November 30, 2008

Not an Honorary Pension

Justin Katz

Participating in several generations of dishonorable conduct strikes me as a pretty substantial harm to the public good when done by a police officer. If only to send a signal, "retired" Captain John Ryan, formerly of the Providence PD, ought to lose his pension:

City officials have resumed their effort to take away the pension of retired police Capt. John J. Ryan, one of three former high-ranking police officers implicated in the Police Department's cheating-for-promotions scandal.

But Ryan has gone to Superior Court in an effort to stave off the threat, which arises from a scandal that dates to the mid- to late-1990s. ...

New charges have now been added to the city’s bill of particulars against Ryan: That he accepted favors from Richard “Uncle Dickie” Autiello while Autiello’s Four A’s auto sales and repair business had contracts with the Police Department that Ryan supervised. Ryan, the city alleges, received free or underpriced vehicles and vehicle repairs from Autiello as well as other gifts. ...

The cheating, which has been admitted in various forums, consisted of the surreptitious distribution to favored officers of so-called source sheets that drastically limited what they had to study for their written promotional examinations. By knowing where to focus their study, according to city officials, those officers enjoyed a significant advantage over their competitors. ...

At issue is a municipal ordinance that requires honorary service as a prerequisite for an employee to receive a pension. A lack of such service calls for the reduction or revocation of a pension, according to the interpretation of Mayor David N. Cicilline, city lawyers and members of the Retirement Board, who instigated the pension-divestiture cases.

Ryan contends in his lawsuit that his pension cannot be touched, under the ordinance, unless he is convicted of a job-related crime. He has never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted.

It seems to me that a deal promising a 47-year-old man, able to work as "a law enforcement consultant and lawyer," $28,056 every year for the rest of his life justifies a pretty high ethical bar. Furthermore, losing that million-dollar benefit should be a very strong incentive against future corruption.

A Story That Doesn't Make Sense

Justin Katz

Of course one should temper incredulity when addressing the opinions of a college professor who's written a book on a related topic, but so wrongheaded does Jonathan Stevenson's assessment of Osama post-Obama seem that it's difficult to conclude otherwise than that he has an investment of some kind in the wrong argument:

ONE OF SEN. John McCain's favorite themes was that Sen. Barack Obama was soft on terrorists, which implied that Osama bin Laden would be tickled if Obama were elected. But the world's terrorist-in-chief has been conspicuously mum on America's choice. The most al-Qaida has been able to muster is a puerile audiotaped statement by Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's voluble deputy — disseminated over two weeks after the election — that Obama is a "house Negro" destined to fail in Iraq and Afghanistan. This weak response almost certainly reflects their profound disappointment in Obama's victory.

It isn't necessary to nitpick the distinction of terrorist zealots' "puerile" rhetoric from, I suppose, their mature statements in order to question Stevenson's apparent belief that al Qaida's relative silence of late is more a result of a marketing conundrum than the ever-looming possibility of capture and death. Furthermore, the fact that Stevenson makes no distinctions between President Bush's foreign policy before and after the "surge" strategy suggests that he may be straining to fit President-Elect Obama into the patterns of his own book, as described in a handful of synopses. It's not inconceivable that Barack Obama is poised to look a very wise military leader by virtue of advances made before he took office (advances that he, himself, opposed), and it's even less difficult to imagine the ranks of the commentariate taking steps to be similarly positioned.

Writes Stevenson:

... The U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq that Bush engineered has intensified many Muslims' worries about America's global intentions and made them more susceptible to bin Laden's arguments. Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri have been able to cast the Iraq war as confirmation of Washington's wish to dominate the Arab and larger Muslim world politically, economically and militarily; its intention to loot Islam of its natural resources, in particular oil; and its support for Israel's repression of Palestinian Muslims.

The Iraq war has stoked jihadist recruitment and fundraising and energized the jihadist movement — especially in Europe, the platform for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The war has also drained vital military resources from Afghanistan, and executive attention from the security of the U.S. homeland. ...

A man so steeped in this area of inquiry shouldn't have found it difficult at all to hand out a taste or two of numerical evidence of al Qaida's supposed recruitment and fundraising boost, and if his argument were sound, he could profitably have spared a word addressing the role that al Qaida's pursuit of violence in Iraq played in pushing the citizens of that nation toward democratic progress. Having addressed those points, perhaps Stevenson would have had cause to question the value of words spent decrying executive distractions from the domestic security of a nation that hasn't experienced anything resembling terrorism in years.

But Jonathan Stevenson displays nothing so much as a state of thrall to Obama's charms:

Obama represents an affirmative and historic hope for a reinvented America that is once again confident, exemplary and admired. Bin Laden now beholds not an Obama presidency that will reprise the weakened, beleaguered America of Jimmy Carter's tenure or perpetuate the embattled America weakened by its own recklessness that a McCain presidency would have augured, but one that revives adroit alliance management and earnest multilateralism, leavens Muslim perceptions of the United States, restores international respect for the United States, and reinvigorates solidarity in the global counterterrorism campaign. Obama's victory has been overwhelmingly applauded in Europe and the Middle East, and should shrink al-Qaida's funding and recruiting base and accelerate the downward trend in its popularity among Muslims.

A man who would make such declarations without so much as a whisper of the potential perils of his daydream if gone awry is a man whose capacity for cold analysis ought to be a matter of doubt. Stevenson goes on to cite the lack of a pre-election press release from Osama bin Laden (whom I still believe to be a corpse) as evidence that the terrorist king was too cowed by Americans' unity behind the "preternatural coolness and vision" of The One.

What the likes of Stevenson will say when their laughable construction of current reality proves itself to be a fairytale is anybody's guess. We can predict confidently, though, that the well-being of our nation will be preserved in inverse proportion to the attention paid to well-credentialed nonsense.

November 29, 2008

Terrorism on the Road

Justin Katz

We in Rhode Island, along with most people the world over, are spared the even the passing need to believe that terrorism is a real possibility in our daily lives:

U.S. authorities warned yesterday that recent intelligence indicates that al-Qaida may be plotting a terrorist attack on the subway or other transit systems in New York during the holidays.

U.S. officials said that the intelligence, gathered by the FBI, had not been corroborated and that there was no indication that the suspected plot had progressed beyond preliminary discussion among operatives linked to al-Qaida.

The warning comes at a time when New York subways and other public transportation systems are jammed with holiday travelers -- a scenario that counterterrorism officials have long considered an attractive target for al-Qaida.

My family and I sat within nine miles of the Tappan Zee Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River just north of New York City, for about two hours on Wednesday, partially as a result of this announcement. Nothing happened (in the United States, that is), but 'round here, the threat of terrorism isn't even brought home to the extent that we have to make daily decisions on its basis.

What Does the Melting Pot Purify Out?

Justin Katz

Mark Patinkin's column today is of his one-liner variety, and few are the folks likely to agree or disagree with everything that he writes. This item, however, strikes me as to profound to be left without exploration:

From the "It's a great country" archives: I just saw an ad for a dreidel with a picture of Santa on it.

Is that an indication of a great country? I suppose it depends on the direction from which one views it. If we take the anecdote as proof that those of different faiths can share traditions, then I suppose it's a positive development in history. But I wonder whether we lose something in the melting of such things.

Those to my political left might point out that the dominant culture (Christians) are absorbing the minority culture (Jews) and, in that way, destroying it. Me, I'm more apt to worry about what is lost by each religious tradition, individually, when the markers of their faith become but so many secular trappings for commerce-driven holidays.

Perhaps the melting-pot process does remove impurities of ethnic strife, but there is much else that we can lose in the fumes. Foremost among the dissipated treasures are the beliefs that once gave the symbols a significance that neither government nor superstore can reconstitute.

It's Always a Matter of "Fairness"

Justin Katz

The title of this post refers to the words of Paul Saccoccia, a national rep for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, who believes that disabled policemen and firefighters in the state pension system should receive pension contributions from their towns when the state doesn't give them the full amount that they want:

Lawyers for the city [of Cranston] and the firefighters' union say the request stems from the fact that the employees' disabilities — which officials would not disclose — have been verified by doctors but were not recognized by the state Retirement Board because they developed over time rather than stemming from one event or injury.

Yet, state law says that a police officer or firefighter who retires because of on-the-job injuries shall receive not less than two-thirds of their pay at the time of retirement — the amount the employees sought through the state system.

The situation has left all three employees on the city payroll, at 100-percent pay.

And union leaders say the only way to get them off the city payroll is to have the City Council adopt two ordinances that would allow the city to make up the difference between the disability pensions the state will grant and the work-related disability pensions the employees want.

Thus is Rhode Island pulled by the heartstrings (purse strings, for some) toward policies that give privileged classes multiple opportunities for benefits. And thus do the unions abuse the communities that their members serve: Somehow (note the passive voice) the three employees have been "left" on the city payroll and cannot be "gotten off" unless the law were to be changed to give them what they want.

Translating into active voice, that means that the employees refuse to officially retire, and the unions have structured contracts such that the city can neither force them out nor fill the positions that they are not currently performing. I'd suggest that, if it isn't a matter of critical public safety for those positions to be filled — that is, if it isn't utterly unconscionable for the union to use their vacancy as a bargaining chip — then they really don't need to be filled, anyway.

(And that's not an excuse to puff up the overtime salaries of other employees.)

November 28, 2008

A Guide for RI

Justin Katz

Jonah Goldberg summarizes for the nation the frame of mind that Rhode Island should take in these tough economic times:

... rather than blow money on a lavish reenactment of the New Deal, or continue bailing out undeserving corporations, why not really think outside the box? Rep. Louie Gohmert (R., Texas) suggests an across-the-board reprieve on paying 2008 income taxes. This would leave an extra $1.2 trillion in the hands of Americans, who are the best stewards of their own money. Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Mundell proposes a one-year moratorium on corporate income taxes in order to stimulate investment, job creation and the like. That wouldn't be as popular, for understandable reasons.

The details can be negotiated, but this sort of approach would certainly create more jobs and spur more consumer demand than paying for a lot of asphalt. It would buy a lot more prosperity than any corporate bailout.

Let people who earn money keep their money, because it's a safe bet that they're earning it for a reason, in two senses: They have a reason for their actions, and there's a reason their actions prove profitable.

Mass Transit Takes a Number: The Line at the Dole Continues to Lengthen

Monique Chartier

Stung by heavy termination fees (arising out of some sort of fixed asset sale/lease back arrangement that sounds suspiciously similar to what has been proposed to solve Rhode Island's public pension problem) resulting from the collapse of AIG, mass transit authorities around the country have asked Uncle Sam for help with the resulting operating shortfalls. From a Tax Foundation November 19 press release.

City transit agencies are on Capitol Hill this week, lobbying for a bailout as they face huge termination penalties from overseas banks due to the collapse of AIG and the unraveling of "Sale In Lease Out" (SILO) deals they entered into from 1988 to 2003.

Last Friday, the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) settled with a KBC Group, a Belgian bank that demanded $43 million in termination fee. In Tax Foundation Fiscal Fact No. 153, "Transit Agencies in Bind Due to SILO Deals and AIG Collapse," Tax Foundation Tax Counsel Joseph Henchman explains that the situation is a result of a series of leaseback transactions these agencies conducted. Federal policy first encouraged and then discouraged these SILO deals, and when AIG collapsed, heavy termination penalties kicked in for approximately 30 transit agencies nationwide. These agencies may now face serious financial shortfalls absent the U.S. Treasury Department becoming a guarantor.

Within the framework of the logic of any bailout, a case could be made to include the mass transit systems as secondary victims of the fiscal collapse, as opposed to, say, the American auto industry, which finds itself in a bind of its own making. But with bailouts now totaling trillions, not to mention the price tag of proposed new spending initiatives, it is clear that the fetters are off and Washington now feels no constraints of any nature about spending astonishing amounts of other people's money with questionable efficacy to accomplish dubious ends. The source of this newly-found freedom - the nose under the tent - was the original concept of the bailout. Oh, the rush of that initial seven hundred billion.

Cancel all bailouts. No to the mass transits. No to everyone. Were it even shown to be an effective approach, Washington has proven itself incapable of administering such a program responsibly or with any amount of prudence.

November 27, 2008

"Everything is On the Table"

Monique Chartier

And not just because it's Thanksgiving.

In light of Speaker Murphy's comment in front of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, a quick review of Rhode Island's current standing in certain tax categories is in order. [Data courtesy the Tax Foundation.]

> Business Tax Climate: 50th (worst)

> Cigarette Tax: 2nd highest nationally

> Corporate Income Taxes: 7th highest

> Property (local & state combined) Taxes: 5th highest

> Sales Tax: 2nd highest

Unless the Speaker intends to put forward only a token tax increase so as to provide political cover for implementing badly needed structural changes to the expenditure side of the budget, it is difficult to see any room for increase to this maxed out section of the budget.

Pausing History for a Day

Justin Katz

In the way that notions are stirred into the culture, like pollen dissipating into the air, the Tolstoyan view of individuals' cumulative construction of history has been working its way again through the world of commentary. Our lives go on, and history follows.

It occurred to me, looking at four generations of my family at the table, today, that when my son is my grandfather's current age, one hundred and seventy-two years will have passed from my grandfather's birth. Day in, day out, roaring, depression, war, apotheosis, counterculture, war, scandal, stagflation, conservative revolution, vacation from history, terrorism, war, malaise, familiar change... and on into the future. Yet the family albums tell what seems to be a repeated story in different costumes — mother, father, child, crib, tricycle, bicycle, graduation, marriage, child.

I'd never noticed before today the clear familial resemblance of my grandfather and his sons. They're all slender, now, and traced in visits and pictures they'd been out of sync through phases of weight and shape. The well-filled father with the football-player son. The heavy ex-football-player with the Marine brother. I'd also never noticed how much the sister born between them looked like the eldest of us cousins, after me, because she passed away before I'd learned to observe such things.

Someday, my children will find it strange that I can name unknown faces in family photographs. Someday, too, they'll chuckle at the old style of cars and of hair. Perhaps they'll feel that sense of awe when they align the pictures chronologically with their history lessons. Yes, we lived through that — I was in this particular place on that historic day because I was only working part-time from home then, I remember — but it was just life unfolding.

We'll say, "That was the year that such and such happened." But when we talk about life, we'll put it differently: "I was about your age when I lost my job, and I was your mother's age when I finally began digging my way out of debt." In the long view, it's more about those moments of tying it all together than the years of winding threads.

So, among all the reasons that we have to be thankful today — and there are many — we should include the opportunity to pause. We'll be back to making history unravel soon enough; for a moment in time, we should appreciate that our lives are cumulative constructions, too.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Dictating Your Behavior: Specific and Target Action; Changing Theirs: We'll Get to That

Justin Katz

Let's just say that Elizabeth Roberts's efforts to increase economic activity in Rhode Island aren't very inspiring, not the least because they begin on the wrong side of the equation:

WITH RHODE ISLAND'S economy in recession, joblessness approaching double digits and our small businesses bearing the brunt of the downturn, we all have a role to play in pulling our state out of its current economic decline.

As we near the peak of the holiday shopping season, one immediate step we can all take is to make a conscious effort to support locally owned Rhode Island businesses.

As seems always to be the case, the burden falls to you, Average Rhode Islander, to change your behavior, probably to act in contradiction to your direct personal interests, and contribute more. Oh, she alludes to other areas in which change is needed:

It would be naive to think that Buy Local RI by itself can solve all the issues facing our small businesses. We know that some factors — like commodity prices and the stock market — that are beyond our control. As chairwoman of the Small Business Advocacy Council I pay close attention to the challenges facing Rhode Island's small businesses: taxes and fees, time-consuming and non-standardized regulatory requirements, the rising costs of health insurance and inadequate access to capital or to properly skilled workers.

As Rhode Island's government prepares to address this year's supplemental budget and next year's projected deficit, we must make sure that the policies we craft with our state budget also begin to address these long-term challenges facing Rhode Island's small businesses — and I am committed to doing that.

As comforting as the thought of a committed Ms. Roberts may be, we all should wonder: Where's the call for immediate action at the statehouse to provide incentives to shoppers to buy locally? Where's the demand that the legislature cut sales taxes below those of our neighbors? Where's the call to shrink government so that taxpayers can retain more money to spread around?

The greatest long-term challenges facing Rhode Island are the collection of milquetoast and clueless politicians in line to lead us and the apparently broad belief that we can't do any better.

Thankful for... Bankruptcy

Justin Katz

On last night's Matt Allen show, Don explained why bankruptcy isn't such a frightening thing — and far preferable to business restructuring as performed by congressional Democrats. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Happy Thanksgiving

Marc Comtois

Tocqueville and Thanksgiving....two of my favorite things.
The foundation of New England was a novel spectacle, and all the circumstances attending it were singular and original. Nearly all colonies have been first inhabited either by men without education and without resources, driven by their poverty and their misconduct from the land which gave them birth, or by speculators and adventurers greedy of gain...The settlers who established themselves on the shores of New England all belonged to the more independent classes of their native country....

The other colonies had been founded by adventurers without families; the immigrants of New England brought with them the best elements of order and morality; they landed on the desert coast accompanied by their wives and children. But what especially distinguished them from all others was the aim of their undertaking. They had not been obliged by necessity to leave their country; the social position they abandoned was one to be regretted, and their means of subsistence were certain. Nor did they cross the Atlantic to improve their situation or to increase their wealth; it was a purely intellectual craving that called them from the comforts of their former homes; and in facing the inevitable sufferings of exile their object was the triumph of an idea.

The immigrants, or, as they deservedly styled themselves, the Pilgrims, belonged to that English sect the austerity of whose principles had acquired for them the name of Puritans. Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine, but corresponded in many points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories. It was this tendency that had aroused its most dangerous adversaries. Persecuted by the government of the mother country, and disgusted by the habits of a society which the rigor of their own principles condemned, the Puritans went forth to seek some rude and unfrequented part of the world where they could live according to their own opinions and worship God in freedom.

November 26, 2008

In a Drought, Open the Floodgates

Justin Katz

For a moment, I thought I might have my first strong agreement with Anthony DiBella:

It's nice that EDC can spend some time attracting new or fashionable companies and industries, but it behooves our economic planners to be cognizant of our competencies and competitive advantages. Courting high-tech firms to come to Rhode Island may feel glamorous, but it makes little sense to compete for companies whose requirements are far better met elsewhere. Rhode Island has nothing comparable to an MIT or CalTech so competing for jobs in the computer industry (hardware or soft) is energy better spent elsewhere. ...

The approach is related to that which I decried this morning in school committees: beginning with what one wants to do, in the public sphere, and then trying to make reality conform with the desire. But then DiBella proceeds to slip into the same waters:

... Our jobs-growth strategy should be based on the premise that it's far easier to expand or grow an existing business than it is to import one.

Of course that begs the question: does Rhode Island have any intrinsic advantages due to its size, location or history? If we consider domains in which Rhode Island has done well historically, that list would include defense, graphic and fine arts (including jewelry), marine trades, medical, textiles, and tourism. Economic planners and forecasters must consider the trajectory of societal trends and where they will intersect with our state’s relative advantages. As Joe Biden stated during his debate with Sarah Palin: "Past is prologue."

We spend too much time, in this state, imagining the economy that we'd like to have. That's a luxury for thriving regions that want to solidify their positions or change their directioins. In our predicament, we ought to be making the state universally attractive and then allowing private industry to decide what our natural advantages are, for them.

That doesn't mean that officials shouldn't do promotional tours, but it does mean that we're not in a position to target policies. As a state, we haven't proven effective enough to presume to do that.

Not the Way to Arrive at a Salary

Justin Katz

By far the most interesting audio from last night's Tiverton School Committee meeting, in my opinion, was Vice Chairwoman Sally Black's reasoning for voting to approve the teachers' contract (stream, download) because the thought processes are indicative of the flawed way in which Rhode Islanders have conducted their public business.

Mrs. Black cycled through a bit of education policy history to conclude that the state and federal governments have not followed through with promised funding for decades, even as they've demanded more and more from local schools. From her perspective, the school committee did the work that they were supposed to do, and moreover, she was very pleased with her children's experience in the school system and believes the teachers deserve as much compensation as the town can give them. Therefore, the contract is "fair and just" and ought to pass.

The problem with this approach is that it disconnects financial decisions from financial realities. We cannot come up with a notion of fairness and justice based on abstractions or on emotions and then make that the primary consideration. The primary consideration has to be the money that's actually coming in.

Especially from the perspective of elected representatives — unless they were elected of the unions, by the unions, and for the unions — the first question has to be what is good and what is sustainable for the town. Double-digit tax increases are not sustainable. The next question has to be what is good for the students, and as I've pointed out, based on Department of Education data, Tiverton already pays more per pupil for teachers than the state average, and its student-teacher ratio is only slightly lower than the state's overall. In other words, based on the money that the district actually has, it is already more generous to the teachers than the norm for Rhode Island, which is more generous than the norm for the nation.

Rhode Island has, for far too long, begun with the pay and benefits that "should be deserved" and only as an afterthought wondered where the money would come from and what the effects would be of taking it. Our teachers, specifically, are paid above the national average, even as our median household income is below the national average. We have to readjust, and we have to do so quickly.


For interest and public record, here's the audio of Guidance Councilor Lynn Nicholas's threat of "harm": stream, download:

Before I ask Doug a question, I just need to make it clear that, if the award is not agreed upon tonight, there will be a lot of harm done. Some of it will be financial; a lot of it will not be, and I'm not going to go into detail.

Does anyone in Washington, D.C. believe in liberty?

Donald B. Hawthorne

Continuing the earlier discussion about the Detroit bailouts, there is a broader debate taking shape:

Obama Chief of Staff Hopes to Exploit the Economic Crisis to Expand the Growth of Government: In earlier posts I have emphasized the risk that the combination of economic crisis and unified Democratic control of Congress and the White House would lead to a vast expansion of government. It looks like key Obama advisers and congressional Democrats are thinking along the same lines. As Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel puts it, the crisis is "an opportunity to do things you could not do before...You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." The WSJ article from which the quote comes makes clear that the "things" Emanuel has in mind are government policies that "pick winners" by subsidizing particular industries on a massive scale - as Congress is already doing with the finance industry, auto industry and others

Given the serious flaws in this kind of central planning, it is highly unlikely that even a well-intentioned federal government could do a better job than the market in choosing which industries to fund. On this point, F.A. Hayek's critique of government planning is still relevant - even more so than I thought when I defended Hayek's continuing relevance earlier this year. In the real world, of course, it is highly unlikely that government planning decisions will be determined by experts whose only concern is the public good. Rather, politically powerful industries will use their influence to lobby for bailouts and other government assistance that will probably be denied to the politically weak - irrespective of the true merits of helping the industries in question.

Interest group pressure has already played a key role in the congressional vote on the finance industry bailout, and it is likely to be equally important in structuring the massive future bailouts to come. Once Obama takes office, we are likely to see some $500 billion to 1 trillion in additional bailout spending - and that may be just for starters. Interest groups will play a major role in allocating this money, and they are already ramping up their lobbying efforts.

The end result will probably be an enormous transfer of resources from taxpayers and wealth-producing industries to interest groups with political leverage. That is likely to serve the interests of those groups and of the political leaders in charge of doling out the government largesse. But it will also impede economic growth by transferring resources away from productive firms to those that are failing.

Go to the article itself and follow the links.

Here are excerpts from one of them:

Jesse Larner has an interesting and much talked-about article on F.A. Hayek in the left-liberal journal Dissent...Larner gives Hayek credit for his pathbreaking critique of socialist central planning. But he argues that Hayek's thought is largely irrelevant today.

To very briefly summarize Hayek's two most important ideas, he argued that socialism can't work as an effective system for producing and distributing goods because it has no way of aggregating the necessary information about people's wants and needs. By contrast, the price system of the market is a very effective method for collecting and using information about people's preferences and the relative value of different goods. Hayek's 1945 article "The Use of Knowledge in Society" is the best short statement of this argument. Hayek also argued that government control of the economy under socialism necessarily leads to the destruction of democracy and personal freedom. The central planners' control of the economy enables them to crush potential opposition and strangle civil society. This, of course, was the main argument of Hayek's most famous book, The Road to Serfdom (1944).

Larner concedes the validity of both of these Hayekian claims. But he suggests that they are largely irrelevant today because the modern left has mostly abandoned central planning and because Hayek failed to recognize that "collectivism" could be a "spontaneous, nongovernmental, egalitarian phenomenon," not just a totalitarian order imposed by the state. He also suggests that "Hayek doesn’t seem to grasp that human beings can exist both as individuals and as members of a society, without necessarily subordinating them to the needs of an imposed social plan (although he acknowledges that the state can legitimately serve social needs, he contradictorily views collective benefits as incompatible with individual freedom)."

Larner makes some defensible points. For example, he is right to imply that Hayek's arguments are more compelling as a critique of full-blown central planning than of more modest forms of government intervention. It is also true that full-blown economic central planning has a lot less support among left-wing intellectuals today than fifty or sixty years ago. Nonetheless, Hayek's ideas are far more relevant to our time than Larner thinks.

I. The Persistence of Central Planning in Left-Wing Thought.

Although the modern mainstream left no longer favors central planning of the entire economy, many left-wingers do favor government control of large parts of the economic system. Most European leftists and a good many American ones favor government control of the health care industry, which constitutes some 10-15% of the economy in advanced industrialized society. Some forms of government planning are favored not only by left-wingers but also by many moderates and conservatives. For example, government owns and operates some 90% of the schools in Western Europe and the United States. However much we take public education for granted, it still represents the socialization of a vast swathe of the economy.

In addition, many mainstream liberals such as Cass Sunstein and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer (as well as some conservatives and moderates) favor giving broad regulatory authority to "expert" government bureaucrats. This is not quite the same thing as government ownership of large enterprises. But it has important ideological affinities with it, to the extent that both policies rely on central planning by expert government bureaucrats. Hayek's arguments in "The Use of Knowledge in Society" are certainly relevant as potential critiques of these various forms of planning - both those that involve government ownership of large enterprises in health care and education and those that rely on regulations administered by expert bureaucrats. If Hayek is right, all these planners and experts don't know as much as they think they do, and certainly can't aggregate knowledge as effectively as the free market can.

Finally, it's worth noting that even full-blown socialism isn't as completely dead as Larner assumes. For details, see my September 2007 post on "Why the Debate Over Socialism Isn't Over."

Fundamentally, most liberals and leftists still look to the state to plan large portions of the economy and other aspects of our lives. So too do many conservatives and moderates, as witness the rise of "big government conservatism" under George W. Bush. Today's advocates of government planning are more modest in their ambitions than the mid-twentieth century socialists whom Hayek criticized. But they are not modest enough to make his arguments irrelevant.

II. Hayek and "Voluntary" Collectivism.

Larner also criticizes Hayek for ignoring the possibility that "collectivism" could be voluntary rather than imposed by the state. He suggests that Hayek was wrong to ignore the thought of socialist anarchists such as Proudhon and Kropotkin, who favored communal enterprise without state control.

Much depends on what is meant here by "collectivism." To the extent that it simply means voluntary cooperation between individuals and groups in civil society, Hayek not only didn't ignore it, he was a great advocate of it. Throughout nearly all his major works, Hayek stressed the importance of voluntary social cooperation and repeatedly emphasized that individuals can't progress or even survive for long without civil society institutions and traditions that are the product of cooperation. Hayek's famous theory of "spontaneous order" was of course based on the idea that society progresses through the development of social norms and customs produced by voluntary cooperation in civil society. Hayek favored free markets and strict limits on government power in large part because he thought that they fostered such voluntary cooperation better than government planning does. Far from denying that "human beings can exist both as individuals and as members of a society, without necessarily subordinating them to the needs of an imposed social plan," Hayek wrote that:

[T]rue individualism affirms the value of the family and all the common efforts of the small community and group . . . [and] believes in local autonomy and voluntary associations . . [I]ndeed, its case rest largely on the contention that much for which the coercive action of the state is usually invoked can be done better by voluntary collaboration.

Some relevant earlier writings can be found here:

"Who You Gonna Call?" The Little Platoons
Sometimes What is New is Old: Misguided Incentives Drive Public Sector Taxation
Thoughts on the Law & Social Order
On the meaning of social justice
Moving Beyond Loyalty to the Rule of Law Mixes Law & Politics
The Radically Different Visions of Tax-Eaters Versus Taxpayers


Obama's rewriting of history continues. It is smart politics and the media will comply with repeating the mantra, likely leading to myths becoming viewed as historical facts.

What It Means to Care

Justin Katz

During an interesting conversation, last night, a long-time Tiverton resident suggested to me that members of Tiverton Citizens for Change "don't care about Tiverton." The storyline is that we're newcomers simply looking out for our own financial interests, as opposed to townies willing, I suppose, to put the town's needs before their own.

With a broad brush, I'd suggest that the dichotomy does not actually exist. Plenty of lifelong residents vote and advocate according to interests no less narrow than than those of even the most selfish reformer. For others, "what's good for the town" lines up suspiciously well with "what's good for me." And for still others, the interest is a sense of power and control over the town, which is hardly a selfless motivation.

But it is a question worth asking one's self: Do I care about my town?

To be honest, I moved to Tiverton mainly because I was priced off of Aquidneck Island. The islander mentality is real, with its sense that crossing a bridge is somehow different than going down a short stretch of road. In my years here, however, getting to know people, getting lost on the way to this or that, riding along over every road as a UPS driver's helper one Christmas season, I've come to appreciate that, to the extent that circumstances forced me away from where I wanted to be, they pushed me to a wonderful town.

It's a wonderful town with some problems, no doubt, in a wonderful state with its own problems, too, but it's easy and attractive to imagine one's life unfolding within it. Clearly, I've invested myself enough to actively try to improve it.

But is that "caring"? I don't know; if I'm priced out of my house, I'll be out of here. On the other side of hope, if we were to succeed in getting the town and the state back to sustainability, with an open government and prosperous society, I can't say that I'd be doing much by way of community activities.

To be sure, it's been so long since my stroll through life turned to trudging that I can't imagine what it must be like to have the time to volunteer for anything other than dire necessities. Somebody else, last night, recommended a particular stretch of forest that would reward hiking, and I could only mark it down as something to do when there's room in my 18-19-hour days for activities resembling relaxation. If I had time for leisurely exploration, perhaps I'd make time for community service. We're a long way from that reality.

In the meantime, I'll say this: I care about Tiverton, and about Rhode Island, enough that I want people to be able to live here. I care about it enough to strive to prevent hard times from scraping it bare. Some who feel proprietorship of towns wish to preserve them in a state of fond once-ago, behind glass, as it were, in a state of glory. Such displays are wonderful for figurines — not so much for human beings.

The people in a place add its color and give it purpose, and I'd propose that if you care about your hometown, you care even about those who are changing its face, even about those who are passing through.

November 25, 2008

Another Night at the High School

Justin Katz

Well, here we are, at what's sure to be a tense school committee meeting — as the teachers demand their retroactive pay and a handful of us concerned citizens try to explain that it would be insane to dig our financial hole deeper, with the state facing such a daunting task.

You know it's got to be an event, because Mr. Crowley made the trip all the way from Lincoln. Luckily, a few AR readers made a point of introducing themselves to me before the meeting to lessen the minority feeling, and we've also got some moral support from the Portsmouth Concerned Citizens.

Which is not to say that there's anything resembling parity in numbers. But when a special interest is used to facing absolutely no opposition, perhaps a ragtag band of reformers can mount an adequate defense.

ADDENDUM 7:23 p.m.:

Interesting anecdote: During a start-of-meeting executive session, I left the auditorium to use the men's room, and as I stepped to the sink to wash my hands, a man came in complaining about the traffic from Boston: "But you get the call that you've got to come down; what are you going to do?"

I joked about the traffic, and he further stated, "I just hope they don't say anything bad about the teachers in front of me, because I just drove down from Boston and I'm not in the mood."

He appears to be intending to sit near the audience-use microphone.

Ah, union tactics.

ADDENDUM 7:27p.m.

While I look around the room during the wait, I'm reminded of the difficulty of this whole process. Here is a roomful of people most of whom are dedicated to educating children and only want a fair salary in keeping with what they were told to expect when they entered the field. And yet, their combined efforts, in town and across the state, are a significant part of the chain that's dragging us under.

Little wonder they've been able to do it, though: as contentious a man as I am, I very much dislike having to look at the faces around me and see opponents. The average citizen is certain to accede to their demands.

ADDENDUM 7:35 p.m.:

Committee Chairman Jan Bergandy just announced that the executive session was going to be longer than expected. Odd, if they're deciding how to vote, that they have public discussion at all.

ADDENDUM 8:04 p.m.:

Interesting note: they just voted to approve the minutes from the last meeting — usually an uninteresting formality — but it was actually necessary for one of the new members to amend the minutes to include comments from Tom Parker, whom you'll recall made a citizen's plea not to approve the NEA contract for financial reasons.

Wonder how that became omitted.

ADDENDUM 8:07 p.m.:

The feeling of reluctance, from those on the stage, to progress through to the meat of the agenda (contract negotiations) is palpable. Can't say I blame them. I'm stressed, and here I am hiding out of view.

ADDENDUM 8:13 p.m.

Interesting to watch Pat Crowley reading Anchor Rising real time:

ADDENDUM 8:18 p.m.:

Chairman Jan Bergandy is expressing grave doubts about the contract, given likely cuts from the state, so he's posing the question: What are the consequences of not approving the contract?

