June 30, 2008

The Enemy of Matt's Enemy

Justin Katz

I don't have much to say on the topic, but it's really quite a spectacle to see Matt Jerzyk — he of the don't-cut-social-service-spending or union benefits brigade — attack Governor Carcieri for vetoing an expensive courthouse construction project:

Does Gov. Don Carcieri know how to sow division among the branches of government or what?!?

First, he vetoes one of the General Assembly's top legislative priorities - renewable energy.

Now, he has vetoed the judiciary's priority - a new courthouse in the Blackstone Valley:

I suppose one could argue that the construction jobs would likely have been union jobs, but it's difficult to come away from his post thinking that Jerzyk is guided by anything more profoundly than a political drive against the governor.

Obama Says He'd Pay Women The Same...but doesn't

Marc Comtois

Another example of the Change we are waiting for from ourselves if we vote for him:

While Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has vowed to make pay equity for women a top priority if elected president, an analysis of his Senate staff shows that women are outnumbered and out-paid by men.

That is in contrast to Republican presidential candidate John McCain's Senate office, where women, for the most part, out-rank and are paid more than men.

Details after the jump.

On average, women working in Obama's Senate office were paid at least $6,000 below the average man working for the Illinois senator. That's according to data calculated from the Report of the Secretary of the Senate, which covered the six-month period ending Sept. 30, 2007. Of the five people in Obama's Senate office who were paid $100,000 or more on an annual basis, only one -- Obama's administrative manager -- was a woman.

The average pay for the 33 men on Obama's staff (who earned more than $23,000, the lowest annual salary paid for non-intern employees) was $59,207. The average pay for the 31 women on Obama's staff who earned more than $23,000 per year was $48,729.91. (The average pay for all 36 male employees on Obama's staff was $55,962; and the average pay for all 31 female employees was $48,729. The report indicated that Obama had only one paid intern during the period, who was a male.)

McCain, an Arizona senator, employed a total of 69 people during the reporting period ending in the fall of 2007, but 23 of them were interns. Of his non-intern employees, 30 were women and 16 were men. After excluding interns, the average pay for the 30 women on McCain's staff was $59,104.51. The 16 non-intern males in McCain's office, by comparison, were paid an average of $56,628.83.

Population Bomb? Or Population Dud?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Want to keep abreast of the important subjects of the day and prepare yourself for the leading topics that the mainstream media will soon be discussing? Then remember to listen to the Anchor Rising spot on the Matt Allen show on WPRO radio (630 AM) Wednesdays, around 6:50 pm; a few weeks ago, Matt and I discussed the problems with conventional, elitist Malthusian wisdom about population growth. This Sunday, the New York Times Magazine picked up on the same topic in a long article by Russell Shorto (h/t Instapundit)...

In the 1990s, European demographers began noticing a downward trend in population across the Continent and behind it a sharply falling birthrate. Non-number-crunchers largely ignored the information until a 2002 study by Italian, German and Spanish social scientists focused the data and gave policy makers across the European Union something to ponder. The figure of 2.1 is widely considered to be the “replacement rate” — the average number of births per woman that will maintain a country’s current population level. At various times in modern history — during war or famine — birthrates have fallen below the replacement rate, to “low” or “very low” levels. But Hans-Peter Kohler, José Antonio Ortega and Francesco Billari — the authors of the 2002 report — saw something new in the data. For the first time on record, birthrates in southern and Eastern Europe had dropped below 1.3. For the demographers, this number had a special mathematical portent. At that rate, a country’s population would be cut in half in 45 years, creating a falling-off-a-cliff effect from which it would be nearly impossible to recover. Kohler and his colleagues invented an ominous new term for the phenomenon: “lowest-low fertility.”

To the uninitiated, “lowest low” seems a strange thing to worry about. A few decades ago we were getting “the population explosion” drilled into us. The invader species homo sapiens, we learned, was eating through the planet’s resources and irretrievably fouling and wrecking its fragile systems. Has the situation changed for the better since Paul Ehrlich set off the alarm in 1968 with his best seller “The Population Bomb”? Do current headlines — global food shortages, climate change — not indicate continuing signs of calamity?

They do, as far as some are concerned, but things have changed somewhat. For one thing, around the world, even in developing countries, birthrates have plummeted — from 6.0 globally in 1972 to 2.9 today — as populations have shifted from rural areas to cities and people have adopted urban lifestyles, and the drop has perhaps lessened the urgency of the overpopulation cry....

To many, “lowest low” is hard evidence of imminent disaster of unprecedented proportions. “The ability to plan the decision to have a child is of course a big success for society, and for women in particular,” Letizia Mencarini, a professor of demography at the University of Turin, told me. “But if you would read the documents of demographers 20 years ago, you would see that nobody foresaw that the fertility rate would go so low. In the 1960s, the overall fertility rate in Italy was around two children per couple. Now it is about 1.3, and for some towns in Italy it is less than 1. This is considered pathological.”

The Times article proposes an explanation for observed population growth patterns sure to generate protests from the government-planning-is-always-best crowd…
Last year the fertility rate in the United States hit 2.1, the highest it has been since the 1960s and higher than almost anywhere in the developed world. Factor in immigration and you have a nation that is far more than holding its own in terms of population. In 1984 the U.S. Census Bureau projected that in the year 2050 the U.S. population would be 309 million. In 2008 it’s already 304 million, and the new projection for 2050 is 420 million.

“Europeans say to me, How does the U.S. do it in this day and age?” says Carl Haub of the Population Reference Bureau in Washington. According to Haub and others, there is no single explanation for the relatively high U.S. fertility rate. The old conservative argument — that a traditional, working-husband-and-stay-at-home-wife family structure produces a healthy, growing population — doesn’t apply, either in the U.S. or anywhere else in the world today. Indeed, the societies most wedded to maintaining that traditional family structure seem to be those with the lowest birthrates. The antidote, in Western Europe, has been the welfare-state model, in which the state provides comprehensive support to couples that want to have children. But the U.S. runs counter to this. Some commentators explain its healthy birthrate in terms of the relatively conservative and religiously oriented nature of American society, which both encourages larger families. It’s also true that mores have evolved in the U.S. to the point where not only is it socially acceptable for fathers to be active participants in raising children, but it’s also often socially unacceptable for them to do otherwise.

But one other factor affecting the higher U.S. birthrate stands out in the minds of many observers. “There’s much less flexibility in the European system,” Haub says. “In Europe, both the society and the job market are more rigid.” There may be little state subsidy for child care in the U.S., and there is certainly nothing like the warm governmental nest that Norway feathers for fledgling families, but the American system seems to make up for it in other ways. As Hans-Peter Kohler of the University of Pennsylvania writes: “In general, women are deterred from having children when the economic cost — in the form of lower lifetime wages — is too high. Compared to other high-income countries, this cost is diminished by an American labor market that allows more flexible work hours and makes it easier to leave and then re-enter the labor force.” An American woman might choose to suspend her career for three or five years to raise a family, expecting to be able to resume working; that happens far less easily in Europe.

So there would seem to be two models for achieving higher fertility: the neosocialist Scandinavian system and the laissez-faire American one. Aassve put it to me this way: “You might say that in order to promote fertility, your society needs to be generous or flexible. The U.S. isn’t very generous, but it is flexible. Italy is not generous in terms of social services and it’s not flexible. There is also a social stigma in countries like Italy, where it is seen as less socially accepted for women with children to work. In the U.S., that is very accepted.”

Second Amendment Ruling, In Sum

Justin Katz

Local law student and IT worker Brian Mekdsy offers a summary of the recent Second Amendment ruling by the Supreme Court on his new (to me) blog, Libertarian Observer.

Whitehouse Support FISA, More Liberal Philosophical Gymnastics To Follow

Marc Comtois

According to John Mulligan at the ProJo, it looks like Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse will follow the lead of fellow Democrats Jim Langevin, Barack Obama and Jack Reed and vote to approve the FISA bill (Andrew had more details and analysis of the bill here and here).

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has condemned the Bush administration in the harshest terms because, in his view, it has damaged civil liberties in the name of counterterrorism.

But Whitehouse is now considering backing President Bush on an overhaul of the nation’s intelligence rules that critics say would undercut the constitutional ban on unreasonable searches. Partly because his seat on the Intelligence Committee has shown him the value of warrantless wiretaps on suspected terrorists, Whitehouse says, he has already joined bipartisan majorities behind Mr. Bush on key surveillance questions.

“The more we know about what terrorists are saying to one another overseas, the better positioned we are to anticipate and defend against what they’re planning,” said Whitehouse, echoing the president’s argument that the law “will help our intelligence professionals learn our enemies’ plans for new attacks.”

Yeah, imagine that, the more you learn the facts and the actual dangers posed, the more inclined you are to support the programs best able to thwart an attack. The local progressi-sphere were all over Rep. Langevin (and still are) for his informed support of the new FISA bill. Meanwhile they continue to give Obama a pass for being politically astute and "moving to the center" and have stayed mum on Reed. Wonder what's in store for Whitehouse? We'll see. One final note: as far as I can tell, Rep. Langevin is pretty much right in line with the rest of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation on issue after issue. Except he's pro-life. Perhaps, in the eyes of many on the left, that's his unforgivable sin?

Evergrow Government in Tiverton

Justin Katz

Some small-government types in Tiverton support an all-day referendum, instead of the financial town meeting, to handle the town's budget on the grounds that it would give the average working citizen more opportunity to vote and would diminish the out-in-the-open pressure power of such vested interests as public-sector unions. While both of those points are well taken, a couple of provisions in the proposed charter revision (PDF) seem designed to make the most of the opportunity for the town government.

First, there's opportunity to offer one side of the budget debate right on the ballot — the town's — with no mechanism for argument from the other side (emphasis added):

The ballot shall have a single question with a yes or no choice and a short explanation of what will happen if the proposed budget is rejected.

Nowhere are interested citizens empowered to explain why the consequences are counterbalanced or to enlighten the voter as to alternatives.

Second, the proposal would ensure some increase in the budget every single year:

The no vote explanation will state that if the proposed budget is rejected then the current fiscal year tax levy multiplied by an indexing factor up to a maximum of four percent (4%) will be the budget for the next fiscal year. No exception to exceed any tax increase "cap" will be allowed if a no vote prevails.

Roughly speaking, in other words, the referendum would give voters the opportunity to deny exceptions from the tax cap imposed by the state but would ensure that the town government always gets its increase at about the level of the cap. The only way to achieve level funding or a decrease (as merely theoretical as that budgetary possibility may be) would be for the town government itself to propose it.

With the town council apparently poised to assert its authority to change the proposal at a special meeting tonight, the balance could shift even more toward government's favor.

June 29, 2008

Contra Conventional Third-Party Wisdom

Justin Katz

The typical left-right pronouncements are being made with regard to Bob Barr's intention to run for president under the Libertarian banner:

On the ballots in 30 states so far, Barr has the chance to be a spoiler for McCain, the presumed Republican nominee, in several states, among them Alaska, Colorado and Georgia. Barr's campaign advisers also assert he has similar potential in other mountain states, New Hampshire, Ohio and other swing states.

The Republican Party and the McCain campaign have swatted away the Barr candidacy, but some Republicans are taking it seriously. If the early polls hold up, and Sen. Barack Obama, the presumed Democratic nominee, pours heavy resources into Georgia, that state could be up for grabs, said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

I wonder if the peculiar dynamics of this particular presidential race oughtn't turn such conventional wisdom on its head. A Barr candidacy could actually provide a protest option for disaffected conservatives and right-leaning libertarians that only benefits Obama half as much as he might otherwise manage to achieve. If Obama's heavy investments in generally Republican regions were designed to emphasize the "change" motif, with the intention of gathering votes from the other side's usual base, it's conceivable that Barr would actually neutralize those efforts to some degree.

In a True Free Market, Speculation Implies Investment

Justin Katz

As evidenced by his use of the phrase "mistaken imperial war," Chris Powell and I are hardly simpatico, but he makes an important point, here:

Oil and oil products are hardly the only things whose prices have soared lately; nearly all commodities are up sharply, with the Commodity Research Bureau index reporting an increase of 37 percent in a year as the dollar's value against other currencies having fallen about 12 percent. But Congress has yet to interrogate wheat farmers, copper miners and pizza makers.

I'm neither a financial expert nor an experienced investor, but the term "speculator" evokes the impression of investment for the purpose of exploration. In other words, the speculative dollars building up in the oil industry ought to be going toward exploration and infrastructural development. The problem is that regulations and environmental zealotry are preventing what would amount to a market correction with profound geopolitical implications.

Various liberal commenters have been pointing to OPEC as a symptom of the free market and to the high price of energy as the free market's inevitable result. It seems to me that OPEC's power derives largely from other nations' deliberate restriction of the free market; to the extent that the cartel understands American political realities, it is able to hold production down and prices up.

RI's Government by Aristocracy

Justin Katz

Think we'll hear repeated ethics complaints about this? (Emphasis added.)

The state Senate returned to a darkened Assembly chamber yesterday for a one-day session to confirm the appointment of a new District Court judge and two new magistrates, including the Senate president's chief of staff and the sister of the Judiciary Committee chairman.

In unanimous votes, Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano's top staffer, R. David Cruise, a former senator himself, was named magistrate of the Traffic Tribunal along with Alan R. Goulart, the chief of the criminal division at the state attorney general's office.

The pair will replace Marjorie R. Yashar and Aurendina G. Veiga, both of whom left in 2005 amid ethics complaints. The positions carry 10-year terms and annual salaries of $128,650.

The Senate also unanimously confirmed Mary E. McCaffrey to the District Court bench. Currently a Family Court magistrate overseeing truancy cases, McCaffrey is the sister of Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Michael J. McCaffrey, D-Warwick, who abstained from voting yesterday.

No doubt many of Rhode Island's coastal-state snobs would gleefully perpetuate the cliché of incestuousness backwoods governing practices, but we've raised the practice to a governing principle.

June 28, 2008

Bill Clinton Has Not Arrived in Unity

Monique Chartier

Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama ended campaign hostilities yesterday with a near embrace in Unity, New Hampshire. But Senator Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, is not feeling the vibe. From the Telegraph (UK); h/t NewsBusters.

The Telegraph has learned that the former president's rage is still so great that even loyal allies are shocked by his patronising attitude to Mr Obama, and believe that he risks damaging his own reputation by his intransigence.

A senior Democrat who worked for Mr Clinton has revealed that he recently told friends Mr Obama could "kiss my ass" in return for his support.

* * *

It has long been known that Mr Clinton is angry at the way his own reputation was tarnished during the primary battle when several of his comments were interpreted as racist.

But his lingering fury has shocked his friends. The Democrat told the Telegraph: "He's been angry for a while. But everyone thought he would get over it. He hasn't. I've spoken to a couple of people who he's been in contact with and he is mad as hell.

It Doesn't Have to Be This Way

Justin Katz

Continuing grim news about the relative position of Rhode Island's economy:

Rhode Island last month posted the second-highest unemployment rate in the country, after Michigan, according to a report out today by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Rhode Island's unemployment rate last month was 7.2 percent; Michigan's rate was 8.5 percent.

Rhode Island’s unemployment rate in May was at its highest since January 1994.

The New England unemployment rate rose 0.6 percentage point over the month to 5.1 percent, its highest rate since March 2004.

With Rhode Island and Michigan leading the recessionary pack, it's tough to blame free market policies or Republicans. Unfortunately, it appears that too many people 'round here are invested (financially or ideologically) in our wrongheaded system for our leaders to do more than try to weather the storm, probably for several years to come.

June 27, 2008

Re: A Reality Denied

Monique Chartier

For this post, I was tempted to create another A.R. category - "Children" - because their best interest should be the focus of this issue.

A couple of commenters to Justin's post have expressed scepticism as to Trayce Hansen's thesis - that it is better for a child to be raised by a mother and a father. Commenter Jeff Gale stated that this conclusion is only Dr. Hansen's opinion. Actually, it is an opinion based on extensive studies.

I'm going to take the importance of a mother as read and center on the father.

An article in the February issue of Acta Paediatrica analyzed twenty four papers published over a twenty year period. From the Science Daily review of that article:

Active father figures have a key role to play in reducing behaviour problems in boys and psychological problems in young women, according to a review published in the February issue of Acta Paediatrica.

Swedish researchers also found that regular positive contact reduces criminal behaviour among children in low-income families and enhances cognitive skills like intelligence, reasoning and language development.

Children who lived with both a mother and father figure also had less behavioural problems than those who just lived with their mother.

Let's be clear. We are not talking about a mother or a father who finds him or herself in an unexpected difficult situation and makes the best of it. We are also not talking about a responsible, loving individual or a responsible, loving couple, gay or straight, who adopt an older child. This is obviously preferable to indefinitely bouncing the child from foster home to foster home.

The problem is the deliberate creation of a circumstance under which a child is raised without a mother or a father. The largest group of children in this category is not those with gay parents but those with mothers who got pregnant without arranging for or seriously expecting the father to be a day to day presence in the child's life. That such a circumstance - the planned omission of a mother or a father, for whatever reason - should be avoided for the sake of the child is more than just an opinion.

The Northern Rhode Island "Democrats For School Choice" Ride Again!

Carroll Andrew Morse

A year ago it was North Providence interim-Mayor John Sisto who was the honorary chair of the movement to allow relatives of Rhode Island pols to attend the public school of their choice, free of charge. This election cycle, according to a Gerry Goldstein report in this week's Valley Breeze, it looks like Smithfield Town Council President Stephen Archambault will be leading the charge…

With the campaign barely under way as both parties were readying to file their endorsed slates, the Republicans issued a press release Tuesday, June 24, saying that an investigation has revealed that "two nephews and one niece of Town Council President Archambault have been illicitly attending school in Smithfield for the last eight years"....

Archambault said it has always been his understanding that while the students involved did indeed have partial residence in another town, they live the majority of their time in Smithfield.

He said he recalls that the children's mother, his sister, explained the situation to the School Department eight years ago and that any complications seemed to be resolved....

He confirmed that the School Department investigated after receiving an e-mail tip, and that the evidence gathered indicated a student or students "may not be living in Smithfield."

My reaction to this news item is the same as my reaction to the original Sisto item: if Councilman Archambault thinks it's a good idea for the relatives of town councilmen to be able to choose the public schools their children attend, shouldn't they be in favor of extending that right to every family in Rhode Island? If school choice is good for the families of our pols, wouldn't it be good for the families of regular citizens too?

The FISA Compromise, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

RI Future diarist "forsanri" has posted a long item purportedly taking Congressman James Langevin to task for supporting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act reform that passed the House and is pending in the Senate. After an incoherent shot at Anchor Rising involving aluminum siding salesmen and carpenters (I didn't get it), four points are made in response to an e-mail that Congressman Langevin sent out explaining his position on the new and improved FISA. I'm going to skip the "first point" for now and focus on the final three.

1. The "second point" made in the post is that Congressman Langevin has made a false claim that the new FISA law requires a court-order for conducting surveillance on Americans, wherever they are in the world. This point is based on a factual error made by Forsanri, an error that is directly evident in the portions of the law he excerpted. Forsanri's argument is that an "emergency authorization" provision in the law will allow for a significant volume of non-court approved surveillance of US citizens…

1) AUTHORITY FOR EMERGENCY AUTHORIZATION- Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, if the Attorney General reasonably determines that--

`(A) an emergency situation exists with respect to the acquisition of foreign intelligence information for which an order may be obtained under subsection (c) before an order authorizing such acquisition can with due diligence be obtained, and
`(B) the factual basis for issuance of an order under this subsection to approve such acquisition exists,

The Attorney General may authorize such acquisition if a judge having jurisdiction under subsection (a)(1) is informed by the Attorney General, or a designee of the Attorney General, at the time of such authorization that the decision has been made to conduct such acquisition and if an application in accordance with this section is made to a judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as soon as practicable, but not more than 7 days after the Attorney General authorizes such acquisition.

Here is Forsanri's analysis…
So, boys and girls, if Attorney General Mukasey says "this is an emergency," he may, without any notification conduct surveillance without a warrant.
Mostly, this shows that Forsanri needs to read more carefully the text that he excerpts. The law makes clear that the Attorney General must immediately notify a FISA judge, i.e. "a judge having jurisdiction under subsection (a)(1)", when an emergency acquisition is authorized, then make the full application for a warrant within seven days. How exactly does an immediate requirement to notify a FISA judge constitute surveillance "without any notification"?

Note also that the new FISA rules involve tougher procedures than what must be followed in "probable cause" cases in the realm of law-enforcement (in probable cause cases, law-enforcement agents are not required to concurrently seek a warrant). Based on the existence of the probable cause exception, does Forsanri 1) make the blanket statement that it is inaccurate to say that searches within the U.S. require a warrant and 2) want to see the exception repealed?

2. The "third point" in the post relates to the situation I discussed with Matt Allen of WPRO radio (630 AM) on Wednesday afternoon: what happens when a non-United States person under surveillance on foreign soil unexpectedly contacts a United States person, in or outside of the United States. Forsanri doesn't go as far as demanding that the intelligence operative hang up and stop listening until a warrant is obtained, but he does want a judge from an American domestic court to eventually review the information collected.

The question here is what exactly is this judge expected to do?

There is no "chain rule" in the FISA law; because foreign surveillance target X contacts American citizen Y doesn't mean that all communications sent or received by citizen Y automatically become fair game. The government still has to go through the FISA procedures for citizens and obtain a warrant to conduct any direct surveillance of Y. So what else does Forsanri want to empower judges to do? Should judges be able to order intelligence agencies to disregard information collected from legally established surveillance operations, when the targets of surveillance make unexpected contacts? Under what principle does anyone claim that it should be left to judges to determine which contacts have intelligence value and which should be ignored?

3. Finally, the "fourth point" from Forsanri's post concerns the immunity provision for telecommunications companies who have assisted and continue to assist the government with electronic foreign intelligence gathering. Unable to get a provision requiring court approval for foreign intelligence operations written into law, the hard-left has taken to suing telecommunications companies who have cooperated with the government, hoping that the telcos will react with a cover-our-butts attitude and demand to see court-orders before co-operating with the government on foreign electronic surveillance operations in the future.

By itself, this is not justification for an immunity provision in surveillance law. What does provide justification for immunity is the fact that telecommunications companies are required by law to co-operate with executive branch requests for information while simultaneously being subject to legal goalposts that can move in unpredictable directions. As the prime example of this, recall the specific reason (neglected in Forsanri's analysis) why a revision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act became necessary in the first place. In April of 2007, a FISA judge, in a decision without precedent and never released to the public, ruled that any electronic communications routed through the US -- including communications between two non-United States persons, both outside of the US, that just happened to pass through US-based equipment -- had to be treated according to domestic intelligence-gathering rules and therefore could not legally be brought under surveillance in the absence of a court order.

Potentially, this ruling means that foreign nationals communicating with other foreign nationals outside of the US have a cause of action in an American court for communications with other foreign nationals outside of the US, for communications occurring between 1978 and mid-summer 2007 (when the passage of the Protect America act closed the suddenly-created FISA loophole). By acceding to telecom immunity, the President and the Congress are making sure that accountability for the form and execution of foreign surveillance law is where it belongs, not with risk-avoiding decision-makers at telecommunications giants, but with the government branches that are accountable to the public. If advocates of maximal domestic court involvement in foreign surveillance operations want to make their preferred surveillance procedures law, they should make a persuasive public case for changing the law, instead of seeking to punish those who are do their best to co-operate with the law in its current form.

A Reality Denied

Justin Katz

Trayce Hansen explains plainly and accurately why children need one parent of each sex:

All else being equal, children do best when raised by a married mother and father. It's within this environment that children are most likely to be exposed to the emotional and psychological experiences they need in order to thrive.

Men and women bring diversity to parenting; each makes unique contributions to the rearing of children that can't be replicated by the other. Mothers and fathers simply are not interchangeable. Two women can both be good mothers, but neither can be a good father.

So here are five reasons why it’s in the best interest of children to be raised by both a mother and a father.

Underneath it all, to insist that there is no justification for setting apart the particular familial relationship between a man and a woman heretofore known as marriage is to insist that there is no significant difference between the sexes. That just isn't the case.

I'd overlay onto Hansen's points, by the way, that marriage between biological parents also brings benefits of a sociological and psychological sort related to one's connection to ancestry (not to mention the health benefits of lineal knowledge).

June 26, 2008

What Exactly is David Cicilline's Position on Enforcing Immigration Law?

Carroll Andrew Morse

In Edward Fitzpatrick and W. Zachary Malinowski’s story on the fallout from the Marco Riz case in today’s Projo, Providence Mayor David Cicilline states his basic position on the enforcement of immigration law…

“Let me be clear,” Cicilline said, “anyone who is in this country illegally and breaks the law should be deported. That’s why Providence police will continue its longstanding policy of providing federal immigration officials with information anytime a person is charged with a crime in this city.”
So if the Mayor believes that everyone charged with a crime should have their immigration status investigated, then why isn’t his department using the best technonlogy available to assist in those investigations? What value is there in using a less efficient procedure when a better option is available?

And if the Mayor already claims that his city’s police department already supports investigations into the immigration status of individuals charged with breaking the law, then what objection does his administration have, if any, to the sixth provision of the Governor’s executive order on illegal immigration

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.
And if Mayor Cicilline agrees with the Governor’s order in principle, but just differs over what means best facilitate inter-departmental law-enforcement cooperation, then how come immigration activists like the Rev. Eliseo Nogueras or the Rev. Donald C. Anderson aren’t organizing protests at Providence City Hall, accusing Mayor Cicilline of “anti-immigrant sentiment” and fomenting “unwarranted harassment of legal immigrants and citizens of color”. Do they perhaps suspect he is not as serious about enforcing immigration law as he is now trying to sound? Has the Mayor been issued one of those progressive “say whatever you want for political reasons, we know you don’t mean it” passes, or is there some more benign reason?

