November 30, 2010
NEA RI Official Busted for Campaign Dirty Tricks
NEA RI Assistant Executive Director John Leidecker was arrested this morning by Bristol and RI State Police
accused of the online impersonation of Bristol State Representative Doug Gablinske.
Mr. Leidecker, who holds a law degree from Roger Williams University School of Law  and is a practicing attorney, allegedly sent phony e-mails to constituents using the name "Gablinski", e-mails which purportedly misrepresented the RI House member's views on issues in an effort to cast him in an unfavorable light at the voting booth.
NEA RI Executive Director Robert Walsh, who is a member of Gov-elect Linc Chafee's transition team, issued a statement to WPRI's Tim White, saying, in part
"We have no firsthand knowledge of the charges," Walsh said. "However, given the involvement of Rep. Doug Gablinske in this matter, we are suspicious about the motivation for this action. At this point, we are waiting until our attorneys sort things out."
Gablinske was defeated in his September primary by a union-backed opponent. It now appears that efforts on behalf of the opponent may have extended beyond the more standard fundraising and get-out-the-vote activity. The next logical question becomes, what did the opponent and other NEA officials knew about these ... extraordinary campaign efforts allegedly undertaken by Mr. Leidecker?
The Ability to Take Leads to Tone-Deafness
Sure, President Obama's proposal to freeze the pay of federal employees is an attempt to start the debate in a position much more favorable than a reasonable political compromise would suggest. The bottom line is that the federal government has to do less and, therefore, require many fewer employees.
Still, even as that debate plays out, it's worth allowing ourselves to be astonished at the tone-deaf comments of public-sector union leaders:
A pay freeze could affect thousands of federal employees for years to come as their retirement benefits are dependent on the "High 3," the highest average basic pay they earn during any three consecutive years of federal service.
"I don't think it's quite right; we're going to get slammed with that," said Roland B. Sasseville, the current Pawtucket chapter president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. "If they freeze it now, [federal workers] are going to have a lull in their earnings."
"A lull in earnings"? A lull in earnings while so many Americans are, at best, watching their quality of life current life, right now, not some long off retirement that they may never live to see decline year after year while they sink into debt-chained servitude? Such are the sparks of revolution.
Getting to Budget Cuts
I'm not sure how else executives could pursue budget cuts than asking the folks beneath them to provide suggestions, but it's eminently predictable that they would respond to requests for budgets that show significantly lower spending in such a way as to make the cuts seem impossible. So, the Department of Public Safety insists that it would have to remove all public security personnel from the State House and courthouses. The Department of Administration would target facilities maintenance. The Department of Corrections would close two medium-to-high security prisons.
In a way, one can't fault the bureaucrats. Legislators have continued to grow government, requiring departments to undertake more activities, and labor has so thoroughly baked in its pay and benefits that across-the-board cuts of pay and benefits would stand out starkly against a history of constant increases.
I find, in particular, Education Commissioner Deborah Gist's comment telling:
Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist said the agency has cut operating expenses, but is requesting a larger budget next year to offset the loss of federal stimulus money.
Last year, the federal government committed future generations to increased taxes in order to prop up the public sector during the recession, particularly school employees. In Tiverton, the school department successfully led the charge in raising property taxes in order to "offset the loss of federal stimulus money" which really means to maintain unjustified budget increases that local voters and taxpayers did not approve. Now, the state education agency would be content to raise sales, income, or some other state-level taxes in order to do the same.
This is the sort of scam that's inevitable when the people allow their government to assume too broad a range of responsibilities. It's well past time to return those responsibilities to the people at every level.
Step Increases in Federal Pay or How to get a raise while your pay is frozen
President Obama, triangulating his way to 2012, has proposed to freeze federal employee pay for 2 years. Given that said employees have received raises throughout the current recession, it's probably about time. But let's not forget those step increases! As regular AR readers know, year to year, each unionized employee moves up a job "step" and receives a pay bump--what many would consider a "raise". In union-speak, just going up a step isn't a raise; a "real" raise is the percent increase in each step from year to year. Last year, for instance, federal workers saw a pay increase of 1.5% (PDF).
Each GS level has ten steps, with varying built in raises. For instance, according to the basic General Service (GS) table, a GS-10 receives a $1,526 increase for each step. So, if you were at step 9 in 2010, you received a base salary of $57,979. Next year, with no raise (per se), you will move to step 10 and your base salary will increase to $59,505. That's the kind of pay freeze I'd like to have! Yet, the Federal Employee union heads and liberals are caterwauling because President Obama proposed a 2% raise in March, which, for example, would have increased the GS-10 step increases to around $1,556 (around $30/step). So instead of making $59,505, our fictional GS-10 at step 10 could have been making about $59,535. Yup, 30 bucks less of a raise than one that was once mentioned is what has 'em up in arms.
“Of course, he’s playing politics,” said Derrick Thomas, a national vice present of the American Federation of Government Employees. Thomas oversees the federation’s 2nd District, which represents 100,000 federal workers in New England, New York and New Jersey. “He’s caving in to the Republicans, to the Cato Institute, to the Heritage Foundation, at the expense of his workers.Don't let them fool you, their unionized workers are still getting raises. As for the non-union federal workers, this 2 year pay freeze is small potatoes after uninterrupted pay increases during the last decade or so, regardless of inflation or recession.
“It’s really disappointing.”
A pay freeze could affect thousands of federal employees for years to come as their retirement benefits are dependent on the “High 3,” the highest average basic pay they earn during any three consecutive years of federal service.
“I don’t think it’s quite right; we’re going to get slammed with that,” said Roland B. Sasseville, the current Pawtucket chapter president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “If they freeze it now, [federal workers] are going to have a lull in their earnings.”
“Today’s announcement ... is bad for the middle class, bad for the economy and bad for business,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.
The Governor-Elect and his Transition Team Decline to Answer Anchor Rising's Civics Questions, Citing Disagreement with Their Premises
I submitted the Anchor Rising list of Gubernatorial civics questions to the transition team of incoming Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee -- who, you may recall, stated during his campaign that “Rhode Island state government must be open, accessible, and accountable to its citizens" -- and asked if the Governor-elect would be willing to sit for an interview on them. A spokesman for the Chafee transition team declined the offer, saying that...
We do not agree with the premise of these questions.The questions that the new administration is not willing to discuss, premises included, are listed below.
- The previous legislative year began with the creation of a Teachers' Health Insurance Board, which on its face looks to be a violation of the separation-of-powers provision of the RI Constitution. We ended the year with the passage of a municipal fiscal stabilization bill, that can be basically used to suspend democratic governance in any RI municipality.
Are we living through times right now that are so extreme, that basic principles of democratic government need to be shoved aside?
- One set of criteria in the new fiscal stabilization law that can trigger a municipal takeover by the state involves decisions made by bond-rating agencies. The 1990s RI Supreme Court opinion which will likely be used to justify this new law begins with the statement that "on or about July 16, 1993, Moody's Investors Services, a recognized bond-rating agency, downgraded the town of West Warwick's municipal bonds to a grade Ba".
Do we now live in a society that believes that financial-industry needs take precedence over democratic voice?
- There has been speculation in national media that several states facing long-term fiscal problems -- a category that can be fairly said to include Rhode Island -- may ask for a Federal bailout, or that Federal laws will be changed to allow them to declare bankruptcy. Do you believe that either of these options are possibilities for Rhode Island in the near term?
- The combined state and municipal budgets for Rhode Island have grown steadily (adjusted for inflation) over the past 10 years, a period of time which includes September 11, 2001 and its immediate aftermath, the end-of-the-financial world as we knew it in 2008, and the relative lull (at least domestically) in between.
Is it by design or by accident that government has been growing as if on autopilot -- or would you disagree with that characterization entirely? Compared with 10 years ago, are Rhode Islanders getting more in return for their increased spending?
Senator Whitehouse's Appearance in Wikileaks
So far, I've only found a single reference in the recently released batch of Wikileaks diplomatic cables to a member of Rhode Island's Federal Congressional delegation, in a report on a February 2009 meeting involving Syrian President Bashar al-Asad and RI Junior Senator Sheldon Whitehouse among others, where Senator Whitehouse takes a reasonably hard-line on the development of Iranian nuclear weapons...
P6. (C) Senator Whitehouse raised Iran, agreeing with Senator Cardin's assessment of the new political terrain and asserting: "We have a moment of opportunity for new policies." Whitehouse cautioned Asad that it was also "a time for choices." The manner in which the U.S. would proceed depended on "honest, sustained cooperation in the region," he said. The senator emphasized the time-frame for this cooperation was quite short. The one thing that could bring it to a premature close would be Iran's development of nuclear weapons. "If Iran insists," Senator Whitehouse stated, "it will create an atmosphere challenging for negotiations."
P7. (C) Asad swiftly responded, "we're not convinced Iran is developing nuclear weapons." He argued Iran could not use a nuclear weapon as a deterrent because nobody believed Iran would actually use it against Israel. Asad noted an Iranian nuclear strike against Israel would result in massive Palestinian casualties, which Iran would never risk.
P8. (C) ...Asad asserted demands for Iran to "stop" its nuclear program were unproductive and a violation of its rights under the [Non-Proliferation Treaty]. Instead, he said, "the argument should be about how to monitor their program," as outlined in the NPT. "Without this monitoring," Asad warned, "there will be confrontation, and it will be difficult for the whole region." Asad leaned slightly forward and said: "Let's work together on this point."
P9. (C) Senator Whitehouse replied, "I hope monitoring is enough," noting the difficulty of such a project in a closed society such as Iran. Asad responded an international system for monitoring was in place and should be followed...
Can the Opposition Machine Work?
Bill Felkner, of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, which today announced Mike Stenhouse as its new Executive Director, recently offered a review of where the RI center-right stands as a coalition:
And while [Lincoln Chafee was running left and wooing the unions], the center-right was splintering to ineffectuality. Ken Block, the Moderate candidate, thought that his start-up party with a limited platform could somehow supplant the GOP with its national infrastructure responsible for two of the largest political landslides in our nation's history. And he was willing to spend a considerable portion of his own wealth to do it. Imagine how that money could have been used to help the movement, rather than divide it.
And the largest group of center-right taxpayers in the state, the Tea Party movement, was completely caught off guard by the business coalition, RISC, when it endorsed Caprio. Why would a self-proclaimed "statewide" taxpayer group endorse a candidate without even consulting with the boots on the ground and the rest of the coalition?
To be honest, I'm not sure how much Ken and the Moderates count as center-right. I've certainly included them in descriptions of the movement in the past, but they've emerged more as liberal Democrats who, frustrated that they couldn't use the Republican Party to do so, have formed a distinct party as a base from which to challenge the establishment Democrats with whom they would otherwise ally. Take away the labels, and Ken's group is nearly as far left as Chafee, from what I can see.
But Bill does point to a real problem among the Rhode Island political opposition. Moderate Party aside, there are in some respects two center-right coalitions. OSPRI and the Tea Party form one core, and RISC forms the other, with other groups trying to navigate the turbulent waters between. The result has been unnecessary inefficiency and distracting conflict.
I've seen an imperfect parallel even at the town level, in Tiverton, where we've got Tiverton Citizens for Change (TCC), which is a RISC affiliate, and a local Tea Party Patriots group. Of course, at the town level, we've been able to work together, because each group has had a notably different focus and character. TCC has been primarily intent on town-level political strategy, while the Patriots are motivated more by state-to-national concerns.
At the state level, it would take more coordination than has proven possible to divide up the effort in a similar way, and it's a shame. That's true, not the least, because it surely contributed to the elevation of Lincoln Chafee to the governor's office.
November 29, 2010
When the Competition Catches Up, Despite Itself
Megan McArdle makes some interesting points about China's potential for economic growth that may quickly find it more susceptible to competition:
The endless acquisition of US currency is unsustainable. The sterilization transactions required to keep their foreign exchange operations from turning into inflation have left the banking system positively gorged with low-interest government bonds; and now that the sterilization has eased, the inflation is showing up anyway. The current official figures are 4.25%, and a bank economist we spoke to yesterday expects something over 5% in the near future.
The wages, too, are starting to rise. Anecdotally, we're hearing reports of labor costs jumping 15-30% in major urban areas like Beijing and Shanghai. Importing low-wage workers from distant farms and using the labor cost advantage to dramatically undercut competitors is a strategy that has limits.
Both those who essentially believe in central planning and those who do not have a tendency to see its initial appearance of success (the lure) as perpetual. The laws of economics still apply, and it still spells disaster to subvert them for too long.
Deciding What School Is For
Debates concerning what to do about the deterioration of public education appear to be honing the matter down to an essential question: What is elementary and secondary education for?
Retired founding editor of Education Week Ron Wolk appears to take what might be seen as the establishment side of that question:
Is a rigorous high-stakes standardized test appropriate to assess all children? How does treating all students alike accommodate the enormous diversity of students in their interests, their socio-economic background, their cultural differences and their learning styles?
The answer to Wolk's first inquiry, I'd suggest, might best be phrased as a return question: "Assess all children" on what? Standardized tests may not "accommodate" the diversity of qualities and interests, but that doesn't justify changing the practical import of a diploma, which does and should have a specific meaning. Graduation from high school is an academic achievement, not a statement that the system was able to find some redeeming quality in the student.
In keeping with the creeping mentality of secular statism, we seem to be elevating school to status of comprehensive development. Writes Wolk:
Yet we treat young people as if the only thing we need to know about them (or care about) is whether they meet rigorous standards in math and English. We seem to care very little about their character, their habits of mind and behavior, how hard they work, what social skills they have, and what they aspire to be.
That may or may not be true, but it's wholly appropriate for those who interact with children in an academic setting to address them mainly in terms of academics. Teachers, administrators, counselors, and coaches should never lose sight of the fact that students are human beings, and therefore more than the sum of their classroom and athletic achievements, but their total development as human beings is not, should not be, and cannot be the responsibility of a universal education system.
This conceptual error may be at the heart of more problems than just our waning academic prowess as a nation.
A Right-Reform Fly on the Wall
Remember when a raucous School Committee meeting in East Providence gave reason to hope that the game might be up for the National Education Association's unchallenged control of Rhode Island education? If so, odds are that Anchor Rising plays in that memory. We liveblogged, photographed, recorded, and analyzed. And it made a difference.
Two days later, East Providence union president Valerie Lawson and NEA lawyer John Liedecker were on the Dan Yorke show, with Jim Hummel filling in. Lawson was explaining that the teachers would never shout down a member of the public who held the microphone; rather, teachers were a little overenthusiastic in cheering for the next person in line to speak. Hummel played a clip of audio from the recordings linked, above, that proved Lawson to be lying, and Liedecker had to jump into the conversation to change the subject.
The point is that we were there, and because we were there, people had access to the truth about what happened. That is why it's so important that Rhode Islanders who want to pull the state back from the brink help us to create a full-time job within Anchor Rising. So that we'll be there when it matters.
Please email or call (401-835-7156) Justin to pledge support for 2011. We're still a long way off, but pledges only commit you to payment if we achieve our goal.
Chafee's Aimin' to Give It
What's the famous H.L. Menken quotation? "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard." I suspect that's going to be the unofficial slogan of the Linc Chafee years in Rhode Island. It came to mind when the Department of Revenue found that Chafee's plan to tax everything that moves in Rhode Island would actually increase the taxes that we pay by $121 million, rather than the $89.4 million that he'd been claiming:
The list of 93 items that are exempt from the existing 7-percent state sales tax, in addition to food, clothing and medicine, is made up of items that state lawmakers deliberately chose not to tax, among them: school meals, prosthetic devices and sales to charitable, educational and religious organizations. Also included: equipment purchased for manufacturing purposes and adaptive equipment that helps amputee veterans drive their cars. [Don't forget heating fuel.]
When asked last week whether Chafee favors taxing such items, his spokesman, Michael Trainor, said the former U.S. senator "never wavered" during the campaign from his plan to establish a 1-percent tax on exempt items, and is not wavering now.
"Certainly, in the early days of his administration, there needs to be additional revenue," Trainor said. "He views this as a temporary extension to the exempt items that would be retired as soon as the budget situation is under control."
And what happens when "the budget system" (along with spending) becomes more out of control? Well, the difference between items currently taxed at 7% and those to be taxed at 1% is minimal, wouldn't you say?
The quotation came to mind, again, when Chafee dug in on his pledge to wipe away E-Verify at the state level, doubled down with an intention to bring this campaign across state borders, and offered this non sequitur, which raises serious questions about the governor-elect's capacity for reason:
"We have a disaster of an economy. Unemployment is one of the worst in the country. We're way worse than our neighbors, who all have the same labor laws as us," except for the immigration order, he said. "Obviously it's not working."
Blaming the state's economic woes on the fact that the state government has at least minimal controls against the hiring of illegal immigrants is nonsense on its face. Can the man who is soon to be the chief executive of our state think no more clearly than that? Even the Providence Journal editors think Chafee's way off, on this one:
The governor-elect argued that E-Verify "simply doesn’t work" and "has proved ineffective."
That would surprise people with much greater expertise on the subject, including Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security for President Obama, whom Mr. Chafee strongly supports.
"E-Verify is a smart, simple and effective tool that helps employers and businesses throughout the nation maintain a legal workforce," Ms. Napolitano said this month, in announcing that the program is being expanded at the federal level to include U.S. passports and passport cards for employment verification. Thirteen states now mandate E-Verify and the number will grow. (See "Chafee understates use of E-Verify system," news, Nov. 19.)
And even you don't agree with Chris Plante and the National Organization of Marriage, perhaps you'll hear echoes of Menken in the Chafee camp's handling of Plante's effort at least to be heard on the issue in the governor's office:
[Dhavee spokesman Michael Trainor] also denied ever telling Plante "that the governor-elect would sit down with him." In fact, Trainor said, his letter reflected his belief that a meeting would probably "not be productive" in light of Chafee's "long-established position" on the issue.
But Trainor said Chafee is, in fact, open to talking with Plante one-on-one about the issue. Explaining why his own letter to Plante did not raise this possibility, Trainor said it was sent without the governor-elect's knowledge, amid "literally hundreds of requests for meetings."
"But now that Mr. Plante has decided to make a public issue of this, Lincoln Chafee is more than willing to have him in and to have a conversation."
It's just basic politics to make some effort to allow the opposition to feel as if it has had input, thereby defusing some of the bitterness from the debate. Governor Carcieri, for one, met with advocates for same-sex marriage even though his stand was at least as strong in the opposite direction as Chafee's.
The frightening theme that recurs with every article concerning the soon-to-be governor of Rhode Island is that the people of the state are going to have to look to the General Assembly for balance and reason while Chafee's in the executive seat. Those who believe that the healthiest outcome for Rhode Island would be a hastening of its demise (and therefore, its recovery) may soon get their wish.
November 28, 2010
Money Out, Money In
Ian Donnis makes an interesting observation:
Cicilline and other Democrats have been out front in decrying the US Supreme Court's decision in the Citizens United case, which unleased a new wave of 527 spending.
But US News recently found that five of the seven biggest super PACs this year supported Democrats.
The storyline one often hears from Democrats opposed to Citizens United is that evil corporate sources will unleash their financial heft to overwhelm the kind, sweet efforts of regular ol' voters, but clearly, the Left is not without its moneyed special interests. Indeed, it typically seems to be the case that Democrats are the larger beneficiaries when bigger money is allowed into campaign battles.
That makes sense, in a general way. As a group, those who would advocate for larger government stand to profit more from their investment in the party that favors it than the party that, if not opposing it, favors it less.
Why, then, do Democrats oppose change to campaign finance law that appear to benefit them disproportionately? Principle is probably part of it, in some cases, just as it is by principle that conservatives might oppose restrictions on campaign finance even though their side might be harmed more greatly by them. It appears more likely, by my lights, that Democrats and the Left are content with the imbalance that they have built up in areas immune to campaign finance (mainstream media, union activism, and so on). Perhaps, as well, they've been receiving the now-disclosed money all along through channels that are not so easily traced.
A Strange Global Misunderstanding
There's something surreal about the continuing insistence that Pope Benedict has somehow changed Catholic teachings on condom use. This Christian Science Monitor article captures, pretty well, the error:
Secular Europe is a region that Pope Benedict views as critical to rebuilding Roman Catholicism. The pope's notice of acceptable condom use in some cases, such as by male prostitutes, may be a technically narrow shift; the pope also stated that "fixating on condoms is a trivialization of sexuality."
But given the Vatican's more conservative direction under Benedict, this is being read as a shift from negative to positive language on matters related to sexual behavior at a time when the public image of the church in Europe is badly damaged over priestly child abuse scandals in Ireland, Germany, and Belgium.
The only explanation for so many writers and editors' considering "acceptable condom use" as an appropriate paraphrase of Benedict's statement is that they lack the intellectual vocabulary to be more accurate. It's a bit like saying that it is acceptable to hit a bank clerk over the head rather than shoot her dead during a robbery. In the actual quotation, the Pope strove to articulate quite a different view.
Perhaps the most substantial underlying error is the focus on acts rather than spiritual frame of mind. Condom use by a male prostitute, in the Pope's example, is an indication that a glimmer of hope exists for moral reasoning, which may lead from the understanding that transmitting a deadly virus is immoral to the understanding that perpetuating a sinful lifestyle is immoral.
Prophylactics are more tragic than actively sinful. The sin comes in the context that make condom use the "lesser evil" whether that means the practice of promiscuous sex that risks the spread of infectious disease or the deterioration of a married couple's circumstances to the point at which they can no longer be open to new life in their families.
However, the typical presentation of condoms in the secular arena is as devices that take away the danger (read: sin) of sex. Thus, in Benedict's words, "the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality," which is the underlying problem perpetuating the AIDS crisis in Africa and some instances of the moral disintegration of the West.
November 27, 2010
Break out the Pop Corn: Al Gore Revisits his Support of Corn-for-Ethanol Subsidies
Al Gore has let the cat out of the bag. On Wednesday, addressing a green energy business conference in Greece (undoubtedly, a non-greenhouse gas emitting tall ship carried the advocate of AGW there from the US), the former VP admitted that the net energy produced from corn grown for ethanol is
at best very small
and, accordingly, corn for ethanol is not a wise use of taxpayer subsidies.
He also 'fessed up to what anyone with half a brain knew about elected officials and candidates who vote for or support tax subsidies for corn - that he used his office to facilitate the flow of tax dollars to fields in Iowa and elsewhere so as to harvest votes, not corn or green energy.
Thanks, Al! Now can we please allow those corn subsidies to expire? Tax payers have no obligation to fund either the garnering of votes or the expensive delusion that corn ethanol is a viable clean energy source.
An Uproar of Absurdity
Even the jaded among us might be surprised by the absurd longevity of the "Uproar over [Bristol] Palin" on Dancing with the Stars. It's difficult to ignore, though, the fact that such pop-cultural controversies can be relatively benign stand-ins for more substantial ideological and political battles:
This latest reality show tempest highlights the power of popularity over talent when mostly unregulated public voting is involved and, perhaps more dramatically, the polarizing effect of the Palin family name, which received prominent attention earlier this month in one of the most heated elections in recent memory.
Note the word "unregulated." The general sides are easy to draw: One side wishes to restrict criteria and channel participation toward its preferred outcome; the other side wishes criteria to be open so that it can persuade and, well, channel participation toward its preferred outcome.
The bit of insight underlying this particular controversy is that the Left has recognized the value of having its tacit dominance of pop culture and entertainment unchallenged for nearly the past half-century, and the Right willing to be more forthright (and honest) in its subversion:
Sarah Palin supporters helped organize campaigns to keep her daughter on the show, like radio talk host Tammy Bruce's "Operation Bristol." Conservative blogger Kevin DuJan's Hillbuzz.org website also led a get-out-the-vote effort and wrote after Tuesday's results that Palin "drove the Left crazy for three months. Score!"
It's no surprise that Jennifer Grey, who found fame with the movie Dirty Dancing, won a dance competition centered around the premise of placing unlikely stars on the dance floor. It's never a surprise when mainstream shows, like So You Think You Can Dance, make left-wing political statements. And perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that the Left would squeal when it opens up the voting lines and Americans offer a different view.
Proposed Poster Boards for Gov-Elect Chafee's Upcoming Budget Summit
We learn of the budget summit - neither date nor location firm at this point - from Ted Nesi over at WPRI 12.
Gov.-elect Lincoln Chafee will hold a daylong budget summit next month to kick-start discussions of how to close Rhode Island’s $300 million projected deficit for the fiscal year that starts July 1, WPRI.com has confirmed.
The tax-and-spending conference is tentatively scheduled for Friday, Dec. 17, but that date isn’t official yet, Chafee spokesman Mike Trainor told me on Tuesday. The presenters and participants will be “an interdisciplinary group” that will include legislative leaders and fiscal experts, he said. The event may be held at URI’s rustic W. Alton Jones campus in West Greenwich.
My first reaction was to ask whether tax payers would be invited to the summit. Then it occurred to me that we might be just as well represented by some of the following facts in 72 point font at the front of the room for participants to keep in mind - or eliminate - as they contemplate solutions. (Did I leave any out?)
RI's sales tax 19th highest: "Race to the Top" of Education Excellence, Not National Sales Tax Ranking
Tenth Highest (Combined Local and State Tax Burden) is High Enough
"Minimum" Manning (and Other Unfunded Mandates) Means Maximum Property Taxes: Give Cities and Towns the Tools They Need to Control Their Budgets.
Grow the Pie: 42nd is No Climate to Do Business In
What Healthcare Poll Results Really Show
The Providence Journal's headline: "Public split on health-care law." The source, McClatchy Newspapers, states the implication more boldly: "New poll undercuts GOP claims of a midterm mandate."
A majority of Americans want the Congress to keep the new health care law or actually expand it, despite Republican claims that they have a mandate from the people to kill it, according to a new McClatchy-Marist poll.
The post-election survey showed that 51 percent of registered voters want to keep the law or change it to do more, while 44 percent want to change it to do less or repeal it altogether. ...
On the side favoring it, 16 percent of registered voters want to let it stand as is.
Another 35 percent want to change it to do more.
On their face, though, the available answers to the question of "what Congress should do with the 2010 Health Care Law" are confusing. The first evidence that this is a factor comes later in the article:
Independents, who swung to the Republicans in the Nov. 2 elections, are evenly divided on how to handle the health care law, with 36 percent for repealing it and 12 percent for restraining it a total of 48 percent negative while 34 percent want to expand it and 14 percent want to leave it as is also totaling 48 percent.
McClatchy's summary of these results isn't anywhere near plausible. According to the analysis, folks who responded to Obama and the Democrats by switching to Republicans are more likely than the average to "favor" the healthcare law, as defined as "wanting to change it to do more." Looking at the raw data (PDF), more Tea Party supporters want to "change it so it does more" than "change it so it does less." The question is clearly ambiguous. What if I want healthcare laws to allow more high-deductible plans with health savings accounts? Or to enable individual purchase of health insurance across state lines? Or to reform tort law? On the scoreboard, those policies are on the opposite end of the spectrum from ObamaCare, yet some poll respondents almost certainly were thinking of such things when they said they want the law to "do more."
To bolster its analysis, McClatchy considered responses to individual components of the law. Respondents liked the facts that it "stops insurance companies from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions" (59% to 36%), "allows children up to age 26 to stay on their parents' health insurance policies" (68% to 29%), and "closes the so-called donut hole in Medicare prescription drug coverage by providing assistance to pay for costs" (57% to 32%). But respondents flip their opinions on the signature aspect of the law that defines ObamaCare. Only 29% think "Americans should be required to buy health insurance," while 65% believe "it is unconstitutional to require it." (Note that the poll is sloppy even at this level of detail: Why must the choices be support for the insurance mandate or unconstitutionality? Surely it's possible to think it's constitutional but still oppose it.)
Clearly a case can be made that:
- A more choice-driven health insurance regime would enable Americans to choose policies that suit them (e.g., covering adult children).
