December 31, 2010

Damn the NYC Sanitation Department

Monique Chartier

... not because their catastrophically timed labor action caused death, injury and serious inconvenience to hundreds of thousands but because they have succeeded in the impossible: casting the micro-megalomaniac mayor of that city in a favorable light by exculpating him.

The New York Post reports.

Selfish Sanitation Department bosses from the snow-slammed outer boroughs ordered their drivers to snarl the blizzard cleanup to protest budget cuts -- a disastrous move that turned streets into a minefield for emergency-services vehicles, The Post has learned.

Miles of roads stretching from as north as Whitestone, Queens, to the south shore of Staten Island still remained treacherously unplowed last night because of the shameless job action, several sources and a city lawmaker said, which was over a raft of demotions, attrition and budget cuts.

Now how can we blame Bloomberg for the snow removal disaster???

On a more serious note, civil lawsuits against both the sanitation labor union and individual members are almost certainly on the horizon. And the calls for criminal charges are not out of line. Individuals so charged need to keep in mind the discredited status of the defense, "I was just following orders".

Solidarity Forever is great up to the point that it endangers human life. Though an exceedingly rare occurance (pay and "purchased" politicians aside, most organized professionals take rather the opposite view of their position), NY Local 831 decisively and repugnantly crossed that line this week.

The Bourgeois Change

Justin Katz

Jonah Goldberg makes an interesting point about the particular victories of America's homosexual movement:

... Watch ABC's Modern Family. The sitcom is supposed to be "subversive" in part because it features a gay couple with an adopted daughter from Asia. And you can see why both liberal proponents and conservative opponents of gay marriage see it that way. But imagine you hate the institution of marriage and then watch Modern Family's hardworking bourgeois gay couple through those eyes. What's being subverted? Traditional marriage, or some bohemian identity-politics fantasy of homosexuality? ...

Or look at the decision to let gays openly serve in the military through the eyes of a principled hater of all things military. From that perspective, gays have just been co-opted by The Man. Meanwhile, the folks who used Don't Ask, Don't Tell as an excuse to keep the military from recruiting on campuses just saw their argument go up in flames.

Deep tradition and culture travel through time more as planets than comets, so they tend to absorb radical satellites that orbit them, but over time, the relatively small changes do shift their course. This speaks to the basic distinction, I think, between a conservative approach to addressing social change and the liberal one: there are ways to domesticate the gay subculture (or, rather, to give homosexuals a more domestic option) that reinforce the purpose of marriage rather than undermining it; there could have been ways of advancing equal rights for women and ending institutional male chauvinism without damaging family structure and reordering education to the detriment of boys; and there could have been ways of ushering black Americans from segregation to true equality without creating lasting racial divisions and a racial underclass, especially in inner cities, for whom hope is little more than a political slogan.

Essentially, the better approach is to maintain basic structural principles — such as the integral relationship between marriage and procreation — and allow the culture to do the slow work of kneading injustices and unnecessary restrictions out of traditions. The more radical approach of pushing social change through legal manipulation and pop-cultural affirmation has the effect of undermining the critical structural principles even as the tradition moves along with its own momentum. Consider another paragraph from Goldberg:

As a sexual-lifestyle experiment, they failed pretty miserably, the greatest proof being that the affluent and educated children (and grandchildren) of the baby boomers have re-embraced the bourgeois notion of marriage as an essential part of a successful life. Sadly, it's the lower-middle class that increasingly sees marriage as an out-of-reach luxury. The irony is that such bourgeois values — monogamy, hard work, etc. — are the best guarantors of success and happiness.

Those who are already educated and whose families are already on a healthy path draw from the lessons of tradition for their own benefit, but because the essential rationales of the traditions have been voided, they do not reinforce them. They marry, for example, because marriage ensures the best environment in which to raise children, but they do so as if of their own personal assessment of individual circumstances, not because the institution of marriage is such that it ineradicably binds two adults together and to the children that they create. The consequence emerges first with those who can't articulate the value of marriage or the importance of their children, but who have in generations past felt compelled to follow the family model nonetheless. Younger generations that once benefited from their parents' conformity no longer will, because their parents will understand marriage to be mainly about themselves and their own preferences.

In summary, Goldberg's essay ultimately comes down to an observation that radical change does not repercuss instantly. Civilization is a long-term project, though, and its course can move from one of continued advancement toward one of dissolution.

December 30, 2010

Dealing with the Second Primary

Justin Katz

It seems as if something has significantly changed in electoral politics — or else, that something that has been changing crossed into a visible field of light. The most striking example may have been in Alaska, where Senator Lisa Murkowski rejected the decision of the Republican Party's primary voters and ran as a write-in candidate, ultimately defeating Republican Joe Miller. In Rhode Island Doug Gablinski (D, Bristol, Warren) attempt the same feat, and of course the governor's race was four-way, with independent, Democrat, Republican, and Moderate candidates.

In some respects, one could say that the general election is becoming another shot at a primary, with all of the strategic opportunities that entails. Particularly, I think of the verb "to primary" — indicating the strategy whereby a faction unhappy with a particular office holder runs a candidate against him or her in the primaries. That will surely become a possibility in future general elections, with a special interests, like public sector unions, trying to knock disfavored politicians out in the primaries and then trying to split the vote so that the opposite party wins the general election.

So, legislation proposed by incoming Republican representatives Patricia Morgan and Michael Chippendale to create runoff elections that ultimately bring the race for office down to two candidates is certainly reasonable:

They say the creation of a runoff election requires an amendment to the state Constitution that would need to be passed by both chambers of the General Assembly, then approved by voters in the next general election. ...

"This year there were 12 races in Rhode Island won with less than 50 percent of the vote. I fear this is an issue that will only grow over the next several election cycles," [Morgan] said. "Ultimately we'll see more disenfranchised voters, which will contribute to the existing problem of voter apathy and mistrust of the government."

If You Love an Idea, Set It Free

Justin Katz

I've got the third offering in Ted Nesi's week-long series of letters of advice to Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee:

Cynical political observers might suggest that Chafee should take a lesson from Politics 101 and host short, pointless meetings with his issue-by-issue opposition in order to deflate their claims of exclusion. The governor-elect's problem goes deeper than that, though.

His doubters don't want evidence that he has the patience to listen to the hum of their voices; they want evidence that he has, indeed, considered their points. He will be a proven independent only when they emerge from their meetings feeling as if he could accurately paraphrase their positions, and they will "come together" only when they trust that he is intellectually capable of independence, even though surrounded by left-wingers, labor leaders, and political insiders.

Politics and Redemption

Justin Katz

The talk was of political theory and second chances for Michael Vick when I spoke with guest host Tony Cornetta on the Matt Allen Show last night. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

I didn't go into the sales pitch, but please email or call (401-835-7156) me to pledge financial support — as subscriptions, donations, or advertising — for 2011 to help us create a full-time job within Anchor Rising.

December 29, 2010

Beware Too-Efficient Government

Justin Katz

Over on the WPRI site, Ted Nesi is running a series of "Dear Mr. Chafee" essays by "five of the state’s smartest citizens." I'll admit that I'm a bit suspicious of his claim — inasmuch as I'm on the list — but Tom Sgouros, who penned the first in the series is surely among the more intelligent on Rhode Island's far left. Of course, he therefore more clearly enunciates the error in progressive thinking:

... lurking under most of these issues is one big issue: the relationship between the state and the cities and towns. Our governments exist to provide a set of services we all need. The strange thing is how we think that having governments constantly at odds with each other is the most efficient way to deliver those services.

In the minds of Sgouros's ilk, the American experiment in government — democracy, checks and balances, and all that — has either been proven a failure or perhaps should never have been attempted. To Sgouros, "governments exist to provide a set of services." To the founders who signed the Declaration of Independence, "Governments are instituted among Men" to secure "certain unalienable Rights." The founders knew that a government empowered to be efficient was empowered to — and would surely find reason to — oppress.

What's astonishing is that Sgouros cites evidence that ought to speak against centralization for just the opposite, using Central Falls as an example:

...would the mayor have made the bad decisions he made without seeing the state as a separate party able to bail him out ...?

The only way increasing the centralized hand would decrease mayors' inclination to pass bucks upward would be if the leaders of local communities weren't elected by their communities, but appointed by the state. That is, if they were accountable to the state for their positions. The American experiment meant to make government accountable to the people, but in the name of efficiency, Sgouros has already discarded such notions. It shows in his terrible understanding of how democracy is structured to function:

... the forms of cooperation have to become part of the government, since a "system" that depends on the good will of this mayor or that governor isn't a system at all.

I shiver to contemplate what "the forms of cooperation" might be, but I also shiver to think that voters actually believe that elected officials' core motivation should be "good will." Many do, of course, and many of them probably share Sgouros's worldview. After all, he's happy to rely on the good will of state legislators and leaders — perhaps a national technocracy — although that's largely because he trusts his allies to control them.

What voters ought to trust in is the desire of leaders to stay in office and their realization that the people are empowered to remove them. The closer those leaders are to the people who can vote them out of a job, the more effective that mechanism will be. That those higher up the chain, at the state and national levels, have made a practice of bailing leaders out when they've failed as miserably as in Central Falls does not in any way suggest that centralized government will be more accountable.

Common Sense Locked Out

Justin Katz

With Governor Lincoln Chafee determined to ease the way for illegal immigrants in Rhode Island society, some legislators will surely increase their attempts to affect the relevant aspects of Rhode Island law through legislation, as Rep. Peter Palumbo (D, Cranston) has promised to do:

Palumbo also said he will introduce another bill, or package of bills, when Governor-elect Lincoln D. Chafee goes forward with his announced plan to repeal Governor Carcieri's executive order on illegal immigration. The bill, or bills, "will mimic the executive order to take its place legislatively," Palumbo said.

The stunning stretches of parliamentary procedure that similar legislation received last year (see here and here) suggest that the legislative route may not work. The prospects, this year, are made more dim by the fact that any legislation that passes will likely require enough support to override a gubernatorial veto.

Perhaps the makeup of the General Assembly changed just enough for a new dynamic on immigration, but I doubt it. All that's left is for residents to speak up and make it increasingly difficult for the state's political leaders to cater to their ideologies and favored special interests.

Self Governance in a Diverse Community

Justin Katz

I got a little philosophical on the topic of small-town New England democracy for my column this week:

At such times, one marvels at the brazen perpetuation of democracy in a society so diverse that even some few dozen square miles contain irreconcilable lives. New England, with its proud tradition of town meetings, raises that dogged practice to the status of an organizing principle. In his classic 1942 painting "Freedom of Speech," Norman Rockwell portrays a grubby-handed working man standing among his fellow electors at the annual financial meeting of an unidentified Vermont town. The styles of those around him suggest that they inhabit distinct social strata.

As different as the WWII-era lives of the town banker and the dairy farmer may have been, however, they still bore commonalities that technology has largely erased.

December 28, 2010

UPDATED: Trainor's Had That First Bitter Taste

Justin Katz

Ian Donnis reports that the voice of Chafee, Michael Trainor, may not be on board for the job post-inauguration:

Michael Trainor, who managed Lincoln Chafee's winning gubernatorial campaign after the departure of J.R. Pagliarini — and who had been expected to serve as communications director in the Chafee administration — might not be staying with the Chafee team.

"I'm undecided right now as to to whether I'm going to stay in the administration," Trainor says. He handled campaign press for Chafee before stepping into the campaign manager's role.

Trainor cites, as one factor requiring thought, the difference between his experience in private-sector PR and the available role in the public sector. Under all but rare and extreme cases, one imagines the private sector is less contentious; with politics involved at the core of the job, every word is a potential controversy.

One also suspects that the spokesman for Governor Chafee will be treading particularly treacherous turf, given Linc's history in the public eye.

UPDATE 12/28/10 7:30 p.m.

Ted Nesi ends the questioning:

... in a brief phone interview following a meeting at Chafee HQ late this afternoon, Trainor told me he will be serving as Chafee's communications director.

"I'm delighted and honored to be asked to serve in the Chafee administration and look forward to helping him deliver his message over the next four years," Trainor told me. He managed Chafee's campaign after J.R. Pagliarini resigned in October and has served as the transition's spokesman since the election.

Let Imbalances Correct Themselves

Justin Katz

One hears in this op-ed by David Mabe the thinking behind centralization's inevitable failure over time:

Even in these times of high unemployment, forecasts of labor shortages are becoming more prevalent. New England has long boasted a highly educated population relative to other parts of the country, but the retirement of Baby Boomers and net loss from population migration suggest that the demand for skilled workers will increasingly outpace the supply. These and other looming demographic shifts threaten to hamper regional recovery efforts. ...

Universities, and especially community colleges, according to Modestino, should focus on degree-completion initiatives, increased financial assistance for students, and greater opportunity for career training and professional collaboration to fill looming workforce gaps; such areas of focus would produce a "win-win-win" for employers, for the regional economy, and for the students themselves.

Where the "win-win-win" inevitably falls apart is a mismatch of incentives. When the mandate comes from the government to "do something," taxpayers end up funding the sorts of education that young students prefer (light and easy to pass) and the courses that educators, on the whole, prefer to offer (subjective and difficult to quantify). The result is another cost layered into the economy with inadequate translation into economically productive jobs.

Let private industry work independently with educational institutions to finance the aid and courses that they specifically need, then let students choose those subsidized paths... or not. "Degree-completion initiatives" will move students toward that piece of paper, but not necessarily toward the skills that they actually need.

The "RI Recipe for a New Way Forward" (per L. Chafee)

Monique Chartier

Today's Yesterday's ProJo Political Scene reports that the following recipe was handed out, attached to a large candy cane, to guests at a party recently held by Governor-elect Chafee. (It was Senate President Paiva-Weed who shared hers with the Political Scene.)

"One 10-pound satchel of HONESTY … A gallon of LISTENING … Three quarts of RESPECT… A large spray of NEGOTIATION … A dollop of open DIALOGUE … A broad VISION with attention to DETAILS.

And always, always a dash of GOOD CHEER."

Can Rhode Island Be the Exception to Foolish Consistency?

Justin Katz

An interesting juxtaposition.

Reading around the Internet, yesterday, I came across Ed Morrissey's observation that all ten states that lost seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are majority Democrat states:

Michael Barone's analysis probably comes closest to the truth: low-tax states attract larger populations, while high-tax, high-regulatory states tend to lose people. That also works in the GOP's favor, and explains why it resulted in such a resounding win in these midterms.

Elsewhere, Dick Morris echoes the analysis:

High taxes kill states. There can be no better evidence than the 2010 Census. The states that lost House seats -- because they're shrinking, relative to the nation -- had taxes 27 percent higher than the ones that gained seats.

Of the seven states that don't have a personal income tax, four (Texas, Florida, Nevada and Washington) account for eight of the 12 seats apportioned to the fastest-growing states.

New York and Ohio lost two more seats. Other losers -- down one each -- are Massachusetts, Missouri, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana and Iowa. What do they all have in common? High taxes.

But then, when one turns to local analysis, the lede of a Scott MacKay commentary on WRNI reads as follows:

Rhode Island's business and political leaders constantly focus on the state's high taxes as a roadblock to economic development. WRNI political analyst Scott MacKay reminds us that our state has an even bigger barrier to creating good jobs.

The "bigger barrier," according to MacKay's assessment, is the inadequately educated workforce, which he blames not on "the teachers, the schools and the government," but on "the culture of a blue-collar state." Before taking up that analysis, let's acknowledge that the two explanations are not mutually exclusive. The same society that tunes its priorities on organized labor and welfare, and tolerates Rhode Island's brand of political corruption, might be predicted also to place relatively little priority on actual educational achievement. MacKay declares those priorities not to be a factor, but he offers no evidence or argument as substantiation.

Instead, he offers this as the relevant evidence that the problem isn't the people who run and teach Rhode Island, but the people who live here:

The blue-collar manufacturing jobs have left but the attitudes of that era live on among too many native Rhode Islanders. The percentage of native-born Rhode Island adults with at least a bachelor's degree is only 25 percent, while 50 percent of Rhode Island residents born in other states have at least a bachelor's. What this means is that transplants are moving here to take jobs Rhode Islanders are not qualified for.

Unfortunately, I have to repeat my lament that I wish I had the time to research the statistics, but it's at least plausible to suggest that MacKay's numbers, wherever he gets them, don't really have the meaning that he attributes to them. Even if Rhode Islanders set a higher priority on educating themselves, one might expect three-quarters of those raised here to wind up elsewhere — having pursued higher education out of state and looked for work elsewhere. The same is true in reverse: No doubt, a high percentage of "transplants" to Rhode Island arrived here via the state's colleges and universities and remained. And some of them (me included) took what work the state could provide, regardless of its relation to their degrees.

It won't surprise anybody that my suggestion is just about the opposite of MacKay's. I say blame "the teachers, the schools and the government." Force the first two to reform and the last to get out of the way so that both native Rhode Islanders and immigrants to the state can pursue excellence and create the jobs that will attract RI-born graduates back. The producers will strive to raise or bring the necessary workforce here for the same reason that we all tolerate the burdensome governance in the first place: Rhode Island is a desirable place to live.

Arguably, the initial effect will be a boom in salary levels, as employers compete for workers. A longer-term effect will be a greater emphasis in that ol' blue-collar culture on the education and training that will procure the higher pay. The first step in changing the color of the state's collar is to begin governing with an emphasis on personal responsibility, risk, and achievement, which points the finger at precisely the parties that MacKay wishes to exculpate.

December 27, 2010

More than You Ever Wanted to Know About the Cranston City Council Leadership Dispute (But Also How It Might Tie Into the Big Picture of RI Education Reform)

Carroll Andrew Morse

I sat down last night to write a brief post explaining how the politics of the Cranston City Council is tied to the politics of education reform in RI, discovering in the process that it could not be done briefly.

Here's what should be (and will be) the last paragraph, explaining why readers beyond Cranston may have a stake in this subject...

Expanding the education reforms that have begun to be implemented in Northern Rhode Island via the Mayoral Academies to the West Bay now depends, at least in part, on the politics of the Cranston City Council (and of Cranston in general). But how committed to educational reform can the Democrats in power at the state level be, if they see Anthony Lupino as an ally? Is there a plan to continue advancing the reform measures that have started, in spite of some unexpected political quirks that may be arising, or are statehouse Dems not as concerned about policy outcomes, as much as they are about doling out the rewards and punishments that may be meaningful within the inner circles of political power, but that are not so productive for the surrounding society?
If you have further interest in the subject (for instance, on who Anthony Lupino is) read on...

