April 30, 2010

The Misdirected Swagger of the Go Getter

Justin Katz

John Derbyshire posted a viral email from Wall Street circles that amounts to an egotist's cri de coeur:

Go ahead and continue to take us down, but you're only going to hurt yourselves. What's going to happen when we can't find jobs on the Street anymore? Guess what: We're going to take yours. We get up at 5am & work till 10pm or later. We're used to not getting up to pee when we have a position. We don't take an hour or more for a lunch break. We don't demand a union. We don't retire at 50 with a pension. We eat what we kill, and when the only thing left to eat is on your dinner plates, we'll eat that.

For years teachers and other unionized labor have had us fooled. We were too busy working to notice. Do you really think that we are incapable of teaching 3rd graders and doing landscaping? We're going to take your cushy jobs with tenure and 4 months off a year and whine just like you that we are so-o-o-o underpaid for building the youth of America. Say goodbye to your overtime and double time and a half. I'll be hitting grounders to the high school baseball team for $5k extra a summer, thank you very much.

So now that we're going to be making $85k a year without upside, Joe Mainstreet is going to have his revenge, right? Wrong! Guess what: we're going to stop buying the new 80k car, we aren't going to leave the 35 percent tip at our business dinners anymore. No more free rides on our backs. We're going to landscape our own back yards, wash our cars with a garden hose in our driveways. Our money was your money. You spent it. When our money dries up, so does yours.

One encounters this sort of swagger from people who have been successful in their careers, especially (it seems) when those careers have something to do with manipulating money. Because the content begins and ends in bellicosity, internal inconsistencies are to be expected. Note that the writer declares the inevitability of finance types' overtaking other professionals because they don't mind working hard, but then insists that they'll work as little as he claims the incumbents do.

The more essential problem with the rant is that it makes the dubious assumption not only that finance is the toughest industry in the universe, but also that it is a sort of ubercareer of which all others are pale imitations. I'd suggest, as an example, that the same drive that the writer professes mightn't serve him so well in the attempt to draw eight year olds along a path toward learning. Careers are substantively different in ways that a certain kind of smarts and ambition can't always surpass, and different people are suited to them.

As for the insinuation that finance professionals are the core consumers of the American retail and service market, I can only testify that, of all the middle-to-high-end construction projects on which I've worked, I'm not sure a single one was has been for the Wall Street set. That's a roll of the dice, to be sure, but the point is that other professionals make money, too, for actually doing, you know, stuff. Stuff that creates things and accomplishes objectives other than rolling money around.

On the Political Roundtable

Justin Katz

Ian Donnis and co. invited me to participate in today's WRNI Political Roundtable, on the topics of teachers unions, Central Falls, polls, and wind. You can listen here.

State Deficit 2012: $750,000,000

Monique Chartier

This year's deficit was $220 million. 2011 stands at $440 million. But three quarters of a billion dollars is the number for 2012. Gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille revealed this startling and grim projection last night at the East Providence Super Spring Spectacular.

It's being called the Medicaid Cliff. In two years, federal stimulus monies stop flowing into the state but the obligations which accompanied those funds - namely, expanded Medicaid eligibility guidelines - carry on, at which point, state tax dollars must pick up the slack. Mr. Robitaille explained to me after his public remarks that the General Assembly can change eligibility guidelines in 2012 as the obligation goes away with the federal stimulus dollars. But, if I understand correctly, even if they act immediately to modify eligibility and eliminate the entire Medicaid deficit, those changes would not go into effect until 2013, leaving 2012 as a crunch year.

I turned on the radio this morning just in time to hear Minority Leader Bob Watson upbraid General Assembly Democrats for postponing local aid and pension payments to mid June, effectively pushing the 2010 budget problem off to another year. (Hey, at least their willing to allow cities and towns to take in this irresponsible approach to their own budget probs.)

So ... 2010 is being postponed. 2012 we fall off a cliff. Puts a lot of pressure on FY2011, people.

Different Towns, Different Compassion for Taxpayers' Plight

Justin Katz

According to the Newport Daily News, some elected officials in Middletown are willing to acknowledge the economy in which constituents are having to struggle:

Councilman Edward J. Silveira said he submitted a docket item to discuss the issue [of a zero percent increase] after hearing from residents and businesses about the increased hardships they're facing. Silveira, Councilwoman M. Theresa Santos and Robert J. Sylvia said this week they will recommend deep cuts to line items across the board because most people cannot afford any additional expenditures. ...

"When I look and see what residents are going through and the fact our foreclosures are the highest they've been in years and families are going through so much right now, we need to do everything we can to make sure we're being reasonable," Sylvia said. "I will say this, however: Given what's going on out there, I will actively be campaigning against any member of the Town Council who votes for any tax increase. I'm a businessperson and I look at the town like a business and we can't beat up our residents any more than we already have."

The initially proposed budget represented a 2.7% increase, although some town officials are citing decreasing state and federal aid as justification for an 8% increase. Meanwhile, in Tiverton, we're having to fight to keep a compromise budget at a 4.39% tax levy increase, with town officials like the superintendent of schools proclaiming the end of our local civilization unless home owners accept a 9% increase in taxes.

Spurred by the Tiverton School Committee, rumors are flying around town declaring to parents that their children's schools will be closed, and students as early as fourth grade will be forced into the middle school, riding the bus with eighth graders. There is simply no way that will happen. For his part, Superintendent Bill Rearick warned at a public hearing, Wednesday, that even more extreme measures may be required — like forcing a reduction in teacher pay. (The only reason I didn't put the italicized phrase in quotation marks is that he may have said, "more egregious," and I haven't had a chance to check the tape.)

Hard economic times bring such clarity about who's on whose side.

Different Legislatures, Different Rules for Killing the Unborn (And Legislating)

Justin Katz

In Oklahoma, even a gubernatorial veto couldn't prevent the state legislature from making this law:

It requires women to undergo an ultrasound and listen to a detailed description of the fetus before getting an abortion. The person who performs the ultrasound must describe the dimensions of the fetus, whether arms, legs and internal organs are visible and whether the physician can detect cardiac activity. He or she must also turn a screen depicting the images toward the woman so she can see them.

In Rhode Island, legislation that would merely require a twenty-four-hour waiting period, the conveyance of some specific information as to the woman's health, a generic statement of laws and assistance available for pregnancy and birth, and the availability of generic information about preborn children cannot break the "further study" leadership veto.

An witness of Wednesday's House Committee on Health, Education, and Welfare hearing tells me that Rep. Jon Brien (D., Woonsocket) made a motion, early in the meeting, to hold all bills for further study, with the expectation that the motion would fail, and the committee would actually have to vote on each bill. According to my source, the pro-life committee members held the majority, at that time, by five to four.

Mumbling something about members who weren't present, Chairman Joe McNamara (D., Cranston, Warwick) wouldn't recognize the motion, and during the ensuing procedural discussion, three left-wing committee members finally made their appearance. McNamara "entertained a motion" to hold all bills for further study, and it passed seven to five: McNamara, Diaz, Hearn, Slater, Ferri and Ruggiero, for, Brien, MacBeth, Azzinaro, Baldelli-Hunt, and Wasylyk, against.

April 29, 2010

Two Cows: A Contrast of Political and Economic Philosophies

Monique Chartier

One of those trouble makers in East Providence sent me this.

You have 2 cows.
You give one to your neighbor.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and gives you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and sells you some milk.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both and shoots you.

You have 2 cows.
The State takes both, shoots one, milks the other, and then throws the milk away.

You have two cows.
You sell one and buy a bull.
Your herd multiplies, and the economy grows.
You sell them and retire on the income.

You have two giraffes.
The government requires you to take harmonica lessons.

You have two cows.
You sell one, and force the other to produce the milk of four cows.
Later, you hire a consultant to analyze why the cow has dropped dead.

You have two cows.
You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so that you get all four cows back, with a tax exemption for five cows.
The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island Company secretly owned by the majority shareholder who sells the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company.
The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option on one more.
You sell one cow to buy a new president of the United States, leaving you with nine cows.
No balance sheet provided with the release.
The public then buys your bull.

You have two cows.
You go on strike, organize a riot, and block the roads, because you want three cows.

You have two cows.
You redesign them so they are one-tenth the size of an ordinary cow and produce twenty times the milk.
You then create a clever cow cartoon image called 'Cowkimon' and market it worldwide.

You have two cows.
You re-engineer them so they live for 100 years, eat once a month, and milk themselves.

You have two cows, but you don't know where they are.
You decide to have lunch.

You have two cows.
You count them and learn you have five cows.
You count them again and learn you have 42 cows.
You count them again and learn you have 2 cows.
You stop counting cows and open another bottle of vodka.

You have 5000 cows. None of them belong to you.
You charge the owners for storing them.

You have two cows.
You have 300 people milking them.
You claim that you have full employment, and high bovine productivity.
You arrest the newsman who reported the real situation.

You have two cows.
You worship them.

You have two cows.
Both are mad.

Everyone thinks you have lots of cows.
You tell them that you have none.
No-one believes you, so they bomb the cr*p out of you and invade your country.
You still have no cows, but at least you are now a Democracy.

You have two cows.
Business seems pretty good.
You close the office and go for a few beers to celebrate.

Who gets to play God?

Donald B. Hawthorne


Now, what we're doing, I want to be clear, we're not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that's fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you've made enough money.

What does "success fairly earned" or "enough money" mean?

Who defines "success fairly earned" or "enough money"?

What if different people define "success fairly earned" or "enough money" differently?

Who defines the consequences of having more than "enough money"?

Who enforces such consequences?

If anyone thinks the definition or consequences of "enough money" is unjust, to whom do they turn for relief?

In other words, who gets to play God?

Any way you cut it, implementing policies consistent with Obama's words will require coercive actions that diminish liberty. There seems to be a certain amnesia about the coercive nature of government. Of course, it might be reasonable to say there is no amnesia for people who never recognize coercion because they have always sought power more than they have loved liberty.

On a more practical level, Nobel Laureate Hayek wrote about the impossibility of efforts to centrally plan such "solutions" in the first place in his seminal 1945 paper entitled The Use of Knowledge in Society. Glenn Reynolds referenced the paper in a recent editorial:

...The United States Code - containing federal statutory law - is more than 50,000 pages long and comprises 40 volumes. The Code of Federal Regulations, which indexes administrative rules, is 161,117 pages long and composes 226 volumes.

No one on Earth understands them all, and the potential interaction among all the different rules would choke a supercomputer. This means, of course, that when Congress changes the law, it not only can't be aware of all the real-world complications it's producing, it can't even understand the legal and regulatory implications of what it's doing.

There's good news and bad news in that. The bad news is obvious: We're governed not just by people who do screw up constantly, but by people who can't help but screw up constantly. So long as the government is this large and overweening, no amount of effort at securing smarter people or "better" rules will do any good: Incompetence is built into the system.

The good news is less obvious, but just as important: While we rightly fear a too-powerful government, this regulatory knowledge problem will ensure plenty of public stumbles and embarrassments, helping to remind people that those who seek to rule us really don't know what they're doing.

If that doesn't encourage skepticism toward big government, it's hard to imagine what will.


Michelle Malkin: Barack Obama, America's Selective Salary Policeman - "At some point, you have made enough money" is not a maxim that Obama's team of rich CEO's and well-paid bureaucrats has ever observed.

J.P. Freire: Obama made $5m in 2009 and tells us we've made enough?


Kyle Wingfield: Exactly who 'makes enough money' in Obama's eyes?

..."I want to be clear, we're not trying to push financial reform because we begrudge success that's fairly earned. I mean, I do think at a certain point you've made enough money. But part of the American way is you can just keep on making it if you're providing a good product or you're providing a good service. We don't want people to stop fulfilling the core responsibilities of the financial system to help grow the economy."

The second sentence is the one that defines "fairly earned" for Obama. The man who as a candidate spoke of "spreading the wealth around" has found a matter he considers within his pay grade: other people's pay.


Neo-Neocon: Obama and Sowell on who can tell when people have made enough money?

The Citizen, the Legal, and the Illegal

Justin Katz

In her Providence Journal column, yesterday, Froma Harrop inadvertently illustrated the problem that America has resolving the illegal immigration problem. Regarding Arizona's new immigration law:

Stopping brown people in the street is not the way to address the problem. The great majority of illegal immigrants come for work. Though they shouldn't be here, these are mostly good people supporting their families. These poor folk deserve to be treated humanely.

Notice how Harrop casually elides illegal immigrants with legal immigrants and citizens who might be profiled. The bottom line is that conservatives think, for good reason, that all talk of compassion and comprehensive reform are cover for amnesty. We don't need "comprehensive" reform. We need enforcement of currently existing laws and a decrease in incentive to come to and live in the United States illegally.

If we penalize people for hiring from among the illegal population and if we decrease the comfort of living in this country without permission, we can begin to reverse the flow. That, by the way, is rightfully a state and federal endeavor. Don't let the Democrats turn Arizona into an excuse to reach for their wish-list of immigration lunacy.

FIXED:Tea Parties and Healthcare Polling

Justin Katz

Update: The links weren't working earlier; they're fixed.

On last night's Matt Allen Show, Monique and Matt talked Tea Parties and healhcare polling. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Whistling Past the Regulatory Problem

Justin Katz

Senator Carl Levin (D, MI) strode right past the fundamental problem while lambasting Goldman Sachs executives (emphasis added):

Wall Street is on the wrong side of this fight. It insists that reining in that -- those excesses would unduly restrict the free market that is the engine of American progress.

But this -- this market of ours isn't free of self-dealing or conflict of interest. It isn't free of gambling debts that taxpayers end up paying.

It isn't free of those debts because — primarily by backing risky mortgages through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and increasing barriers to competition with regulatory bars to clear — the government has allowed too-big-to-fail bailouts to become an implicit part of the economy. Layering on regulations will only increase complexity and the potential for the manipulation of the financial industry, whether for financial or political purposes.

April 28, 2010

Interesting Poll Results

Justin Katz

Rasmussen reports that Lincoln Chafee (I) and Frank Caprio (D) are currently tied in the race for governor, with John Robitaille (R) pulling 21%. Switch Caprio out for Patrick Lynch, and Chafee goes up to 35%, while Robitaille gains to 26%. Clearly, right-leaning conservatives are still buying Caprio's moderate image.

By way of a wildcard: Governor Carcieri's approval rating jumped 10 percentage points, to 53%, from last month's survey. The governor's been kind of quiet, lately, so I'm not sure what would drive that jump, unless it's a post-flood rally. Although, this might be related:

While Robitaille leads in both three-way races among those who strongly support repeal of the health care law, Chafee earns over 50% support from those who strongly oppose repeal.

A majority of Rhode Islanders support the repeal of the healthcare legislation (51%), which can perhaps be taken as a stand-in for a broader shift of the electorate rightward and toward Republicans. The cult of Obama is still holding relatively strong, with 57% approving of the president's performance. But note this: That means the One now leads our much-maligned governor by a mere four percentage points when it comes to approval.

The Providence Journal reports Rasmussen's healthcare numbers differently than does Rasmussen itself (unless Rasmussen just didn't summarize the results that the Projo cites), but if anything, this the Projo offers a moderated view of a surprising shift that ought to send chills down the spines of Democrats who expected passage of the legislation to kick off an upswing of approval::

The latest poll also showed 48 percent of Rhode Islanders approve of federal health-care reform, with 46 percent opposing it. Support was stronger last month, with 54 percent in favor and 41 percent opposed.

Just Run

Justin Katz

The thing about politics and governance is that the battles can't ultimately be won from the outside. Somebody's got to step forward to take office and make the right decisions, with the right motivation and guidance, once in office.

I pass the following along with the suggestion that running under the flag of a particular party does not require a blood oath or cult-like fealty. The person who wins a particular office holds the cards; the purpose of the parties, in this case, the Republican Party, is just to help with the effort and to coordinate action among office holders. In other words, if you're interested in running as a right-leaning reformer, you should see the state GOP as a facilitating ally, not as a cadre that seeks to usurp your office.

On Saturday, May 1, 2010, the Rhode Island Republican Party will begin its 2010 Candidate Training Program. The first session of this program will be held at the Campaign Headquarters of Mayor Scott Avedisian, located at 1800 Post Road in Warwick, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

While the content of the Candidate Training Program will be directed primarily to candidates for the RI House and Senate, Republican candidates for all state and local offices, as well as their key campaign staff, will be welcome to attend.

The Candidate Training Program will begin with a one-day training session focused on practical requirements for success including: Declaration of Candidacy and signature requirements; Financial Disclosures and the RI Board of Elections; campaign fundraising; media; and issues. Republican Party officers, past candidates and political consultants will be among the presenters at this portion of Training Program.

The RI GOP 2010 Candidate Training Program will resume with an intensive, two-day training session on May 22 and 23 to provide an in-depth look at successful campaign strategies. Additional details regarding the two-day portion of the Training Program will be released at a later date.

Anyone with questions or wishing to attend the 2010 Candidate Training Program must respond by email to: contact@rigop.org.

Regulating Something Other than the Problem

Justin Katz

Veronique De Rugy argues that deregulation was not the culprit in the current economic crisis:

The great villain in the deregulation myth is the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1999, which repealed some restrictions of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act, namely those preventing bank holding companies from owning other kinds of financial firms. Critics charge that Gramm-Leach-Bliley broke down the walls between banks and other kinds of financial institutions, thereby allowing enormous systemic risk to percolate through the financial world. This critique is the keystone of the "blame deregulation" case, but it doesn't hold up: While Gramm-Leach-Bliley did facilitate a number of mergers and the general consolidation of the financial-services industry, it did not eliminate restrictions on traditional depository banks' securities activities. In any case, it was investment banks, such as Lehman Brothers, that were at the center of the crisis, and they would have been able to make the same bad investments if Gramm-Leach-Bliley had never been passed.

Another common claim, that credit-default swaps and other derivatives left unregulated by the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 were a cause of the financial crisis, doesn't stand up to scrutiny, either. Research by Houman Shadab of the Mercatus Center has shown that this argument is undermined by its failure to distinguish between credit-default swaps, which are simply insurance against loan defaults, and the actual bad loans and mortgage-backed securities at the root of the crisis. Stricter regulation of credit-default swaps wasn't going to make those subprime mortgages any less likely to go bad.

There is room to argue that stricter regulation might have prevented risky loans from permeating the economy so deeply. Such arguments, however, assume that regulators would have targeted the correct risks, when the evidence — indeed, the origin of the crisis — suggests that government officials would not have (and still would not) dampened the trends that needed dampening.

As conservatives have been arguing for quite some time, the implicit government backing of bad mortgage loans through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was the key ingredient encouraging the financial industry to treat such mortgages as too safe of an investment. De Rugy notes that Fannie and Freddie "guarantee[d] nearly $5 trillion in home loans with a mere $100 billion in net equity." She also highlights decreases in capital ratios permitted by the regulators themselves.

I suppose there's a case to be made that regulations that counteracted incentives that the government created with low interest and financial backing of bad mortgages would be to the good. But why not just stop creating those incentives by decreasing the role of government?

April 27, 2010

Regulation Taking a Grain of Salt

Justin Katz

Sometimes, just after waking in the morning, it's possible to believe that people like this do not actually exist, but they're out there, they're more plentiful than is good for our nation's health, and they seem to be getting bolder and bolder:

If State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz has his way, the only salt added to your meal will come from the chef's tears.

The Brooklyn Democrat has introduced a bill that would ban the use of salt in New York restaurants - and violators would be smacked with a $1,000 fine for every salty dish.

"No owner or operator of a restaurant in this state shall use salt in any form in the preparation of any food," the bill reads.

Every movement and every era has its kooks, but this example cuts a bit too close to the debate about healthcare costs and government involvement in that industry for my tastes.

The Overt Fishiness of Government

Justin Katz

A recent column by Mark Patinkin profiling a Rhode Island fisherman contains this unsurprising gem:

After each haul, [Niles Pearsall] has to painstakingly throw back restricted fish — sometimes half or more of what the nets haul up. The irony is that many are dead anyway. He said it's like throwing $20 bills into the sea. ...

He claimed there are two reasons the government has it wrong. First, the rules are out of date. And second, he said, government test boats dragged areas incompetently, came up with few fish and decided that meant they were scarce. Pearsall says more seasoned fishermen dragged the same areas and came up with full nets — lately more than ever.

Government does have a role in ensuring that self interest doesn't drive the total draining of natural resources. The problem is that, when it becomes too big and its purview too broad, the democratic feedback loop cannot function. The only way public bureaucracy can even come close to managing various interests related to a particular industry is if political forces put knowledgeable people in the right positions with incentive to balance the claims of various parties.

But who's going to pressure politicians on behalf of fishermen when we're having to pressure them to manage our healthcare reasonably?

SNL: The 2010 Public Employee of the Year Awards

Marc Comtois

The nominees:

Markeesha Odom: Works at St. Louis DMV. At 24 years old, already twice name Missouri's surliest and least cooperative state employee.

Dennis Cosgrove: School custodian in Queens, NY. Set a record with 3200 hours on the job. All on overtime! Like many NYC custodians, Dennis is a year round resident of Florida.

Anthony Scalise: A clerk in the probate court of Mercer County, NJ. Elevator inspector for the city of Trenton and on 100% disability from his first city job in the sanitation department where an accident left him with a crippling fear of cats.

Watch below for the winner!

From Tax to Entitlement

Justin Katz

Sal Capaldo, of Attleboro Falls, has an interesting idea and suggestion:

For those politicians who have walked through Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun on any weekday, they would have observed folks mindlessly sitting at slot machines waiting for a financial score that never comes.

The folks filling these venues are regularly found buying cigarettes, playing Mega-bucks, standing in line at the welfare office or perhaps doing nothing productive at all. Additionally, let's not forget our senior citizens who flock to these casinos to deposit their Social Security checks. Why don't we move every senior center across the state to a central location at Foxwoods? I can see it now — vans as far as the eye can see and acres of handicapped parking spots next to a propane filling station. Now that's a vision ...

Since we are now offering government subsidies for everything from dental appointments to bus service, why don't we stop the madness and just give low-income Rhode Islanders free lottery tickets and cigarettes? Let's face it, long-term it would be cheaper than asking our state brain trust to offer up incentives to small businesses looking to expand and hire.

From government officials' perspective, such a plan might be win-win. They would claim the permanent votes of people addicted to gambling and nicotine, then when years of idleness and smoke inhalation are inevitably reflected in the health of the subsidized, politicians will have an issue on which to demagogue in order to take upon themselves the authority to further micromanage the healthcare industry — especially its financing.

The fatal flaw, however, may be the government's up-front reliance on the money that gambling and tobacco enable it to extract from working class citizens and seniors without having to vote for broad-based tax increases. Some (central) planning would have to be done to transfer that burden to the chosen minority.

"Just quit spending all the money."

Marc Comtois

In Utah (h/t), incumbent Republican Senator Bob Bennett is running in third place with a couple weeks to go before the Utah GOP winnows the field down to two candidates. The Utah GOP is dominated by members of--or those sympathetic to--the Tea Party movement and Bennett has come under fire for proposing that individuals be required to purchase health care and for supporting the bank bailouts.

"What is uniting everyone right now is fiscal conservatism, and I'm not even sure I like the term conservative. It's just responsibility. Just quit spending all the money," said David Kirkham, a co-founder of Utah's tea party movement.
That's pretty much the basic uniting factor, isn't it?

Shady Maneuvers in Local Government

Justin Katz

One periodically hears the complaint that Republican candidates, in Rhode Island, too often shoot for the bigger state and federal elected offices, rather than starting local. Each person has to determine his or her interests and preferences for participation, but I've been finding local politics, here in Tiverton, to be extremely instructive in helping to form my understanding of governance in general.

