March 31, 2008
A Reason to Look Fondly on the '70s
I've been meaning to note for its sheer shock power a chart of Rhode Island's state budget since 1950.
Stunning. I'd say there's room to trim, don't you think?
Iraq and the Return of the "Winter Soldier"
On Easter Sunday morning, I appeared on WJAR 10's News Conference. The topic was the Iraq War after five years and I was paired with a nice young Iraq War veteran, now a Brown student, who opposes the war. I appreciated the work of Jim Taricani and Bill Rappley. The conversation was quite civil.
The other fellow identified himself as a member of an organization called "Iraq Veterans Against the War" (IVAW). Two weeks ago, IVAW convened a conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, entitled Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan — Eyewitness Accounts of the Occupations. Modeling itself on the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation (WSI), which of course provided the text for John Kerry’s infamous testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee later that year, the Silver Spring event claimed to “feature testimony from U.S. veterans who served in [the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan], giving an accurate account of what is really happening day in and day out, on the ground.” But as I argue in today’s National Review Online, the event was, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, like déjà vu all over again.
The good news is that WSI II seems to have had the impact of a wet firecracker. Despite the predisposition on the part of many in the press and politics to believe the worst about U.S. troops in Iraq, viz. John Murtha and the Marines in Hadithah, this event has not garnered much press attention. I try to explain why in my NRO piece.
The biggest difference between now and 1971 is that today’s soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan can rely on those who suffered through the post-Vietnam War era—-assisted by the internet and the blogosphere—-to give them the benefit of the doubt and to hold accountable those who make outrageous claims about them. Thus anyone who is really interested will discover that IVAW has about 800 members, which represents a miniscule percentage of those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile reenlistment rates for the Army and the Marine Corps have been in excess of 100 percent for many months now.
Interested parties will also discover that despite the organization’s name, a large percentage of its members have not deployed to either Iraq or Afghanistan. And finally they will discover that several prominent IVAW have severe credibility problems, including the infamous Jesse MacBeth. The lack of coverage of this event gives me hope that today’s reporters are less credulous than were there predecessors. We shall see.
Hands Off Harrop
Nobody wants to upset the imposing beast of a retiring Me Generation, and Froma Harrop joined that nobody with her Sunday column:
What should we do about Social Security?
"I would just say, 'Let's sit on this,'" Baker answers. If come 2030 Americans see problems looming, he adds, "we can do something."
Much could change in over 20 years. Productivity gains have helped fewer workers pay for more retirees in the past and could in the future. And longer life spans may also alter the dynamics.
"How long into their lives should someone born in 2020 work?" Baker asks. "I have no idea."
The Baker whose prescription Harrop takes without question is Dean Baker, "a founder and director of the progressive Center for Economic and Policy Research," and his advice is premised on the assertion that 2017, when the Social Security system will have to start dipping into its trust fund, "means zero to the program." Of course, it does mean something to the people whose government likes to spend in the red and will have to come up with the money to honor the IOUs that wholly constitute that fund.
For the sake of argument, though, let's assume that 2041 when the trust fund bonds will run out is the danger date. I find the Baker-Harrop balance of risk and lead time, well, convenient. Rather than address a structural problem thirty-plus years in advance establishing a new strategy with plenty of time to assimilate and a large retiring generation to maximize the benefits of any reform the guardians of Social Security would have us sit back and watch the Boomers inch their way to octogenarianism in the hopes that something will just come up. (Sounds like the General Assembly method of budget planning, no?)
Now it becomes conspicuous that Harrop glides right through the assertions that really require further explanation, such as the suggestion that "productivity gains have helped fewer workers pay for more retirees in the past and could in the future." What past? When? If she means a time when advances in farming enabled a family to feed more of its elders, I'm not sure the observation applies. At best, the economic mechanism seems likely to have something to do with workers' earning more (because more productive) and therefore being able to pay more in taxes for retirees' benefit.
Or consider this: "How long into their lives should someone born in 2020 work?" That looks like an admission that the age of retirement will have to be pushed back, but for future generations TBA. My fellow young(ish) adults might join me in wondering why there's no calculation of balance. If Baby Boomers were to wait five years for Social Security benefits, maybe we'd only have to wait ten, instead of twenty-five, or whatever it will prove to be when we reassess things mid-century.
Hands off Social Security, Harrop insists, at least until the Boomers have gotten their share. It's their last chance to stick it to those who've followed them, after all.
A New Island State?
We have deeply embedded corruption, ancient ethnic rivalries, even an NHL team - what else does a self-respecting state need these days?...2 out of 3 lets us keep our statehood here in RI, right?
And what about the name? (Has anyone considered Long Island? It's no dumber than Rhode Island. Who's Rhode, anyway?)
March 30, 2008
Honesty in Education
We have to stop thinking of education in terms of time-delimited stages. In a world of advanced technology, specialization, and global competition, the old system of markers with individuals tiered by the name of the highest degree achieved is becoming both meaningless and expensive, as each degree level deflates and the education industry turns ever more to government to support some notion of a bare minimum of education.
That's the conclusion to which my thoughts wandered after reading the following disturbing paragraphs in Julia Steiny's column today:
So, should the state develop an honest test that many students fail, or should the test be so easy most kids pass it and get the diploma they need?
Rhode Island is trying to solve this dilemma with a diploma system that uses what educators call "multiple measures," meaning the diploma requires three measurements of ability: Students must complete required course work, do a portfolio or senior project, and pass the tests.
You might have shared my initial reaction: Why can't we develop an honest test that many students pass? Put differently, why can't we develop a system that educates students?
I could figure out some problems with sheer logic and time. But many were the stuff of my recurring nightmare about having to take a math test with symbols I don’t recognize, requiring functions and formulas I never learned.
Go solve these problems yourself. You might start to think, as I did, that 22 percent was looking understandable, if not exactly good.
You also might wonder, as I did, whether every high school graduate really needs this sort of knowledge.
The second use of the word "need" stands out as critical, especially with reference to public education, because it would be difficult to justify such a huge chunk of government expenditures to give students something that they don't need. So, according to Steiny:
- Students need a piece of paper called a high school diploma,
- But they may not need a level of mathematical knowledge required, according to Steiny, by community colleges (tenth-grade proficiency).
The first point is true enough. In this day and age, one tends to look askance at anybody under the age of, say, fifty-five who admits to not having a diploma or GED. That particular degree tier is pretty much assumed for most employment opportunities. Given diplomas' near universal acquisition, though, employers looking for proof of an ability to learn and achieve academically began turning to associates and bachelor degrees, and those are rapidly moving toward commodification to the point at which Masters are already the minimum "stand out" degrees.
One already hears politicians' and activists' calls for universal access (read, "funding") to higher education, and it may only be a matter of time until we're debating whether college graduation tests should be so honest as to deny students the degrees that they, then, will need. Such a possibility points directly back to Steiny's second statement of need: a substantial portion of the information taught and tested on the way to a bachelor's degree is by no measure necessary in the sense of being professionally useful later in life. So, why should we allow that number of years of schooling to become obligatory?
As much of an advocate for mathematics as an important body of knowledge as I may be, and as generally applicable as practice solving problems surely is, I can't go as far as insisting that our high school students ought to be able to calculate the area of an arch formed by quartering a circle in a square and subtracting the triangle formed by the square's diagonal. Perhaps we would do well to admit that we're trying to make the high school diploma indicative of two things that don't actually have to be (and in reality are not always) joined:
- That the student possesses a minimum amount of useful knowledge.
- That the student is academically capable and ready to move on to higher tiers of learning.
The ad hoc, evolutionary solution has thus far been to pretend that 1 and 2 are equivalent and then to play catch-up as necessary when students go on to college or into a branch of the workforce with similar requirements. Indeed, among the tools used in the development of the NECAP test for math were textbooks designed to bring students up to speed in college. By this approach, students are always behind, and the trend can only be to extend basic education further into an individual's adult life. I remember one professor's finding it necessary to rework the syllabus of his 400-level literature course in order to allow time for lessons in basic argumentative writing. As that practice becomes increasingly common, 400-level lessons will, by necessity, be pushed into grad school.
And so, as I began by stating, it may be time to arrest the trend by admitting the truth: most people don't need but so much education. At the same time, the common experience of childhood schooling is invaluable, for the transmission of culture and for experiential cohesion. Rather than devaluing diplomas by instituting easy tests or "multiple measures" that give credit for effort in order to maintain the golden ring at the end of the process, students who cannot achieve proficiency could move forward in life with some sort of a Certificate of Completion. Or we could go the other way and hand out diplomas and Diplomas with Proficiency.
We've fallen into a presumption of high school as broadly college preparatory, and that's what's unnecessary. With the separation of "finishing high school" from "having a diploma," we could more openly admit the extent of information that young adults really ought to have. Employers would have a better sense of candidates' capabilities. And institutions of higher education, from community colleges to internationally renowned universities, could develop tracks for building on previous educational experience without its having the discouraging feel of backtracking.
Governor's Executive Order: Backing Out the Fiction
Back up a dump truck!
Racial profiling - N/A
Scapegoating - N/A
Hate - N/A
Political grandstanding for campaign purposes - Humorous and N/A
As are these:
National origin, color of skin, accent - N/A
Taking the law into one's own hands - N/A (... except, apparently, when one is a member of the state Senate and hungry after hours)
That such baseless statements are still being trotted out a couple of years after this discussion began confirms the complete absence of any substantive or rational arguments for not enforcing our borders, not upholding our immigration laws, not affirming our sovereignty and not respecting the efforts of those immigrants who complied with our laws to come here.
Switching for a moment from the macro to the micro and focusing on the remarks by the Executive Director of the Rhode Island Democrat Party after the Governor's press conference - Mr. Executive Director:
1.) Please look up the definition of the word "plummet" before employing it again.
2.) As for your statement
Doesn’t the governor understand that hundreds of thousands of immigrants have legally come to Rhode Island’s borders for the past two centuries and have greatly contributed to our society?
Yes, in fact, we all understand and concur. This is a proud tradition that we are seeking to continue through enforcement of our immigration laws and this Executive Order. At last, a point of agreement has been located.
Denying the Profile
The ways in which communities congeal are comprehensible, and although we should lament the development unto primacy of identity politics, it is understandable that people get sucked into them. That said, I still have difficulty empathizing with this sort of thing, said (this time) in response to the governor's recent moves against illegal immigration:
"Are people now going to take the law into their own hands? He didn't answer that when he was asked," said Pichardo. Rather than tamping "the heated rhetoric" on this issue, the governor "has increased the fear among the immigrant community among both documented and undocumented immigrants," and served to "more deeply entrench the encampments on both sides of this issue."
Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island Affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, predicted that the governor's executive order "is only going to increase the problem of racial profiling in the state. The governor can ignore all the data and statistics out there that document the problem that already exists, but this executive order will only exacerbate it, to the detriment of any person in Rhode Island who looks and speaks a certain way. This has nothing to do with whether anyone is legal or illegal his order is going to affect everyone based on their national origin, color of their skin and their accent and it's very unfortunate."
Racial profiling is certainly wrong and ought to be addressed, but that would be easier to do if legal immigrants were more clearly interested in establishing a distinct profile from illegal immigrants. A central reason for the us-versus-them nature of this dispute is that, no matter how clear citizens with legitimate concerns and complaints about our poorly enforced immigration laws are about whom they see as the "them," the immigrant community or at least their public-square representatives seems only more tightly to wrap its arms around the subset intended.
March 29, 2008
How Is Art Handy Like a Diaper?
It was one thing when Representative Art Handy (D, Cranston) decried the injustice of the little known diaper-service tax shelter during his testimony supporting his Economic Death and Dismemberment Act. We could at least give him the benefit of the doubt that he was speaking extemporaneously. But he apparently liked the image so much that he's used it in a Providence Journal op-ed:
The act would also bring our sales tax into the 21st Century by expanding it to include certain services. Just think about a mom who buys diapers at the local market. On a $10 bag of diapers, she'll pay 70 cents in sales tax. But a mother who can afford the luxury of a service that picks up her dirty diapers, launders them, and delivers them back to her door pays no tax at all.
As a basic factual matter, Handy is wrong. Diapers are non-taxable in Rhode Island. (Perhaps he ought to take that up with his local market.)
As a conceptual matter, he's wrong again. The money paid for a person's time spent laundering cloth diapers is taxable as income. The delivery vehicle's gas is also taxed, and any number of things from property to supplies are taxed, as well. The service provider doesn't just eat those costs.
As an economic matter, he's short-sighted. As the previous paragraph implies (and as I've said before), the wealthy person who hires a diaper cleaning service creates a job. That's why it's a service: because somebody has to do it, and more likely than not, that somebody falls in the income range that Handy claims a desire to protect.
Obama and His Misguided Minister: Should I Stay or Should I Go?
In point of fact, if he were not running for President, Senator Barack Obama would have stayed.
From the AP:
Obama discussed his relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright on ABC's "The View," which was taped Thursday and aired Friday.
Had the reverend not retired and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and were inappropriate and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws, then I wouldn't have felt comfortable staying there at the church," Obama said.
But Reverend Wright would not have retired over his own remarks if they had not been spotlighted by Senator Obama's candidacy. Nor would Senator Obama have objected to or distanced himself from the Reverend's remarks if he were not running for president. He would, to this day, have continued attending the church and endorsing Reverend Wright's odious remarks with his presence and even financial support. Only because the Reverend's remarks drew publicity followed by condemnation did Senator Obama distance himself from the remarks.
Barack Obama seems like a nice guy. But it is troubling that he has one set of standards as a private citizen and another as a candidate, especially when it comes to a serious mis-characterization of the country he wishes to lead.
A Further Thought
But let's not lose sight of a principle that looms pretty large in conservative philosophy: that social pressure is often the appropriate means of guiding individuals toward behavior that is healthy for society. This concept puts conservatives at the obvious political disadvantage of giving liberals cover to declare that they judge nothing but judgement and untruth (which is a lie), while conservatives must have the courage of their convictions and step forward in the face of error, even when doing so is difficult and involves skirting tricky lines and making one's self a target (which, by the way, arguably reinforces the healthy social pressure on the pressurer).
Popular interpretation of Jesus' admonition about being the first to cast stones has, I think, treated the stones as too broad a metaphor. In specific, they were instruments of execution. To treat them as representative of mere disapproval ignores the fact that Jesus' instruction to the woman was to go forth and sin no more, which required that she knew what was sinful, which required that her culture informed her.
Will it hurt a child, one day, to read judgemental language on the Internet regarding his parents and the circumstances of his childhood? Probably. But much more profound was the harm to the child done by those who determined the circumstances. Worse is the harm to victims of the legitimization of irresponsible behavior.
March 28, 2008
What a Day, and My Philosophy on Open Fora
Forgive me if this post has a patchwork feel to it, but I've had a dreadful day. Here's a telling time line for you:
- 6:12 a.m. (just before I begin getting ready for work) A post of mine hits the Internet.
- 7:21 a.m. (just about the time I'm pulling into my boss's shop) Tim leaves an irresponsible and strategically foolish comment.
- 7:41 a.m. (just about the time I'm pulling into my jobsite's driveway) Pat Crowley leaves a comment attacking me for letting the comment stand.
Allow me some explanation for the benefit of those who've no experience (or memory, at least) of a working class day: In my line of work, carelessness can be fatal and mistakes can be costly (sometimes, especially in slow economies, for workers laid off due to delays). The pressure is on for productivity, and the atmosphere is far from water-cooler casual. By some cosmic quirk, I am currently personally responsible for an uncommonly detailed project, the very large (and very expensive) house involved, and all of the workers moving the thing along. At today's peak, there were eighteen of them.
I don't have a computer; I have a bells-and-whistles cell phone (which, of course, was being glitchy today). I get a fifteen minute break at 10:00 a.m. and a half-hour lunch at twelve. And on this particular day, I had to deal with a (we'll say) disconcerting personnel issue while resolving space complications between the plumber and the audio/video technician while clearing a tricky structural modification with an engineer while laying out cuts for the mason in old, structurally critical cinder blocks while helping the electricians to prioritize while going over alarm system details while ensuring that the plasterers were clear to cover up sheetrock while pushing the architect to commit to the placement of a sink vanity that would resolve the plumber-A/V conflict while wrapping a Band Aid around the one remaining finger on my right hand that hadn't previously been scraped while trying to figure out just how many hours a week I can work, because all of this doesn't pay quite as well as one might think.
I offer this synopsis of my day by way of illustration of the reason that I've little patience for the flicks and tugs of participants in a forum that I believe to be substantially distinct from Anchor Rising contributors' own writing, but which a cabal with a professional, financial, and ideological interest in marginalizing our research and analysis is apparently leveraging in a strategic effort to achieve that end.
Here's my opinion on the comment-section controversy of the day: Jerzyk's personal comportment and biography can't be otherwise than of legitimate interest in the sorts of debates into which he enters and issues concerning which he advocates. That's not a double standard; I don't consider myself immune. However, the line for public scrutiny is around the man (or woman) in question, although an inevitable gray area will arise whenever third-parties are intrinsic to his or her behavior.
As to commenters' methods of conveying valid information, well, here philosophies of rhetoric come into play. Word choice and focus are important components by which to understand and judge an argument, and were we to censor overly strong (and perhaps unfair) descriptive language, we would do a disservice to both sides: One side would have had its meaning changed, and the other side would be receiving an inaccurate gauge by which to judge what's said. If a commenter says something that invalidates his larger point, then it is eminently fair to treat him accordingly. It is not fair, however, to treat that tar-crusted brush as a weapon to be used against others.
That is to say: blame me for what I write, not what others write in my proximity. Ostensibly if I'm personally so wrong and so vicious that shouldn't present any difficulty for those who consider me an enemy.
Perhaps it's time for we Anchor Rising contributors to have our seemingly annual discussion about the state and future of the comments hereon, but I hope it will suffice, for now, to point out to our fellows on the Right that though you may feel that you're cutting to the truth and exposing the other side for what it is you are harming your own cause. You are providing ammunition for use against us all, no matter how unfair that usage might be. And you are providing an easy escape from the considered arguments with which we must continue to corner the other side.
I've no intention of allowing you to make it that easy for those who are sucking the vigor out of our state, and I hope you'll think twice before hitting the "Post" button henceforth. It only takes a tweak here and there to move a point from dismissible to utterly defensible, and if our case is as strong as we believe it to be, then the former can only do damage while the latter ought to come naturally.
Now I'm off to bed. It's back to the jobsite for me tomorrow morning. On the bright side, there's a chance that the sun will shine through the clouds, and for at least some of the day, I'll likely have the place to myself and actually manage to get some work done.
Warwick School Closings
Originally, I had a longish, wonkish, link-heavy post detailing how Warwick got to the place where school closings were deemed necessary. I canned that once I read Warwick School Committee Chairman Christopher Friel's explanation. Basically, there's no doubt it was a difficult choice and that the time frame was compressed because of the budget crunch. But two facts remain: 1) Warwick school enrollment is declining and school closings were inevitable; 2) The City of Warwick and the School Committee made decisions that contributed to this fiscal crisis.
Enrollment has dropped from 12,206 in 2002 to 11,150 now and is projected to be 10,400 students by 2012. School closings were probably going to happen anyway, and Warwick has gone through this before. But it will always cause agida amongst those who are directly affected and this was exacerbated by the time constraints that the School Committee and other elected officials forced upon themselves. The entire problem was forged in a crucible of Warwick's own creation. The consequences of apathy often hit when the iron is hot, indeed.
Too many people simply don't pay attention unless they believe they will be directly affected. So the parents who are upset now need to recognize that they need to be involved in their children's education--whether in the PTO, School Committee meetings or other programs--all of the time. There's a chance that the budget shortfall could have been reduced, mitigated or avoided if more parents had attended School Committee meetings and advocated for their kids and schools by pointing out that every dollar spent on personnel costs (86% of the total Warwick Schools budget, according to a 2006 RIPEC report) was one less dollar available for students. Perhaps that would have given the district more time to study and prepare for the inevitable downsizing without the added pressure they were under during this process.
So now we have kids who are going to have to adjust to new schools. I understand the anger and anguish felt by students and their parents. Perhaps there was more justification for closing other schools, but, as hard as it is to do, it's time to move on. Change happens whether we like it or not, whether we deserve it or not, whether its right or wrong. Time for the grown-ups to remember that the kids are watching us. Instead of framing it as a loss, try to turn it into a new adventure. It's a life lesson, after all. Show them that its OK to roll with the changes and hopefully they'll discover that change makes us stronger and, just maybe, even a little better.
The Damage of Cheap Political Points
Providence Journal photographer Kathy Borchers (and her editor) lobbed a softball out there to accompany Steve Peoples's predictable coverage of the other night's State House events (PDF), and Matt Jerzyk hammered it into the ground:
In one corner we have MEN IN SUITS who are longtime advocates for lowering taxes on the richest millionaires and corporate tycoons at the expense of health care and child care!
In the other corner we have WOMEN & CHILDREN who desperately want to save a program that helps poor kids have equal opportunities for early childhood development.
What's irksome about such unimaginative political gamesmanship is how oblivious the speakers generally are of the consequences of their own rhetoric. To adopt the metaphor, disadvantaged children would be much better off if their own fathers were, themselves, to become "MEN IN SUITS" responsible, hard-working citizens. (And it isn't at all unlikely that some of the pictured women are married to "MEN IN SUITS," thus enabling their participation in a midday rally.) Jerzyk has contributed to the hackneyed cliché vilifying such men, who are never portrayed with the dignity of standing up for the survival of their businesses (and the families, both their own and employees', thereby supported), but always as scraping with greedy fingers at the world's good deeds. Their efforts to decrease public handouts are never treated as if there's any counterbalance from their efforts to increase general prosperity such that others can earn what is not given.
The aggregate image thereby created provides a powerful rationalization for those eager to chase their natural libidicism down the path that leads away from their familial responsibilities. No less are women given license not to join the forces of supposed commercial evil or to encourage men toward it. Sadly, righteous leftward purity can often come at the taxpayer's expense.
When one considers that Jerzyk titled his post not "Men v. Women & Kids," but "Daddy v. Mommy & the Kids," his boilerplate propagandizing moves from troublesome to despicable. Hesitance to question whether progressive family-destructive efforts are deliberate begins to evaporate when the professional (MEN IN SUITS) advocates drive such wedges into the culture.
March 27, 2008
Fairness in Analysis
The essential argument behind that dreadful tax legislation (whose name we dare not speak) is, as Tom Sgouros put it in testimony last night: The state takes "too much money from people who can't afford to give it, and not much money from those who can." Or, as those who are less worried about the appearance of truth might say:
Our Tax System is Out of Balance!
- Lowest income pay 13% of their income in state and local taxes,
- Highest income pay just 6%!
That claim derives from the following table, from a report (PDF) in which Sgouros apparently had a heavy hand:
|Percentage of Income Paid in State and Local Taxes for a Rhode Island Family of Four|
|Income quintile||Lowest 20%||Second 20%||Middle 20%||Fourth 20%||Next 15%||Next 4%||Top 1%|
|Personal income tax||0.5%||1.5%||2.2%||2.6%||3.4%||4.2%||5.8%|
|Corporate income tax||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%||0.0%||0.1%||0.1%|
|Federal deduction offset||||-0.1%||-0.4%||-1.0%||-1.6%||-1.8%||-2.6%|
|Total after offset||13.0%||10.7%||10.3%||9.5%||8.7%||7.3%||6.0%|
Putting aside questions of whether it's legitimate to treat every tax as if it were an income tax, a few corrections and tweaks to the data paint quite a different picture. First must be corrections to a couple of outright errors: A subsequent table on property taxes shows both housing taxes and "other property taxes" but failed to combine the two in the "total property taxes" row all quintiles except the lowest, and the total row was transported to the summary table. For the top 1%, that means the 6% grand total is fully 0.7% too low. To be fair, we have to adjust the other way (much less significantly) because the summary table double-counts corporate taxes.
The larger change that ought to be made is to remove the "federal deduction offset" line. Inasmuch as the table is billed as incorporating "state and local taxes," the fact that the federal government discounts its own take is an arbitrary snatch of data from another set. It would be relevant to an investigation of total tax burden in Rhode Island but is misleading if federal taxes are excluded. Alternately, we could calculate the percentage of household income that returns to Rhode Island via the feds, which (as Sgouros himself has pointed out) is a substantial component of our budget, including those aspects that are already redistributive.
Alas, I lack the time for such research and analysis, so I'll leave the federal government out of the equation, which leaves us here:
|Percentage of Income Paid in State and Local Taxes for a Rhode Island Family of Four (adjusted)|
|Income quintile||Lowest 20%||Second 20%||Middle 20%||Fourth 20%||Next 15%||Next 4%||Top 1%|
|Personal income tax||0.5%||1.5%||2.2%||2.6%||3.4%||4.2%||5.8%|
Clearly, if an imbalance exists, we could more than rectify it by eliminating excise taxes (cigarettes, alcohol, gas, etc.). What Sgouros et alia intend by "correcting" our tax whack (in the "out of" sense) is an increase in taxes overall. As we see upon converting the percentages in the table to dollar amounts, it's a very tricky thing to mask redistribution with "fairness."
|Percentage of Income Paid in State and Local Taxes for a Rhode Island Family of Four (dollar amount)|
|Income quintile||Lowest 20%||Second 20%||Middle 20%||Fourth 20%||Next 15%||Next 4%||Top 1%|
|Personal income tax||$42.00||$322.50||$792.00||$1,505.40||$3,267.40||$7,938.00||$45,646|
Apparently, even though the excise tax category is "the most regressive," removing it would benefit the average wealthy family by an order of three. All of these measures of regression are, in reality, on the negative side of the ledger. In other words, excise taxes aren't the "most regressive"; they're the least non-regressive (or, the least progressive) component of a tax burden that is sixty-six times as heavy for a family of four in the top 1% than a similar family in the bottom 20%.
Perhaps progressive meddlers would do better to market smoking and drinking to the rich... or, you know, just encourage business and wealth growth by rethinking their erroneous worldviews and agitating for different tax policies altogether.
Changes to RI Immigration Policies
Ray Henry of the Associated Press has a preview of the changes to immigration policy that Governor Donald Carcieri plans to announce today…
Gov. Don Carcieri plans to sign an executive order Thursday forcing prison officials and state police to identify illegal immigrants in state custody and requiring that state agencies take other steps to penalize immigration violators, a lawmaker said Wednesday....
A written statement from Carcieri's office said there is a growing number of illegal immigrants, and the federal government is not taking action. It said the Republican governor will also endorse legislation that has been introduced in the Democratic-dominated General Assembly that will accomplish the same goal.
Among other steps, Carcieri will require the state Department of Corrections and state police to identify and report illegal immigrants in their custody, said Rep. Joseph Trillo, who said he has discussed the proposal with Carcieri's staff. Once state law enforcement identifies illegal immigrants, they can alert federal immigration authorities to begin deportation proceedings....
Carcieri has also been considering proposals that would affect employers.
A Carcieri staffer recently told Rep. Jon Brien that the governor planned to sign an executive order forcing state agencies and contractors to verify the legal status of their workers, Brien said. The Democratic lawmaker had asked Carcieri to support a bill requiring private employers to do the same.
Lincoln Courthouse Delayed at Least a Year
Construction of the proposed $71-million Blackstone Valley Courthouse will be postponed for a year and commence in fiscal year 2010, Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank J. Williams said yesterday during his annual State of the Judiciary address.
Williams reminded legislators they approved borrowing money for a new courthouse, and he reminded them of reasons for the project....But the state is facing a projected budget deficit of $150 million in the current fiscal year and a projected deficit of nearly $400 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1.
So, “in recognition of the hardship we all face,” Williams said he has spoken to House Speaker William J. Murphy and Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano about deferring the project for a year. “And the governor has indicated his support for construction if we wait another year,” he said. “Therefore, all have agreed to postpone the construction until fiscal year 2010.”
March 26, 2008
State House - Images From the Hearing on H7950
Committee hearing in full swing, two minutes before they cleared the room of us standees. That's Dr. Nick Tsongas in the witness chair and on the screen cheerfully admitting that it is "undeniable that this is redistribution of income".
One of the overflow areas, including a t.v. with live feed from the hearing room. These were appreciated. It was less appreciated that the DOT parking lot across the street, normally opened to Statehouse visitors after 4:00 pm, was left closed this evening.
A concerned taxpayer from East Providence objects to the removal by Capitol Police of signs she had posted near the hearing room.
One of the offending signs.
So This Is the State House...
Well, it's already after eight o'clock, and the thing's still going, so it's as good a time as any for my first visit to the State House. It's worth visiting such places, I find, just to sense the grandeur of marble stairs and high ceilings. It's easy to imagine how two-bit legislators get to feeling that they're just the people to control (and coopt) government largesse.