ADDENDUM 8:22 p.m.:

Predictably, new committeewoman Carol Herrman moved to pass the contract (Sally Black seconded): She argued that if the numbers don't work out... hey, we'll reopen the contracts. Of course, she didn't mention that the leverage would be completely different.

She also argued that all contracts should be reopened, but the teachers' is by far the biggest, and if the teachers take a hit down the road, there will be more leverage to renegotiate the others.

ADDENDUM 8:26 p.m.:

Of course, the teachers cheered loudly when Carol made her motion. Subsequently, new member Danielle Coulter spoke in favor of holding off on the contract until the state makes more information available.

In support of Mrs. Coulter a few of us in the audience applauded, and Chairman Bergandy chided us for being inconsiderate to the teachers' feelings.

Sorry. It clearly was not easy for Danielle to say what she did. She's going to get heat for it. And I for one am going to make sure that she's not sitting up there without support.

ADDENDUM 8:31 p.m.:

Vice chair Sally Black just made an impassioned speech that the state isn't living up to its end of the bargain, so she votes to pass the contract because it's "fair and just."

We can no longer operate that way. We have to start with the financial reality and negotiate from there. The money doesn't appear on the grounds of justice or fairness.

ADDENDUM 8:51 p.m.

Strangely, the teachers are arguing that the committee has long known that cuts were coming. Me, I'm inclined to agree — which has made it a dubious proposition to allow things to get to this point — but I don't see how that's an argument for irresponsible financing, now.

ADDENDUM 8:57 p.m.:

Despite a stated two to three minute time limit per person, one teacher has been going on for about ten minutes now saying that political changes in the past few weeks have accounted for the change in the committee's opinion.

I disagree to an extent, but beyond that: so what? That's how we decide how things should work in a democracy! Politics is what makes it in officials' interests to represent the interests of their constituencies.

ADDENDUM 9:14 p.m.:

Guidance Councillor and active unionist Lynn Nicholas just took the microphone to say that, if the committee does not pass the contract, there will be "a lot of harm done — some financial, some not," and she made a point of leaving it there, continuing with: "Have you even begun to think about the lawyer fees."

Yes, they're all about preserving the quality of our schools.

ADDENDUM 9:19 p.m.:

I'm surprised it took this long for a teacher to suggest that Obama might swoop in and save us all.

ADDENDUM 9:26 p.m.:

Mr. Bergandy is making the very good point that, if the committee approves this contract and large cuts do come, programs will be cut, which means that teachers will be laid off.

ADDENDUM 9:30 p.m.:

Now we're having classroom logic lessons from the teachers: "If you admit that this is a fair contract and then there are cuts and you decrease the contract, wouldn't that make it an unfair contract?"

This mindset is maddening.

ADDENDUM 9:32 p.m.:

Union President Amy Mullen just threatened that the deal on the table will not be available in the future.

ADDENDUM 9:35 p.m.:

The contract failed, and the teachers stormed out...

Except for one — an English teacher — who although clearly upset took a moment to introduce himself and give me hope that we can, through it all, resolve differences.

Thank you, sir, for that.

ADDENDUM 9:48 p.m.:

There's a feeling of afterward to the continuing meeting. The committee is deciding whether to hire a technology person. Carol Herrmann moved that they hold off on this contract; Danielle Coulter concurred.

The difference is that they're currently paying a per diem person to fill a necessary role.

ADDENDUM 9:58 p.m.:

The new technology guy was not hired, with discussion postponed until after the union issue is resolved.

ADDENDUM 10:04 p.m.:

A potentially telling statement: the committee is discussing the process of bidding for a new attorney, and Superintendent Rearick just recused himself on the grounds that he's been working with the current attorney for a very long time.

The Sinking Ship

Justin Katz

From the masked Flash movie director who brought you the pre-election history lesson comes: RItanic!

A Surplus of Sarcasm

Justin Katz

Over the past few days, there seems to have been an upward ratchet in the amount of sarcasm. I've certainly been whacked with some in the comments sections and in personal email (especially from Tiverton teachers). This letter in today's Providence Journal — even though I share its underlying frustration — makes me think that it's time to call for a moratorium on the rhetorical device:

I want to thank the voters of Rhode Island for turning out in such great numbers to exercise their right to vote. I also want to thank them for returning to office many of the very people who are putting us in bankruptcy on every level: local, state and national.

I'm sure you all put a lot of thought into who you voted for, so I'm sure you won’t mind the continued decline of our economy and personal liberty, along with high unemployment rates.

Keep up the good work. We will all be bankrupt shortly.

No doubt, some will guffaw that such a remonstration would come from me, but what Rhode Island needs, right now, is persuasion, not oratorical victory. Sarcasm is a useful tool, but it tends to beat back, not draw out; too many people have to be convinced to change their ways and their expectations for the former to be the goal.

We on both sides must be firm in our beliefs and resolved in our suggestions, but there's a viciousness to sarcasm — an insinuation that the other side is beneath consideration.

"Shop Here, Live Elsewhere"

Justin Katz

Be sure to take in RI Treasurer Frank Caprio's infomercial-style ad proclaiming Rhode Island's lack of sales tax on clothes. As the Providence Journal reports, the above-linked Web site is part of a broader campaign (and I don't mean Caprio's 2010 bid for governor):

Through a billboard sign that went up yesterday morning on Route 95 south on the Massachusetts border, and a Web site — — that went live yesterday, Caprio will try to get out-of-staters to consider shopping for clothing here. "We in Rhode Island need to brand our state — especially when it comes to the retail trade," Caprio said. "We're not seen as a tax haven for clothing or anything else."

So here's a question: If tax savings on clothing will attract regional shoppers to Rhode Island, why wouldn't a lower tax burden on everything else have a more profound impact? The state's message shouldn't be "shop for a limited category of retail goods in Rhode Island"; it should be "live, do business, and invest in Rhode Island."

Open Thread: The Finale of The Shield

Carroll Andrew Morse

I don't write much about television or sports here, because if I started, I'd be tempted to write too often on those subjects. However, given that within the realm of television, tonight's final episode of The Shield is arguably the most anticipated final episode of a television series since the finale of Seinfeld, I'll bend the rule against no-TV talk ever so slightly, and give anyone interested a chance to comment on whether they think the universe of The Shield, in the words of Lt. Jon Kavanaugh, takes its garbage out tonight, or whether Vic Mackey gets away with it one last time.

RI's Painful Future

Justin Katz

The really disheartening thing is that I don't believe our elected officials have the intellectual or ideological framework to get us out of this:

Rhode Island government is probably facing a deficit of $486 million for the fiscal year that begins next July 1. And the House fiscal office predicts that deficits will grow by roughly $80 million each year, to $770 million in 2012.

Slash taxes. Trim regulations and mandates. Rebuild infrastructure. Declare it; do it; and watch productivity return to Rhode Island.

November 24, 2008

Where Transformation Fits

Justin Katz

As I admitted this morning, I haven't been entirely sure where TransformRI fits into a complementary strategy for the advancement of reform in Rhode Island. Looking at the group's Web site, my impression is that, beyond reinforcing grassroots efforts, the group's role should be to liaise between the Republican Party and the various groups that advisably remain independent.

Apart from collecting the Governor's radio appearances the Web site summarizes some of the bigger issues in the state and directs visitors to opportunities for action.

The challenge will be to preserve the mutual support, even when the imperative of independence causes rifts on one matter or another.

Open Letter Against Ratification

Justin Katz

Dear Tiverton School Committee members:

It so happened that, the Friday before you'll decide whether to approve the arbitrated teacher contract, my boss called me on the construction site to tell me that, after I take my five paid days of annual vacation this week, he and I will have to sit down and agree to cut my salary. Having trimmed all indulgences from my family's budget, I'm already barely making enough to get by, but as you know, times are hard. Indeed, the governor has already warned you that the state will likely be cutting your budget, too.

I understand that everybody in Tiverton just wants to move beyond the current contract negotiations --- buy a respite and feel, for a short time, that we're all working together toward the same goals, maybe kick off the new school committee with a lowering of the tension that simmers with each meeting. But that feeling would be an illusion, and shorter-lived than you'd like to believe. Times are only going to get harder, and any compromises made now, when the contract is not yet signed, will be unreachable for modification when Tiverton joins other RI towns in considering asking its unions for contractual concessions.

Forgive the passive voice, but I was informed this week that I'm broadly disliked in certain circles in town, circles with which some of you run. That, I cannot help; I am who I am, and I believe what I believe. As our town's elected education representatives, however, you ought to be concerned about my belief that the teachers' negotiating tactics and their ever-increasing slice of the budgetary pie made it a matter of parental responsibility to pull my children from our public schools. My wife and I cannot afford private school, but our assessment is that we would be shirking our duties as parents not to sacrifice for it.

Our house --- the only home that our children can remember --- should not be among those sacrifices. But if the cost thereof should increase in keeping with recent yearly trends, its loss is a very real possibility, and we are most definitely not alone.

In these times, Tiverton teachers --- who are already well paid in comparison with the norms under which average Rhode Islanders live --- ought to be giving back, not demanding thousands of dollars in retroactive pay. If they receive raises, instead, the possibility of keeping tax increases within bounds will disappear, and I'd remind you that you do not represent them, but us.

At every meeting you are all presented the faces, the voices, and the requests of public school teachers. They may not demand so much attention, but my family has faces and voices, too. Ms. Black and Ms. Herrmann see those faces and (despite my admonishments) hear those voices every Sunday morning, and I hereby request that you represent us and refuse to write large checks to working-to-rule teachers during times of fiscal uncertainty. I request that you consider my children before you decide that teachers whom their tax-paying father does not trust with their education deserve to be rewarded even as every private-sector Tiverton worker suffers pay cuts, unemployment, or (if they're lucky) insecurity.

If you would hesitate before telling my children that they should live in their grandparents' basement so that union teachers can continue to earn well above the median household income for the state, do not ratify this contract. The stakes are that high.

With sincerity and hope,

Justin Katz

Pulling Together the Change Agents

Justin Katz

If the statewide election results accomplished anything, this year, it was to up the ante for pessimism in Rhode Island. Whereas we used to ask each other how bad things would have to get, here, before voters would begin to wake up, it is beginning to seem more realistic to ask whether the state can save itself at all.

The partisan Democrats are busily constructing distractions to deflect the blame that obviously falls at their feet. The ideologically driven liberals have not relented in their push for progress toward oblivion and, indeed, have inhaled some pure oxygen with Obama's success. Economic recession, even depression, will shore up the poverty advocates' ammunition and expand the base of struggling families who are susceptible to their message. And public union members have, if anything, been sending a message that they want to compromise even less than their leaders.

Meanwhile, the exodus of productive taxpayers continues apace. In fact, I'll be so bold as to predict that the stream will become a flood unless Rhode Island manages to beat the rest of the nation out of recession — an unlikely scenario bordering on impossibility. For many residents who might be inclined to reorder the state, saying "uncle" won't entail resignation to changing our government, but to changing zip codes. Indeed, I can testify from my own experience that construction industry realities and disconcerting noises from my employer leave me little choice but to begin preparing an escape route.

In other words, time is short to rally those who would change Rhode Island for the better and to concentrate their talents for maximum effect. We have to push aside egos, spread around resources, and work together in designing structure:

  • The Rhode Island GOP: The official state opposition party has to lower its profile for a while. Its role should retrench to support of grassroots operations and maintenance of a channel to the national party structure. Step away from the stove for a bit and let the boil stir the broth; perhaps it's to the best if some detritus burns to the bottom of the pot.
  • Local "CC" Groups: Town-level taxpayer organizations, such as those in Tiverton, Portsmouth, East Providence, Lincoln, and Little Compton, need to arise in every town and concentrate on changing the habits and processes of government at the municipal level. Their focus should be on identifying citizens who might require only a little push to become active and to give residents a sense that they can make a difference if they would just engage. In this way, they may be able to give hope and a reason to stay to those Rhode Islanders whom we can't afford to lose, while building up a base of informed citizens with whom to populate town and state government.
  • Rhode Island Statewide Coalition: While the local groups form and get up to speed, RISC should focus on building an infrastructure to link them together and identify areas of common cause. As the "CC" groups develop their understanding of municipal government, they'll begin to identify the areas in which state law hinders their advancement. They'll also run right into entrenched organizations, such as the teachers unions, that act statewide. RISC can facilitate the initiation of CCs, whether financially or by connecting interested organizers with the leaders of successful groups in other towns, aggregate the intelligence about state-level obstacles, and prepare channels by which town groups can expand to statewide office and action.
  • Ocean State Policy Research Institute: As an organic network grows from town to town, there is clearly a role for a think-tank-style organization to research the statewide playing field and to develop policy suggestions that answer the CC groups' findings as well as broader problems that the state faces. While it will be important for OSPRI to remain organizationally independent from direct political interests, it will be critical for it and RISC to work together as complementary state-level organizations — in particular to avoid duplicated efforts.
  • TransformRI: To be honest, I haven't developed a sufficient sense of TransformRI's goals to place it within this proposed structure, but there are certainly gaps remaining that it may readily fill. Again, the key will be for the organization to work with the others, not duplicating their efforts.

Any successful network requires the involvement of "people groups," with the goal of furthering principles that they support:

  • Rhode Island Republican Assembly: RIRA's Web site quotes Ronald Reagan as characterizing the California Republican Assembly as "the conscience of the Republican Party," and RIRA's role should be to populate the reform structure in Rhode Island with an eye toward maintaining principles that ought not be diluted.
  • Moderate Party of Rhode Island: That said, there remain plenty of Rhode Islanders who recognize the pending calamity in their state and have a sound understanding of the steps necessary to avoid the worst of it. For that reason, it will remain important for dyed-in-the-wool conservatives and Republicans to work alongside self-identifying moderates. Compromises will have to go both ways, of course, such that nobody walks away from the table based on tangential or wholly irrelevant differences of opinion or aesthetic preferences. Toward that end distinct party labels are probably advisable, but cross-endorsements, so to speak, ought to be encouraged.
  • College Republican Federation of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Young Republicans: Similarly to RIRA, groups for young Republicans in the state should be brought into the fold, not only to cull active participants, but to involve a different voice and perspective.

Where Anchor Rising Fits into the Scheme.

Having observed the results of such a project, the contributors of Anchor Rising have no intention of becoming a propaganda organ for partisan activism, but when the lines are so clear and the needs so broad as in RI, there is no conflict between independence and cooperation. Our unique platform and established voice put us in an advantageous position to fill in gaps between and connect the various groups described above, primarily for the ends of communications and messaging:

  • The contributors are universally interested in researching and analyzing Rhode Island's problems, making it a natural inclination to take the findings of others — whether OSPRI's research or the CC groups' experience — and fit them into the narrative of the state. In that way, we would connect the various dots and help to make the case for suggested changes.
  • Blogs are also an excellent route by which to bring exposure to stories and events that might fall through the cracks of mainstream media attention. Not only could we keep distant members of the statewide network informed, but we could provide a stepping stone from which to hand stories to larger media organizations, feeding the news upward, so to speak.
  • As a setting for public discussion — not only in the comments, but also through our Engaged Citizen feature — we provide an online forum for continual principle and message development. To keep reformers focused and united will require a mechanism for sharing experience and working out differences (or agreeing to disagree), and an independent Web site allows that discussion to occur.

What I'm proposing, from our end, begins with a request: If you help us to generate enough revenue initially to fund a single full-time position for the site administrator (ahem), we can become a substantial force enabling the construction of a statewide opposition movement. We could expand our coverage of relevant events and develop our understanding of the players and playing field. I'd also take it as a goal to seek out and encourage Rhode Islanders who display an interest in getting involved, particularly with respect to public debate. I've got a list of specific initiatives on which I'd embark from day-one as a professional blogger (for lack of a better term), but I won't burden you with them, here; even presented vaguely, the value proposition is crystal clear.

For the time being, it is our intention to remain non-non-profit, so as to ensure both independence and privacy, but we'd be open to working with anybody who's interested in helping, whether via donations, advertising, or some other mutually beneficial arrangement.

Considering what we've accomplished as a group of part-time hobbyists, I'm confident that, if we can fund a single year of increased involvement, we could get Anchor Rising standing on its own feet, perhaps even chasing down Rhode Island's problems at a run within a year.

Please contact me with any leads or suggestions:

Justin Katz
(401) 835-7156
P.O. Box 751
Portsmouth, RI 02871

The Waves of Objection

Justin Katz

Travis Rowley has an op-ed in today's Providence Journal responding to Bill Lynch's attempt to redirect blame for Rhode Island's economic collapse from his astonishingly dominant political party. Rowley makes one point that is critical to understanding the state's predicament:

There is not a conservative reform that a Republican governor can recommend without causing the Rhode Island left to convulse into a mob and storm the State House. Recent attempts by Governor Carcieri to cut the state workforce, alter union contracts, and curb illegal immigration are just a few that come to mind.

It's a mistake to characterize that dynamic in left-right terms, and one should avoid presenting it as a reactive force. The coalition of groups that have linked arms to maintain Rhode Island's fatal status quo have positioned its members such that they are available to protest on short notice and will do so based on their individual interests. The machine is primed quickly to identify any whispers, from the left or the right (although mostly the right, of course), of any policies that might threaten some flow of money or power and then to rally troops that, by design, need not make any particular sacrifice to attend rallies.

There will be no hope for the state until this force is countered or dispersed.

November 23, 2008

A Show of Death

Justin Katz

Such stories give one a sense that reality is slipping away:

The family of a college student who killed himself live on the Internet say they're horrified his life ended before a virtual audience, and infuriated that viewers of the live webcam or operators of the Web site that hosted it didn't act sooner to save him.

Only after police arrived to find Abraham Biggs dead in his father's bed did the Web feed stop Wednesday - 12 hours after the 19-year-old Broward College student first declared on a Web site that he hated himself and planned to die.

Obviously, the technology is not centrally to blame, but I do wonder how much the reinforcement of an audience dulls the natural reluctance to do one's self harm with a reluctance to admit weakness by pulling back from the edge. This incident is eerily similar to the 2003 death of Brandon Vedas, who, although he hadn't declared his intention to kill himself, was intent on showing his online audience how "hardcore" he was.

Clearly Not "For the Children"

Justin Katz

Tiverton Citizens for Change is moving forward from its electoral successes:

The School Committee should reject a tentative two-year teachers' contract at its meeting Tuesday in light of possible unanticipated cuts in state aid to local schools during the current fiscal year, according to the anti-tax group Tiverton Citizens for Change.

The committee and the union representing about 190 teachers were at an impasse for about 14 months before reaching a tentative settlement in nonbinding arbitration Nov. 5, a day after the general election, which turned out the longtime committee chairwoman and put two new members on the five-person panel. ...

In calling for the committee to oppose the pact, Tiverton Citizens for Change cited Governor Carcieri’s recent announcement of a projected deficit of $233.6 million in revenue before the end of the fiscal year. ...

"Some will suggest this additional funding request is for the children. It is not. It is for the teachers," said TCC president Dave Nelson in a statement.

Schools Supt. William F. Rearick has recommended passage of the agreement, which he estimated would give each teacher an annual net raise ranging from about $1,100 to $2,500.

I've suggested to the governor that he (or a representative) should attend Tuesday night's school committee meeting as a statement of, essentially, "This is the sort of thing I'm talking about." He won't likely be there, but I'd encourage anybody else with an interest in stopping Rhode Island's hole-digging to make an appearance.

What kind of bloggers are we?

Marc Comtois

Here's one of those weekend fluff things to do. The "Typealyzer" (h/t) claims to be able to analyze the content and writing of a blog and then categorize its character. Type in the URL of your favorite blog and away you go. Not for nothing, but both Anchor Rising and, er, Not for Nothing come out as "Thinkers":

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

Heh. Anyway, the folks over at RI Future are "Guardians."
The organizing and efficient type. They are especially attuned to setting goals and managing available resources to get the job done. Once they´ve made up their mind on something, it can be quite difficult to convince otherwise. They listen to hard facts and can have a hard time accepting new or innovative ways of doing things.

The Guardians are often happy working in highly structured work environments where everyone knows the rules of the job. They respect authority and are loyal team players.

The future is more of the same!? Local blogs Kmeraka and The Ocean State Republican both are "Mechanics":
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Blog action heroes? Whoda thunk. Finally, the Libertarian Observer and Antiprotester are "Scientists":
The long-range thinking and individualistic type. They are especially good at looking at almost anything and figuring out a way of improving it - often with a highly creative and imaginative touch. They are intellectually curious and daring, but might be physically hesitant to try new things.

The Scientists enjoy theoretical work that allows them to use their strong minds and bold creativity. Since they tend to be so abstract and theoretical in their communication they often have a problem communicating their visions to other people and need to learn patience and use concrete examples. Since they are extremely good at concentrating they often have no trouble working alone.

As in most general psychological analysis tools, there is a good bit of truth in all of these (cutting both ways).

November 22, 2008

Rhode Island's Fiefdoms

Justin Katz

Although, as I've admitted, I'm not particularly familiar with the laws of those distant Rhode Island municipalities, further information about Bill Felkner's ouster from the Chariho School Committee seems likely to have involved multiple violations:

Bill Felkner of Ashaway, who has served on the School Committee since 2006 and whose term expires in 2010, was elected to the Hopkinton council on Nov. 4 and sworn in on Monday. He said he asked both the state Board of Elections and the Ethics Commission if he could hold both seats and was told -- unofficially --that he could hold both as long as he didn't vote on school issues for the town or town issues for the school committee.

He said he didn't get the packet of meeting documents that is routinely delivered to members of the School Committee on the Friday before a Tuesday session, he said.
When he arrived at the Chariho Middle School on Tuesday for the 6:30 p.m. closed session that was to precede the 7 p.m. public meeting, he still did not have a packet and there was no name card marking his place at the table.

He sat down anyway.

The meeting opened at 6:30 with the Chariho Regional School District lawyer, Jon M. Anderson, being invited to speak. He delivered the opinion that Felkner was no longer a member of the School Committee.

William Day, a Richmond member who was still chairman of the School Committee until his successor was elected about an hour later, said he was satisfied with that opinion and refused to acknowledge Felkner as anything but a member of the public. He did not allow Felkner to comment and instructed the clerk not to count his vote. ...

In a few minutes, they all came out again and took their seats. Day again invited Anderson to speak.

The lawyer told Felkner that he had effectively given up his board seat when he was sworn in as a Hopkinton councilman the day before.

Day polled the committee members on whether Felkner should be removed from the meeting. With Felkner's vote not counted and Terri Serra abstaining, the vote was 5 to 4, and Day asked Patrolman Kelley to remove Felkner.

Without public announcement, an elected official was simply written out of the committee by the chairman and the committee's lawyer. No process, no hearing.

Bill's got much more detail on his blog, with this noteworthy bit:

George Abbott tried to reason with the attorney as well – "you mentioned these conflicts of interest...I realize that the issues are rather different, but I would say we have to remove all the people that have family working at Chariho. I don't say this to insult anybody, but how does that differ from your opinion that voting on various issues affecting the town would present a conflict of interest ..."

[editors note] Andy McQuade just graduated from Chariho 2 years ago and has an aunt working there. Frmr vice chairman Andy Polouski worked at Chariho for 34 years and has a niece working there. Current vice chairman Bob Petit's cousin is Brian Stanley, the business administrator. Chairperson Holly Eaves is going to school right now to become a teacher. And frmr chairman Bill Day's wife and son are employees at Chariho and Bill works for Perspectives as a "one on one" — this position requires that he spend his day with a special needs individual at that person's workplace. Where does that person work? You guessed it, Chariho — shredding paper. So the frmr chairman, who just arbitrarily ruled to have me removed, has a wife and son employed at Chariho and he spends his days there too. And his employer (Perspectives) receives compensation for that time.

So, with no specific legal justification, and with plenty of evidence that the bar for conflict-of-interest violations is high indeed, the committee's attorney issued, essentially, a ruling that Felkner was in violation. As we're observing in Tiverton, these municipal lawyers seem often to take their role as justifying the desires of the councils and committees that they serve — or the desires of a handful of members — rather than advising the citizen politicians about what the law actually is.

An Obaman Education

Justin Katz

Well, that was fast:

The Hempstead Union Free School District board voted unanimously Thursday night to rename Ludlum Elementary School as Barack Obama Elementary School. The change went into effect immediately, school officials said Friday.

Officials for the Long Island district say they think the school is the country's first to be named after the first black president-elect, although similar efforts to rename schools, parks and streets are under way elsewhere.

Although it would probably be yet another statement that others will declare beyond the pale to state, it's difficult to ascribe this recognition to much more than the color of his skin. The guy hasn't done anything, yet!

Well, he has chosen a school for his daughters:

Now we learn that [DC schools chancellor] Rhee's schools aren't good enough for Obama's children: The president-elect has chosen to enroll his girls at Sidwell Friends. This is nothing new. The elite opponents of school choice routinely keep their children out of public schools.

Word on the dog is forthcoming, but I'm sure there's a kennel or two already researching the process of changing their names.

Looking for the Bottom

Justin Katz

So what level of unemployment do you think Rhode Island is really going to hit?

The latest jobs report is grim even in light of the economic forecast released yesterday by the nonprofit New England Economic Partnership. The NEEP economists predicted that during the next two years, Rhode Island would lose nearly 15,000 more jobs and unemployment would hit 10 percent, probably by the end of next year.

But the pace of the decline is swifter than predicted. The October job losses already account for more than 70 percent of the 3,400 jobs that NEEP had forecast the state would lose during October, this month and next month.

Surely losing another 0.7% during several years of recession is optimistic. Actually, a different article in yesterday's paper puts the bottom at 10.3% within the next two years, which seems improbably low considering that last month saw a 0.5% decline. At that rate, we'll hit 10.3% in two months. But here's the depressing thing:

After Rhode Island, Maine could be next in line, with a projected peak unemployment rate of 8.7 percent.

Connecticut and Massachusetts would land in the middle, with each at 8.3 percent. And New Hampshire could peak at 7.4 percent, with the lowest spike in unemployment in Vermont, at 6.9 percent.

That's right, the second worst predicted unemployment rate in New England is well below what Rhode Island is currently experiencing. The situation in the other four states will only get as bad as things were here six months ago, or so, back when we were all only beginning to worry.

And Rhode Islanders actually further entrenched the power of the folks who did this to our state. It's going to be a winter of cold, cold reality.

November 21, 2008

When Rep. Trillo Mentions Tax Hikes....

Marc Comtois

....look out.

Rep. Joseph A. Trillo, of Warwick...said he expects a battle over new taxes in the coming weeks and months.

“The problem is, if we go down that road — and we may have to, hopefully we don’t — we face the possibility of more people who have to leave [Rhode Island],” he said. “We can put up tolls, but we can’t put up fences.”

Legislators Looking for Answers

Marc Comtois

Some Rhode Island legislators are looking into what businesses require to compete and be successful in the Ocean State:

Members of the House Finance Committee spent the morning visiting five prospering manufacturing companies around Rhode Island. Their mission: listen to company executives to find out what the legislature can do to promote job creation....

The ideas that emerged were as diverse as the companies themselves: create a better incubator environment for new businesses; mandate more efficient permitting processes at the state and local levels; create partnerships between universities and local businesses to cultivate a better job pool; and finally, get out there and recruit companies to come to Rhode Island.

Add in working to maximize the existing, natural advantages we have here--like, say, promoting maritime industries--and we'll be getting somewhere.

Robin Hood Government Isn't an Economic Stimulus

Justin Katz

Bryant University Assistant Professor of Economics Edinaldo Tebaldi steps around an important consideration with the following:

During recessions, the government often acts as a "buffer" to help revive the economy, Tebaldi said, by increasing spending to generate jobs and boost economic activity. But state government is actually "doing the opposite" by cutting personnel and programs in order to close a budget deficit, he said.

"So rather than operating as a buffer to help the economy get out of the recession faster," Tebaldi said, "they're actually contributing to make the recession even more severe."

This may be true in situations in which the government has been tightly controlled and limited prior to the economic downturn or in which the private sector is, for some reason, not maximizing its opportunity potential. But Rhode Island has been operating under a de facto deficit for years, plugging the holes with one-time fixes, and its productive citizens have been fleeing for lack of opportunity.

Expanding government, at this time, by borrowing or increasing taxes would "buffer" the private sector right out of the state. Public sector employees, and those who rely on government for funding do not create wealth, private sector innovators and go-getters do. Rhode Island state government can only help its cause by encouraging people to move from the former group to the latter.

This Right, That Right, Who's Right?

Justin Katz

So, John Henke warns social-religious conservatives of electoral apocalypse should they excise libertarians:

Social conservatives have to realize that they need the fiscally conservative, socially moderate/tolerant voters if they want to be a part of a winning coalition. The limited government message won revolutionary victories for Republicans in 1980 and 1994; it is the only viable organizing principle for the current Republican coalition.

And Ramesh Ponnuru takes the opposing view:

His point that social conservatives need economic conservatives is well taken. But the reverse is also true, and indeed more true. So, in the bit you quote, he suggests that it was limited government that won the day in 1994, with social conservatives along for the ride. It would oversimplify matters, but be much closer to the truth, to suggest that "God, gays, and guns" powered Republican successes that year—and the "revolution" sputtered out as soon as Republicans touched Medicare.

There's a group being lost in the back and forth, and I think it's probably the largest of the three, or at least a sort of right-wing swing vote: social-religious-economic conservatives. We who fall in that category believe in limited government and low taxes, but with the consequence that the government and religion must have a working relationship, as it were, and that laws can and should have a moral component. We also believe, however, that too expansive and invasive a government will ultimately crush the values that we seek to instill in the American people.

We are wary of socially conservative big-government types, but repelled by the libertinism that underlies the libertarian movement. Come election time, we weigh the extremity of both strains in each individual candidate and would suggest that the winning conservative strategy would be to develop and promote a consistent political philosophy that balances the two right wings and doesn't cede one-half of our agenda to the socially and economically liberal left.

Beware Butter

Marc Comtois

Glenn Reynolds:

Though people still speak of a decision to go to war as something done to enhance the political position of incumbent presidents, history doesn't support that. Truman fought in Korea and lost the next election. LBJ had to give up the White House over Vietnam. George H.W. Bush won in Iraq and enjoyed 90% approval ratings but lost the next election anyway. And George W. Bush's political position certainly doesn't seem to have benefited from the invasion of Iraq; even in 2004, it was an electoral drag, and things only got worse.

By contrast, presidents who push big social programs generally get a political boost and--because the costs and disasters of social programs are less obvious than the costs of war--there's seldom any real downside.

So the notion that war is the friend of big government seems questionable to me, based on things that have happened in the past century at least. Rather, it seems that economic crisis, and economic intervention, is the thing to worry about if you want to keep government under control. Which bodes poorly for current times, when the war's won but the bailouts are coming fast and furious. Eternal vigilance--especially now.

For Whom the Bell Chimes

Justin Katz

Per his usual participation, msteven makes a fair and reasonable point:

The truth is that marriage is and always has been open to opposite-sex couples that are not open to children. I agree that the issue isn't JUST about the acceptance of homosexuality, and that allowing SSM is a significant change to the historical definition of marriage. But, as you said, "... circumstances sometimes eliminate the ideal", and I think it is reasonable for SSM advocates to argue that theirs is another circumstance that should be considered. I am NOT saying I totally agree with them or that SSM is 'constitutional’, but that it is about drawing a line.

There is a broad, bold line that must be crossed in order to admit homosexuals as another exception to the marital norm. Indeed, I've already stressed that we oughtn't belittle non-marital family forms. People do their best with what they're given, and forcing them into molds that don't fit as a condition of doing something good — such as caring for others' children or pledging mutual care to another adult — could hardly be to their or society's benefit. Those who incline toward admirable life structures oughtn't be discouraged.

Certainly, there are people who incline toward marriage, and I've long maintained that heterosexuals who enter into matrimony for all the right reasons don't need civil recognition, and changes to the civil institution will affect them not in the least. But such folks invest in the image of marriage in order to make the option as palatable, even as attractive, as it is responsible. The young man whose girlfriend discovers herself to be pregnant should have a clear social model encouraging him to associate his progeny with a stable household including their mother.

If marriage is all about "love," then those whom marriage is meant to change can quite reasonably reject the notion that they should marry on the grounds that they do not love enough. Too be sure, we're too far down this road, already, but same-sex marriage, as an accepted proposition, would solidify the principle as a matter of stark law.

Worse, however, is that "love" is ultimately a religious concept, and civil marriage, if disconnected from the purpose of encouraging potentially procreative pairs toward stable relationships, is really about benefits and mutual care, to which any number of family types could rightly lay claim. In that light, it should be clear that the "exception" of allowing non-procreative, heterosexual couplings to enter into marriage is hardly a compromise at all: It merely creates a simple definition of marriage toward a necessary purpose, without imposing arduous and implausible obstacles, such as fertility tests or procreation pledges as a condition of a marriage license.

November 20, 2008

Change You Can Believe In... Because You've Already Seen It

Justin Katz

So here comes good ol' Tom Daschle back to the government, this time in Obama's cabinet:

Barack Obama is enlisting former Senate leader Tom Daschle as his health secretary, embracing a third Washington insider in the early stages of Cabinet-building by the president-elect who promised change. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the capital's most famous woman for two decades, seemed ever more likely to be his secretary of state. ...

