September 30, 2009

A Campaign Event Healthcare Town Hall

Justin Katz

I'm about a half hour late, but I've made it all the way across town in Tiverton for John Loughlin's healthcare town hall event, as part of his campaign for Congressman Patrick Kennedy's seat. There are quite a few people here — somewhere around 130 or 140 — with a high local contingent. I can't be the only person who found the 5:30 start time a little early for a three hour event, but plenty of people turned out.

Steve Peoples and other Providence Journal folks are here. Local papers. And a couple small-camcorder folks.

As I set up, RIILE's Terry Gorman was talking about illegal immigration and healthcare. That issue has dominated the audience questions. It appears to be a very friendly crowd, by the way.

6:28 p.m.

Bill Felkner just quoted Obama's "if you like the healthcare that you have" line and the audience pretty broadly agreed: "he lies."

Loughlin: "Is Joe Wilson here?"

6:53 p.m.

One audience member noted that a family of five owes more as a function of national debt than the average mortgage payment in Rhode Island. "Are we nuts?"

7:01 p.m.

The tempo of the event seems to pick up when the topic pushes the boundaries of the healthcare issue. One audience member just asked Rep. Loughlin about his intentions with respect to the military and veterans. Loughlin was clearly more animated, and the audience began to get worked up.

Perhaps the lesson is that he should have issue-related events with targeted audience and relevant panelists (e.g., military folks speaking on military issues... Afghanistan would be good). Keep momentum rolling. Use the campaign almost as a political tool for raising current events, making the emphasis of his campaign the issues — and the voters' concerns — rather than himself.

7:07 p.m.

One of the panelists made the point that the American healthcare system is not the best healthcare system in the world. The audience was split on whether to shout objections or to shout objections to the objectors.

7:09 p.m.

Peter Asen (of Ocean State Action, I believe), who was also at the Kennedy event, just stated that, in Rhode Island, only Blue Cross offers individual plans because only Blue Cross is willing to play by the rules and abide by coverage mandates (such as preexisting conditions). His argument was that we can't allow healthcare buying across state lines because everybody will flock to the cheapest programs in states that let them get away with everything.

Well, that pretty much sums up the differences in philosophy. The left wants to institute "fixes" and then layer on controls when the outcomes don't match their desires. As they must, the controls will simply ratchet.

Every newspaper in the room sought comment from Mr. Asen.

7:20 p.m.

The audience isn't ready to move away from the question of whether the United States has a bad healthcare system.

Room thinning quickly.

Report: Speaker Murphy Will Not Run for Speakership Again

Monique Chartier

From the AP via Turn to Ten:

A Rhode Island lawmaker says House Speaker William Murphy has told his colleagues he’s stepping down from his leadership post when the next term begins.

Rep. Kenneth Carter told The Associated Press he was in a meeting last week in which Murphy told his committee chairs he would finish out his term as speaker then step down.

Carter says Murphy did not elaborate on his future plans.

Larry Berman, a spokesman for Murphy, told NBC 10 that he had no comment.

The 46-year-old Democrat has been House speaker since 2003, and has served in the General Assembly since 1992. He represents West Warwick.


WPRO's Dan Yorke determined that the original source of the report is Matt Jerzyk over at RIFuture.


Tim points out that Dan Yorke talked about this development yesterday.

Speaker Murphy makes it official and then some in an interview this afternoon with the ProJo's Katherine Gregg - this will be his last term as Speaker and his last term in the House of Representatives.

In an interview with The Journal Wednesday, the West Warwick Democrat said he conveyed his decision at a chairmans' dinner at the Capriccio restaurant last Wednesday, along with his endorsement of House Majority Leader Gordon Fox to succeed him.

"I will not be seeking reelection in 2011,'' he said.

Michigan: No Free Babysitting allowed!

Marc Comtois

Common-sense government at work:

Each day before the school bus comes to pick up the neighborhood's children, Lisa Snyder did a favor for three of her fellow moms, welcoming their children into her home for about an hour before they left for school.

Regulators who oversee child care, however, don't see it as charity. Days after the start of the new school year, Snyder received a letter from the Michigan Department of Human Services warning her that if she continued, she'd be violating a law aimed at the operators of unlicensed day care centers.

Snyder's house is at the bus stop, so sheltering the kids for an hour a day or so seemed to make sense. But, hey, a rule is a rule!
Under state law, no one may care for unrelated children in their home for more than four weeks each calendar year unless they are licensed day-care providers. Snyder said she stopped watching the other children immediately after receiving the letter, which was well within the four-week period.
Apparently, a local Mrs. Kravitz dimed her out. Meanwhile, I'd suggest that Snyder start organizing her fellow Bus-stop Sitters into a union (local B.S. #1?) for protection and potential compensation down the road. Hey, it worked for crossing guards....

They Should Make a Movie About It

Justin Katz

Instapundit's been following liberal (and especially entertainment elite) support for Roman Polanksi, notably in this post. Each celebrity who signs on to the "Free Roman" cause of the week should be asked to read the court documents describing the rape for which he's wanted.

There's simply no excuse, and evading the law for decades doesn't mitigate the crime. Although it appears to mitigate it very much, in the eyes of some, if you happen to be famous.

RE: Warwick Crossing Guards - Contracts are Forever

Marc Comtois
The Board, therefore, finds that the Employer has engaged in unfair labor practices by refusing to bargain in good faith and by unilateral implementation of terms and conditions of employment, and by failing to participate in statutory dispute resolution procedures.
Thus has the RI State Labor Relations Board rendered its decision to reinstate the prior contract of the Warwick Crossing Guard union (Local 1033). "[T]he Employer [The City of Warwick} has engaged in unfair labor practices by refusing to bargain in good faith..." According to the "majority" of 3 on the Board (I looked at the rules and regs for the Board and could find nothing stating a tie goes to the union...), the City of Warwick didn't bargain in good faith because they "entered into negotiations with a mind 'hermetically sealed against even the thought of entering into an Agreement with the Union'." They support this with the following:
[T]he City Council issued a resolution directing the City's administration to "formally notify the Union representing the Crossing Guards that it [the City] is exercising its option not to renew the Collective Bargaining Agreement in order to explore the possibility of privatizing the Crossing Guards and the potential cost savings associated therewith..." (Union Exhibit 1-1) Despite this directive from the City Council, the Union and the Personnel Director did meet and confer and came up with a Tentative Agreement for submission to the City Council.
Apparently, while the City Council investigated other options, the City Administration (ie; Mayor Avedisian's office) was supposed to do....nothing. But, according to the Labor board, he couldn't "do nothing", because that wouldn't have been in good faith either! That's apparent from their subsequent "logic". Remember, they expressly pointed out that a contract between the City and the Crossing Guards had been in place for 30 years, uninterrupted. Thus, the presumption is that this is the irrevocable norm. Then, after explaining the "disconnect" between Mayor and City Council (which I posted previously), they go on:
The Municipal Employee Arbitration Act, like most public sector statutes, both in Rhode Island and across the nation, requires dispute resolution procedures prior to any declaration if impasse is possible. These procedures include mediation, conciliation, and arbitration. R.I.G.L. 28-9.4-10. These procedures are designed to ensure that the state's public policy for public sector collective bargaining is effective. The dispute resolution process is designed to encourage and indeed strive for a negotiated settlement of labor disputes. This Board has previously had the occasion to review the necessity of exhaustion of the dispute resolution process within the context of unilateral changes made by an Employer to the terms and conditions of employment. In the case of public sector employees, however, this Board has previously ruled that "exhaustive" bargaining necessarily includes any and all statutory dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation, conciliation, and arbitration. ULP 4647, Warwick School Committee, (1992) In addition, the "unilateral departure from the terms of an expired contract, prior to all available statutory dispute resolution procedures violates the obligation to bargain under R.I.G.L. 29-7-13. This requirement to engage in all available dispute mechanism procedures still exists today, despite the seemingly ever-increasing public hostility to public-sector labor relations.
There can be no doubt that what the Board is saying is that, even when a contract expires, it doesn't. Not until all avenues of renegotiation are followed, including arbitration, which, by the way, inevitably results in a brokered agreement, right? (When has arbitration "failed")? Thus, an expired contract is just as valid as a current one. With this logic, given that the City Council stated they were going to privatize, had Mayor Avedisian and his office NOT pursued a "just in case" negotiation, the union could have still taken the City of Warwick to the Board, who would have found in the union's favor because the City hadn't begun negotiations in the first place. And how about that last part of the above excerpt? "This requirement to engage in all available dispute mechanism procedures still exists today, despite the seemingly ever-increasing public hostility to public-sector labor relations." How brave is the Board of Labor Relations!

ADDENDUM: As the Warwick Beacon reported:

When neighboring Cranston chose to fire its crossing guards in 2005, the same union filed a complaint to the Labor Relations Board and won. That decision, however, was appealed to Superior Court, where the city was victorious. The State Supreme Court decided not to take up the issue, and Cranston won the day.

William Felkner, the president of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, has criticized the Labor Relations Board for continually favoring the unions over management. Felkner said that over the last three years, management has a 7-0 record on all major decisions.

The 7-0 pro union record Felkner cites is supported by OSPRI's research into the RILRB's decisions, which they released earlier this year.

ADDENDUM 2: As to the mystery of why a 3-3 tie went to labor--and I'm just guessing--maybe RILRB Chair Walter Lanni made an "executive" decision and counted his vote twice? Lest we forget, as this ProJo op-ed reminds (concerning the RILRBs decision to allow home daycare providers to unionize...remember that one?), Mr. Lanni, a "representative of management" on the Board, "served on the executive board of his firefighters' union from 1973 to 1996; even as chief, he was a member of that union. Moreover, he and Mr. [Frank] Montanaro [now former AFL-CIO President] served together as Cranston firefighters for 10 years and are close friends."

Rhode Island and Self Definition

Justin Katz

Ed Achorn makes an interesting juxtaposition of the ACORN-hidden-camera affair and Rhode Island's inability, thus far, to pass legislation making prostitution illegal. Whatever one thinks of his arguments on the matter, disputants should consider that leaving prostitution legal won't just be another quirky Rhode Island thing. It'll set us apart among our fellow states; the word "prostitution" is always among the top search items bringing people to Anchor Rising, usually as in "prostitution legal in Rhode Island." Once the legality of prostitution is no longer a "loophole," but an acknowledged and deliberate component of the law, the sex trade will explode in prominence.

I simply don't believe that enough people want us to be The Prostitution State to justify this issue's dragging on as it has.

Erik Wallin: The Cancer That Is Corruption

Engaged Citizen

The cancer that is corruption continues to devour our state. Most recently, the Governor's audit shed light on $75 million of willfully mismanaged taxpayer dollars for insider deals, extravagant bonuses, over-paying, and a variety of other corrupt actions. Taking a step back from these despicable practices for just a moment, one can look at the bigger problem. The Governor ordered this audit by the state's Bureau of Audits almost one year ago, and the audit covered a time period of between 1999 and 2007. It is reasonable to assume that if an investigation went back even further then more of this insider dealing and purposeful mismanagement would be found. What Rhode Islanders can see from these actions at the landfill is inaction from the state's highest elected official responsible for enforcing our laws, the Attorney General.

What we know and do not know is a telling example of the state of affairs. There is little question that laws were broken, and no one can disagree that if charges were brought at the time these illegal acts occurred, or sometime thereafter, then those responsible would be prosecuted. Was any investigation done at any point prior to the Governor's audit by the Attorney General? After the Governor ordered his audit, the Attorney General appointed one prosecutor to assist the State Police and Bureau of Audits with the investigation. This individual also has the responsibility of prosecuting white collar crimes in Rhode Island. Regardless of the talents of this single prosecutor, given what was at stake, was it fair to that person or Rhode Islanders to dedicate so little resources? Is it possible this corruption occurred under the nose of the Attorney General and he had no idea? Rhode Islanders are entitled to answers rather than a statement that no prosecution of anyone involved in this fleecing of taxpayer dollars will occur.

Rhode Islanders deserve an Attorney General who actively seeks out and prosecutes the corruption that litters our state — not just at the landfill but statewide. Public corruption must be a top priority of the Attorney General and the office. No longer can the responsibility for investigating and prosecuting public corruption at the state or municipal level be abdicated to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Governor or to a single prosecutor. Being committed to fighting corruption requires establishing an Attorney General's Public Corruption Task Force, staffed with seasoned prosecutors, investigators and a forensic auditor. The moment corruption is suspected, a corruption task force should immediately initiate an investigation so that those who betray the public trust can no longer hide behind the statute of limitations and escape accountability. An Attorney General 24-hr corruption hotline must be established so that Rhode Islanders can provide information and/or tips. Those who provide information on public corruption, as well as the members of the Attorney General's Public Corruption Task Force, must have confidence that the Attorney General has the integrity and courage to back them, regardless of where and to whom the trail of corruption leads.

Taking the offensive against those who betray the public trust will not only put the corrupt behind bars, but will demonstrate to businesses and all others that we will no longer sit on the sidelines while the future of our State is stolen by the powerful and corrupt insiders. It is time we stand up together and put them on warning that their days are numbered.

Erik Wallin is an attorney in Wakefield, RI, and the presumed Republican candidate for the office of Attorney General in 2010.

Hints of Things to Come with Public Healthcare

Justin Katz

An interesting find by Joseph Bottum. Belmont Abbey College, an institution sponsored by Catholic monks, opted to remove provisions for abortion, contraception, and sterilization from the healthcare plan that it offered employees, as it must do as an institution run by believing Catholics. The matter will end up in court, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission chimed in with this specious ruling:

Now, after a complaint was filed by eight faculty members, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that Belmont Abbey is discriminating against women: "By denying prescription contraception drugs, Respondent is discriminating based on gender because only females take oral prescription contraceptives. By denying coverage, men are not affected, only women." Should the college and the faculty members who filed the complaint not be able to reach an acceptable settlement, the EEOC can file a lawsuit against the college in federal court.

Apart from setting an apparent precedent that any medical procedure relevant to only one gender must be covered on the grounds that the other gender isn't affected by lack of coverage, the ruling contrasts explicitly with North Carolina law. An unelected federal board, in other words, is attempting to assert its authority above elected representatives at the state level.

This is one of those topics on which we must remind the ruling political faction that they will not always rule (no matter how confident "progressives" are that things will always move in their direction). Removed from all ideological specifics, the size and reach of the ever-growing federal bureaucracy cannot be otherwise than a suppressant of freedom.

September 29, 2009

Discussing the Vlog

Justin Katz

I'm hearing that Matt Allen will be discussing the content of today's vlog during the 7:00 hour (although he just said it may move to the 8:00 hour). I'll be listening and will probably call in to expound (unless the conversation captivates me, as often happens). Listen on 630AM/99.7FM or stream online on WPRO's Web site.

In the meantime, he's talking about what Dan Yorke was talking about, this afternoon: The personally aggrandizing motivations of House Speaker Bill Murphy for keeping the General Assembly from convening as our state collapses.

RI Labor Relations Board: Tie goes to the Warwick Crossing Guard Union

Marc Comtois

As the ProJo is reporting the State Labor Relations Board has found in favor of the Warwick Crossing Guard union, 1 1/2 years after it appealed the City's decision to make the position non-union (and non-benefit). Labor won with a 3-3 tie, with Chairman Walter J. Lanni (Representing Management), Frank Montanaro and John Copabianco (both representing Labor) finding for the union while the Gerald Goldstein and Elizabeth Dolan (representing management) and Ellen Jordan (representing the public) found against it. (The third labor seat is not filled--maybe Montanaro and Copabianco effectively have 1.5 votes? Hey, just sayin', it's Rhode Island after all!). Basically, the Board takes the City to task for having the temerity to impose management rights:

The Union has proven, by a fair preponderance of the credible evidence, that the Employer committed a violation of R.I.G.L. 28-7-13 (6) and (10) by failing to engage on statutory dispute mechanism procedures and by unilaterally repudiating the employment relationship and unilaterally implementing new terms and conditions of employment for Crossing Guards.
The Board seems to have justified their decision by citing the 30 year history of collective bargaining for the position and the fact that the City Council apparently took too long to reject a tentative proposal negotiated by the union and Mayor Avedisian's office and, perhaps most importantly, of short-circuiting the aforementioned bargaining process by putting the work up for bid by a private contractor. The city is appealing the decision. The finding also calls attention to the divided management that goes on in Warwick, which seems to have been the chink in the armor that the union successfully exploited:
The record indicates, however, that no members of the City Council were members of the Employer's negotiating team. This Board is very concerned about the apparent disconnect between the City's "Administration" and the City's Political Leaders relative to the negotiation of this Contract. Forcing the Union to negotiate with representatives that have no real authority to negotiate is not indicative of good faith. In his email of November 14, 2007 to Union representative Donald lannazzi, Mr. Shelton states: "I don't pretend to have any idea whether or not this proposal will satisfy the Council and I know that it would be difficult for you to accept a deal without that assurance, but, given the circumstances, it's the best we can do." With all due respect to Mr. Shelton, whom this Board recognizes to be between the proverbial "rock and hard place", it is not acceptable for the City to conduct collective bargaining negotiations with its Unions through such a disjointed and ill-informed process. The reasonable inference here is that the true power to settle the Contract lies with the City Council, which has political differences with the Mayor's administration. This is an issue beyond the Union's control.
How many other cities and towns have the same situation? Sheesh. If you're going to negotiate with a union, you can bet they're gonna offer a united front. Wouldn't it behoove city management (Administration and City Councils) to do the same from the get go? Apparently so.

ADDENDUM: As commenters point out (and I should have!), the City of Warwick Charter includes a separation of powers such that the Mayor and his office negotiates contracts while the City Council ratifies. No cross-polination allowed.

ADDENDUM 2: I have been reminded that this situation was predicted by former Warwick City Councilman Robert Cushman.

In announcing the firings in a press release late Friday afternoon, Avedisian attempted to portray his action as an improvement over the privatization plan championed by Cushman and modeled on the actions taken by the City of Cranston, which replaced their crossing guards with employees of a private company, NESCTC Security Agency. But Cushman said Avedisian’s scheme raises more questions than it answers and may be nothing more than a phony effort by the Mayor to make it look like he is trying to save money when in fact he is seeking to preserve the status quo.

“By embarking on this plan, the Mayor faces two choices—he can hire new, inexperienced crossing guards which will put the safety of children at risk or he can hire the same crossing guards back to their old jobs without the benefits,” said Cushman. “I believe the Mayor’s game plan is hire the same people back without benefits, which will undoubtedly lead to an unfair labor practice and a court order which restores union status and benefits to the crossing guards.”

Is Walsh Pumping up Supporters or Simply Stating Fact?

Justin Katz

Hopefully, Bob Walsh is merely trying to manufacture a self-fulfilling prophecy, here:

"We are preparing, if there is a session in October, to be present and strongly advocating for binding arbitration," says Walsh, executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island. And, "we are fairly comfortable we have the commitments we need to get this passed."

Legislators shouldn't underestimate the extent or the staying power of objection should they so clearly prove themselves to be doing the bidding of the unions.

Problem Teacher Had Won Arbitration

Marc Comtois

Setting aside the question of why on earth is this woman teaching 7 year olds....

[Kathleen] Borgia arrested shortly after 9 a.m., after a police officer working a construction detail Monday morning noticed a white Mustang swerving in traffic and a witness called the police to report a white Mustang traveling erratically on Hope Street, Contente said. A patrol unit that saw the vehicle on Hope Street stopped the Mustang at State and High streets, Contente said.

Borgia has been back teaching second grade since the beginning of this school year, according to Andrew Henneous, a lawyer for the Bristol Warren School Committee. Her case is in the midst of an appeal, he said.

The School Committee fired Borgia in September 2008 for alcohol-related issues, and she appealed that decision to the American Arbitration Association, which reinstated her job in June, according to Henneous. The School Committee has appealed that decision, and the case is pending in Superior Court, he said.

Borgia has violated her probation on an earlier charge, Contente said. Borgia pleaded no contest in the fall of 2008 to a charge of violating a restraining order, according to Contente and court records. That case was filed for one year on Oct. 8, 2008. She was ordered to undergo batterers intervention and to have no contact with the victim, according to court records.

Borgia also pleaded no contest in August 2004 to a charge of felony domestic assault that was reduced to a charge of domestic simple assault, according to Contente and court records. She received a deferred sentence of five years and was ordered to undergo domestic-abuse counseling and alcohol counseling, according to court records.

Is this the sort of sound decision making we can expect from arbitrated teacher contracts? If neutral arbitrators will go to this length to give the "benefit of the doubt" to a teacher with an apparent history of alcohol-dependency and violence, what the heck will they do if they're allowed to decide on potential contract disputes between teacher unions and school committees? Methinks the ballyhooed "arbitration process" ain't quite as cut and dried as proponents would have us think.

Democrats Agree: Health Care Reform Should Cover Illegals

Marc Comtois

President Obama recently exhibited some clumsiness trying to play a shell game on illegal immigrants and health care reform:

Even though I do not believe we can extend coverage to those who are here illegally, I also don't simply believe we can simply ignore the fact that our immigration system is broken," Mr. Obama said Wednesday evening in a speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute. "That's why I strongly support making sure folks who are here legally have access to affordable, quality health insurance under this plan, just like everybody else.

Mr. Obama added, "If anything, this debate underscores the necessity of passing comprehensive immigration reform and resolving the issue of 12 million undocumented people living and working in this country once and for all."

Other Democrats are being more straight forward:
Fearful that they're losing ground on immigration and health care, a group of House Democrats is pushing back and arguing that any health care bill should extend to all legal immigrants and allow illegal immigrants some access.

The Democrats, trying to stiffen their party's spines on the contentious issue, say it's unfair to bar illegal immigrants from paying their own way in a government-sponsored exchange. Legal immigrants, they say, regardless of how long they've been in the United States, should be able to get government-subsidized health care if they meet the other eligibility requirements.

"Legal permanent residents should be able to purchase their plans, and they should also be eligible for subsidies if they need it. Undocumented, if they can afford it, should be able to buy their own private plans. It keeps them out of the emergency room," said Rep. Michael M. Honda, California Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus....Mr. Honda and his allies, though, say illegal immigrants should be allowed to pay for insurance if they can afford it, even if it comes through a government-established exchange. As a generally young, healthy part of the population, illegal immigrants could help reduce overall costs for those who buy into health exchange plans, the lawmakers said.

How Partisanism Is Supposed to Function

Justin Katz

From the RIGOP:

The Rhode Island Republican Party has today filed an Ethics complaint against Attorney General Patrick Lynch stemming from his acceptance of gifts from industry associations that he regulates. Attorney General Patrick Lynch has violated Regulation 36-14-5009 of the Code of Ethics, which prohibits public officials from receiving a gift of more than $75 in one year from an interested person. Based on records received from the Office of Attorney General, Mr. Lynch was the recipient of a gift of $428.50 for a trip to New Orleans on May 18 - 20, 2008. For a gift to violate the Code of Ethics, it must meet certain criteria. Essentially, under Regulation 36-14-5009 of the Code of Ethics, a gift of more than $75 in any calendar year from a single "interested person" is prohibited. As to the amount requirement, a trip to New Orleans, which cost at least $428.50, certainly exceeds $75.00.

RI GOP Chairman Giovanni Cicione noted that "If we allow our elected officials and regulators to be wined and dined by the very industries we ask them to oversee, we are leaving the door wide open to corruption, graft, and abuse of public office." "Patrick Lynch could have easily paid for this travel through his campaign account and avoided this conflict, but once again he has shown that when you are a powerful Democrat in Rhode Island, the rules are made to be broken." Accordingly, the RIGOP recommends that the Commission investigate this violation, and fine Mr. Lynch for violating the Ethics Code.

My first thought is that Gio's press releases have contrasted in his favor, lately, with those of his counterpart for the Democrats, Patrick's brother Bill. Lynch always has his partisan attacks set to "kill," which tends to make him look hateful and mean. That presentation may rile up the base for a few minutes, but it contributes to distrust and cynicism. Yeah, Gio's got the partisan jab, toward the end, but the bulk of the message is simply a description of the circumstances and the GOP's actions.

My second thought is that this is a clear example of why having at least two active parties is so important: to point out each other's slips. Voters can then decide whether a particular revelation matters or not.

Perhaps the distinction may be put thus: Is the partisan telling his audience what he believes and why or is he telling his audience how they should feel, because he is of superior insight?

What One City Council Thinks of Binding Arbitration for Teachers Contracts

Carroll Andrew Morse

On Monday night, the Cranston City Council considered a resolution sponsored by Mayor Allan Fung opposing a proposed change to Rhode Island law that would require binding arbitration to occur when a school committee and a teachers' union were unable to agree upon a contract.

During the public comment phase of the meeting, Dan Beardsley of the Rhode Island league of Cities and Towns gave a short history of the evolution of current binding arbitration legislation, explaining how it has arisen as the union alternative to "permanent contract" legislation -- which Mr. Beardsley believes did not have the votes to pass the Rhode Island House in the 2009 session. He also noted that "22 communities already passed this resolution" and that he expects 14 more to, before the legislature reconvenes late in October, possibly with a binding arbitration bill on its agenda.

Cranston City Councilman Anthony Lupino spoke at length against the resolution, arguing that a binding arbitration system that was well thought-out could have a positive impact, if it for example banned teacher strikes and required consideration of the public interest of the taxpayer. Apparently, the people of Rhode Island have to give something up in order to have their interests officially be taken into account when Rhode Island government makes fiscal decisions.

In response, Mayor Fung argued that arbitrators do not plan for the long-term health of cities and towns in their processes. Though I agree that this is a legitimate concern, I would hope the Mayor and other RI officials would take a broader-than-technocratic view on a matter like this, as the idea that decisions about the major cost (personnel) of the major budget item in most cities and towns should be made by a body that is directly accountable to the people is as at least as important as the idea of effective planning.

Councilman Terence Livingston indicated his openness to supporting or opposing the resolution, saying that he didn't know "how to make a reasoned decision about whether to accept this or whether to reject this" without hearing further testimony. Five minutes later, he voted in favor of the resolution. Council President John Lanni must have been really convincing in his short statement in support of the resolution, offered immediately after Councilman Livingston spoke.

Councilman Robert Pelletier also spoke briefly in favor of the resolution. Councilor Michelle Bergin-Andrews questioned whether binding arbitration might actually save the city money.

In the end the resolution passed by a vote of 7-2, with Councilmen Anthony Lupino and Emilio Navarro the only votes against. Evidently, Finance Committee Chairman Navarro doesn't believe that binding arbitration would be a contributor to the "structural deficits" that he has in the past expressed concern about.

Vlog #8: What They Want to Suppose

Justin Katz

My vlog, this week, addresses a thread through our Congressional delegation's healthcare forums, indicative of their worldview and illustrative of the problem with with progressive thought, generally:

I'm curious how many people could explain the vlog's title without watching to the end. (Actually, probably only those within a pretty narrow range of television experience will recognize the phrase, even having watched the video.)

September 28, 2009

The Public Sector Can't Have It All

Justin Katz

Comment-section conversation to the previous post, and to the prior post on the same op-ed, brings to mind the basic philosophical problem with public-sector labor, these days. It was once cliché to think of government jobs as akin to government bonds. The work (or the investment) isn't going to make one rich, but it is characterized by reliability.

Over the past few decades, especially in Rhode Island, the reliability of raises and other remunerative increases has made the public sector lucrative as well as secure. That's simply not a sustainable model, and it can't do otherwise than spark backlashes.

Rhode Island Politician Inclined to Run to Big Brother

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal today published a very disappointing op-ed from Rep. John Loughlin (R, Tiverton, Portsmouth, Little Compton) that Monique posted on Anchor Rising back in March to some extensive commentary. Loughlin's premises are that we have a moral obligation to fulfill the pension expectations of public employees and teachers who are vested in the system and that the most painless way to save the General Assembly from its own malfeasance is to ask the federal government for a handout and, in the process, give over ultimate control of our pension system.

It's a big-government scam that isn't worthy of a Republican and isn't likely to happen anyway. And it shouldn't happen. Employees are vested after 10 years, which essentially means that they get 100% of the pension that their contributions permit. There is no obligation — moral or, as far as I can see, legal — to hold on to the unsustainable system that legislators unwisely and corruptly constructed for employees who still have up to two-thirds of their careers ahead of them. Asks Loughlin:

How can we say to a valued teacher or employee who has contributed to a plan for 10, 20, or nearly 30 years in accordance with the terms the state agreed to, that they now must work a decade longer and receive a reduced retirement?

Sorry. The guilt trip is empty. Like many other private-sector Rhode Islanders, I expect to die working, as it is; how can Rep. Loughlin say to me that I must also sell the body parts out of my corpse in order to pay for the vote-buying and back-rubbing of long-retired politicians?

Salary Caps as Barrier to Entry

Justin Katz

Whereas I focused on the likelihood that international governments' participation would ultimately exacerbate the problem of "too big to fail" and risk taking among large banks, Matthew Lynn argues that the big banks will leverage salary caps to hinder the one thing that could truly restrain their pay and risk taking — namely, competition:

They are talking their own book. Any controls on the financial industry will only make the existing big firms more profitable, and make it harder for new competitors to emerge. The people with most to gain wouldn’t be the general public. It would be banking CEOs such as Ackermann and Blankfein. ...

It would create an effective cartel among the main, established investment banks. They wouldn’t have to worry about their best staff being poached by a rival bank offering a better deal to the star traders. That would be banned. It would, at a stroke, transfer power from the staff to the managers.

Hopefully we won't have to find out how large a scale of damage can be done when the government-big-bank system that the internationalistas are pursuing experiences inevitable failure.

Radio Alert: RI Senate President on WPRO at 9:00 am

Monique Chartier

Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed will appear on the John DePetro Show this morning.

Click here to stream live.

Though Tara Granahan wasn't sure a few minutes ago whether the Senate President would be taking calls, some questions may suggestion themselves from this interview with the ProJo's Katherine Gregg.

Another Too-Short Weekend

Justin Katz

This weekend was dominated by the healthcare debate, particularly Congressman Patrick Kennedy's controlled version of the town-hall meeting, which I liveblogged and videotaped. The casual viewer will see that Kennedy's expressed fears about political violence had no proximate basis. Which would seem to match a sort of meta-rhetorical theme, in that specifics of the Democrats' healthcare plan, such as the intention to tax the rich, have no proximate logic.

Meanwhile, the internationalistas are moving to assert their authority over the financial industry. A student of recent history should conclude that they're much more likely to take action on that front than on the front of Iranian intransigence.

Back in Rhode Island, things are pretty much as they've been: We're scaring away businesses, leaving our students ignorant, and shaking our heads at the sort of leader that we send to Washington.

September 27, 2009

Tom Ward on Whitehouse's Pro-ACORN Vote - What Was His Prior Job Title?

Monique Chartier

After concurring with Justin's doubts about bonuses and the definition of profits at Twin River, Valley Breeze Publisher Tom Ward contrasts a notable item on Senator Whitehouse's resume with his vote a couple of weeks ago to continue funding ACORN.

Rhode Island's former chief law enforcement officer, ex-Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, voted to continue funding a group which instructs hookers and pimps on how to open a sex slave business in Baltimore.

Setting aside for a moment the noxious political opportunism that emanates in the present from such a vote, is it wrong that his vote on this matter has diminished in retrospect my confidence in his tenure as AG?

A Quiet Cancer on the Globe

Justin Katz

It gets kind of redundant, doesn't it? The world bangs a desk over Iran. Iran replies with a zerbert. The news cycle moves on.

Missile tests? Eh. Just inconsequential bluster. Iran's awfully far away. Really, at worst, we have this:

Iran's last known missile tests were in May when it fired its longest-range solid-fuel missile, Sajjil-2. Tehran said the two-stage surface-to-surface missile has a range of about 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers - capable of striking Israel, U.S. Mideast bases and Europe.

Building ties with a dictator who delights in subtly mocking his new friend, the President of the United States? Eh. Unconfirmed. And anyway, nations can interact economically and otherwise without it being a matter of American interest.

HERE'S AN ISSUE that is drawing growing attention in Washington, but is going almost unnoticed in Latin America — allegations that Venezuela is helping Iran develop nuclear weapons, and that Iran's fundamentalist regime is setting up a foothold in Latin America from which to threaten the United States.

While there has been speculation about Venezuela's ties to Iran's nuclear program in the past, it has risen to a new level since a Sept. 8 speech by New York district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau at the Brookings Institute in Washington.

Florida, I'd note, isn't that much farther from Venezuela than Israel is from Iraq, as the missile flies. Taking on the Great and Little Satans requires a lot of small steps undertaken as quietly as possible over years. And each step, well, it's hardly anything. Right?

Failing Our Students, Once Again

Justin Katz

It is unequivocally unacceptable that a mere fifth of Rhode Island's high school students can achieve proficiency on the science version of the NECAP test. I'm especially incensed by the fact that Tiverton was one of only two districts in Rhode Island to lose ground at every grade level. Johnston was the other, and while Johnston's scores are worse, Tiverton's declined more severely (PDF).

The question that begs to be asked is whether the result is further evidence that the raises that the Tiverton school committee dished out in January were ill considered or it is an indication of union members' inability to maintain and improve the quality of their work while they're agitating for unaffordable increases in pay.

Turning back to the state level, Julia Steiny's got an interesting column today making the observation that the problem is much deeper than just an inability to lead students to grasp scientific concepts:

In the spring of 2008, Greg Shea, physics teacher at Mt. Hope High School, was proctoring the 11th-grade New England Common Assessment Program science test.

As he wandered among the test-takers, he was blown away by the number of kids leaving the open-ended questions blank. They seemed buffaloed by having to explain their thinking in writing. His heart sank.

Sure enough, when the test results came in, an anemic 19 percent of the kids were "proficient." (State average: 17 percent.) Shea says, "The biggest driver of the science NECAP scores was the students' inability to respond to the extended-response questions. We dug into the issue by asking the kids what happened. They told us we hadn't given them enough opportunity to develop the [needed] skills."

Steiny presents the story as an ultimately hopeful illustration of what can happen when professional educators work together and try comprehensive approaches. In a darker frame of mind, one could point out that we aren't merely failing to provide students with a body of basic knowledge, which is bad enough, but are unleashing them into the world unable to learn, think, or express themselves in practical ways, which is nigh upon criminal and brings into doubt the very argument for funding public education at all.

Socialism Goes Global

Justin Katz

Without going into details, I'll say that I've got reason to be especially averse to news about exorbitant salaries for banking executives, but the international structure for market dictation that they're proposing to build to control the salaries of the ultra-rich will prove to be a ratcheting constrictor:

The treasury secretary said the G-20 countries had reached a consensus on the "basic outline" of a proposal to limit bankers' compensation by the end of this year. He said it would involve setting separate standards in each of the countries and would be overseen the Financial Stability Board, an international group of central bankers and regulators.

Until now, European countries had pressed harder than the U.S. for limits.

"We want to have very strong standards to limit the risks that compensation practices" encourage, Geithner said.

The issue of compensation has been one of the more difficult ones facing the summit.

Europeans in particular pressed for strict limits on salaries and bonuses for executives of financial institutions to keep them from being rewarded for the risky practices that contributed to the financial crisis.

National — and now international — governments are doing nothing less than absorbing the financial sector, which will prove to have calamitous consequences. If we wish to restrict salaries and restrain risk taking, we must allow the market to exact consequences for failure and ease the path by which small competitors may flourish.

Creating Allies and Enemies

Justin Katz

The right wing is not really made up of warmongers, as the radical left and its pals in the entertainment and media fields would have the world believe. Where we advocate for military action without such provocation as makes war unequivocally necessary, it isn't because we do not value the lives of foreign nationals, but because we see the threat to humanity of inaction as greater. In recent wars, we've also noted the benefit of freeing the people whom hostile regimes have oppressed, under the theory that stable democracies are less of a threat to the world than dictatorships. And with the reality of weapons of mass destruction, there isn't much margin for error.

So it's disheartening to read that President Obama may be considering the path of short-term ease:

... the debate goes deeper than the question of American troops. Obama has questioned whether the broad U.S. "counterinsurgency" strategy -- improving government, combating corruption and economic development -- is worth committing the extra troops such approaches require.

Following the chillingly dubbed "Biden Plan," would actually be worse:

Rather than trying to protect the Afghan population from the Taliban, American forces would concentrate on strikes against al-Qaeda cells, primarily in Pakistan, using special forces, Predator missile attacks and other surgical tactics.

As a strategic matter, promising freedom to the native population was the key to pulling Iraq back from the brink of the dreaded quagmire. Even the infamous terrain of Afghanistan is not an inevitable repellent to foreign forces when they are fighting in harmony, rather than tension, with civilians. Periodic strikes from a distant superpower, even though the intention is to surgically extract an organization of terrorist thugs, will resonate among the people as a species of terrorism.

In balance against the oppressive Taliban regime asserting power domestically, al Qaeda will not appear to Afghans or Pakistanis as worth the regular disruption of American strikes (with the inevitable periodic misfire). Indeed, Islamofascists in the governments and their allies in the terrorist organization will have a propaganda bonanza.

September 26, 2009

Violence and Fear in Healthcare

Justin Katz

Steve Peoples' article about this morning's event focuses on Kennedy's lamentation that heated protests may produce violence — of which (he stated) his family has seen too much. There's an interesting juxtaposition if we play Peoples backwards, as it were (emphasis added):

"Unfortunately, these town hall meetings have been hijacked by these Tea Party folks and extremists who really take away from the honest dialogue on the facts of the debate and end up seeing this issue devolve into fear mongering and the peddling of misconceptions," [Kennedy] said, referring again to the sign that referenced his father's death.

But earlier:

Tsiongas said that those who depend on the current health-care system are right to be afraid.

"What they should be afraid of is that we do nothing," he said, "because if we do nothing we can no longer be able to afford this health-care delivery system as it stands."

I guess fear mongering is only a bad thing when conservatives and Republicans do it.

Kennedy and Friends in Forum

Justin Katz

Inasmuch as the first 10-minute video clip from this morning's forum on healthcare began attracting viewers almost as soon as I posted it, and the first has surpassed many clips from previous events that have been up for weeks, interest would seem to be high.

Therefore, I've put the videos that the various computers involved have finished processing in the extended entry and will add the rest as they're available. (There are twelve, in all.)

A Confusing Set of Intentions

Justin Katz

The sales pitches for the Democrats' healthcare reform are flying so furiously that it's difficult to trace the intellectual threads that ought to be binding the various parts of the plan together. Consider:

President Barack Obama has endorsed the proponents of the insurance tax. This says it would help lower health care costs by encouraging people to become more cost-conscious health care customers.

Most high-cost health care plans cover co-payments and deductibles so there is no dollar spent for health care.

Unions argue that they are giving up higher pay to secure better health care benefits. It is likely that insurers will pass on the cost of the tax through higher premiums.

Even if we adjust for the journalist's poor writing skills, the rhetoric has a thrown-against-the-wall quality. Pull the sticking pieces apart, and this is about what you get:

  • A tax on high-end health insurance plans will be levied to help with "covering the uninsured."
  • The tax will be passed on to premiums, increasing the price to consumers.
  • Consumers will move away from plans that hide copays, thus increasing their awareness of the costs of their healthcare and making them more likely to conserve.

What happens when people react to the incentives such that there are fewer high-end plans to tax, leaving insufficient money to cover the uninsured? One supposes that the answer would be some variation of, "It doesn't matter." It doesn't matter, because a coherent strategy is not the objective; either an emotional balm or a route to bigger government is.

Democrats and their supporters have spent far too much time rehearsing the Obama school of political salesmanship: promise to heal the wounds of the suffering, mix in some of the opposition's language so "moderates" can imagine that your policy is economically rational and objectively considered, and pretend the cost will be borne only by the ultra-rich minority.

If increasing "cost consciousness" among healthcare consumers were a goal, there would at least be lip service paid to health savings accounts. If the transfer of healthcare dollars from the rich to the poor were the goal, then there would be some plan to adjust to the predictable free-market shifts caused by government incentives.

Ultimately, the whole thing is either a scam or a failure of thought so thorough as to undermine the very premise that a government organization could operate a flashlight, let alone a healthcare system.

Healthcare Town Hall... Not So Much

Justin Katz

Quite a different event, Congressman Patrick Kennedy's version of the healthcare forum. Whereas Congressman Langevin placed himself bare before a roiling theater setting and Senators Whitehouse and Reed rolled up their sleeves for a folksy round of after-dinner discussion (somewhat more controlled, but with agreement and disagreement), Kennedy is participating as a "special guest" in an AARP "health care reform forum." He's one of four panelists, the others being:

  • RI State Nurses Association Executive Director Donna Policastro
  • AARP-RI Executive Council Member Ann Gardella
  • RI State Medical Society Former President Nick Tsiongas

Sadly, nobody is outside in the parking lot protesting either Kennedy's position on this issue or his version of "meeting with constituents."

9:07 a.m.

Lots of suspicious looks from the party folks and the other members of the media with whom I'm sharing the back of the room. I'm not the only small-camcorder tripod operator, either, although I take it that's not necessarily an indication of citizen journalism, any longer.

Kennedy's making the rounds. Were I a politician, apart from discomfort with the room-working, I have to say I'd be annoyed at the constant camera presence. Guess you learn to live with it.

9:21 a.m.

Well, the event is scheduled from 9:00 to 11:00, and the breakfasts were just served. So, we seem to be looking at an hour or so presentation shared by four panelists. Even if the congressman fights for equal time, that's a total of about 15 minutes in the hot seat. We probably shouldn't expect much depth.

9:36 a.m.

The event proper has begun, with the AARP moderator Kathleen S. Connell, Senior State Director, AARP-Rhode Island. Each speaker will make a presentation, and then questions will be accepted, at first in written form from the tables.

9:49 a.m.

Kennedy's staff should expend some effort to teaching him to adjust his speaking tone depending on setting. He's shouting at us like it's a potentially hostile audience, although I suppose it's fitting, inasmuch as he's throwing the world of politics at the issue: "This bill is not just about healthcare. It's about..." everything from peace of mind to homeland security.


The high price of healthcare is apparently the fault of uninsured asthmatics who use the emergency room for care.

9:53 a.m.

America needs the government to step in and get primary care doctors to coordinate all of the patient's care. See, without federal mandate, doctors just don't do that sort of thing.

"ONE-THIRD OF YOUR HEALTHCARE DOLLAR DOES NOT EVEN GO TO HEALTHCARE DELIVERY!" "That's a crime and we shouldn't allow it to continue."

Although, he just said that four-fifths of "your healthcare dollar" goes to 20% of healthcare consumers.

9:56 a.m.

And yet, doctors support the Democrats' reform 3 to 1 because... they're tired of paperwork.

10:00 a.m.

"Do you want the public, through the members of congress to be the ones who regulate healtcare, or do you trust the private insurance companies? They are accountable to stock holders and boards of directors. The public option is accountable to the public."

Hey, he's got a point. If the public is paying the bill, and the healthcare system is accountable to a representative democracy, the payer won't have to worry about customer backlash if it's got political cover for such things as, say, rationing.

10:01 a.m.

Kennedy: It's all paid for through efficiencies and other obvious savings. Defensive medicine, etc .

Why not save all that money first and then move to expand the government involvement?

10:04 a.m.

We need a public option because the current system doesn't treat people as anything other than a monetary unit, and the government would see them as people. (Or, you know, voting units and campaign donation units, but we'll put that aside.)

Kennedy just complained that his friends call him up from emergency rooms all the time so he'll come down and get them special handling. On the fact that powerful folks get special treatment: "That's morally outrageous, and that's the country we live in right now."

Bad, materialistic America.

10:09 a.m.

By the way, to put a face to the journalism, this is Steve Peoples:

10:13 a.m.

Kennedy's done. Ann Gardella is speaking. Congressman Langevin just arrived.

10:15 a.m.

Tivertonian Dr. Nick Tsiongas is up.

10:17 a.m.

Mr. Tsiongas related the story that his parents recently visited and suggested that he ought to take down the healthcare reform political sign he's put on his Main St. property. Everybody who receives healthcare should be "afraid" if this reform doesn't pass; reference to Churchill's line about Americans always doing the right thing... after they've tried everything else.

Bad, backward-looking America.

10:22 a.m.

Donna Policastro is up. She's pleased that this issue has brought the R.I. State Nurses Association together with the SEIU and Ocean State Action.

Nurses are tired of working so hard to make the healthcare system work for their patients. I wonder if Congressman Kennedy would position that in contrast to those primary care doctors who don't help their patients coordinate their various specialists.

10:29 a.m.

Langevin is wired with a mic, and he's going to get a turn to speak.

10:31 a.m.

10:34 a.m.

Q&A time (read off cards).

By the way, Langevin mentioned the unsustainable trends in premium costs. The argument brings to mind a graphic that reader Roland Benjamin emailed me the other day:


The big dip in 2003 follows the introduction of healthcare savings accounts.