As I mentioned on Anchor Rising, recently, Town Administrator Jim Goncalo has modified official documents with false information for the purposes of an "inquiry" to the Department of Revenue Division of Municipal Affairs. What he and some members of the Town Council are attempting to do is to get the state to promise to certify a tax increase above the 4.5% cap (over 9%). In that way, they avoid going on record voting to request a waiver of the tax cap before the financial town meeting but effectively achieve the same thing.

At last night's Town Council meeting, which I liveblogged on the Web site of Tiverton Citizens for Change (TCC), some of us concerned citizens raised the matter under the agenda item "financial town meeting," to which it is clearly relevant. What we confirmed immediately was that the Town Council had not seen the document (officially, anyway) and did not approve it for sending to the state as part of an "inquiry." The notable exception was that Council Member Louise Durfee was clearly very familiar with the package, suggesting that she might be working independently without council participation in the background.

That's when the education really began.

The strategy of the key players — Durfee, Goncalo, and Council President Don Bolin — was to insist that, in the context of the package, it really wasn't a big deal that the town administrator had misrepresented formal documents submitted to the state, apparently without authorization to do so. They then engaged in misdirection and personal attacks against those of us who took the public podium to speak.

Town Administrator Goncalo stressed that nobody was supposed to see the documents except for him, the town treasurer, the Budget Committee chairman, and the state. In fact, he promised "to find out who put that form on the Internet" (I did), as if posting public documents is now a matter for witch hunts and suppression of transparency. As if it would be preferable for town officials to make a practice of sending secret, falsified documents to departments of the state government in order to receive promises of certification based on information that does not accurately reflect the current status of the town's budget process.

The fact is that the budget, as it stands, is currently below the tax cap, an inconvenient fact for those who hope to confiscate more tax dollars.

Council Member Hannibal Costa then objected that the item wasn't on the agenda. President Bollin slammed down his gavel and ended the meeting.

For the final lesson of the evening: Even though the subject of falsified documents from a town official that had ostensibly been inappropriately released to the public was clearly the most newsworthy development of the evening, neither Tom Killin Dalglish, of the Sakonnet Times, nor Marcia Pobzeznik, of the Newport Daily News, both in attendance, approached any of the principal speakers for further information.

Now extrapolate this drama to the state and federal levels. The one hope, it seems to me, is that truth and principle will shine through, no matter the breadth of the issue or the complexity of the obfuscation.

April 26, 2010

Making Committees Choose Between Funds and Friends

Justin Katz

Chris Powell notes a strategy worth considering:

Nominations for Connecticut's mayor of the year should include Wallingford's William W. Dickinson Jr. for proposing, in the town budget he recently submitted to the Town Council, to reduce the school board's budget by exactly the amount the board planned to pay raises to teachers. The mayor thus clarified that school budgets aren't being cut but rather that school systems are being cannibalized by their employees.

The statement could be even more effective in towns that are between contracts — such as Tiverton. Especially in the case of financial town meetings, taxpayers could send a clear message that they've got a preference for certain line items in the district's budget.

When school committees are unwilling to force concessions beyond the point at which their budgets grow 6% (and are failing to achieve even those) during an historic recession and 2% inflation, it seems to me that some undeniable lessons from the people paying the bills are in order.

Insider and Outsider "A" Students

Justin Katz

As a matriculated "A" student, now a carpenter, I'm not sure I can accept P.J. O'Rourke's thesis:

America has made the mistake of letting the A student run things. It was A students who briefly took over the business world during the period of derivatives, credit swaps, and collateralized debt obligations. We're still reeling from the effects. This is why good businessmen have always adhered to the maxim: "A students work for B students." Or, as a businessman friend of mine put it, "B students work for C students—A students teach."...

Why are A students so hateful? I'm sure up at Harvard, over at the New York Times, and inside the White House they think we just envy their smarts. Maybe we are resentful clods gawking with bitter incomprehension at the intellectual magnificence of our betters. If so, why are our betters spending so much time nervously insisting that they're smarter than Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement? ...

The other objection to A students is what it takes to become one—toad-eating. A students must do what teachers and textbooks want and do it the way teachers and texts want it done. Neatness counts! A students are very busy.

At the very least, O'Rourke ought to draw a distinction between variants of the "A" student, between those who agree with their professors and those who do not. I used to write twenty to eighty page papers (many of those consisting of footnotes) when the argument that I felt intellectually obliged to make clearly conflicted with the preferences of the person doing the grading. Sort of the academic variation of the electoral maxim, "if it isn't close, they can't cheat."

Just such a paper could be written, it seems to me, on the link between political philosophy and my proposed categories of "A" students. Those who achieve high grades in spite of their status as class gadfly are not apt to prefer governments that presume to stand before and instruct the electorate on the definition of a good life and equitable distribution of resources, while those whose high marks happened to coincide with philosophical accord with the grade giver have likely learned the advantages of having somebody hovering above their peer groups dispensing rewards.

Of course, as you read this, I'm probably crouched over a century-old fir floor board, prying it straight with one hand while pounding screw-flooring nails into its tongue with the other. If only I had the time to work that into a proper metaphor...

Labor Peace, Town or State

Justin Katz

Julia Steiny makes a reasonable point about the ability of the General Assembly — with limits and mandates for local teacher contracts — to ensure "peace at the local level," but her assessment doesn't go quite far enough:

And this is the point: labor peace must be bought. And nothing is excluded from negotiations. Everything is subject to bargaining rights.

To prevail in negotiation, weak-kneed management has often won what it wanted, extra minutes of instruction or commitments to professional development, by giving away expensive perks such as more generous sick leave. To hide or delay paying for the give-away, perks were often additions to retirement benefits.

The operative clause is that "labor peace must be bought"; if it isn't bought at the local level, it will be bought at the state level. As we've recently seen, AFL-CIO honcho George Nee sneezes, and Providence quakes. If reformers somehow manage to push contractual limits through the General Assembly, it will only happen on the terms of National Education Association Rhode Island Executive Director Bob Walsh. And we can be sure that those aren't terms that we should prefer to what we can secure with labor decisions close at hand in our own communities.

Look. The basic calculation is as follows: If the people of Rhode Island don't care enough to counterbalance the unions when it comes to electing school committee members, and if there aren't three to five residents willing to stand against union aggression as elected officials in each municipality, then the even larger court of the state government is not a place that we want the ball in play.

"T" for Two? Mark Steyn Addresses Bill Clinton's Fatuous Criticism of the Tea Party

Monique Chartier

In Friday's Orange County Register.

Hence, Bill Clinton energetically on the stump, summoning all his elder statesman's dignity (please, no giggling) in the cause of comparing Tea Partiers to Timothy McVeigh. Oh, c'mon, they've got everything in common. They both want to reduce the size of government, the late Mr. McVeigh through the use of fertilizer bombs, the Tea Partiers through control of federal spending, but these are mere nuanced differences of means, not ends. Also, both "Tim" and "Tea" are three-letter words beginning with "T": Picture him upon your knee, just Tea for Tim and Tim for Tea, you're for him and he's for thee, completely interchangeable.

To lend the point more gravitas, President Clinton packed his reading glasses and affected his scholarly look, with the spectacles pushed down toward the end of his nose, as if he's trying to determine whether that's his 10 a.m. intern shuffling toward him across the broadloom or a rabid armadillo Al Gore brought along for the Earth Day photo op.

The Environmental Mandate

Justin Katz

I suppose another unelected panel and some municipal and state mandates can only do so much additional harm:

Rhode Island may take another step toward addressing climate change issues if the General Assembly passes legislation initiated by students in the environmental studies program at Brown University.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Joshua Miller, D-Cranston, calls for the creation of a study commission to monitor the impacts of climate change in Rhode Island and recommend responses to the government. An identical bill was introduced in the House by state Rep. David Segal, D-Providence.

The legislation also would require cities and towns to account for climate change when doing their comprehensive plans and mandate the state’s Emergency Management Agency to set up an automated system to alert the elderly about extreme weather.

But one can hardly avoid the feeling of futility. The Brown students who put together the report believe climate changes are on their way regardless of mitigation efforts, but even were that not the case, with a volcano pumping out ash just a short distance across the Atlantic, the relevance of "green" construction for public buildings in the state seems nigh upon nil.

Even an editorial a few pages away in the Providence Journal suggests the point:

Scientists believe that a volcanic eruption in northern Sumatra 74,000 years ago brought humans to the brink of extinction, blotting out much of the light of the sun with ash for six years, robbing plants of the rays they need to grow. The human population shrank to a few thousand, some scientists believe.

The forces that shape this planet continue to make themselves felt as people delude themselves into thinking that we can control nature.

I think also of gigantic blasts from the sun arching across an area of space 100 times the size of the Earth. We human beings are having enough difficulty taking care of ourselves without putting the weight of the globe on a few extra miles per gallon and some squiggly light bulbs.

None of this is to say that people interested in such matters shouldn't continue to research them and to make suggestions, and that the rest of us shouldn't follow such suggestions as aren't too disruptive. When it comes to action by state and federal governments, disruption is unavoidable. Andrew McCarthy puts it well in the context of an intraconservative spat:

You say: "Put yourself in the position of a senior government leader tasked with making real decisions that affect the lives of millions. What would you do if faced with a matter of technical disagreement on such a quantitative-prediction question among experts?" I'll tell you what I would do. I would say that, given our finite capabilities and the shortness of life, AGW [anthropogenic global warming] may not be a problem at all, and, if it is a problem, it is not urgent enough to obsess over. Not if I am a senior government leader of a country trillions of dollars in debt who is also tasked with making real decisions about unsustainable entitlement programs, the high likelihood that states will soon default, 10 percent unemployment, crippling new taxes and inflation on the horizon, a global war against jihadists whose mass-murder attacks — and their catastrophic costs — are impossible to predict, the imminence of game-changing nuclear capability in a revolutionary jihadist state that has threatened to wipe Israel off the map and whose motto is "Death to America," aggression from other hostile nations, a judiciary that is steadily eroding popular self-government, and a host of other actually pressing problems.

April 25, 2010

One Emergency Begets Another: Guess Who's Representing the Mayor ?

Monique Chartier

In today's Providence Journal, Mike Stanton and W. Zachary Malinowski do a thorough follow up investigation into the story, originally broken by the Hummel Report's Jim Hummel, about outrageous board-up fees which were facilitated by the official action of that city's mayor. In it, we learn that Mayor Charles D. Moreau has hired counsel.

Moreau’s lawyer, state Representative and former House Speaker William J. Murphy, did not return calls seeking comment.

Hey, when you're in the soup, ya gotta get the best! Or at least, the guy who, until recently, was the most powerful person in the state ...

Other enraging interesting details emerge from the Projo story. It turns out that, due to the action of Mayor Moreau, the board-up "emergency" in Central Falls went on for an incredible fifteen months. All the while, the mayor's friend and solely authorized board-up vendor cleaned up, in more ways than one, as the mayor deliberately and unnecessarily exposed property owners in his city to obscene board-up fees by refusing to put the work out to public bid.

By the way, to the gross abuse of mayoral power of an absurdly long "emergency" period, you can add the improper placement of municipal liens. All of the liens that the city placed for the mayor's friend and his absurdly high board-up fees were illegal. Municipal liens pertain to unpaid municipal bills (water, sewer, real estate taxes, etc.). Intercity Maintenance, which held the highly lucrative board-up monopoly in Central Falls for those fifteen months, is a private contractor and, as such, was well within its right to file a Mechanic's Lien against a property for any unpaid works. Inexplicably, the mayor chose to once again step in on behalf of his friend and make them all municipal liens. In doing so, he has for a second time exposed the city he purportedly represents to financial liability, this one in the form of potential counter suits by property owners compelled to pay exhorbitant board-up fees to remove what turned out to be an illegal lien on their property.

The Projo article offers a modicum of comfort to these abuses and injustices in the form of a new occupant installed at Central Falls City Hall.

Detectives from the [Rhode Island State Police] financial crimes unit, led by Lt. John D. Lemont, set up shop early this year in a third-floor conference room at City Hall, examining records and questioning city employees.

“We went in on the boarded-up houses, but the investigation has gone beyond that,” said Col. Brendan P. Doherty, state police superintendent. “We’ll be there for quite some time.”

Take your time, boys. Take your time.

The Immigration on Which We Agree

Justin Katz

Amity Shlaes' Saturday op-ed on immigration gives the impression of suggesting something controversial regarding a way in which immigration could help to save Social Security, but when the reader gets to the following, it turns out to be something not very controversial at all:

Here's where demography morphs from enemy to friend. Suppose we adopt the partial fix above. At the same time, the government hands out hundreds of thousands of green cards to skilled workers, the sort of talent that companies such as Microsoft, Wipro, Intel and Infosys sponsor.

Make the rules for receiving those visas liberal enough that immigrants can get them with minimum hassle and can, eventually, become citizens. Since these skilled immigrants will earn more than the average immigrant, or even the average worker, they will pay more payroll taxes.

At least to my experience, nobody argues that the United States should not seek to cull the cream of the world's crop. The dispute is over the degree to which we should strive to be so selective — read, by some, as "discriminatory." It's peculiar, therefore, to argue that immigration could save Social Security without stressing, above all, as the primary point, that America needs to focus on a particular type of immigration policy.

We'll realize any number of benefits if we manage that cultural, intellectual shift.

Re: Familiar Names, Familiar Practices

Monique Chartier

One of the more alarming aspects of the new revelations about the West Warwick pension fund is the lamentation by the Pension Board Chairman, Geoffrey E. Rousselle, that sunshine has been thrown on the matter.

He suggested that the dispute should not have turned public.

“It upsets me,” Rousselle said. “I don’t know how that memo was leaked. It should have stayed within the board.”

Sir, perhaps I can explain. This is a pool of public dollars. Further, it is a pool of public dollars to be used to fund an investment upon which retired public employees count for their pension. Complicating matters, out of that (limited!) pool of dollars has been paid an unusually high (to say no more) fee for investment in an instrument that an investment professional strongly advised against and about which board members are gravely misinformed.

“It was a 7-percent guaranteed return,” Rousselle said. “They promised us 7 percent.”

A Cole representative declined to comment on the investment. But documents released by the company make clear that there is no such guarantee.

If all of this still doesn't strike a chord with you, well, you're just going to have to take our word. Scrutiny by the press and by the public into this matter is most certainly warranted.

Familiar Names, Familiar Practices

Justin Katz

The curious story of the resignation of West Warwick's pension investment consultant brings us around (as you had to know it would) to some familiar names:

In early 2009, [Pension Board Chairman Geoffrey] Rousselle sought out the services of Jeffrey E. Bogosian, an investment broker already known in West Warwick through previous business with the pension board and a friendship with former board member Stephen D. Alves, also a former state senator. ...

... Bogosian [is the] owner of Winchester Investment Securities, which is based in the same downtown Providence office building as Alves, House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, and former House Speaker William J. Murphy.

The consultant firm that has resigned, P-Solve, argued against the investment from the beginning, and some of its concerns have a familiar ring:

On July 9, P-Solve produced a 26-page memo urging the board not to invest public pension dollars with Cole. The consultant cited a volatile real-estate market, "an extremely high" fee structure, a lack of transparency, many conflicts of interest and low liquidity. ...

[A subsequent memo], just two pages, was far more direct: "There are many reasons why we believe this investment to be wholly inappropriate for the Town of West Warwick …"

The first was "excessive fees," including "approximately 13 percent in up-front fees to pay commissions, offering fees and acquisition fees." P-Solve noted that "a substantial portion" of the fees would go to Bogosian's company, Winchester Investment Securities, for "sourcing the deal."

No doubt the outcry from concerned Rhode Islanders — specifically those residing in West Warwick and, especially, those whose pensions depend upon the board's wisdom — will be absolutely impossible to hear. The Rhode Island Way rolls on.

April 24, 2010

A Little Consideration During Budget Season

Justin Katz

You'll want to keep this in mind as your town wades through budget season:

The current budget dedicates $37 million in these stabilization funds this year, leaving a balance of $32 million to be used next year — the final year of the stimulus package from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. ...

School districts are going to have a hard enough time absorbing the 3.8-percent cut proposed for the 2010-2011 school year, she said.

I've emailed Commissioner Gist's office for clarification about the amount of stimulus Tiverton, specifically, should expect and the title under which the ARRA money will be distributed. Our district, for example, received three separate categories of ARRA funds, and it has left all three as zero for the purposes of next year's budget. And somehow they're coming up with a 6% increase of local contributions.

Two Troubling Aspects of President Obama's Reaction to the New Arizona Illegal Immigration Law

Monique Chartier

... and all the more troubling because, as the Arizona law is a carbon copy of federal law, they reflect his views on the issue of illegal immigration.

The first is the basis of his objection.

Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others. ... And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans ...

Illegal immigration pertains to the critical matter of sovereignty as tangibly manifest in the integrity of the border. It is also a matter of compliance with law (the enforcement of which constitutes genuine fairness). That the president chooses to frame this, instead, as a vague, emotional appeal to "fairness" indicates that sovereignty and the integrity of the border are secondary priorities to him. This is a problematic and disturbing mind-set for the occupier of the highest elected office in the country.

Also troubling is the solution that President Obama proposes in place of simply enforcing current federal immigration law. Far from being a responsible action by the federal government, "comprehensive immigration reform'', more accurately described as amnesty for illegal immigrants currently in the United States, would only exacerbate and accelerate illegal immigration to the United States.

Indeed, Mr. President,

... we can all agree that when 11 million people are living here illegally, that's unacceptable.

But contrary to what you propose, the solution is not to flip a switch and simply make legal what was illegal. This would only guarantee the permanent breach of our sovereignty by encouraging millions more to come here to wait for our misguided officials to pass yet another mass amnesty after this one. The answer is to enforce existing immigration laws, particularly those pertaining to employment and social benefits. Our immigration laws are not "broken", as you wrongly assert. They merely lack for a sufficient number of elected officials with the will to enforce them.

The Reaction, Not the Rejection, Is the Thing

Justin Katz

In their capacity as literature, the texts of the Bible aren't exclusively of religious concern. (That's hardly an original or incendiary suggestion.) So perhaps you'll find this reading of Cain and Abel — found in a review by Shalom Carmy of a book by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks — worth a few moments of sunny Saturday contemplation:

... the rejection of Cain's offering is one of the most puzzling features of the story of the first murder. Classical exegetes, Jewish and Christian alike, have ingeniously found reason for God to discriminate between Cain's vegetables and Abel's fatted lamb, although their arguments seem to read more into the text than is manifestly there.

As a result, many modern readers have realized that Cain's response to God's rejection matters more than the perfection of the sacrifice. I don't think anyone has expressed this better than Sacks. He looks at the offering as a gift. When a gift is rejected, there are two possible reactions: If you, the giver, ask what went wrong and try to do better, "you were genuinely trying to please the other person." If you become angry with the recipient, "it becomes retrospectively clear that your concern was not with the other but with yourself." This combines a profoundly satisfactory reading of the text with a powerful moral lesson.

Our culture tends so strongly toward a rejection of overt (as opposed to insinuated) authority and an embrace of self-centricism that it takes a moment to adjust to the frame of mind that the reading requires. We tend, that is, to find an initial inequity or unfair treatment largely to exculpate the reaction.

Was God's preference for Abel's gift arbitrary? Cain doesn't take the path toward finding out. He judges his gift by his own criteria and determines himself to have been wronged. As much as we may unite in lamenting his ultimate remedy, it'd be difficult to argue that we don't take a similar approach in such wide venues as personal interactions and social governance.

Daily Show with Jon Stuart's Take on the Threats and Censorship Surrounding those South Park Episodes

Monique Chartier

... is superb. If you're time constrained, fast forward to minute 8:25. ("Revolution Muslim", referenced in the screen cap below, is the name of the organization/website which posted the threats to the show's producers.)

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
South Park Death Threats
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Still Spinning Healthcare Down, Although Up

Justin Katz

This won't be the first such report:

... the [Health and Human Services Department] analysis [of the healthcare legislation] also found that the law falls short of the president's twin goal of controlling runaway costs, raising projected spending by about 1 percent over 10 years. That increase could get bigger, since Medicare cuts in the law may be unrealistic and unsustainable, the report warned.

It's a worrisome assessment for Democrats.

In particular, concerns about Medicare could become a major political liability in the midterm elections. The report projected that Medicare cuts could drive about 15 percent of hospitals and other institutional providers into the red, "possibly jeopardizing access" to care for seniors.

Recall that what little actual support there was for this legislation, and what broad support there was for "need reform" questions, had to do with getting costs under control. Now the spin is that the legislation will only add 1% to costs. Of course, that's still taking into account cuts and changes that aren't politically plausible or financially workable.

Not for no reason does the legislation delay the bulk of its provisions until after a couple of election cycles. Life in the United States is about to become substantially worse, at least for those who have the misfortune of becoming sick or needing a job or not being rich or well connected.

April 23, 2010

Attempting to Control the Media for Campaigns

Justin Katz

Ian Donnis relates the strange tale of General Treasurer (and gubernatorial candidate) Frank Caprio's appearance on Tim White's Newsmakers:

Caprio's press secretary, Tim Gray, solicited the treasurer's Newsmakers' appearance earlier this week, as part of a media blitz to promote his pension plan. But the Caprio team balked at the concept of Caprio being paired as a guest with the NEA's Robert Walsh. Caprio ultimately agreed to appear by himself...

Ian notes that Caprio proclaimed that he'd appear with any other candidate for governor, even though the media outreach was ostensibly a function of his role as treasurer. In either case, one can understand his desire to spend his TV time promoting his plan, rather than defending it against a key figure from a dominant special interest group who not only knows the issue, but also has prepared talking and spin points.

But understanding is not agreement. It's more than a little insulting for politicians to treat mainstream media productions as venues for self promotion distinct from the host's view of newsworthiness. Perhaps Tim should have declined the appearance if the treasurer's office/Caprio campaign was insistent that it/they must be allowed to craft the outcome.

Bishop Tobin Won't Let Catholicism Just Be a Brand

Justin Katz

As much as it's disappointing to see division among Catholic organizations, unity can't be the core principle of any group that actually believes in anything. That is to say that I think Bishop Thomas Tobin got this one right:

Following a statement issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressing regret that health care reform came with the possibility of expanded abortion funding, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin sent a letter March 29 to Sister Carol Keehan, the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Organization, requesting that St. Joseph Health Care of Rhode Island be dropped from the organization's membership and expressing his disappointment that the CHA, under her leadership, publicly endorsed the legislation that was signed into law.

Breaking with the position of the U.S. Bishops who support health care reform without federal funding for abortion, Sister Carol Keehan, a Daughter of Charity, said that "while not perfect, the reform law significantly expands coverage, especially to low-income and vulnerable populations, and is a tremendous step toward protecting human dignity and promoting the common good."

Just as Catholicism isn't only an ethnicity, it isn't only an organizational brand.

Re: The Biggest Faction in the General Assembly

Justin Katz

The comments to Marc's post on the number of General Assembly members who benefit from public pensions are understandable, but most miss the point. Cutting the General Assembly's pay and authority isn't going to address the essential problem — namely, that an official position that doesn't pay much will attract those who have other motivations, including other ways to profit. It's nice to think that "community service" will suffice, but devoting so many hours to such a position over a limited number of months per year puts quite a cost on that service. Retired teachers and such whose unions have given them so much have motivation to put in time for "union service," but most Rhode Islanders simply cannot justify the time.

As to cutting the legislature's authority, while that may be a laudable goal, we'd have to begin by cutting the government's authority. Otherwise the power currently held by a large number of legislators would be given to a handful of administrators and bureaucrats. In other words, change in that direction would have to go in the other direction.