- Less-expensive high-deductible and catastrophic coverage plans with health savings accounts would be more broadly affordable and, therefore, translate into fewer Americans caught with "pre-existing" conditions, because they wouldn't be without insurance for periods of time or lose it when they switch employers.
- All of the benefits that Americans wish to derive from healthcare law can (perhaps must) be sought only after all of the obscure and detrimental aspects of ObamaCare have been stricken wholesale from the legal code.
Laid Low by Higher Education
This is becoming a growing wave of like opinion:
"We have too many college seats," [former Keene State College instructor Craig] Brandon, a Surry resident, says in an interview. "We don't need that many college graduates. The reality is that we overeducate people, which would be OK if it were free, but it's not free." Parents lose years of careful savings. Students go into debt. Opportunity costs are immeasurable.
The alleged wage premium -- the extra lifetime money college graduates make compared to those who stop at high school -- is both exaggerated and shrinking. One student graduates high school and goes straight into the work force. Another starts college, but drops out after a few semesters. A third takes the actual average of five years to get a four-year degree and graduates with the average $25,000 student loan debt. Even if the college grad has a better-paying job -- an outcome not at all guaranteed -- years of tuition, living expenses, deferred income and now student loan payments put her in a deep hole. Five or even 20 years after leaving high school, which classmate is furthest ahead?
Brandon describes the vast majority of colleges as "subprime," which he defines as any school that has lowered its standards to the point at which almost anyone can pass. There's a college for every student at any price point, regardless of ability or career goals. At subprime schools, Brandon estimates, only 10 percent of students are really interested in academics. The rest are there for mostly social purposes.
I've been thinking that the push for college has become like a much broader, and more legitimate, version of little league parents' dreams of scholarships and professional sports careers for their children or the obsession that one can observe during the audition episodes of American Idol. What's lost in the cultural messaging is that it is college, of itself, is a guarantor of nothing except, as Fergus Cullen puts it in the quotation above, lost savings, debt, and opportunity costs.
Of course, students can extract an excellent education even from "subprime" schools. As the quality of the institution declines, the self-direction required from the student increases. After all, a truly motivated young adult could learn a degree's worth of knowledge simply with four years off and a library card. And if degrees are designed to be acquired, rather than earned, then they don't really tell potential employers whether its holder took the downhill or uphill route.
November 26, 2010
The Careful Language of the Union's Governor
Ted Nesi is a bit too credulous about statements from Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee's spokesman, Mike Trainor:
... Chafee spokesman Mike Trainor told me in a phone interview a few minutes ago. "I just spoke to the governor-elect about this, and with all due respect, you may be jumping to conclusions that are not necessarily accurate," he said. (Who, me?)
"Gov.-elect Chafee does not have any plans for a wholesale replacement of the Board of Regents," Trainor explained. "He's going to look at each of the members in light of their experience and their relationship to his education philosophy. But it would be wrong to speculate that the entire board is going to be replaced."
So, Chafee doesn't have plans to replace every voice of education reform in Rhode Island government, but he has yet to determine who will be willing to conform with "his education philosophy." I'd say it's fair to expect to see either capitulation by the appointed office holders or a conflict after which we'll hear from Trainor that some board member or commissioner was entirely out of sync with the governor's expectations for education in Rhode Island... yadda yadda.
Nesi also points to some profiles of Diane Ravitch, who apparently has contributed much to Chafee's "education philosophy." Ravitch's may be a familiar name as somebody who has switched from the choice-and-accountability movement to... well, to whatever the opposing side is. I've addressed her conversion here and here.
A Race Best Not Entered
An article about Massachusetts' race for a wind energy boom conveys the folly of Rhode Island's own quest:
Massachusetts could soon be home to the nation's first offshore wind farm -- and state officials are hoping to use the Cape Wind project to help fuel a small but burgeoning local wind-power energy boom.
There are already more than a half-dozen companies staking out their claim to the state's wind energy landscape, from designing better turbine blades to marketing high-tech machines that can measure wind speeds and directions from the ground.
And when the nation's largest wind blade testing facility opens early next year on Boston's waterfront, officials are hoping to draw even more business.
One gets the sense that Rhode Island officials believe that being the first state to enter fully into the industry grants rights to house its hub. It's not going to work like that. There's no wall at the border that prevents companies serving the Rhode Island wind market from setting up shop in Massachusetts... or vice versa. Indeed, companies will likely wish to serve both from the same location.
The real determining factor is not going to be which state was first in the water with an offshore farm, but which state presents a better environment in which companies can begin operations and thrive. That should be our state's focus, and it doesn't require special deals for particular organizations in a narrow industry.
Who's Leaving and How to Stop Them
I called in, again, to the Matt Allen Show on Wednesday to remind his listeners about the sort of research that Anchor Rising has done purely out of intellectual curiosity and to encourage them to help us make it a bit more than a hobby. Stream by clicking here, or download it.
Again, please email or call (401-835-7156) me to pledge financial support as subscriptions, donations, or advertising for 2011. We've still got a long, long way to go.
East Providence as Emblem of Rhode Island
Ed Achorn laments the political reality of East Providence. Noting that voters supported a local tax cap, he points out that they removed from office the very people who would strive to meet it.
The unions, in short, outhustled, outspent, out-deceived and out-organized the public-spirited incumbents in East Providence, making sure that they won't be an impediment for the next two years.
I know, I know. That's democracy, and there is no way to constrain special interests from swamping elections in that manner without undermining the whole system. If people are ill-informed or apathetic enough to let them get away with it, they deserve everything they get good and hard.
Personally, I think Achorn's a bit too bleak and cynical. It's true, as he writes, that special interests have larger individual financial stakes in each election than the average voter, but it's also true that their political opposition has a better, more salable message. It ought to take fewer dollars and less repetitive action (advertising, stumping, and so on) to mount a defense.
Other than hoping that voters might someday become better informed and take their duty a little more seriously, or that good-government groups might somehow find the resources to fight fire with fire, I don't really have an answer for all of this. Wish I did.
It wouldn't take a "fire with fire" match of investment for good-government groups and Web sites (ahem) to compete. A relatively small, sustained investment with motivated individuals and organizations, even outside of election season, could create an atmosphere in which voters are better informed, not only about the minutia of local government, but also about the players and principles involved.
November 25, 2010
Bobby Jindal: Make Congress Part Time
Gov Jindal of Louisiana puts forth this excellent proposal in an interview with former Rhode Islander and current Human Events editor Jason Mattera. Amazingly, it doesn't even appear to be unconstitutional as the Constitution does not specify the duration of a Congressional session.
A determination of what comprises "part time" would have to be made. One month per year sounds good to me but I'm open to other suggestions. Under this proposal, members of Congress need not worry about a loss of base remuneration. They would keep their current salaries because, as Jindal points out,
We used to pay farmers not to grow crops
Similarly, we'd be a lot better off if we paid Congress not to legislate.
Concurrently, congressional staffing levels would have to be cut way back. There'd be no point in making our elected representatives part time if a full-time, non-elected bureaucracy remains in the Capitol to make mischief that can be swiftly gaveled into law when the witching month arrives.
Thankful for the Window
Roger Simon's Thanksgiving musings struck me as particularly poignant:
My real beef with Barack Obama is that he does not want to acknowledge that [America represents human aspiration to the world] or he doesn't believe it. I don't know which. But in any case he rejects it. I saw that most clearly on what was for me the worst moment of his sad presidency when he failed to respond publicly in support of the democracy demonstrators in Iran. He wouldn't be a window for their dreams and aspirations. Ironically, given his own bloviations, he offered them no hope. He wasn't a wimp to come back to Smith's dichotomy in his first paragraph. He was something worse a cold narcissistic fish, interested in only his now-absurd negotiation with Ahmadinejad and, of course, in himself. He left the Iranian students with no window no American dream for their world.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I sincerely hope that Barack Obama and what he stands for is just a bump on an ever-bumpy road and that we are on our way out of the slough of despond that our country finds itself in. I think we can all agree, however, that this slough is pretty deep. Getting out of it will not be as easy as a few tea party victories. The work has only just begun. But it's worth the effort, most certainly.
Governor Carcieri's Thanksgiving Message
Received via e-mail this morning. Inspirational even to this heathen.
"Grace is everywhere." These were the final words of the curé in Bernanos' famous novel, "Diary of a Country Priest." One does not have to be religious to be aware of how much has been given to us and how this knowledge moves us to gratitude.
In these past several years, I have been moved to gratitude by many things, most strongly the sacrifice of fellow Rhode Islanders who serve in the Armed Forces, putting their lives on the line for our freedom and way of life. I am continually thankful for the everyday dedication of parents and teachers who guide our young people, and for the young people themselves who give us energy and idealism and optimism. I give thanks for public servants who give their all for the common good. I am grateful for the passion of advocates on all sides of political issues as they seek what is best for our society.
No matter how often I see people motivated by self-interest and power and greed, I see even more people who work for something greater than themselves. No matter how much I see need and discouragement, I see greater generosity and determination. No matter how often I see those eager to tear others down, I see even more who build others up. I am thankful for all this goodness that is evident around us. Like most, I am thankful for my family and those close to me, but I have been privileged to witness so much goodness all across our great state and for this blessing I am grateful.
Grace is everywhere. Each year we pause to remember the Pilgrims' experience and to open our own hearts to expressions of thankfulness. This Thanksgiving, I join with all Rhode Islanders in giving thanks and in hoping that each one of us can look beyond ourselves to others' needs and the greater good. May our observance of this national holiday make us worthy of the blessings that have been given to us.
Donald L. Carcieri
For many years, the Saturday Evening Post captured the pulse of America, particularly its cover art. In 1943, Norman Rockwell provided one of the iconic images of Thanksgiving with this cover.
"Freedom From Want" ~ Norman Rockwell
Ironically, the cover appeared in March, not November, and, as its title illustrates, was in reference to one of President Franklin Roosevelt's 4 Freedoms.
Fifteen years earlier, in 1938, J.C. Leyendecker portrayed what, to many modern Americans, Thanksgiving is really all about.
"After Turkey Nap" ~ J.C. Leyendecker
Yet, it was Rockwell's cover of 1945 that speaks to contemporary times as much as when it was first published.
"Home for Thanksgiving" ~ Norman Rockwell
Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers, to all of your family and friends and to all of our men and women in uniform.
November 24, 2010
Headlines as Wish Fulfillment
It's a small thing, perhaps, but it's been bugging me that the headline writers for the Providence Journal gave the title "Election shows Obama needs to shore up his base" when the paper published this article on November 14:
Two years before voters render judgment on his tenure, Obama's most critical task may be winning back those who aren't affiliated with a party but who hold enormous sway in close contests. National exit polls from the midterm elections show these voters broke heavily for Republicans after helping elect Obama and Democrats in the two previous elections.
Either the headline writer doesn't know what a political "base" is, or he/she so wants the president to move farther left that political analysis has been entirely subsumed by ideology.
The Radicals' Approach to Social Engineering
... The British Columbia Supreme Court will consider the legality of the province's laws after two members of a Mormon community in Bountiful, British Columbia, were charged with polygamy. The case will center primarily on religious freedom, but it may provide an opportunity to rethink the justification for banning polygamy.
"The problem," says Queen's University law professor Beverley Baines, "is that Canadian culture has changed significantly and there are many people living secretly in polygamous relationships. There is an assumption that polygamy is bad for women and children--but as long as it's a crime, no one is going to belly up and say they're living in the relationship. Until they decriminalize it we can't know if it's harmful in Canada."
The first thought to mind is Nancy Pelosi's admonition that Congress had to pass ObamaCare to see what it contained, but it hadn't previously occurred to me how apt a summary of the radical, or progressive, approach to social change that statement really was. It's all a grand experiment to them, no matter how many lives are damaged by the cultural underpinnings that they're so eager to sweep away.
Of course, to the extent that they are willing to consider evidence at all, progressives are likely aware that so many factors come into play, in the social arena, that no instance of cause and effect is ever free of the opportunity to dissemble and make excuses.
Not So Out There, After All
Ron Radosh says that he began reading Stanley Kurtz's book, Radical-in-Chief, "skeptical of the charge" that President Obama is a socialist, but the book changed his mind:
As the years went by, and Barack Obama moved from community organizing to Harvard Law and then back to Chicago, Kurtz shows that one thing remained constant: Obama continued to move in the same socialist circles that he had first come across at the SSC at Cooper Union. It was there that he probably heard a young Cornel West talk at a panel on race and class in Marxism, and was introduced to the father of Black Liberation theology, James Cone, the mentor to a minister named Rev. Jeremiah Wright. It was also at the SSC that he most likely came across a leader of Michael Harrington's Democratic Socialists of America, the Yugoslav-born Bogdan Denitch, who wrote an essay on the importance of Harold Washington's mayoral campaign in Chicago, in uniting the black and white Left in a new class politics that would produce victory and socialist momentum.
These ideas and theories motivated Obama and helped him choose his own career path that of community organizing as the way to lead a coalition of blacks, whites, and Hispanics to create a socialist "redefinition" of America, with one caveat: The concept and advocacy of socialism as the final goal would consciously be hidden from sight. As Kurtz reveals, the socialist theorists openly talked about what they called "stealth socialism" or "incremental radicalism," small steps that move the nation forward until the ultimate goal of a socialist transformation is obtained. One moves apparently without an ideological plan, but working for measures that will end with an irreversible move to a statist economy based on public control through groups run by labor and community organizations. As Kurtz writes: "Obama's college socialism, the influence of socialist conferences on his career, his choice of a profession dominated by socialists, and his extensive alliances with the most influential stealth-socialist community organizers in the country give the game away. Obama has adopted the gradualist socialist strategy of his mentors. . . . Eventually, this will transform American capitalism into something resembling a socialist-inspired Scandinavian welfare state."
Plenty of us saw through the facade before America's Great Mistake of 2008, but as Radosh points out, many of "Obama's inexplicable actions" disregarding all messages from the public regarding ObamaCare notable among them make sense within this construct.
No doubt, many who take up the "stealth socialism" program do so unconsciously, merely being duped by the rhetoric that its advocates deploy. As the media fawners were quick to proclaim during his campaign for office, Barack Obama is too smart for that to be the case, for him.
Golden Geese, Living and Dead
A quick Google search of his name suggests that he might, but I wonder how many people who agree with Shane Gaudet's view on taxing nonprofits would apply that argument to such things as corporate and income taxes for high-income Rhode Islanders:
The nine nonprofits listed in the story employ more than 20,000 people. Jobs are good, are they not? And consider the number of students who live in, or commute to, the city to attend the four private colleges, and what their presence means for business. Did the officials "factor" this in their study?
If these colleges decided to pack up and move to another city (it can be done) where would that leave Providence? I think Rhode Island's capital would be more like Detroit than a flourishing city.
The Providence Journal titled Gaudet's letter, "Golden-goose squeeze." Well, a thriving state should have multiple such geese, and Rhode Island has been squeezing them all for far too long. Gaudet urges city officials to concentrate on "ways they can cut spending" (emphasis in original). Would that more voters shared his preference.
November 23, 2010
Why Old Trucks Are Worth More
Although typically a fan of liberal policies and government-driven solutions Bob Kerr has decided that he doesn't like the outcome of car taxes on old vehicles:
"It's obvious that small towns need to raise money," [David Shepherd] says.
Still, he finds the tax bill he received in September a mysterious piece of work. It seems to create something out of nothing.
The tax bill on his truck from the Town of Hopkinton is $96. It is not a bill that will mean major cutbacks on Dutch Hill Road. But it is a bill strangely out of sync with previous bills.
Last year, the tax bill on his old truck was zero, nothing, nada.
"Where does that value come from?" he asks.
Ah, there's the question. A truck gets a year older, a little more settled on its front end, and yet its official value goes up.
There are two culprits, here. The first is the cessation of the state's reimbursement of towns for the taxes that they would otherwise charge on the first $6,000 of a vehicle's value. The remedy for that problem, it seems to me, is for the David Shepherds of Rhode Island to involve themselves with local government and rearrange the circumstances that lead the town to require the money. Pushing those tax dollars through the State House only obscures the financial pictures.
The second is the increased value of used cars. Kerr quotes a woman from the Hopkinton tax assessors office opining that "a lot of people aren't buying new cars, so the second-hand ones become more valuable." What this misses is that Kerr-idol President Obama and the Congressional Democrats created a program that gave people incentive to bring in older vehicles and buy newer ones and that required those older vehicles to be destroyed. That reduced the supply of old vehicles (for parts as well as in whole), and increased the value of those that had not been traded in.
Perhaps Bob should send a copy of his column to the White House.
More on Assassination
Andrew McCarthy has responded to Kevin Williamson's argument against President Obama's approval of assassinating al Qaeda figure and American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, which I mentioned here. As he typically does, McCarthy makes a strong argument, but I think the sides in the dispute might be circling around the ground that might lead to accord.
One point that McCarthy makes is that the President is constrained by political balances:
Could a president abuse his powers? Of course. All power can be abused including legislative and judicial power. But the basic check against that possibility is political, not legal. Mr. Williamson implausibly argues that "political limits" are inadequate against the president and must be supplemented by "legal limits." Courts, however, have no power to enforce their injunctions for that, they must rely on the executive branch, and an executive branch that maintains a list of citizens it plans to assassinate will be unlikely to enforce injunctions against itself. By contrast, a president who really did the horrific things Mr. Williamson imagines President Obama doing would find his war authorization rescinded, his military and intelligence services defunded, and himself impeached. A president guilty of less heinous excesses might not be impeached, but he would find his popular support dramatically eroded. As Mr. Obama is finding, that has political consequences among them electoral ones that curtail the presidential capacity for malfeasance. This is the genius of the system.
Put aside the question of how explicitly and repeatedly a president would have to assassinate American citizens before the picture had become sufficiently clear for Congress to defund an entire military operation. McCarthy elides, in this paragraph, the relevant point: The degree to which American citizens insist that the executive branch treat assassination (especially of citizens) as a special case requiring judicial oversight and Congressional input factors into the political calculation that the President makes. That is, if a judge declines to bless a particular assassination order, the President may not have to listen, ultimately, but the political cost of doing so would add an exponent to the backlash against the order in the first place.
Politics also play in a tangential point of McCarthy's:
That's all the assassination authorization for Awlaki is: legal cover if circumstances arise under which killing him is the best military option. And here we arrive at the central absurdity in Mr. Williamson's argument. Though minimizing him, Mr. Williamson concedes Awlaki is a bad actor and has no objection to his being killed on the battlefield. Since Mr. Williamson doesn't see that as problematic, he can't fathom why our armed forces would want insurance though it is they, not he, who would be hauled into court by Awlaki's family. But the authorization to assassinate Awlaki does not mean the administration would have him killed if it encountered him coming off a plane in Chicago, à la José Padilla a U.S. citizen captured, not killed, by the Bush administration. Nor does it mean our forces would kill Awlaki if they could apprehend him in a foreign country under circumstances in which detention was the more practical option, à la U.S. citizen Yaser Hamdi and al-Qaeda bigwig Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
As I've already suggested, assassinating U.S. citizens ought to be such a sticky matter that those who undertake it should have to think it so important as to risk legal repercussions. If a particular target justifies the decision's being made at the highest levels, then let the President seek the cover of Congressional or judicial approval.
Ultimately, the Williamson-McCarthy dispute comes down to what process must be followed to determine that an assassination is legitimate. One side believes there must be maximum oversight, and perhaps understanding that the process of gaining specific oversight would make the result politically untenable, the other side is content with the general oversight of politics writ large.
How Tax Cuts Increase Employment
Perhaps with the "Bush tax cuts for the rich" in mind, a recent Providence Journal editorial takes on the "belief" that cutting "companies' or individual proprietors' taxes" will lead to job growth:
The incentive to hire more people comes when demand for a company's goods and/or services increases. Then, with the expectation that higher revenues will mean higher profits for owners, big bonuses for senior managers and so on, more people get hired to meet demand.
With declining inflation-adjusted salaries, vast consumer debt, globalization (which drives down U.S. wages) and more and more use of technology to reduce staffing, it's difficult to see where demand-spawned hiring will come from. A better educated and healthier populace, and better national physical and educational infrastructure, would make America more globally competitive, thus helping to create wealth and so boosting demand. But many Americans, apparently, would prefer more tax cuts rather than pay to address what's above (let alone deal with the deficit) although 30 years of income-tax cuts don't seem to have improved middle-class standards of living; they have fallen.
There's an interesting conceptual double standard to the editors' argument. On the one hand, the only job growth that they'll apparently tally for jobs attributable to tax cuts is that which comes directly from the benefiting company using its additional funds to hire more people. On the other, expending public revenue on general environment-setting things such as education and infrastructure is thought to be a better approach. Personally, I think both should be done: taxes should be cut, and a greater percentage of government dollars should go to the basics. But on the narrower question, the essay seems to me to miss some important considerations.
First of all, job growth isn't entirely a reactive response to increasing demand. Dynamic companies have to innovate and expand, taking risks on new lines of businesses or additional products. That takes an investment in personnel who aren't serving a consumer base that's already in the store.
Second of all, and more importantly, easing taxes helps to clear the route and increases the financial incentive for those who don't already own and run companies to break off and do so, competing for the same customers or offering offshoot goods and services. When they do so, they not only open up the jobs that they'd previously held, but they begin to require new employees to populate their ventures.
Lastly, it's curious that the editors don't appear to see the effect of taxation on "salaries, vast consumer debt, [and] globalization." Lower taxes allow people to keep more of their salaries, some of which they can use to pay off their debt, or avoid getting into debt in the first place. Watching the taxes that float away in my paycheck, bump up my mortgage payment, and increase the cost of goods and services that I buy, I'm acutely aware that they come to more than the delta between what I make and what I need to make to begin moving from borrower to saver. With respect to globalization, the greater the taxes associated with each American employee (payroll and income), the more expensive the workforce becomes, and the more incentive the business has to look for alternatives.
I know, I know. The Projo editors are only talking about the taxes of Americans who aren't in my financial straits. But their position bespeaks an entire mentality that, like taxation, tends to apply across the economic spectrum.
November 22, 2010
Oh Goody; a Surplus
I just learned, during tonight's Town Council meeting in Tiverton, that Town Treasurer Phil DiMattia is projecting that the 2010 fiscal year brought nearly $1 million surplus. During a recession. With a large tax increase for the current fiscal year.
That, by the way, doesn't include federal funds given to the school department by the federal and state governments. Nice to know as I go through the weekly exercise of figuring out which bills will be least punitive not to pay, even as I try to figure out how to afford some Christmas presents for my children.
Creating Pants on Fire Out of Truth
Sunday's PolitiFact correctly rates as "true" RI Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse's statement that "the law... permits companies that close down American factories... to take a tax deduction for the costs associated with moving the jobs to China or India or wherever." But in its headline, in its presentation, and in an expanded quotation from Whitehouse, the article restates the argument in such a way as to drift into "pants on fire" territory.
The headline in the print edition of the Providence Journal is "Businesses do get tax incentive for 'offshoring.'" Reporter Eugene Emery rephrases the question as whether "the U.S. tax code actually offer[s] an incentive for firms to engage in such 'offshoring.'" And an expanded quotation shows Whitehouse stating that "loopholes in the tax code... reward American companies for moving American jobs overseas."
One needn't enter the debate about whether and what the United States should do about the loss of jobs to lower-cost workers in other countries to note that the rephrasing of the question is significantly deceptive. As the initial quotation states, businesses can deduct "for the costs associated with moving," but:
Robert E. Scott, senior international economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank that deals with issues of concern to low- and middle-income workers, confirmed that relocation expenses are deductible and that existing tax law makes no distinction between whether a company moves part of its operations to another state or to another country.
In other words, the code doesn't create an incentive to move, it just doesn't create a disincentive to do so. That's a very different dynamic. Were the U.S. government actively encouraging companies to leave our shores, the public reaction would rightly be greater than if tax law merely allows the usual adjustment for revenue spent on business-related activities.
The incentive to offshore is actually that labor is much less expensive overseas, and that merits a different response than pursuing a species of protectionist policy. I'd suggest endeavoring to increase the rights and expectations of those foreign workers and encouraging Americans toward more profitable careers.
Hooked on Hooking Up
Although admitting that "many students will thrive in their four years on campus... with dignity and sense of self intact," Mary Eberstadt offers reason for concern about the social climate on American campuses:
In 2006, a particularly informative (if also exquisitely depressing) contribution to understanding hookups was made by Unprotected, a book first published anonymously. The author was subsequently revealed to be Miriam Grossman, a psychiatrist who treated more than 2000 students at UCLA and grew alarmed by what she saw. In her book she cites numbers suggesting that psychiatric-consultation hours doubled in a few years and notes that 90 percent of campus counseling centers nationwide reported an upsurge in students with serious psychiatric problems. She also describes some of her own mental-health cases and their common denominators: drinking to oblivion, drugging, one-night sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and all the rest of the hookup-culture trappings. In 2007, Washington Post journalist Laura Sessions Stepp published the widely discussed Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both. Stepp's book was based on interviews with many high-school and college girls. In it, the author argued that hooking up actually had become the "primary" sexual interaction of the young.
One particularly insightful look at the intersection of the bingeing and hookup cultures is Koren Zaickas' book Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood (2006), in which she details her activities at Syracuse University and elsewhere. As that and several other confessional accounts show, skeptics who say it was ever thus miss the boat. It isn't only that dating has turned, for some, into no-strings hookups. It isn't only that drinking, or even heavy drinking, has turned, for certain others, into drinking to oblivion. It is at the intersection of those two trends that one finds the core curriculum of Toxic U.
I'd argue that one contributing factor to this trend (beyond general cultural deterioration, of course) has been the popularity of movies since the '70s many of them undeniable comedy classics that present recklessness as the natural college atmosphere. Another is the advance of '60s radicals into the establishment of higher education, from which perch they've fostered an image of college as the taste of liberty that a socialistic utopia could provide for all. Thirdly, as an outgrowth of number 2, has been the broad institutional acceptance of pornography as a campus staple. Eberstadt writes:
Student entrepreneurship aside, making the campus safe for smut appears to have become something of a cottage industry among those in charge too. Certain academic departments, for example, include courses in which pornography is "studied" as an art form or for its purported social meaning. There is extracurricular stuff too, including movies shown at parties attended by girls as well as boys - another illustration of how times have changed. Sometimes, in the name of the First Amendment, more ambitious projects flower. In 2009, for example, several campuses across the country screened Pirates II, which was billed as the most expensive pornographic film ever made. When the University of Maryland refused to do so because of political pressure from a congressman, student outrage was one visible result.
This is hardly an atmosphere in which American students can be expected to catch up on the remedial lessons that didn't take in public secondary school and to focus as they must on the decades of life that their few years of higher education will affect profoundly.
A Mission to Figure Out What's Happening
A few years ago, the common wisdom on the right was that Rhode Island was driving out wealthy people with its tax and spend policies, and the response from the left was to come up with other reasons that wealthy people might leave. In February 2008, Anchor Rising changed the terms of the debate. To be sure, our findings showed a net loss of taxable resident income:
But the people leaving weren't the wealthy. Rather, Rhode Island has been driving out motivated upward-movers those seeking to advance and improve their situations. Those who do the most work to drive an economy forward.
We honed in on the point revisiting the data the following year:
And now the common wisdom is that Rhode Island's population loss is a matter of absent opportunity although those in the State House apparently didn't get the message, as shown by their shifting of the tax code to place more burden upon the demographic that's been leaving and to end high-end tax breaks (flat tax and capital gains tax) that had clearly been working. On the latter count, it's a shame that Anchor Rising's reach isn't broader, because we also found that tax revenue had actually gone up among the wealthy after the tax breaks had been passed:
With that, we arrive at the point of this pitch: Anchor Rising has been very effective at affecting the public debate in Rhode Island, even if we've remained somewhat hidden behind the faces of those whose minds we've changed. Imagine what we could do if we were able to do more research and spend more time pushing it out into the public awareness. By the 2012 election, we might even manage to explain to a critical mass of voters what's been going wrong and what needs to be done to fix it.
