December 31, 2009

Jim Taricani on the TSA Subpoenaing Bloggers About Their Sources

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Associated Press is reporting that the Transportation Security Agency is trying to force a pair of bloggers who reported on changes to TSA security procedures following Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempted bombing of a Christmas Day flight to Detroit to reveal their sources...

As the government reviews how an alleged terrorist was able to bring a bomb onto a U.S.-bound plane and try to blow it up on Christmas Day, the Transportation Security Administration is going after bloggers who wrote about a directive to increase security after the incident.

TSA special agents served subpoenas to travel bloggers Steve Frischling and Chris Elliott, demanding that they reveal who leaked the security directive to them. The government says the directive was not supposed to be disclosed to the public.

Frischling said he met with two TSA special agents Tuesday night at his Connecticut home for about three hours and again on Wednesday morning when he was forced to hand over his lap top computer. Frischling said the agents threatened to interfere with his contract to write a blog for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines if he didn't cooperate and provide the name of the person who leaked the memo.

I asked WJAR-TV's (NBC10) Jim Taricani, who was sentenced to six-months of home confinement in 2004 for refusing to reveal the source of a videotape he received in connection with a Federal corruption investigation and who supports the passage of a Federal shield law for journalists, what he thought of the subpoenas. His reply was that...
These subpoenas are a perfect example for the need of a federal shield law that includes bloggers.

The "Free Flow of Information Act" that has passed the House of Representatives does not provide a privilege for bloggers. The bill pending in the Senate also does not include a privilege for bloggers.

In my opinion, bloggers are comparable to the pamphleteers of Colonial days, when the Founding Fathers fashioned the Freedom of Press clause in the First Amendment.

When bloggers gather, analyze and dispense information about our government, they should, in my opinion, be provided with a privilege to protect the sources of their information.

A Racial Lever for the Federal Government

Justin Katz

There's certainly room for derision against the attitude that Abigail Thernstrom highlights here:

In 1996, [current Attorney General Eric] Holder told the Washington Post that he always carried a favorite quotation in his wallet. A black man's "race defines him more particularly than anything else," it ran. Said Holder: "I am not the tall U.S. Attorney, I am not the thin U.S. Attorney. I am the black U.S. Attorney.... There's a common cause that bonds the black U.S. Attorney with the black criminal or the black doctor with the black homeless person." All blacks share a "common cause," and thus, methods of election that give them proportional legislative power are a moral imperative.

The "wow" paragraph, however, has quite a bit broader an application than just Mr. Holder:

For more than two decades, the drawing of race-conscious single-member districts has been the standard means of achieving that proportionality when the level of minority officeholding has been found to be unacceptably low. But, in the best of circumstances, race-driven maps "waste" black votes. Inevitably, many black voters end up in majority-white districts and find themselves represented by a white--which is to say without representation, by the Guinier and Holder definition.

The three systems to which the Justice Department has recently agreed are assumed to be much more likely to guarantee true proportionality. They have involved school-district elections in Euclid, Ohio; town-commissioner elections in Lake Park, Fla.; and trustee elections in Port Chester, N.Y. These were towns in which, despite a significant minority population, no blacks or Hispanics had been elected to public office. The Justice Department had filed suit, and, given the absence of elected minority representatives, there was no chance the towns could successfully defend their methods of election.

Look what's been done in the name of racial sensitivity: The federal government is dictating election results to lower governments. Based on physical racial attributes, a distant government is telling small, local communities that their democratic outcomes are not acceptable. What's not acceptable is a governing system what makes use of such levers.

One can't help but wonder whether the rapidly declining value of the race card plays some role in the desperate search for other justifications for expanding power, such as nationalized healthcare and environmentalism.

The British Judiciary Defines the Jews

Justin Katz

In the continuing series of stories that show Western (especially European) governments to believe it to be their right to define the boundaries of religious practice, David Goldman describes a case in which a British court found that an Orthodox Jewish school could not follow the practice of matrilineal descent in its admissions policies:

JFS is a state school, one among seven thousand religious schools funded by the British government, but the ruling in the case applies equally to private schools. Justice Munby, presiding in the first case, opened his ruling with these words: "The content of a religious faith and the nature of its beliefs, observances, and practices is, for a secular court, a matter of fact to be proved in the usual way by evidence." What was to be proved, in a practical matter, was whether the Jewish religion might be practiced in the United Kingdom.

Munby ultimately decided for the school, but having determined that a secular court could judge whether a religious organization's decision was factually in keeping with its stated beliefs, he opened the way for an appeals court to come to a different conclusion about whether the practices suggested by those beliefs are legal:

Even more redolent of Kafka was the subsequent contrary ruling of the appeals court, which overturned Munby's decision with the brief, bland assertion that Jewish religious law was racist, equating the Jewish doctrine of matrilineal descent with South African apartheid: "If it were otherwise, a person who honestly believed, as the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa until recently believed, that God had made black people inferior and had destined them to live separately from whites, would be able to discriminate openly without breaking the law."

On first glance, the decision seems to be a consequence of the West's method of fighting racism through government, rather than cultural, structures, and that has surely been contributing to the sequentially falling barriers protecting individual and collective liberty, but even so, an additional intellectual barricade had to fall, in this case. The distinction now lost was that one cannot convert from being black, but one can convert to Orthodox Judaism. If one believes attendance of an Orthodox Jewish school to be of such merit as to pursue lawsuits for admission, one can follow the steps to become officially Jewish.

Not good enough, says updated British law. Personally, I think a group ought to be free to set policies for its community however it likes, and everybody else ought to be free to lampoon and shun it, but even an entry hatch of conversion is not sufficient inclusiveness for the soldiers of tolerance.

A Commission (a "Panel," if You Will)... That's the Ticket!

Justin Katz

Thomas Sowell puts it pretty starkly:

The appointment of White House "czars" to make policy across a wide spectrum of issues — unknown people who get around the Constitution's requirement of Senate confirmation for cabinet members — is yet another sign of the mindset that sees the fundamental laws and values of this country as just something to get around, in order to impose the will of an arrogant elite.

The problem is that it isn't just the political elite who lack a sufficient understanding of the real value of democratic processes. Sowell blames "dumbed-down education in schools and colleges that have become indoctrination centers for the visions of the Left," although the reference to political direction might obscure the essence of the poorly formed vision — namely, that it is possible for people to figure out and design broad social programs that will improve life for all if they're only given the power to implement them. And so, we get this disappointing, but not surprising, editorial from the Providence Journal:

Neither Congress nor the Obama administration (nor that of George W. Bush) has shown the gumption to act honestly to confront these costs. Perhaps commissions will give them adequate cover to take on the "special-interest groups." (We're all de-facto members of several such groups; one man's pork is another man's national treasure.) ...

So a bipartisan congressional committee should pick the members of these commissions and give them as much power as possible. Such panels would probably feel compelled to recommend higher taxes and sharp cuts in some programs.

In the Projo's telling, such a plan is all up-side: giving an unelected panel as much power as possible (to break some eggs) with adequate immunity to push elected representatives to do that which the public does not want. That attitude is a recipe for totalitarianism and a collapsed nation, but it's frighteningly pervasive. Everybody, after all, has a vision that would clearly work... if only it could be forced on the nation.

As if to prove its own incoherence, the editorial shifts gears to complaints that people are heeding ideological sympathizers whom they trust to specialize in sensing political winds, rather than giving rein to Congressional "staffers specializing in the subject at hand" as they craft complex legislation. The essay ends thus:

Representative democracy is a terrible system, but, as Churchill noted, better than all the others.

One might get the erroneous impression that the editorial writers are supporters of representative democracy, even after they'd spent a few hundred words advocating for rule by unelected groups and behind the scenes staff experts.

December 30, 2009

Re: Morfessis Withdraws

Justin Katz

Just in from the governor's office:

Governor Donald L. Carcieri today announced that Ioanna Morfessis has chosen not to accept the position of Executive Director of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (EDC) due to a personal family matter. The Governor spoke with Ms. Morfessis late Tuesday afternoon.

"While I am disappointed that Ioanna will not be leading the EDC, I respect and understand her decision, and wish her and her family well," said Governor Carcieri. "On behalf of myself, and all those she has had the opportunity to meet and work with these past several weeks, I extend my best wishes and prayers to her and her family."

"Due to recent knowledge of a family member's serious health challenges, it is with deep regret and a heavy heart that I withdraw as the Governor's Executive Director designee for the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation," said Ioanna Morfessis.

"Over the past year, through the work of my EDC review panel, the House and Senate leadership, and the business community, we have made a united commitment to improve our economic development strategy," continued Governor Carcieri. "Rebuilding our economy and getting people back to work is our most important priority. I am confident that we will build upon the efforts of this last year to strengthen the EDC and continue to move our economic development strategy forward."

Governor Carcieri has contacted House and Senate leadership to discuss an alternative plan that he expects to announce next week.

Morfessis Withdraws as EDC Director

Carroll Andrew Morse

WPRO news (630AM) and Projo 7-to-7 are reporting that Ioanna Morfessis has withdrawn herself from the Directorship of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, citing a family medical concern.

The Man Behind the Tendrils

Justin Katz

Andrew McCarthy's takedown of Attorney General Eric Holder is relevant for a number of topical reasons — the war on terror, generally, the strategy of treating the war like a criminal action, the decision to give terrorist masterminds access to the American civil courts, even as an international police organizations are freed from accountability. On a political level, though, this part ties in with something that I've found to be increasingly applicable across layers of government:

We have been at war with Islamist terrorists for over eight years now--about half as long as they have been at war with us. In that time, they have committed all manner of atrocities. But of the thousands of jihadists who have been killed, captured, or detained since 2001, the 9/11 plotters stand out. To submit them to the civilian justice system makes a mockery of the war, betrays its victims, and turns the American courts into a weapon by which the enemy can gather intelligence and broadcast propaganda. It is inconceivable that civilian trials would have been permitted in any previous American war. In those conflicts, war was understood as the military and diplomatic resolution of a geopolitical dispute, not the judicial disposition of a legal controversy.

But the Obama administration views the war as a legal matter. And its maneuvering to insulate the president from this unpopular ideological decision has been comically transparent: The president was, conveniently, en route to the Far East when Holder announced the civilian-court transfer; the White House maintains that the decision was a call for Holder alone to make (in fact, the attorney general has no authority to order war prisoners out of military custody--that's a presidential call); and Holder purports not to have consulted the commander-in-chief on this momentous matter, instead seeking the counsel of his wife and his brother.

To further the myth of a fully detached Obama, the administration projects a fully engaged Holder, hitting the books, agonizing for long hours over the most difficult decision of his career. But at the hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) exploded the myth by asking the most elementary legal question: What is the precedent? "Can you give me a case in United States history," he asked, "where an enemy combatant caught on a battlefield was tried in civilian court?" After several seconds of excruciating silence, Holder stammered, "I don't know, I'd have to look at that." What, pray tell, has he been looking at, if not that? Senator Graham, an experienced Air Force lawyer, informed the nation's top law-enforcement official that there has been no such case.

Whether it be national administrative "czars" or state-level boards and commissions, this transfer of authority — at least as far as the public is led to believe — is an insidious thing. I find the elevation of a man like Holder to his current position disconcerting, but not as worrisome as the fact that he's clearly not an administrative rogue.


But while I'm quoting from the piece, here's part that's directly related to the decision about easing domestic restrictions on the International Criminal Police Organization:

Why invite all this when the 9/11 plotters were ready to plead guilty? On the campaign trail, Holder promised the Left a "reckoning." The new administration would hold the Bush administration to account for its purported crimes. Understanding the legal emptiness and political explosiveness of such a promise, however, Holder has been reluctant to do more than "investigate." Thus the restless international Left--which includes Obama's core of support--has exhorted the United Nations and foreign tribunals to invoke "universal jurisdiction" to bring war-crimes charges against Bush officials. In Europe this spring, Holder expressed his willingness to cooperate with such investigations, including one ongoing in Spain.

A civilian trial for KSM & Co. will be an unparalleled coup for these efforts--more so even than the mounds of classified memos Holder has already made public over the strenuous objections of current and former CIA directors. The Left's shock troops at the Center for Constitutional Rights, who worked on our enemies' behalf with many lawyers now staffing Holder's Justice Department, will exploit any new revelations to intensify calls for foreign prosecutions. The Obama administration will get credit for delivering on its promised reckoning but will avoid the political damage that would result if DOJ were to bring the case itself.

As I titled an earlier post: the noose tightens.

When a Bureaucratic System Can't Sustain Successful Reform, Shouldn't We Change the Bureaucracy Rather Than End the Reform?

Carroll Andrew Morse

The transition of Hope High School in Providence back to city control, reported on most recently by Linda Borg in today's Projo, illustrates the premises that animate both charter school and site-based management school reform movements.

Rhode Island's State Commissioner of Education took a direct role in operating Hope High in 2005; after educational results showed some improvement, Hope was returned to full city control this past February. However, the school administration in Providence has announced its intention to undo some of the changes that have helped Hope improve…

Beginning in September, Hope will move to a six-period day like all of the other high schools in the city. The high school currently has a so-called “block” schedule composed of four 90-minute periods a day, a schedule that teachers say allows them enough time to delve more deeply into subjects.

The new schedule will also reduce or eliminate Hope’s various common planning periods that teachers say are vital to revamping the school’s academics, creating individual learning plans and developing student advisories.

The reasons cited for the changes are increased costs associated with the differently structured school-day…
According to [Providence Superintendent Tom Brady], this model requires 20 to 30 additional teachers at a cost of roughly $2.5 million a year. well as a desire by Providence's school administrators to make Hope's school day uniform with the rest of the district.

But suppose there was an organization, either an outside school operator or a homegrown group of teachers and administrators, that said it believed it could find a way to make the new schedule work within a more standard budget, if various regulations and mandates were relaxed. Would trying to figure out how to make a program like that work be worth trying? Or should the highest goal of an educational bureaucracy be to impose a uniform structure on everyone's school-day, and on other aspects of school management, whether that uniform structure provides the best education or not?

An Untaught Generation

Justin Katz

The fourth letter to the editor of First Things in this set surely expresses the perspective of many Westerners now entering middle age and finding the unexpected light of adulthood opening their eyes:

Meanwhile, I have gravitated to a certain type of mommy-blog: one written by a stay-at-home mother, lovingly grateful to her provider-man, capably in charge of every detail of her children's lives and home: the Angel in the House, as we might have sneered back in English 101. While the blogger and I remain quite different people, she seems to have grasped, early on, some essential fact about gender relations that no one ever told my husband or me. Those brave and brainy revolutionaries who raised us—parents, professors, Self magazine—never so much as hinted that someday we might want to act like men and women. Having dodged that retrograde fate, we had turned into neutered freaks, mired in resentments and domestic dysfunction. Our lucky kids!

This is not to call for a return to the inequalities of the past, and it's not to say that everybody in an entire generation was raised equivalently. (My own upbringing, for example, was not as drastic as the writer's.) But I don't think that there's any question, on the broad level of a culture, that the middle and later decades of the twentieth century saw a too-dramatic disregarding of deep cultural and biological tendencies.

Pawtucket and East Providence Have a New Rep. With Old Ideas

Carroll Andrew Morse

The last paragraph of Alisha A. Pina's story in today's Projo on Democrat Mary Messier's victory in Tuesday's District 62 special election (former Rep. Elizabeth Dennigan's old seat, mostly Pawtucket with a little bit of East Providence) provides a perfect example of how the state Democratic Party's intellectual bankruptcy on fiscal issues continues to propel Rhode Island towards the more conventional form of fiscal bankruptcy…

During her campaign, [Ms. Messier] said the “need to control taxes” is a top priority and also supported the development of a new school district financing formula that would be fair to all cities and towns.
Alas, as has occurred all too-often in Rhode Island, we have a brand-new Democratic representative who believes that a "funding formula" can do the impossible: bring more money to her community, without requiring substantially higher new taxes to raise that money -- unless 1) soon-to-be Rep. Messier meant during the campaign that Pawtucket, already one of the largest recipients of state aid, should receive less money from the state, when she discussed making things "fair to all cities and towns" or 2) "controlling taxes" has become a new Democratic codephrase for "raising statewide taxes", i.e. "we controlled them by not raising them as high a we could have!"

Rhode Island won't be able to pull out of its fiscal and economic crisis if it keeps electing representatives who expect that state's problems to be solved by revenue-shifting programs funded by magic money that will fall from the sky.

Whitehouse We Have Heard on High

Justin Katz

It's a curious standard, that which Edward Fitzpatrick applies to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's objectionable remarks on the Senate floor:

No doubt, those lines gave voice to the Democratic anger and frustration that mounts every time Sarah Palin posts more nonsense on Facebook. ...

Perhaps it's good for Rhode Island to have a fiery, outspoken senator to go with the understated Sen. Jack Reed. Perhaps there is some political utility to such speeches. If Palin is going to be using her Twitter account to perpetuate the "death panel" idea (PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year"), maybe Democrats need to do more to fire back.

Fitzpatrick appears to conclude that, based on the math of the vote, Whitehouse could have afforded to take the high ground, in this case, but think of the interaction that he's describing and at least partially justifying: A woman who is at most an open-ended candidate, but currently just another political commentator, puts content on social networking Web sites, and a man elected to represent the people of Rhode Island fires back in an official, scripted speech from the floor of the national legislature. One shudders to think what other government institutions the Democrats will consider utilizing to "fire back" at citizens who express unhelpful objections on the Internet.

Also curious is Fitzpatrick's position in light of his column — back before the "summer of death panels and socialists" as he quotes Dana Milbank — praising Whitehouse for being "aggressive." That was in reference to Whitehouse's comparison of the Bush administration to the historical horrors that he now applies more broadly, to everybody who opposes his party's takeover of American healthcare.

I'd suggest that the high road was left back when President Transparency and Compromise took office and began showing his partisan closed curtains, not the least by releasing reports casting conservative beliefs as reason for suspicion of terrorism, and when Democrats like Sheldon Whitehouse pounded the metaphorical table about the need for a "truth commission."


A side-note: Fitzpatrick cites the Obama-as-Hitler signage of Lyndon LaRouche supporters among the affronts to which Whitehouse is understandably reacting without mentioning that LaRouche is a Democrat. That information might be relevant to his narrative.

December 29, 2009

Robitaille for Governor?

Carroll Andrew Morse

I just heard Republican State Party Chairman Gio Cicione state on the Dan Yorke show on WPRO (630AM) that John Robitaille, Communications Director for Governor Donald Carcieri, is considering running for Governor as a Republican.

Katherine Gregg has the story at the Projo's 7-to-7 newsblog...

Governor Carcieri's communications director John Robitaille has thrown his hat into the ring as a potential Republican candidate for governor.

In a interview on Tuesday, Robitaille said he knows he has two drawbacks as a candidate -- money and name-recognition.

But Robitaille, 61, of Portsmouth, said he has the political bug, knows the state issues inside-and-out at this point, and intends to spend the next several weeks talking to "every possible supporter'' to see if he can make a credible run for the state's top job.


Yorke speculates that Lincoln Chafee will announce on Monday that he's the Moderate party candidate. I speculate that that would definitely get the Moderates their 5% and eventually kill their credibility as a party of fiscal responsibility.


Republican National Committeewoman Carol Mumford, calling into the Dan Yorke show, says that John Robitaille would make a "wonderful Secretary of State", which begs the question of what other Republicans will be running for statewide office in 2010.


Hmmm. Possibly related to Update I, according to Steve Peoples of 7-to-7, Moderate Party founder and chairman Ken Block has announced he has settled his campaign-finance issue with the State Board of Elections, saying it makes sense to put the issue behind him.

UPDATED: Running Back to Scriptable Territory

Justin Katz

From the looks of this letter, included in a press release, RI Democrat Party Chairman Bill Lynch doesn't like the looks of the RI Voter Coalition event:

Dear Mr. Wright,

I write to you today in my capacity as chairman of the Democratic Party of Rhode Island with regards to the gubernatorial "debate" or "forum" you have attempted to organized and schedule for next month. After personally consulting with both Democratic candidates for governor and reviewing the Providence Journal's reporting of your efforts, I have advised and encouraged both Democratic campaigns to refrain from attending what clearly appears to be an orchestrated event designed to benefit another potential candidate.

Both the general treasurer and attorney general are ready and eager to engage in a public discussion of the important issues facing our state. However, I would respectfully suggest that any event which includes a "mystery guest" and another declared candidate seated in the audience creates what can only be described as a sideshow atmosphere. These variables combined with dramatic changes to the format after the two Democratic campaigns agreed to participate indicate that this event would be anything but fair and impartial.

It is my opinion that you systematically misrepresented both the purpose and specific arrangements of the aforementioned "debate." The people of Rhode Island deserve to hear an honest exchange of ideas between candidates brought together by well-respected and non-partisan organizations. I am well aware of ongoing discussions between both Democratic candidates and other reputable, non-partisan groups interested in sponsoring or hosting candidate debates. The voters of Rhode Island deserve more than politically crafted events disguised as good government forums.

Rhode Island will face significant challenges in the coming years and this a time for real leadership and serious, meaningful debate. I would proudly put either of our fine Democratic candidates up against any of the other rumored gubernatorial candidate as both are capable of leading this state in a new and better direction.

Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at my office, (401) 721-9900.


William J. Lynch, chairman
The Democratic Party of Rhode Island

There's a similarity, here, to suspicions that the Tea Party movement was just scripted partisan showmanship (which it wasn't). Real grassroots — the kind that involves citizens actually forming new groups and seeking to answer questions like, "Why can't we just host a forum?" — will involve some unpredictability and odd statements and maneuvers. That's the point. Folks who get involved that way — rather than signing on for "grassroots" activism that has been thoroughly vetted and neutered — are challenging the usual practices.

That factor, mixed with an understandable fear that the people of Rhode Island might wake up to the mess that entrenched powers have made (think chloroform and date rape) help to explain Lynch's paranoia.

ADDENDUM (5:35 p.m.):

And in the time it took me to drive home, with a stop to pick up some paper towels:

PAWTUCKET - The two Democratic candidates for Rhode Island governor, General Treasurer Frank Caprio and Attorney General Patrick Lynch, spoke by telephone within the hour and have agreed to refrain from participating in a January forum / debate organized by Coventry resident Steven Wright.

No word on whether the candidates sought to reconcile their concerns with Mr. Wright, first. Remember this when either of these candidates comes looking for your vote during the general election.

Only in New England Could a Self-Described Moderate Hope to Get Away with Doing Public Appearances Only in Front of Ideologically Progressive Groups

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Katherine Gregg, who describes herself as a reporter for a newspaper calling itself the Providence Journal(*), soon-to-be-announced Rhode Island gubernatorial candidate Lincoln Chafee has not decided whether or not he will participate in the January 8 candidates forum to be held by the Rhode Island Voter Coalition...

Asked if he intended to participate in the first [gubernatorial] candidates forum of the campaign season on Jan. 8, Chafee said he believes candidates should have “the courage to stand up and face questions,” but before committing to this particular event –– which is to be moderated by the Rhode Island chairman of Pat Buchanan’s 2000 campaign for president –– he wants to know more about the group sponsoring it.
Democratic Party candidates Frank Caprio and Patrick Lynch have already confirmed their appearances at the RIVC event.

Chafee, you should recall, made an appearance at a "Drinking Liberally" event earlier this year. (Caprio and Lynch have also made Drinking Liberally appearances). Candidate Chafee should explain to Rhode Island voters what the vetting criteria are that the Rhode Island Voter Coalition doesn't obviously meet, that Drinking Liberally organizers do.

Also, if former Senator Chafee or any of his aides would like to see for themselves what happens at a Rhode Island Voter Coalition event (it's kind of like a "Drinking Liberally", but without an audience overwhelmingly composed of liberals and beyond [and there may also be some differences in the availability of alcohol {my apologies to the RIVC folks, if I just depressed your turnout a bit}]), video coverage of the October 16 Rhode Island Voter Coalition forum, recorded by Anchor Rising, is available here, here, here and here.

(*)This non-standard construction is being used to help maintain a consistent flow with the reporting on the Rhode Island Voter Coalition that appeared in yesterday's Political Scene column in the Projo...

Aides to the two Democratic officeholders have confirmed their candidate’s plans to take part in the “Meet the Candidates Forum” that a group calling itself the Rhode Island Voter Coalition has scheduled for 7 p.m., Jan. 8, at the Crowne Plaza in Warwick.

Organizer Steve Wright, who describes himself as a 42-year-old construction worker from Coventry, said the candidates will each get a chance to speak. They will also be given an equal amount of time to answer questions posed to them by the moderator, Mark Berardo, the Rhode Island chairman of Pat Buchanan’s Reform Party campaign for president in 2000.

A Refreshingly Different Projo Voice on Healthcare Reform

Carroll Andrew Morse

I'm going to go out on a limb and speculate that it's not Edward Achorn who's been the primary author of the Projo's recent series editorials on healthcare reform.

The position of the Projo editorial board has been pass anything, it doesn't matter if the legislation has been read or not, so long as it means that the government will be on the path to more control of the healthcare system.

Achorn's position is a bit more nuanced…

It is not an act of Aryan supremacy to wonder what part of the Constitution empowers Congress to compel people by threat of jail or fines to buy very expensive products — in this case, health insurance — produced by private companies with influential Washington lobbyists.

It does not make one a “birther” to question how the struggling middle class will afford all this — the vast new government entitlement in the teeth of massive deficits, the huge tax hikes to pay for some of it, and the mandates for expensive insurance.

One need not be a member of a right-wing militia to feel suspicious when a law that will affect every American is crafted behind closed doors, larded up with bribes to politicians, and rushed through the Senate in a series of votes in the dead of night, capped by one on Christmas Eve, when any reasonably sane citizen is distracted from guarding the national cookie jar.

Boundaries for Affirmative Action

Justin Katz

Yup. That's the habit of academia... always in need of correction for favoring men:

A federal civil rights agency investigating possible gender discrimination in college admissions will subpoena data from more than a dozen mid-Atlantic universities, officials said Thursday.

The probe by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights is focusing on whether some colleges favor men by admitting them at higher rates than women, or by offering them more generous aid packages.

But hold on:

Women outnumber men nearly 60 percent to 40 percent in higher education nationally. The probe grew out of anecdotal evidence and news accounts that admissions officials are discriminating against women to promote a more even gender mix, said commission spokeswoman Lenore Ostrowsky.

Apparently, it was insufficiently understood that "diversity" and other such post-'60s shibboleths are race- and gender-specific. Hetero white men are overrepresented by their very existence.

The Noose Tightens

Justin Katz

It seems so innocuous, like a little book-keeping, this executive order from President Obama:

By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including section 1 of the International Organizations Immunities Act (22 U.S.C. 288), and in order to extend the appropriate privileges, exemptions, and immunities to the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), it is hereby ordered that Executive Order 12425 of June 16, 1983, as amended, is further amended by deleting from the first sentence the words "except those provided by Section 2(c), Section 3, Section 4, Section 5, and Section 6 of that Act" and the semicolon that immediately precedes them.

