July 31, 2009

What's with the Web Site Collapse?

Justin Katz

Is anybody else concerned about the implications of Projo.com being completely collapsed all day? I can't recall that happening even to Podunk blogs in recent years, let alone a significant mainstream media Web site.

Abortion Insinuates Itself in a Leftward Government

Justin Katz

Barth Bracy, executive director of the Rhode Island Right to Life Committee, makes an interesting observation in the current issue of the Rhode Island Catholic:

In less than six months Obama has appointed dozens of extreme pro-abortion ideologues to key positions in government, nullified the Mexico City Policy, and authorized taxpayer funding for embryo-killing experimentation, for abortion-on-demand in the District of Columbia, and for the United Nations Population Fund, which supports China’s population-control program with its coerced abortions. While speaking of safeguarding conscience rights for health care professionals, his administration is dismantling protections they already enjoy. Meanwhile, authentic common ground proposals, like the Pregnant Women Support Act, languish with no support from his administration. And while it may appear that he has backed off from [Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA)], his campaign pledge to the abortion industry, the reality is that he is stealthily inserting the provisions of FOCA into other bills. Indeed his allies in Congress are even now pushing health care bills that would establish federal funding for abortion on demand, override state abortion laws, and vastly expand access to abortion.

Bracy's commentary comes in the form of a response to George Cardinal Cottier's expressed support for President Obama in relation to his appearance at Notre Dame, so it's context that places the focus on the president. The reality is that devoting federal dollars for the killing of unborn children — American as well as across the globe — is a Democrat project. Regarding abortion slipped into the healthcare bill, here's the latest:

Last night, the House Energy and Commerce Committee narrowly passed the Stupak-Pitts amendment to prevent the bill from mandating that private insurance plans cover abortions, but when Chairman Henry Waxman brought the amendment up for reconsideration, Rep. Bart Gordon of Tennessee flipped his vote to 'no', defeating the Stupak-Pitts amendment 30 to 29. "I misunderstood it the first time," Gordon said of his flip-flop, according to The Hill. Gordon and Zack Space of Ohio were the only Blue Dogs on the committee to vote against the amendment to ban mandates for abortion.

Instead of the Stupak-Pitts amendment, the committee passed an amendment that is being billed by some Democrats as a "common ground" measure on abortion. The amendment--sponsored by Lois Capps (D-Calif.), whose National Right to Life Committee vote-scorecard is 0 for 74--would allow the "public option" to provide coverage for elective abortions and would allow federally subsidized private plans to provide abortion coverage as well. How exactly could this be construed as "common ground"? Congress isn't requiring the public option to cover abortion--merely allowing it. And through some nifty bookkeeping, abortions will supposedly be paid for out of private funds rather than tax dollars.

The silver lining may be that Democrats' unwillingness to let go of taxpayer dollars for fetal slaughter could be decisive in killing the final bill. It's a cosmic travesty, though, that the end game could be such a close thing, once again seeming to pit the lives of the youngest human beings against the health of their older brothers, sisters, and parents.

RI Government Not Alone (for what it's worth...)

Marc Comtois

From Reason:

Unlike the federal government, states can't simply run deficits indefinitely. For that reason, they have a powerful duty to pile up surpluses during fat years, which would allow them to make up the revenue that goes missing during lean years. But for many lawmakers, the future extends only to the next election. So any money they have, they feel an insatiable need to lavish on someone.

Politicians are happy to blame the recession for depriving citizens of programs they have come to expect. The recession didn't create the gap between state government commitments and state government resources. It only exposed it.

For instance:
In state after state, the government's take has ballooned. Overall, the average person's state tax burden has risen by 42 percent since 1999—nearly 50 percent beyond what the state would have needed just to keep spending constant, with allowances for inflation.

Even low-tax states like Texas and Nevada have followed the same course. No one has been inclined to say, "Taxpayers don't need to send us more money. We've got plenty."

All that growth should have been enough to pay for essential programs and furnish ample reserves, allowing state governments to weather a downturn without major adjustments. But the states put a priority on burning through all the cash they could get. Last year, they spent about 77 percent more than they did 10 years before.

We know that's true around here. Heck, we even managed to have a budget 12% higher this year! Party-on.

What Do the Duped Think?

Justin Katz

In one of the meaningful transitions that used to make me daydream about the possibilities now manifested in MP3 players that can put an entire music collection on shuffle, the Eagles' "Hotel California" followed directly upon the "We Are the Ones" Obama-adulation song. "You can check out anytime you want," sings Don Henley, "but you can never leave."

For an exercise in empathy, it's interesting to ponder the effect that the Obamanation movement had on the man himself. How would you respond to fawning on such a scale? It's a scary question, and whatever else one is inclined to say about him, Barack Obama has handled himself admirably.

That's not to say, "perfectly." Rich Lowry devotes some imagination to an alternative course that the president could have plotted, over the past six months:

The Obama team is fiddling with his health-care talking points. But the verbiage is beside the point. What Obama needs is a little modesty. It's easy to imagine an alternative history of a more cautious Obama administration that wouldn't have stoked a voter backlash in all of six months.

It would have begun with the recognition that he won office sounding like a tax-cutting moderate devoted to paying for "every dime" of his program, against a terrible candidate in the middle of a recession blamed on the incumbent Republican president. Even Howard Dean might have won in these circumstances. Obama's victory wasn't as transformative as it appeared. He was given an opening — to address people’s economic anxieties, detoxify the Washington debate, and occupy the center.

Although we're seeing it, to some extent, in dropping poll numbers and thinning bumper stickers, we haven't heard much from those folks who were sure — so confident as to disregard evidence that many of us saw as red flags — that candidate Obama would govern in precisely that fashion. What have they learned from being burned?

I'd like to think that the majority have become wiser, and some surely have. Still, the elixir that Obama peddled may have been of the alluring sort that tempts even those who were sickened by it to take another sip when the packaging changes.

A Thread Through Culture-War Stories

Justin Katz

In response to my reservations about grand preening in celebration of a "counter protest" that exponentially outnumbered the mentally feeble Phelps family whom it targeted, commenter Chris offered the following:

I approve of both the reporting, and the action. I like the idea that 1) our kids have learned to spot human junk, and react accordingly ( there's always a built-in respect for elders taught to kids. Its good for them to know when to shake it off ), and 2) the projo carrying it helps other kids to learn to markings of this kind of animal, and learn to reject it out of hand faster.

Its a pity violence isn't allowed. It would be a quicker lesson for those things.

Such comments are typically best let to evaporate like gasoline, because regardless of the extent to which they capture something existent in the thoughts and emotions of more moderate sympathizers, elevation of extremists repels all parties by pushing them to different corners. In other words, it doesn't help us to resolve disputes if one party gives the impression that it believes its opposition to have more common ground with the lunatics in its midst than with those engaged in conversation. It's difficult enough to convey innate sympathy despite disagreement.

But Chris draws with his bright red crayon a line to the anti-traditionalist assault in Warwick. Note the protective gauze that Providence Journal reporter Kate Bramson wraps around the perpetrators:

The weapons included mayonnaise, ketchup and salsa — but also pepper spray, a glass jar and fists.

A difference of opinion over gay marriage sparked the incident, and emotions escalated quickly. Punches were thrown.

A small group of men visiting Rhode Island this week urging people to support traditional marriage called the police.

Offended by the men's message, four young women now face charges of assault or battery and disorderly conduct. The youngest, 17, also faces a more serious charge — felony assault with a dangerous substance.

On a hot, sticky Tuesday afternoon, on a grassy area just in front of the Rhode Island Mall, stood six men from a group headquartered in Spring Grove, Pa. They were dressed in suits, red sashes flung over their shoulders. ...

Driving by, stuck at a red light on Route 113, two women saw the men. Once the light turned green and the driver accelerated, the passenger threw a bottle out the window. ...

The men dispute the women's account and face no charges. Four are listed in the police report as victims ...

"I feel immature," Scungio said Thursday. "... We obviously shouldn't have gone up to them at all, because none of this would have happened."

Bramson may have backed away (slightly) from reporter Maria Armental's jocularity, yesterday, but her spin is made more stunning by its incorporation of more details. In her attempt to excuse physical violence, including the use of pepper spray, Bramson casts the whole thing as a street-side debate gone wrong; even the weather and the traffic signal were culprits, let alone the audacity of those men with "red sashes flung over their shoulders." Never mind that the assault was premeditated. Never mind that two women somehow multiplied into four — with one just happening to drive by in time to participate in the attack. Never mind that the police report contravenes Bramson's scenario of a two-way dispute with the opposing tellings to be balanced equally. Nineteen-year-old Kristen Scungio and her pals just got carried away in their understandable "immature" reaction to that "anti" group.

Pat the kids on their heads; they're blameless, really. Chris's lesson appears well on its way to being learned.

Between the two incidents, the murder of abortionist George Tiller sparked discussion about the responsibility of pro-lifers generally for the flares of the occasional madman. Such associations are nothing more than political acts meant to silence opposition; freedom of speech — the entire principle of democracy — means little if taking a particular position about public policy of itself imparts culpability when the susceptibility of humanity to evil appears in an isolated stranger's horrific action.

Advocating on behalf of our traditional understanding of marriage does not translate into blame should somebody, somewhere take the issue as a context for the expression of his or her personal frustrations. By the same token, advocating for the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex relationships does not translate into blame for affronts in the other direction. However, publicly celebrating the sport of mocking extremists and making light of the escalating violence of "counter protests" against traditionalists leads us toward a future in which ignorance will be no defense. Sadly, it's embedded within the narrative according to which progressives choose and pursue their advocacy; according to the script, traditionalists are always the oppressors, and kids can hardly be faulted for their overly zealous support for freedom and equality.

There's an Obvious Solution to the Sales Tax Problem, You Know

Justin Katz

Today, we get the advocacy profile — a standard newspaper fare by which readers are made unequivocally aware of the "objective" reporter's opinion:

Inside the Liberty Elm Diner Thursday, the lemonade was cold and the bacon was hot.

But the mood hung heavy with a sense of foreboding.

Customers who devoured BLTs and pancakes wondered if that would be their last meal at the diner car that’s become a local favorite.

A day earlier, the Elmwood restaurant was one of 1,200 businesses statewide that received notice that it must close up shop unless it pays its overdue sales taxes immediately.

The timing was especially painful, coming just hours after television crews from The Food Network had visited the cozy diner for a segment on its hit show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which promises to give the eatery national exposure.

Owner Carol DeFeciani is forthright about her predicament. She owes thousands — $25,000 to be exact — and that the police could shut her down at any moment. But like so many small business owners, she’s not sure how her debts mounted.

Gary Sasse again makes a surprise appearance as The Villain:

Department of Revenue Director Gary Sasse said it is important to distinguish sales tax payments from other kinds of taxes. If a business is up and running, it is presumably collecting sales taxes on behalf of the state, which should be set aside and passed along to the Division of Taxation. So long as that process is carefully followed, businesses shouldn’t fall behind as they might in other areas.

In an era of hundreds of billions of dollars of stimulus giveaways, it seems to me that the state could come up with some way to give these small businesses a chance to keep running despite tax lapses. At the very least, the bureaucrats could give the owners a reprieve until a few weeks after the General Assembly reconvenes.

The reason for that schedule is the operative datum from the article to which Marc linked yesterday:

[Tax Administrator David] Sullivan said the number of business owners in this category is up this year, though not significantly despite the recession.

In other words, this isn't a special circumstance due to the economy. (Although a disclaimer ought to be made that Rhode Island was already into the recession last year, so it would be helpful to know the data going back a few years.) Every year, this number of businesses finds it necessary to help themselves to free loans from the state by using money that they have collected in the state's name for something else. We can argue adjustments and exceptions, but that's the bottom line.

And as such it points us right back to the drumbeat epiphany that Rhode Island is not an easy place to do business. Cynthia Needham might have added to her advocacy article about the little diner that couldn't, for example, that the General Assembly added another 1% to the sales tax for businesses that sell meals and beverages back in 2003. As I recall, that was yet another gimmick whereby the state made it appear to be keeping up its promises (in this case, to municipalities) while actually taking the pound of flesh from somebody else.

It's illogical to push for constant growth of government and the consequent increases in taxation and then to treat the difficulties of hardworking entrepreneurs as another circumstance in which parties need a helping hand from the government (e.g., flexible payment plans for back taxes). These are the fruits of your political philosophy, Rhode Island. Live with them, or change your policies.

July 30, 2009

Reasons to Be Skeptical About "Consolidation" As the Answer to Everything

Carroll Andrew Morse

This was the basic outline of former Providence's mayor Joseph Paolino's strong municipal consolidation proposal, published in a Projo op-ed in May…

In the interest of efficiency, economy and equity, Rhode Island should unify its 39 cities and towns into six county governments with full municipal powers.

There would be a Mayor of Kent County, Newport County, Washington County and Bristol County. Providence County, which extends from Cranston to Woonsocket, would be divided in two —Blackstone County to the north, and Providence County in the metropolitan area....

The Providence County I envision would include Providence, East Providence, North Providence, Cranston, Johnston, Foster and Scituate — 36 percent of the state’s population at present, hardly enough to take over the state.

The premise is that bigger units of government are inherently more efficient. However, looking at 2007-2008 data on the cost per-resident of the government we have now in the communities that would make up Mayor Paolino's Super-Providence, that assumption doesn't seem to hold true…

MunicipalityPopulationGov. Cost Per
Providence171,889 $2,620.31
East Providence48,604 $1,939.46
North Providence32,770$1,792.19

The community with 170,000+ residents is near the top of the list, closest in cost-per-resident to the community with about 4,500 residents, while a community of 30,000 is at the bottom, immediately below communities of about 50,000 and 80,000.

Before anyone takes the idea of "consolidation" seriously, shouldn't the unit of government that includes as least twice as many residents as any of the others show that it can run itself more efficiently than everyone else? If it can't, it seems just as likely that a Super-Providence would spread Current-Providence's high per-resident cost of government to other communities, rather than help to lower them.

And on a more nuts and bolts level, consider this issue: The town of Foster still uses a volunteer firefighting force; how will a consolidated Providence address this issue going forward? Will residents of Former-Foster pay the same taxes as everyone else, but receive no municipal fire-service in return? Or will some kind of sub-jurisdiction be created, where Former-Foster residents pay a different tax rate and receive a different mix or services? And if the answer is the latter, by the time you have created the administrative structure capable of dealing with the variations in the different communities that are merged together, is it realistic to believe that the result is going to be any more efficient -- and less expensive -- than separate municipal governments?

Rhody Going After "the Little Guy"

Marc Comtois

This ProJo story about RI government going after small businesses for uncollected sales tax caught the attention of the Drudge Report. Great. Li'l Rhody comes shining thru again.....

State tax officials have put more than 1,200 businesses across the state on notice this week that they are out of business unless they pay their overdue sales taxes immediately.

For most, that action came in the form of a personal visit from the state Division of Taxation, ordering business owners to lock their doors at once.

By Wednesday, a line of people had queued up inside the Department of Administration building on Smith Hill, waiting their turn to plead their case to a state revenue agent. Some were angry. Others frustrated.

“I understand the state needs money, but to put pressure on the small guy or the moderate guy that’s struggling, it’s not going to do any good,” said Mike Suriani, who owns an electrical supply company in South Providence.

In Suriani’s case, it may have been a bookkeeping error that landed him in the three-hour line. Suriani says he paid his taxes in full — albeit a little late –– and had copies of the cancelled checks from the state showing he had indeed turned over the sales taxes he collected.

But that didn’t keep taxation officials from appearing at his door Tuesday demanding that he close up shop.

“Yes, the rules state that we have a responsibility to pay our bills every quarter. But when your customers come in and they don’t pay you for a month, and then another month, and another month, businesses have no choice [in] the eyes of the state but to close up and get out,” Suriani said.

It's easy to have a knee-jerk anti-tax reaction and the commentary on the story is widely against the state tax collectors. No surprise: who likes taxes? And we shouldn't be surprised that bureaucrats show little or no empathy or compassion to those conscripted to do the government's dirty work.

However, you have to think that some of these small businesses collected sales tax on behalf of the state and they actually haven't passed that back as required. Like it or not--and I don't--government dictates that business has to do the tax collecting (sales and income) for them. Easy enough to think it stinks and make comments about how RI stinks (presumably along with the other states who collect sales tax?). But it'll take major political change to alter the current tax system (like making people pay income taxes on their own).

So maybe this can be an opportunity to make a change. A tax revolt? Perhaps. More likely, it could be a key issue for electing reform-minded politicians in 2010. We'll see. But if nothing is done, then all we'll have is a little righteous indignation and the status quo.

Going Once, Going Twice...

Justin Katz

Purely by coincidence, I read this prediction by commenter "doughboys"...

'Exit from American investments' is poorly phrased Justin. When the Chinese will not buy American at this fall's debt auction (approximately 2 trillion dollars worth will be auctioned off) they will be swapping the $1.5 trillion US dollars they now hold for other assets before the value of the dollar falls like a rock. They will buy copper, gold, steel etc.

When China exits the Treasury auctions the Fed will step in and 'monetize' the debt by printing dollars to buy debt inflation will accelerate certainly beyond anything seen in US history because countries and companies/banks will rush to spend all the dollars they have been sitting on since 'the big print' started last fall (the Fed has printed and loaned some $14 trillion since then). Inflation has not appeared since the money has not been 'spent' (see PPI) in the traditional sense) yet.

When you reach into your wallet to pay for a small pizza in the near future pulling out a $100 bill and the driver looks perturbed because you haven't tipped him remember this post.

... just prior to reading this news report regarding the U.S. Treasury:

The U.S. Treasury sold $39 billion in five-year debt Wednesday in an auction that drew poor demand, raising worries over the cost of financing the government's burgeoning budget deficit.

It was the second lackluster showing in as many days, convincing analysts that the stellar results of debt auctions just a few weeks ago were a fluke and that Thursday's $28 billion seven-year offering could suffer a similar fate.

Under the weight of the ballooning deficit, the government has raised auction volumes and analysts now wonder whether the strain on the market is showing.

"Obviously everyone is inferring that tomorrow's won't be good either," said James Combias, head of government bond trading at Mizuho Securities USA in New York. "Maybe you will see more interest tomorrow but I think the increase in the auctions and the size of them may be starting to have an effect. These are very large auctions."

Demand for the five-year notes was below average, measured by the bid-to-cover ratio of 1.92, the lowest in almost a year.

Perhaps it would be prudent to finally learn how to make fire by rubbing two sticks together.

A Debacle in Healthcare

Justin Katz

The Lenin-era cliché that Capitalists would sell Communists the rope with which to hang them comes to mind, only in this case, it involves voters allowing their representatives to get to the point of not even reading the legislation by which they're taking our freedoms away.

Such was the conversation last night, on the Matt Allen Show, during which I had the pleasure of checking in with Tony Cornetta, who was covering for Matt, who was covering for Dan Yorke. I mentioned, to Tony, a line in Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's recent Projo op-ed, in which he declares that he's "confident that with the landmark bill our committee has passed, we're on the right track." In light of the quip from Representative John Conyers (D-MI) that reading such legislation is temporally impossible (and therefore an unreasonable expectation), I've contacted the senator's office to inquire as to his own accomplishments with respect to the text of the bill. It would be discouraging to learn that his confidence in the legislation is based mainly on faith.

Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Nailing Off the Coffin but Quick

Justin Katz

If the mob of seven wins its lawsuit, it's lights out for Rhode Island:

Rhode Island's public employee labor unions are mobilizing to file a class-action lawsuit against the state to block pension changes the legislature adopted in June to save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

The executive committee of Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, officially voted last week to file a lawsuit, according to President J. Michael Downey. And Council 94 has been joined by a coalition of other unions representing 26,000 public school teachers and state workers affected by new pension rules, which among other things, establish a minimum "target" retirement age of 62.

"All the public employees unions are in," said Marcia Reback, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers & Health Professionals. "We had a meeting of all the lawyers who represent the public employees ... Now we're in the process of selecting our lead attorney."

The coalition of at least seven labor unions expects to file suit by "the early fall," according to National Education Association executive director Robert A. Walsh.

This against pension changes that didn't come close to sufficient in the first place. What's the state-level equivalent of canceling sports and not buying any supplies or textbooks? Whatever it is, the headline after a union victory should read, "Leave Now."

July 29, 2009


Justin Katz

Remind me, again, who the intolerant bigots are?

The police are investigating an assault Tuesday on Bald Hill Road.

The weapon of choice: soda, salsa, eggs ...

"Your basic garden variety of food condiments," Capt. Robert Nelson said Wednesday.

It started as the four men stood at the median on Bald Hill Road and East Avenue around 2:40 p.m. protesting against same-sex marriage.

The location, Nelson noted, afforded them a roomy median and prime visibility.

They caught the attention of a group of women in one of the cars.

The women, who apparently objected to their message, flung a soda bottle at the men and vowed to return.

And back they were, about 15 minutes later, hurling at the men a mélange of food ingredients and drinks and a full repertoire of profanities, Nelson said.

One of the women swashed a protester with pepper spray.

No one was hurt and no arrests have been made, Nelson said

Note the jocular tone Maria Armental applies to her reportage and, in the game that is becoming all too frequently appropriate, imagine how the story would be presented if the men had been protesting for same-sex marriage.

Kennedy Opening the Door to Subjugation

Justin Katz

Writing on RIFuture, last week, Rep. Patrick Kennedy presented a frightening intention with an ease suggestive of an ignorance about its implications:

I am also proud to have successfully worked on an amendment with my colleagues to ensure that screening for mental health and substance-use disorders are covered as a preventive service under this bill. Addiction, just like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, is a preventable and treatable chronic disease. Utilizing screening as a preventive, pro-active tool of medicine to detect mental illness and drug and alcohol use helps identify at-risk populations so we can intervene early and thereby significantly reduce the incidence of these diseases among Americans. Screening is an effective way to alleviate needless suffering while saving health care dollars.

I called Kennedy's Washington office on Friday to get the specific language of which the Congressman is so proud but have not heard back, and on my last check, amendments to the healthcare bill were not available online. It's still possible, though, to marvel at danger of the general concept. What could it possibly mean to screen for "mental illness" in order to "reduce the incidence" and save "health care dollars"? It sounds to me as if people who might be prone to, say, depression would be screened and then, assuming government control of healthcare and its costs, pressured to take the appropriate medication. At the very least, they would be monitored. Now expand the possible mental illnesses; would people prone to aggression be drugged or watched?

Readers who think the periodic debate over the diagnostic standards of the psychiatric profession are ridiculously politicized already should shake in their manacles over the industry's power should the Democrats' preferred future come to pass.

Funding Formula Fallacies, or How Regressive is Rhode Island's Current Property Tax Structure?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Providence City Councilman Terrence Hassett, quoted in a Philip Marcelo Projo article from a week ago Sunday, explained the purpose of an education "funding formula" more directly than most…

“There is an ocean of money available for some communities that is not there for poorer urban communities,” says Providence City Councilman Terrence M. Hassett, a Smith Hill Democrat.
In other words, there's money for the taking all over Rhode Island, and Councilman Hassett wants it for Providence!

Of course, it’s not just about Providence. The Projo’s almost-always excellent Julia Steiny, who alas has gone over to the darkside on the issue of the “funding formula”, was a little more precise this past Sunday, explaining its purpose as transferring money away from "property-rich" districts…

One big problem with [current funding formula proposals] is that they commit the state to pay 25 percent of every district’s funding, at a minimum. Whoa. This effectively means shifting money from the low-income districts, which get more state help, to the property-rich ones, that currently get as little as 3, 4, 6 percent from the state. This is certainly not in the spirit of equity for the low-income kids. So strip out this and any other provision blocking the way to an equitable target formula.
However, for the great majority of Rhode Islanders, tax-payments don’t come out of property wealth; they come out of income, the more meaningful baseline for analyzing government taxation and expenditure policies.

For every Rhode Island school district of 20,000 residents or more, a 2007 estimate of community income is available from the United States Census Bureau's American Community Survey. The Rhode Island Department of Administration’s Municipal Affairs Office compiles data on residential tax-levies collected by each city and town in the state (presented in an earlier post here). Combining these sources, residential tax-levies as a percentage of community income for the year 2007 can be calculated, for RI school districts with 20,000 or more people…

(2007 ACS)
Per-Capita Income
(2007 ACS)
Res. Tax Levy
(2007 RI Muni Afrs)
Res. Levy As
% of Income
Westerly 23,033 $31,968 $736,318,944 $49,194,534 6.7%
South Kingstown 29,149 $30,952 $902,219,848 $52,242,106 5.8%
Chariho (R) 24,214 $31,136 $753,927,104 $43,614,470 5.8%
Newport 23,368 $31,802 $743,149,136 $40,355,194 5.4%
Johnston 28,786 $27,557 $793,255,802 $41,208,491 5.2%
Cranston 82,397 $26,020 $2,143,969,940 $101,633,398 4.7%
North Kingstown 28,030 $38,059 $1,066,793,770 $50,529,940 4.7%
Coventry 35,420 $29,526 $1,045,810,920 $46,659,667 4.5%
Bristol/Warren (R) 33,616 $29,140 $979,570,240 $43,443,793 4.4%
Smithfield 21,314 $29,435 $627,377,590 $27,295,469 4.4%
West Warwick 30,560 $25,535 $780,349,600 $33,119,054 4.2%
Warwick 84,975 $30,163 $2,563,100,925 $105,379,974 4.1%
Cumberland 35,238 $30,150 $1,062,425,700 $40,650,687 3.8%
North Providence 34,022 $27,416 $932,747,152 $34,525,710 3.7%
Providence 170,220 $20,087 $3,419,209,140 $126,320,027 3.7%
East Providence 47,168 $26,295 $1,240,282,560 $44,567,063 3.6%
Lincoln 22,377 $33,527 $750,233,679 $26,341,821 3.5%
Pawtucket 72,335 $20,855 $1,508,546,425 $47,200,154 3.1%
Woonsocket 45,009 $20,397 $918,048,573 $23,083,073 2.5%

The supposed "regressiveness" of the property tax doesn't appear in the community-level data. Rhode Island's lower-income communities, the communities that are taxed-to-the-max according to the conventional wisdom, actually pay some of the smallest percentages of income in residential property taxes. (And these figures don't include the separate fire-district levies that are present in some communities).

Woonsocket and Pawtucket, in particular, combine large per-pupil state education aid totals with small residential tax levies into the smallest amount of per-pupil spending in Rhode Island, suggesting that they have been using state education aid money not as a supplements to local revenue sources for building stronger education systems, but as replacements for local revenue. For example, if Woonsocket’s residential tax-levy per dollar of community income was at the level of Pawtucket's, i.e. second lowest on the list above, instead of the lowest, about $5.5 million additional dollars each year would be available to the Woonsocket school system.

Now, communities have every right to make decisions about the taxing and spending levels they would like to set. What they don’t have is a right to raise taxes on the rest of the state to pay for the choices they've made, when their fiscal policies hit a wall.

To truly make education work, Rhode Island needs a "funding formula" that guarantees that money intended for education actually goes to improving education and not to clutching and grabbing politicians who may be more interested in replacing revenue over improving the quality of services. Instead of shifting money between district-level bureaucracies, where it likely to vanish into Rhode Island's arcane budgeting processes, a “funding formula” should be based on the idea of money following the student to the school chosen by the student and his or her family, through open districting, charters, and/or vouchers, so there's a greater likelihood of it being applied towards its intended purpose of improving education.

And Rhode Island cannot afford – in a very literal sense -- to give its elected leaders any excuse through a "funding formula" to say: sorry, high-taxes are written into law whether the revenue is used to improve student performance or not, and there's nothing we can do about it.


Commenter "John" raises an important point regarding Rhode Island's tax classification system…

Urban communities have a significantly higher number of apartment developments (both rent subsidized and not) that are privately owned, yet classified and taxed as "commercial" property. The folks who live in these apartments are having their income counted in your analysis, but the levy on their "residence" isn't being counted.

The disproportionate amount of such residential high density living creates an appearance of low taxation where it may not truly exist.

Adding to the problem in doing such an analysis, the various special laws regarding classification may have the break for classification as residential or commercial at different points. Generally, state law forces classification of every building with six or more apartments as commercial property. In Woonsocket, that threshold is for ten units or more…

However, I will point out that Woonsocket's entire commercial/industrial levy for 2007 was $11,098,260; if apartments accounted for half of that levy in Woonsocket (about $5.5 million), and no part of the levies anywhere else, it would still only move Woonsocket up one spot on the list.

John raises a second important point…

Please let's continue the discussion.

Wednesday Morning Pause for Perspective

Justin Katz

By way of pausing in the middle of the workweek for a breath of fresh air, take a moment to ponder the thoughts of Christina Puchalski, professor of medicine and health sciences at George Washington University School of Medicine and executive director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health, in a short interview with Sally Quinn:

... I also think that there’s something about religious beliefs and spiritual beliefs, again, that helps people understand suffering, find meaning in suffering. It helps you position your illness, if you will, in an appropriate place. So that instead of the illness becoming the sole meaning and focus in your life, it becomes part of your life. You find meaning from it, you find the ability to reframe your situation and move on.

Let's say you have an amputation, and you can no longer do the art that you've done. What a spiritual approach would do is to say, "What is your life really about? Is it really about the art, or is it about something else?" It really helps you find another way to express that creativity, so that you don't need your arm to do the art, you might be able to teach about art, or you might be able to do something else.

I've been increasingly impressed with the reality that faith makes ever situation win-win. Either one may enjoy the bounty of life, or one may learn from a challenge, which amounts to the same thing.

OK. Back to work.

Commissioned Motivation on Pensions

Justin Katz

Here's a curious mid-summer press release:

Fewer and fewer workers are approaching retirement age with a comfortable amount of savings, either through traditional defined benefit pension plans or other savings accounts.

Some 49 percent of Rhode Island employers do not offer retirement benefits to their full-time workers (which mirrors national figures) and only 19 percent offer such plans to their part-time employees.

Lack of pension coverage is a problem that disproportionately affects lower-income workers, for whom it is harder to find the money to save for retirement. Also part of the picture is that, in today's economy, workers frequently switch jobs and, since they have to wait some time before qualifying for a pension plan in their workplace, they may be ineligible for pension coverage for much of their adult working career.

One potential solution is a Universal Voluntary Retirement Account, which is a state-administered defined contribution account that is available for small employers to offer their employees. While such an account would be administered by the state, the management of the accounts would be assumed by a third-party provider chosen through a request for proposals (RFP) process.

What is the gap to be filled, here? Financial backing (i.e., the availability of taxpayer dollars when things go wrong)? Organizational focus (i.e., companies can't profit by administering such a plan)? Surely companies that would bid to manage the plan would make more of a profit if they administered it, too. I'm just not seeing what the state government can do, in this case, that a private organization couldn't do, and if private organizations won't do it, perhaps there's a reason.

I can, however, imagine two possible unspoken motivations, one good one bad: Creating such a retirement system would give the state somewhere to roll public pensions once the chimera of solvent "defined benefit" programs is acknowledged as such. It's conceivable, too, that creating another pool of money over which the government has some authority would present further opportunity to exchange IOUs for cash.

July 28, 2009

Do the Chinese Buy the Spin?

Justin Katz

The administration likely offered something more concrete to the Chinese, during its groveling session, than we ordinary citizens apparently deserve:

Among the officials meeting with Chinese representatives Monday, the first day of two-day talks, were Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers and Peter Orszag, Obama's budget director.

U.S. officials told reporters that the U.S. side stressed to the Chinese that the United States has a plan to bring the deficit down once the economic crisis has been resolved. Officials said Bernanke discussed the Fed's exit strategy from the current period of extraordinary monetary easing.

If U.S. officials offered only the vague scams that have constituted their public statements, then we can expect the Chinese to accelerate their exit strategy from American investments. Although, it's hard not to wonder whether it mightn't be to the nation's long-term good were the Chinese to turn off the spigot by which our government has tapped future generations.

"The Way We Get By"

Marc Comtois

The Maine Troop Greeters have been welcoming our troops to Bangor, Maine for over 6 years (actually, longer, since they have been active since the first Gulf War) and have earned a soft spot in the hearts of many military families:

For a town not especially known for its military presence (as compared with places like San Diego and Norfolk, Va.), Bangor is part of the military community's vernacular because of the men and women, many of them veterans themselves, who make it their lives’ work to stand in a line and greet all the troops who pass through BIA. The airport is usually the last refueling stop for flights leaving the country and the first one for flights returning from abroad, making the landscaping outside BIA the first spot of American soil troops walk across after a year or more in Iraq....The troop greeters aren't known for welcoming service members in a city like Norfolk. They are known for surprising the troops where they least expect it, during their brief stop at a place called Bangor, Maine.
A documentary, "The Way We Get By" (which has earned rave reviews), profiles three of the greeters and shows the import of what they do for both the troops they meet and themselves:
Beginning as a seemingly idiosyncratic story about troop greeters - a group of senior citizens who gather daily at a small airport to thank American soldiers departing and returning from Iraq, the film quickly turns into a moving, unsettling and compassionate story about aging, loneliness, war and mortality.

When its three subjects aren't at the airport, they wrestle with their own problems: failing health, depression, mounting debt. Joan, a grandmother of eight, has a deep connection to the soldiers she meets. The sanguine Jerry keeps his spirits up even as his personal problems mount. And the veteran Bill, who clearly has trouble taking care of himself, finds himself contemplating his own death. Seeking out the telling detail rather than offering sweeping generalizations, the film carefully builds stories of heartbreak and redemption, reminding us how our culture casts our elders, and too often our soldiers, aside.

The film helps us remember that giving is a gift itself and that life requires a purpose. Most importantly, it reminds us that lasting and meaningful reward is gained when we focus on a purpose that lay outside of our own immediate needs and desires.

Speaker Murphy's Best of Rhode Island

Monique Chartier

House Speaker William Murphy, filling in today 10-21 for Buddy Cianci on WPRO, will not be taking calls, at least for the first couple of hours. Instead, he has indicated a desire to focus on some of the good things in and about Rhode Island.

Here, then, is the running list. Let me know if I miss an item referenced by the Speaker. First up, the

Pawtucket Red Sox

Speaker Murphy's in studio guest for this hour is President of that organization, Mike Tamburo. Professional player agent Jeremy Kapstein has called in to praise both the Paw Sox organization and Rhode Island as a big baseball state; he has, however, declined to share any inside info on any potential major league trades.


URI Graduate School of Oceanography

Speaker Murphy's telephonic guest is famed Oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard, Professor at the URI School of Oceanography.


And hour three, with guests Leader Fox, Secretary Mollis and A.G. Lynch, was mainly devoted to positive legislation, pending and proposed, before the General Assembly.

A More Direct Route to Welfare

Justin Katz

Here's an eye-popper:

Josefina Lorenzi, 47, who has been imprisoned since her Dec. 11 arrest last year, was sentenced by Judge William E. Smith in U.S. District Court, according to acting U.S. Attorney Luis M. Matos.

Lorenzi pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme that used other names but her home address [to file false tax returns]. Lorenzi must surrender for deportation while on supervised release. She is an illegal immigrant, according to Thomas Connell, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Rhode Island. ...

Using a search warrant, agents said they found eight more refund checks totaling $22,526, payable to other people at Lorenzi’s Indiana Avenue home. Agents later found 27 more false returns.

The additional refund requests and prepared checks found in her home and the total money fraudulently sought came to $150,360.

The article doesn't explain whose names Lorenzi used (and a quick online search reveals no further information), but one thing that's obvious is that her scheme wouldn't even have been a possibility were the income tax a simple flat rate without the intricacies of prior withholding. Or, in this case, if the government expended a little bit of effort ensuring that the people with whom it deals are actually citizens.

Obesity: One Arm of the Healthcare Clamp on Freedom

Justin Katz

The question is who should pay the premium for lifestyles that increase healthcare costs because of obesity?

Obesity's not just dangerous, it's expensive. New research shows medical spending averages $1,400 more a year for an obese person than for someone who's normal weight. Overall obesity-related health spending reaches $147 billion, double what it was nearly a decade ago, says the study published Monday by the journal Health Affairs.

To some extent, the cost is currently spread out across insurance products, although the amount of the patient's contribution varies hugely depending on their coverage. Since the average is pulled up by ailments that tend to increase in prevalence later in life, lifelong obesity is surely a factor in Medicare costs, as well.

As government officials ratchet up the hard sell for their healthcare-based power grab, we should consider that mandates preventing providers and insurance companies from adjusting prices based on preexisting conditions ensure that more of the cost of obesity is borne by other people than the patient and that a government-run system would take the responsibility entirely upon itself. Of course, being the government, it will then translate that responsibility into authority to dictate behavior.

RTI health economist Eric Finkelstein offers a blunt message for lawmakers trying to revamp the health care system: "Unless you address obesity, you're never going to address rising health care costs." ...

It's not an individual problem but a societal problem — as the nation's health bill illustrates — that will take society-wide efforts to reverse, [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Thomas] Frieden stressed. His agency last week released a list of strategies it wants communities to try. They include: increasing healthy foods and drinks in schools and other public venues; building more supermarkets in poor neighborhoods; encouraging more mothers to breast-feed, which protects against childhood obesity; and discouraging consumption of sodas and other sweetened beverages.

If you allow the government to take responsibility for your health, then any activity affecting your health becomes a public act. The consequence of this shift will take decades to work its way through the culture, but its metastasis through the organs of our freedom will be inexorable.

