August 31, 2010

John Robitaille (And Clearly John Robitaille) on Today's 38 Studios Development

Carroll Andrew Morse

As of 8:45 this evening, Katherine Gregg's 7-to-7 item on today's developments in the 38 Studios deal contains what appears to be a typographical echo...

Urging them both to cease their attempts to "interfere'' with the $75 million loan guarantee agreement with Schilling's 38 Studios, Carcieri said: "Businesses and the bond market should not be subject to political posturing. The attitudes and positions taken by Mr. Caprio and Mr. Chafee serve only to undermine the positive economic development steps the state has taken in recent years."

He also defended the deal, citing the Economic Development Corporation's unanimous vote "to move forward with the 38 Studios deal,'' after "months of due diligence.''

"It is a gross overstatement to imply that the Job Creation Guaranty Act reflects poorly on the state's financial management or could have an adverse impact on the state's bond rating. The fact is that a loan guarantee bond of this size or type has no impact on the state's general obligation or its bond rating,'' he asserted.

"It's obvious that Linc Chafee and Frank Caprio are anti-business and do not understand economic development. They are sending a 'keep out' message to any businesses that might consider moving to Rhode Island. With their opposition to the 38 Studio loan guaranty they are killing jobs and hurting Rhode Island families."

And his former communications director John Robitaille, the endorsed Republican candidate for governor said: "It's obvious that Linc Chafee and Frank Caprio are anti-business and do not understand economic development. They are sending a 'keep out' message to any businesses that might consider moving to Rhode Island...They are killing jobs and hurting Rhode Island families."

Despite rumors perhaps circulating amongst MSM journalists and their editors, all Republicans don't sound alike. According to representatives from the Robitaille campaign, the bolded quote is theirs; the prior quotes are from Governor Carcieri.

38 Studios Loan Guarantee: the General Treasurer Pivots, Then Switches to Offense

Monique Chartier

Further to Andrew's post. Remember that it was just last month that the G.T. was telling Ian Donnis that he favors the Schilling deal.

Now, however,

R.I. General Treasurer Frank T. Caprio said Tuesday he is attempting to block the state’s $75 million loan guarantee promised to Curt Schilling’s video game company, urging the rating agencies reviewing the deal to hold off until a new administration is in office.

Caprio, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said he voiced concerns about the loan guarantee to Moody’s Investors Service on Monday and to Standard & Poor’s on Tuesday morning. Both agencies have been commissioned by the state and Schilling’s 38 Studios to issue bond ratings on the deal for institutional investors.

Jeepers, he's mucking around with the bond rating agencies.

Look, no question, this is a bad idea. The loan guarantees issued recently to 38 Studios and other companies should be the last ones issued by the state. We cannot substitute taxpayer funded loan guarantees for the good business climate that the General Assembly inexplicably refuses to create. So I'm pleased that anyone, with or without a bully pulpit, would speak out against this arrangement.

What's confusing is the G.T.'s volte face. Keep in mind that this is his area of expertise. Wasn't he well positioned to examine and understand all aspects of this guarantee before he gave the thumbs up to Ian D? So what has changed in the last thirty days that this went from a deal for which the state should do "everything in a top-shelf fashion" to "a risky moral obligation for the state, which could adversely affect the state’s bond rating"?

Ken Block, on Frank Caprio's Move in the 38 Studios Saga

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the course of an interview with Moderate party Gubernatorial Candidate Ken Block, I had the opportunity to get Mr. Block's immediate reaction to the news that General Treasurer and Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio had taken steps today to prevent the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation loan-guarantee deal with 38 Studios from being implemented...

"I've been firmly and emphatically against the 38 Studios deal right from its announcement. Frank has been all over the map on it...He's apparently has gone directly to the ratings agencies and has been stirring the pot with them. I don't know if Frank has overstepped any boundaries or not, in his formal capacity, as either a citizen or as a Treasurer..." Audio: 27 sec

"For me, it's been abundantly clear from day 1 that this deal was the wrong deal for Rhode Island. It's unfortunate. I'm not sure we can unring the bell. I'm not sure that we should unring the bell, because if a state begins reneging on deals, that could have a negative impact on other deals you might do with other entities down the line..." Audio: 34 sec

"I know that I'm still adamantly against the deal, but will anybody do a deal with us in the future, not being able to be sure that the deal is going to go through?...I wish that Frank was clearer all the way along. Like I said before, he's been all over the map in terms of where he is. He's against it today, we'll see what happens tomorrow..." Audio: 35 sec

Katherine Gregg has details on the steps taken by Treasurer Caprio, at the Projo's 7-to-7 newsblog.

Ian Donnis of WRNI radio's On Politics blog has extended reaction from RI Governor Donald Carcieri.

Even Unto the Primaries

Justin Katz

It's hard enough to get people motivated about learning about and voting for General Assembly candidates in the general election; the primaries require a whole 'nother level of commitment, but just as important, in some cases. I bring that up because Jim Hummel recently noted that a North Kingstown candidate running in the Republican primary has appeared in his investigative reporting before:

Three years ago North Kingstown's school superintendent was forced out by the school committee under a cloud of controversy. The state Department of Education determined his administration improperly spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars of restricted special education grant money. Now, James Halley is back, asking the voters of North Kingstown to send him to the General Assembly.

Apart from the risk of new-boss-same-as-the-old-boss legislators on an individual basis, such controversies can create weak links for broader initiatives, like the Clean Slate campaign for Republican and independent candidates. The corruptibility of public office is already too great a concern even without candidates with a record.

One Workforce for the Price of Two

Justin Katz

Providence real estate agent Mark Van Noppen notes the numerical consequence of one aspect of the city's labor practices:

Not a bad gig: Become a Providence firefighter at age 20, work the 23 years required to collect a pension and retire at 43. But Providence taxpayers — its property owners — have to pay a pension to that retired 43-year-old for at least 20 years more than they should. There are 2,905 retirees in the system. City councilors say that there about 250 firefighters waiting only for the full passage of their contract before retiring.

The city now pays for more than two health-insurance plans for every full-time permanent worker still on the job. Try running a business with that anchor round your neck!

He closes by noting that local politicians appear willing to let this train run the state right off a cliff, rather than muster the will to make dramatic corrections. As I've long been arguing, the gravy coalition may have so strong a grip on the levers of power that its constituencies simply outnumber those who live and die by the economic health of the state, creating the self-reinforcing conclusion that those who wish to strive and thrive do best just to leave.

In that way, public discussion of what reforms would be reasonable wallows in the shallows of "don't touch mine." Why, for example, shouldn't it be the case that pensions and retiree healthcare starts at a certain age no matter the year that an employee transitions out of his or her job? The fact that firefighting, for example, takes its toll on the mind and the body shouldn't mean second careers must be fully underwritten for those who've put in their time with public service. Go on and enter that new phase of life, but you'll still have to wait until a minimum age before you're considered "retired" for pension and public healthcare purposes.

Even to make such suggestions is considered a hostile attack, and too few Rhode Islanders will dare to come to their defense for reforms ever to be seriously entertained, even, ironically, if those expecting the fantastic deals will ultimately see them undermined by their own weight.

An Argument for a Burqa Ban

Justin Katz

The Islamic practice of women's veiling, extending to the absurd and offensive burqa, presents difficult questions for the West. Who are we, we wonder, to trample other cultures voluntarily perpetuated? Worse yet is the question of whether a society can stop intolerance once it has granted itself permission to discriminate against that which it finds offensive.

Yet, journalist Claire Berlinski argues that veiling itself tends to be a metastasizing intolerance:

... the burqa must be banned. All forms of veiling must be, if not banned, strongly discouraged and stigmatized. The arguments against a ban are coherent and principled. They are also shallow and insufficient. They fail to take something crucial into account, and that thing is this: If Europe does not stand up now against veiling — and the conception of women and their place in society that it represents — within a generation there will be many cities in Europe where no unveiled woman will walk comfortably or safely. ...

The debate in Europe now concerns primarily the burqa, not less restrictive forms of veiling, such as the headscarf. The sheer outrageousness of the burqa makes it an easy target, as does the political viability of justifying such a ban on security grounds, particularly in the era of suicide bombings, even if such a justification does not entirely stand up to scrutiny. But the burqa is simply the extreme point on the continuum of veiling, and all forced veiling is not only an abomination, but contagious: Unless it is stopped, the natural tendency of this practice is to spread, for veiling is a political symbol as well as a religious one, and that symbol is of a dynamic, totalitarian ideology that has set its sights on Europe and will not be content until every woman on the planet is humbled, submissive, silent, and enslaved.

To be sure, the United States is nowhere near such a point, but even here, the intellectual dynamic exposed by the questions has relevance. Neither the Constitution nor the principle of tolerance should be a suicide pact, and sometimes it may be the case that one side in a cultural battle will inevitably prevail and wipe out the very rules of competition that enables such thorough pluralism. There may be no rational reason for veiling to win over liberty, from an enlightened standpoint, but it is utterly predictable of human beings to behave irrationally and to rationalize.

Berlinski hits the core of the matter when she asserts that there is no such "thing as a neighborhood where the veil is the cultural norm and yet no judgment is passed upon women who do not wear it." In agreement with her subsequent assertion that "our culture's position on these questions is morally superior," one is inclined to suggest that we let those neighborhoods pass judgment, and dismiss them when they do so. Provided no violence transpires and the law does not ultimately flip from allowing the practice to imposing it, we can expect no legal shield against interpersonal judgment. And if the particular neighborhood in which the shifting attitudes is a concern, then we must individually fight the cultural fight.

The concern, ultimately, is that the West lacks the confidence to pass its own judgment when the rule isn't written into the law. There's a tendency — emanating from our "nation of laws" mentality — to feel as if anything not codified into law is too ambiguous to form so strong a personal or group opinion about that we impose compliance as a condition of our personal good will. The foundation of that self-doubting ideology is clear: it gains the upper hand in the intrawestern culture war if the law demarks legitimate judgment and values are banned from the "whereas" clauses of legislation.

The fatal flaw, however — the dangerous risk — is that the shallowness of a libertine society won't form the basis of adequate cultural confidence to defend against foreign principles that don't begin with the assumption of tolerance.

August 30, 2010

How Central Falls's Property Tax Rate Nearly Doubled Year Over Year

Justin Katz

There's been some question, in the comments sections, about differing tax rates reported for property in Central Falls. John Hill explains what happened:

Last year, the total value of residential, commercial and industrial real estate in the city was just under $685 million. The new valuation, based on sales figures from the past year, was $411.6 million, a loss of $273 million, or 40 percent.

The drop in the value of taxable real estate meant the city had to increase the 2010-2011 tax rate just to generate the same amount of revenue as last year. Last year, the property-tax rate was $10.78 per thousand of assessed value; this year it went to $19.22 per thousand.

State receiver Mark A. Pfeiffer, who oversees the city's municipal finances, announced last week a 10-percent increase on top of that, to $21.14.

This is one of those ambiguities of taxation that comes up from time to time. Is the amount that you are taxed, for your property, better thought of in context of the rate or of the amount? Most RI towns treat your property essentially as a share in the government's cost and tax you according to your share more than directly according to the value of the asset that they're taxing. Personally, I think that slyly saddles homeowners with all of the risk for local property values, insulating municipal governments from the effects that their own policies can have thereon. But given all of the other things wrong with the way government operates in this state, it's not really worthy of a crusade.

The Mystery of Good Teaching

Justin Katz

Monique has already mentioned the headline revelation of an article reporting statements of the states' two teacher union heads before the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (that they've recognized the advantage of regionalization to them), but I'd like to highlight an unrelated statement from Rhode Island Federation of Teachers President Marcia Reback:

"[Education] Commissioner [Deborah] Gist said it earlier," Reback said. "You know good teaching when you see it. You can't test it."

The only way such a statement can be otherwise than total bunk is if we restrict the meaning of "test" to a written document that seeks to quantify without the need for human judgment. Even then, I'd dispute the conclusion, but at least it would be a real matter of debate. Many grades throughout my schooling were based on "tests" that involved a panel reviewing, for example, my piano playing. Many steps and sidelines in my adult employment have been related to managers' judgment of my work. One can test teachers by the success of their students and their contribution to schools, generally.

Of course, such a test has too many variables for some distant test author to incorporate. It is not, however, beyond the capacity of parents and principals, which is why public education is suffering for lack of two qualities:

  • Parents' ability to easily move their children from one school to another, with an actual consequence to the losing school when the move is made.
  • Principals' ability to manage their teachers as employees rapidly and easily enough to correct problems before they become institutionalized, which also has the effect of reducing the degree to which we can hold those principals accountable for institutional failure.

Laffey Leaves

Marc Comtois

Well, it's old news now, but Steve Laffey and family have up and moved to Colorado.

In May -- a month after he canceled a Tea Party speaking engagement in Rhode Island -- Laffey paid $2 million for a four-bedroom home in Fort Collins. An MLS listing states that the house was sold on May 25: it was recorded in Larimer County records on May 26.

The property, nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, includes 36 acres of land, a music room, exercise room, art studio, barn, tack room, and a pond, the listing states.

Laffey and his wife, Kelly, registered to vote in Colorado on July 21st, according to Nancy Wurl of the Larimer County Voter Registration office.

Laffey, the darling of the conservative movement in Rhode Island and one-time U.S. Senate candidate, registered as a Republican. He missed the deadline for voting in the state's primary election this month.

"We are now sending notification to Rhode Island that he registered here," so that his Rhode Island voter registration can be canceled, Wurl said on Thursday.

If a hard-charging change agent like Laffey has given up on Rhode Island, what does that say? No "Hope" after all? Or does it say less about the state of the Ocean State and more about Laffey? Commenters, take it away...

ADDENDUM: I didn't mean to cop out, there. It's not exactly speculative to conclude that the Laffeys simply thought it best for their family to move to Colorado and it's hard to take them to task for that personal decision. Putting a finer point on it--whether you agree or disagree with his prescriptions--Laffey was one of the most passionate politicians in recent memory. He truly believed he could help his home state but was discouraged when not enough people seemed to be willing to make the changes along with him and he publicly said as much. After years of going "all in" with Rhode Island, it looks like he decided to cut his losses and move on. At least for now.

Self-Serving Accusations of Hypocrisy

Justin Katz

I'm not sure what inspired the Providence Journal to transport this essay from one coast to another, but with the assumption that the objective was to begin debate, rather than conclude it, I thought it worth taking up. The argument of William Lobdell's broadside on religious Americans, initially published in the LA Times, is that folks are losing their faith because religious people are hypocrites:

How to explain the Grand Canyon-sized gap between principles outlined in the Gospels and the behavior of believers? Christians typically, and rather lamely, respond that shortcomings of the followers of Jesus are simply evidence of man’s inherent sinfulness.

But if one adheres to the principle of Occam's razor — that the simplest explanation is the most likely — there is another, more unsettling conclusion: that many people who call themselves Christian don't really believe, deep down, in the tenets of their faith. In other words, their actions reveal their true beliefs.

As evidence that Christians don't behave as they believe appropriate, Lobdell cites broadly and generally research from the Barna Group, founded by evangelical pollster George Barna. This section of the essay functions by jumbling together demographics, eliding through terms that really must be differentiated in this context, and layering assumptions onto the findings. For example:

Barna has found that born-again Christians are more likely to divorce (an act strongly condemned by Jesus) than atheists and agnostics, and are more likely to be racist than other Americans.

Lobdell leaves unmentioned that born-again Christians are also more likely to be from demographic groups — economic and geographic — in which these traits and behaviors are more likely regardless of religion. Correlation, as the intellectuals like to tell people of faith, is not causation. More relevant, though, is Lobdell's failure to address the fact that born-agains, being typically Protestants, adhere to sects that find divorce to be acceptable. I happen to agree with him that one cannot legitimize divorce within a Christian context, but from that perspective, Protestants are wrong, not hypocritical. It certainly doesn't mean that applying looser doctrine to Christianity — as would be the reflexive response to accusations of hypocrisy — is any sort of solution.

I've written before about the pitfalls of Christianity Lite (see, for example, here, here, and here), and evidence can be found even in the Pew study that Lobdell, himself, cites (PDF). If the hypocrisy thesis is correct, one would expect more stringent religious groups to experience greater losses of members. Consider, however, that 14% of those raised Catholic became "unaffiliated," which includes no belief, but that the percentage of Anglicans/Episcopalians who made the same move was 20%.

For those not familiar with comparative Christianities, the Anglican/Episcopal Church is arguably the most Catholic of the Protestant sects, its main differentiation being a willingness to compromise with the mores of the time — with divorce, of course, and with married and female clergy, actively homosexual bishops, and all that. If hypocrisy is to blame for departures, the less demanding religion should have more success retaining its members, because adherents should be better able to follow the rules.

The next question is whether Christians move from stringent sects to lax sects before they exit the religion altogether. There's a conspicuously significant hole in Pew's data, here, inasmuch as the tables don't allow the reader to discern how many departing Catholics moved into the more conservative evangelical protestant sects versus the more liberal mainline sects. Of current Evangelicals, however, 11% were once Catholics, while the same percentage for mainline churches was 9%. Were the numbers presented from the perspective of the Catholic Church, they would probably be a lot more skewed, because the evangelical religions are larger.

In other words, even if we ignore the different strains within Catholicism, it appears to be the case that dissatisfied Catholics move toward more conservative expressions of faith.

It’s also problematic that the study has no qualification of "raised as." What percentage of those leaving the Church were only nominally "raised" within it? It strikes me as entirely plausible that the real dynamic is of people who are brought up with a merely cultural Christianity, as opposed to a church-going, religious Christianity, recoiling from attacks and accusations such as Lobdell's, rather than from actions of actual Christians whom they know. This supposition is especially reasonable in light of this finding from Barna:

Most of the people who have made these changes did so as a teenager or young adult. The study discovered that the median age at the time they changed faiths or significantly altered their faith perspective was 22.

One-third of those who experienced a significant faith shift did so during their twenties and another one-third did so before age 20. In total, two-thirds of people who had a major faith change experienced that outcome before the age of 30 (68%). In fact, among respondents over 40, only 5% of them reported making a major shift in their religious affiliation after the age of 40.

The picture is of young adults — as susceptible to the mandates of pop culture as they are — giving up whatever religious practice they had as they move into the phase of life in which they must find motivation for their own activities. In many cases, no doubt, the "practice" that they abandon has mostly to do with religious sayings and trappings. It isn't hypocrisy that ushers them away, but laxity.

The most stunning aspect of Lobdell's essay, though, is the degree to which the definition of hypocrisy has been diluted beyond recognition. Apparently, difficulty following a regimen is hypocrisy, whether or not the individual is vocal about instructing others about how they should live. Indeed, it should be proven, for such accusations to be reasonable, that those who most strenuously speak the doctrine are also the most apt to fail, themselves, and that those around them are more likely to lose faith altogether. The attempt is not even made to prove such at thing.

The likes of Lobdell talk of "losing their religion" (a cliché incorporated into the title of his book) and seek to blame the religious. They appear mostly interested in justifying their own inability to live up to standards that they once espoused on the grounds that others can’t do it either. Their actions, and the actions that they so delight in highlighting in others, are driving their philosophy, while the thrust of religion ought to be in the other direction.

I suppose I can’t fault them for that, but it hardly justifies their presumption of being the most clear-thinking party. It also raises questions about the propriety of secularists' handing over poison and then complaining that it makes the faithful sick.

August 28, 2010

Robert Healey on the Tenth Amendment

Carroll Andrew Morse

At the Tenth Amendment rally at the Rhode Island statehouse a week ago Saturday, I asked Robert Healey, who has litigated Ninth and Tenth Amendment issues before the courts, about the current legal interpretation of the Tenth Amendment, and whether he believes the goal of Tenth Amendment activists should be to hold the Federal Government to the existing interpretation or to reverse the current precedents. He went through a brief history of the history that has shaped the modern interpretation of the Tenth Amendment, which anyone who is interested in this issue needs to be aware of...

"...Everybody, including the Supreme Court, understood the value of the Tenth Amendment...all during the antebellum period. Once we had the Civil War, that's where it became kind of interesting...During the period of Reconstruction, the South came back into the union but realized, hey, legally why can't we utilize this Tenth Amendment kind of concept to do what we wanted to do anyway." Audio: 45 sec

"Obviously, there were some issues there and it fell into disrepute, because eventually what had to happen in order to being the South back into the unification picture was pretty much a squashing of that Tenth Amendment argument that the Southern states had frequently used based on their own concept of sovereignty, and it became discredited because it was used in that manner..." Audio: 53 sec

"What happens after that is that was we had a period where you could then impose income taxes, we had the constitutional Amendment passed...and once you put that piece to the puzzle, you realize that when the Federal [Government] has the power to tax, it has the power to control. And if it's power is the strongest power in terms of taxation, it's the strongest power in terms of control..." Audio: 44 sec

"The Federal Government has, in essence, gone around the Tenth Amendment by saying to people, hey, you want transportation funds, you've got to honor our concepts, not your own state concepts..." Audio: 47 sec

"You had FDR imposing programs on a Federal level, because states were unable to balance budgets, and the Federal Government could print money and could tax -- they could do both -- therefore it became a disaster. Since the 1930s it's gone it that direction generally, as I see it." Audio: 20 sec

"...I think that what has to happen is that the people have to assert their Tenth Amendment rights and make it known to the Federal Government that this is going to be it..." Audio: 55 sec

"...there is a strong argument, that's the one I brought to the Supreme Court, that the Ninth Amendment also applies. The citizen is the sovereign. The citizen gives the power to the state. The citizen gives the power and defines power for the Federal government. The citizen can take it back..." Audio: 48 sec

"There are plenty of legal plays that are going to have to happen, far out into the future, but unless you can get support and unless you can get it started with things like this, a Tenth Amendment rally, it's never going to happen."Audio: 13 sec

Glenn Beck's Rally: Where to Access Coverage (or Please Provide Your Own!)

Monique Chartier

Beck's Restoring Honor rally kicks off at 10 this morning.

C-Span will cover it live.

Members of Rainy Day Patriots will be posting photos here.

If so inclined, any Rhode Islanders in attendance are encouraged to send photos, videos or live action reports to A.R. during or after the event.

Some Sacrifice

Justin Katz

Sometimes people have to say what they have to say, I suppose, but this comment out of Cumberland really points to the different world in which some Rhode Islanders live:

School Supt. Donna A. Morelle stated that the committee and the administration "are greatly appreciative of the sacrifice made by the teachers."

So what "sacrifice" are the teachers making? Giving up a vacation week or two? Higher health insurance payments? More realistic retirement expectations? Not quite (emphasis added):

Teachers this year will defer half of a 2.5-percent salary increase, half of an increase that comes with a new salary step and half of the payment teachers with credits or degrees beyond a bachelor’s degree receive, according to Roderick McGarry, president of the Cumberland Teachers Association. ...

Also in the agreement, announced Monday after the Cumberland Teachers Association and School Committee approved it Wednesday, is waiving a 2.5-percent salary raise in the academic year that begins September 2011.

The new accord adds another year to the contract, which the union president stated would give teachers additional security through the 2012-2013. Teachers will get a 1-percent salary increase in the first half of that year and an additional 1.5-percent salary increase in the second half, McGarry said.

So payments expected during the coming school year will be deferred until the future (when, the school committee inexplicably assumes, finances will have improved), raises next year will be eliminated (although the teachers will presumably see an actual increase because the deferral will end), and their guaranteed raise in the subsequent year will be less than expected. In effect, the contract uses accounting gimmicks to downplay the fact that union members will be receiving 1.25% raises (on top of step increases and other remunerative opportunities) during an era of crippling government deficits, high unemployment, and general economic malaise.

That, in the public sector, is called "sacrifice."

August 27, 2010

Re: Regionalization? You May Want to Consider Who is Standing With You

Carroll Andrew Morse


Commenter "Brassband" points out that Article XII of the Rhode Island Constitution expressly makes education a state matter, and gives the state legislature broad authority to reglate it. This removes education from being one of the "local matters" under Article XIII and indeed, the school committee system we have here in RI is defined, not in a series of town and city charters, but instead at the state level in Title 16 of the Rhode Island General laws...

16-2-2 Except as specifically provided in this section, every city or town shall establish and maintain for at least one hundred eighty (180) days annually exclusive of holidays a sufficient number of schools in convenient places under the control and management of the school committee and under the supervision of the board of regents for elementary and secondary education...
So in theory, the state could create a single-statewide district by changing the statute above to read "the state shall establish and maintain...a sufficient number of schools in convenient places", etc.

Which means, of course, that it's doubly important to find out what your legislator's position is on local control versus a statewide district.

The issue of combining all of Rhode Island school systems into a single statewide district, highlighted by Monique in a previous post, is an example of why people need to be paying attention to the recent events in Central Falls, and thinking about how far they are willing to allow the different branches of state government to collude in ignoring the home-rule provisions of the Rhode Island Constitution, before they say "stop".

On its face, the state Constitution is pretty clear: you cannot change the form of government in any city or town unless the people of that city or town agree via a referendum. That means that state shouldn’t be able to take governance of a school system away from local control by statute-alone unless residents agree. This, in turn, means that creating a single statewide school district should require either 1) a Constitutional amendment or 2) city-by-city, town-by-town approval in a set of referenda.

If that is the route that single-district advocates are planning, it is likely to be a long one.

However, in Central Falls this year and West Warwick before that in the 1990s, Rhode Island’s governing class, including Governor, legislature and courts, has basically ignored the state Constitution’s home-rule provisions. And if Central Falls becomes the standard by which future home-rule cases are judged, you could see legislation creating a single statewide RI school district upheld by the RI courts, based on an argument along the lines of 1) education affects the whole state, so it’s not just a local matter and 2) as long as school committees are still elected, even if they become just advisory boards, it’s not a change in the form of government, therefore[, but Article XII of the Rhode Island Constitution means that] 3) it is entirely constitutional to place all schools under state control, based on an act of the legislature alone.

The question of how far state government should be able to go in ignoring the home-rule provisions of the RI Constitution would be a pretty good one to ask the next set of nominees to the RI Supreme Court -- as well as to your legislative candidates in the upcoming election.

Extreme Screening: Only One Gov Candidate Gets a Questionnaire or Invite from the NEA RI

Monique Chartier

... before the endorsement (of that same candidate).

The gubernatorial campaigns of John Robitaille (R), Ken Block (M) and Frank Caprio (D) have all confirmed the absence of an NEA RI candidate questionnaire in the inbox and the non-ringing of the phone for the invitation to be interviewed that never got made.