Until one applies the deletion to the actual text:

By virtue of the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and statutes of the United States, including Section 1 of the International Organizations Immunities Act (59 Stat. 669, 22 U.S.C. 288), it is hereby ordered that the International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), in which the United States participates pursuant to 22 U.S.C. 263a, is hereby designated as a public international organization entitled to enjoy the privileges, exemptions and immunities conferred by the International Organizations Immunities Act; except those provided by Section 2(c), the portions of Section 2(d) and Section 3 relating to customs duties and federal internal-revenue importation taxes, Section 4, Section 5, and Section 6 of that Act. This designation is not intended to abridge in any respect the privileges, exemptions or immunities which such organization may have acquired or may acquire by international agreement or by Congressional action.

And digs up Section 2(c):

Property and assets of international organizations, wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall be immune from search, unless such immunity be expressly waived, and from confiscation. The archives of international organizations shall be inviolable.

Bob Owens cites some of the relevant concerns:

Schippert and Middleton note that Obama’s order removes protections placed upon INTERPOL by President Reagan in 1983. Obama’s order gives the group the authority to avoid Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests — which means this foreign law enforcement organization can operate free of an important safeguard against governmental abuse. “Property and assets,” including the organization’s records, cannot be searched or seized. Their physical locations and records are now immune from U.S. legal or investigative authorities.

If the president of the United States has an aboveboard reason for making a foreign law enforcement agency exempt from American laws on American soil, it wasn’t shared by the White House.

An international law enforcement agency now operates on American soil with more immunity and less accountability than agencies subject to the rule of the people of the United States. One wonders why candidate Obama didn't campaign on his trust of the international Left over and above the Constitution.


For further indication of this administration's worldview, put this executive order in the light of the upcoming civil trial of men who've already acknowledged — proclaimed — their role in the murderous attack on our nation in 2001:

While the five men wanted to plead guilty in a military commission earlier this year to hasten their executions, sources now say that the detainees favor participating in a full-scale federal trial to air their grievances and expose their treatment while held by the CIA at secret prisons.

December 28, 2009

Blueblood Political Legacy #3 to Enter Race

Justin Katz

Well, when readers take to emailing me breaking news, I suppose I must assume broader interest, even when I can only muster an amused snort: Linc Chafee has announced his intention to announce his intention to run for governor:

In a brief media alert released Monday afternoon, Chafee said he would kick off the campaign with an announcement at the Iron Works Tavern at the Hilton Garden Inn on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick.

Hopefully he'll participate in the Rhode Island Voter Coalition at the Crown Plaza in Warwick on January 8th with Frank Caprio and Patrick Lynch, so that attendees can observe just how unrepresentative our current slate of candidates actually is — or rather, how representative they all are of the same limited group.

Tiverton's Forthcoming Garbage Tax

Justin Katz

It appears to have fallen through the online cracks, but I've got the following letter in the current issue of the Sakonnet Times:

On December 14, Tiverton's town council meeting included a public hearing concerning a proposed "pay as you throw" trash program to fund the closure of the town landfill in five or so years. Basically, residents would have to buy garbage bags from the town at a cost of $2 for a 33 gallon bag or $1 for a 15 gallon bag.

Figuring a ridiculously low single bag per household, the Landfill Committee estimates that the program would generate $520,000 per year. Taxpayers currently allocate an annual $573,000 for trash pickup. In other words, the cost of rubbish disposal for residents of the town of Tiverton would more than double.

It's too little known, around town, that the local government has failed to adequately prepare --- over the half century of the landfill's usage --- for the millions of dollars in expenditures that loom just over the horizon. Without action, the restricted account set aside for that purpose will be several million dollars short when it's finally needed, even without considering the additional cost to develop and build a transfer station to process trash on its journey out of town.

Clearly, something must be done, but as currently constituted, the "pay as you throw" program would be nothing other than a massive hidden tax increase that skirts the Paiva-Weed tax cap, leaving homeowners open to another large increase on top of the new "fee." Even residents willing to forgo pickup and bring trash, themselves, to the landfill would have to buy the bags and pay for pickup, anyway. In other words, it's a fee for a service that most residents have no choice but to utilize. It's a tax.

The more straightforward approach would be for the town to place an increase in landfill-related savings within its next budget. Of course, that wouldn't answer a secondary (and supremely advisable) purpose of the program: encouraging recycling and more conscientious trash disposal. Perhaps curbside pickup could move to a fee system, or residents could "opt out" and receive a refund of that portion of their property taxes.

Or there might be another solution. Whatever the case, the council continued the hearing to its regularly scheduled meeting on January 25. If residents tune this issue out now, the next they hear of it may be when official instructions arrive in their mailboxes explaining how to pay for trash pickup a second time.

The Members' Interests Are Not Primary

Justin Katz

Mike, of Assigned Reading, noticed a strange omission of activism on the part of his and other teachers' unions:

Teachers enjoy some of the best benefits available. And as a result, we working class Americans will be subjected to a 40% premium tax, a punishment for having healthcare plans better than most Americans.

One would think the teachers’ unions in particular would be loud and vocal in their opposition. This would be true if the teachers’ unions were most interested in teachers. But when push comes to shove, the unions will put down their arms if it helps secure a victory for the Democrats.

I wonder if union organizers ever get heat from their members for activism that is either unrelated to or actually hostile toward their interests. The impression, from outside, is that there's a sort of compromise between teachers unions and teachers, such that the former pull all kinds of stunts and compromise the quality of education in order to provide ensure incessant growth for the remuneration of the latter, who pay dues more as a fee for service than as a cost of entry. In other words, the union gets to do whatever it wants, because it's really an independent organization from the workers whom it supports.

Somehow, I don't think it's supposed to work that way.

Roland Benjamin: Health Care Calculations

Engaged Citizen

For those following the health care debate, this will come as little surprise. Linking the massive reform bill to practical, everyday application has largely been ignored by our lawmakers.

A recent non-partisan poll indicated that 91% of Americans with existing health coverage are at least somewhat satisfied with that coverage. The bill being debated in Washington does nothing to protect this.

Despite my business's currently competitive benefit package, the bill would penalize LFI, Inc., $750 per employee as the plan's design does not meet the new law's universal standard . The resulting choices would then be a) pay an approximately $53,000 fine/tax while paying $400,000 for the current plan structure, b) increase the current plan structure by $70,000 to $470,000 and avoid the fine, or c) discontinue offering health benefits and pay the $53,000 fine toward subsidies helping lower-income employees offset premiums they will be required by law to pay.

Thus, there is enormous pressure on employers to drop coverage. This is especially true when businesses pay into the subsidy pool regardless of whether they offer a health plan. These fines take effect in 2014, so preparations can be made. Some fines start sooner. The likelihood that LFI discontinues health benefits in 2014 is moderate, with hundreds of variables still unidentified.

Individuals will be required to buy a federal and state authorized plan. Consumer-directed plans enabling lower premiums will be dramatically restricted. By 2014, premiums for an authorized family plan will exceed $17,000 per year. Some will receive subsidies, but current language requires that individuals pay around 10% of household income toward their health plans (e.g., a two earner household with $70,000 in combined income will have to pay at least $7,000 in premiums before applying for federal subsidies). These subsidies phase out in households with combined earnings around $85,000. Anyone in that category will be required to pay the full premium. Additionally, because United Health and Tufts do not offer individual plans, most would have to buy a plan from Blue Cross Blue Shield under current regulations. This might change should a robust "exchange" emerge in the state. But it might not.

For employers, the reform offers an immediate and plausible exit option. Health care is one of the least controllable expenses we face and entails an immensely time-consuming process. I am forced to make decisions that must satisfy more than 50 families each year and explain to each why more dollars are diverted from their compensation toward unnaturally inflating health costs. This is not fun.

Once this law is enacted, annual renewals will see increasing pressure to drop coverage. Should reform perform some unintended miracle in trimming health care inflation, that pressure might ease. But the objective of the law is to expand coverage to the uninsured, not to tame the inflation in health care spending. Health care experts and economists around the country, including Rhode Island's own experts in a recent ProJo analysis, confirm that "Obamacare" does nothing to affect health care inflation. Within a few years, employer-provided coverage will erode until it is no longer a competitive advantage in the marketplace for new employees.

The decision to drop coverage would not be made lightly. But I would rather take the $400,000 now paid toward health premiums and divert some to employees while reinvesting the remainder in the business, knowing that those who need the most help will have a federal subsidy to buy coverage.

As an American, I am incensed by this, though. Today, the premium paid for by your employer is earned as part of your compensation. When forced to beg for a subsidy to offset health premiums, that sense of earning diminishes, and the independent spirit erodes with it. They are replaced with an unhealthy combination of entitlement and dependency that threatens the American experience.

Never in human history have the freedoms envisioned by our Founding Fathers been realized by so many. They recognized that liberty, having been endowed by our creator, could only be taken away by man and government, not enhanced. This unique American Experiment has enabled the broadest prosperity across an entire population ever known to mankind. And we have dragged the rest of the world forward with our innovations and generosities. Health care reform in its current state has the potential end this.

To prepare, pay close attention to your Health Savings Account. Should your employer discontinue health benefits after 2014, money in an HSA will be critical. Those dollars may be used to pay premiums and also may determine which plans you will be allowed to purchase by law. In other words, the greater the balance in your HSA, the more flexibility you will have.

There is still the possibility that this reform will be derailed. It faces several procedural hurdles. A Senate vote to advance the bill by Christmas was a political necessity for the Democrats, but the bill is extremely unpopular, with a significant majority of voters opposing it. Democrats want the bill out of the news as soon as possible. They hope the memories of the voting public are short. Republicans, with only 40 elected members in the Senate, do not have the numbers needed to continue the debate to make this reform right. Democrats, needing 60 Senators in lockstep, voted unanimously twice to cut off debate in order to meet the arbitrary Christmas deadline and then passed the bill with the same margin. Not a single Republican voted to end the debate or to pass the bill.

To get these 60 liberal Senators in line, the bill includes hundreds of millions of dollars to states like Louisiana, Connecticut, Vermont, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Nebraska. Because our Senators "drank the Kool-Aid" long ago, Rhode Island gets no "bacon" from Washington. Instead, we get Senator Whitehouse accusing concerned citizens of bigotry! The intellectual vacuum of his argument is an embarrassment to Rhode Islanders.

This health care bill is tyranny and is unconstitutional. Whitehouse showed quite clearly that liberals have lost the intellectual debate and resorted to slinging mud at the majority of Rhode Islanders uncomfortable with the bill. Pressure from everywhere can stop this reform. But it has the momentum to pass if nothing is done.

Economy for Better and Worse

Justin Katz

My thesis is that economic predictions are currently being made after the method expressed by respondents to a recent Providence Business News survey:

A sense of nervousness can be gleaned from the results, but the respondents also maintained the optimism that came to the fore in the summer 2009 survey. Many in the business community say that hopefulness is a byproduct of the feeling that Rhode Island can’t go much lower.

Things will get better because they always do. Right? The economy can't go much lower because it never has. It would be historic. Catastrophic. Well, I'm not predicting the end of the world, but the simple reality is that no economic mechanism of which I'm aware automatically kicks into gear when hard times top the Great Depression. Until we're hunting rats in the streets of Providence for food, the reality is that Rhode Island can go much lower.

Of course, one non-automatic mechanism that would help the state can be discerned in the survey's results: The pain could become so acute, and so clearly attributable, that state and local leaders will make it easier to live and do business in the state, lowering the unnecessary costs and lightening the misguided burdens that the state imposes with taxes, mandates, and regulations. A resolution by those whom Hasbro and Lifespan Chairman Alfred Verrecchia called "the collective leadership," in his keynote speech before the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, to set Rhode Island's economy free through rapid deregulation and dramatically shrunken government could make our state a bright spot in a dark region of a fading country.

The problem — the central flaw in Verricchia's reasoning and in the reform-by-consolidation movement to which he's contributed — is that the leadership class is going to do no such thing. Self-insulation and death-grip protection of special interests — coupled with the utter lack of a political price for their calamitous failures thus far — are going to keep RI's aristocrats marching along the same path, and the mechanisms of consolidation — moving government farther from the individual taxpaying voter, fiddling with the tax code without reducing its all-around burden, and paying out large sums to unelected administrators at the top — are all contrary to the prior necessity to end Rhode-apathy and cultivate a new collective leadership group that can wrest control of the government from incumbent hands.

December 27, 2009

White Guilt and Morally Lazy Revolution

Justin Katz

Annalee Newitz finds a cultural thread in the plot of Avatar:

These are movies about white guilt. Our main white characters realize that they are complicit in a system which is destroying aliens, AKA people of color - their cultures, their habitats, and their populations. The whites realize this when they begin to assimilate into the "alien" cultures and see things from a new perspective. To purge their overwhelming sense of guilt, they switch sides, become "race traitors," and fight against their old comrades. But then they go beyond assimilation and become leaders of the people they once oppressed. This is the essence of the white guilt fantasy, laid bare. It's not just a wish to be absolved of the crimes whites have committed against people of color; it's not just a wish to join the side of moral justice in battle. It's a wish to lead people of color from the inside rather than from the (oppressive, white) outside.

For his part, Mark Shea, through whom I found the above, notes a scriptural archetype:

... I can't help but notice that a similar dynamic occurs within Scripture as well, only without the dynamic of self congratulation. Moses, for instance, is precisely the guilty SWPL [stuff white people like] type in his universe. Fetched out of the Nile and raised by Pharaoh's daughter, he apparently knows, but doesn't do much about the fact that he is a Hebrew. This goes on for forty years. The guy lives in the lap of luxury while his tribe is sweating as slaves. Then, one day, in a fit of social consciousness, the dilettante rich kid who wants to feel like he has a purpose murders an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave and ditches the body. Next day, this preppy from the Ivory Tower comes upon a couple of Hebrews quarrelling and deigns to swoop in and break it up. The slaves basically tell him to buzz off ("oh, and everybody knows what *you* did"). Turns out the whole "Brothers! Join me!" schtick doesn't play real well in Peoria and people resent SWPL types working out their Hero's Journey fantasies at their expense. So Moses the Savior Preppy gets scared and hotfoots it to the desert when he realizes his little Weatherman moment of Killing for the Revolution is likely to cost him something.

St. Paul came more readily to my mind than Moses, as the persecutor of Christians who became among their foundational voices. As Shea notes, Moses was a Hebrew displaced among Egyptian royalty; in contrast, Paul was a hardline Jew who sought to extend Christianity even to gentiles after Jesus called him. In either case, however, the biblical figures whom we hear echoing in modern white-guilt sci-fi bring to the fore an important area of emphasis that neither Newitz nor Shea mentions.

The standard of the white-guilt genre isn't merely that the privileged protagonist gets to play revolutionary, nor even merely that the fantasy allows him to dominate the coloreds in a good, liberating way rather than a negative, oppressive way. The more fundamental quality is that the proud "race traitor" never has to grapple with the history or legitimate claims of the people against whom he turns. He takes the minority's position and fights his native majority without the complications of having to explain to the minority where its own perspective is erroneous.

Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, sure, but he hardly freed them to return to some idyllic state. St. Paul took up the Christian cause, but the message that he promoted was quite distinct from "as you were." Indeed, the form of salvation that Jesus promised, as Messiah, was not freedom from domination by some other worldly tribe, but the freedom of domination by the highest divine power. In Matthew 10:36, Jesus explains it to be His mission to make "one's enemies... those of his household," but it isn't a physical battle on behalf of an oppressed neighbor. It's a charge through our shared humanity toward its fulfillment.

In the modern liberal gospel, one gains salvation by acknowledging the superior claims and moral virtue of the Other. The call isn't to advance one's community toward a more perfect expression of its own virtues — which have, in fact, done immeasurable good in the history of mankind — but to abandon one's community as hopelessly corrupt and in need of correction by a more innocent people. The former is the hard work of cultural evolution; the latter is the simple balm of revolution.

Give Some of Those New Airline Safety Regs a Short Half-Life

Monique Chartier

The TSA has announced new safety measures, both pre-flight and on-board, in the wake of the attempted on-board bombing of the Amsterdam to Detroit flight. While they apply only to international flights bound for the US, some domestic airlines have also implemented them.

ID checks, searches, pat-downs, canine and machine sniffers before the flight? Go for it.

Requiring passengers to stay seated, not retrieve items from the overhead and have no items on one's lap for the last hour of the flight? (What about the natural requirements of flying babies, to cite just one complication?)

There might be a reason to leave these new, on-board safety requirements in place for maybe another two days, to make sure the failed Northwest bomber didn't coordinate several attacks with some partners in terror. To let them stand beyond that would be foolish as they will not prevent a similar incident - "Oh, look, flight lands in two hours; I'd better get the bomb out of my bag now while I can still move around the cabin" - and they'll only serve to needlessly bore and alienate the flying public.

With a Combination of Powers, the Devil Smiles

Justin Katz

We're all familiar with the concept of separating powers across government. Especially in the United States, the notion of checks and balances is woven throughout civic education. Too few in the modern era appreciate the importance of separating powers across society. Not for long will powerful people in business, religion, and government maintain mutual respect out of intellectual habit; such respect will only flow perpetually from the actuality of power. The businessman will respect the religious leader because the former's customers trust the judgment of latter. The politician will respect the businessman because the latter has economic clout.

Hopefully, we in the West are beginning to wake up to the fact the more we look to government to handle, the more power politicians will demand and the more authority they will assert. Thus, as an editorial explains in a recent Rhode Island Catholic, a government tasked with ensuring equality will interpret its authority in such a way as to draw parameters around tolerable religious beliefs and practices:

The bill, which claims to eliminate discrimination in the workplace, would regulate churches including the Catholic Church as employers. It would make it unlawful to require a Catholic priest to be male, unmarried or not in a civil marriage, since no priest would be able to clearly demonstrate that their time was wholly spent leading prayer, liturgy or worship and promoting and explaining doctrine. The Bishops of England and Wales have protested the bill and its immensely serious consequences for over two years. ...

Catholic Bishops reject claims by the government that as long as priests spend 51 percent of their time leading worship and preaching the Gospel they would be spared any hostile legal action. They suggest that priestly ministry is so diverse and includes pastoral work, private prayer and study, administration and building maintenance that it would be impossible to guarantee that such a condition could be met. The rejection of the government’s claims includes the objection by Catholic Bishops that the government would now effectively define what work a priest must perform. Last month an amendment to protect the liberty of churches was rejected by the House of Commons and as a result the bill will likely become law next year.

News of strengthening allegiances across Christian denominations is clearly related:

"For religion, militant secularism is just as dangerous as militant atheism was. Both tend to exclude religion from the public and political sphere, relegating it to a ghetto, confining it to the area of private devotion," [Russian Orthodox Archbishop Hilarion wrote in an introduction to a book of speeches by Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI].

The archbishop added that in modern Europe the "unwritten rules of political correctness" are increasingly applied to religious institutions, to the point that believers can no longer express their religious convictions publicly because it would be considered a violation of the rights of non-believers.

Archbishop Hilarion said Europe's political unification had brought with it the risk of a new pan-European "dictatorship" that would impose a single model of secular humanistic values on all European countries.

Religious leaders are not innocent in the modern movement to grant government authority to implement preferred social policies, so the first step in combating its overreaches will be admission of culpability and reconsideration of political philosophy. Even now, when it comes to economic and (sadly) environmental matters, the belief that government can simply dictate the enlightened practices is proving to have an insidious allure among the faithful.

It will not prove possible to imbue an all-powerful government with respect for the individual and communal rights granted by an all-powerful deity. To the extent that such a thing ever seemed possible, the impression relied entirely on secular leaders' respect for the power of individuals and communities in other social spheres. Where government sees opportunity to marginalize those checks on its power, it will.

Green Flows Red

Justin Katz

Admittedly, those of a conservative temperament are predisposed to fear rushes, but there's wisdom in a healthy fear of ideological mandates for urgency. Perhaps the greatest source of that anxiety, currently, is the global mania in the name of fashionable environmentalism. So we find cities neglecting to consider that "wasteful" light bulb heat might actually serve a purpose in outdoor applications:

Cities around the country that have installed energy-efficient traffic lights are discovering a hazardous downside: The bulbs don't burn hot enough to melt snow and can become crusted over in a storm — a problem blamed for dozens of accidents and at least one death.

And our quest to show green courtesy to Mother Nature results in her offering sharp rebukes for our alternatives:

The Basel criminal court said it acquitted Markus Haering because he had not deliberately damaged properties or acted carelessly on the heat mining project, which aimed to be the first to generate power commercially by boiling water on rocks three miles underground.

The project was put on hold in 2006 after the drilling accidentally triggered a series of tremors, including one of 3.4 magnitude, rattling residents of the northwest city of Basel.

Project leader Geopower Basel has already paid around 9 million Swiss francs ($9 million) in compensation for cracked walls and other damage on properties near the experiment. The project was permanently shut down earlier this month after a risk analysis concluded that more quakes could follow if the drilling continued.

Drill first; ask questions later. These results come prior even to a thorough discussion of economic effects.

Look, if there are cleaner, more cost-effective solutions for the production of energy, they ought to be explored on a region-by-region basis, but a great many of us aren't persuaded that a failure to charge forward recklessly will spell doom for the Earth.

December 26, 2009

Whitehouse's Infamous Remarks: A Proposed Tee-Shirt

Monique Chartier

Governor Carcieri's reaction Tuesday on FOX Business, principally to the price that states will pay for health care reform but also to the federal largesse that would soon ensure its passage in the Senate, inspires it.

... You said it very well. I mean, this looks like Let's make a Deal. I don't know what hapened to our senators. You know, it looks like all around me, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Nebraska, Louisiana all cut a deal. What do we get here in Rhode Island for Rhode Islanders? We get our junior senator making embarrassing hate speech, frankly.

[Side note: WPRO's Tara Granahan called Senator Whitehouse's office Wednesday seeking reaction/explanation of the senator's speech. They eventually returned her phone call ... after she had been safely off the air for eleven minutes. Their comment? Perhaps the senator's remarks had been taken out of context.]

In view of our (meaning that 47% of voters who voted the "wrong way" in November and/or that 80% of America satisfied with the current health care system - it's not clear which the senator meant) previously unknown membership in an Aryan nation, I'm thinking white letters on a black tee:

The Senate was Handing out Barrels of Pork and all Rhody Got was a Lousy Hate Speech

Marriage Every Which Way

Justin Katz

The typical response from the opposition has been simply dismissive when I've argued the inappropriateness of civil rights claims for same-sex marriage. Marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman, and it's plainly true that nothing bars homosexuals from entering into such relationships except their own desire. Advocates for the redefinition of marriage respond, essentially: "Gee, great. They have a right to something they naturally do not want and are barred from equating what they want with that to which they have a right."

In that context, one discerns a degree of self-refutation in such testimony as that offered by Erna Howarth, of Coventry:

I was married to a wonderful man for 26 years before his passing. I am now in a committed relationship with a wonderful woman. We have been together for eight years. There is no difference! ...

This country was founded to allow its citizens to live and believe freely, despite our differences. It was founded to prevent discriminatory laws that deprive the minority the same rights as the majority!

As an American citizen, I have the right to marry the person I am in a committed relationship with, to live and work where I choose. No one has the right to tell me no!

How much clearer can it be that Ms. Howarth has precisely the same right as any of her fellow Americans to enter into the relationship that the society understands as marriage? What she is actually claiming is a right to define the terms by which her fellow Americans may define their society. She claims for herself, that is, the right to deny those with whom she disagrees the ability to affirm the bleedingly obvious distinction between male-female relationships and, in her case, female-female relationships.

The conversation could proceed in a variety of directions — from the relative importance of self-governance to the requirement of specificity in the law to the variety of "committed relationships" to which Howarth's argument may also be applied. The fundamental disagreement will follow us on all counts, however. To the Howarths of the modern day, one need only recast one's preferences as a "right" in order to demand wholesale reworking of the entire civic sphere.

To Better Deceive the People: Hurry Up and Wait

Justin Katz

All revved up for negotiations to reconcile the House and Senate versions of economically destructive health "reform"? Well, you're going to have to wait over a month, until after some soaring rhetoric from the Deceiver in Chief:

The White House privately anticipates health care talks to slip into February — past President Barack Obama's first State of the Union address — and then plans to make a "very hard pivot" to a new jobs bill, according to senior administration officials.

Obama has been told that disputes over abortion and the tight schedule are highly likely to delay a final deal, a blow to the president, who had hoped to trumpet a health care victory in his big speech to the nation. But he has also been told that House Democratic leaders seem inclined, at least for now, to largely accept the compromise worked out in the Senate, virtually ensuring he will eventually get a deal.

Internally, White House aides are plunging into a 2010 plan calling for an early focus on creating jobs, especially in the energy sector, along with starting a conversation about deficit reduction measures, the administration officials said.

In other words, the propagandists are going to give the United States a break from the masochistic legislative beating that the Democrats have been inflicting on voters, settle down for a few quiet winter weeks to see if Americans will (per habit) lull themselves back into apathetic slumber. Then, the president will play his preacher-like oratorical cards with a state of the union address once again promising the giveaways and fantasy improvements of healthcare and energy legislation that is, although he'll pretend otherwise, still pending and declaring it to be (guessing) "time to move past the divisiveness of the past and do the work that Americans so desperately need done."

Then, in his usual practice, Obama will make vague promises about jobs legislation... that he'll leave entirely up to legislators to define, so as to keep his hands abstractly clean... and try to paint Republicans as obstructionist when they point out that the Democrats are merely proposing to give more (unborn) taxpayer dollars to their political supporters. The only employment legislation that might have a chance of working would have to move in entirely the opposite direction from that in which the Democrats are marching on every single issue in their agenda.

Whether the political choreography will work is another matter. It would certainly be characteristic of Americans to long for some political hibernation, but media cheer leading notwithstanding, the economy is likely to remain stagnant, or worse, and people in pain are less able to drift into sleep. Moreover, a year's experience watching the centrist uniter and his party turn Washington, D.C., into an even more hyper-partisan, money-grubbing, backroom-dealing swamp of oligarchical vampirism should prove to have inoculated a sizable portion of those who've been fooled by the rhetoric before.

Those Warm, Cuddly Atheists

Justin Katz

I hadn't thought the link on Drudge worth clicking, because stories about holiday displays in state houses tend to be media-trumpeted examples of adults' immaturity, but procrastinating before bed, last night, I took a look at this sample out of Illinois and find the controversial signage to be surprising even within its genre:

The sign [posted by Freedom from Religion Foundation] reads: "At the time of the winter solstice, let reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is just myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."

Obviously, the people of Illinois are free to handle their public buildings without reference to my opinion, but I'd suggest that the parties responsible for accepting this sign (there or in the handful of other states that did so) ought to face public pressure against their offices for their bad judgment. The content of the sign and the concept of its placement illustrates perfectly that atheists need no higher power but their own arrogance to start down paths that lead to oppression.

The very fact that the display is a sign — a statement of position — placed among religious symbols ambiguously related to doctrine (and usually highlighting a positive, accepting aspect of it) stands as evidence of the group's mentality and the public officials' bad judgment. Note, especially, that the attribution of the sign appears in a much smaller font than the message, giving the impression that it is the state's position in relation to religious displays nearby. Then there's the message itself, which constitutes a direct and explicit attack on fellow citizens.

As I've argued recently, the real problem, in these circumstances, is that this activity initiates at the federal level. Atheists should be free to be as obnoxious as they like, but states oughtn't feel as if the federal government requires them to ignore the obvious calls of common sense and good taste.

December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!!!