Please email or call (401-835-7156) Justin to pledge financial support as subscriptions, donations, or advertising for 2011. We're still a long, long way away from being able to fund a full-time job, and the beauty of pledging is that we won't ask for the money unless we actually achieve that goal. (Note, too, that we're not non-profit, so while you'll get no tax break for your contribution, you also won't end up on any publicly filed list.)
Trust and Confidence in Manufacturing
Accurately or not, windsurfing an activity that I tried during summer camp once, some twenty years ago, on a windless lake comes to mind as a metaphor when trust is needed. Sometimes, you just have to lean back and trust that the wind is there to hold you up and move you forward. That, at least, is the advice that I vaguely recall from the failed expedition, and it comes to mind upon reading this paragraph from Kevin Williamson's recent article arguing that the United States has been unduly worried about China:
Despite all the new competition, the United States remains a manufacturing powerhouse in fact, the total value of manufacturing output in the United States today is far, far higher than it was in the 1950s. Measured by revenue, profit, or return on investment, U.S. manufacturing is unparalleled, and our factories' output is more than twice China's. But it is true that many manufacturing jobs have been "lost." They were lost not because U.S. manufacturing can't compete with that of feckless Third World rivals, but because U.S. manufacturing is, to use the technical economics term, awesome. The real productivity of U.S. businesses overall grew at an average rate of 1.5 percent a year from 1973 to 1995, which is a really robust number. But the productivity of U.S. manufacturing businesses grew by 2.5 percent in those same years, which is enormous. As Martin Wolf puts it in Why Globalization Works, that growth in productivity alone would have reduced significantly the number of manufacturing jobs in the United States. Add in the fact that people in affluent societies spend relatively less of their disposable income on manufactured goods and relatively more on services, and that reduction becomes even more dramatic. And so it was. There is an obvious parallel: In very poor societies, large numbers of people are employed in agriculture, and people spend most of their money on food. As they get richer, relatively few work in agriculture, and they spend proportionally little on food. Manufacturing, as Wolf sees it, is the new agriculture. In historical terms, it was not that long ago that 75 percent of the U.S. work force was engaged in farming. Now it’s less than 1 percent. But who laments the loss of good farming jobs? (Mostly people who have never worked on a farm, that’s who.)
Increased productivity collects greater wealth, and (in theory, at least) the more-efficient economy will create new and better paying occupations to replace those lost. The fear arises in the inability to predict what those occupations will be. And the alternative is to promote economic inefficiency by holding too tightly onto obsolete jobs, which leads toward the inevitable flaw that Williamson sees in China's economy (emphasis added):
... One of the benefits of running a jackbooted totalitarian regime high on nationalism is that you can do things like enforce a substantial rate of saving and a low level of consumption, or conscript large armies of industrial workers out of the agricultural classes. This sort of transformation is hardly unprecedented in the Communist world: It is precisely what the Soviets accomplished in the decades after their revolution, and a lot of American nincompoops thought they were geniuses. Modern China, having the benefit of a highly globalized economy and sophisticated modern finance, did a decidedly better job of its transformation than did the U.S.S.R. a lot more carrot, a lot less stick, post-Mao anyway but, for its day, Soviet industrialization was every bit as impressive a show of force which is precisely what it was and what China's transformation is. For all the rhetoric about liberalization, China remains a hierarchical, centralized, command-and-control economy, one in which the military takes a very strong hand in many industrial enterprises. China is not the future model of capitalism, but the contemporary model of socialism. And like all socialist enterprises, it is hamstrung by the misallocation of economic resources, a fact that is ameliorated, but only in part, by its willingness to incorporate itself into the global economy and avail itself of the benefits of efficient capital markets.
Thus, "according to World Bank figures, China’s imports in 2005 were 32 percent of GDP; America’s imports were exactly half that: 16 percent of GDP."
What ought to happen, if the government weren't in the habit of erecting barriers to entry for new companies to compete with old, is for increased productivity to enable price-dropping competition to move up the ladder. When companies streamline, those on the losing end have an opportunity to apply their expertise so as to create alternative brands, which would create incentive for innovation and drive out the excess wealth now collecting at the top of the heap. The market may currently create obscene salaries for CEOs, but automation and the ability to find less expensive labor in a global society ought to enable folks with the same executive competence to offer the same products for a lower cost.
It's a balancing act, to be sure, but I, for one, continue to doubt the ability of central planners to operate the controls, and I expect those with power to find ways to twist well-meaning regulations into protections against competition.
November 21, 2010
TSA Enters New Terrain
This video is currently Drudge's headline, and at the time of posting has only about 8,000 views, so I'm sure it's newly in the public realm. Frankly, this should be the metaphorical shirt stripped from the entire enterprise of the Transportation Security Administration:
Surely there are means of providing airplane security without strip searching children in full videorecordable view of the public... although we may have to discard a liberal shibboleth or two.
How Little We Know About How We Know
They found that the brain's complexity is beyond anything they'd imagined, almost to the point of being beyond belief, says Stephen Smith, a professor of molecular and cellular physiology and senior author of the paper describing the study:One synapse, by itself, is more like a microprocessor--with both memory-storage and information-processing elements--than a mere on/off switch. In fact, one synapse may contain on the order of 1,000 molecular-scale switches. A single human brain has more switches than all the computers and routers and Internet connections on Earth.
Our understanding will expand, of course, but at each step, there will be another mystery, another surprise at the intricacy of reality. It's speculative to suggest that, one day, we'll reach a point at which mathematics simply can't describe what's happening and science can't replicate it, but we're already able to see, if we allow ourselves to do so, that science can never adequately describe the totality of reality; such an accomplishment is simply not within the scope of its language. Indeed, much of what's regrettable, even horrific, in recent history has derived from attempts to reduce life to terms that science can accommodate.
Our brains are able to tap into ranges of knowledge that are wholly unscientific, yet no less true or accurate.
November 20, 2010
The Question Is: Privacy for Whom?
File this under "it figures":
A First Amendment lawyer who regularly litigates cases involving access to government records said Monday that compared with other states, Rhode Island appears to have far more exemptions in its laws allowing government officials to hide information from the public.
"Let's say that Rhode Island seems to really have more of a focus on individual privacy than other states," Gregory V. Sullivan commented at the end of a lecture organized by the New England First Amendment Coalition and ACCESS/RI at the Providence Athenaeum.
Sullivan did not specifically say that Rhode Island has too many exemptions, but suggested that there were some exemptions that the state’s lawmakers should review and consider abolishing, such as one protecting "communications" between officials and constituents.
Individual privacy is a wonderful principle, but this is a very narrow range by which to judge its application in our state. Out in the anonymous public, we might look at the surfeit of regulations, the variety of occupations for which one requires permits, the oppressive fire code, the requirement to report out-of-state purchases for the purpose of being taxed at Rhode Island's excessive difference, and the periodic noises about taxing cars per mile driven and wonder whose privacy we privilege.
Even the state's constitutional liberalism belies an affinity for broad privacy. Employees registered as union members are on lists broader than those kept by an individual company. Our emphasis on a safety net from TDI to unemployment to welfare inevitably requires as its entry the disclosure of highly personal information. Tiverton, for example, compensates for its high rate of tax increases by offering a hardship exemption, but to qualify townsfolk must divulge highly detailed and private information to local government officials.
I'd say that Sullivan's spin on RI policy is much like the frequent proclamation of the state's quality of life: It's there for those who can afford it, and those who can afford it are increasingly able to do so only by gaining insider status by one route or another.
I'm Sure Nothing Like This Goes on in Rhode Island
It's all about protecting the establishment Republican or Democrat:
[Alaskan Republican Joe Miller's] campaign has posted on their site three affidavits from voters concerned that irregular activity occurred at their polling places. One says that, although he was the tenth voter at his location, he saw a ballot box stuffed with "hundreds" of ballots. Another claims that the 15 write-in ballots she reviewed had Sen. Lisa Murkowski written in in what looked like similar enough handwriting that it could be from the same person.
There's more. And liberal radio host Shannyn Moore notes a different kind of irregularity:
Despite heavy national media coverage and historic Citizens United money spent on Alaska’s hotly contested and much-watched three-way US Senate race, the results, if we are to believe them, were a surprisingly low voter turnout. In fact, this election was one of the lowest turnouts since they started tracking ballots cast versus registered voters in the mid-1970s.
It's almost as if the circumstances were massaged to make it possible for a once-a-century write-in candidacy success. The Alaskan Republican Party is asking Miller to concede, naturally.
November 19, 2010
Pre-Boarding Pat-Downs May or May not Be Necessary; A Waiver to Any Group (Other Than Pilots) Will Render Them Completely Pointless
Further to Marc's post, on the one hand, the TSA has yet to explain the logic of scanning or patting down, in search of weapons and other deadly contraband, airline pilots minutes before they enter the cockpit and come into possession of the ultimate ability to terrorize a commercial flight.
On the other, in an alarming signal that either political considerations or political correctness may possibly trump homeland security, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Monday did not explicitly rule out exempting persons of a particular gender and a certain religion (the specific gender and religion are irrelevant) from pat-downs.
I honestly don't know whether the intrusive pat-downs are an intrusion necessary to protect a planeful of innocent people or an over-the-top violation of privacy by an out of control Big Brother.
Let's be clear, however. ANY exemption would completely nullify the panoply of pre-boarding screening measures to which all flights and fliers are currently subjected - and for obvious reason. The exemption, intended in this case to respect the religious requirement of privacy of an innocent person, will inevitably draw not so innocent posers on future flights, thereby breaching the security of the flight.
If this - safety and security - truly is the goal of the scans and pat-downs, there can be no exceptions. If one exception is made, the TSA needs to dispense with the examination of all passengers and wave everyone straight onto the plane from the parking garage. Every passenger gets screened or none do. The continuation of any passenger screening measures once a single group is exempted would not only be a complete waste of passenger time and TSA resources but would turn all air travel security measures into a sham, and an obvious one at that.
You may have heard that House Republicans' effort to defund NPR has failed. A cynic might wonder why Republicans would push the issue during a Democrat-dominated lame-duck session, but the it came up because it won a new "online contest that allows Americans to vote for the items they want slashed from the federal budget."
Rob Long has given the best summary of the popular backlash against NPR that I've seen (unfortunately under subscription; emphasize added):
From the smug, deluded bunker of NPR, Fox News is a big, greasy, angry, hate-filled state fair, where right-wing nuttery is passed along like deep-fried Twinkies to an obese and ignorant public. Juan Williams was a crossover artist everybody loved him on the Brit Hume show on Fox and that's usually a good thing. But from the tasteful offices of NPR, it was as if he were conferring, by the power invested in the chyron "Juan Williams, NPR," a little class to that awful, tacky network. Juan Williams gave Fox News legitimacy. Juan Williams, by his very presence with Bill O'Reilly, made it impossible to paint Fox News as the monotonal mouthpiece of the American Right. So, Juan Williams had to be fired from a network that claims to value diversity of opinion but doesn’t, for bringing diversity of opinion to a network that isn’t supposed to have it but does.
A Cautionary Note for Republicans
A self-reinforcing ailment appears to be involved with Nancy Pelosi's retention of her leadership role in the U.S. House:
"She is the face that defeated us in this last election," declared Florida Rep. Allen Boyd, who was among those who lost re-election fights. However, Pelosi, who presided over big Democratic gains in the 2006 and 2008 elections, remains popular among the liberals who dominate her caucus more than ever. Dissident moderates could not find enough votes to force her aside.
In fact, the Democrats kept their entire leadership team intact despite election losses that President Barack Obama called "a shellacking." They elected Steny Hoyer of Maryland to keep the No. 2 post and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina to hold the third-ranking position, which will be renamed "assistant leader."
As Democrats in less-liberal districts lose their seats with the shift of independents back toward Republicans, the liberals' voice in the national party will become more overwhelming. That doesn't mean that certain scenarios wouldn't lead them back to dominance of the House, but it does mean that the competition will remain the Republicans' to lose. Americans, generally, don't like what they've seen in the Democrat Left.
Republicans should learn an additional lesson. Among the reasons they lost Congress and the Presidency over the last decade was their drift from principles of limited, transparent government. Sticking to that unifying theme doesn't mean as libertarians, liberals, and "moderates" like to aver that elected officers should suppress the issues of their conservative base. But it does mean that conservatives shouldn't allow short-term victories on their issues to overwhelm the message or the practice. They can and should work to control immigration, stop the advance of same-sex marriage, and end the practice of abortion, for example, but they shouldn't, like the Democrats, throw the rules of government out the window and ignore clear messages from voters in the process.
Charles Krauthammer summarizes why touching our junk has become a tipping point:
Homeland Security's newest brainstorm - the upgraded, full-palm, up the groin, all-body pat-down. In a stroke, the young man ascended to myth, or at least the next edition of Bartlett's, warning the agent not to "touch my junk."With regards to airport security in particular, it is Krauthammer's last point addresses the chief annoyance about our current system. Others have noted that the TSA "provides far more security theater than security" as it proceeds with a politically correct approach that treats everyone as a suspect--including 10 year old girls, grandmothers and nuns--while refusing to apply even the most basic of profiling. Many have mentioned the Israeli approach and, having been through that particular process myself, I can attest that it is both effective and reassuring, but it can be very time consuming (especially if you're a single male--of any race--traveling alone). So, I'm not sure if that can be extrapolated to a U.S. scale. The bottom line is that there has to be a better way than what we're doing now.
Not quite the 18th-century elegance of "Don't Tread on Me," but the age of Twitter has a different cadence from the age of the musket. What the modern battle cry lacks in archaic charm, it makes up for in full-body syllabic punch.
Don't touch my junk is the anthem of the modern man, the Tea Party patriot, the late-life libertarian, the midterm election voter. Don't touch my junk, Obamacare - get out of my doctor's examining room, I'm wearing a paper-thin gown slit down the back. Don't touch my junk, Google - Street View is cool, but get off my street. Don't touch my junk, you airport security goon - my package belongs to no one but me, and do you really think I'm a Nigerian nut job preparing for my 72-virgin orgy by blowing my johnson to kingdom come?
Krauthammer's larger point is that this airport security brouhaha is the latest in a pattern of "Big" everything (government, business, brother) pushing around average Americans, who've had just about enough, thank you. Americans are mad as hell and are starting to lash out at anything they perceive as ridiculously hypocritical or antithetical to common sense. Like entities that benefit from a different rule set--from Wall Street bankers to government employees to health care waivers--than they do. Or like looking up a nun's habit but not screening cargo from Yemen. The resulting mood, frustrated populism if you will, isn't going to go away any time soon.
Another Phrase for "Taxpayer Subsidized"
This group of industries seems a bit too narrow to count as a "knowledge economy" or to stand as comprehensive representatives of the value of intellectual capital. Indeed, another quality that they share would be a much better descriptor:
The knowledge economy refers to the health-care, life-sciences, research and green-technology sectors and to the idea that work, jobs and wealth are created with innovative brain power.
Especially with healthcare and "green" technology, the application of knowledge isn't much more relevant than it is in just about any industry, but what all of these sectors have in common is that they're taxpayer subsidized. Note the examples:
In 2009, Lifespan Hospitals successfully sought $49.2 million in competitive grants from the National Institutes of Health, he said. Brown University pulled in $180 million in research grants for the 2009-2010 school year, a 37-percent increase over the previous year, Hatfield said. And the University of Rhode Island got $105 million in grants, 60 percent more than three years earlier ...
Grants, if not given directly by government departments, are typically provided by tax-exempt entities, and in the cited cases, they're going to tax exempt entities. The picture accompanying the story features Providence Mayor-elect Angel Tavares, General Treasurer-elect Gina Raimondo, and state Sen Joshua Miller (D, Cranston); one wonders whether and why they're supportive of a strategy of relying on organizations that don't pay taxes to grow the state's economy.
Fortuitously, Jim Hummel's latest report expands on the broadly recognized fact that almost 40% of Providence property is currently owned by tax-exempt groups by catching retail enterprises that serve the knowledge economy as selected partners failing to charge sales tax. The immediate controversy is that the stores (including a Starbucks) are supposed to tax non-students, but even were they complying with that rule, exempting sales taxes for certain private businesses can only harm others that seek to capitalize on "knowledge economy" participants like students.
November 18, 2010
Even in Reforms, Central Planning Rears Its Head
Maybe I'm getting crotchety in my middle age, but this sort of intrabureaucracy debate strikes me as precisely the species of meaningless and unnecessary noise that obfuscates public discourse while raising doubts about public management of anything:
What is the point of a charter school to be a laboratory for educational innovation and provide families with school choice, or to be the best school in its community?
This question takes on urgency as Rhode Island prepares to double the number of these alternative public schools, buoyed by millions in federal funds and a commitment by Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist to expand charter schools "with a proven track record of success." ...
In the meantime, the state's education leaders can't seem to agree on the purpose of charters.
Are they meant to take risks, try novel approaches and create strong communities? Or must they be "centers of excellence" that outperform traditional public schools even as they serve low-income, at-risk students?
The first problem with the faux debate is that it glosses entirely over the concept that a charter school that achieves the same result at a lower cost is an unmitigated benefit in the short term (by saving money) as well as in the long term (by freeing up resources for other purposes, as effective strategies permeate public education). A second problem is that it ignores the central point of school-choice, which is to put pressure on schools system wide by making it possible for parents to redirect resources away from those that they find undesirable.
A third problem is that it gives unelected state bureaucrats the authority to determine what communities must value. Education Commissioner Deborah Gist argues that, "If their performance isn't where it should be, it's an indication that the model they are using didn't work." With multiple criteria of what constitutes "performance," the proof that a school's model hasn't worked should be that it's unable to attract students.
And a final problem is that charters are being worked into the corner by establishment organizations like labor unions set up reforms to fail:
Nora also said that holding charters to a higher standard falsely "assumes we have complete autonomy."
Apart from Democracy Prep Blackstone Valley, a mayoral academy charter school that is not required to pay its teachers the prevailing wage, offer tenure or pay into the state retirement system, the state's 14 other charter schools all must adhere to those requirements.
We can only expect so much out of "experiments" that can't adjust some of the larger costs and restraints that hinder the system.
Returning States' Role in Civic Structure
One can sense a desire, in the broadly defined Tea Party movement, to repeal something among the many decisions, amendments, and statutes that have diluted the Founders' experiment of divided government powers. Todd Zywicki marks the introduction of the Seventeenth Amendment to the list of candidates for rethinking:
Election of senators by state legislatures was a cornerstone of two of the most important "auxiliary precautions": federalism and the separation of powers. Absent some direct grant of federal influence to state governments, the latter would be in peril of being "swallowed up," to use George Mason's phrase. Even arch-centralizer Hamilton recognized that this institutional protection was necessary to safeguard state autonomy. In addition, the Senate was seen as a means of linking the state governments together with the federal one. Senators' constituents would be state legislators rather than the people, and through their senators the states could influence federal legislation or even propose constitutional amendments under Article V of the Constitution.
The Seventeenth Amendment ended all that, bringing about the master-servant relationship between the federal and state governments that the original constitutional design sought to prevent. Before the Seventeenth Amendment, the now-widespread Washington practice of commandeering the states for federal ends through such actions as "unfunded mandates," laws requiring states to implement voter-registration policies that enable fraud (such as the "Motor Voter" law signed by Bill Clinton), and the provisions of Obamacare that override state policy decisions would have been unthinkable. Instead, senators today act all but identically to House members, treating federalism as a matter of political expediency rather than constitutional principle.
The Seventeenth Amendment also, it seems to me, put another arrow in the notion of federalism by giving special interests even more opportunity to sow together constituencies across state borders. There are points to be made on both sides, but there are reasons for representative government on multiple tiers.
In general, though, I doubt the prospects of passing amendments to address this sort of complex civic question. What's needed, perhaps, is a single amendment the Return to Foundations Amendment, or something that pulls together several of the ideas for repeal and modification that are floating around as separate movements.
Prognostication and Remedy
I used our Wednesday call to the Matt Allen Show to connect our current pledge drive with the dire prognostication for the state. Stream by clicking here, or download it. Anchor Rising has been critical in the opposition movement (so to speak) over the years, and there would be tremendous value in helping us to expand our activities rather than watch them retract, as has already begun to happen, given economic reality.
It occurs to me to clarify, by the way, that we're seeking pledges for the entire year. We won't be knocking on doors expecting the checks in their full amounts the moment we hit the threshold at which one of us can focus on Anchor Rising full-time. Monthly, quarterly, semiannual, and periodic payments would be wonderful. We just need to line up the support that will enable our leap and then manage the books to ensure that enough is coming in on a regular basis to keep our employee above water.
Foretelling the Future in Cranston
Steven Frias, a Steve Laffey ally of old and author of a book on Cranston's political history, relates the origin of school committees' authority to negotiate contracts (even though they can't tax to pay for them) and binding arbitration for police and fire. Sadly, there are some discouraging parallels to our proximate future:
The leader of the state association of firefighters pledged to "mount a lobbying campaign for compulsory binding arbitration that will shake the foundations of the state capitol." In 1968, police officers and firefighters descended upon the State House to support binding arbitration for police and firefighter unions.
In response, the General Assembly passed the desired legislation over the near-unanimous objections of municipal officials, who said that binding arbitration would take away the ability to set tax rates from elected officials and from average citizens at town financial meetings. But a compliant Republican governor, John Chafee, signed the bills into law with no formal explanation while his spokesman suggested that binding arbitration should be "given a try."
With binding arbitration came longevity bonuses, minimum manning, and lifetime healthcare benefits regardless of age of retirement. No doubt, some of the usual suspects are hoping that the late governor's son will oversee a repeat of the process for teachers across the state, although they've already got most of those benefits, so the objective is to build a firewall around them. Or at least we can hope that their objective doesn't go beyond that.
November 17, 2010
Dog Bites Man, Low-tax states attracting more people
A study by Americans for Tax Reform compared states gaining and losing Congressional seats in the decennial reapportionment process and found that states gaining seats had significantly lower taxes, less government spending, and were more likely to have “Right to Work” laws in place. Because reapportionment is based on population migration, this is further proof that fiscally conservative public policy spurs economic growth, creates jobs, and attracts population growth.That means more political power for those states, too.
...The average top personal income tax rate among gainers is 116 percent lower than among losers. The total state and local tax burden is nearly one-third lower, as is per capita government spending. In eight of ten losers, workers can be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. In 7 of the 8 gainers, workers are given a choice whether to join or contribute financially to a union.
Cap Without the Trade
A blurb in a recent edition of National Review's The Week offers a necessary reminder of an issue that shouldn't slip out of public view:
Having seized for itself, with the help of the courts, the authority to regulate greenhouse gases without the consent of Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama has aggressively proceeded to do so. There shall be a 20 percent reduction in emissions from heavy trucks and buses by 2018, the agency decreed -- this following similar declarations regarding cars and light trucks. The idea of setting up a cap-and-trade system of emissions permits has lost favor in Congress, partly because a major scientific scandal diminished the credibility of cap-and-trade advocates, and partly because making energy more costly in a weak economy is politically as well as economically crazy. But the administration has proven that it is determined to unilaterally impose these unpopular caps, and there is little Congress can do to stop it. Unless the opponents of energy restrictions can win a difficult battle against the White House between now and 2012, we're getting cap but no trade.
What's needed is statutory language that takes this sweeping power out of the hands of unelected regulators.
Our Local College Bubble
Frankly, I don't buy this:
Overall, the United States needs to increase the proportion of the population with a college education by 4.2 percent annually to meet the demands of an increasingly global economy, which will require 60 percent of the work force to have degrees by 2020, according to Jeffrey Stanley, associate vice president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers.
I've been running into too many carpenters with college degrees to give much face-value credence to the assertion that more workers with college degrees are necessary. It may be true if measured against employers' demands, but to some extent, employers are only demanding degrees because it's an easy way to narrow the candidate pool in short, because they can.
General reading on the topic suggests that degree shortages are much more specific. The economy needs more people with specific, usually technical expertise, not college degrees in general, and the article above gives reason to think that advocates for local higher education are merely seeking to inflate their bubble. Consider:
Those rejected by private schools put increasing strain on the public colleges, officials said. About 70 percent of students entering the Community College of Rhode Island in fall 2010 have needed some kind of remedial work, according to Ray Di Pasquale, Commissioner of Higher Education and president of CCRI.
Students who require remedial education aren't likely to be pursuing the sorts of degrees that lead to jobs for which a college experience is objectively necessary. What our society really needs is to improve elementary and secondary education (and social/familial circumstances that affect attitudes toward education) so that high school graduates are competent for most entry-level positions and pursue higher degrees because they've already got a sense of what they want to do with their lives.
ProJo's Politiflackdom is built into the Model
I promise after this that I won't hack at the ProJo's politiflack (for at least today). Remembering that the ProJo's model for Politifact came from the St. Petersburg Times, I note Mark Hemingway's reminder that "‘Politifact’ is often more politics than facts":
In 2009, Politifact won a Pulitzer prize, so people put a lot of a faith and credibility in what they say. However, rather than objectively weighing the facts, Politifact is hardly above employing highly-politicized context to render judgment. The latest example of this is their recent item on Rand Paul.Lack of context, sophistry...Well, I guess the ProJo is following the model.
Here’s what Rand Paul said: “The average federal employee makes $120,000 a year. The average private employee makes $60,000 a year.”
Here are the facts: “Federal civil servants earned average pay and benefits of $123,049 in 2009 while private workers made $61,051 in total compensation, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The data are the latest available.”
Come again? The only way that Politifact can reach this conclusion is through a great deal of sophistry, which they lard on with abandon:Since most people usually think about how much they, their spouses and their colleagues get paid in salary alone — not salary plus benefits — we think most people hearing this statement would assume that Paul means that the average federal employee gets paid a salary of $120,000. That’s simply not true.
So what they’re saying is not that what Paul said was literally false, but that according to how they think people will understand what he said, it’s not true.
What Chafee Means by "Harmful"
I've received reader email expressing cynicism at the Providence Journal PolitiFact's release, post-election, of its finding that Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee's statement was "barely true" that "experts say the property tax 'is the most harmful to economic growth and ... the sales tax is least harmful." Indeed, Eugene Emery's article notes:
[Tax Foundation economist Kail] Padgitt referred us to a study by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, an international agency founded to help its 33 member countries find the best economic policies.
The OECD's 2008 study of tax structures and economic growth says that when taxation is necessary, a stronger reliance on property taxes is the best method for encouraging an economy to grow, followed by consumption taxes, such as sales taxes. High corporate taxes, it concluded, were the worst when it came to increasing the gross domestic product (GDP).
The only rational conclusion to which one can come, on the question, is that it depends. Blanket statements of which tax is preferable are fatally flawed in that there are limitless number of ways in which a regional government can hinder or help its local economy, and the particular mix at any given time will have a huge effect on what tax increases are more or less damaging.
Inasmuch as Rhode Island's underlying problem is an inability to attract and retain economically productive people to start and populate businesses increasing property taxes should be a nonstarter. On the other hand, given the size of the state, with cross-border shopping opportunities mere minutes away for most residents (and the Internet readily accessible), increasing the sales tax will likely drive our consumer economy increasingly away. That's good for neither near-term economic growth nor the initiation or immigration of businesses to the state.
But it's nothing new to suggest that Rhode Island cannot afford to increase any taxes (or fees, for that matter). What's interesting about Chafee's statement is what I think underlies it. Local progressives, among whom Chafee clearly numbers, often declare that the property tax is "the most regressive." That's obviously questionable in comparison with a proposal to tax necessities that are currently exempt from taxation, under the law. But I'd wager that Chafee is extrapolating from that cliché that regressiveness in the tax structure is inherently harmful to the economy.