July 27, 2009

The Target of Illegality

Justin Katz

Andrew (not Morse) joins the intraconservative conversation about bringing Rhode Island back in line with the rest of the country by making prostitution explicitly illegal:

Justin, I agree with Dan on this. You can't legislate morality. There's a reason that prostitution is known as the oldest profession. Even Christ hung out with a hooker. And though it may be that most every country/state bans it, it still occurs.

Drugs, same thing; make them legal and you eliminate half the income for organized crime and gangs. I smoked pot and worse when I was younger. Did I deserve to go to jail? No. And all arresting me would have done is make some lawyer's bottom line better while costing the state money. And if your child used drugs and was caught, wouldn't you do everything you could to keep them out of jail?

The point is that if people want to behave in ways that are damaging to themselves, society can't stop them.

An excellent example is my 18-year-old stepson who went through high school with what had to be an almost conscious desire to fail. Nothing his mother or I did would deter him from that path. So we told him that when his peers graduated he was out the door, no matter what. He was shocked when we followed through.

When he comes back in a year, he has to have a job and pay rent. That rent will be less if he's going to school, but there's no more free lunch.

First of all, the cliché that we "cannot legislate morality" is inaccurate. Consider the infrequency with which swear words wind up on public television; that's because the cost of slipping far outweighs the meager benefit of doing so, and the chance of being caught is high. What Andrew uses the phrase to state is that the market of losers and Narcissists who will seek to pay for sex even when the price goes up, and the supply of women willing to be sold at that higher price, will continue to exist. I don't dispute that, although I think it would be foolish to declare that legality increases the market by lower the price, including the prices of risk and stigma.

But Andrew misses the same mark as other commenters: It is not my objective to ensure that a particular person does not buy sex from another particular person. If that were the case, an inadvisably extensive police effort would be required. Rather, my objective is to foster a society in which sex is not considered to be a salable good. That, of course, has the ancillary effect of keeping particular people from pursuing the transaction, but it is neither the focus nor the primary motivation.

In the balance of things, I believe that the principle of freedom outweighs the principle of sexual morality when it comes to public policies regarding private behavior. Indeed, sacrificing the former in the name of the latter proves counterproductive for everybody involved. However, a sufficient firewall exists between engaging in sex and selling it that prostitution needn't be maintained as a barricade protecting more mundane freedoms (in the way folks argue that pornography must be maintained to protect more important freedoms of speech).

The Insanity Sparkles

Justin Katz

So, the economy is struggling, right? Well, what better time to beginning banning products that are acknowledged to be safe and for which there's an active market?

... all items for children ages 12 and under — from sneakers and sunglasses to dance costumes and denim jackets — won't be shimmering as much now that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has refused to exempt crystals and rhinestones from the latest federal consumer safety law. ...

In written statements accompanying their July 16 decision, commissioners acknowledged that even though crystal and rhinestones exceed allowed lead limits they actually pose little health threat because the lead is bound to them on a molecular level and would be difficult to leach free even if swallowed.

But they said they could not grant an exemption because they are bound by the very specific language of the new product safety law.

"Because the statute does not give us the ability to be flexible, I cannot vote to grant exclusion in this case," wrote Commissioner Nancy Nord, adding that she is aware that "there will be significant and severe economic injury to those who make and sell these products."

On the other hand, perhaps we can salvage a useful metaphor from the foolishness. Instituting a "progressive" government is a bit like swallowing rhinestones: The sparkle is alluring, although useless once it's swallowed, and the ingestion appears harmless... until it constitutes a majority of one's diet, at which point it can be extremely painful or even fatal.


The obvious commenter quip, here, would involve a comparison of the above with my support for making prostitution illegal in Rhode Island. Allow me to respond, in advance, that such comments would miss my point on prostitution and that I'll be elaborating when I've got a moment, later.

The Difference Between a Handout and a Share in a Common Resource

Monique Chartier

... is pretty obvious and substantial, actually.

About Sarah Palin's resignation, David Frum has made this observation.

Sarah Palin’s most notable achievement as governor of Alaska was to increase the payout from the state’s energy tax take by $1200 per resident. Isn’t it odd then that she would use her farewell address to warn against the danger of government handouts?

A handout is obtained involuntarily from other residents/taxpayers. The source of the $1,200 sent to all Alaskan residents is Alaskan oil. A judgment must be made as to who will receive a handout. More often than not, the recipient is a political crony or preferred special interest. (The list of these occurrances in recent months has grown quite long.) The government, then, has taken from one resident/taxpayer and given to another, often with dubious effect and motive.

Contrast to the latter, where no resident pays but rather all share, rightly so, in the revenue from a common resource. These are two utterly different actions by government. One is desireable and appropriate; the other is usually neither.

Apples and alligators, David Frum.

And Next Weekend, By the Way

Justin Katz

I'll be liveblogging from RISC's summer meeting this Saturday, so if you're there, say "hello," and if you're not, follow along.

I'm particularly curious to hear the talk of our new Commissioner of Education, Deborah Gist. I suspect she's got much more to learn about the ways of Rhode Island than she knows, and it'll be an interesting toss of the dice to see how she responds. Saturday, I'll be looking to see whether she gives any evidence of an inkling about the real problems of the state.

Just Another Dog-Bites-Rhode-Island's-Business-Climate Story

Carroll Andrew Morse

This sort of thing doesn't really qualify as news anymore, but Rhode Island ranks 48th on CNBC's list of "top states for business". Here's how the six New England states ranked…

8. Massachusetts
21. New Hampshire
30. Vermont
35. Connecticut
40. Maine
48. Rhode Island
Massachusetts' substantial gap over New Hampshire in the rankings seems to come mostly from two of the criteria used, "technology and innovation" and "access to capital".

Rankings based on adding up a collection of indexes should always be taken with a grain of salt, at the very least. That said, Rhode Island's most surprising sub-ranking has to be its low "quality of life" score relative to the rest New England, especially given that quality of life is often touted as one of Rhode Island's strongest selling points...

1. New Hampshire
2. Vermont
2. Connecticut
6. Massachusetts
8. Maine
24. Rhode Island
Is this yet another indicator of how our state's leaders have been squandering whatever advantages Rhode Island might have once had?

The Last Weekend in July

Justin Katz

Directly and indirectly, it was a weekend of political philosophy.

Kicking it off, I expressed dismay about the pervasiveness among government officials of the principle that government must search far and wide (and manipulate the law) in order to increase revenue. Cut spending, says I. Implying something similar, Monique gave a quick review of the powers of Rhode Island's Caruolo Law.

Then I set off a bomb along one of the fault lines of the right-wing coalition by proposing a simple amendment to the anti-prostitution bill that would bring the progressives onboard if their preferences really were about protecting the prostitutes. I subsequently endeavored to explain that insisting that Rhode Islanders lack the right to ban consensual behavior violates the fundamental civic right to determine the system under which one will live. In this line, there is apparently more work to do.

In a not-unrelated development, Monique presented evidence of the petitioning efforts of Rhode Island's fast-growing cult of moderation. (I kid.) She also noted that Rhode Island's rules for getting on the ballot are especially arduous compared with other states. And I observed the odd happenstance that local officials in Rhode Island seem more inclined to go to court to force state-level officials to change their policies rather than run against them... as if they don't actually believe the players can change (or that changing the players does any good).

For a moment of Hurrah, I pointed to Cliff May's statement that American withdrawal from the urban streets of Iraq was done in victory, not defeat.

July 26, 2009

Who Needs Obstacles When You've Got a Failed Political Culture?

Justin Katz

For the file of quotations that nobody noticed, but that ought to open eyes:

"Legislators know what the issue is, they just lack the political will to do it," says Stephen M. Robinson, a Providence lawyer who has been retained by the school committees in Pawtucket and Woonsocket to work on a school formula lawsuit. "The only way to do it is if the court orders them to do it."

The option overlooked, here, is for the small-time politicians to step away from their comfy local positions and challenge the representatives in the statehouse and form political alliances — involving, you know, campaigns of persuasion — in other districts. Running to the courts as the "only" remedy suggests that even among the class of Rhode Islanders who ought to be most apt to run for statewide office, there's a sense that senators and reps aren't actually replaceable.

Rhode Island Ballot Access: Generally and Specifically

Monique Chartier

Add ballot inaccessibility to the list of Rhode Island's dubious distinctions. With its requirement that a new party collect signatures from 5% of registered voters, Rhode Island is in a four way tie for dead last in this category.

[Insert the well known list of Rhode Island's problems directly attributable to poor managment.] But with this track record, it's understandable that the powers-that-be wouldn't want to make it easy for citizens to change managers.

Speaking of which, what's the name of the party that controls the electoral process and pretty much everything else in Rhode Island? Ah, yes. In name, anyway, if not in values legislated.

Petitioners for the Moderate Party will be collecting signatures at the Warwick Mall this afternoon until 6:00 pm if you're in the area.

On Victims and Libertine Oppression

Justin Katz

Today's epiphany — which I wouldn't be surprised to find to be common understanding among a great many people more insightful than myself — is the intellectual proximity of those who would erase from the books any "victimless crime" and those who see a "victim" of a social crime in every unhappy circumstance. The first believe that an act must directly harm an innocent party in order to be a crime, and the second, agreeing, qualify the circuitous, unintentional effects of social movements as adequate evidence of victim-producing acts.

For my part, I find it more practical to consider the presence of a victim to be only one factor in determining whether something ought to be a crime, and not necessarily the definitive one. After all, any undesired consequence can be reformulated as an imposition on a victim, reducing the debate over appropriate laws to a tug of war across the sliding scale of victimhood and, then, pitting one claim against another.

The thought arises in response to a comment from Dan to my most recent post on the matter of legal prostitution in Rhode Island:

Justin, I have been a long-time reader of Anchor Rising. I fully support your efforts to reduce the size of the state, out of control spending, corruption, and intrusion into the private lives of citizens. Which is precisely why these isolated pet "moral" issues of yours and Matt Allen's bother me so much, they are such transparent hypocrisy and they undermine all of the good that you do here. How do you determine what private consensual conduct should be regulated by the state and what private consensual conduct should not be? And why should you be the one who decides these "moral" issues for everyone else, banning any conduct which you don't think a righteous person should engage in? I submit to you that the most positive philosophical and practical change you could make for yourself would be to drop these moral crusades against victimless crimes. If somebody isn't harming anyone else, and a transaction is consensual by all parties (human trafficking/slavery/abuse aside, we already have laws against that) then the state should not have the right to intervene. A victimless crime is no crime at all, and the state certainly does not need an excuse to grow itself, spend money, and regulate its citizens further, I think we would all agree on that. The kindest thing you can do for someone is stop trying to save them from themselves. We, as people, all have the God-given right to do as we wish with ourselves as long as we do not harm others in the process. Any coercion that infringes upon that right, whether it is by the state or some private action, is an abomination.

For the presentation of a direct rejoinder, it might be sufficient to note that the essential observation of the post was the concession by the progressive legislators who oppose closing the prostitution loophole that it is not a "victimless crime":

Where does this leave the remaining women, likely the large majority of prostitutes, who engage in sex work by choice, whether out of [1] economic hardship or because of [2] substance-abuse problems?

Even a conservative can discern a fair degree of victimhood in either of those circumstances, as emphasized by efforts of those who profit from the women's condition to perpetuate it. To wit, it is not enough simply to declare that no victim means no crime; one must prove the prior point that there is no victim.

Of course, even believing the women to be victims, I'm not inclined to rely on that conclusion as the basis for supporting legislation to criminalize their profession. Therefore, I'm even less inclined to construct the argument that would prove society to be the victim, although the case would be strong. Instead, let's focus on the core proposition of Dan's comment, which he poses rhetorically as questions:

How do you determine what private consensual conduct should be regulated by the state and what private consensual conduct should not be? And why should you be the one who decides these "moral" issues for everyone else, banning any conduct which you don't think a righteous person should engage in?

The plain answer is that I determine what conduct ought to be discouraged, what conduct ought to be encouraged, and how that direction ought to be pursued based on the rational application of principles that are inherently and wholly religious in nature. The mildly less plain extrapolation of that statement is that everybody performs a similar assessment — unavoidably, as a consequence of self-cognizance.

It won't surprise readers, even as it may shock them to read it stated, that my judgment is primarily guided by the efficacy of the various possible policies at drawing the maximum number of people toward the realization of Christ's divinity, with all of the spiritual and material benefits that I believe to be consequent to that revelation. Others judge the possibilities against a scale of emotional satisfaction, whether the social average or their own, and a multitude of other options and combinations thereof exists.

With respect to Dan's second question, I can only explain that my rational application of Christian principles leads to the conclusion that I should not — cannot — "be the one who decides these 'moral' issues for everyone else." However, it is the most fundamental of assumptions, in any democratic system of government, that individual citizens must possess the freedom to define their own societies to the greatest conceivable degree. The liberties involved with private behavior pale in significance when compared with the right to apply one's judgment to the system under which one must live.

Balancing the inevitable contradictions of such an imperative quickly becomes a complicated matter — impossible absent a tolerance for disagreement. The fullest expression of that tolerance (true tolerance) comes in the acceptance that fellow human beings will congregate elsewhere to live an incompatible manner. That is why I would oppose an international or national ban on prostitution. The inverse of that opposition, however, is an insistence that we be able to ban the practice at a lower tier of government; as things stand, the lowest feasible tier is that of the state.

From there, the issue becomes a persuasion of preferences, and I want my society to be one in which sex is not available for commerce. We could have a very interesting discussion about the reasons that should be the policy, which would bring the degradation of the women (and men) back into the conversation, as well as introduce the cultural diminution of sex, marriage, and ultimately human life. The immediate point, though, is that I think enough of my fellow Rhode Islanders agree with my final conclusion that the law ought to be changed.

I'll debate the intricacies right down the dregs of disagreement, but public opinion probably would not require such debates prior to a decision to ban prostitution outright. Those who take Dan's point of view seek to present the question in such a way as to declare the preferences of that majority invalid, and the likes of Rep. David Segal undertake the slithering strategy of preventing the question's ever being directly put based on one prevarication or another.

Either way, the dark underbelly of bold libertarianism rolls around to expose the moral sclerosis by which libertines would impose their vision of society on everybody else. A philosophy that would declare even "private actions" to be "an abomination" if they seek to affect the behavior of others is not, in the end, concerned with rights and civic freedom, but with coercing the state to protect its own immorality.

Democracy in Action: The Moderate Party Collects Signatures

Monique Chartier

Following upon the court ruling [Press Release PDF] in May that extended the timeframe for collecting the nearly 25,000 signatures needed to gain official recognition as a political party in Rhode Island, the Moderate Party has wasted no time buckling down to the task. Below, Max Bradshaw and Jack Crook collect signatures at the Stop and Shop in Narragansett yesterday afternoon.





July 25, 2009

Shhh: America Victorious!

Justin Katz

I've been meaning to note Clifford May's brief history of the end of the war in Iraq:

The news is not that American combat troops withdrew from Iraqi cities. The news is that American combat troops withdrew from Iraqi cities in victory - rather than in defeat.

Two years ago at this time, few in the foreign-policy establishment considered that outcome possible. Some did not even see it as desirable. There were those who believed that the conflict in Iraq was "unwinnable," that America had met its match on the hot and dusty streets of 21st-century Mesopotamia. Others thought Americans needed a Vietnam-like refresher course about the futility of the use of U.S. military force anywhere in the world.

Interesting how this war from which we just had to retreat — right up until the outcome of the latest presidential election — has quietly faded into the annals of American victories. Unless the culture, and especially the media culture, changes in the coming decades, it's easy to imagine the whole thing's being presented as little more than a minor military excursion, not at all like that War in Vietnam, which (being a war) we lost.

If It Really Were About the Women...

Justin Katz

Something nags at the ear upon the reading of a recent op-ed coauthored by Rhode Island Representatives David Segal and Edith Ajello. Segal and Ajello claim to have opposed the House bill that would have made prostitution unequivocally illegal in the state on the following grounds:

Under the proposed legislation, the police would raid suspected brothels, and arrest women "for their own good." Some of the women arrested would be victims of trafficking, but most probably would not. A genuine trafficking victim detained under the prospective law would likely be traumatized, poor, of foreign origin, limited in English language skills, and with an over-worked public defender as her only guide to the legal system.

She would face an impossible dilemma: be prosecuted, or prove that she is a victim and help the police prosecute her traffickers. Even if competent to mount her defense and build a case against her handlers, she could reasonably choose to sit in prison instead.

If this were the true foundation of the objection to stronger prostitution laws, a straightforward compromise would tilt the law even more to the benefit of victimized women. The bill independently criminalizes each party to the act of prostitution: the hooker, the john, and the pimp (spa owner, whatever). Amending the bill to erase the part concerning the prostitute herself would give the trafficked woman even more leverage against the person or people who are forcing her to do as she's doing. It would be illegal to buy sex and illegal to profit from somebody else's sale thereof, but it would not be illegal to make the sale for one's self. The only exception on that last count would be, following Andrew's summary of the relevant laws from a few years back, the continued criminality of streetwalking.

The Segal and Ajello may not realize that they've done so, but they concede that prostitution is typically a profession of the downtrodden:

Where does this leave the remaining women, likely the large majority of prostitutes, who engage in sex work by choice, whether out of [1] economic hardship or because of [2] substance-abuse problems?

It oughtn't be controversial to suggest that any motivation for such a career beyond the two cited by the representatives amounts to an exception that proves the rule. Indeed, that is why it is in the interest of pimps and madams to perpetuate and exacerbate the unfortunate conditions of their "workers," and why it is unconscionable to beat back those who would close the legal loophole that permits prostitution when an easy amendment would address the stated reservations.

Caruolo Law: Clarifying What it Does and Does Not

Monique Chartier

Rhode Island General Law Title 16, Chapter 16-2, Section 16-2-21.4


> Permits school committees to sue their city/town for failing to fully fund their budget.

the school committee shall have the right to seek additional appropriations by bringing an action in the superior court

> Requires a financial and performance audit in the event the school committee brings a suit in Superior Court.

Upon the bringing of an action in the superior court by the school committee to increase appropriations, the chief executive officer of the municipality, or in the case of a regional school district the chief elected officials from each of the member municipalities, shall cause to have a financial and performance audit in compliance with the generally acceptable governmental auditing standards of the school department

Does Not

> Caruolo does not allow a school committee to sue their city/town for failing to fund an overspent budget. In fact, two other chapters of R.I. Law Title 16 specifically state that a school committee shall not overspend its budget.

16-2-9(25)(d) The school committee of each school district shall be responsible for maintaining a school budget which does not result in a debt.

16-9-1 ... provided, however, that school expenditures, encumbrances, and accruals shall not, in any fiscal year, exceed the total revenue appropriated for public schools in the town.

> Caruolo does not oblige a school committee bring a lawsuit.

the school committee shall have the right to seek additional appropriations by bringing an action in the superior court

So. How compliant is your school committee with the Caruolo law and the balance of Title 16? Are they compliant even as they file a lawsuit under Caruolo?

Figuring Out This Technology Thing

Justin Katz

Both the lack of posts and any sporadic performance on the main page are (probably) explained by the same thing: I've been trial-and-error-ing my way through some new coding possibilities.

Not resolved yet, but hopefully soon.

An Objection to the Notion of "Lost Revenue"

Justin Katz

An endorsement of the "Amazon tax" by the left-wing Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has brought the topic back into the news, and while it's predictable that such a group prioritizes expansion of revenue uber alles, it's disappointing to see the same principle so thoroughly permeating our government:

[Rep. Steven] Costantino [D-Providence] has said that the law is intended to help level the playing field for local retailers who collect the tax and are at a competitive disadvantage with online retailers who do not.

Gary S. Sasse, director of the state Department of Revenue, said that how state sales tax applies to online purchases has "become an issue that all of the states need to face."

It could be resolved by Congress, but "unfortunately, Congress has punted" on the issue, he said.

"Short of Congress exercising the necessary leadership on this issue, you'll have states responding to this issue . . . [by passing] this type of legislation," Sasse said in an interview at his office on Friday.

Frankly, I find the "competitive disadvantage" argument to be a ruse. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the lack of sales tax essentially adjusts for shipping costs in consumers' minds or, in the event of free shipping, for the delayed gratification. Given their differing model, some online retailers do have lower prices for particular items, but those differences are independent of taxes and shipping.

The larger point is the distasteful practice of government's chasing revenue wherever it may exist. A market has developed for untaxed online goods, and reformulating the law in order to siphon some money to state governments that have driven their polities into the ground becomes a matter of Congressional "leadership"?

Congress should leave the law as it is. If other states follow Rhode Island's lead and attempt to tax all online sales based on the existence of affiliate programs (that offer fees for referrals and the like), I suspect online retailers will continue to end the programs, rather than give up their counterbalance to shipping costs. In the meantime, state-level officials should concentrate on proving their competence at doing something other than grabbing dollars from the private sector.

July 24, 2009

Conformity as a Measure of Expertise

Justin Katz

Nicholas Wade has an interesting musing on the pitfall of conformity in intellectual pursuits:

Journalists, of course, are conformists too. So are most other professions. There's a powerful human urge to belong inside the group, to think like the majority, to lick the boss's shoes, and to win the group's approval by trashing dissenters.

The strength of this urge to conform can silence even those who have good reason to think the majority is wrong. You're an expert because all your peers recognize you as such. But if you start to get too far out of line with what your peers believe, they will look at you askance and start to withdraw the informal title of "expert" they have implicitly bestowed on you. Then you'll bear the less comfortable label of "maverick," which is only a few stops short of "scapegoat" or "pariah."

Literary hobbyists like us can certainly understand the paradox. There are dramatic limits to what one can accomplish, in any pursuit, when a living must be made elsewise. But awareness that one's statements are tied to one's living cannot be without its effects.

Pole Dancing Minors: Wrong Kind of Economic Development, Wrong Kind of Publicity

Monique Chartier

John DePetro observed Monday that certain members of the General Assembly are not inclined to close this legal loophole because its continued existence might increase Rhode Island's convention business. (Wouldn't it be far preferable on a number of levels to draw business here with an economically friendly climate instead of via our children?)

Those legislators should be pleased, then, that at 5:15 this afternoon, "16-year-old strippers found legal in R.I." was the third most popular popular story on the United Press International "Top News" webpage.

Here's a question. Who is more exploitive of their girls, Rhode Island or this region of India? Note that while both activities occur after sunset, no spotlights are employed during the latter.

Making Facilitators Pay for Illegal Immigration

Justin Katz

The story of the illegal immigrant in Florida who sustained heavy brain damage during a car accident is a tough one. On the one hand, we don't want a system that sweeps people who've been hurt under the rug because their immigration status is uncomfortable. On the other hand, making the hospital culpable for a lifetime of specialty care because it devoted $1.5 million to stabilize the injured man is plainly immoral and stands as a single example of one factor driving up costs that harm all Americans, especially when his family appears to have been content to leave him in the hospital.

Here's a crazy idea: Keep a national database of employers, landlords, and other folks who facilitate the continued presence of illegal immigrants — adjusted for the amount that they've benefited from that presence. Then, when cases like Luis Jimenez's arise, the bill could be divided among the parties on the list. If we could figure out a way to fairly place politicians on the list for their role in the broken system, the costs would be divided among a very significant number of payers.

Apparently, "Irrational" Is in the Eye of the Reporter

Justin Katz

Randal Edgar has a head-shaking opening to his ostensibly objective report on the outcome in the matter of the Cranston Teamsters' argument that 20% of healthcare actually means a set dollar amount:

It has long been accepted that the terms of a labor contract continue after the agreement expires but a Superior Court judge placed limits on that theory Wednesday, ruling that arbitration was not appropriate when the Cranston Teamsters union objected to higher health-insurance premiums imposed by the city.

Even though the Teamsters contract points to arbitration as a means of resolving disputes, and even though it states that contract terms remain in effect until there is a new agreement, state law allows no labor contract to have a term of "more than three years," said Judge Michael A. Silverstein.

The raw bias of that opening opens a window that must give the aware layman the feeling that labor, law, and public-sector union contracts exist in some bizarre world of invisible striped felines doing kabuki dances. With his ruling, it appears that Judge Silverstein skirted the question of whether the arbitrator's award showed "manifest disregard of a contractual provision" or a "completely irrational result." The award fails by both criteria: The contract (PDF) states that employees will pay 20% of their healthcare with no provision (that I've found) limiting adjustments. The worker's responsibility is 20%. Period.

From the perspective of reformers, I suppose Silverstein's ruling is a positive development, in that expired contracts would appear to be more vulnerable to adjustment by towns and school districts. On the other hand, by lobbing the ball back to the Labor Relations Board, he may have cleared the path for an unelected body to set the policy, removing culpability from lawmakers for a desired mandate that drew considerable heat from concerned citizens.

Rhode Island Diverting 911 Fees into the Operating Budget

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Associated Press is reporting that Rhode Island is one of several states that's been using money from fees on cell-phones, nominally intended to support 911 service, to plug holes in its yearly operating budget...

Oregon, Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Wisconsin and Tennessee are among the states that have dipped into their 911 money recently. New York and Rhode Island have been diverting their funds for at least five years. States started collecting the funds in the 1990s.

In the fiscal year that ended in June 2008, Rhode Island collected $19.4 million in 911 fees and used $5.8 million for 911. The rest went to the state's general fund.

So Much for Of the People, By the People, For the People

Justin Katz

While perusing YouTube videos of one of our [cough] U.S. Senators, Sheldon Whitehouse, for a bit of writing that may turn out to be more than a blog post, I came across an astonishing indication of Mr. Whitehouse's political philosophy in a prepared Senate floor speech from June (italic emphasis in speech; bold emphasis added):

At last, government must act. The problems of healthcare in America are rooted in market failures. We can't wait for the market to cure a problem rooted in market failure. It is nonsense. We've got to change the rules of the game. We also can't pay for one thing and expect another. We've got to change the incentives. We don't expect Americans to go out and build our highway infrastructure for us; we do that through government. We can't sit around and wait for our health information infrastructure to build itself, either.

There's so much baloney to wade through, in this paragraph, that it's difficult to focus in on the critical matter of government's relationship to the people. To say, for example, that it is "nonsense" to expect a market correction of a market failure not only airbrushes the role of government(s) out of the unhappy result, but also stands as a nice contrasting illustration of real nonsense sounds like. The market's ability to correct itself is one of its most important defining features; it is certainly more flexible, in that regard, than a large, bureaucratic government. On a moral level, we may not like what the market is correcting for, but that is a reason guide the correction, not to begin rewriting rules.

The comparison of an "information infrastructure" with a physical network of paved roadways is similarly inane. Apart from a few facilitating computer centers and such, "building" the former suggests two things: designing it, and forcing people and organizations to use it. The design element is common to all systems, but the requirement of usage is unique. A web of pavement across our vast nation would be too huge an expense for most entities to create, even though, as proven, all are eager to have one. If a "health information infrastructure" were the gaping hole that a lack of roads in an industrial society would be, businesses and other organizations could easily fill it. Indeed, the infrastructure already exists for any two computers (almost) across the world to communicate.

But the truly frightening tell in the commentary of our aristocratic friend is his image of a government distinct from the people and taking on responsibilities independently of them. Our of/by/for-the-people society has discerned that the federal government provides the appropriate route for maintaining highways that reach beyond state borders — although states pick up their roadways, towns maintain theirs, and I have yet to receive a call from a public employee to schedule the repaving of my dilapidated driveway. Likewise, if our society determines that the government ought to operate our healthcare system (and I sincerely hope that we come to our senses before that happens), then it will be nothing other than "Americans' going out" and making it happen. There is not supposed to be an "us," in American government, exclusive of the national Us.

Of course, if Sheldon were to admit such a thing, then his cry that "at last, government must act" could not be a mere assertion, but would have to be the conclusion of a laborious proof. Indeed, given the structure of the Constitution, made explicit in the tenth amendment, it must be proven that all other courses are ineffectual.

The scary thing is, however, that Senator Whitehouse's statement is probably not a rhetorical maneuver around the need for such proofs, but an expression of his actual understanding of his role as a "leader" and Congress's role as a branch of government.

July 23, 2009

The Moment the Veil of Post-Racialism Fell

Justin Katz

You didn't really believe all that stuff about "moving past" race, did you? No, no. You misunderstood: We're only a "post-racial" society when it benefits preferred minorities and the white liberals who crowd surf among them. By no means does that negate the right of race hucksters to continue capitalizing on their "narrative."

Of course, the pitchmen's attire has changed, and as Victor Davis Hanson points out, it can't help but give the game away:

Meanwhile, that the rest of the country is supposed to cringe and feel sorry that we are still a racist nation — as an African-American president, governor, and mayor all weigh in on the plight of an endowed African-American professor — seems odd. Sorry, but somehow I think most would tend to disagree.

One could go crazy making a continual search for hope in such things, but I do wonder if the haloed benediction of America's First hasn't just lost its fuzzy glow. Sgt. Crowley erred in the presence of a four-tiered old-boys network, and the nation has now seen an Ivy League you-don't-know-who-you're-messing-with threat backed up by the President of the United States.

Me, I can't believe that it's still in the news.

Cutting Sports Now, What's Next?

Marc Comtois

Faced with the cuts in sports funding, Woonsocket athletic director George Nasuti is taking a proactive approach in hopes of averting a similar situation that occurred nearly two decades ago when several sports programs were weakened and athletes fled to other schools. He called a meeting of athletes and parents:

"Either we work to fund this or we don't have it," [Nasuti] told the few hundred athletes, parents and coaches who gathered yesterday afternoon in the high school auditorium. "I want to move forward. I don't want to wait."

Everyone involved must be willing to roll up their sleeves and make some sacrifices, Nasuti told those in attendance.

That means coaches will work for free and parents and athletes will have to fund raise, volunteer at events and continue to lobby school officials and politicians.
"You have to step up and tell people why you need sports," he told the students, "and why you have a right to the same opportunities as students [in other communities].

"I'm afraid about the future, but I'm excited about moving forward," said Nasuti, who was encouraged by yesterday's turnout and also hopes some local businesses might be willing to contribute financially.

Sports and other activities like band or art are an important part of a well-rounded education and can help keep kids focused on their studies as time-management becomes crucial to success both on and off the field.
Among the athletes who attended, junior Katie Bijesse stood up and described how being a member of Woonsocket's girls soccer team that won the Division IV state championship last fall motivated her to get her grades up. She expressed her concern that the absence of sports will result in a higher dropout rate at the school, along with an increase in drugs, violence and teen pregnancies.

"Katie's played soccer probably since she was 6 years old. Soccer's her entire life. … It's kept her on the straight and narrow," said Janice Bijesse, adding that she and her husband may consider having their daughter transfer to Mount St. Charles if Woonsocket no longer has a soccer program. "I work with DCYF and I see what can happen if kids don't have activities after school, so for a lot of reasons [sports are] so important. Absolutely."

Studies show that teenage girls involved in athletics, for instance, are less likely to become pregnant than their peers while sports channel boys natural competitiveness and teach self-control.

I've been involved in non-school related youth sports for a few years and can attest to the hard work it takes to successfully run an all-volunteer league. I wish Woonsocket parents and athletes all the luck in the world. Their "team" approach seems more responsible than North Smithfield's "pay to play" scheme:

With what he described as a "heavy heart," Athletic Director Matthew Tek laid out for School Committee members on Tuesday Rhode Island's first comprehensive fee structure for school sports.

Committee members in turn voted unanimously to move ahead with a "pay-to-play" system that will save a quarter of the Athletic Department's budget while restoring junior varsity and middle school sports if all pending issues are resolved.

Under the plan as proposed, students who play sports will pay:

* $175 for a spring season

* $175 for a fall season, except football

* $300 to participate in football

* $175 for a winter sports season, except hockey

* $375 to participate in hockey

There's a maximum of $600 for any family with students playing school sports. That cap would increase to $900 if students participated in either football or hockey.

The fees would be due after a North Smithfield student makes a school team, and would add up to about $60,000 or more, said Tek.

Sports fees are nothing new in non-school sports. I'd imagine that, while painful, most parents will pay for their student-athletes to play. But what about the kids whose parents can't afford to "pay to play"? In non-school related leagues, such is the one in which I'm involved, scholarships or financial aid is made available to help out struggling families. I don't see such a provision in North Smithfield's new plan. That is too bad, because it is often participation in sports that keep poor or at risk kids in school. Hopefully some measures will be taken to help those kids out.

I wonder if fees for music or art will soon follow. Will the kids be required to buy their own paint or sheet music? And then what? Purchasing text books? As parents are asked to pay for more of the ancillaries of a supposedly free and public school system, how many kids will miss out because their parents can't afford it? Unless parents start to demand that politicians get smarter about managing the 80-90% (salaries, benefits) part of the budget that doesn't directly affect students--instead of cutting the 10% that does--they will continue to pay more to maintain the status quo, at best, in public education.

Pensions and Politics

Justin Katz

Katherine Gregg's Providence Journal article on Rhode Island's pension fund losses has an interesting frame. Toward the beginning (emphasis added):

Despite this recent run of losses, state officials say there is no immediate danger for state and local employees and teachers whose retirement checks are drawn from the pension fund, which is made up of a mix of investment earnings, taxpayer contributions and employee contributions. These retired public employees are guaranteed pension payments for life, regardless of the stock market's performance.

And the final word is given to Stephen Laffey, who (Gregg notes) is "weigh[ing] a return to politics":

"I have said many times that the only way to save the pension system is to end it and give everyone their money and go to a 401(k) plan ... like the people in the private sector," Laffey said in an e-mail.

The question — over which the unions will shed blood, if necessary (although probably figuratively) — is who bears the risk. When the market shrinks beyond reserves, or simply does not live up to the excessive requirement of more than 8% growth, either retirees manage on less income or the state attempts to tighten the tax vice on a population that already feels overtaxed (with ample justification). Moral considerations aside, the latter option is simply not functional; folks working in the private sector are not going to idly watch their money flow to retirees, many of whom are taking home more than they are, and employers are not going to accept the escalating costs associated with operations in Rhode Island.

Probably the most important point to emerge from the article is that inadequate half-measures aren't going to cut it:

But the market losses have already eliminated any possibility of taxpayer savings this year from state lawmakers' decision to curb annual cost-of-living increases and institute a minimum retirement age for all state pensioners. As state budget officer Rosemary Gallogly explained Wednesday: "The rate of payroll determined for FY2010 will not change as a result of pension fund performance."

Mr. Laffey, in other words, is absolutely correct: The two possibilities are (1) drastic changes or (2) the collapse of the pension system, bringing the state with it.

Health... of the Nation, of the State, and of the Town

Justin Katz

On last night's Matt Allen Show, Monique and Matt covered the travesty that is healthcare "reform," the travesty that is underage exotic dancers in Rhode Island, and the travesty that is the Caruolo lawsuit in Woonsocket. (If I may interject: perhaps there's a solution to be found, among these three issues, if the government requires strip clubs to pay for family health insurance for their dancers and applies an additional payroll tax for those in-demand minors, which money would be cycled back to school districts to cover unwise contractual agreements. Sure, such a plan would represent an exploitation twofer, but the teachers' unions might have something to teach us about maximizing the value of the resource of communities' children.) Stream by clicking here, or download it.

A Drastic Step in Detroit

Monique Chartier

And we're not talking about another auto bailout.

From today's Detroit News.

About 2,600 Detroit Public Schools teachers and staff will have to reapply for their jobs by Friday or face losing their positions under a massive shakeup that has union leaders crying foul.

Forty-one schools will be "reconstituted" and all staff positions among them have been declared vacant, according to a human resources notice circulated at schools Tuesday.

Every teacher, counselor, aide, specialist and assistant at these schools must request an interview with their principals this week.

In view of the fact that spending per pupil in Detroit is in the 91st percentile but student performance is at the 3rd percentile, this would seem a logical if dramatic step, right? Not in everyone's eyes.

Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson called the action by Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb a travesty and a violation of the union's contract with the district. He vowed to meet with legal counsel today to determine the best course of action.

"Blatant disregard for the terms of the collective bargaining agreement will not be tolerated," Johnson said. "As much as they talk about 'the emphasis is on students,' there is nothing about this that is in the best interest of students. It's going to be chaotic and have an adverse effect on students' instruction, plain and simple."

After all, there has been nothing better for students in Detroit and around the country than a district's adherence to a collective bargaining agreement.

July 22, 2009

The Disclaimers Are Always the Thing

Justin Katz

It is definitely not our practice to run political ads for political reasons (or only for political reasons), but this one from the Republican National Committee on the healthcare legislation is funny enough to merit a few minutes of your time.

As one might expect, the "side effects" disclaimer is the key.

The Door Closed Tellingly

Justin Katz

Bill Rappleye brought a camera man down to the suspicious spa in Middletown that I mentioned on Monday.

Rappleye's very careful not to make the prostitution accusation, which the spa owner denies, but something odd emerges from the video. If you were a small business owner and a TV news reporter came to your place of business with camera rolling, wouldn't you take the opportunity to dispel those nasty rumors of untoward behavior and get some free publicity by presenting your establishment to the viewing public? I guess I just don't see why the proprietor of a legitimate massage parlor wouldn't have invited Bill in for a look-see.

Empathy Has to Go Both Ways with Race

Justin Katz

I hesitate to help stir the pot of manufactured racial strife, but the prominent black academic Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of Harvard has illustrated too perfectly why racial division will persist until such "leaders" of minority communities as him begin arguing, by example, for mutual empathy.

Gates returned from a research trip to find that his house key wouldn't work: "the lock had been tampered with." So, he and his driver, another black man whom Gates described as large, forced the door open. A neighbor called the police and gave a description of the men.