In fact, following upon the AFT endorsement in late July, the Block campaign specifically asked the NEA RI for an audience. The silence from that organization continued uniformly deafening. And John Robitaille clarified that while he is seeking no union endorsements, he has agreed to meet with any labor union which extends an invitation to him and, on that basis, has met with the executive boards of the SEIU and Carpenters Local 94.

When a company or government agency has an RFP for which they have a certain vendor in mind, they might tailor the RFP as much as possible towards that vendor. Most of the time, though, they at least go through the motions of offering the RFP publicly or to all qualified vendors.

In this case, however, the "agency" or "company" is comprised of rank-and-file union members. Did the NEA RI leadership individually poll every single member to determine that support for Senator Chafee was 100%? Or did they make the top-down decision to formally "vet" only one candidate for consideration?

If the latter, wasn't that a little disrespectful of their membership?

Fighting Tyranny Inherently Breaks the Rules

Justin Katz

I've been meaning to comment on the latest development in the governance of Central Falls: the city council's decision to hire an independent lawyer, apparently without knowing how it will pay the bill if Receiver-King Mark Pfeiffer, appointed by the state, refuses to allow it.

The move by the council is a reaction to state-appointed receiver Mark A. Pfeiffer's announcement last week that to close a $2.1-million deficit in last year's budget and a projected $6.3-million hole in the current year, he will need to raise the tax rate by 10 percent. For homeowners, that will mean the rate per $1,000 of assessed value will go from $19.22 to $21.14. There are different rates for commercial and industrial buildings.

On the limited matter of whether the council should be spending scarce resources on such a thing, it's difficult to argue with Amy Kempe, here:

[The council's prospective lawyer, Lawrence] Goldberg said the council needed its own lawyer in cases where it disagreed with Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer has told the council to use the city solicitors, but Goldberg said they now answer to Pfeiffer.

"They have divided loyalties," Goldberg said.

Amy P. Kempe, spokeswoman for Pfeiffer, said Tuesday night that Pfeiffer wouldn't approve a new lawyer.

"They should utilize the services of the solicitor's office so as not to add extra expense to the city of Central Falls," Kempe said.

But this is the problem with dictatorship. People lose trust in the process for addressing grievances or (rightly) conclude that the route is unduly long and complicated. To resolve differences with the receiver, the people of Central Falls would have to change enough state officeholders to halt a targeted law. Otherwise, they'd have to argue to a judge that the law or the actions being taken in its name are illegal. To expect city solicitors to take on their own boss in the name of residents, through their elected council, is little more than a banana republic pretense toward representative democracy.

Of course, beneath all of these fine procedural points, we can only shake our heads at the capacity of the state government of Rhode Island to come up with a way to make the mayor and city council of Central Falls look like victims.

August 26, 2010

Unless It's in a Trust Fund that has Magic Powers, You Can't Spend the Same Dollar Twice

Carroll Andrew Morse

In Wednesday's Projo, op-ed columnist Froma Harrop defended (well, more like asserted) the idea that Social Security is our collective national trust fund...

Republicans have never loved Social Security, but they know that plans to privatize the program remain deeply unpopular. A few holdouts still carry the privatization flag, but most others prefer another tack: undermining faith in the program’s solvency. Hence all this loose talk about the Social Security Trust Fund’s being “a fiction.”
Matt Bai of the New York Times, on the other hand, is more specific about why the concept of the "trust fund" should be considered a fiction (h/t Peter Suderman)...
The coalition [of defenders of the Social Security structure status-quo] bases its case on the idea that Social Security is actually in fine fiscal shape, since it has amassed a pile of Treasury Bills — often referred to as i.o.u.’s — in a dedicated trust fund. This is true enough, except that the only way for the government to actually make good on these i.o.u.’s is to issue mountains of new debt or to take the money from elsewhere in the federal budget, or perhaps impose significant tax increases — none of which seem like especially practical options for the long term.
For further information, I went to the official Social Security website, to get the official word on how Social Security works...
By law, income to the trust funds must be invested, on a daily basis, in securities guaranteed as to both principal and interest by the Federal government. All securities held by the trust funds are "special issues" of the United States Treasury. Such securities are available only to the trust funds...

Tax income is deposited on a daily basis and is invested in "special-issue" securities. The cash exchanged for the securities goes into the general fund of the Treasury and is indistinguishable from other cash in the general fund.

I think what this says is that money comes into to a special "Social Security" area (account?) of the Federal Government and from there is transferred to the U.S Treasury, where it can be used for any purpose that Treasury funds might be used for. In its place, government-backed "securities" are left behind, to keep track of how much money that originated with Social Security might eventually need to be put back (with interest).

If this is any more than the concept of loaning yourself money, someone has to explain to me how.

And even most people who loan themselves money (for instance, from their own 401(k)) realize that once they've loaned themselves X dollars, the pile of money they've loaned from is now X dollars lighter, even if they leave a note saying 'remember to pay back the X dollars taken from here'. Likewise, the same dollar cannot be in a "trust fund" and in the Treasury Department's "general fund" at the same time. You can't spend the same dollar twice.

If there really is a Social Security "trust fund", in the sense that most people understand it, this extra step of replacing the initial funds with government-backed securities shouldn't be necessary. But since the step is there, for the government to pay real money to SS beneficiaries from "the trust fund", it has go get real money from somewhere else first -- i.e. pay back its loan to itself -- by issuing debt, cutting spending somewhere else, or raising taxes -- the set of options succinctly put forth in the Bai article.

So how does the Social Security Administration justify the trust fund concept? By saying that...

Far from being "worthless IOUs," the investments held by the trust funds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U. S. Government.
This sounds to me, given the current state of Social Security, like an argument which boils down to "when the government does it, that means it's not a Ponzi scheme", which I find to be as compelling as Richard Nixon's old line that "when the President does it, that means it is not illegal".

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Senator Frank Maher on the Counting of the Votes on the Senate Floor

Carroll Andrew Morse

If you don't believe that the Rhode Island legislature is fundamentally broken, click on the video below, compiled by Operation Clean Government, which shines the light of day on how far Rhode Island's ruling Democratic-Party oligarchy will go to dispose of legislation that they do not want passed (in this case, the E-Verify bill).

I've cued the link to a spot where it should take viewers who possess any sense of honesty or fairness all of 20 seconds to realize that the most basic norms of democratic governance are not respected by the ruling majority in the Rhode Island legislature.

At Saturday's Tenth Amendment Rally at the Rhode Island statehouse, I asked Senator Frank Maher (R - Charlestown/Exeter/Hopkinton/Richmond/West Greenwich), as someone who was on the Senate floor when it happened, if he wanted to offer any comment on the disposition of the E-Verify bill. The Senator articulated multiple problems that he has with the Democratic leadership's way of running a legislative body...

"I don't know of anybody who can really determine whether or not the yays or the nays had it. It certainly seemed to me and a lot of others that I've spoke to that the nays were louder than the yays. Well, if that's the case, and you can't differentiate exactly between who won the vote based on the voice vote, as Senator O'Neill and I and other members of the chamber did, we wanted to make sure everybody was logged as to what their vote was. And that was not allowed."Audio: 25 sec

"As a freshman legislator, especially in the Senate, I felt very disappointed in the process. I felt that the Senators in the room were not allowed to be heard, which meant that their constituencies were not represented. And at the end of the day, it's really a shame that we were not able to get a vote, to find out exactly who was going to support it and who was going to support it, and who was not going to support it...because I can say all day long that I support it, but until it actually comes to a vote, where you actually have to hit that button, either red for no, or green for yes, how do you really know what somebody's position is..."Audio: 1m 6 sec

"And I hope that that never happens again, on any piece of legislation, and I hope that Senator Cote [the bill's sponsor] decides that he wants to submit that bill again in 2011, should he have the pleasure of being re-elected, and I know if I have the pleasure of being reelected to serve the people in District 34, I know I will be seeking him out to make sure that I co-sponsor it next year..."Audio: 51 sec

An Interesting Place to Visit (or at Least to Read About Visiting)

Justin Katz

I have to say that P.J. O'Rourke manages to make Afghanistan seem like a nice place to visit and converse with the locals. Of course, it's not true that the world is populated by near-Americans, but neither is it true that people can be entirely foreign to each other. Bridging a language barrier and making note of some cultural pitfalls, human society is translatable and common ground can always be found and developed.

I'm especially intrigued by an Afghan parable with which O'Rourke closes his essay:

There was a student who had been studying for many years at a madrassa. He had memorized the Koran and learned all the lessons his teacher taught. One day he went to his teacher and said, "I am ready to leave and go be a mullah." ...

Finally the student came to a village where a corrupt old mullah was using the mosque as a stall for his cow. The student was outraged. He gathered the villagers together and told them, "I have studied at a madrassa. I have memorized the Koran. It is a great sacrilege for your mullah to use the mosque as a stall for his cow."

The villagers beat him up. ...

The [student's] teacher gathered the villagers together and told them, "I see you have a beautiful cow being kept in your mosque. It must be a very blessed animal. And I hear the cow belongs to your mullah. He must be a very holy man. In fact, I think that this cow is so blessed and your mullah is so holy that if you were to take one hair from the cow's hide and one hair from the mullah's beard and rub them together, you would be assured of paradise."

The villagers ran into the mosque and began plucking hairs from the cow's hide. The cow started to buck and kick and it bolted from the mosque and disappeared. Then the villagers ran to the mullah's house and began plucking hairs from the corrupt old mullah's beard. And they tugged and they yanked so hard at the mullah's beard that he had a heart attack and died.

"You see," said the teacher to the student, "no cow in the mosque and a need for a new mullah—that is wisdom."

By "intrigued," I don't mean to express endorsement. Indeed, the tale describes a dishonest and cynical manipulation of religious belief, by a supposedly wise elder, for the material benefit of a clerical clique. If the mullah's call is to lead people closer to God, then creating confusion about plucking hairs from holy cows must be a grave dereliction of duty.

I should stress that O'Rourke heard this story from a political figure in Afghanistan, not a religious leader. It does, however, generate some food for thought regarding cultural differences and, perhaps, the route toward resolving them.

Covering AR Ground

Justin Katz

On last night's Matt Allen Show, Monique brought up, with Tony Cornetta, a variety of the topics currently under consideration on Anchor Rising's main page. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Regionalization? You May Want to Consider Who is Standing With You

Monique Chartier

As Andrew highlighted in his signature coverage of the Rhode Island Republican Assembly Endorsement Convention, the campaign platform of Republican gubernatorial candidate Victor Moffitt includes regionalization.

Audience Question: Unions and union contracts are out of control. What can we do to give more autonomy to the communities?

Answer: "I'm actually going to say that I think the problem is the opposite of that. As most of you know, I've been talking about regionalization and consolidation services since 1998....How good would Rhode Island be if we could replace 36 teacher contracts with 4? If we could replace 80 fire contracts with 5? Do you think that would be a little improvement for the state of Rhode Island?"

But OSPRI outlines the pitfalls; inter alia,

When comparing fully regionalized districts to similar size town districts we find that regionalized districts have the highest per pupil costs. One example is the Chariho Regional School District which was put together from three towns to make a school district whose student body is the same size as neighboring Westerly. But, the supposed economies of scale are nowhere on display in Chariho where administration costs per pupil are $825, forty percent more than the $589 spent in Westerly. Indeed, when it comes to administration costs, the supposed venue for obvious savings, they are well above the median in ALL the regionalized districts.

More alarming (... or not, depending upon your perspective), in yesterday's Providence Journal, Linda Borg reports on two other individuals who support regionalization.

The leaders of the state’s two teachers’ unions said that they would not be opposed to consolidating Rhode Island’s 36 school districts into one big district.

Although they cautioned that they were speaking as private citizens, Marcia Reback, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, and Robert A. Walsh Jr., executive director of the National Education Association, Rhode Island, offered the most radical suggestions about how to fix public education. The two made their remarks at a morning-long forum in Smithfield sponsored by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council.

Non-special interest supporters of regionalization like Mr. Moffitt (not to pick on him; he is not the only person to propose regionalization as a way to control costs but is one of the higher profile people to do so recently) presume that the hands into which thirty six contracts would be consolidated will act/negotiate/execute in the fiscal best interest of the taxpayer. Clearly, special interest advocates have determined that, on the contrary, it is they who would benefit from such an arrangement. Especially as it is the paid professionals representing that special interest who have reached this conclusion, I'm inclined to defer to their judgement

A Model Governor and Some Pointers on Government Structure

Justin Katz

Among New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's accomplishments has been knocking President Obama from the cover of National Review magazine after a summer-long run. As the related article shows, however, Christie's more significant accomplishment has been successfully plucking at strings that many of us have spotted before:

... it was true so far as it went. [Democrat Senate President Stephen] Sweeney had shown leadership on pensions, working with the governor to assure broad Democratic support for reform. This struck some in the state's labor movement as a special kind of betrayal, since Sweeney was himself head of an ironworkers' union. But it made sense. Private-sector unions like Sweeney's depended on economic activity for work, and his members were suffering mightily through the recession, even as public-sector labor was shielded from the worst of it.

Thus did Christie split the Democrats in the state legislature from their traditional labor base, exploiting fissures both between public- and private-sector unions and between the teachers' unions and the taxpaying public. Having taken their best shot at Chris Christie, the opposition now found themselves chastened, confused, and cannibalized.

When problems become as deep as those facing states like New Jersey and Rhode Island, it becomes more difficult for Democrats to cobble an alliance of constituencies that are insulated from the damage of their policies. (Which is not to say that enough people can't be hoodwinked into erroneous support.) What's fascinating, though, is the evident importance of the basic, boring structure of the government:

Nor could the Democrats, having lost the public-opinion battle, count on stopping Christie's budget in the house: New Jersey's constitution gives an oppositional majority little in the way of procedural tools to block a determined governor's path. As the only at-large elected official in the state, the governor not only commands the bully pulpit but appoints all the key executives — from attorney general to education commissioner — who might stand in his way. Moreover, his line-item budget veto is both powerful and precise, giving him the ability to strike whole clauses or decrease individual appropriations to the cent. The only thing the governor can't do is raise spending.

In Rhode Island, it would be more appropriate to call the governor the opposition, and it is he (or she) with "little in the way of procedural tools" to block a strong majority in the General Assembly. I typically favor the legislature in the structure of a divided government, but our state proves decisively that many of the reasons that I do so are able to be subverted. Gerrymandering, for one thing, protects incumbents and facilitates the development of reliable voting blocs for politicians. I'd also note that New Jersey's legislators are paid sufficiently well that somebody who is neither independently wealthy nor liable to see office as a profitable aspect of his or her private occupation could justify a run for public office.

As for the governor's office, I'm not so sure that I'd want fewer of his lower executives to be elected, butthe line-item budget veto would be a worthy change to local law.

August 25, 2010

Sometimes "Investment" Is Just an Expense

Justin Katz

In a recent article, John Kostrzewa describes a study (partially funded by RI's Poverty Institute) by Jeffrey Thompson, Assistant Research Professor at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. As it happens, circumstances lately have put me in a position to agree with some of the professor's conclusions, particularly those decrying one-company-narrow special deals described as "economic development." But this part is some of the same-old-same-old:

On education, Thompson argues that investing in education attracts business, raises gross state product, increases employment in metropolitan areas and raises personal income. He claims that every million dollars spent by Rhode Islanders on education creates between 26 and 33 jobs for teachers, aids, custodians, nurses, professors, bus drivers and others.

I agree that education is a key to developing the talent, skills and entrepreneurs on which to build a knowledge-based economy and fill the needs of traditional companies. But I shudder at the idea of simply spending more money without controlling or targeting where it's going, and measuring improvement.

The first point to make is that monetary investment isn't proving to be the shortcoming in Rhode Island education and will not translate into any benefits beyond the direct funding of school-related jobs. As Kostrzewa writes:

Already, Rhode Island ranks among the top 10 states nationwide for per capita spending on primary and secondary education. Yet national test scores show Rhode Island stuck in the middle of the pack, and lagging behind its neighboring states in New England. Also, Rhode Island’s dropout rate of about 30 percent is one of the highest in the country.

And all of that money has to come from somewhere, ultimately from consumer spending that creates jobs indirectly and direct business activity, which creates jobs almost by definition. That brings us back to the point that I always make in this context: Even if we succeed in educating the fabled Workforce of the Future, unless we have jobs into which that workforce can move — because education doesn't necessarily mean entrepreneurialism — that workforce will move to another state that does, taking our investment in academics with it.

I'd argue that the key reforms — basically, increasing accountability, refocusing education on students and their parents, and tying revenue to success, rather than government whim — would cost less and improve outcomes. In other words, we could leave money in the economy for investment in job creation and simultaneously improve our children's marketability as employees.

Americans Subsidizing the Green Fetish of the Rich

Justin Katz

Henry Payne questions the Obama administration's approach to saving the environment through the subsidization of green cars that only wealthy households can afford (try here if you don't subscribe to National Review):

In this unholy alliance of Big Government and Big Auto, the carmakers exacted their price — more taxpayer billions to underwrite their research, in addition to the same $7,500-per-vehicle tax credit that buyers get for purchasing a Tesla. And since plug-in hybrids like GM's Chevy Volt cost $40,000 — or about the price of an entry-level BMW — the program amounts to yet another set of subsidies for buyers with six-figure incomes.

Payne closes by noting that cars that Americans actually want, such as Jeep Grand Cherokees, remain profitable. All government intervention in this market is going to do is to distort incentives and place chips on technological bets that politicians — not scientists, not car designers, not consumers — consider promising. Of course, "promising" for a politician is always promising to their careers, not to the taxpayers and voters whom they are supposed to represent nor the economy that keeps the country rolling.

Steven Wright of the Rhode Island Voter Coalition Answers My Questions About William Lynch's Principled Advocacy for Debates

Carroll Andrew Morse

Democrat David Cicilline did not attend the First District Congressional debate conducted last week by WPRO radio (630AM). His Democratic rival for the nomination, former Democratic Party Chairman William Lynch, criticized him for this. According to Philip Marcelo of the Projo, Mr. Lynch was also questioning at the end of last week whether Mayor Cicilline was going to show up at this Monday's Newport Chamber of Commerce debate (he did).

While at the Tenth Amendment rally at the Rhode Island Statehouse on Saturday, I had the chance to ask Steven Wright of the Rhode Island Voter Coalition what he thought of the Mr. Lynch's recently taken position on the importance of debates, in light of events that had occurred earlier in the year...

"...I thought that was pretty funny, seeing how [William Lynch] sent a letter...encouraging Democratic candidates not to show up to the Rhode Island Voter Coalition forums, which is a shame really, because we're non-partisan, we're not a fundraising tool, we don't offer any endorsement. Our only purpose is to get people involved and educated on the people that want to represent them."Audio: 39 sec

"And for him to have sent out a letter telling people not to go, and then him complaining this week about Cicilline not showing up -- and then he said that he's shown up to everything that he's been asked to go to -- it was just kind of funny..."Audio: 15 sec

"Rhode Island is a winner!"

Justin Katz

That's the subject line of an email from Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist announcing that Rhode Island came in fifth in the U.S. Dept. of Education's Race to the Top competition. Frankly, I find the presentation of the entire give-away creepy.

If we begin with the belief that public education is a states' rights matter, what we have here is an unelected federal bureaucrat using billions of our own money to elicit eager willingness of unelected state bureaucrats to give his office authority to judge and shape the education ultimately provided, and largely funded, at the municipal level. As I've opined before, the particulars may sound good, now, but they will dilute and expand until it's just a matter of assumption that the local men and women whom we elect to school committees just have to do whatever the executive branch of the federal government says. And as I've also noted before, quoting Education Policy Director for the American Enterprise Institute Frederick Hess, the selling points of the "reform" are not as prominent in reality as they are in the headlines:

A few of the 19 priorities rewarded states for moving on measures such as charter schooling and merit pay, with states earning 40 points (out of a maximum total of 500) for supporting high-performing charters and 58 points for using student-achievement results to improve teacher and principal effectiveness. But the vast majority of the points are awarded for compliance with often woolly federal criteria: 65 points for articulating an agenda and securing local buy-in, 10 points for prioritizing education funding, 20 points for providing effective support to educators, and so on. If you're not entirely sure what these categories entail, welcome to the club; they reward states for procuring signatures of union support, for spending more on schools, and for adopting impressive-sounding professional schemes.

And again, this is all being done with billions of dollars from an entity that's trillions of dollars into deficit and will either have to pull the financial rug out from under its promises or increase our taxes heavily for us to maintain the privilege of doing what it says.

August 24, 2010

If Teachers Are Professionals, Their Performance Should Be Measurable

Justin Katz

Veronique de Rugy points to an L.A. Times article analyzing students' test scores — against their own prior achievements — to determine the educational value added (or not) by third- through fifth-grade teachers. Here are two findings that give a pretty good flavor (which, overall, Anchor Rising readers will find unsurprising):

* Although many parents fixate on picking the right school for their child, it matters far more which teacher the child gets. Teachers had three times as much influence on students' academic development as the school they attend. Yet parents have no access to objective information about individual instructors, and they often have little say in which teacher their child gets.

* Many of the factors commonly assumed to be important to teachers' effectiveness were not. Although teachers are paid more for experience, education and training, none of this had much bearing on whether they improved their students' performance.

Where the school matters, I'd suggest, is in its ability — and structural motivation — to ensure that teachers succeed in their mission. That means a stronger hand in dealing with employees, on the one side, and a direct and rapid relationship between the school's success and its revenue.

Consider charter schools: Those representatives of the public school establishment who support charters will agree that one of their benefits is as "laboratories for best practices," as the jargon goes, but they clearly aren't controlled experiments. That is, the school doesn't have to explain what practice it intends to test, with the state requiring it to keep all other practices (such as union contracts) intact, and with a plan to transmit successful strategies to the broader education system. Rather, the "laboratories" are meant to sink or swim and, if they swim, to increase the pressure on unions and administrators to reform.

It's a fool's project and a delay, as indicated by the fact that nobody should be surprised that some L.A. teachers are better than others and that the quality of the teacher affects the advancement of the student. That such experiments are a delay to necessary reform is evident, first, in the fact that parents flock to these more-accountable schools when given the opportunity and, second, in the fact, noted by de Rugy, that California teacher union thugs are boycotting the L.A. Times.

Robert Healey, on the Master-Lever Lawsuit

Carroll Andrew Morse

The second subject I asked Robert Healey about at Saturday's Tenth Amendment rally at the Rhode Island Statehouse was the status of his lawsuit to eliminate the master-lever from the Rhode Island ballot by this November's election. In addition to his own suit, Mr. Healey also discussed a second suit, filed by independent Gubernatorial candidate Joe Lusi, seeking to have the master-lever removed...

"Our case is coming up for a hearing on September first. We're going to get a full-day hearing. Our expert witness that we have is Dr. William Salka, out of Eastern Connecticut State University...he ran the numbers we provided him from the Board of Elections and there's a clear pattern that in cities and towns that have non-partisan races the master lever would impact those races in a negative way..."Audio: 48 sec

"...Joe [Lusi] is on the ballot and Joe has filed a Federal lawsuit as of yesterday...he's challenging the master lever and he's challenging the placements on the ballot because of the lottery situation. And he raises a very interesting point, because there's a Rhode Island statute that says that your name cannot appear twice on any ballot, and yet if you pull the Republican lever, you have a choice of pulling the lever, which is one time on the ballot or, if you pull the candidate lever, it's twice on the ballot..."Audio: 1m 32 sec

"...Judge Smith has indicated at a conference that he would probably decide the matter within two days, so we should have a pretty definitive answer on the master lever at the end of the day on the third of September."Audio: 22 sec

Keven McKenna, on the Constitutionality of the Central Falls Receivership

Carroll Andrew Morse

Keven McKenna, independent candidate for Attorney General and one of the speakers at Saturday's Tenth Amendment rally, was the President of the 1985-1986 Rhode Island Constitutional Convention. Aware of that item on his resume, I asked him if he thought that the application of the new "fiscal stabilization law" to Central Falls was constitutional...

"No, and I'll tell you why. It's not [Article XIII, the home rule provision]. You've got to move back a bit, to the second Article on the right to vote. They're taking their right to vote away. If a person is elected, you can abolish the office, after their term is over, but during the term, you can't touch it..." Audio: 1m 9 sec

"The real underlying policy problem obviously in Central Falls it that it's one mile square of poor people with no factories. That's why it doesn't work as a town..." Audio: 38 sec
In the spirit of Saturday's event, Mr. McKenna also expounded upon some of his beliefs about the principles of democratic governance in general...
"...people forget that democracy is only two documents. It's one word, but two documents, that state constitution and the US Constitution. That's where it is. If it's not there, you don't have it. Those documents say a very important thing...that we're a bottom-up democracy..." Audio: 2m 2 sec

"When I was active in the sixties, power-to-the people was sort of a left-wing notion, but everyone should believe in power-to-the people. It's not left, right or upside-down. It is a process that everybody, that every single person, should make sure they protect..." Audio: 22 sec

Where's the Terrorists' Margin?

Justin Katz

Among the many comment's to Andrew's post on the Ground Zero mosque, commenter mangeek made the following statement, and it's been rattling around in my head during the intervening days:

Terrorism is the weapon of choice for the marginalized; the cure is tolerance and civil discourse, tempered by strong secular laws that protect us from the criminally deranged.

"The weapon of the marginalized" sounds good, with a buy-the-world-a-Coke insinuation that the West can cure the problem by unmarginalizing the enemy. Mangeek suggests "tolerance and civil discourse." Part of the rationale for President Bush's approach to the War on Terror was to bring the Middle East into the democratic fold, creating the circumstances in which its inhabitants would defuse their aggression with the wet handshake of international processes.

But I'm not so sure that terrorism really is the weapon of the marginalized. Does anybody doubt that al Qaeda would attack the West using conventional weapons if it, one, had them and, two, thought it could win? Moreover, do the people backing terrorist organizations really feel marginalized? It's difficult to believe that Saudi princes walk around gnashing their teeth over their hardship, or that Iranian dictator mullahs feel powerless. I don't recall an action-drama style speech from Osama bin Laden lamenting his exclusion from a diplomatic dinner party.

To some extent, of course, a statement like mangeek's implies two groups: the backers of organized terrorism and those who carry out their commands. In that light, it's clearly in the interest of unmarginalized power brokers, like the late Yasser Arafat, to keep their human arsenal in a state of unrest and for radicals the world over to hammer the drum of disaffection until it's rattled their followers' brains to mush.

