly raises and supplying a realistic medical benefit plan.

  • Increase transparency in collective bargaining between public employee unions and state entitities.

  • Consolidate services to reduce operational overhead by eliminating state agencies who provide overlapping services or that simply don't justify an entire bureaucracy all their own. They give the Atomic Energy Commission with a director making a salary of $135,000 as an example.

  • Bring welfare benefits in line with national averages. That means less money, higher qualification ceilings and shorter time on the rolls (5 years is just too long). And make sure they're U.S. citizens.

  • Finally, cut staff across the board in the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches. And they note that, so far, only the Governor has been willing to step up and make the tough decisions. Time for everyone else to do their part.

    They conclude:

    ...the easy decisions have been made, and the avoidance tactics of some politicians (and the groups that want ever more services) have brought us to the brink of a financial abyss. Rhode Island must reinvent its government if it is to prosper in the coming years.
    A more cynical way of putting all of this would be to quote Lt. Nick Holden from Operation Petticoat (it was just on the other night), "In confusion, there is profit." In this case, maybe Rhode Island citizens will ultimately "profit" from less government as a result of the budgetary confusion our politicians have created. At least we can hope.

  • November 20, 2007

    Brewster Plays with Numbers

    Marc Comtois

    Governor Carcieri said, “When I look at our rolls of people receiving ‘family-independence’ [benefits] whether it be RIte Care, whatever, the vast majority of these are women with children and they are not married and this is not a good situation."

    To this, Kate Brewster of the RI Poverty Institute responded, "I don’t think anyone wakes up and decides to become a single parent. That notion is absurd...He spoke yesterday of single mothers on cash assistance having multiple children and the facts are that 77 percent of the families on the Family Independence Program have only one or two children. And the idea that single mothers are the cause of our budget woes is also a gross misrepresentation. Today, state spending on cash assistance through FIP accounts for less than one-half of 1 percent of our entire state budget.”

    I've already addressed her clever use of the factually correct point that "state spending on cash assistance through FIP accounts for less than one-half of 1 percent of our entire state budget” while leaving out the other programs--such as RIte Care and subsidized Day care--that have essentially replaced cash for services.

    Now for the rest...

    Brewster said, "I don’t think anyone wakes up and decides to become a single parent. That notion is absurd..." Yes, they all experience immaculate conceptions. C'mon! They should make decisions to ensure that they don't become a single parent in the first place!

    Brewster also said, "He spoke yesterday of single mothers on cash assistance having multiple children and the facts are that 77 percent of the families on the Family Independence Program have only one or two children." Well, notice that while the Governor spoke of single moms with multiple kids, Brewster chose to refute this with statistics about "families" with one or two children."

    The facts are that--for an equitable comparison--53% of the families on FIP have two or more children. And--given that 8% of the families are defined as two-parent--we can conclude that 92% are single-parent.

    The interesting thing is that these numbers are remarkably consistent with past years (read the reports). So even as the total number of those on FIP goes down, the demographic characteristics remains essentially the same. The overwhelming majority are single-parent families and just over half have more than one child. Isn't that what the Governor said?

    Welfare Benefits are More than just Cash

    Marc Comtois

    "Today, state spending on cash assistance through FIP accounts for less than one-half of 1 percent of our entire state budget,” ~ Kate Brewster, RI Poverty Institute.

    The qualifier "cash assistance" makes all the difference, though, and ProJo reporter Katherine Gregg picked it up. As Gregg reports, direct cash assistance has dropped from $58 million in 1996 to $7.7 million today, but--lest anyone is left with the incorrect perception that welfare assistance as a whole "is less than one-half of 1% of the state budget"-- Gregg supplies a couple clarifications:

    State officials were unable to produce growth numbers for the popular RIte Care program yesterday. But state spending on subsidized childcare jumped from $6.3 million to $39.1 million during this same period.

    The net result: while the number of people getting cash dropped dramatically, the combined cost to state taxpayers of FIP and childcare went from $57.3 million to $55.3 million.

    Yes, we are spending less cash to welfare recipients via FIP than in the past. (Here's the latest report--PDF). However, much of that cash has been converted into government provided services like subsidized day care and health care for the same population. So while $7 million is indeed 1/2% of a $7 billion state budget, the cash from FIP is only part of the equation. And to try to disassociate the infrastructure costs from the actual benefits provided is a bit disingenuous, too. DHS comprises nearly 40% of the budget--that money goes somewhere.

    ADDENDUM: I tried to parse out the cost of RIte Care--which has been deemed a successful program--from the state budget documents but my wonkish abilities may have hit the wall. The best I can do is refer to the "Medical Benefits" portion of the DHS budget. The "Medical Benefits" portion of the 2008 DHS Budget document reads:

    The Medical Benefits Program assures quality and access to necessary medical services for approximately 186,000 consumers through the purchase of health care at a reasonable cost, primarily financed by Medicaid. These services are provided to three population groups: families and children, individuals with disabilities, and the elderly. Medicaid is a federal and state matching entitlement program administered by states to provide medical benefits. The federal share of reimbursement, which is based on a state’s per capita personal income, is 52.35 percent for federal fiscal year 2007 and 52.57 percent for federal fiscal year 2008.

    The Medical Benefits Program provides health insurance to FIP families, children through age 18 with family incomes not in excess of 250 percent of the federal poverty limit and other low income families. Health care is provided to children with special needs under the Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) or the Early Periodic Screening Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) program. Acute and long-term care services are provided to adults with disabilities and the elderly. There are four home and community-based waiver programs administered directly by DHS or through the Departments of Elderly Affairs (DEA) and Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals. A Section 1115 SCHIP waiver provides that families without access to employer- based insurance will have health insurance coverage, or be able to maintain their employer-sponsored insurance benefits, if more cost-effective. HCQFP administers the Early Intervention Program for at- risk children up to age three.

    The farthest back I can get is via the 2001 budget (PDF), which contained the numbers for 1998 in which we find that the state contributed $287.9 million (out of $614.6 million) towards all aspects of this program. Yet, I don't know how many people were receiving benefits. In, 2001 there were 125,000 consumers receiving benefits at a total cost to the state of $323.5 million (out of $707 million). The 2008 numbers are 186,000 consumers with benefits costing the state $670.2 million (out of $1.4 billion). That's a doubling of the total budget over the last 8 years, but also an increase of 61,000 people to the program. (Meanwhile, the population has only grown by 1.8% from 2000 to 2006; about 20-25,000 people).

    UN Hyped a Problem to Generate "Awareness"

    Marc Comtois

    Well hi-diddly-doo! The UN has admitted to over-estimating the AIDS epidemic. First, the reassessment:

    The United Nations' top AIDS scientists plan to acknowledge this week that they have long overestimated both the size and the course of the epidemic, which they now believe has been slowing for nearly a decade, according to U.N. documents prepared for the announcement.

    The latest estimates, due to be released publicly Tuesday, put the number of annual new HIV infections at 2.5 million, a cut of more than 40 percent from last year's estimate, documents show. The worldwide total of people infected with HIV -- estimated a year ago at nearly 40 million and rising -- now will be reported as 33 million.

    Then we learn that ideology (gasp) affected the reporting of skewed numbers.
    Some researchers, however, contend that persistent overestimates in the widely quoted U.N. reports have long skewed funding decisions and obscured potential lessons about how to slow the spread of HIV. Critics have also said that U.N. officials overstated the extent of the epidemic to help gather political and financial support for combating AIDS.

    "There was a tendency toward alarmism, and that fit perhaps a certain fundraising agenda," said Helen Epstein, author of "The Invisible Cure: Africa, the West, and the Fight Against AIDS." "I hope these new numbers will help refocus the response in a more pragmatic way."

    The United Nations' AIDS agency, known as UNAIDS and led by Belgian scientist Peter Piot since its founding in 1995, has been a major advocate for increasing spending to combat the epidemic. Over the past decade, global spending on AIDS has grown by a factor of 30, reaching as much as $10 billion a year.

    But in its role in tracking the spread of the epidemic and recommending strategies to combat it, UNAIDS has drawn criticism in recent years from Epstein and others who have accused it of being politicized and not scientifically rigorous.

    For years, UNAIDS reports have portrayed an epidemic that threatened to burst beyond its epicenter in southern Africa to generate widespread illness and death in other countries. In China alone, one report warned, there would be 10 million infections -- up from 1 million in 2002 -- by the end of the decade.

    Piot often wrote personal prefaces to those reports warning of the dangers of inaction, saying in 2006 that "the pandemic and its toll are outstripping the worst predictions."

    Sounds like the consensus is changing, huh.

    Warwick City Council Rejects Crossing Guard Contract Options

    Marc Comtois

    The Warwick City Council unanimously rejected a couple contract options for the city's crossing guards last night. I guess it's sinking in.

    Calling it a bad deal for taxpayers, the City Council last night unanimously rejected not one but two proposed contracts with the municipal crossing guards union, leaving the future of the city-run program in question.

    The surprise of the evening came in that all nine members of the council banded together to vote down the deals, saying the city cannot afford to supply lifetime benefits to employees who work less than 20 hours a week.

    The vote came just hours after Mayor Scott Avedisian submitted an amended contract offering small changes over the agreement that had been before the council for months. The new proposal eliminated post-retirement benefits for guards hired after the contract is ratified and made several other minor changes.

    But the substance of the deal remained the same: it cut more than $150,000 (roughly the same amount a private firm said it would cut) from the annual crossing guards’ budget by reducing the number of guards from 23 to 18, while promising to cover the same number of crossing stations. It also offered salaries of $39.50 per day (roughly $10,000 a year) and $11 weekly contributions to the cost of health coverage in year one of the contract.

    “I would have liked to see the mayor come back with a little better contract. Benefitwise, I wanted to see something better,” council member Donna M. Travis said. Travis was one of several council members who, at one time, expected to vote in favor of the municipal contract.

    Later on in the story, Councilwoman Helen Taylor states, "They are not just numbers, they are people with families and they work hard. Obviously having Blue Cross [Blue Shield insurance] is important to them.” Well, sorry, but they be happy that they even have health care for a part time job. Both Travis and Taylor had previously floated the idea of shoving the crossing guard contract over to the School Department. It kind of looks like they didn't want to have to make this decision, huh?

    Here's an idea. Let's just cut benefits altogether and give the guards a straight $45 a day. The days of pensions and benefits for a 20 hour work week should be over (heck, that stuff shouldn't kick in until you work a 40 hour week). No grandfather clauses, not extras. And you still can keep all 23 guards. Back of the envelope math shows 23 guards @ $45/day for 190 days a year comes out to about $197,000 a year for the entire program. End of story.

    November 19, 2007

    Time for a Social Welfare Paradigm Shift

    Marc Comtois

    Last week, in light of our half-a-billion dollar budget deficit, I linked to a piece by William Voegeli in which he explained that conservatives, while they can accept the necessity of a welfare state, must continue to try to apply the throttle to the always-growing amount of money we spend on government social welfare programs.

    Right now, the state's taxpayers are paying some of the highest levels in the country and are faced with a half-billion dollar deficit. Cutting state jobs is only part of the solution. Our relatively generous social welfare programs have to be cut. The Governor is going to try to shorten the length of payment by cutting the time people can spend on welfare from 60 to 30 months as well as changing the level of income (% of the poverty level) at which various subsidies (health care, day care) kick in. He also may try to institute a family cap for welfare recipients. None of this will be popular, but it is necessary.

    A lot of money is going to pay for the mistakes being made by other people. There is little left to give. Dan Yorke has been calling for the state to stop subsidizing the lifestyles of those who continue to make bad choices while continuing to take care of those in need due to circumstances beyond their control (his "baby mama" plan). Over the weekend, it became apparent that Governor Carcieri (link is to video) is thinking along these lines. Basically, he's going to try to change state's social welfare operating philosophy.

    Part of this is reflected in his request of churches and charities--and communities as a whole--to do more to reach out to those in need. As the Governor explains, the solutions lay beyond simply giving more money: he's not asking others to take up the financial slack in the face of state government cuts. Instead, he recognizes that the state government has given plenty of money in the past and the effect has been, in many cases, to do nothing more than enable the same bad behavior over and over. Communities--and the organizations and churches within those communities--can better and more effectively serve as moral touchstones than can government bureaucracies. Individuals are held more accountable by the other members of their "little platoon" than by a faceless, nameless bureaucrat, after all.

    We've tried it the big government, high-tax way for at least 30 years now. It's time to change the way we unfurl our state's safety net. That means setting stricter time limits on how long the helping hand will be extended as well as raising our--the Rhode Island community's--expectations of all of its citizens. It's time to ennoble the independent spirit within people rather than to continue to enable a helpless dependence. Yes, instead of giving them the fish, let's teach them how to fish for themselves, and more quickly. Isn't that truly the more moral path?

    Thanksgiving Meal Prep Work

    Marc Comtois

    In preparation for Thanksgiving (I'm in training right now...), here is some reassurance for those of you (well, me) who tend to over-indulge: Eat as much as you want:

    Katherine Flegal and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Cancer Institute...used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is a representative sample of the US population, to find the connections between being underweight, overweight and obese and cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and many other causes of death. The results are startling since they confound much of the received wisdom about being fat in America.

    Flegal discovered that being overweight (BMI's of 25-30) was not responsible for increased mortality. In fact for CVD, cancer and all other causes, being overweight actually increased one's chance of living longer. In total, overweight was associated with a total of 138, 281 fewer deaths. Being overweight is not likely to kill you.

    She found that being obese increased the risk of premature death for the most part in only the most obese, that is those with BMI's over 35. In other words, even modest obesity is not a death sentence. For example, those with BMI's of 30-35 aged 25-69 did not have a statistically significant increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. Indeed, for cancer the results are even more startling since even those with BMI's in excess of 35 did not have a statistically significant increased risk of dying. And for all other diseases other than CVD and cancer, obesity up to a BMI of 35 was modestly protective -- that is, likely to result in a longer rather than a shorter life.

    See, a little cushion is good for you! Now eat more pie, it's for your health, after all!

    The Real Purpose of the Funding Formula: Setting up the Excuse of "But What Can We Do?"

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Both Jennifer D. Jordan's funding formula advocacy in the news pages of the Projo

    An audience of 500 educators, politicians, child advocates and business leaders met at the Rhode Island Convention Center yesterday to discuss one of the most pressing education issues facing the state — developing and enacting a fair school funding formula.
    …and Russell J Moore's more objective coverage in the Warwick Beacon
    While a school funding formula that’s fair and equitable to all communities is the big catch phrase in the current political environment, some looking for reform believe the state’s education problems run much deeper.
    …quote the same two Rhode Island Mayors, Providence's David Cicilline and Warwick's Scott Avedisian, who both favor the formula as the solution to Rhode Island's education problems…
    "What we have in place right now is no formula,” said Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline. "It’s an unfair system. The status quo is not an option. We need to do something bold and different"…

    "The financing governance is dysfunctional,” said Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian. “We had a $600,000 deficit in the school budget this year, and they are estimating [an even larger] deficit for next year. So you can see the immediacy of the need for a formula.”

    Why Mayor Cicilline favors a "funding formula" is obvious. He believes he has the political clout to have the formula rigged in his favor, guaranteeing that the statewide tax increases needed to implement it will be used to pay increased benefits to Providence.

    But given the existing structure of Rhode Island's education finances -- with close to $7,000 per pupil paid to Providence and Pawtucket and a few other "distressed" communities, while less than half that amount is paid to a majority of other communities in Rhode Island -- why anyone (like the Mayor of Warwick, for instance) not from one of the half-dozen or so mostly urban communities that receive large per-pupil subsidies supports the idea of a funding formula is less clear. There is simply no way that everyone can come out ahead in a system of centrally planned, bureaucratic money shifting. Either the new formula is going to increase the subsidies paid to Providence, Pawtucket, Woonsocket and a few other "distressed" communities, by increasing the education costs borne by most other Rhode Island cities and towns, who will have to continue to pay for their own school systems while absorbing the costs of the increased subsidy payments, or the formula will reduce total costs to the less "distressed" communities by cutting the already generous subsidies to the current big-beneficiaries.

    So how has the idea of a "funding formula" managed to build any broad-based political support as the solution to Rhode Island's public education crisis at all?

    The answer is that, for many of Rhode Island's political leaders, the funding formula is not about sensible finance. It is about an opportunity to defray responsibility. The purpose of the "funding formula" is not to make public education more affordable or more effective, it is to make education spending into an entitlement program, whether it is affordable or effective or not. With a "funding formula" in place, the pols won't ever have to entertain thoughts of using creative, modern ideas to allocate resources more effectively; when the time comes to vote on the tax hikes needed to pay for the subsidies, they will point to the funding formula provisions in the law and cry "But what can we do?" – "The law requires us to raise your taxes so we can send your money to other communities."

    Sometimes, politics ends up aligning leaders together with other leaders, instead of in support of programs in the best interests of the people they represent.

    The Warwick Beacon: Rhode Island Education Needs an Overhaul, Not a Shifting of Costs

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Hurrah for the community newspaper!

    Unlike the news department of the Projo, which uncritically builds into its coverage the assumption that a new "funding formula" can somehow magically solve Rhode Island's education problems, the editorial board of the Warwick Beacon takes a more questioning view…

    Problems in Rhode Island’s educational system indicate the state doesn’t need to raise revenues to fund schools or shift the costs from one place to another; it needs to overhaul its educational system.

    According to the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, the state spends the ninth highest amount of money on per pupil expenditures in the nation, while its students score well below the mean average on various standardized tests, such as the SAT.

    So it appears the state’s education problems don’t stem from a lack of revenue, but from a system that is faulty at its core. After all, a company with a flawed business model wouldn’t succeed even if $1 trillion were invested in it. The same is true of a flawed school system.

    To reform schools, the state should start by looking at teacher contracts, which lack incentives for effectiveness. Teachers are paid according to the same scale, regardless of performance....The same is true of the schools themselves.

    But there is a solution to that problem.

    Milton Friedman, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976, coined the idea of “school vouchers” in the 1950s. Friedman’s idea was to give parents a voucher, equal to the price of educating a student in a public school, and allow the parent to use it at the school of their choice.

    The notion would result in schools being forced to compete with one another for students. The high performing schools would thrive, as more students would flock to them, while the poor performing schools would be forced to close, as students would avoid them.

    The vouchers system is especially appealing to lower income parents. A parent of a student who normally wouldn’t be able to afford to send their child to a private school would be allowed to use the voucher.

    Vouchers aren't the only possible reform that could be used to improve the allocation of resources and spur educational reform in Rhode Island. Other possibilities include cross-district choice, removing the state-created barriers to charter schools and tax-credits for school tuition.

    Any of these programs would be superior to a centrally planned "funding formula" which, as it would be implemented in RI, would quickly become a program of raising taxes on communities with good school districts as a means of subsidizing underperforming municipal bureaucracies in other communities.

    November 18, 2007

    Re: Froma Harrop's Genius Economic Cure-All

    Monique Chartier

    This and the absurd carbon tax are bad ideas - in fact, for the same reasons.

    Firstly, no thought has been given to the millions of people of limited means who simply cannot pay such a premium on their gasoline. Are they supposed to stop working? And no, mass transit is not the answer. Beyond what is in place now, this is a non-starter. Not only have our elected officials made it clear that they prefer to spend the money elsewhere, it simply does not work in a country this big and sprawling, where a significant number of people have jobs at all hours and/or commute from one non-hub to another. (Which also makes car-pooling problematic.)

    Secondly, gasoline is not just a propellant for commuters. It also moves food and goods around the country. Truck drivers are trying to make a living like the rest of us and cannot be expected to absorb the impact of this genius idea. Look for a corresponding jump in the price of everything moved by truck.

    More importantly, what is the point? You are punishing me. You are hitting me with the tax stick. I want to make it stop. But as it is, I do only the driving needed to get to work and see family, I walk to do errands on the weekend and consume no more electricity at home and work than I absolutely need. What more can I do to avoid the tax stick? Band together with my neighbors and build a nuclear plant?

    Oh, right, you want us to band together and lobby Washington.

    And here is what would happen. The United States Congress would convene a well-intentioned study commission, comprised of scientists, environmentalists, respected former politicians, retired members of the military and ordinary citizens. The commission would take testimony and make pertinent inquiries on its own. After some honest contention and debate between members of the commission, it would eventually agree on a thoughtful, well-researched report presenting several alternative solutions. Being optimistic, let us assume that some solutions would be feasible. Being realistic, we must also assume that they would be costly and not instantaneous fixes.

    The commission would then present its findings to Congress. (Add five days here for certain members of Congress to make florid, look-at-me speeches parsing the report and praising the study commission.) By then, lots of people would be even poorer, the country might well be headed into a recession and Washington would have spent all of the new gas taxes, either on pork or on basic budget items because of a significant drop in revenue due to the aforementioned inflation.