10:47 a.m.

Interesting collision of issues: Ms. Policastro is talking about the coming shortage of nurses, and she cited the problem that many potential nurses get a year or two into their education and realize that there's more hard science than they'd expected, her conclusion being that high school and lower education has to improve.

Amen to that, for a multitude of reasons. Of course, the solution of the sorts of people populating this room is to flow more money to the problems, which happily benefits their friends in labor unions and other public-sector-related organizations. I suspect I'm not alone on the other side in believing that that solution is the problem.

10:53 a.m.

Kennedy's redirected to his push for more money and requirements for care, which will benefit those who provide care ("NO COPAY!" for screening procedures). Eventually, it comes down to taking money from some Americans to give it to others. Everything in between is quibbling about the "who" and in what form.

10:59 a.m.

Tsiongas just put the difference in practical philosophical approaches to the issue of healthcare: He wants to take "all of the money" currently constituting the healthcare system — consumers, unions, providers, insurers — and put it all together in one pile "so we can make better decisions."

How can such folks not see the clear consequence of that sort of consolidation? Defining the "we" who will make the decisions becomes a huge battlefield. Let's assume the pure motives of Mr. Tsiongas and everybody else who currently advocates his position. By what mechanism do the Tsiongasians intend to keep control of the decision making process? And to the extent that they create those mechanisms, why should we trust them to have that expanding power?

11:04 a.m.

Kennedy: "If the insurance companies and everybody is so good at lowering prices and finding efficiencies, why aren't they doing it?" Umm. Government mandates, requirements, and regulations.

11:11 a.m.

Moderator Kathleen Connell called for a round of applause for the press for coming out on a Saturday. Curious.

11:15 a.m.

Steve Peoples started to ask me my thoughts on the event but had to run after Kennedy for a comment. For the benefit of all media types who may want the right-wing opinion (as filtered through my potpourri of philosophical and personal inputs) should feel free to call or email or, you know, just read the above...


I've posted the video from the event here.

This Extended Recession Brought to You By: The General Assembly and Friends

Justin Katz

The Providence Business News points to a Forbes article that puts Rhode Island at the leading edge... of business unfriendliness. Yup, we rank number 50 on a list of the Best States for Business, with the following subranking:

  • 2008 rank: 45
  • Business costs: 40
  • Labor: 35
  • Regulatory environment: 50
  • Economic climate: 48
  • Growth prospects: 18
  • Quality of life: 21

Providence Business News attributed the higher ranking in growth prospects to "projected growth in jobs, incomes and economic output, as well as its rate of net new businesses and venture capital investments." One should keep in mind, though, that when you're at the bottom, like Rhode Island, growth rates should be easy to come by. It would be useful to know, too, when the work for this list was performed; the change in our capital gains tax won't likely help when it comes to "venture capital investments."

September 25, 2009

Playing Politics in the State's Center of Politics

Justin Katz

The in-boxes of Rhode Island's state senators have been the battleground, of late, for a political spat between Sen. Leonidas Raptakis (D, Coventry, East Greenwich, Warwick, West Warwick) and Sen. Daniel DaPonte (D., East Providence, Pawtucket):

  • Raptakis wrote to Senate President Theresa Paiva Weed to suggest that the legislature should reconvene (PDF).
  • DaPonte wrote a snippy response, apparently on Paiva Weed's behalf (PDF).
  • And Raptakis came back (PDF).
  • To which DaPonte gave the old "this'll be my last letter" (PDF).

What I find especially peculiar in these exchanges — and we saw the same sort of retort from House Speaker Bill Murphy (D, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) to Rep. Greg Schadone (D, North Providence), when the latter suggested reconvening the House — is the leadership's quick resort to the accusation that the legislator is merely playing politics, as DaPonte opens his first reply:

I'm writing in response to your letter to Senate President Paiva Weed this date regarding the state's fiscal crisis. I would point out to you that the press was in receipt of the letter before Senator Paiva Weed received it. Thus, it must be admitted that the suspicion that your letter is motivated more by politics than public policy, is not easily dismissed.

What a mind-numbingly stupid attitude. Apparently, Senate Finance Committee Chairman DaPonte is not sufficiently well versed in American political philosophy to understand that our system is designed to spur government officials to behave according to political incentives. We don't have a governing hierarchy of policy wonks. We have a system in which politicians stake out the ground likely to gain them the most public support, in keeping with their own beliefs and priorities, and pursue policies accordingly, within the bounds of checks, balances, and federalist procedures.

One can't help but wonder whether DaPonte's (and Murphy's) failure to comprehend such a basic principle has something to do with their sense of permanence — of being an unimpeachable class of Public Servants.

Council 94 Leadership Rediscovers Democracy - Membership of Largest State Union to Vote on Gov's Proposal

Monique Chartier

After huddling up in North Providence for a couple of hours this afternoon and listening to an explanation by a couple of HR people from the state of certain nuances of the proposal, the ProJo reports that

The leaders of the largest state employees union reversed course Friday afternoon and agreed to let their members vote on Governor Carcieri's $36-million pay-deferral plan.

And in reporting this development at the bottom of the hour, WPRO's Carolyn Cronin used the term "ballot vote", presumably meaning a secret vote; if so, this, too, is a good thing.

Donnis on Prostitution

Justin Katz

Ian Donnis has a radio story on WRNI addressing the prostitution issue in Rhode Island. It remains curious to me that those who advocate for the legality of prostitution on the grounds that it doesn't help the women to be thrown in jail aren't more vociferous about turning penalties onto the pimps and johns. They all admit that the vast majority of women involved in prostitution are so occupied out of destitution and addiction, and the lifestyle does nothing to move them away from that form of subservience.

Catholic Democrats

Marc Comtois

Roger Williams University PoliSci Professor and OSPRI Fellow Ernest Greco has a piece in the ProJo advocating for a European style Christian Democrat party. While I don't think U.S. political ground is as fertile as Greco does for a new political party, he offers a concise summary of the big picture.

Unfortunately, too many of America’s Catholic ethnics...still seem to be firmly anchored to the Democratic Party. Especially in the blue states of the Northeast and the Great Lakes, an informal coalition and division of labor appears to have developed within that party.

“Progressives,” as our social democrats and liberal democrats collectively label themselves, control the party ideology, platforms and nominations, especially at the national level. We Christian democrats turn out the votes in places like Johnston, Pawtucket and Kalamazoo. They control the Supreme Court and we get the Registry of Motor Vehicles and the Department of Public Works. They rely on the support of those notorious “cafeteria Catholics,” who seem to think that the sanctity of life, the integrity of marriage, and the authority of the family are not nearly as important as a higher minimum wage or “taxing the rich.” We equally numerous “cafeteria Democrats” have (mostly) stayed with our grandfathers’ party because of tradition, an unhealthy attraction to patronage, and a mysterious belief that any candidate on the ballot with a “D” after his name may be the second coming of FDR or JFK.

Greco's analysis seems to describe the national picture well, but it doesn't quite fit Rhode Island. Rhode Island's Catholic Democrats hold the reins of political power from the State House to the DMV and DPW. Their answer to the question that CCRI's David Carlin asked, "Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?", is emphatically YES. I don't see that changing any time soon.

Draft Joseph Peckham for Governor

Carroll Andrew Morse

In spite of the skepticism expressed by Justin earlier this week about the wisdom of drafting candidates for political office, I think progressive Rhode Island Democrats should consider a movement to draft AFSCME Council 94 Acting Executive Director Joseph Peckham as their candidate for Rhode Island's 2010 gubernatorial election.

As evidenced by Katherine Gregg's and Steve Peoples' story in yesterday's Projo, Mr. Peckham has become one of Rhode Island's most forthright spokesmen for the progressive view of how to solve state's continuing fiscal crisis…

“There are millions of dollars in outside attorneys, while the state employs almost 300 full-time attorneys. We think that’s wasteful. There are tens of millions of dollars in contracts. We think that’s wasteful. I think that the governor ... should look more to have government run the government, and not private contractors.

“I also think there are other ways of raising revenue in the form of certain types of taxes, taxes on the wealthy, capital gains taxes, and perhaps some other taxes that haven’t been talked about, luxury taxes.”

In other words, there's no fiscal problem facing Rhode Island government that raising taxes and reducing the number of non-union workers can't solve. Is there any significant part of the progressive fiscal agenda (other than maybe re-amortizing the pension system) that Mr. Peckham has missed? If not, progressives should be proud to back a candidate who will be willing to take their views unambiguously to the people, and an honest debate can begin!

However, in the absence of a movement to draft Mr. Peckham (just in case progressives don't think that a simple, direct statement of their views is a political winner), it would be interesting to know what the current favorite gubernatorial candidate of labor thinks of raising taxes and dumping non-union workers as being primary methods that should be used to close the state's budget deficit.

It Depends at What Period of Capital Flow One Looks

Justin Katz

What an improvement is the reemergence of sincere argumentation on RI Future. I may find its new owner, Brian Hull, to be wrong about the implications of taxation, but I trust that he's attempting to express his opinion to persuade rather than to mislead. Thus, not only may exchanges be fruitful, but the actual assumptions of each side may be addressed:

... any reduction in an individual's state tax liability does not necessarily lead to investment. The tax savings could be saved, or spent on luxury items (which may or may not be purchased in the state). Lastly, and most importantly, if an investment does actually occur, that investment can occur anywhere in the country or in the world. Wealth flows after opportunities to make money off that wealth, regardless of where the opportunities arise. A potential investor will seek the highest return on his investment, and not necessarily care about investing in his community or state. This shouldn't come as any surprise to you, so I'm wondering why you're so glib in correlating tax cuts to economic growth. ...

Do you honestly think that a $6,000 tax cut going to an individual making over $419,000 a year will generate job growth in Rhode Island? Do you think all those wealthy Rhode Islanders who got their $6,000 tax cut will join together and invest their tax savings in creating new businesses in the state? I suppose it's possible, just like it's possible that I’ll be struck by lightning, or win the lottery (you can't win if you don’t play), but we both know your claim is specious and the cost to the state necessitated its elimination.

That Brian is addressing capital gains taxes, specifically, is helpful, because it clarifies that the activity being taxed is in one way or another an investment in the state. If one treats a tax cut as no different than a direct handout from the government, like those rebate checks most of us received under misguided Bush policy, as Brian apparently does, then, no, $6,000 to each person in the limited group of really rich people won't generate much economic activity. But especially in the case of capital gains, that $6,000 is not the investment that the state is seeking with its low-tax policies — the investment that generated the revenue that was taxed at a savings of $6,000 is.

Brian's mistake is to treat revenue to the state as if it is the only, or at least most important, measure for the Rhode Island community. As a 2008 Poverty Institute fact sheet arguing for the elimination of the capital gains tax cut illustrates (PDF), the tax "savings" to the wealthy investor (in this case claimed to be $4,974) comes from an actual capital gain of $193,113, which itself is only a portion of the investment.

Although Brian is correct that the tax savings may be spent on anything, anywhere, for the tax to be levied in the first place, the investment must have been associated with Rhode Island in some way, whether by benefiting an actual Rhode Islander or by representing an investment in our state by a resident of some other state or nation. A low capital gains tax gives a state's businesses an advantage in their ability to offer stock options as remuneration as well as to attract investment from elsewhere. It also creates incentive to make money by investing, which one is often begin doing close to home — as with local real estate or nearby companies.

Of course, such cuts and business ventures are operating in a hostile tax and regulatory environment, but in isolation, the effects of a given policy are relative, meaning that it's better to have a lower tax even if it won't be a trump card.


Brian also presents a table purporting to illustrate that Rhode Island's tax burden isn't particularly heavy. His direct source isn't obvious, and I don't have the time, right now, to dig into the numbers for myself, but it appears to measure the actual dollar amount of different taxes — income, sales, property, corporate — as a percentage of actual personal income. The problem with this is that it lumps all Rhode Islanders together and doesn't really provide much useful information about tax policies effect on taxpayers.

The fact that Rhode Island's corporate income tax claims 0.4% of personal income (ranking us 26th highest in the country) could mean only that not a lot of Rhode Islanders operate businesses that make money. This possible interpretation is emphasized by the fact that New Hampshire ranks fourth, at 1.1%. Similarly, the fact that Rhode Island ranks 32nd in percent of personal income going to sales and gross receipts taxes could indicate that folks don't do as much shopping in our state.

How Dare You Catch Us?

Justin Katz

So ACORN is suing the young pair whose investigative journalism finding casual attitudes toward the importation of teenage sex slaves among its employees crippled the organization. The suits may or may not succeed under a Maryland law forbidding the capture of private conversations, but I'd prognosticate that ACORN will be more harmed than hurt by the effort, and that its targets will not experience much by way of harm, as conservatives and other reform-minded folks chip in to help them.

September 24, 2009

Menard Freezes Disbursements to School Department

Monique Chartier

While not taking our eyes completely off the fast and furious developments at the state level, a glance northward is in order. From today's Valley Breeze.

In a letter addressed to Superintendent Gerardi, [Mayor Susan] Menard said, "Continued operation of the school department at the projected costs will cause a significant deficit to accumulate."

She added that she has, "directed the finance director to withhold any further draws against the city's appropriation until you are in compliance with the city's Fiscal Year 2010 Enacted Budget."

Speaking, regrettably, for the Woonsocket School Committee,

Superintendent Robert Gerardi, who wasn't sure there would be funds for Friday's paychecks, suggested, "We run the schools and the city pays the bills. If they choose not to pay the bills, then that will be their problem to solve."

"Regrettably" because only part of the concept clearly defined in state law seems to have been grasped here. The city does not just pay the bills. It also sets the amount that will be spent by the school department. The law does not oblige a municipality to fund either chronic overspending or budgets inspired, respectfully, by fantasy.

In response to the mayor’s contention that the school department is required by the charter to “provide the administration within a prescribed timeframe a budget balanced to enact” its city appropriation, the committee maintains the school department “did send the City an amended budget” on July 16, 2009, which completed that step.

The amended budget was based on two stipulations — the approval of requested waivers by the Commissioner of Education and an agreement from the Woonsocket Teachers Guild establishing 40 unpaid work days for its members -- that never materialized.

Contrasting Healthcare Fora

Justin Katz

I've just received word that I will be allowed to do my liveblogging, YouTubing thing at Congressman Patrick Kennedy's limited-attendance healthcare forum, on Saturday. We can then compare and contrast the candidate, audience, and message with State Representative John Loughlin's healthcare town hall meeting in Tiverton on Wednesday.

"Random Job Reassignment"

Marc Comtois

Council 94 now says they'll accept the Governor's proposal if he agrees to remove the "random job reassignment" provisions.

"We will move this proposal to an immediate vote of our full membership as soon as the Governor removes the one provision that has nothing to do with the state's budget."

"Council 94 is willing to make the financial sacrifices outlined in the most recent proposal in exchange for job security. But the threat of random job reassignment does not give our members job security.''

Read the section after the jump. Basically, it maintains bumping, gives employees two months heads up before a move and lays out other assurances. All so the administration can have the ability to move a qualified union employee from one department to another while also allowing them to maintain membership in their "home" union shop. Real "random." Read on....

Reorganization, Elimination or Consolidation of Functions:

Through June 30, 2011, the parties agree that an Appointing Authority (Agency Director/Head)
has the right to transfer an employee between programs under his/her authority and/or, with the
approval of the Director of Administration, transfer an employee from one agency to another due
to transfer, reorganization, elimination or consolidation of functions, programs, units, divisions
or departments within the Executive Branch subject to the following:

The union recognizes the State’s right to transfer, reorganize, eliminate or consolidate functions, programs, units, divisions or departments within the Executive Branch.

Upon issuance of a memorandum from the Director of Administration setting forth the rationale
necessitating said action, the State shall notify the respective Executive Director/Key Union
Official at least fifteen (15) calendar days in advance of notification to bargaining unit members
of its intention to transfer, reorganize, eliminate or consolidate functions, programs, units, divisions or departments.

The Union and the State shall meet within this fifteen (15) day period to discuss proposed
alternatives. The Union shall be given access to pertinent information related thereto. The Union cannot grieve the inability of the parties to agree to the transfer, reorganization, elimination or consolidation of functions, programs, units, divisions or departments.

The affected employee and the union shall receive at least thirty (30) days written notice of the
transfer unless extenuating circumstances are demonstrated by the affected employee. Provided, however, in no event shall the notice period be more than sixty (60) days.

The State agrees to offer available transfer assignments as identified by the State to the affected employee(s) based on primary seniority. The affected employee may:
1. Elect the available transfer assignment or
2. Displace the least senior employee in his/her classification in his/her current Division on
the basis of primary seniority, if available.
3. Should there be no least senior employee in his/her classification in his/her current
Division on the basis of primary seniority, then the affected employee may elect to
displace the least senior employee in his/her classification in his/her current Department
on the basis of primary seniority, if available.
4. The employee so displaced shall accept the transfer assignment offered by the State.
5. If there is no employee with less primary seniority in his/her current Division or
Department, the affected employee shall accept the transfer assignment offered by the

The parties acknowledge that, for the limited term of this Agreement, the terms set forth above
shall be in lieu of the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement that address layoff and
bumping, job abolishment, reassignment, transfer, consolidation or reorganization.

The State shall recognize primary seniority of employees for the purpose of vacation scheduling
and overtime assignments within the unit/location assignment.

No employee shall sustain a reduction in wages, hours or health benefits as an accompaniment to such transfer assignment.

When an affected employee is transferred, he/she will remain in his/her respective bargaining
unit until the employee vacates the position. When an employee’s position is vacated for any
reason, including but not limited to resignation, retirement, discharge, death or promotion, the
State may post the position. Said positions that are posted by the State will be posted in the
following manner:
a) In accordance with the seniority provisions of the collective bargaining agreement applicable to the transferred employee;
b) The posting shall reflect the salary information of the collective bargaining agreement covering that classification at that Agency/Division and include language advising of the provisions set forth in sections a above and sections d and f below.
c) Copies of such postings will be provided to the union covering the transferred employee and to the union covering that classification at that Agency/Division;
d) Upon appointment, the position and the employee newly filling the position will be assigned and accreted to the collective bargaining unit covering that classification at that Agency / Division and the position will thereafter remain within that collective bargaining unit and the parties will work cooperatively to file the necessary documentation with the Labor Board;
e) The employee’s primary, secondary and State seniority shall all be determined in accordance with collective bargaining agreement covering that classification at that Agency/Division;
f) If there are no qualified applicants for the position within the time limit contained in the applicable collective bargaining agreement covering the transferred employee, the vacant position will be filled in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement covering that classification at that Agency/Division;
g) In no event shall the State change the bargaining unit affiliation of any affected employee except as described herein; and
h) In no event shall the State’s decision not to post a position be used as a
subterfuge to evade these limitations.

What the Hostile Understand

Justin Katz

A comment from "mangeek" suggests that differences in our understanding of how people think and what countries comprehend about each other may lie behind our contrary conclusions:

I believe that a Russia that's not pissed off at us makes the world a far safer place than an expensive an ineffective 'missile shield' would.

A very long discussion could be had about whether it's better to piss off Russia or to protect against actions that it might take, but what interests me is the first conclusion. Is Russia — as a nation or as represented by its leaders — pissed at us? With the possible exceptions of the occasional crackpot dictator (Kim Jong Il comes to mind), I don't believe countries operate in that way.

Russia, especially, has invested sufficient resources into studying the United States that it can be counted on to have a more thorough understanding of our system and our mission than the average American. It is playing a strategic game to prevent us from standing in the way of Russian leaders' designs, and our president is doing plenty of blinking.

Whither School Committees?

Carroll Andrew Morse

At Mayor Allan Fung's town hall meeting last evening on city issues in Cranston, there was much emphasis on the school committee as the area of city government most in need of fixing. You can hear some of the discussion for yourself, by clicking on the links below…

Is Cranston the only community where there is a growing interest in serious school committee reform, or is this sentiment shared around the state?

A Rhode Island Business Tale

Justin Katz

It doesn't appear to be online, but a story in the current Sakonnet Times tells the sad tale of entrepreneurialism in Rhode Island:

During their years spent trying to establish a beachhead in Tiverton's hospitality and business community, the couple hired architects, lawyers, and engineers, and jumped through permitting hurdles with the Coastal Resources Management Council, the Department of Environmental Management, the Department of Transportation, the local planning board, the zoning board of review, the town council, and the town zoning and building official. ...

"There are several reasons [we're giving up], one of the main is best described as investor fatigue. Due to the extraordinary amount of time and expense required at the state and local levels, as well as expensive restrictive conditions put in place by town officials, the funding for the project has been pulled," said Mr. Rivera.

"Another consideration," he said, "is the condition of the local economy, local political makeup, and the larger economy as a whole. We have been advised this is not the right opportunity at the right tie in the right place."

Look, I don't know this project well enough to know whether it was a good plan for investors or a good deal for the town, but this is the image of Rhode Island and is, I'd suggest, the state's biggest problem — a self-inflicted, fatal wound for which the patient refuses to seek treatment. Indeed, killing the capital gains tax cut was like shoving dirt in the wound to stop the flow of blood.


Rushing to get up this post during lunchtime, I forgot that I had no link to which readers could refer for specifics. To answer a question in the comments, the business was meant to be "a 15-room inn and spa on a three-quarter acre patch of waterfront property at the intersection of Nannaquaket and Main Roads in Tiverton."

Anti-Democratic Council 94 Rejects Governor's Offer

Marc Comtois

The ProJo reports on the decision by Council 94 to reject Governor Carcieri's cost-saving deal, while other unions approved it. The Journal quotes Council 94’s acting executive director Joseph Peckham as saying the 11 to 7 (or 6?) vote as “not even close.” Ooookay.

Peckham said he, Downey and Council 94 vice president Jonathan Braddock recommended a membership vote because “we believe[d] that it was the best that we could do under the circumstances.”

But the proposal went down 11 to 7, according to Ronald Bonsante, president of Local 2876, who was among the minority seeking a union-wide membership vote. “I think the members had a right to approve or reject it,” Bonsante said. “Now, [Carcieri is] definitely going to lay off.” (Another participant recalled only six yea votes.)

When asked what led to the defeat by the Council 94 leadership board, which represents about one-third of the state’s unionized workers, Peckham said: “The strong sense in the room was that state employees have given, and given, and given for the past two or three years, and they’ve given enough.”

“They have gone without pay. They have had pay cuts, because of the health-insurance increases in premiums. They have had their pensions reduced. We are in this like everyone else,” he said. “Most of our people are average working-class people who are trying to eke out a living.”

Ah, but the benevolent leaders didn't allow their average working-class members the chance to vote for themselves. As an anonymous commenter ("vito") to the ProJo story wrote:
[T]he definition of solidarity is we are willing to let the junior man go.
Ahh, brotherhood. The Council 94 leaders are all for democracy and leveling....except when they aren't. Instead, they're willing to play games with their own members livelihood for the sake of the greater union good.
But a number of Council 94 presidents, including the outspoken Salvatore Lombardi, said they would have voted for the deferred paydays this year and next had Carcieri not tried to attach what they considered a deal-breaker: a provision allowing him to move workers from agency to agency, union to union.

“This was supposed to be about saving money and furlough days. But they managed to slide in language about bargaining-unit rights and shifting people around which is more of a union-busting technique,” echoed Paul Levesque, an officer in Local 2876 representing a block of workers in the Department of Children, Youth & Families. “That’s how they bust unions, by splitting them up like that.”

Like there's a chance in hell of anyone "busting" a union in Rhode Island. Gimme a break. And how did they manage to "slide in" language while you were right there at the table? Look, I understand the paranoia that must be going on in the minds of the poor, besieged union bosses, but the idea of shifting people around to similar jobs in different departments--even if that means they'd be moving to different unions(UPDATE: According to Governor's rejected proposal, they would stay with their original unions)--would allow more people to stay employed in jobs for which they are already trained. Such flexibility would facilitate "bumping" by making it easier to place experienced employees where they're truly needed. But that would make too much sense.

Roland Benjamin: A Response to RI Health Care Experts

Engaged Citizen

The Providence Journal reported the responses of health care experts around the state to President Obama's speech on reform to Congress a few weeks ago:

Five Rhode Islanders with expertise in health care were among the many who watched President Obama's speech Wednesday night. A professor, a doctor, a hospital president, a businessman and a government official each offer a unique perspective…

Most of the responses in one way or another commended the President on his efforts to transform our health care system. With one exception, though, they seemed skeptical about the upside to the details.

For many individuals, inflation of care and plan costs is of paramount concern. The nonstandard inflation in health costs has eroded coverage as insurance prices push individuals out of the market. That said, two of the experts are not convinced that ideas will do anything in this regard.

Rhode Island Health Insurance Commissioner Chris Koller states:

Nothing in the president's proposal last night directly gets at changes in the way we use medical care services, which are what's driving our cost increases.

And Chairman of the Rhode Island chapter of the Smaller Business Association of New England Grafton Willey is concerned that businesses would pick up the price tag:

Mr. Obama said it would not be funded through tax hikes, but Willey worries that small businesses could end up paying.

If costs are to be contained, and there is only marginal indication that this is a goal of the reform, two other experts hint from where cuts will come.

The President of South County Hospital, Lou Giancola, expressed concerns that providers will bear this burden.

Giancola worries that cost control, as often happens, will come down to simply paying providers less. Reductions in Medicare reimbursements have already been proposed…

Professor James Munroe at Brown University, a political science expert and coauthor of a new health care reform book, offers little relief to the concerns of the provider community with a more pragmatic reality check on how cost containment might be achieved.

Once everyone is insured and the government is at risk for the costs, he said, the government will clamp down — by paying less to providers.

So the Rhode Island experts agree that either costs will continue to rise, requiring a necessary tax or premium increase, or providers will pay through diminishing reimbursements, ultimately affecting quality of care. But if the reforms are not designed to contain costs, where is the upside? Naturally, the ambiguous goal of insuring the uninsured might be coercively achieved, by requiring millions who do not see the value of insurance to buy it. But that is a revenue grab to force tens of millions of folks who already have access to insurance, but choose not to pay for it, to fork over their resources for the common good.

Beyond insuring the uninsured, the president promised to provide more consumer protections for those already covered. Commissioner Koller acknowledged that much of these reform elements already exist in the State:

Most of the insurance reforms that President Obama is proposing in his health-care plan, such as bans on preexisting-condition exclusion, are already part of Rhode Island law, Koller said. The state has a robust set of consumer protections passed by the legislature over the years.

This probably has little correlation to the fact that Rhode Island has higher family plan premiums than 42 other states and is only 3% less than the highest premiums in the country. Ask any employer whether these consumer protections have contained premium inflation rates.

The one Rhode Island expert that was completely supportive was Dr. Elizabeth Lange, President of the Rhode Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She marginalized the opinions of those outside of the health field:

"I don't think nonmedical people understand what a crisis the system is in," Lange said. "What we're doing now is unsustainable. We have to make a change."

Of course, doctors, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies are on the receiving end of a vast majority of dollars pumped through the insurance process. The natural tendency of these groups is to protect what they have. Mr. Giancola is obviously cognizant of that and Dr. Lange seems more the purist in her beliefs that expanding primary care to everyone will make for a better society. In both instances, there is a bias towards increasing cost without any increase in overall quality care.

Once again, the true failure of the reform debate comes in the diagnosis of the problem. The patient is virtually completely insulated from the direct financing of health care purchases. This by itself has produced the unnatural inflation that has made much of health care, and now insurance premiums, unaffordable. Regardless of payer, reform that diminishes this insulation is the only path to cost containment that coincides with quality improvements.

Consumer Driven Health Plans do just that. A May compilation analysis from the American Academy of Actuaries found the following:

  • First year savings of CDH implementation of 12% to 20% compared to traditional plan offerings.
  • Inflation trends after the first year run 3% to 5% less than traditional plans. i.e. Normal inflation.
  • All of the studies show increases in preventative services and most showed that participants were as or more likely to follow recommended care for chronic conditions while providers were more likely to follow evidence based protocols. i.e. Better quality of care.
  • Premium cost shifting from employer to employee is not incurring. i.e. Employers are forwarding premium savings from higher deductible plans directly to the employees.

These real numbers are the exact results needed from reform, but the ideological left will not acknowledge these solutions. Our own Senator does not understand that premium savings fund health care spending. In Wednesday's speech, our President promised to "place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses". Both comments reveal fundamental misrepresentations of economics and health care. And in a study published in the American Journal of Managed Care last year, [emphasis mine]

…on a mail-in survey of 528 physicians… less than half (48 percent) said they felt ready to discuss medical budgets with patients, and 43 percent said they had little knowledge of how consumer-driven health plans work. About one-third said they had scant understanding of how health savings accounts function.

So it should be little surprise that Dr. Lange, Rhode Island's own primary care expert, does not see the value in consumers playing a role in their own health care financing:

If you have a plan with a $5,000 deductible, Lange said, "That makes you essentially uninsured as well. You're not going to be seeking medical care."

Of course, I know plenty of people with deductibles that high. This includes my family with a plan I chose deliberately. I had an appointment with my primary care physician last week. I have never had a better relationship with my children's pediatrician, nor have I spent as much with her. Anecdotally, I can give you dozens of examples that directly contradict what Dr. Lange believes. Empirically, the studies analyzed by the Academy of Actuaries contradict Dr. Lange's belief with significant data.

The real solution is to encourage a migration of health care financing to individuals. This is already being done and must be enhanced through tax policy. But when some of the stakeholders do not understand the basic economics of the solution, the ideas get pushed off the table. Couple this with the ideologically dominant progressive Democrats calling the shots, an idea that strays towards individual liberty is about as likely as the left extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts.

Towns and Common Law

Justin Katz

Last Wednesday, on the Matt Allen Show, Andrew raised the ongoing battle between municipalities and the state. Conspicuous, the host agreed, is the absence of anything more constructive than complaints and bickering. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Last night, Monique raised various issues, but conversation lingered on the travails of Paul Kelly. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

September 23, 2009

Did the Governor Just Set a Time Bomb?

Justin Katz

Just out from the governor's office:

Today, Governor Donald L. Carcieri and several state employee labor unions, including the RI Alliance of Social Service Employees (Local 580), RI Laborers' District Council Locals 808 and 1033 (LIUNA), the RI Parole and Probation Associates (RIPPA), and the RI Employment Security Alliance (Local 401 SEIU), announced that a tentative agreement has been reached.

Under this tentative agreement, the respective labor unions have agreed to eight one-day pay reductions in FY 2010. In return, employees will earn 10 leave days, four of which can be cashed out at retirement or voluntary termination from state employment.

In FY2011, the unions have tentatively agreed to delay the implementation of the three percent COLA for six months to January 2, 2011, as well as four one-day pay reductions, in exchange for five leave days, four of which may be cashed out at retirement or voluntary termination from state employment.

The tentative agreements have been approved by the leadership of the respective unions, but must still be ratified by the members. These union leaders are recommending ratification of the agreement by the unions' members. The State is reaching out to the remainder of the State employee labor unions to offer the same agreement.

"The agreement by these labor unions demonstrates that they recognize the seriousness of our state's fiscal crisis, and they are willing to address the issues we are faced with today," said Governor Donald L. Carcieri. "I commend them for their leadership and cooperation in helping the state through this difficult time."

"For the remaining state employee unions, I extend an offer to participate in this agreement, and receive the same benefits, including deferred compensation, additional leave time, and job security, as those unions who have already agreed," continued Carcieri. "We have no objection to Council 94, or any other union, sending this agreement to its full membership for consideration. For those unions who reject the offer, we will continue with our layoff plans. To continue to ignore the fiscal crisis of our state and refuse to be part of the solution is short sighted, and only hurts hard working rank and file state employees."

"The most equitable method is for all state employees to participate in a plan of pay reduction days. Ratification of this agreement will keep people working, eliminate additional layoffs through FY 2011, and keep government services operating without interruption," continued Carcieri. "While as a state and a nation we don't know when our economy will recover and we don't know when our revenues will improve, this agreement will help us to manage through this difficult time without raising broad-based taxes."

"Both sides worked diligently, honestly, and cooperatively to come to terms on an agreement that responds to the State's fiscal problems and provides a mechanism to respond to budgetary needs while managing our existing workforce in a way that delivers services more efficiently while protecting the jobs of our employees," said Gary Sasse, Director of Administration.

Phil Keefe, president of the Rhode Island Alliance of Social Service Employees (RIASSE Local 580) stated, "We believe this agreement is good for our members because it will provide job security."

"This memorandum of agreement has resulted from intensive negotiations over the past several weeks in which all parties have dealt fairly and responsibly with the pressing issues of existing collective bargaining obligations, job security and fiscal reality. The outcome not only validates the process of collective bargaining, but also demonstrates that by working together, the State and its employees are capable of addressing and mutually resolving issues with which the problematic economic situation has presented them," said representatives of Local Unions 808 and 1033 of the Rhode Island Laborers' District Council.

Perhaps I'm missing something, but it looks to me like the governor essentially relied on a line of credit that the unions are extending to the state: Savings now for future paid days off and retirement/layoff/quit bonuses. Plus, it looks like the no-layoffs-through-2011 promise holds.

Abandon hope.

Masters of Phoney Profit

Justin Katz

Gotta say that I'm inclined to suggest a rule of thumb dictating that executive bonuses are simply not permitted while their companies are in bankruptcy, mainly for the reason expressed by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Arthur Votolato with reference to such a request from Twin River:

"I'm concerned with how the management team gets credit for growing this monster they can't pay for," Votolato said.

To which one of the company's lawyers responded as follows:

Hessler suggested the judge had to separate the slot parlor's burdensome loan package from the money it makes on gambling.

Why? At the very least, our bankruptcy system shouldn't be so structured as to create incentive to borrow and then turn to the courts to wipe out debt while the architects of the scheme profit.

From Husband to Landlord

Justin Katz

Readers will no doubt recall the bizarre tale of Paul Kelly, whose ex-girlfriend moved into his house for a brief period while he prepared to depart for a Middle East war zone in July 2007 and refused to leave, claiming in court that they were married under common law. At last, Superior Court Judge Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson issued a ruling, yesterday, with the following results, as Kelly's lawyer, Pat McKinney, describes them:

The Judge found emphatically that there was no common-law marriage; awarded Paul possession of the premises; and awarded Paul $12,705.25 in back rent, with prospective rent for any continued occupancy, first installment due Thursday.. It came as absolutely no surprise to anyone present that Ms. Cooley immediately announced her intention to appeal to the RI Supreme Court and asked that the judgment be stayed pending the outcome of her appeal. The court responded to this by indicating that any Superior Court stay would be conditioned upon a supersedeas bond in the amount of $35k; ordered an immediate inspection of the interior of the house by Paul; and set the matter down for review on October 22.

So two-plus years into a stunningly obvious case, Paul has at least made the transition from false husband to landlord, and now the process begins to restore him to status as "resident." We must safeguard the due process rights of estranged spouses, of course, but this is just unreal.

The Future According to RIPEC

Carroll Andrew Morse

It seems to me that the most important numbers from Katherine Gregg's Projo story about Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council projections on the state budget are the ones at the bottom…

The state’s overall budget for this year soared 12.9 percent over last year’s to a record-high of $7.8 billion with new federal dollars accounting for most of that new spending. With the added federal dollars, lawmakers were able to shave $275.9 million (8.4 percent) off the state-funded portion of this year’s budget.

The problem as RIPEC sees it: 0.3-percent growth in state revenues to support a 6.2-percent spurt in spending in 2010-11; 2-percent growth to support a 9.2-percent increase in required state-spending in 2011-12, after the stimulus dollars run dry.

...but for those who prefer absolute numbers, rather than percentages, there's this...
Worst case, RIPEC foresees the state ending this budget year with a $60.6-million deficit — on top of the $61.7-million deficit left over from last year, and then accumulating deficits of $244.4 million next year and $483.8 million the year after that. If lawmakers are unable to close the gaps along the way, RIPEC predicts, the cumulative deficit would swell to $850.6 million by 2012.

Revisiting the Violent Roundtable

Justin Katz

For those who missed it and those who'd like to hear it again, WPRO has posted the audio of Friday night's Violent Roundtable on the Matt Allen Show, featuring Andrew, Monique, and me.

Disappointing First Definition

Justin Katz

So we've all supported the right of the Moderate Party to form, and it's been an interesting process. Now that Ken Block has achieved the milestone of officiality, however, the big question is what the group actually means by "moderate." The 4E marketing — economy, ethics, education, and the environment — is tantamount to declaring, "We're for everything good and nothing controversial." The general assumption, bolstered by the involvement of Arlene Violet, is that this translates into Republicanism minus social issues — or, more likely, capitulating on social issues.

It's disappointing, therefore, to see this be the first political shot taken by the party's new executive director, Christine Hunsinger, previously press secretary for Elizabeth "I thank the House leadership for letting me attend this OCG event" Dennigan:

"Governor Carcieri's performance — if we're grading it — I'm going to flunk him," Hunsinger said. "This thing with unions is a shell game. Whatever deal he strikes will bind the hands of the next governor. I think it's smoke and mirrors. They're just playing around and it's bad policy."

It's entirely possible that reporter Steve Peoples plucked this statement from a wide-ranging list of complaints about both major parties in all branches of government, but it also wouldn't be surprising if Hunsinger provided it as her one specific statement in a warm, fuzzy discussion about her new job. Either way, the Moderate Party's first tentative steps toward real political action are not encouraging. When the microphone is placed before her, whom does Hunsinger attack? The corrupt and absent General Assembly, which holds most of the power? The system of mutual background support across government branches? The social welfare empire? The public employee union machine? No. She "flunks" the governor. Ms. Dennigan couldn't have said it better.

The Moderates' challenge remains self-definition, and at this moment, that appears to require disproof of the impression of political hacks seeking indecisive voters.

September 22, 2009

Joe Biden's Blueprint to Derail the Agenda of the Obama Adminstration

Monique Chartier

Um, sir, aren't you ... well, second in command?

[H/T the Ocean State Republican which, at long last, is back on line.]

We are sure that didn’t mean it to come out like a paragraph from a Republican National Committee fundraising letter, but...
Vice President Joe Biden said today that if Democrats were to lose 35 House seats they currently hold in traditionally Republican districts, it would mean doomsday for President Obama’s agenda.

Biden said Republicans are pinning their political strategy on flipping these seats.
“If they take them back, this the end of the road for what Barack and I are trying to do,” the vice president said at a fundraiser for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) today in Greenville, Delaware…

Biden said these House seats are Republicans “one shot” at breaking the Obama administration’s agenda. But if Democrats can hold on to those seats, “the dam is going to break,” he said, and a new era of bipartisanship will begin.

Taking Care of Trash

Justin Katz

On my way home from the school committee meeting, I caught part of Matt Allen's conversation about towns (including Tiverton) requiring residents to put out their recycle bins in order to have their trash picked up. I share Matt's impulse to decry the nanny-state aesthetic, but having sat through a number of town-hall discussions on the topic, I have to disagree about the impulse's validity.

I can't speak to other towns' issues, at this high detail, but in a few years, Tiverton will be facing a multi-million dollar budget wall when its landfill is full. Proper budgeting would have left the town better prepared, but we are where we are, and residents' choice not to recycle brings the doomsday that much closer. If we're going to have the town offer house-to-house trash pickup, we have to accept that certain terms will apply.

Personally, I'd do away with the "free" pickup. The town should provide a place to drop off garbage, perhaps at a compactor, like Portsmouth has, and residents can pay for pickup services. Perhaps private service providers could offer a more expensive plan for those who opt not to recycle, thus not sticking neighbors with the bill.

Where Competition Ought to Happen

Justin Katz

I hadn't intended to attend tonight's school committee meeting in Tiverton, but I saw on the agenda that they'd be discussing the item on the floor today: full-day kindergarten, rather than the current half day. Superintendent Bill Rearick put the additional cost at $223,953 per year, although he noted that, with next year's financial difficulty — by which he means the budget hole approaching $1 million resulting from a failure to hold over any of the magic Obama money — make it financially infeasible.

It's a shame. Rather than year after year paying more for the same or fewer services, the public schools should start to add services — to increase the value of the system to the town, rather than to the employees.

7:47 p.m.

It's the theme of tonight's meeting. Now they're talking about the district's inability to adequately monitor and coordinate curriculum development across all grades because they can't afford the extra hours for teachers. Committee Member Carol Herrmann presented the choice as between canceling classes or monitoring the classes we keep.

Superintendent Rearick put the price tag at about $100,000, saying, "We know how to build a Cadillac. We know what we need. We just can't afford it. We have a survivalist budget."

And yet the committee approved retroactive raises in the middle of an open-ended recession earlier in the year.

Performance Pay Doesn't Mean Cut-Throat Workplace

Justin Katz

Dan Yorke has been talking about the East Providence school administration's push for a pay-for-performance system for teachers, and one teacher from the district called in from her house in Barrington to explain that that sort of pay schedule doesn't work in her profession. Teaching is cooperative, you see, meaning that unlike other professions (apparently) the teachers have to work together, and if some know that others make more, they'll refuse to help.

If that's the case, then the people with whom we currently entrust our children's educations must be replaced immediately, because they lack the requisite maturity.

Now, I know all other fields of work pale in comparison with the divine calling that is public-school teaching, but in every job that I've ever had, whether carpentry, editing, graphic design, office help, retail seafood, or even private-school grade school, differing pay has had absolutely no effect on employees' ability to work as a team. (Boy, wouldn't professional sports be in trouble!) For one thing, pay-for-performance is not zero sum; high-performing employees do not take their additional money away from those who perform less well.

Indeed, it behooves those who earn less to help those who earn more so the latter will provide them assistance in return — both as a matter of course and explicitly to aid in advancement. The carpenters on my jobsite are always quick to help each other, regardless of pay, and they are also quick to seek the input of those whom they know to have more experience and knowledge. Heck, the carpenters are quick to help the electricians and plumbers, who make more money than us even if they're terrible! As long as the structure is perceived as fair and is available to everybody, nobody has cause for grievance against their fellow workers.

If the current crop of teachers in East Providence can't even match the cooperation of lowly construction workers... like I said, they've gotta go.

Global Warming: the (Non) Magnitude of Man's Role

Monique Chartier

President Obama speaking today at the United Nations:

And yet, we can reverse it. John F. Kennedy once observed that "Our problems are man-made, therefore they may be solved by man." It is true that for too many years, mankind has been slow to respond to or even recognize the magnitude of the climate threat.

With these words, President Obama by placing the responsibility for global warming at the feet of mankind. He is not alone in this view.

But wait. To what degree is man responsible for global warming? The answer is below.


Taxing on Your Health

Justin Katz

Periodically, I catch an episode of The Mentalist, in which a non-cop, always-right, psychiatrist-type character assists the police with their cases. One episode featured the actor who played Chip on Kate and Allie, who — if I may indulge in a spoiler — played a murderer who had spent years posing as a mentally handicapped fixture of the town.

The memorable moment came when the mentalist had figured the case out (based on the not-so-subtle clue that Chip had a well-worn copy of Moby Dick in his trailer) and was trying to draw him out of his facade in the interrogation room. "Come on. I see you," he said. That's how one begins to feel about long-running political debates.

Come on. We can be honest, now. Is there anybody who doesn't anticipate where this is going?

The tax [on "Cadillac" healthcare benefits] is meant to raise more than a quarter of the $774 billion needed to pay for the Baucus plan. But, just as much, the tax is intended to discourage the overly generous coverage that many experts say has helped fuel the country's reckless spending on medical care.

As it turns out, though, many smaller fish would get caught in Baucus' tax net. The supposedly Cadillac insurance policies include some that cover many of the nation's firefighters, coal miners and older employees at small businesses -- a whole gamut that runs from janitors to college professors, from union shops to Main Street entrepreneurs.

The net will catch more people than initially explained. Folks will begin taking their pay and benefits in a different form. Loopholes will emerge. And the government will have to find a way to come up with even more money to supplement the tax-the-rich shortfall. It's too obvious not to be incorporated into the Democrats' plan, even if only as a problem to address later, once the deal is sealed.

We need a national political mentalist to coax our leaders through the facade of their double-speak.

A Different (and Less Effective) Way of Doing Business

Justin Katz

I share Julia Steiny's aversion to teacher "bumping," of course, but her weekend column brings out the downright philosophical difference that exists in public education, as distinct from private-sector work:

A single regulation from the state, effective the moment each contract expires, would allow schools to get the best teachers they can, when vacancies occur.

But that leaves the problem of displaced, or "excessed" teachers.

Cohen believes that "If teachers don't find a position after a year, they should be cut. Chicago and Austin have negotiated contracts that say that after a year, you're dismissed from the system."

Hmmm. That's a bit harsh. I might give them two or three years, so the time is limited, but enough to burnish their credentials or skills if need be. In the meantime, they could have a permanent substitute position at one school, two at the most, where they can be a member of a school community, instead of floating among schools where they can't integrate into a school culture, or be properly evaluated.