Frankly, I'd be willing to argue for paying the General Assembly members more given two reforms:

  • Representation is aligned directly with cities and towns, making it clear whom members represent, and providing a clear path from local politics to state politics.
  • The "part-time" of the legislature is spread out across the entire year, with fewer hours per week. In other words, make the schedule more in line with what working people can manage.

Unfortunately, the people who would have to enact such changes like their current advantage, so such reforms would be the project of decades, and I'm not sure Rhode Island has that long.

Handing Charitable Authority to the State

Justin Katz

In a recent iteration of his editor's column for First Things, Joseph Bottum takes up the topic of the branches of religious organizations that reside at the edges of the organized church, itself, what he calls "limicole institutions":

As [Archbishop] Chaput notes, the first leverage typically used is financial. Public bureaucrats and lawmakers pressure Catholic agencies by threatening to withdraw funding or to revoke tax exemptions. And, as a result, Catholic Charities in many jurisdictions end up obliged, for both practical and legal reasons, to hire a majority non-Catholic staff.

Of course, that issue is but one aspect of the larger issue of religious liberty. Over the next decade, this is where the battle of religious liberty will be most visibly fought—in the limicole institutions. And particularly in the Catholic ones, as the most visible and, in bulk, significant. Homosexual activity, contraception, and abortion will be the flashpoints. To quote, again, Archbishop Chaput, "Critics rarely dispute the Church's work fighting injustice, helping community development, or serving persons in need. But that's no longer enough. Now they demand that the Church must submit her identity and mission to the state's promotion of these newly alleged rights—despite the constant Catholic teaching that these behaviors are personal moral tragedies that can lead to deep social injustices."

As I've stated, before, there are two issues, here, the first being the obvious matter of religious liberty and the lines that protect it. The second issue, which is less remarked in this context, is the oppressively broad government that, frankly, many religious people have helped to bring about as they've sought to leverage civic authority as a means of social change and charitable action.

Once it became a matter of law that the government could enforce non-discrimination in employment, it became a matter of political maneuvering to define what constitutes discrimination. It should not surprise religious people that those who find their worldview misguided, even fundamentally offensive, would determine that their religious doctrine violate the law. Similarly, as the government has taken on the role of regulating and funding charitable services — a cause for which religious officials and laypeople continue to advocate — it has gained authority over those who provide such services as a religious mission.

People seem to believe that common sense and reasonable allowances will always be a factor in government action. It's a dubious proposition of itself, but religious citizens, especially, ought to appreciate the problem that their civic opposition believes that common sense and reasonable allowances are subjective, shifting concepts, conveniently tending toward their core beliefs, not ours.

April 22, 2010

A Glimpse Down the Social Path (or, Perhaps, Sociopath)

Justin Katz

Inch by inch. What's controversial today is commonplace tomorrow, as the forces of so-called progress poke, prod, and pry our civilization apart. Feel free to use the comment section to accuse me of exaggeration and doom-crying; people respond thus with every turn of the ratchet:

Parents' organizations in Spain are fiercely protesting the curriculum of the Socialist government's required education course, "Education for the Citizenry," after it was revealed that in one Spanish city, students are being taught that sex can be freely practiced, even with animals.

According to the organization "Professionals for Ethics," third grade students in Cordoba, located in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, are using course material stating that "nature has given us sex so we can use it with another girl, with a boy or with an animal." Parents groups say the material indoctrinates children and camouflages an agenda that is pro-homosexual and critical of moral norms and values.

TCC on the Richard Urban Show

Justin Katz

Two other members of Tiverton Citizens for Change and I had the opportunity to talk Tiverton budgetary politics on the Richard Urban Show, yesterday. The video is up on the TCC Web site.

The Biggest Faction in the General Assembly

Marc Comtois

In today's ProJo story about the General Assembly and pension reform, one sentence jumps out and explains the root problem at the heart of trying to change things here in Rhode Island:

At least half, 55 of the 113 lawmakers, have a publicly-financed pension, or between 1 and 33 years of credit toward a possible pension from a city-, town- or state-financed pension fund in Rhode Island.
At least half of the members of the GA have pulled a pay-check from taxpayer dollars and still have friends or relatives doing the same. They're naturally going to be reluctant to take "bread from the mouths" of themselves or their own. Perhaps this is a fair illustration of their general attitude:
Rep. Mary Duffy Messier of Pawtucket, a recently retired fifth-grade teacher, was also on the losing side of the 42-to-29 House vote to limit the COLAs paid future retirees to the first $35,000 in retirement pay.

"It is not a lot of money, not compared to the governor's pension, let's say, from Cookson America," said Messier of her own $4,542 a month pension after 35 years in the classroom.

While acknowledging "the pension system is in a bad way," she said she still could not vote to cut the benefits of future retirees because "I know the hard work that teachers put in, and I know all the aggravation they go through with parents and administrators, and now their jobs are going to be on the line if their test scores don't come through...I think it's kind of unfair to them."

But, apparently, it's not unfair to take money from taxpayers--who live with 401(k)s and co-share/pay health plans--to prop up more-than-generous benefit packages for public employees who, on average, already make more than the average Joe. It's reverse Robin Hood.

The Housing Crisis Is an Employment Crisis

Justin Katz

According to Providence Business News, foreclosures continue to increase:

The number of foreclosure notices in Rhode Island rose 9.2 percent in the first three months of this year compared with 2009, RealtyTrac Inc. said Thursday.

The Irvine, Calif.-based real estate tracking firm said one in every 242 homes in the Ocean State received a foreclosure notice in January, February or March. ...

Nationally, RealtyTrac said 1 in every 138 homes received a foreclosure notice during the first quarter, up 16 percent from a year earlier and up 7 percent from the prior quarter.

One difference, locally, is that Rhode Island's foreclosures actually decreased from the fourth quarter of 2009, while that number nationwide is up. By any measure, though, it seems relevant to predict that the housing market will continue to be a perilous place until people are working again, and that includes a bit of a shift of leverage back toward employees, whose employers will have to worry, once again, that they'll be able to go elsewhere if they're not happy.

Surely, some folks were supplementing their income with real estate equity, so even their jobs were insufficient, previously, and also surely, some people are walking away from housing purchases that aren't now worth as much as they paid. I still think, however, that people will pay their mortgages when they can, so solving the housing crisis will require solving the employment crisis.

Unless, of course, the federal government proclaims a right to own a home and steps in with more Chinese money from the future to pay off consumer loans.

Blog Interview on the Radio

Justin Katz

The topic of my call in to the Matt Allen Show, last night, was my interview with Education Commissioner Gist. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

April 21, 2010

Two Choices, Neither Science

Justin Katz

Robert Chase restates a recurrent theme in a recent consideration of science fiction and religion:

... Starting with Fred Hoyle, himself the author of such science-fiction novels as The Black Cloud, scientists have realized the universe is exquisitely fine-tuned to produce life. If protons were just 0.2 percent more massive, they would be unstable and decay into simpler particles. If gravity were a bit stronger, stars would burn up before life had a chance to evolve. If the strong force, which binds nuclei together, were a touch more powerful, there would be no hydrogen and therefore no stars, no water, and no us. All these coincidences seem to indicate the presence of an Intelligent Designer.

Hoyle certainly became convinced that they did. Moreover, a number of physicists have proposed that our universe is but one of a multitude, and with enough universes the odds tip in favor of having one with the right set of laws and constants to produce us. There is a long tradition of science-fiction stories dealing with alternate worlds and parallel dimensions—Keith Laumer's Worlds of the Imperium, for instance, and Roger Zelazny's Amber series—and it is likely that this sort of theorizing will spur the production of more. Yet the whole enterprise has an air of desperation about it. We are asked to believe in the existence of myriad universes for which we have no direct evidence and that must always be unobservable because the alternative, God, is emotionally disagreeable to the theorists. The multiverse may even be true, but until it can be shown to be a necessary result of established physical laws, or somehow submitted to proof, it will never be science.

As it happens, C.S. Lewis's Narnia series pulled the two themes, which Chase presents as opposing, together. As described in The Magician's Nephew, which followed The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in composition but preceded it in the plot, Narnia and Earth existed in different dimensions reachable through a sort of portal dimension. And yet, Lewis concluded the series with the affirmation of Christianity overarching all dimensions.

That's more or less my conclusion when it comes to reality. Rather than parallel dimensions, though, I believe that all possible moments exist as spaces on a cosmic game board, as it were, connected into a great mesh. The continuity that we perceive occurs as our souls move from one moment to the next according to certain rules defined more or less in accordance with our sanity. Within the infinite number of possible sequences, God defines the True path that tells the story of reality from start to finish.

And, yes, a science fiction-ish novel on this topic is among the dozens of story lines that I've stored away to write someday... perhaps in another life. Of course, in some other dimension, I've already written it.

Money Isn't the Problem

Justin Katz

Among the encouraging opinions that Education Commissioner Deborah Gist gave during our discussion was that she thinks Rhode Islanders already contribute enough money to their education system to have all of the programs that those of us over thirty enjoyed in public school — sports, gifted/talented, music programs, math clubs, and so on — and to meet baseline education requirements. A just-released study from the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council supports that conclusion, as far as the dollar amounts go:

Nationally, Rhode Island ranks fifth highest in per-pupil costs, spending $13,453 per student in 2006-2007, significantly above the national average of $9,703.

As for whether Rhode Island can bring its students up to acceptable levels, well, the report suggests that there's still much work to do:

Yet national test scores such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress and the SAT show Rhode Island stuck in the middle of the pack, and lagging behind its higher-achieving neighboring states in New England.

As I've pointed out, before, Rhode Island's private school students do well on the SATs, but the gap down to the scores of public school students is among the highest in the country, which is one of the factors behind my conclusion that public schools should seek to attract high-performing students back into the fold.

I'm afraid, though, that we're going to be too busy fighing budget battles over the next decade to really start down that road. Consider:

The report estimates that even taking into account a declining student population over the next five years, the state's per-pupil costs will continue to rise and could exceed $20,000 a year by 2015, based on an analysis of the increase of education costs over the past decade.

Caprio's Pension Plan

Marc Comtois

General Treasurer Frank Caprio has released a cliff-notes version of his pension reform plan. It's composed of two options for future retirees and will not affect current retirees. To summarize:
Plan 1 - Combination Play or "Hybrid" Plan: Mimics the Federal plan: most of the plan consists of a fixed pension and his supplemented by a 401(k) style component. Costs for pension component are shared equally by employee and taxpayers. The State would provide a fixed contribution to the 401(k) portion while employees could make elective payments (ie; not required to pay in).

Plan 2 - 401(k) style plan: The 5 and 5: State and employee contribute 5% to a 401(k) style plan. Approximately 5,000 state employees already have this plan and the idea is to give future employees a choice between either plan.

There are no details on how much this will save long-term versus the current system.

Interview with RI's Education Commissioner

Justin Katz

Rhode Island Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Deborah Gist has reworked her office space. The unguided visitor would surely pass her desk by, thinking it that of a secretary — although a secretary to whom it would not be clear, because she has knocked down the wall to the large corner office and transformed it into an inviting conference area. That was the room to which she led me for our interview, yesterday afternoon.

Our conversation touched on obvious topics such as union participation in the Race to the Top application, regionalization, and vouchers, but I also asked about her office's appropriate involvement in communities and the relevance of school department-taxpayer relationships to the state.

I'll have further commentary as my schedule loosens, but here is the unedited video. (Click "continue reading" for segments one and two.)

April 20, 2010

Where I've Been

Justin Katz

Sorry to disappear, this afternoon. Thanks to your donations, I was able to sneak away from the construction site a little early, today, in order to play journalist (sort of) and interview RI Education Commissioner Deborah Gist. Now I turn to processing the video, which I'll have up first thing in the morning.

What Ed Has to Believe

Justin Katz

Strolling amidst the crowd of the latest Tea Party, Ed Fitzpatrick reflected as follows:

I've got to believe the health-care law is going to do more good than the Iraq war, and I wondered if Tea Party members were concerned that the cost of the war had reached $717.5 billion as of Thursday, according to the National Priorities Project (costofwar.com).

I don't begrudge Fitzpatrick's shorthand use of the faith-based statement, "I've got to believe"; after all a full year of columns could be penned in defending the belief. Still, it's worth a question mark.

One could argue the execution of the war, its justifications, and its costs (both expected and actual), but from our current vantage point, it was overall a benefit to the United States and the world. In less than a decade, Iraq has moved from a reckless and brutal tyranny to the second most legitimately democratic governing system in the Middle East, after Israel. In short, cost removed, the action was to the better.

The healthcare legislation, on the other hand (the hand understood by most tea partiers), will make things worse. Costs will continue to go up, and they now come with a government mandate, absorbing taxes, decreasing employment opportunity, limiting innovation, and restricting access to services. That's a negative consequence.

Even without taking into account, in other words, the difference that the Iraq war will quickly decrease in costs from here into the future, it simply isn't the case that a negative action "does more good" than a positive action.

Achorn: RI's Problems Reflected in Your Mirror

Marc Comtois

ProJo's Ed Achorn agrees that the unions have a big hand in running the state. But he emphasizes that they aren't to blame.

If there is a public enemy number one, it's not [AFL-CIO President George] Nee. He's just exploiting the system to enrich himself and the people who empower him. He does a very good job of it.

No, the real enemy of the common good stares back at the voters in the mirror every morning.

They are the ones who elect willing puppets, instead of men and women determined to break the strings.

They are the ones who have ignored years of warnings that our policy of running government to benefit special interests is not working out very well.

Achorn concludes that we are left to conclude that RI voters like what has happened to their state. That they like the master lever, an industrial-age education system, cuts in student programs for the sake of keeping contract "promises," public employees retiring in their 40s and 50s, bad roads, high taxes and hidden fees, etc. It's obvious that Achorn thinks it would be asinine to support such things, so he's putting them in black and white in the hopes of having it hit home with the readers. My only fear is that he may actually be right: I'm beginning to think that the majority of Rhode Islanders do like the way things are.

Economic Prognostication and What Ifs

Justin Katz

It's certainly becoming interesting to watch the intellectual right discuss whether the economy is actually recovering. The emerging consensus appears to be that some economic indicators look healthy, but that they aren't built on long-term, sustainable flows of resources. Even in an essay titled "Warranted Pessimism," Stephen Spruiell suggests that the economy may manage to lope along for a while, but:

In a must-read piece titled "The Origins of the Next Crisis," financial analyst and writer Edward Harrison explains the consequences of basing a recovery on endless rounds of monetary and fiscal stimulus. We are pursuing "low-quality growth," he writes, characterized as growth that is underpinned by debt and consumption rather than savings and capital investment. Now that businesses and especially households are maxed out, we find ourselves in a balance-sheet recession. The government has decided to deal with this by transferring the burden to the taxpayer. ...

Eventually, ... even the U.S. will discover that there is a limit to how much it can borrow and print — a point at which debt revulsion (creditors' unwillingness to lend to us at cheap rates) will make future borrowing cost-prohibitive. The conservative case against Obamanomics must start and end by emphasizing that we are closer to reaching this point than most people realize. In the meantime, any economic recovery we experience will be weaker than it would have been had Obama taken a different approach — one that required more short-term pain but offered a more stable long-term outlook.

Since the beginning of the recession, I've been arguing that, for an economy to recover, it needs somewhere to go — whether that means some new technology, some new consumer or worker market, or some new source of capital. The boom of the '00s thrived on capital from the future (i.e., debt); before that, the Internet emerged as a new technology for which consumers and businesses were willing to free up savings, take on additional debt, and put in additional labor.

Now that individuals and private entities have shied from debt, the government has picked up its own pace, gambling that something more sustainable will emerge. Ideologues are praying that it will be "green technology," but that's not really a new concept, and it's not something for which most folks are willing to pay substantial premiums.

The difficulty of prognostication is that something may indeed emerge. Only the few fortunate folks about to become billionaires can say what it is (if it is), but it may be hovering out there, about to break, and it even could be that all of this debt is enabling its continued development.

But it may not emerge, in which case the government is pushing the plane toward the cliff with the hope of kick-starting it before reaching the edge. I'd prefer a safer bet. And I'll believe in the recovery when Americans are working again, hopefully having learned their lesson, paying of debt, and preparing for the future.

April 19, 2010

What Is Government For?

Justin Katz

At last, a comment from Stuart worth further exploration:

...the point is that governments were created to use our - yours and mine - pooled resources to create BETTER things than we could have created by our lonesome selves. In fact, good systems of government like that of the USA are the biggest friend of capitalism because they create the conditions and mitigate some of the risks where capitalism can flourish.

Well, some might argue that "governments were created" to give the dominant person or faction a means of making everybody else accede to his or their demands, but I'll allow that society's concept evolved, building up to a recreation of the concept of government. What's interesting about the above paragraph, though, is that each sentence describes a different concept of government: The first is left-wing, treating the government as a collective bee-hive, in which the members are all parts of a social organism. The second sentence presents a more right-wing positioning of government, as a mechanism to enhance the individual capacity of the governed.

It should surprise nobody that I think the first concept to be deeply flawed, not the least because it makes the typical progressive error of conflating government with the very concept of organization. All varieties of groups form in order to accomplish things beyond the ability of the individual, whether they are religious, economic, social, cultural, or governmental. Each type of organization will have different sources and applications of authority, depending on which aspect of society it inhabits, and "government" is sort of the final layer. And it should be a very thin layer, inasmuch as we leave to government the authority to use force — both of imprisonment and violence — whereas we insist that the other groups remain voluntary.

The difficulty that left-wingers face, within this model, is that too few people are willing to submit to their will voluntarily, so they wish to move more and more of their policy preferences into the category of organization that uses force. In other words, through all of our evolution, progressives wish to bring the notion of government back to being a mechanism by which the dominant faction imposes its desires on everybody else.

The Center Is Relative, I Suppose

Justin Katz

With a few notable exceptions (ahem), Ian Donnis checked in with some right-leaning Rhode Island groups as we move into election season. It's interesting to note that the two voices for the other side were not people known for their roles as explicit leftists, but as union leaders, with this bold comment:

Robert Walsh is executive director of the National Education Association in Rhode Island and another prominent Democratic activist. He says unions and liberal Democrats don't deserve the blame for Rhode Island's woes.

"You want to give us the keys to the kingdom for a while, we'll show you what good progressive taxation and business development policies can do to turn the state around," Walsh says. "We're, I suppose, a useful target for the people on the other side of the political spectrum, but the gravity in the legislature's clearly in the center."

This chart, to which I linked during the Scott Brown campaign, comes to mind. It shows that RI's Democrats are relatively in the center among Democrats across the country, but that our Republicans are the most liberal around. Which means that the General Assembly is just plain liberal.

More Shenanigans in Tiverton

Justin Katz

Somebody in town really wants a waiver of the state-imposed property tax cap, which currently limits the total property tax levy to a 4.5% increase. As I reported in a liveblog from last Monday's Town Council meeting, the council voted to send an extra-statutory "letter of inquiry" (meaning that there's no such thing in the law) to find out how much the town could exceed the cap, if it so chose.

I've tried to find out, from Jill Barrette, Acting Chief of the Division of Property Valuation and Municipal Finance, in Providence, how her office could possibly give a hypothetical number with an implied promise without the town's following the process of requesting a waiver. That would mean a 4/5 vote of the "governing body" claiming that the town's budget exceeds its allowed increase, as well as a majority vote of the financial town meeting.

The problem is that the Tiverton Budget Committee, which ultimately determines the budget on which residents will vote on May 8, managed to get it below the cap, negating the need for a waiver. To skirt this difficulty, Town Administrator Jim Goncalo has apparently reworked official documents to show a higher proposed budget, with a 9.04% increase in taxes.

Budget season, this year, has certainly been a lesson in politics, and I can't help but extrapolate local behavior to government more broadly. The law is what you can get away with, it seems, and without a bottom-up re-engagement of the electorate, it's hard to see how this tangled up mess can do otherwise than sink.

In the meantime, if anybody's got a line to the State Division of Municipal Finance, the Department of Revenue, or the governor's office, I'd love to hear some official opinions on issuing non-waiver promises of waivers based on documents that are arguably falsified. I expressed my concern, back when the tax cap was new, that it would, first, present a goal for which budgeters would shoot, every year, even if they were able to come in significantly lower and, second, regularly be waived with little difficulty. If the process of acquiring a waiver is indeed as some folks in Tiverton would like it to be, the law is little more than smoke and mirrors to give the impression of concern about taxpayers.

April 18, 2010

Zealots Never Sleep

Justin Katz

Think what you will of the outcome, it's astonishing — and not a little unsettling — that there are people who think it the most important use of their time and resources to battle the benign and vapid symbolism of a particular "national day of":

A federal judge in Wisconsin ruled the National Day of Prayer unconstitutional Thursday, saying the day amounts to a call for religious action.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb wrote that the government can no more enact laws supporting a day of prayer than it can encourage citizens to fast during Ramadan, attend a synagogue or practice magic. ...

Congress established the day in 1952 and in 1988 set the first Thursday in May as the day for presidents to issue proclamations asking Americans to pray. The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Madison-based group of atheists and agnostics, filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2008 arguing the day violated the separation of church and state.

Even casting my mind back to my own, sometimes obnoxious, atheism, I can't imagine the sort of zealotry that must spur people to organize in opposition to a generic call to prayer. Of course, organizational dynamics probably play some role — with the actual foundation soliciting limited funds from a broad number of people and then having to contrive action items to prove that it's worth the donation (which, one imagines, the donors see mainly as a thumb in the eye of us fundies).

Re: Cognitive Dissonance with Charlene Lima

Monique Chartier

Justin, along with many of us avid watchers of the State House, was a little startled to learn that former Speaker Pro Tem Charlene Lima (D, Cranston) had not only dropped by the Tea Party Thursday but had offered expressions of camaraderie.

Converted politicians are certainly welcome to the good government cause. It is difficult, however, not to be a little non-plussed by the presence of Rep. Lima inasmuch as she has a multi-year record of voting for exactly the sort of things that the Tea Party and other good government organizations oppose.

Additionally, as Andrew references, what to make of her recent falling out with leadership? If it has caused her to permanently see the light, terrific. But will the Speaker, occupier of the most powerful political office in the state, offer her something that brings her in due course back into the fold? And who could blame him, by the way? This year, with a record number of rank and file members looking at a stark choice of political survival or adherence to a big government philosophy that is distinctly out of favor with voters, leaders on both Smith and Capitol Hill will need to count and curry their political allies more assiduously than they have in a very long time.

It would be wonderful if Rep. Lima's conversion is genuine. I hope that it is. I also hope that she will forgive us if we are a little wide-eyed in her presence until her voting record catches up with her new words.

History Unexplored and Quality of Life

Justin Katz

It's been a running theme — of accelerating urgency on an individual basis — whether Rhode Island's vaunted "quality of life" justifies the cost of building a life, here. My view is that high culture, wonderful scenery, history, and so on don't amount to much for families that must work so hard simply to survive that they can't take in the sights.

A recent article in the Life section of the Sakonnet Times brought the question to mind:

We walk or drive by remnants of our storied local history every day without giving it a second thought. Some — like the hitching posts along Bristol's High Street and elsewhere — are "hidden" in plain view, while others are more camouflaged.

The article goes on to list a number of sites and artifacts in the East Bay, and if you're like me, perhaps you'll add the search for such things to a list already including various performances, museums, festivals, activities, and readings that you'd pursue if you could just get past the next mortgage with a little money and time to spare. Personally, I'm doubly affected by the desire to incorporate the rich local settings and traditions into stories and essays.