Allowing that much, however, only proves mangeek's conclusion faulty, because those with whom we wind up negotiating in civil discourse have reason to maintain the hardships and sense of marginalization of those whom they ostensibly represent. At least Bush's democracy project had the objective of replacing that system with real representation and broader civic engagement.

If we step back from the objective assessment of motivations and organizational charts — and put aside any wishful pap that eschews such analysis — a moral response emerges from the murk: The terror masters should be marginalized. One cannot discourse with an ideology with pretenses to global rule. (This cuts multiple ways, I should note.) We should not tolerate those who force women to live in walking body bags and put them to death when they're raped. We should not invite to the table those who speak casually of exterminating the Jews.

The disconcerting realization is that, as a society, we actually get this. Consider the reaction whenever an American subculture comes into public view with women dressed in the style of Little House on the Prairie. Consider that white supremacists are a universally accepted villain for any storyline.

All of our talk about tolerance of the exotic and different, of civil discourse with the marginalized, begins to look like mere cover when we take the resort to terrorism, itself, as evidence of the marginalization. It begins to appear that we are tolerating the intolerable because of the terrorism. Because we're paralyzed by politically correct bromides and lack the confidence for the only other solutions that remain.

The argument over the Ground Zero mosque lies along this very fault line. There would be no substantial public backlash against a thirteen-story Islamic center in that location were it already in the shadow of a hundred-story testament to the resilience of Western Civilization as expressed by the United States of America. We see the hole that remains in lower Manhattan, and as average as the mosque might be, it towers above inaction.

August 23, 2010

Victor Moffit on Regionalization, the Tenth Amendment and Running for Governor

Carroll Andrew Morse

A major theme of Republican Victor Moffitt's campaign for Governor of Rhode Island has been regionalizing municipal services. At Saturday's Tenth Amendment rally at the RI Statehouse, I asked Rep. Moffitt if he would like to answer a question on the parallel between the states losing power to the Federal Government, obviously contrary to the letter and spirit of the Tenth Amendment, and municipalities losing power to a higher level of government -- which he helped me rephrase into a more-to-the point form: Why shouldn't regionalization be viewed as a power-grab by the state? His answer was...

"Regionalization, really, is a ground-up concept. This is where individual taxpayers in the state want to eliminate the bureaucracy that we have now of 36 school departments in Rhode Island serving about 148,000 students, and the high property taxes we have in the local communities. I would be against it if the state government mandated regionalization...but my regionalization plan comes from the bottom up..."Audio: 1m 3 sec

"The Federal Government throws these mandates to the states, and they don't support them, things like Obamacare or No Child Left Behind, and that's something I would oppose, because I think education is a state right. We should be able to do whatever we want..."Audio: 30 sec
I also gave Rep. Moffitt the opportunity to comment directly on why people should support his bid to become the next Governor of Rhode Island...
"...This time you have very few choices in the race. You can either tank with Frank, you can sink with Linc, you can get more Don with John, or you can stick with Vic..."Audio: 17 sec

"People can knock my aquarium program, but it's not just an aquarium. It's an aquarium with a science center, a research center, a desalinization plant...When [people] think of Rhode Island, I want them to think of the Mecca for marine research, the place that has the biggest aquarium. When you think of oceans, you think of the real Ocean State..."Audio: 1m 24 sec

National Budget Deficit Trends

Marc Comtois

Randell Hoven (h/t) uses CBO figures and a simple chart to put the lie to the now familiar claims that the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and Bush tax cuts caused a $3 Trillion budget deficit.

The CBO breaks that cost down over the eight calendar years of 2003-2010. Below is a picture of federal deficits over those years with and without Iraq War spending.

As Hoven points out, the deficits actually were shrinking until 2007, then started back up in 2008. What happened in between? Democrats took over Congress. Hoven adds some context (we all love context!):
The sum of all the deficits from 2003 through 2010 is $4.73 trillion. Subtract the entire Iraq War cost and you still have a sum of $4.02 trillion.

No one will say that $709 billion is not a lot of money. But first, that was spread over eight years. Secondly, let's put that in some perspective. Below are some figures for those eight years, 2003 through 2010.

* Total federal outlays: $22,296 billion.
* Cumulative deficit: $4,731 billion.
* Medicare spending: $2,932 billion.
* Iraq War spending: $709 billion.
* The Obama stimulus: $572 billion.

There is an important note to go along with that Obama stimulus number: the stimulus did not even start until 2009. By 2019, the CBO estimates the stimulus will have cost $814 billion.

If we look only at the Iraq War years in which Bush was President (2003-2008), spending on the war was $554B. Federal spending on education over that same time period was $574B....

So spending $572B in two years stimulates an economy, but spending $554B over six years ruins one?

Depends on who did what, right?

Robert Healey, On the Diffusion of his Lieutenant Governor's Platform

Carroll Andrew Morse

At Saturday's Tenth Amendment rally at the Rhode Island Statehouse, I had the chance to interview Robert Healey on a number of different subjects. The crassly-political subject was his candidacy for Lieutenant Governor. I asked Mr. Healey about what he thought of the fact that both Republican candidate Heidi Rogers and Democratic candidate Jeremy Kapstein seem to have adopted modified versions of his we-can-eliminate-the-office platform...

"It's very interesting. I think that Heidi Rogers, the Republican candidate, understands the concept of limited government and is embracing that idea. And I think that Jeremy Kapstein, in the radio debate the other day, indicated that if the Governor and the legislature don't give him the jobs portfolio, or an economic development portfolio for him to carry out, he sees the office as worthless too..." Audio: 1 min 3 sec

"[Mr. Kapstein] is always saying 'Well, Mr. Healey can't abolish the office by himself, it will take a Constitutional amendment'; he'll say 'Constitutional Convention', which is wrong, it will take a Constitutional amendment. I have never, ever indicated that I can do this individually...I can make sure that without a staff and without pay it is in essence abolished..."Audio: 44 sec

"But he's pretty clear that the Lieutenant Governor has no function and is just really a waste of time, energy and effort, if he doesn't have [the job portfolio]. And if you think of the logic, ok, don't give me the job portfolio, then I'll have nothing to do. Well, that means that he doesn't have the job portfolio now, ergo, there is nothing to do...It's a million dollars a year. It's a waste of money..."Audio: 55 sec

Deepwater, in Summary

Justin Katz

OSPRI's Bill Felkner has an excellent summary of Rhode Island's adventures in mandated expensive wind power in the Daily Caller:

President Obama recently proposed spending $2 billion for the creation of 5100 green jobs. On government standards, that's a very thrifty $392,156 per job — a bargain compared to the $2.2 million being proposed in Rhode Island and other coastal states where the only windy, rent-free space to build windmills is on the ocean. ...

The developers claim that the state would gain $129 million through a "multiplier" effect from the money "invested," but the CEO of the company could only testify that the project would create six permanent jobs.

The project may or may not be a fait accompli, at this point, but anybody in search of a silver lining could perhaps start a betting pool about the likelihood that Rhode Islanders will correctly recognize the source of future economic pain and, if they do, about the scapegoats that the culpable parties will find.

John Loughlin and Mark Zaccaria at the Tenth Amendment Rally

Carroll Andrew Morse

Republican Congressional Candidates John Loughlin (District 1) and Mark Zaccaria (District 2) spoke at Saturday's Tenth Amendment rally at the Rhode Island Statehouse. The interesting and accurate common theme in both of their statements was that protecting rights via the Tenth Amendment cannot depend on theoretical legal arguments alone; it also requires electing representatives, at both the state and Federal levels, who believe in ideas of limited government.

John Loughlin's remarks:

"...What happens in Congress is obviously very important. But what happens in this building [the RI Statehouse] is sometimes even more important to the Tenth Amendment....It's the little things that add up over time, that lead to a loss of our liberty and loss of our freedom..."Audio: 27 sec

"[Congress] said, you know what, we think it would be a good idea for all of the states to implement a salt-water fishing license. Sounds like a little thing. Well, it says in our Rhode Island Constitution that we all have free access to the shoreline for fishing and gathering of seaweed and we had a building behind us that says well, the Federal Government wants us to do it, so gee, I guess we better..." Audio: 48 sec

"So what that tells us, ladies and gentlemen, is that perhaps the most important elections for your freedom, and for the continuance of freedom and for the freedom of Rhode Island and America don't take place at the top of the ticket, they take place down lower on the ticket..." Audio: 51 sec

Mark Zaccaria's remarks:
"It's great to see you all out here, thinking about your role in government. As you just heard, I'm a candidate for Congress. And people have frequently asked me why do I want to run for a Congressional seat against a five-term incumbent in the bluest of the blue states. The answer is simple. I don’t want to; I have to..."Audio: 55 sec

" are the free citizens of a republic, and that confers on you tremendous responsibility, because it confers on you tremendous authority. For too long, too many of us did not step up and do what they needed to do to be full-fledged citizens of this republic. That's got to change, or we are going to lose the Republic that our founders put together for us..."Audio: 58 sec

"When I say it's tough to be a citizen, and you have to step up and do it right, what I mean is you really have to consider what your vote is going to be in November, because you need to put a General Assembly into this building that is full of people that you trust to enforce the Tenth Amendment, to stand up against the ever-increasing Federal Government..."Audio: 43 sec

The Living and the Dead

Justin Katz

One of the peculiarities that native Rhode Islanders perhaps do not even notice about their state — at least in the East Bay — is the proliferation of historical cemeteries, tucked into suburban and urban corners alike, here and there, such as this unkempt one on Water St., in Portsmouth:

George Carlin used to have a bit in which he suggested that all cemeteries and golf courses be sacrificed in the name of affordable housing. Taking up the economic calamity of such a move would be beyond my purpose, here, and it may be sufficient, anyway, to warn against preventing the intrusion of mortality and heritage into our daily routines.

What might remain of bodies interred some hundred and fifty years ago, I do not know, when even the stone etchings have faded such as to make reading difficult. With the aid of a type-written sheet of paper, sheathed in plastic on the site, however, the visitor can associate some names with the stones, thus parting with an explanation, upon turning back toward East Main Rd., for Child St. (Although, whether George Franklin, Jonathan, Lidia, William Henry, Joseph, or Harriet merited the honorarium is lost to history. Perhaps the honored Child lies beneath one of the faded, illegible stones, or perhaps the entire clan was the namesake.) Erasing the dead from the landscape would be akin to naming every road by its place and purpose, just as Portsmouth has East Main, West Main, joined by Union, with Middle right where one would expect.

In a faded and indistinct way, these daily encounters with our foregoers bring the same lessons that are incidental to Michael Morse's work as an EMT:

A few hours later, I returned to the ER with somebody else, but took the time to visit them. He was lucid now, she smiled as I shook his hand and deflected the genuine thanks he offered, saying the usual "it's my job" things. I don't remember what caused his confusion, his blood work was way out of whack, IV fluids and whatever else they gave him at the hospital worked wonders. He was funny, and kind, and appreciative. So was she. I was happy to have helped them. It was a "good" call.

I saw his picture on the obituary page two days later. He died that night. At least he walked out of the place he raised his family under his own power, and into whatever existence waits.

Two years later, another call brings him to take the she along the same path. Michael recalls her graciousness when he'd attended her husband's wake and how a certain respect had attached to his occupational proximity to the living's passing on to death.

Of course, we're all, every day, dealing with people on their way to the grave, gathering associations and memories, making impressions. Whoever's names the addresses of the living bear, the blocks, the towns, the regions that they inhabit carry the sense of them, even if that sense will pass with us. Let graveyards, then, stand as a reminder that we mark the ground on which we tread no less than the ground in which we lie.

In a recently reprinted column for the Rhode Island Catholic, Bishop Thomas Tobin summarizes a relevant theme in Jesus' teachings:

The first lesson is the reminder of how foolish it is to accumulate and then depend on material possessions. Remember the parable Jesus told about the rich man who built up huge barns to store his bountiful harvest? The complacent man said to himself, "You have so many things stored up for many years; rest, eat, drink and be merry." But God said to him, "You fool, this very night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?" Jesus concludes by teaching that we should try to grow rich "in what matters to God." (Luke 12:16-21) ...

Towards the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus urged His disciples to be less anxious and more trusting. "Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear . . . Your Heavenly Father knows that you need them all . . . Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself." (Mt 6: 25-34)

Though the annunciations of our existences will dissipate with the wind and water, whether written in stone or in the reflections of those with whom we interact, these things are not all. Tomorrow will take care of itself, ultimately, in its material particulars, but the immaterial about today, its dreams and intentions, whether the will is good or ill, represents in us that which will never be buried.

August 22, 2010

Power Politics Illustrated

Marc Comtois

In a recent column having to do with Warwick GOP infighting, former Democrat City Council and School Committee Chair Bob Cushman explained the machinations that go on at the party level amongst the power brokers in Warwick.

[Councilman Steve] Colantuano in 2006 ran and was defeated in the Democrat primary by me. In 2008, he once again met with the Democrat Ward 1 chairperson and was unsuccessful in his attempt to acquire the endorsement. Fearful of losing in the Democrat primary again, he switched to the Republican Party at the last minute, receiving their endorsement along with the promise of a legion of volunteers and thousands of dollars to support his campaign. Mayor Avedisian personally contributed $1,000, the maximum amount allowed by law, to his campaign....

The old political adage – make your adversary your supporter – has been a key to Mayor Avedisian’s success since Republicans haven’t had more then two members on the City Council in over 10 years. The mayor has been so successful that he has literally crippled the Democrat party, and in the process, undermined the concept of separation of powers.

The legislative branch has effectively become a yes-man for the mayor. In return for not only political support but also for the jobs and appointed board positions the mayor has given their family and friends, these candidates, once elected, support his legislation, sponsor his appointments, and give him control over the legislative process....With new first-time Republican candidates for City Council in Danny Hall in Ward 5 and Mike Mulholland in Ward 6, who seem to have a mindset independent of the administration, challenging pro-Avedisian Democrats, will they receive the same campaign cash from the mayor and support from Warwick’s Republican Party that Mr. Colantuano received two years ago? I seriously doubt it.

Setting Cushman's obvious personal stake aside, the machinations he describes are illustrative and indicative of a sort of insider politics that outsiders are sick of. We'll have to wait until November to see if voter disgust rises high enough to change the status quo. I've got my doubts.

A Craft for Our Region

Justin Katz

Something about Jeff Soderbergh's work, as recently explained by the Providence Journal's Channing Gray. seems very well suited to this region, and Rhode Island in particular:

Jeff Soderbergh has been called the poster child for recycling. He tracks down old windows, heating grates, corbels and doors — architectural elements with a provenance — and turns them into curious sculptures and elegant pieces of furniture.

His materials come from all over the world, and his pieces have ended up in museums and private collections. Soderbergh has made a bed from a Gothic church window from Dublin, chairs from a 1902 baby grand, and a coffee table from a soapstone lab counter that came from a Newport middle school.

Often, in the course of remodeling old houses in Newport, I've found myself throwing out items that just felt as if they ought to be saved — even if only a single board of old wood. We can't help but come into contact with history and heritage, around here, and in a sense, Soderbergh's craft condenses that broader aesthetic into a single piece of furniture of art.

Of course, I can't help but find it a cheap characterization to equate such activity with recycling. It's more a matter of preservation — of finding what is of value in the old to a new application in the present, whether directly related or not.

Some will mutter "here he goes again," but it seems to me an ultimately conservative impulse (especially when one turns around and markets the craft for capitalistic purposes).

Heads Up, EDC, Looks Like You'll Have a Visitor at Tomorrow's Meeting (Though the Gov Tried to Dissuade Him)

Monique Chartier

On Thursday, Governor Carcieri's office released the two page letter in which he declines a request by former Senator Chafee's to meet with the EDC board to express his objection to the process by which a $75 million state loan guarantee was given to 38 Studios.

In response to your request to meet with the Board, I must respectfully decline. It is inappropriate for the EDC to become engaged in this political campaign. Your concerns have been fully communicated.

Nevertheless, the senator has vowed to attend anyway, though public comments are not part of the EDC agenda.

Senator Chafee still plans on going to the Monday meeting of the RIEDC Board in the hope that he will be allowed to speak the meeting as a citizen and taxpayer.

A Show of Pension Reform

Justin Katz

As you read the article, your mind is just beginning to recover from this:

In a theoretical case of a 20-year-old firefighter hired today, retiring in 2030 on a base pay of $100,000, and collecting a pension for 30 years, the difference between compounded and simple is $41,129. At age 70, in the year 2060, the firefighter’s pension would be $181,000 on a simple 3-percent COLA and $222,129 on a compounded COLA.

When reporter Donita Naylor hits you with this:

[Providence Councilman John] Igliozzi, who also serves on the boards that oversee retirements and pension investments, said that with 30 firefighter positions going unfilled and 250 firefighters becoming eligible for retirement in the next two or three years, "almost half the Fire Department is going to be new" hires.

One reels. The first paragraph presumes a person retiring at forty years old and doubling his annual income — while doing nothing — by the time most of his contemporaries will actually begin considering retirement. On the compounded scale, the firefighter will have received $4.49 million dollars in pension payments by his seventy-first birthday. On the simple scale, he'll have received $4.13 million. And this is presented as pension reform?

Sure, the numbers add up. On the compounded scale, those 250 folks soon to replace proximate reitrees would cost $1.12 billion by 2060, while on the simple scale, they'd cost $1.03 billion, savings of $90 million ($3 million per year), but that's still $1.03 billion for 250 people for 30 years of no work, after only 20 years of work. And who's to say what life expectancy will actually be by that point.

It appears that, after decades of politicians' making pension promises with which they wouldn't have to deal, the current crop is promising reforms that won't take effect until most of them are dead, and still won't amount to much by way of savings.

Want more? As far as I can tell, these numbers don't include benefits like healthcare.

As soon as possible, pensions should be shifted to 401(k)s. At the very least, they shouldn't begin to pay out until a certain age, no matter when the person opts to retire.

August 21, 2010

Scott Adams on the Travails of Building a Green House (... for people, not plants)

Monique Chartier

Courtesy the Wall Street Journal.

Let's say you love the Earth. You see an article in a magazine about a guy who built a "green" house using mostly twigs, pinecones and abandoned bird nests. You want to build a green home, too. So you find an architect, show him the magazine and say, "Give me one just like this." ...

On "Giving Back"

Justin Katz

Kimberly Dennis summarizes a cliché in such a way as to give me hope that maybe differing perspectives really are just a clarification away from harmonization (via Paul Caron, via Glenn Reynolds):

Successful entrepreneurs-turned-philanthropists typically say they feel a responsibility to "give back" to society. But "giving back" implies they have taken something. What, exactly, have they taken? Yes, they have amassed great sums of wealth. But that wealth is the reward they have earned for investing their time and talent in creating products and services that others value. They haven't taken from society, but rather enriched us in ways that were previously unimaginable.

No. "Giving back" implies that they have received something that they did not create. Inasmuch as even the most rags-to-riches story is a far cry from an entrepreneur's inventing the world from primordial muck, it is clearly true that the broader society has at the very least created the conditions in which his or her success was possible. That's especially true for entrepreneurs, like Bill Gates, whose story is more of the riches-to-more-riches variety.

Glenn Reynolds brings into the conversation philanthropy's sense of being Christian, but the point of Christian charity is not for the haves to make token gestures toward economic equilibrium. It's to offer imitative thanks to the living God whom the giver is supposed to see in the recipient. The notion translates directly into secular terms as an expression of gratitude — and, one might say, debt — to a cultural and civic structure.

Business-minded libertarians, among whom Dennis appears to count, may respond to that call by advocating for freedom and donating to market-bolstering causes. Others may shoot for the more fundamental targets of diminishing starvation and disease. And still others see continued investment in their personal vocations — whether medicine, high-tech inventions, financial investment, or any other capitalistic venture — to be their most valuable possible contribution.

Insisting that this point be acknowledged does not indicate that one begrudges the success or dismisses the inventiveness of capitalism's beneficiaries. But "giving back" isn't (or shouldn't be) penance in the form of an offering to the undeserving. It's recognition that, even to the extent that luck was not decisive, community conditions might have been, and a freely expressed hope that those conditions can continue to benefit others who are deserving.

The Randomness of a Night Out

Justin Katz

I don't know why, and I didn't know in what category to place this entry, but this story stood out in the news, this week:

Prosecutors said a Massachusetts man angry after an argument with another bar customer broke a mug that sent shards of glass into the neck of bystander, causing him to bleed to death.

It appears that the alleged perpetrator exchanged words with one of the victim's friends after an inadvertent collision on the way to the bathroom. A flare of temper and an impulse for drama left a peripheral person dead, others injured, and another facing the life-altering consequences of a lack of self control.

It's the sort of thing about which we tend to cite the randomness of fate, although it's really not quite random, is it? Individuals made decisions within the context of a culture that imparts certain import to particular behaviors. Non-randomness doesn't require that we come to specific conclusions about how to prevent these rare occurrences, but it is food for thought.

A Couple of Thoughts Upon Watching Sowell

Justin Katz

A lunch break from Saturday activities is an excellent time to watch Peter Robinson's Uncommon Knowledge interview with Thomas Sowell, not the least for Sowell's one word of advice were the Obama administration to seek his counsel. Two individual points, though, sparked scribblings on my notepad.

In segment 2, Robinson reads from U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's ruling on same-sex marriage, as follows:

The evidence shows conclusively that moral and religious views form the only basis for the belief that same-sex couples are different from opposite-sex couples.

Put aside the naked absurdity of the statement, which it is only possible to believe if one has either closed one's mind to the obvious or simply not interacted to a significant degree with people of both genders. Even granting the assertion (in a qualified and tentative way for argumentation purposes only), the appropriate response, from a legal point of view, is, "so what?" That is what democracy and elaborate structures of government are meant to accomplish: To allow people to vote and form the governments under which they live according to whatever principles they determine to be relevant, whether moral, religious, intellectual, economic, or whatever. It is not possible to devise a structure of rules that does not, at some level, conform with a particular moral or religious viewpoint except along a narrow scope determining how those with differing viewpoints can work to change the rules — and that requires prior agreement that opposing viewpoints shouldn't be forbidden.

In segment 4, Robinson poses this question, paraphrasing a viewer:

It has been the case since the Constitution was enacted that special interests are concentrated while the general interest is diffuse, or that politicians could in effect purchase votes. Why do we have the problem now; what has happened in recent decades?

Sowell answers the question by citing the erosion of the values of the public, and while that is surely a broad, big-picture cause, I'd suggest that the more immediate cause — and the more remediable — is the crisis-point growth of the simple size and reach of government. The larger and more broadly powerful the governing body, the more incentive special interests have to concentrate their influence, including incentive to implicate broad groups of the public in the governing scheme by giving them handouts that they would be loathe to lose.

The Downward Spiral of Detoxifying Land

Justin Katz

The folks down on Bay St., Tiverton, where toxic soil from long-ago industrial use of the land had contaminated back yards and led to health problems for residents, just can't to win:

... the contractor, Envirologic, has stopped work and filed for bankruptcy, leaving many of the homeowners with craters in their yards or replacement fill that has challenged their septic systems and topsoil that may itself be hazardous waste. ...

A year ago, residents of the Bay Street neighborhood saw light at the end of the tunnel.

Corvello and her neighbors won an $11.5 million settlement from Southern Union Corp., a major national energy company, in a lawsuit the residents had filed in federal court against the Texas-based utility four years earlier. ...

Corvello said the residents could see the bankruptcy coming, because the company had to remove far more soil than it had anticipated and appeared to be having cash flow problems in recent months.

I've long been opposed to the litigious route to resolving such problems — a position that has left me open to accusations of favoring Big Business over my neighbors. As is often the case, though, the Party One versus Party Two analysis is less important to me than the principle, and in this case, homeowners bought property without knowing of the problems caused by a long-defunct company that had been bought by another company, which itself did not know of the problems. Not only were the culprits long dead, but they had contaminated the land long before modern regulations.

Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent in an attempt of the property buyers to force the corporate buyer to finance the fix, and ultimately the state government began passing issue-specific laws toward the same cause.

The problem with that approach is that one must monetize the responsibility and settle it. The risk of doing comes in two stages: First, a dollar amount must be determined in advance of repair and then negotiated, all to cover a broad swath of land permeated to an unknown degree. Not for no reason did the liable utility company, Southern Union, opt to hand over money rather than to seek economies by overseeing the remediation. Second, when the problem proves more expansive than first thought, the aggrieved party finds that it has not only absolved the corporation of legal responsibility, but also of moral responsibility.

Had a different approach been taken, combining political and commercial pressure with a public-spirited charitable campaign, the risk that the problem was larger than initially thought would have been spread out. More money might have been extracted from the big pockets, and third parties — right down to neighbors with wheelbarrows full of clean dirt — would be more involved in the remedy.

August 20, 2010

You're All Missing the Point on Central Falls

Justin Katz

I don't know if it's a Rhode Island municipality v. municipality thing or massive frustration with the insider v. outsider structure of our civic culture, in this state, but the commenters to my Central Falls post are marching all around the point. Patrick writes:

... I understand the point that you're making, but I think it's quite a leap to think that Cumberland, Lincoln, Coventry, North Kingstown is going to receivership anytime soon. If a city goes into receivership, it means it has been so badly managed that this is what it deserves. Clearly the voters don't want good representation, they don't know what's good for them.

This is true under normal circumstances, but the trampling on principle that the General Assembly has done in Central Falls is at least somewhat likely to start wheels turning in different directions. That brings us to commenter riborn:

You are missing the first costly misstep that was taken down this path Central Falls now finds itself on - the filing of the receivership. At some point the question has to be asked why receivership in the state court and not bankruptcy in the federal court. The estimated fees of Savage and Larisa may shed light on that decision. Do you have any inkling of the fees they would have reaped had they terminated union contracts and battled it out in state court? Do you think either of them cared if they won or lost that battle? It's about the money - nine lawyers and five staffers, and a firm spokesperson, all being paid by those CF taxpayers you are so concerned with now. In receivership Savage and Larisa would get paid whether they won or lost that battle with the unions, whether they benefited CF or not. And while it presented an interesting intellectual exercise to keep nine lawyers busy for a good long time and many billable hours - who decided it was a good move on behalf of CF? Did the elected officials have any idea of the costs that were going to be incurred in that exercise? In RI, receivership is primarily a money making business for a small group of receivers/lawyers.