For folks who live their professional lives out from under the government wing, the entire discussion seems other worldly. A professional is hired to do a particular job, not to be a part of a system. It changes the relationship between employer and employee entirely. The public education system is having enough trouble teaching students what they need to know to be successful in life without undertaking the additional mission of coddling adults.

If teachers are "excessed," it means one of two things. Either the specific district of which they were a part had no opening for their talents, in which case, their experience should help them to find another job. (And shouldn't job placement be their union's role, not the the system's?) Or they weren't up to the task that they were hired to perform, in which case, both they and the students are best served by the application of maximum incentive to improve or to find a more suitable area of focus or even a more suitable career.

It is, of course, in any organization's interest to foster among its employees a sense of belonging, and that cannot be accomplished if it is unwilling to expend reasonable effort to find mutually beneficial positions for those who've already been hired. Such decisions can only be made on a case-by-case basis, and any systemic effort to influence the outcome beyond the motivation for success is counterproductive.

Union and Democrat Party, Speaking with One Voice

Justin Katz

This past weekend's episode of Newsmakers, with AFL-CIO RI President George Nee, is worth a watch:

Nee is among the more reasonable-sounding of the labor representatives, but that presentation only emphasizes the absence of space between how he responds to questions and how any given Democrat partisan would answer them. Sure, he's the guy who said that the state needs more political competition between the parties, but some Democrats have said the same thing, and there's an underlying insinuation that the Republicans should become more like Democrats and, for one thing, court labor more enthusiastically.

His take on a "public option" in healthcare, for example, comes directly from a conversation with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: He cites public universities as an example thereof. Perhaps to the extent that "public" means "union jobs," the comparison has some validity, but in practice the two structures are substantially different. Notably, public universities are state-level operations, not federal.

More importantly, though, universities hire professors and not only put course offerings together, but fulfill them, as well. Health insurance is almost purely a matter of paper processing and funding. "Public option" doctors would not be competing with private-sector doctors to offer a more attractive healthcare regimen. Moreover, given the location-specific nature of higher education, translating such a thing into healthcare would represent a dramatic restructuring — with clients having to travel to a central healthcare campus, or the government seeking to place its doctors in every community.

Federal and state governments also have not built a web of regulations and mandates for higher education. Apart from accreditation and general business laws, colleges and universities operate under their own directives, which allows actual competition. In healthcare, so many offerings are explicitly required, and the incentives guiding the means of payment are so heavily manipulated, that the entire system is effectively becoming a "public option."

Somehow, I suspect that Nee, like any partisan Democrat, would not extend the principle of competition — which the left is happy to extol under the currently restrictive circumstances — if it meant permitting citizens to purchase plans more freely and companies to offer a greater variety.

September 21, 2009

Medicaid as Boomer Inheritance Program?

Justin Katz

Stephen Moses, Health Care Policy Fellow for the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, brings to light an easy to miss loss of state dollars:

In 1993, the federal government made it mandatory for state Medicaid programs to recover the cost of benefits paid to older people with exempt (sheltered) assets out of their estates. In research I conducted for the Health Care Financing Administration in 1988, we found that Oregon, for example, recovered 5.2 percent of its Medicaid nursing-home expenditures from the estates of deceased recipients.

The comparable number for Rhode Island is only .67 percent. In other words, Rhode Island, which recovered only $2 million last year from estates, is leaving over $13 million on the table by not pursuing this non-tax resource more vigilantly.

Whoa! Wait a minute. Isn’t estate recovery like "picking the bones of the elderly"?

Not at all. With very generous income- and asset-eligibility rules, easy ways to self-impoverish and little estate recovery, Rhode Island's Medicaid long-term care program has become, in effect, free inheritance insurance for Baby Boomer heirs. Is that really how Ocean Staters want to use their scarce public-welfare resources?

I remain in the starve-the-beast camp, but there are other sectors of the population that could make better use of this break.

Whose side is Obama on?

Donald B. Hawthorne

At some point, after the questions keep piling up, one overriding and fundamental question begs to be answered: Whose side is Obama on?

Obama Ready to Slash Nuclear Arsenal:

Disturbing report, from The Guardian
Obama has rejected the Pentagon's first draft of the "nuclear posture review" as being too timid, and has called for a range of more far-reaching options consistent with his goal of eventually abolishing nuclear weapons altogether, according to European officials...

Unilaterally cutting your own strategic arsenal isn't just naive, it's downright dangerous. Consider the implications here -- Obama has just signaled to the Russians and Chinese that we'll drastically reduce our nuclear forces without a quid pro quo. That means that both nations are free continue the aggressive upgrades to their strategic nuclear forces (particularly so in Putin's Russia), without having to worry about what the U.S. or international community thinks.

The START Treaty, a valuable agreement that downsized the US and Russia's deployed nukes in a pragmatic, safe way, is set to expire in December. Thanks to Obama's baffling impatience with diplomatic process, he's now completely compromised our two most important bargaining chips -- the European Missile Shield and our nuclear inventory -- without even sitting down to the table. And when it does come time to negotiate a new arms reduction treaty, we will have absolutely zero leverage.

...Does he not understand stabilization through the balance of power, projection of strength, and goal-orientated (not ideologically orientated) foreign policy -- otherwise known as freshman grade realpolitik? During the short history of nuclear arms, there has never been a more dangerous epoch than the early 21st century, where non-proliferation efforts have widely failed. By surrendering the only two negotiating tools with muscle behind them, Obama has just flashed a green light to every aspiring nuclear power and every potential strategic competitor: build your bombs...

Related earlier stories:

And these are responses from our international friends!
Unilateral appeasement
Obama punishes international democrats and rewards international tyrants
9/11: Never forgetting means never forgetting


Mary Anastasia O'Grady on Hillary's Honduras Obsession: The U.S. is trying to force the country to violate its constitution.

John Steele Gordon on This Could Be Interesting

The [United States] Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress, issued a report recently that the Honduran government did nothing illegal under Honduran law...It seems that the definition of coup d’état at Foggy Bottom and the White House is not just an "extra-constitutional change of government" but also a constitutional one—if the Obama administration doesn’t approve of it.

Emanuele Ottolenghi on Reset Button!

Russia just announced that it will not shelve its plans to deploy tactical missiles in the Kaliningrad enclave. Obama’s reset policy is beginning to work...for Russia!

Jennifer Rubin on The Adolescent President

The Washington Post’s editors are understandably nervous—Obama is wavering, perhaps crumbling before their eyes, on Afghanistan. They note that, not so long ago, he was sounding George W. Bush–like in his determination to prevail. But no more...

While Obama "appears to be distancing himself from his commanders"—whom he installed and presented with his mission of ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban—there is little reason, they note, for him to back away from his own analysis offered just months ago that a return of the Taliban would be a disaster for Afghanistan and hugely destabilizing to its neighbor Pakistan.

There is something bizarre about the president’s disassociating himself from his generals and his own stated goals–within a span of just months. He gives the appearance of an errant teenager who one month ago simply had to do X and now can’t bring himself to even defend X. But we can’t say it’s without precedent...

In April, Obama defended missile defense in Europe...

In September, he pulled the rug out from under the Poles and Czechs. But April was April. It’s, like, you know, a whole different thing now.

In both cases, the only factor that "changed" was that objections arose to the president’s previously stated course of action. Russia made a fuss over missile defense, and the entire liberal wing of the Democratic party threw a fit over the idea that we’d have to devote time and money to winning the "good" war. So the president balked, giving way to those who screamed the loudest...

...someone in his administration must surely realize that a second reversal of this magnitude will only cement his image as a Jimmy Carter–esque figure–weak, irresolute, and easily manipulated–and invite endless challenges to the U.S. After all, if he’s going to back down whenever someone screams loudly, there will be a lot of very loud screaming.

John Hannah on Call Them Out, Mr. President: Obama should stand up for the Iranian people, and against the Iranian regime, at the UN

The agreement by the United States and other world powers to launch negotiations with Iran on October 1--despite the regime's refusal to discuss ending its uranium enrichment program--makes clear that there will be no meaningful progress to stop Iran's drive for the bomb when world leaders, led by President Obama, gather this week at the United Nations General Assembly. All the more reason, then, that the president should use the occasion, and his considerable political skills, to at long last rally the international community on behalf of the beleaguered Iranian people--who last Friday took to the country's streets yet again by the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to voice their contempt for the regime of supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The facts of the past three and a half months are well known but bear repeating: A stolen presidential election on June 12. A brutal crackdown against peaceful protesters demanding their votes be counted. Young women murdered in broad daylight by rooftop snipers. Old men beaten bloody by plain-clothed thugs. University students terrorized in their dormitories in the middle of the night by axe-wielding vigilantes. Detainees, male and female alike, repeatedly sodomized and raped. Others tortured to death. Weekly Stalinist show trials. Threats from the regime's highest levels of large-scale purges to come, including the forceful targeting of top opposition figures.

Making matters infinitely worse is the fact that the Iranian people have had to endure this systematic assault on their human rights largely alone--to the great shame of the United States, Europe's major democracies, and the rest of the free world. Millions of Iranians have heroically sought to secure through peaceful means their most basic democratic rights. Untold numbers have been subjected to violence, illegal detention, torture, and even murder at the hands of a tyrannical regime that also happens to be the world's leading state-sponsor of terrorism. They deserve far better from America and the democratic community of nations than deafening silence.

...The fact is that since the disputed June 12 elections, the Iranian opposition has consistently requested that the rest of the world refrain from recognizing the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. At Friday's demonstrations in Tehran, protesters chanted "Obama, Obama, your talks should be with us [not the regime]." Leading Iranian human rights activists have pleaded for other states to avoid steps that would confer legitimacy on the regime and grant it psychological succor--while demoralizing its democratic opponents.

...There's no doubt that Ahmadinejad and his henchmen will seek to portray such talks as a major triumph, a sign that no matter what horrors the regime inflicts on its own citizens, the world is prepared to look the other way in a desperate effort to accommodate the Islamic Republic's rising power. The message conveyed to the Iranian people will be clear: You are alone and forgotten. Further resistance is futile.

The United States should not allow itself to become an accomplice in Ahmadinejad's power play. That is why even as engagement with the regime proceeds next week, Obama needs to make the plight of the Iranian people a top priority. Doing so, of course, has the virtue of keeping faith with America's highest ideals. But more importantly it also serves U.S. strategic interests.

Through their popular uprising, the Iranian people have mounted the most serious challenge to the Islamic Republic in its 30-year history. The regime is frightened and confused, on the defensive, never closer to unraveling. The United States should do nothing that needlessly risks relieving that pressure and giving comfort to Iran's rulers...


Bret Stephens on Summits of Folly: Mr. Obama bankrupts his country while appeasing his foe

Beggar thy neighbor, bankrupt thy country, appease thy foe. As slogans (or counter-slogans) go, it isn't quite in a class with Amnesty, Acid and Abortion. But it pretty much sums up President Obama's global agenda—and that's just for the month of September.

In 1943, Walter Lippmann observed that the disarmament movement had been "tragically successful in disarming the nations that believed in disarmament." That ought to have been the final word on the subject.

So what should Mr. Obama, who this week becomes the first American president to chair a session of the U.N. Security Council, choose to make the centerpiece of the Council's agenda? What else but nonproliferation and disarmament. And lest anyone suspect that this has something to do with North Korea and Iran, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice insists otherwise: The meeting, she says, "will focus on nuclear nonproliferation and nuclear disarmament broadly, and not on any particular countries."

But the problem with this euphemistic approach to disarmament, as Lippmann noticed, is that it shifts the onus from the countries that can't be trusted with nuclear weapons to those that can...

...But what's really historical is the explosion in the debt-to-GDP ratios of the G-20 countries, which the IMF predicts will rise to 81.6% next year from 65.9% in 2008. For the U.S. the jump is especially pronounced—to 97.5% next year from 70.5% last. Only Japan and Italy will be deeper in the red; even Argentina looks good by comparison. This is before the first baby boomer hits retirement age next summer, to say nothing of the liabilities coming from ObamaCare.

What happens to countries with these kinds of fiscal burdens? They decline. In 1983, Japan's gross government debt stood at 67% of GDP. It has since tripled. West Germany's was a little under 40%. It is twice that today. These used to be the economies of the future. They are, or ought to be, the cautionary tales of the present.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama is earning kudos from the Russian government for his decision to pull missile defense from central Europe, even as Poland marked the 70th anniversary of its invasion by the Soviet Union. Moscow is still offering no concessions on sanctioning Iran in the event negotiations fail, but might graciously agree to an arms-control deal that cements its four-to-one advantages in tactical nuclear weapons...

And all of this in a single month. Just imagine what October will bring.

ADDENDUM #2 (continued):

Brian Kennedy on Obama's Strategic Confusion: His move on missile defense raises troubling questions

...That is only one aspect of Mr. Obama's mistake, however, because the Third Site was only partly about missile defense. No one ever believed that the basing of radars in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptors in Poland was a masterstroke of defensive strategic geometry. The interceptors could indeed stop a handful of Iranian long-range ballistic missiles, but sea- or space-based technologies remained the ultimate goal.

Rather, a central purpose of missile defense in Europe, on the doorstep of Russia, was alliance building. Its virtue was that it persuaded America's allies that our common defense included a global ballistic missile defense system. In the near term it was to demonstrate that when it came to the threat posed by Iran, the U.S. and its NATO allies would stand together: Iran—aided and abetted by Russia—would not hold Europe hostage and the NATO powers would confront the threat of nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical Islamic regime. Mr. Obama's biggest mistake is that, just as the Third Site was meant to build alliances, its cancellation will undermine them.

This will set America's allies in Asia to worrying...

The simple reality is that, absent a missile defense that can stop Chinese ballistic missiles, the U.S. will be hard pressed to maintain security commitments in Asia given the advances China has made to its offensive nuclear forces...

The cancellation of the Third Site demonstrates the Obama administration's complete confusion over strategic defense. Any real system would include the defense of the U.S. homeland and allies around the world. Such a system would be prepared to stop any ballistic missile that could cause the U.S. or its allies harm. With Mr. Obama's Third Site move, the U.S. is not merely abandoning a system to stop long-range Iranian ballistic missiles from hitting Europe but are also foregoing a system to stop Russian or Chinese ballistic missiles from destroying the U.S. Is it any wonder we can abandon Europe or Asian allies when we do not believe the American homeland worthy of defense?

This strategic vulnerability cannot last forever. Either the U.S. and its allies will realize the folly of their ways and build strategic defenses or a day will come when they will pay a heavy price.


Europeans Ambivalent About Obama’s Missile Defense U-Turn: Obama’s diplomatic clumsiness may boost anti-Americanism in Eastern Europe, the only region in Europe where the United States is actually liked

Giving Honduras the Cold Shoulder

Late Sunday night, the United Nations issued its Monday Journal, which lists the heads of state who are addressing the opening of the 64th U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday. Tucked in between Colombia and Russia is Honduras — but the legitimate president of Honduras will not be speaking. The U.N., a majority of whose member states are not "fully free" (according to Freedom House), has invited the ousted would-be dictator of Honduras, disgraced former president Manuel Zelaya, to deliver the address.

This is an outrageous decision, but don’t expect President Obama to stand up for justice and the rule of law...Obama has decided to revoke the visa of Honduran president Roberto Micheletti, preventing his entry into the United States. Obama apparently feels more comfortable sharing a cappuccino in the U.N. Delegates Lounge with a deposed Chávez acolyte than with its authentic, constitutionally legitimate president.

Why is the leader of the free world choosing to "take a stand" against the democratic, pro-American Honduran government? And why doesn’t he have the moral courage to take stands against the world’s most oppressive regimes, such as those in Iran, North Korea, and Burma? Shouldn’t Obama be denying visas to the real enemies of Lady Liberty?

Cliff May on UNreal

In a speech to the U.N. General Assembly today, President Obama said that the U.S. and other "developed nations" were responsible for causing "much of the damage to our climate over the last century."...

This is a dangerous game. We blame ourselves for a crisis that may or may not exist: Are we really certain that the world is warming up dangerously, that industrial development is causing it, and that we can "fix the problem" without returning to a 19th-century economy?

Then, we grin as we are criticized by all and sundry.

Meanwhile, those gathered at the U.N. and the media covering them avoid talking about Islamist terrorism, genocide in Darfur, brutal suppression in Iran by a regime that is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, and similar unfashionable topics.

It’s unreal. Or maybe it’s surreal.

Richard Lowry on On Afghanistan, Never Mind? Now that it is crunch time in Afghanistan, Democrats have gone from resolute to flaccid

...But on his Sunday-show marathon, Obama questioned the premises of the war. He complained of "mission creep" in Afghanistan and claimed, "I wanted to narrow it."

If so, this is the only news from his mind-numbing round of interviews. In August, he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that Afghanistan is "a war of necessity," because "if left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans." In March, he announced "a comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan." He called for reversing the Taliban’s gains by taking the fight to the insurgents, training the Afghan security forces and promoting a better Afghan government. If the mission "creeped," Obama did it.

If Obama never meant what he said about Afghanistan — or has changed his mind — this is the time to say it. Someone in the Pentagon, clearly irked by Obama’s indecisiveness, leaked commanding Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s new 66-page assessment of the war to Bob Woodward. The memo says that without a rapid injection of more troops to execute a counterinsurgency mission focused on population security, the war "will likely result in failure."

Obama has had only one meeting of his national-security advisers to discuss the memo, even though it was sent on August 30. But, hey, he has a busy media schedule. The White House has kept a lid on General McChrystal, lest he make a nuisance of himself by arguing the case for winning the war publicly. There are even signs that McChrystal — Obama’s handpicked general — could yet experience the underside of a bus...

Stephen Hayes on Obama Caves to Iran, Again

Jamie Flynn on A Stab in the Back: Canceling the missile shield betrays our allies


Hot Air on Wonderful: Obama grants visa to Burmese junta member — but not to Honduran leaders

It figures that the one campaign promise he’s been diligent about keeping isn’t winning in Afghanistan but improving diplomatic relations with the world’s biggest degenerates...
Granting a waiver for Nyan Win to visit Washington is a diplomatic coup for a regime that is continuing, as this is being written, a military offensive against ethnic groups that has already resulted in more than one million internally displaced refugees and tens of thousands more pouring over the border into China, Thailand, India and Bangladesh; more than 3,200 villages burned, and most heinous — the use of rape as an instrument of war against women. The regime is actively engaged in war crimes. This is in addition to the oppression of Burma’s democratic freedom fighters and the everyday killings and murders that are standard regime fare. If a Burmese official of comparable rank has visited Washington in the last 20 years, no one I talked to can remember it…

What is he doing here and with whom is he meeting?

Look to Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) for the answer to those questions...

...Why is it that this monster gets to pal around with Jim Webb in Washington while Ahmadinejad and Qaddafi are looking for places to stay in NYC, and yet the leaders of the Honduras non-coup — whose next free election is on schedule for November 29 — can’t get visas to come here? You’re a disgrace, Barry.


Mark Helprin on Obama and the Politics of Concession: Iran and Russia put Obama to the test last week, and he blinked twice

...When Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich at least he thought he had obtained something in return for his appeasement. The new American diplomacy is nothing more than a sentimental flood of unilateral concessions...Stalin tested Truman with the Berlin Blockade, and Truman held fast. Khrushchev tested Kennedy, and in the Cuban Missile Crisis Kennedy refused to blink. In 1983, Andropov took the measure of Reagan, and, defying millions in the street (who are now the Obama base), Reagan did not blink. Last week, the Iranian president and the Russian prime minister put Mr. Obama to the test, and he blinked not once but twice. The price of such infirmity has always proven immensely high, even if, as is the custom these days, the bill has yet to come.

Washington Times editorial on Worst Foreign Policy Ever: Obama is tripping all over the world stage

Frank Gaffney, Jr. on The Obama Doctrine: Capitulation sugarcoated with smart words

Michael Barone on Obama's Time Warp: The U.S. is still the bad guy

WSJ on The Honduras Mess: A dangerous standoff that the U.S. helped to create

Michael Gerson on A Cold Shoulder to Liberty

...What is left of foreign policy liberalism when a belief in liberty is removed?

Jennifer Rubin answers Gerson's question

...He concludes by asking: "What is left of foreign policy liberalism when a belief in liberty is removed?" Well, we are finding out. It is a mixture of avoidance (let’s talk about health care, not Afghanistan), appeasement (Russian sensibilities take precedence over loyal allies), misplaced idealism (rid the world of nukes—everywhere but Tehran), elevation of domestic constituencies over long-term economic and diplomatic interests (Big Labor gets its tire tariff), and brutal indifference to the suppression of human rights.

That’s how we get to the point where a "serious" Democratic foreign-policy guru is advising that we shoot down Israeli planes traveling over Iraqi airspace to knock out Iranian nuclear facilities. That’s how we get to the head-spinning reversal on missile defense—cloaked in mumbo-jumbo, new-and-improved intelligence estimates. It turns out that a liberal foreign policy without the liberty (or the will to defend liberty) is neither principled nor realistic. And without a guiding vision—say, defense of America interests and values—it devolves into a series of haphazard and inconsistent moves.

From Manuel Zelaya to the Iranian regime to Vladimir Putin the notion is taking hold that the harder America’s foes push, the more they can get away with. If events seem to be spinning out of control, they are. And the reason is directly traceable to the absence of a defined and defensible vision of American foreign policy. It turns out that, Hillary Clinton notwithstanding, America needs some ideology after all.


Cliff May on Pipedream

President Obama: "The yearning for peace is universal."

Unfortunately, it is not and has never been. Genghis Khan did not yearn for peace. Napoleon did not yearn for peace. Hitler did not yearn for peace. People who call themselves "jihadis" — by definition — do not yearn for peace except the peace that follows the defeat of all infidels who are — by definition — their enemies.

In the end, these issues come down to some fundamental differences in beliefs about human nature and the existence of evil in the world as well as about the Founding Principles that animate American politics and incorporate a realistic view of human nature. And, for America, the adverse consequences of acting on such unrealistic beliefs about human nature and evil, disconnected from our Founding Principles, have the potential to be very, very significant.

Democrats' Use of the Office of Governor

Justin Katz

As evidence of the suggestion, in this morning's vlog, that Rhode Island Democrats mainly utilize the governor's office as a scapegoat, I present Travis Rowley's calling out of Senator John Tassoni (D., Smithfield) for his obvious attempts to hand the General Assembly's garbage to the governor:

Perhaps worse than their inability to fiscally restrain themselves is the Democrats' dereliction of duty, showcased by Tassoni's admission that "we were gonna pass [the budget] with the $68 million, uh, issue. And then we would get back and try to figure out how we would get to that $68 million. But obviously we didn't have, we didn't go back." Yeah, take your time, Senator.

This year's budget bill passed on June 30, and nearly two months passed before Governor Carcieri officially announced his 12-day furlough plan — two months of ballooning deficits for Rhode Island taxpayers, and two months of beach volleyball for Senator Tassoni.

Travis's broader response to Tassoni's rhetoric is spot on. The next question, of course, is whether Rhode Islanders see it, as well, and see it as a problem.

Vlog #7: Draft So-and-So

Justin Katz

Whether it's an off-season taste or the initiation of the 2010 election season on Anchor Rising time will tell, but my vlog this week concerns the practice of "drafting" candidates for office; specifically for governor:

A Working (and Not) Weekend

Justin Katz

Our content, this weekend, seems like a reverberation of thought from Labor Day, because most of the posts are somehow related to working.

  • There's the state worker so out of touch as to whine about being called "nonessential."
  • There's the carpenter and blogger worrying (some would say "whining" here, too) about the financial ramifications of not working Saturdays (more specifically: working in a way so as to make money).
  • Robert Muksian argues that America should raise Social Security taxes on the working in order to maintain benefits for the retired, semiretired, and old-enough-to-retire.
  • Monique noted a certain state that is, unsurprisingly, known to be a bad place to retire, tax-wise.
  • And then there are a slew of posts about the work that particular people do, starting with the job of priests and all of the faithful to send off the dead appropriately.
  • Newspaper editorial boards, of course, are shirking their duties if they exclude highly relevant information.
  • One can't exclude the political hackery of the current speaker fo the U.S. Congress.
  • And Jon Stewart does an excellent job of spearing ACORN agents who seemed well rehearsed in their job of securing financial assistance for people who did the important work of pretending that their occupations were jaw-droppingly objectionable in order to expose corruption.
  • Meanwhile, Mark Steyn holds that the President isn't doing his job very well when it comes to international affairs.
  • Finally, the question of whether it would be preferable to be eternally of this world or of the next may come down to whether one wishes to work for eternity or not.

September 20, 2009

Tax-friendly Places to Retire: You'll Never Guess Which State is Not So Friendly

Monique Chartier

Mary Beth Franklin of Kiplinger's Personal Finance has an article in today's Washington Post entitled "Tax-Friendly Places for Retirement".

Because tax treatment of different retirement income sources, as well as real property, varies widely by state, the fifty states were not ranked best to worst. For those contemplating a move upon retirement, Kiplingers has this handy-dandy map of the US, which not only enumerates the positives and negatives of each state in various retirement-related tax categories - pension taxes, taxes on Social Security benefits, sales tax, property tax, income tax - but includes lists of the best and worst five states in these categories.

If you'd like to start your search for a retirement destination by at least determining which states to steer away from, look for the ones that are bad in several such categories. This is where we find Little Rhody.

Three states are particularly tough on retirees. Not only do they fully tax most pensions and other retirement income, they also have high top tax brackets: California (9.55 percent on income less than $1 million), Rhode Island (9.9 percent) and Vermont (9.5 percent). Connecticut and Nebraska also fully tax retirement income.

Additionally, we are one of the top five worst states for property taxes and we are one of around fifteen states which assess an estate tax.

But we're all working stiffs. Why should we care how the state treats retirees tax-wise?

First and most selfishly, a couple of those taxes - property and income - apply to us as well.

Secondly ... okay, this one is pretty selfish, too - for the same reason we need to care about our corporate taxes and, more generally, the business climate: more taxpayers in the state means a broader tax base so that everyone pays less in taxes.

Finally, a note with regard to Kiplinger's citation of Rhode Island's top income tax bracket as 9.9%: their data may be slightly outdated as the Gov and the General Assembly have been slowly ratcheting back that rate. This only highlights the urgency, however, of undertaking the difficult but necessary task of making all of our tax rates at least middle of the road - so that Rhode Island no longer actively repulses taxpayers of all varieties by cropping up on the wrong end of lists such as this.

The Immortality That We Already Have

Justin Katz

As we slide into autumn, with the sensations and associations that it brings, Michael Ledeen's musing on the relationship between the living and the dead in Naples seems more relevant now than it did in the summer edition of First Things. He makes some very interesting points, which resonate with greater strength as the trees promise (or threaten, depending on your perspective) to shed their leaves:

The great divide between Naples and the rest of Europe came in the second half of the nineteenth century, following the unification of Italy. For several hundred years, the continent had seen enormous religious and political wars, culminating in the Napoleonic war that came to an end at Waterloo in 1812. From then until the outbreak of the First World War, there was no continent-wide war. In that remarkably tranquil century, the Western attitude toward death underwent a striking evolution. Previously, death had been understood as altogether normal. In the nineteenth century, it came to be viewed as a violent intrusion into human affairs. The thought of leaving the world of the living became unbearable, and the requirement to remember the dead became a social imperative. ...

It would require a greater understanding of the human spirit than we possess to explain why the passionate Western embrace of the dead emerged at the moment when, for the first time in hundreds of years, so few people were actually dying in combat or in violent epidemics of the sort that had ravaged Naples so many times. But the new vision of death—and the importance of the dead—undoubtedly had something to do with the rise of modern nationalism, which incorporated religious rituals into secular political ceremonies. As religion was driven out the front door of respectable thought, it crept back in through political cults of the sort that eventually destroyed the heirs of the Enlightenment in the mass movements of the twentieth century. The core beliefs of the Enlightenment were unable to satisfy human passions, and, the more vigorously the intellectual elite asserted that science and logic could explain everything and eventually solve all problems, the more passionately people believed in otherworldly forces. The dead insisted on intruding into the otherwise ordered universe of the scientists and the philosophes.

Especially insightful is the mention of nationalists' usurpation of some of the compelling attributes of religion. To some extent, one could argue that nationalists leverage fear of death as a means of control, even as they present national identity as the path toward a sort of immortality. It's only natural that people would therefore create a darker mythology around the deceased.

Perhaps we're seeing something similar, now, as medical scientists push back death's boundaries, winning battles in the fight against it. A people can only ponder even more distinctly what it means to lose the war against death when they've been told that it's feasible to win.

If humanity somehow manages to approach worldly immortality, I suspect that the dead will become a universally ugly breed. More frightening than any staggering-zombie movie can convey. I also suspect that fear of death will become an even more potent weapon against the timid.

The remedy and defense has not and will not change, however. As the song says, just remember that death is not the end. Presented with a choice of two versions of immortality, that spent with God is more enticing than that spent gripping the thin reeds of an attenuating version of life. At least in my book.

Not Broke... Just Without Money

Justin Katz

Wow. It's been awhile since we've had an opportunity to use the "Social Security" tag for a post, so for that much we should thank Bryant Math Professor Robert Muksian. However, once he moves beyond the calculation of benefits, into the reality of the program, his declaration that "Social Security is far from 'broke'" should begin to spark "wait a minute" reactions:

It is the trust fund expanded by the Social Security Amendments of 1983 that is being depleted to the broke level. To quote the trustees of the Social Security Administration in their 2009 report, "Projected OASDI tax income will begin to fall short of outlays in 2016, and will be sufficient to finance 76 percent of scheduled annual benefits in 2037, after the combined OASDI Trust Fund is projected to be exhausted."

You may recall several relevant factors, from that long-ago period when Social Security was actually a topic of conversation (in contrast to our current contentment to let it fester like an infected wound). For one thing, there is no actual money in the trust fund, only government IOUs. Come 2016, the feds will have to cut benefits, trim some other government spending, or raise taxes. That will no doubt spur a cordial debate at about the same time that cap'n'trade, auto efficiency standards, healthcare "reform," and who knows what other policies begin to show their teeth. For another, the trajectory of Social Security is entirely in the wrong direction. When the government finishes paying off its IOUs to the trust fund in 2037, a perpetually shrinking workforce will be funding a larger retiree pool (especially if longevity continues to ratchet up).

Writes Muksian:

As an investment, it far exceeds anything the average American, or perhaps even professional investors, could achieve over the lifetime of a retired worker.

Rather than impressing us, that fact should raise questions about the method. How could it be possible? Muksian touts the Social Security Administration as "the most efficient entity in the federal government," but all it's doing, at this point, is transferring money from younger workers to older workers and retirees. It doesn't take much back-office acumen to accomplish that. Whether the supposed efficiency will continue when the SSA must begin demanding payment from the rest of the government and then when it runs out of money altogether is an open question.

Muksian tries to convince his fellow Americans to ramp up their investments in the scheme, with a mere 1% increase in the Social Security tax, to 7.2% of taxable wages. For those keeping score, that 1% of wages would represent a 16% increase in the tax. It is Muksian's determination — on our behalf — that another four to five hundred dollars per year is "tolerable" given the benefits. In context, though, we should recall that we'll be tolerating that confiscation of our earnings on top of the taxes that the government raises to pay for the money that it's filched from the "trust fund" — not to mention the countless other drains on our income that the current administration and Congress are piling on our backs as a sort of investment derivative of labor yet to be performed.

The Distressing Versus the Frightening

Justin Katz

The rapid transformation of this country into a European-style socialist democracy is certainly distressing. American life is on its way to becoming more difficult and less free, less innovative — in a word, less American. But it is the combination of that atrophy with the existence of nations seeking to duplicate the international accomplishment of the United States (a global sphere of influence, if you will) without adhering to its methods.

More specifically, it is the combination of a strong-handed government at home with a weak-kneed government on the international scene:

The U.S. Defense Secretary is already on record as opposing an Israeli strike. If it happens, every thug state around the globe will understand the subtext — that, aside from a tiny strip of land on the east bank of the Jordan, every other advanced society on earth is content to depend for its security on the kindness of strangers.

Some of them very strange. Kim Jong-Il wouldn't really let fly at South Korea or Japan, would he? Even if some quasi-Talibanny types wound up sitting on Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, they wouldn't really do anything with them, would they? Okay, Putin can be a bit heavy-handed when dealing with Eastern Europe, and his definition of "Eastern" seems to stretch ever farther west, but he's not going to be sending the tanks back into Prague and Budapest, is he? I mean, c'mon . . .

September 19, 2009

Jon Stewart's Take on the Expose of ACORN

Monique Chartier

Courtesy Comedy Central's Daily Show. [H/T NewsBusters.]

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
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Curbing Somebody's Enthusiasm: Some Facts to Reassure Speaker Pelosi

Monique Chartier

Once again, instead of a substantive discussion about policies, the focus is on feelings - this time, fear.

"I wish that we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made," Pelosi said Thursday. Some of the people hearing the message "are not as balanced as the person making the statement might assume," she said.

Could you be more specific?

Pelosi's office did not immediately respond to a request from the Associated Press for examples of contemporary statements that reminded the speaker of the rhetoric of 1970s San Francisco.

No specifics on the rhetoric front, huh? Well, on the violence front, the Weekly Standard's Mary Katharine Ham has some data that might interest you, Madam Speaker.

That's the full list of documented violence from the August meetings. In more than 400 events: one slap, one shove, three punches, two signs grabbed, one self-inflicted vandalism incident by a liberal, one unsolved vandalism incident, and one serious assault. Despite the left's insistence on the essentially barbaric nature of Obamacare critics, the video, photographic, and police report evidence is fairly clear in showing that 7 of the 10 incidents were perpetrated by Obama supporters and union members on Obama critics.

Now, see how much better it is to deal in facts rather than wallow in emotion? All of that worrying for naught.

Easy Come, Easy Go on Saturdays

Justin Katz

Working periodic Saturdays has its good points and its bad points. On the one hand, it provides earned income beyond what's accounted in one's long-term budget. On the other hand, it takes away time on which one comes to rely for other purposes.

With those mixed feelings, I worked my way to the jobsite on which I'd planned to spend the next five or six Saturdays, picking up lumber and other materials as I went. The sinking feeling was, however, unmitigated when it turned out that the client had changed his mind. The long-term budget had absorbed the additional money, you see, and it turns out that we'll remain a month behind on our mortgage payments. For now.

Thus do we all trudge on. With so much to do, the time will not be wasted, and it's not as if living on the economic edge is anything new. Adjust and find the positive. Find another perk that had heretofore seemed a necessity. (Some might call it "nonessential.") Get comfortable in a naked state, and the clothes matter little. And if they chafe, there's experience to be gained from the feeling.

Besides, there were dishes to be done, today, and children's bicycles with chains to be re-geared. I think I'll hold off for a few decades before I hand the kids the bill. With interest.

Ignoring the Lesson Plan

Justin Katz

One of the topics that came up on last night's Violent Roundtable was the failure of mainstream commentators to leaven their mockery of conservative concern about President Obama's in-school presentation with an acknowledgment of the objectionable suggested lesson plan that stoked the ire in the first place. Host Matt Allen suggested that bias leads such commentators to accept administration assurances that they've taken care of that aspect and then — poof — forget about it altogether. That's certainly plausible, given the likelihood that many MSMers didn't even know about the dispute until alternative-media heat and constituent reaction had brought the story to a head.

Particularly disappointing was the Providence Journal editorial on the matter (no longer online), published well after the event in question. Space is understandably short in such pieces, but by any journalistic standard with even mild pretensions to critical objectivity, the lesson plan should have been included in the summary of the controversy. Consequently, the reader can't help but feel that the editors' parting line is less a conclusion than a purpose:

The flap over the president's speech diminished his critics, while enhancing his own status as a role model.

An editorial, whether right or wrong in its expressed opinion, should represent the collected wisdom of the newspaper in which it appears — or at least of the guardians of its opinion pages. That it couldn't accurately summarize the sides in a national story like this suggests that it is content to enhance the status of a preferred politician at the expense of its own.

Left to Us in This Life

Justin Katz

So there's been some controversy over Ted Kennedy's receipt of Catholic burial rights, with the participation of Cardinal Sean O'Malley, no less. I lean toward the other side, as described here by Catholic University School of Canon Law Dean Father Robert Kaslyn:

He compared the pastoral issue to the question of whether couples seeking a church marriage should be denied the sacrament if it's not clear that they are sufficiently faithful. In addressing the question, Father Kaslyn paraphrased Pope John Paul II, saying that "to judge the presence or absence of sufficient faith is almost impossible, and therefore the church should presuppose that if a couple is willing to go through the preparation process that is sufficient."

On the day of my marriage, I would have characterized myself as an atheist, and while I like to think that I'd have found my way to the true faith, when I later went looking for it, being already married in the Church certainly made the journey easier. Just so, our duty as believers is to do all that we can, in this life, to help others toward heavenly repose with the Father, and if the appropriate burial would facilitate that, then it is for us to put away our human pique and provide it.

That said, the presence of multiple priests and the local archbishop are unaccountable apart from the fame of the deceased, which fame is unalterably tainted with (most prominently) the stain of abortion. The Church was right to send the senator along in full hope of his ultimate salvation, but it was wrong of local clerics to make his funeral a matter of especial note based on his worldly prominence.

The Importance of Putting Food on the Table Feelings

Justin Katz

As I prepare for the first of a bunch of working Saturdays undertaken out of dire financial need, I bring the words of RI School for the Deaf Occupational Therapist Meg Denton with me to ponder:

Today I was determined to be a "nonessential" state employee. I was told that I am required to accept 12 working days throughout the year without pay. It's not clear to me whether I am supposed to show up to work or not, but either way I will not be paid and I am labeled as nonessential. When I look up the opposite word, essential, in the dictionary, it uses words such as "indispensable," "elemental," "necessary." This word "nonessential" implies that an employee is dispensable, not necessary, not really needed. This is a really awful feeling.

Yes, I'd be upset about losing quite a bit of money during these furlough days, but what really bothers me is the use of language to describe essential and nonessential employees. In these economic times, I think that the governor of Rhode Island could have been more thoughtful in his use of language. Everyone is essential and we all really need to feel that now. Could he not have used a less disrespectful way of putting it, such as "state employees required to take furlough days"?

Her fellow Rhode Islanders are unemployed, underemployed, losing their homes; they're selling valuables, foregoing vacations, and trimming all disposable expenditures from their budgets; and Ms. Denton apparently has the emotional space to be offended by the governor's use of a widely known and well understood personnel term.

Referring to budget documents online (PDF), it appears that Ms. Denton's salary, this year, is $76,014, and the original request for 12 furlough days would bring her about $1,500 below her salary last year, of $74,160. (Let's not forget, also, that the average benefits package in her school is worth $33,504.) Little wonder she has the liberty to whine about a word. How would she feel about "coddled."

September 18, 2009

Don't forget....

Marc Comtois

Anchor Rising is on the Matt Allen show tonight from 8-9 PM. Tune in to here Justin, Andrew and Monique "get violent" (heh) with Matt. Matt doesn't usually take calls during the Violent Roundtable, but feel free to comment here!

Yes, a Little State Can Learn from a Big State

Justin Katz

Wouldn't it be refreshing if this sort of thing were written about our small Northeastern state?

[Texas] Republicans did not take the bait [to raise taxes]. Governor [Rick] Perry told the legislature to not even bother sending him a bill with a tax increase, because he would not sign it. Instead, he submitted a budget in which every spending line was a zero — an act of political theater, to be sure, but an effective one. Republicans ran a classic good-cop/bad-cop routine on the bureaucracy, with Perry taking a hard line against tax increases and Rep. Talmadge Heflin, at that time the new Republican chairman of the Appropriations Committee, meeting with the heads of the state's 35 largest agencies and asking them to start from zero. The agency chiefs were told that they had to keep spending at less than 87.5 percent of the previous year's level, draconian cuts by the standards of most state governments, but they were given maximum flexibility in achieving those goals.

Particulars can vary; ultimately the philosophy is what's important:

"There are certain truths that have to be agreed to," Perry says. "One is that economies grow when they are free from over-taxation, over-regulation, over-litigation, and they have a skilled work force. Government isn't difficult in theory — don't spend all the money, keep taxes low, have a fair and predictable regulatory climate, keep frivolous lawsuits to a minimum, and fund an accountable education system so that you have a skilled work force available. Then get the hell out of the way and let the private sector do what the private sector does best. It's simple in theory, but it's difficult to accomplish. In Texas, we've implemented that theory, and it's produced an economy that has no match in America."

That description looks like the photo negative of Rhode Island.

Gov Orders Defunding of ACORN-RI

Monique Chartier

Press release of an hour ago:

With the recent revelations of alleged fraudulent and potentially illegal activity by the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) being reported across the country, Governor Carcieri today ordered all department directors and state agencies to immediately identify and cease any payments being made directly to ACORN-RI or indirectly to any of its affiliates.

"It is unconscionable for a single dime of taxpayer money be spent to support an organization that is engaged in this type of activity," said Governor Carcieri. "I am ordering a review of each state department, agency, and quasi-public agency to determine if ACORN is benefitting from taxpayer dollars."

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to deny all federal funding for ACORN nationally in response to numerous incidents where the organization was allegedly involved in fraudulent activities at multiple ACORN offices nationwide. The U.S. Senate voted to deny all federal funding to ACORN earlier in the week.

The Governor is also asking the State Board of Elections to review the legal status of the ACORN-RI political action committee. "If ACORN-RI has used either Federal or State taxpayer dollars to support its political agenda, this activity must stop, and the Board of Elections must take appropriate legal actions against the organization."

Lincoln Chafee, the Labor Candidate for Governor?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Previewing this weekends Newsmakers show on WPRI-TV (CBS 12), Ian Donnis of WRNI's On Politics blog notes that George Nee, President of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO, currently believes that Lincoln Chafee is the gubernatorial candidate currently looked upon most favorably by labor…

Pressed about the three most evident gubernatorial candidates for 2010, Nee, acknowledged that labor has some concerns about Frank Caprio, hasn't interacted greatly with Patrick Lynch, and looks relatively warmly at Lincoln Chafee.
I wonder what Mr. Nee and other members of labor inclined to support a Chafee gubernatorial bid believe that his solutions to the state's continuing fiscal crisis would be.

The Obama MO?

Justin Katz

With the economy at best slowing its wobble (and reason to be wary even about that), the Obama administration has added requirements for "better gas mileage for cars and trucks and the first-ever rules on vehicle greenhouse gas emissions" to its list of desired drags thereon. Note this now-familiar feature:

The proposal will cover vehicle model years 2012 through 2016, allowing auto companies to comply at once with all federal requirements as well as standards pushed by California and about a dozen other states.

Now, I'm sure there are a whole lot of arguments that one could put forward, with respect to time for such things as research and marketing plans, but a growing fist of expensive programs seem slated to swing by during the millennium's teens — after the next presidential election.

I'd also highlight this:

The administration estimated the requirements would cost up to $1,300 per new vehicle by 2016. It would take just three years to pay off that investment, the government estimates, and the standards would save owners more than $3,000 over the life of their vehicle through better gas mileage.

Except for the fact that gas will increase in price as it adjusts for the lower demand...

And these are responses from our international friends!

Donald B. Hawthorne

Headlines from Polish and Czech newspapers:

"Betrayal! The U.S. sold us to Russia and stabbed us in the back," the Polish tabloid Fakt declared on its front page.

"No Radar. Russia won," the largest Czech daily, Mlada Fronta Dnes, declared in a front-page headline.

Aren't you glad George W. Bush isn't president anymore so the United States can realize improved relationships with foreign countries?

Obama punishes international democrats and rewards international tyrants

Unilateral appeasement


Polish Prime Minister, Peeved Over Missile Shield Reversal, Rejects Call from Clinton.

Democrats to Obama: Um, what exactly are we getting for selling out Poland to Russia?

What are you getting? You’re getting the same thing you got when he sold out Honduras to Chavez over that non-coup "coup" they staged: The warm fuzzy glow of knowing that George Bush would heartily disapprove...

If you’re looking for tea leaves to read about future cooperation, enjoy this piece from Russian media suggesting that the U.S. backing down on missile defense is hardly a concession at all, in which case why would a quid pro quo be necessary? Oh, and this one too from Fox News reminding us that Iran somehow managed to launch a satellite into space earlier this year, which suggests the sort of near-term long-range missile capability that our crack intel team now insists doesn’t require defending against.


Power Line:

Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright spoke at a forum in Omsk, Siberia. Pravda reported that her speech "surprised the audience." No wonder. The Russians in attendance must have wondered how they managed to lose the cold war:
Madeleine Albright said during the meeting that America no longer had the intention of being the first nation of the world...

The former US Secretary of State surprised the audience with her speech. She particularly said that democracy was not the perfect system. "It can be contradictory, corrupt and may have security problems," Albright said.

America has been having hard times recently, Albright said.