Oh, well. It's beginning to seem, as the song goes, that "someday never comes." The question remaining for Rhode Islanders is whether it's worth fighting for reasonable governance and a thriving economy that would allow folks other than tourists, the rich, and public sector workers to enjoy what Rhode Island has to offer, or whether it'd be better to find a location that would balance what one wishes to do with what one can afford to do.

Defining "Objectionable" as "Not This"

Justin Katz

People don't like the idea of human cloning, and large constituencies aren't comforted by proposals that would require scientists to kill the humans whom they create through that process. Fr. Nicanor Austriaco notes that the supposedly pro-life Congressman Jim Langevin has come across a curious means of skirting objections:

The proposed legislation permits cloning-to-kill by redefining the scientific definition of human cloning. According to Langevin's bill, "[t]he term 'human cloning' means the implantation of the product of transferring the nuclear material of a human somatic cell into an egg cell from which the nuclear material has been removed or rendered inert into a uterus or the functional equivalent of a uterus." In contrast, the scientific consensus defines cloning as the creation and not the implantation of a cloned embryo. By manipulating the definition of cloning, Representative Langevin and his congressional colleagues want to reward scientists who would derive stem cells from the cloning and killing of human embryos, by giving them federal monies to fund their research with these embryonic stem cell lines. This bill would lead to the creation and the destruction of innocent human beings, and thus, like the President's executive order, is immoral and unjust.

It's always been my approach to seek agreement on the terms of the debate and argue from there. Whoever wins the debate wins, and whoever loses the debate has a lot of work to do persuading, developing new arguments, and then moving through the process of changing policies. There's not much room for fair debate, though, when people attempt to define the very points of contention out of the discussion.

April 17, 2010

Union Comfort Would Be Evidence of Danger

Justin Katz

My main argument against looking toward centralized levers — whether in Providence or Washington — to reform education has essentially been that national teachers' unions are better situated to manipulate higher tiers of government than are concerned residents acting through democratic processes. Within the scope of town politics, an active group can have some hope of countering union propaganda, legal, and bullying tactics — not the least by changing the composition of elected bodies. At the state level, the excess funding that the union system creates for activist administration and lobbying will be of greater value.

That's not to deny that voters and a handful of forward-looking government officials could throw an important curve into the game, before the unions adjust their focus to those officials' offices. That possibility is perhaps what evoked union concern about RI Education Commissioner Deborah Gist's application for federal Race to the Top funding, and its absence is what ought to concern voters about the shift in tone for the second round of competition for those dollars. It's now clear that union support was critical for the causes of the two states that won initial funding, and that support will require that unions have an advantage in the centralization process:

During frank discussions, several speakers said fear and a sense of alienation kept most of the state's teachers union locals from supporting the first application. Of particular concern was a pledge to make student test scores and other evidence of student growth count for more than half of a teacher's evaluation. But the application was vague about exactly what factors would be used to assess a teacher's performance.

"There was a tremendous sense of fear," said Mike Crowley, president of the Rhode Island School Committees Association. "There was fear not knowing what this evaluation will look like. I think [teachers] want to come to the table, and we, as school committees and superintendents, also need to understand it, since we will be expected to carry it out."

The only way toward substantial reform is from the bottom up. Town residents must insist on evaluations that take student achievement into consideration, implemented by accountable administrators with the authority to make substantive changes. State and federal strategies that have any hope of winning union support will only tie the hands of local school administrations.

Cognitive Dissonance with Charlene Lima

Justin Katz

Have I been missing something, all these years, or does the appearance of Rep. Charlene Lima (D., Cranston) in this article about the Tax Day Tea Party seem a bit disorienting?

State Rep. Charlene M. Lima, D-Cranston, stopped by after the Assembly finished its business for the day. She said that lawmakers couldn't hear the protest from inside the building.

"I am here to pick up ideas. I like to read the signs," she said looking out at posters like, "Save the trees. Stop printing money," and "I blew my middle class tax cut on this sign."

"We have to take the state back," Lima continued. "We have to do what the people want."

Who is "we" to Charlene Lima, and from whom does she want to retrieve the state? Puzzling political questions, indeed.

A Dangerous Fine Line in Blending Public/Private Education

Justin Katz

There are two factors — arguably in opposing ideological directions — in which this news should raise concerns:

A plan to create what could be the first U.S. public charter schools run by a Roman Catholic archdiocese is meeting resistance from those who worry about whether religious messages and icons will really stay out of the classrooms and hallways.

Mayor Greg Ballard says the plan is an innovative way to keep schools open so they can fill the needs of families in the struggling areas surrounding the schools. Archdiocese officials saw an opportunity to keep the schools open despite a growing budget deficit.

Predictably, the national movement to cut churches out of the public square has pounced on the transformation of the schools, asserting doubts that the wicked religious folks will follow through on their vows to end religious classes and remove religious symbols and literature from the premises. With regard to their activism, I can only opine that such measures should not be a national issue, but a state-by-state issue.

But with regard to their preferred policy, I find myself in general agreement. What's the point of non-Catholic Catholic schools? The Church should be extremely wary of dabbling in waters in which secular tides prove again and again to suffocate the missions of organizations. Religious organizations should be resisting the trend to make them subcontractors to the Great Benevolent Charity and Bureaucracy that the government is becoming.

In the case of schools, they should be advocating for school choice and vouchers that allow students to use money allocated for their educations toward their preferred institutions — regardless of private, public, and religious status. That's how "separation of church and state" ought to function: with the separation being the individual citizen who operates in both spheres.

Undoubtedly She Speaks Geomet and That's What Matters

Monique Chartier

Over at Rescuing Providence, as is his wont, EMT blogger Michael Morse reports on an interesting rescue call.

Called to the local high school for a female having difficulty breathing. Arrive on scene to find the female lying in the nurses office, on the couch hyperventilating. I learned that she is a Geometry teacher who had an argument then suffered an anxiety attack. Apparently, the principal and the teacher were discussing a language problem. The kids an this district are a mix of Black, Hispanic and white. Some of the kids couldn’t understand what the teacher was trying to teach.

“Well then,” I said under my breath, “How are we supposed to teach kids who can’t speak English?”

We put the teacher on the stretcher and wheeled her to the rescue. She had calmed down by this time but had difficulty answering simple questions.

Overdose? Stroke? Change of Mental Status?

0-3. She didn’t speak English. The Geometry didn’t speak English. THE GEOMETRY TEACHER DIDN’T SPEAK ENGLISH!

I think the world has gone mad.

No, not the world, The United States of America has gone mad.

I think I’m having an anxiety attack. Somebody better call 911.

April 16, 2010

RI Tea Parties 2009 and 2010: Contrasting Crowd Size

Monique Chartier

The angle of the two photographs is not identical ...


2009 [Courtesy Justin Katz]



Paranoia, it's the American Way

Marc Comtois

As Rich Lowry explains in his latest column, we Americans are perpetually paranoid about our government, whether it's the liberal paranoia throughout the Bush years (Patriot Act, world hegemony) or the right wing paranoia amongst conservatives in the Clinton years (Waco, domestic anti-terrorist laws post-Oklahoma City). Lowry explains that our paranoid view of government has been in our "DNA" since the Founding (and before).

As Bernard Bailyn demonstrates in his classic, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, our forebears prized the thought of the 18th-century “country” opposition in England, which considered the government a clear and present danger to liberty — corrupt, conspiratorial, and insatiable.

America’s leaders viewed Revolutionary events through this prism. “They saw about them,” Bailyn writes, “not merely mistaken, or even evil, policies violating the principles upon which freedom rested, but what appeared to be evidence of nothing less than a deliberate assault launched surreptitiously by plotters against liberty, both in England and in America.”

This is the taproot of American paranoia. It’s not in status anxiety, or economic dispossession, or racism: It’s in flat-out distrust of governmental authority. As the Patriot Act shows, in America even the statists can summon a robust fear of government. And would we have it any other way? Would we prefer the natural deference to authority of a Japan, or a political culture as favorable to central government as Russia’s?

Lowry's analysis of Bailyn's thesis is spot on and also helps explain why we Americans sometimes tend to buy into conspiracy theories, too.

I've written a bit about Bailyn before (in other places) with probably my most succinct take on his Ideological Origins coming as part of a "review of a review" of a book by Gary Nash that I did over at Spinning Clio a few years ago. For more context, read the whole thing, but here's a snippet:

Bailyn's Ideological Origins of the American Revolution may well be one of the most misunderstood--yet paradigm-shifting--works ever published in American intellectual history. Nash's anecdotes are just that: a group of unrelated episodes that together prove no sense of unified action.

Yet, each example does portray a general sense that many Americans wanted and believed in liberty. But as Bailyn explained, it was only when an ideology of Liberty spread--one that could speak to rich and poor, white and black, male and female--that the notion of a Revolution--and a desire to take the necessary actions to affect it--began to take hold.

An ideology is a framework of ideas that, together, help to explain a society and culture: either one that is or one that is desired. As Bailyn argued, much of that ideology came from the pamphlets and books written by--sorry--often-anonymous white males. And, contra Nash and Holton, much of this literature was written around the time of the Glorious Revolution by radical English Whigs (in other words, before those Philly women).

What Nash's work shows is that many Americans from across the socio-economic spectrum had a gut-level need to stand up for their own liberty. The ideals that the Whig pamphleteers and other intellectuals, such as John Locke, wrote about were adapted by later writers in both Great Britain and the American colonies. But, specifically in the colonies, these ideas were so effective because they spoke to the pre-existing, yet only partially formed ideas and habits of a substantial portion of the American population--including those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder on whom Nash focuses. Holton either doesn't understand this or chooses not to so that he can--by implication--knock down a Bailyn strawman that has been standing up and getting knocked down for 30 years or more.

The American Revolution was a complicated and dynamic event. There is no need to knock down one group to prop up another. Nash's underdog heroes are to be admired. But so are those who were able to construct the Revolutionary ideology--like Franklin and Jefferson and Adams--and who, it turns out, emerged as the leaders of that Revolution.

The Way to Government Ownership

Justin Katz

Since I mentioned, earlier this morning, the government's "overtaking of healthcare," it's relevant to point out an explanation offered in a recent National Review, in the magazine's short-take "The Week" section (subscription required):

American college-loan policy offers an illustration of how the government can absorb an activity incrementally, claiming to cherish the benefits the private sector provides until the bait has worked and it's time for the switch. Government support for student loans began in the form of subsidies for private loans, much as the Democrats' health-care bill would succor the insurance industry by subsidizing its product while forcing people to buy it. In the 1990s, Democrats added a "public option" — making government the direct provider of some student loans — with the Clinton administration claiming that "students and schools are served by healthy competition" between the private sector and the government. This is the same rhetoric Obama used when he tried to sell us a public option for health care. And now we see how quickly Democrats dispense with the rhetoric of competition when a government takeover seems viable: The new student-loan bill would make the public option the only option, thus completing the absorption of the activity. In a similar way, the current health-care legislation isn’t the endgame.

Government ownership of student loans gives politicians strong influence over your career. Healthcare will do the same to your body.

The Tea Party's Outreach

Carroll Andrew Morse

One theme that was repeated at yesterday's Tax-Day Tea Party rally was that the Tea Party can only be successful over the long term, if it continues to grow itself by reaching out to others...

Dog Bites Man, Reed & Whitehouse Support More Taxation

Marc Comtois

There have been rumblings that President Obama was looking at pushing for a VAT (value added tax) to help pay for the growing government under his watch. While many people, including conservatives, have theorized about (and even supported) the institution of a VAT, they have done so with the idea that it would replace the current income tax system, not be a supplement to it.

To forestall the bubbling movement, Sen. John McCain submitted the following amendment (SA 3724):

It is the sense of the Senate that the Value Added Tax increase will cripple families on fixed income and only further push back America’s economic recovery.
The measure passed 85-13 (2 no-votes).

Among the 13 who voted against this simple declaration were Reed and Whitehouse. So, on the same day that citizens rallied across the country--and even in their own home state--RI Senators Reed and Whitehouse affirmed their support for taxing all Americans even more. Blind ideology knows no discretion, I suppose.

The Common Wisdom of the Newsroom

Justin Katz

Odds are that Philip Marcelo doesn't recognize how much he's bowed to the left-wing common wisdom of the American newsroom, as indicated by this paragraph in his profile of Colleen Conley:

Still, for many detractors, it is telling that the national Tea Party movement began not in the eight years of enormous federal spending during the Bush years, but in the first year of the nation’s first black presidency.

The "for many detractors" phrase is a fudge; Marcelo clearly finds it telling, because he thought it a detail worth an unrebutted mention. Those who fell for all of the Hope and Change pablum don't see the consistent theme of the public's early experience with Obama, which was absent from the Bush presidency: the cult-like commercials and logo, the messianic talk, Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright, Michelle Obama's implied dislike of the country, spreading the wealth, cap and trade, stimulus, the union shadow, Chris Matthew's declaration that he saw it as his duty to make sure Obama succeeded as president, the bizarre promotion of an "office of the president elect," the many (and questionably ideological) czars, politicized reports about theoretical domestic right-wing terrorists, and of course government overtaking of healthcare. The list could go on.

The fact of the matter is that Barack Obama would not currently be President of the United States were many of the current Tea Partiers and sympathetic voters not so deeply dissatisfied with President Bush. They were fed up with the spending and growth of government and reacted as angry voters are accustomed to doing: Putting the opposition in power. That the Republican candidate was within the "moderate" range, was a Senatorial old hand, and had championed pro-incumbent, anti-First Amendment campaign legislation didn't help.

Unfortunately, too many Americans were snookered by the happy talk and caught up in the zeitgeist — much of which had to do with a desire to break racial barriers — and chose not to see just how different a politician Mr. Obama was until it was too late. That they came to their senses quickly is not an indicator of racism, although those of us who were on to the game before the election predicted that President Obama's skin color would become a political weapon.

April 15, 2010

The Tax-Day Tea Party: More Signs of the Times!

Carroll Andrew Morse




(Pink slip...did you get it?)


(This one presents an interesting paradox. If this is a regular Tea Party goer, than Jeff Montgomery of the People for the American Way would suggest that this sign is beyond the pale. But if were to be held by a Tea Party crasher coming from a leftist perspective, this might be regarded as a great act of patriotism. How can this be?)

The Tax-Day Tea Party: A Party Crasher?

Carroll Andrew Morse

The person in the center of the picture was holding an offensive sign that made reference to Timothy McVeigh. The serious-looking gentleman in the cool shades on the left side of the picture is a Rhode Island State Police officer.


Several different times, Tea Party members attempted to hold their own signs directly in front of the McVeigh sign. The state policeman informed them that they couldn't do that, the guy in the center of the picture had just as much right to stand there and hold a sign as anyone else.

The conclusion: Our state police officers do great honor to the concepts of peaceable assembly and freedom of expression in the performance of their duties. Where else in the world do the police take this part of their job as seriously as the Rhode Island State Police did today?

The Tax-Day Tea Party: The View of the Crowd

Carroll Andrew Morse

No coverage of a Tea Party event would be complete without some information on the crowd size.

This is from a little after 3:30...


From about 4:30...


(Say hi to possible GA candidate Richard Rodi in the lower right hand corner).

...and the crowd was still the same size or larger, by ten-past 5:00...


And don't forget the reverse angle, that shows the crowd on the statehouse steps!


Andrew Checks in from the Tea Party

Justin Katz

I got tied up working in Newport, today, but Andrew's at the State House sending me photos from the Tax Day Tea Party.

Favor Factory Skullduggery

Justin Katz

I'm of the opinion that Rhode Island doesn't need to spend any public dollars on economic expansion — unless you're one of those who calls it "spending" when the government doesn't take as much from other people's earnings. Cut taxes; eliminate mandates; lighten regulations. Even from that position, though, it seems as if there must be something more to this:

Over the strenuous objections from some Republicans, the House approved the creation of a $125-million state-backed loan-guarantee program within the state's Economic Development Corporation.

The legislation is aimed at projects that create permanent, full-time jobs that pay at least two-and-a-half times the minimum wage, with priority going to entities that "expand high-wage jobs in knowledge industry growth clusters."

While it was described by House Finance Chairman Costantino as a jobs-guarantee program, it was denounced by House Minority Leader Watson as a scandal waiting to happen.

"If you don't want it to be a favor factory, kill the article," Watson, R-East Greenwich, said. "This is like an attractive nuisance for all sorts of skullduggery."

Rep. Charlene Lima, D-Cranston, sought disclosure of the "name, and the office, held, by any elected official who contacts the RIEDC in support of a business seeking monies" under a facet of the new program, but the proposal went down 46 to 25.

Of course, "a favor factory" is precisely what the General Assembly wishes to be. What's the point of being a part-time legislator in New England's hub of political corruption unless one can transform political clout into economic reward by way of dispensing favors? I'd say that Rhode Islanders will have to keep a close watch on this program, but lawmakers have created such a plentiful field of dark corners that concerned residents are apt to go cross-eyed trying to keep track of questionable activities.

Magic Numbers and Pension Politics

Justin Katz

Rhode Island GOP Chairman Gio Cicione makes a good point about pensions and General Treasurer Frank Caprio:

In fact, Mr. Caprio knew better a long time ago. As early as April 2002, when he was Senate finance chairman, Mr. Caprio indicated that an 8.25 percent return had "proved to be an overly optimistic assumed rate of interest for the fund" (reported in The Journal on April 17, 2002). Nonetheless, throughout his career in the General Assembly and his tenure as treasurer, Mr. Caprio promulgated this budget fantasy to mask the truth from taxpayers and from public employees who will depend on the state pension fund to provide their retirement benefits.

As a candidate in the upcoming gubernatorial election, and with the pension fund in trouble, Mr. Caprio is working now to appear fiscally responsible, but he has a lot to explain about his two-decades-long political record of endangering the retirement of public employees and increasing the pressure on taxpayers to fill the holes in the fund.

I'd expand the criticism to anybody in government who complied with the conspiracy to behave as if such expectations were founded in reality. Anytime people in government — or in any capacity — get to make up numbers that determine what they can do with the money at their disposal, others should be skeptical. They should be especially wary if the predictions are anything other than clearly conservative.

We are where we are, however, and it appears that Big RI Labor is content to lean on public officials to find some way through the mess that they've jointly created. Since the magic of government accounting cannot reach beyond the printed page into actual transfers of funds (at least in sufficient amounts), it's going to come down to one of two options: Taxes are going to have to increase greatly, or pensions are going to have to be trimmed. Union members should not risk tremendous confidence that it will be the former.

"Sense of urgency"?

Marc Comtois

So the RI Senate threw the supplemental budget back at the House because they didn't want to re-amortize the pension plans. And suddenly, we're told there was a "sense of urgency"!

“They clearly threw off any timetable,” said House Speaker Gordon D. Fox, advised of the Senate’s plans Wednesday afternoon. “That’s what we were always butting up against, a sense of urgency. Apparently, now the urgency is out, so I will have to see exactly what they do.”
So urgent that the Nero's in the House waited until April to act on a supplemental budget submitted in January. Please. According to the Senate, everything is back on the table, including taking more money from the rainy day fund (bad idea) and looking at imposing minimum health care co-share/pay for state workers (good idea). The problem is that many of the House members are already out on break and everyone is unsure if they can get a bill passed in these "urgent" times. So maybe, at this point, they should just bag the whole thing and concentrate on the 2011 budget. That will leave them with plenty of time to pass it at midnight on June 30th.

Oops, Congress May Not Have Excluded Itself from Health Care Reform

Monique Chartier

Robert Pear reports in the New York Times, of all places.

The law promises that people can keep coverage they like, largely unchanged. For members of Congress and their aides, the federal employees health program offers much to like. But, the [Congressional Research Service] report says, the men and women who wrote the law may find that the guarantee of stability does not apply to them.

“It is unclear whether members of Congress and Congressional staff who are currently participating in F.E.H.B.P. may be able to retain this coverage,” the research service said in an 8,100-word memorandum.

And even if current members of Congress can stay in the popular program for federal employees, that option will probably not be available to newly elected lawmakers, the report says.


The law apparently bars members of Congress from the federal employees health program, on the assumption that lawmakers should join many of their constituents in getting coverage through new state-based markets known as insurance exchanges.

But the research service found that this provision was written in an imprecise, confusing way, so it is not clear when it takes effect.

The new exchanges do not have to be in operation until 2014. But because of a possible “drafting error,” the report says, Congress did not specify an effective date for the section excluding lawmakers from the existing program.

These are not the only complications to Congressional health care coverage in the brave new world of health care reform that the Congressional Research Service uncovered.

Two questions pose themselves. Pear asks the first.

If they did not know exactly what they were doing to themselves, did lawmakers who wrote and passed the bill fully grasp the details of how it would influence the lives of other Americans?

Well, Speaker Pelosi did say that Congress had to pass health care reform so that we could find out what's in it. Who would have guessed it was going to be a surprise for Congress as well?

Secondly, if health care reform is as wonderful as advertised, why does Congress want to exempt itself from it? And please don't trot out the line that "Everyone will get to choose their health care plan, just like Congress does now!" This is nonsense. After health care reform goes fully into effect and all health insurance carriers have declared Chapter 7, the great unwashed will be getting their medical care from one source only - the American NHS - while the number of concierge doctors in the DC area will blossom to serve the new health care patrician class on Capital Hill.

No? The question stands, then: why does Congress wish to exempt itself from one of the most far-reaching laws it has ever passed?

Tea Party!

Marc Comtois


Talking Money with Matt

Justin Katz

Monique and Matt discussed points about the supplemental budget on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

April 14, 2010

Evidence That Our Government Has Become Distracted: Ranking of Rhody's Bridges

Monique Chartier

Further to Justin's point about the misplaced priorities of the state, the ranking of our bridges - worst in the country - a couple of years ago confirms that the underfunding of road and bridge projects is a recurring theme at the General Assembly and not a brand new development in this supplemental budget.

As Justin pointed out, while good bridges are a proper use of public resources, our elected officials have found it irresistable to, instead, divert an inordinate amount of public money on programs that would either advance their own political careers or (my addendum) assuage a seriously misguided sense of compassion.

Of Tea and Tyranny

Carroll Andrew Morse

Last week, current RI Future proprietor Brian Hull linked to a Boston Phoenix article authored by David S. Bernstein titled "Tea is for Terrorism"; Brian Hull chose a similar headline for his post, "Tea is for Terror". Early on, the article warns of a potential terrorist strike in the U.S....

[I]t would almost be surprising if there are not any “lone wolves” or “small terrorist cells” preparing to strike.
Given that early graf and the title, you might expect the bulk of the article to be about connections to actual or threatened violence, but it isn’t. Instead, the subject is protests, how the tone of political rhetoric might lead to violence, and how, in the author’s opinion, fringe group, tea party and mainstream GOP rhetoric have all crossed the same line together...
The distinction between legitimate and fringe speakers…has disappeared. Also wiped away is the line of demarcation between disagreements over policy and claims of illegitimacy.
And what kinds of examples does Bernstein use to support his that is a claim that the fringes are now part and parcel of the mainstream GOP? Well, one is the fact that past and possible future Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney and a significant number of Republican Attorney Generals have expressed dissent concerning the recently passed Federal healthcare law…
Mitt Romney, for example, released a statement calling passage of the health-care legislation “an unconscionable abuse of power,” and “an historic usurpation of the legislative process.”

And, after its passage, more than a dozen Republican state attorneys general immediately filed suit, claiming the bill is unconstitutional.