Background of the leadership dispute mentioned in the title: The current Cranston City Council President, Councilman John Lanni, could not seek reelection this year because of term limits, meaning the Council must choose a new President for its term beginning in 2011. Initial reports that came from the post-election Democratic caucus indicated that Democratic Councilors were going to unite behind Ward 2 Democratic Councilman and current Finance Committee Chairman Emilio Navarro. However, it was reported a week ago that city-wide Democratic Councilman Anthony Lupino had actively obtained the votes to become the new Council President, supported by a combination of Democrats and the three new Republicans elected to the City Council this past November (James Donahue and Leslie Ann Luciano, elected city-wide, and Michael Favicchio elected from Ward 6).

To understand the implications of this unexpected leadership kerfuffle, it helps to know a few details about recent Council history...

  1. After Republican Allan Fung was elected Mayor of Cranston in 2008, Councilman Navarro spearheaded an effort to replicate the RI Statehouse governance model in the Cranston City Council chambers, i.e. the City Council Democratic leadership, backed by the numbers needed to pass or kill any measure on a straight party vote, would be the ones who "really" ran the city. The immediate test was a police union contract negotiated by Mayor Fung. Navarro led opposition to the contract, demanding that the Mayor get additional concessions from the police that would provide better "structural reform" for the city's finances -- despite the Council having approved previous contracts without anything resembling "structural" changes under the administration of the previous Democratic Mayor.

  2. The initial police contract was rejected by the council 6-3, with Councilman Lupino voting in the majority against the contract along with Councilman Navarro. One of the 3 votes in favor of the contract was Ward 4 Councilman Robert Pelletier -- who, according to MSM reports, is the key Democratic Councilman now supporting Councilman Lupino's leadership bid. (Eventually, a revised version of the police contract was passed 9-0, the political side of the equation being the City Council coming to realize they were going to get the lion's share of the blame for the consequences of not passing one.)

  3. Over the course of 2009-2010, the City Council considered two resolutions that put members on record on important statewide issues. In 2009, Mayor Fung sponsored a resolution opposing state-mandated binding arbitration for resolving teacher contract negotiations. The City Council voted 7-2 in favor of the resolution, with Councilmen Navarro and Lupino as the only two votes against. In 2010, the Council voted on another resolution, also supported by the Mayor, asking the RI legislature to repeal the "Caruolo Act", the section of Rhode Island law that allows RI school committees to sue their municipalities for more money in the courts. This resolution failed by a vote of 5-4. Once again, Councilmen Navarro and Lupino were united on the same side, voting against asking the legislature to repeal Caruolo, while Councilman Pelletier voted in favor.

  4. Combining the results of the 3 votes above (police contract take-1, Caruolo and binding arbitration) shows Councilmen Navarro and Lupino voting together on three issues of significance and Councilman Pelletier voting in opposition to them in each case.

  5. The odd-couple leadership alliance between Councilmen Lupino and Pelletier seems to be related to the rift in the Cranston Democratic Party involving State Representative and Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello, City Chairman Michael Sepe and State Representative Charlene Lima. This is the rift that made the news several weeks ago, when it reportedly led to a House leadership decision, where Mattiello presumably had some say, to fire Chairman Sepe's son and Ward 5 Councilman Richard Santamaria from full-time legislative staff positions. In accounts of Cranston politics, Councilman Pelletier is mentioned as an ally of Rep. Mattiello; for example, the story linked to earlier in this paragraph says that Rep. Mattiello was unhappy with Chairman Sepe for not supporting Councilman Pelletier for Council President.

  6. Stepping away from the backroom politics and towards the stuff that happens in public view, Rep. Mattiello has been a part of House Speaker Gordon Fox's group of Democrats that have advanced a set of meaningful education reform measures in recent legislative sessions, including the lifting of the charter school cap and establishing Mayoral Academies.

  7. And Mayor Fung is part of a group of RI education reformers who would like to bring a Mayoral Academy to the West Bay.
So let's assume for a moment that Councilman Lupino becomes Council President with Councilman Pelletier's support, that on big issues Mayor Fung starts 2011 with 3 Republicans as his base of support, and that Councilman Pelletier continues his reasonably sane voting pattern that sometimes puts him in opposition to the City Council Democratic majority (and is also politically compatible with Ward 4, the section of Cranston by Route 295 and beyond, which isn't exactly master-lever Democratic territory).

Who then becomes the potential fifth vote on the Cranston City Council for innovative education reform measures, like creating a West Bay Mayoral Academy?

  • The fifth vote for ed reform is not going to come from citywide Councilman Anthony Lupino. Whoever his other political allies are, Councilman Lupino isn't going to vote for anything that teachers' unions oppose -- Lupino, for example, was the only vote against a resolution asking the Cranston School Committee to negotiate a freeze in step increases in their next contract -- and in Rhode Island, things that teachers' unions oppose usually include any changes to geographic-monopoly district management of public education.

  • I will believe that Ward 2 Councilman Emilio Navarro's decision-making involves some consideration beyond take-down-the-Republican-Mayor, when some evidence of a different motivation shows itself in the public record, e.g. voting for "structural reforms" like repeal of the Caruolo Act or opposing binding arbitration even when Mayor Fung supports these positions too.

  • How about Ward 5 Councilman Richard Santamaria? He made the party-discipline "it's Dem-Councilors, and not the Mayor, who run this city" vote against the initial police contract, but also voted against binding arbitration and in favor of repealing Caruolo -- but that was when he was connected more tightly than he is now to the statehouse leadership. How he votes now that the party has changed its position on him is a bit of a question mark.

  • Newly-elected Ward 1 Councilman Steven Stycos earned a reputation for giving the issues serious study and a fair hearing while serving as the School Committeeman from Ward 1, but he has already expressed skepticism about supporting a Mayoral Academy, suggesting that, at least initially, he is being guided by the "progressive" policy biases which tend to marginalize any structure for public education other than direct operation of schools by traditional district-level bureaucracies.

  • Finally, there is Ward 3 Councilman Paul Archetto. He voted yes on the police contract, yes on opposing binding arbitration, but no on repealing Caruolo. He certainly doesn't seem to be playing the same political game that the other Democrats are playing (for instance, he has proposed himself as a leadership alternative to either Navarro or Lupino), and could be convinced to support ed reform policies on their merits.
The point of all of this is that expanding the education reforms that have begun to be implemented in Northern Rhode Island via the Mayoral Academies to the West Bay now depends, at least in part, on the politics of the Cranston City Council (and of Cranston in general). But how committed to educational reform can the Democrats in power at the state level be, if they see Anthony Lupino as an ally? Is there a plan to continue advancing the reform measures that have started, in spite of some unexpected political quirks that may be arising, or are statehouse Dems not as concerned about policy outcomes, as much as they are about doling out the rewards and punishments that may be meaningful within the inner circles of political power, but that are not so productive for the surrounding society?

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Not Back to the Partisan Script

Justin Katz

The question could be posed, it would seem, whether Ross Douthat is more broadly representative in his apparent desire to return to the two-party script (emphasis added):

But in the past month of lame-duck activity, we've witnessed a return to political normalcy. The Republican midterm sweep delivered the coup de grace to the liberal fantasy by dramatically foreshortening what many pundits expected to be an enduring Democratic majority. But it also dropped a lid, at least temporarily, on the conservative freakout. (It's hard to fret that much about the supposed Kenyan-Marxist radical in the White House when anything he accomplishes has to be co-signed by John Boehner.)

Boehner should beware of listening to the pundits. He is not sufficient to "co-sign" objectionable legislation from the Democrats because his elevation as a balance to them is provisional. The Tea Party wave has no illusions that establishment Republicans are sincerely in step with them, and those who've pushed it forward can be quite recalcitrant when the subject comes up of trusting in the necessity of the GOP's brand of compromise.

Douthat gives the impression that, above all, partisan incumbents are now on safer territory. They are not.

A Due Respect for Political Patronage Job Holders

Justin Katz

Looking out the window prior to work, today, brings to mind this article about truants that I've been meaning to note for a few weeks, now:

For years, magistrates for Rhode Island Family Court's truancy program have imprisoned students who misbehave during hearings on their attendance, despite a state law created to keep the government from locking up juveniles for noncriminal offenses.

The magistrates, who run the weekly truancy court in classrooms, cafeterias and school offices around the state, have declared youths as young as 12 in criminal contempt of court for not answering their questions, swearing, slamming a door on their way out of the room or otherwise showing "total disregard for authority," according to court documents and interviews.

Once inside the state's juvenile correctional system, the youths are forced to undergo strip searches, urine and blood tests. They wear prison uniforms and, for a night or two, mix with teenagers accused of drug dealing, robbery, weapons possession, assault and other violent crimes.

All of this without legal representation. Moreover, as we note from time to time (here and here, for two), magistrates are tainted by the fact that they are not appointed by the same process as judges, but by the Chief Justice of the RI Supreme Court and by other magistrates.

Imprisoning kids for disrespect is certainly the sort of thing that the holder of a political patronage job would talk him or her self into believing to be in the best interest of all involved. Perhaps people acting as judges who aren't judges at all, but mere politically connected lawyers, come to believe that they're above the law. Or perhaps they feel like they've got something to prove.

December 26, 2010

You Guessed It: All of this Snow and Cold is Due to Global Warming

Monique Chartier

... so says Judah Cohen, the director of seasonal forecasting at an unspecified atmospheric and environmental research firm, in an article in today's New York Times.

Strangely missing from the article - as from so many articles advocating AGW - are some important points:

1.) the paltriness - 6% - of man's contribution to greenhouse gases;

2.) the state of disarray of the scientific case that man's generation of greenhouse gas - the 6% - is the cause of global warming; and

3.) in the unlikely event man's greenhouse activity is causing global warming, what we're all supposed to use in place of fossil fuels to heat and light our houses, distribute food and goods, get to work, power manufacturing and business, etc., while we wait for a magical, mystery fuel to appear.

I would be remiss if I did not point to the latest, significant addition to item two: an analysis - h/t Watt's Up With That - which reveals serious weaknesses in the global circulation models relied upon by the IPCC and their pronouncements as to man's culpability in a 130 year (remind me how old Earth is?) warming trend.

Meanwhile, for the convenience of those of us experiencing the more local manifestation of global warming, here is the Providence radar to track the blizzard and a link to RIDOT highway cameras to check out road conditions.

December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Carroll Andrew Morse


December 24, 2010

Cherry Kerr-y

Justin Katz

It feels uncharitable, somehow, to respond seriously to this column by Bob Kerr, but then it would have to be uncharitable to read him seriously in the first place.

Neil Diamond has just been named to the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. What's next — Sarah Palin on the short list for the National Book Award?

Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Springsteen, The Stones, Elvis and ... Neil Diamond.

Or, Renoir, Matisse, Picasso and the guy who makes balloon animals at birthday parties.

The time of year was the decisive factor in my decision to highlight Kerr's call for rock 'n' roll purity. My only real investment in Neil Diamond derives from his (unbelievably) twenty-year-old Christmas album, which is so bad that it can't help but make you smile. I worked in a NJ record store when the album was new, and from the all-too-predictable rock clichés that form the structure of "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" to the shout of "let your Christmases be any color you like" in the midst of a barbershop quartet "White Christmas," it was guaranteed to usher along a good chunk of retail drudgery.

Neil Diamond singlehandedly taught me the value of cheese — how to let yourself go and just enjoy it for what it is. It seems telling and broadly significant that Bob Kerr's "light" column on Diamond's inclusion in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame is so vituperative, and with no sense of humor about its own self-righteousness. A culture that can't sway its shoulders to "Crunchy Granola" is a culture that fundamentally can't empathize with people who don't need to lace enjoyment with dark cynicism — a culture that can't relax and can't relate, as the song says.

The biggest Neil Diamond fan I've ever met made her appearance toward the end of my time as a teenage record store clerk. As I recall, the meeting corresponded with the release of Diamond's Christmas sequel, and I mentioned my affinity for the first one. The customer apparently didn't spot my dark irony as she detailed the experience of Neil in concert, and an unhealthy pose that had pervaded too much of my life started slipping away, that day, at the sight of a black woman shimmying and singing the lyrics of some white bubblegum favorite.

A decade prior, a young Al Sharpton had led marches in the next town over when a police officer shot a black teenager who'd pulled a realistic-looking water pistol. Race was too often in my mind, as a white kid selling tapes and CDs in a heavily black neighborhood. But if races and cultures can unite along the thin strand of Neil Diamond, surely all of us serious people should appreciate the sound of its vibration.

Truth-O-Meter, Pants on Fire

Justin Katz

The Wall Street Journal doesn't give PolitiFact a grade, but one suspects it wouldn't even reach the level of "half true":

So the watchdog news outfit called PolitiFact has decided that its "lie of the year" is the phrase "a government takeover of health care." Ordinarily, lies need verbs and we'd leave the media criticism to others, but the White House has decided that PolitiFact's writ should be heard across the land and those words forever banished to describe ObamaCare.

"We have concluded it is inaccurate to call the plan a government takeover," the editors of PolitiFact announce portentously. "'Government takeover' conjures a European approach where the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are public employees," whereas ObamaCare "is, at its heart, a system that relies on private companies and the free market." PolitiFact makes it sound as if ObamaCare were drawn up by President Friedrich Hayek, with amendments from House Speaker Ayn Rand. ...

PolitiFact's decree is part of a larger journalistic trend that seeks to recast all political debates as matters of lies, misinformation and "facts," rather than differences of world view or principles. PolitiFact wants to define for everyone else what qualifies as a "fact," though in political debates the facts are often legitimately in dispute.

And that's precisely why they wish to define "facts." For the same reason that the left typically strives to define its preferred cultural innovations in terms of "science." Facts and science are supposed to be the objective foundations on which our opinions are built; treat one side's opinion as a lie, and its structure will necessarily lean the other way.

The journalists behind PolitiFact across the country may not be self-aware purveyors of malicious propaganda, but the "lie of the year" (like the local variation on the Social Security Ponzi scheme question) proves them unable to control their rhetorical experiments for their own opinions.

A Hostile World Closes In

Justin Katz

It is odd that one doesn't hear, see, or read more on this:

Among the two most alarming revelations is the already completed sale and delivery, to Venezuela by Russia, of nearly 2,000 advanced, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles capable of hitting aircraft as high as 19,000 feet. Equally and perhaps more alarming is an October agreement between Iran and Venezuela. The agreement establishes a joint ground-to-ground missile base on Venezuelan soil and calls for the sharing of missile technology and the training of technicians and officers. In addition, Venezuela may use the missiles as it chooses for "national needs" and in case of "emergency." Several types of missiles will be deployed, giving Venezuela the ability to strike targets throughout South and Central America and throughout the U.S.

The dangers arising from the Marxist, cult-of-personality rule of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez are many. These weapons are only the largest and most destructive purchased or finagled by Chavez. He has also purchased an enormous number of Russian assault rifles — the real thing, fully automatic military rifles, not the non-existent "assault weapons" of gun control imaginations and press releases — and related weapons and ammunition.

A hostile dictator to the south — not far beyond our increasingly anarchic southern neighbor — is arming himself to the teeth, and coverage thereof appears somewhat less intensive than the media's handling of Lindsay Lohan's latest doings. Certainly, the White House doesn't give the impression of being concerned.

One suspects that (to some degree) folks in the mainstream media and administration are sympathetic to such arguments as I hear from time to time in the comments sections — namely, that a leftist dictator who's spent the last decade consolidating his power has a right to arm his country in response the U.S. hegemony. Not for no reason did Chavez cheer Americans' unserious, deluded act of electing Barack Obama.

December 23, 2010

Policy Stasis as Economic Boost

Justin Katz

I think John Kostrzewa overstates the ability of the recent tax-cut preservation legislation to boost the economy:

... I give [President Obama] credit for crafting the compromise with the Republicans because the major pieces of the bill will create an economic stimulus that will stir job creation. It is not the same type of $800-billion stimulus approved last year that funneled taxpayers’ money into the hands of government bureaucrats who spent it inefficiently.

Rather, most of the money this time will go directly to taxpayers who will spend it on basic needs to run their households. Because two-thirds of economic activity in the U.S. economy is based on consumer spending, the money people will get to keep, rather than pay in taxes, will boost their confidence and spur growth.

The tax-cut legislation didn't really add anything to economic policy; it just prevented a massive shift in an unhealthy direction. That it's been passed will surely steady the markets' anxiety, but that just brings the needle back to zero from the red side of the dial, where it hovered only because the president and Democrats were threatening negative change.

The most significant addition to policy, that I've seen, is the Social Security payroll tax cut, which I'll certainly welcome in the short-term, but which only decreases my expectation of ever benefiting from the program in years to come. Of course, that skepticism is also the status quo; Americans of my generation and younger more accurately see Social Security and MediCare as taxes than as investments.

Does No More DADT mean Yes to Campus ROTC...

Carroll Andrew Morse

...because it seems to in many places, but according to a characterization put forth by Dan Berrett of the online publication Inside Higher Ed, at least one local institution seems to be dragging its heels...

Officials at Brown University did not go as far as others in predicting a return of ROTC. Marisa Quinn, vice president of public affairs at Brown University, said via e-mail: "The repeal of Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell will likely stimulate additional conversation about ROTC on the Brown campus, a conversation that has occurred from time to time among the university's alumni, students, faculty and administrators. The university welcomes conversation on this and other important social and political questions." She added, however, that "the university's decision to phase out Air Force ROTC (1971) and Naval ROTC (1972) centered on academic issues, including whether ROTC units should have departmental status and whether courses offered by those units should carry academic credit. Those issues are matters for faculty discussion. Any academic issues raised by a potential return of ROTC instruction at Brown would require a vote of the faculty."
Hearing an official spokesperson stake out the position that bureaucratic hurdles are a primary consideration in deciding whether formal learning can be expanded into areas that would help bring students with diverse interests together within an academic community does not strike me as the best advancement of the proud traditions of Brown University.

And furthermore, are members of the Brown community really going to accept the proposition that the jokers at Harvard and Yale can figure out how to put together a program for students that Brown University can't?

Eliot Cohen of the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies has a balanced take on what returning ROTC to campus involves in a Washington Post op-ed available here.