Well, 8:28, and Monique and I were ejected from the room (fire code you know). Representative Trillo offered his seat to Matt Allen who, although he didn't know it was standing next to me. Personally, I'm happy sitting cross-legged on the floor in the hall. It's the appropriate perspective.
While I was still one of the elect in the room, Rep. Costantino mentioned, after noting that the final three attendees who would be speaking for the Economic Death and Dismemberment Act would be followed by pages of people interested in speaking against it, and I recalled a thought that I'd had while watching the first round of business leaders testifying against it on television: how little this hearing will register with average Rhode Islanders.
Tomorrow, there'll be a news report taking (at best) a 50:50 angle. The next day, something else will come up. And within a week, it'll be business as usual.
9:00 is late enough for me; if the State House had a WLAN, I'd have stayed, but I've got too much to accomplish on a given night.
Indeed, I've got to force myself out of my natural interpersonal reticence and introduce myself to others more freely. It would have been cordial of me to introduce myself to Tom Sgouros as he left a short while ago and to let him know that I'd be heading home so I'd have time to poke holes in his research before bed, perhaps continuing in an early-to-rise period before work.
Then it's back to real life... cutting headers into 100-year-old floor joists for the HVAC guys while the roofing subcontractor muses that, if it weren't for the rich folks, he'd have to lay off half of his crew this year. Perhaps he should have testified, tonight.
How Much Is Not Enough?
Tom Sgouros (who is apparently more involved in this bill than I'd thought) just said:
The state is getting too much of its money from people who can't afford to give it, and not much money from those who can.
But this is different in kind from what he's been arguing thus far, which has been the percentage of income that the individual pays. If he wants to argue how much money the state is getting from whom, he'd have to look at the 80% of taxes paid by the top quintile. (That's "ish"; I can't recall where the 80% cut-off is, exactly.)
A Handy Economics Lesson
Rep. Handy, who introduced the atrocity of a bill currently being discussed, just described one of the "injustices" that he's seeking to alleviate: He spent the past few years paying taxes on diapers for his child, but a rich person who could afford a diaper service would be free of that burden.
I'd dispute the notion that the very same taxes are not collected from somewhere, but the bigger point is this: Those rich parents have created jobs. They've financed income taxes. They've advanced business. That's exactly what we want, and that's precisely what this bill will undermine.
The Big Government folks have themselves a win-win situation with punitive taxation: interested citizens are kept unnaturally busy just making ends meet, so their ability to become involved is diminished.
Well, it's going to take me a while, but I hope to get down to the statehouse tonight, assuming the hearing continues.
More Chaos As Usual
This Associated Press report does not inspire confidence, on multiple fronts…
Rhode Island's government has fallen weeks behind on paying its bills, leaving hundreds of businesses and contractors in a financial lurch.
Officials in Gov. Don Carcieri's administration say the state is at least five weeks late on many bills. It will need at least two months to catch up.
The state is facing a $151 million budget deficit for year ending in June, but Carcieri's office says there's still enough money. The problem is, his administration has reduced the number of clerks in an effort to cut costs.
It's in the Projo too.
Voting for Something That Really Matters
Well, isn't that interesting: Rhode Island Monthly Best of Rhode Island ballot has a line for the best local Web site.
I'll have to give my vote some thought...
March 25, 2008
A Not So Handy Bill
House Bill H7950, sponsored by Representative Arthur Handy (D-Cranston) and quizzically entitled "Economic Growth and Fairness Act", will be heard tomorrow at the rise of the House. There is a rumor also of a rally against the bill at 4:00 in the Capitol Rotunda.
It will give tax relief to 90 percent of Rhode Islanders
* * *
Under the plan, the state would net an estimated $161.2 million to $185.2 million in new revenue
With apologies to the representative, these two assertions simply are not credible. Regardless of all the nice-sounding statements in the press release, even if they had gone on for twenty pages instead of two, what matters is the juxtaposition of these two suppositions about the same bill. It is a prima facie non-starter that 90% of Rhode Islanders will have a lower overall tax bill while $161,000,000 in new revenue is created.
In addition to a credibility problem, the macro approach of the bill is wrong. Rhode Island's ranking as the fourth highest taxed has still left the state with an annual deficit of around $400,000,000. Clearly, revenue is not the problem. Nor was the deficit itself an unforeseen bolt from the blue. Rather, it was deliberately created through an over-emphasis on the spending side of the budget. And that solely is where it must be addressed. Broad-based, yes - spending cuts, not tax targets.
So sayth also the House Republicans, who issued this letter today:
Dear Speaker Murphy and Chair Costantino:
On Wednesday, March 26th the House Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing for 2008-H 7950, a bill that would raise taxes and fees to extricate the state from the projected $350 million budget deficit. We do not believe that the solution to Rhode Island’s budget deficit lies in increasing taxes. Rather, we must focus on reducing the amount of money spent.
We see no utility in beginning a dialogue on increasing taxes or fees in Rhode Island. It is well known that Rhode Island is already among one of the highest taxed states in the nation that harbors the most hostile business climate in the United States.
We are opposed to 2008-H 7950, or any other legislation, which would raise taxes or fees in our state.
Why Pat Crowley Thinks High Taxes Are a Good Thing In and Of Themselves
A few weeks ago, I pointed out that a basic assumption guiding liberal/progressive thinking about taxation is that…
Government is entitled to a fixed amount of revenue, no matter what services it provides.There was some spirited objection to my analysis, questioning whether anyone sane really believed this.
Well, today, over at RI Future and in the Providence Business News, in almost so many words, Pat Crowley affirms that the belief that government is entitled to its revenue, no matter what services it provides is a core of principle of progressive thought…
What is the point of income taxes? Are they a mechanism to pay for services from the state? No.That's a direct quote. This, plain and simple, is why progressives have no credibility on issues of government reform, because high taxes in conjunction with mediocre services provided to the general public are acceptable under their stated ideology.
Remember this during the upcoming budget battle. Progessives like Crowley want your taxes to go higher, but not because it will help pay for government services. He has said it himself.
Choice of Toppings Only
Any additional educational freedom for Rhode Island's parents would be a good thing, but Julia Steiny's Sunday column on interdistrict school choice left me wondering about the mechanics of the thing:
Cross-district choice would allow the parents to decide which schools should be closed for lack of enrollment and interest, and which should thrive. Right now, because of Rhode Island's demographics, student enrollment is dropping, leaving most schools with room to take in students from other districts. The money would follow the student, meaning that the federal, state and local funds that pay for the student's education, the "per-pupil expenditure," would be paid directly to the school the child attends. ...
Hopefully cross-district choice is an idea whose time has come for Rhode Island. Offering public school choice would focus attention on the kids and their education by shifting just a bit of power to the families and away from the district bureaucracies. It would motivate districts, at long last, to work together and to work smarter to provide attractive educational options for all families. As such, it would work well in the current situation of serious fiscal distress.
The Heritage Foundation credits public school choice with improvements among Massachusetts's students, but especially within the smaller field of Rhode Island, I wonder how the whole thing is supposed to work. A successful school district Barrington, say has extra room, so it accepts applicants from around the state, who bring with them the bulk of the money that would have gone to their home districts. Those districts panic and begin doing all those things that everybody knows ought to be done to improve our school systems in an effort to bring students back.
What if they don't do so or don't do so quickly enough? Barrington can only take so many of the state's kids, and the bite mightn't be sharp enough to break entrenched interests and habits elsewhere. Perhaps Barrington would find a new school worth the investment, but that's an awful lot of capital to tie up in a building and infrastructure as a business venture servicing the citizens of other municipalities. If the General Assembly would take its thumb off of charter schools, then the town could charter some of those. Families' home districts could do the same, in order to offer choices that keep the money within their boundaries.
The unanswered question, though, is why local (or even state) governments are presumed to be the ideal managers of education. According to Heritage data, Rhode Island has the highest private school to public school enrollment ratio in New England, suggesting that leaders of the public system don't engender confidence in constituents:
In that sense, Rhode Islanders are already proven supporters of school choice so much so that they're willing to reduce discretionary income and forsake other types of economic activity in order to procure it.
If we want real incentive toward improvement among our public school teachers and administrators, we should open up the choice campaign to private schools. Unless districts were to shape up immediately and create or reinstate programs that parents want (such as gifted-talented) they'd have to permanently retool their budgets to accommodate the 14.1% of all students for whose educations they are theoretically paid, but who don't actually use the services. That strikes me as the more moral approach, anyway.
Note this interesting paragraph from Heritage's Massachusetts summary (linked above):
According to an analysis by the Beacon Hill Institute, the state's $1 billion infusion of funding for its public schools has not improved student test scores. State reforms such as raising teacher salaries and reducing class size have likewise failed to boost student achievement. The report recommended vouchers as a more effective investment of funds to improve academic performance.
In fact, the Beacon Hill report (PDF) goes farther than that:
... it turns out that the surge in test scores may have had little to do with the increases in state education spending that have been carried out in the name of Education Reform. Specifically:
• Spending more on instruction, whether by raising teachers' salaries or by hiring additional teachers, worsens school performance.
• Spending more on management (principals) improves the performance of those schools that have a history of doing well on standardized tests ("high-performing schools," in the language of this report). Spending more for any other purpose (raising teachers' salaries, spending more for non-instructional purposes, adding teachers in order to reduce class size) generally worsens the performance of those schools.
• Socioeconomic factors and prior performance on standardized tests, along with various "intangible" factors, are far more important than increased spending as determinants of performance.
The Behavior Gap
Let me say right up front that access to healthcare must be improved and expanded, although it goes beyond the scope of this post to delve into the different understandings of the whats and hows of that mandate. Even were that goal to be achieved quickly, however, I suspect that the life expectancy gap between rich and poor would continue to increase, because I think the behavioral explanations play a large role and would bleed into matters of access:
While researchers do not agree on an explanation for the widening gap, they have suggested many reasons, including these:
¶Doctors can detect and treat many forms of cancer and heart disease because of advances in medical science and technology. People who are affluent and better educated are more likely to take advantage of these discoveries.
¶Smoking has declined more rapidly among people with greater education and income.
¶Lower-income people are more likely to live in unsafe neighborhoods, to engage in risky or unhealthy behavior and to eat unhealthy food.
¶Lower-income people are less likely to have health insurance, so they are less likely to receive checkups, screenings, diagnostic tests, prescription drugs and other types of care.
As you can see, New York Times reporter Robert Pear offers four examples, evenly split between behavior and "the system," but the former can be as numerous as the attributes of life. Here's another, which touches on an area about which I've written copiously (from an article to which I linked yesterday):
Hymowitz points out that all classes of Americans once followed the same life script of marriage before children. When divorce rates started soaring in the 1970s, everyone was fleeing their marriages. But then the classes started diverging. The Economist cites statistics that show among college-educated women married between 1990 and 1994, only 16.5 percent were divorced 10 years later. Among those with a high-school education or less who married in those same years, about 40 percent were divorced after a decade.
Advocates for government-propelled fixes tend to believe that forcing an expansion of access to a service will yield equal gains across groups, but that's certainly not true. Ask yourself: Would a class with a higher percentage of smokers, poor diets, and divorce be more or less likely, on average, to make full use of even completely prepaid medical services?
As I said, our healthcare system is most definitely in trouble, but change must begin with the culture.
March 24, 2008
Re: What Was That About Corporate Welfare in RI?
The ranking to which Justin refers also gives us the edge in unemployment:
Rhode Island last month shed 1,200 more jobs, and payrolls shrank to their lowest level in nearly four years, a government report released today shows.
The state unemployment rate ticked up one-tenth of a percentage point, to 5.8 percent, as the ranks of the unemployed last month grew to 33,400 — 5,000 more than in February of last year, according to the state Department of Labor and Training.
Nationally, payroll jobs last month declined by 63,000 and the unemployment rate rose to 4.8 percent.
Nor is the siphoning of jobs year upon year due to the notably unfriendly business and business tax climates created by the General Assembly the ideal preparation for a recession.
Rhode Island’s mounting job losses — estimated at 2,900 during the first two months of this year — come on the heels of revised data released last month showing that the state ended last year with a 5,200-job loss. It marked the first annual job decline since 2001, prompting economists to declare that Rhode Island is at the leading edge of a nationwide recession.
What Was That About Corporate Welfare in RI?
Not surprisingly, taxation appears to be Rhode Island's method of being a world leader. We're tied with West Virginia for seventh highest top total corporate tax rate in the world.
Oddly, China and India aren't among the global Top 30. Go figure.
Extremism in the Service of Vice Is No Virtue
Is our society so corrupt that we must remake the argument against prostitution? The seediness, peril, and potential for corruption ought to be clear enough, but they are ultimately reasons for taxation and regulation. Have we been so seduced by an anything-your-heart-desires notion of freedom that we must hesitate over a state-level ban?
Lovers of freedom will certainly find an attractive simplicity in George Carlin's old reasoning that sex is legal, selling's legal, so selling sex should be legal. A step beyond simplicity, however, it becomes apparent that one could just as reasonably suggest that sex is legal, being in public is legal, so having sex in public should be legal, and few of those who would tolerate prostitution (I hope) would accept the requirement that we allow pornographic street theater. No, just as being in public changes the nature of the sexual act, so too does its being for sale.
At the same time, the potential states of a particular thing or act affect its essential meaning. Either we allow it to be in the nature of sex to be salable, or we treat its sale as unnatural. Our choice between the two makes a difference in the import of our decisions about whether and when to give it voluntarily.
Such cultural reasoning isn't generally carried out on an individual basis. The teenage girl contemplating her first sexual encounter won't look to the legal and social treatment of prostitution to gauge the significance of that to which she's being pressured. She might, however, give her submission a deeper level of thought perhaps even lingering over her intentions and hopes for the future if her choice is made within a culture that holds sex as too intimate to be commodified. Too sacred to be permitted the attenuating pull of market forces.
(Did I just say "sacred"? Well, yes. Part of our broader illness is our confusion about whether it is appropriate for our pluralistic society to treat certain things as sacred. It is entirely appropriate, as long as we don't hand definitional authority to the priestly caste of a particular religion.)
In the course of her consideration, the young lady would find the purpose of sex to be an unavoidable factor. In largest part, sex affects her future via its essentially procreative nature, with the related impact on that biological and emotional tangle between partners. The thread runs deep:
Economists believe humans act rationally (a somewhat irrational belief, if you ask me), so some conclude that all this out-of-wedlock childbearing is a logical response to market forces, not the result of something as amorphous as "culture." Since many working-class men do not offer the financial stability they used to provide, women see little incentive to marry them. As Obama said, "[M]any black men simply cannot afford to raise a family." (The out-of-wedlock birthrate among black Americans is close to 70 percent.) I'm trying to follow the logic here. I can understand that a woman looking to get married may decide that a man is such a poor economic prospect that he's not husband material (even if a husband with a low income is better than no husband and no income). But how then is that same man, or a string of them, worthy of fathering her children?
And if not worthy of fathering her children, how then worthy of a degree of intimacy once reserved for husbands? The evil of objectification rears its head in multiple corners: loose sex inherently presumes that the other person is merely for pleasure, which is what exempts him or her from being judged by the scale of a lifelong partner, and accepting your own sexual favor as something that can be doled lightly brings into view a price for allowing others to objectify you.
At this point, some minds will be entertaining clichés: that ship has sailed; the horse has left the barn. Sex is what it is, in our society, so why not err on the side of freedom? Let the men be honest about their desires and the women turn a profit. The tacit presumption, though, is that matter won't end badly.
Ships can be turned around over time; horses can be found; and if the legality-by-omission of prostitution in Rhode Island isn't sufficiently shocking to begin the return, then we'll have to hope that a chance remains to do so when the shock comes via discovery of Rhode Island's daughters' means of putting themselves through college.
How the Michael Bianco Action Was Actually Handled
March 6 was the one year anniversary of the "raid" by Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Michael Bianco Incorporated in New Bedford. Remember that managers at the factory (allegedly) did not just knowingly hire undocumented immigrants but would helpfully direct applicants (allegedly) down the street to obtain (allegedly) fake documents as needed.
In researching related matters, I came across this statement by ICE which describes in detail the manner in which the action was handled and how the familial situations of employees were carefully anticipated and accommodated. As there will almost certainly be more such enforcement activity by ICE at other workplaces (and my own preference has always been for a concentration on employer rather than employee), the compassion and professionalism with which ICE handled the Michael Bianco action and enforced our laws should be made clear.
MYTH: Information regarding the whereabouts of those detained was not provided to family members, reported by WHDH-TV Boston, AP, and Boston Globe.
FACT: ICE set up and staffed a 24-hour toll-free hotline for family members of those who have been arrested to field questions about their locations and about the removal process. Those arrested at the worksite were also given telephone access to inform family members of the situation.
MYTH: ICE failed to provide detainees with adequate child care options, resulting in hundreds of children stranded without responsible care.
FACT: ICE took extraordinary care to determine if any of the arrestees were sole caregivers. This included direct questioning of all arrestees on the day of the enforcement operation. These interviews were conducted at the enforcement site specifically to determine the needs and status of any children impacted by the operation. Through this comprehensive communications effort, 60 of those detained were conditionally released for humanitarian purposes, including many who were released very soon after the completion of the operation. To date, DSS has not provided ICE with information of a single child that has been placed in foster care.
* * *
MYTH: Prior to the commencement of this enforcement, ICE did not consider the welfare of the children impacted by the operation. An AP article reports that a baby was hospitalized because her mother was detained.
FACT: ICE took extraordinary care to determine if any of the detainees were sole caregivers. This included direct questioning of all detainees at the worksite on the day of the enforcement action. Aliens were asked on three separate occasions about whether they were sole caregivers – at the factory the day of the arrest, during processing at Ft. Devens, and at the detention facility. Indeed, as aliens provided this information, humanitarian releases were granted. As of March 12, a total of 90 detainees have been, or are scheduled to be, released including 60 from the worksite and at Fort Devens, and 30 more subsequently identified at detention centers.
In short, most of the media got most of the facts wrong about the preparation and implementation of this enforcement action, thereby creating a falsely negative impression of the agency. (Was that hate speech on the part of those media outlets?) And the two United States Senators from Massachusetts, who seemed confused about which Constitution and which constituency they were elected to serve, remarkably did not bother to first obtain clarification of actual events from their own government agency but simply allowed themselves to be misled by erroneous reporting, presumably not desiring facts to get in the way of a good pander.
Another Winter of Discontent
Perchance I wasn't alone among readers of Saturday's Projo opinion pages in recalling Mac's piece on NRO back in 2004:
In fact, the entire Winter Soldiers Investigation was a lie. It was inspired by Mark Lane's 1970 book entitled Conversations with Americans, which claimed to recount atrocity stories by Vietnam veterans. This book was panned by James Reston Jr. and Neil Sheehan, not exactly known as supporters of the Vietnam War. Sheehan in particular demonstrated that many of Lane's "eye witnesses" either had never served in Vietnam or had not done so in the capacity they claimed.
Nonetheless, Sen. Mark Hatfield inserted the transcript of the Winter Soldier testimonies into the Congressional Record and asked the Commandant of the Marine Corps to investigate the war crimes allegedly committed by Marines. When the Naval Investigative Service attempted to interview the so-called witnesses, most refused to cooperate, even after assurances that they would not be questioned about atrocities they may have committed personally. Those that did cooperate never provided details of actual crimes to investigators. The NIS also discovered that some of the most grisly testimony was given by fake witnesses who had appropriated the names of real Vietnam veterans. Guenter Lewy tells the entire study in his book, America in Vietnam.
What brought that to mind, of course, was an op-ed by a couple of Brown professors:
LAST WEEKEND, we joined hundreds of young veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan gathered near Washington, D.C., for the Winter Soldier Hearings: Iraq and Afghanistan. In a packed conference auditorium, under the glare of lights and the cameras of the BBC and other international and national media, former and active-duty troops brought the day-to-day reality of the war home to hundreds of people attending this historic event. They gave eyewitness accounts of what they saw and did with their units during the invasion and war whose fifth anniversary is upon us, as well as in the now six-year-old occupation of Afghanistan.
After decades of pining, the American Left is now full-boar reviving the '60s era, although they haven't gone quite so far as accusing our boys in the military of regular gang rapes of civilians. Still, those offering testimony do provide a veritable banquet for anybody drooling to undermine America's efforts overseas:
The veterans told of:
• U.S. troops raiding home after home after home in which no insurgent activity or evidence was found, terrorizing the families inside.
• U.S. troops kicking, butt stroking and clothes-lining Iraqi prisoners of war, whom they were told to always call “detainees” so that Geneva Conventions did not apply.
• U.S. troops spraying machine-gun fire into homes after hearing a single shot from somewhere in a village.
• U.S. troops throwing urine-filled bottles and feces-packed food at people walking along the side of the road.
• U.S. troops shooting farmers working in their fields at night (to take advantage of the erratic electricity to run their irrigation systems) simply because they were out after a U.S.-mandated curfew.
• U.S. troops commanded not to stop for pedestrians, and instead to run over anyone or anything in the road as their convoys roar down highways;
• U.S. troops commanded to destroy boxes containing entire archives of birth certificates of the people of Fallujah, after a U.S. scorched-earth campaign in that city in 2004.
... they emphatically declared in their testimony that crimes against the people of Iraq at the hands of the U.S. armed forces were not isolated incidents of pent-up resentment or a matter of a few bad apples spoiling an otherwise healthy barrel.
The acts were habitual, repeated and officially promoted or condoned.
The authors/anthropology professors, Catherine Lutz and Matthew Gutmann, suggest that we American citizens must "demand more honest media coverage of the war." Odd, then, that they cite Iraqi survey data from 2007, instead of the just-released, and much improved (from American's perspective) 2008 iteration (PDF). Funny that, with the 2007 data apparently before them, they refer generally to an "overwhelming majority of Iraqis [who] want the U.S. to leave the country, and to do so immediately," even though that 47% of respondents were outnumbered by the combined 53% who answered with some form of "remain until..." (a total that is now 63%).
That observation leads to others that bring into question the objectivity of the survey itself, which is annually sponsored by international media organizations. New this year was a question about credit and blame for improvements or lack thereof in security. Those who answered that security had improved were given the following parties on which to lavish credit:
- Iraqi Army (13%)
- Iraqi Police (18%)
- Muqtada Al-Sadr (5%)
- Awakening Councils (8%)
- Iraqi Government (26%)
- Other (30%)
While those who'd stated that things had worsened could allocate blame to the following:
- US forces operations (20%)
- Militias (13%)
- Al Qaeda (9%)
- Neighboring countries (6%)
- Politicians/political groups (11%)
- Iraqi Government (9%)
- Parties and their militias (18%)
- Other (18%)
What a respondent answered if he blamed al Qaeda militias affiliated with political groups and sponsored by neighboring countries is anybody's guess, but clearly only a small minority of the minority (26%) who said that the security situation had become worse blame the United States.
And on and on the thread of tweaks goes, leaving one in little doubt as to how a neo cultural revolution can be built upon air... and some fond memories.
Stopping the Tides
When it so happens that the powers that be seem intent on acting in opposition to crystal clear reality, citizens are compelled to act. In Rhode Island, there's hope or, in any case, we've hope that plain information will serve to stop the tides, because it is in the universal self-interest to do so.
You've heard the argument: Our state's regime of taxation, regulation, and spending is driving away the range of citizens who are most likely to be productive, both as workers and as entrepreneurs, while attracting those most apt to partake of our too-generous services. As the taxation policies installed to compensate for the lack of further windfalls inspire the outward flow to continue, the government's shortfall with each budget will expand, rather than contract. How far down the path of economic stagnation do we want to go?
Under the principle that the impossibility of taking strides does not grant us permission to stand still, we've put together a flyer of sorts that seeks to convey one component of the vast body of evidence. We encourage you to print out copies to do with as you deem productive. Put them on public bulletin boards. Hand them out. Send them to media types and legislators. And if the effort meets any success, we'll proceed down the list of points until we've persuaded enough people to make it possible for Rhode Island to avoid utter (and utterly unnecessary) calamity.
March 23, 2008
The Meaning of Easter
Selections from last night's Easter Vigil mass:
- The Easter Vigil is the turning point of the Triduum, the Passover of the new covenant which marks Christ's passage from death to life. Easter is about redemption.
- God has secured the victory: Exodus 14:13-15 - And Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be still." The Lord said to Moses, "Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward."
- Renewing an everlasting covenant: Isaiah 55:1-11 - Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples. Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor. Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
- The Lord will pour clean water over the people and give them a new heart: Ezekiel 36:24-28 - For I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
- The Lord is risen: Matthew 28:1-8 - Now, after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you." so they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
- From the priest's homily: With Easter, death has lost its sting. The tomb is powerless and empty.
And from The Anchoress:
...Depressed yet? Through ordinary lenses, things indeed look pretty bleak. But Easter is here, and through the lenses of hope, its early arrival seems perfectly timed.
Those still digging out from snow and searching in vain for a sprig of crocus might be excused for thinking otherwise, and the relentless negatives confronting us through media do seem to accentuate the dark. But Easter helps shine light on the small positives all around us — things we might miss and step over, without its bright beams.
This week former Soviet leader Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev visited the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi and, after kneeling in prayer for thirty minutes, confirmed that he is, in fact, a Christian. Somehow that admission had the effect, for many, of demonstrating the long-term reach of the hand of God, as their memories pieced together a few seemingly unrelated events, and found meaning: memories of an early 20th-centery happening in Fatima, Portugal, where the Mother of Christ instructed illiterate farm children to warn the world about "Russia's mistakes" and to pray for that nation. Memories of President Ronald Reagan suggesting that Gorbachev was a "closet Christian" and of the Soviet leader’s unprecedented engagement with Pope John Paul II, who had himself nearly been assassinated by then-communist Bulgaria. Memories of walls coming down, "overnight."
Memories take on a different cast in the long-term view.
And that is what Easter is — the long-term view — the answer to day-to-day bleakness. A review begins on the night before Easter, as Orthodox and Eucharistic churches chant out — through the eyes of faith — the whole history of the world; from creation to awareness, to covenant, to exile, to suppression, to oppression, to unthinkable incarnation and finally resurrection, salvation and sustenance, all woven together into a marvelous whole, and bound with the message, "I am with you always."
On Easter Sunday, upon the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, death was cast aside as a mere moment in the "marvelous whole" of eternity, and there we learned that days of bleakness and shadow are overcome. A light may pierce darkness, but darkness may never pierce light, and so light is ever dominant, ever powerful. Christians believe Christ is that light, and that his love, his lessons, his sacrifice and his resurrection illuminate even our darkest corners with hope, and thus fullness of redemption, even from ourselves.
And with that mindset, we may be reassured and becalmed. If the daily news can seem all-too weighty and burdensome, if it leads us into anxiety and cynicism and engenders within us a strain of hopelessness — a sense that nothing ever changes — then on this day of all days we can take a minute to reflect on the long-view of things. Did an unhappy incident at one moment of our lives have a positive effect on us down the road? Did one lost opportunity lead us into something (or someone) we now love, but never would have encountered, had we gotten our then-heart’s desire? Can we look back on a terrible memory and realize that we lived through it and were made stronger for doing so?
The abiding message of Easter is actually contained not in the gospels but in the Revelation: "see, I make all things new." It is at Easter that we are most powerfully enjoined to remember that promise, and to reflect back on our lives and our histories, just long enough to perceive where we have come from, so that we may look forward with anticipation; with the awareness that nothing is static — that nothing we see today will be exactly the same tomorrow — and with heartfelt appreciation for the knowledge that as everything in our lives slowly evolves, there is a hand in it, a promise of Presence, all with a long-term mindset, and a view to eternity. Happy Easter.
A blessed Easter to all.
March 22, 2008
What Would It Mean to "Stop The Hate" in Mr. Richardson's Case?
It would have been helpful of Karen Lee Ziner to provide some detail as to the factuality of this assertion:
[Steven] Brown, of the ACLU, [who isn't a lawyer, by the way] called Richardson's actions "clearly and patently illegal" and said "there are legal remedies available" for people who believe their civil liberties have been violated.
As well as to this:
[José] Genao said yesterday he plans to file a discrimination claim against Richardson with the Providence Human Relations Commission.
Genao's explained motivation is telling:
Genao said he wants people "to know not to be afraid to report incidents like this" and to make others "think twice" about taking actions similar to Richardson's.
So, whatever the actual legal ramifications for a private store owner who has mistreated his customers (in a way having nothing to do with fraud), the idea is to make people believe that such laws exist to inspire self-censorship. In David Richardson's case, a bit of forethought would certainly have been wise, as would be some introspection concerning proper behavior in a pluralistic society. But there's something bullying and dark in the over-hyped reaction.