According to Bernstein, this is crazy stuff that reinforces the birthers or those who believe that the Obama administration represents the dominion of the antichrist. Ultimately, this argument boils down to that since there are crazies in the world, the loyal opposition should be as quiet as it can in opposing the actions of the governing majority -- keep that particular phrase in mind, because I've borrowed it from someone else, whom we’ll get to in a moment -- because dissent can lead to dangerous outcomes, so we are better off with less of it.

Quoting Jeff Montgomery of the People for the American Way, the article says...

“There is apparently nothing they can say or do that is so extreme that the party leaders will disavow them,” says Montgomery. As a result, “we have millions of Americans being told daily, by the people they trust, that the US government is on the verge of tyranny".
But if Bernstein paid closer attention to his own newspaper, he would know that its editorial board in 2007 was also concerned with the U.S. being on the verge of tyranny...
If the lies that produced the Iraq War can be considered a soft form of presidential authoritarianism abroad, then should we consider Bush’s perversion of the government’s prosecutorial power at home an equally dangerous form of tyranny? Following Karl Rove’s footsteps will help the nation understand the answer. Expect the worst.
...raising an obvious question of why it is within the bounds of professional journalism for alternative newspaper editors to say the U.S. is on the verge of tyranny, but out-of-bounds extremism when tea-partiers reach the same conclusion.

Brian Hull might be similarly interested to know that the prior proprietor of Rhode Island's Future has also told us that both Federal and state governments are on the verge of tyranny...

The march towards an American Police state continues. First, Don Carcieri rips up the Rhode Island constitution, now the US Attorney General unilaterally repeals the 4th Amendment
At this point, I could continue tossing out examples of the continuing invocation of tyranny by the left, e.g. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert saying “the rule of law is succumbing to the tyranny of fear”, or Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff in 2002 approvingly quoting another paper's editorial that stated that "actions taken over the past year are eerily reminiscent of tyranny portrayed in the most nightmarish works of fiction", and most of us could probably settle around a nice common-ground milquetoast position of sometimes people on both sides employ some hyperbole when using politically-charged terms.

But if your interest goes beyond dismissing the use of the term "tyranny" as something that everyone does, and you want to capture the spirit of the Tea Party rally to be held tomorrow at the Rhode Island statehouse, I would like to suggest a section of a 1927 Supreme Court Opinion written by Justice Louis Brandeis as a good starting point, Justice Brandeis not being, as far as I know, someone who is generally regarded as a right-wing kook...

Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties, and that, in its government, the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary...that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty, and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government....Recognizing the occasional tyrannies of governing majorities, they amended the Constitution so that free speech and assembly should be guaranteed.
Writing with the precision of a Supreme Court Justice, Justice Brandeis saw at least the occasional tyranny of a governing majority as a legitimate concern. Is this thought now too fringe for what purports to be a mainstream left? And are David Bernstein and Brian Hull ready to tell Rhode Island's Tea Partiers that Justice Brandeis' opinion is now outdated, and that civic disengagement and inert behavior are now the new patriotism?

Shoveling, but Down or Out?

Justin Katz

I imagine we'll have commentary to offer on the supplemental budget as we all have time to digest it (or eject it from our systems by one route or another). But let's be honest; we all know the basic story: the General Assembly had big battles over relatively minor details to tweak around the edges and buy another month, another year, another election cycle of the status quo. Coshares, COLAs, contract approval — none of it adds up to a repair of the annual deficits, much less a new structure with which to effect a complete turnaround.

So, with spring in the air, we can at least package the continuing decline in the light packaging of Stephen Gerling's letter to the editor of the Sakonnet Times:

While out in my yard shoveling manure into a wheelbarrow, I got to thinking about Rhode Island politics. My purpose was to get grass to take root; a "grass-roots effort" if you will. I suppose I have a liberal lawn. It has no mind of its own. It just sits there and hopes it gets enough water to grow. It mindlessly grows until it gets cut short, but doesn't mind, it just offers more of itself up. It often needs a healthy dose of manure to make it feel better again. Lastly, underneath it are little bugs that eat away at its roots giving nothing back, just taking. Still I labor to care for it. Why? ...

What about my state? Does it want to prosper, or will it simply wait for what it needs? Will the people have their pay cut short, then make some more to give without asking where it's going? Will Rhode Islanders be happy with a healthy dose of manure? I’m scared to death that they might. I'm scared to death that when a candidate steps forward to speak for the people, their voice might be buried by the shovel of indifference, then tamped over with a little more of the dung we seem to have acquired a taste for.

Please, Rhode Island, surprise me this election cycle.

The Little Policy Details That Say So Much

Justin Katz

Sometimes, in the noise and rancor of politics and budgeting, one's attention becomes monopolized by particular details. Consider the following:

[The state's public-employee unions'] chief target: a proposal to limit annual pension increases to the first $35,000 in retirement pay initially. The $35,000 would go up each year, in keeping with the Consumer Price Index, and legislative budget writers stripped from their final bill a provision that Carcieri sought — to reinforce a right they already have to adjust these cost of living adjustments of up to 3 percent annually.

By way of comparison, Massachusetts has, for more than a decade, limited its annual pension increases to the first $12,000 in retirement pay.

There's no excuse for so much of what goes on in Rhode Island. Oh, there are rationalizations and complaints, and they'll continue to float to the surface as bubbles long after the state has drifted to the bottom. But the poor leadership and self-serving lobbying have no justification but greed and corruption. One class rallies and demands the continuation of ill-advised and unsustainable handouts, and another class suffers until its members reach the threshold of whatever's keeping them in the state.

The cycle continues, and down we go.

A Sign That Our Government Has Become Distracted

Justin Katz

Take every pothole that you hit and bridge that you tremble to cross as a reminder of how misplaced the priorities of the state and federal governments have become:

In the supplemental budget Governor Carcieri sent to the legislature, he proposed reducing the DOT budget by $74.3 million. The House Finance Committee recommended cutting slightly more than $5 million more, leaving the DOT with $409.4 million. The House is scheduled to vote on the supplemental budget this week. ...

The state puts no more money into its bridge and highway programs than the 20 percent required to match federal aid for projects, and it borrows that matching money. Shawver said the state has known its highway aid would be held up for months. Congress hasn't approved a replacement for the country's main highway legislation, making funding unpredictable, he said.

Road repairs aren't as politically valuable as big giveaways, in part because everybody already expects them, leaving no advantage to being the politician who made them happen. Then, when they're clearly deficient, the blame is diffuse, both in its origin among the people and in its targets.

April 13, 2010

Retired and Rehired in Central Falls: "Terribly inappropriate" but legal

Marc Comtois

Ok, vent over this:

The police chief of Central Falls is drawing criticism for collecting a $43,000-per-year pension while also continuing to work and draw an annual salary of $72,000....Moran "retired" two weeks ago, then signed a five-year contract under a deal approved by the city retirement board, city lawyer, and mayor....Moran says he made the move so he would be eligible to receive approximately $35,000 for unused sick days. He says his deal actually saves the city money in the long run.

Former city Finance Director Edna Poulin said the arrangement, although legal, looks "terribly inappropriate."

More here. Oh, and he's 47.

Budgeting Disconnect Identified: the Fallacy of "Underfunding"

Monique Chartier

... but not the usual fallacy that inevitably leads to comical yard signs like "Save our Schools" when contracts are up for re-negotiation.

Yesterday, during the last hour of the WPRO Morning News with John Depetro, Cranston School Committee member Frank Lombardi called in to defend the actions of himself and certain other committee members in "solving" the $9 million school budget deficit by cutting sports and other programs. After some ... er, frank observations by the host, they got down to brass tacks. Mr. Lombardi pointed to the accomplishment of the school committee in cutting $2 million from the budget. John pointed out with some exasperation that the shortfall was $9 million, to which Mr. Lombardi replied

It was not a $9 million shortfall. We were underfunded.

Sorry, no. Respectfully, this is a major misapprehension, though one shared with many other school committee members around the state. It is the city council, the body legally vested with the ability to tax, which determines the amount by which the school budget will be funded. It is, therefore, the city council (and, ultimately, the taxpayer) which decides whether the school budget will be "underfunded" or "overfunded". From the perspective of the school committee, the school budget is simply funded; it then crafts the budget on the basis of that number. A school committee which decides that the budget is "underfunded" and acts accordingly has not only stepped way beyond its legal purview but has placed itself in a position where it will be compelled to choose among nothing but terrible solutions to right the budget.

Lastly, as the matter of "under" versus "over" funding as been raised, on a statewide perspective, in view of the fact that teacher salaries in Rhode Island are in the top 20% while student achievement is in the bottom 20%, it is clear that school budgets around the state have been over rather than under funded. This can undoubtedly be traced in part back to many other school committee members who, like Mr. Lombardi, have an inaccurate grasp of the scope of the otherwise vital role that they fulfil.

The Definitionally Centrist Tea Party

Justin Katz

With a big picture of RI Tea Party organizer Colleen Conley clearly caught in the act of that dangerous right-wing activity of listening to somebody speak, Ed Achorn puts forward a theory about whom the tea party types actually are:

... because middle-class Americans, for as long as I can remember, have been too busy (some say apathetic) to protest against the loss of their money and choices. Usually, they just shut up, pay and obey. And professional politicians from both parties, for their part, have long grasped there is a middle America that cannot be pushed around too abruptly. Worried about re-election, the wiser heads from both parties have edged the country gradually toward the bigger, bossier Washington they favor.

But the wiser heads are no more. The more ideological, less pragmatic pols running the show today — undeterred by such flashing-red warning signs as the massive defection of independents in the polls, furious constituents at town-hall meetings and the loss of elections in Virginia, New Jersey and (almost unbelievably) Massachusetts — have so brazenly ignored the public's concerns that they seem to have awakened a slumbering giant. Middle-class Americans have coalesced around the rather amorphous Tea Party movement, and intend to turn out in large numbers around the country on Tax Day, including at the State House in Providence, to protest the country's direction.

I say that we should turn back the Big Government time bomb about a hundred years. That'll give us a century to focus on other things than how much more money we have to make to pay off the government and which of our habits Uncle Obama is going to target for penalties next.

The Nanny State Will Tax Your Skin

Justin Katz

Fellow blogger and Providence Firefighter/EMT Michael Morse and his wife sent an op-ed to the Providence Journal objecting to an Obamacare tax on tanning salons:

A small group will be the first to pay for national health-care reform, the first to put their hard-earned dollars into the system. Starting July 1, they will pay 10 percent more for a service that helps them feel better and look better and promotes healthy living.

You can’t tax sunshine, right? Think again. The indoor-tanning industry, mostly small-business owners, the majority of them women, has been singled out to provide funds for a program that claims to be equitable for all.

As they note, other skin-related professions avoided proposed taxes because of the size of their lobbies and the urge to protect people from themselves that has begun to creep from smoking to tanning (let alone eating fast food). For their part, the Morses dispute the ill effects of artificial tanning on health.

Personally, I think that's besides the point. It isn't the role of government to impose a healthy lifestyle on individuals, especially with matters of such long-term repercussions as exposure to light. We'd best get used to it, though. With the government intimately involved in our healthcare system — even more than was already the case — your every behavior is now a matter of interstate commerce.

Jabbing from Old Media to New

Justin Katz

Newport Daily News columnist Joe Baker used his space, yesterday, to respond to my post last week about his spreading of sunshine for the Democrats. Actually, he appears to have been more interested in addressing Anchor Rising commenter Tim:

"The Newport Daily News did the world a favor when they decided to strictly limit their online product and made Joe 'Pravda' Baker inaccessible to the greater population," wrote someone identified only as "Tim."

Tim obviously did his homework. I began writing my column in 1991. Pravda, a newspaper espousing the Communist party line in Russia, went under in 1991. A coincidence? I think not.

Tim goes on: "Baker is an embarrassing party line hack for the Democrats."

Again, Tim shows an astounding ability to get right to the point. His apparent theory is that I have a political philosophy different from his, which — and I am going to go out on a limb here — is more Republican-leaning than Democratic. (Would that make him "an embarrassing party line hack" for Republicans?) In my 20 years of writing this column, I have tried never to sink to the depths of name calling. But can I ignore the wisdom of astute observers and philosophers like "Tim" any longer?

With regard to my points, Baker responds to the lesser. He disputes my recollection that economists were predicting that the recovery would have begun before this year, and inasmuch as searches for that sort of rolling information — who predicted what when — tend to be more time consuming than my schedule will allow, I'll declare it a wash. Suffice to say that my memory of this long recession entails a continuing series of adjusted predictions from economists continually pushing expectations back, especially with regard to employment.

On healthcare, which constituted the great bulk of my post, he takes up only a point that I said to "put aside": "As Katz himself says, much of the bill's provisions will be delayed, which I think strengthens my argument that people will not feel the pain predicted by opponents — if it does materialize — for quite some time."

Well, Baker's cheering of Obama's policies didn't contain that "if" or note that the Democrats have rigged the policies to explode after a few election seasons. He just said, "as the reality of the program sinks in and nobody sees the dire consequences predicted by its opponents," anger would fade. And he still hasn't shared with his readers my more significant points that companies have already revised predicted profits down to the tune of billions of dollars, based on the legislation, and that hospitals expect to be bled by the legislation, as well.

Unfortunately, Baker also conspicuously avoided mentioning the name of the blog, much less the URL at which my arguments could be found. Perhaps that sort of citation is just a new media thing.

April 12, 2010

Laffey's Surprise Consistency

Justin Katz

Surprising everybody, once again, Steve Laffey has repeated the message that he's given every few months for the past year: He's not running for governor. Actually, the new news is that he's not running for anything:

... Lincoln Republican town chairman Michael Napolitano said he got a phone call from Laffey last Monday that put the speculation to rest.

"I can tell you that he called me on Monday evening and made it very clear that he had done some polling, and based on the results, he felt that [Rhode Island] was not ready for the changes that needed to be made to fix our state and that he was not going to run for any office ... period," Napolitano said in an e-mail.

The latest round of speculation had to do with Laffey's planned appearance at this week's Tea Party, which is now apparently in question. How long, do you suppose, until Steve can have a public appearance without rumors of a candidacy swirling?

Illinois Does Pension Reform

Marc Comtois

George Will's latest contains this information about pension reform in Illinois (not Texas, union-friendly, "progressive" Illinois):

Gov. Pat Quinn called it a "political earthquake" when the state's Legislature recently voted -- by margins of 92-17 in the House and 48-6 in the Senate -- to reform pensions for state employees. There is now a cap on the amount of earnings that can be used as the basis for calculating benefits. In some states, employees game the system by "spiking" their last year's earnings by accumulating vast amounts of overtime pay.

An even more important change -- a harbinger of America's future -- is that most new Illinois state government employees must work until age 67 in order to be eligible for full retirement benefits. Those already on the state payroll can still retire at 55 with full benefits.

Where there's a will, there's a way.

The Boom... Before the Bust?

Justin Katz

Larry Kudlow suggests that Republicans shouldn't let political enthusiasm lead them to deny economic reality, especially an economic reality that benefits the United States:

Sometimes you have to take out your political lenses and look at the actual statistics to get a true picture of the health of the American economy. Right now, those statistics are saying a modest cyclical rebound following a very deep downturn could actually be turning into a full-fledged, V-shaped, recovery boom between now and year-end. Conservatives shouldn't trash it.

The problem for conservatives, rhetorically and politically, is that we're correct about the effects of the policies being forced into law by Obama and the Democrats (on skids that Bush and the Republicans greased, to be sure). But:

... most of that is in the future. The current reality is that a strong rebound in corporate profits (the greatest and truest stimulus of all), ultra-easy money from the Fed, and some small stimuli from government spending are working to generate a stronger-than-expected recovery in a basically free-market economy that is a lot more resilient than capitalist critics think.

Ultimately, what shouldn't be forgotten is that the United States is made up of millions of people determined to improve their lives, and they'll make the economy as resilient as they can for themselves, given the playing field that they're given. The challenge is in getting America to plan ahead — to look down the road and anticipate the effects that changes to that field will have a year to a decade in the future.

Of course, Kudlow thinks that might be precisely the incentive to which economic actors are currently responding:

At this point it's impossible to project a long-lived economic boom, such as we had following the deep recession of the early 1980s. For one thing, tax rates will rise in 2011 for successful earners and investors, quite unlike the Reagan cuts of the 1980s. So it's possible that entrepreneurs and investors are bringing income, activity, and investment forward into 2010 in order to beat the tax man in 2011. This would artificially boost this year’s economy, stealing from next year’s economy.

Indeed, that's precisely what we've all been arguing: that stimulus spending has only borrowed money from the future and obviated the repair of economic problems in the present, that low interest rates and high government borrowing will yield inflation and a decrease in economic stability based on U.S. fiscal reliability, and that economy killers like the healthcare legislation will vaporize future growth opportunity. Week-by-week trends aren't but so useful, but I do wonder whether this result is evidence that the boomlet that Kudlow predicts represents an investment decision, rather than true economic growth:

The number of newly laid-off workers seeking unemployment benefits rose last week, a sign that jobs remain scarce even as the economy recovers. The Labor Department said Thursday that first-time claims increased 18,000 to 460,000 in the week ended April 3.

For those thousands of people, and tens of thousands more, what's needed is an increase in opportunity as soon as possible. It would certainly be unfortunate, for the long-term health of the nation, if the Democrats managed a bit of luck in a temporary upswing just before an election, but talking down the economy in the present will accomplish nothing positive.

What's needed is clarity.

Government in Miniature

Justin Katz

With Tiverton's financial town meeting (FTM) fast approaching, I've been having to attend multiple town meetings per week to keep an eye on the local powers who be. For anybody who's interested, the resulting liveblogs and videos are up on the Tiverton Citizens for Change Web site.

The experience has been a real education in the functioning of government — which clearly operates in a separate and distinct reality from the rest of us. From the rhetoric being flung at those of us who wish to halt the perpetual tax increase during a time of economic hardship — that we're "destroying the town" and so forth — you'd never guess this to be the case:

The school side of the budget is particularly disconcerting. According to state law, school committees cannot request "municipal funds (exclusive of state and federal aid) in excess of one hundred four and one-half percent (104.5%) of the total of municipal funds appropriated by the city or town council for school purposes for fiscal year 2010." As far as General Assembly language goes, that couldn't be clearer. Yet, the committee actually requested 106.17%.

Its stated reasoning was that last year's FTM "appropriated" both the local funds and the estimated state funds, and since the state cut its contribution by about $300,000, that money ought to be figured into the budget. Nevermind that the above legislation contains language making all laws to the contrary "notwithstanding." Nevermind that the state actually did give the school district all of its expected aid, just using federal funds to fill the gap.

Over the past week, TCC finally managed to learn the district's revenue from all sources. Until now, the school department has kept millions of dollars undisclosed on the grounds that it was for "restricted" purposes. Working that data into the mix reveals that direct state aid to Tiverton schools actually went up. Moreover, federal money exploded, moving the total state and federal aid from $6,150,846 to $6,967,039.

The problem, from the school department's perspective, is that total aid is expected to drop back to $5,848,725 this coming year — mostly through a drop in those secret "restricted" funds. The end result is that all of the declarations of hardship and of a danger of the schools' being "gutted," "destroyed," and "decimated" represent an attempt to pressure the town into making up for "restricted" money that the district built into its budget. It seems to me that money for special purposes — of which townsfolk supposedly had no reason to be informed — should bring those special purposes with it when it goes. Otherwise, it wasn't really "restricted," was it?

Of course, we all know where most of the money actually goes:

What makes the battle all the worse is the creeping suspicion — rather, confidence — that government functions like this all the way up the chain, only exponentially more expensive and exponentially more deceptive the broader its reach.

April 11, 2010

That Long Slow Upward Climb

Justin Katz

Things cooled a bit after the healthcare vote, but I thought I'd take a moment to note that March was Anchor Rising's most trafficked month ever:

For the uninitiated, "visits" are calculated as unique visitors coming back during a time not less than an hour. In other words, one person downloading a dozen pages within a half hour is just one visit. Another person coming back every hour on the hour counts each time. This particular software also filters out robots and other non-people visitors for the final count.

The reason I pay attention to this software is that it's been consistent where our other methods are erratic, even though they'd permit us to make greater claims. The reason I track visits is that "unique visitors" doesn't capture reader devotion, and "page views" and "hits" are susceptible to design tricks. (If a site gets you to download a lot of files just to view its main page, it can claim extra pages and hits.)

The key point, though, is that we continue to grow, and we're very glad to have you reading, supporting, and challenging us. If you'd also like to help us move things to the next level, please consider financial support, as well:

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.

"Colour Blinded" - Scaramouche and Graham On the Foolish Accusation Leveled Against the Tea Party

Monique Chartier

A Canadian blogger named Scaramouche supplies the perfect answer to the baseless charge that Tea Partiers are racist (the latest to do so, regretfully, being the Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts).

We chit-chatted for a bit about Jews, American and Canadian, and their tendency to vote liberal (and Liberal) no matter what, until we arrived at the point of the conversation I always dread reaching with someone on the other side of the political fence: ObamaTime.

"Those Tea Partyers and rednecks--they hate Obama because he's black! They're so....racissst," she hissed.


What I wanted to say was, "Lady, I bet you've never had a conversation with a 'redneck' or a Tea Partyer in all your born days. I bet for all your self-regard, the legacy of having worked for 'civil rights' back in the 60s, you never once considered that voting for someone largely on the basis of his (black) skin colour is actually another form of 'racism'. It's obvious to me you haven't even the first clue about the people that you hate, yes, hate--what motivates them, what moves them, and why they might abhor what Obama is doing to your country and to the world, stuff that has squat to do with the discernable presence of melanin." I very much wanted to say all of the above, but, under the circumstances, it would not have been appropriate. Instead, I smiled sweetly, extended my hand, and said, "It was very nice meeting you."

Indeed: "stuff that has squat to do with the discernable presence of melanin".

My own theory is that the charge of racism against Tea Partiers and their "ilk" (place me in both of these categories) is a cross between a tantrum and a blankie for people who really, really want to believe in the government-expanding, Constitution-challenging, patently unaffordable policies of the current Congress and Presidential administration but are frustrated that they are consistently at a loss to defend such policies against factual, substantive criticisms. That they can also produce not one whit of evidence of their charge makes the whole conversation in a strange way entirely consistent on their part: no facts to defend bad policies, no facts to back the only charge that desperation compelled them to scrounge up against the critics of these policies.

As to the charge made a little closer to home, Michael Graham explains to the good Governor

Gov. Patrick, when you are voted out of office this November for raising our taxes, breaking your pledge to cut property taxes, raising our tolls, trying to create cushy government jobs for your friends, supporting openly-corrupt incumbent hacks, etc. etc. I make you this pledge:

Nobody will be voting against you because of your race. They’ll dump you because of your ineffective leadership and lousy public policies.

And we know this to be true, of course, because if Governor Patrick is voted out of office, he will be standing in the ranks of other public officials - many if not most of them lacking "discernable melanin" - voted out not because of their race but solely because of their "ineffective leadership" and the "lousy public policies" they pursued.

Crossing Protective Lines

Justin Katz

During President George W. Bush's time in office, Mark Shea was perhaps the blogosphere's leading politically conservative Roman Catholic speaking out against enhanced interrogation and other practices. Frankly, I ceased my daily visits to his site because he drew a stark line across which he saw questionable intentions and evil rhetoric, and even a desire to discuss whether the disagreement was more a matter of degree and interpretation quickly led to a commenter's association with some of the worst regimes in the world's history. In religious, military, and civic terms, there's a great deal of intellectual meat to be found in the torture debates, and it's difficult to get at it when even its pursuit is purported to reveal a desire to torture for fun.