    Energy is a darned important matter. To state this as offensively as possible, I have no more desire than anyone else to continue enriching the incubator of the 9/11 attackers. But it is difficult to see the value in a solution which amounts to simply increasing the amount of money sent to the nation's capitol, to be dispensed under the auspices of officials who do not have an unbroken track record of acting for the public good.

    November 17, 2007

    Nuances of Communication

    Monique Chartier

    Let's play a new game.

    It's called: "Identify That Whine"

    It's simple. Read the following two statements. Determine which is a declaration of facts designed to educate and motivate and which is whining.

    But the overall budget - taxes and spending - is set by the General Assembly. All of the increases in Marc's chart are their doing. The fact that we are seventh highest taxed is their doing. The fact that Rhode Island has the most onerous corporate taxes and one of the worst overall business climates - thereby driving businesses which pay taxes and employ people out of the state - is their (the General Assembly's) doing. The fact that public pensions went under funded while social spending was maxed out is solely their doing.

    ~ ~ ~

    The ProJo has editorialized in favor of maintaining the working waterfront, and I tend to agree. Thanks to public access, Boston does a far better job than Providence in making use of the waterfront along the Charles River and parts of Boston Harbor than we do with comparable areas. While some envision more economically productive uses for the Providence waterfront, it shouldn't come at the cost of public access, and longstanding businesses could be an important part of this mix.

    Perhaps Ian Donnis would like to go first.

    Bill Reynolds on Rescuing Providence

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Projo sports columinst/general critic Bill Reynolds offers this capsule review in his weekly "for what's it worth" column...

    Rescuing Providence, a new book by Providence firefighter Michael Morse, is an interesting look at the Providence they don’t put in the travel brochures, all told in a very readable, effective, descriptive style.

    Froma Harrop's Genius Economic Cure-All

    Justin Katz

    And to think — as the cost of driving my work van, carting around the tools and materials of a jobsite carpenter, resumes its upswing — Froma Harrop had the solution all along:

    Take oil. It’s not Bush’s fault that fast-growing China and India have fired up the global demand for oil, thus boosting its price. But his administration spurned proposals that could have cushioned Americans against the inevitable upward march of energy prices. It fought efforts to demand greater fuel-economy standards in vehicles. And it ignored calls for higher gasoline taxes, which would have spurred consumers to buy more energy-efficient cars. ...

    Europeans are less worried. After decades of paying high energy taxes, they have already adjusted their lifestyles to be more fuel-efficient.

    See, if we'd been paying $3.00 to $6.00 per gallon of gas for the past couple of decades, we would have already made the adjustments that the market is now mildly encouraging. Call it preemptive corrective inflation. That millions of Americans are now in a better position to deal with increased costs than they were in the past doesn't appear to enter into Harrop's calculations (nor, by the by, do the efforts of her fellow liberals, among whom she finally admits to belonging, to ensure that oil would remain as much of an import market as it is).

    But it is cause for reflection that I would have avoided the harder times ahead if only the taxes on the gas that I pour copiously into my work van, whatever the cost, had forced me to change my lifestyle previously. Forcing me out of work, perhaps, inasmuch as I'm finally seeing the light beyond the hard times of the past decade.

    I wonder what other future instances of inflation could use some preadjustment. Food? Maybe we should wean ourselves into starvation now so that we won't be alive to see a $10 loaf of bread in the future.

    Why can't I shake the impression that Harropian liberals' brilliant spotlight of economic and social insight ends before it reaches the working class?

    Digging Out by Digging Down

    Justin Katz

    The following aspect of the Rhode Island Department of Education's approach to dealing with dramatically tightening budgets is wrong-headed for two reasons:

    The $1.16-billion budget proposal also doubles fees for teacher certifications and permits, from $100 for a five-year professional certification to $200, for example, in an effort to generate about $400,000 in revenue.

    The anti-unionist's gut response might be gratification that the union teachers are being made to funnel a little of their spoil back into the state's coffers. The most significant effect of these fees, however, is to keep out new candidates, who (if market forces are ever allowed to work in Rhode Island's public sector) would drive down the cost of teachers, which would translate into less money needed by the state's education industry. The solution — which isn't exactly counterintuitive — to the department's budget woes is to make it easier for people to become teachers and for good teachers to thrive.

    More generally, though, the powers that won't-be-for-long really must accept the notion that raising more revenue will not solve the problem. Until that frame of mind is broken, the money will just float around in its stagnant pool.

    November 16, 2007

    High-Note Ending, or Higher Ethic?

    Justin Katz

    I can't help but think that New York Times movie reviewer Stephen Holden misses the significance of Bella by, well, by the distance between life and death:

    It is not hard to see why "Bella," a saccharine trifle directed by Alejandro Monteverde, won the People's Choice Award at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival. This is a movie that wears its bleeding heart on its sleeve and loves its characters to distraction. Nothing — not even significant plot glitches and inconsistencies — is allowed to get in the way of its bear-hugging embrace of sweetness and light. ...

    After she confesses that she is pregnant and planning an abortion, he decides to talk her out of it, helps her find a new job and takes her home to his warm-hearted Latino family on Long Island. ...

    If "Bella" (the title doesn't make sense until the last scene) is a mediocre cup of mush, the response to it suggests how desperate some people are for an urban fairy tale with a happy ending, no matter how ludicrous.

    On further thought (and I say this admitting that I haven't seen the movie), it could be that Holden does get just what people are desperate for. Perhaps he uses "happy ending" — hardly a finale that Hollywood avoids — as a euphemism for "life-affirming."

    It's All in the "But"

    Justin Katz

    This is for those who think that Rudy Giuliani's philosophy on the judiciary will compensate for his personal view on abortion:

    "But with Roe—a strict constructionist judge could come to either conclusion about Roe v. Wade. He could come to the conclusion that it was incorrectly decided, overturn it, or he could decide well, it's been precedent for so long now, it would be too disruptive to overturn it, so we leave it alone. I would leave that up to a judge."

    Do pro-lifers really want to flip that coin?

    Big Budget Gainers from '01 to '08

    Marc Comtois

    The overall state budget has grown from $4.65 billion in 2001 to $6.98 billion in 2008, which is a 50% increase over 7 years. As we've all figured out, that's just too much. In an effort to identify those areas that saw the largest growth, here are those departments that had operating budgets over $1 million and also saw an increase of over 50% in the last 7 years. No judgments, just numbers.


    "What I Would Do If I Weren't So Wedded to the Side of All Things Good"

    Justin Katz

    It's a curious — somewhat humorous — thing to read a well-meaning and fair-minded progressive attempting to work his way around to advising the other side. Here's Ian Donnis:

    One school of thought, popular among at least a few of the posters at Anchor Rising, is that the state's budget meltdown will cause dramatic and long-lasting consequences, possibly including a major political realignment in the Democrat-dominated General Assembly. Meanwhile, RI GOP chairman Giovanni Cicione embraces the rhetorical battle -- as demonstrated by his ProJo op-ed last Saturday -- and he talks a good game about plans to challenge legislative Dems in the 2008 election season.

    At the same time, Republicans and their local supporters remain quick to blame Democrats, even though the RI GOP has proven utterly incapable of running an effective long-term strategy.

    To blame Democrats for what? In a related Phoenix article of his, Donnis elaborates:

    While incumbents certainly enjoy advantages, the Rhode Island GOP has played a leading role in its own marginalization. "The party does almost nothing to support its candidates," West says. "They provide very little in the way of financial support. They're so disorganized there isn't even a coherent platform around which they can rally." Yet instead of recognizing the failure of Republicans to run a competitive slate of legislative candidates in successive election cycles, many party supporters prefer, essentially, to whine about the ruling Democrats on Smith Hill. ...

    But whose fault is it that only one party shows basic competence in running and supporting candidates? Since Republicans are seemingly unable to do this, are the Democrats supposed to run up the white flag, like a bunch of good sports?

    Maybe he's right. Maybe we shouldn't complain about the Democrats. It could, you know, be our fault. We have been awfully short-tempered lately. We've even been late with dinner a night or two. We left the label on a can of carrots facing the wrong way, too. Maybe we should become more liberal, like the Chafees. Maybe we should put aside core differences among non-Democrats so that we can combine forces (and, I suppose, become more liberal). The Democrat General Assembly is a good leader, and it loves us very much.

    Of course, some of us see a continuity (Donnis's word, in a different context) in the ideology that spans from same-sex marriage to welfare-statism to union co-option. Some of us think that the only way forward is to present a substantively different option that will likely not be palatable to our beaten local society until the pain of the status quo becomes unbearable.

    Anchor Rising has hardly been an uncritical cheerleader of the state GOP, but we'll certainly not elevate our criticism thereof to a level at which blame for the coming collapse may be deflected from the dominant party to the ineffectual one.

    Here's the List of State Job Cuts

    Marc Comtois

    Here is the list of state job cuts (PDF). Looks like MHRH took the biggest hit, with nurses and nurse's aides, cooks and cooks helpers, janitors and administrative staff taking the biggest hits. According to the press release:

    One hundred and fifty three state employees received layoff notices Thursday (the position titles for which are included on the attached “A List by Agency”). Another 330 received notices that their positions are targeted for elimination by the end of the current fiscal year in June 2008 (the position titles for which are included on the attached “B List by Agency”).

    In total, the state has targeted approximately 536 positions for elimination, either immediately or through the course of the current fiscal year. However, not all notices were delivered to all affected employees yesterday. The remaining notices will be delivered over the course of the coming weeks. Additions, adjustments or revisions to the list will be provided to the media as they become finalized.

    The elimination of a currently targeted 536 positions is projected to save approximately $41.6 million per year, beginning in the next fiscal year. The average savings per state employee position being eliminated – including salary and benefits – is approximately $77,648.

    We'll see if that number is still $41.6 million after all of the bumping.

    Time to Prioritize State Spending

    Marc Comtois

    Has William Voegli spent time in Rhode Island?

    Liberals sell the welfare state one brick at a time, deflecting inquiries about the size and cost of the palace they're building. Citizens are encouraged to regard the government as a rich uncle, who needs constant hectoring to become ever more generous.
    According to Voegli, its up to conservatives to
    ...insist that limited government is inseparable from self-government. To govern is to choose. To deliberate about the legitimate and desirable extent of the welfare state presupposes that we the people should choose the size and nature of government programs, rather than have them be chosen for us by entitlements misconstrued as inviolable rights.
    Dan Yorke has done just such a thing with his proposal of making two lists: one comprised of those programs that subsidize the lifestyles of those who continue to make bad choices and another list of those programs that help those who are in dire straits due to circumstances beyond their control. Yorke's idea is but one way of reducing the real bankruptcy--and changing the philosophical bankruptcy--with which our State government currently operates. Voegli also offers some words of wisdom about the task we now face:
    No political strategy can guarantee success. Under no foreseeable set of circumstances will liberals fear giving voters their spiel: we want the government to give things to you and do things for you. Conservatives can only reply that single-entry bookkeeping doesn't work; every benefit the government confers will correspond to a burden it has to impose. A government that respects citizens as adults will level with them about the benefits and the costs. A conservatism that labors to reverse liberalism's displacement of Americans' rights as citizens with their "rights" as welfare recipients may not achieve victory, but it will at least deserve it.
    Yes, Voegli makes it sound a bit quixotic. But we've gotta try.

    Senator Whitehouse Dodges the Telecom Immunity Issue

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Remember "I voted for it before I voted against it" from the 2004 Presidential campaign? Well, according to a report from the Dow Jones Newswire (via CNN), Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has come up with a version for the year 2007. The issue is whether telecommunications companies who have cooperated with the government's electronic surveillance requests based on executive branch assurances that the requests were legal should be granted immunity from lawsuits…

    Lawmakers on the Senate Judiciary Committee approved 10-to-9 Thursday a bill authorizing the federal government's warrantless wiretapping program without a clause offering immunity to telephone companies that may have cooperated with the program.

    Just minutes before the vote, the committee had voted 11-to-8 in favor of immunity for the phone companies.

    Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Cal., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., voted with the nine Republicans on the panel in favor of preserving the immunity clause.

    But in a strange twist that left many wondering what had happened, just minutes after this vote, Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, called for a separate vote to approve the bill without the section of the legislation with the immunity provisions.

    The committee approved Leahy's call 10-9, along party lines.

    Under the Senate procedures governing this particular bill, Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid now decides exactly which text, i.e. the version with or the version without the immunity provision, will be considered by the full Senate.

    In short, Senator Whitehouse punted on the issue -- and lived up to a prediction I made earlier in the year about this sentence from a February Projo report...

    New U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s position is less clear,
    ...becoming a recurring theme for Senator Whitehouse's term of office.

    RI College Republicans' Brown Streak

    Justin Katz

    Not to pick on the Ivy model of Rhode Island's College Republican collection, but this line from Sean Quigley, second vice chairman of the College Republican Federation of Rhode Island, treasurer of the Brown College Republicans, and Brown Daily Herald columnist, is too precious to let pass:

    "I don't mean to sound elitist, but we tend to be a bit more intellectual," he said. "That's not to mean others are less intellectual, but the environment we find ourselves in allows for more exchange of abstract ideas than mundane analysis of policy."

    Being myself (as the article goes on to state) interested in intellectual discussion, I wanted to see what the elephant yutes at Brown are up to, but their campus Web site is still advertising a Dinesh D'Souza lecture from March 2005. The reality of "high-powered alumni" means little, I'd suggest, if a group isn't gaining the experience of the less intellectual kids whom its not more intellectual than keeping things organized and current and doing all that mundane policy analysis stuff like debates and editorials and developing enumerated statements of principle (which are hardly intellectual at all).

    Whose Really to Blame for the Job Cuts?

    Marc Comtois

    Katherine Gregg at the ProJo gives us the sad stories of the state workers who have been laid off. I feel for them. But they're not the first to lose their jobs for reasons unrelated to their own job performance, contrary to what some may think.

    As AFSCME Local 2884 president Salvatore Lombardi explained: “It’s embarrassing because …it’s like they’ve done something wrong. You know, people who do things wrong lose their job. …Not people who come to work everyday, put in their 7, 8 hours like they are supposed to, feed their family. “I mean the big shots up there on Capitol Hill, they are still eating steak and the people that are eating hot dogs every night are being punished. It’s horrible.”
    Yes, it's horrible. I guess the $150,000 we put towards the AFL-CIO Dislocated Worker Program will be put to use. It's more than private sector workers get. But this isn't about misery loving company.

    In the next few months we will be seeing a whole lot of bumpin' going on as those union members with more seniority take jobs away from a whole bunch of other people who have "done nothing wrong." It won't matter who is the better worker, only who has worked for the State longer.

    In the private sector, competence is valued over seniority. If it isn't, then those making the decisions won't be long for their own jobs. Private sector big shots also may still eat steak while they lay off the hot dog eatin' proles, but that happens only for so long. Eventually, they will also get fired if they continue to under-perform. In government, regardless of performance, the upper level bureaucrats seem to just keep on keepin' on. I'm all for cutting them, too. Or voting them out.

    The larger point is this. Maybe if the union leadership--like Mr. Lombardi--would have taken the Governor seriously and acknowledged that the state was heading for trouble, they would have negotiated smaller raises and less generous benefits with the result of saving some of those jobs. Instead, they let their union pride cloud their judgment because they didn't want to "lose" any of their previous "hard fought" gains. Win at all costs at the bargaining table, right?

    They may have saved face, but the result is lost jobs for the rank and file. But rather than blame themselves, the union leadership will continue to blame the Governor. Unfortunately, my guess is that most of the average state workers will continue to buy it. Instead, maybe they should look at their own union big shots and consider the job they're doing.

    Internet as International Allegory

    Justin Katz

    The obviousness of keeping the Internet out of the hands of U.N.-approved tyrannies provides an opportunity to consider the internationalist impulse more generally:

    When hundreds of technology experts from around the world gather here this week to hammer out the future of the Internet, the hottest issue won't be spam, phishing or any of the other phenomena that bedevil users everywhere.

    Instead, ending U.S. control over what's become a global network will be at the top of the agenda for many of the more than 2,000 participants expected at the United Nations Internet Governance Forum ...

    With the Internet now dominating nearly aspect of modern life, continued U.S. control of the medium has become a sensitive topic worldwide. In nations that try to control what people can see and hear, the Internet often is the only source of uncensored news and opinion.

    U.S. officials say that keeping Internet functions under their control has protected that free flow of information and kept the Internet growing reliably.

    As I understand the structure, the U.S. government's actual "control" of the functioning of the Internet is minimal. The back-room, bird's eye view of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) certainly has potential for abuse, but I bet more people than might want to admit it trust the American people and their government to keep their hands off it more than they trust any other slice of the global society to do the same.

    November 15, 2007

    That's Tellin' 'Em

    Justin Katz

    Unfortunately, Melissa Wicks's letter to the Sakonnet Times does not appear to be online, but the Tiverton resident has a point of view with which many folks outside of town government and a specific neighborhood probably sympathize:

    Since the current Sakonnet River Bridge is so pristine, I can see why there is a $14 million argument over the looks of the new bridge.

    Actually, it's ridiculous. Who cares what it looks like as long as we all have the convenience of driving over it, including trucks that weigh more than 22 tons. Is the fabulous paint job going to make it more structurally sound? Is not having a paint job going to make people drive around the entire state?

    Doubt it. Use the $14 million on something that's worth it and stop arguing over something so bloody stupid.

    For the record, the argument has nothing to do with paint. The question is whether the structural steel (all beneath the road, as I understand it) will be stainless or "weathered," which develops a consistent rust-colored patina. Ultimately, therefore, the debate might as well be over a paint job. (The only additional consideration with weathered steel is that it requires the design to collect and redirect runoff water, which can stain surfaces such as concrete if it's allowed to simply flow down.)

    Clarence Thomas

    Donald B. Hawthorne

    Think of the way some people have sought to portray Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

    Then check out this video of him.

    Hard not to respect the man and see his depth.

    (h/t Power Line)

    Check out his book, too.

    A Front-Page Parody of Journalism

    Justin Katz

    Even just the lead of the Providence Journal's front-page reprint of this McClatchy Newspapers story deserves an LOL:

    With little to gain and much to lose, the [Democrat] party's presidential hopefuls avoid highlighting their positions, which are more moderate than their GOP rivals.

    But David Lightman's actual text gets even better (if one is judging his work as a specimen of journalistic parody, that is):

    Democratic campaigns also are calculating that once the party nominations are decided, probably early next year, their party's detailed, comprehensive approaches to giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship will look good next to Republicans' demands simply to get ultratough with anyone who's in the country illegally. ...

    Democrats are making two political calculations on immigration.

    One is that their comprehensive, arguably more tolerant approach will help woo Hispanic voters, who could make up an estimated 10 percent of next year's electorate. ...

    The other calculation by Democrats is that bringing up immigration can only hurt them at the moment, because it isn't easy to explain comprehensive action during a quick-answer debate.

    Call me an intolerant simpleton, but it's all too easy to see legerdemain in comprehensive plans that, when looked at upside-down in a mirror (in Spanish), read: "Amnesty!"

    Re: Time for Cities and Towns to Tighten Their Belts

    Donald B. Hawthorne

    I want to second Marc's concluding thought in his prior post.

    The Rhode Island budget deficit elephant is sitting in the middle of the room and people are still trying to ignore - or, at least, downplay - its very presence.

    How long has this elephant been present without any real acknowledgement? A long time indeed.

    As is typical in most crises, denial of the problem is the first place where many people get stuck. That is the problem here in RI right now.

    NOBODY in this state has stepped up and truly challenged the failing status quo. The Governor only talks about cutting 1,000 jobs and other minor tweaks. House Finance Committee Chair Constantino only talks about no increase in any local aid. Meanwhile, others like the NEA continue to demand contract terms which blow spending past the tax cap lid.

    All of that means the boldest moves so far amount to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. While most people continue to party on as if nothing is amiss.

    A deficit of roughly $450 million means there are structural problems to the state government's economics. Structural problems don't get solved by making only incremental changes on the margin.

    It will take a previously unseen level of courage and bold action for someone to alter the political debate so we all finally face the elephant and deal with the structural issues. The issues won't go away and delaying the day of reckoning will only make things worse in the end. Whether we want to talk about it or not, a lot of economic pain will be incurred before this debacle is resolved.

