December 31, 2011
Why Barack Obama's College Records Were Sealed
Andrew D. Basiago, 50, a lawyer in Washington State who served in DARPA’s time travel program Project Pegasus in the 1970’s, and fellow chrononaut William B. Stillings, 44, who was tapped by the Mars program for his technical genius, have publicly confirmed that Obama was enrolled in their Mars training class in 1980 and that each later encountered Obama during visits to rudimentary U.S. facilities on Mars that took place from 1981 to 1983.
Mr. Basiago states that during one of his trips to Mars via “jump room” that took place from 1981 to 1983, he was sitting on a wall beneath an arching roof that covered one of the “jump room” facilities as he watched Mr. Obama walk back to the jump room from across the Martian terrain. When Mr. Obama walked past him and Mr. Basiago acknowledged him, Mr. Obama stated, with some sense of fatalism: “Now we’re here!”
[H/T Dave Barry.]
Mostly unrelated ADDENDUM: Dave Barry's "2011 Year in Review" is now up.
A Different Kind of Clock, Heading Toward a Different Kind of Midnight
I'm cleaning out my bookmarks for the first time in about seven years, and as we approach the change of the clock from one year to the next, I thought it appropriate to direct your attention to the U.S. Debt Clock.
At this moment, the national debt is $15.2 trillion, personal debt is $16.0 trillion, and the total U.S. debt including household, business, state and local governments, financial institutions, and the federal government stands at $56.4 trillion.
Happy New Year! Another day older and deeper in debt.
This time of year, you can tell quite a bit about a writer or publication by the items it highlights from the past year and wishes it expresses for the coming one. This gem of a wish, from the Sakonnet Times, is an excellent example:
That Tiverton’s new Financial Town Referendum really does bring peace and fair play to budgets (and that it’s not merely a devious way to cut the life out of town services).
As much as I hate to play the villain, I'd like to take a moment to emphasize the deceptiveness of my master plan by revealing my scheme along with 50 other petitioners to place a 0%-increase budget on the FTR ballot. Once the petitioners' identities are reviewed and verified by the town clerk and officially in the public record, my next step will be to sneakily make the case for my proposal in every available public forum. Then, on the day of the referendum, perhaps some of my co-conspirators will join me in a stealth operation to stand outside polling places with large, brightly colored signs encouraging voters to consider our case when they engage in the most devious activity of all: entering the privacy of the voting booth to express their degree of willingness to continue increasing their taxes at a rate well above inflation.
I'll admit that ends do not justify all means, but this evil plot at least has as one of its objectives the fulfillment of another of the Sakonnet Times editors' wishes:
That town/school unions grasp the fact that Rhode Island (which is losing population faster than any other state) is in this tax mess because the gold plated benefits they demand cannot be sustained (they need merely glance across the border into Westport and other Massachusetts towns for a dose of contract reality).
Such wishful thinking that public employees and the politicians whom they help to elect will simply accept the necessary restraint and the pain associated with addressing the lack thereof in the past may play well in editorials, but Rhode Island is among the best examples in the nation of the consequence when wistfulness is treated as a basis for public policy. Sometimes firm action is necessary, and if voters must make the dastardly statement that enough is enough, well, so it must be.
December 30, 2011
Police Not Doing Their Job, Blame the Property Owner
I know this is a Rhode Island focused blog and sometimes we touch on national issues that affect Rhode Island. This story is neither, but it is an example of the level of lunacy that our federal government and law enforcement has gone to.
Today's Providence Journal contains a story1 about a motel in Tewksbury, MA that is being seized by the federal government because of an alleged prevalence of drug dealing at the motel.
In its petition, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston describes eight drug arrests made at the motel between 2001 and 2008
"Police records show there has been a long history of criminal activity at that location," said Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose office brought the forfeiture complaint in federal court on behalf of the Department of Justice.So wait a minute. The Justice Department is going to seize an entire motel business from someone who
In Caswell’s case, the government is not claiming that Caswell committed any crimes, but says the motel should be shut down because of the drug-dealing that goes on among its guests.The police there make one arrest a year and now the US Justice department wants to seize the property? There's got to be more to this story.
If the government wins, under a provision of the law known as "equitable sharing," the Tewksbury police department could collect up to 80 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the motel. That would amount to more than $1 million, if the motel sells for the most recent town assessment of just over $1.5 million.So why this guy and not one of the other thousands of motels around the country where this kind of activity takes place?
the Motel Caswell was seen as an easier candidate for forfeiture because it is not part of a large chain. It’s also family-owned and mortgage-freeMaybe this is one of those situations where the owner is turning a blind eye to the activity in order to rent out his rooms. Maybe?
He keeps a "do not rent" list at the front desk to notify his clerks of guests he has had problems with in the past. But he says he has no way of predicting what other guests will cause trouble.Hmm, ok, well then it would seem he's trying to keep the "bad people" out, but maybe he's not willing to work with the police on deterring the crimes.
Caswell said he has tried repeatedly to get information from police about drug activity, but they always tell him they can’t talk about investigations.So here we have a private businessman with a six-decade family business that seems to be trying to keep the undesirables away and the Justice Department sees a gold mine and payday.
One of the parts that I don't understand is why is this happening when it seems that it is the city's police department who isn't doing their job. It seems the hotel owner is doing all he legally can to cut down on the illegal activity. Usually in places where there is a heavy police presence, the drug dealers go elsewhere. If this is a place where drugs are frequently peddled, then the peddlers must not feel very threatened by the police.
Another part is how can you just seize a $1.5 million property due to one arrest a year. Here in Rhode Island, our own state legislature has had what, about four arrests in the last year? So what's next, does the Justice Department come in and seize our State House?
1 You can actually find the AP article in the online Boston Herald or in the Providence Journal's e-Edition. I really have no idea what the Journal is thinking with this whole online mess. In their radio commercials, they talk about how they have to report the news before bloggers can comment on it. Yeah, sometimes that's true but when we do comment on it, it sure would be nice to be able to give you a direct attribution and link back. But I can't. Because the story isn't on your web site and your e-edition is unlinkable!
Surprise -- Governor Chafee Considering Tax Increases to Balance Next Year's Budget
As he prepares for his second year in office, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee is looking for ways to spur the state's frail economy, rescue its struggling cities and eliminate another year's budget deficit -- possibly through additional taxes...Let me take this opportunity to remind readers that both during the 2010 Rhode Island Gubernatorial campaign, and immediately after the election, I asked Governor Chafee through his campaign/transition team if he would be willing to answer a set of questions that included this one...
Chafee estimates that the state will face a $120 million deficit in next year's budget. While that's an improvement over the $300 million deficit lawmakers eliminated in the current year's budget, Chafee says the red ink will be difficult to erase through cuts alone. He wouldn't offer specifics but said he's weighing the possibility of recommending some form of tax increase.
4.The combined state and municipal budgets for Rhode Island have grown steadily (adjusted for inflation) over the past 10 years, a period of time which includes September 11, 2001 and its immediate aftermath, the end-of-the-financial world as we knew it in 2008, and the relative lull (at least domestically) in between.The response I received, the second time I asked, was...
Is it by design or by accident that government has been growing as if on autopilot -- or would you disagree with that characterization entirely? Compared with 10 years ago, are Rhode Islanders getting more in return for their increased spending?
We do not agree with the premise of these questions.
December 29, 2011
"Drill", "Strain", "Collapse" (No, It's Not a Greenie's Nightmare Vision of Offshore Oil Drilling)
Readers are warned to comment with care; Big Sister is (probably) now watching, attracted to this post by the words included in the title.
In America’s brave new world, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has set up fake Twitter and Facebook accounts in order to catch a potential criminal.
They claim to be protecting the Internet by invading American’s privacy without warrants, for the sole purpose of catching the bad guys. Really?
DHS says they are now “protecting” Americans by programming a few sensitive hot-key words into their computer programs and then tracking those who are tweeting words they think fit a certain profile.
Queried about this, DHS responded, in part,
... the DHS said that the National Operations Center (NOC) "will gather, store, analyze, and disseminate relevant and appropriate de-identified information to federal, state, local, and foreign governments, and private sector partners authorized to receive situational awareness and a common operating picture," said the statement.
"De-identified" information??? How would such information be useful if it lacks specificity? If a blog or a Tweeter or a Facebooker poses a threat, wouldn't local law enforcement need a name to step in and do their job? Or is this just a nice little fib to deflect privacy "freaks"?
As for the "key words" that you will want to avoid so as to stay off DHS's radar, these include but are not limited to
human to animal
We might or might not get to see the complete list of trigger (DHS is urged to review definition #2 before becoming alarmed about this use of the word "trigger") words and learn more details about DHS's social spying program: in February, the Electronic Privacy Information Center filed a FOIA request which, in the face of DHS stonewalling, they have escalated to a FOIA lawsuit (PDF).
In comments, Andrew shares an
amusing illuminating story.
About fifteen years ago, I went to a local department store to buy an alarm clock. I needed to make sure I was buying one that was was sufficiently loud, so I prepared a test run involving the alarm going off 1 minute after it was set. However, I had the am/pm settings wrong, so it didn't go off as planned. My immediate reaction was to quote Marvin the Martian from the Bugs Bunny cartoons: "Where was the kaboom? There was supposed to have been an earth-shattering kaboom".
When I want to complete my purchase at the counter, there were about 10 mall security guards standing around the department I was in who hadn't been there before, and the guy behind the counter was very jittery. Today, in a similar situation, it would probably occur to me not to say that particular Looney Tunes quote out loud.
ADDENDUM II: Marvin the Martian
So, in Other Words, It Was Already a Scam?
It's instructive to watch the pieces that fall away when financial difficulties force changes in public policy, because they reveal glimpses of the scam inside. The latest (that I've noticed) comes with the car tax controversy:
The state Vehicle Value Commission dropped the value of some older cars during a brief meeting Tuesday, but did not address the ongoing controversy over the contention that the state puts too high a price tag on taxpayers' cars. ...
Up until last year, the state required municipalities to trim $6,000 off all vehicle valuations on the condition that the state would make up the difference in revenue to the localities. When the state found it could no longer afford the program, it gave communities the option to do away with all but $500 of the $6,000 value exemptions.
It is the state, not the municipality, that requires the use of the highest National Automobile Dealers Association level the "clean retail value" to determine the tax on all cars, whether they are "clean" or not. That's akin to appraising every house as if it is in excellent condition for its style and age.
As the above quotation explains, the state had been disguising this unfair method by discounting all cars and paying the difference from other revenue. In practical terms, while car owners may not have been paying too much for their own cars, income tax payers, and those whose money found its way to the General Assembly by other means, were paying too much for other people's cars.
December 28, 2011
Rep. David Cicilline on Newsmakers
Last week, Congressman David Cicilline was on WPRI's Newsmakers with Tim White, Ian Donnis and Ted Nesi. After watching this episode a couple times, I think it's fair to say that they didn't go lightly on the Congressman, however a few times, he effectively dodged the question and avoided any follow-up. I'm sure WPRI would prefer that I link to their site with the video here but it is sometimes giving me some trouble, so it is also possible to watch it on Youtube here. Below is a not so "live blog" of the episode.
DC: David Cicilline
TW: Tim White
ID: Ian Donnis
TN: Ted Nesi
Numbers are the approximate time in the video when the statements occurred.
1:20 Tim White with the first question about Cicilline's support of the payroll tax cut extension and the fact that the payroll tax is exactly what funds Social Security. Cutting the payroll tax means less money for Social Security, thus harming the system. Isn't this the opposite of what Cicilline campaigned on?
(DC) Blames the Republicans in the House for blocking the compromise sent over from the Senate. Didn't answer the question, simply says it is the Republicans' fault for not passing the bill sent over from the Senate. Explains that the tax cut is exactly what the taxpayers need. (Note: Newsmakers was recorded before the deal was struck to extend the tax cut for two months)
1:58 (TN) Why not make the tax cuts permanent?
(DC) "It should be" and continues blaming the Republicans.
3:05 (TN) When should the payroll tax cut be allowed to expire?
(DC) Disagrees with Obama on extending the tax cuts on the wealthy, but admits to voting for it because "that was part of the entire budget compromise." So he admits that he voted for something that he disagreed with? Congressman David Cicilline admits that he voted for a bill that extended "tax cuts for the rich" and also voted for cuts that decrease the amount of money to the Social Security system. Exactly the opposite of his campaign promises that he would "fight for" and "protect" Social Security. Here is an on-the-record vote that harms Social Security.
4:25 (DC) Will "do everything we can to strengthen and fortify both programs (Social Security and Medicare)." Ok, but is voting against funding for them really doing everything you can to strengthen and fortify the programs or is it more Washington double-speak? Or is it more Cicilline-speak?
4:55 Ted Nesi asks about the fact that President Obama wanted to raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67.
Cicilline disagrees, but simply and calmly explains how that's not a good idea for people in some professions. But how is it that when John Loughlin called for the possible privatization of some Social Security funds for younger, working Americans, Cicilline then went on a rampage claiming that Loughlin was out to destroy Social Security and was going to end the system for today's senior citizens? Why does the President get different treatment than John Loughlin did? Simple, partisan politics. Just admit it, Congressman.
5:35 Ian Donnis refers to a letter from back in June where the spokeswoman for Cicilline requested that redistricting would affect the fewest number of voters possible but then recently, Cicilline supported a plan that would have moved as many as 125,000 voters when only 7,200 needed to be moved. How is this consistent?
(DC) "The commission released multiple plans."
Yeah, that really is the response. The redistricting commission released multiple plans, so that made it ok. Also, Cicilline claims that Congressman Langevin's team did just as much work to make the new maps as favorable as possible as his own team did. Claims his team did nothing more, nothing less than the Langevin team.
7:20 (ID) Does this make you look desperate that you were backing a plan to move 125,000 voters?
(DC) People don't care about this, they care about economy, jobs, (interrupted)
7:50 (TN) Disagrees, people care.
(DC) Claims the process this time was "normal" and reiterates that Langevin's team did just as much as his own. Claims that nothing was unusual in the redistricting process.
9:15 Nesi is shocked with that answer and virtually jumps out of his seat about the quote from the Langevin team about Cicilline being "blatantly disingenuous" that he was either not trying to influence the process or his denial about trying to do so much to influence the process.
Cicilline responds that "commissions get to decide" on the maps. So the question I've had about that is that if the commission decides, then why did we need more than one map? Is the commission and the contractor hired to produce the maps inept? One would think that for $700,000 the contractor would know how to take the data and come up with a fair map the first time and no other discussion would be needed. However, we got all the way in to where it was about the sixth map released that was finally acceptable. Why?
9:40: Cicilline also responds to Nesi with "I disagree with you, people don't care, people care about the economy."
So I guess if people don't care, then no one should pay attention? Sounds like an old magician's trick, "don't look at that hand, look at this one!" while one hand is grabbing your watch or wallet.
10:35 (TN) The mayor is the only independent check on ProCAP, did you do due diligence?
(DC) "Yes" and also added "I'm very pleased that the board made some decisions about new leadership "
(TW) "After replacing your appointees"
(DC) (shoots a glare at Ted Nesi) "SOME of my appointees"
12:10 (TW) Procap was a cesspool for cronyism. Knowing what you know now, do you agree with that?
(DC) "I don't know enough about what you just described."
So I'm left wondering if he disagrees with the assertion or he's just dodging a question.
12:45 (ID) Did your appointee Badway report anything bad going on?
(DC) Says no, but that the board didn't know either. So as long as others are being irresponsible and shirking duties, it's ok for him to do the same. He appointed people to that board that seemingly didn't do the job they were appointed to do. Yet he never looked back to see what kind of job they were doing?
13:20 (ID) Do you bear some responsibility for ProCap being a dumping ground for cronies?
DC) No. Appointed people were thought to be capable. Blames the board for lack of oversight.
So he appoints people who didn't do their job. People who he supposedly vetted, yet it is the board's job for not overseeing these people? What are we dealing with here, four year olds?
14:05 (ID) Mentions that Cicilline stayed out of the pension discussion.
(DC) Says he has tremendous respect for Raimondo and the work that she did. Also says that there needs to be serious pension reform at the local level.
15:40 (ID) How many of the eight years did Providence make the pension payments?
(DC) Claims it was all of them. The first six years was 100%, last two years was over 90% but not 100%. Cicilline claims that Providence got its unfunded liability because before he took office, city didn't make its contributions. Is this really true if you're using reserve funds to pay the pension bills? Especially if those funds are used as a basis for the city's credit rating?
16:20 (ID) How can Gina Raimondo fix the whole state's unfunded liability within months of taking office, but Cicilline couldn't fix Providence's after eight years, if the problem was solely with his predecessors?
(DC) He applauds Raimondo, but no other answer given. Apparently he's a big fan of the Treasurer.
17:15 (TN) Does it "skirt laws" to borrow $35M as a "green loan" and use $30M of that to plug the budget deficit?
(DC) No, and it was the Taveras administration who did that.
18:00 (DC) "For eight years, we balanced the budget."
Oh my goodness. There was no follow-up from any of the three about this. Either they were each thinking of their next question and not listening or they realized they only had about seven minutes left to get to other topics and didn't want to go down this road. But for Cicilline to claim the budget was balanced for all eight years is laughable. I mean, I'm sure it would garner a "True" from PolitiFact but to balance the budget while creating a "Category five hurricane" in the city for his successor to deal with, just about had me falling out of my seat.
The last few minutes of the interview seems like Cicilline wants to get his final jabs in at the Republicans, sometimes at any cost whatsoever.
22:00 Cicilline claims that "we've put forth a plan to get Americans back to work, to protect our seniors by protecting Medicare and Social Security, and repeal tax breaks that send jobs overseas." It's the Republicans preventing him from getting any of this done.
22:15 (TN) You have a majority in the Senate and you still can't get anything done.
(DC) [Nesi's statement ignored]
23:00 (TW) Are we better off than a year ago, when Cicilline was elected?
(DC) Yes because it's not another vote in the House for John Boehner.
But earlier, when the issue was redistricting, Cicilline was telling us that people didn't care about that issue, they care about the economy and getting back to work. Now they do care about the inside politics? Tim White catches this very adeptly.
(TW) is that what people care about?
I haven't seen dance moves like this since American Bandstand.
23:30 (ID) Why aren't Angel Taveras or Providence Council Chairman Michael Solomon supporting you re-election?
(DC) Re-election is a long time away.
