April 30, 2008

World Famous in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Ian Donnis has a piece in this week's Providence Phoenix exploring the RI blogging scene. The picture of Marc, Andrew, and me having coffee at Starbucks — I hasten to note — is contrived propaganda. It was raining, and we couldn't do the shoot on an aircraft carrier in Newport, so we followed the photographer's suggestion of the Biltmore (which has free WiFi, by the way). Moreover, this photo was sort of an afterthought, so I'd already folded my giant American flag.

A Difference of Ballast

Justin Katz

Yes, unless Ben Stein didn't simply neglect to enunciate a qualifier (such as the one that I've inserted in the following quotation) in which he actually believes, then he may, as Glenn Reynolds puts it, have "completely lost it":

When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers, talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed ... that was horrifying beyond words, and that's where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that's where science [as an ideological locus of meaning and moral guidance] leads you.

The added phrase would certainly be a legitimate response to biologist P.Z. Myers's explanation, in the clip that Stein was referencing, that it was scientific learning that led him away from religious faith, and his hope that science would become the "main course" to the religious "side dish." A more accurate culinary metaphor, from my point of view, would present religion as the set of beliefs and understanding of the world that sets the whys and hows of eating, while science helps one determine what to ingest toward those ends.

Automatically hearing or not hearing such important intellectual foundations as that which Stein conspicuously omitted lays, I believe, the central barrier of this particular dispute. Consider Reynolds:

The Holocaust was not a scientific endeavor, but had its roots in the Nazis' unscientific loathing of the Jews. The Nazis did try to dress up that loathing in scientific dress, but that was a propaganda move, not science. (Indeed, Nazi science, for the most part, was dreadful science, made up by people to suit their preexisting beliefs without actual resort to the scientific method.)

And (via him), Ed Morrissey:

Science does not lead to Dachau; ideology perverting science led to Dachau. The Holocaust occurred when raving anti-Semites and materialists latched onto scientific theory as a philosophy, making it into a rationalization for what they would have done regardless.

Reynolds elides the reality that the trappings of science make for effective propaganda, and Morrissey is too quick to treat science as a passive body of knowledge, as opposed to a mode of thought that can have an effect on the thinker. It is an error to suppose that science can define, explain, and qualify everything that is important in life — or even just important in intellectual inquiry — but the implications, when once that error has been made, do lend themselves to dangerous conclusions. The lack of an anchor against tides of explicability and direction facilitates rationalization of ghastly experimentation and application.

Something similar can be said in general of religion, of course, and science is among the anchors to prevent that particular drift. The danger of current polemics is that the distance between us will grow as we pick and choose which types of ballast we may permissibly jettison. And we do well to grant a benefit of the doubt to those of the other side when — in one-take broadcast conversation — they appear to have left some disclaimers unsaid.

Pure Politics as Usual

Justin Katz

It is simply not possible that a reasonable person acting out of a desire for mutual, productive dialog could attempt to paint an extremely recent executive order pertaining to illegal immigration from a relatively powerless governor as a contributing factor in our current economic crisis.

The strategy is transparent and disturbing: push policies that benefit a narrow range of special interests, then blame attempts at reform for the calamity that years of such pushing have wrought. One wonders whether Rhode Island's Progressives will keep pushing their poison until the last family in Rhode Island has moved or starved, or whether they'll flee for sunnier climes when even their carefully funneled largess begins to dry up.

Voting for Your Family

Justin Katz

I've been saying for years that we with eyes to see should attempt to explain to our fellow Rhode Islanders that their voting habits must change if they wish to keep their families together. A vote for the same old legislators is a vote for your son or daughter to move out of state in the search for work. That's also a conclusion in Edward Mazze's column, yesterday, which gives one the sense that ideas on general principles for moving forward are beginning to coalesce:

The outlook for jobs for the remainder of 2008 is bleak. For March, the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training announced a decline of 3,100 jobs, which increased the state's unemployment rate to 6.1 percent. This is the highest unemployment rate in the region and the highest unemployment rate in Rhode Island since August 1995. In February and March, employment losses were reported in almost every industry sector in the state. It currently looks like no new net jobs will be created in Rhode Island in 2008. ...

The solutions include making Rhode Island more fiscally responsible and job creation the focus of Rhode Island's economic programs. The graduating class of 2008, as in past years, will have to seek employment in other states since there will be few jobs in Rhode Island available to them.

In recent years, there has been more job destruction (jobs lost due to business contraction, closure or out-migration) than job creation in Rhode Island. The net job-creation rate has been the highest among smaller businesses, while it has been negative at larger businesses. ...

The objective is to make the state business friendly. This goal can be accomplished by a sweeping reform of the state's tax policy, changing those policies that slow down business activities such as permitting, and changing legislation and policies that prevent individuals from entering specific trades by requiring long-term apprenticeships. Rhode Island must continue to develop a one-stop place for businesses to go for permitting, tax information and support services to create less red tape.

Mitigating the College Oversell

Justin Katz

Our society appears to be in the process of deciding that college oughtn't be a foregone conclusion for every young American. Indeed, Marty Nemko calls the Bachelor's degree "America's Most Overrated Product":

Even worse, most of those college dropouts leave the campus having learned little of value, and with a mountain of debt and devastated self-esteem from their unsuccessful struggles. Perhaps worst of all, even those who do manage to graduate too rarely end up in careers that require a college education. So it's not surprising that when you hop into a cab or walk into a restaurant, you're likely to meet workers who spent years and their family's life savings on college, only to end up with a job they could have done as a high-school dropout.

Such students are not aberrations. Today, amazingly, a majority of the students whom colleges admit are grossly underprepared. Only 23 percent of the 1.3 million high-school graduates of 2007 who took the ACT examination were ready for college-level work in the core subjects of English, math, reading, and science.

Perhaps more surprising, even those high-school students who are fully qualified to attend college are increasingly unlikely to derive enough benefit to justify the often six-figure cost and four to six years (or more) it takes to graduate. Research suggests that more than 40 percent of freshmen at four-year institutions do not graduate in six years. Colleges trumpet the statistic that, over their lifetimes, college graduates earn more than nongraduates, but that's terribly misleading. You could lock the collegebound in a closet for four years, and they'd still go on to earn more than the pool of non-collegebound — they're brighter, more motivated, and have better family connections.

College can be a rewarding and edifying experience, if the student is determined to make it one. The average family should raise the question around the dinner table, however, with the understanding that the right answer can be "not necessary." If, after a few years of life in the workforce, the young adult concludes that higher education would represent time well spent, then by that very thought process, the conclusion is more apt to prove true.

April 29, 2008

Time to Re-Tort

Monique Chartier

A caller to WPRO's Matt Allen Show today came up with the idea of charging a fee for every bill that a Rhode Island legislator wishes to file. Matt suggested $500 a pop, to be deducted from the legislator's annual salary.

In view of the many look-at-me, pointlessly distracting bills that are filed every session, that strikes me as a fine idea and one that I would not modify so much as amplify. In addition to the above stick, a carrot: for each bill filed by a legislator which either removes an existing bad law from the books or would move Rhode Island in the right direction on one of the many bad lists that we are on, a bounty of $250.

It appears that such a bounty could be put to good use in the area of tort reform. Rhode Island ranks last in the area of tort liability. [Page 54 of this link.]

But isn't this good? Doesn't this mean that justice is being done? Well, yes and no. Disproportionate awards are not usually bravely shouldered alone by the losing defendant. They are passed on to the consumer in several ways. So they cost us all money in the form of higher prices or higher insurance premiums. Excessive tort liability is also a contributing factor to our state's stinky business climate. [You know, the climate that has bestowed a recession on us - as Justin points out, the only state so far in the Northeast to get one.]

Once again, averageness - that is my fairly modest aspiration for the state of Rhode Island. In the area of tort liability, neither crusaders nor corporate hatchetmen. Just to be in the middle of the pack on this and the other unfortunate lists that we are on.

So Many Ways to Go Wrong

Justin Katz

Welcome to the small-world reality of gay Westerner commercial baby creation outsourced to the third world:

Yonatan Gher and his partner, who are Israeli, plan eventually to tell their child about being made in India, in the womb of a stranger, with the egg of a Mumbai housewife they picked from an Internet lineup.

The embryo was formed in January in an Indian fertility clinic about 2,500 miles from the couple’s home in Tel Aviv, produced by doctors who have begun specializing in surrogacy services for couples from around the world.

"The child will know early on that he or she is unique, that it came into the world in a very special way," said Mr. Gher, 29, a communications officer for the environmental group Greenpeace.

An enterprise known as reproductive outsourcing is a new but rapidly expanding business in India. Clinics that provide surrogate mothers for foreigners say they have recently been inundated with requests from the United States and Europe, as word spreads of India’s mix of skilled medical professionals, relatively liberal laws and low prices.

Commercial surrogacy, which is banned in some states and some European countries, was legalized in India in 2002. The cost comes to about $25,000, roughly a third of the typical price in the United States. That includes the medical procedures; payment to the surrogate mother, which is often, but not always, done through the clinic; plus air tickets and hotels for two trips to India (one for the fertilization and a second to collect the baby). ...

So far, for the Israeli couple, the experience of having a baby has been strangely virtual. They perused profiles of egg donors that were sent by e-mail ("We picked the one with the highest level of education," Mr. Gher said). From information that followed, they rejected a factory worker in favor of a housewife, who they thought would have a less stressful lifestyle.

Mr. Gher posts updates about the process on Facebook. And soon the clinic will start sending ultrasound images of their developing child by e-mail. Highly pixelated, blown-up passport photos of the egg donor and surrogate mother adorn a wall of their apartment in Israel.

And everybody will act surprised when a dark underbelly emerges. On we lurch.

Being the Savior Nation

Justin Katz

Front-page headline in the Sunday Providence Journal: "U.S. slow to react to food crisis." Page A13 detail (emphasis added):

But administration officials and legislative aides acknowledge that they have only recently begun to focus on the severity of the problem, and humanitarian groups fear that assistance from the United States, which already supplies about half of the world's total food aid, may come too late to provide much benefit in the near term.

It seems that we only find out about our positive international involvement deep in an accusatory context. (Although, of course, how and by whose authority we offer such aid is a whole 'nother topic.)

Cuts for Thee but not for Me

Marc Comtois

Sure, it may be an easy mark, but just because they make it easy, doesn't mean it shouldn't be noted:

During their marathon House budget-cutting debate last Friday, lawmakers talked again and again about the need to “share the burden” and “share the pain.”

But they decided to spare themselves from making any contribution to their own 100-percent state-paid health insurance.

For several days last week, House leaders talked among themselves about possibly proposing an amendment to the big midyear budget-cutting bill that cleared the House on Friday. It would have required all 38 senators and 75 House members who elect to take the benefit to do what some are already doing voluntarily — that is, pay 10 percent of the cost.

But they backed off in response to reported opposition from Senate Democrats during a rare — and unannounced — closed-door caucus at the State House Thursday night.

Way to "share the pain." Oh, sure, they might "revisit" it next time around. And it's true that some are forking over a voluntary 10% co-share. But then you have the others who take the $2,000 and change buyout (the ProJo names names). How noble.....Well, here's an idea, how about not taking it at all? According to the ProJo, that'd save around $1.4 million.

Sheldon Whitehouse, Man of the People

Marc Comtois

Is this a sign that today's tough economic times are affecting even the ultra-rich liberal set?

That For Sale sign on the front lawn of Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s Elmgrove Avenue house in Providence is not an optical illusion. The senator and his wife, Sandra, are selling the house and consolidating their family at their house on Carroll Avenue in Newport, which the Whitehouses have long used as a summer place. Daughter Molly Whitehouse is a student at Yale University and son Alexander Whitehouse is attending boarding school, so Sheldon and Sandra Whitehouse will be empty-nesters this fall. The family has not purchased a house in Washington, D.C.; Sheldon Whitehouse is still bunking in with an aunt who owns a house in the District of Columbia when the Senate is in session.
Tough times indeed!

Number One, in a Bad Way

Justin Katz

This gave at least a brief reprieve in a feeling of having company:

WHATEVER YOU TAX — and excessive regulation may also be viewed as a tax, since it forces companies to shell out money that might better be spent elsewhere — disappears, including, in the long run, revenues collected by the tax.

This is what is happening in Connecticut. The current budget is about $16 billion, slouching towards $18 billion; that's more than twice the bottom-line figure of the last pre-income-tax budget. Taxpayers and taxed companies are disappearing.

But then, the next day brought this:

Rhode Island stands alone as the only Northeastern state "in recession," according to economists who reported today that the state's economy hasn't been this bad in nearly two decades.

The Ocean State's employment figures, its foreclosure rates, and personal income growth are worse than its neighbors and national averages.

Rhode Island is one of just nine states in recession -- the next closest is Ohio -- while Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut have growing economies, according to Steve Cochrane, senior managing director for Economy.com, which is owned by Moody's Investors Service.

"Clearly, in the northeast, Rhode Island is a picture of weakness," Cochrane said. ...

Why did Rhode Island fare so poorly, given that most of the country has been hurt by the subprime mortgage crisis and subsequent credit crunch?

Cochrane cited these primary factors:

Rhode Island is losing population at a rate that he likened to the exodus in Silicon Valley after the dot-com bust. People returned to Silicon Valley, he said. But there's no evidence to suggest that Rhode Island will soon increase its pool of potential taxpayers and consumers.

Cochrane notes that our size — as, essentially, a one-metropolitan-area state — means that we don't have the opportunity for balance, but that could just as easily be a positive on the upswing. To ensure that upswing, step one would be a voter-driven startlingly high turnover rate in the General Assembly. As the guy said, though, "there's no evidence to suggest that Rhode Island will soon" find its way out of this mess.

Supreme Court Rules on Voter Identification

Monique Chartier

The New York Times is predicting gloom, doom and lawsuits as far as the eye can see. But anyone who values honest elections is breaking out the champagne to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court's 6-3 ruling yesterday which upheld Indiana's voter i.d. law, a law which is hopefully coming soon to a polling place near you.

From the Indianapolis Star:

“States should have the ability to implement appropriate and constitutional steps to protect their electoral systems from fraud,” Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter said in response. “We can move forward in Indiana with a process that provides constitutional protections to its citizens protecting their vote from potential fraudulent activity.”

While the ruling creates a precedent for other states to pass similar laws, it will also have an immediate impact specifically in Indiana as it was handed down just in time for that state's presidential primary.

The ruling means the ID requirement will be in effect for next week's presidential primary in Indiana, where a significant number of new voters are expected to turn out for the Democratic contest between Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama.

The results could say something about the effect of the law, either because a large number of voters will lack identification and be forced to cast provisional ballots or because the number turns out to be small.

April 28, 2008

Recent Border Enforcement Activity (Not Always at the Border)

Monique Chartier

The Department of Homeland Security posts on their website updated information of border enforcement activity.

Coast Guard Repatriates 24 Dominicans, 1 Colombian

April 22, 2008 (San Juan, Puerto Rico) - The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Chincoteague repatriated a Colombian and 24 Dominican migrants to La Romana, Dominican Republic, following an at-sea interdiction by Department of Homeland Security law enforcement authorities. More at USCG.mil

ICE Agents Arrest More than 300 Poultry Processing Employees

April 17, 2008 (Dallas, Tex.) - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested more than 300 foreign national workers at Pilgrim's Pride plants in five states who are suspected of committing identity theft and other criminal violations in order to obtain their jobs. More at ICE.gov

ICE Arrests 11 for Harboring, Detains 45 Illegal Aliens

April 16, 2008 (Buffalo, N.Y.) - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents detained 45 illegal aliens at 10 different sites and arrested 11 individuals for conspiring to harbor illegal aliens who were smuggled into the United States to work in Mexican restaurants in four states. This operation involved approximately 130 ICE agents and 30 state and local law enforcement officers and began in May 2006. More at ICE.gov

Coast Guard Cutter Crew Rescues, Repatriates 247 Haitian Migrants

April 15, 2008 (Miami, Fla.) - The crew of the Portsmouth, Va.-based Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane repatriated 247 Haitian migrants to Cap-Haitien, Haiti. More at USCG.mil

Senator Barack Obama: Republicans Have Better Ideas on Education

Carroll Andrew Morse

From yesterday's Fox News Sunday...

Chris Wallace: Over the years, John McCain has broken with his party and risked his career on a number of issues, campaign finance, immigration reform, banning torture. As a president, can you name a hot button issue where you would be willing to cross (ph) Democratic party line and say you know what, Republicans have a better idea here.

Senator Barack Obama: Well, I think there are a whole host of areas where Republicans in some cases may have a better idea.

CW: Such as.

BO: Well, on issues of regulation, I think that back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, a lot of the way we regulated industry was top down command and control. We’re going to tell businesses exactly how to do things...

And I think that the Republican party and people who thought about the margins (ph) came with the notion that you know what, if you simply set some guidelines, some rules and incentives for businesses, let them figure out how they’re going to for example reduce pollution. And a cap and trade system, for example, is a smarter way of doing it, controlling pollution, than dictating every single rule that a company has to abide by, which creates a lot of bureaucracy and red tape and oftentimes is less efficient.

I think that on issues of education, I have been very clear about the fact, and sometimes I have gotten in trouble with the teachers union on this, that we should be experimenting with charter schools. We should be experimenting with different ways of compensating teachers. That –

CW: You mean merit pay?

BO: Well, merit pay, the way it has been designed I think that is based on just single standardized I think is a big mistake, because the way we measure performance may be skewed by whether or not the kids are coming in the school already three years or four years behind.

But I think that having assessment tools and then saying, you know what, teachers who are on career paths to become better teachers, developing themselves professionally, that we should pay excellence more. I think that’s a good idea...

Just Say No to Ethanol

Monique Chartier

From a New York Times editorial almost two months ago:

The world’s food situation is bleak, and shortsighted policies in the United States and other wealthy countries — which are diverting crops to environmentally dubious biofuels — bear much of the blame.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the price of wheat is more than 80 percent higher than a year ago, and corn prices are up by a quarter. Global cereal stocks have fallen to their lowest level since 1982.

* * *

Yet the most important reason for the price shock is the rich world’s subsidized appetite for biofuels. In the United States, 14 percent of the corn crop was used to produce ethanol in 2006 — a share expected to reach 30 percent by 2010. This is also cutting into production of staples like soybeans, as farmers take advantage of generous subsidies and switch crops to corn for fuel.

In addition to the impact on food supplies and prices which is contributing to riots and starvation in certain countries, ethanol has ultimately proven not to be an acceptable substitute for fossil fuels.

> Calculations of the amount of energy ultimately produced range from negative to at most 34% more energy than ethanol consumes in its own production and delivery. And all of the 64% is fossil fuel. This equation alone renders ethanol a questionable propostion.

> Compounding the energy-yield problem is the fact that a vehicle's fuel efficiency is reduced by 20% - 30% when it runs ethanol.

> In addition to energy, ethanol production consumes water. It also creates dead zones in water bodies (Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, etc.) due to the run-off of fertilizer.

> Finally, the ultimate insult: the burning of ethanol actually poses a greater risk to public health than does the burning of petroleum products.

It was a good experiment and well-intended. But the results are in. Ethanol is a non-starter. Congress must end ethanol mandates.

April 27, 2008

A Kinder, Gentler Nation

Justin Katz

Just after headlines concerning the large American prison population and my slap-dash finding that Americans don't like criminals and feel very safe comes an interesting editorial report from BBC North America Editor Justin Webb:

What surprises the British tourists is that, in areas of the US that look and feel like suburban Britain, there is simply less crime and much less violent crime.

Doors are left unlocked, public telephones unbroken.

One reason - perhaps the overriding reason - is that there is no public drunkenness in polite America, simply none.

I have never seen a group of drunk young people in the entire six years I have lived here. I travel a lot and not always to the better parts of town.

It is an odd fact that a nation we associate - quite properly - with violence is also so serene, so unscarred by petty crime, so innocent of brawling.

Glenn Reynolds credits our high level of gun ownership, but I'd suggest that the cause and effect relationships are more intricate.

The Bishop on Immigration

Justin Katz

Bishop Thomas Tobin's latest Without a Doubt column (still not yet online), which he frames as a Q&A on the Church's teachings with respect to [illegal] immigration, avoids the questions in which Roman Catholics who disagree with the bishop are most interested. Indeed, the answers stop frustratingly short of the actual dispute, veering aside with everything following the "instead" :

Does the Church promote and support illegal immigration?

"No. The Catholic Church does not support or encourage illegal immigration because 1) it is contrary to federal law and 2) it is not good either for society because of the presence of a large population living outside the legal structures or the migrant ... Instead, the Church is advocating changing a broken law so that undocumented persons can obtain legal status in our country and enter the United States legally to work and support their families." (USCCB Statement on Comprehensive Immigration Reform)

In short, illegal immigration is a bad deal for everyone — for our country and its citizens, for legal immigrants, and for those who have entered the country illegally.

The faithful are left with no guidance as to the view of the Conference of Catholic Bishops regarding the number of "undocumented persons" permitted to "enter the United States legally," or even the criteria and emphases that ought to be considered as public representatives determine the specifics. If the law is "broken," it sounds an awful lot as if the bishops believe fixing it means turning it into little more than a means of processing applications, not of judging civic value.

Yes, the response is easy to anticipate: It isn't the place of a government to judge the value of a human being. But that's clearly a dodge. All human beings are of equal value in an absolute sense, but some bring more to the table, or are just a better fit for current socio-economic needs of the nation. As an employer, the Church judges between candidates for particular jobs and does not tangle itself into moral knots deciding whether it is making a declaration of their inherent worth.

And so the debate goes on, with the bishop sounding more like a voice for one side of a political dispute than a beacon through which all sides can find their way out of contentious circumstances:

Immigrants who came to our land without proper documentation did so, in most cases, for positive reasons.

How does Bishop Tobin respond to we who find something stealthy in his presentation of such immigration as a matter of misplaced paperwork? Illegal immigrants didn't merely fail to file the appropriate documents; they didn't receive permission, and I suspect, if pressed, the bishop might concede that such permission is the right (the responsibility) of a political entity to grant and, sometimes, to deny.

A Problem of Scope

Justin Katz

John McDaid rightly tweaks me for my overly hasty reaction to Berkshire Advisors' audit of the Portsmouth school district. The report is thorough, thoughtful, and likely enlightening for employees of the district... within its scope.

In large part, my complaint still stands. Indeed, John begins a related post on his own blog thus:

There is nothing wrong with the Portsmouth schools that a few tweaks and more money can't fix. That was the message last night from the consulting firm Berkshire Advisors after their months-long performance audit of the school department.

Well, gee.

As helpful as the individual suggestions may be, a comparative analysis of Portsmouth versus Barrington, Smithfield, Tiverton, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Middletown, South Kingstown, and Exeter-West Greenwich is inherently limited in scope. So, for instance, we do get the insight that the teachers' contracts require the district to spend too much of its purchased teacher-time on preparation and departmental administration, but this intriguing statement is left floating:

Many parents are concerned about the lack of opportunities for gifted and talented and high achieving children. In fact, in focus groups some parents reported moving their children who are gifted and talented to private schools while continuing to enroll their children with special needs in the Portsmouth schools.

I suspect that a survey of Portsmouth residents with children in private school would provide some very interesting feedback in this area. To what degree, for example, do Rhode Island schools lose their most promising students — whose participation teachers would most definitely value in "inclusion classrooms" — because parents perceive public schools to be mainly a drag on their opportunities?

How, for another example, does the school department's provision of "high quality education to Portsmouth students with limited resources" compare, not with some nearby districts, but with private schools within the town's own borders? How does the quality compare? How the resources?

Those who follow public happenings in Rhode Island may be inclined to see the report in quite another context: the tendency of officials and representatives to stop their inquiries just short of the line at which the tough questions and tougher decisions begin to come into view.

April 26, 2008

National Day of Silence

Monique Chartier

Yesterday, students across the U.S. and in Rhode Island participated in National Day of Silence, taking an oath of silence for a day or part of a day to bring attention to the harassment of gays and lesbians.

From the Providence Journal:

... at least 29 public and private high schools participated in Rhode Island. This year’s event honored Lawrence King, a 15-year-old California student who was shot and killed in February by a classmate because of King’s sexual orientation.

At Feinstein, students and a smattering of teachers wore gray T-shirts that said, “Silence is the most powerful scream” and “58,000 — the number of homophobic slurs you’ll hear by the time you graduate from high school.”

The Day of Silence challenged students to think about their own behavior. When a classmate uses an anti-gay slur, do you speak out and run the risk of being ridiculed or harassed or do you remain silent?

While expressing indifference to orientation and "what people do in the bedroom", WPRO's Matt Allen in his show today questioned whether schools should not be more focused on the three r's. In response, a teacher called in to defend the exercise and point out that participation by students was voluntary.

Let us now separate out the matter of orientation. The issue is not whether gays of all ages should live free of harassment; of course they should. Questions raised pertain rather to the mechanism or authority by which such a day in our secondary public schools was arranged: who decided that, phrasing this as positively as possible, students would be availed of the opportunity to participate in such a day of recognition and also ensured that the student population was made aware of the details of this opportunity? What was the criteria by which the cause to be championed was selected?

These details are important as questions in their own right. But answers to them are requisite also to a compilation of a list of proposed Days of Silence. (Additions to the list are welcome.)

- In tolerance of religion.

- For promotion of the qualities of hard work and responsibility.

- Encouraging respect and recognition of the hard work and sacrifice of men and women in our military.

- For awareness and prevention of teen pregnancy.

- And the corollary to that last: in recognition of the importance of the father in a child's life.

Participation would be voluntary, of course. To whom do we submit our list?

What a Crock

Justin Katz

Pat Crowley's complaints about a letter that Governor Carcieri apparently sent to Bob Walsh, Crowley's NEA boss, are transparently two-faced in so many ways that I won't enumerate them. Simply put, the idea that Walsh would respond otherwise than with the mind-numbing reply that Crowley publishes is laughable. It is, let's just say, improbable that the scene in the office was of Walsh demanding that Crowley come to his office, closing the door behind him, and lecturing him about the messes that he gets the organization in. More likely, the message from above was more akin to: "You must be doing something right." The governor's office surely understood as much.

The tragedy of the matter is that opportunity exists for a more profitable discourse. For a taste of the light so thoroughly extinguished, consider a comment to Crowley's post by Mike in RI:

It's precisely posts like this Pat that should cause concern. Why the hostility? I care very much about what you have to say publicly because I do believe you represent teachers. As a teacher I watch carefully the public statements and behavior of anyone who speaks on the topic of education. You Pat seem more than eager to stir the controversial pot, and therefore you are sure to garner more attention from teachers. I haven't seen any letters-to-the-editor from Marcia Reback picking a fight with the governor publicly, calling his wife a racist, or sharing her opinions about the Catholic church. She hasn't picketed local businesses, or flipped off those with whom she disagrees. If she had I would be sharing my thoughts with her personally. As an RIFT member it is my dues that pay her salary. You are NEA Pat, so I am not afforded that opportunity.

Feel free to review each and every one of my comments on this blog or any other. You will find that none of them were ever made during the time when school was in session. As a public employee, I feel it important to keep separate my opinions about politics and things not related to education out of respect for my students and parents. Therefore I will not use my name.

And just to clarify, are you suggesting that you wrote a letter to the ProJo with your Lincoln address and the editors changed it to Cranston? That seems odd.

Pat, you are passionate about your causes, and I have a great deal of respect for that. You must have been very good as a union organizer with the Teamsters. I mean that honestly. But teachers' unions are more professional in nature, and play a public role in communities across the state. We work with children and their families, and our approach must be very different from that of the Teamsters. I feel the political hostility you often exhibit publicly is a detriment to the cause of public education, which is my passion. Picking fights with the governor might make you feel good, but does little to help teachers and only angers more of the public that pays our salaries.

The only response to Mike came from RIFuturite Evan, dismissing him outright on the basis of past "conservative rants." The point is that, if Walsh had his own reservations about the hues with which Crowley paints his professional organization, he'd have at least mustered an empathetic response to what is clearly a sincere and thoughtful point on Mike's part.

And the reality is that, if Crowley weren't a high-ranker with the NEA, he'd be just another progressive crank, easily ignored and sparsely published. The damage that the educators' union is doing to education in Rhode Island is an affront to decency and an insult to intellectual endeavors.

Feinting Round One

Justin Katz

Surely, I've become too apt to be suspicious, but something in this labor rep's reaction to the supplemental budget — in conjunction with the legislators' "yelling and screaming" during debate of it — reminds me that this was merely the preface:

"It's devastating," said Dennis Grilli, head of the largest state employees union, Council 94. "All in all, I don't think we fared very well."

Labor's disappointment was met with praise from Governor Carcieri's office, which applauded the Democrat-dominated Assembly's decision to avoid raising taxes to help close the massive budget hole.

I can already hear the claim that labor's already taken "devastating" cuts, so now it's the taxpayers' (or the business community's) turn.

April 25, 2008

You Have Been Warned

Justin Katz

URI professor Tom Mather is officially warning Rhode Islanders that Lyme disease–bearing ticks will be especially prominent this year:

Based on his research of the tick population last year, University of Rhode Island professor Tom Mather predicts the number of ticks infected with Lyme disease will be unusually high this year, requiring extra caution from those who enjoy the outdoors. Mather is a well-known tick researcher and an expert on tick control.

According to the Rhode Island Department of Health Web site, 90 percent of all reported cases of Lyme disease occur in the northeastern United States, and Rhode Island consistently has the second-highest number of infections in the country.

In order to protect themselves, Mather said people should remember the action plan he calls TICK, which stands for "Tweezers, Inspection, Clothing and Killing" ticks. Mather said people should always have tweezers, preferably tweezers with a pointed tip, readily available for tick removal. Next, people should be sure to inspect themselves once a day to ensure they are tick-free.

One thing that I didn't know: Apparently, Lyme disease is completely curable if caught sufficiently early.

Why Should a Study Focus on the Underlying Problem?

Justin Katz

Here's the laugh line from Jill Rodrigues's Sakonnet Times story on the professional study that concluded — shockingly — that the Portsmouth school system needs more money:

Although much of that money is spent on salaries and benefits, the consultants did not weigh in on contract provisions and their impacts on the district.

Reading some of the details from Berkshire Advisors' report gives one the sense of a skewed mentality articulated: The school district needs to spend more on everything (except nurses), increasing programs for everybody from those with special needs to those with especially talents, but the money is just supposed to be found.