Yes, the GA absolutely protected their main constituents, the unions, in drafting and passing the Pfeiffer appointment bill, what is the news in that? It was begging to be done when CF was advised to seek and then filed for state court receivership. And Mr. Savage, who can't seem to speak to the media now and must hide behind a spokesperson, was front and center on the TV and ProJo front page telling everyone he was going to terminate union contracts. Did the elected officials think that was a good strategy? This is RI, who didn't know the GA would come in and save the unions?

So far there appears to be one "winner" in the CF receivershp debacle - after 60 days the $191,000 prize goes to Mr. Savage. Second prize to Mr. Larisa, who probably never made $54,000 in two months in his life.

Patrick's point only holds if receivership is an unattractive end of the line for badly run town and city governments. But as riborn highlights, the General Assembly's version has plus sides for important constituencies. With the judicial receivership, the power brokers of a municipality are rolling the dice that the self interest of the lawyers involved won't turn against them. With the new legislative receivership, unions and their elected and appointed government pals are protected, giving the decision a strong plus for a powerful constituency.

There is now, in short, a safety net for the union–municipal-government scam. Don't be surprised should the next example fall far short of Central Fall's degree of mismanagement.


Contra riborn, I think the first costly misstep was allowing Central Falls to be so thoroughly state subsidized in the first place — at least without some pain involved. Had the state funds come with the requirement that Central Falls must match the highest tax rate in Rhode Island, the locals might have had reason to put more competent people in office.

Mark Zaccaria on Federal Money and a Federal Rep's Role in Telling You When It Will Impact Your Neighborhood

Carroll Andrew Morse

Second District Congressional Candidate Mark Zaccaria held a press conference yesterday, where he questioned why incumbent Congressman James Langevin had "ignored the concerns of his constituents, by not communicating with local residents and business owners about locating an ACI (Adult Correctional Institution) out-processing center in the Silver Lake District of Providence". According to Mr. Zaccaria, many local residents and business owners did not learn about the project until ground was broken earlier this summer.

The permanent supportive housing facility is being funded, in part, by Federal stimulus money. Mr. Zaccaria believes that Congressman Langevin should have taken a more active role in presenting the project to the community, in his role as the Congressman representing the neighborhood where the facility is being built,

According to Karen Lee Ziner of the Projo, Congressman Langevin's office had this response to the issues raised by Mr. Zaccaria...

As with many federally assisted projects, this was a collaboration between a federal agency and various state and local entities. While Congressman Langevin had no direct involvement in this project, he supports the goals behind it.
Mr. Zaccaria explains his concerns in the audio segments below...
"Mr. Langevin, the current incumbent, has basically ignored the concerns of his constituents by not communicating with local residents and business owners about locating an ACI outplacement facility, a processing center and halfway house, here in the Silver Lake district..." (Audio 1 min 4 sec)

"It has been said that Langevin is completely unaware of the 1.8 million dollar grant that was made to Rhode Island Housing in order to [transition] through to Open doors, which is the non-profit in charge of this development project. If that's true, that itself is an indictment..." (Audio 1 min 1 sec)

"Open doors does wonderful things with the prison population and those who are leaving prison. This facility needs to be put someplace. It may very well need to be put here. Even if that's the case, it has now been delayed..." (Audio 0 min 53 sec)

"There's a daycare center for children on the other side of the property. There are old age facilities. There's a public pool down the street. This is in the middle of a working neighborhood, and it's a nice vibrant neighborhood..." (Audio 0 min 36 sec)

I also asked Mr. Zaccaria about the challenges of representing a city, where even the lowest level of government encompass a large number of people...
"Well, first of all, you decide you're going to do it. I come from a manufacturing background. The first and foremost thing that anyone in manufacturing does is customer service. When the phone rings, everything stops...That's one of the circuit breakers that we see with Mr. Langevin, who obviously comes from a culture of government, where he decides what can and cannot be done and then proceeds..."(Audio 1 min 59 sec)

Extremists Among Us

Justin Katz

You know, it's stories like this that make the ACLU — periodically correct positions notwithstanding — seem like an extremist group:

The ACLU claims [Woonsocket public schools' dress code] policy, adopted April 14, violates the right to free speech by prohibiting students from expressing their views on any topic.

"Uniforms may be useful in prison and the military," said John W. Dineen, a lawyer for the ACLU, "but they are totally out of place in our public schools and a diversion from the more challenging steps that must be taken in an effort to better those schools."

This is entirely in keeping with the mentality that has burdened our education system. The policy isn't a uniform, per se, but a narrow restriction on color and style, not unlike workplace dress codes, and if the people charged with educating children believe that it will decrease distractions and increase concentration, then the notion that there's a constitutional guarantee to wear anything while receiving a publicly funded education is absurd.

The children of the adults who've filed as plaintiffs should be embarrassed, and donors to the ACLU should question whether the organization isn't already overly flush with resources.

The People of Central Falls Should Fire Their Receiver

Justin Katz

... only they can't, because the people who govern Rhode Island have decided that bond ratings justify a sort of economic martial law. They simply don't believe that democracy works. So, bond rating agencies' threat to devalue Rhode Island's ability to borrow more money (which it shouldn't be doing, anyway) has given a single man, retired judge Mark Pfeiffer, the right to do this without recourse for those subject to his dictats:

City taxpayers can expect a 10-percent property tax increase and higher taxes on the cars they own as the receiver appointed to reorganize the city’s troubled finances tries to close a $2.1-million deficit in last year’s city budget and a $6.3-million hole in the current one, the state receiver running the city’s finances announced Wednesday.

Anyone inclined to object that Central Falls is already at its 4.5% tax cap needn't worry, because:

The 10-percent supplemental bill is legal, Pfeiffer said, because the taxation cap legislation allows a municipality to exceed it if the governing council votes to ask the state for permission and if the state allows it.

Pfeiffer said the receivership state law gives him the power to act as the council, and he would do that when he asks the state Division of Municipal Finance to approve the increase.

Of course, the tax cap law — naively presuming that a "governing body" isn't a single man — requires a 4/5 vote of that body. Such is the distortion of language that one gets when the rules are suspended.

That suspension of rules, by the way, seems conspicuously to benefit a particular group. Note this tidbit from a sidebar to the current story:

[Judicially appointed receiver Jonathan] Savage was appointed May 19 after the city went to court for the state-law version of federal bankruptcy. Savage was replaced July 16 after a new state law put municipal receiverships under the Department of Revenue. [Spokesman Bill] Fischer said that was a mistake because under the old system Savage could have imposed new contracts on the city’s unions. The new law forbids that.

[Gubernatorial Spokeswoman Amy] Kempe disputed that, saying the law wasn't clear and had Savage tried to change contracts, it would have led to a months-long court battle.

So, before, Savage could have addressed unreasonable expenditures on and promises to labor — much like East Providence's School Committee did — and taken the likelihood of a lawsuit into consideration. The actions of the state government, however, have taken that off the table, so it's an historic tax increase without representation one of the poorest communities in Rhode Island at the behest of a very well paid dictator.

August 19, 2010

A Question on Pensions

Justin Katz

I actually agree with former Johnston Policewoman Michele Capelli's lawyer that the town has no right to demand that she repay a disability pension excess that was given to her erroneously — much less simply remove it from her bank account — unless there was some criminal activity involved in giving her the money in the first place. Johnston should improve its system for tracking such things and move on from here.

But the same article gives some information for which, I realize, I've no basis to know how to feel:

As of June 30, 2009, the town had 27 disabled retirees earning an average monthly disability pension of $3,088, according to records.

An average of $37,000 per year isn't all that much, assuming the retirees aren't actually receiving the money as gravy on top of other income, and we should definitely provide for public servants who are hurt in the line of duty. But is that number of retirees high? I don't know. Compared with my own experience in construction, it certainly seems like a lot of people to be paying for not working, but I wonder if a study has been done of other Rhode Island towns as well as municipalities in other states.

That's really the relevant question, and it seems like the sort of thing that somebody in the press, the government bureaucracy, or a think tank should be concerned about. Oh, to have a think tank's resources!

Integral Government Strings

Justin Katz

Upon reading of the $9.4 million or so in federal money coming to Rhode Island for the purpose of expanding charter schools, I couldn't help but wonder about the strings that must be attached even to such a piddling sum, by current government standards.

Reviewing the U.S. Dept. of Education's onlne materials related to the program, I couldn't find any explicit strings, though. That leaves a cynic like me with general complaints about big government. Charter schools are popular among Americans, and by offering even a little bit of money toward their growth, the feds begin to insinuate themselves into their operation. (Specific office holders may also be interested in purchasing some cover for the billions of dollars that they've been devoting to preventing local school districts' having to reform in ways, during this recession, that might affect unionized labor.)

It's probable that many people involved in such initiatives, right up to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the president himself, honestly wish to improve public education and see charter schools as a mechanism for that purpose. Politicians and bureaucrats are no doubt sincere in their good intentions for a great number of big government programs. What they have to learn, though, is that good intentions are only as valuable as the individuals who hold them, and centralizing American life will ultimately give power to people more intent on exploitation.

Go Get 'Em, Nancy!

Monique Chartier

For some reason, it never occurred to the Speaker that the negative reaction of many millions of people to the construction of a mosque within the crash zone of Ground Zero was spontaneous and not in response to a pre-arranged, pre-paid campaign.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is raising questions about who is funding criticism of the so-called "Ground Zero mosque."

Pelosi told KCBS is San Francisco yesterday that she joins "those who have called for looking into how is this opposition to the mosque being funded." She added: "How is this being ginned up?"

Thanks, Speaker Pelosi, I'll pass on the gin. But you leave no stone unturned or astroturf farm uninvestigated as you track down the funding of this ... er, conspiracy. The longer you're in pursuit of untamed waterfowl, the less time you'll be able to devote to inflicting awful legislation on us.

August 18, 2010

Candidates Have to Know Better

Justin Katz

I do not intend to express a position on the RIGOP primary race for governor with this post, but sometimes the ball comes lofting so nice and slow over the net that it's beyond my self control not to swing at it:

On Tuesday they went at it again during an hourlong debate on WPRO radio. They touched on an array of issues — including the specific taxes they would each like to cut, and got another chance to zing each other.

Moffitt also tried out his newest campaign slogan: "Sink with Linc.... Tank with Frank.... More Don with John.... Stick with Vic!"

Or maybe, "Die quick with Vic." (Put aside the peculiarity of a non-incumbent asking people to stick with him.)

Other candidates for office should take note of two lessons, here:

  1. Be as positive as you can, especially when it comes to a slogan or catch phrase. Moffitt used 10 of his 13 words, above, badmouthing other people... and thereby making readers/hearers think of them.
  2. Don't out clever-'n'-cute yourself. In a state of a million people, somebody else just might reverse all of your efforts with an cleverer twist.

In Action: Queen Weed and Her Highly Selective Hearing

Monique Chartier

Good job, Operation Clean Government.

Operation Clean Government (OCG) has posted a video on YouTube of the June 1st Senate session when Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed and Majority Leader Daniel Connors used "bully tactics" to squash a floor vote on a controversial bill sponsored by Senator Marc Cote, (D), Woonsocket and cosponsored by 18 members of the Senate. ...

Viewers might wonder in disbelief as they observe the Senate President as she does not allow Senator Cote the usual procedure of addressing his bill and therefore his microphone is never turned on. Additionally she ignores the request for a roll call vote.

... OCG has taken no position on this legislation. We strongly take issue with the leadership not allowing a committee vote, or, in this last session, a floor vote on this substantive legislation.

What Brevity Should Mean

Justin Katz

Commenter David P. offers an insightful comment to my post on technology and brain development:

Newspeak, the language invented by George Orwell for "1984," nicely illustrates the connection between language and docility. In creating Newspeak the Party simplified the vocabulary as much as possible by eliminating many synonyms so that, for example, all the variations of good and bad, such as outstanding, horrible, etc. were reduced to "good" and "ungood." Degrees of goodness or badness were indicated by adding the prefixes "plus" or "double plus" so that something really bad would be described and "double plus ungood." Orwell posited that by reducing the ability to express ideas, the ability to actually have ideas and think about them would atrophy. It seems to me that reducing the space in which to express an idea to a text or twitter screen can have the same effect.

The irony — I suppose you could call it — with "reducing the space" for communication is that it really ought to suggest language that is more full, as in poetry, rather than more empty. The word "horrific" contains much more information than the phrase "double plus ungood," let alone a text-like shorthand of "bad." (I'm sure there's an acronym of which I'm unaware.)

The problem is that it's a little bit more work to come up with just the right word to capture the nature of the deed and the speaker's reaction to it than to offer a catch-all catch phrase. The brevity of texting, as of newspeak, is brevity not just of language, but of thought. That is what makes it the road to manipulated slavery.

If all ungood acts have the same label, then what matters is not so much the criticism, but who offers it in what circumstances, which will always favor those in power.

Non-RI Based Speculation on Jack Reed as the Next SecDef

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Associated Press is reporting that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will retire sometime next year. Rhode Island Senior Senator Jack Reed is listed amongst the possible successors...

Washington insiders have long speculated that potential successors include Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; former Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel; Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy; John Hamre, chairman of the Defense Policy Board and president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank; and Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat...

Flournoy and Reed are also considered long shots, with neither regarded as having enough experience in managing such a large bureaucracy. While Reed, a former Army ranger, is considered a favored Democratic talking head on defense matters, he also is the father of a toddler daughter and is said to prefer the relatively quiet life of a local politician.

Under legislation passed by the RI General Assembly this year, Senate vacancies are now filled by special election to be held as quickly as is reasonable after a seat becomes open, and no longer by gubernatorial appointment.

Questions of Law and Questions of Power

Justin Katz

Edwin Meese is not impressed with U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's decision that the Constitution requires recognition of same-sex marriage:

By refusing to acknowledge binding Supreme Court precedent, substantial evidence produced at trial that was contrary to the holding and plain common sense, the ruling exhibits none of the requirements of a traditional decision. This opinion is arbitrary and capricious, and its alarming legal methodology and overtly policy-driven tenor are too extreme to stand.

Regardless of whether one agrees with the result, structurally sound opinions always confront binding legal precedent. Walker's is a clear exception because the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken on whether a state's refusal to authorize same-sex marriage violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment. In 1972, Baker v. Nelson, a case over whether Minnesota violated the Constitution by issuing marriage licenses only to opposite-sex couples, was unanimously thrown out on the merits, for lack of a substantial federal question. The Supreme Court's action establishes a binding precedent in favor of Proposition 8. But Judge Walker's ruling doesn't mention Baker, much less attempt to distinguish it or accept its findings.

A summary of the legal history of Baker illustrates that many of the arguments for the maintenance of traditional marriage were the same back in the early '70s as they are now — notably that marriage is intrinsically tied to procreation, that some opposite-sex couples' decision not to fulfill that link (or inability to do so) in no way eliminates the norm, and differences of race and of sex are not equivalent. The difference, nowadays, is that a significant portion of the ruling class — those in the judiciary leading the way — has decided simply to ignore basic meaning and common sense.

Because Once You Suspend Democracy and Make a Single Public Official Into an All-Powerful Governor-General with the Power to Spend Money Any Way He Sees Fit, What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Will John Hill's reporting in today's Projo help convince people that suspending democratic governance really doesn't address the source of the fiscal problems we have here in Rhode Island...

The court-appointed law firm that oversaw [Central Falls'] finances from May to July has advised the state the bill for its two months of work and other related services will be about $306,400, state official said.

Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for the state-appointed receiver, Mark A. Pfeiffer, said state officials were "dumbfounded" by the figure.

"It’s staggering to us that the cost of the tenure of the judicial receiver would exceed $300,000," Kempe said. "That’s close to 15 percent of the city’s 2009 deficit."

More to come on this subject, in the near future...

Appointees with Post-Facto Billing

Justin Katz

How marvelously emblematic of Rhode Island's operation:

The court-appointed law firm that oversaw the insolvent [Central Falls'] finances from May to July has advised the state the bill for its two months of work and other related services will be about $306,400, state official said. ...

Because Savage performed his services before the state took control on July 16, [Amy] Kempe said the bills will have to be paid.

It's almost as if this is a deliberate move intended to make the state-appointed receiver's compensation look reasonable. In summary, the Rhode Island judiciary appointed a specific person to take over the town's finances, and that person was permitted to give a cost range of $100 to $375 per hour and then hit the subsequent receiver with a surprise bill for a third of a million dollars for about three months of work.

What I find most astonishing is Kempe's statement that the state will just have to pay the bill because, "we have no say." So, with state-appointed receiver Mark Pfeiffer empowered, essentially, to bump every elected official out of Central Falls, a post-facto bill from a previous state appointee is absolutely binding? Talk about an insiders' game. I wonder whether they all joke about these matters when they bump into each other at the café at the club.

Democratic Sweep in North Providence

Carroll Andrew Morse

Democrats won all three seats in the North Providence special election for town council (AP report via WJAR-TV (NBC 10) available here). A quick perusal of the campaign finance reports reveals that...

  • Not only Democrats, but establishment Democrats had a good night. Dino Autiello, winner in District 3, received $1500 in total from 4 Democratic State Reps (Arthur Corvese, Dominick Ruggerio, Gregory Schadone, and John Tassoni). He also received $1000 each from the "RI Laborer's Public Employee PAC" and the "RI Public Employee Education PAC". (Rep. Schadone, it should be noted, was one of the challengers to Gordon Fox for the House speakership, so there are multiple layers of political alliances in play here.)
  • On the other side of the Democratic-establishment-money complex, at-large winner Alice Brady received $918 from Rep. Corvese, but no money from any other state Reps. In between, Kristen Catanzaro, also running in District 3 (there are two councilors per district in NP), received a total of $600 from Reps. Corvese, Ruggerio and Schadone.
  • Interestingly, especially given the tense relationship between North Providence Democratic Mayor Charles Lombardi and the North Providence firefighters, Brady returned a $150 contribution from the NP Firefighters union, though this may be a straightforward matter of principle, as her campaign finance report states "did not realize it was a union PAC check" in the "purpose of expenditure" section of her campaign finance report. Autiello and Catanzaro each accepted $150 donations from the firefighters union. Neither Catanaro or Brady received any other PAC money.
Is this a bellwether warning of business-as-usual in Rhode Island politics? A warning for reformers that nothing can be taken for granted? Or a case of a unique situation in a unique community?

Insights from people on the ground in North Providence are most welcome.

August 17, 2010

Ground Zero, the Mosque, and the Sacred

Carroll Andrew Morse

Robert Nisbet, the noted American sociologist from the last century, identified a set of sociological ideas that couldn’t directly be derived from the other social sciences and therefore defined sociology as a distinct discipline. One such idea was that of "the sacred". As is true of most basic sociological concepts (as identified by Nisbet and others before and after) creating a concise, ironclad definition of the sacred not easy. But dismissing the sacred because it is hard to define will lead to serious misunderstandings about how humans and their societies interact, usually while irritating (or worse) a whole bunch of people in the process.

Charles Krauthammer did a very good job of establishing a sense of the sacred in his recent op-ed the Cordoba Initiative mosque planned for Ground Zero in New York City...

A place is made sacred by a widespread belief that it was visited by the miraculous or the transcendent (Lourdes, the Temple Mount), by the presence there once of great nobility and sacrifice (Gettysburg), or by the blood of martyrs and the indescribable suffering of the innocent (Auschwitz).

When we speak of Ground Zero as hallowed ground, what we mean is that it belongs to those who suffered and died there -- and that such ownership obliges us, the living, to preserve the dignity and memory of the place, never allowing it to be forgotten, trivialized, or misappropriated.

The key point is that it is important to recognize Ground Zero as someplace sacred, and not just something historical, because the rules for interacting with the sacred are not the same for interacting with the secular, and because both natures are presently involved in the contentions over the Cordoba Initiative mosque.

For that which is secular, people and organizations can apply wholly rational ideas, e.g. fairness, efficiency, process-based decisioning etc., to resolve discordant pressures for change. But where the sacred is involved, attitudes are fundamentally different. There is an inclination against subjecting what is held sacred to outside pressures -- especially when those pressures originate with non-sacred sources. This doesn’t mean that the sacred brooks no change at all, but that the mechanisms for change must make sense to the sacred on its own terms.

Many advocates for the Ground Zero Mosque are ignoring this dynamic. As a result, they are presenting arguments for building the mosque in ways that are deeply unsatisfying, even to those who may not view the Mosque as an intentional affront. Whether they realize it or not, arguing that the "right to build" defines the extent of the issue is to argue that Ground Zero has no more meaning than a flood plain, or a building code, or other such secular things that are considered when deciding to build any run-of-the-mill physical structure. Even worse, supposedly content-neutral process-oriented arguments about the right-to-build are being used to reach a conclusion that elevates one manifestation of the sacred (the Cordoba Initiative mosque) a little bit over another (Ground Zero).

Using secular process to prioritize the sacred is rarely a wise course of action, and taking one instance of the sacred and intertwining it with some secular rules to over-run another instance of the sacred is an exceedingly poor start for a mission of peaceful outreach -- especially when the idea of the sacred being devalued is one that is held by the people you are trying to reach. It is certainly not a strategy guaranteed to win more converts than it alienates, and it will awaken the possibility in some minds that fundamentally incompatible ideas about what is sacred may be clashing.

Laying out the problem in this way suggests two possible constructive ways forward. One way is to reduce as much as possible the secular arbitration of the final outcome, to remove secular forces from the position they should not be in of choosing which version of the sacred should trump another. Both mosque proponents and opponents need to say that, regardless of what the law allows, they are going to sit down together and find the common ground. This would cut both ways, e.g. denying the right to build a mosque on some lame preservation grounds would be as bad as insisting that the legal right to build a mosque ends any necessary discussion. I am not suggesting that this would lead to a quick resolution.

The other way forward would be to show people that the practices and principles that favor support of the building a mosque at Ground Zero are themselves manifestations of something sacred. Is that too much of a stretch? It may very well be -- if all that is left of freedom of religion in America is a belief that every religious organization must follow identical procedures when interacting with the surrounding society. If, on the other hand, American-style freedom of religion means something more, something intended to enhance a set of sacred-in-their-own-right practices about liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and meant to allow people living here together to be able to get closer to some common conceptions that we all can accept as sacred, then there might be some room for productive discussion in this vein.

Either way, it seems that if the Cordoba Initiative is sincere, the immediate goal shouldn't be building a mosque at Ground Zero, but instead building an environment, where building their mosque near Ground Zero isn’t controversial, through interacting and respecting what the society around them holds sacred. The wonderful thing about the sacred is that advancing it and building it up doesn’t have to depend on building a physical structure.

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The Brain of Slaves

Justin Katz

As a carpenter, I'm very aware of the risks that materials and labor present. Asbestos, lead, mold, on the one hand; falls, sprains, cuts, on the other. Not surprisingly, as a new media blogger type, I've also been concerned about this sort of thing:

"All this information is done in short, quick bursts," [Tom Kersting, a student assistance coordinator at Indian Hills High School and a psychotherapist in private practice in Ridgewood, N.J.,] said in a telephone interview. "So they have a difficult time, cognitively, nowadays developing critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, because they are so used to quick burst and tweets of information." ...

Kersting said that students' brains are essentially being rewired to adapt to the way they communicate. In the process, they may lose the ability to relay ideas and interact with people in the way others had done before. If teens stop communicating with their friends and others face to face, they will lose the ability to navigate complex social situations and that could be devastating for them when they are faced with college and job interviews, Kersting said.

Nobody is claiming, I don't believe, that there aren't pluses to new ways of doing things, even of thinking — especially given the ways in which human society is reshaping its activities. But that doesn't mean that it isn't prudent to maintain old habits, practices, and abilities.

We still need plenty of in-person interaction (perhaps at recess!), and it's a valuable trait to have the capacity to sit down quietly and read a book for hours on end. That blend of personal independence and ability to read others' non-verbal cues and to convey complicated intellectual and emotional messages blending multiple forms expression, bland as it may seem, may just turn out to be critical to avoiding a state of slavery in the future.

Let Them Play

Marc Comtois

So now it's recess. Well, as a former high-energy boy, I'm not sure what I'd done if I had been forced to while away all the hours of the school day in a structured environment. Back in my day, we had a morning and afternoon recess (plus a lunch break!). The promise of those pending breaks are what got me through the hours spent in class. I knew that after math, I'd be back playing kickball or whatever else. And yeah, I'd have to go back into class, but the physical energy spent somehow helped to focus my young mind on the task at hand. Funny how that works.

But now we're told there just isn't enough time in the day to meet all of the requirements demanded by government and, implicitly, parents. So traditional recess of the free-form variety is being done away in favor of a more structured version. Just what our kids need: more structure in their already too-structured play time.

My wife, a member of our school's PTO who is at the school most days, has told me how she watches the kids at recess and that they have no clue how to play by themselves. For instance, soccer games quickly devolve into anything goes free-for-alls where the ball is usually carried (more like rugby). That's why there are programs in some schools that are actually teaching kids how to play. How sad. But at least these programs are aimed at giving the tools and ability to play on their own. A shorter, more structured "recess" will do just the opposite.

The problem is that we've raised--and continue to raise--a generation that thinks it needs adult supervision to play a game. Self-organizing doesn't happen. Kids are over-scheduled in their free time, whether it be dance or sports or karate or whatever. Too often, instead of fostering an interest, these organized forms of recreation end up being the only kind that kids get. Recess is one of the last places where they can just do what kids are supposed to do: play.

A Clean Slate for Rhode Island

Justin Katz

The new promotional link in the AR Headlines section will bring you to the Web site of the RIGOP's Clean Slate initiative, which seeks to support Republican and independent candidates for public office, specifically the General Assembly, in Rhode Island. The pictures that cycle on the screen include many regular Anchor Rising readers, so we first of all thank them for putting forward the effort.

As RIGOP Chairman Gio Cicione said at a press conference, Monday:

"Too often, voters feel powerless to fix what ails Rhode Island. Too often we are faced with indistinguishable choices at the ballot box. Too often, we vote for a name we recognize because we don't have any better reason at hand.

"This year will be different. This year voters will be presented with a clear choice," he said."So we stand here today, advocating for a peaceful overthrow of the system," he said. "The system is out of balance, the leaders lie to the people with no repercussions, and the state continues a downward spiral."

