March 31, 2010

Voters May Be Flooded

Justin Katz

As I mentioned to Matt Allen, a few minutes ago, we've been largely untouched by the weather, this week, in Tiverton, but I was still a little surprised not to see notice that tonight's Rhode Island Voter Coalition Meet the Candidates night at the Quonset "O" Club in North Kingstown had been postponed. It hasn't been, and I'm here along with about thirty other people.

Organizer Steve Wright seemed exhausted. Apparently, he spent the night fighting basement flooding, but steeled his spine to fulfill his drive for better governance and an informed electorate. Perhaps one thing to keep in mind during difficult times: life and social institutions march on. If anything, trying times should remind us why we need rational government structures.

7:35 p.m.

We're still giving folks a bit of extra time to get here, and a few more people have filtered in, bringing the crowd to about forty people. Random words caught from general conversation are mostly flood related.

7:39 p.m.

Steve Wright is running through the people who weren't able to come (moderator, candidates, sound & video crew).

First opening statement from Larry Ehrhardt (R., North Kingstown): "Rhode Island's in very serious trouble." He's running through all of the gloom — bad statistics, debt, liabilities, budget shortfalls, and so on. "The most important thing, now, is to watch the direction of the government of the state." He's referring to the elevation of Gordon Fox to Speaker of the Rhode Island House.

After reading from Rep. Corvese's op-ed against Fox, Ehrhardt said: "What's going on is a battle for the heart and soul of Rhode Island." He suggested that people need to vote for conservatives of whatever party.

7:50 p.m.

James Halley (district 31) is giving an opening statement that sounds pretty good (reasonable government, etc.), but now he's talking about the return of authority to cities and towns as a good thing. Apparently, he was a superintendent.

7:53 p.m.

Dawson Hodgson, a young Republican for the East Greenwich/North Kingstown/Warwick gave a good, right-leaning speech.

Now Doreen Costa (Republican from Exeter) is introducing herself in precisely the way that one might expect of a woman who has had her picture in the Providence Journal confronting Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D, RI).

8:06 p.m.

First question was concerning Chuck Levesque's legislation to raise auto registration fees and receipts tax.

Ehrhardt answered by citing an exchange by email with a constituent who sent in a form letter supporting the legislation demanding to pay higher taxes.

Colleen Conley asked about ending the public pension system as a defined benefit system in exchange for a defined contribution plan.

Ehrhardt referenced his own non-increasing corporate pension from two decades ago.

Halley wants to look at the federal government's model as a way of transferring from defined benefit to defined contribution.

Hodgston: "This is a huge, crushing structural debt that we'll pass on to our grandchildren." He says public employees deserve a good retirement program comparable to the private sector. He argued that the only way to keep the promise of the pension system is to transition it.

Costa: New employees to 401K. She cited her brother, who is retired at 57 from the Post Office with 80% pay.

8:14 p.m.

Next question: Will you sign a contract to vote "no" on new taxes?

Hodgson: Will only raise one tax: public pensions coming out of the state will be treated as income
Costa: "I will not raise a tax. Ever." The straw that knocked her into the race was the $7 fishing tax.
Halley: "I would not sign that." Our tax system is "not equitable" because it relies on property tax and has too many exemptions for sales taxes. He wants room to reform that.
Ehrhardt: "As a matter of policy, I do not sign pledges." He heeds his constituents, but he is against tax increases.

8:21 p.m.

Will Ricci: What taxes would you say we should lower for economic development?

Ehrhardt: Income tax, particularly on the higher brackets. Corporate tax. Sales tax.
Halley: Noted business tax. Property taxes are killing us.
Hodgson: "Budget policy is part and parcel of tax policy." "We've got to look at our spending problem." Structural debt. There's no easy answer. [Sure there is! --- JK] He's not optimistic about the chances of getting taxes down, because the people in government have made promises that we cannot keep.
Costa: Minimum business tax. Emphasized all of the various fees and requirements.

8:30 p.m.

Somebody raised the exodus of the boating industry (directed at Halley's comfort about taxing boat sales).

Halley's sticking firm. Colleen Conley booed. "It's the Ocean State!"

Next question: Unfunded mandates. Would Ehrhardt sign on to Trillo's 10th Amendment legislation?

Ehrhardt didn't cosign because Trillo didn't ask. He'd rather we focus on state mandates, such as bus monitors. They'd be "easy fixes."

Next questioner is advocating for same-sex marriage.

Costa: Support civil unions, attended one recently. Marriage, no, for social and religious reasons.
Hodgson: Running for other reasons. Doesn't trust government to legislate marriage. "If we have to legislate this, it should be for any two individuals."
Halley: Agrees with Doreen. Supports individual choices for relationship, but marriage is opposite-sex.
Ehrhardt: Marriage is man and woman. Would support some sort of civil unions, but would also support a ballot question on marriage.

8:37 p.m.

On to lieutenant governor, the only candidate to make it was Robert Healey. You'll have to check the video to see his posture as he began. Casual. It's like performance art.

"I believe in small government and oppose government waste, and in this case, the waste is the office that I"m running for."

He's especially incensed that there's an entire highly paid staff to support the office.

8:42 p.m.

"This office is like your appendix: you don't really need it." "When you think about the office, it sounds like you might need it, but you're really wasting a million dollars a year of taxpayer money." He promises not to take pay or hire a staff.

Colleen Conley called him a "forerunner of the Tea Party movement." Her question was how he would eliminate the office.

He said his first step would to fill the office doing nothing and taking nothing. The people of Rhode Island would have to figure out a new system. He does affirm the need for a generally elected office that would take over the governor's office. He questioned why the most powerful office holder, the House Speaker, would want to transfer to the office of governor. He thinks combining the title of lieutenant governor with some other office, like secretary of state.

8:50 p.m.

Missed the question, but Healey's saying that Liz Roberts's legislative record before she became lieutenant governor should scare people when they consider that she could, in fact, become governor.

Now he's reviewing his political history — as a small-government candidate for governor and a strong arm against the unions as a school committee member.

8:52 p.m.

Given the lack of authority of the office, the questions have been kind of to other points, and lighthearted. The video will be worth watching, though.

"Talk is cheap, and I can do it for nothing."

Now there aren't any real questions, so Healey's going through some of his past slogans, such as: "He won't be there for you."

He thinks he could govern "if I had to" because he was trained as a teacher, and has the experience and degrees to show for it. He know the law. He's owned and run businesses. He knows what it's like to work. "The beautiful part of it all is that I don't rely on the Rhode Island economy for my living." He does real estate development in South America with his profit from the sale of a liquor business.

Funny, he doesn't look like Gatsby.

8:59 p.m.

Will Ricci asked whether Healey would actually go to his office on a regular basis. He answered that he'd carry a cell phone, for which he'll pay. In his answer, Healey also referenced a debate in the last season with a general and Liz Roberts, one of whom is retired on a pension and the other of whom is a trust fund baby, neither really needs the money.

9:04 p.m.

He says he actually might have a shot, given the political environment, if the Republicans don't run a candidate or even endorse him. He wouldn't run for the GOP, though, because he wants to keep his creds as an independent.

9:08 P.M.

Moving on to the second Congressional race. Zaccaria, Gardiner, and Clegg.

Michael Gardiner is up, and his purpose is to redefine the local GOP as a centrist party. The backstory, by the way, is that Gardiner is in some way associated with the infamous Bobby Oliviera, who's been on a personal-attack binge by phone and by email, lately.

9:15 p.m.

A number of the Republican stalwarts in attendance left the room while Gardiner spoke. Tepid applause.

Bill Clegg is up talking about, emphasizing that he's running entirely on the economy and shrinking government spending. He's running for Congress, as opposed to state office, because the problems are so much bigger at the federal level. He thinks we need to start repealing.

9:17 p.m.

Mark Zaccaria says that he disagreed with all of the spending of the Bush administration, but he's positively frightened by Obama's follow-up. He wants to shrink government. Period. "Individual authority coupled with individual responsibility."

9:24 p.m.

Steve Wright uncharacteristically asks a question: about the Enumerated Powers Act, requiring each bit of legislation to cite its authority for its action.

Zaccaria supports.
Clegg emphasized a lack of responsiveness from government, and would support the act, but he notes the interpretational powers of the Supreme Court, which could take us in the wrong direction regardless.
Gardiner thinks the act is unnecessary, but hey, go ahead (paraphrase). Interesting note: I'm way in the corner, and of all the candidates, tonight, Gardiner is paying the most attention to my camera.

Next question is about something that happened on Facebook, but Gardiner talked over him refusing to answer. But it turns out that he wants to take the opportunity to rail against the 10th amendment, Colleen Conley, Helen Glover, and the state GOP. Boos. This guy is unhinged.

9:29 p.m.

Clegg: "I fully support Facebook..."
Needed laugh.
Zaccaria: "I was proud to represent the 10th amendment rally.

Gardiner mentioned signs offensive to Langevin. Given Bobby O's involvement in this thing, I'd wager that the signs were a plant by supposed "centrists" who wish to undermine conservatives.

Colleen Conley redirects to Gardiner regarding explicit threats from Bobby O. Smug look on Gardiner's face. Gardiner's defending Bobby O.

This is the dumb part of politics.

Steve Wright has intervened to stop the fighting and get back to relevant questions.

9:33 p.m.

I'll add this, by the way: I think the references to Bobby O's past could be a little more charitable, but the type of political behavior in which he revels is really inexcusable and unnecessary.

Next question: What is your take on repealing the healthcare monstrosity?

Notwithstanding his opposition to the 10th amendment, Gardiner wants state-driven healthcare solutions that move out of the employer-based system.
Clegg: He would work to repeal, not only because of the nature of the bill, but also because of the shenanigans used to pass it. "It's an abomination what has been done."
Zaccaria hasn't answered yet, but I'll predict: 'Hell, yes, repeal!"

What he actually is saying: "Even to think about spending that much more money that we don't have is ludicrous. We absolutely have to try to repeal the bill." If that's not possible (or in the interim) Congress should simply not fund it.

9:38 p.m.

The next question is about border control and the "shoving of amnesty down our throats."

Zaccaria: Eliminate the economic incentives for immigrants to move here illegally, beginning with controls on businesses and smarter controls on legal immigration. We also have to mirror the history of Columbia in controlling drug cartels in Mexico.
Clegg: Supports eVerify and legal immigration. What's going on in Mexico is a war, "one of the largest problems we have on the North American continent. That gives reason to maintain our own military to protect our own border, if we need to.
Gardiner: Speaking well of Chuck Schumer (D, NY). He supports the efforts that Schumer's pursuing. "eVerify is fine."

9:42 p.m.

Will Ricci is attempting to redirect the question as one against Bobby O.

Next question: How improve our debt rating?

Zaccaria: Must address Social Security and Medicare. The former must move toward defined contribution. He also raised troops deployed unnecessarily in such nations as Germany.
Clegg: Education and healthcare outstrip defense spending. He's a strong proponent of a strong defense, but regardless of the area, the question is what we can afford. Congress must look at every program and decide what to cut. He says that may require non-professionals, and he'll only run for up to two two-year terms.
Gardiner: Lauding George H.W. Bush. Gardiner is blaming the right for hanging him out to dry for violating the "no new taxes" pledge.

9:54 p.m.

Chairman of RI Log Cabin Republicans asked about the candidates' positions on same-sex marriage.

Clegg: For civil unions. "Marriage is the province of religion, not civil government."
Zaccaria: The definition of marriage derives from a religious sacrament. Thinks states should not issue marriage certificates. Definitely doesn't support a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Gardiner: Poetic answer about loneliness and the need for family. "What if I were gay and an orphan? Would I have no right to a family?" Challenges whether traditionalists really believe in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. "And I really don't care if you like the answer."

9:57 p.m.

The Q&A is over, but they're giving Michael Grassi some time to introduce himself as a candidate for General Assembly. A conservative speech.

10:04 p.m.

4-pronged approach to fixing Rhode Island:

1. No tax increases.
2. Small business tax reform. Eliminate corporate taxes. Use the gas tax for what it's meant to be used for. And the lottery, for education.
3. Create a competitive healthcare industry. In Rhode Island, we don't have a choice.
4. His wife is a school teacher, but "the unions need to realize something in this state": that we need pension reform. End the current plan.

10:05 p.m.

Monique asked if he supports eVerify for the private sector. He does, and he uses eVerify as a business owner.. The illegal community receiving our money has to stop.

Next question: Do people in government have to start exposing corruption? The questioner believes so, because it's criminal, not just slimy.

Well, they've run out my camcorder battery.

Steven Wright's closing comment: "OK. Now go home and pump out your basements."

Hang Tough, Rhode Island

Marc Comtois

As Congressman Kennedy famously said, "WATER...."

I've been lucky enough to still be able to work during the day and save the sloshing and pumping for the evening hours. Our property abuts a little babbling brook that turned into a quick-flowing stream over the last few days and the water went 4-5 ft. higher than usual, closer to the house than ever before. Our almost-always wet basement (it's an old house) is equipped with a sump pump and everything of import stored down there is in bins. Luckily, we haven't had any standing water inside.

But the biggest cause of concern was with our back and side yards, which often serve as a catch-basin for rainwater rolling down the slight slope from road to brook. Our basement sump pump outputs to a dry-well that is submerged by the "new" pond in the side yard. Thus, I hooked up my old pool pump and commenced de-watering operations, which continue off and on as needed. We are holding our own and are thankful that we live along the banks of a little brook and not the Patuxet river.

Our state is going through a time right now. We're aggravated by slow moving government--because it can never move fast enough--but that's what happens when the real object of our anger and frustration--Mother nature--is a nebulous force that won't listen to us anyway. There will be time to learn from and revisit the revelatory lessons of this disaster. Until then, hang tough.

The Process of Forcing Popular Will on the People

Justin Katz

The March issue of First Things was an anniversary issue reprinting various pieces from past iterations, and a 1994 article by Russell Hittinger reconsidering the state of the political battlefield prior to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision sheds some light on the process of progressives implementation of policies with which the American people have their doubts (to put it mildly), first with contraceptives:

Garrow makes it clear that the "reproductive rights" movement won its victories in the federal courts, not in the legislatures. Interestingly, in the first Supreme Court case dealing with contraception, Poe v. Ullman (1961), Justice Felix Frankfurter was so astonished by the conservative legislative history that he asked, at oral argument, whether some "outside authoritarian power" had coerced the Connecticut legislature. Even after the Court struck down the Connecticut statute in1965, other states adamantly retained various kinds of anti-contraceptive statutes. The Supreme Court ripped these out of the states, one by one, until they finally managed to invalidate New York's law against the sale of contraceptives to minors in 1977. Even in the middle of the sexual revolution, states did not willingly relinquish their authority to exercise moral police powers in this matter.

Then with abortion and euthanasia:

For the historical record, it should be remembered that on the eve of the federally compelled abortion "right" the citizens of Michigan voted overwhelmingly against it; and let the historical record show that twenty-one years later, on the eve of a federally mandated "right" to physician-assisted euthanasia, the citizens of Washington voted it down. The idea that the federal courts have merely facilitated the social and political agenda of the people is a myth. The idea that the issues of abortion, euthanasia, and homosexuality are politically unmanageable, and must therefore be reserved for sub-political "cultural" discourse, is a myth. Regrettably, the pundits continue to overlook the most obvious and historically consistent datum: namely, the abrogation of the people's legislative judgment by federal courts. Before we condemn the people for their moral decline and insensitivity, the judicial violation of the political order must be fully considered.

We're seeing a repeat of the process with same-sex marriage. The left initiates a forceful push for its policies across the country, and voters mostly reject the ideas. But the extent to which advocates repeat their call (especially given their permeation of media industries) keeps the issue alive, with the frequency of mentions giving judges a false cover of popular support. Their declarations of "inevitability" are only accurate to the extent that we continue to allow them to take away our right to self governance.

Stimulating Everybody in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Rep. Stephen Ucci (D., Cranston, Johnston) has proposed legislation with a targeted "stimulus" intention:

The bill (2010-H7905) would implement a three-year freeze on the sales tax of all building materials used in the construction of new or improvements to existing residential and commercial buildings.

"The retail sales tax incentive program would essentially amount to a seven-percent discount on raw materials used to construct or make improvements to any building, including wiring and plumbing supplies," said Representative Ucci.

In addition, Ucci's construction stimulus package would implement a three-year property tax moratorium on all new construction and improvements to existing buildings completed in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

I suppose, since it's my industry, I shouldn't be inclined to criticize the intention, and I suspect the legislation's chances of making it into law are just about nil. But I do wonder why the move should be so limited. If it would be a good thing, by decreasing sales tax and holding back property taxes, to stimulate the economy, why not stimulate it all around? Construction's an integral field for economic development, but it doesn't really open up new routes for economic growth.

Once the houses and office buildings are erected, people have to live and do productive things in them. That's what the state ultimately has to begin encouraging, rather than discouraging.

Compounding Rhode Island's Pre-Existing Condition: Impact of Health Care Reform on the State Budget

Monique Chartier

So here's the deal. When "reform" kicks in, best estimates are that 50,000 people will be added to Rhode Island's Medicaid rolls. Amy Kempe at the Governor's office advises that, after federal matching funds go away, this will cost Rhode Island taxpayers $100-$150 million. Further, Ms. Kempe goes on to point out that

We also know that Medicaid is the 2nd largest budgetary expense, and the new law does little to control healthcare costs, so the Medicaid inflation rate could continue as it has.

So for planning purposes, we should pencil in the higher figure.

The budget deficit for 2011 is over $400 million. Four hundred million ($400,000,000) dollars in current state spending will have to be eliminated just to get to a break even budget. But, as difficult as that will be, our task will not be done at that point. If health care "reform" is not overturned, in four years, we'll need to find an additional $150 million annually.

Every member of Rhode Island's Congressional delegation voted for the health care reform bill. Voted for this additional substantial budget deficit. Voted to expand the second largest spending item in the state budget. Can we look to them for suggestions as to where to find this additional $150 million?

Pulling Back from the Entitlement Cliff

Justin Katz

Andrew Biggs reviews the reckless state of our national entitlement, with this bit pointing toward something that I've been thinking might be the wisest approach, financially and socially:

Meanwhile, New Zealand offers a flat universal benefit to all retirees, with voluntary "Kiwi Saver" retirement accounts providing additional income. Such a setup would be a significant change from our current system, but would allow us to give the household of every retired and disabled worker a poverty-level benefit with a payroll tax of under 6 percent. A reform that effectively eliminated poverty for retirees and generated income above the poverty level by means of individual savings would be good policy, and might even be good politics.

As I've suggested before, with respect to healthcare, every American should have some sort of account with some very limited rules, into which they and others could contribute toward healthcare and retirement. If it helps for the government to issue the account with a person's Social Security number, then that'd be fine, but government involvement would pretty much end there. Over a person's life, he or she could contribute money from payroll, tax free, the government could provide whatever minimum benefit we all decide is appropriate, and employers, charities, family members, whoever, could add money, as well. The accounts could be partitioned — part for healthcare and part for retirement — or that could be left up to the owner.

The most important part of the switch would be that the person would pay directly for healthcare services and save directly for his or her own retirement. And, unlike current entitlements, upon the person's death the remainder would be inheritable, giving lower-income families assets with which they could improve their lot over time.

March 30, 2010

RISC's Open Eye Catches More Economy-Killing Taxes

Justin Katz

The Rhode Island Statewide Coalition has been making a concerted effort to peruse all of the legislation making its way through the General Assembly and recently unearthed this gem from Senator Charles Levesque (D., Bristol, Portsmouth), creating a Highway Maintenance and Public Transit Trust Fund, financed as follows:

... There is imposed a surcharge of forty dollars ($40.00) per passenger car and light truck to be paid by each car and light truck owner in order to register that owner’s vehicle and receive license plates. ...

... There is imposed on each company that is engaged in the refining or distribution, or both, of petroleum products and that distributes such products in this state a tax at the rate of three percent (3%) of its gross receipts derived from the first sale of petroleum products within this state ...

... There is an imposed on each company that imports or causes to be imported, other than by a company subject to and having paid the tax on those imported petroleum products that have generated gross receipts taxable under subdivision (b)(2) of this section, petroleum products for use or consumption by it within the state a tax at the rate of three percent (3%) of the consideration given or contracted to be given for such petroleum products if the consideration given or contracted to be given for such deliveries made during a quarterly period exceeds three thousand dollars ($3,000)

There really is no surprise in the fact that Rhode Island is wallowing at the bottom of the nation's economy. As I've said many times, public infrastructure is a legitimate function of government, and it ought to be the first thing funded by taxes that we already pay.

Media Message: Healthcare Simply Rosy

Justin Katz

As Marc mentioned this morning, large companies have been assessing the direct cost of the Democrats' healthcare plan to them (i.e., their employees and customers) in the billions of dollars, and Congress has responded by "fuming." Those who read the from the mainstream media and left of there wouldn't have heard much about it, though.

I haven't combed the Providence Journal but about the closest thing to an admission that the healthcare plan might have such negative effects that I've noticed in the Providence Journal has been a column by John Kostrzewa saying that "nobody has a clear answer" the the question of whether small businesses will see their own costs rise. My general assessment, to which Kostrzewa alludes, is that the plan will wind up saving small businesses money inasmuch as they'll simply pay the government fee for unloading their employees into healthcare exchanges and any federal plans that pop up.

There could have been a healthcare reform in which that sort of switch would have been positive, but it would have been based on an increase of choices and decrease in mandates. Such an approach would lead employees to opt to fund their own healthcare and thereafter pressure their employers to give them some of the savings in increased pay. At the same time, consumer-controlled demand would have brought prices down.

As it is, healthcare costs will continue to rise, and small businesses will see canceling healthcare benefits as a necessary savings measure, so the push to split the savings with employees will not be as strong (at least for those employees who need the most help improving their hands in the power game)

Putting Power in the Air

Justin Katz

As much as I rely on technology for so much of what I do, and as enamored as I am of high-tech tools and gadgets, I hew to a common sense rule of thumb that the minor inconvenience of wires and direct switches and locks is counterbalanced by privacy and security concerns. With regard to "smart grid" energy technology, here's one reason:

In the US alone, more than 8 million smart meters, designed to help deliver electricity more efficiently and to measure power consumption in real time, have been deployed by electric utilities and nearly 60 million should be in place by 2020. Now the Associated Press reports that smart meters have security flaws that could let hackers tamper with the power grid, opening the door for attackers to jack up strangers' power bills, remotely turn someone else's power on and off, or even allow attackers to get into the utilities' computer networks to steal data or stage bigger attacks on the grid. Attacks could be pulled off by stealing meters — which can be situated outside of a home — and reprogramming them, or an attacker could sit near a home or business and wirelessly hack the meter from a laptop, according to Joshua Wright, a senior security analyst with InGuardians Inc, a vendor-independent consultant that performs penetration tests and security risk assessments.

Combine that concern with the trend toward the wireless meters relentlessly being placed in houses. We've all seen movies in which some spy or stalker must break open an outdoor telephone panel in order to tap the family's phone line or break into the house to cut the power line. The protagonist usually manages to figure out what's going on pretty rapidly by tracing wires. In the case of wireless technology, highly trained technicians would be sorting through the mazes of ones and zeroes in computer code trying to trace problems in the middle of the night.

Moreover, as the above link goes on to indirectly suggest, it's simply not possible to prevent people from stealing information that's traveling through the air, making encryption the only safeguard. As energy companies use their equipment to collect more data from our households' lights and appliances, the loss of privacy and control could be immense.

Big Business v. Big Government on Healthcare

Marc Comtois

Big Business learns that Big Government giveth and taketh away:

On Capitol Hill and in the White House on Monday, Democrats were fuming over a series of announcements that started Friday from Fortune 500 firms saying their bottom lines will take huge negative hits because of changes in tax law mandated by Obamacare. That hit in turn means lower profit projections. Caterpillar estimates, for example, that Obamacare will cost it $100 million; John Deere faces expenses of $150 million; 3M, $90 million; AK Steel, $31 million; Valero, $20 million. And then there's AT&T, which is marking its balance sheet down by a whopping $1 billion. All in all, the Wall Street Journal estimated a $14 billion haircut for these corporations.

Under post-Enron accounting rules, the corporations were required to revise their projections to account for the effect of Obamacare on their bottom lines. The effect is negative because Democrats, in their zeal to raise revenues and improve Obamacare's claimed effect on the federal deficit outlook, took away a tax break these companies needed in order to supply prescription drugs to their retirees. The tax subsidy, itself a government accounting ruse crafted in 2003 by the Republican Bush administration to dissuade corporations from dumping their retiree drug benefit programs on the then-new Medicare Part D, becomes taxable under Obamacare. Corporations are now being reminded of the harsh truth: What Big Government giveth, Big Government taketh away, too.

Some Non-10th Amendment Questions, to the Candidates at the 10th Amendment Rally

Carroll Andrew Morse

More from some of the candidates who attended Saturday's 10th Amendment Rally held at the Rhode Island Statehouse, in response to a few questions not directly related to the 10th-Amendment...

Clarifying My View on Cuts to Tiverton Schools

Justin Katz

Since I offered commentary on Anchor Rising against the Tiverton Budget Committee's decision to level fund the local contribution to the school budget, it seems reasonable to note, in this space, that I've revised my position. As I explained here and here, I'd been misled by the language that the School Committee and administration use when they discuss staying within the cap on tax increases.

The cap is actually a limit on the amount of additional money that the town can raise from property taxes. What the district calls "the cap" has to do with what it requests from the town. Thus, by the district's definition, the town would have to make up its entire drop in state aid — which just about exactly eats up the actual cap — in a budget that’s just about half the size of the schools', which would almost precisely require decimating town services.

In other words, having been following the debate more closely on the school side, I'd misunderstood the implications and consequences of "level funding" the district. Such things happen, and it's possible to derive longer lasting lessons from errors. In this case, the lesson is that Rhode Island school districts actually acquire state aid through two channels: That which goes directly to them, and that which flows through the town, which is required to maintain its level of contribution. Based on "maintenance of effort" law at the state level, towns are forbidden from passing their loss of state aid on to the schools, which represent by far the greatest expenditure in the budget (with union labor representing by far the greatest percentage, typically 70-80%).

In those circumstances, level funding both the school and the municipal government, while raising taxes somewhat to compensate for lost state aid seems like it ought to be the centrist position — union and government operative declarations that it's "extreme" notwithstanding. Of course, when elected officials continue to sign unreasonable contracts, the rancor inevitably becomes more vicious.

March 29, 2010

Tiverton Budget Talks Inch Forward

Justin Katz

For those who are interested, I'm liveblogging from a special Tiverton Town Council meeting, which is including discussion of proposing legislation to the General Assembly that would allow cities and towns to delay final budgetary decisions for up to 90 days in order to procure more accurate information about revenue.

Balancing Public Sector Pay From the Town to the Nation

Justin Katz

I've already been arguing, at the town level on up, that the economic downturn needn't tax the future, through debt, nor decrease programs that local folks want. Glenn Reynolds offers a bit of evidence that I'm right:

What if government workers earned the average of what private workers earn? States and localities would save $339 billion a year from their more than $2.1 trillion budgets. These savings are larger than the combined estimated deficits for 2010 and 2011 of every state in America. In a separate survey, the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis compares the compensation of public versus private workers in each of the 50 states. Perhaps not coincidentally, the pay gap is widest in states that have the biggest budget deficits, such as New Jersey, Nevada and Hawaii. Of the 40 states that have a budget deficit so far this year, 28 would have a balanced budget were it not for the windfall to government workers.

Rhode Island has been giving away the store, on this count, and many of the paying customers have been leaving, making matters worse. It's well past time to turn that all around. Perhaps folks who've just gone along to get along are starting to understand what's been happening as the decades have rolled on by.

The 10th Amendment Rally: Mark Zaccaria and Robert Healey

Carroll Andrew Morse

At this past Saturday’s 10th Amendment rally in Providence, I had a chance to ask some quick questions to the statewide and semi-statewide candidates who attended.

I asked Mark Zaccaria, Republican candidate for Congress in Rhode Island’s Second District, about the difference between running two years ago, when people were saying American capitalism was dead, and running this year, when people are holding 10th Amendment rallies at the Rhode Island Statehouse...

And I asked Robert Healey, candidate for Lieutenant Governor, to expound about the distinction between the 9th and 10th Amendments which he had spoken about during his time at the podium…

I also had the chance to ask both gentleman some more directly political questions (Zaccaria on Rep. Langevin's healthcare vote, Healey on "is this the year?", which I will post shortly...

Marriage and Parenthood for Minorities

Justin Katz

Although those who wish to fling accusations of bigotry seldom manage to hear, I've long maintained that same-sex marriage is a bad idea because of its effects on the institution, not a matter of oppression. The typical response is the intellectually inept claim that calling a particular same-sex relationship "marriage" will not affect any particular existing opposite-sex marriage. That's more likely than not to be true, but it's the cultural effect that will have repercussions, harming the most vulnerable in our society, for whose welfare a strong marital culture should be reclaimed and maintained.

The point arises, at this time, because of an echo in a race-related AP article that's been widely published over the past few days (emphasis added):

The founder estimates more than 300 celebrations are being held this weekend. The aim is to try to stabilize, if not reverse, the trend of non-commitment within the black community. According to 2009 census figures, 41.9 percent of black adults had never married, compared to 23.6 percent of whites. Studies show blacks also are more likely than other ethnic groups to divorce and bear children out of wedlock.

Experts blame the disparities in part on high black male unemployment, high black male imprisonment and the moderate performance of black men in college compared with black women.

They also note the lack of positive images of black marriage in the media and several misperceptions about matrimony - that it's for white people, that it's a ball and chain, that fatherhood and marriage are not linked.

If marriage is principally about the love and comfort of the adults, and not about the fact that what they do tends to create children, then those inclined to shirk responsibility are free of a cultural mechanism to tie them to their children, and the other adult with whom those children are biologically linked. Our society has certainly gone too far down that path, already, but changing the legal definition of "marriage" would cement the flawed principle into the culture.

RI Misses out on Race to the Top

Marc Comtois

I jumped the gun a bit last Friday. Now I'm not: RI didn't win in Round 1 of the Race to the Top sweepstakes (and a tweet by EdComm Gist confirms) UPDATE: RI finished 8th:

Delaware and Tennessee won bragging rights Monday as the nation's top education innovators, besting the District and 13 other finalists to claim a share of the $4 billion in President Obama's unprecedented school reform fund.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan picked the winners after a team of judges in the Race to the Top competition unexpectedly gave tiny Delaware the highest ranking, with Tennessee close behind. Delaware won as much as $107 million and Tennessee could be awarded $502 million.

Leaders in both states pledged to establish national models for data-driven reform, tying teacher evaluation to student performance in an all-out effort to close achievement gaps.

Georgia, ranked third in the contest, and Florida, considered a favorite to win, fell just short of a threshold for awards that Duncan set himself. More than $3 billion remains in the fund, and they could win some in a future round.

On to round two.

UPDATE: EdWeek's Rick Hess doesn't like it:

Looking at Delaware and Tennessee leaves me thinking that all the talk about bold reform was window dressing. The states that explicitly set out to blow past conventions, and devil take the hindmost, fell by the wayside. Florida and Louisiana's bold, action-backed plans--which reflected a belief that they could push forward if they did so only with the eager and willing--lost out to states that obtained laughable levels of buy-in from school districts, school boards, and local teachers' unions.

Tennessee boasted that it had obtained signatures of participation from 100% of Local Education Agency (LEA) superintendents, 100% from the presidents of local school boards, and 93% from the local teachers' union leaders. Delaware bragged that it obtained 100% of the signatures in each category. Is this really a good thing? When Louisiana faced board pushback because of the boldness of its proposals, and when Florida endured an FEA boycott over its own proposed measures, the decision to go with Delaware and Tennessee looks like the triumph of process over substance. If anyone believes that Delaware can get 100%--or even 60%--of districts or union leaders to sign on to efforts to dramatically retool K-12 schooling, I've got a couple of handsome monuments in downtown D.C. I'd like to sell them.

Placing this much weight on 'stakeholder support' is going to feed cynicism about the sincerity of Duncan's calls for bold, transformative change. Hard to square this very conventional emphasis on consensus with all his tough talk.

UPDATE II: Rhode Island finished 8th of 15 finalists. Apparently, Ed Sec Arne Duncan has said that there will be 10-15 Race to the Top winners in Round 2. Here are the Final rankings, by points scored in the evaluation (via Politics K-12 twitter):

DE - 454
TN - 444.2
GA - 433.6
FL - 431.4
IL - 423.8
SC - 423.2
PA - 420
RI - 419
KY - 418.8
OH - 418.6
LA - 418.2
NC - 414
MA - 411.4
CO - 409.6
NY - 408.6
DC - 402.4

Special Interests Strike Again

Justin Katz

This, reported in the weekend edition of the Newport Daily News, is very typical of the way Rhode Island does business:

The state has cited the company Newport’s water division hired to install new radio-read meters at all 14,500 water accounts in the city and in Middletown for not having master plumbers do the work.

The notice of violation from the state’s Division of Workforce Regulation and Safety caught the city by surprise.

Julia A. Forgue, Newport’s director of utilities, said forcing the city to hire master plumbers to change the meters would increase the project’s cost by two to three times. The contractor is appealing the decision to the Department of Labor and Training.

Non-plumber city employees have been changing and maintaining meters for years. These little requirements, jacking up the cost of living and operating in Rhode Island for the benefit of politically connected interest groups (notably unions), are why I say that the state could rocket out of its perennial recession if only it would toss aside its unnecessary burdens. This case is even more egregious, because the change of meters isn't self-initiated:

The state's Public Utilities Commission asked Newport to convert all water meters to ones that can be read from the street with a radio device, to reduce long-term costs and to make meter reading more efficient. The city in July 2008 awarded a contract to Stiles Co. Inc. of Norwood, Mass., to provide the meters. Stiles hired Five Oaks Construction Co. of Groton, Mass., as the subcontractor to install the meters, and it began the work in December 2008. By the end of last month, Five Oaks had installed just over 5,550 meters.

So, an unelected state board is requiring the change, and the state government is requiring that it be excessively expensive. Little wonder Rhode Islanders feel powerless (and just leave when the state hits their thresholds for tolerance of reductions in their quality of life).

Here and There Around the Internet

Justin Katz

It's been bugging me that Web pages that I haven't had cause to update for a long, long time not only looked outdated, but gave visitors no reason to suspect that I've done much of anything for the better part of a decade. So, I took a moment to forward and to Dust in the Light. (The first two links will bring you to the old versions, if you're curious.)

It also occurred to me that, since I'm writing in so many places, now, it'd be worth tracking my activities in one place. So, I'll be using Dust in the Light for that purpose, linking to my posts here and elsewhere and posting the occasional item that doesn't quite fit anywhere else, such as this poem that conversation with a friend inspired me to pen a week or so ago.