Is it? It seems the election season for that seat has already begun. Or at least it has for Brendan Doherty, John Loughlin and possibly even Anthony Gemma.
As one of his last statements:
(DC) It is important to the people of the district to not have a Republican in office who will vote to end the community block program. Who will vote to end Medicare. Who will vote to end Pell Grants. What's important is who is working to get people back to work, who will fight to save Medicare and Social Security. Fight to end subsidies to big energy companies, to stop shipping jobs overseas, to rebuild American manufacturing. All of those things, the Republicans are opposing those things. They're attacking Medicare, Social Security.
Weird. Republicans are trying to end the health care system for senior citizens? Republicans don't want people back to work? Republicans don't want to rebuild American manufacturing? They're trying to end Social Security? Cicilline ran on a platform of "protecting" Social Security. Has he done that? I guess one could say yes because it hasn't been "privatized." But then again, no vote was ever called to end the Social Security system. It's really easy to protect something that isn't really under attack. It's really easy to go around to the senior centers with trays of spaghetti and meatballs and tell them how you're the one to protect their monthly check and that the other party is out to take it away. But when you actually start digging into the facts, one quickly sees that the bill of sale, isn't quite true.
It's unfortunate that this show was only 30 minutes long as it seemed the panelists probably could have asked questions for hours and really dug into some of the issues and pressed him to actually answer the questions and not offer the usual spin. Hopefully when we get to the campaign trail and to the ensuing debates next year, his opponents will actually press him on his statements, his record and his claims.
Re 3: GOP's Circular Firing Squad: National (Newt Gingrich) Edition
For over half a century now, the norm of American government has been autopilot increases in the size and cost of government. To stop this, before the country goes irreparably broke (if we aren't there already), someone is going to have to successfully build a consensus around the idea that a different normal is possible. However, moving a nation away from practices that have been in place for multiple decades is not easy. This makes me potentially sympathetic to the reasoning for supporting a Newt Gingrich's candidacy discussed by columnist Jonah Goldberg...
Mitt Romney is still the sensible choice if you believe these are rough, but generally sensible, times. If, however, you think these are crazy and extraordinary times, then perhaps they call for a crazy, extraordinary — very high-risk, very high-reward — figure like Gingrich.But given the criticisms just offered of Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, can it clearly be said that Gingrich is obviously a better option? In terms of specific policies, Gingrich hasn't been an example of rock-ribbed consistency in the last decade, having gone through some sudden changes, for example, in his positions on global warming and an individual healthcare mandate since the last Presidential election. Given that record, the same worries that apply to Romney apply to Gingrich too -- no one can be 100% sure of which big-government programs he might choose to eliminate or drastically reform, and which he might choose to simply "manage". And while he's never given a policy answer that is as mind-numbing as Paul's explanation of his simultaneous support for and opposition to earmarks, he does share with Paul the fact that his style of presenting his thoughts seems to be much more constant than the thoughts being presented (though, in Gingrich's case the changes occur over time, while in Paul's case the underlying philosophy is something of a jumble at any given time).
Convincing the country that a new normal must be achieved is going to require actively persuading a lot of people both inside and outside of government to support something that's very different from Washington's two favorite solutions to any problem of "let's spend more money on existing bureaucracies" and "let's create new bureaucracies to oversee the old ones". Gingrich, on his good days, is as effective as anyone at explaining why something different is necessary. But on his bad days, he is equally as capable of scaring people away from reasonable ideas. And even if Gingrich truly has "evolved" in his decade and a half outside of government and is better able to moderate his penchant for potentially damaging outbursts, there is a legitimate political question of whether he has already alienated too many people over his lifetime to ever be effective (assuming that he already hasn't alienated too many people to ever be elected).
Finally, this analysis of Gingrich sits upon the idea that his most recent changes in position are his final ones, meaning that it can't be ignored that what has moved Gingrich back towards some of the conservative positions he had drifted away from has been his quest for the GOP Presidential nomination. Would a President Gingrich continue to hold the more-conservative positions, after securing the Presidency? Pondering the answer to this question raises another pragmatic question in turn: if you believe that some energy will need to be spent by the grassroots to remind Newt Gingrich to stay conservative and prevent him from getting sucked back into inside-the-beltway thinking, what is it that's Gingrich's advantage over Romney again?
Re 2: GOP's Circular Firing Squad: National (Ron Paul) Edition
A key problem with Ron Paul's candidacy, indicative of all his others, was by made clear by the biggest unheralded gaffe in the December 15 Sioux City, Iowa Republican Presidential debate, specifically the mess of an answer that Rep. Paul gave on the earmarks he has requested for his district over his Congressional career...
The real message is you should include in your question also you have never voted once for an earmark.So Rep Paul doesn't vote for the earmarks he requests, and believes that if everybody followed his example and requested earmarks but didn't vote for them, the budget would be cut and "there would be no earmarks" -- which he apparently believes would be bad, since "congress has an obligation to earmark every penny". Huh?
No, it's a principle that I deal with, because if the government takes money from you and you fill out your tax form, you take your deductions. I look at that the same way in our communities. They take our money, they take our highway funds and we have every right to apply for them to come back.
As a matter of fact, it's a bigger principle for me than that. I think this whole thing is out of control on the earmarks, because I think the congress has an obligation to earmark every penny, not to deliver that power to the executive branch. What happens when you don't vote for the earmarks it goes in to the slush fund, the executive branch spends the money then you have to grovel to the executive branch and beg and plead and say oh, please return my highway funds to me.
So if this whole principle of budgeting that is messed up, but I never vote, I never voted for an earmark. But I do argue the case for my -- the people I represent to try to get their money back if at all possible....
[Intervening question, "isn't that the same thing of having your cake and eating it too..."]
Yes, but you're missing the point. I don't complain about earmarks, because it is the principle of the Congress meeting their obligation. But if everybody did what I did, there would be no earmarks. The budget would be balanced and we'd be cutting about 80 percent of the spending. So that would be the solution.
If a John Kerry or a Joseph Biden offered such a bumbling explanation of their position on a piece of legislation, they would be rightly excoriated for wanting to create an image for voters that did not portray accurately the reality of their governing decisions, and there's no reason that Rep. Paul deserves any special exemption here. A Ron Paul presidency would not bring the United States governance by a "philosophically consistent libertarian" or even its illusion, because a President Paul would not have the luxury of being able to cast symbolic libertarian-sympathy votes against legislation that he supports for non-libertarian reasons. There is no voting "present" when you are President of the United States.
Ron Paul's problem is not that he subscribes to some libertarian ideas, or that there's a media conspiracy against libertarianism. His problem is and has always been the poor choices of compromises and alliances he makes with with non-libertarian and non limited-government quarters, which he (and his followers) want to pretend don't exist. Two examples -- that don't even bring us to the issue of the newsletters -- are his belief (acted upon in the earmark example above) in getting yours from government if you are in a position to do so while minimizing public accountability, and his belief that "world law" might not have allowed him to order the Osama Bin Laden raid, an idea which has nothing to do with libertarianism or limited government. These kinds of choices have justifiably placed Ron Paul on the fringe of what most GOP voters are willing to consider.
Re: GOP's Circular Firing Squad: National (Mitt Romney) Edition
To be elected President, a Republican has to be able to appeal to the "persuadable middle" seven or so percent of voters in about seven or eight key states...I suspect there are some people who might have felt comfortable with this line of reasoning pre-Barack Obama, or maybe pre-George W. Bush, but who have serious reservations in the year 2012.
Romney's not perfect, but he's worlds better than Pres. Obama!
It has been observed that Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal became a permanent piece of American governance, only after Republican President Dwight Eisenhower accepted that he would govern within its framework, and not try significantly to alter or reduce it. Likewise, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society became permanent when Richard Nixon chose to administrate its massive expansion of government, rather than scale it back. And once Jimmy Carter's you-got-a-problem, I got-a-program polyglot of new cabinet agencies survived the Republican administration of Ronald Reagan that followed, despite Republican talk that has never ended about shutting down agencies like the Department of Energy or the Department of Education, no Republican President or Congress has come close to doing so.
Mitt Romney is having problem gaining a lock on Republican support because many Republican voters are aware of this dynamic. They are worried -- rightly so, in my humble opinion -- that a Mitt Romney administration might choose a basic governing philosophy of "managing" the structural foundation for a Euro-style soft-socialism that Barack Obama has laid, making it permanent in the process, even if that is not the intention. It's not difficult to imagine the message of the first few months of the Romney administration being, we're in an economic crisis now so we've got to work with the government as it is; but don't worry, in a few years, or a few decades, when things are back to normal, then we'll form a study commission to propose a super-committee to discuss passing a timetable to begin to slow the automatic annual growth of government. For a possible likely outcome, see the results of the Eisenhower, Nixon or Reagan administrations on domestic policy.
If candidate Romney wants to increase his support amongst Republicans, he needs to be more convincing than he has been so far that this won't be the case.
Hinckley's at Least Half Correct
Yesterday, National Review's Ramesh Ponnuru suggested that PolitiFact isn't dealing in facts versus falsehoods so much as making political statements in a way that's packaged to appear objective:
One of the worst features of contemporary politics is the tendency -- found on the right, on the left and in between -- to label our opponents liars, often without a shred of evidence that the person we’re attacking is saying something he knows to be false. PolitiFact makes that problem worse, not better, by giving a supposedly authoritative imprimatur to such loose accusations.
On the same day, PolitiFact Rhode Island provided a fine example by tagging Republican Senatorial candidate Barry Hinckley with a "False" for his statement that the U.S. tax code is 80,000 pages long:
The Hinckley spokeswoman directed us to a colorful chart by CCH that shows how the number of pages in one of its publications, "CCH Standard Federal Tax Reporter," has increased over the years. Its 2011 edition has 72,536 pages.
But that publication isn't just the tax code. "That includes the code, regs, annotations to court cases, revenue rulings, explanatory material, other things that come out of the IRS that are not regulations," said Mark Luscombe, principal analyst for the tax and accounting group at CCH. "But some politicians and media have picked that up and called it the code, which is not correct."
So, not only is it entirely plausible that Hinckley picked up the misuse of the word "code" from an otherwise reliable source, but the only way PolitiFact can reasonably turn its Truth-o-Meter all the way to "False" is by narrowly cropping Hinckley's statement. Expanding the analysis to include the entire statement should move the judgment at least to "Half True":
When Rhode Island Public Radio political reporter Ian Donnis asked about the refusal of most Republicans to consider any tax increase, Hinckley said, "Our tax code is desperately broken. It's 80,000 pages. So in my opinion, any effort to continue to tweak something that's broken is a fool's errand to begin with. So trying to raise more money through a busted tax code, I think, is the wrong way to go."
The core point, here, is that tax law is irredeemably complex, and as an illustration, it's reasonable to count the pages of a document that incorporates all of the regulations, explanations, and judicial rulings with which a taxpayer would have to be familiar in order to confident of filling out the paperwork correctly. The word "code" might not have been as accurate as "law," but that is clearly Hinckley's meaning.
By contrast, recall PolitiFact's treatment of a statement from Terry Gorman about the law and in-state tuition. The actual code clearly falls in Gorman's favor, but judicial rulings (not fully applicable to Rhode Island, by the way) muddy the waters, and the reporters gave Terry a "Mostly False."
The bottom line is that, in order to reach an objective-seaming ranking of political statement, PolitiFact reporters have to apply their own perspective on what is relevant and what is truly key in a particular statement. Admitting bias upfront, rather than pretending that it doesn't exist, would be preferable.
Contractual Obligation Without Language
The technical considerations of language and history are likely different, but this outcome in Woonsocket doesn't bode well for pension reforms, I'd say:
The city argued that language in one section of the contract mentions dental coverage and refers only to active employees, while other sections extend health-care coverage to retirees, but not dental care.
"The language of the 2002 and 1990 [collective-bargaining agreements] provides little guidance on the issue of dental benefits," Gallo wrote. So a review was warranted "of all the facts and circumstances surrounding the formation" of the two agreements "as well as the ongoing relationship" between the plaintiffs and the city. The judge found that "an agreement creating an obligation may nonetheless be inferred” from the sides' actions and that the city "had an ongoing practice of providing dental benefits to members of the Police Department" regardless of their age.
So the "i" that wasn't dotted was that the contract didn't explicitly say whether or not retirees received dental care, and politicians past were perfectly willing to provide it. It is mildly humorous that the judge would cite an "ongoing practice" that the city wishes to end as a reason that the practice must remain ongoing.
Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that unions and judges alike have an expectation that public officials will continue to handle their budgets as loose collections of expenditures. If savings on something like retiree dental benefits are blocked, they'll dig around for services on which to cut back or push for tax increases. They ought to make it clear that they have only so much money allocated for personnel, so the lost savings will have to be made up in other ways; salary reductions would make the clearest statement.
Of course, by that route, we run into arbitration, which is binding for public safety employees, which really emphasizes the tilted playing field created by public unionization. The union organizations invest resources to elect friendly public officials. They then negotiate with those same politicians with much more visibility and privilege in the process than is provided to other taxpayers and voters. When circumstances change whether because of taxpayer reaction when the details are revealed or because hard times arrive they go to court, where other public employees are apt to find inferred rights. Where the proposed changes are applied to new contracts, rather than existing benefits, the unions can dig in and wait for arbitration, whereby an unelected mediator with more incentive to please unions than taxpayers is hired to resolve the differences, in some cases issuing edicts that have the force of law.
December 27, 2011
A Touch of Chicken or Egg? - Does State Intervention Accelerate Municipal Receivership?
Last week, the state escalated its involvement in East Providence's budget problems by putting in a Budget Commission. It did so only one month after sending in a Fiscal Overseer. Observers have correctly pointed out that this was three full months earlier than called for by the procedure outlined in the so-called Fiscal Stability Act of 2010.
This action, of course, followed upon Moodys' downgrading of East Providence bonds to junk status. In fact, the timing was so perfect - just days apart - that one wonders if the Moodys' downgrade precipitated the state's accelerated action.
What we don't have to wonder about is one of the factors that was specifically cited by Moody's for their further downgrade.
“The downgrade reflects the city’s ongoing financial strain, compounded by the growing accumulated deficit in the school unrestricted fund; a heavy reliance on cash flow borrowing; and increasing fixed costs related to pension and OPEB [other post employment benefits] liabilities,” reads the summary rationale of Moody’s report.
“The downgrade also incorporates the recent appointment of a fiscal overseer by the state, which signals the severity of the city’s fiscal challenges.”
So the state accelerates its intervention after Moodys downgrades EP bonds the second time. And Moody's had downgraded the second time in part because of the state's initial step of intervention.
The effect? With this second downgrade by Moodys, the city's ability to borrow on reasonable terms has been substantially hindered, further exacerbating its cash flow and overall fiscal issues.
No doubt, East Providence started out with serious problems. One term of good government by the Carcieri/Larisa/Cusack crowd was not going to solve the fiscal problems generated by decades of union puppet rule. So the state has not flexed the so-called Fiscal Stability Act in EP solely as a giddy exercise of power.
At the same time, the state needs to tread more carefully. There are clear indications with the East Providence experience that the state, in stepping in under the Fiscal Stability Act, not only contributed to a vicious circle but possibly accelerated a downward spiral. This would certainly contradict both the name and the intent of the law under which the state took action.
GOP's Circular Firing Squad: National Edition - None of these guys are beyond reproach
I haven't committed strongly to any of the GOP presidential hopefuls, mainly because they're all different flavors of meh. But one of them is going to win and run against Obama. It's up to the GOP to figure out who has the "best chance" of beating the President. The one thing that has annoyed me the most, though, are the various supporters of each candidate getting all "holier than thou" when it comes to defending their pick vs. the others. None of these guys are "all that." Just take the three front-runners.
Mitt Romney has flip-flopped enough to warrant a website devoted to chronicling the pattern. His ideology seems to be "I'm running for President". He seems wooden and too-perfect & it doesn't "feel" like he can relate to the average person.
But before you Gingrich-ites or Paulians get all self-righteous, be careful. Gingrich was for Romney's health care reform before he was against it.
“The health bill that Governor Romney signed into law this month has tremendous potential to effect major change in the American health system,” said an April 2006 newsletter published by Mr. Gingrich’s former consulting company, the Center for Health Transformation.Except now, apparently, Gingrich's people are claiming that Newt didn't really write that endorsement. Uh. Yeah. That's kinda what Newt called Ron Paul out on when Paul disavowed the racist stuff in Paul's own newsletters, saying he didn't write them (which is probably correct...or maybe not.). So, memo to self--newsletters written under your own name aren't your responsibility.
As for Paul....his either an isolationist or a non-interventionist, depending on how you interpret his foreign policy stances. But it seems he doesn't let such things as moral imperatives instruct his decision-making. He said he wouldn't have fought WWII if it "only" meant saving the Jews from the Holocaust. And he thought that Lincoln fighting the Civil War to free the slaves was a mistake. 'Cause the slaves would have been freed eventually, anyway. (Of course, the fact that the South kinda started it with that whole secession thing....). Those are two pretty big, albeit theoretical, "take a pass" items.
All of them have good ideas. Despite his flipping and apparent lack of an ideological touchstone, Romney would be competent. Gingrich is a big ideas guy. Paul makes sense in some fiscal areas and when it comes to cutting government. It's just a matter of how much of the negative baggage you think the voting public can take along with the good ideas. Maybe there's some acceptable ratio. Or maybe it will just come down to media spin and "optics." Just like last time. Great.
December 26, 2011
Fabulous - An "Office of the Repealer"
When the General Assembly reconvenes shortly, I would urge that both they and the Governor give very serious consideration to implementing this, out of Kansas.
A new “Office of the Repealer” has been created to reduce the number of laws and regulations, and the Repealer is canvassing the state for more cut suggestions.
Those who wonder about the need for this measure here in Rhode Island can click here .
Rhode Island is the third worst state in the nation to do business, according a ranking by Forbes.
The Ocean State earned the 48th spot on the “Best States for Business” ranking ...
The addition of a "Repealer" to state government cannot happen overnight, of course. So, in the interim (she observed optimistically), legislators should be encouraged, when filing a bill, to also submit a bill repealing an existing law or making a business regulation less onerous.
Let the repeal of the state's absurd boiler inspection law be just the start of Rhode Island's journey towards business friendliness -- or, at least for now, the beginning of its trip towards the anonymity offered by a middle-of-the-pack ranking in that very important listing.