The NEA's Penchant for Bad Analogy

Justin Katz

Another RI Blogger has caught an interesting bit of the education debate:

Ok, I can understand why the assistant executive director of the teachers’ union would be upset, for one [Teaching for America teachers] are not dues-paying NEA members. If additional teachers are needed, of course he will want more full time, dues-paying teachers employed. Second, many of the numbers and results that these TFA teachers are showing are making his members look bad. TFA injects energy into the schoools that even they admit isn’t sustainable by the same people long term. Yet we keep the teachers in the classrooms for 20 years or more.

One other aside that is wrong with Crowley's analogy is teaching is an art and being a surgeon is a science. Do we require painters to get an education so they can be professional painters? Do we require singers and other musicians? No. Those are arts that you either can do or can't do. Either you can teach, or you can't. An education can get you better at it, but skills in the arts is something that you have.

He's reviewing an article about the innovative teacher-recruitment organization by David Scharfenberg in the Providence Phoenix, and the comment is from National Education Association Rhode Island Assistant Executive Director Patrick Crowley, who predictably is sour on the notion of expediting the teacher-certification of college graduates from other fields:

To contend that a college graduate with no formal training is qualified to teach, he suggests, is to contend that teaching is something less than a profession; a task worthy of amateurs. It is an attitude, he says, that would seem absurd in other fields.

"I know how to use a knife and I went to college," he says. "That doesn’t mean I can be a surgeon."

I'd suggest that Crowley's analogy is actually flawed in a way that doesn't require any such distinctions between art and science. Indeed, the art-science duality is an overstated factor in general, since most professions contain elements of both. Even a painter does well to understand the science of art — the theory and history behind the craft. The art of a profession comes in finding a way that one's own proclivities can be leveraged for maximum benefit of the end goal — whether that is creating compelling canvases or conveying intellectual concepts to children.

To return to the surgeon-teacher comparison, one could argue that teacher education programs are akin to curricula that give would-be surgeons in-depth review of the use of scalpels and patient-relations as their main focus, while a hypothetical Surgeons For America takes biology majors and allows them expedited lessons in the practice of working with an actual human body. Put differently, the question is whether it's better for a surgeon to know how to manipulate the organs or to know what the organs actually do and where they actually are.

Both routes will work, but in certain subjects, at least, it's not unreasonable to expect a content expert to be able to master the practice of teaching more effectively than an education-theory expert could master the content. After all, even those educated in the science of teaching have to learn the practice over time.

What They're Planning, and What We Should Plan

Justin Katz

Andrew reviewed some of the budget suggestions on display at last week's budget summit on the Matt Allen Show last night. Stream by clicking here, or download it.

The insights available through Andrew's liveblog of that event (here, here, and here) illustrate well the ability of Anchor Rising to collect and analyze the likely strategies of the folks who've laid Rhode Island low — and thereby prepare counter arguments. Such activities are crucial if Rhode Island is to turn itself around and may prove critical just to avert utter ruination over the next two years. Please email or call (401-835-7156) me to pledge financial support — as subscriptions, donations, or advertising — for 2011.

December 22, 2010

A Possibility of New Precedent Affecting the Cranston West Banner

Carroll Andrew Morse

Would there be room in the public sphere -- specifically, within the the Cranston West High School cafeteria auditorium -- for a banner beginning with the words "Heavenly Father", if the most recent Establishment Clause precedent issued by the United States Supreme Court were to say that a relevant lower court decision was flawed, because...

The court’s decision continues a troubling development in our Establishment Clause cases -- the use of a “reasonable observer” who is increasingly hostile to religious symbols in the public sphere and who parses relevant context and history to find governmental endorsement of religion. Despite assurance from the Supreme Court that the Establishment Clause does not require us to “purge from the public sphere all that in any way partakes in the religious,” , the court’s “reasonable observer” seems intent on doing just that...

In my view, the court’s application of the endorsement test is incorrect to the extent it: (1) effectively imposed a presumption of unconstitutionality on religious symbols in the public sphere; (2) employed a “reasonable observer” who ignored certain facts of the case and instead drew unsupported and quite odd conclusions; and (3) incorrectly focused on the religious nature of the crosses themselves, instead of the message they convey.

According to this rationale, it is not obvious that the banner should be removed.

The passage above, however, is not a controlling Supreme Court precedent. It comes from the opening of a dissenting opinion issued this past Monday in the 10th Circuit case of American Atheists, Inc. v. Duncan, which considered the permissibility of roadside crosses placed as memorials by the Utah State Troopers association. Eugene Volokh, uberblogger and UCLA law professor with significant expertise in First Amendment issues, believes that there is a strong possibility that the US Supreme Court will take Atheists v. Duncan, and that at least five Justices lean towards an opinion in line with the dissent above. Volokh notes, for example, that in a recent Establishment Clause case, Justice Anthony Kennedy, a frequent swing vote on the Court, wrote that...

The goal of avoiding governmental endorsement does not require eradication of all religious symbols in the public realm.
Now, there are significant differences between the Utah and Cranston cases that should not be discounted; in the Utah case the government is not directly putting up memorials, it is allowing another organization to put them in a public space, while in Cranston, the city government is directly responsible for choosing what is displayed. Still, since a lasting legal resolution in Cranston may not be possible until the disposition of Atheists v. Duncan is final, the prudent course of action with regards to the Cranston West banner may be to put off immediate further action, until the Supremes have their say on the Utah memorials.

Watching the Slow-Motion Crash of the Regionalization Train

Justin Katz

It may not add up to a silver lining, but hopefully folks are beginning to see why Anchor Rising contributors have been very suspicious of calls to regionalize or centralize government and its services:

[League of Cities and Towns Executive Director Dan Beardsley] also spoke of new limits on municipal contracts to ban: automatic renewals for expired agreements; retirement benefits that exceed the statewide standard, should one be adopted,and provisions such as minimum manning rules that limit municipalities' ability to close or reorganize departments.

Beardsley said those changes were needed to undo years of bad laws and, in his opinion, excessive arbitration decisions that had unreasonably increased municipal benefits such as pay for unused sick time.

[AFL-CIO President George] Nee said the contracts were the result of both sides agreeing to the terms, and it was disingenuous for municipal officials to blame unions for the deals they signed themselves.

Frankly, Nee's right. The people whom Rhode Islanders have allowed to operate local governments have acceded to union demands much too enthusiastically. Moreover, they haven't adequately pushed back against mandates and statutes at the state level that have tilted the game board in the direction of unions and other special interests. Only when things begin to fall apart do they begin to strike poses of complaint.

But note, in that process, that the state has not been the source of reason. The larger, superseding government and its officials have been drawing municipalities in the harmful direction, not striving to hold them back. What on Earth makes folks think that giving them more direct control — as with statewide teacher contracts, more say on healthcare programs, and a stronger position in local affairs — will be to the better?

Even just a few paragraphs away, we get this:

John C. Simmons, executive director of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, said while proposals in the report for a city merger or for a regionalization of services were interesting, other options might be considered, too, such as the state simply taking over all city services in Central Falls.

All that means, it seems to me, is that the unreasonable costs of Central Falls' agreements will be spread across the entire state. Hiding those costs and deflating accountability is clearly not the way to bring the city or the state toward the practice of better decision making.

When Enforcement Profits the Government

Justin Katz

There must be enforcement mechanisms behind just laws and regulations, of course, but I'd say that it's healthy to be concerned about continued movement in this direction:

That sum [of $425,000] is Rhode Island's share of $21 million that Dannon agreed to pay to satisfy allegations and demands for money damages by the attorneys general of 39 states, who challenged Dannon's claims with the assistance of the Federal Trade Commission. It is the largest sum ever to be paid by a food manufacturer in a multistate settlement of its kind.

Dannon represented, for example, that Activia helped to regulate a person's digestive system based largely on one ingredient, a bacterial strain that Dannon named Bifidus Regularis.

Dannon said that when one daily serving was consumed for two weeks, it would reduce the time that it would take for food to pass through the consumer's digestive system. But a majority of studies showed that the improvement required the consumption of three daily servings for two weeks, according to the attorneys general.

So, it looks like Dannon exaggerated to play down the amount of yogurt that would have the effect claimed, but at a certain point, caveat emptor has to apply. It does not appear to be the case that eating too little yogurt on the advice of advertisements harmed anybody's health, and frankly, consumers ought to be suspicious of all such declarations, in the first place.

Conspicuously — and confirming the sense that nobody was actually harmed — the money will go right into the state's general fund, with some directed into the attorney general's account.

Call in the Gov

Justin Katz

This'll be a useful test case for Governor-elect Chafee:

On the snowy steps of the high school, Frank Flynn, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, said he had called Chafee Tuesday morning and asked him to convene a group of teachers, school and district administrators, union leaders and state education officials to "move this school forward, because the students of Central Falls deserve nothing less."

The governor-elect indicated he would help, Flynn said, although no details have been settled yet.

The image comes to mind of Chafee in a vintage campy Batman costume running to a special phone in his office. It will be interesting to see how quickly the new governor implements the union-friendly changes that we're all expecting.

Step one, most likely, will be for him to step forward and bring everybody "to the table" in a one-sided equivalence that turns the notion of transforming Rhode Island's school system right around. The question is how quickly those intransigent bureaucrats and administrators who insist that reform must mean reform will be pushed out of their seats.

December 21, 2010

Important Note on Commenting

Justin Katz

In an attempt to reclaim some of our blogging time each day by eliminating unwanted automated comments, we've made a couple of minor but significant changes to the rules of commenting. The changes

  • You must leave the space labeled "URL" completely blank.
  • Your comment cannot contain the text "http:" — either as text or as a hyperlink.
  • Unfortunately, that means that hyperlinks won't work in the comment boxes any longer, you'll be able to post the URL, starting with "www" (or whatever).
  • On the bright side, this allows us to get rid of the anti-spam code.

So Nina Totenberg Thought She Was Saying a Nine-Letter Word

Monique Chartier

... when she said this?

And I was at -- forgive the expression -- a Christmas party at the Department of Justice and ...

Interestingly, her comment did not make the final version of the weekend's Inside Washington broadcasted by NPR. It's not clear, though, whether this edit was made simply for the sake of time constraints or because NPR didn't want to have to repeatedly say, "Forgive the expression of our correspondent" after the show aired.

If anyone comes across a context or explanation for this remark, please link to it.

In the absence of such exposition, count this atheist as annoyed and staving off a sense of offense at this remark, both for the sake of the holiday itself and at the double standard demonstrated by Ms. Totenberg.

Continuing to Define Democracy Down in Central Falls

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over on the municipal side in Central Falls, lawyers for Receiver Mark Pfeiffer have made their latest arguments explaining how the suspension of municipal democracy in CF is constitutional. Here is the most thoroughly unconvincing one, from John Hill's report in today's Projo...

Pfeiffer’s lawyers disputed the usurpation argument, saying that in May, before Pfeiffer’s appointment, Moreau and the City Council went to court and asked for and got a court-appointed receiver with much the same powers that Pfeiffer has now. Pfeifer’s brief also said that the council in June passed a resolution that endorsed the state receivership law that called for a state-appointed receiver — eventually Pfeiffer — to replace the one chosen by the courts.
Presenting a theory of government that cannot seriously be called democratic, Receiver Pfeiffer is arguing that a city's Mayor and council have a legitimate power to give away the people's right to democratic government, in consultation with another organ of government, but without the consent of the governed. This is not correct. Democratic systems are not systems that have some optional democratic features that can be done away with when some (OK, in the case of Central Falls, when many) bad decisions create problems. Democratic systems are systems where the people are sovereign over the government, where government cannot sever itself from accountability to the governed without sacrificing its legitimacy.

I ask to the readership here -- and especially to those who think this is just a Central Falls or an urban core issue -- are you truly comfortable with creating a precedent in Rhode Island where your mayor and/or city or town council is granted the power to give away your right to democratic governance, in order to "solve" an issue in your municipality -- keeping in mind that, as we head into what could be a very tumultuous period of public financing decisions in Rhode Island (and elsewhere), Central Falls is probably not the only place where the upper echelons of Rhode Island's political culture would like, if given the chance, to move democracy out of the way of the exercise of governmental power.

Setting Up the Failure

Justin Katz

Although the majority of the teachers probably just wanted to keep their jobs, observers with a cynical (I would say "realistic") opinion of labor unions likely foresaw the Central Falls teacher absences issue back when Superintendent Fran Gallo unfired the high school faculty back in May. There is no way union organizers want the transformation model of reforming the school (or any model, really) to work, particularly as it's been initiated from the education commissioner down, and I'd suggest that the employee attendance record at the school proves that enough teachers are willing to pull the union rope to cause problems:

The high rate of teacher absenteeism has sparked a new wave of outrage and fed the ongoing debate about how to improve the nation’s worst-performing schools.

Bitterness remains over the mass firing of all the school’s teachers in February, jobs that were eventually won back through a compromise agreement in May. In exchange for their jobs, the teachers agreed to a list of changes administrators said were necessary to turn around the school, which has among the lowest test scores and graduation rates in the state.

Some teachers resent the new requirements, which include tutoring and eating lunch with students each week, attending after-school training sessions and being observed by third-party evaluators. In all, about 15 teachers resigned between June and November; two others retired. One position remains unfilled, according to school officials.

As you may recall, the other alternative was the "turnaround model," by which the entire teaching staff would have been fired, and no more than 50% could have been rehired. One suspects substantial overlap among three groups:

  • The retirements and absentees
  • Teachers who look to the union playbook for ensuring the failure of reform
  • Central Falls High employees who would not have been rehired under the turnaround model

The lesson for Rhode Island administrators and commissioners is clear: Making those who oppose reform integral to it is not likely part of a formula for success.


And let's not allow the issue to slip into the background without marveling at this deal:

According to the contract, teachers receive 15 sick days a year at full pay and are allowed to accumulate up to 185 sick days — which takes slightly more than 12 years of service to accrue. They also receive two personal days each year.

Veteran teachers with at least six years of service are also entitled to 40 days of extended sick leave at full pay; teachers with 15 or more years are entitled to 50 days, also at full pay.

If I'm reading that right, in a (give or take) 180-day school year, a Central Falls teacher can theoretically have 237 available paid days off. Presumably, there are procedures in place to review extended sick leave, but by the numbers, a teacher could work just six weeks a year for two years.

Local Budgets and Generosity at Christmas

Justin Katz

A local controversy with statewide implications is the subject of my column, this week. In short, the Tiverton school department spent $367,165 in local funds to make up for estimated state funds that didn't materialize, and now the municipal government is taking it back.

Of course, given the season, I couldn't treat the topic without working in a moral:

The largest portion of my workdays, over the last decade, has been spent remodeling houses in neighborhoods of Newport that appear zoned to require airy names rather than street numbers. Tourists who venture away from the Breakers, Chateau-sur-Mer, and the rest of the Bellevue arcade of opulence may spot plaques and embossed stones labeling the homes of families still in the flesh and still in the money. My sense of humor being what it is, I've dubbed my North Tiverton cottage Piddlinghouse and await only the free time and resources to whittle a name-post at the end of my driveway.

The title would be apt, given the Dickensian feel of this Christmas season. Most of the presents under our tree will be a testament to the generosity of my children's extended family - as well as the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Claus. The legendary couple made an appearance at a recent family gathering, and the next day, the person who arranged the visit swung by Piddlinghouse with a box of like-new used clothes that the jolly Mrs. had thought we might put to good use.

Does Santa Claus exist? I'll offer an unequivocal "yes."

December 20, 2010

A Snicker from "the Differences"

Justin Katz

I had to chuckle at this gem, given Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee's all-but-established precedent of rebuffing requests for meetings from folks with whom he disagrees:

During the 45-minute long ceremony, Chafee will give his first address as governor, focusing, in part, on the idea of "setting aside differences and focusing on commonalities as we move the state forward," according to Chafee spokesman Michael Trainor.

One wonders whether "differences" is the Chafee administration's pet term for constituents who differ with the governor-elect on particular issues, as in: "Hide, here come the differences

Two Senators and a Rep (with Correction)

Justin Katz

Last Tuesday, when I summarized some points that two state senators and a representative made to the Tiverton School Committee, I misstated something that Democrat Rep. Jay Edwards said, and he corrected me in the comments to the post. At the meeting, Edwards mentioned meetings with the House speaker (Gordon Fox) and the Democrat majority leader (Nicholas Mattiello), saying that the latter is relatively conservative on matters of teachers' unions and education. Because Edwards referred to them only as "speaker" and "leader," I mistakenly conflated the two and said that he'd characterized the speaker as conservative.

For those interested in the content of the delegation's visit, here's the video:

Toward Fighting the Usual, Expected Interpretation

Justin Katz

This is the sort of claim that begs for a well-researched response:

"The data ... clearly illustrates the need for more affordable homes in the Ocean State," said Nellie M. Gorbea, executive director of HousingWorks. "As lawmakers convene in January, it is imperative that they fund affordable-housing programs like the Neighborhood Opportunities Program ... to immediately address the large number of families on the verge of losing their apartments or houses because they can't afford the rent or mortgage."

The basis for the claim is a HousingWorks study of U.S. Census data finding that 41.7% of Rhode Islanders pay more than 30% of their incomes on "housing costs," which is the highest ratio in the region. Unfortunately, I spent most of my blogging time, the other day, discovering that the Census's new data acquisition tool would eat up most of my blogging time.

The first thing I wondered was whether property taxes are included in "housing costs." The second thing I wanted to research was the significance of average incomes on the calculation. I know from past research that Rhode Island's income level is relatively low, by New England standards.

Both of those considerations support the argument that the last thing Rhode Island should do is to increase government expenditures. Rather, we should lower taxes across the board and lighten mandates and regulations, thereby encouraging economic activity and higher average incomes.

Were Anchor Rising a full-time gig, we would collect the necessary data and post it in the form of a report, which we would promote around local media and bring before any relevant legislative committees — not out of protection of special interests, but out of pure interest in the subject matter and the health of the state.

December 19, 2010

Feeling Galtish on Sunday

Justin Katz

Somehow, I've fallen behind on everything, in the past couple of weeks, so I've been trying to catch up a little this weekend. I've also been sorting through spreadsheets, trying to figure out the fluctuations of millions of dollars flowing into Tiverton's school district.