The potential for a charge of "hate speech" is more than just presumptuous; in its inevitably fluid definition, it's dangerous.
Illegal View: Deja Vu?
The illegal accessing of official government files possibly for political gain?
Not good. Not good at all.
Well, it's a relief to know that the targets of this invasion of privacy - all candidates for the highly sensitive office of the President of the United States - are themselves above such scurrilous activity. Certainly this is not the reason that one candidate is hesitant to comment on this week's deplorable revelation.
"I expect a full and thorough investigation. It should be done in conjunction with those congressional committees that have oversight so it's not simply an internal matter," Mr. Obama told reporters.
Mr. McCain, who is traveling in France, called for an apology and a full investigation of the breach. "The United States of America values everyone's privacy and corrective action should be taken," he said.
Mrs. Clinton had not publicly commented by yesterday evening.
March 21, 2008
As I Crawl Through Holy Week
How like life that this week should find me simultaneously (1) working as much overtime as possible, (2) attempting to devote as much time as possible to the season's religious obligations, and (3) determined to address some weighty topics here on Anchor Rising (still forthcoming, given my schedule). Against that background, I'm absolutely astonished that NEA Executive Director Bob Walsh would think there to be any chance that I would chuckle at his vicious imputation that I'm confused about whether or not I'm a messianic savior and assertions (yes, judgment) about my faith:
When you start to disavow the hate filled diatribes on your own blog that are directed anyone who expresses a different point of view, you might have some standing to be making the statements you made. Re-read the many "hate-filled" comments made over the years on Anchor Rising, and question your own integrity in not challenging the authors of those comments.
Until then, your confusion seems to continue - you may be a carpenter who converted to Catholicism, but you are not anyone's savior and you have not yet grasped the underlying principals of your chosen faith. Start with forgiveness and understanding, and work your way up to your obligation to your fellow man, and move on to love.
Any benefit of the doubt that I've reserved (against the urging of people close to me) that Walsh's public presentation is anything other than the self-serving machinations of a six-figure union boss have evaporated.
How horrible that he ought to accomplish such a feat on a day during which, and in the midst of a conversational thread in response to which, I've devoted much prayerful thought to a matter of deep division.
A New Twist - Arms Length Employment of Undocumented Immigrants?
That numerous undocumented immigrants are currently employed at Packaging Concepts Limited in Lincoln, RI appears not to be a question. What is murky, and perhaps deliberately so, is the employing entity.
Following upon the terrible injury of Mr. Leonardo Cos at Packaging Concepts Limited came reports of certain follow-up activity there. Firstly, the company called employees together and asked them to fill out cards providing their name, address, phone number and a contact in case of emergencies. An hour later, employees were called back together, asked to provide real information on these cards and given the assurance that it would not be shared with the government. A week later, in response to a false rumor that an ICE inspection was imminent, employees were called together, told that ICE was not at the door and promised that, while management could not guarantee that ICE would not come, employees would immediately be warned if Packaging Concepts Limited received advance word of an inspection by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Secondly, Central 2000, the agency which provides many "temporary" - quotes because the position appears to actually be held long term rather than temporarily - employees to Packaging Concepts Limited, came by and handed out IRS W-4 forms for their (or should that be Packaging Concepts Limited's?) employees to fill out. Why these were not already on file and whether their collection at that particular moment was prompted by the accident is unknown.
The source of this information is Terry Gorman of RIILE who received reports of these developments and then conveyed it publicly at a RIILE meeting two weeks ago. It is unfortunate that following upon Mr. Cos' accident and the enforcement action last year at the Michael Bianco factory, Packaging Concepts Limited has decided to take a hunker down rather than a compliance approach.
As to the larger issue of responsibility, if undocumented workers are the "cheapest" labor source, so much more convenient and less stressful would it be to obtain them from an employment agency. When ICE arrives, managers and owners can throw up their hands in all innocence. "Nothing to do with us."
... other than profiting from the arrangement, of course.
March 20, 2008
Evil Men in Tiverton
A typo in Tom Killin Dalglish's Sakonnet Times piece on the Tiverton police department sexual harassment suits is just too ripe for speculation of the subconscious not to note it:
Defendants named in the lawsuits besides the Town of Tiverton are James Amarantes (the former town treasurer), Louis Durfee (president of the Town Council), Mr. Steckman (the former town administrator), and Chief Blakey.
It's man versus woman in Tiverton, with James, Louis, Glenn, and Thomas named in the suits. Except, of course, that Louis is actually Louise.
As I said, it's just a typo, but it's good for a conservative chuckle, anyway.
OK, Stop the "Hate", But when does Free Speech become "Hate" Speech?
Advocacy groups and legislators today announced a campaign against hate and hate speech in Rhode Island that will call on all Rhode Islanders to participate.Hm. On second thought, maybe I should retract the weiner crack...el hermano mayor está mirando.
The initiative was prompted by a recent incident involving a Providence storeowner who demanded to see Social Security cards of two Spanish-speaking customers, then threatened to call immigration authorities after they did not.
State Sen. Juan Pichardo, one of the speakers today, said, “All this hate speech -- we need to stop this wave. It is not the America we pursue …”
Miguel Sanchez-Hartwein, executive director of the Center for Hispanic Policy and Advocacy, said the campaign will involve educational forums at universities, schools, businesses and other settings, and a petition that he asked all Rhode Islanders to sign.
Look, all kidding aside, of course we should respect other individuals and not "hate" them. I already said I think the proprietor of RI Refrigeration crossed the line, but being rude doesn't signify "hate." And political differences don't equal hate. Most people who disagree with Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton don't do so because he's an African-American or she's a woman. They disagree with their political philosophy, their ideas, not their color or plumbing.
Yet, a legitimate critique of current immigration policy is hyperbolized as anti-immigrant and racist by some who know better, but seek to gain partisan advantage. Thus does one person's free speech become classified by others as "hate speech" in a veiled attempt to short-circuit debate. I'm not saying all those involved with this campaign have ulterior motives based on a desire for power, political or other. But beware those who do.
Woonsocket: No Bid Vroom-Vrooms Go Bye-Bye
Two weeks ago, an ethics complaint was filed against Mayor Susan Menard for her role in the city's no-bid lease of four motorcycles from her son-in-law's dealership. She announced soon thereafter that she would be retiring in June.
Fast forward to Monday night's City Council meeting at which Mayor Menard was a surprise show. This Providence Journal article, devoted exclusively to the pleasantry of her "good-bye" comments, missed a couple of other developments during the meeting which the Valley Breeze picked up. The first was the presentation of an audit revealing that 1.) contrary to prior representations, the city is operating in the red and 2.) the amount of the deficit is not known due to poor record keeping and accounting practices by certain city officials and departments. (They "borrowed" $503,000 from the pension fund ...?)
The second item of business that failed to make the ProJo article was a request by a Council member for a copy of the motorcycle lease and an inquiry by the Council President as to the present location of the motorcycles which are the subject of the ethics complaint. The city solicitor, replying to the former inquiry, stated that the lease could not be found in city records nor, perplexingly, did the leasing company have a copy of same.
No reply was apparently offered at the meeting to the Council President's question. However, the Woonsocket Police Department informed me this morning that while the motorcycles are still in Woonsocket at the moment, they will shortly be on their way back to the leasing company as that company has been told to come and pick them up.
Still outstanding is the
$10,000 [Edit - commenter John has provided the correct figure] $40,000 paid to date by the City of Woonsocket towards the leasing of the motorcycles. If the $10,000 $40,000 is subsequently returned, the motorcycles go back and the lease mysteriously never surfaces, does the ethics bell, as Dave Kane phrased it, get unrung?
As to who authorized the return of the motorcycles to the leasing company, someone in attendance at the City Council meeting Monday night has advised that it was the Woonsocket Public Safety Director who did so - "that would mean the Mayor".
There Are Credits, and There Are Credits
I may be incorrect about this, but the historic tax credits appear to be of a different nature than the movie industry tax credits. The latter are ultimately advance giveaways of tax money yet to be collected. The credits are handed to a production company, which can sell them to third-parties that aren't at all involved in the filming to offset taxes that they were going to pay anyway. It's a subsidy.
The historic tax credit, it seems, is more of a discount on taxes related to projects that may not happen without the incentive:
The 1891 estate with 12 bedrooms, 15 bathrooms and breathtaking ocean views is among the many properties that qualified for Rhode Island’s historic structures tax-credit program, which offers property owners and developers breaks on income taxes worth 30 percent of qualified historic-renovation costs.
Working in construction, I suppose I've an indirect interest in these credits, but I'm more or less ambivalent about them. That said, such credits follow a model that Rhode Island should implement more broadly: encouraging economic activity by discounting the costs imposed by government. Consider:
Governor Carcieri recently introduced a separate proposal to retroactively cap the number of credits redeemed every year, a move that would save nearly $25 million this year and $21 million in the next. Several real estate developers plan to sue the state if the governor's plan becomes law, according to local developer Colin Kane, head of the Peregrine Group, which has invested $15 million in an East Providence development he says he would have to abandon.
One must adjust for words spoken in advocacy, of course, but it isn't a stretch to imagine that such projects as Kane's wouldn't happen under the full burden of Rhode Island's tax laws. In other words, without them, there would be less economic activity for the government to tax in the first place.
Watching our government attempt to digest its deficit in the absence of one-time windfalls (or failing to digest it) brings to mind the game of chess. Nobody seems capable of thinking more than two steps ahead (to the step after "I lose my giveaways and special interest support"). That's a queen that ought to be exposed.
March 19, 2008
Reflections by Bill Buckley and Pope Benedict XVI on our Judeo-Christian/Western Civilization tradition: "...how deep we fall...there is always hope...the one who has hope lives differently..."
William Kristol writes:
...Bill was a complicated man. In him, admirable but disparate qualities coexisted easily. Bill was at once remarkably ecumenical — and knowledgeably discriminating. He had a taste for profound reflection about man and God — and for fierce polemicizing against socialists and appeasers. He had a real joie de vivre — but also, perhaps like any thoughtful person, a streak of melancholy. He appreciated the intellectual arguments for pessimism, but he never yielded to the mortal sin of despair...
Peter Robinson writes:
..."We deem it the central revelation of Western experience," William F. Buckley wrote in 1960, "that man cannot ineradicably stain himself, for the wells of regeneration are infinitely deep....Even out of the depths of despair, we take heart in the knowledge that it cannot matter how deep we fall, for there is always hope."
(And, as an example of hope, read the rest of Robinson's post about Gorbachev.)
A more scholarly discussion of hope and its connection to faith can be found in Pope Benedict XVI's second encyclical, Saved in Hope, which includes these words:
...According to the Christian faith, "redemption" - salvation - is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present...The Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known - it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life...
Expanding the Sales Tax
With a hat tip to Dan Yorke, below are some of the new things that will now fall under the expanded sales tax being proposed by the tax-and-spenders in our Legislature, under the, ahem, "ECONOMIC GROWTH AND FAIRNESS ACT OF 2008". Oh sure, there is this.....
Commencing on January 1, 2010, the rate shall be six and one half percent (6.5%). Commencing on January 1, 2011, the tax rate shall be six percent (6%). Commencing on January 1, 2012 and thereafter the tax rate shall be five and one half percent (5.5%).Until we decide that we "can't afford" that reduction.
And then there is the fact that the Income Tax is going to INCREASE, anyway:
For the period January 1, 2002, and thereafter through July 1, 2008 the rate shall be twenty-five percent (25%) of the taxpayer's federal income tax liability. For the period January 1, 2008, and thereafter, the rate shall be twenty-seven and one-half percent (27.5%) of that taxpayer's federal income tax liability, as defined in subsection 44-30-2(b).And the flat tax option will be terminated (p.37) and capital gains taxes are going back up (p.39-40, 47). Yup, why cut government when we can tax more?
OK, here's the almost complete list of new "revenue sources" and revoked exemptions.
And here are some of the things no longer exempt:
Once Again Offering AR's Services to Steve Peoples
The Providence Journal's Steve Peoples provides another scrapbook entry for the file illustrating how average folk around her develop such a skewed understanding of the state's operation:
Governor Carcieri has asked the state's highest court to strike down a law passed last year that he says threatens to paralyze Rhode Island government by blocking his ability to use private companies to conduct state business. ...
The law requires state departments to conduct detailed cost comparisons before awarding contracts to private firms. It also requires that "the savings to the state is substantial," but does not define "substantial" savings. And the law gives "affected parties" program recipients, state employees or unions 60 days to appeal any privatization decision to a Superior Court judge.
The Democrat-dominated General Assembly has defended the law as an essential safeguard for ensuring savings.
"If the governor could prove by going through this process that he could save money, I would be standing next to him to support that," said Rep. Charlene Lima, D-Cranston, who had introduced the legislation for 13 consecutive years before it was approved close to midnight in the final days of the previous legislative session. "I just find it incredulous that the governor, in light of the great fiscal crisis we're facing, would be asking the Supreme Court about the constitutionality of a bill that would provide transparency and ensure that there's a taxpayers' savings."
As we've explained on this page before, requiring "state departments to conduct detailed cost comparisons" hardly does justice to what this law does. It stacks the deck for the unions, delays the process by months, and allows the General Assmbly to throw up road blocks.
The bill didn't make it into the law for thirteen years, until midnight on the even of our state's clearly looming fiscal crisis. One way or another, it ought to go.
Gosh, It's Not Really Here
Not surprisingly the Prostitution State is also the Corruption State. AG Patrick Lynch has proposed legislation to make the latter illegal:
Amid the drumbeat of alleged public corruption scandals in Rhode Island, state legislators are considering a bill that would for the first time make it a felony to violate the public trust.
Currently in what may be a surprise to the average Rhode Islander the state well versed in public corruption has no law that makes such behavior illegal. State and local officials can be charged with bribery or embezzlement and a variety of related charges, but not with outright corruption. ...
The proposed law is modeled on the federal statute that was enacted in 1988, and would apply to public servants at all levels from elected officials to state, municipal and contract employees. ...
The proposed law is modeled on the federal statute that was enacted in 1988, and would apply to public servants at all levels from elected officials to state, municipal and contract employees.
March 18, 2008
Gosh, It's Really Here
Andrew outlines the "cons" of legalizing prostitution.
Bringing it back to Rhode Island, it's one thing to be aware in an intellectual vacuum that indoor prostitution is legal here. It's another to read a description of and begin to fully understand that a florishing trade has resulted.
Ed Achorn provides that description:
One does not have to search very hard on Google to discover that the johns who prey on young women are well aware of the state’s innovative approach to the world’s oldest profession. They tout Rhode Island as a land of opportunity, offer crude reviews of the charms and demerits of the “girls” who work in the city’s strip clubs, and share such consumer info as whether strippers provide “takeout service” and how much they charge. Last month, in a Channel 10 I-Team report by Jim Taricani, a young cameraman entered the Club Balloons strip club with a hidden camera. Within minutes, a dancer was offering him, for a price, two forms of sex.
Money pours into the sex industry in Providence, particularly in a booming vice district along Allens Avenue. If Rhode Island has a “center of economic excellence” these days, this is it. Seedy customers from all over New England flock to Providence for the action, and “alternative” newspapers both here and in Boston survive on ads from local ladies (and a few gentlemen) who, to put it mildly, do not go to extreme lengths to disguise what they are selling.
The un-ironic title of this post was my reaction upon reading Achorn's column today. Presumably, it was a naive assumption on my part that a law had not engendered actual businesses.
So. Now I've caught up. It's here and business is apparently brisk.
Should it stay? Ed Achorn, Brad Plumer and others point to repugnant and illegal activity that gravitates towards legalized prostitution - slavery, pedophelia - as well as the self-destructive lifestyle - drug use - it can enable. But shouldn't the question be contemplated solely on its own merits?
"Should it be legal for a consenting adult to sell intimacy to another consenting adult?"
Or is it simply not possible to do so because there can never be a circumstance under which the repugnant and illegal activity can be screened out? And that by saying yes to the above question, one is automatically giving consent to and approval of the other completely unacceptable activity?
Principle Begets Innovation
Tom Sgouros decries the lack of worthy investments for people with money. The problem, he's arguing, isn't that the wealthy don't have the money to invest; it's that they have nowhere to invest it; they're holding it or directing it to safer investments. Me, I'll take his argument at face value, because I think he points to a more fundamental, and ultimately more important, discussion:
To be sure, there are still niches to find and exploit, but in a world with the global competition we have now, those opportunities are narrower and more elusive than they once were. Our problem isn't a shortage of investors or funds to invest, but a real shortage of places to invest them.
Instead of showering our largesse on the investor class, shouldn't we instead be focusing our resources on all the other essential parts of the equation: the inventors, the markets, the workers, the supply chains? Just as an example, recent talk about finding renewable energy opportunities, like building blades for giant wind turbines at Quonset, or creating local markets for clean electricity, seem much more on target to address these problems than current state policies. If you understand our economic issues this way, slashing school and university funding to benefit investors hardly seems to answer the needs we face, but that's what's in store this year.
Just to be clear, we're not talking government subsidies for investment; we're talking "cuts in corporate and income taxes," as well as capital gains. That being the case, conservative readers will surely pick up on, and object to, Sgouros's view that allowing people to keep money that they've earned is equivalent to "showering our largesse" on them. To the contrary, as a key matter of principle, it isn't "our" money; it's theirs, and if they were to remove themselves from our tax base (speaking especially in the context of Rhode Island, here), then we'd have none of it.
I agree, however, that we have to focus (our intellectual resources, anyway) on "the inventors, the markets, the workers, the supply chains." The question is how we do such a thing. Sgouros makes a somewhat oblique reference to the fashionable green energy industry, but he doesn't explain what it would mean to "focus our resources on it."
Curiously absent from these discussions, it seems to me, is any mention of what motivates our ostensible targets. What do inventors and workers want? What creates markets and facilitates supply chains? Well, workers want to make a living. Inventors are the same, but are often driven by intellectual curiosity to chase specific ideas. Markets arise when people want or need something, and supply chains develop to... err... supply them and their components.
These are all intentions and actions that arise unbidden. They do not need government bureaucrats and special interests to get together around a mahogany table in an air-controlled room so that they can step beyond the door to a pool of waiting microphones and announce to the society what direction would prove profitable. Inventors will solve problems and seek applications for their innovations. The people who comprise markets will look for what they want. Businesspeople will attempt to marry available technologies with apparent demand. Marketers will work to coax that demand along. And workers will calculate their own equations of need, interest, and ability to find the best opportunities for themselves.
An elite Board of Social Direction can only retard this process. By its nature, such a body begins with a priori requirements (which are ultimately political), and the only market that it can promise, it must wrest from all of the above citizens for reallocation. As much as that approach may periodically be necessary (in times of calamity and war), it is by no means efficient and too often proves irrevocable.
It oughtn't be controversial to suggest that the class of people who exist somewhere between neediness and opulence are so positioned that they will, by opportunity and necessity, make the most productive use of resources, but only rarely is a public entity most advantageously positioned to decide what that use ought to be. In attempting to allocate resources, that entity will more often overlay unnecessary and counterproductive obstacles.
To maximize a system of competition, the proper role of government is to facilitate the removal of obstacles that create unequal barriers to entry. That can mean physical obstacles, such as those literally lying in the path of transportation, but it can also mean regulatory obstacles minimum wages and benefits, mandatory coverages, insurance, and other costs imposed by government.
People love to imagine that they can determine specific and ideal courses for their local societies, and many have direct interests in particular political outcomes, but even if one takes the tack that all wealth is ultimately "our" wealth, a largesse that we dispense at our pleasure, it's a whopper of a presumption that we can collectively elect or appoint a board with sufficient good will, objectivity, and intelligence to direct our economy.
In short, if we truly are to the point that further "tax cuts for the rich" only serve to give them money for which they've no productive use, it shouldn't fall to government to fabricate areas of investment. Rather, just as it has let out the monetary leash, so to speak, for an investor class, it must now let out the regulatory leash such that innovators and workers can more easily slip through the door.
The RI GOP's Continuing Cash Crunch
RI GOP Has Less Cash On Hand than Norman Hsu Has Given to the RI Democrats All By Himself (Well, Sort of By Himself, As Best as We Can Tell).Or maybe that's too long for a headline.
What's Wrong with
Legalizing Prostitution Keeping Prostitution Legal in Rhode Island, You Ask?
Along with Edward Achorn's Projo op-ed on the state of prostitution in Rhode Island (or maybe that should be on the state of prostitution, Rhode Island), you may want to read this blog item written by Brad Plumer and recommended by Reihan Salam. The post points to a mountain of evidence showing that legalizing prostitution doesn't transform it into just another legitimate business. From Plumer's post…
In 2003, the Scottish government, looking to revamp its own prostitution laws, did a massive report on different policies around the world, and discovered that legalization-plus-regulation comes with its own set of problems.And from one of Plumer's links to an old Insight on the News article …
The study found that, as you'd expect, legalization often led to a dramatic expansion of the sex industry: In Australia, brothels proliferated to the point where they overwhelmed the state's ability to regulate them, and became mired in organized crime and corruption. In many countries, child prostitution and the trafficking of foreign women also increased dramatically. More importantly, surveys found that many sex workers still felt coerced and unsafe even after decriminalization. In the Netherlands—often held up as a model—a survey done in 2000 found that 79 percent of prostitutes were in the sex business "due to some degree of force."
Yet wherever there is regulated prostitution, it is matched by a flourishing black market. Despite the fact that prostitution is legal in 12 Nevada counties, prostitutes continue to work illegally in casinos to avoid the isolation and control of the legal brothels. Even the legal brothels maintain a business link with the illegal pimping circuit by paying a finder's fee to pimps for bringing in new women.
What to Do About China?
Concerned about your business prospects in the domestic market? Well, Providence Journal business-section columnist John Kostrzewa has a suggestion:
With the local and national economies weakening, and perhaps already in recession, small and large businesses are worried about where the growth will come from in 2008.
How about looking overseas, especially to China?
He offers advice, gleaned from a seminar on the topic sponsored by Citizens Bank, the Bank of China and the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. "Don't underestimate the language barrier," says one speaker. However, to complement the growing Chinese urban consumer market:
Business owners... can find lower labor, operating and land costs, a surging demand for foreign products and less competition in other parts of the country.
Ah yes. Lower labor costs:
Officially, 2,375 trafficking cases were reported in China last year, a 7.6 percent decrease from 2006, according to the Public Security Ministry.
But the statistics are based on China's narrow definition of trafficking, which covers only the kidnapping, purchase or sale of women and children younger than 14, not older teen-agers and men. Activists say the number is grossly understated and that tens of thousands of people are trafficked each year.
Historically, many victims have been women forced to marry lonely farmers, or male babies illegally adopted by couples who wanted a son. But those types of cases are leveling off, while cases of migrants deceived into sexual exploitation and forced labor are increasing, activists say.
I know, I know. I've got those libertarian, free-market leanings, as well. But I don't think we, as a nation, have come up with an adequate solution for dealing with the potential to globalize our economy without globalizing our principles in part because we're so divided on what our principles should be. Without some truly visionary innovation on our shores, I'm not confident that either our economy or our moral center will remain strong enough for those invisible hands to crush international iniquity.
Jay Nordlinger puts it inimicably:
Reading a report about China's latest massacre in Tibet, I was struck by one line in particular: "China is gambling that its crackdown will not bring an international outcry over human rights violations that could lead to boycotts of the Olympics."
That is a very, very good gamble. Nobody gives a rat's behind what the Chinese do, to Tibetans or anybody else. It is a curious fact of modern times. If only China's rulers would embrace the Bush administration: Maybe the world would care!
March 17, 2008
The Mire We're In
If you haven't already read it, the final installment of Kenneth Payne's review of how Rhode Island reached its current state of political mire. One key thing to remember, as wrangling over budgets and state government action continues:
The General Assembly's powers are plenary and unlimited, except as those powers are restricted by the U.S. and the Rhode Island constitutions. As the historian and lawyer Patrick T. Conley put it in 1999, the executive and legislative branches are "neither separate nor equal."
Sometimes one gets the impression that the only reason dead voters let the Republicans win the governor's seat is to secure a scapegoat.
Investing in an Export
Disappointingly, Julia Steiny's column yesterday takes a two-dimensional view of poverty programs:
... it's nothing short of glorious that Rhode Island has managed, over the course of three years and with a few strategic investments, to reduce the number of families in poverty by 6 percent. That's huge. Six percent of Rhode Island's population of 1 million is 60,000 low-income people doing better financially. For the first time in memory, the state is not the poorest state in New England, but only the second poorest, above Maine.
We need to honor this achievement while we can, since it is gravely threatened by the state's budget crisis.
According to Kids Count, in 2004, fully 21 percent of the state lived at or below the poverty line. The federal government’s notoriously stingy threshold for poverty is $21,200 for a family of four. So more than a fifth of the state's kids were living with chronically anxious parents, in troubled, often violent neighborhoods, and driving their teachers nuts with their inability to focus on math facts, instead of problems at home. Reducing poverty doesn't remove these conditions, but greatly improves the chances they'll get better.
In 2005, Rhode Island's poverty rate dropped to 19 percent, and in 2006 to 15 percent.
What Steiny doesn't acknowledge (perhaps doesn't know) is that this "huge" achievement came at the effective cost of pulling thousands below the twice-poverty line and driving out the working and middle classes. She apparently has that peculiar blind spot that prevents one from seeing the effect on the payer of glorious welfare programs. Consider her apparent view that "one smart investment ripple[d] productively throughout the low-income community":
Initiated in 1998, Starting RIght recognized that welfare recipients could never make the transition to work without help with childcare. So the program offered full childcare subsidies to working parents at or below 100 percent of the poverty level. Parents making up to 225 percent of poverty paid a co-pay on a sliding scale.
But there were very few childcare spots available. So the program offered incentives to more people, mostly women with children of their own, to open licensed childcare businesses, by offering RIte Care, the state-provided health care, to those who did not have health insurance. The program also paid close to market rates. Availability ceased to be a problem.
But notice that the childcare subsidy first circulated directly to a cottage industry within the low-income community itself. Starting RIght got more parents into the work force, and it generated jobs. Cash assistance (old-school welfare) dropped by a whopping 72 percent.
The "ripple" hasn't been one of salutary effects so much as an expansion of the paid benefits. As we've been pointing out around here for a number of years, while cash assistance payments are way down, the combined cost of these programs is up exponentially and the trend is unsustainable. To Steiny, the daycare and healthcare subsidies may be a good investment, but it's one that fewer and fewer of her fellow Rhode Islanders are willing to pay, as evidenced by the fact that there are fewer and fewer Rhode Islanders to pay it.
With this additional dimension, the characterization of these expenditures as an investment requires clarification. Obviously, poor Rhode Islanders benefit financially (even if only in the immediate term) from handouts, and we can assume that, on average, their children benefit in more important ways from improved circumstances. But in the absense of a vibrant economy presenting local opportunities, our tax dollars will prove to have been an investment in another state's taxbase.
Seeing a Horton who Hears a Who
Took the gals to see Horton Hears a Who on Saturday (and I wasn't the only one). The ProJo gave it 5 *s. I don't know if it was that good, but it was pretty good. The kids enjoyed it, though it may have skewed a bit young for them, and there were enough pop-culture references to keep me mildly amused, though their post-modern "irony" may annoy some (a Henry Kissinger impression?).
Anyone familiar with the book knows the plot: Big Elephant hears people on tiny world located in speck of dust on top of a flower, no one believes him (no one else has Horton's elephantine hearing) and Horton tries to protect said world from calamity. The subplot surrounding the Mayor of Whoville (leader of the dust-folk, if you will) is essentially the same as the main plot surrounding Horton--no one believes the Mayor is in contact with a giant, invisible elephant in the sky. There is also the requisite cool relationship between the Mayor and his one non-communicative son, who doesn't want to be Mayor like Pops. This is resolved predictably, but sweetly.
Back to Horton. He's a school teacher whose chief antagonist is a priggish Kangaroo who "home-schools" her kid (er, joey) in her, well, pouch. Badump-bump. A culturally or politically aware parent will see this as the zing at homeschooling (and the presumed demographic that make up home-schoolers--religious conservatives) it's intended to be. But there is a whole lot more subtle criticism aimed in other directions--whether the filmmakers intended it or not.
The Kangaroo is mostly ticked off at Horton because he can't prove that the Who's living in that speck of dust really exist, but he still persists in claiming it to be true. His faith is unprovable, you see. Eventually, the Kangaroo's mildly annoyed comments turn alarmist when Horton's students start to claim they have also discovered "worlds" in flowers. She warns the other animals that Horton is going to do long-lasting damage to the children by teaching to believe in what they can't see, feel or hear. That Horton has to be stopped!
