February 28, 2010

Two-Faced Weasel Alert: Her Speakerness Finds She Shares Some of the Views of Tea Partiers

Monique Chartier

... after accusing them of carrying swastikas, implying that they incite violence and calling them astroturf.

[Thanks to NewsBusters' Noel Sheppard for sitting through the interview so as to bring this to light.]

[House Speaker Nancy] PELOSI ... But, you know, we share some of the views of the Tea Partiers in terms of the role of special interest in Washington, D.C., as -- it just has to stop. And that's why I've fought the special interest, whether it's on energy, whether it's on health insurance, whether it's on pharmaceuticals and the rest.

[ABC's Elizabeth] VARGAS: So, common ground with many people in the Tea Party movement.

PELOSI: Well, no, there are some. There are some because they, again, some of it is orchestrated from the Republican headquarters. Some of it is hijacking the good intentions of lots of people who share some of our concerns that we have about the role of special interests and many Tea Partiers, not that I speak for them, share the view, whether it's -- and Democrats, Republicans and Independents share the view that the recent Supreme Court decision, which greatly empowers the special interests, is something that they oppose.

That last item is sheer projection. How does she know what most Tea Party members think of that recent Supreme Court decision about campaign financing?

She fails to retract her comments about swastikas and violence, she continues to insult the Tea Party by claiming that it is orchestrated by the GOP (as as a Republican and on behalf of the RNC, I can say with confidence: we wish) yet simultaneously tries to glom on to this movement, presumably because of its popularity and the political advantages that she herself perceives would accrue to her reelection campaign.

I need a shower.

The State of Education in Rhode Island, Part 2 Take 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

Oftentimes, information communicated in terms of underlying counts gives people a sense of what is reasonable and what is possible that can be lost when results are presented solely in terms of percentages. So before moving on to the part 3 post in the State of Education in RI series, I am going to post in a tabular form the numbers that the part 2 graphs were based on.

In the tables below, the second column shows the change (by district) in total number of students proficient or better, as measured by the 8th then 11th grades NECAPs. The absolute numbers of students used to calculate these differences were presented in Part 1. In all cases, this column provides the numerator of the percentage shown in column five.

The third column is the number of students who were proficient or better on the 8th-grade NECAPs. In cases where the total number of students who were proficient or better decreased between 8th and 11th grade results, column three is used as the denominator of the percentage in column five, defining column five as the change in the number of less than proficient students in a district, between grades 8 and 11, as a percentage of the number of students who were proficient or better in grade 8.

The fourth column is the number of students who were less than proficient, i.e. who scored "partially proficient" or "not proficient", on the 8th-grade NECAPs. In cases where the total number of students who were proficient or better increased between 8th and 11th grade results, column four is used as the denominator of the percentage in column five, defining column five as the change between grades 8 and 11 in the number of proficient or better students in a district, as a percentage of the number of students who were less-than-proficient in grade 8.

In other words, if the number of students who were proficient in a district went up between 8th and 11th grades, column five is the percentage of less-than-proficient students as measured in the 8th grade who advanced. If the number of students who were at least proficient went down, column five is the percentage of proficient-or-better students as measured in the 8th grade who declined. As stated in Part 1 of Part 2, this split metric isn't ideal. In the case of districts that experienced declines in number of students proficient, no distinction is made between those who advanced a large number (or large percentage) of already proficient students, versus those who advanced smaller totals. This is why it is useful to plot results described here in conjunction with the starting percentage of students proficient or better from each district, to provide a look at the changes over time than can occur in districts that start from similar levels (when you look at a horizontal slice of the 2D-plot) or from different levels (when you look at the entire plot) of academic achievement.

Results in this post are sorted from highest percentage to the lowest. Part 3 in the series to appear on Monday.

Community Change in # of Students PoB at Reading, between 8th and 11th Grades # of 8th-Graders Proficient or Better at Reading, '05 & '06 NECAP # of 8th-Graders Less-than-Proficient at Reading, '05 & '06 NECAP Change in # PoB at Reading, between 8th and 11th Grades, as % of '05/'06 8th-Graders LtP
Bristol-Warren 71 344 191 37.2%
Foster-Glocester 54 285 146 37.0%
Chariho 82 379 233 35.2%
Providence 634 1115 2704 23.4%
Westerly 38 358 185 20.5%
Woonsocket 112 293 697 16.1%
Tiverton 19 228 130 14.6%
Smithfield 13 332 93 14.0%
Burillville 23 287 166 13.9%
Newport 20 184 198 10.1%
Central Falls 40 150 403 9.9%
Cranston 42 1090 703 6.0%
North Providence 11 390 194 5.7%
West Warwick 11 339 255 4.3%
Cumberland 11 568 264 4.2%
East Providence 17 532 438 3.9%
Portsmouth-Little Compton 3 412 98 3.1%

Community Change in # of Students PoB at Reading, between 8th and 11th Grades # of 8th-Graders Proficient or Better at Reading, '05 & '06 NECAP # of 8th-Graders Less-than-Proficient at Reading, '05 & '06 NECAP Change in # PoB at Reading, between 8th and 11th Grades, as % of '05/'06 8th-Graders PoB
Barrington -2 526 47 -0.4%
North Smithfield -9 224 89 -4.0%
Warwick -50 1119 711 -4.5%
Lincoln -25 400 138 -6.3%
East Greenwich -25 357 58 -7.0%
Exeter-West Greenwich -17 241 97 -7.1%
Coventry -55 641 258 -8.6%
South Kingstown -52 518 144 -10.0%
Narragansett -22 210 38 -10.5%
North Kingstown-Jamestown -82 697 190 -11.8%
Scituate -34 262 53 -13.0%
Middletown -34 242 142 -14.0%
Pawtucket -94 655 900 -14.4%
Johnston -121 341 228 -35.5%

Community Change in # PoB at Mathematics, between 8th and 11th Grades # of 8th-Graders Proficient or Better at Math, '05 & '06 NECAP # of 8th-Graders Less-than-Proficient at Math, '05 & '06 NECAP Change in # PoB at Math, between 8th and 11th Grades, as % of '05/'06 8th-Graders PoB
Barrington -105 485 88 -21.6%
East Greenwich -95 341 74 -27.9%
Lincoln -129 344 192 -37.5%
Narragansett -67 176 70 -38.1%
Portsmouth-Little Compton -148 381 129 -38.8%
Westerly -121 296 247 -40.9%
Bristol-Warren -120 293 242 -41.0%
Chariho -145 347 268 -41.8%
Cumberland -186 433 401 -43.0%
North Kingstown-Jamestown -265 602 285 -44.0%
South Kingstown -211 476 188 -44.3%
Burillville -98 213 240 -46.0%
North Smithfield -96 198 115 -48.5%
Foster-Glocester -131 270 161 -48.5%
Smithfield -124 255 170 -48.6%
Scituate -121 240 74 -50.4%
North Providence -127 237 352 -53.6%
Cranston -418 779 1019 -53.7%
Middletown -142 264 121 -53.8%
Exeter-West Greenwich -120 219 118 -54.8%
Providence -488 873 3008 -55.9%
Newport -98 174 209 -56.3%
Coventry -326 569 329 -57.3%
Woonsocket -139 241 761 -57.7%
West Warwick -178 300 291 -59.3%
Tiverton -134 215 143 -62.3%
Warwick -593 923 901 -64.2%
East Providence -297 437 533 -68.0%
Johnston -157 226 346 -69.5%
Central Falls -64 85 492 -75.3%
Pawtucket -429 552 1025 -77.7%

A Regionalization Correction

Carroll Andrew Morse

I've made one set of corrections to the education statistics presented at the beginning of last week (Part 1 here, Part 2 here), specifically to the results for North Kingstown and Portsmouth. As the result of agreements between towns, North Kingstown High is the public high school attended by students from Jamestown and Portsmouth High is the public high school attended by students from Little Compton. Therefore, to properly establish the starting point for an approximate cohort of North Kingstown 11th-graders, 8th-grade totals from North Kingstown plus Jamestown should be used. Likewise, the starting point for Portsmouth's 11th-grade results is the 8th grade totals from Portsmouth plus Little Compton.

And with that, we can resume our tour through the education outcomes in Rhode Island's cities and towns…

Governor Don Carcieri at the RISC Winter Meeting

Justin Katz

As has been a regular tradition Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri spoke at the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition's 2010 winter meeting, described in my liveblog of the event. (More video in the extended entry.)

Jim Beale and Jeff Deckman on the RISC Business Network

Justin Katz

RISC President James Beale and Business Network Organizer Jeff Deckman went into detail about the Business Network at the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition's 2010 winter meeting, described in my liveblog of the event. (More video in the extended entry.)

February 27, 2010

630AM/99.7FM Host John DePetro at RISC's Winter Meeting

Justin Katz

John DePetro took on the role of first featured speaker at the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition's 2010 winter meeting, described in my liveblog of the event. (More video in the extended entry.)

H.R. Clinton: The Massive Debt is Bush's Greenspan's Fault (But is She Also Sandbagging Obama?)

Monique Chartier


"It breaks my heart that 10 years ago we had a balanced budget, that we were on the way of paying down the debt of the United States of America," [Secretary of State Hillary Rodham] Clinton said.

"I served on the budget committee in the Senate, and I remember as vividly as if it were yesterday when we had a hearing in which Alan Greenspan came and justified increasing spending and cutting taxes, saying that we didn't really need to pay down the debt -- outrageous in my view," she said.

Setting aside the considerable irony of the context in which she made these remarks

Clinton, appearing before a congressional panel to defend the State Department's $52.8 billion budget request for the 2011 fiscal year

what's your first reaction to this blame-casting? In addition to questioning its accuracy (for example, did Greenspan really say we don't need to pay down the debt?), mine was, what about the trillions in new spending by the Obama administration and Congress?! As a friend said today, did Alan Greenspan roll into Congress with an army and MAKE them undertake all of that spending?

She couldn't really think that everyone has developed amnesia about all of the check writing that's gone on in DC for the last two years, could she? So isn't she kind of making President Obama, who not only signed into law but requested most of those large expenditures, look bad?

Alternately, with regard to the massive overdrawing of the national checking account, could she, on behalf of Congress and the administration in which she plays a key role, be adopting Geraldine's philosophy?

In any case, only two short years ago - and long after Alan Greenspan supposedly sang his siren song about the beauty of massive deficit spending - then Senator Clinton had quite a different opinion of Alan Greenspan, proposing that he guide Washington's response to the upcoming avalanche of foreclosures.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and other economic experts should determine whether the U.S. government needs to buy up homes to stem the country's housing crisis, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will propose on Monday.

Clinton threw her weight behind legislation proposed by Democrats Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut that would "expand the government's capacity to stand behind mortgages that are reworked on affordable terms."

But she said a bipartisan group should determine whether that approach was sufficient or whether the U.S. government should step in as a temporary purchaser.

The working group could be led by bipartisan economic heavyweights such as Republican Greenspan, Democratic former Fed Chairman Paul Volcker and Robert Rubin, the treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton.

Ah, but what's needed now is not expertise but a blame pinata.

RISC Chairman Harry Staley Opens the RISC Winter Meeting

Justin Katz

Rhode Island Statewide Coalition Chairman Harry Staley opened the group's 2010 winter meeting, described in my liveblog of the event, by noting their years of activity and the hope that this is the one that the effects are truly felt in Rhode Island. (More video in the extended entry.)

Board of Regents Member Angus Davis at RISC's Winter Meeting

Justin Katz

NOTE: Any members of the media who couldn't make it to the meeting and rely on this video for future reports are encouraged to do so, but a brief note of the video's source would be appreciated.

Rhode Island Board of Regents member Angus Davis came out with guns blazing in a surprise speech at the Winter meeting of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, as described in my liveblog of the event. (More video in the extended entry.)

Davis was especially animated when discussing an email from gubernatorial candidate Linc Chafee at the beginning of this clip.

Yesterday, I received an email from Senator Chafee. In this email, Senator Chafee asked for clarification on whether or not teachers had really been offered 100% job security, describing it as, quote, the basic question that must be settled, unquote. He said he does not want to, quote, inherit the labor mess, unquote, as he works to build a more prosperous Rhode Island as governor.

What kind of leadership thinks the basic question about a school in which only half of children graduate and 90% can't do basic math — what kind of leadership thinks that the basic question involves job security for its adults rather than the educational outcomes for its children?

The Deadly Rising Tide

Justin Katz

Note: I've been receiving regular updates on the tsunami that's just now hitting Hawaii from Anchor Rising reader Ken Williamson. These are they, and I'll update this post as they come in.

Received 11:58 a.m.

27 Feb. 2010 at 6 AM the emergency sirens sounded.

Last night about 8 PM last night a 8.8 magnitude earth quake hit Chile and created a 3 ft tsunami wave.

News media made everyone aware before we turned in for the night there might be a tsunami generated.

This is about the same place in 1960 the same thing happened and a tsunami wave was created that hit Hilo, HI on the Big Island killing 61 people.

Hawaii is made up of about 120 islands stretching about 1,600 miles long. The Big Island of Hawaii is the southernmost point of the United States.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center has indicated a tsunami wave will hit the islands of Hawaii approximately 11 AM today.

The first to be hit will be Hilo, Hawaii on the Big Island south eastern side of the island.

The tsunami wave is predicted to be 3 to 5 or 6 ft. Which means first the water at the beach recedes and then the water tries to fill back to the beach with the tsunami wave riding on top of the water as it fills back in to the beach. So even though the wave sounds small it becomes a very destructive event!

About 11:30 the tsunami wave is expected to hit the Island of Oahu which I reside on 300 miles north of Hilo, HI

One thing to note, a tsunami wave will wrap around the island so all sides of the island are vulnerable!

I live on the west side of Oahu at the 200 ft above sea level. I am not in a tsunami flood zone.

Emergency Management in Hawaii has done a wonderful job of preparing people and providing information. The reason for sounding the sirens at 6 AM was to get anyone who needs to get out of tsunami flood zones can evacuate. Every telephone book in Hawaii has all the EMA instructions, tsunami flood zone maps, evacuation locations and alternate facilities locations printed in them. All public buses are instructed to stop and pick up people no charge and move them to higher ground.

Everything is pretty much under control here in Hawaii.

Received 1:11 p.m.

Tahiti just go hit by a 6 ft tsunami wave that was generated near Chile by the 8.8 magnitude earthquake.

The tsunami is now expected to hit Hilo, HI at about 11:05 AM HST (5 hrs behind from EST). Hilo Intl airport has been closed. All hotels have been evacuated in Hilo.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center also is also now advising the tsunami wave hitting Hilo, HI will be approximately 8 to 12 ft.

To put this in perspective, the tsunami wave that hit and devastated Samoa and American Samoa was 10 ft.

Governor Linda Lingle has ordered all roads block off (no access) to all tsunami flood zones at 10 AM. All people living in the flood zones are to be evacuated to shelters.

The tsunami wave hitting my island of Oahu is expected to be 6 ft at about 11:37 AM HST.

Keeping in mind, this is not just one wave but a series of long waves building on top on each other which can spread inland up to a mile depending on the terrain.

Again, my house is 1 1/2 miles from the beach and 200 ft above sea level in between two 18-hole championship golf courses not in any designated tsunami flood zone.

Received 3:37 p.m.

It is 10:10 HST and all access to tsunami flood zone have been blocked off by police and fire departments. There is no access to the shore line. The roads along the shoreline are empty

Police helicopters are flying over beach and surfing areas warning any nonbelievers to evacuate. All high rise building located in tsunami flood zones are following 3rd floor rule which is no one allowed below the 4th floor (1st, 2nd and 3rd floors must evacuate).

Public buses are traveling through the flood zones stopping for any stragglers' at no charge and taking them to shelters.

I must use Farrington Highway to get to/from my house and into Honolulu proper. Farrington Highway is in the tsunami flood zone. They highway is blocked off. I've also been advised the tsunami might flood the highway and cut off access in and out of the Waianae coast. There is only one way in and one way out!

This being my first ever tsunami I am surprised to find out the tsunami event is not slam-bang and it's over! It is the whole ocean rising up long wave after long wave also picking up boulders undersea and carrying them on to shore. A tsunami event lasts up to 10-12 hours! So this is going to last until midnight tonight on the Island of Oahu! That is a lot of water!!!

The sirens are sounding will sound 1 more time at 11AM. That will be the last warning also notice for police and fire to move to higher ground.

Received 4:41 p.m.

11:34 AM The water is receding in Hilo, HI bay reef and rocks are being exposed and helicopters are reporting they can see a surge in the water.

The tsunami is finally beginning to hit Hawaii. A little late (30 min).

Received 6:06 p.m.

This is totally unbelievable!

Watching this tsunami unfold hitting Hawaii is awesome!

Local TV station has cameras setup in Hilo Bay, HI, Oahu, Waikiki Beach and Maui Kahului harbor.

Hilo. HI Bay on the Big Island of Hawaii it's like someone pulling the plug on the ocean. Suddenly the water drains away at such a speed that as rocks are exposed rapids form from the rushing water We're talking about the whole ocean here!

Then it slows stops and then starts to build filling back in causing rapids flowing in reverse but each cycle the water has been getting higher!

The bridge in the TV camera is 10 ft above the water and the rise is almost beginning to touch the bridge which means the whole bay is rising and falling almost 10 ft!

The TV camera on Diamond Head Road on Oahu looking down where the surfers normally surf off Diamond Head the ocean is draining away exposing coral and rocks. Waikiki Beach is draining away exposing reef and rocks. The Ala Wai canal is draining and filling almost to spill over into the streets.

On Maui Kahului TV cameras show the harbor is draining trapping and stranding fish and then refilling. The humpback whales that normally visit Hawaii every year are acting strange according to TV reports.

Hawaii is now fully engulfed into this tsunami event. The ebb and surge has been building with each cycle. The cycles are very long about 20min to 35 min

How long and how high will the waves go??

Gamebookers that were placing bets on the time this tsunami would last would make this unfolding event more fascinating. Although, the public outcry for what could be seen as placing morbid bets could be morally crippling for them. Perhaps, instead, they should consider placing bets on when and where the next tsunami would be.

Received at 7:08 p.m.

01:43 PM 27 Feb 2010 we just got the official all clear from the NWS Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. A full all clear by each Hawaii County is to be issued individually.

There were recorded 4 each tsunami waves that hit Hawaii. There are a number of significant surges recorded from helicopters.

So far there has been no recorded damage in the Hawaiian Islands or loss of life due to this tsunami event. Vigilance is still recommended to any rouge wave.

As a resident who moved from RI to HI and just experienced my first ever tsunami event I can't believe the amount of professionalism exhibited by the State of Hawaii, City and County of Honolulu, Civil Defense, Emergency Manage, local police, local fire, TV stations and NWS Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. The amount of information provided was calming and informative.

The fact that all emergency information and instructions are printed in the local telephone books are very helpful. You can open the book and understand what you need to do. The fact the sirens were sounded at 6 AM giving everyone time for preparation and you were given a time line when roads in the flood zones would be closed was very helpful. I am amazed how calm and polite everyone was even going out of their way to help each other. After all, we all live on an island and depend on each other for our very existence.

Although it is reported more tsunami waves of lesser magnitude will continue to hit Hawaii over the next week, we are considered at this time.

Thanks for your concern!

Received Sunday, 3:30 p.m.

Hilo, HI is considered to be the tsunami capitol of the United States. The city has been flattened twice by tsunamis 1946 with loss of 96 people in Hilo and 1960 with 61 people lost. This is why people take tsunamis seriously here.

If you want to get a real feel for what happened in Hawaii with the tsunami yesterday the local newspapers today are chock full of stories, photographs and web videos taken as things unfolded around the different islands. The Honolulu Advertiser has the most streaming videos and photographs posted.

Honolulu Advertiser
Honolulu Star Bulletin.

Central Falls Superintendent Frances Gallo at RISC's Winter Meeting

Justin Katz

NOTE: Any members of the media who couldn't make it to the meeting and rely on this video for future reports are encouraged to do so, but a brief note of the video's source would be appreciated.

Herewith, the video of the speech given by Central Falls Superintendent Frances Gallo at the Winter meeting of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, as described in my liveblog of the event. (More video in the extended entry.)

Although the entire speech is notable as the most comprehensive statement of Supt. Gallo's position that I've seen (and I don't claim to have searched high and low), the beginning of this segment may be a new news item:

I'll answer now, although I was never asked by anyone: No. We can't mediate now. I'll say it clearly, and I mean no offense to anyone, but those ads continue. What kind of an effort at true desire for change when you keep those ads.

Rhode Island Statewide Coalition Winter Meeting 2010

Justin Katz

RISC's winter meeting is as well attended as usual, with all the usual participants, with the addition, this year of Central Falls Superintendent Frances Gallo, who got a standing ovation upon introduction.

The only media at the press table are me, a local paper publisher, and another blogger from Rhode Island, Michelle Girasole, who's twittering away. What was the middle period of dinosaurs? I suppose that's me.

9:30 a.m.

Here's the room:

Here's Harry:

And here's Supt. Gallo:

John DePetro is up, making the round of acknowledgments.

9:33 a.m.

I'm happy to see that John has shaved since last night:

9:35 a.m.

As could have been expected, John is railing against special interests and talking about bringing jobs into Rhode Island so that families can remain together within the state. "Selfishness and greed has really taken over and hijacked Rhode Island in the last few years."

"I'm not a destroyer of unions; I'm a liberator of union workers!" He then said we need a Reagan-like union moment. He's going through all of the ways that towns and school districts are cutting supports claiming that they've got no money while giving raises and hundreds of thousands of dollars in unused sick time and so forth.

9:42 a.m.

John made some great, hopeful points about the sorts of events that we should be pursuing, two examples were having an America's Cup-type competition whether or not America's Cup comes here and leveraging the Tennis Hall of Fame. Those are limited examples, but John's point was that, if we could jettison our excessive cost of operations (meaning government expenditures in labor and special interests), we could make Rhode Island a regional, national, and international beacon.

Incidentally, I should mention that RISC has found somebody who will comb all proposed legislation, which is excellent and absolutely necessary. The first find that I've seen was the reintroduction of binding arbitration legislation, which I'll be looking into at first opportunity.

9:52 a.m.

Supt. Gallo is giving an unannounced speech (eat your heart out, old media).

She's really excellent. This'll be a YouTube video to watch, because she's really laying out her point of view in a degree that I haven't heard.

She noted that she's from a family of teachers and most definitely did not seek this role, as the superintendent of the smallest town in the smallest state. No vote was ever taken by the teachers. They never had a chance, because the unions said, "No. This is the way we're going. No. She'll never do it. No. We don't agree with the rules that she's following."

The union says parents don't care: 97% of parents attended parent/teacher conferences at the school.

The union says children don't care: We now have 89-90% attendance at our high school.

Somehow the teachers have lost their voice. "Teachers are leaders. They need a backbone. They need more courage than anybody in the universe."

She's citing that the deluge of attention spurred in part by union advertising and activism has made it such that she can't use her own phone, making mediation impossible. And the calls are 100 to 1 against the unions.

10:01 a.m.

Blogger note: with the craziness of my schedule, I failed to delete files off my camera. Luckily, I spotted the draining minutes of available files and was able to delete something during a thematic lull in Gallo's speech. Sorry, folks, but it shouldn't be that big a loss.

10:04 a.m.

Gallo just spoke about her embarrassment at all of the attention. She used to think she got hate mail when a student sent a note that he wished she weren't superintendent, now she gets this sort of thing: "I wish cancer on your family and you live to see them suffer and die. And I cry, and I pray, and I pray for them who could write such things."

Really an inspiring speech.

10:11 a.m.

Apologies to Jim Beale. I was checking to see whether, in my panic to delete old files I deleted the first part of Gallo's speech (I didn't), and I missed the beginning of his introduction of RISC Business Network leader Jeff Deckman.

10:16 a.m.

Deckman is essentially describing the business network and its purpose to counterbalance union interests at the State House.

By way of acknowledgment (since I mentioned the absence of old-media types, Neil Downing, business writer for the Projo, just arrived. Betcha Julia Steiny wishes she'd come. (Not to worry; as I assured Neil, Gallo's speech will be available on Anchor Rising this afternoon... except for the glitch that tripped me up as I've run a construction jobsite all day and been a new media guy most of the evening and in the predawn hours.)

10:26 a.m.

It's funny. Last night's Follies were definitely front-heavy. Patrick Kennedy's top 10 list should have been the mystery guest presentation. Let Mayor Fung prance around the stage in a racial cliché while people are still poking at their desserts. Well, this morning, Deckman's essentially giving a sales pitch and dry explanation of the RISC business network after a warm-up speech by fire-starter John DePetro and the newsmaking surprise speech by Supt. Gallo.

It's a necessary presentation, to be sure, but it's a lesson for all of us who are somewhat new to planning political events. The necessary, but dry, stuff will inevitably be challenging to convey in a way that maintains attention. When it's immediately contrasted with an edge-of-your-seat, emotional, politically hot speech, it's a bit like jumping in a cold pool after being in the jacuzzi; all you really notice is that you're cold.

10:39 a.m.

Governor Carcieri is up:

Pointing to the people in the room: "You are representative of what's going on in this state."

Now he's talking about the need to inform the public, noting John DePetro's show as an important way to do so. "Part of the problem we have is getting information out." Not for nothing, gov., but that might be a place to slip a nod to Anchor Rising into the presentation. Just sayin'. It's pretty much entirely volunteer on our end.

10:46 a.m.

Carcieri's talking about events in Central Falls, particularly mentioning the hate mail and the contrast between the teachers qua teachers and the union. Anecdote from last night: As everybody was leaving, Pat Crowley strolled over to the right-hand side of the room to say something to RIGOP Chairman Gio Cicionne. Crowley brought over a union guy who's appeared in notes on Anchor Rising now and then. Said he: "Hey, it's the teabaggers. I hate you guys."

Now, I don't care what people say to me. I'll smile and pat them on the head, as necessary, but that's the mentality. That's the soul of the union to which everybody objects, not the members, who are mostly professionals trying to do a job, probably not with much enthusiasm for all of the activist stuff.

By the way, it occurs to me to note that Carcieri's tone is much more serious than at just about every speech I've seen him give.

10:54 a.m.

The governor told an anecdote about a teacher friend of his, who'd been teaching some 25-30 years, at the time of the story: She'd been going over some strategies with a young teacher, and the latter stopped her, at one point, and said, "You can't do that. It's not in the contract."

The older teacher replied, "No. I don't have to do it, but I want to."

Carcieri: "The sad thing is that the teachers unions are making the teachers themselves look terrible."

Two thoughts: First, the story is indicative of an expansion of the union mentality that makes "don't have to" into "can't" and, in the opposite direction, "should, under ideal circumstances" into "must, under any circumstances." Second, I think there's a cultural shift with respect to people's attitude toward work. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but those negotiating contracts and such have to realize that they can no longer rely on a cultural perspective that takes work inherently as vocation. In a practical sense, that just means adding "and other activities as required" and some form of merit and assessment with which workers must contend as they put in their time.

By the way, the governor's back to his list of successes, and his presentation has shifted toward a more familiar, less deadly-serious tone.

11:02 a.m.

An important point that the governor just made: If the legislature allows Rhode Island at least to maintain its flat-tax and hold down all other taxes, our state's rankings in taxes and business climate will improve by contrast with our neighbors and the country. I'd add: Imagine what could happen if we took the shackles off of the state's economy!

"States are not going to get back to the 2008 level of revenue until 2014."

11:11 a.m.

The governor says he told Jeff Deckman to include four criteria in the business network's review of candidates. He called it the Compact for Rhode Island:

  1. Got to continue to reduce the size of government, particularly at the cities and towns, which spend 2/3 of the expense of government in RI.
  2. Public sector pensions and benefits, which make up most of the spending.
  3. Improve the climate for business. "There's going to be an assault in the General Assembly on the tax front." He cited New Hampshire; "Is it any wonder people in Massachusetts are moving north rather than south." "We've got to be tax competitive."
  4. We've got to sustain what Fran Gallo started.

11:17 a.m.

"We're the canary in the coal mine for what people fear is the direction in which the nation is heading."

11:20 a.m.

Another surprise speech, by RI Board of Regents member Angus Davis.

Much as I was happy to see that John had shaved, I'm happy to see that Angus didn't wear the pink pants he wore for the summer meeting. He's run through some of the actions of the Board of Regents and is offering his perspective on the context of the Central Falls matter.

11:25 a.m.

He shares the frustration of those who are excited at the fight-back against the unions, but he's urging us to remember that teachers must ultimately be the ones to implement education. "Let us not celebrate the firing of the teachers in Central Falls, but let us celebrate the rehiring of the 50% of the very best who will be rehired and the new teachers who will be hired."

11:28 a.m.

Boy, Angus is fired up about some of the people who may break the link of support running almost untouched from Gallo to Obama. He cited a letter from Patrick Lynch tending toward union favoritism and mentioned an email from Linc Chafee, who was seeking to clarify the "100% job security" comment by Gallo, citing that as the "basic question" of the controversy. Said Angus, pounding the podium with his finger: "What kind of leadership thinks the basic question in a school [with such horrible education success rates] is job security for its adults rather than the educational outcomes for its children."

Town Democrats Just Say Whatever

Justin Katz

I've meant to address a letter in the Sakonnet Times (not online) that attacks Tiverton Citizens for Change, not because it's particularly worthy of response, but because it's such a clear illustration of the up-is-down rhetoric that our local opposition has decided to pursue as a political strategy. The letter, expressing concern about an "extreme right-leaning campaign," is by Charlie Moran, arguably the town's most partisan Democrat, and Nick Tsiongas, arguably the town's most prominent left-wing radical:

The Tiverton Democratic Committee believes we need to work together to solve our problems rather than making unfounded accusations and turning residents against each other. Our town council and school committee need our support and input as the make difficult financial decisions, which will include negotiating concessions with all our unions.

The letter itself is an attempt to turn residents against each other, and its substantive claims are based on unfounded accusations. On the latter count, there are two examples:

First, Tsiongas and Moran bring up the controversy, mostly out of public view, around an attempt by some to change state law such that a simple majority at the financial town meeting could vote to exceed the cap on budget increases. That story culminated in a town council meeting at which not only a large number of concerned residents, but also Harry Staley of the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition showed up in opposition. In a curious maneuver that I've seen before, the solicitor raised the issue during his comment period (just about dead last on the agenda) and Councilor Louise Durfee practically jumped out of her seat to pivot the discussion away from where everybody expected it to go and toward an attack on TCC. Had we not been there, the result may have been quite different. (I'll have video of the strange moment up later this week.)

Specifically, Tsiongas and Moran note a press release from TCC President Dave Nelson citing "months of negotiation behind closed doors" and an effort at "keeping the effort under wraps, with the topic quietly inserted into the agenda." They emphasize that the negotiations were part of a lawsuit, and so were kept secret for that reason, but the legality of secrecy does not negate the fact that it is, indeed, out of public view. Moreover, it is entirely true that the issue was slipped onto the agenda in a surreptitious way, appearing on the published agenda just a couple of days before the meeting and, as I said, raised during the solicitor's segment at the tail end of a predictably long meeting.

Second, the Democrat duo raise the school committee meeting at which Dave Nelson and I suggested that freezing or slightly reducing salaries/benefits would be a preferable approach to resolving financial difficulties to cutting pencils, technology, and programs:

... the TCC called on the school committee to unilaterally impose contract terms on our school employees, a strategy that is not only illegal in Rhode Island but also not in the best interests of our community. A similar strategy pursued in a neighboring town has resulted in legal fees in excess of $750,000 and has torn that community apart.

What is tearing communities apart is the ever-increasing tax burden that goes to the benefit of highly paid adults, a majority of whom often live out of the town in question, even as children cannot grasp simple mathematics and science. The citation of East Providence's legal bills is misleading, inasmuch as that town has already blazed the trail. The law is such that each town needn't reinvent the wheel every time. Additionally, as the court battles in East Providence prove, it isn't a statement of fact that its methods (which are currently in effect, saving the town much more money than the litigation costs, I believe) have been "illegal." That is the question that the judiciary is considering.

Most conspicuous of all, however, is Tsiongas and Moran's complaint about Harry Staley's presence at the town council meeting. Shall we expect the Democrats to speak out every time a union fills the school gymnasium with out-of-town hacks who jeer at residents who have the courage to speak up? Are we to believe that they would hesitate to bring in state-level interests when local bodies are considering matters of statewide concern?

No. We need only understand that the letter is mere political calculation that will disappear into the continuing noise of the left-wing and partisan political strategy bent on attacking Tiverton residents with opposing views, tying the hands of grassroots groups that seek to counterbalance entrenched interests, and distorting the issues to the benefit of unions.

Funding Formulas

Marc Comtois

A new funding formula for schools--to be phased in over a few years--is being floated.

The Barrington School District would see a boost of $3.8 million, or nearly 190 percent, over the next five years. Other winners include Providence (up $28.7 million, or more than 15 percent), Cranston (up $9.6 million, or almost 29 percent) and Pawtucket (up $6.9 million, or nearly 11 percent).

State Department of Education officials worked with Brown University to craft the plan and quietly shared drafts of the plan in recent weeks with some school districts, interest groups and legislative leaders, but planned a formal release at next Thursday's meeting of the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.

State lawmakers have for years considered formula proposals, but this represents the Department of Education's first formal proposal. Members of the House and Senate are expected to be briefed next week on the complicated formula that is sure to ignite a political firestorm.

Communities that lose funding would have as many as 10 years to absorb the cuts.

Central Falls heads the list of losers, down $11.6 million, or almost 26 percent. Others include the Bristol-Warren school district (down $9.1 million, almost 47 percent), the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center, in Providence, (down $8.2 million, or 64 percent) and the Chariho School District (down $6.6 million, or nearly 47 percent). Aquidneck Island communities would be particularly hard hit as well; its three communities would lose a combined $7.4 million, or almost 29 percent.

This should be interesting.

February 26, 2010

Friday Night Follies

Justin Katz

Slightly different atmosphere at the Newspaper Guild Follies, this year — at least for me. I can't walk through this crowd quite so anonymously as last year:

I just had a very pleasant conversation with National Education Association Executive Director Bob Walsh, who told me that he really doesn't have a problem with open negotiations. We'll have to work to make that happen. Interestingly, as soon as I snuck up behind him to introduce myself, his cohort of unionists (including the Parisi guy of Central Falls fame) drifted away.

7:59 p.m.

Here's the inside, as folks filter in, all competing to be more fashionably late.

We're sitting near Linc Chafee, who arrived directly from making Dan Yorke bang his head against the wall.

And David Cicilline schmoozed on by.

Just spotted Bob Kerr, by the way; he looks just like his picture, only taller and more liberal.

8:08 p.m.