Given the extremity of Rhode Island's economic problems, it is astonishing that the legislature has taken such baby steps — minimal tweaks to pensions, a numbers game with taxes — in the direction that we all know to be necessary. That isn't going to change unless the actual people who make up that body change first.

A Bubble in the Making

Justin Katz

The talk has been growing — especially around the blogosphere — that higher education is the next major bubble. With access to loans and all sorts of civic and cultural incentives to attend college, the actual value of a degree is inflating. Of course, education is different from housing; as far as I know, no derivatives market has grown up around the asset of knowledge (as interesting a proposition as that might be for smart individuals).

On the other hand, education affects the job market, which is what made the topic of boosting college graduation rates sound like a matter of civic urgency — as opposed, say, to industry insiders' strategizing to expand their market — among attendees of a State Higher Education Executive Officers conference last week in Providence:

Without improvements in secondary and post-secondary education, only 21 out of every 100 Rhode Island teenagers about to enter the ninth grade will graduate from a two-year or four-year college in the next 10 years.

But research indicates that about 62 percent of entry-level positions will require at least a bachelor's degree by the end of the decade.

What percentage of those entry-level positions actually "require" a degree because of the skills involved, rather than as a method of easy candidate screening, I won't hazard to guess. Based on personal experience, though, I'd say it's quite substantial. As more young adults enter the job market with degrees, more employers will require them, without reference to the ostensible value of the knowledge that they've gained.

Note, especially the four bulleted suggestions in the article linked above:

  • Reorganizing class schedules into blocks of time that allow students to plan jobs and family responsibilities.
  • Individualizing remedial work and including it in courses for credit, while limiting separate catch-up classes to the summer before the freshman year.
  • Establishing uniform academic requirements from one school to another, so students may more easily build on one- and two-year programs to transfer to four-year institutions.
  • Making sure that up-and-coming high school students graduate with college-ready skills.

The emphases here are twofold: getting students to where they are supposed to be at the end of high school, and making it easier for them to fit higher education into their lives. Conspicuously absent is emphasis on the regimen for ensuring that students learn something useful and relevant to their future careers, including strategies for helping them to discern what those careers should be.

Honestly, I think that might be a bit much to expect of college, because it's a bit much to expect people straddling age twenty to figure out the next sixty years of their lives. In other words, if secondary schools can do a better job of getting students where they need to be upon high school graduation, then there is no great need for them to attend college unless (1) they can afford it, (2) their interests are broad and intellectual, and/or (3) they are driven strongly toward a particular, identifiable career. Beginning with that perspective, colleges and universities would be better able to hone their offerings.

I'd suggest that educational and economic benefits would accrue to a system that in some way expanded high school on a case-by-case basis to the duration necessary to adequately educate each individual student. When college degrees become too scarce and the differences between job candidates with and without them become too minute, employers will adjust their expectations.

August 16, 2010

Hey, If Former Senate President Irons Had Held Up a Bank, the Jurisdiction of the Criminal Court Would Have Been Contingent upon His Holding Office, Too

Monique Chartier

Kudos to Katherine Gregg at the Providence Journal for uncovering this, which she broke a couple of hours ago.

Former Senate President William V. Irons took $25,385 out of his long-running campaign account to pay legal bills he amassed while fighting ethics charges that resulted in the Rhode Island Supreme Court decision last year that effectively freed state lawmakers from Ethics Commission scrutiny and prosecution.

In his last report to the state Board of Elections, filed July 22, before closing out his account, Irons attributed the $25,385 expenditure to: "Other.''

Using campaign contributions for non-campaign legal fees? That's not kosher, is it? Well, apparently it is, if you can somehow get an official sign-off.

On April 21, elections board chairman John A. Daluz advised Irons, in writing, that state law "permits the expenditure of campaign funds for any expense that results from campaign or office-holder activity.'

"Since the jurisdiction of the Ethics Commission was contingent upon you holding office, reimbursement of legal fees related to ethics complaints are the result of office-holder activities and are therefore allowable,'' he wrote.

This is a definitional stretch that makes a mockery of Rhode Island's campaign finance laws.

No Dilemma. An Accurate Accounting.

Justin Katz

It looks like the effort has begun, in earnest, to invalidate pending graduation requirements, rather than acknowledge that Rhode Island's current way of doing elementary and secondary education isn't working:

Thousands of incoming high school juniors may be unable to graduate in June 2012 because of tougher graduation requirements, and state education officials are beginning to grapple with the consequences of their new high standards.

Starting with the Class of 2012, high school seniors must have scored at least "partially-proficient" on the state tests in English and math in order to graduate. The tests are administered during their junior year.

If the new diploma system had been in full effect the last two years, nearly half of the state's juniors would have been at risk of not graduating because of poor performance on the math portion of the state tests. Forty-five percent of juniors scored in the lowest possible category, "substantially below proficient."

Let's be clear: These aren't "the consequences of new high standards"; they're the consequences of a failure to meet any standards at all. If the great majority of students were just barely missing adequate performance, then the aggressiveness of the standards might merit some adjustment. That's not the case. Half of Rhode Island's juniors aren't even close. And this explanation only brushes the underlying issue:

State education officials acknowledge that making these changes has been daunting, given the nature of the work and the scarcity of resources.

Scarcity of resources? Rhode Island devotes top-quintile amounts of money to education. The only reason resources for reform can possibly be said to be scarce is that they are locked up in personnel costs for a workforce that is unable or unwilling to perform to expectations. Our entire education structure is built in such a way as to put the compensation and employment satisfaction of adults first on its list of priorities.

As long as Rhode Island tiptoes around the union issue — with all of the legal binds for which unions and other insiders have labored over the decades — our students will continue to suffer. Making it easier for them to graduate will only paper over the problem, exacerbating the harm done to the young adults of Rhode Island.

The Way Out of the Recession

Justin Katz

If an article by the Associated Press's Jeannine Aversa is any indication, the road to economic recovery remains a mystery to mainstream journalists:

The Federal Reserve has little power left to lift the economy out of its rut. Congress, with an election looming, has no appetite for more stimulus. Shoppers are reluctant to spend, and businesses are slow to hire.

Let's face it: There is no easy or imminent fix for the flagging recovery. ...

Americans who are worried about their jobs, not to mention volatility in the stock market, don't want to borrow. They saved 6.2 percent of their disposable income this spring. Before the recession, it was more like 1.2 percent. ...

"It's a pervasive level of uncertainty that people and businesses feel about their economic futures," says Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics. "It's frozen them into inactivity."

The state of the economy is, of course, the leading cause of uncertainty, but the efforts of President Obama and his Democrat Congress to — in White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's phrase — not "let the crisis go to waste" has put it over the top. The solution, therefore, is not more "stimulus" of the sort that we've been seeing, but a clear message from Washington that "our methods have failed, now it's up to you in the private sector."

In concert with a deep change of faces in Congress, Republicans and Democrats should pledge no "transformative" legislation until the economy is humming again. No cap and trade. No pro-union hand-outs. And a repeal of ObamaCare. They should also strive to give taxpayers as much of their money back as possible so that we can save to the level at which we'll feel secure and then begin spending and investing.

Mystery only enters the equation when the objective is to maintain and expand a large, invasive government while persuading the public to behave as only folks confident that the economic rules are stable and that the ruling class will not govern by whim.

Injustice Seen Across the Political Board

Justin Katz

By way of an update on the local situation, here's a press release from Tiverton Citizens for Change (TCC) President David Nelson:

Citing the important free speech issues involved in the case, the ACLU of Rhode Island today announced it has agreed to represent Tiverton resident David Nelson, the president of a local tax reform group, who has been sued for defamation by two Town Council members. Nelson, head of Tiverton Citizens for Change, was sued for making public comments alleging that Council members submitted "false" documentation to the State Department of Revenue relating to an unapproved proposal for a tax increase. The ACLU called the complaint against Nelson "a classic SLAPP suit designed to intimidate town residents from speaking out on political matters."

Nelson made the comment after the Town Council filed what it called an informal "checklist for eligibility" with the state to see if the Town could get permission to impose a tax increase beyond the 4.5% cap authorized by state law. The Town Council made this request without the knowledge of the town's Budget Committee, the entity officially authorized to recommend a budget to the Financial Town Meeting, and which had formally proposed a budget below the cap. Arguing that the request was never publicly authorized by the Town Council and was prepared on the state documents necessary to formally apply for a state waiver from the tax cap, Nelson publicly charged town officials with submitting "false documentation to the State to
facilitate a tax increase."

Last month, two Town Council members, Louise Durfee and Joanne Arruda, sued Nelson for punitive damages, calling his comments "false, defamatory and harmful to plaintiffs' reputation." Their lawsuit is also against unknown individuals the council members say participated in preparing and sending the letter. Interestingly, in a letter to state finance officials after the Town Council's actions came to light, the chair of the town budget committee also called the submission a "falsified document," but he has not been sued.

Nelson has filed a counter-claim for damages under the state's SLAPP suit law, and the ACLU has agreed to represent Nelson in getting the lawsuit against him dismissed. SLAPP suits ("Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation") refer to lawsuits brought to chill people from exercising their freedom of speech on matters of public concern.

Concerned about the use of SLAPP suits to try to stifle public debate on a variety of issues, the Rhode Island ACLU has succeeded in getting a number of similar suits dismissed since an anti-SLAPP statute was enacted in 1995. In the first such case handled by the ACLU, the R.I. Supreme Court ordered dismissal of a defamation suit brought against North Kingstown resident Nancy Hsu Fleming for critical statements she made about a private landfill. Shortly thereafter, the ACLU also helped the South Kingstown Neighborhood Congress in a suit filed against it for public comments its members made against a local developer's activities.

RI ACLU volunteer attorney Karen Davidson, who is representing Nelson, said today that the councilors' suit was "a classic SLAPP suit designed to intimidate town residents from speaking out on political matters. The SLAPP suit statute was enacted in order to prevent just this type of litigation, and we are hopeful for a quick dismissal of the suit." Nelson added: "Our bedrock constitutional rights allow us to express disagreement with elected officials and report on matters of public concern. l will not cower from this attempt to intimidate my public participation in local budget and taxation issues."

Honestly, it's difficult to understand what Durfee and Arruda are thinking, and the fact that support of Nelson spans from the ACLU to RISC suggests that they should reconsider. Several of us made comments in multiple venues calling out the documents sent to the state as "false," because they absolutely were. It was actually Town Administrator James Goncalo who submitted them, and when we brought the matter to the Town Council's attention, none but Jay Lambert thought it much worth discussing.

That doesn't mean that Durfee and Arruda were in on Goncalo's action, but as part of the generally fishy attempt to exceed the tax cap without actually voting to do so, the documents certainly fit a pattern. And that pattern, in my view, suggests that six out of seven current Town Councilors do not deserve their positions.

The two who filed the lawsuit should resign immediately and take a graceful exit from public office.

August 15, 2010

Ketchup? Salt? Statin?

Monique Chartier

From Friday's Washington Times via the Daily Caller.

As a public service, British researchers are proposing that fast-food eateries dole out complimentary cholesterol-lowering statin drugs to offset the hazardous glories of their fatty cuisines.

“When people engage in risky behaviors like driving or smoking, they’re encouraged to take measures that minimize their risk, like wearing a seat belt or choosing cigarettes with filters. Taking a statin is a rational way of lowering some of the risks of eating a fatty meal,” said Dr. Darrel Francis, a cardiologist at the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London.

A couple of thoughts.

At what point do we go from promoting public health to shielding people, in such a casual fashion, from the consequences of their bad behavior? Take this pill (which, itself, has side effects) so you can go on thoughtlessly consuming an unhealthy diet.

And the part of me that upon occasion scans the horizon for black helicopters can't help thinking that this would be the camel's nose under the food wrapper: that it's a short step from offering a statin as an optional side to including a dose of it in all Big Macs and Whoppers ... and then on from there to pick-a-medicine (and not just vitamins) being involuntarily added to an array of mass produced foods. Why not? It would be for the health of the public.

... or perhaps I should cancel that order for horizon-scanning binoculars. But put me down as uneasy, at a minimum, about the casual distribution of heavy duty medicines at the take-out counter.

The Inevitable Victory Line Is Ringing Hollow

Justin Katz

I've got to agree with David Pryce-Jones:

... [President Obama] admits we are in a fight and the reason we'll win "is not simply the strength of our arms — it is the strength of our values. The democracy we uphold." This in the week he's just been rejoicing about imminently in Cairo removing the strength of arms from Iraq, with Afghanistan to follow as soon as possible. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Iranians going nuclear — and we are to meet them with approval for a mosque at Ground Zero and babbling about upholding democracy? This speech sent a shiver of fear down my spine.

I fear our nation has been so long without an existential threat that we've ceased to believe in them.

In Favor of a "Demanding" Religion

Justin Katz

Undemanding religions decline. Such is the consequence of an argument that John Lamont — a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame Australia — made in a recent article for the journal, First Things.

Religions with somewhat arduous rules dissuade "free riders" — those seeking the benefits of membership without cost. Additionally, traditions with visible activities that have no apparent justification other than faith help adherents to see fellow believers in the act of believing, thus reinforcing religious behavior.

Human nature, of course, has a strong strain of bargain hunting, and the structure of religious organizations is such that the people with the most authority to define dogma and policies — active laity and the ordained — have the highest amount of effort against which to negotiate. It's easy for this time consuming ritual or that strenuous restriction to seem a justifiable object of compromise.

For examples, seemingly inconsequential as well as profound and painful, one need only reflect on casual conversations among Catholics. Why must the Body species of the Eucharist be made of wheat? Isn't the proscription against meat on Fridays arbitrary? Wouldn't we solve much of our priest shortage (and assorted other difficulties) if we allowed the men who run our parishes to marry? Wouldn't we attract more adherents if we weren't so restrictive when it comes to modern facts of life like divorce and vocal about controversial issues, such as abortion? And what's so wrong with assisted suicide, anyway?

None of these questions are inappropriate, and the traditional answers are not necessarily forever and infallibly correct. The purpose of religion, after all, is to seek after Truth, not card-carrying members, and Truth is always subject to better understanding. But as a Church whittles away at the characteristics by which it is defined, it presents less evidence to the world that it has a unique, and uniquely relevant, perspective on something universal.

Eventually, its spiritual benefits do not promise much more reward than can be claimed with a sigh during sunset, membership in a social club, and an extra dollar at the checkout window when a fast-food chain offers an opportunity for drive-thru charity. More precisely, the cost of membership in an organized religion, however watered down it may at that point be, comes to outweigh whatever good-feeling it can facilitate above and beyond personal outlook.

Before you despair that religion might require arbitrary sacrifices of time and comfort purely for the purpose of creating characteristic costs of membership, a clarification and a reminder are in order. The clarification is that, correctly viewed, the costs are very often benefits, as well. This is true in the sense that learning to savor the Catholic Mass can produce deep joy and regular spiritual nourishment. It's also true in the sense that changing the family diet on Lenten Fridays makes possible a cornucopia of traditions.

The reminder is that arduous rules are only half of the calculation that makes a religion "demanding" enough to survive human nature and social pressure. The other half is the exhortation to visible participation, and that can be fully enjoyable. Church community dinners are not only a chance to stay out of the kitchen every now and then. After-Mass coffee and pastry gatherings are not just a source of free donuts.

Moreover, religiously themed events should not fall on the list of things that one could do if time weren't so tight and money weren't such an issue. If Newport's various music festivals were to slip away because of sparse attendance, the state would lose some feathers from its cap, and many Rhode Islanders would have fewer activities in which they intend to indulge... someday.

By contrast, similar events with Catholic themes enrich not just the local culture, but the Church, as well. The Portsmouth Institute's now annual conference on the campus of the Portsmouth Abbey School, for example, doesn't only increase understanding of Catholic subjects and offer a taste of that area of life in which religion, scholarship, art, and monasticism meet. It also makes a clear and public statement that those subjects are worth understanding and that area of life is worth tasting.

As the topic comes around into the light of voluntary, edifying, enjoyable activities, it becomes apparent that the "demanding" regimen of a religion isn't so much an imposition from authority figures as an effort that believers desire to make. For our faith to persist and to expand, its strength must be proven in the demands that we make of ourselves.

Take Two on the Proposed NY Mosque: Feeling Compelled to Comment, President Obama Succeeds Only in Stating the Broadly Obvious

Monique Chartier

Breaking weeks of silence on the subject, President Obama remarked on Friday,

Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.

That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.

When this was hailed as an endorsement of the mosque, President Obama hastened to clarify yesterday.

I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding.

... my intention was simply to let people know what I thought. Which was that in this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion.

Now there's a perfectly bland, blanket statement; something appropriate to observe of our Constitution to an auditorium of school children or on Independence Day or perhaps the next time you're abroad. Can you say something a little more specific to the situation, please? A mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. No one is saying that proponents don't have the right to place it there; some are saying it isn't right to do so. What is your opinion, sir?

August 14, 2010

No Casino Referendum for Rhode Island. Place Your Bets on One for Mass.

Monique Chartier

You may recall where Rhode Island's had left off: the General Assembly had passed a referendum specific to Lincoln and Newport which the Gov had then vetoed, citing its excess of site specificity and its dearth of fiscal detail.

While I strongly support voter referenda, and have spoken in favor of questions being put to the citizens of Rhode Island on issues of expanding gaming, I cannot support such initiatives when critical financial information is unknown and the normal referenda process is altered without good reason. ...

Leaving the question of splits to future determination is a deeply flawed strategy because the very grant of gaming authority to a private party, before determining the financial arrangement with the state, eviscerates the negotiating power of the state.

This week, Turn to Ten brought us the latest.

House spokesman Larry Berman said Tuesday the House doesn't plan to return this summer for an override.

Meanwhile, next door, Gov Patrick's veto had rendered uncertain at best the prospect of a casino referendum for the consideration of Mass voters. However, the situation has been complicated by Congress' passage of the $26 billion Local Public Employee Appreciation Act (which President Obama signed in the fervent hope that it would dim the memory in certain minds of the attempt by his Education Secretary to raise the achievement level of the country's worst schools). Getting those funds flowing to Massachusetts will require official action by the state, thereby raising the odds that the legislature will reconvene in time to either override Patrick's veto or pass a casino bill more to his liking. This is far from a cert, however; the action may come down to the wire (i.e., the deadline to print ballots) because, until this latest development, the Senate President seemed disinclined to reconvene anytime soon. Now it remains to be seen whether election-year avarice will overcome inertia in the final sprint.

Union Cites "Management Rights", Blocks Unionization Attempt

Marc Comtois

Did you hear about the guy who tried to unionize the unions office and got fired (h/t)?

Jim Callaghan, a veteran writer for the [United Federation of Teachers] union, told The Post he was booted from his $100,000-a-year job just two months after he informed UFT President Michael Mulgrew that he was trying to unionize some of his co-workers.

"I was fired for trying to start a union at the UFT," said a dumbfounded Callaghan, who worked for the union's newsletter and as a speechwriter for union leaders for the past 13 years.

Callaghan said he personally told Mulgrew on June 9 about his intention to try to organize nonunionized workers at UFT headquarters.

"I told him I want to have the same rights that teachers have," said Callaghan, 63, of Staten Island. "He told me he didn't want that, that he wanted to be able to fire whoever he wanted to."

Unions are all about management rights when they're the management, I guess.
Callaghan said that yesterday morning, he was hauled into a meeting with UFT officials, including CFO David Hickey, and told only that he was being fired from his job and had a half-hour to clear out of the office.

"They gave me no reason, no letter, no cause at all," said Callaghan, who insisted that he has received no reprimands or notices about problems with his work. He noted that he wrote six stories in the most recent newsletter for teachers.

Callaghan said the union-busting bullying continued after he was told he was fired, when UFT leaders called in a detail of six uniformed cops to remove him from his office because he wasn't leaving fast enough.

Callaghan said he decided to unionize the 12 UFT writers after a colleague was fired last year without cause.

"We have no protections and no disciplinary process," he said.

The UFT had no comment, but noted that overwhelming majority of their employees are union members. Callaghan plans on complaining to the National Labor Relations Board that the UFT union is anti-union.

August 13, 2010

You Scam, They Scam

Justin Katz

I've been holding on to this link because a couple of questions continue to nag at me:

Authorities said busts carried out this week in Miami, New York City, Detroit, Houston and Baton Rouge, La., were the largest Medicare fraud takedown in history -- part of a massive overhaul in the way federal officials are preventing and prosecuting the crimes.

In all, 94 people -- including several doctors and nurses -- were charged Friday in scams totaling $251 million. Federal authorities, while touting the operation, cautioned the cases represent only a fraction of the estimated $60 billion to $90 billion in Medicare fraud absorbed by taxpayers each year.

First, did it really require "a massive overhaul" in order to define, discover, and prosecute outright fraud? And if new regulation of some sort was needed, couldn't that have been passed quickly and easily through Congress when the problem was first discovered? Which leads to:

Second, couldn't the savings and recovered money (if any) go toward making Medicare self-sustaining, rather than helping to balance out a costly new entitlement program?

A Guarantee on a Higher Degree

Justin Katz

Anchor Rising commenter mangeek sends along this Huffington Post post on student loans:

A strange milestone was marked this week in the history of student loans. The total balance of all outstanding US student loans (given as $730 billion in DIY U, based on OMB estimates) is now estimated by Mark Kantrowitz of at more like $830 billion -- $605.6 billion in federally guaranteed student loans, which have interest rates fixed and in some cases interest subsidized by the government, and a further $167.8 billion in private student loans, with interest rates that hover around 18-20%. Furthermore, Kantrowitz says, $300 billion in federal student loan debts have been incurred in the last four years.

This means the total balance of student loans has just surpassed the total balance of credit card debt for the first time in history. Each makes up roughly a third of the money Americans owe, mortgages excluded.

The writer, Anya Kamenetz, tags education loans as especially bad, because they aren't subject to bankruptcy extinguishment, and "and in the case of federal loans, that means being pursued until you die." Personally, I'm not so sure the measure of a particular form of debt should be how easily one can avoid paying it off.

Be that as it may, mangeek suggests getting rid of government guarantees for loans (and, presumably, government direct loans) "to all but the most promising students." For my part, the topic raises an idea: What if colleges were to begin differentiating themselves by offering some sort of loan forgiveness or guarantee themselves, based on graduates' ability to find and maintain the jobs to which their degrees are supposed to gain them access?

Higher-education consumers would surely find that proposition very attractive, not the least because it would indicate that the institutions aren't likely to let too much fluff and academic baggage interfere with the mission of imparting knowledge and preparing students for life as adults.

The Basic Point on Marriage

Justin Katz

Ross Douthat states well the essential argument for preservation of traditional marriage that I've been making:

So what are gay marriage’s opponents really defending, if not some universal, biologically inevitable institution? It's a particular vision of marriage, rooted in a particular tradition, that establishes a particular sexual ideal.

This ideal holds up the commitment to lifelong fidelity and support by two sexually different human beings — a commitment that involves the mutual surrender, arguably, of their reproductive self-interest — as a uniquely admirable kind of relationship. It holds up the domestic life that can be created only by such unions, in which children grow up in intimate contact with both of their biological parents, as a uniquely admirable approach to child-rearing. And recognizing the difficulty of achieving these goals, it surrounds wedlock with a distinctive set of rituals, sanctions and taboos.

The point of this ideal is not that other relationships have no value, or that only nuclear families can rear children successfully. Rather, it's that lifelong heterosexual monogamy at its best can offer something distinctive and remarkable — a microcosm of civilization, and an organic connection between human generations — that makes it worthy of distinctive recognition and support.

Douthat goes on to note the long deterioration of the ideal among heterosexuals, but he doesn't present the specific relevance of same-sex marriage thereto. He's right to decry serial polygamy (multiple marriage partners throughout life via the mechanism of divorce). However, same-sex marriage doesn't stand in potential contrast to that trend; it locks into law the view of marriage that enables it: being primarily about mutual care and romantic affection between adults, with the binds of procreation secondary. Worse, it lays the foundation for further dissolution of the institution to an anything-goes practice centered on the benefits permitted to spouses.

August 12, 2010

A Slash with a Fake Sword

Justin Katz

I think it's pretty clear, from Ed Fitzpatrick's Tuesday column that the Deepwater deal has put Republican general treasurer candidate Kerry King in an awkward position, but a tangential parenthetical from Fitzpatrick offers unfortunate indication that the tax-change scheme has succeeded in accomplishing one thing while saying another:

King, a retired life-insurance executive, began an Aug. 6 news release by saying, "I am not a fan of the government loaning money to businesses for any reason. We have banks to do that." But, he said, we wouldn't need to guarantee loans if we elected "pro-business candidates" who did things like lower taxes. (He didn't mention that state leaders just slashed the top personal income tax rate from 9.9 percent to 5.99 percent.)

What Fitzpatrick doesn't mention is that the 9.9% rate was a paper-only kind of a thing, in light of the now-evaporated flat tax (on top, recall, of the elimination of the favorable capital gains tax reform). What the General Assembly did, essentially, was to freeze the flat tax at its previous rate (although it was scheduled to drop to 5.5%) and effectively increase taxes on upper-working and middle class Rhode Islanders.

It's very disheartening to see such a maneuver succeed so spectacularly within the mainstream media common knowledge.

Government Giveaways... to Itself

Justin Katz

Matt and I discussed the federal government's billion dollar giveaways to states to make up for their poor management and failure to adjust to the economic times, on last night's Matt Allen Show. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

Putting Rhode Island in Deep Water

Justin Katz

Well, the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has reached the decision that the General Assembly and Governor Carcieri all but required it to make, signing off on the expensive contract for an offshore wind farm between Deepwater Wind and National Grid:

"It will be four cents a day more," Carcieri said. "Who wouldn't be willing to spend that to invest in our economy, keep our money here instead of sending it to Saudi Arabia [for oil] and start a major new industry?"

It may be only $15 dollars per year to whatever demographic Carcieri is describing, here, but it will be much more to companies and manufacturers that require large amounts of energy. Indeed, the best the PUC could say about official complaints from two Rhode Island companies, Toray Plastics and Polytop Corp., was that "at least they didn't threaten to leave." But they did note that the increased costs would make it more difficult for them to expand in the state. That statement raises another item in today's Providence Journal:

The United States is selling fewer products around the world and spending more on cheap imported goods, an imbalance that hurts the job market at home and means the economy is even weaker than previously thought.

The trade deficit of nearly $50 billion for June is the biggest in almost two years, and economists fear that economic growth for the second quarter, which came in at a sluggish rate of 2.4 percent in early estimates, may turn out to be only half that.