November 16, 2010
The Mandate to Be Divisive
With the expectation that it's a reminder that will often have to be made, over the next four years, let's note once again that Lincoln Chafee will be running Rhode Island based on the smallest victorious slice of the electorate ever:
As the winner of what came down to a four-man race for R.I. governor, Lincoln D. Chafee appears to have won the state's top office with the lowest percentage of votes on record.
The Republican-turned-independent Chafee won with 36.1 percent of the vote in a race against Republican John Robitaille (33.6 percent), Democrat Frank T. Caprio (23 percent) and Moderate Party candidate Ken Block (6.5 percent).
In my view, the people who made up Linc's third have as their unifying theme the thwarting of the other two-thirds' efforts to to realign state policy with their own interests.
Transparency? Equality? ObamaCare Waivers Issued to 111 (One Hundred Eleven) Companies
... a one year waiver but how easy will it be to simply grant an extension after the first year ... and after the second ... and so on? (Kind of like Gina Raimondo and the one year moratorium she issued on her tax returns.)
These waivers [H/T Fred Thompson Show] raise, first of all, two bigger picture questions.
1) If you have to issue so many waivers to it, is the law in question - whatever the law may be - such a good idea to begin with?
2) Doesn't this rather blatantly violate the principle of equality under the law? With ObamaCare and its waivers (some companies must comply; some do not), haven't we definitively moved into the surreal and patently unfair realm of "Some animals are more equal than others"?
Additionally, this waiver situation is notably lacking in transparency: HHS has taken some pains to bury both the waiver application page (... and the pertinent PDF's on the HHS link are now damaged; does the application page magically get repaired if the proper* contribution has been made?) and the list (posted after the jump) of those 111 companies which have so far obtained the waiver was released by the administration at a point - last Friday afternoon - notorious for being the low point of the media attention cycle.
One of the largest segments receiving this waiver is labor unions. Habledash points out that this waiver to comply with ObamaCare is ON TOP OF the exemption that they previously received for their "Cadillac" plans. You don't suppose these waivers are related to the *multi millions that labor unions have been pouring into the campaign coffers of President Obama and the Democrats, do you?? Nah ...
Protocol Marketing Group
Adventist Care Centers
B.E.S.T of NY
Boskovich Farms, Inc
Jeffords Steel and Engineering
Service Employees Benefit Fund
Sun Pacific Farming Coop
UFCW Allied Trade Health & Welfare Trust
HCR Manor Care
Integra BMS for Culp, Inc.
New England Health Care
Alliance One Tobacco
Asbestos Workers Local 53 Welfare Fund
Assurant Health (2nd Application)
Captain Elliot’s Party Boats
CH Guenther & Son
CKM Industries dba Miller Environmental
Employees Security Fund
Florida Trowel Trades
O’Reilly Auto Parts
Plumbers & Pipefitters Local 123 Welfare Fund
UFCW Local 227
Universal Forest Products
UFCW Maximus Local 455
GuideStone Financial Resources
Local 25 SEIU
Preferred Care, Inc.
The Dixie Group, Inc.
UFCW Local 1262
Whelan Security Company
AMF Bowling Worldwide
Assisted Living Concepts
Case & Associates
Grace Living Centers
Groendyke Transport, Inc
Pocono Medical Center
The Pictsweet Co.
Local 802 Musicians Health Fund
Medical Card System
Greater Metropolitan Hotel
Local 17 Hospitality Benefit Fund
Health and Welfare Benefit System
Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc.
UFT Welfare Fund
Fowler Packing Co.
Guy C. Lee Mfg.
Jack in the Box
Metro Paving Fund
Balance Is Unexpected for a Reason
Much is being made of Rhode Island's unexpected budget balancing. Here's Kathryn Gregg in the Providence Journal:
After meeting on and off over several days, the top financial advisors to the House, the Senate and the governor, determined that revenues are running about $16.7 million ahead of expectations when the General Assembly signed off on this year's state budget last June which, when coupled with an end-of-year surplus from last year, gives the state some welcome elbow-room this year.
And Ted Nesi has more:
[House spokesman Larry] Berman credited the balancing act to higher tax revenue, lower spending, and a surplus left over at the end of last year. "It is also good sign that revenues are running slightly ahead of projections, showing that the economy is turning around slowly," he said.
Of course, the largest factor in this "good news" is the windfall of federal dollars that has helped our state government avoid the really tough decisions that it's going to have to make when that money dries up. (You know, that "stimulus" money that has arguably contributed to the continuing economic malaise.) Another factor has been the state's willingness to push expenses down to cities and towns without easing its requirements (via mandates and regulations) to spend money.
That said, this is a prime example of an issue that frustrates me with regard to my tight schedule. My gut's telling me that there must be more perhaps having to do with tax code changes that effectively raised taxes on productive and economically active Rhode Islanders. An article that Projo reporter Neil Downing published today supports that conclusion:
For example, the total amount of personal income tax withheld mainly from paychecks increased by 7 percent for the first four months of the fiscal year, and by 9 percent in October alone, said state Tax Administrator David M. Sullivan. Those figures indicate that more people are working, he said. (The state's unemployment rate, while still high, has been gradually dropping in recent months.)
But some other figures suggest economic softness in some spots.
For example, cumulative personal income-tax collections came to $322.6 million, up 4.8 percent compared with the same period a year ago. But that was largely on the strength of increases in the first three months of this fiscal year. In October, personal income-tax collections slipped 4.8 percent compared with the same month a year ago.
The parenthetical note about the slowly decreasing unemployment rate misses the point that fewer people are actually working. Folks are just giving up their job searches, driving down the rate of people who are trying to be employed, but aren't. The summer boost in income tax withholding could have indicated a real jump in summer tourism income, or something similar, but it also could have included a boost in withholding based on changes in tax credits and deductions that the General Assembly had recently passed.
News consumers are used to getting the tailored pronouncements of government officials, perhaps mixed by journalists (working with limited space) with a couple of broadly stated opinions from opposing factions. What we need is to see the numbers dollar-by-dollar and aligned with specific policies and decisions.
A Moratorium on Controversy Requires Postponement of Change
So a group of gay conservatives and some Tea Party figures are urging the Republican Party to keep away from social issues while they've got a role in untangling our big-government mess. One particular comment highlights, in a humorous way, the strange assumptions that social liberals make about the universality of their causes:
"When they were out in the Boston Harbor, they weren't arguing about who was gay or who was having an abortion," said Ralph King, a letter signatory who is a Tea Party Patriots national leadership council member, as well as an Ohio co-coordinator.
I'd suggest that anybody who'd been openly gay or advocating for abortion may very well have found himself in the water with the tea. The notions that governments should redefine marriage to eliminate its opposite-sex character and that people had an unassailable right to kill their own children in the womb would not have come up because the would have been found universally appalling.
This is not to say that our forebears, right on taxation and representation, were necessarily correct in their social views. But unity on civic matters is easier to separate from social matters when there's already cultural unity on the latter.
What this means for current conservatives is that the libertarian types cannot expect their socially conservative allies to tie their own hands while liberals advance their own causes. What it must mean not "to act on any social issue" is that libertarians and social conservatives must accept the status quo and work together to prevent attempts at radical change while the economic and political-theory issues are predominant.
That'll be a tough promise to keep. After all, judges must still be appointed, and social conservatives, with an eye on the long term, will not forgo the opportunity to change the judiciary's take on Roe v. Wade. On the other side of the coin, the persistence of liberals on such issues as same-sex marriage may require social conservatives to seek a Constitutional amendment just to maintain the current state of affairs.
What libertarians and "moderates" usually intend when they urge conservatives to hold off on "pushing" social issues is for liberals to keep up the fight for their shared causes while conservatives sit on their hands. That's not likely to prove feasible.
Recovery Requires Rethinking
An excellent article about government economic policy and our current crisis by Reuven Brenner and David Goldman (initially published in First Things) is well worth reading in its entirety. The essay's underlying conclusion is that the focus on this or that manipulation of the economy as an explanation for our current predicament effectively misses the critical point:
The policy debate is a blame game, but one played by blind men with an elephant. Some say that if the Federal Reserve had not kept interest rates so low for so long, there would have been less credit expansion and fewer defaults. Others say that if the Fed had paid more attention to the external value of the dollar than to price indices or GDP, it would have suppressed the developing bubble in home prices. Still others argue that without official support for subprime securitization, the vast subsidies provided by government-sponsored mortgage funders, and the monopoly position of the heavily conflicted rating agencies, the securitized debt bubble might have been contained. Yet others argue that the proprietary trading focus of deposit-taking institutions made the payments system vulnerable to panic.
All these observations are true, and all of them are misleading, for the crisis arose not from any of these errors as such but rather from the Keynesian mindset of policy makers and regulators that prevented them from identifying these problems before they combined to threaten the financial system and the long-term health of the economy.
It's not only a problem of spotting errors; it's also a problem of misconceiving the likely effects of policies:
The collapse of the credit expansion raises the prospect of deflation, and the Keynesian elite now proposes to ward off this danger by returning to the inflationary policy that brought about the crisis in the first place. The International Monetary Fund's chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, offered what he called a "bold innovation" in February 2010, proposing that central banks pursue 4 percent inflation. Evidently Blanchard thinks that people will happily accept a 22 percent reduction in their wages over five years and a 48 percent reduction over ten years. Professional deformation on this scale attests to the triumph of Keynes over common sense. The reasoning of proponents of such policies - Paul Krugman advocates even higher inflation rates - is that the fear of inflation would lead people to spend money before its purchasing power declined. The Keynesians did not stop to ask how Americans could begin a spending spree after the colossal wealth destruction of the past several years, just before the largest retirement wave in American history.
Perhaps it's a matter of a wealthy elite not understanding the decisions and motivations of the masses, or perhaps it's just an inability to intellectualize the relative weight of every likely consequence of policies. The important point is the fundamental misunderstanding of economists' and politicians' ability to manage a global economy. The economy cannot be steered by policy; it's an unwieldy vehicle with many hands on the controls the hands of every person with resources and talent (i.e., everybody). At best, policymakers can throw large, blunt objects in the path as obstacles and smooth roads that might be taken.
Brenner and Goldman further support my frequent contention that economic advancement must come from somewhere:
As an advocate of emergency measures during the 1930s, Keynes, as we have said, deserves some credit. His legacy in economic theory, though, has been malignant. It is easy to explain why he drew support during the 1930s. It is harder to explain why the Keynesian model, with its inherent tendency to drive off the road, has survived so long.
Part of the answer is that countries devoted to "Keynesian" policies had a run of good luck that covered up the systematic errors of economic policy. And the memory of this run of good luck still beguiles politicians and their advisers, who yet hope that the easy times will come back.
A major source of that good luck was the migration of capital and talent spurred by troubles elsewhere. Until 1989, most of the world suffered under communist or other dictatorial regimes prone to violent political upheaval. Whatever talent and capital was able to escape from the dictatorships arrived on the shores of a handful of Western countries, foremost among them the United States. The export of human and financial capital to the United States and a few other countries helped cover up accumulating mistakes. In politics as in business, competitors survive not because they are clever but because the competition is stupider.
A minor adjustment that I'd make is that the politicians and advisers aren't "beguiled" by past success so much as enthralled by the power that Keynesian policies aggregate to government. It isn't that they are sure the policies will work, in other words, but that they want the policies to work because they benefit by them. The more important point, though, is that economic growth must have a source, and it cannot often be identified from distant capitals or predicted in advance by politicians.
Ultimately, the wisest action for those in power is to create the conditions in which their countrymen can innovate in their own spheres and steer their own economic futures. It's messy and unpredictable, but the only thing predictable about central planning is that it will fail on an increasingly spectacular scale.
November 15, 2010
Unemployment Benefits and Change
Being unemployed for long periods is a terrible experience for those who lack the resources to survive an extended financial drain. Especially when a family is on the line, the hopelessness and fear of joblessness is one of modern life's greatest anxieties.
Still, at a certain point, unemployment benefits begin to become a weapon of dependency for government agents:
Thousands of out-of-work Rhode Islanders will start running out of unemployment benefits on Nov. 30 unless Congress acts to renew certain federal benefit programs.
About 30,000 unemployed people are collecting jobless benefits in Rhode Island, where the unemployment rate is 11.5 percent, fifth-highest in the nation.
If certain federal benefit programs expire as scheduled late this month, about 17,000 unemployed Rhode Islanders would run out of benefits sooner than they otherwise would, state figures show.
Short-term help is, I'd argue, a just and reasonable responsibility of state government, and during times of economic stress, the federal government should shift funds from other expenditures to help the states in their efforts. But when nearly two years of government subsidies come to be seen as a humanitarian necessity, the calculation begins to change.
After all, those who are kept afloat by such funds are less likely to make changes that might improve their circumstances while contributing to the economy. That's true on a personal level, with the decreased the likelihood that workforces will move from place to place or industry to industry as the economy requires, or reconfigure their living circumstances toward more sustainable expectations and better fortified family supports. It's also true on a political level, with the ire of unemployed voters focused on maintaining and extending their temporary benefits rather than pressuring politicians to cease their games and get out of the economy's way.
"I campaigned on it...I can't go back on a campaign pledge."
So says our governor-elect when talking about his pledge to revoke the E-verify Executive order. Hey, he's honest, right? I guess that means we can be sure that a 1% sales tax increase is coming. Yippee.
As has been reported (I saw it tweeted first by Ian Donnis), governor-elect Chafee has tabbed erstwhile liberal Democrat political insider--lobbyist, Chairman of the Board of NARAL--Richard Licht (h/t Ted Nesi for the link to Licht's bio) to head up the Department of Administration. The liberalness isn't a surprise, but lest we forget, there is a history between the Licht and Chafee families. As ProJo 7to7 reminds us:
Licht was lieutenant governor from 1984 to 1988, when he ran for Senate in 1988 against Chafee's father, John Chafee. He lost that year and ran again in 2000, losing in the Democratic primary. Lincoln Chafee, who had been appointed to fill his father's seat upon his death in 1999, won that year.Chafee and his staff are characterizing this as "bipartisanship" because of the Democrat/Independent/Republican mashup. Yeah, right. It really isn't bipartisan when the scion of a long-time political family brings in a fellow scion of a long-time political family to help him run things. The only real differences Chafee and Licht were their party and some nuance and emphasis. Obviously, there was a lot they agreed upon over cocktails at the club.
Licht's uncle, Frank Licht, unseated Chafee's father from the governor's office in 1968.
Opportunity... to Succeed or to Fail
Conservatives should rightly be skeptical about national education initiatives like Obama's Race to the Top. Short of violent coups, government would never expand and totalitarians would never take power if their promises weren't attractive. And we shouldn't forget that those who would collect power to themselves must do so within the social context that they find. If there's a popular movement toward school choice, for example, the government will find it more beneficial in the long run to co-opt and steer that movement, rather than striving to squash it.
That said, moments of adjustment offer real opportunities to turn the wheel in directions that the central planners hadn't intended. Such is the case with Providence public schools, where administration and union officials duly acknowledging the pressure from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Rhode Island Education Commissioner Deborah Gist are actually working together, leading to such phrases in news reports as this (emphasis added):
No longer will the teachers’ contract stand in the way of school reform. If a school decides to adopt a longer school day or a Saturday academy, that overrides the collective bargaining agreement. ...
[Providence Teachers Union President Steve] Smith and [Superintendent Tom] Brady are working closely with the ABC School District near Los Angeles because that school system has figured out a way to work collaboratively with the union, and to invest principals and their staff with a lot of authority. In fact, Brady and Smith, accompanied by a small number of teachers and principals from the four schools, spent several days meeting with members of the ABC district during a recent trip to California.
If these changes result in the sort of reforms that we've been encouraging on Anchor Rising giving administration real authority to pursue and responsibility for results in their schools perhaps the public school culture will change in a positive direction. Time will tell, however, just how big an "if" that is. The chain of accountability is not clear. If administrators have authority but inadequate repercussions, the concerns of employees could be further cemented above the outcomes for students.
Without a school choice component empowering parents to judge their children's schools, with the money allocated for those children in the balance the hopeful reforms that we observe could turn out to be little more than delay tactics until the public eye looks elsewhere or, worse, a means of rerouting momentum toward further entrenchment of the approach that has so dramatically failed in Rhode Island and across the country.
Anchor Rising Looks Ahead
There's no denying that the election results in Rhode Island were disappointing. Even during a Republican surge year featuring the Tea Party movement, right leaning reformers made modest gains in the General Assembly and came up empty-handed in other state government offices.
But this is Rhode Island, and hope is not irrational. Republicans running for the offices of governor and the first congressional district seat did much better than would have been expected under normal circumstances. The Democrat Secretary of State barely held his office. In some municipal elections (notably in Tiverton), reformers' years of efforts are beginning to yield offices and fresh candidates to begin climbing the ladder of public office.
All of this is to say that there is a base for our message. Not every Rhode Islander who has woken up to the necessary changes in the state's operations has fled in despair. Change can still come to the Ocean State and may be more likely once the General Assembly has taken full advantage of the negative opportunities that our new governor will present to pull government policy in the wrong direction.
Of course that "may" in the previous sentence is still necessary. Change will take work in shoring up the reform movement and making the case to those who've not given civic matters much thought. And that's where Anchor Rising comes in.
Over the coming weeks and months, we'll be reviewing some of the positive effects that we've had, so far, even as a gang of hobbyists experimenting with new media. Our research, our videos and audio, and our outside-the-RI-box commentary have all had a visible effect on the civic conversation.
Unfortunately, we simply can't keep up those activities that make blogging more than a pastime any longer. Oh, we'll keep blogging, because we've caught the bug, but unless we can manage to fund at least one full-time job, we cannot be as active as we've been in fostering, promoting, and reporting on the movement and conservative ideas.
Knowing how critical the next two years and the election that follows will be, we're making a push for advancement rather than stasis. So, we're asking Anchor Rising readers and supporters to pledge support for 2011. Email or call (401-835-7156) Justin with the amount in subscriptions, in donations, in advertising that you're willing and able to contribute for the year, and when we hit the threshold at which one of us can make a living from it, we'll ask you to convert those pledges into money. For some perspective, it's going to take about ten times our usual annual revenue, but the good news is that even ten times the money is still not all that much, in the scheme of politics and media.
Over the last six years, we've done a lot of great work, steadily grown our audience, and had a substantial effect on politics in Rhode Island; imagine what we could accomplish with more than a couple of hours per day to devote to the project. We'd broaden and deepen our reading and commentary on issues relevant to Rhode Island and the individual cities and towns that make it up. We'd highlight and cover more events relevant to Rhode Island's reform. We'd expand the niches into which our message reaches.
Again: pledging to help Anchor Rising will cost you nothing until we can actually deliver on the promise of a full-time effort. We're not non-profit, so the privacy of donors will be absolute. Please, consider how much you can afford to donate (and how much you can afford not to) and email or call (401-835-7156) Justin.
A Sign of Things to Come
Rhode Islanders should expect more of this:
It may be a sign of a bad economy, but some businesses are balking at a plan to charge fees for placing business logos on the blue highway signs at exits for food, gas and lodging. ...
The $1,200 per-sign fee, which went into effect on Nov.4, applies to any business posting a logo on a highway sign; state transportation officials have since proposed a reduced rate of $300 a year per sign for the 72 businesses that already have permits to post their logos on the highway signs, according to Rocchio.
The businesses paid to install the signs, and now the Dept. of Transportation wants them to pay fees (1) just in case they are knocked down and (2) to hire enforcement bureaucrats to catch any such businesses that aren't complying with regulations having to do with handicap access and public availability of bathrooms and phones. In short, it's another way for the government of Rhode Island to squeeze benefits.
DOT Managing Engineer Robert Rocchio magnanimously points out that "no state or federal regulation requires" the signs to exist (in the Projo paraphrase), and the new fee matches that charged in Massachusetts. Rocchio misses the point: Each state must figure out its mixture of charges and benefits, and the relevant question at any given point is which direction it's heading. This is a new imposition on productive Rhode Islanders who need to lure every through-state driver they can to boost our local economy.
As I began by saying, we should expect more policies like this. Rhode Island's "leaders" have no new ideas, and Rhode Islanders keep electing them to office.
November 14, 2010
Toward the Cave or Toward the Temple
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby marks the coming of aggressive-atheist season. (For some, of course, every season is aggressive atheist season.)
This year, the [American Humanist Association] is taking a more combative tone. It is spending $200,000 to "directly challenge biblical morality’" in advertisements appearing on network and cable TV, as well as in newspapers, magazines, and on public transit. The ads juxtapose violent or otherwise unpleasant passages from the Bible (or the Koran) with "humanist" quotations from prominent atheists.
As Jacoby suggests, this is more marketing pitch than statement of objective truth; it's easy to sort through thousands of years of text and cherry pick quotations. It certainly would not be difficult to juxtapose horrifying statements of twentieth century atheists with charitable and life-affirming quotations of their religious contemporaries. More interesting is Jacoby's response:
In our culture, even the most passionate atheist cannot help having been influenced by the Judeo-Christian worldview that shaped Western civilization. "We know that you can be good without God," Speckhardt tells CNN.
He can be confident of that only because he lives in a society so steeped in Judeo-Christian values that he takes those values for granted. But a society bereft of that religious heritage is one not even Speckhardt would want to live in.
Related thoughts came to mind, this morning, in response to the Gospel reading in today's Catholic Mass. Here's Luke 21:7-19:
Then they asked him, "Teacher, when will this happen? And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?" He answered, "See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he,’ and 'The time has come.’ Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first, but it will not immediately be the end." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place; and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.
"Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives."
The homilist at my church focused on the danger of building a theology predominantly on the eschatological passages of scripture which can lend an undue urgency to explicit shows of piety, conspicuously coinciding with the very specific beliefs of the person urging them. Another difficulty with Luke 21 that the priest did not take up, but that would have fit well with his teaching, is the fact that early followers of Jesus thought the events that He described were imminent.
With two millennia of retrospect, we can see that they clearly were not. But we can also see the difficulty that Jesus faced in answering the question that was posed to Him. He had just pointed out the superior contribution of an old widow who had given, from her poverty, to the temple treasury as compared with the larger funds donated by the rich. He then noted that the opulence of the temple was transitory: "the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone." That is when His followers asked how they would know that the time had come.
What Jesus sets about explaining, it seems to me, is not the itinerary of the end of the world, but the fact that the world's end is written into the world's progress, with layers of abstraction and metaphysical notions for which our ancestors had had no preparation. "Many will come in my name," He says, urging His disciples not to follow them, even though "wars and insurrections," "earthquakes, famines, and plagues," and "awesome sights and mighty signs" will give weight and urgency to their exhortations. Looking at history, from our current perspective, such events seem too typically the way of the world to be a unique list of markers of armageddon. In that light, disciples of Christ should focus on the example the testimony that they set despite it all.
"Heaven and earth will pass away," but the immortal God and our immortal souls will not. And salvation will come not by throwing large sums into the coffers of a stone temple, but through faith and the behavior that faith begets.
Thus has the West become a society in which atheists can take for granted that morality requires no higher principle than that which cold reason can provide. And thus do we continue to have the opportunity to testify that the physical world is not self-contained and that morality that derives wholly therefrom will only lead us back toward the dank cave rather than the spiritual temple toward which we should be striving.
Further to this morning's post about cultural expectations for geniuses, I offer the suggestion that true revolutionaries aren't creating innovations, but discerning them in the patterns of the reality into which they've entered. Physicist Stephen Barr notes the corollary in science:
As we turn to the fundamental principles of physics, we discover that order does not really emerge from chaos, as we might naively assume; it always emerges from greater and more impressive order already present at a deeper level. It turns out that things are not more coarse or crude or unformed as one goes down into the foundations of the physical world but more subtle, sophisticated, and intricate the deeper one goes.
Barr uses the example of marbles in a box: When the box is tilted to one side, the marbles take a hexagonal pattern implied by their inherent shape. The order that we see in the packed marbles was, in a way of looking at it, part of the genius in the invention of the sphere. Such are the building blocks of all of reality.
Two responses are common from atheists or mere secularists to the species of notions of which Barr's is a member, that reality is, in fact, a divine thought: Either we happen to inhabit the one universe (of some unknowable number) in which these rules apply, thus de-necessitating God, or we happen to be privileging concepts of order and beauty that we prefer, given the universe that we inhabit. The first rejoinder doesn't actually address the argument; it merely pushes it to another level. After all, even if it took some number of universal false-starts to create our universe, the possibility of our universe must have existed within the initial concept of the multiverse.
To answer the second objection, I'll return to Barr:
Some might suspect that this beauty is in the eye of the beholder, or that scientists think their own theories beautiful simply out of vanity. But there is a remarkable fact that suggests otherwise. Again and again throughout history, what started as pure mathematics--ideas developed solely for the sake of their intrinsic interest and elegance--turned out later to be needed to express fundamental laws of physics.
For example, complex numbers were invented and the theory of them deeply investigated by the early nineteenth century, a mathematical development that seemed to have no relevance to physical reality. Only in the 1920s was it discovered that complex numbers were needed to write the equations of quantum mechanics. Or, in another instance, when the mathematician William Rowan Hamilton invented quaternions in the mid-nineteenth century, they were regarded as an ingenious but totally useless construct. Hamilton himself held this view. When asked by an aristocratic lady whether quaternions were useful for anything, Hamilton joked, "Aye, madam, quaternions are very useful--for solving problems involving quaternions." And yet, many decades later, quaternions were put to use to describe properties of subatomic particles such as the spin of electrons as well as the relation between neutrons and protons. Or again, Riemannian geometry was developed long before it was found to be needed for Einstein's theory of gravity. And a branch of mathematics called the theory of Lie groups was developed before it was found to describe the gauge symmetries of the fundamental forces.
This is where this afternoon's topic ties in with this morning's: Pure mathematics are logic crystallized, and sometimes that logic leads to peculiar and seemingly irrelevant rooms, but those who discover those rooms needn't be nonconformist radicals. What's required for effective exploration of reality, in any field, is not a bumbling and callous rebellion, but a respect for the universe and human society as we find them, and what's required for a lasting and profound change in the physical and social order is not wholesale rejection of standards, but long-seeing comprehension of the paths that they naturally take.
Incoming Gen Treas Raimondo: Psych! I'm Not Releasing My Tax Returns
General Treasurer candidate Gina Raimondo had refused to release her tax returns during the campaign but indicated that she would do so if elected. And she reaffirmed to a ProJo reporter just last week that she would do so.
State Treasurer-elect Gina M. Raimondo on Thursday refused to release her income-tax returns after promising on Tuesday that she would.
“I believe she misspoke,” Raimondo aide Dara Chadwick said Thursday. “We are not going to release the returns that reflect the Point Judith income.”
“Point Judith” refers to Point Judith Capital, the Providence venture-capital firm she cofounded.
Kudos to the ProJo for doggedly following up on this important matter and getting this revealing and unfortunate response. So much easier to
lie "misspeak" (once in office, will she hire a "press-mis-spokesman"?) in order to get past a difficult question during the campaign and then change your mind after the chumps voters put you in office.
The GT-Elect is now saying that she will release these tax returns after her first year in office. Judging by her track record, either she is hoping that everyone will have forgotten the request or she will simply issue another one year postponement. Wheee! This could go on indefinitely!
It's a good thing this reluctance to be transparent isn't being demonstrated by someone who will soon be handling the state's mon ... oh, wait.
So far, there has been no confirmation to the rumor that Raimondo will join David Cicilline in an upcoming RI Democrat Party candidate school to lead a session on "How to Get Elected by Lying Your Tuchus Off".