That assessment is why I'm not as enthusiastic as I might otherwise have been now that Mark has turned the same weapons on the Obama administration, in reaction to its authorization of the CIA to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen:

The King of Kings and Lord of Lords of these United States no longer requires things like trials, sentences, the rule of law or all that other crap that slows things down with stuff like "arrests" and "gathering evidence" and "actually knowing whether the intended victim is guilty of something". If the President thinks you are guilty or wills you to be guilty of somehow being a threat to the US in the Great and Unending War on Terror, that's all it takes: you, an American citizen, can now be murdered in cold blood by the state. Of course, the Lord Most High Who Dwelleth in DC naturally assures us that this power to... what's the word? murder... will only be used against The Really Bad Guys and you can take that to the bank. I mean, since *when* has a man with unchecked and unquestioned power to kill anybody he likes without trial or appeal and with the full cooperation of a supine media *ever* misused such power? And surely, no future President will ever allow such power to be corrupted as a tool for terrorizing his enemies and accruing despotic power for himself. Just as Bush's accrual of power for the Executive is not being misused by Obama, so no future President will misuse the brand new Presidential Power to Murder People He's Pretty Sure are Guilty of Threats Against National Security. All is well.

Judging by their public statements, just about all supporters of enhanced interrogation not only saw distinctions for American citizens, but also kept techniques that caused permanent physical damage well beyond the unapproachable line of illegal and immoral torture. Clearly assassination represents a shift not just of degree, but of kind, inasmuch as death must be treated as pretty decisively permanent physical damage for the purposes of a secular government.

April 10, 2010

What Are You Working Toward?

Justin Katz

Scott Adams really captured something with this edition of his Dilbert comic strip:


Our progressive readers will no doubt declare this to be the reason that unions and government are necessary parties in the employment exchange. From my perspective, it's the reason that government ought to make it easier for all of us Dilberts to step out on our own and compete with our oppressive bosses — or at least work for some entrepreneur who can profit by luring dissatisfied talent from incumbents.

Whitehouse to SCOTUS?

Marc Comtois

As I was driving around this morning, I heard from our corporate overlords on WPRO that RI Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse was an "out of the box" candidate to fill the soon-to-be vacated Supreme Court seat currently held by Justice Stevens. Upon further research, it seems the idea was first floated by a contributor to the Huffington Post yesterday afternoon. In a piece titled "Sheldon Whitehouse and 4 Other Superb 'Out of the Box' Suggestions to Replace Justice Stevens," Paul Abrams wrote:

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) has the sharpest mind in the Senate. He is a former attorney general. His sharp mind, rhetorical skills, keen understanding of how government works, and his political experience suggest he would be a strong advocate, persuasive thinker, consensus builder, and, when in the minority, a cogent dissenter. Advocates before the Court would have to triple their preparation to meet his withering questioning. The Court, the standard of advocacy, and the entire country would benefit.

Yes, Glenn Beck would likely conjure a grand conspiracy in sending someone named "Whitehouse" to the Supreme Court, but as a sitting Senator it would be difficult for Republicans to filibuster his nomination recognizing he would be among them for a long time. Moreover, Republicans know, by serving with him, that their attempts to posture and to lie would result in their undressing on national television. A Democrat, or a Lincoln Chafee, would replace him. He could do far more benefit as 1 of 9 on the Supreme Court than 1 of 100 in the Senate.

Hm. Whitehouse hasn't exactly enamored himself to some of his potential future colleagues with his criticism of the Court's decision on campaign finance reform, in which he accused the conservative justices of being nothing more than puppets for corporations (and more). To this point, Sen. Whitehouse hasn't exactly displayed the sort of judicial temperament one would expect. Ideological firebrand is more like it. While I wouldn't lose any sleep over the idea of "losing" Sen. Patrician--I didn't vote for him (ahem)--I can't quite bring myself to support the idea of pawning our problem onto the entire U.S.

Here's a Crazy Thought About the 15% Heathcare Co-Share...

Carroll Andrew Morse

Instead of having the legislative leadership decree that they have made a final decision on whether mandatory 15% health insurance co-shares can be included in the state's supplemental budget, how about writing the co-share provision up as an amendment to the budget and holding a floor vote -- preceded by a public debate -- to decide whether to adopt it or not?

For Us to Be Them, Somebody Must Be Us

Justin Katz

Advocates for bigger government love to cite the small, still relatively homogeneous nations of Europe as an example of the bounty that awaits the United States if it just relies more on government to make decisions. Europeans, they say, are happier, more secure, less stressed out, etc. On Anchor Rising, we have argued, can argue, and will surely argue again the merits of these various claims, but for a moment let's grant that they aren't complete bunk.

The missing consideration — again, as we've argued before — is that Europeans have the space to create their little oases because the United States stands as a giant blocking the beating sun. Canadians can dictate lower costs for prescription drugs because Americans can pay more and thus keep innovation going. Great Britain can finance greater social welfare benefits because the United States finances global security. The French can take months at a time off from work because Americans will continue to work hard creating the technological innovations that give the world a semblance of moving forward.

Jonah Goldberg offers this analogy:

Look at it this way. My seven-year-old daughter has a great lifestyle. She has all of her clothes and food bought for her. She goes on great vacations. She has plenty of leisure time. A day doesn't go by where I don't look at her and feel envious of how good she's got it compared to me. But here's the problem: If I decide to live like her, who's going to take my place?

Europe is a free-rider. It can only afford to be Europe because we can afford to be America.

The essential political question currently on the table, in the United States, is whether enough Americans see the country's current path for what it is and are willing to plug their ears to the siren call of welfare infantilization.

April 9, 2010

Another Unlikely Budget Provision

Justin Katz

I'm surprised nobody else has highlighted this provision noted in the Providence Journal's summary of the RI House Finance Committee's supplemental budget plan:

The budget would also change a school funding "maintenance of effort" provision that requires cities and towns to provide at least as much local money for school as was provided the year before. Instead, cities and towns would be able to cut that amount by 5 percent for the current year only.

Maybe it's only because I'm up to my ears in budget details for Tiverton, but I'd say this is among the most significant changes that I've heard proposed, which is why I'll be very, very surprised if it makes it into law. Requiring town councils to approve teacher contracts is also significant and unlikely to make it into law.

On a different note, I have to say that I'm still not a fan of mandating health coshare percentages. All we're doing by pushing these changes up to the state level is increasing the power of the General Assembly and consolidating the target for which the unions have to shoot. As grassroots reformers, we'd do much better to concentrate on local elections and make the contractual changes where they belong: within the cities and towns.

Lastly, every time the General Assembly mucks with one of the governor's proposed budgets, the same dynamic applies: They reduce the hit to everybody, and the game becomes finding out where they're getting the money from; that's the hand that they don't want us to watch in their magic trick. In the current case, this appears to be it:

Budget hawks, meanwhile expressed concern that the package included a measure to "reamortize" the state retirement system's $4.3 billion in unfunded pension liabilities over 25 years, a move akin to refinancing a mortgage that costs less now, but more over the long term. The state had been in the ninth year of a 30-year plan to pay off the massive debt.

The overall cost to taxpayers is $2.2 billion, according to House fiscal adviser Sharon Reynolds Ferland.

All they'll be doing, with such a strategy, is making Rhode Island's inevitable judgment day even more painful.

NEARI Report: the Supplemental Budget Process (and Much More)

Monique Chartier

The following was sent this afternoon to members of the National Education Association of Rhode Island.

I am not sure what was reported in the paper this morning since reporters were posting stories as they were briefed, but some of those turned out to be premature. The House Finance Committee did vote out the supplemental budget in an extraordinarily short time once it began. We arrived at the State House around one and they did not start their scheduled 11 am meeting until after 8 pm. For all those not yet eligible to retire, the COLA was changed to apply only to the first $35,000 of retirement income. This number would be indexed, which means it goes up each year. The eligibility age to receive the COLA was raised to 65. (Reps Fierro, San Bento and Savage voted against the changes.)

Reps received more phone calls and emails than ever before in such a short time, but we cannot stop now. We all need to remember that when this first leaked out on Monday the COLA cap was at $12,000 with no indexing. I truly believe your efforts had an impact – now we need to push them to vote “no” for any changes at all. Enough is enough and it stops now. Keep calling and emailing. It will be critical over the weekend as those reps leaning our way need our support and we need to turn the others around. We do have support in the House, and the Senate has been fighting this all along.

All the unions impacted are asking their members to come to the State House this Monday after work to lobby and show opposition to these changes. They are caucusing at 3 pm and meeting at 4 pm. Since the House vote will be Tuesday, this will be our opportunity to raise our collective voices. You and your members need to be there. We have been sending a very strong political message that a vote for this is a vote against public employees, teachers, and working women and if you do so, do not expect our help in November. We need your help on Monday delivering that message!

To show how unions working together can have an impact: at 4 pm a new budget item appeared out of nowhere that called for all municipal employees to contribute a minimum of 15% toward health care despite any collective bargaining agreements. At 7 pm, George Nee, president of the AFL-CIO, was called to the speaker's office and was told to tell the other union leaders that that item was off the table. (The only mildly pleasant moment of the evening came around 9 pm when a reporter for the Journal was running around the hearing room looking for that article since they has already posted it as a major headline a few hours previously.)

There was one other surprise that the reps on the Finance Committee did not know about, and I think they were not even sure about it when they voted. All teacher and school employee contracts must now be approved by both the local school committee and town council/city council with at least one public hearing held prior to the vote. If that ends up being the case, I believe we move to do away with school committees because they will have become useless in the process. (I know what you are thinking.) In addition to opposing the COLA changes, ask your reps to oppose Article 9 as well.

I mentioned this past Monday earlier and now it seems like such a long time ago. In three days time, though, we held two conference calls, send an all member email, blogged, tweeted and everything else in between. It all led to a member response level never seen before. I want to thank you and ask you not to stop. Remind your colleagues to do the same. To do nothing means we agree with what is happening and I know you don't.

A special thanks to local presidents, officers and staff who have been working to put an end to this. We need to be as energized as ever. I am certainly ready to take our opposition to the next step and beyond when you are, but right now it starts with more phone calls and a huge turnout on Monday.

Growth Rather than Radical Reworking

Justin Katz

The following passage, from an autobiographical essay by Fr. Richard Neuhaus, from 2002, caught my eye, because it strikes me as a generally applicable principle for organizational growth, as opposed to continual redefinition:

The Church's teaching lives forward; it is not reconstructed backward—whether from the fifth century or the sixteenth or the nineteenth or the twenty-first. But through all the changes of living forward, how do we know what is corruption and what is authentic development? Recall Cardinal Newman's reflection on the development of doctrine, a reflection that has been incorporated by magisterial teaching. He suggested seven marks of authentic development: authentic development preserves the Church's apostolic form; it reflects continuity of principles in testing the unknown by the known; it demonstrates the power to assimilate what is true, even in what is posited against it; it follows a logical sequence; it anticipates future developments; it conserves past developments; and, throughout, it claims and demonstrates the vigor of teaching authority. And thus it is, said St. Vincent of Lerins in the fifth century, that in authentic development of doctrine nothing presents itself in the Church's old age that was not latent in her youth. Such was the truth discovered by Augustine, a truth "ever ancient, ever new."

Basically, the idea is to define what is essential in both principle and structure and to measure all changes by that. In the case of the United States, for example, we could say that we have the Declaration of Independence for principle and the Constitution and other documents for structure. It will risk a wayward path to pursue the principles of the Declaration by subverting the structure of the Constitution, and vice versa.

Unfortunately, both for the Church and the nation, people love the idea of expediency. With healthcare, the motivation is to simply declare that all will have it. With our evolving sense of personal freedom, the flawed mandate is to simply grant it, structural considerations be damned. Neither is possible, because the idea behind our national founding and the Idea behind the Church's founding is a holistic kernel in which the forward-moving history was contained.

Flipping Political Coins with Amendments

Justin Katz

On Wednesday's Matt Allen Show, Andrew brought up the interesting juxtaposition that, while some states' attorney generals are suing the federal government over healthcare with reference to the 10th Amendment, Massachusetts's Martha Coakley is making a 10th Amendment argument against national marriage law. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

As if we didn't know who calls the shots in RI

Marc Comtois

So the long-awaited supplemental budget has finally made it's way to the RI House floor. According to Speaker of the House Gordon Fox, “This is a budget where everyone shares a little bit of the pain." Well, at least, that was the plan:

Changes are possible in the coming days, as evidenced by one reversal by Democratic leaders over the course of four hours on Thursday, a day characterized by closed-door meetings among the Assembly’s Democratic elite.

Fox shocked public-sector unions when he confirmed at roughly 4:30 p.m. that the budget plan would require municipal employees to contribute at least 15 percent of their health-care premiums in new contracts.

An hour later, AFL-CIO President George Nee vowed to spend the coming days “aggressively lobbying every member of the House” to reverse the plan, characterizing the move as “a totally unacceptable intrusion into collective bargaining.”

The outcome, according to Nee, could have political consequences: “This is an election year,” he said. “It could be a factor in how endorsements are made.”

By 8:30 p.m., Democratic leaders had confirmed that the co-share requirement had been stripped from their budget plan, a victim of a final round of negotiations among House and Senate leaders, according to House spokesman Larry Berman.

Nothing much to add.

Hope After the Flood

Justin Katz

Jim Bush just about sums it up. (Reprinted with permission.)

April 8, 2010

Gist's State of (RI) Education

Marc Comtois

Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist has released the text of her State of Education speech (PDF)to the RI General Assembly. In it, she charts a course for improving RI's education system via a holistic approach. She also explains where RI needs to improve in its next Race-to-the-top bid:

...we lost points because we don’t have a data system that supports instruction – yet – though we are in the process of building what will be one of the best in the country.

We also lost points because of two serious weaknesses: our policies on public charter schools and on education funding. Because you lifted the cap on public charter schools, we will gain points in the next round of funding. We will gain even more points if we succeed in adopting a predictable and equitable funding formula for aid to education.

We could also gain as much as 15 points once we secure statements of support from all districts and unions. That will surely help us in our race to the top!

Between now and June 1st, we are going to work to improve the quality of our application. I will engage superintendents, school committees, and teachers’ unions to ask for their involvement and support. But everyone has to realize one thing: Delaware and Tennessee won because they had bold reform policies (just as we did) and widespread support. Though I am always open to ideas that can improve our application, we cannot and will not backtrack on our reform policies – or we will be out of the running. We now need the entire state to get behind these reforms!

Can You Hear the Sly Taxation?

Justin Katz

Here they go again:

Bills have been introduced by Sen. William A. Walaska (D-Dist. 30, Warwick) to increase medical insurance coverage for hearing aids and to require insurance coverage for surgery and services associated with hearing aid implants.

Without a doubt, hearing loss increases the difficulty of one's life. So does poor eye sight and any number of other ailments and disabilities. There are two problems with this continuing trend of legislating mandatory insurance coverage for related aids, medication, and surgeries:

  1. It essentially turns insurance premiums into a tax to fund redistributed wealth, without allowing voters a direct influence on those increasing the cost/tax. In other words, the government is making the insurance companies levy a tax and block the political heat.
  2. Determining how much addressing each health difficulty is worth works best on a case-by-case basis, and when somebody else is forced to pay for the remedy, nobody in the chain from provider to patient has significant incentive to make actual, often difficult decisions, thus driving up costs all around.

But, as I said, there's a firewall against political heat built into this practice, so the politicians will keep doing it until we all decide to reassert basic principles of good governance.

If Ireland can do it...

Marc Comtois

....why not us? According to the Wall Street Journal:

Government employees on average have higher pay and bigger benefits than the private-sector employees who support them with taxes. This has become a well known fact.

When private firms run extended losses—spending more money than they take in—their employees must share in the necessary adjustments. But how about when governments spend much more than they take in, running huge and extended deficits? What should happen then? This is something Americans who work in private companies might consider while they file their tax returns over the next week.

Ireland shows the way.

Having had a long run of high growth and success, Ireland has now had a severe bust, the deflation of a housing bubble, and a financial crisis. Plus, its government is running big deficits. Sound familiar?

In response, the current Irish government budget takes these steps (translating from euros to dollars and rounding):

• Government employees' salaries up to $40,000 will be reduced by 5%.

• The next $54,000 of salary will be reduced by 7.5%.

• The next $74,000 of salary will be reduced by 10%.

When these tranches are added together, this gets you up to salaries of $168,000. Government salaries over this amount may be subject to marginal reductions of as much as 15%.

This looks like a very sensible plan for nonmilitary government employees.

Ireland has already worked out the plan. All the U.S. has to do is implement it.

And any other unit of government, for that matter.

The Union Does School Administration

Justin Katz

It was hard not to give some credit to the union-run New England Laborers/Cranston Public Schools Construction Career Academy when it gave some of its money back to the town to maintain sports programs. Of course, one wondered why it would have extra money — charter schools aren't fully private schools — but the sentiment wasn't without its noble tinge. Well, Cranston School Committee member Stephen Stycos says there's more to the story, and as usual, it begins with an apparent conflict of interest:

I questioned the change and argued that if the Laborers charter school had $193,840 for the union, it should also give $193,840 to the Cranston public schools. [Michael] Traficante, who chairs the charter-school board of directors and the Cranston School Committee, and is an employee of the Laborers union, countered that the former superintendent promised the union would only have to pay for the "construction craft laborers instructors" for the school's first five years.

And here are some of the results:

Mr. Traficante, however, said the Laborers charter school wanted to help with Cranston's financial woes and came forward with a transfer of $187,218. In response to questioning from several School Committee members, we discovered that this "gift" was the state's reimbursement for special-education services already paid by the Cranston public schools. Had the charter school kept the money, it would have been paid twice for the same special-education services — once by its partner, the Cranston Public Schools, and once by the State of Rhode Island. Since Cranston pays for the special-education services, Cranston should automatically receive the money. ...

(The construction craft laborers instructors, however, who are hired by the union, receive a school-year wage and benefit package equal to $97,751, while a comparable technical assistant at Cranston's vocational school earns $45,870 in wages and benefits.)

The Mindboggling Contortions of Nanny Staters

Justin Katz

Beyond her many ways of saying "raising taxes" without saying "raising taxes," note the convoluted language that this advocate of poverty uses to confuse voters (emphasis added):

Kate Brewster, executive director of the Poverty Institute in Providence, which analyzes tax and budget policies on behalf of low-income people, said, "State leaders need to take a balanced approach to solving our financial problems, which includes carefully reviewing our tax policies. We agree with RIPEC that the state should avoid a piecemeal approach to tax policy. However, there are several reasonable policies that could be enacted that would generate much-needed revenue in a fair and responsible manner, such as ending corporate giveaways, modernizing our sales tax and considering the hundreds of millions of dollars we forgo each year through tax expenditures."

Would any casual reader understand that not forgoing expenditures means raising taxes? Hopefully a reader who does will understand that, by Brewster's reasoning — which, to be fair, appears to have been the dominant perspective of those who determine Rhode Island's budgetary and spending policies — every dollar in the private economy is ultimately just tax revenue that the state chose not to collect and every decision not to collect it is an "expenditure."

Here's another interesting tidbit from the same article, by the way:

Taxes paid by businesses in tax year 2008 amounted to 5.7 percent of the state's gross state product for that year, compared with 4.2 percent for Massachusetts, 3.7 percent for Connecticut, and a national average of 4.9 percent. "We have a very heavy business-tax burden," Simmons said.

We must stop this now, or everybody who remains in the state of Rhode Island is going to suffer, the poor and working class most of all.

April 7, 2010

The Departure from Rhode Island of the John Galts Can be Reversed

Monique Chartier

Under Justin's post "Do You Know This Guy?", BobN points out

Why would anyone have a problem with the [Ayn] Rand signs? They are neither in poor taste nor dishonest.

The condition of Rhode Island's finances, economy, and urban society does resemble the one described in Atlas Shrugged in a number of disturbing ways.

Indeed. As does the end result: the "strike" or departure of the John Galts. The only difference is that the John Galts - using the term in a larger sense to include both corporations and individuals - of Rhode Island have been leaving the state over the last two decades, not all at one moment. So they're departure is less stark.

That they have been leaving, however, is plainly demonstrated by the poor economic condition of the state on every level: the chronic scarcity of good jobs; an economy always worse than that of most other states; the extent of our tax burden (more payers would mean lower taxes); the size of the state budget deficit.

As in the novel, the decision by the John Galts to leave Rhode Island was not arbitrary but in response to certain repulsing conditions. The good news, however, is that, in real life, these conditions can be ameliorated with the legislative flip of a switch: the tax and regulatory burdens unique to Rhode Island can be eased and the John Galts encouraged to return.

UPDATE: Do You Know This Guy?

Justin Katz

Apparently, my hypothesis was incorrect. The owner of the controversial sign checked in to explain that he was not a left-wing saboteur:

Justin, the picture is old news, you should pay attention a bit more, as all has been clarified about the sign. However, I do appreciate you keeping the subject alive as to continue to shed more bad light on my ineffective, failure of a congressman, Mr. Langevin. In an effort to help to educate you, I will enclose some links for your reading enjoyment. It may interest you to note that my ineffective, failure of a congressman, Mr. Langevin, has never sponsored or passed any legislation to assist the disabled. He continues to ignore gross violations of the ADA code as it relates to handicap accessibility. He has voted in every sense to continue to raise taxes, expand the public debt, bailout the criminal banks, he has voted in his career 99.93% along party lines (fact courtesy of Open Secrets.org). He is known as a "follower" in that he has never passed ANY legislation. His staff's salaries have almost doubled since 2004, he had a known criminal on his payroll in 2007, (hmmmm, a congressman with a known criminal on the payroll, not very welled versed in security is he??)Link.

What else, oh yeah, He voted against reducing SS tax on senior citizens, but voted to give himself a $5300.00 COLA. I could go on and on, but someday, you too, when you learn to do research, will have facts like these and others at your finger tips. I do find it interesting that he owns 4 homes registered under the business name Future Realty Management Co. that his mother operates for him. Looks like he's doing pretty pretty pretty pretty good for HIMSELF !!!! As he continues to take steps to push our country closer to socialism.

One last point ,this one you should take the rubbish out of your ears so that you can hear it loud and clear. I REPRESENT NO GROUP OTHER THAN MYSELF AS A LAW ABIDING TAX PAYING CITIZEN!! GOT THAT?? Good.

Now go read a fairy tale about how good your president is, and how wonderful Marxism has worked in the past, and rest your head calmly while soldiers die so that you can spew your illiterate garbage.


By "clarified," he's referring to an appearance on the Helen Glover Show in which he apologized for the distraction and to insist that he represents only himself. So it's the secondary hypothesis: that a loosely affiliated grassroots movement will have people who make statements in a way that others find distasteful. And then the left-wing saboteurs jump in.

Now that that's cleared up, I'll get back to my Marxist reading list and reorganizing my personal Obama shrine.

Does the Concept of Enumerated Federal Powers Matter? Democratic Attorney General Candidates Say Sometimes it Does, Sometimes it Doesn’t

Carroll Andrew Morse

Do not believe that they mean it, when local Democrats tell you that the Tenth Amendment has no meaning, or at least no meaning relevant to modern government, or that the Constitution means only that the Federal government cannot do anything expressly forbidden to it. The actions of a couple of statewide Democratic office seekers who have the full support of the progressive wing of the Democratic party definitively say otherwise.

As Anchor Rising reported (in typical ahead-of-the-curve fashion) last July, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has filed suit against the Federal Government, attempting to have the Federal Defense of Marriage Act declared unconstitutional as applied in Massachusetts, on the grounds that no enumerated power of Congress comes close to allowing the Federal government to define marriage, and therefore the 10th Amendment reserves the power to define marriage within a state to the government of a state…

81. The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution expressly reserves to the states all powers except those limited powers granted to the federal government…

83. The Tenth Amendment preserves for the states the authority to regulate and define marriage for their citizens.

84. Congress lacks the authority under Article I of the United States Constitution to regulate the field of domestic relations, including marriage.