Frankly, the district would have made a modest advance in that regard by saving its consultation expenditures and asking any Rhode Island parent with some common sense what he or she believes the problem to be. More and more, the practical answer is: a lack of vouchers for private school.

Being Lazy Makes Them Money

Justin Katz

There's something very Rhode Island about this proposed legislation:

A bill filed recently in the state Senate would forbid all vehicles with more than two axles from driving over the Sakonnet River (Route 24) and Pawtucket (I-95) bridges. While the 22-ton limit on both bridges would remain in effect, Senate bill S 2891 would ban a number of vehicles that are presently able to use the bridges. ...

The measure was introduced by Senators Dennis Algiere (Westerly, Charlestown) and James Doyle (Pawtucket). Sen. Algiere said he did so at the request of the governor's office and the state Department of Transportation (DOT), and referred any questions to the DOT.

Robert Rocchio, managing engineer of the DOT's traffic design section, cited two reasons for the proposal.

First, "to preserve the integrity of the two bridges for as long as possible."

And second, "to provide means to pay for enforcement" of the bridge restrictions. The bill proposes fines of $3,000 for the first offense, $5,000 for second offense which Mr. Rocchio said could help cover the $40,000 monthly cost of paying State Police to enforce the limits at overtime pay rates.

Mr Rocchio doesn't mention that all the detouring will increase gas sales, which will also increase gas-tax revenue. Cynicism can go too far, but there must be some reason that the lawmakers involved (elected and otherwise) aren't trying cost-saving measures first — fewer patrols, with random stops and higher penalties for violating the weight limit.

The rickety bridge doesn't care, after all, how many axles are on a particular vehicle. If raising money is the primary objective, then the folks behind the legislation should say so. And then the rest of us should respond, first, by explaining the utter lunacy of piling burdens on an ailing economy and, second, by voting the bums out.

Making the Bad Worse

Justin Katz

Deroy Murdock is unremittingly critical of government subsidization and mandates related to ethanol:

Poor Haitians rioted last week outside Port-au-Prince's presidential palace, forcing Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis's April 12 ouster. Haitians are sick and tired of food prices that are 40 percent higher than last summer's. Some have resorted to eating cookies made of salt, vegetable oil, and dirt. That's right: Dirt cookies.

Developing-world denizens are taking it to the streets with growling stomachs. In Bob Marley's words, "A hungry man is an angry man."

Climbing corn prices have ignited Mexican tortilla riots. Enraged citizens in Egypt and Pakistan — potential Muslim powder kegs — have also violently protested premium prices for basic staples. Similar instability has erupted from the Ivory Coast to Indonesia. Resurrecting the defeated "import substitution" model of yore, India and Vietnam are among the nations that lately have prohibited grain exports and imposed government price controls. Kazakhstan, Earth's No. 5 wheat source, just halted wheat exports, hoping to hoard local supplies. One third of the global wheat market is now closed.

High oil prices and growing global food demand fan these flames, but government lit the match. Atop the European Union's biofuels mandate (5.75 percent of gasoline and diesel by 2010; 10 percent expected in 2020), America's 51-cent-per-gallon ethanol tax subsidy (2007 cost: $8 billion) and Congress' 7.5-billion-gallon annual production quota (rising to 36 billion in 2022, including 15 billion from corn) have turned corn farms into cash cows. Diverting one quarter of U.S. corn to motors rather than to mouths has boosted prices 74 percent in a year.

In keeping with Monique's post yesterday, I'd observe that environmentalism has become a mania, and as with other manias in history, it has the potential to cause grave harm to humanity. A food crisis is not a solution to the world's problems... unless one believes that human beings are the problem.

April 24, 2008

Stealing Lunch Money

Justin Katz

Well, the first mistake was treating the government like a free-food delivery service:

The director of the city’s summer lunch program[, Jane Shugrue,] has been fired and the entire administrative staff will not be brought back after a state audit found that the program falsely claimed it had served far more lunches than it actually had over the past two years, and improperly received hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of federal reimbursement over that span.

A criminal investigation conducted by Providence police is under way, though city officials would not divulge the details or the targets of the investigation. ...

The program serves lunches to school-age city children at roughly 100 parks and community centers during the summer months. Shugrue has run the program since 1991 and been on staff since 1984. ...

The program is paid for with federal dollars, but administered at the local level.

Small-government conservatives should feel free to take a moment to shake their heads over the obviousness of the risk inherent in pooling money from anonymous taxpayers and creating heart-string ditties to which it may be funneled.

Woe Is the Early Retiree

Justin Katz

Steve Peoples's story, which Marc mentioned earlier, of the likely mass retirement of public workers wishing to retain the current healthcare deal for retirees emanates cognitive dissonance. How are readers expected to react to this:

Sheila Ellis waited for nearly an hour inside the stuffy reception area of the state retirement office yesterday afternoon. And she would have waited longer, given what was at stake.

At just 45 years old, Ellis must decide whether to retire from the state job she has held since high school, or risk losing substantial health-care coverage for the rest of her life.

It's a decision she wanted to talk over with a retirement counselor.

"I'm young enough, it would be nice to work," said Ellis, who has worked with developmentally disabled adults for the last 28 years.

But really, her mind was already made up. State lawmakers this week pushed Ellis and probably thousands more state employees into retirement.

So Ms. Ellis will either spend the next forty years or so pursuing other interests, or she'll find another job and increase her pay and security. Are we supposed to feel an emotional twinge at that? I can't be alone in my reaction to the thoughts of another state employee:

Like Ellis, longtime state worker Deborah DiPietro doesn't have to think too hard to decide what to do. The 52-year-old taxpayer service specialist already crunched the numbers with a retirement counselor.

"I actually love my job. I love the people I work with. It's to the point where I got people saying, 'You can’t leave,"" said DiPietro, who has spent the last 34 years working for state government. "But when I do the numbers, I have to leave. That's not a good way to feel."

Well, apparently Ms. DiPietro doesn't love her job enough to keep doing it for remuneration that's a little more in keeping with the deals that the rest of us working stiffs get.

Out of the Mud

Justin Katz

Although the details are sparse, thus far, I hope the pending settlement of all lawsuits related to the soil pollution down the hill from me brings the matter to a close that protects everybody involved, and helps those whose health has suffered. It's certainly been a tragedy of history's reach into the present.

I continue to think that the effort could have been handled better, and more expediently. Word around town was that the depositions and other suit-related events have been grueling, and I can't believe otherwise than that the goal of a more cooperative human society is harmed more than hurried by the storyline of government as the people's protector against evil corporations (which is to say, other people).

The First Official Shot in RI GOP Governor race 2010?

Marc Comtois

Wake up from ye slumber Laffeyites and Chafeeniks, thar' be news!

I've been staying away from the internecine warfare of the RI GOP lately, perhaps because it's been relatively calm. But it looks like things are about to get roiling again. Ian Donnis has the scoop that Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian (a Chafee protege) will be running against Robert Manning (a Laffey guy) for the RI GOP National Committeeman post. And so it begins.

UPDATE: Ian has updated his original post and it looks like Warwick Rep. Joe Trillo is also running for the spot. According to Ian's report, it sounds like Trillo is interested in using the position to leverage national support for internal party-building:

Trillo says the party needs fresh blood in the Committeeman post. "I think I have done a lot to help this party, and I would like to do more," he says. "In the past, I just haven't seen the job done at the level that I think it could be done. The place we have continually run short is in raising money. I think the National Committeeman is in a better position to get money out of the RNC. Our current people haven't been able to get amy money of any significance. I don't know what they're doing."

Trillo says a small state such as Rhode Island could be "a prime experiment" of whether the national GOP can takeover a blue state.

What the F@%#?!?!?

Carroll Andrew Morse

From an Alisha A. Pina report in the Projo

EAST PROVIDENCE — A Molotov cocktail thrown through a window of the Rumford fire station sparked a brief fire late Tuesday night. A similar device was tossed on a nearby church’s walkway.

No one was hurt in either incident.

I have no idea what the ratio of maliciousness to stupidity was in the motivation for this act, but I plan to make an anti-moron pro-community statement of support in the form of a donation to the East Providence Firefighters Community Fund.

(It may also help make up for the fact that I probably ate more than my share of hot dogs and chili after last year's East Providence Firefighters Freaky 5K, one of the best late-season racing events here in Rhode Island.)

Locking Up the "American Temperament"

Justin Katz

This bit of tsk-tsking is floating among newspapers:

... the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences. ...

Criminologists and legal experts here and abroad point to a tangle of factors to explain America's extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.

Although I'm not sure what the author means by "the American temperament," I was curious enough about context that I thought to poke around on NationMaster.com (of whose listings I'm generally skeptical for more than general impressions), with the following findings:

  • The U.S.A. doesn't make the top 48 list for number of police per capita.
  • Nor does it make the top 56 for people convicted of crimes per capita.
  • But it's number 8 for total crimes committed per capita.
  • We're more likely than residents of any other nation to think that folks with criminal records make bad neighbors.
  • Although Japan edges us out when it comes to not wanting druggies next door.
  • At the end of it all, we feel safe:

So I guess "the American temperament" blends a feeling of safety in our communities with a dislike of criminals and a preference for low-profile law enforcement. Tsk.

The Economic Self-Interest of Early-Retiring State Workers

Marc Comtois

So, faced with a reduction in benefits, about 2,500 state workers are expected to retire. Under the new plan, they'd have to be 59 years old, have 20 years in and then would have to pay $1,700 per year for health benefits (20% of the total health package). Currently, retired state workers pay nothing towards their own health care and they can retire much earlier. Those of us in the private sector know just how tough it must be.

According to the Governor, the intent was to save money (around $120 million overall--$6.1 million this year) by reducing health care expenditures, but others--like state employee unions and some Democrat legislators--think the intent all along was to reduce the state work force by pushing people out who'd want to preserve their benefits. Shucks.

But let me get this straight. Apparently the unions and some Democrats acknowledge that early-retiring state workers, realizing that they will pay more/receive less if they don't take certain actions by a certain time (retire early to get better benefits), are acting in their own economic best interest. Yet, these same people fail to recognize (apparently) that, golly gee, private sector workers and companies act the same way when faced with onerous taxes and a bloated state government. They decide to either leave Rhode Island or not come in the first place.

Not a Bad Idea, but Dumb

Justin Katz

Yeah, well, while I'm not so sure that forcing hospitals to pay property taxes is such a good idea, RI Senator Harold Metts (D, Providence) has a point when it comes to universities:

"In 1989, it was estimated that 35 percent of the city's taxable properties were owned by a few tax exempt institutions," said Senator Metts. "That grew to 40 percent by 1997 and today's estimates put the figure at around 48 percent or even higher. That means 100 percent of the property taxes are coming from 50 percent of the property owners, working-class homeowners. It's not fair."

Unfortunately, Metts seems to suffer from a common intellectual blindspot among those on the class-warfare Left:

"I am aware of the opposition this legislation will generate," said Senator Metts. "I also firmly believe that not one tenured professor at Brown will suffer a pay cut if the school has to start paying taxes on the vast amount of property it owns. I firmly believe that not one executive at Rhode Island Hospital will suffer a pay cut if the hospital has to start paying its fair share to the city."

Perhaps he's right that not one tenured professor or hospital executive would suffer financially from the tax, but you could bet your bottom quintile that a significant number of low-to-midrange employees would find their jobs eliminated, and that clients, patients, and students across the socioeconomic spectrum would see their costs go up, with a bit of trickle-out inflation.

That said, I wholeheartedly endorse Metts's plan as a first step in pushing delusional liberals toward their own epiphanies about the need for structural government reform in Rhode Island.

Re: Green Gingrich (& Global Warming Generally)

Monique Chartier

That Newt Gingrich's participation in the discussion on anthropogenic global warming has taken this form is disappointing. By appearing in an ad with US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and looking around for solutions (even market based ones), Gingrich has lent his credibility to the erroneous propositions that 1.) man has caused this phenomenon and 2.) man can stop this phenomenon with just a little effort.

1.) It has not been scientifically proven, despite all of Al Gore and James Hansen's protestations, that man is causing global warming. Mann's hockey stick has been broken. The precious computer models are problematic, to say no worse. And the fall-back argument - that temperatures have never risen so quickly in such a short period of time, namely, three quarters of a degree over the course of one hundred and twenty years - is not provable. Not only is this is an absurdly short span of time in Earth's 4b+ year history by which to prove such a potentially impactful hypothesis but temperature charts covering periods prior to one hundred and fifty years ago are based on inferred measurements. It is not possible for such an imprecise gauge to reveal all micro spikes and dips in temperature that have occurred in Earth's history. How can it be definitively stated, therefore, that the micro spike we are experiencing (then again, perhaps we are not) is unprecedented?

2.) Man only generates 6% of the greenhouse gases on the planet. Mother Nature contributes the other 94%.

In the remote event it were true that man was causing global warming with his 6%, the solution would not be to hinkle-pinkle around with carbon trading, carbon taxes (are we to believe that these will not simply be more pointless taxes for ever more pointless pork barrel spending?) and twirly lightbulbs that give you nerve damage if they break. If man is causing global warming, the actions required to reverse it would be draconian. Not only would we have to demand that India, China, Africa and other countries stay in their current state of low development - actually, China would have to go backwards a good twenty years - and discomfort, we in "first world" countries would have to join them in that condition.

Item #2 constitutes perhaps the most scandalous aspect of the theory of AGW. Scientists and advocates who promote the theory of AGW are careful not to mention how small man's contribution to greenhouse gas generation is because the extreme measures that would be required to reverse the hypothesized effect would immediately be thrown into high relief. Nor, even more importantly, can these scientists and advocates say what amount of reduction of man's greenhouse gas generation will either slow or stop global warming (again, if man is responsible). We do know, because man only generates 6% of these gases, that it would have to be a considerable, even drastic, reduction.

Suppose somehow we stop half of all of our activity. We reduce our driving, our manufacturing, our food, our beef, our lights and our HVAC by half. Africa, India, China and other countries stop aspiring to cars, heat, better availability and distribution of food, etc. So. Now man's activity only contributes 3% of greenhouse gases. Will that do the trick? Will global warming be slowed? Stopped? No one can say for sure. We're just supposed to go along with the program, whatever it is, in blind faith, preferably without asking questions and certainly without noticing the traffic jams which AGW advocates get embroiled in.

April 23, 2008

Don't Pie Me, Bro!

Justin Katz

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman joins the list of pundits to face the confectionary firing squad:

Friedman ducked, and was left with only minor streams of the sugary green goo on his black pants and turtleneck.

He stood in bewilderment and mild disgust as the young man and woman bolted from the stage and out the side door, throwing a handful of fliers into the air to relay the message they apparently were not going to deliver personally.

"Thomas Friedman deserves a pie in the face...," the flier said, "because of his sickeningly cheery applaud for free market capitalism's conquest of the planet, for telling the world that the free market and techno fixes can save us from climate change. From carbon trading to biofuels, these distractions are dangerous in and of themselves, while encouraging inaction with respect to the true problems at hand..."

RIFuture found the video on YouTube. It only took Friedman about 40 seconds to recover enough to begin making light of the attack. Me, I think speakers not towing the radical-left line on university campuses should begin carrying Tasers. Now there's a YouTube video that I'd like to see.

Early Hearing: Early Death or Fast Rubberstamp?

Monique Chartier

The following bills were scheduled to be heard by the House Finance Committee today at 1:00 pm instead of late afternoon at the Rise of the House.

House Bill No. 7791
BY Moffitt, Mumford, Story, Singleton, Loughlin

ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO HUMAN SERVICES -- PUBLIC ASSISTANCE {LC2210} (require the department of human services to establish a community service requirement as a condition for receipt of public assistance benefits)

House Bill No. 7846
BY Dennigan, Ferri, Handy, Silva

ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO HUMAN SERVICES -- FAMILY INDEPENDENCE ACT {LC1988} (amend the poverty threshold for eligibility for child care assistance under the family independence act)

House Bill No. 7875
BY Diaz, Segal, Almeida, Slater, Ajello

ENTITLED, AN ACT RELATING TO HUMAN SERVICES -- HEALTH INSURANCE {LC1619} (provide health insurance to children ineligible for federal medical assistance due to citizenship or alien requirements and to resident parents or caretaker relatives of these children)

Actually, This Might Explain A Lot…

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island's propensity for showing up on the top of negative lists is moving from the sublime to the ridiculous.

From the Associated Press

The federal government also released estimates of driving under the influence of illicit drugs. The rates were highest in the District of Columbia, 7 percent; Rhode Island, 6.8 percent; and Massachusetts, 6.4 percent.

More Funding Formula Numbers

Carroll Andrew Morse

Abby Fox of the East Greenwich Pendulum has some more data on what certain members of the legislature think of as a "fair" "funding formula"…

  • East Greenwich’s state aid would be cut by the full amount -- $1,949,761 – to $0.
  • Narragansett’s almost identical share, $1,897,159, would also drop to $0.
  • Newport’s share would be cut by more than $11 million to $0.
  • South Kingstown’s portion would be cut by more than $10 million to $0.
  • Westerly’s would be cut by more than $6 million, to $0.
  • Portsmouth’s aid would be cut by more than $6 million, to $0.
  • Block Island’s aid would be cut by $106,345, to $0.
  • Jamestown’s would drop by $531,908, to $0.
  • Barrington…would actually see its state aid increase to $28,507, for a total amount of $2,628,033.
  • Providence’s share…would soar under the proposed legislation, by nearly $50 million, leading to a total state aid of $243,784,089.
  • Central Falls…would decrease by $2,553,047, for a total of $41,320,826.
Even supposedly cold-hearted fiscal-conservatives are inclined to look at those numbers, scratch their heads, and wonder about the wisdom of cutting aid to Central Falls while increasing aid to Barrington? But that's the kind of bizarreness you end up with when you try to distribute resources via bureaucratic formula.

On a broader level, it is disappointing that so many of our legislators see the role of government as fundamentally coercive, i.e. an engine for taking resources from one group of people, and give them to another that they like better, instead of cooperative effort to help people come together and solve problems.

The Cost of Divorce

Justin Katz

A recent study (PDF) produced by a group of family-values organizations, led by the Institute for American Values attempts to quantify the public monetary costs of divorce (emphasis in original):

Based on the methodology, we estimate that family fragmentation costs U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion each and every year, or more than $1 trillion each decade. ...

These costs arise from increased taxpayer expenditures for antipoverty, criminal justice, and education programs, and through lower levels of taxes paid by individuals who, as adults, earn less because of reduced opportunities as a result of having been more likely to grow up in poverty.

Arguments could and should be had over the methodology, but inasmuch as I'd intuitively accept the general proposition that divorce comes with a public price tag, that's not what concerns me. Rather, it's the policy implications section that catches my eye (emphasis in original):

First, public concern about the decline of marriage need not be based only on the important negative consequences for child well-being or on moral concerns, as important as these concerns may be. High rates of family fragmentation impose extraordinary costs on taxpayers. Reducing these costs is a legitimate concern of government, policymakers, and legislators, as well as civic leaders and faith communities.

Second, even very small increases in stable marriage rates would result in very large returns to taxpayers. For example, a mere 1 percent reduction in rates of family fragmentation would save taxpayers $1.12 billion annually.

Given the modest cost of government and civic marriage-strengthening programs, even more modest success rates in strengthening marriages would be cost-effective.

This is one of those areas in which I think the cultural right has been corrupted by the modern impulse toward big government. If we wish to help families, we should remove some of the stress imposed by high taxes and pervasive regulations. If we wish to encourage marriage, rather than filter money through layered bureaucracies in targeted efforts within the compromise boundaries of public expenditures and support, we should clear the way for those who would teach marriage, so to speak, as a matter of moral imperative.

It isn't too outlandish of a quip to suggest that those who wish to strengthen the culture of marriage ought to focus on such measures as changing the education system to allow parents to choose whatever schools they like for their children — whether religiously based, or not (provided the schools meet a standard of academic rigor). After protecting the definition of marriage, traditionalists should content themselves with dismantling walls against religion and free speech that have sprouted like weeds in the law.

In the long run, expanding the nanny state will do more damage than good.

The Big One's Yet to Come

Justin Katz

Today's Providence Journal has more on the supplemental budget. There's some reason to hope that the General Assembly will manage to avoid making things worse — although without bold changes, treading water could simply mean drifting further out to sea. Here's the key part of the report, though:

The vote marks a significant step forward in the state government's struggle to close massive budget deficits that Governor Carcieri says have pushed Rhode Island to the brink of financial disaster.

But it was just a first step.

The package passed yesterday addresses only the deficit projected for the current fiscal year. It does little to address next year's estimated hole of $384 million, a number that state leaders largely agree will grow substantially when fiscal advisers examine state revenues next month.

This was an emergency lunge. We'll see what the debate looks like when it's not peppered with promises about "next year's budget."

Magic Number

Carroll Andrew Morse

It looks like Hillary Clinton has the 10-point win that horserace analysts said she needed to keep going...

April 22, 2008

Not Going Around the Block

Justin Katz

You don't name a new entity "the Moderate Party" in the current political context without the expectation that social liberalism will be implied. If Ken Block wanted to emphasize the single-minded nature of his new party, he would have called it "the Fiscal Party" or something along that line.

Rhode Island conservatives should allow Mr. Block's effort to accomplish what it will do with or without their participation (assuming some degree of success): draw moderates away from the Republican Party so that it may be reformed with a clear and conservative message.

Supplemental Spending Bill

Marc Comtois

Here's the supplemental budget that our legislators are being asked to read, digest and pass this evening. I'm short for time and in a hurry, but here's what I can gather for "highlights":

Reduction of almost 300 Full-Time Equivalent Positions (ie; jobs cuts)

Amendment that essentially kills the future privatization of government services.

Makes the accumulation of "good time" easier for early release of prisoners.

"Provided that any family where an applicant adult has reached or exceeded his or her sixty (60) month time limit, no person in that family shall be eligible for cash assistance under this chapter as of June 1, 2008. This provision shall not apply to the minor child(ren) for whom there is a caretaker relative deemed responsible for the care of the minor child(ren) due to the absence of a parent."

Removes medical assistance benefits from non-citizen children "who w[ere] lawfully admitted for
permanent residence on or after August 22, 1996 or who first become otherwise entitled to reside in the United States on or after August 22, 1996 and was receiving medical assistance on or before December 31, 2006." Also REMOVED the previous $10,000 family income cap.

RITE CARE to families at 133% of Poverty Level instead of 185%

Health care subsidies for Child Care providers are repealed.

Council set up to investigate whether or to what degree Central Falls can contribute to its own education funding.

"For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008 the apportionments of state aid as derived through the calculations as required by subsections a through c of this section shall be adjusted downward statewide by $10,000,000."

Limits the total amount of allowable "tax credits to be claimed against the state’s tax revenues [not] exceed twenty million dollars ($20,000,000) for tax year 2007 or forty million dollars
8 ($40,000,000) for tax years 2008 through 2017."

Reduces the PUC from 5 to 3 commissioners.

No more "good driving" passes: fee = fine.

General Laws in Chapter 45-19 entitled “Relief of Injured and Deceased Fire Fighters and Police Officers” amended to be applicable prior to April 1, 2008.

Cell phone ban while driving is imposed.

UPDATE: 7to7 has a bit more and so does Ian Donnis.

Last week, when I took part in a taping of A Lively Experiment, Ron St. Pierre asked whether it was wrong for state lawmakers to take a spring break with the state facing such dire fiscal problems. Lou Pulner offered the best response, describing how the traditional last-minute passage of a cascade of legislation poses a greater concern.

Now, House Finance, on the second day after the legislative break, says it is expected to vote today on the supplemental budget. While a small number of individuals controlling the process is status quo on Smith Hill, it hardly seems to offer the chance for thorough consideration of the budget.

Shining the Light on Legislative Grants

Marc Comtois

Rep. Nick Gorham has proposed a bill to let us all know who is getting walking around money from the State Legislature (h/t Ian @ N4N). The legislation (PDF) states:

SECTION 1. Chapter 35-3 of the General Laws entitled "State Budget" is hereby amended by adding thereto the following section:

3 35-3-28. Legislative grants. – All legislative grants awarded by the general assembly must be included in the annual state budget and must include the following information:

(1) Recipient's name and address;
(2) Name of contact person for the grant recipient;
(3) Name of the legislator who sponsored the grant;
(4) Statement of whether the finance committee of either or both houses of the general assembly have had a hearing on the proposed grant; and
(5) Brief description of the nature and purpose of the grant.
SECTION 2. This act shall take effect upon passage.

Rep's Coaty, Long, Mumford, and Trillo are co-sponsors.

Green Gingrich

Carroll Andrew Morse

Two interesting quotes from a Newt Gingrich chat session yesterday with Slate Magazine on the subject of green conservatism, from his opening statement...

I want to start by saying that I believe we need an entrepreneurial, science and technology oriented approach to the environment, and that most Americans agree with that. If you go to www.americansolutions.com, and pull up the Platform of the American People, you will see that a majority of Democrats, independents, and Republicans all agree that entrepreneurs can do more than bureaucrats to solve environmental challenges.
I think the tragedy has been that conservatives have been unwilling to spend the time and energy to debate the left on which will produce the better outcome.

For example, if you are really worried about carbon loading of the atmosphere...if the United States produced the same percentage of our electricity from nuclear power as the French, we would take 2 billion, 200 million tons of carbon out of the atmosphere a year, and that one step would be 15 percent better than the total Kyoto goal for the U.S.

…and from his answer to the question "Didn't a cap-and-trade system work well in reducing sulfur dioxide emissions in the 1990s"...
That cap and trade system involved a very small number of players and a very specific product. A carbon cap and trade system would be massively more complex. It would lead to corruption, political favoritism, and would have a huge impact on the economy.

I think that tax credits for reducing carbon loading would work faster in a much more decentralized way by rewarding people for doing the right thing.

Wait a Second, Mr. Marx

Justin Katz

Some aspects of Marxism have a sort of common-sense appeal on first reading. Those of a conservative bent may feel something to be awry, but it takes some sifting to raise, and even then the subtleties foil discussion with those of differing inclinations. Consider Mickey Kaus's confession of Obamaesque snobbery (via Instapundit):

If Democrats had delivered on the economy, Obama suggests, all those GOP cultural "wedge" issues would lose traction. This idea--that the economy trumps culture--isn't new. It's "materialism." The economic "base," Marxists would argue, determines the cultural "superstructure." If the economy changes (i.e. if small town Pennsylvanians get well-paying jobs) then the superstructure will change (Pennsylvanians will feel less intensely about their religion). ..

The problem for me is that I'm a Vulgar Marxist too. I've always believed that people need to eat, and want to get ahead and prosper. If you give them an avenue that lets them do that, they aren't going to let their religion, their music, their sexual habits, their families or their educational system stand in their way for long.

Speaking to the generality first, one should realize that Kaus is shuffling two decks together, here: one insisting that prosperity will ultimately drain the passion from a particular group of values (centrally, religion), and one treating prosperity as a trumping concern. The latter emphasizes that people will not let anything stand in the way of material comfort; the former assumes that religion inherently stands in the way. The former declares what economic success will do; the latter suggests how it may be used.

Thus do Democrats and liberals attempt to make their sheaf of cultural priorities seem necessities riding along with their promise of economic health. They'll claim that right wingers, with the intention of manipulating us economically, distract the masses with immigration, same-sex marriage, and terrorism, but the left-wingers want to market economic balms so that they can impose amnesties, cultural redefinitions, and multiculturalism.

Moving to the specific expectations of a comfortable population, the modern Marxist's assumptions aren't true. Wealth, for example, does not negate religion per se. Indeed, in the long run, a stable home life, defined by sexual control (for one thing) is a more sure avenue toward success than libertinism, but liberals eschew what they see of the judgmentalism of such expectations. It might be more accurate to suggest that they promise their economic fixes to distract from the economic hindrance of their social policies.

If progressives truly believed that their preferred cultural innovations would follow economic success, as a sort of social default, they'd be civil libertarians (and, of course, some are). Modern conservatives, by contrast, tend to believe that their cultural values are compatible with economic prosperity and freedom, but by no means assured. Therefore, they pursue the freedom of other social institutions, such as churches, to have a substantial effect on citizens.

News"flash": 1918 Series Win Tainted?

Marc Comtois

Some recently discovered documents indicate that the Chicago Black Sox of 1919 may have been "inspired" by the Chicago Cubs of 1918. You know, the team that lost to the Boston Red Sox...

[I]n the gambling scandal that never was, the '18 Cubs just might have laid down for that year's A.L. champ, the Red Sox....Now, it cannot be said for certain that gamblers got to the '18 Cubs. But Eddie Cicotte, pitcher and one of the eight White Sox outcasts from the '19 World Series, did say in a newly found affidavit he gave to the 1920 Cook County grand jury that the Cubs influenced the Black Sox. Cicotte said the notion of throwing a World Series first came up when the White Sox were on a train to New York. The team was discussing the previous year's World Series, which had been fixed, according to players. Some members of the Sox tried to figure how many players it would take to throw a Series. From that conversation, Cicotte said, a scandal was born....

The Cubs were 84-45 that year and serious favorites. Cicotte is not alone in suggesting they had been paid off. The lost diary of Charles Comiskey's righthand man, Harry Grabiner, supposedly indicates that the 1918 World Series was fixed. The reporting of baseball columnist Hugh Fullerton -- the man who eventually blew the whistle on baseball's gambling problem -- also suggested that something was afoul in 1918. Fullerton's accounts of those games repeatedly point out bizarre baserunning mistakes and defensive flubs.

The box scores support his descriptions. The Cubs were picked off three times, including twice in the decisive Game 6. That game was lost, 2-1, on a 2-run error by Cubs right fielder Max Flack. Game 4 had been tied, 2-2, in the eighth inning, when Cubs pitcher Shufflin' Phil Douglas gave up a single, followed by a passed ball, followed by an errant throw on a bunt attempt that allowed the winning run to score.

So that Yankee fan "1918" chant may have been wrong. And as for the so-called Curse....

Mayor Scott Avedisian on the Concept, if not the Practice, of a Third Party

Carroll Andrew Morse

And speaking of Russell J Moore's article in last week's Cranston Herald, does anyone have any clue what Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian is getting at in this quote...

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, who is known as a moderate Republican with socially liberal positions, said he wishes Block luck, but warned he shouldn’t count on his support.

I think the time is right for a third party, and I wish him well, but I have said all along that I was elected as a Republican and I plan to stay a Republican.”