You can guess the script. The police arrived, and one of them (white) tweaked Gates's sensibilities when he used the Voice of Authority (a "threatening" tone, in Gates's words) in the course of sorting the matter out, and the ensuing scene ended with Gates's arrest. The critical moment, in my view, comes with the professor's "instinct" that he "was not to step outside" per the officer's instructions. (Curiously, the Washington Post appears to have scrubbed that quotation from its online report.)

Having been the target of the Voice of Authority a few times when I was younger, I probably join a great many other white men (and women, too, no doubt, but fewer) in seeing no racial component to the officer's behavior. Moreover, with even a weak attempt at objective distance, something that should be as natural as breathing to a Harvardian big brain, it's possible to discern that, contrary to Gates's assessment, the policeman didn't have a single "narrative" of the "black guy breaking and entering." Rather, he likely had multiple possible scenarios in mind, and it is his often-dangerous job to weave through them all and return to his cruiser with nobody injured or killed.

A little empathy for his perspective is merited. The police department received a call about two men of a particular description forcing entry into a suburban home. Upon officers' arrival to the site, only one of the men was present, and he relatively short and old. The fact that the policeman entered the house by himself suggests that "misunderstanding" was already one "narrative in his head," but if that misunderstanding could be resolved on the porch, he could remain within view of the "half dozen" of his colleagues who were also on the scene.

It's possible that wisdom should have suggested (if protocol allowed) that the men in blue make the hastiest possible exit and leave Gates fuming on his front steps. But he began to push and belittle, escalating the scene to the point at which the officers thought it justified to arrest him and to thereby kick off a spate of news coverage and a new professional initiative for academic.

All parties involved will emerge unscathed or, in Gates's case, to their own advantage. Unfortunately for some young black man further down the cultural lines of communication, however, the "instinct" that turned an anecdote into an incident has been reinforced, and it might not end so well for him.

"Blue State Meltdown"

Marc Comtois

Joel Klotkin's "The Blue-State Meltdown and the Collapse of the Chicago Model" contrasts the political power held by blue-state liberals:

On the surface this should be the moment the Blue Man basks in glory. The most urbane president since John Kennedy sits in the White House. A San Francisco liberal runs the House of Representatives while the key committees are controlled by representatives of Boston, Manhattan, Beverly Hills, and the Bay Area—bastions of the gentry.

Despite his famous no-blue-states-no-red-states-just-the-United-States statement, more than 90 percent of the top 300 administration officials come from states carried last year by President Obama. The inner cabinet—the key officials—hail almost entirely from a handful of cities, starting with Chicago but also including New York, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco area.

This administration shares all the basic prejudices of the Blue Man including his instinctive distaste for “sprawl,” cars, and factories. In contrast, policy is tilting to favor all the basic blue-state economic food groups—public employees, university researchers, Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Wall Street, and the major urban land interests.

With current economic and demographic realities:
Yet despite all this, the blue states appear to be continuing their decades-long meltdown. “Hope” may still sell among media pundits and café society, but the bad economy, increasingly now Obama’s, is causing serious pain to millions of ordinary people who happen to live in the left-leaning part of America.

For example, while state and local budget crises have extended to some red states, the most severe fiscal and economic basket cases largely are concentrated in places such as New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Oregon, and, perhaps most vividly of all, California. The last three have among the highest unemployment rates in the country; all the aforementioned are deeply in debt and have been forced to impose employee cutbacks and higher taxes almost certain to blunt a strong recovery.

The East Coast–dominated media, of course, wants to claim that we have reached “the twilight” of Sunbelt growth. This observation seems a bit premature. Instead, traditional red-state strongholds such as the Dakotas, Idaho, Texas, Utah, and North Carolina, dominated the list of fastest-growing regions recently compiled for Forbes by my colleagues at www.newgeography.com.

He also explains why blue-states, like Rhode Island, may have a hard time turning around because of a deep-seated "political economy" based on "the relentless expansion of public sector employment and political power."
Although traditional progressives such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Fiorello La Guardia, and Pat Brown built up government employment, they never contemplated the growth of public employee unions that have emerged so powerfully since the 1960s.

Public sector employees initially played a positive role, assuring that the basic infrastructure—schools, roads, subways, sewers, water, and other basic sinews of society and the economy—functioned properly. But as much of the private economy moved out of places such as New York, Illinois, and, more recently, California, public sector employment began to grow as an end to itself.

Some blue-state theorists, columnist Harold Meyerson among them, have identified this new, highly unionized public sector workforce not so much an adjunct to the middle class but its essence. This has become very much the reality in many core blue regions—particularly big cities like New York, Chicago, and Detroit—as the private-sector middle class has drifted to the suburbs or out to the red states.

I'm not sure if Klotkin is implying that public sector workers aren't part of the "regular" middle class, but I would certainly include them. And in Rhode Island they just may be its "essence" by virtue of the number of Rhode Islanders who work in the public sector or are related to someone who does. That would help explain the resistance to change exhibited at the polling place year after year.

Raymond McKay: Daughters and Pole Dancers

Engaged Citizen

What a wonderful feeling to be covered by the national news when you are from a state as small as Rhode Island. One’s pride must swell at such an honor! But wait…

Thanks to over 40 years of Rhode Island Democrat Control, we can legally prostitute our daughters and have career pole dancers at age 16 in our home state, as was reported on Fox News, locally by the Providence Journal, posted on Facebook, and other outlets today and this evening.

As many of us heard this evening, even the big players in "Sin City," Las Vegas, require their strippers to be of legal drinking age, which happens to be 21.

Rhode Island Democrats have financially bankrupted our state for years using the tobacco settlement to balance budgets and this past year used $266 million of stimulus money to balance their 13% increased State budget.

Now we see that while the Democrat-controlled General Assembly was busy running businesses out of the State, giving free rein and benefits to illegal immigrants, not making the hard choices to control and shrink our government in these hard economic times, they quietly allowed laws to be in place that morally bankrupted us and brought us this infamous night of
recognition in our nation.

With law makers enacting laws or creating laws with such unforgivable loopholes that allow minor children to be exploited, there is no longer any room for discussion: The one-party, Democrat General Assembly is bad for Rhode Island. The "General Assembly is bad but my Democrat Senator/Representative is good" lie can no longer be allowed.

There is no such thing as "too big" to not be run out of office. It is time for the taxpaying, hard-working American citizens of Rhode Island to rise up and to "tar and feather" those who will embarrass us and make a mockery of this once great state.

In 2010, we Rhode Islanders must take back our state, our integrity, and our honor and replace all those who are in the General Assembly.

Raymond McKay is President of the Rhode Island Republican Assembly.

America's Elected Geniuses

Justin Katz

John Stossel shows that it doesn't take but a little of that common sense of the right-wing variety to produce an "oh" moment:

It's crazy for a group of mere mortals to try to design 15 percent of the U.S. economy. It's even crazier to do it by August.

Yet that is what some members of Congress presume to do. They intend, as the New York Times puts it, "to reinvent the nation's health care system".

Let that sink in. A handful of people who probably never even ran a small business actually think they can reinvent the health care system.

Expressing fear that Americans will fail to be sufficiently incensed to put a stop to the lunacy, Stossel quotes some of his blog commenters who offer the predictable retorts, which one may paraphrase as "we've got to do something for the uninsured" and "you're just backing rich interests." The first is open ended, and the second is irrelevant.

When building a particular system, as part of a larger society, we begin with a goal and seek the most direct path. But when we come upon a principle that, if ignored, would inherently corrupt our design, we must turn to alternate routes. The decisions at each intersection are what ultimately constitute our divided political philosophies, and on this particular issue, too many people wish to march straight through the warning signs, ensuring that we'll arrive at our destination bloodied and infected (and with the availability of treatment severely curtailed).

It would be wonderful if we could simply hand our elected representatives the directive to just "make it so" and trust that they would manage a workable solution. That isn't reality.

The Travesty of the School System

Justin Katz

The union's response to the Woonsocket school committee's approved cuts — which, as Monique suggests, it hopes the judiciary will obviate — was predictable and probably wouldn't have merited mention except for the closing words of Woonsocket Teachers Guild President Richard Dipardo:

"They've cut all sports but track, all extra-curricular activities," Dipardo said. "It's just survival."

Yeah. Survival for the kids, and the minor discomfort of a pay freeze for the grown-ups, some six dozen of whom (I'm told) are approaching retirement with free healthcare grandfathered from a 1994 contract change, and after several years of 7-10% raises.

And let's not leave retired Superintendent Maureen Macera out of the mix. Here's Valley Breeze publisher Tom Ward, writing in January 2008:

A few years ago, Macera was Woonsocket's assistant superintendent, earning on average $103,000 per year for her final three years of service in that post. Three years ago, she was promoted to superintendent. Upon her promotion, she called for the elimination of the assistant superintendent's post, asking the School Committee to fold those duties into her own and asking for a much larger compensation. The School Committee agreed, and in the past three years, Macera earned $152,900 in year 1, $162,900 in year 2, and now earns $172,900 this year.

In Rhode Island, a pensioner like Macera, with more than 35 years service, receives 80 percent of their highest three years' pay. ...

Had Macera retired as assistant superintendent three years ago with a top three-year average pay of $103,000, she would have a pension of $82,400 per year.

Instead, she took the promotion and worked for a new three-year average wage of about $163,000. Her annual pension now? $130,320. For those of you without a nearby calculator, that's $2,506 per week. Oh yeah, she gets a 3 percent raise (about $75 per week) every year, too.

That deal puts Macera on the list of public employee retirees taking home six figures as a lifetime "thank you for service." A few months after Ward wrote the above, Macera retired, and the school committee hired Robert Gerardi at $150,000, with up to ten weeks of paid time off per year.

Reaching a state of mere survival, in this context, isn't typically a quirk of circumstances; it's the consequence of years of incompetence and greed. Vicious, drooling, self-fondling greed.

Turn your attention, if you can stand it, to an April 2008 article titled, "Woonsocket schools show surplus":

Macera and other urban educators are pinning their hopes to a proposed bill called the Fair Share Education Funding Formula, which Macera says would distribute state aid more equitably. The bill proposes redistributing state funds to towns and cities bases on the wealth of the community, student enrollment and the the number of special education students, English language learners and children from poor families. The bill is sponsored by Representatives Edith H. Ajello, D-Providence, and John A. Savage, R-East Providence, and Senators Rhoda E. Perry D-Providence, and Hanna M. Gallo, D-Cranston. "The formula has been used across the country. It does not increase funding but redistributes it based on these factors, making it fairer," Macera said.

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

The Woonsocket district is already spending half of that amount, in deficit, can there be any doubt that the extra would be filched, as well?

July 21, 2009

Who Woulda Thought It: Defined-Benefit Pensions Don't Do Well in a Market Crash!

Carroll Andrew Morse

Given the numbers reported in this Los Angeles Times story from today…

California's two huge government pension funds reported whopping annual losses today of about one-quarter of their portfolios.

The California Public Employees' Retirement System, the largest in the nation, today posted a preliminary drop of $56.2 billion for the fiscal year ended June 30. The second-ranked fund, the State Teachers' Retirement System, reported a preliminary loss of $43.4 billion.

…would anyone like to volunteer to walk Anchor Rising's readers through the explanation, heard from some quarters, of how the financial meltdown has "proven" that 401(k)s and individual Social Security accounts are unworkable, while not proving the same thing about defined-benefit pension plans?

Two Conflicting Laws, One Reality: the Caruolo Line is Drawn

Monique Chartier

The Woonsocket City Council confronted two starkly conflicting fiscal developments at last night's meeting.

The first was the news that come November, a company would be relocating out of Woonsocket and taking with it the wages and taxes of two hundred and fifty jobs. The second was a verbal report from the City Solicitor, Robert Iuliano, as to the preliminary hearing in Superior Court yesterday for the Caruolo Act lawsuit filed by the School Committee.

Declining to grant a continuance for either a performance audit or to enable the city to bring aboard specialized legal counsel, Judge Daniel Procaccini ordered the Caruolo suit to commence Thursday. To characterize the upcoming proceeding as a kangaroo court might be premature. There is no question, however, that both sides emerged from the hearing in clear concurrence on one point: Judge Procaccini seemed less interested in the merits of the School Committee's spending for FY2009 and more interested in getting down to the nitty-gritty of compelling Woonsocket taxpayers to write the check for it.

From today's Woonsocket Call.

Procaccini was dismissive of the need for a performance audit from the outset of the hearing, saying it would not eliminate the gaping hole in the school department’s budget no matter what it revealed. He said the procedure would delay the case too long, only worsening the School Department’s budget problems and heap perhaps $100,000 in new costs onto the city.
Ah, yes, "delay". By artfully employing this quality, it is, in fact, the Woonsocket School Committee, with the cooperation of an amenable judge, who has demonstrated to school committees around the state unwilling to make adequate cuts or to renegotiate contracts the best way to proceed: initiate a Caruolo action at the eleventh hour and you can by-pass all of the annoyance of outsiders examining your budget, questioning your spending and even overruling your judgment by ordering the non-payment of certain expenditures.

A handful of school committee members, not just in Woonsocket but around the state, have a predilection for reminding the public that it is their purview to determine how school budget dollars are spent. Of course, this is true. The flip side - that a separate body is vested with the power to set the amount of that budget - seems more easily forgotten. It is arranged this way because that body has the power to take into consideration the entire fiscal picture, both expenditures and revenue, of the municipality.

Returning now to Woonsocket, trapped between an inadequate revenue stream of which the upcoming loss of 250 jobs is the latest though not the sole indicator, and a school committee which has stepped beyond their mandated role, "that body" has chosen to continue asserting their power to set the amount of the school budget by fighting the Caruolo suit.

[Those who tout the Mayor of Woonsocket as a friend of the taxpayer might be interested to learn that her solution to FY2009 overspending by the school department was to recommend a supplemental tax, presumably to have been followed by another supplemental tax in due course to cover overspending, already underway, of the FY2010 budget. She was, however, overruled by the City Council.]

A transcript of certain comments last night by council members and the City Solicitor would provide an excellent description of the clash, referenced on prior occasions here on A.R, of two Rhode Island laws. One bequeaths to city/town councils the exclusive power to tax and to set the amount of all budgets within their municipality. Another permits a school committee, under certain circumstances, to appeal the amount of their budget funding to Superior Court.

Voicing the deep exasperation and determination expressed by all members of the City Council, Vice President William D. Schneck remarked last night

If by decree we are ordered to pay, we'll all vote no. And then we will be in uncharted waters.

It appears that Woonsocket will be the battleground for a showdown of these two laws.

When Every Faction's a Swing Group

Justin Katz

I'm not sure what to make of this, from David Brooks...

It was interesting to watch the Republican Party lose touch with America. You had a party led by conservative Southerners who neither understood nor sympathized with moderates or representatives from swing districts.

They brought in pollsters to their party conferences to persuade their members that the country was fervently behind them. They were supported by their interest groups and cheered on by their activists and the partisan press. They spent federal money in an effort to buy support but ended up disgusting the country instead.

... in light of this:

For all the attention generated by Barack Obama's candidacy, the share of eligible voters who actually cast ballots in November declined for the first time in a dozen years. The reason: Older whites with little interest in backing either Barack Obama or John McCain stayed home.

Census figures released Monday show about 63.6 percent of all U.S. citizens ages 18 and older, or 131.1 million people, voted last November. Although that represented an increase of 5 million voters — virtually all of them minorities — the turnout relative to the population of eligible voters was a decrease from 63.8 percent in 2004.

That doesn't strike me as a result easily interpreted according to the "disaffected moderates" storyline. A "moderate" could have found justification for voting for either candidate — with McCain, based on knowledge of his record, and with Obama, based on ignorance of his — but staying home? I suppose a disgust factor came into play, and probably some racism, in pockets. Still, I think the landscape is much more chaotic than pundits with such theories as Brooks's allow.

The political landscape is currently like one of those made-for-gym-class sports that throws all of the equipment on the ground and puts a dozen teams on the field. Anybody who can snag the most visible ball is grabbing it and running toward a preferred goal, and even players who helped him or her get it have reason to consider tackling. Back to Brooks:

Nancy Pelosi has lower approval ratings than Dick Cheney and far lower approval ratings than Sarah Palin. And yet Democrats have allowed her policy values to carry the day — this in an era in which independents dominate the electoral landscape.

For whatever reason, players think Pelosi & Co. hold the advantage, but it's an illusion. She'll trip, and somebody else will have a go, and this will continue unless (until?) we manage to reassert the civic structures around which the nation was built. By that, I mean to suggest that this is a consequence of Big Government. In all of the various games that make up a society — each with its own emphases and dominant contenders — this single one has become too controlling.

The reason to spread out the power of a society into distinct arenas of pursuit is that it allows consensus to form on matters in their appropriate spheres and for conflicts between the spheres to work themselves based on broad cultural movements.

NEA Leader Compares RI Revolutionary War Hero to My Lai War Criminal

Marc Comtois

I suppose when you've established a weekly shtick, you gotta keep doing it. Even when the source material is a Revolutionary War hero. So sometimes you overreach. Like comparing Rhode Island's own Revolutionary War hero General Nathanael Greene to Lt. William Calley, the war criminal notorious for his role in the My Lai massacre. It might be even worse if you've made this comparison based on your own ill-informed, uncritical supposition based on an "appeal to authority" (something for which you often criticize others) to a snippet of context-missing history by a well-known partisan historian. Or maybe its worse that you advocate for the state's biggest education entity, the NEA.

Way to set an example!

In his weekly quest to harpoon his very own white whale, NEA's Pat "Ahab" Crowley has decided to deride the topic of Ed Achorn's latest book review/column, war hero Nathanael Greene.

Why not an editorial piece lauding the work of Lt. William Calley? Do you remember Rusty Calley? He led an operation very similar to one that Greene led during the Revolutionary War, though he doesn’t have any schools named after him (at least I hope not.) What was the operation that Calley led? You have probably heard of the My Lai massacre, right?

Well, Nate Greene described similar operations in his diary.

{Technically, I believe Greene described the events and the aftermath in a letter to Thomas Jefferson-ed.}

Crowley then quotes from Howard Zinn*:
Washington's military commander in the lower South, Nathanael Greene, dealt with disloyalty by a policy of concessions to some, brutality to others. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson he described a raid by his troops on Loyalists. “They made dreadful carnage of them, upwards of one hundred were killed and most of the rest cut to pieces. It has had a very happy effect on those disaffected persons of which there were too many in this country.” Greene told one of his generals “to strike terror into our enemies and give spirit to our friends.” **
Based on his reading of Zinn, Crowley wrote:
This wasn’t an attack on soldiers, by the way…..a “raid” on “loyalists” meant an attack on civilians. He cut them to pieces. Greene….Calley…..My Lai…..
Wrong. "Loyalists" in this context were male American colonists who enlisted in loyalist militias to fight for the crown. Not women and children. Further, while it is true that Greene noted in his letter to Jefferson that the affect of the "massacre" was beneficial in that it helped to tamp down counter-revolutionary actions, he didn't directly take part in the action, as did Calley at My Lai. In fact, Greene didn't even order the attack!

Zinn isn't the only one to have written about this particular incident. But first, here is some additional context. In late May 1780, before Greene took over command of the Continental forces in the south:

Cornwallis had detached a cavalry force under Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton, by reputation hard and unsparing, to mop up the last remaining Continentals in that area, some 350 Virginians under Col. Abraham Buford. Tarleton's 270-man force had caught up with Buford's retreating soldiers on May 29 and quickly overwhelmed them. But when the Continentals called for quarter—a plea for mercy by men who had laid down their arms—Tarleton's troops hacked and bayoneted three-quarters of them to death. "The virtue of humanity was totally forgotten," a Loyalist witness, Charles Stedman, would recall in his 1794 account of the incident. From then on, the words "Bloody Tarleton" and "Tarleton's quarter" became a rallying cry among Southern rebels. {These events were dramatized in the movie "The Patriot."-ed.}

Following Buford's Massacre, as it soon came to be called, guerrilla bands formed under commanders including Thomas Sumter, Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens. Each had fought in South Carolina's brutal Cherokee War 20 years earlier, a campaign that had provided an education in irregular warfare. Soon, these bands were emerging from swamps and forests to harass redcoat supply trains, ambush forage parties and plunder Loyalists. Cornwallis issued orders that the insurgents would be "punished with the greatest vigour."

It was a nasty portion of the war before Greene assumed command in December of 1780. He soon adjusted, which leads to the description given by Zinn, mentioned above. Here's another description of the event.
As Greene headed toward Hillsborough, members of his cavalry, commanded by Col. Henry Lee, surprised an inexperienced band of Tory militiamen under Col. John Pyle, a Loyalist physician. In an action disturbingly similar to Tarleton's Waxhaws massacre, Lee's men slaughtered many of the Loyalists who had laid down their arms. American dragoons killed 90 and wounded most of the remaining Tories. Lee lost not a single man. When he heard the news, Greene, grown hardened by the war, was unrepentant. The victory, he said, "has knocked up Toryism altogether in this part" of North Carolina.
Finally, here is another more critical and more contemporary account (from 1822) that also provided some context (this is a very descriptive account and warrants a fuller read):
Many a son, a husband, and a father, met with a most sudden and unexpected fate.

The soul sickens at such an instance of unresisted slaughter, and it has called down the severest animadversions upon the conduct of the American party. It is enough to be said of it, that there cannot be found such another instance of military execution inflicted by the American arms in the whole history of the revolution. Far be it from us to stand forth the apologist of unnecessary bloodshed. Yet two things cannot be denied, that the humanity of Pickens was proverbial, and that Colonel Lee was never charged with any other instance of unnecessary severity. Let the extraordinary peculiarity of the circumstances attending the affair be considered, and it will be difficult to point out how such an issue could have been avoided. The first blow would probably be decisive between the parties. Had the enemy been allowed time to deliver their fire, the cavalry would have been prostrated, and that event would have brought destruction upon the whole corps; for Tarleton would soon have been upon the infantry. Nor would the evil have stopped there, the dispersion of this party must have been followed by that of all the detachments on their march to join it. It is appalling to follow up the train of consequences.

In short, Lee stumbled into a group of loyalist militia and a battle ensued in whose aftermath loyalists attempting to surrender or flee were killed. Fighting men get carried away and nasty things happen in war.** And though he condoned the results, Greene had no direct part in the affair. Yet, lest we forget--according to Crowley--Greene is just like Calley. Hardly:
Soldiers went berserk, gunning down unarmed men, women, children and babies. Families which huddled together for safety in huts or bunkers were shown no mercy. Those who emerged with hands held high were murdered. ... Elsewhere in the village, other atrocities were in progress. Women were gang raped; Vietnamese who had bowed to greet the Americans were beaten with fists and tortured, clubbed with rifle butts and stabbed with bayonets. Some victims were mutilated with the signature "C Company" carved into the chest. By late morning word had got back to higher authorities and a cease-fire was ordered. My Lai was in a state of carnage. Bodies were strewn through the village.
It would be debatable to compare Lee with Calley, nevermind Greene. (Does this mean that everything Crowley does is directly attributable to Bob Walsh?)

All of this context makes Crowley's closing accusation against Achorn all the more laughable.

Your minimalist approach to the history of the founding of our country does it a disservice.
This from someone who approaches history as a means to a political end, regardless of the deeper facts and context....which he doesn't care about anyway. For Crowley, history is only valuable as rhetorical ammunition for his ideological shotgun. It doesn't matter if he misses the target, so long as he gets his shot off.


*Zinn is the favorite historian of many on the left and he is best known for his People's History of the United States of America. He is known for his openly-biased, non-sourced method of doing history. He likes to pull from hither and yon to make his larger ideological points, a method that leaves out important context regarding particular events. Further, because he doesn't include footnotes, he makes it difficult for other historians to check his sources for that context. This is well known in the history field (here, here and here). In other words, Zinn is an important historian (because so many people read him), but one that should be read very carefully: often with another history book for comparison. But hey, he's preaching to a choir member named Crowley who has an Achorn to roast, damn the particulars!

**Crowley left out this part while quoting Zinn: "On the other hand he advised the governor of Georgia 'to open a door for the disaffected of your state to come in...'" I wonder why he left that last sentence out. I guess such nuance would have grayed up Crowley's "Black Hat" caricature of Greene.

***There are several "massacres" recorded and all that I could find involve British troops killing American revolutionaries after they had surrendered (or in their sleep). There was at least one instance of British (and their Native American allies) killing non-combatants (the Cherry Valley or Wyoming Massacre). That doesn't mean there weren't instances of American revolutionaries acting similarly, it's just that a quick survey of sources didn't bring any to light. Though hardly an all-inclusive list, see Cherry Valley, Hancock's Bridge, Fort Griswold (in Groton), and the Baylor Massacre for a fair representation.

NEA-RI Future Illusions with Averages

Justin Katz

Mr. Crowley has been on the attack, lately, so it's pleasant to see him turning toward attempts to actually make a case on behalf of those for whom he advocates. Yesterday, he presented some National Education Association numbers (I know, I know) thus:

This first chart shows that over the last decade, teachers [across the nation] have earned annual increases 2.85%. Sounds fairly modest, right? ...

Now look at this [other] chart. It looks at teaching salaries over a 20 year period, from 1989 to 2009. If you look at the actually dollar amount, the range starts in 1989 at $29,564 and ends in 2009 at $53,910. But, when you look at the same time period and use constant dollars (that is, taking inflation into account), the dollar value in 2009 would be $204 less than what is was in 1989.

Crowley doesn't link to his source, but several previous iterations of the NEA report are available here, and the first thing to note is that the first chart isn't the data for "teachers," but for "instructional staff", which includes, as written in the 2007 report (PDF):

... classroom teachers, principals, supervisors, librarians, guidance and psychological personnel, and related instructional workers.

I point this out for clarity only, inasmuch as the annual increase is pretty much the same if limited to teachers. Both pretty much track with inflation.

It's the second paragraph of the quotation from Crowley that ought to be surprising to anybody who's followed the issue of teacher employment and contracts, because contracts typically increase the pay allocated for each salary step by inflation or better each year, plus teachers move up the steps as they go. It would therefore be astonishing to learn that they are barely keeping up with the consumer price index (CPI). The matter is more striking, today, as Crowley has focused in on Rhode Island:

... looking at the last ten years, Rhode Island teachers saw smaller salary increases than their peers around the country. As the chart shows, the national average gain for the last ten years was a 32.9% total increase in salary. For Rhode Island, the total increase in salary was 29%, placing us 33rd in the nation. ...

How does this translate into constant dollars [adjusted for inflation]? Well, nationally, the decade from 1997 through 2008 saw teachers lose 0.6% in salary. Rhode Island teachers, in constant dollars realized a loss of 3.5%. That's going backwards.

If that just sounds wrong, well, it's because it is, and here's why:

One helpful byproduct of the union's salary step system is that the trends for individual teachers are reasonably predictable. Increasing the number of classroom teachers by 26% over eight years pulls the "average salary" downward, even though everybody involved is making more money. That's how Rhode Island managed to be number 9 in the nation in average teacher salary in both the 97/98 and 05/06 school years even though it was number 25 for its percentage change over that decade: Our number of teachers increased at twice the national rate, even though our enrollment increased at the national rate.

For illustration purposes, I put together the following chart. Because I had them handy, I began with the latest Woonsocket salary step amounts, guessed at the ratios at each step, and assumed 5% annual retirement and a 2.8% increase in steps each year; these assumptions result in comparable change numbers to those that the NEA reports. Lowering the retirement assumption would increase the effect (because a higher percentage of teachers would remain at step 10). The 2.8% increase in steps is probably low; picking two years for which data is available for all districts but Warwick, from 2004 to 2005, the overall average step in RI went up 3.3%. However, the goal was to model the NEA's results, and this puts the steps pretty much at inflation. For simplicity's sake, I disregarded other considerations like longevity, activity pay, and higher-degree adjustments.

With the very same step increases, if the state had only replaced retiring teachers, the increase in the "average salary" would have changed from 11.2% to 20.8%. If districts had hired even more teachers, the average salary would have increased less. In other words, this "average" has little relevance to the financial well-being of individual teachers, and it's bizarre to claim that they "realized a loss." The steps at least paced with inflation, and a teacher who hit step 10 in Year 8 would be receiving twice the pay she or he did in year 1.

And here's the kicker: None of this touches on benefits.

Alright, Rhode Islanders

Justin Katz

Let's hear the rationalizations why this ought to remain the case:

Rhode Island teens under 18 can't work with power saws or bang nails up on roofs.

But dance at strip clubs? Sure. Just as long as the teens submit work permits, and are off the stripper's pole by 11:30 on school nights.

It's enough to surprise even those in America's mecca of striptease and sin — Las Vegas.

Pictures on your hard drive? Jail. Fingers on a dollar bill with the girl there in the flesh? Hey, a kid's gotta have pocket money.

State law says that anyone who employs a person under 18 for prostitution or for "any other lewd or indecent act" faces up to 20 years in prison and up to $20,000 in fines. But that isn't enough to prevent underage girls from working in strip clubs, said senior assistant city solicitor Kevin McHugh, who researched the issue a dozen years ago when a teenage dancer was found at a raided strip club.

The term "lewd or indecent" is subjective, McHugh said, and is applied to behavior that's protected by the First Amendment. "Since we have strip clubs in Providence," McHugh said, "citizens don't consider [stripping] lewd."

And there you go. If it's legal for adults, it's not "lewd or indecent," which makes it kind of pointless, I would think, to have that language in the law at all.

It's fortunate that the relevant statute specifically names prostitution, so the fact that Rhode Island allows prostitution doesn't give that activity a pass. On the other hand, Rhode Island law also makes it a crime to "knowingly permit any person to remain in the premises for" the purpose of prostitution, and yet it appears to be sufficient to claim that the "purpose" of spa-brothels is a massage, and as far as I can see, minors are permitted to do that.

July 20, 2009

A Crime Against Society

Justin Katz

Before we let his subject drift into the vague pastures of public memory, let's join Mark Patinkin in shaking our heads at the tale of the neighbor-killer who retired in his twenties after six months of public service:

You no doubt saw that Nicholas Gianquitti, 41, now serving 40 years for murdering Cranston fire lieutenant James Pagano, will keep receiving his $3,841.50 monthly pension. The check will arrive at his home, for his family's use. The reason? His crime wasn't related to his police conduct.

That may seem astonishing, but to me it's more astonishing that he got such a lifelong pension in the first place.

Here is a man who began as a patrolman in July 1991, and only six months later, fractured his left kneecap when he fell chasing two suspects in a parking lot. For that, he got a lifelong pension at two-thirds his salary — tax-free because it is for disability.

It is not the only such pension, and it makes me wonder: What planet is the Retirement Board living on?

In a healthy society, this story would have representatives and bureaucrats glancing out the window all day out of fear that the masses might be coming to remove them from bodily office. Instead, we can only wonder who won the office-lounge dispute over whether Gianquitti was an inevitable outlier in an otherwise honorable system or he represents everything that's great about promoting the government as an employer.

Economy as Political Card

Justin Katz

Noting a New York Post article on Washington's spending bonanza, Glenn Reynolds writes:

And yet members of Congress would be hard-pressed to tell you where the money's going. This isn't just undisciplined spending. It's looting.

I'd like to know whether the culprits will face a consequence for the travesty beyond their names' being footnotes in an historical tale of iniquity. Not that their focus is on anything beyond the near-term pillaging. Glenn also links to this report that's difficult not to see as pretty much the very same story:

The administration's annual midsummer budget update is sure to show higher deficits and unemployment and slower growth than projected in President Barack Obama's budget in February and update in May, and that could complicate his efforts to get his signature health care and global-warming proposals through Congress.

The release of the update - usually scheduled for mid-July - has been put off until the middle of next month, giving rise to speculation the White House is delaying the bad news at least until Congress leaves town on its August 7 summer recess.

The administration is pressing for votes before then on its $1 trillion health care initiative, which lawmakers are arguing over how to finance.

Can't have the people panicking until after their representatives have already committed them to a devastating expansion of federal power.

Is Elizabeth Dennigan Implying that She Believes Patrick Kennedy is a Better Representative than James Langevin?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Today's Political Scene column in the Projo reports on speculation that state representative Elizabeth Dennigan (D - East Providence/Pawtucket), is considering a run in the Democratic primary for Rhode Island's second Congressional District…

Despite rampant speculation, state Rep. Elizabeth M. Dennigan is refusing to say if she will run for Rhode Island’s 2nd Congressional District seat occupied by fellow Democrat James R. Langevin.

But she is interested.

That’s according to Langevin’s office, which confirmed that Dennigan requested a private meeting with the congressman late last month.

“All she told him was that she was thinking about running,” Langevin spokeswoman Joy Fox told Political Scene, declining to discuss the meeting in detail. “The congressman takes every challenge seriously. He looks forward to a good-spirited campaign."

If Representative Dennigan is considering taking the unusual (though legal) step of running for a seat outside of her legal residence, a question worth putting to her is why she believes that Congressman Langevin is less qualified to represent the state of Rhode Island than is current First District Congressman Patrick Kennedy, whom she could also run against.


Marc Comtois

To paraphrase...."I'll gladly pay you $1 Million over the next decade for a ham sandwich today."

Award Overview

Agency Name: Department of Agriculture
Project Location: LOS ANGELES
Contract Number: AG3J14120297196
Project Location - State: CA
Funding Amount: $1,191,200
Project Location - Zip Code: 90058-1800
Completion Date: 2009-06-30
Congressional District: CA-34

Recipient Information (Award)
Recipient Address: 3049 E VERNON AVE
Recipient City: LOS ANGELES
Recipient State: CALIFORNIA
Recipient Zip Code: 90058-1800
Congressional District: CALIFORNIA-34

Description of Work/Service performed: 2 POUND FROZEN HAM SLICED

Talk about pork-barrel spending! California 34 is represented by Democrat Lucille Roybal-Allard. I guess she likes ham. And we're supposed to believe that government run (er, "single payer") health care will SAVE us money?

UPDATE: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsac clarified that the 2 lbs refers to a 2 Lb packages of ham, at about $1.50/lb. As Drudge reports, Food Lion was cheaper (though the flier has "disappeared").

Peculiar Sensibilities Concerning Prostitution

Justin Katz

As with much else in Rhode Island, it could be that some of the decisive ambivalence about the continued permissibility of prostitution in the state would dissipate if people took a moment to understand what it actually means. The blog of a new Web site that URI Professor Donna Hughes and associate Melanie Shapiro have set up, Citizens Against Trafficking, presents a scene witnessed in a Middletown store:

A business owner has told Citizens Against Trafficking that late last year, an Asian woman fled a spa-brothel nearby and came to their shop to ask for assistance.

She burst into their store and excitedly tried to communicate. She could only speak a few words of English. She pointed to the brothel and used hand motions and the word "f***" to indicate that she was being forced to engage in sex acts.

When asked if she wanted to call the police, she said, "Me, no English. You." When asked if she wanted them to call the police, she nodded her head to indicate yes.

She frightened and confused the shop owner by pointing to their little girl, then to the brothel, saying, "Baby. Bad. Bad."

They asked her if she had any family or friends nearby. She said, "New York."

Brothels, Rhode Islanders should note, will not restrict themselves to urban streets. According to Citizens Against Trafficking, the suburban store in which the above scene occurred has had enough and is relocating in another town (PDF):

After years of problems and the inability of the police to do anything about the brothel next door, POW Science is relocating to another part of the state. ...

The customers of Lee Health Tuina Center are all men. The men try to enter the brothel inconspicuously. Eric calls them "cowardly" and says that they hide behind a wall if the door to the brothel is not opened immediately. They peek around the wall to make sure no one can see them before entering the brothel. Men used to park behind the wall between the brothel and POW Science until the Bulmers confronted the men and refused to let them park there or in front of their store. Sunday is the busiest day for the brothel, because the other
stores are closed.

The Bulmer's suspicion that the Tuina Center was a brothel was confirmed when they read men's descriptions of buying sex there on an Internet guide to prostitution. Another business owner in the strip mall emailed the Bulmers the men's Internet writings describing prostitution and the prices for different sex acts they bought there.

Shortly after that, Eric found several hypodermic needles and syringes with blood in them on the ground in the parking lot in front of his business. Eric believes the needles were used by men before they entered the brothel. Eric filed a police report. ...

On a number of occasions, the Bulmers have contacted the police to let them know what was going on. The police told them there was nothing they could do about it.

There's an interesting dynamic on Aquidneck Island, I guess. In Portsmouth, Trisha Smith was driven from her strip mall for her eye-catching efforts to draw attention to the fact that it housed her lingerie and sex toy shop. In Middletown, an educational store is now being driven from its own strip mall because police can do nothing, various zoning and health inspectors claim to have no reason to act, and property owners Kevin and Vicky Tarsagian of Newport Properties don't want to give up their slice of the lucrative sex trade.

The First Real Weekend of Summer (It Seems) Review

Justin Katz

Healthcare remained the key topic 'round here over the weekend, beginning with my opinion that the urgency to pass a bill within weeks is faux (and reckless). I subsequently honed in on one reason government operatives might be so keen on universal healthcare: It opens the door to control of people's behavior and, therefore, the people themselves. Monique got down to the dirty work and enumerated some of the bad to worse aspects of the healthcare reform legislation.

On a related note, I took some cues from music to understand why the cult of Obama will persist regardless of the consequences of his presidency.