Marc Comtois

Merry Christmas to all Anchor Rising contributors, commenters and readers--the whole Anchor Rising Family! Thanks for the intellectual "gifts" you give every day. Now take a day off and enjoy Christmas with your families!

Mugged on Christmas Eve

Justin Katz

Of all the aspects of the healthcare debate and legislation that are rightly making Americans shake their heads, I think the schedule is the most egregious and representative. Think about it: The major votes have all been held over the weekend, and the final vote came on the morning before Christmas.

The profundity of that struck me as I drove in to work this morning. No school buses. Light traffic. And massive legislation being voted on — and passed — in the Senate.

This is criminal "leadership," and I don't just mean the new taxes and other ways in which Congress is trying to rob the people whom it's meant to represent. This is a real taste of what citizenship is like in nations that have tipped toward one of those discomfiting descriptions, such as totalitarianism and oligarchy.

The Democrats think they've gotten over the threshold and now can enter a phase of recovery before the next election cycle rolls around. I think they're dramatically overestimating the chances that Americans will treat this matter with their habitual delayed apathy and forget about it. It's too much. Too dumb. Too sneaky. And if we let this go, we might as well get fitted for shackles.

The Judicial Wing of Government

Justin Katz

Two points on an article about the RI judiciary's declining to answer the governor's request for further budget cuts:

Overall, the courts brought in $25.2 million in fines in 2009, he said, $23 million of which went into the state's general fund.

This is entirely the wrong mindset for the judiciary. It isn't meant to be a revenue-garnering function, and making it such grievously distorts its role as a guarantor of justice.

Unlike other state agencies, the judiciary does not answer to the governor regarding budget matters. The General Assembly, at the urging of then-Chief Justice Frank J. Williams, five years ago passed a last-minute budget article that dictated that the governor must pass along the judiciary's budget request to the state lawmakers without changes.

This factor also does grievous harm to the judiciary's function in Rhode Island government. Budgeting is an executive function (remember separation of powers?), which a representative democracy prudently places in the hands of an elected official.

Tracking the Man in Red

Marc Comtois

Well, he's already started Down Under (gee, those kids are lucky)! Norad is tracking Santa like they do every year (they've even managed to capture some video!) and St. Nick is working his way around the South Pacific right now. He must be hot in that suit!

Complications to Housing Recovery

Justin Katz

So, yesterday I mentioned some news that's sparking claims of a recovery:

U.S. home sales rose 7.4 percent in November, according to the National Association of Realtors, while in neighboring Massachusetts, the single-family sales spike mirrored that of Rhode Island, at about 60 percent.

However, enthusiasm must be tempered by this:

The 11 percent slump in new home sales from October's pace shows that consumers are taking their time following an extension of a deadline for first-time buyers to qualify for a tax credit. The incentive, worth up to $8,000, was set to expire at the end of November. But Congress pushed back the date to April 30 and expanded the program to include current homeowners who move.

And this:

The industry group's mortgage applications index slid 10.7 percent in the week ended Dec. 18 to a seasonally adjusted 595.8, the lowest level since the week ended Oct. 23.

An index of demand for refinance loans dropped 10.1 percent and requests for loans to buy homes fell 11.6 percent last week.

The tax credit for buyers, by the way, has been extended almost to summer, and expanded to include wealthier consumers.

It looks as if November's increase in overall sales derived from folks who had set up their transactions to cash in on the tax credit before the end of the month, buying less expensive existing homes, and now that months have been added, the market has returned to wait-and-see mode. There are a number of economic angles to this scenario, but it takes an effort of imagination to discern a sustained economic recovery in it. Indeed, as the link related to new home sales puts it:

The results show how reliant the housing market has been on government assistance. About 2 million homebuyers have taken advantage of the tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time buyers, the National Association of Realtors estimated this week. Another 2.4 million are expected to either tap that subsidy or another one for up to $6,500 for current homeowners.

The only way increased government spending is defensible as an economic solution is if it's a short-term boost predicated on a visible and pending boom in the private sphere or if the spending accompanies a dramatic change in regulation and such meant to grease the private sector machinery. What's currently happening is that the government is spending borrowed money through various incentive programs while complicating regulations, with everything from financial industry manipulation to the purchase of car companies to cap-and-trade to the healthcare monstrosity.

The bill on both the borrowing and the complications is going to come due, and when that happens... well, I'm not inclined to imagine the outcome too vividly on the day before Christmas.

December 23, 2009

What the EDC Can't Do

Justin Katz

Yesterday, shortly before the 5:00 hour, Dan Yorke referenced my post about the elimination of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, suggesting (in a very friendly manner) that I've lost my mind. As readily as I'll admit to my own insanity, my point is worth defending.

The critical question is what, exactly, the EDC would have to do to be successful in its mission, and Dan suggested the example of coming up with a more economically productive tax code and putting the General Assembly on the spot to enact it. There are certainly a variety of other actions that the EDC can and will take, but this one stands as an excellent test case. Putting aside private organizations, such as think tanks, that undertake such missions of their own volition, from the government's perspective, it's a political task. It belongs under the auspices of elected officials, such that the governor (say) will propose and promote a change and the General Assembly will pass or obstruct it, allowing the voters to decide whom to support.

Adding a powerless quasi-governmental agency into the mix accomplishes nothing. The politicians — who actually have the power to enact new policies — can put their fingers to the wind, enact select provisions from the proposal, and then scapegoat the EDC if things don't work out, as would surely be the case once entrenched interests distort the original, coherent plan. An even worse outcome would be if the EDC somehow managed to collect the power to enact changes over the heads of elected officials, because special interests would then have an unelected target on which to focus for lobbying and manipulation.

Apart from the EDC, Dan mentioned ending welfare-state programs as a necessary component of reform, and while I agree with that suggestion, I'd emphasize the broader necessity of eliminating the mentality that we need to be taken care of. That sort of cultural shift must start with the voters and their representatives; there is no shortcut. Setting up the EDC as a potential savior organization is at best dilatory and at worst apt to exacerbate apathy and reinforce habits of dependency.

Promotions and the Like

Monique Chartier

Because I've gotten tripped up by this a couple of times myself recently, we're all getting a quick refresher course.

Following are ways to promote your business, your ideas, your candidacy, your event on the "premier conservative webblog in the state of Rhode Island". (Hey, I'm just quoting someone else.)

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- Event announcements

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Last but definitely not least, if you simply enjoy Anchor Rising, consider a subscription. (This also makes an appropriate gift, Christmas and year 'round, for that political junkie who otherwise seems to have everything.) This accrues no premium other than the knowledge that you are supporting a "premier conservative webblog" with our gratitude; on the bright side, you will have done your bit to save the planet as no trees have to be felled for an A.R. subscription.

What Obamacare Does to the Middle Class Budget

Marc Comtois

Terry Jeffrey helpfully boils down a key portion of the Congressional Budget Office's take on the Senate health care bill: how it would affect an average middle-class family's bottom line. How does another $15,000 in "fees" (or, taxes if you want to call 'em that!) sound? Here's a summary of his summary

Fact 1: You will be forced to buy health insurance...

Fact 2: You will be eligible for a federal subsidy to help you buy health insurance, but only if you earn less than 400 percent of the poverty level ($88,200 for a family of four), your employer does not offer you coverage and you purchase a government-approved plan in a government-regulated insurance exchange...

Fact 3: Your employer will not be required to offer you coverage, and will face a maximum fine of $750 per worker per year if it does not...

Fact 4: Your insurance provider will face new federal mandates that will increase its cost for any plan it offers you...

Fact 5: Your family insurance plan -- if your employer drops your coverage and you are forced to buy it on your own -- will cost about $15,000 per year when the legislation is in full force in 2016...

The Senate health care bill gives employers two powerful incentives to stop offering health insurance coverage to their workers. First, if an employer does offer coverage, its lower-wage workers will lose the federal insurance subsidy they would otherwise get. Secondly, if an employer does not offer coverage, the $750-per-worker fine it faces will be far less than the premiums it would pay if it did offer coverage.

Where does this leave a mom and dad with two children and an annual income greater than $88,200? It leaves them without employer-based health insurance and facing a federally mandated $15,000-per-year insurance bill.

Such a deal!

The Draft Laffey Movement Moves Ahead

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Associated Press is reporting that 19 city and town Republican chairs met with former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey this past weekend to discuss the possibility of him running for Governor, but that Laffey hasn't made any decisions yet...

Lincoln GOP chairman Michael Napolitano said Laffey attended a meeting Saturday with leaders from 19 local GOP committees who voted unanimously to support Laffey if he runs.

Laffey did not commit to a run at the meeting, and he did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Impressions from a Declining Country

Justin Katz

Sometimes the order in which one processes information can create broader impressions than the individual items suggest. For just such an experience, first watch Steven Crowder's short video about the crumbling, desolate city of Detroit, whose condition he attributes to the loving manipulations of big government.

Now consider this news:

Almost two months ago, the Commerce Department cheered the announcement that the third quarter GDP had grown at an annualized rate of 3.5%. The Obama administration hailed it as a sign that their economic policies had spurred real growth. Even when Commerce sharply revised the number downward a month later to 2.8%, the White House continued to argue that the lower number still meant that the US had turned the corner, even after a number of critics asked how Commerce could have missed the number so widely. ...
Today, Commerce backtracked even further. The annualized growth number for Q3 turns out to have been 2.2%, a revision of over a third from its original estimate two months ago...

... The Cash for Clunkers program and the first-time homebuyer tax credit was estimated to have contributed as much as half of the original Commerce estimate of 3.5%. Assuming that to still have contributed at least 1.5% of the final GDP, that leaves a rather pathetic 0.7% growth in Q3 without it. It's barely a recovery at that level.

And this morning, we learn:

November saw a dramatic increase in the number of houses sold in Rhode Island — up 61.1 percent compared with November 2008, according to statistics compiled by the Rhode Island Association of Realtors.

Part of the increase can be explained by a one-month-only $8,000 tax credit that expired at the end of November. Part of it may be related to the false prediction of growth. No doubt, there's also a genuine improvement of buyer mood; people who have been in the market for a home are more comfortable with the probability that prices are at or near their new bottom and that interest rates aren't going any lower. University of Rhode Island Economics Professor Len Lardaro puts it thus: "we're [now] in a typical recession, not a free-fall, like we were in a year ago."

Nowhere, however, has anybody explained what specifically is going to turn things around. Even up to the Commerce Department, it seems as if economic forecasts are taking as an assumption that 4% or so is simply "normal" growth, to which the economy will return as a function of its essential nature. The picture that is actually beginning to emerge more resembles an old car, and all variety of government officials, economists, and media cheerleaders are standing around trying various tricks and gimmicks to get the beast moving — not the least by employing positive thinking: "It's just about to go, now!" It whines and whirs and sputters, but it isn't turning over. And it's cold outside.

Of course, economic movement is only necessary for certain destinations. We can trust, for example, that Detroit will come to us. Rhode Islanders should be especially aware of the fact that, by contrast, economic turnaround and improvement must be pursued, not awaited

December 22, 2009

The Targets of Strident Progressivism

Justin Katz

One further observation of interest with respect to Sen. Whitehouse's stridency is the target of his claims: However much he actually believes that Republicans are obstructing process and feeding off fear, he's surely comfortable assuming that he's safe from personal attack and that the nation is safe from the actual atrocities of which he warns. (Although, we're dangerously close to an attempt to derive coherent sense from his speech.)

Moving to other issues than healthcare, though, I'm sure Mark Steyn's suggestion would return to applicability:

Recently, the writer Barbara Kay testified to the House of Commons in Ottawa about a Jewish teacher at a francophone school in Ontario. Around 2002 she began to encounter explicitly anti-Semitic speech from Muslim students: "Does someone smell a Jew? It stinks here." "You are not human, you are a Jew." Had Anglo-Saxon skinheads essayed such jests, Oliver Kamm's warriors of secular pluralism would have crushed them like bugs. But when the teacher went to the principal, and the school board, and the local "hate-crimes unit," they all looked the other way and advised her that it would be easier if she retired. Sixty out of 75 French teachers at the school opted to leave: A couple were Jewish, a few more practicing Catholics, and most of the rest were the liberal secularists on whom Oliver Kamm's defense of the West rests. The francophone children withdrew, too. And now the principal and most of the students and faculty are Muslim.

Maybe it would have wound up like that anyway. But having nothing to stand in your way except liberal progressives certainly accelerated the process. And as it went at one schoolhouse, so will it go on the broader horizon: If you believe in everything, you're unlikely to stand for something.

Are key portions of Obamacare going to be unrepealable?

Donald B. Hawthorne

It is worthwhile to listen to Senator Jim DeMint discuss one critical aspect of the Senate Obamacare bill:

Sen. Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) has thumbed through Harry Reid's manager's amendment and discovered some "particularly troubling" rule-change provisions, especially with regards to the proposed Independent Medicare Advisory Board, which he finds could be unrepealable

John McCormack:

According to page 1001 of the Reid bill, the purpose of the Independent Medical Advisory Board is to "reduce the per capita rate of growth in Medicare spending." For any fearmongers out there tempted to call an unelected body that recommends Medicare cuts a "Death Panel," let me be clear. According to page 1004, IMAB proposals "shall not include any recommendation to ration health care"—you know, just like the bill says there's no funding for abortion.

William Kristol:

Why did the authors of the legislation want to specially protect the Independent Medicare Advisory Board by making it difficult for future Congresses to legislate in that area? Because the heart of the bill is the attempt to get control of our health care permanently in the hands of federal bureaucrats, who would allegedly know better than doctors and patients what’s good for them, and who would cut access to care and the quality of care...

A GOP Senate staffer writes:

The bill changes some Senate rules to say we can't vote in a future Congress to repeal the IMAB (death panels)....

It also shows that this provision in particular is very important to Dems. They chose this section out of all others to give the highest possible protection against change or repeal showing how insatiable their desire is to allow Washington bureaucrats to control our lives.

And for these sorts of issues, it is critically important to force a vote on Christmas Eve before the word can get out about the true nature of the bill.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are not articulating a compelling strategic alternative to draw American citizens into their realm.

It's too bad we can't send everyone home from Washington, D.C. until the 2010 elections.

We Need Smaller, Smarter Government, Not More of the Departments We Prefer

Justin Katz

Count me in agreement with Scott Moody, Fellow for Economic Policy at the Ocean State Policy Research Institute:

Where should the state government begin its spending cuts? One way to cut spending is to eliminate programs that have proven to be ineffectual. Consider the example of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (EDC), whose primary goal is to create jobs. However, given that Rhode Island has the third-highest unemployment rate in the country, the efficiency of this program is highly suspect.

Eliminating the EDC would save about $10 million per year. Some may consider that a paltry sum for such an effort. Yet, if that money was applied to reducing taxes, the state could nearly eliminate the alcoholic beverage tax ($11.5 million) or documentary and stock transfer taxes ($10.4 million), which are taxes on transfer documents such as mortgages, deeds and stocks. These small taxes are especially egregious because they act like bits of sand in the cogs of the economy.

Try to envisage what the EDC's presumptive big-salary director, Ioanna Morfessis, might target as evidence of success: While she'll certainly look into policies to support incremental, smaller-scale improvements among small and innovative businesses, the nature of her office and its powers suggests that she'll also look to make some splashes by luring a large company or two to the state.

If anything, Rhode Island should already have learned how flawed that approach can be. We don't need special deals to attract new special interests. We need changes in the core laws and policies affecting the state's economic environment overall, and for that, a public bureaucracy isn't necessary.

Quinnipiac Poll on Healthcare

Carroll Andrew Morse

Quinnipiac University has released a poll today reporting a national level of opposition to Democratic healthcare reform consistent with the Rasmussen results released yesterday (h/t Instapundit)...

As the Senate prepares to vote on health care reform, American voters "mostly disapprove" of the plan 53 - 36 percent and disapprove 56 - 38 percent of President Barack Obama's handling of the health care issue, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Voters also oppose 72 - 23 percent using any public money in the health care overhaul to pay for abortions, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds.

Re: Whitehouse

Justin Katz

Granted, Randal Edgar begins his report with equivalence between political parties, but it's still surprising to see Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's offensive remarks achieve front-page, above-the-fold status in the Providence Journal. If anything, however, that attention only makes me more wary of our all-too-natural reaction.

I've absolutely no doubt that Whitehouse derives enjoyment out of writing and delivering soaring partisan rhetoric about his vision of the most evil people of our day (conveniently, his political opposition), but in an environment in which Sen. Al Franken (D, MN) disallows Sen. Joe Lieberman (I, CT) a few moments to wrap up remarks, it seems to me unlikely that Whitehouse would be granted permission for diatribes unless there were political utility. It could be merely that the Democrats know that forcing through the sort of healthcare bill currently on the table is going to come at a political cost across the ideological spectrum, from far left to far right, so they want to toss some crumbs left and deflect some blame right.

Even if that's the only motivation for Whitehouse's division and offense, it's important to consider that he occupies a very safe seat, from the perspective of Washington, D.C.: He's not up for reelection until 2012, and he's from a relatively liberal state, in which stridency might buy him stronger support in some quarters. I suggest that we look at his remarks as an act, not just of his, but of the Democrat Party's. The critical questions, in that light, are:

  • From what are they trying to distract the public?
  • How can we avoid being distracted?

My fear is that the too-obvious answer to the first question — that they're simply throwing up sand in preparation for passing unpopular legislation not only in the dead of night, but in the dead of a silent night — hides something more sinister. Whatever the case, the various videos of outlandish comments from Sheldon are not going anywhere; they'll be on the Internet well into the 2012 election cycle, and they'll no doubt have picked up additions along the way. In the meantime, we should avoid turning our gaze so fixedly on our senator that we fail to be offended at the broader destruction of our way of government (not to mention of our economy) being perpetrated by his party.

By all means, begin planning for 2012, but don't let political stagecraft and the design of our electoral system become a shield against your ire, right now.

December 21, 2009

Full Text of Senator Whitehouse's Healthcare Speech

Carroll Andrew Morse

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s floor speech on healthcare from Sunday has been receiving national blogospheric attention since the quote below, broadcast on C-SPAN, was picked up by the Washington Times...

Why all this discord and discourtesy, all this unprecedented, destructive action? All to break the momentum of our new, young President. They are desperate to break this President. They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama: the ``birthers,'' the fanatics, the people running around in rightwing militias and Aryan support groups. It is unbearable to them that President Barack Obama should exist. That is one powerful reason.
The full text of the speech, taken directly from the Congressional Record, is posted below the fold.

I believe that the “they” referred to by Senator Whitehouse are Senate Republicans, meaning that the Senator is not saying that all opponents of healthcare reform are birthers, fanatics, and/or rightwing militiamen (and militiawomen) -- only that support from birthers, fanatics, and rightwing militiamen (and militiawomen) is significant enough to merit mention in the assessment of Senate Republican motives.

Of course, opposition to the Democratic Party's plans for building healthcare reform around an employment-based system that's liked by no one -- except for, apparently, Congressional Democrats and insurance companies -- is very widespread...

The latest Rasmussen Reports weekly tracking update shows that 41% of voters nationwide favor the bill and 55% are opposed. Those figures are essentially unchanged from a week ago. This the fifth straight week with support for the legislation between 38% and 41%....Most voters (54%) believe they personally will be worse off if the legislation passes. if the Senator stands by his position that birthers, fanatics, and/or rightwing militiamen (and militiawomen) form a significant base of opposition to Democratic health "reform", will he let us know how much of the 55% of the population reported by Rasmussen to be skeptical of the current "reform" plan he believes to be members of extremist factions?

Or is expressing opposition to the Democratic party's belief that everything can be improved by higher taxes and more government control now enough, by itself, to make you a fanatic?


The Washington Post's Dana Milbank picks up on a couple of historical references that I had passed over (full text of the speech below the fold, if you don't believe that they're all there)...

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) had just delivered an overwrought jeremiad comparing the Republicans to Nazis on Kristallnacht, lynch mobs of the South, and bloodthirsty crowds of the French Revolution.

"Too many colleagues are embarked on a desperate, no-holds-barred mission of propaganda, obstruction and fear," he said. "History cautions us of the excesses to which these malignant, vindictive passions can ultimately lead. Tumbrils have rolled through taunting crowds. Broken glass has sparkled in darkened streets. Strange fruit has hung from southern trees." Assuming the role of Old Testament prophet, Whitehouse promised a "day of judgment" and a "day of reckoning" for Republicans.

Asking for a bill to be read and deliberated before being voted on is on par with racial lynchings, anti-Jewish pogroms and the guillotine?

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, I thank Chairman Baucus.

As we are here in the Senate today, Washington rests under a blanket of snow, reminding us here of the Christmas spirit across the Nation, the spirit that is bringing families happily together for the holidays. Unfortunately, a different spirit has descended on this Senate. The spirit that has descended on the Senate is one described by Chief Justice John Marshall back in the Burr trial: “those malignant and vindictive passions which . . . rage in the bosoms of contending parties struggling for power.”

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Hofstadter captured some examples in his famous essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” The malignant and vindictive passions often arise, he points out, when an aggrieved minority believes that “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.”

Does that sound familiar in this health care debate? Forty years ago, he wrote that. Hofstadter continued, those aggrieved fear what he described as “the now familiar sustained conspiracy”--familiar then, 40 years ago; persistent now--whose supposed purpose, Hofstadter described, is “to undermine free capitalism, to bring the economy under the direction of the federal government, and to pave the way for socialism. . . .” Again, familiar words here today.

More than 50 years ago, he wrote of the dangers of an aggrieved rightwing minority, with the power to create what he called “a political climate in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible”--”a political [environment] in which the rational pursuit of our well-being and safety would become impossible.”

The malignant and vindictive passions that have descended on the Senate are busily creating just such a political climate. Far from appealing to the better angels of our nature, too many colleagues are embarked on a desperate no-holds-barred mission of propaganda, falsehood, obstruction, and fear.

History cautions us of the excesses to which these malignant, vindictive passions can ultimately lead: tumbrels have rolled through taunting crowds; broken glass has sparkled in darkened streets; “strange fruit” has hung from southern trees; even this great institution of government that we share has cowered before a tail gunner waving secret lists.

Those malignant moments rightly earned what Lord Acton called “the undying penalty which history has the power to inflict on wrong.” But history also reminds us that in the heat of those vindictive passions, some people earnestly believed they were justified. Such is the human capacity for intoxication by those malignant and vindictive political passions Chief Justice Marshall described. I ask my colleagues to consider what judgment history will inflict on this current spirit that has descended on the Senate.

Let's look at what current observers are saying as a possible early indicator of the judgment history will inflict. Recently, the editor of the Manchester Journal Inquirer editorial page wrote of the current GOP, which he called this “once great and now mostly shameful party,” that it “has gone crazy,” is “more and more dominated by the lunatic fringe,” and has “poisoned itself with hate.” He concluded, they “no longer want to govern. They want to emote.”

A well-regarded Philadelphia columnist recently wrote of the “conservative paranoia” and “lunacy” on the Republican right. The respected Maureen Dowd, in her eulogy for her friend, William Safire, lamented the “vile and vitriol of today's howling pack of conservative pundits.”

A Washington Post writer with a quarter century of experience observing government, married to a Bush administration official, noted about the House health care bill, “the appalling amount of misinformation being peddled by its opponents”; she called it a “flood of sheer factual misstatements about the health-care bill,” and noted that “[t]he falsehood-peddling began at the top. . . .” The respected head of the Mayo Clinic described recent health care antics as “scare tactics” and “mud.”

Congress itself is not immune. Many of us felt President Bush was less than truthful, yet not one of us yelled out “You lie!” at a President during a joint session of Congress. Through panics and depressions, through world wars and civil wars, no one ever has--never--until President Obama delivered his first address. And this September, 179 Republicans in the House voted to support their heckler comrade. Here in the Senate, this month, one of our Republican colleagues regretted, “Why didn't I say that?”

A Nobel prize-winning economist recently concluded thus:

The takeover of the Republican Party by the irrational right is no laughing matter. Something unprecedented is happening here--and it's very bad for America.
History's current verdict is not promising.

How are these unprecedented passions manifest in the Senate? Well, several ways.

First, through a campaign of obstruction and delay affecting every single aspect of the Senate's business. We have crossed the mark of over 100 filibusters and acts of procedural obstruction in less than 1 year. Never since the founding of the Republic--not even in the bitter sentiments preceding the Civil War--was such a thing ever seen in this body. It is unprecedented.

Second, through a campaign of falsehood: about death panels, and cuts to Medicare benefits, and benefits for illegal aliens, and bureaucrats to be parachuted in between you and your doctor. Our colleagues terrify the public with this parade of imagined horrors. They whip up concerns and anxiety about “socialized medicine” and careening deficits, and then they tell us: The public is concerned about the bill. Really?

Third, we see it in bad behavior. We see it in the long hours of reading by the clerks our Republican colleagues have forced. We see it in Christmases and holidays ruined by the Republicans for our loyal and professional Senate employees.

It is fine for me. It is fine for the Presiding Officer. We signed up for this job. But why ruin it for all the employees condemned by the Republicans to be here?

We see it in simple agreements for Senators to speak broken. We see it, tragically, in gentle and distinguished Members, true noblemen of the Senate, who have built reputations of honor and trustworthiness over decades being forced to break their word, and doublecross their dearest friends and colleagues. We see it in public attacks in the press by Senators against the parliamentary staff.

The parliamentary staff is nonpartisan; they are professional employees of the Senate who cannot answer back. Attacking them is worse than kicking a man when he is down. Attacking them is kicking a man who is forbidden to hit back. It is dishonorable.

The lowest of the low was the Republican vote against funding and supporting our troops in the field in a time of war. As a device to stall health care, they tried to stop the appropriation of funds for our soldiers. There is no excuse for that. From that there is no return. Every single Republican Member was willing to vote against cloture on funding our troops, and they admitted it was a tactic to obstruct health care reform.

The Secretary of Defense warned us all that a “no” vote would immediately create a “serious disruption in the worldwide activities of the Department of Defense.” And yet every one of them was willing to vote “no.” Almost all of them did vote “no.” Some stayed away, but that is the same as “no” when you need 60 “yes” votes to proceed. Voting “no” and hiding from the vote are the same result. And for those of us here on the floor to see it, it was clear: The three who voted “yes” did not cast their “yes” votes until all 60 Democratic votes had been tallied and it was clear that the result was a foregone conclusion.

And why? Why all this discord and discourtesy, all this unprecedented, destructive action? All to break the momentum of our new, young President. They are desperate to break this President. They have ardent supporters who are nearly hysterical at the very election of President Barack Obama: the “birthers,” the fanatics, the people running around in rightwing militias and Aryan support groups. It is unbearable to them that President Barack Obama should exist. That is one powerful reason.

It is not the only one. The insurance industry, one of the most powerful lobbies in politics, is another reason. The bad behavior you see on the Senate floor is the last thrashing throes of the health insurance industry as it watches its business model die. You who are watching and listening know this business model if you or a loved one has been sick: the business model that will not insure you if they think you will get sick or if you have a preexisting condition; the business model that, if you are insured and you do get sick, job one is to find loopholes to throw you off your coverage and abandon you alone to your illness; the business model, when they cannot find that loophole, that they will try to interfere with or deny you the care your doctor has ordered; and the business model that, when all else fails, and they cannot avoid you or abandon you or deny you, they stiff the doctor and the hospital and deny and delay their payments for as long as possible--or perhaps tell the hospital to collect from you first, and maybe they will reimburse you.