... Daschle stayed in the capital city after his defeat, becoming a public policy adviser and member of the legislative and public policy group at the law and lobbying firm Alston & Bird. Daschle isn't registered as a lobbyist. He advises clients on issues including health care, financial services and taxes and trade, according to the firm's Web site.

Health care interests, including CVS Caremark, the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, Abbott Laboratories and HealthSouth, are among the firm's lobbying clients. ...

"It's a terrific choice," said Sen. Max Baucus, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. "I am elated. As a former member he certainly knows the Congress, he knows the Senate, he is deeply committed to health care reform."

Is it me, or is Obama's executive branch beginning to look a lot like an executive committee of the legislature?

(Biaswatch Bonus: Gotta love an AP report that characterizes Republican comments as "sniping.")


VDH makes some good points on this:

... given Obama's absence of executive experience and brief tenure in the Senate, Obama never was in a position to assemble an insider team other than the Chicagoan Axlerod. So what was Obama to do when he needed savvy advisors and a brain trust he could count on from the old days to form the nucleus of his advisors and cabinet?

He could hardly draw on personal friends like Ayers, Khalidi, Pfleger, Rezko, and Wright. Other than Friends of Bill, the last Democrats to be insiders were the Carterites now in their 80s. So if a Democrat were to be elected President without much experience, and without friends or advisors he could draw upon who were qualified for office and worldly about Washington's macabre politics, who but the Clintonites were there?

This seems to be an unprecedented development entirely neglected by the media, this sudden reliance on a primary rival's team—ipso facto an illustration of Obama's thinner political resumé.

The Straight Ticket Conversation

Justin Katz

Marc took the air with Matt Allen, last night and talked straight ticket voting. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

In and Out of Town Government

Justin Katz

I don't know the rules in Hopkinton, so I can't comment on Bill Felkner's ejection from the Chariho School Committee dais on the grounds that he's also a Hopkinton Town Council member, but it seems to me there must be some laws permitting him to sit in the audience of a public meeting:

Bill Felkner, a member of the Chariho School Committee who was elected to the Hopkinton Town Council, was escorted from the school board meeting last night after a vote that he be removed.

A lawyer for the School Committee, Jon M. Anderson, said Felkner stopped being a committee member when he took the oath of office for the Hopkinton Town Council on Monday night. He said a courtroom, not the Chariho School Committee’s first meeting, was the proper place to decide the dispute.

William Day, in his last few minutes as chairman before Holly Eaves, of Charlestown, was elected to succeed him, polled the other members of the board about whether Felkner should be removed. A majority voted yes.

Richmond police Officer Dan Kelley, who was standing by, was asked to escort Felkner out.

Felkner asked if he could sit in the audience, which included Town Council members from all three Chariho towns, but the officer told him he had to leave the building.

Out of the Hole

Justin Katz

I'm a little delayed in posting it, but during last week's Anchor Rising spot on the Matt Allen Show, Andrew explained just how daunting is the problem of bringing the Rhode Island government within its budget. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Please Get Your Python Fix from the Official Source

Monique Chartier

Here, to be exact. So sayeth Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones and Palin:

November 19, 2008

Bankruptcy, please

Donald B. Hawthorne

Continuing the previous discussion here and here about what should be done about the (formerly) "Big 3" automakers, the Editors at National Review offer their thoughts:

Bailout or bankruptcy? For General Motors, the answer is — yes. But mostly the latter.

There is no saving GM in its present state and no good argument for trying. It is currently losing $500 or more on every car it makes. As of 2007, it was paying its workers at a $20-per-hour premium over what Toyota was paying just down the road. It’s a company with terrible management, terrible unions, and not very many good products. Its shareholders already have been substantially wiped out; there’s very little left for them to lose.

Congress must be reminded to view GM as a car company. It isn’t a health-care provider for the state of Michigan or a federal jobs program, even though members of Congress talk as though it were...It’s not Congress’s business to evaluate business models.

We have a good, proven process for dealing with companies that have short-term cash-flow problems and valuable underlying assets, and that process is called bankruptcy. There was a reasonable (though not ironclad) case to be made that government intervention was prudent in the case of the bank failures because of the risk of a systemic crisis in the credit markets. There is no comparable argument for GM...

There is no shame in bankruptcy. It can be a good thing — dozens of companies have entered bankruptcy, reorganized their finances, and emerged stronger than before. Policymakers should endeavor to make use of the time-tested institutions we already have rather than invent new solutions — also known as "making it up as we go along" — whose unintended consequences we must later endure. We have 200 years of bankruptcy law behind us; our Constitution itself touches on the subject...

GM has real assets — by some estimates, the steel in its buildings is worth more than its current market capitalization of just under $2 billion. GM’s factories, distribution network, intellectual property, and inventory — as well as the expertise of its workforce — are all highly valuable assets. The United Auto Workers are keen on saving their jobs and the $70-an-hour paychecks that go with them, but GM’s payouts to UAW members are one of the major drains on the firm’s future, and a big part of why its market value as a company is less than the value of its buildings and other assets.

While we hope that most of the UAW’s members stay on the job — these highly skilled workers will be needed, whatever happens next — GM’s management has to go. Any taxpayer exposure should be contingent on the exit of every C-level executive from the company, at a minimum.

Shareholders have claims on GM. So do the UAW and its retirees, and so do creditors. The place to work out those competing claims is in bankruptcy court. GM and its taxpayer-funded lobbyist Debbie Stabenow — who moonlights as a U.S. senator — will come with their hands out, telling tales of global financial woe and talking rot about the Big Three’s being essential to national security. But GM isn’t in trouble because of the global credit crisis — it’s in trouble because it’s a poorly run company. If it is essential that American drivers have cars made in America by Americans, there are Toyotas rolling out of Kentucky. GM should roll into bankruptcy court.

As a long-time restructuring professional who has been hired as an interim CEO or consultant to take numerous companies through bankruptcy and other out-of-court restructurings, the only viable solution for companies in GM's condition is bankruptcy.

There is a myth that every bankruptcy equals a liquidation outcome. Simply not true. Think of a typical bankruptcy as a court-ordered timeout where the company is provided with protection and time to restructure its operations so they can become cash flow positive, profitable and therefore offer more reliable employment to the remaining employees.

Many companies do such restructurings on their own and out-of-court when market trends require changes in strategy or operations. Adapting to changing market dynamics is simply part of good management. And sometimes circumstances beyond management's control change so swiftly that a formal restructuring process like bankruptcy is necessary.

By contrast, the Big 3 have had opportunities for years to complete their respective out-of-court restructurings. Their key stakeholders - including both management and the UAW leadership - have all failed to get the job done.

Any government bailout would reward past bad behaviors by leaving the stakeholders - with their ongoing track record of failure - in positions of power. Why would anyone trust people who have blown through billions of dollars of cash and destroyed shareholder value with more billions of other people's money? They deserve to be kicked out, not bailed out.

A government bailout would also implicitly suggest that political power in DC can trump economic reality at the companies. Only politicians and incompetent executives would believe the dangerous illusion that economic reality can be wished away by legislation and funny money. A bailout is nothing but corporate welfare for powerful corporations.

A bailout would only serve to perpetuate the negative cash flow status quo, which would require further bailouts. Why? Because a bailout undermines incentives for real change, for key stakeholders to make the necessary hard decisions...and we have years of empirical proof that the necessary tough decisions never get made in Detroit.

The business model for the Big 3 is an outright failure. It must be blown up and rebuilt to be cash flow positive and profitable. It can be done; all you have to do is look at the numerous other auto makers in the USA to find auto companies who have cash flow positive operations.

Restructuring the Big 3 is not a job for Congress, any politicians, taxpayer's monies, or current management. It is a job for turnaround professionals, distressed investors, and a new set of industry professionals, people who know what has to happen now, who are not bound to legacy issues, and who bring a sense of urgency to the problems at hand. Only then will a genuine rebirth be possible.

(BTW, the next time CEO's fly to DC to beg for billions of other people's dollars, don't take your private jets. It is a wonderfully symbolic example of why they should all be given their walking papers.)


Expanding on the thoughts found in the two previous links at the beginning of this post, here are more thoughts -

Mitt Romney: Let Detroit go bankrupt
Rand Simberg: Want change? Let's try truly free markets
Don Boudreaux: 'Too Big to Fail' Gets it Wrong - Failure is vital for unproductive companies, especially the big ones
Megan McArdle: Right to work
Megan McArdle: Keep bailing...
Megan McArdle: Save the Rust Belt
Megan McArdle: Invidious Comparisons
Megan McArdle: Viewed from afar, it's lovely...
Acre of Independence: Saving Detroit - An investment in future failure
Jim Lindgren: A Simple Argument Against the Auto Bailout: A Bailout Would Destroy Jobs
Will Wilkerson: Failure - for our future
Will Wilkerson: I Find Myself Agreeing with My Own Assumptions More Often Than Not
George Will: In Detroit, failure's a done deal
David Yermack: Just say no to Detroit - Given the abysmal performance by Detroit's Big Three, it would be better to send each employee a check than to waste it on a bailout
Tiger Hawk: Do not bail out the Detroit Three
Jim Manzi: Two questions about the Motor City shakedown
Jim Manzi: Detroit - Same old, same old
Jim Manzi: That 70's show
David Brooks: Bailout to nowhere
Jennifer Rubin commenting on David Brooks: You mean he thinks government knows best?
Eric Torbenson: Why we shouldn't bail out the Big 3 automakers
John Derbyshire: Next Under the Bus: UAW? Or an auto-industry bailout?
Power Line: No UAW bailout
Don Boudreaux: Truer words were never spoken
Rodney Long: Corporations versus the market


On the broader, philosophical issues underlying the bailout debate, Victor Davis Hanson: Failure is not an option - Today it seems the grossly incompetent and inefficient must be preserved at all costs:

We all remember the advice about failure we received from our parents and teachers. "If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again." "Learn from your mistakes." "Failure breeds success."

The common theme was that some sort of failure in life is inevitable. It is a wake-up call for reflection — and should prompt needed change. Our character is not just built from success, but during setbacks as well.

But now Americans seem to think such folk wisdom is obsolete. First came the $700-billion bailout of the financial industry. Such a one-time federal guarantee was perhaps necessary to restore liquidity for the failed banking system, but it sent a terrible message.

Those who caused the mess — greedy traders, corrupt politicians, incompetent CEOs, and gullible stockbrokers — got a collective reprieve...

The teetering U.S. auto industry is now next in line for a multi-billion-dollar federal bailout. But for decades, Detroit made gas-guzzling automobiles that the public believed were not as well built as the Japanese competition — despite being made by unionized workers who were paid far more than those somehow building better cars. Will overpaid auto executives and workers worry about the consequences of their ongoing mistakes when the government has assured them that failing is not an option?

States and cities are lining up as well for fail-safe cash...

All sorts of promises are proposed to bail out mortgage holders who have defaulted or owe more than their homes are worth. Apparently, no debtor is really culpable. And apparently, no one took out second or third mortgages for optional consumer purchases, or bought homes too large for their incomes.

What is the lesson here for other pinched families who will not default and will somehow meet their mortgage obligations, even on homes with negative equity? Is it that those who pay what they owe are punished while those who fail to do so are excused?

President-Elect Barack Obama promised over $1 trillion in new entitlements at a time when the Bush administration may well run a $500 billion annual deficit, only adding to a $10 trillion national debt. We also have $50 trillion in federal unfunded liabilities, ranging from long-term promises to Medicare and Social Security to payouts for government bonds and guaranteed loans.

Such massive borrowing and guarantees all offer cover for insolvent or poorly run programs (that face no worry of running out of money — and thus have no incentive to change). Corporate farmers just learned that the current $288-billion farm bill will once again provide government subsidies to ensure that it won’t matter much whether they plant the wrong crop at the wrong time.

Universities raise tuition rates that exceed the rate of inflation. But in our brave, new no-failure world, why worry when more promised federal-guaranteed student loans and credits will ensure steady paying enrollment?...

Americans are creating a therapeutic society in which none of us need fail. No one loses in T-ball anymore. Schools honor a dozen valedictorians. In universities, a "C" passing grade is now the understood kinder and gentler version of the old and now-rare "F."

Our culture forgot that there was once a utility in failure. Failing reminded us of what works and what doesn’t — and how we must learn to avoid the latter. Instead, in our new economic purgatory, no firm, company, state, city, or individual ever quite goes to financial heaven or hell. A Bear Stearns or Chrysler neither succeeds nor fails but just sort of endlessly exists.

Russell Roberts: How to move the economy forward? Nobody knows - not even Obama:

President-elect Obama announced the other day that the government would do "whatever it takes" to revive the economy.

I suppose that made some people feel good. After all, who wouldn't want tireless effort in the face of a crucial problem?

Unfortunately, the problem with the economy isn't insufficient effort or focus. The problem is that no one knows what to do next...

If reviving the economy were like reviving a patient whose heart has stopped, then relentless effort would be the key...

But reviving an economy is more like parenting. There's no manual. If there were a parenting manual, every hospital would hand one out with every newborn. But there isn't a manual because each kid is different. And parents come to learn that they aren't really in charge. There's too much of the process they can't control. So great parenting isn't about doing whatever it takes. It's an art. It's about a set of principles and knowing which principle to apply in which situation. When to be tough. When to be soft. When to give a kid a do-over.

Even the most skilled parents make mistakes. Not because they don't understand what it takes to be a good parent. Not because they aren't committed to doing the job as well as it can humanly be done. But simply because there's no way of knowing what to do next.

Often what's called for in parenting is the exact opposite of whatever it takes--what's called for is doing nothing.

Welcome to the world of macroeconomics. Even the wisest president and most skilled secretary of the Treasury doing whatever it takes isn't enough if you don't know what it takes. And there's no way of knowing.

Look at poor Henry Paulson. He can't figure out what to do. But you think it's easy? To revive financial markets, he just has to create confidence and a desire to invest. Piece of cake. Alas, no one knows how to do it. And it isn't from lack of trying. Or desire. Paulson's successor will have one advantage Paulson doesn't have. He'll know something about what not to do. But unfortunately, that isn't enough.

After all the changes in policy and the uses of the TARP that have been announced in the last six weeks, I suspect that confidence and a desire to invest are no longer under the control of the Treasury secretary or the president. If anything, many of Paulson's relentless efforts to move markets forward have made the situation worse.

Obama may promise whatever it takes, but the unfortunate reality is that he faces the same situation that Bush and Paulson have been facing. We need confidence and optimism, but there's no way of knowing how to get there from here.

Obama's only practical suggestion has been to support the idea floating around Congress for a stimulus package of $100 billion or more.

That doesn't exactly meet expectations of doing whatever it takes. That's doing what we've already done.

We tried a $160 billion stimulus package last spring. That accomplished very little. What's the argument for spending $100 billion to revive a $14 trillion economy? A $14 trillion economy where the government has just spent a few hundred billion and counting on financial bailouts and capital injections. To no avail. Does anyone really think that we haven't spent enough?

What if markets are spooked by the specter of government spending without any constraints? What if doing whatever it takes means doing less, rather than more?

That is the conundrum for Obama and the successor to Paulson. The more options there are, the harder it is to know which one is the right one. The more options you try, the more uncertainty is injected into the economy, and the more cautious are investors and employers and consumers.

Nobody knows what it takes to move the economy forward right now.

Which is why policies which create the proper incentives for economic growth and then stepping back to let the marketplace unfold will always be a more productive course of action than direct governmental interventions by politicians and bureaucrats.

Hillary Acts Coy

Monique Chartier

How did President-Elect Obama wind up in the awkward position of standing by while the person on top of his short list vacillates about accepting arguably the most prestigious position in his Cabinet?

Hillary Clinton's "agonizing" decision over whether to accept Barack Obama's offer of the secretary of state position could be the result of her weighing whether she has a better option staying put in the Senate or just no taste for the workload.

The New York senator, who was vanquished by the president-elect in the Democratic presidential primaries, may also not want to play second fiddle, say observers watching the to-and-fro between Clinton and Obama.

Clinton's hesitation could very well be tactical, said Dr. Allan J. Lichtman, a professor of American political history at American University in Washington.

Is this one of those rare occasions when it might be possible to take an emulation of Lincoln too far? Further, as WPRO's Matt Allen asked tonight, should Senator Obama take her hesitation as a life-line and simply move on to the next person on his list?

RE: Matt Allen Show - Straight Party

Marc Comtois

As a follow-up to my appearance on Matt Allen tonight, I thought it worthwhile to provide a link to, which I mentioned to Matt. As I said, they indicate that there are only 15 states that provide the straight-party option, though there are some caveats. For instance:

[1] North Carolina:
A straight party vote DOES NOT include the President. The ballot says:

"The offices of President and Vice President of the United States are not included in a Straight Party vote. This contest must be voted separately."

[2] Oklahoma:
Ballots often have straight-party voting options in multiple places on the ballot. A straight-party vote applies ONLY to the set of offices it precedes on the ballot. This means to vote straight-party in all contests, you must mark several separate straight-party selections.

So, for example, as this Tulsa County sample ballot shows, you can vote straight-party for one or more of: a) Presidential office, b) State Officials, and c) Congressional Officers. A straight-party vote for the Presidential office WILL NOT count for the state and congressional officer contests.

Coincidence or Nepotism? Senator Steve Alves' Job-A-Rama

Monique Chartier

[Yesterday, the Governor settled an ethics complaint about the hiring of his niece-in-law. My post below first appeared on June 1, shortly after the ethics complaint was filed.]

Under my post "I Am Your Father's Brother's Nephew's Cousin's Former Roommate" about Turn To 10's Bill Rappleye "uncovering" the hiring of the Governor's niece-in-law, commenter Citizen Critic asks for a link to the article about family members of state Senator Stephen D. Alves (D-West Warwick) employed in the public sector. There is no link to provide because this information has not appeared in print or pixel.

Listed below, compiled from public records, are the relatives of Senator Alves currently or formerly employed by Rhode Island state or local government.

Name Public Employer
Kathy Vinton Town of West Warwick (School Dept)
Sally Rainville Town of West Warwick (Deceased 2007)
Donna Paliotta Town of West Warwick (School Dept)
Sharon Raiche State of Rhode Island (Judiciary - moved from Dept of Labor & Training)
David Raiche Town of West Warwick (Retired 2007)
William "Chuckie" Alves, Jr. State of Rhode Island (DOT)
Diane Alves State of Rhode Island
Ann Alves Town of West Warwick (Retired)
William "Buddy" Alves Lincoln Park (Greeter)
Alicia Paliotta Town of West Warwick (School Dept)
Peggy Sinnot Alves Town of West Warwick
Steve Alves, Jr. Town of West Warwick
James Alves Town of Exeter
Deborah Tellier Town of West Warwick
Kevin Tellier Town of West Warwick
Lolita Alves Town of West Warwick

Rhode Island a "New Economy" Leader

Marc Comtois

According to this report, Rhode Island is making headway in the "new economy." As reported by the PBN:

Rhode Island moved up to 11th place in the 2008 State New Economy Index released today by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF)....This year’s report cited the state’s R&D tax credit of 22.5 percent – the nation’s highest – “as a key investment,” state economic development officials noted today.

Rhode Island was No. 2 for health-IT initiatives, behind only the Bay State. The report credited government leadership and “an organized effort to make the state a leader in e-prescribing.” It also was No. 2 for residential broadband.

It was No.3 for industry research spending, as a percentage of worker earnings. “Rhode Island may score so well [on industry investment in R&D] because a number of defense electronics and biotechnology firms operate there, and the fact that it instituted the nation’s most generous R&D tax credit several years ago,” the Kauffman / ITIF report said. State economic development officials also cited the 22.5-percent credit, calling it a “key investment.” It was No. 4 for non-industry investment in R&D; the report credited the presence of large federal facilities – mainly, Naval Station Newport.

The state also ranked No. 4 for both its digital economy, based in part on government use of IT, and local industry investment in R&D; and No. 5 for its population of scientists and engineers, as a percentage of the total work force, in part because of the presence of the federal laboratories at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport. In the agriculture and IT ranking, the state tied for No. 5 with Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont.

The Ocean State was honored as the nation’s “Top Mover” for its increase in inventor patents. And it was ranked among the top five movers in the fastest-growing firms category – a ranking by the percentage of local companies on the Deloitte Technology Fast 500 and Inc. 500 lists – where it moved up 10 points from last year to No. 32.

Rhode Island was 23rd in initial public offerings (IPOs); 19th in “gazelle jobs” at companies with fast revenue growth (7.8 percent); and 17th in foreign direct investment (3.1 percent).

There were some negative moves in rankings, but overall the trend is "up." However, these rankings have to be viewed regionally, and the Northeast is extremely strong as whole. To make an analogy, Rhode Island is like the Tampa Bay Rays to the Yankees and Red Sox of New York and Massachusetts, for instance. Still, good news.

Surprise! You're Union.

Justin Katz

Thomas Wigand, a labor lawyer and well-known personage on the Rhode Island right, describes for the Providence Business News just what the Employee Free Choice Act would mean:

This new legislation is called the "Employee Free Choice Act." Some have opined that the name is "Orwellian," for EFCA quashes "free choice" by effectively eliminating secret ballot elections in union-organizing drives. It accomplishes this by mandating "card check" certification of unions. Under a "card check" regime, union organizers need only collect signatures from a simple majority of the targeted work force, upon which the union is "certified" and the entire work force is unionized.

This "card check" process leaves employees at the mercy of union organizers who, working singly and in groups, track down employees at work and in their homes. Experience shows they often subject employees to misrepresentations, which escalate to peer pressure and then to intimidation, until the employee finally relents and signs a union "authorization card." So under EFCA the union ("candidate") can solicit and collect the signatures ("votes") by pretty much whatever means it deems necessary, and then declare itself the victor — exactly the type of "election" regime one would associate with a totalitarian state. ...

The coming administration elevates the enactment of EFCA from "possibility" to "likelihood," though uncertainty as to enactment remains. What is certain is that employers wishing to preserve their union-free advantage should not wait for enactment before responding to this threat. Employee signatures are valid for one year — so even now organizers could be quietly collecting inventories of signatures, readying themselves to pounce on unsuspecting companies immediately after enactment, announcing that their workplace is "now union."

If the EFCA were to pass (which it shouldn't), it seems only fair to add an amendment that would allow employers and anti-union activists to accumulate signatures for a petition that bans unions, or at least requires them to campaign and seek votes.

RE: Further to the Future of the GOP

Marc Comtois

Brendan Miniter of the WSJ:

Several years ago Christie Todd Whitman, former governor of New Jersey and EPA administrator, wrote a book called "It's My Party Too." She used that treatise to argue for the party to abandon its conservative roots. Even after two serious GOP drubbings at the polls, she has found no takers. Likewise, Lincoln Chafee, the former Rhode Island Senator once labeled a "Republican in Name Only," was still complaining last week to the Washington Post that "right-wing talk show hosts and the Ann Coulters and that ilk" never understood that the GOP needs people like him.

Maybe that's because Republicans have looked closely at the election results. The country hasn't so much moved left as it has abandoned a GOP that abandoned its own principles. In Ohio, Barack Obama actually won about 40,000 fewer votes than John Kerry did four years ago. Mr. Obama took Ohio only because John McCain pulled 350,000 fewer votes than George W. Bush did in 2004. Republicans and Republican-leaning voters stayed home.

That's not an endorsement of the ideas of the left. It's a lack enthusiasm for a party that failed to deliver the smaller government it promised in Washington.

Little Guy Finishes First

Marc Comtois

Dan Barbarisi:

All over New England yesterday, the little guy pumped his fist in victory.

The kid who was too small to make the team, the one who was told he didn’t have the arm, or was too slow, now has a reason to go into the backyard and take some more groundballs.

Yesterday, Dustin Pedroia, the biggest little guy in New England, won the American League MVP award and gave an entire generation of those too small, too slow, not-going-to-make-it guys a reason to believe.

Generously listed at 5-foot-9 in the media guide, Boston’s second baseman has been proving his doubters wrong his whole life. After yesterday, he’ll never have to prove anything ever again.

“I’m not the biggest guy in the world, I don’t have that many tools. Looking at me, if I’m walking down the street, you wouldn’t think I’m a baseball player,” Pedroia said after winning. “That’s been the biggest thing in my life — that I have to overcome everything to prove people wrong. And so far I’ve been doing that.”

Pedroia, 25, becomes the third player to win the MVP the year after winning Rookie of the Year, joining Cal Ripken Jr. and Ryan Howard — two of the largest players ever to play their positions. Pedroia hit .326 with 17 home runs and 83 RBI, but his real specialty came in getting to second base and scoring. He led the league with 54 doubles and 118 runs scored.

Way to go Pedey. Now who can inspire us short AND old guys?

What It's About

Justin Katz

Fr. John Kiley offers a clarification of purpose on the marriage issue:

What must be maintained at this time, however, is that Christians and other persons of good will have as their primary focus the defense of marriage. As peripheral to Christianity as same-sex activities are, it is not primarily a struggle against homosexuality that must occupy the believer; it is rather a personal re-examination and eager defense of the true meaning of marriage with its emphasis on an enduring union of one man and one woman open to children. It is marriage that Christians and others are protecting. It is not homosexuals that Christians are victimizing. Believers must not be intimidated by those who twist love for marriage into hatred for gays. Homosexuals are not the issue; marriage is.

It is in no way a perpetuation of bigotry to resist radical changes to principles this longstanding:

A stone-age burial in central Germany has yielded the earliest evidence of people living together as a family.

The 4,600-year-old grave contained the remains of a man, woman and two youngsters, and DNA analysis shows they were a mother, father and their children.

People may form relationships as they desire, and circumstances sometimes eliminate the ideal, but that does not mean that we can't uphold the ideal as a practice and as a model.

November 18, 2008

Further to the Future of the GOP

Monique Chartier

And another friend last week shared some of his own thoughts on the subject.

[Reprinted with permission.]

For our national party and the RIGOP, without question November 5, 2008 was the first day of the rest of our lives. What lies ahead is not a task for the timid, the inexperienced, or the unbalanced. As surely as our party will rise again, it will only recuperate from 2008 if it changes its flawed, compromised approach to growing its membership and winning elections.

Barack Obama’s successful campaign for the Presidency is a long overdue checkpoint for a Republican Party that has lost its vision and stumbles blindly from one election cycle to the next, reacting cynically to every new idea and forgetting its own best old principles. Many in the Party may be uncomfortable with this – but if we remain the Party that cannot rally to the notion of more women, African Americans, and Latinos taking leadership roles in our pluralistic society, we will die. No matter who you are, what you look like or what language you speak at home, the Republican Party does have a message for you and you can be welcome – and grow personally and as a leader in public affairs – if you join us. Here are a couple of ideas with suitably wide appeal:

First, the successful Republican Party of the future will never abandon fiscal conservatism. Our ability to win and hold seats in Congress was doomed when an immediate past national Chair of our Party declared that we don’t talk about fiscal responsibility any more - setting off the most corrupt and noxious wave of earmarking nonsense in recent memory under our brand. If we are true to ourselves, we will work toward the day when every time a pollster asks which party is best able to manage the economy, the word “manage” creates a knee jerk reaction, “Republican.”

America must live up to the challenge of educating its children to compete in a global economy. For too long, the dumbing down of content, the evisceration of civics education championed by the politically correct crowd, and the misallocation of resources to classroom educators who oppose all change have dominated the scene, especially in little Rhode Island. A holy war is not called for. What is needed is a tenacious, well informed effort to focus the public’s attention on the choices we face in education, removing the jargon and other barriers to policy debates in education that the inside crowd has built up so well.

Finally, all the pablum about Democrat tidal waves, entrenched incumbents, the powers of incumbency to write juicy grants, etc. needs to stop. What would Rhode Island look like if Republicans had more control over the course of events? What concrete goals can we set to get us there? We need to stop making excuses first and foremost. It’s time to grow up.

The GOP: What To Emphasize, What to De-emphasize

Monique Chartier

This l.t.e. (no longer on line), forwarded by a friend, appeared in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. It succintly outlines the discussion this evening between WPRO's Matt Allen and National GOP Committeeman (State Representative) Joe Trillo as well as currently among Republicans everywhere.

My own slightly tangential reaction to this letter is: what hijacking? While their continued presence in the Republican party platform is one of the big subjects of the discussion, the pro life/school choice/marriage planks in the Republican party platform did not suddenly appear this year.

Mainstream Republicans and right-leaning independents want to back a party that leads on the issues of spending discipline, government reform, protection of individual liberties and a strong defense. If the Christian right is allowed to continue its hijacking of the GOP, the party will stand simply for pro-life, school choice and antigay marriage. All three are important issues and will keep the evangelical Republicans in line. But the Republican Party must return to its roots to avoid more of the same thumping it experienced on November 4.

Scott Ullem, Chicago.

Prescriptions for the Other Side

Justin Katz

Those all-powerful radio hosts are to blame for the Republicans' misfortunes, according to Steven Stark. If that's the case, perhaps liberals' difficulty succeeding in the medium was a function of strategy. More seriously, I'd point out that Stark has picked two moments in history and asserted a trend, even though Republicans' fortunes have been more of an arc since the late '80s than a downward slide.

But let's allow that some percentage of the electorate has been driven away from the Republican Party out of aversion to heated, audio-only rhetoric. I'd argue that the perception is a generated one. Even the characterization of "the relentless stream of invective from the right side of the dial" is an arguable description, especially in comparison with the viciousness of the Left, in the multiple media that it controls. And it hardly explains why the affable President Bush is so unpopular.

To be sure, Bush's big-government results are far from the conservative ideal. Some might go so far as to accuse the president of trying to be the populist that Stark is gratified to see in Mike Huckabee. At least in the realm of political theory, conservatives are justified in complaining that their philosophy is inaccurately tarred by association with Mr. Bush.

And there's the edge of the paper covering Stark's argument: President Bush was vilified as a conservative, and conservative media stars are portrayed as beyond-the-pale invective slingers, even when their rhetoric is no more heated or divisive than many a successful liberal. If Mike Huckabee had emerged victorious from the Republican primaries, we'd have spent the last six months hearing what a fire-breather he is.

The lesson for conservatives, in short, is not that it needs to present nice, conciliatory policies, or to take mollifying the skittish middle as a priority. To be sure, I'm a fan of calmness and good humor, but I'd suggest that the liberals who are currently deigning to review the faults of the right are not really complaining about style, but about content, and the only way to remedy that is to change our very nature and to turn a blind eye to reality.

One Rhode Island Problem in Color

Marc Comtois

Joseph Henchman of The Tax Foundation "combine[d] state sales tax rates with the weighted average of local sales taxes" to produce the below map (h/t):

As Henchman notes, "Being purple surrounded by brown and white is probably good for your state; being brown surrounded by purple and white not so much." Rhode Island, the "not so much" state.

The Surged Street

Justin Katz

Here's a visual indicator of the success of the surge — as well as a reminder of what stands to be lost if the United States chooses poorly in the coming years.

Most Agree: Straight Party Option is Bad

Marc Comtois

The ProJo's Ed Achorn used some of my data in his latest column in which he explains why the straight-party vote option in the Rhode Island is a stumbling block towards a two-party state.

This scheme...gets pernicious...farther down the ballot, in legislative races with lesser-known candidates. Minus the straight-ticket option, many voters who are ignorant of those candidates and their issues would leave those races blank, letting more knowledgeable voters decide the matter. With the option, voters blindly sweep into office candidates they’ve never heard of.
Rep. David Segal "tend[s] to support getting rid of the straight-ticket lever," but thinks Achorn is blaming all of the GOP woes on the SPV option and observes that most of the legislature would have gone Democrat without all SPV option votes anyway. True, but I don't think Achorn is blaming it all on the SPV, just pointing out that it is but one of the stumbling blocks to having a two-party state, which even George Nee supports (if with a wink). Besides, if a party is built from the bottom up, then it's not at the Legislative level--where Segal focuses--but at the school committee and town council level where candidates cut their teeth. As I've shown, Republicans and especially Independents are really outgunned when faced by the SPV option in such local, down-ticket contests.

TPublico, a contributor at RI Future, has also run the numbers (in more detail than me) and is similarly against the SPV option. He also notes of his fellow RI Futurites:’s no wonder that some on this site don’t see a problem with straight ticket voting because though it’s true that Dems hold a significant edge on the SPV, it’s the so called “Progressive” candidates that lead the pack in SPV averages in the precincts and districts that they run in. Or maybe that’s a consequence of going door-to-door, or making phone calls, or sending out literature to vote “straight democrat”. But to push something as undemocratic as straight party voting on a voter goes against the very principles of elections because it’s no longer a person running for office – it’s a party that is… it’s a political party whose qualities are considered - and not a person. This is more than one party against another party, and how their strategies differ as to how they take advantage of the master level. This is about a voter putting into office a qualified candidate, not a vanilla version of some party principles.
A comment by Matt Jerzyk to TPublico's post provides proof to this point:
Well...we ran a kick-ass "vote straight Democrat" campaign in South Providence and I am glad to see that it worked.

Reps. Almeida, Diaz and Slater received 3/4 of their votes through straight Democratic voting.

Never underestimate the power of an organized electorate!

Matt also responded to Segal's post on the topic:
The bottom line is that the RI Republican Party is horrible at the basics of running a party:

1) identifying candidates
2) raising money
3) training candidates
4) running a GOTV program.

If and when they get to a point when they can do 1-4, then we can talk about systematic "hurdles" to getting elected.

Baby steps, RIGOP, baby steps.