Turning to another hot federal issue, Monique passed along an alternative from state Rep. John Loughlin (R, Tiverton, Portsmouth, Little Compton) to "cap and trade." And broadening the topic, she listed some of the major expenditures of our government and queried about the source of funding.

Meanwhile, I dipped a toe in the simmering waters of turmoil between merchants and credit card issuers, the former of whom are looking to the government for advantage.

Monique suggested, following a Providence Business News article, that Rhode Island's economic outlook is for continued winter. Looking even more locally, I couldn't help but chuckle at the difficulties resulting from arduous zoning rules in Tiverton that are intended to micromanage economic development and are succeeding (after a fashion) at just that.

And finally, with a religious undertone, we mused on the preponderance of asterisks and disclaimers in our culture.

July 19, 2009

Health Care Reform: A Roundup of the Bad and the Ugly (Sorry, very little "Good" to be Found)

Monique Chartier

A defect to suit every taste.

- Contrary to representations by the Obama administration, the proposed reform would increase not

"Reduce long-term growth of health care costs for businesses and government".

- Funding to come at the expense of Medicare; i.e., care of our seniors. In fact, the Philadelphia Inquirer, not exactly a radical right newspaper, takes it one step further.

Even in the short term, one could argue that taxpayers are looking at an old-fashioned shell game. No sooner was the ink dry on the federal stimulus package, which provided millions of dollars for care for the elderly in Pennsylvania, than Congress and the administration began to propose major cuts in Medicare.

- By its mere existence, it would indirectly eliminate private health insurance in due course.

- As it would explicitly prohibit private coverage, it would also directly eliminate private coverage and sooner than "in due course". [Thanks to commenter TomW for this item from Wednesday's Investor's Business Daily.]

Under the Orwellian header of "Protecting The Choice To Keep Current Coverage," the "Limitation On New Enrollment" section of the bill clearly states:

"Except as provided in this paragraph, the individual health insurance issuer offering such coverage does not enroll any individual in such coverage if the first effective date of coverage is on or after the first day" of the year the legislation becomes law.

So we can all keep our coverage, just as promised — with, of course, exceptions: Those who currently have private individual coverage won't be able to change it. Nor will those who leave a company to work for themselves be free to buy individual plans from private carriers.

- It has commentators openly advocating health care rationing.

- New York's Mr. Tax Compliant has spilled the beans about the need for higher taxes to fund it. (Shhh! Wait 'til it's passed, Charlie ...)

- The introduction of increasingly more intrusive state dictates in the area of personal behavior and private decisions. Commenter Rhody has expressed skepticism. But while these are not explicitly enumerated in the bill, Justin makes a good case that they would emerge inevitably, indeed, naturally.

By "investing" in "wellness programs" as a means of lowering costs, the government would be putting the weight of the nation's entire healthcare system on individual citizens' behavior. What couldn't be declared intolerable with such a consequence as the collapse of everybody's medical care?

* * *

... it is enough simply to acknowledge that the party that pays is the party that controls and that to control a person's health is to control the person.

Missing Something in the Battle Over Bucks

Justin Katz

Perhaps somebody can explain what I'm missing in this:

Merchants across the nation, from powerhouses like Wal-Mart and Home Depot, to gas stations, mom-and-pop restaurants and 7-Eleven, have spent years unsuccessfully fighting the biggest of these costs, known as an interchange fee, which generates an estimated $40 billion to $50 billion in income annually for banks that issue credit cards.

But after Congress passed a law last month to protect consumers from excessive fees and interest on credit cards, merchants are mounting a fresh offensive.

This time, they believe the momentum in Washington has turned in their favor. Legislation is winding its way through Congress, a government audit has been ordered and petitions are surfacing in hundreds of convenience stores, including Ms. Orzano's 7-Eleven, encouraging customers to voice their opposition to the fees. "Congress sort of already illustrated the willingness to take on the credit card companies and the big banks," said Keith Jones, a lobbyist for 7-Eleven. "We just feel like the job is half done."

In a nutshell, just under 2% of every credit card purchase is divided unequally among the merchant's bank, the customer's bank, and the credit card issuer (Visa, Mastercard, Amex, etc.). With customers using credit cards more extensively, greater percentages of stores' total sales are going to the card issuers, so the stores are hoping the federal government will redirect the money back to them.

Here's my question: Is there some reason that the stores don't simply tack a fee on sales completed with credit? That $1.50 coffee would therefore cost $1.53, with the explanation being that three cents is the cost of using credit. If stores such as WalMart and Target can work together to petition the government, they should be able to agree to this practice, and banks would surely decrease their take to an amount that preserves the incentive for customers to whip out their cards.

Question for Our Congressional Delegation: What is the Revenue Source for All of this Spending?

Monique Chartier

On Thursday, our delegation unanimously applauded the legislative progress being made on the nationalization ...er, the reform of our healthcare system.

In the last eight months, two Congresses and two Presidents have spent the following sums.

TARP (bank bailout): $700 billion pledged; $200 billion distributed of which $66 billion has been repaid.

Bailout of AIG: $182 billion

Bailout of Fannie and Freddie: $290 billion

The mortgage bailouts: billions spent or pledged

Bailout of auto companies: $83 billion & rising

The 2010 budget: $3.6 t-trillion

The general stimulus package: $789 billion

(Quick question on this one: as most of the money has not been spent, can we just return it to the Treasury? I'm reluctant to suggest returning it to the taxpayers as someone might injure himself laughing. Back in the Treasury to fund more legitimate programs would be fine. Thanks.)

To a greater or lesser degree, all of these spending programs have been of questionable value and/or questionable as to the efficacy of their ostensible purpose. Each is either indefensibly riddled with pork or conceptually comprised of pure pork.

Honorable Solons representing Rhode Island. To this already incomprehensible level of spending, you propose to add one hundred billion dollars annually for health care "reform" that fails to reduce health care costs as originally advertised as well as an unknown amount on a carbon cap and trade program whose sole effects will be the further depletion of American wallets and the driving away of ever more manufacturing companies. (Sidebar: can we perhaps learn from the experience of others and decline to implement this highly questionable scheme?)

It is only natural that we would ask not only the proposed funding source for all of this spending but whether it is wise. As for the former, the senior senator gets one point for honesty.

Reed was non-committal on the question of how to raise money for the health-care overhaul. “Let’s see what develops in the Finance Committee,” he said, referring to the Senate panel still embroiled in drafting its portion of the health care plan — the provisions dealing with taxes, Medicare and Medicaid.

But does it not demonstrate serious irresponsibility to contemplate, much less advance, gargantuan spending programs without identifying the means to pay for them and, more importantly, demonstrating that they will do less harm, short or long term, to our country than simply doing nothing? We respectfully request answers, Messrs. Reed, Kennedy, Langevin and Whitehouse, or we request that you cease and desist your efforts in these matters.

A House of Zoning Cards Turns into a Trap

Justin Katz

Come on. You've got to laugh at the irony:

... a pitched zoning battle — ostensibly over a single sign — has horrified more than two dozen merchants and property owners who have invested their savings and their futures in this country crossroads [at Tiverton Four Corners]. ...

The hearing — over whether a tenant of Sakonnet Purls can put a second free-standing sign up on the property — has droned on for hours and involved arcane legal arguments and thousands of dollars in attorney's fees. ...

... the idyllic tableau conceals tension between the shopkeepers and a zoning ordinance which some say works against the people whose enterprises maintain the character of the village, named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

The problem, as reported by Gina Macris:

For one or another reason, like size, or setback from the road, [property owner James Weir] said, none of the signs conform to the sign ordinance, which Weir asserted was written to protect the town from shopping centers and is not tailored to the historic village. ...

While the village commercial district went through [in 2000], it did not expand, leaving more than half the properties in Tiverton Four Corners — including the yarn shop — in a residential zone.

Donald Bollin, president of the Town Council then as he is now, cast the deciding vote in 2000.

At the time, Bollin said, he was swayed by residents who "thought the commercial district was already too much."

"In the end, enough of the residential people were concerned about the traffic," said Bollin.

While Bollin believes he made the right decision nine years ago, some recent zoning decisions — unrelated to Four Corners — have opened his eyes to the fact that the zoning ordinance envisions nonconforming uses will eventually disappear.

They may or may not. The larger problem is that strict regulations and a reliance on "non-conforming" uses creates a minefield when consensus proves not to be as strong as previously thought or rams into the individual interests of an insider. In an attempt to block brand-named stores (which would probably do very well with such an isolated community) while ensuring that small shops emerging into the void remained rustic rather than ragged, all while micromanaging traffic for the locals, the town set up a system whereby most development would have to be individually reviewed. That permits the desired subjectivity empowering zoning and council officials to block (for example) a CVS wrapped in a planning-board-mandated bucolic veneer.

When a town management strategy relies too heavily on the wink-wink-nod method of site-plan approval, however, the potential always exists for somebody to stop nodding and frown, instead.

A Culture of Asterisks

Justin Katz

Stephen Kent makes a poignant point that extends well beyond the borders of Christianity:

The cross is the symbol of Christianity. The asterisk is the symbol of 21st Century conditional cultural Christianity. ...

Marriages vows now seem to read
As long as you both shall live.*
*or until either party becomes bored, tired or attracted to another....

Disclaimers and exceptions proliferate, in these days, and it's a simple matter to find ourselves slipping into them even when unnecessary or unjustified.

Preventive Totalitarianism

Justin Katz

Stated in passing — as an inarguable truism — is the most eerie part of President Obama's recent healthcare remarks (video, at about minute two):

We're now at a point where most everyone agrees that we need to invest in preventive and wellness programs that can save us money and help lead healthier lives.

Put aside that some folks — John Stossel among themdo question the "preventive care" shibboleth. One gets the sense that what Obama is saying and what many Americans will hear are two different things. To my ear — and I offer this without intending to express favor for any particular policy — an "investment" in such programs means funding to make them available, with the option of whether to partake left up to the individual. General experience suggests that, when government officials use the term "investment" in this context, they mean at the very least some form of compulsion, as in: "We'll subsidize your healthcare, but you must do X and must not do Y."

Let's be clear about what's going on conceptually. The premises on which the debate is being framed are that private healthcare is en route to pricing itself out of the reach of a broad swath of our society and that the portions of the industry directed by the government are finding costs unsustainable. By "investing" in "wellness programs" as a means of lowering costs, the government would be putting the weight of the nation's entire healthcare system on individual citizens' behavior. What couldn't be declared intolerable with such a consequence as the collapse of everybody's medical care?

The national and state governments have already instituted the practice of disincentive taxes (as on cigarettes), they regulate what plans must cover, and so on. Imagine what political leaders will do when they can dictate health-related behavior directly, especially if it remains a commonplace that preventive care is key to affordability. With the passage of Rep. Patrick Kennedy's healthcare "parity" bill, eliding the distinction between mental and physical ailments, "health-related behavior" would be tautological. We can only imagine what behaviors and life decisions will qualify a person to be locked out of the healthcare system.

President Obama illustrated his perspective on the ownership rights of a government "investor" when he changed the leadership of GM. In like fashion, healthcare "reforms" that entail greater involvement of the government and greater reliance on its "investments" will inevitably prove to be about the very ownership of individual Americans. One already reads stories from other nations of rationing based on habits like smoking, but the principle needn't halt there.

It's certainly objectionable enough that mandatory coverage of abortions appears now to be a component of the Senate bill. What begins as a "medically appropriate" option could easily make the transition to classification as "most appropriate" — say for one of those inspiring mothers who, under the current system, accept the risk of their own lives for their children's births or for those who choose not to kill their unborn offspring despite known disabilities. When a centralized government becomes a "single payer," those risks and those offspring are a burden to the whole system. One can hear the argument that they're free to do so, but that society cannot be expected to pay for "excessive" procedures during birth, let alone a lifetime of specialty care.

We daren't even contemplate the possibility that women with psychological problems (religious views considered to be extreme, for example) may be deemed ineligible to bring children into the world. We further daren't consider that a government empowered to tell its healthcare dependents what risks they are not permitted to take may, given circumstances, quickly decide that it also holds the prerogative to place risks before them — whether of a martial or occupational character. For the time being, it is enough simply to acknowledge that the party that pays is the party that controls and that to control a person's health is to control the person.

July 18, 2009

John Loughlin: Kennedy Vote For Cap & Tax Trade Bad for Economy AND Bad for the Environment

Monique Chartier
On June 26, 2009, Congressman Patrick Kennedy returned to the House of Representatives to cast a partisan vote in favor of the Waxman-Markey Climate Change bill known as Cap & Trade. A few days later, a blast e-mail arrived from the Congressman’s office to tell Rhode Island how proud of this vote he was. Despite the claims of his e-mail, I would respectfully submit that this poorly crafted and poorly considered bill will harm both Rhode Island’s economy and ultimately harm the environment we pass on to our children.

The bill mandates a “cap” on carbon emissions, while providing a percentage of carbon-emission “allowances” to the business sector. If the number of allowances do not cover the carbon emitted by a Rhode Island manufacturer, for example, they would either have to spend more money to retrofit their operations or purchase additional allowances from the federal government. These costs could only be met by laying off more workers or passing the cost on to you and me in the form of higher prices – or both.

More likely than not, these manufactures will simply move more manufacturing jobs off-shore to countries like India and China where the cost of doing business is significantly less.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington estimates that will translate into a loss of more than 5,800 jobs here in Rhode Island by 2012. Let’s say they’re off by 50%, can we afford to outsource more than 2,900 Rhode Island jobs in the next three years?

Further, they estimate that our economy here in Rhode Island will loose more than 530 million dollars in Gross State Product. Translation? Less money in state and local coffers to pay for
education, infrastructure and assistance to the poor and elderly – coupled with rising property taxes and rising electric bills. As President Obama said, electricity rates will “necessarily skyrocket” and those costs will be passed on “to consumers.” (San Francisco Chronicle, January, 2008)

As manufacturing industries move overseas, (with our jobs), they will be setting up shop in countries that have little or no environmental protections, meaning our planet becomes even more polluted. That’s why this bill is bad for our environment as well.

Here’s a simple but common sense alternative. Why not sharply increase domestic production of oil, natural gas and clean coal? We would use the money generated by expanded royalties from US government leases to invest directly in tax cuts for green industries, based on actual jobs created. Here are some of the benefits. We decrease our dependence on foreign sources of energy and do so immediately. We generate revenue from the carbon rich petroleum and natural gas industry and invest it directly into renewable energy produced right here in America. We grow the green segment of our economy and grow the associated jobs, without exporting our few remaining manufacturing jobs. As more and more sources of green renewable energy come on-line, we improve our environment.

There’s an old saying that a little common sense goes a long way. I believe we need to return common sense to the vocabulary of Washington, DC. It is my sincere hope that cooler heads in the US Senate will not pass this harmful House bill known as Cap & Trade and cheerfully supported by Congressman Kennedy.

John Loughlin is a State Representative from District 71, Tiverton, Portsmouth & Little Compton. He is rumored to be considering a run against Congressman Patrick Kennedy.

Revisiting the Cult of Obama

Justin Katz

File this under "confessions," but I've started putting politically tinged songs on my MP3 player so that, every now and then, amidst the thousands of songs and compositions being shuffled throughout the day, I'll have reason to pause and smirk, laugh, or shake my head. The first such song was the creepy Obama children's choir tune, which I've found myself humming every time I hear another of the mounting stories of national decline and global danger. I recently added Remy's "Going Green with Cap and Trade."

Well, last night I went digging for the pre-election Obamacult "We Are the Ones" advertisement featuring will.i.am and various stars, and this spoken word promise by somebody I don't recognize definitely won the song some megabytes on my non-Apple player:

I think the thing that inspires me most about Barack Obama is that he really is going to be the President of the United States. You know? He's not going to be the President of the top 10% or the President of the most powerful corporations or the President of the most powerful lobbyists. He's going to be our President. He's going to speak for us, 'cause we put him there.

Of course, there's the endearing naiveté — as if the rich, corporations, and especially lobbyists can't declare the "we put him there" claim on his attention to a greater degree than the average voter. But the game that's likely to prove increasingly fun comes with the second "or": He's not going to be the "President of the most powerful corporations"? If we take that as a de facto title, I'd say that bit of hope was misplaced!

Watching the President's brief recent comments on the healthcare debate in preparation for a post that will go up tomorrow morning, it struck me that one cannot address the Barack Obama phenomenon — or figure out a way to arrest his relentless push for national destruction (inadvertent as that result may be) — without realizing that there's a segment of the U.S. population that is involved enough to vote, but not enough to follow policy debates, that doesn't hear a substantive argument when The One orates. What they actually hear is something more like the speech-turned-pop-song "Yes We Can" (which, therefore, is also apt to pop up on shuffle from time to time).

People will continue to support Barack Obama for the same reason that young folks continue to become new smokers. There's a cultural appeal — an image and a storyline — that they find compelling, and even if they know enough to have an abstract understanding of the consequences, like teenagers, they don't believe it'll actually ever come to pass.

We're not Laffing - Rhode Island's ALEC/Laffer Index

Monique Chartier

Justin notes the state's latest unemployment figure. Rhode Island now has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation.

A Providence Bus News article posted July 8 suggests a major contributing factor in the form of other dubious rankings, which together mean that

Rhode Island’s economic outlook ranked 48th among states in a new study from the American Legislative Exchange Council, which said the state’s ranking suffered because of what it characterized as high income and property taxes and an estate tax.

It ain't the neighborhood.

The second annual Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index ranked Massachusetts 26th and Connecticut 32nd.

It is

15 “variables,” including top marginal personal income tax rate (7 percent, ranked 33rd), top marginal corporate income tax rate (9 percent, ranked 39th), property tax burden ($48.62 per $1,000 of personal income, ranked 46th).

Plus the state's minimum wage. The state not being right to work (50th - yikes). And throw in the state's liability system (tort litigation, judicial impartiality,etc.) - 39th - for good measure.

There were two bits of good news; we should note with applause that one was the General Assembly's discipline in precluding any form of the Economic Death and Dismemberment Act last ... er, this session.

the study gives the state good marks for a relatively low sales tax burden and moderately low workers compensation costs.

Overall, however, the ALEC/Laffer index of Rhode Island [PDF] paints a very unpleasant picture of our economic condition.

Analyzing a little deeper now to determine the cause of this condition, we turn to remarks made Wednesday by Rep Tim Williamson (D-West Warwick) on the Dan Yorke Show.

If you look at our state, you look at the western corrider, you look at the East Bay. Their issues are not the same as my issues issues in West Warwick.

Au contraire, mon frere. The ALEC/Laffer index is only the latest in a long list of analyses confirming that the entire state now suffers the considerable ill effects of a controlling party whose members too often cast votes out of misguided sympathy or to advance a self interest instead of the best interest of the state by ... oh, for example, legislating an economic climate that would attract rather than repulse those pesky entities which hire, employ, hand out paychecks, pay taxes - what are they called now? Oh, yeah. Businesses.

Wasn't This Guy Supposed to Be Smart, Moderate, and Temperate?

Justin Katz

This bit of cynicism should be beneath the cool-headed genius whom we elected president:

Obama countered yesterday that "if we step back from this challenge at this moment, we are consigning our children to a future of skyrocketing premiums and crushing deficits. If we don't achieve health-care reform, we cannot control the costs of Medicare and Medicaid, and we cannot control our long-term debt and our long-term deficits."

"Our children" (in this cliché) have years before adulthood and will not be consigned to anything by some months of research and debate. There is no milestone pending in the next few weeks or months that will lock in costs. Unless, that is, the federal government does act and institutes a mess of an oppressive power grab like the plans that are on the table.

July 17, 2009

The Subversiveness of Boredom

Justin Katz

Conductor Lorin Maazel made a point that's occurred to me periodically in an interview with Jay Nordlinger that appears in the latest print edition of National Review:

Speaking of operas, we get on the subject of opera productions, and specifically "Euro-trash," to use an impolite term--Maazel's is "Euro-dreck." He thinks that this phenomenon "will gradually peter out, because audiences will have had enough." Let us hope--it's been a long time already. "The faddists are clever," says Maazel, "because they paint you into a corner." Their trick is to say, "If you object to us, you're a conservative, you're a fuddy-duddy, you're a living anachronism! What we do is new!" Maazel says, "It's not new. It's boring. It's not even vulgar. It's just ... dull." The way Maazel says "dull" would wither any of these Euro-dreck directors.

At some point during the last century, the impulse to be even more subversive than the previous generation became the habit, and arts of various kinds ceased to be compelling — becoming dull, as Maazel put it. Throughout the Classical and Romantic periods, in music, what enabled composers to be brilliantly shocking was that the culture actually valued the norm, as did (one suspects) the composers. They were trying to get tradition to do more.

When we dispense with the principle that tradition (not to mention aesthetic pleasure) continues to have relevance and uphold it merely as something to mock and pervert, subversion becomes a game of hopscotch.

Could the Seeds of Educational Radicalism Spread?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Russell J. Moore of the Warwick Beacon notes that other Rhode Island communities will be closely watching Providence and Central Falls' "radical" experiments with hiring teachers on a basis other than seniority…

Should a school department hire teachers administrators believe would best educate students? Or should the teacher who has worked for the school department the longest get the job?

That’s the question teachers, administrators and residents from Pawtucket to Westerly are debating since the Providence school district announced that six schools have begun a pilot program that will place merit above seniority with respect to hiring....

Earlier this year, then Department of Education Commissioner Peter McWalters ordered six schools in the Providence School Department to scrap the seniority requirement. Plagued with low test scores and overall student achievement, McWalters thought the seniority based hiring was a deterrent to student achievement. He also approved the practice for Central Falls....

“The commissioner does believe that teacher assignment should be based on teacher effectiveness and student need, but right now the two orders in place only affect Providence and Central Falls,” said Krieger.

Krieger didn’t leave out the possibility of the change spreading to other districts in the future.

The Unemployment Clock Clicks On

Justin Katz

For some reason, it feels as if this new report has come early, but be that as it may, Rhode Island is now up to 12.4% unemployment. That's about an eighth of the workforce, and as Andrew pointed out, that doesn't include folks who are partially employed, which brings total under-employment to over one out of five Rhode Islanders.

Here's the part that I find especially disturbing:

The June jobs report was not without positive signs. The number of employed state residents rose by 1,400, the second monthly increase this year. That category did not grow in a single month in 2008.

Many of the newly employed are probably working in other states. The total number of jobs in Rhode Island declined by 900 in June.

The work to be found, in other words, is being found elsewhere, and as I've been predicting, as the rest of the country recovers (especially the rest of New England), Rhode Island will watch its most motivated, productive citizens packing up and finding a better life elsewhere. I'm beginning to think that stabilization will ultimately come as a result of the workforce's shrinking to the size of the economy, not the other way around.

Making Up Time in Cranston

Justin Katz

Tim White's got another video of employee malfeasance with taxpayer funded time:

The video shows the janitorial office at Cranston's Western Hills Middle School from the view of a hidden camera looking down at a time clock used by school custodians to punch in and out of their shifts. The first minute and twelve seconds of the tape are uneventful. Then, a voice off camera says, "I'm gonna bang these out."

A school department worker then steps into frame. He is identified by school officials as Neal Emmett, the custodial foreman of Western Hills Middle School. He takes a time card from the top of the clock. Emmett then removes the shell of the clock and manipulates the gears to advance the time from 8:35 to roughly 9:00. Walking off camera, he takes a time card from a rack and stamps it with the adjusted time.

The inference is that the custodial crew is leaving early and advancing the machine to capture more hours, and the "bang this out" phrase, the practiced movements of the foreman, and the presence of the camera itself all suggest that it was a regular act. The requested budget for 2008-2009 (PDF) included $278,169 for custodian salaries in Emmett's school, with another $2,500 to cover Saturday detentions. I don't see any indication of an overtime budget. Although, it appears that Emmett's scheduled pay rate for 2008 was $36,629 (PDF), but that he took home $43,021 (PDF).

July 16, 2009

Woonsocket School Committee in the First Person Plural

Monique Chartier

[Following are paraphrased comments by School Committee members as they debated and then unanimously voted last night for an adjustment to the school budget that consisted of forty furlough days per teacher and the elimination of most student activities.]

What's needed is a fair funding formula by the state. We need to say that Woonsocket's state representatives support a fair funding formula -- and they do, although why did they vote to level fund state aid to Woonsocket for the last two years?

The group that needs to be worked on to get a fair funding formula in place is the state reps from the suburbs, whose children not only have these programs that we are cutting -- baseball, basketball -- but they have swim teams, golf teams, etc. Our children don't have this because they're from Woonsocket. We need to explain to the state reps from other parts of the state what our children are missing out on versus their children.

We don't like doing this [cutting student activities] but we have no choice under the law.

Leadership Is Also About Timing

Justin Katz

Ah, Frank:

Breaking new ground in Rhode Island's top political ranks, General Treasurer Frank T. Caprio has made public his daily calendars for the last 18 months, a move that not only shows how and with whom he has spent his time in office, but also the number of days he spent traveling outside Rhode Island on both state and political business.

His daily schedules reflect a range of state, political and family commitments, from an "8:30 a.m. UN conference NYC," to a noon luncheon meeting described as "Lehman's/Capriccio" to "dinner with Gabriella & Frankie."

My impression of Rhode Island Treasurer Frank Caprio is that he's an unimpeachably honest guy, and he seems intent on running his campaign for governor in precisely the manner not only of an honest guy, but of an affable one: making up for the disadvantage of clean hands by keeping them in constant motion. During his ubiquitous appearances at state-level events of all sorts, Caprio is always the last to sit down — working the room, as they call it.

In that respect, he (or at least his image) is a welcome relief in a profession characterized by scheming and sleaze. The question is whether it makes him the man that Rhode Island needs in its top executive chair, just now, and his case has yet to be proven. He strikes me as the sort of leader a polity wants when it requires rest from the hard work of cleaning up government — after cleaning up the government. In those circumstances, the "right thing" has been clearly defined, and the society wants a chief who will apply it fairly and openly and recoil from immediate corruption.

Truthfulness is better than deception, of course, and straight laces better than knots. With Caprio, we can add in a better display of the correct impulses, compared with the erroneous ones of his likely competition. But that only makes him preferable — not adequate. What we need is not somebody who's affably honest, but somebody who's contentiously honest.

Miguel Luna on Honduras, or When A Providence City Councilman is Saying Obey Executive Authority at Any Cost, You Know He's Not Thinking Straight

Carroll Andrew Morse

As his term of office was coming to an end, Honduran President Manuel Zelaya decided he didn't like the way the government of Honduras was structured. Unfortunately for President Zelaya, according to Article 373 of the existing Honduran Constitution, a 2/3 vote by the Congress and not a unilateral decision by this President, is needed to initiate Constitutional change. ("La reforma de esta Constitución podrá decretarse por el Congreso Nacional, en sesiones ordinarias, con dos tercios de votos de la totalidad de sus miembros.")

And according to Article 375, the Constitution cannot be changed by means other than what it specifies. ("Esta Constitución no pierde su vigencia ni deja de cumplirse por acto de fuerza o cuando fuere supuestamente derogada o modificada por cualquier otro medio y procedimiento distintos del que ella mismo dispone.")

Faced with these obstacles, Zelaya decided to begin a process of going outside the existing political structures to convene a "constituent assembly" to write a new Constitution. We know the process was outside of any existing legal authority, because Zelaya said so himself, in the March Presidential decree (PCM-005-2009) calling for a referendum on the subject of a constituent assembly…

CONSIDERING that the Constitution does not provide a procedure for convening a National Constituent Assembly, the executive in order to practice participatory democracy must appeal to the mechanism of popular consultation to determine if Honduran society demands a new constitution.

("CONSIDERANDO: Que la Constitución vigente no preve un procedimiento para convocar a una Asamblea Nacional Constituyente; por ello, el Poder Ejecutivo, como una forma de practicar la democracia participativa, apela al mecanismo de la consulta popular para determinar si la sociedad hondurena demanda una nueva Constitucion.")

Various organs of the Honduran government -- most of them, actually -- objected to the extra-legal attempt to re-write the Constitution. Testimony from former Honduran Supreme Court Judge Guillermo Perez-Cadalso before the U.S House of Representatives provides a short outline of how they expressed their objections.

Paraphrasing Mr. Perez-Cadalso's timeline: The current Honduran Attorney General, Luis Alberto Rubi, went to court to prevent the referendum that Zelaya was attempting to conduct, arguing that it violated the Constitution. Honduras' Administrative Law Tribunal and an appellate tribunal agreed. Despite this, Zelaya continued to prepare to have the referendum carried out, ordering General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, the chief of the Honduran military, to help facilitate it (note: I believe that it is not unusual for the military to be involved in the Honduran election process.). General Vásquez Velásquez refused, believing the order to be an illegal one. Zelaya fired him; Attorney General Rubi went to Supreme Court to have him re-instated, which the Supreme Court ordered. At about the same time (late June) Zelaya rescinded the referendum decree – but then on the next day issued a new decree (PCM-020-2009) calling for the referendum to go ahead, then led a mob to an Air Force base to take possession of ballots that had been ordered impounded by the Courts, so he could carry out the referendum on his own, outside of the existing electoral mechanisms of the government. The Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant for Zelaya, Congress voted (including every member of his own party) to remove him from power, and the military found Zelaya and forced him to leave the country.

Now enter -- the Providence City Council?

Providence City Councilman Miguel Luna has introduced a resolution supporting Zelaya's return to power, apparently believing that Executive Authority trumps all other authority in Honduras. (I wonder if he believes that principle should apply in his home city of Providence, too?)

Beyond the question of the Providence City Council taking positions on foreign affairs, the question to ask about the merits of the situation is this: If Governor Donald Carcieri decided that the best way to reform Rhode Island government was to call a "constituent assembly", to replace the existing constitution with a new one, without the consent of the state legislature or the courts, without any constitutional authority, and planning to administer the election directly himself, would councilman Luna (or anyone else) consider that action legitimate? Or do Councilman Luna and his fellow travelers believe that some countries have a lower bar for what constitutes democracy and the rule of law – so long as they agree with the leftist ideology of their leaders?

Below the fold is an excerpt from Mary Anastasia O'Grady of the Wall Street Journal, who has a few more details on Manuel Zelaya's colorful leadership style over his past (and hopefully last) few months in office.

Two incidents earlier this year make the case. The first occurred in January when the country was preparing to name a new 15-seat Supreme Court, as it does every seven years. An independent board made up of members of civil society had nominated 45 candidates. From that list, Congress was to choose the new judges.

Mr. Zelaya had his own nominees in mind, including the wife of a minister, and their names were not on the list. So he set about to pressure the legislature. On the day of the vote he militarized the area around the Congress and press reports say a group of the president's men, including the minister of defense, went to the Congress uninvited to turn up the heat. The head of the legislature had to call security to have the defense minister removed.

In the end Congress held its ground and Mr. Zelaya retreated. But the message had been sent: The president was willing to use force against other institutions.

In May there was an equally scary threat to peace issued by the Zelaya camp as the president illegally pushed for a plebiscite on rewriting the constitution. Since the executive branch is not permitted to call for such a vote, the attorney general had announced that he intended to enforce the law against Mr. Zelaya.

A week later some 100 agitators, wielding machetes, descended on the attorney general's office. "We have come to defend this country's second founding," the group's leader reportedly said. "If we are denied it, we will resort to national insurrection."

Gutting the District in Woonsocket

Justin Katz

For those who need a bright light in the lazy days of a tardy summer, here are the cuts approved by the Woonsocket School Committee last night (PDF, including other documentation):

  • All sports except track & field: $155,903
  • Athletic supplies: $12,750
  • Athletic uniforms: $9,350
  • Choral, class advisors 8 through 12, RI Honor Society, band, drama senior high publication, VICA: $49,461
  • Saturday detention: $2,000
  • 40 teacher furlough days: $6,084,033
  • Total: $6,548,134

Pondering what students are going to do with no teachers for 40 of the school year's 180 days brings to light a general principle that seems to have been baked into the Rhode Island education paradigm: Everything must be cut, rather than reduced. Salaries never go down; staff are laid off. Extra activities are never included in teachers' already high salaries; they are eliminated. An across-the-board cut in the combined salaries/benefit total of about 13-14% for all teachers, staff, and administrators would eliminate the shortfall with no cuts to programs.

Sure, that's a bitter pill for employees to swallow, but it's hardly unique among workers in today's environment. It's also mitigated with some perspective about salary trends, especially (as ever) among teachers:

Over the three years of the most recent teachers' contract (PDF), the average pay scale step has increased 7.64%. In any given year, the average salary increase from one step to another is 6.5%. The result is that an actual teacher has seen nearly a 10% increase each year and a 21.5% increase in salary since the contract went into effect. (Higher education bonuses are not included.)

Of course, teachers at step 10 have had to make do with the 7.64% increase to their step and longevity (as well as whatever seniority-based perks are worked into the contract), but sometimes an organization has to do what it must do in order to maintain its purpose. And besides, those teachers hired before 1994 (about 70 of them, I'm told) have never paid a penny for their healthcare.

It remains a possibility — another principle baked into the public sector paradigm — that the objective, here, was to put forward cuts that the unions, government, and public wouldn't permit to happen rather than adjustments that might actually solve the problem. Eventually, everybody involved is going to have to cease petulant demands that money just be found... somewhere... and accept that the old way is not sustainable.


Carroll Andrew Morse

From United Press International

Add the number of part-time workers who would prefer full-time employment and those who have given up looking for work and the unemployment rate reaches 23.5 percent in Oregon, more than one in every five workers, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

In Michigan and Rhode Island, the unemployment rate with the two extra groups added would reach 21.5 percent. In California, it would reach 20.3 percent.


In the comments section of the original New York Times article that reported the statistics, reporter David Leonhardt can't figure out why things should be so bad here…

South Carolina, likewise, is a manufacturing-heavy state....Rhode Island is more of a mystery. It has some manufacturing, but not a ton. It’s probably also been hit by the housing crash, since parts of the state are Boston exurbs
But there is an upside of their general lack of knowledge about our problems in Rhode Island -- at least our troubles are not being blamed on us being surly and neurotic!

Leonhardt also adds this interesting bit…

These broad unemployment rates have soared over the last two years. In California, the rate was under 10 percent two years ago. This spring, it was above 20 percent. You can say the same about Oregon. In South Carolina and Rhode Island, the rate was below 9 percent two years ago. Now it’s above 20 percent.

Getting Back to Being American

Justin Katz

On a Matt Allen Violent Round Table back in December state Senator Leonidas Raptakis (D, Coventry, East Greenwich, Warwick, West Warwick) and Paul Tencher opined knowingly that, if only American automakers had had the foresight to rush forward with fancy environmentally friendly automobiles, instead of pushing those darned gas guzzlers, they wouldn't need a government bailout. I pointed out that those gas guzzlers were what people actually wanted, and I'd caution GM's new union-and-government-backed executives that, however "new" they want to claim to be, Americans' tastes haven't changed all that much.

Amidst the descriptions of structural changes (and the oddly front-loaded gimmicks of eBay sales and "Tell Fritz" Web site to move customer suggestions directly to the new CEO) comes this observation from which conceptual brainstorming ought to proceed:

"For 100 years General Motors was among the world's greatest companies. It deserves to be there again and it will be there again," [Obama-picked Chairman of the Board Edward Whitacre, Jr.,] said. "I agreed to take this job because I know most Americans want this company to succeed."

One can picture the commercial: soft electric guitar in the background as the interior door to a sunrise-lit garage opens; the driver passes photographs of folks and their Chevys, a couple magazines with classic cars pass the camera, while that guy (you know that guy) with the deep voice and the vaguely Southern accent talks about America's car company — the memories, the confidence. A car door closes and the garage door opens. The music switches to the driving rock sounds of Americana, and into the morning sunlight rolls... a glass-and-metal bubble hybrid.

No. There's a reason that jars against the imagination:

One of his first customers was Scott Wilbur, a 40-year-old elementary school principal who bought a silver V-8 Camaro in June.

Mr. Wilbur had not purchased a G.M. vehicle in a decade, and traded in his Honda Civic hybrid to buy the Camaro.

He even gave up his California-issued sticker to drive in hybrid-only carpool lanes to get behind the wheel of his new muscle car.

"I might not be as environmentally friendly, but at this point I don't mind waiting in traffic to drive this," he said.

Almost as a means of absolution — a personal cap and trade, you might say — Mr. Wilbur put a deposit, sight unseen, on the hybrid Chevy Volt due out next year. Most Americans will stop with the first purchase and wait a number of years to reevaluate, which means that they'll skip the Volt, perhaps hoping that technology will bring them environmentally friendly muscle, but they'll be more interested in the muscle than the friendliness.

July 15, 2009

So This Is Woonsocket

Justin Katz

Almost an hour late, I finally made it to the Woonsocket School Committee meeting — I'll confess that the I-Way change got me — and just caught the tail end of the consent agenda. That's quite a difference from Tiverton, where tardiness of five minutes is apt to see the first page or more of the agenda completed. The room is mostly full, with maybe two dozen people, but hardly what one would expect during a time of tough decisions.

So far, I've heard mostly complaints about the General Assembly — with which complaints I'm enormously sympathetic, of course, but when a $6 million deficit is on the table, perhaps it's time to skip the complaints against higher authority.

8:03 p.m.

I have to wonder if part of the difference between this meeting and my imagination of what a Tiverton School Committee meeting (let alone an East Providence School Committee meeting) would be under similar circumstances is the union that represents the teachers. Woonsocket is AFT, while those districts in the East Bay are NEA. Or maybe it's just the difference between my home region and the Deep North, over here.