These changes led us to slip a little farther into the strange, dubious world of social media. You can now follow Anchor Rising on Twitter for streaming announcements, there, of what goes up here. You can also follow what's going up at Dust in the Light at my Facebook page and my Twitter page (although the Facebook page doesn't appear to update as frequently as it should, for some reason).

You can also follow Marc on Twitter. He appears to intend to actually provide unique content through that medium.

And while I'm making announcements, I should note that the economy is working against our intentions to ratchet up our activities during this critical election season, so anything you can do to help would be much appreciated. Subscriptions of $0.25 per day (payments of $7.60 per month) and donations of any size may be made using credit cards via PayPal (no PayPal account is necessary) by clicking the following:

Those who would prefer the more direct route of checks or money orders can make them out to Anchor Rising and send them to:

Anchor Rising
P.O. Box 751
Portsmouth, RI 02871

For advertising, whether along the sides of the blog or as one of these here Community Crier posts, email Justin.

March 28, 2010

Ray "Fastlane" LaHood Wants to Build Up the Slow Lane

Monique Chartier

On his ironically titled blog, US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has announced

... a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.

We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

To set this approach in motion, we have formulated key recommendations for state DOTs and communities:

•Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes.

•Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities.

•Go beyond minimum design standards.

•Collect data on walking and biking trips.

•Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling.

•Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)

•Improve nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects.

The logistical difficulties posed by this edict have only nightmare solutions: either narrow existing roads and exacerbate some already serious congestion or widen roads by taking hundreds of thousands (millions?) of acres of land by eminent domain.

The economy and the unemployment rate continue to not dazzle. Federal, state and local governments are looking at budgetary red ink as far as the eye can see. Pending several lawsuits (cross your fingers and toes), the federal government has effectively seized control of the nation's healthcare system, to the extreme concern of a sizeable chunk of voters. And the Transportation Secretary pipes up with a plan to put our bike paths on steroids?? Please tell me this is a wag the pedal attempt to change the conversation from the first three items and not a serious policy proposal.

The 10th Amendment Rally, the Limits of Government, and the Bounds of Discussion in the Public Square

Carroll Andrew Morse

I was late to yesterday's 10th Amendment rally held on the front steps of the Rhode Island Statehouse because – I kid you not – I had to finish putting my income tax information together for a meeting later in the day, so the samples of audio linked below represent targets of opportunity I was able to record, more than anything else.

Be warned, depending on your sensibilities, you may be shocked by what you hear.

I will confess to not knowing enough details about the macroeconomics and political economy of the Federal Reserve to be able to offer an opinion of the kinds of good and bad outcomes that would be likely to result from its wholesale elimination. And I am not an advocate of repealing the Seventeenth Amendment for one simple reason: I live in Rhode Island, and don't see better Senators resulting from Rhode Island General Assembly appointments than from popular votes.

But the fact that these issues don't have slam dunk answers, even amongst the conservative/libertarian side of the American political axis, doesn't mean that it's out of bounds to ask IN PUBLIC questions about whether every modification to, and every end-run of, the U.S. Constitution that has increased the scope of Federal power has been for the better.

So with that perspective in mind, let's boil what it is that's going on right now with the Tea Parties and other related protests down to its essentials. On one side, there is a growing movement of Americans saying there needs to be limits on government that are agreed upon, codified, and most importantly respected. On the other side, there are a number of Americans saying that all this dissent and discussion on limitations on government is becoming dangerous, so let's not do so much of it in public, and just agree that the Federal government has the power to do anything that it wants to that is not expressly forbidden by the Constitution.

Which side will you choose to take?

What's Ailin' the Moderns

Justin Katz

David Lewis Stokes gave some consideration to the work of sociologist Philip Rieff, who died in 2006. Not being familiar with Rieff's work, I can't say how much Stokes has added or subtracted, but this strikes me as profoundly insightful:

In antiquity the ideal of what it was to be truly human was to become either hero or sage. In the Middle Ages it was to become a saint. In our own time the best we can hope to become is — well-adjusted. But without the backdrop of a sacred order and in a culture predicated on gratification, self-fulfillment and well-adjustment remain malleable terms, in constant need of redefinition. ...

... The nature of our therapeutic climate is such that instead of reaching an ideological dead end, it simply reinvents itself to explain why its dead end is not a dead-end at all. Simply put, therapeutic technique has become an ever-expanding maze without a center.

Progressives see it as an ever-expanding definition of liberty (somehow always entailing more pervasive power for government agents). I see it as a back-filling prevarication, forever redefining consequences and detriments as simply the next order of complications to be resolved. Only our unprecedented technological and economic advancement, over the past few centuries, has allowed this illusion to obtain, and that advancement has been built on the very cultural foundations that progressives seek to disassemble.

Violent Sexists Support Legalized Prostitution?

Justin Katz

It would be wrong, of course, to tar everybody who might consider the legalization of prostitution to be a positive development, but an advocate for the other side, Melanie Shapiro, raised a relevant point in Ed Achorn's recent column on violent online imagery directed against Shapiro and her fellow activist Donna Hughes:

"I think it is unfortunate that they have resorted to such low-level comments, but I am really concerned about the women in the brothels who have to encounter men like these. It shows you what kind of men they have to face," Ms. Shapiro said.

However much people — mainly progressives — wish to present prostitution as empowering of women, their customer base will largely consist of lowlifes who have no problem seeing them as objects. At least now, it's no longer a transaction that the state considers to be legitimate.

Commissioner Gist's Non–Rhode Island Perspective

Justin Katz

Whatever one thinks of her style and policies — which don't uniformly fold comfortably into any faction of Rhode Island politics — the outside perspective that Education Commissioner Deborah Gist is bringing to the discussion is refreshing. Take this, from a Newport Daily News article on Friday, discussing the effects of the proposed funding formula and regionalization on Aquidneck Island:

Gist explained that, if enacted as proposed, the formula would eliminate the regionalization bonus the state currently offers. Regionalization is supposed to save money, Gist said, so why should the state pay districts extra money when they are reducing their costs?

One thinks of claims that the Portsmouth wind turbine turns a profit, although if state incentive subsidies are removed, the surplus goes away. That local officials around the state appear to believe that the state should reward them for making smart decisions (if you believe that regionalization is smart) illustrates an unhealthy lack of authoritative independence. It's also an indication of how policies become implemented out of taxpayer/voter reach.

Of course, I also find it humorous that everybody thought a "fair funding formula" would benefit their communities. In the fantasy land of Rhode Island lingo, "fair" means everybody gets more.

March 27, 2010

More Images from the Tenth Amendment Rally

Justin Katz

Sent in by Steve Gerling, who happens to be the subject of the first picture:

Terry Gorman of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement:

Travis Rowley of Rhode Island Young Republicans:

General Assembly District 31 candidate Doreen Costa (I think):

Crowd shot:

Images from the Tenth Amendment Rally Today

Monique Chartier






So Earnest and So Misinformed: "Tom Brady of Boston, Massachusetts" Urges Us to Participate in Earth Hour 2010

Monique Chartier

H/T Michael Graham.

The main goal of Earth Hour is to raise awareness about man's purported role in global warming. However, there have been some developments in the theory of anthropogenic global warming that Mr. Brady and others may not be aware of.

* The theory itself has already proven to be badly flawed. The global temperature has risen by only 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since the start of the Industrial Age and not by the 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit called for by the theory.

* The location of many temperature stations around the world are located in questionable - i.e., biased towards heat - spots.

* The data harvested from temperature stations has, in some instances, been cherry picked. Check out the no-no commited by NOAA and the bum's rush that the Hadley Center for Climate Change (Devon, England) gave to some of the Russian data.

(For these and other interesting developments on the global warming front, check out the website Watts Up With That.)

Tom Brady of Boston, Massachusetts obviously means well. But good intentions and insufficient information can do serious damage, especially when paired with draconian public policy solutions. It is to be hoped, also, that "awareness" involves a little more than a warm, fuzzy feeling about a vague, feel-good idea.

Protest Envy

Marc Comtois

Poor Jim Spencer and Curtis Ellis: they've been waiting for a poll to confirm their preconceived notions and CNN provided it, so now they can write the column they've been yearning to write:

Now (finally!), a poll conducted by CNN gives us some hard data on the Tea Party Nation.

Neither “average Americans,” as they like to portray themselves, nor trailer-park “Deliverance” throwbacks, as their lefty detractors would have us believe, tea partyers are more highly educated and wealthier than the rest of America. Nearly 75 percent are college-educated, and two-thirds earn more than $50,000.

More likely to be white and male than the general population, Tea Partyers also skew toward middle age or older. That’s the tell.

The tell? Oh, that the Tea Party is composed of Baby Boomer white guys reliving their '60's protest heyday. Unfortunately for them, the more recent Quinnipiac poll undercuts their basic premise about a bunch of angry white guys leading the charge. Turns out, it's a bunch of angry white women, as, according to the poll, 55% of Tea Party members are females and women have taken a leading role in many of the local organizations.
“For years, it has been the liberal women who have organized and been staunch grass-roots and policy advocates,” Rebecca Wales, a spokeswoman for Smart Girl Politics, a new group formed to train and mobilize women in the tea party movement. “No longer is it only the liberals. Conservative women have found their voices and are using them, actively and loudly.”

Melanie Gustafson, an associate professor of history at the University of Vermont who has studied and written about the role of women in politics, said the tea party has provided a more direct way for conservative women to have influence than the Republican Party, where she says “women have always struggled for inclusion.”

Sorry guys.

Transferring Public Responsibility to Public Charity

Justin Katz

This is a positive development, for the short-term, but it should be considered a short-term fix before turning around, rather than a short-term transition toward something new in the future:

An $88,241 donation from the New England Laborers'/Cranston Public Schools Construction Career Academy, a public charter school, "will just about restore every program except freshman baseball, basketball and football," said Schools Supt. Peter L. Nero, repeating what has become a familiar theme: to balance its budget, the district was forced to cut the same programs it had vigorously defended in court as part of an unsuccessful lawsuit seeking additional funding from the city.

The donation, which the charter school's board of directors is expected to approve at its next meeting, would come from the school's roughly $372,000 surplus, said School Committee Chairman Michael A.Traficante, who is also chairman of the charter school's board of directors and works for the New England Laborers' union as director of governmental affairs.

"We are buying some time for these nonprofit groups to start raising money," Traficante said.

Generally, I'm for increasing the role of charity and private donations, but if this change in funding for Cranston public school sports becomes a trend, it will simply represent a transfer of the "extras" that once were considered intrinsic parts of public education to voluntary support while the unions' cash cow maintains its mandatory tax-based flow of revenue. It would be different if residents could choose to give cash for sports, books, programs, and so on, while declining to donate to higher remuneration for the adults who staff the facilities. However, the route for achieving that balance will still be the circuitous one of elections and contract negotiations over years.

Moreover, the parents and students who utilize the sports services will continue to receive a relatively good deal in the cost of their activities. They'll therefore be less inclined to join reformers who wish to change the political regime in order to redirect public funds away from lavish remuneration for adults.

Public education in Rhode Island is beginning to look like a bait-and-switch. Over some decades, we've been sold on funding public schools through tax dollars because they build community, ensure well-rounded young citizens, keep kids occupied and off the streets, and so on. Now that the bill has become outrageous, the activities that do those things and offer substantial opportunities to those who cannot afford private school will be foisted back onto communities to fund via other means.

Some Federalism on Saturday

Justin Katz

If you're looking for a way to register your support for a return of our constitutional republic toward federalism, taking some time out, this afternoon, to count yourself among the attendees at the Tenth Amendment rally at the state house from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. would be an excellent choice. A broad cross-section of representatives of Rhode Island's right-leaning grassroots will be giving short speeches.

Unfortunately, I'm unable to make it, but if anybody wants to offer reports, pictures, or multimedia, we'll be sure to post them.

Obama in Aggregate

Justin Katz

"Chicago Does Socialism," that's what Victor Davis Hanson calls the aggregate effect of the Obama administration's year in office:

The president promises a state fix for health care; then student loans; and next energy. There are to be subsidies, credits, and always new entitlements for every problem, all requiring hordes of fresh technocrats and Civil Service employees. Like a perpetual teenager, who wants and buys but never produces, the president is focused on the acquisitive and consumptive urges, never on the productive — as in how all his magnanimous largesse is to be paid for by someone else. ...

[With taxation, once] again, Obama never honestly connects the dots and comes clean with the American people about the net effect: On vast swaths of upper income, new state and federal taxes — aside from any rises in sales, property, capital-gains, or inheritance taxes — could confiscate an aggregate of 65 to 70 percent. ...

[On transparency and promises,] I could go on and on, but again the pattern is clear. Each time Obama prevaricates, we grant him an exemption because of his lofty rhetoric about bipartisanship and his soothing words about unity. Only later do we notice that in retrospect each untruth is part of a pattern of dissimulation within just a single year of governance. Obama has proven so far that in fact one can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time. ...

[With respect to international affairs,] again, connect these seemingly isolated dots and a picture emerges of a new radical foreign policy of "neutralism." Traditional allies are ignored, and old enemies are courted — until both are on the same moral and political plane. The one constant is that a socialist anti-Western philosophy abroad (which blames the West for a nation's own self-inflicted misery) wins sympathy with the Obama administration, while capitalist Western culture is seen as mostly passé.

His appropriate response to 9/11 excepted, President Bush's years in office nudged the nation in the wrong direction as his administration attempted to walk the line between bolstering the public sector and keeping the private sector alive, while anticipating and adjusting for foreign developments. Obama's years in office, unless they prove to be a repealable four-year binge, are going to be absolutely disastrous. As Mark Steyn puts it, after describing the inevitable decline ushered in with the healthcare usurpation and the foreign variables like "the price of oil when the Straits of Hormuz are under a de facto Iranian nuclear umbrella":

... right now the future lies somewhere between the certainty of decline and the probability of catastrophe. What can stop it? Not a lot.

The Constitutionality Proof Is Worse than the Pudding

Justin Katz

Ed Fitzpatrick's column, yesterday, suggests that the healthcare law, including the individual mandate, is constitutional, but one needn't be as far right as Anchor Rising to be very concerned about the reason:

The Supreme Court has held that Congress "can tax for any legitimate reason, and certainly providing health care for all Americans is a legitimate reason," Goldstein said. "It was imposed based on Congress' reasonable conclusion that when some people don't have health insurance, it hurts them and shifts a lot of costs onto the rest of us. The tax is little different than taxes Congress imposes on companies that pollute, which are similarly based on the conclusion that pollution hurts everyone and could be deterred through a tax."

Also, the high court has upheld Congress' power to regulate "economic activity that substantially affects interstate commerce," Goldstein said. "And there is no question health care and health insurance affects interstate commerce."

So, not taking care of your own health is like large factories' polluting the air and your health-related habits also affect interstate commerce, making them a legitimate target for regulation and taxation. I took up this topic in a Rhode Island Catholic column a few months ago. The question arises: under such reasoning, what doesn't Congress have the authority to regulate?

Statists already would have answered "nothing," but shouldn't we find it frightening to stare down this dark slope? Now, not only is the authority asserted, but the federal government has a massive new entitlement to bolster and defend by making the American behave in particular ways.

March 26, 2010

Hey, Don't Worry About Federal Ed. Money

Justin Katz

Even if Rhode Island doesn't win federal largess for its education improvement plan, as Marc is suggesting we will not, we still have every reason that we've always had to hold our heads high, such as this one that Julia Steiny mentioned last Sunday:

After the 1960s, many states went back to their labor laws to limit, assertively, the scope of bargaining. Apparently, Rhode Island now has the broadest labor laws in the country. Virtually nothing is off the negotiating table.

Oh, wait...

RI Waits for Doesn't Win Race to the Top decision and doesn't receive School Improvement Grant

Marc Comtois

The Department of Education has announced* the winners of the first round of Race to the Top School Improvement Grants (SIG) and the Rhode Island didn't make the cut. Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio and Washington were the winners. For those who tied the Central Falls firings to RI getting the SIGs, I guess the move hasn't paid off yet. As for the Race to the Top grants, David Scharfenberg at N4N reported earlier that RI Ed. Commish Deborah Gist wasn't optimistic:

Education Commissioner Deborah Gist told a group of civic leaders yesterday at a meeting attended by N4N that it is "highly unlikely" that Rhode Island will win a multi-million dollar infusion from the federal government in the first round of President Obama's Race to the Top grant-making.

The comments, made before community leadership development organization Leadership Rhode Island, marks a significant shift in tone for Gist, who has been relentlessly optimistic about the state's application for more than $100 million in federal aid to push through sweeping reform.

The Department of Education will anounce Race to the Top winners on Monday, March 29th.

*CORRECTED version-thanks commenters- Nothing like multi-tracked grant programs and gov't bureaucracy to confuse the layperson! But most of the blame goes to yours truly for jumpin' the gun.

First to Unemployment

Justin Katz

Rhode Island should not, under any circumstances, increasingly burden the state's employers with the costs of its unemployed, but clearly, something must be done to adjust for our long-term burden of unemployment. This conversation is therefore very necessary:

The state Department of Labor and Training on Wednesday proposed sweeping changes to Rhode Island’s unemployment-insurance system to try to restore the state's unemployment trust fund to solvency.

The plan would gradually raise the state unemployment tax paid by more than 30,000 employers in Rhode Island and cap or reduce benefits that an unemployed worker could receive.

The mix of solutions is a matter for extended debate, but this suggestion makes absolutely no sense to me:

Benefit changes would apply only to people filing claims in the future, not to those currently collecting, officials stressed.

Frankly, I see no justification for that distinction, except (maybe) to keep the state from having to recalculate anybody's benefits. It's not as if the currently unemployed invested more into the system, and it's not as if those who are still working will have additional time to prepare for a change in unemployment benefits that they don't yet know that they'll require.

Under the same logic, one could argue that no businesses that are currently making payments for their unemployment insurance should see an increase in their rates.

The Most Ethical Place in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Mark my words, this will go down as one of the all-time-great quotations to come out of the General Assembly:

"I've been here a year and a half now," said freshman Rep. Scott Pollard, D-Foster. "There aren't any corrupt people in the building ... you smile, but I know them and you don't, OK?"

Well, that settles it then. Clearly, far from seeking to make outright bribery illegal, at the State House, we should hand them even more stringless money and power!

On a mores serious note, I see reason for concern in this:

No vote was taken Tuesday on the fix-it legislation crafted by the citizens advocacy group Common Cause that Fox introduced on Feb. 4. Asked why he did not seek a vote, Fox said, through a spokesman: "I want to make sure that the language is correct before we ask voters to consider a Constitutional amendment. I want to review the testimony that will be offered tonight, both pro and con, and make sure we get it right."

Perhaps I need to tune my cynical ear, a bit, but what I hear in that statement is: "We want to wait and see if there's some way out of this that gives us credit for considering ethics legislation but makes the whole issue go away without its being anybody's fault."


Marc Comtois

The bond market continues to struggle as it tries to deal with the new health care paradigm:

Interest rates climbed in the bond market Thursday after a government debt auction drew tepid demand. Auctions Tuesday and Wednesday also saw lower demand....The auction of $32 billion in seven-year notes saw demand fall from the past two months. That means the government could have to start offering higher interest rates to attract buyers.
Michael Barone explains:
[Former CBO Director Douglas] Holtz-Eakin [explained] the bill will not lower deficits but will raise them by $562 billion over 10 years. Treasury will have to borrow that money -- and probably pay much higher interest than it's paying now.

Moreover, once the bill is fully in effect, the Cato Institute's Alan Reynolds points out, its expenses are likely to grow at least 7 percent a year -- significantly faster than revenues. At that rate, spending doubles every 10 years.

Barone also mentions the pension problem states are having. But back to the national budget. Health care is only part of the blooming deficit under President Obama:
President Obama's fiscal 2011 budget will generate nearly $10 trillion in cumulative budget deficits over the next 10 years, $1.2 trillion more than the administration projected, and raise the federal debt to 90 percent of the nation's economic output by 2020, the Congressional Budget Office reported Thursday.
That's including the budgetary tricks the administration used to hide the deficits in their health care program. And we've recently learned that the CBO is also predicting that Social Security will pay out more in benefits than it receives in tax revenue. Meanwhile, companies are adjusting to the new health care realities:
In the first two days after the law was signed, three major companies — Deere & Co., Caterpillar Inc. and Valero Energy — said they expect to take a total hit of $265 million to account for smaller tax deductions in the future....Nationwide, companies would take a $14 billion hit on their financial statements if all of the roughly 3,500 companies receiving the subsidies continued to do so, according to a study by Towers Watson, a human resources consulting firm.
These costs will surely affect employee compensation, which is already down in most of the country:
Personal income in 42 states fell in 2009, the Commerce Department said Thursday....Nationally, personal income from wages, dividends, rent, retirement plans and government benefits declined 1.7% last year, unadjusted for inflation.
Oh, but not everywhere:
Incomes...rose in six [states] and the District of Columbia. West Virginia had the best showing with a 2.1% increase. In Maine, Kentucky and Hawaii, increased government benefits, such as unemployment insurance and Social Security, offset drops in earnings and property values.
Then there are the rising gas prices:
Gas prices have risen $1 since just after President Obama took office in January 2009 and are now closing in on the $3 mark, prompting an evaluation of the administration's energy record and calls for the White House to open more U.S. land for oil exploration.
Anyway, back again to the federal budget. Charles Krauthammer thinks that the Obama Administration is prepping the ground for proposing a VAT (Value Added Tax) to help pay for things and "fix" these deficits.
That’s where the value-added tax comes in. For the politician, it has the virtue of expediency: People are used to sales taxes, and this one produces a river of revenue. Every 1 percent of VAT would yield up to $1 trillion a decade (depending on what you exclude — if you exempt food, for example, the yield would be more like $900 billion)....As a substitute for the income tax, the VAT would be a splendid idea. Taxing consumption makes infinitely more sense than taxing work. But to feed the liberal social-democratic project, the VAT must be added on top of the income tax.
Change, in all of its multiple meanings, indeed.

Majority Extremism Against Change You Can Believe In

Justin Katz

By accident of commercial breaks, I caught a few moments of the Rachel Maddow show, last night, and that's all that was necessary to observe that left-wingers very much wish to convince themselves that the Republican Party is locked in an extremist echo chamber, with its far-right base requiring uniformity of opinion out of step with the rest of the country. Every statement that any Republican has made that conflicts with the right on any issue, according to Maddow, is evidence that the facade is beginning to break.

On one level, we could choose, instead, to see intraparty dissent as evidence that there is no such disciplined higher command from the base. On another level, we could argue that this process whereby the essentials of the base's priorities acquire the assent of the middle — like spring spreading north after winter — is precisely how our political system is supposed to work.

And that's what I think is happening. Consider this short speech, on the floor of Congress, by Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R, MI), whose Q&A session in Newport, this summer, so impressed me:

After citing the displeasure of the American people with their government, with reference to poll numbers, McCotter delivers a stinging rebuke of the direction in which President Obama and the Democrats are leading the country. It would be quite a different matter were McCotter's rhetoric purely that, but every time one opens the newspaper or clicks through news Web sites, there's a new story about Obama's use of government authority in expanded ways. By contrast, there's been no indication of an ingenuous intention, on the part of the administration, to loosen the leash on the private sector a bit so that it may chase some much-needed growth.

We who are politically interest should never discount the possibility that we're wrong on both substance and popular sentiment. It seems to me, though, that those of us who saw through Obama's airy baloney about his own centrism, during the campaign, have been joined by an increasingly broad population who sees through the Democrats' faux stimulus and policies that always err on the side of transferring wealth and power to government operatives.

In other words, we're not selling talking points to capture the public whim of the moment. We're offering an argument about government, and the Democrats' behavior and policies continue to support that argument. They appear to hope that they can buy enough votes to counterbalance the dawn of understanding about their intentions, but I don't think the United States is quite so far gone, down that path, as Rhode Island.

March 25, 2010

"Free" Speech and "Positive Spaces" in Canada

Monique Chartier

A rowdy crowd (notice that, in the interest of avoiding "hate" speech, I didn't say "mob") succeeded in preventing Ann Coulter from speaking at the University of Ottawa Tuesday evening. Is it too obvious, by the way, to point out the irony that "hatred", the offense that Ann Coulter is purportedly guilty of, was not lacking on the part of those who so vigorously opposed her speech? Perhaps, if he is finished instructing Ms. Coulter as to what she can and cannot say, University of Ottawa Vice-President François Houle can clarify under what circumstances hatred and hate speech are acceptable.

But the gem of the story from the Ottawa Citizen is in bold.

Rita Valeriano was one of several protesters inside the hall who, with chants of "Coulter go home!", shouted down the International Free Press Society of Canada organizer who was addressing the crowd.

Valeriano, a 19-year-old sociology and women's studies student, said later that she was happy Coulter was unable to speak the "hatred" she had planned to.

"On campus, we promise our students a safe and positive space," she said.

First of all, there's the incongruity of the stated goal of a "safe and positive" campus with the "welcome" given to Ann Coulter, which seemed neither positive nor particularly safe. Secondly, should this even be a goal for a university? Ms. Valeriano's description conveys an unhealthy cross between Sesame Street and Stepford Town. Sesame Street is fine for children. But isn't it better for young adults to begin learning that the world is not always a safe and positive place? Further, and perhaps most importantly, what is being filtered out to achieve that goal?

Minimally, for one evening, it appears that speech was filtered. Under that circumstance, "safe and positive" can quickly restrict learning and even free thinking. This would be counter-productive, to say no worse, for an institution of higher learning.

What Profiteth a Non-Profit to Advocate Big Government?

Justin Katz

I concur with Marc that seeking to compensate for horrendous government spending, taxing, and economic policies by squeezing money from non-profits would be shameful. We shouldn't let the news cycle revolve, however, without noting the significant overlap between the non-profit community and the segment of the population that advocates for the very policies that are sinking the state.

Every time somebody demands charitable assistance from the government, whether effected as a mandate or revenue, that person is demanding a shift in responsibility from private citizens to the government. Once the structures are in place, the government considers that it owns the cause. Heed well the parenthetical note from the article to which Marc links:

Aside from health facilities, Rhode Island law also grants tax-exempt status to churches, Little Leagues, public and private schools (Costantino noted that public schools and universities probably wouldn’t be affected by any proposal), and afterschool programs such as the YMCA.

First the government is a partner. Then it's competition. Then it gives itself unfair advantages. And ultimately, the same organization that extracts money by force of law for taxes is the same organization that grants college loans, manages the healthcare industry, maintains a criminal justice system, maintains a military, and determines how much help people deserve, what sorts of strings ought to be attached to that aid, and what social agenda ought to be furthered by the charitable process.

After the Legislation, the Deluge

Justin Katz

This might be the most frightening thing related to the healthcare legislation that I've read thus far:

Dr. Nick Tsiongas, who sounded jubilant when reached by phone Monday, actually agrees with Purcell that the bill is weak on cost control. But Tsiongas, who founded the local reform group HealthRIght, believes the federal legislation will allow Rhode Island to tackle that issue. The federal subsidies are necessary to cover the uninsured, he said. "It establishes a platform on which state reforms can now begin to take hold," he said.

Take hold like a hand around a throat. You may recall Dr. Tsiongas from one of my vlogs:

At Rep. Patrick Kennedy's townhall-esque AARP meeting, Tsiongas explained his desire to pool all of the money currently in the Rhode Island healthcare system — public and private — so that he and his fellow experts could allocate it in a way that they consider to be rational, determining such things as how much of each medical technology is available in the state. His jubilation at the "platform" that enables him to reach such goals is evidence enough that Congressional Democrats and President Obama have done a very bad thing, indeed.

RI Reading Scores Improve

Marc Comtois

Now for some good news: according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP test results, RI Reading scores are up, overall. Unfortunately, the way the ProJo reports it is confusing:

In Grade 4, 36 percent of Rhode Island students were reading at grade level, a five-point increase from the previous rate and five points above the national average. In eighth grade, 28 percent scored at grade level, up from 27 percent the previous period, two points below the national average.
A cynic (er...average Rhode Islander) would naturally look at this and think that means that 64% of RI 4th graders and 72% of RI 8th graders are reading below grade level! But that's not the case. The ProJo only gives the "at grade level" number, not those reading above grade level. Oy.

To keep it short and sweet: 69% of 4th graders and 72% of 8th graders are reading at or above grade level.

For her part, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist appears to have the right perspective:

“These improving scores [in Rhode Island] show that we are on the right track, with our emphasis on literacy in all courses and our support for students … who need extra help in reading,” said state education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist. “Despite these improvements, I am very concerned about low achievement rates for some student groups.”
What she's concerned about are the results for low-income students, English-language learners and students with disabilities.

I've done a more complete summary of the RI stats in the extended entry. From it, we can basically conclude (or confirm what we suspected) that, on average--and to take extreme examples:

1) The best 4th grade readers are middle- or upper- class, English speaking white females without disabilities. The best 8th grade readers are middle- or upper- class, English speaking Asian/Pacific Islander females without disabilities.
2) The worst 4th grade readers are poor, non-English speaking Hispanic males with disabilities. The worst 8th grade readers are poor, non-English speaking Black or Hispanic males with disabilities.

My guess is that Title I and school district reading and literacy programs have done much to help increase these scores. Hopefully, we can build on that success and, where feasible, apply that pedagogy to Math and Writing (and eventually, other subject areas).

Here are the numbers of those at or above Basic (ie; grade level) as well as those proficient or above as taken directly from the report:

Fourth Grade


Basic & Above - 69%
Proficient & Above - 36%


White - Basic & Above - 78%
White - Proficient & Above - 56%
Black - Basic & Above - 52%
Black - Proficient & Above - 19%
Hispanic - Basic & Above - 45%
Hispanic - Proficient & Above - 16%
Asian/Pacific Islander - Basic & Above - 66%
Asian/Pacific Islander - Proficient & Above - 39%


Male - Basic & Above - 64%
Male - Proficient & Above - 39%
Female - Basic & Above - 74%
Female - Proficient & Above - 51%


Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch - Basic & Above - 51%
Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch - Proficient & Above - 19%
Not Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch - Basic & Above - 81%
Not Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch - Proficient & Above - 62%


With Disabilities - Basic & Above - 33%
With Disabilities - Proficient & Above - 10%
Without Disabilities - Basic & Above - 75%
Without Disabilities - Proficient & Above - 51%


English Language Learners - Basic & Above - 26%
English Language Learners - Proficient & Above - 8%
Non-English Language Learners - Basic & Above - 71%
Non-English Language Learners - Proficient & Above - 47%

Eighth Grade


Basic & Above - 72%
Proficient & Above - 28%


White - Basic & Above - 79%
White - Proficient & Above - 36%
Black - Basic & Above - 50%
Black - Proficient & Above - 9%
Hispanic - Basic & Above - 50%
Hispanic - Proficient & Above - 11%
Asian/Pacific Islander - Basic & Above - 81%
Asian/Pacific Islander - Proficient & Above - 41%


Male - Basic & Above - 67%
Male - Proficient & Above - 24%
Female - Basic & Above - 77%
Female - Proficient & Above - 34%


Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch - Basic & Above - 56%
Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch - Proficient & Above - 15%
Not Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch - Basic & Above - 81%
Not Eligible for Free/Reduced Lunch - Proficient & Above - 38%


With Disabilities - Basic & Above - 36%
With Disabilities - Proficient & Above - 7%
Without Disabilities - Basic & Above - 79%
Without Disabilities - Proficient & Above - 34%


English Language Learners - Basic & Above - 16%
English Language Learners - Proficient & Above - 1%
Non-English Language Learners - Basic & Above - 73%
Non-English Language Learners - Proficient & Above - 30%

Spotting the Spin in the Fact Check

Justin Katz

Perhaps you've noticed the newspaper fad, in recent months, of printing "fact checks" that purport to offer readers a balanced and objective assessment of the spin surrounding various issues. I stopped bothering with them after the first couple, when it occurred to me that the articles are mainly useful for bloggers still interested in spotting media bias. In a recent example concerning the healthcare legislation, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar strives to explain how both sides are spinning the issue. The problem is that his fact checking of the opposition doesn't really present actual myths or the facts that debunk them.

The first "myth," for example is that "Obama has put the nation on a slippery slope toward socialism." The "fact" is that the nation has been on that slope for a while and still has farther to go until it reaches bottom. I don't know of anybody, on the right, who disagrees, so it appears that Alonso-Zaldivar has debunked a strawman.

When he gets to the question of abortion, it's not at all clear that the reporter has done any research about the actual arguments being made:

You will be forced to pay for other people's abortions.

Only if you join a health insurance plan that covers abortion. In that case, the costs of paying for abortions would be spread over all the enrollees in the plan—no differently from how other medical procedures are handled, except a policyholder would have to write a separate check for it.

Timothy Jost, a law professor at Washington and Lee University, said people who don't want to pay for abortion could simply pick a plan that doesn't offer it.

There would definitely be a demand for such plans, and not just from people with moral objections. Single men and older women would have no reason to pay an extra premium for abortion coverage.

The point isn't that the government will force us to join healthcare programs that offer abortion. The point is that the government will be subsidizing, with our money, the premiums of people who do.

However one feels about abortion or healthcare or socialism, it remains necessary to adjust for the medium through which one acquires news. Spin is chronic and addictive.

Except on Anchor Rising, of course, where all of our facts and conclusions are entirely objective.

Feeding the Beast: General Assembly Looks to Take a Bite Out of Non-Profits

Marc Comtois

"Desperate times call for desperate measures", right? So now we learn that the RI General Assembly is looking at taxing non-profits to earn more "revenue." The method will be via suspension of the tax-exempt status by removing the sales tax waiver that non-profits receive (the GA isn't considering property taxes or taxing donations...yet). According to the Steve Peoples' story in the ProJo, this will effect 6,600 nonprofit organizations, including churches, hospitals, private schools, youth sports leagues, PTO's/PTA's and the YMCA among others.

It's obvious that the General Assembly has done a poor job of managing state revenue and has made poor choices in what it prioritizes for spending. I'm also sure there are those who will argue that hospitals and private schools and the larger non-profits that proliferate in this state can afford to be taxed. But what about the Parent-Teacher groups and sports leagues and any number of smaller non-profits? Many of these groups help fill the gaps caused by budgetary oversights and misplaced priorities that have trickled down from the General Assembly into our cities and towns.

For instance, with more education dollars going towards personnel costs, it is up to the Parent-teacher groups to pay for programs--field trips, assemblies, etc.--that once were funded by the school districts. In Warwick, youth sports leagues help keep Jr. High age kids on fields because Warwick schools don't offer organized sports. Levying the sales tax will leave less money to spend on an event at a school or available for financial aid to help a kid from a poor family play ball with his friends.

Then there are animal shelters and soup kitchens and hundreds of other small groups of people giving of their free time to do what they can to help the community. They didn't expect the government to help pay for things, but asked instead to be left alone and given a tax break in recognition of the good works they perform. These groups certainly didn't expect to be taxed for giving a helping hand. This really is shameful.