The Block Block, Continued

Carroll Andrew Morse

Around the same time that Ken Block submitted his Engaged Citizen article, the Cranston Herald ran a Russell J. Moore article discussing his stands on social issues in a bit more detail

“Very recent history has shown that the GOP has been horrible at supporting candidates for local office,” [Mr. Block] said.

But an interview with Block reveals his reasons are more deep-seated than that. Despite the Barrington resident’s fiscally conservative streak, which may be fueled by the fact that he owns a software company (Simpatico) in Warwick, lies a socially liberal mindset.

Block said the fact that prominent national Republicans such as President George W. Bush advocate and some Bible belt states actually teach creationism as scientific theories in public schools makes him shudder. Block is also pro-choice.

“There isn’t one thing I find palatable on their social platform,” said Block.

“The national GOP doesn’t have as big of a tent as they want everyone to believe and I don’t think it’s big enough for me. Their tent is only large if you’re a social conservative, and in this state, that’s simply not going to fly.”

Block admits that the state GOP tries to focus on local, fiscal issues, but outside of that, has taken no steps to distance itself from the national GOP.

Though Mr. Block made no direct mention of social issues in his EC, they seem integral to his motivation for trying to create a new party, so I asked him about his statements in the Herald piece…

Ken Block: The idea behind this party is that two people, one of whom is pro life, the other pro choice, can agree to subordinate the abortion issue while advocating together to address the most pressing issues facing the state (in our opinion fiscal and ethical).

Every member of this party will have his or her own, possibly strongly felt, positions on the social issues of our day. My personal stances on the different social issues will not be reflected in the platform of the party, as the party is not about those issues. When a particular issue divides the country roughly down the middle (i.e. abortion), the party will alienate half the population by taking a stand on that issue, which defeats the overall mission of trying to balance out the legislature now and fix the economic mess killing our state.

Anchor Rising: If you are only focusing on one issue area (albeit a large one), why take on the overhead of a full-fledged political party? Why not, for example, go the route of an OCG-like organization for fiscal issues?

KB: The idea of the Moderate Party of Rhode Island arose because for years the State GOP has failed to win enough seats to matter in the State House and the State Democrats have been legislating poorly because they have not had to fear serious opposition in the voting booth. Our theory is that voters in this state do not identify with the National GOP brand of social conservatism and that the State GOP has inherited that brand. RI is in a mess simply because we do not have a balance of power in the State House. If the State GOP does not have a message that resonates with the majority of RI voters and therefore yields a small minority of legislative seats then a new party must be formed which can fill the void and attempt to provide balance in the legislature.

An OCG-like organization would not accomplish the goal of a balanced legislature. Legislative seats must be won from the super-majority of the Democrats, and the only way to do that is provide viable candidates with an overall message and platform that will appeal to the majority of voters in this state.

Anchor Rising: If 2 candidates in a district both endorsed the Moderate Party platform, do you envision an Moderate party that would then look to stands on social issues to determine which one to support?

KB: If only we had a district where both candidates would embrace our platform!! In this case, if we were dealing with an incumbent we would look at that person’s voting record to determine if their voting history is in line with our platform. Otherwise, we would look for the candidate who would best be able to forge consensus to accomplish our overall objectives. Jon Scott’s comments about not wanting the Democrats to pass legislation that he has in his back pocket for November is exactly the kind of activity that makes me cringe. Trick them, fool them, make them think that they came up with the idea themselves…who cares. Just get the Democrats to pass necessary legislation now. That is what effective governing is all about, especially when trying to govern as an extreme minority.

Ken Block: By Staking out a Centrist Position, the Moderate Party intends to Appeal to the Broadest Section of the Electorate as Possible

Engaged Citizen

Comments made about the recent Anchor Rising post on the Moderate Party ran the predictable gamut from attacks against pseudo-Republicans to the Moderate effort being a waste of time to acceptance of the idea of a Moderate Party because anything is better than the existing status quo.

Right up front, I want to address the fear that a Moderate candidate will split the vote and cost an incumbent candidate his or her seat. We are asking all candidates to consider our platform, and will offer our seal of approval to any candidate who commits to making our platform a legislative priority. This affords both GOP and Democratic incumbents the opportunity to step up and commit to legislate in what we consider a responsible way. We would not prioritize for competition the seat of any incumbent who embraced our platform.

The core goal of the Moderate effort in Rhode is to get better legislating NOW. I was saddened to read this comment from Jon Scott regarding the RI GOP platform, and how and when it will be publicized:

We are in a Legislative session right now. I, for one, am not fond of broadcasting to the Democrats our plan for getting candidates elected so that they can then take the best ideas and pass them (in this current session).
Rhode Island cannot afford to wait until 2009 or later to begin enacting legislation to fix our mess. I firmly believe that Democratic legislators who have run unopposed will immediately vote and act differently if they are faced with competition for their seat. I would consider the Moderate effort a success simply by squeezing better legislating out of the current session. The GOP is not doing Rhode Islanders any favors by sitting on ideas now that might be enacted in this session. Figure out a way to take credit for applying the pressure to get the legislation done, but for crying out loud, get it done!

My perception is that the RI GOP’s message is not resonating with the majority of Rhode Islanders. As an example, this past weekend I attended the Operation Clean Government candidate school. The Democratic Party did not bother showing up to set up a table, but the RI GOP did. One of the main visuals on the table was a photograph of George W. Bush. Hello…this man has an extraordinarily low approval rating in this state. What genius would think that giving W a prominent place on the table would cause a stampede of potential candidates to sign up with the RI GOP? If the RI GOP wants to control a larger percentage of the legislature, they will need to appeal to a broader cross section of the electorate.

I often hear talk about how the Moderate party cannot succeed because it lacks money, organization, etc. How many recent GOP candidates for the legislature will say that the RI GOP contributed hugely (or at all) to their candidacy?

By staking out a centrist position, the Moderate Party intends to appeal to the broadest section of the electorate as possible, including disaffected Democrats (and these folks do exist). Maybe the state GOP also needs to moderate its message in order to attain its goals.

April 21, 2008

This Year's Funding Formula Plan: Worse Than Ever

Carroll Andrew Morse

A Projo letter-to-the editor from West Greenwich resident Cynthia A. Walsh provides an excellent example of how education "funding formula" rhetoric has been used to confuse people about the true purpose of the proposal. Ms. Walsh celebrates the ideal of local control that is possible in smaller towns…

The only time we end up with serious problems is when the State of Rhode Island decides to tell us what we can and cannot do.

For example, there is the 5 percent property-tax-increase cap, which handcuffs local officials and deprives local taxpayers of the right to decide how much of their money is spent and on what. This cap may be a necessary evil in the cities and the suburban ring, where government is big, anonymous and unresponsive to its citizens and where it is the perception that the only thing that drives said government is political power and personal corruption, but that is not how things work in rural Rhode Island [but] one of the many joys of living in a rural community is that if you have a problem, your local government is accessible and responsive.

…yet also advocates for a new "funding formula" for education in Rhode Island…
I know [State Representative Nick Gorham] wants to help the communities he represents. If he could turn his attention to a new formula for public-school funding, that would help.
The problem is, in the form it has been so far discussed, a new "funding formula" would move money away from many small towns in Rhode Island and to the control of the "big, anonymous and unresponsive" units of government that Ms. Walsh decries. The odds that Rhode Island's pols will implement a funding formula that would help W. Greenwich anytime soon are slight.

Earlier this month, South Kingstown's Superintendent of Schools presented the details of this years' version of the "funding formula" to the SK school committee. Sarah Traver of the Narragansett Times reports…

Superintendent Robert Hicks said he recently attended a panel discussion on school finance and the panel discussed a legislative proposal entitled S 2650. This legislature would implement a school finance formula that was developed by a consultant last year using only existing funds. “I think if this piece of legislation passes it will be a loss of $10 million for South Kingstown, $102 million loss to suburban communities all over (Rhode Island),” Hicks said....

The specific legislation proposed would implement, over three years, the proposed formula utilizing only existing funds....Suburban communities are then faced with cutting their budgets or increasing property taxes. The total loss in state aid to the 22 communities in Rhode Island would be $102,857,727. An average increase in the school levy would be 16 percent reaching a high in Newport of 63 percent. The rate in South Kingstown would be 22 percent, the fifth highest in the state.

If the suburbs would be losing out, which communities would be benefiting most, you wonder? Tatiana Pina had a few specific community numbers in a recent Projo article on the Woonsocket schools…
The [Fair Share Education Funding Formula bill] proposes redistributing state funds to towns and cities bases on the wealth of the community, student enrollment and the the number of special education students, English language learners and children from poor families. The bill is sponsored by Representatives Edith H. Ajello, D-Providence, and John A. Savage, R-East Providence, and Senators Rhoda E. Perry D-Providence, and Hanna M. Gallo, D-Cranston. “The formula has been used across the country. It does not increase funding but redistributes it based on these factors, making it fairer,” [Woonsocket Superintendent Maureen B. Macera] said.

Under the new system, Woonsocket would stand to get an additional $13,164,914 to be phased in over three years. Pawtucket would receive an additional $10,772,350, Providence would receive $49,674,333 and Cranston would get $14,604,658.

According to Portsmouth resident John McDaid of the Hard Deadlines blog, this year's funding formula proposal is so extreme, some communities could get zeroed out of state-aid entirely…
The committee also reviewed the numbers from the school funding formula proposed in general assembly bill H7957. Under this draconian legislation, Portsmouth would lose ALL school funding over the next three years. Yeah, you read that right. No state aid at all. Just for 2009, we would lose $1.5M, which exceeds the total allowable increase under the S3050 tax cap.

Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed and our Senator Chuck Levesque have both spoken out against this bill, as has Rep. Amy Rice.

This bill is not likely to pass (I suspect it will go the "held for further study" route in committee). But it is an illustration of the objective that many of your legislators have in mind when they think about a "funding formula", i.e. forcing 22 Rhode Island communities to raise their local taxes by $102.8 million dollars just to maintain their own local level of school spending, so that Providence can receive half that total in new state aid, and 16 other communities can divvy up the other half.

I wonder if Cynthia A. Walsh was aware of the details of this plan when she wrote that a new funding formula should be a top legislative priority?

Two final points:

  1. Earlier this year, I was curious as to why Providence Mayor David Cicilline didn't mention the funding formula in his state of the city address. Now, I suspect it's because he realized that no Rhode Island politician with gubernatorial aspirations could afford to be associated in any way with this stink-bomb of a plan.
  2. That this plan is even being considered shows why we need desperately in this state to change to a system where money follows the choices of parents and students through some sort of open districting plan and/or voucher plan, instead of being allocated in accordance with the preferences of clutching and grabbing state legislators. How long will it be before a set of communities with a majority-plus-one representatives in the legislature figure out that, under the current system, they can raid the communities with a majority-minus-one at will?
To understand more about the real purpose of the funding formula, click here.

Free Trade Is a Two-Way Street

Justin Katz

Trade isn't a topic on which I can express all of the relevant arguments, but this suggestion from University of Maryland School of Business Professor Peter Morici sounds reasonable to me:

China is the biggest problem. It subsidizes foreign purchases of its currency, the yuan, more than $460 billion a year, making Chinese products artificially cheap at Wal-Mart. The U.S. trade gap with the Middle Kingdom has swelled to $250 billion. ...

As long as China subsidizes the sale of yuan to Wal-Mart and other U.S. importers, the U.S. Treasury should tax dollar-yuan conversions. When China stops manipulating currency markets, the tax would stop. That would reduce imports from and exports to China, create new jobs in the U.S., raise U.S. productivity and workers' incomes, and reduce the federal deficit.

Free trade has to go both ways. No doubt, there are economic arguments having to do with investment and leverage that support the allowance of manipulated imbalance, but then, once again, I think we're shifting toward the topic of government's appropriate behavior as a business entity.

NY Times Digs and Finds a Hole

Marc Comtois

Over the weekend, the ProJo ran a NY Times piece that divulged that (gasp) the Pentagon squired around ex-military types--some even with ties to military contractors--in an attempt to get favorable press about the Iraq War. Stunning, no? Both Max Boot and John Podhoretz have a say, with Podhoretz offering up an inside-baseball reason as to why 7800 words were necessary to explain this "gee, whoda thunk" story...

In the end, however, The story reads like a work of investigative journalism that came up entirely dry. Perhaps Barstow was tipped off to something seriously rotten and saw a Pulitzer dangling before him if he could only get chapter and verse. Perhaps someone else at the Times was, and threw the assignment to Barstow. Whatever is the case, there proved to be no there there, and Barstow was left with a huge amount of information with no clear act of wrongdoing.

So he did what is called a “notebook dump,” with the approval and even encouragement of his editors, revealing every single bit of information he uncovered. What began as a possible major scoop ended up as a “thumbsucker,” one of those “this is a cautionary tale about the way the Bush administration tried to spin the public.” Barstow’s endless tale reveals nothing more than that the Pentagon treated former military personnel like VIPs, courted them and served them extremely well, in hopes of getting the kind of coverage that would counteract the nastier stuff written about the Defense Department in the media.

Another Pentagon strategy that's worked so well, right?

High Rollers on the Hill

Justin Katz

I get that winning clients sometimes requires wooing them — especially in the glamor-obsessed entertainment industry. As a government activity, however, this makes me very uncomfortable:

When Steven Feinberg entertains people in the television and moviemaking industry, he entertains them in style.

He sprang for the Ravioli al Filetto at Venda's Café, the rib-eye special at Zooma, the 16 oz. center-cut sirloin at Siena , a filet mignon at The Capital Grille and along the way bottles of wine costing up to $39. He hired chauffeured cars to shuttle some of the stars of the Showtime series Brotherhood back and forth during nights out that ended at 3 a.m.

He treated actor "Joseph Pantoliano and family" to $203 worth of gondola rides along the Providence riverfront.

In his role as director of the state Film & TV Office, he sent $1,375 worth of gift baskets from Wickford Gourmet to the cast and crew of Evening, before they decamped.

And when Feinberg flew to California last summer, he stayed in a "premier ocean-view room" in the newly renovated Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica, that one magazine likened to "the city's hottest club ... a vision of movie-set cool." Though city-view rooms went for much less, his room cost fluctuated from $419 to $499 on different nights.

Every step of the way, Rhode Island taxpayers paid the bills.

Sure, other states do it, and RI House Speaker Bill Murphy (D, West Warwick) argues that Feinberg's activity has yielded "a tremendous return on the investment," but the whole effort is beyond the boundaries of what government ought to be about. I'd venture to suggest that few voters consider the dedication of their representatives to charming Hollywood; government isn't structured to behave that explicitly as a business. Frankly, the leadership on the Hill ought to turning over with sufficient frequency to make the company-legislature distinction clearer.

If, as a public collective, we wish to bring movie makers to Rhode Island, our government's appropriate approach is to get out of the way, not to fly a caviar charmer out to California.

Class Warfare Is a Highway, and I Wanna Ride It

Justin Katz

Things aren't equal on the highway. Some folks happen to pull into pockets of traffic that engulf them for an entire commute, while some ease into the lull just five minutes earlier. Some folks have faster cars; some folks have bigger, more-imposing cars. Some have drivers; some have GPS; some have government plates. Some are in a rush, and some have all the time in the world to cruise. Some have quick reflexes; some have bad vision; some are hung-over; some are on those fancy new clarity drugs that (I've recently read) are increasingly popular among academics.

During a trip, you pull onto the highway and you go, making the best of what you've got, driving according to your personality, state of mind, and various pressures. That's all you can do.

I bring this up because something about David's comment to a recent post of mine won't leave me alone, and the highway metaphor may help to clarify how I view class strata:

Justin, you argue for wealth redistribution favoring the wealthy with your personal anecdotal evidence. True, wealthy people do employ people, own and hold large tracts of land as open spaces that otherwise would be chopped up and developed. Evidence of those positive effects can be seen in our state in Newport, Jamestown, and Westerly.

A veritable army of leaf blowers, cleaning crews, painters and other service people clog the streets of the east side of Providence. Diaper services, too. (since it is less polluting) But you fail to convince with any evidence that the Bush tax cuts are a cause for this. The wealthy are always going to employ people to maintain their property. They have the means and desire to add to their holdings. Good for them! Bravo! And you are right to suggest that they are a positive part of the whole. But the tax cuts were nothing more than a looting of the treasury. The top pays less than what fairness requires. Warren Buffet acknowledged this when he pointed out that he paid a lower percentage in taxes than his workers. Sometime stinks in America. Taxes should be fair and should reflect the democratic construct – we are in this together. You seem to be the one doing the social engineering – let the wealthy few own all of the goods because they know how to handle it. We dummies would just screw it up.

Right from the beginning, David illustrates that my argument didn't traverse the space between us. I have not argued for wealth redistribution favoring the rich; I've argued that commerce is a better mechanism for distributing money away from the wealthy than government dictat. I most definitely did not argue that the rich ought to be considered the masters of economic allocation or that average citizens ought to be deprived on the grounds of ineptitude.

There is nothing fair about a society in which talented and hard-working people fail time and again to achieve just the modest income that would support a reasonably comfortable life with sufficient room for intellectual and spiritual improvement while others sit back and watch fortunes grow that are several generations removed from anything that might be recognizable as earning. I know of families that have kept pets on expensive life support for months on end to bring them back from the brink of death after coyote attacks, while we had to put our otherwise healthy dog down last year because we couldn't afford diabetes medicine. No, the unanswered question isn't whether the situation is fair; it's how we address that inequity from our place on the road as we've found it at the end of the entrance ramp.

Here I must correct another misunderstanding on David's part: neither of my posts in this run have had anything to say about tax policy except to this degree:

For the most part, the funds that support so many local workers building and rebuilding summer homes for the rich are not available for taxation. The owners tend not to be full-year residents, and if they were to find that they could no longer afford to lavish themselves in this way in Rhode Island, they'd find somewhere else to do it. Even with full-year residents, the difference is mainly one of threshold for redistributive pain. The progressives' willingness to insist on the right kind of commerce would certainly result in lost revenue to the state, less money in the state's economy, and lost jobs.

Because I see its circumstances as acutely dire, my focus for commentary has overwhelmingly been within Rhode Island's borders for several years, and in that context, heavily redistributive taxation schemes are an invitation for the rich to avoid paying Rhode Island taxes altogether (or, more likely, to pay somebody else to avoid those taxes for them), and that will hurt working Rhode Islanders both by draining our public coffers and by stemming the economic activity from which all tax revenue is ultimately derived. If a driver knows that you intend to pull in front of him to slow him down below his preferred speed, he won't let you get alongside him in the first place, if he can help it.

To this perspective, I would add one way in which David may have me right that "We dummies would just screw it up": if by "we dummies" he means the population operating by means of a government structure (rather than as individually responsible economic entities). Siphoning off wealth for the government's usage to the degree that left-wingers would consider to be "fair taxation" creates a pinch-point for power, and that is an ineluctable lure for precisely the sorts of people whom a fair — and wise! — society would keep far from the steering wheel. (In some ways, this is Rhode Island's tale.)

If we want fairness, we must pursue freedom. Putting up roadblocks generally proves to be to the advantage of those who already have an edge and to hinder those who would otherwise break free from the snarl of traffic.

Camille Paglia is not Swayed by Hillary's Gender

Monique Chartier

Camille Paglia writes in yesterday's Telegraph:

All women, on pain of excommunication from the feminist claque, must now support Hillary. Never mind her spotty record or her naked political expediency. Any woman with the temerity to endorse Barack Obama (as I do) is condemned as a "traitor" to her sex. "Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life," trumpeted Steinem earlier this year in an article promoting Hillary in the New York Times. Barriers of race, class or economics are waved away as mere frippery.

Paglia also points out that while Senator Hillary Clinton has made derogatory comments about certain "traditional" female activity or behavior

... Hillary's public statements have often betrayed an ambivalence about women who chose a non-feminist path. "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies," she sneered during Bill's 1992 presidential campaign. Then, defending her husband against the claims of a 12-year affair by Gennifer Flowers, Hillary snapped: "I'm not sittin' here like some little woman, standing by my man like Tammy Wynette" - a sally that boomeranged when Hillary had to make an abject apology.

she is not above deploying her feminine side when she herself is in a jam.

Losing ground with other core groups - notably her own cohort of upper-middle-class, baby-boom career woman - Hillary played the gender card to the max. When polling showed she had seemed too harsh to the caucus-goers of Iowa, she rolled out teary eyes for New Hampshire, which handed her a primary victory. Hillary will scratch, claw, and morph through every gender trick if it rakes in votes.

Her feminine side also came out during her husband's presidential campaign, as Christopher Hitchens pointed out, when questions arose about the 10,000% profit she made in cattle futures.

When asked how it was she couldn’t remember any of the facts about her infamous cattle futures trading, Mrs. Clinton replied, batting her eyelashes, that, Well, she was pregnant with Chelsea at the time and in such a hormonal state that it was very hard to keep track of such mannish matters.

Paglia makes the ultimate criticism of a woman who would wear the feminist mantle: that Senator Clinton's success is attributable to a man.

Whatever her official feminist credo, Hillary's public career has glaringly been a subset to her husband's success. ...

In Little Rock, every role that Hillary played was obtained via her husband's influence - from her position at the Rose Law Firm to her seat on the board of Wal-Mart to her advocacy for public education reform. In a pattern that would continue after Bill became president, Hillary would draw attention by expressing public "concern" for a problem, without ever being able to organise a programme for reform. ...

The argument, therefore, that Hillary's candidacy marks the zenith of modern feminism is specious. Feminism is not well served by her surrogates' constant tactic of attributing all opposition to her as a function of entrenched sexism.

April 20, 2008

"Whadya get when an ex-Nun and a liberal Brown Professor get an opportunity to grill a Catholic Priest about the Pope's visit to America?"

Marc Comtois

Channel 12's (and Fox Providence) Newsmakers program opened with a discussion of Pope Benedict's visit to America. Host Steve Aveson opened by asking Father Najim about the impact of Pope Benedict's visit. Father Najim explained that a Papal visit will help with explaining and encouraging Catholics, especially males, to enter the Catholic vocations and that, in general, it serves to energize the faithful. When asked to compare Pope Benedict to his beloved predecessor, Pope John Paul II, Fr. Najim talked about how the current Pope, when still a Cardinal, had a reputation as the Vatican's watchdog, but that has changed as he's had the opportunity to exhibit his pastoral side and that the priests love Pope Benedict.

Then the gloves came off. And we got the answer to the question, "Whadya get when an ex-Nun and a liberal Brown Professor get an opportunity to grill a Catholic Priest about the Pope's visit to America?"

Arlene Violet - You mentioned the Pope's reputation when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, the hard side, I guess they called him God's rottweiler, but certainly in that capacity he was one of the stonewallers really to stop settlements or not initiate settlements with the victims of sex abuse. Does he not have a credibility problem notwithstanding his comments about how terrible the scandal has been on kids that have been sexually assaulted when he was behind the stonewalling on this issue?

Fr. Najim - I think the truth is that Pope Benedict has come out very strongly against the abuse cases in this country, the whole scandal. The first thing he addressed, even before getting off the plane, was how deeply ashamed he was of what's happened in the Catholic Church and deeply ashamed of the priests who have committed these crimes...

AV - But wouldn't it have been more real for him to have apologized for his position. I mean, while he was not in fact one of the people engaging in this horrific behavior, nonetheless he stonewalled on the settlements there so he should have said, "I'm sorry for stonewalling this."

Fr. N. - But Arlene, the Church has aggressively tackled these issues, probably more aggressively than most institutions would. We look at the Church coming forward to make sure that there are clear and strong policies in place to make sure that these kind of abuses never take place again. The Pope himself has encouraged bishops to make sure that these policies are in place to make sure that these abuses do not take place again. Pope John Paul II apologized to the Church, and remember, when a Pope speaks, he speaks for the Church. And so, Pope Benedict needs to continue to be able to move forward. I think this is what we need to do. I mean, the Pope has acknowledged these abuses, he's acknowledged the wrongdoing, at the same time we need to go forward. We need to move forward. He's come to this country as a messenger of hope and so I don't see the need that he has to personally apologize. We don't have all the information that Pope Benedict had coming across his desk, so I think we need to be careful that we don't make a judgment upon what he was seeing.

Jennifer Lawless - Wasn't discussing it on the plane, though, sort of a cheap political way to not to have to deal with it when he's actually traveling across the country.

Fr. N. - Well he is dealing with it...

JL - I mean he got ahead of it, he talked about it, he selected the question, he was able to deal with it completely on his terms. And, in a way, that makes it sort of inappropriate for journalists and other people along the trip to bring it up again. So I mean, isn't that kind of indicating that this is not something he's willing to address wholeheartedly?

Fr. N. - We have to be careful that we don't reduce the Papal visit to a negative. Pope Benedict didn't come to this country specifically for the scandal. Pope Benedict came to the United States of America as a messenger of hope as he himself said. To bring Christ's word of life. And I believe that in his visit he is bringing healing by his presence in this country. He comes to us as the spiritual father of a billion Catholics, 67 million in this country. He comes to us as our spiritual father...who by his very presence brings that healing. And so as far as being a cheap political trick, I don't think so. In fact, Jennifer, I thought he tackled it head on. That was my take on it, that, "Wow, even before he's getting off the plane, he's addressing this." And he is addressing it in his visit, too.

Based on the lead in from Aveson and the topic that was initially explained, I don't think Father Najim quite expected the reception he received. He dealt with it well enough, though. I'm a Catholic (about 12 yearly masses above a "Christmas Catholic," I must confess), so I know the pain the Church has caused the victims. I certainly can't speak for them and I'm sure there are many applauding Violet and Lawless for their questions, and even perhaps their tone. But now that we know what we do--that the Pope met privately with victims of abuse and has publicly addressed the issue multiple times--I think the questions by Violet and Lawless have been exposed as the innately cynical, "gotcha" journalism that they were.

It didn't end there. In addition to the sex abuse scandal, Violet and Lawless grilled Fr. Najim over the Church's stance against the ordination of women as priests or against priests getting married. Simply put, I think it was an opportunity lost. Instead of taking the opportunity of the Pope's visit to indulge in a deeper exploration of what a Pope's visit actually can accomplish, or of the good things that the Church does, the Q&A was just another bash-the-antiquated -hypocritical -Catholic-religion session; one that we've all seen before.

So, all I'm saying, is that a Papal visit is about so much more than defending the mistakes, as Fr. Najim said. (But even then, it is clear that the Pope is trying to help heal the wounds). Unfortunately, there are a lot of people--especially those who love to point to hypocrisy if only to hide their own--who see political ax-grinding in everything. Mostly because they spend a lot of their own time at the whetstone.

China and the Olympic Spirit

Monique Chartier

My grimly favorite reaction to the protests which dogged the Olympic flame through London, Paris and other cities was by a Beijing Olympic official, curiously not named in this government sanctioned article, who said that the protests "blasphemed the Olympic spirit." The irony that the actions of the goons and thugs who have ruled China for many decades have exemplified the antithesis of the Olympic spirit seems to have completely escaped him.

In the meantime, since those protests abroad, the government has permitted days of counter-demonstrations within China.

People gathered in front of [French retailer] Carrefour stores, chanting slogans of "Oppose Tibet independence" and "Oppose CNN's anti-China statements," referring to the international broadcaster, the official Xinhua news agency said.

They also chanted "Support the Olympics," "Play up! China," and "Condemn CNN" through loudspeakers.

More than 1,000 people assembled in front of a Carrefour store in the northwestern city of Xian holding protest banners, Xinhua said.

The Chinese government dispatched troops to protect Carrefour stores and now seems to be signaling for the protests to end.

But in recent days state media have called for calm in commentaries that have underscored the need for social stability ahead of the Beijing Olympics, the first time the nation has hosted such a prestigious event.

China's dictatorship is too insecure to endure the passion of protests, even pro-Chinese and, by extension, pro-government ones. This insecurity has now infected the Nepal government, which has prohibited the climbing of Mount Everest beyond Camp 3 until May 10, when the Olympic torch is to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

The Nepal government's stand comes in the wake of a heightened concern of the Chinese government towards ensuring a safe passage for the beleaguered torch.

The restrictions imposed on the mountaineers include prohibition of taking pictures or sending out any news clipping about their Himalayan expedition to the world outside. Moreover, they cannot proceed beyond Camp 3, at a height of about 7,000 metre. Liason officials have reportedly been posted at various points to ensure that the restrictions are strictly adhered to.

* * *

A senior NTB official confessed the western media, in particular, was piqued at these restrictions imposed by the government on the request of the Chinese government.

"But the Olympic Torch has to be protected at all cost. It is unreasonable on the part of westerners to make such a fuss about these restrictions, which are only temporary. In any case, people should respect the laws of the land they are travelling in," said the official.

And The Kathmandu Post, via New Delhi Television, reports today that Nepalese security forces have been deployed to Everest with orders to "shoot if necessary"

Nepal government has deployed dozens of security personnel on Mount Everest with orders to shoot if necessary to thwart possible anti-China protests by Tibetans during Beijing's planned Olympic torch run to the summit.

The security personnel equipped with logistics and mountaineering equipment have already moved to Camp II situated at an altitude of 6,600 metres above sea level, according to officials.

Also, the soldiers have been given orders to shoot if necessary, The Kathmandu Post daily reported on Sunday, quoting officials.

Can we get confirmation from that unnamed Chinese Olympic offical that this climbing restriction, not to mention the shoot-first-ask-questions-later order, are in keeping with the Olympic spirit?

More Truth-Challenged Arguments

Monique Chartier

Candidates and advocates are told to stay on message.

Such advice is sound only if the "message" contains a modicum of truthfulness or at least believability. Both of these qualities have been noticeably absent from the speeches and rhetoric of those who oppose the Governor's executive order on illegal immigration and related bills. Friday's rally followed form.

Members of the state's Hispanic community yesterday gathered at the State House once again to protest Governor Carcieri's recent order cracking down on illegal immigration.

* * *

"The anti-immigrant sentiment that swept across this state and this nation is going to cause a lot of families to be broken up," said the Rev. Eliseo Nogueras, 46, the pastor of Pawtucket's House of Prayer Gethsemane. He is also chairman of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs.

The call has been for the enforcement of existing immigration laws, not their removal from the books. Only the latter would constitute "anti-immigrant sentiment." Note also the phrasing of that sentence: not "anti-immigration" but "anti-immigrant." This is presumably to personalize and emotionalize a statement that is false to begin with.