While I had Microsoft Excel open, I thought I'd relax the mind and run some numbers inspired by a contentious meeting at the day job, on Friday afternoon. How, I wondered, would the labor numbers break out if one calculated all of the real costs of a typical construction gig with the amount billed to the client? The upshot is that — depending on the terms of employment and benefits — a carpenter's salary can take a big hit when once transportation, tools, and some other considerations are factored in.

Frankly, strolling through two years of unemployment payments doesn't compare all that unfavorably — and it tends to be a lot less strenuous, and certainly warmer, this time of year. Of course, that thought leads to the next: Layer in welfare, food stamps, RIte Care, housing assistance, and so on, and the fact comes into stark relief that, as a friend of mine is fond of putting it, all I really need is a library card. All the time I could spend reading and writing were I to decide just to step off the down escalator that I'm struggling to walk up.

That can't be a conclusion to which members of a healthy society would be inclined to come.

December 17, 2010

The altered terms of the political debate in America

Donald B. Hawthorne

It is the day after the 237th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. How appropriate.

Over most of our lifetimes, the terms of the political debate were centered around who would give more goodies to the American people. Human nature being what it is, most people gladly took whatever the government gave them. Few thought seriously about the coercive nature of those governmental actions and how they created new behavioral incentives that altered future outcomes, adversely impacting our political and economic liberties. The Democrats regularly won that debate against what I used to call the (former Republican minority leader in the House) Bob Michel Republicans who offered no alternative visions of liberty and the proper role of government in our lives. The Republicans lost in large part because all they stood for was Democrat-lite spending. When you can have the whole thing, why settle for a partial handout?

Then, at points during the last decade, Republicans in the White House and Congress decided to spend like drunks and do some bailouts. From a branding standpoint, the impact was significant because the differences between the two parties on domestic economic issues became largely indistinguishable. At least until Obama, Reid and Pelosi took over.

The Obama administration and Democratic Congress during the last two years made everyone else before look cheap by comparison via their massive governmental spending increases, trillion dollar deficits, unaccountable czars, aggressive regulatory actions, and governmental bailouts or takeovers of various parts of the economy - especially Obamacare.

The impact of the overreach was two-fold:

First, by trying to have the government take over control of many parts of our life via aggressively statist policies, the American people's instinctive love of liberty arose in rebellion.

Second, the trillion dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see - together with the looming bankruptcies of Social Security, Medicare, and certain states and local governments, including their pension programs - merged with the visible consequences of similar spending/debt crises in Europe to raise the specter that there could be ultimate financial consequences to our country's well being in the not-so-distant future that would destroy the America we know and eliminate the American Dream for our children and their children.

The net effect is that the terms of the political debate in America were fundamentally altered in recent times, culminating so far in the 2010 election results, the mandate in Obamacare being declared unconstitutional, and rejection of this week's omnibus bill in the Senate. The debate is no longer about who can hand out more goodies. The debate is now about liberty and financial solvency.

What we don't yet have answers to is exactly how the altered debate will translate into truly different outcomes. Will there be a modified public understanding of the proper role of government in our lives and what new government policies would be required to reflect that modified role? Or is there still enough status quo inertia that we will hurtle off a cliff and be forced to live with financial insolvency and statist public policies that continue to take away our liberty?

It is also not yet clear whether either major political party is capable of adapting to the new terms of the political debate. If they cannot, their role in national politics will be marginalized over time because the status quo is unsustainable. There will likely be much turmoil before it all settles out but I am hopeful that, as part of the oft-messy process of change, there can be a great reawakening of our body politic that helps us rediscover the true meaning of liberty and develop a deepened attachment to the limited and constitutional government principles given to us by our Founders. We all have to admit that there has never been a period during our lifetimes with more public discussion about the US Constitution and its meaning.

As lovers of liberty, our obligation is to contribute regularly to this ongoing civic debate by offering both reasoned philosophical ideas - as we seek to persuade people who are open to such exchanges - and new policies - where we are prepared to do battle in the political trenches, as necessary, to implement the ideas.


Five fundamental questions for public debate:

Question #1 - Do you believe the Constitution puts any restrictions on the powers of the federal government?

Question #2 - If your answer is yes, what restrictions would those be? And what test would you use to determine what the federal government can and can’t do?

Question #3 - If your answer is no, that is, that the Constitution puts no real restraints on the federal government at all, why do you suppose they bothered writing and passing one in the first place?

Question #4 - Do you believe there should be any restrictions on the powers of the federal government?

Question #5 - Do you buy into the idea that the people delegate certain, limited powers to the government through the Constitution, or do you believe that the government can do whatever it wants, save for a few restrictions outlined in the Constitution?

Budget Summit: Second Panel Discussion

Carroll Andrew Morse

Richard Licht continues to moderate...

[10:33] Q to George Nee, President of the RI AFL-CIO: I know you are concerned as anyone else with balancing this budget. Do you have any ideas where money can be saved?

[10:34] George Nee: We have focused too much on the FTE issue. We haven’t looked at total personnel costs, overtime, and sub-contracting and contractors.

[10:35] We have 300 lawyers on the state payroll, but we use lots of lawyers as outside consultants.

[10:36] There are jobs in government that are revenue-generators. For each new revenue agent you hire, you end up collecting more revenue. Enforcement of prevailing wage can increase revenue.

[10:38] People in the private sector are being misclassified as independent contractors. They should be reclassified as full-time employees.

[10:39] State employees should have more say in running their departments. They could come up with tremendous ideas for saving money.

[10:40] We’ve heard too much about cuts for the past 5 years. Labor appreciates Governor-elect’s Chafee’s balanced approach.

[10:41] Combined reporting, to get more revenue from corporations that earn money in Rhode Island.

[10:42] Reamortize the state pension fund.

[10:42] State employees and teachers have paid their fair share. “It’s time to let them have a little rest”.

[10:43] Budget presentations deal with figures and figures and figures. We lose sight that it is a values document and the moral document.

[10:44] Q to Helena Buonanno Foulkes: What can we do to help grow the economy in the state?

[10:45] Buonanno Foulkes: There is a sense that big budgeting changes can occur from year-to-year, as RI struggles to balance its budget, making it hard for businesses to plan.

[10:46] We need to be as efficient as and competitive with neighboring states.

[10:47] We need to invest in education and training. The number 1 concern of business is for the workforce in this state.

[10:48] Improved effectiveness and efficiency are needed in the healthcare system. There is a big burden on the consumer, to have to figure out how to navigate the existing system.

[10:49] Rhode Island has a good opportunity to advance in the world of entrepreneurship.

[10:50] Q to Kimberly McDonough, President of Advanced Pharmacy Concepts: What do we do about the RI economy?

[10:52] McDonough: Economic advantages of off-shore manufacturing in places like China are diminishing, due to increasing costs and civil unrest. It is creating an opportunity to bring manufacturing back.

[10:53] BUT someone bringing their factory back from China to the US is willing to go anywhere in the US. We have to be competitive with the entire country to capture a part of that.

[10:55] I think McDonough just said that her business income last year was taxed at a rate of 65%, due to the general weirdness of the tax code (“general weirdness” is my phrase).

[10:56] McDonough also has an interesting anecdote about her company’s health-insurance being terminated, due to some unusual regulations. I’ll post the audio explaining later.

[10:58] “What is going on in Central Falls is unconscionable”. McDonough says #1 impediment to expanding her business in RI is finding workers who have the skills to do the work.

[11:00] Q to Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian: Regionalization, consolidation.

[11:02] Mayor Avedisian: Cities and towns are working on it, from the ground up, but the devil is in the details.

[11:04] You can’t just say “you four communities are now together”.

[11:05] There are systemic problems everywhere. Combining them doesn’t solve them.

[11:06] Communities need more flexibility to be able to combine on their own.

[11:07] Department of Municipal Affairs needs more power to be able to enforce the state reporting requirements cities and towns are supposed to obey.

[11:08] Proposes bi-annual budgeting for cities and towns.

[11:09] Q to Scott Wolf of Grow Smart Rhode Island: How do we streamline permitting and related processes?

[11:10] Scott Wolf: We need more predictability and a quicker process for developers.

[11:11] Different state agencies that impact development need to coordinate better, and provide a single point of contact for major projects.

[11:13] The ultimate goal is prosperity, not austerity. Prosperity is what we need for Rhode Islanders.

[11:14] We need to improve our transportation system and our higher-education system, and to eliminate the structural budget deficit.

[11:15] Q to Pablo Rodriguez: What challenges are unique to the minority-owned business community?

[11:16] Rodriguez: The increase in social service spending is not the cause of the budget deficit, it is the result of improper budgets in the past.

[11:18] People with the biggest challenges have the most difficulty in accessing the system. That can be fixed, and it essential for people of color that it is fixed.

[11:19] Latino children in RI have the lowest math scores in the country.

[11:21] We shouldn’t be looking for places to cut, we should be looking for places to make money.

[11:22] When we try to create something like a financial literacy program, it gets fragmented between too many different offices.

[11:23] Medicaid is a money-maker for Rhode Island, because of the effects of matching funds. We should deliver Medicaid more efficiently, not cut it.

[11:24] Just passing laws is not enough for minority-owned business initiatives, we have to get each department to think creatively to implement programs.

Governor-elect Chafee finishes up with four points:

  1. Priorities towards education were reinforced.
  2. Governor-elect Chafee emphasizes the e-commerce issue again.
  3. By increasing FTEs, we may be able to bring more revenue to the state.
  4. And more FTEs is more people paying into the pension system.

Budget Summit: First Panel Discussion

Carroll Andrew Morse

Richard Licht moderates.

[9:24] Q to John Simmons of RIPEC. What's happening in other states?

[9:24] Simmons: Rhode Island has acted much faster than other states in facing the fiscal crisis. Simmons is presenting some RIPEC "How we compare charts"...

[9:23] Simmons highlights “vendor payments” as a big RI budget driver, and that a lot of that is Medicaid.

[9:29] Interest payments on debt are also growing.

[9:30] RI’s ranking in revenues collected has dropped.

[9:32] Simmons: The major thing we have not done is make changes to the social safety net programs, particularly eligibility changes.

[9:33] Q to Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts: How should RI approach health and human service payments and delivery?

[9:34] LG Roberts: HHS numbers are comparible as percentage of the budget to other states.

[9:36] RI leads the country in percentage of private-sector economy in healthcare.

[9:37] We cannot only cut reimbursement rates and do nothing else, that will only shift costs.

[9:38] Constructive suggestions: 1. Continue investment in primary care services. 2. Include all Medicaid programs that involve this issue. Either 2a or 3, strengthen case management for Medicaid, improve transitions and reduce readmissions.

[9:39] Roberts: “We must save” but we shouldn’t think government is doing a worse health-care job than the private sector.

[9:40] Final point: Let’s not forget the importance of public health.

[9:42] Q to Anne Nolan, President of Crossroads RI: “Are there ways the not-for-profit sector can help us lessen the costs of the services we are providing”. “Is there a duplication of efforts?”

[9:43] Nolan: “This has been a very depressing morning”.

[9:44] There is misconception on the part of a lot of Rhode Islanders that we are a welfare-rich state.

[9:45] Our approach to social issues and people is too siloed.

[9:46] There is an opportunity now to relook at how we deliver services, including between the government and the private sector.

[9:47] My interpretation of what Nolan is saying: Rather than have different departments deliver a loosely bundled set of services to a person who needs help, government needs to look at the person as a whole and give them one point of contact, from where help can be coordinated.

[9:50] Funders have to take more responsibility, to have move effective spending of limited resources.

[9:52] Q to Ray DiPasquale, RI Commissioner of Higher Ed: Why can’t the back offices of RIC, URI, and CCRI be combined?

[9:55] DiPasquale: There is already back-office collaboration on things like purchasing, distance learning, IT.

[9:57] Presidents and vice-presidents of the institutions meet often, to discuss how they can educate all of their students, be efficient, and deal with the recent $40M in budget cuts.

[9:59] DiPasquale gives rationale for the Office of Higher Ed: It is the office that best allows RIC, URI and CCRI to work together.

[10:00] Tuition increases at this point would significantly impact access of Rhode Islanders to higher education.

[10:01] Q to Robert Flanders, Chair of the RI Board of Regents for Education: Same question as to Commissioner DiPasquale: How can cities get together to combine back office functions, as separate from educational functions?

[10:03] Same answer as DiPasquale: There’s lots of back office working-together either going on or being discussed, for example Aquidneck Island and the educational collaborative (and I can’t believe my spell checked actually recognizes “Aquidneck”).

[10:04] Plugs the idea of a statewide healthcare contract.

[10:06] We need to do a better job of keeping kids in school, and not having them turn out to be dropouts. That saves costs up the educational line.

[10:07] Better pre-school is needed, to help alleviate poverty and language problems.

[10:08] Basic math and literacy skills are needed for many of the jobs available right out of high school.

[10:09] DiPasquale: Out of every 100 RI 9th-graders, 73 will graduate. 40 of those will enter college. Only 21 will earn an associate or bachelors degree. 70% of students who enter college need one remedial course. About 50% will need two or more.

[10:13] Flanders: Effective teaching is the critical factor in raising the bar throughout the education system.

[10:14] Q from Licht to panel in general: Are there other ways we can save some money.

[10:15] Laughter then silence.

[10:16] John Simmons (addressing Anne Nolan’s concerns) argues for efficiency in the human services programs, which is different than just denying access. If we were as efficient as our neighbors, there would be tremendous savings.

[10:18] Anne Nolan: We need to think better, clearer and more effectively. And in some cases, we are going to have to spend more money, as an investment in the future.

[10:19] LG Roberts: We shouldn’t assume that managing the budget deficit will always do harm. Reforms can be implemented, to make programs more effective.

[10:20] Licht: “Government exists to serve the people of Rhode Island. It doesn’t exist to serve itself.”

[10:22] Ray DiPasquale: Extend commuter rail to URI. It will be an economic benefit for the state.

[10:23] Licht discusses the concept, possibly, of connecting to the Connecticut commuter rail system.

[10:24] DiPasquale: Get government, higher-ed, and business to work together at a high-level (the direct quote was “in a room”) to solve the state’s problems.

Welcome to the Governor-Elect's Budget Summit

Carroll Andrew Morse

Good morning, from the Sapinsley Center on the campus of Rhode Island College, where I will be liveblogging Governor-Elect Lincoln Chafee's budget summit this morning:

Governor-Elect Chafee offers opening remarks:

First priorities are education, state-aid and Central Falls

Deficit for next year as high as 300M

There are 2 columns in any budget, revenues and expenditures.

Mentions “revenue enhancement” (the sales tax) could be as high as 120M. Still leaves a big gap.

Did 7 budgets as Mayor of Warwick, and it’s never an easy process.

[8:48] Over to Rosemary Booth Gallogly, Director of Dept. of Administration:

Revenues are growing much faster than expenditures. About a 450M gap projected for FY2016.

Impact of ARRA (stimulus) loss will be that $215M of human services disappears, 18M of education funding will disappear.

Revenues have dropped from 3.4B to 3.0B between FY2008 and FY2010. All sources of revenue were down.

Income tax is largest source of revenue. Gambling revenue has been fairly flat, for the past three years.

[8:53] Hmmmm. Various sales tax trends are noted, including loss of sales-tax revenue due to e-commerce. Gallogly mentions this can only be “fixed” by Congress.

[8:54] 300M coming in from gambling revenue, it’s been flat (which is better than down) since FY2008. Casinos in Massachusetts are a threat, one estimate is a 27% reduction.

Table games could increase revenues by 26%, even with Mass casinos (according to a Twin River estimate).

[8:56] Discussion of “tax-expenditures”. They’re hard to track, since the government is not collecting anything once they are enacted. Various estimates come with their own “reliability index”, which should be taken into account, before any actual decisions are made.

[8:59] Ranking of expenditures in the total budget (Federal + Stste): 1 Assistance and grants, 2. Salary and benefits, 3 Aid to local units, 4 Operating expenses.

[9:03] General revenue only, FY2012 debt service rises to 4th place.

[9:04] Ranking of expenditures by function: 1. Human services, 2. Education, 3. General Government.

[9:05] Gallogy emphasizes that Transportation is only 5% of the state budget.

[9:08] In 2012, expenditure growth is projected to be 12%, mainly due to loss of stimulus funds.

[9:09] 1701 fewer state-worker positions filled, compared to 2002. About 1,300 persons retired in 2008, coincident with a set of pension changes.

[9:13] For FY2012, 41.3% of payroll must be budgeted for, for pension, FICA, retiree health and “assessed fringe” costs.

[9:15] Personnel costs will rise about 6% in FY2012, due to concessions that are (expired? Not carried forward? Just aren’t there?)

[9:16] We are one of a few states that issues bonds to get its Federal highway match.

[9:17] Big increase in debt-service, due to historic tax-credits between now and FY2016, from about 18M to 51M.

[9:20] “In the current year, we seem to have things under control. Next year is a huge, huge challenge.”

Down Again

Justin Katz

Earlier this week, URI economist Len Lardaro noted the reversal of his economic index's positive trends for Rhode Island:

A slump in October in two key indicators that make up an index that forecasts the Rhode Island economy may signal that the state could be in for a double-dip recession, according to Leonard Lardaro, the University of Rhode Island professor who compiles the Current Conditions Index.

Today, we learn that the professor's index isn't the only discouraging statistic:

After eight consecutive, incremental drops in Rhode Island's unemployment rate, the November rate increased slightly to 11.6 percent, indicating the state's economy is staggering to year's end. ...

Unemployment rate: Up to 11.6 percent from 11.4 percent, the first increase from one month to the next since last December.

The silver lining is that the increase in the unemployment rate appears to have been attributable to the fact that 800 people reentered the job market. Of course, the problem, there, is that the number of employed Rhode Islanders remained the same, and the number of jobs based in Rhode Island decreased by 1,200.

Rhode Island is not at all well positioned to emerge from the Great Recession, and those leading the state are not well suited — intellectually or ideologically — to change our course.

December 16, 2010

Equivalence Beheaded

Justin Katz

Whenever I express concerns about the odd and threatening behavior of such regimes as that currently ruling Iran, our comment sections become host to statements of blame-America relativism. No doubt, the same will prove true upon my posting this bit of news from the benighted region:

A Christan pastor in Iran has been sentenced to death for allegedly renouncing his Muslim religion and another faces a possible indictment on the same charge of apostasy, according to a prominent activist group working for human rights in Iran.