Encouraging Querulousness in Lieu of Genius
The always interesting Stanley Aronson unfortunately perpetuated a culturally destructive myth in a recent essay addressing whether security is really all that desirable a feeling:
The unreasonable ones, those noisy, disruptive and often disagreeable ones among us, invest their energies in altering their environment rather than themselves, fighting against contemporary realities rather than floating with the current. Painfully achieved progress real progress rather than cosmetic change in this fractious world depends almost exclusively on the struggles of these unreasonable ones who forgo illusions of security.
Actually, I've found that unreasonable, noisy, disruptive, and disagreeable people invest their energies in nothing so much as being unreasonable, noisy, disruptive, and disagreeable. They often appear to believe that their behavior is, itself, evidence that they march to a different beat and therefore must have some insight that those of us who walk more lightly must lack. It's bunk, and it's surely a cliché that has contributed to the coarsening of our culture over the past century, mostly because it creates a preference against the contrary attitude:
The man beguiled by reason, by the compelling need to reject all that appears initially illogical, is lost. For he will think only in the worn paths established by his predecessors and he will find accordance solely with the constructs and philosophies of those who came before. And if security and consistency are the pillars of his creed, then little of merit will be found in his most earnest efforts.
The falsehood behind this portrait of the useless conservative is that real advancement and innovation come from radical change rather than as revelations along that worn path. Intellectual discoveries (as opposed to physical discoveries) tend to adhere to a relentless logic that seeks to incorporate that which previously did not fit. Even in art until modernists transformed high culture into the smashing block of a remedial extracurricular each innovation was a logical opportunity visible within what came before. Beethoven's Ninth wasn't a radical departure from orchestral music in the sense that it came from out of nowhere, but in the sense that he used a preexisting structure to achieve something that hadn't yet been heard. He made blossom possibilities within the symphonic form.
Frankly, I see Aronson's attitude as possible only within a culture that has determined on its own extinction:
[The dreamers who thrive on personal insecurity, whom our world desperately needs,] are the Quixotes who are the querulous, ill-tempered, perverse, disputatious ones in society. Yet they also are the only ones who advance our culture beyond the limited measures envisioned by the rest of us those of us who can see little beyond our insubstantial veil of "security."
To the contrary, a thriving society needs people who adhere to a higher logic. People who find their security in accordance with larger criteria than the visible world admits eternal salvation, most profoundly. In such cases, there is no need for perversity or ill-temper. Sometimes such people appear disputatious to others who have invested their identities in the lower principles being overrun, and sometimes (although I'd venture to say rarely) they may actually be disagreeable, but it certainly cannot be assumed that the trait is causative, not incidental.
Perhaps the dissonance of personal ugliness with genius makes those rare brilliant beasts in whom we find the combination stand out. Perhaps the rest of us comfort ourselves that we willingly sacrifice a place in history because we choose to live our lives as good people. Whatever the case, I'd expect true genius to accompany patient hope that deeper understanding is available to all, given time, and philanthropic excitement at the prospect.
November 13, 2010
Mo' Money by Default
The salaries go up only once every four years and when they do, they reflect the Consumer Price Index for the Northeast region for the previous four years.
Translated: the annual salary paid the governor is going from $117,817 to $129,210 on Jan. 11 and for the attorney general, from $105,416 to $115,610.
At the same time, the salaries paid the lieutenant governor, treasurer and secretary of state are rising from $99,214 to $108,808 annually.
We could have the debate about whether the amounts are justified. In some cases especially lieutenant governor, the answer is, "surely not." In other cases, such as governor, the amount is nowhere near what a comparable CEO could expect. That said, the numbers are more than enviable from the lowly position of many of us.
But the question of automatic increases is the rub. Such offices differ from the private sector in that the candidates for office run in an election; they don't, as in the private sector, negotiate with their employers-to-be. It's reasonable, therefore, for the government to have a standard, nearly apolitical, formula that keeps the compensation reasonable no matter who wins the office.
That said, it'd be a rare Rhode Islander who'd claim that the state's economy has improved by 9.67% over the past four years, and rarer still would be those stating that the government's ability to pay its officers more has increased. During times of recession, the General Assembly should pass statutes postponing all raises until Rhode Islanders have felt the return of economic health.
Of course, in our current circumstances, that might represent a permanent moratorium on raises.
An Administration in Review
Conservative Rhode Islanders haven't been shy about criticizing Governor Don Carcieri. His tendency to spin the state's financial health in a positive light has been tinny on the ear. The Deepwater Wind process has been a travesty. I'm even very suspicious of the recent revamping of the state's tax code. But the governor's recent op-ed does serve to remind that Carcieri's done quite a bit of good certainly quite a bit of better than what might otherwise have been expected:
Today state government is leaner, more frugal and more accountable to the taxpayers than it was eight years ago. We have enacted Separation of Powers; cleaned up Resource Recovery and Beacon Mutual; reduced the number of state employees by over 2,000; implemented state employee pension- and health-insurance reforms; rooted out government waste, and instituted scores of efficiencies over the years. Combined, these measures have saved taxpayers nearly $1 billion.
Granted, the measures have clearly not been enough, but there's only so much that a governor can do, in this state. I guarantee we'll look back fondly on our minor spats with Carcieri once Linc Chafee gets to work.
Hitchens Splendidly Rips Apart the President's "Enemies" Remark
... twelve days ago in Slate.
Keep in mind that this dissection is carried out by a supporter of President Barack Obama. Christopher Hitchens voted for the president and, elsewhere in this article, states his readiness to defend the president and his policies during the campaign. (Hitchens points out that he was pre-empted from doing so by ... well, the president's inexplicable unwillingness to do so himself).
Much worse, though, was the president's remark last week, made on a Univision radio show, in which he expressed disappointment with Spanish-speaking voters who proposed to "sit out the election instead of saying, 'We're gonna punish our enemies and we're gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.' " Almost everything is wrong with this statement. The first is its awful tone: a crude appeal to ethnicity and to a spoils system of reward and punishment with which to accompany it. The second is the unspoken but highly dubious assumption that Americans (or future Americans) of Mexican and Cuban and Guatemalan and Salvadoran origin can all be collectivized under the lump headings of Hispanic or Latino. The third is the patronizing supposition that this putative bloc is somehow owned by the Democratic Party. And the fourth—to restate my objection above—is that it legitimizes any politician who couches his or her appeal in ethnic or tribal or confessional terms. Again, and whoever opens it, such an auction will always be won by the sectarians. Why, it could almost be called divisive.
Turning the Strike Tables
Would a strike of non union people be illegal? If everyone who is not in a union stopped working, if business owners refused to open, would that be illegal?
It would certainly be a show of private-sector weight were the Rhode Island economy simply to stop for a couple of days. Just the mere fact of the sort of organization and unity of purpose would send shivers down the spines of those who rely on their ability to siphon their livelihoods through taxes and public fees.
On the other hand, announcing such an event and having limited participation would have the opposite effect affirming for those in power that they are, indeed, in control. When one considers that a great many people cannot afford to lose a day's income and that, unlike unionized workforces, they would have nobody with whom to negotiate to receive retroactive pay.
Of course, one truth hovers over the entire discussion: Were emotions so elevated as to make such an event possible, we who desire rightward reform in the state would have been able to accomplish more by the usual route of the election.
Sadly, the more likely outcome is an unorganized, but de facto, strike as productive people leave the state.
November 12, 2010
A Few Quick Notes
- The current issue of Rhode Island Monthly has a one-page review of political blogs in the state, by Ellen Liberman, and Anchor Rising is right at the top of the page. The list isn't alphabetical, but I'm still glad that we began with an A.
- I had a dinner meeting in Attleboro on Tuesday, and I'm prepared to offer the award for Most Convoluted Detour to the person who laid out the alternate route from Rt. 1 to 95 South through Pawtucket. With strange turns, surprise signs, and one that had been mostly ripped off or shot up, I'm still amazed that I made it home by dawn.
- Last night, I had a one-on-one meeting in Tiverton, and since I've been beckoned daily by the big sign advertising a pumpkin chai, I requested The Black Goose Café as the location. The chai was unbelievable, and it's repeatedly come to mind throughout the day. Unfortunately, it was also $4.50, which is more than I can justify spending on a 12 oz. beverage even as a special-occasion treat.
Trying to Win Is the Point
Barry Rubin offers an anecdote with which many of us will likely be sympathetic:
My son is playing on a local soccer team which has lost every one of its games, often by humiliating scores. The coach is a nice guy, but seems an archetype of contemporary thinking: he tells the kids not to care about whether they win, puts players at any positions they want, and doesn’t listen to their suggestions. ...
And of course, the league gives trophies to everyone, whether their team finishes in first or last place.
Parents with children in "recreational" leagues (which may be paired with "competitive" leagues) have likely noticed that the kids know who wins the games even if the coaches do not keep score. One real loss of the non-competitive structure is that the kids cannot take joy in their improvement; one of my children played the same team at the beginning and end of its season. The first time, the game wasn't even close; the last, it was a tie. (Of course, the parents keep score, too.) Even a loss may be a win if there's reason to be proud of some sort of achievement other than fun and exercise. The trophy is another marker of this: If everybody gets one, then it's little more than a cheap plastic party favor.
For his part, Baron tried an experiment:
When the opportunity came to step in as coach for one game, I jumped at the chance to try an experiment. I’ve never coached a sport before, and am certainly no expert at soccer despite my son’s efforts. Still, I thought the next game could be won by simply placing players in the positions they merited, and motivating them to triumph. ...
Before the game, I gave them a pep talk, with the key theme as follows:Every week you’ve been told that the important thing is just to have a good time. Well, this week it’s going to be different. The number one goal is to win; the number two goal is to have a good time. But I assure you: if you win, you will have a much better time!
One can go too far stressing that attitude, but that doesn't mean that it isn't absolutely correct in appropriate degree. It'll be interesting to see whether Rubin checks back in to describe the aftermath of his experiment.
A Voice on the Other Side of the Wall
Erstwhile commenter and Rhode Island escapee Dan has left the following comment:
Hello, everyone. This is my first time commenting since I moved out of Rhode Island, and it may be my last.
Just stopping by to report that since I left the morally and economically bankrupt Democratic hellhole that was my home for 25 years, I have been far happier and more successful. I have a great new non-union job with a great boss, which for some odd reason doesn't pay me minimum wage with no benefits, defying all progressive logic. I feel like a great weight has been lifted, like I'm not being robbed and insulted everyday by those who run my government. It's an amazing and empowering feeling.
In my current state, taxes are low and are spent responsibly on public works that people actually enjoy like trees, benches, and working fountains. The people are friendlier down here. Unemployment is lower and unemployment benefits are lower. There is a pride in working and personal responsibility that I never felt before in RI.
It is a right to work state, so I don't hear much from teachers unions anymore. I'm sure I don't have to mention that we blow RI out of the water in quality of education, not a coincidence. Police are paid reasonable salaries and mostly just leave people alone. Firefighters are volunteer. Sales tax is a whopping 4%. Not much corruption, or they do a very good job hiding it.
I urge each and every one of you to leave the fool's errand that is RI as soon as you are able. Every day you stay in RI, you are voting with your actions for the Marxists and criminals who run the state, doing your part to ensure that status quo. If you haven't learned by this past election that nothing will ever change in RI, well, you won't ever learn, and you'll die unhappy fighting those same old windmills.
You have 49 other states from which to choose. RI is not the best of them. Move to NH, move to VA, anywhere, just move somewhere and stop bankrolling the legal mafias in the public unions, city councils, and state legislature. If you love your family, take them with you. Friends will follow, or you'll make new friends. Get out, and do it sooner rather than later. Don't be a martyr for liberty and sanity. Do yourself a favor.
It's difficult to argue with much of what Dan writes, but two points must be made. First of all, individual taxation is the lesser of two ways in which Rhode Islanders pay for the sorry state of their government. The larger component is opportunity costs; I find it jarring, for example, to place the list of things that I can do and have done next to my itinerary of daily activities setting up tools on a muddy jobsite in order to place cement-board siding on a house in the cold and damp. On the other hand, there are opportunities in what I've been doing, not only careerwise, but experiencewise. Being a carpenter has changed me in positive ways, over the past six years, and I would never have taken this path if others hadn't been blocked by circumstances. Moreover, if the larger cost is an opportunity cost, then succeeding is still possible, just more difficult.
The first point leads to the second: it is a presumption of Dan's that one must "die unhappy" if the state does not change. As with anything, considerations must be balanced. A better job and more reasonable civic culture is not everything; note how little attention the average person pays to the latter. In fact, I do not cede Dan's assertion that the state is impossible to change, and even if it proves true, in practice, there is value and great reward in making the effort... provided one can survive economically.
Where the Jobs Are
First, according to USA Today:
The number of federal workers earning $150,000 or more a year has soared tenfold in the past five years and doubled since President Obama took office...Federal workers earning $150,000 or more make up 3.9% of the workforce, up from 0.4% in 2005....Since 2000, federal pay and benefits have increased 3% annually above inflation compared with 0.8% for private workers, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.Second, Newsweek reveals that 7 of the 10 richest counties in America are suburbs of Washington, D.C.
I'm sure this is just a coincidence.
Non-War Off the Battlefield
The Awlaki case has led many conservatives into dangerous error, as has the War on Terror more generally. That conservatives are for the most part either offering mute consent or cheering as the Obama administration draws up a list of U.S. citizens to be assassinated suggests not only that have we gone awry in our thinking about national security, limitations on state power, and the role of the president in our republic, but also that we still do not understand all of the implications of our country's confrontation with Islamic radicalism. The trauma of 9/11 has deposited far too much emotional residue upon our thinking, and the Awlaki case provides occasion for a necessary scouring.
Contra present conservative dogma, the Constitution has relatively little to say about the role of the president in matters of what we now call national security, which is not synonymous with combat operations. What the Constitution says is this: "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States." That is all. Upon this sandy foundation, conservative security and legal thinkers have constructed a fortress of a presidency that is nearly unlimited or actually unlimited in its power to define and pursue national-security objectives. But a commander-in-chief is not a freelance warlord, and his titular powers do not extend over everything that touches upon national security. The FBI's counterterrorism work, for example, is critical to national security, but its management does not fall under the duties of a commander-in-chief; it is police work, like many of the needful things undertaken in the War on Terror. The law-enforcement approach to counterterrorism is much maligned in conservative circles where martial rhetoric is preferred, but the work of the DOJ, FBI, NYPD, etc., is critical. It is not, however, warfare.
A powerful argument for the other side which I've made in other contexts is that the emergence of Islamic radicalism and the related global terrorism means that the battlefield is not necessarily a demarkable location, and acts of war are no longer so readily identifiable as such. But a bomb in Times Square is a weapon and its use against its targets as a means of harming our government is clearly war. That it arrives by way of zealot rather than missile means mainly that the zealot need not enjoy the protections of the Geneva Convention, and those who launched him, so to speak, are rightly targets of retaliatory action.
Assassination, however, is something different even during explicit warfare. The president and the armed forces within his command are within their boundaries if they bomb a bunker; where they enlist shadowy means to take out an individual wherever he may be found, the calculation changes. Moreover, citizens of other nations would likely or should enjoy the political protection of their own governments if they enter the crosshairs. Where should American citizens turn when their president targets them? The question takes on exponentially more urgency when that president is acting outside of legislative and judicial approval or even review.
The path of justifying assassination clearly has a downward slope. As Williamson poses the matter, "If some of us who have historically been skeptical of the state and its pretenses are so quickly seduced by the outside observation of absolute power, how much more alluring must the prospect prove to the men who actually employ that power?"
If we wish to grant the president powers that acknowledge terrorist networks as a new and unique military and police challenge then, as with the Patriot Act, we must have that discussion. Let the administration make the case for assassinating citizen masterminds, and let Congress layer on protections of review for discrete components of the policy. One suspects that an open discussion about allowing assassination would raise ire around the globe, but that, in itself, should tell us something about the project.
In the meantime, those tasked with our protection should consider that morality and justice do not overlap perfectly with the law. Some acts that accord with the former but not the latter are of such import that they might only be adequately balanced to guard against tyranny by the knowledge that those who undertake them might be vilified and prosecuted for transgression. That is to say that assassination is such a dangerous precedent that those who believe it so critical as to order it or carry it out should have to weigh the rightness of their cause against the probability that they will be making criminals out of themselves, and then the rest of us must judge whether clemency is justified.
November 11, 2010
A Town Story Being Missed at the State Level
In all of its coverage of the election, thus far, including an "Election Digest" published last Thursday, the Providence Journal like every other major news outlet in the state has neglected to report on the fact that my local taxpayer group, Tiverton Citizens for Change, has taken a commanding role on the Town Council. Granted, we're out here on the edge of the state, but the fact that a much-vilified group has placed its president, David Nelson, who happens also to be the target of an outlandish slander lawsuit filed by two outgoing council members, has taken a public office, along with enough of his allies to constitute a majority, is surely newsworthy.
Groomed for Dependency
After listing a number of the ways in which college students are catered to, Jonah Goldberg gives the lesson (unfortunately, subscription required):
But even as this sensitivity is being cultivated, the student is stuffed to the gills with cant about the corruption of "the system," i.e., the real world just outside the gates of his educational Shangri-La. He is taught that it is brave to be "subversive" and cowardly to be "conformist." Administrators encourage kitschy reenactments of 1960s radicalism by celebrating protest as part of a well-rounded education so long as the students are protesting approved targets, those being the iniquities of "the system." There is much Orwellian muchness to it all, since these play-acting protests and purportedly rebellious denunciations of the status quo are in fact the height of conformity.
But it is a comfortable conformity, and this student who in all likelihood will go into a profession at the pinnacle of the commanding heights of our culture looks at this Potemkin world and thinks it is the way things are supposed to be. He feels freer than he ever has or ever will again, but that freedom is illusory. He is, in fact, a dependent: All his fundamental needs are met and paid for by others. This is what the political theorists call positive liberty when someone else gives you a whole pile of stuff so you can be "free" to do whatever you want.
Goldberg goes on to concede that many students must work while in college and/or take out loans that place them immediately behind the borrowing/saving curve. I'd argue, though, that the "ideal life" that college represents for "a certain type of elite student" stands as an example even for those who don't manage to live it. The culture tells them, as it tells those on the pre-paved path, that the liberty to learn is still the ideal, and part of the reason they work and incur debt is to reach that ideal lifestyle that is presumed to continue in an easier life of fulfilling, remunerative work.
Life isn't really that way, though, and much damage can and will continue to be done in attempts to bend reality to conform with the experience of the quad.
At Least We'll Keep Our Humor
Speaking with Matt last night, on the Matt Allen Show, about recent developments in the state, Marc lived by example the principle that we must at least keep our sense of humor. Stream by clicking here, or download it.
Thank you to all our veterans and to all who continue to serve our country. Your sacrifices will not be forgotten.
From Receiver to Totalitarian
Curiously, giving somebody total power over a municipality seems likely to do nothing so much as expand the scope of "total":
The state-appointed receiver who assumed Mayor Charles D. Moreau's powers in July announced Tuesday that he was appointing a three-member advisory council to act in place of the five-member elected City Council.
A mayor's role is administrative, so it's not surprising (although it's still objectionable) that a state-appointed receiver would assume the mayor's responsibilities. But what's a city council do?
Pfeiffer's advisory council will review business licenses, zoning and other matters that normally go before the City Council.
This is character-of-the-town stuff. This is the heart of self-governance. And the single-person-receiver, accountable, ultimately, to the state Department of Administration and the governor has now handed it off to yet another layer of unelected officials, accountable to him. The explanation of this usurpation of the democratic process offers no comfort. The elected council rejected a demand from receiver Mark Pfeiffer:
[Council President William] Benson said the council voted to reject the policy plan because it believed that October's court ruling had already put it in an advisory role and approving a policy could have exceeded that role and possibly put the council in contempt of court.
The policies included requirements that Pfeiffer be informed of agenda items three days ahead of a council meeting, that he had the right to strike or add agenda items and that he be provided with copies of materials the council received during its meetings.
One needn't know anything about the day-to-day issues that face the Central Falls City Council to see danger in this development and to believe that Governor Don Carcieri should rein in his appointed dictator. Unfortunately, insinuation into town operations isn't the only direction in which the receivership idea is expanding:
Pawtucket's finances have drawn the attention of state officials. Rosemary Booth Gallogly, the state Department of Revenue director, sent a letter to Doyle focused on the city's deficits, saying that "savings haven't materialized" despite a deficit-reduction meeting held with Pawtucket officials.
"The state reserves its rights to examine the city's finances," Gallogly's Sept. 29 letter said, in part. The letter also referred to a new law that lets the state intervene in a financially distressed municipality, as it did in Central Falls where a receiver is in charge. However, Amy Kempe, a state Department of Administration spokeswoman, said last month that the state does not at this point expect to intervene in Pawtucket.
In passing, note that Ms. Kempe is also cited repeatedly as spokeswoman for the Central Falls receiver. Whether the state currently has plans to take over Pawtucket, as well, the power of the threat is the matter of concern, because threats tend to grow and eventually must spill into action.
Nonetheless, right-leaning reformers in the state might be tempted to accept the bad with the good, in the case of the government's new right of receivership. After all, the threatening letter in Pawtucket has inspired the mayor to push the School Committee to pressure the teachers' union to begin talking, at least, about financial easing of contractual requirements. Consider, though, that in mere months, the person who will ultimately appoint any new receivers will not be Don Carcieri, but Lincoln Chafee he with the left-wing head of the state National Education Association branch on his transition team.
November 10, 2010
Trillo (R) Tried to Entice Block (M) Into Joining the (R)
On the WPRO Matt Allen (scowling person at top of page) Show tonight, Republican House Rep Joe Trillo revealed that he had tried to persuade Moderate gubernatorial candidate Ken Block to convert to Republicanism, going so far as to offer Block a leadership role in the RIGOP.
Mr. Block declined and went on to garner 6% of the votes cast in the race for the governor's office. Rep Trillo's offer, while quite pragmatic, appears to have been vindicated in one sense: the Republican candidate, John Robitaille, finished the race two points behind the top vote getter, Linc Chafee (I), well within the margin of Mr. Block's take.
Interestingly, had he been successful in persuading Mr. Block, Rep Trillo might have found himself in a bit of a pickle on another front: he indicated that, when he mooted his proposal to a couple of Republicans, it was not enthusiastically received in that quarter, either.
Some Structure in a Chaotic World
It would be a mistake to make a splash of the quiet trickle of societal conversion, but it can be a source of hope to note this sort of thing:
A handful of Roman Catholic convents are contradicting the decades-long slide in the number of women choosing to devote their lives to the sisterhood. And at least two of them are doing it by sticking to tradition, including the wearing of habits. ...
Sisters at St. Cecilia's and other thriving U.S. orders typically are younger, which makes them closer in age to potential newcomers. These orders also emphasize traditional practices, like wearing long, flowing black-and-white habits, and educating students.
There's no denying that religious life has become less mainstream of an option, over the past century, but it's a mistake for religious organizations to chase members into the brambles of a decaying culture. Those who wish truly to commit will do so, and maintaining the markers of difference will be, for them, an attraction, not a deterrent.
A plain statement of purpose and a resolute following of tradition create a powerful beacon, and it's left to those of us who believe to stop going along with the pop culture assessment that there's something peculiar about following it.
New England's Liberal Conservative Non-Schizophrenia; Or Something
Robert Whitcomb ruminates over the "psychological" conservatism of New England:
New Englanders are in fact more psychologically conservative than most of the rest of the country, whatever the social and economic liberalism ascribed to them by the press.Without digging around, my sense that Whitcomb is correct, here. But then he goes on to allude to a sort of dispositional conservatism, at least when it comes to politics:
That their rates of divorce, illegitimacy, alcohol and other drug abuse, personal bankruptcy and other signs of social dysfunction are less than most of the country's speaks to the region's social stability (call it "conservatism'') compared to, in particular, the Sunbelt.
There, many folks like to call their states "conservative'' but the chaotic personal lives of so many folks belie that description.
Why do New Englanders tend not to make big changes in their political representation, whatever the national gyrations?Well, not quite. Look what happened in Maine, where Republicans swept through Augusta, winning the Governor's race and both legislative Houses. Or New Hampshire where both Congressional and Senate seats are now held by the GOP and the legislature flipped to Republican super-majorities (after drifting Democratic in recent years from its own version of Yankee Conservatism). No, New Englanders aren't immune to making big political changes. At least not all of them.
I'd guess it's because they're more wary than most of the country of promises of change. And they don't have as schizophrenic views about government as many Americans: They know that any advanced society needs a lot of it.*
Perhaps it would be more insightful to look into why 4 of the 6 New England states seem to be political outliers this year and, generally speaking, why dispositional conservatives are so politically liberal. I think Whitcomb is close to identifying it when he says, to paraphrase, New Englanders recognize that modern society requires big government. In other words, there are plenty of New Englanders (particularly, it seems, in Mass., RI, CT and VT), who are interested in conserving the current state of political affairs because they benefit directly from the status quo via jobs or benefits or entitlements. So, in this case, dispositional conservatism reinforces political liberalism. Oh, and self-interest.
*As an aside, regarding that schizophrenic conservatism exhibited elsewhere, here we see a similar thought process as that exhibited in today's aforementioned ProJo editorial concerning "fiscal hyper-hypocrisy".
What a difference: Chafee versus Christie
Night and day.
This public sector union response to Christie should not surprise you.
Letting People Help Themselves, and Each Other
The line that I've italicized from an article by John Miller that profiled then-Senate-candidate Marco Rubio in an October issue of National Review helps to explain why Rubio won, and why conservatives are so excited about it:
Rubio's favorite subject is American exceptionalism. It's at the heart of virtually everything he says, whether he's addressing a classroom of college students at Southeastern University in Lakeland or trying to summarize his candidacy in the one minute Univision allotted for closing remarks. "America is not just different, America is better," he says. "People didn't vote for a left-of-center, Western European social democracy and that's not what Obama sold us, either." He warns that if the United States stays on its present course, debt and taxes will sap the entrepreneurial spirit that has defined it from the start. "Big government doesn't hurt the people who have it made," he says. "Big government wipes out the people who are trying to make it."
We've particular reason to take that assertion to heart, in Rhode Island, because the policies that are strangling the state aren't harming the very wealthy (as local progressives like to claim) so much as the young and ambitious who wish to build something for themselves, their families, and their communities. As a consequence, such people have been fleeing the state for years, and there's no hope of recovery unless that trend is reversed.
RI Rides on the Stimulus Gravy Train
So, the ProJo editors decided to attack "Sarah Palin's Alaska" for "fiscal hyper-hypocrisy". Following the NY Times lead, the ProJo cites data from ProPublica showing that "oil-rich Alaska leads in per-capita federal stimulus money — $3,145." They go on to list the 8 next highest spending/capita states--Montana, Vermont, North Dakota, New Mexico, Wyoming, Idaho, Massachusetts and Washington--and gleefully note that "these are states where 'fiscally conservative' rhetoric attacking the Feds is rife." Well, that's one way of looking at the data.
For starters, here are the overall Top 10 federal stimulus receivers:
|By Total $|
No surprise, big states, right?
But the ProJo is trying to be clever and bolster their charge of hypocrisy by focusing on a per capita calculation.
|District of Columbia||$7,110|
This is the same data from ProPublica cited by the ProJo. I wonder why they left out stimulus money that went to Washington, D.C. in its per capita list? Well, I didn't and I added Rhode Island--which came in 11th--to my list, though the ProJo failed to mention that, too. I guess it didn't really help make their argument or they were so focused on skewering hypocrites they missed what's going on in the community they supposedly serve.
Well, I said to myself, since they get to play with numbers, I want to do the same. A lot of the stimulus money went to infrastructure--roads, bridges and the like--and into the entities that support it. States with big land areas have more of all of that. So I wondered what the spending breakdown per square mile would look like.
|Per Sq. Mile|
|District of Columbia||$62,388,936.64|
Well, how about that? Pretty much the direct opposite conclusion can be drawn if the data is "shaped" that way. Small, though densely populated, northeastern states comprise half of this top ten. And lookee there, li'l ol' RI is #3...and Alaska (not shown here) is dead last, followed by Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas and other big states.