"The problem is that to the extent we have a recovery in the United States, it is pulling in a lot of imported goods. That means it is not translating into production and jobs at home," said Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight.

Redirecting our energy dollars from the Middle East to the United States is certainly an important objective, but when the cost difference is so dramatic — with guaranteed increases year after year — it affects the activities of those who are required to pay the inflated rates. Government should not be as deeply involved in the economy as the Deepwater deal has exemplified, and I fear that Rhode Island is going to be on the bleeding edge when it comes to finding out why.

August 11, 2010

The Deprivation Path Towards a Politically Correct (and Possibly Non-Existent) Fuel

Monique Chartier

A couple of weeks ago, President Obama week showed off an expensive electric car with a short driving range and a nice taxpayer subsidy. On a tangential but important issue, Slate's Charles Lane is correctly not happy about the latter aspect of this vehicle.

... this little runabout is a rich man's ride.

And that's my problem with the Obama administration's energy policy, or at least with his lavish subsidies for the Volt, Nissan's all-electric Leaf (likely sticker price $33,000), and Tesla's $100,000 all-electric Roadster: Where does the federal government get off spending the average person's tax dollars to help better-off-than-average Americans buy expensive new cars?

As the president pushes what he hopes are the wheels of the future, his EPA is pressing ahead with the president's dream to make electricity rates for that vehicle (and all electric powered necessities) "skyrocket" by imposing draconian new regulations - to possibly include Superfund financial assurance requirements on utilities?? - on the mining of the most cheap, plentiful (DOMESTIC) fuel available to generate electricity, coal.

Meanwhile, as Mario Loyola points out, highlighted by Justin, the Obama administration is not letting a crisis go to waste; it is creating "a hostile regulatory environment for oil extraction", obviously to try to slow or halt domestic oil drilling.

Via these measures and others, including a rose-by-any-other-name version of cap and trade still quietly lurking on Capitol Hill, the president is attempting to use government power to test the theory, popular among greenies, that if we take fossil fuels out of the picture (in part, by artificially raising the price and making them too expensive to use) to a sufficient degree, another fuel supply, as abundant and economical as fossil fuels but non-polluting, will be invented.

But in point of fact, only one new significant energy source - nukuler - has been discovered since man began using fossil fuels in earnest. (And this source has been deemed unacceptable by those who demand that we abandon fossil fuels). Speaking for myself, if the price of fossil fuels is jacked, I'm in no position to discover that break-through alternate power source. As for polluting less via additional conservation measures, having installed a timer thermostat, twirly lightbulbs and downsized from eight to four cylinders, I had already made my life energy efficient to the max years ago - probably true for most of us. Accordingly, I would be able to do nothing more to dodge artificially high energy prices but would be pointlessly dispensing money that could go to retirement or, heaven forbid, household necessities.

So leave it to the scientists, is the logical suggestion. But deprivation advocates have left one very important factor out of their theory: the possibility - indeed, likelihood - that the Magical, Mystery Fuel may not be found. Keep in mind its required characteristics: potent yet with energy that is easily released, plentiful, widely available, comparatively inexpensive to extract, not polluting and "acceptable"; i.e., no nuke-type sources need apply. This is quite a tall order, even for our best-funded, most talented scientists.

Depriving people of a needed commodity does not insure that they will buckle down and invent a substitute. This approach becomes even more problematic when it is not at all clear that a substitute, politically correct or otherwise, is out there waiting to be discovered.

Set the Entire RI Economy Afloat

Justin Katz

May I make a somewhat obvious point — coming from a conservative — about the recent conversation concerning tax-free boating in Rhode Island?

The tax policy has also helped the state rebuild the ranks of highly skilled boat workers, and has triggered the creation and expansion of boat yards, designers, builders and subcontractors — who specialize in such fields as electronics, sails and marine insurance, he said.

The benefits are not solely Aquidneck Island's, either; owners fly in and out of T.F. Green Airport, rent cars, dine in restaurants and attend shows in the Providence area, he said.

According to Neil Downing's article, Rhode Island is forgoing about $8.4 million dollars, out of its $7 billion budget. Can you imagine what our economy would look like if the state and local governments would forgo more? A government should be a secondary consideration (if that), in society, not the primary determinant of its economy and life. By making itself more central, governments suffocate the very people they ostensibly seek to assist.

Obama's Recession

Justin Katz

It seems to me that explanations for the continuing recession are such that it's no longer appropriate to blame the causes of the initial downturn, much less the U.S. administration in power at the time:

Companies learned during the recession to do more with less, and with uncertainties about consumer spending, the broader economy and government policies, many businesses are holding the line on employment, even as they pour hefty sums into new machinery, equipment and software. ...

Bill Cheney, chief economist at John Hancock Financial in Boston, says that he is still hopeful that hiring will pick up as sales increase and existing workers are pushed to the hilt. But if they don't, he says, companies’ reluctance to hire could end up hurting them and undermining the recovery.

"Profits are great, but all that could change if the job engine continues to sputter," he said. "Business capital spending helps, but consumer spending matters more." And without jobs, he said, people will pull back.

Apart from the politics, it's reasonable to suggest that individuals and organizations have come to the conclusion that they'd gotten in the habit of overextending themselves and are correcting that behavior, and it's a precarious prescription to suggest that they oughtn't be more fiscally responsible. But a case could be made that in propping up the economy with money borrowed from the future — that is, creating demand without the corresponding increase in wealth among consumers — the current government has given companies the wherewithal to step back and invest in productivity improvements that don't create jobs, but rather ensure that they will return less rapidly.

Anime Take on the First Lady's Recent Vacation

Monique Chartier

Via Breitbart.

Taiwanese TV seems to really enjoy making these anime shorts based on political and cultural issues in the USA. Here is their latest offering.

Spills, Agendas, and Money

Justin Katz

After an excellent description of the process and risks of deep sea oil drilling, Mario Loyola turns political (see PDF here if you don't subscribe to National Review):

What is more startling is that, judging by appearances at least, Obama may be trying to advance his agenda by intentionally causing a fuel shortage. The moratorium on offshore drilling; the browbeating of BP into disgorging assets regardless of actual liability; the EPA's unjustifiable quashing of licenses for most of the refineries in Texas, supposedly over air-pollution concerns; the Interior Department's failure to process license renewals for a slew of shallow-water wells, which are much less tricky than those in deep water — all these actions bespeak a desire to create a hostile regulatory environment for oil extraction.

Many of Obama's supporters — those at the Brookings Institution, for example — seem to think that a severe oil shortage is precisely what we need to save the environment and kick-start the transition to green energy. Governor Jindal tells me that when he complained to Obama about the impact of the offshore-drilling moratorium on Louisiana's jobs and businesses, the president suggested, apparently in all seriousness, that the losses caused by his moratorium could be compensated from the $20 billion BP spill-liability fund that he had just seized control of.

The attack on American businesses and the United States economy is startling enough, but the procedural maneuver of extracting a massive pool of money from a company to be used toward the end of refashioning the energy industry in heavy handed ways is astonishing. My complaint isn't in defense of BP or the oil industry in total, but against this sort of government tactic.

The peculiar thing is that those who rail against Big Oil have no problem imagining conspiracies to squelch alternative energy technologies and U.S. presidents who go to war to increase the bottom lines of their oil executive pals. Yet, they are not discomfited by powerful politicians, with their own links to other industries, manipulating environmental disasters and threatening the well-being of the economy during a time of historic recession, provided the causes nominally being served are politically popular.

August 10, 2010

Inanities But Not Sovereignty: The Wildly Upside Down Priorities of the Administration (and their Accomplices in Congress)

Monique Chartier

True to their misguided word in their lawsuit against Arizona that they lacked the resources to enforce our borders, the Obama administration has ordered ICE to cut way back on (Joe B, correct me if this is wrong) non-felony violations of our border.

The new guidelines are outlined in a June 29 memo from Assistant Secretary John Morton, who heads the agency, to all ICE employees regarding the apprehension, detention and removal of illegal immigrants, noting that the agency "only has resources to remove approximately 400,000 aliens per year, less than 4 percent of the estimated illegal-alien population in the United States."

Mr. Morton said ICE needed to focus wisely on the limited resources Congress had provided the agency and would "prioritize the apprehension and removal of aliens who only pose a threat to national security and/or public safety, such as criminals and terrorists."

Don't we now have a border that is partially open? If you can get here, we won't deport you.

Though Senator Lindsey Graham has a record on illegal immigration that is checkered at best, certainly we can have the conversation that he proposes about birthright citizenship. I would agree with those who assert, for example, that the word "jurisdiction" in the Fourteenth Amendment may have been misinterpreted all these years.

More urgently even than that, however, can we ask both President Obama and Congressional pro-illegal immigration, anti-sovereignty advocates to explain why they have chosen to spend billions of dollars on the most inane pork and stimulus projects but are now sharply curtailing resources for one of their primary functions: preservation of this country's sovereignty and borders? Can we also ask them to please correct their terribly misguided priorities forthwith?

The Government's Business Model

Justin Katz

It's quite model the U.S. government has created for itself, as an entity, and the Democrats have made its principles undeniably clear with their ownership of power:

Spending more on border security commands bipartisan support, but the jobs bill, which narrowly passed the Senate, is being described in starkly different political terms. Democrats say it could save the jobs of more than 300,000 teachers, police officers and other public health workers. Republicans see it as more profligate government spending and a pre-election gift to teachers' unions and other public service unions that are crucial to helping keep Democrats in the majority.

The legislation provides $10 billion to school districts to rehire laid-off teachers or ensure that more teachers won't be let go before the new school year begins. The money could keep more than 160,000 teachers, including 16,000 in California and 14,000 in Texas, on the job, advocates say.

The other half of the bill has $16 billion for six more months of increased Medicaid payments to the states. That would free up money for states to meet other budget priorities, including keeping more than 150,000 police officers and other public workers on the payroll. Some three-fifths of states have already factored in the federal money in drawing up their budgets for the current fiscal year.

With all tiers of government unable to operate in ways that maintain their workforces — and reluctant to trim unnecessary labor — the feds are simply borrowing money against the livelihoods of future taxpayers to fill the gap. They're taking money from the private sector to insulate their own employees against the combination of mismanagement and hard economic times. Conveniently, since government employees can vote for their employers, the larger government gets, the greater its directly bought and paid voting bloc becomes.

This is what way-too-big government looks like, and the trend must be reversed.

Christopher Little on the Virginia Healthcare Lawsuit

Carroll Andrew Morse

As his campaign promised, Moderate Party candidate for Rhode Island Attorney General, Christopher Little, has responded to Anchor Rising's inquiry about last week's Federal District Court ruling allowing a legal challenge to the new Federal healthcare law to proceed. In April, Mr. Little had told the Projo's Edward Fitzpatrick that "it seems, in terms of how the Supreme Court has ruled on the exercise of the Commerce Clause, that whether we like it or not, Congress has the power to pass this bill”. In response to the District Court ruling, Mr. Little said...

My position as to filing suit against the Obama Administration pertaining to the health care legislation is unchanged.

I have stated that I understood the concerns of individuals about the bill, but I did not see how the bill at this time directly implicated the interests of the State of Rhode Island, which, if it did, would require action by the Attorney General.

First, in the Virginia case, the court ruled that the new federal law conflicted with the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act. “The mere existence of the lawfully-enacted statute is sufficient to trigger the duty of the Attorney General of Virginia to defend the (state) law,” the court said.

Second, the court on the merits made it clear it has ruled on a very preliminary issue.

As time passes, and hypotheticals become real, things may change and a defined attack may be both advisable and necessary. But as I consider the issue now, I do not see that the issue sufficiently implicates the interests of this state to warrant involvement.

Too SmartGrid for Our Own Good

Justin Katz

This so-called "smartgrid" technology is a disaster waiting to happen:

The hurried deployment of smart-grid technology could leave critical infrastructure and private homes vulnerable to hackers. Security experts at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas last week warned that smart-grid hardware and software lacks the necessary safeguards to protect against meddling.

Utilities are being encouraged to install this smart-grid technology--network-connected devices to help intelligently monitor and manage power usage--through funding from the U.S. government's 2009 stimulus package. The smart systems could save energy and automatically adjust usage within homes and businesses. Customers might, for example, agree to let a utility remotely turn off their air conditioners at times of peak use in exchange for a discount.

But to receive the stimulus money, utilities will have to install new devices across their entire customer base quickly. Security experts say that this could lead to problems down the road--as-yet-unknown vulnerabilities in hardware and software could open up new ways for attackers to manipulate equipment and take control of the energy supply.

Security against hackers is only the first problem of networking home power systems in such detail as to allow the remote control of individual appliances — via wireless networks, no less. Once the system is in place, it won't be long until governments begin claiming authority over what runs when in your home and perhaps developing profiles of particular behavior.

That latter possibility is too vague, as yet, for anything more concrete than conjecture, but one can imagine the suspicion aroused by a late-night load of laundry or bureaucratic clucking about an overused coffee machine.

The ObamaCare Scam

Justin Katz

The healthcare legislation should never have become law, and as time goes on, we continue to discover what a shoddy bit of law-making it was:

Talk about a paperwork nightmare: Tucked into the massive new health care law is a demand that nearly 40 million U.S. businesses file tax forms for every vendor that sells them more than $600 in goods. ...

The goal of the provision was to prevent vendors from underreporting their income to the Internal Revenue Service. The government must think those vendors are omitting a lot because the filing requirement is estimated to bring in $19 billion over the next decade. ...

Republicans want to repeal the filing requirement and pay for it by changing other parts of the new health care law, a strategy that Democratic leaders won't support. Democrats want to repeal the filing requirement and pay for it by raising taxes on international corporations and limiting taxpayers' ability to use special trusts to avoid gifts taxes. Republicans won't support that.

Because of the method of the legislation's enactment, nobody caught this problem before it passed, and those who were aware of it were either too ignorant to foresee (or object to) the consequences or thought it would offer a nifty trick for repealing the problem and increasing taxes after the legislation had squeaked through to passage. Frankly, the whole bill is a scam and an atrocity and should be repealed in full.

Barring that, the Republicans are exactly right: repairs to the law should be made within the law.

August 9, 2010

A Flat Pyramid Scheme

Justin Katz

In the course of checking a claim by Congressman Jim Langevin, C. Eugene Emery, Jr., offers this explanation of the calculation behind the "multiplier effect" allowing Democrats to claim, as Langevin did, "for every $1 we spend on unemploymen t benefits, $1.90 is put into our economy":

When you give $1 to people who have lost their jobs and they have run out of savings, those dollars get spent. So Mary gives it to Mike down the street to buy some of his fruits and vegetables. Mike, who relies on customers like Mary, might put 25 cents in the bank but use the rest to buy seed and fertilizer from Tom's store in town. Tom might save a dime of the 75 cents he got from Mike but use the remaining 60 cents for a new pair of glasses.

When economists calculate the gross domestic product, they add up all those transactions (excluding the amount set aside in savings and money that ends up overseas if you buy foreign goods). In this limited example, Mary's $1 has added $2.35 ($1 plus 75 cents plus 60 cents) to the gross domestic product. Yes, it's still just $1, but by passing it along it has helped three people.

For purposes of economic theory, this is an interesting consequence of the definition of the GDP, but in contriving a policy to increase economic activity and employment, it's not so useful. The GDP calculation does not differentiate between a dollar that Mike spends because Mary transferred her government cash to him and a dollar that Mike pulls out of his savings because he thinks investing in his business is a better strategy. To get the economy rolling of its own volition, policies must encourage the latter.

Since a government in deficit has no savings of its own, it must take Mary's dollar from somebody else, whether decreasing some other expenditure, increasing taxes, or borrowing from the future. That means that Mike might reasonably expect the personal profits from his business to decrease, encouraging him to find other things to do with his money than invest in his economic output (savings, foreign transactions, etc.).

Whether we continue to extend unemployment benefits is more a moral question than an economic one. But on the economic side, priority number 1 ought to be encouraging business owners and entrepreneurs to take on the risk that ultimately provides folks like Mary with employment.

Strange Arguments Against an Armed Citizenry

Justin Katz

Wheaton College philosophy of law professor Stephen Mathis argues against the belief that the Second Amendment seeks to ensure, in part, that the citizens of the United States cannot be bullied by their government — creating a "right to revolution," as he puts it. His points, however, are self contradictory and conceptually flawed.

First the contradiction. Seeking to show the context of the Second Amendment, Mathis writes:

One key point many people overlook, however, is that most of the Founders were against the idea of a standing military in peacetime, because a standing military gave the president too much power, thus making citizens less free. Consequently, a citizen's militia played the central role in national defense.

His next subsequent point begins from wholly different assumptions, though:

It is hard to imagine the stockpile of firearms an individual — or group of individuals — would need to mount an effective defense against the U.S. military, and the idea of an effective offense strains the imagination further.

That's certainly a problem for the modern-day revolutionary, but it hardly conflicts with the Founders' vision, as Mathis himself describes it. If the federal government has no standing army at all, then even the minimal stockpile of a gun over the mantle could be an effective defense against it. That the United States ultimately developed such a highly functional military hardly argues for the disarmament of its people.

This can be seen to be true upon addressing Mathis's major conceptual error:

... the right of revolution cannot be guaranteed in the Constitution, because we can engage in revolution only when we are willing to throw away the Constitution and start from scratch. ...

After all, if one is really committed to this understanding of the Second Amendment, one is also committed, by logical extension, to overthrowing the U.S. government altogether.

That's nonsense. It's very easy to imagine (especially in the current political reality) circumstances in which the "revolution" would be acting as a guarantor of the Constitution against leaders who have, themselves, effectively thrown it away. A single op-ed is too narrow a base from which to assert it as the case, but it seems likely that Mathis misses this point because he fundamentally sees the government as the natural inheritor and keeper of our Constitutional legacy. It's not; the people of the United States are.

That being the case, the possibility can hardly be discounted that the mighty American military would turn in support of a patriotic revolution that arises as a correction to tyrannical excess. And having at least some minimal weaponry above and beyond household items like knives and pitchforks surely gives the people an added sense of independence and confidence and makes it much less likely that a righteous cause could be swept away before the government's enforcers have reason to question the justice of their commander in chief's orders.

(Please note that I offer these arguments as theory, not as an expression of hope that such a revolution, much less an incitement toward it.)

An August Appeal, with Emphasis

Community Crier

Some revenue that we reasonably expected did not materialize, this month, which puts Anchor Rising in a precarious position, with our anual Web hosting bill due at the end of the month. Even with the usual summer lull, readership has been strong, though, so a little generosity, on your part, could surely relieve the financial pressure.

As this year's critical election season shifts into higher gear, we'll be poised to continue offering news and commentary from a conservative (and right) perspective.

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

Generation Why Bother

Justin Katz

I guess it's among the hardships of wealth. Jeff Opdyke laments that his son doesn't have the drive that he did, as a teenager, to earn money, mostly because he and his wife have admittedly been a bit too generous:

We get a lot of satisfaction in doing that. But it comes with a pretty big downside—one we're only now beginning to grasp. Because of it, our son, who understands money far better than his young sister at this point, doesn't understand what it means to pay his own freight. He has learned to count on Mom and Dad.

I remember, at a very young age, walking around my apartment complex trying to sell toys that I no longer wanted. At one point, I set up a stand on a semi-main road selling pictures that I'd drawn. (I think I charged a quarter each, tacking on another dime if the picture was signed.) My career advanced to soccer referee and then record-store retail.

Perhaps the objects of desire make a difference. At thirteen and younger, I mainly wanted action figures and comic books, which had a low enough price tag that the work translated quickly into things. It seems that higher ticket items are more prominent these days — videogames and iphones and such — which probably contributes to the nonchalance of Opdyke's son at the prospect of making a few bucks mowing lawns.

Although, there's surely something cultural in play, whether broadly (covering most families) or narrowly (depending on the attitudes of nearby friends). My friends and I would patrol miles of neighborhoods selling the service of snow shoveling.

Of course, there's the opposing concern of parents:

[A former colleague's] daughter, on the other hand, "always had jobs when she was old enough, and offers the opposite lesson," my friend says. "She worked too hard and didn't enjoy herself enough when she had the opportunity. Now she has a full-time job, has her two weeks off, and I think she missed out."

Missed out on what? A teenager's job becomes part of the experience of youth. And without enough money to keep up with peers, kids can miss out anyway. I started down my path of debt when my first credit card arrived just in time to allow me to go on a beech vacation with my late-teenage pals. If I hadn't already had experience with what it means to work, I'd probably be in an even deeper hole, now, and with less natural drive to work my way out of it.

It's a complaint of every generation of parents, no doubt, but it feels as if the times aren't helping — what with all of the comforts and distractions, on one hand, and the well-honed traps that make spending money easy. As Opdyke suggests, "physical, maybe even uncomfortable, low-paying work" can be a healthy experience, of itself, if it serves to motivate young adults, but with the wireless glow of gadgets all around and the comforts of even working class homes, the lesson of "why bother" can take some effort to impart.

August 8, 2010

Swap Out Hillary C. for Joe B. in 2012??

Monique Chartier

That's the idea that "Tingles" Matthews has been exploring. From NewsBusters' Noel Sheppard.

The panel of the syndicated "Chris Matthews Show" this weekend campaigned for Hillary Clinton to replace Joe Biden as Vice President in order to assist Barack Obama's re-election in 2012 and set her up for a successful presidential bid in 2016.

As NewsBusters reported Wednesday, Chris Matthews on that evening's "Hardball" had former Virginia governor Doug Wilder and New York magazine's John Heilemann on to discuss the merits of this strategy.

The "Hardball" host must have found this quite compelling, for he decided to do an entire segment on his weekend program with guests Erin Burnett of CNBC, Kelly O'Donnell of NBC, Howard Fineman of Newsweek, and Heilemann.

Substitute Hillary's baggage and personality for Biden's gaffes? "Obama/Clinton 2012"? Wouldn't that be a dream ticket ... for the Republicans?

Just Be Better

Justin Katz

Lexington Green wonders where the ruling class gets the nerve:

Why does an elite that is actually not admirable in what it does, and not effective or productive, that has added little or nothing of value to the civilizational stock, that cannot possibly do the things it claims it can do, that services rent-seekers and the well-connected, that believes in an incoherent mishmash of politically correct platitudes, that is parasitic, have such an elevated view of itself?

He proffers as three planes of potential justifiable confidence the material, the intellectual, and the moral and then takes a decidedly negative approach toward a remedy:

It seems to me this group is vulnerable to strategic, permanent defeat if the conversation and the spot-light can be relentlessly focused on their deficiencies and the ludicrous nature of much of their behavior and their beliefs.

I'm as guilty as anybody of shining that negative light; in the quick-hit commentary that is the only thing for which economic reality has left me time, it's the most efficient means of affecting the conversation. And there is a place for pointing out error and mocking the arrogant and powerful.

Looking away from the world of opinion writing and wonkishness, the more effective approach is probably to highlight the positive. Mockery only shames those with a reason to believe that people about whose opinions they care will find uncomfortable truth in it, and the defining characteristic of our ruling class is its insulation from the trials of everyday American life. The long-term realignment of priorities, principles, and power would be better served simply by those outside of the ruling class proving themselves just to be plain ol' better people.

Like a soothing breeze over stagnant water, exemplary conduct will draw away the haughty until the pool has evaporated, but for the dregs.

Word on the Page

Justin Katz

It won't be to everyone's interests, but R.R. Reno's commentary on biblical exegesis is worth a read (see here if you don't subscribe to First Things). The difficulty, as Reno describes it, is the overlapping perspectives regarding the Bible as an historical document, as a work of literature, and as an explanation of divine Truth. For Jews and Christians those perspectives must also accord with doctrine as ostensibly derived from the Book.

The influence of metaphysics is as it should be. To try to read any text without drawing on an implied metaphysical horizon is like trying to walk without legs or see without eyes. With texts we hold dear, however, we become more anxious about the role of the implied metaphysical horizon. We don't just want to read Shakespeare in light of our assumptions about culture, history, and the human condition. There are profound truths in his plays, and we want these truths to influence our metaphysical horizon rather than simply be interpreted by it. We want to think about Macbeth or King Lear in a Shakespearean way.

This disposition of interpretive submission and obedience becomes acute when a reader approaches the Bible as the word of God. The Bible provides the master code for reality, and therefore we want the metaphysical horizon we use to frame our more ambitious and large-scale interpretations of the Bible to be itself biblical in substance.

Even people who aren't very familiar with the Bible are comfortable raising internal contradictions as proof against its metaphysical coherence and contradictions between scripture and doctrine as evidence against believers' claims, but that's always seemed to me to be a prolongation of a debate that could be resolved in the first exchange. The unbelievers point out, rightly, that the Bible is not a clear and glowing handbook for proper living, and believers who maintain assertions of literal truth confirm, for them, the implausibility of religion's deeper claims.

But Reno's phrase "master code for reality" gets to the salient point, to my mind:

... we need hard questions—intellectually challenging and spiritually serious questions—and these theological exegesis provides. When we allow Church teaching and biblical proclamation to share in a common claim to truth, the obvious differences, the puzzling divergences, and the unexpected harmonies will naturally compel our minds and draw us into elaborate arguments that interweave theological and biblical analysis.

A code book for reality — if it is to remain applicable across ages and cultures — would arguably have to resemble literature in its obscurity, because the rules that human society must hear in different eras are different. Moreover, the Bible is not a rulebook for playing the game of life, to be memorized and put aside, but an actual, evolving player in it. The puzzles contained therein spur investigation and consideration, and only if we begin with faith in its deeper lessons will we pursue the possibility that its contradictions are not contradictions at all, but more like tightly packed metaphysical algorithms to be divined throughout the human story.

The Trouble with Obama (and Don't Forget His Legislative Enabler)

Monique Chartier

Joe Bernstein articulates it under Justin's post.

My objection to him is simple-he's a left wing ideologue who's made bad appointments and seems to not be competent and experienced enough for the job.

I would not argue, only amplify: President Obama is leading the charge on some really bad policies. Government take-over of our healthcare system; a willful disregard for our sovereignty via amnesty for undocumenteds and a refusal to control our borders; a pointless war on fossil fuels (and, therefore, a war on basic items like heat, AC, lights and most vehicles, not to mention, in the process, our wallets); spending beyond the wildest dreams of an inebriated sailor [edit: who, as Warrington correctly points out, at least spends his or her own money]; higher taxes.