8:14 p.m.

Well OK, then. Apparently the reason they were just wrapping up the consent agenda when I got here was that they took the budget discussion out of order and front-loaded it. Monique was here on time, and although she's not versed on the specifics, she said it sounded as if they cut a multitude of things. The email that tipped me off to tonight's significance explained the result as follows:

Nobody is advertising much about it, but the new budget will be based on assumed concessions from the unions (I'm told upwards of a 10% pay cut), waivers of certain regulations (nothing specific that I have been made aware of), and there will be cuts in all areas of extracurricular activities (all sports except boys and girls track & field and all but one of each program in music and arts).

So they will be cutting football, baseball, softball, soccer, fieldhockey, tennis, volleyball, golf, wrestling, basketball, theater, debate, math team, jazz band, all Middle school programs, and others I'm sure I can't remember. On the academic side, for the fifth year in a row, the only textbooks to be purchased will be those provided to the catholic school students as required by law (they are the only ones academically protected), supplies will be cut to a bare minimum, the only capital project will be a repair to a leaking high school roof, and whatever else is not commited by law and class size limitations.

That would explained why School Committee Chairman Marc Dubois was joking about taking a lesson from the governor and putting forward a budget that's balanced on paper only.

I've got to say that the casual atmosphere, here, is almost disconcerting. As I drove in, the lazy summer evening feel of the streets brought to mind the degree to which most residents are oblivious to the actions of their local, state, and even national government representatives. Given the points of levity, it's almost as if that mood has infiltrated even the bodies that those representatives populate.

8:33 p.m.

Another topic on which it's possible to hear angst is the failure of the state government to pass legislation (PDF) allowing the district to institute a uniform/dress code policy. Being both conservative and working class, I'm a fan of uniforms in school... one obvious point of in-school disputes and discrimination is removed, and it's a lot easier to get the kids out the door in the morning.

Another small thing that I've noticed, and that may or may not be significant, is that the committee's agenda (PDF) calls for a moment of silence before the Pledge of Allegiance. Interesting.

8:46 p.m.

A member of the audience who's in the know informs me that the reason the room isn't filled into the hallway is that nobody in town knows what's just happened. There is allegedly an intention among school committee members to swirl the cuts around offices of authority in the hopes that somebody, somewhere — commissioner, judge — will mandate that the money be taken from somebody — state, taxpayers — to remedy what is, in point of fact, the current circumstance of the Woonsocket school system, as described in the block quote above.

9:04 p.m.

The same member of the audience just explained to me that the teachers' pay cut that the just-passed budget assumes comes in the form of 40 furlough days — roughly 20% of pay.

It's astonishing that even the union isn't in the room creating that tension that they create so well.

Not Banned, but Invited?

Justin Katz

Well, it appears that the RI Tea Party is not banned from next year's Bristol parade:

[Tea Party treasurer Marina] Peterson said she was given a copy of [Bristol Fourth or July Committee Chairman David] Burns' apology, in which he says:

"The Fourth of July Committee regrets and apologizes for any miscommunication to the Rhode Island Tea Party group and assures them that they are not banned from future parades. In addition, it has not been determined that materials were distributed from the Rhode Island Tea Party float," Burns said.

"It is not the policy of the Fourth of July committee to 'ban' floats, marching units or parade participants, the Burns statement said. "The parade units participate in the parade upon invitation only. If a particular organization violates policy the committee would investigate the violation," Burns said.

Funny how explicit statements can become "miscommunications." But note the emphasis on "invitations." On the other hand, note that the chairman was careful to specify that it is of particular relevance whether handouts were made "from the float."

Keep an eye on this one; we may have reason to infiltrate the crowd with Constitutions, yet.

Easy Deaths, Like Hard Cases, Make Bad Law

Justin Katz

As a moral — and especially religious — matter, even the reporter's flowery language about "a poignant coda to... an illustrious musical career" doesn't persuade me of the decision made. But I will admit that, as a secular, civil matter, a strong case could be put forward for laws permitting this sort of thing:

He spent his life conducting world-renowned orchestras, but was almost blind and growing deaf — the music he loved increasingly out of reach. His wife of 54 years had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. So Edward and Joan Downes decided to die together.

Downes — Sir Edward since he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1991 — and his wife ended their lives last week at a Zurich clinic run by the assisted suicide group Dignitas. They drank a small amount of clear liquid and died hand-in-hand, their two adult children by their side. He was 85 and she was 74.

Unintended consequences, however, advise against legalization:

Peter Saunders, of the anti-euthanasia group Care Not Killing, argued that loosening the law could "put vulnerable people, many of whom already think they are a financial or emotional burden to relatives, carers and the state, under pressure to end their lives through a change in the law."

The cultural shift could be enormous — from those whose life is a walking death to those who want to "do right" by their families to those who merely feel useless or unloved. Cultural and economic forces will inevitably push our culture further into a view of life as easy come, easy go.

Senator Whitehouse's First Round of Questions to Judge Sotomayor

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Washington Post has the first round of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's questioning of Judge Sonia Sotomayor available at their website.

Ed Whelan of National Review Online notes that the exchange concerning Judge Sotomayor's involvement with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense fund contradicts what was reported in the New York Times earlier this year. This is what was said today...

WHITEHOUSE: And in terms of the way that the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund operated, you were a member of the board. Is that correct?


WHITEHOUSE: Did the attorneys for the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund make it a practice to vet their legal filings with the board first? Did the board approve individual briefs and arguments that were made by attorneys in the -- for the organization?

SOTOMAYOR: No, because most of us on the board didn't have civil rights experience. I had actually when I was a prosecutor in -- in private practice, that wasn't my specialty of law. Even if they tried to show it to me, I don't know that I could have made a legal judgment, even if I tried. That was not our function.

...and this was what was reported in the Times in May...
Ms. Sotomayor stood out, frequently meeting with the legal staff to review the status of cases, several former members said. And so across her 12 years on the board — she left when she was appointed a federal judge in 1992 — she played an active role as the defense fund staked out aggressive stances on issues like police brutality, the death penalty and voting rights.

The board monitored all litigation undertaken by the fund’s lawyers, and a number of those lawyers said Ms. Sotomayor was an involved and ardent supporter of their various legal efforts during her time with the group.

Other than that, I can't find anything particular interesting -- except for the fact that Senator Whitehouse may have outed himself as a closet originalist...
WHITEHOUSE: I see the Constitution as being changeless, timeless and immutable.
But to be honest, after his opening statement, I'm not really sure that the Senator knows what he's saying when he's talking about legal matters.

Free Speech and the Fourth of July in Florida

Carroll Andrew Morse

In yet another blow to the nascent movement by local officials from Rhode Island to Florida to regulate freedom of speech and freedom of the press at Fourth of July celebrations, city officials of Port St. Lucie, Florida have apologized to members of the Treasure Coast Tea Party (h/t Instapundit)…

"It was not our intent to interfere or cast dispersions on the tea party," said City Manager Don Cooper, who took responsibility for what he called a "bone-head decision."
According to an editorial in Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers online, the apology was offered regarding the City's requirement that tea party members set up their booth in a separate section from other booths present at the parade, in a section behind a disclaimer sign…
At the Fourth of July festival at the city's Civic Center, officials segregated the anti-tax group Treasure Coast Tea Party and a church from commercial vendors and exhibitors in what the city termed "Section B," an area in which some might find the views expressed by such groups as offensive....The city erected a sign at Section B stating that the city does not "endorse, support or condone" the views expressed by groups in that area, with the implication that the city opposes such views.

Going further, the sign added, "We are required to make this space available to avoid the cost of litigation." implying, again, that the city would rather not allow such views to be expressed.

This should provide a heads-up to officials in Bristol for next year; telling people that Constitutions may be passed out to the public, but only if it's done in officially sanctioned areas, probably won't work as a compromise.

The Depression Is Coming! The Depression Is Coming!

Justin Katz

It really is astonishing. With the economy flailing and the trends in job losses disappointing even the whiz kids of the Obama administration, despite its having whipped out the "stimulus" credit card, with "cap and trade" energy policy seeking to raise the cost of doing business (and of simply living), the Democrats are hitting the accelerator pedal on their hybrid healthcare suicide car:

The liberal-leaning plan lacked figures on total costs, but a House Democratic aide said the total bill would add up to about $1.5 trillion over 10 years. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private calculations. Most of the bill's costs come in the last five years after the 2012 presidential election.

The legislation calls for a 5.4 percent tax increase on individuals making more than $1 million a year, with a gradual tax beginning at $280,000 for individuals. Employers who don't provide coverage would be hit with a penalty equal to 8 percent of workers' wages with an exemption for small businesses. Individuals who decline an offer of affordable coverage would pay 2.5 percent of their incomes as a penalty, up to the average cost of a health insurance plan.

Pay down. Employment down. Prices up.

Note that admission that the legislation's cost structure attempts to move the bill past the next presidential election. Consider also that the bulk of the stimulus money is scheduled for dispersal next year — an election year. One doesn't have to be partisan to wonder whether economic hardship and civic anxiety are being tolerated in the service of a planned political script. A few eggs must be broken, after all, in order for the Left to make the governmental omelet that the country doesn't yet know it needs.

Arbitration Is a Union Game

Justin Katz

Anybody who still believes that public sector union arbitration isn't the unions' playroom should take a moment to glance toward Cranston. The contract between the city and the Teamsters (PDF) contains the following language:

The City agrees to offer a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) plan for each member of the Union and his family. Each employee shall pay a percentage of the monthly working rate for the City for the plan chosen, deducted bi-weekly from the employee's paycheck. The co-share percentage will be 10% for Year 1 (FY 7/1/05 to 6/30/06), 15% in Year 2 (FY 7/1/06 to 6/30/07), and 20% in Year 3 (FY 7/1/07 to 6/30/08) of this agreement. The PPO plan will include the following: $10 co-pays for office visits, specialists, and urgent care visits and a $50 co-pay for emergency room visits each occurrence.

That contract expired at the end of June 2008, and as anybody should have expected (and the union probably did), the city continued to adjust healthcare co-shares in accord with rising prices. The union filed a grievance claiming that the dollar amount is what should carry through — which certainly conflicts with the reason that elected representatives have been negotiating for percentages — and the arbitrator who handled the grievance gave the win to the union. Despite the absence of any dollar-amount language in the contract. Despite the fact that the contract was no longer in effect.

And so, the city finds itself spending scarce funds on legal expenses to defend against union-fantasy-land justice. I say it's time to meet lunacy with resolve: If a union is going to delay contract resolution and tie the city up in court, anyway, when times are tight, fire its members and rehire.

July 14, 2009

Giving Cards to the Other Side

Justin Katz

The Tiverton School Committee is discussing whether to grant a leave of absence to an elementary school art teacher, and it's a strange circumstance. Apparently, the custom is to discuss such matters vaguely, so Superintendent Bill Rearick is offering details only inasmuch as is necessary to rebut reluctance from the school committee, but some details have come out:

  • The teacher received a layoff notice, as required by law.
  • She found another job.
  • Additional funds enabled the district to cancel the layoff notice.
  • The teacher is seeking a leave of absence so that she'll have until early next year to decide whether to stay at her new job or to return.

The downside, as I'm hearing it, is that the district can expect a larger pool of applicants — perhaps with an upward shift of quality — if the position is explicitly on the permanent track.


Interestingly, union president Amy Mullen, who was granted a maternity leave of absence just before, responded to a question from committee member Danielle Coulter about the affect of the duration of the opening on the applicant pool by saying, "If I'm an art teacher looking for employment, I'll take whatever I can get in this economic environment." This statement of bald fact is interesting because I've been arguing that the school committee should keep precisely this in mind when handling negotiations with the union.

Also interesting was committee member Carol Herrmann's progression during the discussion. Known as one of the union-friendly members of the committee, Herrmann was clearly arguing in favor of granting the leave. What's peculiar is that she appeared to have thought through the arguments, beforehand, but she started from a stance nearing ambivalence. Like Rearick, she played her cards only as necessary, finally arguing that the district put the teacher in a "stressful position." I wonder how many folks in the private sector make the decision, every year, to simply turn down jobs that they've taken in expectation of a layoff that didn't materialize.

The leave of absence request failed, with Herrmann and Sally Black as the two votes to grant.

7:45 p.m.

There was no handout covering the budget discussion, and I've been typing, so I might have missed important details. It appears, however, that the district administrators (Supt. Rearick and Director of Administration and Finance Doug Fiore) intend to blow off the voters' requirement that the district stick to the dollar amount that was approved at the financial town meeting and treat that amount as creating a budget gap to be filled with stimulus money.

7:53 p.m.

Bill & Doug noted that, if the stimulus money isn't repeated next year, the district will be facing a $800,000 deficit — or $100,000+ more than the district is supposed to be trimming as a result of the FTM.

They're talking about closing a school. Oddly, nobody has suggested a few percent across-the-board cut in combined salaries and benefits; they go right for cutting positions, even though there is no contract yet for next year.

Why are they afraid to put forward such an obvious and reasonable solution?

8:05 p.m.

Again, I don't have the paperwork, but it sounds as if extracurricular activities and athletic programs are on Rearick's hit list. Can't help but wonder whether this is all part of the strategy to motivate parents to turn out at next year's FTM and vote for more money.

8:19 p.m.

Yup. Committee President Jan Bergandy just noted that the district "avoided a catastrophe" thanks to the stimulus money and suggested that the district "provide additional information for parents" as to the consequences of cuts.

8:25 p.m.

A high school nurse just received a reduction in hours.

From home:

Here's audio of NEA-Tiverton President and NEARI Treasurer Amy Mullen arguing — in response to a question from School Committee Member Danielle Coulter — that it's an employer's market when it comes to teachers: stream, download.

When the Last Bastion Falls

Justin Katz

On healthcare, as on several other issues, it's long been my contention that the touted (but debatable) successes of other nations are heavily dependent about the United States of America being its different self. That's one of the points worth taking from Peter Morici's op-ed on healthcare reform:

Americans subsidize health care globally by paying most of the costs for developing new drugs. Single payers in Canada and elsewhere force drug companies to charge little more than manufacturing and marketing costs, and they must recoup all their development costs by charging Americans oppressive prices.

And what should we expect to happen if the U.S.A. no longer stands as a revenue opportunity for drug developers? Correct: They'll develop fewer cutting-edge drugs. As much as doctors and scientists may want to develop new treatments, everybody's got to make a living, and the profit motive has brought them the funding they require.

A second point of Morici's touches on another common theme of mine:

Unlike U.S. health-insurance companies, single-payer systems abroad don't pay executives salaries in the millions, impose multiple systems of private rationing second guessed by buccaneering lawyers, and create massive paperwork burdens to justify high rates.

Americans have created a "competitive market" for private insurance that is less efficient than the French bureaucracy. What a triumph of free enterprise!

What healthcare needs is not more regulation — even unto the extent of making the entire industry a government enterprise — but deregulation. The higher the hurdles, the more advantage those with the resources to jump them will have.

The third point I'll leave directly quoted, without comment:

My very expensive education in economics tells me: When prices are too high for an essential service, subsidizing purchases for those who can’t afford it increases demand and pushes prices up even more.

Americans will be stuck paying both higher health premiums and new taxes.

Re: A Question that Senator Whitehouse Might Ask of Judge Sotomayor

Carroll Andrew Morse

I think a Rhode Island Tea Party member needs to drop a copy of the United States Constitution off at the office of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, because the Senator seems stunningly unfamiliar with its content. This is part of what Senator Whitehouse had to say during his opening remarks at Judge Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Court confirmation hearing...

For all the talk of modesty and restraint, the right-wing justices of the Court has a striking record of ignoring precedent, overturning congressional statutes…for instance; the Louisville and Seattle integration cases, the first limitation on Roe versus Wade that outright disregards the woman's health and safety; the D.C.-Heller decision discovering a constitutional right to own guns that the Court had not previously noticed in 220 years...
In describing the District of Columbia v. Heller decision as the “discovery” of a right, the Senator appears unaware that a right to keep and bear arms was written into the Constitution in 1791, in the form of the Second Amendment…
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
As the Court laid out in Heller, the reference to a right of the people clearly describes an individual right, and no Supreme Court majority has ever attempted to contract the meaning of the Constitution to suggest that rights of the people sometimes imply rights that can only be exercised through government-authorized collectives…
The first salient feature of the operative clause is that it codifies a “right of the people.” The unamended Constitution and the Bill of Rights use the phrase “right of the people” two other times, in the First Amendment ’s Assembly-and-Petition Clause and in the Fourth Amendment ’s Search-and-Seizure Clause. The Ninth Amendment uses very similar terminology (“The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people”). All three of these instances unambiguously refer to individual rights, not “collective” rights, or rights that may be exercised only through participation in some corporate body.
... so whatever it is that Senator Whitehouse meant by the right of an individual to own a gun having been "discovered" is unclear.

Furthermore, given that Senator Whitehouse makes a point of defending a Constitutionally guaranteed right to abortion -- which by his own "reasoning" went unnoticed for at least 180 years or so -- he manages to be both logically inconsistent (some rights obviously exist, even when they are not mentioned by the Courts for 100+ years, but not others) and wrong on the facts (on the meaning of the Court’s Second Amendment rulings) at the same time.

As noted here yesterday, Second Amendment jurisprudence is of direct relevance to the Sotomayor nomination. Earlier this year, Judge Sotomayor joined a Second Circuit opinion supporting the right of state governments to ignore Second Amendment limitations on their actions, despite the fact that the Courts have ruled that most limits on government power contained in the Bill of Rights, through the Fourteenth Amendment, constrain state governments as well as the Federal government. However, the Second Circuit’s opinion also suggested that, in light of the Heller decision, the Supreme Court could readily change the controlling precedent on this matter. As it is a Supreme Court seat that Judge Sotomayor has been nominated for, she owes the public a clear and direct explanation of whether she believes the Second Amendment is incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment, or if she believes that judges can selectively ignore rights of the people guaranteed expressly in the Constitution.

The idea that the Second Amendment is incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment and therefore constrains the states is, by the way, supported by the Attorney Generals of 33 states, who haved filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in the cases of NRA v. Chicago and McDonald v. Chicago, arguing that…

Over the last century, the Court has held that “virtually all” of the individual rights found in the Bill of Rights apply to the States through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment....

As history has proven, the right to bear arms provides the foundational bulwark against the deprivation of all our other rights and privileges as Americans—including rights that have already been incorporated against the States by this Court. Accordingly, the Court should grant the petitions and hold that the Second Amendment also secures a “fundamental” right that can no more be abrogated by local government than by the federal government.

Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch chose not to join this brief. I put the question of whether the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amendment to Attorney General Lynch's Office, and received this reply from his official spokesman...
First, this case posed the question of whether or not a state or local government could enact a law prohibiting possession of weapons in the home. As you may know, Rhode Island law already allows possession of weapons in the home; the permit process, in which the Attorney General is extensively involved, applies only to carrying a concealed weapon outside of the home or a business. Thus, the issue that is before the court is not applicable to Rhode Island. We recognize that some have sought to broaden the question to be more of a referendum on the Second Amendment and what it means, but the issue is actually more narrow than that.

Second, this office generally does not participate at the cert stage, although we have participated in a number of briefs once the court accepts a case for review (i.e., the "merits" stage). In the event this case is accepted for review, we will certainly review any proposed amicus briefs being considered by attorneys general.

An Excuse for History

Justin Katz

Brian Wilder conveys an interesting and timely history lesson on slavery in Rhode Island, but he ends with a peculiar conclusion:

Today it is strange, and perhaps convenient, how little most of us know about the extent of Rhode Island's involvement in slavery.

The least we can do is to dump a word that lost its innocence when Rhode Island and its despicable plantations became the hub of the equally despicable North American slave trade. We can't honestly claim ownership of our state's and nation's past glories if we deny our past evils.

The peculiarity comes in the fact that Wilder spends most of his essay edifying the reader about not only Rhode Island's participation, but its prominence in the slave trade — which he would not have had occasion to do had the word "plantations" not been included in the state's name. In other words, "dumping" the word would make it that much easier to forget and thereby deny the very history that Wilder claims to be essential for civic honesty.

Seems to me, he should advocate for leaving the state's full name as is, perpetuating the opportunity for historical exploration.

An Image and a Corrective on Healthcare and the Economy

Justin Katz

Ben Stein presents an excellent image:

True, by many metrics, the economy has stopped falling drastically, but we are still in a painful recession, large by postwar standards. The bank crises seem to have abated for now and Wall Street is paying itself fantastically well again, thank heavens, after being rescued with taxpayer money. But housing is still extremely weak, profits are miserable and, most important, far too many Americans are unemployed — roughly 9.5 percent, by the latest data.

Just as basic, far too many Americans are living in fear.

What is President Obama doing about it? Perhaps too much. And, possibly, his efforts are too diffuse. When I think about the economy I think about a plump man who has just been hit by a truck while crossing a street and is in severely critical condition with internal bleeding. Instead of just stabilizing his hemorrhaging, the doctor decides that while the patient is unconscious, he might as well also do a face lift, some coronary bypasses and a stomach-stapling to keep him from gaining weight while he is recovering (if he does recover). After all, a crisis is not to be wasted.

The problem is that all these ambitious operations create too much of a burden for the human body to bear.

It's an old truism that one shouldn't go grocery shopping while hungry. Similarly, one shouldn't make dramatic financial decisions while panicked about paying a surprise bill. With the amped up call for extreme healthcare changes to be pushed through Congress with a minimum of deliberation, one can't help but wonder what makes the matter so dire that it must be forced through Congress in the distracted days of summer immediately before a recess. Are masses dying in the street for lack of a "public option"? It isn't unreasonable to suggest that such an outcome is much more likely if unemployment continues to mount — especially if new healthcare requirements increase the cost of employment for employers.

No, in theory, the urgency derives from a series of jumbled abstractions:

"The status quo on health care is no longer an option for the United States of America," the president said. "This is no longer a problem we can wait to fix. This is about who we are as a country. Health care reform is about every family's health, but it's also about the health of the economy."

In actuality, the urgency derives from a political necessity to rope Americans into a framework of dependency on government while we're susceptible to panic, under the thrall of a charismatic political celebrity, and as yet unable to assert regained senses through an electoral correction.

The Constitutional Villain Speaks!

Justin Katz

Christopher Kairnes, of Warwick, claims — trumpets — responsibility for handing out the pocket Constitutions:

I had nothing to do with the Tea Party float nor did I ride on it. I never talked with the parade committee before the parade nor signed any agreement with it. I am an individual. I report to no one and do not owe anyone an apology for what I have done. If handing out the Declaration of Independence to people who are sitting down on their properties is dangerous, I am guilty of that. ...

I walked up and down that parade route with my 11-year-old son twice before the Tea Party float even hit the road, and people were happy to see us. When the float finally did join the parade, I did keep handing out copies of the Pocket Declaration of Independence/U.S. Constitution.

That was when the parade staffer tried to take them out of my hand. I told him I would not let him have them. He tried to grab them again, and at the same time he grabbed my arm. That is when I got loud and told him to back off. He threatened to have the Tea Party float taken off the parade route and have me arrested.

He called a police officer over and I explained to the officer that I was handing out the copies of the Constitution all day and that I was not on the float. He recognized me from earlier and let me go back to it.

With all of the parsing going on about "soliciting" and "entries," Kairnes clarifies that he was soliciting nothing and was associated only in sympathy with the Tea Party float. He also brings us back to the crux reflected in the title of my first post on the topic: A minor civic functionary attempted to confiscate the Constitution.

Apparently, when the back-roads totalitarian was thwarted in this endeavor, he was so incensed that he lashed out at a group that he and his friends (no doubt) didn't like anyway. If that assertion of petty authority isn't corrected, I propose that next year's parade feature several dozen people handing out the books.

July 13, 2009

If We're Going to Change Something, We Should Make Our Motto "Hope: You're Going to Need It!"

Justin Katz

Alright. Let's go ahead and argue about the study that found even more lists on which to put Rhode Island at the wrong end, such as neurosicness and disagreeableness:

Led by scientist Peter J. Rentfrow of the University of Cambridge, England, the researchers ranked the states and the District of Columbia in each of the five dimensions of personality (the so-called Big Five) that psychologists commonly use to describe individual humans: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism.

Rhode Island ranked poorly on all.

The state was judged 40th on extraversion, characterized by positive emotions and the desire to seek the company of others; a near-bottom 48th on conscientiousness, which involves self-discipline and organized planning; and a middling 28th on openness, an appreciation for adventure and imagination. The state was ranked 45th on agreeableness (a tendency toward cooperation and compassion), 6th from the bottom, but was number 2 on the one negative trait, neuroticism (a type of emotional instability).

I'm not sure I buy the analysis that the trait was handed down by cantankerous founders, although it strikes me as reasonable to believe that other historical and geographical factors are the primary cause that binds those founders with the modern day attitude. The state is a few turns off the direct path from New York City to Boston by land and is dominated by a natural harbor; such qualities probably affect the sorts of people who settled (and continue to settle) here.

Whatever the cause, I've heard the same commentary from too many transplants to discount the accuracy of the general impression. Just as friends who've spent extended periods in other parts of the country have commented about the weight and smell of the air when they first disembarked from the airplane, Midwesterners and Southerners who've found themselves in Rhode Island will sometimes mention, in unguarded moments, the few extra points that Rhode Islanders deserve on the meanness scale.

One of the guys from the Rhode Show (which doesn't make it easy to find the hosts' names) argues that it's more an Eastern Seaboard thing — from Washington to Boston — than a Rhode Island thing, although the maps in the study itself suggest that the state's region is only partly exculpatory (PDF). It's telling that the host proceeded to defend — quite neurotically — the region's disagreeableness as mostly indicative of honesty.

For my part, I'd add my impressions to those of the above mentioned fly-over staters, and I'm from New Jersey. (The relative scores of that state and Rhode Island seem pretty accurate, to me.) I'd also point out that honesty only comes across as mean when one is inclined to think mean thoughts, although I'll concede that it's a coastal quality to voice the intellectual conceit that those who behave more politely are merely pretending.

Some mitigation must be acknowledged — for the sake of fairness — in the fact that a state's long decline will inevitably have an effect on the attitude of its population. With that, though, we face an impossible chicken and egg.

Who Isn't Covered?

Justin Katz

Here's an interesting paragraph from a Mark Steyn piece in the current print edition of National Review:

There have been two trends in U.S. health care over the last decade. On one hand, a lot of Americans have become, by any rational standard, overinsured: They get tested for things they'll never get. On the other, there has been an abandonment of health insurance by the rich. If you peel the Census Bureau and DHHS figures, of those alleged "45 million uninsured Americans," one-fifth aren't Americans; another fifth aren't uninsured but are covered by Medicare; another two-fifths are the young and mobile (they don't have health insurance, but they don't have life insurance or home insurance, either — they're 22 and immortal and life's a party); and the remaining fifth are wealthier than the insured population. Really. According to a 2006 Census Bureau report, 19 percent of the uninsured have household income of over $75,000. Since the last round of government "reform" in the Nineties, wealthy Americans have been fleeing insurance and opting to bring health care back to being a normal market transaction. And if you look at the "uninsured discount" offered by doctors, one can appreciate that, for everything but chronic disability, it's not an irrational decision to say I'll get a better deal on my broken leg or my colonoscopy or my heavy cold if I just write a check for it.

That last fifth points in the direction that we ought to head: insurance for catastrophe, and a pay-as-you-go system for regular care. No employer involvement. No broad-based "public option," except to assist those who cannot afford catastrophic coverage.

The entire structure of the industry would change. Consider, for example, that the majority of procedures and expenses would no longer be tied to negotiated pools, because the emphasis would no longer be on distributing risk for the great bulk of procedures. Those with preexisting conditions would have less fear of losing their coverage, because their conditions would be partly what the catastrophic coverage is for (and independent from unrelated aspects of life, such as employment) and partly under the umbrella of regular care.

(If the above link doesn't work for you, try here.)

A Question that Senator Whitehouse Might Ask of Judge Sotomayor

Carroll Andrew Morse

The United States Supreme Court has held, in various rulings, that the Fourteenth Amendment extends the Federal Constitution to state governments, prohibiting states from violating the limitations on government action expressed in the Bill of Rights.

In June of 2008, in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms from infringement by the Federal Government.

In January of 2009, Judge Sotomayor joined a Second Circuit opinion stating that it is "settled law" that Second Amendment protections are not incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment…

It is settled law, however, that the Second Amendment applies only to limitations the federal government seeks to impose on this right.
…but that, in light of the Heller decision, the Supreme Court might change the controlling precedent on this question…
And to the extent that Heller might be read to question the continuing validity of this principle, we “must follow Presser” because “[w]here, as here, a Supreme Court precedent ‘has direct application in a case, yet appears to rest on reasons rejected in some other line of decisions, the Court of Appeals should follow the case which directly controls, leaving to the Supreme Court the prerogative of overruling its own decisions.’”
Given that Judge Sotomayor is being considered for a position on the Court which she has cited as the proper authority for modifying precedent on this issue, the public has a compelling interest in knowing...
  1. If Judge Sotomayor believes that the Second Amendment is incorporated by the Fourteenth Amendment and therefore cannot be infringed upon by the states, or if she believes that the Second Amendment is fundamentally different from most other Constitutional protections afforded to individual Americans in the Bill of Rights and is not incorporated...
  2. And, given her particular usage of the term "settled law", if there are other areas where Judge Sotomayor believes that the Supreme Court might readily change what "settled law" currently says.

A Change That's Only Radical in Public Education

Justin Katz

This almost sounds like the beginning of a professional work environment:

Under orders from the state education commissioner, the district this fall will begin filling vacancies in six schools based not on seniority, but on whether that teacher is a good match for the job — and the school.

"I've been a principal for 11 years," said Michael Lazzareschi, who heads the new Nathan Bishop Middle School, "and I've never had the ability to pick my own candidates. There's nothing more exciting than seeing the lines of teachers waiting to be interviewed."

Although the Providence Teachers Union is threatening to sue, claiming the state education commissioner doesn't have the authority to overrule a union contract, Schools Supt. Tom Brady says the rank-and-file have shown real enthusiasm for the new system.

"Five hundred and twenty four teachers applied for 75 positions," Brady said. "That far exceeded our expectations."

It's the wild, wild West in school administration:

To avoid any hint of favoritism, the School Department, working with the union, developed an interview process that relies on questions from a common bank of questions that use concrete teaching scenarios and short model lessons.

The interview is designed to measure specific skills: Does the teacher know his subject? Can she demonstrate knowledge of recent research in his discipline? Is he able to demonstrate his knowledge within an actual model lesson?

The other important piece of the new hiring system is mutual consent. Teacher and principal must agree that the school is a good match. There will be no "on-the-spot" hiring.

The whole notion behind "criterion-based" hiring is that it empowers principals to put the right teacher in the right classroom. It also allows the superintendent to hold principals accountable for improving student achievement in their own buildings because they finally have the authority to hire their own staff.

Obviously, union functionaries aren't happy with the idea that elected representatives and the administrators whom they hire will actually be able to run their schools. What they mostly fear, I suspect, is that the public is no longer going to pretend the validity of union spin regarding the benefits of allowing schools to be run by organizations with political motivations and thuggish tactics. Daylight has cracked under the union rock; all that remains is to suggest that taxpayers — voters — take a look at what's been revealed.

Weekend Review

Justin Katz

Weatherwise, it appears that spring has finally arrived, which is good, considering that we're already a couple of weeks into summer. For those of you whom blue skies or other draws kept away from the Internet, here's what went up on Anchor Rising.

The RI Tea Party and the Bristol parade was still a topic of interest. I suggested that, should the ban not be removed, the Tea Party and friends ought to take advantage of a loophole (and, you know, their constitutional rights) and walk the parade route next year distributing as much stuff as possible. Monique renewed the question of what danger was posed and why free Constitutions are more dangerous than vendors' wares.

I revisited the Newsmakers episode featuring OSPRI's Bill Felkner and NEA's Pat Crowley in order to challenge the suggestion that taxing residents to pay unionists is healthy for a receding economy. I also expressed disagreement with an instance of eminent domain in North Providence, pointed out Keith Stokes's argument that the "plantations" in our state's name has more to do with freedom than oppression and suggested that Speaker Nancy Pelosi ought to run, not walk, back to Washington and warn the federal government that it should avoid a national imitation of Rhode Island's approach to governance, which appears to be an intention, in some respects.

On a not-unrelated note, Monique explained why the RI Senate's concerns that an e-Verify bill would not be legal are unfounded. Regarding another hot issue, I recommended Walter Schmidt's explanation of some of the intolerable downsides to "cap and trade" (and, yes, I linked again to the Tax Foundation's song about that policy).

Turning to public figures as a topic, I put another evidential exhibit on the stack labeled "Obamanation." By contrast, mention of Neal Freeman's reminiscences about his friend, William F. Buckley, Jr., highlights that man's talent for friendship.

And for some lighter fare, I argued that humanity ought to figure out what, precisely, gives value to human life before embarking on intentional redirection of evolution that likely winds up, in one way or another, supplanting us.

July 12, 2009

Multiple Paths to Self-Destruction

Justin Katz

On the whole, there's nothing in what Stephen Hawking is reported to have said at a recent lecture that is incompatible with theism broadly or Catholicism specifically. Human beings are part of nature, and our actions affect the course of the universe to some extent. Theologically, we are called to make of ourselves God's instruments (although I'd propose that the higher benefit comes spiritually, with the fact of our having done the act, rather than materially, in the task that we accomplish).

There is a certain danger lingering behind such thinking, and it's one that justifies admonishments against "playing God." Humankind has a way of backing into pits as it seeks to skirt obvious falls. Consider even just the last two paragraphs of the above-linked post:

But we are now entering a new phase, of what Hawking calls "self designed evolution," in which we will be able to change and improve our DNA. "At first," he continues "these changes will be confined to the repair of genetic defects, like cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy. These are controlled by single genes, and so are fairly easy to identify, and correct. Other qualities, such as intelligence, are probably controlled by a large number of genes. It will be much more difficult to find them, and work out the relations between them. Nevertheless, I am sure that during the next century, people will discover how to modify both intelligence, and instincts like aggression."

If the human race manages to redesign itself, to reduce or eliminate the risk of self-destruction, we will probably reach out to the stars and colonize other planets. But this will be done, Hawking believes, with intelligent machines based on mechanical and electronic components, rather than macromolecules, which could eventually replace DNA based life, just as DNA may have replaced an earlier form of life.

I'm inclined to assert that voluntary elimination of such traits as aggression is utterly impossible, even if it becomes technologically plausible. At some point, people who refuse to submit will have to be forced or pushed off the evolutionary cliff (by sterilization or incarceration), otherwise they'll return to rule their passive brethren. Then, there's the possibility that removing aggression will derail technological advancement or that humanity (or its post-human surrogates) will encounter something in the universe — another alien species, perhaps — that requires an aggressive reaction.

More basically, though, there's an ontological difficulty in the second paragraph of the block quote: We begin with the prospect of removing our capacity for self-destruction only to end with the creation of life forms that would replace us! Clearly, prior to any decisions about our self-directed evolution must come a conclusion — an unlikely consensus — about the source of value in the universe. Adherents to scientism assume that value, leaving it deliberately unstated, and to the extent that they are not entirely oblivious to the fact that they have done so, they rely upon a sort of intellectual conceit that they know better... or at least that the process of thinking to which they adhere necessarily points in the direction of Good.

Ultimately, their imposition of a preferred evolution of mankind will come down to raw power, and one way or another, those qualities of human nature with which many of us have discomfort will be written into our program for the rest of our part in the universe's history, if only because it is also written into nature.

(I spent a fair amount of time with my head in these clouds a half-decade ago, if anybody's interested in more.)

The Future That the Speaker Saw

Justin Katz

Put aside that it was pure fundraising pabulum; it's a pity that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi probably doesn't know just how right she was:

"When I return to Washington, D.C.," Pelosi said, "I'll tell them that I've been to Rhode Island and I've seen the future."

What she was talking about hardly matters. It could have been a new ice-cream mixer at the Frosty Freeze. What she wasn't talking about was the thing that ought to keep somebody of her position awake at night: The effects of high taxes, over-regulation, one-party rule, labor union dominance, an overly "compassionate" and organized poverty industry, and insider politics on a polity.

Yes, Rhode Island's sclerotic economy, crumbling infrastructure, high unemployment, and prominence at the wrong end of every list may indeed be the ghost of America's future. If it is, Pelosi shouldn't "return to Washington, D.C., to tell them" (whoever "they" are). She should run to Washington to warn them.

The folks across the street from the last event of her long day of mooching would surely have been able to provide a concise message, if she'd deigned to acknowledge their presence:

Pelosi and company wrapped up their visit with an evening fundraiser at the Jamestown home of Princeton Review CEO Michael Perik and his wife, Elizabeth. For the first time all day, Pelosi and Kennedy received a less-than-enthusiastic welcome.

Shouting "Vote them out" and carrying signs that said, "Welcome, Comrade Pelosi," more than 50 boisterous protestors jammed the sidewalk while sleek SUVs with tinted-windows arrived at the waterfront fundraiser, where some couples paid $30,400 to be in the "Speakers Cabinet."

Every conservative political stripe was represented, from the Rhode Island Tea Party, an anti-big government group, to Rhode Islanders Against Illegal Immigration. A few protesters, though, had it in for Kennedy.

"Patrick is incompetent," said Chris Kairnes, of North Kingstown, who was wielding an anti-Kennedy placard. "You can't perform your duties if you are highly medicated. He should be realistic and resign."