Politics at Night

Justin Katz

On last night's Matt Allen Show, Marc and Matt discussed various topics including the multiple candidates for representation of the second Congressional district The frequent question is why Republicans don't run for General Assembly seats, rather than crowd onto the ticket for higher offices. I'm beginning to think that it may be less a matter of prestige than of income; national offices, the governorship, and so on, come with paychecks. There are fewer union members and lawyers among Republicans, so fewer can afford to invest so much time and effort into fruitless General Assembly offices. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

March 24, 2010

The GOP 2nd Congressional Candidates

Marc Comtois

So you don't have to, here is the "Marc's Notes" version of where the three announced GOP candidates (Mark Zaccaria, Michael Gardiner and Bill Clegg) for RI's Second Congressional District Seat stand on various issues. This is compiled directly from the "Issues" pages on each candidate's websites--I paraphrased and used direct quotes to try to get to the nut of their stance on each issue. If a candidate didn't address a topic, I simply left them out of that category.


The Economy:

Mark Zaccarria: Create a "self-sustaining fund for capital investment" for small business. "No company is too big to fail. The US Government isn’t structured to manage for-profit enterprises, so it should butt out."

Michael Gardiner: "Jobs could come from a recovery of demand if consumers and employers suddenly had more money to spend." Cut taxes where feasible, but focus on reducing spending. "Stabilize regulation."

Bill Clegg: Reduce government spending, simplify the tax code, shrink government.


Zaccaria: Supports "lifetime Health Savings Account (HSA) for individuals that they and their employers could contribute to pre-tax" and "nationwide availability of low cost – high deductable insurance policies to cover you in the event of catastrophic health problems".

Gardiner: Creating a national market in Health Care will cause savings and lead to more money in people's pockets (ties it to the Economy).

Clegg: Try "the simplest and most efficient solutions first. Regional pooling, reasonable caps on tort awards, better coordination among states to foster competition, and more consumer–driven health plans..."

Energy and the Environment:

Zaccaria: "Government should spur research into improving the use of traditional fuels and accelerating the development of the green energy technologies that are our future. Drill Here, Drill Now for our immediate needs."

Gardiner: Intrigued by wind farm idea, "but the government should not subsidize projects unless the numbers make sense. The demand is for cheaper power. Insulation and energy efficient appliances and furnaces provide attainable and durable reduction in consumption." Seems wary of nuclear power, but willing to expand it. "Respect for the environment should not lead to absolutism, but rather prudence and caution."

Foreign Policy:

Clegg: "The world is simply not getting any safer or less complex and we must maintain a strong and modern military in order to be prepared for an uncertain future."


Zaccaria: "Government can also craft an environment where competition lowers the cost of education and where performance, both of students and their institutions, is highlighted, celebrated, and made a factor in achieving our goals."


Zaccaria: "I favor an easy-to-apply-for Guest Worker program that permits 9 months of legal residence and W-2 wages followed by 3 months back in the country of origin." Favors use of E-Verify.


Zaccaria: "We must end abortion in the US. The question is how?" Wants to "begin a comprehensive program of leadership where we educate all Americans on the alternatives to abortion and their benefit. Patterned after the 40 Stop Smoking campaign, this initiative would have much more immediate effect since it’s not about personal addiction. No one wants to have an abortion."

Gardiner: "Save as many as possible without offending individual freedom....I accept Roe v. Wade, but would like to see it modified to protect more life by expanding the definition of life. I would be open to the states states and the people acting in the field by constitutional amendment. I think this is uniquely a woman's' issue that that will always be heavily influenced by women."


Zaccaria: Supports The Defense of Marriage Act, which "squarely puts the question right back where 250 years of American jurisprudence has always placed it: As a right of States to decide for themselves."

Gardiner: Opposes The Defense of Marriage Act. "I do not believe that the state may choose the gender of your family."

Gun Issues:

Zaccaria: Supports the 2nd Amendment.

Death Penalty:

Zaccaria: "I believe that there are certain crimes that are so abhorrent that the government will need to sanction a perpetrator with the loss of their very life. Our government should have the ability to use this penalty in cases where it is appropriate."


Editorial aside: Since Zaccaria is the veteran in this race, his platform is more robust. Overall, his position on each of the issues is about where you'd expect a mainstream Republican to stand. Gardiner seems to be carrying the Moderate Republican mantle: conservative/pragmatic about the economy and the environment and socially liberal. Clegg seems most comfortable talking about the economy and was the only of the three to mention foreign policy/military. He didn't specifically address some of the cultural hot-button issues, but he talks about encouraging self-reliance and personal responsibility. He also has a slogan prepared, "Raise Trust, Not Taxes."

Setting aside the questionable wisdom of having three apparently able members of the thin RI GOP bench embarking on the same (probably) quixotic quest to oust a comfortably situated incumbent, I'll find it interesting to hear Gardiner and Clegg flesh out their positions in contrast to the more established Zaccaria.

Hope they're all self-funding!

The Fraudulent Assumptions of the Dems' CBO Report

Monique Chartier

One of the selling points of healthcare reform, repeated yesterday by President Obama when he signed the bill into law, is that it will reduce the federal deficit. To bolster this statement, which is absurd on its face, they point to the conclusion of a CBO report promulgated at the request of and with the, shall we say, heavy input of Dem Congressional leaders.

Under Justin's post, Tim describes the dubious methodology by which the CBO is compelled to generate a report.

All the CBO does is crunch numbers that are presented to them. If Congress wants an analysis from the CBO on how much it will cost to provide every American citizen (300 million) with one apple and they tell the CBO that the cost of each apple is $1 then the CBO will tell Congress their plan will cost $300,000.000.

What the CBO does not consider, because it's not their function, is how the REAL cost of a single apple is $2 and therefore the REAL cost of the program is actually $600,000,000.
CBO answers are only as legitimate as the numbers they're given to work with.

Garbage In = Garbage Out!

In a New York Times OpEd, Douglas Holtz-Eakin confirms Tim's description of the flawed methodoology that the CBO is compelled to employ.

The answer, unfortunately, is that the budget office is required to take written legislation at face value and not second-guess the plausibility of what it is handed. So fantasy in, fantasy out.

In reality, if you strip out all the gimmicks and budgetary games and rework the calculus, a wholly different picture emerges: The health care reform legislation would raise, not lower, federal deficits, by $562 billion.

Holtz-Eakin goes on to detail the "fantasy" assumptions supplied by Dem Congressional leaders so that they could obtain a report that concludes, incredibly, that the largest entitlement program contemplated by the US government will REDUCE the deficit.

Gimmick No. 1 is the way the bill front-loads revenues and backloads spending. That is, the taxes and fees it calls for are set to begin immediately, but its new subsidies would be deferred so that the first 10 years of revenue would be used to pay for only 6 years of spending.

Even worse, some costs are left out entirely. To operate the new programs over the first 10 years, future Congresses would need to vote for $114 billion in additional annual spending. But this so-called discretionary spending is excluded from the Congressional Budget Office’s tabulation. ...

Finally, in perhaps the most amazing bit of unrealistic accounting, the legislation proposes to trim $463 billion from Medicare spending and use it to finance insurance subsidies. But Medicare is already bleeding red ink, and the health care bill has no reforms that would enable the program to operate more cheaply in the future. Instead, Congress is likely to continue to regularly override scheduled cuts in payments to Medicare doctors and other providers.

Removing the unrealistic annual Medicare savings ($463 billion) and the stolen annual revenues from Social Security and long-term care insurance ($123 billion), and adding in the annual spending that so far is not accounted for ($114 billion) quickly generates additional deficits of $562 billion in the first 10 years. And the nation would be on the hook for two more entitlement programs rapidly expanding as far as the eye can see.

In short, if this CBO report were a stock offering, it would now be the subject of a criminal investigation.

Reducing Education to a Benefits System

Justin Katz

Native Cranstonite and former Major Leaguer Mike Stenhouse hit his recent op-ed out of the park:

The proposed elimination of varsity athletics programs in the Cranston school district is a direct result of what is wrong with the political system in our entire state. Namely, that state law and city contracts routinely give priority to the special interests, squeezing out taxes and programs from everyone else.

For me, participation in varsity athletics at Cranston East in the mid-'70s was a critical factor in my overall growth as a person. It is an outrage to know that similar opportunities for students are now being stolen from them because of misguided laws and misprioritized budget planning. High-school athletics uniquely develop leadership skills and character in our students beyond that of any other school activity or curriculum item. Athletics are not an expendable frill and are far more worthy of our tax dollars than most other spending. ...

It is unconscionable that we continue to guarantee exorbitant benefits for specially protected groups while sacrificing investment in our students.

It seems as if the first things schools cut are programs that actually open the door for students to excel on their own initiative. Perhaps they do so because it's an easier sell; if it's a choice between programs, the emotional reaction is to protect students who need the most help against those for whom the opportunities are to reach a higher level. Unfortunately, programs that open doors, rather than attempt to carry students through them, are much less expensive, so more must be eliminated to achieve the same budgetary savings.

Where the resources exist for those students to acquire the opportunities on their own, they'll do so. That's why Rhode Island has a high rate of private school attendance.

The reality is, however, that reaching the choice between programs requires making another choice first: between students and employees. That's the point at which voters must begin applying pressure. Any school committee member, district administrator, or state bureaucrat who cuts into these programs is not only backward-looking but also deserving of replacement.

"Servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind"

Marc Comtois

In these times, the observations of Alexis de Tocqueville seem as apt as ever:

[Government] takes upon itself alone to secure [the people's] gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood....For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
According to de Tocqueville, it is a misunderstanding of the concept of equality--which rightly understood should be an equality of liberty and opportunity, not of standing--that leads a democratic society down the primrose path to dependency upon government.
[Government] extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.

Thus, the tropes of democracy are maintained so that "we the people" may elect our own masters.
Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free. As they cannot destroy either the one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once. They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large who hold the end of his chain.

By this system the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master and then relapse into it again. A great many persons at the present day are quite contented with this sort of compromise between administrative despotism and the sovereignty of the people; and they think they have done enough for the protection of individual freedom when they have surrendered it to the power of the nation at large.

ADDENDUM: Michael Ledeen noted basically the same passages a couple days ago, but is optimistic:

Tocqueville had it right, and it’s exactly what has happened on his old continent. Europe has fallen under precisely that sort of tyranny, and our would-be tyrants thought they could do the same here.

But the scheme did not succeed, at least the way they planned it. Instead of embracing the tyranny, the American people unexpectedly rose up against it. To use Tocqueville’s metaphor, Americans acted like a recalcitrant child and refused to behave. At which point the tyrannical wannabes decided to slap us down and make us behave properly. They were forced to carry out a coup, a baldfaced seizure of power. Thus, the Demon Pass. Thus the two most memorable lines from the coup plotters: (Pelosi): “we have to pass it to find out what’s in it,” and (Hastings): “there are no rules. This is the U.S. Congress.”

That was not the way it was supposed to happen. We were supposed to go quietly. Instead we fought back, and the final outcome of this big fight–the one I foresaw more than a year ago–is still in doubt. The would-be tyrants may prevail; after all, they have the awesome power of the state. But we have the numbers and a superior vision.

Americans can be very tough in this kind of fight. Ask King George.

Looking for an Accurate Name

Justin Katz

Although I can already hear the howls of rage and scorn (especially from those farthest to the political left), I have to say that I kind of like this suggestion of Dennis Prager's:

3. Democrats should be referred to as Social Democrats.

This is not meant to be cute, let alone a slur. But calling Democrats Social Democrats is an effective way of reminding Americans that there is no longer any difference between what is now known as the Democratic party and the Social Democratic parties of Europe. When the Democratic party returns to its roots as a liberal, not left-wing, party, we will happily resume calling the party by its original name. However, since no Democrat can cite a significant difference between the Democratic party and the SD parties, there is no good reason not to use the more accurate nomenclature.

Owing Uncle Sam

Justin Katz

It seems like such a small step, and obvious, too:

Students and families who borrow money to help pay for college will see sweeping changes as a result of federal legislation approved by the House on Sunday night.

Although the bill was focused mainly on health care, it contains key provisions involving loans for higher education — including the Stafford Loan for students and the PLUS Loan for parents.

Under the bill, all such federally backed loans will be issued directly by the U.S. government, through the colleges and universities themselves, effective July 1.

See, up to now, a significant number of loans have been handled through private entities, so although the money came from or was backed by the federal government, they took a couple of percentage points of interest to process paperwork (as Neil Downing puts it). All the change — somehow passed along with the healthcare power grab — does is to cut out the middle man. But from a statist's point of view, just about everything and everyone is a "middleman"; all rights and activities ultimately come from the government. When statists' wish to engage in some form of charitable activity (by their definition), the most efficient way will always be through the bureaucracy that controls everything.

I can offer testimony that college loans are like an entry drug to debt. With a bachelor's degree becoming a baseline for jobs that have no practical need for higher education, the loan used to acquire one is like a mortgage for your career, and the government now holds every string. The government approves the loan. The government enforces laws related to debt. And, as President Obama has made clear, owning the debt, the government can opt to forgive it for those who enter preferred occupations, such as "public service."

We were already heading into an era of new indentured servitude over debt. We now know to whom we'll be indentured: Uncle Sam.

March 23, 2010

Fox's Missing Adjective

Justin Katz

A quick observation from another article about RI House Speaker Gordon Fox (D, Providence):

Thirty eight years later, the new speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives is a bit more reserved in his choice of words — but not much — when he talks about gambling, taxes, public employee pensions and the difficulty every incumbent will have in a year when he acknowledges: "People are angry. They are hurting. They are scared, and they want to lash out."

Notice the phrase "lash out." That's an indiscriminate verb, an unthinking response. What's missing from everything that I've seen from Fox is any admission that those angry people have a point, that some of their complaints are valid and worth adjusting policy to answer.

There Are Big Ideas, and There Are Small Implementations

Justin Katz

Diane Ravitch offers a wonderful example of a particular strategy for rebuffing education reforms:

As an education historian, I have often warned against the seductive lure of grand ideas to reform education. Our national infatuation with education fads and reforms distracts us from the steady work that must be done.

Our era is no different. We now face a wave of education reforms based on the belief that school choice, test-driven accountability and the resulting competition will dramatically improve student achievement.

Ravitch claims to have been a supporter of choice and accountability for some years, having now adjusted her view based on "empirical evidence." But even as one espousing the concepts, she must not have had a very thorough vision for them.

I make that assertion because her empirical evidence against the broad concept of "choice" is the aggregate performance of charter schools across the countries. As has been readily apparent, in Rhode Island, even just establishing such schools can be an arduous process, and the union hounds are ever at the door. A more fair assessment of school choice would have to include private schools, as well. Indeed, implemented as many of us on the right would like, choice would encompass every accredited school to which parents might want access, including different public schools, because the idea isn't just to give students a way out, but also to give schools a way to compete.

As for Ravitch's argument against test-driven accountability treats the proposition as all or nothing. As I've said before, professional accountability in a field like teaching cannot be handled as if by formujla — assessing the number and quantity of something produced. Rather, educational results must be measured as improvements against difficulties, and for that, subjective measures are required. Standardized tests are a critical component of that process, but accountability must flow up the chain, with administrators examining scores in the context of other circumstances, observations, and institutional objectives and accountable to the people above them for their results. Of course, unions dislike such structures, claiming it lacks protection, while the opposition sees talent and performance as all the protection that professionals ought to require.

The impression that one gets from essays like Ravitch's is that the intention isn't so much to examine an experiment and explain lessons learned as to dismiss ideas that haven't really be tried so that the principles on which they're founded can never be proven successful.

More on Hoss Radbourn

Marc Comtois

I recently mentioned Ed Achorn's book on Hoss Radbourn, Fifty-nine in '84. Now, WRNI's Ian Donnis has an interview with Achorn up. Radbourn had 59 wins in 1884 and pitched almost every game for the Providence Grays that year. Good stuff.

The Consequences of Fairness?

Justin Katz

I've been intending to look into arguments for a "Fair Tax," but they seem so unnecessarily complicated that I've continued to demur. In his usual manner of breaking such things down to the basics, Ramesh Ponnuru suggests that it sounds too good to be true because it is:

It is not at all clear that this 30 percent sales tax would raise enough revenue to eliminate income and payroll taxes. Brookings Institution economist William Gale has estimated that to replace current federal tax revenues, the tax rate would have to be 44 percent (or 31 percent the way the FairTaxers calculate rates: A $100 product would cost $144 after tax). Gale’s calculation assumed that nobody would evade the sales tax and that Congress would not narrow the tax base by, for example, exempting medical services from the tax. Relaxing those assumptions increases the rate required even further. ...

The middle class would also pay higher taxes. Under the FairTax plan, the federal government would give all legal residents of the U.S. a "prebate" to cover sales taxes on all purchases up to the poverty line. That would protect the poor (except for illegal immigrants; higher prices are supposed to induce immigrants to come legally so they can get their prebate). And the rich would pay less than they do now, since returns to investment typically are a large share of their income, and these would go untaxed. So if revenues are to stay the same, the middle class will have to pay more. If the change in tax policy increases economic growth, this effect will be mitigated — but it will take a very long time for it to disappear under any plausible assumptions. Governor Huckabee's claim that voters in all income groups would come out ahead while the federal government would raise the same amount of revenue as before is of course unsupportable.

As ever, problems arise whenever government seeks to determine fairness. In the intricacies by which politicians seek to persuade constituencies that they won't be harmed by changes that must ultimately have some effect on somebody, plenty of limited interests manage to insert advantages. It therefore strikes me as necessary to shrink government before manipulating taxation, rather than using taxation to (maybe) shrink government. Anything short of a frankly simple flat tax (or similarly straightforward approach) will quickly deteriorate in the current system of government.

Rhode Island's Lesson for America

Justin Katz

It's been an education in the future of healthcare in the United States to watch Rhode Island's three insurers seek rate increases from the state as the Democrats have forced their legislation through Congress. On Thursday, the state health insurance commissioner, Christopher Koller "slashed" proposed premium increases and:

... that's not the only effect: Koller also reallocated how insurers should spend their premium dollars.

He ordered Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island and UnitedHealthcare of New England to spend less than they had proposed on hospital care — a decision that could pressure insurers to negotiate lower payments to hospitals, at a time when hospitals are losing money.

The usual suspects are demagoguing about ruthless insurance companies and their endless rate increases, and Mr. Koller is bringing up "troubling trends," such as the unexplained fact that the average age of people receiving health coverage through work is going up, adding to premiums. Nobody is questioning the wisdom of allowing an unelected bureaucrat to manage every insurer in the state:

Koller does not merely rule on the total premium, but examines the factors that the insurers say underlie their need for more money — the costs of hospital care, medications, primary care, administration and profits. His only changes were: reducing inpatient and outpatient hospital costs at both Blue Cross and United, increasing United's primary-care costs, and slightly cutting the administration and profits at Blue Cross. ...

"We need to make the status quo as uncomfortable for insurers and providers as it is for employers, the people who are paying the bill," he said.

Is a healthcare system built upon mutual discomfort really the most effective approach? Artificially suppressing prices doesn't affect the factors driving those prices up, and however much provider and insurer greed may play a role, the limited number of choices, the disguising of costs within broad premiums and through government subsidies, and the requirements and restrictions that the state government places on the market are exponentially greater factors.

If we wish to bring down costs, we're going to have to increase the degree to which consumers must consider the price of each service. Unfortunately, our government — convinced of its own need for more power — is moving in the other direction. With the intention of taking decisions out of the hands of insurers, government operatives are pulling them into their own.

At least if consumers were unhappy with the deals offered by Blue Cross, they could switch to United (and now Tufts). What are our options supposed to be if we're not happy with the decisions of Mr. Koller? And why would additional companies choose to operate within a state (or nation) in which such a functionary ultimately runs their operations?

March 22, 2010

Liveblogging in Tiverton

Justin Katz

FYI: I'm liveblogging a very long Tiverton Town Council meeting over on the Tiverton Citizens for Change blog. It's just about 10:00, and they're finally getting to the controversial part of the meeting. Just goes to show how much effort even local participation can take.

That's no excuse, of course.

The Fly Trap's Lure

Justin Katz

This thought, from a review of a posthumous book by Jean-Francois Revel by David Pryce-Jones (subscription required), strikes me as particularly timely, today:

A couple of years after Furet's book, six equally reputable scholars published The Black Book of Communism, detailing how the experiment of Communism had cost about a hundred million helpless people their lives. It fascinated and appalled Revel that this book, in contrast to Furet's, was not well received but criticized as unnecessary, "visceral" again, somehow too much. Revel's conclusion from this strange example of double standards was that freedom is too demanding for some people and they will hanker after Communism even though it has irrefutably demonstrated its moral, political, and economic bankruptcy. The Left, in short, still refuses to treat centralization, a command economy, and equality of social outcomes as the impediments to freedom that they are.

Freedom naturally entails a certain degree of risk, and there will always be those who prey on fear of that risk to gain power for themselves or desire, for charitable reasons, to prevent it in the first place. Humanity is so constituted, however, as to long for freedom, and using the force of government to restrain it in broad, comprehensive strokes will inevitably have consequences far greater than an individual's choices possibly can.

Patrick Lynch Not Interested in Challenging the Federal Government's Power to Impose a Purchase Mandate on Individuals

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Steve Peoples of the Projo's 7-to-7 newsblog, Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch (to no one's surprise, really) is not interested in joining a potential lawsuit by the states challenging the Federal government's power to require that individuals purchase something...

"I don't like a lot of the decisions that the legislature makes every day. Do I go up and sue them? And do you have the basis to do so, more to the point?" Lynch said in a late-morning interview, characterizing the looming lawsuits in a dozen states as "political posturing....But at the outset, moments after the vote, when they're crying and putting up [lawsuit threats] on Facebook in Texas first, there's a procedure that we go through as attorneys general when something is more substantive, and this seems to be a partisan driven mechanism," said Lynch, a Democratic candidate for governor.

"To me it's a moment that should be celebrated," he said of Sunday's health-care vote.

Acknowledging One Ultimate Path

Justin Katz

My column in the Rhode Island Catholic, this month, takes up the question of whether every religion can be equally valid:

This brand of ecumenism reduces religion to a ritualized variation on self-help psychology. Rather than standing as an attempt to understand the world as we find it, one's religious affiliation becomes a font of profundity for the metastasized relativism of our culture. It imprints the illusion of cosmic depth on something as superficial as "I, me, mine."

Starting, instead, with the assertion that God has a particular nature, with implications for our behavior, we find that our moral compass sometimes directs our steps along difficult paths. In contrast, when individuals begin their contemplation of the universe with themselves, the powerful magnet of their own desires tends to pull that compass toward the paths that they wish to travel anyway.

At Some Point After Healthcare Reform Kicks In

Monique Chartier

Not understanding this. Long waits and worsening care. Costs increasing - strange, why didn't price controls take care of that? Looks like we're gonna need to do some more revenue enhancing.

Doctors dropping out. (Huh. Wonder if that's related to the price controls.)

Most doctors have stopped taking Medicare patients? Well, a "universal coverage" addendum ought to take care of that. If doctors don't accept Medicare patients, they won't get any reimbursements from us! That'll fix 'em.

Whoops, fraud and abuse up double digits. That's right, we never did get around to re-deploying those IRS agents.

Unemployment rate creeping up. That's got nothing to do with healthcare reform, though ...

Gee, looks like nobody has access to good healthcare now. ... Well, other than Congress and the very rich, of course. (Color me embarrassed on THAT point!)

Good thing Speaker Kucinich (and how funny is that! but it was the only way to keep his support) has convened a study commission. We'll get to the bottom of this, no matter how many junkets and how long it takes!

Okay, what's on the calendar? This afternoon - hearing to telescope med school and eliminate residency periods. Gotta get more docs pumped out. And tonight - oh, excellent, the trial lawyers' fundraiser. They've been a rock through all of this. Let's see. "Just keep saying no to tort reform!" H'mm ... "Together, we can hold off the scourge of tort reform!" Better! Must remember to hold up clenched fist ...

Your Democrat Congressman

Three-Way Republican Primary Race for Second District

Justin Katz

Well, there's no shortage of Republicans interested in replacing Jim Langevin in Congress. Joining Mark Zaccaria and Michael Gardner in the Republican race is Bill Clegg:

"Federal spending is simply not sustainable. Congress must get into the game and examine every program, every entitlement, and every priority they have created".

Clegg also intends to focus on restoring trust in government, and reducing the overall role of the federal government. "Government is once again exceeding its constitutional grasp and I am very concerned with the direction we are heading. I do not think fostering dependency and bureaucracy is what America is all about."

A quick look reveals Clegg's Web site to be devoid of social issues. In the current environment, of course, that could indicate opinions in either direction, or neither. Of course, Langevin's own ostensible pro-life position is now a nullity, for political purposes, so Republicans' positions only matter in the primary.

Not a Telethon, Just a Note

Community Crier

We know as well as anybody that times continue to be difficult — financially harrowing, even — and we're not going to make a daily habit of begging for your limited resources. But please do consider helping us keep up the fight. A great deal of work goes into Anchor Rising each day, and the comprehensiveness of its content is only limited by time, which in turn is only limited by our need to put food on the table.

Please, if you have the means, consider supporting us in our work.

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We Awake in a Different Country

Justin Katz

For almost a year, the people of the United States have taken every opportunity to tell their "representatives" not to absorb our healthcare system into the government. Tea Parties, town halls, elections (even unto taking a Massachusetts Senate seat out of Democrat hands), and poll after poll after poll. They didn't care. They've lied. They've gamed every internal analytical system, such that the Congressional Budget Office had to find falsely a deficit reduction. They've taken key votes on hidden days, even Christmas Eve. They've overtly bribed members. They've manipulated the legislative process. And now, like it or not, America, they've forced the costly, detrimental lemon down our throats:

A bloc of pro-life Democrats turned out to be the linchpin to passage of the Senate's massive health insurance overhaul Sunday night, as President Obama cemented a 219-212 victory with a pledge to issue an executive order "clarifying" abortion language in the Senate bill.

The House also voted 220-211 to support a "reconciliation" bill aimed to "fix" provisions in the Senate bill that many House Democrats opposed but viewed as better than nothing.

The one monomaniacal call that must now replace every objection that the American people have raised over the past year is: Repeal.


Here's the vote list. Consult it before you ever vote for an incumbent of this Congress for so much as town garbage sorter.

March 21, 2010

Will Patrick Lynch be Getting a Phone Call Tonight...

Carroll Andrew Morse

...and do we have a new issue in both the Rhode Island Attorney General's and the Governor's races, based on this facebook post from the Attorney General of Texas (h/t NRO)...

Texas attorney general Greg Abbott Facebooks: "I am organizing a conference call tonight for AGs across the country. We will discuss our litigation strategy about the healthcare bill. I will update you on Facebook after the conference call."

Re: Pensions; Why Should Healthcare Be the Only Calamity on Your Mind, Today?

Monique Chartier

Further to Justin's post, in the matter of the Chapter 9 bankruptcy by the City of Prichard, Alabama, a judge ruled ten days ago that public employee retirees do not have any greater standing than other creditors.

A bankruptcy court judge denied a motion Tuesday that would force Prichard to pay its pensioners, saying they do not qualify as administrative claims -- or day-to-day obligations -- of the city.

The judge gave the city until May 19 to file a reorganization plan.

Returning now to Rhode Island, asked on the Helen Glover Show a couple of weeks ago about the thought process of the all-powerful Speaker of the House on the matter of our under-water public pension system, former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey replied,

I think actually Gordon Fox ... understands the depths of the problem. I think he's just going to play his game of roulette, also, where he's going to try to be in office as long as possible and he has to be beholden to the special interest public union leaders. And he thinks they control their votes. And so that's what he's going to do. He simply is just going to play out the game. And with $6.6 billion in assets, he thinks he can play it out until he gets out of office and leave it for somebody else to deal with.

Could Smith Hill leadership really harbor the notion that they could skate by this situation? Especially in view of the sharply escalating, budget-busting contributions that are required from the tax-payer as long as pensions are not addressed?

Alternately, could they be waiting for enough Rhode Island cities to declare Chapter 9 and for the fiscal situation on the state level to deteriorate so badly that they have to say to their public employee supporters, "Sorry, we have no choice but to ..." But to what? Whatever solution they may propose at that point, almost assuredly, it won't be as "nice" as the ones on the table now. And no one denies that those already stink on ice. Accordingly, though it might be tempting politically, would waiting for the disaster to actually strike really be such a wise course?

Presidential Popularity, or Fun with Juxtaposition

Justin Katz

Charles Blow informed New York Times readers, Friday, that President Obama may be "unbreakable":

First, let's take his job approval rating. Yes, it slid during the summer, but it stabilized around 50 percent in November and has hovered there ever since.

The empty-headed chattering class began another round of speculation and inane analysis this week when his approval rating dropped to 46 percent, its lowest yet. Silly pundits.

Then again, Jim Lindgren offers a comparison:

When George Bush left office he was deeply unpopular: in Bush's last month, according to Rasmussen 43% strongly disapproved of the job Bush was doing, while only 13% strongly approved, for a staggering negative rating of -30%. Rasmussen's Thursday release shows that after 14 months in office President Barack Obama has achieved Bush's 43% of the people strongly disapproving of his performance, but Obama is still 10% ahead of Bush in those who strongly approve (23% v. 13% for Bush).

As Lindgren suggests, 10% "strong approval" seems more than adequately covered by adjustments for identity politics (i.e., "the black vote") and the daily and nightly beating that President Bush took in the media for most of his time in office. From what I've seen (admittedly, as one who doesn't pay much attention to such things), the common wisdom about Obama in the entertainment range of the media is that his biggest shortcoming is being too darn smart and cool for the American people.

The President may turn his popularity around, somehow, but it's also possible that us ignahrant folks are increasingly wondering why the One we're seeing doesn't match the One we're hearing about.

Breaking: The Stupak Sell-Out

Justin Katz

The Stupak pro-lifers have accepted an executive order for their votes:

Stupak announced support for the bill as the White House issued its statement about the executive order.

The president "will be issuing an executive order after the passage of the health insurance reform law that will reaffirm its consistency with longstanding restrictions on the use of federal funds for abortion," reads a statement from White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer.

As they're arguing in the Corner, an executive order simply doesn't do the trick. Kathryn Lopez: "I think we're witnessing Bart Stupak write the obit for the concept of the 'pro-life Democrat.'"

As a local matter, he may be writing the obituary for Jim Langevin's seat in Congress. If this is what pro-life Democrats get for their votes, they ought to throw the next primary to Betsy Dennigan and then vote Republican or independent as a lesson.

Re: Sunday Healthcare Whip Report

Carroll Andrew Morse

Stupak is now officially a "yes". National Review Online has identified 3 pro-life Congressmen that may not go along with the executive order solution. Two of them, Dan Lipinski and Jerry Costello both of Illinois, are on the Firedoglake Stupak-list. A third, Gene Taylor was already counted as a "no".

Earl Pomeroy has declared he is a "yes".

If we put the 7 remaining from the Stupak bloc as "yes" votes, plus Pomeroy, the Democrats now have 216, no matter how the remaining undecideds break (trusting the FDL information and the NRO report to be accurate).

UPDATE (5:08 PM)

...although the New York Times lists only 5 official "yes" votes, Stupak, Driehaus, Dahlkemper, Rahall and Mollohan.

Pensions; Why Should Healthcare Be the Only Calamity on Your Mind, Today?

Justin Katz

As you can see, I'm catching up on the items in my "to blog" pile. Here's a pension-related exercise in predictive mathematics (paragraphs copied out of order):

For more than a decade, the state has anticipated annual returns of 8.25 percent for its giant fund — currently valued at almost $7 billion — needed to cover retirement payments for thousands of retired state workers and teachers. ...

The difference between Rhode Island’s 8.25-percent projection and [Wilshire Consulting's] 6.9-percent suggestion could mean tens of millions of dollars for state and local governments already facing mounting pension costs. ...

While losing $2.4 billion during the near-collapse of financial markets between January 2008 and January 2009, the pension fund earned an average of 2.79 percent each year over the last 10 years, according to information provided by the state treasurer’s office, which manages the fund.

To repeat: A pension fund predicted to return 8.25% annually actually returned 2.79%, so the solution with which government officials are toying is changing the prediction to 6.9%. See, in government, predictions can be tweaked to coincide with political feasibility, not actual results. It's not like we're talking about real people's lives, or anything.

A What'll You Do for Us Forum

Justin Katz

While the topic of grassroots activism is in the air, I'd like to register my opinion that this doesn't really appear to be an "open candidates forum":

The largest state and municipal employees' union has invited three of the candidates for governor to what has morphed in recent days into one of the first open forums of the gubernatorial campaign season.

Council 94, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees had initially planned to close all its March 20 convention, including the candidates' forum, to media coverage.

The three invited candidates (in case you couldn't guess) are Linc Chafee, Patrick Lynch, and Frank Caprio. Why only those three?

[Council 94 spokesman James] Cenerini said the invitations were limited to those candidates who "the membership has indicated have the higher potential for support."

Voters should take note of the union three. Voters should also take note that neither Chafee nor Lynch has bothered to appear before the truly open candidate forums that the Rhode Island Voter Coalition has organized.


Also of interest is that the only other candidate meeting the union's standard for an invitation was General Treasurer candidate Tom Sgouros — on the grounds that he was such a big hit at last year's meeting. Guess we know what to expect with the likes of Sgouros in office...


According to Rhody in the comments, the union has canceled this forum and is scheduling one for all candidates in June. Interesting turn of events; wonder what changed.

Sunday Healthcare Whip Report

Carroll Andrew Morse

Firedoglake is reporting that Marcy Kaptur of Ohio, who had been in listed in their Stupak bloc (don't know that we can really call them pro-lifers as a group anymore) will vote "yes" regardless of any changes in abortion language. Bart Stupak's statement that he has 6 members in his bloc suggests least one or more of the others in the FDL "Stupak" category might go "yes", regardless of changes or non-changes that happen today. Reportedly, Stupak is negotiating with the White House on banning public funding for abortion via executive order, meaning the EO strategy could win his vote and the votes of his bloc.

FDL is also mentioning that Rick Boucher of Virginia, who they had as a "no" but other sources had as undecided, is a potential undecided. And no one is sure what Loretta Sanchez of California is going to do. All that taken into consideration, I'l interpret the FDL reports as saying 206 Yes, 207 No, 9 generic unknowns, 9 potential members of the Stupak bloc (but at least one who is probably already a "yes").

Fox News hasn't moved their tally from 216-215; I'm not sure where they had Kaptur before. The New York Times is enjoying Sunday Brunch.

UPDATE (12:32 PM)

Something is up with the Stupak discussions with the White House. A press conference that was supposed to have been held at noon has been cancelled. Nothing definitive has been reported yet.

Also, there appears to be one New England vote still undecided. Firedoglake has Michael Michaud of Maine as an undecided potential Yes-No flip, though the New York Times has him as a "yes". The Bangor Daily News reported yesterday...