So whether or not the SPV is unfair is only relevant if certain conditions are met by the party out of power? This is all just smoke-and-mirrors meant to convey "open-mindedness" to the idea of abolishing the SPV option whilst trying to make it impossible to affect by creating arbitrary milestones. Setting aside the "who" and "how" of determining when the milestones outlined have been reached, explain to me how these would apply to an Independent candidate? No, there will be no push to abolish the SPV option by those currently in the political majority, no matter their rhetoric. Fairness is relative, after all, especially if it may impede the maintenance of raw power.

ADDENDUM: The NEA's Bob Walsh has weighed in:

The greatest this entire debate is that the elimination of straight party voting empowers the groups that Achorn dislikes the most, as down-ballot candidates will be more, not less, dependent on the grassroots get out the vote efforts they (we) bring to the table.
Fine, let's get rid of it and let the vaunted grassroots do their thing. But I think that both Walsh and some commenters, including Matt J. and "Greg", are using Achorn's column as an excuse to gloss over the MAIN point that both TPublico and I are trying to pound. The SPV option should go because it enables so-called machine, party-over-person politics.

The Primacy of Identity

Justin Katz

The left's investment in identity politics has proven to reap rewards. In battling the concept that people should develop their senses of self in such a way as to deemphasize a relative superficiality like ethnicity, the planners and plotters and goers-along cleared the field for such results as this:

Political and sociological analysts in several interviews and teleconferences Nov. 5 pointed out that Obama's vote among Catholics reflected a 7-point increase over the Catholic vote for Kerry.

The exit polls divided voters into "all Catholics" or white, non-Hispanic Catholics. In the latter group, the shift toward the Democratic candidate was less pronounced than among Catholics overall. Fifty-two percent of white Catholics supported McCain, and 47 percent voted for Obama. Majorities of white Catholics also voted for Bush in both his elections, by 56 percent in 2004 and 52 percent in 2000.

Approximately 40 percent of U.S. Catholics are Hispanic and another 3 percent are African-American. Asian and Pacific Islanders constitute about 4 percent.

Latinos nationwide voted for Obama by 67 percent to 31 percent for McCain. African-Americans voted for Obama by 95 percent to 4 percent. Asians supported Obama by 62 percent to 35 percent.

Without doubt, the inauguration of a black man represents a milestone in America, but there is potential, at least, for race to increase its prominence, as the now-more-powerful identity contingent wrings its investment for every drop of power.

November 17, 2008

The Shackles of PCism

Justin Katz

Here's a jarring line from a story about the ongoing battle between reporters and the corrupt in Russia (emphasis added):

"Beketov has lost a leg and is still in a coma, but that is not all -- threatening calls were also made to the hospital where he was taken," Reporters Without Borders said.

"Violence against journalists continues to be very much in the news in Russia... This cycle of violence must stop."

Cycle of violence? Surely Reporters Without Borders isn't suggesting that journalists' coverage of corruption is tantamount to their end in an exchange of violence. And yet, there it is: Apparently unaware that its language does so, the group equivocates and hands a portion of the blame to the victims.

The violence must stop, period, as must the corruption that begets it.

Father Sirico: The Way Forward

Donald B. Hawthorne

With a H/T to Rossputin, here is Father Sirico of the Acton Institute offering his assessment of the current state of economic thinking:

...That when one divorces freedom from faith both freedom and faith suffer. Freedom becomes rudderless (because truth gives freedom its direction). It is left up for grabs to the most adept political thug with the flashiest new policy or program; freedom without a moral orientation has no guiding star. Likewise, without freedom and the ability to make moral, economic and social choices, people of faith have restricted practical impact. Theocracy is the destruction of human freedom in the name of God. Libertinism is the destruction of moral norms in the name of liberty. I say a plague on both their houses.

All too many in recent years have at times fallen prey to a consumerist mentality, which is not merely the desire to live better, but the confused idea that only in having more can we be more. Rather than the Cartesian formulation, "cogito ergo sum" we have a new one: "consumo ergo sum."

How common it has become to live outside one’s means, whether it’s the huge flat screen TV we think we can’t do without or the newest automobile or the house larger than our income can afford. The old rallying cry, "Live free or die," has given way to "I’ll die if I can’t have it." Consumerism is wrong not because material things are wrong. No, the Creator pronounced his creation ‘good.’ Consumerism is wrong because it worships what is beneath us.

Then there are the imprudent risks assumed in piling up debt on mortgages with a hubris which assumed that values could only continue to rise at 10% or better per year.

To balance the heresy of consumerism, our culture has invented its opposite, environmentalism-as-holy-order. Here the virtue of thrift—a traditional, indeed, conservative virtue—is reconfigured as a ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ political demand. Thrift, that "handmaid of enterprise," was mothered by scarcity, a scarcity that unregulated pricing in a free market has, better than all economic systems in human history, served best to mitigate. What an obscenity, then, that the principle of thrift should be employed in the mouths of those who oppose this system of natural rationing and allocation, preferring instead top down systems of distribution that would bring poverty and misery to any nation that fully embraced them.

And what must be said about the mortgage originator who sold a loan knowing the customer could ill afford it? Who cared only for the bonus that loan would generate, knowing that the loan would be sold off to some other unknowing bank within days?

And then there is Wall Street. How often the greed and avarice of Wall Street has been skewered and denounced by the East Coast cognoscenti literati, creatures who would not recognize a moral principle if it bit them in their Aspen condos. Most often Wall Street, functioning as a surrogate for the free economy, is denounced for all the wrong reasons: for seeking and making a profit, as though running in the red was somehow a moral virtue and every attempt to be productive was greed. No, if we are going to offer a moral critique of Wall Street, let us not do it because free markets allocate and produce capital, without which people’s homes and savings evaporate, or to be more precise, never get created in the first place. Rather, let us offer a moral critique because all these previously private businesses are now waddling up to the governmental trough begging to be nationalized or subsidized and demanding their share of the dole. Isn’t it obvious that once we concede the principle of a bail-out for those "too big to fail," we invite a queue that will wrap around the globe?

But if tonight I appear to be a generous distributor of anathemas, let me now turn my attention to the institution which initiated, enabled, enhanced and will deepen and sustain this economic and moral hazard. I speak of that institution which has been doing this for the last several decades, and that is the Invasive State as opposed to a limited government. Tocqueville taught us long ago the lesson we are about to re-learn, namely that a society where the moral tie is weakened and where no one accepts responsibilities and consequences for their actions will quickly morph into an authoritarian, State-centered society.

The only society worthy of the human person is a society that embraces freedom and responsibility as its two indispensable pillars which is a society that understands that our individual good depends on our common good and vice versa. Let us reflect upon some crucial facts that are too often overlooked.

The institution of government—what many view as the first resort of charity—is the very thing that unleashed and encouraged those vices of greed and avarice and reckless use of money that got us into the current financial imbroglio. It did so by first placing a policy priority on a worthy goal, increased home ownership, but pursued it with a fanaticism that neglected other goods such as prudence, personal responsibility and rational risk assessment.

Moreover, its official banking centers enjoyed subsidies which distorted that most sensitive of price signals—the price of money—to delude both investors and consumers into believing that capital existed to support vast and extravagant consumerism when in fact no such capital and savings existed.

It’s an obvious point but one the mainstream media appears intent on missing: The financial crisis did not occur within a free market, a market permitted to work within its own indigenous mechanism of risk and reward, overseen by a juridical framework marked by clarity, consistency and right judgment. Quite the contrary. The crisis occurred within a market deluged and deluded by interventionism.

Today we find institution after institution "in the tank" for unrestrained government intervention. One is reminded of Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci’s call for the left to begin a long march through the institutions of Western Civilization. The left, it seems, got the memo. How will we respond to this disheartening situation? Now is no time to retreat in disarray. Now is no time to stumble. There remains a remnant … a potent remnant who has not bowed the knee to big government. My call to you tonight is a transparent one: strengthen the soldiers of that remnant. In particular—strengthen that band of brothers gathered with you tonight, the Acton Institute.

Never in Acton’s nearly 20 year history has our message been more essential than right now. As an institution that cherishes the free and virtuous society, we are living through this thing with all of you, and we need your help to continue. Our history of integrity; the quality of our products and programs; the responsible tone with which we approach the questions at hand, all speak to the fact that this work is worthy of your investment. I humbly ask for it with the promise that we will use it well and prudently.

The fact of the matter is that too many of us have become much too comfortable and yielded to a perennial temptation, the temptation to take our liberty for granted. Those of you who have invested in the work of the Acton Institute over the years know—and especially those of you who have had a chance to see our latest media effort "The Birth of Freedom" know—we believe the time has come for a renewal of those principles that form the very foundation of civilization, the same principles that make prosperity possible and accessible to those on the margins.

Liberty is indeed, as Lord Acton said, "the delicate fruit of a mature civilization." As such it is in need of a nutritious soil in which to flourish. In this sense you and I are tillers of the soil, if you will.

Liberty is a delicate fruit. It is also an uncommon one. When one surveys human history it becomes evident how unusual, how precious is authentic liberty, as is the economic progress that is its result. These past few weeks are a vivid and sad testimony to this fact. As a delicate fruit, human liberty as well as economic stability must be tended to, lest it disintegrate. It requires constant attention, new appreciation and understanding, renewal, moral defense and integration into the whole fabric of society.

In a trenchant analysis of the free society, Friedrich Hayek once offered a sobering speculation:

"It may be that as free a society as we have known it carries in itself the forces of its own destruction, and that once freedom is achieved it is taken for granted and ceases to be valued…" and then he goes on to ask, "Does this mean that freedom is valued only when it is lost, that the world must everywhere go through a dark phase of socialist totalitarianism before the forces of freedom can gather strength anew?"

He answers, "It may be so, but I hope it need not be."

Hayek offers what I consider a partial remedy to this threat. He argues that "if we are to avoid such a development, we must be able to offer a new liberal program which appeals to the imagination. We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage." (The Intellectuals and Socialism, F. A. Hayek).

He is right of course, but Hayek left something out: We must make the building of the free society once more a moral adventure – for its construction was morally inspired in the first place. It emerged from a vision of man as a creature with an inherent and transcendent destiny. This vision, this anthropology, inspired the institutions of Western Civilization: Universal human rights; the right to contract and private property; international institutions of charity; the university. All these formed because of the high view of human dignity we inherited from our Judaeo-Christian tradition.

Earlier, I gave you only the dark side of St. Jerome’s story. A brighter side emerged however, when St. Athanasius came on the scene and scattered the errors of Arianism, defeating its arguments and confounding its proponents. The rectitude of Athanasius’ ideas inspired the Christian faithful to rise up and affirm what they knew to be their tradition, their prayer, their birthright and their heritage.

As a priest, part of my calling is to defend that Tradition. As a child of America and the West, I have a second birthright to defend—the free and virtuous society. Please help us in the critical task of demonstrating why it is not merely the technical proficiency of markets that will enable us to surmount the economic crisis we face. Help us to continue our effort to convince people that economic and moral excellence is of a piece.

People will never surrender themselves for an abstract point of utility. But for a moral adventure? For a deed of moral courage on behalf of human liberty? For this, we will be able to summon a vast army.

I can't use the words that really deserve to be said in this title

Donald B. Hawthorne

After all his administration has done already and how they have laid the groundwork for even more under an Obama administration, President George W. Bush has the gall to say this?

Give me a break.

Hot Off the Press and Fully Cooked

Justin Katz

Back in my proofreader days, I happened to catch a major error simply because the graphs didn't make sense. According to the document handed to me that day, the United Arab Emirates ranked much more highly than the United States in various measures of freedom. As it turned out, a row had been transposed on the spreadsheet, rearranging the scores of every nation studied, and we kicked the document back to start.

The point is that these things are bound to happen (especially as companies increasingly decide to forgo professional editors), but it would be nice if they were promoted as highly in error as in statement:

So what explained the anomaly? GISS's computerised temperature maps seemed to show readings across a large part of Russia had been up to 10 degrees higher than normal. But when expert readers of the two leading warming-sceptic blogs, Watts Up With That and Climate Audit, began detailed analysis of the GISS data they made an astonishing discovery. The reason for the freak figures was that scores of temperature records from Russia and elsewhere were not based on October readings at all. Figures from the previous month had simply been carried over and repeated two months running.

The State of Thought on the Left

Justin Katz

Reading Pat Crowley unpacking a three-sentence summary from my recent post on same-sex marriage is like watching a bad magician pull rags out of his sleeve and pretend that they came out of a nearby jewelry box:

I guess the whole idea about "equal protection", that silly little constitutional issue, isn't relevant on the question of sex. But that is not my point. As a big fan of sex, I am pretty confident that its only purpose isn't child birth. Now I could be wrong about that since I didn't realize that the only purpose of marriage is to legitimize the sexual act. Now of course, that begs the question: which sexual act? I know of at least a few then when executed are guaranteed not to produce a fertilized egg. So in the AR world, I guess the only legitimate sex is the sexual act the does produce a fertilized egg. So what about sex, even THE act, that doesn't produce that fertilized egg? Does that not count? Or does that de-legitimize the marriage? What about the childless marriage, is that no longer legitimate or is the sex involved in the childless marriage some how illegitimate? What about the person who had a first marriage with children and then gets married a second time and doesn't have children? Is the second marriage valid? Would it be advisable for a married couple to keep having sex as frequently as possible in order to procreate? If the answer is yes then obviously AR folks don't have a lot of experience with marriage...

I'm reminded of a scene in Kung Fu Panda in which the clumsy bear bungles his first attempt at a training exercise to hilarious degree, and the master tells him, when the oaf drags himself across the floor, beaten and burnt, "There is now a level zero."

It should go without saying that Crowley's entire exercise is a ploy to avoid addressing my argument providing the reason that maintaining the opposite-sex definition of marriage — that is to say the definition of marriage — is not contrary to equal protection. Unfortunately, the reader base at RI Future was unable to produce a single comment suggesting that Crowley might be indulging in some intellectual dishonesty. Such a crowd is not likely to allow itself even to comprehend a contrary argument, no matter how succinctly put and no matter how free of discriminatory motivation. In them, we see the real anti-intellectualism in modern America.

But to provide something of a remedy, I'll offer the protest that at no point did I make claims about the "only purpose" of marriage or sex. Neither did I offer a declaration of legitimization for various behaviors; that would be a separate discussion.

The point is how marriage functions in society — what it is about marriage that makes it a matter of public interest at all — and that is to maximize the number of children born into households founded on the stable relationships of their mothers and fathers. It's an imperfect world, of course, and exceptions must be made, without belittling others, but it is the key understanding that men and women, together, even quite carelessly, can produce new human life that gives marriage its cultural force.

If marriage is only about their love for each other and their commitment to care for each other, then why is sexual intimacy implied at all? Why not let any two people who wish to help each other through life — mother, daughter, brother, brother — access the rights and privileges thereof?

Sex is well and good, but the burden is on those proposing a radical redefinition of marriage to explain why the public ought to care about the private matters of consenting adults, and why it has any business whatsoever in judging matters of "love."

November 16, 2008

A Roman Role Model for Rhode Island?

Monique Chartier

As much for public-spiritedness of governing philosophy as for aspiration of tenure, the leadership of our citizen legislature might do worse than emulate this fellow.

Life as We Know It, or More Incitement to Riot

Justin Katz

And now for an opportunity for Northeastern conservatives to nod in a knowing fashion:

... just before the election, [14-year-old Illinois student] Catherine consulted with her history teacher, then bravely wore a unique T-shirt to school and recorded the comments of teachers and students in her journal. The T-shirt bore the simple yet quite subversive words drawn with a red marker:

"McCain Girl."

"I was just really curious how they'd react to something that different, because a lot of people at my school wore Obama shirts and they are big Obama supporters," Catherine told us. "I just really wanted to see what their reaction would be."

Immediately, Catherine learned she was stupid for wearing a shirt with Republican John McCain's name. Not merely stupid. Very stupid.

"People were upset. But they started saying things, calling me very stupid, telling me my shirt was stupid and I shouldn't be wearing it," Catherine said.

Then it got worse.

"One person told me to go die. It was a lot of dying. A lot of comments about how I should be killed," Catherine said, of the tolerance in Oak Park.

But students weren't the only ones surprised that she wore a shirt supporting McCain.

"In one class, I had one teacher say she will not judge me for my choice, but that she was surprised that I supported McCain," Catherine said. ...

One student suggested that she be put up on a cross for her political beliefs.

"He said, 'You should be crucifixed.' It was kind of funny because, I was like, don't you mean 'crucified?' " Catherine said.

Other entries in her notebook involved suggestions by classmates that she be "burned with her shirt on" for "being a filthy-rich Republican."

Of course, there were moments with which we visible blue-state right-wingers are all too familiar:

Only a few times did anyone say anything remotely positive about her McCain shirt. One girl pulled her aside in a corner, out of earshot of other students, and whispered, "I really like your shirt."

The next day, Catherine wore a blue-ink "Obama Girl" shirt, and the reaction was unsurprisingly different. Personally, I think the experiment would have been more telling if she'd wore the shirts in reverse order. Odds are that her Obama shirt would have gone largely without remark — support for that candidate being the default for conformity.

RI Employment Update

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal Sunday jobs listing fits on a single side of a newsprint page — one-sixth of which is taken with an ad for Projo newspaper deliverers. (I circled that one.)

November 15, 2008

Hitchens: Next Stop - Back Down to Earth

Monique Chartier

In view of his grumpiness with both candidates, if you jumped into Christopher Hitchens' post-election column randomly and missed that one crucial sentence, you'd have no idea who he voted for.

It was Senator Obama. But Hitchens has some choice words about inflated expectations of the President-Elect which have been raised by a fawning media and even, possibly, supporters wearing pink-tinged eyewear.

The recognition of these obvious points should also alert us to a related danger, which is the cousinhood of euphoria and hysteria. Those who think that they have just voted to legalize Utopia (and I hardly exaggerate when I say this; have you been reading the moist and trusting comments of our commentariat?) are preparing for a disillusionment that I very much doubt they will blame on themselves. The national Treasury is an echoing, empty vault; our Russian and Iranian enemies are acting even more wolfishly even as they sense a repudiation of Bush-Cheney; the lines of jobless and evicted are going to lengthen, and I don't think a diet of hope is going to cover it. Nor even a diet of audacity, though can you picture anything less audacious than the gray, safety-first figures who have so far been chosen by Obama to be on his team?

* * *

More worrying still, there are vicious enemies and rogue states in increasing positions of influence throughout the world (one of the episodes that most condemned the Republican campaign was its attempt to slander Sen. Joe Biden for his candid attempt to point this out), yet many Obama voters appear to believe that the mere charm and aspect of their new president will act as an emollient influence on these unwelcome facts and these hostile forces. I can't make myself perform this act of faith, and I won't put up with any innuendo about my inability to do so.

Who Should Pump the Oil?

Monique Chartier

In view of the consideration that President-Elect Obama is giving to the reinstatement via Presidential Executive Order of the recently lifted ban on certain domestic oil drilling, let us go back a month or so to an editorial by Tom Ward of the Valley Breeze [no longer available on line] which raised an interesting point.

I care about the environment, too. Almost all Americans do. We don't want to see any more disasters like the Exxon Valdez tanker spill of 1989 or the Santa Barbara spill of 1969. But how are we improving the environment for "the planet" when we pump the oil that we use, not in the highly regulated United States, but instead in countries like Nigeria, China, and other nations who don't give a damn about polluting their land, rivers and people? If environmentalists have a more "global" view, how come they care so much about clamping down on oil exploration in the United States, while letting the rest of the world run wild?

Taking the second half of his last question literally, the answer, of course, is that if the rest of the world "runs wild" environmentally, our options to stop them range somewhere between weak and completely ineffectual.

Concurrently, we should note Ward's point: that a gallon of crude can be pumped in a much "cleaner" and more environmentally-friendly fashion here than in the countries he lists. Until that magical alternate energy source arrives, where and how should our energy needs be met? And if the answer to that is, "not here", how do we justify letting someone else do our dirty work when, in fact, we could do that work much more cleanly ourselves?

A Tyrannical Mindset

Justin Katz

Of course, we can't tar a social movement with the acts of a few, but at some point, the volume of incidents bespeaks a mindset. One assaulted immigrant may not suffice. One elderly woman mobbed and forced to watch as her cross is stomped may still fall short. I wonder, though, how many vandalized churches must be added to the list for concerns to be acknowledged as reasonable:

Another church building belonging to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been vandalized. This incident in Sandy is the seventh in a string of vandalisms targeting the Church's chapels.

Churches in Weber and Davis counties were also hit by vandals over the weekend, raising concerns about a possible hate crime. In those incidents, vandals shattered doors and windows.

Or perhaps a blacklist exceeds the threshold. (Am I alone in having viewed campaign finance laws as a protection against corrupt government, not as an opportunity to harass opponents' supporters?)

As I said, a mindset begins to emerge, and it tends to be expressed violently in failure and oppressively in success. Where possible, radical change will be forced upon society by way of judicial legislation; where the people block that route, civil society may be threatened. It's written in the emotional foundation of the cause; if religious or secular traditionalism "is hate," then its practitioners don't deserve a place at the table.

When traditionalists prevail, violent backlash against them is ignored, excused, or mitigated through equivalence. And when the radicals prevail, the movement's first principles dictate that policy treat the opposition as having secondary rights.

A Windfall Bailout

Justin Katz

As I pumped sub-$2.00-per-gallon gas into my work van this morning, shortly after having listened to a debate about a GM bailout on Cavuto this morning while doing the dishes, something occurred to me that I'm surprised to have not heard mentioned: There's a common theme that runs from the bailout mentality through the idea of a windfall profits tax. In effect, the philosophy dictates that the people who run and invest in businesses are only responsible for a range of their successes and failures. Any remuneration above that range should be claimed by the government, and any losses below it ought to be reimbursed.

There's a well-known S-word for such a view of commerce.

The Big Idea That Nobody's Having

Justin Katz

Hey, Rhode Islanders: That deferred tax increase known as "transportation bonds" (and claiming all those wonderful federal tax dollars) to which you just assented? Not enough:

A special state panel yesterday discussed several ideas to raise money to fix the state's roads and bridges, from tolls on Route 95 and the Sakonnet River bridge to increases in the gas tax and higher traffic fines.

But none of the suggestions would come close to raising the $300 million a year the state Department of Transportation says it needs to catch up from years of neglect.

On a separate front, Jerome F. Williams, the governor's director of administration, offered the administration's first plan for covering the budget deficit that threatens to force major cutbacks in bus service or even a shutdown of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority. ...

During the first year, the plan would impose a new wholesale tax on fuel for motor vehicles, raising $43 million per year. It would also increase vehicle registration fees by $10 per year,raising $22.9 million, and increase the penalties for traffic violations by 20 percent, raising $1.8 million per year. The difference would come from smaller increases in other fees. ...

In later years, Williams would add toll boothson Route 95 near the Connecticut border , raising another $40 million.

While reading the article, I saw a brief glimmer of hope that officials at least had brought some of the correct answers into the conversation — even if only to dismiss them:

Williams' plan avoids a number of politically difficult possibilities which the panel has talked about ....

But then I read on:

... such as imposing tolls on the planned new Sakonnet River Bridge and on the Mt. Hope Bridge, and raising the state sales tax.

Yes, the fatal thinking continues, including such bad old habits as setting government goals to merely "try and get through this year" and promising that tax increases would only be "for a short period of time."

How about this: Given the central importance of infrastructure and public transportation and the utter economic insanity of increasing Rhode Island's taxes and fees, let's redirect funds that are currently allocated for purposes that may help a few but are proving to harm us all over the long run. (I refer, of course, to the state's welfare and union sieves.) Hey, we can even promise that the cuts will only be "for a short period of time" — namely, until the state can actually afford to pay for the programs and benefits.

From Where Will He Govern

Justin Katz

Dick Morris's analysis is typically hit or miss, but his knowledge is such that it's worth noting his reasons for this belief:

Those who embrace the comforting fantasy that Obama will govern from the center and leave the left frustrated are in for a shock. We don't know if Obama wants to move left or center. But that's not the key question. The issue is not what he will want to do but what Congress will make him do.

November 14, 2008

The Armies of Tolerance

Justin Katz

Clearly, this 67-year-old woman was inciting the peaceful crowd to violence.

Too bad the police weren't there to arrest her! (Video of the aftermath, and the original incident from a different angle here.)

A Little Perpective for the School Committee

Justin Katz

So here's what's going on in other towns while the Tiverton teachers demand retroactive pay for time spent working to rule:

As state leaders wrestle with a second-straight year of mid-term budget cuts, mayors and managers across Rhode Island are looking at everything from later bill payment schedules to union concessions to offset expected losses in state aid.

In Cumberland, Warwick, South Kingstown and other communities, major purchases are on hold, unfilled positions are staying vacant, and other options, including layoffs, are being considered given the likelihood of cuts this fiscal year.

Some local leaders think those moves won't be enough.

I'd suggest that the Tiverton school committee should get those union concessions while it's still called "negotiation" and the default is that the unionists don't have access to the money that's supposedly sitting around waiting to be claimed.

For Local Biodiesel, Grease is the Word

Carroll Andrew Morse

This past weekend, the President of OPEC set a maximum on how high his organization would like to see the price of oil reach…

Reasonable prices should range "between $70 and $90 per barrel," said [Chakib Khelil], who currently holds the rotating presidency of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Why is there a maximum, you might reasonably ask. Why doesn't OPEC want prices to be as high as they can be? The answer, in part, is that people who have decided they don't want to pay for super-expensive petroleum are beginning to create their own alternatives. Some of those efforts have already achieved an industrial-scale.

You can read about one such Newport-based group of innovators, in this week's Providence Phoenix.

The Wrong Ideas

Justin Katz

You've probably already read or heard about yesterday's Providence Journal article about the lack of a sense of urgency among Rhode Island's leaders, even as other states move quickly to stave off economic oblivion. Part of that leadership apathy probably derives from an unwillingness to do what has to be done; the powerful of state are fishing about for solutions that won't rewrite the insanity out of our policies.

Representative Thomas Slater, who sits on the House Finance Committee, is hoping for an Obama bailout, pointing to "independent state agencies such as the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority and the Rhode Island Airport Corporation," and whipping out the magic "consolidation" word. AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer George Nee "worries that lawmakers rushing back to a special session might feel compelled to do something "stupid," such as scrapping the state's "defined-benefit" pension plan for state workers in favor of a 401(k)-type plan." What he offers instead is, not surprisingly, a handful of items from the unionist wish list, with a nod to the progressives thrown in at the end:

Nee suggests that lawmakers instead take steps to create jobs: allow full-scale casino gambling; accelerate road and college construction projects for which there are approved, but unissued, bonds; create a "marine trade development authority" to "look not just at an expansion" of the port at Quonset point, but "at all of the possibilities."

And, "revisit having a casino," he said yesterday. "Let's be real. Let's stop the pretense that we don't have one. Let's do it full scale ... and keep those people from Rhode Island from going [to] Connecticut." On the revenue and spending front, Nee said, Carcieri could make a serious dent by firing the 580-plus "contract employees" who have been hired to do the work of state employees across state government, while lawmakers could "suspend" a phased-in income tax cut for the state's wealthiest taxpayers. Of the promised tax cut, he said: "Everybody has to share in the pain."

Oh, Rhode Island has to create jobs, but Nee's attempt to corral them in an opportunistic direction would, at best, swirl the murky economic pool.

Even Republican Representative John Loughlin doesn't go the necessary distance. He speaks against tax increases, but what he offers as alternatives (in the article, at least) are some tweaks to higher education and the registry of motor vehicles.

Rhode Island has to ask itself why people are leaving and why businesses won't come here without specialized gifts from the government. The answer is obvious, as are the solutions: slash taxes, eliminate the bulk of regulations and other intrusions, and rebuild the state's infrastructure. After the last election, however, it's not unreasonable to be pessimistic about the willingness of Rhode Islanders to push for real change, but they're going to have to do face reality sooner or later.

November 13, 2008

Hatching a Plan

Justin Katz

The Hatch Act has been a topic of conversation in these parts over the past few months, and the Lincoln Republicans think they have a candidate in Democrat State Representative Mary Ann Shallcross Smith. Furthermore:

The Lincoln Republican Town Committee also issued statements around Shallcross-Smith's campaign with specifics regarding the use of her 501 (c) (3) organizations to obtain a win in the election on November 4th. Michael Napolitano, Chairman of the Lincoln Republican Town Committee offered up several key points supported by IRS tax law that gave the Shallcross- Smith campaign an unfair and unallowable advantage in the race. Said Napolitano, "She utilized her Kids Klub location as campaign headquarters and executed a phone bank to call local voters from inside Kids Klub. Individuals have come forward informing us that they received a telephone call with the child care number on their caller ID asking for a vote for their candidate. In addition, she had campaign signs on the property of the 501 (c) 3 non-profit facility. ...

Nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations are forbidden from engaging in any political activity in support or opposition of a candidate for public office. The Internal Revenue Code states that 501(c)(3) organizations must "not participate in, or intervene in (including publishing or distribution of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office." A 501(c)(3) organization that violates this rule may lose its tax-exempt status and face other financial penalties. The IRS has noted a large amount of 501 (c) 3 violations over the past few years. "The law does not allow charities to participate in political campaigns," said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. "While the vast majority of charities, including churches, did not engage in politicking, our examinations substantiated a disturbing amount of political intervention in the 2004 electoral cycle.

Of course, pretending that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing (when in reality the two are washing each other) is a habitual practice in Rhode Island.

Full press release in the extended entry.

The Lincoln Republican Town Committee this week, reinforced the complaint filed by the State Republican party last month that had filed a formal request for an immediate investigation into the likely Hatch Act violations of six Democrat candidates for the Rhode Island General Assembly, which included Mary Ann Shallcross-Smith. Mary Ann Shallcross-Smith is the President of Kids Klub, a 501 (c) (3) that takes in both state and federal money.

The Committee further stated that Shallcross-Smith may be ineligible to serve in State or Local office because of the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. § 1501 et seq., which prohibits "State or local officer[s] or employee[s from] ... be[ing] a candidate for elective office." § 1502(a). "State or local officer or employee" is defined by the act as "an individual employed by a State or local agency whose principal employment is in connection with an activity which is financed in whole or in part by loans or grants made by the United States or a Federal agency...." § 1501(4). The Hatch Act, by its own terms, applies to officers and employees of a "State or local agency," Shallcross-Smith works for a day care provider. Therefore, under 42 U.S.C. § 9851(a) private entities taking federal money are considered state or local agencies for purposes of the Hatch Act's limitations on political activity. § 9851(a) states: "Any agency which assumes responsibility for planning, developing, and coordinating federal programs and receives assistance under this sub chapter shall be deemed to be a State or local agency." This sweeps a private day care provider into the Hatch Act and § 9851(a) effectively modifies § 1501(4).

The Lincoln Republican Town Committee also issued statements around Shallcross-Smith's campaign with specifics regarding the use of her 501 (c) (3) organizations to obtain a win in the election on November 4th. Michael Napolitano, Chairman of the Lincoln Republican Town Committee offered up several key points supported by IRS tax law that gave the Shallcross- Smith campaign an unfair and unallowable advantage in the race. Said Napolitano, "She utilized her Kids Klub location as campaign headquarters and executed a phone bank to call local voters from inside Kids Klub. Individuals have come forward informing us that they received a telephone call with the child care number on their caller ID asking for a vote for their candidate. In addition, she had campaign signs on the property of the 501 (c) 3 non-profit facility. The property is located at 462 Smithfield Avenue in Pawtucket. A Toyota Rav 4 registered to Kids Klub, with a DACARE license plate was observed being utilized by Shallcross-Smith while canvassing the neighborhoods."

Nonprofit 501(c)(3) organizations are forbidden from engaging in any political activity in support or opposition of a candidate for public office. The Internal Revenue Code states that 501(c)(3) organizations must "not participate in, or intervene in (including publishing or distribution of statements), any political campaign on behalf of any candidate for public office." A 501(c)(3) organization that violates this rule may lose its tax-exempt status and face other financial penalties. The IRS has noted a large amount of 501 (c) 3 violations over the past few years. "The law does not allow charities to participate in political campaigns," said IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson. "While the vast majority of charities, including churches, did not engage in politicking, our examinations substantiated a disturbing amount of political intervention in the 2004 electoral cycle.

The Lincoln Republican Town Committee also believes that several employees of the Kids Klub may have worked on the Shallcross-Smith campaign. Said Napolitano, "Although employees of a 501 (c) 3 may choose to do campaign work during their non-employment time, I believe in this instance that was not always the case. Ms. Shallcross-Smith appears to have utilized employees during business hours to perform campaign related tasks including the issuance of press releases with dates and times on them."

Said Napolitano, "There are also many other issues with respect to IRS tax code that can clearly be questioned. These include but are not limited to the make-up of the board of Kids Klub, and the appearance of a private benefit or inurement. There is also the issue of an Ethics Complaint filed in 1995 regarding Shallcross-Smith's business involvement with the Town of Lincoln School system while she served on the School Committee. This complaint was later mysteriously withdrawn by the individual who filed it; however the allegations listed within it follow a clear pattern."