Secondly, the reference to the breaking up of families is not just untrue, but insulting in two ways. It is insulting to everyone's intelligence to suggest that immigrant parents would leave their children in another country. And it is insulting to immigrant parents themselves to imply that they would do so.

In view of the emotion-rich and fact-poor arguments put forward from the beginning against the anti-illegal immigration measures implemented by the Governor and pending on Smith Hill, I am beginning to share the doubt of those who question the actual number of people who do not support these reasonable measures. They may count in their ranks not too many more than those who rally or testify on Smith Hill and a percentage (but not all) of undocumented immigrants.

April 19, 2008

A Dilbert Delay

Justin Katz

It's too bad today's Dilbert cartoon wasn't published in closer proximity to the percentage of a percentage debate here on Anchor Rising.

Although, the stink eye is much less effective in the comment sections than in a boardroom.

Reaching for the Ring of Diversity

Justin Katz

It appears that Rhode Island has made the national diversity news feed. Here's Roger Clegg:

Portuguese business owners in Rhode Island are upset with a proposed state law that would strip them of their official "minority" status — and the contracting set-asides that go with it. There are no heroes in this story, however, which provides a nice lesson in the perils of racial preference in an increasingly multiracial society. ...

So you can sort of feel sorry for the Portuguese. On the other hand, they aren't demanding equal treatment for all: They still want other European and Middle Eastern Americans to be discriminated against. And, if push comes to shove, they are even happy for some Portuguese companies to be discriminated against, so long as it's not them personally. Says one Portuguese owner, "I think if they're going to go through with it, people should really be grandfathered in. That's the only fair way to do it." Right!

One suspicious aspect of the whole diversity thing is that, as this sort of controversy brings into the light, it is actually quite profitable to be discriminated against. Declare "the era of discrimination is over!," and thousands of minority interests and members of the diversity industry will respond: "Not on our watch."

A New Era of Nuclear Fear

Justin Katz

Charles Krauthammer broached a chilling subject yesterday:

The era of nonproliferation is over. During the first half-century of the nuclear age, safety lay in restricting the weaponry to major powers and keeping it out of the hands of rogue states. This strategy was inevitability going to break down. The inevitable has arrived. ...

The "international community" is prepared to do nothing of consequence to halt nuclear proliferation. Which is why we must face reality and begin thinking how we live with the unthinkable.

There are four ways to deal with rogue states going nuclear: preemption, deterrence, missile defense, and regime change.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was not the end of the story; it was the beginning of an even more complicated test. The world's leaders, it seems to me, have failed.

April 18, 2008

Caught by the Art

Justin Katz

Jay Nordlinger brought up another familiar name in his review of a joint concert of classical violinist Hilary Hahn and folkish singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, to whose album The Animal Years a friend and coworker directed my attention a couple of years ago. Jay had a reaction similar to mine to the song "Thin Blue Flame," if I attribute his description accurately:

One of Mr. Ritter's songs was a ranty, interminable number about war and peace and capitalism and religion. I thought of late nights in a dorm room, populated by hazy undergrad sages>

As it happens, this song has often flirted with deletion from my tightly packed MP3 player precisely for being interminable and ranty. Something about it, though, has continued to intrigue me — something having to do with its meaning. To be sure, throughout most of it, with the tone set at the beginning, the lines convey an anti-religious, perhaps atheistic, message, but increasingly throughout, one gets such sentiments as "you need faith for the same reasons that it's so hard to find" and "it's hell to believe there ain't a hell of a chance." If one takes the song as a narrative, rather than an exposition of a worldview, the final paragraph transforms the meaning into a nearly Roman Catholic perspective:

I woke beneath a clear blue sky The sun a shout the breeze a sigh My old hometown and the streets I knew Were wrapped up in a royal blue I heard my friends laughing out across the fields The girls in the gloaming and the birds on the wheel The raw smell of horses and the warm smell of hay Cicadas electric in the heat of the day A run of Three Sisters and the flush of the land And the lake was a diamond in the valley's hand The straight of the highway and the scattered out hearts They were coming together they pulling apart And angels everywhere were in my midst In the ones that I loved in the ones that I kissed I wondered what it was I'd been looking for up above Heaven is so big there ain't no need to look up So I stopped looking for royal cities in the air Only a full house gonna have a prayer

Musically, it's not a very good song, certainly not the best on the album. (That would be either "Wolves" or "Good Man," amid several other contenders.) Still, there's something compellingly artistic about its ambiguity — and something refreshing in the closing sense that its ambiguity tilts toward the side of hope and belief, rather than faithlessness and cynicism.

Stop the Bleeding

Justin Katz

Almost as if it's a coordinated emphasis on ignorance, the criticisms of my op-ed have done two things: 1) doggedly held to 2005 data, and 2) insisted that I haven't proven causation. The argument is that people aren't leaving, and there could be other explanations for their flight. Well, contradictions happen.

The reality is that I'm less concerned with the "why" than the "what now," and whether they're being crushed by taxes — which I consider to be more one of several underlying causes than a decisive and proximate one — or can't find housing or a job, this sort of trend, from a story in today's business section, is entirely in keeping with my argument and has to be arrested:

The state unemployment rate climbed two-tenths of a percentage point to 6.1 percent, a full percentage point higher than the national average rate of 5.1 percent, according to the state Department of Labor and Training.

Meanwhile, neighboring Massachusetts reported a 2,900-job gain, and its unemployment rate edged down to 4.4 percent. ...

The professional and business-service sector, which includes temporary help agencies, declined nationally and in Rhode Island, but added jobs in Massachusetts. The sector is closely watched by economists because temporary employees are considered to be a predictor of which way the economy is headed. Jobs there tend to rise when the economy is growing, and shrink when it is contracting.

Last month, Massachusetts reported that the sector added 1,000 jobs, following a 3,100-job gain in February. By contrast, Rhode Island's professional and business-services sector during the last three months has shed 1,600 jobs. (Nationally, the sector lost 35,000 jobs.)

We have to make Rhode Island more attractive to those who don't need or want public assistance. Otherwise, we won't be able to help anybody. And we have to close our ears to the melodious sound of Rhode Island's undertakers whistling past the graveyard.

Live by the Biography, Die by the Biography

Marc Comtois

Like other conservatives, I've been amused by how Saints Bill and Hillary have transmogrified into untrustworthy and selfish snakes-in-the-grass in the eyes of so many of their former water-carriers. Along the way, we've learned that those who were once part of the media conspiracy arrayed against them in the '90s are now taking their side against He Who Endures for Us All. But at least the bucket brigade has been consistent in one manner: in their world, traditional methods of assessing character weren't applicable to their favored candidate (Bill) then--shady land deals, extramarital sex and plain ol' lying--and they don't count now. Just look at the reaction in the press and amongst the Obama flock to the questions asked in the recent debate.

It used to be that you took a measure of a person by looking at how they acted and with whom they associated. How else could you assess their judgment, prudence and character? But some began to think that it was an old fashioned way to judge people, especially if such close scrutiny brought up some, er, personal foibles that weren't very attractive to particular candidates (Bill, again).

So what to do? Why, instead of worrying about how a candidate actually behaves and treats others--you know, all of that real world crap--how about defining character by the policy positions someone holds. Heck, makes sense. If you're trying to tear down the religion and culture upon which the moral judgment (that ain't currently working for you, anyway) is based, then why not try to define a new morality based on your new touchstone: politics. All you gotta do is check off the right boxes and you're on your way.

But, this time around, that's caused a problem for the Democrats. Because Clinton and Obama have checked so many of the same boxes this has been a primary campaign where the candidate's nearly-identical political substance has been overshadowed by their personal styles and biographies. And it's in the latter where, to the non-wonk set, the real difference lay.

To date, Obama has benefited from the comparison of biographies and styles, mostly because we all know (too much) about the Clintons. Obama didn't have to do much to sully her with her own past; it was already known (if heretofore ignored back when she was one of the Elect). But finally, in an attempt to to get behind the Obama hagiography, an unexpected quarter of the media, ABC, decided to delve into some of his associations (Wright and Ayers) and comments ("bitter", "cling to"). When you run a campaign based on biography and rhetoric, you had better be prepared to answer questions about both. He wasn't and, despite the screams from the Disciples, this was all fair game and quite the norm. Just ask a Republican.

Silencing the Iconic

Justin Katz

I see that the following news item on the legendary Brigitte Bardot caught Jay Nordlinger's eye, as well:

The headline was arresting: "Brigitte Bardot on trial for Muslim slur." She had incited "racial hatred." Oh my goodness, how? What did she say? I prepared for the worst. BB had said, "I am fed up with being under the thumb of this population, which is destroying us, destroying our country, and imposing its acts." That's it: For that, on trial as a criminal. ...

Ladies and gentlemen, when I hear about Brigitte Bardot, or Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant in Canada, I am grateful to live in a free country. For all my complaining about America, I am grateful. And I know you are, too.

The differences between the United States and other Western nations aren't always directly before us, but sometimes we are gifted with reminders.

Frankly Disappointing

Justin Katz

It would seem that a confession of my naivété is in order, because I was actually surprised at the response to my recent op-ed on Rhode Island taxpayer flight that the Poverty Institute's Ellen Frank offered as a letter to the editor. Either she is being deliberately deceptive, or she did not manage to understand what she had read before penning her rebuttal. I'm not sure which possibility represents the more charitable assumption.

The fact that she relies entirely on data released for 2005 and earlier — and insists that I did the same — allows her to avoid (or prevents her from realizing) the centrality to my piece of 2005's anomalous results. She also apparently missed the fact that the IRS, whose data she touts as "much more reliable" than that of the Census, supplied a roughly equal portion of my numbers. She notes that IRS data derives from "all income-tax returns filed," and indeed, my clincher, that Rhode Island lost, on a net basis, 8,296 taxpayers, with an aggregate adjusted gross income totaling $485 million, from 2005 to 2006, is based on actual taxpayers tracked by their Social Security numbers as they crossed state and national borders.

Readers interested in reviewing my research, presented in graphical format, can find it on this Web page. I would have hoped that sheer intellectual curiosity would have led Ms. Frank, a prominent member of an academic institute, thereto, but as I've already confessed, I must be naive.

A Custody Battle in Texas

Monique Chartier

The custody hearing over the 416 children removed from the polygamist sect by the State of Texas got off to a hectic start.

A court hearing to decide the fates of hundreds of children seized from a polygamist retreat was off to a chaotic start Thursday as hundreds of lawyers in two different locations demanded to study the first piece of evidence before it could be introduced.

State District Judge Barbara Walther called a recess 40 minutes after the hearing began in what could be the nation's largest child custody case. She wanted to allow the 350 lawyers spread out in two buildings to read the evidence and decide whether to object en masse or make individual objections.

The hearing resumed about an hour later.

The focus of this post is principally the legal issues before Judge Walther. But it is difficult not to make a comment in passing about the sect itself. Legally admissable evidence as to the most horrifying allegation about the sect, the forced marriage and the associative abuse of underage girls, has yet to be brought forth. So we will set that aside for the moment. What we do know is that

Members believe a man must marry at least three wives in order to ascend to heaven.

Women are meanwhile taught that their path to heaven depends on being subservient to their husband.

Commenter Rhody is down on judgmentalism. Am I being judgmental if I say that treating children like trading cards is disgusting?

Additional details on life at the ranch began to emerge as child welfare investigator Angie Voss testified.

She said that if one of the men fell out of favor with the FLDS, his wives and children would be reassigned to other men. The children would then identify the new man as their father. Voss said that contributed to the problem of identifying children's family links and their ages.

And caused the state to ask for genetic testing of the children, a request upon which Judge Walther has not yet ruled.

As to the legal issues to be addressed by this hearing, one of them will not be religion.

"The court is not in the position and certainly does not intend to rule about someone's religious practices and their freedom of religion," said Judge Walther.

The judge herself described the core issue which, of course, is custody.

What I'm trying to get to is whether or not these children should be returned to their parents or whether there's enough information that they need to be retained in the custody of the (child welfare) department

A component of this decision is that

Under Texan law, girls younger than 16 cannot marry, even with parental approval.

* * *

Texas law states that if sexual abuse is happening in a home and a parent does not put a stop to it, then the parent can lose custody of the child.

Marrying off an underage daughter, therefore, would constitute failure to stop sexual abuse of a child.

A slightly exasperated Judge Walther continues.

The real issue we haven't even been able to get to, and the issue is whether or not the court can return these children to their parents. To the extent that you all want to argue about procedure [I'll let you)] but you need to help me focus on what the issue is: Did the department act on evidence in a way that, based on the light of day, is insufficient for the department to continue to be the temporary conservators? This is a continuation of the emergency process and it is designed to have a little looser procedure, so that the parents are not hampered.

An important part of the evidence would potentially be contributed by the 16 year old girl whose call to a family violence shelter led to the raid of the sect. She has not yet been identified, however, and some sect members are saying that she does not exist, which would place the raid and the removal of the children on shaky legal grounds.

One aspect upon which the judge must rule is a little baffling.

One of the judge's tasks is to determine whether or not the ranch constitutes a "home" under state law.

Does this mean that if the ranch was not a home, the parent did no wrong in marrying off an underage daughter?

April 17, 2008

Political Blogfire

Justin Katz

Brown student Sara Sunshine's article on the local region of the blogosphere is a worthy offering — much better than I'd feared, having been forewarned of Crowley's involvement. What better comment on the quirky, intangible power of blogging could there be than Ms. Sunshine's inclusion of a quotation from the post in which I mentioned our interview. And it was certainly good of her to give me the last word with this:

Crowley is "more of a rhetorician than an intellectual," Katz told The Herald. "And not a very good one at that."


For the record, I'm pretty sure that I said, "I made a joke when we started Anchor Rising..."

Not Enough Interest for the Effort

Justin Katz

The topic of Matt Jerzyk's family is hereafter off the table for comment discussion. I'd hoped to walk a subtle line and maybe pursue a lesson in rhetoric and persuasion, but it's apparently not possible.

This ban isn't instituted out of fear of lawsuits. It's not done to protect Matt or out of a reluctance to "expose" him. It's not done out of a lack of conviction that social reaction to immoral behavior is crucial in society. We simply have little interest in the topic, around here, and the effort to guide conversations on it is proving too costly in time and attention.

I've deleted some recent comments and will hereafter delete them upon posting.

The Executive Order and Victims of Identity Theft

Carroll Andrew Morse

Provision 3 of Governor Donald Carcieri's executive order on illegal immigration places a requirement on executive branch departments that become aware of the usage of a fraudulent identity in an attempt to get something from the state…

3. The Directors of each department and state agency in the Executive Branch shall attempt to notify any person whose identity was stolen or otherwise improperly used by any person in order receive any benefit, including but not limited to child care, health care, any government issued identification card, including driver’s license and non-driver’s license identification, welfare or employment.
Though contracting licenses aren't expressly covered by the order, according to Amanda Milkovits' report in today's Projo, the Rhode Island State Police certainly seem to be acting in the spirit of the order in their investigation into Mario Chirinos' alleged attempt to use false documents to obtain a Rhode Island contractor's license…
[Mario Chirinos] had bought a fake state driver’s license, in the name of Effrain Tarquino, off the streets of Providence, [State Police Major Steven O’Donnell] said. Chirinos also allegedly obtained a fake state ID card in the name of Chirino Mario, 29, and a Social Security card and permanent resident alien card in the name of Efran Tarquino, with different birth dates, according to the state police.

The fake driver’s license –– missing the tell-tale state seal –– caught the attention of an employee at the state Contractor’s Registration and Licensing Board, where Chirinos had gone to apply for a contractor’s license. Chirinos had presented the license and an affidavit at the counter, the state police said.

The board employee contacted the Capital Police, who contacted the state police, who noticed that the driver’s license photo also wasn’t consistent with the appearance of state driver’s licenses. The trooper searched Chirinos and found the other fake IDs, O’Donnell said….

O’Donnell said that Chirinos told investigators that he’d bought the identification cards off the streets in Providence. The state police are investigating whether the names on the identification cards belong to others

Do the opponents of the Governor's executive order really believe that provision 3 is unreasonable and needs be repealed, i.e. that state government should not inform possible victims of identity theft of the crimes perpetrated against them until the Federal government passes "comprehensive immigration reform" first?

Local Competition in the Tinsel Economy

Carroll Andrew Morse

You're probably aware that after Rhode Island proposed one casino, Massachusetts proposed three. I'm not sure whose plan came first, but according to Tamara Race and Jack Encarnacao of the Quincy Patriot Ledger, the same thing is happening with movie studios: Rhode Island proposes one, while Massachusetts proposes two…

There is room and business enough for two movie studios on the South Shore, developers say. Studios proposed in Weymouth and Plymouth are expected to complement, rather than compete with, each other.

SouthField Studios in Weymouth’s hopes to be up and running first will not affect the Plymouth Rock Studios plans, founder David Kirkpatrick said.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Kirkpatrick said. “We plan to be here running our studio for the rest of our lives.”

A 25 percent tax credit is expected to double movie production in the state, and producers need sound stages, studios, and a work force to launch the new local industry.

Job Performance Evaluation of the R.I. Attorney General

Monique Chartier

In a letter to the Providence Journal, Mr. Dennis Odell of Smithfield gives him a "U" for Unsatisfactory.

The other week, Rhode Island Atty. Gen. Patrick Lynch publicly opposed an offshore LNG terminal (“Lynch blasts LNG plan,” April 3). What does this have to do with law enforcement?

Last month he supported Sen. Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination. What does this have to do with law enforcement?

When is Mr. Lynch going to enforce the laws of the state of Rhode Island and deal with illegal immigrants? Why isn’t Mr. Lynch ferreting out the illegal activities and corruption of state legislators, local politicians, businessmen, etc., instead of letting the federal government do the work?

He seems to be very vocal on issues that don’t shine on his area of responsibility and relatively quiet about upholding and enforcing the law. I would like to see Mr. Lynch carry out the duties of his office.

Tell Us What You Really Think, Pat

Carroll Andrew Morse

I'd be interested to hearing a fuller explanation of exactly what it is that NEA Assistant Executive Director Pat Crowley likes about this video that he's posted at RI Future under the heading of "Oh if only the world worked like this"

He seems to be suggesting that he'd prefer a world with much less job security for white collar professionals -- not just executives, but for accountants and computers programmers and the like, the working stiffs of the corporate world -- so they'll forced to be dependent on…on…what exactly?

Good thing he's not in a job where he's responsible for protecting the interests of white collar professionals. Oh, wait…

Alves in His Own Words

Justin Katz

Perhaps the most ear-catching thing that Senate Finance Committee Chairman Stephen Alves (D, West Warwick) said to Dan Yorke yesterday afternoon was that we, the taxpayers of Rhode Island, "don't pay [legislators] enough money to sit there and spend all hours of the night up there" — as if being a state legislator is a bit like being a part-time contractor.

There's something more subtle that ought to be considered, in Alves's performance, both on Dan's show and in a Steve Peoples piece in the Wednesday Providence Journal. Peoples's article emphasizes legislation that Alves is purportedly drafting "to adopt sweeping pension changes that would establish minimum retirement ages, limit annual increases and reduce disability pensions for thousands of local firefighters, police officers and municipal workers," but consider the following clips from the radio:

Yorke: Do you understand how frustrated people are that Steve Alves didn't call to clarify a few things to save millions and millions of dollars in expenses? Do you understand how frustrated people get when they hear the ideas to help us out of our fiscal morass end up being increased fees and taxes an d not expenditure reductions?

Alves: Expenditure reductions, I mean, we are doing many expenditure reductions. ... When you see the supplemental coming out, cutting off the number of families in our state healthcare program. ...

Alves: Part of [the governor's supplemental] was predicated on getting some union concessions, of which we have been waiting for. That's something beyond our purview, and that's something that the governor and the unions, and to this day we still haven't received a plan. ... [also mentions tax credit reductions] ...

Yorke: We can no longer afford the incredible benefit programs that public employee unions have in this state. That's the break of the back.

Alves: Don't forget, two years ago, we changed the pension system for every state employee.

Yorke: A minor adjustment.

Alves: It isn't minor. It saved the state tens of millions of dollars.

Yorke: A minor adjustment to the individual. It was a minor adjustment.

Alves: Dan, I think if you turned around and looked at it, it wasn't a minor adjustment. I mean, you went from people who thought that they could retire at one point at fifty years old to fifty-nine years old. I mean, we're talking about an extra ten years of working whether you have thirty years in. I mean, we did away that. We have lowered the maximum amount that they can receive in their pensions. So we have done tough decisions with them.

So readers of the state's major newspaper receive an image, with the clouds in their coffee, of the hard-nosed Senate Finance Committee chairman standing firm in the tough fight against unionized public sector employees, but during his afternoon chat on the radio, the very same senator neglects to cite his valiant effort — even while under fire for only talking about revenue increases.

On the other hand, his on-air clarification of the corporate income tax was very detailed. Currently, corporations in Rhode Island pay at least $500, or 9% of their net income above that, which (as Monique pointed out last night) puts the net income threshold for taxes above the minimum at $5,555. According to Alves, this leaves 94% of Rhode Island corporations paying the minimum. Now, with the unexplained shift to gross receipts, Alves observes the following (to Dan):

  • 358 corporations with more than $10 million in gross receipts currently pay minimum.
  • 426 corporations with $5–10 million in gross receipts currently pay minimum.
  • 818 corporations with $2.5–5 million in gross receipts currently pay minimum.

So how do all these businesses manage to net less than $5,555 despite millions of dollars of gross receipts? Alves's explanation of the iniquity is "offshore accounts to divert their income." The greedy corporate types have methods for hiding their income that the average Joe lacks. Before we get to the anti-business rhetoric, though, I'd suggest that at least two categories of businesses should be removed from the list of villains: companies that gross millions but use most of that dough to pay for expenses and compensate employees and S-Corps that pass most of their earnings on to stakeholders who pay taxes on it as income.

Surely such innocent and upstanding parties will be among those asked to pay the additional $10.2 million in taxes that Alves proposes to collect in general revenue (with the RI politician's promise that it will be sent to cities and towns), according to the following scheme:

Gross Receipts New Tax Payment Net Revenue to Pay
the Equivalent Currently
Under $250,000 $500 Under $5,555
$250,000 to $500,0000 $750 $8,333
$500,000 to $1 million $1,250 $13,889
$1 to $2.5 million $2,000 $22,222
$2.5 to $5 million $2,500 $27,778
$5 to $10 million $3,500 $38,889
Above $10 million $5,000 $55,556

The third column of back-of-the-envelope calculations is what companies would currently have to net in order to pay the same amount at the current rate of 9%. That's if the state's take remained the same, but as Alves explained, the state's take is going up, which means that the net revenues of companies paying each amount would actually be lower.

Given his attention to detail on the tax-raising count, one can have little doubt that Alves intends to follow through with this one of the two proposals that Steve Peoples describes as having "drawn sharp criticism." Considering that Alves had apparently forgotten the other one before dinnertime yesterday, my hopes for its realization — at least with his tutelage — are not high.

April 16, 2008

Senator Alves' Latest Corporate Tax Proposal

Monique Chartier

Senator Stephen Alves (D - West Warwick) has proposed a graduated tax on gross corporate revenue.

Moving swiftly (because, obviously, Senator Alves did also) past Rhode Island's already repellent corporate tax climate and the fact that the budget crisis will not be solved by raising taxes of any sort, by the senator's own numbers, a full 17% of corporations in Rhode Island which do not presently make a profit in this higher bracket would get entangled in his net.

A couple of months ago, when he proposed, to a chorus of bronx cheers, that the minimal corporate tax be doubled, the senator stated that 94% of corporations in Rhode Island pay "only" the minimum - $500 - corporate tax. What this means is that 94% of Rhode Island corporations either do not make a profit at all or only make a profit that equates to a maximum of $500 in corporate taxes - $5,555.

Yet the senator stated that under his proposed new tax structure, 77% of Rhode Island corporations would continue to pay "only" the $500; the rest would pay more. We established that presently, 6% of Rhode Island corporations make a profit above the $500 tax mark. 94 - 77 = 17. Therefore, 17% of Rhode Island corporations would be bumped into a higher tax bracket, not because they made any more money but simply because Senator Alves wants more money from them.

The Senator indicated on the Dan Yorke Show today that one of the reasons he is proposing this revision is because some corporations are cheating (my word) on their taxes. If this is so, the solution is audits and an enforcement of existing law. It is not to commit the legislative equivalent of hiring a plane to sky-write:

Attention, domestic and out of state corporations. Our tax structure used to be really bad. Now it's really REALLY bad. (You still want to be here, though, right?)

Naught-ical Thinking

Marc Comtois

So I've been wondering when the tripartite alliance of advocates for labor, illegal immigrants and entitlements would start to show cracks in the face of the budget crunch. It would seem only a matter of time, right? Thus far they've tried to identify other "revenue sources" such that no program shall be left behind, like re-playing the class-warfare card in hopes of extracting more taxes from the wealthy--let a tax on their yachts raise everyone else's boats, or something to that affect. Until the yacht clubbers sail away to calmer seas.

So why, as it seems, are state workers or American's on welfare willing to lose some benny's for the sake of illegal immigrants? Would state workers rather keep more of their jobs or are they all right with sacrificing their economic well-being for the sake of maintaining some of the most lavish entitlement programs (per capita) in the country? Or are they, indeed, correctly banking on the traditional Rhode Island solution of raising taxes, as what Dan Yorke believes. And it's hard to discount it, historical precedent and all.

But maybe our legislators won't bend this time around and those of us who have been calling for a little fiscal sanity around here will be heard and the legislature will look to trim it's own sails instead of ours. Perhaps this is the year where we scrape some of the barnacles off the hull of good ship Rhody and chart a new course to Fiscal Sanity. Or maybe this is all for naught and I should book passage on board the Ship of Fools for even daring to think such things.


Teacher Buyout In Warwick?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Russell J. Moore of the Warwick Beacon reports that the American Federation of Teachers has a longer-then-usual-term proposal for addressing the school financing situation in Warwick…

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) is asking the school department to seriously consider offering teachers a retirement incentive that they believe would save the department millions without compromising the quality of education.

The plan, which has already been implemented in communities throughout the country, would pay teachers somewhere between $50,000 to $70,000 over a five-year period if they agreed to either retire or resign.

The move, argues Jule Gould, a National representative of the AFT, would save money by allowing the district to either hire new teachers at a step one pay scale—just over $30,000 per year—and replace step 10 teachers, who earn close to $70,000 per year. Or, he said, the district could opt to not replace the teachers at all.

The buyout plan would allow the district to reduce staff without violating their layoff clause, which only allows them to layoff 20 teachers per year.

The Warwick Teacher’s Union has ran ads in the Beacon in recent weeks, stating the union “has been exploring ways to save funds while keeping standards high for each and every Warwick student.”

While the ad isn’t specific as to what it is referring to, the AFT confirmed that a buyout plan, at this point, is all they have in mind.

The Cost of War

Justin Katz

I know there's no direct connection, but I couldn't help but think of those complaints about the cost of the Iraq war to the state when I read this bit of rare positive news:

A California aerospace company is scouting locations in Rhode Island in order to open a facility to build armored boats by the end of the year.

Kelly Space & Technology is looking for a 20,000- to 30,000-square-foot building to accommodate manufacturing operations and engineering offices, according to chief executive officer Michael J. Gallo. The company has opened an office in Warwick near T.F. Green Airport and has one employee evaluating potential sites, Gallo said. ...

... Gallo, a native of Fitchburg, Mass., also was drawn by Rhode Island's expertise in the boat-building industry and the defense contractors in the state and nearby.

The company also was attracted by assistance from the state's Business Innovation Factory, a nonprofit company that includes government officials and that seeks to support experimentation and innovation.

The Carpenter You'd Rather Be

Justin Katz


We'd like to encourage this sort of conversation, so commenters will have a very short leash for ad hominem with this post.

Matt Jerzyk's response to my post about the rich giving their money to we in the working class strikes me as so tangential as to raise a wholly separate topic, and as so misrepresenting what I've written as to be a response to a wholly separate person. That said, I think he raises some interesting points of distinction between his worldview and mine:

I have seen you write on several occasions about how much you appreciate this rich family's wealth; a wealth that allows you and your coworkers to keep working on their many luxurious projects.

You reason that if this rich family moves or if they stop spending money, then you and your coworkers would be out of a job.

I can understand your concerns about your own job. That is a baseline concern for all of us.

But, doesn't your point limit the opportunities that are facing the 21st century American tradesman? Is your crew truly confined to working for one rich family? Do the presence of rich people define opportunities for carpenters in RI? Are there no entrepreneurs among you who could strike out on your own and work on building green homes and commercial spaces (quite an emerging and lucrative market these days)? Or, you wouldn't rather be rebuilding America's crumbling bridges, roads and infrastructure?

I don't doubt that you want your particular job to continue - we all do. However, there is something to be said for untethering the American entrepreneurial spirit and seeing what can happen- in the construction industry and in all industries.

Relying on the presence of only a few hundred wealthy families for the economic development of our state just seems a tad naive, a bit unrealistic and incredibly hopeless.

To begin with the non sequitur, the statement of my post was that we do have a mechanism for transferring wealth from the rich to the working-class: it's called the marketplace, capitalism. It does not follow from that suggestion that my primary concern is for my own specific job. It follows even less that I'm arguing for total economic reliance on our state's few hundred wealthiest families.

As to my professional biography, the company for which I work has had clients across the spectrum, several at any given time, and all of my side work has been for working-to-middle class families. There are some notable differences from one project to another, although I don't know that I'd rate any as preferable on their basis. Moneyed projects offer the opportunity to do some very interesting, very involved work that makes a hammer swinger feel a bit more like an artisan. In my industry, the worker has a sense of "the right way" to do things, but that often must be compromised for the sake of budgets, usually at the direct request of the client. With the rich, the fight between funds and workmanship is not as dramatic.

On the other hand, lower-end work brings the satisfaction of efficiency and, more importantly, of appreciation. Those who've worked for what they have are tangibly more excited by improvements, and that's a very gratifying thing to see.

Me, I like variety, so I'd surely be unhappy with either niche's being my foreseeable future. It speaks to the difference between Matt's point of view and my own that (1) he's so compelled to drape a job like carpentry with political meaning, and (2) he throws commercial spaces in the mix and asks about transportation construction.

From the carpentry perspective, I'm sure there would be new and interesting aspects to an explicitly "green" project, and I'd love to take one on. But, contra Matt, I'm not interested in limiting "the opportunities that are facing the 21st century American tradesman." The game isn't zero sum, and a casual observer can see that there are not "green" projects languishing for lack of carpenters. (If they were, the general pay of the trade would be going up.)