With a historic vote on reforming the nation's health care system looming on the horizon, Rep. Michael Michaud isn't tipping his hand. In a prepared statement on Friday, Michaud said he is still reviewing the contents of the reconciliation package unveiled Thursday by fellow Democrats in the U.S. House...As of Friday afternoon, Michaud was the only member of Maine’s congressional delegation still on the fence about the legislation
Depending on what is happening with the Stupak bloc, one question may become how well having to campaign as "the man who decided to bring socialism to America" will go over in Maine.

UPDATE II (12:49 PM)

Firedoglake is reporting that MSNBC is reporting that the Stupak bloc has accepted the Executive Order, and will vote for the bill.

By FDL's count, one more commitment is still necessary to get the democrats to 216 (assuming they now will get all 9 of the Reps listed under the Stupak bloc). Could we see any confusion about Loretta Sanchez clear up very soon? I suspect she could weather the title of "the bringer of socialism to America" title better than Mike Michaud could.


Here's the banner from MSNBC...

BREAKING NEWS: Sources tell NBC News that Rep. Stupak to vote yes on health care bill
No link provided, no word from Rep. Stupak himself yet.


Robert Costa of National Review Online is confirming Stupak as a "yes".

UPDATE V (1:30 PM)

Fox News is reporting that Brian Baird of Washington has announced he will vote for the bill, and they've moved their tally to 217-214.

Baird was on the Firedoglake list of unknowns, which means if all 9 of their Stupak bloc members come over, their tally is 216 votes in favor of passage. Baird, by the way is retiring from Congress.


Hold on a sec: a conservative group-blog (NRO) is linking to a twitter feed from a producer at an all-news network (CNN) which says...

Urgent -- Rep. Stupak to CNN producer Lesa Jansen: "I'm still a no...There is no deal yet. Its a work in progress."
However, the feeling among the commentariat is that something will be worked out.


Roll Call says...

Despite reports to the contrary, House Democratic leaders insisted Sunday that they do not yet have the support of anti-abortion-rights Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), who has been leading a bloc of key holdouts on the bill.

MSNBC reported earlier that Stupak — and others opposing the final health bill over the abortion language — would vote in favor. But according to Brendan Daly, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), “MSNBC is wrong.”

“We hope so, but it hasn’t happened yet,” he added.


The New York Times is reporting that John Tanner of Tennessee, who was undecided, will remain a "no". Firedoglake is reporting that Lincoln Davis of Tennessee will also vote "no", and that Bill Foster of Illinois will vote "yes".

That puts the total at 208-209, 5 generic undecideds (4 of whom voted yes on the previous bill), 9 members of the Stupak bloc possibly waiting on the outcome of the executive order deliberations.

A Little More Context for the Vote

Justin Katz

As the national Democrat Party does back flips to pass its healthcare monstrosity, there's are important bits of context of which we shouldn't lose sight. The first is that: "Job loss has been a big factor in the loss of insurance coverage, but not the only one," and job loss has been the sickly child in the room that Congress has ignored in its fixation on further nationalizing healthcare. Here's the second:

"Nobody is saying that providing coverage for those Rhode Islanders who are fully or partially uninsured won't cost anything," [Owen] Heleen, of the Rhode Island Foundation, said. "We all know it's going to cost something. That's much of the fight going on in Washington."

Said Koller, the health insurance commissioner, "You need significant federal money if you want to reduce the number of uninsured — unless you want to reduce the benefits for everyone else, and that's a nonstarter."

"It's not something we can solve ourselves," [Deb Faulkner of the Rhode Island-based Faulkner Consulting Group] agreed. "We can do our own Rhode Island thing, but we need their money."

But somehow, coming up with that money at the federal level is going to reduce the national deficit. Got it?

March 20, 2010

Healthcare Whip Report

Carroll Andrew Morse

As of 8:15 pm, Fox News says there are 217 votes in the House of Representatives in favor of passage of the Democratic healthcare reform bill (216 are necessary for passage). National Review Online is reporting that a Maryland Congressman has said that he's "not sure" that the Democratic leadership needs the the Bart Stupak pro-life bloc in order to pass its bill.

On the other hand, the liberal website Firedoglake has posted its own tally of "unknowns". According to the numbers there, the Democrats have to pick up all 10 of the Congressmen listed as unknown (Rep. Jim Matheson has already gone "no") plus at least 2 of 10 from the Stupak bloc, in order for the healthcare bill to pass. A few hours ago, they had Zack Space of Ohio listed in their Potential Yes-No flips (he is now a "no"), so there seems to be something to their breakdown.

National Review Online, as of 8:15, says the current tally is 208-214 with 9 undecideds. That's close to the Firedoglake result, if you count the 10 Stupak bloc members as "no" votes.

If the Dems do have more than they need, Zack Space would be good choice to release, as Firedoglake notes that his district was +7 Republican in the Presidential election.

I have no idea what information is fully reliable, and what's being put out (by the politicos, not the news sources) for tactical purposes.

UPDATE I (8:33 PM):

Since I posted the original item, Fox news is now reporting 218 votes in favor of passage.

UPDATE I-B (10:07 PM):

Fox is back to 217-214 in favor. The New York Times also has a tracker up and is reporting the current state of affairs as 207-206 with 18 undecided.

UPDATE III (11:59 PM):

Glenn Nye of Virginia, a potential No-to-Yes Flip on the Firedoglake list has told his local paper he is a "no". If I'm counting this right, the Firedoglake tally is 204 Yes, 208 No, 9 generic unknowns, and 10 undecided members in the Stupak pro-life bloc. Passage now requires 3 members of the pro-life bloc to support the bill, if all 9 of the other unknowns decide "yes".

FDL is also indicating that a current "yes" has switched to "no", but the Congressperson hasn't said it herself yet.

UPDATE III-B (12:12 AM):

And Fox is now at 216-215. The New York Times has apparently gone to bed for the evening. Clearly, they've never heard Huey Lewis' The Heart of Rock and Roll.

UPDATE IV (1:15 AM):

Solomon Ortiz of Texas has issued a statement saying he will vote "yes", taking himself off of Firedoglake's potential Yes-To-No list. Let's call it 205 Yes, 208 No, 8 generic unknowns, 10 members of the pro-life group.

UPDATE V (1:32 AM):

One more, and I'm done for the evening. Bart Stupak in Roll Call says that he has six votes in his pro-life group...

Stupak, who once spoke for a dozen Democrats who were prepared to vote against the bill unless his strict abortion restrictions on insurance coverage were adopted, told reporters Saturday that his group was down to six, and he did not know if that would be enough to block the bill.
Working off of the Firedoglake list, I think the implication is that the Democratic leadership can pass the bill by finding some compromise (an executive order?) softer than the full Stupak amendment that would satisfy four of the members of the pro-life bloc, plus get support from 5 out of 8 of the generic undecideds.

The Dangling President

Justin Katz

Let's order things clearly: It was objectionable for a Central Falls high school teacher to dangle an Obama doll upside down with a sign saying "Fire CF Teachers," because it involved the students in a union dispute. Talk of its being a hate crime is utterly outlandish:

To Clifford Montiero, president of the Providence branch of the NAACP, the effigy represents a lynching of a black man, and brings back painful memories of decades of injustices.

"In my mind, this is a hate crime, and the teacher should be charged," Montiero said. "This teacher feels he can demean the president of the United States, an African-American who has overcome all this hatred. It is wrong. And when you take a nonviolent environment like a classroom, and introduce violence and hatred into it, you have crossed the line."

Even calling the thing an "effigy," as the Providence Journal does, goes a bit far. I look at the picture and I think Laugh In, not Mississippi Burning, with the President popping out to offer a one liner.

Responsibility Allocated Across the Education Chain

Justin Katz

As I've articulated in the past, education systems ought to have a structure of responsibility — and accountability — that begins in the classroom with comprehensive teacher evaluations performed by administrators with responsibility for broader performance measures answering to the superintendent, who must answer for the performance of the entire district. In a recent letter to the editor Tom Maguire, of North Kingstown, gives an example of the sort of thing I'm talking about:

The late John Hayes, a principal for many years in Johnston and Cranston, was the only administrator to get it right.

Seldom could he be found in his office, because his love for teaching and his awareness of his teachers' daily challenges led him back to the classroom. He saw his role as a resource for teachers. Further, as I learned from him in my first year, to properly assess a teacher's work, the evaluator must assume responsibility for correcting and improving any shortcomings. Surely, this is far more daunting than calling attention to chalkboard displays, teacher attire or room temperature.

My understanding is that, for such behavior to become an expected norm, intrinsic to the profession, forces higher up the chain of command have to relinquish control and school committees have to reassert management rights in union contracts. Administrators would also need tools to correct and reward those below them. Unfortunately, the concept seems anathema to public education that individual effort and achievement should be an enumerated component of the professionals' jobs.

The Microwave at Your Ear

Justin Katz

Nobody likes to be the superstitious Luddite afraid of the antennas on the 1950s television set, but still, warnings such as Christopher Ketcham's enter into our consciousness from time to time:

We love our digital gadgets -- "magic" devices that define cool and promise to remake our lives for the better. But there is growing evidence of a dark side to the techno-magic. Your cellphone, and any other wireless device that depends on electromagnetic (EM) microwave radiation to function, may be hazardous to your health.

Most of the bad news comes from major labs and research institutions in Europe. What they're reporting is that using cellphones and Wi-Fi transmitters -- which operate using similar frequencies -- can have biological effects on the brain and body.

Most of us cannot possibly devote the time to sorting through the necessary findings and qualifications, determining which device has what effect under what circumstances for how long and regular a usage. Strapping a cranked up cell phone to a rat's head might be as damaging as injecting sugar directly into its heart, but the practical lessons that the average consumer should draw ought to be decisions, not reactions. Positives and negatives, in other words, have to be weighed.

That said, inasmuch as is possible, it's wise to take precautions. Personally, I dislike any but the shortest cellphone conversations without the use of a separate headset, and I can't help but wince every time I see kids walking down Main Street with phones pressed tightly to the ear. Children in the single digits of age are now being handed such devices, and whatever the social and psychological effect might be, we won't know, for a full lifespan, the consequences to their physical health.

Government Keeps Its Fingers Clean, but Collects Junk

Justin Katz

Undaunted by Monique's earlier quotation of the happy right-wing scribe, I'm proceeding with plans to not a recent essay by Mark Steyn, highlighting the peculiar way in which politicians manage too often to remain blameless for the damage that their policies cause. After describing a government program to install electrically dangerous foil insulation technology that burns down houses and kills installers, Steyn notes the quick defense of Environment Minister Peter Garrett, formerly lead singer of the band Midnight Oil:

... As Australia's Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, breezily told a TV interviewer, "Peter Garrett can't be in every roof in this country as insulation is being installed."

They never are, are they? Likewise, the European Union grandees and eco-poseurs of the US Congress who mandated sudden, transformative increases in "biofuel" production and at a stroke turned the food supply into part of the energy industry and made grain more lucrative as fuel than as sustenance weren't there in Haiti, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Pakistan, Mexico and even Italy when the food riots broke out. Nor was Al Gore able to be up there on every one of California's 14,000 abandoned wind turbines. They're not entirely useless, not if you're an ornithosadist who enjoys seeing our feathered friends sliced and diced by the Condor Cuisinarts.

These are the "green jobs" that Barack Obama says will both save the planet and revitalize the economy: electric Zambonis, foil insulation, wind turbines, corn-powered cars. They will put America back on the cutting edge. In reality, like the spiked cutting edges of the electric ice-resurfacer, they'll leave the economy full of artificial speed-bumps that, when not actually sending you crashing to the ground, will make it harder and harder ever to get going.

Environmental mania is just another manifestation of the madness currently overtaking Western civilization and subsuming our freedom. On a daily basis it's increasingly clear that if our society is to survive as anything recognizable as such, all levels of government must be reset, like a computer brought back to its factory settings, removing all of the junk that piles up in dark corners of the hard drive and quirks that slow the system down.

The Unwelcome Job Creation that Would be Engendered by Healthcare Reform

Monique Chartier

... points out Mark Steyn.

Meanwhile, Obamacare will result in the creation of at least 16,500 new jobs. Doctors? Nurses? Ha! Dream on, suckers. That’s 16,500 new IRS agents, who’ll be needed to check whether you – yes, you, Mr and Mrs Hopendope of 27 Hopeychangey Gardens - are in compliance with the 15 tax increases and dozens of new federal mandates the Deemocrats are about to “deem” into existence. This will be the biggest expansion of the IRS since World War Two – and that’s change you can believe in. This is what “health” “care” “reform” boils down to: Fewer doctors, longer wait times, but more bureaucrats.

Oh, goody. Not more doctors - more regulators.

March 19, 2010

The Bucks Are in Busing

Justin Katz

And for today's Astonishing but True:

The highest-paid municipal employee in Madison, Wis., is bus driver John E. Nelson, whose salary last year totaled more than $159,000. Half a dozen of his fellow drivers also earned in six figures. How is this possible? The Wisconsin State Journal explains: "A high base salary and other benefits for drivers were largely set in the 1970s and 1980s, when the city took over the bus com­pany." Combine that with generous, federally mandated leave provisions that make for lots of overtime, and it's not unusual for a bus driver to out-earn the mayor (and with much better job security).

Congressman Langevin Will Support Healthcare Reform

Monique Chartier

Congressman James Langevin (D-RI), who had been on the fence, issued the following statement this afternoon. It appears that he has been persuaded in part by the revised CBO report.

In a few minutes I will be making an announcement about the upcoming vote on health care legislation. Because I value your continued support, I wanted you to hear it first from me directly.

This Sunday, after a year of deliberation, the House of Representatives will take a historic vote on health reform. After much deliberation of my own, I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that I will support H.R. 4872, the Health Care and Education Affordability Reconciliation Act of 2010.

Since I was first elected to Congress in 2000, thanks in large part to your support, I have advocated for many of the health reforms that I will be proudly voting for this weekend. I truly believe this legislation will not only provide over 140,000 uninsured Rhode Islanders with access to quality, affordable care, but it will also improve the health care system for those who already have insurance and put us on a path to fiscal stability on both the state and federal levels.

Among many beneficial and historic provisions, this bill will reduce the federal deficit by $138 billion over the first 10 years, end the unfair exclusion of those with pre-existing conditions and ban lifetime coverage caps, which are a leading cause of personal bankruptcy. Click here (PDF) to learn more about the provisions in the legislation.

In the coming months, I look forward to talking with you about this landmark piece of legislation and the positive changes it will bring for Rhode Island's families and businesses.

Cold Feet on the Hot-Off-The-Press Deficit Reduction Story? Dems Already Backing Away from the CBO Report that They Commissioned

Monique Chartier

The fiction, manufactured by the CBO in a report revised and reissued at the instruction of the Dem leadership desperate to round up votes, that the pending healthcare reform bill will lower the deficit is quickly being exposed.

Over at The New Atlantis, James Capretta enumerates some items.

For starters, as I mentioned yesterday, the plan doesn’t count $371 billion in spending for physician fees under the Medicare program. The president and congressional Democrats want to spend this money, for sure. They just don’t want it counted against the health bill. That’s because they want to reserve all of the Medicare cuts in the bill as offsets for another entitlement instead of using them to pay for the problem that everyone knows needs fixing. ...

Then there’s the “Cadillac” tax on high-cost insurance plans. Because of union pressure, the president pushed the tax back to 2018, well past the point when he will have left office. But once in place, the threshold used to determine “high-cost” will rise only with the Consumer Price Index, beginning in 2020. That means a very large segment of the middle class would get hit with the tax as the years passed. The president has shown that he is unwilling to actually collect this tax on his own watch. But he wants us to believe that we can count on a huge revenue jump over the long run because his successors will have more stomach for it than he does. ...

The other gimmicks remain in the plan as well: The double-counting of premiums for long-term care insurance programs as an offset for the health entitlement spending. The assumption that Congress will allow Medicare reimbursement rates to fall so low that one in five hospitals and nursing homes might be forced to stop taking Medicare patients. ...

Scott Gottlieb highlights one of the scarier items (no lack of those).

The hardest hit won't be those earning more than $250,000 a year--the group that he says needs to "pay their fair share." Rather, it's families whose combined annual income is around $100,000 who could be crushed under this plan.

These folks will be too "rich" to qualify for ObamaCare's subsidies, but probably too poor to easily afford the pricey insurance that the president's plan forces them to buy.

Many of these $100K families will be obliged to buy a policy costing an average of $14,700 for the mid-level, "silver" health plan, according to the Congressional Budget Office's estimates. After income taxes, they'll be spending almost a quarter of their net income for health insurance.

And for those tempted to believe the conclusion of the CBO report ghost written by the Dem leadership, Jay Severin pointed out yesterday that

No government program has ever come in remotely close to budget.

Now, Politico has posted a leaked memo [PDF] apparently issued today by the Congressional Democrat leadership. [H/T The Corner's Daniel Foster.]

We have increasingly noticed how right-wing fringe trying to pick apart the CEO score. We cannot emphasize enough: do not allow yourself (or your boss) to get into a discussion of the details of the CBO scores and textual narrative. Instead, focus only on the deficit reduction and number of Americans covered. There are two CBO letters Republican operatives have already begun distorting in their pursuit of killing our reform efforts: 1) CBO's March 11, 2010 letter to Leader Reid analyzing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as passed by.the Senate, and 2} CBO's letter to Leader Reid (November 18, 2009) with the initial score of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I list these letters only to warn you of coming attscks from right-wing operatives and Republican sympathizers in the media. Those anti-reform extremists are making a last-ditch effort to derail reform. Do not give them ground by debating details. (For example, the March 11 letter has estimates of discretionary costs not accounted in the total). Again, instead focus only on the deficit reduction and number of Americans covered. In the critical remaining hours of debate we must drive the narrative of "health reform is deficit reduction." ...

In other words, the assumptions and conclusions of the new CBO report are indefensible. So stick to generalized talking points until we can buy or muscle enough votes to ram this baby through on Sunday.

Public Spenders' Soft-Spot for Nonsense

Justin Katz

The "arts community" has drawn pretty tight ideological lines around itself, but there are those of us with pretensions to art, in some medium or other, with a different understanding of the world. As such a one, I think Governor Carcieri was wrong to give in and cancel his plans "to eliminate a program that has produced millions of dollars for high-profile, and sometimes controversial, public art installations across Rhode Island."

That's millions of dollars that have been tacked onto public construction projects as a requirement. Projects like a courthouse sound system playing chirping birds.

Now that the governor has caved, subsidy supporters are targeting his plan to cut the $700,000 of state arts funding from the budget. According to Lt. Gov. Liz Roberts, the "arts economy in Rhode Island" employs 12,000, which means that cutting public funding would cost them each, on average, about $60 per year.

I do agree with the value of having artistic and cultural displays in public spaces, but the following quotation strikes me as missing an important point:

"Public art is a very special thing ... What would the world be like if we removed all of these from our environment? It'd basically be like visiting East Germany prior to the Berlin Wall coming down," Rhode Island School of Design President John Maeda told supporters during an afternoon State House ceremony. "It'd be a place without feeling, without emotion, without hope."

I'd be surprised if the state couldn't find artists willing to donate their work for public viewing free of charge or donors willing to pay for art in the public square. If artists are driven, and the local society is desirous, the sharing will manifest.

Announcing Anchor Rising's New Commenter Insurance Program

Marc Comtois

Anchor Rising is pleased to announce our new Commenter Insurance Program. Under this program:

1) All Anchor Rising commenters will be required to pay us $50/year for commenting rights. In return, they will be assured that any negative or boorish replies aimed at them will be edited and the offenders dealt with promptly. We will also reimburse you at an as-yet undetermined rate schedule (trust us).

2) Due to budgetary considerations, the benefits of this policy will not begin until 2014. Once we've received four years worth of fees, we will then cover you for the next 6 years. That will allow us to cover the up-front costs of implementing this program (see #5 below).

3) We guarantee that commenters with pre-existing commenting problems--poor grammar, inability to punctuate properly, lack of coherent thought process--will be allowed. Additionally, if a commenter treats another commenter badly, we will overlook this as per our non-discriminatory policy that requires us to accept and continue to insure anyone no matter what.

4) No.3 does not conflict with elements--implied or otherwise--of No.1. Really.

5) To get this approved by all members of the AR team, the following concessions had to be made (as alluded to in #2)*:
a) Justin will receive $150 worth of carpentry tools and we will subsidize the first year run of his new quarterly magazine The Conservative Carpenter.
b) We've fully funded Andrew's software needs and also gotten him access to the basement files of the State House records so that he can take his wonkishness to a new level.
c) We've replaced several paperback editions of books in Don's conservative library with first editions.
d) We've subsidized Monique's fuel costs so she can continue to criss-cross the state to endure attend various RI GOP functions.
e) We've guaranteed Mac an all-access pass to every Jazz club in the state.
f) I've received season tickets (box seats) to the PawSox.

*Please note that, to coin a phrase, this is just how "you get things done" in such matters.

6) We will take suggestions for ways to improve our program. If we deem them worthy, we'll pass them around and reconcile it later.

7) We reserve the right to charge more or reduce benefits as we see fit.

8) Finally, we hope our commenters will understand that we do this for their own good. We know best what is good for you.

That is all.

Conservatives, Bubbles, and Business

Justin Katz

A quick note on conservatives' view of businesses appears to be in order.

In general, we do not believe businesses are inherently pure, moral actors. We do not look at the housing bubble and the derivatives market and defend them on the grounds that they were legal, so nyaa, nyaa, the CEOs got away with it and everybody else is obligated to pick up the pieces.

Rather, we see business leaders as behaving rationally (if badly) within the environment that they are given. We observe that the function of government regulations is essentially to reduce people's fear of risk and volatility, as is the implicit taxpayer support for government-originated economic backstops, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Libertarians can make a persuasive case that society will come up with other mechanisms for reducing risk in the absence of government involvement, but if you're going to have regulations, they've got to function, and over the past decade, they failed. Indeed, many of us consider such failure to be inevitable, as the human traits of greed and self-interest infiltrate both government and business.

The appropriate response, given those observations and assumptions, is clearly not to increase the depth of partnership between political forces and economic forces, which will thereafter merely conspire to better hide bubbles and pawn off the consequences to the rest of us when they explode. In the meantime, the culture itself must not absorb and normalize the recklessness and self-interest that has been on display among the powerful.

The Democratic Healthcare Penalty on Lower-Income Employees

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here at Anchor Rising, we slog through the dreck, so you don't have to! The paragraph below is some less-than-transparent text from the House reconciliation bill on healthcare "reform" (i.e. the dreck)…

[SEC. 1003(b)] APPLICABLE PAYMENT AMOUNT -- Section 4980H of such Code, as so added and amended, is amended-- (1) in the flush text following subsection (c)(1)(B), by striking ‘‘400 percent of the applicable payment amount’’ and inserting ‘‘an amount equal to 1⁄12 of $3,000’’;

(2) in subsection (d)(1), by striking ‘‘$750’and inserting ‘‘$2,000’’…

To unravel the meaning of such epic prose, we'll start from the beginning. The title of "Applicable Payment Amount" suggests questions of 1) applicable to whom and 2) payment for what. For answers, we have go to the details of section 4980H(c) of the original bill (which starts on page 350). The title of 4980H(c) right away gives us the whom…
The section specifically addresses employers offering coverage, not the ones who don't. No ambiguity there.

Moving down to subsection (c)(1)(B), we find a set of circumstances that trigger a tax-penalty…

‘‘(B) [If] 1 or more full-time employees of the applicable large employer has been certified to the employer under section 1411 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act as having enrolled for such month in a qualified health plan with respect to which an applicable premium tax credit or cost-sharing reduction is allowed or paid with respect to the employee, then there is hereby imposed on the employer an assessable payment equal to the product of the number of full-time employees of the applicable large employer described in subparagraph (B) for such month and an amount equal to 1⁄12 of $3,000.
Read that section carefully citizens of America; what it says is that when an employer who offers health coverage to his or her employees hires someone who qualifies for a Federal subsidy, that employer will be charged a penalty. The amount of the penalty, according to the reconciliation bill, is $3,000 per year. That money doesn't do anything to directly to help cover the employee, it is a tax that goes directly to the government.

In other words, it now costs a "large employer" $3,000 more a year in Federal taxes to hire someone who qualifies for a Federal subsidy than to hire someone who doesn't. This is, of course, what Democrats call rational economic policy.

If nothing else, this makes it understandable as to why House Democrats don't want to have their votes recorded on the substance of the Senate healthcare legislation. But as the fixes in the reconciliation legislation make clear, this is a provision House Democrats want to keep, not one they want to get rid of!

The Battle of the Tax Cap in Tiverton

Justin Katz

Over on the Tiverton Citizens for Change blog, I've been following the battle over the tax cap in this year's budget war. The town's Budget Committee has now voted to reduce all requested budgets to an amount below the state cap on property tax increases (4.5%). The School Committee is actively declaring the end of education as we know it for children, insisting that a roughly 6% across-the-board reduction in employee compensation is simply too draconian to consider. The Town Council is striving to push the town over the cap.

This coming Monday, for instance, Town Solicitor Andy Teitz has once again slipped the controversial topic onto the tail end of the council's agenda, under his comments and questions section. Do other Town Councils in Rhode Island operate this way? It seems like a sneaky maneuver to me.

As I note in today's blog post it is no longer the case that town officials can play the negotiation game and expect residents to accept their budget requests. Residents of other Rhode Island cities and towns should know that it really doesn't take much to show the powers who be that folks are paying attention.

March 18, 2010

Meant to Be Versus Is

Justin Katz

Not unexpectedly, my column in last month's Rhode Island Catholic was my first to garner a letter to the editor of that paper. I'm not sure, though, that William Schecher, of Smithfield, understood what I was trying to say when he writes:

The whole purpose of unions is to join together for the common cause of protecting and advancing the welfare of all workers, whether they belong to a union or not. This begins with a local union, whose members’ freedoms and initiatives must come together in solidarity as one, in negotiating contracts either in the public or private sector, or on a local or national level.

That may, indeed, be "the whole purpose of unions" in an idealized ideological vision (or in literature that unions push on their members), but it is not the reality of their activity. Indeed, my argument was that it's not a likely outcome based on the incentives of their structure.

A union aggregates the power of its members for concentrated political and economic force. Union leaders often use their political capital in ways that have little to do with their members, and they must devote much of what's left to keep the workers under their umbrella feeling as if they benefit financially by their membership.

Are We Entering the Re-education Zone?

Justin Katz

Perhaps it's too easy to be the naysayer in a place like Rhode Island, but something about this good news:

Legislation approved by the General Assembly on Tuesday and signed by Gov. Donald L. Carcieri later in the day raised the limit on charter schools in Rhode Island from 20 to 35, a key part of the state’s $126.6 million Race to the Top application.

Combined with this show of enthusiasm:

Governor Carcieri, Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist and Providence Supt. Tom Brady are leading a five-member team that will present the state's Race to the Top application to a panel of judges at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. ...

Joining the team are a dozen supporters, ranging from mayors to teacher union representatives to Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed and House Speaker Gordon D. Fox.

A spirit of cooperation and goodwill between the Democratic-controlled House and Senate and the Republican governor dominated a rally at the State House Tuesday afternoon to see the group off. Just an hour later, lawmakers passed a bill to expand the cap on charter schools from 20 to 35, a boon to the state's application.

Makes me think of this:

Yesterday, I warned of the dangers of federalized standards and textbooks. We also shouldn't let this tidbit escape our notice:

"We're going to have to push for change to S3050 [the state's tax cap legislation]," Gist told hard deadlines, acknowledging that some communities, like Portsmouth, were at cap, had aggressively managed per-pupil costs, and would not be able to sustain the proposed cuts. "It's not just 3050," she said, adding that changes would be needed to the whole funding system. To hear the Commissioner say that RIDE would line up behind changing the tax cap — with the BEP as leverage — was probably the best news that has come out of the last few days of school funding drama.

Many of us have been relieved to see somebody standing up to the teachers' unions, but the fact is that our fundamental problem has been that we're less powerful than they are. With our elected representatives lining up, to a person, to claim federal largess, increasing the number of charter schools, the amount of federal money, and the stringency of standards in key subjects could come at a higher cost than we know.

An Eroding Moral Code

Justin Katz

Kevin Hassett expresses the interesting concern that a second wave of financial crisis may be in our future if homeowners (or, rather, home mortgagers) decide simply to walk away from houses on which they owe more than their worth. All losses would thereby transfer to banks' bottom lines, eliminating more of the future wealth that is currently flowing through the current economy.

The essay's worth reading on those grounds, alone, but here's an intriguing bit of evidence about the mechanics of morality:

And there was an interesting twist: Of the students who had the chance to cheat, half were asked beforehand to list ten books that they remembered read­ing in high school, while the rest were asked to write down as many of the Ten Commandments as they could remember.

The results were stunning. On average, students in the control group answered 3.1 problems correctly. Students in the second group took the opportunity to cheat--under certain conditions: The ones who started by listing ten books from high school cheated, on average reporting that they had answered 4.1 problems correctly. The students who were asked to recall the Ten Com­mandments, by contrast, did not cheat, reporting on average 3.0 correct an­swers.

Apparently, thinking about the Ten Commandments put students in a moral frame of mind.

Talking About the Demon Pass

Justin Katz

Monique and Matt talked about the foolishness that is "deem and pass" on last night's Matt Allen Show. The biggest question seems to be: Whom do the legislators think the maneuver is going to fool, especially now that it's become a catch phrase? Stream by clicking here, or download it.

March 17, 2010

RI Interscholastic League Denies Cranston Sport Consolidation

Marc Comtois

Those who read my previous post regarding Cranston's attempt to help relieve their budgetary woes by combining various school sports programs from their two high schools via a waiver application to the Rhode Island Interscholastic League won't be surprised to read that I think the RI Interscholastic League got it right:

The Rhode Island Interscholastic League Principals Committee on Athletics has denied the Cranston School Department's request for an eligibility waiver that would have allowed the consolidation of teams at the city's two high schools.

The committee voted 10-0 Wednesday to deny the request to allowed the city to field co-operative teams in 16 sports. There was one abstention.

As a result, plans to eliminate freshman football, basketball and baseball; girls and boys indoor track and tennis and co-ed golf at Cranston High School East and Cranston High School West will proceed. The School Committee has already voted to eliminate those sports for the 2010-2011 academic year.

Tom Mezzanotte, executive director of the Interscholastic League, said the co-op rule is intended to increase opportunities to participate. In Cranston's case it would limit opportunities, he said.

The committee does not want students "to bear the burden of financial problems" in the community, he added.

Mezzanotte's reasoning is completely correct and Cranston shouldn't have been--and wasn't able--to use the RIIL as an escape hatch for that city's budgetary problems. I expect that some parents and students will step up to try to save their teams. Whether they raise money on their own or take it to the school committee or city council is up to them.

No Transparency on Transparency

Justin Katz

An unsigned op-ed in the Newport Daily News, yesterday, went to bat for the Obama administration on government transparency:

... it shouldn't have come as much of a surprise that on his first full day in office, the president issued a memorandum to the heads of all executive departments restoring the original presumption of disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, a reversal from the previous administration.

"My administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government," he said. "We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government."

Oh, the writer admits that "there have been some broken promises along the way" and emphasizes that it's all "a work in progress." But the administration has made a "commitment to instill a culture of openness and collaboration between the federal government and the American people." You know, like this:

One year into its promise of greater government transparency, the Obama administration is more often citing exceptions to the nation's open records law to withhold federal records even as the number of requests for information decline, according to a review by The Associated Press of agency audits about the Freedom of Information Act. ...

Major agencies cited the exemption at least 70,779 times during the 2009 budget year, up from 47,395 times during President George W. Bush's final full budget year, according to annual reports filed by federal agencies. Obama was president for nine months in the 2009 period.

As with much that Obama supporters proclaim, what the One says is apparently more important than what he does.

There's No Truth To the Rumor That…

Carroll Andrew Morse

…in response to the President filling out an NCAA Tournament Bracket, the games will be canceled, and the House Rules committee will simply be "deeming" the President's choices as the winners.

(Usual apologies to Bill Reynolds).

Deemed to be Passed Gutless

Monique Chartier

An explanation by Byron Tau of "deem-and-pass", currently being contemplated by House Democrats as a means of getting health care reform on the books.

Okay, so here’s how the “deem-and-pass” procedure would actually work. The House Rules committee is often called the “traffic cop” of the House – controlling what bills come to the floor and how much debate is allowed on each one. On each bill, they pass what is called a “rule” – a resolution determining what kind of debate is allowed on each bill. The whole House must first pass the rule, then the underlying legislation. In the case of “deem-and-pass,” the vote on the rule would also have the effect of passing the Senate bill.

Via the Washington Post's Ezra Klein who, more importantly, elaborates on the purpose of this mechanism.

... the problem with explaining deem and pass is that it's virtually impossible to explain why it's being used. Reconciliation is simple enough: Republicans insist on filibustering and Democrats want the health-care reform fixes to have an up-or-down vote. If Republicans wouldn't filibuster, Democrats wouldn't use reconciliation. It's as simple as that.

But deem and pass? House Democrats don't want to vote for the Senate bill because it includes the excise tax and the Nebraska deal.

That's right. Whether of the health care reform itself or of the fetid, district-specific vote clinchers, what House members want, and leadership is perfectly happy to provide, is deniability. "Oh, no, Constituent Smith/Reporter Jones, I didn't vote for that bill."

The pending health care reform is a really bad idea and nothing like it should become law. But minimally, members of Congress should demonstrate the courage of their convictions by actually voting "Yea" or "Nay" on the bill, not hiding behind a legislative dodge.

Making the United States Exceptional Again

Justin Katz

Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru had an excellent cover piece in the National Review before last on the domestic battle over American exceptionalism, which divides pretty conveniently along the current line of left and right. President Obama is obviously a key figure in the dispute.

Not surprisingly, what strikes me is the gargantuan task facing those of us who'd like to defend and reassert the principles on which our nation was founded:

Corporations, meanwhile, are also becoming more dependent on government handouts. Rivalry between business and political elites has helped to safeguard American liberty. What we are seeing now is the possible emergence of a new political economy in which Big Business, Big Labor, and Big Government all have cozy relations of mutual dependence. The effect would be to suppress both political choice and economic dynamism.

The retreat from American exceptionalism has a legal dimension as well. Obama's judicial nominees are likely to attempt to bring our Constitution into line with European norms. Here, again, he is building on the work of prior liberals who used the federal courts as a weapon against aspects of American exceptionalism such as self-government and decentralization. In­creasingly, judicial liberals look to putatively enlightened foreign, and particularly European, opinion as a source of law capable of displacing the law made under our Constitution.

Liberal regulators threaten both our dynamism and our self-government. They are increasingly empowered to make far-reaching policy decisions on their own — for instance, the EPA has the power to decide, even in the absence of cap-and-trade legislation passed by Congress, how to regulate carbon emissions. The agency thus has extraordinary sway over the economy, without any meaningful accountability to the electorate. The Troubled Asset Relief Program has turned into a honeypot for the executive branch, which can dip into it for any purpose that suits it. Government is increasingly escaping the control of the people from whom it is supposed to derive its powers.

