September 30, 2012
Things We Read Today (21), Weekend
Bob Plain's petit four of class warfare; CA's bid for more pension fund dollars; a martial metaphor for regionalization; a downturn for the never-recovered; Coulter v. View mention of RI.
September 29, 2012
The Messiah May Have Used the Word "Wife"
Of one thing, we can be reasonably confident: Coverage of proof and arguments against that sliver of papyrus purporting to prove that Jesus had a wife will have a far smaller profile than the initial boom of proclamations that it had been discovered.
Not surprisingly, the Vatican has stated its opinion that the artifact is "counterfeit," but what I found most interesting about the article is that it's the first time I've seen a picture of it:
I'll confess, off the bat, that I'm not able to read ancient Coptic text, but unless it's a remarkably compact language, that's really not much context on which to come to any conclusions. The paragraph before could have made clear that it was a parable. The paragraph to follow might have been an explanation of the Church's view that it (the Church) is the "bride of Christ." Or the whole thing might be some piece of nefarious propaganda.
I don't know, one way or the other, but the credulity with which such items are passed around is telling, especially with regard to the news media and the stories that it deigns to amplify.
U.S. Grant and the Left-Right Lines
Two lines of debate in the battle of Left versus Right cross frequently.
One is the question of whether history has an inexorable pull toward which it progresses, making it possible for there to be a "right side" of history that one can predict beforehand for a given issue. The other is whether one's side on the issues of the day offers a direct parallel to the sides that one would have taken having born at another period in history.
Warren: Ethical Controversy for Another New England Democrat Candidate
Retired Providence Journal political columnist M. Charles Bakst has offered, via Ted Nesi's Saturday column, a cute analysis of how both Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren could wind up in the U.S. Senate next session.
While RI's mainstream press ponders hypotheticals about the Senate race next door, Rhode Island blogger and Cornell law professor William Jacobson has been investigating whether Warren has been practicing law illegally in that state:
As detailed below, there are at least two provisions of Massachusetts law Warren may have violated. First, on a regular and continuing basis she used her Cambridge office for the practice of law without being licensed in Massachusetts. Second, in addition to operating an office for the practice of law without being licensed in Massachusetts, Warren actually practiced law in Massachusetts without being licensed.
Monique has mentioned that post already, here, receiving the biggest "if" in Jacobson's analysis, as articulated by Joe Bernstein in the comments: "If Warren only practiced in Federal court, a MA license wasn't required as long as she was licensed somewhere at the time."
In his post, Jacobson details what information is available about Warren's licensure, in Texas and New Jersey. Oddly, she resigned her New Jersey license on September 11 of this year, which, Jacobson says, "made it more difficult for the public to determine her pre-resignation status."
Since then, Jacobson has continued to argue that the objections are irrelevant to the law and, in any event, "Warren did represent a Massachusetts client in Massachusetts on a Massachusetts legal issue." With that, the peer-review process of the blogosphere has been operating, and Jacobson passes along a concession by a skeptic that the facts look "really, really bad for Professor Warren."
Indeed, they do. This election cycle, though, things that look really, really bad for Democrat candidates in national races have had a way of slipping through the media cracks.
September 28, 2012
Tiverton Toll Meeting Shows Rhode Islanders Have to Stop Fighting Fire with Paper
Last night, I attended the first organizational meeting for the Tiverton branch of Sakonnet Toll Oppostion Platform (STOP), a cross-community effort to stop the state of Rhode Island from placing a toll on the Sakonnet River Bridge. If I was skeptical about the ability of residents to prevent the tolls before, I'm pretty well convinced that the people of the East Bay will not be able to stop them, now.
The audience consisted of approximately fifty residents, from a broad variety of local groups and interests — many most often seen in heated attacks against each other over the usual slate of issues that face the town. Even though the only state-level official in the room was Sen. Walter Felag (D, Bristol, Tiverton, Warren), the opportunity should be there, in other words, for some effective leaders to draw on the strengths of the different groups to affect state-level lawmakers.
GoLocal Shoots Itself In the Foot
I thought GoLocalProv.com was on to something with a little feature they came up with for this week where they'd show where each federal candidate was spending their campaign money, in-state or out of state. However, I don't know how much good it does for your story when you show the numbers and then basically say "but it doesn't matter." Why run the story and the series then, if it doesn't really matter?
Example, today's video on the Doherty vs. Cicilline race. The reporter does a great deal of research digging in to see where everything is spent and tabulating the in-state versus out of state costs. Cicilline comes up with 45% spent in-state compared to 72% for the Doherty campaign. Apparently this whole "Jobs for Rhode Islanders" is merely rhetoric to Cicilline and a bit more real for Doherty, but let's not distract with little issues like honesty in campaign promises.
The real problem with the GoLocalProv video is that they are making a big deal about where the candidates are spending their money but as soon as we see the Cicilline and Doherty numbers, on comes Guest Mindsetter and Democratic activist Aaron Regunberg to tell us why the numbers are "deceivingly low":
"And a large proportion of them are things that kind of have to be out of state. There's a lot of expenses on travel, which obviously is going to be outside of Rhode Island. There was expenses on phone bills which go outside Rhode Island. Expense on ACTBlue payments, the Democratic fundraising tool which is headquartered out of state."Wait, why exactly do travel costs need to be paid to an out of state firm? We're not talking about the Congressman traveling to DC as part of his job, that's not a campaign expense. Why would campaigning in RI have an out of state cost affiliated with it? That sounds like someone really digging deep for a justification. I'd call that one quite a stretch. To stretch even further, telephone costs? Really? Doesn't every campaign have these? So what really accounts for the 27 percentage point difference?