Good riddance to that business model. We know it all too well. It deserves a stake through its cold and greedy heart, but some of our colleagues here are fighting to the death to keep it alive.

But the biggest reason for these desperate acts by our colleagues is that we are gathering momentum, and we are gathering strength, and we are working toward our goal of passing this legislation. And when we do--when we do--the lying time is over. The American public will see what actually comes to pass when we pass this bill as our new law. The American public will see firsthand the difference between what is and what they were told.

Facts, as the Presiding Officer has often said, are stubborn things. It is one thing to propagandize and scare people about the unknown. It is much tougher to propagandize and scare people when they are seeing and feeling and touching something different.

When it turns out there are no death panels, when there is no bureaucrat between you and your doctor, when the ways your health care changes seem like a good deal to you, and a pretty smart idea--when the American public sees the discrepancy between what is and what they were told by the Republicans--there will be a reckoning.

There will come a day of judgment about who was telling the truth. Our colleagues are behaving in this way--unprecedented, malignant, and vindictive--because they are desperate to avoid that day of judgment. Frantic and desperate now and willing to do strange and unprecedented things, willing to do anything--even to throw our troops at war--in the way of that day of reckoning.

If they can cause this bill to fail, the truth will never stand up as a living reproach to the lies that have been told, and on through history our colleagues could claim they defeated a terrible monstrosity. But when the bill passes and this program actually comes to life and it is friendly, when it shelters 33 million Americans, regular American people, in the new security of health insurance, when it growls down the most disgraceful abuses of the insurance industry, when it offers better care, electronic health records, new community health centers, new opportunities to negotiate fair and square in a public market, and when it brings down the deficit and steers Medicare toward a safe harbor--all of which it does--Americans will then know, beyond any capacity of spin or propaganda to dissuade them, that they were lied to. And they will remember. There will come a day of judgment, and our Republican friends know that. That is why they are terrified.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

Merit Pay on the Radio

Justin Katz

WRNI's Elisabeth Harrison includes Tiverton in her radio review of the notion of merit pay. A national expert suggests that longevity and such are not effective, but that the formula for a mert-based system hasn't been perfected, yet. I'm encouraged, though, to hear that Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is on the page that I consider to be the correct one:

We have a system that is investing in our educators in ways that doesn't show that it's directly going to get us the results that we want. So, what I'm interested in doing is having systems in our state where teachers move up in a salary scale based on their performance.

15 Ways to Leave Your Corruptor

Justin Katz

Capers Jones makes 15 suggestions that are worth considering toward improving Rhode Island's economy, in yesterday's edition of the Statewide Coalition's daily RISC-y Business newsletter. Jones unequivocally places us in the conversation that we ought to be having across the state.

Of course, that doesn't mean that everybody has to agree on every item, and several of his points pick up the consolidation theme about which I'm supremely skeptical. Consider:

9. Consolidate our department of transportation with either Massachusetts or Connecticut. Our DOT is dysfunctional, expensive, and has little value.

Here's a question I'd offer as decisively opposed to such a plan: Of the players in the public-sector battle, who would be better able to work the levers of a big-dollar, multistate public agency — taxpayers/voters or unions? There's no contest at all. Unionized labor will have the motivation of billions of dollars funneled to a relatively small group, while taxpayers will only have the motivation of a small portion of their total taxes, now entirely pulled apart from the many other issues that motivate voters, because those differ from state to state.

Jones also suggests consolidating schools and reducing the number of towns, cutting the General Assembly to a grand total of fifteen legislators. In a state with our specific problems of voter apathy and strong, statewide special interests, it'd hardly be worth coming up with a point spread to wager on the outcome of that centralized battle for a handful of powerful positions.

Garbage Goes Straight to Video

Justin Katz

Mostly for the edification of Tiverton residents, I've posted the portion of the last town council meeting that represented the public hearing on a pay-as-you-throw trash program. Nine of the 10 video clips are in the extended entry.

John Loughlin: Resolutions for the Holiday and Beyond

Community Crier

The holiday season is a great time to reflect on changes we would like to see in the next session of Congress - and resolve to work in the coming year to make those changes a reality. In keeping with that spirit, here are a few items on my Christmas list and, I hope, on yours.

I believe all members of Congress should be required to read legislation before voting, and given sufficient time to do so.

I will make sure all legislation is posted in final form for a minimum of 72 hours before it can eligible for a vote.

I want to limit all legislation to one discrete subject per bill, outlawing the practice of tagging on unpopular and unrelated legislation to bills that must pass.

I believe all legislation must contain a statement of the enumerated constitutional authority which allows the legislation. If our Constitution does not specifically allow Congress to make a specific law or regulation, they shouldn't be allowed to pass it.

I want to make sure Congress will no longer vote themselves pay raises. Congressional pay will rise by the lower of CPI or 3% and even then by two-thirds, on-the-record, roll-call vote.

There should be no elite congressional pensions: Members of Congress can contribute to their own retirement plan like rest of us.

I believe Congress must equally abide in all laws they impose on the American people. No congressional exemptions from the laws they pass on the rest of us.

I want Congress to lose their current health care system and participates in the same health care system as the American people.

I believe in Term Limits: The next Congress must enact legislation to make a constitutional change, to be ratified by the states, limiting the terms of all Senators and Representatives in Congress.

State Representative John J. Loughlin II is running for the First Congressional District of Rhode Island.

An Upside-Down Reform

Justin Katz

I've got a piece in the current Providence Business news that takes issue with some well-intentioned strategies for reforming Rhode Island (ignore the title given to the essay; it'll only confuse):

The citizenry — the bought and paid, the apathetic, the ideologically blinkered — is ultimately the problem, and changing its civic habits must be the focus of long-lasting reforms.

Every component of the top-down reformers' strategy is antithetical to the cause of an engaged populace and an innovative marketplace. Consolidated government functions move decision-making farther from individual voters and diminish the authority of local officials, leaving a gap for those who might consider a transition into public service. Tax code gimmicks heighten the financial learning curve, rather than simplifying the back-office demands of business, and might actually increase the cost of opening a shop and keeping it going.

As for unprecedented big-dollar hires, as exemplified by Ms. Morfessis and Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, the risks are manifold. At the outset, one must take into account the demoralization of struggling residents as they watch a budget-busting government actually increase its high-end pay scales. Disregarding the impression caused by such news hardly alleviates apathy and cynicism, even as it erroneously declares the importance of saviors over foot soldiers.

Centralization may look attractive, but there are compelling reasons to resist the urge. The theme related to my essay in the current Rhode Island Catholic. I can't help but see something sinister in the continual lure to consolidate power, such that only a few need to be corrupted for it to be misused dreadfully.

December 20, 2009

How Would a 3% Cut in Pay Affect the Nationwide Salary Ranking of Rhode Island Teachers?

Monique Chartier

To help cities and towns close budget gaps which might crop up in part by a proposed reduction in state aid, Governor Carcieri has suggested that municipalities around Rhode Island negotiate a 3% reduction in teacher salaries.

Carcieri said he wants teachers to make the same sacrifice state workers are making. He wants every district to reopen teacher contracts and get the unions to agree to salary reductions rather than increase property taxes, but he also recognizes it is up to municipalities to figure out how they will absorb the cuts. “I’m a big supporter of education,” Carcieri said. “But all we’re saying is, if people give a little bit this year and next year, we’ll hopefully get through this.”

What would be the impact on teacher salary ranking?

Currently, at $58,491, the average salary for a Rhode Island teacher ranks tenth highest. Subtract 3% and the result is $56,736. At that point, the average salary would slip past the average salary for Michigan teachers at $57,327 and Pennsylvania at $56,906, which would move up to tenth and eleventh highest respectively.

A 3% hair cut, then, would move the average Rhode Island teacher salary down from tenth to twelfth highest nationwide. That would seem to be within the parameter of "a little bit".

Prescriptions for Failed States

Marc Comtois

In the most recent Claremont Review, William Voegeli examines some of political and institutional factors that have led to California's current crisis, particularly the role that Progressivism has played. Key to his argument is the understanding of what early twentieth century Progressives in California were trying to achieve:

According to historian Alonzo Hamby, the framework for Progressive politics was the conviction that the political conflict was between "the people" and "the interests." It followed that the highest political duty was to help the people resist and ultimately triumph over the interests. One problem with this framework is that it lends itself better to the disdain than to the practice of politics. "The Progressives did not like politics," writes political scientist Jerome Mileur, because "the politics they saw was not about the public purpose of the nation, but was instead consumed by local interests and private greed, indifferent alike to the idea of a great community and the idealism of grand purpose."

...Progressivism's anti-politics was designed for the people as they ought to be, not as they really are. Positing that the fundamental choice is between the people and the interests presupposes that the people are authentic only when they are disinterested. The Progressives' goal was to equip the people with the means to advance encompassing, lofty ambitions by thwarting the interests' narrow, selfish ones. The means to this end was to collapse the constitutional space between the people and the government, dismantling the political mechanisms that conferred unfair advantages on connected insiders.

Today, the ballot initiative is probably the most recognizable Progressive remedy, which is practiced in California to a seemingly greater scope than other states, but the direct primary replaced the smoke-filled room, electing judges, recall elections and the ubiquitous referendum were also instituted.

This so-called "hyperdemocracy", as Voegeli explains, is reliant on a weird dichotomy. While the people can be a check against the interests, the Progressive solution of more direct political involvement requires both their disinterest in politics per se, but requires an interest in policies. Most people simply can't make enough time in the day to lead their lives and keep an eye on policies and politicians.

Realizing that this wasn't enough, the Progressive solution lay in the expert administrators, who naturally take it upon themselves to make the proper choices for the silent masses who are usually just not that into politics. Thus, civil service and the spread of the "unionocracy", as Voegeli calls it. Rhode Islanders know where Voegeli is going here, so I won't linger on well-trod ground. Yet, his observations about the Golden State seem applicable to the Ocean State.

...the political strategies of both conservatives and liberals concentrate on how to deal with that angry public. The conservative strategy is to get the public angry, and see that it stays angry. Conservative talk-radio hosts compete to identify the latest and most astounding outrage, and to see who can denounce it most stridently. The liberal strategy avoid rousing that public to anger, but also, when the voters do put on their war paint, to wait for their ire to ebb due to the passage of time and the inevitable reappearance of life's many nonpolitical preoccupations. When the anger has passed, government-as-usual can resume without meddling by citizen-amateurs....

The evidence is incontestable: the liberal strategy of waiting for the public's anger to subside is far sounder than the conservative strategy of hoping it will gather strength. The liberal calculation rests on a shrewd assessment, not only of human psychology but also of modern mobility. California is not yet East Germany, which means that one of the ways Californians who are mad as hell can decide not to take it any more is by moving away.

Sounds familiar. Voegeli has a two-part solution for California that may also apply here in Rhode Island:
First, the state's Republican Party will have to break free from the gravitational pull of the Progressive legacy to establish itself as the vital political intermediary between the public's desire for fair and frugal public services, and a newly chastened government that delivers them conscientiously. The historical record clearly establishes that direct legislation and galvanizing leaders are not adequate to this task, and independent administrative experts can be trusted only to sabotage it.

Second, the institutional capacity of the Republican Party will be inadequate to its mission unless it persuades Californians that they have an urgent, abiding, and legitimate interest in reclaiming their government from the public employee unions who have asserted squatters' rights over it. The logic of Progressivism called for independent administrators to discern and implement the people's disinterested, inchoate aspirations for government. Instead, the permanent government has become increasingly adept and brazen at advancing its own private interest by invoking platitudes about the public's. The vindication of the public's real, as opposed to its faux, interest will require walking back, over several years, the depredations the permanent government has perfected over decades.

As Voegeli explains earlier, populist-based "rebuke[s of] the governing class in the manner of Network's Howard Beale: "We're mad as hell, and we're not going to take it anymore!" only work for so long and can only go so far.

What Government Healthcare Really Means

Justin Katz

Well, this about sums it up:

Far from being a brilliant plan constructed by top doctors and financial experts in a government brain trust, this health-care bill is a twisted, deformed political document, seen in its entirety by only a few high-ranking politicians belonging to a single political party. Its components have not been precisely crafted as part of a fantastic system calibrated to ensure the maximum access to quality health care for all Americans.

The bill is not being examined with transparency and careful deliberation by representatives who behave as humble servants of the people and their Constitution. Instead, it's being hastily rammed through in the dead of night, over the objection of powerful majorities of the American people, with desperate last-minute deals cut to acquire the necessary votes, financed by vast sums of taxpayer money. The primary consideration is not crafting the most sophisticated and intelligent health care reform... it's getting a bill pushed through before angry voters have a chance to blast the Democrats out of Congress. Look at it this way: if the average middle-class American paid about $5000 in federal income tax last year, then you might be one of the 20,000 people who paid for Mary Landrieu's vote, in the hope of giving Barack Obama a bill to sign as a Christmas present.

The Cost of Eliminating Prices

Justin Katz

If you're looking for some worthwhile snowed-in reading, Kevin Williamson's recent National Review essay, "Priceless Is Worthless," would be an edifying use of your time. In sum:

... as we continue to pretend that there is another unseen economic reality beyond market prices when it comes to health care, banking, housing, labor, cotton, sugar, fuel-efficient Japanese automobiles, solar panels, and every other product with prices distorted by politics--whose interests do you imagine are being served? Yours, chump?

A timely example:

Health-care prices are a mishmash for lots of reasons, but one of the main ones is the way we pay for health care--you don't pay the doctor, your insurance company does, an arrangement that gives at least two of the three parties involved a good incentive to obscure prices, so that the consumer has no idea how good or how rotten a deal he is getting while the insurers and hospitals attempt to game and swindle each other. Given the shocking and terrifying size of serious medical bills--my mother's last stay in the hospital billed out at $360,000 (that's a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti for Doc X plus a BMW 5-Series for one of his brats)--the American health-care consumer, quaking in his paper hospital slippers, no longer even asks: "What does this procedure cost?" He only asks: "Does my insurance cover it?" No prices, no negotiation, no mystical coordination between producer and consumer--instead, maddening and expensive and often underhanded mediation by the insurer.

Medicine is complicated; computers are complicated, too, but you can call Dell or Apple or Best Buy or whomever and ask: "What does this sort of computer cost?" and you will receive an answer. And then, when you get to the store--miracle of miracles!--that will be the price. Computers are damned complicated to make, with programmers in the United States and India collaborating with Taiwanese microchip fabricators, Dutch LED manufacturers, Irish customer-support agents, etc. You can get a price on an iMac, but you can't get a price quote on an ingrown toenail.

What State Aid Does

Justin Katz

It's difficult to care — in the midst of a major recession, with unemployment at its current level and the state government in perpetual deficit — about political sniping about who told whom what when, but a statement in such an article begs for correction (emphasis added):

RHODE ISLAND GOVERNMENT funnels one-third of its $3-billion "general revenue" budget to municipalities and school districts.

The vast majority goes to schools.

The state budget Carcieri signed in June designates $187 million for municipal governments, a figure that includes "restricted accounts," such as money that must go to local library construction. And local school districts were set to receive $890 million, including funding for charter schools and the state-managed Central Falls school system.

The funding stream helps keep local taxes at bay.

No. What the funding stream does is to help keep local spending — especially on labor — up. The evidence is in the items that Governor Carcieri is suggesting as compensation for cuts to aid, most of which entail lightening the contractual burden on municipalities. In the long term, less aid from the state would not mean commensurately higher property taxes; it would mean commensurately lower giveaways to unions.

December 19, 2009

This Is About Self-Dealing, Not National Economic Health

Justin Katz

The Democrats are clearly in grabbing mode, and this sort of thing is not going to stop until we citizens of the United States make it stop:

President Barack Obama's Democratic allies in the House Wednesday muscled through a year-end plan to create jobs, mixing about $50 billion for public works projects with another almost $50 billion for cash-strapped state and local governments.

The unemployed would get continued benefits. But conspicuously absent from the plan were Obama's recently announced initiatives to give Social Security recipients $250 payments, a tax credit for small businesses that create jobs, and a program awarding tax credits to people who make their homes more energy-efficient.

This is all about the government and public bureaucracies preserving themselves at the expense of national economic health, rewarding special interests, and expanding dependencies.

It's worth noting, too, that although no Republicans voted for this particular legislation, there's little reason to believe that all, or even many, of them will allow small government principles to stand in the way of their own benefit should they return to power. The political class requires wholesale revision.

A Pre-Old School Jersey Boy

Justin Katz

Shortly after commenter BobN mentioned Guido Beach in response to my post on reality TV, I came across this related post by Ed Driscoll. Driscoll points the way to this early/mid-'90s video about Wildwood, New Jersey, which as it happens was the specific site of my own early-'90s Jersey Shore romps.

It's all coming back to me, now.

The summer after I'd decided to drop out of college was the last during which my friends and I made the three-hour trip down the Garden State Parkway to Wildwood, and the reason, as I now recall, was an abrupt shift in the character of our summer getaway. While we were in high school, Seaside Heights (closer to the New York City suburbs) was the sleazier location. Wildwood was not yet done frightening away families and was fertile ground for the independent middle class teenage boys in search of the teenage daughters thereof.

As the '90s made the transition from early to mid, one of those jumbles of social cause and effect escalated the town's deterioration. That's about the time that the above-linked video appeared. Rolling Stone magazine chipped in with a profile of "The Prince of Wildwood" — a sex-crazed late-teen to whom I unfortunately related, back then. The gates of North Jersey hell opened, and we young, male, middle class predators — more interested in coming-of-age adventures than self defense — had to look elsewhere. As I wrote, in a song lyric, at the time:

Smiling faces are just a memory
And there's a battlefield where the party used to be
What used to be a beach is now a city street
Soldiers marching to a different beat

They've taken over Wildwood
Just like they ruin everything that once was good
They've taken over Wildwood
And I won't be here next year

The boardwalk's garbage from end to end
Flapping on the sea breeze in this two mile long pig-pen
All the promdressed teenagers that used to laugh out on the street
Must have known before I that it was time to retreat


I remember fireworks on the balcony
Our cheers together, ears ringing with the sound
All the ashes now falling as glass
Raining shards of broken '40s on the ground
Dreams of margaritas frosted with ice
Whatever happened to our summer paradise?

Floating on the sea breeze somewhere before sunrise
Feels just the same if I close my eyes
Spent this vacation looking for a place to hide
But clientele means nothing to the rhythms of the tide


Just when we'd found Point Pleasant, as the place of retreat for those whom we'd helped to chase out of Wildwood, I departed for Rhode Island, and New England and adulthood pulled me in.

To some extent, these are observations of a cyclical nature. On a personal level, people's interests tend to mature as they age, although adolescence is creeping further and further into adulthood and the level of maturity ultimately reached is arguably diminishing. On a social level, different clienteles consider a parade of locations fashionable, in keeping with their interests — with families seeking safe respite from hectic lives, young professionals edging in that direction, younger student-types following the older children of the families and emulating the young professionals, and the crowd deteriorating from there; the leading edge moves on, and the cycle starts again. But the speed of the cycle and the depths of deterioration appear to be escalating, in part because families do not appear to be keeping together as long or as thoroughly, and with fewer children, they no longer require vacation entertainment to span from pre-school through high-school and beyond.

To another extent, though, the same cycle appears to be happening on a much larger scale — that of the civilization — and civilizations do not merely ebb and flow in location and superficial details, as from one Jersey Shore boardwalk to another, but to change their character in the process. Some of us think that the character that is ebbing is worth fighting to preserve.

A Federalist Christmas

Justin Katz

My monthly column in the current Rhode Island Catholic reviews the Commerce Clause, government spending, and the Fourteenth Amendment as contributors to trends that are transforming Christmas into a private affair:

The underlying assumption that an atheist should feel as at home as an orthodox Roman Catholic in any corner of the nation is at odds with the brilliant experiment that the Founders initiated. True civic freedom — truly representative government — must include the right to construct a community that reflects its members' unique values. Furthermore, a dynamic society requires that its citizens be able to escape from communities with uncongenial values to others that are substantively different, without disclaiming their national identity.

Americans who want their towns to resemble a Norman Rockwell vision of the Christmas season have no right to threaten or disenfranchise the skeptics and gadflies in their midst. The gadflies, in turn, should have no recourse to the swamps of Washington, D.C., for a Grinch's veto.

A resident of any town, state, or nation should have recourse to due process should he or she feel that the government is not adequately representing him or her. Secularists wish to make their "due process" a quick run through the courts to align the government with their beliefs, while disallowing their religious neighbors any due process less dramatic than a constitutional amendment at the national level.

December 18, 2009

If the Legislation Weren't So Irredeemably Stupid...

Justin Katz

... I'd wonder whether we had an effect on this issue. Governor Carcieri has vetoed the apprenticeship gift to large, union contractors legislation:

In accordance with the provisions of Section 14, Article IX of the Constitution of the State of Rhode Island and Section 42-1-4 of the Rhode Island General laws, I transmit, with my disapproval, 2009 H 5582, "An Act Relating to Labor and Labor Relations."

This act would decrease the ratio of apprentices to journeymen in various fields of trade and industry.

Although I am a strong supporter of apprenticeship programs, and believe that such programs are necessary to maintain and foster a dynamic workforce in the building trades, this bill is flawed and could have some unintended consequences.

Apprenticeship ratios should provide ample opportunities for young people to enter the ranks of the skilled workforce and at the same time allow for a level of supervision and on-the-job training commensurate with their needs. It is unclear that the ratios proposed in this bill strike that delicate balance.

If the ratios allow for too few people to enter the building trades it will be nearly impossible to replenish the aging workforce in this area. It is also important to acknowledge that there is a cost to operating an apprenticeship program, and that cost must be borne by someone. Labor unions, though not exclusively, have traditionally operated many of the apprenticeship programs. In doing so, they bear a cost that other contractors and companies -- those that do not operate such a program --- do not incur.

In closing, although I am sympathetic to the concerns expressed by the proponents of this legislation, I am equally concerned that the proposed remedy may have unintended consequences that could harm many businesses and workers. I look forward to working with the various impacted parties to hopefully find some other more balanced solution.

I should also note some inside information that the legislative supporters of this bill — including House Majority Leader Gordon Fox, who proved himself unfit for public office in his passionate speech on its behalf in the special session, this autumn — wanted to make a performance of their support but didn't really want it to become law. Two lessons from that suggestion: legislation can be a dishonest business, and the unions shouldn't fall for the fake support from the recipients of their support and largess.

The Tea Party's Moment

Justin Katz

Jeffrey Bell offers a good review of the tea party phenomenon and movement, but I think he picks the wrong moment of ignition:

By far the most pivotal event happened on August 7. That was the day a 45-year-old mother of five who had a month earlier announced her resignation as governor of Alaska, definitively ending her political career according to nearly every elite analyst, posted five paragraphs on her Facebook page. The post was titled "Statement on the Current Health Care Debate." Its second paragraph paraphrased conservative economist Thomas Sowell as observing that "government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost." Sarah Palin went on to pose a question Sowell's dictum implicitly raised: "And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama's 'death panel' so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their 'level of productivity in society,' whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil."

Through the lens of establishment politics, that may be the critical occurrence, but from my perspective in the cheap seats, the ultimate catalyst was the YouTube video of Arlen Specter facing angry shouts at his suggestion that the healthcare legislation must move quickly. That's when Americans called "BS," and when they realized that they could be heard, not only by their ostensible representatives, but by anybody who might happen upon a choice online video.

Online fame (such as it is) was perhaps a motivation for making events of the summer's town hall meetings, but the desire to be heard by political leaders has galvanized the longer-term movement, as Bell goes on to elaborate:

Completely absent both from the Hoffman campaign mounted by Conservative-party chairman Michael Long and from the various independent-expenditure grassroots efforts were the usual arguments, so ubiquitous among national Republican elites and Washington-based conservatives, over which issues to talk about and which not to. Hoffman included both social and economic issues in his campaign materials, and so did the independent grassroots efforts. Private polling found that both social and economic issues were contributing to Hoffman's unexpected surge.

This wasn't because the activists and voters who swung behind Hoffman agreed with one another on every issue or cared about all issues equally. They didn't. Rather, the threat of being marginalized by someone well to the left on virtually every issue seemed more important than intra-conservative disagreements.

That's worth remembering as the keepers of the standard running political narrative insist on a homogeneous political class.

Mid-east Oil Well Tagging

Marc Comtois

The headline caught my attention: "Iranian forces take over Iraq oil well." Yikes. Then I read the story...and the real situation is described by U.S. Colonel Peter Newell:

"What happens is, periodically, about every three or four months, the oil ministry guys from Iraq will go ... to fix something or do some maintenance. They'll paint it in Iraqi colours and throw an Iraqi flag up.

"They'll hang out there for a while, until they get tired, and as soon as they go away, the Iranians come down the hill and paint it Iranian colours and raise an Iranian flag. It happened about three months ago and it will probably happen again."

For sure, the wells are in disputed territory, which has been a constant point of negotiation between Iran and Iraq. But the actual "actions on the ground" make it seem more akin to a graffiti turf war.

Unemployment, Jobs, and Taxes

Justin Katz

We'll have to await more-descriptive data, but the latest on unemployment in Rhode Island suggests that the state may have found the key to lowering its rate. Indeed, for November, unemployment fell 0.2%, to 12.7%, and 2,100 more Rhode Islanders are working. The available information isn't yet sufficiently granular to know how many of those newly employed folks are seasonal temps or part time or how many people gave up on job searches, last month.

Still, it may be that we've been too harsh on Senate Majority Leader Dan Connors and Senate President Theresa Paiva-Weed. Along with the above statistics, employers report having eliminated 1,300 jobs. Additionally:

... despite the improved unemployment figures locally, DLT said the average weekly claim load for unemployment insurance benefits climbed to 36,281 in November, a gain of 2,295 — or 6.7 percent — over October's average because of increased eligibility.

It appears, in other words, that the way to bring down the state's unemployment rate is to drive people out of the job market and out of the state more quickly than we lose jobs. Theoretically, if there were zero non-government jobs, we could still have a zero percent unemployment rate.

So let's have those tax increases for which legislators have been floating trial balloons. After all, we've got to fund those who've decided that they don't even care to look for work, and the more pesky unemployed ambitious people whom we can remove from our statistics, the better we'll feel.

Leadership and Rhetoric

Justin Katz

Monique and Matt covered budgets and leadership on Wednesday night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

December 17, 2009

Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed: "No one is Talking About Raising Taxes" (Other than the Governor)

Monique Chartier

Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed appeared on the John DePetro Show this morning to interpret for WPRO listeners the supplemental budget that Governor Carcieri proposed in an alternate universe. Possibly John can prevail upon her to return another day and comment on the supplemental budget proposed by the Governor in this continuum.

As you know, the Govenor has proposed a property tax increase in his budget and I think you guys have done a pretty good job of covering that. And I think that is the reality of the budget that's been proposed by the Governor, you know, authorizing a supplemental property tax increase. What the Senate is saying is, when you look at the deficit, what's included in those numbers, because the projections are based upon current law, is a tax decrease, a tax cut, in this upcoming year. The flat tax is scheduled to go down once again. And the answer is, can we afford to cut taxes as opposed to having to really debate the property tax and the impact that has on so many Rhode Islanders. As you know, I've championed the property tax and tried to provide property tax relief my entire career. ...