At first, Kangaroo attempts to get a humorously creepy bird to do her dirty work (he fails). Eventually, though, she manages to rile up the rest of the jungle creatures to stop Horton. Her clarion call? "For the children!" The ensuing stampede, complete with an army of monkeys, ends in Horton being captured....but all ends well. Horton even forgives the marsupial. But I was left wondering: does anyone know if Hillary Clinton has a pouch?
I jest only slightly. The Kangaroo character is more than just the archetypal busy-body who knows what's best for everyone. She doesn't just ridicule Horton for believing in what she finds unprovable, she actively seeks to take him down and destroy the object of his "faith." She appeals to emotion by using the welfare of the children as her call to arms to get her fellow animals moving. She even tries to use a bad bird to achieve what she perceives to be a noble end. Any means possible is acceptable in an effort to achieve the "right" outcome, you know.
Though the filmmakers may have intended the Kangaroo to be a stereotypical, hidebound conservative conformist, the character can also be interpreted to be an elitist who thinks she knows what's best for everyone and will go to great lengths to ensure her solution is enforced. Then again, it was just a kid's cartoon. But if my kids ask me about the deeper socio-political meaning of Horton, I'll be ready!
Possible Reduction Versus Mandatory Revocation
Commenter Pragmatist notes, in response to my post suggesting the withholding of pensions to the politically corrupt, that such a law already exists. But the Public Employee Pension Revocation and Reduction Act merely makes it possible for the state to take away a pension (or reduce it):
(c) In any civil action under this chapter for the revocation or reduction of retirement or other benefits or payments, the superior court shall determine:
(i) Whether the public employee has been convicted of or pled guilty or nolo contendere to any crime related to his or her public office or public employment and, if so;
(ii) Whether the retirement or other benefits or payments to which the public official or public employee is otherwise entitled should be revoked or diminished and, if so;
(iii) In what amount or by what proportion such revocation or reduction should be ordered.
(2) In rendering its decision hereunder, the superior court shall consider and address each of the following factors:
(i) The fact that the allowance of retirement or other benefits or payments for service under this title, under title 16, under title 45, under title 8, under chapter 30 of title 28, under chapter 43 of title 31, and under chapter 28 of title 42 presumes and requires that the service shall have been honorably rendered;
(ii) The severity of the crime related to public office or public employment of which the public official or public employee has been convicted or to which the public official or public employee has pled guilty or nolo contendere;
(iii) The amount of monetary loss suffered by the public official's or public employee's employer or by any other person as a result of the subject crime related to public office or public employment;
(iv) The degree of public trust reposed in the subject public official or public employee by virtue of his or her public office or public employment; and
(v) Any such other factors as, in the judgment of the superior court, justice may require.
One can imagine an understandable tendency, when faced with an aging employee whose crime might have been one of casually slipping into negligence over the years, toward mitigation under this law. What I'm talking about is a mandatory revocation of pensions whenever the corruption extends beyond a certain dollar and effect limit. (Using a public vehicle to move furniture once in a career wouldn't count, but spending a year's worth of afternoons at the local bar would.)
Thomas Wigand: Camouflage Green
As reported in the Providence Journal on March 13: "A coalition of labor unions, environmental advocates and antipoverty groups are collaborating to promote legislation that would help spark new renewable-energy industries in Rhode Island. The group, which calls itself the Green Jobs Alliance, says it has come together to promote a 'green economy' that improves the environment while at the same time creates middle-class jobs."
Neither the advance press release announcing the press conference regarding the rollout of this "Green Jobs Alliance," nor the subsequent Providence Journal story, made mention of the national and international roots and affiliations of this alliance. So it is fair to posit that there was a deliberate attempt to make it appear that this is some sort of homegrown, spontaneous effort within Rhode Island. But as we shall see, this seems unlikely which in turn begs the question as to why the organizers sought to downplay those affiliations.
The Sierra Club, which was at the Providence news conference, has been engaged in a "partnership" with the United Steelworkers of America called the "Blue-Green Alliance" since 1996. This alliance, on March 1314 hosted a conference called "Good Jobs, Green Jobs: A National Green Jobs Conference" in Pittsburgh. The speakers list includes representatives from various labor unions and the leadership of the AFL-CIO, which certainly was known to another attendee at the Providence news conference, George Nee of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO [who, with the local Sierra Club, co-authored a commentary piece calling for building wind farms in Rhode Island that appeared in the Providence Journal on February 20th].
The Blue-Green Alliance is sponsoring green jobs initiatives that appear identical to the Rhode Island "wind energy" effort in various of the "rust belt" states (arguably Rhode Island is one of the leading states in the expansion of the "rust belt" to encompass not just the upper Midwest, but the Northeast, as well). While an expansion of wind and solar powered energy generation is probably a good thing, it is fair to presume that the "green jobs" that they propose to create will actually be in the nature of taxpayer financed public works projects rather than incubating new private sector industries. After all, not every state can become a "leader" in a new "green" manufacturing sector, though it appears that this is how it is being marketed in each state.
Organized labor loves public works projects because they are de facto "corporate welfare" for unions. This is done through what are called "prevailing wage laws" and "project labor agreements." What these do is require public works projects (or private projects that get tax breaks) to pay union wages, the effect being that unionized contractors don't have to compete in a true competitive bidding process, so the playing field is shifted in favor of the unions … while the taxpayers are locked in to paying a higher-than-market price for the projects.
It is not a stretch to believe that the unspoken agenda here is to push new taxpayer financed public works projects, albeit labeling them as "good for the environment" and "fostering new industries with good paying jobs." After all, the Providence Place Mall and Route 95 projects are completed, so organized labor is no doubt on the hunt for new projects to fill the void.
Query whether Mr. Nee and the rest of organized labor would be willing, for the good of the environment, "to exempt such" green" projects from "prevailing wage" and "project labor agreements" so that they can be done at lesser cost, and so more of them can be completed. I think we all know the answer.
There is an international angle to this, as well. A group called the International Trade Union Confederation has involved itself with "global warming." This group declares on its Web site that "together with its affiliates, its regional organisations, the Global Union Federations, as well as with non-governmental organisations, the ITUC carries out ongoing campaign action for the universal respect of trade union rights, as guaranteed by the Conventions of the International Labour Organisation (ILO)." The ILO is an affiliate of the United Nations.
The Blue-Green Alliance and the ITUC are advocating for the use of trade agreements and treaties to advance a "green" agenda, including "protections" for "workers rights." To the ITUC and ILO, "workers rights" is a euphemism for the government's actively promoting union organizing and otherwise using its power to subsidize organized labor, such as eliminating workers rights to a secret ballot election by enacting statutory requirements allowing union organizers to collect "voluntary" signatures from workers (e.g., you can just imagine Teamster organizers collect "voluntary" signatures), and once a simple majority of employees have signed, imposing a union on the entire workforce. (Note that a simple majority of signatures would not be allowed to later decertify a union; rather, a secret ballot election would still be required for that.)
In fact, the 2007 ITUC "Annual Survey of Trade Union Rights" criticizes the United States for preserving an employer's rights to demand a federally supervised secret ballot election for employees contemplating unionization and to conduct meetings with employees (on paid time) to explain to workers the employer's position on unionization (otherwise known as First Amendment rights). The AFL-CIO's single biggest legislative goal is to have enacted an Orwellianly named statute called the "Employee Free Choice Act" that would strip workers of secret ballot election protections (at least when bringing unions in).
It is not a stretch to imagine that organized labor simultaneously seeks to bypass the legislative process and advance this special-interest agenda by burying it within trade agreements and treaties marketed to the public as "green." Ironically, the presence of such labor union special-interest terms might discourage emerging countries from entering into such trade agreements and treaties, thus actually inhibiting the "green" initiatives that are supposedly being advanced.
Certainly, advancing a "greener" economy is desirable. And there is nothing wrong with organized labor pushing its agenda, although it is a special interest. But neither is it wrong to recognize that there is much institutional self-interest going on here, and that organized labor's green initiatives are predominately "camouflage green" intended to mask its pursuit of its own self interests under the halo of environmentalism.
March 16, 2008
Keeping Busy Until April 22
Start an office pool.
Call it March-April madness and the point is to make sizable, risk-taking bets to revitalize the speculative muscles. The wagers could include:
1) How many ways will Hillary and/or her campaign find to demean states (and the voters in those states) she didn't win to make the Orwellian point that some states are more equal than others? Extra bonus point accrued when the total number of slights reaches more than 100.
2) Will Obama finally show the political courage to reject and denounce his middle name so he won't have to be fearful of Republican attacks if he becomes the nominee?
3) Will Florida and Michigan redo their primaries? Or will Hillary Clinton simply declare herself the winner and award herself all the delegates?
4) Make a futures bet on the combined average of the 1,648 polls that will publish results in the two weeks before the primary.
5) How many times will political talk show host Chris Matthews talk sentimentally about a Philadelphia — the city of brotherly love and fantastically corrupt ward bosses — that no longer exists? The over/under is 912.
6) How will the Pennsylvania Amish vote break?
7) How many times will pundits say "make or break" about Hillary Clinton's latest last stand? The over/under is 1,336,557.
8) Bet on the number of campaign staff members who will say nice things about their opponent — such as: "There is no way Sen. Obama could be a monster" or "Sen. Clinton's stature has nothing to do with being a lucky woman" — and have to resign in the next six weeks.
Eliminate the Primary?
[Note: the Devil's Advocate signed in for this post to write the concluding paragraph.]
From today's Woonsocket Call:
A move by the General Assembly to grant a waiver of the traditional waiting period for disaffiliating from a political party could put more voters at the polls for Tuesday’s Democratic Primary for the late Roger R. Badeau’s State Senate seat.
Badeau’s death while in office on Jan. 25 set the stage for a special election in the East Woonsocket and Cumberland Hill district to replace the veteran Woonsocket senator. The candidate filing period yielded three Senate hopefuls — Rosina L. Hunt of 68 Hamlet Ave., Roger A. Picard of 764 Mendon Road, and Cumberland’s contender, Thomas J. Scully of 66 Beamis Ave. All three are Democrats and without a Republican contender, the contest will actually be decided on Tuesday for all intents and purposes.
The changing of the rules to
open up this primary and effectively render it a general election  enable recently disaffiliated voters to participate is for a noble cause in this case: to ensure that all more voters in Senate District 20 have a say in the selection of their state senator.
The less lofty practice of cross party primary raids, whereby members of a party will attempt to pick the candidate of an opposition party by changing affiliation and voting in the primary of that party, is certainly not unheard of. Perhaps one of the better known examples of this is the recent "campaign" by a National Radio Talk Show Host urging Republicans to cross over and vote for a particular Democrat presidential candidate. "Do-overs" are presently being contemplated for the Democrat presidential primaries in Florida and Michigan, whose delegates were eliminated by the DNC because they moved up the dates of their primaries in violation of DNC rules. [In this matter, I agree with another National Radio Talk Show Host.]
In short, primaries are not always carried out as intended. Is it time to eliminate the primary altogether? Undoubtedly, they drag out the election process, a condition that has been exacerbated by the recent trend of states moving the dates of their primaries up and up so as to have a greater influence in the selection of presidential candidates. They can make it far more expensive to run for office. Under the American electoral system, we select our candidates by a plurality, not a majority. In that regard, there is no need to narrow the field with a primary. So why shouldn't we go straight to a general election?
Subsidize Another Country, or Fortify the Constitutional Fiber of the Young?
Perhaps it will serve to advance the conversation about immigration if we're explicit about the choices that we face. To that end:
Carlos Avila Sandoval, the Guatemalan consul general for New England, said his countrymen come to the United States to escape the grinding poverty and a long legacy of violence and political instability at home.
"If you have no food to put on the table, and 10 or 12 children to feed ... it's better for you to go to the United States than to go down to the plantations, and cut sugar cane or pick coffee beans until you die," he said. The money that Guatemalan immigrants make in the United States, he said, can provide a vital boost to the economy in their native country. ...
Of particular interest to the Newport hospitality industry is the number of seasonal workers with H-2B visas allowed into the country this year. Congress put a cap of 66,000 on the number of H-2B visas allowed, but an exemption in place since 2004 has allowed seasonal workers who had previously held the visas to return and not count against the limit. But that exemption has expired, and so far Congress has not renewed it. ...
[Keith Stokes, executive director of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce,] who estimated that Newport gets 3.5 million visitors each year, said the community has been using "guest workers" since 1794, and emphasized that foreign-born employees do not take jobs away from Rhode Islanders. "We don’t do this [seeking foreign workers] to keep people out of work here," said Tracy Troiano, human resources director for the Hyatt Regency Newport. "If we could hire locally, we would."
And why can't they? I'd argue that, in simplified summary, the reason is that local workers (whether they be teenagers or low-skilled adults) would demand too much remuneration to fill the needed roles, and the cost of doing business is already too high for businesses to meet the employee market demand. If that's the case, then the use of immigrants is not only an economic subsidy to a foreign nation, it's also a release valve for pressure to reform government policies and social indolence.
If the hospitality industry really wanted to emphasize local hires, it would lobby to ease costs and regulations that prevent it from increasing salaries and would come up with creative ways to market job openings to Rhode Islanders, especially the young. Both efforts would bring with them economic and social benefits to the state far beyond the immediate boon of that fortified pay scale.
Tiverton Harassment Suits
And things just get worse for the town of Tiverton:
Three discrimination suits against the town filed by female employees in Police Department resurrect the controversy involving former Town Administrator W. Glenn Steckman 3rd and his failed attempt to fire Police Chief Thomas Blakey.
Blakey was reinstated by the Town Council nearly a year ago.
Both Steckman and Blakey are named as defendants in the civil rights complaints filed by two civilian dispatchers and a former patrolwoman during the past six months in U.S. District Court, Providence.
The dispatchers and the police officer all allege that Blakey subjected them to sexual harassment and, once they complained, varying degrees of retaliation. The police officer, Amy Barboza, was fired. ...
After Blakey's reinstatement, cracks emerged in the relationship between Steckman and the Town Council, which ultimately bought out about 11 months remaining on his contract for $40,000. ...
The terms of the agreement were sealed until after Steckman's last day, on Feb. 22. They include a stipulation that the town will pay Steckman's expenses in connection with his role as a defendant in any lawsuits brought against the town.
Normally, I'd be inclined to point out to the women that their lawsuits, which are based on incidents from some time ago, will likely have the effect of putting people who have absolutely nothing to do with any harassment out of work and costing others their homes. It's kind of hard to make that moral case, though, when the alleged perpetrator still holds his job and that deliberately against the wishes of the town administrator.
(I should stress, however, that I wasn't paying attention to local politics when this controversy erupted, so I can't say but that the four council members who voted to reinstate Police Chief Thomas Blakey were in the right.)
Rhode Island Constitution 101 - Control of the Budget
Both the Providence Journal and A.R. commenter Ken have erroneously amplified the amount of power the Executive Branch possesses over the state budget - more specifically, its control of the amount of local aid that will be disbursed from state coffers.
This week in an article about current events in Woonsocket, the Providence Journal asserted:
For the current fiscal year, the city faces a proposed loss of $700,000 from the governor, who is trying to balance a multimillion-dollar state deficit by cutting money to cities and towns.
And under Justin's post, "More Taxing Than Expected", commenter Ken stated:
Why such a surprise? The governor has been publicly telling everyone he was going to spread the state structural budget deficit pain across all 39 cities and towns.
Would that the Governor had more control over the state budget. In point of fact, if he proposed the reverse, an increase in education aid to cities and towns, but the General Assembly did not concur, it simply would not happen. We know because this is how FY 2008 wrapped up.
Some conceptual points suggest themselves out of the observations by Ken and the ProJo.
"Budget deficit pain" is not a completely unexpected, uncontrollable bolt of lightening from the gods. It is self inflicted by our elected officials who do not always make such decisions on the basis of the best interest of the state or even the individual recipients of such funds.
Secondly, contrary to the implication in both those statements, the Governor has proposed to spread budget cuts across the board. He is correct to do so. Our current fiscal problems did not arise out of one budget category so they cannot be resolved by focusing on only one category.
More importantly, however, the Governor this year and the General Assembly last year are correct in finally putting an end to increases in local/education aid. Too often, elected officials on the local level have negotiated and executed local contracts that had no bearing on either the quality of the service provided or the ability of taxpayers to fund them and do not conform to the terms of "contracts" under which most of the private sector (i.e., the taxpayer) operates. Witness our ranking as fourth highest taxed state, which calculation includes the level of property taxes, juxtaposed by the recent NECAP results.
In short, it should not become the burden of the state when local officials have implemented budgets and contracts in an irresponsible fashion.
An Assassinated Mythology
The following passage from Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism struck me as relevant to the (thankfully abated) speculation of Barack Obama's assassination:
On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. As if on cue, Dallas was christened "the city of hate." A young TV reporter named Dan Rather heard a rumor that some Dallas schoolchildren had cheered when they heard the news of Kennedy's death. The rumor wasn't true, and the local Dallas CBS affiliate refused to run the story. Rather made an end run around the network and reported the story anyway.
Rather wasn't the only one eager to point fingers at the right. Within minutes Kennedy's aides blamed deranged and unnamed right-wingers. One headline proclaimed the assassination had taken place "deep in the hate of Texas." But when it became clear that a deranged Marxist had done the deed, Kennedy's defenders were dismayed. "He didn't even have the satisfaction of being killed for civil rights," Jackie lamented to Bobby Kennedy when he told her the news. "It's it had to be some silly little Communist."
Or maybe not, the Kennedy mythmakers calculated. They set about creating the fable that Kennedy died battling "hate" established code, then and now, for the political right. The story became legend because liberals were desperate to imbue Kennedy's assassination with a more exalted and politically useful meaning. Over and over again, the entire liberal establishment, led by the New York Times and even the pope! denounced the "hate" that claimed Kennedy's life. The Supreme Court justice Earl Warren summed up the conventional wisdom as he could always be counted upon to do when he theorized that the "climate of hatred" in Dallas code for heavy right-wing and Republican activity moved Lee Harvey Oswald to kill the president.
The fact that Oswald was a communist quickly changed from an inconvenience to proof of something even more sinister. How, liberals asked, could a card-carrying Marxist murder a liberal titan on the side of social progress? The fact that Kennedy was a raging anti-communist seemed not to register, perhaps because liberals had convinced themselves, in the wake of the McCarthy era, that the real threat to liberty must always come from the right. Oswald's Marxism sent liberals into even deeper denial, their only choice other than to abandon anti-anti-communism. And so, over the course of the 1960s, the conspiracy theories metastasized, and the Marxist gunman became a patsy. "Cui bono?" asked the Oliver Stones then and ever since. Answer: the military-industrial complex, allied with the dark forces of reaction and intolerance, of course. Never mind that Oswald had already tried to murder the former army major general and prominent right-wing spokesman Edwin Walker or that, as the Warren Commission would later report, Oswald "had an extreme dislike of the rightwing."
Amid the fog of denial, remorse, and confusion of the Kennedy assassination, an informal strategic response developed that would serve the purposes of the burgeoning New Left as well as assuage the consciences of liberals generally: transform Kennedy into an all-purpose martyr for causes he didn't take up and for a politics he didn't subscribe to.
Part of advice columnist Carolyn Hax's response to a letter asking about etiquette for not telling sexual partners how many have stood where they stand (so to speak) jumped out at me (emphasis added):
... since dismissing people as judgmental and insecure without giving them a chance to speak for themselves could reasonably be considered judgmental and insecure behavior, a good answer to the numbers question would be "Do you think it matters?" And if yes, then, "Why?"
If you get the "truth is important to healthy relationships" line in return, or some other guilt-generating vehicle, please don't question the need to resist this blatant invasion of self. There is a huge, gaping difference between telling a significant other you think it's distracting, silly, juvenile, pointless, judgmental, shame-centric and conducive to paranoia to discuss numbers, and lying.
Shouldn't romantic relationships entail a turning over of self? Little wonder our society is so out of whack when it is apparently a mainstream notion that freely chosen sexual partners should be suspected as pillagers on a probationary basis.
The sad misconception of the advice is that, if the promiscuity tally is to be taken as meaningless, it must be because it does not matter and is minimally relevant to self, to who one is. But it does matter, and we all know it matters, thus necessitating the airy use of post hoc masks such as "invasion of self." As if to say, "Don't look there, because that is my private self and has nothing to do with who I am."
The unraveling of our collectively knotted psychology is going to take centuries, and we're apparently not even done spinning it.
March 15, 2008
It's a Game; It's a Quiz
For some light, educational weekend entertainment, give Questionaut a try. Solve simple point-and-click puzzles in a well set world in order to spur the characters to quiz you on various topics so that you may rise to the next level.
Adults should find the questions pretty easy, but be aware that the makers are European, so certain differences may obtain (as, for example, with punctuation).
Religious Freedom in a Cave, Under a Blanket, with a Flashlight
First, of course society should "allow dissenting opinions about the significance of homosexual relationships," but those opinions should not be written into our laws to deny equal civil rights to those who enter into what some may consider less "significant" relationships.
Second, we must begin with equal civil rights. If there are consequences that flow from that position, then our society's people, organizations and institutions will have to make adjustments to deal with those consequences. For instance, if the Catholic Church is "torn from the adoption business" because it refuses not to discriminate against lawfully married same-sex couples, then other institutions and organizations would have to step in to fill that void, and they would. This would not impinge on the Church's, or any individual Catholic's, religious freedom. They would remain free to believe what they believe and practice as they wish. They would not be free, however, to use religion as an excuse to be exempted from adhering to laws that grant equal civil rights to all members of our society.
His argument has the pleasant consequence (for the pro-SSM side) of avoiding all of the procedural difficulties inherent to life in a free, democratic society in which people disagree about fundamental principles. Civil rights come first, and your bigotry is not a right. We win. You lose. The End. Knock the gavel.
But by what contorted vision of religious freedom that is, religious citizens' civil rights can it not be a prohibition of "the free exercise" of religion to bar a Christian organization from offering charitable services in accordance with its members' beliefs?
In keeping with that wispy dismissal of a weighty question, Pincince goes on to treat consequences lightly, indeed. In the delicate balance required of our form of society and government, Pincince insists that his definition of civil rights must come first, with a promise of answered obligation: "other institutions and organizations would have to step in to fill that void, and they would." Would they? Apparently, the Catholic Church's involvement answered some kind of a shortage. More likely than not, the other institution or organization that must step in would prove to be of a taxpayer-funded sort.
From the Catholic's perspective, the mandate of this particular brand of civil rights has harmed those unfortunate children anted as investment in a flawed concept of family deprived by design of the closest representation of mother and father available to them. Now from the society's perspective, the entire citizenry (with emphasis on the working and middle classes) will be further burdened with the weight of expanding government as a drain on their resources and a meddler in their lives and with the consequences of having brushed away the wise tradition of mother, father, marriage, child, family.
And for what? So that a group of people better educated and wealthier than the average can answer the ever expanding requirements of their refusal to acknowledge that, whatever the moral implications, their affections are out of keeping with an historical norm that has value as such. Worse yet: so that a broader segment of society can absorb a ready-made balm of being "on the right side of history," with no direct cost to themselves and many moral and personal palliatives.
Under the preferred regime of Mr. Pincince, Esq., citizens would not be free "to use religion as an excuse to be exempted from adhering to laws that grant equal civil rights to all members of our society." What he doesn't explain is why his civil rights construct ought to be imposed upon his fellow Americans. Perhaps he understands, deep down, that it is built upon a worldview that is ultimately no more objectively founded than the religious views of those to whom he would dictate the law.
Historians Repeating Themselves
Sometimes historians skip a step or two by juxtaposing their own opinions on historical facts and then applying the "lesson" to the current day with little explanation. Such is the case with Champlain College Distinguished Scholar in History Willard Sterne Randal's musing on the history of religion in campaigns:
No presidential election since 1800 has taken place without an attempt to damage at least one candidate's reputation by innuendo, rumor or ridicule. Too often, the weapon of choice has been religion.
No campaign has more brutally combined these tactics than when President John Adams, a New England Puritan, faced off against his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, a Deist. Jefferson's narrow victory left the country divided for decades. ...
Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and Madison all opposed tearing down the wall they painstakingly erected between church and state. Today, no American should have to worry about a candidate's religion, or that, if elected, a president would transform his private religious views into a public agenda.
Maybe it would be better to keep religion off the campaign trail, too.
One could descend into the argument over the founders' understanding of their supposed wall (citing, for starters, Ben Franklin's call for prayer at the Constitutional Convention), but for my purposes with this post, it is sufficient merely to offer my own opinion that candidates' religions should in all cases inform their public agendas whey they're elected else their religion must be insincere.
This isn't to say that a president ought to impose theological principles on the country, but that religion encompasses a world view and a hierarchy of priorities. Indeed, promoting an absence of religion particularly in the modern political context is to promote just such a hierarchy.
Leveraging religion in campaigns can go too far, of course, as demagoguery or bigotry, but it is important to consider, for one immediate example, whether Barack Obama shares his pastor's anti-Americanism. For a more general example, as a pro-lifer, it makes a difference to me whether a candidate's stated positions in that area are founded in a long-term religious conviction or appear potentially to be political calculations.
Incentive Against Corruption
The latest instance of corruption and abuse of position in RI government gave me an idea for legislation:
The Rhode Island State Police have charged a Department of Administration employee with felony embezzlement for allegedly stealing cash from the agency.
The police said an investigation revealed that longtime state employee Patricia Pirolli, 59, of 15 Hill St., North Providence, on several occasions over the past year took unspecified amounts of money that had been collected as registration fees and fines by the department’s Contractors' Registration and Licensing Board.
In her role as chief implementation aide in the Division of Capital Projects and Property Management, Pirolli was responsible for processing the checks, cash and accompanying vouchers after they were collected by clerks.
The state police said once the money and paperwork were turned over to Pirolli she would remove the cash and alter the vouchers to reflect only check payments received for deposit. ...
She has served in her position at the DOA for about four years.
Neal could not provide further details about her prior employment with the state, saying a computer system needed to access that information was unavailable.
So how about a law that would strip government officials and public employees of all claims to pensions if they're convicted of corruption (which would have to be defined in the law)? It might sound draconian for "slipping up" after many years of honest service, but it takes consequences to counterbalance temptation.
Not For Nuthin' But...
I've been scarce around here lately, sorry about that. A couple quick things:
The RI Refrigeration thing is yet another manifestation of the frustration so many have with lax immigration policy. Personally, I think asking for an SS # crosses the line, but I'm not into engaging in such confrontation anyway. Not sure what purpose it serves other than fomenting the sort of tempest in a teapot we've witnessed. In the end, emotions got temporarily raised but the event is not going to change minds either way. Most immigrants aren't evil and most of those who want to enforce or toughen immigration laws aren't racist. Unfortunately, heated rhetoric is what gets the attention.
Apparently, Barack Obama regularly attended church, except for those times when his minister engaged in outrageous, anti-American hyperbole. And he never got wind of it until now. New politics?
Funny how so many progressives have finally realized how despicable the Clinton's are. I wonder if they'll be singing the same tune should HRC win the nomination? Yeah, right....
Anatomy of a Bifurcation
Some folks see a headline screaming "no link" and run with the statement, claiming vindication and calling for investigations into the president's supposed war crimes. Other folks look more closely at the report (PDF) and notice such things as the abstract:
Captured Iraqi documents have uncovered evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism, including a variety of revolutionary, liberation, nationalist and Islamic terrorist organizations. While these documents do not reveal direct coordination and assistance between the Saddam regime and the al Qaeda network, they do indicate that Saddam was willing to use, albeit cautiously, operatives affiliated with al Qaeda as long as Saddam could have these terrorist-operatives monitored closely. Because Saddam's security organizations and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network operated with similar aims (at least in the short term), considerable overlap was inevitable when monitoring, contacting, financing, and training the same outside groups. This created both the appearance of and, in some way, a "de facto" link between the organizations. At times, these organizations would work together in pursuit of shared goals but still maintain their autonomy and independence because of innate caution and mutual distrust. Though the execution of Iraqi terror plots was not always successful, evidence shows that Saddam’s use of terrorist tactics and his support for terrorist groups remained strong up until the collapse of the regime.
Which is pretty much the picture that many of us supporters of the war have been painting for years. Thus does America branch into not only two incompatible ideologies, but also two incompatible understandings of reality.
March 14, 2008
Not Just a Right
As Anthony Picarello, General Counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, explains marriage isn't just about the rights of the individuals; it's about the individuals' relationship with society:
The moral implications of changing the definition of marriage are where the debate has been largely centered. But, the legal implications of that same change are potentially very far-reaching and are beginning to be dealt with across the country, Picarello said.