I've been chatting with the Rhode Island Republican Assembly member next to me, who has never been to one of these events. Indeed, he had never heard of the Follies. I explained that it's the sort of event that a certain crusty level of the state's society considers important, but that most people don't know exists, much less that it's supposedly important. He rejoined that one would think, even so, that it would be mentioned, after the fact, in the Providence Journal or something, making me wonder whether it's meant to be the Important Folks' night out.

Well, glad to be at the everyman table, engaged in the subversive activity of reporting on the state's newsmakers' night out. Frank Caprio and others have just characterized what I'm doing as "working"; it'd probably be more appropriate to label it "avoiding dealing with my anti-social tendencies."

It just occurred to me, by the way, that I haven't spotted anybody from the Moderate Party. Perhaps they've yet to be informed of the comme il faut.

9:25 p.m.

On the cover of the program this year is former Chief Justice Frank Williams:

I can only imagine that they've withheld most of the juicy lyrics from the program book, but one notable song is "Negativi-tea":

I'm sick and tired of paying tax To feed the faces of government hacks
Pisses me off and drives me crazy...

We plot an overthrow all night
Tea Party every day!
We take the Statehouse down all night
Tea Party every day!
We stick it to Washington all night
Tea Party every day!

No names included.

9:36 p.m.

A way-left activist nun, Sister Ann Keefe won the John Kiffney Public Service Award and has been giving a pretty long speech, with lots of knocks against the Catholic Church, it seems.

It's already getting a little late. Hope they get this thing rolling and that the band drank a lot of coffee tonight.

9:41 p.m.

Only a culture of vanity could make a must-attend event of some borderline karaoke with costumes simply for the reason that people in the audience might hear themselves mocked.

Once again, I'd like to offer thanks to cell-phone Internet connections.

9:48 p.m.

Surprise appearance by Patrick Kennedy for a "top ten real reasons I'm not running"

10 Being closer to Carcieri will make anyone's poll numbers look better
9 Finally run against a Chafee to see who could actually find a real job first
8 Press Secretary job for Marsh... Marsh... Coackley
7 After this much time in Congress, Whitehouse has mastered the foot-in-mouth, and I can move on now
6 NBC was looking for an Irish guy with funny hair to fill the late-night spot
5 Tiger Woods asked me to help him with his long game, to lobby to make viagra was covered in prescription drugs
4 Toyota hired me as a consultant, don't know why, I can't seem to get my car to stop either
3 Bishop Tobin would be a perfect choice for a test driver, because he never knows when to apply the brakes in the first place
2 Training for a rematch with the LA airport security guards
1 Hard to maintain sobriety around a party animal like Jack Reed

Let me say that I'm very happy to be at a small collection of tables that cheers and boos at all the wrong things, given the room.

9:57 p.m.

Abe accuses Chief Williams to the tune of "Creep" by Radiohead.

10:07 p.m.

The tea party song is to the tune of Kiss's "Rock and Roll All Night."

10:10 p.m.

Followed by a "Whitehouse Rag" mocking Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's rant.

10:17 p.m.

Interesting that a song about the governor's race to the tune of "Age of Aquarius" ('the four of us/you're stuck with us") had a change of line. In the program, it says "Laffey's an arch conservative," but in the performed version they changed it to something inaudible about John Robitaille. Tough to write a song about current events in this political environment, I guess.

10:24 p.m.

OK, let me adjust my commentary some. Much of the material has actually been very funny, particularly the stand-up segments. Perhaps it's a taste thing that makes me prefer the jokes that aren't meanly and personally political. A skit about prostitution in the State House was excellent ("some quality time with the best endowed constituents in your district").

10:38 p.m.

So far, the two biggest insultees have been Bishop Tobin (and the Catholic Church) and John DePetro, although the former has been the target of more heart-felt slights and the latter has been a name-dropped poke.

11:08 p.m.

The mystery guest for the evening — a much-hyped reveal every year — is Allan Fung, mayor of Cranston dancing around in karate gear to "Kung Fu Fighting," reworded "Allan Fung Fighting." Rhode Island has become a parody of itself.

Comparing Steve Laffey to Brett Favre: "Steve, just go back to Tennessee, I hear the Titans need a quarterback." Knows his audience, I guess.

Yeah, We Have No Idea

Justin Katz

Here's another instance of the disconnect of the labor unions:

"We think it’s an outrage," Jane Sessums, president of the Central Falls Teachers Union, said, as hundreds of union supporters from across the state began flowing into Jenks Park. "Our members are feeling awful, devastated. How would you feel, being terminated?"

One gets the impression that, on some level, they don't believe that anybody ever gets laid off anywhere. Some construction companies in the Newport area have laid off almost as many employees as work in Central Falls. The worst part is that the teachers could have avoided the whole thing if the unions weren't so intent on standing their ground in hopes of averting a statewide conflagration of concessions and reform.

Yorke Airs Both Sides of Central Falls Debate

Marc Comtois

Dan Yorke spoke with both Central Falls Superintendent Francis Gallo (podcast link) and Central Falls High School Guidance Counselor George McLaughlin (podcast link) on his show yesterday. Supt. Gallo explained that she was stymied by the union in trying to work out a solution based on the "transformation model." But first she wanted assurances on as first step on transformation model:

1) increase length of school day by around 20 minutes
2) formalize committment by teachers to tutor 1 hr a week to ascertain its impact / effectiveness
3) have lunch with students once a week as an informal way to get-to-know each other, not as a lunch duty
4) two weeks of curriculum work in the summer at $30/hr
5) 90 minutes a week for teacher team meetings (common planning) @ $30/hr
6) 3rd party evaluation that could lead to teacher firings as necessary

As Yorke later elaborated, the only difference between these assurances and the "turnaround model" is that #6 is a termination of all teachers and a maximum re-hiring of 50% of the current teaching staff. Related to the evaluation/firings (#6), Gallo explained that she had started discussions thinking that 80% of the teachers would be retained but eventually told the union that she would not fire any teachers if they would go along with the rest of her plan. According to Gallo, the union leadership was unresponsive. (And she took the extra step of detailing this final proposal in a letter to CF Teacher union leadership).

During his time, McLaughlin explained that all he wanted was for the parties to go to the table and work something out. He gave his perspective as someone in the school and reiterated that the problem wasn't about money but about job security. When Yorke explained that Gallo had taken teacher firings off the table (as just described) and had a letter to prove it, McLaughlin said it was incumbent upon Gallo to show the letter. To this, Yorke made the counter-point that McLaughlin could just as easily go to Gallo (or union leadership) and check it himself.

McLaughlin also tried to score debate points by saying Gallo was inconsistent regarding the lunch period (item #3) because she had removed the teachers from lunch duty in the first place. (Here, it's worth contrasting this with what Gallo said: it seems she was addressing this potential contention by emphasizing that the new lunch hour request was explicitly to spend time with kids, not as a "duty"--I wonder if she's heard this "talking point" before?). But, as Yorke pointed out, the only reason she had removed the teachers from lunch duty was because the union wanted a time concession somewhere to make up for previous requests (from prior years) that Gallo had made concerning common planning time and the like. In short, McLaughlin accused Gallo of telling only half the story....while only telling half the story. (McLaughlin is obviously a guy who genuinely cares for his school, the kids and his colleagues...he's just got a lot of years in the education industrial cocoon, which informs his perspective).

UPDATE: Today, Yorke has posted the letter from Gallo to the union. The key excerpt:

I need to re-emphasize that the Transformation Model is the only model in which it is possible for the majority of teachers and administrators at the school to retain their jobs.

Unfortunately, to date we have been unable to reach agreement with you regarding the implementation of key elements of the Transformation Model, specifically including the following:

1. Increase the length of the high school day so that the student day is 8AM – 3 PM
2. Formalize the high school teacher commitment of weekly tutoring for one hour outside of school time
3. Each teacher will partake of a communal lunch with students one day each week
4. Agree to continue paid professional development for two weeks outside of the typical school calendar
5. Agree to meet for 90 minutes each week in order to look at student work, assess data, plan units of study and seek continuous improvement in professional practice
6. Acknowledge that third party evaluators will begin evaluation of all high school teachers on March 1, 2010.

Please note that these six elements listed above are what I view as the core elements of my being able to inform the Commissioner that Transformation is a viable option for our high school. For your convenience, I have attached (Attachment 1) all elements of both the Transformation and Turnaround models directly from the Protocol.

With your agreement to move forward, I will notify the Commissioner that Central Falls has selected the Transformation School Reform Model. Without your agreement, since the Closure and Restart models are not viable options at this time, it will be incumbent upon me to either choose the Turnaround School Reform Model for Central Falls or inform Commissioner Gist that we have collectively failed to select an intervention model for the high school and cannot begin planning for implementation. Pursuant to the Protocol, that latter option “shall be cause to trigger the reconstitution authorities granted” to the Board of Regents to Reconstitute Central Falls High School. In the case of either Turnaround or Reconstitution, I cannot provide any assurances to any faculty member or administrator at the high school that they will remain employed at the start of the next school year.

It is my sincere desire that we find a way to work together to implement Transformation, which I firmly believe is in the best interests of the students of the high school, as well as the members of the Central Falls Teachers Union.

As Gallo stated, though the letter doesn't explicitly state that there will be no job loss, point #6 mentions an evaluation process and does not mention any teacher firings, such as an 80/20 (retention/let go) formula. The clear implication is that the transformational model, which Gallo was trying to get the teachers to go with, was the best chance for the most teachers to have security in the future.

There is Still Time to Register for Operation Clean Government's Candidate School, and Become Part of One of the Biggest Sessions Ever!

Community Crier

This year, Operation Clean Government's will host its 5th-biannual Candidate School session. The Candidate School was originated in 2002 by Bruce Lange, founding chairman of Operation Clean Government, and has been conducted in every election year since. Governor Donald Carcieri and former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey attended the inaugural session. Providence Mayor David Cicilline is an alum, along with Cranston Mayor Alan Fung. Independent Senator Ed O'Neill, who won an upset victory over Senate President Joseph Montalbano in the last election, was a 2008 attendee, along with Republican Representative Brian Newberry and Democrat Representative Deborah Ruggerio. They also beat incumbents in 2008. This year all three will be members of a panel in the afternoon session, How to Beat an Entrenched-Incumbent, a first time offering on the curriculum.

Like OCG, the Candidate School is non-partisan with a focus on local and state office races. It is suited for both candidates and campaign workers.

2010 is shaping up to be an extraordinary election year. The rise of the Tea Party movement, the disastrous economy, high unemployment figures, the surprise win by Scott Brown in Massachusetts and the overall anti-incumbent mood just about everywhere have awakened the people, motivating action to change the direction in which our state and country is moving. Already OCG has double the applicants to Candidate School than at the same time two years ago -- and that was before the bulk of the registrations which usually happen in the last week prior to the event, so record turnout is expected, especially since there may be more primary contests in 2008. There are many first-time participants in the political arena ready to take an active roll in changing government in Rhode Island.

Citizens new to the political process can be overwhelmed at first by the requirements and challenges involved in seeking office. Our program gives these citizen activists the tools they need to run a successful campaign, with topics ranging from the nuts and bolts of filing, to setting up the structure of a campaign and raising funds, to background on key issues, to developing a message and using the media, the web and social networking to deliver that message and target potential voters. Two workshops are dedicated to minority and women candidates.

The registration fee is $95 which includes a full breakfast, lunch, coffee breaks and a comprehensive manual on campaign know how. The Date is Saturday, March 6, all day at the Quonset 'O' Club in North Kingstown. Registration closes on February 28. Click on the link here to learn more details and sign up on line.

Fundamental Differences Displayed

Marc Comtois

Heritage's Ed Haislmaier sums up the fundamental issue on display at yesterday's healthcare snoozefest:

The overriding reality behind this summit is that both the public and the politicians come to the table divided not over the details but rather over the basic approach to health reform. In his comments, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) highlighted three of those major divisions — comprehensive legislation versus incremental legislation, starting over versus pressing ahead with the bills passed in House and Senate in December, and a decentralized approach versus a centralized federal solution. Today’s debate showed few indications of a willingness by the President or the Congressional leadership to alter their basic approach. Though the summit served to highlight the fact that both parties are in favor of reform, differing only in their opinions on how to achieve it, the direction of the health care debate is unlikely to deviate from the course it has taken for the past year as a result of today’s discussion.
As the Wall Street Journal reported, the Obama Administration does have a lower cost "Plan B" that would seem more likely to receive bi-partisan support:
The pared-down bill would cost about a quarter of the 10-year, $950 billion plan Obama put on the table on Monday, sources told Fox News.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Thursday that Obama's staff had prepared the blueprint for a smaller-scale plan. Sources said the backup would extend coverage to about 15 million people, or half the number the larger plan would cover.

It would expand Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program, while allowing people to stay on their parents' health plans until age 26.

But the idea of what one congressional Democrat called "skinny" health care reform may encounter stiff resistance in the House.

"Inaction and incrementalism are simply unacceptable," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in remarks released before Thursday's summit. House Democrats are almost sure to reject calls for a scaled-back bill.

"We are going forward with a big bill," a top Democrat told Fox News.

So, the Democrats are still going to use reconciliation to pass an omnibus reform package (and the ProJo editors celebrate!) and face the consequences, if any, in November.

Doctors Point the Way to Reform

Justin Katz

It should surprise nobody that I see this as evidence that healthcare reform must move in the free-market direction, not the government takeover and dictation direction:

"Something has been discouraging physicians from working the long hours they used to work," [Douglas Staiger, an economics professor at Dartmouth College] said.

The cause? Bureaucracy and limits to their pay.

Payment issues may have played more of a role. The overall decrease in hours coincided with a 25 percent decline in pay for doctors' services, adjusted for inflation. And when the researchers looked closely at U.S. cities with the lowest and highest doctor fees, they found doctors working shorter hours in the low-fee cities and longer hours in the high-fee cities. ...

"There's so much oversight for what we do, so many people we have to answer to and so little of it improves care, it's just driving us all crazy," [Dr. Robert Perlmuter, a Chicago internist,] said.

Officious government meddlers may not believe it, but the rest of us adults can conduct our lives just fine without their assistance. One is hearing murmurs here and there of local officials' wondering whether Rhode Island can move forward with some sort of healthcare reform regardless of what the federal government does. Somehow, though, they've seem disinclined to acknowledge that the General Assembly could eliminate the burdensome mandates right now and immediately improve healthcare quality and costs in the state of Rhode Island.

Not Much of an Education Story

Justin Katz

We're in sad circumstances when this hardly seems like much of a story at all:

The [Cranston] School Committee Tuesday approved a nearly $123.6-million budget that eliminates high school teams, the enrichment program [aka, honors programs], the elementary school strings, band and choral program, and lays off about 16 employees.

The teams cut are: freshman baseball, basketball and football; girls junior varsity field hockey; golf (coed); tennis (boys and girls); and indoor track (boys and girls).

Rhode Island students are being palpably harmed because adults lack the imagination and political will to beat back other adults' greed. Which brings us to Pat Crowley testifying before the RI House Finance Committee:

The education cuts would apply immediate pressure on municipalities to raise property taxes, cut staff or reduce student programs, according to Patrick Crowley, assistant executive director for the National Education Association of Rhode Island.

What's missing from Crowley's list is something that officials fear to make a public point about: reductions in remuneration. The reason is that it's the obvious necessity. They behave as if negotiations and concessions are some mysterious bending of reality that happens when officials and union leaders get together for verbal fencing behind closed doors. They're wrong, and they should fear (as I do) that continuing failure to step forward into the light and declare the game over will result in voters' demanding a Central Falls in every town.

February 25, 2010

Re: Times of Drasticness

Justin Katz

By way of follow up, I asked Director of Administration and Finance Doug Fiore a couple of questions after tonight's school committee meeting, here are various interesting data points derived from our conversation:

  • Approximately $130,000 of the $450,000 increase in health insurance costs would have been erased from the next budget if the union hadn't blocked the intended coshare increase from 12% to 18%. I assume (but did not clarify) that $260,000 would have been saved if that percentage had been applied to this year and next.
  • The layoffs and reassignments that the district is leaving open as possible by sending out notices to teachers would, in total, save $1.3 million.
  • That same amount could be saved by reducing combined salaries and benefits across the board by approximately 8%.
  • That means that the current shortfall of $750,000 could be covered with an across-the-board reduction of about 4-5%.

I want to stress that these are ballpark figures provided while wrapping up a meeting, so they shouldn't be taken as working numbers. I'm merely trying to illustrate comparative options for covering the budget shortfall that, for some reason, aren't aired publicly.

Times of Drasticness Begin

Justin Katz

I was a few minutes late to tonight's Tiverton School Committee meeting, and it was already underway. The high school library is pretty well filled, which means probably about 30-40 people, an apparent mix of students, teachers, and residents. The topic: closing the high school. Of course, when the union is looking for a juicy raise, the teachers pack the gymnasium, which means three digits rather than two.

Frankly, I can't help but recall the first school committee meeting after the financial town meeting at which the electorate restrained the school district's budget by $627,000 or so. At that time, the message coming from people associated with the district was that the committee had to do something drastic to drive parents to the financial town meeting and vote for lots of money.

Now Superintendent Bill Rearick said, just now: "Folks in our community need to decide what they want." He says they should go to town meetings, including the financial town meeting. This is just a dance to drive a few hundred more people to the FTM to raise taxes by double digits for everybody else.

7:25 p.m.

Rearick argued that adjustments to labor would only solve this year's problem, not the systemic problems that are yielding such high deficits, ignoring:

  • That one of our problems is that raises are compounding.
  • That the committee spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in "stimulus funds."
  • That he really shouldn't leave such things as pensions out of the labor costs.

We're something like $750,000 short for next year. Had the committee frozen compensation rather than giving out retroactive raises, it would now be only about $150,000 short, and the federal stimulus money was much beyond that.

7:36 p.m.

Deborah Pallasch just read a letter on behalf of the Democratic Town Committee urging rapid resolution of negotiations with the union. No doubt some of the Democrats are urging the union to secure the maximum as they can right now, because they see that things are only going to deteriorate.

7:39 p.m.

A resident whom I don't know just said that the retirement communities that moved to town in recent decades are "cancers on our community." He must be among the faction calling for unity and cooperation in town.

7:41 p.m.

If he's talking about Tiverton Citizens for Change, I can testify that a majority of the core members are not gated community types.

Jan Bergandy took the opportunity to say that people have to turn out for the FTM

Dave Nelson is now addressing the committee. As he's began speaking, he turned periodically to face the audience. Unbelievably, Deborah Pallasch shouted from the audience: "You need to address the committee, not the audience." Who does she think she is?

7:49 p.m.

Here's an interesting angle: A resident just asked whether there's been any communication about bringing Little Compton students into our system. I know they used to do that, and I'm not sure what happened. But it does raise the interesting point that the district has an opportunity if it concentrates on making its programs attractive.

That means getting more for its money.

The next speaker talked about hiring maintenance staff who keep the property up, rather than merely cleaning it. Again: The upshot is that the district now allocates its money poorly. It needs to shift some of its per-pupil expenditures toward new programs, some to maintenance, some to technology, and so on. That will mean holding existing labor flat or somewhat decreased to make the school more attractive — especially with the possibility of increased student choice in the near future.

7:58 p.m.

School Committee Chairman Jan Bergandy just pointed out that the argument that some have made that losing the high school would make property values plummet has the problem that Little Compton's property values are much higher even though the town has no high school. It's not really a valid comparison, because the two towns are very different, but it's interesting that he argued that way.

Deb Pallasch just suggested that the committee "do whatever it can do" to drive people to the FTM.

8:12 p.m.

They've moved on to talking about possible health insurance switches. The upshot is that it would take a lot of money and research even just to find out whether switching would make economic sense.

8:17 p.m.

Health insurance increases account for $450,000 of the current shortfall. Not sure what percentage of that is due to the union's argument that it didn't have to negotiate a new contract this year and would not accept the budgeted increase of health insurance coshare from 12% to 18%.

Now they're discussing the 31 pink slips and 15 displacement letters that the district will send out to meet the legislative deadline of March 1 for such notices.

How absurd is it that the district must simply pick the junior employees for all layoffs. Are there no older teachers whose absence would save more money and whose absence would minimally affect the students (or perhaps not at all)? Moreover, I just don't understand how the union can make all of the arguments for class size, solidarity, and basically its entire argument for existing if it would rather cut young teachers loose rather than give concessions.

A young librarian is making an extended argument for what her department accomplishes. Good for her. None of these programs should be cut.

8:35 p.m.

Just an observation: Supt. Bill Rearick is offering a conciliatory lay-off-related speech, encouraging more participation in the leadership process, but his tone of voice is confrontational. His tone isn't always so, which makes me wonder who, in his mind, he's confronting.

8:41 p.m.

A recent graduate of the high school just argued on behalf of the library staff, and she closed by expressing the opinion that "a more critical eye" should be applied to the layoff process. Perhaps it's an introduction to the effect that the union system can have on a professional workforce. It's plainly wrong and strategically ludicrous.

8:47 p.m.

Bergandy mentioned that there's been no movement with NEA negotations, except the scheduling of a March 4 mediation.

8:49 p.m.

I'm increasingly persuaded that union-friendly legislators set the deadline for layoffs so early precisely for the angst and disruption it causes among teachers and the community, even though budgeting can't possibly be complete by this point. The law should change, and teachers should be leading the charge.

Jobs Americans Won't Take?

Justin Katz

This little blurb stuck out as I sifted through the newspaper, the other day. Why should this be so:

Despite high unemployment in Connecticut, Census jobs are going begging.

The Hartford office of the U.S. Census Bureau is struggling to fill between 1,000 and 1,500 temporary jobs that pay $15 to $22.75 an hour.

More than 4,200 have applied for the jobs, but the census office needs to recruit more by April 27 because most will drop out or never show up for the jobs.

Are people becoming used to idleness and dependency, or is something else going on here?

From the Garden to the Ocean

Justin Katz

One must suspect that Ed Achorn is link-seeking when his column addresses both state-government dependents and the state of my youth, New Jersey:

Ultimately, while the public-employee unions and other government-fed special interests keep fattening up, the middle class suffers from a loss of jobs and opportunity, and the poor suffer from a loss of charitable dollars. The quality of life goes down, as money to pay for vital government services disappears, leaving a state with poor roads and bridges, aging school textbooks, leaking roofs and canceled sports programs, while the politically connected demand the same plush benefits they have long received.

In the comments to my Sakonnet Times letter, a teacher is claiming that he can't possibly survive with a 5% cut. The disconnect from what the rest of us have been experiencing is palpable. There's just not much more my family can cut from its budget, and nothing more we can trim and still justify living in a state that won't recover from its economic slump for years to come.

We have to turn things around quickly, in Rhode Island, because the downward spiral is self-propelling; the faster it goes, the faster people will leave, and the faster it will go. It isn't a matter of whether public-sector employees can afford a cut. If current trends continue, the cities and towns and the state will find it more difficult to pay them every year.

Stop Me if You've Heard This One: School Department Overspends Budget

Monique Chartier

... by millions more than the millions some people initially suspected.

The Valley Breeze has obtained a copy of the preliminary version of the school performance audit which

says school administrators have been overspending taxpayer dollars by at least $10.4 million per year.

The performance audit (apparently and inexplicably long delayed) was conducted as a function of a Caruolo action filed by the Pawtucket School Committee. However,

The preliminary performance audit results now call into serious question the $4 million lawsuit against the School Department's host city and its taxpayers, concedes a school leader. That's the amount of added funding that school administrators have maintained they need to adequately operate the schools.

So the School Committee thought the department was overspending by $4 million, which it sued the city to obtain. But now it turns out the department was overspending by $10 million? How can the body officially charged with defining and administering the school budget have lost track of $6 million in spending? This makes me feel just swell about the state tax dollars we're sending to Pawtucket.

By the way, I'd like to second at least one of the recommendations of the audit, which is to

Eliminate all 32 floating building assistant positions pending further study. Cutting 11.5 of those positions at minimum would save the district $518,995, while cutting the rest would presumably save an additional $1 million;

A "floating" position? That's always nice. "No, I'm not at your school today, Principle Smith, I'm at one of the others. See, I float. So no one can really keep track of where I am or what I'm doing at any given time ..." Isn't that how the Central Landfill education coordinator got into trouble?

Politics & Pupils

Justin Katz

Monique and Matt talked Central Falls and Chafee on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

February 24, 2010

Voter Coalition: Burrillville

Justin Katz

So the Crystal Lake Country Club in Burrillville (Burrillville? Maplewood? I found at least four different addresses for this building) is kinda hard to find. The PA system guy was late, and moderator was late, so even though it's already 7:06 p.m., somebody just announced that they'll begin the RI Voter Coalition program in 15 or 20 minutes, so there's still time to get here.

7:09 p.m.

A professional photographer type just asked me if I recognized any of the candidates. I pointed out Treasurer Frank Caprio, a few feet away, Republican AG Candidate Erik Wallin, a few feet in the other direction, Republican Representative Brian Newberry down the center aisle: "No, no," he said, "the governor candidates." Everybody wants the big names.

Just spotted John Robitaille.

By the way wasn't Crystal Lake the camp in Friday the 13th? Since I'm just killing time, I'll mention that I actually went to Boy Scout camp at the site on which they filmed that movie. Yes, it was creepy, although only my friends with more permissive parents had seen the flick.

Treasurer Frank Caprio goes over the rules of the debate with the moderator and RIVC founder Steve Wright (standing to the left).

7:37 p.m.

Moderate Party Gubernatorial Candidate Ken Block gets an early taste of political events:

If Linc Chafee were here and sitting in the empty chair at left (from the audience point of view), the candidates would be sitting in perfect order along the political spectrum.

7:43 p.m.

The gubernatorial candidates are giving their opening statements. Moderate Ken Block went first, with an introduction of the Moderate Party similar to his presentation on Sunday. Democrat Frank Caprio went second, with personal anecdotes of what people have asked him to do as governor: "Cut the prices, change the menu, and get a new chef." He closed with a call to "lower the taxes." Republican John Robitaille quickly ran through his biography and qualifications, which is good, because it was more impressive than I'd known. Then he gave his "Three Rs": Rescue (stop the bleeding, cut taxes) "This session of the General Assembly has got to get with it." Reform (tax codes, education, "individual freedom plan" for social services. Time ended before he could give his "third R." He closed with: "Never give up hope. Never give up hope."

First question from the audience was what the third R is: Renew. Reference to the Independent Man.

7:51 p.m.

Second question: How will you work with or change the legislature.

Caprio: "I've been in government for years... You know you're doing a good job as governor when you enter the State House and nobody wants to shake your hand." He mentioned involving himself in legislative elections.

Robitaille: Cited Tip O'Neil and Ronald Reagan. Interesting that Robitaille goes with cooperation and coalitions, while Caprio went with confrontation.

Block: Need to run new candidates against Democrats.

7:55 p.m.

Probably about 100 people in the audience, but every media outlet is covering the event, so there's no doubt the audience is much larger. That's a lesson, by the way, for all you citizens who don't go to these things. They're a great opportunity for you to have a voice.

Next question: How stop the entitlement mentality.

Robitaille: "Teach the kids self-reliance, not dependence."

Caprio: Tied the question to small businesses. He's already met with many of the special interests and providers who benefit from the system, and there's a lot of waste. "Cut money in the budget and have programs that help those who are most in need."

Block: Well, well, well, Ken's answer reflects my witness-leading question during our interview with him, when I asked him what we should do about our status as a welfare magnet.

8:01 p.m.

Next question: What executive orders to you plan?

Caprio: Increase the small business loan program of the EDC to "$100 million or even larger."

Robitaille: Compel all cabinet members to comb waste out of the system.

Block: "I just want to say that I agree with Frank." "But the very first thing that I would kick off would be an audit of the state's computer systems."

8:06 p.m.

"Why am I still paying 7% sales tax?"

Caprio: Small businesses can't just raise their prices during hard times, and the government shouldn't be able to, either. He's talking about advertising our tax-free clothing. "We need to have our sales taxes driven down."

Robitaille: "I personally like the New Hampshire model: There's no sales tax, there's no income tax, and the Tax Foundation has ranked the state of New Hampshire as the best tax environment." He went on to note that NH's unemployment is only 7%.

Block: "We have not had elected officials in the legislature or executive branch who've had the courage to step forward and say, 'enough.'"

8:10 p.m.

"If they ram this healthcare bill through Congress... what would you do to stop that?"

Block: Insurance is out of control. As a small business owner, he thinks about health insurance every day. "I would work to fix the healthcare system in our state." He notes that the lack of competition allows the non-profit Blue Cross to have higher rates than the for-profit United.

Caprio. Insurance is out of control. Had a meeting with Blue Cross executives later. Personal anecdote about somebody whom this affects.

Robitaille: Cited the 10th Amendment. He'd surround himself with constitutional attorneys. Noted the salt-water fishing license that the federal government is forcing on RI: "That's BS!" The healthcare bill is "bogus."

8:16 p.m.

To Robitaille: "Where's the Big Audit, and how would you do it?"

Robitaille: Went over the results of the Big Audit. 1st bucket: by executive order were done. 2nd bucket: by legislation, died in the GA. 3rd bucket: needed approval by unions, went nowhere. "I'm going to have a Lean Czar to trim out waste."

Caprio: Trimmed waste in treasurer's office, will do the same across state government.

Block: Techie answer about using software to analyze government expenditures and upgrading software.

8:21 p.m.

"Where do you think we are economically, and how do we fend off an out-of-control federal government from the governor's office?"

Robitaille: We haven't hit bottom, yet, but we're probably close. The problem comes in 2012, when the states have to deal with the disappearance of stimulus money. The governor can use the bully pulpit, and citizens can tell Washington enough is enough. John's doing better than I expected. Most refreshingly, he's actually answering questions.

Caprio: Disconnect in Washington and main street. Another personal anecdote of a citizen small business owner whom he's met recently. Make Rhode Island the state that other states feel like they can't keep up with. Made a closing statement rather than addressing the question.

Block: His business has received zero stimulus funds despite doing business with public entities. The stimulus bill "has been a dismal failure." As governor, he could only insist that the federal delegation cooperate with him. Posture yourself to survive the beating that's coming. "We're in a beating now, and it's going to get worse."

And that concludes the governor session.

8:29 p.m.

Attorney General Candidates are up. Probably half of the audience has dissipated, including much of the media. You know, everybody's fond of talking about the importance of changing the faces in the less sexy offices across government, but everybody still wants to focus mainly on the center ring.

Moderate Party candidate Chris Little introduced himself and explained why he's interested in running for office rather than learning to play golf.

Republican Party candidate Erik Wallin gave examples of public corruption and swung into the call-and-response "are you ready" opening that is his standard opening.

8:35 p.m.

First question is to Chris Little on bringing down health insurance costs. His answer has mainly entailed describing the job of the insurance commissioner. As at the Moderate Party events, I agree with much of what he's saying, but I'm not sure what it has to do with the AG's office. He says the office has authority, but I'm not sure it should.

Wallin blames the lack of advocacy from the AG, as well.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if one of these potential AGs said something creative, rather than focusing on bashing insurance companies. How about exploring the constitutionality of expensive regulations?

8:41 p.m.

Question: Talk about the overlapping of the AG's authority when it comes to state law and federal law.

Little: One example is Medicaid fraud.

Wallin: Would sign on to a movement to challenge the constitutionality of the federal healthcare legislation.

Question: How do you plan to fight illegal immigration? How can you assure us that you'll keep your promises?

Wallin: Opposes law that would prohibit law enforcers from asking about immigration status. Would cooperate with ICE. He's trustworthy because he's not in this for the politics, but because it's a calling.

Little: "I'll start out by echoing what Erik said" with respect to the politicization of the AG's office. Function #1 of the office is to enforce the law that's given to you and to work with other agencies. If he doesn't like a law, he'll follow it, but he'll advocate at the state house. He built his practice around the value of his word, and he'll maintain that.

Question to Mr. Little: Opinion on 2nd Amendment?

Little: Not super familiar with 2nd Amendment's relevance to the attorney general's office. He encourages people to hunt on his property in South County.

Wallin: Is a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment.

8:54 p.m.

What are you going to do about public corruption?

Wallin: There's a reason that people go to investigative reporters rather than the AG's office, because they worry that the AG has become too politicized. Corruption affects small business.

Little: "You won't find any difference in what I would say." Highlighted the reluctance to go to the AG with corruption complaints. "Everyone would have confidential access to me." Also brought up white-collar crime that he doesn't believe is being touched in RI, as well.

9:00 p.m.

Third session, congressional candidates: John Loughlin, Mark Zaccaria, Mike Gardiner. All Republicans. Loughlin's first district; the other two are second district.

As one might expect, the messages during the opening statements has been strong on defense, fiscal conservatism, and the need for noise-making in Washington.

9:10 p.m.

Question: Good speech about how "stimulus" is not stimulus and "reform" is not reform in current federal lingo.

Loughlin: "Now they're even changing the language again, because 'stimulus' now has a negative connotation. Now it's a 'jobs bill.'" He brought up fraud in the numbers being used to claim success.

Gardiner: "Stimulus seems to be a time-released support package" to support Obama's party. Wants a state-driven national marketplace for health insurance.

Zaccaria: "A real stimulus comes when we get the government out of the way" and let American people create wealth.

9:17 p.m.

Question: How can you make people serving in the military feel safer in military bases?

Zaccaria: Stop being the world's police force and reallocate money to force protection.

Loughlin: "Too often politicians look at the military as an opportunity for social engineering." Fort Hood was a result of political correctness. Also, draw down forward deployed forces, especially in Europe.

Gardiner: There was "probably" poor judgment in not picking up on the Ft. Hood shooter. Doesn't want to criticize the role of the military for social engineering. "His neighbors must have said that the [Ft. Hood shooter] was an OK guy. He slipped through the cracks."

9:25 p.m.

Question: How do we ween the American people off entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) before they bankrupt us?

Loughlin: Social Security is basically a Ponzi scheme. "The best welfare program is a good job that pays a good wage."

Zaccaria: "Most people are asleep, and it requires us to say, 'folks,' here's this problem.' Then we have to privatize Social Security (just like the RI pension system). Democrats don't want these reforms, because they might work.

Gardiner: Raise the age limit on Social Security. Privatization is part of the solution, but politically difficult to do. Incentives such as medical savings accounts.

[Editor's note: Sheesh, I'm tired.]

9:31 p.m.

Question: Revisiting old legislation, especially with respect to trade.

Loughlin: Took the question in a climate-change direction, expressing doubts about Climate Change. Revisit every law based on bad data.

Gardiner: Went with the NAFTA angle, saying that he's conflicted because "in my heart, I'm a free-trade guy." But he knows a lot of people who feel as if they're being put out of business. Doesn't have an answer. Is listening.