December 25, 2011
Photographer's note: The above picture was taken on the morning of Christmas eve 2011. In the process of taking this picture and a few others, I heard the beeping of several car horns on the road behind me. Turning around "to see what was the matter" (to borrow a phrase), I saw Santa Claus, standing on an opposite street corner, waving to passers-by. I finished snapping the pictures of the Benoit Square nativity, intending when I was done to ask Santa if I could take a photo or two of him. However, by the time I turned around again, he was gone.
December 24, 2011
Schools from Bailout to Bankruptcy?
An article in today's Providence Journal describes a familiar aspect of a town's movement toward receivership that might point to a common contributing factor:
A national investment ratings agency, Fitch Ratings, on Thursday downgraded the outlook for Woonsocket. In its report the agency said the city of almost 42,000 people faced a School Department deficit of about $2.6 million in this current budget and that it views "the potential implementation of state oversight positively." ...
The city narrowly averted not meeting its $1.7-million school payroll next week, the re- port says, until the state altered its payment schedule for education aid and gave the city its $4.5-million share early.
As we've been discussing a school department deficit is at the center of East Providence's problems, too. It would take some research to confirm, but I'm beginning to suspect that President Obama's stimulus gifts to public schools might be a proximate cause of the bankruptcy.
I know that the Obama windfall to Tiverton averted the difficult decisions that the local taxpayers had managed to force through budget maneuvers and, indeed, led to additional spending. The following year, the school department successfully manipulated the budget system in its own direction (with threats of school closings and more) in order to build the federal handout into the regular budget. Indeed, it was clear from the first mention of the magic Obama money that the plan was to do exactly that.
In towns that hadn't just slowed the growth of their school budgets (which the public-sector folks love to refer to as "a cut"), the stimulus funds wouldn't have been used to replace lost funds, but to add new services. When the funds went away, the result would be a massive deficit. So, I wonder: how much of these budget-and-democracy-destroying deficits are attributable to the federal government's gifts (borrowed from future taxpayers)?
To the extent that such is the case, the obvious and fair remedy is to stop the unfunded services, raises, and whatever else the federal money covered.
Twas the Night Before Christmas
by Clement Clarke Moore
or Henry Livingston
Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap.
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!
"Now Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! on, on Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"
As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St Nicholas too.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler, just opening his pack.
His eyes-how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself!
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose!
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night!"
December 23, 2011
Just How Widespread Is SNAP Abuse?
A few days ago, I posted about Christine Rousselle's column in Providence College's The College Conservative and the abuse of food programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) previously known as "food stamps". In the comments area, we had a discussion about how widespread the level of fraud actually is as some posted their own anecdotal experiences.
Tonight I found an actual release about the reported levels of fraud and misuse in the plan, as well as the USDA's plans to clean up the problems. I'm sure some will look at this report with the same trust as Cicilline/Esserman crime statistics, but this is all I have to go on.
Over 98% of those receiving SNAP benefits are eligible and payment accuracy was 96.19%And how widespread is the actual documented fraud?
In fiscal year 2010, States conducted 847,136 fraud investigations. In fiscal year 2011, States disqualified 44,483 individuals.I had also mentioned the problem with turning SNAP money into cash. The release claims
Over the last 15 years, USDA has aggressively implemented a number of measures to reduce the prevalence of trafficking in SNAP from 4 percent down to its current level of 1 percent.That is nice that the "SNAP for cash" exchange has dropped that much very often due, as Warrington Faust suggested, to the change from paper coupons to an electronic debit card. However, the USDA admits that there is still about 1% of their budget still being lost to this kind of abuse.
So instead of percentages, what are the hard numbers? These numbers when looked at as percentages, don't look so bad. Thousands of individuals have been removed for fraud and the USDA claims a 1% fraud rate. Scoff all you want, I'm just going by the reported numbers here.
After multiple searches, the only place I could find actual numbers unfortunately is Wikipedia. According to the site, the SNAP program was budgeted for $64.7 billion in 2010. So that 1% fraud and waste? $647 million.
Another vector for that $647 million was also uncovered in Maine, this time in Bangor.
After purchasing a reported 20 24-packs of bottled water, on sale that week for $2.99 a case before taxes and redemption fees were added, the men went behind the store to the loading dock and poured the contents of each bottle on the ground. Shortly thereafter, a reporter also witnessed the pair wheel their shopping cart into the vestibule of the store, feed the 480 bottles into a redemption machine and claim their cash value at the customer service counter.Literally throwing taxpayer money down the sewer.
In a ploy a number of the store’s employees describe as common, these men had found a way to turn their funds from the federally administered Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, into cold, hard cash, which can then be used to purchase items that do not meet the program’s guidelines.
The total number of people on the SNAP program as of June 2011 was slightly more than 45 million. With that earlier statistic of 44,483 being disqualified from the program due to fraud, that also points to a 1% number of people. Granted, that is the number who were egregious to the point of removal. I don't believe that only those 44,000 participate in fraud nor do I believe everyone who was caught was removed from the program.
So are these numbers massive and widespread? I'll let the reader be the judge of that. In this case, I'm just being the messenger.
Taking the Edge Off the Hardball
It occurred to us, this last weekday before Christmas, that given all the reaction to the public-sector unions' decision to treat the Crossroads homeless shelter as a hostile enterprise based on its support for pension reform, it would be a good idea to direct you to the charity's donation page.
SEIU Local 580 President Phillip Keefe's statement that the Crossroads can rightfully be punished for "playing hard ball" is little more than an explicit statement of a strategy that everybody suspects underlies the union mentality. With us or against us. Push back on us and face our organizational wrath which, ultimately, is the core attraction of forming a bargaining unit. (It's just too bad that, for public sector unions, all of society is a potential "management" target.)
It would certainly ease future reforms in Rhode Island and across the nation if the charity didn't end up suffering for its decision... and especially if it ended up profiting from it. Here's the link, again.
December 22, 2011
Re: Taking Over Municipalities: The Governor's New Toy
Rhode Island's Director of Revenue provided a simple explanation to Projo reporters John Hill and Bryan Rourke about why the state has suspended municipal democracy in East Providence: It was necessary to make a "statement to Wall Street" to help East Providence get loans...
The appointment of a state budget commission with complete financial control of the city’s budget was more a statement to Wall Street than a reaction to any new problems that the state has found in the city’s finances, a state official said Wednesday.Apparently, the statement is that Rhode Island's governing class is willing to suspend democracy, if financiers think that that's better for their business.
State Director of Revenue Rosemary Booth Gallogly said the move was needed after a week that saw one of the nation’s major bond-rating services drop the city’s credit rating to junk-bond status and then, two days later, Bank of America backing out of a plan to loan the city $20 million next month.
However, a quote from later in the article suggests a more substantive reason for the suspension of a democratically elected government...
In November, Booth Gallogly said she was optimistic that the overseer stage was all that would be needed. There was a deficit, she said, but the city had a broad and diverse tax base.Serious questions should be raised when an official involved with replacing an elected taxing authority with non-elected appointees starts talking about "a broad and diverse tax base"; a primary question in this particular situation is what will the officials insulated from the people who pay the aforementioned taxes be charged with doing -- that the accountable officials weren't expected to -- in order to make the state's "statement" to Wall Street?
Last year, Anchor Rising put a question addressing exactly this situation to the administration of Governor Lincoln Chafee...
One set of criteria in the new fiscal stabilization law that can trigger a municipal takeover by the state involves decisions made by bond-rating agencies....Do we now live in a society that believes that financial-industry needs take precedence over democratic voice?The answer from the Chafee administration was...
We do not agree with the premise of these questions.Events have demonstrated that this is not now and never was an adequate answer. The question of whether Governor Chafee believes that representative democracy is the central organizing principle of the government he is part of, or instead believes that representative democracy is a luxury that common people can be allowed to play at, once the real groups that government is accountable to have been satisfied (including being sent the right "statements", of course) remains both open and important, and needs to be addressed before Rhode Island slides irreparably away from democratic practice.
Taking Over Municipalities: The Governor's New Toy
Somehow, I thought the state would go a bit more slowly when it came to using its new "tool" for taking over governance of Rhode Island municipalities:
Again raising the sense of urgency and severity, Governor Chafee appointed a financial commission to oversee East Providence on Tuesday. The decision makes the city the state's first municipality to receive such intervention, renders the City Council a mere advisory board, and stunned city officials. ...
East Providence officials were bothered and offended by the governor's decision and dumbfounded by how it was delivered. They said they first learned of the news in a TV report Monday night on Channel 12, when Chafee reported being "very close" to appointing a financial commission.
No review, negotiations, or appeal. No judge, no legislative approval. Just the governor, invalidating the votes of the city or town. I can't help but wonder what effect this will have on that famous Rhode-apathy.
December 21, 2011
UPDATE: Zaccaria New RI GOP Chairman; Liveblogging the Election of Rhode Island's New Republican Chair, Part 2
[8:07] We're up to "Providence" in the voting.
[8:14] Woonsocket was just called. We should be getting close to the finish of voting.
[8:17] Balloting closed. Votes being counted. Results expected in 15 mins or so.
[8:34] Results of a raffle being announced. I don't think one of the prizes is the chairmanship.
[8:41] Votes have been tallied. Results will be announced to the candidates first...
[8:43] Zaccaria 82; McKay 59; McKendall 36
[8:44] McKay announces he will withdraw from a second ballot.
[8:47] McKay endorses Zaccaria
[8:49] McKendall withdraws. Mark Zaccaria is the new chair.
Open Thread: Traditional Politicking vs. Occupy Wall Street
Open thread question, especially to those who have been impressed by at least the energy of the Occupy Wall Street movement: As several hundred people assemble in Pawtuxet this evening, on the shortest day of the year and just a few days before Christmas to make an important decision regarding their future political direction, how is this assembly of citizens looking to make a difference in their goverment and society any less worthy of respect than Occupy Wall Street?
Liveblogging the Election of Rhode Island's New Republican Chair
Good evening, from Pawtuxet Village in Cranston, where the Rhode Island Republican party will elect a new chairman (or chairwoman) tonight...
[7:00] 3 candidates tonight. As I understand it, the party by-laws say the winner must recieve a majority of the votes of the members present, not just a plurality. Could make for an interesting evening.
[7:01] Could also potentially make for a long evening.
[7:02] Acting chairman Steven Frias says we do have a quorum.
[7:03] Frias says a single roll call will take 45 mins, and we may have multiple roll calls tonight, so let's get this thing started.
[7:06] Frias says he confident the state party will be able to take a Congressional seat in 2012. Predicts that Cicilline will either lose in the primary or to the Republican.
[7:08] Frias on Chafee: When your poll numbers are in the low 20s, it's not that you're not getting your message out, it's that the message and the messenger are bad.
[7:09] Frias: Tonight, we select the person who will lead the party to victory next year.
[7:14] Mark Smiley steps up to nominate Ray McKay.
[7:17] Smiley runs down McKay's long history of involvement in the Republican Party. "Ray McKay is the fairest person in the room". Elect a proven leader to be chair.
[7:19] McKay: Goals are not personal. Has led a successful organization based on principles, values and the Constitution. Ready to lead those who have shown themselves willing to be Republicans in the bluest of blue states. We are in a crisis of unsustainable finances and a crisis of party identity. We need leader with decorum to take on those who would bring false witness against the party. Quotes Nathaniel Greene, and asks for the delegates votes.
[7:20] Phil Duquette nominates Tina McKendall. Says McKendall will hire a political director, who will come up with a district by district election plan. McKendall will work with local town and city committees. Better balance in the legislature that will come under McKendall will prevent a repeat of the Gerrymandering fiasco. We're not rewarding who's worked the hardest or the longest. McKendall understands people and relates to them.
[7:26] McKendall: We need stresses to make us stronger, and we need to win win win. We will burn shoe leather and roll up our sleeves. What works in Cumberland may not work in Narragansett. We have talent in this room that has been underutilized. "Mother's milk of politics is money" and for me funraising is fun. We need $10 hot dog roasts, along with $10,000 fundraisers. We need branding. We can make the RI Republican Party the best party in the state.
[7:30] Mark Zaccaria speaking now. Says he's as good at stuffing envelopes as working on policies. People outside of the party see the party in disarray. Because of this, we need a smooth transition, and he will work with the existing staff to accomplish this. Sponsoring and vetting candidates needs to be the primary focus of the party. He will be the public face of the party. We as a body have to come together, in a way that will put real Republican values into play: smaller government that lives within its means.
[7:33] Amy Gallagher seconds Zaccaria's nomination. The party needs a fresh face with the experience to lead. The party has a brand identity crisis. Zaccaria combines a business marketing sense with a knowledge of politics. Zaccaria is the safest bet to lead us into the future.
[7:39] Getting ready to vote. 165 people present.
[7:40] Motion to immediately adopt a knockout rule. 3rd place finisher would automatically be dropped from the ballot in a 2nd round.
[7:41] Voice vote is indeterminate. Motion is withdrawn. No knockout rule, and the voting begins...
[7:50] Here's a question to ponder while the first ballot is conducted, to those who have been impressed by at least the energy of Occupy Wall Street. As several hundred people assemble in Pawtuxet this evening, on the shortest day of the year and just a few days before Christmas, how is this assembly of citizens looking to make a difference in their goverment and their society any less worthy of respect than the Occupy Wall Street movement? Thread to discuss to be opened momentarily.
A Local Conservative Celebrity
It seems that we have a local conservative celebrity in Rhode Island. If you haven't already heard, Providence College junior Christine Rousselle is getting some national attention for a column she wrote for The College Conservative at PC. She's going to be appearing on The Today Show on January 9th to discuss her article.
My Time at Walmart: Why We Need Serious Welfare Reform is attracting the attention as she details her time working the cash registers at her local Walmart in Scarborough, Maine. She'd writes of abuses of government entitlement programs such as
People ignoring me on their iPhones while the state paid for their food.This one sounds similar to the mini-excitement that came about when a man in line to eat at a homeless shelter was being served by Michelle Obama and he took a picture of her while on his Blackberry Pearl.
People using TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) money to buy such necessities such as earrings, kitkat bars, beer, WWE figurines, and, my personal favorite, a slip n’ slide. TANF money does not have restrictions like food stamps on what can be bought with it.And one of the favorites, the hot dog man:
A man who ran a hotdog stand on the pier in Portland, Maine used to come through my line. He would always discuss his hotdog stand and encourage me to “come visit him for lunch some day.” What would he buy? Hotdogs, buns, mustard, ketchup, etc. How would he pay for it? Food stamps. Either that man really likes hotdogs, or the state is paying for his business.I guess we can consider that one a small business government grant. It's just coming out of the left pocket instead of the right.
Probably the most surprising thing to me about her article and the reaction to it isn't so much the content of her article. I don't think it is new news. These are all things that some have seen for a long time. One other area of fraud that she didn't touch on, maybe because there's no real incentive for Walmart to engage in it is the SNAP swap. Someone on the food stamps can head into their local convenience store, hand over the equivalent of $20 to the store and get $10 in return. It's a win for the store and it's a win for the customer, assuming neither gets caught.
One way that much of this abuse could possibly be lessened is instead of giving people money for their food, give them the food itself. The problem is that we want people to have at least the essentials, so let's provide them with that. Even if we need to have deliveries to the homes themselves, bring a package of the necessities as they are needed. If the people want something else, they can go buy it with their own money. But at least they'll have the necessities of things like milk, bread, vegetables, and proteins in some form.
Before the flaming starts, I will say that while I do believe that the type of fraud and abuse described both by Rousselle and myself does happen, I truly do not believe it is widespread. I don't believe it is anything even close to a majority. I believe it is an extreme minority. However when there are millions of people on the system, even a small minority of "millions" can lead to a lot of abuse. Hopefully Rousselle's column continues to open eyes to this system and we find areas to improve these programs.
As the Governing Scam Turns
I've found the ProCAP matter to highlight a thoroughly depressing fact of the modern civic arrangement, and it came to a point when Russ stated the following, in a comment to one of Andrew's recent posts:
If providing a bridge loan is cheaper than taking over the functions that would be lost if PROCAP goes under, it's money well spent. If not, it isn't. Why is that so confusing?
I'm also not sure why you'd think it a concern for the city if PROCAP pays back loans with money from federal or other grants.
To the extent that such argumentation sounds reasonable, it emphasizes the approach to government spending that is leading to the downfall of the West. The objective is to find the cheapest way to provide each function, with the list growing every year (as with the state and federal foray into preschool), not to determine what functions government must cease to provide because there is no money.
That ProCAP operates with "federal or other grants" does not help the situation, because government is funded with money taken out of the economy across the board, and it is broke at every level. Here we have a collapsing quasi-public agency receiving a loan from a city in deficit, with both receiving payments from a state that must annually paper over its own fiscal gaps and a federal government in debt beyond imagining.
Mark Steyn's column in the most recent National Review describes the scheme on the international level:
Oh, by the way, the IMF itself has spent most of the last few years operating with a $400 million budget deficit. So a broke G7 economy [Italy] is being bailed out by a broke transnational organization funded by a broke hyperpower. That seems likely to work.
Government finance has become a giant shell game in which there is no ball to find. Starting from the premise that this or that must be funded through public dollars, the plan is simply to assume that the money will come from somewhere. Miracles and breakthroughs are always possible, but the safe bet is that hard times are coming.
December 20, 2011
Government Edges into Preschool... Expensively
Over on the blog for the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity, I've highlighted the high cost of letting government edge its way into the preschool business.
Are Insane Acts Not Crimes by Definition?
I get that the law is full of technical distinctions and processes to determine how they apply in specific instances, but the outcome of a patricide and attempted matricide in Tiverton really emphasizes the strange conclusion to which such legal findings lead
Joel Beaulieu was found not guilty by reason of insanity because he "suffers from schizoaffective disorder, which can result in manic and depressive episodes, loss of contact with reality, and inability to distinguish right from wrong."
According to court documents, in the days that preceded the attack, Beaulieu, who at the time lived with his parents, had trouble sleeping, was paranoid with violent impulses and had auditory hallucinations. ...
"It was kill or be killed in my frame of mind," Beaulieu told Dr. Barry Wayne Wall, director of forensic services at Eleanor Slater Hospital in Cranston, who interviewed Beaulieu at the Adult Correctional Institutions, according to court documents.
Joel stabbed his father "more than 50 times" until he died in his kitchen. His badly wounded mother made it out to the driveway. Is it possible to commit such an act without being insane? Sure, some killers will hear voices, and some won't. Some will express thoughts indicating paranoia; others' lunacy will be indicated by different pathologies.