As for commercial work, to my experience, it lacks both the edification of the high-end project and the appreciation of the lower-end private work. Concerning bridges and roads, while I'd love to undertake an old-style New England covered bridge, transportation and infrastructure projects are generally for the heavier tradesmen, such as masons, welders, and excavators, not carpenters.

This thread all unravels to the truly peculiar apex of Matt's comment:

... there is something to be said for untethering the American entrepreneurial spirit and seeing what can happen- in the construction industry and in all industries.

What could he possibly mean by that? It would stretch credulity to the breaking point to suggest that I was (or am) advocating for the high-end construction submarket to be an especial area of focus at the expense of other submarkets. Yes, as a tally of man-hours, my current project has probably kept a couple dozen people employed full time for a cumulative year, while proportional projects for the working class have kept a few people busy for a cumulative month. But for Matt's riposte even to make logical sense, he must be implying a government forced shift of private construction dollars to publicly funded construction projects. That's not just a "tad" and a "bit." That's dangerously naive, unrealistic, and hopeless.

For the most part, the funds that support so many local workers building and rebuilding summer homes for the rich are not available for taxation. The owners tend not to be full-year residents, and if they were to find that they could no longer afford to lavish themselves in this way in Rhode Island, they'd find somewhere else to do it. Even with full-year residents, the difference is mainly one of threshold for redistributive pain. The progressives' willingness to insist on the right kind of commerce would certainly result in lost revenue to the state, less money in the states economy, and lost jobs. (Emphasizing that mine might be one of them is merely an attempt to invalidate my testimony.)

Bringing about this shift of opportunities would add layers of unnecessary government bureaucracy, as the public sector goes about its inefficient business of transferring the wealth, deciding to whom to give it, overseeing its distribution, and regulating its usage. The entire process, moreover, would funnel money and power through a limited social point that would be sure to attract manipulators and despots.

Jerzyk's mode of "untethering the American entrepreneurial spirit," in other words, can only result in lost jobs and less varied, less gratifying employment for those in the working class who manage to stay employed. The vision dehumanizes us as cogs who must find meaning in the political wonderfulness of a more restrictive system. And (perhaps not without calculation) it benefits a class of people — not doing too poorly, already — of meddlers and would-be social engineers.

April 15, 2008

Immigration Debate is Only Part of It

Marc Comtois

There is no doubt that there are illegal immigrants taking advantage of taxpayer dollars here in Rhode Island. How many? We don't know. But we do know that, if we are to apply the same sort of zero-sum economics favored by our friends on the left, any benefits going to illegal immigrants are not going to hard-working, but down-on-their-luck Americans. That's why the labor/immigrant alliance strikes me as a strange one. Though perhaps it works because of the conflation between legal and illegal immigrants combined with fond memories of the good ol' days of organizing the oppressed minorities of the past. Not sure.

Yet, I think the polls bear out that most Americans recognize the distinction between illegal and legal and, more importantly, have made it known that they think that people should live by the rules or face the consequences. It isn't racism or fear of "the other" that is upsetting people, but a belief that people are getting away with breaking the rules and benefiting with tax dollars, either directly or via entitlements sent towards their U.S. born children. It doesn't matter if the rules for entry into the country and becoming a citizen were easier 100 or 50 years ago: they are supposed to be tougher now and should be followed. Americans' sense of fair play demands it. That no one seems to be holding anyone accountable is the root cause of all of the anger out there. And that's why they applaud the Governor: finally, someone is taking a stand.

But I do wonder if we shouldn't try to apply thermodynamic theory and transfer some of the heat generated by the immigration debate into other relevant areas via some sort of a political heat balance solution. Illegal immigrants are a legitimate target insofar as it is pretty clear-cut that they have no legal claim to government largesse. But Rhode Island taxpayers shouldn't forget that a greater proportion of their money goes to legal Rhode Island citizens, not illegal immigrants. A sizable portion of the heat generated by the illegal immigrant debate should be redirected towards other pots--entitlement programs, state employment packages, etc.--so that, maybe, they too will begin to boil over and get some attention.

The "Lost" Generation

Justin Katz

Falling through cracks has always been a specialty of mine. Wrong time. Wrong place. Not quite a fit. Too much of this for that. Too much there for here. Exceptions to the rule move to the back (or the front) of the room, please.

Not that I've minded, particularly. It becomes sort of definitional, and one's bound to gain perspective watching the floorboards slip by. Perhaps that's why I'm mildly amused to note that Mark Patinkin, apparently inadvertently, cuts people my age right out of the generational narrative. There was the Counterculture/Pepsi/Me/Yuppy/Baby Boom Generation. Then, "born betwen 1964 and 1974 or so," came the Baby Bust/Generation X Generation. Currently coming into its own is the Generation Y/Millennial Generation, now "age 21 to 29." Born in 1975, I'll be 33 next month. It would seem that makes me a member of the Or So Generation.

Personally, my late-'70s-born peers and I have tended to identify with the Gen-Xers, but we've always felt as if we'd just made the cut. We got the grunge thing, but most of us couldn't stay out late enough for the concerts.

I'd like to think that our slipping through these artificial cutoffs makes us a class of chronological Levites. We're not part of a defined generational tribe, but we've felt kindred to many. Our cultural sense floats between them.

On one end, we hadn't yet hit the height of our hormonal lunge when AIDS slithered onto the scene, and during our most formative years (it seems) our parents in the Divorce Generation paused for reflection. On the other end, we'd logged hours of acclimation with Super Mario Brothers before the gaming industry got as far as Mortal Kombat and Doom. MP3 players are the step after 50-disc CD changers, not two steps before playlists downloadable directly to chips in our brains. We were largely through college (if we went) by the time the Internet exploded, so it is more a place to apply research skills than the source of all knowledge, but we hadn't traveled far in our careers without it as a tool, so our comfort level is high.

Perhaps, as a subgeneration, we'll prove to be the Undramatic. If that's true, it would likely please a majority of us to fall in one of those population spans probably to be found in any society undergoing tremendous change: understanding that the innovations are cool, useful, and often beneficial to humanity, but they don't change the essence of life, just as our parents' cultural revolution didn't erase human nature.

Phony Cost Estimates Don't Help the Anti-War Cause

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Ian Donnis' Not for Nothing blog, a group of legislators and activists are getting together on this Tax Day to make the claim that just about every major problem Rhode Islanders face today (the state deficit, healthcare, our mediocre education system, the beginnings of a recession, etc.) have today could have been solved, if only the United States hadn't opened the Iraqi front in the War on Terror…

Martha Yager, of American Friends Service Committee states, "Rhode Islanders have spent $4.3 billion on the war in Iraq. With that money, we could have avoided the state's deficit; funded Head Start, health care and education, and have been ready to help families hit hard by the state's recession. Instead, the death-toll in Iraq continues to rise and we face even worsening human cost at home as our human needs programs get slashed."
We're left to wonder what it was that was magical about these past five years that would have allowed a little more government spending to finally solve everything, though it hadn't before. Anyway, given that there are about 1 million people in Rhode Island and 300 million in the U.S., Ms. Yager's estimate of the total cost so far of the Iraq war works out to about $1.3 trillion dollars.

That figure is not credible. A few ways to illustrate this are…

  1. By looking at the overall growth in the defense budget -- Taking the year 2001 as a baseline and summing the (inflation adjusted) total of defense spending above that baseline for each year since then, new spending in all defense areas -- including what's been spent on the Afghanistan campaign -- since 2001 sums to $1.05 trillion dollars, an amount less than what Martha Yager claims has been spent on Iraq alone. (Figures based on Brian Riedl's work at the Heritage Foundation).
  2. By looking at the analysis of liberal-darling, war opposing Nobel-Prize winners -- According to an item posted on RI Future yesterday, the coolest economist ever is Joseph Stiglitz. Stiglitz estimates that the total cost of the Iraq war will be approximately 3 trillion dollars. That's a figure for the final total, including long-term costs like veterans' care and hardware replacement, not just operational costs so far.

    Well, if both Martha Yager and Joseph Stiglitz are right, we've already got the Iraq War almost half-paid off already. Does Joseph Stilglitz agree, or are somebody's numbers way off?

Furthermore, however much has been spent on the War on Terror, the claim that there has been any corresponding spending reduction in the rest of the budget is false. Again using the 2001 Federal budget as a baseline, 68% of the growth in spending over the past seven years has gone to either entitlements or discretionary non-defense spending, only 36% to defense. Over this period, $2 trillion more has been spent on entitlement and non-defense discretionary programs than would have been spent if the Federal budget had increased "only" at the rate of inflation.

If Martha Yager's premise that human needs programs are being slashed is correct, before blaming everything on the defense budget, she needs to explain why the state of Rhode Island has been unable to convert its share of 2 trillion new Federal non-defense dollars into effective programs.

Being a People to Believe In

Justin Katz

This is a point worth making over and over again:

[Iraqis] were willing to help us, but they are not a stupid people. They know that if they commit to the American side and the Americans abandon them as we did in 1991, it means death for them and their families. They know this, and it is real. It is not an abstract idea for them.

Most Iraqis don't support Al-Qaida and the militias, but when our commitment to stay in Iraq and finish the job is in doubt — as it was when Sen. Harry Reid went on TV and said, "this war is lost" *#151; Iraqis are going to hedge their bets. They may not support the militias, but when they are betting their lives, most of them are not going to commit to America unless they are assured that America is committed to them.

Perhaps our greatest difficulty in foreign affairs proceeds from the national narrative, established in the romanticized argot of '60s nostalgists, that we are a people so self-reflective that we'll stop ourselves from succeeding, no matter the cost in others' lives. Iraq would be a wholly different place, right now, if the world had thought it a conclusion without disclaimer that we would stick it out until Iraq had taken the reins of the horse that we intended to provide.

Instead, we are inundated with poseurs' attempts to make of themselves self-fulfilled prophets.

Taking from the Rich

Justin Katz

Over on Kmareka, David Jaffe suggests that, thanks to those awful ultra-rich, working-class Americans have every reason to be bitter. Joins in commenter Miami Mama:

If those ultra-rich would spend just a fraction of their wealth to help the poor and middle-class instead of selfishly splurging on themselves, it would be a much better world.

Don't I know it! If only the rich family on whose summer house my boss’s crew has been working for almost two years would find some way to give its money to the dozens of working-class folks who’ve been employed on the project.

I’ll tell ya: talk about splurging! They’ve been so lavish that they’ve had to hire carpenters, electricians, masons, plumbers, roofers, drywallers, painters, security system technicians, audio/video installers, glass installers, cabinet makers, custom window makers, pool installers, sauna installers, gas & oil technicians, tilers, welders, sheet metal fabricators, excavators, form builders, and concrete pourers. And that doesn’t even include the architects, engineers, landscapers, contractors, construction material suppliers, waste disposal professionals, porta-john suppliers, and professional cleaners! And that doesn't include all of the manufacturers, service providers, and other professionals that all of those companies must bring into the picture at some point.

If only we could come up with a way to encourage the rich to transfer just a fraction of their wealth to working-class people…

It Doesn't Count If You Don't Count

Monique Chartier

The newest addition to the list of "reasons" that the Governor's Executive Order and various legislative initiatives on illegal immigration should not be undertaken is that the actual number of undocumented immigrants in the state is unknown. Mr. Jaime Aguayo of the Governor's Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs made such an argument yesterday morning on WHJJ's Helen Glover Show. He further repeated his statement from the press conference Friday that he and other members of that advisory commission would step down if the Governor did not continue to meet with them on this issue.

Inasmuch as no one contends that the number of undocumented immigrants in the state is zero, the limited measures outlined by the Governor's Executive Order would seem reasonable in all senses of the word. Setting that aside for a moment, however, a suggestion and a question pose themselves from Mr. Aguayo's remarks this morning.

Press conferences are fun but facts are more substantive and a better addition to any conversation. It would seem to be both productive and in keeping with the nature of an advisory commission for the Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs to assemble and bring forward some data on the question which a member of the Commission himself raised; namely, the number of undocumented immigrants present in the state.

And the question raised is actually for everyone who believes that no action should be taken on the state level until the presence of undocumented immigrants in the state is specifically quantified. At what number, below what threshold should the Governor's Executive Order not be implemented and new laws not be passed?

April 14, 2008

We are the Free Market Change We are Waiting For

Marc Comtois

The April 7, 2008 edition of National Review (dead-tree: subscriber only) contains a piece by Stephen Spruiell, "The Buckeye Stops Here," that focuses on the Ohio economy. Here's an illuminating excerpt:

Robert S. “Steve” Miller, the CEO of Delphi when it declared bankruptcy, has some experience managing distressed companies. His previous jobs included CEO of Bethlehem Steel and board member at United Airlines. Addressing reporters in 2005 on the subject of the Delphi bankruptcy, he analyzed the painful transformations occurring within each of the industries he’s worked for (steel, airlines, and autos), and argued that import competition wasn’t the primary force driving any of them to change.

“In the steel industry,” Miller said, “we were being run off the road, not so much by imports, but by domestic competitors such as Nucor and Steel Dynamics.” (These companies operate “mini-mills” that are more flexible and less costly than the large, integrated mills Bethlehem Steel operated.) “They paid equally good wages,” he added, “but needed half the labor hours per ton to do the same job.”

In the airline industry, Miller said, “Delta and Northwest were shot down by JetBlue and Southwest, not Air India or Air China. Worker productivity is a big part of the difference.”

And in the auto industry, Miller pointed out, “Toyota, Nissan, and Honda are competing from assembly plants in our back yard, but without the crippling work rules and social costs embedded in [GM, Ford, and Chrysler’s] labor contracts.” The example of Honda is particularly relevant to any examination of Ohio’s economy. The Japanese automaker opened its first plant in Ohio in 1979, and since then it has opened three more and become one of the state’s top employers. Workers in Honda’s Ohio plants don’t belong to a union, but the company pays competitive wages and benefits and has never laid off any of its Ohio employees.

“In each case,” Miller said, “the old oligopoly has crumbled, not so much from globalization, but from upstart domestic competition.” Standard Textile’s Gary Heiman, the upstart competition in his old-line industry, couldn’t have said it any better himself....

[Heiman] wrote the sentence, “Rather than banking on high-powered lobbyists to stave off the march of globalization, we welcome the end of [import] quotas.”

That sentence can be found in an op-ed Heiman wrote for the Washington Post in 2005 titled “Innovation, Not Quotas,” in which he called on the American textile industry to stop asking the government to protect it from import competition. Compare his attitude to the one expressed by eight out of ten Ohioans who voted in the Democratic primary, and who told exit pollsters that U.S. trade with other countries “loses jobs.”

“That entire notion is nonsense,” Heiman says. Trade takes the blame when people lose their jobs because it’s an “easy target,” he says, absolving shortsighted industry leaders and labor unions when companies run into financial trouble and jobs are eliminated. Rather than take responsibility for failing to adapt, “it’s much easier to say, ‘It’s their fault. It’s China’s fault. The Chinese are taking away our jobs,’ when in fact, that’s just not the case,” he says, citing five years of consistently low U.S. unemployment rates.

While other basic industries “expected the government to protect them from foreign competition,” he says, his company embraced trade, tapped into foreign markets, and doubled the number of workers it employs, both in Ohio and in the U.S., over the past ten years. “We understood the map,” he says, “and we expanded so that today we have about 23 manufacturing facilities in 13 countries, including seven manufacturing facilities in the United States.”

Standard Textile’s U.S. manufacturing centers are not in Ohio — they are located in the southeastern United States, the traditional home of the U.S. textile industry, where Heiman bought defunct mills from bankrupt companies and refurbished them. But as his company grew its manufacturing operations in the U.S. and overseas, it added hundreds of product-development, logistics, customer-service, and finance jobs at its Ohio headquarters.

An Only in Rhode Island Riddle: What is the Return on Investment on an Asset You Don't Own?

Carroll Andrew Morse

A few weeks ago, the Projo's Daniel Barbarisi reported that the city of Providence was considering raising revenue by selling its water system…

The city is considering selling the Providence Water Supply Board and the network of reservoirs and treatment plants it controls in order to pay down the huge debt in the city’s pension system.

City Council members hope that they can rake in a one-time payment of $400 million to $600 million for the water system, which includes the Scituate Reservoir. They plan to form a special committee to obtain an appraisal of the system, and hope that they can line up a private buyer by the end of the fiscal year in June.

The problem with this plan, according to Steve Laffey writing in Sunday's Projo, is that Providence doesn't actually own the assets it would like to sell…
The water system does not belong to Providence. It belongs to the ratepayers of the water system because they paid for it…

Utility experts have testified in front of the [Public Utilities Commission] (Woonsocket Water Docket No. 3800 on May 21, 2007) that it is the ratepayers who should get any sale proceeds from a utility asset. Walter Edge, a consultant for Providence Water, when asked about the possible sale of Woonsocket’s water system, answered, “I believe those proceeds should go to the ratepayers.” When another utility expert, Andrea Crane, was asked the same question on the same day, she answered, “My view would be that was purely a ratepayer asset and therefore the revenues, to the extent there are any, should accrue to the benefit of the ratepayers…So I think ultimately the ratepayers should receive the benefit. This is not a situation where you have an investor who has put up his own funding and taken a risk with those funds and therefore may under certain circumstances be entitled to a share of the excess profits.”

To borrow an old George Will line, should we at least award some creativity points to our politicians who graduate from stealing from quasi-public boards to outright stealing the boards in their entirety?

Poison in the Blogosphere and an Ailing Canary in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Every couple of years, it seems, a student from Brown will contact me for comment in an article about blogging for the Brown Daily Herald. It's traditionally been a unifying topic: although we've got different emphases, we Rhode Island bloggers will all agree about the value and opportunities that the medium offers, not the least because it sets the stage for open public discussion of important matters.

This time around, the reporter's final question, yesterday, was whether I had any response to Pat Crowley's assertion to her that we at Anchor Rising are fascists.

What a shame the Rhode Island Left has allowed that guy such a visible place in the local public discourse. More's the shame that nobody on their side will denounce him. And the biggest shame of all is that he comes to us courtesy of our state's teachers.

Venezuela's Casualties of Revolution

Carroll Andrew Morse

This line from Ambassador William Middendorf's scathing critique of Hugo Chavez and his enablers published in Saturday's Projo should really grab your attention…

According to a 2005 U.N. report, more people die from gunfire in Venezuela than in any other country on Earth (including Iraq).
Citing only gunfire deaths arguably obscures the issue since explosions in Iraq are also a source of civilian harm. But even after including civilian fatalities from all war-related violence, Iraq's civilian fatality rate over the past six months is still less than the most recently reported homicide rates from Venezuela.

Analyzing figures provided by the Department of Defense as part of the Iraq Index project, the Brookings Institution estimates that about 4,850 civilian deaths occurred in Iraq between September 2007 and February 2008, the last six months for which data is available. Given Iraq's population of 27.5 million, this translates to a rate of approximately 35 civilian fatalities per 100,000 people per year, which, make no mistake, is too high.

The numbers for Venezuela are significantly worse…

  • According to a UNESCO study cited by the New York Times, presumably the study referred to by Ambassador Middendorf, Venezuela suffered 41.4 gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2002.
  • The same New York Times article, using official figures from Venezuela's Criminal Investigations Police, reported a total of 7,616 murders in Venezuela through the first 8 months of 2006, a rate of 44 homicides per 100,000 people per year.
  • According to the the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, the Criminal Investigations Police reported a total of 12,249 murders in Venezuela between January 1 and November 30 of 2007, a rate of 51 homicides per 100,000 people per year. (h/t Gateway Pundit)
  • The Times article reports that the current murder rate in Venezuela is approximately double what it was in 1999, the year President Hugo Chavez took office.
Given the Venezuelan death toll, do those who claim that the removal of Saddam Husein from power has been an unmitigated disaster void of redeeming value also say the same thing of Venezuela's "Bolivaran Revolution"? Or is a belief that any price is acceptable to build socialism, while no price is acceptable in the attempt to advance freedom still unfortunately finding its sympathizers?

Transformation Complete: Yankees Become Red Sox of Old

Marc Comtois

OK, so a Sox-loving NYer buries a Big Papi shirt in the new Yankee Stadium concrete and fess's up. The NY Post's description of what happened is priceless, especially how new Yanks Boss Hank Steinbrenner "doesn't care".....

But it was the betrayal of his borough that elicited Bronx cheers from many Yankee fans - including the new Boss, Hank Steinbrenner.

"I hope his coworkers kick the s- - - out of him," said George's boy, who now runs the team with his brother Hal.

Hank put no stock in talk of curses or in Castignoli's cruel bid to hex the Yankees' new $1.3 billion home.

A buried jersey, he reassured worried fans, means nothing.

"It's a bunch of bull- - - -," Hank said.

But Castignoli scoffed at the top Yankee honcho's ready dismissal.

"So, then, why is he making such a big stink about it?" asked the would-be hexer. "If it's no big deal, why not let it lay? Apparently, it's bothering him.

"Tell Hank he can come meet me if he wants to try - and tell him to bring [catcher Jorge] Posada, because he's the one Yankee I can't stand."

Meanwhile, Yankee fans attending last night's game at Boston's Fenway Park cheered the find.

"Dig it up, and get it out of there," said Norberto Diaz, 35. "They should give the next guy $156 an hour to dig it up."

Yes, Steinbrenner didn't care to the extent that he had a few guys employ a jackhammer on 3 feet of concrete to remove the jersey. Whose afraid of a "curse" now?

RI a Cut Below

Justin Katz

In response to my recent column on Rhode Island's economy and taxes, I've received email asking whether it's merely the economy to blame — nothing unique to Rhode Island. Well, let's see:

Rhode Island was one of only five states nationally and the District of Columbia to post a higher unemployment rate in February than the national average.

Rhode Island's rate of 5.8 percent, with 33,400 residents out of work, was also the highest in New England, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor.

Rhode Island's jobless rate for March is scheduled to be reported on Friday.

The U.S. unemployment rate was 4.8 percent in February and 5.1 percent last month.

The New England unemployment rate, at 4.6 percent in February, was unchanged over the month.

It would be interesting (for somebody with time) to make an attempt to trace whether Rhode Island's full percentage point of worseness contributed to the better-than-average score of the rest of New England.

The More Things Change

Marc Comtois

From Time (h/t):

The Middle American's faith is not merely grounded upon nostalgia and emotion. He believes in a system that did work and in large measure still does; a brilliant, highly adaptable system, heir to the Enlightenment and classic democracy, with innumerable, ingenious, local accretions. But the country has become too complex and the long-hidden inequities too glaring for the system to continue without drastic changes. The Middle American's education does not dwell upon the agonizing moral discrepancies of American history—the story of the Indians or the blacks, or the national tradition of violence. He quite sincerely rejects the charge that he is prejudiced against the blacks or callused about the poor. He cannot believe that the society he has come to accept as the best possible on earth, the order he sees as natural, contains wrongs so deeply built-in that he does not notice them. His sense of indignation is all too easily served by the fact that so many reformers have gone beyond the reform as being too slow, and are using methods ranging from rude to downright totalitarian.
Oh, that was written in 1969.

The Right to Know What's Happenin' With Chariho

Carroll Andrew Morse

It looks like the attempt by the National Education Association to place restrictions on school committee members' communication with the public in the Chariho district has come to an end. NEA Assistant Executive Director Peter Gingras, who last year filed a Labor Relations Board complaint against the Chariho School Committee making the vague assertion that Committeeman William Felkner's publishing of the Chariho School Parents Forum blog constituted an attempt "to communicate directly with bargaining unit members represented by the union", has notified the LRB that he wishes to withdraw the complaint.

Over at CSPF, Committeeman Felkner has posted a letter written by Hopkinton resident Mary Botelle which eloquently describes the multiple flaws in the premise of the NEA complaint…

  1. Freedom of speech and assembly are guaranteed to all citizens. In this era, websites provide an electronic form of assembly and the written word replaces the spoken word. Therefore, Chariho School Parents' Forum, managed by William Felkner, provides parents and taxpayers with a method of making their concerns and opinions known…
  2. Section 16-2-9.1 of the General Laws entitled Code of Basic Management Principles and Ethical School Standards (copy enclosed) provides the standards to be followed by school committees.

    It is to be noted that subsection (4) and (5) refer to communication with the public:

    (4) Accept and encourage a variety of opinions from and communication with all parts of the community.

    (5) Make public relevant institutional information in order to promote communication and understanding between the school system and the community.

    Therefore, it is clear that the committee should invite the community to participate so that decisions made will reflect the will of the community, and to provide information so that the community will be properly informed.

To its credit, the LRB never appeared to take the complaint very seriously. However the process dragged on, in part, because Chariho Superintendent Barry Ricci and the Chariho school board's lawyer seemed unable to summon any enthusiasm for defending the free speech and due process rights of school committee members, or for defending the right of the public to be given as much information as possible about school committee proceedings. The lesson here is to be wary of the nexus between government bureaucrats and labor unions; they sometimes act under the assumption that they can agree to bargain away the Constitutional rights of the general public. Expect this issue to pop-up in Rhode Island in various forms over the next few years.

On the Border of Discussion

Justin Katz

Anybody who's truly interested in the immigration debate should skip Charles Bakst's typically useless column in yesterday's Providence Journal and turn instead to the Money & Business section, in which one can read John Kostrzewa's inquiry into the difficulties that the E-Verify mandate imposes on businesses:

To try to sort out some of the issues, I talked with Christine Cunneen, co-owner of Hire Image, a background-screening company based in Johnston.

She said that right now there are only 75 Rhode Island companies registered to use the E-Verify system.

Employers who want to use it have to sign up for a five- to six-hour online tutorial. Then the user has to pass a test showing mastery of the system. ...

Using the E-Verify system also opens the employer to an audit by the Department of Homeland Security.

Cunneen said the verification process can be confusing and cumbersome.

She added, "There have been some troubles with the system." For example, if a person gets married and the name hasn't been changed with Social Security, the E-Verify system may not verify the eligibility of the worker.

Kostrzewa's right that the entire debate has been conducted in an atmosphere of contentiousness and suspicion, although I'm not as quick to blame the governor; this fight's been long and broad in its approach. Consider this interesting nugget from an Andy Smith piece on the problems that Congressional inaction on immigration (specifically with reference to temporary work visas) is creating for Rhode Island's tourism industry (emphasis added):

In the House of Representatives, Langevin said he is also cosponsor of legislation that would allow more H-2B workers into the country. "I've heard a lot from the business community [in Rhode Island] and this is a major priority for them," he said. "This is an issue that directly affects the tourism and hospitality business in Rhode Island."

Langevin said the Hispanic Caucus would prefer the "whole package" when it comes to immigration reform, although he stopped short of saying the caucus was opposed to H-2B measures. He said the House bill, currently in the Judiciary Committee, may shortly be the subject of hearings in the immigration subcommittee.

That sounds like a little bit of the ol' "un pueblo unido" — in this case holding up desirable, even necessary, legal immigration legislation in order to gain leverage for the only part of the larger issue that encounters real disagreement: illegal immigration. One finds it necessary to continually consider which side benefits from the conflation of the illegal with the legal, and doing so makes it increasingly clear that xenophobia is not the villain.

I'm not sure whether to find it surprising that Kostrzewa finds the following significant:

During last week's debate, 25 Latino and Anglo business owners, bankers, buyers, managers and consultants gathered at the old Hope Club in Providence at a networking meeting of the World Affairs Council Of Rhode Island, a nonprofit group.

They shared and discussed ideas about marketing, media and how to reach customers to expand their businesses. They laughed about language mistakes when people from different cultures interact. They all left a lot smarter, with new ideas for making money.

The true contrast of this vignette with the governor's travails isn't so much one of facts versus no facts as it is one of joint cooperation toward a separate end versus wrangling over policy with different ends in view. When business people — any people — get together, superficialities like language recede into the scenery. When special interests and racial demagogues refuse to treat illegal immigration as a discrete issue, they make superficialities central in order to hide the important distinctions.

April 13, 2008

The Problem with Giving All the Power to the Nice Guys

Justin Katz

What a jumble has politico-economic thought become in America! It's as if so much access to information (and ability to propagate it) has served mainly to allow us all to slip into ruts of prepared thoughtlines. Consider this interesting comment from Evan, at RIFuture (emphasis added):

What most "free market" bozos ignore is that most of those at the very top of the pyramid are born into wealth, and don't have to strive for it whatsoever.

If you're born poor, you aren't born on a fair playing field in this country anymore. That may have been less true in years past, but it certainly is not true anymore.

"Free Market" idiots are going the way of the dodo, let them clog this blog with their nonsense, it doesn't make a bit of difference.

According to the Economist Magazine, the majority of Americans want LESS Free Trade and MORE Protectionism. This actually is the opposite of our cousins in the British Isles! But if you turn on the TV Media in this country you'd never know it.

Now I'm not advocating protectionism, but we do need to alter free trade to make it fair. "Free Marketers" act like they hold a common sense and unchallenged position - but the truth of the matter is they are fast becoming the minority - (for better or worse) and are loathe to even realize this since they glean all their economic information from echo chamber media.

Put aside the distraction of public opinion (which is more a measure of persuasion than truth). The key thread is Evan's statement of the obvious observation that those born with advantages have advantages and his suggestion that "we" can "alter free trade to make it fair." In the context of a discussion about income inequality and taxes, the "we" can be presumed to mean "the government."

Now a quotation from Madison's Federalist 10 entered into the debate by Thomas Schmeling:

AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction....the most common and durable source of factions has been the various and unequal distribution of property.

Schmeling translates this as the recognition "that extreme wealth inequalities pose a threat to the stability of a society," and (owing to a lack of familiarity, as well as a subsequent Madison quotation) I won't dispute that aspect, but I would note that the object of the sentence is "the violence of faction," of which unequal property distribution is just a leading context for factionalism. Property, in this regard, is notable as a measurement of power, and inequality is violent in its allowance of one faction to subject another to its will.