"We have been talking about our exceptionalism during the recent eight years. Now, an average American wants to stay at home - they do not need any overseas adventures. We do not need new enemies," Albright said adding that Beijing, London and Delhi became a serious competition for Washington and New York.

"My generation has made many mistakes. We give the future into the hands of the young. Your prime goal is to overcome the gap between the poor and the rich,' the former head of the US foreign political department said.

There you have it. And Albright was Secretary of State during the relatively moderate Clinton administration. I'm afraid she speaks for most Democratic foreign policy "experts." Promoting American weakness: it's not a bug, it's a feature.

By the way, since "overcoming the gap between the poor and the rich" is the world's number one priority, do you suppose Albright waived her speaker's fee, which is listed coyly as more than $40,000? No, I don't think so, either.

Re: Conserving Civilization - The Coliseum

Marc Comtois

Like Justin, I read Michael Knox Beran's piece about the loss of the marketplace (the agora) with interest. Beran contrasted the emptying agora (the town square or marketplace) with the filling up of castles both old and new built. Beran points to an upper class culture striven for by the modern day aristocrats (czars and the like) and the wannabe's (academia and the professional class) who look to migrate to wealthy burbs and McMansions while leaving behind the village or town squares.

A rapid growth in population and a vast expansion of commerce overwhelmed the old centers. At the same time the rise of the nationstate and its metropolitan elites made the provincial agoras seem, well, provincial. The provinces, Tocqueville wrote, "had come under the thrall of the metropolis, which attracted to itself all that was most vital in the nation." The traditional patrons of agora culture, the merchant princes who were once proud of their market squares, abandoned them to ape the gentry. The man of business found it infra dig to live near his shop; he built himself a mansion in a fashionable aristocratic district. New technology further diminished the appeal of the old forums as people turned to radio, cinema, and television for amusement.

Even so, the civic focal point might have survived if people had cared about it. But the rationale was forgotten. During the last few centuries the traditional artistry of the marketplace has come to seem merely quaint and even irrational. Modern planners who studied the old market squares failed to see, beneath a surface of heterogeneous activity, the unity of a civic whole.

As Justin highlighted, Beran has some ideas--some hope--that conservatives can build back up our traditional culture--western civ and the like--by independently funding cultural arts and bringing them back to the modern day agora. We can try, but while the agoras may have emptied, the denizen's of both village and castle continue to go to the coliseum.

The ancient coliseum's were built for spectacles that could entertain the masses. Often playing to the lowest common denominator, the entertainment kept the rabble happy and, hopefully, made them forget their lot in life. While today's sport culture in America serves the same purpose (I'm a proud member of the rabble, by the way), if less violently (well, except maybe with MMA), there is also more going on than "here we are now, entertain us" or the simple sating of the basic human need to belong to something bigger, like The Team.

If you've ever tailgated at a professional or college football game, you know that the conversation is quite broader than simply going over the impending game. While the purpose of the coliseum and the games played within may be the same as ever--people go to games to forget about life's problems for a while--they also collect people together to socialize and gossip and talk about their lives and the world. This temporary community is an offshoot of a shared sense of team, but it lingers past the day's game and is not confined to time spent in the coliseum. It expands into lives outside of the coliseum and encompass the apparently peripheral. The recent retirement speech made by Detroit Tigers' broadcaster Ernie Harwell provides a glimpse into a common ethos and respect for tradition that is fostered in the bleachers.

It's a wonderful night for me. I really feel lucky to be here, and I want to thank you for that warm welcome. I want to express my deep appreciation to Mike Ilitch, Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers for that video salute and also for the many great things they've done for me and my family throughout my career here with the Tigers.

In my almost 92 years on this Earth, the good Lord has blessed me with a great journey, and the blessed part of that journey is that it's going to end here in the great state of Michigan. I deeply appreciate the people of Michigan. I love their grit. I love the way they face life. I love the family values they have. And you Tiger fans are the greatest fans of all, no question about that.

And I certainly want to thank you from the depth of my heart for your devotion, your support, your loyalty and your love. Thank you very much, and God bless you.

Fans of the Tigers were emotionally attached to Harwell. His voice recalled times of youth and tradition and auld lang syne. There was a bond between the Tigers and their fandom, what some would call the "Tiger Community." Such nostalgia is a valuable aspect of tradition. It reminds us of how things were, the good times and, perhaps, provides a gateway into deeper reflection of why the "good old days" were.

This can also be scaled down from the coliseum to the local sports field. In many ways, while mimicing the games played in the coliseum, youth sports bring us much closer to the agora . Parents and volunteers must get together, navigate egos and differing opinions and run the operation so that kids can learn life lessons that competition can provide. Along the way, tasks are completed, obstacles overcome and the shared sense of community is deepened. The sport may be what brings people together, but it serves as an entry point into all manner of topics that are discussed at meetings and at the fields. In fact, often times, the game on the field is really only background noise to the talk on the sidelines!

Most importantly, sports gather together people from all walks of life, from everywhere on the social and economic ladder. But youth or higher-level sports aren't the only vehicle for the establishment of civic spirit. There are all sorts of activities that help build community in the same way, from the Boy Scouts to the Buckeye Brook Coalition. They just aren't all centralized in the same physical marketplace idealized by Beran.

Yet, the function or spirit that comes out of the coliseum isn't the same as that of the agora. It's certain that the coliseum of today--that American sports culture--doesn't exactly approach the artistic culture for which Beran pines (does "Let's Get it Started" qualify as high art?). The physical spaces of today's sports culture simply can't accomodate--or probably won't welcome--Beran's agora ideal. We aren't going to be seeing half-time concertos or the 6th Inning Operatic Moment any time soon. Maybe it isn't the kind of civilization Beran would like to conserve. But don't let the face paint and team jersey's fool you. Right now, many of the people for whom Beran is looking are in stadiums and on playing fields, cheering on their teams and talking about everything under the sun.

Why There's No Agreement Yet

Carroll Andrew Morse

Steve Peoples of the Projo identifies the main issue that, so far, has prevented the Carcieri administration and state employees labor unions from finalizing an agreement on a pay reduction with some deferred compensation for state employees, in order to avoid either shutdown days of layoffs...

The potential deal-breaker appears to be Carcieri’s bid for more flexibility than current union contracts allow to move state workers from job to job, agency to agency, and union to union.

For the first time, Carcieri said Thursday his no-layoff promise to the unions, for the next two years, was specifically tied to the unions’ willingness to give him more flexibility than he has now to move workers around....

Carcieri provided his own perspective, as he was leaving a business-sponsored health-care summit in Warwick: “They want a no-layoff [promise]. I said I could agree with that for this year, because we’re well into the year and effectively getting any layoffs done for this year, it would be problematic anyway to get significant savings. But they want a two-year deal. And all I’ve said [is], I’m happy to consider that, but if we’re going to have no layoffs for two years, we need flexibility, because even without layoffs there’s going to be changes going on and you need to move people around.”

Right-Wing Violence Tonight

Justin Katz

Schedule accordingly: Andrew, Monique, and I will be joining Matt Allen for his Violent Roundtable tonight on 630AM/99.7FM WPRO.

Common Ethics in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

In the extended entry, I've posted the entire Common Cause Rhode Island panel discussion about the RI Ethics Commission and its recent diminution by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

For those who can't take the shoe-string aesthetics, my understanding is that Operation Clean Government will be posting a more professional video on its Web site at some point in the near future (as will Common Cause).

September 17, 2009

Nebulous Rationality

Justin Katz
Corruption of culture is a nebulous and subjective concept which has been used toward evil authoritarian ends for as we can remember. Sorry, unless there is a clear victim, legislation of such morality, or culture as you call it, is not a proper function of government, as you would certainly agree if the progressives took control and sought to impose their own morality and culture upon you.

So writes Dan in a comment, here. As a historical matter, I'd argue that, while (yes) the "nebulous and subjective concept" has been used for evil, it has also been used to focus and advance Western civilization. The idea is to get better at applying it, not to declare ourselves beyond its necessity.

But we could argue history and import until the sun comes up and still not say anything new or change anybody's mind, so let's pick up the thread with another sentence of Dan's, written here:

... there is a difference between having a broad and intrusive law like prostitution law which actually makes certain activities that shouldn't rationally be prohibited illegal and a narrow law like theft for which enforcement requires a certain amount of investigation to confirm the elements.

It can hardly be argued whether objective rationality has also contributed to "evil authoritarian ends" in history. Recent history. The problem is that it isn't objectively rational and only appears so, in our conversation, because Dan places arbitrary restrictions on its allowable origin and permissible application to determine who judges what as harmful and to whom.

A person who believes that God will punish a society for toleration of prostitution is advocating a personally rational policy when he supports the criminalization of prostitution. To declare his internally rational worldview invalid in the formation of the law is to establish a state religion premised on the impossibility of such a God. In another direction, a person who sincerely believes that his own will is the determinant of reality is also being perfectly rational in advocating for policies that allow him to subject others to what some might call harm. With a nod to our progressive friends, one could bring to mind, as an example, a greedy corporate executive who advocates politically according to his rational self interest, even though the proposed policies are unreasonable by community standards.

Libertarians, I'd further argue, found their views on an irrational faith that the only harms that matter are direct and provable and the dogma that all must accept their criteria for the passage of laws. Both counts are absurd. Anybody who thinks human beings are capable of discerning the waves of cause and effect and articulating their observations with sufficient clarity to codify them into law is irrational.

Center-mass conservatives see tradition as the means of learning, over time, what practices cause harm, often on a profound scale. That which does not pick my pocket may yet bring down my house, and a wise society will seek to give its citizens a means of expressing the dangers that they see, while preserving the rights of those with their eyes on different threats.

We accomplish the feat by constructing a governing system that enables tiers of community norms. It gives us all sorts of room to decide whether and at what layer of government to accomplish the inevitably muddy work of agreeing to laws in order to maintain the freedom of our beliefs and to work together and compromise wherever possible. So, the town should be free to zone strip clubs out, while the state should leave strip clubs alone but prevent the establishment of prostitution as a region-defining industry, and the federal government should protect the rights of sex-trade advocates to speak and protest at town council meetings.

To put it plainly, we work the subjective stuff out on as small a scale as makes our decisions effectual.

The decision about whether prostitution should be legal in Rhode Island is logically prior to the method of making it illegal, so Dan's subsequent objections about leaving "selective enforcement" up to the police is premature. If we agree, however, for the sake of argument, that prostitution should be illegal, then we might also agree that the prostitutes should not be the target of the penalties and that enforcement may also be constrained to limit investigatory efforts. The principle would be that, if you don't get caught, then the transaction was really and truly a private matter.

The grandest irrationality of the state's pro-prostitution libertarians is the apparent believe that a state with a governing system conspicuously strangling the private sector — that can't keep its hands off even minute details of life — will somehow adhere to a libertarian ideal when it comes to prostitution. Now that it is widely known that prostitution is legal, here, the government will not fail to extend its reach into the occupation, should the "loophole" making it legal become, instead, a portal.

What the libertarians will accomplish, with their small-government zealotry, will be an intrusive regime that fails to flush out the illicit. Regulation of prostitution means licensing, testing, workplace inspection, and more, and all it does is create a legal subset, leaving those who will not, cannot, or do not want to live within the rules to create an even seedier black market.

Of course, Dan professes not to care about seediness. Even if a majority of prostitutes are merely trapped in the trade to support their hard-drug habits, it remains a private matter. Once again, to believe that such a society as ours will not cry for government to do something to help such poor souls is to believe something more incredible than found in the strangest sects of the jungle.

Readers will note that my tack, when progressives et alia strive to impose their morality, is to argue that the imposition ought to be made at the state level (or smaller) and then to argue why the law wouldn't achieve its stated aims or is wrong or reckless for other reasons. This isn't only a strategic move; it's also reflective of strong convictions that a rational system can only operate in such a way.

Conserving Civilization

Justin Katz

Michael Knox Beran raises, to my mind, a cultural reality that conservatives would do well to address when he describes the effects that losing the local marketplace (the agora) has had:

No civilization, even the most bovine, can entirely do without this cathartic machinery. Aristotle credited the poetry of the agora with forming the character of citizens and easing the psychic burdens of common life. Modern scientists have only now begun to catch up with him. They speculate that music and gossip, the lifeblood of the marketplace, meet a human need. Anthropologist Robin Dunbar supposes that music, language, and gossip evolved as "vocal grooming" tools in early hominid groups which had grown too large to rely on touchy-feely grooming techniques to promote cohesion. If Dunbar is right, Virgil and Theocritus were on to something when they made their shepherds use poetry as a grooming tool and music as a means of keeping their flocks together. Plato applied the same pastoral insight to the grooming of citizens. If the herdsman is "the master of the music best suited to his herd," so the agora culture of the polis perfected the music best suited to the human flock that constitutes the community.

Arguably, modern technology is to blame for much of the difficulty that conservatives have in promoting cultural events, because cars and electronics have spaced us out and provided in-home entertainment. Strolling to the town square for a puppet show isn't typically an option, anymore, and high-culture entertainment tends also to be high cost. There isn't the aggregate demand, that is, for average citizens to fund performances of cultural depth in a gathering place, and it ultimately proves culturally destructive — and, in any case, is morally inappropriate — for government bodies to choose content.

So, the conservative might go so far as to accept public investment in functional real estate, and perhaps a public festival here and there, but as Beran argues:

The only hope of regeneration, it seems to me, lies in experiments in civic artistry undertaken by philanthropists eager to refurbish the culture of the marketplace. One thinks of Poundbury, the little city, rich in civic focal points, that the Prince of Wales commissioned the architect Leon Krier to build in Dorset. Poundbury has attracted a good deal of attention, and it and the model towns of such "new urbanist" architects as Andres Duany and Elizabeth PlaterZyberk might conceivably inspire a broader civic movement, much as Thoreau's experiment at Walden Pond inspired the environmental movement. Most people today recognize the importance of conserving natural resources, though naturally they differ concerning the means. A time may come when people will insist as passionately on the necessity of conserving cultural resources.

Even as a private endeavor, lines are drawn in a contrary direction:

To infuse new life into the agora, conservatives will need to enlist the energies of people they long ago stopped talking to, but who will be necessary to any effort to revive the poetic-grooming side of the market square. There is a certain kind of person who, like Jude Fawley in Hardy's Jude the Obscure, fulfills his nature in the adornment of a community. When the civic focal point thrived, these artists had a place in the community and a means of getting bread. They carved the stone, frescoed the walls, painted the ceilings, gilded the domes, composed the masques and harlequinades. But the agora in which they might once have become absorbed is gone. They are today rebels without a cause, misfits who dine off grant money and alienation from the marketplace, and create art that is generally faithful to the solipsistic bleakness of their situation. A conservative philosophy of civic renewal could give them the transfiguring work they need.

I have no clever closing, here, but have identified the topic as food for further thought. It all comes back to encouraging conservative principles — and living them out. Getting involved in community events. Seeking and commissioning the wares and productions of artists. Just generally seeing the value in an aspect of social life that's easy to lose in the mad rush of the day to day.

Of course, it's plain to see that folks would be more apt to do such things were more of their resources left to them to disperse.

House joins Senate in De-Funding ACORN

Marc Comtois

The U.S. House of Representatives has joined the Senate in overwhelmingly voting to defund ACORN after recent voter fraud allegations and a grassroots undercover investigation revealed a willingness by ACORN operatives in various states to encourage breaking U.S. law. This follows a decision by the Census Bureau to bar ACORN from assisting in the 2010 Census. Yesterday, ACORN decided to shut down operations across the country to conduct an internal review.

Rhode Island Representatives Patrick Kennedy and Jim Langevin voted FOR the de-funding, joining their Senate colleague Jack Reed in voicing their displeasure with the progressive, grass-roots organization. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was the only member of the Rhode Island delegation to vote against de-funding ACORN.

How Regressive is Rhode Island's Current Property Tax Structure, Revisitied

Carroll Andrew Morse

Pawtucket Mayor James Doyle's op-ed from Tuesday's Projo provides a good occasion for revisiting the topic of the supposed regressiveness of Rhode Island's property tax structure. Mayor Doyle would like to see more state aid and less "reliance" on the property tax for funding education in Rhode Island…

The state has also shunned its responsibility to properly fund education. Rhode Island is the only state without a fair and predictable education formula, and ranks among the nation’s highest for relying on local property taxes to pay for education.
Keep the idea that it's "reliance", and not "use of", that the Mayor would like to see reduced.

The table displayed below is an updated version of the table presented originally in July, where the amount of property tax that Rhode Island cities and towns collect from their residents as a percentage of income was estimated. In response to the original result, commenter "John" pointed out that Rhode Island' classifies apartment buildings as "commercial" properties, meaning they are not included in the "residential" levy figures and therefore that official "residential" levy figures do not include the total amount of property tax collected from a municipality's residents. For some communities, the additional amount can be significant.

To correct for this concern, I used 2007 municipality-by-municipality valuation data provided by the Rhode Island Office of Municipal Affairs, which includes the total valuation in each property classification category used by the state of Rhode Island; by multiplying the valuations in the "apartment" and "combination" (i.e. mixed residential and commercial) categories by a municipality's commercial tax rate, and adding the result to the official residential levies, better estimates of the total amount of property tax levied on residents by municipal governments can be obtained.

The inclusion of the "apartment" and "combination" categories in a "residential" levy does pull a number of communities near the bottom of the original list towards the middle...

Municipality Total Community Income
(2007 ACS)
"Residential" Tax Levy
(2007 Muni Afrs.)
Est. "Apartment" & "Combined" Tax Levy Res + Apart + Comb Levy as
% of Income
Westerly $736,318,944 $49,194,534 $1,003,130 6.8%
South Kingstown $902,219,848 $52,242,106 $1,547,292 6.0%
Chariho(R) $753,927,104 $43,614,470 $755,162 5.9%
Newport $743,149,136 $40,355,194 $2,962,691 5.8%
Johnston $793,255,802 $41,208,491 $1,799,035 5.4%
Cranston $2,143,969,940 $101,633,398 $7,922,334 5.1%
North Kingstown $1,066,793,770 $50,529,940 $1,544,002 4.9%
West Warwick $780,349,600 $33,119,054 $3,698,454 4.7%
Coventry $1,045,810,920 $46,659,667 $1,570,195 4.6%
Bristol/Warren(R) $979,570,240 $43,443,793 $1,491,611 4.6%
Providence $3,419,209,140 $126,320,027 $27,489,420 4.5%
Warwick $2,563,100,925 $105,379,974 $9,610,825 4.5%
Smithfield $627,377,590 $27,295,469 $583,537 4.4%
North Providence $932,747,152 $34,525,710 $4,767,002 4.2%
East Providence $1,240,282,560 $44,567,063 $4,929,768 4.0%
Cumberland $1,062,425,700 $40,650,687 $1,399,975 4.0%
Lincoln $750,233,679 $26,341,821 $1,532,767 3.7%
Pawtucket $1,508,546,425 $47,200,154 $7,871,267 3.7%
Woonsocket $918,048,573 $23,083,073 $6,554,922 3.2%

Pawtucket remains in the next-to-last slot (now tied with Lincoln). Pawtucket is also a big state education aid recipient, one of 4 communities in Rhode Island (counting Central Falls, which is funded almost entirely by the state) receiving over $6,000 per-pupil from state government.

So, unless Mayor Doyle would, for example, advocate cutting his own city's already low-as-a-percentage-of-community-income property tax in response to receiving additional state aid, i.e. use the additional aid to replace revenue instead of to improve education, how can his call to "reduce reliance" on the property tax lead to anything other than a system where state taxes are raised without local property taxes being cut?

The date for the calculation of the apartment/combined use levy is below the fold.

Municipality "Apartment" Assement "Combination" Assement Commercial
Tax Rate
Est. "Apartment" &
"Combination" Tax Levy
Bristol $33,670,494 $50,218,172 $10.35 $868,248
Charlestown $4,807,900 $29,273,500 $7.16 $244,023
Coventry $49,361,000 $34,922,160 $18.63 $1,570,195
Cranston $275,490,900 $68,808,700 $23.01 $7,922,334
Cumberland $77,872,572 $35,211,000 $12.38 $1,399,975
East Providence $215,110,500 $44,214,500 $19.01 $4,929,768
Hopkinton $12,907,700 $16,346,100 $14.50 $424,180
Johnston $65,151,100 $29,985,594 $18.91 $1,799,035
Lincoln $52,641,700 $19,932,500 $21.12 $1,532,767
Newport $122,208,690 $106,924,410 $12.93 $2,962,691
North Kingstown $71,386,100 $40,255,400 $13.83 $1,544,002
North Providence $167,075,300 $42,924,800 $22.70 $4,767,002
Pawtucket $285,997,500 $90,978,900 $20.88 $7,871,267
Providence $595,076,911 $386,688,100 $28.00 $27,489,420
Richmond $0 $6,076,800 $14.31 $86,959
Smithfield $25,453,500 $17,202,700 $13.68 $583,537
South Kingstown $91,991,900 $37,272,300 $11.97 $1,547,292
Warren $21,795,560 $25,789,430 $13.10 $623,363
Warwick $405,994,100 $71,681,100 $20.12 $9,610,825
Westerly $37,301,500 $75,790,900 $8.87 $1,003,130
West Warwick $143,751,400 $34,803,790 $3,698,454
Woonsocket $186,322,287 $17,499,927 $32.16 $6,554,922

Constitution Day

Marc Comtois

Remember, today is Constitution Day, so take some time and reacquaint yourself with it. Here's a head start:


We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Heck, why not print it out...or you can buy a fancy pocket Constitution (just don't hand it out at the Bristol Parade, ok?).

GQ Ranks Brown U #1 in.....

Marc Comtois

...well, in this case, I'll let GQ explain (warning: impolite terminology ahead):

The question isn't whether you're a douche bag when you go to college. We were all kind of douche bags when we went to college, if we're going to be honest about it. No, the question for America's youth is: What kind of douche bag do you aspire to be? Like, Where can you go if you want to major in Jet Skiing? How about if you're a trust-fund type but are embarrassed about it? What if you want to lord your intelligence over people for the rest of your life, in the form of a bumper sticker? Picking the right school can be daunting. That's why GQ offers up its heavily researched, possibly stereotypey, but still accurate guide. (Hint: If you're an alum of an Ivy League school in Providence, Rhode Island, get ready to cancel your subscription!)
OK, so, why is Brown #1:

Home of: The "Peace Sign on My Mom's 7 Series" Douche
Affectations: A belief that grades, majors, and course requirements are just another form of cultural hegemony; using the word hegemony.
In ten years, will be: Living with your family in an old house that you quit your job to refurbish yourself (by overseeing a contractor) with painstaking historical accuracy in a formerly decaying section of the city that's recently been reclaimed by a small population of white guys in hand-painted T-shirts who are helping you put together a health care fund-raiser for
Douchiest course offering: English 200: On Vampires and Violent Vixens: Making the Monster Through Discourses of Gender and Sexuality.
Honorable-mention limousine-liberal institutions: Duke, Reed, Oberlin, Wesleyan, Bard, RISD.
Nice honorable mention by RISD, too!

Oh Happy Commerce, or, "I felt like I was forcing myself on a 40+ year old fat sex slave"

Justin Katz
"Where the hell else is a middle aged man gonna hook up with a young sexy hot sex slave in real life? Like the old saying goes, we want a ***** [whore] in the bedroom but a lady in the kitchen. Just don't expect you gf [girlfriend] to be as whory as the real whores. You'll be disappointed. Even though we have plenty of sex, I still crave that AMP [Asian Spa] experience just for the fun of it, and I doubt if I'll ever get over it. So beware what you're getting into, it can be very addicting."

Thus do the patrons of Rhode Island's prostitution industry speak of their experience, as related by Melanie Shapiro in a Citizens Against Trafficking review of johns' online commentary (PDF). Note that the misogyny extends even to personal relationships.

Advocates for legalized prostitution like to present the image of a clean-cut client looking for a little release by turning to a fully self-aware young woman using the occupation as a stepping stone to build a better life. That's a fantasy. The objectification of the prostitute and the corruption of the culture is the reality.

Unilateral appeasement

Donald B. Hawthorne

No missile shield for Poland and Czech Republic and the Iranian missile threat is downgraded.

Unilateral appeasement, plain and simple, to countries who wish America ill will. Furthermore, an action taken without realizing any simultaneous concessions from Russia on Iran, Georgia, and other Eastern European countries. Yet another example of how Obama coddles tyrants and abandons friends.

Yes, Lenin would be impressed, as I am sure Putin is.

Glenn Reynolds: "It really is like Jimmy Carter all over again. Well, actually that’s looking like a best-case scenario these days..."

Simply appalling.


Jennifer Rubin:

It sounds like a joke, but it’s all too real: you know American foreign policy is unraveling when France is the stern international voice of sanity on Iran and Israel...

Unfortunately, the American president is not so clear. In fact, he is doing his best to be unclear—about what America will settle for and how far we will go with the charade of negotiations. Obama imagines that this buys time, but his procrastination is designed only to delay and delay the moment at which he will be obligated to take decisive action. ("Not yet—we’re still talking!") And the Iranians happily accept the gift of time to continue developing their nuclear program, hoping to reach the point at which their nuclear program becomes a fait accompli.

Obama imagines that by shrinking from conflict and reducing America’s profile he will somehow endear himself to our adversaries. But all he is doing is ceding American leadership and signaling to our adversaries that they need not fear a robust response, even a rhetorical one, from the U.S.


Rubin continues:

Just when you think the Obama administration’s foreign policy cannot get more feckless or timid, the Obama team tops itself...

One hardly knows where to begin. George W. Bush established, as even the Times concedes, "a special relationship" with Eastern Europe. After all, these are countries that emerged from the yoke of Communism and struggled to establish new market-based economies that avoided the errors of their Western socialist neighbors. And these countries again and again demonstrated their pro-American bona fides. The missile shield was intended as a check against Russian aggression and a symbol of their robust relationship with the U.S.

So much for that. Obama is in the business of kowtowing to the world’s bullies. Russia didn’t like the missile shield, so no more missile shield. Do we think we "got something" for this? I'd be shocked if we did, given the obvious willingness of the U.S. to prostrate itself before rivals.

What do our Eastern European friends have to say? They are not pleased...

The administration that promised to restore our standing in the world is on quite a roll. Open hostility toward Israel. Bullying Honduras. Reneging on promises to Eastern Europe. A strange policy indeed that dumps on our friends in the vain effort to incur the goodwill of our enemies. And if one is a "realist," not a fabulist, it should be apparent that this is a losing proposition. We will lose our friends and gain nothing. Weakness and the betrayal of our allies do not ameliorate tensions with our adversaries. We had a Cold War topped off by the Carter administration to prove that. But Obama’s never been very good at history.

Speaking of not knowing history, Obama announced this decision on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland.

Senator Jon Kyl comments.



Even more.

A Burning Ring of Revenue Fire

Justin Katz

One thing to remember: Every time you read about state tax revenue lagging expectations, the expectations have likely already been downgraded since the last time analysts were disappointed:

Two reports issued Tuesday afternoon by the state Revenue Analysis Office showed total state revenue in July and August was down 4.2 percent from the same two months last year, after adjusting for money collected in one year that is accounted for in the previous year.

Besides trailing last year, the revenues for July and August also trailed what state budgeters projected would come in. The shortfall is $12.8 million or 3.3 percent.

I don't know if we can afford to wait until the next election to replace the legislators who've brought us to this impasse. Here's a fantastic, small-scale example of the incompetence at work:

The cigarette tax collection is trickier to figure out.

The amount of money taken in during July and August is ahead of last year, $23.5 million compared with $20.5 million. But that is far less than what lawmakers budgeted: $26.3 million.

They looked for the increase because the state raised the cigarette tax by a dollar — to $3.46 a pack — in April, toward the end of the last budget year.

Simmons said that budget makers may have underestimated how much the tax hike would decrease consumption of cigarettes that are taxed in Rhode Island.

So, the legislators increased this tax 40% in the hopes of increasing revenue 28%, and thus far they've realized 15%. During the summer, when smoking tourists are trapped and aren't likely to waste their valuable vacation time searching for deals across the border (or quit altogether).

The governor's staff proposed this particular tax hike, and one hopes they're duly embarrassed. Ultimately, however, the budget was reconfigured in the General Assembly's name.

Whoever's to blame, anybody looking for an economic turnaround in Rhode Island shouldn't put their chips on the table until well after just about every other state in America has already been humming along for quite some time.

September 16, 2009

Ethics in the Evening

Justin Katz

Attending an event on the Brown campus, a blogger knows that he's attending an event on the Brown campus. Entirely unaccountable suit jackets . Very professorial-looking people. (I hope nobody breaks into my van after the sun goes down.) Also, the seats have folding desktops. When I was a kid...

I'm not sure whether this Common Cause RI panel on the future of the Ethics Commission will lend itself to liveblogging, but if I have an wry... or insightful... comments, I'll be sure to share them.

7:08 p.m.

Probably about 50 people here. I called ahead back when I first heard of this event. There's seating for another 100 people or so, and given the importance of the topic, events such as this really ought to be packed. Ensuring that they are might be a worthwhile sideline for tea-party goers.

Just sayin'... and it's not just a plea for a higher percentage of suit-jacket-less audience members.

7:15 p.m.

Ethics Commission attorney Jason Gramitt is explaining the background, and he just explained that straight-out bribery remains illegal. A legislator cannot take money explicitly for an official act. The importance of the Ethics Commission (Gramitt explained) is that it addresses ethical violations that aren't so clear cut. In a sense, the commission goes after implied bribery. Or used to.

7:32 p.m.

Ethics Commission Chairwoman Barbara Binder, following ACLU lawyer Mark Freel's argument that the Speech in Debate Clause is important to preserve, pointed out how obvious it is that the law gives the Ethics Commission authority over the only substantive practice of legislators.

She also tied the judges' decision to privilege Speech in Debate with the whole notion that now-Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor would bring a specific perspective to her rulings.

7:43 p.m.

One opinion: Too many lawyers on the panel, although that might speak to the intentions of the event. A politician and an analyst/advocate/commentator would make things more interesting and pick up threads where lawyers prefer not to dare to tread — e.g., what do we do from here.

7:48 p.m.

Mr. Freel makes a reasonable point, though, about following the procedure if one wishes to amend the state's constitution, rather than just assuming that legislation accomplished it implicitly.

7:54 p.m.

Actually, we've moved on to the "what to do from here" segment. Common Cause's John Marion (not a lawyer) is describing a proposed amendment to the state's constitution that would empower the Ethics Commission — and just the Ethics Commission — to overcome the speech in debate clause.

8:02 p.m.

Very odd. RI Senate Parliamentarian John Roney, amidst various digs at the Ethics Commission and its lawyers just challenged the validity of Barbara Binder's appointment to the office, given a lack of advice and consent from the legislature. He's also arguing that further empowering the Ethics Commission is contrary to ideas of separation of powers.

Why redirect from the topic of the evening? Curious. The politics never end, I suppose.

8:08 p.m.

Sometimes lawyers proceed with the arguments in such a way that an obvious point appears to be irrelevant. The point of separation of powers is not that each branch is protected from the others, but that each branch performs duties appropriate to its role in government. The Ethics Commission may be an executive-branch office, but the question vis separation is whether it is performing a legislative function. It is not. Arguably, it is performing a judicial function, but it is created within the state constitution to do what it does.

8:14 p.m.

Freel just argued that there is also a "court of public opinion" and such other forms of super-legal regulation. It's important not to forget (especially in Rhode Island) that it often takes an Ethics Commission suit to spur public opinion.

8:26 p.m.

You know, you never see any interesting ties at these events. Is paisley verboten? If I ever join such a panel... and wear a tie... I'll break with tradition.

8:32 p.m.

Event Moderator and Brown Professor of Public Policy (and Ethics Commission member) Ross Cheit closed the meeting with an expression of gratitude that the panel and audience could break with the zeitgeist and conduct a civil discussion. People are challenging the notion of civility in such forums, he claimed. Nonsense. People are challenging the civility owed to elected government officials simply because they are government officials.

Senator Roney made a point of bringing the "you lie" controversy into the discussion, and the allusion is entirely inapplicable. This was an academic forum. A panel discussion of experts. The town halls have been constituent events hosted by politicians for political purposes. President Obama turned his healthcare speech into a political opportunity to attack his opposition.

Am I crazy to see a bit of snobbery in the peculiar self congratulations, tonight?

The Fallacy of Victimless Prostitution

Marc Comtois

My last post on "Pro-Prostitution Progressivism" generated a debate on the conservative/libertarian side. Justin entered the fray and, after some back-and-forth in the comments, expanded his thoughts, touching on political philosophy, ideology and making assumptions about those with whom you disagree. Those were his thoughts.

As for me, my opposition to indoor prostitution doesn't stem from some overarching political ideology. Call me old-fashioned (!), but I have the funny notion that people selling their bodies for money is neither empowering nor can it be sufficiently sanitized as an economic transaction to remove the emotional and physical scars said "entrepreneurs" will undoubtedly suffer. Face it: this isn't a profession that most would choose. Little Suzie or Joey don't put "Prostitute" at the top of their "What do I want to do when I grow up" list.

Prostitution is most often a last, desperate means to an end. It's a way to make money to support a habit. Or it's a "career path" people "choose" when under the thumb of those looking to exploit them for financial gain. It may not be particularly incisive or sufficiently philosophical, but my gut tells me that legalizing prostitution isn't going to clean up the "industry" or save us money in law enforcement dollars or provide a great new business opportunity for young entrepreneurs.

Until recently, I didn't know that Australia had legalized prostitution a decade ago. Now it offers a cautionary tale that shows that legalization is no panacea and that human trafficking goes up when prostitution is legalized:

Ten years ago, Australia made a risky policy move it thought would help protect women and children: it legalized prostitution. Today, only 10% of the prostitution industry operates in Australia's legal brothels. The other 90% takes place in underground, illegal sex markets thick with forced prostitution and human trafficking victims.

The University of Queensland Working Group on Human Trafficking recently released a report stating that the prostitution laws in Australia had failed. Since 1999, women in Australia have had the option of working legally in licensed brothels or on their own. The hope was that women with an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for commercial sex would set up their own businesses, and make everything safe, legal, and regulated. That hasn't happened.

What has happened, instead, is entrepreneurial pimps have lured and trafficked Asian women to Australia and set up illegal brothels with lower prices....And as legal brothels try and compete with the trafficking boom, they cut costs, which often involves cutting freedom and benefits for women. Even in the legal, licensed brothels of Queensland, women have reported being coerced into working under unfair conditions or against their will. {It's not a stretch to suppose that some would think this last could be alleviated via unionization, no?}

Unintended consequences. There are other examples and others have studied the issue and concluded:
There are two major consequences of the legalization of prostitution. First, the institutional officialization (legalization) of sex markets strengthens the activities of organized pimping and organized crime. Secondly, such strengthening, accompanied by a significant increase in prostitution-related activities and in trafficking, brings with it a deterioration not only in the general condition of women and children, but also, in particular, that of prostituted people and the victims of trafficking for the purpose of prostitution.
A victimless crime entrepreneurial activity?

A Fascism of Our Own?

Justin Katz

Jonah Goldberg — eminently qualified for such a statement, as he is — suggests that the Obama-as-Hitler rhetoric is over the top, not the least because it underestimates the American people:

... there's a problem. Many folks claim to see in Obama the makings of an actual Hitler and in Obamaism a repeat of the National Socialism of the 1930s. Worse, some think my book supports their fears. And maybe it does, though I hope not.

The simple truth is that I do not think it is in the cards for America to go down a Nazi path. I never said otherwise in Liberal Fascism, either.

It's important to keep in mind that, as bad as various other avowedly fascist regimes were, only the Nazis did what they did. Mussolini was a bad man and a dictator, but he was no Hitler. The Italians did bad things, but they don't amount to a fraction of German crimes. Supposedly fascist Franco wasn't nearly as bad as Mussolini, and Franco's complicity in the Holocaust was nil. In other words, fascism brings out things in specific cultures at specific moments. Not only is Obama obviously not interested in being a Hitler, he couldn't pull Hitlerism out of the American people if he wanted to.

Of course, we should also keep in mind that, on the road to serfdom, the fascist dictator comes after the central planners have utterly failed.

This Just In: General Assembly to Come Out from Under the Bed... at Some Point

Justin Katz

From my in-box:

The Rhode Island General Assembly will return for two days next month – October 28 and 29 – to address a number of legislative issues.

Speaker of the House William J. Murphy and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed today jointly announced the October meeting dates. Agendas for the chambers – committees and formal floor sessions -- are currently being determined.

See, this way, they can run a day over and then drop their bombs late on the eve of Halloween. That is, of course, unless they decide to postpone until around Thanksgiving.

Ignorance, Arrogance, and Deceit

Justin Katz

I suppose I lack the grounds to object to Robert Whitcomb's protestations in yesterday's Providence Journal (not online) that his experience living in France doesn't jibe with the warnings that he hears fellow Americans giving against socialized medicine:

The ignorance and dishonesty in the U.S. health-care debate are beyond belief. ...

Then there are the idiotic observations about other developed nations' health-care systems. ... In fact, there is far more red tape and bureaucracy in the American health-care "system" than in countries with universal coverage, as there is in our tax "code."

Inasmuch as Whitcomb doesn't cite any idiots in particular, one cannot address the relevance of his French experience or specific claims about red tape. (And I'll resist the temptation to make populist appeals to my fellow gauche Americans qui n'est pas comme il faut. But a logical fallacy has the same repercussions no matter the language or airplane hours logged:

Consider how some people loudly worry that their taxes will go up if the government covers more people, while never noting how much their premiums for for-profit insurance go up 7 to 10 percent a year. Would they rather pay 7 to 10 percent a year to, say, United Healthcare or 3 percent annual increases to pay for Medicare for all? Test scores often show how badly Americans do in math, b ut this innumeracy is amazing.

Whitcomb conveniently sidesteps the reality that the debate is over how to reform healthcare, not whether to do so. The dilemma is false. Obviously so. Amazingly so. And it raises questions about how much readers should consider Whitcomb's other points persuasive, lacking, as I've said, any particulars that one could address beyond Robert's own personal experiences at some unidentified time in the past with an unspecified segment of the French healthcare system.

Wyden Criticizes the Democratic Health Reform Product

Carroll Andrew Morse

Given his long record interest on the subject (which Anchor Rising was reporting on before reporting on the details of healthcare reform was a big thing in the blogosphere), Oregon Senator Ron Wyden's (D - Oregon) strong skepticism about Democratic healthcare reform plans is a potentially significant development.

From an article posted last night at the Oregonian newspaper's website

The Senate's leading health care proposal is seriously flawed, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said Tuesday, declaring that it fails to fulfill President Barack Obama's primary reforms and could force millions of Americans to pay more for the medical care they receive.

"Under this bill as it is written now, more than 200 million Americans would not get choices like the president of the United States called for," Wyden said in an interview. "Middle-class people certainly will pay more, based on the draft we're seeing."

Is limited government still a viable method of governance in America?

Donald B. Hawthorne

Obama has stirred a national debate about liberty and the proper role of government - especially the meaning of limited government.

Lurking unaddressed in that debate is a key point about whether limited government, as enshrined in our Constitution, is still a viable method of governance in America.

William Voegeli raises that point in his NR review (available for a fee) of Steven Hayward's book, The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution, 1980–1989:

...Hayward shares, and deftly explicates, Reagan’s belief that opposing Communism abroad and opposing the welfare and regulatory state at home were, in fact, the same fight, the one to protect inherently tenuous liberty from vastly ambitious and, thus, vastly dangerous government. Reagan, says Hayward, insisted on "tracing a linkage between the corruption of Soviet Communism and the weakness of domestic liberalism." That link, according to the first volume of The Age of Reagan, was "liberalism’s lack of a limiting principle." Its absence has rendered modern American politics a contest between the adherents of limited and of unlimited government. As Hayward explains: "The premise of the administrative state is that our public problems are complicated, with 'no easy answers,' whose remedy requires sophisticated legislation and extensive bureaucratic management. Anyone who says otherwise (like Ronald Reagan) is a 'simpleton.' But the creed of the administrative state makes the idea of citizen self-government seem quaint or obsolete, and it causes our government to be remote and esoteric to average citizens."

Last year, Sean Wilentz wrote: "It should be clear that mistakes and overreaching have hampered liberalism’s evolution." That proposition is clear. What’s not clear, confirming the lack of a limiting principle, is what liberalism thinks its overreaching has reached over — what constraints, if any, on the government’s capacity and legitimate authority to diagnose and remedy social problems liberals are prepared to acknowledge and respect.

Voegeli continues:

"Tear down this wall," Reagan said in Berlin in 1987. Two years later, the Communists tore it down. Eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, the Republicans said in their 1980 platform. Two years — and eight years, and 29 years — later, it had only grown larger. "Reagan was more successful in rolling back the Soviet empire than he was in rolling back the domestic government empire," writes Hayward, "chiefly because the latter is a harder problem" (emphasis in the original). It is, twice over, a startling assessment — first, because the Soviet menace seemed, for long decades, like a immutable fact that could never melt away; second, because it is indeed indisputable that the seemingly less audacious goal of curbing the size and influence of the federal establishment proved much tougher...

Actions have consequences and Obama is certainly stirring a vivid national debate on these issues.

Will liberty - expressed in the form of limited government - regain traction as a fundamental principle in America and triumph in this current debate?

Principles Affirmed in Immigration

Justin Katz

Upon death, I expect to confront, in some fashion, my countless errors of thought and of faith and to regret the actions to which they led me. On some issue, perhaps a habit, many of us will find it difficult to resist the urge to defend long-held beliefs even in the face of divine correction.

If it turns out, for example, that annual amnesties of illegal immigrants are a morally necessary practice, the task would be not to defend opposing beliefs — arguing that we better understood fairness in life than God — and to desire truly to understand why the option that seemed so wrong to us was, in fact, fair. I tremble to say it, but I'm wary of Bishop Tobin's confidence that our individual final judgment will hinge on our correctly identifying "the right side of the issue" of illegal immigration, and his implicit argument that "comprehensive immigration reform" is that side.

Granted, the bishop has strong scriptural support in Jesus' remonstration to welcome strangers as if they are He, and an Old Testament passage is a theologically weaker card to play, but I've been reading through Ezekiel, lately, and have been struck by God's tone when repeatedly instructing the prophet to warn the Israelites of their sins, here, for one example:

... anyone hearing but not heeding the warning of the trumpet and therefore slain by the sword that comes against him, shall be responsible for his own death. ...

But if the watchman sees the sword coming and fails to blow the warning trumpet, so that the sword comes and takes anyone, I will hold the watchman responsible for that person's death, even though that person is taken because of his own sin.

The amnesty, or "path of legalization," that Bishop Tobin urges seems not only to be welcoming strangers, but also to be confirming them in their implicit beliefs about boundaries and rules. Attempting to steal one's way into Heaven, while not inevitably punishable by eternal damnation, seems likely to be a more painful path to salvation, ultimately, than taking the steps as laid out.

This is not to say that we should consider admission to the United States to be comparable to admission into Heaven, but that the mindsets by which we live as individuals should mirror our spiritual mindsets. And in this, the position that the entire conference of bishops takes, in America, strikes me as having the same essential problem as the grammatical phrase, "comprehensive immigration reform." The first word of that phrase, when not applied purely for its beguiling sparkle, typically means "addressing multiple facets of the problem," but it seems ever to fall short of allocating responsibility to all who have erred. As I've argued before, a comprehensive spiritual policy on illegal immigration must also correct the immigrants in their errors of thought.

I'd look to my religious leaders to convince me that the appropriate reaction to circumstances should not include an instruction to illegal immigrants to be happy in their penance of returning to their countries and taking a legal approach. Bishop Tobin acknowledges that it is wrong to ignore "the law in coming to our nation," but he immediately nullifies that law as superseded by the "law of love." How could such a higher law fail to hold them accountable, as sentient human beings capable of understanding consequences?

Illegal immigration is surely not the greatest of sins, and there are myriad mitigating factors, but the one-way nature advocacy on behalf of such immigrants is hardly comprehensive. They are requesting special dispensations, and I have yet to see their advocates admonish them that it is critically important that that they prove themselves, from the beginning, to be desirous of earning full citizenship (by, for one thing, learning the language of the country) and acknowledge fully and humbly that they have trespassed.

Instead, we are told to affirm the apparent lesson of the last amnesty, a couple of decades ago: that rules don't really mean anything for the brash, and a society's inclination to love and care for others will inevitably lead them to adjust the rules in your favor. For every essay urging fellow Americans toward leniency, shouldn't there be one addressing the responsibilities and moral mindsets of those who would be its beneficiaries? After all, as attractive as it may be for them to become legal residents of the United States, it is of infinitely greater importance that they become members of the community of Heaven.