I'd suggest that the Republicans of the Bush years proved that the temptations for corruption and intermedling are too great at the national level. Even the best intentioned of people will find it difficult to resist the urge to reach in and fix every problem in sight — which is to say that they'll convince themselves not to relinquish the power of their offices. The only possibility, that I can see, is a resurgence of attention to local and state government, forcing freedom and federalism back up the tiers of government and pulling authority back toward the people.

Promises Unkeepable

Justin Katz

There it is on the front page:

The promises that Rhode Island and its cities and towns have made to their current and future retirees without putting money aside carry a dollar figure that is big enough to buy 345,588 Ford Mustang GTs, 47,000 houses priced at the state median or several hundred of the finest mansions along the state’s coast.

Put another way, the state’s unfunded retirement obligations add up to about $9,400 per Rhode Island resident.

All told, those promises come with a price tag of $9.4 billion — a number revealed for the first time in a report to be released Wednesday by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.

That bit of news dovetails perfectly with a recent op-ed that I'd intended to mention, today, by RI Senate candidate for district 35, Dawson Hodgson:

Hard-working and dedicated government employees deserve a compensation and retirement structure comparable to that of their fellow citizens. In some cases, such as police and firefighters who risk their safety to protect ours, they even deserve a little bit more. All they have now, however, is an illusion that has been sold to them by irresponsible politicians. A deal that can't be kept is no deal at all. We owe these employees and our taxpayers a contemporary and competitive benefit structure within the confines of what we can afford.

Among the problems that government faces is that, when it tries to commit future generations to make specific (and imbalanced) payments, those generations don't have much reason to feel as if they have ownership of the promises made. Another problem that Rhode Island has, especially, is that those younger folks can just leave, making the promises even harder to keep.

How Centralized Education Could Turn Ugly

Justin Katz

Right now, public education is such an expensive catastrophe that top-down imposition of standards and reasonable organizational principles is an attractive option. But there's a very dark side to the impulse, hints of which can be found here:

Governors and education leaders on Wednesday proposed sweeping new school standards that could lead to students across the country using the same math and English textbooks and taking the same tests, replacing a patchwork of state and local systems in an attempt to raise student achievement nationwide. ...

The stakes could be high. President Barack Obama told the nation's governors last month that he wants to make money from Title I - the federal government's biggest school aid program - contingent on adoption of college- and career-ready reading and math standards.

We tend to think of textbooks and standards as sort of pure and objective vessels for knowledge, but they do a lot of cultural work. Perhaps you recall the overt political correctness of word problems in math. In English, the studied texts inherently use the tools of language to construct arguments and convey sensibilities. Controlling textbooks, in other words, brings with it an opportunity to define common understanding, to associate political ideology with "clear thinking," or at least "good writing."

And students of history will surely see the probability that standards will not long be left with the single mandate of educating Americans. A review of the book The Science on Women and Science — which is a collection of essays on the application of Title IX equity rules to scientific education — brings home the point. Title IX has wreaked havoc in athletics and transferred to classroom curricula, the movement could leverage standards in pursuit of equal representation, in a field, as opposed to academic excellence.

As with all consolidations of power, the justifications have their appeal, and the people acquiesce with the understanding that there's consensus about the proper focus and scope of that power's usage. Once it's pooled, though, power attracts a different sort of animal (or allows those present to shed their disguises).

March 16, 2010

Pink Floyd, Conservative Band

Justin Katz

Perhaps it's the onset of spring. Perhaps the previous post, on libraries, lowered my "lighter note" inhibitions, but the time feels opportune to raise a topic that's been kicking around the corridors of my mind since Jay Nordlinger referred to a conservative's knowledge of and affinity for Pink Floyd. Three points come to mind:

  1. Conservatives like form and a balance of artistry with aesthetics. As perhaps the archetypal band for concept albums, Pink Floyd hearkened back to longer-form art-music genres with the aesthetic of pop/rock music. (Society forgets that Schubert's Die Winterreise [e.g.] was once pop music; precisely a "concept album" in different terms.) The band's Atom Heart Mother, for example, makes many of the same maneuvers as may be heard on the 20th century samples on a survey of Western music (such as comes with the Norton Scores), but without abandoning the principle that it ought to be enjoyable to listen to.
  2. Conservatives are frequently converts from something else. Depending on the setting, I'll be either ashamed or nostalgic to admit that experience enables me to discuss the best... moods in which to listen to different Pink Floyd albums, and I'm surely not alone among my current social and political compatriots.
  3. Perhaps because of the previous two points: Conservatives learn from art, even art with surface messages with which they disagree. Consider Pink Floyd's The Wall: First, one can hardly listen to the music or watch the movie without discerning the anguish of the protagonist and readily identifying its causes (mainly cultural deterioration of family values); indeed, a cycle of causes and effects are what it's all about. Second, as a cultural statement, The Wall offers a window into the society that created it. In a vlog posted a few months ago, I make the point with regard to The Wall that it successfully conveyed the cultural message that Nazi-style fascists would target the usual minority groups and employ a certain message and aesthetic. So thoroughly has our culture received and reconveyed that message that it is extremely unlikely that any looming totalitarians will be of that ilk. Noting this, a conservative will know to look elsewhere (as at the nanny state taking children away from heavyset parents in Scotland), while a liberal will sing along and defend such budding dictators against the protestations of classically liberal modern conservatives who bear a superficial resemblance to the oppressors of popular imagination.

A Conservative Approach to Libraries

Justin Katz

For a variety reasons, I've found the reported success of Providence branch libraries to be encouraging. As a writer and reader, I'm obviously invested in the written word. As a tangible spiritualist (if you will), I'm a fan of books, specifically. As a cultural conservative, community involvement is an appealing outcome. And as a libertarian-leaner on governmental and fiscal topics, I can't resist pointing out this:

"It was inspiring to see a group of dedicated volunteers work so hard," says Karen Mellor, library program manager for the state Office of Library and Information Services. "It's also remarkable what they accomplished in a short period of time." ...

With a $5 million budget — about $2.5 million less than what the public library had said it took to run the system — the community library has retained most of the old library staff and kept basic services and hours of operation intact. Years of budget cuts, though, have left the libraries with weak collections and old buildings in need of repair.

The funding is still public, but it's titularly municipal, which is fine by me. Community involvement can include a community decision that a library is worthy of public funds. Whatever the case, I hope the branch libraries succeed in their goal of revitalizing neighborhoods as local hubs.

Sgouros's Music to Delusional Ears

Justin Katz

Having spent some time in the trenches over the past half-decade, arguing the finer points of Tom Sgouros's economic analysis, as he compiled it one spun conclusion upon another, I have to say that his candidacy for General Treasurer has been a learning experience. It's as if, by the time the collection of molded conclusions reaches the length of a book, people believe it carries its own credibility — or at any rate, it would be quite a task to take it apart. So, they convey it mainly as an opinion to which they offer no response.

Consider Ed Fitzpatrick's recent column:

Sgouros believes the dominant narrative has produced the wrong diagnosis of what ails Rhode Island and, as a result, "everybody is running around creating the wrong solutions" and "wondering why the problems don't get fixed."

As an example, he cited the flat-tax alternative, which helps the state's wealthiest taxpayers.

"To pay for those tax cuts, the state government has absorbed some of the Obama stimulus money that should have gone to cities and towns, and to schools," he wrote Tuesday in his Rhode Island Policy Reporter column. "Property taxes have been increased, leaving thousands of working families with even less money to spend. We've laid off municipal workers and teachers, and made cuts in education, Medicaid and other services used by ordinary Rhode Islanders. These policies send a clear signal that our leaders in the State House, notwithstanding rhetoric to the contrary, have not really been helping working families in Rhode Island."

The first thing to note is that even legislators hostile to the flat tax put its cost at barely a double-digit percentage of the state's current budgetary short fall — let alone next year's projected deficit. Yet the candidate for treasurer wants us to believe that eliminating it is the key to solving the state's fiscal woes.

Even more curious is the amount of time that Sgouros has spent arguing, in the past, against the idea that wealthy people are leaving Rhode Island. In fact, their numbers have been increasing, as has the amount of tax that they've paid, in both absolute and percentage terms. Of course, he's ignored the intriguing correspondence of that increase with the enactment of the flat tax and the now erased capital gains tax faze out.

Fitzpatrick should have spent some time reading blogosphere back-arguments. Some interesting questions for his interview might have arisen.


It occurs to me to clarify — just in case — that I'm not implying that Fitzpatrick is among the deluded to whom my title refers.

What Now? Social Security Debt Due

Justin Katz

So, the federal government has deficits as far as the eye can see and higher than the Statue of Liberty. What could we layer on top of that? How about the Social Security "trust fund" debt that's now coming due?

... This year, for the first time since the 1980s, when Congress last overhauled Social Security, the retirement program is projected to pay out more in benefits than it collects in taxes — nearly $29 billion more.

Sounds like a good time to start tapping the nest egg. Too bad the federal government already spent that money over the years on other programs, preferring to borrow from Social Security rather than foreign creditors. In return, the Treasury Department issued a stack of IOUs — in the form of Treasury bonds — which are kept in a nondescript office building just down the street from Parkersburg's municipal offices.

I've long said that I don't expect ever to collect a penny of Social Security, in part because the federal government's schemes for taking money now with no real plan to pay it back makes Bernie Madoff look like a dabbler. This could be the century that our society finally must learn the error of its progressive ways, or it could be the century of our collapse.

March 15, 2010

More Re: Committee Wins

Justin Katz

Here's the decision from Superior Court Justice Silverstein: PDF.

About halfway through the document, it appears that Silverstein would draw his lines very tightly around his ruling in favor of the school committee:

Under the language of § 16-2-9 a school committee must bargain in good faith with certified public school teachers in accordance with Title 28 and honor current collective bargaining agreements. However, under a narrow set of circumstances, when such collective bargaining negotiations have reached an impasse and there is no longer a valid collective bargaining agreement, a school committee must comply with the mandate in subsection (d) and avoid maintaining a school budget that results in debt.

However, in most of the substantive ways in which Anchor Rising readers might want a little bit of breadth to the ruling, they won't be disappointed. For one, the judge determined that a never-ending contract is not implied by existing laws (citations deleted):

Although the Union contends that the Committee was under a statutory duty to continue to adhere to the terms and conditions of the expired CBA until a successor agreement was realized, the Court disagrees. Title 28 does not contain such a mandate pertaining to school teachers' labor contracts, and in fact under § 28-9.3-4, "no contract shall exceed the term of three (3) years." Further, when previously discussing the effect of an expired contract this Court found it to be no longer valid and cited to Providence Teachers Union v. Providence School Bd., City of Cranston v. Teamsters Local 251, In Providence Teachers, when discussing the effect of a general arbitration clause in an expired contract, the Court stated that "[a]n expired contract has by its own terms released all its parties from their respective contractual obligations, except obligations already fixed under the contract but as yet unsatisfied." Here, the CBA by its terms expired prior to the implementation of the disputed salary and benefits changes. Therefore, the Court finds that the CBA was no longer binding and the Committee did not "abrogate any agreement reached by collective bargaining."

And when a school committee finds itself facing a budgetary shortfall (determined as a measure of its best knowledge on the date that it takes action), and when the contract has expired, employees don't have an overriding claim to district money beyond other line items under the committee's control (citations deleted):

The Union has continually argued that there were other avenues that the Committee could have taken to reduce the FY 09 deficit. However, this Court remains mindful that under § 16-2-9 the Committee is vested with the entire care, control, and management of the interests of the East Providence public schools. Further, under the same provision the Committee has both the power and the duty to adopt a school budget. Accordingly, this Court will not discuss whether the changes to the teachers' salary and benefits were the only or even the best possible way to comply with the balanced budget mandate of § 16-2-9(d). However, this Court does note that the parties stipulated that the teachers' salaries and benefits consumed 63% of the Committee's total revenue from all sources for FY 09. Therefore, given the mandate in § 16-2-9(d) that a school committee "shall be responsible for maintaining a school budget which does not result in a debt" and the evidence before this Court that the Committee was, in fact, facing a debt for FY 09, this Court declares that the Committee acted lawfully under Title 16 by implementing the teachers' salary and benefit changes.

Lastly, Siverstein found that the State Labor Relations Board cannot, in effect, make law to suit its rulings (citations deleted):

The Court is mindful that when deciding such questions, the SLRB is empowered under § 28-7-22 to issue orders and award the relief it deems to be appropriate. However, our Supreme Court has cautioned that "[n]o state official by administrative action can affect the substantive rights of parties as they have been set forth by an affirmative act of the general assembly." Further, as indicated supra, administrative agencies are bound by statutory schemes and a decision or award is invalid if the decision or award contravenes a statutory scheme.

RE: Breaking - Committee Wins

Marc Comtois

ProJo reports:

A Superior Court judge ruled today that the East Providence School Committee "acted lawfully" when it unilaterally cut teachers' salaries and forced a 20 percent contribution to their health insurance costs last year.

Facing a deficit of more than $4 million, the board made the reductions in January 2009, saying it had to in order to comply with a state law that says school districts can't deficit spend.

The board's lawyers also argued that the committee was able to make the changes without the consent of the local teacher union because there wasn't a contract in effect for the almost 500 teachers. The last agreement expired on Oct. 31, 2008.

"... When the parties have reached an impasse in negotiations and their actions are not governed by a binding collective bargaining agreement, a committee can make unilateral changes when faced with an actual deficit," Judge Michael A. Silverstein said in his written decision.

While this may be a particular circumstance, it could mean a fundamental shift in negotiating tactics going forward. Until now, it was to the unions advantage to delay and stall for a better deal (for instance, waiting for the economy to turn around) while operating under the old contract. This could change that as unions may fear that a School Committee could actually take the opportunity of an impasse to exercise their management rights and make unilateral cuts and adjustments.

BREAKING: Committee Wins

Justin Katz

The School Committee in East Providence has won its case in favor of unilateral changes to employment terms in the absence of a contract in Superior Court. On to the Supreme Court, and sneaky legislation, no doubt.

Laying Planks into the Chasm

Justin Katz

Almost since the recession began, I've been wondering out loud what was going to pull us out of it — what unexplored industry, what as-yet-stagnant market, what boom. In the intervening months, it's been clear that the Obama administration's strategy has been to prop up the public sector (i.e., insulate government from the downturn), flood some borrowed money into the economy, and hope that the private sector would stumble onto something, as it has proven so proficient at doing. But anybody who's spent a decade or so, after college, without that magical high-paying job that's supposed to appear when you take all the right steps and do good work has learned to look for incremental steps, and I'm just not seeing those steps for the economy.

Anthony Randazzo goes so far as to call the currently touted recovery a "myth":

... a closer look reveals those appealing numbers sit on a dangerously shaky foundation. Economic growth in 2009 was largely dependent on a historic level of government spending that even the president acknowledges is unsustainable in the long term. The root problem of mortgage delinquencies has yet to be worked out. Bank lending is sparse amid ongoing uncertainties surrounding regulatory reform. As a result, manufacturers and small businesses continue to struggle with limited credit. All that translates into historic job losses and a bleak outlook for meaningful growth in 2010 and 2011.

Worst of all, many of the core problems in the housing, banking, manufacturing, and service sectors are being perpetuated and exacerbated by the very federal programs the president credits with jump-starting economic growth. Instead of confronting the roots of the crisis head on, as Obama has repeatedly boasted of doing, his administration and the Democratic Congress have kicked the can down the road, postponing the day of reckoning for real estate, the auto industry, and the toxic mortgage-backed securities that were at the heart of the economic meltdown. These unsolved problems will keep looming over the economy until they’re finally addressed.

At this point, perhaps the best thing we could do, as a nation, is spin a 180 away from big government. Especially in Rhode Island, going from overburdened to liberated would at least attract the growing market of investors, entrepreneurs, and skilled, motivated workers looking for a sanctuary.

Adding "Green" Does Not Free the Industry of Market Forces

Justin Katz

In the aptly named "Green Jobs and Rose-Tinted Glasses" (subscription required), Iain Murray argues that evidence does not suggest that the "green" subindustry is a windfall just requiring a little initial shaking:

Green jobs, it would seem, are a magic bullet for the administration, solving the problems of unemployment, poverty, com­munity degradation (and therefore crime, presumably), class struggles, public health, terrorism, and global warming at a stroke. What could possibly lead anyone to object to them?

The answer is, as ever for a conserv­ative, real-world experience. Germany and Spain went down the green-jobs road many years ago, for much the same reasons as the ad­ministration. They saw it as a way to make their countries world leaders in coming technologies, provide good jobs to replace decaying industries, and insulate against energy shocks originating overseas.

It didn’t work out that way.

According to Murray, other countries (notably China) undercut Germany's production prices, even as the country continues to import most of its energy in the form of Russian natural gas, all without having contributed to job growth, once the jobs lost to higher energy costs are taken into account. In Spain, the green industry has lost jobs, and the government has reduced subsidies.

Of course, the United States has been picking up some of that slack. Murray notes that hundreds of millions of American tax dollars have slipped across the Atlantic as "green energy" investments to the Spanish company Iberdrola:

And Iberdrola isn't the only foreign recipient. According to a report from the Watchdog Institute, there are plenty of countries that received stimulus cash to create green jobs, but created plenty overseas and few or none here. Most of the jobs that were created here were temporary. Despite all the stimulus money, the Amer­ican wind industry lost permanent manufacturing jobs (while creating temporary construction jobs) last year, because de­mand for over-expensive energy plum­meted (without the stimulus money, the in­dustry would likely have collapsed).

It ought to trigger suspicion when massive money giveaways are justified with miraculous promises, and that's one area in which "green jobs" have led the field.

School Choice Is the Lasting Solution Only with Local Control

Justin Katz

I'm glad to see I'm not the only person with concerns about top-down education reform in Rhode Island. Here's Bill Felkner, executive director of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute:

[Education Commissioner Deborah] Gist is wresting power from the unions and implementing reforms through the state Department of Education, such as the no-bumping rule. In Cumberland, meanwhile, [Mayor Dan] McKee is taking power away from the school committee and enhancing the role of the mayor.

In both instances, the intent is laudable, but what happens if an anti-reform mayor is elected in Cumberland, or a new commissioner takes office at the state level, one less inclined to do battle with the unions?

Either way, control is just being shifted from one governmental entity to another — from the school committees to the mayor, or from public teacher unions to the education commissioner and the superintendents.

The danger is a bit more acute than that. In both cases, power is moving farther from accountability. In the case of a mayor, accountability is still local, but education becomes muddled in with every other issue the town faces. With the mayor running the show, voters no longer have an elected position that's directly and solely responsible for education. That could dilute the opportunities for grassroots action while increasing the opportunity for special interests to stitch together coalitions.

In the case of the commissioner, power has moved not only away from local hands, but also to the hands of an unelected bureaucrat. Should Commissioner Gist be replaced with somebody interested in serving an entirely different constituency (if you know what I mean), voters' recourse is through the governor's office, where education becomes even more diluted as an issue for the grassroots and special interests have the full state tableau of special interests in which to make alliances that are unhealthy for the state. In other words, it's what we have now, but with unions' focus honed in on the more powerful, more centralized focus of power.

This consideration becomes even more significant when one takes into account that Bill's (correct) solution, more broadly, is the parental control inherent in school choice. The power of such freedom diminishes as the controlling authority, for schools, spreads out to a broader array of the choices that parents have. The unions might not mind the idea that parents can send their children anywhere when all of the significant decisions related to taxation and school management are controllable at the state level.

March 14, 2010

A Baker Qualified to Sew

Justin Katz

Add this to the strange insights into the way things work that explain more than the immediate context to which they apply:

While state officials have described problems in the qualifications of teachers at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf, the Web site of the state Department of Education lists most of them as "highly qualified" in accordance with federal law.

State Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist said the teachers are highly qualified, just not necessarily in their current assignments.

Bet you haven't known, in the past, that when somebody in government told you that some employee or other was "highly qualified" the statement did not inherently include an implied "for the job that she's doing."

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: Unemployment is Very, Very Serious. So What We Need to Do is Legalize 12-20 Million Additional Workers.

Monique Chartier

[A constituent contacted Senator Whitehouse to express concerns about the rate of unemployment in the United States and efforts at immigration reform pending in Congress. Following is the Senator's reply.]

Thank you for contacting me with your concerns regarding America's immigration system. I appreciate hearing from you regarding this very important issue.

I understand your concerns regarding the level of unemployment in the United States, and agree with you that we must stimulate the economy by providing jobs for Americans. While some guest workers may be needed in very specific circumstances, the guest worker visa program should never be used to displace American jobs. As you know, the unemployment rate in Rhode Island is now among the highest in the nation, a staggering 13.0 percent. The anemic economy has affected thousands of Rhode Islanders who are struggling to pay their mortgages, heat their homes, and keep up with the rising costs of healthcare and prescription drugs. At a time when jobs are hard to find, our utmost priority should be the hiring of American workers.

Congress must pass comprehensive legislation that provides for strong enforcement at our borders and worksites, establishes a means for regulating the flow of immigrants into this country, and copes with those who are already in America illegally. Strong enforcement of our laws against the hiring of illegal aliens must be part of this equation, but we can no longer allow millions to live in the shadows of our society either. Rather, I believe in requiring illegal immigrants to regularize their status by paying fines and back taxes, holding down a job, passing a criminal background check, and learning English and civics.

The right answer is not to incarcerate and deport tens of millions of people. As a former federal prosecutor, I know from experience that this plan would be costly and impossible to implement, requiring an expansion of our federal prison and justice systems by as much as 60 times. Although there is disagreement on how to balance all these competing objectives, there is little disagreement that action is necessary. It is my hope that with the cooperation and leadership of the Obama Administration, we can arrive at a consensus approach to fixing our broken immigration system.

Majority Leader Reid introduced S. 9, the Stronger Economy, Stronger Borders Act of 2009 at the outset of the 111th Congress, but we do not know yet the details of what this legislation would entail. Senator Reid's bill states that its purpose is to strengthen the U.S. economy, provide for more effective border and employment enforcement, prevent illegal immigration, and reform avenues for legal immigration. I look forward to working with the Obama Administration and my colleagues in the Senate in crafting sensible, effective legislation to fix our broken immigration system. As I work on this important issue, please know that I will keep your concerns in mind.

Again, thank you for contacting me. I hope you will continue to keep me advised of your thoughts on any issues of concern to you.


Sheldon Whitehouse
United States Senator

Itchin' for Some Taxin'

Justin Katz

If you put your ear to the exterior walls of the State House, you might actually be able to hear the antiquated gears of the General Assembly's brains whirring a little harder to come up with a strategy for getting away with tax increases:

The plan was broadly outlined by Grafton H. Willey IV, co-chairman of the Rhode Island chapter of the Smaller Business Association of New England, an advocacy group for small businesses, and John C. Simmons, executive director of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, a business-backed group that monitors the state’s finances.

Asked about the plan during a break at Tuesday's conference, DaPonte said that General Assembly leaders are "absolutely" talking about the possibility of revising the personal income tax.

With a variety of tax credits and other provisions, "Rhode Island [has] a very complicated tax code," he said. DaPonte said he is concerned not only about the system's complexity, but also about the personal income tax's top tax rate of 9.9 percent.

I don't know that I've ever read an article so thoroughly built around hints and insinuations, without any real indication of what "the plan" might look like. Of course, one doesn't need more than hints and insinuations to be concerned:

If the regular system's top rate were reduced, a flat tax "may not be necessary," DaPonte said. Costantino made similar comments last month.

This year the flat tax is 6%. One needn't be a professional political cynic to suspect that the likes of DaPonte will think that number is "not necessary" if the regular rate were, say, 8.5%.

A Bit of Hot Air

Justin Katz

This is the proposed subsidy that the General Assembly and Governor are foolishly forcing energy consumers to provide for wind power, unless the Public Utilities Commission objects:

Under the deal being reviewed, National Grid would pay 24.4 cents per kilowatt hour for power from the project starting in 2013. The price would increase by 3.5 percent a year. The utility currently pays 9.2 cents per kilowatt hour for power from natural gas-fired plants and the like.

We've essentially created a controlled market for wind energy that begins two-and-a-half times the going rate and increases about 15% per year regardless of market forces. During a massive recession, this is a wonderful example of the insanity that Rhode Island does so well.

"A lot of industries are looking to pull out of this region," Energy Management vice president Dennis Duffy said. "This is one new industry that is trying to get in."

Of course, Mr. Duffy doesn't speculate as to what other industries might try to get in the region with the same subsidized deal and guaranteed market. Rhode Islanders should remember Duffy's argument in a few years when there are even fewer jobs, fewer business, and a smaller taxbase and public infrastructure has switched from crumbling to dissipating for lack of resources.

March 13, 2010

The Small, Still Foot of a Nothing

Justin Katz

Any attempt to mitigate this scene, from an Economist article, is necessarily founded in either evil or self-delusion:

XINRAN XUE, a Chinese writer, describes visiting a peasant family in the Yimeng area of Shandong province. The wife was giving birth. "We had scarcely sat down in the kitchen", she writes, "when we heard a moan of pain from the bedroom next door...The cries from the inner room grew louder—and abruptly stopped. There was a low sob, and then a man's gruff voice said accusingly: 'Useless thing!'

"Suddenly, I thought I heard a slight movement in the slops pail behind me," Miss Xinran remembers. "To my absolute horror, I saw a tiny foot poking out of the pail. The midwife must have dropped that tiny baby alive into the slops pail! I nearly threw myself at it, but the two policemen [who had accompanied me] held my shoulders in a firm grip. 'Don't move, you can't save it, it's too late.'

"'But that's...murder...and you're the police!' The little foot was still now. The policemen held on to me for a few more minutes. 'Doing a baby girl is not a big thing around here,' [an] older woman said comfortingly. 'That's a living child,' I said in a shaking voice, pointing at the slops pail. 'It's not a child,' she corrected me. 'It's a girl baby, and we can't keep it. Around these parts, you can't get by without a son. Girl babies don't count.'"

In the final analysis, that's abortion: a dead child in a bucket who "doesn't count." The reason can be the mother's career ambitions. The parents' dislike of each other. Or even the inconvenient season during which the pregnancy would ensue. Society cannot carve out an exception to proscriptions of murder for parents to kill their children without moral and practical consequences.

In the case of China, one such consequence is an imbalanced society that Western liberals would despise were it not a sacrifice on the altar of abortion:

The number is based on the sexual discrepancy among people aged 19 and below. According to [Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS)], China in 2020 will have 30m-40m more men of this age than young women. For comparison, there are 23m boys below the age of 20 in Germany, France and Britain combined and around 40m American boys and young men. So within ten years, China faces the prospect of having the equivalent of the whole young male population of America, or almost twice that of Europe’s three largest countries, with little prospect of marriage, untethered to a home of their own and without the stake in society that marriage and children provide.

Whether one seeks to derive morality from Christian ethics or a vague sense of a natural order, human beings must be treated as ends in themselves if we're to avoid the ostensibly unintended consequences that occur when individualist and utilitarian calculations claim dominance over the right to life itself.

If They Can Make Their Voice Heard in November, Then They Don't Need Immigration Reform, Do They?

Monique Chartier

It appears that immigration reform, more honestly known as amnesty (which would be the eighth in recent history, one of the bases for the heavy scepticism of claims that "We're just allowing these 12-20 million and no more!") has hit a roadblock, at least this legislative year. From Josh Gerstein at Politico.

A pair of White House meetings Thursday designed to chart a path forward for immigration reform instead spotlighted the daunting obstacles ahead — and showed why many Capitol Hill insiders believe it’s quite unlikely an immigration bill will happen this year.

After meeting with President Barack Obama, the leading Republican backing a comprehensive approach warned that a Democratic health care push could scuttle any chance of action on immigration in this Congress.

“I expressed, in no uncertain terms, my belief that immigration reform could come to a halt for the year if health care reconciliation goes forward,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a statement issued just after he and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) met with Obama.

And, of course, Democrats are hell-bent on passing health care via reconciliation, no matter how many billions of our money they have to spend or print on ... er, unique Medicare billing arrangements for a couple of lucky states or on completely unrelated items such as student aid.

One of the responses by advocates of illegal immigration to this set back has been, somewhat inexplicably, "Remember in November".

“One of the things that we are going to be telling the immigrant community is that they have a vital stake in the outcome of this debate, and they need to make their voices heard in November,” said Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees International Union.

(Side note: shame, shame on all of those labor union leaders who have put the best interest of the members that they purport to represent a distant second to an unspoken but clearly selfish consideration by advocating for amnesty.)

Why would an "immigrant" who can vote support immigration reform? He or she would not need immigration reform, having completed the immigration process legally and admirably and being so far along that s/he now has the right to vote. In fact, immigration "reform" is an insult to all who came here legally. Is the advocating of this course - letting voices be heard in November - further confirmation, as though any were needed, of the imperative for voter identification?

La Cosa AFTstra

Justin Katz

Columnist Mark Patinkin has been focusing on the teacher dispute in Central Falls for weeks, now, but an essay on teachers who (quietly) disagree with the union's activities brings to the fore a central reason that many of us have a constitutional aversion to unions:

"As a C.F. High School teacher I agree with you," the e-mail said. "The Union blew it. The only mistake you made was writing that we voted it down. This is untrue because we were never given the chance to vote. The Union leadership made the decision for us and many of us are not happy."

Why not express that unhappiness?

"Many fear Union retribution," the letter said. ...

"You have to understand," one wrote, "not only would I be going up against my own teacher's union, I would leave myself open to abuse from every teacher's union in the country and perhaps beyond."

No doubt, some union organizer or other has pointed to Patinkin's column, and will point to this very post, as evidence that breaking ranks and speaking out will only open the union to political attack. One can hardly dispute that "solidarity" is part of what empowers unions to accomplish what they do. That doesn't, of course, mean that members or society at large should want them to accomplish those ends. Indeed, the insidious problem of silence is that it allows union reps to pick their own objectives and limit all internal objections to a controlled, intimidating environment.

Keeping the Pension Blood Flowing

Justin Katz

I didn't want to let this one slip by without mention:

The business-backed [Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council] found that the state taxpayer contribution to those pensions nearly tripled over the last decade, jumping from $79.9 million in 2001 to a projected $218 million in the coming year. ...

... Overall, state personnel expenditures will consume $1.7 billion in the coming year, according to the report, which found that retirement costs are the fastest-growing component of personnel spending.

This trend just can't be maintained. Voters have to learn to look past this sort of rhetoric from unionists:

Yet [National Education Association Rhode Island Executive Director Bob] Walsh acknowledges that the report will fuel criticism that his workers' benefits are too rich, especially given the shift in the private sector.

"Just because the private sector jumped off a financial bridge, does it mean we should follow?" he asked...

People who benefit from big government like to argue that voters can, by their votes, decide to do anything: Private businesses determined that they couldn't sustain generous pension benefits, but voters and their representatives can just choose differently. In a limited, short-term sense, I suppose that's true. In a sense that acknowledges reality, however, the laws of economics will decide differently, or at least exact a price that voters wouldn't have been willing to pay had they been well enough informed to anticipate it.

March 12, 2010

UPDATED: Two Tiverton-Related Notes

Justin Katz

UPDATE: I was able to restore the lost post

1. The post to which I linked on the Tiverton Citizens for Change blog was accidentally deleted, this morning. My time is way too limited to reconstruct it, and I apologize for any confusion.

2. The Tiverton Budget Committee voted last night to put a level-funded budget for the school district on the docket for the financial town meeting. Inasmuch as my visibility seems have positioned me to be among the most viscerally disliked people in town, I thought I should note — in my personal capacity — that I do not agree with that result. I don't agree with it strategically, as a means of reallocating resources from pay and benefits for adults back toward programs for students, and I don't agree with it as a final outcome, at least not yet, when the staff just voted to re open its contract and the school committee and teachers haven't played their cards, yet.

Despite Health Care Mess, There are Points of Agreement

Marc Comtois

Erstwhile Democratic presidential pollsters Pat Caddell (Carter) and Doug Schoen (Clinton) have penned a piece about the political prospects facing their party amidst the health-care drama. Yet, what caught my attention was their concise summary of the things upon which most everyone agrees:

There are enough Republican and Democratic proposals -- such as purchasing insurance across state lines, malpractice reform, incrementally increasing coverage, initiatives to hold down costs, covering preexisting conditions and ensuring portability -- that can win bipartisan support. It is not a question of starting over but of taking the best of both parties and presenting that as representative of what we need to do to achieve meaningful reform. Such a proposal could even become a template for the central agenda items for the American people: jobs and economic development.
It's too bad that the Democrats in charge are hell-bent on reconciling this unpopular omnibus health care plan into existence. If they'd take a step back, they'd see that a popular, bi-partisan approach is there for them. But that would mean admitting (a small) defeat.

Which Is the Frying Pan, and Which Is the Fire?

Justin Katz

Perhaps a more politically savvy operative than myself would see opportunity in it, but I find it discouraging to watch spats between factions of Rhode Island's ruling party, because neither side will run the state well. It's a bit like watching two ogres battle over who gets the larger portion of your flesh, with little chance that they'll accidentally free you from your cage in the process.

Take Rep. Arthur Corvese (D, North Providence), who has this to say about Speaker Gordon Fox (D, Providence):

Therein lay the substantive difference in the two candidates for speaker. I believe that Gordon Fox's stance on major issues is too far to the left for the good of Rhode Islanders. Speaking strictly for myself, I would say that a Fox speakership will inevitably 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, the left’s raison d'etre, gay marriage. I firmly believe that neither my constituents in House District 55 in North Providence, nor the taxpaying electorate at large, want this agenda for our state.

And should Speaker Fox decide that he may not want to pursue the aforementioned legislative agenda, he will have no choice, because he will be forced to do so by his liberal supporters inside and outside the House chamber.

And yet, Corvese introduced the current legislation (H7581) concerning binding arbitration for teacher contracts. Voters just can't win.

Performance-based learning? That makes too much sense...

Marc Comtois

In a column devoted to a preemptive strike against the guidelines being floated by the impending Common Core State Standard Initiative, Cato's Andrew Coulson points in a different direction.

The whole idea of imposing a single set of age-based standards on all students rests on a false premise: that children are identical widgets capable of being dragged along an instructional conveyor belt at the same pace, benefiting equally from the experience.

But kids are different — not only from one another, but when it comes to their own varying facility across subjects as well. Any single set of age-based standards, no matter how thoughtfully conceived, will necessarily be too slow or too fast for most children....

[Instead], group students based on their level of mastery in each subject, instead of strictly by age, so that each can progress as fast as he or she is able. By doing so, all children are taught the things they are ready to learn at any given time. No one need be bored into a stupor nor left hopelessly behind.