I'm not questioning the judgment in this case, and I'm not worried that an insane asylum will be any less of a prison. (Although, I note with a chill that on the day of the murder "Beaulieu told his treating physician he was feeling better," and I wonder about the process of his future therapy.) But it seems to me that we introduce some dangerous concepts when it becomes legitimate to judge a person's guilt by his or her frame of mind.
Essentially, Beaulieu's claim is one of self defense, and the state's course of action is to treat him for the mental disorder that led him to feel threatened when he wasn't. Again, what motive for killing loving parents would not be an act of insanity? Or is it only a crime to kill people who give one a reason to want them dead?
RIGOP Chair Candidate (Third of Three): Mark Zaccaria
On Wednesday evening, the RIGOP will be choosing a new Chair. Anchor Rising is profiling each of the candidates. This is Mark Zaccaria.
Mark Zaccaria is a lifelong Republican whose campaign experience dates back to his High School days, distributing literature for Barry Goldwater’s run for President. Mark’s campaign experience also extends forward to his successful campaign for a seat on the North Kingstown Town Council and his two cycle run for Rhode Island’s Congressional Seat in District 2.
In-between, Mr. Zaccaria served on active duty in the United States Air Force. He also had a career in corporate management and now runs a small consultancy out of his home in Saunderstown. Married these 35 years to Ruth Carter Zaccaria, the two are the proud parents of three adult children all of whom still live or work in Rhode Island.
In bullet form (single sentence answers), what do you see as the three most important components of the job that the next Chair will need to focus on in order to continue building the party?
There are only two jobs for the next Chair of the RI GOP:
- Raising Money for the Republican General Assembly Slate in 2012
- Being the Face and Voice of the Party to the press and public
The new Chair must concentrate on these two items, only. The Executive Director has the continuity and detailed understanding of all administrative matters, which he should handle. The Chair might have to be consulted on policy matters as they come up but the continuity represented by a capable ED who is also a member of the RI Bar should be used to advantage to permit the Chair to focus on Fundraising.
Mark can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com
December 19, 2011
RIGOP Chair Candidate (Second of Three): Raymond McKay
On Wednesday evening, the RIGOP will be choosing a new Chair. Anchor Rising is profiling each of the candidates. This is Raymond McKay.
11 years United States Army 21G Pershing Electronic Material Specialist and 74F Computer Programmer
19 years working in MIS for the City of Warwick – network and telecom manager for a 31 building network with approximately 500 data users and approximately 700 voice users – network supports an approximately 89,000 person City with a $250M budget.
Politics (partial listing):
Grassroots activist – Attended Statehouse rallies, called in to various radio programs and have been requested to call in to two different radio stations for responses to Party issues, met with the 9-12 group, met with various tea party groups and leaders, written several letters to the editor
First joined RIGOP State Central in 1998 – also year I ran my first campaign for RI Senate against Senator Walaska
2001 – Was part of the Founding Group of RIRA. Currently its president.
In bullet form (single sentence answers), what do you see as the three most important components of the job that the next Chair will need to focus on in order to continue building the party?
- Rebuilding the Brand and Party Image and restoring a faith and belief that the Republican Party can be trusted and is viable to donate to
- Getting good quality Candidates
Raymond can be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
RIGOP Chair Candidate (First of Three): Tina McKendall
On Wednesday evening, the RIGOP will be choosing a new Chair. Anchor Rising is profiling each of the candidates. This is Tina McKendall.
I am a member of the Rhode Island small business community, an employer, the mother of three children, a wife, sister, friend and neighbor. My husband, Don, and I have been married for almost 30 years and have raised three independent and successful children.
I received my B.S. degree in nursing at Rhode Island College. For many years, I was a labor and delivery nurse at Women and Infants Hospital. Due to this experience, I know first-hand that Obama Care will not only destroy the best health care system in the world, but also will put enormous economic strain on all Americans.
As Vice President of Servpro of Northern Rhode Island, our family-owned business, I have spent a great deal of time talking with entrepreneurs, businesses of all sizes, families and individuals across the state and throughout our nation. People in our state are very focused on finding jobs, making our state competitive for business opportunities, limiting government, and reducing taxes.
In bullet form (single sentence answers), what do you see as the three most important components of the job that the next Chair will need to focus on in order to continue building the party?
1) Winning: We need to win more elections. I plan on hiring a political director. S/he will be focused primarily on winning GA seats. My goal is to win 10 more senate seats and have a total of 30 Republican house seats. We will be in constant communication with Senate, Congressional and statewide campaigns. I will also work with my 39 fellow town and city chairs to help them come up with a game plan for winning more town/city council seats and school committee and local elections.
2) Fundraising: After I am elected Chair, I will perform an audit to see what we have and create a budget to see what we will need. I will then create a fundraising plan to meet the budget. My goal will be to raise ten percent more than what is needed. Excess money that comes in will be given to GA candidates who have won their primaries.
3) Branding/Messaging: The purpose of the RI Republican Party is to Retain, Recruit, Rally and Elect Republicans throughout the state of Rhode Island. I want to make sure all Rhode Islanders know that. I will utilize social media (i.e. Facebook) and maximize traditional media to get that message out.
Tina can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com
December 18, 2011
“You want to play hardball, and that’s what happens.”
That was the answer given by SEIU Local 580 President Phillip Keefe about his union's response to the fact that Crossroads RI decided to back Engage RI in the recent pension reform discussions. In today's Providence Journal, Crossroads' president said they're getting some of their donation cards back with a different response from the past.
“Some of them were quite vulgar,” Nolan said. “Some of them were threatening. Some of them were, pardon me, ‘Why the [expletive] don’t you ask Engage Rhode Island for a donation!’"Keefe doesn't deny that his organization could be behind the feedback.
The union sent letters last month to its 1,000 members, he said, and followed up with discussions at membership meetings about directing their charitable contributions away from organizations such as Crossroads and Family Services of Rhode Island, which are affiliated with EngageRI. Any nonprofits that support an organization that is “slamming” union members, he said, should expect similar treatment.And then, he went on further:
“These people are targeting you and your families. You can act now by simply not using the services of these groups or contacting them directly to voice your concern … [and] when you run into them at the office or in the community feel free to express your displeasure with their position.”So SEIU 580 is telling their people that when they see members of Crossroads RI (and other Engage RI supporters) at the grocery store, at the coffee shop, or walking down the street, express their displeasure with the Crossroads' position. The letter told the union members that they should voice their displeasure to anyone they believe is taking money out of their pockets? Really? And the response is "You want to play hardball, this is what happens", really? So if I'm not happy with what their union does, I should heckle their members every time I see them? Is that what all taxpayers should do? If I don't like the union's contract, should I shout down my local teachers, the guy driving the plow, the people working at Town Hall? When I see them at the grocery store, should I tell them what I think? Is that really what Phillip Keefe is advocating for? Wouldn't that be interesting if many taxpayers started harassing his union members in public like this and the response was "You want to play hardball, this is what happens." Sounds pretty good to me.
While no one is or ever should be required to donate to any organization, Crossroads RI said they are down about $100,000 in their usual donations since the pension discussions. Crossroads is one of the organizations that takes care of homeless people, women and children included. This is who the union is turning on. Apparently, "I will not support any organization that works to cut my pension." is more important to these people than children sleeping on the street and having food to each. But it's good to see that SEIU 580 is out to protect the little guy.
December 17, 2011
Can I Just Say....
For a moment, I've put down my smart phone and its apps so as better to type on my regular ol' laptop on this ye olde blog thing. The inspiration for such a retro act (apart from the evening's first two microbrews) was the appearance of Billy Joel's Glass Houses album yes, album in the rotation of old vinyl records to which I've been listening nights and weekends for some months when I'm in my office/basement, which may be among the final locales in the Northeast with a functional record player.
The evidence for that possibility derives from the very fact that I've got so many albums that I haven't managed to get through them all in that amount of time. As the generation of my family to which I belong approaches the next in line for the grave (in a certain way of looking at things), several shelves full of the 12 1/2" x 12 1/2" cardboard sleeves have worked their way to me. Lessons discoverable by listening to a century of the albums apt to make it into the inheritable collection of a relatively normal family, I'll leave for another day. For the time being, the notion on my mind is that medium matters.
The peculiarity of Glass Houses on the list is that it's one of just a few that I purchased myself. I recall finding it among the tables of a street vendor during a day trip into Manhattan with my grandparents and cousin. At the time, it joined several other works of the same artist that I owned on cassette tape, and through mere circumstance (as opposed to unusual affection) I've owned and listened to the album in every popular music medium to hit the market in the past fifty years. Album, cassette tape, CD, mp3, and I'm pretty sure when bought a used 1970s Oldsmobile 98 in my late teens 8-track, as well.
As it happens, I'm listening to the record on the very same stereo system that has carried me through all of those changes. It was state of the art when I won it in a mail-in contest hosted by a little-known-and-short-lived magazine operated by an acquaintance of one of my eighth grade teachers. Thus did luck squared bring me the still-new technology of the compact disc.
Among the first of my collection of those smaller, shinier discs was Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever, which drew some notice for a message played in the middle of the recording (from memory): "Hello CD listeners. We have now reached the point in this album that those listening on record or cassette will have to stand up or sit down to turn over the record or cassette. In fairness to those listeners, we will now take a moment before starting side two. Thank you. Here's side two." In an MTV interview, Petty spoke glowingly of the old vinyl as more of an experience. It meant something to purchase and take home those large sleeves, with their poster-sized covers and broad sheets of pictures and lyrics.
It's somehow different to watch the music being played, as the disc rotates and the needle works its way toward the label. The necessity of turning the album over after 15 minutes is actually more conducive to simply sitting and listening, which is something that I've noticed even my traditionalist self to be less inclined to do with mp3s.
Just so has Glass Houses proven. Every now and then, its songs will come up in the eclectic, ponderous shuffle that I love so much on my mp3 player, but it's not the same. The classic record brings one somehow closer to the music. You can touch the record, slow it down, make it skip, force it to rotate backwards. Sometimes, you can just about hear it playing with no speakers at all. I wonder what the experience of listening to music is like, and will be like, for generations that have no experience whatsoever with tangible technologies.
I've thought the same of reading, in this season of gifted Nooks, Kindles, and iPads. Looking for a particular book of poetry, I strolled into the relatively large Barnes & Nobles in Middletown almost literally stunned by the shrinking shelf space left for actual books. In Best Buy, I knew immediately that a specific documentary would not be among the DVDs, which are allotted a mere fraction of the space they once claimed.
The media stores are shifting from sales of content to sales of content delivery devices. What, one wonders, are we buying? It's obscure enough to own a recording in electric flashes on a computer drive. What they're pushing us toward they, the pushers is this insidious cloud, wherein we'll own only rights (conditional rights) to content housed on their drives, which they can track and change and rescind. Will such rights be inheritable?
Along with the boxes of records came boxes (and boxes and boxes) of books, some no doubt that my grandfather received as inheritance. A better statement of the tangibility and durability of knowledge cannot be made than by a dictionary and "home reference library," bound with flat-head screw bolts, that could double as a coffee table.
Among these boxes is a woven-covered copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass, published in 1940 by Doubleday Doran, "Printed in the United States of America."
This Edition of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass was planned by Richard Ellis and produced under his direction. The illustrations by Lewis C. Daniel were reproduced in Similetone and Intaprint by the Zeese-Wilkinson Company of Long Island City. The paper was specially made for this new edition by the P. H. Glatfeller Company of Spring Grove, Pennsylvania. The Composition, Printing and Binding by The Haddon Craftsmen of Camden, New Jersey.
For sheer intrigue and mystery and pursuit of luck's evidence of the profound, I stick my hand randomly into the pages and (not surprisingly) find it in the midst of "Song of Myself":
I help myself to material and immaterial,
No guard can shut me off, no law prevent me.
How much longer? When we forget the stuffness of things, how much longer?
Landfill Study Commission Sets a Land Speed Record for Issuing a Bad Recommendation
Looks like a load of political garbage has arrived at the Central Landfill.
Co-Chair of the [General Assembly Study] commission tasked with investigating the odor emanating from the Johnston landfill, Stephen Ucci, called for the resignation of Executive Director of RI Resource Recovery Michael OConnell.
Ucci made the announcement at a public hearing held at Johnston High School Friday night.
We know who so stinkily dropped the ball here.
... Broadrock Energy LLC, the company charged with drawing gases out of the Central Landfill ...
But when local officials met with Broadrock representatives, Polisena said, "they appeared not to have any reasonable explanation" for why the gas emissions have not stopped.
"Their response was 'Let's see where we are in 6 to 10 weeks from now,'" Polisena explained. "Totally, totally unacceptable —
So why is
Senator Representative Ucci gunning for exactly the wrong target? Could it be that Director O'Connell was brought into RIRRC by the wrong party? Or is the senator representative merely engaged in brainless and extreme scape-goating?
Either way, it is notably unresponsive and unhelpful to the situation. Close up this study commission, Mr. Speaker. The people of Johnston and the patrons of the landfill (i.e., the entire state) need solutions, not knee-jerk inanities.
December 16, 2011
Congressional Redistricting: Why Plan F instead of Plan C?
An interesting tactical question regarding the current state of Rhode Island's Congressional redistricting process is why "Plan F" instead of "Plan C". At the municipal scale of resolution, Plan C and Plan F (unveiled last night by the Rhode Island Redistricting Commission) are based on the same concept: Move Burrillville from CD1 to CD2 and redraw the line that splits Providence between districts. Plan F involves at least one "compactness" laugher -- it connects South Providence to the rest of CD 1, literally, by a jump across the water via the Point Street Bridge or points south. (assuming, of course, that what is indicated as the Point St. Bridge on the pre-Iway maps being used by the redistricting commission really is). Plan C created a much more contiguous CD 1, by moving some downtown area north of Point St from CD2 to CD1 to make a geographically firmer connection between South Providence and the rest of CD1. Also, Plans C and F use different schemes for swapping areas around Smith Street between CD1 and CD2.
Perhaps it is folly to expect rational efficiency from a government process -- especially once the consultants get involved -- but it is worth asking why "Plan C" wasn't put forward as the first recommendation by the Redistricting Commission, if "Plan F" is where we could end up.
Hot or What?
GoLocalProv has a weekly article by Dan McGowan where he tracks the locals that are "Hot or Not", which is more a barometer of public perception than any physical characteristics.
It's pretty surprising to see David Cicilline ranked as a "hot" in a week where he's been getting negative criticism from his own party and even called a liar by Anthony Gemma. McGowan's reasoning on the "hot" ranking is that Cicilline may be coming out of the redistricting process with a better map for his re-election bid. However, this could be a "win the battle, lose the war" scenario, as also mentioned by Ian Donnis. I'm just not too sure how you can go through a process that is supposed to be transparent but then get lambasted by people who should be supporting you, and be considered a win.
Also mentioned in the Cicilline column is that Merrill Sherman isn't going to contest Cicilline in the primary and this is said to be a win for Cicilline. I'm not so sure that's true. Cicilline has a big negative rating and will have a great many people looking to vote against him, so they'll need someone to vote for. If there are multiple candidates with which to vote against Cicilline, that splits up all those votes and maybe dilutes them to the point of Cicilline getting enough votes to make it through the primary. Having just one opponent to gather up all of the anti-Cicilline sentiment could prove politically deadly for the Congressman. The more candidates in the primary, the more that those votes get spread around.
As mentioned earlier, my understanding of the "hot or not" is to gauge the perception of someone recently, or even just over the last week. David Segal gets a "hot" when he didn't even do anything. McGowan mentions that maybe he'll get in the race for Congress again. Great. So that equates to a "hot"?
I definitely agree that Governor Chafee deserves a "Not" this week, and it's based on his popularity ratings in the recent Brown University poll. I also found it interesting when listening to the WPRO news this morning where they had Chafee talking about the numbers and he seemed to attribute it to the economy and that people are frustrated with the economy. Really Gov? The problem with your popularity numbers is the economy? I guess the only positive there is if that's what he thinks, then he's really not going to ever "get it" and will be a one-term governor.
One "Not" that I think was missing is Congressman Jim Langevin. McGowan gives a Not to Ed Pacheco, the Democratic Chair for not intervening in the Cicilline/Langevin kerfluffle, but I think at the same time if you're going to give Cicilline a win for what the maps may look like after redistricting, then you have to give Langevin a loss. Just as David Scharfenberg mentions this week in the Providence Phoenix, if you're going to be politically aloof and not engage with your party, don't really expect the party to come to your aid later on when you need it. This is how you choose to play the game, live by the results. Langevin deserved a "Not".
This column often gets criticism for being left-leaning and seeming to offer propaganda for the Democrats' benefit. I think quite often, McGowan is fair to a degree in his Hot or Not, but this week to say that Cicilline had a good week, might be a bit of a stretch to defend.
Closing the Achievement Gap, One Way or Another
The big education news this morning is that Rhode Island has won another Race to the Top grant, this time for early childhood education. Details will come later in the day, but it is another step in closing the so-called achievement gap between poor, disadvantaged students and those who, I suppose, are considered advantaged (middle-income, stable families, etc.). It's, obviously, a desirable goal, but there are, as always, unintended consequences. For while our attempts to close the gap appear to be working--disadvantaged students are getting better--I've mentioned before that our normal or higher achieving students are getting worse in the process. In a piece in today's Washington Post, Michael J. Petrilli and and Frederick M. Hess summarize the problem:
In 1996, Rand Corp. scholars determined that low-achieving pupils benefit when placed in mixed-ability classrooms, faring about five percentage points better than those placed in lower-track classes, but that high-achievers score six percentage points worse in such general classes.Good-faith efforts to help disadvantaged kids are not intended to hurt average or high-achieving students, but such leveling is an all-too common, unintended result of such good intentions. We may not be leaving as many children behind, but we're also slowing many of them down in the Race to the Top. If it's a tie, everybody wins....right?
In 2008, six years after No Child Left Behind became law, a survey of teachers found 60 percent saying that struggling students were a “top priority” at their schools, while just 23 percent said the same of “academically advanced” students. Eighty percent said that struggling students were most likely to get one-on-one attention from teachers; only 5 percent said the same of advanced students.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association released a study in September that tracked more than 100,000 high-achieving pupils over time and found that more than one-third lost steam as they progressed through school. The Brookings Institution’s Tom Loveless has reported that, while the nation’s lowest-achieving students made significant gains in reading and math between 2000 and 2007, top students’ gains were “anemic.”