Zaccaria: Have an entire session of Congress devoted to retiring laws. Must be able to trade and compete fairly within that economy; NAFTA puts additional restrictions on American businesses that don't apply to other nations, especially in Mexico.

9:36 p.m.

Question: Concerned about the focus being off terrorism, such as President Obama's acceptance of Hamas members in the United States and terrorism within American Muslim communities.

Zaccaria: Prevent terrorism, but realize that we live in a diverse society.

Loughlin: Rhode Island was founded on religious freedom. Differentiated between Muslim faith and radical Islam. Must realize that we're at war with the latter.

Gardiner: Nobody has to swear into Congress on the Bible (in response to some members' using the Koran. "I would use the Bible, because I'm fine with that." [Not because he's Christian?] Weird answer about the courage needed by police officers to be willing to take a bullet to be sure that the minority criminal was going for a gun...

9:44 p.m.

There's supposed to be a session for General Assembly members. The audience has decided that it should be over, with only about five people remaining in their seats. This is going on way too long. Perhaps the RIVC should narrow the focus of each event, perhaps with two categories of candidates at each, 45 minutes allocated per.

Guess I'll tough it out, though. There are only two GA candidates still here. (Brian Newberry was here with his son, who drew him away a while ago.)

Independent Richard Rodi, District 2 (Providence). First thing, when he gets home, tonight, he's going to read the RI Constitution. A member of the audience just handed him a pocket federal Constitution.

Independent David Bibeault, Dist, 22 (Smithfield) is running because he's "watched the General Assembly, and that's definitely where the problem is." The two biggest things that we have to cut in state government are public sector unions and the welfare industry.

Republican Sean Gately, Dist. 26, Cranston, is running for Rhode Island, for his family. He sees this election as a unique opportunity for change. Very passionate. Rightly.

9:59 p.m.

Will you pledge right now to never take a dime from a public-sector union:

Bibeault: Makes the pledge. Says he probably doesn't even have to worry about making the decision.

Rodi: "I like this question." "David Segal is my opponent; what pocket is he in?" Takes the pledge. "They're ruining our state; they're ruining our schools."

Gately: "No." (Meaning that he takes the pledge.)

Question: Their positions on the Central Falls high-school matter, and the pension debacle.

Rodi: Pension reform is critical.

Bibeault: "We need the pension replaced with a 401K system." Describes Rep. Kilmartin's run for Treasurer — he's paid nothing into the pension system, because he's only a legislator, but if he were to be treasurer for a few years, his pension would be calculated on that basis.

Gately: Focusing on the teachers' unions. "Central Falls is a model for schools across the state." Everybody's taken pay cuts in recent years, except public-sector unions.

Question: General Assembly is essentially a dictatorship of the leaders. Can anything be done?

Bibeault: Get rid of legislative grants. Get the money out of the government.

[Editor's note: It might not have the media draw of the governor's race, but I'd like to see more forums related to the General Assembly.]

Gately: Notes that most hearings in the State House are filled with lobbyists. Citizens have to start showing up. That's why they're "scared as hell" right now. He'll help to shine a light as a representative.

[Editor's note: John Loughlin and Mark Zaccaria are the only candidates for higher office who've stuck around. Good on them, as they say.]

Rodi: People just have to vote. He offered an anecdote from the last election after which he heard from some of his lawn-sign displayers that they didn't vote, because they thought he had it wrapped up.

Question: Would you be willing to get rid of the property tax.

Bibeault: Government does have some legitimate functions. "The key is to have the smallest possible government." He says he's fundamentally libertarian and would focus on user fees to support those limited government functions.

Rodi: Get rid of property tax on cars. "If I buy a loaf of bread and pay taxes on it, do I have to keep paying for every slice?" Sales tax back to 5%. "We have all the tools in Rhode Island to change this state and make it what it should be."

Gately: His property taxes have increased from $3,500 to $13,000 something over the past decade. Property taxes are necessary, but we need to lower the price of schools and rework state funding.

10:19 p.m.

Question: How would you feel about a state-level audit of municipalities?

Gately: He'd like to see that, but people have to become active at local meetings. Lack of participation is the largest impediment. "If you've got a big spotlight, you need people to help hold it up."

Bibeault: Cited the Caruolo Act. Get rid of state mandates, and if it's truly something that the state must mandate, the state ought to pay for it. Privatize all schools. Give students vouchers.

Rodi: Noted the supplies lists going home with kids in East Providence because there's no money for supplies. "Yes, these schools need to be audited." The lottery was supposed to go to school funding. "Everything that has been allocated has to go back to what it was allocated to or go away and start fresh."

Oops, my camcorder battery is out of battery, but I think they're just doing a last-word political pitch.

Speaking of pitches, if you've read this far, clearly you found something of value in the above. Please consider clicking on the "Donate" or "Subscribe" buttons to the left.

And now for the long, dark trip home...

The Price of Education Labor Peace in Rhode Island

Monique Chartier

Addressing the prospect (now a reality) of the firing of all Central Falls teachers, former Senator Linc Chafee said Monday,

It would be a step back to have labor unrest in our schools

It is quite possible that former Senator Chafee - along with many other people - is truly unaware of the price that has been paid to avoid "labor unrest".

Property Taxes: 7th Highest
engendered by

Teacher Salaries: Top 20%

and contrast with

Academic achievement: Bottom 20%

Senator Chafee proposed mediation between the union and the city. The drawback to this course is the prospect of yet more money being placed on the table. But look at where we are now: compensation on one end of the scale and academic achievement on the opposite end. Clearly, money has not been the answer.

Further, the senator presumably does not believe that Rhode Island has been paying this high price solely to achieve peace. Of course, the goal has been to secure a good education and a better future for our children. The answer, then, is not to exacerbate the polarity between price and education achievement by endlessly increasing the price. It is to begin bringing results in line with the price that we have been paying and, as a first step, to be clear that the goal is more than labor peace.

Parents Can Only Teach What They Know

Justin Katz

The raging blame debate, when it comes to public-school students' performance, made an appearance in RI Education Commissioner Deborah Gist's online chat for the Providence Journal:

Parent: As a parent of 2 children, I know how crucial parent involvement is. Has anyone looked at educating the parents of the kids of these failing schools? You can replace the teachers....and you can give new teachers incentives to change things around. But this is a band aid. Teachers are blamed for too many problems. They can't be expected to solve the problems of society. Teachers have many many challenges these days- more so than 25 years ago. Kids and parents need to take responsibility for on education. Just look at math grades around the state. Kids don't know how to deal with fractions because they don't know how to tell time on an analgoue clock. But the teachers are blamed. Let's take a look at the real problems. Educate the kids - the parents- look around the country at other programs. Please don't make this mistake.

Deborah Gist: Parent involvement is important, and supportive, engaged parents are important partners in a child's education. Fortunately, we know that great teaching can overcome those instances when children have parents who are unable to provide that level of support. I don't blame teachers, but I do hold them accountable for results. I also hold myself and everyone on my team accountable.

I wonder if this mightn't be an area in which productive cooperation is actually possible. With math in particular, many students aren't being taught in a manner with which their parents are familiar. Indeed, from time to time one reads or hears about parents' being explicitly instructed not to teach their children the "old" (tried and true) methods of mathematics while helping them with their homework. In a society in which parents are already too disengaged, increasing the likelihood that they'll appear ignorant in front of their children isn't going to help.

Something similar surely comes into play with the fading of literary classics from the curriculum and the reworking of history books to reflect the radical tinge of the academy. A "back to basics" campaign in which the commissioner encourages a resurgence of more-traditional curricula would be an excellent complement to her reforms related to the structure of the public education system.

A Day in the Life of RI Education

Marc Comtois

A look at the papers today gives quite a little snapshot of the sorry state of education in Rhode Island. Central Falls is firing it's high school teachers as a way to deal with a chronically under-performing school (with the blessing of the State Education Commissioner Gist and U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan) because the teachers union didn't want to put in a couple more hours a week at $30/hr; Cranston is cutting school sports and other activities instead of cutting where it would hurt adults; the budget crunch is prompting West Warwick and Cumberland to look at school consolidation--something worth studying on its own, not as part of crisis management; Providence held a meeting about their troubled schools and all of 30 or so people came; nor did anyone show at a funding formula hearing at the State House; finally, apparently Pawtucket has been spending about $10 million a year over budget on their schools. Union games, knee-jerk solutions, playing on the emotions of parents, parental apathy and budget mismanagement. All predictable and preventable if only more stakeholders (which is pretty much every RI taxpayer!) had the will to make the necessary changes.

Thankfully, we seem to have an education Commissioner who is willing to follow up her rhetoric with actions and lead us forward with new ideas and a fresh attitude. It's up to us to support her (as some are) by backing her proposals and demanding accountability and change in council and committee meetings. The alternative is more of the same stories, day after day.

Spreading the Brand

Marc Comtois

In 1993 the Strategic Defense Initiative (founded in 1983) became the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which was in turn renamed the Missile Defense Agency in 2002, complete with a brand new logo:

It was noticed last November that the MDA has decided to update its "branding" with yet another new logo (h/t).

See for yourself (upper left hand corner). Looks familiar.

Some Different (Not Necessarily Good) Ideas

Justin Katz

I don't know much about Coventry's Victor Moffitt, who has announced his intention to announce a run for governor as a Republican. Most of his reported ideas represent the sort of reform of which my opinion ranges from suspicious to hostile:

Rhode Island no longer has a surplus, but Moffitt in a brief interview said many of the themes of his campaign for governor will echo his 1998 campaign [for treasurer]. At that time, he proposed eliminating school spending from the local tax burden, establishing a statewide 7 percent flat income tax (which he says would bring in enough new revenue to establish a statewide school-funding financing plan) and breaking the state into four regional school districts. He also wanted to reduce the state sales tax to 6 percent.

Centralizing financial control of the schools: bad idea. Increasing taxes for most Rhode Islanders: worse idea. On the other hand, the article offers an intriguing glimpse of rhetoric from Moffitt's past:

In response to news that the state had logged a $132-million surplus in 1998, for example, he wrote: "A 'surplus' is created when taxpayers are overtaxed ... Every 1 percentage point of the Rhode Island sales tax represents about $70 million in state revenue. Therefore, we should reduce the sales tax to 6 percent ... to allow our Rhode Island retail businesses fair competition with our neighboring states."

His general perspective appears to be correct, if his solutions would ultimately exacerbate our problems. My mind, of course, went to the Tiverton school district, which had a quarter-million-dollar surplus this year yet continues to complain that taxpayers "cut" its budget by declining to increase it by an additional $627,000 (or so) in the last budget cycle.

The Teetering Globe

Justin Katz

We've been watching, almost since the start of the recession, as economists have insisted that recovery was just on the horizon. Why? Well, because it always is. If they could tell us what the engine would be, they'd be investors, not economists, and hey, nobody can predict the future.

Now the darker view has expanded beyond us Internet cranks:

Bass could be wrong on Japan. The island nation (and the world's second-largest economy) has defied skeptics for so long that experienced traders call betting against it "the widowmaker." But he may be right on the bigger picture. If 2008 was the year of the subprime meltdown, 2010, he thinks, will be the year entire nations start going broke.

The world has issued so much debt in the past two years fighting the Great Recession that paying it all back is going to be hell--for Americans, along with everybody else. Taxes will have to rise around the globe, hobbling job growth and economic recovery. Traders like Bass could make a lot of money betting against sovereign debt the way they shorted subprime loans at the peak of the housing bubble.

National governments will issue an estimated $4.5 trillion in debt this year, almost triple the average for mature economies over the preceding five years. The U.S. has allowed the total federal debt (including debt held by government agencies, like the Social Security fund) to balloon by 50% since 2006 to $12.3 trillion. The pain of repayment is not yet being felt, because interest rates are so low--close to 0% on short-term Treasury bills. Someday those rates are going to rise. Then the taxpayer will have the devil to pay.

So what's coming our way, in 2010 — recovery or global bust? It's a frightening predicament, especially with Tin-Ear Barack still pushing federal takeover of healthcare and promoting government as the nation's job engine. My federal tax return finally enabled me to catch up on bills that were months overdue. If things hover as they are, my family will weather the storm for a while longer. If they don't improve, who knows. The boss has said layoffs are coming on Friday, and the town, state, and country in which I live are run by people without the economic knowledge or political will to take necessary steps.

February 23, 2010

Political Season in Full Swing Already?

Justin Katz

Tomorrow's RI Voter Coalition event has turned out to have quite a line-up. I'll be there watching, and silently heckling on the Internet. (That's a figure of speech, of course.)

Also this week, on Saturday, is the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition's Winter Meeting, which is always worth a couple of hours on a Saturday morning.

The Sky Is Blue; Sexual Content Encourages Sex

Justin Katz

The unfortunate thing is that parents must learn the truth of this through experience.

Authoritative parents also restrict their children's exposure to sexual content in the media (music, television, movies and Internet). It is well documented that exposure to explicit sexual images and lyrics accelerates the onset of sexual debut among adolescents. Authoritative parents will enforce a zero-tolerance drug and alcohol policy, and educate their children about the relationship between substance use impaired judgment and an increased incidence of sexual activity. Authoritative parents know their children's friends, and their children's friends' parents, and work together to monitor social activities.

The scary thing is that there are people who'll dispute some or all of Michelle Cretella's advice.

Steps Don't Just Go UP

Marc Comtois

Reading a couple different articles (and the comments) prompted me to go looking for the Rhode Island statute that required teacher steps. Here it is (16-7-29):

§ 16-7-29 Minimum salary schedule established by community. – (a) Every community shall establish and put into full effect by appropriate action of its school committee a salary schedule recognizing years of service, experience, and training for all certified personnel regularly employed in the public schools and having no more than twelve (12) annual steps. The term "school year" as applied to the salary schedule means the ten (10) calendar months beginning in September and ending the following June.

(b) Nothing in this section shall prohibit a freeze or reduction of the monetary value of the steps in the salary schedule through the collective bargaining process. (emphasis mine)

Part (b) is pretty interesting, no? So, while steps are indeed required, they can be "level funded" or reduced. All the law really asks is that a predictable schedule be in place. Seems like school committees could take a variety of innovative approaches to redesigning the schedules such that cost savings could be built into the schedule.

The State of Education in Rhode Island, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

The district-by-district count data, presented in yesterday's post, on changes between the 8th and 11th grades in the numbers of students proficient in reading and math needs to be compared to a measure of opportunities for change, in order to be useful for purposes of analysis and accountability. Depending on whether a change in number of students proficient was positive or negative, two possible measures of opportunities are...

  • The number of students who started out as less-than-proficient, when the number of students who are proficient or better in a subject increases (net opportunities taken), or
  • The number of students who started out as proficient or better, when the number of students who are proficient in a subject declines (net opportunities lost).
These definitions do involve a degree of oversimplification. For districts with large numbers of students proficient in the 8th-grade, they do not give explicit "credit" for the effort required to move large percentages of proficient 8th graders to 11th-grade proficiency. On the other hand, for districts that begin with fewer numbers of proficient students, larger percentages of their student bodies must be moved to proficiency, in order to match the improvement percentages of districts that began with higher-numbers of students already proficient. Also, these opportunity definitions sidestep the question of, to use specific numbers in an example, how much easier or harder moving the “last” 10% of a student body to proficiency is than moving the "middle" 50%.

Since it is unlikely that all of the different possible effects balance one another out, instead of presenting results in a 1D table, the results will be presented in 2 dimensions so that -- in the spirit of a value-added analysis -- changes in groups of students who began from roughly the same place can be compared.

The y-axis of the plot below shows the percentage of students who scored proficient or better on the 8th-grade NECAPs in 2005 and 2006, i.e. the “starting point” for each district. The meaning of the x-axis changes, depending on whether the value is positive or negative…

  • For positive values, the x-axis represents the change between the 8th and 11th grades in number of students who scored proficient or better in reading, expressed as the percentage of students who were less-than-proficient in that district in the 8th grade.
  • For negative values, the x-axis represents the change between the 8th and 11th grades in number of students who scored proficient or better in reading, expressed as the percentage of students who were proficient or better in that district in the 8th grade.
Since 8th-grade proficiency percentage is the baseline, effects of dropout rates are not hidden in the x-axis of this plot, as each student who drops out represents either a lost opportunity to move a less-than-proficient student to proficiency or a loss of a proficient student.


Where a district sits along the x-axis is an attempt to measure how well it did or didn’t do in the time-interval considered, with a reduced dependence on starting point. Certainly, the rankings according to the x-axis are different from the usual rankings of Rhode Island school districts. Between the 8th and 11th grades, Central Falls, Woonsocket and Providence saw the number of students who were proficient in reading increase by 10% to 23% of the percentage of students who were less-than-proficient in 8th grade. Districts that showed improvements according to this metric, within these bounds include Burrillville, Tiverton, Westerly, Smithfield and North Kingstown.

The graph above can also be read in terms of horizontal bands. The most "diverse" horizontal band lies between 8th-grade proficiency starting-points of 60% and 70%. Some districts (Bristol-Warren, Foster-Glocester, Chariho) increased their numbers of students proficient in reading by nearly 40% of their less-than proficient 8th-grade total while other districts, like Middletown, Warwick and Johnston experienced declines in the number of students proficient or better in reading -- in the case of Johnston, a very substantial decline. (And no, this is not in and of itself an argument for regionalization.)

Finally (for reading), instead of plotting the y-axis in terms of the starting point 8th-grade proficiency, results could also be plotted in terms of the final 11th-grade percentage of students proficient. Even better, both starting and ending proficiency percentages can be shown on the same plot…


The results here are a bit counter-intuitive, as districts like Pawtucket and Middletown can experience a drop in the number of students proficient in reading while their proficiency percentages increase, because large numbers of less-than-proficient students have left the system. I would suspect much of this type of result is the result of dropout rates.

In math, because every district experienced a decline in the number of students who were proficient, in every case, we are measuring the loss from the number of 8th graders who started out proficient, and essentially looking for who declined the most or the least. The results here appear to much more directly correlate to starting proficiency than do the reading results.



(N.B.: Results for North Kingstown and Portsmouth have been corrected from the original version of this post, to correctly account for the fact that high-schools in these districts serve students from Jamestown and Little Compton, respectively.)

In Part 3, we’ll take on some refinements of data presented above, to answer 1) if we can do anything to further analyze districts that are starting from high numbers of students already proficient 2) the same question, but for districts starting from very low numbers of math students already proficient, and 3) how can we move beyond asking if a basic level of proficiency is the only thing we should be looking at?

The Cause of the Firings

Justin Katz

Every working Rhode Islander, and all of those looking for work, can see the disconnection of Central Falls union rhetoric:

"We still hold that this termination of the entire faculty is a violation of the contract and contrary to state law and federal law as well," [teachers union President Jane] Sessums said. "This is a termination of the entire faculty without cause, we believe."

You want cause?

  • Only 4% of students proficient in math in 2008-2009, up from 3% the year before, with 75% "substantially below proficient."
  • Only 45% proficient in reading.
  • Only 29% proficient in writing.
  • Only 17% proficient in science.
  • A 48% graduation rate.
  • A 50% failure rate for the current school year.

As a body — and it is the teachers' decision to be handled as a collective union — the teachers are failing. Every year, every day, students are deprived of a successful educational experience. That must change, and since the union's been blocking the avenue for change that doesn't entail a mass firing, a drastic step must be taken.

The General Assembly as RI's All-Purpose Charity

Justin Katz

It's a small thing, perhaps, but then they're all small things, from a certain perspective. This is just too perfect an emblem of the government under which we're living:

All the funds raised for those three [charitable] purposes, listed on the "Rhode Island Checkoff Contributions" portion of the tax return, go directly into the state's general fund.

And they have since 1995.

The state uses the money however it wants, from plowing roads to paying the salaries of members of the General Assembly, which voted in 1995 to divert the money without telling taxpayers that it was no longer going toward the stated purpose.

Give this greedy beast nothing more than it can take by force. Apart from its catastrophic incompetence, the government of Rhode Island simply cannot be trusted.

The Same Old Local Political Roundabout

Justin Katz

As circumstances deteriorate, it's instructive to observe the varying reactions and strategies for handling them. In Tiverton, the established order, so to speak, has redoubled its efforts to keep the negative focus on Tiverton Citizens for Change in the hopes that people won't notice that the plans for improvement bear a striking resemblance to the plans that got the town into its current mess. I've got a letter pointing out the 'round-and-'round nature of the debate:

On January 27, 2009, the school committee approved a largely retroactive contract for teachers that ate up about $300,000 of that year’s budget, added approximately $150,000 to the current year’s, and is contributing more than that to the $600,000-plus increase in salaries and benefits budgeted for the next fiscal year. At a November 2008 meeting, Ms. Pallasch argued for approval, saying, “Let's start working on the new one, and give ourselves a little bit of room to refocus on the classroom and away from the adults.” The argument was that we should resolve the running dispute while there was still time to negotiate the subsequent contract amicably.

At the time, I spoke up to predict that the union would not negotiate. Rather, it would wait out the recession based on the obvious reasoning that it could avoid concessions during hard economic times and — as we’ve taught its members to expect — receive retroactive raises when times improved. I also handed out a chart showing that there had been no abatement of the increases in teacher salaries and benefits in the past decade. Indeed, the per-pupil dollar amount had gone up more (54%) than the same number for the state as a whole (40%). Over the same period, the chart showed that most other expenditures had hardly moved.

Well, negotiations did not resume with an amicable tone. Indeed, in August, the union pointed out a clause in the contract extending it for another year. The school committee had somehow missed the trick that it was supposed to notify the union of its intention to negotiate the next contract a full month before the previous one was actually approved. Changes in healthcare copayments for which the committee had budgeted went out the window. So did negotiations.

And the usual suspects are back, making all of the union's arguments for it in advance of the debate. Wealthy people wanting to increase taxes rather than stand firm with the organized labor behemoth that has soaked up a growing portion of our educational and municipal funds.

The system is broken. Revving it up for another season is not the solution.

February 22, 2010

"Rally For Fairness" - Solidarity to Descend on Central Falls

Monique Chartier

[This fascinating e-mail was forwarded to me tonight. It has presumably been circulated to all members of NEARI.]

As you are aware, Commissioner of Education Gist and Superintendent Gallo of the Central Falls School District are set to fire all 74 of the district's high school teachers tomorrow. In one of the most blatant acts of anti-unionism in decades, the leadership of the district has decided, instead of providing the resources necessary for a quality education, to point fingers and blame teachers for the administration's lack of appropriate action. Join with teachers, parents, students, union members and concerned individuals at a rally tomorrow to support the Central Falls teachers.

The Rally for Fairness is tomorrow, Tuesday, February 23, 5 PM, at Jenks Park on Broad Street in Central Falls. It is time your voice is heard in the struggle to protect collective bargaining and ensure every student has the resources available to succeed. The district is moving forward with this inappropriate and illegal action even though, following teacher evaluations over the past two years, not one was put on corrective action. It is moving forward without following due process, engaging in nothing more than a union busting tactic.

For more information go to www.CentralFallsKidsDeserveBetter.com. There you can sign a petition in support of the teachers and learn more about the schools in our state's smallest community. You can also stay updated by following Central Falls High on Twitter and checkingthe NEARI website, www.neari.org, tomorrow for the latest on the rally and directions. We encourage you to follow NEARI on Facebook and President Larry Purtill on Twitter for this and other valuable information.

Your local president has been invited to a meeting at NEARI this Thursday, February 25, with Commissioner Gist. It is an opportunity for him/her to ask questions and raise concerns about the events taking place in Central Falls and Rhode Island's Race to the Top application. You can also see your local president, if you have not already done so, to lend your name to those of your colleagues who are concerned about the content and process involved in submitting the application. Concerns over the lack of collaboration in writing the grant, the use of test scores to make up 51% of a teacher's evaluation, automatic termination after two ineffective years of evaluation, elimination of the I Plan and certification tied directly to evaluation, and the drive to make one out of every five schools in Rhode Island a charter or mayoral academy are just a few of the issues in the grant application.

It is up to you to speak out against these hasty political changes that will not improve student performance. NEARI supports highly effective teachers in every classroom, a strong evaluation system, and appropriate professional development. What we don't want to see are teachers and staff blamed for a lack of resources and a weak political will to do what is right. Join with your colleagues so you do not become the next Central Falls, East Providence or Glocester.

Treasury @ Haute Couture: Geithner to Have a Layout Be Profiled in Vogue

Monique Chartier

One question. Why?? [H/T the Fred Thompson Show.]

If last year's bailout of the financial industry caused you to start muttering words like investment banker and robber baron in the same sentence, it may cheer you to know that Timothy Geithner, the man responsible for crafting much of that bailout, agrees with you. "I am," he says, seated in his Washington, D.C., office, an intimidatingly ornate room worthy of a Hogwarts headmaster, "incredibly angry at what happened to our country."

* * *

What little free time he has, he prefers to spend with his children, building a ramp in the driveway for skateboarding, surfing off the coast of Cape Cod, building a guitar by hand with his teenage son, or reading—a recent title on his Kindle is The Places in Between, Rory Stewart's account of walking the length of Afghanistan. ...

Moderate Party Kick-Off Event Video, Part 4

Justin Katz

Closing out the video that corresponds with my liveblog from the Moderate Party's kick-off event, herewith are the clips of Gubernatorial Candidate Ken Block's presentation. (Additional video in the extended entry.)

Moderate Party Kick-Off Event, Part 3

Justin Katz

Following along with my liveblog of the Moderate Party's kick-off event, on Sunday, at the Everyman Bistro in Providence, the next videos are the presentations and speeches of the candidates for Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor (Additional video in the extended entry.)

re: The State of Education - Aye, the Co-hort 'tis the thing

Marc Comtois

Andrew has inspired me to hop on his coattails concerning the way we look at NECAPs (so read his post first). Basically, I've been putting off posting how we can look at the same NECAP data in two ways. As Andrew explains, the "value-added" method would be to follow the cohorts (ie; the same group of kids from year to year). Andrews task of digging deeper into how we can tease out data comparing 8th grade and 11th grade scores for essentially the same group of kids is more difficult than what I am going to look at: comparing cohorts from year-to-year in elementary schools.

Here is a made-up example of how we're usually asked to "read" the NECAP scores. (Let's assume these are writing scores for "Quahog Elementary School"). Generally, we are given data that is "shaped" so that we look at the change from year to year for each grade like this:


This is the snapshot approach and it's flaw is that it compares one cohort of kids to its predecessor. Guess what? Cohorts are comprised of different mixes of kids--economic, family structure, academic expectations, etc. There is such a thing as a wicked smart class! So, instead, why not also track the grade-to-grade progress being made by the same set of kids (the same cohort)? To that end--to try to actually get some real value--we have to look diagonally at the above table. By doing so, we see something like this:

Year in Grade 320052006GROWTH2007GROWTH2008GROWTH2009GROWTH

From "shaping the data" this way, we see that the 2005 and 2007 third graders both saw a 10% increase in proficiency between their 4th and 5th grade years. The 2006 third graders saw only a 1% increase between 4th and 5th grade, but a 6% increase between their 5th and 6th grade years. The NECAP is given in October, so the tests given in 5th grade are supposed to be on what they learned in 4th grade. As such, this data seems to indicate that the 4th grade teachers are pretty good at improving the proficiency rates of the students they've been given. Meanwhile, the 5th grade teachers are batting around .500 (from the data I've re-shaped) in improving vs. maintaining the status quo.

I believe that looking at the data by comparing different cohorts at the same grade level provides some value in assessing progress, however, I believe that a better method--one that is probably more fair to teachers and the students within a given cohort-- is the alternative method outlined above.

What Does Lardaro's Index Mean?

Justin Katz

It seems as if URI Economics Professor Len Lardaro is changing his explanation of his index in a subtle, but significant, way:

The Current Conditions Index fell to 33 in December, down from 50 in November and 42 in October. But Lardaro emphasized that the latest report was not uniformly negative. ...

The Current Conditions Index uses a dozen national and local economic indicators to track the state’s economic performance. A reading of 0 would mean no indicators improved compared with a year earlier, while 100 would mean all 12 improved.

December was the eighth consecutive month that saw Lardaro's index top its year-earlier level, as four the 12 indicators showed month-over-month improvement, including manufacturing wages, the size of the labor force and new claims for unemployment benefits.

Every explanation that I've read up to now has stated that a score below 50 means contraction and a score over 50 means expansion. (I also thought the indexes compared each month to a year earlier, not the prior month.) Have we just been shrinking for so long that Lardaro has to delve deeper to find a positive message?

The State of Education in Rhode Island, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

The graph at the bottom of this post, compiled from the two most recent years of New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) proficiency scores, contains the information you are probably used to seeing for describing the state of education in the cities and towns of Rhode Island. And if you are familiar with the data displayed there, then you are probably also familiar with the oft-expressed objection to its use for school-system accountability purposes, that the graph is mostly an illustration of the social-economic status of the various communities represented, more than of how well a school-system is doing or not doing with the students it has.

However, if instead of confining the analysis of test results to scores taken from one point in time, consideration is given to changes in scores in a group of students across time, then it becomes possible to begin to isolate the factors that impact test scores which are directly related to the school-system, for example, through an examination of the evolution of performance of similar student cohorts who start from comparable achievement levels. This idea is the basis of what is called the "value-added" method of analysis of education. Since much of the focus has been on high schools lately, let's see what can be done with Rhode Island's basic 11th-grade NECAP results, to take a step in this direction.

Rhode Island 11th-graders have been tested in the subjects of reading and math with the NECAP for the past two years. 3 years prior to those tests, many of those same 11th-graders took the NECAP as 8th-graders, and changes in performance at the school and district level, between grades 8 and 11, involving many of the same students, can be evaluated.

But exactly what changes should be measured? NECAP results characterize student achievement in terms of four categories, the numbers of students "proficient with distinction", "proficient", "partially proficient", and "not proficient". The summary that is most frequently reported to the public is the percentage of students in a district (or school) who are proficient or better. However, a comparison of proficiency percentages from year to year may not fully capture what is going on inside of a school. Between 8th and 11th grade, almost every district loses students. In some districts, according to the NECAP totals, that figure can be as high as 30% and the reasons for enrollment drops (e.g. dropouts, students leaving for private schools or charters, etc.) will skew percentage measures in ways that don't necessarily reflect the quality of schooling.

So instead of going directly to results expressed as percentages, we will begin by taking a step back and looking at how the number of students proficient or better in 11th grade in each district changed from the number of students who were proficient in 8th grade in that same district. We can combine the two approximate cohorts of students for which 11th grade test data is available, and calculate the how the number of 11th grade students who scored proficient or better on the 2008 and 2009 NECAPs in each district changed from the number of 8th grade students who scored proficient or better on the 2005 and 2006 NECAPs

Several results become immediately obvious:

  1. Even in many of the districts thought of as poorly performing, the number of students proficient or better in reading improved between the 8th and the 11th grade testing (even when total enrollments dropped).
  2. In every school district in Rhode Island -- including the ones thought of as well-performing -- the number of students who are proficient or better at mathematics in the 11th grade is less than the number of students who were proficient or better in the 8th grade.

District# of 8th-Graders Proficient or Better at Reading, '05 & '06 NECAP# of 11th-Graders Proficient or Better at Reading, '08 & '09 NECAPChange in # PoB at Reading, between 8th and 11th Grades# of 8th-Graders Proficient or Better at Mathematics, '05 & '06 NECAP# of 11th-Graders Proficient or Better at Mathematics, '08 & '09 NECAPChange in # PoB at Mathematics, between 8th and 11th Grades
Barrington 526 524 -2 485 380 -105
Bristol-Warren 344 415 71 293 173 -120
Burrillville 287 310 23 213 115 -98
Central Falls 150 190 40 85 21 -64
Chariho 379 461 82 347 202 -145
Coventry 641 586 -55 569 243 -326
Cranston 1090 1132 42 779 361 -418
Cumberland 568 579 11 433 247 -186
East Greenwich 357 332 -25 341 246 -95
East Providence 532 549 17 437 140 -297
Exeter-West Greenwich 241 224 -17 219 99 -120
Foster-Glocester 285 339 54 270 139 -131
Johnston 341 220 -121 226 69 -157
Lincoln 400 375 -25 344 215 -129
Middletown 242 208 -34 264 122 -142
Narragansett 210 188 -22 176 109 -67
Newport 184 204 20 174 76 -98
North Kingstown -Jamestown 697 615 -82 602 337 -265
North Providence 390 401 11 237 110 -127
North Smithfield 224 215 -9 198 102 -96
Pawtucket 655 561 -94 552 123 -429
Portsmouth-Little Compton 412 415 3 381 233 -238
Providence 1115 1749 634 873 385 -488
Scituate 262 228 -34 240 119 -121
Smithfield 332 345 13 255 131 -124
South Kingstown 518 466 -52 476 265 -211
Tiverton 228 247 19 215 81 -134
Warwick 1119 1069 -50 923 330 -593
Westerly 358 396 38 296 175 -121
West Warwick 339 350 11 300 122 -178
Woonsocket 293 405 112 241 102 -139

(N.B.: Results for North Kingstown and Portsmouth have been corrected from the original version of this post, to properly account for the fact that high-schools in these districts serve students from Jamestown and Little Compton, respectively.)

Next, we need to find an appropriate context with which to evaluate the absolute count data. That will be the subject of tomorrow's post on the subject…


Moderate Party Kick-Off Event Video, Part 2

Justin Katz

As described in my liveblog, the Moderate Party's kick-off event, on Sunday, at the Everyman Bistro in Providence, began with Executive Director Christine Hunsinger and Chairman Robert Corrente. (Additional video in the extended entry.)

The End Is Near; Blame Somebody Else!

Justin Katz

Reading about the budget woes on both the school and municipal sides, in Tiverton, I find it somewhat striking that none of the elected or appointed officials appear to worry that they'll face accountability for the things about which they're complaining. For example:

Tiverton's schools could also take a $386,286 education aid hit next year, said Doug Fiore, chief finance officer for the schools.

Officials are confounded by the depth of proposedfunding losses, and the uncertainty.

I'm not directing this to Fiore, but to "officials": How could they be confounded? They can read the papers. They know what's going on in the state and in the country. And yet they approved a substantial retroactive raise for teachers last year. And yet they spent every dollar of the magic Obama money. I personally suggested to Superintendent Bill Rearick and School Committee Chairman Jan Bergandy that they put that money aside for the current budget, and they explicitly told me that their intention was to deal with the forthcoming budget as a separate matter. In other words, they didn't want to let the future infringe on the spending of the present.

Incidentally, apparently the superintendent and school committee are going around proclaiming that Tiverton Citizens for Change "cut their budget" last year, a claim that is false or irrelevant for two reasons. First, the budget cut originated with a handful of angry residents, not with TCC. Second, current budget documents available on the district's page state that its "surplus of $229,546 [is] to be included in next year’s budget."