Increasingly Shrill Anti-Drilling Rhetoric

Justin Katz

Think on this Dave Granlund cartoon as you consider whom to throttle (or merely to vote out of office) in reaction to growing energy prices and the resulting inflation. As the costs of necessities go up, it will surely dawn on the Average American that we could drill for oil within our own borders to tide us over until such time as new "green" technologies are able to bear some of the burden of our energy needs.

As that happens, the Dave Granlunds of the country will find it necessary to up the ante from inaccurate declarations of the potential to despoil the "pristine" expanses of nature to downright paranoid warnings of oil rigs drilling holes in our very backyards.

2nd Amendment Protects an Individual Right to Bear Arms...

Carroll Andrew Morse

...so says the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision. Ed Whelan of National Review's Bench Memos summarizes the ruling here.

Bob Kerr, Grim Reaper

Justin Katz

Bob Kerr tries to make it seem as if he wants more news coverage of the various war efforts in which the United States is currently engaged:

... this week, we learn there is even less effort than before to keep the wars, especially the war in Iraq, in front of the people who pay the bills.

A New York Times story, which ran in The Journal Monday, points out that the three major networks have substantially reduced their coverage in Iraq.

Think about how seldom war intrudes into that string of commercials for erectile dysfunction and enlarged prostate treatments that make up so much of a nightly 30-minute newscast. Think about how often Brian or Charlie or Katie signs off at 7 p.m. after giving more time to panda cubs than to Americans fighting wars.

But as one reads his column, the sense emerges that he's mainly interested in a particular storyline's being offered:

War just doesn't draw. We've got two going on right now and both might last longer than the Vietnam War and mess us up in ways we never imagined. And yet we know so little of the daily grind. People who decide such things have apparently decided there's just no return in letting us know the grim details.

It's the "grim details" that Kerr would reap. Such details as those pushed out in the journalistically romantic time of a war in a country with a name, as I recall, beginning with a "V." (We've heard so little about that war, as I've grown up, that it's easy to forget the nation.) Details such as "a Marine setting fire to a thatched roof with his Zippo." Kerr starts by mentioning the mothers of the fallen, but the first thought that comes to his mind — when he considers what images we might not be receiving from the media — is those sons' potential for atrocities.

One can hardly be surprised, by his final words, that Kerr believes we must learn from our wars so that we don't "do the same crazy stuff all over again," without suggesting that we might also be accomplishing things that we should replicate in certain circumstances in the future. It must hardly pierce his worldview that the American people would also benefit from reportage of the mundane, but uplifting, details of foundation building.

Recorded Without a Warrant

Justin Katz

Andrew was recorded last night on the Matt Allen Show without anybody's having secured a warrant, as far as I know (segment streamable by clicking here, or download). The topic was the FISA compromise that he's been addressing 'round here.

June 25, 2008

The FISA Compromise, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Congress and the President seem poised to agree on a revision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law that sets the terms that American intelligence agencies must follow when gathering electronic intelligence. A major issue that had stalled reform was deciding how to treat foreign nationals outside of the boundaries of the United States who made unexpected contact with someone inside of the United States. Until February, the Federal government had been operating under a bright-line rule; anyone outside of the United States could be surveilled without a warrant, regardless of where the party on the other end of the communication was located.

In revising the law, Congressional Democrats began from a position that surveillance could be conducted in the absence of a court order only when both parties were outside of the United States, but this created foreseeable problems. What would happen when a known terrorist under surveillance unexpectedly contacted someone within the US? Would the intelligence agency be expected to immediately hang up on the call to comply with the law?

Responding reasonably to the possible contingencies, Congressional Dems mellowed their position and have agreed to maintain the one-end-outside rule in close to original (though a more verbose) form. One last time, here's the original exemption

Sec. 105A: Nothing in the definition of electronic surveillance under section 101(f) shall be construed to encompass surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.
The new section, contained in the bill passed by the House and sent to the Senate, will read…
(a) Authorization- Notwithstanding any other provision of law, upon the issuance of an order in accordance with subsection (i)(3) or a determination under subsection (c)(2), the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence may authorize jointly, for a period of up to 1 year from the effective date of the authorization, the targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.

(b) Limitations- An acquisition authorized under subsection (a)--
(1) may not intentionally target any person known at the time of acquisition to be located in the United States;
(2) may not intentionally target a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States if the purpose of such acquisition is to target a particular, known person reasonably believed to be in the United States;
(3) may not intentionally target a United States person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States;
(4) may not intentionally acquire any communication as to which the sender and all intended recipients are known at the time of the acquisition to be located in the United States; and
(5) shall be conducted in a manner consistent with the fourth amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

A bit of a trade has occurred. Section (3) will limit the surveillance powers of American intelligence agencies to non-United States persons only, whereas the original law extended to United States persons (means citizens or legal residents) outside of the US. On the other hand, section (4) makes clear that the communications of a non-United States person within the United States can be observed (though the terms of surveillance are limited by later provisions in the act) without court approval if he or she is communicating with someone outside of the United States, which wasn't entirely clear in the original. But most importantly, the essential, sensible original rule is preserved: no court order is needed to monitor the communications of non-United States persons communicating to or from foreign soil, and the Steyn paradox is no longer a problem…
If the U.S. government intercepts a call from Islamabad to London about a plot to blow up Big Ben, it can alert the Brits. But, if the U.S. government intercepts a call from Islamabad to New York about a plot to blow up the Chrysler Building, that's entirely unconstitutional and all record of it should be erased.
Following the new law doesn't require an intelligence agency to hang-up when the targets of foreign surveillance unexpectedly contact a party within the US.

2. The bulk of the remainder of the bill is about “minimization” procedures. According to Andrew McCarthy of National Review Online, the price for the reasonable parts of the bill was agreeing to make intelligence agency “minimization” procedures subject to court approval. McCarthy explains the meaning of minimization…

The attorney general and the director of National Intelligence will now have to submit their “targeting” and “minimization” procedures to FISA Court review. The judges will have to be satisfied that foreign surveillance is not a pretext for spying on Americans, and that information incidentally collected on Americans in the course of monitoring aliens is used only for pre-approved intelligence or law-enforcement purposes.
There is a legitimate worry that this trade could be the beginning of laying the groundwork for a rebuilding the “wall of separation” between foreign intelligence gathering and law-enforcement that help contribute to the September 11 attack.

3. The other provision of this bill gaining major attention is the immunity provision for telecommunications companies who have assisted and continue to assist the government with electronic foreign intelligence gathering, which I will explain in Part 2...

Remember Those Old "Unclear on the Concept" Cartoons from The Far Side

Carroll Andrew Morse

This is not from The Onion. According to a survey conducted by the very reputable Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life

  • 15% of atheists are fairly or absolutely certain that God exists.
  • 29% of agnostics do not believe in God.

Most RI Legislators Pay for Healthcare...for now

Marc Comtois

Hm. This couldn't be election year grandstanding, could it?

Despite the state Senate’s refusal to even consider a bill to require that state lawmakers pay a portion of their health-insurance premiums, the number doing so voluntarily grew during the closing days of the General Assembly.

House Speaker William J. Murphy, D-West Warwick, and House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, D-Providence, were among those who recently volunteered to pay 10 percent of the premiums for their health, dental and vision-care package.

I don't know if the headline was an attempt to let the General Assembly off the hook or not, but the actual story lists who's not paying 10% like the rest. And it explains who blocked legislation making such copayment mandatory. You'll be surprised....:
Last month, the House passed legislation that would have eliminated the waiver payments and required every lawmaker who accepted the insurance to pay 10 percent of the premiums. House Republicans chided their colleagues for voting for a bill that they knew was “NGN” — as in “not going nowhere in the Senate.” And that in fact is what happened, with Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, saying the Senate leadership saw no need for the bill. She said lawmakers could show more leadership by making the 10-percent payments voluntarily, as she does.
Again, at least for now.

A Little Perspective for NASA's James Hansen

Monique Chartier

Deliberately withholding aid to hundreds of thousands of cyclone victims under your direct control probably constitutes a crime against humanity. What is going on in Darfur definitely constitutes a crime against humanity. A good case could be made that a "justice system" that prescribes the death penalty for sixty eight different crimes constitutes a crime against humanity.

The sale of a perfectly legal fuel product utilized under some of the most environmentally sensitive conditions in the world to markedly improve the quality of life of 301m people is decidedly not a crime against humanity.

Now that that's cleared up, let's turn to your proposal. At the risk of asking an awkward question: how would it work, carried to its natural conclusion? Fossil fuel executives "see the light" and fall on their swords. Oil spiggots are shut off in the United States and coal goes unmined. How do we get to work; create electricity, heat, AC; put food on the table ...?

Here's the deal. When the Magic Alternate Fuel Source is invented (how about by your agency?), we will all rejoice and embrace it. Until then, the empty "Just Say No to Oil" lectures, hyperbolic pronouncements and borderline hysterical predictions are less than helpful.

June 24, 2008

Cicilline and the Minutemen, Side By Each

Monique Chartier

The Mayor of Providence continues to insist that illegal immigration is a matter for federal officials. In response to Bill Malinowski's story in Saturday's ProJo about the City of Providence's prior official encounters with Marco Riz, the Mayor released this statement:

I will not let the Providence Police pick up the slack or take the blame for yet another failed federal agency. Our priorities have resulted in the lowest crime rate in 30 years and they will remain the same.

He also accused Governor Carcieri of defending the Bush administration and its failure to control illegal immigration. The Governor has done nothing of the sort, of course.

But the Mayor is correct about one thing. The reality is that the Bush administration, the Clinton administration and their concurrent Congresses deliberately and inexplicably pulled way back on illegal immigration enforcement efforts, in particular, on employers. The result of this egregious abdication of responsibility has been stark. The border is no longer a couple of thousand miles away. Effectively, it is now here and all around the country. Accordingly, our state and local public officials no longer have the luxury of treating illegal immigration at arms length or of attempting to exclude it from the job description of our safety officers.

RI GOPs Perry to Challenge Paiva-Weed

Marc Comtois

Via the Ocean State Republican:

RI GOP Executive Director Donna Perry is announcing she has entered the race to challenge Senator Teresa Paiva-Weed of Newport for Senate District 13.

Perry, a resident of Jamestown, says she decided the time is right to challenge Paiva-Weed who Perry says does not represent the interests of her constituents and whose leadership decisions are wrong for the interests of all Rhode Islanders.

“Teresa Paiva-Weed’s actions and statements during this past session have been a shameful display of incredibly poor leadership,” Perry says. “It seems she would rather defend her corporate casino client on expanded gambling even though Newporters didn’t want it; she doesn’t think legislators need to contribute to their health plan while average Rhode Islanders can barely afford their own family’s health costs; and she thinks no one has a right to find out if a worker is here illegally and she blocked a sensible bill to do that. Who exactly, does she represent? She has a lot to answer for and I look forward to hearing her explain these decisions.”

RIGOP Chairman Giovanni Cicione says the party is fully behind Donnas’ run. “We are very excited to see Donna enter this race,” says Cicione. “Donna will be a terrific candidate who can make a very persuasive strong case against Teresa Paiva -Weed. She has great people skills, she’s a mother, very active in her community and I know she will run strong.”

What Exactly is Dean Esserman's Position on Enforcing Immigration Law?

Carroll Andrew Morse

In light of the Marco Riz case, I am confused as to Providence Police Chief Dean Esserman's position regarding assisting Federal authorities with the enforcement of immigration law. Marco Riz is the illegal immigrant accused of rape who was taken into custody by Providence police twice last year, but released both times, despite being under a 2003 court-order to leave the country.

1. Back in April, Chief Esserman told the Projo's Richard C. Dujardin that the Providence police did not investigate the immigration status of anyone, unless an immigration violation was inadvertently revealed…

Police Chief Dean Esserman has put himself squarely in opposition to Governor Carcieri’s suggestion that local law-enforcement agencies investigate the immigration status of individuals they take into their custody.

Esserman said yesterday that he does believe the police have a responsibility to forward to the attention of federal agents any information about illegal immigrants whose status they have come upon “inadvertently.” But he said the responsibility should not extend to investigating the immigration status of people they have arrested or suspect may have been involved in other crimes.

“I am opposed to a proactive role because of the chilling effect it would have on our being able to have people have trust in us and to report crimes,” said Esserman.

But that's not the story Chief Esserman told W. Zachary Malinowski this past Saturday, post-Marco Riz…
Esserman and Kennedy also said that Providence police officers routinely call [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to check on the immigration status of suspects in crimes. Detectives in major crimes and the gang-prevention unit are in constant communication with the local ICE office.
Has the Providence Police department changed its policy between April and now, or is one of these statements not fully conveying the reality of department policy?

2. One point of consistency between Chief Esserman's April and June statements to the public is the use of the fax machine as the primary regular contact between the Providence Police Department and ICE. Here's Dujardin in April…

Esserman had said initially yesterday that the Police Department, as a matter of standard procedure, notifies the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency of the names of all illegal immigrants who have been booked and arraigned by Providence police. But he later acknowledged that Providence police don’t do any investigation on their own but simply fax to ICE a copy of their arraignment sheet, which shows the names of anyone who has been arraigned that day.
...and, essentially the same thing, from Malinowski in June…
Esserman and Kennedy said that for more than 20 years the Police Department has faxed to the federal agency’s Providence office a list of suspects scheduled to be arraigned in District Court on criminal charges. They said that no one at the agency ever objected to the practice until last month.
Let's take the most recent story as most accurate. If Providence police routinely investigate the immigration status of individuals under investigation -- as Chief Esserman now claims -- and if ICE has an information system that can be used to help identify immigration-law violators, what is the objection to Providence enhancing its current faxing procedure to include regular use of the NLETS system(*), based on the same criteria that the major crimes and gang-prevention units currently use to trigger contact with ICE?

3. According to the Malinowski story, the Feds haven't exactly covered themselves in glory in this case either…

Michael Gilhooly, spokesman for ICE, said that the Providence police should have used the agency’s NLTS (sic) telecommunications system to check on Riz’s immigration status. He said that the police would have learned that a federal immigration court, in 2003, had ordered Riz to leave the United States.

Asked why immigration authorities did not move to deport Riz five years ago, Gilhooly said that he was in this country illegally, but there was no evidence that he was a “criminal.” As a result, he was released from custody.

(*) A description of the NLETS system can be found here, in a 2005 online article from The Police Chief Magazine.

Educating the Workers

Justin Katz

Interweaving Rhode Island's institutions of higher education with the business community is certainly a wise intention, although I think John Kostrzewa oversells the centrality of such a move to a recovery of the state's economy:

Sue Lehrman, founding dean of the Providence College School of Business, has been in Rhode Island for less than six months. But already, she understands the mismatch that has stalled the state's economy.

Employers complain that they can't find the skilled workers they need to expand, and college graduates can't find work.

As a result, the state's development — especially of knowledge-based companies in the new technologies and life sciences, which pay big salaries — stumbles along while the old economy continues to shrink.

The job losses are piling up. Last week, the state reported 11,300 jobs have disappeared in the last year and the unemployment rate spiked to 7.2 percent, the highest since 1994. More than 41,000 residents are out of work and looking for jobs they can't find.

For one thing, Lehrman's suggestion (as Kostrzewa describes it) doesn't include any new mechanisms for getting current workers back to the classroom. More significantly, I'd suggest that Rhode Island's economy is just so out of whack that focusing on such a narrow lane can be a distraction. Better aerodynamics on a car that doesn't run don't do anybody much good.

If the academic cohort wishes to move Rhode Island forward, nothing would be more helpful than helping students to understand what's wrong with the way the state does business. Perhaps a required course on economics and the dangers of corruption?

June 23, 2008

(Almost Certain) Breaking News Out of East Providence

Monique Chartier

As with candidacies throughout the state, the moment of truth will be Thursday morning and that final run down of filings. But the rumor that Senator Paul Moura (D) may not seek re-election has been given legs today with the filing of Declaration of Candidacy papers by the Democrat Mayor of East Providence, Isadore S. Ramos (PhD), for Senate District 18. If Senator Moura intended to run again, party courtesy would presumably have restrained Dr. Ramos from challenging him. [Thanks to Will Ricci of The Ocean State Republican for the scoop.]

By the way, if you're mad about Rhode Island politics and/or interested in furthering good government in the state, the procedure to kick off your campaign is here. The deadline is Wednesday at 4:00 pm. [Tax-happy Democrats interested in running should click here.]

And returning to East Providence for a moment, anyone wishing to help the East Providence GOP continue their excellent party building works and get the latest news on Senate District 18 (and other Senate and House races) is invited to attend their annual fundraiser at the Crescent View Avenue Knights of Columbus Hall in Riverside this Thursday at 6:30 pm.

What Hospitals Want Isn't Necessarily Good For Everyone Else

Carroll Andrew Morse

I don't find anything persuasive in Charles Kinney and Fred Allardyce's Sunday Projo op-ed arguing in favor of legislation that would make insurance companies responsible for the uncollected debt related to the unmet deductibles and co-payments of their subscribers. Mr. Kinney and Mr. Allardyce begin by immediately linking uncollected debt to preventative care...

Our health-care system is undeniably broken. Insurance premiums are soaring, putting preventive health care out of reach for many. Employers and insurers are shifting costs to others by turning to plans with higher deductibles and co-payments. The result is a physically unhealthy society and a fiscally challenged health-care system overburdened by increasing numbers of people facing health-care crises with no means to pay.

One of the major issues hospitals are facing is the increase in bad debt — patients who do not pay their bills. For patients who do not have the means to pay, we provide free care.

But in any rational economic analysis, preventative care is an odd area to single out if you are concerned about "dangers" of consumer driven healthcare. As we've gone through in detail before here at Anchor Rising, it does not make fiscal sense to use an insurance-style system to pay for preventative medicine; it never has and never will. If you are really interested in seeing everyone be able to take advantage of preventative care opportunities, paying for them through the insurance system is an especially bad idea, as insurance programs can only increase costs to consumers when they include services that are widely used.

By linking uncollected debt and preventative care, Mr. Kinney and Mr. Allardyce are functioning as standard-issue, risk-averse big-business executives in search of ways to separate individuals from their money as quickly and as predictably as possible. The most efficient way for a hospital to do this is to force people to pre-pay for the services most likely to be used. That's good for organizational financial planning and good for the cash-flow and balance sheet of a hospital, but has nothing to do with controlling health care costs or making healthcare affordable.

What is especially egregious about Mr. Kinney and Mr. Allardyce's argument is that, at the same time they are pursuing a government-created fiscal advantage of dubious (and probably negative) value to the healthcare consumer, they are also advocating for their organizations to be insulated, by law, from the practical financial realities of their business…

If a patient has private insurance, such as United Healthcare or Blue Cross, and he or she doesn’t respond to reasonable collection efforts for co-payments and/or deductibles, we have to write off 100 percent of that loss at the present time. The role of the hospital turns from caregiver to debt collector. This burden should not be placed on the shoulders of non-profit hospitals; debt collection should be the responsibility of the commercial insurance companies.
The fundamental flaw in this argument is that hospitals aren't caregivers; nurses and doctors are. Contrary to Mr. Kinney and Mr. Allardyce, it is precisely the primary job of a hospital and its administrative staff to do the mundane, daily things that need to get done so that the primary caregivers have an environment where they can function with maximum effectiveness. The hospital worries about keeping the lights on and the water running and making sure that supplies are delivered to the right places, while the nurses and doctors worry about the caregiving. A hospital administrator who says he shouldn't have to worry about collecting the money to pay the bills makes about as much sense as one who says that he should be given land for free, because hospitals shouldn't have to worry about the details of financing and mortgage payments when deciding how best to expand their facilities to provide improved care.

Healthcare is a people business. If you don't want to deal with people, you should be in a different business.


Roland Benjamin, who knows as much about the relationship between employers and insurance companies as anyone in Rhode Island, offers more detail on why making insurers responsible for uncollected hospital debts is a bad idea, in the form of a letter he sent on this issue to the House Corporations Committee...

Relieving hospitals from the most fundamental of business processes (collecting fees from users) is simply continuing the trend of requiring more from our insurance carriers and the employers that pay them. In effect, House Bill 7057 and Senate Bill 2414 referred to House Corporations on 3/18 will require insurance carriers that currently have no direct financial relationship with individuals to establish one from the ground up. The cost of doing so will present in premiums passed through to employers

Of particular note are three concerns:

  1. Assuming the carriers can seamlessly transition to a broad financial arrangement with members, the costs of administering these relationships will be born more heavily by Consumer Directed Plans. While these plans are the subject of contention from the provider side, they represent the most viable means of applying consumer dynamics to the health care economy.
  2. Should a patient fail to pay a bill from a hospital, the hospital will go after the carrier, who in turn will go after the employer, since they will have a statutory obligation to keep insuring the individual and thus no collection effort leverage. The result, should an employer refuse to make this payment on behalf of an employee (and due to privacy requirements will not know for whom or what they would be paying), the employer's account could be affected, thus leaving the entire employment base without insurance.
  3. There is no indication that failure to collect payment from privately insured individuals represents a significant burden to hospitals as a percentage of total operating expenses. Thus, a solution attempting to solve this issue, at the expense of a massive administrative restructuring in the industry, will only serve to escalate overall costs.
As a studied buyer of insurance products for more than 100 participants in my plan, I simply do not want to pay for this coverage. I urge that the House Corporations Committee not recommend passage of this bill.

Education Partnership Ceases Operation

Carroll Andrew Morse

This will come as a surprise to those (non-insiders) who follow Rhode Island's public policy debates; from Jennifer D. Jordan of the Projo...

The Education Partnership, a nonprofit advocacy organization that produced reports and consulted with local school districts, has closed its doors and filed for receivership in Superior Court, unable to pay its bills....

“The Board decided that it is necessary for the protection of the business and assets of the Corporation and for the protection of the Corporation’s creditors, that the Corporation seek from the Superior Court the appointment of a receiver … The Board has taken this action due to the overwhelming financial difficulties recently experienced by the Corporation which have made it impossible for the Corporation to continue to carry out its purpose,” the directors wrote.

June 22, 2008

Obama's Supporters: Oh the Contortions You'll See

Marc Comtois

I mentioned that local progressives were taking Congressman Langevin to task for voting for FISA. I wondered what they'd do once they found out that Senator Obama agreed with Langevin.

ANSWER: Give him a pass.

Apparently "Obama had a legitimate political reason for supporting the 'Democratic' compromise on FISA....Congressman Jim Langevin did not" and "Obama predictably has to move to the center. "You see, He Who is Change is excused for practicing practical politics in the short term, because he's gotta do it to get elected. Besides, he'll just flip-flop once he's in office, so just bear with him.

Huh. I guess that was pretty quaint of us to think that Obama was supposed be different and all that. But it shouldn't go without noting that one of the Left's favorite writers, Glenn Greenwald, who was cited by the same locals for his argument against FISA, isn't letting Obama off the hook.

The excuse that Obama's support for this bill is politically shrewd is -- even if accurate -- neither a defense of what he did nor a reason to refrain from loudly criticizing him for it. Actually, it's the opposite. It's precisely because Obama is calculating that he can -- without real consequence -- trample upon the political values of those who believe in the Constitution and the rule of law that it's necessary to do what one can to change that calculus. Telling Obama that you'll cheer for him no matter what he does, that you'll vest in him Blind Faith that anything he does is done with the purest of motives, ensures that he will continue to ignore you and your political interests.

Beyond that, this attitude that we should uncritically support Obama in everything he does and refrain from criticizing him is unhealthy in the extreme. No political leader merits uncritical devotion -- neither when they are running for office nor when they occupy it -- and there are few things more dangerous than announcing that you so deeply believe in the Core Goodness of a political leader, or that we face such extreme political crises that you trust and support whatever your Leader does, even when you don't understand it or think that it's wrong.

At least Greenwald is ideologically consistent. Anyway, I don't particularly care whether Obama acts like any other politician that's come down the pike. That's what I expect him to do, but doesn't his base expect something more? Won't these sort of normal, finger-in-the-wind political calculations kinda, sorta undercut the whole "change" mantra?

Sure, the local wonks over on the left get what he's doing, but Obama is depending on bringing in a whole new bunch of young and idealistic voters. And to the degree that the idealism is dependent on ideological purity, too many politically pragmatic flip-flops may undercut that idealism and the votes that are so inspired. Or not. After all, I suspect that a lot of the voters in this cohort live by the analogy: As Bush is to Everything that is Wrong, so is Obama to Everything that is Right. So it won't matter what he does, because he can't do anything wrong. It must be comforting knowing you're voting for the Alpha and Omega.

ADDENDUM: More here and here.

And Just So's You Don't Miss This Nugget

Justin Katz

Be sure to note the closing paragraph of today's Projo article on the last bit of legislation for this year:

The Senate plans to return Thursday to confirm new traffic court magistrate David Cruise, Montalbano's chief of staff, and a new District Court judge, Mary Elizabeth McCaffrey, sister of the Senate Judiciary chairman.

As I stated during my most recent appearance on Matt Allen's Violent Roundtable, I'm much more concerned about this cross-branch nepotism than the governor's hiring of people whom he trusts. Ours may be a part-time legislature, but it's got a full-time spoils system.

Oh, How the Numbers Will Shrink

Justin Katz

Maybe we should start a betting pool for the dollar amount of November's supplemental-budget shortfall. I've got a fiver on $364 million — a number plucked in the rough-ballpark fashion of The Price Is Right.