December 15, 2011
The Redistricting Process
This seems like another one like I referenced earlier with the call for a "Wait, What?!" category, or maybe it's even slipping into a different one, some three-letter acronym that begins with the same letter as "Wait, What?!"
What is going on with this redistricting process? Let's take a step back for a minute. What is the whole point? Isn't the point to simply change up districts in such a way that everyone is as close to being equally represented as possible? Isn't that it? So then why don't we simply stick a couple smart people in a room with some maps and census data, stick the Capitol TV cameras on them the whole time and let them redraw some maps. Transparent and open. That's apparently not what we have.
We had Common Cause asking to make sure that no incumbent was specifically protected or that any incumbent's home address was taken into consideration with the process. They got no response to that request.
Then GoLocalProv reported on a redistricting meeting back in November:
For example, during a redistricting commission hearing last month, Representative Joseph Trillo told Kimball Brace, the consultant in charge of advising the state on how to redraw its legislative maps, that he wanted him to make sure no two current incumbents would be forced to face one another.Wait, what?! Why? What gives an incumbent any advantage here? Isn't the point to simply redraw the lines? Why is it the goal to redraw the lines AND protect incumbents? So while we're politicizing this, hey Joe, in case you didn't notice, there aren't too many Republicans at the State House. Maybe if some districts were drawn up where there was no incumbent, maybe a Republican could grab a seat like that.
Trillo asked: “Is every effort being made to insure that—let’s say there’s a situation where there’s a rep on one street and one on the next street over, there’s another representative with an entirely different district—to keep those individual reps in separate districts?”What? 'making sure politics played a role'? What? Isn't that the last thing we want?
Brace said he was doing his best at following orders—making sure politics played a role in the process of redistricting—but said that given the realities of population shifts, there may be situations in which, two sitting representatives would be forced to challenge one another.
“We did attempt to prevent that occurrence,” said Brace.
[Trillo] realized that he had been drawn into a district with another incumbent. The problem, he reasoned, was that the consultant used his business address to draw the maps, as opposed to his home address. Trillo made it known that he was none too happy with the result.In spite of the fact that this reads like a parent scolding a child, let me say again, it shouldn't matter. Draw the lines wherever they make the most sense.
“I made it very clear to you when we met downstairs which was my home address and which was my business address,” said Trillo.
Trillo caught some heat for his comments. Other people thought he was out of line with his demands, as I do. However I think the major difference here is Trillo is a Republican, so he doesn't really have any other forum to state his case. One can't be blamed for having a suspicion that if any "leadership friendly" Democrats had concerns, those could be brought up and addressed privately.
Plus, this was not something only limited to Republicans. One night last week, we had requests from legislators asking their colleagues to take a lie detector test with regard to the procedure. Also, Democrat Charlene Lima of Cranston, no stranger to the politics of redistricting, complained loudly when map 'C' had her put in the same district with fellow incumbent John Carnevale. Yet again, who cares. Draw the lines where they make the most sense.
Then on the Congressional level, we hear of the mass griping about where the line will be drawn between CD1 and CD2. We have staffers from both the Langevin and Cicilline camps poring over the data and even Langevin helpfully offering up his own suggested map.
Redistricting might be the second scummiest thing in Rhode Island politics (nepotism and 'in the know' hiring may rank higher) so if politicians wanted to really clean up their image, this was an opportunity to do so. Open up the process, make it transparent and clear, make the goals public and clear ahead of time and stick to them. The wrangling isn't done yet, the back room dealing isn't done yet and as always, there will be winners and losers. It's just too bad that yet again, the losers will be the voters of Rhode Island.
Iraq War Formally Over
It's been winding down for months now and today it became official: the War in Iraq is officially over. The Washington Post, perhaps, summarized it most accurately:
The American war in Iraq came to an unspectacular end Thursday at a simple ceremony held on the edge of Baghdad’s international airport, not far from the highway along which U.S. troops first fought their way into the capital more than eight years ago.Jennifer Griffin asked Defense Secretary Leon Panetta if it was worth it:
There were speeches paying tribute to the fallen, promises that the United States would not abandon Iraq, vague declarations of “success” and warnings of challenges ahead. A brass band played, and the flag that had flown over the headquarters of the U.S. mission here was lowered for the last time and folded away.
And that was it. No pronouncements of victory, no cheers or jubilation — only a profound sense that the war’s real reckoning is yet to come, even as the American part in it draws to a close.
"I think I will remember this moment for the rest of my life," he said.Most people probably have mixed emotions about the Iraq War, but we can't ever forget the men and women who sacrificed their lives when called upon. We owe them our deepest thanks.
"You know, it's funny, we came into this war probably divided as a nation but I think we're going out of it united," Panetta continued. "I really think that most Americans really feel that regardless of why we got into this we're leaving with our chins held high, that we have really given this country an opportunity to be able to not only govern itself, but to enjoy the hope of democracy. ... I think all of us have to feel good about what's happened."
And If There Are No Gold Mines Under Kennedy Plaza, How About (Crazy Thought) Monitoring the Tax Dollars That We Distribute?
Let me get this straight. A city that has no money, because it spends more than it takes in, is loaning money to an organization that receives all of its money from public sources -- raising the question of how the "loan" will be paid back -- ...
... the Rhode Island solution to ProCAP's problems seems to be to pile new debts on an already bankrupt organization that has no taxpayer-independent source of revenue with which to pay them back. Does Rhode Island's governing class really think that this is legitimate, rational finance?
One of the creditors to be listed in ProCAP's filing will be the City of Providence for health coverage loaned to ProCAP to the tune of $1,000,000. But if ProCAP gets
"96% of its...revenue from taxpayers"
will the taxpayers be paying themselves back for the health coverage loan???
This is grotesque.
Whether it's disability pensions, welfare, medicaid or tax-payer funded quangos like ProCAP, THIS STATE NEEDS TO START EXERCISING SOME OVERSIGHT WITH TAX DOLLARS.
Here are some eminently reasonable, even minimalistic, questions to ask and answers to verify on a REGULAR BASIS before our tax dollars are handed out:
- Are you truly disabled?
- Do you qualify for this social program? Are you drawing benefits in more than one name?
- Are you actually the food stamp recipient or did you pay cash for that EBT card at half off?
- How many staff members does it take to (fill in the blank) operate a heating oil program / administer a health program / oversee a youth program / tutor / steer people to govt housing programs? By this standard, is your organization overstaffed because you've decided (outrageously and unsustainably and possibly criminally) to try to end poverty by putting a bunch of people into do-nothing jobs at taxpayer expense???
When handing out tax dollars, our government, on both the state and local level, needs to do more than rotely fill out forms and then disseminate those funds on auto pilot. From the iron-pumping "disabled" firefighter (who highlighted the sky-high and patently unbelievable rate at which public employees retire "disabled") to the absurdly over-staffed "community" organization to medical care and nursing home beds given to illegal aliens to local shops which purchase EBT cards for half the face value, it is clear that our elected officials have been scandalously careless with our dollars.
It needs. To. End. We need to spend as much - I'd settle for HALF as much - on the verification end as we do on the distribution of tax dollars. If that means less money for the distribution side for a while, so be it. The continued squandering of our tax dollars in the current fashion is a flagrant display of craven and depraved irresponsibility, both to the taxpayer and to those who truly need or have earned those dollars.
I think I need to ask Justin to add a new category of "Wait, what?!" as it seems every day there's a new headline that just makes me shake me head and double check to see if I'm actually reading The Onion.
Today's is the Breaking News headline on the Providence Journal:
Chafee to ask RI General Assembly for $2.6-million Central Falls bailout for CF retireesOk, first of all, I understand the plight of the CF retirees and I understand the lack of fairness in this issue to them. Losing half your pension income without doing anything wrong was to put it mildly, harsh. But that's not the issue here. The issue is the thought of RI bailing out the retirees.
The article describes the deal as:
The agreement would give each retiree an average of $5,000 annually for five years.So my questions from then are, how does the "average" work? And, after five years, then what? Will we hear then about how their pensions are getting cut again, because they're losing that $5,000? Plus, if there's no COLA involved in that five-year span, that same $5,000 won't go as far in 2017 as it did in 2012. The retirees will likely be looking for more than the $5,000.
This is the state looking to bail out a local mistake. If municipalities want autonomy, then they need to live with both sides of it. Otherwise, let's just dissolve all the borders and go with one big city, "Rhode Island".
This sets an interesting precedent. However, it would appear that this very same thing has already been done recently, under the guise of "a loan". Right Providence and ProCAP? That's what we're calling it?
I also wonder about the funding. Where is that coming from? Is the General Assembly able to just whip up $2.6M out of thin air, especially when it wasn't ever budgeted? If they're capable of doing that, then we may have more questions.
What would this do for the authority and credibility of the receiver, Robert Flanders? Flanders cut the pension and now Chafee is working to restore at least a portion of it. So in the future, who do people in the town work with and negotiate with, Flanders or Chafee?
Where was this idea a few months back when Flanders first cut the pensions? Especially at a time when the state's budget was still being drafted and this could have been vetted and written in. Or is this yet another attempt by the Chafee administration to run around the General Assembly and simply bypass their authority? Why was all the pain and anger and frustration allowed to happen if it was going to be fixed this simply? Why wasn't this option brought up earlier? Did Chafee and the retirees think they'd simply call Flanders' bluff and he'd never cut the pensions?
Another issue with this is here:
Neither Flanders or Chafee's office would comment on the details of the agreement, saying that a confidentiality agreement prohibits them from discussing the deal until it's approved by the retirees.I don't understand why anyone in the government is allowed to potentially spend, or at least negotiate with, taxpayer money without the taxpayers being able to see what's being negotiated before it's signed. We require transparency with our Open Meetings laws, where we don't even allow three members of the same committee to meet over coffee and discuss things without public notice, but here the Governor could be setting quite the precedent and spending millions of taxpayer dollars, we can't find out all the details before the contract is signed?
To quote a former US Speaker of the House:
We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it
It All Makes Sense if you Understand They're Planning to Sell Their Rights to the Gold Mines Under Kennedy Plaza
Ted Nesi of WPRI (CBS 12) notes two developments in the the collapse of ProCAP, an organization that is supposed to address poverty issues that, while outside of the government-proper, receives "96% of its...revenue from taxpayers"...
Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein granted ProCAP's request and named Thomas Hemmendinger as the agency's temporary court-appointed receiver during a brief hearing Wednesday. A permanent receiver will be named in early January.Let me get this straight. A city that has no money, because it spends more than it takes in, is loaning money to an organization that receives all of its money from public sources -- raising the question of how the "loan" will be paid back -- at the same time that a source of revenue is going to need to be found to pay for the services of a "receiver", who I assume is not working for free.
The board voted 10-0 “to seek the protection of the courts through receivership" after a presentation by interim executive director Frank Shea that showed the taxpayer-funded nonprofit's financial woes are "much direr, quite frankly, than anybody thought," spokesman Bill Fischer said....
The city [of Providence] will loan ProCAP $250,000 on an emergency basis to keep its doors open and repaying the money will have priority in court, [Mayor Angel Taveras] said. The judge approved a $10,000 bond and described the step taken Wednesday as an "operational receivership" because the organization will remain open.
I'm not suggesting a connection here, just pointing out that the Rhode Island solution to ProCAP's problems seems to be to pile new debts on an already bankrupt organization that has no taxpayer-independent source of revenue with which to pay them back. Does Rhode Island's governing class really think that this is legitimate, rational finance?
December 14, 2011
"The Least Disruption To The Voters"
An interesting note today on Ian Donnis' WRNI blog, where he referred back to an article of his from back in June. According to Cicilline spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw:
The redistricting process has not yet begun, but looking ahead, Congressman Cicilline has confidence that this process will be done fairly and in a way that causes the least disruption for voters.So let's get this right. Back in June, the concern was to cause the least disruption for the voters. Then recently, we saw a map that would displace more than 120,000 voters in order to balance the districts by 7,200. We hear of both the Doherty and Loughlin camps complaining about that map. We hear of Anthony Gemma complaining and most of all, we hear Congressman Jim Langevin complaining. But who do we not hear complaining about it? The person who wanted the least disruption for the voters. If the Cicilline camp still feels this way, I expect that they too will reject the map that shifts more than 120,000 voters between the districts.
"He's a Liar"
Being new to this blogging thing, I always want to tread carefully when throwing around accusations and possible libelous statements. So it's so much easier when someone else throws around the words that I can simply quote. "He's a liar" is a great one.
This was said by Anthony Gemma in reference to Congressman David Cicilline, one of Cicilline's primary opponents in 2010 and possibly a primary opponent again in 2012. Gemma was referring to the recent flap about the Congressional redistricting in Rhode Island.
According to GoLocalProv,
Cicilline’s campaign fired back, making it clear they never suggested that they didn't have a hand in the process.
“He was a liar then and he is still a liar now,”Gemma isn't the only one having a hard time believing the explanation from the Cicilline camp. Yesterday, even Congressman Jim Langevin, wasn't buying it. His spokesman called Cicilline's response “blatantly disingenuous." Which is a really nice way of saying "liar." When you have all sides of your own party, the very guys who are supposed to be supportive of you, doubting your honesty and sincerity, you have big problems with public trust.
It's not just the Democrats who are up in arms with these tactics. Yesterday on his WRNI Politics Blog, Ian Donnis quoted John Loughlin's campaign spokesman.
"Most of the Congressional redistricting maps that have been proposed appear to be a blatant attempt to save Congressman David Cicilline."Napolitano is referring to blatant gerrymandering, a practice as old as politics, but a term that goes back to Massachusetts in the early 1800s.
The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under the then-governor Elbridge Gerry. In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a salamander.Has Cicilline somehow engaged in gerrymandering? Remember what I said above? I can't say for sure, but here are some facts.
Congressional redistricting occurs after the national census is done every ten years. The result of the census was that approximately 7,200 voters need to be moved from the Second Congressional District to the First. One of the most recent maps rolled out revealed more than 120,000 voters changing districts in order to make the numbers work.
How does that make any sense? If you need to move 7200, I can see moving a few more to make it work, by sticking to boundaries, maybe even going as high as 10,000. But to move seventeen times the necessary number of people? I don't know about you, but if it walks like a duck...
A Better View Through Environmentalism
I see, in the paper that cannot be linked, that Senator Whitehouse is leading the charge on legislation that would increase the difficulty of development in some coastal areas of Newport and Middletown "to prevent habitate and property damage":
The protections under the Coastal Barrier Resource System would be extended to an additional 45 acres in the two Aquidneck Island communities by expanding the barrier boundaries of Easton's Beach, Hazard's Beach and Almy Pond in Newport, and Sachuest Point in Middletown.
I've marked the four spots on this map:
View Hazard's Beach in a larger map
As readers likely know there's quite a bit of money in that area. In fact, I did some remodeling for one family who had purchased something like 10 acres of prime Ocean Drive real estate so that nobody could build on it and pepper their view. If this bill passes, Senator Whitehouse will have figured out a way to accomplish a similar feat for no cost to him. You'll probably have to zoom in a bit to see it, but his house is marked on the above map, just north of Hazard's Beach and west of Almy Pond. (His brother's house, by the way is the one directly north of his, and form Providence Mayor Joseph Paolino owns a house on the same block, closer to the beach.)
December 13, 2011
Woonsocket Pushed To The Brink: $2,000,000 of the School Deficit Is Directly Attributable to Unauthorized, Off The Book Hires
So last week, we learned that a seven figure deficit had surprisingly and unpleasantly materialized in the school budget in place of the small surplus that had been reported for months. We're now waiting for the auditor's report, expected very shortly, to hear the final amount of that deficit.
But Woonsocket Finance Manager, Tom Bruce, advised Anchor Rising today that salaries comprise $2,045,000 of the deficit. (Salaries only, not including bennies.) Further, Mr. Bruce confirmed the report in the Valley Breeze that those salaries arose from unauthorized hirings by Woonsocket's School Committee and former school superintendent.
School Business Manager Stacey Busby let officials know on Thursday that former Woonsocket Supt. Robert Gerardi Jr. allegedly left out crucial financial information when asking the School Committee to approve extra hires. He knew there was not enough local funding to cover their salaries, she said.
As in all Rhode Island cities and towns, the amount of the Woonsocket School Dept's 2010/2011 budget was set by the City Council. Unlike most (all?) other school districts, however, this budget was also the subject of a court order. It appears, then, that the School Committee and former Superintendent Girardi have violated a court order.
There are now some very serious questions that need to be answered.
1.) It appears that the person who knowingly recommended these unfunded hires was the former Superintendent. What exactly did he tell the School Committee about the fiscal implications of these hires? Why did he not permit the School Business Manager, over the course of the last year, to include the cost of these hires in her budget reports? (The latter is positively Cicilline-esqe.)
2.) Is it true that the (immediate prior) School Committee was unaware of the (non)funding of these hires at the time that they were asked to approve them? If so, why did they take such a disinterested approach, especially as their budget had become the subject of a court order?
These hires are still unauthorized but are no longer off the books, exposing the deficit and, therewith, placing the city in a perilous position. Moody's has requested a conference call. (Woonsocket's leaders are acutely aware of the new bond status which Moody's just bestowed on East Providence.) The state has a financial overseer all but warming up in the dugout - the first step towards a Rhode Island city losing control of its finances and, as Andrew correctly points out, its democracy.
The former Superintendent and the prior School Committee have emulated David Cicilline by substantially misrepresenting a fiscal situation involving public dollars, dollars that we entrusted to their prudence and transparency. How will all three be held accountable for the serious consequences of their respective actions? In the private sector, such actions are very often cause for criminal charges. Why should it not be in the public sector also?
Redistricting Mess a Clean Win for Cicilline
Question: does the money spent on redistricting get counted as campaign contributions for Rep. David Cicilline? The ProJo reports that Rep. Jim Langevin (among others) isn't happy about this:
Rep. Jim Langevin is accusing fellow Democrat David Cicilline of trying to use congressional redistricting to aid his re-election.There can be little doubt of that. From Ted Nesi:
A redistricting plan unveiled Monday night would transfer Republican-heavy districts in Burrillville, Smithfield and North Smithfield from Cicilline's district into Langevin's. Cicilline would pick up Democratic-leaning districts in Providence now represented by Langevin.
Campaign spokesmen for Republican candidates John Loughlin and Brendan Doherty say officials crafting changes to the districts appear to be favoring Cicilline.