In other words, had there been no reduction in the local contribution to the district's budget, last year, it either would have found something on which to spend the money, or it would currently have a $900,000 surplus. If the administrators and elected officials are complaining that struggling residents didn't hand them an extra million dollars to leave lying around in the worst economy in a century, then their contempt for the people for whom they work is astonishing.

Also astonishing is this sort of thinking, which one hears across local government:

"I think the concept of closing the high school is ridiculous," said Leonard Schmidt, chairman of the town economic development commission. "There are many ways to save money other than by closing schools." Mr. Schmidt suggested reopening contracts for teacher concessions, and centralization of school functions, but cautioned against looking to the schools to resolve the crisis.

The teacher's contract does not have to be "reopened," because there currently is no contract. At the very least, one can say that it is not "closed."

Moderate Party Kick-Off Event Video, Part 1

Justin Katz

After the Moderate Party's kick-off event, yesterday, Andrew and I had the opportunity to interview Gubernatorial Candidate Ken Block, Lt. Gov. Candidate Jean Ann Guliano, and Attorney General Candidate Chris Little. Here are the videos (click the extended entry for the latter two.)

A couple of quick thoughts:

  • Ken Block is more liberal than I'd thought. He's much more comfortable with the welfare industry than one would expect from a "fiscal conservative." Although he'll take the easy fruit of eVerify, I'm not so confident that he'd oppose amnesty-type programs. He sees same-sex marriage as a "civil rights issue" and would vote for it. And he's pro-choice. Interestingly, he referred to his upbringing when stating his views on abortion, as if being pro-choice is a religion into which one is raised.
  • It's a shame that the Republicans didn't recruit Guliano. If the GOP has no candidate, she's got a shot, and if she were the GOP candidate, I think her chances would have been good.

Toward More Christian Unions

Justin Katz

My February column for The Rhode Island Catholic takes up the subject of the Church's support for labor unions:

Catholic theology enters the political mix with the holding that God works through the individual conscience. What organized labor does, in the ideal, is to combine the power of individuals to construct a stronger, more substantive assertion of human conscience. In the workplace, the purpose is to counterbalance the economic power of business leaders or the political power of government officials.

The problem is that these sources of power are not parallel. A company gains influence by increasing the importance of its products and services to the market. The source of a business's power is therefore manipulable as a means to an end and constrained by regulation, competition, and employee morale. The source of a government's power is the entire society, and we rightly constrain its actions through civic structure. The parallel dynamic and constraints for unions are complicated by the doctrine that people — union members — must always be ends in themselves, with inviolable rights to pursue their own interests. And it's a much more comfortable (and remunerative) project to extort money from local communities than to fight foreign tyrannies on behalf of a distant workforce.

February 21, 2010

A Moderate Afternoon

Justin Katz

Owing to the moderately light traffic, I've arrived moderately early for the Moderate Party kickoff event at the Everyman Bistro. Actually, part of the reason that I made such good time was that I've been here before. In one of those small-Rhode Island coincidences, I actually met RI Future administrator Brian Hull here for dinner in the autumn. (I initiated the meeting; he chose the location.)

Mine was the third name on the "press" sign-in sheet, and although I didn't devote too much energy shuffling through my disorganized memory for names, I didn't recognize the other two, but the flow of people into the joint has been steady since I arrived.

1:50 p.m.

It's a funny experience, to set up at these things. Since last summer we've increasingly been treated as official members of the press. But then I set up with the cheap little netbook and the tiny camcorder, my shoelaces thoroughly frayed and holy sweater, and the "press pass" around my neck feels kinda inappropriate.

Perhaps I should begin droppin' my Gs in order to make the whole thing seem like a conscious imaging plan, rather than a consequence of limited funds and a sparse wardrobe.

2:13 p.m.

They've pretty well packed the place, although it's small and three candidates and a new party really shouldn't have had any trouble filling it. Not very many familiar faces, although that's probably more a measure of my lack of networking rather than the party's lack of connections. WRNI's Ian Donnis is walking around. So is Arlene Violet. Republican Representative Brian Newberry is here, undercover, as it were. A registered Republican who recognized me from Tiverton is here to check things out. That's about it, so far.

2:25 p.m.

Moderate Party Communications Director Kate Cantwell just took the podium to say that the program would start shortly and to request a moment of silence for the victims of the Station Nightclub fire. I know we're somewhat near the anniversary of that tragedy, but I'm not sure what the connection is.

2:39 p.m.

Executive Director Christine Hunsinger opened up the speeches with the message, essentially, that the party is made up of newcomers and motivated novices. Outsiders.

Next up is the new chairman Robert Corrente. He's offering a typically Republican assessment of the state's problems. If you've read Ed Fitzpatrick's column today featuring Corrente, you know what he's saying.

Passing note: An Anchor Rising reader just introduced himself and gave me a matchbook from the Reagan/Bush '84 campaign. Really neat. There's a metaphor in there somewhere about Anchor Rising setting Rhode Island on fire, but politics is such a litigious game that I'll work on the metaphor carefully before unleashing it.

2:47 p.m.

There's something telling in the fact that Corrente just expressed outrage about legislative grants. Good thing we've got a budding Moderate Party to raise that sort of issue, huh?

2:49 p.m.

So far, Corrente's just stealing the low-hanging fruit of the RIGOP's message. I suspect that the effect of having two parties that are mainly distinguished by the fact that they are not each other will allow the Democrats to jump in with a smarmy "Hey, us, too" and eliminate the strength of the civic complaints.

2:53 p.m.

"You don't have run as part of the monolith, and you don't have to run as part of the dysfunctional group that would rather spend time bickering internally." Lot of scorn in his voice on the second clause. I take it that Corrente's not interested in attracting the votes of Republicans who aren't necessarily bitter and hateful about their party. The vibe I'm getting from him is that he's interested in actively pulling voters away from the GOP rather than fostering a cooperative front against the Democrats. That could be significant in races that lack Republican candidates and Republican voters have a bad feeling about the Moderates.

3:14 p.m.

AG candidate Chris Little didn't really say anything unexpected, although he wasn't hostile to anybody other than the current AG. Lt. Gov. Candidate Jean Ann Guliano is essentially suggesting that the Moderates can accomplish all of the obvious repairs to the civic culture without partisan baggage and bickering. You know, because the Democrats and the Republicans will see that the Moderates are really just uniters... new kids with whom everybody can work. Right?

3:20 p.m.

Guliano is a Gist supporter. Funding formula. You know, so far I don't see the argument for a Moderate Party other than avoiding Republican and Democrat primaries.

3:32 p.m.

Ken Block is expressing his centrist extremism, as if we who are ideologically firm on the left or right are some insignificant niche, while most everybody else is ideologically pure in the center.

3:36 p.m.

"I will find common ground with everyone!." Cue bluebirds.

3:38 p.m.

Ken's first step as governor: Ask for federal money and issue bonds to invest in business. He'll then create business zones. Actually a surprisingly government-heavy solution.

"We must take every step to increase our tax base" to continue paying for welfare services.

From home:

Two notes:

  • A reader points out that simultaneous to the Moderate Party event, there was a memorial for the Station Nightclub, thus explaining the moment of silence.
  • Andrew and I were able to interview each of the candidates. I'll have that video, as well as full video of the event, up soon, hopefully by morning.

The Unions Cannot Survive a Perpetually Down Economy

Justin Katz

The thing that most irks me about unions in general and public-sector unions in particular is their way of obscuring natural alliances for the benefit not of their members, but of their organizers and political allies. Now, I can't speak to the in-fights that union discipline may be keeping out of public view (although I suspect many union readers just chuckled at the notion of such organization), but the workers should realize and begin reacting — soon — to the dire straits into which their leaders are steering them.

Consider this ho-hum article about inadequate funding for public-sector unions in Rhode Island:

The study shows that Rhode Island has no reserves for state employees' retirement benefits and handles them on a pay-as-you-go basis. ...

Karpinski, who oversees the state's pension plans but not other retiree benefits such as health insurance, said that due to some pension reform measures and full annual payments to the plans, the state system is on the road to recovery. But, he stressed, the key question is, can it keep the momentum given the tough financial times the state is facing?

As Rhode Island government and political structures are currently compiled, state workers must begin to consider the possibility that their pensions will evaporate entirely. There are no reserves, and "catching up" requires an economic recovery that nobody sees on the horizon — nobody, that is, who hasn't been seeing one on every horizon for the past two years. If the state responds per its habits and attempts to squeeze more revenue out of residents and businesses, they will leave, and leave the state worse off for it.

The only long-term hope for the unions is to become free-market advocates extraordinaire, with a little bit of faith in the winds of economic freedom. Rather than sticking by the tried-and-doomed alliances that have left them trying to subsist off a rotting economic carcass, they must realize that, when times are flush, nobody cares much about their greatly remunerative deals. Lower taxes. Eliminate mandates. Erase regulations.

Private citizens are only loosely tied to the state. Union members are lashed to it with career investments and retirement plans. They need the economy to take off. The reason for optimism is that Rhode Island is such a naturally attractive place to live and do business that throwing of the unnecessary governmental weights will make recovery light work. The reason for pessimism is that union culture leaves labor leaders' way of doing business as secure as, well, as secure as established politicians in Rhode Island.

What's in a Name

Justin Katz

We've had some discussion, around here, about the significance of structures and doctrines when comparing religions, and whether they bear on questions of value and correctness. A quotation from Paul Vitz that Fr. John Kiley includes in his latest Rhode Island Catholic column contributes to the argument that I've been making:

Paul Vitz, a distinguished writer (who has become more distinguished by becoming a Catholic) observes, "To begin with, it should be clear that when people change the name for God, they have changed their religion. If a small group began to refer to God as 'Zeus or Jupiter' we would know that something non-Christian was going on. To reject God the Father as a name is to deny the basic Christian creeds. It is to deny the language of baptism, and of course to deny the entire theology of the Trinity upon which Christianity and its theology have been constructed. But we can get even more specific. Jesus himself gave us the terminology for referring to God as Father. He expressed himself in this language often, clearly and with emphasis in the Gospels, and it is obvious that the notion of God as Father is a major new theological contribution of Jesus himself. This means that to deny the language of God as Father is to repudiate Jesus and his message."

We have a tendency to approach religion as a practical application of common sense when its role in society, and its necessary intellectual structure, necessarily go beyond the common. I've had arguments with family members over the obviousness of allowing substitute grain in the Eucharist for people who are allergic to wheat, and there are likely similar seemingly petty debates with which members of other sects and religions have experience. My point was that, although I couldn't see a reason to insist on wheat, there are other factors involved the rule, including elusive divine inspiration, and that there is a process and a structure for honing all of those factors into doctrine.

Cultural mechanisms have a longer memory than individuals, so in cultural and religious matters, it is advisable to respect that which we've received from our ancestors. An individual Christian may not recall all of the reasons that Vitz lists for retaining the language of God the Father, and may in the future, forget the reasons that he or she found its dilution to be desirable. Subsequent generations will not recall the deep debates that went into such a shift, and will therefore follow the logic of the language that they've inherited.

One can imagine future theologians observing that their religions prefer gender-free designations for God and that Jesus specifically used masculine language for Him and therefore conclude that Jesus wasn't speaking absolute Truth, but cultural biases that should be revised as necessary. (Actually, this argument may already be heard among liberal Christian sects.) With that conclusion, they'll turn to other rock-hard doctrines of their faith and adjust them as desired, until the relationship to Jesus' teachings is entirely aesthetic.

We've inherited a set of denotations and connotations for the word "father" that incorporates much more extensive a definition than we could hope to articulate. Within the culture, we just know what its key components are meant to be. Indeed, I'd suggest that Jesus' characterization of God as such was partly meant to ensure that we retained a particular notion of fatherhood, just as it was meant to ensure a particular notion of God's relationship with us.

February 20, 2010

Moderately Interesting

Justin Katz

Anybody else wondering how many Rhode Island journalists are grateful to the Moderate Party for letting slip their list of candidates in advance of tomorrow's kickoff party? Some of them may take time out of their Sunday relaxation plans to attend, but the pressure is surely off.

I'll probably go — if only to see whether I can confirm a creeping suspicion that the choice of Sunday for the event represents a subconscious declaration of separation from social, religious conservatives who still strive for a habitual distinction between the two weekend days. In other words, I'm still not sure what the purpose of a "moderate" party might be except as a home for economically literate liberals.

An op-ed in yesterday's Providence Journal by the party's new chairman, Robert Corrente, doesn't give any reason for me to suspect my gut impression of being wrong:

... The Democratic Party in Rhode Island has become a self-perpetuating monolith, which must (but won’t) take responsibility for our “last place in everything” distinction, even as its members revel in celebration of their achievements. They have no shame, but that’s okay, because they also have no opposition.

So why not just be Republicans? There are two reasons. First, and most fundamentally, we do not define ourselves, nor do we delineate our positions, by party affiliation. If there is one clear thing in contemporary politics, at the national, state, and local level, it is this: People are sick of elected officials who define their success by whether they are being good Democrats or good Republicans.

Second, and we needn’t dwell on this, but let’s be honest. The Republican Party in Rhode Island is, and has historically been, spectacularly dysfunctional, devoid of structure, and wracked by internal discord.

Inasmuch as the way to battle a monolith is manifestly not to set its opposition against itself, the first paragraph rebuts the second. How should we defeat entrenched Democrats with bought-and-paid votes among its public sector, welfare state, and loony left constituents — a "self-perpetuating" combination, in Corrente's words? If you're a Moderate Party supporter, you might answer: By giving Republican-leaning voters two opposition choices.

The third paragraph offers no help on this count. Are we to believe that the Moderates were competent to build an entirely new party structure out of the contents of Ken Block's brain and wallet but not competent to rebuild from the hollow shell of the RIGOP? Corrente's next sentence gives away the real thinking (emphasis added):

On a related point, why not just be independents, like Lincoln Chafee, who is rightly respected for his principled stands in the U.S. Senate?

The Moderate Party's audience is now — although it probably was not upon its inception — a bastion for those whom the state's Republicans have rightly squeezed from their leadership ranks. It is a choice for non-Democrats who can't stand to be counted within the same political movement as people like, well, like Anchor Rising contributors or, for another example, the Rhode Island Republican Assembly.

The Moderate Party's problem will likely prove to be that its potential for growth is limited to those narrow bounds. Where there is no Republican in the race, it will attract anti-Democrat votes. But where the race offers three or more party options, the Moderates will not attract those who wish to live in a pro-government economic fantasy land and neither will it attract those who refuse to be governed by the privileged fantasies of social liberals.

Narrow Foreclosure Improvement, Broad Decline

Justin Katz

In order to interpret trends in mortgage payments, one must look at the overall movement, and I'm not sure the content of this article by Paul Edward Parker merits the the talk of recovery that the front-page headline initiates:

In Rhode Island, the association reported that 11.09 percent of all mortgages were one or more payments behind in the fourth quarter. That’s an increase from the third quarter, when 10.25 percent were behind. ...

But those numbers break down to show a substantial increase in the mortgages three or more payments behind and a modest decrease in those only one payment behind.

Mortgages three or more payments behind went to 5.41 percent in the fourth from 4.45 percent in the third quarter. At the same time, those one payment behind fell to 3.82 percent from 3.93 percent.

Comparing the two quarters, both the total number of mortgages in foreclosure at the end of the quarter and the number that entered the foreclosure process during the quarter dropped.

The number in foreclosure fell to 3.97 in the fourth quarter from 4.05 percent in the third quarter.

Those starting the process fell to 1.15 in the fourth quarter from 1.34 percent in the third quarter.

There are two significant gaps in information, here: First, we don't know what percentage of Rhode Island mortgages are two months delinquent. Second, states, banks, and individual agreements and circumstances vary the number of months that the average homeowner can fall behind before entering foreclosure, and I don't know whether the cited percentages continue to count folks in foreclosure as still being delinquent. (The report itself is way too expensive to justify satisfying my curiosity.)

That noted, the reality is that a borrower must be one payment behind before being multiple payments behind, so the above data suggests a plateau, at best... rather, it suggests an approaching plateau, at best. Overall, an additional 0.84% of all mortgages fell behind in payments, from the third quarter to the fourth quarter. Putting the trends in order, the percentage of all mortgages at one payment delinquency dropped 0.11 points; the percentage three or more behind increased 0.96 points; the percentage entering foreclosure fell 0.19 points; and the percentage actually in foreclosure fell 0.08 points.

Assuming that foreclosures and payments in full haven't wiped out so many mortgages as to affect this data substantially, since the total number of delinquencies went up while the one-month category decreased, delinquencies can only be moving in the wrong direction. People aren't catching up on their payments, they're falling farther behind. The decrease in both new foreclosures and total foreclosures could mean two things, neither of which indicates a recovery: banks could be allowing longer delinquencies before initiating foreclosure or the market is simply between two waves of them.

The ideal trend would be to see an overall decrease in delinquencies at the same time as the number of households that are one payment behind goes up. That would mean that folks are making headway against the hard economic times. Of course, it would also mean that more people are working and making more money, and we'll have evidence of that before the mortgage market tells us anything of note.

Two Notes on the Ultrapartisan Non-Partisan

Justin Katz

On the reflective claim that I'm as partisan as Bill Lynch: First, I'm not a partisan; I'm an ideologue. I call the Democrat Party the Party of Death because it is gladly the political home of advocates for the abortion industry and related causes (e.g., embryonic stem-cell research and right to die). Certain current candidates might be willing to testify that pro-abortion Republicans don't get a pass. Second, were I to run for Congress, my first declaration would definitely not be a call for an end to bipartisan rancor.

On the question of whether Lynch was kidding when he told school children that Democrats are the good guys and Republicans are the bad guys: The anecdote isn't relevant because Lynch was corrupting the minds of young Rhode Islanders; the anecdote is relevant because it so directly conforms with his comportment as Democrat Party chairman. The air has hardly settled around the lips of a local Republican who has chosen a word poorly when my emailbox has a statement from Lynch exaggerating that word to vicious degree.

To dismiss Lynch's quip on the grounds that it was a joke applies in only one of two ways: Either his parallel behavior as chairman has been wickedly cynical and evident of a deep contempt of the people whom his party claims to represent, or the joke was, as Don Roach suggests in the comments, "sarcasm laced with truth - or rather his belief that Republicans are the bad guys," in which case it wasn't the sort of joke that absolves the speaker of blame.

February 19, 2010

Re: Ultrapartisan Non-Partisan

Carroll Andrew Morse

Democratic First District Congressional Candidate William Lynch, who as Chairman of the State Democratic Party successfully discouraged his party’s gubernatorial candidates from appearing at a Rhode Island Voter Coalition candidates forum in January, has scheduled his own appearance at a “Drinking Liberally” public forum to be held on February 24 (h/t Meg Grady).

According to Steve Wright of the RIVC, Mr. Lynch has yet to respond to the Voter Coalition's invitation to attend their February forum (scheduled for the same evening as the Drinking Liberally event). Republican John Robitaille and independent Lincoln Chafee, candidates for governor, are scheduled to appear at the RIVC forum; Democratic gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio and Congressional candiate David Cicilline declined the RIVC invitation, citing scheduling conflicts.

In announcing his candidacy, William Lynch said that it was necessary to “come together and govern from the middle”. It appears that to him, governing from the middle means doing issue-oriented public interaction in front of ideologically progressive groups, while completely ignoring other citizen groups. It makes you wonder where exactly Mr. Lynch thinks the middle is.

A Negative Approach to Governance

Justin Katz

And around and around not-my-town goes:

Rep. John G. Edwards (D-Dist. 70, Tiverton, Portsmouth), whose district encompasses neighborhoods on both sides of the Sakonnet River Bridge, has introduced legislation that will prohibit tolls from being charged on the bridge. ...

Instead, Rep. Edwards proposes placing a toll on Interstate Hwy 95 (I-95) in Westerly and in Pawtucket as an alternative revenue source.

As a political matter, it's an easy call to reject state-level policies that will affect one's subregion negatively. And sure, perhaps there are marginal justifications for putting a toll in one place rather than another. However, this is just gamesmanship. If Rep. Edwards wishes to submit legislation that will solve the acute problem of a toll proposal while addressing the underlying difficulty, he should propose that the General Assembly allocate money from its general revenue to the basic infrastructure matters to which it ought to be going before anything else.

Of course, that would require the risk that people in his own district might dislike the decreased revenue for the ancillary government expenditures that would have to be cut, such as nanny state programs, inside deals, and union giveaways.

Ultrapartisan Non-Partisan

Justin Katz

Does Bill Lynch really think he's got a shot at the 1st district congressional seat? I'm with Steven Artigas of Westerly:

So William Lynch, Rhode Island state Democratic Party chairman and announced candidate for Congress, instructed an 8th-grade class that to tell Democrats from Republicans is easy: "The Democrats are the good guys and the Republicans are the bad guys."

Not only does he showcase his own mindless partisanship, but to display this biased view in a class of impressionable students who are hopefully learning the beginnings of critical thinking is especially repugnant.

Lynch: Giving shamelessness a face.

Government Can't Just Dictate Reality

Justin Katz

I certainly don't want any of my family's regular expenses going up. Indeed, if I were able to dictate terms to companies who provide me services, I'd lower my rates. But that's not how the world works. Of course, one doesn't get the impression that government officials comprehend such mundane observations of reality.

Rhode Island's Health Insurance Advisory Council, for example, in considering insurers' requests to increase their rates, acknowledges that "most of the proposed increases result from growing hospital and pharmaceutical costs." But the body can only think to posture and demand more squeezing from the companies. Several candidates for public office who put in an appearance at the hearing had nothing additional to offer:

State General Treasurer Frank Caprio, a candidate for governor, offered the council "an update from kitchen tables across the state." He said bills are piling and people are forced to cut back. "I respectfully ask you to say, 'Enough is enough' to these insurers," Caprio said.

Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts, a candidate for reelection, acknowledged that medical inflation was the underlying problem, but urged Koller to push insurers to develop proposals for dealing with it. "We need to put the challenge on the table," she said.

State Sen. Leonidas P. "Lou" Raptakis, D-Coventry, a candidate for secretary of state, suggested linking health-insurance premiums to the consumer price index.

Why is nobody proposing the clear solution to the problem of increasing in-state health insurance? Look, our mechanism for dictating terms to those who provide us services is to find another provider willing to agree to them. A market of just three insurers is clearly not enough, so we need to bring others in. To do that — and to enable them to keep down costs — we've got to lighten up our mandates and regulations.

Unfortunately, we're learning that the one thing that Rhode Island's ostensible leaders will not consider is decreases to their own authority. That's why we have to apply a political version of the Central Falls high school "turnaround model": Vote them all out of office and reelect no more than the one percent or so who might have something resembling a clue.

Learning to Hear the Union

Justin Katz

Mike at Assigned Reading is dead on that the Newsmakers head-to-head between Central Falls union representative Jim Parisi and Superintendent Frances Gallo is very revealing about the two sides' priorities. Perhaps the most crystallized example of unions' determination to spin rather than inform — because everything's "negotiable" — comes at approximately 9: in the video:

Asked about the extra tasks that the administration is requesting from teachers, Parisi says:

What people aren't informed of is that Central Falls teachers already have more common planning time and professional time than any other public school district in the state, because we were a willing partner to make that happen. How come the union and its teachers don't get the credit for something like that?

Sounds like a reasonable statement, no? The teachers are already working hard, compromising, so that they can accomplish as much as possible for their students. Well, the spin unravels when Gallo explains:

That time is taken out of the school day — out of the instructional school day. We're trying to add the time to the after school time so that the instructional day remains such. We actually have an instructional day of just over four hours.

In other words, that state-leading planning and sit-down time was negotiated as time away from the most difficult part of the job: interacting with the students. A union will brag about helping its clients to lower their blood pressure — leaving out, of course, that it does so with a knife.

February 18, 2010

Using Their Own Tools Against the Levers of Power

Justin Katz

Ed Achorn offers an excellent suggestion:

Maybe Republicans should exploit the master lever to throw a scare into the legislature.

They could point out that, under the utter domination of one party in the General Assembly, Rhode Island has lost tens of thousands of jobs, fueling an unemployment rate of about 13 percent, while that in nearby New Hampshire is only 7 percent; that the state has become a small copy of Michigan, with boarded-up neighborhoods and foreclosed homes; that unsustainably generous benefits for politically powerful public-employee unions threaten Rhode Island with financial catastrophe; that the state's business climate is the worst in America, according to Forbes magazine, even below Michigan’s (New Hampshire leads New England); that the Assembly-controlled state budget has exploded 47 percent since 2003, almost three times the rate of inflation and many times the rate of income growth of most Rhode Island families, while property taxes have skyrocketed.

They could argue that citizens could easily "send a message" against this record with one-stop shopping, and rock the State House to the core with a single mark on the ballot, choosing the opposition party. That would filter down to every legislative race. (No further thinking required.)

Actually, it would be an excellent idea were the Republicans able to promise candidates in key races. John Loughlin's current General Assembly seat looks likely to be available for a Democrat to stroll on in, just as Jay Edwards did upon Joe Amaral's retirement during the last election cycle in North Tiverton, There's also the complication of the Moderate Party and any independent candidates who might emerge.

But leave that all up to the other parties and candidates. An "anyone but" campaign might be just what the lazy, apathetic electorate needs.

A Cultural Turnaround Based on Experience

Justin Katz

Here's an interesting result from a survey of U.S. Catholics done by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University in Washington, appearing in an article in the Rhode Island Catholic, but not apparently online anywhere:

"The youngest Catholics ... look a lot more like the pre-Vatican II [than the] Vatican II or post-Vatican II cohorts," [social scientist Barbara Dafoe Whitehead] said. "Huge majorities - 80 percent or more - of these youngest Catholics believe that marriage is a lifelong commitment and that people don't take marriage seriously enough when divorce is readilly available."

Many children of this generation have experienced divorce in their own families, and they are determined not to divorce themselves, Whitehead said.

Of course, one should also consider the possibility that increasing liberalism after Vatican II led to fewer Catholics of the sort who would disagree with this young generation and a concentration of traditionalists among those who are still religious (which could be a leaping point for further discussion about the effectiveness at liberalizing doctrine to be more amenable to shifts in cultural mores). Still, it's not difficult to imagine cultural backlash among a generation that's been on the receiving end of negative life-changing trends such as increases in divorce.

What would be the texting jargon for "'til death do us part"?

There's A Reason That "Hope" and an Anchor are on the Flag

Marc Comtois

Look, for obvious reasons, it's hard to be optimistic around here, but a couple stories should give us OCEAN staters a glimmer of "hope." First, Quonset Point is getting some stimulus dollars to upgrade infrastructure and, possibly, help build a new manufacturing facility:

The Quonset Development Corporation has been awarded $22.3 million in federal stimulus money to upgrade the infrastructure at Quonset Business Park and purchase a crane for Davisville Port with an eye toward creating a hub for wind turbine assembly.

Gov. Donald L. Carcieri said the money would give “a tremendous boost” to the state’s efforts to become a center for the renewable energy industry. QDC Managing Director Steven King said construction work may begin within six months....

The QDC says the upgrades will help offshore wind developer Deepwater Wind LLC open a planned wind turbine assembly plant at the park. However, the federal government has not yet said exactly which projects have been funded, King said....In its application, QDC said the money would create between 500 and 800 jobs. The bulk of those jobs would be at the Deepwater plant, with the agency anticipating the remainder coming from businesses that expand or move into the park as a result of the infrastructure improvements. The new crane and refurbished docks also could create jobs, QDC said.

This in addition to the 400 new jobs being filled by Electric Boat. And then there is a possibility that the America's Cup could return to Narragansett Bay:
The spectacle of America’s Cup yachts flying anew across Rhode Island Sound became more than a shot in the dark after software billionaire Larry Ellison — who apparently bought Astors’ Beechwood Mansion on Bellevue Avenue recently — won the 33rd America’s Cup challenge on Sunday in Valencia, Spain.

Ellison, whose BMW Oracle team seized the Cup for the Golden Gate Yacht Club, immediately cited San Diego, San Francisco, and Newport as possible venues for the next Cup challenge, expected to be held in 2013....

Larry Fisher, executive director of the Herreshoff Marine Museum and America’s Cup Hall of Fame, said, “Apart from the great tradition and spectacle that the race is, and all that leads up to it, it’s a great opportunity for economic development.”

Fisher cites two recent studies that determined the economic impact on the 2007 America’s Cup in Valencia to be “in the realm of 70,000 jobs created, and billions of dollars.” Fisher said, “The opportunity for this magnitude of jobs-creation and this kind of economic impact will not be ignored by any venue that wishes to host the next America’s Cup competition.”

Gee whiz, Whoda thunk that the Ocean State could look to it's eponymous resource for economic gain? For now, we can at least dream a little. (Cynics, the comment section is now open....)

Remitting the Market

Justin Katz

In reading Karen Lee Ziner's summary of a report about immigrants' financial remittances to their home countries, it's tempting to muse about the use of public universities to generate content for political think tanks:

The report, "Many Happy Returns: Remittances and their Impact," by political science professor Kristin Johnson, was released Tuesday by the Immigration Policy Center, a nonpartisan research and policy arm of the American Immigration Council in Washington. ...

Among the report's conclusions: remittances — whose recipients are among the most impoverished sectors of the population in developing countries — increase the consumer capacity of those individuals; help build financial infrastructure and provide otherwise unavailable micro-financing for small businesses.

Remittance outflows also dramatically increase the pool of possible foreign consumers for U.S. goods; contribute to economic stability in developing countries; and increase profits of financial companies and banks through increasing reliance on electronic fund transfers.

Having read the report itself, it's difficult to characterize it as anything other than an extended opinion piece. At no point does it provide a straightforward table of remittances to particular regions corresponding with changes in product exports to the same regions. Instead, the reader gets such factoids as this:

Remittances to Mexico reached their peak in 2006, at nearly $6.2 billion dollars, and in 2007, Mexico was one of the top three global remittance recipients.

Which contrasts peculiarly with this, later in the document:

Export increases from three states that comprise over half of U.S. trade with Mexico also increased substantially from 2005‐2008; Texas realized $50 million in exports to Mexico in 2005 which rose to $62 million in 2008, with an increase of 10.9% from 2007 to 2008 alone.

Apart from the huge disparity in the dollar numbers, themselves, it's curious that money transfers to Mexico began to decrease after 2006, but Texan exports to the country increased in subsequent years. Where's the correlation?

In a general way, it makes an intuitive sense that money sent to poor countries might help the global economy. Residents in developed nations might waste or store away wealth, whereas the residents of poorer nations have incentive to make the most of every dollar — whether being judicious in their expenditures or finding ways to compound the value of resources through investment and business activity. But those sending the money out of the wealthier nation are not likely to be among its wealthier workers. Moreover, to the extent that increases in the immigrant population decrease the wages of low-end workers, the domestic effect is likely to be an upward flow of wealth away from Americans who share the incentive to use their income efficiently.

These are all mere considerations; there are a number of ways to adjust the balance in a reasonable way. The clincher, for me, is from a global perspective: There's a reason some nations export their workers and derive significant portions of their national income from remittances. They aren't, themselves, conducive to economic activity, whether for reasons of corruption or a lack of regional resources (most often the former, I'd wager). In other words, on a larger scale, remittances are a poor investment propping up social structures that deserve to fail and to be refigured.

Rhody Highway Dollars: Little (Too Much?) Bang for the Buck

Monique Chartier

As a function of compiling a snapshot of the condition of the state so as to enlighten the House Senior Deputy Majority Leader, I went looking for an update on the highway situation. This analysis popped up, a state ranking by the Reason Foundation of highway conditions, efficiency and cost-effectiveness. They looked at state highway systems

in 11 categories, including congestion, pavement condition, fatalities, deficient bridges and total spending.

You will be shocked! shocked! (... okay, you won't but apparently the Senior Deputy Majority Leader will be) to learn that Rhode Island ranks 49th out of fiftieth, getting special mention in the text of the analysis.

Taxpayers in New York, Hawaii, New Jersey, California, Rhode Island and Alaska have the worst-performing highway systems in the nation.

The Senior Deputy Majority Leader purports to believe that Rhode Island's highways are under-funded. Possibly, as with our school systems, this is not so much a matter of under-funding as a lack of will on the part of our elected officials to set standards so as to obtain a reasonable return on the expenditure of our tax dollars.

Schools and Dollar Signs

Justin Katz

Last night, Marc discussed schools with guest host Tony Cornetta on the Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

February 17, 2010

Unabashed Plug of a Rescuing Providence Post

Monique Chartier

It didn't make me cry, dammit.

By the way, as Michael will soon be going Hollywood, he needs to begin assembling his entourage.

Let's see. A makeup person, a hair person, a wardrobe consultant. A scheduler and a couple of gophers. An agent, back in a glass-and-chrome office, making rapid fire phone calls and chain smoking European cigarettes. An insider to keep Michael up on the latest LA and NY gossip. And, most importantly, a goodly assortment of Yes Men Persons.

Don't leave this important task to the last minute, Michael ...

Who's the Goliath?

Justin Katz

The political landscape has been changing so rapidly, of late, that it's tempting to refigure the narrative over and over again, but it seems to me that the story of the upcoming election is pretty consistent, no matter who the players are. Consider a recent Ed Fitzpatrick column on John Loughlin:

For one thing, [Cook Political Report analyst David Wasserman] said, "A lot of [Loughlin's] appeal is built on running as David to Kennedy's Goliath. Now, he can't take advantage of running against Washington."

Loughlin begs to differ. "I think it's always been David vs. Goliath, and it's still David vs. Goliath," he said. "The Goliath is the Congress of the United States and an administration that is spending our country into oblivion."

Former Brown University Prof. Darrell M. West, now at the Brookings Institution, said it is easier to run for an open seat than to take on an incumbent. But he said it will probably prove more difficult to raise out-of-state money without Kennedy as an opponent.

"Goliath is no longer going to be on the ballot," West said. "It's going to be a bunch of Davids at this point."

I'd agree that one can include the Republican Congress of the early '00s in the Goliath characterization, which is probably what restrained Loughlin from partisanship. And it's understandable that establishment, even Democrat-leaning commentators, such as Fitzpatrick and his sources, would see all non-incumbents as Davids. But I don't think it's excessively partisan, on the other side, to suspect that the Congressional Goliath at least overlaps with the Democrat Goliath, if the two are not synonymous.

In other words, the Democrat primary is mainly to choose the face that Goliath will wear locally. The dynamic has only changed to the extent that Patrick Kennedy's own foibles were a factor.

Some Fundamental Fixes Need to be Done in Warwick

Marc Comtois

Yesterday, a report in the Warwick Beacon compared the Cranston and Warwick school systems (the teachers for both districts are represented by AFT). By the numbers:

Warwick Budget: $164.6 million
Cranston Budget: $121.4 million.