No one is talking about raising taxes. What we're talking about is whether or raising the property tax, as proposed by the Governor, is the right way to go.

A Consensus of One-Third

Justin Katz

A running interest of mine is the way in which individuals pile conclusions upon impressions upon experiences upon predispositions in such a way as to live as if in totally different worlds. Last week's WRNI Political Roundtable piqued that interest with URI Political Science Professor Maureen Moakley's heavily couched compliments of President Obama. The following was among the topics that she raised to support the suggestion that he's doing pretty well, considering:

There's now an emerging consensus that, to some extent, the stimulus package has worked.

Perhaps she means "emerging" in the way that the high tide is evidence of an "emerging" flood, but from my reading it's difficult to comprehend how such a statement can be made. Even here in the heart of the Obama blues, only a dramatic minority count themselves among Moakley's "consensus":

Three-quarters of Rhode Islanders have a friend or family member who recently lost a job, and only a third believe the $787-billion federal stimulus package is doing much to help the economy, according to a new Brown University poll.

I wonder if other assumptions of Rhode Island's commentariate are similarly questionable, including even the depth of the state's progressivism. WRNI Political Analyst Scott MacKay lays the decline of RIGOP at the feet of social conservatives and later insists that:

If Anchor Rising and these right-wing blogs and these folks want to beat up Frank Caprio, that's only going to help him in the Democrat primary.

He then goes on to highlight the fact that Caprio's competition for the Democrat nod for governor, Patrick Lynch, was the first out of the gate for Obama during the last campaign season. The thread that MacKay misses, in my opinion, is that a majority of voters — including all "independents" and "unaffiliateds" — don't view these races through a lens of us versus them partisanship. Similarly, it is not the objective of Anchor Rising to help or to harm a particular candidate, but to make an argument for a particular way of looking at the world and solving its problems.

According to that view, civic and economic conservatism will not function — meaning that human society will not endure — unless the culture does some of the work that liberals would put in the hands of government. This relates to MacKay's conclusion in one of his radio monologues:

Rhode Island Republicans desperately need leaders to take them out of the tea party echo chamber, discuss the state's deep economic problems, and give the Democrats some sorely needed competition for assembly seats, but if Republicans keep fighting among themselves, that day will never come.

If conservatives back down, Republicans may, indeed, gain a seat or two, although I'd predict the opposite, but the short-term political calculation is irrelevant. Longstanding pragmatic support for "moderates" will lead just as surely to societal decay as full-on liberalism. The pace and the route may vary by degree, but the result is identical, and the community — starting locally, moving through the state, and ending at the federal level — must be persuaded of that fact.

A Voice in the Wilderness

Justin Katz

And then there's the wild card:

"Everyone involved should resign. Either they didn't know it would come to this, or they did and I'm not sure which is worse," said Laffey.

Sounding every bit like a candidate for Governor, Laffey said the state's political landscape is in need of a serious makeover. At a press conference to announce the appointment of a new economic development director late last week, talk centered on the need for everyone to "work together" to find solutions. Laffey, however, who didn't attend the event, suggested that the approach was misguided. Instead, he said the state needs reformers who are ready for a battle.

"The bottom line is we’re going to need somebody, or a group of people, to run for public office who will take the fight to the established political order, and by that I mean the public sector union leaders and the General Assembly," said Laffey. "There needs to be a direct fight ... and unless we do that, we'll continue on the road to collapse."

Abstract Consolidation Polls Well in RI, but....

Marc Comtois

According to the new Brown U. poll:

Gov. Carcieri has proposed a high-powered commission to study the feasibility of consolidating or regionalizing public services, like education, public safety, and other municipal services. The argument is that there is too much duplication of services among the state’s 39 municipalities. Do you agree or disagree the following services should be consolidated?

Q32. School Administration? Agree 64.3%; Disagree 25.3%; DK/NA 10.4%

Q33. Police? Agree 51.1%; Disagree 37.8%; DK/NA 11.1%

Q34. Fire? Agree 54.8%; Disagree 34.6%; DK/NA 10.6%

Q35. Public Works? Agree 69.2%; Disagree 20.8%; DK/NA 10.0

Q36. All Services? Agree 53.0%; Disagree 33.7%; DK/NA 13.3

However, as pollster Victor Profughi (he didn't do the Brown poll--ed.) stated on the John DePetro Show this AM, how many would approve of consolidation when it is their school/police/fire department being streamlined? It sounds good in the abstract, but how will the neighbors feel when the fire station across the street gets consolidated with another a couple miles away? Or two half-filled neighborhood schools get split up and the kids spread around to 4 or 5 schools? That's what real consolidation means--and it's done all the time in the rest of the country--but I'm not so sure Rhode Islanders are ready to embrace that kind of change when it happens on their doorstep.

And Then the Other Side

Justin Katz

From AP writer Ray Henry's ">report, it looks like RI Senate Majority Leader Daniel Connors drew the short straw:

"I think we need to look at all of our taxes and determine, you know, those that could be changed to provide sufficient revenue for the state to provide its services," Connors said during a Statehouse interview.

You know, we'll just find a way to take "sufficient revenue" from the people of the state. That's all. Easy.

Of course, Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed stands right with Connors and is apparently in need of a civics lesson from the people's perspective:

"Essentially, the proposal the governor is making is we're going to cut taxes with the left hand ..., income taxes, and we're going to increase property taxes," Paiva-Weed said.

Note that Paiva-Weed makes no distinction between the scope of her tier of government and more local tiers. The Democrats are trying to protect their public-sector union pals at the municipal level by shifting the narrative to insist that municipal leaders have no choice. They do, and so do their local constituencies.

December 16, 2009

Supplemental Budget: Not Just Cuts, Tools Also

Monique Chartier

In today's Pawtucket Times, Jim Baron points out that Governor Carcieri's proposed (the Governor proposes, the General Assembly disposes) supplemental budget does not just reduce monies to cities and towns but would also provide a counterbalance; namely, relief from unfunded state mandates.

Carcieri’s proposal also resuscitates several initiatives to allow cities and towns to cut costs that the General Assembly rejected earlier this year, including, requiring all municipal employees and teachers to pay at least 25 percent of their health insurance costs; eliminating automatic cost-of-living increases to pension payments, reducing disability pensions for those able to do other work, and changing the age requirements for retirees to start collecting pension payments, and suspending the Caruolo law, which allows school committees to sue their cities and towns if they believe they are not properly funded, during years when state aid is cut to school districts and eliminating minimum manning provisions from police and firefighters’ contracts.

Those steps alone, Carcieri told reporters, would allow cities and towns to save approximately $120 million a year, more than making up for the money they will lose in the cuts to school aid ($20.5 million) and car tax reimbursement ($65 million).

“If the General Assembly gives those tools to the municipal leadership that we describe here, virtually all of that could be offset with savings.”

Mayor Fung, presumably speaking for all objecting mayors and managers, insists that his city's budget is "bare bones". But can that be true if it contains the above unfunded mandates?

None of this is easy for anyone. Hopefully, the cities and towns will direct some of their understandable angst, so far reserved for the Governor, to the General Assembly to obtain assistance with the expenditure side of the budget (namely, these mandates), now that it is clear that the state must once again reduce the revenue side.

RE: Supplemental Budget Fallout

Marc Comtois

It seems to me that those city leaders whining about the Governor's proposed cuts (PDF) would be better served attempting genuine contract reform instead of nibbling at the edges, as they have up to this point. In short, isn't it about time we get rid of the contract step scheme? Set the entry level salary at what it is now and put 3% raises into effect for all people (not job positions) going forward. That allows you to remove contract steps and future contract negotiations would be simplified. But that's way too simple (if not "easy").

Meanwhile, Senate President Paiva-Weed is disappointed with the Governor's plan, saying he "took the easy way out" by calling for cuts, which demonstrated a lack of leadership. Do mean like that exhibited by the General Assembly over the last few months? Like, say, stating that you "cannot rule out" tax cuts? The last thing this General Assembly can claim is that they've provided any sort of leadership.

Surreality TV

Justin Katz

A confession: I've played along from home with the reality TV show fad. As MTV's Real World spanned my life from high school to college, I used to joke that, were I on the show, I'd be the one kicked off midseason, and life confirmed that joke all too often. By the time Survivor hit the scene, I'd matured enough that my enjoyment derived from fascination with human interactions. Because of the competitive and touristic twists, I held on with Amazing Race until my schedule edged it out just a few seasons ago.

At this point, though, few would dispute the suggestion that it's time to rein the reality-TV culture in a bit. As Jonah Goldberg puts it, in a rhetorical question: "Can the rest of us afford to live in a society constantly auditioning to make an ass of itself on TV?"

Goldberg's launching point is the new bottom of the barrel, Jersey Shore, and it sounds as if the setting has only drifted further into the sea of cultural disintegration since the summers that I spent along that stretch of sand willing my life to go wrong. Sad to say, it looks as if my high school gang was of the trendsetting generation, in that regard, and this point from Goldberg brings the shame of that assessment home:

British historian Arnold Toynbee argued that civilizations thrive when the lower classes aspire to be like the upper classes, and they decay when the upper classes try to be like the lower classes. Looked at through this prism, it’s hard not to see America in a prolonged period of decay.

Back in the '90s, George Carlin had a stand-up comedy bit suggesting that the nation should replace prisons with four contiguous wall-in pens somewhere out in the middle of the country. Each pen would have a different sort of criminal, and the whole thing would be paid for by throwing open the doors between them all once every few years and selling the result on pay per view. A decade later, it would sadly be plausible to worry that Americans would begin deliberately following life paths that would land them on the show.

Supplemental Budget Fallout

Justin Katz

As I walked down the cold, dark driveway to retrieve this morning's paper, it occurred to me that, for all of the badmouthing that Governor Carcieri will be receiving throughout the Christmas season, he's really set the tone for avoiding large, broadbased tax increases. Doing so has forced conversations about the way government operates that Rhode Islanders have been resisting for far too long... forever, as far as I can tell.

Is the "tax hell" vision so compelling that other governors would do the same? I tend to doubt it, although I suspect the recession will last long enough (in Rhode Island) that we'll have the opportunity to find out. Hopefully, the in-coming governor will appreciate the warning offered to anybody who has ever been trained to save drowning swimmers: they're panicking and will drag you down. In this case, the tax-raising government is the swimmer, and a frighteningly desperate grip is sure to make the rescuer (private industry and taxpayers) swim away to a safe distance.

So, for all of the very narrow and wonkish complaints that a conservative blogger might have against Carcieri, this supplemental budget should offer final proof, for any who need it, that he gets the problem to a degree for which we all should be thankful. Sure, Steve Peoples argues that the governor has boxed himself in:

The term-limited governor has painted himself into a corner — through agreements with labor unions and the federal government — that leaves few obvious places to cut the kind of money he needs to close a $219-million shortfall over the next six months. ...

Indeed, the governor largely gave up his right to cut Rhode Island's $1-billion human-service safety net when he agreed to plug prior budget holes with hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal stimulus package. And he surrendered his ability to cut the state's work force following recent labor negotiations that produced eight unpaid work days.

I'd suggest that some blame ought to go to the legislature and judiciary for limiting the governor's leverage in negotiating with state-government labor. Additionally, one can imagine the public hoopla had the governor rejected federal funds on the grounds that he intended to cut safety net spending. (If we're feeling punchy, we could also debate the wisdom of cutting assistance to the lowest rungs of the social ladder in this economic climate.)

And sure, Jennifer Jordan quotes the increasingly pitiful pleas of the usual voices with regard to this:

... Carcieri's plan to cut about $40 million between now and June from the state's 38 school districts, 13 charter schools and 3 state-run schools is more than a budget reduction — it's a message to Rhode Island's 14,600 public school teachers. Put simply, Carcieri wants teachers to take the same 3-percent pay cut that state workers accepted earlier this year, and he wants their pension plans reduced.

The unionists will scream and cry, of course, because they know that the governor has set the conversation. Well-paid public sector teachers can take a hit, or the various layers of government can attempt to further mug struggling residents, whose average pay is dramatically lower and many of whom all but have their bags packed and others of whom are prepared to ride the voter backlash into office and have their way with the nest eggs and pet projects of the establishment.

Moreover, according to Ted Nesi of the Providence Business News, Carcieri's got other points that he'd like to enter into the public debate for consideration:

To help municipalities deal with the cuts, the governor proposed a number of measures, including the repeal of minimum manning requirements for local fire and police departments; changes to municipal pension programs; a 25 percent coshare for public safety employees on their health plan premiums; the creation of a statewide purchasing system for education; and the suspension of the Caruolo Act.

The next year — and the foreseeable future — are going to see a tough fight, in Rhode Island, but there can be no denying that our out-going governor is on the right side.

December 15, 2009

Facilitating Opportunity Is the Path to Charity

Justin Katz

Reviewing Creating an Opportunity Society, by Ron Haskins and Isabel Sawhill, Duncan Currie emphasizes that advocates for the poor (and such) focus on the wrong measure of social progress:

Mobility, not inequality, is the key indicator of economic opportunity. The two are not necessarily correlated: If income inequality has gone up since the early 1980s, that doesn't necessarily mean income mobility has gone down. Indeed, a 2007 Treasury Department study concluded that "relative income mobility has neither increased nor decreased over the past 20 years." ...

[Haskins and Sawhill] advocate a three-pronged strategy for boosting mobility: Improve public education, encourage work, and strengthen families [especially by reining in the surge in nonmarital births].

This argument runs right along the line that divides the modern American left and right (at least those on either side who are socially conscious). On the left, the the thread across the three strategic issues is government-directed action. Not trusting the masses to contrive a fair system, progressives wish to utilize the Smart Class to lay out a plan that the government can then implement objectively. On the right, we're a bit less convinced of mankind's capacity, first, to comprehend all of the necessary variables that an all-encompassing plan must consider and, then, to collect and apply the dictatorial force necessary without corrupting those who must perform the implementation.

And so, focusing on the conservative side of the comparison, the keys to strengthening public education are liberty and choice — giving those closest to the children (especially their parents) as much room as possible to determine the best focus and structure for educating them. The keys to encouraging work are to maximize incentive by removing long-term handouts and to ease the path from concept to profit — removing regulations and other restrictions that keep prices up and competition down. The keys to strengthening families are to be clear about the ways in which various relationships are similar and different and, with an emphasis on cultural institutions, to encourage the behavior appropriate to each — or, conversely, to encourage those inclined to a particular behavior toward the appropriate relationship types.

It is patently false to accuse those who agree with the preceding paragraph of not caring for people in need. Indeed, it is long overdue for naturally conservative groups, such as the Roman Catholic Church, to take the longer view, which is more in keeping with notions of individual autonomy.

Another Link on the Chain Binding Small Businesses in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

The governor should veto this legislation:

Legislation approved by the General Assembly in the waning hours of a special session in October could transform the work force for large public projects in the state.

The bill would limit the number of apprentices employed on certain building projects by requiring that a higher share of more experienced journeymen workers be hired.

My understanding, from when the General Assembly debated the issue, is that reporter Alex Kuffner's assessment of the scope of the legislation is far too limited. For instance, the language cites residential projects. The determining factor is whether the contractor participates in the state's apprenticeship program.

The bottom line is that this sort of regulation — which the state should be shedding, not installing — helps large, established companies keep their prices (and, therefore, the cost to businesses and residents of construction) up and safeguards the strangulating negotiated salaries of union workers. For all the talk about small businesses' being the "lifeblood" of the state's economy and the necessity of "targeted" tax breaks for small businesses, when it comes down to it, Rhode Island's aristocracy doesn't prioritize economic opportunity.

The governor should veto this legislation.

The Fight Moves Outward

Justin Katz

The General Assembly will no doubt search for tricks and methods of denial, but the state is going to have to continue cutting its budget, and according to the Providence Business News, Governor Carcieri is looking toward the cities and towns:

The state budget would be balanced by cuts in spending for local education, aid to cities and towns, one-time land sales that include the Veterans Memorial Auditorium and other savings, under a plan Gov. Donald L. Carcieri was expected to submit on Tuesday.

The amount in reimbursements for vehicle excise taxes that the state would keep for its own use would go up to $65.1 million (having previously been about half that, as I recall). School districts would also see a $41 million cut, offset in part by the end of cost-of-living adjustments for pensions.

In general, sending the fight out to the cities and towns is a positive development, from a taxpayer perspective, because it's easier for engaged residents to rally against entrenched forces at that level. The missing components, however, are statewide regulations and mandates, which limit what municipalities can do and which restrict economic activity.

December 14, 2009

Garbage Talk

Justin Katz

There's an unusually large crowd for tonight's town council meeting... unless, of course, the recession has made this a more common form of entertainment than was the case back before I stopped attending regularly. It seems a handful of attendees are here to discuss increases in mooring fees (for late payment). Hopefully, a greater number are here to object to the proposed pay-as-you-throw trash program that would more than double (or more) the amount that residents pay for trash pickup.

8:44 p.m.

I took the podium to suggest that I'll not be able to avail myself of trash pickup if its cost more than doubles for my household, and Department of Public Works Director Stephen Berlucchi hastened to correct my misunderstanding: Residents will have to buy the bags to dispose of trash in the dump, whether it's picked up or dropped off. There'll be no way around it.

In other words, this is just a massive hidden regressive tax increase during the worst recession since the Great Depression, implemented because the town did not adequately budget for the closure of the landfill over the half-century since it emptied.

One other observation: Over the phone, my wife mentioned to a friend in town where I was headed tonight, and the friend had no idea this was coming. If people have to start buying garbage bags, I'd wager they'll be in a budget cutting mood come the financial town meeting, this spring.

8:58 p.m.

It sounds as if some sort of tax offset will be created. Councilor Louise Durfee suggested that some portion of the revenue from pay-as-you-throw should offset the budget line item for the landfill. Council President Don Bollin suggested that one $2 bag per week should be considered included with one's taxes.

9:18 p.m.

The public hearing on this issue has been continued to the second town council meeting in January.

Taking Rhode Island for a Ride

Justin Katz

Because — honestly — I'd love to see a successful and commuter- and visitor-friendly public transportation system in Rhode Island, it was encouraging to read the headline, "Public transit is en route to bright, diverse future," above the following first paragraph:

After a near-collapse, public transit in Rhode Island is making a dramatic turnaround, with some supporters saying its prospects haven't seemed better in recent memory.

One must get to the final paragraph of Bruce Landis's story, however, before it's possible to fully understand what's changed:

An open question, however, is how to pay for it all. The RIPTA officials who put the plan together say they have identified sources for about 10 percent of the money.

There hasn't been an upsurge in passengers (due to changing priorities or employment landscapes). There hasn't even been a huge windfall of magic Obama money, although the RI General Assembly did increase taxes on behalf of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA). Rereading the story in light of the ending, all that's changed, in essence, is that RIPTA has picked up some allies in the effort to extort more money from what remains of Rhode Island's productive sector.

If big plans and no notion of how to finance them were happy news, the story of my life would have a glistening title.

When Taxes Aren't an Issue

Justin Katz

Mark Perry observes (with charts) a progressive trend in American taxation:

The Tax Foundation reported last week that more than 143 million individual income tax returns were filed in 2007, and 46.6 million of those returns had a zero or negative tax liability, setting a new record for the number of "non-payers." This group represented almost one out of every three tax returns filed in 2007 (32.6 percent, see chart above), and reflects tax filers whose exemptions, deductions, and credits wiped out any federal income taxes that would have been due. According to the Tax Foundation, every dollar withheld from the paychecks of the "non-payers" during the year was refunded, and in about half of the cases, substantial additional money was refunded to the tax filer. There were an additional 15 million people in 2007 who did not earn enough income to file a tax return, bringing the total number of Americans who paid no federal income taxes to more than 61 million, or 39 percent of the tax-eligible population (158 million including filers plus non-filers).

As Perry notes in the words of American Enterprise Institute Economist Alan Viard, increases in government spending likely mean less to people who don't think they pay for it. This one item is not a complete explanation, but we appear to be witnessing the realization of a risk that has been foreseen with democracy all along: the majority can simply vote itself money from the minority, disregarding or ignorant of the self-destructive nature of that practice.

Conserving a Limited Liberalism

Justin Katz

It's a topic that comes up from time to time, as we define our terms or as certain folks reject the notion that labels of left and right have any utility at all, so readers may profit from a recent symposium in National Review on the definition of conservatism as "classical liberalism." Yuval Levin may put it best:

In this sense, modern conservatism has always been liberal, and there is nothing self-contradictory about the fact that American conservatives are the defenders of classical liberalism in America. There is also nothing terribly surprising about the way in which the modern Left, in its effort to go beyond liberalism, has often undermined and attacked liberalism. This is sometimes hidden from view by our political terminology: The effort to "progress" beyond liberalism has come to be called "liberalism" in our politics, while the effort to treasure and defend the liberal order has come to be called "conservatism."

A critical emphasis of modern conservatism is reviving the political liberalism furthered by the founding of the United States, particularly in the extent to which it self-acknowledged that external cultural institutions must be preserved beyond the nation state. James Ceaser picks up the thread:

Yet it is mistaken to think of conservatism as merely a branch or subsidiary of liberalism. Conservatism may serve liberalism, but it often does so in ways that original liberalism hardly conceived of and that modern liberalism usually rejects. And this it does for liberalism's good. Liberal theory never developed the tools to sustain itself; it has always required something beyond itself to survive. Conservatism, while endorsing so much of liberalism, recognizes and satisfies this need. Without conservatism, liberalism would begin to wither away. In fact it has already begun to do so.

Especially as contrasted with libertarianism, modern conservatism recognizes that there must be more to a coherent society than principles of limited government and individual freedom. For its own preservation, a classically liberal government structure must facilitate cultural institutions — such as marriage and religion — that carry the learned habits of generations of Westerners.

December 13, 2009

A Constituent Speaks out on Kennedy's Studied Indifference to Illegal Immigration

Monique Chartier

In today's Providence Journal, Deloris Issler of Cranston enumerates the ways that Congressman Patrick Kennedy poorly serves his district and the state with his views on illegal immigration and opposition to e-verify.

To this, I would only add, without snideness or rancor, that the Congressman does not enhance his image in the area of intelligence if he has, in all seriousness, mistaken racism for heart-felt concerns about budgets, jobs, sovereignty and the exploitation of undocumenteds.

Rhode Islanders are accustomed to being embarrassed by Patrick Kennedy, but his recent performance was particularly disgraceful. His opposition to an amendment requiring the use of E-Verify to prevent illegal aliens from receiving Federal Employee Health Benefits is indefensible.

Kennedy’s hostility toward the enforcement of immigration law exacerbates the problem of foreigners entering the U.S. illegally by giving them an incentive. His offensive tantrum in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on H.R. 2517 sends a clear message to illegal aliens. If they break U.S. laws long enough, we will overlook it, concede to their crimes, and give them benefits reserved for America citizens.

Kennedy gives tacit approval to swim, run, or crawl across our borders illegally and citizenship by entitlement to anyone that does. He jeopardizes the safety of those who protect our borders and undermines their efforts. Kennedy finances this through double-taxation of U.S. citizens who pay for homeland security in addition to housing, medical care, food and education for illegal aliens. It does not matter that taxpayers object, he simply refuses to meet with them.

That’s okay.

Patrick, you will hear our voices in our votes.

A Sunday Night Aphorism for Western Culture

Justin Katz

Friday night was my construction company's Christmas party, and it won't surprise Anchor Rising readers to hear that I spent most of it bantering with a twentysomething carpenter who is currently straining his daily energies to take night classes in Boston. Having vivid memories of the automotive experience that such an endeavor entails made my attitude entirely sympathetic... until I mentioned that I "read" War and Peace as a book-on-tape during my commutes and he offered that he's listening to Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States.

The conversation devolved quickly to assertions of absolutes (me) and quips about relativism (him). I held that the White Man was essentially the most successful tribe, whose success brought the world culture to the understanding of higher principles — higher civilization — from Christianity to science. He put forward the image of tribal peoples blissful in their ignorance, as if the apple by which mankind fell from the garden arrived on a European ship.

Well, anyway, we were several beers and a long workday in, by that point, having been shoulder to shoulder for two days installing a tin ceiling in somebody's kitchen (no Sistine Chapel, that), and I've heard similarly heated arguments over comparative quarterbacks. But it occurred to me, while doing the Sunday night dishes, that what I'd been struggling to convey boils down to this: Western Civilization made it possible to know that some of its own actions while advancing were wrong, and then to move forward.

The wish of Zinnites and other Marxists to deconstruct that legacy is ultimately a desire to transcend by returning to ignorance and tribalism.

A Government Version of Tithing

Justin Katz

Today's been a bit of catchup, for me, as a means of remaining productive despite an utter lack of motivation. But I just had to break my rainy-day malaise to note this odd phenomenon, during a recession (emphasis added):

In a surprisingly suspenseful vote, the Senate cleared a key parliamentary hurdle yesterday on a huge spending bill for almost half the federal government, a measure that increases funding for the agencies it covers by an average of 10 percent.

If America doesn't manage to begin cutting its government in the near future, we should focus our efforts on changing the country's name. That way we can still speak of things like "the American spirit" and "the American dream" with some degree of intellectual clarity.

Dating Tips for the Ladies

Monique Chartier

... circa 1938. H/T Dave Barry.

Here are the first two tips, sans the illustrative photographs - again, circa 1938 - that accompany each tip.

DO YOUR DRESSING in your boudoir to keep your allure. Be ready to go when date arrives; don't keep him waiting. Greet him with a smile!

MEN DON'T LIKE girls who borrow their handkerchief and smudge them with lipstick. Makeup in privacy, not where he sees you.

Pension Disbursements After Only Twenty Years of Service - Yet Another Insanity of Rhode Island Government

Monique Chartier

The question below is spurred by this excellent OpEd in today's ProJo.

Rhode Island’s pension picture is getting increasingly alarming. Soaring unfunded liabilities are pushing the state toward bankruptcy, and putting a mounting strain on both state and local budgets. ...

Similarly, the League of Cities and Towns pushed a plan to require higher contributions from the employees themselves, higher health co-pays, a higher retirement age (the astonishingly early and well-compensated retirements of some public employees outrage the public), and the requirement of more years of service. Governor Carcieri proposed a similar plan, one that would, in addition, end cost-of-living adjustments. These are all good ideas.

Setting aside for a moment the question of defined benefit versus defined contribution (which, believe me, I understand, is another enormously fatal flaw in Rhode Island's public pension systems), where did this crazy idea of handing out a pension check after only twenty years of employment come from? On that basis, pension checks could and apparently do go on for easily double the original employment period. Where is the parallel in the private sector? [correction in response to Michael's comment] What percentage of private sector pension checks begin after twenty years of service? Is this when our grandparents and parents began receiving pension checks? At age 45 after only twenty years of work? On a more pragmatic front, how is this remotely sustainable?

In order to simultaneously save the public pension systems and bring retirement benefits more in line with those of the private sector (i.e., more in line with the retirement benefits of those who fund public pensions), at a minimum, all of the reforms recommended by the League of Cities and Towns, as well as elimination of the fixed COLA, need to be implemented. We would be remiss if we did not also put on the table for consideration the suggestion by former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey that we simply write everyone a check reimbursing them for their contributions and "convert all state pensions to self-directed IRAs".