The freshmen Democrat says he has not tried to influence the state's redistricting efforts to his advantage. Langevin's district director, Kenneth Wild, says Cicilline's claim is "blatantly disingenuous."
A whopping 125,000 Rhode Islanders will switch congressional districts next year despite a population shift of just 7,200 if the state’s redistricting commission approves a new map unveiled Monday to the dismay of Congressman Jim Langevin and local Republicans.That's a lot of movement for a little change. As with the other models, this one benefits Rep. Cicilline. The fix was, is and will be in.
NEA as Reformer?
The national NEA's Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching published a report, "Transforming Teaching: Connecting Professional Responsibility with Student Learning," (PDF) that lays out their vision for modernizing and reforming the teaching profession.
The Commission laid out three guiding principles upon which the teaching profession should be based: Student learning is at the center of everything a teacher does; Teachers take primary responsibility for student learning; Effective teachers share in the responsibility for teacher selection, evaluation, and dismissal. It recommends a better system of teacher development (including reforming teacher certification programs), the creation of National Teaching Standards, peer-review based teacher evaluations, and they even recommend an end to the traditional step-contract. As Rick Hess (a member of the advisory committee, incidentally) says, these ideas and proposals are all well and good, but:
And what will the NEA actually do with its big report? Will the locals and state affiliates that drive the NEA take the effort seriously, or will it gather cyber-dust on the cyber-shelf? Is the national NEA serious about any of this, or is just an effort to deflect criticism and slow down the push for policies designed to reshape teacher evaluation or pay? How many teachers does it expect to actually be moved out of the profession under peer review? How seriously should we take its talk about removing licensure barriers or closing down lousy teacher prep programs?We'll see.
December 12, 2011
The Incentive Trap of Government Subsidies
Small business president Gerry Auclair has observed an interesting conundrum arising from the effect of government subsidies in society. He participated in a program through Workforce of Rhode Island to hire and train an employee as a sewing-machine operator, which essentially provided a $5,000 subsidy for the company's cost of employing her, but:
Then, in July, she got married. The state now looks at combined income of husband and wife, and quickly dropped daycare assistance for her two children. A few months later, it notified her it was dropping the health-care assistance for the children, as well.
If she continues to work, the cost of day care plus the family health-insurance co-pay is more than she earns working. She had no choice but to give her notice, quit working, so she would fall under the magic income level and secure affordable health care for her kids.
While I'm certainly in favor of indirect participation, if the government is going to attempt to move the economy forward, Auclair's anecdote strikes me as evidence that government handouts will tend to multiply. It's a bit like inflation; we give money to assist with healthcare so children don't suffer poor health, then we add in daycare so a single mom can provide for her own family, but these payments then become part of the baseline for other activities.
The mindset comes to be that subsequent actions (such as marriage and employment) are premised on these underlying payments, and the recipient ought therefore be entitled to their continuation; otherwise, we're creating disincentive to good decisions. Small-government conservatives will find that to be a very human response, inasmuch as we think that healthy choices tend to require the application of social and financial incentives; rarely are healthy choices so inherently and immediately attractive that people will give up government handouts in order to make them.
Part of the reason society (and government) ought to encourage marriage is that parents working together will be more self contained when it comes to raising children, both for the well-being of the children and to alleviate pressure for public assistance. What Auclair is requesting, in a sense, is that his former employee continue to be considered a single mom, even though she's now part of a married family with income beyond the bounds that merit public assistance. (One wonders: Should we subsidize well-paid single parents whose one income is equivalent to that of a married pair?)
Of course, it also ought to remain a question whether, as a community, we should really prefer having both parents in the workforce. As my family staggers through our busy schedules, with inadvisably extensive involvement in community activities of various sorts, I'm increasingly struck by the value of having one spouse relieved from the necessity of work. Not only is maintaining a home a labor-intensive operation, but community involvement and other volunteer activities suffer when homes become mere rest-stops between workdays and cleaning, maintenance, management of children's schedules, and so on all must be squeezed in amidst professional responsibilities. (This drain of free time among the population, I'd speculate, increases the call for government to direct money toward community services and charity, thus making jobs out of them.)
It seems to me that we'd all be better off if Mr. Auclair's ire were directed toward relieving the burden of government on his business (through mandates, regulations, and taxes) so he could pay for his own training and raise the salary that he offers until it is sufficiently attractive to bring employees to him. Instead, his call for continued subsidies is little more than an attempt to ensure that he, with his particular needs, realizes a net gain from government's hand in economic affairs, even though it will inevitably increase the burden on somebody else.
Air Force Soldiers Remains Dumped In A Landfill
This seemed like one of those articles that you read the headlines and think to yourself "Nah, it can't really be about something like that." The headlines read:
Air Force: Remains of service members went to landfill
Air Force dumped hundreds of remains of dead soldiers from Dover base into landfill: report
Pretty horrible, right? The Air Force is secretly taking the bodies of dead soldiers and dropping them in a mass grave. Well, not exactly. It's more that the Air Force seems to somehow end up with "bone and soft tissue" at their mortuary at the Dover Air Base in Delaware. I'm not exactly sure how parts of a soldier's body gets separated from the rest and I'm not sure I want to know. However, when the parts do get separated, unfortunately a bone is a bone is a bone. They can't look at one and very easily identify its original owner. Sometimes due to the nature of the death, it is impossible.
Was this just a careless or arrogant mistake by a couple lab workers somewhere, looking to short-circuit a process? It would seem not.
In total, more than 2,700 incinerated body parts were chucked, according to Air Force records - though that number may just be the tip of the iceberg.and they have been doing this for the years "between 2004 and 2008".
One military widow told the Post that a mortuary official told her that the Air Force had been throwing cremated remains in landfills since at least 1996.
According to the Washington Post:
An additional group of 1,762 unidentified remains were collected from the battlefield and disposed of in the same manner, the Air Force said. Those fragments could not undergo DNA testing because they had been badly burned or damaged in explosions. The total number of incinerated fragments dumped in the landfill exceeded 2,700.
Fortunately, this process has stopped and not because the information finally got out.
because [in 2008] a new leadership team that included Gen. Norton Schwartz, the current Air Force chief of staff, decided that burial at sea was more dignified.
The first such burial of 14 urns of unclaimed remains took place earlier this year, he said.
The articles also mention that sometimes the family members refuse to claim the additional remains or as mentioned, they are unidentifiable. So what do you do with body parts that go unclaimed or you don't know who they belong to? One thing I know you don't do is dump them in a landfill. I'd even argue that a burial at sea is inappropriate.
Fortunately, the United States has a place for these soldiers, Arlington National Cemetery. Even if other proper steps were not followed along the way, when the information finally gets out about the soldier's remains, if the final explanation is "We held a formal ceremony and they are respectfully buried at Arlington National Cemetery", I don't think many people would really have much of a problem with that result.
December 11, 2011
The Des Moines ABC/Yahoo GOP Presidential Debate, Part 3
Here are the traditional liveblogging notes, formatted for readability, that I kept during the latter-half of Saturday night's ABC News/Yahoo News debate co-sponsored by WOI-TV, The Des Moines Register and Drake University
[9:48] George S asks Perry about his describing marital fidelity as an important issue to the Presidential campaign.
[9:48] Marriage is a vow to your wife, and a vow to God, and stronger than a Texas handshake.
[9:49] Perry: Someone who cheats on their wife is likely to cheat on others.
[9:50] Santorum: Character counts, but people make mistakes. The public has to decide, based on someone's whole record. And I've been married for 21 years and have 7 kids.
[9:51] Paul: Character is important, we shouldn't have to talk about it, it should show through in the way we live (and I've been married for 54 years, BTW)
[9:52] Q to Romney: Family and faith feature of your first ad. Romney: It's a response to an Obama ad, saying I have no core values. I am motivated by love for this country, and want to make sure America continues to be a merit based society.
[9:53] Bachmann: Founders spoke of a "measure of a man" (or "measure of a woman") and thought that if a person would keep their word was more important than anything else.
[9:55] And Gingrich says: The questions are legitimate. People have to judge who I am now, am I someone they can trust.
[9:56] Sawyer asks about immigration. She wants it "stipulated"(?) that everyone here wants to secure the borders. Now lets talk about 11 million undocumented people in the U.S.
[9:57] Gingrich: Create citizen review boards based on the selective service system. Doesn't think the people of U.S. will deport people who are good community members.
[9:57] Gingrich: Deportation of people with no community ties should be made easier; English should be the official language of the US.
[9:59] Sawyer asks Romney a long-winded version of "how many people do you want to deport".
[9:59] Romney says let's secure the border first. Then give the people who are here an opportunity to Settle their affairs, and return home.
[10:01] Sawyer simplifies Romney's answer to you want to deport 11.5 million people.
[10:01] Sawyer to Perry, what about people who are in the military.
[10:01] Perry: First we need to secure the border! Then we need to enforce the laws that are on the books. Then we can have a legitimate conversation on immigration reform.
[10:02] Stephanopoulos asks Paul about Gingrich's recent comment that the Palestinians are an invented people.
[10:03] Paul: Under the Ottoman Empire, that was technically correct, but Israel wasn't a state either. People in those regions should be dealing with those problems, we shouldn't be dealing with them. Says his "policeman of the world" meme.
[10:04] Gingrich sticks by his guns. What he said was historically true, and groups like Hamas are willing to say openly that not a single Jew will remain in Israel. There's too much lying about the Middle East.
[10:05] Romney asked to respond: He agrees with most of what Gingrich said, except that the Palestinians are an invented people. US should not jump ahead of Israeli leadership, and make their jobs more difficult.
[10:07] Fanned by Stephanopoulos, some back and forth between Gingrich and Romney.
[10:09] Gingrich compares his remark to Reagan's evil empire remark.
[10:10] Q to Bachmann: who got the better of the arg? Obviously uncomfortable, she goes into a prepared set-piece, starting with her days working on Kibbutz, ending with her confronting the head of the Palestinian authority about textbooks that teach hatred of Jews.
[10:11] Q to Santorum: who got the better of the arg? A: "You have to speak the truth, but with prudence".
[10:12] I wonder if Bachmann and Santorum were told before the debate that their role was to be Greek Chorus to the other candidates.
[10:13] Perry says Gingrich's comment is a minor issue and the media is blowing out of proportion. Criticizes Obama's handling of a crashed drone. This President is the problem, not something that Gingrich said.
[10:14] Sawyer says "I'm a yahoo". Oh, wait, that's "I have a question from Yahoo", right after this next commercial break.
[10:20] Question from Yahoo to the candidates: Has the economy forced you to cut back on any necessities (not just luxuries)?
[10:21] Perry didn't have running water until he was 5 years old, and his mother sewed his clothes until he went to college. But never felt like he had to give anything up.
[10:22] Sawyer complains about candidates going over time.
[10:23] Romney says he didn't grow up poor, but his parents instilled principles of hard work.
[10:23] Sawyer asks Paul if the question she just asked matters.
[10:23] Paul: I grew up in the depression and WWII, but didn't feel deprived. Then pivots to monetary policy, and how overspending and overborrowing will destroy the middle class.
[10:24] Santorum grew up in a modest home, and had his basic needs met. Most important thing: I had two parents. Breakdown of family leads to breakdown of the economy. Marriage should be promoted.
[10:26] Sawyer asks Bachmann about bank bailouts. Bachmann answers that some people on this stage supported bailouts, I didn't. Says she was born in Iowa, and had a job at 13 to help out her divorced single mom.
[10:27] Gingrich: I lived in an apartment above a gas-station for a while. Has several out of work relatives. Callista runs a business, has to meet payroll, etc.
[10:28] Stephanopoulos: I want to keep being a yahoo -- oh wait, that's I want to stick with Yahoo. Yahoo audience wants to hear more about healthcare mandates.
[10:29] Romney: "States can do whatever the heck they want to do", but a Federal mandate violates the 10th amendment.
[10:30] Stephanopoulos actually comes up with a decent follow-up: Gingrich supported the mandate up until May. Gingrich says he opposes the mandate, because it means any majority could make you do anything.
[10:30] More Gingrich: 3rd party payment model has grown more difficult sustain, we need to move back towards a doctor-patient relationship.
[10:31] Sawyer talks about her visit to a pharmacy in Iowa. Listening to her speak is making me want to take painkillers.
[10:32] OK, since I was too busy being snarky in the last line, I missed the specific question that prompted Paul's response of: If you need a system where government protects you from yourself, we're in big trouble.
[10:32] Then Paul adds "All government is force". Ron, you we're starting to sound sane tonight -- don't lose it now.
[10:33] Stephanopoulos asks if anyone disagrees with Paul's point of the government not being involved in regulating behavior. Perry jumps in (disappointing Stephanopoulos, I think): It's up to the states, it should be their call. Goes into set-piece about overhauling Washington, going to a part time Congress...
[10:34] ...except Perry then adds the brilliant point that we need a balanced budget constitutional amendment.
The Des Moines ABC/Yahoo GOP Presidential Debate, Part 2
The second question in Saturday night's ABC News/Yahoo News debate co-sponsored by WOI-TV, The Des Moines Register and Drake University opened the most substantive section of the debate. George Stephanopoulos asked about which candidate was the best combination of consistent conservative and most electable. (The question itself was milquetoast. It's the answers that were good.) The details in the reponses and the point-by-point rebuttals that followed flew by faster than I could keep up with, so I will combine the notes I made about the flow of the debate with the candidates' own words, taken from the official debate transcript released by the debate's sponsors and co-sponsors.
Romney compares himself to President Obama first: Obama wants to transform America into an entitlement society. Romney believes America should be a merit society.
Romney, with prompting from George S, gives a 4-point criticism of Gingrich...
We can start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the from the moon. I'm not in favor of spendin' that kinda money to do that. He said that he would like to eliminate, in some cases, the child labor laws so that kids could clean schools. I don't agree with that idea. His plan in capital gains, to remove capital gains for people at the very highest level of income is different than mine. I'd eliminate capital gains, interest, and dividends for people in middle income. So we have differences of viewpoint on some issues. But the real difference, I believe, is our backgrounds. I spent my life in the private sector.George S asks Gingrich for a response. Gingrich asks if he gets to respond to all 4 points. George says yes, but doesn't really look happy about it.
Here's the highlights from Gingrich in the transcript (he wasn't quite as concise as Romney)...
Okay. Let's start with the last one. Let's be candid. The only reason you didn't become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994...Stephanopoulos asks Paul about the negative TV ad he's been running against Gingrich.
Now number two, I'm proud of trying to find things that give young people a reason to study science and math and technology and telling them that some day in their lifetime, they could dream of going to the moon, they could dream of going to Mars. I grew up in a generation where the space program was real, where it was important, and where frankly it is tragic that NASA has been so bureaucratized....And I'm happy to defend the idea that America should be in space and should be there in an aggressive, entrepreneurial way. Third, as to schools, I think virtually every person up here worked at a young age. What I suggested was, kids oughta be allowed to work part-time in school, particularly in the poorest neighborhoods, both because they could use the money....I'll stand by the idea, young people oughta learn how to work. Middle class kids do it routinely. We should give poor kids the same chance to pursue happiness. Finally on capital gains taxes...[a] $200,000 cap on or capital gains tax cut is lower than Obama....I'll stick with zero capital gains will create vastly more jobs than your proposal.
Well, he's been on different positions on so many issues. Single payer: he's taken some positions that are not conservative. He supported the TARP funds. And...he received a lot of money from Freddie Mac. Now, Freddie Mac is essentially a government organization...[Newt is] a spokesman for 'em and you received money for 'em, so I think this is something that the people oughta know aboutGingrich gets to respond...
But, you know, if you were lookin' for a consistent position, I think there's gonna be a little bit of trouble anybody competing with me on consistency.
Well, first of all, as you say...normally in your own speeches, the housing bubble came from the Federal Reserve inflating the money supply. Now, that's the core of the housing bubble and I happen to be with you on auditing the Fed...and frankly on firing Bernanke. Second, I was never a spokesman for any agency, I never did any lobbying for any agency. I offered strategic advice. I was in the private sector. And I was doing things (LAUGHTER) in the private sector.(What the transcript doesn't show is that Gingrich basically pointed to Romney on that last "private sector" point).
Stephanopoulos tells Bachmann it's her turn to take a shot at Gingrich. Will we hear "frugal socialist"?
No, Bachmann widens the question, to criticize "Newt Romney"...
When you look at Newt Gingrich, for 20 years, he's been advocating for the individual mandate in healthcare. That's longer than Barack Obama. Or if you look at Mitt Romney as the governor of Massachusetts, he's the only governor that put into place socialized medicine. No other governor did. Our nominee has to stand on a stage and debate Barack Obama and be completely different. I led 40,000 Americans to Washington D.C., to the Capitol, to fight ObamaCare. I didn't advocate for it. If you look at Newt/Romney, they were for ObamaCare principles. If you look at Newt/Romney, they were for cap and trade. If you look at Newt/Romney, they were for the illegal immigration problem. And if you look at Newt/Romney, they were for the $700 billion bailout. And you just heard Newt/Romney is also with Obama on the issue of the payroll extension.I think the rules of the debate are that if canidate X mentions candidate Y's name, candidate Y automatically gets time to respond. Ultimately, this format seems to make Diane Sawyer very unhappy.
So if you want a difference, Michele Bachmann is the proven conservative. It's not Newt/Romney.
Gingrich gets to respond first...
A lot of what you say just isn't true, period. I have never...I oppose cap and trade, I testified against it, the same day that Al Gore testified for it. I helped defeat it in the Senate through American solutions...I fought against ObamaCare at every step of the way...the Center for Health Transformation was actively opposed, we actively campaigned against it...Romney responded next...
And most of the money I made, frankly, I made in ways that are totally-- had nothing to do with anything you've described. I did no lobbying, no representation. And frankly, my speech money and other things I did, they had nothing to do with that...
Newt Gingrich is a friend of mine. But, he and I are not clones, I promise. (Note: Between the camera angles, and the way Romney delivered the line, this was a pretty funny physical comedy moment)George S asks Perry an amorphous, "it's your turn" question. Perry answers...