Said Napolitano, "It is clear that this candidate may not have done her homework before she entered the race for State Representative. In addition, many of our campaign volunteers observed her well within the 50 foot range of the entrance to the Lonsdale School polling place on Election Day. At one point the Lincoln Police department came and asked her to move. When they left she moved back well within the 50 feet. We also have reports of other polling location violations including her staff going into a location to solicit votes. She also violated campaign finance laws as she took a $5000 loan from her husband, which is on her campaign finance reports. The maximum allowed under Rhode Island law is $1000." Further information can be viewed on the Lincoln Republican Town Committee's web site at

Where the Cooler Heads?

Justin Katz

It's time for any remaining sober officials in the federal government to tell Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson that enough is enough:

The Treasury Department yesterday officially abandoned the original strategy behind its $700 billion effort to rescue the financial system, as Bush administration officials acknowledged that banks and other institutions were as unwilling as ever to lend to consumers.

With a little more than two months left before President Bush leaves office, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is hoping to put in place a major new lending program that would be run by the Federal Reserve and aimed at unlocking the frozen consumer credit market.

The program, still in the planning stages, would for the first-time use bailout funds specifically to help consumers instead of banks, savings and loans and Wall Street firms.

The bailout funds were not intended (and/or should not have been intended) as mere sand to dump into the economic swamp in the hopes that it would fill in a passable bridge. (For one things, the rats are to expert at digging trenches to receive it.)

Real world consequences of Obama's taxation policies

Donald B. Hawthorne

Jennifer Rubin points out how this trend is not being covered by the MSM:

No President-elect in the postwar era has been greeted with a more audible hiss from Wall Street. The Dow has lost 1,342 points, or about 14%, since the election, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq hitting similar skids. The Dow fell another 4.7% yesterday. Much of this is due to hedge fund deleveraging, as well as dreadful corporate earnings reports and pessimism that the recession will be deeper than many had hoped. We also don’t want to read too much into short-term market moves. But there’s little doubt that uncertainty, and some fear, over Barack Obama’s economic agenda is also contributing to the downdraft.


Some commentators to this post are in denial that Obama's stated taxation policies could have any correlation with the market's downward trend since his election. To which I respond:

The country elects a president who promises to raise tax rates on capital gains, dividends, and income taxes as well as take off the $102,000 earnings cap on social security taxes...and you think there will be no adverse consequences in the financial markets?

To argue otherwise is to believe that explicit wealth-reducing financial disincentives or, at a minimum, the uncertainty about such [prospective] disincentives has no impact on human behavior.

TomW's comment raises the additional adverse impact of "Employee Free Choice Act," where the prospect of greater unionization and forced mediation can only make companies less competitive in a global marketplace. Anybody compared lately the unprofitable performance of unionized car companies in Detroit with their profitable, non-unionized competitors elsewhere in America?

It is a long-time habit of the Left to ignore how incentives drive human behavior and changes in incentives modify existing human behavior. Which is why they think politicians and bureaucrats in far-away Washington, D.C. - most of whom, like Obama, have never had to manage anything or meet a payroll - can be better economic policy-makers than the entrepreneurial small business owners who run much of America's businesses. And why they perpetually ignore the intended and unintended consequences of the incentives created by their governmental actions.

To put it another way, who has the greater incentive to make better decisions for a business: The small business owner, who lives and breathes the business issues on a daily basis and whose personal wealth is directly invested in the business, or remote politicians and bureaucrats, who have nothing at risk and never have to live with the consequences of their actions?

And Off They Go

Justin Katz

A mistrial and a plea agreement, and two child-molesting gay prostitutes are free and gone:

Two Bristol men charged with multiple molestation and child solicitation counts went to court last week and received a mistrial, nearly nine months after they were arrested by Bristol police following a Bristol and state investigation into crimes against children that had allegedly occurred over a three-year period. They are now free men, whereabouts unknown.

The trial of Sedonio Rodriques, 58, and Raymond Grenier, 54, who lived together at 26 Sampson St. in Bristol but were held without bail since their February arrests, started last Monday in Providence Superior Court and ended four days later on Thursday, Nov. 6, with the mistrial.

In a plea agreement, both men admitted guilt to two counts each of second-degree child molestation and received 13 years suspended with probation and eight months to serve, already served. They must now register as sex offenders and have no contact with the victim, conditions of the plea agreement. ...

The men, who ran an internet-based massage business out of their home, previously worked as bus drivers for the Bristol Warren Regional School District before being fired for undisclosed reasons last year. Police records had shown a long list of complaints centered around their modest mustard-colored home off Mt. Hope Avenue, from wayward children to family disputes and problems with neighbors.

Whereabouts unknown. Not for long, I'd wager.

Bailing out Detroit

Donald B. Hawthorne

Larry Kudlow:

...Stocks were off big today — before, during, and after Paulson — closing down over 400. Tough to pin it on the Treasury man, however, since the plunge started in the early-morning well before he spoke.

Some folks think the stock market is stalking Obama, whose defining moment may be a GM bailout. Plus, investors are waiting for a new Treasury appointee who will shed light on Obama’s tax and trade threats for 2009 as well as his UAW rescue mission that is so strongly favored by Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Policies protecting ailing industries would certainly set a France-like tone for the new administration.

Here’s a stat from my friend, blogger Mark Perry: Total compensation per hour for the big-three carmakers is $73.20. That’s a 52 percent differential from Toyota’s (Detroit South) $48 compensation (wages + health and retirement benefits). In fact, the oversized UAW-driven pay package for Detroit is 132 percent higher than that of the entire manufacturing sector of the U.S., which comes in at $31.59.

I don’t care how much money Congress throws at GM. With that kind of oversized comp-package they are not gonna be competitive. It’s throwin’ bad money after a bad cause. What a way to start the new Obama era.

I would still argue that rescuing banks and consumer credit companies removes systemic risk from our lending system. But the only thing systemic about the GM bailout is the hegemony of the UAW. Or maybe I should be more cynical: Republican socialism followed by more Democratic socialism.


Megan McArdle:

One of the things you hear over and over again from critics of Detroit, especially ones from the left, is that their current woes are all management's fault because they kept making big cars.

Management has made a lot of mistakes. But making big cars wasn't one of them. That's because they couldn't profitably make small cars in the United States. And the reason they couldn't is that their labor costs were too high. All in, Detroit was paying about $30 more an hour than other companies to make cars. At that kind of differential, you have to concentrate on large cars with big profit margins, not economy cars where consumers fight to save $15 on the headlight bezels.

That has changed, as Freddie rather vigorously points out in the comments. But corporate culture is a powerful thing. One of the fascinating things about mergers is just how resistant corporate culture is to change; you can fire nearly everyone, and as long as there is still a core of old workers, they will fight to the death to keep doing things the old way. 30 years of complacence followed by 30 years of worrying how to meet the UAW's bill left a corporate culture that was not geared towards innovation, nor towards making small, efficient cars.

Moreover, there was no good way to recruit new talent who might have changed things...Working for the Big Three magically combines vast corporate bureaucracy and job insecurity in one completely unattractive package...

Into this mix you have to throw the dealer network, which has as much of a stranglehold on Detroit as the UAW. As I understand it, until gas hit $4 a gallon and the bottom absolutely dropped out of the market, the dealer network continued to pressure GM and the others to concentrate on high margin SUVs with lots of extras. Libertarians who get all huffy about the UAW should be even more revolted by the dealers, which have browbeaten state legislatures into giving them ridiculous powers over the auto makers.

The entire thing is a toxic mess, left over from the days when interlocking oligopolies contentedly conspired to suck every last dollar out of captive consumers to whom Detroit would happily have given Flintstones cars if they could have figured out how to do them in two-tone vinyl. But things that look like lunatic mistakes on the part of management were often quite rational responses to intolerable pressures...

Having driven the companies right up to the verge of bankruptcy, they conceded literally only when it became clear that the union members were about to get their contracts unilaterally rewritten by a judge, lose their health benefits, and possibly get their pensions crammed down by the PBGC, which maxes out somewhere slightly north of $40K per annum. Then the unions ever so generously agreed to cut health care costs by 30% in exchange for job security guarantees. And now that their game of collective bargaining chicken has resulted in the obvious disaster, they want us to pay to save their jobs, at a cost of over $300,000 per.

It seems to me at least as plausible to believe that the unions were behaving like morons in the belief that the government would bail them out, as that the big bankers were. What is the prudential reason for the rest of us to encourage this sally into the land of moral hazard? If GM goes bankrupt, my Mini will not suddenly stop working.

Bailing out the auto industry offers no net gain to society. It is a straight transfer of resources from one sector to another: we tax money, or borrow it from a finite pool of capital available to the nation, and spend it on auto workers. The people who pay the taxes, or the people who would have borrowed that investment capital, now have less to spend. Whatever they would have bought goes unbought; whoever would have made it goes unemployed. To coin a phrase, what is made on the swings is lost on the roundabouts We have the illusion of a gain only because that other group of people is invisible. Even if we don't bail out GM, they will not be visible--we will never know who didn't lose a job or a business because we declined to spend one squillion dollars saving the Chevy Cobalt.

But let's say it was all management's fault. What's the argument for bailing them out then? Does someone have tens of thousands of auto engineers, marketers, and senior management buried under a rock somewhere, waiting to replace the incompetent managers? Because it seems to me that we're just pouring money into the same deep hole that will periodically reward our efforts by coughing up the Pontiac G6.

Douglas Baird, via Jennifer Rubin:

Professor Douglas Baird of the University of Chicago Law School has some sober words of advice for GM. The entire interview is worth listening to, but the bottom line is simple: GM can’t pay its bills, and it is making a product no one wants. So, a bailout just puts off the inevitable. Oh, and there’s no guarantee that bankruptcy will help, either. As Baird puts it, if a restaurant makes bad food, bankruptcy won’t help it recover.

At least with bankruptcy, however, taxpayers dollars aren’t at stake. Moreover, unlike the vision portrayed by allies of the car companies, bankruptcy won’t mean that GM stops operating–only that its shareholders get wiped out, its creditors "get a haircut," and that new management likely will be brought in. (Remember United Airlines?)

There is little doubt that neither management (which doesn’t want to get booted) nor the UAW (which wants to keep its rich benefit and wage structure) likes the bankruptcy option. And both groups have a lot of political muscle. On the other side are the taxpayers, businesses who have just as much claim to public dollars (and a better track record), and people warning against the never-ending parade of petitioners an open-ended bailout policy will invite.

It will be an interesting test for the President-Elect. Can he stand up to Big Labor? Does he see through the emotional cant ("The auto industry is the backbone of our economy!")? Can he perceive the systemic danger of perpetual government rescues? Stay tuned...


Jim Manzi:

What would it mean to have GM go bankrupt? A change in ownership and a renegotiation of contracts.

The factories, computers, office space, intellectual property and so forth that are now owned by GM would not disappear; they would basically become the property of GM’s creditors. These creditors would sell the assets to the highest bidder. Assuming there is economic value to be created by continuing to operate the company as a business, private equity or strategic investors would buy the assets, shut down some plants, fire some union and exempt workers, and probably use the leverage of bankruptcy court to get a better deal from the unions. The current employees and creditors would be better off if you and I were forced by the federal government to prevent this by paying money to the corporate entity named General Motors, to then be paid to these employees and creditors. Of course, you and I would be worse off in this situation. On balance, if you believe that markets are more efficient allocators of capital than Congress is, the population of the United States would, on the whole, be worse off.

Is this fair to the people who work at GM and will now have a deal changed after the fact? Well, when people sold parts to GM on credit, or employees (individually or via union negotiations) entered into labor contracts with GM, they undertook counterparty risk. That is, they were taking, in part, a bet about whether GM would actually be able to pay them what they are owed. This is also true for pension payments, which are simply deferred compensation, as much as it is for deferred payments on credit terms for parts. To act now as if they should be protected from this risk is to treat them as children.

Is this fair, given that you and I are being forced to cough up an immense amount of money to bailout bankers in New York who are far less sympathetic characters than assembly line workers or Assistant Market Research Managers in Warren, Michigan? We are bailing out bankers, not because we want to avoid employees losing jobs at AIG or shareholders losing money at Merrill Lynch — in fact, as I have argued form the beginning, it is essential that employees and investors not be protected as part of these bailouts — but because the economy as whole is at risk of devastation if we allow systemic collapse of the banking system. We are bailing out parts of the finance industry because it is good for us, not because it is good for the finance industry. This ultimate public backstop is why it is appropriate and prudent to regulate parts of the finance industry to avoid collapses that threaten the whole economy.

Isn’t it important that we maintain an industrial base as a matter of national security? Yes, but that is not the same thing as saying that the current management of GM needs to continue to have operational control of these assets, or that current employment levels are appropriate, or that current union contracts need to be maintained. There is a potential argument to be made on these grounds for some kinds of restrictions on foreign ownership.

A bailout of GM would be a pure exercise of political power to deliver taxpayer funds to one organized group of citizens at the expense of the country as a whole. It should be avoided.

November 12, 2008

An Ear on the "Controlled Environment," or Why Regular Townsfolk Don't Participate

Justin Katz

Now that I've discovered that I already had the technology to record audio at these events, I'll be able to let Anchor Rising readers better appreciate the experience of sitting in an auditorium surrounded by people with a financial interest in the proceedings. (I apologize for the sound of me typing; I'll get better at this.)

First, here's Tom Parker reading his letter to the school committee: stream, download.

Here's Deb Pallasch's speech in favor of the teacher contract: stream, download. Note, especially her telling closer:

I would just ask, for all of us that are in the system, that you do consider to move past it — approve it like you did the other two [the facilities and administrators contracts]. And let's start working on the new one, and give ourselves a little bit of room to refocus on the classroom and away from the adults.

I submit that Ms. Pallasch's admission that teachers are incapable of keeping their professional focus on the classroom while negotiating employment contracts is ample evidence that teacher unionization has got to end.

Now give a listen to the sequence of events when Tom returned to the microphone to insist that his suggestion is reasonable: stream, download.

My equipment didn't fully pick up the low rumble of the teachers' reaction, but you can get the sense of what any citizen speaking against their demands would face. Note what happened next: Quite naturally, Tom turned around to address those who were attacking him from behind, and School Committee Chairman Jan Bergandy chastised him.

Overall, what struck me — as a construction worker who knows people who are being laid off, as well as some who are being asked to take actual reductions in pay and benefits — was the utter greed of the unionists. The town is raising taxes well past the state cap and, more importantly, well past what struggling families can afford, and people who are already compensated above the median Rhode Island household are acting as if tighter boundaries on their increases in pay are oppressive.

Their argument is that "the money is there" for such things as retroactive pay back to 2007, so that they can receive raises for their year of working to rule (which, a resident informed me after the meeting, did indeed cost students such things as teacher recommendations for college). The school committee should rephrase that to "money is there." There's no "the"; until the contract is approved, the teachers have no more claim to that money than, say, the students who still attend debilitated classrooms and have ever-more-limited opportunities as funds dry up. (Or even, perhaps, the parents who are so concerned about the effects of this environment on their children that they're struggling even more to pay for private school.)

Town Controversy, State Law

Justin Katz

So here's a question on local governance that reaches beyond the town of Tiverton:

The letter that Tom Parker submitted to the Tiverton School Committee circulated a bit via email prior to the meeting, and one budget committee member appears to have asked whether others wished to sign on as individuals.

When Former Budget Committee Chairman Chris Cotta took the mic, having heard about the emails, he declared the action to be illegal. After the meeting, he informed one of those involved that the attorney general had been informed and would be investigating.

Could it really be illegal for members of a budget committee to discuss tangential matters via email? In their individual capacity? I've always assumed that such activities took place, and that it became a matter of public record when the individuals progressed from discussion and thought to public action.

A Reshuffled Deck

Justin Katz

Tonight's the night that the newly elected school committee takes up the torch, and I heard rumors that it might vote on an arbitrated teacher contract. So far they've elected a new chairman, Jan Bergandy and a new vice chairwoman, Sally Black.

Having attended these meetings for a year or so, I'll say that it's nice to see several members of Tiverton Citizens for Change in attendance, some of whom are newly elected town officials themselves.


I was just about to note that Superintendent Rearick so expected the renewal of the committee's lawyer's appointment that he didn't prepare any sort of spiel, when Carol Herrmann suggested that they put the position out to bid.

And it goes out to bid! Amazing that simple matters of good government can seem like refreshing reform.

ADDENDUM (7:29 p.m.)

Superintendent Rearick just argued in favor of approving the arbitrator's teacher contract award.

Leonard Wright moved to table on the grounds that the two new committee members need more time to get up to speed. Negative reaction from some teachers.

Newly elected budget committee member Tom Parker (and TCC member) read a letter suggesting that likely decreases in state aid to Tiverton and the economic crisis will undermine "assumptions made throughout the contract."

He suggested that the committee put the contract away until money matters are more settled and to confer with all relevant town committees and boards.

ADDENDUM 7:36 p.m.:

Deb Pallasch, who was (thankfully) denied in her run for school committee, spoke in favor of the contract.

ADDENDUM 7:42 p.m.:

Former Budget Committee Chairman Chris Cotta just protested the pressure of public groups on public representatives.


The contract approval (or denial) is tabled/continued to the next meeting, to give the new members a chance to ask questions and so on.

How Much is $800,000,000?

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Steve Peoples' report in the Projo, Rhode Island needs $800,000,000 more in revenue than it expects to collect through fiscal year 2010, to provide 1) all of the services budgeted for in this fiscal year and 2) approximately the same level of spending in the next fiscal year.

To understand how big this number is in practical terms, suppose -- as some advocates in Rhode Island would prefer -- that the education and health and human services areas of the state’s general revenue spending were declared off-limits to any cuts. How much would have to be cut from what remains of the state budget, to make up an $800,000,000 shortfall by the end of FY2010?

Well, if every non-education non-health-and-human-services government function was completely shut down on January 1, 2009 and not reopened until June 1, with everyone furloghed, no payments made to the pension plan for the downtime, etc., and we assume that the resulting savings is half of the money budgeted for this year, only about 60% of the total amount needed would be saved. With more judiciously spaced cuts beginning in FY2010, a 40-50% reduction in the total size of non-education non-hhs government operations could make up the rest and, if made permanent, possibly keep the budget balanced going forward.

That’s the size of the problem we’re facing.

With all programs on the table, health and human services and education included, a 12%-15% cut in total annual general revenue spending is needed to balance the budget and maybe end the recurring shortfalls.

Here is the list of every major area where the state planned to spend more than $50,000,000 of general revenue this year…

Elementary and Secondary Education$931,218,471
Human Services$767,224,135
Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals$219,361,864
Higher Education$179,856,018
Children, Youth and Families$137,133,720
Public Safety$66,828,094

These 8 areas account for 92% of all Rhode Island general revenue spending. It’s going to be difficult to reconcile an $800,000,000 shortfall without taking something from each of them.

A Good Deed in the Neighborhood

Justin Katz

This sort of good deed is so important:

Christopher and Terri Potts bought a fixer-upper house, pledging to tackle upgrades a little at a time as their toddler son, Jackson, grew up.

But the new father never got a chance to finish what he started. In the spring of 2004, less than a year after the family moved into their tiny ranch house on East Beardsworth Road, Christopher was shipped out to Iraq with his Rhode Island National Guard unit.

And there he died, that October, on his 38th birthday. ...

The organization, a part of the Rhode Island Builders Association, helps create better homes for wounded veterans or families of those killed in combat since Sept. 11, 2001. When its members heard about Potts' death, in a gun battle while serving with the Guard's Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 103rd Field Artillery Division, they knew they had their first project.

Four years after his death, Christopher Potts' home is mended, in more ways than one.

Nothing can recompense the heroic sacrifice, but such expressions of appreciation can at least go so far as to honor it.

Public Money is Not a Personal Matter

Monique Chartier

If, indeed, the referenced law is being correctly interpreted and executed, it needs to change. Any information pertaining to the dispensation of tax dollars cannot be withheld from those who supply those dollars.

The Carcieri administration is refusing to disclose the number of unused vacation and sick days it awarded recent state retirees who, in some cases, walked out the door with severance checks averaging $10,500, but running as high as the $129,158 paid to former Rhode Island College president John Nazarian.

In total, taxpayers paid $16.5 million in severance payments to the 1,521 state workers and college employees who retired in the five months before the price of health coverage for new state retirees went up on Oct. 1.

* * *

In a series of back-and-forth e-mails last week, Governor Carcieri’s spokeswoman, Amy Kempe, said the Department of Administration had decided that it was barred from releasing further details about the severance payments by the state Open Records Law, under an exemption for personally identifiable information.

Why not?

Donald B. Hawthorne

Shall we all stop paying our mortgages for the next 2 months so we also can qualify for a bailout?

The Mall Really May Be Sinking This Time

Carroll Andrew Morse

From the Associated Press via WTEN-TV (ABC 10) in Albany, NY…

General Growth Properties Inc. shares fell today after the nation's second-largest mall owner warned it faces solvency trouble.

The Chicago-based real estate investment trust said it may be forced to file for bankruptcy if it can't refinance or extend nearly $1 billion in debt due next month.

The company's big-name holdings around the country include the Faneuil Hall Marketplace and Natick Collection in the Boston area. It also owns Providence Place in Rhode Island and other malls around New England.

Either Way, the Children Suffer (but One Way Is the Way Out)

Justin Katz

There's creeping desperation in West Warwick:

The Town Council and School Committee agreed to open the lines of communication as part of a settlement of the Caruolo lawsuit the schools filed against the town in April, which seeks a $1.1-million addition to its $49.4-million budget. ...

... the first step, Thomas said, is addressing the schools budget. This year, the School Department is projecting a $4-million deficit. The projections increase in coming years until they reach $12 million in fiscal 2012.

School Committee member James A. Williamson said the schools may have to get creative with ways to save — or raise money. It may propose charging teachers a parking fee, increasing the distance students have to walk to school to cut down on busing, or cutting sports programs. If that doesn't work, Williamson said, he'll propose the schools refuse to comply with some state or federal mandates that don't directly affect student learning. "It sounds drastic, but if we're to a point where if all else fails, and if there's something we can do that won't have a tremendous impact on students, we have to consider trying it out," Williamson said. "It may be time to get bold, and try some things we've never tried before."

If the schools begin cutting programs or making children walk longer distances in the cold, it adversely affects the students. If the schools begin to squeeze the overly remunerated union teachers, it adversely affects the students by way of unconscionable labor actions such as work to rule. At least the latter might lead to changes that can actually salvage a decent education for future classes; the former merely accepts a few more inches into the quicksand.

The single greatest mandate that towns must begin to fight is unions' legalized monopoly of public education.

November 11, 2008

Yeah, Maybe I'm Being a Little Paranoid

Justin Katz


How is it that the "don't tase me bro" guy became an Internet star, and it took me a week to come across even a passing reference to a man being grabbed by police and arrested for wearing a McCain-Palin shirt at a post-election Obama rally?

There could be more to the story that the video doesn't portray, but the screams and O-ba-ma chants as the police push the kid up against the glass are chilling regardless of context.

Through the Cultural Looking Glass

Justin Katz

I see the gang over at RI Future is running hard in the post-election season with same-sex marriage advocacy. I suppose that means we can start the clock until the first accusation that the political right is being divisive by not ceding.

Believe it or not, what drew me so deeply into this debate seven years ago wasn't ideological conviction, but rather the intellectual constructs on which the sides were built, especially the many ways in which the entire issue is premised on a wish-it-to-be-so, through-the-looking-glass reasoning. A glaring expression of that quality that I noted early on came from Andrew Sullivan, in his book Virtually Normal:

Some might argue that marriage is by definition between a man and a woman; and it is difficult to argue with a definition. But if marriage is articulated beyond this circular fiat, then the argument for its exclusivity to one man and one woman disappears.

Yes, a definition is a definition, but if we change the definition, then the definition is something else. Upon this imperative is built the notion that a small minority can declare a right for itself and disenfranchise the majorities who disagree. Quoth Crowley:

The idea that one group of people can vote away the rights of another group of people should scare the living hell out of everyone. Our rights, and the freedom they bring, are not subject to popular vote for a very special reason - because if the powerful can take away the rights of the weak we do not live in a democracy - it is something else, but not a democracy.

Events in California give the statement its first-ever modicum of accuracy — in that the Prop. 8 vote did take away something that had been instituted — but his argument predates even the Goodridge ruling in Massachusetts. The ahistorical assertion is that maintaining a millennial status quo is tantamount to removing newly asserted rights.

Even were the anachronism ignored, however, the wish-it-to-be-so principle applies to the very notion that the male-female definition of marriage tramples the rights of homosexuals. There is no right to public recognition of any particular relationship, and to the extent that the public privileges a certain arrangement, it does not discriminate by excluding relationships that are substantially different. Relationships between people of opposite sex are substantially different from relationships between people of same sex.

Marriage functions, in our society, by associating child-birth with the sex that men have with women, and associating both with a stable familial relationship. That reality simultaneously rebuffs rights-based assertions and hints at the probable long-term result of changing the terms. A definition may be a circular fiat, but rewriting it is likely to boomerang.

Another Bum Who Should Have Been Thrown Out

Justin Katz

House Finance Committee Chairman Steven Costantino tells Steve Peoples, essentially, "Hey, it ain't us":

"I'm not sure this is structural," Costantino said of the deficits. "It's the economy."

Well, yeah, the economy is partly to blame, but if Rhode Island's legislature uses that as their annual excuse not to make structural changes, a release of economic pressure in other states may cause the state to deflate. Working and middle class Rhode Islanders have already been fleeing for years; just wait until they've had a taste of recession and ours is among the last states handing out the recovery sorbet.

Once again: slash taxes, erase reams of licensing requirements and unnecessary regulations, invest in infrastructure (without borrowing), and give salable tax credits to charities for softening the blow to those whom the state can no longer afford to support.

Thank you

Donald B. Hawthorne

A deep-felt thank you to our veterans and to our troops currently serving our country. And to your families who support you.

The freedoms we enjoy today are a result of your sacrifice and for that we salute you from the bottom of our hearts.

Having come of age in the latter years of the Viet Nam conflict, I recall how large segments of our society showed overt disdain for veterans. For that reason, I now find this day to be particularly poignant.

God bless all of you and your families.

A Lonely Party

Justin Katz

Charlie Hall sent over this cartoon:

Now, now, Charlie, I know for a fact that our own Andrew Morse was in attendance, as well!

November 10, 2008

Underestimating Underperformance

Justin Katz

I'm sorry to say that my $150 million guess, back in the late spring, at the November Revenue Estimating Conference's projected budget shortfall was far short. From the governor's office:

Governor Donald L. Carcieri today issued the following statement regarding the Revenue Estimating Conference's revised projection of state revenues for the current fiscal year. State revenues will fail to meet the enacted revenue estimate of $3.347 billion with an estimated revenue shortfall of $233.6 million. This revenue shortfall is in addition to the $37.4 million deficit from fiscal year 2008, $10.0 million for the Station Nightclub settlement, $18.7 million for changes in federal reimbursements to DCYF, $36 million more in expected state costs as a result of the Caseload Estimating Conference, and $37 million in other projected spending. The estimated deficit for FY 2009 now totals approximately $372 million.

"We expected revenues to be down due to the current economic climate, but we did not anticipate the shortfall would be this great," Governor Carcieri said. "The gravity of the situation is going to require more dramatic steps. We have already made significant reductions in personnel costs and human service and social welfare programs, while attempting to minimize the impact on funding for cities and towns.

"Anticipating a drop in revenues, my staff has been meeting for the past several weeks to develop plans for closing the budget gap. Proposals are still being finalized, but the areas of focus include a reduction to local aid, state pensions, review of all state contracts and assets, program reductions, and a revision of revenue policies."

"Next week, I will look to meet with House and Senate leaders to review proposals and develop plans to address our current fiscal crisis. We simply cannot afford to wait to address our economic situation. Now is the time for everyone to work together, and may require the General Assembly to take immediate action.

"For too long, the State has promised more to its residents than the revenue system can provide. These structural deficiencies are only exacerbated by economic downturns, placing the State in its current position. While we must find a solution to the immediate situation, we must also look to make structural changes to how the state and local governments raise revenues and deliver public services."

"We were able to accomplish a lot last year, without raising broad-based taxes. If we are to successfully reposition Rhode Island's economy for the future, we will need to make difficult choices now. These difficult choices will include reexamining the breadth of government services provided. Working together with the General Assembly, and our cities and towns, we can come through this recession as a stronger and leaner government," concluded the Governor.

That's 11% of the total budget as a shortfall. Anybody want to stake out a number for the actual number come the spring? Is this the year that Rhode Island reaches a $1 billion deficit?

The President's Troopers

Justin Katz

On some level, this makes sense, and thus far, it's just an idea, but frankly, it's unsettling and has the potential to go very, very wrong (emphasis added):

After Obama declared victory, his campaign sent a text message announcing that his supporters hadn't heard the last from the president-elect. Obama conveyed a similar message to his staff in a campaignwide conference call Wednesday, signaling that his election was the beginning, and not the culmination, of a political movement.

Accordingly, the president-elect's transition Web site features a blog and a suggestion form, signaling the kinds of direct and instantaneous interaction that the Obama administration will encourage, perhaps with an eye toward turning its following into the biggest special-interest group in Washington.

Once Obama is sworn in, those backers may be summoned to push reluctant members of Congress to support legislation, to offer feedback on initiatives and to enlist in administration-supported causes in local communities. Obama would also be positioned to ask his supporters to back his favored candidates with fundraising and turnout support in the 2010 midterm elections.

So the least of what Obama's troopers will be doing is getting in their neighbors' faces, as he put it during the campaign. I also wonder whether this database will be the field from which he'll cull the first ranks of his national security force.

Presidents always remain partisan, of course, but I've had a sense, at least, that they put aside or hand over some of their "movement" infrastructure so as to lead the entire country. Presidents are persuaded by special interests, of course, and tend to have more affinity with some than others, but almost by definition, they are supposed to concern themselves with the national interests. Intellectually, the leap to tyranny looks smaller and smaller.

Gulp if You Think He Meant It

Justin Katz

Here and there across the Internet, one can still find expressions of hope that Obama's actions, when in office, would be tempered by the economy and the reality of responsibility. Peggy Noonan said, before the election, that Obama would be the dog that caught the car. This morning, even I suggested that he'd be tempered by politics, if nothing else.

It appears that his first official statement, however, is going to be one of decisiveness, probably to the detriment of the nation's financial and moral health:

President-elect Barack Obama is poised to move swiftly to reverse actions that President Bush took using executive authority, and his transition team is reviewing limits on stem cell research and the expansion of oil and gas drilling, among other issues, members of the team said Sunday. ...

"There's a lot that the president can do using his executive authority without waiting for Congressional action, and I think we'll see the president do that," John D. Podesta, a top transition leader, said Sunday. "He feels like he has a real mandate for change. We need to get off the course that the Bush administration has set."

And more:

Rahm Emanuel also hinted that Obama would not postpone a tax increase for families earning more than $250,000 a year despite the deepening economic gloom.

The president-elect may, indeed, intend to remain somewhat of an enigma, but he's got a lot of constituencies to reward, and those who've hoped that he'd rein in some of his left-of-center proclivities are likely to be disappointed.

Doing Something

Justin Katz

Paul at Powerline suggests some actions that rightward Americans can take in order to rebound from the election. This one is particularly significant here in Rhode Island:

Support fledgling conservative institutions. The left has "marched through our institutions" - including the MSM, Hollywood, the public schools, academia, and even large swaths of corporate America. Conservatives need to respond by developing alternative sources of information, entertainment, and education. These alternatives won't succeed unless we support them.

If statewide elections illustrated anything, here, it's that Rhode Islanders don't feel that they've a viable alternative to the Democrats. The remedies are to (1) develop a compelling and palatable choice and (2) persuade our fellow residents that alternative policies will work. Toward those ends, a number of groups have sprung up around the state, but they operate largely on a volunteer basis, so they can only take their efforts so far.

We at Anchor Rising, for example, continue to see the growth of our readership and influence, but we're coming up against a wall of time that prevents our doing much more. You might be surprised at how little financial backing it would take to bring Anchor Rising out of the "hobby" category, and I'm confident that the blooming of our content and activities would impress under those circumstances.

Unfortunately, the reality is that small donations — as helpful and encouraging as they are — have thus far proven not enough to change the nature of the Web site. If anybody is interested and able to help us move forward, please contact me by email ( or phone (401-835-7156).

Future History is Written

Marc Comtois

It took historians a full term of George W. Bush's presidency before they declared he was "the worst president ever." Now, only days after the election, at least one prominent historian is declaring that the presidency of Barack Obama will be "unforgettable" (h/t).

Like Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D.Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F.Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan - the most memorable of the 18 presidents who served in the last century - Obama seems likely to become an unforgettable personality who presided over a transforming administration....

If Obama's campaign that brought him from relative obscurity in Illinois to the White House in so brief a time is any true measure of the man, we can have every hope that he will acquit himself admirably in the days ahead - and claim a place in the pantheon of America's most distinguished presidents.

There's no doubt that the election of Barack Obama is already historic. But the confidence and the stake-claiming already being made by historians regarding his Presidency gives me pause. In the coming years, through the various trials and tribulations that confront every President, I suspect that many of the "Historians for Obama" will be less than willing to admit their man have been wrong over this or that. Instead, we'll have contemporary "history" being written to justify his decisions and--by extension--the wisdom of those historians who so very publicly supported him. The reputation of the profession will be at stake, you see.

Cross-posted at Spinning Clio.

The Defining Difference

Justin Katz

So Julia Steiny gave me a change for which to hope in an Obama presidency:

Last summer, presidential candidate Barack Obama addressed the National Education Association's annual convention, by way of video stream projected onto a big screen. ...