    If I was either the Governor or a State House leader, here is what I would do:

    • Gather a small group of key players in the state, reaching across party lines. Tell them I was going to be a visible state champion for an emergency effort to address the structural problems.
    • Invite others to join me in becoming fellow champions for change, while also telling them that the effort would proceed regardless of their involvement or opposition.
    • Inform them that the political paralysis of past times requires outside help in evaluating the financial dynamics.
    • Remind them that there can be no sacred cows, no untouchable programs.
    • Publicly tell the cities and towns to budget for next year as if there was a 5% across-the-board decrease in state aid so they have enough time to go back and re-open negotiations over existing contract terms.
    • Give the evaluation process a limited amount of time to complete its work, say 60-90 days. People who are participating in that evaluation process need to be clear that a crisis situation means there is no time to waste, that things have to happen at a pace previously unheard of in government.
    • And then, since entrenched behaviors only change with the proper incentives, inform everyone that we will move to put the state of Rhode Island into receivership if the recommendations are not acted on legislatively within 60 days thereafter.

    People can argue over the particulars but focusing on those details won't fix the massive problems faced by the state. Nor will debating the viability of public sector legal options. Arguing over those matters is a distraction from facing the fundamental problem: The state of RI has an untenable economic structure which, so far, nobody has shown the will to address head-on and fix.

    With a wealth of experience in crisis management turnarounds in the private sector dating back nearly 30 years, I can assure you that nobody so far in RI is dealing with this crisis in a manner which bodes well for the future of the state and its many hard-working citizens. Acknowledging the presence and large size of the elephant in the room is the first place to start. Only then can we find the collective will to begin solving the very real problems.

    Moody's Forecast: Rhode Island Will Have the Slowest Five-Year Growth of the Six New England States

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    The Boston Globe reports on one more dire indicator of the State of Rhode Island's economic future, produced by analysts at Moody's, and presented at the New England Economic Partnership's recent semi-annual get-together (h/t Ian Donnis)…

    Projected Average Annual Change in Gross State Product, 2006-20011
    • New Hampshire 3.0%
    • Connecticut 2.3%
    • Vermont 2.3%
    • Massachusetts 2.1%
    • Maine 1.9%
    • Rhode Island 1.6%
    Apparently, those uncontrollable national-level macroeconomic forces that people are eager to blame for this state's economic woes really have it out for Rhode Island.

    Social Welfare Cuts up Next

    Marc Comtois

    In addition to cutting the state payroll, stopping the rub and tugs and cutting aid to cities and towns, the Governor wants to reduce the costs of our social welfare programs.

    Carcieri indicated he would try a second time to convince lawmakers to cut in half, from 60 months to 30, the time limit for receiving financial aid from the Family Independence Program, and also to reduce state costs for subsidized childcare.

    “Given the magnitude of what we are facing right now, we are going to have to go back to a lot of the welfare areas, things that I’ve tried to do in the past...I think the magnitude of the problem we are facing right now, I think, means that in many areas we are going to have to sit down, meet with the churches and the philanthropic community and say, look you know the state government just can’t keep doing some of these things … and they are going to have to step up their efforts to support where the needs are the greatest...By the way...I think that’s the more efficient way to do it, frankly, because I think they are more careful about how they spend their money and hold more accountability, unfortunately, than often when these things become state programs.”

    Enter the banshees:
    Kate Brewster, director of the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College, was “blown away” by Carcieri’s comments. “Churches cannot replace the role of government in providing training and supports like childcare that low-skilled and low-wage families need to succeed in the work force,” she said.

    Added Lucie Burdick, president of the union representing about 400 social-service employees at the Department of Human Services alone: “There are people who will not get help.” Likening Carcieri’s assumption that community groups will help out to the failed notion of “poor houses,” she said some people “weren’t helped because they didn’t fit into that particular church’s idea of someone who might be salvageable.”

    Brewster and Burdick are purposefully conflating things, here. First of all, the Governor spoke of "the churches and the philanthropic community" and it is the latter that will have to pick up some of the slack for job training and the like. And, contra Ms. Burdick, I have a hard time believing that the Catholic Church, for instance, ever turns anyone away from a soup kitchen or shelter. As for the "poor houses," well, those were usually government run facilities, not private institutions. So Ms. Burdick should blame government for that particular "failed notion."

    Time for Cities and Towns to Tighten Their Belts

    Marc Comtois

    From today's ProJo:

    With the state facing a budget hole as high as $450 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1, House Finance Committee Chairman Steven M. Costantino, D-Providence, yesterday urged municipalities to craft their own budgets with the understanding “that the state is facing a serious, serious deficit…. I would not expect any increase in local aid, not just education aid.”

    There was an uproar in May when the General Assembly approved the current budget without an increase in education aid. But local leaders likely won’t be caught by surprise this year, said Dan Beardsley, head of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.

    “Anyone who fully understands the magnitude of that deficit surely understands why there’s not going to be any additional aid in any local aid category,” he said. “I just hope we don’t see any reduction. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t get to that.”

    Sorry Mr. Beardsley, I think it has to get to that. The FY08 aid to cities and towns was $250,349,882. At this point, I'd say just cut it all. Make city and town governments do their part to trim their budgets. If that means renegotiating contracts and cutting services, so be it.

    November 14, 2007

    Senator Clinton Abandons Drivers License for Undocumenteds

    Monique Chartier

    Get out the scoreboard. Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York), who had endorsed the idea just two weeks ago, has this afternoon done a one eighty on the question of drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants.

    "I support Governor Spitzer's decision today to withdraw his proposal," Clinton said in a statement. "As president, I will not support driver's licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration including border security and fixing our broken system."

    Naturally, this has become irresistable fodder for her opponents.

    "When it takes two weeks and six different positions to answer one question on immigration, it's easier to understand why the Clinton campaign would rather plant their questions than answer them," said Barack Obama spokesman Bill Burton, referring to the Clinton campaign's admission that aides had staged a question for her at an Iowa event.

    The Democrats debate tomorrow night at 8:00 pm on CNN. Wolf Blitzer has promised a question on illegal immigrants; no word yet on whether he will also ask about waffles.

    Party, Shmarty, Everybody Works Hard

    Justin Katz

    During a brief break, some of my fellow attendees of the Tiverton Charter Review Commission meeting engaged me in discussion, with two interesting points made:

    • A Republican suggested that running as such probably costs a candidate votes.
    • A Planning Board member suggested that, in Tiverton (at least), party doesn't really matter, because anybody elected to office is there to work hard and do right by the town.

    I don't doubt that both of these suggestions are accurate, but they strike me as beside the point. Regarding the first, it isn't necessarily a permanent state of affairs that citizens are thoughtlessly wooed to the Democrats by "R"-labeled bogeymen. With the monopartisanism of the state being such a problem, making party ostensibly irrelevant to local governance hardly helps. The people of Rhode Island have an interest in explicitly strengthening the opposition party. Two benefits of doing so (both of which may prove to be of great importance in the state's near future) are that it:

    • Gives a clear alternative via which dissatisfied citizens can express that dissatisfaction
    • Can create an atmosphere of constructive contention.

    The point that people involved in municipal government are simply there to do right by the town was actually made subsequently by commission member Frank Marshall as part of his successful motion to strike the matter from the commission's list of items to consider. I would (and will) argue that even universally good intentions among town governmentals is immaterial to the question of whether the political parties to which they belong ought to be publicly known.

    School Committee member Leonard Wright is the Democratic Committee Vice Chair (for Tiverton, I gather). Is he governing less as a Democrat because the school committee is "nonpartisan"? Town Council President Louise Durfee has run for governor as a Democrat, has been appointed to the DEM, and contributes to Democrat candidates for higher office. In what way is she nonpartisan?

    Despite the apparent implication of arguments for nonpartisan town government, being openly affiliated with a particular party is not untoward. "Doing right by the town" doesn't involve clear and objectively verifiable decisions, and a candidate's party affiliation will tell citizens something about what his or her approach to making them will be.

    Moreover, the civic participation of townies is not disconnected from the usual party activity just because they white-out their affiliation. Somebody at tonight's meeting suggested that nonpartisan elections mean it's up to the individual candidates to get out among the people and make their cases. But the reality is that the majority of voters (let alone the majority of citizens) barely recognize the names on the ballot, let alone the views of the folks who bear those names. To the extent that the candidates are able to get their names and messages out there, it is through the usual political methods and organs, which are steeped in partisan politics.

    With all of the care and concern that elected and appointed members of the Tiverton government devote to observing open meetings laws, avoiding quorums for non-meeting events, and so on, why ought they hide their allegiances? I'll confess to the hair-trigger on my suspicions, but when people in government (politicians all, ultimately), throw a blanket over a particular appurtenance, I can't help but fear that it is actually the behavior out of sight beneath it that is untoward.


    I notice that, of the nine members of the commission, four are members of the Tiverton Democratic Town Committee. And unless I'm mistaken, Deborah Pallasch was the only commission member, of the seven there, to vote against removing the nonpartisanism question from the working document.

    How Things Happen (?)

    Justin Katz

    I wasn't planning to attend tonight's meeting of the Tiverton Charter Review Commission, but based on the concern about its actions expressed by the school committee last night, I thought it worth observing. Also based on that concern, I sorta expected the attendance to be greater. I'm one of nine non-commission attendees, a group including:

    • Two members of the planning board
    • A member of the school committee
    • The school superintendent
    • A member of the town council

    The others here may very well be similarly involved, but I haven't gotten to the point in my own involvement to recognize them. I'm also not entirely sure what the powers of this commission are, but the absence of regular ol' citizens is disappointing.


    Well, I couldn't help but take the podium to make some points that may betray me as rogue citizen who doesn't really understand the processes and history of the issues:

    • Bring back partisanism to the elections. It's a sham, anyway, and it removes the ability of citizens (most of whom are voting for strangers
    • Keep financial town meetings, if only because the lack of participation is an important bit of information for citizens to know. (Heck, it got me started participating in local issues.)
    • Do not lower quorum minimums, because we risk getting within the range in which special interests can achieve a quorum from among their own member and sympathizers.
    • Find a way to give citizens more say in the negotiation and approval of the contracts that are taking away the purpose of a financial town meeting.

    Yorke Exposes the "Varsity" Rub and Tugs

    Marc Comtois

    Dan Yorke has been exposing Legislative "rub and tugs" for a few months. In total, these little payouts from legislators to local community groups have cost the state $2.3 million in 2008 (and, as Yorke points out, has helped keep the politicians in office--they're such good people!).

    Well, now Yorke's taking a look at the "varsity edition" of the rub and tug: Community Service Grants given out by various state agencies. The total price of these is almost $18 million. Read the doc for specifics, but here are the state agencies that dole out more than $1 million a year:

    Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation - $1,460,634
    Department of Elderly Affairs - $2,166,917
    Department of Health - $1,167,430
    Department of Human Services - $5,468,252
    Elementary and Secondary Education - $1,324,333
    Office of Higher Education - $1,569,171
    Council on the Arts - $1,241,445

    Unfortunately, while some programs are worthy and actually exhibit the kind of good work that a public/private partnership can do, the fact is we're too far in the hole to keep this up. If state workers don't renegotiate salary increases; if pensions and benefits aren't re-done; if advocacy groups don't reign in their expectations, then some genuinely good programs will lose money. These are the choices we HAVE to make now. $600 million has to be erased somehow, and this is just the start.

    Who to thank? Why, the very same political leaders who haven't been willing to confront the problem we've all seen coming and--some of us--warned about. We, the voters of this state, continue to enable these people and aren't exempt from blame. And now we'll all have to pay the price.

    UPDATE: {Below the "fold"}

    Here are some particularly large (over $100K) Grants. Like I said, many are worthwhile programs but we need to decide if the state can afford such largesse.

    Department of Administration
    RI Service Alliance $140,000
    RI Sports Foundation $350,000

    Economic Development Corporation
    Base Realignment/Closing - Newport County Chamber of Commerce $200,000
    RI Export Assistance Center/Bryant $209,471
    RI Sports Council $150,000
    Small Business Development Center / Bryant $127,020
    Urban Equity Incubator $216,328
    World Trade Center Rhode Island $137,729

    Secretary of State
    Rhode Island Historical Society $270,265

    Department of Children, Youth and Families
    Children's Friend And Service-Family Support Center $114,000

    Department of Elderly Affairs
    Diocese Of Providence $303,734
    Elderly Security & Abuse $190,533
    RI Meals On Wheels $402,800

    Department of Health
    Blackstone Valley Community Health Center $171,000
    Cancer Council $178,123
    Hepatitis C $141,197
    Thundermist Health Associates $209,000 (and $93,733 under DHHS)
    VNS Home Health Services Family Outreach Program $182,242

    Department of Human Services
    Blackstone Valley CAP $181,271
    Boys and Girls Club of Rhode Island $131,962
    Crossroads Rhode Island $450,000
    East Bay CAP - CAF $119,650
    Graduate Medical Education $361,250
    International Institute Of Rhode Island $119,298
    Kent County Decontamination Program $140,836
    Kent County Hospital Emergency Room Services $281,674
    Kent House $107,808
    Providence Community Action Program $428,234
    RI AFL-CIO Dislocated Worker Program $150,000
    RI Coalition Against Domestic Violence $277,890
    RI Community Food Bank $384,041
    VNA Statewide $511,274

    Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals
    A New Leaf $115,134
    Problem Gambling $149,625

    Elementary and Secondary Education
    Pawtucket Tolman High School Team Planning $171,000
    RI Consortium for Instructional Leadership and Training $100,000
    Year Up Providence $186,000

    Office of Higher Education
    Children's Crusade $1,056,408
    College Readiness Program - Alternative Education Programming Inc. - OHE $210,000
    Institute for Labor Studies & Research $208,763

    University of Rhode Island
    Senior Standard Medical Information System $201,875

    Council on the Arts
    Providence WaterFire $300,000
    Veterans Memorial Auditorium Foundation $593,750

    Historic Preservation and Heritage
    Vietnam Veterans Association $150,000

    Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program $382,500
    Rhode Island Legal Services $270,000

    Re: "What Can We Do?"

    Justin Katz

    At last night's Tiverton town council meeting, my man Councilor Hannibal Costa took the opportunity of a routine tax assessor request (regarding the firm that will handle the assessment) to make everybody well aware that he's not going to sit idly by while rates get jacked up — what with all those houses sitting on the market as people cash out on their Tiverton properties. In the discussion that followed, Council Vice President Donald Bollin offered the following explanation (with the wording pretty close):

    If the values go down, then we have to raise the rates. There's nothing we can do.

    No hint of a suggestion that if the people of the town are getting poorer (via the devaluation of their largest assets), perhaps the town ought to cut back on its expenditures. Yet somehow, governments never talk about cutting the tax rates when citizens' property is increasing in value, giving the town more money than it needs.

    "But What Can We Do?": Mainstream Media Edition

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    A few weeks back, Justin observed that the single biggest factor retarding fiscal and economic reform in Rhode Island may be the "but what can we do?" attitude of learned helplessness prevalent in Rhode Island's legislature and municipal councils. Members of the But-What-Can-We-Do Caucus profess that they are powerless to do anything but raise taxes to maintain the state's current (and mediocre) level of services, because impersonal macroeconomic forces beyond anyone's control dictate that paying more to receive less is the inevitable reality of modern life.

    Today, Steve Peoples of the Projo opened up the mainstream media chapter of the But-What-Can-We-Do club…

    The state’s largest revenue streams — income tax and sales tax — are not keeping pace with projected expenditures, in part because of a weak national economy that may be headed toward a recession.
    I see. The state's structural deficits are the result of a sluggish national economy, not poor choices made at the various levels of Rhode Island government.

    Except, as URI Economics Professor Professor Leonard Lardaro just noted, while Rhode Island's economy has been contracting, the national gross domestic product has been growing by 4%.

    Except, as the National Governors' Association noted in June, Rhode Island was one of only three states that couldn't cover its beginning-of-the-year projected spending for fiscal year 2007 -- if Rhode Island's fiscal problems are rooted primarily in a national slowdown, then why are 47 other states able to stay within their projected budgets when Rhode Island can't?

    Except, as the Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council noted in their analysis of Rhode Island's current operating budget, spending from general revenues in fiscal year 2008 increased by 5.7% over the previous year. How exactly is it reasonable to assume that it will take something as dramatic as a recession to prevent revenues from automatically "keeping pace" (Peoples' phrase) with 5.7% expenditure growth?

    Despite the desire of many of Rhode Island's leaders and activists to shift blame to some other place, Rhode Island's perennial fiscal crisis is occurring in spite of, not because of, the national economic situation. And in the event of a national slowdown, there will be new fiscal and governance problems piled on in addition to the set of existing problems the state has already created for itself.

    Governor Spitzer Abandons Drivers License for Undocumenteds

    Monique Chartier

    Governor Eliot Spitzer has backed off his controversial plan to issue drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.

    New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer on Wednesday dropped a controversial plan to issue driver's licenses to illegal immigrants because of overwhelming opposition to the policy.

    "I've concluded that New York state cannot conduct this program on its own," Spitzer said at a Capitol Hill news conference. "It does not take a stethoscope to hear the pulse of New Yorkers on this topic"

    It was a plan that had an immediate, negative impact on his approval rating.

    The Siena College survey released Tuesday found only 25% of voters would re-elect him, while 49% indicated they'd "prefer someone else."

    Spitzer's job performance rating was pegged at 33% positive in the poll, while 64% gave him the thumbs down.

    The poll found strong opposition to Spitzer's revised "three-tier" license plan that would allow undocumented immigrants to drive legally in New York, with 65% saying it stinks.

    Indeed, the proposal was a bad idea on several fronts. I sincerely hope that the Governor withdrew his proposal because the strong, nearly universal opposition caused him to reflect on those reasons and duly reconsider his proposal, not because of the effects it was having on his approval rating.

    The Local Economic Indicators Are Not Good

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    In an unbylined report in the Providence Business News, University of Rhode Island Economics Professor Leonard Lardaro reminds us that Rhode Island's continuing fiscal troubles have been occurring while most of the rest of the country has been booming…

    “The third quarter was a very difficult one for Rhode Island,” University of Rhode Island Prof. Leonard Lardaro wrote in his monthly report.

    “As the national economy’s rate of growth accelerated – real GDP growth was almost 4 percent – the Rhode Island economy slowed noticeably.”

    Though his Current Conditions Index rose to 42 points from August’s six-year low of 33, “that still means Rhode Island is in a contracting model,” Lardaro noted. (Fifty points is the neutral level, indicating the state’s economy is neither expanding or contracting.)

    So what's going to happen here when the rest of the country slows down?

    What's A Democrat Budget Cutter to Do? Advocates or Unions?

    Marc Comtois

    In a ProJo story about the impending state job layoffs instituted by Governor Carcieri, we are treated to a preview of the sort of tete a tete between the unions and various advocacy groups that will become common over the next few months.

    Carcieri had been scheduled to meet with labor leaders this afternoon to discuss the layoffs and said he would broaden the discussion to include the state’s growing deficit.

    “Once we get beyond the layoffs, what else do we want to give?” said Council 94 president Michael Downey. “No matter what we come up with, it’s not going to come close to $450 million.”

    Downey said his employees are particularly troubled with the governor’s continued use of contract employees. Taking into account the reductions announced earlier in the month, roughly 450 would remain.

    Downey also criticized the governor’s recent decision to hire a $130,000-a-year director of the state’s new Department of Revenue. “Conversations [with union members] would get easier if they weren’t constantly hiring people over $100,000,” he said.

    But the Department of Revenue hiring was applauded by social-service advocates, who have long called on the governor to study the state’s tax structure.

    “I’d like to hope that given the enormity of the problem that this year policymakers are going to be willing to sit down and take a hard look at revenues. No business would look at just slashing spending without looking at how well it’s generating profits,” said Kate Brewster, executive director of Rhode Island College’s Poverty Institute. “We call on the governor to sit down with us before he releases any major policy changes through the slash- and-burn approach, and hear our ideas.”

    The unions and advocates are going to have to fight over a shrinking pot o' gold. And neither they can do it without help from the Democrat legislature. So which way will the Democrat leadership go? Time for a refresher course in political calculus.

    2,606 - 722

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    The Projo is reporting that Stephen Tocco has lost his seat on the Smithfield Town Council by a decisive margin.

    November 13, 2007

    A School Committee Meeting as It Should Be (Without Crowley)

    Justin Katz

    Tonight's Tiverton School Committee meeting gave a taste of how things might operate in a union-free school district: a quiet and respectful audience; parents and teachers making reports and suggestions as if giving testimony as concerned and/or informed parties; a general feel of give and take. In other words, there wasn't the sense that a lynching atmosphere was building over relatively small negotiation items for the packages of well-paid professionals.

    As always, I wish more parents and citizens would make a point of attending these things. Witnessing the meetings at their worst, and contrasting them at their best, is extremely edifying.

    Tuesdays with Tiverton

    Justin Katz

    Thanks to the holiday, both the town council and the school committee are meeting tonight, and I've discovered that I'm not yet sufficiently informed to be able to spot the hot-button items on each body's bland-looking agenda. So, I've started with the committee and will hit the council on my way home if the town hall is still inhabited.