Already, though, I can hear the voices (even of those who generally agree with me): "Whoa! Isn't that a bit high?" Yeah, perhaps, but consider how easily $30 million disappears (emphases added):

The agreement came to light, amid dissension within the union ranks, on the day after the Democrat-controlled General Assembly approved a new state budget that relies heavily on Republican Governor Carcieri's pledge to cut personnel expenses over the next year by a mostly unspecified $90 million. ...

But Carcieri issued a statement that said, in part: "I'm very pleased to announce that we have reached a tentative agreement with union leadership on new contracts for almost all state employee unions."

"While it won't achieve the full $60 million in savings we had hoped for, this tentative deal includes some unprecedented reforms for Rhode Island taxpayers," he said. Asked to elaborate on the potential savings and "reforms," Neal said: "We are not providing any more comment on this issue today."

Consider, also, the commentary of the fox on the henhouse's new security detail, with regard to the much ballyhooed "weakening" of the anti-privatization travesty that leapt into budget document late at night last year:

The Assembly yesterday voted to weaken the law, reflecting a compromise worked out between labor leaders and the governor's office as part of broader negotiations to cut personnel costs in the coming budget year.

AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer George Nee, who helped craft the new bill (which was released publicly for the first time yesterday), said that it represents a concession from organized labor but that the revised privatization law "is still one of the strongest in the country."

"It lowers the barrier, but we still believe it's a difficult barrier," Nee said.

Just a look at the Providence Journal's pie chart of the amounts that "balanced" the budget deficit suggests that the size of the smoke cloud (amplified by mirrors) is of a nine-digit girth. $37 million in new revenues? I'll double down my fiver that revenue decreases, or at least comes in below pre-"new revenues" estimates.

2008 GA Tally Sheet

Marc Comtois

The ProJo provides a helpful list of what passed and what didn't in the General Assembly this session.


$6.9 billion state budget

24-hour gambling weekends and holidays

Automatic destruction of certain criminal records

Repeal mandatory minimum drug sentences

Early prison release

Pre-voter registration by teens

Renewable energy bonus to National Grid

Close teen-drinking loophole

Raise age threshold for two-year elderly license renewals

Providence hotel tax break


Minimum wage increase

E-Verify immigration status checks

Mandatory health insurance

Movie studio tax-credit

Landmark hospital merger plan

$12.6 million Ritchie Bros. sales tax-rebate

Legislator health co-shares

Cell phone driving ban

Eliminate straight-party voting

Foreclosure protections for renters

Increasing pollution fines

Voter identification

Medical marijuana dispensaries

A lot of the items, whether passed or not, met their fate based on the budget crunch. And a few elicit an unsurprised, yet exasperated, shake of the head: failure to eliminate straight-party voting, failure to implement voter identification, failure to have legislators kick-in for health insurance, no E-verify and even the pre-voter registration idea. As Justin has observed (warned?), while we can take solace in holding the line, how much of this victory will be fleeting? So don't get too content out there. We've got to keep our eye on 'em, especially after November.

June 21, 2008

The Sweet Simplicity of Progressivism

Justin Katz

If only progressives' plans were always this straightforward:

Statewide Wifi available everywhere to everyone... for free .

And let the cable/telephone companies bid on the right to be the State's sole provider. How would it be paid for? The company winning the bid to provide the service will maintain sole rights to sell advertising space on the statewide network.

So, we take a centralized power with tax and police powers and invest it with the authority to determine the single corporate provider of Internet services in the state, and that provider wouldn't charge a penny because it would reap its rewards by selling advertising targeting its monopolized captive audience. No chance of corruption and ossification there!

Where would the ads appear, again?

State Employee Unions to Vote on Contract Compromise

Marc Comtois

Governor Carcieri and his administration is remaining tight-lipped concerning a potential state worker contract proposal negotiated with several union leaders. Instead, we're finding out the information from union leaders who don't like the plan. According to the ProJo:

The agreement was reportedly negotiated by Council 94 executive director Dennis Grilli, AFL-CIO secretary treasurer George Nee and Robert Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island.

The decision to send the proposal to the membership of Council 94 was made over the objections of union president J. Michael Downey, who led the opposition on Thursday when it was first presented to — and unanimously rejected by — the presidents of Council 94’s member locals.

The Journal also got a hold of the proposed agreement, and have made it available on-line. doesn't sound like this is going to be smooth sailing.

June 20, 2008

The Real Reason E-Verify Has Stalled (According to the Senate Communications Director)

Monique Chartier

I went to the State House tonight (yes, on one of the last nights of the 2008 session) to ask Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed the following questions.

Why, with twenty seven Senate sponsors, had she prevented the E-Verify bill from going to the floor for a vote? And because she did so, it is clear that she prefers that jobs in Rhode Island go to illegal aliens instead of Rhode Islanders and legal immigrants. Why is that?

I roamed the State House for a while, notebook in hand, hoping to catch her walking by. (Both chambers were in a break when I arrived at around 7:30.) I finally gave up and followed the more sensible course of going to her office, where I was told that the Senate Majority Leader was somewhere in the building but not in her office at the moment. She was quite busy as this was one of the last nights of the session but Greg Pare, Communications Director for the Senate, could speak to me ...? It was difficult to argue that this would not be a busy night for all legislators. I acceded and asked my questions of Mr. Pare. He responded as follows. (For the record, if she is desirous, I would be pleased to also post any response by the Senate Majority Leader herself to the above questions.)

> First and foremost, Mr. Pare was emphatic that Senate Majority Leader Paiva-Weed was not responsible for stopping the E-Verify bill. The chairman of the committee had asked that it be held in committee for further study.

> Secondly, the chairman had done so because the bill as originally drafted had been determined to be in violation of federal law, which forbids the assessment of monetary penalties by the state for such an infraction.

> Thirdly, the bill would have failed in committee if it had been put to a vote. It was not clear why and I should have asked Mr. Pare to clarify. But if I had opened my mouth at that point, a second round of skeptical words rather than a helpful follow-up question would have come out and I genuinely wanted to let him have his say.

> Yes, the bill could be re-worked so that it did not violate federal law. But this is one of the last days of session and it is a little late to do so.

> Yes, this bill had met exactly the same fate last session. Bills sometimes take years to become law.

> The source of the story that the Senate Majority Leader was responsible for the bill being stalled was one person who called talk radio and his word was being treated as gospel. (I took this to mean that Mr. Pare did not find either the story or the source very reliable.)

Barring any correction or amplification by the Senate Majority Leader herself, this, then, is the official history of E-Verify legislation according to the Senate.


And it looks like we have a correction by the Senate Majority Leader, though not directly from her but courtesy of the Providence Journal. WPRO's Matt Allen, on air this morning and in comments, points out a divergence between Mr. Pare's remarks to me and the Senate Majority Leader's comments to the ProJo as to the proximate cause for E-Verify being stalled :

The only one of the much-publicized plans “to get tough on immigration” — known as the E-verify bill, which requires employers to conduct background checks on the immigration status of new hires — also appeared close to death in the Senate after passing the House weeks ago. Acknowledging its likely downfall, Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed said she had “concerns about the bill in the present form regarding the constitutionality, the hardships on labor, in particular the business community.”

Innovation and the entrepreneurial business culture revisited

Donald B. Hawthorne

A recent post, Lessons for Rhode Island from Silicon Valley: An historical reflection on an actual innovation economy, discussed what made Silicon Valley's entrepreneurial culture so unique and what some of its economic growth policy lessons are for Rhode Island.

In the latest edition of The Weekly Standard, Thomas Hazlett has written about the book, Overcoming Barriers to Entrepreneurship in the United States, in a review entitled Mastering the Game: The business of America is small business - and entrepreneurship.

Hazlett has these words to say about the entrepreneurial culture of Silicon Valley:

...The entrepreneurs who stir the pot in brash and productive new ways are a mysterious force, difficult to chart with PowerPoint bullets. There is no doubt that innovation and risk-taking--the contributions of these master chefs of the economic stew--drive progress. But they are elusive, and will not hold still for measurements.

This sleek, nifty volume of essays seeks to pursue the beast--and if not to capture it, then, at least, to triangulate its position. Edited by labor economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth, it teaches us why venture capitalists cluster in places like Silicon Valley...

...the book is, caveat emptor, not a cheerleading manual: Neither Henry Ford nor Sam Walton nor Bill Gates is mentioned. The authors are social scientists at prominent institutions who probe substrata economic formations looking for clues as to what factors drive the self-employed to leave their wage jobs behind, and how public policies impact this migration.

For instance, the chapter on Silicon Valley's venture capital hub offers a fascinating window into the sociology of entrepreneurial nurturing. Venture capital investments in Silicon Valley appear to be made differently than elsewhere: They come earlier to start-ups, and lavish more capital on firms. Either due to this, or the other way around, start-ups there outperform those elsewhere, on average.

Why is this? The answer seems to lie in the commercial culture. Unlike investment bankers doling out high-risk, early-money investments on the East Coast, Northern California financial sources are run by technical experts possessing business experience--entrepreneurs funding entrepreneurs. These capitalists operate like bankers, but they know more. Which may account for the more frequent huge payoffs in Silicon Valley and a higher wipeout rate. No irony here: Risk is hardwired into the entrepreneurial economy, and ugly failures are inputs into spectacular successes.

Economist Junfu Zhang, the author of the VC chapter, concludes that the mission launched by many local or state governments--to replicate the Silicon Valley experience--is a fool's errand. The social networks that form are key; capital chases smart people connected to other smart people. Wealth is created when those dollars and networks combust. The best strategy is to eliminate the underbrush of tax and regulatory disincentives that inhibit productive economic activity generally. Or somewhat more ambitiously, create a Stanford University and let the graduate students figure out the rest.

After 17 years in Silicon Valley, I have worked as an interim executive in numerous cities east of the Mississippi River over the last decade. One of the most striking observations from these experiences is how many people tried to replicate Silicon Valley without understanding or paying attention to any of the fundamentals which made the Valley successful. The social network out West (or in the Cambridge/Boston area) did not spring up overnight and the operating companies and the services infrastructure which support them are now firmly rooted in an entrepreneurial culture where explicit and tacit knowledge flows freely.

On a broader policy level, Hazlett writes:

...In the essay on tax policy, written by Donald Bruce and Tami Gurley-Calvez, an interesting body of research is presented. It shows that the vast majority of business owners in the United States pay taxes as individuals, not corporations. This means that rate increases for high-income taxpayers reduce pay-offs for the start-up entrepreneur. And tax hikes on capital reduce the pool of risky funds that these new ventures seek to tap.

Soaking the rich sinks this ship. Entrepreneurship is all about creating new wealth while tax redistribution is premised on the assumption that resources are static and the collateral damage from tax hikes is no more than the cost of ear plugs to block out the whining at the country club...

Therefore, given the tax filing nature of small businesses and entrepreneurs described above, the Left's negative description of the recent reduction in RI income tax rates for higher earning individuals as only tax cuts for the wealthy and their desire to roll back the reductions has a clear economic impact: Restoring higher taxes is likely to take away cash flow from many of the very small businesses which could otherwise invest the higher profits in expanding their operations and providing more jobs.

Rhode Island's economic engine will only begin to heal itself when the lessons articulated above and in the earlier post are heeded.

Langevin Takes the Progressive Heat over FISA, will Obama?

Marc Comtois

Apparently Congressman Langevin has voted in favor of FISA. Local progressives are apoplectic, throwing around the DINO label (what kind of Democrat is pro-life!). It also seems that the fact that Congressman Langevin is Chair of the Homeland Security Subcommittee (Cybersecurity and Emerging Threats) is not so much indicative of his familiarity with the issue but rather leads to the suspicion that he is some sort of sleeper neocon Bushitlerian. Good times. However, I wonder if they are falling victim to partisan shortsightedness. What would the reaction be if it was a President Obama, not Bush, in office? Would the hysteria be quite as palpable...or would it be OK because, well, it would be Obama?

Then again, do they even know that Obama supports the same FISA compromise bill that Congressman Langevin just voted for?

The Baby-Mama Witches of Gloucester

Marc Comtois

Cross-posted at Spinning Clio.

The first thing I thought of when I read the story about the 17 wanna-be baby mamas of Gloucester, Massachusetts were the teenage girls who lay at the center of the Salem Witch Trials. No doubt, this was probably because of the proximity of Gloucester to Salem Village (now Danvers, Mass.). Now, I'm simply not well-versed enough in group psychology or the deeper history of the Salem Witch hysteria to draw any conclusions. I just found these parallels interesting (if they are indeed parallel!).

A little digging brought up some statistical similarities: there were 16 girls in Salem Village who claimed they were the victims of witchcraft, and most were teenagers; there are 17 new baby mama teenagers in Gloucester.

Maybe both groups of girls were depressed by their surroundings, or at least picked up on the depression from their parents and community.

Paul Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum theorized in Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft that the Salem Village witchcraft accusations were a sort of psychological projection that exposed tensions between the agrarian and economically poor Salem Village and its more economically successful neighbor Salem Town. As Philip Greven, Jr. wrote in his review of Salem Possessed (Reviews in American History, Vol.2, No.4, 1974; p.516):

Throughout their book, the underlying assumption which shapes their analysis of the Village and its inhabitants is that this community reflects a particular transitional point in a long-term historical process which was transforming precapitalist agrarian society into more urban, commercial, and capitalistic society. As they observe of [Reverend Samuel] Parriss and the Village, "All the elements of their respective histories were deeply rooted in the social realities of late seventeenth century western culture--a culture in which a subsistence, peasant-based economy was being subverted by mercantile capitalism" (p. 178).
The Time piece on the Gloucester 17 noted:
The past decade has been difficult for this mostly white, mostly blue-collar city (pop. 30,000). In Gloucester, perched on scenic Cape Ann, the economy has always depended on a strong fishing industry. But in recent years, such jobs have all but disappeared overseas, and with them much of the community's wherewithal. "Families are broken," says school superintendent Christopher Farmer. "Many of our young people are growing up directionless."

Amanda Ireland, who graduated from Gloucester High on June 8, thinks she knows why these girls wanted to get pregnant. Ireland, 18, gave birth her freshman year and says some of her now pregnant schoolmates regularly approached her in the hall, remarking how lucky she was to have a baby. "They're so excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally," Ireland says.

Also, its apparent that both groups of teenage girls may have coordinated their actions. Although many believe that the Salem accusers were victims of mass hysteria, perhaps even chemically induced, there is also evidence that they were just "hav[ing] some sport."

Daniel Elliott: Deposition for Elizabeth Proctor

the testimony of Daniel elet aged 27 years or thear abouts who testifieth & saith that I being at the hous of leutennant ingasone one the 28 of march in the year 1692 thear being preasent one of the aflicted persons which cryed out and said thears goody procter William raiment juner being theare present told the garle he beleved she lyed for he saw nothing then goody ingerson told the garl she told aly for thear was nothing: then the garl said that she did it for sport they must have some sport

( Essex County Archives, Salem -- Witchcraft Vol. 1 Page 27 )

The Gloucester baby mamas consciously decided to get pregnant and raise their kids together.
By May, several students had returned multiple times to get pregnancy tests, and on hearing the results, "some girls seemed more upset when they weren't pregnant than when they were," [school principal Joseph] Sullivan says. All it took was a few simple questions before nearly half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together.
And once each group embarked on their respective escapades, they knew that adults were in place to provide, shall we say, support. In the case of the Salem girls, society was predisposed to attribute their actions to supernatural causes:
At the time, however, there was another theory to explain the girls' symptoms. Cotton Mather had recently published a popular book, "Memorable Providences," describing the suspected witchcraft of an Irish washerwoman in Boston, and Betty [Parriss]'s behavior in some ways mirrored that of the afflicted person described in Mather's widely read and discussed book. It was easy to believe in 1692 in Salem, with an Indian war raging less than seventy miles away (and many refugees from the war in the area) that the devil was close at hand. Sudden and violent death occupied minds.

Talk of witchcraft increased when other playmates of Betty, including eleven-year-old Ann Putnam, seventeen-year-old Mercy Lewis, and Mary Walcott, began to exhibit similar unusual behavior. When his own nostrums failed to effect a cure, William Griggs, a doctor called to examine the girls, suggested that the girls' problems might have a supernatural origin. The widespread belief that witches targeted children made the doctor's diagnosis seem increasing likely.

Meanwhile, the number of girls afflicted continued to grow, rising to seven with the addition of Ann Putnam, Elizabeth Hubbard, Susannah Sheldon, and Mary Warren. According to historian Peter Hoffer, the girls "turned themselves from a circle of friends into a gang of juvenile delinquents." ( Many people of the period complained that young people lacked the piety and sense of purpose of the founders' generation.) The girls contorted into grotesque poses, fell down into frozen postures, and complained of biting and pinching sensations. In a village where everyone believed that the devil was real, close at hand, and acted in the real world, the suspected affliction of the girls became an obsession.
The Gloucester girls are surrounded by a support system of a different kind.
The high school has done perhaps too good a job of embracing young mothers. Sex-ed classes end freshman year at Gloucester, where teen parents are encouraged to take their children to a free on-site day-care center. Strollers mingle seamlessly in school hallways among cheerleaders and junior ROTC. "We're proud to help the mothers stay in school," says Sue Todd, CEO of Pathways for Children, which runs the day-care center.

But by May, after nurse practitioner Kim Daly had administered some 150 pregnancy tests at Gloucester High's student clinic, she and the clinic's medical director, Dr. Brian Orr, a local pediatrician, began to advocate prescribing contraceptives regardless of parental consent, a practice at about 15 public high schools in Massachusetts. Currently Gloucester teens must travel about 20 miles (30 km) to reach the nearest women's health clinic; younger girls have to get a ride or take the train and walk. But the notion of a school handing out birth control pills has met with hostility. Says Mayor Carolyn Kirk: "Dr. Orr and Ms. Daly have no right to decide this for our children." The pair resigned in protest on May 30.

There are also other reports attempting to link the episode to celebrity culture, "abstinence only" education or a reduction in sex education classes in Massachusetts.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that teenage girls are probably the clique-iest species in the world. Perhaps all that can be concluded is that the phenomena of girls behaving badly is really nothing new: its easier to act out against social mores with your peers than by yourself. And there really is safety in numbers. If you are a teenage girl and you and a group of your friends cross the line, many adults--including your own parents--will trip all over themselves to find alternative explanations for your behavior. If you do something stupid all by yourself, then you, young lady, were just being an idiot. But if you are wise enough to get a group together to engage in unacceptable behavior, then the temptation is to shift the burden of responsibility from the individuals to the larger society.

RI Legislature to RI: We'd Prefer That Someone Else Choose Your Presidential Electors For You

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at the Providence Daily Dose, State Representative David Segal (D-Providence) is rationalizing that his vote to marginalize the right of Rhode Islanders to choose their own Presidential electors makes government more democratic. Watch out, because any time now, we may start to hear that the political process can be made even more democratic (and maybe more Democratic) if we decide to award legislative seats in every district to the political party receiving the most legislative votes statewide!

Fortunately (at least at the Federal level) there are Constitutional protections against a legislature disenfranchising its own voters for political reasons. But for those interested, for whatever reason, in bringing the apportionment of electoral votes more in-line with the popular vote, there is a clearly Constitutional solution that's been pointed out by Anchor Rising commenter "Rammer"...

The potential to win the Electoral College, but lose the popular vote for President only exists because of the fixed number of seats in the Senate, which is Constitutionally mandated at two per State. Historically this sort of mismatch happens once every century or so, but if that is too often then there is no need for interstate compacts or Constitutional Amendments, by changing one law we could substantially reduce the possibility.

The simple fix is to increase the number of seats in the U.S. House from 435 to twice that number or more. Those seats would be apportioned by population and the weight of the Senate votes in the Electoral College would be reduced proportionally.

South Kingstown Ready for an Active Campaign Season

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island Future's Matt Jerzyk recently placed Democratic State Representative John Patrick Shanley of South Kingstown (District 35) on his list of state legislators who "may not be seeking re-election". According to Liz Boardman of the South County Independent, Rep. Shanley still hasn't made up his mind…

At press time, Shanley said he was focused on the state budget, not on whether he would run for re-election.
Either way, James Haldeman, the Republican candidate in District 35, is preparing for a contested race…
The Committee for Haldeman announces that on Tuesday June 24, Jim Haldeman will be filing his intention to run for the House of Representatives in District 35. The campaign is proceeding according to design and financial targets have been surpassed....

“Lessons learned in 2006, along with the increased balance in the campaign account, will guide a comprehensive campaign targeting the more than 7,500 active voters in District 35", [said campaign co-chair Sean O'Donnell]. "Our early campaign has brought in money and volunteers that simply did not exist at this point in the last election cycle.”

Candidate Haldeman has laid out his reasons for running in an South County Independent op-ed
For generations, the single-party dominance that exists in the House and Senate of Rhode Island has pushed our state to the brink of disaster....It is time for this to stop. The monopoly has simply demonstrated an inability to manage the $7 billion that passes through Providence. In so doing, it has jeopardized all the stakeholders of state government. Taxpayers are threatened with losing more of their money. Public employees wonder about their future. Beneficiaries of rich social spending, enhanced to win votes when Rhode Island had money, are now faced with the reality that they must wean themselves off the dependency created by the generous welfare system. All groups are pitted against each other in trying to hold on to theirs.
Meanwhile, next door in District 36 (which also includes New Shoreham, as well as parts of Charlestown and Westerly, as well as parts of South Kingstown), it looks as if there will be a three-way race between one-term incumbent Donna Walsh, former-Democrat-turned-independent Matt McHugh (who previously represented District 36, until defeated by Rep. Walsh in a primary in 2006), and current South Kingstown Republican Town Committee chairman David Cote. Again, from Liz Boardman in the Independent...
Coté said health care and improving education and the business climate would be among his top priorities. He harkened back to his work with the trash haulers last summer, as they fought South Kingstown’s bid to establish single-hauler trash and recycling system. In the end, the Town Council decided the single-hauler plan was not cost effective.

“Working with the trash haulers, and talking to business people in South Kingstown, I hear this state, and this town, are anti-business,” Coté said. “The farms in South County are treated poorly as well.”

He said he was putting together a proposal that would improve the climate for farmers and business people.

It certainly doesn't look as if politics will be Rhode-Island-business-as-usual in South County this fall.

Cranston Dems: And Then There Was One

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Elizabeth Seal of the Cranston Herald, it is now almost certain that former City Councilwoman Cynthia Fogarty will be the sole Democratic candidate for Mayor of Cranston…

With former City Councilman Mario Carlino pulling out of the race for mayor, former Councilwoman Cynthia Fogarty has stepped up as the heir-presumptive for the Democrat City Committee’s endorsement.

Fogarty ran for mayor in 2006 despite the party’s decision to endorse Michael Napolitano, who defeated her in a primary before going on to beat GOP candidate Allan Fung....

On Monday, City Committee Chairman Michael Sepe confirmed the committee would almost certainly be voting to give Fogarty the endorsement at its June 25 meeting. The other potential candidate was Daniel Beardsley, executive director of the R.I. League of Cities and Towns. Beardsley said last week he would not force a primary if he failed to receive the party’s endorsement.

“I think Cindy would be a good candidate,” Sepe said. “She ran a very good campaign [in 2006]. She’ll hit the ground running.”

Based on Democratic poll results obtained by David Scharfenberg of the Projo, Councilwoman Fogarty will face a tough battle against Republican candidate and former City Councilman Allan Fung…
Private poll results obtained by The Providence Journal suggest Republican Allan W. Fung is in a strong position to win the mayoral race this fall.

The poll –– commissioned by state Rep. Peter G. Palumbo, D-Cranston, last month as he weighed a run for mayor –– found 51 percent favoring Fung and 31 preferring Mayor Michael T. Napolitano, a Democrat who had not yet announced that he would drop out of the race.

The poll also found that 63 percent of respondents had a “very favorable” or “somewhat favorable” impression of Fung, a former City Council member, while 11 percent had a “somewhat unfavorable” or “very unfavorable” impression…

The poll suggested the electorate is in a dour mood.

Only 26 percent of respondents said Cranston is headed in the “right direction,” while 58 percent believe the city is on the “wrong track.”

Question for David Scharfenberg and the Projo's news editors: Do Cranston residents really have to be in a "dour mood" to believe that Mayor Napolitano has placed the city on the wrong track? Isn't a more direct explanation possible -- that they just don't like the job he's done as Mayor? Decisions like spending $1.9 million dollars to do nothing with the Cullion concrete plant land, or spending $750,000 for astroturf at Cranston stadium haven't exactly inspired confidence that the Napolitano administration has been using city resources with the level of efficiency required to weather tight budgetary times...

Plain Distraction

Justin Katz

I have to admit a passing addiction to a Flash game called Swinging Ball. Simple, and yet somehow intriguing.

Rolling and swinging a simple line-drawing ball around puzzles brings to mind the importance of mechanics. The images could have been anything, really — Spider-man would have been one obvious trapping. I know nothing about game designing, but I wonder whether it's often done with boxes and balls and then fleshed out later, or whether it's just as easy to develop the fancy graphics in tandem with the coding of the gameplay.

June 19, 2008

Budget Moves On

Justin Katz

The RI Senate has passed the budget 36 to 2. Again, "the plan softens the blows to some programs hit hard under the governor's original budget proposal." How's that?

The Providence Journal report on last night's House offered this noteworthy commentary:

Indeed, lawmakers couldn't recall another budget vote that passed without a single "No" vote. The enormity of the challenge brought political alliances together like never before, according to Costantino.