September 15, 2009

The Extremists Among Us

Justin Katz

An editorial in the latest RI Catholic takes state Democrat Chairman Bill Lynch to task for calling Governor Carcieri a "sectarian extremist" for associating with the Massachusetts Family Institute. More germane, I'd say, are the following paragraphs from an op-ed in the previous issue by Michelle Cretella and Arthur Goldberg:

As for the premises, first there is no "gay gene." Homosexual attraction is not genetic like skin color. Numerous experts including Dr. Dean Hamer, the openly homosexual "gay gene" researcher and Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project agree that homosexuality is not hard-wired by DNA. Avowed lesbian, Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling, Professor of Developmental Biology and Women Studies at Brown University, summarized the situation well 8 years ago, "[Although the claim that homosexuality is genetic] provides a legal argument that is, at the moment, actually having some sway in court, [f]or me, it's a very shaky place. It's bad science and bad politics."

"Bad science" because persons of differing sexual orientation are genetically indistinguishable and sexual orientation can change. Fausto-Sterling herself is an example. She had been married prior to her committed same-sex relationship with playwright Paula Vogel. Regarding her experience of sexual plasticity Fausto-Sterling explains, "The women's movement opened up the feminine in a way that was new to me, and so my involvement made possible my becoming a lesbian."

Over 100 studies document change of homosexual orientation. Even Dr. Robert Spitzer, the father of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, the "Bible of Psychiatry", altered his lifetime view and now supports the right to re-orientation therapy. In 2003 he published a study confirming that many dissatisfied homosexuals can make substantial long-term changes in their orientation.

I highlight this section because Lynch's response to the editorial would be that opposition to same-sex marriage is reasonable, but that the MFI goes much farther. His argument, in other words, probably wouldn't differ very much from the statement by Queer Action RI that the Family Institute "basically wants to eradicate gay people." But the MFI does not go any farther, in truth, than Cretella and Goldberg, who in turn do not go any farther than the Catholic Church.

I emailed Mr. Lynch with the specific question of how he differentiates between the "sectarian extremists" of his imagination and the church to which so many Rhode Islanders belong, and I received the following response:

Thank you for your recent email sent to me via the RI Democratic Party. While I may not agree with you I appreciate your sincere interest and thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to inform me of your thoughts on this issue. Regards, Bill Lynch

Clearly, the unlikelihood of my supporting Lynch in any way counts against me in his cost-benefit analysis of considered response, but I don't see how faithful Catholics can support Mr. Lynch in any fashion until he shows enough consideration of their Church to take a moment to explain why they are not "sectarian extremists" of such evil that the governor shouldn't associate with them in any way.

You Mean Coal Fuels the Fire?

Justin Katz

Serious as the economic times may be, it's difficult not to laugh at the apparent bewilderment of some:

A year after the financial system nearly collapsed, the nation's biggest banks are bigger and regaining their appetite for risk.

Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and others — which have received tens of billions of dollars in federal aid — are once more betting big on bonds, commodities and exotic financial products, trading that nearly stopped during the financial crisis.

That Wall Street is making money again in essentially the same ways that thrust the banking system into chaos last fall is reason for concern on several levels, financial analysts and government officials say.

From my distance well beyond the halls of Wall Street and of Washington, it seems to me that the biggest banks must now realize that they are truly TBTFs (too-big-to-fails) with just about explicit government backing. Why not take risks? The remuneration flows to the individuals, and then Big Pappa Government has his hand hovering on the back of the banana seat to right the wobbles. Says Larry Summers, director of the White House National Economic Council:

You cannot rely on the scars of past crises to ensure against practices that will lead to future crises.

And neither can you rely upon government regulations, because the giants of industry are smarter than the snivelers of bureaucracy. Only the ambitions of smaller giants will put a long-term check on their behavior.

The Key to Campaign Finance Reform Is Smaller Government

Justin Katz

Doug Kendall's argument in favor of tight campaign finance controls on corporations is, essentially, that corporations are too rich and powerful (and thus would have too much ability to "buy" elections), and that the freedoms listed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights are designed for individuals, not corporations:

In his historic run to the presidency, Barack Obama broke every political fundraising record, raising nearly $750 million from more than a million contributors in 2007 and 2008. Now consider a corporation such as Exxon Mobil. During 2008 alone, Exxon generated profits of $45 billion. With a diversion of even 2 percent of these profits to the political process, Exxon could have far outspent the Obama campaign and fundamentally changed the dynamic of the 2008 election.

Looking at the numbers, it's strange that everybody's first conclusion isn't be that government shouldn't be so significant to people's lives, in a consolidated, national way, that individuals or corporations would have such mammoth incentive. Exxon Mobile, as an organization, doesn't want to spend billions of dollars on politics, so don't make it a monetary winner for it to do so.

The line between corporations and individuals when it comes to constitutional protections is as old as the United States. The framers wrote the Constitution to protect citizens and the people and never once used the word "corporations."

Early Supreme Court rulings embraced this distinction, holding that the legal rights of a corporation derive from its corporate charter, not the Constitution.

The Constitution lays out the foundation for the structure of our government, which means that any laws governing corporate charters must conform with the Constitution. And the Constitution declares that Congress can pass no laws abridging free speech, and it is implicit that political speech ought to be the most protected of all. That citizens sharing a corporate structure choose to join their resources for political purposes ought to have no bearing on that fact. That they have organized themselves thus for the purpose of economic activity is irrelevant on its face.

If corporate campaign contributions are a problem, then the remedy would be to propose an amendment to the Constitution. What we've done, instead, as part of Kendall's "progress," is to create an alternate amendment process whereby the federal legislature passes a law, the federal executive signs it, and the federal judiciary stamps its approval. The consequence is ultimately that more power — and money — flows to the federal politicians, whether individually or for use in their capacity as officials.

Clarification of Purpose and Libertarian Foot Stamping

Justin Katz

First a statement of something that I would have hoped has been clear: I believe I speak for all of the contributors to Anchor Rising when I say that we are not doing this to build readership for the sake of building readership. We're writing to explain our opinions and advocate for what we believe to be right. Bottom line. If readers cannot stomach, say, my opinions on social matters coexisting with my opinions about smaller government, then I'm not the writer for them. I'd argue that they are missing the point that the beliefs on social issues inherently coincide with the beliefs in small government, but perhaps they should look elsewhere for arguments that support their causes in a way that they can tolerate; we'll be fine.

The subject comes up in response to a thread started by Dan in the comments to Marc's post on prostitution, starting with this:

More of the blatant hypocrisy that is going to ultimately collapse the so-called "conservative" movement in the United States from within.

"We are for small government. Get government out of our lives! Smash the bureaucracy! Personal Responsibility! Reduce the spending! Reduce the cost of government!"

"Oh, except for the following issues: prostitution, illegal immigration, drug war, military spending, abortion, homeland security, foreign interventionism, in which we are for HUGE government."

I think even the average 10-year-old would be capable of seeing the arbitrariness and inconsistency of it all. Well, good for independents and libertarians, I suppose.

My response, in summary, is that I explicitly believe in the construction of as small and disengaged a government as possible, in conjunction with as much right to determine the regime under which one lives as possible. On the first count, cycle through Dan's list of particulars: Is more bureaucracy required to make prostitution a crime or to regulate an occupation so closely in league with drugs, violence, and disease (both physical and social)? Would it increase or decrease the "cost of government" to enforce laws that forbid unauthorized entry into the country and the hiring of those who have entered it illegally, or to manage a massive underclass of migrant workers and state-dependents?

Dan appears to be the sort of libertarian who has latched on to a single concept that he believes simplifies his task of constructing a political philosophy and applies it as the sole criterion for judgment. None of the issues he raises are simple "yes/no" questions. One must also make decisions about degree and process. One can advocate for keeping drugs illegal without making a big-government war of the endeavor. One can advocate for enough military spending and homeland security measures to keep us safe with as little intrusion and restriction as enables that end. And an issue such as abortion is a matter of plain morality; consider that it would be ludicrous to make the legalization of murder a small-government cause.

In the count of self-governance, Patrick suggests, in the same thread, that explicitly legalizing prostitution in Rhode Island would make us (if I may exaggerate his point, a hair) the whoring capital of America; he presents that as a positive. Whatever one believes about the prudence of the policy in the abstract, I simply do not want to live in that sort of society. Our daughters would be much more likely to see prostitution as a viable career. Our reputation would take on a decidedly different hue when it comes to attracting other industries and tourists coming here for other attractions. And our culture would have to be such that a theologically, socially, and biologically profound act could be conceived as salable.

The response may be that I would be free to live elsewhere, and I may yet, but at this time it is sufficient to appeal to my fellow Rhode Islanders and suggest that, if they give the matter some thought (or perhaps they don't even have to do so), they'll see that they'd prefer circumstances in which advocates for legalized prostitution were in the position of deciding whether they'd be happier in another state. That's how self-governance works, and resistance to such concepts suggests that it is not paradoxical to suggest a dictatorial streak in the libertarian cloth.

Patrick goes on toss around rhetorical questions suggesting that one cannot make distinctions between prostitution and stripping. It really ought to be unnecessary for me to take the time to enumerate the logical and cultural lines between the two practices — let alone the differentiation between being a unique state allowing prostitution and being just another state allowing stripping. The more relevant point, here, is that the libertarian disputants don't wish to address arguments as they are stated; they presume that the speaker is merely stopping short of his theocratic desire for political reasons. More than that: they wish to present the issue as a matter of logical necessity. If I advocate against legalized prostitution, they say, I apparently have no choice or desire to stop short of banging down bedroom doors to ensure that spouses are not performing stripteases for each other. That is not a coherent view of how psychology or political philosophy work.

It's foolish. Moreover, it stands as evidence that the vanity of ideological purity plays no small role in the motivation for taking "moderate" and libertarian positions in public discourse.

September 14, 2009

Wherefore ACORN?

Monique Chartier

A third ACORN office has been videotaped giving tax evasion and federal mortgage application tips to a couple who purported to be establishing a brothel for underage girls smuggled into the country.

This follows upon the exposure in 2008 of multi-state, multi-year voter registration fraud.

The Brooklyn District Attorney has opened an investigation into the organization.

The Census Bureau has had second thoughts about ACORN's involvement in the 2010 census.

All of this undue attention to the organization has served to highlight a fact that I, at least, was previously unaware of: ACORN has been the recipient of federal tax dollars and could receive a ton more from stimulus funds.

The question is, why?

Let's stipulate in its entirety the case for the defense: all of the above unethical and illegal activities were isolated incidents carried out by rogue affilates and do not in any way reflect the vast majority of ACORN staffers and activities.

As I was writing this post, TomW forwarded me the breaking news that the Senate had just voted 83-7 (with the junior senator from Rhode Island amoung the seven voting "nay") to withhold federal funds from ACORN. But this was done on the basis of bad behavior. ACORN may well "rehabilitate" itself as an organization and once again be deemed fit to receive federal funds.

Under what philosphy of good government should it do so? Is there any private organization to which federal tax dollars should be handed out? If yes, shouldn't the criteria for doing so be quite extensive and exacting, far more than the perfectly nice and perfectly vague goal of "social and economic justice"?

What Are They Investing In?

Justin Katz

This graphic showing the stock gains made by six health insurance companies after President Obama's healthcare speech is interesting fuel for contemplation. What is it that has attracted investors' interest?

  • The possibility that health insurers are moving toward becoming another category of government-backed business?
  • The possibility that consumers will rush to acquire plans that will be grandfathered into the healthcare "reform" (if only for a few years)?
  • The likelihood that the Democrats' plan will accomplish nothing so effectively as preserving the dominance of a handful of leading corporations

For the Benefit of the Sellers of Useless Knowledge

Justin Katz

Actually, I'd argue that no knowledge is useless, although some is worse than useless. But Walt Gardner's observation (which does not raise uselessness, by the way) is right on the money:

THE NEWS that employment opportunities for college graduates have dramatically shrunk in today's recession comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following hiring trends. It merely confirms that the United States has been wildly oversold for far too long on the indispensability of a university degree as a haven against the dislocation caused by global competition.

The hard reality is that the overwhelming number of new positions in the next decade will require short-term, on-the-job training — not lengthy tertiary education, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The time frame is widely acknowledged to be between one week and three months, depending on the complexity of the tasks involved.

Higher education for all is the sort of unnecessary burden that folks who've never had to work (meaning actual work) like to impose. For a great many Americans, a standard four-year degree is a waste of time and a trap door into decades of debt.

Tyranny Is Bad for the Nation

Justin Katz

It's easy to lose sight of the possibility (likelihood) of civilizational decline in tyrannies — as if only Western style democracies can stumble into demographic traps. Perhaps we suspect that there's something cultural that permitted the tyranny and will negate Western rules of thumb.

But as Joseph Bottum points out, in Iran, the population has taken a downward turn, and many productive youths are looking to escape:

Birthrates tell us something about the feeling a people has for its own future, and the collapse of Iran's fertility is the fastest ever observed. Fifteen years ago Iran had 6.6 children per female. The number today is well below 2. "A first analysis of the Iran 2006 census results shows a sensationally low fertility level of 1.9 for the whole country and only 1.5 for the Tehran area (which has about 8 million people)," Tehran University demographer Mohammad Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi recently observed. ...

Of Iranians fifteen to twenty-nine years old, 36 percent said that they wanted to emigrate.

Those trends will only increase in the wake of this summer's crackdown.

Now Democrats Want to Tax Artificial Hips to Pay for Healthcare

Carroll Andrew Morse

Blogger "Tigerhawk" is reporting on a proposal by Senate Democrats to raise taxes on medical devices to pay for their healthcare reform plans (h/t Instapundit)...

Senate Democrats are proposing [to levy] a "value added tax" on medical device companies according to their proportion of U.S. sales. This tax would be without regard to profitability, so it would amount to a capital tax on start-ups and a massive income tax surcharge on profitable companies, varying as net margins do.
Tigerhawk ultimately describes the plan as an excise tax. The New York Times' Prescriptions blog, on the other hand, refers to "fees" and "givebacks" in its description of the the plan...
The future of Senator Max Baucus’s compromise health care proposal is far from certain, but one industry group was quick to fire back on Tuesday. The protest came from makers of medical devices like heart pacemakers and artificialhips – companies that would have to pay hefty new fees under the Baucus plan.

In an interview, Stephen J. Ubl, the president and chief executive of the Advanced Medical Technology Association, a trade group, said the organization opposed the proposal’s call for annual givebacks from device makers. The fees, which the proposal says would be allocated on the basis of each company’s market share, would total $4 billion a year.

“We do strongly oppose the $4 billion tax, which we believe is a tax on medical progress,” Mr. Ubl said.

And, by the way, it's the Times article that's the source of the title of this post, for anyone who thinks it's unfair.

One question brought to mind by the Times' reporting is if this actually is a "giveback", then what have medical device makers been taking that they're being asked to give back? The answer, also from the Times article, doesn't seem to be anything more than payment for their products; the government wants the manufacturers to give some of that money back, because some of their customers are hospitals, and hospitals are reimbursed by Medicare...

For lawmakers, some form of tax-like fees might be the only way to extract givebacks from device makers because of the way such companies are reimbursed. Government-financed programs like Medicare do not pay directly for medical devices, but instead reimburse hospitals and other providers for the procedures in which they are used.
So, if you deal with someone who takes money from the government, anything the government wants to take from you is now a "giveback", and raising taxes on someone can be justified by the fact that they don't take subsidies!

Based upon what the Times has presented (I leave it to the reader to determine the reliability of the source), the Democrats' reasoning is that because a big government program reimburses hospitals, taxes have to be raised on non-hospitals, so the government can take back part of what's been given to hospitals, so the government will be able via new subsidies to give more money to hospitals. But it is a bit difficult to see how raising taxes on medical devices, including things like pacemakers and artificial hips, will contribute to either lowering healthcare costs or raising the quality of medical care.

Call me a cynic, but I think that this scheme pretty well represents the quality of economic thought that's going into Democratic health reform plans.

Pro-Prostitution Progressivism?

Marc Comtois

We've argued (for a while) for closing the loophole in Rhode Island law that enables indoor prostitution. It's an issue upon which conservatives, independents and some progressives have found common ground. For instance, Democratic Rep. Joanne Giannini and URI Women's Studies professor Donna Hughes are just two of several progressives who have kept the pressure on the General Assembly to close this loophole and get tougher on the related practice of human trafficking. Currently, the legislative effort is stalled in the Rhode Island Senate, though there are promises of movement.

Yet, not all progressives agree with closing the loophole. Some continue to oppose making indoor prostitution illegal, basically arguing that current efforts to close the loophole, if successful, will only further victimize those who have turned to prostitution. Though I don't agree with him on the issue of legalizing prostitution, Brian Hull has probably set forth the most cogent argument and, like other progressives, seeks to delineate between sex-trafficking and prostitution. (I do agree with Hull on some things, particularly when it comes to rehabilitating prostitutes. For instance, there has to be a better way to reduce recidivism than the fine-them-back-the-streets approach).

More recently, Hull has defended the practice of indoor prostitution ("Criminalizing Prostitution Will Be Very Bad for RI"), stating that: criminalizing prostitution, the state sacrifices people’s personal freedom to engage in consensual commercial sex work in order to 'protect' a small number of exploited sex workers who could and should be protected using other mechanisms, but aren’t.
This argument is akin to that used by pro-abortion advocates: let's make abortion prostitution, safe, legal and rare. But this only works if we accept the premise that prostitution should be legal because, we are to further assume, it's a consensual commercial transaction between consenting adults and, for the most part, that will be the rule (not the exception) if it is legalized. The majority of Rhode Islanders--and the vast majority of people in the other 49 states--simply do not accept that premise. We can't escape the inherent seediness of someone selling their body for money. So, though they have tried, Hull and other progressives simply haven't been able to convince people that prostitution can be sanitized as something that can be made manageable and victimless.

But some pro-prostitution progressives will go much farther than advocating with the pen (or pixel). Over the last week, employees of the progressive organization ACORN in three offices (first Baltimore, then Washington, D.C. and New York) encouraged the setting up of bordello's--"indoor prostitution" businesses--and even lent guidance on how to avoid paying taxes, etc. Worse yet, they offered advice on how to engage in the illegal sex-trafficking of minors from places like El Salvador to the United States. It seems that, at least to these ACORN offices, prostitution and sex-trafficking are linked. And are to be encouraged.

Vlogging About Open Negotiations

Justin Katz

My latest video blog is about open negotiations, drawing on material from Tiverton, but applicable elsewhere.

I'd be especially interested in feedback on this one, inasmuch as I tried some new tricks (in an effort to throw myself at the learning curve) and am still trying to get a sense of appropriate content for the medium. Let me know your thoughts on any aspect of video that might inspire comment. In advance, I'll say that this is probably about as long as my vlogs will ever be, and yes, next time, I'll take a few minutes to shave beforehand. (Hey, it was a busy weekend.)

The Weekends March On

Justin Katz

The big news of the weekend, I'd say, was the continuing ability of opposition groups to generate large protests, the Providence version of which Monique and Andrew attended. The Providence Journal, disappointingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, thought something else was most worthy of its attention.

Word came of economic solvency being an issue for Rhode Island businesses, and Dilbert suggested some other fears applicable to the state of the state. We continued discussion of the inviolability of public-sector pensions. watched video of school committee debates about open negotiations in Tiverton, and noticed contract-related battles in the Pawtucket district.

Meanwhile, on the national front, the government and media have begun pushing the message that the fate of the economy rests with consumers' willingness to incur patriotic debt. The marriage debate roiled on, touching political philosophy. Reformers declared their current philosophy to be "Enough!" And the abortion struggle added another adult murder, this time of a pro-lifer, as ever by a psychopath.

Internationally, Don noted the Obama Administration's differing treatment of democrats and tyrants, and I pondered the end of the world.

September 13, 2009

What Rhode Islanders Should Fear

Justin Katz

Here's a Dilbert cartoon from July that certain segments of Rhode Island society should consider:

Pawtucket Teachers: a Good News/Bad News Situation

Monique Chartier

The bad news is that they are among the lowest paid in the state, accordingly to the president of the Pawtucket Teachers Alliance, Charleen Christy.

The good news, however, is on a multitude of fronts. First, as they teach in Rhode Island, Pawtucket teachers are still in the top twenty percent pay bracket nationwide.

Next, they have some - enough is the question - Pawtucket elected officials willing to overlook some pretty serious city, state and national economic realities and obtain for them

1.) a multi year contract;

2.) inclusive of pay raises years two and three (of course, in addition to step raises);

3.) health insurance co-pays (you'll need a magnifying glass) of 5%, 6% and 9%.

Now back to the bad news. Support on the school committee for these contract terms is not unanimous. Actually, School Committee Chairman David Coughlin is a tad upset about them.

I found it interesting to read that our disingenuous, illustrious 'gang of four,' who think via 'Executive Session Privilege' they can gag the Chairman and educated members of the Committee, ram rod the teachers contract through passage behind the taxpayers' backs, guarantee future school and city deficits, set the city taxpayers and School District up for future Caruolo lawsuits, and set the teachers up for almost guaranteed future layoffs by sneaking this proposed teachers contract through ratification ...

Just a tad. With a final vote on the proposed contract to take place Tuesday, what has Coughlin done? He has contacted state Auditor General Ernest Almonte and Education Commissioner Deborah Gist to

request advisory opinions as to “whether it is fiscally, legally and educationally responsible for the Pawtucket School Committee, coming out of FY09 deficit reduction Caruolo Action, contemplating FY10 deficit reduction Caruolo Action, lacking a four year-old court-ordered performance audit, contemplating the filing of an adequacy lawsuit against the State of Rhode Island due to insufficient funding and recognizing the state government's predilection to level fund or reduce state aid to local school districts and municipalities to contemplate entering into a multi-year teachers' contract with no reasonable expectation that funds will be available to meet future year contractual obligations.”

D'oh! He invoked the r-word. Let's hope the good news continues to exceed the bad news and that he doesn't infect too many other Pawtucket officials with this sort of thinking by Tuesday's vote.

[Source: Thursday's Pawtucket Times]

Some Political Philosophy, Courtesy of the 9/12 Rally

Carroll Andrew Morse

The tea party movement was born, in large part, as a response to a political class that was assuming that no serious public discussion was needed about whether bigger, more centralized government was better, whenever the government declared that bigger, more centralized government was necessary. Contra to this idea, an important feature of the 2009 tea party rallies has been vigorous discussions of the proper scope of government and of the relationship between government and the individual.


Linked below are four short audio clips from Saturday's 9/12 rally at the Rhode Island statehouse, from speakers who were willing to take on some big ideas about civics, rights and self-government...Are ideas like these still considered, when decisions about big issues like healthcare and education get made, or has our current political leadership dismissed these ideas as too esoteric to be useful?

Starting with Ms. Conley's remarks and working backwards, what as a society and as a country do we all really all agree on is the foundation for working together, whether through government or outside? Where can Americans reasonably agree to disagree, and where do we have to press harder, towards better mutual understandings?

Signs, literally, of dissatisfaction with America's current political leaders...



The Projo's Front Page Argument Against Campaign Finance Reform

Justin Katz

Massive continuing protests against the direction of the U.S. government, a healthcare improglio, 9/11, shakeups in Japan, murmurs in Russia, continued economic pain. And what does the Providence Journal believe to be the most significant story of the day — deserving of one-third of its Sunday print edition front page? A big ol' face-licking in-kind contribution to Congressman Patrick Kennedy.

If a corporate rag can behave thus (and I do not believe the law should attempt to prevent it), there is simply no argument whatsoever against allowing individuals or corporations to donate millions upon millions of dollars to the candidates of their choice. From here through the next campaign season, the news section of the Providence Journal should be considered first and foremost a venue for campaign literature produced on behalf of its favored candidates.

In other words, readers would get the most appropriate value out of any "news report" including the Kennedy name by cutting it out of the paper and rolling it between plies of toilet paper.

Obama punishes international democrats and rewards international tyrants

Donald B. Hawthorne


...the Honduran government disclosed yesterday the identity of the officials whose visas have been revoked by the United States as part of Washington’s continuing pressure to reinstate former president Manuel Zelaya, namely, the successor president and 17 other officials...The revocation of the visas for the 14 Supreme Court judges is a nice touch. In the future, even a unanimous Supreme Court faced with a violation of the country’s constitution will think twice before engaging in a "judicial coup."

North Korea:

Completing (or could there be more?) its streak of capitulations to rogue nuclear-wannabe states, the Obama administration has agreed to direct talks with North Korea. The welcome mat it is now out: lob missiles, declare your nuclear ambitions, snatch Americans, and your reward is direct, one-on-one talks with the Obama team...


The Obama administration has folded, blowing through its self-imposed deadline and agreeing to “talks” that Iran has declared won’t concern limits on its nuclear program.

Meanwhile: "Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in his second address to the nation since the turmoil over the June presidential election, set a tough tone for where the country is heading: No compromises with opponents outside or inside Iran...Mr. Khamenei reiterated that Iran wouldn’t bend to Western powers when it comes to its nuclear program. To give up rights, 'whether nuclear right or otherwise, would result in a nation’s demise,' he said." One sense that Obama is morphing into Jimmy Carter before our eyes—with potentially more dangerous results...

More Iran:

And the White House is expecting "concrete action" from Iran. Honest. Soon. Or at the end of the year. Or whenever. Isn’t that what the September 15 deadline was all about? Not anymore.

Back in the real world: "Iran said on Saturday it would not back down in its nuclear row with the West, a day after the United States said it would accept Tehran’s offer of wide-ranging talks with six world powers.'We cannot have any compromise with respect to the Iranian nation’s inalienable right,' Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference, in language Iranian officials normally use to refer to its nuclear program." Iran’s response, we are told by the U.S., was "nonresponsive," so naturally the U.S. will immediately commence talks. If this appears to you to be unintelligible and embarrassing, you are not alone.

Even more Iran:

...By the end of the day, the administration had announced that September was, well, not really a deadline and that we would be entering into talks despite Iran’s not having agreed to discuss its nuclear program. In fact, Iran had already said the opposite. But we’ll be talking anyway.

One wonders what Rep. Berman thinks now. The administration has made itself, and those who were banking on some onset of diplomatic sobriety, look foolish. Those in Congress who were moving forward with an array of sanctions to enhance Obama’s bargaining position have been undercut by an administration that apparently doesn’t want its bargaining position enhanced.

The administration has prostrated itself before the Iranian regime and afforded it still more time to continue with its nuclear-weapons program. It has signaled that it has neither the will nor the interest to set deadlines or enforce them, and that it has failed to lay the groundwork for sanctions...

More on the threat from Iran. Discussing Iran, Power Line states that "Neville Chamberlain had more spine than Barack Obama."

And all of this is in the best interests of the United States, how?


Afghanistan. Rubin comments:

This may be the most damning, but not the only, indication that the president doesn’t have his heart in this. There’s the aversion to pursuing "victory." And the leaking game over troop levels and various options also suggests the "do what it takes" sentiment is not in full flower. A robust commitment to military victory does not come naturally to Obama...

More here.

And, of course, tyrannical regimes only become more aggressive when they sense weakness, leading to the geopolitical problems becoming inter-related.

Obama's tariff action toward China, the country largely funding the record Obama deficits. Rubin's comment:

As if we didn’t have enough economic problems: "President Barack Obama on Friday slapped punitive tariffs on all car and light truck tires entering the United States from China in a decision that could anger the strategically important Asian powerhouse but placate union supporters important to his health care push at home." It seems a trade war is the only war Obama is unreservedly enthusiastic about.

All of these failures by Obama to lead and protect America will eventually have serious adverse consequences for the United States' strategic self-interest.


More Honduras here and here:

Yesterday, I pointed out that Reuters refers to Honduras’s Roberto Micheletti as a "ruler"; the wire service refers to the totalitarian dictator Fidel Castro as a "leader." Several readers wrote to say that it’s even worse than I portrayed: Reuters calls Micheletti a "de facto ruler." A reader points out that "de facto" means "actually existing, esp. when without lawful authority (distinguished from de jure)." He continues,
The press keeps pushing the fiction that there was an unconstitutional coup in Honduras, when the opposite is the case. The Hondurans were defending their constitution against a would-be despot, and the world — with the American president leading the charge — wants to punish them for it.

Stark. Blunt. True? It would appear so.

Funny about our new president. He seems to reserve his harshest words, and biggest stick, for two little, struggling democracies: Honduras and Israel. (Obviously, Israel faces greater challenges than Honduras, no matter what shape the Central American country is in.) Would that he were a fraction as tough on bad regimes — Iran’s, North Korea’s, Sudan’s, Venezuela’s, Cuba’s, Syria’s — as he is on those little democracies Israel and Honduras. Funny, this president.

By the way, he called Chávez "mi amigo" — his friend. Would he call Micheletti that? Even Uribe? He yukked it up with Daniel Ortega (over the Bay of Pigs). Would he yuk it up with Micheletti?

Curious, our new American president.

P.S. He doesn’t accept the legitimacy of Honduras’s government. Does he accept the legitimacy of Cuba’s?


Eastern Europe: Obama leaves our freedom-loving friends dangling.


More Honduras:

...five nations in Latin America commemorated 188 years of independence: El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Honduras. Secretary of State Clinton issued five press releases (one with respect to each country) conveying regards on behalf of the people of the United States.

To the people of El Salvador, she offered "warm wishes and congratulations." The people of Guatemala got "warm congratulations"—not wishes and congratulations, but still nice. To the people of Nicaragua and Costa Rica, she simply extended "congratulations"—apparently not warm ones.

And to the people of Honduras, she sent neither congratulations (much less warm ones) nor even warm wishes—just "greetings." And, she noted, "worry and sadness":

On behalf of the people of the United States, I send greetings to the people of Honduras as they commemorate 188 years of independence. . . . The turmoil and political differences that have [recently] divided Honduras are a source of worry and sadness. I remain hopeful that the spirit of Francisco Morazán, a founder and visionary leader of Honduras, will help return your nation to a democratic path that will unite and inspire, rather than divide and discourage, and rebuild the ties of solidarity that have characterized your relationship with the Americas.

When your Supreme Court enforces your constitution, and your military forces obey their orders, and your Congress virtually unanimously chooses the successor president, and the new head of state is a member of the prior president’s party, and representatives of religious and civil society tell the Organization of American States they support the actions of their government, and the previously scheduled presidential elections will be held on time, in about two months, with international observers welcome, you have—in the view of the Obama administration—abandoned the "democratic path."

Of Scapegoats and Apocalypse

Justin Katz

It is unlikely that René Girard's essay "On War and Apocalypse" is of a sort that would appeal to many Anchor Rising readers — that would appeal to any given group, really, except perhaps theologians. But he does make an interesting point about sacrifice and the advancement of knowledge:

We cannot refasten the bindings because we now know that the scapegoats of sacrifice are innocent. Christ's Passion unveiled the sacrificial origin of humanity once and for all. It dismantled the sacred and revealed its violence. And yet, the Passion freed violence at the same time that it freed holiness. The modern form of the sacred is thus not a return to some archaic form. It is a sacred that has been satanized by the awareness we have of it, and it indicates, through its excesses, the imminence of the Second Coming. ...

By accepting to be crucified, Christ brought to light what had been "hidden since the foundation of the world"—the foundation itself, the unanimous murder that appeared in broad daylight for the first time on the Cross. In order to function, archaic religions need to hide their founding murder, which was being repeated continually in ritual sacrifices, thereby protecting human societies from their own violence. By revealing the founding murder, Christianity destroyed the ignorance and superstition that are indispensable to such religions. It thus made possible an advance in knowledge that was until then unimaginable.

Freed of sacrificial constraints, the human mind invented science, technology, and all the best and worst of culture. Our civilization is the most creative and powerful ever known, but also the most fragile and threatened because it no longer has the safety rails of archaic religion. Without sacrifice in the broad sense, it could destroy itself if it does not take care, which clearly it is not doing.

Perhaps because he views his surroundings from the path of theological theory, Girard's narrative becomes, it seems to me, incoherent as he strives to fit it into a religious idea that appeals to him mainly on the grounds of its poetry. It's certainly interesting to suggest that the Passion revealed the strings behind sacrifices and scapegoats, but it erroneously follows a thread of religious thought that assumes that people ever actually thought their sacrifices were guilty.

Holocausts and other sacrificial offerings in ancient Judaism were to be "without flaw." Moreover, they were animals. The actual scapegoat in Leviticus wasn't thought to be guilty, explicitly not so, but was more a vessel for community confession. The priest was to whisper to it the transgressions of the people and then whisk them far away into the desert. Indeed, reading Girard one would expect the cliché to be that the community would pluck its sacrifices from its dregs.

It's no small point. In order to present Christ as destroying superstition, in this sense, one must discard the stronger narrative of His fulfilling intuition. The scapegoat carried the community's sins into the desert as an offering to Satan explicitly to take those sins away; the Israelites wandered through the desert, facing tribulations, on their way to the Holy Land; Jesus went into the desert to face the devil... and returned to where he'd been. Girard has the worthy intuition that Christianity "demystified" religion, but the revelation isn't that the scapegoat was innocent all along — we knew that. Rather, the revelation is that there is no mysterious elsewhere. No magic transformation in the desert. Only progress within the reality that we already know; the mystery is not an outlier, but underlying.

Girard goes on to speak of a "trend to extremes" building toward the apocalypse, but he doesn't actually describe such a trend. He describes the existence of extremes, but examples of piety and irreverence, purity and depravity — which are much more significant, in religious terms, than the existential extreme of nuclear weapons — have arguably been more pronounced in the past.

Again, there's a worthy intuition, here. The extreme danger of total annihilation realized in modern technology juxtaposes conspicuously with the extreme safety provided by faith, but utter destruction has always been conceivable. The difference, in the past, was that natural and supernatural forces would be the cause. Technology hasn't introduced the possibility of the result, but humanity as its source.

The "paradox," here, is that the more we come to understand God's nature by that which he created — that is, the broader our comprehension of creation — the greater our capacity to assume the powers of God. We're demystifying reality, in other words, and the crucial lesson of Christianity is that we do not thereby obviate religion, much less disprove God.

In Girard's construct, "history has meaning," and "its meaning is terrifying." History is meaningful, certainly, but its meaning just is. God is who is. The interpretation that Girard puts forward is that Christianity has "foreseen its own failure," but that can only be said to be so if one takes as the religion's objective to transport us somewhere unreal, somewhere beyond our humanity. The security of faith, which ought to keep us all from being terrified, come what may, derives from the realization that the whole great show — whether the drama is a personal battle with disease or a global struggle against nuclear holocaust — is not what matters, at all.

Psychopaths and Public Debate

Justin Katz

The horrible story of senseless killings in Owosso, Michigan, clarifies social dynamics that were the subject of debate after the murder of abortionist George Tiller:

Harlan Drake or "Hale" as he is known to friends is now charged with 2 counts of 1st Degree Premeditated Murder for the killings of James “Jim” Pouillon and Mike Fouss. Police say that Harlan Drake has told detectives that he had a list of 3 people in his head that he wanted to kill.

Two of the people on his "list" have died as a result but the third, James Howe, was not attacked. Since he has admitted to a third person on his hit list, it is resulting in a charge of unlawful intent with a firearm. There is no motive behind Mr. Howe or Mr. Fuoss, who owned the Fouss Gravel Company. There is only one known connection between Mike Fouss and Harlan Drake, his mother used to work for Mr. Fouss.

As to the reason for the killing of pro-life activist Jim Pouillon, Harlan Drake has told police that he was “offended” by Pouillon’s anti-abortion messages.

The bottom-line, substantive fact is that Drake is a psychopath who decided to kill three people for random, personal reasons. A consideration on the periphery of that fact is that the nation in which Drake lived is in the midst of a decades' long dispute about abortion in which those on the pro-abortion side often argue that the protests by those on the pro-life side are so egregious that their First Amendment rights ought to be denied. After George Tiller's death, they also tarred the entire pro-life movement as culpable.

But those who advocate for abortion laws are not responsible for the murder of Jim Pouillon. The possibility that psychopaths might follow threads of the argument is an inevitable price of a free and open society and does not negate the rights or stain the morality of those who engage in the debate, much less those on one particular side or the other.

September 12, 2009

Open Negotiations in Tiverton

Justin Katz

Yes, this is a local instance, but I've no doubt whatsoever that similar opinions exist — and the same arguments would be made — in towns across Rhode Island, were school committees to begin considering a demand for open negotiations.

I've posted video of the discussion about the topic at the last school committee meeting in the extended entry.

Images from the 9/12RI and RI Tea Party Rally Today

Monique Chartier


The Gaspee [correction] The Brig Beaver (or a reasonable facsimile thereof)


The Crowd


The Theme




A name that's been in the news lately ...


Right to assemble, right of free speech, right to wear a Spiderman hat: new Americans exercising some of their new rights

Succinctly summarizing today's conflict

Donald B. Hawthorne

Mike Pence says it well:

I am Mike Pence. I am from Indiana, and it is an honor to welcome the largest gathering of conservatives in American history to your nation's capitol.

There are some politicians who think of you people as astroturf. Un-American. I've got to be honest with you, after nine years of fighting runaway spending here on this hill, you people look like the cavalry to me.

We stand together at a historic moment in the life of the conservative movement and in the life of this great country. The coming weeks and months may well set the course for this nation for a generation. How we as conservatives respond to these challenges, could determine whether America retains her place in the world as a beacon of freedom or whether we slip into the abyss that has swallowed much of Europe in an avalanche of socialism.

While some are prepared to write the obituary on capitalism and the conservative movement, I believe we are on the verge of a great American awakening. And it will begin here and begin now and begin with you.

This Administration and this Congress are getting a badly needed history lesson, starting with just what our founders meant by 'consent of the governed.' If silence is consent, it is now revoked.

We the people, do not consent to runaway federal spending. We the people, do not consent to the notion that we can borrow and spend and bail our way back to a growing America. And we the people, do not consent to government-run insurance that will cause millions of Americans to lose the insurance they have, and that will lead us to a government takeover of health care in this nation.

This week, the president came to this hill and he gave one more speech about the same bad plan. Mr. President, America doesn't want another speech, we want another health care plan that is built on freedom.

And we the people, do not consent to Members of Congress passing thousand-page bills without anybody ever reading them. Members of Congress should be required to read ever major bill that Congress adopts. I've got to be honest with you, I think Members of Congress should read major bills, but I'd be just as happy if some of them read this just a little more often - the Constitution of the United States.

You know, there is a lot of good stuff in there and it reminds us that we are a nation led by the people, and not the elites and the bureaucrats and the politicians. It reminds us that the powers not delegated to the federal government by the Constitution are reserved to the states or to the people.

And nowhere in our Constitution can you find the word 'czar.' It is time Washington, D.C. became a No Czar Zone.

The American people are not happy. But it is not just about dollars and cents. It is about who we are as a nation.

As Ronald Reagan said in 1964, it's about whether 'we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.' My money is on the American people. My money is on freedom. My money is on the future.

This great national Capitol is filled with memorials to freedom's heroes. Americans whose faces are carved in bronze, whose names adorn monuments, and just across that river, lie the remains of Americans who paid freedom's price so we could gather here today. In their time, they did freedom's work as citizens and patriots. Now it's our turn.

Let us do as those great Americans we remember in this city have done before: let us stand and fight for freedom. And if we hold the banner of freedom high, I believe with all my heart that the good and great people of this country will rally to our cause, we will take this Congress back in 2010 and we will take this Country back in 2012, so help us God.

Government and Society

Justin Katz

Robert George offers an important basis for emphasis here, but there's an important inward extension to his description of the law:

The law is a teacher. It will teach either that marriage is a reality in which people can choose to participate, but whose contours people cannot make and remake at will, or it will teach that marriage is a mere convention, which is malleable in such a way that individuals, couples, or, indeed, groups can choose to make of it whatever suits their desires, goals, and so on. The result, given the biases of human sexual psychology, will be the development of practices and ideologies that truly tend to undermine the sound understanding and practice of marriage, together with the development of pathologies that tend to reinforce the very practices and ideologies that cause them.

The inward extension is that, as much as the law is a teacher, its "students" in a democratic society must ultimately approve of the lesson. It's a matter of give and take — mutual reinforcement. The country's people construct the law, and the law helps to guide their behavior. Regulations act as guidelines toward a desired end.

This same adjustment must be made to an excellent piece by RI locals Michelle Cretella and Arthur Goldberg:

Legislators and justices will do well to heed the findings of J.D. Unwin, British anthropologist and author of Sex and Culture. After studying 86 societies spanning 5,000 years of history he found a distinct correlation between increasing sexual freedom and social decline. Unwin postulated that when social regulations forbid indiscriminate satisfaction of sexual impulses, the sublimated sexual impulses are channeled into a "social energy" that builds society. Conversely, he found no instance in which a society retained its creative energy after abandoning monogamous male-female relationships.

The described findings certainly represent a crucial splash of cold water, but it isn't merely "legislators and justices" who should feel its chill. Indeed, if such personages come alone to the revelation, it would be inappropriate for them to impose it on an unwilling nation. It is the entire network of intellectual and cultural elites that must heed the warning.

The unique project of the United States is to regulate outside of the law as much as possible. American society comes to agreement about the minimum boundaries within which everybody can achieve their goals, and the law provides those boundaries. The difficulty when it comes to marriage is that one side would like the law to enable its goal of declaring same-sex relationships to be indistinguishable in any profound way from opposite-sex relationships. Cultural elites have proven scandalously blind to the fact that such a proposition is utterly preposterous in just about every light (biology not least among them), requiring traditionalists to point out that the requested modification to the law would make it more difficult for our society to maintain its goal of advancement — even cultural survival.

It would be difficult to overstate the fundamental importance of this debate, because the culture of marriage is perhaps the most significant means of non-government regulation of behavior. Reading Cretella and Goldberg, those of us who trace political threads might find significance in the fact that sexual libertinism is so often married with statist, progressive movements. Just so, it's difficult not to wonder whether radical redefinition of our entire society isn't the actual goal of those who wish to modify marriage.

Privatizing Debt Acceptance

Justin Katz

Anybody else uncomfortable with the implicit suggestion of this sort of report? The economy is mildly recovering, employment will likely dip a bit more, and:

The problem for the economy is that the expected growth this quarter comes mainly from the auto companies and other manufacturers, which are refilling their depleted stockpiles.

Those inventories had dwindled as factories and retailers sought to bring what they had more in line with reduced sales. Any robust growth in the economy might be short-lived if shoppers don't step up their spending.

The Providence Journal headline for a shortened version of this AP article was "Fed says recovery depends on spending by consumers." Many consumers do not have jobs; the prospect of economic contraction has brought many others to a healthy appreciation of the risk that supplementing income with debt entails; and still others are intent on maintaining a cushion against an unpredictable future.

The argument that government and media elites appear to be floating is that the government has maxed out its credit cards (which are backed mainly by political will and public acceptance), and it is now consumers' turn. Not the least because the same people must ultimately pay both debts, this is simply not the way to revive the economy.

My advice to Americans — as consumers and as workers: Hold on to as much of your money as you possibly can, and whatever you do, put the credit cards away.

Re: A Whiff of Sanity

Justin Katz

The question of public pensions can lead quickly to basic premises. Consider a comment from Joe Bernstein:

DISCLAIMER:I am a friend of Barney Prignano and worked in the SIB squad from 1990-94 when he supervised that group. I was one of two Federal agents assigned there.

Forget who lost their pension here and think about the dangerous precedent it sets.

Now a person who retires can be brought before the Retirement Board at a subsequent time and be accused of "dishonorable" service and lose their pension. Based on what? You tell me. A conviction is no longer the standard.

Can't anyone here who's gloating understand how this can be used by vindictive politicians to go after people they didn't like and if not revoke their pensions, at least put them through legal expense and misery?

In the case of the Parks Dept. employee I agree with the decision because even though nolo/probation on a felony is not a conviction in RI, the Federal courts have held that it can be used as a conviction in federal proceedings. The case was a RI one, US vs.Bustamante where Judge Pettine was reversed by the First Circuit. It involved ATF charging a man with firearms possession by a convicted felon. Oscar Bustamante couldn't appeal it to SCOTUS because he died soon after the decision (gunshot wound). We in the INS used the decision to arrest and deport hundreds of permanent residents.The first arrest pursuant to the decision: Pedro Bustamante, Oscar's brother. Nice guy - he shot up an apartment house with a 45 ACP carbine, barely missing some nuns and a sleeping infant. It was a pleasure to "knock"on his door.

Note that Joe is willing to admit proof of misconduct that falls short of a job-related conviction, which is precisely in line with my stated opinion. But he goes farther, arguing that, because of their subservience to political process, public-sector employees' pensions should be considered, essentially, a right revocable only in conjunction with prosecutable crimes. Like private-sector employees (who rarely receive pensions in the first place, anymore) public-sector employees must abide by the rules that their employers establish, within the law, of course, but the latter also may utilize the political process to make the organizations for which they work subservient to them.