    So far the Tiverton High School auditorium is quiet. Pat Crowley, who has been absent from Anchor Rising for some time now, appears to be absent from this meeting, as well.

    Perhaps he's lurking...

    Income Inequality? Not Really

    Marc Comtois

    The U.S. Treasury Department has released a new study, "Income Mobility in the U.S. From 1996 to 2005."

    This study examines income mobility of individuals over the past decade (1996 through 2005) using information reported on individual income tax returns.

    While many studies have documented the long-term trend of increasing income inequality in the
    U.S. economy, there has been less focus on the dynamism of the U.S. economy and the opportunity for upward mobility. Comparisons of snapshots of the income distribution at points in time miss this important dimension and can sometimes be misleading.

    Economic historian Joseph Schumpeter compared the income distribution to a hotel where some rooms are luxurious, but others are small and shabby. Important aspects of fairness are that those in the small rooms have an opportunity to move to a better one, and that the luxurious rooms are not always occupied by the same people. The frequency with which people move between rooms is a crucial aspect of the trends in income inequality in the United States.

    The key findings of this study include:

    • There was considerable income mobility of individuals in the U.S. economy during the 1996
    through 2005 period with roughly half of taxpayers who began in the bottom quintile moving
    up to a higher income group within 10 years.

    • About 55 percent of taxpayers moved to a different income quintile within 10 years.

    • Among those with the very highest incomes in 1996 – the top 1/100 of 1 percent – only 25
    percent remained in this group in 2005. Moreover, the median real income of these
    taxpayers declined over this period.

    • The degree of mobility among income groups is unchanged from the prior decade (1987
    through 1996).

    • Economic growth resulted in rising incomes for most taxpayers over the period from 1996 to
    2005. Median incomes of all taxpayers increased by 24 percent after adjusting for inflation.
    The real incomes of two-thirds of all taxpayers increased over this period. In addition, the
    median incomes of those initially in the lower income groups increased more than the median
    incomes of those initially in the higher income groups.

    The degree of mobility in the overall population and movement out of the bottom quintile in this
    study are similar to the findings of prior research on income mobility.

    Says the Wall Street Journal:
    All of this certainly helps to illuminate the current election-year debate about income "inequality" in the U.S. The political left and its media echoes are promoting the inequality story as a way to justify a huge tax increase. But inequality is only a problem if it reflects stagnant opportunity and a society stratified by more or less permanent income differences. That kind of society can breed class resentments and unrest. America isn't remotely such a society, thanks in large part to the incentives that exist for risk-taking and wealth creation.

    The great irony is that, in the name of reducing inequality, some of our politicians want to raise taxes and other government obstacles to the kind of risk-taking and hard work that allow Americans to climb the income ladder so rapidly. As the Treasury data show, we shouldn't worry about inequality. We should worry about the people who use inequality as a political club to promote policies that reduce opportunity.

    Instead of Cutting Meals on Wheels...

    Marc Comtois 20%, what if the General Assembly made a couple cuts from their own budget.

    The budget for the Legislature includes funding for Legal Counsel. Last year there was funding for 15.4 positions at a total of $863,875 ($56,095/lawyer). This year they jacked it up to 16.6 positions for a total of $971,249 ($58,509/lawyer). Let's just level fund that (no extra lawyers and no raises) and save $107,374. Or give them their raises and "save" $70,210.

    Here's another: there were 21 Legislative Aides funded in FY07 at $751,961 ($35,808/aide). Now the Legislature wants 2 more for a total cost of $853,792 ($37,121/aide). I won't even suggest level funding, just keep the 21 at the new price and "save" $74,242.

    They also hired a new Auditor at....well, on second thought.

    Anyway, put the savings from not creating these new state jobs together and that's more than enough to pay for Meals-on-Wheels. And no state workers will even lose their jobs!

    Finally, these are just the instances where they've added positions. Overall, payroll costs for the Legislature have gone up 7.7% (the salary only portion has gone up 4%). Let's say we cut those back too. It's a start.

    Now, this assumes you think Meals-on-Wheels is a program worthy of receiving $1 million/year from the State. According to Sandy Centazzo, president & CEO of Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island (interviewed by Dan Yorke this afternoon), the program cost about $3 million to run last year (a reduction from past years) and is staffed by some 1,200 volunteers.

    The fact is, in these trying times, we need to decide what our state spending priorities are. In many instances, it will call for non-profit organizations to do what they do--fund raise--without the level of government help that they are used to.

    Sen. Whitehouse Agrees with Sen. Clinton: Give Illegals Licenses

    Marc Comtois

    Today the ProJo editorializes about Sen. Hillary Clinton's illegal immigrant licensing faux pas:

    The country has laws against open borders. Those who enter the United States illegally are not supposed to be given all the privileges of life in America, including benefits from the government, jobs, housing and drivers’ licenses — which can be used to cloak illegal (and possibly terrorist) activities and to undermine our democracy by voting illegally.

    Senator Clinton, in her oath of office, swore to uphold the law.

    If the immigration laws are not being enforced effectively, they should be changed. But in the meantime, as we see it, elected officials should not be encouraging criminal behavior and rewarding those who break existing laws.

    According to Buddy and Ron, our own Senator Sheldon Whitehouse stated this past Sunday on 10 News Conference (no link to that particular show is now available HERE--thanks Tim) that he also supports giving licenses to illegal immigrants. Then again, maybe he isn't taking a cue from Senator Clinton. Maybe he's just following the example set by one of his supporters--Dolores Rodriguez-LaFlamme--who did what she could to provide licenses to illegal immigrants, too. But while LaFlamme's motives were economic, Senator Whitehouse is probably just looking to do what's right by those who elected could one day help elect him.

    The Dried-Up Fruits of Socialism, in Venezuela and Everywhere

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    You many have noticed the price of oil heading towards record highs. That should imply that the people living in oil-producing countries are doing well, right? Well, not all of them are. According to Reuters, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's socialist management of his nation's oil wealth is creating shortages of basic products and crushing the quality of life of Venezuelans, middle class and poor alike…

    Venezuelan construction worker Gustavo Arteaga has no trouble finding jobs in this OPEC nation's booming economy, but on a recent Monday morning he skipped work as part of a more complicated search -- for milk.

    The 37-year-old father-of-two has for months scrambled to find basic products like cooking oil, beef and milk, despite leftist President Hugo Chavez's social program that promises to provide low-cost groceries to the majority poor.

    "It takes a miracle to find milk," said Arteaga, who spent two hours in line outside a store in the poor Caracas neighborhood of Eucaliptus. "Don't you see I'm here slaving away to see if I can get even one or two of those (containers)?"

    The state's consumer protection agency, backed by military reserves, often shutters supermarkets for selling above the fixed price, but vendors offer their goods from makeshift stands in downtown Caracas in plain view of authorities.

    "This is an insult, but I can't find it anywhere," said Jose Ferrer, paying nearly $12 for a can of powdered milk regulated at $6. "I have to buy it for my kids, there is no other way."

    The economy grew by a record 10 percent in 2006, and millions of Venezuelans receive government stipends to participate in education and community development programs.

    One of Chavez's most popular programs is a chain of subsidized supermarkets scattered across rural areas and in hillside slums that sells food at fixed prices unaffected by rampant inflation -- though it too has been hit by shortages.

    Actually having to live under a socialist regime is making Venezuelans into the most pro-free market people in Latin America. According to a international survey conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project in April/May of 2007, support for the idea that "people are better off in free markets" is higher in Venezuela than in any other Latin American country surveyed…
    Percentage of people who agree with the statement that "Most people are better off in a free market economy, even though some people are rich and some are poor".


    Apologists here in Rhode Island like to discuss how Chavez isn't properly understood in the United States. For example, here are two Providence City councilmen, Miguel Luna and Luis Aponte, announcing a recent visit to Rhode Island by Chavez's ambassador to the United States...

    “Councilman Aponte and I are honored to serve as co-hosts of the reception,” said Councilman Luna. “Our goals are to thank Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for the heating assistance he has provided to thousands of Rhode Islanders and other Americans, and to address the myriad, troubling misconceptions about the Venezuelan government.
    I wonder if the Councilmen consider the reporting on Chavez's strangulation of Venezuela's non-petroleum domestic economy to be based on "misconceptions", or if they see the problems as part of a state of emergency that will correct itself once Venezuela has been freed from capitalist encirclement. I also wonder if Councilmen Luna and Aponte have given any introspection to their role in the exploitation of Venezuela's people for political purposes, through their endorsement of a program that pays below-market value for heating oil to a country that finds it increasingly difficult to provide basic foodstuffs to its people.

    In a related vein, James Keller, a local minister who has traveled to Venezuela, recently declared in a Projo op-ed that support for Chavez is obviously born of enlightened self-interest...

    To add insult to injury, [an earlier Projo editorial] says that the people of Venezuela were “hoodwinked” by being given “social justice for the poor"....

    Of course, the voters overwhelmingly supported Chavez for re-election to the presidency after they saw their lives improve. They weren’t “hoodwinked” but were voting out of enlightened self-interest, which every electorate does.

    To Rev. Keller, an interest in living under strong government socialism apparently trumps any interest in being to obtain basic household necessities; who needs milk when you have the right to say you live in a glorious people's republic.

    But the most important question that needs to be asked of Chavez's local supporters -- especially the ones in positions of political power -- is whether they believe his brand of political leadership and economic policy could provide a viable model for Rhode Island, despite the damage they inflict on the lives of regular people. After all, doesn't it reasonably follow that those who believe that welfare socialism is the right choice for a place that should be in the midst of a petro-economy boom will also believe that even stronger measures are necessary for places where the foundations of the economy are more uncertain.

    November 12, 2007

    Well Done, Veterans

    Mac Owens

    I apologize for a paucity of posts lately. Of course, some people might think that fewer things by me is not such a bad thing. In any event, my light posting has to do with the old adage about alligators and draining the swamp.

    Today is, of course, Veterans Day. I have a piece on the topic today at NRO. It is here. In it, I use the recent Scott Thomas Beauchamp affair at The New Republic to make the case that the press is predisposed to believe the worst about American troops. This is something that began with Vietnam.

    Saturday was also the 232nd birthday of the Marine Corps. I always receive a birthday greeting from one of my old colleagues, Jack Higgins. When I do, I am reminded that Jack and the other Marines with whom I served in Vietnam were the best men I have ever known. I will never forget them, or the ones who didn’t make it back.

    The Marine birthday ball at the Hyatt in Newport was spectacular. BTW, so was my date. What can I say? The heavenly Doreen always makes me look awfully good. Semper Fi, Marines.

    Thank You

    Marc Comtois

    Jon Scott on the Dedication of the WWII Memorial

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Over at his brand new blog Jon Scott 2008, Jon Scott has a firsthand report on the dedication of Rhode Island's new World War II memorial, offering his cheers for the members of the general public -- and of course the veterans -- who attended, but jeers for the politicians who habitually attempt to hog the spotlight at events like these…

    The Ocean State dedicated the long overdue World War II Memorial today following a short parade, which began at the State House and ended at the Memorial site on South Main Street. It was a beautiful day to honor those who have served our nation with both valor and dedication and, though I have never served (or, perhaps, because I’ve never served), I thought it an obligation to attend the ceremony.

    Many Rhode Islanders know the story of how funding has been lagging behind for a memorial to those who gave their lives in the second “war to end all wars” but lack of support for the project was not on the minds of those in attendance. The crowd was large, very much behind our troops, and appreciative of the vets who were there. The energy in the park and the stunning monument made me proud to be a Rhode Islander. I wish that I could say the same of the dedication ceremony itself.

    I found myself reflecting on my belief that, had I been elected to Congress in 2006, I would not have joined the politicians on the rostrum. There is nothing partisan about my statement. Republicans and Democrats seemed equally eager to take the microphone and pander to the crowd of veterans and supporters. They were all equally mistaken that this was a day about them. I understand that this is the way that things are done. I understand that it is “the way we’ve always done it”, but enough is enough.

    Had I been a sitting Congressman, I would have given up my seat behind the podium to someone who served during World War II and, instead of speaking to the folks in the crowd, I would have listened.

    November 11, 2007

    Gio Is Not Looking For The Union Label

    Monique Chartier

    Last week, certain leaders of organized labor in Rhode Island called for the resignation of the Chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party, Giovanni Cicione. They referred to his "insensitive and hurtful statement" about the Governor's proposed layoff of 1,000 state workers, his use of the term "poverty pimps" and his "remarks equating unions with racism".

    In yesterday's Providence Journal, Cicione declined the suggestion that he step aside and instead elaborated on some of his comments in a manner not likely to abate the ire of union leaders.

    Every time we keep a position that we no longer need, cave in to a union work rule, or create a new benefit we cannot afford, we are potentially taking money from anti-poverty programs, from roads and bridges, from local schools, and from our own pockets.

    Many state employees know better and are embarrassed and angered by a system that created “protected” coworkers who fail to carry their weight. They know that the system protects unproductive workers, and rewards length of service over quality performance.

    They know that this is not the best model for our state, and I ask them to support efforts to improve efficiency of state services.

    As to "union work rules", in August, Director of the Department of Administration Beverly E. Najarian cited the costly inefficiencies built into public employee contracts, including restrictions on who can fill the temporary absence of a state employee.

    Some of this stuff is really, really very costly, very onerous ... When I first came here, all of these rules seemed so foreign to me. If you would look at other unions in the private sector, you would not find these things. They are all detrimental to the efficiency and management of any operation.

    In the same article, MHRH Director Ellen R. Nelson points to a provision in the contract for the conduct of union business on the taxpayer dime.

    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.

    Further to his comment last week that unions demonstrate “the last vestige of institutional racism in this country”, Cicione asks:

    Why does the Fire Department of the City of Cranston have 200-plus white male firefighters — no women, no minorities? Why do minority contractors need a state agency to give them access to union-controlled public-works projects? Why do minority contractors struggle to meet union-imposed bonding, apprenticeship, and benefits requirements?

    Is it, perhaps, that the labor laws are rigged to protect the status quo? ...

    [Sidebar: Cranston Fire Chief Richard Delgado does not deny the absence of female and minority firefighters in the department but does deny that their absence arises out of union rules, asserting instead that the department "can’t get” such applicants.]

    Cicione points out in his OpEd that

    The Republican Party was formed 150 years ago for the express propose of ending slavery, a cause for which the first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, died. Today we continue the fight by working to break down barriers that repress minorities in a cycle of poverty and by pushing for the elimination of all the “special deals” that overwhelmingly favor those who are part of the Democratic-union establishment at the expense of the general interest, including thousands of struggling small businesses

    and concludes by speaking directly to unionized public employees throughout the state.

    So to the membership of those unions, I have a message — and it is one I will repeat again and again: The labor movement has become the most offensive special interest in Rhode Island history.

    It is time for union members to restore your pride, restore your hope, and restore this state. Take charge and create radical change. The union boss needs you. You don’t need him.

    The Next Step of SSM Dialog, 3: Too Many Won't Abide Their Own Children.

    Justin Katz

    The third mechanism that I posit as likely to undermine marriage should the definition be changed to include same-sex couples speaks to the core justification of public recognition and government encouragement of the institution.

    As I argue in terms of the first mechanism, if the state's irreducible interest in encouraging marriage is to foster mutual care, with its various benefits, then subsequent borders around the definition will not withstand assertions of individual freedom to choose the other person (or the other people). In terms of the second mechanism, I argue that one of those borders is the presumption of sexual intimacy; people with non-sexual relationships would rightly have a claim to benefits that are intended to encourage stable interdependence.

    With or without sexual intimacy, if marriage is primarily about the spouses' watching over each other, then doing the hard work to keep a marriage together depends more on the man's (or woman's) desire to care for a particular woman (or man) than on a personal interest in watching over any children whom they've created. There was a time when a man who impregnated a woman was expected to marry her as a matter of course. Now, it's hardly expected that parents should compromise their own emotional impulses so that children born within their marriages can be raised within them, as well. Same-sex marriage would etch this corrosive definition of marriage unreformably into the law.

    It is at least plausible to suggest that the reality of same-sex marriages would not affect current marriages between spouses intent on staying together. The obvious observation, however, is that such couples don't need public encouragement in the first place. As with any cultural institution, marriage involves a broad social transaction of investment and benefit: Healthy, advantaged couples model their relationships toward an ideal of marriage for the benefit of those who incline toward the wrong track.

    Sterile couples (as actually rare as they are) and the elderly do not disturb the simple message of the investment, because it is clear, on a fundamental level, that an intimate relationship exclusively between a man and a woman is about that which a man and woman can uniquely do together: create children who are the merger of their two genetic and ancestral lines, their two selves. In ordinary dealings with married couples, one cannot tell the parents from the non-parents. Among the latter, one cannot tell the sterile from the attempting from the expectant from the regretful. It is simply known that men and women who are intimate with each other get married, and with the vast majority of marriages' involving procreation, the message is clear.

    In part through the law (from no-fault divorce to on-demand abortion), modern culture has made a shameful effort to distort clarity about familial ideals and healthy social behavior. And as one might have expected, that legacy has most harmed those in most need of guidance and encouragement toward good decisions: the poor, the oppressed, and the wayward. If is justifiable to fret about polygamy's ability to create a permanent male underclass, it must be more so to worry about a permanent underclass of bastard children and their irresponsible parents.

    In part because it ultimately provides cost savings from social programs serving that underclass, the government's role in the cultural transaction that is the institution of marriage is to acknowledge it and to offer some incentive to fulfill its objective. Culture is fluid, and it would be contrary to the grand idea of our nation to deny citizens the right to work to change it, but government recognition of same-sex marriage would not only open the way for its diminution by dissipation, it would provide the baseline definition by which the culture must operate and would thereby ensure that it fails to operate.

    November 10, 2007

    Poly Want Some Evidence?

    Justin Katz

    Well, whaddaya know:

    Many speakers highlighted the fact that as polyamorists, they didn't see themselves as adulterers or swingers. Instead, polyamory involves several simultaneous committed physically intimate relationships. Also, unlike polygamy, made famous by HBO's "Big Love," both females and males may have multiple partners.

    Polyamory NYC hosts monthly meetings at the LGBT Community Center averaging about 40 members, with more than 1,000 visiting their Yahoogroup. Members often belong to other local sexuality networks, including Body Temple, Sexy Spirits, One Taste, and various bondage groups. Religious commitments vary from Paganism to Judaism and Unitarianism.

    Most members like Normal Ellis, 45, say that monogamy is not a natural state for relationships. After his divorce several years ago, he found himself in a monogamous romance headed toward a second marriage.

    "I did some soul-searching and realized that I just wasn't wired that way," said Ellis. He started meeting polyamorous women online and has dated as many as four partners at a time.

    Many polyamorous couples have a primary partner, whom they may be married to or live with. They may then form a triad with a third partner, or one partner may take on a second lover outside the relationship. Sometimes a triad will share a home in a "polyamorous V," or both partners will take on a boyfriend or girlfriend outside the relationship. ...

    But the purpose of the pride weekend went beyond cuddling and coupling. For many, the politics of polyamory are fraught with discord. Justen Bennett-Maccubbin, the mohawked founder of Polyamorous NYC, said that there is sometimes friction between the gay and polyamorous communities.

    "Polyamory is just as much an orientation as being gay," said Bennett-Maccubbin, who started his first polyamorous relationship when he fell in love with a gay couple at 19.

    The thing that the SSM movement has to realize is that, when you create a template, people tend to follow it. And in this case, there's no rational basis to stop them from following it all the way to the end.

    Rhode Island Spending - the High Points and Low Points

    Monique Chartier

    Marc Comtois has noted the revised (upward) state operating deficit which stems from a decline in income and sales tax revenue. Before we go bounding off to look for replacement tax revenue, let's take a quick look at "How Rhode Island's State and Local Expenditures Compare - 2006 Edition", an analysis compiled by RIPEC.

    Per $1,000 of personal income:

    A review of the data shows that Rhode Island

    • ranked in the top 10 states for per $1,000 of personal income expenditures for cash assistance payments (3rd), Medicaid/vendor payments (7th), fire protection (1st), and housing and community development (10th);

    • ranked in the bottom 10 states for per $1,000 of personal income expenditures for
    higher education (43rd); highways (44th); and parks and recreation (46th).

    And on a per capita basis, Rhode Island’s expenditures

    • ranked in the top 10 states for elementary and secondary education (8th), Medicaid/vendor payments (4th), cash assistance payments (3rd), police (9th), and fire (1st);

    • ranked in the bottom 10 states for higher education (46th); highways (46th); and parks and recreation (42nd)

    RIPEC's accompanying press release sums it up thusly:

    The Ocean State spends more in per capita and $1,000 of personal income for public welfare programs, including Medicaid, as well as public safety than most other states. Conversely, direct general expenditures for higher education and highways per capita and per $1,000 of personal income are less in Rhode Island.