"We are in very difficult times. We walk outside this building, we feel it, we see it, we touch it, we experience it," he said. "With this budget we have demonstrated the resolve to tackle the issues of these tough times."

One thing that statement ignores is the fact that there is distinct disagreement, across ideologies, about how one weathers "tough times," and the utter lack of contention in these votes implies a false victory for those who've been pounding the rightward, taxpayer-based solution to our fiscal crisis.

Section C Marriages

Justin Katz

Evidently, my Anchor Rising shirt with the target on the back ended up in Marc's laundry, yesterday. Perhaps if I make a similar point to his, but stepping outside the boundaries while the garment is in the wash, we'll manage a fruitful discussion.

Although it is without doubt the hope of many who support same-sex marriage that the homosexual community will absorb the traditional ethos of marriage (fidelity, longevity, domestication, and so on), mixed in with the culture's romantic implications for the institution, the manner in which the change arrives is deeply subversive. I'm not talking about the process of legislating via the judiciary as much as the way in which things are phrased, specifically California's new marriage certificates reading "Party A and Party B." Why not just label each blank "husband/wife"?

The reason is that, for many on the leading edge of the movement, the traditional mores of marriage are as key to the change as the removal of the opposite-sex requirement. It isn't sufficient, for them, that a man could marry a man; they require the notion of husbands to be erased.

So I wonder: If the law is such that corporations can become legal entities, for the purposes of organization, liability, taxes, and so on, why couldn't a business owner "marry" his business, if the legal arrangement is a closer fit with his desires?

To be sure, the culture will disallow such subsequent innovations, after same-sex marriage, for a while, based mainly on the very traditional expectations that will have been erased, but plain logic and legal opportunity create their own logic and motivation.

Holding Our Breath on the Budget

Justin Katz

Perhaps the feeling isn't as common as I implied last night on the Matt Allen Show (segment streamable by clicking here, or download), but I can't shake a feeling of creepy serenity around the budget battle. Thus far, the legislature hasn't changed anything dramatic from the governor's proposal that would fire us up on the right, yet there hasn't been the primal scream of pain that an adequate budget would elicit from the other side.

It's as if everybody sees the budget as Good Enough for their provisional purposes. For taxpayers, it's good enough to refrain from spitting in a turning tide. On the left, labor, and special interest side, it's good enough to hold the grip until the next battle. What's disconcerting for the former group is the degree to which everybody plainly know that the "balanced budget" is a construction of numbers games. Even House Finance Committee Chairman Steven Costantino is already preparing the electorate for a future budget that will take care of some of the "slippage" from this one.

Look also to NEARI Executive Director Bob Walsh and his proposal to start giving the state pension system partial ownership of the lottery. His suggestion comes suspiciously late in the game to have an effect on this budget, and in the comments to my recent post on the topic, he made it clear that he's happy to wait until the November reevaluation — after elections are done and the political hangover is in full throb.

I wonder how much such schemes are built right into the entire budget. How many numbers aren't going to match expectations but will require the really controversial steps to be taken down the road — probably against taxpayers' interests.

June 18, 2008

Budget Passes

Justin Katz

Hot in the emailbox:

The House of Representatives voted unanimously today to approve a $6.89 billion budget for the 2009 fiscal year.

The proposal, which will now head to the Senate, will reduce state spending by $85 million from the current year to address the state's deficit. The savings will be achieved without raising citizens' taxes, but through state employee attrition, cuts to health and welfare programs, a $15 million total cap on the state’s movie production tax credit and increases in traffic violation fines.

The plan softens the blows to some programs hit hard under the governor's original budget proposal, cutting fewer children from the Head Start early childhood education program and far fewer low-income adults from the RIte Care subsidized health care program. The proposal reduces the governor's proposed cuts to Head Start from 400 children to approximately 154 and cuts 1,000 adults from RIte Care instead of the 7,400 the governor had proposed. Under the amended bill (2008-H 7390A), the annual income eligibility level for RIte Care will go from 185 percent of the federal poverty level — $32,500 for a family of three — to 175 percent — $30,800 for the same family. To help fund the program, the state will institute new rules requiring participants to use generic prescriptions whenever they are available.

The bill changes the limit for welfare benefits from five years to 24 consecutive months in any 60-month period, with a lifetime total benefit of 48 months. Those who have reached the 48-month limit would be allowed a twelve-month extension if they are employed.

The version approved by the Finance Committee yesterday also adds a total of $13.6 million in education aid to cities in towns through new revenue from 24-hour gaming, and restores $300,000, about half the funding that the governor planned to cut, from the free breakfast programs in schools.

It keeps state aid to cities and towns at the level set through a reduction earlier this year, but adds a new provision that prohibits municipal health-care contracts from requiring the use of a specific health care provider. Municipal leaders sought the change to allow them to use whichever insurance provider will cost them less.

The budget increases payments to hospitals for uncompensated care by $9.6 million and payment to community health centers by $1.2 million.

It also includes issuance of $87 million transportation bonds, but cuts issuance of $35 million bonds for open space and $15 million for water pollution reduction efforts.

The plan includes a $91 million savings on state personnel, some of which is expected to come from a large uptick in retirements due to upcoming changes in state retiree health benefits. Specifics on other measures to produce the savings will be negotiated with state employee unions.

It reduces pensions for judges hired after Jan. 1, 2009 to 90 percent of their salary after 20 years on the bench, instead of the current 100 percent, and 70 percent for those with 10 years, instead of 75 percent. The amount would be reduced further if the judge opts for a spouse to continue getting a portion of the pension after his or her death.

The legislation increases a tax paid by insurers on medical and dental premiums from 1.1 percent to 1.4 percent to raise about $5.6 million in revenue, and includes $67 million savings through changes to Medicaid that will depend on the receipt of a waiver from the federal government.

It cuts $17 million in funding from the state’s public college system, and reduces need-based scholarships by $2.6 million.

The Senate is expected to vote on the budget bill Friday, after a hearing before the Senate Finance Committee tomorrow. The governor has indicated his support for the bill.

Amazing that, after so much groaning over the governor's tough cuts simply to reach the deficit amount, the House was able to "soften" his efforts and still come in under the line, no?

A Possible Complication to RIte Care and Undocumented Immigrants

Monique Chartier

Let me float this by you.

As the law pertaining to RIte Care has read for some time, citizenship is not one of the qualifications for pregnant women to participate in the program (as well as several others, according to Rep Peter Palumbo on the Helen Glover Show this morning). Today at the General Assembly, Rep Palumbo, with the vocal assistance of Rep Joseph Trillo, attempted to close off RIte Care benefits to pregnant undocumented immigrant women on the fairly reasonable theory that such resources should be allocated to citizens or legal immigrants.

The General Assembly ultimately rejected Rep Palumbo's amendment. So, as the law continues to stand, undocumented immigrant women, regardless of their stage of pregnancy upon application to the program - first month or ninth - qualify for such benefits on the basis that they are carrying an American citizen who is entitled to such benefits even if his or her mother is not. This is what I wanted to ask. As the fetus (deliberately chosen word) qualifies for a government program, does this not mean that life actually begins at conception? Accordingly, is the Rhode Island General Assembly not now required to outlaw abortion?

House Debate on Article 38 (Education) Of the Budget

Marc Comtois

The House debated Article 38, Sub A of the Budget this evening. Below is my liveblog of the debate, for the record. (I see Matt covered it too, including a list of who voted how--wonder how he got the list so fast?).

SPOILER ALERT: Mayoral Academies were ultimately approved.

Rep. Constantino proposed removing the ability of the education commissioner to grant a variance to mayoral academies regarding section 16-77-11. Basically makes it compulsory for these schools to live by many of the same rules as charter schools, with a few key exceptions related to issues surrounding teacher's tenure and retirement. Passed almost unanimously.

Rep. Loughlin voted to amend to this section in an effort to allow local school districts to apply for relief from "unfunded mandates" by showing how they can effectively meet requirements outlined by mandates without following the proscribed outline. Rep. Gemma argued that this effectively allows School Committees to override the General Assembly. He pointed out that these groups already spend like crazy and then hand off fiscal problems to the City Councils and Mayors.

Rep. Smith praised the desire to bring local control back, but he had little faith in the ability of such bodies as the Providence School Committee to provide proper oversight. Rep. Mumford supported the amendment. Explained it allowed towns to review mandates and then identify which mandates they would seek relief from. She explained each city and town had different needs and some could abide by some mandates while others may not. The reason that no specific mandates were identified was to provide each locality the ability to identify those that were acutely onerous.

Rep. Gorham and Watson both pointed out that a vote for this measure would allow legislators to tell their constituents that they voted to hold the line on property taxes by seeking relief this way. The amendment failed 54-16.
Rep. Rice offered an amendment attempts to make Mayoral Academies abide by same rules as Charter Schools.

Rep. Constantino urged opposition, stating it essentially guts the Mayoral Academy bill. Pointed out that they've already taken out the ability of the Ed. Commissioner to waive several items (amendment offered by Constantino himself).

Rep. Savage extolled the virtues of charter schools, "incubators and laboratories" which should give us "an abundance of educational practices". Offered up examples of successes of business-supported schools such as the Textron Academy or the CVS Highlander School. Supports Mayoral Academies in concept, but opposes this legislation calling it a "carve-out of a carve-out" which would exempt them from even more than Charter Schools. Calls it an intentional assault on teachers and particularly disliked the fact that the teachers wouldn't be able to collectively bargain nor would they be considered public employees. (By the way, he's a Republican from East Providence and a retired school principal).

Rep. Fox stood up and said this was about leadership and thinking outside the box. Folks are so frustrated they just want to shake the box. He also extolled the virtues of teachers, but also pointed out that the state's current Charter School law didn't go far enough in allowing for innovation. This legislation would allow Mayors to take a leading role in the education of their citizens. Noted he and Rep. Constantino approached it as skeptics, but they couldn't deny the success in other places, such as Harlem. Also explained how current contracts stifle flexibility and innovation. Pointed out that there is no funding in the bill and that future funding has to be approved by the General Assembly. Alluded to various foundations that support this idea. Could they all be wrong? Hit on the point that we are trying to get our kids to compete worldwide and schools like these have done just that in other states. This amendment will kill all of that.

Rep. Trillo said he finally agrees with Leader Fox on something. Called the idea of Mayoral Academies a "lively experiment" and this amendment will tie our hands right out of the gate. Applauds Mayor McKee. Why would we be afraid of it? This could give us ideas that could be applied to our public schools. He recognized the unions have a problem with it. Accepting the amendment will just create another weak charter school. Rep. McManus also opposed amendment.

Rep. Singleton (Republican, Cumberland outgoing) supports the amendment and claimed most of the Legislature had no idea what they were doing. Blamed politicians for causing the problem and not fixing them on their own, but kicking the can to Mayors via the Mayoral Academies. Basically didn't like the idea that only a chosen few in his district would benefit and attempted to use the self-selectivity argument (the kids with interested parents would succeed, etc.). Said that the private money would dry up in a couple years. (By the way, he's moving to Massachusetts, too).

Rep. Walsh, a retired teacher, explained how she cared about kids. Takes the Mayoral Academy as an affront to teachers. Supported Rice's amendment. Claimed that Legislature didn't have enough time to hear about the particulars.

Rep. Gemma explained that City of Warwick investigated this. Said he was tired of dancing around the issue. It's all about the money. Explained how the people of Potowamut are trying to convert their now closed public school to a charter. 90% of all school budgets are salaries, pensions and benefits, 2% discretionary. Teachers had to buy paper, pencils. Marvelous people. The worst person to ask about charter schools is an educator. They have a particular point of view. Gives credit to Mayor McKee. Wants his Mayor to have the power over education spending. Gives him another option. Don't kill the idea in the cradle.

Rep. Coaty opposed the amendment. Stated we need to pass the bill unencumbered, unlike the charter school laws. Explained that Providence spends $13,000 on their students at Hope High and they don't have textbooks. How could that happen? This bill would help urban and at risk students. Now is the time to pass the bill. That it didn't come up in January is not a reason to kill it.

Rep. Baldelli-Hunt supports McKee's plan and opposes the amendment. Vouched for Mayor McKee's pledge to spend the next 10 years working on education for RI kids. Argued that these schools provide opportunity for students who aren't cookie cutter.

Rep. Smith ( a public school teacher) wondered if we'd be talking about Mayoral Health Care facilities or Mayoral Gas Stations down the line. Basically opposed the idea because not all kids would be provided the same opportunity. Argued that teachers should have a say in more items via collective bargaining, not less. Said teachers in Providence were held accountable for a lack of a curriculum. Also complained that there was only one hearing then the Mayoral academy plan was in the budget.

Rep. Brien opposed amendment. Referred to a letter he received stating that the Mayoral Academy proposal needed to be removed and listed a bunch of opponents. Referred to NEA President Bob Walsh's ads in local newspapers. Called this amendment the poison pill. This is about allowing parents the opportunity to choose where they send their kids. Cited Beacon Charter in Woonsocket as one of the best in the nation. Addressed the accountability issue: charters are more accountable. They participate in regular oversight as well as re-authorization process. If they don't perform, they are closed down.

Rep. Lima supports new ideas, thinks school system is in trouble, but the problem with this idea is that we'd be taking public dollars away from majority of students and giving it to the lucky few. {Again, the class warfare argument}. Said she support it if we took public funds off the table. Pension costs and salaries are too high? Lets address at the collective bargaining table, not this way. Let private companies do it, not public money. Supports amendment.

Rep. Menard, whose wife is a teacher, says Mayoral Academies are saying we need a third tier of schools. Public schools, charter schools and now Mayoral Academies. Explained the hard work his wife does, how he and his wife provide educational resources. Talks about fixing the current problems in public and charter schools instead of adding a new one.

Rep. Vaudreuil re-focused on the central point that the bill was to allow the creation of a plan, not an actual school.

Rep. Rice added that she appreciates innovative ideas and choice. Said this amendment said this doesn't prevent anything, but puts them on the same level playing field as other charter schools. Then moved the goalposts and said this doesn't need to be passed now, anyway, because the deadline isn't until November 2009. Also wondered why these Mayors didn't focus on the students they have now (huh?). Parrotted Lima's argument that if it was just private money, she'd be fine. Wan't comfortable with the idea that they didn't know what it would be.

Rep. Mumford opposed amendment. Also a teacher. Explained that RI's charter schools were the most restrictive. Mayoral Academies have bi-partisan support aiming to help students. Even with their hands tied, charter schools are succeeding. Let's see what happens when we untie the hands of just one Mayoral Academy.

Rep. Savage stood up again and noted that the success noted by fellow legislators at our charter schools were staffed by public school teachers. As far as charter schools being too restrictive, then lets work towards loosening those restrictions. Says we are talking about public funding of private schools. Seems to believe that only public school teachers can do the job.

Rep. Gorham stood up to glad hand everybody for a good debate and for the sort of bipartisanship being shown. Yet he didn't expect that the passage of an idea would encounter so much opposition. This is basically a study commission. No funding involved.

Rep. Silva opposed the amendment and supported the idea of Mayoral Academies.

Rep Gablinske opposed amendment and asked sponsor on whose behalf it was sponsored. Rep. Rice refused to answer the question. Mayoral Academies are a response to the pendulum swinging too far to the left. Our schools have become about adult comfort not educational achievement.

Rep. Constantino noted that House Finance Committee had this bill and got testimony and hearings. As year went on, they knew the budget cuts would hurt many people. Explained that Charter Schools association now supports the Mayoral Academies. Remembers how teacher unions opposed charter schools. Knows how labor unions helped teachers 40 years ago and how that seemed radical then. This doesn't depreciate teachers. This gives RI kids the opportunity to be educated differently. Of all the things in this budget, this one idea gives a child hope. Urged to vote against argument.

Rep. Menard questioned whether Charter School Association was for it, remembered that they testified against it in hearings. What did Rep. Constantino know that he didn't and why did they all of a sudden support it. Constantino responded that their Board took a vote and now support it. Menard questioned that.

The amendment failed 30-41.


Rep. Savage had three amendments. One he wasn't going to offer and he answered that this particular one was identical to Rice's and that it came from "my mind." Offered another amendment attempting to make Mayoral Academies privately funded only.

Rep. Constantino urged opposition.

Rep. Gemma called it even worse than the other amendment.

Amendment failed 26-41

Rep. Savage decided not to offer up final amendment.

Rep. Menard moved to vote on sections 2 and 3 of the articles separately.

This idea passed relatively easy.
Article 38 prevailed nearly unanimously (only 8 opposed).

Spinning the Union

Justin Katz

Paul Bovenzi's response to an excellent op-ed by Bill Wilson raises an interesting question. On the one hand:

Also, there are jobs (teaching and otherwise) that are not Union. People have a choice. They can work for a private school if they are completely opposed to being in a Union. Maybe the reason they don't is because Union workers are treated more fairly and compensated better than non-union employees. As I have said before on this blog, the Union members I know are all happy and grateful to be part of a Union.

And yet, union membership is on the decline. Of course, as we know, that decline is mainly in the private sector, so one must wonder why an arena more subject to market forces is more likely to lose members.

Perhaps those "happy and grateful" union employees in the private sector are finding that the perks aren't worth driving their employers out of business, or forcing their jobs overseas. The public sector may have thought itself immune to this dynamic, but at least here in Rhode Island, I've a feeling that they're soon to learn otherwise.

It's Time to Legalize Same-Self Marriage

Marc Comtois

After reading Justin's post, it hit me: why couldn't I marry myself? So, I am here to ask that you join me in advocating for Same-Self marriage (SsM). It's too late for me, but I'm going to fight for those of you who love yourselves more than anyone else and want to spend the rest of your lives with yourselves while enjoying all of the rights--legal, cultural and traditional--that those in two-people marriages (TPMs) enjoy.

I remember the days I spent alone. Forcing myself to meet people who might like me. Enduring dates. It was a life full of constant emotional and psychological trauma. Would anyone ever like me as much as I liked myself? Luckily, I found someone who did. But I know there are people out there who aren't wired that way. You do to. People who are still living the single life and have come to realize that they prefer it that way. The 45 year old I.T. guy; the 54 year old librarian; and, of course, the priest and nun. They all must endure the snickers and stares: why aren't they with anyone. What's wrong with them. It's time to end the stigmatization of the single life in our culture.

And single people are being discriminated against by our own government. We have tax polices that benefit married couples. But isn't the single life the ultimate expression of Liberty as defined by our Constitution? The Equal Protection Clause? Where is it written that it takes two people to be married? Surely you aren't going to argue that all of the law books say so, are you? C'mon, those were written a long time ago when people weren't open-minded enough to understand how modern society would evolve. Hey, if we can move from "man and wife" to "two parties", what's the diff if we just make marriage a solo project?

Don't give me any arguments about how this would affect the rearing of children. It's obvious that there are no practical or legal reasons why a kid needs a parent of each gender. If two dads or two moms are fine, then how can we say that one really cool, supermom or -dad can't do the job? Our society has reached a point where we have a lot of single parents anyway. If the government wants to continue to incentivize marriage, then it needs to do so without discriminating against a whole class of people. Allowing singles to marry themselves will enable them to take advantage of all of the same benefits that those in TPMs enjoy.

I don't think this proposal is that revolutionary. As I said, it comports with the self-reliance and liberties that have characterized our great nation since it's founding. It's time we align our society and government with the clear intent of the Founders, had they lived today. So let's stop the hypocrisy and legalize Same-Self marriage. It's the only fair thing to do.

Differing from Go

Justin Katz

Maggie Gallagher gives the impression of one exasperated with the same-sex marriage debate:

What about polygamy? Is that the natural next step? When people ask me this, my stock answer has become, "I don't know, go ask the guys in the Harvard Law School faculty lounge." Because if the California decision stands, there simply is no longer any case to be made we have begun to win the war for judicial restraint. If a court can rule that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right (i.e., one deeply rooted in our nation's traditions) then it can make up anything. Elite legal minds get to figure out what they think and break it to the rest of us once they've decided. ...

Here's the conclusion I've come to after four-plus years of active participation in the same-sex-marriage debate: Gay marriage is not primarily about marriage. It's also not about Adam and Steve and their personal practical legal needs. It is about inserting into the law the principle that "gay is the new black" — that sexual orientation should be treated exactly the same way we treat race in law and culture.

Gay-marriage advocates say it all the time: People who think marriage is the union of husband and wife are like bigots who opposed interracial marriage. Believe them. They say it because they mean it.

The architects of this strategy have targeted marriage because it stands in the way of the America they want to create: They hope to use the law to reshape the culture in exactly the same way that the law was used to reshape the culture of the old racist south.

Plenty of reason certainly exists for exasperation, considering that precedent, law, and culture can be no defense when the prior assumption being made (and rarely defended) throws all previous language and understanding out the window. Consider one local judge's treasure map toward legalized same-sex divorce in Rhode Island:

... in a December 2007 decision that drew national attention, a divided state Supreme Court ruled that Family Court lacked jurisdiction to grant the divorce. The majority said that under the 1961 law that created Family Court, the word "marriage" meant just one thing — the union of a man and a woman. ...

Yesterday, Superior Court Judge Patricia A. Hurst dismissed Chambers' claim for divorce, saying it is clear Superior Court no longer has jurisdiction to grant divorces now that they're handled in Family Court. And there is no point in posing the jurisdiction question to the Supreme Court, she said.

"If same-sex marriage was not on the legislature's mind in 1961 when it passed the Family Court Act, then same-sex marriage certainly wasn't on its mind when the Superior Court was established over half a century earlier in 1905," Hurst wrote.

But in making the ruling, Hurst raised the question of whether the statute that created Family Court is unconstitutional now that the Supreme Court has interpreted it to say that Family Court cannot grant divorces to same-sex couples.

"The question yet to be asked is whether the Family Court Act, now having been interpreted by the Supreme Court [in the Chambers and Ormiston case] impermissibly deprives spouses in a same-sex marriage to equal protection of law on account of the coincidence in their gender," Hurst said. "Assuming the legislature and the executive branch continue to ignore this problem, the question will be whether the Family Court Act is unconstitutional for the reason that it violates state constitutional principles of equal protection."

See, if we change the definition of a thing, then suddenly everything that we've built upon that thing is subject to toppling in order to enforce the new definition:

  • Assertion: Marriage has nothing to do with the spouses' being of opposite sex.
  • Problem: Law and tradition both make it manifestly clear that marriage is very much a relationship between people of opposite sex.
  • Finding: Any law that has the effect of proving, reinforcing, or putting into action that long-understood definition must therefore be unconstitutional (and therefore in danger of challenge and judicial dictat), because:
  • Assertion: Marriage has nothing to do with the spouses' being of opposite sex.

How in the world could anybody fret that same-sex marriage would have a broader effect than appears to be the case for that nice gay couple on that primetime drama?

June 17, 2008

Mayoral Academies Jump Another Hurdle

Marc Comtois

Cumberland Mayor Dan McKee's plan to start up a mayoral academy in Blackstone Valley received the endorsement of the House Finance Committee last week. After initial opposition, the Rhode Island League of Charter Schools has come on board, the ProJo reports. And support for the plan is growing amongst Democratic politicians:

“It’s time to think outside the box,” said House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox through a spokesman. “As Franklin Roosevelt once said, ‘it is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something!’ I think it’s worth trying this mayoral academy....Based on their desire to recruit the best teachers, engage parents as partners and put student achievement first, I believe it is important to give them the opportunity to develop their plan for ultimate approval by the Board of Regents,” Fox said.
Some of the progressive grassroots are arguing for the idea, including Progreso Latino chief executive officer Ramon Martinez, according to the ProJo. But not everyone is happy, especially the leaders of the teacher's unions.
Robert A. Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association Rhode Island, said he was “blindsided” by the proposal.

“We’re kind of in shock,” he said “This is one of those last-minute surprises that you dread in the [budget] process.” Since then, Walsh, a usually powerful voice on Smith Hill, says he’s been unable to get Fox to return his phone calls.

Walsh and the American Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals have blasted what they call McKee’s plan to “experiment with kids,” while “ignoring decades of progress in setting standards for public education,” and sacrificing vital teacher protections that could lead to lower-paying jobs with greater turnover.

“Mayor McKee seems to be motivated by a myth that there’s some magic way to do it better,” Walsh said, “… but a group of mayors that have no background in education,” being given “carte blanche” to build a school is not the answer, he said.

Despite the rhetoric about how these schools could hurt the kids, the real issue for the union leaders is protecting the pay and benefits of their members. That's fine, that's what the leadership is paid to do. (As the ProJo story explains, Mayor McKee has called upon some education experts to help him with his plan. Besides, McKee's idea still has to pass muster with the Board of Regents). However, instead of this apparent knee-jerk opposition, perhaps the unions could join their traditional allies and try to be part of the process going forward. But to join the team, they would have to be willing to make some concessions, especially in the areas of hiring and firing flexibility (management rights) and pay. And if we allow history to be our guide, we know that the teacher unions have a hard time with compromise if it means "losing" anything.

The bill goes to the House for debate tomorrow. Today there will be a rally in support of the measure at the State House.

Children First

Justin Katz

One hates to see children harmed, but we must face the consequences of our policies:

Among the 2,800 already removed from RIte Care, just under half are illegal immigrants. But the other half have the right to be here. And all of them are children.

Some, in fact, are very sick children. Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, the HMO that cares for about 60 percent of RIte Care enrollees, including 50,000 children, has tallied the number of its patients who were affected by the RIte Care change. Among those dropped from RIte Care are 54 children with asthma, 50 with attention deficit disorder and eight with diabetes. One is in the midst of treatment for bone cancer and has already lost a leg. One needs a ventilator to breathe and is currently living at the state-run Tavares Center. Several have cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, depression or sickle cell anemia.