Youcef Nadarkhani, a 32-year-old member of the Church of Iran ministry and pastor of an approximately 400-person congregation in the northern city of Rasht, faces death, according to the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.

Elsewhere in Iran, Christian pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khanjani is up on charges of apostasy. In other Muslim nations, Christians are feeling the heat, as well.

Nadarkhani cleverly asserts that he's not an apostate because he rejected all religions until the age of 19. I'd wager that he shares my concerns about the sanity of those who implemented and enforce the laws that he's supposedly transgressed, and who are widely acknowledged to be working toward nuclear empowerment.

Receiver: Merge Central Falls/Pawtucket

Marc Comtois

Former Judge Mark A. Pfeiffer, appointed as receiver for troubled Central Falls, has come out with his recommendation (PDF): merge Central Falls with Pawtucket (via 7to7).

"The problems are so severe that they cannot be solved solely through efficiencies and additional revenue at the city level," he wrote. " ... state action is required if the city is to avoid fiscal collapse in its immediate future."

The major problem is the city, with an annual operating budget of about $16 million, is facing about $48 million in pension and after-retirement obligations, he said. Essentially, the city spent years giving out pension and retirement benefits without figuring out how to pay for them, he said.

That mistake was exacerbated by municipal officials who didn't notice or appreciate the problems, he said, ignoring them when they were manageable and only reacting when it was too late.

A merger with Pawtucket would put Central Falls in a municipality with similar demographics and issues, Pfeiffer said....The lower income population of Central Falls would make it easier for Pawtucket to attract government grants, he said, and the increased population would make the new combined entity the second biggest city in the state, enhancing its legislative clout.

Pfeiffer outlined a plan, which, interestingly enough, would basically involve statewide reform. It includes:

1) Consolidating pension funds across the state and modifying the current system (ie; increase retirement age, payouts, etc.)
2) Implementing a statewide health insurance plan for government employees at the state/municipal level.
3) Reforms to how Collective Bargaining Agreements are constituted, including a "zero-baseline" re-negotiation mandate every 10 years to account for changes in fiscal situation of the municipality.

Tabulating Rhode Island's FY2011 Federal Earmarks

Marc Comtois

For those interested, HERE is a working list of all of the earmarks contained in the lame duck FY2011 budget. I assume it will be continually updated as required (hence, the "working"). I've also broken out the RI earmarks from messr's Reed, Whitehouse, Langevin and Kennedy and you can download it HERE.

All told, according to the latest info, RI's Congressional delegation has requested $53,625,000, broken down as follows:

* Approximately $41.4 million tabbed for Department of Defense projects
* $2.65 million is tabbed for EPA--particularly wastewater improvement projects--and Parks Service projects
* $2.5 million for economic development projects (broadly defined) with money going to the John H. Chafee Center for International Business, Rhode Island School of Design and URI
* Approximately $7.12 million is going to various projects under the Dep't of Labor, HHS, & Education.

Gathering in the Salon

Justin Katz

If you're a resident of Rhode Island who disagrees with a position and intended action of Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee, you'll find his public chambers blocked. But those who cut a powerful visage, and their sundry attendants, he'll welcome to his manse to foster amicability among our state aristocrats:

Chafee took another step toward amicable relations with the Assembly on Thursday evening, hosting a private cocktail reception for legislative leaders at his home in Warwick.

Chafee spokesman Michael Trainor said about 40 were in attendance, including senior staff for the assembly delegation, members of Chafee's growing Cabinet, and their spouses and wives.

"It was a kind of get acquainted and establish a personal relationship with persons in the Assembly," he said. "From our view, it's time to bring Rhode Island together rather than drive it apart. Unlike the prior administration, we want to collaborate with the Assembly as well as other major constituencies like business and labor."

Of course, cocktails are quite another thing from policy discussion. Those on the guest list may or may not have opportunity to open the gov-elect's mind, but at least they can bask in the glow of rulership.

Teachers, Meetings, Speeches, and Money

Justin Katz

How Central Falls should resolve its education problems, meeting (or not) with the governor-elect, speaking to the Tea Party, and needing dough were the topics when Matt and I spoke last night on the Matt Allen Show. 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.

December 15, 2010

Speaking of Being Rich...

Justin Katz

Did you happen to see this profile of the $250,000 family, in the Washington Post, no less?

Just how flush is a family of four with a $250,000 income? ...

The bottom line: Living in high-tax areas on either coast can leave our $250,000-a-year-family with little margin. Even with an additional $3,000 in investment income, they end up in the red - after taxes, saving for retirement and their children's education and a middle-of-the-road cost of living - in seven of the eight communities in the analysis.

Taxes already take a huge chunk from such households (as from all households on the independent side of the line between beneficiaries and payers), and I'm naturally inclined to rail against that fact. Still, we should be clear about the import of these findings.

The first thing to note is that some percentage of the above-$250,000 group are actually small business owners who process their companies' finances through their own tax filings. They aren't actually living on that amount of money.

Beyond that group, though, rich families live relatively well. They've less stress about paying for education; they've larger homes; they've services to help maintain those homes; they'll actually get to retire; and so on. In short, they're "in the red" only in the sense that they aren't amassing an unused sum of money.

The point, with respect to increased taxes in this income bracket, is that they won't jar loose unproductive resources. Rather, they will require such families to transfer money away from other expenses. Investments in long-term projects (materials, employees, and equipment, for business owners) will be one of the first things to go. Charity will likely lead the list. Consumer goods — the purchase of which creates a long line of jobs — will likely take a larger hit than retirement investment and college saving. Perhaps they'll downgrade their homes and cars, decreasing not only their spending, but also the amount of taxes that governments of various tiers are able to collect.

Nobody should pretend that the richest 2% are living lives of like toil to those of use closer to the median income, but in certain regions of the country, most of them aren't sitting on untapped mounds of cash.

Invitees to Gov-Elect Chafee's Budget Summit

Monique Chartier

List courtesy WPRI's Ted Nesi. The summit takes place this Friday at RI College; Nesi provides schedule and format details here.

John Simmons, Executive Director, Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council

Robert Flanders Jr., Chairman of the Board of Regents

Ray M. Di Pasquale, Commissioner of Higher Education

Elizabeth Roberts, Lieutenant Governor (tentative)

Anne Nolan, President of Crossroads

George Nee, Executive Director, AFL-CIO

Helena Buonanno Foulkes, EVP and CMO at CVS Caremark

Kimberly McDonough, President, Advanced Pharmacy Concepts

Scott Avedisian, Mayor of Warwick

Diane Mederos, Bristol Town Administrator, President of RI League of Cities and Towns

Scott Wolf, Grow Smart RI

Pablo Rodriguez, Assoc. Chair of Community Relationships

Human Nature (and Frank Reality) Will Out

Justin Katz

It's very interesting to see some of the self-deception of Western society's last half-century begin to unravel:

Yes — feminists look away now — most of the girls I talked to are intent on marrying a rich man.

This idea is buoyed by a culture of celebrity that sees attractive women marrying well and then enjoying ­luxurious lifestyles as a result. ­Because of this, matrimony is ­increasingly viewed as an alternative career choice for the ambitious younger generation. ...

... I think most women — if given a truly free choice — would choose to stay at home and look after their children in their infancy.

The trouble is that most families rely on the salaries of both parents, so it's not really an option.

It goes without saying, although it sometimes seems we are expressly forbidden to say it, that having a rich husband would provide that option. When I go to pick up Nancy from school, there are three ­distinct camps of women at the gates: the frazzled working mums like myself, rushing up at the last minute.

Then there are the childminders of those women still at work. Then there are the stay-at-home mothers — and if you imagine the latter group to be tubby drudges in unflattering tracksuits with fuzzy, unkempt hair, think again.

As with much else, socially, we addressed the wrong problem, moving into the modern age. It wasn't that women were stuck in the house doing chores while men went off to exciting careers each day. It was that vestiges of less enlightened (and less affluent) times continued to affect the images that we projected to ourselves.

But we attacked externals, striving to make women just like men in every regard, and now we've got a collapsing marriage culture and incomes deflated by the near doubling of the workforce — with each household expected to have two. And so, a domestic structure that once was available across the economic spectrum now requires a rich man.

Of course, the rich one needn't be the husband, and of course, there remain many paths through life, but had previous generations been a bit more circumspect, pursuing a course of evolution rather than revolution, it's easy to imagine that we'd currently be continuing to progress rather than musing about the possible benefits of regression.

December 14, 2010

Dangerous Initiatives Set to Rear Their Heads

Justin Katz

I'm at the Tiverton School Committee meeting, and three of our General Assembly representatives are reporting on goings on at the State House: Rep. Jay Edwards, Sen. Walter Felag, and Senator Louis DiPalma. Some highlights of interest to Anchor Rising readers:

  • During pension discussion Superintendent Bill Rearick mentioned that the savings on teacher pensions last year are swinging the other way, with an 18% increase, this year, and other municipalities should expect the same.
  • Edwards has heard that binding arbitration for teachers' unions is back on the table, this year.
  • He has also heard that a statewide teacher contract is also making its way toward the legislature.
  • DiPalma noted that the union-heavy healthcare consolidation committee will be putting forth its recommendations in June. (For information about why that's bad see here.
  • Edwards further noted that he believes House Speaker Gordon Fox Majority Leader Nicholas Mattiello to be "conservative" on issues related to teachers' unions.


This is barely related, but I"m squirming in my seat, so I've got to express the thought to somebody. After an administrative presentation of the high school's activities related to New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) accreditation, the committee is discussing all of the factors related to all of the usual priorities of education: academics, civic awareness, and so on. All well and good, but I can't help but wonder what this has to do with 31% proficiency in math and 21% proficiency in math.

Everybody's very animated and interested in the discussion of how to provide a "21st Century Education," but I think the tendency is to skip past the basics.


Per Mr. Edwards's correction in the comment section, I've corrected the last bullet point above. See here for elaboration and video.

Pawlenty:"The moral case for unions...does not apply to public employment."

Marc Comtois

In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty went over familiar ground regarding public employee unions and leads him to conclude:

The moral case for unions—protecting working families from exploitation—does not apply to public employment. Government employees today are among the most protected, well-paid employees in the country. Ironically, public-sector unions have become the exploiters, and working families once again need someone to stand up for them.
Key to his conclusion is his comparison of what was and what is when it comes to the make up of unionized America. It's worth highlighting. First, what was:
When Americans think of organized labor, they might think of images like I saw growing up in a blue-collar meatpacking town: hard hats, work boots, tough conditions and gritty jobs. While I didn't work in the slaughterhouses, I did become a union member when I worked at a grocery store to help put myself through school. I was grateful for the paycheck and proud of the work I did.

The rise of the labor movement in the early 20th century was a triumph for America's working class. In an era of deep economic anxiety, unions stood up for hard-working but vulnerable families, protecting them from physical and economic exploitation.

What is:
Much has changed. The majority of union members today no longer work in construction, manufacturing or "strong back" jobs. They work for government...Since January 2008 the private sector has lost nearly eight million jobs while local, state and federal governments added 590,000.

Federal employees receive an average of $123,049 annually in pay and benefits, twice the average of the private sector. And across the country, at every level of government, the pattern is the same: Unionized public employees are making more money, receiving more generous benefits, and enjoying greater job security than the working families forced to pay for it with ever-higher taxes, deficits and debt.

This is why Franklin Roosevelt thought public employee unions were a non-starter. For his part, Pawlenty explains the politics of how this happened--despite the warnings of FDR--and offers some ideas for what needs to be done to fix it.

Whose Taxes Will Change How

Justin Katz

This Neil Downing article points to an egregious error in the waning year of Governor Carcieri's time in office (emphasis added):

... the amount of Rhode Island income tax withheld from your pay will change because of massive changes to the state income tax law enacted in June. Employers will have to withhold more in tax for some workers, less in tax for others. ...

... the new law lowers the top tax rate to 5.99 percent from 9.9 percent, increases the standard deduction amounts for most taxpayers and eliminates the option to itemize deductions.

As I've explained, before, the central act of the new law was to freeze the flat tax where it already was. Folks who pay attention only a little bit may be lured by the elimination of that 9.9% red mark, but those who take the time to understand the upshot (especially those affected by the change) should realize that what was actually eliminated was a pending decrease in their tax burden.

The second act of the law was to transfer wealth from folks who do those economically active things that create deductions — such as buying local property and spending money on careers and businesses. Downing reports that the changes in paycheck withholding will be "slight," but what's "slight" on an individual basis is massive in aggregate.

Downing also explains the coming increase in TDI taxes and federal withholding amounts. Layer in there the tax increase if U.S. House Democrats foil the tax-cut extensions. Our state and nation could wake up in January 2011 with one pounding hangover.

New England Patriots: School Reform Model

Marc Comtois

Wanna turn a school around? Frederick Hess points out that quick fixes won't work in and of themselves:

When we talk about SIG turnarounds, the four models include things like replacing half the staff, handing control to a charter operator, or "transforming" the school by replacing the principal and embracing instructional reform. All of these have promising elements, but all are likely to disappoint absent a more relentless, ruthless, deep-rooted willingness to create self-sustaining cultures of excellence where mediocrity once ruled.
Hess looks to the NFL--and our very own New England Patriots--as a model:
In the NFL, unlike Major League Baseball, teams are limited in how much they can pay their players. So owner Robert Kraft and Coach Bill Belichick couldn't simply outbid other teams in building their 11-2 team. Instead of chasing players who are stars elsewhere and hoping their skills translate, Belichick has specialized in finding overlooked players who can excel in a particular role. Rather than high draft choices or big-dollar free agents, he has built team after team with cast-offs and low draft picks, and by taking full advantage of the skills that his players have. Thus, the Patriots have won three Super Bowls with a quarterback who was chosen 199th in the NFL draft and lineups studded with players who had been cast aside by other teams, frequently because they were deemed too small or too slow.
How does this translate?
It's not about replacing half the staff with teachers with high value-added scores. That may be a useful jump-start, but nothing more. Sustained success requires building schools that constantly seek and sift talent, bending routines and teaching assignments to fit the strengths of school faculty and the needs of the kids, and transforming culture so that it changes the attitudes of new staff and students before they can change it. Today, I fear that most transformation efforts feel short on all these counts.
Some of the ideas are good, but only as part of a holistic approach. Yes, implementation often relies on dramatically ripping barriers down, but that isn't enough. Real school reform is a long term project that requires constant attention. There is no panacea.

The Dark Tradeoff

Justin Katz

Nicholas Windsor offers an excellent summary of the pro-life position, particularly with regard to the continuing moral urgency to acknowledge and address the horror of abortion (available here, as well):

There are consciences in Europe, it must be stressed, that glow white-hot for justice and strive continuously for this darkest fact of our public life to appear in public debate as clearly as it does across the Atlantic in the United States. For most of our contemporaries, however, this is a matter that impinges little. The effectiveness of determined campaigns of propaganda at the outset to harden consciences, and gradually to enforce a conformism that fears to question what is said to be a settled issue, has worked wonderfully well.

And this enforcement of a new status quo succeeds so well due, surely, to benefits enjoyed as a result—benefits of an order that make acceptable even the killing of innocents, by their protectors, on a scale that freezes the imagination. How much then must depend on its remaining so, remaining beyond question? This is the nub of that ideological word choice. So much else can be chosen in a given life if the option to dispose of unwanted children is dependably available. So many intoxicating freedoms are newly established, if only abortion is never again denied to women and to men.

Windsor notes that, beyond the direct cost to the women who abort their children, is the cost to a society as it tries to "value its own distinctive culture, when it has placed this fearful act at its center" — namely "the wish not to be bound by a pregnancy unless it is fully and freely chosen and which, outside of that parameter, is declared, by fiat, to be null and void."

The travesty of abortion infects Western culture much more thoroughly than as a discrete issue on a slate of controversies and disagreements. It goes right to questions of what is right and who we are as spiritual and corporeal beings.

The Teaching Professionals at Central Falls

Marc Comtois

The ProJo editors got it right in their criticism of the 15% absentee rate of Central Falls High School teachers so far this year, which led to over half of the students receiving at least one "No Grade" on their report cards. Why?

Administrators said they could not grade those students for the first quarter because they did not receive two months of solid teaching.

The problem arose after several teachers took indefinite leaves of absence and administrators were unable to fill all of the positions with highly qualified replacements.

As a result, multiple classrooms were placed in the hands of day-to-day substitute teachers, long-term substitutes or colleagues who tried to cover some classes.

Most of the students (around 400) affected by this teacher absenteeism were enrolled in Spanish or English as a Second Language class, English classes and a reading intervention class. Something seems wrong with that department--according to the ProJo story, four teachers were "absent for a significant portion of the term from Sept. 1 to Nov. 8. Two other teachers also went out on long-term leave..." Weird how it centered around that particular department, but maybe it really is just a strange confluence of coincidental illnesses centered in one department. It's probably happened before.

The teacher absences got the attention of Commissioner Gist and a meeting was held yesterday. Union president Jane Sessums seemed positive after the meeting, though she did say, "Some teachers at the high school have had concerns for some time, but were fearful of expressing them because they are afraid of retaliation.” Or they just didn't show up to work.

The problem with the supposed benefit of union solidarity is that the good workers end up carrying the water for the bad. Worse yet, it's the bad who become the face of the group. It's not just unions, either. Sports teams, businesses and even volunteer organizations (like youth sports leagues) become defined by the bad actors, not the good.

Pressure plays a big part of this. Too often it seems that union leadership is quick to apply pressure to support those who don't really deserve it, which ends up hurting the reputation of the good teachers who do their job or go above and beyond. But the good teachers could change this all if they really wanted to: it is their union. They could apply a little peer pressure to get the bad actors in line for the sake of the whole. Remind them that professionals don't act this way and that their bad actions are tarnishing the profession. For you see, if the public doesn't see some sort of change for the positive it will be left to conclude that this is really the way teachers want it. That they prioritize the benefits they receive for being professionals over the actual work that defines their profession: teaching the kids.