    It is clear, when lawmakers tackle this deficit in January, that the first order of business will be to pick up a red pen and spend some time on the expenditure side of the budget. RIPEC has outlined the column headings that should be focused on - as well as the ones which should, at a minimum, be left untouched.

    Will a $450 Million Budget Deficit Wake 'Em Up?

    Marc Comtois

    No one should be surprised that the State is looking at a $450 million shortfall for FY08. Governor Carcieri has been warning us that we would have to cut State programs and payrolls in the near future. Turns out his idea reduce state spending by $200 million was based on a downright rosy forecast.

    Knowing there would a deficit, [Governor Carcieri] had already proposed a sweeping plan he says will save $100 million by cutting the state’s work force by 1,000 jobs. He also plans to save $50 million by reducing employee benefits and another $50 million by cutting or consolidating social-services programs.

    It is now clear that he will have to do much more to propose a balanced budget, which he must do by law.

    “Governor Carcieri has been sounding the alarm about the state’s budget situation since before the end of the last legislative session,” said the governor’s spokesman, Jeff Neal. “Unfortunately, it is now clear that implementing the governor’s spending-reduction plan is just the start of what is required to resolve Rhode Island’s growing budget crisis. Every branch, department and office of state government must work together to solve this problem.”

    But will they finally listen? Instead of working with him, the legislature has decided to nitpick and nibble around the edges of our bloated State government. For their part, the Courts and AGs office have simply said, "Sorry Guv, look elsewhere for cuts." Time to grow up, folks.

    Of course, we all know that the first "idea" floated will be tax increases. No surprise at the source:

    “The national economy is weak. It’s not the state’s fault it’s weak. But it’s become the state’s problem,” said the Poverty Institute’s chief economist, Ellen Frank, one of the few members of the public to attend yesterday’s meeting...Overall, the forecast is so bleak, Frank said, that the state must do more than cut spending.

    “Facing these kinds of deficits, we need to look at every possible source of revenue we can,” she said, calling on lawmakers to reconsider tax cuts to high-income Rhode Islanders such as the recently instituted flat tax and the phase-out of the capital-gains tax.

    But even if this oft-repeated "strategy" was implemented, it still wouldn't make up the difference. Sorry Ellen, time to make some cuts.
    “Raising taxes on Rhode Island’s already overtaxed citizens is not the answer,” [governor's spokesman, Jeff] Neal said.
    I'm not holding my breath yet. I suspect that, instead of dealing with the structural problems caused by too much government, the General Assembly will continue to take a short-term view and cut various capital projects in the hopes that some sort of fiscal miracle will occur next year. For his part, the Governor has already scaled down the plans for new State Police Barracks, with the blessing of superintendent of state police, Col. Brendan Doherty. That is the sort of leadership the state needs right now. So far, no one else is stepping up to the plate.
    With a $150-million budget hole this year — and a potential deficit three times that size next year — each state agency was originally asked to shave 10 percent or more off their projected spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1. All were required by law to submit their spending and cost-cutting plans to the state Budget Office by Oct. 1, but few did.

    As of yesterday none of the large state agencies — including the Department of Human Services, the Department of Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals, and the Department of Children, Youth and Families — had submitted a plan. And the budget requests from the courts and a handful of smaller state agencies come at the projected multimillion deficit from 180-degree angles.

    From the judiciary, for example, came a proposal to spend $1.5 million this year and next replacing ceiling tiles and light fixtures in the Garrahy Judicial Complex. The explanation: “The distraction of discolored ceiling tiles and inefficient lighting diminish the public trust and confidence in the judicial building in [that] its current physical state is less than reverent.” The judiciary is also pursuing plans to build a new Blackstone Valley courthouse.

    Other agencies are looking at fee hikes and retrenchment.

    And others are complaining:
    Public Defender John J. Hardiman, for example, said the restraints placed on his agency would necessitate a 20-percent cut in staff, which, in turn, would render his agency “unavailable for legal representation in any parental-rights cases statewide, or any juvenile case statewide or any proceeding alleging a violation of felony probation in any Superior Court.”
    By now, we should all realize that this is about more than just making cuts or raising taxes. Hopefully, this projected deficit will cause a paradigm shift in the ongoing budget debates. As Jeff Neal said:
    “...we need to decide what amount of state government Rhode Island taxpayers can afford. Implementing an affordable Rhode Island will take leadership and tough, sometimes unpopular decisions. Governor Carcieri looks forward to working with the General Assembly and with other branches of state government to make those difficult choices.”
    It's about time the rest of our State Government wake up from their dreams of unchecked government growth and join the Governor in working towards a long term solution.

    The Next Step of SSM Dialog, 2: We Won't Abide the Government in Our Bedrooms.

    Justin Katz

    In my experience with the same-sex marriage debate, the second corruptive mechanism that I suggest in answer to the question of how incorporating homosexual relationships would undermine marriage is often asserted to be the weakest, but it's also the least well understood (whether the fault is mine, a failure of the imagination, or a desire to avoid).

    M. Steven elides entirely my explanation in order to find the suggestion "unfair," writing:

    It implies that arrangements that are not intimate would increase by allowing same-sex couples to marry by adding a reason to exploit the law for the purpose of mutual care. Yet the same impetus already exists for opposite-sex arrangements. To me, this is sort of a stereotypical 'liberal' argument in that something should not be allowed due to the possibility of exploitation for self-interest. The pro-SSMer could argue that allowing it would decrease the number of corruptive non-intimate arrangements between gay and straight opposite-sex persons.

    I'm not suggesting that SSM would add a reason to exploit the law — the reasons exist already — but rather an excuse. My entire argument is that same-sex marriage, as something new, would not carry with it the same instinctive reverence, nor the same cultural connotations. Like it or not, to the average heterosexual, a same-sex marriage would not be a real marriage. It could be laughed off.

    Hollywood movies to the contrary aside, there would be no continuing, and extremely minimal initial, test of intimacy. (That's why I titled this point with reference to the government in the bedroom; once the image was used to create the specter of the prurient public spy seeking to ensure that nothing sexual was going on, but it could just as easily involve a prurient public spy verifying that something is.) A readily available prenup, a few words rendered meaningless by divorce law, and the benefits would be acquired. The cost to anybody secure in his or her own sexuality would not exist. Friends and family don't even have to know.

    Pragmatist misses the point when he argues that "most heterosexuals marry people of the opposite sex, so the number of heterosexuals eligible to do this is small to begin with." People would not enter into legally exploitative marriages with the intention of permanence. I can easily imagine having married my friend/roommate out of high school if there'd been a gain to it; we would have joked about it with the girls whom we pursued.

    But I'm not presenting the exploitation, per se, as the objectionable result. Rather, as I stressed in my extended explanation of corruptive mechanism #1, I'm offering the possible development as an outcome that would undermine the institution of marriage for all.

    Heck, I'm not even presenting non-sexual marriages as exclusively exploitative. If the justification given for recognizing civil marriage at all is thinned out in order to include couples that can't, by their nature, almost inadvertently create children, then sex is incidental to the relationship. Pragmatist offers two "non-child-centric" bases for same-sex marriage:

    • It is good for society as a whole when people are paired with someone else who has the "job" of looking out for someone else.
    • It is generally a good thing that men are coupled with partners.

    And a third basis for marriage:

    • "The raising of children is one of the most important functions of marriage."

    The first and third bases clearly apply to non-sexual couples, including friends and family members. The second arguably applies, as well. One can deduce from Pragmatist's argument that he doesn't believe that it is women who domesticate men. Surely it isn't sex, or even monogamy. Rather, men's participation in partnerships, as Pragmatist writes, "promotes positive social relationships and instills responsibility." Having some degree of declared responsibility is what makes waifish men grow up. In a world that increasingly leads men and women to be well into their adult years before doing the family thing, it would seem to be as much — or perhaps more — in the public interest to encourage heterosexual bachelors to grow up as it is to do the same with homosexuals. (I should note, though, that I believe that it is ultimately women and the procreative link that provide the real impetus in marriage for male maturation.)

    Again, the reason same-sex marriage would increase the likelihood of the institution's being treated in this way is that it inherently separates procreation from marriage, not only as a matter of the the individual relationship, but as a matter of basic principles. With marriage bound up in the nearly mystical interweaving of selves (genetically, in children), tying together lines of ancestry into the past and progeny into the future, marriages of convenience carry a natural burden of denial. With the event of SSM, that denial would be ready-made.

    Marriage wouldn't be about having babies. It would be about two (or perhaps more) adults helping each other out. Or, as friends might say, getting each other's backs.

    And that brings us to mechanism #3.

    November 9, 2007

    The Next Step of SSM Dialog, 1: Equal Rights Abide No Arbitrary Boundaries.

    Justin Katz

    This happens with most highly charged topics, but with the same-sex marriage debate, it seems especially common (making the debate particularly tedious after years of engaging in it): After a few steps setting the mutually understood context, the thread becomes lost in opponents' eagerness to make their total case. To review the discussion thus far:

    • Pragmatist asked why the state shouldn't encourage monogamous homosexual relationships.
    • I replied that I'm not opposed to its doing so, except if done from within the institution of marriage, because modifying the definition of marriage in order to encompass same-sex relationships would undermine the institution, diminishing its ability to encourage stable, monogamous relationships between anybody.
    • Pragmatist asked how incorporating homosexual relationships would undermine marriage.
    • I replied that three corrosive mechanisms would follow a change in the essence marriage from a relationship between a potentially procreative pair to one between intimate adults:
      1. Equal rights abide no arbitrary boundaries. Further changes to the definition of marriage would follow, notably polygamy and intra-family marriages.
      2. We won't abide the government in our bedrooms. The new twist on marriage would be prone to abuse by heterosexuals, who would treat marriage less like a romantic relationship (at least on a temporary basis), and nobody wants the government to be checking to make sure that the relationship is sexual.
      3. Too many won't abide their own children. Muddying the simple definition of marriage as the relationship into which parents ought to enter with each other will make it less effective in creating a cultural expectation that will draw those who might be inclined to shirk their responsibility into stable families.

    In short, the argument on the table is that the state should not change marriage in such a way as to include same-sex relationships because doing so will undermine marriage for the three reasons listed. The two possible contrary responses are (A) to argue that equal rights (or some other consideration) make the diminishment of marriage irrelevant to the legitimization of SSM and (B) to argue that none of the three mechanisms will harm the institution significantly. The unfortunate tendency, as an alternative to these two possibilities, is to address each point as if it is intended to stand on its own; the discussion becomes impossible to pin down, because the goal is merely to push the points off the table rather than to address the total argument. It's the difference between testing the strength of a model and rolling marbles onto a pool table.

    In this post, I'll endeavor to explain why no responses heretofore made in answer to my assertion of the first corrosive mechanism have any effect on my argument as I've laid it out thus far.

    M. Steven, who appears ultimately to come down on my side on the marriage issue, suggests that the "ban on incestuous relationships is already an arbitrary boundary within the current definition... based on moral grounds." In other words, its degree of arbitrariness would not change with the introduction of same-sex relationships into marriage. But this is certainly not true: The arguments against incest are, first, that it does physical and psychic harm to begotten children and, second, that it corrupts other interpersonal roles and affects development. Clearly, same-sex marriage eliminates the concern about the first (which I would consider the more decisive) point, and to the extent that the second point remains, it seems to me to have less force when one pictures two brothers, say, rather than a brother and a sister.

    Beyond arbitrariness, though, implicit in the SSM cause is the principle that it is unjust for citizens to impose their moral beliefs on others when it comes to something as personal and inalienable as marital rights.

    For his part, Pragmatist takes a broader tack, including social, rather than moral, arguments against incest and polygamy (which M. Steven doesn't address), as well as power dynamics, but I don't think he appreciates the radical change that would be wrought by the separation of gender from marriage. His suggestion, for example, that both incest and polygamy are socially objectionable because "the power dynamics... lead to the exploitation of women, especially young women" is utterly extinguished if marriage ceases to be defined as an opposite-sex affair. Especially with the case for SSM being made on equal rights grounds, and even more so with its leading edge being in the judiciary (what with "rational basis" tests and other attempts at logical adjudication), a definition of marriage that hinges on individualistic love and mutual care offers no justification for an argument from power dynamics.

    This consideration also erases Pragmatist's attempt to differentiate homosexual relationships from incest and polygamy because "homosexuals are denied the right to marry anyone they love," as opposed to someone they love (which is supposed all that will be denied of the incestuous and polygamous). I don't think it would disturb his meaning to edit thus: "homosexuals are denied the right to marry anyone they could constitutively love." But the distinction is irrelevant to the legal, or even rights-based, arguments of those who desire incestuous relationships. Is the court (or the legislature) to explain to a man that he may not marry his sister because he has other options?

    A person who is truly in love, and who has already chosen a compatible mate, could with reason be termed "that-person-sexual." If, from society's point of view, marriage isn't above all about the children who may be born within the family that it creates — that is, if it is only about the adults' relationship — then the external basis for interfering in the choice disappears. Allowing the someone/anyone distinction would make it valid to argue that barring interracial marriage doesn't interfere with citizens' right to marry someone. "But I don't love any white women," the Caucasian man might say; "I love this black woman."

    Polygamy reenters the discussion with the distinction between a legal relationship and a legal marriage. I wouldn't support the criminalization of homosexual relationships. Does Pragmatist support the criminalization of adult incest? Of extramarital affairs and swinging (i.e., non-marital polygamy)? Or consider this one: extra-marital relationships with mutual care and emotional connection, but not sex? One could point out that the polygamist is free to bring others into the relationship but is only allowed an official marriage with a single spouse. Likewise, on could argue that homosexuals are free to form their relationships as they choose; they are only able to enter into marriage according to its definition: with somebody of the opposite sex. (And nobody is forcing them to have civilly recognized marriages.)

    The point is that there is a difference between the denial of marriage rights and the denial of relationships. Pragmatist claims never to have "heard of a genetically predisposed polygamist," but it has seemed a commonplace to me that all men are genetically predisposed thusly. That, indeed, is what makes the following a legitimate concern:

    Polygamy undermines the social structure because over time, high-status males will attract multiple partners while low-status men will have no options. Society is unwilling to create a permanent underclass of unmarried males.

    Again, though, Pragmatist is apparently unaware of the heterosexist underpinnings of his thought. A man who marries a woman and then marries another man is actually alleviating that underclass. On the other hand, considering that a general takeaway of the reading that I've done with respect to sexual orientation is that women's sexuality is more fluid, it's not difficult to imagine women marrying each other even though they might have some attraction to men. In such cases, even a two-person marriage contributes to the creation of a single-male underclass. If that concern were proven to have a significant likelihood of fruition, would that allow "discrimination" against homosexuals with respect to marriage?

    Pragmatist may attack my "reflexive conservative support of what society has adopted in the past," but he's at least as inclined to rely upon precisely that traditional understanding of social implications. In a world with same-sex marriage, old calculations no longer apply. In a world in which procreation is not conceptually intrinsic to marriage, why must marriages be presumed to be sexual at all? Why, for example, couldn't a mother-daughter pair claim a right to the mutual-care benefits of marriage? It would certainly assist them in jointly raising the daughter's child from a failed relationship. Or suppose a gay man and a lesbian create a child together and then seek to share parental responsibility, within the structure of marriage, with their gay partners?

    And that brings us to mechanism #2.

    Senator Whitehouse Supports Telecom Immunity, So Far

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    One issue being considered as part of the reform of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is whether telecommunications companies that have complied with customer information requests from the government should be granted immunity from privacy lawsuits. According to The Hill, an overwhelming majority of the Senate Intelligence Committee has approved an immunity provision

    The Senate Intelligence Committee last month approved a bill by a 13-2 vote that includes a provision to extend liability protections for companies that allegedly participated in the [Terrorist Surveillance Program] after the Sept. 11 attacks, provided that the firms can show they had authorization from the government. A corresponding FISA bill in the House, which is still awaiting floor action, does not include an immunity provision.
    The Senate rules that this particular bill must follow to reach the floor require it also to be approved by the Judiciary committee.

    The Hill article mentions that there are three Democratic Senators who sit on both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees; two of them voted for the bill with immunity provision, one voted against…

    Two wildcards on the Democratic side will be Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), who both voted for the bill with the immunity provisions in the Intelligence Committee. Another Judiciary Committee Democrat who also sits on the Intelligence Committee, Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, has vowed to strike the immunity language during the markup.

    Preliminary Rhode Island Wind Farm Planning

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Michael Souza of the Narragansett Times has an initial report on sites being considered for a electricity-generating wind farm for Rhode Island…

    Monday night’s monthly marine fisheries council meeting featured a presentation by Dan Mendelsohn of Applied Technology and Management Inc. of Newport.

    The topic of discussion was the possible location of offshore windmills.

    The company has been assigned the task of investigating wind power alternatives for the Rhode Island Department of Energy. The state’s goal is to produce about 15 percent of its energy utilizing power generated from windmills....

    The preliminary plan depicts about 12 sites suitable for a wind farm, from as close as Point Judith to as far as Sakonnet Point, Napatree Point and Block Island....


    Mendelsohn also specified the wind farm cannot be situated in water more that 70 feet deep.
    The wind speed off the coast of Narragansett and South Kingstown varies from 7.5 to 8.5 mph. He also explained that the windmills will be cited about one half mile apart.

    Questions and Answers on Same-Sex Marriage

    Justin Katz

    After some brawl-in-the-schoolyard circling, commenter Pragmatist and I have started up another round of the same-sex marriage dialog on Anchor Rising, thus far in the form of a question and answer exchange. Thinking the exercise worthwhile (and curious to see how far we'll get with it this time), I considered a post of its own to be justified, beginning with his first question:

    ... why shouldn't the state encourage monogamous homosexual relationships? Unless you are prepared to take the position of the president of Iran that homosexuals don't exist, then aren't strong, stable, monogamous homosexual relationships better for society than the opposite?

    To which I replied:

    I'm not opposed to states' seeking to do so, as long as they structure the new institution of same-sex unions from the ground up, without reference to marriage. (When constitutional amendments have been proposed, I've always backed versions that would leave that possibility open.) My reasoning (on the secular/civil side) is that modifying the definition of marriage in order to encompass same-sex relationships will undermine the institution as it exists, thus diminishing the states' encouragement of stable, monogamous relationships between heterosexual couples (which, after all, have the added consideration that they can produce children with minimal intention).

    I've long said, by the way, that my calculation might change if the pro-SSM movement took up the cause of tighter divorce laws. No takers from your side, yet.


    Yes, I have heard this argument many times. But I have never heard a convincing unbundling of this amorphous concern: "modifying the definition of marriage in order to encompass same-sex relationships will undermine the institution as it exists." How? How does encouraging MORE stable relationships undermine the institution? Perhaps the struggle of homosexuals to establish this right despite overwhelming odds should reinforce the importance of the institution for heterosexuals? Maybe heterosexuals should be inspired by the struggle and value what they have already even more?

    I'll start by saying that I do think there's likely been positive development among heterosexuals as the struggle over same-sex marriage has raged, but not because they are inspired by homosexuals' striking belief in the institution. Rather, in formulating their own positions on the issue, at least those who don't take their views directly from the oracles of popular culture are spurred to consider what marriage means to them. What the institution is for, and what that meaning requires of them.

    That really is the central question: What is marriage about? Reformulated for use in discussion of public policy, the question is: What is the purpose of the government's recognition of it? By changing the essence of what marriage is, and what it hopes to accomplish, same-sex marriage would undermine the institution in three interrelated ways:

    1. Equal rights abide no arbitrary boundaries. If we enshrine into law the principle that marriage is the recognition of intimate adult relationships, defined according to the proclivities of the individual, all subsequent distinctions are fundamentally arbitrary. Polygamy and adult incestuous relationships will follow. Marriage as the encouragement of a particularly stable form of grouping will become meaningless.
    2. We won't abide the government in our bedrooms. Our culture still has strong presumptions about male-female relationships. Yeah, men and women can be friends, even roommates, but there are boundaries that begin to raise suspicions — notably, living together. For the most part, those suspicions have protected marriage from corruptive arrangements of pure self-interest. The gay rights movement has, to some extent, raised suspicion about platonic same-sex relationships, but were same-sex marriage to become available, I think it likely that heterosexuals would exploit the arrangement for economic reasons. And frankly, I don't see why they shouldn't. If the civil impetus for recognizing marriage is to encourage mutual care of independent citizens (allowing various assumptions of trust and rights such as the famous hospital visits), then there's no reason pairings that don't involve sex shouldn't be included, whether they involve friends or relatives.
    3. Too many won't abide their own children. The most important of the consequences of codifying the romantic, mutual-intimacy-centered vision of marriage into the law is the competing vision that it displaces: that marriage is fundamentally a desirable relationship between a man and a woman because their intimacy can result in the birth of children. Our society gives marriage weight in order to create a cultural expectation that will draw those who might be inclined to shirk their responsibility into stable families. If marriage and the potential of procreation aren't intrinsically linked, then there is less pressure on a man to stick with the mother of his children (or a woman their father) for the family's benefit, even if fleeting romantic feelings don't fulfill his (or her) fantasies.