The legal term "marriage" appears "everywhere" in law, he said, which means that changing the definition of who can legally be married will change countless other laws from tax laws to employment laws to health care laws.
"Throughout the law, your rights hinge very often on whether or not you [are married]... so, to change the legal definition of marriage in turn is not to change one law but to change many, many at once. These laws, in turn, regulate religious institutions," he said.
For example, the Church employs many teachers whose rights are guaranteed by Rhode Island's employment laws. If one of those teachers were to travel to Massachusetts to marry a same-sex partner, the diocese would immediately be put into the difficult situation of retaining a teacher whose personal moral views were clearly at odds with the Church's and the school's moral codes. Or, the diocese could fire the teacher and likely face a wrongful termination suit.
Picarello provided many more hypothetical examples of the ways that allowing same sex marriage in Rhode Island could affect the way the Church is run. He also detailed the experience that Catholic Charities of Boston has had since Massachusetts legalized same sex marriage in 2004.
It's fair to say that most folks who've an emotional urge to be on the side of those proclaiming the expansion of civil rights will be susceptible to advocates' promises that nobody else will be affected by same-sex marriage. The advocates, themselves, however, are after precisely this forced equality, this forced negation of others' religious freedoms.
The question can be posed thus: Is it better for the Catholic Church to be torn from the adoption business, or for society to allow dissenting opinions about the significance of homosexual relationships?
Advice for the Lenders
Reading news of Providence Mayor Cicilline's intention to borrow money from the federal government to deal with foreclosed neighborhoods brings to mind, once again, the fact that debt is excluded from municipalities' spending increase maximums.
Standing on a sidewalk lined with boarded-up houses in the city's West End, Mayor David N. Cicilline yesterday announced plans to seek $10 million in federal loans to purchase, rehabilitate and, if necessary, demolish foreclosed properties that are blighting city neighborhoods.
The federal funds would be administered through the city's redevelopment agency as part of the Housing Trust to provide no-interest and low-interest loans to purchase or fix up properties that otherwise might not qualify for financing. The funds also could be used to board up vacant houses, demolish those which are deemed beyond saving and improve the city's tracking system for foreclosed and vacant properties.
My advice to the federal lender is to administer the loans personally. Rhode Island ain't so good at such things.
One Man's Junk
Actually, lots of junk - in this case, operation of the Central Landfill - has turned into real, if unauthorized, treasure for a few public officials.
Susan A. Baird covers this investigation in yesterday's Providence Business News:
Preliminary results from the state’s ongoing examination of the R.I. Resource Recovery Corporation raise “serious concerns about how the state’s landfill and recycling operation have been managed,” Gov. Donald L. Carcieri said in a statement today ...
Like the landfill, preliminary findings are not pretty.
The RIRRC bought a bunch of land. They paid too much for it. (That was easy to do; no appraisals were carried out.) And the kicker: much of it will not or cannot be used for its "intended" purpose.
Two specific items in this category struck me, one small, one significant. The report cryptically but intriguingly notes that the RIRRC's initial offer for Parcel 4 "also included employment of the seller's husband". A state job to clinch the deal? We may never know for sure as this condition was subsequently dropped from the purchase.
And one of the better known beneficiaries of some of the real estate transactions is the former Mayor of Johnston William Macera, as well as members of his family. The RIRRC paid them $8m for 105 acres of land but out of this, only ten (10) acres proved usable, the balance being either wetlands or contaminated.
HANDLING OF CASH
Several purportedly charitable donations were made by the RIRRC to entities with which RIRRC Commissioners were affiliated in an official capacity. In fact, the purpose of these donations is questionable.
"Finally, the corporation has spent at least $2.1 million on charitable contributions over the years," the governor said. "In some cases, these included payments for items such as sporting events that corporation board members or employees were allowed to enjoy. As a state-authorized monopoly, it isn't clear why the corporation needed to curry favor with community organizations by making these types of contributions."
For alert readers who heard the "leak" of this report several months ago, this is where the infamous $4,000 on surfboards can be found.
And after an ... er, inconsistent RFP process, substantial RIRRC investments were placed with one investment company, Van Liew Trust Company, with whom one of the RIRRC Commissioners, John St. Sauveur, enjoyed a paid (WPRO said this morning ownership) role. Side bar: just out of curiosity, why does the Rhode Island Secretary of State's website provide no corporate information on the Van Liew Trust Company?
Though described as preliminary, the report is well researched and presented.
“The examination is far from complete,” the governor concluded. “But this preliminary information alone shows that the Resource Recovery Corporation has been mismanaged for years. Because every citizen of Rhode Island is affected by the work of the corporation, every citizen should be outraged."
Indeed. The operation of the Central Landfill appears to be quite contaminated.
More Taxing than Expected
A Sakonnet Times story that does not appear to be online confirms my suspicions: Tiverton's going to raise my taxes even more than the previously suggested maximum. Apparently, "the big jump is in the debt service on school bonds" (a 45% increase), followed by an estimated 3.2% increase for the school district. Of course, Rhode Island law encourages increased debt, because it is exempt from legislated increase limits.
Also notable is the passivity with which article conveys tax increase information:
That budget figure factors out to a new tax rate of $11.59 per every $1,000 of assessed valuation for Tiverton property owners, [interim Town Administrator James Goncalo] told the council. The current tax rate is $10,26 per $1,000, while the year before ('06'07) it was $9.62 per $1,000.
Nobody raises the taxes, they just "factor out."
The rest of the council's budget discussion will be carried out behind closed doors because "further budget reductions might affect staffing and/or labor contracts." The party's over; expect a fight.
William Felkner: Freedom Is the Cost of Social Justice
On January 28, the London Telegraph reported that 10 percent of the city's hospitals had denied surgeries to smokers and the obese. Doctors were warning the elderly that they were next; "the health care system cannot afford to give free health care to everyone."
In Canada, citizens weren't allowed to use anything but government healthcare. But so many people died waiting for care that the Supreme Court reversed the law and ruled, "access to a waiting list is not access to health care." Yet, this legal battle continues.
For many of us, this is no surprise. Socialized medicine is devoid of competition and consumer investment, and therefore costs rise out of control. But the issue here isn't the fallacy of universal health care; it's how much freedom we are willing to give up for the benefits we receive.
Ayn Rand once said that the difference between a welfare state and a totalitarian state is a matter of time. It appears that that time is now in many parts of the world. London decides who is worthy of care, and Canada holds its market captive like America holds the poor in public schools. Oppression sells its wares under the guise of "social justice" demanding that the government's safety net instead become society's fabric. Once people become dependant, individual freedom is lost.
So, when Governor Caricieri announced that some of our tax dollars would be used to discourage out of wedlock childbirths and promote marriage, the reception was less than homey. Government isn't supposed to help people make choices; it is simply supposed to write them checks.
But for those of us who truly relish freedom, this is indeed a perplexing situation. It is beyond debate that two biological parents constitute the preferred environment for a child. But does government have the authority to influence lifestyle, or, dare I say, "moral" choices? The governor's response was the only logical statement anyone might accept: "If taxpayers must pay for other people's lifestyle choices, we have the right to influence those choices."
In a market driven social service world, people put their money with groups representing the values they support. Secular or not, donations were a way for people to "make the world a better place" in a manner the donors found worthy. But it's not like that anymore at least not in RI.
Rhode Islanders like to say they are compassionate, but that compassion isn't voluntary. In 2005, the Catalog of Philanthropy released a report called the Generosity Index that ranked states on their "giving." Rhode Island ranked second lowest in the nation on the amount of money donated to charity according to itemized deductions. During that same year, RI spending on public assistance programs was the third highest in the country. And this is nothing new. Our "giving rank" from 1997 to 2004 (most recent year reported) was either 49th or 50th.
So now that we have developed a system that dictates a high level of government-enforced charity, whose morals will we use to administer it? Even if the proceeds are derived by coercion and government charity is given without condition, it becomes a value system that sends serious economic and moral signals. Rather than representing the absence of judgment, the evaporation of stigma within our politically correct, amoral government welfare state is a choice of values.
For all the ink that has been spilt deriding the president's insistence on "staying the course" after four years of resistance in the Iraq War, you would think progressives so critical of Bush would have recognized the same problem after 40 years of failure in the War on Poverty.
Welfare reform was nibbling around the edges of entitlement. For a real surge in morals, charity would have to be, well, charitable. The best we can hope for with government in the driver's seat is the finger-in-the-air test. Seventy-nine percent of American parents want teens to be taught abstinence until marriage, or at least until they are in adult relationships leading to marriage. They've got a much taller challenge on the other side of the pond, where 80 percent of the overtaxed Brits still want to pay for "social" abortions as medical entitlements.
First of all, I'm very glad "social" abortions are not yet in the RI lexicon, and I'm not even sure what they are, but I know I don't want my money paying for them. On the other hand, I also don't want to tell others how to spend their money, as long as it's legal, even when I'm with the majority, I fear its tyranny.
Society can strike a balance between The Scarlet Letter and Murphy Brown. It is far better that this dynamic process takes place without the fear that the government will pick the winner. Instead competing value systems can exist simultaneously, and their successes and failures can inform one another. The best deal we can possibly hope for is for government to recede a bit, making space for private action to strengthen the fabric of society with the safety net remaining just that.
If society does continue government-administered charity, we must accept a little totalitarianism. Me, I prefer freedomism.
William Felkner is the president of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute.
March 13, 2008
Turning the Tables on Authority
During my commute home, Dan Yorke was interviewing some of the Hispanic leaders involved in the rally demanding action against Providence store-owner David Richardson, and he asked one of them a man of the cloth what Jesus would do. The minister's response was to cite Jesus' overturning of the money changers' tables in the temple.
The absent consideration, when taking Jesus' act as a model for our own in this case, is that Jesus wasn't just righting a wrong, He was asserting authority, even ownership: "stop making my Father's house a marketplace." He was asserting power: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."
And that's why so many Americans react as they do to minority groups' threats to do such things as close down a store. The groups' leaders are asserting authority, even ownership, and power. They are saying, whether by implication or by fact, that their power gives them the authority to whip the money changers out of the temple and raise up the country in their own image. Far from emulating the lives that Jesus would have us live, that strikes me as something much closer to treating their own political power as the Father.
Knotting Some Public/Private Threads
One can hear, in the expected quarters, the admonition that Eliot Spitzer's $80,000 whoring habit is a private matter. I wonder how many who'd make that argument also see David Richardson's travails in Providence where he recently requested proof of the citizenship status of an Hispanic customer to his store as private.
I imagine that a sizable number of them would insist that Richardson's act, as a manifestation of racism, was a blight on our society and has repercussions beyond the individuals involved. But then, I'd say the same of adultery and prostitution.
Perhaps they'd take the tack that his business transactions are a public matter. But then a prostitute's business transactions would be the same, and a marriage is even more explicitly so.
The circumstances are different, of course, one involving an elected official and the other a store owner, but I don't see anywhere to draw a line between the two that makes one act private and the other public.
As Rhode Island Crumbles
See, this sort of thing ought to be a state government's first priority:
After reexamining the condition of Rhode Island's bridges, the state Department of Transportation has identified the need for "approximately $600 million in bridge repair and replacement projects" over the next five years, Governor Carcieri told a press conference today.
But the money may not be there. Rhode Island is in danger of losing $60 million to $70 million in federal transportation aid each year. The state's 30-cent gasoline tax cannot make up the difference. And even if the state's must-fix list is pared to high-priority projects, he said, the state faces a potential $210 million shortfall in available funding.
All of the other areas of state spending may or may not be desirable, but roads are fundamental, and raising taxes and tolls to pay for them is not the solution.
Fallon vs. Spitzer: Which is the Most Consequential Story?
I know that the resignation of a combatant commander who has publicly challenged the policies of his commander-in-chief is not nearly as riveting as the resignation of an arrogant, self-righteous, nanny-state Democratic governor who seeks out sex with prostitutes, but in the greater scheme of things, the former story is more consequential.
On Tuesday, Admiral William Fallon, commander of US Central Command, stepped down after an article in Esquire made it very clear that he was actively undermining the Bush adminstration policy in the Middle East, especially with regard to Iran.
In a piece posted on the Daily Standard website of The Weekly Standard, I address this issue. I contend that as commander of CENTCOM, Fallon acted in a way that exceeded his authority and had Fallon not stepped down, the president would have been perfectly justified in firing him, just as Abraham Lincoln fired Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, as Franklin Roosevelt fired Rear Admiral James O. Richardson, and Harry Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
I suppose this would be a bigger story if it weren't for the Gov. Whoremonger scandal. Let's see: politician's sex scandal or civil-military relations crisis--which would the press prefer to cover? Sigh!
Speaking of Illegal Immigration...
... and other budget draining policies in Rhode Island, I'd suggest that most of the solutions for this problem are of an indirect nature:
The heads of four Rhode Island hospitals testified yesterday that their medical institutions are teetering on the brink of financial disaster.
And they pleaded with key lawmakers to help or at least not hurt their hospitals in the 2008-09 state budget being debated before the House Finance Committee.
Governor Carcieri's proposed budget would force hospitals to pay $32.7 million more for their licenses in the coming year, a move his office said is necessary to help close a deficit of at least $348 million. The proposal, along with the rest of the governor's cost-cutting plans, now rest with the General Assembly.
"We need your help. The budget that we're looking for is a life preserver. The one that's out there now is made out of concrete," Charles S. Kinney, president and chief executive officer of Westerly Hospital, told the committee. "The entire budget ... is just going to have a further denigration on the finances of the hospitals, which are precarious."
We will never achieve the right formula for providing affordable healthcare unless we retune our overall policies to decrease the number of people who are a drag on the system and increase the number of people who are not.
Getting Carded on Branch Ave
While David Richardson, owner of Rhode Island Refrigeration on Branch Avenue in Providence, went over the line in asking to see the social security card of someone in his shop speaking a language other than English, his action on this and prior occasions is understandable. It stems from frustration with a government which has carried out one of its basic responsibilities - defense of its sovereignty and enforcement, on every level, of its borders - sporadically at best.
On the federal level, our government:
> allowed employer enforcement to drop to ineffectual levels,
Figure 3. Employer Sanctions Cases Resulting in Fines for FY 1988 to 2003
thereby not discouraging the employment of undocumented immigrants and, correspondingly, providing a major incentive for them to risk life and limb to come to the United States;
> repeatedly passed legislation which promised to pair amnesty with immigration law enforcement but in each case, assiduously carried out only the former;
> in 2007, tried to pass such legislation yet again [for those who would rather listen than read: YouTube video of Glenn Beck outlining the many problems with this bill] and was only stopped by the determined efforts of many, many constituents who firmly said, "Won't get fooled again";
and on the state level:
> has demonstrated, contrary to federal law, a studied indifference to the immigrant status of anyone seeking social services, exacerbating a serious budget problem and, more importantly, failing to remove another incentive to illegally migrate to the state and country;
> has until recently seemed too willing to place the best interest of the state a distant second to both misguided compassion and a delusional effort to curry favor with a hypothetical, future constituency.
Advocates, predictably, are shouting "racism" at this incident and at anyone who dares to insist that our employment and immigration laws be enforced. They could not be more wrong. Mr. Richardson asked only about the legal status of the gentleman. For Mr. Richardson and for all of us, the question revolves, prima facie, not around race, but around legality, adherence to a process for immigration and, equally important, respect for immigrants who upheld those principles in coming to the United States.
March 12, 2008
Healthcare Consumer Question of the Day
Here is a question for the sage and practical-minded readers of Anchor Rising:
Recently, a friend of mine had an appointment with a doctor who has a policy requiring a $40 payment for appointments cancelled on the same day. Said friend arrived on time. Said doctor did not, not seeing the patient until 45 minutes after the scheduled appointment time.
The question is: in a completely fair universe, shouldn't the patient get $40 knocked off of the bill in circumstances like these?
Continued Objections to Crowley
It was a welcome observation, during my short lunch break, that Bob Owens of Smithfield has my back:
Does Mr. Crowley expect everyone to live in a liberal-socialist utopia where everyone gets paid the same no matter what his or her job is as, say, in Cuba, with all the benefits one gets in that country?
Come on, Mr. Crowley. You know the main problems here are not the result of the rich not paying enough taxes. The middle class is the group that gets killed by high taxes, mostly because of the excesses of the labor unions and the connivance of the politicians who are in bed with them.
And you have the nerve to state that the facts are skewed in a column by Justin Katz!
Screwing America's Young
Well, I know how to fix this. Let's focus on the how-to of "safe sex," destigmatize lascivious behavior, increase access to the abortive undo, remove pressure toward (indeed undermine the culture of) marriage, and attack anybody who voices opinions fitting the 1960s radical's definition of repressive:
About 1 in 4 teenage girls in the United States -- and nearly half of black girls -- has at least one sexually transmitted disease, according to a study released Tuesday, providing the first national snapshot of infection rates among this age group.
Those numbers translate into an estimated 3.2 million adolescent females infected with one of the four most common STDs -- many of whom may not even know they have a disease or that they are passing it to their sex partners.
"What we found is alarming," said Dr. Sara Forhan, a researcher with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the study's lead author. "This means that far too many young women are at risk for the serious health effects of untreated STDs, including infertility and cervical cancer."
Every Tax an Income Tax
The problems with it are manifold (some enunciated in the comments section), but Tom Sgouros's analysis of property taxes brings to light an interesting conceptual matter:
However, consider the question, "how much property tax do the richest 11,900 people in Rhode Island pay?" With the data I have, I can't say for sure, but I can put a maximum figure on it. The maximum would be where the top 2.5% of income earners paid the top 2.5% of property tax bills. And here's what I find: the top 2.5% of residential property tax bills is a hair under 9.9% of all the residential property taxes collected in the state. This is about $150 million.
Again, the top 2.5% of households earn 31% of all the income, and pay 40% of the income taxes. But when you add property taxes in (those are the two biggest sources for supporting state and local government) you'll see that with 31% of the income, they pay a bit more than 20% of the taxes -- at a maximum. Like the property tax, the other taxes we levy are also regressive, so if someone feels like adding in the effect of sales and excise taxes, this 20% number will go down.
What Sgouros makes eminently clear, here, is that, to the progressive, every tax should be a form of income tax. The top 2.5% of households pay 29% more as their share of income taxes than their percentage of income. The top 2.5% of property-tax payers fork over 296% their per capita share of that tax base. In other words, to Sgouros, a "fair" property tax wouldn't be based on the property, but on the person who owns it and his or her income.
Seen from the perspective of a go-getting Rhode Islander, this approach would require that they pay more for the very same house as they strive to improve their situations. Consider: What would you do if advances in your career bumped up your property taxes? What if the growth of your company resulted in a compounding of the tax on your place of business?
The Northeast Conservative Gripe
The bout of grousing that Eliot Spitzer's solicitous troubles inspired from John Derbyshire sounds all too familiar. Here are the final paragraphs, which hit the page like a fist on the desk:
All the TV talking heads are telling me, with their sternest let-him-who-is-without-sin faces on, that it would be wrong, wrong to poke fun at Spitzer, to kick him when he's down, to press for his resignation. We should reserve judgment, they tell me. We should think about his family, they tell me. It's a victimless crime, after all, they tell me.
Well, I and my family have been living for 15 months in the state this guy presides over. We've been paying the taxes and premiums, seething in the traffic jams, watching the U-Hauls heading west, dealing with surly, feather-bedded state employees. What I say to the talking heads is: The hell with all that. And what I say to Eliot Spitzer is what Oliver Cromwell said to the Rump Parliament: "Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"
March 11, 2008
Still Going to School
A cost-benefit analysis of sorts has led me to give up on the Tiverton town council. I simply can't afford to devote that much time to such an unprofitable activity (especially if my taxes are going to continue to climb).
Still, the school committee remains sufficiently interesting and important that I'll continue to make the time for it. That despite the likelihood that my children won't long be in the public system. (Another matter that will require me to maximize the profitability of my hours.)
It'll wear you down, this local government participation. The latest cuts that Superintendent Bill Rearick has proposed include a hundred dollars for repair here and there, $2,500 each from a couple of testing accounts. And yet the teachers are working to rule.
Now Rearick is talking about the NECAP results and pointing out that Tiverton High School was #11 in the state overall. But 72% of the kids aren't proficient in math. "It's certainly not a cure-all, but money would help us push our kids and get our teachers additional training." Now a teacher is explaining that the kids have no incentive to apply themselves to the test.
Rearick: "It's a new test that assumes that students have basic skills and tests them on higher level thinking."
A principal: "Not sure whether this is a valid test." Apparently, low-scoring kids said they had plenty of time for the test (because they hadn't been prepared for a signficant number of the questions anyway), while higher-scoring students felt that they didn't have enough time.
Stunningly, nobody in the auditorium seems to feel any sense of urgency to improve these math scores. Not a single specific request or declaration concerning steps to improve them was voiced. Some stuff is up to the state. Some stuff has to do with the test. Some stuff involves the alignment of the stars.
The superintendent and some committee members congratulated the staff and teachers for doing so comparatively well. What? Either the test is invalid or our children are being abysmally cheated when it comes to math.
Can I possibly be the only person in some way connected to the Tiverton school district who thinks this matter shouldn't be brushed off the table with just a few minutes of mitigation?
Ideomythology and Stagnation
It's a favorite argument of some of the antagonists 'round here to insist that household incomes have remained stagnant. The unions only look like they're raking it in, you see, because they're advancing at the rate that should be universal.
Now, we can (and often do) argue that the benchmark relies on impossible mandates, but over in the Corner, David Freddoso points out that the stagnation assertion is a myth:
I want to condense Brad Schiller's argument into three main points:
1) Yes, the income share of the bottom 20 percent of households shrank from 4.1% in 1970 to 3.4% in 2006. But so what? That is 3.4 percent of a pie three times as large as the pie of 1970. If you adjust that for growth in the number of households, the average income of households in the bottom 20 percent has risen by 36% since 1970.
Translation: the poorest Americans are richer than they used to be, in addition to being among the richest poor people in the world.
2) Household income is a terrible measure for comparing 1970 with today one major reason being that the average household has shrunk since then by one-fifth. Also, 27 percent of households today are one-person households up from 17 percent in 1970. One-person households are the most likely to be in the bottom quintile. Consonant with this fact, Thomas Sowell explained in a recent NROTV interview with Peter Robinsonthat the top 20 percent household bracket contains nearly twice as many actual people as that bottom 20 percent bracket:Households are of different sizes...There are 39 million people in the bottom 20 percent of households, and 64 million in the top 20 percent.
That's not merely to say that more people equals more money. The households in the top-earning quintile contain more people because more of them represent intact traditional families the stable social environment in which economic success is statistically most likely.
3) Nor are all of those in the bottom quintile (under $18,500 per year) economic hard-cases. The bottom 20 percent includes millions of young people starting their first jobs, who will earn more as they grow older. It includes some retirees with assets but little income, and millions of new immigrants just stepping up to the bottom rung of the economic ladder. And yes, millions of chronically unemployed householders, too.
Hear, Hear, on Vouchers
Just wanted to highlight Max Fenig's comments on school vouchers:
After seeing the poor results for R.I.'s public schools as measured against proficiency standards, we all know what must be done: Double the money for public education and we may reach mediocrity! But one matter regarding education in this state is worthy of note.
We have some of the best elementary and secondary schools in the country here in Rhode Island. These schools are our private and parochial schools. These are schools that students from across the country seek out to attend. These are schools where the administrators know they are in competition for these students and must meet the needs of their customer base parents who want a quality education for their children. These are schools that have a faculty whose focus is on their students and not on a trade union.
It is unfortunate for those paying confiscatory property taxes that paying tuition to a private school is not often a possibility.
If the recent report card on our public schools does not cry out for school choice and vouchers to any school, public or private, then what will?
The Providence Journal, as represented by Steve Peoples, still isn't giving the whole story when it comes to Rhode Island's Family Independence Program:
Lawmakers spent yesterday afternoon poring through Governor Carcieri’s 101-page plan that would dramatically cut benefits to the poor, while encouraging a "work-first" model and promoting "healthy marriages."
The governor's sweeping proposal, if adopted by the legislature in the coming months, would constitute the most significant shift in the state's Family Independence Program, often referred to as welfare, in more than a decade. Carcieri has even created a new name: the Rhode Island Work First Program. ...
Carcieri wants to push low-income Rhode Islanders into the work force immediately, while the current system allows for training and education first. He also wants to cut eligibility for cash assistance from 60 months to 24 months for new recipients beginning July 1. ...
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 28 states and the District of Columbia have 60-month time limits for cash assistance, which is the maximum benefit allowed under federal Medicaid rules. Massachusetts is one of two states that have no lifetime limit, but intermittent caps allowing 24 months of cash benefits during each 60-month period.
For one thing, Rhode Island is one of seven states that continue to give support in some form after that limit (cash for children is one example). For another, Rhode Island doesn't count time spent on similar programs in other states. And although I can't find the mention of it, just now, I'm pretty sure we're unique among those seven states in offer our 60-month lifetime limit in consecutive years.
If the General Assembly were to tweak the governor's proposal to address these considerations, that'd be a good start. But the people of Rhode Island can't rally on behalf of reforms when they don't know the specifics of what they're reforming.
The Carpenter Defends Math Against the Insecurities of the Editor
It's disappointing even to have to argue against such arguments as the one put forward by Ron Wolk, a member of the governor's task force on urban education:
The main reasons students are not learning algebra and geometry is that they don't really want to. They think higher-order math is irrelevant to their real lives. They can't imagine that they will ever use algebra and geometry.
And they are mostly right.
I am willing to bet that the majority of Rhode Islanders who graduated from high school have made little, if any, use of algebra or geometry. Most, like me, probably forgot most of what they "learned" before the ink was dry on their diplomas. I squeaked through algebra, plain and solid geometry, and trigonometry, but a year later I couldn't explain the difference between a cosine and a stop sign. And I can't think of an instance over the past half-century when I needed algebra or geometry. ...
I am not denigrating math. It is important in helping us cope with the demands of everyday life. It is also a powerful problem-solving tool that can help students learn to think logically and reason clearly. Fortunately, it’s not the only path to clear thinking. Students can also learn to think and solve problems by studying the humanities literature, history, philosophy and by engaging in analysis, discourse, and debate.
If one is fortunate enough to have made a career editing an education magazine, as Mr. Wolk was, then avoiding algebra and geometry may be a possibility. Personally, when the opportunities procured via my English degree proved inadequate to make a living, I switched to carpentry, and having a strong background in those very subjects has enabled me to leap up the career ladder. Knowing how to figure out the run of an 8-pitch roof over 14 inches of rise opened a more profitable door than all of my rhetorical skills have thus far managed.
Indeed, considering his inclusion of "analysis" on a list of alternatives to math, it's possible that he truly doesn't realize the value of the algebra that his teachers "force-fed" him. The algebraic approach of assigning abstract variables and assessing their relationship is critical to analysis. More explicitly, those without the baseline understanding of math enabled and reinforced via those plodding algebra exercises are more liable to be taken in by propagandists' inane "analysis".*
Frankly, I'm not persuaded that Mr. Wolk has constructed his argument from the numbers up, so to speak, beginning instead with the a priori mandate to oppose "'rigorous' standards for what every kid should know." My skepticism arises from my assessment that his conclusion doesn't follow from his argument:
If we want more young people to be proficient in math and science, then we need to find ways to awaken and nourish a passion for these subjects in elementary school so that they will want to study them in high school.
I agree that more must be done to give kids first-hand evidence of math's utility. Perhaps they could build bird houses with hip roofs. Maybe they could be shown how algebra can help them make arguments that help them advance some cause or other. Even if math isn't a particular student's strong suit, he or she will absorb its principles in a way for which there is not alternative.
The first step toward generating incentive for the development of such creative, cross-disciplinary solutions, however, would be for grown-ups to stop fighting that eighth-grade battle against difficult homework assignments.
* Get this: "20% of the people earn 69% of the taxable income" but "pay 75% of the income taxes," and that's supposed to be self-evidently unfair to the other 80%.
March 10, 2008
A Generous Offer Rejected?
Senator Hillary Clinton has proposed Senator Barack Obama for the vice presidential spot (with her as the presidential candidate) not once, but twice. And former President Bill Clinton has been talking up a Clinton/Obama ticket as "unstoppable".
Today, Senator Obama declined the number two spot, pointing out
With all due respect, I have won twice as many states as Senator Clinton. ... I have won more of the popular vote than Senator Clinton. I have more delegates than Senator Clinton. So, I do not know how somebody who is in second place is offering the vice presidency to the person who is in first place.
... oh, that's right.