Schmeling's second Madison quotation cites as a "great object" the limitation of parties' development by, for one thing, "withholding unnecessary opportunities from a few, to increase the inequality of property, by an immoderate, and especially an unmerited accumulation of riches" (National Gazette, January 1792). Readers should spend some time with that first phrase — "withholding unnecessary opportunities from a few" — because it is crucial to an understanding of how Schmeling's editing of the following down to points 1 and 2 enables the Evans of the Left to slip into the rut of centralized control. Take particular note of points 4 and 5:

In every political society, parties are unavoidable. A difference of interests, real or supposed, is the most natural and fruitful source of them. The great object should be to combat the evil: 1. By establishing a political equality among all. 2. By withholding unnecessary opportunities from a few, to increase the inequality of property, by an immoderate, and especially an unmerited, accumulation of riches. 3. By the silent operation of laws, which, without violating the rights of property, reduce extreme wealth towards a state of mediocrity, and raise extreme indigence towards a state of comfort. 4. By abstaining from measures which operate differently on different interests, and particularly such as favor one interest at the expence of another. 5. By making one party a check on the other, so far as the existence of parties cannot be prevented, nor their views accommodated. If this is not the language of reason, it is that of republicanism.

As is often a necessity of communication, Madison lists these as five separate instructions, but they are really five aspects of a single mandate for freedom, which I would apply to contemporary economic debate as encouraging an abstinence from regulations that, because of established players' imbalanced ability to overcome them, serve as opportunities to exclude up-and-comers who would act as checks on immoderate behavior. As I put it (with incidental reference to legislation related to construction) in the Providence Journal last August:

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

Notwithstanding the good intentions of those who would wield the law to protect the little guy, nothing is so much to his advantage as freedom.

That includes the freedom to make bad choices, as well as the freedom to profit from others'. Immoral and unfair business practices can be prosecuted; complaints can be filed and posted for the public. More importantly, businesses can leverage the poor behavior of their competition.

Jonah Goldberg traces the line in his investigation of modern liberalism's fascistic roots in his book:

Just because business thrives under capitalism doesn't mean businessmen are necessarily principled capitalists. Businessmen — at least those at the helm of very large corporations — do not like risk, and capitalism by definition requires risk. Capital must be put to work in a market where nothing is assured. But businessmen are, by nature and training, encouraged to beat back uncertainty and risk. Hence, as a group, they aren't principled capitalists but opportunists in the most literal sense. ...

Now imagine you are the CEO of Coca-Cola. Your chief objection to [the Americans with Disabilities Act] is that it will cost you a lot of money, right? Well, not really. If you know that the CEO of Pepsi is going to have to make the same adjustments, there's really no problem for you. All you have to do is add a penny — or really a fraction of a penny — to the cost of a can of Coke. Your customers will carry the freight, just as Pepsi's customers will. The increase won't cost you market share, because your price compared with your competitor's has stayed pretty much the same. Your customers probably won't even notice the price hike.

Now imagine that you own a small, regional soft drink company. You've worked tirelessly toward your dream of one day going eyeball-to-eyeball with Coke or Pepsi. Proportionally speaking, making your factories and offices handicapped-friendly will cost you vastly more money, not just in terms of infrastructure, but in terms of the bureaucratic legal compliance costs (Coke and Pepsi have enormous legal departments; you don't). Plans to expand or innovate will have to be delayed because there's no way you can pass on the costs to your customers. Or imagine you're the owner of an even smaller firm hoping to make a play at your regional competitors. But you have 499 employees, and for the sake of argument, the ADA fully kicks in at 500 employees. If you hire just one more, you will fall under the ADA. In other words, hiring just one thirty-thousand-dollar-a-year employee will cost you millions.

The ADA surely has admirable intent and legitimate merits. But the very nature of such do-gooding legislation empowers large firms, entwines them with political elites, and serves as a barrier to entry for smaller firms. ...

This is the hidden history of big business from the railroads of the nineteenth century, to the meatpacking industry under Teddy Roosevelt, to the outrageous cartel of "Big Tobacco" today: supposedly right-wing corporations work hand in glove with progressive politicians and bureaucrats in both parties to exclude small businesses, limit competition, ensure market share and prices, and generally work as government by proxy.

In short, the only practicable way in which "we" can make the market more fair is to avoid the natural tendency to reach in and manipulate things, because those who already hold the advantage will have imbalanced influence in building the hurdles. Somewhere between some Evan's declaration of unfairness and the successful accumulation of sufficient power to force change, the unfair playing field will have already been tilted such that the new regulations will actually increase the inequity.

Contrary to popular belief, recent economic history hasn't been one of free-market experimentation. It's seen an unwieldy blend of carefully selected free-market principles with strategic gates constructed by an ostensibly benevolent political class. Hence astonishing executive salaries. Hence outsourcing. Hence megacorporations.

The discouraging thing is that, by his language, Evan makes it explicitly known that his mind is already closed to the observation that he and we idiotic free-market bozos really do have the same ends in view. And if you share my understanding of the world, the added injury to that insult is that we've got better directions to the shared goal.

April 12, 2008

Obama of the Working Class: Their Evil Values Are Just Blankies

Justin Katz

Not unlike other wealthy faux-populists who wish to manipulate poor and working class citizens for their own aggrandizement, Barack Obama apparently thinks that the change that will bring unity will entail an optimistic lunge past some of those wicked security blankets... you know, like religion:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it's not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

The people need hope; they need handed to them what they could never really achieve on their own (right-wing rhetoric promise what it might). They need to pay their dues and contribute their votes for the benefit of those fortunate few with the brains (and, often, the high salaries) to coordinate their numbers.


By some coincidence, general politics came up as a topic of conversation on the job site today, and somebody (I won't say whom) noted that minorities and others of the Left's harbored special interests (such as inner city residents with children in public school) have not gotten a very good return on their political investments. One might say that they cling to their multiculturalism or socialism or antipathy to people who make something of themselves.

Just sayin'.

After Further Thought

Justin Katz

I've most likely been overstating the number of Tiverton teachers who stand to lose their jobs if the union remains implacable. Thirty-four notices of potential layoffs went out to meet a deadline; one position was eliminated in the school budget as passed; so I've been saying that intransigence might result in the actual layoffs of the other thirty-three.

The probability, however, is that the school committee sought to allow itself options should circumstances require positions to be eliminated. Their situation would have to be dire indeed for such a large portion of the workforce to be let go.

My point remains, though: union persistence will cost some members dearly, and a negotiating collective that is willing to push things that far would seek to soak up any new funds that become available.

Schools and Money

Justin Katz

By way of a general observation, it occurred to me earlier this week that the extra opportunities and services for which so many Rhode Island parents pay the private school premium were offered as part of my New Jersey public school education back in the '80s. In terms of current, local events, I don't think it matters much whether the difference was one of location or of era. There's something structural here in Rhode Island and now in the late '00s that is depriving families of their educational due.

That's why I'm holding out hope that State Representative John Loughlin (R., Little Compton, Tiverton, Portsmouth) would make the right decisions as a legislator despite his letter in this week's Sakonnet Times:

But even as our teachers do their work extremely well, we are challenged as a town to meet the increasing costs of our educational system. Our school committee is working to remain within the state imposed cap on expenditures while struggling to implement a host of unfunded programs demanded by the General Assembly.

Clearly, our state is not doing enough to fund education at the local level. We still have no state funding formula and last year additional funds proposed for local schools was removed by the General Assembly leadership.

Even in this difficult budget year, we could find more funding for our schools. For example, the General Assembly itself has 300 full-time employees and costs every resident of this state $31 dollars per person for a total of $31 million. Why does a part-time General Assembly need this extravagant budget? In part to pay for a self-serving television series on capitol TV which is off limits to opposing viewpoints, and to pay for a 2008 top-of-the-line SUV for House and Senate leadership. This is wrong and needs to stop. How can the House and Senate leadership impose spending caps for municipalities while at the same time expanding their staff and increasing their own budget? ...

These are just a few examples of wasteful spending at the state level that results in reduced funding for cities and towns.

It is time for the state to step up to the plate and fund education properly. We need to stop pitting teachers against parents and our school committees against the unions because in the end it is our children who suffer. I am committed to continuing my work in the House to make sure our state lives up to its financial responsibility and starts funding schools properly.

As a reasonably close citizen observer of teacher contract negotiations in Tiverton, I have little doubt that the bulk of additional funds provided by the state would have gone to placate the work-to-ruling union. Not to expanded extracurricular and elective opportunities. Not to music, not to gifted-talented. The union is fighting for blood from a stone; it is willing to see 33 a potentially significant number of its members lose their jobs so that the 54% who are at step 10 (as I recall) can receive significant raises during tight budgetary times. What chance, then, that they would share additional gravy?

Moreover, ending all of the state-level practices that Loughlin cites would be nowhere near sufficient to make up for the General Assembly's current (and growing) structural deficit, so its reclamation must benefit that effort first. Shuffling around our public dollars, or digging for more, is not the answer; changing the way we do things is.

Quiet Testimony from Rhode Islanders

Justin Katz

Two bits of testimony from Tuesday's opinion pages are worth reading if you missed them. The firstL comes via Ed Achorn:

MIKE HAMEL grew up in Providence. He went to work at the age of 16 at Regal Plating on South Street, drying the jewelry produced at the plant. He has been working ever since. He served for more than four years in the U.S. Air Force, 1967-71. He's a union guy, a member of the Teamsters. He's 60 now. ...

As far as he can tell, nobody is lobbying for him on Smith Hill. The Rhode Island General Assembly seems uninterested in the private-sector working stiff, other than as a host on which to affix itself and remove ever-increasing tax dollars.

"They don't care about me. They pander to the special interests, and they pander to each other," he said. "I don't refer to them as the General Assembly. I call them the Board of Directors of the Rhode Island Public Employee Unions. That is a more accurate description of the job they perform." ...

Last November, he learned that he was going to lose his job. Clariant Corp. announced it was shutting down its plant in Coventry before the end of 2008, eliminating 120 positions — including Mr. Hamel's, supervising the operation of the boilers — and moving production to its plants in Germany and Mexico. It had become too costly to do the work in a state with such brutally high costs. ...

"The state does not seem to comprehend what is happening out here in the real world. It's almost like when they walk into the State House, they walk into Disneyland," Mr. Hamel said.

The second is a first-person offering from David Evans:

My background is that of an engineer, inventor, and lately, business owner. Our company manufactures electronic equipment and now employs 20 Rhode Islanders. The company started in 1996 and is located in East Providence. The company was built upon lots of sweat, long hours of hard work, and great personal financial risk. ...

It is expensive to do business here. I live in Massachusetts, whose income-tax rate is a flat 5.25 percent. The maximum tax rate in Rhode Island is 9.9 percent. Consequently, yearly we pay many tens of thousands of dollars more in personal- and business-income tax as a result of our business being located in Rhode Island. The difference amounts to much more than the annual cost of rent, property taxes, and utilities for our factory.

I can assure you, it would make great sense to move a mile up the road into Massachusetts, and we could do it without inconveniencing a single employee. Indeed, it would be easier for me personally.

What's the Point of Sound from an Evil Tree?

Justin Katz

This passage from the latest Rhode Island Catholic column from the consistently insightful Fr. John A. Kiley is worth sharing:

Somewhere towards the end of the last century, Fear of God yielded to fear of alienation. Not a few prelates, priests and parents have been profoundly afraid to speak up lest they lose their audiences. Well, their audiences are already lost. And a broadminded church is not offering them any inducement to return. The fictional Cure de Torcy is correct. The church's main task is doctrine and discipline rather than self-esteem and self-affirmation. "Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do," insists Jesus in Sunday's Gospel. It is a dogmatic faith in Jesus that will lead to effective works toward one's neighbor.

April 11, 2008

Is This Hostile Talk Radio? (Un Pueblo Unido Redux)

Justin Katz

Latino Public Radio Chairman Pablo Rodriguez offers his own version of "un pueblo unido no mas sera vencido" (emphasis added):

I want to believe the governor when he says he is not anti-immigrant. However, his concept of the immigrant community stands in stark contrast to the realities of families and relationships. Thousands of small businesses and jobs are created by the growth of immigrant communities. More than two in three children in undocumented households are citizens by virtue of birth, and unless we change the Constitution they have every right of citizenship, and anything that threatens the stability of their family is a threat to their health. This inseparable nexus of undocumented parents with citizen children is at the heart of what constitutes the immigrant community as one body, regardless of immigration status. A threat to one is a threat to all.

Rodriguez goes on to insist that "business and the economy will suffer irreparable harm if Latinos vote with their feet and abandon the state," and I suppose it must be admitted that businesses will have to increase employee compensation in order to induce citizens and legal residents to take jobs that currently offer artificially low remuneration. Perhaps the state could use the hundreds of millions of dollars it will save in services currently provided to illegal immigrants to improve the horrid business climate of the state in order to counterbalance the lost wages of exploitation.

State Representatitve Carol Mumford: Update on the Budget

Carroll Andrew Morse

State Representative Carol Mumford (R-Cranston/Scituate), Senior Deputy Minority Leader and a member of the House Finance Committee, paid a visit to last night's South Kingstown GOP Town Committee meeting, allowing me a change to ask her about the legislature's progress (if you can call it that) on the state budget…

Anchor Rising: Are you getting any hints from the Finance Committee about what direction solving the state budget crisis is going to take?

State Representative Carol Mumford: All I know is that there are still arguments even as far as the FY '08 supplemental. We were at least supposed to put the '08 supplemental to bed by April 1, now we're not even going to hear it until April 22. In order to get the savings that the Governor wanted, we really had to start putting the supplemental in place on April 1, but we did not. That means we still have a 150 million dollar shortfall in '08 and a 450 million shortfall in '09. Together, that is a 600 million dollar shortfall.

Unless we put together the Governor's implementation of what he wanted to do as far as items like shut-down days and RIte Care eligibility, unless we do that right now, we are facing an even higher burden on the state.

AR: With the annual budget bill, it seems that the public gets the minimum amount of notice between its official presentation and its final passage. When we get to the '09 budget is there any chance the Democratic leadership will maybe give the public a week or two to consider it?

CM: There is a week. We hear it in House finance, then there is a week afterwards for all of the members of the House to read it. They keep trying to shorten it to five days, but it is still seven days between when the House Finance committee passes it and its coming to the House floor. However, the only chance the public will have to speak on the budget will be when it is when it's heard in House Finance. There will not be a subsequent chance after its passed by the committee.

I don't quite understand, when there's a Democratic majority in the House, why they think they need to shorten from 7 days to 5. I'm on the rules committee. They were going to change the rules this session, which was really odd, because we only revisit the rules every two years. Technically, we weren't supposed to touch the rules this year, but they were going to do wide, sweeping change, in an election year, just one year after we'd already put together a full plan. They already control the House. I don't know why they would need even more advantage, unless they thought that this was going to be such a difficult budget, they might be losing some of their numbers. Fortunately, they didn't do it.

Toward Calm and Constructive Dialogue

Justin Katz

Credit is due to the editorial writers of the Rhode Island Catholic for the following:

Unfortunately, many groups and individuals have failed to grasp the call for calm and constructive dialogue on this serious issue. Last week at the Rhode Island State House, while an immigrant group loudly protested Governor Carcieri's actions, they also stormed his policy offices in defiance of security officials. Neither serves the common good of society nor do they help secure a positive and peaceful dialogue about serious issues facing immigrants and the State of Rhode Island.

If the state's and country's religious and other moral leaders would voice this point more strongly, coupled with the conveyance that they actually understand the objections of the other side, they might help to pull people together toward fruitful discussion. Unfortunately, even were such an effort likely, resolution will remain beyond our cultural grasp as long as immigrants and activists insist on making "un pueblo unido" their centerpiece, because their only route toward victory is by means of a divided nation.

Diapergate Continues!

Justin Katz

Not only are disposable diapers not taxable, not only do diaper services generate individual income, not only are they taxed via that income and other methods, but apparently diaper services are less expensive in the first place:

For Representative Handy, who apparently has trouble with numbers, that means on average that it costs a mother $2,075 to buy disposable diapers at the store and $910 per year to use a cloth diaper service.

As a former owner/operator of a Rhode Island-based cloth-diaper service, I can confirm firsthand for Mr. Handy that the majority of my customers were not Mr. Handy's luxury moms; they were lower-income households looking for an alternative to the high cost of disposable diapers. By introducing a tax on cloth-diaper services, Mr. Handy and his bill are actually making the less expensive way of diapering kids in this state more expensive for those lower-income households that now use this service as a way of making ends meet.

Expect a rhetoric shift: We must expand the sales tax to disposable diapers! Rich parents like Representative Arthur Handy (D, Cranston) are costing our economy money by contributing $2,075 per year to out-of-state megacorporations, while depriving local loincloth launderers of business.

April 10, 2008

Mistaking Thoughtfulness for Misogyny?

Monique Chartier

Sir Elton, isn't it possible that some people oppose Senator Clinton's candidacy on the basis of issues and character and not because they hate women?

And how can we resist flipping it around? In the unlikely event Condoleezza Rice ever runs for office, will you support her or will you be a misogynist?

British pop star Elton John, playing a fund-raiser for Hillary Clinton in New York on Wednesday, said he was amazed at the misogyny of some in America and he hoped that wouldn't stop her being president.

At the fund-raiser which Clinton's campaign manager said raised $2.5 million, John said there was no one more qualified to lead the United States into the next era.

"Having said that, I never cease to be amazed at the misogynistic attitude of some people in this country.

Moderately Progressing

Carroll Andrew Morse

Some credit for progress is due to Rhode Island Moderate Party founder Ken Block. His initial presentation of the Moderate Party agenda was almost entirely process-oriented, but the newest version includes some items of substance. Here are a few examples from the Moderate Party website (h/t Ian Donnis)…

  • Decrease or eliminate funding for programs found to be ineffective or too costly for the benefits they provide. A classic example of a well-intentioned but poorly executed spending program is the effort to build 6 houses in South Providence undertaken by the Neighborhood Coalition. These units were built for $345,000 each, and at the time this issue was reported on by the Providence Journal, one unit had sold for $147,000, with no takers for the other units.
  • Bring spending on social services in line with Massachusetts’s spending on the same services, including duration of eligibility for these services.
  • Induce businesses to locate to Rhode Island by bringing RI's business taxes in line with Massachusetts' business taxes.
  • Adopting pension rules similar to the State of Texas called the rule of 85. This rule vests a worker with full pension benefits after 20 years of service, but that pension cannot be drawn upon until the worker's age plus years of service equals 85. With this rule, a worker who begins work at age 25 cannot draw a pension until having worked for 25 years and reaching the age 60. This same worker could stop working at the state job at age 45 (20 years of service) take a new job and keep his or her pension benefits, but those benefits could not be drawn upon until age 65. This same worker could work 30 years, and at age 55 retire and begin collecting pension benefits.
  • Employee health benefits are too costly to the state. Compared to private sector health benefits, state employees are not paying in enough to the system. Savings needs to be wrung out of the system through better negotiated contracts (with more than one health care provider!)
Mr. Block has also offered this observation in the comments section of Anchor Rising…
Conservatives cannot effect change without appealing to a broader coalition of voters, and frankly, the broader coalition of voters needs the conservative bloc to fix what it broken with our state.
So what do the readers of Anchor Rising think, an interesting possiblity, or a duplication of political effort?

POV: The Employer of Undocumented Immigrants

Monique Chartier

Ceasing the exploitation of human beings is one of the reasons that so many of us support the enforcement of our immigration laws, particularly those pertaining to employment. [Note to Congress: Comprehensive immigration reform is not needed. The only problem with our existing immigration laws is that they are insufficiently enforced. This matter only requires a little oversight, not the revamping of perfectly good laws. Thank you.]

Commenter Greg reminds us, for example, that ICE might find it worth their while to visit Ira Green Incorporated in Providence. And the latest word out of Packaging Concepts Ltd, where Leonardo Cos was terribly injured, is that a second shift has been activated so as to boost production (ahead of a possible ICE raid?). But only "temporary" workers - employees brought in by the temporary employment agency Central 2000 - can sign up for this additional shift. It is an open secret at that company that most of the temporary workers there are undocumented immigrants. This stipulation can only be a cost-saving measure; "temporary" workers at Packaging Concepts must be paid less than documented ones. By the way, especially in light of Mr. Cos' injury on the job, isn't the parent company of Packaging Concepts, Abbott Industries, just a squidge nervous that one of its subsidiaries employs undocumented immigrants?

In today's Valley Breeze, former Rhode Island Attorney General Arlene Violet gets into the mind of the person who hires undocumented immigrants, allegedly including but not limited to the owners and managers of Ira Green Inc. and Packaging Concepts.

There is an employer in Rhode Island who has hired illegal immigrants. He pays them less than minimum wage since it is still more than they would make in Central America.

He has them where he wants them. They can't complain about poor housing, working conditions or long hours since he can threaten them with sending the authorities to their home and deporting them and their entire families. In fact, he thinks he's a hell of a fella for hiring them here in the Ocean State where they are getting more than they'd make back home, and more benefits.

"You have it good," he reminds his employees periodically. "If you're sick, go to the emergency room for care. It's for free. If you think you can't subsist on my wages which I pay you, apply for welfare in the name of your children. The state will give you money, housing, food stamps, free daycare and other benefits. See, isn't this a better situation than what you had in your native land? Stop complaining about my treatment of you. You should be grateful."

The employer hears a knock on his office door. A black Rhode Island citizen is there to apply for a job. "Beat it!" he's told. "Why should I hire you? You'll cost me more. There's no reason why I should pony up minimum wage for your salary. You're a drop-out and you are not worth it to me when I can make a killing in profits by doing what I'm doing now." The black man leaves dejected. He's one of tens of thousands of black men and women who can't get minimum wage jobs because he's been replaced by cheaper labor, albeit illegal labor.

The employer takes out his cigar and chuckles. "I've got it made," he thinks. "The bleeding hearts who complain that hiring illegals creates an apartheid situation where the illegals are more like slaves are now on the run because of the newest salvos."

He picks up the week's newspapers and contentedly grins. The governor is being lambasted. The lieutenant governor is busting the governor's chops by saying he's divisive by his attempt to uphold the law. "She'll run for governor in the future," he muses, "so I'll be safe hiring these greenhorns for quite a while."

The employer laughs out loud. "I even have the church on my side!" he says as he leafs through another edition of The Providence Journal. "Maybe I'll get to heaven, after all! He reads Bishop Tobin's and Rabbi Alan Flam's castigation of the governor. "That'll shut Carcieri up," he gloats. "Look at all the clergy who are ganging up on the governor. Ha! Maybe I'll even get a citizen of the year award," he hoots out loud again.

"Now here's the piece de resistance," he concludes. The columnists in the Journal like Charles Bakst and Bob Kerr are killing the governor, too. "That'll keep me safe. I can do what I want. They will continue to put the heat on the Pooh-Bahs and prevent any raids here. Maybe I won't have to fix up this dump where they work, after all." He sighs about the further profits he'll make.

He puts down the paper and decides to head for lunch. As he passes through his factory, he notes what good workers the illegals are. They've been working since 7 a.m. without a break. At 1 p.m. they'll have 15 minutes off for lunch. Then they'll work until 5 p.m. with no overtime, of course. For 50 bucks a day they are a bargain. Who needs pushy black Rhode Islanders who want a minimum wage? Smiling, he heads out to his swanky club to meet other entrepreneurs like himself.

The Sense of a Gap

Justin Katz

So flawed is the construction of the ballyhooed income gap finding that one hardly knows where to begin. How about with a statement of principle on page 17 of the source report (PDF)?

The United States was built on the ideal that hard work should pay off, that individuals who contribute to the nation's economic growth should reap the benefits of that growth.

It's curious that the folks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute should declare such a thing, because (apart from the reality that their policy suggestions would retard Americans' ability to receive a pay off) a citizen who is rewarded for hard work would be very difficult to trace in their measurements. "Climbing the ladder," in other words, brings one's family out of a lower quintile and to a higher (from the bottom 20% to the middle 20%, say). A person who moves from an entry level position in the lowest income quintile into a management position will no longer contribute to the former's statistics. At the same time, the entry level position is likely filled with somebody at a lower rate commensurate with experience. For those who reach the high end, by contrast, hard work pushes the upward boundary farther.

The report doesn't define the income ranges of each quintile, so it's impossible to illustrate this using the relevant numbers, but the method of "adjusting" income also skews results: The reported family income is divided by the square root of the number of people in the family, and only households of two or more people are included. In other words, every actual income is divided by at least 1.4. So, a young couple finishing school and living off an entry level salary of $24,000 would be reported as having income of $16,970. If that couple chooses to begin building its family, having one child, the working parent would have to receive a 22.5% raise just to maintain the same reported income (the denominator now being the square root of three). A family that, like mine, grew from two to five people between the analyzed periods would have to increase its actual income by 58% just to maintain the same "adjusted" income.

On the other end of the family cycle, a higher-income couple with children grown up and leaving (hopefully) would shoot up, even if its income were stagnant.

If all generations were of the same size, this dynamic would merely create a cycle pulling the quintile lines up and down the income scale, and the report's findings could be interpreted as proving that we're in a large-gap period. But recent generations have been smaller, which one would expect to pull the quintiles up, resulting larger increases on the bottom over time.

Here the methodology strikes again: the report's quintiles are defined by number of people, not number of families. Therefore, Baby Boomers, ostensibly at the high-end of their income trends, are experiencing their adjustment bursts, but are more than counterbalanced by the quintiles' shifting down toward young families. We don't have the data to determine whether the Boomers had the opposite effect when they were kids, but it's notable that the report explains that the lower quintiles kept pace from the 1940s to the 1970s, when this particular methodology would have most closely tracked the progress of those larger families over their actual lifespans.

The genius of our economy — which the likes of the report's authors seem intent on replacing with their own flawed ingenuity — is that it creates new avenues toward wealth, improving the lives of all. Being in the bottom quintile means something different, these days, than it did fifty years ago, even if the salaries of grocery baggers have not increased at the same rate as those of our country's most successful families.

The invention of new means of wealth creation is important to note, in this context, because the report deliberately left out capital gains, although previous iterations had included it. The reason? Current Census data (soon after a change in its own methodology) shows an "unrealistic" increase in such income among those toward the bottom.

I'd be perfectly willing to argue against "income gap" rhetoric on ideological and philosophical lines, but in this case, I can't help but feel that the other side's conclusions dictated its findings.

Rhode Island's Failing Grade in Education Technology

Carroll Andrew Morse

Another day, another list, another low ranking for Rhode Island. From Education Week's "Technology Counts 2008" State Technology Report Card for Rhode Island

Access to technology F
Use of technologyD+
Capacity to use technologyD
Overall gradeD

The breakdown of the grade of "F" in the "Access to technology" category is as follows…

Access to Technology Rhode Island U.S.
% Students w/access to computers (4th grade) 88%95%
% Students w/access to computers (8th grade) 75%83%
# Students per instructional computer5.0 3.8
# Students per high-speed Internet-connected computer 4.63.7

With Rhode Island's spending on education consistently reported in the top 10 in the country, shouldn't we be doing better in a capital intensive area like the above?

April 9, 2008

The Iraq War and the State Budget?

Carroll Andrew Morse

At the Taubman Center panel on the Rhode Island budget crisis I attended at Brown University a few weeks ago, several members of the audience attempted to attribute at least part of the state deficit to Federal cut-backs in domestic spending forced by the costs of fighting in the Iraqi theater in the War on Terror. (And much to my disappointment, Paul Choquette, supposedly one of the voices of fiscal sanity on the panel, didn't disagree). However, the notion of a drastic -- or any -- reduction in domestic spending by the Federal government since 2001 or 2003 isn't supported by the numbers.

The Heritage Foundation's Brian Riedl has calculated that Federal spending, adjusted for inflation, has grown by about 30% overall since the year 2001. Riedl doesn't break out an Iraq-war figure specifically, but he does separate out the defense-related portion of the Federal budget. According to his numbers, 63% of the amount of the Federal spending increase has gone to entitlements and other non-defense related areas, while 34.5% has gone to defense. Non-defense related spending, in fact, has risen in the vicinity of 3% to 4% above the rate of inflation, on an annual basis, since the year 2001.

So, with Federal spending per household already near its highest levels ever (over $23,000, according to the Heritage Foundation), are advocates for bigger-and-bigger government really willing to attach themselves to the position that non-defense related government spending should always be climbing by more than twice the rate of inflation, no matter how much of the nation's GDP is ultimately consumed?

Federal government outlays reported in Federal Spending by the Numbers 2008, dated February 25, 2008, by Brian M. Riedl of the Heritage Foundation; all figures are in BILLIONS of dollars…

200241529429 1,3142032,390

New Spending since 2001: $675,000,000,000

New Defense Spending since 2001: $233,000,000,000 (34.5%)

New Entitlement/Non-Defense Discretionary Spending: $425,000,000,000 (63%)

An Absence of Story

Justin Katz

This is odd. My morning blogging session was disrupted by the discovery that the story at the very top of the Providence Journal's front page, today, "Study finds gaps growing in R.I. between haves and have-nots," doesn't appear to be available online.

Well, I've got to go to work, but if experience is any guide, I'll soon be able to explain why reporter Edward Fitzpatrick's advocacy press release (disguised as reportage) actually supports the opposite policy suggestions from those that the Poverty Institute fed him.


Here's the story, more on which later.

April 8, 2008

An Unhelpful Visitor From Out of State

Monique Chartier

It sounds like during the 4:00 hour, WPRO's Dan Yorke was trying to diffuse the visceral reaction that some of his listeners, myself included, had to the remarks made by the "minister" (quotes because no true minister would utter the remarks he made) from New Jersey by pointing out where the "minister" from New Jersey agrees with the Governor's Executive Order.

Thanks, I'm not interested at the moment, though I look forward to returning to such a harmonious spot soon.

The "minister", in studio during the 3:00 hour with a Rhode Island minister, Rep Palumbo and Senator Maselli, threw the following bombs, paraphrased except for quotes:

> He said that the basis of all anti-illegal immigration legislation is preservation of the "Anglo-Saxon" something-or-other - translation, it is purely racist.

> He made reference to "ethnic cleansing".

> And he said that his organization was prepared to "sue" over the Governor's Order and/or the Palumbo/Maselli bill.

Ah, but the third item perhaps is understandable. Given that the first two utterly baseless assertions drain any credibility from his words, litigation may be the only means by which the "minister" can be heard in this conversation.

Remembering that such false, vile accusations only confirm the validity of the Governor's Executive Order as well as bills such as those introducted by Palumbo, Maselli, Singleton and Brien will help me return to that more harmonious spot.


Podcast courtesy WPRO available here.


Commenter Joe B (more specifically, Joe B quoting his clearly thoughtful wife) referred with dismay to prior remarks by the Director of DCYF, Patricia Martinez, about the Governor's Executive Order. Ms. Martinez has now apologized for those remarks.