    November 8, 2007

    Tiverton School Committee Teaches Union How to Release Spreadsheets

    Justin Katz

    A while back, the NEA's Patrick Crowley released a highly spun spreadsheet related to union and school committee healthcare proposals in Tiverton. It left me with more questions and concerns than I initially had. Recently, I asked the school committee whether they'd publish an itemized budget, as the town council does, and although it might not be a direct response to that request or not, a spreadsheet is now available, illustrating what it means to feed a public hunger for information:

    In light of the recent teacher's contract negotiations the Tiverton School Committee feels obligated to provide the residents of Tiverton with the data it is using to project departmental expenditures for FY09 and FY10. We have compiled a summary of financial information that we have been using to make decisions during contract negotiations. It is our hope that by sharing this information with the residents of Tiverton, you will better understand our position and the challenges that we will be facing.

    Now the union can publicly explain why particular items are incorrect or irrelevant, what's included and shouldn't be, or what's missing. Otherwise, I'd like to know the union's justification for demanding percentage increases when the 2010 projection is for a $130,739 shortfall, even as the cost of accumulated step increases will cost the town an additional $304,464 that year compared with 2008.

    Cranston's Fire Department - Staffing Levels

    Monique Chartier

    Under "Institutional Racism, Quotas and Cranston", commenter EMT makes the following observation:

    Actually, they need another station in Western Cranston (10-minute response times are unacceptable for a paid department in 2007), and NFPA-complaint staffing department wide. It would probably double the department, minus a few.

    There are a couple of broad implications in this comment. The first is that the Cranston Fire Department is understaffed. The second is that all fire stations in Cranston are ideally located. Both of these are flatly contradicted by the Performance Audit of the Cranston Fire Department conducted in 2003.

    Staffing level from a cost analysis:

    The ICMA [International City/County Management Association] publishes data relative to average fire per capita costs for cities in specific population ranges. The per capita costs listed in the ICMA Municipal Year Book, 2003 for 2002 per capita costs are as follows:

    126 cities with a population range of 50,000 to 100,000: $118.45
    60 cities with a population range of 100,000 to 250,000: $125.53
    17 cities with a population range of 250,000 to 500,000: $119.94
    7 cities with a population range of 500,000 to 1 million: $127.42

    The City of Cranston Data for FY2002:

    Cranston-Rhode Island Web site (80,072 ÷ $21,134,085) $263.94

    Caution is required in the interpretation of the data. The ICMA notes that its average per capita costs include retirement and medical costs.

    Staffing level on a per capita basis:

    The per capita staffing listed in the ICMA Municipal Year Book, 2003 for 2002 staffing is as follows

    City Classification Total Uniformed/Sworn

    73/69 cities in New England 1.70 1.67
    7 cities with a population range of 500,000 to 1 million: 1.93 1.69
    17 cities with a population range of 250,000 to 500,000: 1.42 1.42
    81/79 cities with a population range of 100,000 to 250,000: 1.57 1.41
    152/148 cities with a population range of 50,000 to 100,000: 1.52 1.35

    The data for Cranston:

    Cranston Authorized (202 Uniformed, 208 Total - 80,072): 2.59 2.52
    City of Cranston - 2003 Estimated Population 81,674: 2.54 2.47

    The audit points out not only that

    If the Department equaled the fire staffing ratio of Uniformed/Sworn per 1,000 residents for the average of 148 cities with a population of 50,000 to 100,000 (1.35 x 81.674 -2003 estimate), Cranston would need 111 Uniformed/Sworn personnel, substantially fewer than the current 202

    but that fire department staffing levels exceed those for the Cranston Police force.

    In the Study Team’s experiences in 40 states, it is most unusual for a fire department to have a higher ratio or number of sworn personnel per 1,000 population than police departments in those ... same cities. In Cranston, the Fire Department has 53 more uniformed/sworn positions than the Cranston Police Department.

    As to the present location of fire stations within the city:

    Fire Stations 1 and 2 are approximately .5 and .6 miles, respectively, from the borders with Providence and Warwick. The proximity to the city border means that these two fire stations, where currently located, will never have full service areas within Cranston as compared to the other fire stations. These fire stations have “half/partial pie-shaped” response areas which do not allow them to operate as efficiently as the other fire stations in terms of service for the dollars spent.

    Moreover, Fire Stations 1, 2, and 3 are very close together, .9 miles between Fire Stations 1 and 2 and .8 miles between Fire Stations 2 and 3, via the closest response routes. When considering the 1.5 mile ISO coverage standard for engine companies, these fire stations are significantly closer geographically than necessary.

    Fire Stations 4 and 5 are approximately .75 and .7 miles, respectively, from the border with Warwick. This proximity to the City border means that these two fire stations, where currently located, also will never have full response areas within Cranston as compared to the other fire stations. These fire stations also have “half/partial-pie shaped” response areas which does not allow them to operate as efficiently as the other fire stations in terms of service for the dollars spent. Moreover, the proximity of Fire Stations 4 and 5 to each other is 1.3 miles, and indicates that there may be up to 1.5 miles of over-coverage between the engine companies located at these two fire stations.

    The audit addresses the over-staffing and uneven distribution of fire stations with specific suggestions, including the reduction and consolidation of staffing as well as the relocation of Fire Station 4 to the Oaklawn Avenue/Route 37 area. Focusing back on EMT's call for a new fire station in western Cranston, it appears that the staffing of such a station could be accomplished in house, with or without closing Fire Station 4, but certainly without additional hires.

    Guess Who's One of Only Six States To Fully Tax Military Pensions

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    In discussing an Ohio proposal to exempt military pensions from the state income tax, the Toledo Blade names Rhode Island as one of only five states imposing an income tax on military pensions…

    With one of its members now on military duty and another about to return to Iraq, [the Ohio House] suddenly fast-tracked a proposal - just in time for Veteran's Day - affecting nearly 39,000 military retirees that has languished in the chamber for months.

    Ohio is one of just five states imposing income taxes on pensions earned from military service. The bill now heads to the Senate….

    Only Ohio, California, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Nebraska still tax at least some portion of military pensions.

    …but I don't think the Blade story has it quite right.

    According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Rhode Island is one of six states (the five listed above, plus Minnesota) allowing no exemption at all for income received in the form of a military pension. There are 12 states that fully exempt military pensions from their income taxes, another 21 that exempt at least some portion of military pensions, 2 that have some form of general income exemption for retirees, and 9 states that have no income tax to be exempted from.

    In some way, shape or form, Rhode Island should get with the 33 states exempting at least some portion of military pensions from the state income tax. It would be the very least we could do as a community to help take care of the soldiers and sailors who've volunteered to help protect our country.

    Introducing The Ocean State Republican

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Give a warm welcome to the Rhode Island Republican Assembly's new entry into the local blogosphere, The Ocean State Republican (also accessible through the web address

    From the OSR's "About us" page...

    The OSR is the new politically-focused, conservative activist-oriented blog, primarily sponsored by the Rhode Island Republican Assembly, “The Republican Wing of the Republican Party”....

    As all good Rhode Island Republicans “in the know” know, The Ocean State Republican was the former moniker of a local electronic newsletter — which featured local political news and commentary from a Republican point of view — that was faithfully sent out by e-mail each month for a number of years, as a regular supplement to the Rhode Island Republican Update.

    For reasons still known only to Divine Providence, The Ocean State Republican mysteriously disappeared in late 2003 … but it did not die! The OSR has been biding its time … integrating and adapting to emerging technologies … assimilating new ideas and concepts … refining its purpose and message … steadily regaining its strength … waiting for just the right time to awaken from its long slumber. The OSR has returned! (… and not a moment too soon!)

    The OSR's impressive list of contributors (including some names you may recognize from Anchor Rising's comments section!) can be viewed here.

    Open Thread: The I-Way & Rhode Island Traffic

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Can you name the highway project that fits this description…

    It would provide urgently needed relief for I-95 and I-195 within the core of this urban area. It also will permit long-distance travelers between New York and Connecticut, and the Fall River-New Bedford metropolitan area and Cape Cod, to bypass this congested urban core.
    If you guessed the I-way, you'd be wrong!

    The description comes from a 1960s-era proposal for an interstate 895, which along with 295 would have made a complete interstate loop around Providence. 895 would have started at the 95/295 interchange in Attleboro (the reason why the ramps between 295 and 95 seem so overbuilt is that they were constructed with 895 in mind), headed southeast through Massachusetts, crossed 195 near the East Providence/Seekonk line, approximately followed the unnumbered connector between 195 and 114 in East Providence and then 114 itself, turned west through Barrington, crossed an Upper Narragansett Bay Bridge that was never built, plowed through several Warwick neighborhoods, hooked up with route 37 in Warwick, and rejoined 295 in Cranston.

    The details of this plan, and of many other Eastern New England roads, built and unbuilt, can be found on Steve Anderson's comprehensive Boston Roads website.

    895, of course, was never built. And as is typical of government, even though they knew early on they had a problem, it took them thirty years to come up with an alternate solution.

    The state department of transportation is saying that the congestion problems created by the new traffic patterns associated with the I-way will be relieved when the project is complete and all of the new routes are open. Do you buy that answer? Either way, consider this an open thread on the continuing traffic situation either being remedied or exacerbated by the new construction.

    November 7, 2007

    A Fox Watching the RIPEC Henhouse? Simmons et al Should Answer Salary Questions Once and for All

    Marc Comtois

    This week, we've discovered that Gary Sasse is leaving RIPEC to take over the RI Department of Revenue. Sasse's replacement will be John Simmons, Providence Mayor David Cicilline's Director of Administration. Simmons himself has been at the heart of a controversy concerning who were the anonymous sources of a large portion of his compensation (via the RI Foundation managed Fund for Providence) up until about 2 1/2 years ago. Dan Yorke and former mayor Buddy Cianci aren't buying Mayor Cicilline's explanation about "safeguards" in place to prevent favor-buying via this mechanism.

    RIPEC has traditionally been a good government sort of organization. According to its mission:

    Through its in-depth research, program monitoring, advocacy and public information activities, RIPEC aims to accomplish several missions.

    The Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council:

    * Suggests approaches to help improve the effectiveness and efficiency of government agencies;
    * Promotes fiscal responsibility and sound management practices;
    * Assists elected officials and their staffs in the development of sound policies and programs;
    * Enhances understanding between the private sector and state and local governments;
    * Provides objective information and conducts educational programs for the benefit of Council members, public officials, and the general public;
    * Builds coalitions with other community groups to promote sound public policies; and
    Promotes a public policy agenda to promote a climate for economic opportunity.

    How will this change at the top affect RIPEC's image? Even assuming that everything between the RI Foundation, Fund for Providence, Cicilline and Simmons was on the up-and-up (and there's nothing to prove otherwise), it still doesn't look good that the public doesn't know the identity of the private donor who paid Simmons' salary. How can RIPEC continue to champion "fiscal responsibility and sound management practices" when a fundamental question that lay within the realm of good government still remains unanswered?

    From the Department of Things You Can't Make Up

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    A gentleman by the name of John B. Webster has identified a line of business he thinks will be successful in Rhode Island: providing "incarceration assistance" to white collar criminals. From the Chicago Sun Times

    When John B. Webster was convicted in 2001 for lying to the FBI, he lost his law license and his freedom -- but gained a new career.

    Webster is part of a small, specialized industry that advises white-collar criminals heading to the pen….

    Webster, 48, who served 13 months for reporting a bogus death threat, has provided "incarceration assistance" to more than 40 people though his company, National Prison & Sentencing Consultants, based in Rhode Island.

    I wonder what he thinks the advantages of setting up shop in the Ocean State are.

    Utah Voucher Program Defeated

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    The Utah voucher plan that would have made a $500 to $3000 voucher available to every child in Utah, applicable to the school of their choice, was defeated in a voter referendum yesterday. The Salt Lake City Tribune has a nuts and bolts election report...

    Voters decisively rejected the will of the Utah Legislature and governor Tuesday, defeating what would have been the nation's most comprehensive education voucher program in a referendum blowout....

    More than 60 percent of voters were rejecting vouchers, with about 95 percent of the precincts reporting, according to unofficial results. The referendum failed in every county, including the conservative bastion of Utah County.

    November 6, 2007

    Regional Government in Two-and-a-Half Acts

    Justin Katz

    Most of the changes that the Department of Transportation proposed to the new Sakonnet Bridge project, last night, were centered on cost savings. The bridge will be starting closer to the water; parts of it will be built on back-filled land (rather than additional structural columns); the metal will be "weathered steel," which acquires a consistent brown color over time (rust colored, but not splotchy or suggestive of decay), rather than stainless steel.

    Now, it's the job of local elected officials to fight for ideal circumstances for their constituents, and the disrepair of the current bridge, with its weight restrictions and shabby look, certainly cost the town in money, convenience, and aesthetics. Assurances ought to be sought that the bridge won't (1) soon be in need of major repair or replacement and (2) look like a slap-dash affair.

    It's a bit much, though, to hear a largely (perhaps totally) Democrat town council, along with the state representatives in attendance, harangue a Dept. of Transportation representative over poor upkeep and cost saving efforts. Council VP Donald Bollin insisted, to DOT Deputy Engineer Kazem Farhoumand, that the old bridge should be repaired such that the weight limit could be lifted, and then the new bridge built "whatever the cost will be to get a bridge that will last."

    Not having researched the project extensively, I can only surmise that sufficient repairs to the old bridge would be such an extensive undertaking that simply replacing it is ultimately more efficient and cost effective. That some elected officials and citizens of the town gave scarcely lip service to the savings suggests that they don't see the expense as their own. It's "get as much as you can," without a broader picture of the costs of that approach.

    According to the Newport Daily News article about last night, the current projected cost of the project is around $180 million. If DOT's federal funding breakdown (which I found under its Web site's FAQ of "Where does the Rhode Island Department of Transportation get its funding?") is the whole story, only about 13% will come from earmarked federal funds. Unless I'm missing something, that means that the rest of the funds are allocated under state control.

    To broaden the picture, consider the state's 2008 budget appropriations (PDF): Federal funds account for 73.4% of DOT's entire budget. In other words, the state contributes very little to the department beyond what it procures from above. Transportation, altogether, accounts for just 5.4% of all state appropriations, while DOT's share represents 13.7% of the state's total federal funds. If the bridges are in disrepair, the blame lies with a state government that relies disproportionately on a higher layer of government to cover the costs.

    For all of the fear that building the bridge more cheaply will harm the town, I didn't hear any hint that the state legislators intended to take another look at the structural reasons that DOT's maintenance record leaves much to be desired. I also didn't hear any suggestion that the town would find money in its budget to cover discarded amenities.

    As I wrote last night, such infrastructural items as roads and bridges ought to be a central responsibility of government, not a dependent investment based on whatever revenue can be drawn above and beyond internal resources. Anybody who's upset at their lost glimpses of water or the brownish hue of the bridge ought to direct their ire at the people who've come up with a thousand better uses for our money, from enviable remuneration packages for public union employees to generous handouts to the state's free-riders.

    Once Again Making the Central Point, Which Supporters of Same-Sex Marriage Somehow Never Manage to Address (At Least Not Until the Debate Has Gone on Long Enough That the Average Person Has Stopped Reading)

    Justin Katz

    How is it possible that people who ostensibly pay attention to the news and to the public dialog still make such arguments as Charles Bakst's on behalf of same-sex marriage without addressing a response — stated in many public discussions for years, now — that is central to the opposing side's worldview? Here's Bakst:

    [Bishop Tobin] admits the sky hasn’t fallen in Massachusetts. "But I don't think the sky would fall if Massachusetts legalized prostitution, polygamy or incest either."

    I cringe when I see such words employed in any discussion of two men or two women who seek the joy, stability and respect offered by marriage.

    The bishop asserts that "the onslaught" of gay weddings "should create more than a little anxiety for thoughtful and insightful people." The dictionary defines "onslaught" as "a fierce attack." But gay marriage is not an attack on anyone else or anyone else's marriage.

    The movement to recognize same-sex relationships as marriage is an attack on the very meaning of marriage and, as such, harms anybody who benefits, or would benefit in the future, from a strong culture of marriage as it has historically been defined. Topping a list that ultimately includes every person alive and yet to be born are those whose economic, emotional, and (yes) spiritual wellbeing is threatened by their own inclinations away from stable, monogamous marital relationships and those who are born to such people. The increased strain on people who are irrevocably homosexual — and are therefore unlikely to enter into such marriages as they, in possession of full equal rights, are absolutely permitted — is regrettable, but the repercussions of the alternative would be exponentially more so.

    Bakst's point of view entirely lacks sense unless "marriage" is, by definition, merely an intimate, committed relationship between adults. However much he might cringe, therefore, both incest and polygamy between consenting adults fall under his representation of equality.

    Advocates for the maintenance of traditional marriage have been challenged, in recent years, to define their view of marriage in such a way as to exclude alternative definitions without relying on religious dogma or bigotry. They have done so much more thoroughly than advocates of same-sex marriage (but nothing further) possibly could. Little wonder the latter are so apt to ignore the points of the former.

    Perhaps Mr. Bakst, with his expressed wish for "more people, wherever they stand, [to] speak up," will endeavor, in a future column, to prove me wrong.

    Institutional Racism, Quotas, and Cranston

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    State Republican Chairman Giovanni Cicione touched off a minor firestorm in political circles with his statement that unions are a source of institutional racism. Monday's Political Scene column in the Projo summarized and exchange between Chairman Cicione and reporter Bill Rappleye on WJAR-TV's (NBC 10) 10 News Conference

    State Republican Chairman Giovanni Cicione’s description of labor unions as the “last vestige of institutional racism” has — no surprise — led a coalition of AFL-CIO affiliated unions known as Working Rhode Island to urge Governor Carcieri to demand Cicione’s resignation....

    Asked by reporter Bill Rappleye if he had indeed called unions “the last vestige of institutional racism,” Cicione said: “I did.”

    “What does that mean?” he was asked. Cicione’s answer: “If you look back to the formation of the unions, it was in large part — if you look at Samuel Gompers and people like that that were the heads of those union movements — they were publicly out there saying the reason we need to have unions is to keep the Italians from taking our jobs. That was my grandparents they were talking about back when this started"...

    “Nothing’s changed now,” Cicione began when Rappleye interrupted with a “Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.”

    “Look at the numbers, Bill. Look at the numbers,” Cicione continued. “Go to the Cranston Fire Department. How many women are in that Fire Department? How many people of color are in that Fire Department?”

    Rappleye followed up with a report on Monday that suggested in two different places that racial quotas may be considered for the Cranston fire department. In the opening, Rappleye used the q-word directly…
    Some fire and police departments across Rhode Island are coming under scrutiny for their failure to meet diversity quotas.
    Later in the report, Clifford Monteiro, President of the Providence Chapter of the NAACP, made a call for evaluating Cranston's hiring practices according to rigid numerical standards…
    Clifford Monteiro, president of the NAACP Providence Branch, said his group has negotiated with Cranston for more than two years.

    He said it has not produced any results.

    "Cranston has 11 percent minorities, and there should be 11 percent in public works, 11 percent in the police department, 11 percent in the fire department," Monteiro said.

    It's a little surprising to see racial quotas, labeled "highly suspect" by the United States Supreme Court, being discussed this openly. The Supreme Court has made it clear that there are very few circumstances where racial quotas are either justified or legal. The most important recent case (not involving university admissions, which is a subset of the law unto its own) is Richmond v. Croson (1989), where the Supreme Court struck down fixed-percentage race-based set asides in government contracting in the absence of evidence of actual discrimination. As the recently sainted Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote in her majority opinion…
    An amorphous claim that there has been past discrimination in a particular industry cannot justify the use of an unyielding racial quota.
    Mr. Monteiro wants a quota in all-but-name to be applied to the Cranston fire department. He doesn't want to have to prove any specific acts of discrimination that have occurred, just that final staffing numbers prove that some form of racism must exist and therefore race-conscious government action is required. The Constitution -- and even the courts -- say clearly that this is not acceptable.

    Chairman Cicione needs to be careful here, as claims of "institutional racism" belong to the same category of "amorphous" reasoning being used by Mr. Monteiro to try to justify quotas. In the future, you can be assured that Rhode Island Democrats will be citing Mr. Cicione's references to the reality of "institutional racism" as evidence of the need to change the law (whether through the legislature or through the courts) to allow more sweeping impositions of racial quotas than are allowed now.