ADDENDUM: A new report (h/t) from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute:

This study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute finds that low-performing public schools—both charter and traditional district schools—are stubbornly resistant to significant change. After identifying more than 2,000 low-performing charter and district schools across ten states, analyst David Stuit tracked them from 2003-04 through 2008-09 to determine how many were turned around, shut down, or remained low-performing. Results were generally dismal. Seventy-two percent of the original low-performing charters remained in operation—and remained low-performing—five years later. So did 80 percent of district schools.
Commenting on the report, Tom Vander Ark explains:
The most important aspect of the political consensus around NCLB was the good school promise, a basic framework for school accountability that was supposed to address chronic failure in a progressively more aggressive fashion until the school is better or closed. It is obviously politically difficult, and sometimes logistically difficult, to close bad schools, but it is very disappointing that state and district leaders continue to allow chronic failure.

This report underscores the difficult trifecta of 2000-2010 edreform, 1) fixing struggling schools is hard, 2) we know how to open good schools, and 3) we should close bad schools and open good schools. The example of trading bad seats for good seats may be Joel Klein’s most important legacy.

Maybe Commissioner Gist should have kept Central Falls closed after all. There's something to be said for a fresh start, no?

Defining the Terms of Economic Development

Justin Katz

Everybody supports economic development, even in a proudly ruralish town like Tiverton, but as I suggest in my column, the details are decisive:

At least in the recent past, it has seemed that Tiverton's policy for economic development has been that it should occur only in places in which businesses struggle to succeed - mostly Stafford and Crandall Road along the eastern border and Main Road in North Tiverton. It's only a mild exaggeration to suggest that Town Council members of the past have been loath to fell a single tree for the benefit of the private sector. Meanwhile, residents in such neighborhoods as Four Corners have arisen in opposition to any attempts to nudge planning and zoning codes a little bit closer to the sweet spot between quaint and flourishing. ...

In this respect, the grocery store symbolizes the error in our very concept of economic development. Councilor Ed Roderick came closest to correcting the error when he noted that the town must "offer something that [businesses] can't get somewhere else." Truth be told, there are really only two things unique to Tiverton: Tivertonians and the town itself. The geography is what it is, and the inclination to protect its rural, coastal New England character is well placed, which leaves only the character of the people. ...

In short, the objective of luring attractive residents to a town comes down to making it a great place to live, which brings us right back to all of those issues in contentious disagreement. Clearly, for one, our schools must be top-notch. A district's threat that a large tax increase is necessary to avoid shuttering a brand new elementary school indicates that the town is already having difficulty funding schools as they are, and Tiverton is currently producing high school classes that are only 31% proficient in math and 21% proficient in science, as measured on statewide NECAP tests. Knowledge-working parents are unlikely to be impressed by such results.

By the way, while I'm posting Tiverton content:

Last night, the Town Council came out of executive session around 11:00 p.m. and voted unanimously to support Town Treasurer Phil DiMattia as he recoups $367,000 from the school department. Apparently, with state/federal aid coming in lower than budgeted at last May's financial town meeting, the schools did exactly as Tiverton Citizens for Change and I explained that they would: They've taken the position that the town is now responsible for every penny that it budgeted, regardless of the fact that it broke out that budget into "state/federal aid" and "from local sources."

Readers may recall that the controversy centered around a potential 22% tax increase. As I explained here and here, that's the outward boundary, should the schools lose all state and federal aid. That's not likely, but unless the municipal government cuts its own budget by an equal amount — and municipal is much more strapped than the school department — every $300,000 will require a 1% tax increase.

December 13, 2010

The Proper Frame of Traditionalist Mind

Justin Katz

Advocates or same-sex marriage do everything they can to paint supporters of traditional marriage as motivated by animus and hatred. They strive to obscure the very basic difference between biological pairs that, by their nature, can create children and those that cannot. It's all too easy, under that fire, to back into a small range of argument that does little to contradict their more outlandish and offensive assertions.

Ron Sider reminds traditionalists — specifically evangelicals, in his case — that we should fight back against such attacks by making them manifestly implausible:

Tragically, because of our own mistakes and sin, we evangelicals have almost no credibility on this topic. We have tolerated genuine hatred of gays; we should have taken the lead in condemning gay bashing but were largely silent; we have neglected to act in gentle love with people among us struggling with their sexual identity; and we have used the gay community as a foil to raise funds for political campaigns. We have made it easy for the media to suggest that the fanatics who carry signs announcing “God hates fags” actually speak for large numbers of evangelicals.

Worst of all, we have failed to deal honestly with the major threat to marriage and the family: heterosexual adultery and divorce. Evangelicals divorce at the same rate as the rest of the population. Many evangelical leaders have failed to speak against cheap divorce because they and their people were getting divorced just like everyone else. And yet we have had the gall to use the tiny (5 percent or less) gay community as a whipping boy that we labeled as the great threat to marriage.

The difficulty, on the latter count, is that the same-sex marriage movement has pushed the front line of the marriage debate away from divorce, because the nature of the couples is logically prior to the appropriate rules of their relationships. Sider is correct, when he writes:

... we should seek to change the divorce laws, especially no-fault divorce. When children are involved, the law should deny no-fault divorce and in other ways make divorce more difficult. This, not gay marriage, is the area of marriage law that affects the vast majority of our children. We should be spending the overwhelming majority of the time we devote to marriage law to changing the law that permits cheap divorce for heterosexuals.

But if society's concept of marriage as a relationship is such that it explicitly excludes the capacity for shared biological children as its sine qua non, then the argument for tightened divorce laws loses much of its punch. SSM presents marriage as an emotional and legal arrangement between two consenting adults; on what grounds does the government disallow them from divorcing? Having discarded the notion that the marriage is written into our biology and deserves support as a cultural institution above government, there would seem to be little basis for forcing unhappy couples to take a broader societal good into consideration as they order their affairs.

Federal Judge: Obamacare "Individual Mandate" = Unconstitutional

Marc Comtois

A Federal Judge in Virginia has ruled that the individual mandate portion of President Obama's health care reform law is unconstitutional. From a note on page 36 of the decision:

If allowed to stand as a tax, the Minimum Essential Coverage Provision would be the only tax in U.S. history to be levied directly on individuals for their failure to affirmatively engage in activity mandated by the government not specifically delineated in the Constitution.
The judge also expects his decision to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The White House has acknowledged that the individual mandate is "not severable" from the rest of the law. In short, without the individual mandate, the health care law as it is constituted can't work.

The Not-So-Approachable Governor

Justin Katz

An email from Terry Gorman, executive director of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, inspired a new category title, on Anchor Rising, when he sent the following email:

Just received a call from Anita, a senior staff person on the Chafee transition team and she related to me that without hearing from the source the Governor elect fully understands RIILE'S position on Gov. Carcieri's Executive order and that the Governor elect had already conducted all the meetings he would with constituents on matters such as these at this time. RIILE put in three phone requests and many requests via Talk Radio for meetings with the Governor elect to explain RIILE'S side of the Illegal Immigration issue to enable Mr. Chafee to at least make an informed decision before rescinding the Executive Order. We thank them for considering our request for a meeting and appreciate the courtesy of a return call. However, RIILE feels that Mr.Chafee has been totally MISINFORMED by the Illegal Alien advocates and like thinking Union officials on his transition team. RIILE fails to see how a rational decision can be made by our State's highest ranking elected official without at least knowing both sides of any issue, especially one that so adversely affects the fragile economy our fine State. This reluctance to weigh both sides of an issue does not bode well for the next four years of governance in Rhode Island.

In like fashion to National Organization for Marriage Rhode Island Director Chris Plante, Mr. Gorman has found that our incoming governor has already granted constituents all of the hearings they're going to get, and he's not even in office, yet. One begins to wonder whether Mr. Chafee is disinclined to open his door to too many folks with whom he disagrees out of fear that they'll be able to determine whether he operates by means of strings or a hand up the back of his shirt.

Rhode Island Once Again Makes the Wrong End of a National Ranking. But This Time, Who Can Blame Us?

Monique Chartier

Between the bad roads and the bad politics, no wonder:

The study says about 30 million Americans admit to driving drunk every year, according to a new federal study, and 10 million say they drove while impaired by illicit drugs.

Remarkably, those numbers are down from about five years ago. Rhode Island was found to have the highest percentage of people driving under the influence of drugs in the nation.

Where Higher Ed Money Comes from and Goes

Justin Katz

It's been a recurring theme, in the news, that Rhode Island's public institutions of higher learning need more money, and those interested in that outcome pick careful examples. Certainly, we all want to invest in thriving campuses, but too few of us wonder where the money goes. Consider:

After two years in collective bargaining negotiations, the University of Rhode Island's part time faculty staff have unionized and created a tentative contract that is set to be officially ratified next week. ...

The new contracts will institute a gradual pay increase based on a system of three levels that increase by approximately $100 per level, capping at $3,861. This pay increase is also set to be retroactive as of this past July, meaning that part-time faculty members, will be able to receive salary increases of $350 for each course they are teaching this fall. In a letter to its members the PTFU says this salary reimbursement will bring Kingston part-time faculty members on par with wages offered at the Providence campus.

The sources for the article are as yet unable to offer a total cost of the contract; it appears that most of the affected employees teach one course per semester or so. Still, in a time of tight budgets and struggling taxpayers, on what grounds does the university offer raises? I'm sure the great majority of recipients are deserving, but the reality is that they've been willing to take the work at their prior pay, and nothing has changed in the equation that has left excess funds in the budget.

This letter by student Joseph Higgins raises similar questions from a very different angle:

Putting the school's money into building a new building for the GLBT members doesn't seem like the right choice when there are so many other things that should be built instead of this building. It's nothing against GLBT students or their lifestyle; it's just that they already have the Rainbow Diversity House on Fraternity Circle and Adams Hall's first floor south wing for the GLBT center. Yes, this campus has a Women's Center, a Multi-Cultural Center and, most recently, the Hillel Building for the Jewish faith, but to spend money on a completely new building just isn't where our school's money should be going. Tuition rates could be raised even higher than they already are with the new Pharmacy Building in the works, a new Chemistry Building being planned, another dorm building replacing the demolished Terrance Apartments, landscaping being done in-between Ranger Hall and Green Hall and a new fitness center that will take the spot of the Roger Williams Center.

Frankly, it ought to be hard for Rhode Islanders to believe tales of financial stress when we hear such testimony. In what other world than the public sector are folks talking about substantial raises and new buildings for narrow special-interest groups?

December 12, 2010

Hot for the Moment

Justin Katz

I was pleased and surprised to discover that I'm on the desirable side of Dan McGowan's latest "Who's hot and who's not in RI politics" list on GoLocalProv, in company of Chafee and Tavares, Steven Constantino, and the DREAM Act.

The reason is our "quiet campaign" to create a full-time job on the site, so I can only imagine that it falls to Anchor Rising's readers and supporters to keep me of the "not hot" list in the event that we don't reach our target.

On that note, I'd point out that — at reader request — we've added options to our "subscribe" button on the left-hand side of the page. The standard subscription is still $7.60 per month, but if you're so inclined, there are higher monthly amounts enabled.

Charlie Hall on a Critical Question Raised During One of the Gov Candidates' Debate

Monique Chartier

The delay in bringing this "coverage" to your attention was engendered entirely by myself and not by the estimable Mr. Hall, whose observations are invariably timely. I somehow missed a batch of his work from last month and this one was too fun important not to highlight.


Courtesy Ocean State Follies

Persuasion by Proxy President

Monique Chartier

Despite a day that was keeping me on the jump Friday, I got to listen to Fred Thompson at the moment when, in his low key way, he was suggesting a more conciliatory way (in contrast with the approach taken by President Obama) that the president could have presented the unemployment-bennies-for-tax-rate-extension compromise legislation.

Such an approach would include a recitation of advantageous points about the bill to be preceeded by the caveat that

This bill is not perfect but...

In retrospect, the only flaw with this advice is that Thompson failed to specify which president should make this case.

Former President Bill Clinton made a surprise appearance Friday afternoon to speak on behalf of President Obama’s tax deal he recently struck with Republicans. The deal extends the Bush tax cuts that affect all household, even the ones that make the most income. ...

Clinton told reporters that he thought the deal was a good one and that there was not anything else out there any better.


There's never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of a partisan," Clinton said. "But I really believe this will be a significant net-plus for the country."

Er, yes. Perhaps next time, however, we can advance to a tableau of President Obama out there solo but with a discreet earpiece to catch Coach Clinton's quiet promptings (and then eventually, out there sans earpiece) so as to preserve the image of the current president being ... well, the current president.

December 11, 2010

If Suicide Isn't Wrong, It Isn't Wrong

Justin Katz

The editors of First Things note a worrisome trend in Oregon (try here if that link doesn't work for you):

In Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal for the elderly and infirm, state officials have been concerned of late with a rising suicide rate among Oregonians who aren't officially considered damaged goods. With the Oregon suicide rate 35 percent higher than the national average, bureaucrats at the state health authority have expressed dismay (but ate, perhaps, also relieved) that suicides of the elderly have been legally redefined so as not drive this horrifying statistic up even further.

Promote "safe sex," and you'll get a youth culture more concerned about the sex than the safe. Promote compassionate allowance of suicide, and you'll find a surprising number of people thinking themselves better off dead.

Indication of a Divide or Superfluity?

Justin Katz

Rich Lowry writes about "a slow-motion social and economic evisceration of a swath of Middle America":

In the 1970s, 73 percent of both the highly and moderately educated were in intact first marriages. That figure plummeted across the board, yet the moderately educated (45 percent in intact first marriages) are now closer to the least-educated (39 percent) than to the highly educated (56 percent).

The number for out-of-wedlock births is starker. From 1982 until today, the percentage of non-marital births among the moderately educated exploded from 13 percent to 44 percent. That figure is close to the least-educated (54 percent) and a vast distance from the highly educated (only 6 percent). Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation compares the dynamic to a carpet unraveling from the bottom, as illegitimacy first took hold among the poor and now works up the income scale.

Much of what Lowry writes is inarguable. That's especially true when it comes to economic mobility: families at the bottom of the scale are more likely to find themselves remaining there generation after generation as the habits of stability — most critically, the concept of insoluble marriage and its intrinsic relation to childbirth — evaporate from the common culture. But a chart that Lowry has posted in the Corner makes me wonder if some of the calamity isn't a shadow consequence of the higher education bubble:

Thanks to the stable marriage around which it is built, my household is pretty close to where the yellow line suggests that we should be, given our college degrees. Here's the thing: I'm a carpenter, part of a new generation entering the trade, many of us with four-year degrees. I was an oddity when I started. In my current company of four, only one lacks a degree. In other words, folks who were previously on the purple and brown lines of the chart aren't necessarily making less money; at least some of them have just transitioned to the yellow line, as college degrees become sufficiently ubiquitous that blue collar employers can begin using them for job screening just as white collar employers have been doing.

Glenn Reynolds yesterday linked to an essay by Richard Vedder that comes to the same place from a different direction:

... approximately 60 percent of the increase in the number of college graduates from 1992 to 2008 worked in jobs that the BLS considers relatively low skilled—occupations where many participants have only high school diplomas and often even less. Only a minority of the increment in our nation's stock of college graduates is filling jobs historically considered as requiring a bachelor's degree or more.

As Reynolds states, the "tuition they’re paying is basically wasted," which brings the analysis around to the reason that tracking with the yellow line hasn't necessarily been a boon for us highly educated laborers. My family is certainly not unique in having been caught so thoroughly in the debt trap that we need college-educated salaries in order to maintain a high-school diploma lifestyle.

College loans are definitely part of the detrimental equation, and so were the the four-plus years spent living away from the parental nest without full-time paying jobs. Throw in the vehicles that we had to buy on credit, upon entering the workforce, because we didn't have those years in our pre-parenthood early twenties of having more income than we had expenses. Then layer in the false expectations that promotion of the economic benefits of college have instilled in soon-to-be-over-educated generations. (Mounting credit card debt is much more tolerable when twenty-five year olds look at the yellow line as a promise.)

I've long thought that history would view the modern debt trap as a more sophisticated indentured servitude, and higher education is a central gear in that machine, with paper and plastic credit as the oil that makes the crank easier to work than it ought to be.

An Insidious Mindset

Justin Katz

So, the Providence Journal editorial board likes ObamaCare. What are you gonna do? A recent unsigned editorial, though, points toward a disturbing underlying premise:

Let us start with one of the provisions most beefed about on the campaign trail but also most necessary — the requirement that everyone buy coverage. Forcing people to obtain insurance is essential for two reasons: One is that it ensures a larger insurance pool to cover the expenses of sick people. Does this mean that the healthy must subsidize the ill? Yes, but that’s how insurance works.

This, in a phrase, is socialized medicine, and there's no difference between this sort of involuntary insurance and compulsory redistribution of resources. Indeed, what redistributive scheme would not be possible to present in terms of "insurance"?

Relatedly, note this double misconception:

Perhaps the most important place to trim waste is in the unhealthy economic incentives that nudge doctors to prescribe more treatments and office visits than are necessary. This is also the hardest to fix, because it means narrowing or shutting down some income streams in a health-care industry that has virtually bought many members of Congress.

The Medicare program and private insurers are the ultimate payers and therefore perfectly placed to move health care away from the wasteful fee-for-service model and toward a results-oriented one.

First of all, Medicare bureaucrats and insurance providers are not the "ultimate payers." They are middle-men between the people you pay for healthcare and people who deliver it. The ultimate payers are policy holders and taxpayers. They are perfectly positioned to trim waste from the system by deciding whether they're willing to pay for it.

That suggestion leads to the second of all: It is hardly obvious that the players in the healthcare industry who neither receive the care nor deliver it have any incentive to lower costs in a way that maintains services. Their incentive is to extract more money from the payers and procure lower prices from the providers. Take more money from the payers, and they're going to seek more services to make the higher price worthwhile; give less money to the providers, and they're going to seek ways to tack more services on to their bills.

December 10, 2010

More Bias on Display

Justin Katz

We're well past the point at which it became fruitless to care, but it's fascinating to watch a mainstream media "fact check" feature contort itself to justify the bias that we all know to exist in the halls of Big Journalism. One can almost see the erased editorial marks reading, "this organization couldn't possibly say anything 'false'," in a recent PolitiFact concerning Steven Brown of the ACLU."

The statement being addressed is that "over half of the foreign-born population in Rhode Island is white," and the findings were as follows:

Brown directed us to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, 2006-2008, which includes three-year estimates of foreign-born populations in the United States. Specifically, he said he was citing the figures showing that 45.2 percent of foreign-born Rhode Islanders are white.