Warwick Students: 10,507
Cranston Students: 10,774

Warwick cost/pupil: $15,666
Cranston cost/pupil: $11,272

Warwick # Schools: 24 (3 high schools)
Cranston # Schools: 23 (2 high schools)

Warwick Full-time teacher positions: 1,038
Cransont Full-time teacher positions: 944

Warwick salaries/benefits: $144 million
Cranston salaries/benefits: $105.3 million

A review of the most recently available Warwick School budget (via the Transparency Train) reveals that the amount spent on direct payment to personnel has decreased around .5% since 2008 (during that time 4 schools were closed--basically, to piggyback on Justin's point, Warwick already traded schools--as well as teachers and administrators jobs--to keep raises in place). Meanwhile, costs in benefits has increased 10%, which can't be dealt with unless the contract is reopened for negotiation.

Warwick School Committee Member Paul Cannistra said yesterday there needs to be a better balance of student needs against financial realities.

Cannistra, who voted against the teachers’ contract in 2008, arguing it would cost too much money for taxpayers, said that the district needed stricter health insurance co-share premium payments from its employees. Warwick teachers pay $11 per week for both individual and family plans.

Teachers in Cranston pay a 15 percent co-share of the premiums for health care. The Cranston School Department’s bus drivers pay health insurance co-share payments of 10 percent.

According to Warwick School Business Affairs Director Len Flood, the Warwick School District receives about $600,000 from its teachers due to the $11 per week co-share payment. A 10 percent co-share payment would mean the district would receive $2 million. With a 20-percent co-pay, the district would save $4 million.

That's the key: a percentage co-pay, not a flat amount. (Incidentally, Mayor Avedisian made the same mistake on the municipal side last year).

Further, as the Beacon reports, another primary cause for the difference is the practice of weighting students with IEPs (Individual Education Programs), whereby a student with an IEP is counted as 1.5 or 2 students for the purpose of determining class size limits (this is something unique to Warwick's teacher contract). According to Rosemary Healey, the school department’s director of compliance, the practice of weighting is also a magnet:

According to Healey, that might explain why despite having a smaller total student population, Warwick has 460 more students on IEP’s than Cranston. Cranston has 1,700 students on IEP’s whereas Warwick has 2,160.

“I think we provide quality education here. I think our special education program is second to none. I think the affirmation of that is that people want to move here for it,” said Healey.

“Is it very expensive? Yes. Is it necessary? Yes. I think we owe it to our students.”

The Beacon calculates that if no weighting was done, Warwick schools could save about $11 million per year. While he agrees that weighting helps students, Warwick School Committee Chair Chris Friel thinks it may be too costly:
“The question becomes, can the Warwick School District afford to continue the weighting procedures as currently enacted,” said Friel.

“I think that it is becoming cost prohibitive when you take into account the financial situation we currently find ourselves in.”

Whether or not to maintain, discontinue or scale back the practice of weighting is a cost/benefit exercise worth going through.

The bottom line is that there are some fundamental items in contracts and benefits that need to be completely revised, not just patched for now. And while the schools need to do the majority of the work, municipal contracts need to be re-opened (besides the limited, short-term give backs just negotiated) to make co-pays a percentage of costs, not a flat rate. (If I was a dreamer, I'd include revamping the contract step scheme....)

The Day After Yesterday

Justin Katz

For at least a decade, now, it seemed as if whatever was happening on the planet, globally, regionally, whatever, was attributed to climate change. Here's more indication that even things that weren't happening on the planet were being thus attributed:

More trouble looms for the IPCC. The body may need to revise statements made in its Fourth Assessment Report on hurricanes and global warming. A statistical analysis of the raw data shows that the claims that global hurricane activity has increased cannot be supported. ...

Hatton performed a z-test statistical analysis of the period 1999-2009 against 1946-2009 to test the six conclusions. He also ran the data ending with what the IPCC had available in 2007. He found that North Atlantic hurricane activity increased significantly, but the increase was counterbalanced by diminished activity in the East Pacific, where hurricane-strength storms are 50 per cent more prevalent. The West Pacific showed no significant change. Overall, the declines balance the increases.

"When you average the number of storms and their strength, it almost exactly balances." This isn't indicative of an increase in atmospheric energy manifesting itself in storms.

And while I'm on the topic of the collapse of the global warming hysteria, here's some more commentary on the matter of global temperatures:

In all, so far, at least 16 major claims made in AR4 (the report for which the IPCC won a Nobel Prize) have been shown to have originated with environmental groups rather than scientists, including the claim that climate change is already making tornado, hurricanes, forest fires and floods worse.

This week, we also learned that NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) may have been playing fast and loose with its own calculations of global average temperature. Among the four main repositories of global temperature records, GISS is the only one to show the Earth still warming during the past decade. Now two American climate researchers -- Joseph D'Aleo and Anthony Watts -- believe they know why: Scientists at GISS may have been cherry-picking the weather stations they take their records from to increase global averages artificially.

The pair write that there was a "major" decline in the number of stations GISS scientists were taking readings from "and an increase in missing data from remaining stations, which occurred suddenly around 1990 ... a clear bias was found toward removing higher elevation, higher latitude, and rural stations -- the cooler stations -- during this culling process." The pre-1990 temperature records, though, continued to include these cooler stations. These changes tended to make temperatures before 1990 appear extra-cool and those after 1990 extra-warm.

For some reason, I can't shake the image of a lead climate expert having his scientist mask ripped off to reveal his true identity as Al Gore, who'll say (of course) "And I would have gotten away with it, if it weren't for you skeptics!"

Trading Schools for Raises

Justin Katz

The Newport Daily News isn't very friendly about putting information online, so I don't have a link to the story, but I read this weekend that the Tiverton School Committee is floating the idea of closing the town's high school. In hopes of saving $450,000, as I recall, the town would either send its students elsewhere or bring in a charter school company to run things.

Meanwhile, in West Warwick, closure of an elementary school is expected to save $750,000, with the students dispersed to other schools and fifth graders heading to middle school. A reader emails:

So you are looking at placing 10 and 11 yr olds with potentially 15 y/o kids in the middle school. It gets even worse, its one thing to save the $750,000 but to then budget $900,000 in Teacher Step raises is mind boggling. Closing a school to fund Teacher raises, West Warwick is currently in the top 5 in salaries, with the top step at approx. 79,000 and health care contributions this year at 10% and next yr at 15%.

Here in Tiverton, the proposed increase in salaries, for next year, is $535,954. In other words, multiple Rhode Island communities are toying with the idea disrupting the lives of the students for whom they have responsibility in order to fund pay increases for well-remunerated public-sector workers in the middle of a painful recession and the economic collapse of the state. As if to add insult to injury, evidence of the quality of education in the state continues to be negative, such as this from the Providence Business News:

According to the College Board, 1,766 students in Rhode Island's class of 2009, or 17.3 percent of the class, took at least one A.P. exam during high school, compared with 26.5 percent nationwide. That was up from the 1,555 students in the class of 2008 who took an A.P. test and 1,112 in the class of 2004. ...

The organization said 10.7 percent of last year's class — or 62 percent of A.P. test-takers — earned a passing score of 3, 4 or 5. That was up from the 9.5 percent who passed at least one the prior year, but lower than the 15.9 percent of students who did so nationwide.

If we're to resist the urge to let emotion run away with us, we must admit the probability that some of the school closure talk is little more than a ploy to rile the public to accept tax increases and shame the teachers' unions into accepting concessions. Even so, the current dynamic is unacceptable: that the anxieties of residents are being manipulated in an attempt to achieve the obvious and reasonable step of holding salaries flat, or even trimming them a little, for professionals who, as a group, are failing their students.

February 16, 2010

Candidate Update

Carroll Andrew Morse

This may have to become a daily feature for the next few days...

Ken Block will be the Moderate candidate for Governor (according to Katherine Gregg of the Projo). Is this because no one else was interested, or because no one wants to give the Moderate party any money and by becoming a candidate, Mr. Block can spend his own? Also, Robert Corrente is the new Moderate Party chair.

Also from Katherine Gregg, Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts and Secretary of State Ralph Mollis are out of the 1st District Congressional race. This is an important development, in that Lt. Gov. Roberts would seem to have a good shot in a Democratic primary, with David Cicilline's problems with unions and William Lynch not fully trusted by progressives. But then again, we are yet to hear any specific examples of where Mr. Lynch disagrees with the "extreme left".

Myrth York is considering a run for Mayor of Providence (according to Ian Donnis of WRNI). No word yet from Bruce Sundlun or Lincoln Almond.

Asserting Humanity by Little Steps (Literally)

Justin Katz

Even apart from the political point, Mark Steyn's most recent last-page essay for National Review is worth a read for the scene that the anecdote presents.

Savage Doth Protest Too Much

Justin Katz

Let's stipulate that Rep. John Savage (R. East Providence) was only on this list as a procedural matter:

In the first step in what promises to be a long and tortuous legal path, at least 18 former officers, directors and employees of the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation have received letters seeking the recovery of [$75 million in] money that auditors say was lost as a result of "apparent misfeasance, malfeasance and nonfeasance."

As far as I'm concerned, any opportunity to embarrass and otherwise prod the attention of long-standing members of the Rhode Island political class should be taken. Don't whine about receiving the letter; rail against the fact that one can't operate in Rhode Island government without being tainted by such things.

On the other hand, I'll cede that Savage is correct to complain about this:

In an interview earlier Tuesday, Savage said that he was even more upset after learning that three other former Resource Recovery board members who had initially received demand letters were subsequently taken off the list — Avedisian and former Carcieri aides Jerome Williams and Dante Boffi. He said that his lawyer was rebuffed when he asked Carcieri's legal counsel, Kernan King, to take him off the list.

Kempe said that Williams and Boffi shouldn't have received letters because they served as the governor's designees to the board, and did not have to be confirmed by the Senate. She said that Avedisian was removed from the list because he hadn't served long on the board, and did so after the "bulk" of the alleged wrongdoing.

Rhode Island really needs a wave of leaders who'll offer no political favors whatsoever. You know, representatives wholly on the side of voting taxpayers.

The Not-Well New England State

Justin Katz

Perhaps Rhode Island's problem is it's size. I mean, looking at the map that accompanies the results to Gallup's poll concerning Americans' well-being, one can hardly tell that we're in the "lower range" category. I mean, the bottom half of New England is "midrange," and Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine made the "higher range" category so it looks like the region's doing pretty well. You can hardly see the little bile-colored spot amidst the region's green hue.

And yet, there we are, in company with the Deep South.

Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index 2009 state-level data encompass more than 350,000 interviews conducted among national adults aged 18 older across all 50 states. Gallup and Healthways started tracking state-level well-being in 2008. The Well-Being Index score for the nation and for each state is an average of six sub-indexes, which individually examine life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities.

So AG Holder is Backing Away from Civilian Trials for Terrorists?

Monique Chartier

Seven paragraphs into this New York Times article about US Attorney General Eric Holder once again finding his political voice (and, as someone who very much wants a change of administration in three years, I say, let the man speak) comes this.

“I have to do a better job in explaining the decisions that I have made,” Mr. Holder also said, adding, “I have to be more forceful in advocating for why I believe these are trials that should be held on the civilian side.”

But now Mr. Holder is in the awkward position of pushing for an approach that he acknowledges he would accept defeat on. The administration hopes to announce a new venue for the Sept. 11 trial within three weeks, he said last Tuesday. But Congress could pass legislation requiring that Mr. Mohammed be tried by a military commission, or Mr. Obama himself could change direction.

“You always have to be flexible,” Mr. Holder said, allowing that justice could be served in a commission trial, too, and praising generals who “adapt their game plans” as the situation changes.

True, justice could be served in a military commission, as well. It's just that this is quite a volte face in only three months, Mr. Attorney General.

Interesting, by the way, that this dramatic shift is mentioned as a minor, unrelated aside well into an article about political tactics. Doesn't this revelation merit its own story and properly descriptive headline?

Fox in the Hen House

Justin Katz

I had to switch to music halfway through my commute home, on Friday, because Dan Yorke had Rep. Tim Williamson (D, Coventry, West Warwick) on his show, and my feet were beginning to stick to the pedals from the slime that was seeping from the speakers. A woman called in to challenge Williamson's assertion that he and his peers have done a good job, and the representative slipped into politico-lawyer talk. He let her make the concise message that she was clearly intent on delivering and, at first opportunity, chastised her for interrupting his reply (always note when such folks deploy the sentence, "I didn't interrupt you, did I?"). He then embarked on a rambling spiel raising barely relevant facts, contesting the fact that Rhode Island is really in much trouble at all, and allocating blame everywhere but where it belongs, with the General Assembly.

A quick example: When Dan suggested that the roads bore testament to Rhode Island's problems, Williamson threw out some numbers and explained the reason as dramatic underfunding. Of course, it's the General Assembly that has allocated money that ought to go to infrastructure to everything but, then relying on the trick of floating bonds for the necessities that the body has underfunded.

I raise Williamson's performance from obscurity (Dan hasn't posted the Podcast) because we're beginning to see evidence that nothing short of an extremely unlikely wholesale change in the legislature will be adequate, in the coming election. We've been asking, Don't these people see that there won't be a miracle salvation of Rhode Island's status quo? Maybe they do, maybe they don't, but the salient point is that they just don't care. Whatever the consequence to the legislators' constituents — be they voters or government-dependents or public-sector workers — they, the politicians, will survive, perhaps thrive. Williamson's attitude was the arrogance of the untouchable.

The various news reports and profile pieces published upon Gordon Fox's ascension to House Speaker solidified my conviction that the General Assembly as currently constituted has no intention of making the difficult decisions that will enable the rest of us to pull the state from the tortuous waters in which it is — we are — languishing. How could you conclude otherwise (emphasis added)?

"A Fox speakership will invariably include, but not be limited to, an increase in the state income tax, a lack of constitutionally sound state limitations on illegal immigration, an economic development policy overly influenced by environmental extremists, and of course ... gay marriage," wrote [Rep. Arthur Corvese (D, North Providence)], who has been replaced [as chairman of the House Labor Committee] by Rep. Anastasia Williams, an unpaid member of the AFL-CIO board of directors. "I believe your philosophical stance on major issues is too far to the left for the good of the citizens of the State of Rhode Island."

According to the brief biography presented in the Providence Journal, Fox came of age and built his career as a lawyer while under the wing of the state's power brokers, solidifying his place by choosing back-room deals over his left-wing ideology. We should be discomfited that the state house's progressives support him, of course, but we should be more concerned that his election to the top post signals a retrenchment of the forces that have brought Rhode Island so low.

And I don't see anywhere near the level of targeted angst and anxiety that would indicate that the people of Rhode Island are about to upset the designs of the political class.

February 15, 2010

Why Has the RI AG Waited Until the End of his Tenure to Implement an Electronic Centralized Case Management System?

Monique Chartier

As a function of one of my jobs, I review state RFP's to see if the state needs anything that my employer can supply. It's an interesting task, in part, because it's a way to see first hand what various state departments are spending tax dollars on. Most of the time, expenditures seem pretty straight forward; the only jarring aspect is how long the list always is and how expensive many of the projects are, invariably leading me to wonder, "Do these people know how broke we are?"

Today, an RFP, one posted by the Office of the Attorney General, popped out for a different reason.

RFP # 7323420 TITLE: Integrated Prosecutorial Case Management System

with this eye opener on page 7.

Currently, with the voluminous records and data we have accumulated over time, we still can not electronically ascertain if a defendant, victim or witness has an association with any other criminal matter, has testified before in another venue or has a conflict through an association with other defendants, victims or witnesses, and frequently must rely on staff’s independent recollection of the individual. A centralized case management system would provide name association tables that track individuals and relationships, independent of individual staff memory of events. ...

The Attorney General’s Office would not be able to comply with any requirement for electronic filing, unless we first begin the process by implementing a case management system that maintains an electronic case file which contains all relevant documents and records in a centralized manner.

Now, to be clear, the individual records of defendants are centralized in digital form. So a prosecutor can quickly determine whether a defendant has a prior record. But the need does not stop there, as the RFP itself states. A comprehensive centralized record system would seem like quite an important tool for the Office of Attorney General.

Hasn't the Attorney General been quite irresponsible in allowing a critical part of our justice system (i.e., his office) to "rely on staff’s independent recollection of the individual" for the last seven years?

From Lite to Empty

Justin Katz

Mary Eberstadt offers a good introduction to the observational thought that pick-and-choose religion — specifically within Christianity — is not sustainable:

Even so, it is the still longer run of Christian history whose outlines may now be most interesting and unexpected of all. Looking even further out to the horizon from our present moment—at a vista of centuries, rather than mere decades, ahead of us—we may well begin to wonder something else. That is, whether what we are witnessing now is not only the beginning of the end of the Anglican Communion but indeed the end of something even larger: the phenomenon of Christianity Lite itself.

By this I mean the multifaceted institutional experiment, beginning but not ending with the Anglican Communion, of attempting to preserve Christianity while simultaneously jettisoning certain of its traditional teachings—specifically, those regarding sexual morality. Surveying the record to date of what has happened to the churches dedicated to this long-running modern religious experiment, a large historical question now appears: whether the various exercises in this specific kind of dissent from traditional teaching turn out to contain the seeds of their own destruction. The evidence—preliminary but already abundant—suggests that the answer is yes.

As I illustrated some time ago by tracing the cultural ratchet from contraception to cloning, initial compromises can undermine much broader swaths of belief than initially appears likely, even beyond the immediate genus of sin. Writes Eberstadt:

These examples are among many that could be cited to illustrate an important point: Even in the hands of its ablest defenders, Christianity Lite has proven time and again to be incapable of limiting itself to the rules about sex alone. Once traditional sexual morality is dispensed with in whole or in part, it is hard, apparently, to keep the rest of Church teaching off the chopping block. To switch metaphors, which came first, the egg of dissent over sex—or the chicken of dissent over other doctrinal issues? We do not need to know the answer to grasp the point: History shows that Christianity Lite cannot seem to have one without the other.

Unless religious thinking evolves over long periods of time, with changes of doctrine growing from tradition, it isn't possible to reshape discrete principles without deforming more fundamental considerations, such as authority. This, I'd suggest, is part of what gives the Catholic Church an especial fortitude against cultural tides: Radical change requires the Church to undermine so much of what makes it distinct among religions — the blend of scripture, tradition, and revelation; the authority of the hierarchy; the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist — that it faces natural controls, and eras of overreach may recede.

The Little Pictures in the Big Picture

Justin Katz

In part to give my credulous environmentalist friends a reason for their daily exclamations about our lack of credibility and in part because it relates to points that I've made before about the construction of consensus on global warming, I thought I'd quote from a story in National Review about the two most prominent climate change skeptics, Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick:

McKitrick is not particularly worried about being on the minority side in the global-warming debate. For one thing, he says, he has "the privilege of being a tenured professor at a university." And, as an economist, he has other fish to fry than global warming. But also, is his side really the minority one? McKitrick says that there are plenty of scientists and other well-informed people who are skeptical of the big IPCC claims. "I'm convinced that the numbers on our side, and the credentials on our side, are just as impressive as on the other side." The problem is that the global-warming red-hots have the funding, the influence, and the media. They also tend to be in control of the professional societies and journals. They can claim to represent thousands and thousands of scientists. But are their pronouncements ever put to a vote of those multitudes of scientists? McKitrick makes a further point: Many scientists, in many disciplines or subdisciplines, have a finger in the climate-change pie. They tend to say, "In my own particular field"--be it sea ice or solar physics or what have you--"I don't really see evidence for global warming. But I of course accept the consensus view." This calls to mind one of (Robert) Conquest's Laws: "Everyone is a conservative in his own field of expertise."

However far one's willing to sympathize with the skeptics, it is at least reasonable to suggest that the alarmists make claims that none of their specialized supporters can verify on their own. In other words, their claims filter a broad array of information through a relatively narrow (and politically manipulable) funnel.

The Same Ol' Government-as-Solution Thinking

Justin Katz

Got that sinking feeling that nobody's really interested in keeping the state afloat? The ideas floating from Rhode Island legislators have that distinctive feel of suggestions that sound good to constituents but that avoid addressing the real problems:

House Finance Chairman Steven M. Costantino, too, voiced his backing, saying that while the state would be liable for the so-called IRBA money, he believes the risk remains "very low," given what it could do to help limping businesses.

"They could come to the EDC, get a loan backing, and the bank will ease up on the borrowing because the state is taking the risk," Costantino said. "Now you have a company that can put on an addition and hire new employees." Fox said he also sees value in Governor Carcieri's proposal that would give employers a $2,000 tax credit for certain full-time workers hired between July 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2010. And he hinted at other potential proposals, including the possibility of state-issued bonds to finance a seed fund for new businesses.

Yes, you read that right. More government debt to finance start-ups.

RI's Rut Is Intellectual as Well as Economic

Justin Katz

In a general sense, the front-page, top-of-the-fold story in the Sunday Providence Journal isn't really news at all. Rhode Island led the region in job losses, over the last decade, and its 3.85% drop compared with a national average of 2.2%. The message to readers: get used to the pain.

Of particular concern is that the economic brain trust of the state, mostly academic economists, are offering advice that is both too sweeping and too targeted. Bryant professor Raymond Fogarty laments that "we didn't put enough money into business development," but also (rightly) notes that our "regulatory system is out of control." As we're hearing in the vague proposals that legislators have been floating, money isn't going to come without more government strings. URI professor Edward Mazze asserts (correctly) that government doesn't create jobs, but goes on to say that government should pursue a particular type of economy — the much-cited "knowledge economy" — by (naturally) investing more money in Mazze's employer.

Then, there's this common argument:

[Economic Development Corp. Director Keith] Stokes said Rhode Islanders need to realize the state is part of a regional economy, and people can move seamlessly across state borders. That means Rhode Island's workforce training and tax structure need to be competitive with neighboring states. Unless the state has a trained workforce, Stokes said, even areas of relative success for Rhode Island in the past decade — life science, defense, finance — don't benefit the state as much as they could.

Education is a long-term matter. Even a complete turnaround, today, would take years to change the general workforce and years more to attract businesses to employ it. With teachers' unions that would rather risk their members' jobs and tie up districts in court than allow their members to agree to additional support for students, it will take years of draining battle just to begin to implement a turnaround. And then, if the state doesn't have jobs on offer, the newly competent young adults will simply cross those seamless borders.

In the short-term, who cares if Rhode Island runs that scenario in reverse — attracting well-educated employees from other states? Over time, they'll move here, invest in the state, and help (or force) its natives to figure out how to change things for the better.

As I've noted before, I don't have a fancy title, and I certainly don't receive my paycheck from the public sector, but the answer seems simple, to me: Cut taxes. Eliminate mandates. Erase regulations. No targeted sectors or industries. No additional strings. Just a major overhaul and a big sign at the border that reads, "Open for Business."

February 14, 2010

"Touching Base" "Outside the Box" and Other Office Irritations

Monique Chartier

Actually, the Reuters list via Yahoo News is broken down into Top Ten Annoyances and Top Ten Annoying Phrases.

What surprised me about the biggest office annoyance

1. Grumpy or moody colleagues (37 percent)

is that it didn't also include perky or cheerful collegues. In fact, such people don't appear to have made the list at all. Were the grumpy people just too grumpy to speak up when the surveyor called?

And my favorite part: most annoying phrases. Top five below.

1. Thinking outside the box (21 percent)

2. Let's touch base (20)

3. Blue sky thinking (19)

4. Blamestorming (16) (sitting down and working out whose fault something is)

5. Drill down to a more granular level (15) (Look into something in more detail)

(Another omission: how did "Shift the paradigm" get left off entirely?)

Re: Not So Hot? Not So Fast ...

Monique Chartier

I refuse to scrap the entirety of my brilliant post about the new analysis of problematic temperature data stations just because Justin, the smart apple, beat me to it.

The most critical element of the theory of anthropogenic global warming is ... well, you know, some actual warming of the globe. Data - more specifically, an upward march of global temperature readings - is the heart of the theory. Remember that less than a month ago, the upward march had startling proved not so steep (a temperature rise of only 1.4 f since the dawn of the Industrial Age instead of the anticipated 3.8 f). In other words, there wasn't that much warming happening to begin with. With these critical looks at temperature station placement, we now have to ask: could what's left of global warming now be attributed to an extremely local - air conditioning vents, hot roof tops, jet fumes - anthropogenic source?

Under Justin's post, "HardRight" brings up the matter of the age of the Earth. In fact, it is AGW advocates who wish to disregard the age of the Earth. Any reasonable person, including most AGW skeptics, understands that the statement, "Earth has never warmed this fast!", not only is patently not provable about a planet that is 4.5 billion years old, it's also highly unlikely. In the process of "proving" the phenomenon, AGW scientists have relied in substantial part on inferred data. What would we use for inferred temperature data over a three hundred year period from, say, 3 billion years ago?

In fact, it is not necessary to go back that far to disprove the point. Earth has "warmed this fast", and as recently as 12,500 years ago.

... temperatures from the end of the Younger Dryas Period to the beginning of the Holocene some 12,500 years ago rose about 20 degrees Fahrenheit in a 50-year period in Antarctica, much of it in several major leaps lasting less than a decade.

Not so fast, indeed.

Not So Hot? Not So Fast...

Justin Katz

Before we all begin reacting... I don't know... rationally to this sort of information let's just take a deep breath and remind ourselves that there's still time to undermine the global economy and cinch down on freedom, if we try.

"The temperature records cannot be relied on as indicators of global change," said John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, a former lead author on the IPCC.

The doubts of Christy and a number of other researchers focus on the thousands of weather stations around the world, which have been used to collect temperature data over the past 150 years.

These stations, they believe, have been seriously compromised by factors such as urbanisation, changes in land use and, in many cases, being moved from site to site.

The American Difference

Justin Katz

Per his usual habits, Mark Steyn makes a significant observation that has gone largely unremarked:

... I've been saying for months that the difference between America and Europe is that, when the global economy nosedived, everywhere from Iceland to Bulgaria mobs took to the streets and besieged Parliament demanding to know why government didn't do more for them. This is the only country in the developed world where a mass movement took to the streets to say we can do just fine if you control-freak statists would just stay the hell out of our lives, and our pockets. You can shove your non-stimulating stimulus, your jobless jobs bill, and your multi-trillion-dollar porkathons. This isn't karaoke. These guys are singing "I’ll do it my way" for real.

In the interest of beginning Sunday on a positive note, I won't quote the subsequent paragraph.

Lynch Bids for Congress, Depends on Voter Amnesia

Marc Comtois

As the usual and unusual suspects emerge out of the woodwork, we can be sure that we're going to see and hear some things that should induce a chuckle amongst the politically astute. And there's no better example than now-Former RI Democratic Party chair Bill Lynch:

The partisan politics of Washington are no longer providing solutions for the taxpayers of Rhode Island. I share the sentiments of voters who are angry and upset with the divisive debate that has ground Washington to a halt.

I want Rhode Island families to know I will not participate in the rhetoric that has left all of us discouraged and disillusioned these past few years...I believe the vast majority of Rhode Islanders want the Republicans and Democrats who represent them to move to the center.

It is time to stop the bitter debate driven by the extreme left and right. We need to come together and govern from the middle in a manner that makes sense for working families here in Rhode Island....I admit to a growing sense of frustration and disappointment with the lack of civility and progress in Washington that has left the American people out in the cold...Washington needs leaders who are dedicated to producing a new way forward and I plan on being a part of that process.

He just can't be serious, can he? As the ProJo article reminds, this is the same guy who told 8th graders, ""The Democrats are the good guys and the Republicans are the bad guys and that's all you have to remember.'' Now he says he was just kidding. To quote Noah in Bill Cosby's famous skit, "Riiiiiight...."

February 13, 2010

The Creators and Protectors of Civilization

Justin Katz

Cassy Fiano is right to lambaste the callousness and selfishness of Courtney Cook, who took to the pages of Salon to explain how ideal a circumstance is presented to the military wife to initiate a separation and divorce from the deployed father of her children.

By her own telling, Cook took to Marxism and cowardly men while brooding about herself as her husband risked his life for their country, and her solipsism developed to the extent of this scene, which Fiano highlights:

Last July my son, the baby that was born to television coverage of Operation Desert Storm, said goodbye to his high school friends, shaved his head and enrolled in the United States Naval Academy. I am deeply proud of him, but it was my ex-husband who stood with my son on Induction Day. I could not bear to be there, could not watch the child of my body step away from the safe, civilian world I'd tried to so desperately to create for myself and him.

However "deeply proud" Cook may be of the son who's a "that," not a "who," and whom she could not support in her pride, she should heed the lesson of his choice. He understands, one suspects, that the safety of the civilian world was not of his mother's making, but of his father's.

The Union Chooses Firings

Justin Katz

Anybody who's surprised that the teachers' union in Central Falls has chosen to stare down mass firings and do battle rather than submit to some eminently reasonable additional responsibilities should think through the future scenarios of the game.

With administrators now standing firm on key planks that were previously popular political catch phrases, the unions are going to challenge authority way up to the top — to Education Commissioner Deborah Gist and beyond. Their secondary strategy will be to delay significant changes until they have an opportunity to change the players. They've lost no ground in the General Assembly, either in recent elections or in the selection of the new speaker of the house, and they've an opportunity to affect the governor's office, this year, which means access to the Board of Regents, from which the commissioner ultimately derives her authority.

If the unions can delay the mass firings, through friendly labor review authorities and the courts, for even just one year, they'll have time to re-rig the game entirely in their favor. If they lose on questions of authority, they'll use their political clout to turn the top-down model to their favor. In other words, when voters, school committees, and district administrators seek localized, bottom-up reforms, the newly enhanced authority of the state and the education commissioner will be used to squelch the movements before they can begin.

Consider the thoughts of the only Central Falls teacher whom I've seen offer public comment outside of the union channel:

Sheila Lawless-Burke, an English-as-a-Second Language teacher, said teachers are not opposed to working harder — or longer; they simply want the opportunity to negotiate the details of their contract, not have it imposed from above.

"It's all about the politics," she said, "about making Fran Gallo look good. The issue is having the right to negotiate. Once we allow the superintendent to get her foot in the door, where will it stop?"

Even under circumstances of dire failure, the unionists want to assert their rights to drive up costs and usurp management authority. What Lawless-Burke ignores is that politics is the game of figuring out "where it will stop" when differences of opinion negate a hard rule. It will stop when the public decides that the superintendent has exceeded her mandate. That's how politics work.

It's also the reason that local administrations and the state education bureaucracy should devote some of their attention to fostering community-level involvement of additional players. I mean not only extending some budgetary authority for the schools to town councils and mayors, but also opening channels of communication and cooperation from taxpayer groups and the like.

The top-down reforms, in other words, require a complementary bottom-up foundation, not only to solidify local support from the folks who ultimately pay the bills, but also to rope in stakeholders who will cry out when the unions attempt to manipulate the game at the top. The unions may succeed in reversing Commissioner Gist's reform efforts such that the options offered to failing districts all entail additional benefits for union members, but they'll find it much more difficult to silence constituencies who've been allowed into the decision-making process.

Hurting a Dedicated Constituency

Justin Katz

In an article about the ways in which Democrats' preferred policies hurt black Americans, Kevin Williamson emphasizes union racism and especially the minimum wage:

THE first answer many economists will give to that question is: the minimum wage. Milton Friedman, a Nobel laureate who spent much of his career showing how government programs reliably end up hurting those they are intended to help, was scathing on the subject, calling the minimum wage "one of the most, if not the most, anti-black laws on the statute books." And he's not alone: Acongressional survey of economic research on the subject, "50 Years of Research on the Minimum Wage," has a string of conclusion lines that read like an indictment, the first three counts being: "The minimum wage reduces employment. The minimum wage reduces employment more among teenagers than adults. The minimum wage reduces employment most among black teenage males." Other items on the bill: "The minimum wage hurts small businesses generally. The minimum wage causes employers to cut back on training. The minimum wage has long-term effects on skills and lifetime earnings. The minimum wage hurts the poor generally. The minimum wage helps upper-income families. The minimum wage helps unions." Helping the affluent and high-wage union workers at the expense of the young, the poor, the unskilled, and small businesses: That amounts to a lot of different kinds of injustice, and it also amounts to a wealth transfer from blacks to whites. ...

And it's not just that the minimum wage prices some low-productivity workers out of the labor market: It's that it prevents entry into the labor market in the first place for the most marginal would-be workers. If Will the candy hustler's real economic output is worth $6.67 an hour, his implied wage on the subway, he's unemployable with a $7.25 minimum wage. He can sell candy on the subway, but he can't sell candy for Big Candy Corp., make connections, learn what it's like to go to an office every day and have a boss, get references, get promoted, and sign up for the tuition-reimbursement program. And that, not the paltry lost income of a minimum-wage job, is the price he pays. Very few American workers actually earn the minimum wage--about 1 percent, in fact--but the minimum-wage job is a gateway into the labor force for many young workers. The value of your first job isn't the money you earn from it: It's your second job, and your third. With the right experience and network, a candyman like Will can do well for himself. But without that first job, he has a much higher chance of becoming a statistical blip on the long-term unemployment charts than a middle manager at Hershey or a salesman at Cadbury.

Perhaps for reasons of length, Williamson doesn't even touch on the deleterious effects of liberal social programs (from the welfare state to easy divorce to abortion on demand) and extra-statutory principles (like identity politics) that have destroyed family structures in minority communities. If the Ku Klux Klan had called grand meeting in the middle of the last century to contrive a national conspiracy that would effect long-term evisceration of blacks' progress, the bigots could hardly have done so more effectively than the American Left.

February 12, 2010

Academic Gatekeepers and the Pursuit of a "Life of the Mind"

Marc Comtois

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Thomas Benton explains why middle-class students should not be seduced by a "life of the mind" in academia; unless they know what they're getting into. Namely, post-graduate degrees and the academic life are set up in such a way that only the socially and financially privileged can really take advantage of them.

Some people have mistaken my position that graduate school in the humanities is fine for the rich and connected for the view that that's how it should be, as if I am some kind of smug elitist. It often happens that readers—looking only at an excerpt from a column—mistake practical advice about coping with a harsh reality for an affirmation of that reality, instead of a criticism of it.

One reason that graduate school is for the already privileged is that it is structurally dependent on people who are neither privileged nor connected. Wealthy students are not trapped by the system; they can take what they want from it, not feel pressured, and walk away at any point with minimal consequences. They do not have to obsess about whether some professor really likes them. If they are determined to become academics, they can select universities on the basis of reputation rather than money. They can focus on research rather than scrambling for time-consuming teaching and research assistantships to help pay the bills. And, when they go on the market, they can hold out for the perfect position rather than accepting whatever is available.