Heavily complicit in all of this is Congress with, we should make careful note, Rhode Island's delegation whole-heartedly backing all of these bad rotten government initiatives. In fact, none would ever see the light of day were it not for Congress, which solely possesses the power to reject or implement them.

The trend of the president's approval rating indicates that Joe and I are not the only ones who object to the actualization of Barack Obama's presidency. It is mete also that his accomplice faces a reckoning at the polls on November 2. Indeed, though he goes on to make the case that the failure stemmed from an unwillingness to tack sufficiently leftwards, Robert Reich interestingly points out that it is the president's legislative agenda which now threatens the continued viability of both his own reelection and a Democrat-controlled Congress.

The President may have a fight on his hands even to hold on to what he’s already achieved because his legislative successes have been large enough to fuel strong opposition but not big enough to strengthen his support. The result could be disastrous for him and congressional Democrats. ...

A stimulus too small to significantly reduce unemployment, a TARP that didn’t trickle down to Main Street, financial reform that doesn’t fundamentally restructure Wall Street, and health-care reforms that don’t promise to bring down health-care costs have all created an enthusiasm gap. They’ve fired up the right, demoralized the left, and generated unease among the general population.

August 7, 2010

Under Sgouros's Tapestry

Justin Katz

I recently managed to work my to-read pile of books down to Rhode Island 101, and I'll have more to say about it when I manage to work my to-write pile down that far. For the moment, though, it's relevant to note that the two commentary boxes offered in the "Economy" chapter are provided by two of the state's most active and extreme left-wingers, Josh Miller and Tom Sgouros. For his part, Sgouros takes the opportunity to push a "Top Five Myths About the Rhode Island Political Economy," the first of which is as follows:

1. Rhode Island's fiscal troubles stem from overindulgence towards unions and poor people. While personnel costs can't be ignored, the real culprit for our fiscal troubles is the 40-year building spree that suburbanized our state. Growing towns could finance services from the growth, which is fine, but only until the growth stops, which it has. Moreover, shrinking older cities saw their property tax bases decline, and when people fled Providence, Woonsocket, Westerly and even Newport, many of the suburbs they found were in another state.

The general response that I would make is that, while population is an inevitable occurance, it isn't exculpatory. It's a factor that public policy must manage, and indeed, the failure of the state's leadership to force adjustment among public sector workers and to address the role that welfare policies have played in affecting who migrates where are the key contributors to fiscal difficulties from a public-policy perspective.

But I bring up this first point of five that are eminently arguable because it relates to a response to Sgouros's recent op-ed that C. Kevin McCarthy submitted as a letter to the editor:

[Sgouros] trots out the tired old chestnut that the Blackstone Valley was a wealthy place in the 1950s based on its "taxable property per student in its schools."

That is true only if pertinent details are willfully omitted. Taxable property per student ignores the many being educated by Bishop McVinney in the parochial-school system, at no cost to the taxpayer. Central Falls probably did have a high expenditure per "public"-school student in the 1950s.

When I was a student there in the 1960s, Notre Dame, Sacred Heart Academy, Holy Trinity and St. Matthew educated more children than the public schools. This pattern repeated itself all over the Blackstone Valley. There were some pockets of wealth in the North End of Woonsocket, in Oak Hill and Pinecrest in Pawtucket, and in rural areas of Lincoln and Cumberland, but the vast majority of Valleyites were middle class at best. Tom's misleading use of statistics won’t fool anyone who lived there.

The irony of Sgouros's general argument is that he blames government mismanagement for urban problems but concludes that the solution is more government management. The reason is that he wants to blame the government for the free movement of Americans out of cities so that he can push policies that will force them back — the better to manage and manipulate them.

In other words, he disagrees with the view that the government's job is to manage the society in which people actually want to live — adjusting its social and personnel policies accordingly — so that his friends in the unions and welfare industry can maintain the ground that they've claimed.

In Case the Concept is Not Sufficiently Repulsing on its Face

Monique Chartier

Today, it's brains, tomorrow pierced tongues. Then the next day, pierced brains.

- Jane Lane

The following is highlighted as a probably mostly unneeded (for A.R. readers) public service message regarding the health hazards of a pierced tongue.

People with tongue piercings risk developing gaps between their front teeth as a result of playing with the stud, US researchers have found.

The University of Buffalo team says that, as well as potentially requiring cosmetic work, people can develop infections and chipped teeth. ...

The researchers said that people with tongue piercings were likely to push the metal stud up against their teeth and consequently cause gaps and other problems to arise.

Subtle Admission of Truth

Justin Katz

The matter still comes up from time to time, in the comments sections, so it's worth noting that the New York Times has finally (quietly) admitted the truth about the core example of that supposed Tea Party racism:

The Political Times column last Sunday, about a generational divide over racial attitudes, erroneously linked one example of a racially charged statement to the Tea Party movement. While Tea Party supporters have been connected to a number of such statements, there is no evidence that epithets reportedly directed in March at Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia, outside the Capitol, came from Tea Party members.

That's not the entire story. There's actually no evidence that those "reported epithets" were made at all. The Times is sly about leaving room for the faithful to continue to believe, but that's in keeping with the strategy of slandering a mass movement that the media elite despises and looking for evidence later.

August 6, 2010

What's in the Water for Whom

Justin Katz

There's a narrative in the air, and I herein offer only a few glances from my evening reading. Turn to Peggy Noonan for the general theme:

But do our political leaders have any sense of what people are feeling deep down? They don't act as if they do. I think their detachment from how normal people think is more dangerous and disturbing than it has been in the past. ...

But I've never seen the gap wider than it is now. I think it is a chasm. In Washington they don't seem to be looking around and thinking, Hmmm, this nation is in trouble, it needs help. They're thinking something else. I'm not sure they understand the American Dream itself needs a boost, needs encouragement and protection. They don't seem to know or have a sense of the mood of the country. ...

An irony here is that if we stopped the illegal flow and removed the sense of emergency it generates, comprehensive reform would, in time, follow. Because we're not going to send the estimated 10 million to 15 million illegals already here back. We're not going to put sobbing children on a million buses. That would not be in our nature. (Do our leaders even know what's in our nature?) As years passed, those here would be absorbed, and everyone in the country would come to see the benefit of integrating them fully into the tax system. So it's ironic that our leaders don't do what in the end would get them what they say they want, which is comprehensive reform.

When the adults of a great nation feel long-term pessimism, it only makes matters worse when those in authority take actions that reveal their detachment from the concerns—even from the essential nature—of their fellow citizens. And it makes those citizens feel powerless.

Note especially the parenthetical note in the first quoted paragraph: "Do our leaders even know what's in our nature?" Do they know who we are and what we're going through?

Meanwhile, in Spain, First Lady Michelle Obama is on a third-of-a-million-dollar vacation:

And her critics will be further annoyed when they learn that the president's wife had a Spanish beach closed off today so that she, her daughter and their entourage could go for a swim.

Spanish police cleared off a stretch of beach at the Villa Padierna Hotel in Marbella after the Obamas had finished a busy day of sightseeing.

This following the recent vacation to Main and the pending vacation in the Gulf region. In the latter, the beaches are closed for the less intriguing spectacle of oil contamination. (And locally, of course, we've had shark sightings closing our beaches.)

Folks are starting to liken Michelle to Mary Antoinette. At the same time, her husband, the President, has flown halfway across the country for a home-town birthday.

By the way, employment is down, and the federal government's solution is to spend billions of dollars to insulate public sector unions... again. Noonan is right to warn of a dangerous environment bubbling.

Pelosi's Word

Justin Katz

Back in May, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) had this to say at a Catholic Community Conference:

They ask me all the time, 'What is your favorite this? What is your favorite that? What is your favorite that?' And one time, 'What is your favorite word?' And I said, 'My favorite word? That is really easy. My favorite word is the Word, is the Word. And that is everything. It says it all for us. And you know the biblical reference, you know the Gospel reference of the Word.

And that Word is, we have to give voice to what that means in terms of public policy that would be in keeping with the values of the Word. The Word. Isn't it a beautiful word when you think of it? It just covers everything. The Word.

Fill it in with anything you want. But, of course, we know it means: 'The Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.' And that’s the great mystery of our faith. He will come again. He will come again. So, we have to make sure we’re prepared to answer in this life, or otherwise, as to how we have measured up.

To my ear, Pelosi's sermon has the ring of an unbeliever asked to say grace before a family meal (like Ben Stiller in Meet the Parents), and her apparent insincerity is surely what saved Ms. Pelosi from the wrath that Joseph Bottum correctly suggests that a Republican saying the very same thing would surely have incurred (subscription required):

What Speaker Pelosi was trying to say (in her incoherent manner) is that she wants to shape public policy in accordance with the gospels. (Strangely, her position on abortion remains militantly secular instead of consistent with her Church's teachings that affirm that unborn children are human beings and deserve legal protection.) We checked the websites for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Atheists, and the Secular Coalition for America. None of these groups, which pride themselves on upholding the separation of church and state, expressed any concerns about Pelosi's plan to create a "Word-based" public policy.

Brown Poll

Marc Comtois

In the latest Brown U. Poll, Frank Caprio has, for the first time, taken a small lead over Lincoln Chafee in the race for governor (though it's a statistical dead heat).

If the general election for governor were held today, 27.9 percent of people would vote for Caprio, and 26.5 percent would support Chafee. These numbers are within the margin of error, making the race between Caprio and Chafee a statistical tie. However, about more than 30 percent of voters are still undecided. Republicans John Robitaille and Victor Moffitt had 7 percent and 2 percent of support, respectively, while Moderate Party candidate Kenneth Block had support from 3 percent of respondents.
It was only a matter of time, imho. All of the statewide races were polled with no real surprises, if you ask me. In other words, Democratic incumbents run strong (even if their individual approval ratings are generally sub 50%).

Generally speaking, Rhode Islanders are no different than the rest of the nation in their view that the stimulus didn't do much except help government and they don't much like that trend, either:

Nearly one and one-half years later, 49 percent of the respondents hold the view that the economic stimulus bill has not made a difference in the nation’s economy, 73 percent say the stimulus program has not made a difference in their personal financial situation, and 57 percent say the economic stimulus program has not made a difference in their local community.

A majority of respondents say they believe the economic stimulus spending helped state and local governments avoid layoffs and cuts. However, 76 percent of those surveyed say that stimulus spending increased federal budget deficit. Fifty-one percent say the federal government should make it a priority to bring down the deficit, while 33 percent think the federal government should prioritize spending more to help the nation’s economy.

Another thing is that there are still a lot of undecided/don't knows out there. No surprise in the summah.

Public Servants as CEOs

Justin Katz

Joe Mysak takes up the topic of Bell, California's highly paid public servants:

In his only statement to the press to date, the $787,637 man, [City Manager] Robert Rizzo, told the Los Angeles Times, "If that's a number people choke on, maybe I'm in the wrong business. I could go into private business and make that money. This council has compensated me for the job I've done."

To which the answer should be, "go right ahead." One hears this point frequently from highly paid government administrators, and while it's legitimate to allocate compensation sufficient to attract talented people, it's also true that candidates for public-sector jobs aren't necessarily the same as candidates for similar private sector jobs. A school district employee who has risen through the ranks from teacher to principal to superintendent has highly specific experience that may not garner a six-figure salary (plus the equivalent of public sector benefits) in another field.

Of course, as Mysak goes on to relate, the situation in Bell is egregious even so:

"There are darned few $787,000 salaried positions anywhere in the private sector for managers who run an organization of similar size," said Girard Miller, a public-pension and finance consultant at PFM Group in Los Angeles. Bell has 80 full-time employees, according to its latest financial report.

Unfortunately, while Bell is extreme, the reality is that government has become so broad, complicated, and pervasive that few citizens care to keep tabs on such matters to the extent necessary. The only rational response, in my view, would be to shrink it and limit its responsibilities.

When Government Shouldn't Operate as a Business

Justin Katz

Amid examples of failed loan guarantees, Providence Journal reporter Bruce Landis interviews Gary Sasse about the 38 Studios deal, in which a videogame company has $75 million in backing from the state of Rhode Island:

If the company doesn't pay, Sasse pointed out, "The taxpayers of the state would be on the hook."

"You're playing with other people's money," Sasse said, and argued that it's too risky a use of tax money.

He also said that the qualities most important to companies are good schools, a trained work force, low taxes and an infrastructure in good condition. Without them, he said, in the long run other economic development tools such as loan guarantees "aren't going to get you where you want to be."

The cliché — with which I typically agree — that government should run like a business comes to mind, because when it comes to loan guarantees, we're moving beyond the phrase's intent. What government should emulate, in the private sector, is the imperative to provide a better product more efficiently — to pretend that its revenue entails a consensual exchange of money for service that it must justify to the payers.

That is a wholly distinct approach from behaving like a business in the sense of taking financial risks with the hope of making money. Even mitigated risk is inappropriate when the investors (taxpayers, in this case) have no choice but to participate and do not have clear, direct rewards to which they are contractually entitled should things work out well.

August 5, 2010

The Kids'll Respond to Good Points and Respect

Justin Katz

One wonders how the side of the culture war that proclaims itself "pro-science" will adjust its thinking in response to this finding (emphasis added):

The participants' mean age was 12.2 years; 53.5% were girls; and 84.4% were still enrolled at 24 months. Abstinence-only intervention reduced sexual initiation (risk ratio [RR], 0.67; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.48-0.96). The model-estimated probability of ever having sexual intercourse by the 24-month follow-up was 33.5% in the abstinence-only intervention and 48.5% in the control group. Fewer abstinence-only intervention participants (20.6%) than control participants (29.0%) reported having coitus in the previous 3 months during the follow-up period (RR, 0.94; 95% CI, 0.90-0.99). Abstinence-only intervention did not affect condom use. The 8-hour (RR, 0.96; 95% CI, 0.92-1.00) and 12-hour comprehensive (RR, 0.95; 95% CI, 0.91-0.99) interventions reduced reports of having multiple partners compared with the control group. No other differences between interventions and controls were significant.

Having followed this sort of research over the past decade, I'll confirm that this result really isn't surprising. Only a smokescreen of spin and obfuscation makes it seem so. Abstinence-only education teaches children to think of sex in terms that should lead them to have less of it. "Comprehensive" sex education teaches them how to have sex. Moreover, it has nowhere been the case that abstinence represents the sum total of the lessons that children receive.

As Joseph Bottum puts it:

While the study emphasized that the abstinence-only classes "would not be moralistic," there was an underlying assumption in those classes that the children themselves were moral beings—a striking difference between the abstinence-only and safe sex–only interventions. In the abstinence-only program, it was emphasized that "abstinence can foster attainment of future goals." In contrast, the safe sex–only intervention concentrated on education about sexually transmitted diseases and condom use—that is, it focused on the present only. The first program assumed that children look forward, anticipate, and hope. The second assumed that, like the lowest animals, they are aware only of the here and now.

Conservatives — especially religious conservatives — tend to believe that treating children as moral beings who can rise above their lusts is a worthwhile practice, even if it has no measurable effect on their present behavior. That the other side is loath to acknowledge that it does have a measurable effect suggests that they, for some reason, prefer that children learn to indulge their basest instincts, perhaps because it makes them riper for dependency.

Taxed to Prosperity

Justin Katz

Arthur Laffer asks a good question: "Whoever heard of a country taxing itself into prosperity?"

When President Kennedy cut the highest income tax rate to 70% from 91%, revenues also rose. Income tax receipts from the top 1% of income earners rose to 1.9% of GDP in 1968 from 1.3% in 1960. Even when Presidents Harding and Coolidge cut tax rates in the 1920s, tax receipts from the rich rose. Between 1921 and 1928 the highest marginal personal income tax rate was lowered to 25% from 73% and tax receipts from the top 1% of income earners went to 1.1% of GDP from 0.6% of GDP.

Or perhaps you'd like to see how the rich paid less in taxes under the bipartisan tax rate increases of Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter? Between 1968 and 1981 the top 1% of income earners reduced their total income tax payments to 1.5% of GDP from 1.9% of GDP.

Given the inevitable relationship between taxes and the economy, it's difficult to tease out the effects of taxes as compared with the overall expansion and contraction of the economy, but as Laffer points out, even Sen. John Kerry's boat proves that the wealthy have great incentive to change their behavior in response to the incentives of taxation — even if that change only involves paying an accountant to place a particular dollar amount in one column as opposed to another.

To save the economy — and the government — elected leaders at all levels should cut taxes (adjusting spending as preparation) and encourage economic growth. The economy should come before the government. It's that simple.

RI Attorney General Candidates on the Federal Court Ruling that It is Not at all Obvious that the New Healthcare Law is Constitutional

Carroll Andrew Morse

On Monday, Federal District Court Judge Henry Hudson ruled that a legal challenge to the new Federal Healthcare Law, brought by the Attorney General of the state of Virginia, can proceed (Washington Post coverage is available here). Judge Hudson was quite succinct in explaining at least one Constitutional rationale for his refusal to grant the Federal government's motion to dismiss the state of Virginia's suit...

The Commerce Clause aspect of this debate raises issues of national significance. The position of the parties are widely divergent and at times novel. The guiding precedent is informative, but inconclusive. Never before has the Commerce Clause and associated Necessary and Proper Clause been extended this far.
In other words, despite what Congressman Pete Stark might believe, an action by the Federal government is not automatically Constitutional simply because the government decides to do it. Federal actions must have an identifiable basis in the Constitution, and it is not self-evident from either the text or the history of Constitutional interpretation that the new healthcare law does.

This past April, the Projo's Edward Fitzpatrick got six of the candidates for Attorney General of Rhode Island on the record regarding their positions on suits challenging the Constitutionality of the healthcare law; four expressed doubt about any serious Constitutional issues being involved. I contacted all six candidates, to get their reactions to this initial Virginia ruling, and specifically asked the four candidates who saw no significant Constitutional difficulties about their positions, in light of a direct statement by a Federal Judge that the healthcare law is an unprecedented stretch of Constitutional authority.

Republican Erik Wallin, who had said in April that he supported "a legal challenge in order to defend our state from further infringement by the federal government", responded to Judge Hudson's ruling by saying...

I am encouraged by this initial victory in the fight against the government's takeover of our U.S. health care system. I concur with U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson's opinion that "never before has the Commerce Clause and associated Necessary and Proper clause been extended this far."

Following the passage of President Obama's health care bill, I immediately called upon our current Attorney General, Patrick Lynch, to join with other Attorneys General and challenge it. Not surprisingly, he refused, citing political reasons rather than legal. As Attorney General, I will immediately join with the growing number of Attorneys General, in challenging the health care law, standing up for both our State's rights and each of our individual freedoms.
Independent Robert Rainville, who had told Fitzpatrick that he "wouldn’t rule out a suit", responded that...
I am one of the few candidates for RI Attorney General, who is truly interested in joining in that suit. I am only interested in what's best for Rhode Island families, and not what is best for a particular group or political party. I believe there is momentum and the legal basis for success in the legal challenges to this Federal Health Care legislation. However, I believe in the concept and intent of providing coverage for as many Americans as possible, but not at a higher cost and mandates that this legislation requires.

Since I am seeking to become the first Independent Attorney General Rhode Island has ever had, my decision making is motivated solely on what’s best for Rhode Islanders and not a partisan decision as all the other candidates in this race. Its very clear, the Democrats oppose the suit, and the Republicans support it. They make their decisions on what their respective parties say is best, and I look to what is best for Rhode Islanders in general.

A spokesman for Democrat Peter Kilmartin, quoted in April as saying that suits against the healthcare law "are nothing more than political stunts", said in response to Monday's ruling that...
Peter Kilmartin stands by his statement. The recent decision in Virginia was nothing more than a George W. Bush appointed judge making a procedural decision to allow this case to move forward. Kilmartin remains confident that the Health Care Reform Law is constitutional and will withstand further legal scrutiny.
A spokesman for Moderate candidate Christopher Little, who had told Fitzpatrick that "It seems...that whether we like it or not, Congress has the power to pass this bill", said that Mr. Little would be providing a response to the ruling shortly.

Democrats Joseph Fernandez (“The charge that the law is unconstitutional is a politically motivated ploy”) and Steven Archambault (“The health-care law stands on sound constitutional footing") have not yet responded to my inquiries.

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Is It ObamaCare or a Maze?

Monique Chartier

If this survives its legal challenges and becomes our national healthcare system, perhaps they'll give us breadcrumbs or string to navigate. By the way, kudos to 71% of Missouri voters for boldly (but possibly non-bindingly) turning thumbs down on this idea Tuesday.


[Compiled by Republicans on the Congressional Joint Economic Committee.]

Topics Local and International

Justin Katz

Last night Monique and Tony Cornetta talked, on the Matt Allen Show, about Iran, teachers' unions, and partisan ethics. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

August 4, 2010

Marriage However They Want It

Justin Katz

Yes, there are distinctions, and obviously, it is possible to argue both points simultaneously, but consider the circumstances that some early federal judicial rulings on same-sex marriage have created. A judge in Massachusetts has declared that the U.S. Congress and President cannot define marriage for the purposes of federal law, because the Constitution leaves the definition of marriage to the states. Now, a judge in California has single-handedly insisted that the people of that state, following the process of changing their constitution in order to affirm the definition of marriage as a relationship between members of the opposite sex, have violated the national Constitution.

Perhaps I'm not alone in inferring that the game is rigged and in taking this instance as evidence of the broader relentlessness of a ruling class that disagrees with the people of, by, and for whom the government is supposed to exist. On the blog Gay Patriot (via Instapundit), B. Daniel Blatt highlights some evidence that Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled based, above all, on his own value system, rather than the law or the consensus of Americans:

Whoah, this guy is given more to popular jargon that to constitutional interpretation: "the evidence shows that Proposition 8 harms the state's interest in equality, because it mandates that men and women be treated differently based on antiquated and discredited notions of gender." Antiquated and discredited notions of gender? Discredited by whom? Sociologists writing in the 1970s, inventing a social construct out of thin air?

Commenting to a related post on the Volokh Conspiracy, Bart DePalma extrapolates the broader oligarchical question well:

The federal courts are not doing the Dems any favors.

Missouri's Prop C showed that the voters are already in full rebellion over an imperial Congress taking control of their health insurance against their will.

Then, last month, a district court judge in AZ decreed that the most popular law in the country — Arizona's attempt to enforce federal immigration law — was likely unconstitutional because it would be contrary to Obama policy not to enforce the law.

Now, a district court judge in San Fran has literally decreed that homosexual unions are marriages and the voters of CA were irrational to vote otherwise.

The courts may have just added law and order and social issue voters to the tsunami already headed to the ballot box in November.

How many more times does the ruling class think voters can be denied before there is a revolution — first at the ballot box and then if that fails on the streets?

If I may paint in even broader strokes: Incremental imposition of a national worldview — which is not very far, at all, from an organized religion — had served progressives well for a number of decades, as they infiltrated opinion-forming sectors of society, such as education and entertainment. By that method, they numbed and isolated their opposition. By a more political method, they drew in constituencies wanting some change to the order of American society, whether by encouraging dependency on government or picking the sides in cultural battles that appeal to our most basic desires and disruptive impulses (sex most prominently).

In recent decades, cultural conservatives aligned with civil libertarians and began building means of conveying their ideas even when locked out of more traditional media. At the beginning of this millennium, I'd have wagered that the conservative arguments thus promulgated would gradually win the day against the bankrupt and totalitarian ideas of the Left, and that the discoursive struggle would be between the right-leaning erstwhile allies. Unfortunately, the combination of 9/11 and President Bush's "compassionate conservatism" confused the trend and ushered in a far-left Democrat Congress and President Obama, who slithered into office on a centrist lie and a stolen dream.

Perhaps liberals have lost faith in incrementalism and are attempting to leap several rungs of the ladder at a time. Or perhaps conservatives are now better positioned to respond to the usurpation of our civil society. Whatever the case, big questions have been brought forward for pivotal answers, and support for immediate outcomes could come at the cost of much more fundamental concerns.

Not Just a Loose Cannon, but a Regional Threat

Justin Katz

Frida Ghitis highlights evidence that a nuclear Iran is a concern not just to the West and Israel:

[United Arab Emirates Ambassador Yousef al-]Otaiba, whose country lies less than 100 miles from Iran's coast, noted that Iran is much more of a threat to the UAE than to the United States. If countries "lack the assurance that the U.S. is willing to confront Iran, they will start running for cover towards Iran."

Otaiba subtly removed another line from the traditional script, the part that suggests Israel is also a threat. "There's no other threat," he declared, "There's no country in the region that is a threat to the UAE."

None of the players, in that neck of the woods, are pure, and the word games and subtexts proliferate, but in our debate about Iran as lunatic theocracy, we sometimes we lose track of the continued relevance of plain ol' geopolitical interactions.

A Pat on the Back for the Undeserving

Justin Katz

I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that somebody is willing to cheerlead Rhode Island's governing class. Here's Donna Cupelo, admiral of the Rhode Island Commodores, a group of "top business and civic leaders":

There was something different about this year's legislative session, several Rhode Island Commodores said after attending an upbeat bill-signing ceremony with speeches by Gov. Donald Carcieri, Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed and House Speaker Gordon Fox. (The Commodores is a group of more than 325 top business and civic leaders.)

A sense of respect, commitment and cooperation among these elected leaders seemed more evident than ever and a "let's get the job done" spirit produced some laws that will have a far-reaching impact on our state's economic future.

From my seat in steerage, that camaraderie is indicative of nothing so much as the successful decision to keep back-room deals out of public view. And the consequence is a bad wind energy deal and a can kicked farther down the road, over which Cupelo blithely stumbles:

The board's members are pleased that these leaders heeded the call to tackle the challenge of personal-income-tax reform by bringing Rhode Island's top tax rate of 9.9 percent down to 5.99 percent. That will put our state in line with our neighboring states and improve our national ranking and competitiveness. We believe these changes are an investment in our future and will make Rhode Island more competitive as it aggressively pursues new jobs for our families and young graduates who are looking to make Rhode Island a permanent home.

Never mind that lowering the top rate, while eliminating the flat tax, actually resulted in higher taxes for those who will pay it. Never mind that the reform looks likely to penalize active and economically engaged residents who are striving to improve their lot. It's an appropriately Rhode Island strategy, though: Working folks who haven't yet achieved the easier sailing of upper middle class lack the time and resources to hire savvy financial advisers or to change their residence in order to procure the best tax deal may be sufficiently fooled not to react to the reality that they're stuck in somebody else's scheme.