Not only is this approach feasible in theory, it is already in widespread use with millions of students worldwide, in the for-profit tutoring sector. When a child comes to a Sylvan Learning or Kumon center facing difficulty with trigonometry, he is not taught basic arithmetic or advanced calculus. He is taught the specific material in which his deficit lies. He moves on to more advanced material as soon as he has mastered the prerequisite skills, and not before.

This is easily achievable in high school and even in junior high. I'd venture to say it was basically the form that I followed during my years growing up in the 1970's and 80's. My early school years in Massachusetts were spent in a 5 classes/grade system, divided up based on some measure of ability. Upon moving to Maine, to a much smaller town, the classes were smaller, but by Jr. High, a similar model was followed for 6th-8th grade (though only two divisions/class).

But somewhere along the way, we took the noble goal of trying to give all kids the same academic opportunities by not pigeonholing them from an early age and twisted it into a system where "equal" often means equally inadequate (at least in the elementary schools). By putting kids of varying academic proficiency in the same classroom, we've made fast learners bored and slow learners frustrated. And we've made the job of teachers exponentially more difficult as they have to teach at different levels--from highly proficient to multiple individual learning plans--all within the same class room.

The model of yesteryear that I grew up in may not have been perfect, but it seems, looking back, to have been better than what we have now.

Which Senator Would He Replace?

Monique Chartier

It appears that with regard to his political options, Congressman Patrick Kennedy is keeping his powder dry and his campaign fund intact. In yesterday's Washington Post,

... he notes that he is not retiring for good. "I consider it taking a sabbatical," he says. He will transfer his roughly $500,000 in campaign money to an interest-bearing account, which he says he might tap if he runs for the Senate someday.

In the absence of any relocation announcement, the congressman would presumably run for a Rhode Island Senate seat. Can we know which senator, Jack Reed or Sheldon Whitehouse, the congressman believes is doing an unsatisfactory job and how he would better represent Rhode Island in the US Senate than that incumbent?

The Quick Defensiveness Against Warnings of Tyranny

Justin Katz

If you're following my posts on the Tiverton Citizens for Change blog, you might have noticed my liveblog mention of Tiverton Town Council Member Hannibal Costa's comparison of federal mandates on the town to the rise of the Nazis. His comment was surely a bit on the incendiary side, given the minimal nature of the requirement (emergency training for town officials), but the general argument is right on, and one that he's been making as long as I've been watching town politics.

Well, the editors of the Newport Daily News thought Costa's statements egregious enough to merit a chastisement in Wednesday's paper (making a curious reference to his "ilk"). This morning, I explain why the editors' reaction is, itself, a bit extreme and, moreover, potentially dangerous.

March 11, 2010

Lest We Lose Our Sense of Dark Awe

Justin Katz

A little pre-bedtime reading:

The government ran up the largest monthly deficit in history in February, keeping the flood of red ink on track to top last year's record for the full year.

The Treasury Department said Wednesday that the February deficit totaled $220.9 billion, 14 percent higher than the previous record set in February of last year.

The deficit through the first five months of this budget year totals $651.6 billion, 10.5 percent higher than a year ago.

The Obama administration is projecting that the deficit for the 2010 budget year will hit an all-time high of $1.56 trillion, surpassing last year's $1.4 trillion total. The administration is forecasting that the deficit will remain above $1 trillion in 2011, giving the country three straight years of $1 trillion-plus deficits.

Government means never having to say you're broke. The rest of us have to go to sleep to dream.

McConnell Joins Rogeriee

Marc Comtois

With their recommendations to President Obama to nominate local Democrat Party mega-donor lawyer Jack McConnell to the First Circuit Court of Appeals, we learn that Senators Reed and Whitehouse are proving to be unique evaluators of judicial talent. Apparently, McConnell has joined previous nominee O. Rogeriee Thompson as being one of the 4 nominees (out of 56) to receive a few "not qualified'' marks from the American Bar Association's judicial rating panel. Don't worry, though. It's not their fault!

Reed and Whitehouse have both expressed reservations about the ABA's system of rating candidates to the federal bench. Commenting on Thompson's ratings, Whitehouse said the ABA system tilts toward a "big-firm, corporate law" view of judges that "does not sufficiently value" her career of service. Reed has objected to the fact that the ABA discloses only its final grades on nominees, generally withholding any information about the interviews and other factors that led to the final grade.
Yeah, that's the ticket. Somehow the system routinely discriminates against Rhode Island's nominees (since Reed and Whitehouse started tag-teaming, anyway).

Wanting (and Needing) a Different Kind of Reform

Justin Katz

Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising, given the presumption of their label, but "progressives" have a tendency to assume that anybody who wants change wants their kind of change — as if there can only be one solution for reaching a given goal. Just about all conservatives, for example, really do desire world peace, but that doesn't mean they should be counted among those desiring unilateral retreat and disarmament. Most believe that regimes that initiate or foster violence and war must be removed in order for peace to be lasting.

Just so with healthcare. A conundrum that John Kostrzewa cites is not actually a conundrum:

...69 percent of the 200 members of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce who completed the survey in February said health insurance was their biggest concern. That's up from 63 percent in a similar survey a year ago. ...

But [these results] all run counter to national polls that show a clear majority of people is opposed to President Obama's proposal to overhaul the health-care system by covering more people and eventually cutting costs.

Kostrzewa never quite articulates the factor that resolves the question: It isn't just that individuals and businesses are generally suspicious of Washington and dislike political squabbling (Americans are more savvy than that); it's also that we don't believe that the approach to "reform" that defines Obamacare will improve costs or quality. And that's a problem on up the tiers of government. The state of Rhode Island could go a long way toward alleviating the healthcare concerns of its citizens were it to lighten regulations and let market forces work.

I Wonder Why these Virginia 'Burbs are the Richest Counties in U.S. ?

Marc Comtois

Yesterday I mentioned the report that federal employees make more than private employees in most occupations. Now we learn that 6 out of the 10 wealthiest counties ( and 11 of the top 25!) are suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Rank County Population Median household income
1 Loudoun County 277,433 $110,643
2 Fairfax County 1,005,980 $106,785
3 Howard County 272,412 $101,710
4 Hunterdon County, N.J. 129,000 $100,947
5 Somerset County, N.J. 321,589 $100,207
6 Fairfax City 23,281 $98,133
7 Morris County, N.J. 486,459 $97,565
8 Douglas County, Colo. 270,286 $97,480
9 Arlington County 204,889 $96,390
10 Montgomery County 942,747 $93,999

There hasn't been a recession in D.C. John Derbyshire has been saying for a few years now that the only way to guarantee not only all-around security but also a pretty nice, upper-middle class living for your family is to get a government job. Looks like he's right.

Wanting More, Taxation Gets Less

Justin Katz

The Tax Foundation has looked at Amazon taxes and found the following:

Contrary to the claims of supporters, Amazon taxes do not provide easy revenue. In fact, the nation's first few Amazon taxes have not produced any revenue at all, and there is some evidence of lost revenue. For instance, Rhode Island has seen no additional sales tax revenue from its Amazon tax, and because Amazon reacted by discontinuing its affiliate program, Rhode Islanders are earning less income and paying less income tax.

Amazon taxes also do not "level the playing field" between brick-and-mortar and online businesses; the laws actually mandate disparate burdens on online businesses. Litigation over the constitutionality of Amazon taxes is ongoing, with scholars on the left and right disputing their wisdom and legality.

The report cites General Treasurer Frank Caprio's statement that the tax should be repealed "immediately" and provides a map showing Rhode Island as one of only four states with such a law. Once again, whatever the fairness of the policy, Rhode Island must stop being on the cutting edge of economic experiments that bleed our local economy.

"Sins of the Past" Contribute to Pension Woes

Marc Comtois

ProJo has the story:

Acting Auditor General Dennis E. Hoyle said...cities and towns need to look at their sometimes generous retirement plans, determine whether they are “sustainable or not” and make changes. He said cities and towns could improve the situation by making full contributions each year, raising employee contributions and transitioning out of defined-benefit plans to defined contribution or hybrid plans for new hires.

“Without changes in the benefit structure, there’s not going to be that much of a dramatic savings” he told the commission.

As Dan Beardsley of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns said,
...cities and towns are trying to deal with the “sins of the past” when it comes to promised retirement benefits, but he acknowledged it is a challenge. It would help, he said, if the state allowed defined contribution and hybrid plans for cities and towns that enroll employees in the state Municipal Employees Retirement System, because those would lower projected costs for new hires.
Take Cranston, for example:
Hoyle cited the Cranston police and fire retirement system as an example of a plan that is in trouble. According to the report, the Cranston plan covers 70 active members and 426 retirees and has enough money to cover just 15 percent of its projected obligations. As a result, the annual required contribution needed to keep pace with projected costs is $20.1 million. By contrast, the annual required contribution for the state Municipal Employees Retirement System, which covers 14,667 active employees and retirees — more than 29 times as many people as the Cranston plan — is $33.5 million.
We need statewide reform to help enable local reform. But it's up to citizens to ensure that their politicians don't continue to kick the can down the road or, worse, try to "solve" the problem through higher taxes. Reign it in.

Early Education on Education

Justin Katz

On last night's Matt Allen Show, Andrew described his series of recent posts tracing standardized test scores across Rhode Island. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

March 10, 2010

The State of Education in Rhode Island, Part 5

Carroll Andrew Morse

The same method that was applied to the changes between 8th an 11th grade NECAP results, to try to get a measure of the performance of Rhode Island's high-school systems taking into account the initial proficiency-level of the students, can also be applied to changes occurring between other grades.

The chart below is a 2D-index based on how well districts did in improving NECAP scores between the 5th and the 8th-grades...


Schools nearer the upper right-hand corner did well in both reading and math. Schools nearer the lower left-hand corner have showed declines in both areas. The charts below the fold present the underlying information on...

Details on the specifics of the methodology and its rationale is available, starting from here, then tracking backwards. As before, calling this plot an "index" literally means that the values associated with each city and town aren't as important as the information they can lead you to.

Two differences from the 8th-grade to 11th-grade results are immediately worth noting...

  1. Between the 5th and 8th-grades, some districts did succeed in improving their number of students proficient in mathematics, unlike between the 8th and 11th-grades, where every district showed a decline. (For this reason, change in students proficient or better, rather than partially proficient or better, is used as the mathematics index.)
  2. Reiterating once again that the results here are far from dispositive, it should be noted that there is a much stronger correlation here than at the high school level, between districts starting from low proficiency rates and the largest declines in proficiency. This suggests that students in Rhode Island's underperforming districts may be falling furthest behind somewhere before high school begins. Exploring this result further will require matching test results to the movement of students in and out of a district, between the starting and ending years of a measured test period.


Community # of '08/'09 8th-Graders, PoB at Reading # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, PoB at Reading Change in # PoB at Reading, between 5th and 8th Grades # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, LtP at Reading Change in # PoB at Reading, between 5th and 8th Grades, as % of '05/'06 5th-Graders LtP
Scituate 266 235 31 54 57.4%
Chariho 475 401 74 150 49.3%
East Greenwich 352 322 30 65 46.2%
South Kingstown 464 404 60 133 45.1%
Jamestown 91 78 13 29 44.8%
Middletown 289 227 62 146 42.5%
Narragansett 216 195 21 57 36.8%
Bristol-Warren 399 351 48 149 32.2%
Exeter-West Greenwich 255 228 27 95 28.4%
Coventry 662 586 76 277 27.4%
Barrington 479 467 12 47 25.5%
Tiverton 219 188 31 124 25.0%
Westerly 390 351 39 163 23.9%
Newport 212 180 32 158 20.3%
Smithfield 351 337 14 75 18.7%
Lincoln 445 424 21 115 18.3%
Johnston 376 341 35 219 16.0%
North Smithfield 213 199 14 91 15.4%
East Providence 526 480 46 341 13.5%
Portsmouth 353 338 15 116 12.9%
Little Compton 55 54 1 9 11.1%
Burillville 217 210 7 117 6.0%
Pawtucket 718 689 29 730 4.0%
North Providence 328 325 3 182 1.6%
Providence 1368 1338 30 2240 1.3%
Community # of '08/'09 8th-Graders, PoB at Reading # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, PoB at Reading Change in # PoB at Reading, between 5th and 8th Grades # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, LtP at Reading Change in # PoB at Reading, between 5th and 8th Grades, as % of '05/'06 5th-Graders PoB
Cumberland 587 591 -4 240 -0.7%
North Kingstown 530 534 -4 157 -0.7%
Warwick 1270 1290 -20 449 -1.6%
Cranston 1230 1252 -22 423 -1.8%
West Warwick 333 343 -10 216 -2.9%
Foster-Glocester 286 308 -22 93 -7.1%
Central Falls 192 208 -16 315 -7.7%
Woonsocket 390 433 -43 517 -9.9%


Community # of '08/'09 8th-Graders, PoB at Math # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, PoB at Math Change in # PoB at Math, between 5th and 8th Grades # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, LtP at Math Change in # PoB at Math, between 5th and 8th Grades, as % of '05/'06 5th-Graders LtP
Portsmouth 337 296 41 158 25.9%
Scituate 222 199 23 91 25.3%
Narragansett 169 142 27 110 24.5%
Barrington 463 448 15 66 22.7%
Middletown 278 250 28 125 22.4%
East Greenwich 323 305 18 82 22.0%
Chariho 404 365 39 188 20.7%
South Kingstown 435 411 24 130 18.5%
West Warwick 299 252 47 308 15.3%
Smithfield 307 291 16 121 13.2%
Jamestown 76 72 4 35 11.4%
Westerly 327 310 17 206 8.3%
Exeter-West Greenwich 234 226 8 97 8.2%
Bristol-Warren 334 323 11 177 6.2%
Coventry 545 536 9 324 2.8%
Community # of '08/'09 8th-Graders, PoB at Math # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, PoB at Math Change in # PoB at Math, between 5th and 8th Grades # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, LtP at Math Change in # PoB at Math, between 5th and 8th Grades, as % of '05/'06 5th-Graders PoB
Burillville 176 178 -2 148 -1.1%
Tiverton 213 216 -3 96 -1.4%
Cumberland 498 506 -8 327 -1.6%
Lincoln 376 383 -7 154 -1.8%
Little Compton 45 46 -1 17 -2.2%
Cranston 931 974 -43 708 -4.4%
North Smithfield 180 192 -12 98 -6.3%
North Kingstown 458 493 -35 198 -7.1%
Newport 141 155 -14 185 -9.0%
Warwick 972 1106 -134 637 -12.1%
Johnston 245 284 -39 277 -13.7%
East Providence 425 493 -68 330 -13.8%
Foster-Glocester 230 273 -43 127 -15.8%
Pawtucket 519 619 -100 820 -16.2%
North Providence 175 229 -54 281 -23.6%
Central Falls 139 184 -45 355 -24.5%
Providence 922 1236 -314 2412 -25.4%
Woonsocket 244 372 -128 587 -34.4%


Community # of '08/'09 8th-Graders, PwD at Reading # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, PwD at Reading Change in # PwD at Reading, between 5th and 8th Grades # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, Prof. at Reading Change in # PoB at Reading, between 5th and 8th Grades, as % of '05/'06 5th-Graders LtP
East Greenwich 151 54 97 268 36.2%
Scituate 117 51 66 184 35.9%
Jamestown 43 24 19 54 35.2%
Middletown 82 29 53 198 26.8%
Chariho 177 101 76 300 25.3%
Tiverton 51 22 29 166 17.5%
Exeter-West Greenwich 70 37 33 191 17.3%
South Kingstown 170 128 42 276 15.2%
Barrington 237 196 41 271 15.1%
Narragansett 65 42 23 153 15.0%
Smithfield 138 103 35 234 15.0%
Newport 47 30 17 150 11.3%
Portsmouth 103 78 25 260 9.6%
North Providence 65 47 18 278 6.5%
Coventry 192 167 25 419 6.0%
Lincoln 144 129 15 295 5.1%
East Providence 103 84 19 396 4.8%
Providence 188 164 24 1174 2.0%
Johnston 59 55 4 286 1.4%
Central Falls 22 21 1 187 0.5%
Burillville 27 27 0 183 0.0%
Westerly 87 87 0 264 0.0%
Community # of '08/'09 8th-Graders, PwD at Reading # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, PwD at Reading Change in # PwD at Reading, between 5th and 8th Grades # of '05/'06 5th-Graders, Prof. at Reading Change in # PoB at Reading, between 5th and 8th Grades, as % of '05/'06 5th-Graders Prof.
North Kingstown 152 153 -1 381 -0.7%
Bristol-Warren 95 96 -1 255 -1.0%
North Smithfield 46 47 -1 152 -2.1%
Pawtucket 88 90 -2 599 -2.2%
Woonsocket 60 64 -4 369 -6.3%
Cranston 303 340 -37 912 -10.9%
Foster-Glocester 81 92 -11 216 -12.0%
Cumberland 132 153 -21 438 -13.7%
Little Compton 18 21 -3 33 -14.3%
West Warwick 67 79 -12 264 -15.2%
Warwick 283 381 -98 909 -25.7%

Comparing Public and Private Occupational Pay

Marc Comtois

USA Today recently published a story regarding their analysis (utilizing Bureau of Labor Statistics data) of the pay differential between similar jobs in the public and private sector. According to their study:

Overall, federal workers earned an average salary of $67,691 in 2008 for occupations that exist both in government and the private sector, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. The average pay for the same mix of jobs in the private sector was $60,046 in 2008, the most recent data available.

These salary figures do not include the value of health, pension and other benefits, which averaged $40,785 per federal employee in 2008 vs. $9,882 per private worker, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

There's also an occupation-based chart comparing the same jobs. Here are some charts based on that data.


Job (by total difference - top 10)Federal Private Difference% Difference
Public relations manager $132,410 $88,241 $44,169 33.4%
Broadcast technician $90,310 $49,265 $41,045 45.4%
Clergy $70,460 $39,247 $31,213 44.3%
Chemist $98,060 $72,120 $25,940 26.5%
Graphic designer $70,820 $46,565 $24,255 34.2%
Landscape architects $80,830 $58,380 $22,450 27.8%
Recreation worker $43,630 $21,671 $21,959 50.3%
Cook $38,400 $23,279 $15,121 39.4%
Pest control worker $48,670 $33,675 $14,995 30.8%
Laundry, dry-cleaning worker $33,100 $19,945 $13,155 39.7%


Job (by % difference - top 10)Federal Private Difference% Difference
Recreation worker $43,630 $21,671 $21,959 50.3%
Broadcast technician $90,310 $49,265 $41,045 45.4%
Clergy $70,460 $39,247 $31,213 44.3%
Laundry, dry-cleaning worker $33,100 $19,945 $13,155 39.7%
Cook $38,400 $23,279 $15,121 39.4%
Graphic designer $70,820 $46,565 $24,255 34.2%
Public relations manager $132,410 $88,241 $44,169 33.4%
Pest control worker $48,670 $33,675 $14,995 30.8%
Landscape architects $80,830 $58,380 $22,450 27.8%
Highway maintenance worker $42,720 $31,376 $11,344 26.6%

Dollar for dollar and as a %, it looks like being a public broadcast technician pays pretty well! No wonder we have all of those pledge drives! On the other hand, some occupations aren't a good deal.


Job (by total difference - lowest 10)Federal Private Difference% Difference
Optometrist $61,530 $106,665 ($45,135)-73.4%
Airline pilot, copilot, flight engineer $93,690 $120,012 ($26,322)-28.1%
Locomotive engineer $48,440 $63,125 ($14,685)-30.3%
Editors $42,210 $54,803 ($12,593)-29.8%
Physician assistant $77,770 $87,783 ($10,013)-12.9%
Computer support specialist $45,830 $54,875 ($9,045)-19.7%
Respiratory therapist $46,740 $50,443 ($3,703)-7.9%
Lawyer $123,660 $126,763 ($3,103)-2.5%
Physicians, surgeons $176,050 $177,102 ($1,052)-0.6%
Electrical engineer $86,400 $84,653 $1,747 2.0%


Job (by % difference - lowest 10)Federal Private Difference% Difference
Optometrist $61,530 $106,665 ($45,135)-73.4%
Locomotive engineer $48,440 $63,125 ($14,685)-30.3%
Editors $42,210 $54,803 ($12,593)-29.8%
Airline pilot, copilot, flight engineer $93,690 $120,012 ($26,322)-28.1%
Computer support specialist $45,830 $54,875 ($9,045)-19.7%
Physician assistant $77,770 $87,783 ($10,013)-12.9%
Respiratory therapist $46,740 $50,443 ($3,703)-7.9%
Lawyer $123,660 $126,763 ($3,103)-2.5%
Physicians, surgeons $176,050 $177,102 ($1,052)-0.6%
Electrical engineer $86,400 $84,653 $1,747 2.0%

I don't "see" why anyone would want to be a government optometrist! (Bad-bump-bump....thanks, be here all week...charge the gov't rate, though!)

Scientists Right by Association

Justin Katz

This line of reasoning is increasingly irksome, here from a Peter Lord column about University of California History and Science Professor Naomi Oreskes:

Oreskes said modern science has sent men to the moon, cured diseases and predicted tsunamis after the earthquake in Chile. Why do people believe science can't get it right when it comes to climate change?

Frankly, it only makes me more suspicious when ostensible supporters of science speak of it as more of a philosophy than a process. Actually, what happens is the successes are attributed to the philosophy — Science has done great things, so you should believe in Science! — and wrong-turns are just part of the process.

Medical science has taken many wrong turns, as theories have been tested and tried. Expressing skepticism that a sick person just needed more of the earth element in his system, some hundreds of years ago, should not have been taken as distrust of the capacity of science to find the solution, but as a distrust that a particular group of scientists had come up with the right one.

Similarly, it isn't a mark of theological fundamentalism to note that predictions of tsunamis (After a coastline earthquake? No way!) varied in their accuracy. A common phrase, after the last one, was that "Hawaii dodged a bullet." Well, isn't Peter Lord's claim that science had told us where the bullet was headed?

Climate alarmists have been making claims about changes of a few degrees projected out over a century. The daily weather isn't even that accurate. That's not to say that the process of science doesn't turn up generally correct answers in cases such as the weather forecast and the tsunamis, nor that scientists will never find a way to incorporate all of the necessary variables into their models in order to be close enough about the climate. But when globalist bureaucrats take up the torch of major manipulation of the world economy, "close enough" had better be pretty darn close.

Hoss Radbourn, The Grays and a Lady

Marc Comtois

ProJo scribe Ed Achorn just released a new book, Fifty-nine in '84, which tells the story of Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn's 1884 season with the Providence Grays when he won 59 consecutive games. Old Hoss was indeed a character, something that can be seen even in the stills captured in this video:

But there's more than baseball in the book. Achorn also writes about the history and atmosphere of 1880's Providence and writes extensively about Radbourn's romance and eventual marriage to Carrie Stanhope, "the alluring proprietress of a boarding house with shady overtones, a married lady who was said to know every man in the National League personally."

A New Look at Water Power

Justin Katz

This is intriguing:

One of the interesting side effects of last year's stimulus bill was $400 million in funding for ARPA-E, the civilian, energy-focused cousin of DARPA. And in this week's first ever ARPA-E conference, MIT chemist Dan Nocera showed how well he put that stimulus money to use by highlighting his new photosynthetic process. Using a special catalyst, the process splits water into oxygen and hydrogen fuel efficiently enough to power a home using only sunlight and a bottle of water.

I'll even give the government credit for funding scientific research (although I'd argue that the prospect of owning such a technology would be very attractive to private investors). Regarding the relevance of "stimulus," I'd imagine that the net number of jobs in the economy would decrease if energy could be harvested in such a way.

The bigger consideration, though, is that this sort of breakthrough stands as evidence against investing a state's entire economy on a particular industry, like wind and wave power, for instance. Government operatives are not well suited to predict the market (if they were, they wouldn't be government operatives), and even putting aside state-to-state competition for industry leadership, aligning local policies and taxation with a particular technology leaves substantial risk that the another region will win the roll of the innovation dice.

Oh Canada! For Once, Political Correctness is Stopped Cold

Monique Chartier

From Reuters.

Don't mess with a century-old tradition even if it is sexist, Canadians told the Conservative government this week, forcing Ottawa to scrap plans to make the country's national anthem gender-neutral.

* * *

For nearly 100 years, the anthem has included the line, "True patriot love in all thy sons' command."

In a major policy speech last week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government had proposed referring these lyrics to a committee to review its gender neutrality. But

Complaints from irked citizens poured in to radio and television shows, invoking the sanctity of national symbols and tradition.

When I first read the offending line, I took "sons" to mean all of Canada's progeny, regardless of gender, just as I've always understood "mankind" to mean all members of Homo sapien sapien and so on, down the list of words and terms which are purportedly offensive as they are gender-biased.

However, not everyone in Canada sees it that way.

The opposition Liberals called it a gimmick proving the Conservatives were not serious about women's rights.

Here's an idea: let's judge a country's attitude towards women not by words but by their treatment under law, in politics (in the United States, for example, all parties are eager to have women run for office) and by tradition (i.e., all children regardless of gender having equal standing in an inheritence, unless a will specifies otherwise). It strikes me that the final step to this considerable progress is to celebrate it by entertaining the possibility that genderized words become gender neutral in certain contexts. Including that of a nation's anthem.

Spin on the Health Panel

Justin Katz

Rep. Joseph McNamara (D, Pawtucket) — himself the Alternative Learning Program Director for the Pawtucket School Department — recently published an op-ed defending legislation that he submitted (and which passed) that created a healthcare panel to design insurance benefits for all of Rhode Island teachers. (The legislation, incidentally, inspired the introduction of our legislative stooge list.) The intention of his essay is to lull Rhode Islanders back to sleep, on this matter, but he shouldn't succeed.

Most centrally, his argument cites internally incompatible benefits to the legislation. First:

... the Department of Education studied the issue and found that combined purchasing of health benefits for education employees could save up to $15 million a year.

Yet, second:

... the legislation provides that "choice of benefit plan designs, medical insurance cost-sharing, payment for waiving medical insurance, eligibility for receiving benefits and providing benefits for retirees shall continue to be negotiated" by the districts.

If districts remain able to choose different programs from different insurers, then the maximum savings cited by McNamara cannot be achieved. In other words, the law can only function by limiting school districts' options. Indeed, that is its plain purpose. Note this sly admission that the law amounts to another unfunded mandate:

... it includes the requirement that the value of at least one of the plan designs "shall not be greater than the lowest" plan in effect today.

I don't have the time, just now, to sort through every district's actuarial report, but general familiarity with the issue is enough to suggest that the "lowest plan" is hardly a discount program. If there were such a plan currently in effect, McNamara would surely have cited it as evidence; that he doesn't offer any details for this claim suggests that vagueness suits his political purposes. Essentially, the legislation ensures that the now-mandated health insurance benefits will never decrease, except perhaps minimally with inflation. As for districts' ability negotiate cost-sharing and so forth, here's the actual language (PDF):

Choice of benefit plan designs from those approved in accordance with section medical insurance cost-sharing, payment for waiving medical insurance, eligibility for receiving benefits, and providing benefits for retirees shall continue to be negotiated pursuant to sections 28-9-3 and 28-9-4.

28-9-3 and 28-9-4 do not lay out rights to negotiate certain parts of a contract. Rather, they deal with arbitration. I'm open to correction from legal experts, on this, but defending how one takes the phrase "pursuant to," it would be plausible to argue that the only way to reduce healthcare costs within McNamara's legislation would be through arbitration.

It's a simple matter of reasoning: During a time of growing dissatisfaction with the imbalanced remuneration of public-sector employees, one such employee introduced legislation mandating health insurance benefits with heavy influence from the relevant unions. Keep your eye on that ball; the rest is just fancy footwork.

(Of course, since the legislation passed, attentiveness must be to having it repealed and removing all .)

March 9, 2010

Healthcare as Inspiration for Fealty

Justin Katz

Further to Monique's post about signs of the wisdom of the Democrats' desired healthcare regime, I thought I'd beat the drum again with Mark Steyn's Saturday column:

... Look at it from the Dems' point of view. You pass Obamacare. You lose the 2010 election, which gives the GOP co-ownership of an awkward couple of years. And you come back in 2012 to find your health-care apparatus is still in place, a fetid behemoth of toxic pustules oozing all over the basement, and, simply through the natural processes of government, already bigger and more expensive and more bureaucratic than it was when you passed it two years earlier. That's a huge prize, and well worth a mid-term timeout.

And well worth some golden-ticket promises to senators and congressmen who may lose their seats over their votes.

Red Flags that the Pending Healthcare Reform May not be a Good Idea

Monique Chartier

(... in addition to the Constitutional issue - i.e., the legality of compelling everyone to purchase health insurance.)

Much of the disagreement about whether the Democrats' health care reform should proceed centers around its long term consequences. Supporters of the pending reform don't see any problems long range if the bill passes. Opponents point to the inevitable consequences of compelling insurance companies to provide essentially open-ended coverage while demanding that they not raise premiums too high.

Okay, set that aside for a separate discussion. Here are some more immediate warning signs.

1. Congress has exempted itself from it. If better/more expensive health insurance policies are Cadillac plans, Congress has a Rolls Royce. And it stays right in their driveways even if they themselves pass health care reform "for" everyone else. If the proposed reform is such a good idea, why?

2. We start paying for it right away but the benefits don't begin for four years. (Side issue, which it clearly is for proponents: what happens to all of those sick, uninsured people in the meantime?) How viable is a proposed program if the required revenue needs a four year running start?

3. $500 billion cut from Medicare. Proponents have stopped even pretending that this will come from a crack down on waste, fraud and abuse. Setting aside the disgrace and misdirected priority of depriving seniors of this care, isn't a proposed program patently non-viable if another program has to be gutted to fund it?

4. Let's see if we understand the scenario. No insurance company can refuse anyone coverage. The penalty for an individual not obtaining coverage is $800. So wouldn't it be a lot cheaper for the healthy person (many millions of them) to not buy coverage, pay the penalty rather than the premiums year after year and then simply enroll as soon as a health issue crops up? Actually, we don't have to wonder. This is exactly the approach New York took.

New York's "reforms" meant that people could literally wait until they had an accident or illness before buying a policy -- changes that more than doubled insurance costs in the state, according to the Empire State Center for New York State Policy.

Premiums shot up so far and fast that healthy customers dropped insurance altogether -- with the number of people buying individual policies plummeting from 750,000 in 1994 to 36,000 now.

It's tough to come to grips with the longer term implications of the proposed reform to health care when we are asked to disregard such serious pitfalls up front.

Any Way to Tax the Productive

Justin Katz

A letter by Middletown Republican Town Committee Chairman Antone Viveiros in the Newport Daily News directs attention to H7563, submitted by Rep. Amy Rice (D., Portsmouth). The legislation would add the following language to Rhode Island tax law:

Opting out of the domestic production deduction. — All corporations doing business in the State of Rhode Island shall add back into their taxable income any amount deducted under the federal "domestic production deduction" also known as section 199 of the federal Internal Revenue Code. State tax forms shall be changed if needed in order to comply with this statute.

For the likes of Rice, it appears, ideology trumps economic wisdom. Even were it a principled correction to remove national tax reductions from the Rhode Island calculation, sucking money out of the productive segment of the state is plain lunacy in the current economy and in our current condition of civic deterioration. As Viveiros asks in closing:

Is this the way to create jobs?

Why won't the General Assembly majority cut spending, as we have? Do they have to, to get reelected? I'll leave those answers to you.

Connecting the Dots: The PPD Drug Ring

Marc Comtois

It's been a few days since the main players were divulged, so--based on information gathered in various stories--here is an attempt to show the links between the known players in the Providence PD drug ring and others. These links aren't to be inferred as an accusation against those not charged, but they are interesting in that they show how the saying in Rhode Island that "everyone knows everyone" is indeed the case.


A Desire for Central Planning

Justin Katz

Eamonn Butler thinks that Canada's spending reform model is the solution for governments with spending problems:

The Canadians' first move was to appoint a minister for public-service renewal — a single individual with the authority to drive change and make sure that all ministers did their bit. They put nothing off limits, not even health care. There were no spending targets because they knew that departments simply spend up to such limits. But there was a complete review of all government activity.

Ministers had to define what their department was for and ask whether it really needed civil servants, or could it be done better by private bodies or by the public themselves. With a reform minister rather than a finance minister in charge, everyone bought into this as a total rethink of how the government served citizens, not just an exercise in penny-pinching.

I don't know enough about Canadian politics to know whether Butler's characterization is accurate or how the structure of government differs from that of the United States, but a couple of general observations are still possible. First, such a program depends heavily on the person in the reform ministry chair. Inasmuch as we don't have a parliamentary system, I would argue that our chief executive, the president, should fill that role, and that the people of the nation should vote to select him.

The related "second" is that benevolent dictatorships look good on paper but require a sacrifice of liberty and self-governance that is (and ought to be) anathema to the American system. If subordinate ministers did not rebel and workers did not strike, it is probable that they had some confidence in the particular leader to address matters as fairly as possible. But it is also probable that they saw no benefit in doing so, because that leader had power over them.

My suggestion is that the United States should head in the other direction: less government intervention. The reason our politics are so contentious and our special interests so gargantuan and influential is that we've consolidated far too much power in Washington, D.C. Spread that out, back to states and municipalities, and not only will there be less motivation for lobbyists to consolidate attention on federal seats, but the people will be better able to mount counter actions, thus increasing pressure on special interests to keep their demands reasonable.

Cicilline's Drug Test Head Fake

Marc Comtois

In a press conference yesterday, Providence Mayor David Cicilline announced the implementation of a random drug-testing policy for the Providence police department. How does a random drug test policy help find drug-dealing cops? While one member of the PPD was a user, the rest weren't (as far as I know, based on what's been reported). The logic that all drug dealers are also drug users doesn't work. Several aren't falling for Cicilline's head fake:

The mayor’s plan fell flat among several City Council members.

Councilman John J. Lombardi, who is running for mayor, called for Esserman to resign and for Cicilline to end his campaign for Congress. Under Esserman, Lombardi said in a statement, “the Providence Police Department has harbored officers now charged with drug dealing, drug use and brutality. It is clear that his leadership — or lack thereof — has proven disastrous.”

He urged Cicilline to hire a public-safety commissioner and establish an independent civilian body to investigate these arrests, as well as the arrest and alleged beating in October of Luis Mendonca, a handcuffed suspect, by Providence police Detective Robert DeCarlo.

Councilman Luis Aponte called the mayor’s response a “knee-jerk” reaction. “This review is cursory at best,” Aponte said. “This is not the thoughtful review that is needed for the many serious issues that that department is facing.”

Council Majority Leader Terrence M. Hassett said he would submit a resolution to the council this week calling for an independent review of the Police Department.

Cicilline dismissed the council criticism as “political posturing,” saying that the state police and U.S. Attorney’s office would aid the department’s review. (The state police have not yet agreed to that arrangement.)

I will say this, Cicilline should know political posturing when he sees it.