85. Section 3 of DOMA violates the Tenth Amendment, exceeds Congress’s Article I powers, and runs afoul of the Constitution’s principles of federalism by creating an extensive federal regulatory scheme that interferes with and undermines the Commonwealth’s sovereign authority to define marriage and to regulate the marital status of its citizens.

Joseph Fernandez, a Democratic candidate for Rhode Island Attorney General, has told the website Defend the Law -dot- org that he is all-in with the Massachusetts lawsuit…
"Joe will be ready to provide enthusiastic support for Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Massachusetts lawsuit in any way she asks."
However, when Projo political columnist Edward Fitzpatrick asked Mr. Fernandez last week if he would consider any kind of Constitutional challenge to the new Federal healthcare law, his awareness of limitations on Federal power entirely vanished…
Joseph M. Fernandez, a Providence Democrat, said, “The charge that the [healthcare] law is unconstitutional is a politically motivated ploy.”
By supporting a Tenth Amendment/enumerated powers challenge to Federal law when he supports a policy outcome, but refusing even to consider the legal arguments when he opposes the policy outcome -- before the arguments have fully been made -- Joseph Fernandez has disqualified himself from being considered fit to hold the post of Attorney General, on any grounds other than “I might be able to put together the raw political muscle to get elected”.

Democratic Attorney General candidate Steven Archambault takes a similar pair of contradictory positions. Of the Coakley lawsuit, his campaign told the Defend the Law blog…

"Steve Archambault will support Martha Coakley’s efforts through either joining the lawsuit, submitting an amicus brief or providing some other appropriate assistance."
But when the subject was a challenge to the healthcare law, Mr. Archambault told Edward Fitzpatrick…
“The health-care law stands on sound constitutional footing. The Supreme Court has consistently upheld Congress’ right to regulate interstate commerce and to tax. While I would certainly examine the legal arguments advanced by the attorneys general, their position seems more political in nature than based on legal reasoning.”
By supporting a Constitutional challenge when he supports the policy outcome, but deriding a lawsuit as politically motivated when he doesn’t -- again, before the legal arguments have been made -- Steven Archambault has disqualified himself from being considered fit to hold the post of Attorney General, on any grounds other than “I might be able to put together the raw political muscle to get elected”.

Assessing the constitutionality of laws requires more than comparing the desired outcomes of legislation to personal policy preferences or to policy preferences of political allies. This critical aspect of the rule-of-law seems to have escaped both Mr. Archambault and Mr. Fernandez.

According to Fitzpatrick's column, Democratic AG candidate Peter Kilmartin also opposes a challenge to the healthcare law in terms as strong as Mr. Fernandez's. However, Rep. Kilmartin hasn’t expressed an opinion on the Massachusetts lawsuit that I can find (though I haven't seen a report on whether he expounded on his positions at last night's Democratic AG debate at Roger Williams University), so he has not placed himself directly into the disqualifying contradiction that Fernandez and Archambault have. Perhaps Rep. Kilmartin doesn’t see protecting the rights of Rhode Islanders from encroachment by the Federal Government as a top priority for an Attorney General.

Moderate Party AG candidate Christopher Little didn’t rule out a future challenge to the healthcare law in his response to Fitzpatrick, but wants to see what the impact is, before deciding whether to join a lawsuit on its legality. Whether that represents the proper ordering of priorities for the state's top law enforcement officer is a question that merits serious discussion.

Amongst the Democratic candidates for AG, only Robert Rainville wants to hear the details of any suit against the Federal Government regarding the healthcare law, before deciding whether to join. He told Fitzpatrick that...

"There are possible constitutional challenges. You can make arguments on both sides, so it’s premature to say"...

He said he’d look at its constitutionality and cost, and “wouldn’t rule out” a suit.

At least prior to last night's RWU debate, Rainville hadn't expressed a public position on the Massachusetts lawsuit.

Finally, Republican AG candidate Erik Wallin does support a challenge to the healthcare law on Constitutional grounds…

“Never has the federal government attempted to force individual citizens to buy a good or service simply on the basis that they are Americans....Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does it state that the federal government can require an American to buy a commodity"
…and has not taken an official position on the Defense of Marriage Act lawsuit, based on the fact that the the suit has no direct legal impact in RI, because the complaint filed by the Massachusetts AG directly states that it "does not address the application of DOMA in states that do not recognize marriages between same-sex couples" and Rhode Island does not recognize same-sex marriages.

Imagine that: Attorney General candidates who take campaign positions as if the job of Attorney General was to enforce the laws of Rhode Island and protect the rights of all Rhode Island citizens, rather than to implement the favored policies of the progressive wing of the Democratic party!

Washing Out the Apathy

Justin Katz

In a related way to that in which the healthcare debate has galvanized public action, Ed Achorn wonders whether the flooding of Rhode Island will bring people to the conclusion that I mentioned on last week's Matt Allen show: The impact would not have been as terrible had our government been concentrating on the things for which it is actually intended, such as infrastructure and community protection.

Interestingly, the trauma of Hurricane Katrina jolted the people of Louisiana to rethink their ways. They elected a governor, Brown-educated Bobby Jindal, on an anti-corruption platform, and supported efforts to improve the economy by attacking special-interest politics.

"The average person out there understands now that public corruption has adversely affected his or her quality of life, whether it’s the crumbling streets they drive on, the dismal state of the public school system, the crime rate or the lack of jobs," U.S. Atty. Jim Letten, based in New Orleans, told the Chicago Tribune.

Our state is heavily taxed. It's in a tremendous amount of debt. And yet its roads, bridges, and dams are crumbling, and its very expensive public sector is ineffective and focused on the wrong things. I'm not optimistic, but at least there's reason to hope that the Great Flood of 2010 has provided a stark example of the consequences of wayward government.

Perhaps Healthcare Will Be a Catalyst, at Least for a Permanent Alarm

Justin Katz

Theodore Gatchel raises the operative question with regard to the reaction to the content and process of the new healthcare legislation:

On the positive side, the process the Democrats have used to pass this legislation appears to have caused more Americans than ever to read the Constitution.

The more they read it, the more they question not just the legitimacy of this particular process, but also how the immense power of today's federal government can be reconciled with any common-sense reading of the Constitution.

As Gatchel suggests, part of the answer will depend on the direction that the Democrats head from here. If they wipe the dirt off their hands and govern quietly from the center at least through the next election, public ire might subside. If they continue with their radical agenda, whether on immigration, energy, unions, or what have you, they'll reinforce public opposition.

On the other hand, even in our little blue, heavily propagandized state, we've seen people newly involved in a way that suggests a long-term commitment — and a long memory. Even if the politicians manage to lull a critical mass of Americans back into apathetic slumber, there is now a huge nationwide infrastructure for sounding alarms.

April 6, 2010

The Sort of Wildflower That Children Are

Justin Katz

I'm a believer in the importance of creativity and honing one's natural talents, seeing it as a critical part of becoming effective at and finding fulfillment in whatever one does. That creativity can be underdeveloped during education, however, does not mean that it's appropriate to make it the sole pillar of a schooling strategy, which is what Julia Steiny implies amidst metaphors of flowers and nature:

What with the glories of spring's awakening the daffodils and scilla, and the stark winter forest suddenly gone, all fuzzy with life quickening on the branches, education had begun to seem a little lifeless. So I indulged myself in a marathon of YouTube lectures on creativity by Sir Ken Robinson. The Queen of England knighted the man for his warrior-like battles against forces that kill imagination, intuition and our innate appetite for solving puzzles. ...

... As humans, "we exploited the earth for certain resources and put the whole operation at risk. Now we're taking bits of children, educating them, but never finding out what they want to be because no one was looking for it." ...

All children will learn when teachers and the public look at them with the same grateful joy we feel when we see new green sprouting out of the winter landscape. Kids are organic. They will bloom and flourish and even ace the silly tests if only we develop nurturing conditions for them.

As a perpetual reminder about priorities in education, this sort of thinking is healthy, but it's easy to take it too far. The thing about creativity is that it's kind of shapeless. Just as trees and bushes need pruning and vines do best with lattice and such, children need a framework within which to allow their creativity to flourish. I couldn't help but think of Steiny as I turned the pages of my Sunday paper and came across this:

A 13-year-old hangs himself in a Johnson County, Texas, barn. An 8-year-old jumps out of a two-story school building in Houston. Nine Massachusetts teenagers face jail time after allegedly harassing a girl so mercilessly that she killed herself. These incidents, all of which took place in one week, reframe the age-old phenomenon of the schoolyard bully.

Students are turning to suicide, experts say, as an escape from taunts that now continue beyond the school day through cyberspace. Such drastic responses, they say, reveal how an action once considered a rite of passage has turned into a public health issue.

I'm not saying that a creative curriculum negates the ability to control bullies, or that all children will be monsters if allowed to grow wild. But every garden has weeds, and even desirable plants can strangle each other if not properly situated and grown.

Metaphors and creativity only take us so far. And at the end of the day, the world doesn't need three million pop stars, and it can't function with only two carpenters. Creativity isn't all, and the right balance is necessary in order to avoid untold misery.

The First Step of Abstinence Is Believing It's Possible

Justin Katz

For some reason, the irresistible nature of sex has come up in various forums and offline conversations. Frankly, my own youth stands as evidence, but placing my experiences in review, I'm not so sure that it had to be so. Had I met anybody like Sarah Hinlicky, writing here in 1998, I'd have likely scoffed, but that would clearly have been my loss:

Okay, I'll admit it: I am twenty-two years old and still a virgin. Not for lack of opportunity, my vanity hastens to add. Had I ever felt unduly burdened by my unfashionable innocence, I could have found someone to attend to the problem. But I never did. Our mainstream culture tells me that some oppressive force must be the cause of my late-in-life virginity, maybe an inordinate fear of men or God or getting caught. Perhaps it's right, since I can pinpoint a number of influences that have persuaded me to remain a virgin. My mother taught me that self-respect requires self-control, and my father taught me to demand the same from men. I'm enough of a country bumpkin to suspect that contraceptives might not be enough to prevent an unwanted pregnancy or disease, and I think that abortion is killing a baby. I buy into all that Christian doctrine of law and promise, which means that the stuffy old commandments are still binding on my conscience. And I'm even naive enough to believe in permanent, exclusive, divinely ordained love between a man and a woman, a love so valuable that it motivates me to keep my legs tightly crossed in the most tempting of situations.

Sex is the sort of subject on which folks feel a need to sound worldly when it comes up, which skews the way we talk about it. But I'll tell you this: It simply isn't the case that everybody's secretly full of lust and deception.

Oversized, Photogenic Grant Checks or Some Flood Relief for Constituents?

Monique Chartier

This will be an interesting conundrum.

[From a press release.]

State Representatives John Loughlin (R-Tiverton, Little Compton, Portsmouth) and Jon Brien (D-Woonsocket) today announced that they will be introducing legislation to provide tax relief to Rhode Islanders affected by the devastating March floods.

The proposed tax credit would provide a one-time, per family $2,000 state income tax credit to Rhode Islanders who have met FEMA standards for aid and have uninsured losses greater than $10,000.

“Rhode Islanders are resilient, but these floods are another blow to our already reeling economy and bleak job market,” added Representative Loughlin. “It is our hope that allowing Rhode Islanders to claim this special tax credit for uninsured losses will help close the gap between what they lost and what is covered by federal aid.”

“While there’s little we can do to replace items of sentimental value, we wanted to ease the financial burden,” said Representative Brien. “By using the $2.6 million stashed away in the legislative grant fund, we expect that this bill will be revenue neutral. We believe that other legislators will agree that helping victims of a natural disaster should be a budget priority.”

(HEY! Aren't these guys opponents for the same Congressional seat???)


... as to the candidacy status of Rep Jon Brien, courtesy of commenter John:

Jon declared himself to be no longer seeking the first district congressional seat last Friday on a Woonsocket radio appearance (WNRI). Now they'rer just two conservative buddies again.

The Healthcare System Sinking In

Justin Katz

It's probably not really worth mentioning, but Joe Baker's column in yesterday's Newport Daily News is an astonishing bit of cheer leading for the policies of the Obama administration. Most of it has to do with the economy and how wonderfully the stimulus program worked. Perhaps it's enough to note that he claims the recovery on which he's so bullish is "in the rebound a lot quicker than was being forecast when we were in the pits of despair last year."

My recollection is that, in the pits of despair, economists were predicting a clear recovery before 2010. If we find ourselves emerging from the darkness only a couple quarters later, that'll be wonderful, but I'd advise against managing your finances as if flush times are just around the corner.

What's really astonishing about Baker's essay comes when he decides that singing about rainbows in the economy isn't adequately partisan:

Republicans who went to the wall in an attempt to kill the health care reform measure were hoping for a rising backlash from its passage. But that hasn’t materialized, and as the reality of the program sinks in and nobody sees the dire consequences predicted by its opponents, methinks a lot of the remaining anger will float away.

Does this guy get his news purely from Obama press releases? Put aside the fact that he ignores the delay on most of the bill's provisions. One gathers that Baker missed the financial statements of major companies expecting billions of dollars lost to their bottom lines because of the legislation. Moreover, on the same day that Newport County's major daily paper handed its readers Baker's bubblegum, the state's major daily paper was informing its own of the following, on its front page:

While some experts are predicting better times for hospitals from the national health-care overhaul, an analysis conducted for the Hospital Association of Rhode Island predicts that the state's 11 acute-care hospitals stand to lose $465.7 million over the next 10 years.

The study found that any gains from more patients coming through the doors with insurance will be more than offset by cuts in payments the hospitals receive from the federal government, according to Edward J. Quinlan, the association’s president.

An accompanying article suggests that the government has a history, in this area:

Quinlan traces the hospitals' troubles back to the passage of the federal Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which led to steep cuts in Medicare payments. The association estimates that over 13 years, the cuts have resulted in a loss of $700 million. Medicare payments used to provide hospitals 14 percent more than the cost of care, providing a necessary buffer to help pay for general hospital expenses. Now the payments are about 89 percent of the cost of care.

Just wait until employers start dumping their workers into publicly subsidized programs. And just wait until this guy's ilk get the reins firmly in their hands:

Health-care reform may bring some relief. But Nick Tsongias, an executive board member of HealthRIght, which supports comprehensive health-care reform, says there's an even deeper problem to address.

"I think the business model that the hospitals are operating under is now obsolete," he says. ...

... increased competition isn't necessarily beneficial, says Tsongias. In fact, he says, it can be harmful. For example, Landmark Medical Center started a coronary-care unit, but had to close it down because it contributed to financial losses so severe the hospital had to seek protection from the courts, he says.

"It certainly poorly serves the public if the way we determine how many hospitals we have, and what the appropriate array of services are ... is through survival of the fittest," Tsongias says.

Competition leads to efficiency. Indeed, Tsiongas's complaint is that it drives down prices to the point that only the most effective providers can continue to profit from a particular good or service, and what ultimately makes them effective is that consumers wish to spend their money with them. I'm not an expert in hospital finance, but I'd wager that the reason hospitals have chased a narrow collection of identical services is that a mixture of government regulations and insurance company policies have created inadvisable incentives through mandates and the speed and percentage of payments.

The better approach to lowering costs and broadening care would be to allow consumers to pay more directly for the services that they want and need. Further embedding the "insurance" model — really a "healthcare services plan" model — and giving government regulators a more direct responsibility for and authority over the healthcare system will only yield additional strains on providers and higher costs. Which will only yield fewer providers and even higher costs.

I'd much rather live in Mr. Baker's world, in which one can trust that the cool smart guy running the show in Washington would manage of our every worry. We could all relax and be taken care of. Unfortunately, in the world that I've observed, that's just not realistic.

April 5, 2010

BREAKING: Rhode Islander Ken McKay Resigns RNC

Justin Katz

RNC Chief of Staff and former staffer for Governor Carcieri, Ken McKay has resigned over controversy:

Republican National Committee chief of staff Ken McKay has resigned in the wake of a controversy over an expenditure at a risque California nightclub, RNC communications director Doug Heye said Monday.

McKay's resignation comes one week after the Daily Caller Web site reported that the RNC's January expenditure report included nearly $2,000 spent at Voyeur in West Hollywood, a topless nightclub.

RNC officials worked to distance Chairman Michael Steele from the controversy -- insisting that not only was he not in attendance but that he had no knowledge of the reimbursement -- and promised changes in the way that people were reimbursed by the committee.

Status Report on RI Gov't: Beaux Arts But No Budget

Monique Chartier

The temptation to contrast this RFP by the State of Rhode Island [PDF]

RFP # 7323535

TITLE: Fiscal Agent – Arts Council Panel Operations


The Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) requires a fiscal agent to administer the timely payment of honoraria, fees and travel expenses, under the direction of the State Arts Council.

with this report by the ProJo's Katherine Gregg about the accomplishments of the General Assembly at the half way mark of the 2010 session is irresistable.

They spent a total of $7,488,011 between Jan. 1 and March 30 on their own operation, including staff.

They introduced 1,716 bills. They passed six new "public laws," including matching House and Senate versions of bills to lift the state cap on new charter schools, provide new business loan guarantees from the state's Industrial and Recreational Building Authority and name the Rhode Island Training School for a legislator who died last year: the revered Rep. Thomas Slater, D-Providence.

If you include the 130 resolutions "commemorating the 166th anniversary of Dominican Republic Independence," for example, or declaring March as "Irish-American Heritage Month," and the 33 measures reinstating lapsed corporate charters and allowing otherwise unauthorized people to perform marriage ceremonies, they have voted on 169 pieces of legislation.

Noticeably absent: any action on the 2010 Supplemental Budget, though the fiscal year is three quarters over and the G.A., who haranged the Governor to promptly prepare and submit it, has had the budget in hand since mid-December. (The Gov's office advised today that the Supplemental Budget will be heard Wednesday evening in the Finance Committee.)

As for the position of Fiscal Agent for the Arts Council, while I am grateful that it has been thrown open to competitive bidding (I'll let you know if I work up gratitude that the position is funded with federal tax dollars), it is a reminder that funding of the arts remains an item in the state budget. As the 2010 Supplemental Budget has not yet been acted upon, in part, due to the unpleasant decisions surrounding a shortage of revenue, and the 2011 budget is short $400 million, soliciting a fiscal manager to disburse funds for an arts program seems a little like ordering dessert when the wherewithal for the meal itself is lacking.

Do You Know This Guy?

Justin Katz

So, I'm testing a hypothesis, here. Given the fact that he had two identical "Langevin's Vote Cripple$ America" signs, that they were much more cleanly done than the typical homemade Tea Party sign, and that he made a deliberate effort to get the sign behind speakers at the 10th Amendment rally, I'm going with the theory that this guy was deliberately trying to tar the RI Tea Party's image. Anybody recognize him?

Redirecting Education Reform Toward the Same-Old

Justin Katz

Readers know that I'm extremely skeptical — that is, even more skeptical than usual — about efforts to force education reform from the federal government down. Especially with the Obama administration behind the wheel. An article that's been sitting in my queue all week gives some indication that it's not an irrational fear:

The only two states that won in the first round [of Race to the Top], Delaware and Tennessee, both worked with their teacher unions early in the application process. In Delaware, 100 percent of teacher union locals signed off on that state's application; 93 percent of the locals did so in Tennessee. This support, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said during a phone interview with reporters, gave him confidence that the reforms would "reach into every corner" of those states.

Rhode Island, in contrast, gained the endorsement of only two of the state’s 40 or so teacher union locals, Providence and Foster.

Clearly, the administration wants unions to ensure that their authority isn't substantially threatened by reforms, which means (for those of us who see reform mainly as a route toward undoing the damage that teacher unions have done) that the objective is really to co-opt the popular markers of right-leaning reform. When it comes to education, choice has got to mean choice, and accountability has got to mean accountability. Otherwise, new strategies will be set up to fail — and perhaps with the intention of failing.

Moakley Says Loughlin Has "Informally Conceded" in the First District Race

Carroll Andrew Morse


John Loughlin's campaign manager Cara Cromwell says, direct quote...

"He's running this campaign one time, and he's going to win".
She also adds that Rep. Loughlin and Prof. Moakley have not spoken directly, and that she suspects that some conventional political wisdom about running against entrenched incumbents, not originating from any source related to the Loughlin campaign, erroneously appears in the article as if it had come from the campaign.

An article from Dartmouth College's campus newspaper contained the excerpt below, regarding the Congressional race in Rhode Island's First District...

Maureen Moakley, a professor of political science at University of Rhode Island, said the main contest for the seat will likely be between Cicilline and Lynch.

“This is a district that is solidly Democratic and unlikely to change in the short term,” she said.

Moakley also said that Loughlin had “informally conceded” he would not win the congressional seat on the first try and would have to run several times.

(The Dartmouth was covering the story because another rumored Republican candidate who has apparently decided not to run, Eric Pfeiffer, is a Dartmouth grad).

According to Prof. Moakley's analysis, the general election is already over: In Rhode Island, the "Kennedy seat" stays Democratic, with a conventional Democratic pol moving up the ranks in order to claim it.

If this is ultimately how the campaign plays out, whether the winner is Cicilline or Lynch, the First District is on track to be represented by a Congressman who can be expected to represent the positions of the national Democratic leadership back to Rhode Island, rather than one who represents the interests of all Rhode Islanders to Washington.

I've contacted the Loughlin campaign, to get their reaction to the idea than an informal concession has already occurred.

The Religion of Rhode Island's Public University

Justin Katz

Last year, Notre Dame University was the center of national attention, because it had asked abortion-supporting President Obama to give the commencement address and was planning to give him an honorary degree. The problem was, of course, that Notre Dame is explicitly a Catholic organization, and while nobody objected to pro-choice speakers, in general, many thought the honor implicitly being granted to Obama inappropriate.

Approached from the perspective of that debate, controversy over a speaker at the University of Rhode Island really is remarkable:

University of Rhode Island President David M. Dooley's selection of a Christian minister to speak at his inauguration ceremony has triggered a campus-wide discussion about the separation of church and state, tolerance and free speech — precisely the principles Dooley says he hopes will define the URI community.

But not everyone at the state university is comfortable with his decision.

Dooley invited Greg Boyd, a well-known minister from Minnesota, to deliver the keynote address at the April 8 inauguration, a choice that has sparked all sorts of discussions — online, informally and in campus meetings. Some students and faculty say they are concerned that Boyd's views on issues such as same sex-marriage and abortion — he opposes both — and his position as a religious leader make him an inappropriate representative at such a significant public university event.

Let's highlight, first, that this is not a commencement address, but an inauguration ceremony for the new university president and that, according to a profile published yesterday, the event is entirely funded with private money. Apart from such particulars, it can hardly be said that Boyd is a right-wing religious extremist:

Boyd said he no longer describes himself as an evangelical as the word "has gotten so wrapped up with so much that I'm against. Jesus does not want to enforce his morality on others. That's why he attracted prostitutes and tax collectors. Jesus has this encompassing embrace. His love for people outruns his desire to control them."

Inasmuch as President Obama, himself, has stated his opposition to same-sex marriage, and that the speech has no relevance to abortion, it's reasonable to infer that Boyd's being a public Christian was the factor that brought the red flags. And those flags leave a dark mark on the reputation of the university, as far as this alumnus can see.

There doesn't seem to have been any question, among the faculty, about whether it's appropriate of the institution to take the money of Christians, pro-lifers, or marital traditionalists, whether as taxpayers or students. Yet, any potential student with such affiliations who hears of the controversy will surely question whether he or she can expect acceptance.