Joe wants it both ways: It is because government "service" is open to the political process that it is open to the manipulations and disregard of market forces that have granted public sector employees such comparably fantastic remuneration. As a matter of fairness, it cannot also be that those politically procured gains are protected from the political process when it brings less friendly managers into the equation.

Look, no pensioner should be barred from legal recourse against arbitrary actions by a pension board. Beyond that, one would hope that capricious political appointees or elected officials would open themselves to attack from political opposition and electors on that basis.

A State Unable to Save Itself

Justin Katz

So the news is that Rhode Island ranks very low among the states for receipt of small-business, no interest loans through the federal America's Recovery Capital (ARC) program. Reading along, one can already hear the partisan and ideological attacks on the governor.

Well, those may be forthcoming, but the article lays the blame elsewhere:

The problem for Rhode Island businesses, [state director for Rhode Island Small Business Development Center at Johnson & Wales University John] Cronan says, is that they often aren't healthy enough to qualify for ARC loans. In addition to other requirements, the businesses must have been profitable for at the least one of the previous two years.

"We entered the recession much earlier than anybody else. Now, we have too many companies that are not bankable," Cronan said. "You still have to be a stable company to get a loan. The criteria being used is strict. The banks are making loans to stable companies, but we don't have enough stable companies."

In other words, the state has so burdened its businesses and burned out its economy that the federal government has little confidence that individual companies would be able to pay back a $35,000 loan. If the General Assembly would just get to work trimming the taxes, slashing the regulations, and eliminating the mandates that it imposes on the economy, this state would soar.

September 11, 2009

Reckless Promises, Yes or No?

Justin Katz

Brian Hull summarizes the approaching resolution between the governor and the state's public sector unions thus:

Under the agreement, state workers would take eight unpaid days in this fiscal year and four unpaid days in the next fiscal year. State workers will wait an additional six months for their next pay raise. There will be no additional threats of furloughs, shutdown days or layoffs until June 30, 2011 (the next Governor's problem). And the workers will have the opportunity to recoup some lost pay or take bonus vacation days upon leaving state service.

The part about "no additional threats" strikes me as a surpassing reckless promise for the governor to make, in this economic and political climate, so I followed Brian's links. The source in all cases is Council 94 President Michael Downey, and at this point, an explicit promise appears to be more of a hope than a description.

One needn't be an anti-union zealot to see the danger of taking further reductions in labor costs off the table, and I suspect that when the details shake out, there will at least be escape clauses.

The Moment Change Happened

Justin Katz

By coincidence, each of the past two days brought a question from somebody about my political beginnings. The answer to the when is 9/11. Practical philosophy had always been appealing to me, but it had previously followed a literary and cultural context, rather than a political one. That changed on a September morning. It wouldn't be to presumptuous to state that a majority of Americans chose a different psychological path through reality, that day, as well.

The "Let's Roll" moment may have been the first evidence of this broad, pervasive change, but it actually occurred at precisely 9:03 a.m., when the second plane hit the second tower. During the final moments of American innocence, between planes, we were all thinking that the first was some bizarre accident, maybe an expression of individual lunacy, or at most a fluke success of a small group of foreign crazies. At 9:03, we all realized that, to put it clinically, this would have to be addressed.

One could make the case that our current politics essentially reflect ripples of that moment. It's permeated and incorporated all else in the political theater, but the need to fix... that something... is the central fact. On the right, the something is ultimately the West's belief that it can construct a fantasy in which to live according to social rules that an author of children's books might contrive. It has a military and foreign affairs component, obviously, and that directly relates to immigration and cultural assimilation. Less directly, a conservative's vision of facing reality means a return to tradition and morality — at the extremity, seeing our weakness and apathy as punishment from God.

On the left, the fact to be fixed is American arrogance and greed. Behind all of the "root cause" references is a sense that an unmatched lust for power has made the United States the unprecedented superpower against which no other nation can compete. In a secular form of divine retribution, terrorism (indeed, Islamofascism as an ideology) is the fruit of American manipulation of global political and economic systems for its own benefit. A nicer, more compassionate, more deliberately just and humble society would negate hostile response.

For seven years, those leaning toward the latter camp watched President Bush do just about everything wrong, and where he did something they might otherwise see as right, they took him to be draining the visceral strength from their patented plea to their fellow men. The election of Barack Obama to the presidency wasn't a desperate attempt to return to the reality of 9/10; Clinton, or any other known quantity, would have sufficed for that. Rather, his promise of "change" was a pledge to move forward toward the cultural and governmental repair that circumstances (and cunning deceit) had prevented for the purpose of preserving the machinations of an economic elite intent on exploiting the world.

Meanwhile, President Obama's being wrong on the importance of a strong, resolved demeanor in the international realm has freed those leaning toward the rightward camp from the inadvisable and arguably calamitous prudence that W. had just about exhausted. In this presentation, the tea parties and town halls are a declaration that the millions of Americans awoken to the necessity of action by the attack eight years ago will not go back to polite submission. They see energy taxes, corporate takeovers, heavier regulations, and socialized healthcare as (probably deliberate) attempts to humble their country, and they foresee the world's aggressors vying to be the first to knock over the docile giant, place one foot upon its neck, and declare itself to be an even greater being.

Flung into motion by the one-two confirmation that something would have to be done, this back and forth will continue until some event, perhaps in the nearer than farther future, affirms the beliefs of one side or obviates the question. In the meantime, we must mourn, and our mourning must take the form of vigilance and, despite it all, unity.


Carroll Andrew Morse

From Michael Morse of Rescuing Providence...

Of all the things about that day I will “Never Forget,” the hundreds of American Flags that magically appeared along my route remain the most vivid. On doorways, utility poles, storefronts, from car windows, everywhere I could see the red white and blue flew proudly.

The best part of it all is nobody told us to do it, it hadn’t become fashionable yet, it just was. There were a lot of private ceremonies going on that day, I didn’t know it but I was never alone when I stood in my garage and planted the flag proudly on my home.

I will “Never Forget” those that perished that day, especially the firefighters, EMT’s and police officers that answered the call for help.

East Providence Moves Forward in Another Way

Justin Katz

From a press release just out from the East Providence School Committee:

The proposal calls for a collaboration among "stakeholders" in developing the system of evaluating teachers that will be the basis for paying them beginning in 2011. The "stakeholders" would include parents, teachers, administrators, the teachers' union and educational experts from Rhode Island and beyond.

The proposal would pay a top step "Master" teacher a base salary of over $80,000, higher than any other school department in the state.

"We're not just willing to pay for excellence, we want to pay for it," said Carcieri. "We have many, many teachers who are worth their weight in gold. It's time to stop pretending that all teachers are the same, and to reward those who go the extra mile, who really bring the best out in their students."

The details are the difficulty, of course, and the trick is getting the union to agree, inasmuch as folks will tend not to abandon a really good deal (as the teachers currently have) if there's any risk at all that obtaining a better deal will require work and will not be a sure thing. But this is a direction that the United States must pursue if it is eventually to cease its dereliction when it comes to educating younger generations.

My guess, though, is that it's yet another obvious and necessary change that is going to have to be implemented unilaterally.

Full press release:

In another bold stroke to transform the East Providence Schools to a model of excellence, the East Providence School Committee today announced a proposal to pay teachers based on the quality of their work. Rhode Island's public school teachers all currently are paid strictly on the basis of seniority. In East Providence, they'll receive "pay for performance" beginning in 2011.

"Today, we are taking our next giant step forward," said Anthony Carcieri, School Committee Chair.

The School Committee's attorney, Dan Kinder, sent the proposal to its teachers' union representative, Jeanette Woolley, by email today. The proposal calls for a collaboration among "stakeholders" in developing the system of evaluating teachers that will be the basis for paying them beginning in 2011. The "stakeholders" would include parents, teachers, administrators, the teachers' union and educational experts from Rhode Island and beyond.

The proposal would pay a top step "Master" teacher a base salary of over $80,000, higher than any other school department in the state.

"We're not just willing to pay for excellence, we want to pay for it," said Carcieri. "We have many, many teachers who are worth their weight in gold. It's time to stop pretending that all teachers are the same, and to reward those who go the extra mile, who really bring the best out in their students."

Superintendent Mario Cirillo said, "Every teacher in our system has the potential for excellence. Every one can raise their students to new heights. We want a system that gives teachers incentives to be the best and a system that gives them the tools and support they need to get there. It's all part of the culture of achievement we're creating in East Providence for our students and faculty alike."

Only last week, Valerie Lawson, President of the East Providence Education Association (NEARI) announced that the teachers' union had voted to withhold after school work that has always been part of teachers' jobs. Deborah Gist, Commissioner of Education, has called this job action a "modified work to rule." She has said that this "is the exact opposite" of what teachers agree to when they become educators.

"It's not okay for teachers to say they won't perform their jobs," said Carcieri. "That's not okay for any employee, but it's intolerable in a teacher. A teacher performs a public trust. And our teachers already rank among the best paid in America."

"The Union has either ignored or else refused all requests to negotiate a new contract," Kinder said. "They haven't wanted to even talk about the financial crisis in East Providence since last October. The School Committee hopes they'll come to the table now and work on these issues with us. Maybe it could be a step towards a new contract."

The School Department's chief operating officer, Lonnie Barham, commented "We can do all this without breaking the bank. We've avoided running up debt this year, and we've taken steps necessary to begin paying down the old debt beginning this fall. We won't run up more with this initiative."

Pay for performance systems have been implemented for teachers in a dozen or so school systems across America in recent years. Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, Florida are among the states where pay for performance systems have been introduced. President Obama, speaking before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce supported the concept, saying, "Good teachers will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement and asked to accept more responsibilities for lifting up their schools. The time for finger-pointing is over. The time for holding ourselves accountable is here. What's required is not simply new investments, but new reforms. It is time to expect more from our students. It is time to start rewarding good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones. It is time to demand results from government at every level."

Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education told officials and local delegates of the National Education Association at their annual meeting in San Diego , "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."

"It will take years to clean up the financial mess we inherited," said Carcieri, "but we're determined not to let that be an excuse for accepting mediocrity in our schools. Our goal is to become the best school system in Rhode Island. That will take years, too. But we will get there."


Marc Comtois

Remember What Wasn't Seen...

Carroll Andrew Morse

...eight years ago, to the minute, when Islamist terrorists lost the initiative in the war they started.

From 9:57, the cockpit recorder picks up the sounds of fighting in an aircraft losing control at 30,000 feet - the crash of trolleys, dishes being hurled and smashed. The terrorists scream at each other to hold the door against what is obviously a siege from the cabin. A passenger cries: 'Let's get them!' and there is more screaming, then an apparent breach. 'Give it to me!' shouts a passenger, apparently about to seize the controls.

The Size of the Incentive

Justin Katz

A couple of things that I've read, recently, reinforce a healthy concern about the sheer size of the aggregated pool of power that a growing government creates and the incentives that it generates. The first example comes from an article by Kevin Williamson in National Review about Congressman Barney Frank (subscription required):

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac thought they had a shot at becoming the bond market. It was not long ago that the U.S. government was expected to be running surpluses, or near-surpluses, for the indefinite future. The folks at Fannie and Freddie calculated that this meant that Washington was going to be selling fewer Treasury bonds than it had been, and that the GSEs' bonds, with their implicit federal backing, would be able to fill the void, in effect displacing Treasuries as the new benchmark for the bond market. Issuing the benchmark bond, the GSEs would be able to borrow at the "risk free" rate, i.e. what the U.S. government pays to borrow. With a line of credit at the Treasury, the implicit backing of Uncle Sam, and the power that comes from issuing the benchmark in the all-powerful bond market, the GSEs — privately owned corporations, bear in mind — would have enjoyed a combination of political and economic power normally reserved for entities that have armies and navies. Fannie and Freddie were so sure that they’d end up stealing Treasuries' pride of place that they trademarked the name "Benchmark Bonds" and began issuing them.

It was the implicit government backing — which has the implicit power to take resources by military force — that made those dreams conceivable.

The second example comes from a First Things piece in which Reuven Brenner argues that government negligence facilitated the financial collapse. For one thing:

By accepting the rating agencies' opinions as the criteria for the amount of leverage that banks could apply, the Federal Reserve turned the ratings agencies into a quasi-official monopoly. And by securitizing trillions of dollars of structured bonds on the strength of these ratings, the financial system put the ratings agencies into a pivotal position in the economy. The ratings agencies never grasped their new roles. On the contrary, they saw their monopoly position as a license to print money by issuing rubber-stamp opinions about structured product that they neither understood nor cared to understand. Meanwhile, in the case of the federally sponsored mortgage corporations Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government made it cheaper for a while for anyone to speculate in the housing market.

With the housing-related organizations, the federal government lost sight of its role by behaving as a social engineer dabbling in home ownership. In the case of the ratings agencies, the government took its eye off plain principles of economics that it ought to guard because of its belief in regulators' ability to comprehend and manipulate minute trends. The pool of power is there, glittering with the reflected light of prosperity, and is simply too much for human beings to guard, even if they are nominally accountable to voters. With all of that money and influence at stake, there's further incentive for distortion and political theater to leave others with the blame:

... relying on government and the Federal Reserve to access capital is not the same as relying on banks and other financial institutions. Bankers make decisions about who gets the loans, and on what terms, based on the ability of entrepreneurs and managements to carry on successfully. But a government's decision to finance ventures—as in the case of the auto industry—is based on political clout.

Of course, political clout sometimes passes under the name of national interest, a phrase that bankruptcy judge Arthur Gonzalez used in his opinion concerning the objection of investors challenging the administration's use of TARP money for Chrysler: He wrote that the U.S. government "made the determination" that it is in the "national interest to save the automobile industry, in the same way that the U.S. Treasury concluded that it was in the national interest to protect financial institutions."

Using national interest as a criterion for financing has allowed politicians at all times and in every country to usurp the responsibilities of the private sector. It is happening again in the United States, and without much resistance, since the public's attention has been focused on the failure of private financial institutions to correct their mistakes. This failure destroyed public trust in these institutions, especially since their mistakes were visible, whereas the mistakes of the government—without which the private sector could not have carried on with its own—were less visible.

We can and should hold private institutions accountable (in part, ahem, by enabling competition and allowing them to fail), but we also shouldn't neglect the questions of whether our rule-keeper is competent and whether it's even possible for any person or group to be up to the task of keeping rules in proximity to the lure of combined governmental and economic power.


Marc Comtois


Marc Comtois


Marc Comtois

Ocean State Policy Research Institute Hosts Grover Norquist

Justin Katz

Ocean State Policy Research Institue was good enough to invite me to its fundraising event at the Providence Marriott featuring famed tax hawk Grover Norquist. Some of Norquist's speech was familiar from his last appearance in Rhode Island, but considering all that has happened — with the election, tea parties, legislative assaults, healthcare — there were many new topics to address. And Grover gives an entertaining, informative speech.

Video in the extended entry.

September 10, 2009

A Quick Philosophical Point on Rights

Justin Katz

Something resonated oddly for me, the other day, and it occurred to me that there's an important philosophical point to be made in response:

"What we can be proud of in Europe is the ground rules, that everyone has the right to health care," said Jose Martin-Moreno, a health expert at the University of Valencia in Spain. "But the implementation has been difficult and one size does not fit all."

We've gotten a bit too free, in the West, with the "rights" language over the past few decades, to the point that it's easy to slide within the same word choices from nice privileges that we'd like to provide in an ideal world to irreducible allowances that governments simply cannot take away. That's truly a detriment to language and a loss to social discourse.

So plainly put: Is there a right to healthcare? Well, compare it with other rights:

  • With the right to free speech, we have a right to speak, but not to be heard.
  • With the right to bear arms, we have a right to own and operate guns, but not to be given guns for free.

In these terms, we would have the right to procure healthcare, but not to have it provided to us, to an extent of our own or somebody else's determination.

An Inexorable Pull of Echo Chamber Snark?

Justin Katz

Putting down his column about the race for attorney general of Rhode Island, I thought about what an improvement the Providence Journal's Ed Fitzpatrick is over his predecessor. And then he had to go and write a bit of got-a-laugh-at-the-cocktail-party received wisdom like his reaction to the story of parents opting their children out of the President's speech to school children. His general position is hardly indefensible, and for the most part, I agree with him, but there's a big ol' blob of the goo that dribbles out from a bias of which mainstream media types remain amazingly unaware:

After listening to right-wing talk show hosts, Web sites and Republican Party officials, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Mr. Obama tells my first grader how to use condoms and exchange needles. I think Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer spoke for all of us when he said he was "appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology."

A state party chairman is now a representative of an army of right-leaning Americans? Clearly, Fitzpatrick didn't (and doesn't) actually spend much time reviewing the content of radio talk shows and conservative Web sites, because there is no way he would have failed to be cognizant of the fact that complaints arose most especially from the classroom discussion suggestions. And if he had encountered such points, he would surely have used his prominent space in the state's major newspaper to explore more intricate themes, rather than riff on that unwashed class of right-wing "others."

Instead, because he hadn't bothered to investigate the other side, he proved himself of a kind with Bob Kerr, who used his similarly prominent space toward almost the same ends, with a very minor variation in hue.

Why Subsidize-And-Regulate Isn't Enough to Fix Healthcare

Carroll Andrew Morse

For another perspective on why plans that focus on Federalizing the regulation of and providing subsidies to the existing employer-based healthcare system aren't likely to be an effective pathway to reform, David Goldhill's article in September's Atlantic Monthly is worth reading. In the opening section of his article, Goldhill writes…

The persistence of bad industry practices—from long lines at the doctor’s office to ever-rising prices to astonishing numbers of preventable deaths—seems beyond all normal logic, and must have an underlying cause. There needs to be a business reason why an industry, year in and year out, would be able to get away with poor customer service, unaffordable prices, and uneven results—a reason my father and so many others are unnecessarily killed.

Like every grieving family member, I looked for someone to blame for my father’s death. But my dad’s doctors weren’t incompetent—on the contrary, his hospital physicians were smart, thoughtful, and hard-working. Nor is he dead because of indifferent nursing—without exception, his nurses were dedicated and compassionate. Nor from financial limitations—he was a Medicare patient, and the issue of expense was never once raised. There were no greedy pharmaceutical companies, evil health insurers, or other popular villains in his particular tragedy.

Indeed, I suspect that our collective search for villains—for someone to blame—has distracted us and our political leaders from addressing the fundamental causes of our nation’s health-care crisis. All of the actors in health care—from doctors to insurers to pharmaceutical companies—work in a heavily regulated, massively subsidized industry full of structural distortions. They all want to serve patients well. But they also all behave rationally in response to the economic incentives those distortions create. Accidentally, but relentlessly, America has built a health-care system with incentives that inexorably generate terrible and perverse results. Incentives that emphasize health care over any other aspect of health and well-being. That emphasize treatment over prevention. That disguise true costs. That favor complexity, and discourage transparent competition based on price or quality. That result in a generational pyramid scheme rather than sustainable financing. And that—most important—remove consumers from our irreplaceable role as the ultimate ensurer of value.

Based on Goldhill's description of the problem, allow me to re-iterate a question I posed at the beginning of this year's town hall season: could supporters of the President's healthcare reform framework provide a few examples to use as a model from economic history where Federalizing regulation, providing subsidies, and mandating spending has brought down the cost of something, while solving the multiple irrationalities that Goldhill describes?

Mixed Messages from School Districts, and Final Decisions from the Judiciary

Justin Katz

Doesn't it seem that school districts somehow always just happen to find money? I mean, sometimes a car's brake lines just happen to go the day after it's been in the shop for a tuneup, but it's difficult to know what to make of the Woonsocket superintendent's claim that the district can now hire a few new teachers, as the state insists, without increasing the budget deficit:

Gerardi said those positions could be paid for with money that the district was receiving from the Northern Rhode Island Collaborative and by consolidating classes elsewhere in the system because of lower-than-expected enrollments that became apparent after the start of school.

For two other positions — an administrator for part of the literacy program and a librarian at the high school — Gerardi said the district believes it can show that more qualified people already on staff will be capable of fulfilling the responsibilities of those positions.

So was that collaborative money just going to be used for red balloons? Were those "qualified people" just going to be employed blowing them up? One begins to sympathize (just a little) with unions' feeling that school committees and the administrations that they direct preserve plenty of fat in their budgets that they can trim when required.

That impression adds a little bite to Education Commissioner Deborah Gist's reference, in this context, to state law requiring "maintenance of effort." It would be disconcerting to think that Ms. Gist sees the maintenance of effort clause as license to force districts to adhere to her demands.

Meanwhile, in East Providence, the embattled school committee is seeking a 3.5% increase in the municipality's contribution to its funding, even as the state demands that the city revise its plan for balancing its budget. Look, I'm thrilled about the list of items slated for increases:

The proposal calls for a 210-percent increase, from $250,000 to $776,962, in what was allocated for textbooks and instructional supplies this year. It also has more money for building and classroom maintenance (from $289,500 to $820,500); technology (from $214,682 to $489,682); and athletics and extracurricular activities (from $46,453 to $146,453).

But not only are these things that Rhode Island's townspeople should be considered as already paying for, but it can't do otherwise than leave it to judges to decide between this spending and increases in adult compensation packages. Maybe they'll rule the right way, maybe they won't. But it's way too easy to envision their joining with Gist in affirming the principle that budgets may always be balanced with an increase in taxes.

Location Should Help Rhode Island Economy

Marc Comtois

It doesn't take an expert to figure out that Rhode Island is in a great location and should benefit economically from it. The Providence Business News reports that a "relocation consultant" is readying a report that says that and more:

Location. Location. Location. That was the message delivered by a relocation expert to the R.I. Economic Policy Council this morning....[John] Rhodes [senior principal at the consulting firm of Moran, Stahl and Boyer] stayed away from making recommendations, but said the state must seize its considerable university base and entice graduates to stay in Rhode Island by providing internships, industry connections and a good quality of life. The state, he said, also needs to design a permitting process that allows businesses to set up shop quickly to take advantage of market conditions.

“When I bring clients to your state I want to see something developed,” Rhodes said. “I want to see land ready. I want to see a building.”

Corporations also want to see low taxes and a streamlined regulatory structure.

“This is where ‘needs improvement’ is on your report card,” Rhodes said.

The state has consistently ranked at or near the bottom in business friendly surveys, but Gov. Donald L. Carcieri told the council the state was holding the line on taxes when neighboring states were increasing them.

The governor also said he understood that the cost of electricity – three to four times here than in much of the South – was a barrier to bringing large companies and manufacturing jobs.

Still, Rhodes said that the GDP output from manufacturing remains strong around $4 billion annually despite the industry shedding about 20,000 jobs since 2001.

“The folks that are staying in the state today are very productive people and people that want to be here,” he said.

And while the state is constrained geographically by its position in the corner of the country, Rhodes said for a tiny state it provided an extensive transportation network, including a deepwater port, a rail link, a commuter rail station and an airport “people in New England brag about.”

Potential. Let's tap it.

Gotta Have Humor on Healthcare

Justin Katz

Both of us being giddy with anticipation prior to the president speech last night, my conversation with the host of the Matt Allen Show was full of sarcasm and laughter, which strikes me as the only appropriate posture to the current situation. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Oh, by the way, the person who called out "You lie!" — causing a very interesting moment in the speech #&151; when the president declared that no illegal immigrants would receive taxpayer-financed healthcare under his plan was Republican South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson. The Associated Press tsks at the "nastiness" of the moment, but if that's the gauge, there were plenty of moments of nastiness in the speech itself.

September 9, 2009

Health Care Reform - Onto a Tabula Not So Rasa

Monique Chartier

Under "Liveblogging the President's Healthcare Speech", Justin comments

It's almost nauseating to hear politicians argue for a "public option" on the basis that competition is so limited, when the reason is clearly government regulation and mandates.

This is an excellent point also raised recently by Andrew. Health care reform is being designed not upon the clean slate of a health care system operating under purely market conditions but upon layers of regulations built up over several decades - and not all were promulgated to advance the best interest of the consumer/patient.

Let me hasten to add here that I would be dubious at best of a health care system that operated under pure market conditions completely without regulation. But isn't it also possible to have too much of a good thing?

If, indeed, the goal is more competitive (stipulating for a moment that 1,200 insurance companies do not engender sufficient competition) and less expensive health care coverage, perhaps the best reform would be the modification or elimination of some existing regulations, not the addition of another layer.

Two items that come most readily to mind are tort reform and elimination of the barrier to buying health insurance across state lines, though the list certainly does not end there. This approach, happily, would also conform to President Obama's stated desire not to "accept the status quo as a solution". The change created by taking a red pen to certain sections of our health care law could be just as drastic as appending chapters to it.

East Providence Plan Not Good Enough

Justin Katz

General Assembly Auditor General Ernest Almonte has rejected East Providence's budget balancing plan (PDF):

The City of East Providence and the School Department have a well established history of deficits. Unfortunately, the City has failed to adequately resolve its financial dilemma. The current Plan is similar to prior deficit reduction plans which proposed the sale of school buildings and dedicating meals tax revenue. I find this Plan does not provide sufficient detail. It includes speculative and uncertain elements, and does not provide calculations in support of the savings you assert will be realized. A serious deficiency in your Plan involves the teachers' union complaint pending before the Rhode Island Superior court and the State Labor Relations Board. The Plan's failure to provide for a contingency in the event the union prevails in this litigation is unacceptable. Clearly, a ruling adverse to the City would undermine your Plan. I expect the city to address its course of action if the union prevails in this litigation. The Plan also fails to eliminate the accumulated deficit by annual appropriation, over no more than five (5) years, in equal or diminshing amounts as required by law. ...

The school deficit has been accumulating for too many years and must be immediately addressed in a financially responsible fashion.

So, the school deficit must be addressed, but the city can't count on its being done via the single greatest expense in that budget.

Liveblogging the President's Healthcare Speech

Engaged Citizen

We'll be using the comments section of this post to liveblog the president's speech to Congress on healthcare. Based on the information currently provided it looks like we're in for a guilt campaign that attempts to change the aesthetics of the debate without doing much to modify the substance. People are suffering. We must work together. The basic outline of the Democrats' plan is the only solution, and any attempt to suggest otherwise is merely divisive greed.

When I called in to his show, at the turn of the hour, Matt Allen quoted this excerpt from the speech:

Everyone in this room knows what will happen if we do nothing. Our deficit will grow. More families will go bankrupt. More businesses will close. More Americans will lose their coverage when they are sick and need it most. And more will die as a result. We know these things to be true.

As I told Matt, this is merely another example of the President striving the conquer the Politics of Fear with the Politics of Hope.

When She Chooses the Scarlet Letter

Justin Katz

Oft overlooked, at the end of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, is Hester Prynne's resistance to calls for her to become a sort of feminist messiah. Having turned toward prudence, she suggests that the archetypal woman will not conquer through deviancy, but through fulfillment of her feminine character. A recent letter from Don Rittman of East Greenwich arguably touches on the theme from the other side of a poorly chosen history:

A society cannot destroy all the premises, both good and bad, that support a fundamental social norm and expect that norm to remain healthy. Responsible fatherhood had basically become such a norm. We still believe in it; we just don't believe in the things that made it possible. Neither, frankly, does Froma Harrop, not from what one sees in most of her "social-issue" writings, which are fraught with wishful thinking.

A recurring theme, in the story of mankind, is our, well, infelicity when making cultural decisions. When we presume to make calculations and radically alter policy in the name of expediency, we let our prized cattle out with the rats. By contrast, when we allow freedom to emerge as an outgrowth of intrinsic tradition, with its millennia of embedded experience, our society advances in all ways.

In the case of freeing women from the oppressive conditions into which they'd fallen as an overcompensation in humanity's learning curve, making them equal in the law and stopping there would have allowed the culture to work through the significance of the change. Instead, lunging forces within the culture pushed for too much, too quickly. Beyond freedom from a particular man or even a broader patriarchy, progressives sought to procure freedom — essentially — from being a woman.

And as happens when we dive to push tradition out the window in contravention of human nature, the consequence tends to be the opposite of what's intended. As Richard Stith writes in "Her Choice, Her Problem":

Throughout human history, children have been the consequence of natural sexual relations between men and women. Both sexes knew they were equally responsible for their children, and society had somehow to facilitate their upbringing. Even the advent of birth control did not fundamentally change this dynamic, for all forms of contraception are fallible.

Elective abortion changes everything. Abortion absolutely prevents the birth of a child. A woman’s choice for or against abortion breaks the causal link between conception and birth. It matters little what or who caused conception or whether the male insisted on having unprotected intercourse. It is she alone who finally decides whether the child comes into the world. She is the responsible one. For the first time in history, the father and the doctor and the health-insurance actuary can point a finger at her as the person who allowed an inconvenient human being to come into the world.

Predictably, the counter action will be more laws, infringing on more freedoms, and with more unimaginable, yet foreseeable, consequences.

A Monopoly of Power

Justin Katz

As we wait for the General Assembly to make an appearance on the local governance scene — maybe helping, you know, to figure out from where tens of millions of dollars are supposed to come #&151; the pause offers opportunity to revive a metaphor articulated by Larry Valencia, Operation Clean Government, back in July:

Our legislators, and especially our legislative leaders, Speaker William Murphy, Majority Leader Gordon Fox, and Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, already have the best property cards and money.

With their onerous procedural rules and Democratic supermajorities, they already own Boardwalk. They have shiny red hotels, enough to shame Donald Trump. They don't need more help controlling this game.

The average Rhode Island citizen is the one who needs help. He or she slumps forlornly on Baltic Avenue, in a dull green house, with foreclosed neighbors on Mediterranean. Average Rhode Islanders need a cash infusion from the bank, a railroad or two, or an emergency loan from Rich Uncle Moneybags (the dude with the monocle).

This lopsided game explains why so many good government ideas — from legislation creating an inspector general's office, to removing the "master lever" option from voting ballots, or creating a more informative voter handbook — are trapped in procedural limbo.

Shutdowns, Furloughs, Deferred Compensation and the Price of Doin' Business

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the ongoing dispute over state-government shutdown days, as frequently occurs in public-sector union negotiations in Rhode Island, labor representatives are claiming they have a plan that will save just as much money as the plan put forth by government officials. Scott MacKay from WRNI's On Politics blog reports…

Union representatives now say publicly that they have offered Carcieri a way to save money -- using furlough days rather than a state shutdown. This was the path followed by then-Gov. Bruce Sundlun during the 1991 banking crisis, the last time the state had such a deep deficit. Under the furlough option, state employees could count the unpaid furlough days toward retirement benefits or as unpaid vacation days. Michael Downey, head of Council 94 of AFSCME, said the unions offered those terms to Carcieri but that he rejected them.
The Sundlun plan was actually a deferred compensation plan, where state employees worked unpaid days and chose amongst various options for getting paid for them later. The New York Times provided a brief summary of the details…
Eight more one-day furloughs had been planned, but on Friday the unions agreed to Mr. Sundlun's pay-deferral proposal, similar to an idea whose rejection by labor in February led to the shutdowns.

Under the agreement, the workers will forgo pay for eight days from now through June 30, the end of the fiscal year, and will give up pay for 19 days in the fiscal year beginning July 1. They will be able to regain the days as vacation time, in a lump-sum payment or as extra paid personal days off when they retire or quit.

The Times story isn't clear if this was a straight one-to-one trade of hours worked for deferred compensation collected -- that would seem to be the reasonable thing, but we don't always find our way to reasonableness here in Rhode Island. Still, it is possible that such a plan could be structured in a way that truly saved money in a current budget year, allowing state government to cut somewhere else in future years, in order to pay for the deferred compensation.

However, a Tom Mooney story from the Providence Journal on the same subject made it clear that Governor Sundlun didn't get his deferred compensation deal without having to pay a little vig to the unions, in the form of some additional compensation for two shutdown days that occurred, before an agreement was reached…

In the two shutdowns that were held - March 8 and 18 - employees did not get paid. But Sundlun, who's pay will also be deferred, suspended further shutdowns and started new negotiations with union presidents....

The unions also agreed not to seek compensation for the two previous shutdowns, and in exchange the state granted one additional day of paid leave.

With all of the possibilities that are available, in order to evaluate the reasonableness of a union alternative to the government shutdown plan, the public needs to know if the unions are asking for something extra in return for agreeing to some sort of deferred but more flexible compensation option and if so, how much. If the answer is truly "none", maybe something can be worked out.

Finally, another question worth asking based on the Mooney article, is whether this attiude expressed by a 1991 state union leader...

"I'm disappointed," said Joann Orsi, president of a Council 94 affiliate, Local 2870 in the Department of Health. "There are no benefits for state employees in that plan."

Orsi said she would have rather seen Sundlun lay off more of the state's 16,300 unionized workers "in the proper order" of seniority, rather than have her members have their pay deferred. still at-all present amongst Rhode Island's current state-employee union leadership.

One simple question and then some reflections

Donald B. Hawthorne

In advance of President Obama's speech tonight about healthcare, I have one simple question -

If a government-run option is such a good idea for all of the rest of us, why do Obama and the Congress refuse to sign up for it themselves?

On a related note, Ponnuru discusses the Left's disregard for truth.

Glenn Reynolds links to Martin Feldstein and adds his own comments:

"The higher taxes, debt payments and interest rates needed to pay for health reform mean lower living standards." But lower living standards for you are a small price to pay in exchange for more power for the political class — whose living standards won’t be going down at all...

All of which is what the American people have instinctively figured out. Just like we have throughout history.

Camille Paglia, an Obama supporter, writes about the divide:

...Why did it take so long for Democrats to realize that this year's tea party and town hall uprisings were a genuine barometer of widespread public discontent and not simply a staged scenario by kooks and conspirators? First of all, too many political analysts still think that network and cable TV chat shows are the central forums of national debate. But the truly transformative political energy is coming from talk radio and the Web — both of which Democrat-sponsored proposals have threatened to stifle, in defiance of freedom of speech guarantees in the Bill of Rights...

Why has the Democratic Party become so arrogantly detached from ordinary Americans? Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, Democrats have increasingly become the party of an upper-middle-class professional elite, top-heavy with journalists, academics and lawyers (one reason for the hypocritical absence of tort reform in the healthcare bills). Weirdly, given their worship of highly individualistic, secularized self-actualization, such professionals are as a whole amazingly credulous these days about big-government solutions to every social problem. They see no danger in expanding government authority and intrusive, wasteful bureaucracy. This is, I submit, a stunning turn away from the anti-authority and anti-establishment principles of authentic 1960s leftism.

How has "liberty" become the inspirational code word of conservatives rather than liberals?...I always thought that the Democratic Party is the freedom party — but I must be living in the nostalgic past...

Meanwhile, all of these developments have occurred while the Republican party has been comatose on policy ideas.

Seasons Are Defined by Change

Justin Katz

Rob Long's piece on the summer's town hall meetings (subscription required) is characteristically humorous, but he's clearly missing something in the American air:

It's strictly a summer affair — when there are soccer games to get to and the weather gets chilly, most of the firebrands will be too busy and distracted to head on out to their senators' district offices to make a little trouble. Who has time, with kids to carpool and work getting stressful and now the holidays are coming, to ink funny hand-lettered signs and Xerox handouts and make the lemonade? No one, that's who. So the town-hall shout-outs will stop — and so will the town halls and office ambushes, for the foreseeable future — and Americans will turn their attention to other things.

Long acknowledges that the healthcare rallies "succeeded" in knocking down the socialistic ambition a few pegs, but from ground-level I don't see the broader reaction to the federal government's power grabs fading. He forgets, glaringly, that the tea party movement began back when there was still a chill in the air; back before people had decided that the summer vacation would be compromised as a "staycation."

I'll admit that I'm a little bit wary of the extent to which the national movement is serving to promote a particular individual (Glenn Beck), but a variety of local groups are planning to take the 9-12 Project as an opportunity to gather on the State House steps this Saturday from two to five. If nothing else, it's an opportunity to help prove Rob Long wrong.


Incidentally, also on the itinerary this week is the Ocean State Policy Research Institute's event, Thursday, with Grover Norquist at the Providence Marriot Downtown.

A Whiff of Sanity Amidst the State's Corruption

Justin Katz

It may be limited in scope, but at least proof of conduct that enables the reduction or rescindment doesn't have to be so egregious that it stands up as a crime in a court of law:

An employee of the City of Providence does not have to be convicted of a job-related crime to lose his or her pension, a Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday.

Judge Michael A. Silverstein decided several legal issues regarding five pension-revocation cases, including those of former Police Chief Urbano Prignano Jr. and former Capt. John J. Ryan, and a former office manager in the city Parks Department, Kathleen M. Parsons. ...

A municipal ordinance requires that an employee render "honorable service" as a prerequisite for a pension and further requires that if an employee is convicted of a job-related crime, the pension shall be reduced or revoked. Silverstein said, in effect, that those two requirements function independently of one another.

Just about anything that will contribute motivation for ethical conduct is good, at this point. A pension is an award above and beyond one's rights as a citizen.

September 8, 2009

Public Business in the Open

Justin Katz

Arriving at tonight's Tiverton School Committee meeting even a few minutes before the usual time wasn't sufficient for me to catch most of the meeting. According to the current agenda, an executive session began at 5:30, with the public meeting scheduled thereafter, and the committee is almost all the way through the scheduled topics. Luckily, I didn't miss the planned discussion of holding NEA negotiations in the open.

To be honest, I thought there'd be more people here, for that item, but perhaps the prospect of waiting out a closed session of indeterminate duration dissuaded some folks.

7:15 p.m.

I brought the video camera, although I don't plan to tape these sorts of meetings from start to finish. The particular discussion, though, is one to which I'd like to be able to make reference later.

But it does raise an interesting new problem: Contrasted with a small audio recording device, a camcorder (plus tripod) cut a figure in the room, and while it isn't my intent to be a hidden-camera guy, I also don't wish to become a focal point in the room.

Consequently, I'll have to figure out how to choose seating. The current arrangement in the high school library pretty much forces me to capture any speakers in the audience from behind.

7:38 p.m.

This isn't a complaint, but there's an extended conversation going on about AP classes and exams. The conversation began because the trends in Tiverton aren't the best, but the conversation has become general about the essential concept of AP. It's more like something from a social gathering than a meeting of an elected body. Just an observation; I wouldn't have expected the interest to be so high.

9:44 p.m. (from home)

What an astonishing conversation about open contract negotiations. Some familiar faces — none of them direct NEA union members, as far as I know — came forward to argue that the school committee shouldn't even bring up open negotiations with the union because it would start things off on the wrong foot. Put the degree of assumption aside; the committee is already in court over something about union claims that Chairman Jan Bergandy is openly declaring to be lies. The notion of good faith in these negotiations is a fantasy, a sham.

But the same people went on to argue that giving the public more information is intrinsically bad, in part because of the possibility of differing interpretations. In other words, it's better to allow participants in closed-door discussions to tell the public what their interpretation is than to let we dolts in the electorate decide for ourselves.

The kicker was when school committee member Carol Herrmann argued that if Mr. Bergandy feels that he cannot trust the union negotiators, then perhaps he shouldn't be participating in the negotiations! Think about that. The union lied about something that he said (in his view), and he is now openly and fairly raising ways in which trust can be regained and ensured, and the response — from an ostensible representative of the public! — is that he's been tainted and ought to take himself out of the picture.

It was like watching the lunchtime supervisors in middle school argue that a beaten and bloody student should proceed into a dark corner with the bully in good faith, because, honestly, really, truly, this time the bully is interested in calmly resolving differences.

Some folks expressed concern that requesting open negotiations would create costly delays in the contract creation process, but let's be honest: As I warned the committee before it made the ridiculously poor decision to approve the last contract, the union is simply not going to negotiate until the economy recovers. Precedent has proven that they'll receive retroactive pay from the economic perspective of the date that the contract is approved (i.e., in good times), and as long as they're able to hold out, they will.

RI Government, a Metastasizing Atrophy

Justin Katz

Laments Terry Gorman, of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement: "It gets more difficult to go in good faith to testify when it seems to be a foregone conclusion that citizens' opinions do not matter." After all, why waste the time making echoes in the great hollow space of a governmental "sham"?

This state of affairs will end, one way or another — either correction or collapse — and the balance of the hourglass suggests that the latter is inevitable. Worse, there's nobody on the periphery of state government who could effect the necessary changes, and we'd need multiple somebodies in any case.

The conclusion with which we're left — call it an exhortation — is for folks with common sense, integrity, and a potential for dedication to take up the reins in their cities and towns so that they'll be in a position to begin rebuilding state government properly after it falls, rather than allowing the same old same olds to pile it back together on another foundation of reeds.

A Lack of General Confidence in Commander in Chief

Justin Katz

So, many of the same voices whom the U.S. military and President Bush proved wrong about Iraq — Sen. Chuck Hagel (R., Nebraska) prominent among them — and stepping forward to offer their wisdom to President Obama on Afghanistan. My stance on the matter is much like my issue-by-issue stance on Iraq: The president is in a much better position to judge the situation than I am. I'd only advise that, whatever he does, he should ignore the weak-kneed alarmists who see failure at every turn.

One thing that is dissimilar to Iraq is my lack of confidence in the administration, and it's not based only on general distrust. It's based on this sort of rhetoric:

Asked whether the administration would consider reversing its strategy in the direction of withdrawal, a senior official said: "The president's view is that there are a lot of good ideas out there and we should hear them all. When you come down to the question of governance, we've seen what happens when one viewpoint is not particularly debated or challenged or reviewed or measured."

The reference is to the administration of George W. Bush, in which questions raised internally about the invasion of Iraq and detention policies for terrorism suspects were discouraged and quickly discounted.

Listening to all those darn good ideas is the core principle around which the strategy for this war is being developed? At some point (I would hope), the American people will become suspicious of the constant urge to answer questions with, "But wasn't that last guy terrible?" Surely, it's a glaring contradiction that candidate Obama ran for office with an End This War! plank only to reach office and find, well hey, we're just about done, here, anyway.

The bigger issue, though, is that whether one agreed with his premises or not, President Bush stated his goals in Western and Middle Asia and pursued them. When it came time to debate strategy, at least the American people knew why we were there (even if some wouldn't let go of kooky conspiracy theories). Obama's Afghanistan venture feels more like a policy dabble.

Unless that changes — unless he articulates his rationale and defends it with the enthusiasm that he allocates for domestic priorities — perhaps we are better off withdrawing, because defeat will be in the air, already.

Likelihood of Local Aid Cut Currently in Doubt

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ian Donnis of WRNI's On Politics blog points to a Mark Arsenault article in the Boston Globe, mostly about the state government shutdown-days, but that also mentions Governor Donald Carcieri's plan to eliminate $32 million in local aid to help balance the state budget. According to the spokesman for Rhode Island's Speaker of the House, the local aid cut requires legislative approval not likely to be forthcoming…

The reduction in state aid would require approval by the Legislature, which is unlikely to happen this year. Such a large cut in local aid would generate fierce opposition from municipal officials.

Larry Berman, spokesman for House Speaker William Murphy, said the governor is free to submit the proposal as legislation when the next session of the General Assembly begins in January, and then make a case for the cut within the normal committee process.

I wonder if this reaction comes as a complete surprise to the Governor; if legislative Democrats stick to the position expressed by Mr. Berman, it seems that they will be required to lay out some sort of long-term plan for Rhode Island, choosing either a big tax-increase or big spending cuts as the means for balancing this and next year's budgets. Could the Governor be content to let this issue be front-and-center in the 2010 legislative session, letting the people make their decision in the 2010 elections about whether they approved of the choices made by the legislature?


Ian Donnis lays out his own thoughts about Rhode Island's situation in a Boston Globe op-ed available here.

Quick Clarity on Health Care Debate

Marc Comtois

Congress is back after a 40 day recess. A lot has happened--namely, bi-partisan "comprehensive health care reform" looks dead--but there will be much discussion over the next few weeks. The Washington Post (h/t) oofers a summary and preview, including this helpful bit from Republican Congressman Mike Pence:

House Republicans, who held hundreds of their own town hall meetings that drew more than 100,000 voters, according to preliminary estimates, viewed the break as a galvanizing moment for opposition to the Democratic legislation. "I heard people saying, 'Look, we need health-care reform. We need to do something to lower the cost of health insurance for families and small businesses and lower the cost of health care,' " said Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.), the third-ranking GOP leader. "But I also heard people say that they don't want a government-run plan that is going to lead to a government takeover of health care."
It's an important point. For all the sturm und drang we've seen at the town hall meetings, what was missing was an explanation that those on all sides (not "both", there are more than two options out there) of the issue think something needs to be done.

President's Address to School Kids

Marc Comtois

As promised, the White House has released the prepared text of President Obama's speech to school children today. Here's the theme:

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

More excerpts after the jump. Content wise, there are a few things here and there that I didn't like (a reference to AIDS--the President needs to remember his audience, here). All in all, it's OK, but it's way too long for kids. After five minutes, the tune-out factor will be setting in. "When's recess?"

Despite its length, there are some good parts. For instance:

I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

He ended with some inspiration:
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

It's too bad that these excerpts weren't the entire extent of the speech. By the time he gets to these parts, he will have probably lost a lot of 'em.