“I apologize for any misperceptions my comments might have caused,” she said in a statement released after the meeting. “In particular, I did not mean to imply that the governor’s actions were spreading hatred.”

Her comments are appreciated. Prodded by the ProJo, however, she did go on to say that

... she disputed assertions made recently by the governor and his supporters that undocumented immigrants are a drain on Rhode Island’s resources.

“We need to have the right facts before we begin to point fingers at everyone,”

Another of the Governor's staff members said something similar Monday on the Helen Glover Show - that the number of undocumented immigrants must be definitively quantified before we take steps to deal with the issue.

There are two problems with this. First of all, it is not disputed that undocumented immigrants have a presence in our state. Secondly, taking this approach - counting their exact number or calculating the exact cost of this state of affairs before taking minimal measures to address it - is simply a holding action, tantamount to doing nothing.

This Means It's Working

Justin Katz

Governor Carcieri's executive order is already proving to be a success:

Rhode Island's decision to order State Police and other state agencies to help enforce federal immigration law is jarring border cities in Massachusetts, where illegal immigrants say they are now afraid to enter the Ocean State.

If they're that reluctant to cross a state border (with habitual experience of the ease of travel from state to state), imagine how much less likely they'd be to make a beeline to our state across a national border. Those who've opposed attempts to control illegal immigration on the grounds that it is impossible ought to take note.

Don't They Bear Some Responsibility?

Justin Katz

Commenter JP has it right: The Providence Phoenix profile of the Providence diocese's immigration point-woman Stella Carrera is yet another litmus test on the issue. Consider one of several stories from her clients:

One of the faces Carrera knows is that of Carla Rodriguez (not her real name), a 42-year-old Guatemalan native who has been in the US illegally since 1994. At that time, Rodriguez, her husband, and her five children flew to Mexico and walked across the border into California. Rodriguez was eight or nine months pregnant. A week later, she gave birth to her sixth child. The family flew to Providence to be with Rodriguez's brothers and sisters, who had moved here years earlier. Her husband worked as a locksmith, and her children began to attend public school. The family has lived in fear for 13 years. It makes them nervous even to be out in the streets. They are afraid they will be stopped and deported. They don't go out, except to go to church, to the grocery store, and occasionally to visit relatives. The children do not work, or go to parties. They come straight home after school.

Of course we're rightly sympathetic to the difficult position in which their immigration status places the children, but where's the admission of culpability from the parents? Do they ever feel a pang of responsibility for having brought six children into circumstances that require them to keep such a low profile? Clearly, they find it to be a more attractive option to support a family of eight on a maximum salary (as reported) of $18,200 in the American shadows than in the broad daylight of Guatemala, but where's the gratitude to the society that has picked up a tab that surely amounts to many times that?

Another woman left her son in El Salvador and sends him $50 a week from a $15,600 salary. While in Rhode Island, she married an illegal immigrant (who, tragically, was murdered by robbers subsequent to his deportation), with whom she had two more children. The woman appears to be in the country with refugee status, but it's notable that she hasn't bothered to learn the language of the country that is protecting her during her 12-year stay.

Bishop Thomas Tobin frequently cites Jesus' suggestion that helping strangers is tantamount to helping Him, but it's difficult to see the lesson as applying to such cases. How many working class Rhode Islanders must live that much closer to the edge — some certainly slipping off — to ensure that their state remains an international beacon to large families that take up residence for the duration of their children's education? There must be moral obligations on such families — to acclimate, to contribute, to appreciate, to minimize the burden — but I just don't think I've ever heard immigration advocates enunciate them.

A Financial Plan for Rhode Islanders

Justin Katz

I'd been meaning to note financial planner George Wright's thoughts on demographic trends in Rhode Island:

Financial advisers are seeing a noticeable increase in affluent retirees moving out of the state, especially to Florida, which has no state income, inheritance or personal-property taxes, and is about three hours away on Southwest Airlines.

Here's a plan: Sell your million-dollar house, buy two $400,000 houses, in Florida and Rhode Island, come north in the summer to see the grandkids and save $30,000 a year in taxes. Wait until the Baby Boomers hit!

For Rhode Islanders who pay the alternative minimum tax, one of the main triggers of that tax is the Rhode Island income tax. The mentality of our representatives is, and has been since the 1930s, regressive. This mentality will keep our beautiful state at the bottom of the economic ladder forever.

Come on, George, there's got to be an "unless" at the end of it all. Here's mine: Break the corruption that funding under threat of the taxman's gun inevitably breeds, turn the lights on for those whom the pushers have hooked on handouts, and open the door for innovative and talented people with stars in their eyes and watch as Rhode Island fills its lungs and begins to sprint.

April 7, 2008

The Line Starts on the Left

Justin Katz

I have to admit that I've been unfair to National Education Association Rhode Island Assistant Director Patrick Crowley. From time to time I've wondered whether I've played some small role in reducing his undeserved credibility, but now I see that my efforts toward that goal are hardly measurable in comparison to his own.

I'm sure all of those ostensibly reasonable folks on the Rhode Island left who've chided me for unfair and unproductive dialog (most often not of my authorship) are preparing their statements of dismay even as I type. Mr. Walsh? Mr. Sgouros? Mr. Schmeling?

Remember, folks, this man has a significant role in our public education system.

Bringing Back the Good Old Revolution

Justin Katz

As it happens, I thought of Ian Donnis as I flipped through a Providence Journal 1968 retrospective to which he directs his readers.

I seem to recall a certain progressive journalist's responding with incredulity to my reference a few years ago to what I thought to be generally acknowledged romanticization of the late-'60s counterculture, including the opportunity to protest war, revel in revolutionary poses, and so on.

Since that exchange, I've periodically thought how time has borne out my observation, and I won't deny that I assign a portion of the blame for the hardship of the post-invasion struggle to those in the West who broadcast the message loud, clear, and well in advance that they were willing, even eager, to make another Vietnam of Iraq — meaning most especially an outcome of defeat. The amount of damage that has done to our efforts would be impossible to calculate — nearly as impossible as breaking through one side's confidence in and the other's denial of my assessment's validity.

I'm sure some opponents of the war, whether original or latter-day, hold their opinions with honorable conviction, but I'm just as sure that some have eased into their positions as into a soft robe of nostalgia, and that is simply stomach turning.

Equivalence and Obviousness

Justin Katz

Unlike Matt Jerzyk, Tom Sgouros's difficulty in assessing the different interests at the Handy/Moura hearing wasn't that he emphasized their irrelevant differences, but that he bound them together with reductive equivalence:

Before the hearing, there was a rally in the rotunda protesting cuts to Head Start, the early-childhood education program. "Great," you say, "yet another interest group, trying to protect its special program that's costing us money." I watched the rally, then went downstairs to the hearing.

And do you know what I saw there? Lots of other interest groups trying to protect their special programs, mostly tax breaks. The difference? These people were wearing nice suits. (So was I. As I said: full disclosure.)

Now this is a little unkind, and perhaps a little easy. The business owners and managers who crowded the hearing play an important part in our state's economy. What they say is important, and what they do is even more important. But it's not always obvious how far they are from other people looking for assistance.

Oh? Well, here's a quick test: What happens if each group — those looking for government assistance and those looking for the government to take a little less — were to pack up and leave the state? If the needy leave, the state has more money to address infrastructure, education, and all of the other good things that everybody wants. If the suit-wearers leave, the state loses revenue, has fewer resources to redirect, and can advertise less to potential residents, workers, and businesses.

I'm not saying that either outcome is desirable or possible in its extreme, but if we're trying to look at the groups from an objective, government policy perspective, that's a difference that ought to be considered. The businesses make it possible even to entertain the possibility of providing assistance or — preferably — economic opportunity to the less fortunate among us.

Sgouros laments that none of the business interests were "there to talk about the economic value of good schools, clean water and safe bridges," but this elides another distinction between his two "interest groups": One is, by necessity, competing with infrastructure requirements for government funding, while the other pursues, by its nature, the activity that ultimately generates that funding in the first place.

To perpetuate his equivalence, Sgouros attempts to cast the following as a sort of negative reciprocation:

If it takes a subsidy to keep a company in our state, isn't that a sign that we're doing something else wrong? What does that say about our quality of life or the quality of the employees they're able to find here? And if the price of that tribute we pay is an inability to address those quality issues -- not to mention the screaming social problems that surround us -- then what have we gained?

We need to provide that assistance, in other words, to maintain the quality of our workforce and to prevent our local society from slipping into a cacophonous chaos of social disease. In order to accept this line of thought, however, one must erase history and pretend that (with the notable exception of the illegal immigrants) our state's population is static.

Among the first bits of wisdom I received upon deciding to acclimate myself to Rhode Island's waters was that my children would most likely have to leave the state for opportunity when they finish their schooling. The state of Rhode Island can invest every cent it has in education, but unless there is work here for the educated, that investment is reaped by another state. Moreover, the workforce in which lucrative businesses would be most interested is that produced by our colleges and universities — potential employees whom Rhode Island in significant degree imports.

Another Rhode Island truth is easily observed: that the infrastructure (roads and bridges) is crumbling. And a third is learned through bitter experience: that the cost of living here — in taxes, in fees, in unnecessary regulations, in aggravation — is high. If anything has made business subsidies necessary, these are more likely suspects than the unsatisfied needs of the needy.

Sgouros peddles a vicious lie that "the Governor and his allies in the Chamber have cowed legislators into thinking that all they can do is manage the decline." To the contrary, that is what an income redistribution scheme would do. That is what the public-sector/poverty-institute axis would like to do. They are the leaders who benefit not from liberty, but from despair — not from unity, but from division. We who see Moura/Handy socialism for what it is are the ones with a positive vision for Rhode Island, one that will benefit everybody if that burdensome monkey of tax-largess addiction can be made to loose its white-knuckle grip on the state's throat and let it breathe.

There is no natural reason that Rhode Island ought to be first on every undesirable list and last on every desirable one. Indeed, the opposite ought to be true. Break the corruption that funding under threat of the taxman's gun inevitably breeds, turn the lights on for those whom the pushers have hooked on handouts, and open the door for innovative and talented people with stars in their eyes and watch as Rhode Island fills its lungs and begins to sprint.

If we're going to have equivalence, let it be equivalence of opportunity, of freedom, not of dependency.

Not Seeing the Cultural Forest for the Sexual Trees

Justin Katz

Doesn't it often seem that modern society proceeds according the following order of operations?

  1. On emotional grounds, declare a change obviously beneficial and of minimal cost, with objections dismissed as outdated or inherently bigoted.
  2. Implement change.
  3. Ignore evidence that the naysayers were correct.
  4. Let things proceed to crisis level.
  5. Restate the original objections under the protection of groundbreaking studies and disguised as much as possible as compatible notions to the original emotional impulse.

Perhaps I've overstated, but such is my general response to this sort of discovery:

An analysis of national data conducted by Child Trends, a research center that focuses on children and youth, found that sexually active teens who identify their relationships with a partner as romantic and who go out socially with that person are more likely to use contraceptives than similar teens in more-casual relationships. ...

In light of this study, Manlove said, it's not enough for parents to focus simply on whether their kids are having sex. They should engage their kids in conversations about what healthy relationships look like, pay attention to the power dynamics of any relationship and stress the importance of contraception.

Not to point out the obvious, but one way in which parents can illustrate, for their children, "what healthy relationships look like" is to raise them within the context of faithful marriages. It's sort of like being "romantic" and "going out socially" for grownups.

Of course, the Western brains aren't yet ready to let go of other ideological blankies from which the "studies" ought to encourage weening. Withholding and being selective when it comes to sex, for example, will give young ladies an edge in "power dynamics." Some adults may wish to give girls that sophisticated view of interpersonal politics whereby sex is perfectly fine, even advisable, when the scepter is betwixt feminine fingers, but recent decades haven't really proven sophistication to be a match for instinct and the reality of biological responsibility.

A second example comes between the lines of the carefully phrased instruction to "stress the importance of contraception." The moderns have learned, you see, that the advice to "use contraception" is a bit too revealing about the likely implications of the mandate. It's as if they think parents' panegyrics to contraception require merely a new choice of words to avoid exacerbating the fruits of decades of safe-sex training:

Use of contraception, in fact, is not as regular as health officials might hope. Four out of 10 sexually active students reported not using contraceptives at all or using them only infrequently. Students who reported having multiple partners were particularly likely not to use protection. ...

... For example, a teen's contraceptive use may change from partner to partner. Using birth control consistently in one relationship doesn't necessarily mean that a young person will do the same with another partner.

The new, improved (and still in-denial) message to children: It is very important that you use contraception even when the sex is casual.

A Letter to the Catholic Church From a Parishioner

Monique Chartier

Jason Martins, producer of WPRO's Matt Allen Show, put the following letter in the collection basket yesterday in lieu of an offering.

Dear Father,

I am writing this letter in response to the comments made by Bishop Tobin earlier this week following the Executive Order by Governor Carcieri focusing on illegal immigration.

As you have noticed by now, I have chosen not to include an offering this week. This is my small way of expressing my displeasure with the stance that Bishop Tobin has decided to take on the increasingly important issue of illegal immigration. While I understand that the Bishop's stance is based on faith and not politics, I am writing to you as an American citizen who is deeply concerned about the future of this great nation we've inherited.

Why would Bishop Tobin support illegal aliens and not the millions of Catholic Americans who are disgusted by what is happening to this country?

As an American citizen and taxpayer, I find it disturbing that I work 2 jobs, 6 days a week (Sunday is my day off, of course), I pay taxes, and then I see that tax money going to people who are not supposed to be in this country, while hard working Americans struggle just to get by. If they were able to keep their own money maybe they wouldn’t have to struggle so much.

To me, and most like-minded Americans, this is a clear-cut issue, and the argument for the illegal immigrant advocates holds no water. So when the local leader of my religion chooses to support people who have broken the law by entering this country without permission and who steal my tax money then send it back to their homeland, the line in the sand has been crossed.

Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts called the Governor's Executive Order "divisive." What is more divisive than local leaders appearing at press conferences and taking sides with people who break the law and steal from Americans? That may not have been the Bishops intention, but when you hold a press conference with illegal aliens, against the Governor, the perception will be that you have taken a side. Bishop Tobin can say that he agrees with the Governor but may not like the timing or the effect the Executive Order may have, but at least Governor Carcieri is taking action that Americans can rally behind.

My only hope is that Bishop Tobin and the Catholic Church can support Catholic Americans in our attempt to save the country that was created by Christians under the premise that "In God We Trust."

I use this small gesture of protest to ask Bishop Tobin and all religious leaders to encourage illegal immigrants to go home, come here the right way, and lawfully enjoy all the opportunity that this great country has to offer.

Joseph Bernstein: Racial Profiling vs. Real Profiling

Engaged Citizen

The basic fallacy being promoted by Senator Juan Pichardo and the ACLU of Rhode Island is that "racial profiling" will result from the governor's initiative (PDF). Nothing could be further from the truth.

When I was an INS agent in Chicago, I spent a lot of time on the common carrier detail, which was basically identifying and arresting illegal aliens using various forms of public transportation. It was a volatile situation at best, but we were never seriously accused of violating the rights of any U.S. citizen or resident alien.

When we worked the domestic terminal at O'Hare checking the "smuggler's special" flights from the West and Southwest, we profiled behavior and other articulable facts rather than just racial appearance. Men wearing two pairs of pants was a dead giveaway (the old pair outside to preserve the newer pair while crossing the border). Dental work on younger people that hadn't been done in the United States in many years. Inability to speak English when casually approached. A group of young men together wearing nearly identical out-of-date platform shoes and double-knit leisure suits (provided by the higher-end smugglers). "Reading" an English language newspaper upside down. Need I go on?

In another venue, the mass transit facilities in the city of Chicago, we stopped a lot of non-Latinos — many East Indians, Caucasians, and Africans — based on dress, the neighborhood, and other factors. The point here is that we didn't just stop people of "Latino" appearance. If such individuals exited a plane or a bus acting and dressed like they knew where they were and what was going on around them, they didn't merit a second glance. Believe it or not, some aliens were still dirty with dust and grime from their crossing. But we did not interfere with people who were lawfully here.

In the case of the ACI, there are two means of identifying potential persons of interest: place of birth, which is a normal pedigree question upon arrest or commitment to facility, and criminal record based on fingerprints. If fingerprint history shows a previous incident of processing by the U.S. Border Patrol, INS Investigations Branch (no longer in existence), or ICE, that is sufficient to conduct an investigation regardless of claimed place of birth. As for the latter, the Board of Immigration Appeals has held that admission of birth abroad is a prima facie indication of alienage. There are many people born abroad who are U.S. citizens at birth or through naturalization. A brief inquiry is usually sufficient to determine this, although there are some individuals who falsely claim U.S. citizenship, a serious felony (18USC911).

Note that, in both instances, race and specific national origin are not the elements which initiate the investigation. So how does this constitute "racial profiling"? It would be applied to all foreign born individuals in the ACI.

I recall a major case we worked in Illinois in the early 1980s when I was assigned to the Chicago Anti-Smuggling unit (now called "human trafficking"). It involved Caucasian aliens from Kosovo. A state trooper who was an expert at detecting smuggling "loads" (he intercepted over 800 smuggled aliens in just one year on I-80) stopped an automobile for overloading. There were eight adult males. The driver was a U.S. citizen, but none of his passengers could speak a word of English and apparently had no idea where they were. The trooper detained the vehicle and its occupants and called INS. This initiated the largest non-Mexican smuggling investigation in the history of the Chicago District Office, resulting in the indictment of eleven individuals.

"Racial profiling" played no role in this case. The trooper and all the occupants of the vehicle were white. The trooper relied on his knowledge and experience to evaluate the situation based on behavior, circumstances, and language (or lack thereof). He applied the same standard he always used regardless of the racial makeup of the vehicle occupants.

What we used as parameters to initiate questioning involved mainly behavior, clothing, location, and occupation (e.g., cab drivers). Interestingly, we never questioned or arrested Latino cab drivers because it was almost unknown for illegal aliens of Latino background to drive cabs and, the Latino drivers we observed were generally assumed to be citizens/legal residents.

In general, law enforcement agencies other than ICE should not engage in proactive investigation of immigration status of individuals absent an underlying arrest/detention for violations within the jurisdiction of the agency involved. An exception would be when a felony is apparently being committed in the presence of the officers — such as a traffic stop of a van when it is observed that a large group of people is contained within and have apparently been using improvised toilet facilities, are in dirty conditions indicative of a long trip without a chance to wash up, have soiled clothing possibly as a result of a border crossing, don't speak English, all of which would indicate the crime of smuggling/transporting under 8USC1324. This is a serious felony with potential incarceration of up to five years per alien transported/smuggled .

The Rhode Island State Police are exemplary professionals, and I believe they will put their ICE training to work in conjunction with their own training and experience to perform duties relating to illegal aliens in a restrained and dignified way, based on solid facts and observations rather than whim.

Joseph Bernstein worked for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (now ICE) for twenty years, including twelve years in the Providence area.

April 6, 2008

"Having this baby doesn't make me any less of a man."

Justin Katz

So how much of the Brave New World will be purely a matter of semantics?

The man who stunned the world when he announced he was pregnant gave an intimate insight into his personal life in a revealing television interview with Oprah.

Thomas Beatie stripped off for the cameras and bared his baby bump and also revealed pictures from his beauty queen days as a young woman.

However, the 34-year-old transsexual also told chat show host Oprah Winfrey that he feared for his own safety and admitted doctors had warned him his baby could be killed because of the revulsion at her birth.

As a pure example of the mainstreaming of relativism, it appears that Beatie is a man mostly because he/she claims to be so:

Beatie legally became a man after undergoing a sex change operation - but kept her female reproductive organs.

He told People magazine he decided to get pregnant after wife of five years Nancy had a hysterectomy.

He. Her. Small breasts and facial hair. Womb.

Poor child.

Eyes on the Bucks

Justin Katz

Yes, there are most definitely arguments to be made for the practices, and truth be told, I've grown to be bring a mountain of skepticism to media accounts of income related to high-level government positions, but every now and then — especially in the current political and economic climate — it's difficult not to suspect that the folks at the top have no concept of what dollar amounts mean to the rest of us:

The move allowed [Michael P. Lewis] to more than triple his state pension, from $23,000 to $72,578 a year, according to state records. Last month, Lewis, 46, received the first of the Massachusetts pension checks that he will receive until he dies. As with other turnpike retirees, the state will also pay 80 percent of his health insurance for life.

Lewis also landed on his feet with a new job. He began working last month in his new position as Rhode Island's transportation secretary, earning $130,000 a year.

First, let's be honest: money given to a 46-year-old man who goes on to a well-remunerated position of responsibility isn't "retirement" money; it's a lifetime severance payment. To call it the former is deceptive and insulting to those of us who expect never to have the opportunity to retire.

Second, politicians (particularly Governor Carcieri) ought to be very sensitive, just now, to the significance of these dollar amounts to constituents. If my salary were to become $72,578 per year, it would be a life-changing development for me and for my family. The cynicism sparked by the realization that such amounts are handed out as the money that such folks as Mr. Lewis receive upon ceasing their jobs cannot be otherwise than detrimental to the body politic.

A Hillary Update

Monique Chartier

Senator Hillary Clinton yesterday renewed her call for admission of the Michigan and Florida primary ballots.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday strengthened her pitch to allow disputed Democratic primaries in Michigan and Florida to be counted in the nominating contest, noting the vote totals had been officially recognized in each state.

"Some say their votes should be ignored and the popular vote in Michigan and Florida should be discounted. Well, I have a different view," Mrs. Clinton said at a rally.

Understandable, as the viability of her campaign is in danger without them.

Mrs. Clinton's latest comments came a day after Michigan Democrats announced there would be no do-over of that state's Jan. 15 primary, vastly dimming Mrs. Clinton's chances of catching Mr. Obama in the popular vote and in pledged delegates. Democrats in Florida had already announced there would be no revote there.

Simultaneously, Senator Clinton has been forced to drop another truth-challenged story she had been telling on the campaign trail.

For the past month, the New York senator liked to tell the tale of a pregnant woman who was denied health care from an Ohio hospital because she did not have $100 the hospital demanded to treat her. After being turned away, the woman was brought back to the hospital days later with severe complications. She had to be rushed to another facility for advanced treatment, but it was too late. Both the woman and the baby died, Clinton told her audiences.

For Clinton, the story was an example of how everyone should have universal healthcare. It is a powerful tale and always drew gasps from the audience.

The hospital, which was never named in Clinton's speeches, objected this weekend, saying it wasn't true and demanded that Clinton stop telling it. The O'Bleness Memorial Hospital in Athens, Ohio, told the New York Times that the woman was insured and was never denied treatment.

The Clinton campaign told ABC News today that the candidate heard the story from a deputy sheriff and had no reason to doubt the story. "If the hospital claims it didn't happen that way, we certainly respect that and she won't repeat the story," said Clinton spokeswoman Mo Elleithee.

If the phony story "was an example of how everyone should have universal healthcare", its expose is a reminder of one of the positives (and some would say, one of the weaknesses) of the American health care system: no one is turned away at the Emergency Room.

Meanwhile, Christopher Hitchens examines the depth of the mendacity of her other tall campaign tale, that of landing under fire in Bosnia as First Lady.

The punishment visited on Sen. Hillary Clinton for her flagrant, hysterical, repetitive, pathological lying about her visit to Bosnia should be much heavier than it has yet been and should be exacted for much more than just the lying itself. There are two kinds of deliberate and premeditated deceit, commonly known as suggestio falsi and suppressio veri. (Neither of them is covered by the additionally lying claim of having "misspoken.") The first involves what seems to be most obvious in the present case: the putting forward of a bogus or misleading account of events. But the second, and often the more serious, means that the liar in question has also attempted to bury or to obscure something that actually is true. Let us examine how Sen. Clinton has managed to commit both of these offenses to veracity and decency and how in doing so she has rivaled, if not indeed surpassed, the disbarred and perjured hack who is her husband and tutor.

* * * * *

Yet Sen. Clinton, given repeated chances to modify her absurd claim to have operated under fire while in the company of her then-16-year-old daughter and a USO entertainment troupe, kept up a stone-faced and self-loving insistence that, yes, she had exposed herself to sniper fire in the cause of gaining moral credit and, perhaps to be banked for the future, national-security "experience." This must mean either a) that she lies without conscience or reflection; or b) that she is subject to fantasies of an illusory past; or c) both of the above. Any of the foregoing would constitute a disqualification for the presidency of the United States.

April 5, 2008

Absolut Aztlan?

Justin Katz

So the makers of Absolut vodka are advertising in Mexico with the statement that, "In an Absolut World," the Southwestern United States would be the territory of our neighbors to the south. One might call it immanentizing the endgame.

Well, my choice of vodkas just became easier by the subtraction of one.


(More on Gateway Pundit.)

Fewer Loans Means Fewer Borrowers

Justin Katz

Opinions are split concerning the significance of plummeting federally backed loans to small businesses in Rhode Island:

"There is capital available today that you can access without the [SBA] guarantees," said Kenneth B. Martin, executive vice president and director of business banking for the bank's parent, Citizens Financial Group. "That is typically the case when you have a good economy and a very competitive banking landscape."

In other words, the small-business loans offered through the SBA are being replaced by other types of bank loans that are often "less expensive," Martin said, and therefore more attractive.

Not so, said Mark S. Deion, president of a business-planning consulting firm, Deion Associates & Strategies Inc., and a small-business advocate. He said that what appears to be a lack of demand is actually the result of businesses getting discouraged with banks.

"Let's put it this way: If you know you're going to get laughed at in the face, why ask?" Deion said. "People are using home-equity loans and their credit cards ... and they're paying 13 percent [interest]. The reason is it's easier to get the money. ... It's the path of least resistance."

Personally, I'd suggest that readers turn a few pages to my own "R.I.'s economic clock runs down," which may persuade them that another possibility ought to be considered: that the strata of residents who would normally seek small business loans are fleeing the state. There are fewer of the sorts of people who could and would turn loans into profit and economic growth, which ought to weigh heavily on our minds as the state responds to people who live off of the economic stream that our government siphons away.

April 4, 2008

The Other Problem with the Roberts Healthcare Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

There is very little chance that the core of Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts' healthcare plan, if passed into law, would survive a court challenge. The doomed element, described by Cynthia Needham of the Projo, is the requirement that...

Businesses with more than 10 employees would be expected to purchase insurance for their workers, or face fines.
Here's the technical description of the employer mandate from the legislation itself...
28-43-8.7. Health security assessment. -- (a) Each employer, except those employers employ ten (10) or fewer employees, subject to the provisions of this chapter shall be required to pay, in the same manner and at the same times as the director prescribes for the other required by this chapter, in addition to any other contributions required under this chapter, a health security assessment of each employee of eight percent (8%) of the taxable wage as defined in section 28-43-7, in addition to any other payment which that employer is to make under any other provisions of this chapter...

(b) An employer may deduct from the amount owed for each employee under subsection (a) its average expenses per employee for providing health insurance coverage or other health care benefits for its employees, allowable for the current quarter by the Internal Revenue Service as a deductible business expense;

The problem is that the Federal courts have consistently struck down state attempts to mandate health insurance by private employers for conflicting with the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), which makes it illegal for states to regulate employee benefits any more stringently than the Federal government does. Last year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals nullified a Maryland law that would have required employers bigger than a certain size to pay a certain percentage of their payroll towards health benefits. The Fourth Circuit's ruling did not depend on the details of the mandate, who was affected or how much they had to pay. Just the fact that Maryland was trying to require a particular employee benefit was enough to run afoul of Federal law...
Because Maryland's Fair Share Health Care Fund Act effectively requires employers in Maryland covered by the Act to restructure their employee health insurance plans, it conflicts with ERISA's goal of permitting uniform nationwide administration of these plans. We conclude therefore that the Maryland Act is preempted by ERISA and accordingly affirm [the lower-court decision to strike it down].
Bottom line: because of ERISA, whether you like it or not, states are not allowed under current Federal to mandate any employee health benefits.

Immigration Disconnect

Justin Katz

"Fear grips immigrant community in wake of Carcieri's executive order" screams the headline of a Rhode Island Catholic story that doesn't appear to be online. For all of the talk about divisiveness, I'd wager that there's a fundamental disconnect from side to side in reaction to such details as this:

The undocumented people who are targeted by Carcieri's order are often people whose families and even children are American citizens, according to [Stella Carrera, coordinator of Immigration and Refugee Services for the Diocese of Providence]. They often enter the country with legal visas to visit family, work temporarily or study and, once the visas expire, do not return to their native countries to await being awarded legal immigrant status from the U.S.

The waiting list for people to become citizens, even for those being sponsored by a family member, are often backlogged for nearly a decade, according to data provided by Carrera. Someone who wants to become an American citizen is forced to make a difficult decision: either be separated from their American families for years while awaiting legal status, or stay in the country illegally to work or raise a family and hope they can keep a low profile.

The conspicuous silence begins with the introduction of individual agency: Legal visitors, temporary workers, and students should be aware that their time here is limited. That's spelled out explicitly in the expired documents of the now-undocumented. Having to choose between a low, illegal profile, a period of separation, or the relocation of the whole family to another country while waiting for new documents (a never-mentioned option) was a wholly foreseeable possibility.

Keep an eye on that passive voice: "Someone who wants to become an American citizen is forced to make a difficult decision." Forced by whom? By a law of which that person was surely aware long ago, or by his or her own prior decisions and a native country that creates the incentive to flee, even if doing so means becoming a stationary fugitive?

If religious leaders truly wish to play a considered, unifying role in the heated immigration dispute, they ought to be at least as vocal in encouraging the immigrants and activists to do everything they can to prove their desire to ease into America on its own terms — as opposed to chanting about citizens' inability to defeat them.

The Roberts Paradox

Carroll Andrew Morse

Cynthia Needham reports in today's Projo on the beginning of Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts' statewide tour to promote her proposed new healthcare mandates…

Lt. Gov. Elizabeth Roberts last night kicked off a statewide tour in South Providence to promote her health-care plan, making the first of 15 stops…

Similar to the Massachusetts system, the Roberts plan would require nearly all Rhode Islanders to have health coverage. Businesses with more than 10 employees would be expected to purchase insurance for their workers, or face fines. Individuals making at least $40,840 and families making $82,600 would be asked to purchase their own health care. The plan would also create a HealthHub, a quasi-public agency to help coordinate purchasing and regulate plans…

Roberts made only brief mention of the immigration issue. “This week I’ve been discouraged with how we do things in this state. But I still have confidence we can work together,” she said, segueing back to the evening’s conversation.