The Activist's Scientific Assertion
Following the titular formula typically used in articles about scientific (or at least quasi-scientific) studies, the Providence Journal gave this story the headline "Views may spur hate crimes":
Anti-immigrant sentiment is fueling nationwide increases in the number of hate groups and the number of hate crimes targeting Latinos, a watchdog group said Monday.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, in a report titled "The Year in Hate," said it counted 888 hate groups in its latest tally, up from 844 in 2006 and 602 in 2000.
The most prominent of the organizations newly added to the list, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, vehemently rejected the "hate group" label, and questioned the law center's motives. FAIR said the center was using smear tactics to boost donations and stifle legitimate debate on immigration.
"Their banner may be 'Stop the hate' but it's really 'Stop the debate,'" said FAIR's president, Dan Stein. "Apparently you can't even articulate an argument for immigration reform without being smeared."
I suppose we should be grateful that the headline writer conceded the "may," but even if it the suggestion had been the result of some sort of actual correlative study, the emphasis strikes me as odd. It puts the responsibility all on one trend, on one group. An objective report would reflect the reality that hostilities grow from the interactions of differing groups, so the headline would be along the lines of "Immigration tensions may spur hate crimes."
As it stands, the paper takes a side, the opposite of which might be "Illegal immigration, government inaction may spur hate crimes."
Telling It Like It Is on Immigration
It's been awhile since I checked in on Fred on Everything and remembered to do so only at a reader's suggestion about a particular piece on immigration:
One of the speakers was Phil Rushton, of the University of Western Ontario, whose specialty is the study of racial differences in intelligence. Only among the ideologically befogged is the subject beyond the pale. The evidence for these differences would be voluminous if there weren't so much of it. Further, measurements of intelligence are reproducible and highly correlated with success of both individuals and groups. The people who do these studies, as for example Rushton, are highly intelligent themselves and cautious in their conclusions.
It amuses me that such as Rushton are often regarded as right-wing racists, drone. They point out that Jews are intellectually superior to other whites, which is hardly a traditional right-wing view; and that East Asians are smarter than whites, also not normally regarded as a white racist idea. Look at the IQ hierarchy they find: Jews at the top, followed by, East Asians, whites, South American mestizos, American blacks, African blacks. Now compare the intellectual achievements of the groups. Kinda sorta fits, don't it? But we can't talk about this because (a) we wouldn't like the results, and (b) because it takes an eighth-grade understanding of mathematics to grasp a standard deviation, which eliminates most of the population. ...
In a country less repressive of dissent than the US, a discussion of immigration might seem advisable. It is perfectly true that in many countries the white population is in declineItaly, Spain, Germany, Russia, and so on. It is also true that floods of arguably inassimilable immigrants from comparatively backward countriesthose of Africa, South America, the Arab world—are a rapidly growing fraction of the population in these dying nations. In their own countries they have shown no ability to function at the intellectual level of Europeans. They will change utterlyare changingtheir new countries. Apart from restaurants and manual labor, they seem to contribute little. If this isn't so, tell me why it isn't.
WPRO AM gets FM Signal
The Score is no more and WPRO 630 AM has acquired the 99.7 FM slot to better promulgate VRWC talking points.
That is all.
Extra Mile or the Minimum Distance?
I've had mixed feelings about the reliance on student portfolios for the awarding of high school diplomas. On the one hand, it does place an active, foreseeable academic achievement before all students. On the other, most of the work is done as regular coursework and set aside for the portfolio, which aggregates the work in a highly subjective presentation.
Reading yesterday's article on the first wave of students pursuing them, however, I think my impression was colored by my lack of understanding of just how inadequate some districts' policies and standards were. The central benefit of the portfolio system, it seems to me, is that it forces students and teachers to do things that they ought to have been doing all along:
The portfolio system is working more smoothly now, she says. Gardiner acknowledges adapting to the new requirements has meant a lot of extra work for teachers, but she likes how it has forced teachers to work together more closely.
She also believes more students have access to high quality classes and academic standards.
"The positive end of this is more kids are getting exactly what they need," she said. "One of the main problems I've witnessed with my three kids is that it was kind of selective who got the right education and who didn't. There were some teachers you wouldn't put your kids in with because you knew they wouldn't get what they needed. This is forcing all of the teachers to provide the same things to all kids." ...
To judge the portfolios, Chariho requires every teacher elementary, middle and high school to serve on at least two portfolio-judging panels during second semester. To accommodate all 270 graduating seniors, the presentations are scheduled after school over several months.
The new diploma system, says Chariho principal Robert Mitchell, has required hundreds of hours of teacher training, technical assistance and planning. But he said the work has been worth it.
"Up until this graduating class, it was possible for a student to graduate without ever having effectively demonstrated a research paper or an essay or whether they could problem solve," he says. "We didn't have proof that every child could show competence in those areas. But now we will know on June 13, on graduation day, that the students who walk across the dais have demonstrated they can do the things we want them to do before they move on to college and good jobs." ...
For his senior project, Brad shadowed an information technology specialist at a local company. Similar to Coventry's capstone project, Brad had to participate in an internship, write a research paper, supply materials such as journal entries and evaluations, and give an oral and visual presentation.
He passed his project last month, and he says the experience helped him narrow his future career plans.
"Well, I found out I didn't want to do that with the rest of my life," he said.
My modest change of heart doesn't mean, of course, that I no longer believe standardized tests of minimum retained knowledge to be invaluable, as well.
Why the West's Worth Defending
Before giving six reasons that the West is worth defending, George Weigel writes:
In his book, "Without Roots," Pope Benedict XVI deplored the addiction to historical self-deprecation rampant at the higher altitudes of European cultural and intellectual life: a tendency to see in the history of the West only "the despicable and the destructive."
The same problem exists on this side of the Atlantic; in our universities and among our cultural taste-makers, the healthy western habit of moral, cultural and political self-critique can dissipate into forms of self-loathing. Perhaps a civilization can afford to think of its past as pathology when it has no competitors. That is manifestly not the case today, when the West is being challenged by radical Islamist jihadism and by the new and market-improved authoritarianism of China.
So, a question: What's right about the West, about this unique civilizational enterprise formed by the fruitful interaction of Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome --- biblical religion, rationality, and the idea of a law-governed polity?
Reading what follows, the modern American may feel a jolt from the audacity of confidence. Are we even allowed to risk the appearance of chauvinism thoroughly rooted in our religious tradition?
Out with the High, in with the Low
There are basically two general theories about what is going on in Rhode Island. Tom Sgouros enunciates the leftward (vested interest) explanation more succinctly than most of his compatriots (paragraphs reprinted out of order):
So this is the situation: The Assembly and Governor have together created a tremendous budget crisis. The crisis was caused by tax cuts of the past ten years, exacerbated by the economic downturn (not the other way around). Now that we're in a crisis, the Governor is demanding the right to slash spending without accountability to anyone, and the Assembly leadership seems perfectly willing to hand it over. ...
There are certainly budget cuts that haven't been as deep as the Governor would like, but as I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, it's simply not feasible to balance the budget by cutting entitlements alone. This is a fact of arithmetic: Entitlements are simply not as expensive as you think, and we're deeper in the hole than that. The stuff about the legislature wriggling in the iron grip of the social service lobby is pure fantasy. And a lot of the Governor's plans for personnel reforms seem to imagine somehow that there aren't unions at all. Like them or not, realistic management means you have to acknowledge that unions exist.
The other theory, which most Anchor Rising readers could likely explain themselves, at this point, is that a government regime that is hostile to business, corrupt to its core, and just about criminally inefficient when it comes to providing services from education to transportation infrastructure is driving out productive citizens, even as costs for public employees and social services continue to climb. Those productive citizens take with them businesses that they've created, the readily accessible workforce that businesses might wish to see before opening up shop, and a key market for many goods and services.
The debate may be at such a broad level, and inextricably tied with personal interests and ideology, that no evidence will ever be conclusive, but let's just say that Saturday's Business section story providing details of Rhode Island's job losses last year hardly contradicts the Anchor Rising view:
The 5,200 jobs that vanished from Rhode Island’s payrolls last year were better-paying than the jobs the state gained, according to an analysis of state data.
Construction workers, mortgage brokers, loan officers and real-estate agents were among the hardest hit by job losses, due largely to the housing and credit-market problems, according to revised data released last week by the state Department of Labor and Training.
The average annual wage in the financial activities sector in 2006, the latest year available, was $53,728, among the highest of any industry, the state data shows. Construction wages averaged $46,668.
Meanwhile, the biggest job gains last year were in health care and social assistance, where the average annual wage in 2006 was $37,618, followed by private education, where the average wage was $39,804, according to the state data.
For years, the state has been replacing higher-wage manufacturing jobs with lower-wage services jobs. Now, higher-paying jobs in sectors tied to the real estate and credit markets are leaving, too.
Sgouros has, to some degree, covered this base with his mention of the economic downturn, but note that he stresses the primacy of the tax cuts in causing our crisis. (I'm purposely leaving aside the "fact of arithmetic" when it comes to the tax cuts' percentage of our deficit pending some research that I'm trying to slip into my schedule.) In light of these jobs reports, I'd offer testimony from very personal experience that the segment of the population that benefits from those "tax cuts for the rich" is central to keeping the construction and real estate losses from being even worse. Even if the tax cuts haven't attracted new taxpayers to the state, it's still true that they're allowing such working class folks as my family to remain in the state and to continue to pay their own taxes, rather than requiring public assistance, themselves.
In his February 17 Rhode Island Policy Reporter newsletter (which isn't online), Sgouros ends a piece about population migration with this paragraph:
It would be very challenging to use this data to support a theory that wealth is flowing from Rhode Island, except inasmuch as it flows with people seeking their as-yet-unrealized fortunes elsewhere. Those people are our future, so cannot be ignored, but to imagine that tax changes to favor wealthy people are the only, or even the best, solution, is only fantasy. A healthy economy requires investors, certainly, but it also requires workers, infrastructure, educational opportunity, markets and much more. To focus state policy solely on investors at the expense of the rest, as we have done and are doing, is to miss most of the picture of what makes a healthy economy, and will only drive more young people to look for opportunity in other states.
I would agree wholeheartedly, but with an emphasis on expanding the methodology by which we've sought to fortify our investor class across the spectrum that is, creating an environment of financial freedom and personal opportunity, getting government out of the way. Something is manifestly wrong when, of the three fastest-growing employment areas, two are closely tied to government handouts and benefits and the other highlights the inadequacies of the public education system.
Crises call for extreme measures, which means that Rhode Island must take market-focused reforms to the extreme, at least for a few years. Scratch out the pages upon pages of burdensome regulations. Cut taxes and fees (which will require cutting government expenditures, in the short term). Bring people here to work and to spend.
In an interview with Matt Jerzyk, RI General Treasurer Frank Caprio suggests an advertising campaign that leverages Rhode Island's lack of tax on clothing of any price, which he believes would bolster tourism during our off season. That's the tack that the state should take across the board. All sales taxes should be cut beneath our neighbors' rates. At least when it comes to the scope of government, the cost of doing business in the state should be made similarly attractive.
Subscribing to a theory that tax cuts hurt the economy and that government expenditures are immutable will at best freeze our recovery and at worst hasten our collapse.
March 9, 2008
NRO's Double Agent
If you needed any further evidence that National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg is a left-wing double agent tasked with distracting and immobilizing thirty-something conservatives, look no farther than this post, into which he slyly slips a link to 100 classic Nintendo games playable online.
Well, I suppose it has been awhile since I won CastleVania.
Surcharges for Me, but Not for Thee
Having recently stood, almost alone, against fascist attempts to mandate no-fee gift certificates, I couldn't help but chuckle or, more accurately, to "pffft!" as I filled out my car registration renewal today:
Since when, I guess, has a meddling oligarchy thought it worth the time to meddle with itself? (Dirty-minded readers need not comment.)
Correcting a Misconception About We Right Wingahs
Come an idle Saturday night ("idle" being a very relative adjective in my case), our referral logs led me to a September post by URI professor Michael Vocino, in which Professor V. voices some misconceptions about Anchor Rising, specifically, and conservatives in general. The minor one, first:
If you go to the spokespeople for the RI Right Wing at Anchor Rising, you can see that the fight against education and social services for middle and lower class RIslanders is in full swing.
I'm pretty sure that by law (or bylaw, as the case may be) left wingers must refer to us as the "self-proclaimed spokespeople for the RI Right Wing." We lost the "broadly proclaimed spokespeople" title the other night when Matt Allen beat Andrew in the thumb-wrestling competition at our local VRWC meeting. I am, however, plotting a route of reclamation that depends upon the title's passing from Matt to Bill Felkner to Will Ricci, whom I believe Monique will be able to defeat in a game of Connect Four come August. I'll keep y'all posted as to our progress.
More seriously, Vocino probably isn't alone in having this incorrect impression (emphasis added):
Unfortunately the pundits at Anchor Rising fail to make the obvious connection that RI Republicans are out of touch with the people of RI AND that could be the reason they can't elect anyone and the reason even those Republicans elected are jumping ship.
RIslanders WANT a state-supplied health care system, they want a state-supplied education system, they want all those services that are their right to expect from their governments, EVEN IF IT MEANS higher taxes.
Some would make the case that Rhode Islanders are more conservative in certain respects than their Democrat leanings lead us to believe. My own assessment is that such conservatism as exists in Rhode Island is too often roped into the Democrat coalition via patronage and unionism. A strong argument could also be made that the RI Republicans are (although less so, these days) "out of touch" with RI conservatives, which compounds the problems at the voting booth.
Be that as it may, it simply isn't true that we AR pundits lack understanding of Rhode Islanders' actual leanings. When it comes to such things as Vocino's preferred socialism, however, we believe that Rhode Islanders who back such an approach are wrong, and that they will learn of their error only through painful experience with its consequences. We see the junkies' dependency, and we argue against it. Unless those with affection for the status quo begin to peel away from the coalition, they are going to suffer from a collapse in which they, themselves, are complicit.
Which concept (complicity) brings us back to Vocino, and his closing question:
What kind of system or man wants to make a profit out of lending money to others who want to go on to college?
Well, it's certainly a question worth contemplating professor.
Facing Reality on RI Poverty
The point's a little bit of a tangent from poverty advocates' request for more workers to make food stamps easier to claim and disperse (which always raises questions about the responsibility of the government to promote its handouts), but this closing quotation illuminates one of the indistinct areas in which liberals and conservatives move toward different solutions:
"The governor is not facing reality. We have a major hunger problem in Rhode Island" and the state is not serving enough people, [Henry Shelton, director of the George A. Wiley Center,] said.
Liberals look at increasing numbers of "hungry" Rhode Islanders and say "make it not so," meaning "give them food." This being an endemic problem, not a temporary crisis in food production, one must also offer suggestions for solving the underlying issue of poverty, and the liberal solution is, again, "make it not so," meaning "give them money," whether that directive takes the form of direct welfare payments, supplemental resources to increase the ease of working or the earnings that may be treated as discretionary income, government jobs, union organization to muscle for jobs, or legislated minimum wages and benefits.
The problem is that, eventually, the society finds itself saying "make it not so" to an avalanche in progress. Dependency becomes a habit, rather than an uncomfortable temporary necessity. Those inclined toward it will migrate in search of it. Those overburdened in its provision will migrate away. Meanwhile, the system's demands drive away businesses and generally drag the society down. The question avoided via imperative at the beginning was "what's the best way to make it not so given our circumstances," and that question quickly transforms into "how can we continue to afford this?"
Rhode Island no longer has the resources to deal with the increasing demand. That is the reality that we must face, and denying it will only increase the amount of need. Those who do the work of angels for the poor certainly have admirable priorities, but at least in degree, those priorities are shared by too few of their fellow citizens. Keep requiring, by government fiat, that average citizens contribute more than they believe reasonable, and they'll continue to leave, even as those whom the policies benefit continue to arrive.
The conservative would suggest that Rhode Island should fortify itself first. As aesthetically unpleasing and morally uncomfortable as it may be, we must get our house in order before we invite others in. That will mean giving the needy incentive to seek out states with the resources to address their needs. It will mean making the state an attractive place to live and do business for those who already have some advantages and wish to build more. Then let those in need return for the opportunity to climb, not to tread water.
I do not believe, as I may be accused of believing, that success proves value. Rather, I believe that people, as a matter of human nature, will work much more assiduously toward their own success than toward the subsidization of others' subsistence, and that they are therefore more advisably treated as an engine than a pool.
Thus, presented the prison of poverty and disadvantage, the liberal seeks to adorn the cell with such things as will make it more tolerable until freedom arrives, while the conservative wishes merely to open the door and make the society outside more apparently worth joining.
March 8, 2008
Oh Come On
There's surely an explanation for this that would have merit in less strapped times, but as far as I can see, it's difficult to justify given current circumstances:
Steve Kass, a former radio talk-show host and governor’s director of communications, is now the spokesman for the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency.
At $126,541, Kass will make about $50,000 more than the new executive director of the agency and nearly three times as much as its current spokeswoman. ...
...Candidates were interviewed this week for the executive director’s job, which pays $74,168 to $85,220.
Bray said Kass would be spokesman for the EMA and occasionally, himself. The Rhode Island National Guard already has a spokesman and a public affairs team. Kass takes over from Brittan Bates, the current EMA spokeswoman, who is paid about $47,000 and will continue coordinating the agency’s training exercises.
Based on periodic experience and conversations with Kass during his radio host days, I like the guy and think his judgment generally sound, but are high-dollar communications professionals really a priority during our pitfall toward billion-dollar deficits? At the very least, shouldn't a governor currently facing the collapse of his state even if others had more to do with that state of affairs than he be extremely concerned about appearances' ability to undermine his battle against the corrupt and bloated status quo?
Lighter than Expected
Well, the memo's gone out. The You Tube videos are in production. The party line: McCain's got a temper! Watch the video over on RIFuture. Watch as the Senator rips a chair right out of the floor of the bus like Sam Kinison and pins the reporter's note-taking hand in the overhead storage compartment.
Actually, while he's understandably a little impatient with persistent questions that he has repeatedly declined to answer to the reporter's satisfaction, his comportment remains (though I shudder to use the word) statesmanlike. I'm no major fan of McCain's, but really: how clear do the Progressives wish to make it that they haven't any care whatsoever for reality? Reality is what you make it, eh guys? Repeat the line enough. Expect that many people won't actually watch the video all the way through. Make it reality.
Well, if that's the game, allow me to scroll down a post to Pat Crowley's once-more-unto-the-breach speech for the Obamanation, in which he explicitly admits that he votes multiple times in a given election (emphasis added):
I would rather vote for someone I liked and not get them in then vote for someone I didn’t like and help them succeed.
See! Corruption admitted! Pass it on.
Cost of Living Seek and Find
There may be a bit of the old chicken and egg between the push for renewable energy and the Rhode Island government's lust for power. Whatever the case, when one sees Senate President Joseph Montalbano's name attached to a legislative initiative claiming to "spur economic development" by "sparking" environmentally friendly energy development, a game of cost-increase seek-and-find is surely available. Most obviously, the culprits are the second and fourth bills in the package:
The second bill resulted from a collaborative effort with environmental advocacy groups, renewable energy developers, and National Grid. The bill would help to promote private financing of large renewable energy projects through a long-term commitment that the energy output would be purchased by National Grid. It would be privately managed, through National Grid, with state oversight by the Public Utilities Commission to ensure ratepayer protection.
The program would work as follows: National Grid would issue requests for proposals to purchase electricity for at least five percent of their overall load from large renewable energy projects for terms of 10 to 15 years. Their project selections would have to be approved by the PUC.
Energy developers would build their projects, using private investment, and sell their output to National Grid, which in turn would sell the output on the energy market.
So, in the final analysis, what is going to spur the private investment? The presigned long-term contracts from National Grid to purchase the energy harvested. Intelligent readers will wonder what would lead the energy giant to take these 1015 year risks; according to the Providence Journal:
National Grid has opposed such a provision in the past because it saw these commitments as risky. If the market price of electricity fell below the cost it agreed to pay a renewable-energy developer, customers might opt to buy power from another supplier. That would leave National Grid stuck with a commitment to buy power but fewer customers to sell it to.
"There've been instances in the past where we have been burned," said Michael F. Ryan, president of Rhode Island distribution for National Grid.
The bill essentially shifts that risk to ratepayers by allowing National Grid to spread out any extra cost to buy the renewable energy among all its customers through a distribution rate surcharge. Conversely, National Grid would have to credit customers if the market price rises above the renewable-energy contract price.
So the general public, via electric bills, is the guarantor. It's almost like a renewable-energy tax. Of course, that's not the most explicit way in which our tax dollars will be dedicated to this initiative. The legislation's text doesn't appear to be online, yet, but it wouldn't be surprising if the "renewable energy grant funds" that bill number one places under the purview of the Economic Development Corporation are to be dedicated to enhancing (so to speak) the vaunted "private investment."
The fourth bill, meanwhile, seems intended to guarantee to National Grid that at least one sizable market won't go looking elsewhere if the price keeps climbing:
The final bill in the package would require existing state buildings to purchase a percentage of their energy from renewable sources at a rate that directly coincides with the state’s current renewable energy standards. Like the rate of renewable energy required to be produced in the state, the rate at which state buildings would be required to utilize renewable energy would gradually increase to 16 percent by 2019.
Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere (R, Westerly-Charlestown) is correct that "our economy and the environment are interrelated," but he stops short of looking to the laws of economics for guidance in managing the two. If it were profitable to create a green energy market, somebody would do it. The government's appropriate methods of expediting that process would be to seek out and eliminate regulatory obstacles and to offer seed money, preferably in the form of tax incentives.
Trying to guarantee a market, on the other hand, is a typically Rhode Islandish way of introducing the opportunity for corruption and further incompetent government meddling.
A Test for the Education Establishment
Unsurprisingly, many invested in the current education system object to proposals to tie graduation to discrete, measurable testing requirements:
Dozens of speakers last night said they were worried about a provision that would make the English and math scores of statewide standardized tests students take at the start of 11th grade count toward one-third of their graduation requirements. The scores would also appear on students' official transcripts for colleges and employers to see. Currently the scores of the New England Common Assessment Program account for 10 percent of graduation requirements and do not appear on transcripts.
The other two-thirds of students' graduation requirements would include completing 20 or more rigorous courses and passing "performance-based graduation requirements" such as portfolios or senior projects, which are required for this year’s graduating class.
No doubt, there are myriad professionals and parents who have good reason to be worried about the possibility that tests for which they are leaving children unprepared would actually, you know, matter. If that were the case, then they couldn't fudge their answers to the crisis, suggesting increases expenditures, begging for more time, noting isolated advances. They'd have to face thousands of children who have been cheated out of their educations and must carry that burden well into their adult lives.
Some educators questioned why state education officials seemed to be embracing "high-stakes testing," when the state has worked for the past several years to develop an entirely different method of preparing students for college and work.
The answer is that nobody trusts the current system's practitioners to get it right. "'Proficiency-based' projects" ought simply to be part of curricula, and giving "students multiple ways to show they have mastered skills and knowledge" sounds a bit too much like a loophole through which to adjust the test to match each student's natural talents, minimizing the amount of material that must actually be mastered. The matter of schooling is too important to allow years of tweaks yielding modest increases in the 1% of students who are "proficient with distinction" and 22% who are "proficient" in basic math by eleventh grade.
Susan Menard: ProJo Omits the No Bid Vroom-Vrooms
Woonsocket Mayor Susan Menard will be retiring on June 15.
The Providence Journal got that much right. And they kindly mentioned her accomplishments. What they left out was that an ethics complaint had been filed against her this week. Yes, the same newspaper that repeatedly and breathlessly speculated about some not-so-nefarious reasons for Bev Najarian to have stepped down as the Governor's Director of Administration left this fairly significant development - some might even term a "factor" - out of their article reporting the retirement of Mayor Menard.
From the Valley Breeze:
In his two-page complaint, backed by various "proof" documents, [former police detective sergeant and City Council candidate Edward] Roy alleges that Menard violated state ethics law by her involvement in the process of leasing four Harley-Davidson motorcycles through her son-in-law's dealership, Paramount Harley Davidson, in Framingham, Mass.
Roy said in the complaint that Paramount, with Menard's son-in-law James Pilavin as a principal owner, is not the dealership contracted to the city by the Greater Boston Police Council, and leasing through the company "is an egregious violation of the Rhode Island General Laws".
We should point out here that this was by no means a one-way transaction: James Pilavin made two contributions totalling $1,750 to Mayor Menard's re-election campaign.
The motorcycles were for the use of the Woonsocket Police Department. The funding for the lease did not come from city coffers but from the Justice Department's Local Law Enforcement Block Grants ("LLEBGs"). Nevertheless, the lease had to be offered as an RFP. It appears that this did not happen.
Speaking at Monday's City Council meeting, council President Leo Fontaine said the timeline for the lease of the motorcycles last month is especially disturbing to him.
* At the Feb. 18 City Council meeting, Fontaine said the council asked why the city didn't go out to bid, as the City Charter stipulates for such leases.
* On Feb. 19, he said, a quote came in from Boston Harley-Davidson.
* Now it has been discovered, according to Fontaine, that a $10,000 two-year lease payment was sent to Paramount on Feb. 18.
"Why would we go out for bid a day after a payment was made?" he asked.
The Providence Journal got itself updated and ran a more complete article yesterday on Mayor Menard's retirement and questions that are arising out of her administration. These are not limited to the no-bid motorcycles.
Also, the City Council has started an internal investigation to determine, among other things, if city employees were being made to do work they should not be doing, although they would not get more specific. On Thursday, the council had planned to meet with two city employees it had subpoenaed to ask questions, but Menard hired an independent lawyer and was able to obtain a temporary restraining order in Superior Court to stop the meeting.
Here's a question. Why would it be necessary to take steps to legally prevent the City Council from asking questions of city employees?
And another: who was doing what work they shouldn't have, for whom were they doing it and who requested that they do it?
March 7, 2008
Of Two Minds on Money
Of course, it's always more pleasant to have surpluses, rather than use them, which is a question that the Newport school department is facing:
Last week, Supt. John Ambrogi proposed hiking school spending 2.12 percent next year to $38.5 million. But the budget would require the city to increase its education appropriation by 5 percent, or $1.17 million, because of declining and stagnating federal and state aid and a projected increase of 15 percent in employee and retiree health coverage.
The School Department has accumulated a surplus in recent years and Ambrogi said he planned, for the second year in a row, to use $800,000 of it to help balance the budget. But he and committee members warned then, and again last night, that using all of it to pay for operating expenses would potentially set the schools up for budget crises in the years to come. The state tax levy cap would prohibit the schools from being able to make up the large shortfall they would eventually face, they said.
I incline toward City Councilman Justin McLaughlin's response:
The school surplus, he said, was built on savings that Ambrogi described as coming from reductions in staff due to declining enrollment and less costly negotiated labor contracts.
"This is not a windfall," he said. "That money belongs to the taxpayers. ... It's money that was appropriated for operating expenses."
Being in the financial black is wonderful, but government is supposed to be a non-profit operation, and when red times come, it should dip into reserves and cut back on expenses.
Another Flashlight on the Fire
And another columnist turns her attention to the odd disconnectedness of Rhode Island budgetary practices, this time Lifebeat-section writer Rita Lussier:
Not that I had time for any of this. I didn't and I don't. But I decided to carve out an hour or so to try to learn something while I stood there at the back of Room 35, waiting for the 1 p.m. meeting to begin. If the chatting and chuckling in the room was any indication, the only sense of urgency belonged to me and it was mostly due to the limited amount of quarters I could fish out of my purse for the parking meter.
Finally, at 1:38 by my watch, someone announced that the chairman had been attending another important meeting but was on his way. Wonder what the cost was of all those people sitting around the room? Never mind.
Not long after the announcement, the meeting began. But the first thing on the agenda was not exactly what I was expecting. The committee wasn't talking about decreases in spending. Far from it. Neither were they discussing difficult cuts or big reductions. No. The topic to start off my very first budget meeting was borrowing. Something called tax anticipation notes. I don't like the sound of that. Do you?
As if someone at the front of the room sensed my queasiness, he introduced the subject by explaining why we might want to borrow at a time like this by making this comparison to our personal lives.
It's like at home when grocery day comes before payday. You hit the kids' piggy bank.
Really? In his house maybe. Certainly not in mine.
Maybe you've been through it before. I know we have. You lose a job. A big freelance project you were counting on doesn’t come through. And all of a sudden your bills add up to more than your income. The clock starts tick, tick, ticking and you've got to come up with a plan. Think. Fast. What do you do?
Granted, I'm no expert, but what worked for us was to stop. Stop going out to eat. Stop going out to the movies. Stop taking trips here and there unless they were absolutely necessary. Stop buying Barbie dolls and video games and the latest fashion sweaters and all the other things that we really can get by without.