    Three other notes on Monday's Political Scene column…

    1. I'm not sure if the "no surprise" line regarding the calls for Giovanni Cicione's resignation is supposed to mean that Giovanni Cicione has again said something that has people calling for his resignation, or to mean that it has been a few days since the Democratic/labor alliance has called for someone to resign or apologize or something, so they decided they needed to put out a press release.
    2. In case anyone is wondering, it is documented that Samuel Gompers held nativist attitudes. Perhaps the current leadership of the AFL-CIO should apologize for his statements, to help smooth things over with various offended groups.

      Personally, I don't think that's necessary. The whole idea of apologizing for things that someone else did 100 or more years ago is pretty silly.

    3. Even if I was pro-quota (which I'm not), noting that Cranston has no residency requirement for firemen, I would wonder why their staffing totals would be expected to reflect just the population of Cranston, instead of a wider possible hiring area?

    Patrick Kennedy, National Casino Advocate

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Gambling lobbyists appear to have found a reliable go-to guy in the U.S. Congress -- Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy. The Port Huron Times Herald has the details (h/t RISC)…

    A bill that would pave the way for a casino in Port Huron picked up a third sponsor last week when a Rhode Island congressman endorsed it.

    Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a Democrat, has signed on as a co-sponsor of H.R. 2176, which calls for federal approval of a 2002 land swap between the state of Michigan and the Bay Mills Indian Community of the Upper Peninsula.

    The bill was introduced May 3 by Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee, and co-sponsored by Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township. It was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, where it has languished for six months.

    "In approving this settlement, Congress can do right by the Bay Mills tribe and recognize what the people of Michigan already know: That the settlement is both fair and in the best interests of all parties involved," Kennedy said in a statement issued Friday.

    The tribe gave up its long-standing claim to 110 acres of property at Charlotte Beach, a community on the St. Marys River, in exchange for a reservation on the 15-acre Thomas Edison Inn property in Port Huron.

    The agreement has been bitterly opposed by Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who contends it could take business from the three casinos in his city. It also is opposed by most of Michigan's other Indian tribes, particularly the Saginaw Chippewas.

    How long do you think it will be before Congressman Kennedy is helping to push a casino on Rhode Island over local objections?

    Congress Shall Make No Law (Except if Abortion is Involved)...

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Legislators, activists and especially judges often seem to operate from the assumption that laws related to abortion should be evaluated according to different rules than other laws. Today's Projo has an sensible editorial reminding its readers that this shouldn't be the case…

    Under current Massachusetts law, anti-abortion protesters must observe a six-foot “bubble” within 18 feet of any abortion provider. (In other words, within 18 feet of a clinic, protesters must stay at least six feet away from anyone entering or leaving. Leave it to legislators to put their diktats in garbled language!)

    The state Senate has approved a bill to expand the buffer zone around abortion clinics. Under the proposal, which is expected to be passed and signed into law by Governor Patrick, protesters would be prohibited from coming within 35 feet of a clinic’s property line. Importantly, this includes silent protesters, and apparently applies to people standing otherwise lawfully on private property — even their own.

    Those who believe that this further restriction on the “right of the people to peaceably assemble” (from the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution) is justified, should ask themselves this: As a matter of law, would they favor a 35-foot buffer zone around military recruitment offices? Or keeping immigration-reform demonstrators 35 feet away from all federal buildings?

    According to the op-ed, even the ACLU opposes the new Massachusetts law because of its over-broadness. (The ACLU has a mixed record on no-free speech "bubbles" in general, with the national organization having supported some narrow ones in the past, sometimes over the objections of local chapters).

    November 5, 2007

    A Bridge to Somewhere

    Justin Katz

    Tonight's Tiverton Town Council meeting will almost entirely — excepting the closed executive session, of course — be taken up with a presentation concerning some proposed changes to the New Sakonnet Bridge from Tiverton to Portsmouth. I will say this: comparing the before and (proposed) after pictures really gives one a sense of what government funds ought to be used to accomplish.

    The new bridge will certainly be an improvement, not the least because it will allow for pedestrian and bicycle traffic. It doesn't take much to improve quality of life incrementally.

    It's also been edifying to note that this "special meeting" (and the multimillion dollar project that it addresses) is of sufficient import to bring out my state-level representatives. Hopefully, they're having similar thoughts to mine with respect to worthwhile and appropriate government expenditures (beyond, you know, the rub-and-tug political benefits).


    Unfortunately, I decided to start bringing my laptop to these things, rather than relying on my stealth bloggerware, and all of the meeting setup has put all of the important people behind me, so they can all plainly see that I'm spending most of the time reading the Corner etc.

    Circumventing Inconvenient Laws to Build a Casino

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    The destination casino lives. The Rhode Island Statewide Coalition has put out a detailed set of presentations on the latest machinations in the casino drive, including information on a Federal Appeals Court ruling that potentially clears the way for the construction and operation of an Indian Casino in Charlestown that would be immune from state and local laws...

    The 4-2 decision of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on July 20, 2007, in the case of Carcieri vs. Kempthorne, would permit the Narragansett Indian Tribe (NIT) to transfer lands it owns into “Trust” status. (The NIT owns land in both Charlestown and Westerly which may become “trust lands.”) The "Trust Lands strategy" circumvents the provisions of the "Settlement Act“, the agreement the Tribe previously reached with Rhode Island and Charlestown

    If the decision stands, the NIT may be entitled to utilize the new “Trust Lands” in accordance with decisions of the federal government alone, without any obligation to observe local and state laws. No state gaming regulations, no zoning laws, no planning restrictions, no local sanitation, environment or other restrictions would apply to the “trust lands”. Although NIT leaders claim that they will only build housing on the new “trust lands”, once the transfer is done, their governance passes entirely to the NIT. The tribe will be able to do whatever it wishes on those lands. In other States, Casinos have quickly risen where housing originally was promised.

    (Note: All emphasis in the above excerpt reproduced as in the original).

    The question in Carcieri v. Kempthorne (Dirk Kempthorne is the U.S. Secretary of the Interior) centers on whether the particular history of Narragansett Indian Tribe and the State of Rhode Island allow new Rhode Island lands to be removed from state/local jurisdiction via Federal bureaucratic decree. Here's the district circuit court's short-take on the relevant history…

    In 1880, the State acquired the majority of the [Narragansett Tribe's] lands. In 1934, the Tribe organized as a state-chartered corporation. In 1975, the Tribe sued to recover its lands, arguing that the State had acquired the lands in violation of the Indian Nonintercourse Act, 25 U.S.C. § 177. The Tribe claimed that this violation rendered void the transfer of title to the lands.

    This cloud on title prompted the State to enter into settlement negotiations with the Tribe, which led in 1978 to an agreement embodied in a Joint Memorandum of Understanding (JMOU). Under the JMOU, the Tribe would receive 1800 acres of "settlement lands," half of which were provided by the State and half of which were purchased with federal funds. The State agreed to create an Indian-controlled corporation to hold the settlement lands in trust for the Tribe, to exempt the settlement lands from local taxation, and to help secure the federal legislation necessary to implement the agreement. In exchange, the Tribe abandoned its claims of aboriginal title and its claims to lands in the state other than the settlement lands.

    In turn, Congress approved and codified the agreement in the Settlement Act. The Settlement Act provided that "the settlement lands shall be subject to the civil and criminal laws and jurisdiction of the State of Rhode Island." Id. § 1708(a).

    The Narragansetts' claim is that the "Settlement Act" applies only to the original 1800 acres, and therefore lands they have purchased since then can be made exempt from state and local laws, if the United States Department of the Interior places them into Federal Trust. The state's position is that the Settlement Act applies to all Narragansett lands, regardless of when they were acquired, and that the Federal Government cannot go about carving up the state of Rhode Island without the consent of Rhode Islanders.

    The courts, so far, have upheld the Narragansetts' position, essentially ruling that the the Federal Government has a right to cut states up to facilitate the building of gambling parlors. Rhode Island, of course, was famously the last of the 13 original colonies to join the United States of America, fearing that giving up power to a remote Federal government would not serve the interests of Rhode Islanders. Maybe the surly holdouts were right after all...

    Rhode Island's Presidential Primary Will Be On March 4

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    From Jack Perry of the Projo's 7-to-7 newsblog

    Governor Carcieri has vetoed a bill moving Rhode Island's presidential primary from March 4 to Feb. 5.

    The governor said a change in the date would "create an excessive burden on local boards of canvassers."

    He vetoed the bill yesterday and announced it today.

    Here are the important dates that supporters of all of the candidates need to be aware of, courtesy of Dave Talan's unofficial analysis
    • Wednesday December 5 to Friday December 7 - Presidential candidates file to run in R.I.
    • Tuesday December 6 to Wednesday December 26 - Presidential candidates gather 1,000 valid signatures of registered voters; and turn them in to the local Board of Canvassers of the City or Town where the signer lives.
    • Monday January 7 to Wednesday January 9 - Candidates for Delegate to the GOP National Convention file to run in R.I.
    • Tuesday January 8 to Friday January 18 - Delegate candidates gather 150 valid signatures of registered voters in their Congressional District; and turn them in to the local Board of Canvassers of the City or Town where the signer lives.
    • Thursday January 31 - last day for Delegate candidates to receive permission from the Presidential candidate of their choice, to appear on the ballot under him on the R.I. Primary ballot.

    Ken Block: Does Ideology Trump Shared Advocacy?

    Engaged Citizen

    It has been a week since my growing personal disgust with the state of Rhode Island’s politics and politicians publicly overflowed with the creation of the web site and an accompanying opinion piece in the Providence Journal. In this time, almost 200 Rhode Islanders from many political ideologies lent their voices for the stated purpose of trying to push needed procedural reforms through the legislature to attempt to clean up our governance and provide some needed balance in our legislature.

    I was very pleased to hear positive responses from several folks who identified themselves as conservatives. Two responses in particular made me cringe a bit, as the respondents indicated that they reluctantly agreed with my general ideas since there seemed to be no other way to break through the hammerlock that the Democrats currently hold on the legislature.

    Why would anyone not whole heartedly want to pursue advocacy for items as basic as separation of powers, not using one time cash payouts to balance the budget, or not allowing politicians to buy their way out of an Ethics Commission complaint without admitting wrongdoing?

    Comments on this blog indicate that the State Republican party shares many of the same ideas as those advocated for or Does the fact that is a non-conservative effort preclude some conservatives from advocating on this web site for changes that they believe in?

    A most interesting and disturbing comment entered on the web site deserves a verbatim quotation:

    If given a choice between supporting a bunch of Chafee pigs who no longer want to be identified as Republican or supporting Madison, I'll take the Founder every time. Much like OCG, RISC, the other group calling itself RISC, CFRI or the Education Partnership, everyone can already see right through you. In short, you're already a joke.
    This guy really seems to care about something, but I’ll be damned if I know what (mangled quote credit to Rodney Dangerfield). He is really angry about Chafee, and I’m guessing by extension my effort since the word "moderate" is in the mix. What confuses me is where does this guy stand on what is broken in our government. Is he for buying one’s way out of an ethics charge or rolling back separation of powers?

    I would not be surprised to learn that most participants and readers of this blog will think that the Democratic majority in the legislature is not adequately representing the beliefs and values of the majority of Rhode Islanders (they most certainly are not in many of the issues which come before them). Hard proof of this lies in the uncompleted separation of powers. Does Chafee really deserve to be pilloried for voting on issues in a way which he felt best represented (and in my opinion did best represent) the values of the majority of those who voted him into office? Who is guilty of worse governance offenses, Chafee or the Democrats in the legislature?

    All ridiculous culture war issues aside, the time is right now for those who believe that what ails Rhode Island can and should be fixed. There are many disparate groups which have overlapping goals, and the need is critical right now to ignore ideological differences, pool resources and advocate together for specific changes that should be palatable to all. My strong suggestion is to push all out on separation of powers, disallowing one time payouts to be used to balance the budget and disallowing the settling of ethics charges by paying off the Ethics Commission. These ideas have popular appeal and immediate relevance.

    I urge readers of this site, if you agree with any of my positions, to please lend your voice to advocate for change in the State House. You do not have to agree with all of the issues, and you certainly can advocate strongly against the idea of a Moderate Party if that is your thing. The overriding goal is to make change happen to help put our legislature back on an even keel.

    November 4, 2007

    A Note for Our Dialogue

    Justin Katz

    Well, if we're all going to sit around the table and resolve the healthcare crisis in Rhode Island, as Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts wishes, I'd like to make sure that this sort of testimony doesn't slip out of sight onto the floor:

    Unfortunately Sicko is a dishonest film. That is not only my opinion. It is the opinion of Professor Lord Robert Winston, the consultant and advocate of the NHS. When asked on BBC Radio 4 whether he recognised the NHS as portrayed in this film, Winston replied: "No, I didn't. Most of it was filmed at my hospital [the Hammersmith in west London], which is a very good hospital but doesn't represent what the NHS is like."

    I didn't recognise it either, from years of visiting NHS hospitals. Moore painted a rose-tinted vision of spotless wards, impeccable treatment, happy patients who laugh away any suggestion of waiting in casualty, and a glamorous young GP who combines his devotion to his patients with a salary of £100,000, a house worth £1m and two cars. All this, and for free.

    This, along with an even rosier portrait of the French welfare system, is what Moore says the state can and should provide. You would never guess from Sicko that the NHS is in deep trouble, mired in scandal and incompetence, despite the injection of billions of pounds of taxpayers' money.

    Turnabout: Who, Whether, Why?

    Justin Katz

    Dan Yorke has wondered who among Rhode Island's governing elites will be the first to break off from the pack and join the governor in taking dramatic steps to stop the sky from falling. While honesty requires me to admit that Yorke's studies of the topic are much more extensive, and his knowledge of the players much closer, than mine, I'm not yet sold that the question isn't whether, rather than who.

    Rhode Island's problems are generally obvious to us, but to those who've created them, less so. Even if one assumes, for the sake of argument, that some elected officials have a vague sense that they're getting away with something — that they oughtn't be creating the regime that they're creating — there are many layers of self-delusion, groundless hope, and skepticism about strategy between that sense and an attempt to navigate a policy turnabout without highlighting the degree to which an official (and his or her entire party) facilitated the problems themselves.

    Such were the thoughts brought to mind by a story Thursday about the initial stages of the RI government's forecasting of its near-term economic future:

    Officials had hoped for good news.

    An economic upturn involving substantial job growth, higher wages and lower energy prices would help close a 2008-09 budget deficit now projected at $211 million. More income would mean more income taxes, the state's largest revenue stream. And more income also suggests Rhode Islanders would have more to spend, which would create more sales taxes, the state's second-largest revenue stream.

    But the economists concluded yesterday that job growth would be relatively flat in the coming fiscal year — up just 1 percent over this year and in line with expectations set last May. Wages and salaries increases across the state will not meet expectations, they said, projected at 3.7 percent instead of 4.1 percent.

    We can't just sit around and hope for good news. Policies must be changed to make it more likely. That which brings the shower of bad news must be evaluated and addressed.

    "To think that there may be a slowdown in the Rhode Island economy ... it's the last thing we need," said Ellen Frank, chief economist for the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College. "A lot is going to hinge on what happens over the next week."

    And yet Ms. Frank's executive director at the institute is advocating more of the same approach that has doomed Rhode Island thus far. Politicians are a different animal than poverty advocates and other special interests (however difficult it may be to tell them apart in this state), but we haven't drifted to our current straits, and the paddling has been a coordinated effort. Attempts at delusion and cover-up will be, as well.

    Just Do Good

    Justin Katz

    It's certainly easy and natural to boo-hoo the do-gooders who lament the state of their profession:

    But now the 29-year-old faces a predicament shared by many young strivers in Washington's public interest field. After years of amassing so many achievements, they struggle to find full-time employment with decent pay and realize they might not get exactly what they set out for. Hanley, a think tank temp who dreams of aiding the impoverished and reducing gender discrimination in developing countries, is stuck. ...

    Numerous young Washingtonians bemoan the improvisational and protracted career track of the area's public interest profession. They say the high competition for comparatively low-paying jobs saps their sense of adulthood, forcing them to spend their 20s or early 30s moving from college to work to graduate school and back to work that might or might not be temporary. ...

    Even though premium NGO jobs have always been relatively scarce, more people seem to be angling for that world. The number of international affairs grad school applicants to Georgetown, Johns Hopkins and George Washington universities rose 63 percent in the five years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, compared with the total from the previous five years, data from the schools show. Enrollment in the programs increased more than 30 percent in the five years after the attacks, and the percentage of applicants admitted declined.

    Those who graduate from the prestigious schools often start with a salary comparable to the annual tuition. ...

    Young people maneuvering within the NGO landscape say an odd feeling settles in by the time they are ready to start a job: They feel "old," but they don't truly feel like adults because they earn modest salaries and have limited responsibilities. Galston's study reported that about 30 percent of those in their late 20s and early 30s had mixed views on whether they had reached adulthood.

    My first reaction is to advise readers to remember this perpetually stagnant industry whenever people from within the do-gooder profession push for more funding. The targets of their advocacy aside, there are young professionals with advanced degrees out there looking for work on the public dime.

    That said, one hesitates to fall too far into an opposing camp, as arguably represented by the Instapundit-linked Rand Simberg:

    ... their fundamental premise is flawed. Who is it that really changes the world, and for the better?

    I would argue that it is the people like Bill Gates, or Henry Ford, or Thomas Edison, or the Wright brothers, who have a much larger and more beneficial effect on the world than people who "want to make a difference."

    Who is more of a humanitarian, a Norman Borlaug, who through his technological efforts saved untold millions from hunger, and even starvation, and was reasonably compensated for it, or an Albert Schweitzer or Mother Theresa, who labored to help a relatively few poor and ill, while living in relative poverty?

    In order for Simberg's view to obtain, humanitarianism must be measured by the success of stars in their fields, with a linear gauge. We can name the world-changing inventors and developers because they are few in number. Chasing the dream of them — whether for material or moral gain — will fall out as failure for most who seek to do good in direct correlation with their managing to do well. Mother Theresa's docket of humanitarian accomplishments doesn't end with the "relatively few poor and ill" whom she directly touched; she also inspired others; she also taught an even broader segment of society that it doesn't take a big idea or a big fortune to make a difference.

    Of course, Simberg could counter that Bill Gates inspires, and that the achievements of those whom he inspires count toward his tally, as well. And I would point out that we've merely moved into the range of the exchange at which its foolishness becomes apparent. It's a ridiculous endeavor (tending toward validation of one's own proclivities) to place upon the scales those with different modes of humanitarianism.

    Really, the goal ought to be to do good no matter what, or how well, one does; that is a possibility open to everybody whose pursuits are not intrinsically evil. As a control on that dictum, however, I'd speculate that Simberg and I would come 'round to full agreement that there are risks when one sets out simply to "do good," with no specifics in mind: Just as it is possible to choose misery-making careers because they've received society's "Success" stamp, it is an especial pitfall of our age that certain causes bear the label of "Humanitarian" without respect to how much good they accomplish in the end.

    November 3, 2007

    Technical Difficulties

    Justin Katz

    At least from my computer, it appears that we're having some technical difficulties, with Anchor Rising being replaced at intervals with one of those generic stolen-URL promotional sites. As it happens our domain name registration renews today, but that may very well be coincidental. Perhaps, with the storm, connections are being lost somewhere out there in the real-world backbone of cyberspace. Oddly, though, I've had no problems with Dust in the Light, which is set up in exactly the same manner, on exactly the same renew schedule.

    Whatever the case, I apologize for the glitches.

    A Pipe Bomb in a Nuke Plant (almost)

    Monique Chartier

    Question for anyone who drives a pickup truck. Would a pipe bomb in the back of your truck escape your attention as you drove to work? Overreaching for an explanation now, how if someone dropped it in while you were stopped at a red light?

    The Palo Verde nuclear power plant, the largest in the United States, was sealed off for much of Friday after guards found a pipe bomb in a worker's truck as he tried to enter the facility, officials said. ...

    The pipe bomb was probably powerful enough to damage the vehicle but not the power plant, Sheriff Joe Arpaio said.

    The engineer, identified as Roger Hurd, 61, of South Carolina, told investigators he was unaware the pipe bomb was in the bed of his pickup truck, the sheriff said.

    "The mystery is how did it get in the truck and how he knew nothing about it. It's all very puzzling," Arpaio told Reuters, adding that a search of Hurd's Phoenix-area apartment turned up no clues. "There was nothing there that would connect him to the pipe bomb."

    How the Miracle Will Sit

    Justin Katz

    This is a touching story, and whether one would have made different decisions as a parent requires much reflection, but it's easy to imagine Gabriel reacting to it quite differently than his parents might expect:

    When doctors found that Gabriel was weaker than his brother, with an enlarged heart,and believed he was going to die in the womb, his mother Rebecca Jones had to make a heartbreaking decision.