With respect to the illegal immigration issue mentioned by Ms. Needham, Lieutenant Governor Roberts has adopted the position that it is out-of-bounds for the state of Rhode Island to verify the citizenship/legal residency status of its new hires, believing it either to be too big a job for the government to handle, or maybe just unreasonable to ask. Yet at the same time, according to her healthcare legislation, Lt. Governor Roberts also believes that state government is ready and able to take on the burden of verifying the health insurance coverage status of every Rhode Islander...
44-30-101. Qualified coverage required -- (c) Every person required to file an individual income tax return as a resident of the state of Rhode Island, either separately or jointly with a spouse, shall indicate on the return, in a manner prescribed by the tax administrator, whether such person, as of the last day for the taxable year for which the return is filed:
(i) has qualified coverage in force as required under subsection 44-30-101(a) whether covered as an individual or as a named beneficiary of a policy covering multiple individuals; or
(ii) claims an exemption under section 44-30-102.

(d) If a person required to obtain and maintain qualified coverage under subsection 44-30-101(a) above who files a tax return in Rhode Island does not indicate on the return that he or she had such coverage in force, or if the person indicates that he or she had such coverage in force but the tax administrator determines, based on the information available to him or her, that such requirement of subsection 44-30-101(a) was not met, then the tax administrator shall compute the tax for the taxable year based on one less personal exemption, as set forth in section 44-30-2.6, than would otherwise be allowed….

44-30-103. Review -- An individual subject to section 44-30-101 who disputes the determination of applicability, as enforced by the department of revenue, may seek a review of this determination through an appeal established by the division of taxation under section 44-30-89; provided, however, that no additional penalties shall be enforced against an individual seeking review until the review is complete and any subsequent appeals have been exhausted.

Tell me, which sounds like an easier job to do, verifying the health insurance status of every Rhode Islander every year, or verifying the citizenship status of new state employees, one time, at the time of hire? The contrast emphasizes an obvious reality, that enforcing immigration law is something that certain politicians don't want to do, not something they believe can't be done.

I suppose that you might reach the conclusion that government doesn't have the time or resources to take the steps to prevent foreign nationals from breaking the law, as Lt. Governor Roberts apparently has, if you subscribe to the idea that the most important function of government is managing as tightly as possible the lives of law-abiding, gainfully employed citizens and residents. Still, it is legitimate to ask the Lt. Governor why she believes that government is competent enough to track the health insurance coverage of 1,000,000 Rhode Island residents on a year-to-year basis, but unable to reasonably determine the citizenship status of new state hires one-time.

Or does she just believe that illegal aliens are entitled to state jobs?

Out of the Din

Justin Katz

Throughout my adult years, I'd never so much as considered sending my children to private school (parochial or otherwise) until very recently. Even my particular tincture of religious faith leads me strongly to feel that spending one's formative years among a cross-section of the local society — an opportunity that my own experience led me to take as an apt description of the public school environment — is a valuable component of education. Yet, yesterday our attempts to move our children outside of Tiverton's school district met with success.

After receiving my wife's call, in the morning, the rest of the day brought a noticeable increase in my stress level, involving anxiety about the now-certain new monthly bill. But what is one to do? The headline at the top of this week's Sakonnet Times is "Teachers reject two-year offer":

Tiverton teachers Monday afternoon "clearly expressed disapproval" of a two-year contract proposal put forward by the School Committee Friday, March 14, according to Amy Mullen, the union's president and Pocasset School teacher.

The school committee's contract offer was not proposed for ratification, and no vote was taken, said Ms. Mullen. Rather, it was discussed with "roughly 192 members present" at what union leadership characterized as an "emergency union meeting" at Green Valley Country Club in Portsmouth that began at 4 p.m. Monday and lasted nearly an hour and a half.

"The membership let us know it was not acceptable," Ms. Mullen said.

The complaint is that, when increasing healthcare costs are factored in, step 10 teachers will see minimal increases. Me, I can't keep my head from shaking: These teachers know the problems facing our state and our town. They know that money is extremely tight — so much so that their unreasonable demands will require the district to send out up to three dozen pink slips. Yet they persist.

And they persist in this (from an anonymous letter in the print edition's "Web Words" section):

Teachers, at this point why start anything to benefit the students. As parents of seniors, we know first hand you have disappointed the students all year. Some of the teachers were unprofessional, discussing the contract situation in the classroom, threatening to cancel events such as homecoming, dances and prom. You claim to be fulfilling your contract responsibilities, but as far as the students and parents are concerned, you failed! The seniors worked hard on their senior projects and, at this point, knowing they will not be graded by the teachers for their presentation portion of the project, their enthusiasm has diminished. This just adds to the list of disappointments such as mock trial, math team, class advisers, yearly art gallery shows, class trips, National Honor Society attendance, College Fair, limited letters of recommendation and limited after school help.Fortunately for the students, replacements were found and many of the above activities continued due to the principal and his office staff and concerned parents. Yet again you try to use the seniors as pawns! So you're not going to show up at graduation, who cares, it's too late. You lost the respect of most students and parents.

What responsible parent wouldn't reconsider the value of a public school education when faced with such an environment? I can't be alone in veritably itching for a concrete opportunity to fight for a school choice/voucher system.

Re: "Un pueblo unido no mas sera vencido!"

Carroll Andrew Morse

The report on yesterday's storming of Smith Hill reminds me of an observation that Rocco DiPippo made when we were covering the International Workers of the World anti-police rally in North Providence a few months ago -- the United States is one of the safest places in the world to hold a demonstration of any kind, because you can count on the police and public safety personnel here in the U.S. to act honorably and professionally. Rhode Island's Capitol police showed that again yesterday.

And yet the consistent message heard at Rhode Island illegal immigration demonstrations and rallies is that cops can't be trusted, so it's better not to enforce certain laws at all. Oh, the ingratitude!

Will it ever dawn on Rhode Island's illegal immigration activists that demanding that police and other public safety personnel ignore laws for political reasons asks them to act a little less professionally, and a little more like the police from the countries that people are desperate to escape from in mass numbers?

"Un pueblo unido no mas sera vencido!"

Justin Katz

Whoa. Listen to the audio provided on the Providence Journal page to which Monique links in the previous post. The above quoted line — used to rally momentary resistance to police instructions — is sounding more and more like a threat than encouragement:

Outside the State House, [Providence City Councilman Miguel Luna] said, "When you have the top clergy in the state of Rhode Island and they can't get through to him [Governor Carcieri], this is the option left."

"Can't get through to him," because, you know, there is only one acceptable course of action, and they will demand that it be taken. Rather than set fear to work in shaken public officials, such attempts at intimidation ought strengthen resolve and hasten implementation of the governor's plans.

A Capitol Idea

Monique Chartier

Here's the plan.

Seventy five of us are going to charter a plane and fly to the capitols of half a dozen countries around the world. I'm thinking Lisbon, Santiago, Bern, Warsaw, Rome and London.

When we get to each city, we're going to "storm" the office of the policy director of the president or prime minister. We're going to hold signs, chant a broad, non-relevant but vaguely feel-good slogan (in English) and demand that that country not enforce its immigration laws or its borders.

At a minimum, we will get a distinctly non-hostile reception by the Mayor and Police Chief of each city and, of course, sympathetic coverage by the local media, which will treat our demands as eminently reasonable. Local civil liberty and advocacy groups will champion our cause as a basic human right (you know, the same as not being tortured or summarily executed) and social service agencies will offer us tax funded benefits, even entering a bypass number if necessary to get us into their systems.


April 3, 2008

A Novel Way of Referring to Rhode Island

Monique Chartier

At the news conference yesterday of Rhode Island clergy leaders where the Governor's Executive Order on illegal immigration was criticized with various levels of tact, the Reverend Donald C. Anderson, Executive Minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, observed

In God's kingdom there are no second-class citizens, only sisters and brothers.

Rhode Island is lovely but cannot be confused for God's kingdom. Or perhaps he was not literally referring to Rhode Island?

The Success of the Father

Justin Katz

Not to pick on Linc, but it must sting somewhere deep down to know that, after years as a U.S. Senator, more years as an Ivy League professor, and now as an author with a new book out, his opinion remains of public interest more with reference to what his father's opinion would have been:

As the historic chances for passage of a bipartisan health-care-reform bill evaporated, Bernstein writes, "Hillary had earlier showed some willingness to compromise with Chafee, but when push came to shove, her unwillingness to compromise further undermined any chance of implementing real reform."

For all her good intentions, Mrs. Clinton was unable to work with veteran friendly legislators and an opportunity was lost. Contrary to Ms. Rubiner's hypothesis I am confident my father would not have supported Mrs. Clinton's presidential candidacy.

Linc always brings to mind a great sentiment from Steinbeck's East of Eden, in which Samuel, the spiritual center of the novel, says of the protagonist that God makes some people rich because otherwise they'd starve.

What the Numbers Show

Justin Katz

Unfortunately, neither Community Catalyst nor RIte Care Works, the author and promoter respectively, seem interested in providing the full details behind a press release from The Clarendon Group that appears to support the conclusion that every dollar of RI government money taken from RIte Care comes with a 12¢ cost in economic activity but save Rhode Island — overall, not just its government — 14¢:

The report from the national non-profit advocacy organization Community Catalyst, broke down where the dollars cut from the RIte Care program would go:
  • 52-cents of each dollar stays with the federal government rather than making it to Rhode Island in the form of federal matching funds.
  • 35-cents of each dollar is shifted to the private sector in the form of high-cost uncompensated care that’s ultimately left to hospitals, insurers, and premium payers to pay.
  • 6-cents of each dollar is lost in reduced state tax revenue that is no longer being collected on the economic activity associated with the lost federal matching funds.

Clearly, the authors are measuring "the state" more broadly than just its government, because they include the cost "shifted to the private sector," and surely a failure to merit matching funds doesn't shift to the expense column (for the government) in addition to being erased from the revenue column. What's notable about the findings is that money is saved even with this broad analysis.

On the other hand, they don't give the cost of lost economic activity, just the taxes on it, so the proper interpretation is probably that our analysts stirred a bunch of quick calculations in an activist pot until they arrived at a mixture that they thought to be salable.

April 2, 2008

Charity with Other People's Money

Justin Katz

When things go wrong for people, society ought at least to weight the costs of helping, even when the problems are wrapped up in the esoteric complexities of modern finance, but when I read news like this, I can't help but wonder from where the money's coming:

The legislation is likely to draw on elements of the Democratic plan such as letting states issue $10 billion in tax-exempt bonds to refinance subprime loans and permitting homebuilders and other money-losing businesses to reclaim previously paid taxes.

Democrats also want to provide $4 billion to states to buy up and refurbish foreclosed homes, a plan that the administration opposes as a bailout for lenders and speculators. ...

There is also bipartisan backing for $200 million in new money for debt counselors to help homeowners negotiate with lenders.

I'm sympathetic, of course, to any plan that solves problems by cutting or returning taxes, but if these steps are worth taking, shouldn't there be at least some discussion of what other area of government is going to be sacrificed?

What the Kids Are Learning

Justin Katz

One hesitates to make too much of isolated incidents, but then again, this isn't but so unusual a story these days, except for the decreasing age and increasing numbers:

A group of third-graders plotted to attack their teacher, bringing a broken steak knife, handcuffs, duct tape and other items for the job and assigning children tasks including covering the windows and cleaning up afterward, police said Tuesday.

The plot involving as many as nine boys and girls at Center Elementary School in south Georgia was a serious threat, Waycross Police Chief Tony Tanner said.

Where do eight/nine/ten year olds even get such ideas? I'll tell ya: we're all culpable, and unless we change our cultural ways, we're building ourselves a nightmare.

A Raise over a Coworker

Justin Katz

The budget passed at the last Tiverton School Committee meeting — largely reflecting the latest teacher contract proposed — included the loss of only one teaching position from the payrolls. Prior to that, the district had sent out thirty-four non-renewal notices. Apparently, three-quarters of the teachers are willing to accept the risk (and probable sacrifice) of those three dozen peers:

In a straw poll, 144 teachers — three quarters of the union membership — indicated their disapproval of a two-year contract proposal from the School Committee that the union president says would eat up virtually all the raises with stiff hikes in out-of-pocket health-care costs in the second year.

Amy Mullen, the union president, said the committee's proposal in the second year would mean $3-a-week raises to teachers with at least 10 years' experience — slightly more than half the membership.

The remaining teachers, who are still working their way up the experience ladder, would come out at least $1,300 ahead in the second year, Mullen said.

Well, why would experienced teachers want to tough it out with stagnant $70,000-ish salaries until budget issues turn around? They've got seniority, after all.

Here, by the way, is a flashpoint that ought to be vehemently taken off the table immediately in response to the teachers' continued plying of the immoral work-to-rule strategy:

Last week, the School Committee passed on a union proposal for a one-year agreement that would have granted 3-percent cost-of-living increases, but conceded a jump of $522 in the employee share of a family health insurance plan, to $1,662 from $1,100.

The one year-agreement would have been retroactive to the expiration of the most recent agreement at the end of last August.

Nothing should be retroactive. You strike, you play games with children's educations, you get what you get during that period.


I hate to complain about such things, but I really found Gina Macris's reportage to be confusing. Why does she allow Mullen to break out the step 10 teachers' potential raises on a weekly basis and then transition immediately to the annual increase of other teachers? Why, for that matter does she studiously avoid using the term "step," choosing instead the non-contractual phrase "experience ladder"?

NEA to Projo: We Own the Monopoly on Calling People Fascists

Carroll Andrew Morse

In Tuesday's Projo, columnist Edward Achorn wrote…

Though Rhode Islanders are independent-minded enough to vote for people from both parties for governor, the public-employee unions and welfare industry now control large voting blocks, and have the money and storm troopers to swing legislative elections fairly reliably to their hand-picked candidates.
Robert Walsh, Executive Director of the National Education Association's Rhode Island Chapter, objects (via RI Future)…
The Journal should be embarrassed and ashamed that a member of its editorial board, and an editor of these pages, equated Nazi soldiers with union members, and should apologize immediately.
Which doesn't mean, of course, that the local NEA staff isn't prone to equating their opponents to fascists. From a Pat Crowley (an Assistant Executive Director with the NEA-RI) post also at RI Future…
To hear teacher salaries spoken of in certain circles (like talk radio or fascist blogs) you would think that they are all making six figures.
So does Mr. Walsh also believe that Mr. Crowley needs to apologize for calling blogs he disagrees with "fascists"?

Possible line of defense from the NEA team: Nobody really believes that Pat Crowley has any serious understanding of what the term "fascist" means. He just uses the term as a stand-in for "anyone who disagrees with me". We demand that Edward Achorn be held to a higher standard.

Off the Island

Justin Katz

John Derbyshire's "March Diary" has much with which Rhode Islanders might sympathize, and that makes one wonder whether forswearing the "island" in our name mightn't be a step in the right direction. The following is from a reader's letter:

I see you've got the "New York Funk". I was born and raised in NYC, and couldn't get a job in the metropolitan area (about 30 years ago), so took a job in New Jersey. Wanted to be close to kinfolk still in NY.

At the time, New Jersey was a better state (no income tax, lower property taxes, lower sales tax, etc.) than NY.

A curious phenomenon has occurred over the last 30 years, however. I moved here because I couldn't get a job in engineering (my skill) after I got out of the Army. Been conservative all my life. In the 30 years, many New Yorkers have been moving to NJ to escape the taxes, and etc. that you pointed out in your column.

These newcomers were, for the most part, liberal. Unbelievably, these people have brought their liberal voting habits with them, apparently not understanding how they ruined NY and now, New Jersey is no better than New York in almost any measure.

We've made similar observations (on the moved-to side) with respect to New Hampshire, and some non-California Western states arguably provide confirmation. Derb notes that people are also bringing their liberal plague with them as the flee England, although the emphasis, there, is not on the economic damage that socialistic policies have done, but rather on the increase in crime wrought by liberal policing/weapon laws combined with mass immigration of unassimilable foreigners.

The echoes in proposed local laws and perennial progressive favorites are impossible to miss.

April 1, 2008

Giving New Meaning to Universal Health Care

Monique Chartier

A caller to the Dan Yorke Show this afternoon did not quite connect the dots but juxtaposed Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts' position on universal health care (she favors it) with her call for the Governor to withdraw his Executive Order pertaining to illegal immigration.

The caller raised an interesting point. Putting together the Lieutenant Governor's positions, if the Governor's eminently reasonable, even minimal, Executive Order is rescinded and undocumented immigrants continue to arrive in the state, what will be the eventual cost of universal health care if it is implemented? And who will pick up that tab?

Whose Line Is It, Anyway?

Justin Katz

Providence Journal Deputy Editorial-Pages Editor Ed Achorn has dubbed me a "critics" (emphasis added):

RHODE ISLAND is facing massive deficits. Rather than slash spending, large numbers of legislators last week proposed $340 million in new and increased taxes, under a bill that critics have aptly dubbed the 2008 Economic Death and Dismemberment Act. These pols want to keep money gushing into state coffers at the expense of those working families who have the miserable misfortune to be part of the private sector.

Unless the line is catching on, which would been cool. Of course, Achorn's got some humorous chops, himself:

The state GOP could not be in worse shape if Mr. Bean had run it for the last 20 years.

That's an episode of Mr. Bean that I'd like to see. But on a serious note:

Part of that is innate to the state's culture. Though Rhode Islanders are independent-minded enough to vote for people from both parties for governor, the public-employee unions and welfare industry now control large voting blocks, and have the money and storm troopers to swing legislative elections fairly reliably to their hand-picked candidates. ...

A challenge even by a political unknown with little chance of winning does much good. It means an incumbent no longer has the luxury of running unopposed.

And the defeat of even a handful of the most arrogant incumbents might have a profound effect, sending tremors through the entire General Assembly, forcing politicians to start caring about the working taxpayers who provide all the goodies that government dispenses.

Maybe we need a Buckley reprise, with a Rhode Island Conservative Party.

Hang in There, Gov

Justin Katz

The curious thing is that they don't offer an "instead":

At least 250 people packed the Algonquin House on Broad Street for the 2 p.m. news conference, sponsored by Immigrants United, We Can Stop the Hate Rhode Island, Univocal Legislative Minority Advocacy and Hispanic Ministerial Association

Miguel Sanchez-Hartwein, executive director of the Center for Hispanic Policy and Advocacy (CHisPA), noted that a letter was hand-delivered to Carcieri this morning. The letter calls Carcieri's executive order "the biggest attack on the rights of immigrants in Rhode Island in at least a generation."

At several points, people chanted "Un Pueblo Unido Jamàs sera Vencido!" (A united people will never be defeated).

"A people united will never be defeated." What people? La Raza? And against whom are they marching — for what? And how would that united people address illegal immigration? The answer is that they would not, as the print edition version of the report goes on to illustrate:

Miguel Sanchez-Hartwein, executive director of the Center for Hispanic Policy and Advocacy and member of We Can Stop The Hate Rhode Island, said though Carcieri "makes it sound like illegal immigration here is out of control," illegal immigrants account for between "1.9 and 3.7 percent" of Rhode Island's immigrant population. U.S. Homeland Security and the Pew Hispanic Center estimate Rhode Island's illegal immigrant population at between 20,000 and 40,000 people, he said.

It takes the "nation of immigrants" truism too far to make 2–4% of Rhode Island's total population into only 1.9–3.7% of its immigrant population, but math aside, I wonder why the anxiety of legal immigrants' fellow citizens and fellow legal residents over illegal immigration isn't enough for them to begin "a constructive dialog" about working together to secure our borders and stop the inflow of illegals. As I've said, if legal residents are concerned about insufficient differentiation between them and the targeted subgroup, they ought to be working to expand the differences.

Or perhaps my suggestion misconstrues which people they mean to unite, and they worry that in following it they wouldn't be inconquerable.

The Immigration Executive Order II (And why Normal People Think Progressives are a Tad Strange)

Carroll Andrew Morse

The first 2 sections of Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri's executive order on immigration concern the use of an automated system called "E-Verify" for confirming whether new hires by state government and state government contractors are in the country legally…

1. The Department of Administration shall register and use the federal government’s E-Verify program to electronically verify the employment eligibility of new hires in the Executive Branch and the validity of their Social Security numbers to ensure that all employees of the Executive Branch are legally eligible to be employed in the United States and take appropriate action against those that are not eligible for employment, consistent with federal and state law. For purposes of this Order, the Executive Branch of government is considered to be all agencies and departments in the Executive Branch, excluding the offices of general officers, said officers being the Department of Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, and General Treasurer.

2. The Department of Administration shall require that all persons and businesses, including grantees, contractors and their subcontractors and vendors doing business with the State of Rhode Island also register with and utilize the services of the E-Verify program to ensure compliance with federal and state law.

Even before the issuance of the Governor's order, a number of progressive legislators had filed a General Assembly resolution objecting to the use of E-Verify…
RESOLVED, That this House of Representatives of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations hereby urges employers not to participate in the E-Verify program at this time, and calls upon the United States Congress to halt implementation of this program until such time as the issues described in this resolution are satisfactorily resolved
However, don't let the objection to E-Verify let you think that Rhode Island's progressives are opposed to the government and corporations (gasp!) investigating their employees -- even after they've been hired. Also introduced in the legislature this session by a group of progressive legislators (and Bruce Long) was a bill to require all Rhode Island employers above a certain size to designate a "transportation coordinator", who would be required to collect commuting information on all company employees and report it back to the government…
23-83-5. Requirements for employers -- (a) Not more than six (6) months after the adoption of the commute trip reduction plan by the department, each major employer in the state of Rhode Island shall develop a commute trip reduction program and shall submit a description of that program to the department for review. The program shall be implemented not more than six (6) months after submission to the department.

(b) A commute trip reduction program shall consist of, at a minimum:
(1) designation of a transportation coordinator and the display of the name, location, and telephone number of the coordinator in a prominent manner at each affected worksite…
(3) an annual review of employee commuting and reporting of progress toward meeting the single occupant vehicle reduction goals to the department consistent with the method established in the commute trip reduction plan;

At least one progressive legislator, State Representative Arthur Handy, was a sponsor of both the E-Verify resolution and the commuting restriction bill! So at the same time that Rhode Island's progressive brain-trust is telling us that identifying whether new hires are in the country legally is beyond what can reasonably be accomplished right now, they are also telling us that government is ready and able to continuously collect information on and ultimately restrict the activities of a great number of Rhode Islanders who drive to work!

Do you see a bit of a contradiction here? It's a strange attitude towards government that these progressives have, that the main function of government is to tightly manage the activities of law-abiding citizens and residents, while ignoring law-breaking by foreign nationals.

Sox Start for Real Tonight

Marc Comtois
OK, technically they've already played two games that count, going 1-1, over in Japan. But the sorta surreal beginning to the season is over and the usual ebb and flow can now begin tonight in Oakland around 10 PM. Ian has more and the ProJo staff makes their picks. Me? They win the division, but they were pretty unscathed last year....I think injuries may play a factor in '08. So playoffs yes. Back to back? Nope. But there will be some summer nights spent with a good brew and the Sox and all will seem right in the world.

The Immigration Executive Order: What's Really In It

Carroll Andrew Morse

Governor Donald Carcieri's executive order concerning illegal immigration basically has two sections, a set of provisions that apply to the state government's hiring procedures, and a set of provisions that apply to law enforcement.

The first three provisions apply to state government; the first two specifically to hiring…

1. The Department of Administration shall register and use the federal government’s E-Verify program to electronically verify the employment eligibility of new hires in the Executive Branch and the validity of their Social Security numbers to ensure that all employees of the Executive Branch are legally eligible to be employed in the United States and take appropriate action against those that are not eligible for employment, consistent with federal and state law. For purposes of this Order, the Executive Branch of government is considered to be all agencies and departments in the Executive Branch, excluding the offices of general officers, said officers being the Department of Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, and General Treasurer.

2. The Department of Administration shall require that all persons and businesses, including grantees, contractors and their subcontractors and vendors doing business with the State of Rhode Island also register with and utilize the services of the E-Verify program to ensure compliance with federal and state law.

I'll have a bit more to say about these provisions in an upcoming post.

Provision 3 requires the state to notify victims of identity theft discovered by enforcement of provisions 1 and 2 that a crime has been perpetrated against them…

3. The Directors of each department and state agency in the Executive Branch shall attempt to notify any person whose identity was stolen or otherwise improperly used by any person in order receive any benefit, including but not limited to child care, health care, any government issued identification card, including driver’s license and non-driver’s license identification, welfare or employment.
Do progessive leaders like Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts and Reverend Eliseo Nogueras really object to letting people who have had their identities stolen know about it as soon as possible?

Objections to this portion of the executive order provide some fascinating (though unintended) insight into the progressive mindset. Rhode Island's progressives don't seem to have any room in their hearts and minds for regular, law-abiding citizens who become the victims of crimes through no fault of their own. They've decided that the job of government is to take care of special interests and identity politics groups, whatever the cost to everyone else. Crime victims don't rate as enough of a special interest to merit any attention, so, according to the Lieutenant Governor and other progressives who want the entire executive order repealed, if you're a victim of identity theft, you are own your own; government has more important things to do than helping protect you from crimes.

Provisions 4 through 7 in the executive order refer specifically to the law-enforcing branches of government, the state police and department of corrections. Provision 4 authorizes training for the state police for immigration-related matters…

4. The Rhode Island State Police, pursuant to the authority set forth in Section 287(g) of IIRAIRA and INA, shall work to secure a MOA with ICE to receive training necessary to enable them to assist ICE personnel in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.
Provision 5 provides for training for corrections personnel, and for corrections personnel to work under the joint supervision of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement...
5. The Department of Corrections shall also work with ICE officials to secure an MOA that will define the scope of state correctional personnel authority to perform certain immigration law enforcement functions which shall be subject to the cross-supervision of ICE and permit certain correctional personnel to complete appropriate training and function under the supervision of sworn ICE officers to combat illegal immigration issues at the Adult Correctional Institution, consistent with federal and state law.
So far, there's nothing more than here than facilitating inter-agency co-operation to enforce existing law under the jurisdiction of ICE. If ICE asks for help, the Governor wants state law enforcement officials to have the proper training to provide it. Isn't proper training the best way to reduce the excesses of so-called "profiling" that progressives fret about?

Provision 6 will probably become the most controversial section…

6. It is urged that all law enforcement officials, including state and local law enforcement agencies take steps to support the enforcement of federal immigration laws by investigating and determining the immigration status of all non-citizens taken into custody, incarcerated, or under investigation for any crime and notifying federal authorities of all illegal immigrants discovered as a result of such investigations.
Most importantly, provision 6 does not authorize state and local law enforcement agencies to begin enforcing Federal immigration laws on their own. Only after an individual has been "taken into custody", "incarcerated", or is "under investigation" for some other violation of the laws -- applicable to citizen and non-citizen alike -- can an investigation under provision 6 commence, and the only responsibility of state and local authorities have resulting from such investigations is to notify the Federal government that they may have an illegal immigrant in their custody.

However, the "taken into custody" clause of provision 6 could potentially present a problem. With just the usual information that is collected about individuals "taken into custody", is it possible to determine whether they are citizens or non-citizens? (Over to you, Joe Bernstein…). If that initial determination cannot be made, then technically section 6 can't be applied, since law enforcement officials have to already know that the person is a non-citizen for it to activate.

Individuals "incarcerated" or "under investigation", on the other hand, don't present any reasonable problem here. Once someone is under investigation for one crime, any other crimes that they may have committed become fair game for further investigation. (Though I can understand why some Rhode Island public officials might wish to undermine this principle of the law!)

Finally, section 7 applies, again, only to people already tried and convicted by the justice system for some other crime…

7. The Parole Board and the Department of Corrections shall work cooperatively with ICE personnel to provide for the parole and deportation of criminal aliens.

Don't Go Changing, to Try and Please... Special Interests

Justin Katz

The Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC) makes a point that ought to be raised every time the progressives put forward data purporting to illustrate the lack of effect of recent tax cuts:

Estimating that taxpayers already are kicking in an average of 12.3 percent of their income to finance state and local government, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council urges that Governor Carcieri and the legislature be wary of making any sudden changes in the tax structure as a quick fix for the looming budget crisis.

"Before any changes to the tax structure are made, they ought to be analyzed in a fair amount of detail," said John C. Simmons, executive director of the business-backed organization that studies public fiscal matters.

"We're saying you have to do this in a thoughtful way," especially, he said, because the legislature has made changes to the tax code in recent years and it will take some time to gauge their effects.

One change is the flat tax option passed by the General Assembly in 2006. Another reduced the capital gains tax on assets held more than five years.

"Those changes are just starting to hit," Simmons said.

RIPEC puts our tax burden at 7th highest in the nation, with special emphasis on taxes that are particularly harmful to the business environment (general business and sales).

Solving RI's Crisis in 10 Not-So-Easy Steps

Justin Katz

Anybody who missed it on Sunday should take a moment to read URI Business Administration Professor Edward Mazze's "10 steps to right R.I.'s dire financial state":

Any optimism for job creation next month has disappeared as the state, region and national economy slide downward. For years, we have been dealing with a partial truth that higher salaried jobs are on their way to the state and a reduction in taxes and new incentives will lead companies to move to Rhode Island. There is little evidence that any of these events took place in the last 18 months and evidence that the state's future expectations for growth may be unrealistic. There is no solution to the state's economic problems in sight.

Some legislators are introducing bills in this session to harm existing businesses and deter other businesses from coming to the state. The state needs an emergency management plan that takes advantage of the "best practices" of business. The state cannot respond to its bad economic performance with denials, blaming it on unions, Band-Aids, and smoke and mirrors that in the past have led nowhere.

If Rhode Island was a business with subsidiaries such as cities, towns and municipalities, what would the board of directors of the company do to preserve the wealth of the shareholders (in our case, the taxpayers), employees and suppliers and put the company back into motion?

Certain readers will likely zoom in on Mazze's instruction to avoid "blaming it on unions," and I'll agree that the core problem that makes public sector unions so conspicuously detrimental isn't the nature of the unions, but the spinelessness of our leaders. Unions do what they do.

Unfortunately, the same can be said of elected officials, and in Rhode Island there is a well-entrenched bloc, counting the unions among its membership, that must be broken before the openness and transparency so central to Mazze's 10 steps can be achieved.