Whatever course we take to reform (save) the public pension system, the gross irresponsibility of the pension-check-after-only-twenty-years has to end and end now. For everyone, including "retirees". Your twenty years of service is acknowledged and vested but the pension checks stop until you reach the age of 65.

Will the courts who hear the inevitable lawsuits rule against the state's action? Possibly, though not definitely. If they do, so be it. At least we'll know, when the pension checks of retired public workers as well as the paychecks of current ones start bouncing, that Rhode Island did everything in its power (... other than elect responsible politicians for the last three decades) to try to fix the problem.

Phrased another way, the crash of public pension systems in Rhode Island can be a controlled or an uncontrolled one. What's not in doubt is the violent nature of the landing, now cast in stone by the (in)actions of politicians from one party who promised with a crooked smile extremely generous pension benefits but then did not see fit to fund those benefits so as to make good their promise.

December 12, 2009

Arlene Violet: "Brown University over-reacts to Young"

Monique Chartier

Rhode Island political junkies will recall that Chris Young was literally dragged away by police from a microphone at the Brown University health care forum starring Congressman Patrick Kennedy ten days ago and then criminally charged.

Ahlene has an excellent analysis of the incident and its First Amendment implications in Thursday's Valley Breeze. Excerpt:

... In a free society, somebody who voices an unpopular view in a strident voice at a public forum where audience participation is encouraged shouldn't be dragged into court. No warning was given to this speaker of such a dire consequence. He was merely told that he had 15 seconds, an admonition most people don't take literally as opposed to shorten your remarks. Ironically, an audience member right before him went up to the microphone twice with rather longwinded rhetoric with impunity. Moderators handle this eventuality often by gently coaxing the participant to ask the question succinctly. Warnings as to the "rules" governing the discourse are announced before the open session of questioning. Neither approach was unequivocally used here.

Brown University needs to make amends. It should drop the charges. As a bastion to the First Amendment it puts itself in the untenable position of pushing a prosecution which is the antithesis of the First Amendment freedom of speech and freedom of religion. ...

Can't See the Jobs for the Tree Stumps

Monique Chartier

Gerry Goldstein reports in Thursday's Valley Breeze that State Senator John Tassoni wants to kill the North Central State Airport.

But Tassoni, who represents some of Smithfield and North Smithfield, termed the airport "a thorn in Smithfield's side" that generates no revenue for the town, is an eyesore because of extensive tree cutting there, and disturbs some residents with flight activity between 3 and 5 a.m. "It looks like the Johnston landfill," said Tassoni. "If I had my druthers, close it down, sell it, and develop it." ...

"You can't leave it like that. You're not going to attract good corporations the way it looks with all those tree stumps," he said.

Discussion about the future of the North Central State Airport was sparked by EDC's applause-worthy efforts to identify and catalogue "potential office and industrial sites" around Rhode Island.

[EDC Interim Executive Director of the EDC J. Michael] Saul said his agency is "very supportive" of North Central because it can help attract corporations to this part of the state, which he called a "sweet spot" for economic expansion and job creation. ...

[The study] sees the Route 146 area as suitable for "manufacturing, selected warehousing, and small to medium offices, noting that "a large manufacturing facility with land is for sale (and) several parks are being developed."

Note that this is the EDC's list of potential manufacturing and business sites in Rhode Island, not the EDC's Sightseeing Guide to Scenic Rhode Island. Corporate types flying in and out of North Central will be focused not on tree stumps or irrelevancies along the flight path but on business prospects and the attendant details. (This translates into jobs and a larger tax base on both the state and local level.) For the sake of his constituents and the state as a whole, Senator Tassoni may wish to broaden his field of vision correspondingly.

That Which You Cannot Believe

Justin Katz

Frankly, I believe a newspaper should have the right to take this sort of action, but I think it sufficiently outrageous that advertisers and readers should react negatively:

Larry Grard, 58, of Winslow covered the November election for Maine Today, the vote in which Maine citizens rejected homosexual "marriage." Subsequently, he received a press release at work from a homosexual activist which read: "We will not allow the lies and hate – the foundation on which our opponents build their campaign --- to break our spirits." Being a devout Catholic, Grard was offended by the release's blanket reference to opponents of same-sex marriage.

So, using his private email accounte, Grard wrote back:

Who are the hateful, venom-spewing ones? Hint: Not the yes on 1 crowd. You hateful people have been spreading nothing but vitriol since this campaign began. Good riddance!

Subsequently, the long-time employee and his cooking-columnist wife lost their jobs with the paper. Message sent, I guess.

When the Children Aren't the Future

Justin Katz

Mark Steyn looks to Vermont for the creeping of Europe's demographic trends into the United States:

... in a very basic sense there is no "state": Graying ponytailed hippies and chichi gay couples aren't enough of a population base to run a functioning jurisdiction. To modify Howard Dean, Vermont is the way liberals think America ought to be, and you can't make a living in it. So if you're a cash-poor but land-rich native Vermonter taxed and regulated and hedged in on every front, you face a choice: In the new North Country folk wisdom, they won't let you fish, so you might as well cut bait. Your outhouse is in breach of zoning regulations, so you might as well get off the pot. Etc. When he ran for president, Howard Dean was said to have inspired America's youth. In Vermont, he mainly inspired them to move somewhere else. The number of young adults fell by 20 percent during the Dean years. And what's left is a demographic disaster: The state's women have the second lowest birthrate in the nation, and the state's workforce is already America's oldest. Last year, Chris Lafakis of Moody's predicted Vermont would have "a really stagnant economy" not this year or this half-decade but for the next 30 years.

Government policies throughout the states and nation are decreasingly oriented toward providing incentive for personal responsibility and responsible behavior, and the up-and-coming generations are dutifully deciding that they'd rather focus on modern society's banquet of material pleasures than deal with the difficulties that we in the West used to consider fulfilling... however antiquated that concept may now seem.

Steyn quips that Western elites have no problem behaving as if "we can transform the very heavens" when it comes to climate change, but "the demographic death spiral" is "just a fact of life." Two things: Western elites ultimately prefer nature to humanity, and nature is ambivalent about its state, whereas humanity is content to choose demise.

A Positive Unintended Consequence of Controversy

Justin Katz

Mary Eberstadt notes that, leading up to the turn of the millennium, the taboo against pedophilia appeared to be next up on the list of cultural norms to undermine:

The phenomenon of pedophilia chic revealed the intensely troubling possibility that society, especially literate and enlightened society, was in the process of sanctioning certain exceptions to the taboo against sex with minors—particularly sex between men and boys. As a matter of criminal law, of course, girls are often and tragically the victims of older men. But pedophilia chic concerned not the rate of criminal conviction but rather the open public questioning of the taboo itself. What the record through the 1990s showed was that in the case of girls the taboo remained solid, and in the case of boys it did not. In other words, to take the example before us now, had Roman Polanski been arrested for the same crime a decade ago, in all likelihood we would have witnessed the same outcry that we did this fall.

So now let us ask the more difficult question: Would Polanski in 2009 still have inadvertently united almost everyone in America against him if his victim had been a thirteen-year-old boy rather than a thirteen-year-old girl? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is yes—and for interesting if unexpected reasons.

Winding through some indicators of that "pedophilia chic," Eberstadt concludes that the scandal in the American Catholic Church forced "literate and enlightened society" to reposition its opinion so as to permit moral outrage against cultural conservatives. It's an interesting suggestion, and it certainly doesn't conflict with experience with human nature.

One might also suggest similar reactions within the Church, itself. We can hope, for example, that church leaders will be wary of the judgments and suggestions of secular society such as informed organizational decisions in the late '60s and '70s. (The human frailty that begets the sorts of cover-ups that we witnessed in subsequent decades is probably beyond our ability to eliminate, although we can be more watchful.)

More broadly, it may be that the Church is in the process of reevaluating its relationship with and role in American society. One needn't enumerate the examples of public school teachers who've been found to have abused their positions with children and teenagers to suggest that representatives of Christ must hold themselves to a higher standard. And one needn't engage politicians in the dispute over their claims to define Catholicism as rightfully as bishops in order to discern that religion's role, and therefore its standards, must be of a different sort than those compiled and applied within secular spheres.

The challenge is to make the beneficial reactions to horrible actions outlast the damage that those actions did to the Church's standing.

December 11, 2009

Turning the Tide on Toy Totin' Tots: Prov and East Prov to Hold Toy Gun "Buy"-Backs

Monique Chartier

If I were the type to cling to my guns and paranoia, this might strike me as some sort of pre-conditioning. "Look, Johnny and Suzie, it's normal to hand your guns to the nice man from the government."

Children in Providence and East Providence can trade toy guns for real candy or toys on Friday and Saturday.

In Providence, children can feed their toy guns to the "Bash-O-Matic," a device designed and built by students at the New England Institute of Technology and the Rhode Island School of Design, Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch said.

The annual "Holiday Toy Gun Bash" will give an alternate toy to each child who relinquishes a gun from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Pleasant View Elementary School, 50 Obadiah Brown Road, Providence.

In any event, toy guns have been around for as long as the real thing. The correlation to gun violence, then, is quizzical at best.

And the Campaign Announcements Roll On: Tom Sgouros for General Treasurer

Monique Chartier

From the ProJo's 7 to 7 News Blog a little while ago; thanks to Andrew for the heads up.

Tom Sgouros publishes a bimonthly newsletter that takes a fresh look at the state's economic policies; he recently published a book. Now, he is hoping to put his analytical skills to work for the state.

The 48-year-old North Kingstown resident announced Friday that he is seeking the Democratic nomination for general treasurer.

"Innovation informed by good old-fashioned practicality can show us valuable new ways to accomplish the people's business at the State House," Sgouros said in a statement. "I am running for general treasurer because I know I can make a difference in the policies, practices and governance of our state at this challenging moment in our history."

The article goes on to point out that, as Sgouros is the third Dem to express interest in the office, we may be headed for a Democrat primary for General Treasurer next year.

Re: Rory Smith Backs Out

Justin Katz

Here's the full statement:

After spending the last few months considering a run for Governor, I have decided to suspend my campaign and return all campaign contributions. While I am deeply appreciative of the support of those who know me well, I have come to the conclusion that as a newcomer to politics, my limited political experience and political network in Rhode Island will keep me from running a fully competitive campaign. I am still concerned about the critical issues facing our State and hope to use my knowledge and experience to make Rhode Island a better place both now and in the future.

I would like to especially thank Republican Party Chairman Giovanni Cicione for his encouragement and leadership. He has been a strong and skilled voice for the Rhode Island Republican Party, and he will have my support as he continues to grow and strengthen the Party in the years ahead.

Rory Smith Backs Out of GOP Governor Race

Marc Comtois

As first heard (by me, at least) on Dan Yorke's show, GOP naif Rory Smith has decided against running for Governor of Rhode Island and has suspended his campaign. Learning curve was too steep (hey, I understand!).

Though Rep. Joe Trillo indicated that a "lurking Laffey" had nothing to do with Smith's decision...we shall see.

Weeping for the Future

Justin Katz

In the comments to this morning's post on Bush's reviving poll numbers, Mike Cappelli expresses his concerns, generally, about the attitudes and worldviews of up-and-coming generations. It brought to mind something that I've noticed, as if all of a sudden, over the past year: This texting thing has become a real problem on the construction site. It's as if the younger guys feel some obligation — a compulsion — to respond when their phones buzz at their hips. Add that to the strange argument that I've heard, around here, that legislation against texting while driving was an assault on the young, and I'm not ashamed to admit being a fuddy-duddy of the sort who just doesn't get it.

I can't imagine stopping work on a regular basis to send quick messages to my friends, wherever they might be. Frankly, if I run another project in the near future, I'll have no tolerance for it. Similarly, I can't imagine being caught texting while driving and not feeling as if I've done something wrong.

Obviously, I'm a fan of information technology and connectedness, but some of the effects are going to have much broader consequences than we currently comprehend.

Bush Was Better

Justin Katz

Now this is interesting:

Perhaps the greatest measure of Obama's declining support is that just 50% of voters now say they prefer having him as President to George W. Bush, with 44% saying they'd rather have his predecessor. Given the horrendous approval ratings Bush showed during his final term that's somewhat of a surprise and an indication that voters are increasingly placing the blame on Obama for the country's difficulties instead of giving him space because of the tough situation he inherited.

There are a number of centrist-types who were rah-rah for Obama during the campaign from whom I haven't heard since the man began attempting to govern. In a sense, Obama's strategy was to hold up a picture of President Bush (not unlike the one that Glenn Reynolds posted in relation to the polling information) and told Americans that he would be the opposite of whatever they didn't like about his predecessor — left, right, whatever.

It was naked deception, but it worked. Too many right-of-center people didn't realize that Obama included "even more" among the qualifiers for "opposite."

Business Associates and Classes

Justin Katz

Larry Valencia and John Marion (of Operation Clean Government and Common Cause Rhode Island, respectively) are exactly right about union members' being "business associates" who should be barred from self-dealing (or associate-dealing) as public officials:

First, [the RI Ethics Commission] is not making a change to the code itself, but rather in a "General Commission Advisory," which is a document to provide guidance to those who might be seeking the commission's advice. Second, the opinion of the commission is based on the "business associate" section of the code, and not the "conflict of interest" section. We feel this is a mistake because this situation is clearly not in keeping with either section. A member of a union is clearly a business associate of other local affiliates of that union. This relationship is particularly strong when the parent union sends professional negotiators into multiple jurisdictions. However, it is also a conflict of interest for a public official to negotiate with an organization of which they are a member.

But the two may proceed a step too far with this:

What the commission is doing, however backward its approach, is to begin closing the loophole that allows people to self-deal. That is what the "class exception" is all about. Our groups did not push the commission to begin closing this loophole by targeting union members. We feel it is equally important that anyone serving as a public official should not be allowed to use his or her official capacity to provide benefits to members of the profession he or she is a part of, no matter what that profession is, and no matter if everyone in that profession benefits equally.

My mind turns to the General Assembly's recent debate of a bill that applied a maximum supervisor-to-apprentice ratio for a broad range of construction trades. Among the most vocal opponents was Jay Edwards (D, Tiverton), who works for a construction company in Middletown. From one perspective, Edwards was arguing against an imposition on his industry "class." From another perspective, he's uniquely in a position to understand how silly and wasteful it is to insist that every apprentice bricklayer should be supervised by a journeyman or master, as well as to appreciate the effect on project costs of such regulations.

As we've been discussing with "merit pay," social structures cannot be defined to the finest detail. Even the most well informed gang of citizens shouldn't attempt to contrive a formula into which employers punch some numbers to come up with an "objective" measure of and compensation for meritorious work. Just so, citizens shouldn't strive for a too-strict path down which lawmakers can walk; it will wind up restricting the good and honest and assisting the crooked and devious.

"Business associate" suggests a close relationship. "Class" is far too broad, and frankly, binding classes in ethics regulations would disenfranchise those who wish to determine the course of their government in the areas about which they have the most expertise. The critical remedy for Rhode Island's ills is a healthier political environment, with greater involvement and competition, and layers of "can't do" rules hinder that effort.

Were there more openness and competition, the political system would restrain corruption at the "class" level, because the stain that accompanies dealing to "business associates" would be readily applied more broadly.

December 10, 2009

Global Warming: What is the 6% Solution?

Monique Chartier

The Climate Conference commenced Monday in Copenhagen. President Obama has promised that the United States will abate its greenhouse gas emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels over the next decade and by 83% by 2050.

Adding to the madness, the EPA ruled on the same day that greenhouse gases, "emitted by factories, motor vehicles, livestock and just about everything else on the planet, natural or manmade" are a danger to the public health.

Recent revelations about the culling and grooming - not to mention wholesale deleting - of data have wrought considerable damage to the scientific case for anthropogenic global warming. (On that score, can someone please bring Al Gore a calendar and gently inform him what decade we are in?)

One fact that has never been disputed, though it has mostly escaped the debate for some inexplicable reason, is the degree to which man is (not) responsible for the hypothesized cause of global warming. All of man's vast activity on the planet amounts to only 6% of the total greenhouse gases generated (original link here), with Mother Nature generating the other 94% of greenhouse gases.

Now, that strikes me pretty much as a game ender to the whole discussion. If, indeed, man's measly 6% is the tipping point for global warming (already a very shaky proposition), obviously, cold turkey is the only solution. But without a substitute fuel, going cold turkey on fossil fuels means no heat, no lights, no electricity, no cars, very little food, no stores, no manufacturing and an unemployment rate of about 95%. ["Help Wanted: Experienced hunters and gatherers. Must have own transportation ox."]

If, however, proponents of the theory of AGW wish to overlook this fact as well as the considerable flaws that have developed in their theory, they need to answer one question.

What fuel, comparable in availability and affordability, do they propose to substitute for the fossil fuels 1.) upon which we heavily depend and 2.) that less developed countries look forward to depending upon so as to improve their quality of life?

Caprio on Abortion

Justin Katz

Not to pick on gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio, but he's been providing a lot of material, lately, such as the following, from Ed Fitzpatrick's recent column about the politician's experience as an unwed teenage father:

Did that experience inform his views on abortion? "I'm pro-choice because of all the experiences I've had in my life and the fact that I believe the individual has the right to make the decision," he said. "Each person can, in my view, be free to make their own choice. I know what choice I made and my girlfriend made, and others are free to make whatever choice they want to make."

One wonders what other circumstances Mr. Caprio believes give people the right to choose to kill. A crying newborn, perhaps? An ailing parent currently unconscious in a hospital bed? The Roman Catholic Church, to which he and I are both adherents, is unequivocal in its conclusion that life begins at conception and ends at natural death — full life, with no adjustments for "personhood" as a presumed state of being or socio-legal construct — and that the life of every human being ought to be protected. Caprio is free to take the position that his faith is a private matter, but if he wishes to be governor, he'll need to persuade Rhode Islanders that his judgment is sound, and reconciling his stated religious foundation with a right to kill is certainly relevant.

It's wonderful that Frank chose life when he had a direct role in making the decision, but how can he possibly look at his daughter through the eyes of a Catholic believer and still insist that his teenage girlfriend should have had the right to snuff out the life in her control for no reason but the inconvenience of motherhood?

Disappointment in Levesque Voters

Justin Katz

Even with the article's lack of specificity about Levesque's meaning, this is a bit hard to take:

"In a way, I'm disappointed in everybody," Sen. Charles J. Levesque, D-Portsmouth, said to Kai-Yan Lee, of the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, who presented a series of graphs on foreclosures, but "quite frankly no real suggestion of where we go from here."

Perusing the legislation that Levesque introduced or cosponsored in the last legislative session, it is clear that he's comfortable with the urges to micromanage and restrict economic relationships, to dilute the job market with illegal immigrants, to grow state government, and to increase the barbs with which parasites may latch on to Rhode Island's economy (as with binding arbitration).

Among the Rhode Islanders in whom Levesque should be most disappointed are the person he sees when he looks in the mirror and the voters who keep sending the likes of him to the State House.

Keeping Republicans Republican

Justin Katz

Hooray to Raymond McKay, president of the Rhode Island Republican Assembly, and the other members of the State Central Committee who insisted that conservatives should still be able to call the RIGOP their political home:

Most glaring to some was a final paragraph that says the party, in "the long-standing tradition of New England Republicans," respects "the right of all of our candidates to hold and express their own considered views on social issues."

"If you take a look at the Moderate Party's platform and you take a look at our platform, they're pretty much one and the same," said McKay, who made the motion to send the statement back for further review. "If we're going to be a party and we're going to differentiate ourselves, we should stand apart from the others and not be a Democratic-light, or something like that."

In opposition, Platform Committee Chairman Robert Manning notes that "a large percentage of the voting population are registered as independents," but there's no reason to believe that group to be made up of fiscally conservative social liberals. The fact that the Democrat Party, for example, is increasingly exclusive of pro-lifers could mean that pro-life Democrats have changed their minds about being Democrats, not about being pro-life.

Indeed, a platform that cuts out social issues under the presumption that conservatives are wrong may very well result in fewer registered Republicans. (I can think of at least one.)

A Holiday for Hiring

Justin Katz

It was Christmas songs, EDC hiring, and Frank Caprio when Andrew called in to the Matt Allen Show, last night. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

December 9, 2009

Bad Government, Sneaky Taxes, and Garbage

Justin Katz

This coming Monday, December 14, the Tiverton Town Council will (hopefully) be hearing from residents concerning a proposed "pay as you throw" program for garbage pickup. The nutshell background is that (despite regular and significant annual tax increases) the town has not been putting aside adequate resources to close the landfill when it runs out in five or so years, and it's going to have to come up with around $4 million one way or another.

The proposed solution is to charge residents for the garbage bags that they may use — $1 for a small bag (15 gallons) and $2 for a large bag (33 gallons). With an extremely conservative estimate of one bag per household per week (my household will probably burn through two or three large bags on an average week), the Landfill Committee is estimating gross revenue of $520,000.

The catch is that, even if we go with that ludicrously low number, the cost of garbage pickup to residents will pretty much be doubling, because the budget line item for "rubbish/recycling collection" currently runs us $573,601. The new bag fees would amount to a massive tax increase that isn't subject to the tax cap. Worse still, families (like mine) that cannot afford another regular household expense and opt, instead, to lose weekend time going to the dump, will end up subsidizing the trash pickup of those who are better off, because we'll still be paying the initial taxes.

Personally, I'd support ending curbside pickup altogether. That's not politically feasible, though, so if the town council goes forward with this proposal, it should allow households to "opt out" and receive a refund of that portion of their property taxes that support rubbish collection (around $105, on average).

There is More to Life than Economics, no Matter what the Papers Say

Carroll Andrew Morse

I came across an interesting Associated Press story (via ABC News) involving Taco, a local manufacturing company. Taco is using a strategy calls that the article calls "work-sharing" to avoid layoffs during the current economic downturn.

The piece that makes the article really interesting is the AP reporters' unrealistically stark explanation of Taco's management's reasoning behind work-sharing…

Taco wanted to avoid layoffs. If it cut workers who average nearly 18 years on the job, it couldn't be certain of getting them back when business picked up. Training new workers costs time and money. Instead, the company tried a strategy called work-sharing to spread the pain and preserve jobs.
It is an odd choice to cite avoiding training costs as the only factor going through Taco's management's minds. Instead, the manufacturer's leadership seems pretty clearly to be combining a realistic view of economics with an understanding that the long-run success of any human organization depends on treating people as more than cogs of a machine, and on everyone working together, to find ways to help one another out through a time of trouble.

This realization is probably a major reason why Taco has been one of the few manufacturers to have survived in Rhode Island. Rhode Island's government should try and draw a lesson or two from them, starting with an acknowledgment of economic reality and of the importance of giving people the flexibility they need to get ahead in new and creative ways.


Commenter "John" points out that the work-share implemented by Taco is actually part of the stimulus...

It sounds great, but it is part of the Stimulus program. The workers are paid "partial" unemployment benefits while they work less hours. So I guess you could say it was really the government's good idea...if it retains it's status as a good idea now that is attributable to the government.
At least at the link provided by John, the Government is able to realize that avoiding layoffs is more than a matter of reducing retraining costs...
In addition to sparing employers the potential lost of its existing workforce, WorkShare also spares a company's employees the financial and emotional hardship associated with a layoff situation.
So is this a good use of stimulus funds, letting people bridge an economic downturn with minimal disruption?

Merit Is a Principle, Not a Program

Justin Katz

At last night's Tiverton School Committee meeting, a member of the town's hard left (a state social worker who, as I understand, was instrumental in banning the Easter Bunny when he was on the school committee), acting in his capacity as Voice of the Community, cited Providence Journal columnist Julia Steiny as some sort of authority on merit pay. What I continue to find striking, in this whole debate, is the thralldom to buzz words.

When I've thought of "merit pay," it has essentially had the meaning "pay related to merit." People who don't like the idea of evaluations with teeth prefer to make everybody believe that those two words indicate a specific program that (fait accompli) has already been shown not to work somewhere. I'm surprised to find Steiny among those people.

She begins thus:

No evidence anywhere shows that merit-pay systems, aimed at individual teachers, improve education. Incentives to groups of teachers are effective, but not individuals.

From there she lists four "boondoggles" following from the assertion that "the moment you've drafted a complicated set of rules governing eligibility for individual 'merit' pay, you're instantly mired."

Boondoggle #1: Merit pay is money on top of the regular salary schedule and annual raises. Very expensive.

Teachers unions aren’t about to let anyone mess with their negotiated salary schedule.

This is defeatism from the outset. Here's how the stage is set: A growing contingent of aggravated voters is beginning to take the reins from elected officials and "public servants" who've allowed the state's and the nation's education systems to be dragged into a pit of incompetence and greed, and one critical component of that action will be dislodging the rigid pay schedules that indicate nothing but seat-warming. Steiny's response? It won't work because it won't work.

There's no reason that merit can't be inserted into salary schedules rather than layered as a too rigid merit system over a too rigid longevity system.

Boondoggle #2: Define "meritorious," or even "good."

Texas spent $300 million, over three years, to give excellent teachers bonuses of between $3,000 to $10,000. But without an iron-clad definition of "good," clay-footed principals generally gave all teachers about $2,000, spreading the money evenly, broadly, politely. Student achievement didn't budge.

That's why the political will of residents that would have to be roused even to implement changes to the system must be maintained to ensure that administrators aren't permitted to sail through with failing schools. Give principals and superintendents the actual authority that will make them responsible for success and then can them if the difficulties of restrictive contractual systems turn out to have been little more than cover for their own inability. Give them incentive, that is, to resist the restrictions. From a self-interested point of view, having a school committee give up management rights is to the benefit of administrators; we have to put their feet to the fire.

Boondoggle #3: If your definition of "merit" mainly involves test scores, the performance of the "bad" kids will get worse.

Part of giving administrators authority is requiring them to determine what examples of merit will improve the school's performance. Those who design the system shouldn't attempt to define every contingency in order to leave administrators no work but to insert a bunch of numbers into an "objective" formula. That's no less inappropriate than declaring that teachers can't possibly be evaluated and so must be paid according to longevity.

Boondoggle #4: Merit pay encourages all manner of gaming the system.

You could take the "pay" right out of that sentence. Any form of incentive that might actually prove desirable will motivate those who are better at politics than at their profession to attempt to game the system. Consequently, we get squishy leaders suggesting awards and smiley-face stickers. Parking spaces. Lunches with the boss. Anything that's kinda-sorta nice, but not so attractive as to actually drive behavior or increase the quality of the candidate pool.

This attitude can't stand. The system has to change. It has to change now. And the biggest obstacle to that change is the broad swath of people who've got one thing or another that they wish to preserve in the top-down control of the education system.

Only High-Paid Executives Need Apply

Justin Katz

We can all appreciate the benefits, from an administrative point of view, of bringing in strong-willed people to help shock some of the Rhode-apathy and corruption out of state government, but we're barely three months past this announcement:

Less than a day after a Supreme Court justice blocked the first of 12 proposed government shutdown days, the state has imposed a complete hiring freeze, with no exceptions made for even the most critical jobs.

So how can Governor Carcieri justify this, from the Providence Business News:

The R.I. Economic Development Corporation's board of directors voted unanimously Tuesday morning to appoint Ioanna T. Morfessis, a consultant from Phoenix with a Ph.D. in economic-development policy, as the agency’s next executive director. ...