Warwick School Committee Chooses the Tough Path

Marc Comtois

Faced with an insurmountable $13 million cut in state and local funding, the Warwick School Committee voted to freeze pay and impose a 20% health care co-pay for all of its employees last night.

Before the vote, School Committee Chairman Chris Friel stressed that these are not actions the district wants to take but it has no choice faced with insufficient funding for its budget of about $161 million for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

He said the district did not want to cut programs that directly affect students, such as sports, gifted classes, mentoring and all extracurricular activities.

Unions are not happy.
The action is in apparent violation of the School Department's contract with its roughly 1,000 teachers represented by the Warwick Teachers Union, with teachers slated to lose a 2.75 percent raise this year....The leaders of the two unions that represent almost all school employees - the teachers union and the Warwick Independent School Employees union - vowed that they will respond with swift court action.

"I feel stabbed in the back," teachers union president James Ginolfi said, noting that the first he and other union executives heard of the School Committee's plan was less than an hour before it took action in executive session.

"We listened to what they had to say and said we'd get back to you," Ginolfi said, adding that the school board is sending a public message that it has no regard for a legal agreement. "I am shocked," he said.

The union has been playing the "we'd get back to you" game or the "we're willing to listen" game for some time now. The School Committee is obligated to have its budget finalized shortly after the City Council approves the school budget and was already late in doing so. They couldn't wait any longer. The situation called for urgency and the unions seemed to be content with playing the same collective bargaining games that worked in the past (see the "Addendum" in the extended post for a timeline). That isn't working any more. It's apparent that the Warwick School Committee felt like there wasn't much expeditious movement occurring on the other side of the table and felt like the only path left open--a tough one--was to unilaterally make these cuts and changes. That's something that the Warwick City Council backed away from. Whether the solution is viable depends on the next stop in the process: the courthouse.

Addendum - When I wrote that "The union has been playing the 'we'd get back to you' game or the 'we're willing to listen' game for some time now" I was basing it on my recollection of the last few months. Here is what I'm talking about (thanks to the Warwick Beacon website):

February 16, 2010:

The school administration had not sought to initiate talks with the teachers as of Friday although better than a week ago School Committee Chairman Christopher Friel said he believes all municipal employees, including teachers, should share in pay reductions to balance the current budget.

“We are always willing to sit down. The door is always open,” Warwick Teachers Union President James Ginolfi said when asked of the possibility of union concessions without reopening the contact, as the mayor has achieved with municipal employees and firefighters.

March 2, 2010:

With 87 percent of its budget in salaries, School Business Affairs Director Leonard Flood calls the situation “challenging.”

“We have to have movement in terms of the teachers contract,” he said.

School Committee Chairman Christopher Friel took a step in that direction last week. In a letter to Warwick Teachers Union President James Ginolfi he requests the union to reopen contract negotiations, although the current agreement doesn’t expire until August of 2011.

Ginolfi said yesterday he is always open to talks and that he will bring Friel’s request before the union board this week.

April 6, 2010:
Meanwhile, Friel said that he’s approached Warwick Teachers’ Union President James Ginolfi about potential budget concessions.

“We’re beyond the point of cutting paper, supplies and technology. That’s not going to do us any good or result in substantial savings,” said Friel.

April 13, 2010:
James Ginolfi, president of the Warwick Teachers Union, and Christopher Friel, chairman of the school committee, have met to talk about the possibility of reopening the teacher contract that expires in August 2011. Ginolfi said recently that it is difficult to talk about specifics until there is a clearer picture of the issues faced by the city. This depends heavily on levels of state and city funding as well as actions taken by legislators that could affect pension contributions, health care co-payments and mandates.
June 10, 2010:
[Warwick Superintendent] Horoschak said schools have asked the union to reopen the contract following Mayor Scott Avedisian’s announcement that schools would shoulder about $6 million of the $10 million cut from the city’s state aid projections.

Teacher union president James Ginolfi said yesterday that he had received a letter some weeks ago about reopening the contract, but heard nothing until yesterday when Horoschak called.

“We’ve been waiting and waiting. There hasn’t been much talk; it’s been in their hands for a response,” Ginolfi said.

“I guess I have a problem that they tell you what they’re looking for and not me and they have had plenty of opportunities,” he added. He did not comment on Horoschak’s proposals, saying those discussions would have to take place at the bargaining table.

June 17, 2010:
James Ginolfi, the president of the union, said he’s “always willing to sit down and talk.” No formal meeting has been set although Ginolfi said he expects to meet one-on-one with Friel this week.
June 29, 2010:
The Warwick School Department has an $8.9 million budget hole, and with roughly 87 percent of its spending comprised of salaries and benefits, the department needs concessions from the Warwick Teachers Union in a big way.

But a decision by the school committee to consolidate department heads at the high school level irked the union, and talks between the school committee and the union were halted before they even began.

“We were more than willing to sit down and talk until they took that unilateral action. It’s like they want to talk right after they violate our contract,” said Ginolfi....Meanwhile, the school committee had scheduled a meeting with the union’s executive board last Tuesday. The purpose of the meeting was quite open-ended, Ginolfi said.

“He said that we were going to talk about everything. What does that mean? I wanted to set some parameters before we met,” said Ginolfi.

Ginolfi then notified the school committee that unless they rescinded their plans to eliminate department heads – there would be no meeting, at least so far as the union was concerned. No progress was made and neither side would budge. The school department wouldn’t rescind the notices and the union didn’t show up. Tuesday came and went without a meeting.

July 29, 2010:
Warwick Teachers Union President James Ginolfi said that the union is willing to step forward.

“We’re willing to help in this situation, but we can’t be the whole solution given the amount of money that they’ve cut the school department,” said Ginolfi.

Ginolfi refused to get into specifics as to whether or not the teachers would be willing to pay more for their health insurance or other issues.

“The specifics are all subject to negotiation,” said Ginolfi.

“I don’t talk about anything with anyone until I talk to [administration] first.”

Ginolfi is always willing to talk--well, willing to talk about talking it seems. And even when they "talk" with the School Committee it's really just talk about talking (negotiating), which is different. So, for example, even though Ginolfi met with Friel a couple times and they talked, they didn't talk, you see? And then some other stuff happened with department heads which made Ginolfi not even want to talk about talking. Delay, delay, delay.

Thinking About War

Justin Katz

In a lengthy essay for First Things, George Weigel seeks to begin the fashioning of a foreign policy that moves forward from the United States' tendency to swing back and forth between two guiding approaches. During some periods of our history, a progressive Protestant idealism has prevailed:

It set a high value on motive or intention and was not much concerned with an analysis of possible consequences (the purity of the actor's will being what most counted)--and thus it was chary of the idea of a "national interest."

That national interest has been championed, and has ruled the day during other periods, by realists who conclude, essentially, "that foreign policy is the realm of amorality." Such a view is not an endorsement of immorality, but an admission that international relations are from interpersonal relations and the determination that the needs of the nation trump.

In some ways, the ten principles that Weigel describes as components of his solution represent a honing of Catholic neoconservatism. The basic assumptions are that states must behave morally — and that war can be a moral action — but that the rules that govern the behavior of nations operate somewhat differently than those by which individuals live their lives. Thus, his number 7 encourages engagement beyond what realists might accept:

It is in the American national interest to defend and enlarge the sphere of order in international public life, through prudent efforts at changing what can be changed in the trajectory and conduct of world politics.

But that is restrained by Weigel's number 8:

National purpose is not national messianism. The national purpose is a horizon of aspiration toward which our policy (and our polity) should strive. That horizon of purpose helps us measure the gap between things as they are and things as they ought to be, even as it provides an orientation for the long haul. But "national purpose" as defined above is not something that can be achieved in any final sense, because international public life will never be fully domesticated, save under a particularly stringent global tyranny. Understanding national purpose as an orienting horizon of aspiration is a barrier against the cynicism that is the shadow side of realism--and, at the same time, a barrier against the dangers of a moralistic, even messianic, notion of national mission, which implies a far shorter time line and the possibility of final accomplishment.

In short, the objective is a foreign policy that acknowledges a national vision for an ideal world and labors toward that end, but that is realistic about what can be accomplished and cognizant that admirable ends do not justify any means that appear efficient in the short term.

August 3, 2010

On Ethics: Maxine Now, Maxine Then

Monique Chartier

When, last October, the House Ethics Committee placed Congressman Charles Rangel in exactly the same spot that Speaker Gingrich found himself fourteen years earlier, Congresswoman Maxine Waters observed

"What happens is, unfortunately with the requirements for disclosure that we all have, mistakes are made," she said. "And you do get a chance to correct them. And so it looks as if he is correcting those mistakes."

Regarding Gingrich's situation, however, the congresswoman had not adopted quite the same understanding tone. Courtesy Charlie Spiering at the Washington Examiner; h/t Fred Thompson.

"The house ethics committee found the Speaker guilty guilty guilty!" raged Rep. Maxine Waters on the House floor on December 7 1995. ". . it's about time, believe me the American people do not appreciated double standard, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, no one should be so big, so important, so powerful, that they can violate the rules of this house and the laws of this country and not suffer the consequences. . ."

Green, but Smart

Justin Katz

Bjorn Lomborg is every climate change skeptic's favorite scientist, and both sides do well to heed his advice. His point, basically, is that climate change is real, but that sufficient response is not currently within the realm of plausibility. So, he suggests, we should do what humankind does best: advance.

Can we achieve this technological miracle over the next 20 to 40 years? In a word, yes. The price of solar energy has been dropping steadily for 30 years — by about 50 percent every decade — and we could likely accelerate that decline further with sufficiently large investments in research and development.

How large? If we were willing to devote just 0.2 percent of global GDP (roughly $100 billion a year) to green-energy R&D, I believe that we could bring about game-changing breakthroughs not just for solar power, but also for a wide variety of other alternative-energy technologies.

This belief in the potential of technological progress strikes some climate activists as naïve or even delusional. But is it really? Consider one of the miracles of the modern age — the personal computer. These devices didn’t become household items because governments subsidized purchases or forced up the price of typewriters and slide rules.

The market conservative would go on to stress that the private sector does advancement much better than do central government planners...

The Arts Should Be Conservative

Justin Katz

Sara Hamdan laments, in the current First Things, the decline of dance as an art form. Given the sustained conditioning required of dancers — and the sustained attention of the audience — the art form doesn't lend itself as easily as other arts to modern adaptations that allow practitioners to maintain the practice as a hobby and fans to work enjoyment into their schedules. Time and money are the irreducible factors, and the dance world is finding it difficult to move enough of each to dancers to sustain a career.

Of course, there are the limited, intriguing developments, such as this variation on the modern trend of do-it-yourself mandates:

With arts organizations trying to focus their energies on redefining market strategies to attract younger audiences and make use of minimal funding, dancers themselves are directly affected. Tired of waiting for good news, Claire Sargenti and Lauren Zaleta took matters into their own hands. With two other Joffrey dancers, they started a ballet collaborative called New Bridges Ballet designed to put on low-budget shows in places where one wouldn’t expect to see ballet: in bars, in Washington Square Park, in a music video for a heavy-metal band. ...

... Sargenti, Zaleta, and two other Joffrey students are doing experimental work with New Bridges Ballet for added training and exposure, and have been very well received. Together, the girls are learning how to fund raise, design costumes, advertise, choreograph new works—and make mistakes—completely on their own. Basically, they are learning how to run a dance company from the ground up.

It's the dance version of self publishing — of blogging, from a certain perspective. Unfortunately, the other predictable reaction to changes in modern life is to excise those factors that require long attention spans:

... popular forms of dance performance have become more about competition and moves and less about narrative or story—like sports set to music. Television programs such as "So You Think You Can Dance" demonstrate that "successful" dancers are those who can display physical talent; these shows do not showcase dance works based on profound observations or that express something beyond the merely physical.

Having watched an episode or several of "So You Think You Can Dance," I'd rejoin that the show's choreographers do give admirable thought to message and story, but they're dealing in bite-sized segments that must, yes, showcase the physically spectacular. Obviously, "physically spectacular" has layers of implication, including the raw bodies of the dancers, and it seems that they move a little closer to total nakedness every season.

That factor, to me, relates more directly to the essential problem than does the reliance on daring leaps and spins. Partly owing to the gimmickry of modernism, partly owing to the pervasive secular, libertine leftism of their practitioners, the arts in general have moved away from their core value proposition: meaning. In some respects, one could suggest that artists — having turned away from their bases for profundity, not only God, but also a respect and sympathy for the long-developing traditions of humankind — have sought to supplant message with technique. But divested of the religious impulse, audiences won't sit through a two-hour ballet for the same reason they don't sit through a forty-five-minute Mass.

If they want jolts of "wow," they can get it in small, convenient doses on television and the computer. If they want opportunity for lurid ogling of taut bodies, they no longer require the cover provided by dancers in leotards.

So, it would be plausible to suggest that the keepers of dance, specifically, and art, generally, should begin to consider a move toward conservative dispositions. For their survival, the time is past due to push the envelope back in the other direction — where the meaning lies in wanting to be tantalized but not sated and in actually believing that sensations of awe and yearning are not merely biological instincts honed by human evolution, but indications of the natural draw of something real and profound.

RE: Shifting Packs, Political and Economic

Marc Comtois

Justin makes a good point: whether Rhode Island can take advantage of the company of other states experiencing Rhode Island-like economic misery will have a lot to do with politics. 70+ years of one party rule haven't done much for us and you'd think that Rhode Islanders would be ready to try something else. Yet, it doesn't look like the citizenry of our fair state are, as a whole, are inclined to change their voting habits given Gallup's recent polling that indicates that Rhode Island is the most liberal state in the country (and one of the most Democratic).

It's likely that the current speculation that the corruption/inside-dealing of Democrats Charlie Rangel or Maxine Waters will hurt the Democratic party nationally are correct. Both Rangel and Waters will have no problem being re-elected in their own Democrate-heavy districts, which will excuse the actions of one of their own (something that corrupt Republicans seem unable to benefit from). I suspect the innate reaction of many Rhode Island Democrats will be to ignore or excuse those and similar stories of inter-Rhode Island Democratic corruption as something that "their guys" ain't doin'. (Of course, if their guy did do that kinda stuff, well, that would be kinda quirky, wouldn't it?). Nope, all is well in the Ocean State...

When the Pack Shifts to the Back

Justin Katz

Bruce Lang makes an excellent point:

Now something unexpected has happened that can help us greatly: Almost every state in the country now is having big financial problems! So if Rhode Island has the courage and discipline, we can legitimately catapult our great little state into the upper ranks of states’ standings. Because of our small size, we can reverse our poor performance more easily than most states.

Lang's prescription is hardly revolutionary — lower government expenses, cut taxes, help businesses, and increase government transparency — but it would take an electoral revolution to bring it about. Frankly, I don't think those who prioritize the future above preserving the perks of the past have sufficient numbers (with sufficient motivation) to spur the turnaround.

Being the first into recessions and the last out isn't so bad for those who aren't truly touched by it in any case.

August 2, 2010

A Guide for Candidates for Engaging the Issues

Carroll Andrew Morse

Based on five years of observing the patterns of discussion associated with public policy issues of concern to Rhode Islanders, I'd like to offer a short list of principles that candidates and activists, first-timers and others, may find useful when bringing their ideas to the public...

1. No issue is as complex as someone whose objective is to prevent you from offering reasonable input will try to make you -- and the voters -- think that it is.

2. Statistics and rankings are not the final word on a subject, but meaningful numbers change for a reason. So make sure the numbers you choose to explain yourself with are the meaningful ones.

2A. There is no fundamental law of the universe that says Rhode Island has to be near the bottom of a list of state rankings. That Rhode Island is so often at the bottom of such lists is an indication of things that need to be changed, not that Rhode Island is doomed for all time.

3. Advocating "raise taxes and expand bureaucracy" is no more or less nuanced a solution to a policy issue than is advocating cutting taxes and cutting back bureaucracy; you are not required to "prove" that we don't need a tax increase or a new spending program any more than a tax-increase or spending advocate is required to "prove" that we do.

3A. But you entered your political race to win, not to tie, so make sure you can explain why your position is superior to that of your opponent's, and not just a reflexive mirror image.

Whitewashing Over Faith

Justin Katz

Robert George relates an anecdote about some literature at an American Constitution Society for Law and Policy conference. A pamphlet provided visitors with the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address as reading material,.. only, the included version the Gettysburg Address omitted the phrase "under God."

At the time, staring at the text, I wondered whether it was an innocent, inadvertent error—a typo, perhaps. It seemed more likely, though, that here is the apex of the secularist ideology that has attained a status not unlike that of religious orthodoxy among liberal legal scholars and political activists. Nothing is sacred, as it were—not even the facts of American history, not even the words spoken by Abraham Lincoln at the most solemn ceremony of our nation’s history.

True, there are versions of the Address that lacked the reference to God, but the final version, as spoken, wasn't one of them, and at any rate, that counts merely as an excuse, in my view.

The story brought to mind the speech given by Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly at this year's Portsmouth Institute conference. Reviewing Newman's writings about higher education, Reilly noted that secular scholars who've edited or otherwise handled that work have actually omitted the Cardinal's emphasis on religion, in at least one case explaining that it was of mere anachronistic, historical significance — not relevant to the larger message at all, it would seem.

This raises the question: Can the secularists disappear God, in the fashion of Soviet airbrushing? I suspect not. More likely, they're creating the opportunity for backlash when their brightest students and other followers come to the inevitable "everything I know is wrong" moment at which the God-shaped hole pulls together threads that had previously drifted off into nothing.

Standing Up to That Old Time Political Bullying

Monique Chartier

Justin's post announcing Arruda and Durfee's despicable lawsuit against Dave Nelson here.

The following press release from the defendant was in my in-box this morning. Note well the second paragraph describing a demand that Dave rat out his fellow concerned citizens, apparently for the crime of behaving like ... concerned citizens.

A principle of democracy is public participation in local government. The right of such participation is found in the First Amendment, which includes the right of free speech. These fundamental rights are at the core of our political system and permeate our society. It seems that not everyone likes this-please read on.

About two months ago, and only 3 days before Tiverton's second FTM, I received a letter threatening legal action from Councilors Louise Durfee and Joanne Arruda's private attorney. This letter included a demand that I hand over names of people who received a letter to the editor from Tiverton Citizens for Change which highlighted tactics used by Tiverton's Town Council to request a 9% tax increase in the weeks before Tiverton's 2010 FTM. TCC views this as an attempt to intimidate, to silence the voice of dissent, stifle public debate and transform Tiverton's public debate into a lawsuit.

Durfee and Arruda filed this politically motivated civil suit, also known as a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit, against me and Tiverton Citizens for Change in apparent retaliation to the April letter to the Editor which described 'false' documents filed with the State Department of Municipal Finance. The suit seems to be part of a larger strategy to intimidate and silence critics of Durfee and Arruda, and chill public debate.

The issue originates from Tiverton's Town Council's efforts to obtain an 'advisory' opinion from Rhode Island's Division of Municipal Finance by filing a Notice of Proposed Tax Rate Change which was not approved by the Town Council or Budget Committee. I, along with other TCC members spoke against this effort during an April 26 town Council Meeting. See our website for the video of this meeting. The request was subsequently denied by Susanne Greschner, Chief of Division of Municipal Finance.

Our bedrock constitutional rights allow us to express disagreement with elected officials and report on matters of public concern. l will not cower from this attempt to intimidate my public participation in local budget and taxation issues. I am vigorously fighting this blatant attempt to intimidate TCC and have filed a countersuit under the State's anti-SLAPP law protections.

Dave Nelson
President of Tiverton Citizens for Change

Put it all on 38?

Marc Comtois

States, including Rhode Island, are smart to market themselves and offer incentives to businesses. The deal with 38 Studios is coming in for praise and criticism, to be sure. Gamers have their opinions, with the optimism based on the all-star cast of gameworld creators--R.A. Salvatore, Todd McFarlane and Ken Rolston--while the pessimists basically think the game will be just one more World of Warcraft "me too" that is destined to fall by the wayside (though some think that an MMO of a different flavor--ie; not "fantasy"--is might work.

The business community is split, too, with skeptics pointing out that the funds would have been better used if spread out or at least not spent on one seemingly risky venture. Others make the point that the splash made by the deal has already caused increased business interest in RI and that there are protections to mitigate risk.

Part of the confusion probably lay in the nature of the business in question. I wonder if there would be as much reservation if this was a business that was selling or producing a tangible product? The truth is we just don't know what exactly to expect from a video game company. It's a relatively new industry and, let's face it, most of the business media and non-related business leaders around here just don't really know much about video games. So, until 38 Studios actually produces a product and the prospect of other video game companies coming to RI goes from potential to reality, we're not going to know if the deal pays off, either directly or indirectly. Until then, it's simply a gamble.

The Tone of the Ad

Justin Katz

To be honest, I don't follow help wanted ads for teaching positions closely enough to know whether this is really unique, but something about the wording of this one, printed in last Sunday's Providence Journal, caught my eye:

RI Certified Teachers, to Substitute per diem for growing K-9 public charter school.

The idea of advertising the growth prospects of the school strikes me as somehow refreshing. It gives the sense that something is being built — that effort and perseverance can improve everybody's lot. Of course, it's probable that any school seeking highly educated people for drudgery like substitute teaching would want to convey a probability of advancement. Still, I think public education in general would inspire more confidence among those who fund it were that attitude brought to bear in a systematic way.

A Change of View

Justin Katz

From my boyhood perch at the top of a New Jersey tree, to which I would climb with comic books in hand, I could see over the two-story apartments to New York City, beyond — the skyline punctuated by the twin towers of the World Trade Center. What awe I felt, before turning to my printed cartoons of super heroes, was of the modern works of man. Without the city, I don't suspect I'd have thought much of the view at all.

The perspective of perches along an evening walk in Tiverton is quite different:

Here, it's the awe of nature and the mere knowledge of the existence of mankind that inspires. Across the delta and the low hills of Bristol lies the bulk of the United States of America, whose history is not made up — truly — of discrete events and towering figures, but of individuals striving and building upon the work of those who've come before.

Even decades before September 11, and despite its raw size, NYC somehow emanated a sense of human impermanence. Without protection and maintenance, it will eventually return to nature, humbled, as it were, by the slow, patient working of soil, weather, and more-basic forms of life. The weeds will find their way. "I've seen the lights go out on Broadway," Billy Joel sang in those years, and because we, human beings, make those lights work, our negligence or weakness can make them not work.

The fruits of human life qua human life give a different sense. True, neglect of living and of the habit of passing on life can dim (even extinguish) our own lights, but that is only to be feared in the limited context of ourselves separated from God's creation. The land beyond the horizon will tell our story as part of the grand accomplishment of reality, and if we fix our eyes there, we see the everlasting.

August 1, 2010

"Independent" Candidate, Inside Players

Justin Katz

It's old news, at this point, that Linc Chafee won the endorsement of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, but I've been holding on to my clipping of the article until a moment presented itself to highlight the essential truth of his campaign:

Chafee described the endorsement as a recognition of his "long record of support of public education," his role in settling the teacher dispute he "inherited" when he first won election as mayor of Warwick, his resistance while he was still in the U.S. Senate to "some strong Republican pressure to support [school] vouchers," and his call for the appointment of a mediator to help settle the standoff between the teachers union and the administration in Central Falls.

The "independent" Chafee is the candidate for people who wish to preserve the unsustainable civic structure that has brought Rhode Island to its knees. If he wins, we should all be very grateful that the governor has very limited constitutional authority, in this state.

At least Democrat Frank Caprio can boast, according to the article, the support of unions that actually need Rhode Island to be economically healthy in order to survive:

In May, he won the endorsement of two locals in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. One represents about 1,000 construction electricians, and the other about 1,000 telephone, cable and Internet workers.

"Almost 45 percent of our local is unemployed right now, and their families are hurting," said Al Durand, business manager of one of the two locals. "We need Frank's leadership and his ideas, and I know our local is ready to rally behind him."

Different Escalators to and from Sanity

Justin Katz

Did you happen to catch this in the New York Times, last week?

Even as the new coalition government [of Great Britain] said it would make enormous cuts in the public sector, it initially promised to leave health care alone. But in one of its most surprising moves so far, it has done the opposite, proposing what would be the most radical reorganization of the National Health Service, as the system is called, since its inception in 1948.

Practical details of the plan are still sketchy. But its aim is clear: to shift control of England's $160 billion annual health budget from a centralized bureaucracy to doctors at the local level. Under the plan, $100 billion to $125 billion a year would be meted out to general practitioners, who would use the money to buy services from hospitals and other health care providers.

The plan would also shrink the bureaucratic apparatus, in keeping with the government’s goal to effect $30 billion in “efficiency savings” in the health budget by 2014 and to reduce administrative costs by 45 percent. Tens of thousands of jobs would be lost because layers of bureaucracy would be abolished.

Yes, the move is to doctors, but more importantly, it's toward patients. In other words, the much lauded National Health Service is decentralizing, even as the ruling class of the United States attempts to push our system in the other direction.

Note, also, the underlying justification for government bureaucracy: the employment of government bureaucrats! One wonders what is given up in the private sector in order for paper pushers to survive on plush government compensation.

The Long Conversion Toward Pro-Life

Justin Katz

For his issue-opening Public Square column in the most recent issue of First Things, editor Joseph Bottum takes on the perennial calls for Republicans to de-emphasize the pro-lifers in their midst. "There's a good-sized section of the conservative commenting classes that seems to blame the pro-lifers if the Republicans lose, and dismiss the pro-life vote if the Republicans win."

We should not accept a truce on abortion because the pro-life position is, in fact, winning. With horrifying slowness, yes, but each graduating class of young people is more opposed to abortion than the last, and in the long run the great task of persuasion and argument will prevail.

On the broad topic, I agree with Mr. Bottum's conclusion, but I do wonder whether he's adequately braced for the loss of momentum that may occur when the expanding pro-life contingent hits the containing walls of related issues for which abortion is a territorial boundary guard — sex ed, promiscuity, birth control, marriage, leftist women's liberation, and so on. It would be entirely plausible, mind you, to suggest that the clear moral calculus of the pro-life position will force cultural reevaluation of some of the assumptions that root in our natural lusts. But it will surely appear, at points, as if pro-life victory is a hopeless pursuit facing insurmountable opposition from people too heavily invested to change their minds.

The remedy for despair is to recall that ours is a project for generations and worth the work not because it's politically beneficial, but because it's right.