All that being said, I guess, given the ProJo editors premise, Rhode Islanders aren't hypocritical because we get a lot of stimulus--whether per capita or per square mile--and we continue to vote for those who brought it in. And can you imagine what our economy would be like without it? I wonder why the ProJo editors didn't point that out...
Who the Government Thinks Is "Good"
It's not a new program, and I know I've read about it before without finding reason for objection, but, somehow, I'm seeing this sort of thing in a new light, recently:
Foreclosures are leading to home-buying deals half off the appraised value as the federal government sells houses it has repossessed.
For people who work in a select range of occupations, the Federal Housing Administration sells houses at half price under its Good Neighbor Next Door program, or GNND. These homes were insured by the FHA and foreclosed on. Now, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is selling them.
Back in pre-Obama times, I just didn't see anything notable in government efforts to move public employees into the communities that they were serving. It seemed a noble plan. But after a stimulus program that drove the United States into massive debt in order to insulate the public sector from the Great Recession, after Congress slipped a takeover of higher-education loans into its oppressive healthcare legislation, and with a president who speaks of forgiving loans for students who enter into "public service," the housing program has come under a wholly different light.
One doesn't have to work for the local government to serve the local community, and surely many other professionals can just as accurately be assumed to be "good neighbors" as public-sector employees.
The Transition to Reinvigorated Decline
Bob Walsh is on Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee's transition team? National Education Association Rhode Island Executive Director Bob Walsh is preparing the way for Rhode Island's next governor? Boy, they (you know whom I mean) aren't even trying to hide it anymore.
Two hyperbolic scenarios arise in my imagination. In the first, a simpering Chafee begs, "Please, Mr. Walsh, don't make me put you on my transition team. They'll know!" In the second, he ambles into Walsh's office: "Gee, Bob, you're so smart and savvy. I really need your help to bring me the final steps to the State House." Being thoroughly convinced of Chafee's cluelessness, I suspect the latter is closer to the truth.
And so, Ed Achorn writes:
The real problem comes when [Chafee] turns to fiscal and economic issues. He ran on a platform of hiking the taxes of some of the state's poorest and most vulnerable people to, in effect, redistribute their meager wealth to some of its richest political interests the public-sector unions. Rather than insist on deeper staff and benefit cuts at the local level, Mr. Chafee favors a 1 percent sales tax on essential items such as food and medicine.
But that's only the tip of the iceberg. He also favors expanding binding arbitration, which is at the top of the unions' wish list, because it tends to benefit them at taxpayer expense.
Will he also support another union scheme postponing contentious pension reform by refinancing the state's pension debt? That delay would add billions of dollars to the obligations of Rhode Island taxpayers and make our problem vastly more difficult to solve.
Today's paper articulates what we who've paid attention have known all along: that Chafee owes his success to the public-sector unions:
Here's the way it worked: the big unions including the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association of Rhode Island, the United Nurses and Allied Professionals and District 1199 of the Service Employees International Union contributed tens of thousands of dollars to Ocean State Action which, in turn, spent the money on Chafee's behalf. ...
The NEA "advocacy fund" gave Ocean State Action $102,000 to help Chafee; the Federation of Teachers, $50,000; the SEIU, $9,500, UNAP, $2,500 and the Ocean State Action coalition, which includes nonunion groups such as Clean Water Action and Marriage Equality Rhode Island, contributed $35,500 toward its "victory campaign." The Sierra Club kicked in $250, and the National Organization for Women, $125.
From its headquarters next door to the NEA on Bald Hill Road in Cranston, Ocean State Action then spent roughly $187,228 to help Chafee, according to its latest "independent expenditure" filings with the state Board of Elections.
And then there's the built-in campaign force and a certain number of guaranteed votes of people who make their comfortable livings from government coffers.
You know Rhode Island has made a reckless pick for governor when you find yourself hoping that the General Assembly will offer a reasonable restraint...
It's not as immediate a concern, in the context of a state governor, but let's not forget that Chafee has also tapped former Planned Parenthood Medical Director Pablo Rodriguez, as well. It says nothing positive about our pending looming governor that he's seeking transition assistance from a man who finds affirmation in his experience of performing abortions in a room filled with Christian images.
November 9, 2010
Moderate, Like Bill Clinton
Isn't this just too appropriate?
In a story confirmed by both campaigns, Block said in his posting that the meeting came about after a debate Friday night, when Block approached Caprio and told him "in a different lifetime I'd beg him to get me in to see the president."
Caprio said he was happy to oblige, and invited him to come.
Block said Caprio snuck him in the side door of the Veterans Memorial Auditorium, where Clinton was attending a rally for Caprio. He said he and his wife waited about two hours to meet Clinton.
When the Moderate Party began, many (including me) thought it was was a splinter group for centrist-to-liberal Republicans. That constituency exists, of course, but the group's founder has increasingly illustrated that it's perhaps better suited for Democrats whose radicalism allows for at least some financial sanity.
Block describes how Clinton's first reaction to Caprio's introduction of Block was perplexity. Perhaps Clinton's transition to a smile is symbolic of public realization that "moderate" isn't necessarily an implied jab at conservatives. Clearly, the nationwide election results show that many Americans who vote for Democrats see a leftward boundary.
An Early Choice of Direction
Some folks take up a cause at a young age and astonish with their success. Such is the case with Lila Rose, who recently described her experience in an essay for First Things. Rose began her pro-life group, Live Action, at age fourteen. The source of her inspiration for the direction of the group remains horrifying to hear:
Our ideato investigate the abortion industry at the ground levelwasn't new. In 2002 Mark Crutcher, of the pro-life group Life Dynamics, ran a study that surveyed over eight hundred Planned Parenthood clinics and National Abortion Federation affiliates. An actor posing as a thirteen-year-old girl impregnated by a much older mana rapistcalled the facilities. As Life Dynamics recorded these conversations, the group found that over 90 percent of the clinics promised to cover up the rape the girl had suffered and to provide her with an illegal abortiona plan and procedure unreported to either police or parents. For reasons difficult for most people to fathom, the abortionists took it on themselves to perpetuate the vicious cycle of sexual abuse.
It is indeed "difficult to fathom" the mindset that makes such a benefit of abortion that helping to stop and prevent rapes must become secondary to allowing a child to be born. As Rose found, in her first investigation, rape isn't the only evil to become tolerable in the name of facilitating abortion:
By phone, James posed as a racist asking whether he could donate to Planned Parenthood for the abortion of a black baby. Like the racism that James acted out, the response to these proposed race-based donations was horrific. No Planned Parenthood employee hung up the phone. All agreed to accept the donation or find a way to do so, and some made understanding remarks about the racism or showed excitement about the race-based donation. In one conversation with a Planned Parenthood office in Idaho, when James said there were "way too many blacks," the development director laughed and said, "Understandable, understandable."
To me, the most disturbingly profound aspect of Live Action's finding isn't the line that Rose draws from current Planned Parenthood employees to the eugenics supported by its founder, Margaret Sanger, but the way in which a refusal to admit the clear truth about life's beginnings paints those of a pro-choice mindset into an intellectual corner. I've had women who had just explained their support for abortion as a matter of supporting women's rights and freedom which they presented as their first principle turn around and argue on behalf China's one-child policy. Similarly, "choice" rings peculiarly in the context of cultures that encourage the abortion of daughters, specifically; shouldn't women's primary right and freedom be to be born once conceived?
It's an interesting, sometimes frightening, dynamic in human thinking, and a constant reminder to be aware of cognitive dissonance in one's own positions.
The Bankruptcy Option
Given the long political, economic, electoral, etc. track record of this state, many believe that the only solution to fixing Rhode Island lay in bankruptcy. Well, if that is indeed a solution, then this post by Richard Epstein is concisely informative on the topic. Epstein explains the how's and why's, but then concludes that bankruptcy probably isn't an option.
I don’t think that full-fledged bankruptcy is a realistic prospect as of now. I think that the much more sensible approach is to side-step the bankruptcy proceedings and find ways to attack the union pension obligations directly, given their enormous size. It is odd that these days the only sacred contracts are those which the state enters into with unions for the benefit of their members.Nonetheless, the courts would eventually get involved:
The key question is whether it will be possible to persuade the courts that these pension agreements were the result of political self-dealing, which means that they should be set aside unless it could be shown that the state received fair value for the services rendered when it made those deals. I think that case is bold but winnable, yet only when the situation becomes truly desperate. Funding that litigation will take some bankrolling, but the corporate-law analogies on self-dealing make it pretty clear that the state legislatures violated all their duties of loyalty to the public at large when they entered into deals from which union pension funds got all the upside and everyone else got the downside. Not nice. Undoing it is the work of the next generation.That all strikes me as speculative at best, at least in Rhode Island. It just isn't the way this state works.
In an essay that is, unfortunately, behind a subscription firewall, Ramesh Ponnuru takes a mildly contrarian position on federalism:
Yet this may not be an auspicious time for a campaign to empower the states, since their own mismanagement has been in the headlines for several years. California and Illinois are the most familiar basket cases, but even Utah, the best-ranked state in Forbes's survey of state-government debt, has unfunded pension obligations that amount to $7,000 per resident. At a time when states have been asking the federal government for bailouts, is it really a good idea to entrust them with more responsibilities? Will the public think so?
If political constraints end up blocking devolution, it might be a good thing, because the bigger problem with the conservative defense of the states is that it rests on mistaken premises. The decline of American federalism has not been a story of the federal government growing and state governments shrinking. It has been a story of governments at all levels growing at once, and collusively.
I say "mildly," because to some extent the second paragraph answers the first, and Ponnuru surely knows it. Giving the states more responsibility and more autonomy will force them to behave more responsibly. The prerequisite, of course, is that the particular "autonomy" given is of the sink-or-swim kind, not of the adolescent bender kind. Ponnuru's list of suggestions follows this line of thinking:
- Stop giving the states [federal] money.
- Cap the state- and local-tax deduction.
- Defend the Supreme Court when it limits states' adventurism.
- Where federalism is in good working order, leave it alone.
- Stop creating new opportunities to sue state governments in federal court.
- Fix Medicaid.
- End McCarran-Fergusun [which enabled state-by-state regulation of health insurance.
Steve Gerling: At the Trail's End
I can't say I wasn't warned; Rhode Island is a tough place for a Republican to run for office. It just came out one day at an East Providence GOP meeting. Someone asked; "Do we have anyone running for Senate 18?" The next thing I knew, everyone was looking at me. Even my wife, who I trust to talk me out of things like this, was jotting down phone numbers and filing deadlines. Given time to consider, I realized that I actually wanted to do it. Not for the grandeur, or some false sense of prestige, but because I knew I could help Rhode Island. That is, if I could get in.
The breadth of the battle ahead was blatantly obvious. The unions would come out strong, but taxpayers were fed up this time. The lassitude of the past, I felt, would be trampled by angry homeowners swarming the polls, eager to show that they were casting off the yoke strapped on them by special interests. I would have to work for it, but the time was right to bring a conservative voice to the Rhode Island Senate.
The initial ferocity of the announcement soon gave way to long nights, disappointing fundraisers, and retrospective inquiry as to the validity of allegiances. Even so, spirits were high. No one else's fundraisers did much better than mine; kind of like barbeques for vegetarians, so the big money oozing from the coffers on the other side was deemed indicative of the abuse of power that was about to end.
As the sun rose on November second, I arose confident that the efforts of the last nine months would pay off. Standing outside one polling location, the incumbent even lamented to me that he was indeed apprehensive I might overtake him. Boy! Was he wrong!
Had I left any stone unturned, I'd be disappointed. Had I not got the message out from hill to dale, from tower to trestle, I'd still be wondering. Such is not the case. I hit the alleys and the high-rises, alone and in groups. The word was out there, but East Providence didn't want to hear it. The cause of the full-tilt upset of everything politically sane that took place in my city might be attributed to either an apparent magnification of the "politico-lag" that Rhode Island is so famous for, or as is my view, a para-sensitive semi-allergic reaction to the citywide malaise, real or conceived, that permeated the city.
Unfortunately, they simply voted to restart the vicious cycle they were so sick of. Therein lies the rub; there was no way out. A vote for political sense promised wailing union officials and angry dissertations. Voting to shut them up would promote relative peace until the new committees actually opened the books and realized what they'd stepped in. I won't be a part of that, and I almost wonder if I got lucky.
Many have contacted me by various media about running again. While I do not rule it out completely, it is highly unlikely that I would do so. Apparently, this has been taken by some as an abandonment of intent. I don't find that a fair assessment. While I duly respect the dauntless restructuring of many campaigns, I myself have many roads to consider. Simply setting my sights on "next time" would limit my options. In the mean time, I consider myself one of a select few who have a two year pass to complain all I want. No one can say I should have tried to change it, because I did. Now I can do things on my terms for a while.
There's a bit of a dichotomy taking place when one runs for public office. On one hand, I was asking for the privilege to serve. In order to do so, I needed to ask the general public if it wanted to be helped, even thought the answer was obvious. I needed to put my beliefs in a categorized package to be presented to the voter and bring it to them. At the door: Steve Gerling, this lowly urchin who asks for a moment of their time to explain what I will do if given the authority to affect their lives. Theirs to accept or reject within a span of five seconds. Theirs to thank or to insult.
The fact that they would later blame their problems on "politicians" like me promised amusement in subsequent reflection. I learned to gather solace in those who thanked me for attempting to protect them from being whacked with further tax increases and more affronts to their freedom.
I walked up to their doors and rang the bells of my own free accord. If I met up with a politically ambivalent stranger or dyed in the wool liberal, I suppose I asked for it. The tough part was hearing it from acquaintances. Perhaps it's just in their programming, but even those we know are far too likely to say something like, "Oh the politician is gonna talk. Get ready for some hot air." Here's where being a "politician" loses its luster. The correct answer is, "No, I won't talk. Not now. I was just going to say hello, but since I'm just full of hot air, I'll keep it to myself. You hate politicians, yet when anyone with a thread of moral fiber steps up to fill the role, you drag them down to a level you can make fun of rather than congratulate them for breaking the status quo. You moan about the fact that your property value, which is the basis of your net worth, has been stolen by those who wouldn't be insulted by such a comment then project it onto me. Since you think I'm full of hot air, I'll stay quiet while you wallow in unfounded self-aggrandizement at the ever so cunning comment you used to silence me, and I'll try not to display my disdain for the abject ignorance you display when you so effortlessly convey your moronic sense of dominance on to me. I picture you slapping your chest like a gorilla, so I'm leaving before you start throwing your excrement to further your point." Never get to say that as a politician, do you?
Candidates need to be careful of what they say and how they say it. Incessant blathering gives me a headache. I doubt it would have gone over well in the senate for me to respond to a committee request with, "Take a look, punk, do I seem happy? Now go back to the maggot-hole and tell the rest of the larvae to get their pens out and be ready to sign, or I'll squeeze the ink out of your eyeballs!" Again, the limits of the limelight. I might just have said that.
Aside from my obvious affinity towards theatrics, I shudder to think of what I gave up in declaring candidacy. Responding to threads on the internet was sometimes gut-wrenching. I'd chuckle as I typed out pithy retort, only to have my wife stomp in from another room: "I heard you laughing. You can't say that." Sigh... Delete. No, I lived by the Candidate's Creed: stay in town all summer to attend fundraisers with the same thirty-three people statewide who go to each other's events. I often wondered why we didn't just pass a single hundred dollar bank check around.
Simply put, there are some things that I am far more worried about than whether or not to run for office again. I'd love to be quoted on these, but that would take away other's ability to take credit for the insight. Anyhow, here are a few:
- False Prophets have arisen around the state. It would be frivolous to name them.
- The second amendment will be under assault with Chafee as Governor and Kilmartin as AG. The few supporters we have in the legislature will be hard-pressed to preserve our rights, and the NRA gives little regard to Rhode Island. Don't bother trying to tell me I'm wrong.
- Just because pension reform was given some lip-service doesn't mean the problem has gone away, yet I reckon we won't hear much about it soon. Again, reformers are outnumbered.
- Binding Arbitration is coming back! Watch the House for this. Hopefully, evergreen contracts left with Levesque, but he had friends in low places.
- The senate leadership has not changed! Senators-elect Moura, Ottiano, Kettle, et al. have not been given the numbers they need, and the Dems feel they've been given the green light to proceed.
- East Providence will be used as a teacher contract model. The battle will go unabated unless we find the fortitude to go after the professional licenses of those who will do the bidding against the taxpayer.
Rather than holding rallies outside the Statehouse on Saturday afternoons, we need to gather what troops we can and testify at committee hearings. Learn how to read bills. Learn where they come from and the process they follow. Give our people the "heads up" on issues. Know the house and senate calendars and organize knowledgeable groups to write in support of or against upcoming legislation.
Case in point: When Representatives Newberry and Marcello introduced a bill to eliminate the master lever, I was one of only a handful of citizens (one of whom was Moderate Ken Block) who actually made the effort to testify in favor of the bill before the committee. Had there been more concerned citizens there that evening, the bill might not have been "held for further study." In another instance, I met Terry Gorman because he, Elaine, and I were among the few testifying for eVerify. So woefully inadequate was the turnout that, again, we left in disgust.
When the legislature was performing one of its favorite stunts pushing myriad bills through in the last few days of the session I organized a group called "Housewatch" to sit in the balcony and babysit the public interest. I spoke on Helen Glover's radio program for four straight days. The entire effort amounted to about a dozen people but caught representatives voting on behalf of other reps who weren't even in the room. This practice was quickly denounced by then-speaker Murphy.
Running for Senate District 18 gave me insight into a realm I already knew existed: a dominion of apathy. Sure, I can go back into the fray and fight some more, but for now, I have my life back. I dedicated nine months and countless headaches to a campaign, and I'm damn proud of my effort.
Take the Money and Run: Or, This here's a Story about Ralphy-Pete and Gina-Liz...*
I will give credit to Governor-elect Chafee for having the good political sense of declining his statutory raise and putting the funds towards government employee recognition awards. (Producer Kara on the Helen Glover Show likened it to the Dundies given by the boss on The Office, Michael Scott. The "Chafees"?). So far, he's the only one of the recently elected RI General officers to decline putting the money in his pocket:
Kilmartin spokesman Brett Broesder suggested the new attorney general has no choice. He said: "The salary increase is mandated by statute. Therefore, this is a matter of law, not politics. "Whoda thunk it would be Mr. Chafee who'd be the one showing the most political acumen amongst these newly elected pols?
Echoed Roberts' spokeswoman Maria Tocco: "The salaries for the five statewide elected positions are set by statute. The lieutenant governor has no control over the level of pay set for the office. Along with other state employees, she will continue to participate in pay reduction days that resume in January."
Added Mollis spokesman: Chris Barnett: "State law limits general officers who serve two terms to one raise over the eight-year span. This will be the only increase from his first day in office in 2007 to the day he leaves office in 2015.''
But, "he will continue to take part in the state's deficit-reduction plan through furlough days along with all his colleagues in state government.''
A Raimondo spokeswoman said only that she would accept the higher salary and nothing more.
*Apologies to Steve Miller.
ADDENDUM (11/10/10): Gee, you put up one post noting an unexpected display of political acumen by Governor-elect Chafee and suddenly you're considered a bedazzled, befuddled and bemused bouquet thrower! Forgotten are the plethora of posts where I've noted a lack of, shall we say, candlepower, in our new governor. Despite the criticism, I still stand by what I said: that, politically, Chafee handled the raise issue better than others. But apparently memories are short and I needed to provide more elaboration so people didn't think I was being hoodwinked by our New Great and Powerful OZ. Here goes.
Basically, the bar is set so low when it comes to the soon-to-be Governor that I was surprised by the gesture. I was also surprised that, of all the general officers, it was Chafee who pulled this one out of his hat. However, and I didn't think I needed to explain this (my bad), implicit in my acute evaluation of this display of "good political acumen" was a concomitant evaluation in how it will be received by the voting public. Call it cynical or realistic, but based on my observations of the RI electorate, I believe a lot of naive voters will think good ol' Linc is doing the right thing by passing along his raise to the "little folks" that work in government. I probably also should have mentioned something that I thought when first hearing this: why didn't the independently wealthy Chafee just set aside his entire salary? The fact that he didn't forgo his entire salary reveals a certain shallowness to the gesture. In other words, though I think it was a case of Chafee playing populist--and that it will be, on balance, a little win for him--that doesn't mean I approve of the motive or his policies any more than I did before. It certainly doesn't mean I'm going to give him a pass.
That being said, I get what the criticism, particularly Dan Yorke's, was about: don't let the crazy uncle set the bar so low that we underestimate him and his policies when he's actually clear on something. As Dan illustrated by using e-verify as an example: when our new governor really has a concrete idea on something, we'll be able to tell. We'll just have to learn how to tune out the emotion-based ramblings so we can focus on the occasionally clear signals Chafee does send.
Winning Without Winning
Jeffrey Anderson offers some context for the Senate election results:
In the midst of a resounding national rebuke at all levels of government, the Democrats have been taking some solace in having held the Senate. But to put the Republicans' Senate gains this week into perspective, Republicans won an even higher percentage of Senate races than House races (they won 65 percent of the 37 Senate races, versus approximately 56 percent of the 435 House races). And, counting Lisa Murkowski as still being a Republican (a spokesman for her campaign says the Alaskan would caucus with the GOP if she beats Joe Miller in their still-undecided race), there have been only two elections since 1950 in which Republicans have gained more Senate seats than the six they gained in 2010. One of those elections was in 1980, when voters swept Ronald Reagan into the White House. The second was in 1994, in response to the Democrats' ill-advised attempts to pass Hillarycare. So while the Republicans' gains in the House surpassing those of 1994 and likely doubling those of 1980 are more historic and important, the GOP's Senate pickups in 2010 aren't too shabby either.
Yes, the Tea Party wave did sweep Christine O'Donnell through the Republican primaries in Delaware and Republicans away from ultimate victory, there, but such outcomes are periodically inevitable when a movement raises principle at least to parity with political calculation. As Anderson notes: take away the enthusiasm that elevated O'Donnell, and you take away the enthusiasm that won the House and brought near-historic gains the Senate.
Now the task is for the Republican Party to follow suit and lead rather than calculate.
November 8, 2010
With the Journal's Hot Air in His Sails
This paragraph, from a post-election article by Providence Journal staff writer Peter Lord deserves some reflection:
For much of the general election campaign, polls indicated there was no contest. Cicilline was running ahead by 20 points or more. And he raised and spent about $1 million more than Loughlin, though that included financing his primary campaign.
Any list of Cicilline's advantages should include the assistance that the Providence Journal offered notably through its ostensibly neutral PolitiFact feature (as we noted several times, including here, here, here, here, here, and elsewhere). There's simply no denying the bias; the Projo's own handling of headlines shows some awareness of the fact. For the online version of the story which will remain as a public record for people around the world to see the title is "Cicilline holds off GOP's Loughlin." On the front page of last Wednesday's print edition, however, the headline jubilantly proclaims, "Cicilline sails past GOP's Loughlin."
Sorry, ye power brokers, given advantages of fundraising, name recognition, local partisan preferences, media adulation, presidential campaigning, and so on, Cicilline should have won by a much greater margin than 6% of the vote.
Let's hope that Loughlin continues to campaign over the next two years including a dedicated effort to remain relevant and heard on issues in the news and begins 2012 on a more equal footing for a race with a different outcome.
James Haldeman: the First Declared General Assembly Candidate for 2012
While all of us, candidates and voters alike, recover from our political hangover, I am eager to announce that the Haldeman Campaign 2012 for State Representative, District 35 has already begun its planning process! I am very grateful to all my supporters, and I'm inspired to push forward by virtue of the 48% who voted for me. That's correct...48%!
Last week's South County Independent inaccurately reported the results of my race which causes me now to exercise a little damage controI. However, it is necessary for the citizens in this community who supported me to know and understand the reality that we lost by a mere 166 votes. Turning just 84 votes is all that was needed to be victorious. We were so very close!
My political philosophy will remain constant during the next two years. I will push for lower tax rates that will yield greater tax revenue for the state and I will push for greater competition with our neighboring states. The list goes on but those two fiscal maneuvers alone will help provide state funding to URI, will motivate and enhance businesses to move to Rhode Island and unemployment will instantly be reduced.
So, as I congratulate and send my best wishes to my opponent, Spencer Dickinson, I will risk my political career right here, right now, and state that there will be absolutely no changes to those issues in the next two years until someone like me with tested and proven leadership is sent to Smith Hill. My sincere thanks goes out to everyone in this community for the opportunity to serve you in 2012.
Jim Haldeman, a retired Marine Lieutenant Colonel and a captain with American Airlines, was and is a candidate for RI House District 35.
Smokers for Fiscal Health
The ProJo reports that the percentage of smokers in Rhode Island has gone from 22.4% of the population in 1999 to 15.1% in 2009. They identify this downward trend as coincidental to the indoor smoking ban and ever-increasing cigarette taxes. Imagine: increased taxes can act as a disincentive. Of course, if Rhode Islanders truly had the best interest of their state in mind, they would continue to smoke as much and recruit other smokers to the cause. We need the revenue to pay for programs!
But there is some hope in the ProJo piece: apparently there hasn't been as much of a decrease in smoking amongst lower educated, lower income earners, the unemployed and the uninsured. With the current state of the state and with today's economy, the number of people in those demographic cohorts should increase and the tax revenue along with it! So don't be a quitter: smoke for our state's sake!
Letting Government Be Neutral
Catching up on my reading, I highlighted the following, from First Thing editor Joseph Bottum's thoughts on the Ground Zero mosque controversy:
Real democracy is messy. It's got protestors and agitators and banners and manners and morals and financial pressures and gossip and policemen on horses keeping an eye out to make sure it doesn't turn violent. Oh, yes, it's also got government, but apart from paying for those policemen, government ought not to be too deeply involved as these things sort themselves out. If what the Muslims want to do is not illegal, than government should have nothing more to say.
That does not mean, however, that everyone else should also have nothing more to say. The attempt to build a large, new mosque and Islamic center anywhere near the site of the World Trade Center is so offensive, so bizarre, and so deliberate that it should be stopped.
And stopped it will be, through the offered mediation of New York's Archbishop Dolan, or the skittishness of the financial community, or the disturbance of the neighbors, or the anger of the protestors, or the refusal of the building contractors. It will be messy, and it will be sharp. Inspiring and disturbing, with loud shouts on the streets and a few quiet words in the back rooms.
But that's democracyit's how things get done when you accept that government shouldn't do everything. The churches and the synagogues have long experience with this kind of democratic negotiation. Time for the mosques to learn how to do it, too.
It comes down to this: As the ostensibly neutral arbiter and the licit wielder of deadly force, the government should not determine what its principles (society's principles) should be. That includes the mandate for "tolerance." At lower levels of government, the people should be able to insert their principles into government as they see fit, but the moment government steps in to resolve disputes as opposed to ensuring the conditions in which they can be resolved without violence being unalterably tolerant of one perspective inherently requires being intolerant of perspectives that oppose it.
If the arbiter insists, even, that "hate" is inadmissible as justification, then his criteria are no longer objective; hatred is all too evident in the side with which one disagrees and too difficult to see among those who've reached the one's own conclusion.
If It Were Rational, Their Power Would Decrease
Theodore Gatchel suggests that one way to improve the function of Congress is to narrow the focus of each legislative item:
If the Democrats had broken health-care legislation into smaller, "clean" bills, each of which dealt with a single aspect of health care, President Obama might well have gained more of what he wanted, and Tuesday night's results might have been very different. If the Democrats had included tort reform and letting insurance companies compete across state lines both of which could reduce consumers' costs in their agenda, they undoubtedly would have received much-needed bipartisan support.