A Return to Vlogging?

Justin Katz

Well, it's been almost seven years since I dabbled in video blogging — which was back before most people even knew what regular ol' blogging was. The technology and the fashion wasn't there, yet, though. Herewith, I explain why it might be worth another try:

Why We Stay

Marc Comtois

While Justin and Monique kept things flowing over the long weekend, I took some time with my family and my folks (down from New Hampshire) to take in some Ocean State sights. Well, mostly. First, I had some soccer duties to attend to on Saturday morning--hey, it was uniform day!

We went to Waterfire on Saturday night. It was a perfect Rhode Island night. Not too hot or humid, just the hint of a fresh breeze in the air. The normal lighting ceremony was accentuated by torch-lighting for those who would be accompanying the various opera singers who would be "spot singing" throughout the evening. The usual tourists were around as were quite a few college kids. (I wonder how many "regular Rhode Islanders" attend Waterfire?) My daughters liked it all--they always do!--and made sure we saw the Lady and the Gargoyles so that they could get their fortune. Add in some Del's and it was a perfect night for all.

On Sunday, we continued our tradition of attending Newport's Last Day of Summer party at Easton's (1st) Beach. In addition to the great food and carousel--and beautiful beach--there was a waterslide and some other activities for the kids, including a sand castle contest, sidewalk chalk contest, pie-eating get the picture. The kids had a blast (no sand castle prize this year, but last year they got a 2nd in the Kids Division and a 3rd for "Best use of only beach materials" for their volcano "erupting" with red seaweed). The day was punctuated by a stroll on the cliff walk. Again, another great one.

My point? This was truly a "Chamber of Commerce" weekend here in Rhode Island. And that's one of the reasons we love it here. Of all of the New England states, Rhody is truly unique with its relatively temperate climate, protected Narragansett Bay and, as Dan Yorke would say, the water. Throw in its proximity to Boston and New York and all of the history...just a great spot.

Over the years, I've often read or heard people who protect the political and economic status quo counter those of us looking for change with, "Well, if it's so bad, why don't you just leave." This past weekend was a good example of why we stay. But it's only part of it. Since taking a job down here, my wife and I have had two beautiful daughters who have grown up here. We are active in the community and school and have made many dear friends. We've put down roots--this is home, even if we weren't born here. We've invested ourselves and our time in this place. We want to make it better for the future and do what we can. Is it quixotic? Perhaps. But we think it's a challenge worth taking and we owe it to our kids to keep at it.

ADDENDUM: To that parents have E-Z Pass in New Hampshire and used it to get across the Newport Bridge. My Dad noted that one of the benefits of E-Z Pass is that you're supposed to be able to, you know, pass easily through the toll both and continue on your way. Not in Rhode Island, though. Even the E-Z Pass lanes on the Newport Bridge have a gate that comes down and stops you until the pass is read. With the tolls going up as of today, that might be something worth addressing.

A Long Weekend in Review

Justin Katz

It was a long weekend with some big thoughts.

  • I joined Larry Kudlow in seeing the suffering of small businesses (which isn't without government causes) as an ill-boding omen.
  • With some commenters seemingly incapable of discerning humor, I proposed amphibious cars as an alternative economic engine to "green jobs" for our state.
  • Monqiue noted that an alternative to "green"jobs is advisable.
  • Froma Harrop's endemic foolishness on healthcare matters came up again.
  • As did excessive concern about swine flue.
  • Nevermind excessive concern about toddler depression, which relates to Patrick Kennedy's mental health legislation in disconcerting ways.
  • But Monique's survey of various dietary findings provides some non-disconcerting (concerting?) information for social drinkers.
  • And I take issue with Michael Kinsley's games with rationing.
  • Meanwhile, whether the criminal or hero suffers more from the latter's pursuit of the former remains an open question, although it's clear that impatient drivers ought to avoid winding up behind me in traffic.
  • Switching gears completely (perhaps not so completely, actually), I suggested that the progressive/liberal lamentation of lost literacy might have something to do with the diminished prominence of literary propaganda.
  • Similarly, Monique pointed out that mainstream media propaganda on behalf of public sector unions may be losing its political currency.
  • Which may contribute to a sense that it's time for a liberal revolution... by which I mean a conservative one.
  • In a convoluted way (Me convoluted? Naw.), perhaps judicial restraint could help to facilitate just that.
  • Governments of various tiers' ensuring continuing deficits will contribute to such an outcome, as well.
  • As might the Obama administration's introduction of left-wing nuts into czarist positions.
  • Speaking of czarist positions, Monique challenges their existence altogether.
  • Meanwhile, I'd suggest that Pope Benedict's view of proper globalization could play a role in a reworking of international society... where fallibility doesn't derail his elucidation.
  • I'd also suggest that religious folks across the Anglosphere consider Cardinal George Pell's warning.
  • And to cap off the weekend, mild banter with everybody's favorite infamous local unionist ties quite a number of the above themes together to point toward fundamental differences of philosophy.

September 7, 2009

Fiscal Non-Feasibility: Let's Focus on the Real Problem with the Green Jobs Czar (the Mission)

Monique Chartier

Stephen Spruiell over at The Corner on National Review brings up something that has troubled me for a while: green jobs cannot exist outside of the vacuum of government subsidies and mandates. In fact, he points out that their survival is dubious even with such props and cudgels.

To buy into the "green jobs" scam, you must have an unshakeable faith in the ability of the government to create a viable industry from whole cloth, because there is no commercial demand for the services these green-collar workers would provide. We don't have to guess about the future of green jobs; we can look to the ethanol industry.

In 2005, after decades of subsidization, the government finally mandated the consumption of ethanol. It upped the mandate in 2007. This, plus high gas prices, was the boost the industry was looking for. Ethanol plants started springing up all over the Midwest.

Corn prices went up to meet the government-mandated demand for ethanol. Then oil prices fell, bringing the price of ethanol down with it. The industry's profit-margins disappeared. VeraSun, one of the largest ethanol makers, is in Chapter 11. Last December, the industry asked Congress for a bailout.

A Telling Exchange with the Unionist

Justin Katz

Yesterday, I related an anecdote in which I used my vehicle as a means of forcing traffic etiquette. The part of the tale on which National Education Association of Rhode Island Assistant Executive Director Patrick Crowley honed in was that I'd used my work van to get to a political event:

You are allowed to use your work van for political and blog work?

My response, of course, was that I own my work van and require nobody to grant me permission to use it however I like. It's a freedom thing, and I can't help but feel that these few sentences of banter trace back to fundamental differences in opinion about reality and the rights of man.

Some Questions about the Nature and Constitutionality of the Position of Czar

Monique Chartier

In explaining why former Green Jobs Czar Van Jones was not vetted for the position, an exercise that might have prevented the brouhaha that arose out of revelations of certain of his extreme political positions and his eventual resignation, the White House downplayed the power and importance of the position of the Green Jobs Czar.

If this is so, why did Van Jones have to go? If the position is, indeed, relatively low level, what difference does it make, for example, that he signed on to the 911 "truth" movement or that he subsumed communist beliefs into the green movement?

Under Justin's somewhat undiplomatically titled post, commenter Steadman questions why there is now an outcry about the position of czar when prior presidents engaged in the practice. First of all, not everyone has been crazy about the existence of the constitutionally questionable position. But the biggest source of the current unease can be traced to the current president's expansion of the unofficial department: when President Obama entered office, there were eight czars. The Executive Office now has thirty two czars. President Obama has presided over a four fold increase in the number of czars, each with their own budgets and special influence over the president and his choice of policies.

Commenter Steadman is correct on one level. Tolerance for the actions of prior presidents, dem and elephant, as they created or continued the practice of employing czars has set the stage for a considerable expansion - it's very tempting to say "abuse" - of power by the current president in the form of a czar explosion.

Now, if the Green Jobs Czar is a relatively low level job in the federal government, as the White House has averred, does that hold true for all czars? If so, why are we expending precious resources by paying them a salary and handing them budgets to spend? [The budget for the Green Jobs czarship was $80 billion.] Why does the position exist at all?

If power and importance do accrue to the job, why does it have a para-constitutional position, exempt from Senate advise-and-consent and Congressional oversight as to expenditure of federal tax dollars? Hasn't it been a way for the Executive Branch to take and exercise power in a manner not comprehended by the Constitution?

In fact, isn't abolishing the position of czar the only real way to bring it in line with the Constitution?

Exemptions Granted to Imply Supremacy

Justin Katz

Cardinal George Pell, of Sydney, is entirely correct that "part of the logic in attacking the freedom of the church to serve others is to undermine the witness these services give to powerful Christian convictions." Providing, say, adoption services in Massachusetts is thus defined not as something done out of religious conviction, but a secular practice that a religiously founded organization opts to pursue.

A church-based charity is no different, in this view, than a company offering a service for profit or a non-profit corporation processing charity as a means of professional occupation for its employees. Even if a religious group is filling a void, it must abide by the state's rationale for providing the service, and if it refuses to do so, well then, either the service must be ended or the state must pick up the slack.

To the contrary, says Pell:

Believers should not be treated by government and the courts as a tolerated and divisive minority whose rights must always yield to the minority secular agenda, especially when religious people are overwhelmingly in the majority. The opportunity to contribute to community and public good is a right of all individuals and groups, including religious ones. The application of laws within democracies should facilitate the broadening of these opportunities, not their increasing constraint

Modern liberalism has strong totalitarian tendencies. Institutions and associations, it implies, exist only with the permission of the state and to exist lawfully, they must abide the dictates or norms of the state. Modern liberalism is remote indeed from traditional liberalism, which sees the individual and the family and the association as prior to the state, with the latter existing only to fulfill functions that the former require but which are beyond their means to provide.

Civic involvement has been redefined as secular behavior, with the effect being that religion is a permissible eccentricity to be practiced outside of public view. Thus secularists foment the impression that the religious impulse does not increase charity and moral goodness, but is an unnecessary burden that our ancestors unfortunately attached to a feeling of fellowship that human beings naturally feel.

And if they do not feel that way (or don't express their feelings in preferred way), well then, the government must correct them. Once again, we see that government-based "social justice" is a cure worse than the disease. Actually, it's not a cure at all; it's an opiate for control while the disease festers.

Rationality and Rationing

Justin Katz

Michael Kinsley has argued that, when it comes to rationing, healthcare reform would only make explicit something that the system does inherently:

In practice, people die all the time because some effective treatment is too expensive. But whenever an issue gets drawn into the political system and becomes explicit, it becomes harder. That is what health-care reform will do to the question of rationing. ...

... The easiest way to raise your averages -- maybe even the best way, if we're being honest -- is to concentrate on the general level of care and not to squander a lot on long-odds cases. But if the long-odds case is you or a family member, you may well feel differently. ...

Here is a handy-dandy way to determine whether the failure to order some exam or treatment constitutes rationing: If the patient were the president, would he get it? If he'd get it and you wouldn't, it's rationing.

To some extent, Kinsley is correct to remind us that the inhumane error is sometimes easier. It's easier to fault chance for outcomes that we failed to avoid. Seeking to address a question that will not go without answer, one way or another, exposes, rather than introduces, our own personal responsibility. But that doesn't mean that we are right to claim responsibility in every situation.

In my view, "rationing" requires a deliberate decision not to provide something with resources under the group's control. Rich folks and presidents will always possess resources beyond a medical system's control, so in that sense, the only way to eliminate "rationing" (by Kinsley's definition) would be to ensure that additional services are not available. An individual's willingness to pay for a particular test, pill, or procedure ultimately sets its worth in the only way that is adequately humane, and because tests, pills, and procedures have absolute costs, wealthy people will have a higher threshold for "must-haves." Poor people's thresholds will often prove to be lower than a moral society should prefer.

It might be possible, in theory, to devise a formula to adjust the equation for individuals such that each expense requires roughly equivalent judgment. In essence, the cost of a procedure would translate into a percentage of personal income and worth: a man worth twenty grand would pay $1,000, while a man worth twenty mil. would pay $1,000,000. The impossibility of making such a system workable should be plain to see. Not only would the wealthy have incentive to opt out of the system, in one way or another, but the society must invest some body with authoritarian redistributive power, making the cure worse than the disease (not the least because the wealthy would inevitably have imbalanced influence).

I wouldn't presume, at this point, to put forward the formulas and guidelines that a fully reformed medical system should follow, but it seems to me that the general principles would not be new. Let people pay for most services as they go, carrying insurance as they choose for life's unpredictables, and let other people form groups and pool money to help as morality requires. There's a bit of trusting in the wind to lift our wings, in such a plan, but I truly believe the outcome would be better when judged by socially holistic criteria.

We simply don't see the ripples of our decisions in the public sphere, but the bigger and faster the man-made vessel that we place in the water, the more extensive, and detrimental, those ripples can be — and the more critical control over the steering becomes.

Truth Amidst Error

Justin Katz

The question of papal infallibility has probably been on the minds of conservative Roman Catholics since the publication of Caritas in Veritate. Not surprisingly, the encyclical's controversial pararaph declaring an "urgent need of a true world political authority" has dominated coverage and conversation. Some on the right, perhaps having not had a chance to digest the entire document, have fallen back on the "challenges both sides" truism, which is certainly applicable, but not excusive of the Holy Father's call to develop the United Nations into the source of the "real teeth" required for "the family of nations."

Cardinal Henry Manning provides a framework for considering Catholics' obligation for agreement, here quoted in a First Things review by Edward Oakes of Mark Powell's book surveying papal infallibility from a Protestant perspective:

So, in the face of this contradiction between his maximalism [with regard to papal infallibility] and his dismay at the pope's ruling, he had no choice but to adopt Newman's more minimalist interpretation. "The Decree of Leo XIII was absolutely true, just, and useful," Manning said in painful embarrassment. "But in the abstract. The condition of Ireland is abnormal. The Decree contemplates facts which do not exist....Pontiffs have no infallibility in the world of facts, except only dogmatic. The [rent strike] is not a dogmatic fact, and it is one thing to declare that all legal agreements are binding, and another to say that all agreements in Ireland are legal." This was exactly Newman's view in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (1874): "But a pope is not infallible in his laws, nor in his commands, nor in his acts of state, nor in his administration, nor in his public policy. Let it be observed that the Vatican Council has left him just as it found him here."

As arose in yesterday's post related to literature, there are deep truths visible only in artificial constructs in which complications may be constrained. A novel draws out truth by defining the reality of the setting, characters, and plot in such a way as to bring it into focus; the Author of life, however, has defined reality with an eye toward evoking a truth that humanity must strain beyond its own reason to see. The pope, in the minimalist understanding, cannot run afoul of that truth, even as he remains fully human — which is to say, fully fallible — when it comes to the complications of circumstances. As Oakes quotes Cardinal Avery Dulles:

... when the Church, through its highest teaching office, defines a truth pertaining to revelation, divine providence, working through a multiplicity of channels, will preserve the Church from error. But it may well be necessary, as ­generations pass, to reinterpret the defined dogma in accordance with the presuppositions, thought categories, concerns, and vocabulary of a later age.

To my eye, frankly, Pope Benedict's controversial paragraph reads as if out of nowhere — as if it required further qualification in a round of editing that didn't happen. The encyclical may be seen as an exhortation to expand our sense of community across the entire globe, and the pope is manifestly wise when it comes to first principles and the requirement to acknowledge the complexity of human society. Consider (all quoted emphasis in original):

Integral human development presupposes the responsible freedom of the individual and of peoples: no structure can guarantee this development over and above human responsibility. The "types of messianism which give promises but create illusions" always build their case on a denial of the transcendent dimension of development, in the conviction that it lies entirely at their disposal. This false security becomes a weakness, because it involves reducing man to subservience, to a mere means for development, while the humility of those who accept a vocation is transformed into true autonomy, because it sets them free. Paul VI was in no doubt that obstacles and forms of conditioning hold up development, but he was also certain that "each one remains, whatever be these influences affecting him, the principal agent of his own success or failure."

In striving toward a truly just society, we must beware of making gods of men and be aware that God works through our individual consciences. Thus:

The significant new elements in the picture of the development of peoples today in many cases demand new solutions. These need to be found together, respecting the laws proper to each element and in the light of an integral vision of man, reflecting the different aspects of the human person, contemplated through a lens purified by charity. Remarkable convergences and possible solutions will then come to light, without any fundamental component of human life being obscured.

The moral internationalist necessarily walks a line between directing systems and leaving people free to reject direction. The precariousness of that line emerges in the subsequent paragraph, in which the pope insists that we "prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for everyone." The counterbalancing weight that we too easily neglect is that spiritual development requires that the individual be free to strive and fail. Promotion of a human guarantor of economic stability cannot but displace the divine guarantor of eternal salvation. Benedict goes on:

The principal new feature has been the explosion of worldwide interdependence, commonly known as globalization. Paul VI had partially foreseen it, but the ferocious pace at which it has evolved could not have been anticipated. Originating within economically developed countries, this process by its nature has spread to include all economies. It has been the principal driving force behind the emergence from underdevelopment of whole regions, and in itself it represents a great opportunity. Nevertheless, without the guidance of charity in truth, this global force could cause unprecedented damage and create new divisions within the human family. Hence charity and truth confront us with an altogether new and creative challenge, one that is certainly vast and complex. It is about broadening the scope of reason and making it capable of knowing and directing these powerful new forces, animating them within the perspective of that "civilization of love" whose seed God has planted in every people, in every culture.

Intrinsic to the vastness and complexity of this "creative challenge" is the reality that success cannot be achieved in a wholly deliberate fashion. It requires a trust in a sort of communal reason in which God can work through each individual — an ambiguity between the powers of different social aspects. In other words, political authority must be bounded by religious, economic, and cultural authorities. Lines between these aspects are artificial and, especially where they place them in hierarchical order, will inevitably be exploited. That is why political bodies, which by definition have recourse to police and military force, must be limited in scope and checked by other such bodies. One of global scope will not fail to implement global tyranny, no matter what abstract laws its founders put in place to restrain it.

In like fashion to the armies of would be social engineers that the West has generated, Pope Benedict appears to be drawn to the elevation of political forces to control economic powers. Such is the implied solution to this problem:

Owing to their growth in scale and the need for more and more capital, it is becoming increasingly rare for business enterprises to be in the hands of a stable director who feels responsible in the long term, not just the short term, for the life and the results of his company, and it is becoming increasingly rare for businesses to depend on a single territory. Moreover, the so-called outsourcing of production can weaken the company's sense of responsibility towards the stakeholders — namely the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society — in favour of the shareholders, who are not tied to a specific geographical area and who therefore enjoy extraordinary mobility. Today's international capital market offers great freedom of action. Yet there is also increasing awareness of the need for greater social responsibility on the part of business. Even if the ethical considerations that currently inform debate on the social responsibility of the corporate world are not all acceptable from the perspective of the Church's social doctrine, there is nevertheless a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference. In recent years a new cosmopolitan class of managers has emerged, who are often answerable only to the shareholders generally consisting of anonymous funds which de facto determine their remuneration.

It would be a fatal error to set political authority, with the gauze of democratic accountability, as essentially the manager of the managers. All such power must ultimately filter through human beings, and those whose offices are titularly governmental are no less prone to greed and corruption than those whose offices are corporate. Socialistic solutions accomplish only the joining of police power with economic power, whereas any workable plan that would preserve individual freedom would have to set these powers in productive conflict.

Business managers must be addressed as people, not forces or offices. They must be held answerable to all, in a social sense, not to a few in a governing regime that is answerable to all in a highly manipulable democratic process. We must not fool ourselves into promoting a moral government as the guarantor of moral businesses.

Just so, the appearance of a "new" project of developing a worldwide community does not negate humanity's fundamental inability to comprehend all forces on a global scale. The individual person cannot be trusted to comprehend and control the intricacies of even a small village, and joining us together in legislative brain trusts does not increase our capacity for articulation. Instead, we must rely on a spiritual form of intelligence that subverts individual intentions for the universal good and remain fully cognizant of the reality that human beings will always and everywhere face a powerful temptation to reverse that subversion.

Just as no bolt of divine truth strikes a pope upon his elevation making him a superhuman seer, no wave of global charity will whelm a global governing bureaucracy. Cardinal Dulles phrased it well that "divine providence, working through a multiplicity of channels, will preserve the Church from error" on matters that it is the Church's role to discern. Similarly, only divine providence, working through the even greater number of channels throughout human society, can preserve us from tyranny.

Setting Up Continuing Deficits

Justin Katz

Don't let this tidbit slip past our awareness:

Emerging from a tough competition, four Rhode Island police forces have won money from the federal economic stimulus program to hire police officers, the White House has announced.

The largest single sum, $3,529,812, goes to Providence, to hire 13 officers. The other beneficiaries are Pawtucket, to hire or retain 8 officers; Woonsocket, 4; Central Falls, 2; and the Narragansett Indian Tribe, 1. ...

The award covers the cost of hiring officers at entry-level pay and benefits for three years. But there is a "catch," as some critics of the stimulus program call it. When the aid dries up at the end of the period, the employer is required to keep the new personnel on the payroll at local expense for at least another year.

We can expect that the "stimulus" regime is full of such ramps into an uncertain future — with the government borrowing money from the future in order to obligate itself to maintain expenditures that it may or may not be able to afford a few years down the road. It's government by economic fantasy, with elected representatives and bureaucrats proving that college students aren't alone in unwise reliance on debt.

September 6, 2009

Nuts in the Government

Justin Katz

Have you heard of the Van Jones controversy? No? You know, the thing with Obama's environmental jobs "czar" and his kooky left-wing extremism? Huh. The spotlight got sufficiently intense that Mr. Jones had to resign; of course, the light didn't emanate from mainstream sources — which typically promote themselves as just such seekers of truth and keepers of accountability.

Ed Morrissey provides a good starting point to catch up on the controversy, including its infection of the negligent American press. Andy McCarthy, meanwhile, argues that President Obama shouldn't be seen as floating above a staffer mishap:

The point, of course, is that Obama vetted Jones just fine. President Obama is not Mr. Magoo — haplessly gravitating to Truther Van and Ayers and Dohrn and Klonsky and Davis and Wright and the Chicago New Party and ACORN, etc. Jones is a kindred spirit. Obama knows exactly who he is. Jones was given a non-confirmation job precisely because that circumvented the vetting process. This isn't one of those things that just happen. This is Barack "Transparency" Obama gaming the system.

In keeping with the media's disinterest in Googling Van Jones, we're still largely in the dark about the specifics of Mr. Obama's career of community organizing (although McCarthy raises some disturbing anecdotes). With that note sounded, an interesting thought experiment all but throws itself on the examination table: Van is a "Truther" because he was among those fanning the blue flame of belief that the "truth" about 9/11 was that it was an inside job; what do you suppose will be the media reaction if the next Republican president attempts to slip a "birther" onto his staff?

Okay, okay. It's not much of an experiment.

Applying the Law, Even When Wrong

Justin Katz

Since we're already on the topics of self reliance and freedom, it's a good time to recall a Providence Journal editorial about a New Yorker who is suing everybody conceivable over his fall from Newport's Cliff Walk. The fellow left the path, apparently required more protection than his own common sense to keep him from falling, and is not embarrassed to admit publicly that he's the one-in-a-million doofus who couldn't enjoy the scenery safely.

Which is to say that I agree with the editorial writers, except where they delve into legal process:

Let's hope the state Supreme Court understands this concept: that personal responsibility has a place even in the modern world, and that others do not deserve to be punished when someone fails to use a reasonable degree of caution.

Actually, I prefer to hope that the law doesn't require the judges to find in the klutz's favor, but if it does, we should all prefer that they do so. Such circumstances would be an indication that we, the people, have wandered off the safe path along the treacherous cliff of liberty and ought regain our legislative senses. If we look to the judiciary to pass judgment on when the law, as it exist, applies, then we've created an arbitrary system governed by an oligarchy of appointees and litigation is just an expensive roll of the dice.

Liberté ou Égalité

Justin Katz

It is, unfortunately, behind a subscriber wall, but John O'Sullivan's recent article about types of revolutions (taking recent unrest in Iran as a starting point) is excellent fodder for Sunday afternoon pondering, while mowing the lawn or whatever you have to do today.

In essence, O'Sullivan follows a speech by Italian President Fancesco Cossiga in the '90s reviewing five revolutions that grouped into liberal (what modern politics would characterize as "conservative") and anti-liberal (leftist, progressive). O'Sullivan writes that "the aesthetics of revolution have been captured by the Left, including the fascist Left, so that we often fail to recognize a revolution carried out on other principles." On the liberal (conservative) side fall England's Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the American Revolution of 1776, expanding liberty and transforming government into a body of representatives.

That is emphatically not true of either the French Revolution of 1789 or the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. As Cossiga pointed out, these revolutions were anti-liberal revolutions hostile to the liberties, both real and procedural, central to 1776 and 1688. That is less clear in the case of 1789, because the early French revolutionaries thought they were introducing into France the same reforms they had admired in England and America. But as several scholars have observed, most recently Portuguese professor Joao Espada in his essay "Edmund Burke and the Anglo-American Tradition of Liberty," very different conceptions of liberty underlay their reforms. Whereas the Anglo-Americans saw liberty as a system of government that allowed people to pursue different ways of life, their Continental imitators saw it as a particular way of life that, if necessary, might have to be imposed on those mistakenly enslaved to tradition, religion, inequality, or whatever. Eradicating tradition, religion, inequality, or anything else to which people are strongly attached, however, requires abolishing their freedom, usually bloodily. Hence the revolution of 1789 became more plainly anti-liberal and more violent as it ground relentlessly on.

ProJo's Portrait of State Worker Plight Strikes Questionable Tone

Monique Chartier

In a state with 13% unemployment and high taxes that go, in part, to fund the not ungenerous compensation of public employees such as Ms. Esposito, do you suppose the Providence Journal thinks they're doing public employees a favor with stories such as this in yesterday's paper?

Linda Esposito, a keeper of vital records for the state Health Department, says Governor Carcieri should stop picking on state workers every time there’s a financial crisis.

“Unfortunately, the governor feels that when there’s a problem, state employees are the first people he looks to, to help fix the problem,” Esposito said. Layoffs “are just going to add to the unemployment lines,”

* * *

In Esposito’s department, where births, deaths and marriage records are filed, public hours were cut in half in February; the department has shrunk through attrition and “we’re all in there trying to pick up the slack,” she said. “I’m a single working parent. It hits us the hardest, with only one paycheck. That’s the thing, if I don’t pay my rent to my landlord, I’m going to be out on the street. The state has to manage its money better.”

Give some workers credit; it appears that they politely declined to comment when buttonholed.

Esposito was one of a few state workers who agreed to speak about the imbroglio between Carcieri, state workers and their unions, over shutdown days and potential layoffs.

“No, thank you” and “All set, thank you,” and “No comment,” were the more frequent responses from state workers who ate lunch outside the Department of Administration building at One Capitol Hill yesterday.

One gentleman even got the source of the problem right.

But [Ted] Cooper places the blame with legislators, who “kind of stuck [Carcieri] with the budget.”

All in all, however, it's difficult to believe that an article consisting mainly of this motif

“I can’t take anymore cuts in pay,” said [state worker Peter] Blais. “I just keep losing money. You get an increase of so many percent, but then you start getting more taken out” for health insurance.

would be near the top of the to-do list of a p.r. professional seeking to advance the position of the public employee in this state.

Toward Discourse or Direction?

Justin Katz

Aesthetically, it's hard to disagree with Arthur Blaustein's argument for the value of literature to civic health:

Novels offer genuine hope for learning how to handle our daily personal problems—and those political issues of our communities and our country—in a moral and humane way. They can help us to understand the relationship between our inner lives and the outer world, and the balance between thinking, feeling, and acting. They awaken us to the complexities and paradoxes of human life, and to the absurd presumptuousness of moral absolutism. They can give us awareness of place, time, and condition—about ourselves and about others. As our great Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner said, the best literature is far more true than any journalism.

Being an apparent progressive, however — the piece seems to have first appeared in Mother Jones — Blaustein betrays a somewhat narrow view of intellectual richness. The lamentations against shortened attention spans and the sensationalization of news are well justified, but the value of literature to the likes of Blaustein is less to deepen civic discourse than to ensure agreement before discussion has even begun:

We depend on our fiction for metaphoric news of who we are, or who we think we ought to be. The writers of today's political and social realism are doing no less than reminding us of our true, traditional American values — the hope, the promises, and the dreams. When we read these novels, we learn about who we are as individuals and as a nation. They inform us, as no other medium does, about the state of our national politics and character—of the difference between what we say we are and how we actually behave. They offer us crucial insights into the moral, social, and emotional conflicts that are taking place in communities across America.

A novel necessarily restricts circumstances to suit the theme, and although doing so draws out Faulkner's truth truer than facts, it sets aside other applicable truths that muddy judgment. Blaustein notes that novels "give us awareness of place, time, and condition," but they are conditions of the author's choosing and construction, and from an ideological, strategic standpoint, controlling publication and promotion thereby controls readers' sense of reality.

Personally, I take the supposed coarsening of civic dialogue to be an indication of growing pains more than decline. The Internet has given society the tools to keep up with the pace of cable news — to pluck stories of interest from the constant stream and debate their significance. Twitter's a step too far, but blogs also offer a remedy to the magnification of non-news. With a handful of networks (whether on the classic channels, cable, or satellite) and print publications controlling the spigot, it was easy for splashy, yet insignificant, news to drown out all else; with the current multiplicity of outlets, it is possible for the public to look around the celebrity controversies and see the policy events that would formerly have been obscured behind them.

Govern or Be Governed

Justin Katz

Returning home from the Johnston, a couple of weeks ago, I floated along in the fast lane of 195, my mind flitting through political thoughts, and it took me a moment to register the fact that traffic in both of the other lanes had come to a crawl. A sign explained the reason: "Left two lanes closed ahead." Per highway etiquette, I pulled into the first opening available. Let's just say that my action was unique among those in the lane that was actually moving.

After a dozen or so cars flew by, I pulled my work van back into the fast lane but kept pace with the slow-moving space that I had just occupied. The two truckers between whom that space had been saw what I was doing, and the one behind maintained my opening while the one ahead modified his speed to that of slowest lane. The mile or so between us and the actual merge cleared like the upper cell of an hourglass, and the traffic began to move at a tolerable pace. As we approached the merge, the cars that I'd blocked alternated politely into traffic, and I like to think that the newly established pattern held at least for a little while.

It occurred to me that those whose advantage I'd squashed may have resented the presumption, but if we individual representatives of society step forward for small and large corrections, it is indeed possible to exist without government officials dictating and directing, waving flags to corral us into functional routines. Two news stories came to mind, the first out of Westport:

The homeowner... found the suspects in his house when he returned from running errands at about 3:50 p.m., police said. When the suspects ran out of the house, he chased after them. When two construction workers drove by, he flagged them down and they joined the chase, police spokesman Detective Jeff Majewski said.

One of the suspects, running with a pillowcase full of jewelry, handed the goods over to one of the construction workers and continued running, Majewski said. Officers, including the Dartmouth K-9 unit and Westport harbormaster, conducted a "massive search" in the area for a few hours before finding [Gerald] Thorpe, he said.

The mugshot of Mr. Thorpe that accompanies a Sakonnet Times editorial on the topic shows a man surprised and confused, cut and dirty, not yet suffering from the poison ivy through which he'd crawled. As the editors wrote:

Police don't normally recommend that citizens pursue bad guys (things might not have ended so happily had one of these men been armed). But in an age when people supposedly no longer get involved (fear of lawsuits and the like), the response this time was nice to see.

A thematically similar story from Seattle didn't end well for the indignant citizen, although not in the way one might expect:

A plucky teller foiled a robbery attempt at Key Bank in Seattle. But the story does not end happily. When a small man in a beanie cap, dark clothing, and sunglasses pushed a backpack across the counter and announced, "This is a ransom. Fill the bag with money," teller Jim Nicholson ignored his training and "instinct took over." He lunged across the counter and attempted to grab the thief by the throat, or at least to pull his glasses off. The nonplussed would-be robber bolted for the door with Nicholson on his heels. A couple of blocks away, with the help of others, Nicholson tackled the guy and held him until police arrived.

Two days later, Key Bank got in touch with Nicholson. A bonus, perhaps? A commendation? Not quite. He was fired. It seems he had violated the bank's strict policy that tellers should always comply with robber demands. A Key Bank spokesman has not returned a call asking for comment.

A private company can set its own policies, of course, but it's an insidious tendency of modern society to discourage folks from acting on their freedom to stand for principle, to take risks that establish social expectations and proclaim an unwillingness to be victimized.

Health News You Can Abuse

Monique Chartier

Buy blueberry futures. (... or do we sell short now that the news has hit the headlines?)

Feeling lazy and stupid? (Hey! Put down the remote, come to the computer and pay attention.) Possibly you've been indulging at the State Fair of Texas.

Not such Smart Choices? Looks like the new food labeling campaign has a serious (Froot) loophole.

Revenge of the social drinker:

At weigh in.

Is the cure worse than the disease?

Be still, my heart.

This one I don't get.

And for those who wish to disregard Justin's sensible advice and obsess in a GPS sort of way about H1N1, iPhone has a (non)killer app for you.

September 5, 2009

How Would Government Healthcare Address This?

Justin Katz

I have yet to hear back from Congressman Patrick Kennedy's office regarding my inquiry about the meaning of "screening" when it comes to mental illness and addiction, with specific reference to an amendment to the healthcare "reform" bill in the House. Sometimes, though, when you've this sort of thought filed in the back of your mind, relevant examples emerge, as if of their own volition.

Such is the case with findings related to childhood depression:

Depression in children as young as 3 is real and not just a passing grumpy mood, according to provocative new research.

The study is billed as the first to show major depression can be chronic even in very young children, contrary to the stereotype of the happy-go-lucky preschooler.

What sort of preventative measures might be taken, in light of this information, were the government financially interested in controlling costs? The question drifts into creepy (even terrifying) ground pretty quickly:

Depression was most common in children whose mothers were also depressed or had other mood disorders, and among those who had experienced a traumatic event, such as the death of a parent or physical or sexual abuse.

If an event in a child's life should trigger red flags in a screening process, a treacherous path exists for the government to assert its authority as implicit medical caregiver. Drugs. Institutional care. Restrictions and mandates on parents and family members.

There's a risk of letting one's imagination run too wild, here, but blending our culture's increasing social liberalism with a clinical view of psychological and spiritual well-being and a government-directed healthcare system makes for a dangerous, dangerous cocktail.

Concern About the Swine Flu Crisis Mode

Justin Katz

Does anybody else see imaginary warning signs whenever news media convey urgency related to the swine flu and its predicted resurgence with the resumption of school? Parents and non-parents alike do well to pay attention to developments on the H1N1 front, but before leaping onto the latest and greatest protections, all should seek context like this:

It is not clear whether the new virus is more dangerous than ordinary seasonal flu for children, though some health officials suspect it is. ...

Swine flu was first identified in April and is now responsible for almost all flu cases in the United States. It has caused more than 1 million illnesses so far, though most were mild and not reported, the CDC estimates. More than 550 lab-confirmed deaths and 8,800 hospitalizations have been reported.

Those statistics don't mean the new flu is worse than seasonal flu, which is particularly lethal to the elderly and plays a role in an estimated 36,000 deaths each year, the CDC says.

Cause for concern, yes, but anybody who declares that any particular action is necessary to halt certain death and the decimation of human society on its basis has an ulterior motive.

A Zealot's Confidence, Not an Advisor's Circumspection

Justin Katz

Since the pre-Anchor Rising days of Dust in the Light, I've found it to be among the great puzzles of Rhode Island media that somebody is actually willing to pay Froma Harrop a living wage to write political opinion pieces. The young writer might be tempted to find encouragement in the apparent height of the bar, but he or she should not fail to recall that the rules vary by ideology, among other things.

With the escalation of the healthcare debate, Harrop has been helpfully reminding me why it was that I gradually came to find my time better spent elsewise than trying to sort through her sentences in search of something that might profitably be raised in discussion. I recently noted her apparent inability to understand why there's any left-right controversy over the currently floating healtcare "reforms" at all. In a subsequent offering, Harrop seems immune to suspicions of risk; that is, the question of whether the proposed regime will work never enters her argument:

On Nov. 2, 2010, voters will not be asking, "What's in it for me?" They'll already know.

And consider how voters would feel if there were well-designed health reform. The uninsured would be delighted, of course. But that newfound sense of security would have spread to Americans covered through a workplace: A lost job would no longer leave their families vulnerable in a medical crisis.

Older people would see that nothing they care about in Medicare has changed. They might even find themselves enjoying new benefits included in current legislation: a gradual phasing-out of the drug benefit's "doughnut hole" and no co-payments or deductibles for colonoscopies and other preventive-care screenings.

Employers might already be observing their health-insurance premiums moderating, thanks to more efficient delivery of care. And their workers might have begun enjoying higher paychecks as the boss started to pass on those savings.

Considering that the legislation piles mandate upon unwise regulation, rather than streamlining the healthcare system and aligning incentives appropriately between user and funder, I'd say that the more likely outcome is that bosses will have begun pushing their employees onto a public option and pocketing most of the savings for themselves (perhaps to compensate for increased expenses resulting from cap 'n' trade). But the point, here, is Harrop's total lack of fear that Congress's passing anything could have a worse outcome for the country than its passing nothing. By the next election, she writes, "America will have fixed the health-care mess or it will not have," depending in binary fashion on whether the Democrats have passed a bill. The jaw-dropping insinuation is that the Democrats' style of "fixing" the economy is as sure a fix as plugging a damaged tire.

If that legislation is so masterful, I wonder, why delay various provisions and hide them from view? Why backload the costs to hit after the next presidential election? I'm inclined to see it as ignorance, rather than deceit, that guides Harrop away from the fact that Republicans hardly have to make things up to "spook" voters about the potential to lose their current healthcare. One need only read the bill, which explicitly kills grandfathered policies after five years of forced attrition.

The sentence that doesn't enter Harrop's rhetoric, though it should is: Of course, all this requires that Democrats keep their tendencies toward big-government excesses in check and actually contrive a "reform" that will work. She has an unbounded faith in liberal government agents pushing forward an increase in government control.

Far be it from me to offer the Democrats political advice, but a sense of fair play compels me to suggest that, wherever they ultimately seek guidance, Froma Harrop's columns would be a sweet-tasting laxative formulated to kick into effect at precisely the wrong moment.

Forget Wind and Green, This Is the Economic Gimmick for Rhode Island!

Justin Katz

What Rhode Islander doesn't read this and think, "I want one"?

Ken Andrade's 1964 Amphicar 770 has a unique set of instructions pasted on the dashboard:

"Warning — Before Boating:

1. Put bilge plug in.

2. Secure front luggage deck.

3. Use lower locks to seal doors."

The instructions serve as a reminder to properly seal the two-door convertible before driving it into the water for a spin.

Multiple states are striving to become the hotspot for the "green industry," but I've yet to hear of any competition to become the global hub of amphibious automobiles. And Rhode Island is perfectily situated, if you ask me. Think of the ease of hopping from Little Compton to Newport to Jamestown to Narragansett, or from Tiverton to Portsmouth to Bristol to Warwick. These towns all sound distant from each other, but in a road vehicle that could slide effortlessly into water, the state would be much more easily traversed.

And we'd save millions in bridge repair (which the state historically accomplishes, it seems, via full bridge replacement).

Going Right Where They Sent Us

Justin Katz

So the national unemployment rate is 0.3% shy of 10%, and economists are debating when, not whether, it will achieve double-digits. In Rhode Island, which has been in double-digits for quite some time, already, the experts continue their reluctant predictive marches toward my initial gut estimate of 14-15%. And worst of all, usage of the term "jobless recovery," perhaps calling forth that terrifying creature, the W-shaped recovery, has moved from whisper to indoor-voice.

Oddly, for all the distinguishing between young workers and older workers, employed, unemployed, and not-looking, discouraged workers, few reports are differentiating between employers in an attempt to explain how the economy can grow without creating jobs. One wonders whether the reason has something to do with the subsequent conclusion, to which Larry Kudlow comes based on this picture:

The large companies are gradually recovering as a result of major cost-cutting, inventory reduction, and a lean-and-mean return to profitability and high productivity. So the payroll survey registered a 216,000 job loss, the smallest drop in over a year.

However, the household survey, which picks up small, owner-operated, LLC/S-Corp-type businesses, registered a devastating 392,000 job loss, which follows losses of 155,000 and 374,000 in the prior two months. This is the source of the unemployment-rate jump, as 466,000 newly unemployed were scored in the report.

In a nutshell, this is without question now the Obama administration's recession:

Borrowing from Peter to redistribute to Paul is not fiscal stimulus. It's a fiscal depressant. Small businesses are having enough trouble getting their hands on credit. And now they can't find enough capital for new start-ups. The government prospers, but the small-business sector sinks.

Then there are all the tax and regulatory threats related to health-care and energy reform. Until Mr. Obama retreats from his plan for a government takeover of the health-care sector, and a cap-and-trade program that will cripple the energy sector, the cost of hiring the new job will continue to rise.

The threat of higher payroll taxes and energy costs is more than enough to deter new hiring. Taxes on upper-end investors are going to rise, too, and there may be a health-care surtax on top of that. And don't forget that small businesses pay the top personal tax rate, which is going up. Oh, and how about the recent minimum-wage hike? Yet another business cost.

So while the government doles out money for transfer payments and one-time temporary tax credits, the ensuing increase in the private-sector tax-and-financing burden becomes a complete deterrent to new job creation, as well as capital formation.

Kudlow suggests that Obama and the Congressional Democrats could perhaps spur recovery simply by backing off their mad-dash for government power. Similarly, Rhode Island's General Assembly could hand their ostensible constituents hope of a quick turnaround if legislators would signal soon and decisively that the state has learned the error of its ways and intends to make itself the most business-and-taxpayer-friendly cut of land in the Northeast.

Neither of those conversions is very likely, of course, which means that our highest priority, as individuals, should be to find something buoyant to hold onto, and to grab it tightly.

September 4, 2009

Weighing Down Public Investment, Whether "Stimulus" or Otherwise

Justin Katz

So, firefighters from three cities have joined the state carpenters' union in picketing the construction site of a new firehouse in Johnston — perhaps erroneously:

Two hours after the lines went up, Mayor Joseph M. Polisena said that when the town awarded its contractor to the low bidder, Iron Construction, two months ago, it clearly stipulated that all the work had to be performed by union members or by other workers at the prevailing wage.

"The town will not break any state or federal laws. We will ask to get a certified copy of the company payrolls, and if we find that prevailing rates were not paid, we will not release any money," the mayor said.

This part might not resonate with most readers, but it's a telling statement:

"We believe their workers are being paid half the standard rate," [union representative David] Palmisciano said. "They are undermining community standards."

For some context about "community standards," we should recall that union carpenters recently signed a new pact with the main contractors association, as follows:

The carpenters now get $30 per hour plus $20.45 per hour to cover health insurance and other benefits.

The new two-year deal, approved unanimously Thursday morning by about 400 members at the union hall in Warwick, calls for a $1.50-per-hour increase in the first year and an additional $1.75 the second.

That rate is easily double the "community standard" for private-sector carpenters, if those with whom I've discussed such matters are a representative sample. Heck, I'd wager that a good percentage of experienced carpenters in the state don't make, total, what the union carpenters get for benefits.

I don't raise this as a carpenter, because it isn't my intention to delve into the response that I'd give to the obvious retort, "So join the union." I raise it as a follower of public policy. What this dynamic means is that every dollar that the government spends on the labor component of carpentry contracts goes to half as many workers as it would in the private sector, or else it funds half as much work.

Progressives like to think that they're thereby taking money from the rich to give it to the middle class, but it's naive in the extreme to believe that the program works out that way when filtered throughout the economy. They're harming workers, most of all. They're also ensuring that the billions of dollars in government borrowing that's been sold to the American people as a plan to assist the economy are heavily diluted by unnecessary excess for favored groups.

The Appearance of Free Stuff

Justin Katz

Could it all be as simple as getting folks to think through their arguments? That's an encouraging thought, but probably overly optimistic. Consider (emphasis added):

In Amsterdam, where I spend part of the year, every time I go the pharmacy and take out cash to pay for a prescription, the pharmacist and all the well-insured customers who never seem to pay for anything watch me like I've pulled a frog out my pocket. Then the pharmacist looks at me and my money with pity and says, "Oh, you're American." She doesn't elaborate.

Appearances can be deceiving. Frida Ghitis's observation of Europeans' government-induced delusion is of a piece with Senator Whitehouse's remark that government healthcare takes a cost burden from the shoulders of European businesses. I'd suggest that, whatever they may believe along the leading edge of Western Culture's decline, Americans should be proud that they are resistant to scammers and schemers proclaiming how easy it all could be if we'd just accept their offers to give us something for nothing.