Ultimately, the crowd was disappointed. Pelosi and the local congressional delegation slipped into the party through a back entranceway. They never saw Rhode Island's version of the populist spirit.

Knowing What They Want to Do on Energy

Justin Katz

The letter that Walter Schmidt, of North Scituate, sent in to the Providence Journal deserves a hear hear:

A July 2 letter ("Bill's passage a fine day for the environment") thanked U.S. Reps. Patrick Kennedy and James Langevin for voting for the "cap and trade" bill.

The author, however failed to mention the cost of this bill. While not a direct tax on the public, it is a stealth tax. The bill would tax energy producers by forcing them to purchase carbon credits. This tax will be passed on to consumers and will raise the cost of electricity, heating oil, natural gas and gasoline. Estimated increases range from $1,400 to $3,000 per household per year depending on usage.

Manufacturers and farmers will also pass their increased energy and transportation costs on to the consumer, raising the price of virtually everything.

Raising taxes on companies that produce and deliver energy will also cost jobs as they downsize to reduce expenses. With unemployment approaching 10 percent nationally, this should be unthinkable. The "green" jobs this bill would create would compensate for some of these losses but we need more jobs, not a transfer of jobs.

This bill has other negatives. New homes would be required to conform to the energy standards of California, the state that's issuing IOUs to state workers. Before you could sell an existing home it might have to pass an energy audit and be brought up to code at your expense. This will not help the housing market.

We are in the grip of the worst recession since the Great Depression. Passing any legislation that increases taxes, the cost of living and unemployment is insanity.

On the bright side, the letter gave me an excuse to watch the cap-and-trade song again:

Ignorance Is Antithetical to Freedom

Justin Katz

Keith Stokes adds some welcome historical perspective to the manufactured controversy about the last word in the state's official name — Rhode Island and Providence Plantations:

The historic use of the word plantation does not simply refer to early farms or settlements. It was specifically crafted and applied by our founding settlers as a means to express their newly achieved experience of religious liberty and expression.

The word as part of our official state name was also influenced by the sermons and writings of one of New England's most prominent 17th Century clergyman: the Rev. John Cotton. Cotton was a Puritan and religious scholar who greatly influenced early Rhode Island Colony founders Roger Williams, John Clarke and Ann Hutchinson. His sermons included references to "A plantation of them into the promised land," contemplating the search for religious freedom of the Puritans and the real possibility of finding it in the new world. ...

This section of the charter refers to the Plantations name alongside the naming of our first settlement Providence, as the recognition that God (and through his divine providence) had guided these settlers in search of religious self-determination to form this new colony. It is imperative that all Rhode Islanders recognize that the name Plantations as part of Rhode Island's founding history means much more than simply a farm or settlement. The name is at the very heart of the formation of a colony that established the belief and practice of liberty of conscience and separation of church and state.

That is a history worth knowing, highlighting the ideals of our founding but rooted in the contextual biases of the times. It's a full picture, and none alive have any reason to be ashamed or unduly proud of it.

In seeking to reify the sins of the past in order to capitalize on them in the present, those wielding the eraser would spread smudges across our past, obscuring it. "Plantations" would signify only the objectionable connotation, implying inaccuracies about Rhode Island's history. Replacing the full history with a sparse sketch makes individuals susceptible to the invidious superimpositions by which manipulators turn ignorance to their advantage.

July 11, 2009

The Catholic Buckley's Friend

Justin Katz

National Review Online has published the short speech that Neal Freeman gave on short notice at the Portsmouth Institute's conference on William F. Buckley, Jr.:

I was introduced to the woman who would become my Catholic wife, of course, by Bill Buckley. It was part of his indefatigable campaign to enlist me in the legions of Rome. Every few years for a half-century he would inquire, "Mon vieux, are you still a stalwart Episcopalian?" I would reply that I was. He would then say in a pained tone, "Ohhhh, I see," as if he had been reminded yet again that my ignorance was invincible.

If I am not licensed, then, to discuss the Catholic Buckley, let me say a few words about the universal and apostolic Buckley. To begin with, he was my best friend. I hasten to add that I was not his best friend. Over the years I had heard him describe twelve different men as his best friend. There were undoubtedly others who went uncounted. He had an enormous talent for the making and keeping of friendships, so much so that he made of his life a work of art.

That second paragraph is one of the audio clips that I posted of Mr. Freeman's appearance, and reading the text, it's impressive that he assembled his thoughts thus in just a couple of hours.

Incidentally, I've since discovered that at least part of Joseph Bottum's compellling speech was adapted from an article in The Weekly Standard, and it's fun to read it with the author's voice and pacing in mind, as I described it.

E-Verify: Legal Reassurance for the Senate Leadership

Monique Chartier

The non-end of this year's General Assembly session gives us the chance to return to some important legislation that would have otherwise fallen through the cracks. One of these is the e-verify bill

that would require Rhode Island employers with three or more employees to participate in the federally instituted E-verify system to verify the legal status of new hires on a prospective basis

[House 5143 PDF. Senate 0210 PDF.]

E-verify passed the House but stalled in the Senate because Senate leadership has concerns about the legality of the bill. Greg Pare, Director of communications for the Rhode Island Senate, sent the following on June 24 in response to my inquiry as to the specifics of these concerns. (Emphasis added.)

Legal counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee raised the following concern with respect to the E-verify legislation in its current form:

8USC§1324a(h)(2), entitled "Preemption," declares: "The provisions of this section preempt any State or local law imposing civil or criminal sanctions (other than through licensing and similar laws) upon those who employ, or recruit or refer for a fee for employment, unauthorized aliens."

Here are two case cites:

L544 F.3d 976 (Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)
2009 WL 1563457 (C.A.8 (Mo.)) (Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals)

[This should be a link to 8USC§1324a(h)(2).]

There's only one problem. The e-verify bill contains no civil or criminal sanctions for employers who fail to comply with this proposed law. Accordingly, the two cases cited can also be set aside as they bolster a non-existent concern.

Senate leadership can be relieved and reassured - their concerns are unfounded. This bill can be voted out of committee and onto the Senate floor.

My Case Rested?

Justin Katz

Sometimes, it's almost like one of those scenes in old movies with the spinning newspapers tracing a character's meteoric rise in headlines:

He's more powerful; she's more popular.

He sells millions of books he's written; she sells millions of magazines she's posed for.

He gets more Internet clicks — except when she does.

There are plenty of ways to score a theoretical Barack vs. Michelle celebrity smackdown.

But if one is to engage in this just-for-fun dissection of the phenomobama, it must be stipulated that Barack is the president, which does give him certain advantages.

Then again, Michelle has the fashion factor working for her. And motherhood. And those sculpted arms. And, she doesn't have to tackle sticky issues like cutting the federal budget.

Yup, that slashing of federal expenditures sure does weigh President Obama down. Displaying his pecs on a few magazine covers would probably make up the difference.

And So the Power-Grabbing Grows

Justin Katz

I'm not sure why Governor Carcieri would choose this time in the history of the state and nation to add to the messages that Rhode Island sends out to reinforce its image as a state in which various factors make it very difficult to operate and advance. He has declined to veto legislation (PDF) that leverages for another purpose the legal authority of school districts to force the sale of private land to the town so as to expand schools.

The town of North Providence will be purchasing a 15-acre lot with the explicit purpose of blocking a specific developer and maintaining open space. If that's the precedent, now, then via simple General Assembly statute, a town council may thwart the development plans of businesses and individuals in the name of "passive recreation."

To be honest, I'm not sure that Article VI, Section 19 of the state Constitution — which the legislation cites as authority — actually permits the act. The language of that section deals with taking extra land when a public use is being planned; in this case, the town is taking land that happens to abut a park that already exists. Section 18 empowers the General Assembly to permit the taking of "blighted and substandard areas," and there may be other sources of land acquisition within Rhode Island law. The cynic in me suspects, however, that there's a reason those permissions were not cited.

Good and Bad Addendum

Justin Katz

One of that union guy's talking points on the recent episode of Newsmakers that I addressed the other day didn't spark an immediate rebuttal from Bill Felkner or from me.

If you listen to the language that Bill uses — "lucrative contracts" — I think the reality is that that money that goes into a public sector contract does in fact go right into the economy. Firefighters, teachers, public servants — they live in and around the communities they serve. They're not taking their money and dumping it in the stock market. They're going to the Dunkin' Donuts at the corner; they're going to the local mom-and-pop restaurant. So that money's going into the local economy.

It's true that public sector workers are no different from private sector workers as residents — as economic units in the state's economy. It's a dramatic distortion, though, to lift that up as a response to Bill's one-to-one statement about money taken out of the economy and shifted to labor.

Trace the pot of money that goes to public-sector labor: There's some cost for the government to collect it. Some of it enables policies of inefficiency, such as requiring multiple traffic controllers to stare into space at construction sites in order to meet a genitalia quota. Some of it is siphoned off to pay people like Pat Crowley and the entire organizational structure that supports him — which I suspect includes a flow to the national organizations and which I know includes a flow to politicians and political activism. When it comes to the individual worker, some of it is exported (trips, out of state shopping, etc.). Some of it is saved. And yes, a percentage goes into the active local economy. Only that very last percentage — and I'd love to have the time to do the research and figure out a rough per-dollar amount — has the potential to advance anything new. The pay that goes to government bureaucrats, union executives, and so on supports an activity that is already established; we're not talking innovations that might result in economic growth.

By contrast, the dollar that the government takes out of the economy to feed this machine comes out of what might be seen as an "excess" end, in that the first column from which taxpayers are likely to draw funds in order to pay their tax bills will be the least necessary to survival. I long ago decided that I couldn't justify a daily stop at the Dunkin' Donuts for a $1.50 coffee when a can of Chock Full o' Nuts supplies the same caffeine fix for pennies. A weekly dinner at the mom-and-pop restaurant might be the first thing to go when the property tax bill jumps up by double-digit percentages.

In order to grant the public sector unionist sufficient funds to add a dinner out to the weekly schedule or a flat-screen TV to the living room wall, multiple families have to give theirs up.

Extrapolate that example to the "extra" spending of the wealthier residents from whom a greater percentage of the money is taken. Tax money for labor doesn't come from basic house-upkeep money. It's not diversified, global, long-term investment money. It's not pick-up-an-extra-shift-at-work money. Rather it's money that would be risked on local high-growth investment opportunities, or that would simply be given away with no expectation of return. Now apply this imaginative exercise to corporations.

This isn't an argument that we ought to give the rich as much as we possibly can. I'm merely pointing to a dynamic that we ought to take into consideration as we assess potential economic policies, and the right answer is likely to vary from era to era. Suffice to say, though, that an economic downturn that has sent the state into a landslide to bankruptcy is not the time to be pulling money out of a portion of the economy that can tolerate risk and loss and from which expenditures may be lightly made in order to maintain and increase payments to a portion that is notoriously inefficient at recycling dollars.

The Bristol Independence Day Parade, the Leafleters and the Question of Danger

Monique Chartier

What's confusing is the statement by the parade committee that the handing out of these Constitution leaflets posed a danger.

The leaflets were handed out along the side of the parade, not from the float itself. As I understand, no one was running up to this float to get a leaflet.

In terms of danger, then, what is the difference between this activity and the activity of those who had purchased a vendor's license from the parade committee? Is there some aspect of the leafleters' actions that has not been brought forth?

A Rule Broken and an Opportunity Presented

Justin Katz

In the post about the Tea Party ban from the Bristol Independence Day parade, commenter David points to "Float Preparation Requirement" #8 (PDF), which reads as follows:

There will be no distributions or fundraising by any float applicant. No objects of any kind may be thrown, sprayed or otherwise distributed to spectators from any entry (i.e., candy, silly string, snappers, advertisements, etc.) Failure to comply will result in immediate removal from the parade.

I think it's objectively fair to suggest that some ambiguity exists about who counts as an "applicant" and at what distance one ceases to be distributing materials "from any entry" (i.e., float). But let's stipulate that a violation was made. #8 states that removal will be immediate. A subsequent summary states that the organizers may remove inappropriate or dangerous floats from the parade "before or during" the event.

The fact is that Float Committee Chairmain Jim Tavares was clearly aware of the distributions while they were being made. According to the Tea Party group's posting on the parade (see extended entry below), no mention of the problem was made until days later, when Tavares issued the proclamation of a lifetime ban. If those are, indeed, the circumstances, then it appears that Tavares neither followed through with the prescribed punishment nor offered the group a cease and desist warning regarding the booklets, which is curious, given his concern for the public's safety. Considering that the handout was a copy of our nation's founding documents — very relevant to a 4th of July parade, I'd say — a lighter hand would certainly have been justified.

There's a strong odor of political motivation — with a dash of small-town pettiness — to the verdict.

But look at what the various rules appear to suggest: Those associated with a float (apparently indicated by wearing the same t-shirt) cannot hand out literature, even if they walk along the edge of the road. Those who are "soliciting" must apply for licenses at $200 per "runner" or $300 per corner. It seems to me that, if the Bristol Fourth of July Committee does not recant the ban of the Tea Party from placing a float in next year's parade, the group would be perfectly free to stroll the parade route handing out Constitutions, fliers about the controversy, leaflets about the endemic corruption in Rhode Island, and so on.

In fact, I'll propose that we all set loose expectations that we'll help out in the effort in July 2010. (Odds are good that a great many of us will be unemployed, anyway.) Imagine a Tea Party protest–sized group walking alongside every float in the parade, making distributions. Who knows but that somebody among the opposition will plan a counter-protest, and the event can follow the Parade Committee's lead right into a chasm of politically motivated noise.

The Tea Party group's account, from the Google cache:

As we informed you this week, the RI Tea Party float in the Bristol Fourth of July Parade (the oldest 4th July Parade in the country) was a HUGE success, with people in the crowd showing overwhelming support and enthusiasm for our cause. Although we expected a positive reception, the response of the parade watchers was beyond our wildest imaginations. We were proud to represent the freedom loving people of Rhode Island to celebrate our country’s Independence!

Today, we received news from the Bristol Parade Committee that the RI Tea Party is to NEVER apply to appear in the Bristol Parade again. We were told unequivocally that our group was "horrible", "not to waste the stamp to send in an application in the future", and that the Committee never wanted "those people" of the RI Tea Party to participate in the parade in the first place.

Why would the Bristol Parade Committee have such a negative response to our float when the crowd was so overwhelmingly positive? We are told it is because some members of the RI Tea Party passed out US Constitutions to the crowd. Apparently passing out the US Constitution on Independence Day is an egregious violation of parade rules. This is despite the fact that other floats passed out solicitations for their businesses, which is against the Parade guidelines, and these businesses have NOT been told that they are banned from participating in the future.

This clear discrimination by the Parade Committee was also evident as the RI Tea Party was rejected for sound on the float and was told the morning of the Parade by one of the parade committee inspectors that she "never heard of someone being rejected for sound” before and they were “probably afraid you would say something politically incorrect."

July 10, 2009

A Relieving Outcome to a Long-Standing Issue

Justin Katz

It's a relief to see the issue of soil contamination in the Bay St. area of Tiverton headed toward resolution:

A settlement of the massive Bay Street area lawsuit has been agreed to and the contaminated neighborhood is expected to be cleaned up by the end of this year, the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) announced today.

The settlement was "executed" May 18, said Gail Mastratti, a spokesperson for DEM. In addition to the DEM, the pact includes Southern Union, the Town of Tiverton, and the estimated 125 plaintiffs in the lawsuit who are residents living on about 74 contaminated properties in the 50-acre Bay Street neighborhood in north Tiverton. ...

It wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that a change in the law that gives the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) the power to issue fines up to $25,000 per day (from the previous $1,000 per day) as a "pollution penalty" expedited the agreement, and in that we see a dubious method for achieving the happy end. A daily penalty, it seems to me, implies pollution that is ongoing, that an organization or individual refuses to stop. It's possible that I'm missing something, but what the DEM now appears to have is a huge cudgel to dictate who will pay for remediation outside the processes of adjudicative law. It costs the state nothing to implement fines, but it escalates the risk of seeking a legal ruling if a loss means the payment of penalties accrued during the process.

I've long maintained that other strategies for dealing with our less-enlightened past ought to be absorbed into the culture and might, indeed, have resulted in a more rapid resolution in this case. Only time, and the next case down the line, will tell whether a harmful precedent has been set.

The Cranston Herald on the Present and Future of Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

The editorial in this week's Cranston Herald captures the mood of residents in many towns, regarding the direction that state-level governance is heading…

The state’s 13 percent hike in spending (yes, you read that right) doesn’t offer a dime to municipalities, school districts or, for the most part, social programs designed to keep people from crashing and burning.

Cranston trimmed expenses but still had to raise taxes. Next year, there will be fewer cuts to make and more resistance to raising taxes, especially since many homeowners are still trying to cope with the tax hike of two years ago, set against dramatically lower property values and, in many cases, household income....

If the state pleaded poverty after it slashed its own budget, that would be one thing. But telling communities to cut, cut, cut and then increasing its own budget by 13 percent is absurd and borderline obscene. Carcieri’s original budget proposal stunk but, somehow, the General Assembly managed to make it even worse.

Nice job, guys.

And given the spectacular job they did of doing nothing to address the current crisis, we can expect they will do the same marvelous job preparing for next year, when the stimulus money used to keep the budget hovering in the black will be long gone. At that point, with nothing outside the state jurisdiction left to cut, chances are we’ll all be handed a boost in our income and sales taxes.

It's OK to be a Yankee Doodle Dandee

Marc Comtois

I was once part of the band that would be eventually named "George M. Cohan's Own", and I was interested to read about the recent Independence Day weekend unveiling of a new bust of George M. Cohan on Wickenden street. It is a fitting tribute to the man who penned so many patriotic songs.

The Broadway impresario, who provided the American soundtrack for World War I and World War II, is an emblem of a time that can seem impossibly distant for the young and skeptical: a time of unabashed pride in country.

He was of an era, said Michael Fink, a Cohan aficionado and professor of English at the Rhode Island School of Design, when freedom meant something other than the opportunity to criticize.

"In my generation," Fink said, "we were free to love America."

I appreciate the work that Fink has done to memorialize Cohan, but I thought that an odd thing to say. We are still free to love America. We always have been. That is, unless we let contemporary politics color our perception, as described in David Scharfenberg's story:
Cohan, portrayed by James Cagney in the 1942 biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy, was not the idealized figure of the film. He divorced once. Clashed with the Broadway actors union. He had some warts.

And for the children of the Watergate era, the warts are the thing. Or are they?

The youthful embrace of Barack Obama — still strong seven months into his administration — suggests a longing for a new sort of patriotism. Perhaps not Yankee Doodle Dandy. More critical than that. More reserved.

But something hopeful and proud, nonetheless.

The young and liberal-minded were not free to love America under President Bush. But now, for the hipsters ambling past that bust of George M. Cohan, an opening.

Apparently, the "young and liberal-minded" (and I suspect some of the "old") are conflating patriotism with politics, which cheapens the former. America is greater than contemporary political personalities and their policies. We should love America for its ideals--liberty, freedom, opportunity--regardless of whether we think those ideals are being followed or not. Patriotism is love for or devotion to one's country. Not the person who leads it, no matter how magnificent he or she may or may not be.

The Pervasive Structure of Rhode Island Corruption

Justin Katz

It would be the work of a lifetime of academic study to unravel the thread, but I've been increasingly impressed (in a bad way) with the intricacies of Rhode Island's structural corruption. It's as if certain principles of the culture filter throughout local society to create an organic network whose instinctual task is to create little pools of power and influence that political parasites can siphon and share.

Take, for example, local zoning regulations. A busy-body factor comes into play, as does a back-roads totalitarianism that seeks to freeze a town in time, but the effect of stringent permitting and zoning codes is to force individual approval (variances) of projects. When every change to one's property must be made "legal, non-conforming," a local board gains the power of arbitrary judgment; the projects are already contrary to the law, so the legal guidelines for arguing in their favor are limited, and the aesthetic and political guidelines are vague. It behooves residents, therefore, to have influential people around town think kindly of them, and it creates an advantage for, say, building contractors who have conspicuous success rates acquiring variances for their clients.

This story reeks of the insidious structure:

A Town Council proposal to expand the governing board of the Johnston Housing Authority from five members to seven has hit a roadblock in the General Assembly, where a key lawmaker says it appears the move is meant to "target someone" in a political squabble.

Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr., D-Smithfield, who heads the Senate Committee on Housing and Municipal Government, on Thursday, June 25, refused to release the enabling legislation for a floor vote. The bill was introduced by Rep. Deborah Fellela, a Johnston Democrat — whose husband, Henry, swore at Tassoni after the chairman shelved her legislation.

"It's quite obvious after what I went through on Thursday that there's a vendetta in Johnston and I'm not going to be part of it," said Tassoni. He declined to say who might be the "target" of the legislation.

Obviously, Tassoni's declaration that he doesn't want "to be a part" of a "vendetta" in a town that he does not represent is nonsense. First of all, the way for him to have stayed out of the squabble would have been to step back from the proposal and let it move to a vote; by blocking it, he's made his action much more intrinsic to the outcome. More significantly, it makes for an incoherent thought to call the broadening of power a "vendetta" — whereas, shrinking the board would push somebody out — unless one is protecting the influence of an individual member and sees that heightened power as a right.

The question is, which of the Housing Authority's commissioners wields his or her influence in such a way that a state senator from another town has an interest in girding it? And what reciprocity might there be?

Don't Bind Elected Unionists; Force Them Out

Justin Katz

Last night, Matt Allen made the point that Congressman Patrick Kennedy's perpetual reelection makes his antics most profoundly an indictment of the voters who keep sending him back to Washington. The same is true of most corruption at the state and local levels, and I'm not sure, therefore, whether the proper route to reform is to leverage an unelected government panel, the Ethics Commission, to build low barriers around school committee members who are also teachers' union members in another town:

Groups such as Operation Clean Government and Common Cause Rhode Island argue that the rules should be tightened, because how public officials act on union matters in their communities could affect their own unions. Labor contracts in one town are often cited in negotiations in another town. And local unions are often affiliated with the same statewide union.

Defenders of the status quo argue that the current ethics rules are sufficient. The Ethics Commission has held repeatedly that there is no financial or business relationship between a public official who belongs to a union in another town and a union negotiator.

Realistically, the single largest task of any school committee member is to vote up or down on negotiated contracts, so removing the ability to make that vote effectively denudes an elected official. Anything short of disallowing that vote — or even disallowing the candidacy — places an Ethics Commission stamp of approval on the problem itself. That, I must admit, puts me in agreement with a crowd with which I'm typically at odds:

George Nee, secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, countered that further restrictions would unfairly limit a public official’s ability to participate in the democratic process. Voters are aware of the backgrounds of the people they elect, he said. That position was echoed by lawyer Robert Mann, who spoke on behalf of Working Rhode Island, a coalition of labor organizations.

The tasks before those of us who see the problems are to educate the public and to move preferred candidates into office. It's a long, slow process — and, given the emigration of some of our natural allies, not at all a sure thing — but people are beginning to awaken to the damage that's been done. Having identified the methods by which the unions and others have done that damage, our best use of that information would be to inspire opposition and motivated participation — at the local level, first, and then, with the advantage of a statewide farm team, at the state and then national levels.

Otherwise, it's not inconceivable that we may find our own methods of instituting constraint through the Ethics Commission binding our own hands in the future.

July 9, 2009

Warwick Payrolls

Marc Comtois

Over the weekend I was at a neighborhood July 4th get-together. The group was a mixed one. If I had to guess, most were either a-political or run-of-the-mill Rhode Island Democrats. The topic turned to the recent closing of a local Warwick elementary school and how property taxes just got a big bump (believe me, they did). There was anger over the tax hikes and the school closure. One parent questioned why a school would close when money could have been saved elsewhere, mentioning the fact that the teachers make a lot of money and that you could find it all out at the "Ocean State Policy" website.

The parent then listed off some of the salaries of teachers from the local elementary school. There were a few surprised faces amongst those who heard the numbers, to which the parent then said, "Yeah, I know...I thought they made like $45-$50,000 or something, not that much!"

In an attempt to shed some more light on the situation, I decided to take a ride on the Transparency Train to analyze the actual school payroll numbers for Warwick. It's more time consuming but also more illustrative of the actual situation than the teacher contract.

I looked at the 2007-08 salaries of full-time teachers in a variety of categories. The below table, based on the 2007-2008 Payroll, summarizes my findings. It shows the number of teachers in each category, the total amount of money dedicated to their salaries and then average salary, average low and high salaries (the average high salary at the Jr. High and High School level reflects the pay received by department heads), and the average median salaries.

If you compare these numbers to the salary schedules in the teacher contract (page 109 in this PDF), you'll find that that, for the most part, the median Elementary and High School teacher salary in Warwick is the equivalent of a Step 10 (or more) with some longevity and probably some advanced education bonuses thrown in. Overall, elementary teacher salaries are the highest, followed by High School and then Junior High.

Given that most people think teachers make about as much as the average Rhode Islander, around $50,000 - $54,000 a year (in 2007), it's understandable their surprise when learning about these numbers. While it is true that new teachers enter the work force at the average income level, that doesn't last for long. It is apparent that the majority of teachers are compensated at a level at the top or above the traditionally negotiated step scheme. While the teacher salaries are arguably commensurate with other professionals of similar background and training, the benefits they earn--in addition to the shorter work-year--are something those in the private sector don't enjoy. In addition to their salaries, teachers also receive $10.5-$12,000 in pension contributions from the district in addition to $15,000 in medical/dental benefits.

But these numbers also help explain some other things, too. In general, teachers at the Junior High level are paid less than their Elementary or High School colleagues. This is unsurprising given the additional challenges faced when teaching this age group. In short, once they get they're time in, a lot of teachers go to Elementary or High School, where the kids are generally more receptive or, in the case of High School, you know what you're dealing with. In Jr. High, every day is a mystery with a cohort that is feeling their oats. Unfortunately, that they are so challenging is the very reason to keep the best, most experienced teachers at the Jr. High level. If only they had incentive.

It can also be inferred that, because Warwick has closed a few elementary schools in the past two years, the job openings are in the secondary education area (Jr. High and High School). This means that the elementary schools are "top heavy", with the result that the median income is higher at the elementary level. It would take some additional analysis of other school districts that haven't experienced so many school closings to determine if this is indeed a factor.

As I was looking at the teacher payroll, I thought a comparison with the payroll of the other big ticket items--Fire and Police--would help add some context. The data available was for 2008-09-- a year later than the teacher info I used-- so the data isn't contemporaneous. (The actual low, high and median salaries for each position are given, not an average as with most of the teacher data).


I don't have much analysis to offer for these last examples. They are what they are. Additionally, a quick survey of the municipal payroll reveals a lot of salaries that fall within the "average Rhode Islander" pay range or below, with a few high-salary, supervisor positions, as well. (For further comparison, this site purports to supply salaries for a range of private sector jobs in Warwick). I'll conclude with this: taxpayers should be aware of these numbers so that they can determine whether they think these are legitimate wages to pay for the jobs being done or not.

Have Progressives Discovered the Tenth Amendment?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley is suing the Federal Government on behalf of the state of Massachusetts, claiming that the Federal Defense of Marriage Act "interferes with the Commonwealth’s sovereign authority to define and regulate marriage". A portion of the suit alleges that the Federal Government has exceeded the limitations on its power set by the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution...

81. The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution expressly reserves to the states all powers except those limited powers granted to the federal government.

82. The Tenth Amendment ensures the division of powers between the states and federal government that is necessary for the dual sovereignty of the federal system.

83. The Tenth Amendment preserves for the states the authority to regulate and define marriage for their citizens.

84. Congress lacks the authority under Article I of the United States Constitution to regulate the field of domestic relations, including marriage.

85. Section 3 of DOMA violates the Tenth Amendment, exceeds Congress’s Article I powers, and runs afoul of the Constitution’s principles of federalism by creating an extensive federal regulatory scheme that interferes with and undermines the Commonwealth’s sovereign authority to define marriage and to regulate the marital status of its citizens.

86. Enforcement of Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutionally commandeers the Commonwealth and its employees as agents of the federal government’s regulatory scheme and requires the Commonwealth to facilitate the implementation of a discriminatory federal policy.

The suit stakes out the position that Congress doesn't have the right to establish a definition of marriage, even for Federal law, because establishing a definition of marriage is reserved to the states.

Though I oppose legalizing same-sex marriage (just like President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joseph Biden do), given that the power to define marriage is certainly not delegated to the Federal government anywhere in the Constitution, if some kind of reasonable alignment between written law and rationality still exists in the world of self-governance, then it is difficult to see where the definition of marriage isn't something that is outside of the power of the Federal Government to decide, if the Tenth Amendment has any meaning at all.

But I also wonder if progressives and other cultural liberals who support Attorney General Coakley's action will be able to identify other areas where the reach of the Federal government needs to be scaled back to be brought into line with the Tenth Amendment, or if their sudden discovery of its importance will be applied only to same-sex marriage, as a case of activists arguing principles they doesn't really believe in, in order to get the policy outcome they want.

In case you've forgotten, the Tenth Amendment reads...

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
(Note: Readers from Bristol, RI may want to check with town authorities, to determine if reading the above excerpt complies with all local regulations).

I Hope I'm Not Going Soft, But...

Carroll Andrew Morse

...I think the Rhode Island Chapter of the ACLU is right, as I said a year ago, about the town of Narragansett's "orange-sticker" policy for regulating house party nuisances being unconstitutional.

I know the penalty of having an orange sticker placed on your door is a small one, but in our system of government, no penalty, no matter how small, can be applied by the government in the absence of some form of due process which allows citizens to make their case about whether law-enforcement actions were justified or not. And that's a major part of the ACLU argument here...

The “unruly gatherings” ordinance violates the plaintiffs’ right to procedural due process. Both liberty and property interests are implicated. The act of affixing a 10 inch by 14 inch orange sticker to the front door of a rental property is left to the sole discretion of the police with no opportunity for a hearing either before or after the posting of the orange sticker.

Laffey Still Fighting

Justin Katz

He doesn't say where he's been or what his intentions are, but Stephen Laffey is clearly still paying attention to Rhode Island and its problems:

... Laughing and joking last year, our leaders signed off on the 2008-09 "balanced" state budget. That "balanced" budget was really a $600 million deficit. It was fraud because they knew it then. And they know it now.

With 11 months of data in for fiscal 2008-09, revenues are running more than $400 million behind the final revised $3.1 billion estimate for total general revenues. And the last few months are showing even more ominous trends. So an aggressive total revenue budget for fiscal 2009-10 would have been $2.7 billion. Instead, our leaders agreed to forecast $3.1 billion in revenue again, putting us all at least another $400 million in the hole. ...

One of the worst things about public fraud is that it's contagious. When Governor Carcieri raids the rainy day fund and gets away with it, what is to stop cities like Cranston and Warwick from doing the same thing? Nothing, since they did it, too — and got away with it.

Let's be frank. This fraudulent budget now puts Rhode Island on the road to collapse. Only, unlike California, whose comptroller has put out a loud warning, the Rhode Island populace will have to wait to be "surprised" when Rhode Island is about to miss payroll. The similarities between Rhode Island today and Cranston in 2002 before I became mayor are eerie. The lies were plentiful then and near bankruptcy ensued.

Perhaps Mr. Laffey still intends to join us for the sing-along:

Do you remember the day
They sold us down the river?
Neither do I
'Cause it's been happenin' so long

But here we all are
Long miles from where we started
So out with those words
They chained us for a song

Confiscating the Constitution

Justin Katz

If nothing else, this illustrates how the celebration of an event can become more about the tradition of celebrating than about the event itself:

In a temper-filled tempest, the Bristol Fourth of July Committee has barred the Rhode Island Tea Party from taking part in the annual Independence Day parade next year — or any other year.

Marina Peterson, treasurer of the organization — it opposes government spending and new taxes — said she was told "not to waste the stamp to send in an application" to appear again in the Bristol parade, which the town says dates to 1785 as the oldest continuously observed Fourth of July celebration in the nation.

In the latest march, on Saturday, Tea Party sympathizers handed out copies of the U.S. Constitution as they ran alongside the organization’s first-ever float, a replica of the Beaver, the British ship ransacked by Colonists during the Boston Tea Party, in 1773.

Sounds to me — especially with the RI Tea Party's account in mind — like a local somebody wanted an excuse to exert petty power over a disfavored group — disfavored by those in the staid, corrupt establishment — and took the handouts as an excuse. A more reasonable, civilized approach to dealing with a new participant's inadvertent rule breaking would be a sort of probation at next year's parade. Otherwise one ends up with shocking symbolism like this:

"They endangered public safety," he said. [Float Committee Chairmain Jim] Tavares said he personally confiscated some of the handouts.

Confiscating the Constitution... at the nation's oldest Independence Day parade. Tea Party Treasurer Marina Peterson says that the rules prohibit "solicitation," which does not describe complimentary copies of our founding legal document. Mr. Tavares calls that word games. I expect King George would have agreed; the rules listed online state that "Soliciting along the parade route is illegal unless a license has been obtained from the Fourth of July Committee." Apparently, safety concerns are alleviated through payment of a license tax.

Incidentally, the Bristol Fourth of July Committee's Web site has a wealth of information, such as the general chairman's and parade chairwoman's email addresses.


The conversation continues here and here.

July 8, 2009

Patrick Kennedy Compares Substance Abuse to Cancer

Marc Comtois

Patrick Kennedy thinks that his chemical dependency is like having cancer:

Kennedy said Wednesday that he hopes his decision to seek treatment was another "sign to people that this is a chronic illness not unlike a cancer that goes into remission but then becomes malignant again.''

He said, "This is a chronic illness that needs lifelong attention. You can't ever be cured of it. It needs to be monitored on a day-to-day basis for your whole life.''

I believe that once someone goes down the road of chemical dependency, it's a lifelong struggle to keep from relapsing. I'm not naive to the illness that is substance abuse--I've seen it's affects and know the difficulty it can cause. But it's not like cancer. You don't choose to take a drink from the breast cancer bottle or pop the leukemia pill.
Thanks to his recovery network of physicians, therapists and fellow alcoholics and addicts, Kennedy said, "I was able to stay on top of it without it taking me down the road that it took me down before -- where I ended up on the front pages of the newspapers and tabloids and TV stations. It didn't have to take me down that far this time because I had people there to intervene earlier.''

Kennedy indicated that he took home a number of important insights from his stay at the treatment center. He said one was that the stresses surrounding his father's battle with malignant cancer were a potential threat to his sobriety.

Kennedy also said his round of treatment renewed his belief that his "mission'' of service in Congress is compatible with his recovery from addiction. Kennedy said he intends to run for reelection in 2010.

Yeah, that's pretty convenient, but that's been true of this whole song and dance over the last few years. His convenient conflation of mental illness with substance abuse with this new "it's just like cancer" comparison--when his own father is dying of cancer, to boot--only confirms what many suspect. In Patrick's world, the last one he'll ever blame is the man in the mirror. But heck, with supporters and voters constantly reaffirming the "I'm a victim" mirage he's set up, why would he?

A Cost to Racial Denial

Justin Katz

Race is not purely a matter of hue. Evidence from sports aptitude to facial bone structure proves it to be so, and denying that fact in the name of racial harmony makes it more difficult to solidify the cultural holding that the differences don't matter in a philosophical or legal context. It may also make it more difficult to analyze and eliminate differing success rates of medical treatment:

African-Americans are less likely than whites to survive breast, prostate and ovarian cancer even when they receive equal treatment, according to a large study that offers provocative evidence that biological factors play a role in at least some racial disparities.

The first-of-its-kind study, involving nearly 20,000 cancer patients nationwide, found that the gap in survival between blacks and whites disappeared for lung, colon and several other cancers when they received identical care as part of federally funded clinical trials. But disparities persisted for prostate, breast and ovarian cancer, suggesting that other factors must be playing a role in the tendency of blacks to fare more poorly.

Astonishingly, even the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society is quick to validate concerns not about the research's results, but its being publicized in the first place:

"When I hear scientists talking about racial differences, I worry that it starts to harken back to arguments about genetic inferiority," said Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society.

The message that we all ought to hammer home repeatedly is that even genetic differences don't mean inferiority when it comes to our individual value as human beings.

Amdending the Ethics Amendment

Carroll Andrew Morse

Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri (via Edward Fitzpatrick's column in Sunday's Projo), Woonsocket Call columnist Jim Baron, and Operation Clean Government Vice-President Robert Benson, amongst many others, support amending the State Constitution to restore the jurisdiction of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission to its intended scope, which would include the official acts of state legislators.

State Representatives David Segal (D-Providence), Edith Ajello (D-Providence), Rod Driver (D-Charlestown/Exeter/Richmond), Chris Fierro (D-Woonsocket), and Brian Newberry (R-Burrillville/North Smithfield) already have a proposal for such an Amendment pending in the current legislative session, which would add (after voter approval) the bolded text to Article III, section 8 of the Rhode Island Constitution…

The general assembly shall establish an independent non-partisan ethics commission which shall adopt a code of ethics including, but not limited to, provisions on conflicts of interest, confidential information, use of position, contracts with government agencies and financial disclosure. Notwithstanding the provisions of Article VI, Section 5 of this Constitution, all elected and appointed officials and employees of state and local government, of boards, commissions and agencies shall be subject to the code of ethics. The ethics commission shall have the authority to investigate violations of the code of ethics and to impose penalties, as provided by law; and the commission shall have the power to remove from office officials who are not subject to impeachment.
Article VI, section 5 contains the Rhode Island Constitution's speech-in-debate immunity clause.