But the system over which the privileged preside does not ultimately depend on them for the daily functioning of higher education (which is now, as we all know, drifting toward a part-time, no-benefit business). The ranks of new Ph.D.'s and adjuncts these days are mainly composed of people from below the upper-middle class: people who believe from infancy that more education equals more opportunity. They see the professions as a path to security and status.

But it's a more frustrating path than most are prepared for:
The myth of the academic meritocracy powerfully affects students from families that believe in education, that may or may not have attained a few undergraduate degrees, but do not have a lot of experience with how access to the professions is controlled. Their daughter goes to graduate school, earns a doctorate in comparative literature from an Ivy League university, everyone is proud of her, and then they are shocked when she struggles for years to earn more than the minimum wage. (Meanwhile, her brother—who was never very good at school—makes a decent living fixing HVAC systems with a six-month certificate from a for-profit school near the Interstate.)
Benton's goal isn't to dissuade people from following their chosen career paths, but to make them aware that it isn't going to be easy and that the risk/reward ratio may not be what they think.

How Could I Not Chime in on a Tool Discussion?

Justin Katz

Glenn Reynolds promoted a Milwaukee Sawzall, this morning, and late on a Friday, I couldn't do otherwise than offer some notes.

The Milwaukee version of this tool is a satisfying piece of equipment, but the brand isn't but so important, in this subcategory. (I own a Porter Cable Tiger Saw.) There are a couple of notes worth making on all such saws, though:

  1. This is not a finish tool. One of Glenn's correspondents mentions using his sawzall to cut rusted bolts on a toilet seat. That's more daring of a maneuver than it has to be. Any time you need to cut anything near finished surfaces — especially with brittle substances like ceramics — you're better off with some form of circular blade than a reciprocating one. In the case of bolts, and metal in general, it's useful to own a grinder with a couple of metal-cutting discs. You can get a good grinder for much less than you can get a good sawzall; they're smaller to store and to use; and they're better for most of the non-wood applications for which people typically attempt to use sawzalls.
  2. Let the blade do the work. Sawzall blades tend to be relatively inexpensive, and in one of those chicken/egg scenarios, they tend to wear out quickly. The key in all circumstances is to put minimal additional pressure, beyond the weight of the tool, on the saw while cutting. I've cut a 12" high steel I-beam with a decent sawzall blade, and I've also worn out decent sawzall blades on thin metal pipes because I was impatient.
  3. The position of the blade matters. Most sawzalls allow reversal of the blade in the shaft, and for some reason that I've yet to figure out, it does make a difference. Installing the blade downward (teeth on the same side as the trigger) makes for faster, more aggressive cuts, but installing the blade upward typically permits more control.

As an aside, though, I'd like to correct another of Glenn's correspondents, who called the sawzall the "most useful tool ever invented." Assuming we're putting aside obvious victors, like wheels and hammers and screwdrivers and chisels and such, and focusing on more modern power tools, the most useful of the bunch, by far, is the Rotozip. It takes some practice to control them, and they're not ideal for every job (of course), but once mastered, they're the closest thing to being able to look at something and cut it with your eyes.

Not Much Farther to the End

Justin Katz

Giving the increasingly leftward shift of the editorials and Rhode Island's slow grind to a halt, Ed Achorn must find his role on the Providence Journal editorial board frustrating. It makes for some good truth speaking, though:

The voters share the blame, of course. They have rewarded this behavior, blindly returning the same people to office year after year. Indeed, they have punished some who tried to fight for a better Rhode Island.

And so, the educated middle class — the job creators and civic leaders — have been packing up and going, leaving behind a less educated and more easily manipulated electorate.

The end of this story does not look promising.

No, lawmakers and mayors have not been hammered by cruel, blind fate. They have cultivated this crisis, working for years to turn Rhode Island into a state progressively out of whack with most of America.

Good for Students Versus Good for the Public Education Industry

Justin Katz

Tom Ward writes on the success of Democracy Prep Blackstone Valley charter school in Cumberland, noting:

"My concern, as the [Lincoln] superintendent (Georgia Fortunato), is that if they move into Fairlawn, Democracy Prep, people are going to think they are part of the Lincoln School Department and I think we are going to lose a lot more children," said Fortunato. "It could be very devastating for the school district."

Devastating - as in "We lose $8,000 per child" - for the school district. And perhaps the best single thing that will ever happen to the children. How did we get to this place, where what's best for the school district and what's best for the child are two very different things?

Mike, at Assigned Reading, follows up:

Fortunato's complaint that Democracy Prep hurts Lincoln's bottom line will fall on deaf ears; parents won't consider the financial impact when they decide who can provide the best education for their children. It also doesn't help that, last week, Fortunato was arguing for $31,000 in next year's budget to paint and recarpet the administration building. Considering there are no children in this building, is this the best way to spend education funds in these tough economic times? Really.

For those of us with young children, the Rhode Island Way of doing public education is a matter of urgency. That's part of the reason that I found Dan Yorke's interview with Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, focusing on Central Falls, so encouraging. I did, however, have to remind myself that, even if Gist is so successful as to justify many times her salary, the forces that have brought Rhode Island to its current low will not go away. And as quickly as she may advance the state's education system, relatively small changes in the political winds could turn around the turnaround using the interventionist precedents that she's setting.

Fox Takes Over the House

Marc Comtois

Until the Kennedy announcement, the big political news was that Rep. Gordon Fox is now Speaker of the Rhode Island House.

In his first speech as House speaker, Fox said “Change is absolutely necessary. We cannot continue [to conduct] business as usual. We must think anew and act anew.”

With the state facing a massive deficit and one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, he promised his highest priorities would be to “get Rhode Islanders back to work,” by exploring tax credits for small businesses that create jobs. He pledged action on a “fair and equitable” education-funding formula this year.

“Bolstering our economy, creating jobs … and enacting a responsible and balanced budget will be our priorities for this session,” he said. But “we must be mindful that it is important to restore the public trust in this institution, and indeed, the public trust in their elected officials,” said Fox, urging quick action on legislation he introduced in recent days to “allow the voters to restore the authority and power of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission this November.”

So, Fox has gone from just being in the House to leading it. Of course, as majority leader, he's been pretty much doing that already. Which should put his call for "change" and other promises into perspective.

A Clash of Realities in Central Falls

Justin Katz

You'd think some higher-up planner in the teachers' union would begin advising members that it's time to back off for a while for the purpose of public-impression rehabilitation. Apart from the wholly inappropriate imagery of using a candle-light vigil for a union action, the particulars of the circumstances in Central Falls are absolutely certain to elicit a response of "are you kidding me" from any Rhode Islander not in the thrall (or payroll) of the union.

First there's the performance of the high school (news report and Dept. of Ed. PDF):

  • Only 4% of students proficient in math in 2008-2009, up from 3% the year before, with 75% "substantially below proficient."
  • Only 45% proficient in reading.
  • Only 29% proficient in writing.
  • Only 17% proficient in science.
  • A 48% graduation rate.
  • A 50% failure rate for the current school year.

Then there are the salaries:

The average teacher's salary at the high school ranges between $72,000 and $78,000 a year, because most are at the district's top step, Gallo said.

That's without incorporating benefits and all of the other perks of being a public school teacher. Then there are the demands for doing what any professional should be expected to do when collectively performing so abysmally:

Gallo said she offered to pay teachers $30 an hour for two additional weeks of training in the summer. Gallo also said she would try to find grant money to pay teachers for 90 minutes a week of after-school planning time, also at $30 an hour.

But she says she has no extra money to pay for other changes she is pushing for, including lengthening the instructional day by 25 minutes, so teachers work 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. instead of 7:50 a.m. to 2:25 p.m. She wants teachers to formalize a rotating tutoring schedule, so a teacher is available to help students for an hour before or after school, and she wants teachers to have lunch with students one day a week.

"Right now, they have no duties," Gallo said. "But I don't want them to see lunch as a duty. I want them to establish true relationships with not a few students, but all students." ...

Union officials have been pushing for $90 per hour and want the district to pay for more of the additional responsibilities.

Then there is the transparent mealy-mouthedness from the union, with this on the one hand:

James Parisi, a field representative of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Allied Health Professionals, said that Gallo had asked teachers to work a longer school day, attend after-school training and set aside two weeks in the summer for professional development. Parisi said the union balked because the district wasn't willing to pay teachers enough for the additional time and work.

And this on the other:

"We've been supportive of the transformational model, we think it's the right path," [Central Falls Teachers' Union President Jane] Sessums said. "But we need more details. We've never been opposed to the additional time that is needed. Our concern is that we really get an opportunity to understand what is necessary."

It's time for those teachers who've retained a modicum of professional integrity to step forward and tell the union to back off. They've a responsibility to improve the school in which they work without proclaiming that poor performance should justify even more reward.

February 11, 2010

FLASH: ABC6 Reports Patrick Kennedy Won't Run for Reelection

Marc Comtois

UPDATE: Kennedy's office confirmed the ProJo's John Mulligan that Kennedy WILL NOT seek re-election. Here is the ad that started it all.

MORE: According to Cianci, RI Dem. Chair Bill Lynch was selling an ad package dealing with Kennedy's announcement to be released this Sunday. The ad was being sold as a Democratic Party ad. Word leaked out and Cianci confirmed at 8:30 tonight.

So, who's luckier? John Brien or John Loughlin? It's a wide open race, now. And we'll see if some other wannabe's suddenly have an itch to scratch. Names like Mayor David Cicilline, AG Patrick Lynch (or Bill). And, of course, what about Steve Laffey?

Would anyone be surprised to see Patrick in Massachusetts in 2012?

MORE 2: Here is an in-development RI Monthly piece by Mark Arsenault that was rushed out the door (h/t Ian Donnis).

ORIGINAL REPORT: Buddy Cianci is reporting via ABC 6 that Congressman Patrick Kennedy will not seek reelection this fall. It's worth noting that Cianci's WPRO colleague Dan Yorke has been speculating that this would be the case for the last few days. The story is still developing. Cianci will be on ABC 6 at 11 PM with more information.

MORE: From the Boston Globe:

A Democratic official says Rep. Patrick Kennedy has decided not to seek re-election for his seat representing Rhode Island in the U.S. Congress.

The official spoke to The Associated Press only on the condition that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak ahead of the official announcement....

Kennedy plans to air two-minute commercials about his decision to air on three Rhode Island TV stations on Sunday night.

Not One Dime But Many? President Obama Loses His Religion on the $250,000 Line of Demarcation

Monique Chartier

Remember this explicit statement that President Obama made almost a year ago?

if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime.


- President Obama says he is now "agnostic" about raising taxes on households making under $250,000 a year to help cut budget deficits, signaling a possible retreat from a campaign pledge.

In an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek on newsstands tomorrow, Obama said a presidential budget commission needs to look at all options for deficit reduction - including tax increases and cuts in spending on such programs as Social Security and Medicare.

"The whole point of it is to make sure that all ideas are on the table," Obama said. "So what I want to do is to be completely agnostic, in terms of solutions."

("Agnostic"? Is that a new euphemism for wavering on an iron clad promise?)

Let's see, he wants to give us lots of stuff, like universal healthcare and stimulus money and bailouts and unemployment benefits. But then, he's going to have to take more and more money from us to pay for all of this stuff. Wouldn't it be more straight forward to just not give us stuff and then allow us to keep more of our money?

Howie Carr made a good point this afternoon: will the press pounce on President Obama the way they pounced on President George "Read my lips" Bush?

In the meantime, on the subject of dimes, one of Howie's callers reminded him of this scene from "Blazing Saddles". [Warning: language.] Indeed, it looks like some of us are going to have to "go back and get a s******d of dimes".

The Legal Primacy of Sex

Justin Katz

This from the court that blazed the path of determining that the word "marriage" can't mean, in the law, what it's always been known to mean:

Matt Zubiel of Beverly was arrested in 2006 after driving to Marshfield to meet with the girl, who really was a Plymouth County Deputy Sheriff, authorities said. The next year, he was convicted of four counts of attempting to disseminate harmful material to a minor.

But in his appeal, Zubiel argued that the "harmful material" banned under the law didn't include sexually explicit instant messages, and the Supreme Judicial Court agreed on Feb. 5. ...

In his appeal, Zubiel argued that though the law listed more than a dozen examples of the obscene "matter" that adults can't give to minors, it didn't include instant messages.

Look, this appears to have been the correct ruling, according to the law, and we can take some comfort in the fact that the arrest was based on a sting, not an actual attempt to abuse a minor, and now the law will likely be updated. But doesn't seem as if the decisions always break in a particular direction when courts decide how literally to take the law?

Rhode Island's Own People's Seat

Justin Katz

It's encouraging to see the national conservative movement, specifically Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online, taking notice of John Loughlin's run for Rhode Island's First Congressional seat:

No seat belongs to the Kennedys, not even in the House of Representatives. Announcing his candidacy on the same day that Sen. Scott Brown took his oath as successor to Edward M. Kennedy in the U.S. Senate, John Loughlin, a former lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve who was deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina and trained troops for Operation Iraqi Freedom, hoped to surprise the establishment in a similar way: succeeding Senator Kennedy's son, Patrick, in the House. Loughlin has even picked up Brown's advisers to help him pull it off. ...

Of congressman Kennedy, Loughlin says: "He was the only member of Rhode Island's delegation to refuse to hold a public town-hall meeting with his constituents. It's clear that he's not interested in the views of the people of Rhode Island." In short, it's the people's seat. And Loughlin's hoping the people will see it to be in their best interests to send him to Washington to fill it.

Lopez offers some review of Loughlin's chances and includes her full interview with him. Perhaps with such national attention, the people of Rhode Island can begin to believe that it is possible — permissible — to change our representatives from time to time. The apathy that grows from a contrary view is arguably among the state's biggest problems, and it would be magnificent if Loughlin's run for Congress could help to repair that attitude.

When Caesar Claims What Is Not His

Justin Katz

Joseph Bottum notes a piece of legislation in the United Kingdom that looms as a logical subsequent step for liberal legal and cultural trends in the United States:

... the bill's most controversial provision would enjoin churches and other religious bodies from discriminating on the basis of gender or sexual orientation in the selection of personnel, save in cases where said personnel regularly spend more than half their time "leading worship services or explaining doctrine."

According to Simon Caldwell in Britain's Catholic Herald, the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales has prepared a briefing to protest the measure. A senior Queen's Counsel has informed the bishops that the bill's pertinent clause will make it "unlawful to require a Catholic priest to be male, unmarried or not in a civil partnership, etc., since no priest would be able to demonstrate that their time was wholly or mainly spent either leading liturgy or promoting and explaining doctrine . . . the Bill fails to reflect the time priests spend in pastoral work, private prayer and study, administration, building maintenance, and so on."

The Christian Science Monitor has more information, or for an experience of the what-government-thinks-of-you sort, check out the "easy read" document (PDF) available on the U.K. government's official page for the bill.

The practice has already entered Western society, of course, but at a certain point religious leaders — if they truly believe what they preach — have to face the consequences for civil disobedience and proclaim that they have no intention of complying with unjust laws. Sure, the rabid secularists will smear with words like "bigotry," but let them then go out and proclaim a belief in religious liberty. Let them then attempt to justify the creeping sharia that's slowly permeating the West.

Let the politicians imagine, in short, the front-page pictures of men and women in religious clothes being taken away in handcuffs because they continued to believe what they've long professed. Such laws are either a bluff or a travesty. Are ostensibly democratic and freedom-loving governments going to begin shutting down churches for hiring according to their doctrine? Or will they satisfy themselves with pushing charitable arms out of communities, as Massachusetts pushed the Catholic Church out of adoption?

Either way, the broader society must be made to see this brand of "progress" for what it is. Whether that witness begets reconsideration really ought to be of secondary consideration to people who believe in the primacy of supernature.

Contrasting Candlelight Vigils

Monique Chartier

On Tuesday, a candlelight vigil was held for the five people killed in a fire over the weekend.

Also on Tuesday, the Central Falls teachers union held a candlelight vigil because they had received layoff notices.

Projo.com actually had a picture and story about each vigil on the front page last night which accented the comparison.

Let's assume for a moment the worst motives on the part of the superintendent: she laid all teachers off on a whim, not because the district has been chronically low performing. (John Depetro just pointed out that 50% of students in the Central Falls system are failing.)

Even under the hypothesized circumstance of a completely baseless layoff, isn't a candlelight vigil overly dramatic and inappropriate? Don't such vigils usually pertain to more profound matters of death, war or a violent crime spree?

On the Culture of Snow

Justin Katz

Matt and I pondered the cultural causes of snow-aversion on the Matt Allen Show, last night. Is it related to global warming (or lack thereof)? Is it related to the Internet and video games? Stream by clicking here, or download it.

I actually think it's a softening of our regional character. We once braved the weather, in the Northeast. We dealt with it. We put the chains on the tires and felt as if we're ready. Now, people have become enamored of the opportunity to run and hide. I suppose, therefore, it's less a matter of diminished bravery against the snow as it is diminished fortitude against the daily grind of life.

February 10, 2010

Even FDR Was Wary of Public Employee Unions

Marc Comtois

This article by Rich Lowry and this piece in the Wall Street Journal both alluded to Franklin Roosevelt's wariness towards public employee unions. I was surprised. So I dug around and found one source that supports this claim. In a letter to a public employee union, Roosevelt explains that, yes, they do have a right to organize, but there are some restrictions:

All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.
Well, that hasn't really come to pass now, has it?
Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that "under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government."
Interesting that he viewed strikes by Federal employees in such a way.

An Education in Blogging

Justin Katz

Blogging has come a long way since the early days, back when I had to define the word for anybody curious about my time-consuming hobby. Students in Brown's Continuing Education program can now study the medium in a classroom setting:

In this course, participants will create and launch their own blog. Together, we will look at successful blogs on different themes, and discuss how the writers create an audience, how they cultivate a blogging voice, how they elicit comments from their readers. Whether you would like to use a blog to promote a business, to connect with others in your community, or simply to chronicle your days, this course will help you make your first foray into the blogosphere. In six weeks, we will go from the nuts and bolts of blogging software to the art of writing online. Students should have access to a computer with an internet connection.

The course has its own blog, naturally, and I'm happy to see that Anchor Rising made its blogroll. If any students wish to have artistically rendered avatars for their posts, I know a guy...

Rhode Island Young Republicans: Welcome to 2010

Monique Chartier

Premiered at last night's RIGOP meeting.

The Difference a Pope Makes

Justin Katz

In keeping with the theme of confidence as a prerequisite to true tolerance, Joseph Bottum explores the way in which the authority represented by the papacy gives the Roman Catholic Church a theological coherence that has preserved its voice in modern society:

For a long while, Americans thought Catholicism was an un-American form of religion, but in our current situation, Catholicism alone appears able to synthesize faith and reason long enough, broadly enough, and deeply enough to avoid sectarianism. John Courtney Murray, the American Jesuit who influenced the Second Vatican Council's decree on religious liberty, made essentially this argument, and the thirty years of debate over abortion has confirmed it. Catholic thought now defines the nonsecularist terms of American discourse—and does so, at its best, without threatening either the religious freedom or nonestablishment clauses of the First Amendment.

The Church's structure is among the decisive factors in my decision to become — and remain — Catholic. The hierarchy, properly understood with distinctions between the prudential and the divinely imparted, is in keeping with the way in which human nature requires community-level disagreements to be resolved and foundational beliefs to be maintained as our understanding of the world evolves.

If there is a capital-T Truth, then something like the Catholic Church is essential toward its pursuit, not the least because the institution gives us confidence to meet and address disagreements.

Stop! It's Healey Time

Marc Comtois

I think now is the time to support Bob Healey for Lt. Governor. This is why:

He has long argued that the office of lieutenant governor is unnecessary and a waste of public money.

For fiscal 2010, the budget for the lieutenant governor’s office was $973,262, though the governor has since proposed a revised spending plan of $898,489, according to the lieutenant governor’s deputy chief of staff, Dan Meuse. The office employs a staff of seven, including the $99,214-a-year job of lieutenant governor.

If elected, he said, he’d have to remain in office in case the governor is no longer able to serve. But he’d devote his effort to trying to get the General Assembly to place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to either transform the office “into something that actually does something” or eliminate it altogether.

“That’s up to the General Assembly and the people,” he said. “All I can do is save $4 million if I get elected. (One million a year for four years.) I’ll be the million-dollar man.”

So, for the short term, it'll save money. Long term, it may spur reform (I know, a long shot). Anyway, what I'd like to see is the Governor/Lt. Governor candidates run as a team (gee, how innovative). That would eliminate the ridiculousness we see now with a virtual "shadow" state government and will allow a combination of the office staffs and a unification of policy and message.

Ahh, the Transparency of the Campaign Finance Reform Inspired 527 Schemes

Marc Comtois

We've heard the caterwauling in reaction to the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding corporate political donations. But, whether you like the idea of big business giving directly to political candidates or not, you have to admit that at least it's a relatively transparent process. A simple check of any number of sources will readily reveal who gave how much to whom. The same cannot be said of other organizations--particularly 527's. Here's a good example of the shenanigan's that go on (emphasis is mine):

What appears like a local groundswell is in fact the creation of two men -- Craig Varoga and George Rakis, Democratic Party strategists who have set up a number of so-called 527 groups, the non-profit election organizations that hammer on contentious issues (think Swift Boats, for example).

Varoga and Rakis keep a central mailing address in Washington, pulling in soft money contributions from unions and other well-padded sources to engage in what amounts to a legal laundering system. The money -- tens of millions of dollars -- gets circulated around to different states by the 527s, which pay for TV ads, Internet campaigns and lobbyist salaries, all while keeping the hands of the unions clean -- for the most part.

The system helps hide the true sources of funding, giving the appearance of locally bred opposition in states from Oklahoma to New Jersey, or in the case of the [anti-]Tea Party Web site, in Illinois.

And this whitewash is entirely legal, say election law experts, who told FoxNews.com that this arrangement more or less the norm in Washington.

"It's not illegal but it is, I think, dishonest on the part of the organizations," said Paul Ryan, a legal counsel at the Campaign Legal Center. "And there's a reason they do it: they know voters don't like outsiders coming in to sway the vote."

...Outside of that firm, the center of their activity appears to be a single office in Southeast D.C. -- 300 M Street, Suite 1102 -- which plays host to a sprawling political shell game they have established.

Public records show at least seven political shops listed in Suite 1102, most of which are essentially clones of one another, but all of which have offered money -- from measly thousands to game-changing millions -- in state-level elections across the country:

-The American Public Policy Committee
-Patriot Majority
-Citizens for Progress
-Oklahoma Freedom Fund
-Mid Atlantic Leadership Fund
-Public Security Now
-Pioneer Majority
-Bluegrass Freedom Fund

This clustering of ideologically-related groups in one office suite is a common practice (check out who hangs out at 99 Bald Hill Road, Cranston RI, for instance). And these groups all give each other money and share resources.
The APPC, which developed the anti-tea party ads, has gotten all of its money for 2010 from Patriot Majority and from Citizens for Progress, which is also called Patriot Majority West.

Patriot Majority West sent them $25,000 in January, and Patriot Majority added another $5,000. The groups, both run by Varoga and Rakis, also swap hundreds of thousands of dollars between themselves, money often buttressed by gifts from Patriot Majority Midwest, seen above as the Oklahoma Freedom Fund.

The confusing naming system is intentional, say election law experts, who generally disapprove of the practice.

"I do take issue with and have long complained about groups that shield particular special interests with innocuous-sounding names like ... 'Americans for America,'" said Ryan. "That type of naming of an organization, I believe, is specifically intended to obscure the true sources of funding of special interest groups behind political activity."

These three Patriot Majority groups also send checks to Independent Strategies, the strategy firm run by Varoga and Rakis. And some of the 527s have sent money to VR Strategies, another firm run in part by and named after Varoga.

So which is worse: this shell-game or open, transparent corporate donations? After all of this effort, we really learn who is funding these organizations sharing the same office space:
The most recent backers of the Patriot Majority and Patriot Majority West, which helped fund the APPC and thus the Tea Party site, form a veritable Who's Who of the country's top labor unions: the Service Employees International Union, Change to Win, the Communications Workers of America, the National Education Association, the Teamsters Union, the United Food & Commercial Workers Union and others besides.

But by far the largest donations have come from a collection of unionized government workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) -- which in 2008 alone donated $5.8 million to Patriot Majority and another $4.1 million to Patriot Majority Midwest.

Using this arrangement, Varoga and Rakis are managing what NPR called a "never-ending pot of union money" that they dispense among the 527s they run, which in turn pay for ads in hotly contested election districts.

That means that taxpayer dollars, sent up as union dues, have been going to fund a host of Democratic causes and help quash the tea party movement.

I know that public employees don't like it when that equivalency is made--dues as tax dollars--but insofar as the public employees earn money that is supplied via taxation, well, it's simply true.

Not Asked, but Told

Justin Katz

Popular wisdom insists that social issues are a political wedge wielded from the right to divide Americans for political gain. Experience suggests that the cynical aggressors, in this sense, are actually more likely to reside on the left. Not for no reason has President Obama played the "don't ask, don't tell" card as his political agenda falls apart on the grounds that it's extremely unpopular. Gotta distract the rabble, you know.

As a political calculation, I think he's wrong. The movement against him, most visible in the tea parties, is not going to take its eye off the economic and civic issues on which the president has us all so spooked just because he shouted "gays" in an active military. And as a policy decision, Anchor Rising contributor Mac Owens explains why Obama's wrong in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

The congressional findings supporting the 1993 law (section 654 of title 10, United States Code) reflect the common-sense observation that military organizations exist to win wars. To maximize the chances of battlefield success, military organizations must overcome the paralyzing effects of fear on the individual soldier and what the famous Prussian war theorist Carl von Clausewitz called "friction" and the "fog of uncertainty."

This they do by means of an ethos that stresses discipline, morale, good order and unit cohesion. Anything that threatens the nonsexual bonding that lies at the heart of unit cohesion adversely affects morale, disciple and good order, generating friction and undermining this ethos. Congress at the time and many today, including members of the military and members of Congress from both parties, believe that service by open homosexuals poses such a threat.

Mac's also got an FAQ of sorts related to the essay on NRO.

The bottom line is that liberals, progressives, or whatever we're agreeing to call them these days want to disallow society from making distinctions between classes of people, even when those classes have relevant differences, in order to make certain political disagreements seem more important. How one bonds with others, and with whom one bonds in what way, has significant implications in the life-and-death situations that military personnel face regularly. But the likes of President Obama find it convenient to leverage the deep, personal feelings involved in sexual orientation, so all else must be treated as secondary.

What Happened at Last Night's No-Confidence Vote

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is the Cliffs-Notes version of the no-confidence vote taken on Giovanni Cicione as State Republican Chairman, at last night's Republican State Central Committee meeting. Early in the evening, the Central Committee voted to reject the agenda (I'm not sure if that was intended to help the pro-closed primary folks or the anti closed primary folks). As a result, business was conducted according to a "generic" agenda, which includes committee reports. When the Chairmen's Caucus turn came, Charimen's Caucus Chairman Phil Hirons reported a resolution of no-confidence in the state chair that had been passed by his committee (comprised of the city and town chairs) and called for a vote on it.

Since Chariman Cicione himself was the subject of the resolution, he chose to turn the running of the meeting over to 1st Vice-Chair Nancy Richmond...

There were speakers for and against the resolution. Much of the discussion went to the issue of the process of deciding on closing the Republican primary in RI, which had played a large role in motivating the no-confidence resolution...1st-Vice Chair Richmond said that she'd like to call the question. Some voices in crowd objected, saying that the chair couldn't be the one to do that. Others motioned for the question to be called. Somehow the result was two more speakers...A motion to call the question was then offered, and the vote was taken.

In the end, the no-confidence resolution was rejected by a vote of 48-75. Chairman Cicione concluded formal consideration of the matter by offering a message of conciliation.

Later in the evening, the change to the by-laws which would close the primary was given its first reading. However, because of a provision in Rhode Island state law regarding lead-time for rules changes that would affect a primary, and because the next scheduled meeting of the state central committee where a by-law change can be voted on is not until April, closing of the primary cannot take effect in time for the 2010 primary, under laws and procedures currently in effect.

Training for Jobs That Will Never Come

Justin Katz

A lot of people are pinning their hopes to the emergence of a "green economy," but wishing won't make it less of a fad:

Although it offers general optimism about the green sector, the state plan does not say how large the industry could be in Rhode Island or how many jobs it could create. The New England Economic Partnership, however, issued a report in November that projected the green economy would not be a major engine of growth in Rhode Island and the region in the immediate future. That report cited a study by the Pew Charitable Trusts that found only about 2,300 green jobs in Rhode Island in 2007.

The major difference between "green" and other revolutionary developments is that it doesn't create anything new. The Internet was an entirely unexplored public square and marketplace. Green energy is, well, energy. It doesn't do anything that regular old energy doesn't do, and the only thing "new" that it offers is a chance for everybody along the line of its production and usage to feel as if they're helping the environment. If there's any price differential at all, few people are going to seek out green.

Yet, we're distorting market dynamics in expectation of a wave that may not come:

The Providence Plan, a local nonprofit focused on socioeconomic advancement, will launch a jobs-training program next month geared at getting low-income city residents trained in the energy-efficient construction and renewable-power industries.

Thanks to a $3.7-million grant from the federal stimulus plan, the Providence Plan will be able to expand Building Futures, the agency's program helping urban residents prepare to enter apprenticeships in carpentry, electrical work, welding, plumbing and other construction trades.

Training low-income, under-skilled people for work of any kind is a positive good of itself. But construction has been among the most receding industries in the state, and if the "green" thing doesn't pan out, there will be even more workers chasing even fewer jobs.

From where I sit, the situation appears to be one in which activists, politicians, and invested private business interests are pushing to use public money to create an industry segment for ideological and financial reasons. They're using public money because the private money is not there, and if their gamble doesn't yield rewards, the consequence will be paid by the working class in suppressed wages.

February 9, 2010

Post-Contract Expectations Make All the Difference

Justin Katz

Megan McArdle highlights an important distinction between union and individual employment contracts:

Obviously, people who are not in unions write employment contracts, which are similarly hard to write. But non-union employment contracts operate in an environment where both sides often hope to continue the relationship beyond the initial term. This offers quite a bit of good-faith flexibility, because people who are too rigid about the exact letter of their contracts are apt to find that their contract isn't renewed. Even in contracts with a very definite term, there are reputational considerations. That's just not how unions operate, because the union can't be fired by the employer. When the contract expires, you're going to negotiate another contract. The result is that people in non-union employment contracts can tolerate quite a bit more ambiguity on both sides than people in a collective bargaining situation.

That's the dynamic that the school committees and town councils of Rhode Island must address. If intransigence from the unions may result in reconfigured hiring policies or a more stringent baseline for the next contract, they'll be more apt to be reasonable — and their members will be less inclined to such practices as work-to-rule.

A Millennium of Separating

Justin Katz

With the intention of zooming out a bit for some mid-afternoon reflection, I note Robert Louis Wilken's review of a book by Tom Holland and its striking proclamation:

That, at least, is the thesis of Tom Holland's new book, The Forge of Christendom, a provocative and elegantly written account of the end of the first millennium and the beginning of the second. [Pope Gregory VII] did not live to witness his ultimate victory. But "the cause for which he fought," writes Holland, a British historian and radio personality, "was destined to establish itself as perhaps the defining characteristic of Western civilization." That characteristic is the division of the world into Church and state, with these realms distinct from each other. In Holland's eyes, Gregory "stood as godfather to the future."

As the subsequent millennium completes its turn, the trend has become for the state to leverage that principle of separation to bind the Church. Where we'll be 1,000 years from now will have much to do with our resolution of the current conflict.

Reminder: Teacher Pink-Slips Don't Actually Mean Layoffs

Marc Comtois

Pink slips are flying at teachers in Woonsocket, East Providence and Lincoln and probably soon in your town, too. Two points:

1) State law dictates that all layoff notices be sent by March 1st. Why then and not later, say mid-May? Could it be that it is more politically beneficial for some to have teachers and parents upset at layoffs during the budget-making season of late winter/early spring rather than later.
2) Aside from the fact that laying off anywhere from 1/3 to 2/3s of all of the teachers in a district is frankly impractical (if not impossible), most teacher contracts cap the number of layoffs allowed each year. For instance, in Warwick (p.48 of document), only 40 layoff notices can be sent and only 20 teachers can actually let go in any given year.

Now, this isn't to say that laying off teachers is the way to go by any means. But so long as the teacher union leaders refuse to renegotiate their contracts, this is one of the only ways left to school committees and administrators to cut costs. (Often due to their own shortsightedness!).

Anti-Abstinence Crusaders See What They Want to See

Justin Katz

On the day that the news section of the Providence Journal acknowledged that abstinence-only sex-ed programs could potentially be successful, the editors of the Lifebeat section thought it necessary to rush to the defense of their modern kulturkampf with the headline, "Program blamed for rise in teen pregnancy" on the section's front page. Of course, the immediate question is who is doing the blaming:

The national teen pregnancy rate is on the rise again after 15 years of decline, and the group providing the data lays the blame squarely on the Bush administration’s stepped-up funding for abstinence-only education programs.

The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that’s aligned with Planned Parenthood but nevertheless is respected for its data on reproductive issues, reported last week that the U.S. teen pregnancy rate had risen by 3 percent from 2005 to 2006, the latest year for which figures are available.

What makes the citation especially troublesome is that the article specifically notes the research of John Santelli. Back when one of his studies was fresh, something in the reported data bothered me, so I actually purchased a copy of the study in order to review the methodology. What I discovered was that Santelli's basic math simply didn't show what he claimed it to show. In a nutshell, his equations credited contraception not only with its own success rate, but also with the success of increasing abstinence. My communications with Dr. Santelli became snippier, on his end, in proportion to the specificity of my explanations.

The basic pattern of distorted findings being spun to even greater distortions in the press is very familiar. Indeed, back in 2004, the New York Times heralded a study disclaiming the effectiveness of an abstinence pledge. When I looked into the numbers, I noticed not only that abstinence had, in fact, increased, but also that many of the respondents who had not "lived up to their vows" to remain abstinent had actually broken that vow after making another: they got married.

Thus, we end up with a bifurcated society, in which readers of the Projo's Lifebeat section heed the research wing of Planned Parenthood, while others share Robert Rector's understanding of the situation:

No one knowledgeable about abstinence education, however, would find this startling. In fact, eleven previous sound studies showed strong positive effects from abstinence programs. The mainstream media simply ignored them.

Human nature will always tend toward a (generally productive) battle between groups preferring different conclusions. But when that battle is amped up on the steroids of massive amounts of federal funding and even more substantial potential for the regulation of people's lives, objectivity — not to mention common sense — becomes more difficult to maintain. (See also, climate change.)