That's not more than half. ...

Drawing from data in the 2006-2008 survey, the census said that 32 percent of foreign-born people, about one third, are white alone, not Hispanic or Latino. ...

A one-year report from 2009 showed that 30 percent of Rhode Island respondents identified themselves as "white alone, not Hispanic or Latino."

So, judged by the statistic that Brown incorrectly thought he should be using, his statement was only false by a little; judged by the appropriate statistic, Brown's statement was false by a lot. On what grounds did PolitiFact give him a "half true"? The bias, here, needn't have been as overt as a decision to figure out how to preserve the ACLU's shine, but belief in that shine helped Mr. Brown escape the public acknowledgment that something that he said was so misleading as to be false.

Taking Up the Problem

Justin Katz

Here's my speech to the RI Tea Party meeting, on Wednesday:

The speech is only incidentally a sales pitch, but it's worth tagging on the reminder that you can email or call (401-835-7156) me to pledge financial support — as subscriptions, donations, or advertising — for 2011, helping to create a full-time job doing what we do, addressing the problems that I raised on Wednesday night.

December 9, 2010

The Classical Nihilist

Justin Katz

David Goldman captures something well in modern society, within the setting of Richard Wagner's operas:

Unlike Flaubert or Tolstoy, Wagner flatters his audience with the conceit that their libidinous impulses resonate with the Will of the World, and that their petty passions have the same cosmic significance as Isolde's or Kundry's.

That was the debut of the culture of death. What made Wagner his century's most influential artist was not merely that he portrayed as inevitable and even desirable the fall of the old order but that through his music he turned the plunge into the abyss into an intimate, existential experience—a moment of unbounded bliss, a redemptive sacrifice that restores meaning to the alienated lives of the orphans of traditional society. On the ruins of the old religion of throne and altar he built a new religion of impulse: Brunnhilde becomes Siegfried's co-redemptrix in Wagner's heretical Christianity.

Music also provides an excellent context in which to discuss a fundamental problem with the attitude:

In other words, Wagner's aesthetic purpose is at war with his methods. Once we are conditioned to hear music as a succession of moments rather than as a journey to a goal, we lose the capacity for retrospective reinterpretation, for such reinterpretation presumes a set of expectations conditioned by classical form in the first place. Despite his dependence on classical methods, Wagner's new temporal aesthetic weakened the capacity of later musical audiences to hear classical music.

In other words, not only is the work internally incoherent, philosophically, but it spurs regression and squanders the blessings that cultural progress have secured.

Immigrants and Bake Sales

Justin Katz

Last night, Matt and Monique talked immigration and bake sales on the Matt Allen Show. 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.

Doreen Debuts as Representative Costa

Justin Katz

Fresh from orientation at the General Assembly, State Representative Doreen Costa (R, Exeter, North Kingstown) told the crowd of about 100 people attending last night's RI Tea Party Strategy meeting about her day:

Of particular note, Costa mentioned that the equipment is in place and almost final to post the results of every vote of the General Assembly on the legislature's Web site within minutes of its being tallied, including who voted how. Anybody who's ever tried to sort through the legislative journals to give legislators credit or blame will appreciate not having to do so anymore.

One interesting take on a social issue: Costa doesn't think passage of same-sex marriage legislation is likely and that raising it would be a distraction from the critical problems of the state. She went so far as to suggest that, if Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee decides to push the issue, it would be "political suicide."

Costa also announced that she'd declined the General Assembly's healthcare benefit (and, presumably, the waiver payments available for those who don't take it). The handful of representatives who were doing the same, as of last April included Roberto DaSilva, John Edwards, Christopher Fierro (since knocked out in the primary), Scott Guthrie, Joy Hearn, Robert Jacquard, Peter Kilmartin (now attorney general), Michael Marcello, Rene Menard, and Patricia Serpa, with Frank Maher as the lone senator.

December 8, 2010

Update on the General Assembly's Staff Budget

Justin Katz

In response to my post about Democrat RI House Speaker Gordon Fox's reshuffling of General Assembly staff, a legislator whom I'd count among the good guys emails a mitigating consideration:

I see the budget is projected to increase by $1.6 million over last year. However, I also understand that the re-districting process is slated to cost $1.5 million so most of that increase is for a once a decade thing.

He does, however, wonder why last year's actual expenditure was lower than was projected and why this years can't be the same. "Not to mention why we have 300 employees at the State House in the first place."

Your Kids' Diet, Their Business?

Justin Katz

The fat cats in Washington will soon be telling your children what they can and cannot purchase to eat in school. The U.S. government will also be regulating what sorts of treats school-related organizations can provide during fundraisers and luring more children to after-school meals, making it even easier for busy parents to ignore the critical activity of families' taking care of themselves and spending time together.

More children would eat lunches and dinners at school under legislation passed Thursday by the House and sent to the president, part of first lady Michelle Obama's campaign to end childhood hunger and fight childhood obesity.

The $4.5 billion bill approved by the House 264-157 would also try to cut down on greasy foods and extra calories by giving the government power to decide what kinds of foods may be sold in vending machines and lunch lines. The bill could even limit frequent school bake sales and fundraisers that give kids extra chances to eat brownies and pizza.

There's been some debate over whether the bake sale ban actually exists, but the language seems pretty clear that, even if the feds don't swoop in to snatch away those Rice Krispie Treats, schools will self-regulate to avoid the eye of Sauron:

The knot-hole exemption that might keep bake sales alive is found in Section 208 of the bill, which says there are "special exemptions for school-sponsored fundraisers (other than fundraising through vending machines, school stores, snack bars, a la carte sales, and any other exclusions determined by the Secretary), if the fundraisers are approved by the school and are infrequent within the school."

Bake sales are front-and-center, probably because of their domestic feel, but consider the scope of foods and events that Big Brother might deem unhealthy: hot dogs at sporting events, pizza at movie nights, spaghetti and meatballs at dinner theaters, bacon and sausage at special breakfasts. And the implications are broader than that (from the first link, above):

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the measure gives USDA the chance to make significant changes to school lunch programs for the first time in more than 30 years.

"Our national security, economic competitiveness and health and wellness of our children will improve as a result of the action Congress took today," Vilsack said.

By this criterion, anything that would move our children closer to the image of the Ideal Human would be within the government's purview. Soon, we'll be hearing about the physical and mental health benefits of properly executed marches.

It occurs to me that the newspapers have been full, lately of stories about anti-bullying initiatives, with a particular emphasis on homosexual students. I bring that up, in this context, because a frequent attack on social conservatives is that they create a a hostile environment for those who deviate from their traditional moral code. (I don't agree, but it's a common assertion.) Curious that the same allegations aren't levied against government do-gooders who target children who deviate from their dietary code.

Preparing the Tea

Justin Katz

Like Anchor Rising, the Rhode Island Tea Party is beginning to prepare folks for the two-year build-up to the next election. Part of the motivation is, of course, more immediate, because there are going to be plenty of battles to fight at the local, state, and national levels in the interim.

With that in view, I'll be speaking at the Tea Party's strategy meeting, tonight at the Quonset O Club. If you can, please attend. Across the nation, it's critical that emerging voices not simmer down in response to the latest election results (not the least because the winning political party must be watched just as closely as its opposition). That's exponentially more important in Rhode Island, which didn't even have the boon of political change.

December 7, 2010

Here's What You Should Believe, Today

Justin Katz

Well, look at that: Anchor Rising made GoLocalProv's list of "opinion makers."

Anchor Rising is the conservative voice in the blog world in RI. Led by Justin Katz, it is always driving the agenda and one of the first in the market to create a destination for conservatives to share their views.

By the way, I've been so busy, this week, that I've neglected to remind you that we're trying to create a full-time position within Anchor Rising — which would not only be a boon to the Rhode Island Right and an opportunity in the "dream come true" spectrum for one lucky blogger, but would also be somewhat unprecedented, especially in our tiny state. As the weeks move along, I'm increasingly convinced that it is possible to find the necessary funding. Please email or call (401-835-7156) me to pledge financial support — as subscriptions, donations, or advertising — for 2011.

Keep an Eye on This, Rhode Island

Justin Katz

I've argued again and again, to anybody who would listen, that bond issues on Rhode Island's ballots are part of a scam whereby the local government spends the money that we've allocated to it on non-essentials and then promotes that which it has left undone as evidence of the dire need for more revenue. Anybody who's slipped into similar pitfalls will understand that this use of debt is reckless. It obligates the user to layer payments for current expenditures into future budgets.

Consider (emphasis added):

"We are on a downward trend," Transportation Director Michael Lewis said, with revenues for both his agency and the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority squeezed by the reliance of both on the state gasoline tax. Revenue from that tax is declining as people drive less and buy more efficient cars.

Meanwhile, the cost of debt service to pay for past borrowing for highway projects is driving other programs out of the limited DOT budget, Lewis said.

What's the solution? One suspects that the gang that Rhode Islanders continues to elect to office will begin by seeking additional debt. If some hint of sanity slips into their calculations, perhaps they'll turn to current, rather than future, taxpayers. Either of these approaches will only drive down our economy and drive out our productive class.

The problem is the spending that prevents budget dollars from getting to government essentials in the first place. The solution is, therefore, to slash those expenditures and then ask voters if they'd like to float bonds to cover sweetheart deals and bureaucratic nonsense.

The Methods of a Mad Nation

Justin Katz

David Samuels' insightful commentary addressing a day at the United Nations — the day President Obama and Ahmadinejad of Iran spoke — is definitely worth a read:

This odd fusion of religious dogma with the rhetoric of the Frankfurt School is characteristic of Ahmadinejad's speeches to Western audiences. The historical dialectic as he understands it is shaped by "the widespread clash of the egoist with the divine values" that are, apparently, incarnate in himself. His goal here is to undermine the legitimacy of the global institutions that falsely "promise to bring about peace, security, and the realization of human rights" - promises that he spits at daily in the name of God, truth, justice, fairness, national self-determination, the people of Palestine and Iraq, and whatever else comes to mind.

The point of his polymorphous approach is not to present a coherent argument for his faith or foreign policy but rather to fracture the legitimacy of whatever language might be used to oppose Iran's development of nuclear weapons. He deploys a counterlanguage that aims to cancel out the claims that might be posed by the more familiar language of morality and human rights.

Of course the main purpose of Ahmadinejad's discourse is to inspire fear. His counterlanguage is simply a tool to heighten the disorientation that the listener feels in the presence of a maniac.

Most folks, upon a little reflection, will be able to bring up an instance from life experience of sudden revelation that somebody with whom one has come into contact is simply not playing by the same rules of communication. The person's use of language is not to communicate an idea, but to manipulate. There's a spectrum, here; the best salesperson, after all, will believe in the product, and the best liar will believe in the lie. If there's manipulation, in those cases, it's first and foremost of the self.

Those with wholly indefensible intentions fundamentally cannot allow language to beget clarity. Rather, they must establish that they are operating by different principles and rely on relativism to prevent their opposition from asserting conflicting beliefs nonetheless.

We cannot win a logical argument with the likes of Iran's leaders, because they will not acknowledge a common intellectual language. For the same reason, we cannot really negotiate with them without the plausible and proximate backing of action beyond language, whether economic or military.

Positions: One Per Resident

Justin Katz

My column this week takes up a minor local controversy over residents' holding multiple town positions, in light of the relevance to local politics to larger political battles:

The potential for conflicts of interest and corruption is remote between the school district and oyster farming; it is less so between those who draft the school and municipal budgets and a committee addressing the method by which those budgets are approved. However obscure these specific instances may be, the principle that transforms minor town hall expectorations into webs of state and national intrigue is easy to see: The people invest every office, council, committee, board, panel, and subcommittee with a certain amount of its collective power. Factions inevitably labor to collect enough of them to achieve their ends, and the competition can, itself, be healthy...provided they must find enough politically palatable members that each need only hold one government position at a time.

December 6, 2010

Glory Can Be Reclaimed

Justin Katz

First Things Interim Editor James Nuechterlein cautions American conservatives against undue pessimism:

As [First Things founder] Fr. [Richard] Neuhaus never tired of reminding us, the first thing to be said about public life is that public life is not the first thing.

Which suggests that we should be as wary of dystopian despair as we are of utopian enthusiasm. Politics provides neither final victories nor final defeats. Conservatives need no instruction in the dangers of inordinate optimism, but they might need some help with its opposite. The notion, widespread on the right, of an America irredeemably alienated from its founding principles and but a half step removed from abject capitulation to collectivist schemes has lost touch with where we are and with conservatism's own best tradition of seeing things whole.

Political conservatives who have not cut themselves off from Burkean sobriety will know better than to give in to the fantasy that all is lost or that the apocalypse looms just beyond the horizon. They might even, if they attend to the historical record, come to understand that it is liberals who have more to despair of than they do. But perhaps it is unrealistic to imagine that conservatives could so uncharacteristically succumb to hope.

It may be difficult to believe, from where we now stand, but the same is true even within Rhode Island. Human society is a long-term project, and whichever way the momentum happens to be heading during a particular era, it is never fruitless to tug the rope in the right direction.

An Indication of the View from the Top

Justin Katz

Anybody who wonders what lesson the General Assembly's Democrats took from the last election need only read this:

"In our effort to achieve savings, we have worked diligently to manage the legislative department within the enacted budget levels without seriously impacting day-to-day operations," wrote [House Speaker Gordon] Fox in a cover letter that also spelled out his bid to increase the part-time legislature's budget from $38.7 million this year, with 299 staffers, to $40.3 million in the new budget year that begins on July 1, 2011, with the same number of employees.

In dollars alone, this would mark a 20-percent increase — $6.8 million — over the $33.5 million the General Assembly actually spent in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2009, according the budget filing.

Most of the proposed increase over the three-year span is attributed to "salary/wages and benefits."

Those paragraphs come at the end of an article about Fox's sweeping of some political opposition out of the General Assembly's paid staff. Clearly, the Speaker took the election as evidence that his backers have a lock on the state. I suspect that the next two years will show us the repercussions when that's the case.


See here for a mitigating consideration. Much of the increase in the budget might be attributable to a required redistricting expense.

America, the Below Average

Justin Katz

Amanda Ripley considers the results when one compares high-end test scores in math:

We've known for some time how this story ends nationwide: only 6 percent of U.S. students perform at the advanced-proficiency level in math, a share that lags behind kids in some 30 other countries, from the United Kingdom to Taiwan. But what happens when we break down the results? Do any individual U.S. states wind up near the top?

Incredibly, no. Even if we treat each state as its own country, not a single one makes it into the top dozen contenders on the list. The best performer is Massachusetts, ringing in at No. 17. Minnesota also makes it into the upper-middle tier, followed by Vermont, New Jersey, and Washington. And down it goes from there, all the way to Mississippi, whose students—by this measure at least—might as well be attending school in Thailand or Serbia.

One intention of researcher Eric Hanushek was to determine the validity of the diversity excuse: whether America's diversity explains its poor results, on average, because our best and brightest have a much broader spectrum holding down comparisons with other nations. Sadly, even our most privileged students don't do very well. I'd argue, as the article mentions, that American education is far too mired in a "no child left behind" mentality that places the focus on bringing up the bottom, with no provision for the brightest students to reach their own potential. (Did somebody say, "school choice"?)

Even so, Massachusetts proves that, while Americans can't hope to match Singapore, Japan and Chinese Taipei are at least within reach:

Is it because Massachusetts is so white? Or so immigrant-free? Or so rich? Not quite. Massachusetts is indeed slightly whiter and slightly better-off than the U.S. average. But in the late 1990s, it nonetheless lagged behind similar states—such as Connecticut and Maine—in nationwide tests of fourth- and eighth-graders. It was only after a decade of educational reforms that Massachusetts began to rank first in the nation.

What did Massachusetts do? Well, nothing that many countries (and industries) didn't do a long time ago. For example, Massachusetts made it harder to become a teacher, requiring newcomers to pass a basic literacy test before entering the classroom. (In the first year, more than a third of the new teachers failed the test.) The state also required students to pass a test before graduating from high school—a notion so heretical that it led to protests in which students burned state superintendent David Driscoll in effigy. To help tutor the kids who failed, the state moved money around to the places where it was needed most. "We had a system of standards and held people to it—adults and students," Driscoll says.

Rhode Island parents with children in the public school system should come down like a ton of bricks on Governor-elect Lincoln Chafee if he attempts to roll back Education Commissioner Deborah Gist's efforts in that direction. Just go ahead use an interactive tool that accompanies the article to compare Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Pick RI first and then be prepared to gasp upon bringing up the results for MA.

When it comes to math, our little state is in the league of Alabama and, internationally, Turkey. Only an electorate dominated by the constituencies to blame for those results would be content to let them continue for a single additional year.

December 5, 2010

More of the Same (Documents)? WikiLeaks Quizzical Counter-Attack

Monique Chartier

In the wake of its most recent release of US classified documents, WikiLeaks lost its domain name (though the website is still accessible via its IP address), Amazon kicked it off their cloud servicer and WikiLeaks lost a cash flow source when Paypal discontinued its account. Meanwhile, Sweden's highest court cleared the way for the issuance of an international arrest warrant for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange on unrelated assault charges.

In response to this tightening of the perimeter around himself and his website, Mr. Assange has reminded everyone of his "insurance" file of additional documents, available for download since July and only requiring a password to unlock and purportedly trigger

a new deluge of state and commercial secrets. ...

Other documents that Assange is confirmed to possess include an aerial video of a U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan that killed civilians, BP files and Bank of America documents.

Mr. Assange reconfirmed this week that he would provide the password to unlock this (additional) Pandora's file in the event anything untoward happens either to the website or to himself.

Certainly, it's understandable for someone in his position to prepare a booby trap defense. And, naturally, he's going to build it out of the materials that he has on hand.

But that is also the obvious weakness of the trap. Are we truly to believe that these "insurance" documents, terrible as they may be, would not have been released in due course, anyway, by the anarchistic, narcissistic Mr. Assange? Isn't it a somewhat ineffectual defense to threaten someone with the cudgel that you've been hitting them with all along?

December 4, 2010

Health and Wealth

Justin Katz

This is very neat; an animated chart of global health and wealth over two hundred years.

The discouraging aspect is the continued struggle within Africa to advance. On a different note, Hans Rosling breaks some nations into regions to illustrate differences; it'd be interesting to see a similar effort covering the individual states of the U.S.A. over the history of the nation.