Baron and Benson both endorse this amendment specifically, though Fitzpatrick's column cites one expert who is concerned that the proposed language still might not be strong enough to allow the Ethics Amdenment's original scope and intent to survive another post-ratification judicial veto. However, at first glace, the language does seem to address the Court's stated reasons for narrowing the Ethics Commission's reach to less than what it was understood to be at the time it was created. The amendment specifically mentions the section of the Constitution containing the speech-in-debate clause that is supposedly being modified, addressing the concern that Constitutional protections cannot be repealed, unless it is directly stated that they are. Also, the new amendment would be approved without the rest of the Constitution being re-approved at the same time, doing away with the Court's concern that when separate constitutional provisions undergo simultaneous approval, speech-in-debate immunity obviously trumps all other considerations (hey, it's the state Supreme Court's reasoning, not mine).

Speaker of the House William Murphy, according to Fitzpatrick's column, has so-far been cool to the idea of letting this amendment work its way through the process -- raising the question of what the Speaker thinks the function of the legislature is, if it is not to create a system of laws that express the will of the people.

The Good and the Bad on Newsmakers

Justin Katz

It shows how far behind I am on catching up that I've just managed to watch the episode of Newsmakers featuring OSPRI's Bill Felkner and Pat Crowley of the NEA, RIFuture, and various other special interest groups.

Bill did admirably, but the viewer can observe something that I've found to typical of such head-to-heads. Crowley got in all of his (no doubt) scripted talking points, from "astroturf" to "tax cuts for the rich," while Felkner tried to give examples and put particular facts up for discussion. It's difficult to understand why the three other participants in the discussion let Pat get through the whole spiel, but the following quotation illustrates the disinterest in clarity and extemporaneous discussion:

What's wrong with working people making a good salary and having a decent benefits package? I mean, that's really what this comes down to. Instead there's arguments from taxpayer groups and from the right saying that just because a working person makes a living wage that that's a bad thing. No. That's a good thing. It's the model that we need to actually need to encourage more in this state. And I think the fact that this is being positioned as working people versus taxpayers — I think that what that actually shows is that there's a political agenda in the state that actually is trying to disempower working people, not so that the wealth is spread throughout the state, but so that the wealth is concentrated in the hands of a very few. And I think what this last weekend [of union strikes during the mayoral conference in Providence] highlights is that working people in the state of Rhode Island — especially organized workers — are tired of being used as scapegoats for a political agenda.

The strategic objective: equate public-sector unionists with "working people." If the reality is that give-aways to organized labor are not sustainable and inevitably harm those who are most susceptible to harm — private-sector workers — do a quick hop-skip to distract from that fact through allusion to some vague "political agenda" pursued by rich masterminds. The distraction was certainly not hindered by host Tim White's reference to Bill as "from the conservative think tank Ocean State Policy Research Institute", while Pat was simply "from RIFuture.org and the NEA." (Earlier, White called RIFuture "left-leaning.")

Crowley effected this sort of maneuver throughout the show. To White's question about the economic damage should the NEA sue the state over pension reforms, Crowley couldn't even muster a "look, we appreciate that litigation puts an additional strain on taxpayers, but..." Instead, he walked away with this, correcting Tim on what his question should have been:

Well, think that the real question is why do the public sector workers and the teachers of Rhode Island have to keep on taking the hit? I mean, like I said, there was another reform in 2006. Prior to that there was a major reform in 1997. Prior to that, there was one in 1992. All of those reforms were taking benefits away. So the idea that all of these things are just heaped upon teachers and public sector workers simply isn't true. And every time there's a reform, there's a promise. "This is the last time guys" "Really, this is the last time." "No, this time's really it." So how many times do the public sector workers and the teachers of the state have to open up their pocketbook so that the state can balance the budget, especially when the state has year after year cut taxes for rich people. Cut taxes for corporations. The reason we're in a budget problem in this state isn't simply because we pay our teachers well; it's because, over the last decade, we've cut taxes, cut taxes, and cut taxes, and created this economic black hole for ourselves.

Thus does Crowley brush away decades of unbelievable hand-outs that have made public-sector workers, especially teachers, Rhode Island's elite class on the grounds that, every now and then, the gorging must be mildly restrained. Inasmuch as most viewers don't have the history Rhode Island's pension system at their fingertips, Pat's references might as well be plucked from a hat, but they do lend an air of legitimacy to his complaint. Describing the actual changes would likely expose his game. In 1992, the state introduced the requirement that pension recipients endure the long slog of 10 years of actual work for the state in order to be eligible; I didn't find any change in 1997, but in 1994, the General Assembly introduced a requirement of at least 20-hours-per-week of work. And in 2005, introduction of minimum ages (a ripe old 59) and other changes, as to cost of living adjustments (COLAs), were already known to be insufficient and only applied to those not already vested with 10 years of service.

As for the supposed promise of no further cuts, perhaps we're getting a whisper of behind-the-scenes talk, because such declarations are certainly not prominently made in the public. Whatever the case, it is irresponsible of legislators to make them.

And none of that touches upon the deeper debate about the effects of tax cuts on revenue. (Tax revenue from "the rich" has actually gone up, over the last decade, both in real terms and as a percentage of total taxes collected.)

Bill began to turn the tables at around minute 14:30, with his introduction of some of the structural strategies whereby left-wing groups shuffle money and redirect influence. He also made a strong point, against the combined efforts of Crowley and Ian Donnis to challenge the transparency of OSPRI on the grounds that it doesn't disclose small-dollar donors, responding that people give freely to such groups in a way that is not true of public-sector unions.

He could have further noted that the public has the same amount of information about, say, Ocean State Action as about OSPRI. That point was brought to the fore by the minor spat over what organizations are housed in NEA-RI's headquarters at 99 Bald Hill Rd. Crowley disputed that Marriage Equality RI is located there, although as of last August, the group's tax exemption was registered at that address. More significant is the reference to WorkingRI; although Bill may have misspoken about its relationship with the address, a little research shows how little difference it makes.

The group's Web site isn't very informative when it comes to its operations or management structure. (Its address is a P.O. box in Warwick.) But a 2008 Projo article about the links between labor organizations in RI names Frank Montanaro as the chairman of its board. Montanaro is also president of the RI AFL-CIO, as well as chairman of the Institute for Labor Studies & Research, which is indeed headquartered at 99 Bald Hill. NEA-RI President Lawrence Purtill is listed as the Institute's secretary treasurer, a post that NEA-RI Executive Director Bob Walsh fills (according to the Projo) for WorkingRI.

WorkingRI is a prominent player on RIFuture, by the way, and the AFL-CIO has a very large ad in the hardly-prominent position at the bottom of the blog.

Bill's point, in short, is irrefutable, which is why it's disappointing to watch an episode of Newsmakers hover in the zone of talking-point assertions. But ensuring such outcomes is, I suppose, part of Patrick Crowley's job — which may explain why his union pays him $5 per year for political activity, according to Felkner.

July 7, 2009

Because I Know Who'll Chuckle and Who'll Fume

Justin Katz

David Kahane lets us in on a little secret:

I don't know why I'm telling you this, but maybe now you're beginning to understand the high-stakes game we're playing here. This ain't John McCain's logrolling senatorial club any more. This is a deadly serious attempt to realize the vision of the 1960s and to fundamentally transform the United States of America. This is the fusion of Communist dogma, high ideals, gangster tactics, and a stunning amount of self-loathing. For the first time in history, the patrician class is deliberately selling its own country down the river just to prove a point: that, yes, we can! This country stinks and we won't be happy until we’ve forced you to admit it.

In other words, stop thinking of the Democratic Party as merely a political party, because it's much more than that. We're not just the party of slavery, segregation, secularism, and sedition. Not just the party of Aaron Burr, Boss Tweed, Richard J. Croker, Bull Connor, Chris Dodd, Richard Daley, Bill Ayers, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and Emperor Barack Hussein Obama II. Not just the party of Kendall "Agent 202" Myers, the State Department official recruited as a Cuban spy along with his wife during the Carter administration. Rather, think of the Democratic Party as what it really is: a criminal organization masquerading as a political party.

Toward What End They Rush

Justin Katz

Ed Achorn takes the opportunity of the eternal contract bill — which he calls "remarkably reckless and profoundly anti-democratic piece of special-interest legislation" — to offer a helpful rule of thumb on the General Assembly's standard operating procedures:

This is an idea that, at the very least, merits serious discussion, rather than the rush treatment it got in the Senate. When something is whipped through the legislature at lightning speed, it is a good bet that it harms the public and serves special interests. When something is discussed to death, and still not passed, it is a good sign the special interests oppose it and the public supports it. To wit: The General Assembly has refused, yet again, to create fair elections in Rhode Island, as in most other states, by eliminating the corrupting master lever. In doing so, it cavalierly ignored the formal wishes of the state’s top election officials and the government of 23 Rhode Island communities. And Rhode Island has still not joined 48 of the 49 states that make indoor prostitution illegal. (In Nevada, prostitution is legal in some counties but strictly regulated.)

There is no remedy but to change the players, and the last election gave reason to fear that such an act may be practically impossible.

Patrick, again

Marc Comtois


Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy will return to Congress Tuesday after an absence of about four weeks to undergo treatment for addiction, his office said Monday.
This just the last in a long list of repeated bouts with substance abuse and generally erratic behavior. I hold no ill will towards Kennedy, but its obvious his lifetime will be spent struggling with a full array of problems. Unfortunately, he simply can't devote his full attention and effort to doing the job he was elected to do. That is a disservice to his constituents, whether he or they want to admit it or not. It's too bad someone won't take him aside and convince him to get out of politics for his own good. And if he won't listen, then someone should run against him in the Democrat primary.

Heck, they sure seem willing to line up to take on his colleague in the 2nd District:

RIFUTURE has heard from multiple sources that State Representative Betsy Dennigan (D-E. Providence) is possibly going to announce a run for US Congress against incumbent Democrat Jim Langevin. Dennigan was named a possible candidate for the office of Lt. Governor but now that Elizabeth Roberts has decided to run for re-election that option has closed.

Smart map readers may point out that Dennigan may not live in the 2nd Congressional District but living in the districts is not a requirement for Congressional seats.

Setting ideology aside, I would think it would serve Rhode Island Democrats much better if Dennigan would simply stay in-district and run against Kennedy. The realistic chances of successfully toppling an incumbent in the primary are about the same, so why not at least challenge the truly, ahhh, challenged one? Heck, Dennigan may have a much better chance taking on Kennedy on her home turf instead of carpet-bagging into the 2nd District.

The Rich and Poor Will Be Always with Us. Those Between Are the Question.

Justin Katz

By way of manufacturing disagreement over my post on the smoothing of life's barbs and its disparate effects, David comments as follows:

Why is it now that you come to these conclusions? There has always been an aristocracy in our political world. Can you explain Carcieri? It seems only when the political tide runs against you that you notice the power world of money and influence.

Prior to substantive response, I'd opine that this is not an accurate inference from my actual writing, but a convenient imposition in order to find some way of objecting to what I've recently said. Without digging through years of archives, I can testify that I've always had populist inclinations and have objected to the formation of elite circles and dynastic progressions.

The point is not that America has heretofore been an egalitarian paradise devoid of an aristocracy with all of the attending advantages. Differing origins will always ensure differing opportunities, and efforts meticulously to erase that reality will prove disastrous. Rather, the point is much as Ross Douthat enunciates here:

Sarah Palin is beloved by millions because her rise suggested, however temporarily, that the old American aphorism about how anyone can grow up to be president might actually be true.

But her unhappy sojourn on the national stage has had a different moral: Don't even think about it.

Which Glenn Reynolds sharpens as follows:

What Joel Kotkin calls "the Gentry Faction" has taken over the Democrats completely. Wherever they dominate, you see a lot of talk about equality — and a lot of effort at maintaining inequality and keeping the proles in their place. There are plenty of Gentry in the Republican party, too. But I wouldn't be surprised to see a populist backlash arise, on either the left, or the right, or both, or somewhere in between.

The talk, in an effort to distract from the fissure to which Reynolds points, is likely a significant motivation behind the push to remove the word "plantations" from Rhode Island's official name (as discussed in these parts here, here, and here, yesterday). But the dynamic causing the fissure has been building for decades and may prove to be the pivotal bulwark in the culture wars.

The opportunity paradigm made tangible in the founding of the United States expanded freedom and opened up new frontiers for the economy (after the fashion that I described earlier this morning) in at least two key ways:

  • It enabled people to truly own their property — keeping what they'd earned through labor, innovation, and risk.
  • It gave them freedom to operate and interact as they saw fit to pursue those ends.

Consider the economic and social disputes of the last half-century in light of those two principles, and you'll see that they've long been under an escalating attack. Taxation, freedoms of speech and association, economic regulation, government annexation of investment funding and scientific research, affirmative action, hate crimes legislation. The list is endless, and it is the crux of the push for and opposing reaction to creeping socialism.

The theme that has lately been emerging is that, beyond the diminution of principles that serve to level opportunity (often in the name of leveling outcomes), various barriers to entry are growing. The post to which David appended his comment touched on technology and the difficulties of life. A second barrier — a celebrity culture that requires public figures to emit star power in a stone-set image approved and promoted by media insiders — has been difficult to ignore in the era of the Obamanation; Sarah Palin's been something of an antipode in that sphere, with her populist image disapproved by the media elite.

We will never erase distinctions of class, and it is folly to pretend that the categories don't enable some useful average assumptions. The United States of America will seize up and atrophy, however, if we do not resist the manifold and often deceptive temptations that disrupt the organic churning of castes that our freedoms have permitted.

If at First You Don't Succeed, Spend, Spend Again

Justin Katz

An economy is like water: It can't expand unless it has somewhere to go, artificially adding more volume will only cause a limited and temporary upward surge, and the extra must be taken from somewhere else. This is the image that came to mind in response to our Senators' suggestions that the nation might need another stimulus package:

"The only way we're going to get the economy out of the slump is to get people back to work and to stabilize housing values," Reed said in an interview with MSNBC. "I don't think we should rule out a second stimulus package."

The strategy on which Reed and Whitehouse wish to double down is to continue adding volume to the economy in the hopes that it will overflow some barrier currently preventing new streams. The problems with chasing that remote possibility are that it floods the extra into an area of the economy that's pretty well bounded and takes money out of the economy where it can be most productive (eroding soft dams by investment and innovation, one might say).

The move might be advisable if there were clear consensus that the economy is on the cusp of a new field into which to flow — another Internet about to be created, new frontiers to be populated — but that is not currently the case. (Green ain't it.) Improving roads and other such infrastructure repairs will keep a handful of workers occupied, but when the funding evaporates, so will the jobs.

What Rhode Island's Senators ought to be declaring — what all leaders ought to be declaring — is the need to pull down those barriers that governments of every tier have erected.

July 6, 2009

Has the R.I. Supreme Court Gutted the 1986 Con Con in its Entirety?

Monique Chartier

... and, therefore, the actions of all past and future Constitutional Conventions?

In addition to trivializing ethics, as Marc put it, and all but decriminalizing bribery, hasn't the R.I. Supreme Court legally voided everything that was implemented by the 1986 Constitutional Convention [scanned PDF] with their ruling [PDF] on the Irons matter?

If the original document supercedes the constitutional amendments passed at the 1986 Con Con by the people of Rhode Island approving the resolutions that emerged from the 1986 Con Con that strengthened ethics in government, doesn't the original document supercede all [edit] future amendments enacted as well as the actions of that and all prior Constitutional Conventions? So wouldn't it supercede all future amendments passed at any future Con Con?


Apologies. The process of amending the Rhode Island Constitution begins at a Constitutional Convention which promulgates a resolution in the form of a question to be placed on a ballot and considered by the voters. I have corrected my original post, above.

In the case of the Irons decision, voters had approved the following amendment to the RI Constitution.

“ETHICS IN GOVERNMENT * * * Shall an ethics commission be established with authority to adopt a code of ethics and to discipline or remove public officials and employees found in violation of that code? * * *

“B. Ethics Commission: The general assembly would be directed to establish a non-partisan ethics commission that would enforce a code of ethics for all public officials, state and local, elected and appointed. The commission would have power to investigate charges, impose penalties and to remove officials who are not subject to impeachment * * *.”

The main question of this post stands. The Rhode Island Supreme Court has nullified this amendment to the RI Constitution. Such actions do not stand in isolation. By voiding this amendment on the basis that the Constitution supercedes it, have they not voided the entire process of amending the Rhode Island Constitution?

A Chilling Thought

Justin Katz

I've yet to trace the history sufficiently to form a strong opinion about the Robert McNamara, although I do generally distasteful to snarl at the dead on the occasion of death. The remarkable chill, though, emanates from the comments to the post at that link, beginning with the following unobjectionable suggestion from Lee Rosten:

I suspect he will now face the real judge of his life's achievements and it will not be pretty.

To that, FritzieZivic retorts:

Nothing will happen to R.McN. He's dead. That's it. His dirty work is his legacy and that is the end of the story.

Forget about at least that member of the 'Best and the Brightest' club getting his just desserts 'on the other side.'

With the final chill coming with Charles Drago's "near-total agreement" (emphasis in original):

What awaits McNamara, his masters, and their accessories on the "other side" is not our proper concern.

God's work is our own -- right here, right now.

Think about that. Drago has made punishment on a par with eternal damnation a temporal project for humanity. What punishment couldn't be excused on those grounds, should the powerful deem one to be secularly evil?

It's nothing new to see the unholy alliance of such theists and atheists point in the direction of human beings as deserving of the responsibilities and powers rightly left to the Deity, but seeing it plied in the service of retribution is a frightening display that I hope has little currency in the population at large.

State of Virginia to Change Name

Marc Comtois

Virginia Delegate Ima Harlot and Senator Justin "Jus" A. Gigolo proposed matching legislation in each chamber that would change the name of the state of Virginia. In a press conference, Harlot and Gigolo were joined by several representatives from both parties who were intent on showing their support. As Harlot explained:

For too long, we non-virgin residents of Virginia have had to deal with the unfair burden of residing in a state whose very name privileges the unrealistic sexual state of virginity over other forms of sexual status. It is time to acknowledge the pain caused every time a non-virgin resident of this state is called a "Virginian". That is why Senator Gigolo and I, with the bipartisan support of several of our colleagues, are calling on the citizens of our state to redress this historical ill by approving a state name change.
When asked why they felt now was the time for such a change after centuries had passed with little or no controversy, Gigolo responded:
We were inspired by the effort being put forth in the State of Rhode Island, where they are attempting to remove "and Providence Plantations" from their official name.

Truthfully, we didn't even realize that was part of their name, but once the argument was made and we learned that the name "plantations" offended people--which seems obvious to those of us in the south--it got us thinking: what about Virginia? We realized that, as non-virgins, it was insulting to have to live in a place whose name was manifestly disrespectful to our non-virginity.

Taking it further, it isn't just those of us in the single, swinger set that are offended, either. Several married people we talked to are also hurt by the name. Should they be made to suffer in such a way? It just seemed that now was the time to redress a historical wrong.

When it was pointed out that the name Virginia was derived from the Virginia Company and that the name had nothing to do with the virginity, per se, of its inhabitants, Harlot was quick to respond:
That doesn't matter. All I know is what I feel right now. The original meaning of Virginia is irrelevant. I'm not a virgin and I don't want to be known as a "Virginian." Further, past attempts to remove the stigma--the tourism campaign "Virginia is for lovers" comes to mind--only serve to confuse the issue. It's time to rename our great state and make it less insulting.

That is why, since we are aware of the key role that history plays in our sense of place and time, we have proposed that the new name be simply: "State." It has been part of the name of our state since statehood was declared.

It was pointed out that the official name is The Commonwealth of Virginia and that "state" is actually not in the official name. To this Harlot shrugged her shoulders, saying, "No one calls it the 'Commonwealth of Virginia', we all call it the 'State of Virginia,' so that just not an issue." When asked to detail more extensively the process they went through to determine a new name, Gigolo explained:
Well, first we naturally sought to counter the whole "virgin" thing and names like Promiscia and Freelovana were discussed. But we realized that would just be having the same dance with a different partner, so to speak.

We again looked at Rhode Island, and we could see that they may still have a problem. They maintained one part of their traditional name--Rhode Island--which was named after the Greek Island of Rhodes. That begged the question: How long before all of the non-Greeks in that state are going to rise up and demand a change because the pride of one ethnic group is being propped up at the expense of so many others? That's what led us away from just going with "Commonwealth." That name could either be taken as being too communist or to capitalistic, depending on how you look at it. So we tried to think of something that wouldn't offend anyone.

Finally, we decided that calling our state "State" was the least-offensive route to take. It's simple and descriptive and unlikely to offend anyone and, as Ima said, it maintains a link to the traditional usage throughout our state's history.

When it was brought up that the term "state" had various theological meanings in certain contexts, Gigolo gave a nervous chuckle and ceded the microphone to Harlot, who, after a brief pause, responded:
Really? Is there anything wrong with "The" or "of"?

Re: Plantation Fight

Justin Katz

Marc points to the crux of the "Providence Plantations" matter when he writes:

Until now, I think the reaction by most people when hearing about "Plantations" was the rhetorical "Huh." The irony is that Metts et al have set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy thanks to this bit of "consciousness raising" about a heretofore unrealized problem.

Creating that self-fulfilling prophecy is precisely the goal so as to generate an opening for the role of racially sensitive savior. The academic term for what they're doing is to "reify": treating the now-abstract concept of American slavery (as proven by the apparent irrelevancy of the lack of a substantive connection between "Providence Plantations" and the abhorrent labor practice) as if it were a material issue in the modern day. When they've conquered "plantations'" three syllables, they'll find other words or statistical findings for the same purpose.

The object is to ensure that racial strife never truly ends, in the U.S.A., because it would bring the livelihoods of an industry of despicable people with it.

Plantation Fight: The Veiled Threats Begin

Marc Comtois

According to Senator Harold Metts, the people of Rhode Island had better drop their 'Plantations' or they'll be viewed as racists by the rest of the country. Metts, as reported by the Providence Business News, raised the specter of economic retribution should voters reject the removal of "Providence Plantations" from the official name of the state by likening the potential negative economic impact of keeping "Plantations" to that felt by Arizona when it held out against adopting the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Metts, D-Providence, says he could see the same thing happening in Rhode Island, if voters reject the chance next year to shorten the state’s official name – the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations – dropping the “Providence Plantations,” which for many has become a controversial reference to slavery.

With all the national news coverage such a decision would receive, Metts said he wouldn’t be surprised if the state attracted fewer conventions and fewer tourists.

And exactly why would there be so much news coverage? It's not going out on a limb to say that, up until now, 99% of the U.S. population (and probably 50% of Rhode Islanders!) had absolutely no idea about the "Providence Plantations" part of the name (much less that Rhode Island is even a state--I've been hearing about "Rhode Island, NY" for a long time). Until now, I think the reaction by most people when hearing about "Plantations" was the rhetorical "Huh." The irony is that Metts et al have set in motion a self-fulfilling prophecy thanks to this bit of "consciousness raising" about a heretofore unrealized problem.

The most pragmatic argument against this issue is that there are other, more pressing matters that demand our legislators attention over a piece of feel-good legislation. But I also don't like the minimal gain that could be realized at the price of real history (not the naive misreading of it). URI historian Scott Malloy explained to the PBN the blinkered history being perpetrated:

The reference to Providence Plantation actually dates back to the founding of Rhode Island by Roger Williams when he settled in the area that is now Providence – after his banishment from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

He called the settlement Providence Plantations in reference to the large amounts of acreage available for farming...Molloy said he could understand the minority community’s desire to remove the word “plantations” from the state’s name, particularly when considering Rhode Island was the “most notorious state in New England for the slave trade” in the 1700s.

But he added that “plantation” did not have its more contemporary connotation to slavery in the 1600s, when there were few if any slaves in Rhode Island. “It was a common usage in the British Empire,” he said.

“Some things ought to be righted, but this one doesn’t deserve it,” Molloy said.

It's a bit of historical quirkiness that lives on, nothing more. Like Molloy, I understand the motive behind the effort to remove "Plantations." I just don't agree. Further, I don't like the implication that opposing the removal of "Plantations" means anything other than a desire to maintain the traditional appellation of the place I live. It's really as simple as that.

RI Supreme Court's Trivialization of Ethics

Marc Comtois

We've discussed the recent ruling by the RI Supreme Court that undermines a big stick in the RI Ethics Commissions arsenal. WRNI's Scott McKay offers a good example of the cognitive dissonance displayed:

[W]hat can one say about a commission that slaps a governor for attending a professional football game but allows a state senator to vote with impunity on behalf of the interests of insurance clients whop have paid him thousands of dollars[?]...Governor Donald Carcieri was sanctioned by the Ethics Commission for going to a New England Patriot's game on banker's ticket. Not ten games, not a playoff game, not the Super Bowl, just one regular season game. By contrast, former state Senate President William Irons collected thousands of dollars in insurance commissions from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Rhode Island the CVS Pharmacy chain. Then he voted in favor of legislation pushed by CVS and Blue Cross at the State House.....the high court has reduced the Ethics Commission's power to a game of trivial pursuit, allowing prosecutions of free football tickets and gift baskets, while shielding legislators from conflict-of-interest charges when they vote in the interests of a private business client.

The Supreme Court did say that voters could enact a new amendment to clarify this mess. Don't hold your breath waiting for the powers on Smith Hill to act.

No kidding. Looks like another instance where Rhode Island voters will have to take the populist route to get a ballot initiative to clearly express what should be manifestly obvious to our political class, including our Supreme Court Justices.

Voting Rules... Unknown, Bent, and Broken

Justin Katz

On site for part of a Rhode Island House session, Monique watched several members vote for representatives who were not at their seats, a ritual that a friend described as ongoing. The answer to Monique's question about the legality of that act came in the form of a House rule that allows it if the member is "present in the House chamber." I'm not sure how broadly the word "chamber" is averred to apply, but if proxy voting had been going on for a substantial duration, I'm curious where in the chamber those members were for so long.

Today's Political Scene in the Providence Journal is suggestive of the possibility that General Assembly voting rules are subject to such vagaries as whether the leadership has "suspended all the rules":

After he had settled in, [Sen. Leonidas] Raptakis [D, Coventry] said he simply asked the clerk, Joseph Brady, to add his missed "votes" to the tallies for the first three bills on the calendar.

Asked how he would explain this to a member of the public who might view a "vote" as evidence of actual attendance, Raptakis cited a Senate rule titled: "Who May Vote." ...

But Raptakis acknowledges he was not in the chamber when the Twin River bill came up, and did not request — or receive — unanimous consent to have his votes counted toward that bill or the two that followed involving sex-offender registration and insurance. But maybe, he suggests, there was no such rule in effect because Senate leaders had "suspended all the rules" days earlier for what they thought would be the final days of this year's legislative session.

Well OK, then. As long as it's possible for a handful of part-time elected representatives to permit chaos, I suppose we haven't any grounds for complaint.

Independence Weekend in Review

Justin Katz

It being a holiday weekend — and only two days, at that — we took it somewhat easier than usual. (There's certainly an allegory for my schedule in the fact that a fireworks show of approximately 30 minutes ate up a little over two hours of my Saturday evening, but I'll leave it alone for now.)

On the fourth, Andrew posted the Muppets' "Stars & Stripes Forever," which readers should watch through to the very end so as not to miss an accurate comment on Internet culture.

It took me into Sunday afternoon to write and post a rumination on the relative ugliness of life in the past. Although technology has overcome many sources of pain and discomfort, when it comes to public office, it's appearing that such advances have a disparate effect.

In the later afternoon, Monique observed the increasingly conspicuous opposition of teachers' unions to charter schools as the federal government promotes them. It's possible that their stringent opposition to a popular innovation will affect voters' decisions in local elections that are relevant to school funding and operation.

July 5, 2009

US Department of Ed Implements an Unexpectedly Instructive New Program

Monique Chartier

Admittedly, yes, he is in part motivated by a lust for federal gold. But this factor in no way abated the fury of certain former supporters of Mayor Thomas Menino (D!) when he announced last month a volte face support of charter schools as a means of achieving education reform in Boston.

The speech took aim at the lack of progress in dozens of low-performing, inner-city Boston public schools, many of which have not met adequate yearly progress for five years running.

"To get the results we seek -- at the speed we want -- we must make transformative changes that boost achievement for students, improve quality choices for parents, and increase opportunities for teachers," Mr. Menino said. "We need to empower our educators to quickly innovate and implement what works." With that, Mr. Menino abandoned nearly two decades of personal opposition to nonunion charter schools, which have been bitterly resisted by Massachusetts teachers unions and their political allies. "I believe that the increased flexibility that charters provide can . . . help us close the achievement gap," he declared.


All teachers and paras interviewed this week feel betrayed, given that his plan to forcibly charterize 51 schools indelibly labels those schools as failing and, further, shows no confidence in our schools' ability to improve. Many staff at the 51 targeted schools feel especially betrayed by the mayor, who has often touted their school in personal visits and public displays of support.

What triggered this hubbub in the Hub? Again from the Wall Street Journal.

Political pressure, most notably from the Obama administration, which has explicitly linked charter-school expansion with access to $5 billion in new education reform funding.

"States that don't have the stomach or the political will, they're going to lose out," Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Associated Press recently. "That's $5 billion, b-i-l-l-i-o-n, up for grabs," moaned Mr. Menino in an interview with me. "I've gotta sit here sucking my thumb because I can't get reforms?"

... er, at the moment, yes, Your Honor. But thank woo for asking a good question.

On the one hand, it is tempting to question the wisdom of this $5 billion in new education spending. It is not clear why the federal government should pick up the slack left by too many school committees, which for decades have negotiated and executed contracts bereft of any mention of academic achievement. This approach has resulted in significantly increasing America's spending on public education with little corresponding trend in student achievement.

At the same time, this expenditure has thrown into sharp contrast two philosophies espoused by teachers' unions. How does one reconcile claims made on certain occasions that actions advocated are in the best interest of "the children" with the organization's zero tolerance for merit-based compensation? By very reasonably linking additional funding to student-centric education reform, the US Department of Education has inadvertantly provided an interesting glimpse to a usually distracted public into the motive of an organization which, it appears, is reluctant to permit its words to become policy. Such an insight will prove useful when voters weigh the propaganda and merits of candidates and budget referenda at polling time.

Thanks to commenter MikeinRI for pointing out {edit} a local development to Marc's post.

The Grit and Grime of History as Modern Metaphor

Justin Katz

The beastliness of tarring and feathering has probably been the most deeply disturbing smack of history as I've worked my way through HBO's John Adams presentation on DVD.

During a childhood vacation, I walked through a wax museum with my parents, and although much of the attraction is lost to my memory, I still remember the figure of a wax dummy hanging from a hook through his molded midriff in a dungeon setting. The associated placard informed visitors that the phrase "off the hook" derived from this particular practice, and I haven't heard or uttered the cliché since without recalling the excruciating sideways arch of the body — as well as the fact that even those who were released before they'd bled to death typically died anyway. Herman Melville's description of the "keel-haul" in White Jacket did me the same service, just barely rescuing the experience of reading the book from status as a lower-magnitude form of torture. Colloquial English — a linguiphile learns over time — is riddled with images that ought not be as lightly uttered as they frequently are.

A reaction to the tarring scene with broader and more subtle application is the constitution of the mob, which drew in even some among our national heroes. One hears of a "mob mentality," but I suspect that it's not quite so monolithic a phenomenon. Some among the group are doubtless bloodthirsty, perhaps relishing the opportunity to taste power as the peasants of Dickens's Paris relished wine — the drip of conviviality — that a broken cask had poured across the filthy cobblestones. Others (the film's Sam Adams) become entranced at the opportunity that the desperate flex of community muscle imports. Still others (John Adams) intuit the danger of testing their own powerlessness and attempt no more than to persuade somebody nearby that the act is barbaric.

It makes us no better, only more fortunate, that such scenes are reduced mainly to metaphors in the modern public square. There was more grit to life, in those days, and the harsher our quotidian experience, perhaps the fewer barriers simple aesthetics can supply against unspeakable displays. Inoculation to us is an inconvenient trip to the pediatrician and a chance of fever. Abigail Adams (in the movie, at least) sat her children down to be sliced across the arm and infected with smallpox puss taken from a dying boy in the doctor's cart outside, with the grim risk for the patients being death. (I'd note, here, the genius of the film's creators in interweaving the emotional threads of the Declaration of Independence with the question of whether all Adams children survive the procedure.) When that is the look of preventative medicine, death by the infection of tar burns mightn't scorch the conscience as deeply.

Still, the grime of plain life through which our forefathers waded does bring into relief some realities of more lasting duration. Throughout most of the four parts that I've watched of the seven, Adams has been away from his family. Upon returning to America well into the late 1880s, he requires his children to introduce themselves from amidst the masses as he stands with an awkward smile on the dock. His history being as yet unwritten, he faced the frustrating drudgery of politics and the fear of failure no less than any who struggle toward some end in the twenty first century. Matters of aptitude and luck certainly contribute to the building up of Great Men and Women, but this portrayal of our nation's founding reminds us that sacrifice and risk, and willingness to accept both, mustn't be disregarded.

In our time of unprecedented leisure and safety from life's fluctuations, the demands of public responsibility aren't offset by the universal difficulty of just living. Mark Steyn sees this dynamic in Sarah Palin's sudden resignation from office:

If you like Wasilla and hunting and snowmachining and moose stew and politics, is the last worth giving up everything else in the hopes that one day David Letterman and Maureen Dowd might decide Trig and Bristol and the rest are sufficiently non-risible to enable you to prosper in their world? And, putting aside the odds, would you really like to be the person you'd have to turn into under that scenario?

National office will dwindle down to the unhealthily singleminded (Clinton, Obama), the timeserving emirs of Incumbistan (Biden, McCain) and dynastic heirs (Bush). Our loss.

Whatever the accuracy of Steyn's analysis of this specific story, his theme is worth considering. Public figures who are self-standing in a financial sense and ensconced in a social sphere in the sense of status have a disproportionate advantage when it comes to the personal hazards of office. A rarified clique may liken the snickers of their peers to flogging, but there remains a difference between emotional and physical scars. We can take it as true that the only guillotine public figures need fear is the sharp bite of comedians' monologues, and the modern pillory is a photograph in the ephemeral medium of the tabloids.

For those with the good (and great) fortune of summer manses to which to retreat in shame, the risk may be lightly taken, but to regular folk, the actual modern threats captured in historical metaphors of torture and pain are real enough — apt to be ruinous. For the former, being "off the hook" of public scrutiny means a return to life; for the latter, the wound may yet prove economically fatal.

To whatever extent the difference between the two perspectives is likely to prove unhealthy for our polity, it is exponentially more so for our culture. Though it is now the temper of the cynical to scoff at the notion, Americans once believed of their nation that grit and principle could carry one — rough edges and street creds intact — to the very top. As our civilization advances its technological ability to file down the barbs of life — such that a latter-day John Adams could fly his dear Abigail to the Netherlands for a weekend and stay connected with his children via the Internet — an inequity in the sacrifice that service and striving require may well establish an aristocracy in which the term "representative" joins the list of mere metaphors that once denoted something tangible.

July 4, 2009

Happy Independence Day!

Carroll Andrew Morse

July 3, 2009

Don't Bogart that Revenue Stream, My Friend

Monique Chartier

The Rhode Island Senate has ordered a study of the legalization of marijuana. Would that the goal was merely to adjust our illicit drug use ranking by reclassifying one of the drugs. Alas, they specifically voted

to explore how much Rhode Island might collect in revenue if it were to make all sales of marijuana legal and impose a “sin tax” of $35 per ounce.

The main problem, of course, is big picture. Rather than looking for extreme sources of revenue, the General Assembly needs to continue focusing on the reduction of expenditures on the state and local levels. Two areas most urgently, though not exclusively, requiring attention are mandates for cities and towns and public pensions. (Pension reform measures included in the 2010 budget were a good step but by no means the end of the journey.)

Secondly, however, think of the proposed revenue source itself. More specifically, consider the health risks associated with it.

Shouldn't it raise a red flag about our budgeting and mandate policies that we are now looking to expand revenue opportunities in the area of behavior that is physically harmful to human beings?

NEA Boos Obama's Ed. Secretary

Marc Comtois

Education Secretary Arne Duncan was in Los Angeles to speak to an NEA convention.

Teachers booed and hissed today as Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged the nation's largest teachers union to change its view of merit-based pay and incorporate student achievement into teacher evaluation and compensation.
Ah, so professional. I've been to many engineering conventions where a speaker is booed and hissed for suggesting stricter accreditation standards or the like. NOT. Here's some of what Duncan said that them so upset. First, he addressed teacher accountability and assessment:
Our challenge is to make sure every child in America is learning from an effective teacher, no matter what it takes....So today, I ask you to join President Obama and me in a new commitment to results that recognizes and rewards success in the classroom and is rooted in our common obligation to children....I understand that tests are far from perfect and that it is unfair to reduce the complex, nuanced work of teaching to a simple multiple choice exam....Test scores alone should never drive evaluation, compensation or tenure decisions. That would never make sense. But to remove student achievement entirely from evaluation is illogical and indefensible.
Then he addressed the way that bonuses are earned by teachers (advanced degree and longevity bonuses, for instance), which may not be the most effective at rewarding good teachers:
School systems pay teachers billions of dollars more each year for earning credentials that do very little to improve the quality of teaching....At the same time, many schools give nothing at all to the teachers who go the extra mile and make all the difference in students' lives. Excellence matters, and we should honor it -- fairly, transparently and on terms teachers can embrace.
Duncan also explained why the model of public education is outdated and outmoded:
I believe that teacher unions are at a crossroads...These policies were created over the past century to protect the rights of teachers, but they have produced an industrial, factory model of education that treats all teachers like interchangeable widgets.