RIGOP: To Close or Not Close the Primary

Monique Chartier

And the dimension of timing has been added to the central question, which will be discussed at the RIGOP meeting tonight. Should the party close it now, just in time for the November election? Much of the authority to determine timing rests with the chairman. RIGOP Chair Gio Cicione has indicated that he is certainly amenable to taking up the issue of closing the primary ... but he does not feel it should be done during an election year.

Raymond T. McKay, President of the Rhode Island Republican Assembly, issued the following press release this morning with his thoughts on the subject.

The meeting agenda is expected to include a needed discussion of a proposed change to the RI Republican Party bylaws which pertains to voter eligibility qualifications for RI Republican Party primaries. Specifically, it would require that voters in our party's primary actually be registered "Republican" voters.

This issue is about principle and defining one's own destiny, not letting others define it for us. This is about the history of the Rhode Island Republican Party having had open primaries and a so-called "big tent" philosophy for decades, which has only managed to give us a corrupt one-party system in the RI General Assembly. After decades of trying things one way and not succeeding, it is time for a change.

The People need and want real leadership. If a Party cannot show people that its members believe in themselves and that the membership is capable of making good decisions on its own, why should they bother trusting that Party's judgment if the average voter just sees that Party continue to let others define who it is and what it stands for?

This is not a black and white issue. However, it is a "Republican" or "not Republican" issue. The question at its core is a simple one: Who gets to choose "Republican" candidates to be put before voters in November? The times are changing. There are those who are part of that change, and those who have yet to embrace the change which is already happening. "If not now, when? If not us, who?"

Therefore, we would ask you to please support all actions which may be necessary during the meeting on Tuesday evening, which will help to effectuate such positive change for our Party and State in the most timely manner possible.

Focusing on That Which One Can Influence

Justin Katz

Julia Steiny presents some thoughts on how to hire great teachers, and this point caught my eye:

[Delia Stafford, CEO of the Haberman Educational Foundation] adds that an interviewee might answer a question with: "'What do they expect of me? The parents don't show up and the kids don't bring homework.' If they tell us that kids are at risk because so many parents are not doing their jobs and the students aren't interested, they aren't going to work out. Some list everything outside of the classroom: 'The curriculum doesn't fit; we test them too much.' On the other hand, another person might say, 'I would never punish kids because their parents didn't show up.' These are basic, core beliefs."

Of course, such an attitude during a job interview shows extremely poor judgment, in the first place, not the least because it assumes shared group-think with the interviewers. Putting that aside, though, the lesson is certainly not exclusive to teachers: We can only change that which we have the power to control.

A person hired to do a job should see obstacles as problems to be addressed, not preemptive excuses. Homework, for example, has a purpose. If it isn't getting done, then that purpose isn't being achieved. A teacher must either figure out a way to motivate a particular student to do the homework or find some alternative method that achieves the underlying goal of the homework.

The strategies could be very broad, such as changes to school policies and culture, but they're likely to be very specific to the student and the situation. As Stafford suggests, the important things are the core beliefs — the basic understanding of role and approaches to problem solving.

February 8, 2010

Complicity by Inaction: Be Sure to Name the General Assembly in that Car Tax Lawsuit

Monique Chartier

Today's ProJo:

Here in Rhode Island, Governor Carcieri’s administration said it is withholding the local aid payments until the General Assembly decides what to do with the governor’s midyear budget plan, which calls for third- and fourth-quarter motor-vehicle excise-tax reimbursements — a total of $66.7 million, half of it due last week — to be eliminated. ...

One city — Woonsocket — went to court Friday, suing the state for not sending the $1.3 million excise-tax payment that was due Feb. 1, and Providence and the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns say they may do the same thing this week.

The Governor proposes; the General Assembly disposes. The GA officially received the supplemental budget when they opened for business in early January; they've known about various revenue shortfalls since well before then. Whether to approve, modify or toss out the Governor's proposals, they have inexplicably chosen not to act. In failing to do so, they have placed a piece of several local budgets in limbo.

Clearly, neither a sense of duty nor empathy for local governments is providing sufficient motivation at this point. For their own fiscal clarity and as a prod to action, cities and towns need to amplify the list of defendants in their lawsuit to include the party that actually holds the power in this matter.

Taking Back the Government

Justin Katz

An interesting strategic discussion has developed in the comments to a post from last Thursday. Writes Michael:

How do we regain control of our government? I don't know. Politics is a rich man's game now, and probably always was, just not as blatant. Without lobbyists in the State House, or White House peddling their influence things might be a little better. I am not innocent here, my union, th IAFF has a huge lobby in Washington, and a lot of local clout as well. I believe that this is a direct result of us trying to maintain an equal footing at the upper levels of government. Collectively, firefighters are able to contribute money to get some leverage, leverage that would be used by people and institutions with opposing views about things like minimum manning, equipment, training, working conditions and safety.

Get rid of the lobbyists on both sides and begin there. Stop making it so expensive to win an election, but how?

To which BobN responds:

It's a very complex question, but here are some stream-of-consciousness thoughts:

1. In the worst case, a second American Revolution. Not recommended. I think we have the obligation to do everything in our power to avoid going down that path.

2. That's why it is so important for people to re-learn (or learn, since it isn't much taught in school any more) American history, and to become politically active. (Is it a Statist conspiracy that public school "health" classes encourage kids to be sexually active to distract them from being politically active?)

3. Politics isn't necessarily a rich man's game, if enough people can be mobilized. Sure it takes money - some professionals estimate $10K for a state rep seat, double that for a state senate seat. And at the state level, those local races determine everything because the GA has all the power. You don't need a state-wide TV or radio buy to run for rep in District 31 - most of that money would be wasted. The right candidates can tap into grassroots-level money and use it effectively in ways that are tightly targeted on their districts.

4. Here's one way to look at it: if each of the 3500 people at the first Tax Day Tea Party contributes $3, that's a rep seat budget.

5. The experience of the past year gives me hope that people are seeing through media propaganda, making message more important than money. As voters become more informed and aware, that dynamic will strengthen. The imminent threats to family budgets from unemployment, nationalized health care, and government employees outstripping them in income and benefits, have angered many people enough to get off their couches and get active. This is very healthy for society.

6. Contributing to the weakening of money is the internet. Putting ads on Youtube or your website costs nearly nothing, and if they are really good they go viral to provide a size and quality of audience that money can't buy. Blogs are rapidly growing their influence relative to TV and big newspapers.

That said, the Statists have been amassing power for decades and the government/Progressive machine has a great deal of power woven into the system. Defeating them will not be easy and it will not take only one election cycle.

My first thought is that the problem with the "block the lobbyists" impulse is that lobbyists — aka, citizens — have Constitutional rights to petition their government and otherwise speak and contribute toward elections and legislation.

My second thought may sound simplistic, but I'd suggest that the answer to all of these problems is to move away from centralized government. If more issues are decided by state governments, representing relatively small portions of the country, and town governments, overseeing populations in the thousands, there simply won't be as much incentive for multimillion dollar advertising campaigns. This is true not only because the audience/electorate would be much smaller, but also because motivated residents could more easily counteract big-dollar campaigns with grassroots assistance and community interaction.

The difficult part — even once a critical mass of people stop being lured by the promise of marginal economies of scale savings through regional and national administration — will be electing a political class intent on dispersing its own power, replacing incumbents with non-politicians who will fight to claim power from above while pushing as much as feasible to tiers of government below. That's an long-shot type of task that'll have to begin with representatives way at the bottom of the hierarchy building up constituencies to demand the return of their authority and pushing for an end to gerrymandering so that lower political structures that cover geographical areas (i.e., towns and cities) have direct lines (and career paths) to higher offices.

Lancet Retracts Article Linking Autism to Vaccine

Marc Comtois

In case you missed it, the medical journal The Lancet has retracted it's oft-cited study that purported to find a link between the Mumps/Measles/Rubella vaccine and autism:

[T]he study by British surgeon and medical researcher Andrew Wakefield and his colleagues appeared in 1998 in The Lancet, “the arguments were considered by many to be proven and the ghastly social drama of the demon vaccine took on a life of its own.”

...Ten of Wakefield's 13 co-authors renounced the study's conclusions several years ago and The Lancet has previously said it should never have published the research.

“It has become clear that several elements of the 1998 paper by Wakefield ... are incorrect,” the internationally renowned scientific journal said in a statement Tuesday. “We fully retract this paper from the published record.”

It has also, perhaps, started some media navel-gazing (h/t) regarding how they report preliminary scientific findings or theories as new "facts"....or, dare we say, consensus?

A Curriculum Change with Merit

Justin Katz

You may have read that North Smithfield students have been making significant gains:

In a single year, the school's test scores jumped more than 20 percentage points in reading — the largest improvement in the state — and more than 9 percentage points in math.

Only Barrington, East Greenwich and Jamestown — the state's highest-performing and wealthiest districts — can boast higher proficiency rates in reading than North Smithfield's 88 percent.

And the school's improved math proficiency — 69 percent — places it in the top quarter of Rhode Island's 57 middle schools, according to the most recent round of state test scores that were released on Wednesday.

Note especially this:

"We saw that writing was our weakest area, so we decided to concentrate on that," Arnold said. "We also felt that writing is global — it's required in every subject now. Math, science, social studies. So we felt like it could make the most difference."

That's precisely the sort of strategy that I suggested could be tied to some sort of merit pay system, when the topic came up in Tiverton:

Sure, some component would have to be related to students' actual performance. But other components could be tied to district targets. For example, one argument that I hear all the time is that parents simply aren't sufficiently involved, so perhaps some component of the evaluation and merit increase could kick in for teachers who do something to bridge that divide. A perfect example: retired music teacher (and TCC member) Anne Parker spoke of her experience doing extra work with a parent/student choir. Or, if a target area is math, a shop teacher could prove merit by integrating lessons with the students' math classes, thus improving immediate understanding while illustrating the practical utility of an abstract subject.

Superbowl Thoughts

Marc Comtois

1) Congrats to the Saints and their fans. For the rest of us, the game was entertaining and was capped off by a nice pick-6 and the Manning Face (and schadenfreude for Pats fans).
2) 3 Penalties called in the whole game. Wish there was more of that during the regular season. The refs let them play. There were a few tangles down the field that would have caused yellow flags to fly in a regular season game in Indianapolis (just for instance, of course).
3) Former ProJo scribe Tom Curran contrasts the Colts failure with the most recent Patriots failure (in 2007) and adds historical perspective:

From a team standpoint, this is a horrific result because the Colts passed on a chance to chase history under the flimsy excuse that they were more concerned with achieving the goal of winning the Super Bowl....The 2009 Colts passed on the chance to be historic. Instead of trying to become the best team of all time, they decided they just wanted to be the best team in 2009. And they couldn't even do that....

With the Patriots, you had a team that had the guts to try to be perfect, a team that was willing to take the best shot of every opponent all year long to try and achieve greatness. When they lost in the Super Bowl, it was because the New York Giants beat them.

With the Colts, you have a team that was afraid of the pressure, afraid of "what if." They were a team that risked putting players on the field to achieve personal milestones in the final weeks of the season but ran like hell from trying to achieve the ultimate team milestone. And when they lost to the Saints Sunday night...they really got what they deserved for disrespecting the enormity of what they were on the verge of accomplishing. 18-1 would have sucked. But 16-3? Just in a pile with the rest of the teams.

Play to win.
4) All that means is that there can be no question who the "Team of the Decade" for th 2000's was: The New England Patriots.
5) Serendipity? The team with a motto of "Who dat?" wins the Superbowl with The Who as half-time performers.
6) Finally, what was the big deal about that Tebow ad? As for the other ads: two disturbing "men in underwear" ads (who wants to see that!); three ads concerning how men have become emasculated (one was for a car, the other for soap, and another for a new tech); for some reason, I liked Punxsutawney Polamalu--just goofy and weird and also the voice-box one because, to me, it poked fun at the ridiculous trend that is autotune.

The Confident Pluralist

Justin Katz

His specific topic is contemporary Judaism, but Ben Greenberg makes a worthwhile point related to pluralism more generally:

Orthodox Judaism was supposed to founder on rugged American individualism, but quite the opposite has happened: A Judaism assembled at a buffet of individual preferences has small interest for young adults seeking direction and meaning in their lives. Young Jews are likely either to abandon their religion altogether or to take it seriously. That is why there is a migration to Orthodoxy by young Jews raised in liberal or secular households. ...

Because the Modern Orthodox are profoundly secure in their religious observance, they can engage the modern world with self-confidence.

Real — substantial and healthy — pluralism isn't something that exists inside the individual, where it can only manifest as insecurity and confusion. One cannot respect and engage difference when one strives to be in some way identical to everybody as a first principle.

A society can only harness the dynamism of diversity when individuals experience it from strong positions of confidence in their own fundamental beliefs, with tolerance for those who disagree.

Portsmouth Institute Second Annual Conference: Newman and the Intellectual Tradition

Community Crier

The Portsmouth Institute, at the Portsmouth Abbey School, has unveiled the topic and initial itinerary for the follow-up conference to its very successful event exploring "the Catholic William F. Buckley":

This year’s Portsmouth Institute conference will be held June 10-13, on Newman and the Intellectual Tradition. The conference will be held just months prior to Cardinal Newman’s beatification, which is now expected to be presided over by Pope Benedict XVI personally, during his official visit to England next September. ...

So far our roster includes a number of distinguished speakers. Fr. Ian Ker of Oxford University, author of the definitive intellectual biography of Newman, will speak on “Newman’s (and Pope Benedict XVI’s) Hermeneutic of Continuity;” Professor Peter Kreeft of Boston College will speak on Newman’s great poem, The Dream of Gerontius; Dr. Paul Griffiths of Duke University will speak on Newman’s The Grammar of Assent; Father George Rutler, Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour in Manhattan, will speak on “The Anglican Newman and Recent Developments;” and Edward Short, whose book on Newman and his contemporaries will be published next year, will speak on “Newman and the Americans.” Deacon John Sullivan of the Boston Archdiocese will preach about his miraculous healing after praying to John Henry Newman. Patrick Reilly, the president of the Cardinal Newman Society, will speak on "Newman and the Renewal of Catholic Identity in American Catholic Higher Education", and Father Paul Chavasse of the Birmingham Oratory will speak at dinner Friday evening on the Newman cause for canonization, of which he is the former postulator.

Musical Director Troy Quinn is planning a Saturday evening concert featuring major sections of Elgar’s monumental The Dream of Gerontius as well as a shorter concert on Friday evening. Although the main body of the conference will be Friday and Saturday, there will be recreational opportunities at Carnegie Abbey and elsewhere on Thursday afternoon, a welcoming cookout at Green Animals Thursday evening, and a closing Mass and brunch on Sunday morning for all who wish to attend these additional events.

Registration and additional information can be found on the Portsmouth Institute's Web site.

State Exceptions to Unemployment

Justin Katz

Owing to some legislation put forward by union-friendly state Senator John Tassoni (D, Smithfield, North Smithfield), I've been poking around state law related to unemployment insurance. Tassoni's bill would remove the word "private" from the following paragraph related to the state's workshare program:

"Eligible employer" means any private employer who has had contributions credited to his or her account and benefits have been chargeable to this account, and who is not delinquent in the payment of contributions or reimbursements, as required by chapters 42 – 44 of this title.

The obvious question is why public employers wouldn't be eligible for this program in the first place, and I can't say that my digging has led me to an answer. It has, however, unearthed a peculiar exemption. Government employers don't have to make regular contributions to the unemployment trust fund and can instead reimburse the fund for benefits paid to laid-off employees. Why should that be allowed?

My understanding is that employer payments into the fund are invested (assuming a positive balance) and are not reimbursable upon the closing of the business. When a particular employer lays off workers, its payment rate goes up (in the same way that auto insurance goes up after an accident or ticket), and when the fund is low, employers have to pay more in order to build it back up. Public-sector employers that make pay-as-you-go reimbursements to cover executed benefits do not contribute to the body of money that earns investment returns, and since they don't make regular payments, they would not pay more no matter how many employees they lay off or how low the fund might be.

This doesn't appear to be relevant to Tassoni's bill, however, because it would still only apply to an employer that has "contributions credited to his or her account." The new question is therefore what proportion of public employers make contributions, and the previous question about the reason for their initial exclusion from the workshare program remains.

Of course, the issue of more general concern is why the state's largest employer — i.e., the state and its subsidiaries — wouldn't have to participate in a program that is ostensibly set up to spread employment risk.

February 7, 2010

In the Tech Bubble

Justin Katz

Prediction: This is going to turn out to be a major issue in a decade or two:

Smart phones, MP3 players, laptops and other devices are the air kids breathe — perhaps too deeply, judging from a new study that shows children ages 8 to 18 devote an average of seven hours and 38 minutes a day consuming some form of media for fun. That's an hour and 17 minutes more than they did five years ago, said the study's sponsor, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. And they're champion multitaskers, packing content on top of content for an even heavier onslaught. ...

The researchers warned that further study is required to link media use with any impact on the health of young people or their grades. But 47 percent of heavy media users among those surveyed said they earn mostly Cs or lower, compared with 23 percent of light users. The study classified heavy users as consuming more than 16 hours a day and light users as less than three hours.

The problem is greater than just time away and distraction from studies, although those are clearly detrimental. As a parent, I can testify that even within a few weeks of introduction of one of these addictive technologies within the house, personalities begin to change. When I was young the parental concern was the deterioration of attention span, but now, it's as if the kids forget how to entertain themselves and play creatively without the hyper-stimulation of gadgets.

Without a doubt, society benefits greatly from technological advances, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that they amount to blind experiments on future generations.

Further Thoughts on Economic Up Is Down

Justin Katz

Even the mainstream media, this time the Associated Press, is beginning to find the familiar economic narrative peculiar:

"It's very unusual," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com. "At this point in the business cycle, we should be seeing some sort of labor force growth. Layoffs have abated, but there really has been no pickup in hiring."

Job creation was stronger early in previous recoveries. And jobless people responded by streaming back into the labor force. Some workers are concluding it's more practical to return to school, start a business or care at home for their kids until the job market improves. In some cases, it even makes financial sense to stop looking for work.

As I've been saying for some months, the wealth to fund a recovery must come from somewhere, whether an innovative technology creates a new market, geopolitical changes open up existing markets, changes in taxation and regulation free up wealth or productivity that had previously lain fallow, or money is borrowed from the future. It would be fair to summarize, I think, that the housing boom essentially borrowed money from the future, and the bust erupted when it turned out that the future money didn't actually exist.

What economic growth is currently occurring may be based entirely on the the resources that the federal government is pumping from the future into the economy, propping up public sector workers and favored industries, even favored businesses. In this scenario, jobs might not be increasing because the market isn't really expanding. There's no need to hire people when the uptick in profits derives from a government handout; there's really not much work to be done in claiming it.

Meanwhile, people are rearranging their lifestyles, effectively taking themselves — and the wealth and productivity that they represent — out of the economy, and businesses are responding to necessity by finding ways to increase productivity without new workers. That means jobs and workers that aren't coming back... at least until people begin to believe in "must have" goods and services again.

The contraction that the government borrowing seeks to disguise will continue, and eventually people will realize that the future wealth is not what everybody has been pretending it would be.

Dave Barry Offers a Frank Assessment of the Host City of today's "Big Game"

Monique Chartier

Courtesy the Miami Herald.

... Miami has been hosting Super Bowls for more than 150 years, and in all that time no harm has ever come to a visitor who didn't do something stupid such as venture outside the hotel. So have fun! Here are some tips to help you make the most of your visit:


Miami has an extensive mass-transit system. Unfortunately, it doesn't go anywhere you need to go, and it sometimes has sharks on it. (You think I'm kidding.) ...

Apparently, there were some objections to his exceedingly honest column. In response, he has written a full retraction, inclusive of a description of game day security measures (which are probably not accurate) and an evaluation of the competency of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (which probably is).

Economic Up Is Down

Justin Katz

Do you think there comes a point at which people simply stop listening to measurements? As the latest national unemployment numbers rolled out, one certainly got the impression that the news was positive, that recovery is just around the corner. Yet:

U.S. payrolls unexpectedly fell in January, but the unemployment rate surprisingly dropped to a five-month low, according to a government report Friday that hinted at labor market improvement. ...

While a sharp increase in the number of people giving up looking for work helped to depress the jobless rate, some details of the employment report were encouraging. The number of "discouraged job seekers" rose to 1.1 million in January from 734,000 a year ago.

The storyline is becoming repetitive. It seems that every time the unemployment numbers drop, lately, it turns out to be a result of discouraged people giving up. In this case, the Reuters reporter is downright confusing. Increasing numbers of "discouraged job seekers" represent an "encouraging detail"? Of course not, but it's as if one can read right through the text and see the will to spin behind it.

February 6, 2010

More Wild Speculation...

Justin Katz

Something occurred to me when I read this:

But the administration on Thursday confirmed [Gary Sasse's] resignation as both administration director and head of the state Department of Revenue. No reason was given, though it is believed he resigned — after several previous threats — because Carcieri's proposed budget did not go as far as he believed necessary in seeking the reorganization of state government.

You know, with all the talk about who's doing what in preparation for unannounced campaigns, I don't think I've ever heard Sasse's name come up as a potential candidate for anything. Why is that?

Meanwhile, Ian Donnis has ruled out Middletown Republican Mike Kehew and John Hazen White, Jr., as potential Moderate Party candidates for governor. Ian stresses that, depending on his or her flavor of "moderate," the individual in the role could have a decisive effect on the results. It's pretty clear that Sasse would torpedo the Republican candidate, and he might also undermine Chafee, which leaves the Democrat, whoever that might be.

Of course, this is all just more wild speculation, which means concrete assertions of conspiracies will be sure to follow...

Note to the Sec of State and the Senator from Coventry: Forcibly Keeping Open a Primary Has Been Ruled Unconstitutional

Monique Chartier

... by the United States Supreme Court.

During the height of the debate several weeks ago as to whether the RIGOP should close its primary, Secretary of State Ralph Mollis declared that if a political party closes its primary, it would be a violation of state law. Further, the Sec of State stated that if the RIGOP decides to change its by-laws in order to do so, he intends the RI Board of Elections to intercede.

the office of Secretary of State A. Ralph Mollis sent out an advisory that the state Board of Elections reviews all revisions to party bylaws, so that if the GOP Central Committee does vote to restrict who can vote in its primaries, the “state Board of Elections will be the setting for the next step in the process.”

Now, as Justin points out, Senator Leonidas Raptakis, Mr. Mollis' probable primary opponent, has filed legislation reinforcing (?) existing law to keep primaries open.

Both of these gentlemen may want to slow down and review precedent in this matter. When the Connecticut Secretary of State tried to stop the Connecticut GOP from opening their primary, the US Supreme Court in 1986 said ix-nay. And when the California Secretary of State tried to force all political parties to go beyond an open primary to something I had never even heard of - a blanket primary: all primary candidates on the ballots of all party primaries, with all voters free to choose from the smorgasbord - the US Supreme Court in 2000 not only ruled against him but provided a remarkable historic example of what could have happened in one particular primary if non-party members had been permitted to choose a party's candidate.

But a single election in which the party nominee is selected by nonparty members could be enough to destroy the party. In the 1860 presidential election, if opponents of the fledgling Republican Party had been able to cause its nomination of a pro-slavery candidate in place of Abraham Lincoln, the coalition of intraparty factions forming behind him likely would have disintegrated, endangering the party’s survival and thwarting its effort to fill the vacuum left by the dissolution of the Whigs.

In short, without a closed primary, President Lincoln might not have been the Republican candidate, he might not have been President and slavery ... well, let's just stop there.

The RI Board of Elections just finished wiping constitutional egg off its face from trying to uphold another dubious Rhode Island electoral law - one involving signatures and the RI Moderate Party. Don't make them go through that again, messieurs.

The Window and the House of Cards

Justin Katz

Apart from the complications of Rhode Island law, as a matter of political theory, this strikes me as a reasonable argument:

The lawsuit [by the city of Woonsocket], which also names State Controller Marc A. Leonetti and General Treasurer Frank T. Caprio as defendants, said the money [that the state was supposed to give towns for automobile excise taxes] was appropriated by a legislative act of the General Assembly and that means Carcieri, Leonetti and Caprio have "a clear legal duty" to pay it.

"He may submit the budget, but he does not have the authority under the state Constitution or state law unilaterally to change the General Assembly's budget after it has passed," [Woonsocket Mayor Leo] Fontaine said.

I've long been including, among my complaints against Governor Carcieri, that he is far too passive about describing the ownership of the budget. Even though we're into the second month of the calendar year — and the legislative session — legislators have yet to act on the supplemental budget. So, the governor should pay out whatever money is due, to whomever it's due, until the money runs out and then just shut down. "I'm bound by law to follow the General Assembly's budgeting," he could say, "and they've chosen to spend the account dry rather than take corrective action." It's their responsibility.

WPRI's recent poll data gives reason to hope that the public is coming around to an understanding of the political dynamics, in this state. Overall, 53% of Rhode Islanders blame the GA for the budget crisis, with another 25% splitting blame between the legislature and the executive. Perhaps based on relative degrees of attention, the General Assembly fares worse as the age of the respondent goes up. Moreover, 61% of respondents want cuts in spending and services and not in taxes.

If increasing understanding is to translate into the appropriate electoral actions — rather than merely contributing to the general grumble — the governor must make the necessary political decisions crystal clear. He should declare that the General Assembly's failure to act has been an open window next to the budgetary house of cards and then get out of the way of the inevitable.

Anti-Dorrite African-Americans in Antebellum Rhode Island

Marc Comtois

In "Strange Bedfellows", sometime ProJo book reviewer Erik Chaput and Russell J. DeSimone explain how free blacks in antebellum Rhode Island joined forces with the conservative Law and Order party to help put down the egalitarian and populist Dorr Rebellion.

[I]n Rhode Island, forces loyal to Governor King, including some 200 black men from Providence, summarily arrested hundreds of suspected Dorrites. The Law and Order forces, a coalition of Whigs and conservative Democrats, needed all the troops they could get their hands on because many of the state militia units were loyal to Dorr. Black participation in squashing the rebellion made a deep impression on William Brown, the grandson of slaves who had once been owned by the famous merchant turned abolitionist Moses Brown. At numerous points in his memoir, William Brown pointed out that many blacks "turned out in defense" of the newly formed Law and Order party. The "colored people," according to Brown, "organized two companies to assist in carrying out Law and Order in the State." One Dorrite broadside viciously depicted blacks at a table with dogs eating and drinking like barbarians at the conclusion of the rebellion. Indeed, the Law and Order party was frequently referred to as the "nigger party" by the Dorrites.

Ironically, the disenfranchised black allies of the Law and Order party helped to put down a rebellion that claimed to speak on behalf of the disenfranchised. Indeed, the black men who made such an impression on Brown played a key role in suppressing a rebellion that they once had every intention of joining because of its egalitarian ethos. Just as ironically, blacks' support for the Charter government, a relic of Rhode Island's colonial past, helped secure their voting rights when the state approved a new constitution in 1843. The former slave and staunch abolitionist Frederick Douglass maintained in his autobiography that the efforts of black and white abolitionists "during the Dorr excitement did more to abolitionize the state than any previous or subsequent work." One effect of the "labors," according to Douglass, "was to induce the old law and order party, when it set about making its new constitution, to avoid the narrow folly of the Dorrites, and make a constitution which should not abridge any man's rights on account of race or color." This legal triumph, the only instance in antebellum history where blacks regained the franchise after having it revoked, was rooted both in the particular political and economic situations of Providence's black community and in the Revolutionary rhetoric that was part and parcel of Dorr's attempt at extralegal reform.

It's a very interesting read and explanation of how politics did, indeed, bring together these strange bedfellows.

When "Consensus" Is a Weapon Word

Justin Katz

A post-email-revelation tack being taken by global warming alarmists has been that we skeptics, as we're called, have no qualifications to judge the science, and the scientific controversies that have filtered out to our ignorant outskirts are really just minor complaints against a vast body of knowledge all pointing to the truth of the alarmists' claims.

That point of view would be acceptable, perhaps even correct, were the environmentalist Jeremiahs standing as lone voices in the city square. But they're not. They're professionals funded largely by the world's public sectors and insisting that limited global resources be allocated toward their particular area of concern. Under those circumstances, it is the duty of the people who comprise the relatively esoteric field and who wish to command the allocation of trillions of dollars in global wealth to persuade the owners and creators of that wealth (i.e., us) that their claims merit attention, not to mention historic expenditures.

Part of the process by which they might accomplish such persuasion is an open an honest dissemination of their information, honed in as untainted a forum as human nature allows and conveyed through an ostensibly neutral system of news media. In the particular case of mankind's relevance to climate change, it has been precisely through the sorts of claims that are being questioned — melting high-altitude glaciers, disappearing rain forests, rising tides — that the "consensus" is formed about the dire necessity for action. Additionally, appeals to authority and pre-modern methods of peer pressure and ideological exclusion have constrained public discussion.

William Anderson argues that the content of the surreptitiously distributed emails from the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia rightly undermine the entire enterprise:

In the case of climate science, corruption of the peer-review process appears to have taken place. Communications among some of the principal investigators suggest a conspiracy to prevent the publication of work at variance to their own. In addition, they attempted to take action against editors and journals that published the work of their rivals.

Worse, these same investigators refused to disclose their original data and their methods of analysis, threatening to destroy data rather than comply with freedom-of-information demands, as required by law. This action constitutes scientific malfeasance of the gravest type. Alone it is sufficient to discredit their entire enterprise. ...

So we will never know, with adequate confidence, what the temperature trends were thought to be by those who have been charged with custody of the many years of data on which, they insist, the future of humanity depends. Although there are four main foci of such data (the Climate Research Unit of the University of East Anglia, NASA, NOAA, and Darwin, Australia), they share some sources, remain unavailable to independent assessment, and show the same casual approach to integrity of the data. Requests for disclosure have been refused. This is a curious posture for publicly funded organizations.

On the matter of tracing the way in which falsehood becomes scientific common knowledge, Mark Steyn provides an excellent example:

But where did all these experts get the data [regarding the ostensibly rapidly melting Himalayan glacier] from? Well, NASA's assertion that Himalayan glaciers "may disappear altogether" by 2030 rests on one footnote, citing the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report from 2007. ...

And the IPCC was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for that report, so it must be kosher, right? Well, yes, its Himalayan claims rest on a 2005 World Wildlife Fund report called "An Overview of Glaciers." ...

... they wouldn't be saying this stuff if they hadn't got the science nailed down, would they? The WWF report relies on an article published in the New Scientist in 1999 by Fred Pearce. ...

Oh, but don't worry, back in 1999 Fred did a quickie telephone interview with a chap called Syed Hasnain of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi. And this Syed Hasnain cove presumably knows a thing or two about glaciers.

Well, yes. But he now says he was just idly "speculating"; he didn't do any research or anything like that.

It is precisely by these minor matters' snowballing into the eye-and-headline-catching lines of authoritative studies that the "consensus" is formed. They are constitutive, not incidental. They form the point — the explanatory "therefore" for political action — that imposes an a priori theme to a vast body of scientific findings that indisputably conclude that the climate changes... a point that even we dabblers are not inclined to challenge.

A Curious Political Development

Justin Katz

State Senator and Secretary of State candidate Leonidas Raptakis (D, Coventry, East Greenwich, Warwick, West Warwick) has submitted legislation that would insert the following language into state law:

No political party shall prohibit any independent registered voter who has no affiliation with any political party from participating in any political primary.

Here's his press release, which (curiously) he sent out himself, rather than through the senate's procedure:

State Senator Lou Raptakis, who recently announced his campaign for Secretary of State, is drafting legislation that would prevent any political party in Rhode Island from holding a closed primary. The Rhode Island Republican Party is considering closing their primary and prohibiting the participation of unaffiliated voters, a voting block which constitutes the largest group of voters in the state.

Raptakis said that no political party in the state should expect taxpayers to pay the bill for a party primary which shuts out 335,288 unaffiliated voters.

"It's very simple," said Raptakis. "If a political party wants to turn an open primary election process into an exercise in determining the will of their own members, then that party should not expect the taxpayers of Rhode Island to pay the bill."

Raptakis added, "The fact that some members of the Rhode Island GOP are seeking to close their primary, would reduce the number of eligible participants in that primary from 408,089 unaffiliated and Republican voters to 72,801 registered Republicans. Why should the state have to pay for a party's primary election when that party is telling the overwhelming majority of voters that their participation is not wanted?"

While a spokesperson for the Secretary of State suggested that their interpretation of the law was that Republicans could not hold a closed primary, it is expected that if the state GOP votes to bar unaffiliated voters from their primary, the issue will wind up in state court. Raptakis noted that Rhode Island General Laws 17-15-24 establishes that the only people who can be prohibited from voting in a party primary are those who vote in the primary of another party and don't disaffiliate or those who have designated their affiliation with another party.

"I don't believe the state's election law allows for a closed primary, but a judge may rule otherwise," said Raptakis. "I think we need to make it crystal clear that as long as the state is funding primary elections, it will not allow any political party to significantly limit participation in the electoral process."

If Raptakis is so confident that a party cannot close its primary, then why the legislation? In other words, why is a closed primary such a threat that it must be "crystal clear"?

One obvious reason might be that Democrats like the easy option of jumping over to control the effectiveness of the other side. The small size of the RIGOP also represents a little bit of an advantage for Republican candidates in a closed primary, because they can campaign to a smaller group of people, avoiding expense and center-stage bloodshed, almost as a community discussion. A third reason could be that Raptakis, himself, is a right-leaning outlier among Democrats and fears that his own party might follow suit, effectively blocking his campaign.

Evidence that the proposed legislation is more political than principled can be found in the fact that the legislation makes no reference to the funding of primaries, however much the senator may stress that rationale.

February 5, 2010

For Those Who Couldn't Make the Announcement

Justin Katz

A reader has posted video of John Loughlin's candidacy announcement on YouTube:

Drinking from the Lowest Shelf

Justin Katz

Alright, so it's not the most compelling or sympathetic example, but this is as good an instance as any of the ways in which middle-class-and-down Americans translate money (especially taxes):

Americans' love affair with top-shelf booze cooled last year as the recession took a toll on high-priced tipples.

A new report by an industry group shows people drank more but turned to cheaper brands. They also drank more at home and less in pricier bars and restaurants.

As I walked out of last year's financial town meeting, in Tiverton, having just played a visible role in a budget-cutting coup, the air was thick with comments snidely dismissing the amount of money that the average household would save. Perhaps to step-10 teachers, another night out each year is a sneer-worthy inconsequentiality, but to folks who only splurge for one a year, it's not so minor. For those who never go out, the same amount of money translates into small luxuries like egg sandwiches on Wednesday mornings or a more palatable brand of rum.

It all seems so minor... until it doesn't.