Re: Teacher-in-Chief

Marc Comtois

I touched on the growing controversy surrounding President Obama's address to school kids earlier in the week. As I said, I thought Obama's speech would be pretty harmless and I expect that the speech will be filled with the usual platitudes and educational cheerleading. That's fine and is the sort of feel-good thing we should expect the President to do. However, I did find the "lesson plan" released by the Administration to be a little weird. I think it was this memo, not the speech itself, that got people wound up and paranoid to the extent that some school districts across the country aren't going to air the speech in their schools.

Supporters of President Obama have pointed out that both Presidents Reagan and Bush, Sr. also addressed school children. And they were also criticized. For instance:

As Barack Obama prepares a nationwide broadcast to America's students next Tuesday, it has been revealed that Democrats complained in 1991 when then President George H. W. Bush broadcast a speech from a Northwest Washington junior high school.

In fact, the House Majority leader at the time, Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), said "The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students."

Such was reported by the Washington Post on October 3, 1991 (h/t KY3 Political Notebook via Chuck Todd)

The difference, I'm pretty certain, is that neither Reagan nor Bush put out a comprehensive lesson plan, much less a poorly written one, beforehand in preparation for their speeches.

The Obama Administration has fallen to blaming this misunderstanding on the "inartfully worded" memo and has changed at least one "suggestion" from, "Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president” to "Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals.” That's a smart change and more indicative of what the President's address should aim to do a la Reagan and Bush. Inspire the students about education in general by encouraging them to think about themselves (that's what kids do best, anyway!). Shy away from anything that could be inferred as Presidential hagiography. President Obama is also going to release his speech ahead of time. Another wise move.

So, the lesson plan is one reason--and probably the biggest--why people got upset over this. Over-exposure is another. Since he took office, we have seen or heard the President speaking at us about nearly every aspect of our lives, from health care to the economic crisis to the baseball All-Star game. People who disagree with Obama's politics are just plain getting sick of the Obama Show. Yet, despite all of the media exposure, at least they could switch the channel or turn the page. But with this address to the schools, they see Obama circumventing their ability to control who or what has access to their children. I think they are over-reacting and that part of being a parent is discussing such things at the dinner table. Re-programming, if you will. Dan Riehl (h/t) thinks the backlash is symptomatic of a deeper conflict going on within the country:

That what once would have been a non-event is so incredibly controversial suggests to me that a great many Americans likely feel disconnected from the nation's political affairs right now, as well as extremely concerned about what the future's going to bring. The crisis Rahm [Emmanuel] suggested taking advantage of doesn't just cut one way, after all. And I doubt that any alienation, or all the concern came about from just 9 months of any one term.
That is certainly part of it, but it has been a heckuva nine months. For myself, I agree with John Podhoretz:
If, in his speech, he tells kids to do their homework and listen to their teachers, he will be doing something good, especially for African-American kids, who are, all sources and studies report, desperately in need of hearing that performing well in school isn’t some kind of betrayal of their race.

If he does use the speech to do some politicking on his agenda, there’s going to be trouble in the schoolhouse. As the nation learned in June and July, it turns out there are few things more boring than listening to Barack Obama discuss health care; school-age children by the millions will be shifting in their seats, rolling their eyes, and beginning to think seditious thoughts if they are forced to sit through such a thing.

Basically, I think most kids are going to hear Charlie Brown's teacher. Mwa mwa. Mwa, mwa mwa mwa mwa. BUT, if some come away inspired to learn, all the better.

The Hard Work of Educating

Justin Katz

The rhetoric about public-sector workers' doggedly, thanklessly doing the hard work that the community requires, recently promoted around here by Phil, comes to mind especially with the item that I've italicized in the following:

EAST PROVIDENCE — The city's teachers have voted to withdraw from volunteer activities in the district's schools.

The roughly 500 educators won't help with afterschool activities except for those that are accompanied with paid stipends, nor will they chaperone dances, buy supplies for their classrooms or participate on committees for curriculum development, accreditation or school improvement.

This isn't just a temporary imposition affecting only the irreplaceable educational experiences of current students — which is egregious enough; it's acceptance of decay in the system itself. Teachers may see school committees come and go, they may see budgets swell and ebb, but in East Providence, they apparently don't consider themselves to be guardians of the city's education system. Of what value are they, then, beyond replaceable cogs in the public machine?

Perhaps it should be encouraging that Education Commissioner Deborah Gist included the East Providence teachers' actions among the issues of concern that she highlighted at yesterday's Board of Regents meeting, but a contrast of emphasis emerges. In the case of Woonsocket, she threatened the superintendent's certification over the hiring decisions of the school committee. If she believes, as she states, that educators should never "make decisions that directly impact students" (in a negative way, we can assume she means), then perhaps she should be looking into revoking their certification when they behave as if their jobs are more a matter of entitlement than calling.

Stand Above the Political Mire on Ground of Authority

Justin Katz

We're right, I think to take a moment to flag the suspicious belief of the Rhode Island judiciary that processes must default in the favor of the state's special interests while the judges have their moment to review and direct the minute management details of the government's operation. Layman that I am, it's entirely possible that I'm missing some nuance (or even misreading the legal arguments), but yesterday's court proceedings trace as follows:

  1. Superior Court Associate Justice Michael Silverstein ruled that the clock did not allow him sufficient time to hear and consider the arguments for and against halting the implementation of Governor Carcieri's executive order for government shutdown days, but that he considered precedent for issuing a stay on judicial action (i.e., allowing the shutdown day to proceed) pending arbitration to be clear, and he did so (PDF). He also allowed that, should the Supreme Court immediately vacate his stay, he would begin hearings with the intention of reaching a decision about halting the shutdown day sometime in the afternoon.
  2. The union lawyers ran to the Supreme Court.
  3. Supreme Court Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg stated that the Superior Court judge "failed to address plaintiffs' request for temporary and preliminary injunctive relief to stay, pending arbitration, the implementation of Executive Order 09-20." She thereupon, without argument, granted the unions' request to halt the shutdown and brought the case into the Supreme Court's hands for September 11 review (PDF).
  4. Governor Carcieri stated that he's been left with no alternative other than layoffs and has asked his department heads to compile a list of the state's 1,000 most recent hires for the purpose of beginning layoff notifications.

Again, speaking as a layperson, McKenna Goldberg's reasoning strikes me as inaccurate to the point of dishonesty and the related ruling as predetermined. Silverstein didn't fail to address the unions' request; he failed to grant it, and that outcome shouldn't have been a foregone conclusion. That said, let's be honest about the effect: If the Supreme Court finds in the governor's favor, then the state can still schedule its twelve shutdown days, albeit perhaps with an additional speed bump of arbitration. Of course, as time passes, the number of days without employees becomes more disruptive, but the judiciary hasn't yet issued an opinion on the executive's authority.

The most destructive outcome, in my opinion, is the continued operation of state government as if its purpose is to produce cliffhangers to bring us to the edge of our seats for the commercial breaks. What will the legislature do? What will the governor do? What will the unions and the courts do? Oh, the drama!

What we need is consistent, predictable leadership. The governor should already have had in his hand a list of every state employee in the order in which they would be laid off, as well as deadlines by which the state's dramatists in the legislature, unions, and courts would have to conclude their performances in order to prevent the pink slips from flowing.

Right now, the process is a deck of reactive wildcards, and it's little wonder that all of the decision makers think they can leave the governor holding the political bag. He could completely turn the cards on them, though, if he articulated his understanding of his responsibilities and authority — "if not shutdowns, I can only begin firing" — and broadcast the next step before each milestone in the wrangling process.

To some extent, that's what he's done, but his method has left the arrow pointing at him as the most recent entity to make a decision. Post the list online. Draw red lines after the appropriate employees, marking how much money must be saved by which date in order to prevent all employees above the line from losing their jobs. And, while we're at it, bring some other wish-list items into the spotlight — explaining, for example, that only the legislature can halt certain costly mandates and giveaways.

If anything has become clear over the past few years, it is that Rhode Islanders cannot, as a body, infer cause and effect beyond the previous day's news cycle and the next day's revenue report. Let's bring transparency to the next level: namely, describing what will happen in the future. If the judges find that the governor doesn't have the authority to do X unilaterally, and if the relevant special interest won't agree to do X mutually, all by a certain date, then Y will be the consequence.

September 3, 2009

Public Sector Pay vs Private Sector Pay

Monique Chartier

Would it be an awkward moment to mention this?

State and local government workers are enjoying major gains in compensation, pushing the value of their average wages and benefits far ahead of private workers, a USA TODAY analysis of federal data shows.

The gap is widening every year, rising by an average $1.02 an hour last year and $2.45 an hour over the past three years. The better pay and benefits for public employees come as private-sector workers face stagnant wages and rising unemployment.

State and local government workers now earn an average of $39.50 per hour in total compensation, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Private workers earn an average of $26.09 an hour.

But that's way back in February, 2008, you point out. Very well, let's fast forward to April, 2009. Unfortunately, the intervening year only exacerbated the situation. And residents of the state where the benny is king will not be overly surprised at the source of the widening differential.

The pay gap between government workers and lower-compensated private employees is growing as public employees enjoy sizable benefit growth even in a distressed economy, federal figures show.

Public employees earned benefits worth an average of $13.38 an hour in December 2008, the latest available data, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says. Private-sector workers got $7.98 an hour.

Overall, total compensation for state and local workers was $39.25 an hour — $11.90 more than in private business. In 2007, the gap in wages and benefits was $11.31.

The gap has been expanding because of the increasing value of public employee benefits. Last year, government benefits rose three times more than those in the private sector: up 69 cents an hour for civil servants, 23 cents for private workers.

Union Bosses Win: 1,000 Brothers and Sisters to be Laid Off

Marc Comtois

After a long day, the state employee union leaders got their wish when Supreme Court Justice Maureen McKenna Goldberg overturned Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein's decision and granted a stay of the implementation of Governor Carcieri's plan to have 12 shut-down days in an attempt to save money. The result: 1,000 state workers will now be laid off. In a statement (h/t Cynthia Needham at 7to7), the Governor wrote:

"It should greatly disturb every state employee and every Rhode Islander that labor leaders are willing to sacrifice people's jobs so they can maintain their stranglehold on the citizens of this state....This decision by Justice McKenna Goldberg may just be the straw that broke the camel's back, sending this state down the path to financial ruin, as it gives greater weight to union and special interest demands rather than the fiscal reality of the state and the employment of state workers. Preventing the state from moving forward with the shutdown days cripples our ability to address growing budget gaps, and stops the executive branch from fulfilling its constitutional duty to balance the state's budget."
Is it any wonder why labor unions are increasingly unpopular?

Living Together as Stall Technique

Justin Katz

Here's an interesting check on received wisdom:

It seems to many like the sensible thing to do: Move in with your boyfriend or girlfriend, spend more time together, save money by splitting the rent and see if you can share a bathroom every morning without wanting to kill each other. ...

[Scott] Stanley, a University of Denver psychologist, has spent the past 15 years trying to figure out why premarital cohabitation is associated with lower levels of satisfaction in marriage and a greater potential for divorce.

Not surprisingly (now that somebody else has researched it), many of those who transition into marriage from cohabitation approach each step as the the least possible commitment at the time, so by the time they find a catalyst for release from the escalating promise that they didn't want to make, they find it must be done via divorce.

Extrapolating the findings a bit, it seems likely that erosion of the profundity that the culture attributes to marriage has been increasing the likelihood that people see the change in category as little more than a step in a spectrum — certainly not a fundamental change in one's state of being. The ease of divorce facilitates this impression by removing a trigger for deep consideration and discussion.

Obama Administration Basks in Glow of "Previous Administration's" Work

Marc Comtois

I heard yesterday that the Obama Administration held a celebratory press conference about getting a couple billion dollars out of Pfizer for some thing or other. Except, as Glenn Reynold's pointed out, it was the Bush Administration that actually extracted the dough.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer agreed to pay $2.3 billion to settle civil and criminal allegations that it had illegally marketed its painkiller Bextra, which has been withdrawn.

It was the largest health care fraud settlement and the largest criminal fine of any kind ever.

Although the investigation began and largely ended during the Bush administration, top Obama administration officials held a news conference on Wednesday to celebrate the settlement, thank each other for resolving it and promise more crackdowns on health fraud. {emphasis added}

And then there's this:
Top Republican officials rarely publicized drug marketing cases or appeared during news conferences about them. Eli Lilly agreed to pay $1.4 billion over its marketing of Zyprexa, an antipsychotic, in January, before President Obama took office. The announcement was made by prosecutors in Philadelphia.

Ms. Sebelius’s decision to make the Pfizer announcement in Washington suggests that the political environment for the pharmaceutical industry has become more treacherous despite the industry’s commitment to save the government $80 billion as part of efforts to change the health care system.

Or it suggests and Administration desperate for a "win." Even if someone else got it for them.

Come Along on England's "Death Pathway"

Justin Katz

I'm not sure whether or not this constitutes a "death panel," but it's certainly got the "death" part:

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph, a group of experts who care for the terminally ill claim that some patients are being wrongly judged as close to death.

Under NHS guidance introduced across England to help doctors and medical staff deal with dying patients, they can then have fluid and drugs withdrawn and many are put on continuous sedation until they pass away.

But this approach can also mask the signs that their condition is improving, the experts warn. ...

"As a result a national wave of discontent is building up, as family and friends witness the denial of fluids and food to patients."

So without patient or family consent, doctors make the determination that a patient is close enough to death that they ought to spend their remaining hours under heavy sedation that might mask improvements in their condition. All that remains to do is to show them pretty pictures of mountain scenes and then ship their bodies off to the Soylent Green factory.

E.P. Teachers Offer "Kid-Friendly" Boycott of After School Activities

Marc Comtois

ProJo reports:

The city's teachers have voted to withdraw from volunteer activities in the city's schools.

The roughly 500 educators won't help with afternoon activities except for those that are accompanied with paid stipends, nor will they chaperone dances, buy supplies for their classrooms or participate in committees for curriculum development, accreditation or school improvement.

The changes are effective immediately and will affect all of the city's 13 schools. School begins Sept. 9.

"We're continuing all our contractual obligations and beyond," said Valarie Lawson, the president of the local teachers union, East Providence Education Association. The union adopted the policy at a Monday membership meeting.

"This is not work to rule," said East Providence High School history teacher Greg Amore, a member of the committee that developed the teachers' plan.

When teacher unions vote to do only what is contractually necessary, it is considered "work to rule" in education circles.

The city's teachers, however, will continue to write letters of recommendation for students, meet and talk with parents and be involved with parent-teacher organizations. They will also continue to offer after-school help, coach sports teams, correct papers and plan lessons at home, and participate in all paid extracurricular activities.

Amore said this plan is "kid-friendly."


Mark Zaccaria, on Congressman Langevin's First Town Hall Meeting

Engaged Citizen

On August 19, I attended the Town Hall Meeting called by Representative James Langevin for what was said to be an opportunity for him to gauge the pulse of his district during the summer recess.

There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that Topic A for the evening’s exchange would be the proposed changes to US healthcare now on the table. Certainly the Congressman thought that, since there was a PowerPoint presentation rolling as folks filed in to take their seats. The slides went back and forth between ideas that were characterized as myths about the healthcare legislation now pending and what were said to be facts that refuted those myths. It would be instructive to know who created that presentation. Whether it was the Congressman’s staff or some other entity in the Administration, the slides established our host’s position beyond any doubt before the meeting even began. This was not an opportunity for the congressman to listen to his constituents but a sales pitch for the legislation known as HR 3200.

The Congressman’s comments were confusing, sometimes contradictory, and at times, frightening. Of particular concern to me, and others was his statement that healthcare was too important a matter to be left to market forces and the private sector and that he did not go to Washington to vote on such important issues.

When asked if he had personally read the text of the pending legislation on healthcare he went great distances to avoid answering. In fact, he has not read any of the five competing healthcare bills now working their way through the federal legislature. But instead of saying there was no single bill on its way to an up or down vote, he used considerable time-consuming detail in his circular answer to avoid coming out with the simple truth. To me, that awkward moment spoke volumes about our current Representative’s shortcomings in the area of leadership, and had me questioning his impact within the chamber. It was abundantly clear that our Representative will do exactly what he is told to do by those in power in Congress, whether or not it’s what his constituents want.

I accept that the Congressman has not read every Whereas and Therefore in every bill to change the name of a post office or bridge in some far off state. But he himself indicated he understands that healthcare is the issue of the day so I think he should have read this one. I accept that his staff may have read all five of the current crops of these bills, but we did not elect his staff to represent us on this or any other issue. Right now Healthcare is too important a topic to delegate to staff, and far too important for our Representative not to have read HR 3200.

In answer to a question on whether or not he would vote in favor of a bill 70% of his constituents opposed I was expecting to hear a statement on how a representative Republic functions. Instead, I listened as my Rep in Congress dodged the question by saying he was actually here on a Fact Finding Mission. My translation: He’ll vote the way Nancy Pelosi tells him to, without regard to what we think.

The Congressman repeated himself over and over as if to emphasize his position and defend it against the contrary opinions that abounded in the room. Clearly he was not there on a fact finding mission and clearly he has already been told how to vote. As if to emphasize that fact, the PowerPoint presentation was left running in an endless loop throughout the meeting.

My fellow citizens, the current national debate has never been about healthcare reform in the United States. Instead it has always been about the reform of healthcare insurance in our country. Without a fundamental restructuring of the costs associated with the business of health care delivery, there will be no change in the charges that health insurance has to cover. That means the cost basis of our current problem will remain the same, even if we find some other funding mechanism. Worse yet, if any new health insurance scheme carries higher overhead costs for delivery -- say the cost of the new federal bureaucracy needed -- then our pain could easily increase.

It’s high time we took a hard look at Tort Reform. That’s not to give negligent practitioners a pass on egregious errors but rather to cut down on frivolous claims and the abuse-of-process that happens when some start believing that the medical community is made of money. It’s high time to look at the value of alternative therapies and the wider role they could have in better, more cost effective US healthcare options. We need to agree that limited US Healthcare resources should be used to treat US Citizens for whom the US Government exists. We need to also find a path to this point of balance that doesn’t break the bank by triggering price inflation that will harm everyone.

If we don’t, then Rhode Islanders will continue to see their monthly costs for health care insurance equal or even exceed their mortgage payments.

So we need to give up on artificially aggressive schedules under which we propose to make sweeping and broad based cultural and economic changes to our nation. It’s time for our Congressman to say “NO” to any more pork being diverted at Ms. Pelosi’s request. Haste makes waste. My own reading of HR3200, the most widely circulated House Bill currently under consideration, reveals conflicts with our current ideas on how intrusive government should be in all our lives. It contains loopholes and pork opportunities galore, all of which will increase the cost of healthcare in our country.

And who will pay those higher costs? Don’t kid yourself. You will.

And that’s another thing our Congressman failed to mention during his performance last Wednesday evening.

You hired him. You can fire him.

Mark Zaccaria is a resident of North Kingstown, RI, where he runs a small marketing firm. He is a former member of the North Kingstown Town Council. He and his wife, Ruth, have been married for 34 years. They have three grown children who are all residents of the state. Learn more about Mark’s candidacy for congress at the web site:

Silencing "Sectarian Extremists"

Justin Katz

Dan Yorke has posted his conversation with gay activist Susan Heroux, who has been calling on the governor to withdraw from a speaking engagement with the Massachusetts Family Institute. Yesterday, Dan raised the issue with Governor Carcieri.

In between, RI Democrat Party Chairman Bill Lynch called in to discuss his press release proclaiming Carcieri a "sectarian extremist" for supporting such a group. What Lynch managed to clarify is that his willingness to raise the rhetoric to that level of heat — indeed, this entire controversy — is based on no additional information than the existence of this paragraph on the group's Web site:

MFI does not consider homosexual behavior to be merely an alternate lifestyle or sexual "preference"; it is an unhealthy practice and destructive to individuals, families and society. Our compassion for those plagued by same-sex attraction compels us to support the healing of those who wish to change their behavior. MFI strongly opposes any efforts by political activists to normalize homosexual behavior and all attempts to equate homosexuality with benign characteristics such as skin color, or the "gay rights" movement with the civil rights movement.

Those stirring up the issue have offered no evidence that the Massachusetts group actively introduces opposition to homosexuality for public debate as an aggressive campaign to turn back the clock. Their stance is wholly defensive. Indeed, the only current action in this area that I found on their Web site was opposition to a bill that would give men the right to enter women's facilities (such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and "single sex residential facilities like emergency shelters") provided they're dressed as women. This is sectarian extremism?

Regarding the mention of attempts to "normalize" homosexuality, the example on the Family Institute's Web site is a program by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) to indoctrinate school children to, for example, avoid using gendered pronouns, hold "drag show" fundraisers, and be familiar with sexual reassignment surgery (PDF).

As I suggested when I called in to Dan's show on Tuesday, Susan Heroux's complaint against MFI's position "against gay people living as gay people" is a matter of defense of tradition, not attempts to impose a way of life on individual citizens. The whole campaign on the left, now including the RI Democrat Party, is to delegitimize such defense. (To put the issue in context, it would be interesting to know Lynch's position on unisex bathrooms and drag shows in public schools.)

I do not approve of the above-quoted paragraph and would argue that the Massachusetts Family Institute should adjust its position in such a way as to enable communication across the cultural divide for the purpose of encouraging healthier behavior and conservative family values without requiring a complete repudiation of attractions that many Americans take to be irrevocable attributes of who they are. But Heroux characterized the MFI as a slightly "less obvious" version of the KKK, and it's a short step to declaring, say, the Catholic Church as a gang of "sectarian extremists." That's where they're going with this.

Putting the rhetoric aside, the Massachusetts Family Institute pursues reactive resistance to an aggressive radical movement. Heroux and Lynch, on the other hand, wish to marginalize that effort and exclude such groups from civic discourse. So who's the intolerant extremist?

Wearing Out the Public

Justin Katz

Matt Allen and I touched on the legislative process on last night'sMatt Allen Show and the way in which it wears the public out as legislation moves toward law. After all this heat and energy, we still have multiple versions in the Senate over which to argue, likely with various provisions, all of which have the potential to drift out of awareness only to reemerge during conference. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

September 2, 2009

Revisiting the Wheelchair Clause

Justin Katz

An interesting comment was just made to my August 19 post looking at strange changes to language concerning the purchase of wheelchairs that the current healthcare "reform" would make:

The supplier will no longer be able to get the lump sum payment for basic powered wheelchairs and have to wait 13 months for their 105%, it's bad for cash flow and only the largest suppliers will be willing to provide these chairs, if any. It will also push suppliers into trying to justify more expensive "complex rehabilitative power driven wheelchairs so they don't have to wait 13 months for their 5% profit.

The end user gets to make this decision, by the way, and it really makes no difference to that person how the supplier makes or does not make money... until they can't find a provider because medicare reimbursement has driven everyone out of the market.

So, rather than one predictable and undesirable result of government involvement (rationing), it looks like another (market restrictions favoring large incumbents).

Schilling to Run for MA Senate?

Marc Comtois

Waving the Bloody Sock?:

Curt Schilling, best known for his bloody-sock pitching heroics, may step up to the plate and run for U.S. Senate.

The retired Red Sox ace said today in a telephone interview with NECN that even though his “plate is full,” he’s been contacted to consider a run for the open seat held by the late Edward M. Kennedy. A Jan. 19 special election has been set by the governor to fill the post.

Schilling, a Republican who stumped for John McCain in the New Hampshire presidential primary last year, said he’s a reluctant possible candidate.

“You’d have to make a decision pretty quickly. Let’s just leave it with that,” Schilling said to NECN.

“I think it’s going to take the right candidate. ... There needs to be an enormous amount of house cleaning done,” he added, saying that sentiment would probably cost him deeply.

“My first press conference could be my last,” Schilling said, stressing he sees a lot wrong with politics as usual in the Bay State.

The right-hander said his work with his online gaming company, 38 Studios, is taking up a lot of his time, but anything is possible. He also said a decision to run for the U.S. Senate would need to be backed by his wife, Shonda.

Based on his past media appearances, I think the Schill may be a little too candid for most voters. But maybe that's just what we need.

Langevin's Town Hall Tomorrow: A Preemptive Invitation

Monique Chartier

Below is the text of an e-mail invitation to Congressman Langevin's health care town hall in Westerly tomorrow. [Thanks to Scott Bill Hirst, a registered Republican in Hopkinton, for forwarding. I'm sure rumors that the RNC has now launched a full-blown investigation into the question of your party status, Scott, are completely exaggerated.]

I wanted to send you an urgent invitation to an important town hall with Rep. Jim Langevin this Thursday, September 3rd.

He'll be talking to constituents and gathering feedback. Whether you ask a question or show your support with a sign, attending this town hall is a powerful way to show where you stand and thank those in Congress who are fighting for reform.

I hope you can join us. Here are the details:

What: Health Care Town Hall with Rep. Jim Langevin

Where: Esplanade in Wilcox Park
44 Broad St.
Westerly, RI 02891

When: Thursday, September 3rd
Arrival Time: 3:30 p.m.
Start Time: 4:30 p.m.

Please arrive as early as possible, and make sure that the most powerful voices in this debate are those calling for real reform, not angrily clamoring for the status quo.

RSVP here:

First of all, isn't the point of this town hall to listen to the concerns and wishes - "gathering feedback" - of constituents? Why, then, is turnout from one particular segment and not all constituents being encouraged?

Secondly, notice that the "status quo" (i.e., preservation of an excellent health care system and one that provides care that 80% of Americans are satisfied with) is cast in a negative light while reform - "real reform" - is established, without facts or reason, as the positive goal. This is reinforced by the suggestion to "thank those in Congress who are fighting for reform". Isn't this preempting both the voices of many town hall attendees as well as the debate on the underlying issue?

A Glimpse of Another System

Justin Katz

This sort of turnaround would flourish in a system of educational choice and merit-driven, professional teaching careers:

After a $35-million renovation that left no surface untouched, Nathan Bishop is truly a Cinderella story. Closed nearly three years ago, the school today welc omes its first class of sixth-granders and a new cadre of teachers handpicked by Michael Lazzareschi, an award-winning former elementary school principal who is determined to dispel the myth that middle schools are the district’s weakest link.

Handpicked teachers? You mean they weren't selected for these plumb jobs based on proximity to retirement? Some would argue that this is more in line with the way "professionalism" ought to function in the public education system:

The Massachusetts Teachers' Association expressed concern that such a system [of rewarding teachers for student success in AP classes] threatens "collegiality" in the schools, since some teachers who make the effort are rewarded more than others who do not. (The MTA wants the local unions to snub grants that go directly to teachers in the form of increased compensation.)

Union leaders in Dartmouth and Leicester rejected the grants that would let their schools participate, meaning only 12 systems will participate, though there is money for 14 this year.

Retired Teacher in Favor of Binding Arbitration. Surprised?

Justin Katz

It's disappointing to see retired teacher and principal John Savage (R - East Providence) release an op-ed in favor of binding arbitration on House Minority Office letterhead. The piece (provided in full in the extended entry) amounts to union spin issued in the name of the Republican Party. The substantive core of Savage's argument is as follows:

There is a belief that arbitration decisions overwhelmingly favor teacher unions. Over a span of ten years, (long enough to give us a respectable sampling) 636 teacher contracts were negotiated in the Nutmeg State. Only seventy-five (12%) of these contracts (756 individual items) were submitted to arbitration. Scorecard of decisions rendered: School Boards-379/ Unions-377. Let us probe deeper! Health Insurance issues: School Boards-52%/ Unions 48%, Working Conditions: School Boards 53%/ Unions 47%, Salary issues: School Boards 42%/ Unions 58%.

Well did those arbitrated salary decisions put the strain on municipal budgets? Maybe they did, but certainly not because of the arbitration. The arbitrated salary increases averaged 2.39% while the negotiated salary increases averaged 2.48%.

Savage offers zero, zilch, nada indication of his source or of the 10-year span that he's describing. He explains that binding arbitration became law in Connecticut in 1979, which ought to leave almost three decades of data. Why present numbers from only one third of those years? It's curious to note that, in this regard, the elected Republican representative's spin is more egregious than that of NEA Assistant Executive Director Pat Crowley, who at least divulged the years at which he was looking and used a span showing higher increases than Savage describes (my response here).

The lack of citation also makes it impossible to adjust for context. So School Boards won 52% of healthcare-related disputes, but that might mean they won the right to send out plan descriptions in digital form, instead of paper while the unions won the right to continue paying 4% coshares. Who knows?

One thing we can say is that, alone among the various categories that Savage lists, salary increases inherently compound. Health insurance and working conditions can change from year to year; salaries never, never go down in the world of public sector education.

If Savage is truly after a solution — for the benefit of Rhode Island's students — that will resolve contract disputes through "fair and evenhanded legislation," he could advocate for a ban on retroactivity. That would give the unions incentive to reach agreement, rather than to drag out "negotiations" for years on end to ensure that the cost of their labor never recedes.

The most fundamental problem with Savage's position is that he cuts out the consideration of most concern to those whom he ostensibly represents. That the arbitration produces slightly less remunerative results for unions tells us only that it kicks into gear where the terms of contracts are most hotly disputed. In other words, it's a safety switch that unions can hit when taxpayers manage to mount a truly substantive response to their steamroller.

Full text of Savage's op-ed:

Binding arbitration is a solution to a problem. Not one child has lost a single day of school due to a teacher dispute in Connecticut since binding arbitration legislation was passed in 1979. But is this cure worse than the disease? Let us look at the Connecticut experience and you decide for yourself.

There is a belief that arbitration decisions overwhelmingly favor teacher unions. Over a span of ten years, (long enough to give us a respectable sampling) 636 teacher contracts were negotiated in the Nutmeg State. Only seventy-five (12%) of these contracts (756 individual items) were submitted to arbitration. Scorecard of decisions rendered: School Boards-379/ Unions-377. Let us probe deeper! Health Insurance issues: School Boards-52%/ Unions 48%, Working Conditions: School Boards 53%/ Unions 47%, Salary issues: School Boards 42%/ Unions 58%.

Well did those arbitrated salary decisions put the strain on municipal budgets? Maybe they did, but certainly not because of the arbitration. The arbitrated salary increases averaged 2.39% while the negotiated salary increases averaged 2.48%.

But isn't it true that Connecticut's teachers are the highest paid in the country because of binding arbitration? When binding arbitration first became law, Connecticut's teachers were the fourteenth highest paid in the country. Six years and two teacher contract cycles later they remained fourteenth in the country.

That changed when that the Connecticut Legislature passed, "An Act Concerning Education Enhancement" which gave dollar incentive grants to school districts to raise their classroom teacher's salaries. It was then that teacher salaries rose.

Won't teacher unions deliberately maneuver cities and towns into an expensive arbitration process? Again, over a ten year span only 12% of contracts went to arbitration. That means the remaining 88% didn't.

If it is utilized so minimally, why even allow for arbitration? In Rhode Island the Michelson Act, which allows teachers to collectively bargain, provides no mechanism which will ultimately resolve a dispute. There must be a means to bring finality and fairness to the contractual process for the sake of students, teachers and taxpayers.

Presently teachers have no real options. They cannot legally withhold their services without punishment from the courts and they cannot institute work to rule (which they themselves abhor) without experiencing the wrath of the community. Meanwhile those with whom they are negotiating can refuse to even talk for as long as they see fit. If one believes in a collective bargaining process, then one must also believe in a way to bring such a process to a reasonable end. Yes, binding arbitration is a solution.

The legislation which allows for binding arbitration can and should unequivocally ban teacher strikes. And the legislation can by statute also require arbitrators to fully consider the financial capability of a city or town, school and non- school demands upon the city or town, and the public interest of the taxpayer.

Binding arbitration is an opportunity to be grasped. Fair and evenhanded legislation can bring to an end teacher contract disputes in Rhode Island once and for all.

A World of Labor's Own

Justin Katz

The union organizations probably have to go through these motions, if only to perform a tribal dance proving their value to members, but I wonder whether such news doesn't serve to remind taxpayers why they're increasingly annoyed with the existence of an alternate employment reality in the public sector:

With the largest state employees union rejecting a state-offered compromise that would let workers recoup some — but not all — of the pay they stand to lose during a government shutdown, the two sides are headed to court Wednesday over the union's bid for a temporary restraining order to block Governor Carcieri's 12 shutdown days.

As is often the case with cartoons, I think Jim Bush captures a swelling mood with this one (reprinted with permission):

September 1, 2009

Civil Unions for All Means All Under the Government

Justin Katz

Dan Yorke hosted an interesting conversation this afternoon on WPRO regarding the manufactured controversy over Governor Carcieri's plans to speak at an event hosted by the Massachusetts Family Institute. I've asked Dan to post the audio of his interview with Susan Heroux on his PodCast page, and I'm hoping to procure the audio of my subsequent phone conversation with him.

But while that's all in the works, it's worth responding to something suggested by a regular caller to WPRO, and pretty much weekly star of Matt Allen's open-line hour on Fridays before the Violent Roundtable (although I confess that my ineptitude with names leaves me unable to provide his). Being of the more libertarian conservative school of thought, he raised the suggestion that the government should offer only civil unions, with citizens free to sanctify their unions however they wish.

The essential problem with eliminating civil recognition of marriage in favor of universal civil unions is that a civil union is something granted by the government, while marriage entails the government's recognition of something that transcends itself. Marriage, that is, is prior to government; that's why it's a civil right; that's why it is evil for the government to dictate that, for example, black folks can't marry white folks. Civil unions would, by definition, be manipulable.

It's important for government to recognize marriage, as traditionally understood, because households built around intimate male-female relationships tend toward the creation of new life in an inviolable family unit. Again, this transcends government. Homosexual households are not equivalent because they must procure children by some means external to the relationship, and one way or another, that process already involves — requires — government regulation (as with adoption).

It should be noted, of course, that our freedom to associate with each other also transcends government (and ought to do so more), so homosexual relationships between adults are inviolable by that mechanism, in concert with a variety of other relationship types.


Marc Comtois

Via Drudge, it seems President Obama is going to address all pre K to 6th grade students on September 8th. Hm. On the one hand, I'm guessing he'll speak a lot of platitudes about working hard, opportunity, reaching for the stars, etc. In and of itself, probably pretty harmless. But the concept of sending out a talking points sheet is a little weird. Here's one of the talking pre-speech discussion points:

Why is it important that we listen to the President and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?
I wonder if the difference between "listen" as in "do what they say" and "listen" as in "analyze what they say" will be discussed. I doubt it, especially since most kids don't have the critical thinking skills to figure out the difference. Instead, it will simply be an authority figure talking at them. Ahh, the irony that the "question authority" generation has gone here....

This address to our captive school children is all part of the kick-off for the new "Get Schooled: You Have the Right" campaign, which also an appearance by the President on a back-to-school special.

"Get Schooled"?


Bureaucrats trying to be too cool by half, if you ask me. And it seems to be an extrapolation of urbanity nationwide, where the cultural relevance of "getting schooled" may not be completely grasped in the hinterlands. Setting aside the poor grammar usage exhibited by naming an education initiative after a bit of slang, don't these guys know that once you co-opt slang you remove all of its inherent coolness immediately?

The Thing About Taxation

Justin Katz

Oswald Krell is at it, again — proving, this time, that beating a strawman for long enough begins to resemble a pillow fight against one's self:

Low tax states are more violent, have higher rates of teen pregnancy, somewhat higher poverty rates, and lower median incomes.

Do low taxes cause these problems? No. Correlation is not causation.

Rather, to me, what is emerging is the description of an attitude. Low-tax proponents favor "Stand on your own" rhetoric, which is really a coded term for letting the rich shirk their civic obligations. The result is that the bulk of the population is noticibly worse off in low-tax states: more violence, more teen pregnancy, more poverty, lower incomes.

Now, explain to me: why this is an attractive paradigm?

I repeat: The argument for taxes in Rhode Island isn't that low rates are the decisive factor in a given region's economy, and adding social data doesn't change the fact that people and businesses do take the cost of government into consideration.when they plot their financial lives. The question that Rhode Island's progressives are so studiously striving to ignore is that taxation must be judged based on a given state's circumstances, and Rhode Island is overburdened with them, as with other manifestations of big government like mandates and regulations. "We will let you operate your business as you see fit and to keep more of what you earn" need not be innuendo for gun violence and teen pregnancy.

Lower taxes and lightened regulations would encourage economic activity and improve the earning potential of all residents, which I'm reasonably certain would correlate positively with improved social markers in the state, as well. (Krell doesn't provide his sources, so I'll simply offer the hypothesis that Rhode Island fares poorly, by such measures, compared with similar states.)

That's a suggestion that RIFuture-owner Brian Hull should consider, as well:

The recession effect is having a profound impact on the state's economy, but the long-term financing of the state would be better served if the General Assembly would make the "tough choices" and restructure the tax code, shifting the burden away from the vast majority of Rhode Islanders who have seen their incomes shrink and are struggling to make ends meet.

For perspective, don't lose sight of the fact that, in the name of improving the economy, Hull wants both to raise taxes and to shift them toward a particular group. Apart from being manifestly unjust, such a strategy would be economically devastating. What, pray tell, would Hull like to change about this picture:

Me, I'd like to see less red across the board.

"Sports teach the same lessons to the superstar as the substitute."

Marc Comtois

ProJo high school sports reporter John Gillooly writes about pay-to-play and gives an example of a young girl who thought she'd give volleyball a try, but paying a sports participation fee was an issue:

She had heard that anyone who felt their family couldn’t afford the participation fee could go to the high school athletic director and make out a hardship waiver form. But that would be embarrassing for both her and her family.

The easier thing to do was just not play.

After all, it’s no big thing that she’s not playing. She’s not some superstar athlete. Her presence on the team wouldn’t be the deciding factor in a drive for a state championship. Other than a few of her friends, nobody will even notice she’s not playing.

So she became one of the Lost Children of Pay-to-Play.

I don’t know “her” name.

I wouldn’t recognize “her” if I saw her.

But after decades of chronicling the activities of high school student/athletes and talking to people in areas where pay-to-play has been a reality for a while, I know “she” and other teenagers like her exist at every high school that has pay-to-play sports.

They are the not the star athletes, not the ones whose names appear on the recruiting lists of college coaches. They are, however, teenagers for whom high school sports participation is important for a variety of reasons that don’t include All-State awards or college scholarship offers.

We have become a society that more and more measures its concept of success by an individual’s celebrity-rating, yet high school sports teach the same lessons to the superstar as the substitute.

There are lessons of commitment, teamwork and healthy lifestyles and they come at a time when young people are beginning to make their own decisions about their life’s direction.

I would argue that being a substitute or an end-of-the-bencher can provide more valuable lessons than when your a superstar (or even just a solid varsity star). You learn about hard work, commitment and being on a team, even if personal glory doesn't redound upon you. That mindset, that sense of self-sacrifice, is one of many skills learned on the field or court that can easily be transferred into everyday life. As I've said, providing our students the opportunity to compete on teams--or play music, or act or paint--free of charge (so to speak) is an important component of a well rounded education. It shouldn't cost extra.

Zigging Left When They Should Zag Right

Justin Katz

Not being sufficiently well versed in Japanese politics, I won't enter the discussion about just how "conservative" the country's Liberal Democratic Party has been, but the expressed plans of the more-liberal Democratic Party that just won control don't bode promisingly:

Fed up with the [LDP], voters turned overwhelmingly to the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, which ran a populist-leaning platform with plans for cash handouts to families with children and expanding the social safety net.

Somehow, Chris Powell's dark hopes for Connecticut seem related:

Since the poor and troubled long have been only a pretext for the government class, and since this long has been the caliber of Connecticut's political life, that's the way it will continue to be.

Maybe at some point the human suffering, the social disintegration and the disintegration of the cities, and the many policy failures will prompt enough citizens to ask their governor and legislators how this can be amid the comfort of the government class, how this can be after billions in appropriations over decades in the name of alleviating poverty and other problems that have only worsened, and why nothing grows in Connecticut anymore except government itself. But that point is not yet.

The End of Cultural Literacy

Justin Katz

The New York Times article doesn't claim a trend, instead following the efforts of a single teacher, Lorrie McNeill, with a class of gifted students, but one can be sure that the positive article in the publication formerly known as "the newspaper of record" will encourage more teachers to follow her lead. What McNeill has done is to jettison a classroom reading list, instead letting students choose their own books, with a gentle "prodding" to "a higher level."

The deceptive success of the program has been in increased interest in reading and achievement on a standardized test, but one could argue that the uptick highlights nothing so much as the low performance of students previously:

Of her 18 eighth graders, 15 exceeded requirements, scoring in the highest bracket. When the same students had been in her seventh-grade class, only 4 had reached that level. Of her 13 current seventh graders, 8 scored at the top.

If these are gifted students, they ought to be passing these tests handily; one shudders to think how lower-level students are doing. An education system that must dumb down assignments and ignore its mandate to develop a shared literacy in order to achieve positive results in mechanics is failing its students by any definition, and an attempt at finding social redemption strikes me as starry-eyed:

In the method familiar to generations of students, an entire class reads a novel — often a classic — together to draw out the themes and study literary craft. That tradition, proponents say, builds a shared literary culture among students, exposes all readers to works of quality and complexity and is the best way to prepare students for standardized tests.

But fans of the reading workshop say that assigning books leaves many children bored or unable to understand the texts. Letting students choose their own books, they say, can help to build a lifelong love of reading. ...

... literacy specialists also say that instilling a habit is as important as creating a shared canon. "If what we're trying to get to is, everybody has read 'Ethan Frome' and Henry James and Shakespeare, then the challenge for the teacher is how do you make that stuff accessible and interesting enough that kids will stick with it," said Catherine E. Snow, a professor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education. "But if the goal is, how do you make kids lifelong readers, then it seems to me that there's a lot to be said for the choice approach. As adults, as good readers, we don't all read the same thing, and we revel in our idiosyncrasies as adult readers, so kids should have some of the same freedom."

Will the fact that more students allow themselves to be motivated by choose-your-own-adventure reading assignments mean that they'll choose reading over other candidates for their attention in the future? I'm skeptical. As I argued recently regarding summer lists, books' unique attraction is their evocation of substance, profundity, and achievement. If gifted students already in eighth grade are still not past the point of picking books that are essentially cartoons in sentences, they've precious little time to reach the vista at which one sees the literary canon imparting meaning to life.

And that brings us back to the fact that they'll have little experience plumbing a common meaning conveyed in classics. Frankly, I can't help but think of a lecture from the '80s by former Soviet propagandist Yuri Bezmenov about Communists' strategy of subversion as warfare. Explaining the components of the first stage of subversion, demoralization, Bezmenov touches on education:

Distract them from learning something which is constructive, pragmatic, efficient. Instead of mathematics, physics, foreign languages, chemistry, teach them history of urban warfare, natural food, home economy, your sexuality — anything, as long as it takes you away.

Although Bezmenov doesn't mention it in his brief explanation, cultural literacy is a critical component to social cohesion and a national sense of purpose. Left to their own devices, young Americans will isolate themselves in limited communities of interest and ideology; many will simply remain functionally illiterate. In this context, it's significant to note that the "reading workshop" method appears — once again — to further the trend of locking boys out of educational "progress":

To Ms. McNeill's chagrin, several students, most of them boys, stubbornly refused to read more challenging fare. One afternoon this spring she pulled her stool next to Masai, an eighth grader who wore a sparkling stud in one ear, as he stared at a laptop screen on which he was supposed to be composing a book review. Beside him sat the second volume in the "Maximum Ride" series, which chronicles the adventures of genetically mutated children who are part human, part bird. He was struggling to find anything to write.

Foreign government agents may not be behind these social movements — indeed, Bezmenov likens subversion to the martial arts technique of helping your opponent to knock himself off balance — but a generation or two of dumb, demoralized men and slightly less dumb, self-esteem-inflated women all disconnected from each other and from the culture into which they were born will spell destruction as clearly as would a successful invasion.

The Price of Teacher Hiring Reform

Marc Comtois

The Providence Teacher's union isn't happy with new hiring rules put in affect this summer, according to this WRNI report from Elisabeth Harrison (h/t). The nut of it is, of course, the removal of seniority as the major factor in determining who gets hired. As Harrison reports:

An order from the State Department of Education...required district leaders to fill all vacancies in the district with the best person for the job instead of the most senior teacher as the teacher contract stipulates.
Apparently, around 100 Providence district teachers have been replaced by out-of-district teachers thanks to the new criterion-based hiring policy. Using this process, the schools got 96% of their first choices (100% of first two) while teachers got 86% of theirs. Steve Smith of the Providence Teachers union found the Superintendent's office uncommunicative and compared them to the Politburo. Helpful. Smith wanted to give some weight to experience, but, as mandated by the State, Providence had to get away from that method. And by the way, the non-working Providence district teachers continue to receive full pay and benefits while they sit in the reserve pool. Providence Superintendent Tom Brady explained that, basically, such is the price of transition.