The plain reality, however, is that Rhode Island's current tax-and-spend regime is not sustainable. Many more people — and probably these very children — will be hurt in the long run if changes are not made. Perhaps spending cuts should be made more deeply elsewhere, and those who support various public-sector benefits and such line items as legislative grants can't hide behind a broad firewall of "necessary spending" to let sick children be the face of our government's excessive habits.

There are various points to be made about the article, but for now, suffice it to say that, under the current circumstances, this isn't exactly discouraging news:

Susanne Campbell, administrative director of the St. Joseph Center for Health and Human Services, said that her clinic, in Providence, recently received requests to send medical records to other states, suggesting that immigrants are leaving for Massachusetts and elsewhere.

June 16, 2008

Re: Station Nightclub Fire Lessons by Pravda

Monique Chartier

It appears from this link that Mr. Michael DiMascolo will once again "teach" a mandatory course June 24 - 26 for the state Fire Academy to all Rhode Island Assistant Deputy State Fire Marshals, a course that will presumably include the wholesale white-washing, described by Dave Kane in my prior post, of West Warwick Fire Marshal Dennis Larocque's criminal handling of the Station Nightclub inspections prior to the fire.

To anyone attending this course: this is an open solicitation for an audio or video recording of that portion of Mr. DiMascolo's lesson which pertains to Dennis Larocque's inspection of the Station Nightclub. Such high level fiction in a public safety course deserves to be shared with and appreciated by a much wider audience than just course attendees.

Station Nightclub Fire Lessons by Pravda

Monique Chartier

Mr. Michael Dimascolo
Office of the RI State Fire Marshal
118 Parade St.
Providence, RI 02909

Mr. Dimascolo,

It has come to my attention, from several sources, that during a recent class you were giving for Deputy Fire Marshals, you had the audacity to make the statement that Fire Marshall Denis Larocque, of West Warwick, “did everything by the book”, pertaining to the Station Nightclub fire. I am writing to tell you that this statement is not only outrageous it is a complete and utter lie.

Your pal, Mr. Larocque, did nothing by the book. He lied to the State Police. Then, he told a different set of lies to the Grand Jury. He lied to the public when he told them it was safe to enter the Station Nightclub. He broke his oath of office when he used voodoo numbers to award “waiting area” status to every square foot of that club. That lie was so egregious that he didn’t even want to post the room capacity number for fear of being caught in his duplicitous actions and illicit decisions.

As for you Mr. Demoscola, I am also told that you went on to say that you were denied the job of Chief Fire Marshal due to the Station Nightclub fire. This statement I am pleased to say, is true. Your illegal actions in deleting the real names of the Fire Marshals who investigated and submitted the final report on the Station fire and replacing them with your own and that of Chief Fire Marshal Owens, showed not only disregard for the law and justice for the victims but was nothing less than a blatant attempt to control access to that report and manipulate the truth.

I am sure that the public knowledge of this scurrilous conspiracy by you and Mr. Owens, along with my one on one meetings with the Governor to lobby against your appointment, went a long way to disqualify you from even being considered for the position you covet so highly. In my opinion, an obstruction of justice charge should have been brought against both of you.

In closing, I want you to be very clear on my purpose in writing this letter. Your insistence on re-writing history, your attempt to act as a Station Nightclub fire revisionist and your lies about the actions of those responsible for both the fire and the injustice that followed are totally unacceptable. Every statement you make that attempts to ‘remold’ the truth is another infliction of emotional vandalism on the Station Nightclub victims and their families.

For these words and the many others you have spoken since this horrible event, you should not just be ashamed, you should have the decency to stop. Keep your mouth shut. You are insulting every victim living or dead with your self serving, lying propaganda.

I don’t know you. We have never met. And even though I wouldn’t trust you or your pals Owens and Larocque to come to my house to put out a camp fire, I am demanding that you do the right thing. Stop lying about the circumstances that led to my son’s death and the protection he and all the other victims were denied by your friend, Denis Larocque.

Dave Kane
Father of Nicholas O’Neill, 18
Youngest victim of the Station Nightclub fire

Environmental Mania Claims Jobs

Justin Katz

Something has seemed forced — in a "just a bit too perfect" way — about the promise of "green jobs" as some sort of savior of our economy. Ben Lieberman suggests that, even if such jobs do proliferate, they don't match up with the number of jobs lost to the larger ecological zeitgeist:

According to a study conducted by the Heritage Foundation, the bill would cost half a million manufacturing jobs by 2018, 1 million by 2022, and more than 2 million by 2027. Of course, most of these displaced workers will eventually find something else to do, but often at lower wages.

Some proponents claim that new "green collar" jobs would make up the difference. For example, there will be more work at solar-panel manufacturers and other industries helped by the bill. But these jobs will be swamped by the number of those lost. The Heritage figures are net of any manufacturing jobs gained, and also exclude blue-collar jobs likely to be lost for reasons unrelated to the global-warming bill. ...

To add insult to injury, as many households struggle with layoffs and shifts to lower-paying jobs, they also will have to endure higher prices for electricity, natural gas and gasoline thanks to this bill — a costly double whammy.

All for the promise of an ultimately minor benefit to the environment, if any. As some of us have been unable to avoid noticing, however, "green" is more of a religion than a considered reaction. It brooks no dissent and tabulates no costs, but permits the insertion of all manner of prior political preferences.

Burning Out the House

Justin Katz

As one who flirts often with the edge of burnout, I hear the hum of truth in this:

Burnout has been long associated with being overworked and underpaid, but psychologists Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter found that these were not the crucial factors. The single biggest difference between employees who suffered burnout and those who did not was the whether they thought that they were being treated unfairly or fairly. ...

Their research on fairness dovetails with work by other researchers showing that humans care a great deal about how they are being treated relative to others. In many ways, fairness seems to matter more than absolute measures of how well they are faring -- people seem willing to endure tough times if they have the sense the burden is being shared equally, but they quickly become resentful if they feel they are being singled out for poor treatment.

Without doubt, the lesson applies in the civic arena, as well.

June 15, 2008

It's Settled, Then

Justin Katz

Peter Schweizer offers a very interesting read on studies finding that conservatives are happier, friendlier, more charitable, and more likely to hug their children, while liberals are... ahem... otherwise:

Much of the desire to distribute wealth and higher taxation is motivated by envy - the desire to take more from someone else - and bitterness.

The culprit here is not those on the Left who embrace progressive ideas but the ideas themselves.

As John Maynard Keynes reminds us: 'The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and wrong, are more powerful than commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else.' Or, as the American theorist Richard Weaver once declared: 'Ideas have consequences.'

And it seems that today modern progressive ideas can often bring out the worst in people.

This finding resonates with especial strength for those who've sensed its counterintuitive truth:

Most surprising of all is reputable research showing those on the Left are more interested in money than Right-wingers.

Both the World Values Survey and the General Social Survey reveal Left-wingers are more likely to rate 'high income' as an important factor in choosing a job, more likely to say 'after good health, money is the most important thing', and agree with the statement 'there are no right or wrong ways to make money'.

Does anybody know the html for the "evil smile" tag?

Happy Father's Day, Dads!

Donald B. Hawthorne

Happy Father's Day to all the Dads out there! Thanks for all you do, for the important contributions you make everywhere.

At this time every year, National Review has several articles about Dads. Here are this year's selections:

Hail the Male: Fathers, sons, and ghosts of feminism past

Fathers: Good, Bad, and Divine - "Thanks for not being a big, stinky jerk"

We Depend on Dads: Faithful fathers are important not only for our families, but for our nation’s future

Here is the link which contains some earlier articles from 2006.

And a special Happy Father's Day to my Dad, to whom I paid this tribute in 2005.


Here are some additional articles -

The Difference a Dad Makes in a Family

Jonah Goldberg on his Dad

Tim Russert and Father's Day

Russert remembered by his son

Luke Russert speaks at his father's funeral

Juan Williams on The Tragedy of America's Disappearing Fathers

June 14, 2008

Secondary Priority to a Primary Constituency

Monique Chartier

While I would disagree with his characterization of the proposed budget that came out of the House Finance Committee last week, Dr. Michael E. Migliori raises an interesting point in today's Providence Journal about State Rep and Providence school teacher Steven Smith (D-Providence/Johnston).

It was illuminating to see the photograph of Rep. Steven Smith, president of the Providence Teachers Union, on June 4, addressing union members protesting potential cuts in the face of a $425 million deficit.

While the governor and legislature dismantle health care in Rhode Island, while they pull the rug out from under the poor, the elderly in nursing homes, the mentally ill, and while public schools have to eliminate art, music, athletics and can’t even buy books, and we sink deeper into recession, I’m sure the citizens in Representative Smith’s district take comfort that, as a member of the same legislature that is responsible for this deficit, Mr. Smith is looking out to protect the members of his union from having to share in the sacrifices the rest of the state will have to make to recover.

Every citizen in this state is going to have to make sacrifices, including the citizens of Representative Smith’s district. I wonder how they feel, knowing that they are not his primary constituency.



Letting the Unions Win the Lottery

Justin Katz

I have to admit that NEA head Bob Walsh's proposal to give the public sector pension system "equity" from the state lottery instead of this year's cash contribution confused me. Most prominently, I don't see how a government that habitually spends hundreds of millions of dollars over its revenue can be presumed to need a one-year fix, even if the economy were to right itself within the three to four years that Walsh predicts. Second most prominently, Bob doesn't explain why the pensioners would want an asset yielding cash returns this year at a fraction of the cash that they were expecting.

Anchor Rising readers have the advantage that one of Walsh's numbers should look familiar: The 8.25% that he puts forward as his "conservative expected return" is precisely the figure that inspired so much discussion 'round here. The key to his whole scheme, in other words, is to determine the percentage of the lottery that would be given to the pension system in lieu of this year's $243 million payment by calculating backwards from the "expected" return that the pension system requires in order to be solvent.

If the state were to put $243 million into the account, that money would have to generate a $20 million return (in a slow economy) for the pension scheme to work, so Walsh is requesting $20 million from next year's lottery revenue and calling that 8.25% of the pensions "equity." One could pick just about any number, suggesting, for example, that the projected $365 million in total lottery revenue really represents only a 3% of a total value (we're assuming) of $12 billion, making the pension's $243 million just 2% equity, with a projected return of $4 million, instead of $20 million.

But we could run this formula all evening. The salient question is, accepting Walsh's proposal, what happens next year. The state could resume cash payments, or it could give the pension system another chunk of lottery equity. Me, I'd wager that Walsh would, at that time, recalculate the value of the lottery such that his union members still receive their 8.25% return (plus, of course, the percentage already covered by this year's revenue). The one certainty is that the revenue coming into the state would diminish each year this method is used.

Another certainty is that those who control the pension system would be able to divest themselves of this lottery equity, should things turn around such that other investments would yield better returns. Again, I'd wager that the unions would turn to the state to buy back the equity at more than its value.

It's a clever ploy, buried beneath the confusion of Walsh's "sound financial principles," and treating it all as if it were found money. The money is not "hidden" in the system, though. It's our money, and it's under the control of our representatives, both of which make it as a shiny thing to Walsh's searching eye.

June 13, 2008

Tim Russert

Marc Comtois

Via Dan Yorke, the New York Post (and MSNBC confirms) that "Meet the Press" host Tim Russert died of a heart attack today.

MORE: Needless to say, this is simply a shock, especially to those of us tuned into the world of politics and punditry. No one can dispute that Russert was one of, if not THE, top political/talk journalists of our day (and he could write, too). He'll be missed.

Gambling Revenue Counteroffer?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Robert Walsh's controversial proposal to permanently dedicate a portion of Rhode Island's gambling system to the state pension fund makes the lede of the Katherine Gregg/Paul Grimaldi article in today's Projo even more eye-catching than it would normally be…

The owners of Twin River are offering the state upward of $500 million up front in return for slicing by more than half the percentage of money the state gets from the slot parlor.

The offer is part of Twin River’s plan to solve its own “dire” financial crisis. Twin River has missed loan payments to its bank and is in danger of falling into bankruptcy. “The situation is dire. We are standing on the edge of a precipice,” Twin River spokeswoman Patti Doyle said yesterday.

But based on the raw numbers presented in the article, it's difficult to see the Twin River proposal as a good deal for the state…
Meeting with House Speaker William J. Murphy earlier this week, the Twin River delegation offered the $500 million if the state would reduce its cut of the slot revenue from 61.45 percent to 25 percent....

The state anticipates $261.4 million from Twin River alone in the fiscal year beginning July 1, and that does not include any of the additional money that newly approved 24-hour gambling on weekends and holidays is expected to generate.

Let's see, 25 is roughly 40% of 61-and-change. That means the state would collect, again in rough terms, about $104 million per year under the new rate, approximately $155-$160 million less than it collects now, meaning that after just 3 1/4 years (500-divided-by-155) the state ends up with less money than it otherwise would have taken in.

Trading a reduction in revenue in-perpetuity for a short-term boost that evaporates after three years doesn't seem like sound fiscal policy to me, unless you believe for some reason that gambling is on the verge of dying here in Rhode Island, which I don't think anyone is forecasting.

Later on in the article, Gregg and Grimaldi ask the first question that I know occurred to me -- and I suspect occurred to others -- immediately upon viewing the headline…

Asked how Twin River’s owners could afford to offer the state a $500-million upfront payment when they can’t afford to pay off their outstanding loans, Doyle said: “If we are able to reduce our tax rate overall, the lending community will look more favorably on our relationship with the state” and presumably be “willing to advance the upfront payment.”
Do you buy this answer? Or do you perhaps take a more cynical view, that this is an attempt to head-off the recent proposal made by Mr. Walsh and protect the full value of a lucrative revenue stream?

If you don't take the cynical view, does the Walsh proposal still make sense, if Twin Rivers is going bankrupt? Or do you take a doubly-cynical view that this is a ploy by Twin Rivers to make them seem less fiscally sound than they may actually be, reducing any potential enthusiasm on Smith Hill for the Walsh plan? Or is that just too many layers of cynicism heaped upon one another?


If commenter "ChuckR" doesn't mind, I'm going to mark him down in the "cynical but accurate" column...

If it was a good deal for the state, it wouldn't have been offered.

Exposing Yet Another Crypto Right-Wing Stooge in State Government

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Democratic Primary campaign for Governor is on over at RI Future, and that blog's owner and creator Matt Jerzyk is already taking shots at Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts -- for being too far to the right!

Well, we now have our second (likely) 2010 gubernatorial candidate ([Elizabeth Roberts], in addition to Frank Caprio) who believes that the rich shouldn't have to do their fair share in mending our budget woes.

RIGOP Nominating Convention Results

Carroll Andrew Morse

Will Ricci of the Ocean State Republican has a roundup of the major results from last night's state GOP nominating convention…

After three highly contested rounds of balloting, the delegates to the Rhode Island Republican Party State Convention elected Rep. Carol Mumford of Scituate to fill the remainder of National Committeewoman Eileen Slocum’s current term, as well as to be the National Committeewoman for the next four years. The convention also elected Rep. Joseph Trillo of Warwick to be the new National Committeeman. His four-year term will take effect following the 2008 Republican National Convention in September.

Jon Scott of Providence received the party endorsement for US Congress (Dist. 1)

Mark Zaccaria of North Kingstown received the party endorsement for US Congress (Dist. 2)

Robert Tingle of Westerly received the party endorsement for US Senate.

Rep. Trillo, in what some would consider a mild upset, beat incumbent Committeeman Robert Manning.


Will Ricci, who is very familiar with the internal workings of the RI GOP, offers a detailed assessment of the national committee results...

I don't think the Joe Trillo winning was as much as an "upset" as one might think, given several factors. First, Joe actually was the endorsed (by the nominating committee) candidate going into the convention. I think that's because he's a very hard worker (he's also very vocal, whereas Rob tends to be more reserved). Secondly, after the first round of voting last night showed essentially 1/3 of the votes going to each of the three National Committeeman candidates, Scott Avedesian made a strategic move to drop out and back Joe Trillo. I think Scott knew that if Joe was the one who volunteered to drop out, that Joe's vote would be totally up for grabs, and in a head to head race against the incumbent Rob Manning, Scott would lose. Rob is still the NCM for the upcoming Republican National Convention.

If anything, the major upset of the night was Rep. Carol Mumford's win over the two more established candidates, Norma Willis and Pat Morgan. Carol is a very smart woman who I know will make a great impression with those she works with and with the local media.

Where Do They Go from Here?

Justin Katz

Here's a question, which I present without insinuation in any direction: What can one glean from the fact that none of Tiverton High School's top 10 students are going to Ivy League colleges? Does it say something about the school system? About Ivy League schools? About the increasing difficulty of getting into top schools lately?

Here's a list of the higher-ed plans of the district's top 10, in order from top student down (taken from a Sakonnet Times article that is wisely not online):

  1. Chemical engineering at the University of Southern California
  2. Engineering at the University of Rhode Island
  3. Engineering at Northwestern University
  4. Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  5. Biology at Providence College
  6. Graphic design and music at the University of Tampa
  7. Bilingual speech pathology at Bridgewater State College
  8. Engineering at the University of Rhode Island
  9. Occupational therapy at Ithaca College
  10. Nursing at Northeastern University

I'm not a fawner for the Ivies by a long shot; indeed, I'd be impressed to see a top 10 student taking time away from college to learn a bit about being an adult and working. Perhaps the top 10 caliber schools have shifted a bit in the fifteen years since I graduated high school, but is there any significance, here?

June 12, 2008

E-Verify: Coming to a Federal Contractor Near You

Monique Chartier

Helen Glover reported this morning that e-verify legislation has stalled on Smith Hill because it contains monetary penalties for businesses which fail to comply. Apparently, the General Assembly has the power under these circumstances to pull a company's license but not to fine it.

In the meantime, President George Bush has mandated e-verify for companies which do business for the federal government.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that President George Bush has signed a directive putting the requirements in place, thus bringing federal contractors under the same requirements already in effect for federal agencies

This is a list by company, parent company and dollar amount of all 1,727 federal contracts being performed in Rhode Island, companies which now must E-verify all new employees.

[Source: USASpending.gov]

Economic Savvy When It Really Matters

Justin Katz

Yes, it does seem that leftward politicos do seem to have a better grasp economics when they are directly affected by a policy:

Feinstein, head of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, was forced to deal with reality. "It's cratering," the Washington Post quoted Feinstein as saying [referring to the government-run Senate dining services]. "Candidly, I don’t think the taxpayers should be subsidizing something that doesn't need to be. There are parts of government that can be run like a business and should be run like businesses."

Yes, yes, go on, Dianne. Run with that thought. Explore it, as the therapists say.

Perhaps you might meditate on the District of Columbia's public school system, which spends roughly $14,000 a pupil in exchange for one of the worst educations in the country. Every year, one of the greatest mysteries in the nation's capital is whether textbooks have been delivered to the right kids, or even to the right schools. It can take until Christmas to get it all worked out. FedEx Corp., meanwhile, can tell you where any of its millions of packages are in more than 100 countries, right now. (Why not just FedEx the textbooks to the kids?)

Or you might ponder the hilarious example of New York's OTB. For most of the last 40 years, these state-run betting parlors have actually lost money. Apparently, the house always wins — except when Uncle Sam is the bookie.

Look wherever you like, it's not as if there's a shortage of examples. And more are on the way.

Jonah Goldberg means the examples are on the way by means of Barack Obama, should he win.

Attempts at Political Levity

Justin Katz

Perhaps it would not have been as deliberately un-gun-shy, but Jeanne Moos could have avoided the controversy with this skit and made it funnier, because more relevant:

This morning's e-blizzard of insults was prompted by a Moos piece on body language of the various candidates — particularly their strange, compulsive habit of pointing off into the distance while addressing the crowds at campaign rallies.

''Since we usually can't see who the candidates are pointing at,'' Moos intoned during a voiceover, ''we'll just have to use our imagination.'' Footage of Clinton waving her finger in the air was intercut with her husband's former Oval Office playmate Monica Lewinsky; of McCain, with his conservative bete noir, Ann Coulter; and Obama, with the sound-alike with whom he is perpetually entangled in verbal slips by TV anchormen, Osama bin Laden.

Result: The lefty watchdog group Media Matters for America issued a scathing statement saying Moos ''associates'' Obama with Osama, and a chorus of liberal bloggers joined in.

''I thought it would be Hillary and Monica that would get me in trouble,'' sighs Moos. "I was going for nemeses — Hillary and Monica, McCain and Coulter, Obama and you-know-who. I thought it was funny, but everybody now is touchy, touchy.''

Obama's "nemesis" image should have been Hillary waving her finger right back.

A Public Turnaround in RI

Justin Katz

This week on our Wednesday stint on the Matt Allen Show, Don summarized his latest post addressing a turnaround in the Rhode Island economy, streamable by clicking here (or download).

June 11, 2008


Justin Katz

This component of the RI House budget plan is nuts:

he plan also includes funding for 100 of 400 slots slated to be eliminated from the early childhood education program, Head Start. In addition, the budget restores health care coverage for all but 1,000 of more than 7,000 adults slated to lose coverage under a plan released by Governor Carcieri earlier in the year. ...

... it generates $5.6 million in new revenue by increasing the health insurer tax on medical premiums from 1.1 percent to 1.4 percent. Costantino said he hoped the increase wouldn't be passed on to health care consumers, although that's what happened when the tax was expanded last year. The tax, previously only applied to health insurers, would now apply to Delta Dental as well.

So the budget will continue to pay for the healthcare of a few thousand adults who can't afford it, but it most definitely increase the price paid by everybody else. It would seem that the state's budget is not constructed with much by way of strategy — instead by picking and choosing various numbers to call the result "balanced."

Lessons for Rhode Island from Silicon Valley: An historical reflection on an actual innovation economy

Donald B. Hawthorne

With the economic crisis in Rhode Island, there is much talk (e.g., my recent post and Ian Donnis) about what it will take to generate real change and economic growth in the state.

Leonard Lardaro, professor of economics at URI, offers his thoughts in a ProJo editorial Only RI Cure: Cut spending and taxes, where he writes:

...There is a great deal of angst about our state’s economy by both citizens and lawmakers. In a recent exchange, a member of the legislature’s Joint Committee on Economic Development took the head of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC), Saul Kaplan, to task for his alleged contribution to our state’s current economic dilemma. According to a May 2 story on the exchange (“EDC is grilled on bad R.I. economy”), EDC was: “chastised . . . for allowing the state to slip into . . . the Northeast’s only recession.” Wow! I never imagined Mr. Kaplan was powerful enough to single-handedly draw us over the edge into recession!

Pardon my sarcasm, but I remain stunned by what this quote reveals: how grossly out of touch with economic reality some of our state’s legislators are. What a vivid illustration of the paropic (parochial and myopic) mindset held by so many of our state’s leaders!...what was sorely missing from this exchange is cause and effect.

To understand the state’s problems, it is necessary to go back to the end of 1987, when Rhode Island first became a post-manufacturing economy. The rules of the economic game today are very different from those in the “good old days” of manufacturing. Because job loss today often entails the permanent elimination of jobs, job creation has become job initiation, not job resumption (factories rehiring after usually temporary layoffs). And since the initiation of new jobs is more risky and costlier than job resumption, production and employment costs are more critical to the success of states in creating jobs.

Taken by itself, this presents one glaring problem for Rhode Island in the post-manufacturing era: Our tax and cost structure (which includes fees, regulations and potential problems with the skills of our labor force) is nowhere near as competitive as it must be for us to be successful in this post-manufacturing environment...

But, getting back to the exchange with the EDC, given Rhode Island’s current non-competitive tax and cost structure, what “cards” does EDC have to play in attempting to expand businesses and employment here?...

This brings me to the second problem for Rhode Island: What is our state’s dominant niche? Recently, we decided to move toward biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, life sciences and oceanography. Is our tax and cost structure consistent with success in this niche? I doubt it. How far will our existing economic climate be able to carry us? Will we be able to generate the levels of employment, income and tax revenue that will allow us to attain our desired economic goals?

It is on this count that the glaring deficiency of our non-competitive tax and cost structure exacts its toll. All too often, EDC is forced to make deals with individual companies or industries to generate these types of economic gains. How large have these gains been? Generally, not large enough, as employment here has continued to fall since January of 2007.

In terms of fairness, these deals add insult to injury for existing firms here, which wonder why they can’t receive better treatment all the time. Efforts to expand existing businesses and to get new firms to locate here absent specific incentives have not been sufficient for us to be as successful as we should have been in this post-manufacturing era...

Because the legislative and executive branches, along with the EDC, have jointly failed to produce a competitive tax and cost structure, economic growth here has suffered...

The deficits we now face are largely self-imposed, resulting from unsustainable spending practices over the last 20 years, the failure of our paropic leaders to redefine our state in terms of a niche with a compatible tax and cost structure until very recently, and a separation of economic leadership that, as the exchange between the EDC and legislature shows, is all too often "us" versus "you."

Deficits are not pleasant, especially when largely self-imposed. But they will serve our state’s long-term interest by forcing the type of fiscal discipline that has been so sorely lacking, and, hopefully, an end to factionalized economic policymaking.

Tax and spending policies by RI government do matter in a big way and fixing those problems in the short-term is an essential part of an overall solution. But unwinding the taxation and spending disincentives in RI only opens the door to a positive future. There are more changes which have to happen as part of a total solution.

One way to look to the future is to learn lessons from the past. And no place has been an economic growth engine like the innovation economy of Silicon Valley over the decades, a place I lived and worked in for 17 years.