Let me say this about health care. One, I didn't send a team of anybody to meet with Barack Obama. I wish he'd have given me a call. I wish when he was putting together his health care plan, he'd have had the courtesy and perhaps the judgment to say, "Let me talk to a governor. Let's talk to somebody who's dealt with a real problem that understands this topic," and get on the phone. I'd have said, "Mr. President, you're going down a very, very bad path. Do not continue going down that path because what you're gonna do is you're gonna raise taxes on the American people. You're gonna cut Medicare...And finally, the plan we put in place in Massachusetts, it deals with the 8% of our people who didn't have insurance. The 92% of people who did have insurance, nothing changes for them. If I'm President of the United States, we're gonna get rid of ObamaCare and return, under our constitution, the 10th Amendment, the responsibility and care of health care to the people in the states.
Both of these gentlemen have been for the individual mandate. And I'm even more stunned, Mitt, that you said you wished you could've talked to Obama and said "You're goin' down the wrong path," because that is exactly the path that you've taken Massachusetts. The Beacon Hill study itself said that there's been 18,000 jobs lost because of that individual mandate. The study continued to say that there've been over $8 billion of additional cost...But the record is very clear. You and Newt were for individual mandates. And that is the problem. And the question is then, "Who can stand on the stage, look Obama in the eye, and say, 'ObamaCare is an abomination for this country?" And I'm gonna do that. And I can take that fight to him and win that fight.Romney gets to respond...
A good deal of what you said was right. Some was wrong. Speaker Gingrich said that he was for a federal individual mandate. That's something I've always opposed. What we did in our state was designed by the people in our state for the needs of our state. You believe in the 10th Amendment. I believe in the 10th Amendment. The people of Massachusetts favor our plan three to one. They don't like it, they can get rid of it. That's the great thing about a democracy, where individuals under the 10th Amendment have the power to craft their own solutions.Gingrich tries to explain his earlier support for a mandate as being a pragmatic maneuver needed to oppose Hillarycare (he used that word) in the 1990s.
By the way, the problem with President Obama's plan is it does three things we didn't in my opinion, among others. I understand we disagree on this. But among others, one, it raises taxes by $500 billion. We didn't raise taxes. Two, it cuts Medicare by $500 billion. We didn't do that, either. And three, it doesn't just deal with the people that don't have insurance. It's a 2,000-page bill that takes over health care for all the American people. It is wrong for health care. It's wrong for the American people. It's unconstitutional. And I'm absolutely adamantly opposed to ObamaCare. And if I'm the President of the United States, I will return to the people and the states the power they have under the constitution and they can craft the solutions they think are best for them...
You had a mandate in your state. You mandate that girls at 12 years old had to get a vaccination for a sexually-transmitted disease. So it's not like we have this big difference on mandates. We had different things we mandated over. I wanted to give people health insurance. You want to get young girls a vaccine. There are differences.
Perry says Romney has re-edited one of books, to downplay his support for the mandate.
Romney bets Perry $10,000 he can't prove that.
Bachmann reiterates that no one who has supported a mandate in the past will be effective at opposing it in the future.
George S tells Santorum it's his turn. Fortunately, Santorum remembers the original question, about conservative consistency and electability...
Back in 1994, when I was running for the United States Senate and I did not support an individual mandate and I was a conservative, I supported something called Medical Savings Accounts that I drafted with John Kasich when I was in the House, because I believe in bottom-up solving the problems in America, not top-down government solutions....Bachmann gets to respond to Santorum's mention of her...
You can't talk about whether someone's consistent unless you look at their record. And I'd agree with Michele. I mean, I think Michele has been a consistent conservative. But, she's been fighting and losing. I fought and won. I was in the United States Senate and I fought and passed Welfare Reform. I was the principal author when I was in the United States House and managed the bill on the floor of the United States Senate. I was the leader on pro-life issues and pro-family issues....I went out and fought on national security issues, conservative things like putting sanctions on Iran....You're not gonna hear them talk about all the positions I took and flip-flopped on. I was there. I led. And I won.
I think the important thing to know is that you fight and that you lead....when I was in the United States Congress, we were in the minority. Nancy Pelosi wasn't interested in my pro-growth policy on health care. But, I didn't sit on my hands. I saw what was happening to this country. Our country was going to lose because of socialized medicine. And so I did everything I could, including bringing and leading 40,000 people to the Capitol to get the attention of the Congress to get rid of ObamaCare. As President of the United States, my proven consistent record will be that I will take on every special interest. I will take on K Street. And I will pre-lobby. And I'll make sure that I help elect 13 more Republican U.S. Senators so we have 60 senators in the Senate, a full complement in the House. And I won't rest until we repeal ObamaCare. You can take it to the bank.That' pretty much ended the unplanned but informative round-robin phase of the evening.
The Des Moines ABC/Yahoo GOP Presidential Debate, Part 1
The first question from last night's ABC News/Yahoo News debate co-sponsored by WOI-TV, The Des Moines Register and Drake University. (Most of this I was able to upload to Twitter, up until the last two lines, when I succumbed to my technical difficulties).
Diane Sawyer salutes all of the candidates' commitment to Presidential race and to democracy.
First question is on jobs. At the same time, my Tweet button vanishes from my screen...
Romney had a 7-point plan to create jobs. Gingrich had about 5. Ron Paul says the problem is debt...
Perry positions himself as an outsider who will handle the problem of corruption. Kudos, to whoever's managing his focus groups.
Bachmann goes for the Cain voters -- says she'd have a win-win-win program, like his 9-9-9 program. Says she'd repeal Obamacare.
Diane Sawyer demands a specific number of new jobs that will be created.
Santorum says gov't can't dictate the number of new jobs that will be created. He's right.
Sawyer has a question about the payroll tax-cut, expiring on Dec. 31
Santorum and Bachmann are taking the concept of a Social Security trust fund way too seriously
George Stephanopolus is running down a list of everybody who's in favor of a tax cut, without letting them speak. In a format like this, if you already know the answer to the questions you are asking, they're probably bad questions.
Paul would pay for a Social Security tax cut by cutting spending overseas.
December 10, 2011
Appropriate or Not, One Watcher's Final Score on the Republican Debate
I think Newt Gingrich came out ahead, and Ron Paul may have pulled a few people in his direction. People concerned that Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are lacking in something needed to successfully challenge President Obama probably were not terribly reassured, and Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum had some solid base-hits when they needed home runs.
Liveblogging Tonight's Republican Presidential Debate
I appear to have been, as they say in the software industry, hardware-bound in my attempt to liveblog tonight's Republican debate via Twitter, i.e. for some reason my Twitter input box would hang up, while my hard drive was spinning furiously, and I fell too far behind to be able to catch up in real time. I will convert the notes I continued to keep into a retro-running diary, which I will post over the course of the day tomorrow, and have the Anchor Rising hardware committee perform a top-to-bottom review of all liveblogging procedures in preparation for future events.
Tonight, Anchor Rising will attempt to determine if a Presidential debate can be liveblogged 140 characters at a time, through the magic of linking Twitter and the traditional old venerable blogosphere together.
The debate is being held by ABC News, and begins at 9 pm.
Watch Out, Trash Haulers And Central Landfill! Regulation Enforcement Straight Ahead!
Johnston's Mayor Polisena has gone ballistic over the serious odor which now regularly emanates from the state landfill. (It was noticeable even this morning on Route 95 - yes, 95 - just south of Exit 14 in a moving vehicle with all windows rolled up.) And who can blame him.
Sure, he's gonna sue. But lawsuits can drag on and don't usually produce an immediate solution. In the meantime, the stench of hydrogen sulfide and other gases would not be abated, property values would continue to drop and the town's tax base would be eroded.
So he's deploying a truly fearsome weapon.
Citing an intolerable invasion of “noxious” state landfill odors that have tormented residents for months, Mayor Joseph M. Polisena announced Thursday that his administration will use every tool it can to prod the landfill agency toward a remedy, from a lawsuit to potentially disruptive police inspections of inbound trash trucks. ...
Polisena also said he had ordered the Police and Fire departments to conduct a comprehensive review of all town ordinances and regulations governing landfill operations and power generation there.
“It is our intent to fairly, and I repeat fairly, but aggressively, enforce any and all ordinances and regulations that are necessary to protect the health and welfare of our great town,” he said.
Later, Polisena made it clear that his administration’s response could involve police inspections of trucks as they leave the landfill ...
Run for the hills! A municipality in one of the most regulation-heavy states is going to cut loose with all the regs in its arsenal!
By the way, the ProJo article cites the start date as well as what appears to be the cause of the odor.
Polisena and Conley said Broadrock [Renewables - the company charged with keeping gas at the landfill under control] staff removed a flaring mechanism in May, and data collected by the landfill shows that greater volumes of gases flowed into the atmosphere after that.
Yup, May - that was when I started noticing the gross odor on Route 295. (Again, even in a moving vehicle with windows closed, it was terrible. Can't imagine trying to live, stationary, in that plume.)
Um, people, is it too obvious to suggest that we crank up the flaring mechanism again?
December 9, 2011
Killing the Weak as Recovery Strategy
Reading about Rhode Island's effort to return its unemployment fund to solvency in yesterday's Providence Journal, I got the impression of a system so counterproductive that only government officials could conceive of it (and getting worse):
The employers' payments are determined by the number of former workers qualifying for payments; those paying the highest taxes now will pay even more.
Employers will now be split into two categories and pay unemployment insurance taxes based on two taxable wage bases. Most employers will pay a tax calculated with a wage base of $19,600 a 3-percent increase over last year's base of $19,000.
But those employers whose taxes are calculated at the 9.79-percent rate because they have the highest number receiving benefits will have a wage base of $21,1000. That's intended to offset the large drain these employers exert on the unemployment fund...
It's funny: When children are poor, we don't tax their parents more because their kids are a drain on the system, yet when the economy turns sour, we tax the hardest-hit businesses most. That'll teach them! No doubt, as they begin to recover to profitability, they'll be that much more reluctant to hire new employees.
And call me cynical, but splitting the "wage base" looks like an elaborate way to avoid having the high-end tax break the 10% barrier. Taken together, these two points illustrate well how the government in Rhode Island perceives businesses not as partners, allies, or patrons, but as a "them" that has money to take.
Newt Gingrich: Socialist???
In the last week or so, several high profile conservatives have called Republican Presidential non-Mitt Romney co-frontrunner-of-the-month Newt Gingrich a "socialist" or worse:
Michelle Bachmann, in response to a question from Glenn Beck, "Did you just say that Newt Gingrich is a socialist?":I suspect that Gingrich won't accept the description, having recently called the Congressional Budget Office a "reactionary socialist institution", and called President Obama a "natural secular European socialist", neither in a positive way.
MB: "I'm saying a frugal socialist, yes. Because you’re looking at proposals and programs that are in effect redistribution of wealth and socialism based. And are we going to have real change in the country or are we going to have frugal socialists?"
George Will, in his December 2 Washington Post column: "Gingrich, who would have made a marvelous Marxist, believes everything is related to everything else and only he understands how".
So let me throw this out to Anchor Rising's comments section, where folks were unafraid to call George W. Bush a socialist ("evangelical socialist" was the most interesting term that was used) before it became cool to do so during the few months when we were being told that capitalism was dead, in the wake of the orignal TARP program: Is the charge that Newt Gingrich is a socialist a debateable point, or does it stretch the term beyond meaning?
December 8, 2011
Should Anyone Be Surprised that Government Bonds Might Not Be a Good Investment for the Next Few Years
Burton Malkiel, famous for having written a book titled A Random Walk Down Wall Street where he argues there's no systematic way to beat the market, offered this big-picture advice for balancing an investment portfolio in yesterday's Wall Street Journal...
Are we in an era now when many bondholders are likely to experience very unsatisfactory investment results? I think the answer is "yes" for many types of bonds—and that this will remain true for some time to come....So what are investors—especially retirees who seek steady income—to do? I think there are two reasonable strategies that investors should consider. The first is to look for bonds with moderate credit risk where the spreads over U.S. Treasury yields are generous. The second is to consider substituting a portfolio of dividend-paying blue chip stocks for a high-quality bond portfolio.Malkiel explains his point with some interesting back-of-the-envelope macroeconomics.
But at least with regard to his second option, the blue-chip stocks, isn't he explaining something that's readily obvious from the state of our political system, i.e. right now, so many units of government have been run so badly, it is going to be a while before they can raise the money to take care of their governing obligations and pay high-interest bond yields, meaning that (to borrow a juxtaposition from Justin) investing money in actual productive activities right now is a much better option than investing in the government's ability to tax?
December 7, 2011
Would Roger Williams Have Called it a Holiday Tree II
Yes, there are many other issues in the world to be discussed, but there has been so much rote recitation of bad history in the coverage of the Rhode Island statehouse "holiday" tree, it is worth repeating that views never held by Roger Williams routinely are attributed to him. The latest, perhaps most direct, example comes from a former director of the Rhode Island Historical Society, quoted in Paul Davis' Projo article on yesterday's statehouse event celebrating a cluster of holidays that recur in month 12...
[Governor Lincoln Chafee] says his decision honors the state’s origins as a sanctuary for religious diversity. Roger Williams founded Rhode Island in 1636 as a haven for tolerance and insisted government and religion remain separate, he says.Actually, Mr. Klyberg is incorrect. As Marc has pointed out, Rhode Island's colonial charter, strongly influenced by Williams, did not require that religion be removed from the public square. And in one of his most famous expositions of his own ideas, "The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience", Roger Williams expressed no opposition to introducing a religious dimension into government business, when offering specific counsel to civil leaders on the matter of religion. In fact, just the opposite was true...
Rhode Island historians say Chafee’s interpretation of Williams is correct.
“If Roger Williams was alive today, he would not refer to it as a Christmas tree,” says historian Albert Klyberg, a former director of the Rhode Island Historical Society. “Williams was very much opposed to introducing religious elements into public business.”
The civil magistrate either respecteth that religion and worship which his conscience is persuaded is true, and upon which he ventures his soul; or else that and those which he is persuaded are false.Approbation (I had to look it up) is approval, usually with the connotation of officialness; there is no meaningful connection to be drawn from Roger Williams' advice "that religion and worship which [a] conscience is persuaded is true" be countenanced and approbated by civil authority, to separating religion from public or even government celebrations.
Concerning the first, if that which the magistrate believeth to be true, be true, I say he owes a threefold duty unto it:
First, approbation and countenance, a reverent esteem and honorable testimony, according to Isa. 49, and Revel. 21, with a tender respect of truth, and the professors of it...
Mayoral Control Not a Panacea
One of the most attractive aspects of imposing Mayoral control--vice school board oversight--via Mayoral Academies or the like is that it is a vehicle by which a school can start fresh by cutting through the red tape and other problems currently hamstringing innovation in our schools. Further, it puts one person--and a visible one at that--"in charge" and accountable. But it's not a panacea and some of the very criticisms currently levied against politicized school boards could eventually be applied to mayoral-controlled schools .
For his part, eduwonk Fred Hess thinks mayoral control can be effective in urban districts, but also warns that it's a model that doesn't address the root problem of school district composition and the delivery of services. He and Olivia Meeks advocate for "organiz[ing] schooling around function rather than geography" in an interesting paper that delves more deeply into the issue. Have a read.
Today, we're still arguing over what to call a decorated evergreen tree and still driving around with our faded "Never Forget 9/11" bumper and rear window stickers. But the sad part is we have forgotten. No, not about September 11th, many of us do respectfully and somberly remember that every year. What we do forget is the day that President Franklin Roosevelt called "a date which will live in infamy." Today is Pearl Harbor Day.
We no longer hear much mention of Pearl Harbor Day or the attacks that happened 70 years ago today. The day that killed 2,390 Americans in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The day that finally drew the United States into World War II.
This morning, I did some Googling to see how many people are still living today who were there for the attacks. Ironically, the source that Google came back with at the top of the search results is a newspaper from the UK:
Mal Middlesworth, former president of the National Pearl Harbor Survivors' Association, estimates there are around 2,700 Pearl Harbor veterans still alive.
The survivors of the day are all in their late-80s to early-90s, so that makes it easy to forget these brave people. They're all great-grandparents, these old men who attend all the veterans ceremonies each year in their hats and other memorial garb. So that makes it easy to forget them?
We claim that we will "Never Forget" the victims of September 11, 2001, but the truth is, we will. Our society will be full of the same people we have today, people who were born decades after the event and then it's just something on the pages of a history textbook.
Shame on us.
Day of Infamy
With the 70th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it feels like the passing of an age is upon us. Fewer and fewer of those alive during those times--particularly those who fought--are still alive today. It seems the emotional resonance that past remembrances of the "day that will live in infamy" began to dampen over the last few years, particularly as we live in the shadow of our own more contemporary tragedy of 9/11. Nonetheless, brave men fought and died for our nation on December 7, 1941 and their sacrifices should not be forgotten.
December 6, 2011
If Christmas Is One of the Holidays Being Celebrated, What Is It That's Wrong with a Christmas Tree?
Just in case the point hasn't been made yet: Governor Lincoln Chafee's decision that he'd like the word Christmas hidden from public view to the degree he can control, for reasons of "inclusiveness", at a statehouse "holiday" celebration that has something to do with this time of year, is not coherent. If the holidays being celebrated today include Christmas, then there should be no problem calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree. But if Christmas is regarded by the official host of today's affair as a curse-word likely to give offense, then it makes little sense to recognize the event a celebration of Christmas -- in turn raising the question of what exactly it is that's being celebrated.
The ambiguity leaves citizens who want to celebrate Christmas in an awkward position. Are we expected to celebrate whatever the state tells us to celebrate at the designated date and time, regardless of meaning? Or should we be happy to be admitted through the metaphorical back entrance to the celebration, warmly invited to participate, so long as we don't talk too obviously about our reason for showing up?
It's hard to see how putting people into this quandry can turn out well, or why a leader should want to create this problem for his fellow citizens in the first place.
The real reason why Governor Chafee is calling the state tree a Holiday Tree instead of a Christmas tree is to lecture you on the “proper” way to operate a society in a progressive fashion. This move is reminiscent of the infamous “guns and religion” comments made by President Obama. These political twin brothers both have this idea that people who take part in old customs like putting up a Christmas Tree in a public place are behind the times and need to step into a more diverse and global society. Because they worship government and government programs as the one true savior they look at people with traditional American values as cavemen who haven’t yet discovered fire.
Gregg Easterbrook on the Holiday Tree
In his pro-football column for ESPN, Gregg Easterbrook (who has written about the subject Christmas decorations for years, mostly on the subject of how they come out much too early for his tastes) offers various thoughts on the RI "Holiday Tree" controversy, including...