But then, without changing his tone of voice, he enthusiastically endorsed charter schools. The crowd was eerily silent, and stayed that way as he proudly proclaimed his career-long support of public-school choice. ...

And then, without apology, he swore that he would support allowing districts to "reward" teachers who take on extra responsibilities, or work in hard-to-serve areas, or perform consistently well in the classroom. He doesn't use the words, but this is none other than union-loathed "merit pay." The assembly outright booed the man. Loudly. He responded by saying "I know this wasn't necessarily the most popular part of my speech last year, but I said it then, and I'm saying it again today, because it is what I believe."


The video is as Steiny describes it, although I'd note that Obama, that masterful architect of speeches, positions his declaration of belief as the down-note from which to declare that he'll "always be an honest partner to you [union educators] in the White House." Moreover, it cannot be ignored that these were mere words — and delivered via streaming video, so the impact of the live audience could not be felt.

That extrapolates to my continuing unease about others' faith in Obama. He drops a hopeful hint from time to time. He'll speak beyond his audience periodically, giving nods to those outside of the room, metaphorically speaking. But that's all it is: talk and nods. Kyle-Anne Shiver describes her measure of our next president thus (all emphasis in original):

My opinion was gradually set in steel as I read and studied and pored over Obama's own books. The incongruous details of his race-obsessed memoir — the invented episodes, the composite characters, the utter lack of humility and true introspection — all bespoke a man of innate dishonesty and a lack of healthy shame. His audacious book on politics did nothing but hammer home his lack of principles and values, as he equivocated every single position, until the reader could determine absolutely nothing coherent about the writer.

Barack Obama has lived 47 years. In all that time, he has presented himself in public as a multi-dimensional symbolic figure, self-anointed as far more special than any of his actual deeds have ever — even in a single instance — validated as reality. If ever there was a more enigmatic figure in American public life, I have yet to discover him.

I don't suspect that Obama intends to reach the Oval Office and throw off the veil, as it were, proving all of conservatives' darkest fears within those first 100 days. Rather, he's likely to try to perpetuate the practice that has gotten him where he is: He'll try to speak music to every ear and act with enigmatically enough to disallow stark assessment.

Even in that, though, I fear that my exuberant friend Rocco DiPippo is correct in his assessment of the reception that Obama's self-representation is likely receiving in the arid fever-swamps of terrorist enclaves:

From his promises to hold non-conditional talks with America's enemies to his promises to strip funding for America's military, they smell weakness. For instance, Obama's trademark "gender neutral" hazy blue motifs -- the ones that grace his website and his campaign merchandise -- put forth a message of softness, femininity and oozing pliability. Our enemies read signals like those and strategize accordingly. ...

Be prepared, you Obama and media-snookered fools. You have elected a weakling, a pacifist in a time of war against a determined, ruthless enemy who wishes death to all of you.

Prepare yourselves to have the blood of innocent Iraqis on your hands -- and to have America's broken promise of a peaceful, terror-free Iraq on your consciences when your false Messiah abandons 25 million souls to the beheaders and the rapists and the torturers and the mass murderers. All in the name of "Change."

November 9, 2008

Cosmic Dark Flow (Not the Pres-Elect's Charisma)

Justin Katz

One can say with some certainty that there will always be something new to discover in reality:

On the outskirts of creation, unknown, unseen "structures" are tugging on our universe like cosmic magnets, a controversial new study says.

Everything in the known universe is said to be racing toward the massive clumps of matter at more than 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) an hour—a movement the researchers have dubbed dark flow.

The presence of the extra-universal matter suggests that our universe is part of something bigger—a multiverse—and that whatever is out there is very different from the universe we know, according to study leader Alexander Kashlinsky, an astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

Can't Charm the World

Justin Katz

Up there in far off Boston, Jeff Jacoby opines that the president elect hasn't thus far exhibited an accurate understanding of the world's opinion of the United States:

Sure enough, much of the international reaction to Obama's election has been ecstatic. "Legions of jubilant supporters set off firecrackers in El Salvador, danced in Liberia, and drank shots in Japan," the Los Angeles Times reported. Kenya declared a national holiday. South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu exulted: "We have a new spring in our walk and our shoulders are straighter." The Sun, Britain's most popular newspaper, headlined its story "One Giant Leap for Mankind."

For Obama, such worldwide jubilation must be gratifying. He should take it all with a healthy shake of salt, however. Because it isn't going to last.

Antagonism to the United States is as old as the United States. It didn't begin with the current president, unpopular though he is, or in response to American military action in Iraq. Nor is it going to vanish Jan. 20.

The difficulty of being the lead executive of the nation is that it rapidly becomes impossible not to get some dirt on your lapel, and it's a dangerous game to try. If President Obama moves unilaterally — or even just without the explicit permission of a corrupted United Nations — when our national security requires, he'll be reviled. If he fails to do so and the world's security worsens, he'll be reviled.

Secretary of State's Electoral Initiative: Too Much and Too Little - Part Three

Monique Chartier

Early Voting/Multi-Day Voting - Oh, No

And here is where the Secretary of State gets a little carried away. He announced this component October 21 on WPRO's John DePetro Show (podcast no longer available). Citing thirty one other states who engage in some form of the practice,

Part of our 2009 legislation package, we will be, I will be putting forth a early voting piece of legislation. Our original goal ... was to the point of having people vote on the Saturday before Election Day. But we're going to expand that thought in our new legislation and actually, hopefully open it up to more than just that one particular day before Election Day.

We're hoping to put forth a situation where you would be able to vote hopefully the week before Election Day.

This is a bad idea.

Ballots, blank and cast, as well as all the other polling place paraphernalia will have to be packed up and stored at the end of each voting day. Look at what happened during the West Warwick primary. Through an honest error, eighty seven signature cards went missing - fortunately, only temporarily.

If multi-day voting is introduced, will the workers at every polling place carefully pack and accurately inventory every piece of paper and the boxes which contain them with 100% accuracy at the end of an election day? Will they carefully unpack, re-check and assemble everything the next day with 100% accuracy? Can we count on this being done 100% of the time at all polling places? No. We're all human. It is much too easy to envision honest errors, along the lines of, "Wait a minute, we're missing some boxes from the storage location. Okay, people, who took what last night?" or, after the election, "Damn. I left a box in my car." Or, if all voting materials are left at the polling place, "Uh oh, someone was here last night ..."

Multiply by how many election days and how many polling places in Rhode Island?

The opportunity for honest - not to mention dishonest! - mistakes in our electoral process must be kept to an absolute minimum. Multi-day voting unnecessarily endangers the integrity of our precious electoral process. The fact that thirty one other states have engaged in multi-day voting provides no comfort, only the knowledge that the election process of those states has been subjected to such avoidable mistakes.

Secretary of State's Electoral Initiative: Too Much and Too Little - Part Two

Monique Chartier

Voter Identification - Yes

The Secretary of State's electoral initiative includes a requirement for all voters to show a picture identification when voting.

On the one hand, it is good news, indeed, that this critical measure has been proposed by the Secretary of State. It stops cold not one but two significant election frauds: voting a ballot that is in someone else's name and voting the ballot of someone who does not exist; e.g., fictional voter registration drive-and-dumps such as undertaken by ACORN.

At the same time, the US Supreme Court handed down its decision confirming Indiana's voter i.d. law on April 28 of this year. My enthusiasm for this initiative is a little dampened, therefore, by its tardiness and the realization that the Secretary of State's decision to put it forward in 2009 instead of 2008 enabled a presidential election to take place in Rhode Island without the requirement for voters to show identification.

Secretary of State's Electoral Initiative: Too Much and Too Little - Part One

Monique Chartier

Marc's two thorough analyses of straight party voting last Tuesday is a good cue to break the bad news that the legislative package to be introduced in January by Rhode Island's Secretary of State - one of the guardians of our electoral process - does not include elimination of the straight party lever. (That does not, however, preclude some good-government-minded legislator from introducing such a bill.)

I have broken the three important aspects of Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis' initiative into three posts, this first dealing with the aforementioned

Straight Party Lever - Untouched

About this omission, the Secretary of State, via his Communications Director, Chris Barnett, said in late October:

On Election Day 2006, about 20 percent of voters used the straight-ticket option -- 61,357 voted Democratic and 18,424 voted Republican, which was roughly the same proportion of voters in each party. Given that one-in-five voters used the master lever, we know that a significant number of voters value the option to vote straight party. Unlike a few critics of straight-ticket voting, we presume the best about Rhode Islanders. People who take the time to vote know their own minds. Straight-ticket voting is an endorsement of a platform of policies specific to a particular party. The straight-party option also has flexibility, too. You can vote straight-ticket and vote for an off-ticket candidate or candidates on the same ballot. A vote for a particular off-ticket candidate negates the straight-party vote for that particular office only.

Elimination of the straight party lever is long overdue. If a voter wishes to vote only in a particular race or on a particular issue, he or she can simply leave the rest of the ballot blank. As commenter Patrick said, straight party voting is

lazy, thoughtless and really just irresponsible.

And leaving the straight party lever in place is not only irresponsible but a bad governing practice.

What Rhode Islanders Don't Seem to Get

Justin Katz

East Providence School Committee member Anthony Carcieri makes an interesting observation to the Providence Journal:

Along with the skirmishes over ground rules, the negotiators also have disclosed their ultimate goal. The committee wants $3 million in annual concessions from the teachers, Carcieri says, adding that they aren't bluffing or backing down. "The NEA has experienced hard-ballers who go around from city and town stepping on the retired librarians and school moms who join the School Committee to help and have little experience with contract negotiations," Carcieri said. "They’re shaking down municipalities and taking them for more than they are worth."

The National Education Association Rhode Island representative for the town, Jeannette Woolley objects the accusation, but selects her words carefully to deny that the NEARI "dictate[s] the East Providence teachers' actions." That may or may not be true, but it wasn't what Carcieri was saying.

The problem is actually much bigger than unions' bringing in major leaguers to whack around townies: The unions devote massive resources to shaping state law in the their favor — from the fact of the union monopoly on public education to the possibility for school committees to sue their towns. Oh, the unionists will point to this or that agenda item that has yet to find its way into law as evidence that state legislators are not in their pockets, but the fact that they haven't gotten everything they wanted all at once is only mildly mitigatory.

Underlying the battle, of course, is the very thing that Rhode Islanders just don't seem to understand: The system is constructed such that our representatives have to stand for our interests only as the third or fourth consideration, and such that there's an elaborate set of policy and political mirrors at which to point to diffuse responsibility. The number one priority for us who see the funhouse for what it is must be to start breaking some glass.

This Carp Public Service Announcement Brought to You by Several Over-Eager FM Radio Stations

Monique Chartier

It is way too early to be playing Christmas music.

Thank you. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program of slightly more substantive issues and discussions.

She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain?

Justin Katz

George Will, in a post-election review, makes a corrective worth considering:

Some conservatives who are gluttons for punishment are getting a head start on ensuring a 2012 drubbing by prescribing peculiar medication for a misdiagnosed illness. They are monomaniacal about media bias, which is real but rarely decisive, and unhinged by their anger about the loathing of Sarah Palin by similarly deranged liberals. These conservatives, confusing pugnacity with a political philosophy, are hot to anoint Palin, an emblem of rural and small-town sensibilities, as the party's presumptive 2012 nominee.

These conservatives preen as especially respectful of regular -- or as Palin says, "real" -- Americans, whose tribune Palin purports to be. But note the argument that the manipulation of Americans by "the mainstream media" explains the fact that the more Palin campaigned, the less Americans thought of her qualifications. This argument portrays Americans as a bovine herd -- or as inert clay in the hands of wily media, which only Palin's conservative celebrators can decipher and resist.

These conservatives, smitten by a vice presidential choice based on chromosomes, seem eager to compete on the Democrats' terrain of identity politics, entering the "diversity" sweepstakes they have hitherto rightly deplored. We have seen this movie before. Immediately after the 1972 election, some conservatives laid down the law -- the 1976 Republican nominee must be Vice President Spiro Agnew.

We conservatives are standing before an open field, right now, with all sorts of variables hidden in the high, wild grass. How and how well will Obama govern? The Democratic Congress? What will our enemies do? Our allies? What might social and technological innovations wreak? Or not. And perhaps more important, as an internal matter: Who will emerge from among our ranks making compelling arguments that apply our worldview to those unknowables?

Will seems to go too far toward rejecting Palin for 2012, but he is without doubt correct that it is too early to hand her the crown. Before all else, let's see what she does. If she spends whatever free time her job as governor allows reading the arguments of conservative intellectuals past and present, if she is deliberate about learning the ins and outs of the national and international minefields, it may be that she's precisely the right woman at the right time in four years. She could step forward in the waning months of 2011 and challenge the hostile media to shake her, wink intact and an answer for every gotcha.

Or she could decide to remain a regional phenomenon, and that would be fine, too.

Whatever the case, it would most definitely be advisable all around to nurture as much internal competition as possible. If Governor Palin or any other conservative wants the mantle, let her or him work for it — with help from the rest of us, to be sure.

Flooding the Social Car

Justin Katz

A clever cartoon on socialism from Day by Day, today.

Greg Mankiw's memo to Obama

Donald B. Hawthorne

Greg Mankiw:

Congratulations, Senator Obama. You ran a good campaign, and you racked up an historic victory. As you get ready for your new responsibilities, let me suggest four ways for you to become a reliable steward of the economy:

Listen to your economists. During the campaign you assembled an impressive team of economic advisers from the nation’s top universities, including Austan Goolsbee from University of Chicago and David Cutler and Jeff Liebman from Harvard. Your campaign’s director of economic policy, Jason Furman, is a smart, sensible, and well-trained policy economist. I know: He is a former student of mine.

Pay close attention to what they have to say. They will often give you advice quite different from what you will hear from congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. To make sure you hear the views of your economists, put them in offices close to yours. Tell your chief of staff to invite them to all the relevant meetings.

Embrace some Republican ideas. No party has a monopoly on truth. Be ready to take the best Republican policy proposals and make them your own, as Bill Clinton did with welfare reform in 1996.

Health policy is a case in point. Over the past several months, you lambasted McCain’s proposal to reform the tax code to include a refundable health insurance tax credit. Did you know that long before McCain ever proposed this idea, it was advanced by Mr. Furman, your campaign’s policy director? He can explain to you why the Furman-McCain plan makes a lot of sense.

Now you may decide that this plan does not go far enough. You may want a more generously funded social safety net to help the less fortunate get health care. Fair enough, but in pursuing that goal, you run into the next issue.

Pay attention to the government’s budget constraint. The nation faces a long-term imbalance between government spending and tax revenue. The fundamental problem is that the federal government has promised the elderly more benefits than the tax system can support. This fiscal imbalance will become acute as more baby boomers retire and start collecting Social Security and Medicare.

Yet during the campaign, you promised that you would cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans, that you would vastly expand health insurance coverage, and that you would never cut Social Security benefits or raise the retirement age. You will almost surely have to renege on some of these promises. As your economic team will often remind you, even if the laws of arithmetic are ignored during campaigns, they provide a real constraint when making actual policy.

Recognize your past mistakes. As a new senator, you voted along predictable left-wing lines. As president, you will need a more eclectic, nuanced approach.

Take trade policy, for example. In the senate, you voted against the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement. You opposed free trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea. You supported Senators Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham in their quest to put tariffs on Chinese goods if China failed to revalue its exchange rate. You supported the Byrd Amendment, which encouraged domestic companies to file anti-dumping suits against foreign competitors. You supported subsidies for domestic producers of corn-based ethanol and tariffs on imports of more efficient sugar-based ethanol.

Your economists can explain to you why these positions were wrong-headed. Economic isolationism is not in the national interest. A high point of the Clinton presidency was the enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which passed both the House and Senate with a majority of Republicans and a minority of Democrats.

This past Tuesday, many people voted for you hoping you would achieve the kind of economic success that Bill Clinton enjoyed in the 1990s. Your best chance of delivering what they want requires that you abandon some of your past positions and pursue a more moderate, bipartisan course.

November 8, 2008

What the Overly Credulous Should Have Assumed

Justin Katz

I suppose a lot of people were predisposed to this sort of credulity, but this should have been the first guess all around:

He says there's no way she didn't know Africa was a continent, and whoever is saying she didn't must be distorting "a fumble of words." He talked to her about all manner of issues relating to Africa, from failed states to the Sudan. She was aware from the beginning of the conflict in Darfur, which is followed closely in evangelical churches, and was aware of Clinton's AIDS initiative. That basically makes it impossible that she thought all of Africa was a country.

On not knowing what countries are in NAFTA, Biegun was part of the conversation that led to that accusation and it convinces him "somebody is acting with a high degree of maliciousness." He was briefing Palin before a Univision interview, and talking to her about trade issues. He rolled through NAFTA, CAFTA, and the Colombia FTA. As he talked, people were coming in and out of the room, handing Palin things, etc. She was distracted from what Biegun was saying, and said, roughly, "Ok, who's in NAFTA, what's the deal with CAFTA, what's up the FTA?"—her way, Biegun says, of saying "rack them and stack them," begin again from the start. "Somebody is taking a conversation and twisting it maliciously," he says.

Frankly, I'm amazed at folks' lack of capacity for empathy. Take a person steeped in the minutia of a particular state and try to get her up to speed on the full slate of national and international issues, and it's inevitable that she'll ask a couple of silly questions (even if she'd know the answer in regular conversation) and make a few mistakes.

The Position We're In

Justin Katz

One consideration that brings some of the darker visions for an Obama presidency a few steps closer to the light of plausibility is the astonishing complicity of the media. Victor Davis Hanson states it well:

In the 3rd book of his history, Thucydides has some insightful thoughts about destroying institutions in times of zealotry—and then regretting their absence when there is a need for refuge for them. The mainstream press should have learned that lesson, once they blew up their credibility in the past election by morphing into the Team Obama press agency.

There will come a time in the year ahead when either Obama's unexamined past will come back to haunt him, or his inexperience and tentativeness in foreign affairs will be embarrassingly apparent, or his European-socialist agenda for domestic programs simply won't work. And as public opinion falls, what will MSNBC, the New York Times, the editors of Newsweek, a Chris Matthews or the anchors at the major networks say?

Not much—since they will have one of two non-choices: (1) either they will begin scrambling to offer supposed disinterested criticism, which will be met with the public's, "Why should we begin believing you now?" or "Why didn't you tell this before?", or (2), They can continue as state-sanctioned megaphones of the Obama administration in the manner that they did during the campaign. They will lose either way and remain without credibility.

In short, we live now in the Age of Post-Journalism. All that was before is now over, as this generation of journalists voluntarily destroyed the hallowed notion of objectivity and they will have no idea quite how to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.

If the Democrats should move toward a program of idea rationing, perhaps with other measures to restrict ideological opposition, we'll be treading on very dangerous territory.

A Race Apart

Justin Katz

MRH offers a short-answer essay, in the comments, on "otherness" and the reasoning behind political correctness:

Rightly or wrongly (I think increasingly wrongly) the default category in American society is white, Christian, and male. Anyone who isn't white, Christian, or male is to some degree the "other."

It's easy, but a little dicey, for someone in a position of relative privilege to tell someone in another category to subsume their identity. Here's an imperfect analogy: if someone told you that you should stop thinking of yourself as a Christian-American and just think of yourself as American, you might be a little offended. After all, your religion is important to you, and anyway, you don't think that being Christian is incompatible with just being "American."

Of course, no one's likely to say that to you, because Christian-American sounds redundant to us, because Christian is part of the default category.

It's an old argument, and it's never made sense to me: American means "white," so calling a black man "American" would imply his race away, and because his race is important to him, we must apply an adjective so that he can be fully black and fully American as an "African American." And somehow that will dispel racism and bring us all together.

Whenever folks on MRH's side of the ideological divide begin summarizing, for me, how I think of myself and when I might be offended, I can't help but despair a bit at the gulf between worldviews. As a matter of fact, rare are the times that I think of myself as a "Christian-American." When I think of my nationality, history, and general culture, I think of myself as "American"; when I think of my religion, intellectual disposition, and subculture, I think of myself as "Christian"; when I think of my race, I actually consider myself a mutt, but in the broad category of "white."

Political correctness requires that we always refer to Americans of a certain range of ancestry as "African American," as a short-hand blend of racial, national, and cultural descriptions. It's a very limiting, even dehumanizing thing to do, not the least because it allows a political cadre to dictate what an entire race must believe when it comes to national politics and cultural proclivities.

The underlying premise of political correctness is that knowledge of a person's race tells you something significant about everything else about that person. The alternative — the correct approach — is to assess people based on all available information and to be prepared to adjust. That includes an allowance for a particular race (or gender or religious group or orientation or whatever) to define itself, but with the understanding that a majority vote, as it were, isn't definitive for dissenting individuals.

Thus, if black Americans persist in acknowledging a distinctive subculture, it is entirely appropriate to expect its manifestation in one whom you are just meeting, but it is also necessary to reevaluate. Race is easily observed, and there appears to be some degree of a sense of brotherhood among blacks, so it isn't racist to expect certain views and behavior in accordance with the family, as it were. In deliberately merging that racial identity with their national identity, political correctness makes the familial definition the default, and those who differ on political or cultural matters become the "other among others."

Political Correctness, in other words, looks at a conservative black man and says, "not really black" — sorry, "not really African American." Such an approach only reinforces racial notions of otherhood. If somebody else is black and I am white, then the differences between us that I can profess to know are limited, because we're only talking color. He is free to reveal himself to me, and vice versa. If somebody else is African American and I am American, then we enter our acquaintance within the framework of the Other that we are supposed to lament.

Actually, what we are supposed to do is to take that framework and give minorities an advantage and a sunny presumption — providing a wedge for their political masters. As Shelby Steele writes:

... there is an inherent contradiction in all this. When whites — especially today's younger generation — proudly support Obama for his post-racialism, they unwittingly embrace race as their primary motivation. They think and act racially, not post-racially. The point is that a post-racial society is a bargainer's ploy: It seduces whites with a vision of their racial innocence precisely to coerce them into acting out of a racial motivation. A real post-racialist could not be bargained with and would not care about displaying or documenting his racial innocence. Such a person would evaluate Obama politically rather than culturally.

"Displaying or documenting racial innocence" is a way of describing political correctness, and its practitioners make tools of themselves and perpetuate that which they believe themselves to be erasing.


I would repeat something that I've said previously, though: one positive result of an Obama presidency, apart from everything else, is his standing as a direct challenge to those who've sought to exclude "white" standards of respectability and erudition from the definition of the African American subculture. Should he fail to promote the right causes and push the right agendas, however, be prepared for race hucksters to change their tone and present him as an "Uncle Tom in Chief" who was packaged for white America.

Whether such a ploy will at last undermine their own claims to speak for the black community or will reposition Obama in the same category as Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, and Condoleezza Rice before him, we'll have to wait and see. (I suspect he'll play all sorts of political games to avoid the rift.) Whatever the case, there may be an opportunity, however, for cultural conservatives to promote their common principles with blacks once the Left's racial manacles are broken.

Progress or return?

Donald B. Hawthorne

It's been a while since the term "Straussian" was thrown around. Rather than project interpretations by third parties onto others, here are some actual thoughts from the philosopher himself on the subject of progress:

When the prophets call their people to account, they do not limit themselves to accusing them of this or that particular crime or sin. They recognize the root of all particular crimes in the fact that the people have forsaken their God. They accuse their people of rebellion. Originally, in the past, they were faithful or loyal; now they are in a state of rebellion. In the future they will return, and God will restore them to their original place. The primary, the original or initial, is loyalty; unfaithfulness, infidelity, is secondary. The very notion of unfaithfulness or infidelity presupposes that fidelity or loyalty is primary. The perfect character of the origin is a condition of sin—of the thought of sin. Man who understands himself in this way longs for the perfection of the origin, or of the classic past. He suffers from the present; he hopes for the future.

Progressive man, on the other hand, looks back to a most imperfect beginning. The beginning is barbarism, stupidity, rudeness, extreme scarcity. Progressive man does not feel that he has lost something of great, not to say infinite, importance; he has lost only his chains. He does not suffer from the recollection of the past. Looking back to the past, he is proud of his achievements; he is certain of the superiority of the present to the past. He is not satisfied with the present; he looks to future progress. But he does not merely hope or pray for a better future; he thinks that he can bring it about by his own effort. Seeking perfection in a future which is in no sense the beginning or the restoration of the beginning, he lives unqualifiedly toward the future. The life which understands itself as a life of loyalty or faithfulness appears to him as backward, as being under the spell of old prejudices. What the others call rebellion, he calls revolution or liberation. To the polarity faithfulness—rebellion, he opposes the polarity prejudice—freedom.

Worthy of reflection, given all the talk about progress and change in today's politics.

I believe these words begin to get at what is the great philosophical divide in this country. If we are going to resusitate an alternative view to the now more dominant left-wing progressive world view, I think we are going to have to connect it back in certain ways to this baseline and then articulate it in a pragmatic way which people can intuitively grasp.

We have a lot of work to do.

Graceless...and ahistorical

Donald B. Hawthorne

Nice start.

Once again, Obama can't get his history straight.

And some of us, who have no use for astrology, will take astrology silliness over the thuggery of Saul Alinsky any day.

Sorry, but it gets back to that love-of-liberty thing...again.

Does Obama believe in liberty?

Donald B. Hawthorne

Well, does he?

And, how about the ongoing airbrushing by Obama and his team when they get caught promoting something that stirs a reaction by those of us who have an affinity for the principles of the American Founding? Haven't seen this much airbrushing since the fall of the Soviet Union.


The airbrushing continues.

Credit Where Credit's Not Due

Justin Katz

Well this would clearly not be acceptable:

In the first year of the contract, retroactive to the last school year, [Tiverton] teachers with at least 10 years' experience would receive pay increases of 2.75 percent. The same group would get another 2.5 percent in the current year, but hikes in health insurance costs also would kick in.

A teacher with at least 10 years experience, who made a base salary of $64,205 in the 2006-2007 school year, excluding stipends for advanced course work and degrees, would get a retroactive check of more than $1,700 for the last academic year.

In the current school year, that same teacher would receive another raise of about $1,650, before taxes, according to calculations made from the history of the salary scale.

It would be downright immoral to reward teachers for their year of "work to rule" — a year that saw a painful tax increase — by paying them extra for that time. For the town and state ever to make progress, the notion that public sector union employees will pay no price for dragging out negotiations has got to end.

November 7, 2008

Bias Illustrated

Justin Katz

Granted, Bob Kerr is a columnist, but it would be difficult to concoct a more striking example of the mentality behind the media's liberal bias. Indeed, it's difficult to believe that he's not a right-winger and parodist.

His basic premise is that the Era of Mean is over. Liberals have borne victory better than blustering conservatives did four years ago. "We did a good thing Tuesday." Ah, sublimity!

I did make the mistake of turning on the radio to see if even the really hard core hatemongers had been softened by Obama's inspiring victory. They hadn't. They were still taking about Bill Ayers and Jeremiah Wright and sounding pathetically trapped in their own foul juices. They will probably continue to feed strange needs in those conspiracy fans who spend a lot of time indoors. But I have to believe fewer and fewer people will bother to listen.

And so continues the liberals' practice of defining those who disagree with them outside of consideration. Yeah, no bluster here, from the man calling the losing side "pathetically trapped" and waning. No bitterness in the column that derisively calls Bush The Decider (without noting the President's grace and professionalism in preparing for the transition). Kerr's sure to highlight the "boorish boos" among some of McCain's supporters during his "classy concession"; had he been in the room with me and a few hundred Rhode Island Democrats, he'd have heard plenty of boos — and hisses — when McCain first appeared on television to offer it.

Then, having just scorned the famous Joe the Plumber by comparison with a friend who "really is a plumber. He has a license," Kerr proves his utter inability to rise above his own perspective:

And I want one of those bumper stickers Richard just ordered. He ordered 30 of them. They say "Joe the Plumber, Meet Barack the President."

That is so good. It's clever and funny and not mean-spirited. That's the difference now. We can have fun again without mocking and ridiculing and howling.

Not mean-spirited? The sticker is as much as saying, "Hey Mr. Plumber (even though you're not really a plumber), you ain't nothing compared with our President." The difference now is that Democrats — they of "Shrub" and "Bushitler" and assassination fantasies — can posture as if the cuts are merely good-natured jabs.

All the way from Rhody calling conservatives in the Republican primaries "the Taliban" in our comment boxes to the president elect, himself, mocking Nancy Reagan out of nowhere (another glimpse of the conversations he's used to having), the evidence is clear that the New Tone is little more than scorn offered from a position of power. Just so will the New Unity likely prove to be enforced conformity with the declarations of the powerful. Compromise will mean that the opposition folds.

Sincerely, I hope I'm wrong, but too many appear too anxious to interpret the world according to a preferred storyline, rather than reality. In such an environment, it becomes a simple matter to silence those "hatemongers" on the other side under the bylaws of irrelevance.

A Way Toward a Better RI Future

Justin Katz

Seeing some of the bright spots in the election results for Rhode Island listed on one page gives a sense that things can change, not the least because it shows that I understated their breadth the other day. The nature of the Republican and reform victories also provides some valuable insight for the Republican Party that doesn't involve, as Dan Yorke suggested, blowing the party up for a year or two:

1. Republicans can overcome the straight ticket curse if they provide compelling candidates lower down on the ticket. It's easier to convince voters that a particular candidate — a fellow townie — is worth a non-Dem vote than it is to do the same with somebody at a higher, more-distant level. Succeed at that, and not only does the straight ticket box go blank, but the face of the RIGOP becomes a friendly neighbor.

2. Town-level political action groups work — in two senses of the word. They'll work in the sense of putting in hours to elect a slate of candidates with immediate and direct power over matters of local interest. And they work in the sense that they can get people elected.

So, let me amplify what I've already said. The RIGOP should forswear state and national elections and invest in town candidates and support town groups. (It will be key, in the latter effort, just to support them — not to trample them with requirements or superseding actions.) These local people will become better known, redefining the Republican Party as they go, and in very short order will find it an easy matter to challenge unpopular state-level incumbents.

And whether or not the RIGOP wises up to the need for a basic, longer-term retooling of its strategy, citizens of Rhode Island who wish to save the state from calamity ought to step up and do so.

Straight Party Voting - Down the Ticket

Marc Comtois

As I've mentioned, I've been looking at the election returns* with a specific interest in straight-party ticket voting. What follows is an analysis of how straight-party voting may have affected a few down-ticket contests.

The most extreme example I can offer is the race for 4th District Senator (North Providence, Providence) between incumbent Dominick Ruggerio (D) and Christine Spaziano (R). Ruggerio won the race handily by a margin of 7614 to 3317. Included in Ruggerio's total were 2982 straight-party (Democrat) votes (Spaziano received 533 GOP straight-party votes)--Spaziano would have nearly lost just based on the straight-party vote! 39% of Ruggerio's votes were via the straight party lever vs. almost 16% for Spaziano. She didn't stand a chance. Unfortunately, this just exemplifies the sort of hurdle that any Republican has to surmount to run in Providence.

On the other side, I took a look at Bob Watson's race in East Greenwich. Watson, the incumbent Republican, defeated Jean Ann Guliano 4052 to 3384. Watson benefited from 631 (15.6% of total) straight-party votes while Guliano garnered 621 (18.4% of total). A much smaller differential than the aforementioned Providence race and Watson's straight-party votes were onl slightly above the average GOP straight-ticket rate of 14%.

Next, I looked at a couple tight races involving incumbents, one from each party. Incumbent Republican State Representative Nicholas Gorham (Coventry, Foster, Glocester) lost to Scott Pollard (D) 3723-3605. Gorham benefited from 504 straight-ticket votes (14% of his total) while Pollard received 613 (16.5% of his total). Pollard beat Gorham by 118 votes and he received 109 more straight-party votes than Gorham. Take those away, and Gorham would have still lost, but by a razor-thin margin.

I also looked at the three-way race in Senate District 11 between Incumbent Democrat Charles Levesque (Bristol, Portsmouth), Republican Chris Ottiano and Independent John Vitkevich. The overall vote breakdown was:

Levesque - 5499
Ottiano - 5383
Vitkevich - 1547

Obviously, as an Independent, Vitkevich didn't benefit from a straight-party vote. Levesque benefited with 1333 votes (24.2% of his total) while Ottiano received 749 (13.9%). That's a straight-party vote differential of 584 and it's clear that Levesque owes his victory to the straight-party vote option.

Finally, based on a comment from my previous post, I checked out the affect that the straight-party option can have on such down-ticket positions as School Committee. Not all Rhode Island cities and towns designate these positions as partisan, but South Kingstown does. As a result, the four Democrats who ran started out with 1447 votes thanks to the straight-party option. The one Republican benefited with 668 votes and the Independents started from 0. Here's a breakdown of each candidate with the percentage of their total garnered by the straight-party option.