When inflexible seniority and rigid tenure rules that we designed put adults ahead of children, then we are not only putting kids at risk, we're putting the entire education system at risk....We're inviting the attack of parents and the public, and that is not good for any of us.

No it's not. The NEA has proven time and again that they aren't going to go along willingly with this kind of "change". Unfortunately, Duncan's explanation about outmoded factory models will fall on the deaf ears of those who think that mid-20th century factory models are the ideal to which we should all strive, in perpetuity, regardless of their practicality in the modern age.

Who Has More Control Over Centralized Government?

Justin Katz

Quite revealing, the underlying premise of regular Providence Journal contributor Tom Sgouros's latest. He describes new education standards recently promulgated by the state Board of Regents that appear to give local school committees and districts more freedom in designing their curricula. What's the problem with that?

The upshot is that school districts will be freed from the fiscal shackles that bind them and can manage their programs to increase their productivity. Sounds good? Even better, how about we say they can empower high-quality local school leadership to manage a streamlined 21st Century cutting-edge high-quality education program. What this means, of course, is there will be nobody to insist that elementary music classes aren't just an hour of listening to the radio once a week with the regular teacher. If some school committee wants to call that a "high quality music program," then there's now officially no one to say otherwise.

So wave a fond farewell to your school librarians, the music and art teachers, the drama teachers and all the extras that make kids want to go to school. After the June 4 meeting, they won't be required, so how long do you think your town will keep them?

What an astonishing view of government accountability! It would appear that an appointed (not elected) state board must be petitioned to change the rules because local school committees are all but unreachable... at least, Sgouros doesn't mention the possibility of petitioning local government representatives to maintain programs that are important to residents.

The reason for this view is indicated by the three paragraphs that Sgouros spends complaining about property tax caps. If a town is constrained (one would prefer them to be restrained) in the amount of money that it can demand from residents, and if those residents insist that important programs such as music and library remain, there's only one place to go, no? And applying pressure to the deals that unions have cajoled and bullied out of school districts is unthinkable to Sgouros's crowd.

That doesn't mean, of course, that Tom and some among his peers don't sincerely believe in the value of the programs that instruction costs are squeezing out. They know better than anybody that unions leverage state and national levels of power to implement ever-expanding contracts, so it makes sense, if they wish to protect programs, to install safeguards at that level. They've also learned that more powerful, higher, tiers of government may more easily be reached by powerful parties than by lowly taxpayers, whereas national lobbying influence and millions of dollars for expense on campaigns are not quite as indomitable in communities run by neighbors for neighbors.

I, too, believe that school children ought to have a wide range of opportunities for educational experience. Indeed, their loss is indicative of the American education establishment's race to the bottom — focusing its resources on those who are more difficult to educate and thereby lowering the environment to a utilitarian plane for all. If America is to remain competitive with nations of differing economic, cultural, and demographic character, creativity and a capacity for innovation will be critical.

I also believe, however, that mandating creativity from the top down not only is oxymoronic, but tends toward corruption. I'd therefore join Sgouros in encouraging Rhode Islanders to show that they "care what kinds of services are delivered by our towns." The most effective way of doing so is to approach that local committee whose members one sees walking their dogs and picking up prescriptions at the local drug store on a daily basis.

A Bipartisan Thorn

Justin Katz

It's encouraging to see that figures most often noted for their irascibility against right-leaning politicians can find fault with the other side:

Following a testy exchange during today's briefing with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas told CNSNews.com that not even Richard Nixon tried to control the press the way President Obama is trying to control the press.

"Nixon didn't try to do that," Thomas said. "They couldn't control (the media). They didn't try. ...

"I'm not saying there has never been managed news before, but this is carried to fare-thee-well—for the town halls, for the press conferences," she said. "It's blatant. They don't give a damn if you know it or not. They ought to be hanging their heads in shame."

Two questions to which I won't presume to supply answers: Is this an indication of Thomas's objectivity or President Obama's extremity? If the latter, is it possible that the standard storyline about the partisan nature of oppressive behavior can be made to change?

July 2, 2009

The Unknown Variable in the Marriage Poll

Justin Katz

This recent letter from Lewis Prescott, of Lincoln, reminded me that I have yet to receive a response to phone and email inquiries about the age-range breakdown behind Brown professor Marion Orr's recent poll finding support for same-sex marriage. Prescott is suspicious:

If you ever want to take a poll and have the results turn out the way you would like them to be, then have Brown University do it. It has a system of convoluted questions and acceptable answers that could tilt the leaning tower of Pisa back to its upright position.

Me, I'm ready to believe the poll's results. I'd just like to be able to look for interesting patterns across polls and find it surprising that an Ivy League academic would obscure a very relevant variable.

Must Have Missed the International Outrage...

Justin Katz

In the midst of an especially worthwhile Nordlinger Impromptus one learns of this unheralded news:

Egyptian border police guards last week shot and killed another African migrant who tried to infiltrate the border into Israel.

Over the past three years, more than 60 African nationals, including women and children, have been shot and killed and hundreds others wounded or detained by Egyptian police guards in the Sinai Peninsula.

Most of the migrants were Christians from Ivory Coast, Sudan and Eritrea.

As for the nation toward which the migrants are headed:

"Because in our village in southern Sudan we have been hearing for a long time about the good life in Israel and that this was one of the few countries in the Middle East where Christians feel safe," the wife said without hesitation. "We were also told that Israeli soldiers don't open fire at women and children who are trying to cross the border."

African emigrants, it would appear, are more likely to be shot in the back, as it were.


Be sure to take a look, as well, at Nordlinger's anecdote about a disclaimer to be found on certain reprints of Chesterton's Everlasting Man.

One Man Rock Band

Marc Comtois

Gee whiz...what coordination....

'Course, 'Rock Band' ain't music. (Using cranky old man voice) Back in my day, it took hours and hours to learn how to play an instrument, much less multiple instruments. Kids these days!Oh....like this guy?

Anti-'Plantations' Campaign Ramping Up

Marc Comtois

Still talking about 'Plantations':

Supporters of a plan that would give voters in next year’s general election the opportunity to strike the phrase “and Providence Plantations” from the state’s formal name, launched a public awareness and education campaign Wednesday....Backers say there is much work to be done if they are to persuade Rhode Island voters that the word “plantations” conjures up enough negative images of the state’s involvement in the slave trade to warrant a name change.

“When I see that word ‘plantations,’ I start thinking about slavery. I start thinking about the injustices,” said Sen. Harold M. Metts, a Providence Democrat and a bill sponsor. “… It’s not about guilt. For me, it’s about healing.”

Does a top-of-the front page placement signify anything about the ProJo's willingness to help persuade the public about the proposed State name change? I won't recount the history again. I suspect many, like Justin, while ambivalent about it don't buy the reasoning behind the proposal (the ProJo poll on the matter is running 8-1 against the name change). I also think the Phoenix's David Scharfenberg asks a good question: What happens if (when?) the ballot question fails?:
"The big issue is, what happens if it fails?" said Maureen Moakley, political science professor at the University of Rhode Island. "Where does it leave our notion of coming together and understanding? It could be divisive."

There is no polling data on the issue. But there is reason for proponents to be concerned.

When Rhode Island settled on its official name in 1636, the word "plantation" did not have the connotation it would pick up some two centuries later — it referred, more benignly, to the farms on the state's mainland. And there are early indications that a tradition-bound state could resist calls to change a name that was not intended to invoke bondage....Fear of rejection is already percolating in the state's small black activist community. "I don't want the people of Rhode Island to insult the advocates of racial justice — and that's what a 'no' vote would be," said Ray Rickman, a consultant who once served as a state representative and deputy secretary of state.

The reaction from Rickman is unfortunate, to say the least. That the majority of Rhode Islanders voted for a black President trumps any such talk. If a majority of Rhode Islanders rejects the removal of 'Plantations' it won't be because they want to "insult the advocates of racial justice." It will because they recognize an exercise in political sophistry when they see it.

The Honduran Constitution's Checks on Executive Power

Carroll Andrew Morse

This was CNN's description, from June 25, of the events that led to the ouster of Honduran President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales…

The Honduran Supreme Court ordered Thursday that the military’s top commander be returned to his job immediately, a little more than 12 hours after President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales fired the general for saying the armed forces would not support a constitutional referendum scheduled for Sunday.

Gen. Romeo Vasquez Velasquez had said the military was caught in a difficult position because the Supreme Court had ruled earlier that the referendum is illegal but Zelaya was going ahead with the vote and instructed the armed forces to provide security.

The heads of the army, navy and air force had resigned to show their support for Vasquez….

The court ruled 5-0 that Zelaya violated the general’s constitutional rights by firing him without cause, said magistrate Rosalina Cruz.

The referendum asks voters to place a measure on November’s ballot that would allow the formation of a constitutional assembly that could modify the nation’s charter to allow the president to run for another term.

What this, and other MSM coverage of events in Honduras neglects, is the fact that the nation of Honduras has a Constitution -- a Constitution that is very, very serious about its term-limit on the chief executive.

Fortunately, the blogosphere has been picking up the slack. Brad Lawless Shepherd of the Zero Sheep blog has provided an excellent compilation of references and links analyzing the Constitutional basis of Zelaya's ouster and has noted two Constitutional provisions, inseparable from the crisis, that Honduras' courts and military have been operating under…

  1. Article 239, which makes it illegal for the President to propose to extend his tenure in office beyond a single term, with penalties of 1) immediate removal from office and 2) a 10-year ban on public service. ("El que quebrante esta disposición o proponga su reforma…cesarán de inmediato en el desempeño de sus respectivos cargos, y quedarán inhabilitados por diez años para el ejercicio de toda función pública"; any term limits supporters in the US feeling wimpy right now?), and
  2. Article 272, which makes defending the "alternation" in office of Presidents an enumerated duty of the Honduran military ("Se constituyen para defender… la alternabilidad en el ejercicio de la Presidencia de la República.")
These are certainly different procedures than are found in the Constitutions of the United States and Western Europe, and I suppose that in the minds of some that is enough to make them "wrong", but they seem to have well-anticipated the types of challenges to democracy and the rule of law that Hondurans might face.

Actually, we in Rhode Island should be able to relate, just a little bit, to the initial events that fomented the crisis in Honduras. In 2006, Rhode Island's legislature stripped the power the Governor previously had to place non-binding questions on the general-election ballot. If the Governor had declared that he was going to ignore the change in the law and ordered the Secretary of State to put his questions on the ballot, would that have been considered legitimate?

Corruption and Dollars

Justin Katz

Andrew and Matt spoke of "speech in debate" and political corruption in Rhode Island Matt Allen Show, as well as Andrew's posts (1 and 2) on town taxation. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Caruolo Not a Foregone Conclusion

Justin Katz

As a threatening cudgel to wave during negotiations and town meetings — allowing school committees to declare that they'll just take what they "need" and unions contriving to force them to do so — the Caruolo Act is still an insidious force in Rhode Island politics. But with the move being denied in West Warwick, it would appear that many of us, including school committees and unions, expected it to be a bit more of a rubber stamp:

Judge Steven P. Nugent, in a ruling from the bench, dismissed the School Committee's Caruolo suit against the town, saying that school officials didn't even try to balance their fiscal 2009 budget after voters at the Financial Town Meeting limited their spending to $49.2 million — roughly $4 million less than they had requested.

Nugent said the committee had failed to heed the state law requiring that it give the town and the state auditor general a corrective action plan within five days of realizing that it would have a substantial shortfall.

Although this may be good news in the long run, in the short term for West Warwick, it will require cuts in programs and services. Plan B, in other words, will not be to tighten belts on payroll, but to limit benefits to the town and its children. And it's not as if belt tightening would be egregious. According to the district's budget plan released in March 2008 (PDF via Transparency Train), making up the $3.3 million that the district sought through Caruolo would require merely a 6.7% cut in the combined salary/benefit totals for next year's projected budget. Salary/benefits, by the way, were projected to go up 5.4%. The amount of actual cuts to current salary and benefit amounts would be approximately 1.4%.

Cry me a river.

You'll recall that the 2009-2010 school year is the so-called "fourth year" that the school committee tried to opt out of in the teachers' contract — which it was contractually permitted to do. After a few months of damaging work-to-rule by the teachers, the committee relented. The result (PDF) is that teachers' salaries are contracted as follows, with the categories after step 10 (10 years of service) incorporating longevity payments:

Step 2008-2009 2009-2010 % increase in step % increase in pay
1 $40,802 $41,822 2.5 NA
2 $44,273 $45,379 2.5 11.2
3 $47,743 $48,937 2.5 10.5
4 $51,212 $52,492 2.5 9.9
5 $54,683 $56,050 2.5 9.4
6 $58,153 $59,607 2.5 9.0
7 $61,624 $63,165 2.5 8.6
8 $65,093 $66,720 2.5 8.3
9 $68,564 $70,278 2.5 8.0
10 $72,034 $73,835 2.5 7.7
11 to 14 $72,926 $74,750 2.5 3.8
15 to 19 $73,819 $75,665 2.5 3.8
20 to 24 $74,711 $76,579 2.5 3.7
25 to 29 $75,603 $77,494 2.5 3.7
30+ $76,495 $78,409 2.5 3.7

And that's not all; extra payments for other activities are all going up, as well. Summer school will pay $42 per hour, rather than $40.50 per hour (3.7%). Substitutes will get about 4.5% more (to around $110 per day, depending on the length of the assignment). Teachers who cover other teachers' classes will see a 3.7% increase in the resulting payment, to $42. Tutors will see the same. Extracurricular pay is going up approximately 2.5%, with the student council adviser, for example, getting $2,510 rather than $2,450. The bonus payments for graduate credits and degrees are all going up — an average of 2.6% (to $4,200 for a Master's in the teacher's field).

All with a 7% share of healthcare premiums.

Little wonder the teachers were willing to damage their students' educations back in 2007! Little wonder, as well, that Rhode Island's schools are in their sorry state.

July 1, 2009

Shield Speech in General

Justin Katz

Bloggers have an awkward perspective when it comes to shield laws protecting journalists' sources. The difficulty arises with the following statement from Channel 10 reporter Jim Taricani, as described by Projo columnist Ed Fitzpatrick:

As he concluded his comments Thursday, Taricani said, "The Founding Fathers carved out a very special place for freedom of the press. They wanted the press to watch over government." Now, he said, "We have judges in the courts making these rulings about our use of confidential sources," and "it flies in the face of what the Founding Fathers wanted the press to do in this country."

It would be reasonable to state that the Founding Fathers wanted the people to watch over the government, with the press as a tool for accomplishing that end. The question is, therefore, what the substantial distinction is between a run-o'-the-mill citizen and one who has undertaken the profession of journalism. It isn't the same distinction as a lawyer, priest, psychiatrist, or other doctor deserves when sensitive information is necessary for the performance of an occupation. For each of them, the information is presumed to be private under an oath, and all have professional associations (after a fashion) that provide career-ending incentive against breaking that oath. Journalists cannot be prevented from practicing journalism if they run afield of standards.

Moreover, the very purpose of giving sensitive information to a journalist is to disseminate it. When that dissemination is, itself, a crime, the journalist is an accessory, just as would be any citizen who assists another in distributing information illegally. It's easy to forget, but leaks and such can themselves potentially harm the nation and become the sort of government activity over which we all must remain vigilant.

Teetering between journalism and regular communication, bloggers illustrate the conundrum: Somebody with the intent to break the law with a leak could easily contrive for somebody else to set up a Web log specifically for the purpose of furthering his intent. Is the government to set standards for how much blogging one must do before receiving immunity? We would rapidly trample First Amendment rights in the name of protecting them.

If it is, for whatever reason, necessary for the law to more explicitly protect journalists from being made to divulge sources of information that was given to them legally — if embarrassingly for some powerful party — then it's difficult to see why every citizen oughtn't have the same protections.

Roberts to Seek Re-election, Not Governorship

Justin Katz

At least, that's what I think the just-arrived press release indicates:

Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts announced today that she will seek re-election, pledging to use her position to make health care affordable for every Rhode Islander. ...

"I've spent the past few months exploring a run for governor, and I want to thank all of my supporters and let them know that I will continue to work to turn the page on politics as usual in Rhode Island," Roberts said. "I will continue to fight for quality health care for all; a stronger, more diverse Rhode Island economy; and honest, open and effective government. These have been, and will continue to be, the focus of my public service."

All-Around Revenue-Per-Resident for Rhode Island Cities and Towns

Carroll Andrew Morse

By adding in a few other sources to the figures for residential, commercial and industrial tax levies from the previous post, it's possible to come up with a meaningful estimate of total local revenue-per-resident available to each Rhode Island city and town.

The set of sources included in the table below are...

  1. Residential Property Tax Levy
  2. Commercial and Industrial Property Tax Levy
  3. State Education Aid (with money for regional districts apportioned by population)
  4. State "Payments in lieu of taxes" (which are different from General Revenue Sharing)
  5. Fire district levies for the towns that have them (derived from Municipal Affairs data available here and here).
Ranked from top to bottom, the table below presents how much the municipalities of Rhode Island (meaning town government + school system + fire district) had to spend on their residents, circa fiscal year 2007-2008.

One again, the floor is open to those who would like to offer local insight into how well they think their community is or is not doing. Where are the problems with revenue, and where are they with spending...

Industrial Levy
Education AidPILOTFire District
TotalTotal per
New Shoreham $6,231,198 $604,721 $106,345 $0 $0 $6,942,264 $6,819.51
East Greenwich $31,382,267 $5,296,400 $1,949,761 $7,940 $4,116,926 $42,753,294 $3,208.74
Jamestown $16,406,255 $546,534 $531,908 $0 $0 $17,484,697 $3,174.42
Barrington $44,075,086 $1,498,396 $2,599,526 $53,865 $0 $48,226,873 $2,940.84
Newport $40,355,194 $15,540,882 $11,871,080 $658,326 $0 $68,425,482 $2,880.83
Middletown $26,495,287 $9,678,806 $10,497,116 $0 $0 $46,671,209 $2,874.20
West Greenwich $9,188,519 $4,877,639 $3,893,345 $0 $0 $17,959,503 $2,814.09
Westerly $49,194,534 $6,074,013 $6,843,077 $132,288 $3,033,734 $65,277,646 $2,797.41
Central Falls $6,499,901 $2,441,721 $43,494,684 $0 $0 $52,436,306 $2,795.56
Charlestown $18,411,735 $628,185 $2,138,842 $0 $1,161,562 $22,340,324 $2,760.11
Hopkinton $13,421,164 $1,184,823 $6,375,407 $0 $922,163 $21,903,557 $2,745.49
Foster $8,073,902 $865,586 $3,134,313 $270 $0 $12,074,071 $2,686.11
Portsmouth $34,990,389 $3,378,376 $6,700,042 $0 $469,642 $45,538,449 $2,677.79
Little Compton $8,816,111 $233,479 $368,810 $0 $0 $9,418,400 $2,668.10
North Kingstown $50,529,940 $7,563,806 $11,986,005 $6,836 $0 $70,086,587 $2,632.56
Providence $126,320,027 $109,849,157 $194,109,756 $20,124,158 $0 $450,403,098 $2,620.31
Richmond $11,781,571 $1,125,047 $6,316,890 $627 $487,037 $19,711,172 $2,582.02
Glocester $16,559,354 $1,260,807 $7,225,858 $0 $1,172,352 $26,218,371 $2,497.46
Exeter $9,516,802 $964,257 $3,767,674 $0 $1,002,655 $15,251,388 $2,469.46
Narragansett $35,239,211 $3,075,835 $1,897,159 $0 $245,877 $40,458,082 $2,458.26
Warwick $105,379,974 $64,148,344 $37,626,000 $862,977 $0 $208,017,295 $2,449.11
South Kingstown $52,242,106 $6,459,733 $10,548,698 $121,138 $2,111,876 $71,483,551 $2,448.32
Tiverton $27,393,724 $2,181,018 $5,932,058 $0 $771,052 $36,277,852 $2,409.05
Lincoln $26,341,821 $14,305,179 $7,403,268 $0 $4,176,962 $52,227,230 $2,371.16
Coventry $46,659,667 $7,909,545 $20,075,081 $0 $6,995,106 $81,639,399 $2,370.14
Scituate $14,630,732 $6,446,351 $3,407,183 $0 $0 $24,484,266 $2,260.57
Warren $15,154,909 $2,927,764 $6,752,877 $0 $0 $24,835,550 $2,247.56
North Smithfield $16,445,109 $3,544,559 $4,834,237 $38,817 $0 $24,862,722 $2,209.23
West Warwick $33,119,054 $10,884,478 $20,440,547 $0 $0 $64,444,079 $2,204.42
Johnston $41,208,491 $10,126,741 $10,915,364 $0 $0 $62,250,596 $2,178.19
Cranston $101,633,398 $33,630,811 $35,580,911 $3,583,905 $0 $174,429,025 $2,175.17
Burrillville $16,914,506 $1,262,835 $13,854,743 $78,891 $2,386,221 $34,497,196 $2,097.48
Bristol $28,288,884 $3,202,795 $13,745,313 $560,835 $0 $45,797,827 $2,036.18
Smithfield $27,295,469 $8,661,278 $5,743,568 $437,602 $0 $42,137,917 $1,986.42
East Providence $44,567,063 $22,748,792 $26,888,254 $61,629 $0 $94,265,738 $1,939.46
Pawtucket $47,200,154 $21,647,143 $67,023,559 $330,377 $0 $136,201,233 $1,889.45
Woonsocket $23,083,073 $11,098,260 $47,661,613 $173,199 $43,438 $82,059,583 $1,889.12
Cumberland $40,650,687 $4,447,466 $13,257,009 $139 $5,841,193 $64,196,494 $1,877.58
North Providence $34,525,710 $10,288,392 $13,382,872 $533,146 $0 $58,730,120 $1,792.19

Commercial Property Tax Revenue By City and Town (And an Inquiry into Providence's Complaints About Tax-Exempt Properties)

Carroll Andrew Morse

Nothing says it's the new fiscal year quite like the presentation of new fiscal data, to help provide context for the major local decisions on taxing and spending being made all across Rhode Island.

This compilation actually began as an analysis of Providence city government's claim that it is handicapped in its ability to raise sufficient revenues by the large amount of tax-exempt property within its borders -- a claim that, at least according to two basic initial indicators, doesn't seem to be particularly strong.

On an annual basis, the Municipal Affairs office within the state government’s Department of Administration compiles data on the property tax levies, broken down by residential versus commercial/industrial classifications, for each Rhode Island municipality. The latest results available from valuations done at the end of 2007 show that, despite its quantity of tax-exempt property, Providence still receives the 5th-highest amount of commercial and industrial property tax revenue per-resident of any city in Rhode Island. Here's the entire list...

Property Tax Levy
PopulationC/I Rev. Per
West Greenwich $4,877,639 6,382 $764.28
Warwick $64,148,344 84,936 $755.26
Newport $15,540,882 23,752 $654.30
Lincoln $14,305,179 22,026 $649.47
Providence $109,849,157 171,889 $639.07
Middletown $9,678,806 16,238 $596.06
Scituate $6,446,351 10,831 $595.18
New Shoreham $604,721 1,018 $594.03
East Providence $22,748,792 48,604 $468.04
Cranston $33,630,811 80,191 $419.38
Smithfield $8,661,278 21,213 $408.30
East Greenwich $5,296,400 13,324 $397.51
West Warwick $10,884,478 29,234 $372.32
Johnston $10,126,741 28,579 $354.34
North Smithfield $3,544,559 11,254 $314.96
North Providence $10,288,392 32,770 $313.96
Pawtucket $21,647,143 72,085 $300.30
North Kingstown $7,563,806 26,623 $284.11
Warren $2,927,764 11,050 $264.96
Westerly $6,074,013 23,335 $260.30
Woonsocket $11,098,260 43,438 $255.50
Coventry $7,909,545 34,445 $229.63
South Kingstown $6,459,733 29,197 $221.25
Portsmouth $3,378,376 17,006 $198.66
Foster $865,586 4,495 $192.57
Narragansett $3,075,835 16,458 $186.89
Exeter $964,257 6,176 $156.13
Hopkinton $1,184,823 7,978 $148.51
Richmond $1,125,047 7,634 $147.37
Tiverton $2,181,018 15,059 $144.83
Bristol $3,202,795 22,492 $142.40
Central Falls $2,441,721 18,757 $130.18
Cumberland $4,447,466 34,191 $130.08
Glocester $1,260,807 10,498 $120.10
Jamestown $546,534 5,508 $99.23
Barrington $1,498,396 16,399 $91.37
Charlestown $628,185 8,094 $77.61
Burrillville $1,262,835 16,447 $76.78
Little Compton $233,479 3,530 $66.14

And in terms of the ratio of commercial/industrial collections versus residential taxes collected, it's not even close who the biggest beneficiary of commercial property taxes is...

Property Tax Levy
Property Tax Levy
C/I as
% of Res.
Providence $109,849,157 $126,320,027 87.0%
Warwick $64,148,344 $105,379,974 60.9%
Lincoln $14,305,179 $26,341,821 54.3%
West Greenwich $4,877,639 $9,188,519 53.1%
East Providence $22,748,792 $44,567,063 51.0%
Woonsocket $11,098,260 $23,083,073 48.1%
Pawtucket $21,647,143 $47,200,154 45.9%
Scituate $6,446,351 $14,630,732 44.1%
Newport $15,540,882 $40,355,194 38.5%
Central Falls $2,441,721 $6,499,901 37.6%
Middletown $9,678,806 $26,495,287 36.5%
Cranston $33,630,811 $101,633,398 33.1%
West Warwick $10,884,478 $33,119,054 32.9%
Smithfield $8,661,278 $27,295,469 31.7%
North Providence $10,288,392 $34,525,710 29.8%
Johnston $10,126,741 $41,208,491 24.6%
North Smithfield $3,544,559 $16,445,109 21.6%
Warren $2,927,764 $15,154,909 19.3%
Coventry $7,909,545 $46,659,667 17.0%
East Greenwich $5,296,400 $31,382,267 16.9%
North Kingstown $7,563,806 $50,529,940 15.0%
South Kingstown $6,459,733 $52,242,106 12.4%
Westerly $6,074,013 $49,194,534 12.3%
Bristol $3,202,795 $28,288,884 11.3%
Cumberland $4,447,466 $40,650,687 10.9%
Foster $865,586 $8,073,902 10.7%
Exeter $964,257 $9,516,802 10.1%
New Shoreham $604,721 $6,231,198 9.7%
Portsmouth $3,378,376 $34,990,389 9.7%
Richmond $1,125,047 $11,781,571 9.5%
Hopkinton $1,184,823 $13,421,164 8.8%
Narragansett $3,075,835 $35,239,211 8.7%
Tiverton $2,181,018 $27,393,724 8.0%
Glocester $1,260,807 $16,559,354 7.6%
Burrillville $1,262,835 $16,914,506 7.5%
Charlestown $628,185 $18,411,735 3.4%
Barrington $1,498,396 $44,075,086 3.4%
Jamestown $546,534 $16,406,255 3.3%
Little Compton $233,479 $8,816,111 2.6%

(The population data is from Census Bureau estimates, via the state's department of labor and training).

Taken together, these two rankings make it very difficult to sustain a claim that Providence is somehow being shorted in property taxes -- especially when Providence is doing so much better in commercial and industrial property tax revenue than Rhode Island's other densely populated urban areas like Pawtucket and Woonsocket -- if Providence's problems are rooted in too much property not on the tax rolls, then shouldn't it actually be doing noticably worse in commercial tax collections than Rhode Island's other cities?

Now, the point here is not to pick on the people Providence. It's to pick on their city government. At some point when a city government's major explanations for its financial problems are that 1) people inside the city aren't giving the government enough money and 2) people outside of the city aren't giving the government enough money, it's time to consider that the problem might not be with the people, but with the government. Clutching and grabbing for every dollar that can be taken from everyone associated with a city is not a winning formula for cultivating the balance of activities needed to make an urban area vibrant.

One final point about the overall list: I suspect that the success of Middletown and Warwick at rasing commercial and industrial revenue is going to give the smart-growth folks of Rhode Island fits, as when it's combined with a bit of knowledge of local commercial geography, it sure looks like a strip-mall dominated retail sector is a great way to raise property tax revenue in a municipality.

The floor is now open, for who have insight into the meaning of these figures in different communities...

Fish Ladders

Marc Comtois

Conservative. Conservation. Fish Ladders.

For years, a consortium of government agencies and advocacy groups has struggled for funding to knock down dams and build fish ladders to help restore local fish migrations. That work was jump-started on Tuesday when the federal government came forward with $3 million in stimulus money for six projects on the Ten Mile and Pawcatuck rivers.

When the work is done, fish will be able to migrate all the way up the Pawcatuck from Watch Hill, in Westerly, to Worden Pond, in South Kingstown.

In East Providence, the 30-year campaign by volunteers to lift spawning herring one bucket at a time over the Omega Dam may finally come to an end. A fish ladder will be built there and at two other locations upstream.

In all, the money will open up 13 miles of rivers and streams and 1,640 acres of spawning habitat, including Worden, the state’s largest freshwater pond.

I understand the raised eyebrows some fiscal conservatives have. Is this really economic "stimulus"?
These projects were chosen partly because they were "shovel ready," and far along in the permitting process. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration points out that this project may create up to 18 jobs. Does that seem right? $3 million in federal stimulus dollars will create up to 18 jobs. That comes out to $166,667 for each temporary job they create. For just a moment, let's put the project aside. Is it really worth while to spend $3 million to create 18 temporary jobs? Will this project have an economic impact that will stimulate the economy and put more people to work long-term? It seems doubtful.
Perhaps. But the economic benefits may be realized farther out. A similar project was undertaken in Maine and has helped to reestablish various stocks of fish, including important bait fish and game fish like salmon, stripers and sturgeon. More bait fish and more game fish helps both commercial and recreational fishing entities here in the Ocean State. That seems like an economic plus to me. Additionally, the dam removal in Maine inspired other economic improvements. For example:
Augusta's Capital Riverfront Improvement District (CRID) is using the removal of the Edwards Dam as the keystone of its efforts to revitalize Augusta's downtown core. The District's legislative purpose is to “protect the scenic character of the Kennebec River corridor while providing continued public access and an opportunity for community and economic development ..." With funding and leadership from the August CRID, the Kennebec River waterfront is being cleaned and beautified, underutilized buildings are being renovated and converted into housing and commercial space, and the Edwards Mill Park is now on its way to completion.
Economic development isn't always a straight line: conservatives should know that the law of unintended consequences can be both positive as well as negative. And there are political advantages to be found by supporting sound conservation policies:
I have argued the merits of promoting conservation as a conservative cause, including the construction of "fish ladders." I cringe when I hear Eric Cantor and other GOP leaders railing against this and a handful of other conservation projects as "wasteful" government spending. Not only are the hook'n bullet crowd one of the largest voting constituencies in the hinterlands, they spend billions of dollars every year on hunting and fishing and helping to support local communities. This is a wise investment not only for the fish but for the voting and recreating public.
Conservatives shouldn't let their legitimate criticisms of the social ideology we know as "environmentalism" cloud their thinking when considering conservation policies. The latter is entirely consistent with a conservative philosophy, after all.

The Rhode Island Legislature is Now Open for Business

Monique Chartier

Wide open.

And in an interview yesterday afternoon with the ProJo's Katherine Gregg, the holder of the most powerful office in the state sees no particular reason to change this state of affairs.

I don't care what state you are talking about, you are always going to have one or two people who are going to do the wrong thing. That's human life. But the bottom line is: I can tell you that my members who are in the House of Representatives are here for the right reason, and I am just a little cautious to make a regulation for one person.

Of course, with the RI Supreme Court's ruling, Speaker Murphy, the reverse is now true: it's not the exception of "one or two people" that we have to wonder about but the entire legislative body, which has now been legally enabled to "do the wrong thing".

But let's go with the premise for a moment. If we're sure that no member of the General Assembly is going to use his or her office to carry out activity that, three days ago, was unethical and/or criminal, why is it necessary to leave this activity decriminalized under law? If no one is going to accept consideration vis a vis their vote on a specific matter in the General Assembly, what is gained by leaving this option available?

You Go, Girls

Marc Comtois

"Girls With Guns Get It" (H/T):

In both Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Army and Marines found it useful to send a female soldier along on raids, as it was less disruptive to have a woman search the female civilians. There was no shortage of volunteers for this duty. The marines, as is their custom, saw more opportunities in this. Thus the marines began sending...all-female teams (3-5 women) [called] Lionesses.


The marines also noticed that the female troops were better at picking up useful information in general. This is something Western police forces noted, in the last few decades, as women were allowed to work in all areas of police work, including detectives and crime scene investigators. Iraqi men were also intimidated by female soldiers and marines. In the macho Arab world, an assertive female with an assault rifle is sort of a man's worst nightmare. So many otherwise reticent Iraqi men, opened up to the female troops, and provided information. Women also had an easier time detecting a lie (something husbands often learn the hard way.)


The lioness teams proved capable in combat, as sometimes these peacekeeping missions ran into firefights or ambushes. But the main advantage of having a team of women along was the greater amount of intelligence collected. In addition, the female marines also made it easier to establish friendly relationships in neighborhoods and villages. This provided a more long term source of information.

Preparing to Stick It to Doctors

Justin Katz

Listening to the federal conversation about healthcare "reform" as it takes shape, one notices that some of the problem, specifically with the shortage of primary care doctors, appears to have been the government's handling of its own piece of the industry:

The disparity results from Medicare-driven compensation that pays more to doctors who do procedures than to those who diagnose illness and dispense prescriptions. In 2005, for example, Medicare paid $89.64 for a half-hour visit to a primary-care doctor in Chicago, according to a Government Accountability Office report. It paid $422.90 to a gastroenterologist who spent about the same amount of time performing a colonoscopy in a private office. The colonoscopy, specialists point out, requires more equipment, specialized skills and higher malpractice premiums.

Given the proclaimed movement of most doctors toward specialties, one would expect the law of supply and demand to make up some of that 472% difference all on its own. Instead, the government looks intent on fighting that economic law:

In the various legislative proposals under debate, Congress and the administration have moved toward providing incentives for doctors entering residency programs to pursue careers in primary care. Most residency slots are funded through Medicare, giving the government a stick to wield over residency administrators, and changes in Medicare reimbursement alluded to by Obama on Monday could be the carrot that makes primary care more attractive.

The promise is to increase both the supply and the pay of primary care doctors. We don't have to perform extensive analysis to suspect that there might be market repercussions to that sort of distortion. (That assumes, of course, that the government doesn't try to cover all of the increased remuneration with new money for the industry.)

Here's the general shape of what I would suggest: Decouple health insurance from employment, remove coverage mandates, reform tort law, and require catastrophic coverage. Some consumers will use the increased money from their employers to finance similar plans to what they currently have, while others will go for the minimum coverage. Competing for those dollars, insurance companies will design plans to attract individuals, with healthier individuals being especially desirable; one aspect may be a certain number of routine visits (i.e., primary care) for free, or for low cost. The focus will shift from insurers' catering to payers to their having to address the desires of consumers and accommodate the doctors whom consumers wish to see.

At the same time, since insurance will become insurance again (rather than something more resembling a healthcare financial management service, as it is now), some portion of consumers will need or want to pay directly for routine visits. Doctors will have more responsibility, therefore, for setting their own fees, and they'll develop a base of clients whom neither insurers nor government payers can use as a stick to dictate payments or behavior.

More people will leverage primary care service, driving up the demand and, therefore, the doctor's fee. Increased demand, pay, and regularity will give primary care doctors more control over their practices and their lifestyles and will attract more practitioners.

Meanwhile, demand for the services of specialists will go down because people will catch more during primary care visits. They'll also have a more direct sense of how their health affects the cost of their healthcare. They'll also be less inclined to turn to specialists at every possibility.

An Indication of the Perils of Consolidation

Justin Katz

The General Assembly has created a "labor management board" that will come up with six or more healthcare plan options from which local districts may choose during contract negotiations with teachers. Here's how the board will be constructed:

The board that will be appointed to design and approve the benefit packages will consist of: two members named by the Rhode Island Association of School Committees; two members named by the Rhode Island School Superintendents' Association; two members named by the Rhode Island Association of School Business Managers; two individuals named by the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals who may be active or retired teachers or officials from the union; two members named by the National Education Association who may be active or retired teachers or union officials; one member named by RI Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and one member named by the Laborers International Union of North America.

Of the twelve slots, six belong to unions. Two belong to an organization servicing elected school committees, two belong to an organization servicing the superintendents whom school committees appoint, and two belong to an organization servicing the business managers whom superintendents and school committees hire. Before suggesting an even split between labor and management, consider that ten of the twelve members will be representing parties who will receive the benefits that are being designed. And even then, the two other members are appointed by a group joined by a class whom voters elect; that's quite a degree of separation.

One would hope that school committees will still be able to negotiate copays, coshares, and all the rest, but I'll be surprised to see the board give them any options comparable to my high-cost, high-deductible, unsubsidized healthcare savings account deal.