It's one thing for Communication Studies and Women's Studies Professor Lynne Derbyshire to raise "concerns" about URI's even hinting that Boyd's views might be acceptable. One expects doctrinaire leftism from such quarters. But even Fisheries and Aquaculture Professor Michael Rice thought it fine to express his reservations about the Christian speaker in the Providence Journal. What field of study could the pro-life, pro-marriage, Christian student pursue at the state's largest public university without fearing the barely contained revulsion of his or her professors?

Note that reporter Jennifer Jordan was apparently unable to find a professor whose opinion comes closer to support of Boyd than Resource Economics Professor Stephen Swallow's statement that it's healthy for the university community to "have some speakers who make us uncomfortable" as an exercise in being "tolerant about other points of view." I knew Professor Swallow as an intern in his department, and he personally gave me some nudges and breaks that sent me in beneficial directions that I might not have otherwise pursued, and I know what he's saying, here. But what he can't help but make clear, as well, is that the state's research institution of higher learning has a particular point of view and that anybody who differs will make the faculty uncomfortable.

Once again, we learn that "open-mindedness" is really just another term for a particular ideology with its own restrictions on acceptable beliefs.

April 4, 2010

Rhode Island Voter Coalition, North Kingston, Part 4, General Assembly Candidate Michael Grassi

Justin Katz

Slipping in at the end of Wednesday's Rhode Island Voter Coalition Meet the Candidates event, General Assembly candidate Michael Grassi got to go it solo for a bit and managed to run out the battery on my camcorder. (Click the "continue reading" link for more video.)

The Believing Modern

Justin Katz

Given the day, and the surprising amount of interest displayed, 'round here, in conversation of religion's clash with modernity and postmodernity, current editor Joseph Bottum's first publication in First Things, back in 1994, merits some consideration:

We were all of us raised as moderns, however, and even as I write these words, my own modernness rises up to make me blush. To speak about doom and retribution, about the godless present age, is to sound distinctly premodern, distinctly dated, distinctly benighted and reactionary. It is to sound like the anti-humanistic enemy against whom modernity has campaigned for three hundred years. And I ought to blush, for I profit fully from the modern. I drive my car, keep iced tea in my refrigerator, get my vaccinations, use my computer, turn on my air conditioner in the summer heat. ...

I choose the phrase "to hold knowledge" deliberately, for the massive scientific advance of modernity reveals how easy it is to discover facts, and modernity's collapse reveals how hard it is to hold knowledge. We have an apparatus for discovery unrivaled by the ages, yet every new fact means less than the previously discovered one, for we lack what turns facts to knowledge: the information of what the facts are for. ...

Three hundred years of this attack [on ancient faith] have created in believers an attitude both deeply defensive and deeply conservative. But the defensiveness springs from the attempt by believers to defend their belief against a "progressive" philosophy that is already rejected intellectually by nearly all cultural commentators, and, I suspect, despised intuitively by nearly all young people in America. Believers should not become entangled in the defense of modern times. This is the key—the postmodern attack on modernity is right: without God, essences are the will to power. Without God, every attempt to call something true or beautiful or good is actually an attempt to compel other people to agree.

It's an interesting point. The modern person of traditionalist faith agrees with the Enlightenment modernist that reality has a coherence, a narrative, but also agrees with the post-modernist that the removal of God from the plot leaves only the arbitrary intentions of power-hungry animals.

Given some of the topical matters that we've been discussing, such as drugs and sex, I'd been thinking how clear it is that secular leftists support freedoms that make the individual vulnerable, but revile freedoms that allow the individual to shore up his influence or to develop firm self-contained communities. The druggie must be free, for example, to numb his sense of reality with drugs, but the businessman must not be free to determine that druggies impede the efficiency of his company. Conveniently, we can observe, those who express their freedom in self-destructive ways require a third-party guarantor — the state — to whom they must allocate power.

I'd also been thinking that those who decry inequity of class as a call to arms invariably disclaim the existence of a God and a larger purpose — a larger personal existence — such that the have nots can only be bitter that they've drawn short straws for their measly few decades of life, while others live as kings and queens. There are essentially two ways to battle those circumstances: Again, allocate power to some champion (the state) that will take from the rich and give to the poor, or redefine meaning and the successful life in a way that the bullies and leeches cannot touch. Indeed, the stronger their assault, the greater the reward.

The sorts of people who seek power for themselves by stoking grievance in others cannot stick their strings into such a worldview, which makes it dangerous. And so it is. Those vested in the power of earthly days can only be threatened by the promise of resurrection and the strong confidence of immortal souls.

Happy Easter!

Carroll Andrew Morse


(Art created by Donut Diva)

April 3, 2010

Rhode Island Voter Coalition, North Kingston, Part 3, 2nd Congressional District Candidates

Justin Katz

The candidates for the second Congressional district had a lively time at Wednesday's Rhode Island Voter Coalition Meet the Candidates event. The more contentious segments is the third in this post. (Click the "continue reading" link for more video.)

Rhode Island Voter Coalition, North Kingston, Part 2, Lieutenant Governor

Justin Katz

The only candidate for lieutenant governor who was able to make it to Wednesday's Rhode Island Voter Coalition Meet the Candidates event was Robert Healey, who treated the audience to an edifying and entertaining monologue. (Click the "continue reading" link for more video.)

For the Sake of the Environment: Drill, Baby, Drill! (It Reduces Natural Oil & Gas Seepage)

Monique Chartier

... okay, possibly not everywhere. But definitely in one of the many, many areas - California - that President Obama has just ruled off limits to exploration and drilling.

One of the side affects of offshore oil production has been the reduction of oil and gas seepage due to decreases in subsea oil-reservoir pressure. Seep oil is chemically the same as commercially extracted oil, although the seep oil and tar have often undergone partial oxidation by the time they move into the water or onshore.

The seepage reductions due to offshore oil and gas extraction have, in some cases, resulted in significant reductions in natural oil and gas seep pollution over the last 40 years.

There are also anecdotal observations and research indicating that oil production around the world is responsible for ongoing reductions in hydrocarbon seepage pollution.

Ironically, the decreased oil and gas reservoir pressure due to ongoing "legacy" offshore oil and gas production (which continued even after the state-wide offshore moratorium was imposed) near the site of the famous 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill is resulting in reductions in California's coastal seepage pollution. California beaches have become significantly cleaner over the last 50 years due to offshore oil and gas production. ...

Thus offshore oil and gas production represents both an effective means of addressing the problems of seepage pollution as well as an economic opportunity.

Rhode Island Voter Coalition, North Kingston, Part 1, General Assembly Candidates

Justin Katz

The first batch of video corresponding with my liveblog of Wednesday's Rhode Island Voter Coalition Meet the Candidates event covers the candidates for General Assembly. (Click the "continue reading" link for more video.)

A Newly Aware America Confronting Old Tricks

Justin Katz

Andrew Breitbart pulls together some of the threads related to the post-healthcare-vote anti-Tea Party redirection, concluding:

Who is calling the shots here? Is it the White House, by way of Chicago? Or is it Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid? The press refused to tell you the truth about this president. It refused to tell you of his proud adherence to the teachings of the original Chicago "community organizer" Saul Alinsky. We have now entered the first full-fledged Alinsky presidency. The only way to beat Alinsky is with Alinsky. The Democrats and President Obama will not give up this tack. Do you think the GOP will win the day in November and in 2012 if its strategy is to apologize for every manufactured "right wing fringe" outrage?

I disagree about "the only way to beat Alinsky." I think it's honesty. That's why it's significant that he's becoming an increasingly understood figure. Fighting Alinsky with Alinsky would mean deception and manipulation, which many whom I've observed on the political right are not well suited to do effectively. Bright lights and proper conduct are the appropriate and most effective responses. Two notes on this front, one national and one local.

First, consider this small story, slipped into the inner pages of the Saturday paper:

David Brian Stone [leader of the recently FBI-stung militia group] never got too far in his plans. His influence didn't appear to extend much beyond a close circle of family and friends, and associates say other militias refused to come to his defense during raids late last month. ...

Members of a group in Hutaree's own backyard — the Lenawee Volunteer Michigan Militia — not only refused to assist one of Stone's sons who fled the FBI after a raid on Saturday night, but they actually turned to authorities to help track down Joshua Stone.

I lack the time and interest to dig into the details and merits of the FBI investigation and raid, but the timing and the huge national splash certainly gives the impression that somebody is constructing a narrative stretching from the Tea Party movement, through the Republican Party, to the most fringe characters of the right.

Which brings us to a local item on which I've been meaning to comment:

Some people wore tri-cornered hats and waved yellow flags that proclaimed "Don't Tread On Me." Others brandished signs with more current messages aimed at Rhode Island's congressional delegation, such as "Abort the D.C. Thugs," with photos of Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Representatives Patrick Kennedy and James Langevin, and "LANGEVIN'S VOTE CRIPPLE$ AMERICA."

The "Abort the D.C. Thugs" sign lies at about the edge of what one expects at these rallies, but the one about Langevin, specifically, crosses the line. Indeed, it's so beyond the appropriate that one wonders why reporter Mike Stanton, or his on-scene surrogate, didn't attempt to procure the sign-wielder's name and extract further comment. Perhaps the journalists' caught a whiff of the reek of setup around the sign.

Anybody have a picture of that sign — especially of the person holding it?

What Mileage Rules May Not Mean

Justin Katz

The Newport Daily News headline for this AP report pretty well captures the spin and points to the possible problem: "New mileage rules will save drivers at the pump."

The rules will cost consumers an estimated $434 extra per vehicle in the 2012 model year and $926 per vehicle by 2016, the government said. But the heads of the Transportation Department and Environmental Protection Agency said car owners would save more than $3,000 over the lives of their vehicles through better gas mileage.

One would normally expect, as demand goes down, that prices would go down as well, owing to competition, but I'm not so sure that will be the case with a permanent reduction in the amount of fuel that people need for their cars. "Need" is the operative word, there. It takes a certain amount of infrastructure and investment to move gasoline from the ground to the pump, and since it's not a product that consumers will be able to go without, even with better gas mileage, providers may adjust prices upwards to make up the difference.

April 2, 2010

The President's Fortune for Flood Relief

Justin Katz

Be sure to listen to this 49 second Allison Gaito report on federal funding for disaster relief. As if striving to outdo Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse's bumbling use of metaphor, Congressman Patrick Kennedy declares:

What is more important than having the President here is having his money here.

I'm surprised the local media hasn't made more of the news that President Obama is dipping into his private fortune to help victims of the flood. Unless, of course, Patrick meant that taxpayer dollars actually belong to the president.

The Obama-Era Binge

Justin Katz

One gets the sense, watching state and national politicians in action, that paying for things is by far a secondary or tertiary consideration. As Ed Achorn puts it:

The government will borrow 40 cents of every dollar it spends this year. Under the most optimistic scenarios, borrowing will continue at historically high levels, putting a severe strain on the dollar and either dampening or devastating the economy. The federal debt will rise to a chilling 90 percent of the nation's economic output by 2020, the Congressional Budget Office reported Thursday.

Most politicians and most of the media do not pause to consider such things. They prefer happy talk about growing government through clever (often corrupt) maneuvers and passing out public dollars as if they were candy. If pols dwell at all on how to pay for it, they cite budget figures that are based on transparent gimmicks or they advocate taxing that man behind the tree. But nobody seems to be very seriously engaged in the unnerving development that we are aboard a runaway train and we’re rapidly running out of track.

Big-government spending is self-feeding, inasmuch as the recipients of the dough are sure to vote for the people handing it over to them. Our only hope, it seems, is for folks with less direct incentive to get involved and push governance back toward status as an adult activity.

Fish on Fridays

Carroll Andrew Morse

Nothing symbolizes the supposed arbitrariness of religion to those predisposed towards skepticism towards religious belief more than does the Catholic practice of eating fish on Fridays during the season of Lent. I’ll admit to having asked myself, especially on Good Friday, what connection there is between fish and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And then there is the philosophical paradox. If my soul is lost after I’ve eaten meat on a Lenten Friday, does that mean I’m free to commit worse sins without making my situation worse? But if the rule doesn’t really matter, then why follow it? And on and on and on and on…

Here’s what I do know. With the choice of fish options available to a 21st century American, eating fish on Fridays is about as small a “sacrifice” in a material sense as can be asked for. But honoring the rule does require me to make some conscious choices that run contrary to what the surrounding culture tells me are cool and sensible. And if I am unable to make this small sacrifice, because I find it too inconvenient, or because I’m afraid to explain myself to others who don’t share my belief or who might think that I’m being just plain silly, then on what basis can I believe myself to be capable of taking a stand in more serious situations, when the choices might be a little harder and the stakes a bit higher?

Slightly edited re-post of an April 6, 2007 original.

The World Has a Story

Justin Katz

Given comment section conversation, and the fact that it's Good Friday, a Robert Jensen piece from 1993 seems an appropriate item for contemplation:

... modernity has supposed we inhabit what I will call a "narratable world." Modernity has supposed that the world "out there" is such that stories can be told that are true to it. And modernity has supposed that the reason narratives can be true to the world is that the world somehow "has" its own true story, antecedent to, and enabling of, the stories we tell about ourselves in it. ...

If there is little mystery about where the West got its faith in a narratable world, neither is there much mystery about how the West has lost this faith. The entire project of the Enlightenment was to maintain realist faith while declaring disallegiance from the God who was that faith's object. The story the Bible tells is asserted to be the story of God with His creatures; that is, it is both assumed and explicitly asserted that there is a true story about the universe because there is a universal novelist/historian. Modernity was defined by the attempt to live in a universal story without a universal storyteller.

Even before I ceased to call myself an atheist, I had a sense that secular Western society was trying to smuggle the fruits of religious tradition without the responsibilities. The practice is visible on an individual basis, too, in people who developed their sense of reality, and their basic comfort with life, within a religious context, but who decided that they (and their children) no longer needed to keep up with even the tepid demands of religion. The repercussions, it seems to me, take at least a generation to manifest, and I suspect the near future will bring either a return, among the young, to traditionalist faith or a rapid, astonishing deterioration of our society.

A short note on my tweeting

Marc Comtois

As Justin mentioned earlier this week, I'm now on Twitter. I've long toyed with the idea because, frankly, I often think that sometimes all I need to say on something can be done in a pithy sentence or two and not paragraphs of well thought out prose. So if it seems I have been mum on this or that over the years, its mostly because my thoughts on it weren't, in my opinion, "expoundable", so to speak. (Maybe it's the engineer in me that likes all that efficiency...) However, I have expanded upon a couple of my tweets already (ie; I tweeted about Bastiat's broken windows and that idea inspired a blog post). Anyway, if you're interested in my tweets ranging on subjects far and wide, head on over to my Twitter page. After the jump is a sample of some of my recent tweets to give you an idea....

re:Obama in Mass....& he had time to go to fundraisers in Boston? Do RIers, who overwhelmingly support this Prez, feel taken for granted? 9 minutes ago

@JohnDePetro is asking everyone this AM how we prevent same floods in rainy April. Not sure if there is an answer to historic floods, John. 11 minutes ago

Heard @HelenGlover, "RI hardest hit, why Obama->Mass? What if Bush had gone to Miss. & not NOLA?" Hm. Not even a flyover... 12 minutes ago

I-95 in RI will re-open @ around 2:45 PM. That helps. about 18 hours ago

Natural Disaster as stimulus? Bastiat says NO http://ow.ly/1tzZf. But does that apply 2 budget-challenged RI gov't? Flood=1 time fix? about 23 hours ago

RT @espn Tim Welsh to be named Hofstra Pride's men's basketball coach - ESPN http://tinyurl.com/yatbc35 9:24 AM Mar 31st

Barone explains contemporary political disagreement. "Tea partiers embrace liberty not big government": http://bit.ly/bLlrnX via @addthis. 5:34 AM Mar 31st

Obama opening offshore drilling http://tiny.cc/xshex. Look at the map...lotta red state coastline nothing in NorEast, West Coast. Hm. 5:12 AM Mar 31st

Obamacare: Not Thinking Things Through?: http://bit.ly/bFV3jU via @addthis. No Flexplan cover of OTC meds unless prescribed by a doctor. 10:59 AM Mar 30th

Pawtuxet to rise to 100-year-plus flood stage of 20 feet http://bit.ly/bzrGBf YIKES...hope our soccer equipment makes it @ Belmont. 5:52 AM Mar 30th

"Out like a lamb", huh? Not in RI. 4:42 AM Mar 30th

Old pool pumps work well for de-watering the yard. Dig a hole at deep pt., put your suct. tube in, cover with screen for filter, prime & go 4:15 PM Mar 29th

Listening to Brown's Wendy Schiller http://tiny.cc/xd4si on Dan Yorke http://tiny.cc/cfrlg. I like the cut of her jib. 8:31 AM Mar 29th

Yikes, never-seen-before flood levels forecast along Patuxet. Looks like Belmont Park will be Belmont Pond again... 8:01 AM Mar 29th

Get That Board a Rubber Stamp

Justin Katz

This is curious:

A state advisory board on Monday opted not to vote on a potentially controversial plan to overhaul the state’s unemployment law.

Thus, the matter will be left to legislators and Governor Carcieri to decide without benefit of the board’s recommendation. ...

The reversal came after [Chairman William] McGowan acknowledged having heard from a number of small businesses that were opposed to the tax aspects of the plan, and after it emerged that at least two of the board’s members were prepared to vote against the plan.

I could be wrong, but it sounds to me like it's a bad plan, given the economy, and the board members weren't going to give the lawmakers the political cover that they wanted, so they canceled the vote.

April 1, 2010

The Two Basic Solutions

Justin Katz

Two approaches to returning services to Cranston schools have emerged, and it's conceivable that they highlight the natural line dividing all various budgetary disputes at the town level:

[Mike] Stenhouse's admittedly "more aggressive" stance on political issues caused a rift this week with an earlier local partner, BASICS (Benefiting All Students In Cranston Schools), a group that bills itself as a "blame-free" organization looking for practical solutions to Cranston's financial crisis.

On one side are folks who've identified the ever-growing tab for union personnel as the culprit in stealing the services that we once expected away from our students. On the other side are folks who think that if we just raise a little more money everything can go back to the way it once was. Some (as in Tiverton) see taxes as the most expedient route. Some (apparently like the BASICS group) want to exact a voluntary tax supplement.

Anchor Rising readers know where I stand. I simply don't think union bullying and scheming should continue to be rewarded.

The Sun Exists Always Beyond the Clouds

Justin Katz

Already, with the rains, the bushes had begun to bud, and by this morning, flowers were asserting themselves on the landscape. Now the sun is working its way from behind the clouds, and though we'll be a long time drying, the day will come, and the greenery will be all the more plentiful for the soaking.

The flooding probably cemented an especial feeling of relief at the dawn of spring that had already been likely, this year, given the economy. Emerging from the gloom won't be easy, and being under water with respect to employment and basements alike has most certainly been a burden too much for some. For them, recovery will mean dramatic change.

Which isn't necessarily the worst of outcomes. The point, though, is that if we want to, and if we strive to, we live in times during which recovering from adversity is almost always a reasonable expectation. That cultural reality brings to mind something Fr. John Kiley wrote for the latest Rhode Island Catholic:

Considering the threat that came from persecution and invasion, disease and division and reflecting on the coarseness of private life in previous centuries, it is little wonder that the promise of eternal life held greater attraction for ancient and medieval man than heaven does for modern generations. Previous eras knew they would face their maker through violence or disease much more quickly than modern man reckons.

The promise of heaven provided much more relief for the oppressed and beleaguered believers of the past than for the comfortable and contented masses of the modern Western world. Terrorism, unemployment and social unrest are certainly major contemporary issues but they are not the threat that slaughter, starvation and scarcity were to our ancestors. Sadly, the consolation of heaven is much less compelling for a modern believer than celestial solace was for the weary generations of the past.

That sense of something more is still critical in life, because the clouds always return, and there are battles that must be won in the cold, wet, weary days that can only be won when they are not mistaken for existential crises for the eternal soul. Here, I recall a passage from the very first editorial published in First Things, back in 1990:

Religion best serves public life by relativizing the importance of public life, especially of public life understood as politics. Authentic religion keeps the political enterprise humble by reminding it that it is not the first thing. By directing us to the ultimate, religion defines the limits of the penultimate. By illumining our highest purpose all lesser purposes are brought under transcendent judgment. ...

... Temporal tasks are best conducted in the light of eternal destiny. Religion points us to the last things, framing the final direction that informs our decisions about life, both personal and public. The chief service of religion, then, is to teach us that the first things are the last things.

The word to which all such discussion dissolves is: perspective. The problems of day-to-day life, even when they have the rarity of hundred-year storms, matter very little in the scope of forever, and when forever is something to anticipate joyfully, we can derive meaning and hope even from the stains that the flooding leaves behind.

Will Disaster money become another "one-time fix"?

Marc Comtois

I've heard chatter about how, perversely, the flood disaster here in Rhode Island could turn out to be some sort of blessing. Why? Because the Federal Disaster Area tag brings with it Federal dollars that can be used to rebuild infrastructure damaged in the storm. And whereas Bastiat's parable of the Broken Window certainly applies to those businesses damaged by the flood (money they could have spent elsewhere is going towards just getting back to normal), does it apply to RI government?

On a macroeconomic scale, yes it does. Federal dollars are still our dollars, though filtered through Washington. That is money that could be spent elsewhere if there was no disaster. So, whether you agree or disagree with the other avenues of spending--ie; health care, military, etc.--disaster relief takes money away from other areas.

On the other hand, if we've already sent the moola to D.C., what the heck is wrong with getting it back because we need it, right? In fact, isn't disaster relief amongst one of the core functions of a government anyway? I would say yes and to heck with Bastiat.

But then there is this: RI government has done an awful job at one of its supposedly central functions of maintaining infrastructure. The budgetary crunch wasn't going to alleviate that any time soon and, at best, we would be subject to the same routine as past years such as voting on "transportation bonds" apart from the normal budget or cutting out school building improvements. But then we get the rains of March and the resulting disaster, which leads to the promise of a Federal bailout of a different sort.

My fear is that the General Assembly will manage to turn disaster aid--just like last year's stimulus money--into another short-term, one-time "fix" by moving money around and using federal dollars to replace state spending (like they did with education stimulus dollars) instead of as a supplement to it. So questionable programs favored by those in the General Assembly will be maintained and Federal dollars will be used to cover the basic areas that State government should be doing anyway. Another one time fix that will allow the GA to kick the can down the road again.

The Risk of a Recreational Medicine

Justin Katz

My ambivalence about legalizing marijuana carries into this legal development, but I post it mainly as an interesting civic conundrum:

Tens of thousands of Californians are obtaining medical marijuana recommendations from physicians so they can use pot without fear of arrest.

But they still can lose their jobs.

California's Proposition 215, passed by voters in 1996, approved the use of marijuana for a wide range of ailments. But it doesn't require employers to make accommodations or waive any workplace rules for legal cannabis users.

On one hand, if employers feel that use of a particular substance, even outside of work, represents a potential risk of any kind, they ought to be able to continue testing for it. Employees are free not to work there, to take the initiative to compete in the market, or to attempt to affect the business by influencing its customers. On the other hand, although I always found (more than a decade ago) that pot does affect one's mental alertness even after its effects have worn off, but then, so does alcohol.

Whichever way the coin falls, though, I hope that this remains a state-by-state issue.

Of Twitter and Governing Water

Justin Katz

Matt and I talked Twitter and flooding on last night's Matt Allen Show as I was en route to the Voter Coalition meeting. Stream by clicking here, or download it.