DEMOCRAT - Stephen Mueller - 7649 (21%)
INDEPENDENT - Elizabeth Morris - 7548 (0%)
DEMOCRAT - Richard Angeli, Jr. - 7081 (23%)
DEMOCRAT - Anthony Mega - 7036 (23%)
DEMOCRAT - Fredrick Frostic - 6402 (25%)
INDEPENDENT - Jonathan Pincince - 6327 (0%)
REPUBLICAN - Robert Petrucci - 5543 (12%)

There are many ways to look at this race with "ifs" and "buts". Taking all of the straight-party votes away won't accurately reflect what the totals would look like. Yet, if the straight-party vote option is the refuge of the uninformed or protest voter (aka college Obamaniacs at URI or many fed up Rhody Republicans), then let's assume that half of the straight-party voters were there for the Presidential race and had no clue about school committee. That would give the Democrats 809 votes and the Republican 334 (and the Independents still nada). The new tally would be:

INDEPENDENT - Elizabeth Morris - 7649
DEMOCRAT - Stephen Mueller - 6739
INDEPENDENT - Jonathan Pincince - 6327
DEMOCRAT - Richard Angeli, Jr. - 6272
DEMOCRAT - Anthony Mega - 6227
DEMOCRAT - Fredrick Frostic - 5593
REPUBLICAN - Robert Petrucci - 5209

That's a bit of a different School Committee, no? Of course, I'd also note that, in this just past election, the benefits of the straight-party option for the Republican were probably far outweighed by having to declare his party!

Anyway, the takeaway is that the straight-party option clearly benefits the Democrats in Rhode Island, particularly those running for down-ticket offices during a Presidential election year. Even in "Republican" enclaves like East Greenwich, the straight-party voters are roughly equivalent. None of this is a real surprise, now we just have the numbers to prove it.

But all is not lost. Based on another comment, I looked at the Town Council races in Coventry, which saw the GOP take 4 out 5 seats.

DISTRICT 1 - GOP won by 243 votes. DEM had 74 straight-party vote advantage.
DISTRICT 2 - GOP won by 80 votes. DEM had 209 straight-party vote advantage.
DISTRICT 3 - DEM won by 211 votes. DEM had 289 straight-party vote advantage.
DISTRICT 4 - GOP won by 125 votes. DEM had 220 straight-party vote advantage.
DISTRICT 5 - GOP won by 1885 votes. DEM had 287 straight-party vote advantage. This GOP Candidate ran UNOPPOSED!

So, its possible, but the GOP (and Independents) are still way behind the 8-ball with the edge the state Democrats have in mindless straight-party voting.

*NOTE: The original returns I looked at were obtained on 11/5/2008. I downloaded the data again on 11/13/2008 and updated the above post accordingly.

Enough Talk... Cut

Justin Katz

Neil Downing notes that Rhode Island's tax revenues are down in every category. Ed Mazze offers the same-old same-old:

Mazze, who is distinguished professor of business at the University of Rhode Island, and former dean of URI's College of Business Administration, said that one thing is clear: Rhode Island's budget gap for the current fiscal year will grow, and could reach $300 million or more.

So what does that mean? "Other than continuing to cut programs, which we will have to do, we're going to have to look at taxes," he said.

But before raising taxes, the state should take other steps to try to spur the economy, he said. These include quick-starting road construction and other projects for which funds were approved on Tuesday through bond referenda, he said.

The measures should also include cutting costs at the state and local levels, he said. Among the steps he'd like to see taken: consolidating local government, including school districts, to save money.

If these measures don’t work, he said, the state should consider raising taxes, but only until the economy rebounds. At that point, any tax increases should be scrapped, he said.

In the meantime, government leaders should put together projects "that we're ready to roll on" as soon as the economy recovers, "so that Rhode Island is not the last state out of the recession," he said.

If we raise taxes now, we will guarantee that Rhode Island is the very last state out of recession, because residents will have an excuse to flee for an early spring with the first hint of recovery elsewhere. Rhode Island needs to cut the government, get it out of the way, put the people and the businesses first.

Freeze all state-worker salaries and trim benefits. Plenty of Rhode Islanders need work if the unions can't take it.

Pull back on government hand-outs. To help those in need, give exchangeable tax credits to charities, whether secular or religious.

Go through Rhode Island law and pluck out all unnecessary licensing and business requirements. Tone down all necessary regulations to the bare minimum.

The answers aren't as complicated as the economic summit folks were trying to make them. They're only difficult for lack of courage and willingness to listen.

The Sounds of Victory, Part 1

Justin Katz

As a supplement to our liveblogging of election night, I thought I might as well release significant audio from my evening at the RI Democrats' Providence Biltmore. Here's the first batch:

Providence Mayor David Cicilline (Dem. Chair Bill Lynch intro): stream, download
Representative Patrick Kennedy: stream, download
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: stream, download

As I've cropped the long audio files down to the individual speeches, it's been interesting to compare the graph lines of the recordings. Kennedy had brief spurts with an applause line every minute — almost exactly. Whitehouse, well, you can guess how that one looked.

For part 2, I've got Langevin, Reed, Patrich Lynch, and whatever else I may have captured along the way.

November 6, 2008

Stop Idea Rationing Now

Justin Katz

Call it "star wars" for the "thought police."

In response to a plea from Peter Kirsanow for folks to begin advocating against the "Fairness Doctrine" before it becomes an immediate threat, a Corner reader suggested that we come up with a name that doesn't validate the Orwellian evocation of "fairness."

I suggest "idea rationing." The phrase is accurately descriptive, and it adds the chilling implication that doctrine advocates believe that ideas ought to be held in short supply.

A too-clever phrase would make light of a serious topic, when what we're combating is an attempt to make political censorship sound like a mild corrective.

An Unlikely Path for a Changed Mind

Justin Katz

In a comment over on Ian Donnis's blog, Jim Taricani illustrates an error of thought common among his generation:

Many of my contemporaries have done a fine job of talking with political correctness about race.

But too many lacked the guts to actually THINK political correctness with real conviction.

Maybe, just maybe, Obama's election represents the first important step to an America that is truly color-blind, both in mind and spirit.

Political correctness is a key reason that Obama's election will not represent what Taricani hopes it will, because to internalize political correctness is to internalize consciousness of race. As long as there remain cultural differences from one race to another, it will always represent a degree of self-delusion to be "truly color-blind," but to impose right thinking is to ensure that somebody's race is always integral to his or her identity — that he or she is always an "African American," and never just an American.

The Next Senate President?

Monique Chartier

Following upon the defeat of Joseph Montalbano by Edward O'Neill (I) of Lincoln, rumors are flying that Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed (D), she who denied the will of a substantial majority in the House and the Senate by killing the e-verify legislation during the last two General Assembly sessions, is slated to be the next Senate President.

Members of the Senate will choose their next President. Seniority is nice and all. But shouldn't leaders listen to the wishes of the rank and file? Senator Paiva-Weed has not shown such an inclination. Further, is it even possible to view a vote for Senator Paiva-Weed as anything other than a vote against legal immigration, against legal employment, against non-exploitative working conditions, against fair wages, against law-abiding employers?

In short, isn't the senator who votes for Senator Paiva-Weed voting against everyone in the state, citizens and more recent arrivals, who follows our laws and does things right?

Straight Party Vote Advantage

Marc Comtois

I've begun looking at the statewide election result metrics (found at the RI BoE). The first thing I've focused on is the straight party ticket vote, and what I've learned is no surprise.

Statewide, nearly 27% of all votes for Barack Obama came via the straight party ticket vote. That percentage was just above 14% for John McCain.

Take home point: The average Democrat starts with about a 50% straight party vote advantage over the average Republican.

Here are the towns for which there were above-the-average straight party votes for each party's Presidential nominee [with %s rounded and total straight ticket votes in ( )]*.

First the Democrats
Central Falls - 59% (1811)
Providence - 46% (20405)
Woonsocket - 38.0% (3180)
Pawtucket - 36% (6302)
East Providence - 31% (4542)
North Providence - 30% (2892)

Then Republicans:
Central Falls - 25% (158)
Providence - 21% (1680)
Newport - 20% (574)
Jamestown - 20% (236)
Barrington - 19% (656)
Scituate - 18% (519)
Woonsocket - 18% (784)
West Greenwich - 17% (265)
Coventry - 17% (1177)
East Greenwich - 16% (545)
Exeter - 16% (228)
Tiverton - 16% (449)
Smithfield - 15% (662)
Hopkinton - 15% (241)
North Kingstown - 14% (851)
East Providence - 14% (849)

Couple points on the above:
1) The highest % rate of straight party GOP is lower than the lowest above-the-average community for Democrats.
2) For the communities with 20% or greater GOP straight party votes, it looks like the straight party option was used as a quick and easy method to lodge a protest vote against the entrenched party.
3) Though not on the list, the largest amount of straight-party votes for the GOP came from Warwick (2162) and Cranston (1874), which were just below the average of all GOP votes cast for President in those communities. Compare that to the highest for the Democrats.

I've also looked at the same overall stats for the congressional votes. The Democrats are about the same, with 26% of all votes for the Democrats (Kennedy and Langevin) coming via straight-party ticket voters and almost 20% for the Republicans (Scott and Zaccaria). As to the last, it would appear that, given their significantly smaller vote totals, a greater percentage of their votes came via the "protest" method alluded to above.

More to come....

* Updated 11/13/2008 with final numbers from BoE.

Governor Carcieri's Preview of the Coming Budget Battle

Carroll Andrew Morse

At an impromptu press conference following this morning's Economic Forum, Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri gave a strong hint as to where efforts to address the latest budget shortfall will focus.

This is part of the Governor's answer to a question on whether the state will be seriously looking at consolidating services between cities and towns in the coming year…

Ultimately we are squeezed, and we've made huge changes within the state. The state budget is three pieces. It's people and benefits including pensions. It's the social services. And the largest piece of the state's general revenue budget is aid that goes back to the cities and towns.

We've been putting extraordinary pressure on the personnel side [of state government]. I just saw the stats, we're going to be down about 1,800 people in the last sixteen months. We'll be down to 12,800, plus-or-minus, FTE positions. That's the lowest in 20 years in the state. When I came in, I think it was 15,000. So we are shrinking the size of the state in terms of the workforce; you know all of the changes we negotiated in the terms of the contracts and the retiree healthcare.

What I'm saying is that we have really squeezed this hard. And you won't find any state anywhere in the country that has done more aggressively the personnel piece. We also made major reductions in the human service areas and we're in the midst of trying to finalize the global Medicaid waiver. We left the local aid in the last budget intact. In fact, they're going to get more money because out of the 24/3, some of that money goes back into the schools. So at the end of the day, the pressure from what the state is facing is going to go back to the cities and towns, and I'm not going to listen to them just say that they're going to raise property taxes. That's when you've got to look at the kinds of [regionalization] things you're talking about.

The Incredible, Shrinking Pension Fund

Monique Chartier

In an October 11 (Saturday, ahem) ProJo article by Katherine Gregg,

... the treasurer’s office acknowledged that the state’s pension fund has lost 25 percent of its value since the beginning of the year, dropping from $8.4 billion to $6.3 billion.

LTE writer George Lavoie points out, however, that Katherine Gregg used the wrong benchmark in evaluating state pension fund losses.

A deeper analysis would reveal that the S&P 500 is not a proper benchmark. The S&P is an index of stock values. The state pension fund consists of a mixture of stocks, bonds and cash, not only disqualifying the S&P as a fair comparison but further revealing that the state's stock portfolio and general treasurer are performing even worse.

* * *

Using a typical investment ratio of 60 percent stocks and 40 percent bonds, other instruments and cash, and assuming a positive return of 4 percent on the non-stock portion of the portfolio; simple math will show that the stock portion of the state pension is actually down 45 percent, or $2.3 billion.

Even in the worst of economic times, no one would set a goal to "lose less than the S&P 500." People hire money managers to protect their wealth. State Treasurer Frank Caprio is not protecting our wealth; he is destroying it. More disturbing is the lack of outrage from public-sector employees (state legislators included), whose pension fund has lost over one third of its value.

Mr. Lavoie's suggestion that the General Treasurer be recalled is a little over the top. But certainly in view of their vested interest, the parties to whom he refers may wish to ask more questions and demonstrate more concern than they have to date.

... oh, and what about the rest of us who may be asked to make up this shortfall? Yes, now that that minor distraction is behind us, perhaps it's time.

The President-Elect Is Like a Box of Chocolates

Justin Katz

Andrew McCarthy has an excellent piece up on NRO noting the ambiguity of which Barack Obama will actually emerge as president and leaving home that it will be the centrist one painted in the candidate's rhetoric. McCarthy also points toward the shadow that ought to be feared:

Alinsky, too, rejected ideological dogmatism. He taught that the successful radical is the wolf in sheep's clothing: burrowing into the institutions of Western capitalism, altering their character from within, seducing the society with a high-minded summons to "social justice," "participatory democracy," and, yes, "change." Is Obama following this stealthy roadmap? If that is his intention, it's hard to imagine how he could have done so more perfectly.

GEF: Governor Carcieri Concludes

Carroll Andrew Morse

I don’t want anyone to leave feeling this is the end of it.

Our job is to grow the state and grow the jobs. My goal is to take your recommendations and attack the key themes, and make sure you understand what’s been done with them, and where we’re going with this.

GEF: Question 3, Obstacles to Getting Things Done

Carroll Andrew Morse


  1. Some random, quasi-creative answers to the "obstacles" question...
    Work to create stronger political will to get things done. The speaker cites the Airport expansion as an example.

    Reduce bureaucracy. It takes hundreds of boxes of materials to apply for a new health center. Wind power is too bureaucratic.

  2. On the non-creative side, at least two groups have said "funding formula" and "school district consolidation" as important parts of the solution. If that's the most important thing that comes out of this session, then the state isn't headed for improvement any time soon. As always, saying "funding formula" tells the public nothing, unless you say how you're paying for it, or if you aren't paying for it and are just shifting money between the communities the state picks as winners and losers.
  3. Increasing borrowing has just been proposed as a solution to the obstacle of "not having enough money to do what we want to do". It might be because the final groups have had their thunder stolen by the previous groups, but the recommendations now are a little less original than the ones earlier in the session.

GEF: Questions for the Audience to Ponder

Carroll Andrew Morse

PROVIDENCE, RI -- Jill Schlesinger has just given the conference attendees 3 questions to work on in a breakout session…

  1. What can be done to stimulate the RI economy in the short term?
  2. What can be done to position the RI economy in the long term?
  3. What are the greatest obstacles to economic development in RI?
Ms. Schlesinger told the participants that the process should be candid and straightforward, so an analog of the process is perfectly suited for a blog-comments thread.

Oh wait, she just added “respectful”, so maybe the fit is not perfect, but if you want to take a shot at any one or all of the questions, leave your comments here, and I’ll let you know how they match with what the conference attendees come up with.


The most creative suggestion so far from the short-term group…

Create a “2nd-tier” tax rate that is voluntary. In return for paying the higher rate, individuals would get a 2-for-1 deferred tax credits redeemable 10 years down the road. Make the credits tradable. Use the additional revenue to remove taxes on lower income wage earners.
Any buyers?

Two other tax-related suggestions…

Make passive investment losses deductible against income.

Create a small business loan fund through the EDC, making small operational loans, under a short form application model. It would be a “commercial paper” market for small business.

This is the most creative, so far, from the long term group...
Use open space created from moving 195 to create new health care tech opportunities in Providence.
Here's one that's creative in its expression, at least...
End the Soviet era permitting process.

GEF: Next Up, Paul Harrington of Northeastern University on Labor Force Economics

Carroll Andrew Morse

PROVIDENCE, RI -- Mr. Harrington is going category-by-category over employment stats. I came way with two main points from his review…

  1. Low skill, low education jobs have been hit hardest.
  2. Expect to see a replacement of “rule based jobs” with automation, as the economy improves.
RI started its recession about a year earlier than the rest of the country. Unemployment insurance trust funds in many northeast states are in serious trouble. Defends unemployment numbers as being “right”. Was there a controversy there?

Now, to the good stuff:

Labor supply is the basic limit on business growth. If a business needs an educated workforce to grow NOW, it’s going to move, if that workforce isn’t there. Businesses can't wait for the educational institutions to do something.

Some RI specific numbers: Labor supply will grow by less than 5% in RI in the near term (which is my code for “I missed what he said the exact time period was”). In the 35-54 age group, it will fall by about 12%.

Rhode Island needs a strategy to raise quantity and quality of labor supply simultaneously. The only way to do this is to improve the state’s level of educational attainment.

Professor Harrington offers some numbers about a particular kind of income inequality…

A HS dropout in 1979 could expect to earn about $1.3 million, especially if he “knew a guy” who could get him started in a career that could be learned on the job. By 2006, the expected amout was $985,000. “Inequality” between different educational levels has grown.

Mr. Harrington challenges Barack Obama’s means, if not his goals (he uses President-elect Obama's name specifically): You want to redistribute wealth? Give everybody a quality education. In 1979, you "could be a doofus and get away with it.” You can’t do that anymore.

GEF: Jim Eads of the Federation of Tax Administrators

Carroll Andrew Morse

PROVIDENCE, RI -- "Good tax policy usually translates into good economic development policy"...

Tax policy should be evaluated on its adequacy and a perception of fairness. He emphasizes it has to be perceived as fair. Hmm… Rationale: We have voluntary tax compliance in this country. If people don’t think it’s fair, they won’t send the money in.

At least one study has showed that personal income tax is a bigger impediment to growth than the corporate income tax.

Many studies have shown government-created economic incentives don’t correlate with business/economic growth. Whatever states believes this should go first in peeling back their incentives (Of course, certain players in RI might take this challenge more seriously than Mr. Eads realizes)...

This is interesting: Economic business incentive programs have been challenged in court in Ohio. The circuit court rejected the “incentive” on constitutional grounds, but SCOTUS overturned the case on procedural grounds. Still an open question?

He suggests that targeting productivity might be the most effective way to use incentives.

It is a mistake to set your tax plan, without setting your policy and economic goals first. It needs to be done the other way around.

On the general philosophy of implementing a targeted incentives program, Mr. Eads quotes Reagan: "trust but verify".

GEF: First Up: John Rhodes on Corporate Site Selection

Carroll Andrew Morse

PROVIDENCE, RI -- A view of the business cycle…

  • Companies Start
  • Companies Grow
  • Companies Mature
  • Companies either disappear or they figure out how to continue.
If they can’t figure out how to make more with less, they disappear.

Operating costs are less of an issue for businesses early in the life cycle. Margins tend to be higher.

The Southeast has lost 100,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000. They’re offering free land to try to attract business, e.g. the textile plant nobody wants anymore. The SE is facing same problems we did decades ago, because they’re in the same point in the life-cycle that the NE was at in the past.

What to do: Create sites that are at a level of readiness to attract businesses, BUT the meaning of “readiness” changes, depending where you are in the life cycle.

You need places to catch the businesses that come out of business incubators, sites that are bigger than traditional incubators, but smaller than major production facilities. Call them mega-incubators. Let growing companies focus on building their business, and not on doing building management.

A state needs spaces that match the life cycles of its businesses. If a state provides those options, it can grow the companies that are here.

Strikes against Rhode Island…

  • High taxes
  • High energy costs
  • High unionization
  • Not strategically placed for U.S. Distribution.
Where do our businesses fit in the life cycle?

MORE, Mr. Rhodes, specifically on unions:

“The unions best day could be in the future, if they help make their companies more productive, so they can pay you more”.

There are companies that fear unions. If labor can figure out a way not to be feared, things can improve for everyone.

If labor locks into one way of doing work, the company will get stuck at some phase in the life cycle and eventually “disappear”.

GEF: Intro

Carroll Andrew Morse

PROVIDENCE, RI -- Jill Schlesinger of Strategic Point Advisors gives a brief intro (quoting Carl Jung, I think)…

You meet your destiny on the road you take to avoid it …
…then quoting Edward Demming...
It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.
Donald Carcieri then points out, in his intro…
Survival may not be mandatory in the private sector, but it is in the public.

Governor Carcieri again…

This is a time for us to seize the opportunity to do some more dramatic things…

Without growing jobs and growing incomes the pie is static and shrinking…

We have to make some huge investments in education and infrastructure. We can’t do that if the pie is not growing.

We need to bring our tax burden down, so we can be more competitive.
We’ll come out of this downturn stronger, if we do the right things.

The Governor's Economic Forum

Carroll Andrew Morse

PROVIDENCE, RI -- Good morning folks. I will be blogging this morning, live from the site of the Governor's Economic Forum at the Rhode Island Convention Center. Proceedings are scheduled to officially begin @ 8:30 am.

As usual when I liveblog an event like this, I make no promises beyond doing the best job I can making it up as I go along...

A New Hat Called Optimism

Justin Katz

It's been a strange twist — believe me — that's made of me an optimist, but such was the tenor of my somewhat tranquil conversation with Matt Allen, last night, in which we touched on Obama, conservatism, and local politics, à la Tiverton Citizens for Change. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

November 5, 2008

Re: Marriage Amendments

Justin Katz

As Marc notes, traditional marriage won big, this election, despite a political turnout that would have seemed likely to point in the other direction. For federalist conservatives, these results are pretty close to the ideal of how things should work: The people of each state decide their policies, and when the judiciary over reaches, the people correct it.

Me, I see this heading quickly to the Supreme Court. That's the critical path left to same-sex marriage advocates. The state-by-state strategy is blocked by the will of civilian majorities, but a Constitutional Amendment at the federal level trumps all, and the Supreme Court has transformed itself into a vessel for short-hand amendments.

Looking Ahead

Justin Katz

Well, a positive note from the election results is that John McCain is not the next president. If the Democrats had chosen anybody less worrisome than Obama, the results wouldn't have been even as close as they were.

Although it certainly stretched the truth to say that a McCain administration would have been a third Bush term, the Senator would most definitely have allowed the perpetuation of the Left's stratagem of tarring conservatism with Republican policies that by no means deserved the label. Now conservatives can rebuild free of the weight of inaccurate characterization. Sometimes incremental adjustments of bearing simply don't make the turn before the moment has passed.

Another positive note is that a segment of the country that had been drifting away from faith in the mechanisms of United States governance have had that faith renewed. An open democratic competition can bring anybody to the controls, if enough people are motivated to make it happen.

Therein lies Obama's challenge: His rhetoric about anything being possible in the United States of America is antipathetic to the policies that he has expressed and supported as a Senator. He is the president elect because he was free to dissent — both from the government and from the party — and because people were free to organize in his behalf and to collect large sums of money, freely given. He marketed and sold himself and had sufficient windfall profits to reinvest in his candidacy.

That possibility is of a piece with America's approach to business and to personal freedom. Yet, were he to keep his promises, were he to behave so as to preserve his followers' faith in the system, were he to enact even some moderate portion of their lunatic vision, he would necessarily have to contradict the principles that made his rise possible.

Perhaps he'll grow in office and turn his back on his own past. Style-wise, his presentation as an erudite black man will undo the damage of many a gansta rapper. Perhaps some inner-city child will send him a letter that makes the choice explicit and The One, himself, will have an epiphany.

Probably not, but this is, after all, the land of opportunity.

In the first 6 months? Nah, in the first 24 hours

Donald B. Hawthorne

Abe Greenwald on The Baltic Missile Crisis?

And you think the Russians haven't listened carefully to the video in this post, where Obama essentially promises to unilaterally disarm? That video took me right back to reliving the nuclear freeze movement in 1983. Or they haven't noticed Obama's lack of historical knowledge?

BTW, how about this?

Just like we learned after the 1990's, there can be no holiday from history. ACORN and related thuggery may help you commit domestic voter fraud, raise illegal monies, and win domestic elections but such Alinsky-esque "community organizing" won't help a bit when dealing with real Commie thugs who come from a political lineage which has killed tens of millions of people in their pursuit of power and control.



And even more.

RE: A Word on Our State GOP

Marc Comtois

....Well, a few words, actually. Justin is correct and, save taking the "Dan Yorke Nuclear Option", the state GOP better start navel-gazing ASAP. Much of what follows I wrote about four years ago and it still seems to apply.

Rhode Islanders seem to recognize that something is wrong with their state government, but they continue to enable the Democratic party and its leaders who perpetuate the problem by re-electing their own particular Democrat to the legislature. (Yes, Montalbano has been acutely rejected, but insert same-ol' Democratic leader "here"). As it has been observed before, most Rhode Islanders simply think "my guy is OK" and it's the "other guys" who are the bad actors. Changing that attitude is the job that the RI GOP needs to undertake before it will ever make meaningful political progress in this state. It hasn't done a good job.

As Justin suggests, trying to determine what it means to be a Rhode Island Republican is a worthwhile exercise. But unless the RI GOP can find attractive candidates to espouse these viable alternatives, the policy prescriptions concocted by us armchair philosophers and policy-wonks will be all for naught. Finding a coherent RIGOP philosophy is but one part of the problem. And it's the easy part. The RIGOP must realize that a party built for longevity is built from the bottom up, not the top down. The tough part will be finding and funding the right folks to run against the Democrat monopoly across the entire political spectrum.

It's been my impression that Rhode Island Republicans are too enamored with running for the big-name positions--Governor, U.S. Congress, Mayor--and not so much into vying for the local political billets like Town Council, School Committee, or State Legislature. In other words, if RI politics were a buffet table, too many GOP candidates pass right over the meat and potatoes and head for the filet mignon. The problem is, there are many more meat-and-potatoes entrées, and they are cheaper and easier to get! Both Alan Fung and Scott Avedesian worked their way up to Mayor. Their model should be studied.

Starting small acquaints a candidate with political and governmental processes. More importantly, it also acquaints them with the voters. Thus, it gives them something that most don't have the money to buy: name recognition. Like it or not, it isn't the ideas that first attract RI voters to particular candidates, it's how well they know and like them. All politics may be local, but in Rhode Island, it's also personal.

And since success in Rhode Island politics is heavily dependent upon personal connections, its at the grassroots where the work needs to be done. A candidate will get votes for being a "good guy" regardless of his political disposition. The RI GOP needs to identify their own "Jimmy who lives up the street" to run against the Democrat's "Tommy who lives down the street." And these candidates need to be both embedded in the fabric of their community and willing to risk personal relationships for the sake of political gain.

A Word on the State GOP

Justin Katz

It's time to admit that the RI GOP's brand is not only useless, it's poison. The one state-level victory (knocking out Montalbano) came from an Independent, and the two towns of which which I'm aware that moved in the right direction (Tiverton and East Providence) have non-partisan elections. Consequently, the Republican Party must be deliberate in seeing itself as a grassroots organization.

That means a sabbatical from networking and message development. The party should gather all of the reform and right-of-center players in the state in a room and hammer out a platform, issue by issue, prioritized at the state level and emphasizing fiscal conservatism.

It also means recruitment and town-by-town growth. Internally and with all potential candidates, the strong preference should be candidates willing to run at the municipal level, and that's where most of its resources should go. The RI GOP's situation is so bad that party leaders should seriously consider running their candidates as endorsed independents.

Rhode Islanders Vote for National Change...and more of the Same

Marc Comtois

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Montalbano lost, but that was about the only good news for the state GOP this year.

Aside from Montalbano’s loss, Rhode Island voters yesterday did little to change the dominance of the Democrats in the legislature. Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed, and others appeared to survive aggressive challenges despite staggering levels of voter discontent.

As recently as late September, a Rhode Island College poll found that nearly three in four Rhode Islanders believed the state was going in the wrong direction. Governor Carcieri and the state GOP tried to play to this sentiment.

...But voters did not, apparently, hold the Democrats who run the state legislature singularly responsible for the state of the state.

Yes, the 18 Republicans in the Legislature have had a lot to do with the state's current condition. Good thing there are only 10 now.

Marriage Amendments Pass Nationwide

Marc Comtois

Florida, Arizona and probably California have all passed amendments banning gay marriage. As Maggie Gallagher put it:

This vote, like earlier votes in Wisconsin, Oregon, and Michigan, affirms that when it comes to marriage there is no such thing as a blue state or a red state. Americans support marriage as the union of husband and wife.

About that historic turnout....

Marc Comtois

According to Byron York, Obama has 62.4 million votes, while McCain has 55.4 million. In 2004, Bush won 62 million votes, and Kerry 59 million. Yes, votes are still being tallied, but there aren't that many more to go. According to Jonah Goldberg, 17% of 18-29 year-olds voted in 2004, 18% voted this year. All in all, then, voter turnout was about the same between 2004 and 2008.

Beginning at the Beginning

Justin Katz

One ray of hope in the evening — perhaps gleaming a little more brightly because of my proximity — is the success of Tiverton Citizens for Change.

In summary, four out of five of our endorsees made it onto the seven-person council. Our one school committee endorsee won the greatest number of votes! Our two non-write-in budget committee endorsees received high totals. (No info, yet on write-ins.) And the two ballot measures that we supported won in landslides.

I am disappointed to see that School Committee Chairwoman Denise DeMedeiros didn't keep her position — because she's certainly preferable to the alternatives — but at least there's a bit of gratification to knowing that the margin was sufficiently close that the outcome would almost definitely have been different had she accepted our endorsement.

And now we get to work rebuilding Tiverton, and that's where the glimmer of light breaks through a prism. I very much feel that what we're building, with TCC, is a new model that can ultimately change the state. A group of very (and diversely) talented people got together, worked through some prickly differences, kept egos from diluting effectiveness (which is a clear problem among reformist groups in Rhode Island), and achieved its goals, almost in total, within an extremely short time span.

This is how we build a backing organization and a farm team of candidates who can put up a better showing than the odd Republican who takes an interest in state-level or higher office.

November 4, 2008

Obama Wins

Marc Comtois

We have a new President, Barack Obama. The symbolism and historical import is unmistakable and speaks volumes about our country, to both ourselves and to the world. So congratulations to him for the campaign he ran and for his victory. I hope he governs more as the politician he campaigned as, not as the Senator his record indicates. I'll give him a chance, be critical when I think necessary, but I'll always strive to be fair. I also hope I never find myself in the position of placing the blame of everything wrong in the world on his shoulders. I certainly don't think he can make everything right. The world is more complicated than that. I hope those who supported Barack Obama realize that, too.

We should take a step back, set the politics aside, and recognize the history that has been made. Not only because we elected an African-American President, but because we did so through the normal means we've always followed: through a vociferous debate over ideas and principles. Even those of us who find ourselves on the losing side of things can appreciate the skill and talent and weight of Obama's ideas that carried the day.

Few thought this moment possible, but America is about possibilities. Americans have proved yet again that we are a land of opportunity, that we do live up to our ideals--if sometimes we take too long--and that we truly are the greatest nation in the world.

Tomorrow is another day.

Langevin's Turn

Justin Katz


Good News at the Local Level

Justin Katz

Well, I was able to cheer something: Some good results for Tiverton Citizens for Change, so far, and if they hold: Four of our endorsees made it on the seven-person council. The school committee results couldn't have been better: our candidate (meaning an original member of our group) led the vote percentage for school committee). The town will no longer be able to use town resources to influence votes, and both the council and school committee will have to publish all negotiated contracts before at least three days before actually approving them.

Sheldon Does the Rounds

Justin Katz


Obama Gets Ohio...Lights out for Mac

Marc Comtois

Ohio has gone to Obama and that about does McCain in. 'Nuff said.

Experimenting with Technology

Justin Katz

What better time than while in the spotlight to experiment with technology. Here's some ambiance audio from the Democrats' party: MP3.

Warming up at the Biltmore

Justin Katz


Reminder: We're over at WPRO, too!

Marc Comtois

You're lovable AR gang is also part of WPRO AM 630's live team coverage. We're manning their blog and Andrew and Justin will be reporting from the party HQs. I'll be at home in my pajamas. Check it out!

Schumer Makes Noise About Fairness Doctrine

Marc Comtois


Apparently Advertising Promiscuity Works

Justin Katz

Gee, who'd have thought?

Teenagers who watch a lot of television featuring flirting, necking, discussion of sex and sex scenes are much more likely than their peers to get pregnant or get a partner pregnant, according to the first study to directly link steamy programming to teen pregnancy.

The study, which tracked more than 700 12-to-17-year-olds for three years, found that those who viewed the most sexual content on TV were about twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy as those who saw the least.

"Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy," said lead researcher Anita Chandra. "We found a strong association." The study is being published today in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

If They keep us occupied seeking after pure pleasure — and then dealing with its consequences — we'll be more manipulable as a society. Perhaps a topic for future study...

Voter Intimidation in Philly?

Marc Comtois

First, there were reports that Republican poll workers were thrown out of polling places and that some of the voting machines in Philadelphia had Obama votes registered before the polls opened.

Then there's the Black Panthers, who are apparently providing "security":

Here's a report:

UPDATE:The police checked it out.

UPDATE 2:It took a couple hours, but the "r" word was thrown out there regarding this post. Believe me, if there were two Klan guys standing in front of a polling place, I'd post about it. Intimidation is intimidation, no matter where it is or who is doing it. For the record, here's an alternate view:

Jacqueline Dischell, [an] Obama volunteer...confirms that there were in fact two black panthers guarding the polling place, a nursing home on Fairmont Avenue in north Philadelphia, earlier this morning.

But she says one was an officially designated poll watcher (it was not immediately clear which municipal office had designated him in that role), and the second was his friend. The second panther, who left two or three hours ago, was the one with the nightstick, she says.

Dischell says that earlier this morning a few men who identified themselves as being from the McCain campaign came and started taking pictures of the two panthers on their cell phones. She suggested that they seemed to be baiting the panthers, and that the designated watcher may have given one of them the finger in response to the picture taking.

The police came roughly an hour and a half later. She says she talked to the cops and told them there had been no incident. The police drove away without getting out of the car, she adds.

Some time later, a second, larger group of men whose affiliation couldn't be determined came with real cameras and started taking more pictures. Maybe 15 minutes later the cops returned. This time, they spoke to people on both sides, and told the panther not designated to watch the polls to leave, which he did without an argument.