March 6, 2008
In her post this afternoon, Monique didn't quote my favorite unionist quotations in that article about the governor's proposal to require presigning public hearings on public contracts (emphasis added):
"I'm halfway decent at reading tea leaves and I'm pretty clear that this budget article is about putting pressure on public officials not to give decent, in my view, pay raises and benefits to public sector workers," said James Parisi, a lobbyist for the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals. "It's built on a couple false assumptions that the employer doesn't know what they're doing and they're getting hoodwinked by unions…. Public perception and the chatter out there aside, it's just not true and you need to know it's not true."
Allow me to be the first to confirm Mr. Parisi in his suspicion that the public probably doesn't agree with his view of "decent raises and benefits." In the eye of we many beholders (who are thus far beholden), his "decent" is our "decadent," "disproportionate," and sometimes "diabolical."
However, the majority of us don't, I believe, take our public representatives to be "getting hoodwinked" so much as having insufficient motivation to consider what our reaction might be were the contracts laid before us. When they do, they take the tack of the Tiverton School Committee and bring salient numbers before the public without a public hearing mandate.
The NEA's non-serious proposal on the meaning of 'balance' in teachers' union contracts
The opinion page of the February 21, 2008 edition of the East Greenwich Pendulum carried a letter from the co-presidents of the East Greenwich Educational Association, the local branch of the NEA teachers' union, in which they wrote (not available on-line) the following under the heading of "Teachers union heads seeking 'balance' in contract"-
We, along with everyone else are very frustrated that a "contract" is the prominent education story in East Greenwich when there is so much excellent in our schools to be reporting on. Teachers contracts should be settled well before the first day of school.
We all want East Greenwich schools to remain one of the best in the state. On these points, we think everyone can agree.
To that end, we are focusing on finding balanced terms for a settlement that is fiscally responsible for the town, yet not too far below the national cost of living adjustment or the RI state average for teachers. We need to look at the big picture down the road so we will be able to attract and keep highly qualified teachers in East Greenwich. This has become a problem in recent years.
New teachers look at and compare numerous contracts before accepting a position. The entry level step in EG is the 6th lowest in the state. Additionally, EG does not offer such things as social security, longevity, sick day buyback incentives as many other towns do, yet we currently contribute above the average healthcare cost shares found statewide for teachers. We are very mindful that the "structure of the contract" remain at least average in terms in terms of salary. We have put a well below average request on the table and tried to balance that with acceptable healthcare costs. There have not been any "high salary demands" at any time during this negotiation process, as we have been very cognizant of the budget issues all along. We would like to find a fair medium that won't completely erode the contract as a whole even more to ensure we can be competitive in the future.
Judi Cavanaugh/Donna Hayes
Well, isn't that touching.
Today's Pendulum carried my editorial response:
I was delighted to read that EGEA Co-Presidents Cavanaugh and Hays are seeking "balance" in the teachers' union contract. They claim to seek a cost of living adjustment not too far below the national average. Great, we accept their offer! How kind of them to unilaterally give up the 8-12%/year salary increases embedded in contractually-defined increases for 9 of the 10 job steps - which EG residents have been generously funding every year throughout this entire decade, increases that are still incorporated in all current contract proposals by both the School Committee and the EGEA union.
Now it does seem rather silly for the EGEA to describe the existing 5-10% healthcare co-pays as "acceptable" when the EG residents funding their healthcare are typically paying 20-30%. Surely somebody has advised the EGEA that knowing your audience is a good idea when trying to persuade taxpaying residents to accept contract terms which are not in their economic self-interest. And perhaps in their next letter the EGEA can also explain how EG town employees represented by the NEA can pay 20% co-pays but EG teachers represented by the NEA can't pay 20%? (Also note that their letter describes 5-10% co-pays as above the average for RI teachers; some "balance" across the state, no?)
As to their argument that EG has to pay at or above average teachers' salaries in RI to retain or attract the best teachers, take a step back and contemplate the absurdity of that argument: Suppose a teacher has the opportunity to teach in EG or Barrington, arguably the two nicest towns in RI. Is there really any rational person who thinks EG has to match salaries paid in places like Central Falls or Providence in order to keep teachers from leaving the EG teaching environment for those other communities? Please!
Then there is the broader issue of whether the EGEA's claim about EG paying below average for job step 1 is even true, a reasonable concern given the EGEA's history of spreading disinformation - such as last Fall's now-disproven "pay cuts for teachers" nonsense. Here is a reason to be skeptical: While I don't have recent RI data, third-party data from the 2003-2004 Rhode Island Association of School Committees' teacher data report showed East Greenwich salaries ranked as follows: The top job step 10 salary was the 7th highest out of 36 districts. The job step 5 salary for teachers was 9th highest out of 36 districts. So I find it hard to believe that EG teachers suddenly became poorly paid only several years later.
At a minimum, the EGEA is misleading EG residents when it talks only about job step 1 - who are then on a track likely to give them 8-12%/year salary increases for the next 9 years - as it knows that over 60% of all EG teachers are at job step 10 and only 1 of 231 teachers is currently at job step 1.
By the way, in the spirit of advancing the cause of "balance," did you know that the median total cash compensation for EG teachers this year is between $69,000-70,000? That means 50% of EG teachers earn at least $69,000/year. And the ones who earn less than the median are receiving 8-12%/year salary increases. While all of them currently pay only 5-10% healthcare co-pays.
By golly, the EGEA is right! We do need some "balance" in the teachers' union contract. Balance on key financial terms just like the rest of the taxpaying residents who fund the schools. It's all we ask. It’s all we have ever asked for.
Donald B. Hawthorne
Former EG School Committee member
Same old, same old. As a reminder, here are links to some of the key prior postings on this year's EG teachers' union contract silliness:
East Greenwich Pendulum Viewpoint: Clarifying the Teachers' Union Contract Debate With Facts
The NEA in East Greenwich: Reflections On The Week That Was
More on the Issues in the East Greenwich Teachers' Union Strike
East Greenwich Teachers' Union Contract Negotiations Update: School Committee Stays Focused on Priority #1, Educational Programs for Children
Public Hearings for Public Contracts?
Governor Donald Carcieri has proposed that cities and towns hold public hearings on the terms of labor contracts before committing to them.
Governor Carcieri wants to force municipalities to hold public hearings to review tentative labor agreements before they are finalized, a move that union officials yesterday said would lead to harassment and unnecessary political pressure. The plan, submitted as part of the governor’s 2008-’09 budget, would also require cities and towns to submit pending labor agreements and fiscal impact statements to the state auditor general to “note his or her approval as to accuracy and reliability of the dollar estimates….”
* * *
“This budget article will improve transparency of budget decisions in local cities and towns, while giving people a voice in the decision-making process by requiring a public hearing,” the governor’s spokesman, Jeff Neal, said. “If approved, it would enable the citizens of local communities to express their support for, concerns about or opposition to collective bargaining contracts being agreed to by municipalities.”
The NEA is not thrilled with the idea.
“I just think it’s another form, to be honest with you, of causing some undue harassment, whether direct or indirect, by allowing this process,” Henry Boeniger, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, testified before the House Finance Committee. “We elect officials to negotiate contracts. It’s sort of like letting other people negotiate contracts.”
"We elect officials to negotiate contracts" which reflect our will. If this is happening, why would there be a distaste for hearings? Wouldn't the feedback simply affirm what the elected officials negotiated?
Governor Carcieri addressed his proposal this morning on the John Depetro Show on WPRO. He also condemned work-to-rule, terming it "poisonous" and observing that it not only puts teachers in an unfair position but with this tactic, "children become pawns in the negotiation". These remarks can be found towards the beginning of this podcast.
Placing the Worker Before the Job
I have to admit to being a bit confused by David's comments to my post about Rhode Island's lost jobs.
- I pointed out that Rhode Island hadn't gained jobs, as expected, over the last year, but lost them, including in the construction industry. With a slate of laws in mind that would attract low-end and illegal immigrants to Rhode Island, I quipped acerbically that such workers are precisely whom a state with our economy ought to be wooing.
- David asserted that the construction jobs being lost are those that such immigrants would claim (driving down construction prices and pay across the board) and that Anchor Rising surely hasn't a care for such people.
- Ignoring the baseless attack, I questioned the extent to which illegals are captured in jobless numbers and noted that the several men who've stopped by my jobsite desperate for work have all been middle-aged locals.
- David made an East Bay/West Bay distinction and explained, "My point is that while I am affected much more than you, I refuse to vent anger on the low wage people who have for the most part been used. Instead of a legitimate quest worker program (that Bush wanted and I would oppose) we got the illegitimate version. But I do not want to oppose the people working - who came here to work."
The compounding of bad decisions is enough to induce headaches. Ill considered and inadequately enforced immigration policy at the national and state levels creates an environment in which companies can exploit illegal immigrant workers and drive down wages for citizens, and the solution is to make it easier for illegals to stay and more attractive for them to come to Rhode Island specifically of all the states?
The only healthy (sane) approach for a geographically defined political entity to take is to establish and deploy policies designed to create jobs and then to expand the workforce as necessary. Businesses create jobs, and they will go where conditions are advantageous in order to produce goods for sale elsewhere or (especially with services) where customers are plentiful. In other words, if Rhode Island wishes to attract businesses to create jobs, its policies should focus on bringing in highly skilled workers and potential clients.
Of course, attracting potential clients is precisely what politicians and public sector organizations are doing by marketing the state to other nations' poor.
Perspectives on the State Budget Crisis
Last evening, The Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University hosted a panel on the Rhode Island budget crisis, moderated by Professor Darrell West. Four panelists presented their perspectives on where the problems are and what needs to be done...
Gary Sasse (Director of the Rhode Island Department of Revenue) classified the Rhode Island budget into 3 main silos...
- Personnel and government operations, $950 million.
- Entitlements, including Medicaid, $1 billion.
- State aid, 80% going towards education, $1.1 billion.
- Government needs to be redesigned and made to work smarter. The Governor's proposed budget will reduce the state workforce to 14,800 FTEs (Note: down from 15,688.7, according to this year's official state budget document).
- Medicare needs to be made more efficient, especially in moving long-term care away from institutional settings wherever possible.
- Schools are being "held harmless", i.e. level funded, for the time being.
Linda Katz (Policy Director, Rhode Island Poverty Institute) observed that 21 states are also facing budget crises, so Rhode Island is not alone. She suggested places to look to for enhancing revenues...
- Reverse the recent tax cuts (capital gains, flat tax for higher income taxpayers).
- Look closely at tax expenditures.
- Modernize the sales tax, especially to include more household services.
Katz agreed that Medicare reform is needed and that government needs to be made more efficient. But cuts that ultimately take money out of the healthcare economy can have negative ripple effects.
Paul Choquette (Chairman, Gilbane, Inc) used two phrases to describe the Rhode Island budget crisis…
- The Perfect Storm
- The chickens coming home to roost.
What needs to be done…
- Reduce the cost and size of government.
- Review all services that government delivers, does government need to be doing everything it's doing now, and can it be done more efficiently?
- Explore regionalization and sharing of services.
- Recognize that government can't provide all the answers.
Robert Walsh (Executive Director, Rhode Island Chapter of the National Education Association) said that budgets reflect values. He agreed with Gary Sasse and others that we need to take a serious look at government efficiency, but (and this is an exact quote) "I want to spend a lot more of your money than he does".
He cited the Masonic temple renovation as an example of a good tax expenditure, because it created permanent jobs, involved apprenticeships and removed an eyesore from downtown. But for the most part, because of the development of a secondary market, tax credits are not being used in ways that stimulate the economy.
He challenged the public-employees-are-15%-of-workforce figure as inflated, because of the inclusion of seasonal and ceremonial employees. RI actually has a small state employee workforce, relative to the other New England states.
Walsh cited figures showing wealthy people are not leaving Rhode Island. RI has gone from about 5,700 to over 9,000 people making over $200,000, from about 9,000 to over 14,000 making $150,000-$200,000, and from 28,500 to 41,000 making $100,000-$150,000 in recent years (In scribbling down population figures, I missed the exact years cited [2001 to 2006 says commenter "Red"])
He cautioned that regionalization is not the panacea that some would have you believe. About 4,000 – 6,000 students is the optimal size for a school system. Beyond that point, fiscal savings are limited.
People may oppose the idea of "welfare" in an abstract sense, but when you ask them about the specific functions that government is currently performing, they will support them.
The Terror Master at Home
Reading about Iran Dictator Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Iraq makes me wonder for whom he's routing in the American election, this year:
In tone and body language, Ahmadinejad's message during his visit was clear. The United States does not belong in Iraq; Iran does. Iran can and will help in the reconstruction of Iraq, a point underscored by the signing of seven memorandums of understanding between the two countries.
Sadly, far too many Westerners will find it difficult to believe (let alone obvious) that the terror master is not only lying, but is doing so for their consumption:
Another [question] was about whether Shi'ite Muslim Iran would cultivate ties with Iraq's Sunni groups as well as with the Shi'ite political parties and Kurdish militias it once sheltered and nurtured to fight Saddam Hussein's regime.
"Our relations with all the factions in Iraq are good," he said. "This [distinction] may be important for the foreigners. But we view things differently." ...
"Peace and stability will return to the region if the foreigners leave," he told reporters.
March 5, 2008
Terrorism on the Political Spectrum
There go those fascist terrorists again:
Three seven-figure dream homes went up in flames early yesterday in a Seattle suburb, apparently set by eco-terrorists who left a sign mocking the builders' claims that the 4,000-plus-square-foot houses were environmentally friendly.
The sign - a sheet marked with spray paint - bore the initials ELF, for Earth Liberation Front, a loose collection of radical environmentalists that has claimed responsibility for dozens of attacks since the 1990s.
(Yes, my opening line can be taken as evidence that I'm currently reading Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism.)
Public Service Announcement for Parents
Well, they've done the study, and the results are nothing if not surprising:
Here's one simple way to keep your children healthy: Ban the bedroom TV.
By some estimates, half of American children have a television in their bedroom; one study of third-graders put the number at 70 percent. And a growing body of research shows strong associations between TV in the bedroom and numerous health and educational problems.
Children with bedroom TVs score lower on school tests and are more likely to have sleep problems. Having a television in the bedroom is strongly associated with being overweight and a higher risk for smoking.
One of the most obvious consequences is that the child will simply end up watching far more television and many parents won't even know.
I will admit that I had a television in my room when I was a teenager... of course, I figured out a way to match multiple adapters in series to run cable television on my Commodore 64, so one could argue that the unhealthy effects of the tube were somewhat counterbalanced by the encouragement of geekhood (which isn't to deny that I finished off my teen years with a number of very unhealthy traits and habits).
Media Event or Partisan Rally?
Has anybody else picked up on something curious in coverage of the Providence Newspaper Guild Follies?
Chelsea Clinton, in town to campaign for her mother, was squired around by US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. And US Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee in 2004, turned up as a surprise guest about a third of the way into the program, upstaging the eventual Mystery Guests, Attorney General Patrick "Superdelegateman" Lynch, his Clinton-supporting brother Bill, chief of the RI Democratic Party, and their mother, who mediated their clashing presidential choices. Vote your conscience, she said.
Of course, the political split is what it is in Rhode Island, but I haven't seen anything that made this event distinguishable from a high-profile partisan gathering.
Explaining Rhode Island to Outsidahs
For any national folks out there searching for an explanation of Hillary's Clinton victory in Rhode Island, forget about all of the identity politics stuff that the analysts are trying to foist on you. Here's all you need to know, starting with some wisdom from Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online…
The Clinton team reinforced the perception that Hillary is the closest thing to an incumbent the Democrats have.Then realize, despite the relevance of Goldberg's observation to other states, that Rhode Island is the state that in 2006 -- despite facing recurring multi-hundred million dollar deficits in the previous years -- re-elected an incumbent Governor and every incumbent state legislator who re-ran for his or her seat, regardless of their race, gender, age, or party.
This is not the year for incumbents. This is not the year for a candidacy whose central argument amounts to “it’s my turn”.
Rhode Islanders don't do "change". They just expect it to happen. End of story.
Letting Them Know We're Not Asleep
Greg offered a rousing comment to my post on abandoned rules changes that oughtn't be allowed to slip into unnoticed into the archives:
Simply the serious THREAT of a picket and demonstration killed this, people. Think about that the next time you're just too busy to take an hour out of your lives for the sake of a cause that affects your life every moment of every day.
There's no reason we can't put a few hundred people on the front steps just as our way of saying "Don't screw up this budget" and possibly make some real change.
Maybe make the news and let people across the state know that yeah, Rhode Island does have some of that hope that's on the state seal. It's not over. We can still fight for our state. I don't care about party, and I'd rather not see a lot of partisanship about it. Left and right in this state feel it in their wallets, and a good 70% of the state is against illegal aliens and what they're doing here.
All it takes is the THREAT to make a change. Imagine the size of the change you can make if you get off your rear ends and start yelling.
He followed with this email making a great suggestion:
Let's put Dan Yorke and Matt Allen broadcasting live from the State House with trucks with jumbo plasma screens mounted on them and watch Capital TV right there and raise holy Hell all night long.
Make a big friggin' party out of it. Burgers and dogs and t-shirts and a real celebration of the freedom of expression. Start advertising it months in advance.
Seriously. Imagine how freaked out they'd be if we were so loud we could boo and they could hear us.
They'd certainly know we weren't sleeping during the slip-it-by hours of the legislative night.
March 4, 2008
Hillary's Delegate Deficiency
Using formulas and data provided by Jason Furman of the Brookings Institution, Slate has created a nifty delegate calculator.
[Pretty picture only; please click on the link to access the calculator.]
Slate's Chadwick Matlin and Chris Wilson have plugged in the delegates from states which have yet to hold their primaries and, at 4:36 this afternoon, concluded that
Even if Hillary Clinton wins tonight's primaries, she still has an increasingly difficult road ahead. Going into this evening's results, Clinton needs an average margin of victory of 16 points in every remaining primary to tie Obama's pledged delegate total. If Clinton wins by fewer than 16 points, then her job only gets tougher going forward.
And what about the super delegates? Until now, common wisdom had it that these would break decisively for Hillary. But this is no longer the case, in a campaign that at every step has failed to conform to expectations and sage predictions.
Currently, Clinton has a 44-superdelegate lead, according to CNN, but Tom Brokaw is reporting that Obama's campaign may be set to announce a 50-superdelegate envoy this week. That would make both candidates about even in superdelegates, which would make Clinton's climb even tougher.
Newsweek's Jonathan Alter availed himself of the calculator and went one step further.
So no matter how you cut it, Obama will almost certainly end the primaries with a pledged-delegate lead, courtesy of all those landslides in February. Hillary would then have to convince the uncommitted superdelegates to reverse the will of the people. Even coming off a big Hillary winning streak, few if any superdelegates will be inclined to do so. For politicians to upend what the voters have decided might be a tad, well, suicidal.
Counting All of the Votes
Clinton Wins Rhode Island...
...says WJAR-TV (NBC 10)...
...and WPRI-TV (CBS 12)...
...and WLNE-TV (ABC 6).
Back on the Air
Well, we've got unusually high traffic for this time of night, still, so for anybody checking in: I should be back on the air with Matt Allen around 9:30 p.m.
Sorry, false alarm. Understandably, the station doesn't want to drift away from the real-time results coverage.
I guess I'm back to typing, instead of talking. For now.
About That Shanley Bill...
It's about ten-past-eight and I am standing in line at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Cranston, preparing to cast my primary ballot for Hugh Cort.
I'd bet that the hundred or so people in the room with me would agree that the recent proposal submitted by State Rep. John Patrick Shanley to close Rhode Island's polls at 8 pm is a bad idea.
On the Air
Although I'm sure the overlap between the group of people reading Anchor Rising at this time of night and the group of people who listen to nighttime talk radio is significant, I'd like to mention that I'll be chatting about the primaries with Matt Allen on 630 WPRO sometime after 7:45 p.m.
Imagine a world in which the local blogger is cut short on talk radio to make way for a former President... sheesh.
Well it was fun; thanks to Matt for the opportunity.
Listening to Bill Clinton speaking with Matt Allen, a terrifying image came to mind: the ex-president stepping through the door of the White House, setting his suitcase on the floor, and saying, "Home, sweet home."
Wow. Listen to Matt having a wonkish discussion with President Clinton on an election night!
Sweeping Changes Under the Carpet (For Safe Keeping?)
The temporary end of this particular controversy was easy to miss, and the manner in which it occurred tells us much about the folks who precipitated it:
The debate over proposed changes to the House rules was put to rest last week when Rules Committee Chairwoman Rep. Eileen S. Naughton, D-Warwick, announced that she would not hold hearings on any rule changes this session.
"After consultation with House Leadership and some members of the House Rules Committee, I have decided against holding a hearing this year on any possible rules changes," Naughton said in a statement.
"Traditionally, we have amended the House rules every two years, and we see no pressing need to change the rules this session. We will review some of the suggestions that were incorporated into this year's legislation after the session is completed and discuss them next year," she said.
Several proposed rule changes introduced since January raised the ire of Republicans and talk-radio hosts, including one that could have limited some lawmakers' ability to influence the state budget process by reducing the time that rank-and-file legislators can access the House version of the spending plan before voting on it.
I don't think it's paranoia to suspect that the back-room operators will commence looking for a way to bring about their ends without inciting a demonstration at the statehouse.
Sapping the Know-Nothings
To some degree, it's often the case that the media hypes the youth vote the excited kids who show up for the rally but not for the vote. Still, it seems likely that the unique factor in this election will be the "know-nothing vote," by which I mean kids and other generally uninvolved, uninformed Americans who flock to the personality cult of Barack Obama. As Rhode Islanders are particularly well positioned to appreciate, that's a very dangerous force.
I'm sympathetic to the strategy of allowing a Democrat candidate to hold the reins for a few years in order to heat the crucible in which a stronger, more conservative Republican Party can be formed, and were the presidency the sole question mark, I might sway that way. But there will be candidates further down the ticket whom we can't afford to watch washed away. We mustn't underestimate the extent or longevity of the damage that a too strongly Democrat government can do in just a few years.
So the question is: Which Republican candidate will drain the know-nothing force to a greater extent? My gut says McCain. One could argue that Huckabee will excite more conservatives, who might otherwise be demoralized and stay home, but I haven't seen much evidence of a conservative rally behind him. On the other hand, McCain will surely keep national security central in the general election while, at the same time, reminding some moderates that the Democrat candidate (whether Obama or Clinton) is farther from center.
It's not a very uplifting or optimistic reason for picking a candidate, but the times are what they are.
March 3, 2008
Addressing Professor Schmeling's Arguments on the Relation of State Aid and Gross Municipal Product
Not wanting to allow a disagreement about what to call them get in the way of the ideas being presented, I've re-edited my original post to remove any direct association between Professor Schmeling and the assumptions that I believe necessarily underlie his argument that a community where x% of jobs are located is entitled to x% of state aid. All of the ideas from the original version stand unaltered.
Professor Thomas Schmeling would like it known that he disagrees with my reasoning that the three assumptions listed below are required for making the argument that a community where x% of jobs are located deserves x% of state aid.
Needless to say, I disagree with his disagreement.
Here's the answer I promised commenter Thomas Schmeling in response to his recent statements like…
Providence provides a net 40,000+ high-paying jobs to residents of other cities…Whether the rule you prefer is "as you contribute, so shall you receive" or "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need", or something in between, Providence deserves at least the proportion of state aid that it currently gets.…and…
The top 10 towns getting the highest percentage of generated income back in overall state aid are, in order, Foster, Burrilville, Central Falls, Scituate, Exeter, Glocester, Barrington, N. Providence, Hopkinton and Tiverton. I'd say this is where the "subsidies" are going, if we want to talk that way.The validity of the idea that state aid should be paid out to communities in amounts roughly proportional to their "gross municipal products" (with GMP defined strictly in terms of positions located in a community, regardless of where the person who fills that position comes from) or other such economic metrics rests on a set of dubious assumptions…
- That government and government alone is the source of all economic activity,
- That government is entitled to a fixed amount of revenue, no matter what services it provides, and
- That whoever produces the most should receive the most in government services and payouts.
Imagine someone working for a small plumbing company with an official address in Providence. The plumber travels around the Providence metro area, fixing problems for customers in Providence, but also for customers in North Providence, Johnston, Central Falls and Pawtucket. The aid-should-reflect-GMP-by-position assumptions hold that, because the company's corporate address is in Providence, the government of Providence has claim on 100% of the economic activity generated by the plumber and his customers and that no one else does -- not even the plumber himself (unless, maybe, he resides in Providence).
Coming out of college, 3 friends start a software company. They've paid for their own educations, 5 years-plus, to the master's level. At the start, they literally operate out of a garage, maybe in East Providence or Cranston. They put three years of fourteen hour days into their company; eventually they have enough success to justify renting some office space, for the purposes of this example, in Providence. From the moment they sign their lease onward, the aid-should-reflect-GMP-by-position assumptions assign credit for 100% of the economic activity they generate to the government of Providence, the schooling and money and resources brought by the entrepreneurs (who may live in some other community) counting for nothing. It is the government of Providence that has provided the new jobs created, not the young entrepreneurs. Even more dubiously, the aid-should-reflect-GMP-by-position view assumes that if the 3 friends hadn't built their company, the government of Providence would have found someone else at exactly the same time to use the rented space to create something of equal value.
A manufacturer who's been around for 20+ years opens a subsidiary plant in Providence, investing some of its capital in the new plant and moving some of its managers and employees there. The aid-should-reflect-GMP-by-position assumptions say that the government of Providence deserves 100% of the credit for those new jobs in Providence; the company and its employees get 0% credit for their efforts. And so on, and so on…
The assumption that government is entitled to a certain percentage of all of the economic activity that occurs in its vicinity (or even more radically, that government is entitled to all of everybody's income, but generously decides to let you keep some) eschews the traditional American view of limited government. In the limited government view, people who have worked hard to produce goods and services of value come together and pool a portion of the income they generate to achieve a few goals like building roads or public schools or staffing a fire department, items more rationally handled by the entire community than by individuals. Beginning from the conclusion that state aid should reflect a community's position-based GMP reverses that chain of reasoning, asserting that government is entitled to take a certain percentage of all economic activity to do with it what it pleases, whether or not it uses those resources to benefit the people who are doing the paying and whether or not government is performing activities that could better be done through non-governmental means.
The flaw most fundamental in this view is the assertion that government is the dynamic economic force in society, while individuals are simple commodities to be managed. A community like Foster can only be labeled a drain on Rhode Island under the assumption that the thousands of residents from there contribute nothing unique to the Rhode Island economy. The positions those residents occupy may be important, but the people themselves aren't; they are mere interchangeable cogs in an economic machine that can be immediately replaced with people from somewhere else if need be. That is an assumption of dubious accuracy -- and the kind of assumption that has led governments throughout history into strange and disastrous decisions.
Finally, as to the third of the assumptions listed at the top of this post, that whoever produces the most should receive the most in government services and payouts, Professor Schmeling has not made clear exactly why he believes government should be assigned a place apart from the other institutions and the individuals in society, i.e. if the government that produces the most (however loosely "production" is defined) deserves to have the most spent on it, then why shouldn't the non-government organizations or individuals who produce the most also have the most spent on them?
Edit log from original:
In paragraph 1, "The validity of the ideas above rests on a set of dubious assumptions" changed to "The validity of the idea that state aid should be paid out to communities in amounts roughly proportional to their "gross municipal products" (with GMP defined strictly in terms of positions located in a community, regardless of where the person who fills that position comes from) or other such economic metrics rests on a set of dubious assumptions."
In paragraph 1, "We'll call these the aid-should-reflect-GMP-by-position assumptions" added as final sentence.
In paragraph 2, "The Schmeling assumptions hold that, because the company's corporate address is in Providence..." to "The aid-should-reflect-GMP-by-position assumptions hold that, because the company's corporate address is in Providence..."
In paragraph 3, "Even more dubiously, the Schmeling assumptions ask us to believe that if the 3 friends hadn't built their company…" changed to " Even more dubiously, the aid-should-reflect-GMP-by-position view assumes that if the 3 friends hadn't built their company …"
In paragraph 3, "From the moment they sign their lease onward, Professor Schmeling's assumptions assign credit for 100% of the economic activity they generate to the government of Providence" changed to "From the moment they sign their lease onward, the aid-should-reflect-GMP-by-position assumptions assign credit for 100% of the economic activity they generate to the government of Providence".