Gatchel notes that politicians dislike such an approach because it would make it more difficult to slip unpopular and self-serving measures into laws. It would also reduce incumbents' access to deniability claiming to have opposed unpopular aspects of bills, but pointing to positive aspects as the areas of focus. The extreme nature of ObamaCare's legislative process shows the ultimate form of that reasoning; it became starkly the reality that legislators were pointing to a few positive intentions regardless of practical likelihood and insisting that they compensated for whatever might prove to be in the bill.
One should note, in counterbalance to Gatchel's suggestion, that there are circumstances in which piecemeal legislation can be less effective, even incoherent, even harmful. On a broad scale, the example comes to mind of leftist regulatory schemes that favor large incumbent businesses deleteriously mixed with rightist free-market principles, creating a free rein for monopolistic powerhouses.
That danger could easily be mitigated, however, if bills contained provisions that required all of their key components to be passed individually before they collectively became law.
Glenn Reynolds writes:
With the election over, Republicans are arguing about whether they should address Democrats via compromise, or confrontation. Both have their places, but I have a different suggestion.
With the deficit and the debt ballooning, with the economy remaining in the tank, and with tough choices on the horizon, what Americans need more than anything is clarity about what those choices involve, about who is making them, and about who is avoiding them.
Sometimes clarity will mean confrontation...
...Often when Washington insiders talk "compromise," they really mean engineering a situation where nobody really has to take a position, or responsibility. In those circumstances, clarity is better served by forcing positions into the open, even if doing so involves confrontation.
Sometimes, of course, compromises can bring clarity -- when it's clear what's being given up, and what's gained in exchange. Generally speaking, though, the Washington approach is to pretend that there's a free lunch, rather than to acknowledge the trade-offs.
This must change. Voters deserve to know the truth, and a compromise that won't work if voters know the truth isn't really a compromise at all, but a con.
A move for clarity will meet much resistance...
One way to [ensure transparency and make sure the facts come out] is to stay on message, of course. Another is to follow House Minority Leader (and, soon, Speaker) John Boehner's advice, and "listen." During the Obamacare debacle, Democratic representatives and senators ran away from constituent meetings and town halls. The last thing they wanted to do was listen to their constituents.
By way of contrast, Republicans should engage constituents early and often, and -- publicly -- encourage Democrats to do the same...
By listening to voters at town hall meetings, Republicans can not only show that they care, they can accomplish something else. They can actually learn something.
By not listening to voters, and not being straight with them, Democrats committed political suicide. Republicans should take a lesson, and promote clarity. In these times, voters will reward that.
Economic Liberty as Equalizer
Taking some legislation that President Obama has proposed as his cue, Andrew Biggs makes the case against legislative corrections to the gender pay gap. All such arguments come down to the point that there are legitimate reasons that men, in aggregate, make more money than women, and Biggs gives the underlying reason why that can be expected to be so:
Discrimination is unlikely to drive the gender pay gap because, as economist Gary Becker pointed out a half century ago, when one employer underpays his workers, competing businesses can earn windfall profits by luring them away. If Employer A pays women 77 cents on the dollar, Employer B can hire all Employer A's female workers at 78 cents on the dollar to replace his costlier male workers. This raises Employer B's profits, while Employer A must now pay full freight for employees. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences noted, in awarding Becker the 1992 Prize in Economics, that "discrimination thus tends to be economically detrimental not only to those who are discriminated against, but also to those who practice discrimination." As long as there is a critical mass of non-discriminating employersand the growth of female-run businesses in recent decades and changes in social norms among males indicates there isthen employers' profit motives will narrow the pay gap to levels justifiable in terms of productivity. Ironically, while the Left assumes that businesses readily sacrifice worker safety and degrade the environment in search of profits, they nevertheless believe employers forgo profits simply to satisfy a misbegotten desire to discriminate.
Of course, to the sorts of people who advocate for legislation like the Paycheck Fairness Act, to write the phrase "make more money than women" is to concede that there is, in fact, discrimination, because they begin with the belief that there are no legitimate reasons. Even if it means forcing businesses to ignore relevant factors (like skills lost during child rearing), to arbitrarily increase the cost of male workers (by offering, e.g., paternity leave), or attacking the very culture and biology that produces the substantial differences between men and women, zealous foes of perceived discrimination care only to work toward equivalent statistical outcomes (unless it's men who are on the losing end). Whether that coincides with equivalent senses of happiness and fulfillment is another matter.
If, by contrast, one accepts the premise that biological reality and individual preferences create circumstances in which it is reasonable for some pay gap to exist, the question is wholly different: How do we squeeze whatever invidious discrimination there is out? Here, I agree with Biggs that the answer is economic freedom:
Even if some of the pay gap is due to discrimination, therefore, economic liberalization may be the key to reducing it. Because employers that discriminate lose profits relative to non-discriminating competitors, increased competition weeds out discrimination. Several studies have shown that as industries faced increased competition, through either deregulation or international trade, the gender pay gap shrank. And the pay gap is larger in monopoly markets without competition and smaller in start-ups and small businesses that must be productive in order to survive. Women need more markets, more enterprise, and more opportunity, not more regulation and litigation.
Arbitrary discrimination is expensive, so creating barriers to entry through government regulations only creates the circumstances in which existing businesses have the competitive space to play silly personal games.
November 7, 2010
The Marriage Disconnect
I'm not sure what's shocking: That the rate for blacks has tripled in my lifetime or that whites have now surpassed the level of pathology Moynihan described.
But note this part of the extended block quote that Joyner draws from the relevant AP article:
As the issue of black unwed parenthood inches into public discourse, Carroll is among the few speaking boldly about it. And as a black woman who has brought thousands of babies into the world, who has sacrificed income to serve Houston's poor, Carroll is among the few whom black women will actually listen to.
"A mama can't give it all. And neither can a daddy, not by themselves," Carroll says. "Part of the reason is because you can only give that which you have. A mother cannot give all that a man can give. A truly involved father figure offers more fullness to a child's life."
Anchor Rising readers are familiar with this point, but this point of view belongs fully articulated in the same-sex marriage debate. It makes for a disjointed set of ideological points to lament out-of-wedlock birth especially in these terms and not to explain why it is less lamentable than the inability of homosexual activists to change the definition of marriage.
Reflections on the nature of free markets, different ways of being pro-business, liberty and the attributes of a healthy democracy
2+ minutes of pithy comments by Milton Friedman on greed, enlightened self-interest, and how societies and free markets work.
A succinct summary on the two meanings of being pro-business from Don Boudreaux, who writes for the Café Hayek blog and is a professor of economics at George Mason University:
There are two ways for a government to be ‘pro-business.’ The first way is to avoid interfering in capitalist acts among consenting adults – that is, to keep taxes low, regulations few, and subsidies non-existent. This ‘pro-business’ stance promotes widespread prosperity because in reality it isn’t so much pro-business as it is pro-consumer. When this way is pursued, businesses are rewarded for pleasing consumers, and only for pleasing consumers.
The second, and very different, way for government to be pro-business is to bestow favors and privileges on politically connected firms. These favors and privileges, such as tariffs and export subsidies, invariably oblige consumers to pay more – either directly in the form of higher prices, or indirectly in the form of higher taxes – for goods and services. This way of being pro-business reduces the nation’s prosperity by relieving businesses of the need to satisfy consumers. When this second way is pursued, businesses are rewarded for pleasing politicians. Competition for consumers’ dollars is replaced by competition for political favors.
There is much talk today about the polarization in America and how different factions should compromise by acting in a bipartisan fashion. But such talk is absurd because it ignores several critical and unavoidable issues:
First, policy differences are often based on competing world views. Those differences cannot be wished away by superficial talk about bipartisanship. For example, if you believe in the first definition of being pro-business, i.e., that only the private sector can actually create jobs and the government’s proper role is to promote economic liberty by incenting the private sector to do so, then no size of any stimulus bill will be acceptable. Nor is there any middle ground if you believe that Obamacare represents the socialization of medicine and you don’t believe in socialism. These positions are not about being the "party of no." Instead, they are a clarion call for an alternative public debate about statism, about whether we aspire to become like a European welfare state. Then, instead of ramming down a statist solution to the healthcare issue onto America, we could agree that the status quo for the delivery of medical care isn’t good enough and use that as an alternative starting point from which to conduct a legitimate public debate about different solutions. Polarization will only genuinely dissipate after there is sufficiently open and reasoned public debate about such principles and the desired endpoints of policies that derive from them so that a consensus can begin to form across America.
Second, both political parties have inhibited such a debate. Public choice theory teaches us that we should not be surprised that the parties are focused primarily on promoting their own self-preservation, by sustaining power for the sake of power instead of promoting reasoned debates about how a belief in the ordered liberty of our American Founding should impact our public policies. Such is the added price we pay for having given up on limited government. But, if we believe in liberty, then the people in America have to stand up and insist on the debates. Which is why the Tea Party is perceived to be such a threat to both parties' establishment figures. That debate will take time and will appear messy along the way. But only an arrogant, self-absorbed narcissist will underestimate (more here and here) the American people's ability to instinctively figure things out. Just like the American people rejected the Republicans in 2006 and 2008, the 2010 election was a repudiation of the arrogance of a Democratic party that refused to listen to the American people in recent times. Political gridlock is nothing more than the American people telling the government to stop in its tracks until the the debates can be held.
If the debates are inhibited by the political class, then there will be more repudiations in the coming elections:
...This isn't a wave, it's a tidal shift—and we've seen it coming for a long time. Remarkably, there have been plenty of warning signs over the past two years, but Democratic leaders ignored them. At least the captain of the Titanic tried to miss the iceberg. Congressional Democrats aimed right for it...
But none of this means that Republicans are winning. The reality is that voters in 2010 are doing the same thing they did in 2006 and 2008: They are voting against the party in power.
This is the continuation of a trend that began nearly 20 years ago. In 1992, Bill Clinton was elected president and his party had control of Congress. Before he left office, his party lost control. Then, in 2000, George W. Bush came to power, and his party controlled Congress. But like Mr. Clinton before him, Mr. Bush saw his party lose control.
That's never happened before in back-to-back administrations. The Obama administration appears poised to make it three in a row. This reflects a fundamental rejection of both political parties.
More precisely, it is a rejection of a bipartisan political elite that's lost touch with the people they are supposed to serve. Based on our polling, 51% now see Democrats as the party of big government and nearly as many see Republicans as the party of big business. That leaves no party left to represent the American people.
Voters today want hope and change every bit as much as in 2008. But most have come to recognize that if we have to rely on politicians for the change, there is no hope. At the same time, Americans instinctively understand that if we can unleash the collective wisdom and entrepreneurial spirit of the American people, there are no limits to what we can accomplish...
Elected politicians also should leave their ideological baggage behind because voters don't want to be governed from the left, the right, or even the center. They want someone in Washington who understands that the American people want to govern themselves.
William Voegli offered this sage advice several years ago: “A healthy democracy does not require blurring political differences. But it must find a way to express those differences forcefully without anathematizing people who hold different views.”
The sections titled Issues #1, 2 and 4 in this lengthy May 2010 blog post highlight some of the underlying core beliefs that animate a world view which believes in free markets and liberty. These are the meaty topics worthy of public discussion.
A more intense level of public debate has begun across America in recent months. Here's to it continuing in a vigorous manner until a meaningful new consensus can form in the country.
Glenn Reynolds writes:
With the election over, Republicans are arguing about whether they should address Democrats via compromise, or confrontation. Both have their places, but I have a different suggestion.
With the deficit and the debt ballooning, with the economy remaining in the tank, and with tough choices on the horizon, what Americans need more than anything is clarity about what those choices involve, about who is making them, and about who is avoiding them.
Sometimes clarity will mean confrontation...
...Often when Washington insiders talk "compromise," they really mean engineering a situation where nobody really has to take a position, or responsibility. In those circumstances, clarity is better served by forcing positions into the open, even if doing so involves confrontation.
Sometimes, of course, compromises can bring clarity -- when it's clear what's being given up, and what's gained in exchange. Generally speaking, though, the Washington approach is to pretend that there's a free lunch, rather than to acknowledge the trade-offs.
This must change. Voters deserve to know the truth, and a compromise that won't work if voters know the truth isn't really a compromise at all, but a con.
A move for clarity will meet much resistance...
One way to [ensure transparency and make sure the facts come out] is to stay on message, of course. Another is to follow House Minority Leader (and, soon, Speaker) John Boehner's advice, and "listen." During the Obamacare debacle, Democratic representatives and senators ran away from constituent meetings and town halls. The last thing they wanted to do was listen to their constituents.
By way of contrast, Republicans should engage constituents early and often, and -- publicly -- encourage Democrats to do the same...
By listening to voters at town hall meetings, Republicans can not only show that they care, they can accomplish something else. They can actually learn something.
By not listening to voters, and not being straight with them, Democrats committed political suicide. Republicans should take a lesson, and promote clarity. In these times, voters will reward that.
The open and reasoned public debate I write about above is all about bringing clarity. Kudos to Reynolds for saying it so well.
November 6, 2010
Surely family schedules had more to do with it than the less whimsical shifts of nature, but New England's famed "foliage season" had a mythical quality, when I was still an adolescent Jersey boy. Actually, "mythical" is not quite right, because I'd had some experience of it and, of course, New Jersey lacks neither trees nor seasons. But in our periodic visits to my grandfather's house in southern Vermont, it seemed we were typically disappointed to find either that the trees had not yet begun to turn or had already moved past their most florid days.
This autumn, I've been working alternately on job sites in Little Compton, Tiverton, and Newport, so I've had almost daily experience with that certain quality of light shining off water and through leaves that seem only more fully alive in the shades of their dying. Turn a corner or overtake a hill at just the right moment and your face contorts and breath constrains in the same sensation that accompanies as the cliché advises setting free the one you love in the hopes that she or he will return more surely yours.
Now we enter the long gray season of chills and ruddy cheeks. Sweaters and the felt knowledge that the sun will view us only askance. There's no need for despondence in that forecast. Even apart from the holidays scheduled as lighted way stations through the late fall and winter Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, St. Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day the season has its unique sense and, therefore, justifies daily gratitude that we are creatures of sensation.
The political parallels to be found in our moment in Rhode Island history are obvious, but let it suffice for me to observe how wonderful a place the state is in which to live. Complain as we might about those with whom we must share it, worry as we do that the state demands an economic premium that translates into a daily struggle for many of us just to get by, we ought not wish away the time or fail to appreciate the moment that we've been given for the very simple reason that we've been given it, and the moment is ours.
On the coldest of days, what sets us aright is warmth, and the surest warmth comes from within. We can find it whether the opportunity flows over us as waves on the August shoreline or brushes our cheeks as fiery falling leaves or nips at our noses in crisp frozen air. The Earth laid bare is a sight to see, with the intricacies of stone and bark. Just so, our vulnerabilities dance in the air as smoke from strangers' chimneys and the moist, visible heat that our breath dispenses as a message of the fire stirred by heart and lungs.
A Sense of Doom in Rhode Island
I'm still feeling optimistic about the ability of the still inchoate reform movement to make advances and gain converts over the next two years, but a sense of near-term doom is still appropriate:
After meeting with the House speaker and the Senate president, Governor-elect Lincoln D. Chafee said Friday he was optimistic that he will have a good working relationship with the two most powerful people in the General Assembly.
In an illustration of the superficiality of such public shows, the most concrete statement offered by the three elected officials was that the legislators appreciated Chafee's refusal to grade the legislature in a pre-election debate. That doesn't mean, of course, that Senate President Theresa Paiva-Weed and House Speaker Gordon Fox won't find Chafee's governance much to their liking.
Get ready for some backsliding, Rhode Island... especially if you thought we were already up against the wall.
November 5, 2010
Union Theory Proven
The best election-results quotes from Rhode Island conservatives/reformers came out of East Providence:
[Soon-to-be-former School Committee Chairman Anthony] Carcieri laughed in the face of defeat and said, "The public has spoken, so get your checkbooks out. We'll be paying a lot of taxes in the near future."
Soon-to-be-former Mayor Joseph Larisa points to the deeper lesson of the election:
... Larisa said the results show "East Providence is now bought, owned and paid for by organized labor. This election proves that misrepresentation and money can buy elections in East Providence."
Actually, the more significant proof that the results offer is of the rationale for banning public-sector unions. In this case, the unions didn't like the parties with whom they were negotiating, so they've elected themselves new ones. Union members are fully within their rights to do so, but to allow them an organized often statewide or national movement funded via negotiated salaries and mandatory dues tilts the balance to an unjust degree.
In effect, public-sector employees are doubly represented, as employees and as employers taxpayers. Since it would be contrary to principles of democracy to disenfranchise them, it would be fair and reasonable to bar their unionization.
Forward Our Republic Driving
Back when I was a teenager and thought vehicles an important means of branding, I was a GM guy, especially Pontiacs. Somehow, my group of friends seemed inclined to believe the hostile interpretation of Ford as an acronym for "Fix or Repair Daily." Since its government bailout, however, I've sworn off GM, despite the money toward a new car still lingering as an earned benefit on my GM Card.
For that reason, was thrilled to come across these two stories on the same day, not long ago. The un-bailed-out Ford is doing relatively well:
Ford is on a roll.
Its popular new cars and trucks are grabbing a bigger share of the U.S. market. It's about to erase a big chunk of its health care debt. And it's adding a significant number of jobs for the first time in five years.
On Tuesday, the automaker said it made $1.7 billion from July through September, a jump of nearly 70 percent from a year earlier and its sixth consecutive quarter in the black.
The second article notes that it isn't merely a quirk of the market:
The most problem-free cars and trucks are made by Honda and Toyota, but Ford is closing in fast and General Motors is making big quality improvements, according to Consumer Reports magazine's 2010 reliability rankings.
The first paragraph lumps the American companies together, but there's a substantial difference of degree. Ford is the number 10 make, while GM's highest is Chevy, at 17. Indeed, Ford has "several individual models that were better quality than Toyotas."
Wherefore All the Debates
Ed Fitzpatrick devoted a column, the other day, to the profusion of gubernatorial debates, this election cycle:
Of course, the candidates didn't participate in all these events simply out of the goodness of their hearts. This was an open seat, so there was no incumbent telling us he or she had too many important things to do instead. And the race was tourniquet tight, making candidates reluctant to blow off an event and give their opponents a chance to criticize them or sway a crowd in their absence.
Looking ahead, we shouldn't expect so many debates in the next governor's race. But we should appreciate what we had this year.
Fitzpatrick doesn't go any more deeply than that into the question of why there were so many debates, but it's an interesting angle that could affect election cycles to come. Myself, I credit the Rhode Island Voter Coalition, which began hosting debates early and set the precedent that an organization didn't have to be a mainstream media outlet or major political player, like the unions, to be able to summon the candidates.
Moving a step farther, I'd categorize the RIVC as an outgrowth of last summer's Tea Parties and healthcare town halls. That's where the shocking notion became solidified that politicians should face their constituents in candid forums. And if I may be so bold, Anchor Rising played a role in our coverage of those prior events, including online video posted within a day or two, as well as in helping to establish the RIVC debates in the same manner.
Unfortunately, life twisted, for me, in a direction that precluded my continuing the practice. Whether it can be renewed depends entirely on the willingness of readers to support the site as a more substantial means of employment.
November 4, 2010
What the World Needs
More incongruous rap wars. Here's Hayek versus Keynes:
I think if I were a teacher/professor at some level, I'd seriously consider writing rap wars to illustrate and summarize differences between characters, points of view, and so on.
Yeah. I'd be that guy.
A (very) little bit of digging turned up the video to which the above is a follow-up:
Best line (from the Hayek character, naturally): "If you're livin' high on the cheap-credit hog, don't look for a cure from the hair of the dog." Seems like I've been reading about a Fed plan to buy up government debt to drive interest rates even lower...
Another Assinine, Zero (Horse) Tolerance School Decision; Another Excuse to Post a Python Skit
... minus the horses, of course, because, after all, bringing a horse to school is as dangerous as bringing a loaded firearm.
Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School senior Dan Depaolis, 17, was suspended for two days after he rode a horse into the school's parking lot while wearing medieval garb as part of a spirit week stunt, WFXT-TV, Boston, reported Monday.
H/T Michael Graham.
What Will the President Do?
The biggest political question on the table is how President Obama will react to the Republican's gains, this election. Victor Davis Hanson notes that Obama's post-election speech didn't indicate that he understands the message that the American people are trying to send to him. But here's the interesting paragraph from Hanson's post:
Had not some zealots talked of possible 90-to-100-seat gains, the Democrats would be in greater shock today at the near-historic 60+ House pick-up, along with a stunning near sweep of state legislatures and governorships, as well as gains in the Senate and all a mere 21 months after the beginning of hope and change. The idea that we are going to copy EU socialism is dead. So is Keynesian massive borrowing. So is the promised second wave of Obamism, such as cap-and-trade and blanket amnesty. Obama's supporters can brag that erstwhile absolutely safe senior Democratic senators like Boxer and Reid managed to get reelected, but they must understand that Obama's vision and his method of enacting it simply turned off the vast majority of the country.
I agree that the short-term prospects of American socialism are bleak, although it's possible that the virus has already been injected into our system of government to reemerge after a period of welfare-state gestation. But in trying to predict the actions of Democrats, I can't help but hear echoes, in Hanson's reassurances, of the declarations that ObamaCare was dead after Republican Scott Brown won in Massachusetts. What Obama and the Democrats proved, then, was that they were not operating according to political expectations. This election was largely a consequence of that fact, but it's not certain that they'll change their script, when the tea leaves were already plain to see last year.
On the Matter of Too Much "Fighting"
A couple of posts ago, Justin cited the statement yesterday by Linc Chafee that
One of our impediments has been too much fighting
to which Justin responds
"Too much fighting" means too much opposition to the position that he and his political supporters — mostly leftists and unionists — wish to impose on the state.
Indeed, there seems to be some confusion as to exactly what constitutes "fighting". Is it possible that the Governor-Elect has interpreted "fighting" as a steadfast resistance to new taxes and an ever hungrier government?
There is no question that some of us get a little testy at fresh suggestions to take from us even more of our hard earned dollars. That causes us to do wild and crazy things like speak up in a variety of outlets, lobby our elected officials and support candidates who do not agree that the answer to our government's budgetary shortfall is yet another dive into the pocket of the hapless taxpayer.
Our sincere apologies if this came across as "fighting". If, however, this is a new definition of "fighting", we disagree that there has been too much of it. On the contrary, the size of our tax bills and our government, not to mention the return on our "investment" in certain areas, clearly indicates that what is needed, under this novel definition, is more "fighting" and not less of it.
Don't Leave; Fight
Matt and Andrew are surely correct about Rhode Island's pending efforts to work dig its own grave even more deeply. The thing is: There was no plausible outcome, for this election, that could have stopped that.
So, go ahead and feel those feelings: I wish I'd never bought property in Rhode Island, because now it's worth so much less than I paid that I'm trapped. And I'm exhausted from struggling to survive in this state. But then think of what actually happened.
In the governor's race, Democrat Frank Caprio ran as a "moderate" Republican, even procuring the endorsement of one of the state's right-leaning reform groups, the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition, and the Republican outperformed him. Linc Chafee, meanwhile, had the left-wingers and the public sector unions. That shouldn't even have been close, and if it was close, common wisdom would suggest that it should have been the Democrat machine versus those forces. Republican John Robitaille, in other words, came much, much closer than anyone should have expected within three percentage points, some portion of which might potentially be attributed to RISC's horrible mistake. Now he's got a campaign record on which to run next time around, when all of those Rhode Islanders realize what the famed "Chafee brand" actually indicates.
Before that time comes around, consider this: in the next election cycle, voters will have nowhere to go to express their dissatisfaction and strive for a political reordering than the General Assembly, because the governor et alia won't be up for reelection.
All the other state offices, meanwhile, are purely a measure of partisan dedication. I don't think many voters pay all that much attention to issues when it comes to any race but governor. Are people really deeply informed about the views of candidates for Secretary of State, or even Attorney General? I think they just vote as they're used to voting, perhaps switching away from the D. for personal, idiosyncratic reasons. But really, several of these races shouldn't have been as close as they were, if my assessment is correct.
What's important to remember is that people built names during this election. In General Assembly races, look at it from the average person's perspective. Anchor Rising readers know that anybody with an R. or a conservative streak is likely to be better than the buffoons currently in office (not the least because they'll be more likely to consider views such as ours), but to the average voter, it's some modestly articulate stranger from the suspicious Right or the modestly articulate stranger whom they know from election after election. They aren't predisposed to prefer conservatives, politically, so why should they vote for conservative strangers?
Ours has to be a multi-election strategy, with candidates spending off years out in the community (1) becoming known as non-scary, and (2) practicing their speaking and developing their policy opinions. Look, for example, at Dan Reilly and Chris Ottiano, in Portsmouth. It took them each multiple attempts, but now they've earned office. Look at North Kingstown's Doreen Costa: She's been out there for years, at this point, including pictures confronting Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in the newspaper. Most of the GOP and Clean Slate candidates signed on relatively recently.
Congressional Candidate John Loughlin is probably the archetype of the point that I'm making: He was surprisingly close. From the general public's standpoint, Democrat David Cicilline didn't blow his job as Providence mayor too badly, and pushed hard on the fear-driven, disingenuous attacks on Loughlin. He also benefited from an explicit strategy on the part of national Democrats to shore up congressional seats that really shouldn't have been threatened. In the perspective of those who see Rhode Island as hopeless, Loughlin shouldn't have gotten anywhere near as close to victory as he did, and now he's known.
The election results look, to me, to be surprising in the amount of support for some sort of change, but people have to know who the change-bringer is. What the RIGOP and right-leaning reformers have failed to do is to congeal into a united force providing practical advice and unified strategy and to build long-term campaign strategies. Moving forward, those who gained office, from the right, need to perform well and intelligently proving that they could be trusted to be reasonable as a majority. Candidates who didn't win should continue a low-to-midlevel campaign, becoming known in their communities and offering alternate arguments as the General Assembly and governor make their inevitably poor decisions.
And the rest of us must do the same: educating our neighbors and promulgating points of view that our fellow Rhode Islanders may never have heard articulated or have considered strange and foreign.
The election results are not bereft of points of opportunity. The new kid in the neighborhood isn't likely to swing into town and prove a master of a quirky local street game. Keep at it; things will improve.
A Journal of the Downfall
November 3, 2010
Some Mustard for Ian's Baloney
I wrote that title with the most collegial of intentions... but I do think WRNI's Ian Donnis is way off on this one:
Rhode Island's GOP has long been split between its moderate and conservative wings. The message sent yesterday by Rhode Island voters was that they favor a more moderate kind of Republicanism.
The 36% of the vote garnered by Linc Chafee notably an RIGOP "moderate" whom the conservatives arguably ousted is well below the 57% that went to the (conservative) Republican and (relatively conservative) Democrat, both of whom ran well to Linc's right. Meanwhile, John Loughlin, arguably the most conservative candidate on the ticket, came surprisingly close to beating Democrat David Cicilline, who ran some of the most disingenuous political ads I've seen, locally, and engaged in a "scare the seniors" campaign (and who benefited from an explicit national strategy among Democrats to shore up seats that would normally have been safe).
Elsewhere on the ticket, Ian cites the near success of Catherine Taylor in her bid for Secretary of State and notes her history with Chafee senior and junior. But that office is a throwaway on voters' lists, and Democrat Mollis is hardly an endearing character, meaning that the vote was a good candidate for those who wish to feel that they're not straight-ticket voters. In the race for Attorney General, (conservative) Republican Erik Wallin finished a reasonably strong second, well ahead of literal Moderate Christopher Little. And Kerry King, in the General Treasurer race, may or may not be on the "conservative" or "moderate" side of the Republican divide, but it seems to me that he's most often associated with (conservative) Don Carcieri.