What were the critical success factors which powered entrepreneurial innovation there? It is a conversation I have been having with friends and colleagues for years. And in the last few weeks, I went back to venture capital, investment banking and university technology licensing friends from Silicon Valley to continue the conversation.

Here is what we pulled together as some of the critical success factors:

  • Stanford Engineering School Dean Fred Terman: Terman hired faculty with industrial experience and encouraged academic/ industry relationships. This dated as far back as the 1930's so there was a cultural legacy of interactions between the two communities. More on Terman here and here.
  • Stanford University Office of Technology Licensing: With its outstanding engineering/science/medicine programs, Stanford was both a center of technology development and had more liberal technology licensing practices which encouraged commercialization of innovation. The university also allowed faculty to spend time doing outside work. This provided a pipeline for new technologies which, over time, was supplemented by technology within companies.
  • Management Development: Businesses can't grow without a pool of talented and trained management. The early growth at both Hewlett Packard and Fairchild/Intel, including both their legacies of excellent management practices and at least HP's original practice of regularly spinning off new divisions, provided a number of decades of management training and development. Their efforts, like Genentech later in the life sciences area, provided much of the original management team infrastructure as newer ventures were launched.
  • California's Entrepreneurial Culture & Services Infrastructure: While the nice weather didn't hurt either, California's historical culture was inherently entrepreneurial and, over the decades, an entrepreneurial culture took root and led to an ongoing practice of starting new companies and providing infrastructure services to those companies.
  • Capital Gains Tax Rate Reduction Powers Early Stage Financings: The capital gains tax cut in 1978 really launched the growth in the venture capital world and provided the financial capital infrastructure to fuel early growth.
  • Local Investment Banks Provide Later Stage Capital: Local investment banks, such as Hambrecht & Quist, Robertson Stephens, and Montgomery Securities, themselves entrepreneurial organizations, were formed to provide later stage capital. In addition, led by Frank Quattrone, some leading New York City-based investment banks set up operations in Silicon Valley, creating an even more competitive environment for later stage capital.

Here are some comments from my friends:

  • You're spot on with the influence of Fred Terman. His should be a household name for all the contributions he made and culture tone he established. I think he's the real hero of the story and more should be written about him.
  • By way of contrast, it's noteworthy that RTP in NC has been promoting itself as a tech center since the 1950's, only gained traction from the 1980's on, and built itself primarily through the Chamber of Commerce route of attracting large multi-national companies, with start-ups being an after-thought until they started to evolve and grabbed some of the spotlight.
  • At a time when universities are paranoid about blurring the distinction between academia and industry it's instructive to recall that the Varian brothers's company made and shipped Klystron tubes from a Stanford lab during WWII, and that technology transported back and forth between Stanford labs and HP in the early days. We should collectively learn that current conflict-of-interest phobias preclude arrangements such as these, which ultimately were of tremendous benefit to both the local and national economy.

  • Current practice of most tech transfer offices impedes entrepreneurism, and the most productive approach is found in those offices that minimize these barriers. For those who think there's some abdication of the public trust in this view, I query why it is better from a public policy perspective for [a big pharma company] to profit from a new drug than a local start-up, so long as the drug comes into public use...and I would postulate that the amount of financial return that Stanford would have obtained from the most perfectly optimized licenses from all that early technology traipsing out to HP is dwarfed by the magnanimous giving of the Hewlett and Packard families--giving born out of the goodwill generated by Stanford being helpful to them in their early days.
  • The Stanford Licensing Office was formalized in 1970, and Niels Reimers ran it with an approach different from any other university licensing office. Rather than staffing it with JDs, PhDs and/or bureaucrats who focused on filing patents, Niels focused on marketing, and filing patents only when a licensee was identified (see article). Most importantly, Niels made his priorities clear: our job was to ensure Stanford technology was efficiently put into public use and benefit; that the best technology transfer is the graduating student; that our job was to create opportunities for research staff and students; that exclusive licenses were not only acceptable but desirable to provide companies incentive to commercialize; and that--whenever possible with the above, we should try to obtain a financial return to Stanford (as opposed to many offices, where they act to maximize every dollar they can up-front, which is to their long-term detriment). Niels kept a long-term view on creating opportunities, with faith that our activities in promoting industry - university connections was justification in itself, and that the financial returns would take care of themselves. As the office grew, Niels maintained an entrepreneurial and marketing-oriented approach. Every licensing person had a high level of freedom to negotiate a license, with review only at the end of the process (we knew what terms were important to safeguard, and were given freedom to negotiate other--mostly financial--terms to the best of our judgment). This enabled us to work expeditiously. It also kept us focused on industry, with a respect for their needs. Stanford's overall attitude enabled researchers to devote time to outside activities and consulting--as you point out. Although the amount of time for outside consulting was the same as other institutions (such as UC), the key difference was that Stanford encouraged researchers to interact with industry. At many institutions, the culture has in the past been (and often still is!) adversarial to this. Seems like every researcher I knew at Stanford kept a business plan in the top left drawer of their desk--they'd pull it out after every meeting and would ask if I knew any VCs...The cultural issue is huge, and has been tough for other institutions to duplicate. The strongest lever for change is the Faculty Club Effect, where researchers sit at lunch and stare enviously at the guy who just made $10 million from selling his company, and gripe to themselves that they're at least as smart as him...Every institution seeking to replicate Stanford's culture has to have at least one success story, place that guy in the Faculty Club, AND change top administration's attitude so they're more enlightened (and not sending out the conflict of interest police to find alleged corruption underneath every desk).
  • ...the risk taking/supportive culture [was] a shocker coming here from the East Coast. There were all sorts of services - VC, banking, legal, real estate, equipment leasing, etc. that would believe and take chances on these companies and enable them to take risk. If they succeeded, they would be celebrated. If they failed - most importantly - that was not viewed as a disgrace but instead a learning experience that made them more valuable to the next venture. A few more modern day success stories that sprang from Stanford - SUN, Silicon Graphics, MIPS (of which the current Stanford President was a founder), Cisco, Yahoo, and Google all started as projects within Stanford.

There are some clear lessons for Rhode Island in this review:

  • Consistent, long-term incentives drive lasting economic behaviors: People and institutions respond rationally to explicit and implicit economic incentives. Consistent, long-term incentives matter the most and drive structural changes in behaviors. Offering taxation incentives and then taking them away, as has been proposed recently during the budget crisis by some on the Left, sends a clear signal to the marketplace that RI is not serious about creating the necessary long-term incentives which will lead to favorable investment decisions in RI.
  • Competitive alternatives exist and will be favored until RI's taxation and regulatory policies are competitive: The greater Boston/Cambridge area, with the influences of many existing companies, MIT, Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, etc., is a place where experienced management and services infrastructures already exist without the uncompetitive taxation burden and budget problems of RI. One-off solutions like selling portions of the Lottery do not solve the fundamental competitive disadvantage problem and are, therefore, not viable solutions which will make RI a place to favor for new business development, especially given the nearby alternatives.

  • No economic czars are needed: If broad economic incentives are consistent, favorable and there for the long-term, individuals and organizations will have all of the proper incentives to act rationally and bring business into the state. There is no need for an economic czar or targeted tax incentives here. As the Frenchman Bastiat wrote in the 1800's: Paris gets fed...without any central planning and it occurs because knowledge is shared and the right incentives exist for people to act, people who don't even know each other. A future post will explore further how the role of knowledge, tacit and otherwise, drives economic decision-making and why centralized economic planning will always fail.
  • Quality of state services and public education matter: A crumbling infrastructure and lousy public schools create a disincentive for people to bring their families into RI. Why pay higher taxes for worse services? Why pick mediocre RI public schools when MA schools just across the border offer a better education to kids?
  • A sense of urgency is critically important: One of the central lessons from Silicon Valley is that its economic growth engine did not come about overnight. Building the management development engine and the services infrastructure took time. Yet there is no sense of urgency among state leaders in RI to either grasp the lessons from Silicon Valley or implement policies which create the required consistent, long-term incentives that will lead to such infrastructure solutions.

We will see the budget proposals shortly from state officials. Will they show any real leadership and offer serious proposals for change? Will they change the long-term economic incentives which will contribute to economic growth? Or will they dither and make it even more likely that the only solution for RI will be to let it blow up and then pick up the pieces? Bluntly, there is little reason to be optimistic. I hope I am wrong.

Attacking the Wise for the Sake of the Fools

Justin Katz

The immorality of wealth is a notion that has been in the air lately, with the latest example being David Brooks's lamentation of "The Great Seduction" in the New York Times:

The United States has been an affluent nation since its founding. But the country was, by and large, not corrupted by wealth. For centuries, it remained industrious, ambitious and frugal.

Over the past 30 years, much of that has been shredded. The social norms and institutions that encouraged frugality and spending what you earn have been undermined. The institutions that encourage debt and living for the moment have been strengthened. The country's moral guardians are forever looking for decadence out of Hollywood and reality TV. But the most rampant decadence today is financial decadence, the trampling of decent norms about how to use and harness money.

Inasmuch as I believe conscience and social pressure to be ultimately more likely to precipitate the sharing of wealth than political demands (short, perhaps, of violent revolution), frequent and visible criticism of the unproductive amassment of wealth is certainly to be encouraged. Brooks's allocation of blame, however, misses the critical other side of the coin:

The agents of destruction are many. State governments have played a role. They aggressively hawk their lottery products, which some people call a tax on stupidity. Twenty percent of Americans are frequent players, spending about $60 billion a year. The spending is starkly regressive. A household with income under $13,000 spends, on average, $645 a year on lottery tickets, about 9 percent of all income. Aside from the financial toll, the moral toll is comprehensive. Here is the government, the guardian of order, telling people that they don't have to work to build for the future. They can strike it rich for nothing.

Payday lenders have also played a role. They seductively offer fast cash — at absurd interest rates — to 15 million people every month.

Credit card companies have played a role. Instead of targeting the financially astute, who pay off their debts, they've found that they can make money off the young and vulnerable. Fifty-six percent of students in their final year of college carry four or more credit cards.

Congress and the White House have played a role. The nation's leaders have always had an incentive to shove costs for current promises onto the backs of future generations. It's only now become respectable to do so.

Wall Street has played a role. Bill Gates built a socially useful product to make his fortune. But what message do the compensation packages that hedge fund managers get send across the country?

Failing to mention those who've sought the instant gratification facilitated by debt (a group that most definitely includes me) leaves open a frame of mind that greatly contributes to our culture's financial problems. We whom the above listed role-players have affected are taken to be reactive children with no capacity to withdraw our demand in response to the pushed supply. We're "vulnerable."

Brooks lauds Ben Franklin as an archetypal advocate of "hard work, temperance and frugality," so it's conspicuous that his emphasis is so different from the founder, who penned such aphorisms as the following:

Fools make feasts, and wise men eat them. ...

Wise men learn by others' harms, fools scarcely by their own. ...

Get what you can, and what you get hold; ’Tis the stone that will turn all your lead into go.

Well, 'tis better to be wise than to be a fool, so "rather go to bed supperless than rise in debt." To some extent, the steps toward healing our financial culture that Brooks enunciates are determined by his audience, which probably includes more lenders than lower-income borrowers.

What is needed before all else, however, is confirmation of the individual's agency and responsibility, because without a sense of those, we're all just waiting for that winning lottery ticket, heedless of Franklin's suggestion that "diligence is the mother of good luck."

June 10, 2008

Very Unintended Consequences of Michigan's Tax Hikes

Monique Chartier

Ed Achorn points out today that the tax hikes on income and gross business receipts passed by Michigan's Governor and legislature have backfired in a couple of ways.

In a state already battered by the decline of the auto industry, the tax hike left Michigan with an unemployment rate of 6.9 percent, high above the national average of 5 percent. (Rhode Island’s rate is 6.1 percent.) Meanwhile, large numbers of those who can afford to flee are leaving, and the state’s housing prices are declining at the fourth-fastest rate in America. Locals call it “the Detroitification of Michigan.”

Furious taxpayers have gathered enough petition signatures to force a recall election on House Speaker Andy Dillon, one of the chief advocates of the tax hike.

That does not seem a very promising model for Rhode Island to copy.

Achorn correctly points out the step - the first of many needed - that RI House Speaker William Murphy had orchestrated away from Michigan's model and the absurd reaction that it evoked.

He pushed through a reform that would bring Rhode Island’s income taxes on a slow glide path toward parity with the Bay State’s. He won national attention with the move, which helped advertise the Ocean State as trying to get its house in order.

This — an attempt to gradually become competitive with Massachusetts, never mind the country or the world — is what the public-employee unions are denouncing as an outrageous giveaway to the rich.

[Reference/Reminder: Justin's post and handy graphic.]

As we await release of the House Finance Committee's budget tomorrow, Achorn reminds us of the pitfalls of backsliding towards Michigan.

It would be comforting to subscribe to the childlike faith that taxing “the rich” would take care of everything. But, in the real world — as Michigan and Rhode Island have amply demonstrated — it does not work. People will invest their money in other states. They have access to these things called moving vans. They can pack up and leave.

Driving Out the Desirables

Justin Katz

Add this to the list of lists that place Rhode Island on the wrong side:

As of the most recent state report card issued by the National Association for Gifted Children, Rhode Island ranks at the bottom in nearly all categories, earning the state the dubious label of "most in need" with regard to critical indicators of quality gifted-education.

Failing to accommodate those with a higher capacity to learn is yet another way in which the socialist underpinnings of the state create the conditions for rot, with the expectation that talented, productive people will merely stay put while walls are built around them and their quality of life is threatened. Instead of egalitarianism, you get productive people fleeing the state and talented children departing the schools (which drags down scores and adversely affects the learning environment for all children).

Through personal channels, I recently heard the story of a Tiverton middle schooler who's pestering her parents to send her to private school because she's not being challenged. Children only have one opportunity to slide down the educational ramp that determines their momentum for much of their lives. After graduation, it's a much harder slog. In this, as in so many ways, Rhode Island fails its citizens.

Stacking the Healthcare Deck

Justin Katz

The state of Rhode Island likes monopolists, it would seem:

The other condition that Tufts needs to change is a state law that says only health plans that did business in Rhode Island in 2001 can take the health status of members into account in setting rates for small groups. As a result, only Blue Cross and United can increase premiums for groups whose members are less healthy.

Changing that rule ought to be an obvious step.

Readers should note that such regulations — questions of bias in their application aside — are one of the reasons that healthcare costs so much.

When Conservatives Want to Talk

Justin Katz

This comment from Greg, in conversation with Old Time Liberal, is surprising in the degree to which he sets aside incisive surety for a conservative's spin on the mushy milieu of liberal emotivism:

I love to engage in raucous political debate with people from the other side of the fence. In person (Blogs I mostly hate for the obvious reasons). In person you can yell and rant and I can yell back and rant and we can both throw party lines at each other until we're blue in the face.

And once the bloviating is over we can get to the meat of the issues. And more often than not we can come to an agreement on MOST things. I want fewer welfare recipients. You want low-cost tuitions. I say we PAY for four years of schooling and that person gives us back two years of CIVILIAN (military if they want) service and sign off that they aren't eligible for welfare ever. You say ten years. I say twenty. We come to an agreement. It means squat but we're talking. And we're finding solutions we're both happy about or are at least both equally unsatisfied with.

Obama wants this conversation to be happening about everything. He wants to get past the rancor and childish stupidity that has taken over politics in the last 20 years. Can it work? I dunno. But I'll give his way a shot. And if he blows it I'll vote him out in four years. God knows he can't F-it up anymore than Captain Cuckoo-Bananas and his idiot cabal are right now.

I want to be part of that 'new' tone. I'm tired of hating liberals. I'm tired of being hated as a conservative. I want to be an American again and for that to MEAN something.

What have I missed that has so persuaded Greg that Obama truly wants to have such conversations? Oh sure, he wants to be pegged as having such desires. He's got the far-left locked, he's been leveraging identity politics and labor promises to secure the Democrat mainstream, and he and his handlers have been sufficiently shrewd to recognize that much of the Republican base that is fed up with Bush also has never really liked McCain. So they've cooked up this "change you can believe in," "yes we can" drivel, and they've conducted the campaign masterfully. But where is the proof that Obama absorbs the arguments of the other side and adjusts his own positions accordingly?

Greg doesn't seem to care that Obama would shake his hand, thank him for the good conversation, and then go back to his office and expand the size and reach of government in every direction, right down to dictating that small businesses give a certain amount of time for employees to skip out for children's activities. (That's a worthy idea as a benefit, but it isn't the federal government's place offer it on behalf of businesses.)

It seems to me that one of the main things that righties such as Greg (and me) detest about W. is his tendency to listen to the other side so much that he winds up taking their positions half the time. The change that Obama would bring is to make a show of listening, but then to charge hard in the wrong direction. And he'll likely have the benefit of two congressional houses' being controlled by his party.

The Opposition Can Never Win if They Don't Run...

Carroll Andrew Morse

At a Providence City Republican Committee meet-the-candidates-event last evening, Providence GOP Chairman Dave Talan offered a firsthand observation on the importance of the Republican party fielding full slates of candidates, every election cycle…

I like to tell a story from two years ago about my meeting with Representative Stephen Costantino from Federal Hill. On Primary Day in 2006, I was in front of my own voting place, the Reservoir Avenue Fire Station, where they were having a heavily contested Democratic Primary between Representative Tom Slater and two challengers. Rep. Costantino was out in front of my voting place working for Slater because there was no primary in his own district. I was out there passing out fliers for our City Council candidate, Evaristo Rosario, for the November election.

The whole day, I was there with Rep. Costantino. He spent the entire day complaining to me, saying why did you Republicans put up a candidate to run against me. She has no chance of winning, why bother? Now, I have to go out and I have to spend money and I have to campaign. Why are you bothering to do all that?

I felt like telling him, you know Steve, you just answered your own question. And when it came to the November election, I was again in out front of my polling place, but this time, I didn't see Rep. Costantino there, because he was busy in his own neighborhood with an opponent.

That's what we need to do, keep all the incumbents busy. Most incumbents are incredibly paranoid; if they have an opponent, they'll spend all their money on their own race and they won't spend any time at all helping anybody else out in the Democratic Party. They won't be able to gang up on the Republicans in other neighborhoods and districts, like they will if they are without opponents. So anybody who chooses to run as a Republican, even in what would seem to be an unwinnable district, does the party a favor by keeping an incumbent occupied and improving the chances that another Republican in a neighboring district will win, because they'll be fighting on even terms.

Anyone interested in running for a state and local office in Rhode Island has until June 25 to file a declaration of candidacy.

New Tone, Hidden Strategies

Justin Katz

An interesting passage from Steve Peoples's second part to the Projo's series on local unions:

LABOR UNIONS and their allies walk a fine line when it comes to influencing elections. State and federal campaign finance laws have strict limits on what is, and isn't, permissible.

That may be why Ocean State Action is actually made up of three distinct organizations — the Ocean State Action Fund, Ocean State Action and the Progressive Leadership Fund — although their boards have common members and the organizations have the same staff. ...

Federal law does not limit labor's ability to communicate with its own members.

Labor has detailed lists of the names, addresses and contact information for the estimated 75,000 union members in Rhode Island. Union canvassers can visit the households as many times as they want, send unlimited mailing or make unlimited phone calls.

It isn't my purpose, here, to spark a discussion of any of the laws involved in making this dizzying accountant's dream legal. Rather, I'm curious how folks believe this comprehensive lobbying strategy fits in with some related positions in the economic platform put forward by Mr. Barack "New Tone, Stop the Special Interests" Obama, such as fighting to ensure the "freedom to unionize" and working "to ban the permanent replacement of striking workers, so workers can stand up for themselves without worrying about losing their livelihoods." There's also some overlap in his vision of "comprehensive energy independence and climate change plan" and, say, the Green Jobs Alliance.

There's an ecologically sound bridge that Mr. Obama would like to sell (via tax dollars) to those who actually believe that he is a creature of compromise heretofore unseen in Washington.

June 9, 2008

Cranston Mayoral Update

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to a Matt Jerzyk post over at RI Future, apparently based on a statement coming from the Councilwoman herself, Paula McFarland is out as a potential Democratic candidate for Mayor of Cranston. Mr. Jerzyk speculates that this clears the way for state Representative Charlene Lima to seek the Democratic Mayoral endorsement.

The Projo's weekly Political Scene column still mentions Councilwoman McFarland as a possibility (I guess it really is a weekly column, pretty obviously filed sometime last Friday, before the RI Future post on Councilwoman McFarland appeared on Saturday) as well as Rep. Lima, Daniel Beardsley of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, and former Cranston City Council Members Cindy Fogarty and Mario Carlino.

Strangely, Political Scene refers to declared Republican candidate Allan Fung only as someone who has "expressed interest" in running for Mayor, lumping Cranston's only formally announced candidate in with the undecideds.

Charter School Offers Freedom for Students and Teachers

Marc Comtois

The ProJo had an excellent piece over the weekend on the Learning Community charter school in Central Falls. It showed the sort of problems faced by today's educators in an urban community and also highlighted the sort of innovative thinking it takes to get results. And that's all that most parents want: results. If the current system were working, I suspect most of us would be satisfied with the current industrial education model. But it isn't working and throwing more money to fund the same broken system isn't the answer.

“I can tell you what the difference is between the Learning Community and regular public schools,” says Fran Gallo, superintendent of the Central Falls School Department, who sends administrators and teachers to visit the charter school. “They are child focused while the public system is adult focused. We are not doing our children justice with a system that does not promote who they are and address their needs. At the Learning Community, you see that fully in play every day. Children first. That’s the difference.”
I don't think that the majority of public school teachers actually place themselves ahead of their students, but the system they are working in has evolved to effectively work that way.

That's why charter schools and other non-traditional methods of education (like mayoral academies) need to be expanded in the state. In the case of the Learning Community, it has been more successful--both educationally and fiscally--than nearby public schools:

The school’s budget — a mixture of federal, state, local funds and some private donations — is about $3.7 million a year. Its per-pupil cost is approximately $11,600. That’s far lower than in Providence ($15,000), Central Falls ($14,900) and Pawtucket ($12,800), all of which have more students with severe learning disabilities, who cost more to educate.

The Learning Community outperformed those three districts on the latest round of state testing, with 59 percent proficient in reading and 54 percent in math.

Besides helping the individuals enrolled in those types of schools--and probably more importantly--these schools develop new and successful methods that can be evaluated to determine if they are transferable to our public school system. Yet, there are still those systemic barriers in our public school system that don't allow that sort of private-to-public feedback loop to function.

But it doesn't have to be that way. In a related story, teachers at the Learning Community explain the difference:

Kate Smith came to the Learning Community two years ago, after having worked in traditional public schools in Newport and Washington, D.C.

A relatively new teacher, she says the Central Falls charter school immediately felt different to her.... “There’s a lot more freedom in terms of what you can teach, and you work with a lot of passionate educators,” Smith, 27, says. “It’s also a lot of work, but in a good way....I feel like every single teacher here works as hard as the next person.”

...Smith says the biggest difference she’s found at the charter school is how seriously teachers’ concerns are taken and how quickly the small school is able to respond.

“There is so much freedom in the curriculum,” she says. “When you walk into a regular public school, you are given the curriculum the school uses whether you like it or not. Here, we design our curriculum, taking into account the state standards.”

Smith isn't unique among teachers, whether they teach in private, public or charter schools. But she is allowed to implement innovation at the classroom level and can throw out a "plan" if it doesn't work. It is that sort of flexibility and "buy-in" that we need to encourage--and allow--in our public schools. But we need to be willing to make the fundamental change required to do so.

The Demographics of Joblessness

Justin Katz

It would seem that there's something cultural about young-adult joblessness:

Much of the spike in unemployment was caused by an unusually large surge of teenagers and people in their 20s into the labor force. And those young workers had little success finding work. The jobless rate among 16- to 19-year-olds rose to 18.7 percent from 15.4 percent in April. Retailers, who employ a large number of unskilled teenagers during the summer, cut 27,000 positions in the month.

Rising unemployment, however, spread well beyond young people. The jobless rate rose among almost every other group -- men, women, blacks and whites. The rate was unchanged among Latinos.

This recent article on H-2B visas comes to mind:

Several factors make recruiting American workers for seasonal jobs difficult, Venturini said. Some people just don't want to clean dirty rooms, she said, plus the jobs are temporary and often require working weekends and holidays. ...

As for college students, they are increasingly more interested in internships or jobs that will directly enhance their career prospects. And with Newport and Block Island trying to create "shoulder seasons" before Memorial Day and after Labor Day, college students are often not available when employers need them. ...

"We would love to hire American workers, and not have to deal with housing, airline tickets, fees. As a business, why would you go through all this unless you had to?" said the Hotel Viking's O'Donnell. "We're a hotel, first and foremost. We need clean rooms. We need to have skilled housekeepers."

In the fashion after which issues tumble and blend, some cultural readjustment may result from and alleviate economic hardship. (Maybe.)

Jon Scott to Run Against Patrick Kennedy

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Ocean State Republican is reporting that Jon Scott will run for Congress against Patrick Kennedy in Rhode Island's first Congressional district this cycle...

Jon decided to gear up for a follow-up run for United States Congress (District 1), against Rep. Patrick “Patches” Kennedy. He is planning a very serious campaign which we are pleased to know will catch many completely off guard (esp. Patches). On Sunday afternoon, Jon received the overwhelming endorsement of the Rhode Island Republican Party Nominating Committee...for his candidacy for United States House of Representatives. The RIGOP State Central Committee as a whole will vote on that endorsement at its state convention on Thursday evening.