In paragraph 4, "Professor Schmeling reverses the chain of reasoning, asserting that government is entitled to take a certain percentage of all economic activity to do with it what it pleases…" changed to "Beginning from the conclusion that state aid should reflect a community's position-based GMP reverses that chain of reasoning, asserting that government is entitled to take a certain percentage of all economic activity to do with it what it pleases…"
A Rationale Behind Corruption
In 2002, Mwai Kibaki was elected President of Kenya primarily on an anti-corruption platform. Once in office, he appointed as Kenya's Permanent Secretary to the Office in Charge of Governance and Ethics (an anti-corruption czar) a man named John Githongo and specifically included his own government in Mr. Githongo's purview. This week on The Interview, the BBC's Owen Bennett-Jones interviews Mr. Githongo, now in exile for attempting to discharge the duties of his office as corruption in President Mwai Kibaki's administration ramped up.
In describing the situation he was forced to walk away from, Mr. Githongo also provides some good definitions of public corruption:
Top leaders in Kenya became corrupt or decided to acquire resources by abusing their public office. ... The abuse of public office for private gain became quite normal.
While he acknowledges that corruption is endemic in Kenya, Mr. Githongo rejects the excuse that the problem is cultural, correctly noting that "culture is made" and that the people of Kenya do not have an "inbuilt kind of corruption gene" (a note that I would apply to all people).
What was fascinating, however, was the excuse or justification usually given when Mr. Githongo would approach a minister or member of government about his corrupt activity. The minister would respond, "This is us."
Mr. Githongo elaborates:
And who is us? Typically, us is a small group of individuals predominantly from one ethnic group around the president.
"Us." Whether an ethnic "us" or a party "us," it's "us," so we are entitled to receive, bestow, or trade resources for personal gain.
The concept that "us" would have a much broader meaning and that the power voluntarily ceded by all citizens through free elections is to be exercised solely for the greater good seems to be entirely missed from this reasoning.
Dave Talan: Why I'm Supporting Mike Huckabee For President
The Republican Party has an embarrassment of riches, when it comes to choosing our nominee for President. Every one of the candidates on our GOP Primary ballot on Tuesday is outstanding, and deserves our support in November if he is running against Hillary or Obama.
Senator John McCain is a war hero, and a respected and principled leader. Congressman Ron Paul has contributed to the discussion of the proper role of government in today's society. Ambassador Alan Keyes is a passionate spokesman for protecting life and family. Dr. Hugh Cort is a knowledgeable author about national security and terrorism. Governor Mitt Romney (who is still on our ballot) did a fine job running our neighboring state. And the candidates who are no longer in the race (Fred Thompson; Rudy Giuliani; Duncan Hunter; Tom Tancredo) made us proud to be Republicans.
But I have decided to support GOVERNOR MIKE HUCKABEE for President on Tuesday. Let me tell you about some of the reasons that I LIKE MIKE.
* GREAT COMMUNICATOR. Nobody is better than Mike Huckabee at explaining our Republican issues to the general public, in ways they can easily understand and support. If you close your eyes when you listen to Mike speak, you would swear you were listening to Ronald Reagan.
* GENUINE AND SINCERE. I have had the chance to talk personally with Mike Huckabee the 2 times he has been in Rhode Island: last June when he spoke at the Health & Fitness Fair at R.I.C.; and last Monday, when I was able to ride with him all day to the 10 events he went to in our state. In person, he is the same honest, passionate, funny and compassionate man that you watch on TV. What you see is what you get with Mike Huckabee.
* CARES ABOUT ORDINARY PEOPLE. I am the GOP Chairman in Providence, where I live on the poor side of town. Most of my neighbors are Blacks or Hispanics, many of them 1st-generation immigrants. All of the GOP candidates agree on most issues. But I admire Mike Huckabee's emphasis on remembering that the people served by our government are "real human beings". In his career as a minister, and as Governor & Lt. Governor for 12 years, Mike Huckabee has helped ordinary people to deal with day-to-day problems. This is a pretty good background to bring to the Presidency.
* GET GOVERNMENT OFF OUR BACK. Mike Huckabee's plan to abolish the income tax and the IRS is just the change we need. (He would replace it with a sales tax, where people of all incomes would pay no more than what they do now.). Too many decisions in our lives now are based on how tax policy affects them. Under President Huckabee, we will make decisions based on what is best for us as individuals and as citizens.
Let me respond to some questions that people have asked me.
"Isn't this race already over? Why doesn't Mike Huckabee just quit?" The race is not over until some candidate wins 1,191 Delegates, which nobody has done yet. Only 5 months ago, John McCain was dead in the water, and people suggested he get out of the race. To his credit, John McCain refused to quit, and kept on fighting. Now Mike Huckabee is doing the same, and is fighting for what he believes in.
"But isn't Mike Huckabee hurting the eventual nominee's chances of winning in November, by continuing this campaign?" The GOP convention isn't for another 6 months. The election is still 8 months away. If Mike Huckabee quit now, before anybody had clinched the nomination, then the Party's nominee would disappear from the news until September. Just ask Rudy Giuliani what happens when you are out of the news for just 2 months. Mike Huckabee's positive campaign helps whoever the GOP nominee turns out to be (hopefully Mike himself) by continuing this race.
So, if you believe as I do, that MIKE HUCKABEE is the best man for the job of President; and that MIKE HUCKABEE has the best positions on the issues; then join me in voting for MIKE HUCKABEE on Tuesday.
Dave Talan is the chairman of Providence's City Republican Committee.
Insight from a Chronicler of Obama's Rise
Todd Spivak was a local reporter for a small newspaper in Chicago when Barack Obama first came onto the scene. In this story, he describes how both he and Obama came of age in their professions at about the same time and, more importantly, gives his perspective on the rise of Obama from legislator to Presidential candidate in 7 years. (For more on Obama's early years--and some of the contacts he made--read John Fund's latest in the WSJ). Here are some extended excerpts from Spivak's story.
First, on his perception of Obama, then and now:
My view of Obama then wasn't all that different from the image he projects now. He was smart, confident, charismatic and liberal. One thing I can say is, I never heard him launch into the preacher-man voice he now employs during speeches. He sounded vanilla, and activists in his mostly black district often chided him for it.On Obama's record as an Illinois legislator and how he went from greenhorn legislator to candidate for Senator of Illinois.
When asked about his legislative record, Obama rattles off several bills he sponsored as an Illinois lawmaker.On how Obama served his legislative district:
He expanded children's health insurance; made the state Earned Income Tax Credit refundable for low-income families; required public bodies to tape closed-door meetings to make government more transparent; and required police to videotape interrogations of homicide suspects.
And the list goes on.
It's a lengthy record filled with core liberal issues. But what's interesting, and almost never discussed, is that he built his entire legislative record in Illinois in a single year.
Republicans controlled the Illinois General Assembly for six years of Obama's seven-year tenure. Each session, Obama backed legislation that went nowhere; bill after bill died in committee. During those six years, Obama, too, would have had difficulty naming any legislative achievements.
Then, in 2002, dissatisfaction with President Bush and Republicans on the national and local levels led to a Democratic sweep of nearly every lever of Illinois state government....Emil Jones Jr., a gravel-voiced, dark-skinned African-American known for chain-smoking cigarettes on the Senate floor [became Illinois Senate majority leader]....He represented a district on the Chicago South Side not far from Obama's. He became Obama's kingmaker.
Several months before Obama announced his U.S. Senate bid, Jones called his old friend Cliff Kelley, a former Chicago alderman who now hosts the city's most popular black call-in radio program....
"He said, 'Cliff, I'm gonna make me a U.S. Senator.'"
"Oh, you are? Who might that be?"
Jones appointed Obama sponsor of virtually every high-profile piece of legislation, angering many rank-and-file state legislators who had more seniority than Obama and had spent years championing the bills.
"I took all the beatings and insults and endured all the racist comments over the years from nasty Republican committee chairmen," State Senator Rickey Hendon, the original sponsor of landmark racial profiling and videotaped confession legislation yanked away by Jones and given to Obama, complained to me at the time. "Barack didn't have to endure any of it, yet, in the end, he got all the credit.
"I don't consider it bill jacking," Hendon told me. "But no one wants to carry the ball 99 yards all the way to the one-yard line, and then give it to the halfback who gets all the credit and the stats in the record book."
During his seventh and final year in the state Senate, Obama's stats soared. He sponsored a whopping 26 bills passed into law — including many he now cites in his presidential campaign when attacked as inexperienced.
It was a stunning achievement that started him on the path of national politics — and he couldn't have done it without Jones.
Before Obama ran for U.S. Senate in 2004, he was virtually unknown even in his own state. Polls showed fewer than 20 percent of Illinois voters had ever heard of Barack Obama.
Jones further helped raise Obama's profile by having him craft legislation addressing the day-to-day tragedies that dominated local news headlines.
For instance. Obama sponsored a bill banning the use of the diet supplement ephedra, which killed a Northwestern University football player, and another one preventing the use of pepper spray or pyrotechnics in nightclubs in the wake of the deaths of 21 people during a stampede at a Chicago nightclub. Both stories had received national attention and extensive local coverage.
I spoke to Jones earlier this week and he confirmed his conversation with Kelley, adding that he gave Obama the legislation because he believed in Obama's ability to negotiate with Democrats and Republicans on divisive issues.
On the stump, Obama has frequently invoked his experiences as a community organizer on the Chicago South Side in the early 1990s, when he passed on six-figure salary offers at corporate law firms after graduating from Harvard Law School to direct a massive voter-registration drive.On some of Obama's campaign tactics:
But, as a state senator, Obama evaded leadership on a host of critical community issues, from historic preservation to the rapid demolition of nearby public-housing projects, according to many South Siders.
Harold Lucas, a veteran South Side community organizer who remembers when Obama was "just a big-eared kid fresh out of school," says he didn't finally decide to support Obama's presidential bid until he was actually inside the voting booth on Super Tuesday.
"I'm not happy about the quality of life in my community," says Lucas, who now heads a black-heritage tourism business in Chicago. "As a local elected official, he had a primary role in that."
...Obama's aloofness on key community issues for years frustrated Lucas and many other South Siders. Now they believe he was just afraid of making political enemies or being pigeonholed as a black candidate. Lucas says he has since become an ardent Obama supporter.
"His campaign has built a momentum of somebody being born to the moment," Lucas says. "He truly gives the perception that he could possibly pull us all together around being American again. And the hope of that is worth the risk when you look at the other candidates. I mean, you can't get away from old school when you look at Hillary."
...Though it didn't make national news, Obama inflamed many residents in his old state Senate district last March when he endorsed controversial Chicago alderman Dorothy Tillman in a runoff election.
Flamboyant and unpredictable, Tillman is perhaps best known for once pulling a pistol from her purse and brandishing it around at a city council meeting. The ward she represented for 22 years, which included historic Bronzeville, comprised the city's largest concentration of vacant lots.
Just three months before Obama made his endorsement, the Lakefront Outlook community newspaper ran a three-part investigative series exposing flagrant cronyism and possible tax-law violations that centered on Tillman and her biggest pet project, a taxpayer-funded cultural center built across the street from her ward office that had been hemorrhaging money since its inception.
The series won a national George Polk Award, among the most coveted prizes in journalism. Not bad for a 12-page rag with a circulation of 12,000 and no Web site.
Obama has spent his entire political career trying to win the next step up. Every three years, he has aspired to a more powerful political position.On the early strain of Obamamania
He was just 35 when in 1996 he won his first bid for political office. Even many of his staunchest supporters, such as [Timuel] Black [historian and City Colleges of Chicago professor emeritus who lived in Obama's state Senate district], still resent the strong-arm tactics Obama employed to win his seat in the Illinois Legislature.
Obama hired fellow Harvard Law alum and election law expert Thomas Johnson to challenge the nominating petitions of four other candidates, including the popular incumbent, Alice Palmer, a liberal activist who had held the seat for several years, according to an April 2007 Chicago Tribune report.
Obama found enough flaws in the petition sheets — to appear on the ballot, candidates needed 757 signatures from registered voters living within the district — to knock off all the other Democratic contenders. He won the seat unopposed.
"A close examination of Obama's first campaign clouds the image he has cultivated throughout his political career," wrote Tribune political reporters David Jackson and Ray Long. "The man now running for president on a message of giving a voice to the voiceless first entered public office not by leveling the playing field, but by clearing it."
I moved to Springfield in early 2004 to work for the Illinois Times, where I covered Obama's U.S. Senate bid.On deciding to clear his conscience, doing a more thorough report on Obama and suffering the consequences.
My first assignment was to profile Obama, who was largely unknown in central Illinois.
In fact, at that time just four years ago, Obama was still largely unknown even in his own community.
I followed Obama one wintry morning as he visited several black churches on Chicago's South Side urging people to vote for him in the upcoming primary. Congregants greeted him with lukewarm applause.
I noted in my article that one lady sitting in a pew beside me was noticeably impressed with the young man, and asked to borrow my pen. She wrote on her church pamphlet, "Obama, March 16," then underlined the date.
Over the years, most of my interviews with Obama were conducted by phone. So it felt good when he immediately recognized me and shouted my name from the end of a long, empty hallway inside the church after his speech.
After all, I admired the guy — and still do.
We shook hands and walked outside together. I asked some questions and snapped some pictures before a dark-blue Chevrolet Suburban with tinted windows whisked him off to another congregation less than a mile away. I followed behind in my beat-up Oldsmobile.
My story ran on the cover of the Illinois Times. The more I thought about it, though, the more I thought it was fluff. Obama's own public-relations flack could have produced something comparable.
At the time, the Illinois media had fallen head-over-heels in love with Obama and his squeaky-clean image. "As pedigrees go, there is not a finer one among the Democratic candidates," the Chicago Tribune gushed in its endorsement.
"He's been given a pass," says Harold Lucas, the community organizer in Chicago. "His career has been such a meteoric rise that he has not had the time to set a record."
A week after my profile of Obama was published, I called some of my contacts in the Illinois Legislature. I ran through a list of black Chicago lawmakers who had worked with Obama, and was surprised to learn that many resented him and had supported other candidates in the U.S. Senate election.
"Anybody but Obama," the late state Representative Lovana Jones told me at the time.
State Representative Monique Davis, who attended the same church as Obama and co-sponsored several bills with him, also did not support his candidacy. She complained of feeling overshadowed by Obama.
"I was snubbed," Davis told me. "I felt he was shutting me out of history."
In a follow-up report published a couple weeks later, I wrote about these disgruntled black legislators and the central role Senate President Emil Jones played in Obama's revived political life.
The morning after the story was posted online, I arrived early at my new offices. I hadn't taken my coat off when the phone rang. It was Obama....
He said the black legislators I cited in the story were off-base, and that they couldn't have gotten the bills passed without him.
I started to speak, and he shouted me down.
He said he liked the other story I wrote.
I asked if there was anything factually inaccurate about the latest story.
He repeated that his former colleagues couldn't have passed the bills without him.
He asked why I wrote this story, then cut me off when I started to answer.
He said he should have been given a chance to respond.
I told him I had requested an interview through his communications director.
He said I should have called his cell phone.
I reminded him that he had asked me months ago to stop calling his cell phone due to his busier schedule.
He said again that I should have called his cell phone.
Today I no longer have Obama's cell phone number. I submitted two formal requests to interview Obama for this story through his Web site, but have not heard back. I also e-mailed interview requests to three of his top staffers, but none responded.
Maybe he'll call the day after this story runs. I'll get to the office early just in case. And this time I'll have my recorder ready.
Change You Actually Can't Believe In
One hears it all around, from radio-show hosts to blog commenters to acquaintances, or perhaps feels it personally: the hint of a sense that maybe Obama's worth a try. Oh, there are rationalizations, whether a cynical desire for entertainment, a curiosity over dice to be rolled, or even a scheme to let the whole unsustainable bomb of left-drifting government policy explode in his face, rather than a Republican's. Some such considerations have merit (I'm particularly susceptible to the anybody-but-Hillary ploy), but let's not proceed blindly.
It's become the common wisdom that Obama is all rhetoric, no substance like those Bill Clinton SOTU addresses that promised everything to everybody but one can fill in his blanks. From his op-ed in yesterday's Providence Journal:
We also have to be clear that the American dream must never come at the expense of the American family. But even as politicians in Washington talk about family values, we haven't had policies that value families. As the son of a single mother, I don't accept an America that forces women to choose between their kids and their careers. That's why I'll expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover millions of additional Americans. We need to make sure you can take leave to care for elderly parents, and to join school activities with your kids.
We also need to expand paid leave. Today, 78 percent of workers covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act don't take leave because it isn't paid. And this has a far greater impact on families with less income and less savings. To make sure our system is fair, I will press states to adopt paid-leave systems, and set aside $1.5 billion to fund the start-up costs and help states offset the costs to employers. And I'll require employers to provide all of their workers with seven paid sick days a year, because you shouldn't be punished for being sick.
With this, we have a taste of the socialist change promised by Candidate Barack: Government burdens sold to the masses at the expense of their employers, favoring the accommodation of poor choices (such as single motherhood), rather than encouraging citizens to change the culture to be more conducive to family life.
The result, which we can predict with near certainty, will be almost the opposite of that intended. Single mothers who are established in their careers won't miss quite so many dance recitals, but young families will find themselves locked in intern limbo (as is happening in France). Public union workers won't even have to negotiate for the benefit of paid time off for parental care, but more average Americans will have to work harder for less money and die before they get to retire.
I'm sure Obama's rhetoric has a universally soothing tone as it flows from beginning to end through the loudspeakers especially with the distraction of feeling part of a happening but slow it to a stop, and we can see just how damaging his reign could be.
March 2, 2008
I just deleted two identical comments one each on the latest posts here and on Dust in the Light peddling the conspiracy that Barack Obama is a packaged "product" of powerful corporations with Republican ties, with the objective of building a nuclear power industry across the nation.
That may be the first political attack spam that I've noticed as such.
Anybody know Karl Rove's IP address?
Give the Money to the Guy with the Carpet
See now, even if one agrees with the dubious proposition that the film industry is particularly worth attracting to Rhode Island, this method of creating incentive is simply wrong:
To qualify for the tax credits, a company has to spend a minimum of $300,000 on production costs that were "directly attributable to activity within the state" on a "feature length film, video, video games, television series or commercial made in Rhode Island, in whole or in part." ...
While the tax credits are not issued until the production is complete, they are a marketable commodity from the beginning. The holder can theoretically pledge the proceeds toward payment of a loan, or wait until the end, and then sell them to people or corporations seeking to reduce their Rhode Island tax liability. Brokers here and beyond boast their expertise in this arena on the Internet.
Say a production company qualifies for $100,000 in tax credits but has no income-tax liability in Rhode Island, it can sell the credits to someone who does.
That taxpayer might pay $85,000 for the opportunity to use those credits to write off $100,000 in tax liability. The production company gets money it otherwise would not have had, and the hypothetical taxpayer in this example has saved a net $15,000 in taxes.
An analysis by the state tax department found the tax credits being purchased by relatively small numbers of people.
The $9.5 million in tax credits generated by Underdog were split among only four taxpayers. At the other end of the spectrum, the $2.6 million in tax credits generated by the feature film Evening was divided among 124 parties.
To date, the credits have been used to reduce personal income tax payments to the state by $25.2 million, and corporate income tax payments by $10.5 million, according to state tax administrator David Sullivan.
A handful of people have emerged as middlemen in the transactions, including Anthony Gudas, a former revenue agent for the state tax department.
Got that? A production company with no Rhode Island tax liability can sell its tax credits for cash money to a broker like former tax agent Gudas, who takes a cut and sells the credit again to an individual or corporation with such a large liability that the credits represent an immediate tax discount. Put another way, the tax can ultimately be credited to somebody who was already going to pay taxes, whether Rhode Island had provided the setting for the movie or not.
That's certainly in keeping with common practice in Rhode Island. Once again, the strategy is all about government types' granting special dispensations (handouts), rather than stepping aside to allow growth.
If we decide, through our representatives, that we want to woo Hollywooden business, we should do so via tax credits to the local companies that the studios use, thus decreasing the ultimate cost to the studios. It would be new income and therefore wouldn't involve muddy calculations of net gain to the state.
Or better yet, we could just make Rhode Island an attractive place to do business all around.
Good Jobs A-Goin'
It would be a shame if this leap-day story were to be washed away in the wave of cycling news:
Rhode Island employers last month shed an estimated 1,700 jobs and the state unemployment rate in January climbed to 5.7 percent, the highest since 1995, according to a government jobs report to be released today.
The state has lost 7,200 jobs during the last 13 months and ended last year with the first annual jobs decline since 2001 the strongest signal yet, economists say, that Rhode Island is at the leading edge of a nationwide recession.
"The U.S. is beginning a recession and it looks like Rhode Island may have gotten a head start," David A. Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poors Corp. in New York, said yesterday.
Rhode Island's unemployment rate last month climbed 0.5 percent, to 5.7 percent compared with 4.9 percent nationwide and the number of unemployed residents in the state hit 32,800, the largest number in more than a decade, according to the state Department of Labor and Training. ...
"Rhode Island has been the weakest economy in New England for some time," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Economy.com, "so I wouldn’t be surprised if it's the first in recession." ...
Rhode Island's latest job numbers released today surprised economists, who were unprepared for such a dramatic reversal. Rhode Island labor officials had previously reported that the state in 2007 gained 3,300 jobs, and now find that the revised data shows 5,200 jobs were lost. ...
In Rhode Island, the revised data show that construction employment, which is closely tied to the housing market, suffered a bigger hit than originally thought. During the last 12 months, the state has lost 2,300 construction jobs, including 600 last month, according to the revised jobs data. Construction job losses now are almost as large as those in the long-declining manufacturing sector, where jobs fell 2,500 during the same 12-month period.
Hey, I've got an idea: let's put forward legislation to attract masses of low-skilled illegal immigrants to our state. It's the compassionate thing to do, after all.
Have you noticed, by the way, that RIFuture has come to be dominated by Obamamania? My impression is that they're wagering that the charmant orator will draw an army of know-nothings to the polls to check the Democrat straight-ticket box, blissfully unaware of the massive damage that they are thereby doing to their state. A few You Tube videos with catchy music and famous people mouthing the syllables "oh-ba-ma," and thousands more Rhode Islanders lose their jobs.
Kerr-azy Education Solutions
Last week's stunner was a feeling of agreement with Bob Kerr:
No summits, no rigorous testing of teachers, can restore what has been lost in too many schools the basic respect for learning and for the place a teacher holds in making good things possible.
Until we can reverse the damage done before some kids even show up for the first day of class, there is little chance that equal opportunity will be the rule in Rhode Island schools.
Of course, disagreement may arise over the symptoms of the "damage done" and would certainly arise over its causes. Some common ground exists:
... at the heart of it all, as always, is the man or woman who prepares a classroom in the morning to welcome students who carry a full load of electronic distractions and social problems through the door. ...
Until we know what it's like to work in an environment where eager participation in class by a student can bring ridicule or worse where text messaging claims more attention than the mathematical equations on the board we will only look silly rushing to judgment.
But what to do about those insidious "social problems"? Experience reading Kerr should lead one to expect the usual: welfare programs, subsidized child and health care, affordable housing programs, laws against discrimination, and so on. In short, the parade of policies that have stood the poor in such good stead, the lessons of dependency, and the sense that things not given are not achievable.
If I may be overly simplistic, the guiding principle of this approach is that material circumstances create culture. Conflicting examples of cultures of varying health and wealth, however, suggest that it is not so. Rather, selective acculturation is the wellspring of opportunity. The hope of "yes you can" is incompatible with the pledge of "here you go." Better to project the message: "this you must."
The kids don't "stare and scribble and scratch and fail" because "their only real failing was being born into lousy circumstances." They've been born into circumstances of which most people throughout history would be envious (the classroom being a central emblem). They sabotage their opportunities because trying involves risk. They mock each other's academic success because if they bring each other down, they can continue to blame the system, the Man, the society for not handing over enough to ensure better circumstances.
And the worst part of the whole scenario is how long that attitude has existed and been readily identifiable. We're into decades, now, and unless we adults find within ourselves the confidence to dictate terms of responsibility, we will continue to damn the kids to lives of staring and scribbling and scratching and failing.
March 1, 2008
Building a Small-Business Onion
Layer upon layer, that is. Wouldn't it be refreshing if Rhode Island's elected officers would seek to solve our problems by relinquishing control rather than expanding their influence? Consider legislation that Representative Gregory Schadone (D, North Providence) proposed this week:
The "Small Business Revolving Loan and Credit Enhancement Fund Act" would offer partial, low-cost loans and purchase credit enhancements to promote the growth of small business in the state. The fund would be created and administered by the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (EDC). ...
Under the legislation, loans can be given to small businesses for up to 25 percent of the total debt required, but cannot exceed $100,000. The EDC can also purchase credit enhancements on behalf of specific businesses, which also cannot exceed $100,000. All loans made by the EDC under the fund would be loaned at a below-market rate.
It's not as if legislators are ignorant of the underlying problems that businesses face:
"The small business community is a viable part of Rhode Island's economic makeup," said Representative Schadone. "Rising costs of employee health benefits and taxes create a difficult environment for small businesses to function to their full capability without some form of assistance."
The folks at the General Assembly just want to reserve the right to dictate terms when it comes to health care and taxes (as well as other areas affecting business, such as workers' comp) and then to layer on government discretion when it comes to dispensing relief from the climate that they have created:
Appropriated funds could not be used for the following purposes: grants, restaurants and professional office buildings, projects that don't attract or retain employment opportunities, nonprofit activities and private or public speculative real estate ventures.
Here's a general principle to keep in mind when entering RI voting booths in the coming elections: The smart leader will realize that Rhode Island needs its government to get out of the way, not to pull the economy even more firmly into its suffocating embrace.
History Carnival 62
For those of you with an interest in what historians blog about, I'm hosting History Carnival 62 over at my side project, Spinning Clio. Please keep in mind that the purpose of the Carnival is to present those items both submitted by others and discovered by the host (me this time around). Generally speaking, if it's submitted, it gets in. But I did put in some things that, I believe, most academic-type history bloggers wouldn't. For instance, I doubt most would have included real discussions about Jonah Goldberg's Liberal Fascism. Anyway, if interested, please peruse.
Attacking the Church in the Name of Freedom
Wielding their new cost-free weapon, radicals continue to attack Christians in Canada:
Catholic Insight, a Canadian magazine known for its fidelity to Church teachings, has been targeted by the Canadian Human Rights Commission for publishing articles deemed offensive to homosexuals.
The commission has been investigating the Toronto-based publication since homosexual activist Rob Wells, a member of the Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Pride Center of Edmonton, filed a nine-point complaint last February with the government agency in which he accuses the magazine of promoting "extreme hatred and contempt" against homosexuals.
Apparently, there are no repercussions for filing frivolous complaints, and the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove his innocence. Welcome to the world of modern tolerance intolerant of speech and increasingly anti-democratic:
The commission is investigating a similar case against the Christian Heritage Party, a political party co-founded by pro-life Catholics and Protestants. The complaint against the party was also initiated by Rob Wells.
Loder is a Libertarian
Huh. Anyone who remembers MTV back when they played those things called "music videos" also knows who Kurt Loder is. Like me, you may be surprised to learn that he's a libertarian. That's what you get when you stereotype people based on their employer. He recently did an interview for Reason here, which is a discussion on technology, the MSM and freedom (among other things). In the interview, Loder is asked about "Rock the Vote" and responded, "It's a Democratic organization set up to speak to children." Heh. There's a suspicion confirmed...Another, "Don't trust anything celebrities say, they're not gonna save anybody's world. Not even their own..."
As an example of Loder calling upon his libertarianism in his work, the interview references Loder's review of Michael Moore's Sicko, which is worth a read.
Stomping Out the Carpet
It was a minor thing, but I opted for a detour, on my way through Newport after work, yesterday, to avoid some movie filming off Bellevue, and it seemed parking in the neighborhood was somewhat more tight than usual. I can well imagine, that is to say, how the Hollywoodsters could disrupt a town for a while. Still, if municipalities are to be compensated for that, legislation put forward by Senator Paul Jabour (D, Providence) is unnecessarily complicated and (to my knowledge) invests the Rhode Island Council on the Arts with a new, not necessarily appropriate, responsibility:
The legislation would impose a 1-percent tax on the gross revenue of films produced in the state. Revenue from the tax on each film would be divided among the Rhode Island cities and towns in which the movie was filmed, allocated in proportion to the amount of money the production company spent in that municipality. The Rhode Island Council on the Arts would be in charge of distributing the funds collected through the tax.
Many Anchor Rising readers are nonplussed, no doubt, by state leaders' concentration on movie-making as a desirable industry to attract to Rhode Island (although there is something mildly neat about its presence). Still, Jabour's bill seems practically designed for maximal dampening of the trend. Why can't cities and towns simply charge an up-front fee to cover police and general disruption?