    Doctors told her his death could cause his twin brother to die too before they were born, and that it would be better to end Gabriel's suffering sooner rather than later.

    Mrs Jones decided to let doctors operate to terminate Gabriel's life.

    Firstly they tried to sever his umbilical cord to cut off his blood supply, but the cord was too strong.

    They then cut Mrs Jones's placenta in half so that when Gabriel died, it would not affect his twin brother.

    But after the operation which was meant to end his life, tiny Gabriel had other ideas.

    Although he weighed less than a pound, he put up such a fight for survival that doctors called him Rocky.

    Astonishingly, he managed to carry on living in his mother's womb for another five weeks - until the babies were delivered by caesarean section.

    Now he and Ieuan are back at home in Stoke - and are so close they are always holding each other's hand.

    "Don't you see, son? The point isn't that we tried to kill you; it's that we failed!"

    Can't Teach an Old Media New Tricks, Either

    Justin Katz

    Glenn is right that this isn't exactly surprising news, but it's worth remembering from time to time throughout the egregiously extended campaign season:

    Just like so many reports before it, a joint survey by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy — hardly a bastion of conservative orthodoxy — found that in covering the current presidential race, the media are sympathetic to Democrats and hostile to Republicans.

    Democrats are not only favored in the tone of the coverage. They get more coverage period. This is particularly evident on morning news shows, which "produced almost twice as many stories (51% to 27%) focused on Democratic candidates than on Republicans."

    The most flagrant bias, however, was found in newspapers. In reviewing front-page coverage in 11 newspapers, the study found the tone positive in nearly six times as many stories about Democrats as it was negative.

    Who wants to be the first to argue that this is the case because the Republicans deserve more negative coverage? You know, just like college professors are overwhelmingly left-wingers because they're just the most darndest smartest people our society has to offer.


    November 2, 2007

    Can't Teach Old Legislators New Tricks

    Marc Comtois

    Comrade Donnis shine's the light on a bad veto-override:

    Justice Brandeis famously said that sunlight is the best disinfectant. So it is with campaign donations and the public's ability to scrutinize them.

    If people know who and what is funding their lawmakers, it makes it that much easier to guard against criminal behavior and garden-variety conflicts of interest. The public has an interest in public officials knowing that this information is publicly available.

    That's why the General Assembly made a bad move by reducing the number of Rhode Island politicians who need to file fundraising and campaign spending reports.

    The claim is that too many of the older legislators just ain't computer savvy enough to work them newfangled computers and file campaign donations electronically. Right. Rep. Nick Gorham:
    “I don’t really think the issue is about protecting the elderly here....There are people in this room that just don’t want the data in that kind of format with the Board of Elections, where the public will be able to more easily access it …because our history has been to oppose such things; the history of the party in control has been to oppose public information on campaign finance. That’s too bad.”
    But entirely predictable.

    The RI Lead Paint Case: Sherwin-Williams Versus DuPont?

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    According to a report published by Legal Newsline, paint manufacturer Sherwin-Williams wants the Rhode Island courts to take a closer look at how DuPont's lead-paint agreement money is being spent, and what that says about what the costs of lead remediation should be...

    Sherwin-Williams is requesting that two portions of DuPont's settlement with the State be removed because they serve only Lynch's interests. DuPont settled before the State's trial against several paint companies, three of which were found liable for creating a public nuisance when they manufactured lead paint.

    Sherwin-Williams filed two motions Wednesday -- one to value the DuPont settlement and another to stay the lead paint abatement process ordered by Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein.

    "In addition to valuing the overall DuPont settlement, Sherwin-Williams also moves to disgorge two monetary amounts from the settlement that were improperly diverted to two purely private purposes, to satisfy either the Attorney General's or the State's counsel's private interest," attorneys for Sherwin-Williams wrote.

    In their filing, Sherwin-Williams' attorneys repeatedly draw attention to several figures associated with the DuPont's "settlement" (which, I believe, DuPont still claims is not a settlement), taking the position that only $4.25 million of $10 million or $12 million that DuPont agreed to pay out is going directly to remediate lead-affected homes in Rhode Island, 600 homes in total. On its surface, much of the filing is about making sure that Sherwin-Williams is not charged a second time for work that DuPont is supposed to be responsible for.

    The larger goal of bringing this matter to the attention of the court, however, may be to help establish that Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch's proposed remediation figure is inflated. AG Lynch would like the three defendants found liable for creating a lead-paint nuisance in Rhode Island (Sherwin Williams, NL Industries, Millenium Holdings) to pay a total of $2.4 billion dollars to remediate 240,000 homes. However by Sherwin-Williams' reasoning, DuPont has been assessed a maximum figure of about $7000 per home ($4.25 million divided by 600, and I say maximum because they are asking for the DuPont settlement to be officially valued by the court, and I don't think they'd be doing that if they thought the $7000-per-home assessment was going to go significantly up). Multiply the 240,000 homes in Rhode Island needing to be remediated (actually 239,400 by SW's estimate) by $7000, and you arrive at a total of about $1.7 billion dollars.

    That's a $700 million difference between the Attorney General's number and the number being backed out by Sherwin-Williams. As one of three defendants potentially responsible for financing a remediation program, that's a potential savings of over $200 million for Sherwin-Williams. For a regular person or a small business, a $200 million reduction in the amount owed for anything would be huge, but for a big company like Sherwin-Williams, it's probably not a enough of a reduction to be considered the best case outcome. It's pretty clear that Sherwin-Williams is laying the groundwork to use the DuPont "settlement" to argue that they owe significantly less (should they be unable to get the verdict completely overturned), but not yet clear to us legal laypeople what the full chain of their reasoning will be.

    Are Hillary Clinton's Parsing Days Over?

    Marc Comtois

    Hey, it's Friday afternoon: let's have some fun. First, this one was put together by the RNC (via Human Events):

    Then there's this one put together by the John Edwards campaign (via The Corner):

    As commenter Greg points out: "It's beautiful to see that Bill [Clinton]'s strategy of 'triangulation', which is a nice way of saying 'I'll say whatever makes the audience I'm in front of right now happy' won't work in the internet-savvy, Youtube world of modern politics."

    The Republican Presidential Candidates Ask For Your Help

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Providence GOP Chairman and Rhode Island Republican Update editor Dave Talan passes along lots of good information for Rhode Islanders looking to get involved at the grass-roots level with a Presidential Campaign.

    1. There are still two possible primary schedules in play. Early next week, Governor Carcieri will decide whether or not to sign the bill that moves Rhode Island's Presidential primary from March 5 to February 4. Dave provides two possible schedules of important dates based on his readings of the legislation controlling the primaries…

    • Monday November 26 to Wednesday November 28 - Presidential candidates file to run in R.I.
    • Tuesday November 27 to Friday December 14 - Presidential candidates gather 1,000 valid signatures of registered voters; and turn them in to the local Board of Canvassers of the City or Town where the signer lives.
    • Monday December 3 to Wednesday December 5 - Candidates for Delegate to the GOP National Convention file to run in R.I.
    • December 4 to Friday December 14 - Delegate candidates gather 150 valid signatures of registered voters in their Congressional District; and turn them in to the local Board of Canvassers of the City or Town where the signer lives.
    • Friday January 4 - last day for Delegate candidates to receive permission from the Presidential candidate of their choice, to appear on the ballot under him on the R.I. Primary ballot.


    • Wednesday December 5 to Friday December 7 - Presidential candidates file to run in R.I.
    • Tuesday December 6 to Wednesday December 26 - Presidential candidates gather 1,000 valid signatures of registered voters; and turn them in to the local Board of Canvassers of the City or Town where the signer lives.
    • Monday January 7 to Wednesday January 9 - Candidates for Delegate to the GOP National Convention file to run in R.I.
    • Tuesday January 8 to Friday January 18 - Delegate candidates gather 150 valid signatures of registered voters in their Congressional District; and turn them in to the local Board of Canvassers of the City or Town where the signer lives.
    • Thursday January 31 - last day for Delegate candidates to receive permission from the Presidential candidate of their choice, to appear on the ballot under him on the R.I. Primary ballot.

    2. If the Governor signs the February 4 primary bill, then anyone who wants to be a delegate must be a registered Republican by today…

    There is one other major change in the legislation. It appears that only REGISTERED REPUBLICANS CAN RUN FOR DELEGATE. If you are an Unaffiliated voter, and want to run for Delegate, you must change your Party affiliation to Republican 30 days before you file. That would be TOMORROW (Friday November 2). If you do not plan to run for Delegate, you can ignore this, as Unaffiliated voters can still vote in the Primary.
    3. Dave makes this call-to-action for volunteers willing to help all of the Republican candidates get on the Rhode Island ballot…
    Rhode Island is the 2nd most difficult state in the entire nation for candidates to get on the ballot. (Only New York state is worse). Presidential candidates need to get 1,000 valid signatures in a very short period of time, just before Christmas. None of them can do this without a lot of help and teamwork.

    So here is what we are doing to help all the candidates who request our assistance.

    In R.I., one person can sign separate papers for ALL of the candidates. So WE NEED VOLUNTEERS WHO WILL GET AT LEAST 10 SIGNATURES FOR ALL THE CANDIDATES WHO REQUEST OUR HELP. If just 200 out of the 5,520 people who receive this E-Mailing agree to help, we will be all set.

    If you volunteer to help, we will get the papers to you as quickly as they are available. We will include written instructions on what to do with them. We will also provide a list of registered Republicans in your own local voting place. (Anyone is allowed to sign the papers - even Democrats - but obviously a registered Republican is more likely to sign all the papers without giving you a hard time)….


    We are only looking for people who will get signatures on ALL the papers that we give them. Because of the extreme time pressure that we are under, we are not looking for people who will only get signatures for the Presidential candidate of their choice. We are also not looking for people who will sign papers if someone comes to their house, but will not do anything else. For those people, we will organize dates and gathering spots in your own community, where you can go to sign the papers. (We will notify you, via E-mail, where and when these will be).

    4. Here is a list local e-mail contacts for each Republican candidate who has provided one to Dave Talan and the state party....

    Malcolm McGuire (East Greenwich)
    Joe White (North Kingstown)

    Bob Tingle (Westerly)
    Ron Iacobbo (Providence)
    Dana Peloso (Roger Wms. Univ. College GOP)

    Caswell Cooke (Westerly)

    Mike Rollins (North Providence)
    Peter Catsimpiris (Brown Univ. College GOP)

    Ryan Bilodeau (Woonsocket and URI College GOP)

    Terry Gorman (Lincoln)
    (This one is very unofficial, and Terry is just referring volunteers on to the New Hampshire office.)

    Lester Olson (Pawtucket)

    Buddymania Continues in the Darnedest Places

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    The return to WPRO-AM was suspected for months – maybe years – beforehand. The gig with ABC6 didn't really take anyone by surprise.

    But the subject of a feature article in The New Republic? Now that's getting a tad ridiculous.

    [Insert your own "Maybe TNR needed an association with someone with a cleaner reputation than Scott Thomas Beauchamp to bolster their image" joke here].

    Illegal Immigration Catch Phrases

    Monique Chartier

    Under "Senator Clinton: Illegals Should Have Licenses", commenter Greg asks, "Has anyone heard if insurance companies have signed on to the plan to give illegal aliens coverage?"

    After some quick research on this question, it appears that they have. The concern is that illegal aliens simply will not purchase the insurance - or they will purchase it for the minimal initial period and then allow it to lapse.

    Greg's question highlights the bigger issues raised by the statement "bring them out of the shadows" and the broad implications that roads will be safer if illegal aliens have licenses. No one has said what will be done or how it will be better if illegal aliens are "brought out of the shadows". There is no indication in anything I have read, for example, that they will be required to take driving lessons as a prerequisite to obtaining a license.

    This statement is as hollow and misleading as "create a path to citizenship", another favorite of advocates and misguided politicians. They must surely be aware that we already have a defined procedure for applying for residency or citizenship. Why do we need to create what we already have? "Create a path to citizenship", then, must be something else. Given the context in which it is usually invoked, it must be a euphemism for "cutting in line".

    If we were to "create a new path to citizenship" for those who came here illegally, it would be seriously disrespectful of those valued, welcome immigrants who followed our rules and came here the right (legal) way. And in real, pragmatic terms, it would also mean the elimination of our borders. Once one person gets to cut in line, why shouldn't the next, and the next, ad infinitum.

    And finally, there's "we can't round them all up and ship them home". This, too, has become an empty cliche which seems to correspond to a sentiment, sometimes stated outright, that we might as well give up and do nothing. Implicit in this statement also is that individual deportation of 12-20 million people is the only measure at our disposal. In fact, few people have lobbied for "rounding them all up", suggesting instead the reduction or elimination of factors which entice people to come or stay here illegally: jobs (requiring employers, including the public sector, to hire only documented immigrants) and social programs.

    November 1, 2007

    CRIPs are out for More Tax Blood

    Marc Comtois

    Ian Donnis points to the Campaign for Rhode Island’s Priorities, who are going to "call on the Governor to bring close scrutiny to Rhode Island’s hidden budget of expensive tax expenditures!" More on that in a minute, but first a quick aside: Ian doesn't think we at AR pay enough attention to "corporate welfare." Well, maybe not as much as we should, but we aren't exactly the champions of corporate welfare that Ian implies, either:

    Nothing is more unjust to the working families and retirees of America than to over-pay for under-performance. In other words, not to get fair value for our hard-earned monies.

    It is in that context where this blogsite has been appropriately critical of both public sector unions and private sector unions....No less of a problem in our society are the corporate welfare queens who exist like parasites living off their manipulation of a bloated federal government, thereby reducing many Americans' standard of living through hidden and completely unnecessary taxes.

    The post above specifically dealt with our tax dollars going towards sugar subsidies. And we're no fan of ethanol subsidies, either. Anyway, point taken, Ian.

    But back to the CRIPs. Good for them! It's always nice when another group calls attention to how our tax dollars are being spent on over-generous programs wait:

    Rhode Island’s structural deficit is costing jobs, public services and essential state programs that hard-working Rhode Islanders need to work, learn and stay well. The Governor’s solution is to cut even more — laying off hundreds of public servants and slashing already starved public programs. There is a more equitable solution to the state’s fiscal challenge.

    A first step? Rhode Islanders need to know the real costs of the state’s hidden tax expenditure budget. Tax expenditures are credits and preferential treatment given some individuals and corporations that cost the state unknown millions in forgone tax revenue. The RI Department of Taxation was unable to estimate lost revenues from 60% of these special treatments. Rhode Islanders need to know: What are the real costs of the state’s tax expenditures and are we getting back the jobs, housing and other benefits promised?

    Ohhhh. By "hidden tax expenditures" they mean money the State can't spend because it isn't getting it in the first place. OK, gotcha. So they don't like tax incentives or subsidies going to private companies that employ people...who happen to pay taxes. Well, they do point out some questionable tax breaks, for sure.
  • RI has an income tax exemption for employees in software companies when they sell stock in their company. No other New England state has a similar exemption.
  • The sale of compressed air is exempt from the sales tax – even though no other New England state has a similar exemption.
  • Horse food is exempt from the sales tax.
  • Truth is, I agree with the general thrust of their effort here. The RI government probably lays out some targeted tax incentives that need to be revisited to determine if they are still worthwhile. So the CRIPs are onto something, but lets not kid ourselves. Their ultimate goal is to raise taxes to produce more revenue, er, reduce hidden expenditures (Is that right in the newspeak we're using here?).

    Anyway, let's say that everything they want done is accomplished, then we probably would see more short term revenue gains,er, fewer tax expenditures (now, that just doesn't make any sense, does it? OK, I'll stop)--until companies started running for the hills. Because removing these deals will have a price.

    If a company's sweetheart deal goes away, how long before the company goes away and leaves the state? Then we can wave "bye bye" to that tax revenue. That's the way it works in a competitive marketplace, so you have to do something to keep the company around. They aren't going to stay here in RI, "just because."

    The CRIP's plan has the whiff of good government about it. Their desire to improve the State's ability to forecast revenue changes resulting from tax subsidies is a good one. But the CRIPs are only dealing with part of the equation, which illustrates the sort of flawed base-line thinking endemic in their public policy world. Apparently, they don't take into account how removing the incentives can also result in lost revenue (via subsequent corporate flight). Or how incentives can entice a company to come to the RI in the first place and thus employ people who will pay taxes.

    Even if they were to take a dynamic view, though, they'd still not be addressing the core problem. As I've written before, RI's cut-and-paste economic development plan--which includes tax subsidies--needs to be changed.

    Crafting specific, sweetheart deals seem to only work so long as they are in place. Once they expire, off go those who took advantage of them. Instead, we need to follow a holistic plan. The entire business climate needs to change to first attract, and then maintain, new employers. Targeted business tax credits aren't enough. What needs to be done is to lower the tax burden across the board and reduce the red-tape and regulatory roadblocks.
    Who thinks the CRIPs are looking to lower tax burdens in conjunction with the removal of tax subsidies? Me neither.

    I've shown in the past that we don't have a tax revenue problem, we have a spending problem. Basically, tax revenue from all sources hasn't gone down from 2001 to 2008, it has increased by about 26%. Unfortunately, tax revenue increases have been outpaced by increases in government expenditures, which have gone up 45% over the same period. Anyone feel like they haven't been taxed enough?

    The CRIPs are playing a shell game. Yes, there are some problems, but their solutions--which they aren't playing up this time around--include a whole slew of tax increases or reversions to higher tax rates (here or here). While it looks like they're engaged in a good government endeavor, they really just want to get more-more-more when most of us recognize that the answer is to spend less.

    Have You Hugged Your Local Tree Today?

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    I know America is often regarded as an overstressed society, but I hadn't realized just how far the stress problem had spread until I read this story in today's Warwick Beacon by John Howell

    If you feel this has been an especially drab fall, you’re not alone.

    Warmer and drier than normal conditions have dealt a double whammy to trees and shrubs and robbed them of the bright reds, yellows and oranges considered so much a part of a New England autumn….

    What’s happened, explained [Brian Maynard, a professor of horticulture at the University of Rhode Island], is that trees and shrubs are “stressing out” and dropping their leaves while they are still green.

    Can We At Least Agree on Banning the Hyperbole?

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Over on his blog, America's Report Card (named after a novel he published, not the scope of topics he addresses) Professor John McNally has put up a post claiming that PINHEADS (all caps in the original) have succeeded in getting When I Was a Loser, the now-controversial collection of essays he edited, banned from…well, he doesn't really say where it's been banned from.

    When I Was a Loser has been removed from the Cumberland school-system curriculum. There's no doubt there. But does removal from the curriculum constitute banning in any meaningful sense of the word?

    A couple of years ago, a local Michigan school board refused to allow the teaching of a Bible-based course that treated the Bible as a work of literature and history. Would it be fair to say that the Frankenmuth, MI School board voted to ban the Bible, or would that description confuse the issues more than clarifying them?

    The claim that When I Was a Loser has been banned obviously depends on some form of fallacy, but you'll have to ask Justin to find out exactly which one is involved.


    Justin provides the type of fallacy committed by Professor McNally. It is...

    The fallacy of persuasive definition.

    Senator Clinton: Illegals Should Have Licenses

    Marc Comtois

    We know that there was a license scam in RI and now a similar one has been uncovered in Massachusetts (and other states).

    Typically, the “license rings” operate in similar ways: corrupt registry clerks work with middlemen, who sell the licenses to illegal immigrants, criminals, and others looking to cover their identities.

    The driver’s licenses are perfect “breeder” documents for establishing a false identity, one that can allow the license holder to buy guns, launder money, open bank accounts, and board a plane. Four years ago, the FBI’s assistant director of counterterrorism testified before a House committee about how the licenses are used by terrorists to escape detection.

    Yikes. Despite all of that, NY Governor Elliot Spitzer has decided to allow illegal immigrants to legally obtain NY driver's licenses. Yeah, that's a good idea. And Democratic Presidential front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton--who earlier couldn't decide if she agreed with Spitzer's plan or not--is now "steadying herself" (ie; getting her story straight):
    "Senator Clinton supports governors like Governor Spitzer who believe they need such a measure to deal with the crisis caused by this administration's failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform," her campaign said in a statement. "As president, her goal will be to pass comprehensive immigration reform that would make this unnecessary."
    Wait a sec: didn't "this administration" want comprehensive immigration reform? It's disingenuous for Senator Clinton to blame President Bush for failing to pass a "comprehensive immigration reform" package that she agreed with but that the Democratic Senate and House couldn't pass. Ah, whatever. True to form, when things are down, blame Bush. It's easy and doesn't take much thought. Maybe the rubes won't notice.