Thomas C. Wigand: Bob Walsh's Risky Scheme

Engaged Citizen

According to the Providence Journal, Bob Walsh of NEARI has been prowling the halls of the General Assembly peddling a "plan" to solve this year's budget deficit. His protégé Pat Crowley has posted a version of it on the left-leaning RI Future blog. Though his proposal is coated in sugary language, should the General Assembly swallow it, it will indeed be a bitter pill for Rhode Island ... perhaps even economically fatal.

We all remember the "tobacco money." What Walsh proposes resembles that, in that he wants to divest the State of a future revenue stream in return for some quick cash, but his version is far worse, and will cause irreparable damage to Rhode Island.

The tobacco money is essentially "found money," indeed a windfall, and is going to be paid out for decades to come. But Rhode Island isn't going to get a penny. Why? Because the General Assembly went to Wall Street and sold Rhode Island's future income stream at a discount in return for some quick cash. Essentially this was a humungous, public sector "payday loan." So the tobacco money — "the profit" — is now all going to Wall Street investors. As we also know, within a few short years the General Assembly peed away that cash infusion. As shortsighted and irresponsible as that transaction was, it at least infused some new cash into Rhode Island's coffers. Walsh's scheme doesn't even do that — quite the opposite.

Euphemistically using the term "contribute equity" as a proxy for "transferring ownership," Walsh portrays his game as, in essence, placing a fallow state asset into productive use. In reality, what he is proposing is the piecemeal transfer of ownership of the Lottery to the state's pension system (and so, by extension, to the unions). He claims that this will only be a temporary measure, "contributing" only small percentages of "equity" (i.e., ownership) to the state pension system for a few years. If you believe that, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you (and I'm not talking the Pell Bridge). Exhibit 1: the tobacco money. Once the precedent is set, this "camel's nose" will continue sliding under our fiscal tent until the pension system (and thus the unions) own a major portion of the Lottery, if not all of it.

While these "equity contributions" are being presented as a temporary measure to get us through the "budget crisis" until the economy recovers, the transfer is permanent — the pension system (and thus the unions) will be getting those Lottery revenues forever. The tobacco money now being paid to the Wall Street investors has an eventual end date, while under Walsh's scheme to direct revenues to the pension/unions continues in perpetuity — a clever gambit on Mr. Walsh's part, eh?

Each percentage of "equity contributed" to the pension system means that an equal percentage of Lottery revenue will now go into the pension system, meaning that taxpayers will have to make up the shortfall in the general budget. Given that Lottery revenues constitute something like a third of total State revenues, this could eventually mean a 30% tax hike foisted upon the taxpayers of Rhode Island - merely to maintain the status quo in the state pension system. In other words, Walsh's scheme is a backdoor way of enacting a huge tax increase to force taxpayers to fund a bailout the State pension system.

Mr. Walsh is executive director of NEARI, and his job is to forcefully represent the narrow special interests of that organization (and, to the detriment of taxpayers and public-school students, he seems to perform his duties quite ably). So in promoting this scheme, "he's just doing his job." But ultimately it is unreasonable, indeed unconscionable, for public-sector employees to demand that taxpayers incur massive additional taxes just to maintain the status quo of the pension system, the benefits of which exceed by orders of magnitude the retirement benefits available to taxpayers (the vast majority of whom will get no pension whatsoever).

One would assume that Governor Carcieri will likewise "do his job," representing all of the people Rhode Island, and refuse to be party to such a scheme. It is likewise time for the General Assembly to begin "doing its job," representing the best interests of all the citizens of Rhode Island, not just placating narrow special interests.

We are at a watershed time in Rhode Island. In recent decades the General Assembly has become addicted to a tax-and-spend and pander lifestyle, a habit maintained in recent years through "fixes" such as the tobacco money. The consequences become ever clearer: a state economy whose performance lags both its neighbors and national averages, to the detriment of each and every citizen ... a downward spiral that will continue unless major structural changes occur to state government and the pay and benefit packages of all public sector employees.

The General Assembly has a decision to make. Either it can start "rehab" and set Rhode Island on a path for fiscal and economic rehabilitation ... or it can accept the new even more destructive "high" being pushed by dealer Bob Walsh.

Will the cessation of tobacco money signal the start of rehab, or will it prove that the tobacco money was just a "gateway drug" for even more destructive fiscal behavior on the part of the General Assembly? We shall soon see. The economic fate of Rhode Island hangs in the balance.

June 8, 2008

Attacking McCain

Marc Comtois

First, they made fun of the teeth that replaced the ones that got knocked out when Sen. John McCain was a POW (and local bloggers parroted the post and the snark, incidentally). Then they questioned (h/t) his military pension, because, well, he only got tortured--he didn't really suffer a permanent disability--and he's rich, too. But, then again, we also have a local columnist, Bob Kerr, using a WWII vet as cover to question whether or not Senator John McCain actually did suffer a long term disability: psychological damage in the form of post traumatic stress syndrome.

Kerr's piece contains the story of a local WWII vet who "worries" that his own experience with PTSD is projectable onto Senator McCain. It's a bit of conjecture attempting to equate the experience of one particular individual with that of another in an attempt to call into question the mental stability of a Presidential candidate. I'm sure that the fact that Kerr is going to vote against Senator McCain (no one doubts that, right?) isn't a factor at all. But Kerr tries to get cute at the end:

Perhaps there is no need for worry. Perhaps John McCain made a clean break with his prison experience and suffers no lingering effects. But the question is a legitimate one that will eventually have to be dealt with.
Gee, isn't that clever. So the presumption Kerr is operating under ("Perhaps...") is that McCain is kooky because of his experience in Vietnam and it's up to the good Senator to prove otherwise. Dress it up however you like, Mr.Kerr, it's still a low blow. You can disagree with McCain's politics (much of which I do, incidentally) without calling his psychological stability into question. Nothing in his political past has indicated that PTSD is a factor. Kerr tried to play it cute, but only succeeded in classing himself alongside the characters who made fun of Senator McCain's teeth and think his military pension should be means-tested, or something. Hope he enjoys the company.

Thank You, Erin Blackman!

Justin Katz

Much of the criticism (and all of the hatemail) related to my op-ed regarding Lt. Michael Morse and unionization in RI has only served to exacerbate my reservations. Namely, when I say "unionization," they hear "firefighters." When I say, "I've concluded that public-sector unionization is among the villains in Rhode Island," they hear, "you get paid too much."

The bottom line is that, every time I've made a complaint about public-sector unions, even if my target is, say, the National Education Association, the firefighters step forward as poster children for the union cause. Consider the picture associated with Charles Bakst's latest column. Or better yet, consider the comment section to this post in which Michael links to my op-ed:

The worry I have is, don't they feel all you out there that provide this valuable service are deserving of every penny you earn? It angers me when people begin to look at the rescuers and search for ways to help the community money pot by asking the rescuers to sacrifice for the common good, because sacrifice they do already (you do).

The problem is that, as long as there's a unified union front, it's impossible to assess firefighters distinctly from the rest. As long as public safety officers stand shoulder to shoulder with social workers under the union banner, they force reformists to battle them in order to battle the unions.

And into this wrangle, in which the sides have worn veritable trenches beneath their feet as they've stood their immovable ground, comes Erin Blackman, who is currently working on a documentary about the Providence Fire Department, writing to the above-linked post on Michael's blog:

... unions would not be an issue if the friggin' cities and the state would quit paying ridiculous salaries to file clerks, data entry clerks and janitors and start paying firefighters, cops and correctional officers for keeping us safe every day.

You'll note that one rarely hears the office-chair jockeys in the public sector stepping forward to defend the necessity of union practices. Indeed, it seems increasingly that, as public school teachers tumble through the boundaries of reasonable action that they've been pushing for years, the emergency workers are slipping toward the spotlight to be the Face of the Union.

Yeah, it gets our hackles up when union business begins to overlap with the business of protecting citizens. But it would serve both the public and the emergency workers for such actions to be seen as distinguishable from the rest of the rotten mess in this state.

The Enemy's Org Chart

Justin Katz

Today's Providence Journal article on organized labor in the state is must-reading. This passage is particularly telling:

But organized labor also has a strong voice in discussions about over health-care cuts for the poor, reduced benefits for foster children, environmental causes like such as recycling, and even gay marriage.

Rhode Island unions have formed unique partnerships with a host of seemingly unrelated environmental and social advocacy groups. Through this, relatively weak organizations gain a stronger voice in state affairs. And In exchange, labor unions strengthen political alliances, expand their bank of volunteers that help elect pro-labor candidates, and improve their image.

Anybody find it curious that all of labor leaders' efforts to "improve their image" (their excuse to members for their unrelated activities, no doubt) have a leftward tilt?


I think the heat is embellishing my need for a vacation (or maybe just a full night's sleep). I'd misread the table on which I commented earlier, so I've deleted the chart. There's still a more subtle point to make, but it'll have to wait on a bit of yard work.

Re: Ignoring a Force of Market

Monique Chartier

The subject of Justin's post is so off base, it has me speechless. (... though not altogether, it would appear.)

This legislation would introduce the seriously misguided concept of, as Rep John Loughlin (R) phrased it on the Matt Allen Show, paying National Grid a 3% commission on "clean" energy purchased, a commission that is to come, inexplicably, out of ratepayers' pockets. Savings to the consumer down the road are projected but not guaranteed.

So, “the only thing we know for sure is that it is going to mean more money on that electric bill?” Loughlin asked. “In the short-term there might be a small increase,” [House Majority Leader] Fox repeated. But, “in the long-term, cost savings are indicated as well as savings to our lives in terms of greenhouse emissions and global warming …”

So in addition, the entire premise of the bill is folly. Only one piece of information - the amount of man's contribution to greenhouse gases - is required to understand that if man is causing global warming, draconian measures would have to be implemented to reverse the effect. Such measures would require the participation of all countries, including those who have openly or effectively signalled a balk (hello, Russia and China) and would have to be on the scale of the complete sidelining of our cars and trucks PLUS one or more of the following: reduction by at least 75% of meat consumption, shut down of electricity generating plants ... and, actually, that should about do it because that last item stops a lot of other "problematic" activity.

Even if this enormous sacrifice is somehow achieved, there is no guarantee that global warming would be stopped because no one has conclusively ruled out the sun as the real cause. In short, the only effect of offering an unwarranted 3% gratuity to an energy provider out of the pocket of the hapless and unwilling public is the creation of a warm, fuzzy and completely false sense that one is accomplishing something.

Further, in the ProJo article, Majority Leader Fox refers to "direction", as though this bill were a new approach. It is actually the same ineffectual approach that Rhode Island state government has taken for decades - have everyone cough up more money. In point of fact, the number of "feasible" alternative energy sources is endless if feasibility is achieved by sticking a gun to everyone's head and making them kick in from a (non-existent) bottomless wallet.

I have the same hearty dislike of "big oil" as everyone else. If I could put them out of business by creating that magical cheap, clean alternate energy source with a snap of my fingers, I would do so, in a heartbeat. At the same time, I have developed a reluctant, resentful defensiveness of fossil fuels as an energy source, a defensiveness spurred mainly by the brainless, dreamy, unrealistic approach that some of our elected officials have taken to this serious problem. Justin's point about market forces is a good one. Well-intentioned elected and public officials who have obstinantly disregarded such forces in simultaneously refusing to tap our own resources, thereby driving up the cost of our primary energy source, while contemplating forced public funding of expensive alternative energy can only leave us impoverished and in the dark.

By all means, let us continue to search for that alternative energy source. But please look elsewhere for funding than our wallets, which are woefully inadequate to such a large project. And while we are searching, start drilling and building refineries. Rather than making us less oil or energy dependent, the only effect to date of refraining from these activities has been the bestowal of record profits on big oil.

June 7, 2008

Does Hillary as VP Satisfy Her Supporters?

Monique Chartier

Following upon the face to face meeting of Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton yesterday at the house of Senator Dianne Feinstein (about which no details have yet emerged), the question now for all of Senator Clinton's supporters who are disappointed with her finish in the primary to the point that they have decided not to vote for the Democrat candidate in November:

Would you reconsider that stance if she were on the ticket as the vice presidential candidate? While it is not the presidential position, would it be enough that she is on the ticket and, if elected, that she would presumably have a say in formulating policy across the board as well as in selecting nominees for the Supreme Court, US Attorneys, etc?

The Knuckle-Bumping Messiah

Justin Katz

Perhaps it's because I'm a populist or an elitist (pick one), but I find images of Barack and Michelle (Bachelle?) fist-bumping nauseating. The statement that I read in it — albeit, between the lines — is "if we do this, people will think we're regular folk, just like them." And why should this well-to-do, upper-crust, non-entertainment-industry couple get away with it? Well, because their skin is dark.

No doubt, plenty of "regular Americans" scarcely noticed when the silver spoons fell from their lips as they swooned at the gesture. (No doubt, some will take my reaction as an excuse to wallow in their moral superiority to a rubic carpenter with a "my use of cool words is bigger than yours" style, as a recent hate-email characterized my vocabulary.) I've yet to find the story in print, but I wouldn't be surprised if the impact of myriad dunces falling for the script registered on the Richter scale.

I'm with Mark Steyn in this sentiment:

Speaking personally, I don't want to remake America. I'm an immigrant and one reason I came here is because most of the rest of the western world remade itself along the lines Sen. Obama has in mind. This is pretty much the end of the line for me. If he remakes America, there's nowhere for me to go — although presumably once he's lowered sea levels around the planet there should be a few new atolls popping up here and there.

Naval War College Policy Re Faculty Pubs

Mac Owens

I have been so busy recently that I have not done any blogging for Anchor Rising. I thank Justin for posting something about my recent pieces on energy in the ProJo and the Wall Street Journal.

Justin's post elicited a response from "Ken" concerning the way in which I am identified and the fact that there is no disclaimer to the effect that my opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Naval War College, the Department of the Navy, or the Defense Department. I have been writing pieces for various publications since I arrived in Newport 21 years ago. Although not everyone has been thrilled by my views, the War College's policy has been that my pieces are covered by the principle of academic freedom.

The first time I wrote for the Wall Street Journal several years ago, I added a disclaimer. But the policy of the WSJ was not to publish disclaimers. When I asked why, the editor said, "well, no one is going to confuse you with the secretary of defense."

During the administration of Bush 41, some brainiac in DoD came up with the bright idea that all pubs by War College faculty should have to be scrubbed for policy. As soon as he got wind of the proposal, Adm. Joe Strasser, then the NWC president, got on a plane to DC. He made the simple point that if DoD wanted to ensure a fifth-rate War College faculty, this policy would achieve that goal. The proposal was withdrawn.

Capitalizing The Lot

Monique Chartier

Under Marc's post "Lima Gives some budget hints", commenter Ken says:

there appears to be a proposal made by NEA Walsh to GA to sell RI Lottery gaming futures netting a supposed ESTIMATED $4-4.4 billion

This idea is a complete non-starter.

First and principally, it is the end of the line when an entity, government or otherwise, begins selling fixed assets to pay for recurring operating expenses - in this case, pension contributions. Whether or not such pensions were too generous to begin with is a separate issue. In point of fact, the elected officials who promised these pensions needed to properly fund them over the last decades. They failed to do so.

Secondly, to address such a failure by selling fixed assets is completely unacceptable - simply as a principle as outlined above - and because if such a practice is intiated, there will be no end. Elected officials lacking the will to properly structure a budget or, as appears now to be necessary, to restructure existing contracts, will capitalize and then sell the entire state out from under us in a matter of years.

Think I'm exaggerating? How long did it take the General Assembly to capitalize and then blow through the tobacco settlement?

Capitalization, especially of assets which do not belong to you, is so easy and convenient. It is also a very bad method indeed of addressing a gap in an operating budget.

June 6, 2008

RIILE Shut out of Governor's Immigration Advisory Group

Marc Comtois

Terry Gorman of RIILE (Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement) was on Dan Yorke's show this afternoon and explained that neither he nor any RIILE members have been invited to participate on the Governor's 27 member Immigration Advisory panel (no documentation or press release yet). According to Gorman, he had gotten the impression that he was on the panel and had even been asked to recommend a few people.

According to ProJo, "[t]he group includes members from religious communities, community agencies, government, law enforcement and business." Gorman has seen the list and told Yorke that, with the exception of a few members of State law enforcement, the makeup of the panel looks like the membership of a pro-amnesty advocate group. I wouldn't go that far, but you get the point.

For his part,Yorke thinks it's a mistake by the Governor to exclude representatives from RIILE, who have been at the forefront of the debate in RI. So do I. If you're going to approach this issue holistically, and if you're going to include proponents of amnesty in the group, then shouldn't you balance them with those opposed? Heck, the Tax Policy Strategy Workgroup includes people from all over the political and ideological spectrum. Why not do the same for the Immigration panel? Here's the list:

From the religious community are: Bishop Thomas Tobin, head of the Diocese of Providence; Rabbi Alan Flam of the Rhode Island Board of Rabbis; Rev. Donald Anderson of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches; Rev. Eliseo Nogueras of the Hispanic Ministerial Alliance; Rev. Jeff Williams of Cathedral of Life Christian Assembly; Rev. William L. Shaw of the Ministers Alliance of Rhode Island, and Rev. James T. Ruggieri of St. Patrick Church of Providence.

Representing community agencies are: Adeola Oredola of Youth In Action, Pheamo Witcher of Genesis Center, Toby Ayers of Rhode Island for Community and Justice, Bruno Sukys of International Institute -Feinstein Center, and Merrill R. Thomas of Providence Community Health Centers.

From government are: Patricia Martinez of the state Department of Children Youth and Families, Vanessa Cooley of the state Department of Education, Carrie Bridges of the State Department of Health, Elvys Ruiz of the state Department of Human Services, Yvon Chancy of the Governor’s Office of Community Relations, retired Rear Admiral Joseph Strausser -- who will serve as the advisory panel co-chairman -- and Deborah A. Smith of the Governor’s Office of External Affairs. Smith will serve as panel vice-chairwoman.

From law enforcement are Major Stephen O’Donnell of the State Police, Col. Stephen McCartney of the Rhode Island Association of Police Chiefs, Magdalena Picot of the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, and Cpl. Wilfred K. Hill of the State Police.

Representing the business community are John Gregory of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, Keith Stokes of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce, Elissa O’Brien of the Human Resources Management Association of RI, and John Gregory of the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.

Cicilline & Bevilacqua Cop a Plea

Marc Comtois

It's kinda big news when the brother of the Mayor of Providence pleads guilty to corruption, no?

Lawyers John M. Cicilline, the brother of Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline, and Joseph A. Bevilacqua Jr. pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston this morning along with former legal assistant Lisa Torres to charges involving a $150,000 scheme to shake down drug dealers to manipulate the criminal-justice system.

Cicilline pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, one count of obstruction of justice and two counts of making false statements to federal authorities.

The indictment charged that the lawyers conspired with legal assistants [Juan A.] Giraldo and Torres to provide the authorities with information about other drug dealers, which would then be used to bargain for more lenient sentences for their clients.

In return, the indictment said, a husband and wife whom Cicilline and Bevilacqua defended in a federal drug and money-laundering case in Boston, John and Jacqueline Mendonca, allegedly paid them $115,000 between late 2002 and early 2004. The indictment says that the remaining $35,000 sought was never paid.

Ignoring a Force of Market

Justin Katz

Here's a statement that I've read multiple times with reference to "alternative energy", specifically the bills to provide incentive to National Grid to buy it that have just passed the RI House:

Matt Auten of the advocacy group Environment Rhode Island denied that renewable energy would drive up electricity costs, describing the bill instead as a "prudent response to skyrocketing prices for electricity [and natural gas] because it will lock in a fixed price not tied to polluting fossil fuels for a portion of Rhode Island’s electric needs."

What am I missing in the provision of "alternative energy" that makes it free from market forces? As far as I can tell — letting legislators mandate what they will — the price of any energy will ultimately be "tied" to non-alternative energy prices, among other things. (One can foresee future conversations about the lack of wind in a given year.)

And that doesn't take into consideration the side effects of solidifying National Grid as a state monopoly through mandates and regulations.

An Interesting Definition of Pushing

Justin Katz

One must read carefully before taking or rejecting the claims of such studies vociferously, but there's a general point that can be extracted from news about a slowing down of the decrease of sexual activity among teens:

The latest figures renewed the heated debate about sex-education classes that focus on abstinence until marriage, which began receiving federal funding during the period covered by the latest survey.

"Since we've started pushing abstinence, we have seen no change in the numbers on sexual activity," said John Santelli, chairman of the Department of Population and Family Health at Columbia University.

Whether or not the reporter's calls for comment are what triggered the "heated debate," it seems to me that Professor Santelli's presumes too much. To wit, by what measure are we "pushing abstinence"? A handful of programs are available, mainly through churches and social organizations (rather than, say, public schools), and all of the accounts that I've read have described programs of limited duration — a few hours over the course of a semester or so.

Santelli's claim is a bit like the protestations of a man who fears bathing that a little bit of soap spilled on his toe didn't make him clean.

Budget Drops Next Week

Marc Comtois

Steve Peoples (like the rest of us) is looking for hints concerning the makeup of the Budget that will be revealed next week. Here's the quick version of Peoples' report. House Finance Committee Chairman Steven M. Costantino doesn't want to go the one-time fix route, but isn't going to shut the door completely. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Stephen D. Alves is focusing on the social welfare programs and is ringing the warning bell to cities and towns that they may be getting less aid. He is also open to one-time fixes. Both he and Constantino had heard of one such idea, Bob Walsh's "Leverage the Lottery" plan, but weren't ready to commit.

The AFL-CIO's George Nee indicated he's involved in negotiations with the Governor and Legislature. "It’s safe to say that we’re involved in what would be called concession bargaining. Obviously there’s going to be some pain felt by the work force, in addition to what’s already happened.” Furlough days and health care co-shares seem to be on the table. On the other hand, RI Fed of Teacher and Health Pros president Marcia Reback sent a letter fighting for the status quo.

On the tax front, it looks like no hikes are planned (yet) but no further/planned cuts are in the offing.

Perhaps Alves provided the most pragmatic comment. “We’re all grappling with the budget. For the most part, there’s not too much to disagree on because revenues are leading the budget debate.”

Not sure I'm that confident.

Gettin' While the Gettin's Good

Justin Katz

Perchance this is the news for which I'd been told to watch:

At least three of Tiverton's seven Town Council members won't be seeking re-election in the fall, and one of them, John Edwards, is "seriously considering" running for the state representative seat that is expected to be vacated by District 70 Rep. Joseph N. Amaral, R-Tiverton.

"I'm going to seek a seat on the state level so I can continue to serve the residents of Tiverton," Edwards said.

Although citizens might not know it because Tiverton's local elections are (ahem) "non-partisan," Edwards is a Democrat.

An overwhelmingly busy and unwealthy blogger can only hope that some of the several hundred people who voted against the budget "compromise" and stormed out of the high school gymnasium last week will run for the open slots.

Lest we Forget

Marc Comtois

Today is D-Day

Think of the courage it took for the men in the picture above to face what they did. Thank God they did.

June 5, 2008

Memories & Reflections

Donald B. Hawthorne

Today is a day full of sad memories, offering an opportunity to reflect on what once was and what it teaches us today.

It was 40 years ago today that Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles, the night he won the California Democratic Party primary. I lived in Southern California at that time and recall turning on the radio the next morning to hear who had won the race...only to hear the awful news. It was a dark time in America, occurring only two months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ronald Reagan was governor of California on that fateful night in June and Paul Kengor comments on the grace in Reagan's response to that horrible moment...and his calling out of the linkage to the real enemy at that time, communism.

Today is also the 4th anniversary of Reagan's death. His once-estranged daughter, Patti Davis, has written these words about her father:

...the fourth anniversary of my father's death. For anyone who has lost a loved one, those anniversaries are both sad and sweet. The sadness is obvious—you don't stop missing the person who has gone; you don't stop wishing you'd had one more year, one more day. The sweetness sneaks up on you. It comes in the form of memories, some of them long buried. But mostly it comes with the realization that nothing ever dismantled the love between you, even though many things seemed to along the way.

At this time of year in California, the jacaranda trees are blooming. On some streets, there is a canopy of purple above and a blanket of purple blossoms on the pavement below. Jasmine is also blooming; the soft perfume lingers in the air. If I didn't have a calendar, I would still know that this anniversary was upon us. Jacaranda and jasmine will always be the background palette of that time.

As similar as my experience is to anyone else's who has lost a parent, it is also different because my family lived in the public eye. Because the country grieved along with us when my father died...

It seems valuable, I think, in these thorny political times, to remember why so many people mourned so deeply when Ronald Reagan died. It had nothing to do with politics, but rather with the quality of his character. It had to do with his goodness, his dignity—qualities that we as a nation are hungry for. We know we need leadership, but we also know we need compassion. We're sick to death of meanness and sniping, yet we've also grown accustomed to it.

My father would be perplexed by the overabundance of meanness in the political field. And he would be deeply saddened by it. His wish, I think, would be that we as a country turn our backs on the vitriol that has become too commonplace and demand that the "race" for president become a dignified one, as archaic as that may sound these days.

A friend who recently lost her mother said to me, "Death distills everything." It's true. I, like many people, live with regrets that will never lessen—the times I lashed out at my father, refused to appreciate him or consider his feelings, his point of view. I envy those who can say after a parent's death that they don't have remorse—I just don't know too many people like that.

But regrets can lead you to a profound awareness of what's important, what's meaningful. Since I do share my father with America and with the world, how he lived his life—not just as a politician, but as a man—has resonance for all of us.