Rhode Island Republican Assembly: Sixth Annual Christmas Dinner Party

Community Crier

The RHODE ISLAND REPUBLICAN ASSEMBLY cordially invites all of our fellow RI Conservatives (you don't have to be a Republican to enjoy it!) and their family members to attend our SIXTH ANNUAL CHRISTMAS DINNER PARTY, which will be held on SATURDAY, DECEMBER 18th, 2010, at the R.I. Shriners Imperial Room, at One Rhodes Place, in Cranston, RI 02905.

Please join us for a "family friendly" evening of fun, great food and drink, live musical entertainment, award presentations, and special guests, at the biggest and best local GOP party this holiday season! Hors d'heuvres and cocktails will be available from 6:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M., and a great buffet-style dinner beginning at 7:00 P.M., with the festivities continuing for the rest of the night. Live musical entertainment will be provided by the band "Wing It," and there will be a cash bar available throughout the evening.

An RSVP is required for dinner. Tickets are only $35.00 PER PERSON and only $10.00 for Children 10 & under. Tables of eight are available for $280.00. The great buffet features chicken montello and baked stuffed sole, along with salad, roasted potatoes, other vegetables, and chocolate cake. The menu for Children 10 & under features chicken fingers and french fries. Special dietary needs (vegetarian, diabetic, kosher, etc.) can be accommodated with advance notice — just include a note with your payment.

To REGISTER BY MAIL, please send your ticket request ASAP along with your check payable to "Rhode Island Republican Assembly" to: RIRA, 19 LAKESIDE DRIVE, Smithfield, RI 02917. You can also quickly and securely REGISTER & PAY ONLINE by credit card or e-check directly through the RIRA web site at or (401) 487-2514 or NFRA Northeast Region Vice President Will Ricci at Seating is limited. For planning purposes, we must receive your RSVP by December 8th.

We look forward to seeing you at the party on Saturday, December 18th!

Conservatively Yours,

Raymond T. McKay
President, RIRA

December 3, 2010

"Body of Proof" Flips Paiva-Weed on tax credits

Marc Comtois

The upcoming, filmed in Rhode Island, ABC show Body of Proof (starring Dana Delaney and Jeri Ryan) was feted at the State House today. Both Delaney and Ryan extolled the virtues of the Ocean State while executive producer Matt Gross explained that it was the tax credits that brought the production to Rhode Island:

"Having produced ten feature films and 200 hours of television all over the United States and out of the country, I can tell you this has been my best experience to date," said executive producer Matt Gross. "The state supports the needs of production like no other I have ever been to."

Gross credited the film and television production tax incentive -- which provides a 25 percent transferable credit for all related spending in Rhode Island -- with drawing the project to Rhode Island.

According to the ProJo report, "The tax breaks cost the state nearly $10.1 million in fiscal year 2009, for example, according to the state Budget Office." Of course, that's "cost the state" insofar as you accept the faulty premise that the production would have come to RI without the tax incentive in the first place! In reality, the filming has generated both revenue and a convert:
The production has generated more than $30 million of revenue in Rhode Island and has led to the creation of about 170 (temporary) full-time jobs, said State senate president Teresa Paiva Weed...."I was one of the skeptics when the film tax credits came out ... but have come ... to be a real believer because we now know that it works," said Paiva Weed. "A recent study showed that the film tax credit generates $8 for every $1 of investment from our state. And I don't think there's a better investment that also builds on our tourism industry."
Hm. I guess the proof was in the "Body." (Sorry, couldn't resist). Too bad our political readers can't extrapolate from here and realize what would happen if you made broad-based, business friendly tax incentives instead of just ones that appeal to this or that niche.

But What About the Other Campaign Promises of Gov-Elect Chafee?

Monique Chartier

Governor-Elect Chafee has declined to reconsider his decision to rescind Governor Carcieri's Executive Order 08-01 (pdf) on the grounds that he cannot back away from a promise that he made during the campaign. After looking over some of Mr. Chafee's other campaign promises, I'm excited to hear this - at least, his grounds for doing so. H/T Patrick for picking up on this; in a comment thread that I can no longer find the comment thread under Justin's post "Chafee's Aimin' to Give It", he had wisely asked,

So why does Chafee have to keep some campaign promises and not others?

Okay, here we go. Quoting directly from the "Chafee for Governor" website.

First: the state must control government spending and be more efficient.

* * *

I will be a partner with our mayors and town managers as we work together with the General Assembly, to repeal many of the costly state mandates on cities and towns. We cannot reduce state aid to our local communities without reforming these mandates.

* * *

Third: I want to generate new state revenue from economic growth, not by raising taxes and fees.

* * *

Make no mistake, I will oppose any changes to our taxes without first reforming our spending, particularly the mandates.

Admirable fiscal goals and a fine set of promises - certainly as worthy of keeping as the one that has been the animated topic of headlines and talk shows for the last couple of weeks.

Questions about the EDC's Loan to Trainor

Marc Comtois

I note a couple things from the ProJo story about Chafee spokesman Michael Trainor's defaulted loan from the RI EDC.

1) Trainor and his partners approached the RHODE ISLAND EDC for a loan for a business based in CONNECTICUT.

2) The business plan centered on the purchase of three companies in the south that would make hurricane shutters, which would be then distributed in the Northeast. Got that: manufacturing jobs in the south, sales jobs in the Northeast...out of Connecticut.

Then the company went bankrupt and Trainor and his partners still owe the EDC around $250k.

In the meantime, we heard Trainor, acting as Chafee's mouthpiece, being critical of the deal that the same EDC gave to Curt Shilling's 38 Studios. Hypocrisy? Not according to Trainor:

“The state handed him $75 million in loan guarantees without any personal obligation,” Trainor said. “I’ve had to place myself in bankruptcy.”
That may be so, though the EDC seems to challenge Trainor on this a bit and doesn't seem to expect payback any time soon. That's a wait-and-see.

I know businesses fail, especially lately, and I'm certainly not criticizing entrepreneurship. Obviously, the scale of the Trainor and 38 Studios deals are much different (millions vs. thousands), but at least 38 Studios is actually coming to RHODE ISLAND and hiring RHODE ISLANDERS.

So, given some of the facts surrounding Trainor's company and the EDC loan, I've got some genuine questions. 1) How often do non-RI companies get RI EDC loans without showing they are going to employ--or even be based in--the state? (Was that indeed the case in this deal or were there promises of RI-based sales staff or the like?). 2) Is just being a Rhode Islander (who may know the right people) good enough to get a loan? Basically, I'm not sure we've really gotten the whole story of how the EDC operates.

When Marketing Isn't a High Priority

Justin Katz

A familiar theme pops up all over the place, if you're looking for it. Consider the advice of consultants that the tourism division of the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) hired to help Rhode Island with its efforts in that area:

The consultants learned that 70 percent of the state's visitors come from just five states — Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. However, of 1,100 people they surveyed, respondents were more likely to associate destination themes like "charming, quiet, peaceful, relaxing and friendly" with other states that compete for the same visitors.

Rhode Island may be losing visitors to places like Vermont and Maine, the consultants said, because other states spend far more to promote their own tourist attractions than Rhode Island does.

With a tourism budget of $720,000 annually, Rhode Island spends less than 10 percent of what the average state spends promoting tourism, says Mark G. Brodeur, director of the state's tourism division. That average, he says, is $11 million.

I'm not convinced that public resources are best spent on marketing campaigns, and I'd point out that Rhode Island has only 17% of the population of the average state. The reality is, however, that even if we adjust the perspective to say that Rhode Island should be spending twice as much (rather than ten times as much) on tourism, the state already taxes its residents too vigorously. We cannot fund such things as tourism marketing, because we're spending too much money on other things — like labor costs, giveaways, and the support of public corruption.

As with the higher education crowd, it's all well and good for economic development advocates to ask for more money, but we really need them to be making the case that they deserve the money more than other recipients of public largess.

Land and Money

Justin Katz

Last month, Marc noted that the Providence Journal editors' article pointing out that some relatively conservative states lead the nation in per-capita stimulus funding conveniently sliced the data. As Marc showed, the top 10 states by dollar amount were not all that surprising. As he also showed, funding per square mile shifted the list to mainly blue (and small) states.

A recent letter to the editor by Ernie Rabideau, of Bristol, makes the same point from another direction:

Note that five of the top seven by low population match five of the top seven by stimulus funding per capita, including all of the top four. If you further consider states with the lowest population densities, six of the top seven are matches with the top funding recipients per capita. This is because an equivalent bridge, road or utility system in Alaska or Montana costs more per capita than one in say, California, because of its cost being divided by a much lower number of people.

As an extreme example, a construction expenditure in Wyoming actually costs over 68 times more per capita than the same one in California. Sure, fewer people may need fewer roads and bridges, but roads in big sparsely populated states must be longer to connect population centers, and basic construction costs in cold and/or mountainous locations are generally higher than in warm flat ones. I suppose if we want to balance per- capita spending by state, we don’t have to connect the cities and towns in the rural west, or Vermont, with safe roads and bridges; but there are many benefits to our entire country when we do.

December 2, 2010

A Foreseeable Consequence for Health Insurance Consumers

Justin Katz

Remember when those of us who opposed ObamaCare were insisting that the law would increase costs and result in fewer options and others, including members of the Service Employees International Union were getting downright violent in support of the law? We were right, and they were working to their own detriment:

Late last month, the Service Employees International Union informed dues-paying members of its behemoth 1199 affiliate in New York that it was dropping its health care coverage for children. That's right. A radical leftist union, not an evil Republican corporation, is abandoning the young ‘uns to cut costs.

More than 30,000 low-wage families will be affected, according to The Wall Street Journal. Who's to blame? SEIU 1199 benefits manager Mitra Behroozi singled out oppressive new state and federal regulations, including the much-ballyhooed Obamacare rule forcing insurers to cover dependents well into their 20s.

Megan McArdle layers on some context, but this response to a perfectly foreseeable consequence of legislation that the union itself was prominent in promoting does have relate interestingly to the exemptions and waivers that we keep hearing about.

How Are Union Members Like Mushrooms?

Justin Katz

National Education Association of Rhode Island President Larry Purtill has sent a message to members of his union:

Despite these results, I knew that those who disagree with our vision and mission would not stop their attacks. What I did not suspect was the ferocity that those attacks might take. On the air, outrageous comments have been made about staff and our organization and certain talk shows have fueled the fire with over-the-top remarks. The facts are these: UniServ Director John Leidecker has been charged with a misdemeanor relating to emails. The specifics of the charge are still unclear, and he will be obtaining his own legal counsel to represent him in this matter. No other employee or leader of the organization was involved in the alleged activity, and John is continuing to work while waiting for resolution of this issue.

Those who wish to know just how unclear the charges against Liedecker are can get exact quotations from some of the evidence on (see here and here.

A positive outcome from this controversy would be an increase in the number of teachers who come to see Liedecker's behavior not as some aberration, but as a perfect fit for the pattern of practices in which their union's leaders engage. Liedecker, along with his associate, Pat Crowley and others, is a familiar face at every hostile union event. He was even one of two NEA agitators to attend a speech by Providence Journal editor/columnist Ed Achorn at the Barrington library a while back; curiously, he left shortly after I began liveblogging

This — not some antipathy toward teachers or their profession — is why many of us take such a sour view of education unions.

Speaker-elect Boehner Helps the Ladies

Marc Comtois

From Andrew Malcolm:

For some reason it took a male Speaker of the House to accomplish this:

The nearly six dozen female members of the incoming House of Representatives will have a new restroom just as close to the chamber's floor as their male colleagues. A sometimes significant comfort, given legislators' propensity to blather....Until now female members have had to traipse much farther than male colleagues to find restroom facilities, even during these past four years of leadership under the country's first female speaker.

Methinks part of Boehner's sensitivity to this is that he's married with two daughters.

Toward Changing the Conversation in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Last night, Matt and I discussed the DREAM Act, NEA dirty politics, and Anchor Rising's ability to change the political conversation on the Matt Allen Show. 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.

Spin, Not Denial: Walsh on the Leidecker Charge

Monique Chartier

Bob Walsh, Executive Director of the NEA RI, whom we all wish a speedy recovery from his procedure today, called in to the WPRO Dan Yorke Show yesterday morning. After clarifying that his "medical leave" involved a previously scheduled surgery and not a ploy to distract from the NEA's travails, he went on to address the arrest of NEA RI Assistant Executive Director John Leidecker.

I can't say too much about the incident, so to speak, other than I have great faith that John Leidecker on my staff [edit - or is that "and my staff"?] will be fully exonerated and this at best would be would be in the sophomoric prank category, not anything to do with communicating fraudulent information to voters. Most people in Representative Gablinske's position laugh such things off. I mean, if I send you an e-mail, Dan, and said I was corresponding from Dan Yorke with a different name, you would probably laugh or be mildly annoyed. Instead, Representative Gablinske sends State Police officers to our office to pick up Mr. Leidecker's computer, which seemed to be a bit excessive, but they're just doing their job. ...

But this will have its day in court. I have great faith that this matter will be disposed of and seen as frivolous on Representative Gablinske's part.

What's interesting here is that, rather than issuing a blanket denial or - more realistic - aver that he knows nothing about this matter, the Executive Director of the NEA RI, at four distinct points, attempts to play down or minimize the alleged activity.

sophomoric prank


a bit excessive


It appears that we are past the question of culpability and on to damage control.

Twice-Paid Sports and Free Tax Collectors

Justin Katz

Yes, of course there's a big difference between taxation and fundraising, but this quotation, from an article about Rhode Island residents' having to raise money to keep public school sports going illustrates where poor management and skewed priorities are leading school districts:

All the fundraising can be exhausting. "It's like a second job for everyone that's involved," said [President Paul] Shatraw of the Northmen Athletic Club, a conglomerate of the individual booster clubs in North Smithfield.

In the opinion of Joanne Forti, a Northmen mother of triplets who helped organize the golf ball drop and the repacking of all those golf balls into egg cartons in numerical order, "It's very hard raising this much money."

We're not talking a few hundred dollars per team for new uniforms. The North Smithfield group is looking for $110,000 to keep the program going, and it's not as if the district has cut its budget to shift more of the burden to voluntary activities. Like school systems across Rhode Island and the United States, it's just promised away so much additional money to adult employees year after year and allowed such a rigid, unionized culture to seep into the profession that services that once were considered part of the educational and community-building mission of public schools no longer fit in the budget.

Once again, important things that make people willing to pay their taxes are front and center among cuts, because those who plan budgets expect that they'll be paid for somehow.

December 1, 2010

The Concern About Marriage's Future

Justin Katz

A comment that Mangeek left to a recent post on marriage and polygamy merits thought and response:

I'm having a really hard time seeing what's so bad about polygamy that it needs to be prohibited. I'm guessing that even if gay marriage and polygamy were allowed, the vast majority of people will still choose the 'standard configuration' we're all familiar with.

I'd rephrase his guess: The majority of people may continue to incline toward opposite-sex pairs, at least while the cultural echo of traditional marriage continues, but that doesn't mean that they'll continue to enter into them — particularly not with the sense of longevity and obligation that has been the key to the institution's success in Western society.

Same-sex marriage puts the final, irrevocable tear in the notion that the biological ability of men and women to create children through their intimacy is the single most relevant factor in marriage. Parents who pair up for life resolve questions of responsibility. They firmly set their children within lines of lineage tying them to the families and societies into which they're born. They affirm that they are joined in the children that they have jointly made and instill a sort of existential security on which healthy worldviews and habits can be built.

If that one basic requirement is removed, marriage is ultimately about the choices and well-being of adults. Don't get me wrong: the recent plausibility of same-sex marriage is a result of the institution's deterioration, not the cause of it. We've been treating marriage as a personal lifestyle choice for decades with the common practice of the serial polygamy of divorce and remarriage. Once same-sex marriage is written into the law and thereby enforced in the culture, it isn't even arguable that the traditional view of marriage applies except as an individual option among many.

I've argued many times that the whole point of responsible adults' investing in the institution of marriage is to create a culture of marriage that draws less responsible adults toward it, thus being an active force in society, rather than a mere marker of legal responsibilities and benefits. If marriage is, by contrast, about the mutual care and support of adults, then it is a real question whether a particular woman (to pick one gender) is better off slogging through life with a peer husband or signing on as wife number 2 or 22 of a billionaire.

We're still wrapped up in the romantic sense of marriage, so from our current place in history it seems universal and unchangeable that people will marry for love, rather than security, but it that won't last. Indeed, creating that sense was part of what made traditional marriage a powerful force for directing our culture. Without it, not only would children not be as thoroughly intertwined with diverse and dispersed cultures (as opposed to local tribes and insular nations), but the society would drift toward hierarchies defined not merely by money and political power, but by family structure.

This is the point at which I'd bring up Russ's comment, immediately following Mangeek's:

Ummm, cause and effect requires that something actually has been tried (exactly what the professor above said). As Drucker put it...

"There is no 'scientific' way to set objectives... There are rightly value judgements ... one reason for this is that the decisions stand under incurable uncertainty. They are concerned with the future. And we have no 'facts' concerning the future."

Russ is responding to my suggestion that radicals/progressives have taken, as their method of operation, grand experiments with human society, basing rapid changes on the limited ability of people to foresee consequences. He doesn't really object so much as restate his willingness to ignore the objection.

Lost in the spat, though, is the fact that tradition and cultural competition is human society's way of experimenting over time and recording the results. Looking back at history, it appears to me, at least, that society's that fostered a strong tradition of opposite-sex, two-person marriage became more democratic, more free, and more prosperous. That's not a record with which we should experiment except by the long slow process of cultural adjustment, not by the fiat of politically captured legislatures, and certainly not by the declarations of unelected judges.

Miles to Go Before Tiverton Sleeps

Justin Katz

I'll be writing a weekly column called "15 Miles of Main Road" for the Tiverton-LittleCompton, and my first offering seeks to set the stage for what could be an extremely interesting couple of years in Tiverton politics, perhaps with implications for politics across the state:

The infamous Tiverton Financial Town Meeting of May 2010 was fundamentally a two-tone affair. There was the red and the yellow, and while individual residents are more likely to be shades of orange, the debate was defined by the purer hues toward which each side tugged. As reductionist as it may be to posit two, simple, opposing forces, doing so allows a model for understanding what has come and what may be expected in public affairs.