"There was no fight, nothing," she says.

Fox News arrived on the scene at around that time and started interviewing people near the entrance. The building manager asked the Fox reporter to leave, she says, and he moved further from the entrance.

That's where things now stand. "There has been no fighting, no voter intimidation at all," she said.

Judge for yourself.

Blogging the Election Away

Justin Katz

Anchor Rising's liveblogging of the election has already begun over on a special page of the 630wpro Web site. Although our "coverage" won't really kick in until this evening, we'll have posts up over there throughout the day.

The posting here at home should continue, as well, both on non-election topics and as a repository for any images or multimedia that we may gather from our various locations.

Buying Disaster

Justin Katz

URI economics professor Leonard Lardaro can't believe the inaction in the statehouse:

To my utter amazement, in spite of all these economic difficulties and the lessons to be learned from our past mistakes, our leaders apparently have yet to see any need to meet or do anything to deal with this crisis. I have even heard several of them say that when the recession is over, they will see what they can do at that time.

It's been obvious for years that, among legislators, there is no plan. They're just trying to get by, siphon off what they can, and allow Rhode Island to keep being Rhode Island, even when that means being on the wrong side of every list.

I suspect that William Colleran is not surprised:

The Web page of the state Board of Elections is It is the source of my research on contributions during the 2007-08 General Assembly session. I focused in on the period from Jan. 1, 2007, through Sept. 15, 2008.

Over this period, the incumbents (75 representatives and 38 senators) received some $2 million. A whopping $850,000 — or 43 percent of that sum — flowed to the top leadership. That would include the House speaker, the Senate president, the two majority leaders and the two Finance Committee chairmen. Fully half of this swag found its way into the coffers of Speaker William Murphy and Senate President Joseph Montalbano. This money, coincidentally, was just about evenly shared, with Murphy receiving $250,000 and Montalbano pulling in $215,000.

One might think that the majority leaders (Senate Leader M. Teresa Paiva-Weed and House Leader Gordon Fox) would take in the next highest amounts; but one would be wrong. The two Finance Committee chairmen came in second; and they were pretty evenly matched, with House Finance Chairman Steven M. Costantino and Senate Finance Chairman Stephen Alves each raking in $110,500. That great political scientist, Willie Sutton, really put his fingers on the pulse when he remarked that he robbed banks "because that's where the money is!"

Rounding out the top 10 recipients of this largess were those labor legislators, Sen. Domenic Ruggerio and Sen. Frank Ciccone III, followed by Rep. Arthur Corvese, chairman of the House Labor Committee, and Rep. Brian P. Kennedy, chairman of the powerful Corporations Committee.

Powerful people are invested in Rhode Island's current predicament, and they don't know how to get out of the predicament while continuing to benefit from their power. So they wait. They hope for money from nowhere. They promise to fix things when times are already improving.

Rhode Islanders are — I think and pray — beginning to wake up to the possibility that things are just going to turn around on their own. Lardaro alludes cryptically to "what's going to happen when a national recovery takes place," and I've suggested before that, if Rhode Island fails to lead the recovery, its the rate at which its talent and taxpayers flee will increase.

Put the Credit Cards Away

Justin Katz

Keep this in mind when you're in the voting booth, today, especially while considering bond issues:

As of June 30, Rhode Island had a net tax-supported debt of $1.7 billion, up 5.8 percent from a year ago.

That means the debt for every man, woman and child in Rhode Island is $1,766. That far exceeds the median level in the United States of $889.

Also, Rhode Island's debt level equals 4.7 percent of personal income, compared with the U.S. median of 2.6 percent.

That gives Rhode Island a rank of ninth highest in the country in debt per capita and 13th highest in debt related to personal income.

We have to stop the bleeding.

November 3, 2008

Picking Obama's Theme Song

Justin Katz

OK. This one might only ring bells for anybody who worked in a record store in the early '90s.

When I heard Obama's "righteous wind" comment, my first thought wasn't Mao, but a certain song that would work well for the One. And no, it's not the one that Shannen Coffin suggests, but "Break Like the Wind" from Spinal Tap's little known reunion album. Here's an apropos slice from the lyrics:

We made a promise in the night
Swearing to Heaven
Is this a promise we keep?
Or will we break like the wind?

Nobody Beats Him!

Justin Katz

The imagery of the Obama phenomenon has reminded me of something in recent pop culture, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it until today:

You'll recall that Elaine was entranced by a man because she was subliminally remembering the glow and audio of an old commercial in which he was The Wiz. How long will it take Obama's glow to wear off, if he wins tomorrow?

How about Merit Pay ... for the General Assembly

Monique Chartier

Rather than to the Consumer Price Index, shouldn't raises for members of the General Assembly in some way be tied to job performance? My own thought would be a factor which combines the growth in jobs in the state with the increase in the median salary in the state. What other factors should be considered?

This is more a matter of principle than of substantive reward as a raise or lack of one will probably not make or break any member of the General Assembly. But it is also a matter of pragmatism. If a state legislature has legislated in a way that has cost the state as a whole jobs and/or good jobs, it is not only that the members have not earned a raise. It is that taxpayers, many of whom do not automatically receive raises tied to the Consumer Price Index, have less money to pay towards one.

Click Over Tomorrow

Justin Katz

It's probably a function of personal involvement, more than anything, but this election just seems to be a bigger event than usual, so I'm sure y'all will be taking in the news on the radio and TV and poking around the Internet. Well, along your way, be sure to click over to WPRO's Web site, because the Anchor Rising contributors will be liveblogging on location, as it were. (I'll post a direct link when I have one.)

Andrew will be hanging out with the Republicans at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. Monique will be down in South County with Jim Haldeman and the gang. Marc'll be tucked away in his home blogging station, keeping an eye on the news and blogosphere. Don is deep in the heart of red America and may check in from flyover country.

And me? Well, I'll be in the belly of the beast, taking in the sights and sounds of the RI Democrats' celebration at the Providence Biltmore, hoping that any breaking news doesn't involve me. (I guess I should have faked a cramp when the folks at WPRO asked us to have a foot race around the office as part of the assignment process.)

The experience is new to us all, so we've no idea what to expect, although it can't help but be more interesting than blogging the debates.

Life lessons on the pitch

Marc Comtois

Took a break from politics this weekend. Watched a bunch of soccer up in Pawtucket and enjoyed seeing the youth from across our state compete and laugh and have fun. Even amidst these potentially nation-changing events. Good. They don't have to worry about the big picture stuff, that's for us adults. Even if things don't go the way we want, it's incumbent upon us to provide a positive environment for our kids (and through them for ourselves). Be optimistic and they will be too. Let them know that another way to view life's obstacles is as opportunity. Something to be overcome. But if they're not: learn from the experience.

A couple games showed this in spades. Our kids carried the play for the majority of the time, but a well-played through ball and one outstanding athlete can change the entire outcome of a game, and--boom!--just like that your down and, unfortunately, out. But even if you lose the match, you can take something from a game well-played and build on your small successes. The coaches of both of these teams did a great job and taught their players both how to play and enjoy the game. Of course the kids wanted to win, but the most important lesson learned was to keep working towards your goals, even if they aren't realized in the short term. Live to compete for another day and good things can happen. A third team did just that: carried the play in two games but couldn't score during regulation in either. But they won both games, including the championship, in a shootout. They persevered and were rewarded.

Rhode Island's Adolescent Society

Justin Katz

Just so's we've all got the same impression of the culture of our state, let's review:

In Rhode Island, nobody is willing to close a loophole in the law that makes prostitution legal.

In Rhode Island, the judiciary just ruled that legislators who take bribes for votes are immune to prosecution on ethical grounds.

And now, in Rhode Island, it is age discrimination for a bar owner to prevent patrons under the legal drinking age from entering his or her establishment:

Puerini just thought he was being socially responsible — preventing those under 21 from sneaking drinks in his bar when drunken driving and underage drinking were growing issues in Rhode Island.

But the state's Commission for Human Rights determined last month that Puerini broke the law in 2005 when an employee at POP, his bar, asked a 19-year-old, who had satdown to order dinner with his parents and some family friends, to leave the premises.

While Puerini faces no fines, the commission is requiring him to run a "prominent" notice in area newspapers stating that he and the business he has since sold violated the state's age-discrimination laws.

"The dangerous thing is it's now public that it's illegal to keep 18-year-olds out of a bar," Puerini says. "It's opened up a can of worms for many bar owners. Anybody with a bar does it. You're not going to get in if you don't have an ID.

Mind you that I believe the legal drinking age ought to be 18, but the idea that bars, far from being encouraged to block underage kids at the door, are legally prevented from doing so is contrary to common sense and to the assumption of liberty on which our nation was founded. The aggressive mother whose self-importance drove her to make her son into an underage martyr is deserving of opprobrium:

Robynne Alber, familiar with liquor licenses from her days working in the City Clerk's office, disagreed and called the police to confirm the license had no such requirement. Some tense discussions took place between her and the bartender and then on the phone between Alber and Puerini. Puerini then directed the bartender to ask the entire party to leave because, according to his testimony, "she was being loud and making people uncomfortable."

The Albers left. But they did not give up. They later filed two complaints, one accusing POP of age discrimination and another alleging that POP kicked out Robynne Alber for defending her son's rights.

It is entirely unsurprising that Mrs. Alber has experience as a city hall employee. I suppose we should be grateful that she isn't a state legislator.

A Pre-Election History Lesson

Justin Katz

A concerned citizen of Rhode Island sends along this brief video history of the Democrats' success in our state.

November 2, 2008

Breaking News: East Providence Teachers Vote to Work-to-Rule

Monique Chartier

Further to a prior conversation thread, Anchor Rising does not specialize in scoops. But if someone - in this case, Will Ricci of the Ocean State Republican, with access to a telephone but not a computer - kindly offers one, this contributor at least will not refuse it.

East Providence teachers met this afternoon to determine a course of action in the absence of a contract. Will advises the upshot: teachers did not vote to authorize a strike but did vote to work-to-rule.


In Friday's ProJo, Alisha Pina had more details about what led to the breaking off of negotiations Wednesday between the East Providence School Committee and the East Providence Education Association.

[School Committee member Anthony] Carcieri said the district needs $3 million in annual concessions from the teachers and suggested over the last two weeks of meetings that the union could get to that amount with minimum or no salary increases, health insurance cost contributions, and the elimination of a current contract provision that allows teachers to receive up to $5,100 if they choose not to take coverage under the school’s health-insurance plan.

The union’s counteroffer was about $1 million in annual concessions, Carcieri said. [Negotiator for the teachers' union Jeanette] Woolley said Carcieri’s “math is wrong” and she didn’t want the specifics of their offer made public before the teachers are told.

Summarizing the philosophical problems with Barack Obama's view of the world

Donald B. Hawthorne

Roger Kimball does an excellent job at articulating the core philosophical problems with Barak Obama's candidacy:

When he looks back on campaign 2008, what will Obama most regret? I suspect it will the same thing John McCain most appreciated: the now-famous off-hand comment to Joe the Plumber. It’s not, said Obama, that I want to punish success. I merely want to "spread the wealth around."

That was indeed a revelatory statement. I think it was the second most alarming thing he said in the entire campaign (more on the most alarming thing in a moment). Taken together with other observations by Obama–his almost equally infamous lament in a 2001 interview that the Supreme Court had not ventured into "issues of the redistribution of wealth," for example–it gave the electorate a rare glimpse behind the carefully constructed "yes-we-can" façade of Obama the messianic healer into the grim "no-you-can’t" engine room of his leveling political philosophy. Let’s say that Obama was successful in overcoming what he disparaged as "essential constraints that were placed by the Founding Fathers and the Constitution" on what government should be required to do to, or for, citizens; let’s say that he succeeded in transforming the Constitution from a "charter of negative liberties" into a menu of positive prescriptions: what then?

It’s my sense that more and more people are asking themselves that question. What, when you come right down to it, would an Obama administration mean for me and my family? What would it mean for the United States? What would happen after all the Greek columns were retired and Obama stepped from the hustings into the Oval Office? Political campaigns thrive on the intoxication of possibility. They end with the sobering strictures of the indicative. Compromise. Trade-offs. Competing interest groups.

It’s easy to see why Obama was (as Colin Powell put it) an "electrifying" figure. Leave aside the $650 million he raised (you can buy a lot of "electricity" for $650 million). Obama was young. He was suave. He exuded energy and confidence. He was the anti-Bush: a first-term Senator who had already distinguished himself as the most left-wing inhabitant of that august chamber. Above all, he was (at least in part) black. What better receptacle for the hopes and dreams of liberal, guilt-infatuated America? What prodigies of expiation might be accomplished were this young, charismatic, half-black apostle of egalitarian change elected President of the United States?

His comment to Joe the Plumber gave us some indication: he would set about trying to "spread the wealth around." But redistributionist initatives do not take place in a vacuum. They unfold in a context of moral expectation. And this brings me to what may be the most alarming thing Obama let slip in the course of his campaign. I mean his suggestion, uttered in the final few days of the race, that those who do not favor higher taxes are guilty of "selfishness." (In criticizing his tax and welfare plan, Obama said, McCain and Palin "wanted to make a virtue out of selfishness.")

I know, I know: nannies through the ages have upbraided their charges with complaints about "selfishness," an unwillingness to "share," etc., etc. Such moralism might even be an admirable trait in a nanny. The question voters are beginning to ask themselves in earnest is whether they want a President who regards himself as a sort of super-nanny, supervising the behavior of his charges, i.e., U.S. citizens.

We know what a President as nanny-in-chief looks like, because we had one in Jimmy Carter. In 1979, Carter took to the airwaves to berate the American people for their lack of moral fiber and profligate appetite for energy. Obama echoed that rhetoric when he said, in the course of his campaign, that

We can’t drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times...and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK.

People sat up when they heard that: We can’t drive the sort of car we want, eh? We can’t eat as much as we like, or keep our houses at a temperature we find comfortable? We should alter our behavior to court the approval of "the rest of the world"?

That Carter-moment was soon buried in the progress of the campaign. It deserved more than the flurry of concern it elicited. It showed, just as Obama’s call for the redistribution of wealth shows, the sort of thing he intends to do to address the "selfishness" he perceives in the American people.

Remember his call for "a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded as the military"? Remember his suggesting the creation of "national service programs" that high-school and college students would be required to participate in? Those, too, were initiatives meant to combat our "selfishness."

As I observed in this space a few weeks ago, Obama espouses a form of what James Piereson has called "punitive liberalism." Because he regards the American people as essentially selfish (a sentiment memorably reinforced by Michelle Obama when she described the America was "just downright mean"), Obama cannot help regarding success as a form of failure. That side of Obama’s program does not play well outside his inner circle, so he has been careful to overlay it with seductive talk about "tax cuts for 95 percent of taxpayers"–an absurdity on the face of it since 43 percent of those who file do not pay any income tax at all. (Meanwhile, it is worth remembering that those reporting the top 1 percent of adjusted gross income pay nearly 40 percent of all income taxes collected, while the top 5 percent pay more than 60 percent. To use another word Obama likes, is that "fair"? How much more does want?)

"Selfishness" can be a vice. It can also be another name for that "well-ordered self-love" that Thomas Aquinas extolled as "right and natural." (I have more to say about selfishness and altruism here.) But the important issue facing the American people at the moment is whether they wish to elect a commander-in-chief or a nanny-in-chief. Obama’s seductive rhetoric and and emollient promises have not been able to conceal his ambitions to become America’s protector and nanny-in-chief. He wants you to be happy–but on his terms. He wants to tell you what to drive, what temperature to keep your house, how much to eat. He wants to conscript your children in "voluntary" national service programs that are all-but-mandatory. He wants to determine how prosperous you will be allowed to be–and then to tax you back to a pre-determined level if you make too much. He has similar plans on the international front. He craves approval for America from the "international community," which means he will do everything he can to accommodate that community. He dislikes criticism so much, he is willing to call upon his supporters to silence journalists and besmirch the character of Joe the Plumber, using supposedly protected state information to do it.

In short, it’s your life and Obama wants to run it for you. On Tuesday, Americans will have the choice between electing a leader and a chaperone. Obama has vastly out-spent and–it saddens me to say–out-campaigned McCain. But that doesn’t mean he is better suited to lead America in this difficult time. I suspect that, in their heart of hearts, most Americans know that.

All of which is consistent with the types of people Obama has associated with over the years. And why McCain had these words to say

...John McCain unveiled a new attack on Barack Obama, criticizing his comment that his victory in Iowa's caucuses last winter had "vindicated" his faith in the American people.

"My country has never had to prove anything to me, my friends," McCain said while campaigning in the Washington suburbs in northern Virginia. "I've always had faith in it and I've been humbled and honored to serve it.

McCain was referring to a remark Obama made at a campaign stop in Des Moines on Friday.

"My faith in the American people was vindicated and what you started here in Iowa swept the nation," Obama said...

Jennifer Rubin asked some further pertinent questions nobody in the MSM has been willing to ask.

Thomas Sowell makes these observations:

After the big gamble on subprime mortgages that led to the current financial crisis, is there going to be an even bigger gamble, by putting the fate of a nation in the hands of a man whose only qualifications are ego and mouth?

Barack Obama has the kind of cocksure confidence that can only be achieved by not achieving anything else.

Anyone who has actually had to take responsibility for consequences by running any kind of enterprise-- whether economic or academic, or even just managing a sports team-- is likely at some point to be chastened by either the setbacks brought on by his own mistakes or by seeing his successes followed by negative consequences that he never anticipated.

The kind of self-righteous self-confidence that has become Obama's trademark is usually found in sophomores in Ivy League colleges-- very bright and articulate students, utterly untempered by experience in real world.

The signs of Barack Obama's self-centered immaturity are painfully obvious, though ignored by true believers who have poured their hopes into him, and by the media who just want the symbolism and the ideology that Obama represents.

The triumphal tour of world capitals and photo-op meetings with world leaders by someone who, after all, was still merely a candidate, is just one sign of this self-centered immaturity.

"This is our time!" he proclaimed. And "I will change the world." But ultimately this election is not about him, but about the fate of this nation, at a time of both domestic and international peril, with a major financial crisis still unresolved and a nuclear Iran looming on the horizon.

For someone who has actually accomplished nothing to blithely talk about taking away what has been earned by those who have accomplished something, and give it to whomever he chooses in the name of "spreading the wealth," is the kind of casual arrogance that has led to many economic catastrophes in many countries.

The equally casual ease with which Barack Obama has talked about appointing judges on the basis of their empathies with various segments of the population makes a mockery of the very concept of law.

After this man has wrecked the economy and destroyed constitutional law with his judicial appointments, what can he do for an encore? He can cripple the military and gamble America's future on his ability to sit down with enemy nations and talk them out of causing trouble...

Add to Obama and Biden House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and you have all the ingredients for a historic meltdown.

Obama on his desire for a civilian national security force

Donald B. Hawthorne

Obama calls for a civilian national security force.

Questions for Obama.

Given the intimidation and threats we have seen from Obama supporters against those who oppose the One, don't you wonder if people like Stanley Kurtz and Joe the Plumber are feeling as free today at the thought of this CNSF?

Obama's views on coal industry

Donald B. Hawthorne

Obama Promises San Francisco Audience He Will Bankrupt Coal Industry!!

Send to your friends in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Colorado, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.



Power Line:

Maybe the American people just didn't have quite enough time to get to know Barack Obama. It seems inconceivable to me that a candidate as arrogant as Obama could be ahead in the polls if the voters had fully absorbed how out of touch he can be. A case in point is this MTV interview, where Obama says that the tax increase he proposes on people who earn $250,000 or more is "chump change, that's nothing." But wait! If it's "chump change," how is it going to fund the hundreds of billions in new spending that Obama wants?

Likewise with Obama's casual declaration that he intends to bankrupt the coal industry, which currently supplies around one-half of all electricity produced in the United States. Today Mike Carey, President of the Ohio Coal Association, issued this statement:

Regardless of the timing or method of the release of these remarks, the message from the Democratic candidate for President could not be clearer: the Obama-Biden ticket spells disaster for America's coal industry and the tens of thousands of Americans who work in it.

These undisputed, audio-taped remarks, which include comments from Senator Obama like 'I haven't been some coal booster' and 'if they want to build [coal plants], they can, but it will bankrupt them' are extraordinarily misguided.

It's evident that this campaign has been pandering in states like Ohio,Virginia, West Virginia,Indiana and Pennsylvania to attempt to generate votes from coal supporters, while keeping his true agenda hidden from the state's voters.

Senator Obama has revealed himself to be nothing more than a short-sighted, inexperienced politician willing to say anything to get a vote. But today, the nation's coal industry and those who support it have a better understanding of his true mission, to 'bankrupt' our industry, put tens of thousands out of work and cause unprecedented increases in electricity prices.

In addition to providing an affordable, reliable source of low-cost electricity, domestic coal holds the key to our nation's long-term energy security - a goal that cannot be overlooked during this time of international instability and economic uncertainty.

Few policy areas are more important to our economic future than energy issues. As voters head to the polls tomorrow, it is essential they remember that access to reliable, affordable, domestic energy supplies is essential to economic growth and stability.

Where will the "little people" get electricity if Obama's environmental policies destroy the coal industry? That, apparently, is of no concern to "The One." It would have been nice if this news had come out more than a couple of days before the election.

UPDATE: After writing this post, I talked to Mike Carey on the telephone. He was very cordial, but deeply concerned about the future of his industry. Here is some of what he told me:

We originally were pretty neutral in this race, as neither candidate had been a strong supporter of coal. But after we saw Joe Biden's comments [no new coal plants in the U.S.], we tried to get information on clean coal to both campaigns.

Some people in the Obama campaign weren't very nice to the clean coal people who tried to talk to them.

The mainstream media haven't done their job. This is stuff that should have been found out a long time ago.

Nationally, 52% of all electricity comes from coal. In Ohio it's 89%, in West Virginia, 97%. Virginia and Pennsylvania get a lot of their electricity from coal as well. Here in Ohio, a lot of industries have left the state, but one that is growing is coal, which directly provides for around 4,000 jobs. I think it is remarkable that any political candidate would talk about bankrupting an industry that supplies more than one-half of the country's electricity.


And how does Obama describe the consequences of his policies on American citizens?

...under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket...

Oh, that sounds constructive.

Positioning on Marriage

Justin Katz

It's quite convenient that the New York Times would present Barack Obama as something of a cultural conservative on the issue of same-sex marriage — what with a contentious high-stakes battle over marriage on the ballot in California:

Several gay friends and wealthy gay donors to Senator Barack Obama have asked him over the years why, as a matter of logic and fairness, he opposes same-sex marriage even though he has condemned old miscegenation laws that would have barred his black father from marrying his white mother.

The difference, Mr. Obama has told them, is religion.

As a Christian — he is a member of the United Church of Christ — Mr. Obama believes that marriage is a sacred union, a blessing from God, and one that is intended for a man and a woman exclusively, according to these supporters and Obama campaign advisers. While he does not favor laws that ban same-sex marriage, and has said he is "open to the possibility" that his views may be "misguided," he does not support it and is not inclined to fight for it, his advisers say.

His construction of the issue is entirely in keeping with the scenario that I suggested last week, whereby the Democrats running the federal government would implement civil unions and kick it to the courts to take the dirty-work last step. For example, Obama opposes state-level constitutional amendments defining marriage in the way that he supposedly believes to be correct; without them, the only barrier to judiciary-legislated same-sex marriage coast to coast would be the Defense of Marriage Act. Or consider this:

"Barack is an intellectual guy, and I know he has been thinking through his position on gay marriage, and what is fair for all people," said Michael Bauer, an openly gay fund-raiser for Mr. Obama and an adviser to his campaign on gay issues. "But he is just not there with us on this issue."

He's an "intellectual guy" who is "wary of linking his religion to policy decisions":

"And I was reminded," Mr. Obama added [in The Audacity of Hope], "that it is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided, just as I cannot claim infallibility in my support of abortion rights."

The odds are very good, I'd say, that a President Obama would discover the error of his ways on marriage long before he'd have any epiphanies on abortion.

November 1, 2008

Two Ideas in Two Dimensions

Justin Katz

Mark Steyn had reason for a unique perspective, among pundits, of the presidential campaign:

I was away for much of the summer and, when I returned, the entire campaign felt like an absurd satire I wasn't quite up to speed on. But truly, in a world in which the many illegal foreign contributions to the leading candidate's unprecedented fundraising include his own deportation-ordered aunt, satire is dead.

This point of reference is apparent behind Steyn's latest must-read column, in which he notes that Obama exists in the national imagination more as a literary character than a person drawn from the crowds of real life:

... Obama in the White House, Obama on the dollar bill, Obama on Rushmore would symbolize the possibilities of America more than that narrow list of white-bread protestant presidents to date.

The problem is we're not electing a symbol, a logo, a two-dimensional image. Long before he emerged on the national stage as Barack the Hope-Giver and Bringer of Change, there was a three-dimensional Barack Obama, a real man who lives in the real world. And that's where the problem lies.

The Senator and his doting Obots in the media have gone to great lengths to obscure what Barack Obama does when he's not being a symbol: his voting record, his friends, his patrons, his life outside the soft-focus memoirs is deemed non-relevant to the general hopey-changey vibe. But occasionally we get a glimpse. The offhand aside to Joe the Plumber about "spreading the wealth around" was revealing because it suggests a crude redistributive view of "social justice." Yet the nimble Hope-a-Dope sidestepper brushed it aside, telling a crowd in Raleigh that next John McCain will be "accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten." ...

In his Wednesday-night infomercial, Obama declared that his "fundamental belief" was that "I am my brother's keeper." Back in Kenya, his brother lives in a shack on 12 bucks a year. If Barack is his brother's keeper, why couldn't he send him a ten-dollar bill and near double the guy's income? The reality is that Barack Obama assumes the government should be his brother's keeper, and his aunt's keeper. Why be surprised by that? For 20 years in Illinois, Obama has marinated in the swamps of the Chicago political machine and the campus radicalism of William Ayers and Rashid Khalidi. In such a world, the redistributive urge is more or less a minimum entry qualification.

In essence, then, Obama is being treated as if he were an historical figure. Evidence of his proclivities and policy instincts are treated as if they must be contextualized in circumstances that no longer exist. The people who float into and out of his biography are handled as if they are creatures of their times and, at any rate, are not available for comment. Not wishing to disturb that particular delirium may be, as Victor Davis Hanson suggests, the reason behind the decreased candidness from those connected to the Obama campaign. (Perhaps it partially helps to explain the candidate's recent breaks from the trail.) It certainly offers a bit of complexity to Paul Kengor's observation that the news-gathering armies have not sought comment from some central figures in the debate over Obama's past and ideology:

No two figures relating to Barack Obama have been talked about as much as Ayers and Wright. That being the case, why aren't these two figures talking? Why is no one talking to them, or demanding to talk to them? ...

This is no minor, trivial point. I can't recall a similar instance where two such controversial figures, so damaging to a presidential campaign, so quickly disappeared from the public eye. Conservatives often accused the Clintons of all kinds of nefarious deeds to quiet their detractors. Yet, Paula Jones and Gennifer Flowers could always be hunted down for comment by reporters. But that's not the case with Ayers and Wright.

It's odd, isn't it? For all the talk about Ayers's significance in Obama's political life, I don't think I've heard a single comment from the man himself. It's as if he's not a flesh-and-blood person out there somewhere, walking the American street.

Somehow, I tend to doubt that the characters in the Tale of the One will remain abstract should their guy gain the power of the presidency.

What "Moderate" Means...

Justin Katz

... would seem to be precisely what skeptics thought it meant when Ken Block launched his party of that name about a year ago — namely, susceptible to pressure and manipulation. At the time, Block wrote an Engaged Citizen post in which he declared:

All ridiculous culture war issues aside, the time is right now for those who believe that what ails Rhode Island can and should be fixed. There are many disparate groups which have overlapping goals, and the need is critical right now to ignore ideological differences, pool resources and advocate together for specific changes that should be palatable to all. My strong suggestion is to push all out on separation of powers, disallowing one time payouts to be used to balance the budget and disallowing the settling of ethics charges by paying off the Ethics Commission. These ideas have popular appeal and immediate relevance.

The Web site of the Moderate Party of Rhode Island proclaims that the "hot button social topics of our times (abortion, illegal immigration, etc) necessarily must take a legislative back seat while our economy is repaired and the erosion of the tax base reversed." And yet, in an email announcement just released, Block explains that it withdrew its endorsement of Republican David Anderson because some statements that he made in a private email "do not reflect the brand or style of politics that the Moderate Party of RI believes should be practiced."

Well that didn't take long! A local political operative — whose profession and public standing depend on Rhode Island's continuation down its spiral — declares as racism concern about the affirmative action mentality — which is clearly within the realm of "hot button social topics" — and the Moderate Party rushes for distance. That doesn't instill confidence in the organization's dependability when the fight is truly engaged for the soul and well-being of our state.

In a response that Block emailed me when I inquired about the matter before he'd sent out his statement, Ken used the passive voice to avoid acknowledging his apparent alignment with the crowd whose smears he had rewarded with action:

It is unfortunate for David that his private email has gone public in this way. He is a very bright person who has worked hard on his campaign, and who agreed with many of the central tenets that underpin the Moderate Party of RI.

As many have argued, moderation and centrism ought not be taken for a surfeit of principle. The six Republicans whom Block still endorses could give a small indication of their seriousness about building a principled organization to rival the RI establishment by withdrawing their Moderate affiliation.

Letting the System Learn

Justin Katz

Although she's added depth to her explanation, Froma Harrop is still trying to find the individual responsible for our country's financial predicament:

The 2000 Commodity Futures Modernization Act revived the bucket-shop bet. It was a rider attached to an 11,000-page appropriations bill hours before Congress planned to leave for Christmas recess. Page 262 forbade states to ban or regulate financial derivatives.

The Republican Congress passed the legislation, and Democratic President Bill Clinton signed it. Whatever Alan Greenspan wanted he got, which was capitalism unlocked from its regulatory chains.

She apparently has yet to hit upon the idea that government policies implying economic rescue distorted the system of incentives on which Greenspan's philosophy relied.

Be that as it may, Harrop's column brought to mind something that I don't believe I've seen argued explicitly: A free system learns, often by trial and error. Isn't heavy regulation, in that case, somewhat redundant? I mean, won't banks and investment firms and other such players be more inclined to implement the safeguards that Greenspan assumed they would now that they've seen the consequences? It seems to me that childproofing the economic playroom will only allow for innovative thinkers to find new ways to profit from the absence of risk.

A Question of How

Justin Katz

In a comment to Marc's post mocking Obama's campaign wealth, Erik cites some data related to wealth and stock ownership and states the following:

Considering the USA has the widest gap between rich and poor in the entire industrialized world, the idea of "spreading the wealth" seems pretty realistic at this time. ...

Is it really fair or just that 80% of all stocks are owned by just 10% of Americans, and 60% of all Americans barely own any stock at all, especially considering that corporations have to harness the labor of huge numbers of workers, many of whom never get to equitably share in the fruits of their labors?

Let's stipulate that wealth disparity of massive proportions is unjust. Having spent many days toiling in the frigid ocean-side wind under the verbal equivalent of a whip for the benefit of clientele whose occupation seems mainly to be the extraction of every comfort and pleasure from life, I certainly believe it to be. The question — which many on the left find far too easy to answer — is how we go about salvaging justice from such a scenario. There are basically three options.

The first is to take wealth from the rich by disorganized force. In other words, those who want simply take. Where police authority to stop and to punish such activity has been subverted, inequity leans toward those of physical or martial strength. The stronger one is — however strength may be measured — the more one gets to keep, and the end result is likely to be that the public buys its way out of the bloody chaos by giving unprecedented power to whoever can restore order.

The second is to take wealth from the rich by organized force — that is, through the government. In order to avoid the pitfall of option 1, the government seeks to take via taxation, to filter the money through its bureaucracy, and to redistribute it more justly. But the government is, by definition, a playground of influence, and the wealthy are disproportionately influential. The innovation of such socialism is to create another layer of power for redistributionists in which interested individuals will vie for positions, the price of which will be the protection of those who already hold power. As Shannon Love puts it:

The ugly truth is that the really wealthy can manipulate the political system to their own ends better than ordinary people. They can lobby for specific tax breaks that only they can take advantage of. They can get government trade protection for their companies. They can get bailouts. If all else fails, the truly wealthy can simply relocate their wealth into whatever area the government policies du jour make the most profitable.

In the extremes, they can simple sit on their wealth and wait for the political winds to change.

The third option is to find ways to get the rich to give up their money voluntarily, whether through charity or commerce. The former requires the application of cultural pressure, and the latter requires freedom of trade with careful, principled regulation, such that those with disproportionate influence cannot rig the system — via the aforementioned government bureaucrats — to decrease the price to them.

Glenn Reynolds periodically posts a great quotation from science fiction writer Robert Heinlein:

Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded — here and there, now and then — are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty.

This is known as "bad luck."

The answer to the slippery "how" of economic justice is to allow the system to expand to the degree that very few at the low end have lives of true poverty, no matter the effect on the dollar amounts at the high end. Attempting to exert godlike power on what is essentially a natural system (rooted in human nature) will disproportionately harm those at the bottom, because they are so much closer to mere subsistence and because the ultra rich live upon a massive cushion from which they have a strategic high view of the playing field.