It is yet another sign of the low state of political discourse that the governor of Rhode Island doesn't know the difference between religious and secular symbols. One reason respect for government keeps declining is that public figures, such as Gov. Chafee, make themselves look ridiculous on basic subjects. If a governor of a state makes himself look ridiculous on something a schoolchild can understand, how can government be trusted with complex matters? And whether a holiday frill is a "holiday" tree or a "Christmas" tree is a trifling matter, but speaks to the inability of modern political correctness to use straightforward language. As Orwell warned, we cannot think clearly unless we call things what they are.
Ouch - Woonsocket School Dept Goes From Small Surplus To $2.7 Million Deficit Almost Overnight
The Woonsocket Patch reports.
After months of reporting a small surplus, the Woonsocket Education Department ended the 2010-2011 year with a $2.7 million deficit, according to the draft operating results sent to Finance Director Thomas Bruce on Monday by auditors from Braver PC. ...
"As recent[ly] as a meeting with the superintendent of schools and the Business Manager Stacey Busby, two weeks ago with the mayor, a surplus was assured," said Bruce. "On September 15th, we received in writing an indication that the school department surplus was $68,737.
What happened since September (other than an election - I am trying really, really hard not to be suspicious) to so drastically change the department's budget will now be a subject of keen interest, presumably starting at the School Committee work session this Thursday. The stakes are pretty high.
Bruce said city officials should also be aware of the possibility that DOR Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly could appoint a financial overseer, as she recently did in East Providence.
"I would not be surprised if that happened right away in Woonsocket. What it would mean for the city is lack of local control over expenditures, contracts...most importantly we could lose local control over setting the tax rate in July."
Government Sets a Thief to Catch... a Business
Yes, the story isn't as simple as a gut reaction allows, but broken down into a summary, this story feels like a cautionary tale of the leviathan state:
David Whitaker's cooperation with the Google investigation was called extraordinary several times during his sentencing [for Internet fraud crimes] in U.S. District Court in Providence. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Reich said that because of the probe, millions of Americans have been protected from rogue online Canadian pharmacies advertising prescription drugs through Google's AdWords program. ...
After his arrest, Whitaker disclosed to investigators that he had been selling prescription drugs online in Mexico with the help of Google's AdWords program, Reich said. Whitaker described how he developed relationships with Google employees who allowed him to place ads for drugs obtained from overseas without a prescription, Reich said.
Whitaker helped investigators construct phony websites that purported to sell the drugs, officials said. Then, an undercover investigator would tell Google employees who were creating the advertising for the products that they were manufactured overseas and did not require customers to have a valid prescription, officials said.
Ailing people seek legal drugs sold in Canada because U.S. government regulations (among other things) drive up the cost in their own country. Canadian pharmacies advertise on the World Wide Web, and American customers follow those links and purchase their products. So, the U.S. government enlists a criminal to help set up essentially a scam designed to relieve Google of $500 million. (Funny how, in the context of government spending, that hardly seems like a significant amount of money.)
Somehow, I can't help but think of some of our government's other activities that have been in the news lately, such as this one (although, at least in this case, the targets are criminal organizations selling drugs that are illegal with or without prescription):
Fast and Furious was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives program, overseen by the Justice Department, which facilitated the sale of thousands of weapons, via straw purchasers, to Mexican drug cartels. Straw purchasers are people who can legally purchase guns in the United States but do so with the intention of illegally trafficking them into Mexico.
At least 300 Mexicans were killed with Fast and Furious weapons, as was U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry. Gosar said Holder bears responsibility for the operation. Holder is expected to face another round of questions about the scandal on Thursday when he appears before the full House oversight committee.
And that stops short of consideration of state involvement with the gambling industry...
December 5, 2011
Yes, Reverend, What We Call It Matters
The annual battle over Christmas terminology isn't a sport for which I have much enthusiasm, the lines having been drawn and a general consensus reached. As a matter of governance, I think that local governments ought to be able to reflect the makeup of their communities, if that's what the folks who live there want, and that deliberately running from a religious reference is tantamount to unconstitutional expression of governmental religious preference. But this is ground that's been covered over and over.
It is telling that Governor Lincoln Chafee couldn't even muster a nod, as governor, to his ideological opponents and, acknowledging the General Assembly's action early in the year asking public officials to refer to such decorations as "Christmas trees," do so as a symbolic gesture of respect and concession. In Chafee, we find an ideologue who thinks sticking to his guns makes him a centrist.
More interesting, in my view, are the thoughts of Executive Minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches Rev. Don Anderson:
I would ask my fellow Christians, with all of the poverty, hunger and injustice that surround us, do we really believe that Jesus would have us spend all this time and energy around what we call a tree? I would suggest that if we truly want to honor the birth of Jesus, let us be found honoring and serving one another in recognition and thanksgiving for what God has done for us.
What Anderson elides is that Jesus' mission wasn't merely one of social work, but also of conversion. Recall the anointing at Bethany:
... a woman came up to him with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil, and poured it on his head while he was reclining at table. When the disciples saw this, they were indignant and said, "Why this waste? It could have been sold for much, and the money given to the poor."
Since Jesus knew this, he said to them, "Why do you make trouble for the woman? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me.
Immediately thereafter, in the book of Matthew, Judas agrees to betray Jesus although whether in reaction to His dalliance in material pleasure or with the understanding that he is helping to fulfill Jesus' plan makes for an interesting theological debate. More relevant to the current controversy, however, is the simple fact of Jesus' statement that His bodily presence supersedes in importance the existence of material poverty.
Above everything, in the Christian interpretation, Jesus gave a face to God, as a model and guide. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus intermixes the admonition to do good for others as a way of doing good for Him with the command to spread His Word so that others will do the same. That is, why Christians have good will toward men is as important as that they do.
Happily, most people still understand (for the time being, at least) that a "holiday tree" is really a "Christmas tree," and related to a holiday celebrating the birth of the Messiah who taught these lessons, so little is lost by not naming the holiday at a tree lighting. (Of course, euphemism can be a species of dishonesty.) But Anderson's dismissal of the issue strikes me as a reckless exercise in political correctness that, if taken to the extreme that it often is, will ultimately undermine both the recognition of Christ and His explanation for the commandment to help others.
Ross Douthat expressed an applicable sentiment in a print National Review essay about the (mostly secular) pilgrimage movie, The Way:
In reality, religion and more particularly, Catholicism has everything to do with why The Way packs both an artistic and a metaphysical punch. Both the aesthetic and the spiritual realms thrive on specificity: on iconography that refers to something in particular, on moral frameworks that provide guidance for hard cases as well as general admonitions. Without these specifics, there would be no Santiago de Compostela, no Camino for the doubting modern pilgrims of The Way to walk, no sins to be forgiven, and no one to offer absolution.
After all, if the inspiration for decorating a tree is of no consequence, the inspiration for building magnificent churches must be as well, and so too the inspiration for making of our lives shrines to the God whom we are to see in the faces of our fellow men and women. Simply doing good deeds may be adequate for a generation or two, but eventually, people will forget the true names of the symbols and the explanation for their good behavior. God's voice will remain in us, calling through our consciences, but if that is enough, then why did He send his Son on Christmas Day only to be killed on Good Friday?
December 4, 2011
DOJ Handling of Fast and Furious Aftermath Was So Bad, They Have Now Resorted to the Unthinkable: Full Disclosure
Now that it has become abundantly clear that President Obama's Department of Justice
lied was inaccurate to Congress in its formal statement about Operation Fast and Furious, DOJ has taken the unusual step of up-ending their internal correspondence box on the matter. (Naturally, they did so Friday - that being the best day, media-attention-wise, to break ... er, awkward information.)
The department turned over 1,364 pages of material after concluding "that we will make a rare exception to the department's recognized protocols and provide you with information related to how the inaccurate information came to be included in the letter," Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is looking into the Obama administration's handling of Operation Fast and Furious.
In one of the e-mail exchanges highlighted by the AP, DOJ officials and staffers appear to be discussing, not whether but to what extent, they should shade the truth in the February statement to Senator Chuck Grassley - a statement which the DOJ has now formally withdrawn as it contains "inaccurate information".
[ then-U.S. Attorney Dennis] Burke's information was followed by a three-day struggle in which officials in the office of the deputy attorney general, the criminal division and the ATF came up with what turned out to be an inaccurate response to Grassley's assertions.
The process became so intensive that Breuer aide Jason Weinstein emailed his boss, "The Magna Carta was easier to get done than this was." A copy of the latest draft was attached to the emails.
Initial drafts of the letter reflected the hard tone of Burke's unequivocal assertions that the allegations Grassley was hearing from ATF agents were wrong. Later drafts were more measured, prompting Burke to complain in one email: "Every version gets weaker. We will be apologizing" to Grassley "by tomorrow afternoon." Regarding the allegation that ATF sanctioned the sale of assault weapons to a straw purchaser, the Justice Department denial was scaled back slightly from "categorically false" to "false." ''Why poke the tiger," Lisa Monaco, the top aide to the deputy attorney general, explained ...
Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to testify in front of Congress this Thursday. Presumably, this was another impetus for yesterday's document dump: better to get all of this ickiness out now at arms length from the AG as opposed to extracted detail by excrutiating detail from the AG himself.
Now the question is, what will the AG say to the House committee on Thursday? Is he going to cast all responsibility onto his lieutenants and subordinates? Is he going to stick to the hilarious line that he doesn't read some or all of the memos prepared for him? Is he going to persist in blaming the Daily Caller for his travails???
Embattled Attorney General Eric Holder today demanded The Daily Caller stop publishing articles about the growing calls in Congress for his resignation because of the failed Operation Fast and Furious gun-walking program.
As Holder’s aide was escorting the attorney general offstage following his remarks Tuesday afternoon at the White House, a Daily Caller reporter introduced himself and shook Holder’s hand. The reporter asked him for a response to the growing chorus of federal legislators demanding his resignation.
Holder stepped towards the exit, then turned around, stepped back toward the reporter, and sternly said, “You guys need to — you need to stop this. It’s not an organic thing that’s just happening. You guys are behind it.”
By the way, don't miss the picture in that last link. (It has also, delightfully, spent the last thirity six plus hours on the front page of Drudge.) Has Mr. Holder ever gotten that finger-pointingly-peeved with a bad guy? Or does he reserve such ire for members of the press doing their job?
December 3, 2011
Herman Cain Withdraws From GOP Race
Herman Cain made his announcement today that he is stepping away from his race for the Republican nomination to be the US President.
First, we have no way of knowing for sure if the many allegations against him were true. Nothing was ever proven definitively, but of course where there's smoke, there's often fire. How often do you pay someone $45,000 to keep quiet about something that they didn't do? If that happens often, let me know and I'll sure start accusing anyone that will pay me $45,000 to keep quiet. There's also the more recent allegation of a thirteen-year on-again/off-again relationship with Ginger White. This is another allegation that Cain denied but does admit to giving her money and other gifts for years.
Let me ask you this, if your spouse is giving money and gifts to an opposite gender "friend" for years, would that ever arouse suspicion in your mind? I think somewhere around the very first time it happened I'd be asking a bunch of questions. But for it to go on for almost fourteen years? Cain's wife was unaware of this friend being so needy financially? If Ginger White is such a close friend that she merits financial help from Herman Cain, then wouldn't she be a close enough friend for Gloria Cain to be aware of her?
Unless Herman Cain ever decides to come out and admit that any of the accusations were true, we'll never really know for sure.
But if any of these accusations were true, why wasn't Cain vetted better? Either he lied to people during the vetting process or he told them the truth and they thought he could get through it without this information coming up. If the latter is the kind of advice he received, then he had some really bad advisors. You can't have sexual harassment payoffs in your history or have a mistress on the side for thirteen years and it not come up at some point during the campaign. Even worse, if it does come up, you can't lie your way through it. If even the sitting President of the United States can't lie his way through a scandal ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman") then how can they figure that a candidate will be able to do so. Or, did they never expect that he'd be a front-runner for the nomination? Whichever it is, the whole situation seems pretty poorly planned out and/or advised.
On the other hand, what if not a single one of these accusations are true? What if they are complete fabrications and Herman Cain is completely telling the truth? Then it's really unfortunate that it is so easy to destroy a good candidate's campaign. Just find someone willing to do whatever it takes to destroy a candidate. We've seen something similar right here in Rhode Island.
Remember the state legislator Doug Gablinske? He had lies spread about him by then NEARI deputy executive director John Leidecker which may have cost Gablinske an election. In this case, the person spreading the lies was even convicted but sentenced to a mere $100 fine. For that very small amount, NEARI was successful in removing Gablinske from office.
Whether Herman Cain is guilty of any of the accusations against him, we may never know. But one thing we do know for sure is that politics is a dirty, dirty game.
December 2, 2011
The Hypocrisy of Democrats With Medicare
Earlier in the week, Congressman David Cicilline surprisingly attacked John Loughlin for wanting to destroy Medicare. Back during the campaign, we were told that Loughlin wanted to destroy Social Security and now we're being told it's Medicare. I was a little confused as to why the switch of plans to destroy, but an article in the Washington Post (h/t Ted Nesi) gives a little insight. It turns out that the Democrats' new strategy heading into the election is to paint the Republicans as having tried to destroy Medicare during the "Supercommittee" negotiations. In spite of Democrats like Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) admitting that they would have "reformed Medicare", they along with David Cicilline want us to believe they are the ones who will save health care for senior citizens. I guess their Social Security checks are now safe, so it's time to protect their health care.
However, one could say that the Democrats (the party of Cicilline) are the ones really trying to destroy Medicare. They are doing this through the passage of the "Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act" a.k.a. "Obamacare". According a Washington Post columnist (and President Obama's cousin) Milton Wolf, through Obamacare, the reimbursement rates have been cut by so much, many physicians will not longer accept Medicare reimbursements and are dropping its patients. How exactly does that help the health of seniors?
Just as we saw with the recent RI pension reform, some don't seem to really understand the options. Which seems to make more sense, make changes to ensure the long-term viability of the program, or continue along the same path living up to every promised obligation, even if that means the program will die before the people currently paying into it ever get a single benefit from it? Which stance seems more reasonable and responsible? Reform it or let it die?
In last month's Providence Phoenix article, Cicilline was described as looking to work with both sides of the aisle, willing to be non-partisan. However, based on his comments Congressman Cicilline seems very quick to jump into lockstep with the Democratic strategy of not touching the benefits side and letting the program die sometime in the next thirteen years, and then blaming the Republican for wanting change. Even if that Republican isn't in office yet.
December 1, 2011
Welcome to Congressional District 2, Burrillville. Other Proposed Changes Up in the Air
Common Cause has posted three proposed maps of potential new Congressional Districts released by the Rhode Island Redistricting Commission. With that caveat that it is difficult to tell whether the new district lines and certain city/town lines are exactly contiguous on certain portions of the maps...
- There is a proposal to move most-or-all of Providence into District 1, while moving all of Newport County (and Burrillville) to District 2 (Plan A),
- There is a proposal to move most-or-all of Providence and Johnston to District 1, while moving Burrillville, North Smithfield, Woonsocket, Cumberland, Lincoln and Jamestown to District 2 (Plan B), and
- There is a minimum-disruption plan that changes the line that splits Providence, and moves Burrillville to the 2nd District (Plan C).
Not so fast, even for Burrillville. Ian Donnis of WRNI (88.1 FM) is reporting that the office of Rhode Island Second District Congressman James Langevin, working from data that says balancing Rhode Island's two Congressional Districts should only require moving 7,000 voters, has proposed a plan that moves district lines only in Providence.
One might surmise that Congressman Langevin isn't so keen on having all of Providence moved to District 1, to give a boost to Congressman David Cicilline's election hopes.
DMV Will No Longer Spit On You
One of the big changes to the new Rhode Island Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is they're going to try to be a little nicer. According to the AP, Governor Chafee reported:
Rhode Island's governor says he wants residents to know they can now expect to be treated with courtesy and "dignity" when visiting their local Division of Motor Vehicles office.I have to say, I'm quite glad that being treated with dignity by state employees who I need to give money to, is worthy of a press release and story, never mind it simply being a change in how they do business.
While we're on the topic of the DMV, one thing that I can't understand is why they're expanding.
Chafee, an independent, has said fixing the DMV is one of his top priorities. Since taking office in January Chafee has appointed a new DMV administrator and opened new branch offices.Great, you want to make improving the DMV one of your top priorities, then downsize it. By downsize it, I mean greatly eliminate the number of employees, and use tiny offices. There's no need for offices the size of what was being used at the Apex building in Pawtucket. I'm thinking a 20 by 20 foot office would suffice. Think about this, how many things do you actually need to do in person at the DMV? I can think of two, road tests and identification photographs. You "webify" the rest of the tasks through the DMV's web site.
So you need your road test examiners, someone to take the photographs, and maybe someone as a concierge. Set up three kiosks in the new DMV offices for people who don't have access to computers, send out instructions to all the public libraries in the state, so they can help people as well. After that, have a few people in offices taking care of all the online requests for titles and plates.
What else is there? We'd drastically cut down on the redundancy of staff in the many offices. We'd have one central office handling all the web requests. We'd be able to downsize the workforce while improving efficiency for people by letting them simply go online and conduct their business through a computer instead of spending hours of their day in line at the DMV.
Governor Chafee and new DMV Chief Lisa Holley, if you want to improve the department and be more efficient, don't open more offices and hire more staff at an increased cost to the state. Join the 21st century and put it all online. It's the smart thing to do.
The Hidden Power Grab
So, the Obama administration has given Rhode Island another $58 million to work on its government-run healthcare exchange, along with compliments for being so resourceful as to skip the legislative process in its implementation. At this point, the federal government shuffling around money that it doesn't have is hardly news, nor is the Obama administration's affection for imposing policies on the electorate. The real news, in my view, comes in the third-to-last paragraph of the Providence Journal story:
Additionally, it [the exchange] will decide how many plans will be included, and how they will be designed
Presumably, reporter Felice Freyer doesn't mean that the exchange will be an entity with artificial intelligence, so the decisions will actually be made by the really smart people (like Lincoln Chafee and Elizabeth Roberts) whom we elect to office, and their appointees. As I've noted before, the exchanges are just a sly way to impose government-run healthcare without elected officials' ever having to tell the American people explicitly that they're doing so. Create an exchange that enables regulation to the point of minute control, and then draw people toward its offerings.
One can hope that the world of the future will be such that the history books make note of the shadowy organization that used foreign money borrowed on future generations' backs to build a trap designed to give it minute control over the life decisions of a supposedly free people.