Taking the Discouraged into Account

Justin Katz

Back when I made my (thus far) erroneous prediction that Rhode Island's unemployment rate would hit 14 or even 15%, I didn't take into account the effects of discouraged workers. Doing so, the rate would actually be much higher than that.

It is, without a doubt, a confounding variable, which is why I'm not so sure that this statement can be considered to be accurate:

Forecasters say a larger work force is a positive sign in that it shows that formerly discouraged workers who had given up searching for work are confident enough in the job market to start looking for employment again, even if it takes time to find it.

Put aside questions about the encouragement that we ought to take from the impressions of discouraged workers about the prospects of the economy. I've seen no evidence in print or in life that such confidence in the job market is actually a factor.

It seems more plausible, to me, that "discouraged workers" are seeing their allotted time of unemployment benefits running out and are therefore redoubling their efforts. If that's the case, then one effect of extended jobless payments has been to temporarily shrink the workforce, which is arguably a good thing in the short-term, although the long-term effects of taking that money out of the economy and habituating people to not working may swamp any advantage.

It may also be the case that spouses and children are entering the workforce because the primary household earner has been having such trouble. In other words, an increasing workforce, in the current economic circumstances, could be either a good sign or a bad one.

March 8, 2010

The Difference an Article Makes

Justin Katz

I'm not going to delve into the subject matter, right now, preferring to save it for another day, but I got a chuckle out of two citations of Anchor Rising related to the same story in different articles. From Ed Fitzpatrick's Sunday column:

And the day after the rally, Lynch's campaign manager questioned Caprio's support for same-sex marriage, citing comments Caprio made in 2009 to the conservative blog Anchor Rising.

And here's a post from the Projo's politics blog, which also appeared in the Political Scene in today's print edition:

Joel Coon, campaign manager for Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch, points to a January 2009 Caprio interview with a blog called Anchor Rising, in which Caprio says with reference to same-sex marriage that while he does not believe in imposing his views on others, his beliefs are consistent with those of the Catholic Church.

Presumably, Randal Edgar, who penned the post, now knows about us and will feel justified in calling Anchor Rising a "the," rather than just some strange entity out there in the blogosphere.

Funding Formula on Final Approach

Carroll Andrew Morse

Coming out of last Thursday's State Board of Regents for Education meeting at the West Warwick High School Auditorium, if I had to place a bet, I would have to put my money down in favor of a "funding formula" for distributing state education aid being passed this session, probably a plan that is very close if not identical to the plan that has been put forth by Rhode Island the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and officially endorsed by the Regents.

Momentum for passing a "funding formula" is coming from three main sources…

  1. Valid or not, Rhode Island's governing class cannot resist the argument of "49 other states do this, so we have to do it too". (We'll find out exactly what the number-of-state threshold is for this rationale when a few more states eliminate straight-party voting, but I digress)
  2. Eligibility for future Federal education aid will likely be conditioned on having some kind of "funding formula" in place, and
  3. Perhaps most importantly, the Department of Education has come up with a plan that is more politically viable than the "Ajello" plan (named for its primary sponsor, Providence State Representative Edith Ajello) that has dominated "funding formula" discussions for the past several years; according to the Department of Education's presentation, under their “funding formula” proposal, schools serving 71% of the students in Rhode Island can receive "more resources" (that's education official-speak for "more moolah"), without any new revenue having to be raised.
This outcome is made possible, in large measure, by drawing Rhode Island’s charter schools into the same state-aid system as the geographic-monopoly district schools and shifting a portion of state-aid away from the charters. The 71% figure also depends upon current big-aid communities not getting quite as much as they would under the usual Ajello numbers, e.g. Providence gets "only" $30 million under the Dept. of Ed. plan instead of $50 million under the Ajello plan, Woonsocket gets $4 million instead of $13 million, Pawtucket gets $7 million instead of $10 and 1/2 million, etc., with much of the difference going to communities that would "lose" under the Ajello plan (though some of the differences may also be attributable to declining enrollment in some cities over the past 2-3 years).

If one thing is most likely to stop a "funding formula" from being implemented in the very near future, it would be representatives from the traditional big-aid recipients getting greedy and trying to re-jigger the numbers to get more for themselves (already, at Thursday's meeting, a number of public comments boiled down to "this is a good start, but urban districts need more more more"). There is also the little matter of slipping a 15% cut in aid to Newport past Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed (D - Jamestown/Newport) that cannot be entirely overlooked. However, politics being what it is, if the new “funding formula” holds together around its current form as it passes through the legislative sausage factory, there will be a large legislative majority able to vote in favor of more money for their constituents, by voting in favor of the new formula.

In the pre-Deborah Gist era of Rhode Island education policy, the impact of the new formula on charter school funding would be of definite concern -- specifically, are the cuts to charter schools intended as a backdoor way to kill charters altogether? Given her record so far, I believe that the Commissioner has earned the benefit of the doubt here and that due-diligence has probably been done to make sure the cuts won't be fatal (plus, could Federal replacement money for charters be a future possibility, if everything breaks correctly?). From a more affirmative perspective, a reasonable trade-off appears to be involved: for the cost of an upfront hit to their current aid, charters become fully integrated into a follow-the-student system for distributing state money, where increased funding is virtually automatic to charters able to attract larger numbers of students.

A few other items worth noting…

  1. The new formula eliminates the "regionalization bonuses" that were given to districts that chose to regionalize in the 1990s (according to Commissioner Gist’s remarks on Thursday, the bonuses were supposed to be phased out anyway but never were, when state aid amounts got frozen in the 1990s).
  2. In terms of quantifying student need, the formula uses only a single weighting-factor, the number of students receiving free or reduced priced lunch.
  3. The loss in aid to Central Falls (about $11 million) won't occur as quickly as losses in other districts (on a percentage basis), as the transition will be eased along with money from a separate "state stabilization fund".
  4. Commissioner Gist mentioned that the "Gallo" approach (named for Hanna the State Senator, not Frances the Superintendent), i.e. changing funding amounts only after state revenues increase, had been considered but rejected as unrealistic.
So is this a good plan for Rhode Island? As recently as two or three years ago, the "funding formula" was the only change in education policy in Rhode Island seriously being considered at the statewide level. A major component of my skepticism was that if our political capacity was limiting us to a choice of only one thing that could be changed, then the "funding formula" was a poor choice of focus as shifting money between existing education structures, without changing them in any way, was unlikely to produce any significant impact on educational outcomes. However, given the willingness now in evidence of the Education Commissioner, the Board of Regents, and even the Federal Department of Education to undertake multiple reform initiatives, concern that we will hear “we just passed a funding formula, we don't need to do anything else for a while” from our public officials has been greatly reduced, at least for the moment.

Which is not to say that the details of this plan can be forgotten about as we move towards other kinds of reforms. For one thing, Rhode Island's education reformers need to make sure some kind of anti-charter poison-pill isn’t inserted into Rhode Island law, in the middle of the night, on the last day of a legislative session, in the next few years. For another, the Department of Education and Board of Regents have to rigorously and seriously follow through with the spirit of their own recommendations (see page 12) for monitoring and updating funding policy results on a regular basis. In that vein, I would like to offer a suggestion for fiscal oversight that is important to the rectitude of any statewide "funding formula", but has been largely missing from the debate that has brought us to where we are…

The Boys Are Back... for Good

Justin Katz

George Will is concerned that real men are a fading gender in our society:

Although [Penn State University History Professor Gary] Cross, an aging academic boomer, was a student leftist, he believes that 1960s radicalism became "a retreat into childish tantrums" symptomatic "of how permissive parents infantilized the boomer generation." And the boomers' children? Consider the television commercials for the restaurant chain called Dave & Buster's, which seems to be, ironically, a Chuck E. Cheese's for adults—a place for young adults, especially men, to drink beer and play electronic games and exemplify youth not as a stage of life but as a perpetual refuge from adulthood.

Personally, I'm hopeful that the back-swing of the cultural pendulum will bring back some of the self-reliance, chivalry, and, well, manliness to modern manhood, without erasing some of the intellectual and emotional gains that represent some necessary softening around the edges. Of course, such an outcome is only possible if people begin to acknoweldge — and talk about — what's been lost.

Which is not to say that it's been thoroughly erased. Some of the old guard are still around, overlapping with the vanguard of a new breed, but I'm talking about a sort of cultural average. There's also a degree to which manliness has persisted as a sort of thematic lore in films and fiction; it's the translation into action, without sinking into senseless violence and abuse, that is wanting.

Building the Easy Road

Justin Katz

A certain faction in Tiverton, working with the town solicitor, is striving to make it as easy as possible for the town to exceed the 3050 statewide cap on municipal tax levies. I've got background and video up on the TCC Web site, and I'll be liveblogging over there during tonight's town council meeting, at which the solicitor is going to try, once more, to slip the objectionable interpretation of the law into town policy.

A Picture's Worth a Thousand Contributions

Justin Katz

Or how about this one:

It turns out libraries across the state got framed photos of their local legislators during the Celebrating Local Libraries Week that ran from Feb. 7-14. ...

[State Rep.and Barrington High School Library Assistant Joy Hearn [D, Barrington] Hearn said no thought was given to how the public display of lawmakers' pictures might be perceived in an election year, because that was not the focus of the effort, but she believes she has already benefited from her own "READ'" photo campaign in a good way.

The Karla Harry Commission on Libraries initiated and financed the project with the intention of attracting more attention (and money) from the General Assembly. In exchange, the legislators get free publicity in public libraries. Yup. That's how it works, around here.

General Assembly Waiting for Problems to Fix Themselves

Justin Katz

Honestly, I don't know how Rhode Islanders can read articles like this one without wanting to storm the State House. In brief, the General Assembly is now letting months pass by without resolving this year's nine-figure budget deficit, and every day of delay makes the task more difficult, thus building political tolerance for the most dim-witted (but typical) solutions:

Key legislators acknowledge that the delay has forced them to consider options that may balloon future deficits, such as refinancing the payment plan for the $4.33-billion unfunded portion of the pension system for state workers and teachers.

Any homeowner should know that the possibility of refinancing the house to pay the grocery bill ought to be evidence that it's time to cancel the premium channel package from the cable company, but the General Assembly marches on, even after years of one-time fixes that have without doubt harmed the lives of future Rhode Islanders — applying stimulus funds to programs that will require continued revenue once the federal largess dries up, sacrificing future tobacco settlement money at a loss, and so on. At a first-year savings of $40-45 million, reamortizing the pension debt wouldn't even come close to addressing the $220 million budget gap, yet it's the only big idea floated as a possibility in the article. And here's the shiny new House Speaker, Gordon Fox (D., Providence):

"No COLAs for life, for instance, for me is a non-starter," Fox said. "Do you want someone when they're 80 years old to be living in poverty? I don't think we, as a society, want to do that."

Being inclined to be charitable, I'm not sure whether to ascribe that statement to stupidity or dishonesty. Eliminating automatic cost of living adjustments (COLAs) to pension payouts in no way prevents the General Assembly from enacting such increases in pension benefits as will prevent 80-year-old former state employees (many of whom would have been retired for more than twenty years, at that point) from starvation. Thus far in his time as speaker, the only case that Fox has competently backed is the case for relocating beyond his taxation reach.

Meanwhile, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Daniel DaPonte (D, East Providence, Pawtucket) dips into the musty playbook for the "blame the governor" card:

"People understand that it's the chief executive and department heads that manage the state on a day-to-day basis," DaPonte said. "The General Assembly does not run departments. We pass a budget, and year after year after year, departments overspend."

I'd replace "understand," in that quotation, with "have been misled into believing." It is the General Assembly that tells the departments what work they must do and what money they must hand out. And that's the one area the shysters refuse to go, because it's how they buy their offices.

March 7, 2010

Rhode Island at the National Level: Left and Leaving

Justin Katz

You saw this, perchance?

Rhode Island's delegation to the U.S. Senate is the nation's most liberal, with Democrats Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse tied in the number one spot, with partisans from three other states. All five scored 88 on the liberal composite scale....

It's difficult to place Rhode Island on the left-right spectrum in the House of Representatives because one of its two Democratic Congressman, Patrick J. Kennedy, missed too many votes to be considered in the rankings. ...

Rep. James R. Langevin ranked 124th among House liberals with a composite rating of 74.2 on the liberal composite scale of 100.

Rhode Island is deep, deep blue, in a political sense, but as we've been discussing for quite some time, its politicians are well to the left of the population. The problem is that the political machinery and deal making between factions have opened up a channel for our national representatives to be the safe ciphers of the Democrats' way-left base.

The Religion of the Irreligious

Justin Katz

This essay by Alex Rose has loitered about my desk for better than a month, because I've been unable to decide whether it's worthy of response. One gets the strong impression that Mr. Rose's primary intention is to execute a faux-daring poke in the eye of an acceptably accosted group — traditionally religious people — to provoke a reaction and draw attention to himself. If that's the case, he's guilty of no more than ambition and a lack of imagination. Why the Providence Journal opinion page editors would step over the reams of local, national, and international material that they reject on a daily basis in order to contribute to the ignorance of their readers by offering them Rose's expression thereof is another question.

Whatever the answer, the fact that the piece of writing landed in my driveway on a winter Wednesday morning suggests that corrections that we might like to think unnecessary may, in fact, be required. Herewith, I'll run through the exercise expeditiously so that I can send Mr. Rose along with Tuesday's recycling. (Perhaps he'd appreciate that detail, inasmuch as recycling appears to be among his methods of writing.)

Indeed, the first clause [of the First Amendment], "[c]ongress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," can be read as downright self-contradictory. For how are laws to protect religious institutions without explicitly honoring them?

Having twisted a word or two for laughs, myself, I can testify that it's possible to read just about anything as "self-contradictory." Usually, though, especially when handling the language of our well-educated forefathers, such a reading is evidence of misreading. In the case of the Bill of Rights, "establishment" is not meant as a synonym for "organization" — as in "a business establishment" — but as the act of establishing. Congress cannot establish a Church of the United States, which, absent the First Amendment, it could theoretically do without infringing the free exercise of other religions.

Rose's misreading is especially significant because he proffers it en route to suggesting precisely the sort of establishment of religion that a properly understood First Amendment would proscribe:

Let me be clear: I am in no way suggesting we impose any kind of legal sanctions that might threaten religious freedom. I do believe, however, that children have the right to be educated, that access to truth is as "inalienable" a birthright as the pursuit of happiness.

If what they learn in Sunday school is flatly at odds with the scientific worldview — and often it is — they are bound to be confused.

What they come away with is a very inconsistent picture of reality, one in which ghosts and miracles exist alongside natural selection and photosynthesis. Maybe some grown-ups can find ways of squaring the circle without any problem, but kids cannot, and the rift creates air bubbles in their understanding of how the world works.

As somebody who finds the plausibility of miracles' coinciding with photosynthesis to be such a simple matter that children could readily understand it (even if adults like Rose stumble on the concept), I'd suggest that "how the world works" cannot be comprehensively answered without some non-falsifiable assumption. Whatever its mechanics, either the universe runs on cold chance or some sort of intention, and that particular "yes" or "no" makes all the difference.

Joseph Anesta, of Cranston, put it very well in a letter to the editor appearing the following Wednesday:

Ironically, Mr. Rose clearly does have a god, the most jealous, vengeful, angry deity of all. His god is the State, and "thou shall have no other."

Secular statists like Alex Rose may permit their fellow Americans to quietly believe whatever they like, but in their view, workers have no essential right to their own property and parents have no essential right to convey their beliefs to their children. The government, on the other hand, is supposed to be perfectly within its reasonable boundaries when it determines the nature of reality and educates its children accordingly.

The most telling evidence of Rose's fundamentalism is his apparent confidence that his fellow adherents are destined always to be the ones wielding the power of the state. That would be threat enough to liberty to justify fear, but the greater danger is the more strongly believing faction that would surely seize the precedent.

Once More Into the (Canine) Budgetary Breach

Monique Chartier

Scanning ProJo headlines yesterday, Katherine Gregg's article about Governor Carcieri's recommendations (more about that in a moment) for the Twin River slot parlor, which include an end to greyhound racing, caught my eye. This morning, while clearing out files, in a happy coincidence, I came across the clipping below from the July 11, 2003 front page of the Providence Journal.

Reading Gregg's article of yesterday more carefully this morning, it became apparent that this is one of the rare instances in which it is not altogether clear to me what the Governor is attempting to accomplish with regard to Twin Rivers.

Governor Carcieri is asking legislators to free the owners of the Twin River slot parlor from current employment and dog-racing requirements, cover more than $10 million of their marketing and management costs and provide them with an even more solid guarantee that state taxpayers will cover them if they lose money to a new competitor in Rhode Island.

Interviewed for the article, Carcieri spokesperson Amy Kempe elaborated

The fragile economic climate is exactly the reason to protect the state’s interests at Twin River. As the third-largest source of revenue, the state must protect that revenue. This legislation does not put the taxpayer at risk to protect Bank of America, Merrill Lynch, et al as you imply. That clause protects the third-largest source of revenue, which effectively protects the taxpayers.

Sure, I understand that the idea behind the fiscal safeguarding of Twin River's operation is to preserve a non-tax (i.e., non-compulsory) revenue stream so that taxes don't have to be raised. But if taxpayers are going to lose revenue under certain conditions, doesn't that negate the preservation of the Twin River revenue stream to the monetary extent of the "slippage clause"?


Providence Journal, July 11, 2003.

Original caption: "ON A LEASH: House Minority Leader Robert A. Watson opens his office to two retired greyhounds named "Tax" and "Spend" for the day, owned by Kathie and Chris Smith, of Warwick. Republicans want to end state subsidies to greyhound owners at Lincoln Park."

Journal Photo by Kathy Borchers.

Peculiar News from Lincoln

Justin Katz

What's this?

[Lincoln] Town Administrator T. Joseph Almond is recommending a $70.1-million budget for the next fiscal year that would reduce the tax levy and scale back the School Committee's budget request.

The bottom line for the municipal and school budgets would increase by $123,015 in the fiscal year that starts July 1, but Almond said it would decrease the amount raised through local taxes by $531,616. Finance Director John F. Ward said that’s about a 1-percent levy decrease, but that the budget could still be affected by proposed state aid cuts.

And this?

Frank Champi, a partner at Providence-based Lefkowitz, Garfinkel, Champi & DeRienzo, P.C., the firm that did the audit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009, said the town's operating budget had a $538,828 surplus, and the school budget, a $919,258 surplus. He said the audit put the town among the least financially stressed communities in Rhode Island.

Has Lincoln been doing something right, or has it simply been over-taxing its residents and businesses? I see that it's tax rate is relatively high, and without corresponding to an obviously low median house price, so it looks like an even larger cut would be just. (And that's before taking into account Lincoln's unique circumstance of having gambling revenue from Twin River.

March 6, 2010

Long-Term Unemployment, Private Sector Only

Justin Katz

By now, you've likely decided whether or not you agree with the statement that the Obama administration's approach to "stimulus" was meant not so much to stimulate growth in the private sector economy as to shore up the public sector and insulate government at all levels from the real effects of the recession. Whether the private sector will begin to grow again of its own accord and bail out the borrowing of the public sector remains to be seen.

George Mason University Economics Professor Alex Tabarrok is specifically worried about the bifurcation of the workforce:

... I am more worried, however, about the long term consequences of creating a dual labor market in which insiders with government or government-connected jobs are highly paid and secure while outsiders face high unemployment rates, low wages and part-time work without a career path. ...

Moreover, once an economy is in the insider-outsider equilibrium it's very difficult to get out because insiders fear that they will lose their privileges with a deregulated labor market and outsiders focus their political energy not on deregulating the labor market but on becoming insiders ...

Once again, we in Rhode Island have an especially relevant perspective on the direction in which the country is now headed, inasmuch as we've tested the waters, found them frigid, and continue to beckon in the other states anyway. We're well accustomed to arguments that the problem is that public-sector union jobs kept up with inflation while private-sector employment did not, and that we shouldn't respond to the latter by bringing down the former. We've all heard the "I got mine" responses that lie behind all related debates with supporters of public-sector unions.

It can be disorienting how quickly the very same advocate can switch from proclamations about fairness to denials that inequitable balances in the pay and benefits matter for measuring government employment packages. All we can do is stiffen our jaws and patiently explain that the objective isn't to tear down the publicly backed segments of the middle class; it's to prevent financing that group from strangling the economy that ultimately must support it.

Trying to Comprehend the Amazon Tax

Justin Katz

Being as circumspect as I'm able, I can't see the Amazon tax as anything other than myopic protectionism on the part of RI policy makers. Basically, the law states that a company has "a physical presence" in the state if it has affiliate agreements with local businesses, requiring them to collect Rhode Island sales taxes:

[RI House Finance Committee Chairman and General Treasurer Candidate Steven] Costantino said he wants to keep the law in place as a matter of equity. "Rhode Island businesses who are on Main Street need a fair playing field," he said.

Gary S. Sasse, director of the state Department of Revenue, put it this way: When buying a camera from a store in Rhode Island, a consumer must pay a sales tax. When buying online, a consumer may or may not pay sales tax.

"It's a violation of the basic concept of fairness in tax policy, to tax one seller and not the other," Sasse said. Repealing the Amazon law would be a mistake, he said.

The vision evident in that view is as narrow as a snake's scale. First of all, local businesses can compete on the lack of shipping costs and immediate gratification. Second of all, the Internet enables local businesses to create online stores and pursue customers worldwide. Large, national companies will have a huge advantage over small, Rhode Island companies once all states follow Rhode Island's lead.

The most mind-boggling thing is that consumers can still get the products without taxation, provided absolutely nobody locally benefits from the purchase. At the very least, one can say that Rhode Island is in no position, economically, to be in the vanguard of this government backlash against Internet retailers.

A Piling of Sin

Justin Katz

Sandra Lavin, writing about coming to grips with having an abortion, makes an important point:

If I had to say why I had an abortion it would all begin with the decision to begin that illicit relationship and then all of the nets of sin that suffocate you without you even knowing it. One sin leads to another leads to another until you no longer even recognize yourself. Your conscience is deadened.

One can withdraw the religious terminology without losing the essential insight. Sin requires compounding sin, all mutually reinforcing each other. One could also say that error, self-deception, or whatever, does the same.

The consequence also translates into both religious and secular terms: The more one invests in a particular sin, error, or self-deception, the more difficult it becomes to reassess. In the case of abortion, the weight upon a woman's decision to kill her own child must be terrifying, giving her huge incentive to push doubts away. Similarly, those who've assisted or even generally supported the broad legality of abortion can't but see the possibility that they're wrong as the possibility of a monumental indictment.

March 5, 2010

A Friday Night Pedagogical Thought

Justin Katz

Reviewing The Marketplace of Ideas by Louis Menand (subscription required), James Piereson raises a number of interesting concepts related to higher education, but this is perhaps the most fundamental:

The liberal arts at their best, he says, disseminate "knowledge that exposes the contingency of present arrangements," a surprising formulation coming from an author who takes the organization of the academy so thoroughly for granted. It is also revealing of a pedagogical outlook now pervasive in the academy: that students can learn how to think before learning anything important to think about.

At least to my experience, most of the examples used, in college lessons, are of the sort in which the answer is already presumed to be known by the professor. Race is the most common, with gender and sexuality in the mix, as well. The focus is the evil of oppression, not the borderlines of issues at which big ideas actually clash, as between civil liberties and civic structure. Slavery was and is an unmitigated evil, but concern about states' rights is not merely a sly way to support evil.

Indeed, an extremely interesting course could be built around the unintended side effects of measures taken to remedy the sins of the past. The Fourteenth Amendment comes to mind. Unfortunately, the largely progressive faculty who populate liberal arts departments don't seem inclined to offer their students a path to considering whether the easiest route to "progress" might not be the best.

Which ties into the above block quote in that grappling with actual Important Ideas, rather than trying to follow the illusory path of logic flowing from the first principle that no ideas are objectively important, might persuade developing generations that there are concepts worthy of real battle — and worthy compromise.

The Bigger Government, the More Established Its Religion

Justin Katz

An editorial in the Rhode Island Catholic points to another Catholic charity pushed out of business by redefinition of the ground out from under it:

Time and time again proponents of homosexual marriage have promised churches and religious institutions they have nothing to fear from their radical proposal to redefine marriage. Yet last week Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington announced that it is ending its foster care and public adoption program after the District of Columbia said the charity would be ineligible for service because of the new law recognizing homosexual "marriage." The D.C. City Council's law recognizing homosexual "marriage" required religious entities which serve the general public to provide services to homosexual couples, even if doing so violated their religious beliefs. Exemptions were allowed only for performing marriages or for those entities which do not serve the public.

For 80 years Catholic Charities has provided high quality social services to the most vulnerable in our nation's capital. It seems surprising that the local D.C. government would want to put the Catholic Church out of the foster care business. Corporal works of mercy are no less important to the life of the church than its sacramental ministry. Forbidding the church to perform them is a serious blow to its religious liberty. Why would the government do that? Under the guise of equality and tolerance they seek to impose the radical homosexual agenda to redefine marriage and family life at all costs; even violating the religious freedom of the Catholic Church. Their commitment to equality is apparently so strong that they are willing to put Catholic Charities out of business because it won't promote an agenda that it views as morally wrong.

As we've noticed before, and with even more advanced evidence from Europe, the tendency is for government to define religious liberty ever more narrowly. The extreme would be a proclamation that one is permitted to believe however one wants, but not actually to pollute the public discourse with those beliefs by doing anything so secular and communal as speaking publicly.

Churches stop too soon in their assessments of such controversies, though. Sure, it's a violation of their liberties for the government to mandate that they treat marriages identically even when their constituent parts are substantially different. But right now, they're engaged in dueling civil rights claims, making it a political matter, not a principled one, who will win.

What the Catholic Church, especially, ought to be considering is that, were it not for pervasive government involvement in charitable endeavors, the threat to religious charities would be minimal. Yet, one often hears Catholic priests and other religious officials advocating for even more expansive government involvement in social welfare. Once government takes on the responsibility as a hub for good works, it will inevitably define how and to whom they must and can be provided, and once that definition is available to the political process, special interests, such as the homosexual movement, will seek to turn it toward their own ends.

Poll: What do you think about WPRO's Lineup Change

Marc Comtois

WPRO has announced that they are flip-flopping Dan Yorke and Buddy Cianci in their lineup. Yorke will be taking the midday slot from 10 AM 2 PM and Cianci will take over the afternoon drive from 2 - 6 PM. What do Anchor Rising readers think about the move?

What do you think about WPRO flip-flopping The Dan Yorke and Buddy Cianci shows?
Approve - I want Buddy in the Afternoon
Approve - I want Dan in the Midday
Disapprove - I like the current lineup
Don't Listen to Buddy
Don't Listen to Dan
Don't Care free polls

Friday Diversion

Marc Comtois

Hold Your Horses! is a French band that apparently includes a few American kids (the progeny of diplomats I read somewhere), so they sing in English (at least what I've heard). I'd put them roughly in the same artistic corner as that inhabited by locals The Low Anthem with maybe a little of The Polyphonic Spree thrown in. Anyway, HYH! has gone viral with this neat video to their song "70 million", which is a campy pastiche of the band members recreating various paintings (here's a list of them), with the men taking a lot of the female roles.

70 Million by Hold Your Horses ! from L'Ogre on Vimeo.

I've now fulfilled by high-culture quota for this month.

Starkly Different Ways Forward

Justin Katz

I've posted video of the Tiverton School Committee's hearing about closing the high school over on the TCC Web site. Two dramatically different visions for moving the town forward are emerging. One entails retrenchment, with townies overpowering childless retirees and moving forward with the usual way of doing business, including the decades-long approach to improving the quality of education. The other entails standing firm with the unions in order to improve programs and facilities and make Tiverton a more attractive place to live... even for people whose grandparents didn't grow up here.

A Familiar Tale in New Jersey

Justin Katz

A recent speech by New Jersey's new Republican Governor, Chris Christie, to that state's League of Municipalities sounds some strikingly familiar chords:

Our citizens are already the most overtaxed in America. US mayors hear it all the time. You know that the public appetite for ever increasing taxes has reached an end.

So when we freeze $475 million in school aid, I am hearing the reverberations from school boards saying now you are just going to force us to raise taxes.

Well there is a 4% cap in place as you all know, yet school boards continue to give out raises which exceed that cap, just on salary. Not to mention the fact that most of them get no contribution towards the spiraling increase in health care benefits.

He goes on to explain that the state is going to reduce its spending, give municipalities "the tools helping you to reduce spending at the municipal level," and change the rules of arbitration to balance the scales during negotiations. My understanding is that the Republican Party is not quite so insignificant in New Jersey, as in Rhode Island, so perhaps Christie will have a shot at moving changes that our own Republican Governor Don Carcieri can only suggest.

On a broader level, we can hope that we're entering an era in which leaders have some basic familiarity with concepts of cause and effect.

March 4, 2010

Privileges on Demand

Justin Katz

Yeah, yeah, I know it sounds all right-wing conservative to say, but it's difficult not to fear for the future of our country with this sort of thing in the news:

Students and activists have staged demonstrations in recent months at public colleges across California to protest deep budget cuts that have led to steep tuition hikes, enrollment cuts, faculty furloughs and reduced course offerings.

In Berkeley, about 50 people broke through a fence surrounding Durant Hall, which is closed for renovation, and about 20 entered and occupied the building, said Cpt. Margo Bennett of the UC Police Department.

The group smashed windows, sprayed graffiti, damaged construction equipment, knocked over portable toilets and hung up a banner promoting the March 4 rally, UC officials said. Others blocked police from entering the building.

So they're protesting budget-driven cuts by causing damage that the strained budget will have to cover. Worse, they're protesting something that until very recently was considered a huge privilege.

I can't help but wonder if part of the problem is that grown-up manipulators didn't fully understand the effects on subsequent generations of all of their "rights" talk, with regard to privileges, over the past few decades.

Confusion over Gallo Accepting Union Offer

Marc Comtois

It seems there is some confusion over the latest page in the Central Falls High School story. The ProJo headline reads, "School chief, teachers agree to resume talks." There is mention of both "sides" returning to "the table," which is some of the common parlance used when it comes to contract negotiations. In the ProJo story, Gallo is quoted as saying:

“My heart skipped a beat,” Gallo said after reading Sessums’ proposal. “I thought, ‘They are basically saying they want what we want for the first time, with the kind of assurances I need.’ … This brings the union back with us, in the conversation about meaningful reform. It’s where they should be."
Further, as Supt. Gallo made clear this morning on WPRO's John DePetro Show (podcast), she's not talking about contract negotiations. The “table” the teachers are being invited back to is not a negotiating table but the one at which the reforms needed at the school will be discussed.

Additionally, it appears Supt. Gallo is not going to rescind her “fire” order until she’s sure the teachers are all in when it comes to reforming the school. She made clear in a radio interview this morning that she is holding out from rescinding her “fire” order until after the teachers take part in the planning process necessary to chart the path for fixing the school. She hopes to have that done in early May. After that, according to Gallo, then it will be up to the Board of Trustees of Central Falls to decide if they want to rescind the “fire” order.

Time to Make the Necessary Policy Shift on Jobs

Justin Katz

Kentucky Republican Sen. Jim Bunning's hold-up of unfunded government spending has ended, and probably without the lesson learned, although coverage of the effects did point the way:

Unemployment benefits will begin phasing out for thousands of out-of-work Rhode Islanders starting Monday, the result of Congress’ failure to pass a temporary benefits-extension bill late Thursday night.

Another result is that about 2,000 unemployed people will run out of benefits altogether between now and late July, state Department of Labor and Training officials said Friday. ...

Thus, instead of being potentially eligible for up to 99 weeks of benefits overall, they will generally be capped at 46 weeks, Hart and Filippone said.

Why are we considering it tolerable that Americans are requiring unemployment benefits for almost two years? And how much longer should we attempt to sustain such spending before shifting people to a system that's set up for longer-term care? At some point, it ceases to be unemployment and becomes welfare.

Turn to a related angle, the loans that are financing local unemployment:

Rhode Island employers will have to pay an extra $39 million in unemployment tax next year, a side effect of the state’s high jobless rate. ...

The tax increase will come as employers continue to struggle amid a nagging recession. It will be in addition to the high unemployment taxes they now pay, said Grafton H. "Cap" Willey IV, co-chairman of the Rhode Island chapter of the Smaller Business Association of New England, an advocacy group for small business. "It's a tremendous burden," said Willey, who is also a managing director of CBIZ Tofias, a CPA firm with offices in Providence and Newport.

At issue is a tax that employers must pay to the state unemployment insurance trust fund, which in turn pays benefits to out-of-work Rhode Islanders. As the jobless rate has climbed, demand for benefits has risen, draining the fund. As a result, the fund has been borrowing from Uncle Sam for the past year to help cover benefit payments.

The longer this goes on, the more difficult it will be, because the burden of the debt will grow precisely on those who need it to be relieved in order to get the economy rolling again. As we've watched, in Rhode Island, for most of the past decade, government officials are merely trying to maintain the status quo while awaiting some miraculous change that will fix their problems. It doesn't work that way.

The money to cover unemployment benefits must come from somewhere other than employers, and it must not initiate new taxes. In other words, the governments of Rhode Island and of the United States must lay their expenditures out across the table and divvy up the shrinking revenue as well as they can, prioritizing economic growth. They must also take the much less financially difficult step of loosening the chains that they've laid upon the various industries, from farming to healthcare.

Government officials won't take such steps, though. In Rhode Island, they're too myopic to look beyond their own standing. At the federal level, the Democrats are trying to shove as much of their long-term agenda into law as they can, and any policy disruption will have to wait, even if it continues to translate into economic depression.

Cumberland Approves Early Retirement Plan for Teachers

Marc Comtois

Cumberland has approved a plan designed to entice top step teachers into retirement for the purpose of saving cash.

If [20] teachers at the 10th salary step took retirement, it would save nearly $500,000, according to the board's estimate....The idea is for teachers at the first salary step to take the place of those at 10th salary step who choose retirement. Among several retirements incentives is paying 10 percent of the 2009-2010 school year's base salary on Aug. 15 or providing three years of healthcare coverage under the school district's plans. The retiree's copay would be at the same rates as those paid by people who remain employed by the school district.
This is something other school districts have done in the past, too. Heck, private industry has offered these sorts of deals for years, though not as much as they used to, so there is certainly a precedent to this sort of thing: offer the expensive middle-management types a deal to get leaner and, if need be, hire cheaper replacements.

Of course, the difference in the private sector was that, in addition to the short term savings from replacing older employees with younger, long-term savings were realized by offering those younger employees less generous benefits packages. Not so sure if that's going to happen here. And I'm not sure if making it attractive for some of your most experienced--and one would think at least a few of the best--teachers to leave is the best thing for education.