A Relationship with Knowledge

Justin Katz

First, a line that's supremely relevant for those of us who've been beating our heads against a wall of political inertia, in Rhode Island:

In my experience, compulsively objective scientists are evenly matched, or even outmatched, by shamelessly subjective humanists. More than once I’ve been shocked by colleagues who seem unable to grasp that richly elaborated accounts of personal experiences do not refute claims about statistical tendencies.

That's from R.R. Reno's response to a book addressing our relationship with knowledge by Paul Griffiths:

The first half of Intellectual Appetite provides a metaphysical analysis (or, more accurately, the grammar of a metaphysical analysis—Griffiths operates as formally as possible to encompass a wide range of metaphysical options) that allows us to explain why, for a Christian, the basic move of "enclosure by sequestration" trains the mind to be false to reality. The world is not made up of tiny little bits of disconnected reality, all just waiting for our mental appropriation. Everything is saturated with the sustaining power of God’s creative will. Nothing merely exists, because everything comes into being and endures in the shimmering light of the divine gift of existence.

By the phrase "enclosure by sequestration" Reno means to indicate the human tendency to disassemble the components of reality for inspection. As a practical matter, this is how the limits of our own capacity for comprehension require us to proceed, but the danger is that we'll pick and choose those components that serve the reality that we prefer to conceive. If we were to stroll farther into the metaphysical weeds, I'd suggest that we do, in a real way, succeed in constructing our own realities, but that doing so does not make each variation equally valid. They can all be measured by their distance from and movement with respect to objective Truth.

In this view, nothing — no action or thought — is inactive, because what we believe the world to be manipulates reality as surely as what we do with our physical bodies. So, I disagree with Reno's interpretation, here:

In his Confessions, St. Augustine provides a particularly vivid account of the power of spectacles. He reports that his close friend Alypius, though possessing a good and cultured character, became addicted to the bloody, violent games that provided civic entertainment in the ancient world. At first, Alypius "held such spectacles in aversion," Augustine writes. One day, some friends persuaded him to go. Alypius steeled himself, closing his eyes to avoid participating in the barbarism. At the crucial moment, as the blood gushed and the crowd roared, "he was overcome by curiosity," and "he opened his eyes."

But Augustine's account does not turn toward ownership, as the phenomenology preferred by Griffiths suggests. On the contrary, all the images Augustine uses point in the opposite direction: "He was struck in the soul by a wound graver than the gladiator, whose fall had caused the roar." "His eyes were riveted." He "was inebriated by bloodthirsty pleasure." He becomes addicted and captivated. It isn't that Alypius owns the spectacle. The spectacle owns Alypius.

It would be closer to the truth, I'd suggest, that however much he may enslave himself to his own fixations, the voyeur is actually pursuing a sense of ownership of the gladiator's final moments, as if for a collection of images that the spectator has accumulated. Moreover, the scene allows him to participate without immediate bodily risk — to benefit whether the gladiator survives or dies.

The viewing is not passive. It constructs the communal hand that forces the gladiator into a fight for his real life. It represents a movement toward a particular understanding of reality, one in which the senses are deadened to violence in a way that minimizes the travesty and in which the participant is not a person with a soul with which to communicate, but an object. Hence, the progression toward ever more gratuitous scenes and perhaps an increasing likelihood of acting them out.

Kennedy Down - Inside the Numbers

Marc Comtois

The WPRI poll Monique mentioned highlights the poor favorability ratings for Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (apparently because he has the lowest approval numbers of RI's Federal delegation). Yet, Senator Whitehouse isn't up for reelection for a couple more years, so the more immediate--and actionable--item is the news that Congressman Patrick Kennedy has a high unfavorability rating.

First, for what it's worth, he has a 29/58 Favorable/Unfavorable rating in the 2nd Congressional District (not his own) and WPRI published some overall breakdowns, but the important numbers are those solely from the First District (note, the poll was conducted prior to Rep. John Loughlin officially entered the race):

If the election were held today, would you vote to re-elect Congressman Kennedy?

Re-Elect - 35%
Consider Another - 31%
Replace - 28%

18-39 - Re-elect - 31%; Consider another - 29%; Replace - 20%
40-59 - Re-elect - 34%; Consider another - 30%; Replace - 31%
60+ - Re-elect - 31%; Consider another - 36%; Replace - 29%

Male - Re-elect - 33%; Consider another - 32%; Replace - 30%
Female - Re-elect - 37%; Consider another - 31%; Replace - 26%

Union Member in Household
Yes - Re-elect - 49%; Consider another - 26%; Replace - 23%
No - Re-elect - 32%; Consider another - 33%; Replace - 30%

Political Leanings
Democrat - Re-elect - 61%; Consider another - 20%; Replace - 12%
Republican - Re-elect - 8%; Consider another - 33%; Replace - 57%
Independent - Re-elect - 26%; Consider another - 42%; Replace - 25%

Kennedy is still strong among Democrats, but the Independents are the key. It looks like those over 60 may finally be getting over Camelot, too. Kennedy's strongest support comes from Democrat women between 40-59 years old who live in union households. His strongest opponents are Republican men of the same age who don't live in a union household.

NOTE: While I won't go so far as to agree with the contention that these polls are poorly designed, I do think the real problem is that those who conduct and report on these polls need to do a better job with the way they phrase the results. This particularly true with the way the lump Favorable/Unfavorable by putting "Fair" in the latter category. "Fair" is the ultimate "meh" answer in polling, and doesn't indicate anything. Someone who says a politician is doing "Fair" could still very well vote for them--and in RI, it would probably take someone else knocking the socks off a voter to get them to change their ballot box habits. That being said, the results I've replicated here are a bit more clear.

Which Way China... and the U.S.

Justin Katz

Yesterday afternoon, a coworker and I were discussing a plaster molding that was sagging off a large house's dining room ceiling. He expressed surprise that the installers would rely entirely on adhesive to keep the heavy decoration attached, and although I shared his distrust of goop, in building, I pointed out that it had held up for a hundred years or so. The conversation turned toward the impressions that future carpenters might have of our work, a century on.

We were standing in the remodeled house's kitchen, which has brand new "green friendly" bamboo cabinets, and having just read about Rhode Island students' lack of substantial progress on standardized tests, as well as this George Will column, I quipped that a future owner will feel right at home when China takes over the country:

Fogel finds many reasons for this, including the increased productivity of the 700 million (55 percent) rural Chinese. But he especially stresses "the enormous investment China is making in education."

While China increasingly invests in its future, America increasingly invests in its past: the elderly. China's ascent to global economic hegemony could be slowed or derailed by unforeseen scarcities or social fissures. America's destiny is demographic, and therefore is inexorable and predictable, which makes the nation's fiscal mismanagement, by both parties, especially shocking.

With no reason to know the basis for my comment, my coworker asked whether China's ascendancy would prove that communism had won the competition with capitalism. It's an interesting question, although I'd been thinking less in predictive terms of cultural competition than in the terms of our nation's appropriate response to trends in the present. I'd have been more prepared had Jonah Goldberg posted this reminder of an old column before my lunch break:

Ask yourself this: Why are we in this financial crisis?

Any short list of reasons would include a lack of transparency in markets and regulatory rule-making; collusion between business and government; the politicization of lending practices (including the socialization of risk and the privatization of profit through giant governmental entities like Fannie Mae); and, of course, simple greed.

Does anyone honestly think China doesn’t have these problems ten times over? It has no free press, no democratic accountability, and no truly independent regulators.

On China's end, two things are likely to happen before it overtakes the United States: Either the country will collapse of its own weight (à la the U.S.S.R.) or its culture and political system will change to be more in keeping with the U.S. tradition. My own country's side of the equation concerns me more. It's a matter of some debate whether the United States continues to be an adequate example of democratic capitalism. As China strives to build the benefits of capitalism on a communistic base, we've been striving to lash the free market to the goals and mechanisms of big government.

It may turn out that this century will determine whether either trajectory can reach the liberal promised land of Heaven on Earth, or whether both will land in that fabled ash heap of history.

February 4, 2010

Rough Poll Numbers for Rhode Island's Junior Senator Emerge on a Politically Interesting Day

Monique Chartier

From a poll conducted by WPRI 12.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has a favorability rating of 33 percent, with an unfavorable rating mired at 57 percent. Ten percent of those polled weren't sure how they felt about Whitehouse. Five percent thought Whitehouse was doing an "excellent" job.

Yikes. Apparently, many Rhode Islanders who thoughfully oppose the health care reform pending on Capital Hill do not appreciate the Senator's virulent characterization of them.

These poll results have been publicized on the same day that Scott Brown is sworn in as a Republican US Senator from Massachusetts and John Loughlin formally declares his candidacy against the Democrat incumbent Congressman from Rhode Island's First District. Altogether, not an encouraging day for advocates of big government.

Loughlin Makes it Official

Marc Comtois

State Rep. John Loughlin formally announced his run against Patrick Kennedy for the 1st Congressional District seat. From the ProJo report:

"When we should have been focused on jobs, Congressman Patrick Kennedy was voting for a massive government takeover of our health care system that would have raised taxes, increased spending and cut Medicare for our seniors,'' he said.

"When we should have been focused on jobs, my opponent was voting for a ... trade energy tax that would impose huge new costs on businesses and families in this state. Instead of extending a helping hand, my opponent has teamed up with Nancy Pelosi and her friends in Washington to throw us one anchor after another, making matters worse, not better.''

Contending "it's time for a new start,'' Loughlin ticked off his own views, including: "The best social program is a good job that pays a decent wage...Money and resources are best used when they remain in the hands of the people.''

That the announcement is garnering some national attention is understandable given Loughlin is running against the only currently elected Kennedy in the wake of the Scott Brown victory. Meanwhile, Patrick Kennedy thinks the Brown victory is "way overblown" because Coakley was such a bad candidate....heh. Can history repeat?

The Benefit to the Giver

Justin Katz

BobN makes an excellent comment:

Libraries were all we had before the Internet. They were the original broad and deep pool of knowledge available to all.

Of course, the original free library as invented by Ben Franklin was funded by private benefactors who subscribed to its capital and operating costs purely as a matter of private philanthropy. The idea that libraries would be owned and funded by government violated the contemporary concept of the role of government in society.

Private philanthropy confers benefits on both donors and recipients. People who supported the libraries and other philanthropic institutions gained status and affection from their fellow citizens and the recognition that they had nobly done good things for their fellow man, while those fellow citizens benefited from the libraries, or fire departments, or hospitals.

When government takes over "good works" it perverts that social bond. Voluntary philanthropy becomes taxes extorted under the law's threat of force. The government usurps the philanthropist's social position and takes credit itself for what it did not provide (which is fraud). And the beneficiaries are no longer grateful, but come to see the benefits as "entitlements" to which they have a "right".

Thus we slide into the Hell of Progressivism. There is nothing compassionate about government being involved in social services. It's all about making people dependent on politicians and bureaucrats so they can be bribed or threatened to continue voting those politicians into power.

I agree with this argument, for the most part, and the sentiment, wholly. But it's worth questioning whether advances in transportation and communication technology have changed the equation almost beyond applicability. Wealthy people once had a much greater incentive to pursue "status and affection from their fellow citizens." For one thing, peer groups were much more local, whereas now, the wealthy see themselves as an international set. Whether the middle-to-upper crusts within the nearest ten miles think well of them is of diminished concern.

Security is also less of an issue. Before phones and automobiles and fancy CSI forensics, angry mobs were an actual risk. A mugging on a dark road could be a more stealthy crime. And a house could burn down with no hope of stopping flames begun in the dead of night.

This is all before one takes into account decreased religiosity (which, of course, is related to the other trends). Frankly, I don't have a philosophical answer, from a conservative point of view, other than to suggest that the government decision making be pushed as far out toward discrete communities as possible.

From Zinn to Town Politics

Justin Katz

I've got writing forthcoming on the matter locally, but for now, I'll remark that, somehow, I'm continually surprised by the extent to which people think we can run the world as if it were as we want it to be, not as it is. There's a point, in such discussions, at which we run off a reductive cliff; obviously, any understanding of the world will begin with basic assumptions. What I'm talking about is a tendency to ignore actual experience as a factor in subsequent decisions. One example: Play nice with unions, get burned, abused, and scammed, and return to the bargaining table the subsequent year striving for harmonious negotiations.

There seems to me something similar in the phenomenon of Howard Zinn, and Roger Kimball touches on it in an excellent postmortem take-down of his work:

To his credit — well, it's not really to his credit, since he offers the admission only to disarm criticism, but Zinn is entirely candid about the ideological nature of his opus. All history, he says, involves a choice of perspectives. Maybe so. Are we therefore to assume all perspectives are equally valuable? Zinn employs this relativist's sleight of hand in order to promulgate his preferred species of intolerance, which appeals to latitudinarian sensitivities only because it is an intolerance fabricated in opposition to the established order. If "all history is ideological" (it isn’t really), then why not make your choice based on what appeals to your political sympathies, truth be damned? That's the takeaway of Zinn's admission, and it's all he offers to explain his decision, which he details at the beginning of his book ...

In other words, what Zinn offers us is not a corrective, but a distortion. It is as if someone said to you, "Would you like to see Versailles?" and then took you on a tour of a broken shed on the outskirts of the palace grounds. "You see, pretty shabby, isn't it?"

Kimball also points out that certain of Zinn's claims simply aren't true. But truth isn't the point for the historian's fans; Truth is, and therefore, the evidence must be subservient.

A Conservative at the Library

Justin Katz

On the Matt Allen Show, last night, Andrew admitted to using the public library (albeit a couple of times per year) and suggested a reason for RI towns' fiscal profligacy. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

My two cents: Public libraries are wonderful resource for students and people who don't work. During a period when my wife's job gave her summers off, she took our children to the library all of the time, where the books and various programs kept them engaged and learning. Other folks seeking to find ways to fill their days, and perhaps those who work from home, also benefit from the system. Whether that's enough of a reason to fund libraries is up to each town to decide. Personally, I think a certain baseline access to knowledge, especially now that libraries can be a public portal to the Internet, is worth maintaining.

February 3, 2010

Taking a Principled Stance with Your Biggest Creditor

Monique Chartier

... when your biggest creditor has no principles. From UPI.

China, already outraged over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, Tuesday warned of damage to bilateral ties if U.S. leaders met with the Dalai Lama.

President Barack Obama plans to meet with the Dalai Lama when the Tibetan spiritual leader visits the United States but no date has been set.

Speaking to reporters in Beijing, Zhu Weiqun, executive vice minister for the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee, said the United States would violate international rules by meeting the Tibetan Buddhist monk, Xinhua reported.

Saying such a move would be both irrational and harmful, Zhu said, "If a country decides to do so, we will take necessary measures to help them realize this."

Is he referencing the $789 billion (as of November) in US Treasury securities that his country holds?

Of course, President Obama is doing the right thing by selling arms to a democracy and by meeting with a religious/spiritual leader. But the President is also proposing a trillion and a half dollars in new spending and two trillion in additional deficits, on top of current spending and deficits. Setting aside for a moment that such an absurd level of spending is completely inadviseable in its own regard, if Congress approves anything like it, the money will need to be borrowed from some place. But if we tick off our biggest lender by doing the right thing, will they still loan us the money we want?

Put it another way. Hasn't our spending reached a patently unacceptable level when we have to ask ourselves: can we afford to stand on principle?

Making the Trial Their Expense

Justin Katz

Chris Powell offers it in a different context, but his idea would be a brilliant defense against the ever-looming sledgehammer of litigation threats in contract disputes:

The boards that have capitulated to the lawsuit threat say it is all a matter of avoiding litigation expense. But if a board really believes that First Cathedral is so preferable as a graduation site and that the religious objection is so contrived, it could stand its ground without incurring much expense at all. For a board would not have to prove its case in court; the plaintiffs would have to prove theirs. A board could put up as elaborate a defense as it wanted, or none at all. The plaintiffs almost certainly would call school officials as witnesses anyway, and so without special expense they would have a chance to tell the court how they saw things. Maybe volunteer counsel could be found for the board. Damages seem unlikely. It’s an issue likely to come up again elsewhere, so it may be worth adjudicating.

In any event, a school board that capitulates only to avoid the expense of litigation here is advertising wimpiness, advertising that it does not have the courage of its convictions and thus inviting a lot more litigation over grievances far less serious than this one.

If it gets to the point of being a choice between capitulation and lawsuits during negotiations, seek volunteer lawyers (perhaps from a local taxpayer group) to offer the minimal defense that would procure a ruling. That way, unions bear costs and face risks when filing suits, and the elected officials do not. (Well, of course there's always some risk, considering that judges can do just about anything, these days.)

RE: Phony Incentives and Real Disincentives

Marc Comtois

Justin correctly questions the actual effectiveness of the hoop-jumping job creation incentives recently laid out by the Governor. (As commenter Roland writes under Justin's post, apparently it is a way to use stimulus money for short term gain). This morning, I heard Helen Glover reading from this American Thinker piece about the problem with this whole approach of trying to micro-manage small business from the top down.

Suppose you are a business that has held on to valuable employees for the last year at a great financial cost. You are now supposed to compete with a startup that has preferential tax treatment because he is hiring new employees. Or perhaps you must now compete with an existing competitor that was less financially sound and thus had to lay off workers. He may now get a tax break to hire them back. You must then compete with more expensive workers than your competition. Instead of creating an incentive to hire you may have created an incentive to lay off workers.

Because the president decided to float this idea in his supposed "State of the Union" with an audience of 48 million viewers, employers who may be considering hiring back workers may elect to delay this as long as possible in order to get the tax credit mentioned, which may be far from being enacted. This would likely delay any employment rebound.

And why should such a benefit only be allowed for ‘small' business? With such high unemployment don't we want to encourage hiring from large businesses as well? If a small business gets preferential treatment for a new hire is he not discouraged from growing beyond the magical and arbitrary tipping point and losing that tax break? Will the job ‘created' by the small business come at the expense of another job in a larger company, negating any benefit?

The solution is, of course, simplicity. Cut taxes for all businesses, reduce government. I know the Governor also has proposed that, so perhaps this is, indeed, short-term window dressing. As always, back to you General Assembly...

A Phony Incentive for Hiring

Justin Katz

Does anybody believe this will work?

The deal would give employers a $2,000 tax credit for each new full-time worker hired between July 1, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2011. The tax credit would apply for the year the hiring takes place. ...

There are controls on the tax credit. The newly hired workers must have collected unemployment, received welfare benefits, or graduated from college in the previous 24 months.

The employee must work 30 hours a week or more and earn at least 250 percent of the state’s minimum wage. Doing the math, that’s about $18.50 an hour, or close to $40,000 a year for a 40-hour-a-week worker. He or she must also be granted access to group health-insurance benefits, if interested.

A small one-time tax credit in exchange for a median-cost permanent employee? About the only businesses that are apt to take advantage of the credit are those that already planned to hire, it seems to me. In other words, they'll hire when the numbers make sense, and the numbers are well beyond the reach of such a credit.

Companies aren't going to take on additional burdens or additional risks for $2,000. What they need is a reason to believe the state to be worthy of investment and the local economy to be primed for explosion. Under those circumstances, the extra two grand might spur them to get ahead of the hiring curve (although not likely). As it is, this is like offering a free after-dinner mint to get passengers to make dinner reservations on a sinking ship.

Start Installing Highway U-Turns, Now

Justin Katz

My blogging time has been constricted, this week, for two reasons: First, I've been working on a piece of writing of the sort that dangles a thread of hope that someday I may actually be able to make a living stringing words together. Second, I've been rushing to get back some of the excess tax money that the various tiers of government have been taking from my family rather than allowing me to pay all of my bills — of which I now have a large unpaid stack, with the late-fees piling up each month.

A few years ago, I figured out the necessity of redefining what I'd considered to be a normal, modestly frugal lifestyle. Per cultural norms, the prior calculation had been based on desires and expectations, not on any mathematical equations involving reality (which may be the defining error of municipal, state, and federal government, these days.) So, for small example, my lunch boxes at the time typically held a yogurt for morning break, a large sandwich, some sort of snack desert, a bottle of iced tea or something similar, and a 20oz coffee. I figured three dollars or so per day was a small expense for the comfort.

Of course, three dollars per workday is around $750 per year, so my current lunchbox now contains an apple for break, a modest sandwich, and a 20oz coffee. The savings aren't huge, but they might pay a bill each month. Introduce this:

Governor Carcieri Tuesday proposed a toll on the new Sakonnet River Bridge just like the one on the Pell Bridge over Newport Harbor, $4 each way or 83 cents for Rhode Island residents with EZPass.

For those of you way on the other side of the bay, I'll explain that, for most of us, the Sakonnet River Bridge has more the aspect of a main road than a highway. My family, for one, crosses it an average of six times per weekday and four on the weekends. At the "local" rate, that would add up to almost $1,500 per year, easily three times my lunchbox savings.

This isn't a cry not to have my own mule gored; it's advice not to gore any such beasts. Usage fees are generally preferable to broad-based taxes, but from its current position, the last thing the state should be doing is adding to the cost of a productive life in Rhode Island. Moreover, those in the thrall of regionalization should think twice about policies that would have the cultural effect of drawing lines around our communities.

February 2, 2010

Abstinence as Good Decision

Justin Katz

Having challenged the premises (and the math) of naysayers of abstinence-only education, I don't find these results surprising:

Billed as the first rigorous research to show long-term success with an abstinence-only approach, the study differed from traditional programs that have lost federal and state support in recent years. The classes didn't preach saving sex until marriage or disparage condom use.

Instead, it involved assignments to help sixth- and seventh graders see the drawbacks to sexual activity at their age, including having them list the pros and cons themselves. Their cons far outnumbered the pros. ...

Two years later, about one-third of abstinence-only students said they'd had sex since the classes ended, versus nearly half — about 49 percent — of the control group. Sexual activity rates in the other two groups didn't differ from the control group.

The bottom line is this: Safe-sex education gives children knowledge about how to do something — and tells them that it's "safe." Effective abstinence-only curricula help them to understand why they shouldn't act on that knowledge.

Such programs should involve lessons in self esteem, in decision-making, in life decisions, in cultural expectations, and so on. What our society must learn, above all, is that sex is not the be-all-end-all of human existence, and that at a young life can be much better spent than dealing with the obstacles, discomforts, and obsessions that typically follow sexual activity outside of monogamous adult relationships.

It's Not About Trusting Special Interests; It's About Not Trusting the Government

Justin Katz

Ed Achorn puts the recent campaign-finance ruling from the Supreme Court in precisely the right light:

The problem (as the Founders well understood) is that there is no safe way for Congress to parcel out a "fair" amount of speech to the people who "deserve" it most. When they overleap constitutional bounds and seize such power, politicians invariably favor their own free-speech rights, while limiting the rights of those who might criticize them (which is precisely what McCain-Feingold did).

Politicians like to control the message. They do not want others to challenge them or cast doubt on their utopian schemes.

Politics is dirty, and democracy is messy. Passing laws that deny reality does not make the reality go away; it makes it possible for self-interest to corrupt the process.

Obama's Inaction = Tax Increases for Middle Class

Marc Comtois

UPDATE: Reuters has pulled the original story that this post was based on. MMM.....egg. Alan Viard of the American Enterprise Institute explains.

Economic Strain for Nothing

Justin Katz

OK. Let's pretend that we believe the prognostications of a handful of people who claim that their findings ought to incite transfers of billions of dollars in wealth and change the political and economic structure of the planet. Even with that suspension of disbelief:

Goals on reducing greenhouse gases announced by major industrialized nations are a step forward but not enough to forestall the disastrous effects of climate change by midcentury, U.N. officials said Monday.

Janos Pasztor, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's top climate adviser, said the goals, submitted to the U.N. as part of a voluntary plan to roll back emissions, make it highly unlikely the world can prevent temperatures from rising above the target set at the Copenhagen climate conference in December. ...

"It is likely, according to a number of analysts, that if we add up all those figures that were being discussed around Copenhagen, if they're all implemented, it will still be quite difficult to reach the two degrees," Pasztor told the Associated Press.

Clearly we're doomed. Why not just let the people of the world waft along in the blissful ignorance of economic stability for the few decades that we have remaining?

More Economic Poison Presented as Medicine

Justin Katz

Perhaps it should no longer be surprising, but it is:

Spelling out painful priorities, President Barack Obama urged Congress on Monday to quickly approve a huge new shot of spending for recession relief and job creation, part of a record $3.8 trillion budget that would boost the deficit beyond any in the nation's history while only slowly beginning to put Americans back to work.

If Congress goes along with Obama's election-year plan, the nation would still end the year with unemployment pushing double digits at 9.8 percent and this year's pool of government red ink deepening to $1.56 trillion under the administration's accounting.

The spending blueprint for next year calls for tax cuts for workers and business and more aid for cash-starved state governments as well as the unemployed. The jobs initiative largely mirrors last year's stimulus bill, but is about one-third its size. The president is asking for nearly $300 billion for recession relief and job stimulus.

Does the administration really think the last stimulus bill worked? Or does it really think that the American people think it did? Or is President Obama so ideologically rigid that he can believe that no other strategy exists?

With every public statement, I suspect more Americans move past the point of hoping that the president will learn in office, which is tragic, because he didn't give the impression of knowing very much before he entered it.

February 1, 2010

Re: Caprio Switching

Justin Katz

As a general rule of thumb, I find explanations built on political maneuvering to be more plausible than grand conspiracies. So, today we hear on the Dan Yorke show, of a Caprio supporter suggesting to a Laffey supporter that the treasurer might entertain the possibility of switching to the Republican Party to further his campaign for governor, and the rumor mill runneth wild.

The first thought in my head was that this particular rumor is hardly new. Almost exactly a year ago, when Anchor Rising sat down with Treasurer Caprio, I asked his thoughts on the strategy of Republicans running as Democrats. His unprompted response was: "Why not the reverse?" He also referred to the untapped structure of the Republican Party. (Summary and audio here.)

Does that indicate that this is a strategy that he's long kept up his sleeve? Perhaps, but his first move (more politically savvy) would probably be to run this idea periodically through the aforementioned rumor mill so that Republicans maintain a sense that he's somehow one of them even as he hugs liberal Democrats during the primaries. Don't fall for it. The last thing the RIGOP needs is to recover from the successful battle to purge the Linc Chafee camp by bringing in a Caprio camp, especially a Caprio camp that never actually switches over.

The second thought is that things have been looking, well, sticky for Attorney General Patrick Lynch. Apart from the general tremors that the Scott Brown victory caused in the state next door, Lynch has gotten all mucked up in the Charles Moreau scandal. This is relevant because anybody interested in an eventual Laffey candidacy — whether with the candidate's encouragement or otherwise — clearly has an interest in keeping Lynch in the race at least through the primaries. Promoting the notion that he's got Caprio so nervous about the primaries that he's considering switching parties would be a tricky way to encourage the attorney general to stick with the race.

In other words, this little tempest could simply be the dust kicked up when folks devote some air to spinning the news cycle — all with their own agendas, but all with conflicting interests in the lesson that the public takes from it all.

A Seat at the Roundtable

Justin Katz

We can only hope that the Violent Roundtable hour, on Friday night, passed as enjoyably for listeners as for Marc, Monique, Matt Allen, and me (find out for yourself by downloading the podcast). We covered everything from the Fourteenth Amendment to the gubernatorial race to Anchor Rising's place in the secret cabal of right-wing reformers and whether we'll sell our souls.

For my part, I can only point out that one doesn't get to my level financial difficulty by lacking stubborn integrity, so my view of politics is of an "ain't got nothing, ain't got nothing to lose" sort. And of course, we've a good dynamic among the contributors and the commenters for keeping each other respectable.

Caprio Switching to GOP (with coattails)?

Marc Comtois

Former Steve Laffey campaign manager John Dodenhoff (he ran Laffey's Senate campaign in 2006) was on the Dan Yorke Show to explain that he ate lunch last week with Michael Lepizzera (former Laffey campaign member, now affiliated with Frank Caprio) who put forward an idea of having Frank Caprio run as a Republican so long as Steve Laffey stayed out of the 2010 Governor's race. According to Dodenhoff, Lepizzera confirmed that Caprio was "on board with this [the idea]."

The aim would be to, obviously, help Caprio by avoiding a primary, but the proposition was that it would also to help "save" the RI GOP and bring the disparate groups of the party together. It was also revealed that, apparently, some current Democratic State Representatives would also be interested in shifting to the GOP along with Caprio, including Caprio's brother, State Rep. David Caprio.

Dodenhoff's explained to Yorke that his incentive for revealing this meeting was to expose what he believes is a non-starter for rehabilitating the GOP party. Further, he wants to prevent local (city and town) GOP leaders from getting "sand-bagged" into thinking this is a viable way to grow the RI GOP.

Conspiracy, conspiracy everywhere.....

UPDATE: According to WPRO's Carolyn Cronin, the Caprio Campaign has issued a statement that "He [the Treasurer] has authorized no such conversation."

Formulas, Formulas....funding, weighing and otherwise

Marc Comtois

I was surprised to learn that Warwick is alone in "weighing" its students based on whether or not they have an IEP (Individual Education Plan). It goes like this: kid with normal educational needs = 1; kid with IEP = 1.5 (and sometimes 2). So, as the Warwick Beacon reported last week, "there are 10,482 students enrolled in Warwick schools. Or are there 11,582 students?" Obviously, with a cap on class size of 28, this can affect how many teachers can be hired. To use an extreme example, If there are 28 IEPs, that really means there are 56 kids, and thus two teachers are required.

[T]he school administration is looking at all ways it can save. Increasing class sizes by eliminating weighting isn’t likely to occur until after the teacher contract expires in August of 2012, if then. Nonetheless, the weighting system that is unique to Warwick is being considered. It’s not the first time.

For as long as school human recourses and counsel Rosemary Healey can remember, elimination of weighing has been on the list of School Committee demands at the opening of contract negotiations. That demand has always been dropped for some other concession.

She said the weighing system was introduced in the 1980s and has been a part of the teachers contract ever since.

How expensive is it?
No one has figured out the precise cost of weighting students, but it is estimated to have resulted in the hiring of an additional 110 teachers. Each teacher is estimated to cost the department $100,000 based on salary and benefits. That’s an annual cost of $11 million.
According to Richard D’Agostino of the Warwick School Department, 20% of Warwick students have IEPs. And that's down a few percentage points since Warwick instituted a more comprehensive screening process! I don't doubt that there are legitimate benefits to IEPs for those who truly need them, but I don't like the way this emotionally-loaded "bargaining chip" is being played.
Teachers Union President Jim Ginolfi likewise acknowledges the prevision may be unique to Warwick, but also in part credits it for making the system outstanding.

“I think Warwick is in the forefront. Warwick has always been in the forefront with special education students”, he said. Elimination of weighting would not correlate into a reduction of costs since the district would still be obligated to meet the requirements of those students with an IEP, says Ginolfi.

“They’re going to need more time to devote to those students”, he reasons....Ginolfi argues that there is flexibility with weighing.

He observes the district has options. It can put all special education students in a single class; it can move IEP students into resource classrooms for special instruction, and it can introduce special education teachers into classrooms where there is a mix of IEP and regular students.

Until they enter negotiations Ginolfi can’t say whether weighing is one of those issues the union would hold out for. As for trimming costs, Ginolfi offered no suggestions.

“Education is expensive”, he said, “and that is why we need a (funding) formula at the state level.”

Ginolfi's "options" are calculated to be unappealing to parents of kids with IEP's, who (understandably) won't be happy about what sounds like "warehousing." But that will all have to wait, because the real unionist solution boils down to: "Sorry, can't help ya...let's wait for contract negotiations or a funding formula."

The International Noose Tightens

Justin Katz

How long, do you suppose, until history encounters its first global totalitarian regime?

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank said a bank tax and other tough new measures would be introduced by the individual countries but in a coordinated way to prevent bankers from moving from one place to another to escape regulation.

"Lenin might have been able to put socialism in one country, but tough bank regulation in one country ain't going to happen because we will lose people," said Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who heads the U.S. House Financial Services Committee, a key spot for any American decisions.

Expect "coordination" to expand in the authority that it entails and in the issues that it covers. This really is the sort of thing against which the United States should stand, on the global scene. Sadly, our current regime is likely a driving force behind it.

That also implies the possibility that the rest of the world will allow us to go first so as to drive our businesses away and then curtail their own enthusiasm.

Lobbyist Information Best Digested Near the Vomitorium

Justin Katz

Who would have thought of gigs teaching college courses as political patronage? Yet, it's surprising to see such second incomes so prominent among the special interest salaries drawn by state legislators:

Some — but not all — of this information is available in the disclosure reports filed in recent weeks with the secretary of state's office by that relatively small coterie of lobbyists whose employers acknowledge having given something of value or, perhaps, a consulting fee or salary to a state legislator. ...

At this point, 151 of the lobbyists — and the companies and interest groups that employed them — are delinquent in filing the disclosure reports that were due on Jan. 15. In total, there were 388 legislative lobbyists, 357 entities with lobbyists and 34 lobbying firms registered for the 2009 legislative session.

Depending on the subject matter, teaching a course or two can certainly be a well-remunerated, unarduous task on a par with "consulting." Of course, the prominence of this particular boost to the incomes of members of the General Assembly may recede now that the Rhode Island judiciary has determined that it's legal for legislators to sell their votes.

Too Big to Fail Towns?

Justin Katz

Along with a table with the statewide results, Providence Business News has an article describing the results of "fiscal stress tests" that a state panel ran for cities and towns:

Pawtucket, North Providence, East Providence, Central Falls, Warwick and West Warwick are in the most serious trouble, the Municipal Fiscal Stress Task Force reported Friday after examining municipal reserves, property tax rates, pension liabilities and public employee health care benefits, among other factors. ...

Task force members -- made up of financial experts, CPA and several municipal finance directors -- have asked that a permanent commission be formed to monitor local spending and develop recommendations.

Peder Schaefer, chief of the Department of Revenue's municipal finance division and a member of the task force, told reporters Thursday that the report would lead to legislation that would "beef up oversight by the state."

For instance, one bill that being worked on would require local school departments to file quarterly financial reports with the R.I. Department of Education, he said. Another would give municipal councils or chief executives the authority to approve school department spending plans, administration officials said.

I remain skeptical about the urge to consolidate and control from above. The state is hardly in a condition of fiscal health, and residents have more access to change their local government than they do their municipal leadership. Indeed, the policies of the state are a contributing factor to the difficulties of the towns. It would be a mistake to assume that the people leveraging this greater influence, at the state level, would be the same people who took the initiative to study the numbers in the first place.

I say this as an active taxpayer in the most fiscally stressed "rural" town, by far. Tiverton's Fiscal Stress Test score is in company with the state's "urban" communities and fares only slightly better than the "urban ring" municipalities about which the state is so concerned.