The board voted to give Morfessis a three-year contract that will pay her $250,000 a year plus benefits. The state also will cover her relocation costs and provide her with an automobile.

Morfessis' compensation would be more than double that of the EDC's last executive director, Saul Kaplan, who made just under $100,000 a year before he resigned in December 2008.

It's beginning to seem as if the only jobs in Rhode Island are for extremely high-paid government executives from out of state. Furthermore, as I suggested when Education Commissioner Deborah Gist was lured to the state with an outrageous compensation package, Rhode Island's executives appear to be suffering from a case of "employer's vanity" whereby the people who control hiring spend as much as they can as if salary and success are directly proportional.

To the contrary, we may be charging toward some unintended consequences: Strong-willed people — those with "big personalities," as Hasbro Chairman Alfred Verrecchia says of Morfessis — will often usurp what power they believe themselves to need to accomplish what they want to accomplish. With Rhode Island's leadership class demonstrably lacking in the spine and in the head, we may soon find ourselves being governed by an oligarchy of unelected directors. They will, no doubt, be competent and admirably focused, but not only must we remember that power corrupts, we shouldn't forget that our current stars will eventually hand all of the authority that they've grabbed over to somebody else.

December 8, 2009

Caprio Goes Left for Primary... Harms Campaign (?)

Justin Katz

The assumption — especially when gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio was attending every right-of-center event, shaking hands and touting his number 5 ranking on our right-of-center list — has been that he held the advantage for the general election but might not make it through the Democrat primary. Success at pulling off the dodge-left, run-center maneuver, though, depends on the manner in which it is performed, and in a sense, enabling everybody to believe that, fundamentally, you're on their side. His Drinking Liberally performance certainly constitutes a misstep, from where I sit.

One expects a candidate to emerge a bit bloodied after primary season, but shifts in character ought to be avoided. In courting the progressives, for example, it's several steps too far to join them in taking cheap shots at the outgoing Republican governor.

Picking an issue, back when Anchor Rising met with Caprio in his capacity as General Treasurer, last year, his response to my question about social concerns was that he wasn't going "advocate either" abortion or same-sex marriage. Asked about the latter in a roomful of progressives, his answer was "let's make it law."

To clarify the treasurer's statement, I emailed his campaign staff to ask: "Is it Mr. Caprio's position that same-sex marriage should be made law in Rhode Island?" The answer: "Yes."

Perhaps it's a fine line of nuance between "I won't stand in the way" if other people push for same-sex marriage and a stated policy that it should happen, but if so, it ought to be a step too far for those who believe that marriage is inherently a relationship between a man and a woman. With Caprio's previous stance, one might expect that a large enough constituency could introduce the possibility of a gubernatorial veto. Now, such a veto would represent a reneged promise. Moreover, the privately opposed/publicly ambivalent evasion requires that one actually be, you know, ambivalent.

A second question that I directed to Caprio's campaign has to do with this odd concept, from the Ed Fitzpatrick column linked above:

During a question-and-answer period, Matt Jerzyk (a lawyer and former editor of the liberal Web site told Caprio, "You have been one of the most outspoken advocates for tax breaks for the richest of the rich in Rhode Island" while "the middle class is being squeezed and squeezed" by rising health-care, tuition and housing costs.

Caprio said, "You are referencing comments I had made over a long career in public service. When times are good, we have the ability to make changes, to make our state more competitive. When times aren't good, like we have now, we need to have targeted incentives that are going to create jobs — period — before we do any other tax changes."

My question to the candidate, and his staff's answer:

I'm a bit confused about whether Treasurer Caprio believes that such policies as eliminating the capital gains tax and offering a flat tax help the state's economy and create jobs. What's the distinction between "making our state more competitive" and offering "targeted incentives that are going to create jobs"?

Tax policy and business climate are important factors in creating jobs. While in the long term Rhode Island needs to adopt tax policies that distinguish Rhode Island from its peers, right now, in the short term, we need to focus on target incentives that help the 35-thousand small business owners to retain and create jobs. Mr. Caprio has met with and listened to over 500 small business owners , and engaged 1000 Rhode Islanders at . Throughout this process, he has heard that businesses are struggling with employment taxes and expenses, and that is where he remains focused on having targeted incentives for companies to retain and add additional employees.

It may take a moment to process the practical implications of this position, but in essence, Caprio is saying that creating a tax environment that would be attractive to the sorts of folks who build and invest in businesses — as well as the top talent whom they would seek to employ — is a long-term project that should be abandoned in favor of restrictive tax breaks contrived by politicians, for short-term boosts. It's a curious suggestion. Even economic conservatives will disagree with each other about the optimal shape of tax incentives for economically productive people purchased with limited political will, but Caprio's shift undermines the incentives he claims to desire.

Employers don't tend to hire full-time, long-term employees for the duration of a recession (that's why unemployment goes up), so either the tax breaks will have to be perpetual or (more likely) the business leaders will be wary of their evaporation once they've already committed to employees. On the other side, what could possibly be the long-term incentive for improvements to high-end income tax burden if the investments that one has made in expectation of capital gains savings or a flat-tax calculation are apt to dry up just when the economy sours and the additional resources would be most needed? And if the wealthy have less money to spend and invest when tax cuts disappear, where are businesses going to find the resources to hire more employees?

Personally, I think we ought to respond to Rhode Island's collapsing economy by throwing every incentive conceivable at the problem. That would include, of course, erasure of mandates and adjustment of regulations, which needn't cost the state a dime. The point is that Caprio's own adjustments appear to depend upon political circumstances.

The last point on which I sought clarification related to education funding:

Caprio said, "You want to talk about property taxes — what we need is a fair and equitable school-funding formula." To applause, he said, "In my first 100 days during my administration, we will pass a fair and adequate school-funding formula that will put the resources into the school districts that deserve it."

As you can see, I got a non-answer on my follow-up:

Which districts "deserve" the larger share of the school-funding pie via a "fair and adequate school-funding formula"?

As the only state in the nation without a school funding formula, Mr. Caprio is committed to adopting and implementing a school funding formula that increases the predictability of school funding and aligns the incentives for districts to be run more efficiently.

In other words, the campaign doesn't want to admit that they'd take tax dollars from the suburbs and transfer them to the urban districts, essentially taxing and spending without direct representation.

In summary, according to primary-season rhetoric — to which I, for one, intend to hold Mr. Caprio — moving the general treasurer to the governor's office would put the entire state in the hands of a single party and a politically dynastic heir who isn't willing to challenge the dangerous preconceptions of an economically illiterate population and aristocracy, and who would rubber stamp the social wish list of the left.

If that's what we're going to get with Caprio, I have to say that I think Chafee would at least be more fun to watch.

If It Weren't for Your Kids...

Justin Katz

One expects for this sort of thing to slip out in the heat of argument — in person or in comment sections — but it's a splash of cold water to see retired social studies teacher Robert Salerno offer it as op-ed material:

I submit that they might learn that the problems of public education do not lie with the teachers but with the students themselves. Although many youngsters try to be good students, there are far too many who do not.

These boys and girls should be called "attendees," ones who go to school but give little or no effort. Their numbers are larger than ever and I will leave it to our educational leaders to find out why this is happening in many areas of our state. These unmotivated students hurt their parents, classmates, school and society. According to the research, this begins to appear in middle school and becomes worse as these "attendees" move to the high school. This phenomena is not the fault of the classroom teacher.

Two thoughts: First, if the problem is the broader society (and I'm certainly not one to argue that the culture doesn't need an overhaul), then our massive outlay for education, and especially staff and faculty costs, would seem to be misdirected. We shouldn't be spending billions of dollars to pay people to do a job that can't be done.

Second, since substandard student performance reflects poorly on teachers, one would think that their unions would be striving to implement methods of identifying such students in order to (1) help them and (2) decrease the extent to which they hinder the high performance and shining image of educators.

December 7, 2009

How Dead Can Capitalism Be…

Carroll Andrew Morse

…when Harvard University's alumni magazine is publishing articles about Ayn Rand that end on this note…

Nearly 30 years after her death, Rand’s once controversial philosophy of individualism and capitalism has become part of the warp and woof of American political culture.

Working for the State Absolves the Conscience

Justin Katz

Among the arguments of those who've sided with Congressman Patrick Kennedy in his rejection of Catholic doctrine is the point that Kennedy works for the people and therefore must represent their wishes. My usual response is that an elected official is to balance and represent the interests of his constituents, and it is just not possible to be Roman Catholic and believe that the world's most liberal abortion laws are actually in society's interest. What interests me, for this post, though, is the implication that Kennedy's status as a "public servant" absolves him of supporting atrocities if they are supported by the people and their government.

There's something similar in creeping government action against the notion of conscience clauses. Consider this paragraph by Wesley Smith (emphasis added):

A recent article published by bioethicist Jacob Appel provides a glimpse of the emerging rationale behind the coming coercion. As the Montana Supreme Court pondered whether to affirm a trial judge's ruling creating a state constitutional right to assisted suicide, Appel opined that justices should not only validate the "right to die" but also, in effect, establish a physician's duty to kill, predicated on the medical monopoly possessed by licensed practitioners. "Much as the government has been willing to impose duties on radio stations (e.g., indecency codes, equal-time rules) that would be impermissible if applied to newspapers," Appel wrote, "Montana might reasonably consider requiring physicians, in return for the privilege of a medical license, to prescribe medication to the dying without regard to the patient's intent." Should the court not thus guarantee access to assisted suicide, it would be merely creating "a theoretical right to die that cannot be meaningfully exercised."

Thus did Massachusetts push Catholic Charities out of the adoption business. The presumption becomes that the practitioner does not work for him or her self, ultimately, but for the government. "The right to practice" is contingent upon one's wiilingness to do as the government dictates. Smith goes on:

Indeed, forcing medical professionals to participate in the taking of human life is already advancing into the justifiable stage. In Washington, a pharmacy chain refused to carry an abortifacient contraceptive that violated the religious views of its owners. A trial judge ruled that the owners were protected in making this decision by the First Amendment. But in Stormans Inc. v. Salecky, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision, ruling that a state regulation that all legal prescriptions be filled was enforceable against the company because it was a law of general applicability and did not target religion.

In a decision that should chill the blood of everyone who believes in religious freedom, the court stated: "That the new rules prohibit all improper reasons for refusal to dispense medication . . . suggests that the purpose of the new rules was not to eliminate religious objections to delivery of lawful medicines but to eliminate all objections that do not ensure patient health, safety, and access to medication. Thus, the rules do not target practices because of their religious motivation." And since pharmacists are not among the medical professionals allowed by Washington"s law to refuse participation in assisted suicide, Stormans would also seem to compel dispensing lethal prescriptions for legally qualified patients even though the drugs are expressly intended to kill.

It's difficult to see how this principle would stop short of allowing government to dictate just about anything to religious citizens, provided legislators and judges can phrase the action in terms with the appearance of applying to everybody. A law that everybody must ingest some non-kosher substance, for example, could be made to apply to Jews on grounds of general applicability.

The common theme is that — partially in the name of religious freedom — the government takes upon itself the right to determine what a man or woman of good conscience should and shouldn't be expected (permitted) to do.

We Need a Taxpayer Grievance

Justin Katz

How can an entity — whether a business, a town, a nonprofit, whatever — operate like this?

[Little Compton Firefighter Fred] Melnyk was off duty at the time, out of uniform, and had been in the fire-station earlier at 11:16 when the medical incident in question was called in. An emergency medical technician (EMT) with cardiac training, Mr. Melnyk immediately responded to the call by himself, driving the Rescue 1 to the scene at John T. Martin Road, one mile from the station.

He later found himself stranded there when two other firefighters, who had arrived in two separate fire trucks, fresh from finishing another nearby incident, took Rescue 1, with a patient inside, and drove to Charlton Memorial Hospital, 30 minutes away.

That left Mr. Melnyk with the two parked fire trucks that needed to be returned to the station. With him was the fire chief and his command car. A decision was made (that Lt. Woods later grieved) that Mr. Melnyk, still off duty and at no cost to the town, would drive the two trucks back to the station, and not leave them parked on John T. Martin Road, a task Mr. Melnyk accomplished in two trips, ferried back to the residence by the chief in the command car.

Lt. David Woods has filed a grievance claiming that he should have been called in for his four-hour minimum of overtime pay, receiving $127.36 for around twenty minutes worth of work.

Don't Scheme on Taxes, Simplify

Justin Katz

URI Economic Professor Edward Mazze's tax-cutting suggestions sound reasonable enough, but one can't help but be suspicious of the urge to control:

Murphy said of Mazze's plan, "I want to be open to it." Murphy said he was particularly interested in Mazze's proposal geared toward revitalizing local downtown business districts.

Murphy said he remembers a vibrant Main Street in West Warwick when he was a boy. "I know in the last 40 years, our Main Street in West Warwick has not come back to where it was," he said.

An article in the latest Sakonnet Times (not online) describes the Tiverton Town Council's approval of a suite of zoning changes for commercial districts, and the accompanying pictures present a similar longing for the downtown-style main street. But there are reasons other than zoning and the lack of targeted tax breaks that Main Streets have been disappearing. Some of them are cultural; some of them are economic; the point is that attempting to counteract these forces will come at an economic cost and may fail to produce viable businesses, anyway.

In other words, if pulling the Rhode Island economy back up the cliff is the objective, we shouldn't be layering all sorts of aesthetic preferences on pro-growth policies. We also should focus on simplicity. All of Mazze's proposals will benefit people savvy enough to know about the breaks, to take the proper steps, and fill out the proper forms, but big-government corruption and waste illustrate very well that the skill set for jumping through hoops is not necessarily an indicator of a successful business. "Targeted" tax cuts, in that sense, become targets for which people looking for breaks will shoot. We need to encourage people who are interested in running businesses.

As Roland Benjamin says:

"If [Rhode Island's] tax structure was reasonable in the first place, you wouldn't need [targeted tax breaks]."

And if Rhode Island's political and academic leaders were competent to manipulate an economic recovery, we wouldn't be in the mess that we're in.

December 6, 2009

Anti-Intellectual Radicals

Justin Katz

I've been meaning to offer kudos for this excellent letter by David Carlin, who is, somewhat surprisingly, a sociology and philosophy professor at CCRI:

The question of whether or not anti-SSM people are motivated by bigotry is an empirical question, and I submit (as would Dr. Harrop, I believe) that if their motives were empirically examined, it would be discovered that they are not so motivated. But those associated with the gay movement are rarely interested in this empirical question. Instead — behaving in a purely propagandistic and thoroughly unscientific manner — they simply classify anybody opposed to their agenda as "bigoted" and "homophobic." Thus no amount of empirical evidence to the contrary will persuade them to withdraw their accusations.

One of my great objections to the gay movement is its profound anti-intellectualism — that is, its absolute refusal to keep its mind open to empirical evidence that might contradict its propaganda.

That's from the November 22 Providence Journal. I wonder whether the professor's had any threats against his job, or the like.

Freedom to Be a Community

Justin Katz

With all of the local controversy over matters of church and state — made timely again, today, by Ed Fitzpatrick's column about Treasurer Frank Caprio's status as a pro-choice politician with experience as an unwed teenage father (more on which anon) — it's worth submitting into the discussion this excellent explanation from the religious side, culled from Richard Garnett's review of a book by David Novak:

Of particular interest to Novak is the debate over same-sex marriage and the increasing pressure on religious believers to censor their reservations about it, particularly in Canada, where Novak lives and teaches. He notes that this debate implicates religious liberty not because the legal recognition of same-sex unions is itself a burden on that liberty but because religious communities are increasingly being told that they may not make their case. To "deprive a religious community of the right to make moral claims," he contends, is both antireligious and undemocratic. What's more, he observes, religious freedom—the freedom to make moral claims from out of a religious tradition—is not only a claim on democratic society, it is a "gift for it as well."

Perhaps the most striking and distinctive aspect of In Defense of Religious Liberty is Novak's consistent, almost dogged, insistence that religion is not private, personal, or individual. It is, necessarily, relational, communal, traditional, and public. "Faith," as he puts it, "is not so much a leap from the rational into the super-rational as it is one's acceptance of a communal narrative by including oneself within the narrating community." A legal regime that recognizes and protects a right to accept this narrative will also, necessarily, acknowledge the authority of that community to govern itself and those who have accepted it.

Frank Caprio: Making Up Stories About a Friend to Win a Primary

Monique Chartier

... the friend being Don Carcieri.

In fact, the friendship between the Governor and the General Treasurer was the impetus for one of the rare instances in which the Governor deliberately opened himself up to criticism from his own party: it was an open secret that during the last election, Governor Carcieri favored Frank Caprio for General Treasurer over the Republican candidate. Those of us determined (or compelled) to find a silver lining recognized this as a manifestation, albeit momentarily irksome, of the Governor's pronounced loyalty streak.

Against this backdrop do we read, courtesy the ProJo's Ed Fitzpatrick, about one particular facet of Frank Caprio's efforts to pump up his left-wing bona fides for the upcoming Democrat gubernatorial primary.

Caprio (an in-house lawyer at Cookson America when GOP Governor Carcieri ran the conglomerate in the 1990s) said, “We have an administration up at the State House that locks himself in the office, thinks they know it all, doesn’t listen to much. So, let’s change that.”

Jerzyk asked if he was talking about Carcieri. “Correct,” Caprio said.

Possibly Mr. Caprio was unaware that a member of the press was nearby at that moment with notebook open and ears flapping (which is to say, diligently doing his job). On the other hand, that explanation would only make the incident worse. ("I only say bad things about my friends behind their backs.")

Personal disloyalty aside for a moment, the real killer is that the statement is simply not true! Far from locking himself in an office, Governor Carcieri has reached out so much during his tenure that it has earned him a good deal of criticism from those who, out of understandable frustration with the decades of putrid government that has emanated from one party, would prefer that the Executive Branch adopt a more confrontational style in tackling the state's problems and those who are attempting to perpetuate them.

What the Governor did do, in the course of not locking himself in an office, is work very hard - in some cases, with marked success - to fix some of the state's worst problems by creating a better business climate to engender jobs and grow the tax base; getting government spending under control; reining in generous social programs; addressing out of control public pension benefits that decades of unscrupulous politicians so glibly promised but did not see fit to fund.

What he did not do is back away from these goals despite protracted vilification from certain quarters. Hopefully, this is not what the General Treasurer was referencing with the phrase "not listening too much"; in point of fact, many would characterize this as standing on principle.

In light of the above remark, principle is a commodity that the General Treasurer appears at the moment to be somewhat lacking - the principle of loyalty, the principle of truth. The primary has presumably placed the General Treasurer under some political stress. Has this inadvertently revealed an aspect of his character? As Governor, would he abandon principle when experiencing other kinds of stress?

December 5, 2009

Ordering: A Case of Ginkgo Biloba for the Junior Senator from Rhode Island, Please

Monique Chartier

The term "Bushitler" and assorted variations were a staple of the two terms of the forty third President of the United States. (Possibly the fact that he had the temerity to win a second term fueled its usage.)

Yet in a recording at an unidentified venue, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse purports not to have seen or heard any of this. [Thanks to Will Ricci over at Ocean State Republican for the e-mail tip.]

For example, the president portrayed with a Hitler moustache. I don't recall for eight years President Bush ever being portrayed with a Hitler mustache. Poor President Obama comes in and within his first months, people are running around America, portraying him with a Hitler mustache, because we want to reform health care.

You scoff and possibly snort in disbelief. Ah, not so quickly. Such a statement gains considerable credibility when we remember that they never were able to repair the media feed from Earth to Planet Voomax, which is clearly where Senator Whitehouse spent the eight years of the Bush presidency.

There, now. Don't you feel a little silly for doubting?

An Undebatable Line

Justin Katz

Contributorship has its advantages, among which is the right not to be called unnecessary names in the comments sections. Indeed, crossing that line is such a monumentally stupid thing for a commenter to do if he or she derives any value from participating in the ongoing discussions, here, that I can only conclude that the culprit isn't actually interested in maintaining that privilege.

For those who require an explanation, it's simple: Each contributor is more important, more valuable, to Anchor Rising than a slew of readers, even active readers. That's why we've asked him or her to step out from the shadows with a real name, actual contact information, and even a picture and take some ownership of the Anchor Rising brand. We're not paid for this, and dodging schoolyard insults on our own turf is an unacceptable negative.

And so, George Elbow's comments are no longer welcome on Anchor Rising. As always, sincere repentance will be accepted.

No Fingers Weaving Quick Minarets

Justin Katz

You've seen this news, I imagine:

Swiss voters on Sunday overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on minarets, barring construction of the iconic mosque towers in a surprise move that put Switzerland at the forefront of a European backlash against a growing Muslim population.

Muslim groups in Switzerland and abroad condemned the vote as biased and anti-Islamic. Business groups said the decision hurts Switzerland's international standing and could damage relations with Muslim nations and wealthy investors who bank, travel and shop there.

The entire world is condemning the result, and I certainly don't support the action. I do, however, support the right of the Swiss to take it.

A point of intolerable repression exists, of course, but if we cannot distinguish banning a particular type of religious structure from, say, unjust imprisonment, then relativism has numbed our moral senses. People have a right to shape their communities, and they have a right to differ on the appropriate means of preserving their cultures.

A Lived Philosophy

Justin Katz

Apart from the whole review from which it comes — by Thomas Hibbs, of David Walsh — this paragraph offers a worthwhile point of reflection on a rainy Saturday afternoon:

The withering critique of propositional, systematic metaphysics has made possible the re-emergence of the priority of life to thought and of the practical to the theoretical. Transcendence reappears as the irreducibly mysterious horizon within which human thought occurs. The consequence, as Walsh provocatively puts it in this, his final book in a trilogy devoted to modern thought, is that the modern philosophical revolution has succeeded in bringing to light the source of the premodern tradition it opposed.

Based on Hibbs's summary, I'm not so sure that modern philosophy has "succeeded" except in the sense that traversing a dangerous, dead-ended path succeeds in proving that the main road was a better route to follow. The point is well taken, though, that we may be returning to a realization that life must be considered to be as it feels.

In philosophy and science, we've almost adopted a principle of the weird — astonished that the equations and logical series bring us to conclusions that appear impossible, if our sense of ourselves and our reality is legitimate. The lesson we take from such discoveries is too often that everything we know is wrong or illusory. To the contrary, the lesson should be that the disconnect from experienced reality is the illusion; we just have more work to do relating the findings to life as we live it.

A Process of Suffocation

Justin Katz

The relationship is perhaps not entirely direct, but two stories from last Saturday's paper strike me as thematically related. First:

Because of poor design and construction and lack of maintenance, the underground parking garage at the Providence railroad station has suffered so much structural damage caused by leaking water that the state Department of Transportation says it might have to be closed.

The 360-space garage is a key transportation facility whose importance is likely to increase. It's the most convenient station parking and is full of commuters' cars on weekdays. The station will see more use, and presumably need more parking, when the state extends rail service south of Providence over the next two years.

At a time when Rhode Island desperately needs to ensure smooth sailing for the economy, public transportation infrastructure is crumbling. And second:

The head of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority's biggest union has threatened a strike if state officials remove binding arbitration, a mechanism for settling deadlocked contract disputes, from state law governing the authority. ...

RIPTA officials said that the possibility of eliminating binding arbitration for RIPTA employees came up at a meeting of a legislative committee looking into the authority's operations. RIPTA officials said they were asked to take the issue before the authority board of directors. The legislators suggested that RIPTA request that arbitration be removed from the authority's enabling legislation.

Even just a hint that officials might be considering the possibility of potentially revisiting binding arbitration sparked threats of the union's nuclear option. (Gee, that binding arbitration thing must really not be in a union's interests!)

In sum: During the worst economic recession since the Great Depression, with the state kept solvent merely through the ill-advised deficit spending of a radical U.S. president, as our transportation infrastructure falls apart under our desperate feet, public sector unions have their eye firmly focused on their own grubby hands. Rhode Island can't afford to tolerate this extortion and abuse any longer.

December 4, 2009

Regionalization Won't Make the Unions Go Away... Quite the Opposite

Justin Katz

Somehow, this strikes me as a preview of the "benefits" of regionalization in Rhode Island:

Just hours after he closed the Douglas Avenue fire station, Mayor Charles A. Lombardi ran into a legal stumbling block from the firefighters union Wednesday afternoon and he agreed to temporarily reopen the station. ...

Firefighters want [Providence County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey] Lanphear to keep Lombardi from shutting down the station and reassigning personnel, about 12 employees, to three other stations in town.

Note that this wasn't even about eliminating positions — just moving work locations. The only savings that regionalization might promise, in such instances, is to spread out the cost of lawyers for participating towns and cities. Of course, the whole point of regionalization is to instigate this sort of change, so municipalities would be sharing an increased expense.

Prior to any regionalization efforts, towns and cities will have to begin asserting themselves in contract negotiations to regain management rights. My suspicion is that, once they've taken such a step, regionalization will look like far less of a panacea, because the situation would have already improved dramatically.

RI Monthly on the Governor's Race

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ian Donnis of WRNI radio's (1290 AM) On Politics Blog points to Mark Arsenault's story on the Rhode Island Governor's race appearing in December's Rhode Island Monthly. To pick out just a few of the many items of note that appear in the article…

  1. Donnis, in his link to the article, highlights speculation coming from Lincoln Chafee that Steve Laffey will run as an independent…
    [Steve Laffey] has maintained radio silence on the governor’s race, though he tells me he’s furious about the state of the state.

    Chafee, for one, expects his old rival will forego the party system and also run for governor as an independent.

  2. Chafee, Rhode Island's undeclared independent candidate for Governor, describes the coalition he seeks to build upon…
    In addition to the name, Linc Chafee, a former mayor of Warwick, has his own political base. “For me, it’s a mix of environmentalists, Warwick voters, anti-war people, progressive Republicans,” he says. “I’m not an enemy to labor. I’d like to have labor on my side as much as possible.”
    Would anyone who continues to insist that Chafee is a "moderate" and not a "liberal", where "moderate" is used as a stand-in for "fiscally conservative" and "socially liberal", care to explain where the support for "fiscal conservatism" is going to come from, given that base?
  3. With the caveat that we can't be sure exactly when Arsenault conducted his interview (always an issue with a monthly publication), Arlene Violet is mentioned in the article as a possible candidate for the Moderate Party, but…
    Violet would be a reluctant contender. “I prefer to try to build that effort and let someone younger run,” says Violet, who is sixty-five.

    If the Moderates can’t find another credible warrior, “That would certainly put a lot of pressure on me,” Violet says. “I wouldn’t do it just to get 5 percent. I’d do it to win.”

    Does that sound like someone whose party's candidate-search is going well?
There's some stuff on the major party candidates too, all of which Arsenault writes-up in a very engaging manner. Maybe a local newspaper should consider hiring him to jazz-up its political coverage…

This Is the Critical Issue for the State

Justin Katz

One more statistic to paste into our collage of problems facing the state, all of which point to the same conclusion:

The Mortgage Bankers Association, which compiles the most comprehensive statistics on mortgage loan performance nationwide, also had grim numbers for Rhode Island in the third quarter of the year, the months of July, August and September. The association, which bases its statistic on a nationwide survey of 44 million mortgages serviced by banks, credit union, mortgage companies and other institutions, reported that 10.25 percent of Rhode Island's mortgages are 30 days or more past due. That's the record high since the association began keeping records in 1972, according to spokeswoman Carolyn Kemp.