Where the Comparison Goes Wrong

Justin Katz

Chatter about the comparison of circumstances between President Obama and President Reagan has been everywhere, and it all falls apart on one basic question. Here's an example from Henry Olsen (subscription required):

Where does this leave us? Republicans should first remember that politics is like tennis, and the Democrats are serving. It's very hard to break service against a competent player, and there is still time for Obama and his party to regain their game. Obama's slide in the polls has been steep, but his year-end standing was eerily similar to Ronald Reagan's in December 1981. Back then, Reagan had 49 percent approval; Obama had 50 percent in the late-December 2009 polling average on RealClearPolitics. Reagan's numbers slid throughout 1982 as the economy worsened, reaching their nadir at 35 percent in January 1983.

But Reagan recovered nicely, relying on issues that unified his coalition, like hard-line positions against the Soviets. The fast-recovering economy also helped, and as his numbers recovered — and with Democrats unable to overcome their own intra-party divisions during their presidential primaries — Reagan swept to an epic reelection win that placed the GOP on the path toward the continued power it would wield for another 20 years.

Olsen's argument relates to the possibility that a third party will emerge and take the place of the GOP, but one significant consideration is missing from the analysis. Reagan's policies helped bring about the recovery that ultimately boosted his image. Amazingly, Obama has continued to chase down the very policies (in effect and proposed) that have been suppressing economic activity. If that continues, the Republicans have plenty of room to maneuver in order to obviate the need for an additional right-leaning candidate.

Obama's Health Plan: Rhetoric vs. Reality

Marc Comtois

The Foundry helpfully breaks down President Obama's latest bid for health care reform:

President Barack Obama gave yet another speech this afternoon urging Congress to pass his health care reform plan.

The President again claimed his plan lowers health care costs. It doesn’t.

The President again claimed his plan would not give government bureaucrats or insurance company bureaucrats more control over health care. It does.

The President again claimed that “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.” That simply is not true.

The President again said his plan gives the American people the same health care as Members of Congress. It doesn’t.

The President again claimed his plan is paid for. It is not.

As the President's rhetoric partially indicated, there are legitimate areas of common ground between the President and conservatives. They just aren't in this plan.

A Toll on the Governor's Race

Justin Katz

For my call in to the Matt Allen Show, last night, the topics were the proposed toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge and Board of Regents Member Angus Davis statements against Lincoln Chafee and the importance of maintaining a strong chain of authority for necessary reform up every rung of government. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Issues on Suburban Minds: Regionalization and Arbitration

Justin Katz

I know many of the right reform crowd in Rhode Island disagree with my general take on regionalization, but I'm relieved to see this, from Tuesday's Newport Daily News:

Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, and Rep. Deborah L. Ruggiero, D-Jamestown, met with members of the Town Council and School Committee before the regularly scheduled council meeting to discuss legislative issues. Both legislators said they would not support any regionalization of municipal functions unless the communities involved agreed to the consolidation. ...

Weed and Ruggiero both agreed that the impetus should come from cities and towns.

I'm even more relieved to see this:

When Weed asked school officials for a list of their legislative priorities, several members held up wrists bearing plastic handcuffs.

"No binding arbitration," Kaiser said, referring to legislation that would require binding arbitration for teachers. "This is not the time to handcuff school committees."

Council President Michael Schnack agreed. "There is no negotiating with binding arbitration," Schnack said. "You get a terrible contract and terrible results."

Weed said she did not think the idea had a lot of legislative support.

Of course, continual vigilance will be required. A lack of legislative support is not necessarily a good enough reason for legislation to fail.

March 3, 2010

Colleges Are Liberal Havens, Even When They're Catholic

Justin Katz

It's interesting to see the political shifts of Catholic college students assessed on a scale of agreement with Catholic doctrine:

On pro-life issues, the results indicated a "mixed pattern," it said. A majority of Catholic students leave college disagreeing that abortion should be legal but they number fewer than those who entered with that opinion, it said. Overall 56 percent said they disagreed "strongly" or "somewhat" that "abortion should be legal." ...

Like Catholic students at most public colleges, they moved toward agreeing with the church's position on the need to reduce the number of large and small weapons and its view that federal military spending should not be increased.

On the death penalty, 49 percent of Catholic students on Catholic campuses agreed "strongly" or "somewhat" with the church's opposition to the death penalty and were more likely than Catholic students at public colleges to agree with the church's social justice teaching on the need to reduce suffering in the world and "improve the human condition."

In brief, college moves kids to the left. Since the Church crosses the center line of Western politics, the students move toward the Church in some instances and away from it in others.

When Union Leaders Head for a Cliff

Justin Katz

Mark Patinkin tells an interesting anecdote in relation to the Central Falls teachers' firing:

I have been in a union for 30 years, and have come to feel that in standoffs with management, members often get into a collective self-righteousness that makes them vote against their individual good. ...

In the mid-'90s, I was reading a union publication that proudly featured a service being offered to striking journalists in Detroit. The service was a mobile food pantry in the back of a truck. It was visiting a picket line. There was a picture of newspaper people "shopping" for handout food in the pantry. They needed the service because they'd been out of work for a long time.

My reaction: Why is the union proud of this?

I'm not sure how Mark's union is or was structured, but in unions with national organizations behind them, once you get beyond the particular employer, striking doesn't affect the union leadership. Indeed, the disruption and realization of the threat contribute to their power.

C.F. Teachers Union: Two, Four, Six, Eight; When in Doubt, Litigate!

Monique Chartier

From yesterday's ProJo 7 to 7 News Blog.

The Central Falls Teachers' Union filed three unfair labor practice charges with the state Labor Relations Board Monday, its first move to appeal the mass firings of 93 teachers, support staff and administrators at the city's only high school.

And the basis for the charges?

Marcia Reback, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, which represents Central Falls, said the local filed three charges against Central Falls school district: failure to negotiate; refusal to provide information to the union; and the terminations themselves.

This seems pretty easy to dispense with.

1. Central Falls did, in fact, negotiate with the union, earnestly and at length.

2. You can't negotiate without providing information.

3. Terminations are the natural conclusion to unsuccessful negotiations IF the ultimate goal - a good education, for example - is something more than perpetual employment at an ever rising price.

Who is ultimately to blame for these unsuccessful negotiations is a separate matter. By refusing to put this matter to a vote of its members, it is the C.F. teachers union which is to blame. That they failed to put it to a vote has turned out to be a bad mistake, one that the union hopes to correct with litigation. (Whoops, no, my mistake. Let us not forget that all of the union's actions, including the overwrought candlelight vigil, are - all together now - "for the chiii-hilll-dren".)

Management-Union Friendship and Money Seeking

Justin Katz

Linda Borg's Sunday Projo article, "In Providence, more collaboration than conflict," weaves a tale of cooperation between the the city's schools superintendent and its teachers' union leadership:

Call it a tale of two cities.

While the superintendent and union president have been going at it in Central Falls, Brady and Smith have worked together on a plan to radically reshape five of the state's lowest-performing schools.

Her Saturday article, "Providence teachers face job uncertainty," gives some indication as to why. First of all, Providence has already effectively experienced the "turnaround model" that has Central Falls roiling:

Teachers, however, had to reapply for their jobs, and only 50 percent of the existing staff chose to do so. What made Hope High School successful was that, in the end, the teachers who stayed were committed to making radical changes, from moving to longer class periods to spending more time planning instruction.

Union President Steve Smith credits "the faculty" with initiating that idea, but whatever behind-the-scenes maneuvering there may have been, it was ultimately a difference in the union's behavior, not the district's plan. Further along in the same article, we find a clue that might explain the two sides' inclination to cooperate (emphasis added):

But for teachers to embrace dramatic change, they want the district — and the state — to give them the resources they need to get the job done, Smith said. He is bringing those concerns to School Supt. Tom Brady so that the School Department can push for federal monies to pay for additional support, whether it's creating alternative classrooms for disruptive students or remedial classes for students who are performing below grade level.

Let's take as given that the cooperation in Providence is desirable, whatever its motivation. We still should consider such evidence as the newly proposed funding formula. Providence has been underfunded, and no doubt stands to drink deeply from any pool of Race to the Top federal money that comes to the state. The Department of Education has determined that Central Falls, by contrast, is already receiving much more state money than is "fair."

In summary, the Providence union has already acquiesced to the sorts of changes that the Central Falls union is fighting, and education leaders on both sides of the negotiating table in Providence have reason to expect their good behavior to be rewarded mightily.

RI Tea Party Meeting Video, Continued

Justin Katz

I'm finally catching up with myself and have processed the rest of the video from the RI Tea Party's meeting in January. To refresh your memory, here's my liveblog from the event, and here's the video of Colleen Conley and Steve Laffey speaking.

In the extended entry of this post, readers can find the brief presentations of Ocean State Policy Research Institute Executive Director Bill Felkner, Congressional Candidate Mark Zaccaria, and Operation Clean Government's Sandra Thompson.

Who Are the Tea Partiers?

Justin Katz

National Review conducted a poll (subscription required) to find out what we all know about the tea party movement. First of all, Americans think well of the movement. McLaughlin and Associates asked respondents whether the tea parties represented an angry fringe or consisted of "citizens concerned about the country's economic future." 57% chose the latter, and only 19% chose the former — that 19% covering, one supposes, Democrat operatives and the mainstream media.

Another interesting factor that should surprise no-one is that tea partiers are not the anti-government extremists that some suggest, but run-of-the-mill right-of-center citizens frustrated enough to finally become active in politics:

Most tea-party sympathizers, [in contrast to Ross Perot independents], are pro-life. They are more pro-life than the electorate as a whole, although less so than Republicans. Their religious practices are roughly in line with those of the electorate. Tea-party participants, meanwhile, are both more pro-life and more frequent churchgoers than the electorate. Social issues may not be what binds the tea partiers together or what matters most to them, but social issues are not going to drive a wedge between them and Republicans.

Tea-party supporters are concerned about the deficit, but not to the exclusion of other issues. They don't want to cut the defense budget. A small, 52 percent majority of them believes we "should cut taxes to stimulate growth" while only 37 percent say that the deficit makes tax cuts unaffordable (and a tiny 7 percent want tax increases to reduce the deficit).

The tea partiers are often said to be populists hostile to Wall Street and big business. But while they clearly oppose bailouts of financial firms, their antipathy may not go much farther than that. McLaughlin asked likely voters whether they think that "we should impose a new tax on banks because they have benefited so much from bailouts and need to be reined in," or that "bank customers would end up paying the tax and the economy would suffer." The anti-taxers were a majority in the poll (52-38 percent), and both tea-party participants and tea-party sympathizers were even more strongly on the anti-tax side. In McLaughlin's poll, a majority of likely voters want to cut taxes on corporations. Tea partiers were especially likely to agree.

One caution that the poll highlights is that third-party, tea-party candidates will tend to split the electorate and help the Democrats. As NR's Ramesh Ponnuru and Kate O'Beirne suggest, this means that Republicans should consider tea partiers to be ideologically determined and move in their direction, rather than hoping that they'll choose the least worst option. Electoral evidence has already been mounting that they won't; the GOP must do the courting, which is to say, return to its own integrity.

March 2, 2010

Sasse Converted to the Dark Side?

Justin Katz

I'm not sure what to make of this news:

Gary S. Sasse has been hired by the Rhode Island House of Representatives to serve as a part-time adviser to the House Leadership, according to an announcement today by Speaker Gordon D. Fox. Sasse will work 20 hours per week. ...

"Having Gary Sasse as a resource will be invaluable to me and the members of the House of Representatives," said Speaker Fox. "I have asked him to focus his energy on issues relating to government restructuring and tax policy, as well as other projects as we move forward. He brings an enormous amount of knowledge and expertise that will continue to benefit our state as he has done for more than three decades."

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer? Buy credibility for economically fatal programs currently in the making? Or do I have Gordon Fox all wrong?

Movie Briefs

Marc Comtois

While it has it's inaccuracies, The Hurt Locker is a movie I'd heartily recommend. The most impressive parts of the film for me were those depicting the stressful situations the soldiers were in while doing their job, ie; everyday life for a U.S. combatant in Iraq circa 2004.

On a completely different note, I also liked The Fantastic Mr. Fox, a movie based on the book by Roald Dahl. It wasn't a kiddie film by any means. As Ross Douthat put it in his review for National Review (NR subscription req'd).

In Dahl’s book, the foxes and badgers are delighted to live permanently underground, feeding off the farmer’s storehouses, while their enemies wait in vain for them to emerge. In the movie, things are more ambiguous. “I’m a wild animal,” Mr. Fox tells Mrs. Fox (Meryl Streep), explaining why he can’t stop taking risks, and there’s a sense throughout the film that this wildness is imperiled — that the farmers may be defeated, but that the animals will be forced to domesticate themselves in order to survive, living more as parasites on civilization than as the hunters they were meant to be.
And the animation style is compelling.

Finally, I haven't seen Avatar yet. (If you haven't guessed, I tend to be a little late in my movie viewing habits!) But I did finally see Pocahontas. Ehhhh....sorta-typical Disney pc fare--only mild de-programming of the children required, post-film. But if, as they say, the former is merely the latter with more flash and bang, perhaps I'll pass.

Politically Correct and Unreliable

Justin Katz

Have you heard the one about the government employment site that refused to allow discrimination against unreliable employees?

CAMPAIGNERS reacted with anger last night after it was claimed a Jobcentre worker had refused to display an advert for a "reliable worker" because she felt the phrase discriminated against unreliable applicants. ...

The mother of two [who attempted to place the ad], from Borehamwood, Herts, said yesterday: "I placed the advert on the website and when I phoned to check I was told it hadn't been displayed in the Jobcentre itself. The woman said, 'Oh we can’t put that advert on the Jobpoints'.

"She said it was because they could have cases against them for discriminating against unreliable people. I laughed because I thought that was crazy. We supply the NHS with staff so it's very important for the patients that we have reliable workers.

More reasonable heads seem to have prevailed, but the initial impulse speaks volumes about the use of political correctness and threats of litigation for the benefit of the lazy and scheming. It's the subversive manifestation of the same cultural movement leading to riots in Greece and political intimidation on California campuses. Mark Steyn puts it well:

We hard-hearted small-government guys are often damned as selfish types who care nothing for the general welfare. But, as the Greek protests make plain, nothing makes an individual more selfish than the socially equitable communitarianism of big government: Once a chap's enjoying the fruits of government health care, government-paid vacation, government-funded early retirement, and all the rest, he couldn't give a hoot about the general societal interest; he's got his, and to hell with everyone else. People's sense of entitlement endures long after the entitlement has ceased to make sense.

Without a resurgence, this could be the century that Western self-reliance dies.

Avoid Long Term Ramifications: RIIL Should Deny Cranston Team Consolidation

Marc Comtois

Cranston's recent proposal to merge school sports is currently being weighed by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League. John Gilooly explains why allowing such a merger would set a bad precedent:

The problem I see is that as an association of individual high schools, if the Principals Committee allows two high schools from the same city to combine teams as a cost-saving measure, it would be hard pressed in the future to prohibit schools from two different local governments to combine some teams to save money.

Hopefully, the people in Scituate and Smithfield or Middletown and Newport never think this way, but if the precedent is set, how could the Interscholastic League not allow neighboring small communities, as well as other large cities, to save money in hard financial times by combining teams?

The result would be fewer opportunities for state’s high school students to reap the whole spectrum of benefits that come from playing for a high school varsity athletic team.

That goes against the 78-year mission of the R.I. Interscholastic League.

Trying to make the best of a bad situation by allowing team consolidation for the purpose of giving more kids the opportunity to play--while noble sounding--is a flawed, short-term fix. For while this something-is-better-than-nothing solution would save a few sports in one community, the long-term ramifications would be detrimental to student athletes in Rhode Island. As Gilooly explains, this seemingly pragmatic approach, if authorized by the RIIL, could be used by communities across the state to justify cutting and combining sports, which would mean fewer spots for student athletes.

Such unintended consequences stemming from a purported fix in school athletics isn't unprecedented: the Education policy known as Title IX--which seeks to equal the playing field for female and male participation in school sports--is often used by schools to justify cutting boys sports to help maintain that equity. It's easier to cut men's baseball at Providence College, for instance, than to add and fund a new sport for women athletes, you see. The goal may be admirable, but there's no guarantee that the means to achieving will be quite what we'd hoped.

Finally, when viewed from a political angle, the RIIL shouldn't bail out Cranston for its self-made budgetary and fiscal problems. It's up to Cranston parents and voters to exercise their power and remind the politicians of what the priorities should be, one way or another.

The State of Education in Rhode Island, Part 4 (Or "Yes, this Series Does Have an End")

Carroll Andrew Morse

So how is the high-school in your community doing in general? To help you find the answer that question, I have created an index in the form of yet another two-dimensional plot. The x-axis represents information about improvements in reading proficiency, the y-axis information about declines in mathematics proficiency. The closer a district is to the upper right hand corner, the better it did in terms of changes in scores (at least relatively speaking, as at some point it would be nice to see positive numbers on the y-axis, so some cases of "who has improved the most in mathematics" would be represented, instead of them all being "who has declined the least") while the closer a district is to the lower left, the worse it did in terms of changes in scores.


In fully technical terms, the x-axis is a weighted average, determined by…

  • Multiplying each district's metric representing the increase (or decrease) in students proficient-or-better at reading calculated in Part 2 by its number of 8th-grade students who were less-than-proficient, then
  • Multiplying the metric representing the increase (or decrease) in number of students proficient-with-distinction in reading calculated in part 3 by its number of 8th-grade students proficient or better, and
  • Adding the products together and dividing by the total number of students in 8th-grade.
The final result is that, for districts that began in the 8th grade with most students already-proficient, the x-axis value is weighted towards the metric based on students moved from proficient to proficient-with-distinction, while in districts that began with many students less-than-proficient, the x-axis value is weighted towards the metric based on students moved from less-than-proficient to proficient-or-better. Yes, it is a bit involved, but it's a better choice than using one metric or the other as it gives every district a chance at improvement, based on where it started from, which has been the purpose of this analysis.

The y-axis, in all cases, in the decline in number of students partially-proficient in mathematics or better.

This plot is intended as a true index, in the sense that the numbers don't mean as much as does the information they can lead you to that explains their creation…

…if you are so interested.

Once More, With Feeling: RI Government Must Shrink

Justin Katz

John Kostrzewa notes what is likely just the baseline for actual results:

All of the recent turmoil is the result of Rhode Island's anemic economy and plans to close state budget deficits of $219 million for the year that ends June 30 and $427 million for the year that follows ..

The report shows the state's budget deficits for the coming years that end June 30 are forecast to be $362.2 million in 2012, $416.2 million in 2013, $457.8 million in 2014 and $535.7 million in 2015.

If the state government doesn't take dramatic steps to rework its functioning, I suspect those numbers are going to look like wishful thinking. Kostrzewa insists that entitlements and social services spending have to be cut back, and he's right. He's also right that cities and towns have to "redirect some of the energy they are putting into whining about state aid cuts to restructuring their governments," and the state will have to lighten the burdens it places on municipalities and school districts.

The only difference I have with Kostrzewa comes with this:

The tools [that the state should supply the cities and towns] range from changes to municipal pensions and minimum manning provisions, to municipal health insurance cost sharing and a uniform public school employee health care benefits program. Other proposals include eliminating mandates for school bus monitors and the requirement that school nurses be certified teachers.

My view is that the state should eliminate mandates, not reverse their direction. In other words, the General Assembly should provide relief from itself, but not impose terms on contracts, even if any economically literate resident would prefer those terms. Let residents get involved and rebuild their local governments on their own impetus; otherwise, the focus of activism for special interest will just shift away from towns, and they'll place even more emphasis on dominating the State House, which will be more difficult to reach from the grass roots.

Rhode Island Voter Coalition, Burrillville, Video Part 4

Justin Katz

Additional video from the Rhode Island Voter Coalition Burrillville "meet the candidates" General Assembly Q&A may be found in the extended entry.

A Local Focus

Justin Katz

In addition to my regular schedule on Anchor Rising, I'll be putting a daily post up on the Web site of Tiverton Citizens for Change, focusing on content related to the town, specifically. My intention is not only to have an effect politically, but also to experiment with a new model that we've been discussing for years, leveraging blogs and multimedia at the local level, with Anchor Rising tying that information into the state-level discussion.

Much of the TCC content will be of the sort that probably wouldn't make it onto my AR posting list because of its narrow focus. However, the experiment comes into play in the sense that I'll be liveblogging from town meetings, there, as well as posting town-related video, as I've done this morning with the recent "pay as you throw" trash pickup hearing.

March 1, 2010

Everybody Needs a Dad

Justin Katz

In a recent column, Julia Steiny ran through various ways in which fathers are, in general, distinguishable from mothers. Here's a sample:

... dads bring other huge contributions. For one thing, they play. That fatherly roughhousing that most kids love actually aids brain development. Play has been proven to enhance learning, and dads usually play with their kids more than moms. This play "promotes confidence in motor skills, courage, risk-taking and autonomy. It puts the kid on the path of healthy development and gives the child strong self-esteem," Glantz said. Even as they're wrestling with one another, the child can feel the love. And, "Dad's love is valuable like nothing else."

What all of the differences come down to, it seems to me, is that a father has unconditional love, like a mother, but without the sense of unity. As Steiny quotes from researcher Tonya Glantz:

"... think of how dads talk. It feels like: 'You are here with me' as opposed to 'You are a part of me.'"

That somewhat different relationship is not only something learned by the experience of being an actual parent, but also something that has been woven into our personalities and culture, in conformance with out biological natures. Whether you want to believe it's purely evolutionary or admit a Maker, fatherhood is expansive in the subtlety of its inherent effects on our society. (Which, of course, ties into the theological discussions that we've had around here, from time to time.)

What I've written above will have broad currency, in our culture, when the topic is education, parental responsibility, social work, and so on. However, much as fatherhood is broader than, say, an economic relationship, the concept of fatherhood and its importance ought to have implications for how we conceive of such things as marriage.

Rhode Island Voter Coalition, Burrillville, Video Part 3

Justin Katz

Additional video from the Rhode Island Voter Coalition Burrillville "meet the candidates" Congressional Q&A may be found in the extended entry.

The State of Education in Rhode Island, Part 3

Carroll Andrew Morse

An examination of the NECAP reading proficiency results presented in Part 2 reveals that only 2 of 12 Rhode Island school districts that began with 70% or more of their students proficient or better in the 8th grade according to the 2005/2006 NECAPs exhibited an increase in their total numbers of students proficient by the 11th-grade. (The two districts were Portsmouth-Little Compton and Smithfield).

This raises at least two questions almost immediately. First, once a district reaches 70% proficiency, is improving the performance of the 30% who remain below the proficiency line (while not losing any of 70% above the line) a more difficult and perhaps qualitatively different problem than educating the "first" 70%? Note, for example, the contrast with districts that began in the range of 50% to 60% proficient in 8th-grade; 10 out of the 13 of these districts were able to increase their total number of student proficient. Answering this question accurately will ultimately involve either a few more years of Rhode Island data, or data from other parts of the country.

There is a second question, however, that we can go after right away: is talking about "proficient or better" where a discussion about educational achievement should end? One criticism of No Child Left Behind Act and the testing regime it has engendered is that too much emphasis is placed on making students average, perhaps at the expense on helping students excel, i.e. if schools are being held accountable for their number of students who are proficient or better, how much effort will they expend on helping the students already proficient improve from there?

The structure of NECAP provides a way to look into this question. Instead of looking for proficiency-or-better, we can look at the number of students who scored "proficient with distinction" -- the highest score attainable on the NECAP. And, at least at a first glance, the PwD results in reading provide are some of the most encouraging for education in Rhode Island so far, where between the 8th and 11th-grade NECAPs, almost every district in Rhode Island saw an increase in the number of students who scored "proficient with distinction".

Proficient-with-distinction absolute numbers can be turned this into a percentage in the same way as the proficient-or-better numbers were, with the appropriate choice of denominator. One such choice is to use the number of students who were "proficient" in the 8th grade in each district, in cases where districts increased their number of PwD students. One way to interpret this result is as a measure of how well school districts are doing with the group of students that have shown a a level of commitment to academics.



In mathematics, the basic problem is the opposite from the one of reading; given that every RI district underwent a loss of proficient-or-better students between 8th and 11th-grade results, maybe if the numbers of partially-proficient of better students are analyzed, we will be able to observe a stoppage of the bleeding.

Alas, the result is not any more heartening than the proficient or better is Rhode Island. Every district in Rhode Island saw a decline in the number of students who were partially proficient or better, and there is no avoiding the fact that mathematics education everywhere in Rhode Island is in a state of complete collapse.



Community # of 11th-Graders, PwD at Reading, '08 and '09 NECAP # of 8th-Graders, PwD at Reading, '05 and '06 NECAP Change in # PwD at Reading, between 8th and 11th Grades # of 8th-Graders, Prof. at Reading, '05 and '06 NECAP Change in # PwD at Reading, between 8th and 11th Grades, as % of '05/'06 8th-Graders Prof.
Bristol-Warren 192 53 139 291 47.8%
Providence 410 85 325 1030 31.6%
Tiverton 97 37 60 191 31.4%
Barrington 326 238 88 288 30.6%
Chariho 147 52 95 327 29.1%
Newport 60 21 39 163 23.9%
Westerly 125 52 73 306 23.9%
Portsmouth-Little Compton 159 82 77 330 23.3%
Lincoln 158 87 71 313 22.7%
South Kingstown 221 134 87 384 22.7%
Foster-Glocester 90 36 54 249 21.7%
Middletown 71 26 45 216 20.8%
Woonsocket 68 10 58 283 20.5%
North Providence 112 52 60 338 17.8%
Smithfield 123 83 40 249 16.1%
Cumberland 167 100 67 468 14.3%
East Greenwich 151 117 34 240 14.2%
Central Falls 22 2 20 148 13.5%
East Providence 139 85 54 447 12.1%
North Kingstown-Jamestown 213 151 62 546 11.4%
Cranston 246 143 103 947 10.9%
Coventry 183 131 52 510 10.2%
Narragansett 63 48 15 162 9.3%
Warwick 244 167 77 952 8.1%
Burillville 55 40 15 247 6.1%
North Smithfield 46 35 11 189 5.8%
West Warwick 90 75 15 264 5.7%
Pawtucket 104 74 30 581 5.2%

Community # of 11th-Graders, PwD at Reading, '08 and '09 NECAP # of 8th-Graders, PwD at Reading, '05 and '06 NECAP Change in # PwD at Reading, between 8th and 11th Grades # of 8th-Graders, Prof. at Reading, '05 and '06 NECAP Change in # PwD at Reading, between 8th and 11th Grades, as % of '05/'06 8th-Graders PwD
Exeter-West Greenwich 34 37 -3 204 -8.1%
Johnston 38 42 -4 299 -9.5%
Scituate 65 92 -27 170 -29.3%

Community # of 11th-Graders, PartPoB at Math, '08 and '09 NECAP # of 8th-Graders, PartPoB at Math, '05 and '06 NECAP Change in # PartPoB at Math, between 8th and 11th Grades Change in # PartPoB at Math, between 8th and 11th Grades, as % of '05/'06 8th-Graders PartPoB
Barrington 500 530 -30 -5.7%
Chariho 396 480 -84 -17.5%
Westerly 341 414 -73 -17.6%
Portsmouth-Little Compton 373 453 -80 -17.7%
Foster-Glocester 288 352 -64 -18.2%
East Greenwich 304 381 -77 -20.2%
Cumberland 509 638 -129 -20.2%
Narragansett 175 221 -46 -20.8%
North Smithfield 201 254 -53 -20.9%
Lincoln 334 429 -95 -22.1%
Burillville 252 326 -74 -22.7%
Bristol-Warren 307 399 -92 -23.1%
North Kingstown-Jamestown 579 768 -189 -24.6%
Exeter-West Greenwich 203 280 -77 -27.5%
Smithfield 257 360 -103 -28.6%
Scituate 206 290 -84 -29.0%
South Kingstown 410 580 -170 -29.3%
West Warwick 292 417 -125 -30.0%
North Providence 260 378 -118 -31.2%
Coventry 494 731 -237 -32.4%
Cranston 796 1230 -434 -35.3%
Warwick 846 1324 -478 -36.1%
Newport 156 245 -89 -36.3%
Woonsocket 286 450 -164 -36.4%
Tiverton 179 285 -106 -37.2%
Middletown 198 327 -129 -39.4%
Providence 946 1638 -692 -42.2%
East Providence 367 652 -285 -43.7%
Central Falls 95 190 -95 -50.0%
Johnston 176 395 -219 -55.4%
Pawtucket 375 924 -549 -59.4%

Rocky Waters in the Dem-Union Love Affair

Justin Katz

I'd like to believe reports that big labor is in throes of disappointment with Obama and the Democrats:

Labor’s high hopes for major gains under President Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress have dimmed, raising fresh doubts about union leverage even in the best of political times.

I'd suggest that the "best of political times" is not likely to coincide with the worst of economic times, which has surely limited the Obama administration's ability to hand over the keys to the treasury. After all, the Democrats had to use much of the political capital they'd allocated for labor by preserving the jobs of public-sector union members under the deceptive guise of "stimulus."

I love this part, too:

Some labor experts say unions have come up flat in mounting an effective liberal response to conservative "tea party" activists who helped Republican Scott Brown win the special Senate election in Massachusetts to succeed Democrat Edward M. Kennedy, who died last year. An AFL-CIO poll showed that 49 percent of union households supported Brown.

"There’s been no indication that there’s muscle behind their money," said Leon Fink, a labor historian at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "There was no equivalent mobilization for public works or for a progressive health care measure."

Not to give anything away to the opposition, but the tea parties' success manifestly isn't a story of superior organization and "activism," as generally understood. The unions' problem on this count may be observed a layer below the surface of the above paragraphs: The unions are trying to mount a "liberal" response when many of their members have different ideological tendencies outside the direct application to their careers.

President Obama Uses Rhode Island Education Reform Examples

Marc Comtois

In a speech to Americas Promise Alliance to tout a $900 million school turnaround program, President Obama turned to Rhode Island for both positive and negative examples (h/t ProJo):

We'll not only challenge states to identify high schools with graduation rates below 60 percent, we're going to invest another $900 million in strategies to get those graduation rates up. Strategies like transforming schools from top to bottom by bringing in a new principal, and training teachers to use more effective techniques in the classroom. Strategies like closing a school for a time and reopening it under new management, or even shutting it down entirely and sending its students to a better school.

And strategies like replacing a school's principal and at least half of its staff. Now, replacing school staff should only be done as a last resort. The public servants who work in America's schools -- whether they're principals or teachers, or counselors or coaches -- work long and hard on behalf of our children and they deserve our gratitude. Keep in mind I've got a sister who's a teacher, my mother spent time teaching -- one of the most important jobs that we have in this country. We've got an obligation as a country to give them the support they need -- because when principals and teachers succeed, then our children succeed.

So if a school is struggling, we have to work with the principal and the teachers to find a solution. We've got to give them a chance to make meaningful improvements. But if a school continues to fail its students year after year after year, if it doesn't show signs of improvement, then there's got to be a sense of accountability.

And that's what happened in Rhode Island last week at a chronically troubled school, when just 7 percent of 11th graders passed state math tests -- 7 percent. When a school board wasn't able to deliver change by other means, they voted to lay off the faculty and the staff. As my Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, says, our kids get only one chance at an education, and we need to get it right.

Of course, getting it right requires more than just transforming our lowest performing schools. It requires giving students who are behind in school a chance to catch up and a path to a diploma. It requires focusing on students, from middle school through high school, who face factors at home, in the neighborhood, or in school that put them at risk of dropping out. And it requires replicating innovative ideas that make class feel engaging and relevant -- because most high school dropouts in a recent study said the reason they dropped out was that they weren't interested in class and they weren't motivated to do their work.

So that's why we'll build on the efforts of places like Communities in Schools that make sure kids who are at risk of dropping out have one-on-one support. That's why we'll follow the example of places like the Met Center in Rhode Island that give students that individual attention, while also preparing them through real-world, hands-on training the possibility of succeeding in a career.

Whether it passes or fails, it sure looks like Rhode Island is going to be on the forefront of education reform.

Rhode Island Voter Coalition, Burrillville, Video Part 2

Justin Katz

Additional video from the Rhode Island Voter Coalition Burrillville "meet the candidates" attorney general Q&A may be found in the extended entry.

The Providence Journal and Advocate

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal news departments have clearly been populated by advocates for same-sex marriage for quite some time. Staff Writer Maria Armental takes it to another level with this:

Politically liberal, Rhode Island is split when it comes to gay issues: it remains the only New England state that hasn’t recognized gay marriage.

(Maine voters overturned that state’s same-sex law in November).

If you didn't already know the whole backstory — the imposition of marriage redefinition through the judiciary and the targeted big-money advocacy through state legislatures, combined with a populist push to maintain the traditional understanding of the institution — you'd likely miss the fact that Rhode Island is not the "only New England state" that doesn't "recognize gay marriage." I don't see any explanation for Armental's subtle language except an intention to mislead readers of her newspaper. Most people won't read "that hasn't recognized" as "that hasn't, at some point in its history, recognized"; they'll think Maine voters overturned the traditional definition.

Objective reportage, one supposes, would have come too close to conveying the impression that the same-sex marriage "split" across New England is between the politically powerful and the people for the Providence Journal.

Rhode Island Voter Coalition, Burrillville, Video Part 1

Justin Katz

Additional video from the Rhode Island Voter Coalition Burrillville "meet the candidates" gubernatorial Q&A may be found in the extended entry.

When They're Playing a Different Game

Justin Katz

When people behave irrationally, there are fundamentally two possibilities: incompetence or calculation. I fear that Andy McCarthy may be right that we're looking at the latter, in Washington:

I hear Republicans getting giddy over the fact that "reconciliation," if it comes to that, is a huge political loser. That's the wrong way to look at it. The Democratic leadership has already internalized the inevitablility of taking its political lumps. That makes reconciliation truly scary. Since the Dems know they will have to ram this monstrosity through, they figure it might as well be as monstrous as they can get wavering Democrats to go along with. Clipping the leadership's statist ambitions in order to peel off a few Republicans is not going to work. I'm glad Republicans have held firm, but let's not be under any illusions about what that means. In the Democrat leadership, we are not dealing with conventional politicians for whom the goal of being reelected is paramount and will rein in their radicalism. They want socialized medicine and all it entails about government control even more than they want to win elections. After all, if the party of government transforms the relationship between the citizen and the state, its power over our lives will be vast even in those cycles when it is not in the majority. This is about power, and there is more to power than winning elections, especially if you've calculated that your opposition does not have the gumption to dismantle your ballooning welfare state.

Actually, we're looking at both calculation and incompetence. The Democrats are operating by ideological calculation, while the Republicans lack the competence to recognize the inevitable. They'll take their victories, in November, and then attempt to moderate in order to pick up Democrat constituencies for the welfare/healthcare state. In the long term, it won't work, and the statist Dems will have a huge head start as tea-party types find they have to build a political party from scratch in order to combat them.

Perhaps there's still time to have hope that Republicans will start campaigning on repeal as soon as healthcare is rammed into the law... and then actually follow through when they're elected.