He believed that words can wound, that even in the harsh, muckraking world of politics, it simply isn't right to insult another person. He believed that this country's greatness came from its collective heart, from its history of being a "melting pot" and that the dark passages of our history came when we lost sight of our own heart. He had no tolerance for racism. He was raised in a home where people were never judged by the color of their skin. He was raised in a home where everyone was considered a child of God, and he carried that belief with him throughout his life.

Politics aside, I think most Americans long for those qualities in a president, particularly in these uncertain times.

When we were in Washington, D.C., for my father's service, I was taken on a tour of the White House. I hadn't been there since he was president, and in those years I couldn't appreciate it--I was too blinded by my own saga of being a very reluctant First Daughter.

But four years ago, in June, I finally understood the reverence my father felt for that building—for its history, its memories, its significance. To walk through the White House and really absorb the environment is to remember that this country was founded on the idea of respect for life, truth and freedom. It was also founded out of rebellion, but that did not diminish the dignity the Founding Fathers brought to the task.

My father's dignity didn't die four years ago, and neither did our longing for it. The anniversary of his death may best be marked by reflecting on how he lived his life.

Julie Ponzi reflects on the philosophical conflict within some of Patti Davis' words:

His daughter, Patti Davis, reflects upon the man who was her father and why, after all the struggle and heartache, she could not help but love him. I think it is always wise to listen to the reflections of a daughter upon the character of her father. For one thing, there are few people in this life who have more of an interest in understanding the character of a man than his daughter. So she's been at the job for a long time, had better access to him and--though she admits to willful misunderstanding in the past--seems to be coming to a deeper, better, and more mature understanding of him now. Of course, there is a temptation on her part to wish to see him rediscovered as the ultimate and true liberal in her understanding of the term. If we're using a small "l," I think I'd give her that. She's right that the man she knew could not possibly be the caricature painted by his political enemies--the racist and the heartless man they said he was. But you can see from this piece that she is still struggling to circle the square--to make his politics fit with the character of the man she loved. They do . . . but she doesn't quite see how, so instead she dismisses them and talks instead of attitudes in politics and graciousness and demeanor and just "being nice." It's a start.

Of course, in America, being a true "liberal" means you're actually a conservative. What is it that we're trying to conserve, after all? We are trying to conserve the ideas of Revolution . . . and it's no accident that people talked of a "Reagan Revolution." Perhaps one day Patti will come to see that as well. And perhaps not. No matter. She gives us a beautiful reflection on the soul of the man and, though (perhaps) she misses the larger picture, she is not wrong about his good nature and his inability to be "mean." We do miss that. We ought, always, to do our best to imitate it and so honor the man who deserves our admiration and respect. Rest in peace, Ronald Reagan.

Four years ago, at the time of his death, Davis also wrote some touching words about her father - presented in the Extended Entry below - which, by comparison, show how her own feelings have evolved and deepened with time.

Davis' poignant reflections remind us how human relationships are like marathons, not sprints, where the underlying goodness in a human being, if practiced with constancy and love, can shine through and win the day over time...no matter how many obstacles exist in the near-term.

RIP, Robert Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.

Patti Davis in 2004:

...My father was always more accessible when he was teaching his children through stories.

Thirty-five years later, I would walk beside him along the beach, after he had already begun slipping into the shadows of Alzheimer's. A dark thief, it steals portions of a person, leaves remnants behind. He looked up at a flock of seagulls soaring overhead and his eyes followed them, shining with something I couldn't decipher, but which I interpreted as longing.

The years between those two events were often war-torn, weighed down with sorrow--with words he found difficult to say and words I wish I'd never said.

My father was a shy man; he wasn't demonstrative with his children. His affection didn't announce itself with strong embraces of dramatic declaration. We had to interpret it. Like delicate calligraphy, it required patience and a keen eye, attributes I had to acquire. I was not born with them.

Eventually, I grew beyond the girl who wanted more from her father than he was able to give. I began to focus on the gifts he gave me. He taught me to talk to God, to read the stars, respect the cycles of nature. I am a strong swimmer and a decent horsewoman because of him. I plucked from the years the shiniest memories, strung them together. It's what you do with someone who is always a bit out of reach. You content yourself with moments; you gather them, treasure them. They are the gemstones of the years you shared.

I returned to my family, the prodigal child, in October 1994, two months before my father disclosed to the world that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. It's been reported that his disease brought us back together. That's not quite true--it happened earlier, when my mother and I laid down the armaments of our long dispiriting war, allowing the rest of the family to breathe easier, drift toward one another. But the chronology doesn't really matter; the coming together does. I returned in time to say goodbye to my father, to witness his steady withdrawal from this world.

Losing a parent is an experience that has no comparison. Like childbirth, it exists beyond the realm of language: our words strive, but never completely describe it. At first, grief carries you out like a tide to an ending you always knew would come, but couldn't possibly be prepared for. With a long, relentless illness like Alzheimer's, you remember every detail of the journey, every slow mile you traveled.

Hope dies along the way--the hope that things will someday change between you and your parent; you'll be less hesitant, perhaps, with each other, more open. During the last couple of years, I would sit beside my father, silence floating between us, knowing that we would never be any more to each other than we were right then.

I don't know whether the loss is easier or harder if a parent is famous; maybe it's neither. My father belonged to the country. I resented the country at times for its demands on him, its ownership of him. America was the important child in the family, the one who got the most attention. It's strange, but now I find comfort in sharing him with an entire nation. There is some solace in knowing that others were also mystified by him; his elusiveness was endearing, but puzzling. He left all of us with the same question: who was he? People ask me to unravel him for them, as if I have secrets I haven't shared. But I have none, nothing that you don't already know. He was a man guided by internal faith. He knew our time on this earth is brief, yet he cared deeply about making his time here count. He was comfortable in his own skin. A disarmingly sunny man, he remained partially in shadow; no one ever saw all of him. It took me nearly four decades to allow my father his shadows, his reserve, to sit silently with him and not clamor for something more.

I have learned, over time, that the people who leave us a little bit hungry are the people we remember most vividly. When they are alive, we reach for them; when they die, some part of us follows after them. My father believed in cycles--the wheel of birth, and life, and death, constantly turning. My hand was tiny when he held it in his and led me to a blackened field weeks after a fire had burned part of our ranch. He showed me green shoots peeking out of the ashes. New life. I let go of his hand for too long, pushed it away, before finally grasping it again, trusting that even in his dying, I would find new life.

Toward Universal Healthcare

Justin Katz

In a comment to my recent post about being a doctor in Rhode Island, Old Time Lefty asked (among some insults, statements seeped in common spin, and other junk that I'll ignore):

Health insurance should not be joined to employment. It should be a right. If it’s not a right, do you think it’s a worthwhile endeavor to establish program or programs to cover them all? What program to do this are you espousing?

I'm always hesitant to assent to calling something "a right" in the presence of left-wingers, because the definition of what a given right might entail is generally more expansive and fluid than I believe to be appropriate. However, I'll express general agreement with the proposition that access to healthcare is a right, mainly in order to draw attention to my disagreement with the proposition that health insurance is a right.

Plainly put, "healthcare" and "health insurance" shouldn't be considered synonymous in this discussion. There's a reason you don't use your auto insurance card every time you get an oil change, buy new seat covers, and have your car detailed. Insurance ought to be bought against that which is rare and harmful, not that which is habitual and foreseeable.

So, with this distinction made, how would I provide everybody with access to healthcare?

The first step would be to end price-raising regulations and mandates. That would include all laws that push health insurance into the employee agreement. (Ask Andrew about ERISA.) It would also include requirements that insurance cover viagra, sex-change operation, and a whole medicine cabinet of more common procedures and drugs. Make it possible, in short, for the average citizen to purchase his or her own catastrophic coverage, for use in such illnesses and injuries as ought to bring one to the emergency room or the life-saving surgeon.

The second step would be to make that insurance mandatory. Once we've agreed upon a bare minimum of coverage (taking into consideration severity as well as cost to the public of uncovered treatment). The price really shouldn't be that much, considering the rarity of the use, and perhaps those who still cannot afford it could be covered under a government-negotiated plan with a private provider.

The third step would be to create health savings accounts for every American, created upon birth or naturalization. Each citizen (or his or her parents) would select a firm to administer the account, with the government's role being mainly in establishing the account number and other minor start-up requirements. (The administration would be more akin to bank practices, as opposed to investment practices.) Over a person's lifetime, the individual, employers, charities, and so on could put money into the individual's account (tax free), and he or she could use it solely for medical expenses, including doctor visits, medicine, perhaps even plastic surgery and other electives.

At a certain age, the money could be withdrawn to enhance retirement income, and the full remaining dollar amount could be bequeathed to others, placed in their accounts.

This is just a summary, with some debatable points and specifics to be added for a full-throated policy discussion, and there are a variety of costs and benefits (notably an increase in pay when employers are no longer "responsible" for insurance costs) to such a program that would require more time than a lunch half-hour provides.

Turnabout Doesn't Feel Like Fair Play

Marc Comtois

Froma Harrop taps into the frustration felt by the Hillary-supportin' womyn out there, such as one Jean B. Grillo:

I am so tired as a white, ultra-liberal, McGovern-voting, civil-rights marching, anti-war fighting, highly educated professional woman who totally supports Hillary Clinton to be attacked and vilified as racist and/or dumb.
Or Shauna Morris:
I am upper-middle class, and I still can’t stand him — and it has nothing to do with race, believe me.
Or this little anecdote:
Tara Wooters, a 39-year-old mother from Portland, Ore., told me that wearing a Hillary sticker around town has become an act of defiance. She recalls one young man telling her, “I’d rather vote for a black man than a menopausal woman.”
Welcome to the "wrong side", ladies.

Letting It Out On Air

Justin Katz

Hear Marc's scream of frustration last night on the Matt Allen show, streamed by clicking here (or download). Really, what can be said about a handful of citizens requesting that their and our taxes to be raised?

June 4, 2008

Graduation Rates even Worse: Time for Some Flexibility

Marc Comtois

The latest "Exhibit A" of the old maxim that there are "lies, damn lies and statistics" comes with news that RI is graduating even fewer seniors out of High School than we thought.

Rhode Island’s high school graduation rate is 19 percentage points lower than previously reported, and at 70.1 percent hovers just under the national average of 70.6 percent, according to a new, more accurate method of tracking students.

Under the old formula, the state Department of Education reported that slightly more than 89 percent of the Class of 2007 had graduated. But, under the new formula, the percentage plummeted.

The new figure means about 3,000 students who should have received diplomas last year dropped out over a four-year period.

State education officials say that the old method for calculating graduation rates counted students who took longer than four years to graduate, while the new method, which is endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and the National Governors Association, does not, resulting in a 6 percentage point increase in the dropout rate.

In addition, many students who left school were previously recorded as “unknown” and were not counted as dropouts. The new system requires those students to be included in the dropout category.

If we didn't have enough reason before, maybe this latest can provide the last bit of impetus to take up Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee's plan and open up those Mayoral Academies (PDF <--read it!)? The bill is in the House (PDF) and Gordon Fox approves, even though the entrenched education establishment in RI (including currently operating charter schools) are opposed to the idea. Who likes competition, right? It's simple, really: to date, the unions and administrators and school boards and politicians haven't seen fit to shake things up within the confines of the current system. Thus, because our education system has become ossified and inflexible, only innovation and something new will see us out of our current straits. If it's REALLY about the children, shouldn't we all be willing to try something new--something that has proven itself in other states--and work together to ensure success? To crib from somewhere....YES WE CAN!

Lima Gives some budget hints

Marc Comtois

Cranston Rep. Charlene Lima was just on John DePetro's show and in a wide-ranging conversation offered up a couple nuggets. First, she admitted that both sides were at fault for not working together to fix the budget mess and chalked it up to "politics." Gee, ya think? She also is hearing that 90% of budget is the Governor's budget. Yeah, but that 10% different could make ALL the difference! Then again, the unions certainly seem to be worried about something, huh?

Group Asks Fox to Raise Our Taxes

Marc Comtois

Dr. David Savitski, a child psychiatrist, was part of a group of East Siders that met with House Majority Leader Gordon Fox to ask that he raise "their" (that would be "our") taxes so that state services to "our most vulnerable citizens" aren't cut. John DePetro--taking a cue from Bob Kerr's column--had Savitski on the air this morning.

The doctor explained that the group was against short-sighted cutting because, they believe, such cuts will result in higher costs in the long-run. He explained that there were other ways to save money, citing inefficiencies in the structure and administration of state government that should be tackled instead of cutting services to people who can't complain. And he agreed with DePetro that groups that have gotten a "good deal from the state" should pony something up.

According to Savitski, Fox related that he couldn't get other State Representatives to go along with substantive structural change and while Savitski also said that we need to look at changing the tax structure--and we rely on the property tax too much--the final impression is unmistakable: Dr. Savitski and his fellow East Siders think the answer is in higher taxes, not cutting in other areas.

No word on whether the group was willing to voluntarily contribute more taxes on their own.


Marc Comtois

John McCain:

I don't seek the presidency on the presumption I'm blessed with such personal greatness that history has anointed me to save my country in its hour of need. I seek the office with the humility of a man who cannot forget my country saved me. I'll reach out my hand to anyone, Republican or Democrat, who will help me change what needs to be changed; fix what needs to be fixed; and give this country a government as capable and good as the people it is supposed to serve.

Barack Obama:

...I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment -- this was the time -- when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves, and our highest ideals.

URI Experts Worried About Fixing the State

Marc Comtois

Dan Yorke had URI Professor Dr. Ed Mazze on yesterday (podcast and related column here), who sketched out how we got in this mess (sub-prime collapse and overall housing problem in RI was the leading cause of recession in the state; 6000 jobs lost since January). Such things contribute to a simultaneous lack of consumer and business confidence in RI's economic future. His colleague, URI Economics Professor Leonard Lardaro has been sounding the warning bells on this too.

Mazze also explained that, since at the end of day its about getting better paying jobs that can lead to higher tax revenue, we are in a bad spot because people, talented people, are leaving the state. So how do we keep them here? Well, stop being one of the highest taxed states, for one.

We also need to get focused on attracting businesses to the state. Mark Higgins, Dean of the College of Business Administration at URI, was recently on A Lively Experiment and emphasized that the State needs to focus on aid to higher education because an educated work force attracts employers, etc. Further, Higgins also noted that we don't have an overall economic strategy and instead rely on ad-hoc incentives to different businesses (like movie studios). The smart thing would be to focus on making the state attractive to a few key industries. Instead, we have a Legislature that wants to immediately spend "new" casino money (from 24 hr gambling) instead of finding a way to strategically invest it.

For his part, Mazze believes that health care and oceanography would be fruitful areas for RI to focus on. The latter makes sense given Bob Ballard's presence at URI and the proximity of Raytheon and other maritime related businesses in our state.

Mazze stated we had to be realistic about size of state and the size of government. There are too many superintendents and fire & police chiefs: top dollar jobs. He thinks a centralized school system and a 5 county system would help. He believes that the Governor has done what he can, but too many cuts, which will result in top level, experienced people leaving to take buyouts, will affect the quality of state government services. Higgins echoes this concern, noting that Democrats haven't taken action and that cuts across the board weaken everything. Further, Higgins agrees that legislators should be asked to sacrifice (health care, pensions) like the private and portions of the public sector already have. (Not sure if he's keen on revoking free tuition for the progeny of college professors, though.)

Mazze is not in favor of raising taxes, but isn't sure if we can get out of this situation without raising taxes. He fully expects to see tax hikes after the November elections. There is simply no other way to raise revenue, shortsighted though it may be. In short, we've lost too many people (taxpayers) and the revenue they generate. Those of us left behind will have to pay more. Of course, we could also demand that we shrink government!

Finally, Mazze said he was "freaking out" because he hears talk from our elected officials, but sees very little action.

June 3, 2008

Exhibit #473 for the Prosecution's Case That the NEA Has Less to Do with Education than Left-Wing Politics

Justin Katz

Yes, that's an organization composed mainly of teachers offering up unimaginative slogans that promote left-wing clichés:

Big Oil Myths

Justin Katz

Mac's series on domestic energy policy continues in today's Providence Journal:

The attack on Big Oil is a witches' brew of old-fashion demagoguery, economic ignorance and an apparent lack of historical perspective. To the degree that this attack is successful in punishing the oil and gas industry, it will ensure that Americans will be worse off in the future.

The Real Must Prevail

Justin Katz

A letter from locally known Tivertonian Richard Joslin in last Wednesday's Sakonnet Times let's slip a mild frame of mind that, when metastasized, generates oppression and tyranny. The implication of positing a "Real Tiverton" (i.e., citizens who would naturally support the town's original budget proposal) is that everybody else can and must be overruled by any means necessary. After all, why ought the citizens who really count be pushed around by interlopers?

Herewith, my letter to the editor in response:

In a letter printed in last week’s Sakonnet Times, Richard Joslin scorns the "tyranny of a small minority" (255 Tiverton voters of 11,000) for rejecting a double-digit increase in property taxes. As we now know, a tyrannical minority of 376 undid that mandate the following week, and presumably Joslin's just fine with THAT example of democracy, inasmuch as he encouraged it. Me, I'm still trying to figure out which of the four groups that Joslin blames for the first result is my proper company.

I'm certainly not a senior citizen on a fixed income, although perhaps Richard could spare some sympathy for thirtysomethings with multiple children and limited dispensable cash. I'm also not among the "fairly wealthy people.”

From a certain perspective, I suppose it would be reasonable to count me among the "extreme economic conservatives and libertarians whose anti-tax views border on the 'wacko,'" but since Richard describes this group with reference to his personal knowledge of the Budget Committee's political temperament (rather than, say, an example of the "wacko" views), I can't say for sure. I may also number among those who "for ideological and/or religious reasons are not interested in funding public schools," although I'm once again unable to interpret their nature through Joslin's personal experiences.

If he means people who dislike financing secular schools that teach various topics with which a theist might disagree, then my allegiances lie elsewhere. On the other hand, if Joslin means people who've been frightened out of the public school system by work-to-ruling teachers and who've been aspiring to asceticism in order to pay for their children's education twice, then one I am.

Whatever it is that makes me not part of the “Real Tiverton,” in Joslin's view, I've been around town enough to have made this observation of the empire that struck back last Wednesday: Among those who voted for the faux "compromise budget" were seniors wishing to keep specific services, "fairly wealthy people" who can easily afford a few more hundred dollars a year in taxes, and parents whose children go to private school. I'd also speculate that some of the Yea voters were extreme economic naifs and liberals whose pro-tax views border on the socialist, although I've no names to put on the list.

We also oughtn’t forget those whom increasing budgets benefit financially in a degree much greater than an extra dollar or so per $1,000 of their property value. That would include the contractless teachers who nodded along when a red-faced School Committee Vice Chairman Michael Burk demanded to know which services tax-revolters would like to snatch from school children. Apparently, taking benefits from union members who'll let entire school years pass with bare-bones participation is not an option.

Now Joslin's preferred tyranny has won the day, with a little help from clever budgetary and procedural maneuvering. Some contentious counts and a dubiously judged voice vote brought the second try budget to the floor. Behind-the-scenes scheming no doubt accounts for the fact that two of the allowable three amendments thereto were higher and different from each other by a measly $10,000. And we're one Caruolo Act lawsuit away from finding that all of the contention and "compromise" will have changed the way the town does business not one bit.

June 2, 2008

Do You, Party A, Take Party B...

Justin Katz

Thus is radical change forced upon a society via underhanded activism and deliberately skewed thinking. With an assumption as to what the society considers marriage to be, a court finds as follows:

The appellate judges determined that there is no legal impediment in New York to the recognition of a same-sex marriage. The state Legislature "may decide to prohibit the recognition of same-sex marriages solemnized abroad," the ruling said. "Until it does so, however, such marriages are entitled to recognition in New York."

A court and bureaucracy in another state does its own feint-step, with the following result:

The guidelines from Janet McKee, chief of California's office of vital records, contained copies of new marriage forms that include lines for "Party A" and "Party B" instead of bride and groom. The gender-neutral nomenclature was developed in consultation with county clerks, according to the letter.

And the governor in the first state takes the opportunity to write the essential definition of marriage right out of public policy:

Paterson spokeswoman Erin Duggan said the May 14 memo is intended to guide the actions of state agencies. It states that agencies must change policies and regulations to make sure "spouse," "husband" and "wife" are clearly understood to include gay couples.

In just such a way might we as easily contrive to find that a driver's license entitles one to fly a plane.

Across the Union Divide

Justin Katz

My piece in today's Providence Journal dwells on the collision of my affection and admiration for Providence Firefighter/EMT Lt. Michael Morse and his book and my opposition to public-sector unions.

Lack of Freedom a Threat to Health

Justin Katz

Periodically, somebody on the Left will throw in some anti-corporate rhetoric and sneer about the "free market." Mark Patinkin's column on the state's difficulty attracting doctors provides yet another example illustrating that one can hardly point to our problems in condemnation of economic freedom:

I began by asking where he’d rank us nationally in fees paid for medical procedures.

"In many if not most areas," he said, "it's 49th or 50th in the country."

The reasons are complicated, he said — one factor being restrictive laws.

What kind of laws?

He mentioned several typical procedures for which Medicare will pay a doctor around $300, almost below cost, he said. In some states, top doctors can charge an extra few hundred for patients happy to pay for their expertise. Here, as in Massachusetts, the law forbids that.

"In other businesses," he said, "when you get seniority and experience, you raise your prices. I make the exact same fees as the doctor fresh out of residency. The only way I make more money than that doctor is by seeing more patients. I'm not allowed to charge more for procedures."

Here's a stunning bottom line for doctors:

He gave the real example of a 30-something cancer doctor who recently finished his training. His offer in Rhode Island was $125,000 with three weeks vacation and being on call every third night — being available for patient calls or going to the hospital. On the West Coast, The Doctor said, this same candidate was offered $250,000, eight weeks vacation and "call" every 10th night.

Rhode Island's much touted (but selectively described) "quality of life" is surely threatened if our battle against the free market drives away high-end professionals.

June 1, 2008

Evil Coming Together

Justin Katz

Two items on today's reading list have a disturbing link. First the tale of the Internet as a pimping tool for under-18 prostitutes:

Well-known as a free online community bulletin board, craigslist has gained the dubious distinction of being a popular site for pimps to market young girls to customers, or "johns."

The young prostitutes often are disguised behind photos advertising older women, Seyffert says, and almost always claim to be at least 18.

It is difficult to estimate just how many children are being pimped out, either locally or nationally. In 2003, the FBI reported about 1,400 juveniles were arrested nationally for prostitution.

Most believe the problem is much larger than that number suggests. Estimates vary wildly and are considered, by law enforcement and other experts, to be based on shaky methodology. ...

Frequently, the detectives say, pimps pass girls along a multicity circuit; their ads go up in Oakland one week, then Sacramento, then Reno. The unit has recovered girls shipped to Sacramento from Minnesota, Texas, Wisconsin and Montana.

The girls are often runaways, often having been raped and otherwise abused at young ages. And perverts can find them as easily as they can find a second-hand lamp. What happens when we superimpose this demographic assessment from Mark Steyn?

Sex-selective abortion is a fact of life in India, where the gender ratio has declined to 1,000 boys to 900 girls nationally, and as low as 1,000 boys to 300 girls in some Punjabi cities. In China, the state-enforced "one child" policy has brought about the most gender-distorted demographic cohort in global history, the so-called guang gun — "bare branches." If you can only have one kid, parents choose to abort girls and wait for a boy, to the point where in the first generation to grow to adulthood under this policy there are 119 boys for every 100 girls. In practice, a "woman's right to choose" turns out to mean the right to choose not to have any women. ...

By midcentury, when today's millions of surplus boys will be entering middle age, India and China are expected to account for a combined 50 percent of global GDP. On present trends, they will be the most male-heavy societies that have ever existed. As I wrote in my book America Alone, unless China's planning on becoming the first gay superpower since Sparta, what's going to happen to all those excess men? As a general rule, large numbers of excitable lads who can't get any action are not a recipe for societal stability. Unless the Japanese have invented amazingly lifelike sex robots by then (think Austin Powers's "fembots"), we're likely to be in a planet-wide rape epidemic and a world of globalized industrial-scale sex slavery. And what of the Western world? Canada and Europe are in steep demographic decline and dependent on immigration to sustain their populations. And — as those Anglo-Welsh statistics suggest — many of the available immigrants are already from male-dominated cultures and will eventually be male-dominated numbers-wise, too: circa 2020, the personal ads in the Shanghai classifieds seeking SWF with good sense of humor will be defining "must live locally" as any zipcode this side of Mars.

A Few Sunday Quick Hits

Justin Katz

A handful of items that are blogworthy, but not extensive, have been building up on my desk, so herewith, some quick hit thoughts:

  1. An objection was made, last week, to my mention of the exceedingly sparse Projo Jobs section that it was a holiday weekend and thus hardly representative. Well today's Jobs section may (or may not) have a greater number of smaller ads than larger ones, but it's still pitifully small. I repeat: cut taxes... now... drastically.
  2. Somebody in a position to hear things has told me to keep my eye on Tiverton-related news in the next few days because something affecting me, as a resident, is soon to be announced. The comment was so vague that I'm not even sure whether it was a warning or a promise. My blind guess (in keeping with a surmise already expressed) is that the school committee is going to file a Caruolo Act lawsuit to recoup the $100,000 that constituted its share of the so-called "compromise" budget.
  3. The bad news: Rhode Island is one of only 11 states currently in economic recession, and the only one in New England, and (according to a Lynn Arditi article from Friday that I can't find online) will likely stay there "through the third-quarter of next year" — that's fall 2009 (at least).
  4. As more of a reminder than anything: we're winning the war against terrorism.