And here's a bucket of cold water on the foreclosure side:

Looked at a different way, the middle-class Rhode Island suburb of Warwick has a rate -- 8.4 -- that is higher than a slew of aging Massachusetts factory communities, such as Worcester, 6.4; Fitchburg, 5.9; Lowell, 5.83; Springfield, 5.7, and Fall River, 5.3.

Warwick has about a 60% higher foreclosure rate than Fall River. How long, I wonder, until the entire state of Rhode Island becomes available for eminent domain seizure on the grounds that it's blighted?

Rhode Island needs jobs. It needs them quickly, and it needs them in large quantities. Tinkering with "targeted policies" isn't going to do it. Fiddling whith "this receipts tax" and "that receipts tax" gimmicks isn't going to do it. The state needs to cut taxes, remove mandates, and erase regulations.

If RI House Speaker Bill Murphy wants to cheerlead to promote the state, we'll get him some pom-poms and a little skirt, but he'll be performing to empty bleachers unless the message is "we're changing for your benefit." The hard part is that the change has to be credible, and that'll prove a difficult sell if we have the same people at the State House who have cheered us into the ground.

Everybody's Got a Secret Plan

Justin Katz

Last night, Matt and I mused on the unspoken and do-nothing plans of Rhode Island's leadership class when it comes to fixing the economy, Matt Allen Show. There's a related thread, here, to the conversation that Matt had been conducting during the previous hour, regarding Congressman Patrick Kennedy's support for micromanaging the credit card industry; Rhode Island is at the other end of the process whereby politicians seek to compile constituencies by promising to force other people to fund their lifestyles. By "the other end," I mean when the system begins to fall apart. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

December 3, 2009

The State Follows Tiverton on Evaluations

Justin Katz

Well, the title of this post is a bit of an overstatement (downright presumptuous, actually), but I just received the following press release from the Rhode Island Department of Education:

All Rhode Island teachers will be evaluated at least once a year, following the historic vote tonight by the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.

At its meeting tonight (December 3rd, 2009) at Lincoln Senior High School, the Board approved the first-ever standards for evaluation systems for teachers and other educators. From now on, all evaluation systems will provide feedback on performance, create incentives for highly effective educators, and improve the performance of or remove ineffective educators.

Under the new Rhode Island Educator Evaluation System Standards, "an educator’s overall effectiveness is to be determined by evidence of impact on student growth and academic achievement." The evaluations must include observations of practice, and evaluators should seek feedback from supervisors, colleagues, students, and families.

The Regents also approved the first Educator Code of Professional Responsibility, which will "guide professional conduct" of educators in "all situations with professional and ethical implications." The code "embraces the fundamental belief that the student is the foremost reason for the existence of the [teaching] profession." The code will "serve as a basis for decisions" regarding certification and employment.

"The new evaluation system will help Rhode Island to improve educator quality by attracting, mentoring, and retaining top teachers and education leaders," said Robert G. Flanders, Jr., Esq., Chairman of the Board of Regents. "The evaluation process will be fair to educators because it will be tied to existing standards and expectations and because it will be consistent across all districts. These votes will help to ensure that we have excellent educators in every school and classroom."

"By approving these new standards for evaluation systems and the Code of Professional Responsibility, the Regents have acted in the best interest of our students," said Deborah A. Gist, Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education. "I have said many times that the single most important factor in the education of our students is the effectiveness of their teachers. These new standards, which emphasize student achievement and professional growth for all educators, are a big step in our work to transform Rhode Island education."

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (RIDE) will develop evaluation-system templates, which districts may adopt or modify, subject to the Commissioner’s approval. RIDE will post the standards and the code on its Web site,

As some of my Tiverton Citizens for Change colleagues will hasten to point out, this has more than a flavor of an unfunded mandate. Tiverton Schools' Superintendent Bill Rearick put the figure for an initial increase in evaluations at $250,000. Unless the state is going to send its own evaluators, a command for such a process from the top — from the state — becomes something for which towns must pay, which means something added to the bill to taxpayers.

Enacted at the town level, evaluations are a self-motivated mechanism for improving the district's educational product, which means towns will more readily rework their systems to make room for them.

Random Mutterings

Marc Comtois

Having some kind of head cold nastiness for the better part of a week has left me more befuddled than usual and less able to focus thanks to various apothecary concoctions. Here's what I've been muttering about....

Apparently, Gen. Treasurer Frank Caprio is going to campaign as a right-of-center progressive.

Tiger Woods has garnered a reputation for being in the 99 9/10th percentile when it comes to mental toughness and discipline. It looks like that only extends to his golf game.

Latino leaders calling for a census boycott are only going to end up short-changing themselves and their people. Some think that's a good thing.

Seeing it through in Afghanistan means more troops, according to the experts (Generals). President Obama did the right thing in following their advice, if not exactly. But it is obvious that his heart isn't in it and that ennui is dangerous if translated down the chain of command.

Seeing sleeping cadets/midshipmen at a mid-evening speech by a politician is totally unsurprising to anyone who attended such an institution. Long days full of physical and mental strain cause the body to shutdown when it can. It's only a surprise that more weren't snoozing. The fault lay with the media for focusing on the slumbering in an attempt to convey...what, exactly? That cadets don't respect the CinC? Or that he's boring them? Not sure why they did it, but it was wrong.

Looks like the Patriots are in a rebuilding year. That used to mean a losing season or two; now it's just an early bow-out of the playoffs. I'll take it.

I like visiting other branches of the family for Thanksgiving. But I miss the leftovers.

When did regular exercise start meaning a constant battle against wear and tear injuries? Plantar fasciitis sucks.

It seems hard for a member of the Gen X vanguard like myself to find good music by new artists.

And when did the music of the '80s become oldies?

I think the last two items are related.

Thank God for Nyquil.

Finally, my science-degreed sister (medical technology) had the best Climategate-inspired line of the season: "I could totally prove the existence of Santa Claus, but I seemed to have lost the raw data, so you're just going to have to trust me."

Rhode Island's Attorney General Endorses a Broad and Constitutionally Sensible View of the Second Amendment

Carroll Andrew Morse

At the time of Sondra Sotomayor's Supreme Court nomination hearings, Anchor Rising noted that Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch had not joined an amicus brief offered by other state Attorney Generals in the case of McDonald v. Chicago in support of the position that the Second Amendment is protected from state-government abridgement via the Fourteenth Amendment ("No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States").

Since that time, the RI Attorney General has signed on to the brief, which makes its case for the incorporation of Second Amendment rights in no uncertain terms…

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

Under this Court’s established Due Process jurisprudence, all “fundamental” rights under the Bill of Rights are enforceable against state and local governments—including the Second Amendment. The fundamental nature of the right to keep and bear arms, as necessary to the protection of all other rights, has been deeply embedded in the American conscience at every stage of our history: It was imported into the colonies from English law, sparked the American Revolution, animated the Founding spirit of this Nation, and drove the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment and other post-Civil War measures designed to protect recently-freed slaves from both government and private oppression.

The addition of Attorney General Lynch's signature to the brief helps bring the total number of state AGs who support the Second Amendment to 38.

If we live in a system based upon the rule of and not the rule of lawyers, it is obvious that, if the the 14th Amendment extends the protections of Amendments 1 and Amendments 3 through 8 to state governments, then the protections of Amendment 2 must also be similarly extended. Whatever other disagreements you may have with him, it is a good thing that Rhode Island's current Attorney General has taken a public stand in support of this position.

Innocent Human Beings We Can Kill

Justin Katz

There it is again — that incredible, morally repugnant admission that a human life begins at conception but need not include a right for that life to continue along its natural course. From a National Review interview with Charles Krauthammer by Jay Nordlinger:

Readers may want to know Krauthammer's position on abortion--it is slightly complicated. The first thing to say is that he is for legal abortion. But other things follow. "Life begins at conception," he says, "there is no doubt about that." That is simply "a biological truth." But "personhood," in his view, is something else: a social construct and a legal category. And society has to determine, in some fashion, when the fetus is imbued with this "personhood." "I would outlaw all third-trimester abortions," continues Krauthammer. "I've seen abortions, as a medical student, and they are quite horrible. I detest them at any level, and I would outlaw them in the third trimester. That really is a human being, that really is murder--and partial-birth abortion is barbarism." In the middle stage of pregnancy, abortion is a "grave moral sin," Krauthammer believes, and "you should not do it lightly" and "you should feel bad about it." But he would not outlaw abortions at this stage. And he has no qualms whatever about abortion in the early stage.

"Personhood," plainly put, is merely a word for "people we can't kill on a whim." Particularly vexing is the fact that Krauthammer is ethnically Jewish and an advocate for a strong defense of Israel. If "personhood" is merely a "social construct and legal category," it's difficult to see how one can condemn the Nazis for anything more than disagreeing with us about that construct and that category. If "qualms" are the decisive factor for whether it's acceptable to kill unborn children, then it is a matter of life and death for everybody that human beings can be made to acclimate to just about any idea.


A commenter asks whether I'm serious. Absolutely. This is a matter of plain, incontrovertible logic.

Krauthammer posits a biological classification of "human being." He then posits an overlapping social and legal classification of "person." The critical consequence of labeling a human being a "non-person" is that he or she may be killed for the flimsiest of reasons, and the main determinant of whether the label applies is the "qualms" of the society about killing him or her.

Simply put, a sufficient portion of Nazi German society lacked qualms about killing Jews (and others) to remove their right to life. There's some distinction, I suppose, in the fact that, in Germany, the state was empowered to kill those in non-person groups, while in the United States, mothers are empowered to hire doctors to kill their own non-person children. But once you're within the range of killing human beings for flimsy reasons, the big-government adjustment doesn't offer much mitigation, in my view.

Gordon Fox Has a Plan for Fixing Rhode Island's Economy…

Carroll Andrew Morse

…but he's not ready to tell us what it is yet, reports Ray Henry of the Associated Press…

[Gordon Fox], D-Providence, said he had proposals for reviving the economy but was not ready to discuss them.

"For me to sit here today and say we're going to do X, Y and Z, I think, is premature," said Fox, who is campaigning to succeed House Speaker William Murphy in early 2011. "I don't think it's fair to the members and it would be foolish of me to do that."

Rep. Fox, the current Democratic Majority Leader in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, is the frontrunner to replace current Speaker William Murphy, who has announced that he will not seek re-election for the 2011 legislative session.

The SSM Train's Lost Momentum

Justin Katz

You may have heard that same-sex marriage failed to gain approval in the New York legislature. William Duncan makes an astute observation:

That is why the marriage redefinition push has relied so strongly on the inevitability claim — to overwhelm legislators' and voters' qualms about same-sex marriage with a fear that they will be labeled bigots. The leader of the Human Rights Campaign reacted to today's vote with this inevitability talking point: "The senators who voted against marriage equality today are on the wrong side of history, but the history of marriage equality will not end with today's vote."

Again and again, the inevitability claim has been rebutted by reality, but it is a tenacious idea, at least partially because it appeals to the cult of novelty that holds sway among media elites. That's why every "setback" for gay marriage is proclaimed a "shocking" development even though each is just a repeat of something that's happened over and over again.

It isn't bigotry to believe that society should maintain a special categorization for relationships that tend to create human life. Redefining marriage to include people of the same sex would disallow our ability to acknowledge this distinction and thereby hinder cultural efforts to ensure an appropriate respect for that biological power. Advocates would do well to stop insisting that this is all post hoc rationalization extending from an unstated hatred of homosexuals and, instead, accept that it's a sincere position with obvious political force and perhaps even a point or two worth considering during efforts to radically remodel the structure of our society.

About That Status Quo

Justin Katz

Meeting with East Greenwich town officials, Sen. Leonidas Raptakis (D, Coventry, East Greenwich, Warwick, West Warwick) spoke against state mandates:

"We have so many archaic statutes, contracts and mandates, unless we start deleting these mandates or give cities and towns latitude, we're going to start this revolving circle again, and it's going to get worse," he said. "If we don't get tough this year and next year, things are going to get worse for many years to come."

And House Minority Leader Bob Watson (R, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) made this interesting suggestion:

He also said he was intrigued by the idea of cities and towns protesting by withholding the funds they collect on behalf of the state.

That, he said, would get the General Assembly's attention. "I think that would create a great dynamic."

But missing from their comments — or at least reportage of them — is an explanation of what they would do to make up the difference for the cuts to municipalities that they oppose:

"I do not support any idea of taking monies off the table that have been earmarked for communities. I take that as irresponsible, particularly because we didn't give any relief from state mandates," said Watson. "I think there will be enough pressure to at least preserve the status quo."

The "status quo" is a deficit. It's a state with insufficient funds to pay its bills. Senators and representatives, especially, have a responsibility, if they oppose cutting one area of spending, to explain what area ought to see the cuts instead. When they meet with local officials, they ought to take the opportunity to explain the reality of that situation; perhaps they'll begin to loosen the logjam of apathy and ideology that's flooding the state.

UPDATED: Is This News, Yet?

Justin Katz

Just a quick note that the Climategate scandal has reached the level at which scientists are stepping down, and the only mention of the issue in our state's environmentalism-besotted paper of record hasn't been from its environment department, but in a letter to the editor.

You know, it's kind of like that scene in Men in Black in which Tommy Lee Jones explains to Will Smith that the tabloids — in which aliens make regular appearances — offer the best investigative reporting on the planet. To read the top environmental story of the day, you have to turn to the bottom of the opinion page.

Then again, it can hardly be considered a surprise. The Projo's environment page actually has the header "Projo Green," which intrinsically expresses a bias. Perhaps the paper should begin collecting its political news under the header "Projo Blue."


The Providence Journal did indeed run this story (on page B3) the day after I put up this post. I should also note that the Commentary page did mention the scandal in an editorial on the 28th, although I can't find it online, at the moment.

December 2, 2009

It's Dying, but It's Not What They Say It Is

Justin Katz

Zooming the camera back from the Providence Journal's reluctance to expose some questionable science behind the global climate change panic, John Nolte argues that the death throes of the mainstream media were self inflicted:

A non-partisan, unbiased news media simply doesn't exist anymore. All that remains of this once somewhat respectable profession are two kinds of media: those who lie about their agenda and those who don't — and Mr. Gerson's employer is one of the liars. Whether it's Glenn Beck, Arianna Huffington, National Review or MSNBC, tell me your biases upfront and we can at least start a dialogue from an honest foundation. On the other hand, the Washington Post, New York Times, Newsweek, Time, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and the like, have spent years making jerks out of us — lying to our faces. We knew this, there just wasn’t any alternative. But now that there is, their time is just about up.

Having procured a still-distant peak inside media professions, I've been gaining a sense of what they do wrong. Just look at the output of the typical motivated blogger versus that of a well-paid, perhaps unionized journalist. I'm not denying that many of the professionals do good work and that many bloggers produce a good deal of garbage. Moreover, bloggers obviously rely on journalists' product to a great extent. What I'm pointing toward is the working model.

Frankly, some of the contributors to Anchor Rising would very much like to delve more deeply into research and investigation, but we're tied to day jobs. The demise of some of the major media players might just free up societal resources to finance independent journalists who can pretty much run the whole show for less cost than a single reporter. Again, I'm not necessarily hoping that it takes the downfall of (say) the Providence Journal to open up opportunities for online revenue; I'm just suggesting the possibility.

And this is before we get to the more common part of the discussion:

What profession could [Gerson] possibly be talking about? Certainly not the same profession who set out to destroy Clarence Thomas, circled the wagons to save President Clinton, summoned all their resources to lose the war in Iraq, told us more about the background of an unemployed plumber than our current President, dragged Sarah Palin's family through the mud, and on this very day refuse to investigate three of the biggest stories of the year (if not the decade): ACORN, CzarGate and ClimateGate.

"Since the whole of the MSM put their blinders on and jumped in the tank for President Bows-A -Lot," bloggers and independent media groups have been stepping up to fill in the gap. The Internet has made that sufficiently easy and inexpensive to do that the gaps that the giants leave as they fall will not take long to fill.

Re: The Projo’s Unintentionally Informative Juxtaposition of the Day

Carroll Andrew Morse

Responding to a post from earlier this week, National Education Association Rhode Island Chapter Executive Director Robert Walsh comments that Jennifer D. Jordan's recent Projo story on charter schools, where it was reported in the voice of the omniscient journalistic narrator that the NEA "disagrees" that charters have certain benefits, failed to capture the full breadth of the position he had offered. Mr. Walsh's more complete position is that…

The problem with proposing additional funding for charter schools during the current budget crisis is that it further diverts those dollars from state aid to education and the approximately 150,000 students in traditional public schools, and the further diversion of these funds hurts the existing schools and directly impacts property taxes.

Further funding for charters at this time also goes against two public policy imperatives. First, since charter schools are stand-alone entities, often with a higher percentage of costs allocated to administration, more charters mitigate against the policy interest of regionalization and consolidation of services. Second, despite an impetus towards performance measurements, the record of the existing charter schools is decidedly mixed. Perhaps existing charters that are not making the grade should be defunded and those resources should be allocated to new charters with a better chance of success. Another alternative is to follow the original idea behind charter schools - identify successful educational ideas and move those into the public schools so that all children can benefit from them. The idea that some children need additional time on task or more personal attention is not a new concept, and the funds should be made available to the traditional public schools so that all students can benefit from them.

Based on reaction that Mr. Walsh has engendered in the past, I am compelled to issue an early warning regarding comments in this thread. To start by accentuating the positive, an example of an acceptable comment would be pointing out that making a priority of whether the bureaucracy that manages a school is municipally-based or regionally-based does nothing to mitigate the main point of the original post, that the union is more focused on creating particular bureaucratic structures than on educating students. (And, by the way, isn't a charter school like the Blackstone Valley Democracy Prep, which accepts students from multiple towns an example of a regionalized school -- albeit one that's been regionalized from the ground-up, instead of the top-down?)

Likewise, asking "fiscally conservative" readers if they are going to continue to believe that top-down regionalization is the panacea they've been told it is, when it is being offered as a reason why the state shouldn't more fully innovate in the delivery of public services, would also be an example of an acceptable comment. (And just so there's no confusion, these are comments that I actually am making).

Personal attacks, name-calling and other comments unrelated to the substance of what's being discussed are not acceptable, and will be quickly removed from this thread.

A Corporate Tax by Any Other Name

Justin Katz

So, Governor Carcieri and his Director of the Department of Revenue, Gary Sasse, have switched from a "gross receipts tax," which would essentially be an expanded and hidden sales tax, to a "net receipts tax," which Providence Journal reporter Neil Downing describes as follows:

Under a net receipts tax, a corporation generally would pay tax on its revenue after claiming only a limited number of deductions (the number and nature of which have not been set). Thus, more of a business's income would be subject to Rhode Island tax. But a lower tax rate would apply, Sasse said. ...

Sasse also said that any such plan would not harm the many small businesses that are organized as "pass-through" entities, such as limited liability companies and subchapter S corporations.

Sounds a bit like an expanded corporate income tax, no? Downing reports that the plan would be to "eliminat[e] at least one other tax, such as the state's corporate income tax, the sales tax or the personal income tax"; if it's not the first that goes, then Rhode Island would be killing its economy, not helping it. If it is the first that goes, it would essentially be a name change with the promise of future increases. Once the deductions are eliminated through the trick of changing what we call the tax, the General Assembly will find it a relatively simple matter to ratchet the rate up.

Suppose that the income tax is what's eliminated. Corporate entities will have an irresistible incentive to organize as pass-through entities, which will limit their ability to expand and ultimately undermine estimates of the revenue that the state receives from the "net receipts tax," because more income will flow to the untaxed channel. (Except for the restraint on expansion, that's not an unattractive outcome, but it will ensure the continuation of continual budgetary shortfalls.)

And if it's the sales tax, we're left with a gimmick that increases prices and shifts the tax burden to businesses from out-of-state consumers.

The faster Rhode Island's leaders come to the realization that there is no easy way out of this mess, the better off we'll all be. Taxes have to be cut, not reconfigured. Regulations have to be relaxed. And mandates have to be rescinded. Start selling that message now, because it's going to be a long, hard fight. Tossing out a new taxation buzz-phrase every few months merely delays decisiveness and confuses the public.

Not the Way to Win in Afghanistan

Justin Katz

The American military commander in Afghanistan had already tempered his request for troops:

Gen. Stanley McChrystal wanted to ask President Obama for 50,000 more troops for Afghanistan on top of the 68,000 already stationed there, but he was convinced to lower the request to 40,000, reports CBS News White House correspondent Chip Reid.

Sources tell Reid that McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, considers the lower number to be a firm bottom line McChrystal believes anything short of 40,000 increases the risk of failure, Reid reports.

His commander in chief reduced the number by 25%:

Declaring "our security is at stake," President Barack Obama ordered an additional 30,000 U.S. troops into the long war in Afghanistan Tuesday night, nearly tripling the force he inherited as commander in chief. He promised an impatient public he would begin bringing units home in 18 months.

Put aside the fact that AP reporters Darlene Superville and Steven Hurst offer no evidence of or explanation for the public's impatience, unless one includes their subsequent admission that the president "made no direct reference to public opinion." The most significant opinion, in the equation, is that of the man with authority to add or subtract the number of American warriors in the region, and he clearly does not have the will to win.

President Obama took months to decide that he was going to barter General McChrystal down on the troop request and offer an explicit time line for withdrawal. The message to our enemies has been broadcast: hang tight.

God help the members of the armed services whom this man commands. And God watch over us all as we enter the second decade of this millennium, which appears likely to include a nuclear-powered Iran and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan.

December 1, 2009

Too Much Fish Giving

Justin Katz

Maybe it's my surfeit of familiarity with this sort of story, or maybe it's living through the worst recession of my lifetime, but this sort of comment, from a story about a woman protesting on behalf of the homeless by staying in a tent on the State House lawn, is increasingly jarring (emphasis added):

But housing advocates say the plan [to add beds to homeless shelters] doesn't go far enough. According to the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, the state's shelters were beyond capacity in late October, while nearly 80 people slept outside. The homeless population will grow as the economy worsens, said coalition director Jim Ryczek, who has asked to meet with Governor Carcieri to discuss the issue.

Why isn't Mr. Ryczek advocating for an overhaul of economic policy — removing burdensome regulations and mandates, reworking tax policy to create pro-growth incentives, and so on? Clearly, the single most effective method of helping the homeless would be to increase the number of jobs available to them. Shouldn't that be the subject of advocates' conversations with political leaders?

The Existence of Two Wings Doesn't Mean that Both Have to Flap on the Same Side

Justin Katz

An interesting, if frustrating, conversation has proceeded from a recent post in which I suggested that libertarians and those who focus on civic and economic matters should not take their Obama-inspired momentum as an opportunity to jettison social conservatives from movement. The frustration derives from the difficulty in nailing down the precise notions that everybody's arguing — perhaps because civic-minded groups with a secular focus seem to believe that they have to run away from any association with socially conservative movements.

The underlying assumption often appears to be that the wonks' issues are the driving force pulling along social baggage that, while not necessarily unwelcome, is best tucked away in the storage area. I'd argue that people's actual voting behavior and other political considerations make such a proposition dubious.

Anyway, the conversation has reminded me that I've been intending to link to RI Tea Party founder Colleen Conley's recent letter to the Providence Journal, and although it was initially her remarks on binding arbitration and suspending legislative rules that claimed my attention, this is the paragraph that stands out, now:

Representatives from the Rhode Island Tea Party, Operation Clean Government, Rhode Island Statewide Coalition and the East Providence Taxpayers Association spoke against the binding-arbitration bill. The Ocean State Policy Research Center provided statistics to back up the assertions made.

None of these groups are organized for advocacy on social issues (although with such things as healthcare, some overlap occurs, of course), and they do not have to be. To extrapolate: I would see no justification or probably advantage to leveraging my involvement in Tiverton Citizens for Change in order to address, say, abortion or same-sex marriage. If every group strives to take a position on every issue, we end up unable to resolve anything, which is why it's so insidious that the political left strives to consolidate all issues under the umbrella of state action.

The reality, however, is that the focus of social conservatives may be broadly characterized as protecting their right to determine the shape of their government — to define marriage, to be able to vote and govern as if it's possible that God exists, to draw lines against killing unborn children. Consequently, when civic groups disclaim association with social conservatives, we must be wary of the inclination of other factions to undermine our efforts in other areas. If, that is, moderates and libertarians take the opportunity to elect candidates and pass laws that further entrench abortion, nationalize same-sex marriage, and strengthen barriers to religious organizations' involvement in the public square, then the right-leaning coalition has sold its soul and will, in the long run, find its economic and civic policies unsustainable.

The Importance of Ideals

Justin Katz

In the cycle of my reading list, I've finally come back around to The Feynman Lectures on Physics and have been working through Volume II, Mainly Electromagnetism and Matter. An off-topic note for the wide margins of the page came to mind while reading the following paragraph (emphasis added):

We have gotten the following interesting result: If we go high enough in frequency, the electric field at the center of our condenser will be one way and the electric field near the edge will point in the opposite direction. ... At the edge of the plates, the electric field will have a rather high magnitude opposite the direction we would expect. That is the terrible thing that can happen to a capacitor at high frequencies. If we go to very high frequencies, the direction of the electric field oscillates back and forth many times as we go out from the center of the capacitor. Also there are the magnetic fields associated with these electric fields. It is not surprising that our capacitor doesn't look like the ideal capacitance for high frequencies. We may even start to wonder whether it looks more like a capacitor or an inductance. We should emphasize that there are even more complicated effects that we have neglected which happen at the edges of the capacitor. For instance, there will be a radiation of waves out past the edges, so the fields are even more complicated than the ones we have computed, but we will not worry about those effects now.

Repeatedly throughout the lectures, Feynman notes where the equations and principles on which he's expounding represent ideal, not necessarily real or even possible, circumstances. We codify those ideals because, for a range of practical applications, they are "close enough" and because the basic rules are preliminary requirements for understanding subsequent adjustments and variations. There's something similar in Platonic and Augustinian philosophy, wherein an ideal of everything exists in another dimension (in God), and we take advantage of such abstractions in order to understand how the world works and to establish baselines from which to progress.

My marginal note had to do with a letter by Vivian Olsiewski Healey in the latest issue of First Things (not online):

Bodily Union is very important, but it is arbitrary to assume that it is more important than any other element of marriage. Should a paraplegic who cannot perform sexual intercourse be denied the right to marry? People with such disabilities are married within the Catholic Church, which shows that bodily union cannot be isolated from the other aspects of interpersonal union.

Once we accept that many couples married in the Catholic Church do not live up to the ideal of complete sacred unions of bodies, minds, and spirits, we will see that the sanctity of marriage is not bassed solely on physical union.

One often hears a sort of negative variation of this argument, pointing to deficiencies in individual marriages or deviations from the ideal as evidence that the institution ought to be redefined to exclude the requirement of opposite sex, because it's more about the spiritual connection than the physical. To fulfill its social function, though, marriage must maintain a plain, ideal definition to which individuals make their adjustments, and erasing the bodily union of a man and a woman in the person of their child changes the institution's intrinsic nature.

Built according to plan, a strong marital culture will have positive effects at its edges and beyond. The existence of those effects, like the imperfections in its core, do not justify refashioning according to different ideals.