That leaves Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung both incumbents, and neither justifiably evidence of what "Rhode Island voters want."
By the way, while I'm reading through Ian's WRNI blog, this statement from Linc Chafee has a telling subtext:
[Uniting people] is really critical to moving our state ahead everybody working together and that's what I talked about during the campaign. One of our impediments has been too much fighting.
As with President Obama, Chafee's version of "unity" and "working together" is likely to require everybody to unite in supporting his own prescription for the state. "Too much fighting" means too much opposition to the position that he and his political supporters mostly leftists and unionists wish to impose on the state.
UPDATED: RI House Summary
The RI House now has 9 Republicans (ten, if you include John Savage, from East Providence). 12% is better than nothing, I guess.
At least both chambers will have heckling sections, now that Rhode Islanders have given the Democrats the run of Rhode Island, with Linc Chafee as a governor alternately to cheer buffoonishly as he spearheads reckless policies and to blame as a "former Republican" when the state continues to deteriorate.
The outcome brings to mind the conclusion of my Providence Monthly essay from last year:
If former Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey was correct, when he withdrew from the state and from speculative candidacy, that Rhode Islanders simply do not want to bring the feast to an end, then his opponent in the last Republican U.S. Senate primaries will prove to have the perfect head for that three-belled cap. Lincoln Chafee is an "independent" still bearing the stain of his years as a nominal Republican. His pretentions toward fiscal conservatism will make a target of free-market and small-government principles, even as his actual liberalism clears the way for increasing burdens on taxpayers and businesses and facilitates a drunken lurch toward the libertine left in the dark hours of apocalyptic night.
In any case, conservatives might find new liberty in lacking an ally in the hall of power; we'll be free to venture out and rebuild the kingdom from the frontiers in.
All that's left to us, now, is to begin rebuilding the shires, as it were, while the state continues to limp along toward wounded delirium. Too many potential reformers have made the calculation that leaving is the wisest course, and as other states pull out of the recession, leaving Rhode Island behind, that skew will only worsen.
Providence Journal reporter Gene Emery did me the honor of a personal PolitiFact check by email and corrected me on my total, above. The problem wasn't that I miscounted, though; it was that, in my haste to move on to other investigations, I forgot to add the parenthetical note about John Savage that now appears in my first paragraph.
Meet the New Boss...er...it is the Old Boss!
The famous quote from Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke also comes to mind:
What we've got here is... failure to communicate. Some men you just can't reach. So you get what we had here last [night], which is the way he wants it... well, he gets it. I don't like it any more than you men.So.....that's it, then. Truth is, there really isn't any communication failure here. Rhode Islanders clearly like the job that Democrats and liberals are doing.
It's apparent that there just aren't enough independent, non-government/union/dependents to overcome the entrenched interests in Rhode Island. Or maybe there are, but we just can't agree on how to fight them, which is why we elect a liberal governor with 36% of the vote and allow the Democrat incumbents to remain in multiple offices that saw the various Republican/Moderate/Independent challengers garner more votes but lose because they couldn't rally behind ONE challenger.
Some will take this as the final cue to skedaddle. Others will continue to stick it out for their own reasons and will continue to fight the battles, big and small. Those who didn't support the maintenance of the RI status quo can take some comfort, I suppose, in plausible deniability: "Hey, I didn't vote for this mess!"
Well, that's not going to help defray the cost of paying the increased tax bills headed our way.
On second thought, a more appropriate paraphrase of the above quote may be, "which is the way they want it...so we get it." Yes, indeed.
November 2, 2010
11:30 p.m. U.S. Senate and House Tugs of War
Taking Fox News's online balance a step farther, I've thrown together these simple graphics:
2010 Election Night 11:00 Ticker
[11:24] With mail ballots counted, R-Dan Gordon now has a 49-vote lead in House 71.
[11:21] Incumbent D-Joy Hearn wins by just 4 votes over R-Margaret Kane in House 66 (Barrington/East Providence).
[11:08] R-Mike Chippendale beats D-Scott Pollard in North Westconnaug (District 40), 55-45, avenging the defeat of Nick Gorham two years ago.
[11:03] In House District 29, D-Lisa Tomasso is leading R-Greg Coutcher by just 10 votes (apparently, mail ballots have already been counted).
RI Senate Summary
With all but two precincts at 100% (and those over 90%) it looks like the RI Senate now has 8 Republicans, one Republican-like independent (Ed O'Neill), and one Michael Pinga Democrat. That's 26% of the body.
2010 Election Night 10:30 Ticker
[10:57] R-Christopher Ottiano defeats incumbent D-Charles Levesque in Senate 11, 55-45.
[10:54] And speaking of squeakers, incumbent R-David Bates holds on against D-Jim Hasenfus in Barrington/Bristol (District 32) 51.6-48.4.
[10:53] R-Nicholas Kettle wins the Senate seat he knocked Leo Blais out of in the primary (District 21), in a 3-way squeaker 39.5-37.6-22.9.
[10:48] R-Glen Shibley defeats D-Frank "Mister" Hyde 56-44, for what I believe was the seat that Lou Raptakis vacated to run for SoS.
[10:47] Incumbent R-Frank Maher wins re-election in Senate 34, 56-44.
[10:45] R-Dawson Hodgson wins in Senate 35, 54-46.
[10:41] R-Beth Moura has won in Senate 19, 51.4-48.6
[10:33] R-Dan Reilly beats incumbent D-Amy Rice in House 72, 52.1-47.9!
Tiverton Helps Itself, but Not Rhode Island
With 100% of the precincts reported, Tiverton put nearly every candidate endorsed by Tiverton Citizens for Change on the Town Council. That should make for a very interesting dynamic. More interesting, although less encouraging, is that the group left the School Committee and the Budget Committee (but for one endorsement) to the opposition. At the very least, one can predict that harmony will not be the keyword of the town for the next two years.
It appears, however, that my fellow townsfolk haven't applied the local lessons to the state, yet. The typical RI two-thirds sent Walter Felag (D) back to the state senate, while Louis DiPalma (D) was unopposed for his senate seat. In the RI House, incumbent John Edwards (D) retained his seat.
Luckily, although Tiverton went for the Democrat, George Alzaibak, for John Loughlin's former seat, Republican Dan Gordon appears to have managed a victory by four votes.
10:15 p.m. U.S. Senate and House Tugs of War
Taking Fox News's online balance a step farther, I've thrown together these simple graphics:
2010 Election Night 10:00 Ticker
[10:31] With all precincts reporting in John Loughlin's former district (House 71) R-Dan Gordon is ahead ofhis D-challenger by 4 votes. Definitely will have to count absentee ballots, to make this official.
[10:26] With all precincts reporting from House 25, R-Giovanni Calise is behind D-Jared Nunes by less than 80 votes. Probably will have to count absentee ballots, to make this official.
[10:23] Welcome back to RI Politics R-Patricia Morgan? She's leading D-Michael Senerchia in House 26 (West Warwick based) with 5 of 6 precincts in, 53-47.
[10:19] R-Sean Gately, trailing incumbent D-Bea Lanzi 51-49 with 11 of 14 precincts in, District 26 (Cranston)
[10:13] D-Peter Palumbo leading R-Donald Botts, 54-46, with 8 of 9 precincts in from House District 16 (Cranston).
[10:10] R-Doreen Costa leading incumbent D-Kenneth Carter in House 31 (North Kingston et al), 54-46, 5 of 6 precincts in.
[10:08] Spencer "I'll take the union orders that Michael Rice wouldn't" leading Jim Haldeman in House 35 (South Kingstown), 50.8-49.2, 4 of 5 precincts in.
[10:06] Frank Ciccone is ahead of Catherine Graziano 60-40 in Senate 7 (Prov/N Prov), with half of the precincts in. Based on past results where the results were close, this is a bad sign for Republicans.
[10:02] R-Beth Moura ahead of D- Ryan Pearson 51-49, with 8 of 18 precincts reporting from Senate 19 (Cumberland, Screamin' Dan Connors' old seat)
2010 Election Night 9:30 Ticker
[9:37] According to the BOE website, with Kilmartin leading for AG 45-29, and Roberts over Healey 57-36, Robitaille is leading over Chafee and Caprio, 35-30-28.
[9:32] How come Channel 10 has results the Board of Elections doesn't yet?
9:09 p.m. House and Senate Tug of Wars
Taking Fox News's online balance a step farther, I've thrown together these simple graphics:
2010 Election Night 9:00 Ticker
[9:29] House 39, Rod Driver's old seat I beleive, is 50%-50% with 3 of 9 precincts in, between Michael Picillo (R) and Larry Valencia (D but OCG)
[9:26] I'm through, for the moment. One of the precints already in, in the 1 or 2 or 3 precincts being reported on so far is District 39 in Southern RI.
[9:19] I'm unable to connect to the Board of Elections website. Anyone else having any luck?
[9:12] I know you're not really this interested in the structural details, I just need to kill time before actual results start coming in.
[9:06] A fresh ticker will start on each half-hour.
[9:03] Figuring there will be lots of sources giving information and implications of the national stuff, and the statewide stuff, I'll be dropping observations about the Statehouse races into these "ticker" posts.
[9:00] Polls are closed.
Blumenthal Wins Connecticut, Manchin Wins West Virginia
The WPRO news dept. (630 AM) is reporting that Democrat Richard Blumenthal is projected to defeat Republican Linda MacMahon in the Connecticut Senate race, and Democrat Joe Manchin has won the West Virigina Senate race. This begins to take the "Republican Takeover of the Senate" scenario out of play.
Suburbia and Urbia
Ted Nesi's 7:45 item...
But the reports I’m getting from out in the 1st District should certainly be making Cicilline’s team – and national Democrats – a little nervous....can't help but make me wonder if Rhode Island is a bit more connected the same trend impacting the rest of the country than is commonly thought, if Joel Kotkin was onto to something, in his recent essay on the mismatch between the Democratic party urban political strategy and American suburban demography...
Turnout appears to be pretty weak not only in Providence, but in other cities that are important for Cicilline to win, like Central Falls and Pawtucket. By contrast, turnout in the suburbs and on Aquidneck Island has been moderate to strong – which should boost John Loughlin.
In America, the dominant geography continues to be suburbia -- home to at least 60 percent of the population and probably more than that portion of the electorate. Roughly 220 congressional districts, or more than half the nation’s 435, are predominately suburban...Or maybe I'm letting the optimism that something may really be changing that Matt Allen has been expressing on WPRO (630 AM) get to me...
Now the earth is shaking under suburban topsoil -- in ways that could be harmful to Democratic prospects. “The GOP path to success,” according to a recent Princeton Survey Research Associates study of suburban attitudes, “goes right through the suburbs.”
Hmmmm. Matt Allen, Dan Yorke and Tracy Minkin of Golocal Providence discussing possibly high turnout numbers in the Blackstone Valley and Kent County...
8:15 p.m.: Senate and House Tug of War
Taking Fox News's online balance a step farther, I've thrown together these simple graphics:
A Vague Election Night Mood
For some reason, I've been glum, today. Stresses at work have much to do with it, to be sure, but some of my mood has to do with concern about what voters will do, tonight. What portion of voters have even a generally accurate sense of the people and policies for which they're voting tonight? That cuts both ways, of course, although it's a particularly dangerous question and answer in Rhode Island.
But then a couple of findings in my evening reading brought a paradoxical improvement in my mood. First was something that Ted Nesi gleaned for his election night liveblog:
Another fascinating data point from the national exit polls "about 4 in 10 voters said that they supported the Tea Party movement," according to The New York Times.
That's not exactly where us Tea Party types would want that number to be. But then I came across this AP story, to which the Providence Journal gave the following headline and lead:
Vote outcome could add to uncertainty, Analysts doubt expected GOP gains will spark business growth
Here's a taste of reporter Paul Wiseman's piece:
A standoff between the Obama administration and emboldened Republicans will probably block any new help for an economy squeezed by slow growth and high unemployment. Congress might also create paralyzing uncertainty for investors and businesses by fighting over taxes, deficits, health care and financial regulation.
My first instinct, of course, was to argue: That just means that the Republicans must have enough of a majority to overpower the President; at least he'll do less harm for the last two years of his term; there will be no uncertainty if the Republicans just full-out undo what the Democrats have done to our country; and so on. But then it occurred to me that Wiseman and the AP are just trying to stoke any lingering doubts among independents and Democrats who might be considering some Republican candidates, today. The same is true of the New York Times (although, not, I'm pretty sure, Ted Nesi).
In short: The mainstream media is on the Democrats' side. Just look at the Providence Journal's endorsements. That being the case, it's foolish to take anything less concrete than actual election results as accurate... especially if it appears in a mainstream publication. Me, I'll be getting the important, RI-based news of the evening from the Board of Elections.
Cicilline campaign manager Eric Hyers tells Tim White that “East Side precincts are already over 80% of where I would like them to be by 9 p.m.”
Projections are Live...
Networks are starting to make their projections. Here's CNN's first two of the night...
Early returns showed Republican running strongly, with Rand Paul projected by CNN to win his Senate race in Kentucky and another conservative, Dan Coats, projected to win the Senate race in Indiana...
Coats will take over the seat held by retiring Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh, giving Republicans their first pick-up of the night.
More from Drudge
Exit polls only, no real numbers yet...
IL 49-43 Kirk [R]...
KY 55-44 Paul [R]...
Mixed Metaphor Alert: Just Covering the Bases or Throwing a Hail Mary?
Should anything be read into the fact that the Caprio campaign is apparently sending out turn-out-the vote e-mails as of abut 6:19 this evening?
Breaking, Like a Solid Styrofoam Block Dropped From a Height of Six Inches
"Exit polls show voters unhappy with economy, both parties" says Associated Press headline.
Related: Guess who's been repeatedly Googling the words "exit polls" for the last 10 minutes or so?
Here We Go...
Drudge has his first set of exit polls up...
EXIT POLLS:Guarantees are none.
Arkansas: Boozman (R) defeats Lincoln (D)
Ohio: Portman (R) defeats Fisher (D)
North Dakota: Hoeven (R) defeats Potter (D)
Wisconsin: Johnson (R) defeats Feingold (D)
The Ghost of Election Day Past
According to Elizabeth Crum at National Review Online's election blog, a couple of names familiar to Rhode Island political-watchers are showing up in the Nevada Senate race, those names being "Harrah's" and "Jan Jones"...
Executives at the casino giant Harrah’s pushed company employees to vote early in an all-out effort to help the Harry Reid campaign, according to internal emails obtained by Battle ‘10.Those who voted against casino referendum four years ago can pat themselves on the back for preventing a truly destructive beast from being unleashed on RI politics.
The stepped-up effort began Wednesday when a Reid staffer sent an email pleading for help to Harrah’s top lobbyist, Jan Jones. Soon after, Marybel Batjer, Harrah’s vice president of public policy and communications, distributed that plea via email to executives throughout the company...
On Friday, Western Regional President Tom Jenkin sent out a follow-up email showing a total vote count for Harrah’s properties along with the percentages of employees who had voted at each property. Attached to the email was a spreadsheet showing employee names and at which property they worked. Supervisors were asked to fill in codes explaining why their employees had not yet voted.
The Harrah’s employee who forwarded the emails asked not to be identified due to fear of reprisal. The employee said the pressure from upper management was “disturbing.”
“We were asked to talk to people individually to find out why they had not yet voted and to fill in these spreadsheets explaining why,” the employee said. “I did not feel comfortable doing that.”
When the Government Claims All the Jewels
Another bond on the ballot today would have cash-strapped Rhode Islanders agree to take on more debt to buy waterfront land. Barbara Polichetti's Providence Journal article sounds almost parodicly like a sales pitch:
And it's hard to find anyone who disagrees.
Clearly, she didn't look very hard.
Michael Sullivan, director of the state Department of Environmental Management, has called the three spots "three jewels" and said the bond offers citizens a rare opportunity to preserve key pieces of the state's coastline.
Call now for this limited-time offer, and the government will throw in repairs at Fort Adams absolutely free (to the advocates who are requesting the money and the politicians who are backing them).
Personally, I find the rationale suspicious:
[Head of the Bay Co-Chair David] Riley and members of his group say they have looked up and down the New England coast and found that the India Point spot, with its view of the Bay, can be likened to other waterfront locations that have been transformed into popular tourist spots.
The possibilities for the bayside spot are virtually endless, he said, and could even include a seasonal farmer’s market with pushcarts.
If the spot is so desirable, with such limitless possibilities, why is it necessary for Rhode Islanders to buy it (presumably from a private party who currently owns it) so as to give folks like Mr. Riley the say-so about its usage? Farmer push carts? Really?
I'll be voting "no" on this one. Ms. Polichetti should feel free to give me a call if she writes a follow-up article.
To Be Reenfranchised
Just a note as you head out to vote, today: If you feel that the Republican candidate for lieutenant governor disenfranchised you by dropping out immediately upon winning the primary or are incensed that others were thus disenfranchised there is an option. Write in Kara D. Russo on the ballot and fill in the appropriate arrow.
November 1, 2010
Read Between the Lines of the Bond Boosters
Well, there's no denying that this is not a desirable occurrence:
Take former doctoral student Marcel Benz, for example. In 2001, he had to throw out a year's experimentation because there was no way to control temperature and humidity in the building.
The impact of Benz's experience reached far beyond his lab, because a private company had been counting on his research to move forward with a new technology for infrared sensors.
Even given the professed gravity of the deficiency, though, I'm not sure that this follows:
URI President David M. Dooley agrees that Benz's story captures the inadequacy of current facilities for education and research in the chemical and forensic sciences.
He and many other supporters of Rhode Island's public college system urge voters to approve Question 2 on Tuesday's ballot.
First, I have to say that I'm not sure why voters should be very concerned that a private company did not receive publicly funded research on which it was counting.
More to the point, though: perhaps I missed the months of protracted labor disputes, when the universities shaved down professorial salaries and benefits in order to support spending on adequate learning facilities. Maybe I'm just not recalling the administrations' appeals to the public for support in dispensing with ivory-tower frivolities like diversity offices. I haven't yet seen an op-ed by a college or university president containing lines like, "In times when our most promising chemistry students cannot conduct the very experiments for which they're being trained, we must be more realistic about what aspects of the 'college experience' we can afford to sustain."
If the targets of these bonds were so important that a struggling private sector should commit to further debt and additional economy-killing taxes to support that debt, then those who stand to benefit from them directly would be leading the way in modifying their own behavior.
The Campaign Closes and We Get Ready to Vote
At John Loughlin's campaign rally held in East Providence this afternoon, I was able to ask a couple of candidates and a couple of guests if they'd like to deliver an election-eve message to the readers of Anchor Rising. They all graciously obliged...
- "The most important thing you can do right now is to get out there and vote..." says First District Congressional candidate John Loughlin.
- "...Don't vote for anyone else but yourself..." says Second District Congressional candidate Mark Zaccaria.
- "The anchor is rising..." says Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri.
- "This is a conservative resurgence..." says former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
An Unopposed Therefore Re-Elected State Rep, on the Chafee Promise that the General Assembly Will Pass His Tax Increase
Joseph Trillo, State Representative from District 24 (Warwick), who is running unopposed in the general election and will therefore be a member of the 2011 legislature, has this to say about Lincoln Chafee's assurance that the General Assembly will pass his 1% sales tax expansion, if Mr. Chafee is elected as the next Governor of Rhode Island...
I think this is a very big mistake. It’s treading on thin ice. Anybody who believes you make a proposal for 1% and it doesn't come back from the General Assembly at 2% or 3% is mistaken. If it doesn’t this year, it will another year. I will certainly not support it.
Still More Assembly Candidates on the Chafee Promise that the Legislature Will Approve His Sales Tax
Here are more responses, received last night and this morning, to independent candidate Lincoln Chafee's public assurance that the state legislature will go along with his proposal to extend the Rhode Island sales tax to items currently not taxed, made during Friday's night WJAR-TV (NBC 10) Gubernatorial debate...
If the governor is leading the way on a tax increase...the General Assembly is going to go along. That's the governor's leadership. That's his plan and they can go along with it. That's going to happen.Richard Rodi, candidate for State Representative in District 2 (East Providence/Providence) says that…
Chafee does not speak for me! I do not support raising taxes period! I would not support his plan to raise taxes! I am a Clean Slate RI Candidate, we stand for lowering Property Taxes, eliminating the "Car Tax"... through cutting wasteful spending, welfare reform and pension reform just to name a few.Dawson Hodgson, candidate for State Senate in District 35 (East Greenwich/North Kingstown/Warwick), says that…
I myself will work to reduce the sales tax at least one percent below Massachusetts in order to bring much needed business from Mass. to RI for a change. People cannot afford to live in Rhode Island as it is.
If elected, I will not vote to increase the sales tax.Bill Surrette, candidate for State Representative in District 14 (Cranston), says that
I will sign on to opposition to Mr. Chafee’s tax increase.Deloris Issler, candidate for State Senate in the home of the American Revolution, aka District 28 (Cranston/Warwick), says that…
As a citizen of Rhode Island, I do not support Lincoln Chafee’s proposed tax increase, or any other, nor will I vote in favor of one as senator.Henri Sam Koldyk, candidate for State Representative in District 20 (Warwick), says that…
I absolutely will vote against the Chafee tax increase if I am elected.David Bibeault, candidate for State Senate in District 22 (North Smithfield/Smithfield), says that…
If Mr. Chafee gets elected, I will oppose his Sales Tax increase/expansion and any other tax/fee/fine increases.And Gip Cabral, candidate for State Senate in District 16 (Central Falls/Cumberland /Pawtucket), says that…
I favor cutting spending so we can actually lower taxes so RI can be more competitive.
I will not support any tax increases and will work to cut spending and taxes.
Truth in Advertising? Petty (Non)Vandalism? Or a Wholesale Swap Out?
One of many edited "Chafee" signs placed in the public right of way along Route 295 North and elsewhere. Check out the disclaimer at the bottom.
The Basic Structure of a Voting Plan
Governance is never as straightforward in practice as it is in theory, but Republican gubernatorial candidate John Robitaille provides the basic foundation for a voting strategy:
I will veto any new tax increase that comes to my desk and work vigorously to empower the entrepreneurs who will lead our economy back and position Rhode Island for the 21st Century.
Together, we can reform a broken and bloated government that threatens our prosperity and is creating a lifestyle of dependency. Without restraint and without reform, the burden on Rhode Island’s economy and working families will drive small businesses and taxpayers to seek refuge in other states, and the only employer left will be the government. As a Rhode Island native, this is unacceptable to me.
The veto and the bully pulpit are ultimately the two tools left the governor, by Rhode Island's constitutional schema. Without enough allies in the General Assembly to sustain his veto, though, the governor lacks that critical tool, so we must elect state senators and representatives who will return that balance to the State House.
And we must elect representatives farther down the ticket at the municipal level who will have the fortitude not to merely transfer tax increases from the state level to the local level. Contrary to popular rhetoric, the fact that the state reduces aid to the cities and towns does not mean that it is raising property taxes. There are plenty of strategies that town hall can pursue without driving you out of your home.
This voting principle also applies up the ladder. We must have, in Washington, elected officials who will neither impose new burdens on states and municipalities nor fly to the rescue so as to prevent difficult decisions from having to be made.
That is how we pull our nation back from the brink and begin rebuilding its stature by, first of all, restoring confidence in its structure.
Rhode Island Republican Assembly Endorsements & GOTV
We find ourselves one day away from one of the most important elections in this generation.
American conservatives and other like-minded voters throughout our state and nation now realize that our government can no longer be sustained at its current levels and that structural changes must be made at all levels of government and by all citizens.
Waking up in the morning and expecting money from the government is not the American way, nor is it what made this country great. Rhode Island's budget shortfalls these past several years, which have been plugged by federal money, not by changes in Rhode Island government, is proof that our state and municipal governments' way of doing business is broken and that we need and must demand change.
Zebras do not change the colors of their stripes, nor will the one-party system we have in the General Assembly change itself overnight for the betterment of the people. Time and time again, the Democrats in the General Assembly have sided with unions and those looking for handouts, not with those looking to create prosperity in Rhode Island.
The answer to our financial problems is certainly NOT to increase state taxes. We must embrace one nation, one people, one language for "United We Stand" a strong American People. Divided, we shall surely fall into a world of socialism that will wipe out the middle class.
Change must start on many levels, from the Congress, to our statewide offices, to the General Assembly, and all the way down to the local level.
We must all sit with our friends and family to Get Out The Vote for change. While this is one communication, it does not reach the approximately 600,000 possible voters in Rhode Island. For real change to take affect, YOU MUST become a grassroots activist and encourage your family and friends over the next day and a half to vote the Right Way this Tuesday. The polls are open from 7:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. Everyone should be able to find time within that fourteen hour span to vote for the Right Change.
The following individuals were nominated and endorsed at the Rhode Island Republican Assembly's Biennial Endorsement Convention back on June 12, 2010. They were endorsed based on our bylaws, which require a two-thirds vote of those members present and eligible to vote. To the best of our knowledge and we pay close attention NO candidate listed has compromised his or her standing throughout the campaign season for RIRA to consider revoking their endorsement.
The 2010 RIRA endorsed candidates are:
U.S. Congress, District 1: JOHN LOUGHLIN
U.S. Congress, District 2: MARK ZACCARIA
R.I. Governor: JOHN ROBITAILLE
R.I. General Treasurer: KERNAN "KERRY" KING
R.I. Attorney General: ERIK WALLIN
RHODE ISLAND STATE SENATE:
Steve Gerling - District 18
Dawson Hodgson - District 35
Beth Moura - District 19
Dr. Chris Ottiano - District 11
RHODE ISLAND HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES:
Representative Brian Newberry - District 48
Representative Joseph Trillo - District 24
Donald Botts - District 16
Timothy Burchett - District 34
Giovanni Calise - District 25
Michael Chippendale - District 40
Thomas Clupny - District 62
Doreen Costa - District 31
Phil Duquette - District 33
Daniel Gordon - District 71
William Grapentine - District 69
Michael Grossi - District 58
Matthew Guerra - District 46
James Halderman - District 35
Jennifer Hirons - District 44
Michael Picillo - District 39
Daniel Reilly - District 72
Erich Sturn - District 4
In closing, I again ask that you please sit with your family and friends over the next day and a half and discuss voting for a new lease on life by voting for the above candidates. YOU and your vote can make the change! YOU are the activist! YOU must get your friends and family out to vote so that their votes, along with yours, will ensure that change happens!
Thank you for your time and attention to this important issue.
God's speed and blessings to you, your family, friends, and our hard working candidates and all their volunteers and staff.
Raymond T. McKay
President, Rhode Island Republican Assembly
The Broke Lender of Last Resort
Why isn't it sufficient for candidates for public office simply to say, "I'll get out of the way"? Take gubernatorial candidate Frank Caprio:
A centerpiece of his TV ad campaign for weeks, Caprio's plan relies heavily on $13.1 million in new federal dollars for loan guarantees, and "moving" the $50 million that remains in the $125-million loan-guarantee program that state lawmakers created earlier this year into a new Small Business Loan Fund.
Standing in front of Moretti Salon on Atwood Avenue in Cranston, Democrat Caprio suggested a state-backed commitment of that size could be used to leverage $640 million in private loans to businesses that might not otherwise qualify, to "retain or create 14,800 jobs."
I'd trust private investors to sift through potential projects and judge the worthy more than I trust the government to do so. Investors have profit as their motive, so they look for long-term successes; politicians have talking points as their motive, so lending public money allows them to claim to have "created" jobs and, if the business fails, to offload the blame on its operators. In the case of loan guarantees, the government generally isn't even invested to the extent of putting up money that it might use for other purposes; the hit comes after the failure.
We certainly require new businesses to open their doors and begin hiring, but at this point, guaranteeing loans is just a sly way for the government to compensate for the unnecessary burdens and risks that it places on the economy through mandates, regulations, and taxes.