After Regunberg's explanation, immediately the voiceover says the next guest, the president of a consulting and events company "agrees." Listen to the video and you'll see there is absolutely nothing in there where he agrees with Regunberg that it makes sense for Cicilline to be spending so much more out of state. Why is that?
What this video really amounts to is GoLocalProv shooting itself in the foot. The whole point is "look at this great work we did in figuring out this information!" but then spend the majority of the time saying "but don't pay any attention to it because it doesn't really matter anyway."
Some people over at GoLocal are doing a great job at what they do but when you get something like this, not even a thinly-veiled attempt to hide one's own biases, it hurts the credibility of the entire product.
Building a Business Community
Recently, we've seen a report from RIPEC about the troubled EDC and how to improve it. Everyone wants to improve the business community, or at least they say they do, but as one of the points in the report, Rhode Island lacks a clear vision or path toward making any improvements. Reports like that can be a step in the right direction, if they're carried out with the right recommendations.
Then you have others who are just choosing to bypass all that government gobbledygook and reports and meetings and hearings and testimony, and just try to carve out their own path. Next weekend, Johnson & Wales University in Providence is hosting Providence Startup Weekend, which is like a mini-camp for potential business entrepreneurs to get quickly immersed in the business of a startup company, what they need to think about and what needs to be done.
This kind of incubator and low-cost, non-governmental assistance is exactly what Rhode Island needs. We've had a company like Betaspring around for a while doing this sort of mentoring thing for companies as well, but that is more of a long-term relationship.
Of course, it doesn't do a whole lot of good to teach someone to swim and then tell them to jump in the ocean and swim to England. Rhode Island isn't exactly the most business-friendly (well, actually it's the least friendly) and even some of the smartest or best funded businesses will struggle under the weight of the RI regulatory and taxation structure, until the General Assembly gets serious about taking steps forward.
September 27, 2012
RIPEC's EDC Report Another Indication of the Question Not Asked
Yesterday, the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC), a venerable Rhode Island policy "voice and catalyst" founded in 1932, released a report analyzing the structure of the state's quasi-public Economic Development Corporation (EDC) and suggesting a reorganization. Governor Lincoln Chafee requested the report in May, following the scandalous collapse of 38 Studios, which had been the major basket in which the EDC had placed $75 million in bond-sale eggs.
Fortunately, Chafee Spokeswoman Christine Hunsinger confirms, for the Ocean State Current, that the state did not pay for the report. That's fortunate because — despite its 62 pages of text and 73 pages of organizational charts, definitions, and other appendices — the document does little to justify any particular new economic development structure and nothing to answer the more fundamental questions about the state's worst-in-the-nation employment situation.
Brien Claims Primary Opponent Violated the Hatch Act
According to Ian Donnis (via Twitter UPDATE: Ian has more), Rep. Jon Brien is claiming his primary opponent, "was ineligible due to a Hatch Act violation" because "Stephen Casey works for a fire department that gets federal funding." Without having heard the specific claims, here is what the Hatch Act says, according to a Federal website:
Hatch Act: Who is Covered?Wikipidia notes that "The Hatch Act bars state and local government employees from running for public office if any federal funds support the position, even if the position is funded almost entirely with local funds." (source). Seems like this wouldn't be the first time a local government employee has run for office. Is this just the first time anyone thought to bring up the Hatch Act?
State and Local Employees
The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of individuals principally employed by state or local executive agencies and who work in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants. Usually, employment with a state or local agency constitutes the principal employment of the employee in question. However, when an employee holds two or more jobs, principal employment is generally deemed to be that job which accounts for the most work time and the most earned income.
The following list offers examples of the types of programs which frequently receive financial assistance from the federal government: public health, public welfare, housing, urban renewal and area redevelopment, employment security, labor and industry training, public works, conservation, agricultural, civil defense, transportation, anti-poverty, and law enforcement programs.
Hatch Act provisions also apply to employees of private, nonprofit organizations that plan, develop and coordinate federal Head Start or Community Service Block Grant programs.
State and local employees subject to the Hatch Act continue to be covered while on annual leave, sick leave, leave without pay, administrative leave or furlough.
Covered state and local employees may not:
be candidates for public office in a partisan election;
use official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the results of an election or nomination; or
directly or indirectly coerce, attempt to coerce, command, or advise a state or local officer or employee to pay, lend, or contribute anything of value to a party, committee, organization, agency, or person for political purposes.
State and local employees subject to the Hatch Act should note that an election is partisan if any candidate is to be nominated or elected as representing a political party, for example, the Democratic or Republican Party.
A note of caution - an employee’s conduct is also subject to the laws of the state and the regulations of the employing agency. Prohibitions of the Hatch Act are not affected by state or local laws.
Our Scattered Technological Lives
I occasionally listen to Imus in the Morning and this morning, I was lucky enough to hear John Hiatt perform "Blues Can't Even Find Me".
It struck a chord--no pun intended--because I think we're spending so much time being sorta-connected to everyone via Twitter and Facebook and the like that we're not maintaining our valuable personal connections to the ones in our lives who really matter. We're becoming a country of people who pay half-attention (if that). I don't mean to hyperbolize, there is much good about all of this technology and how it enables us to stay in touch with more people who--in a previous age--we would have simply lost from our lives (for good or ill). But it's worth reminding ourselves that we need to turn off, tune out and spend some actual time talking to each other, face to face. And yes, the irony is not lost on me that I'm bringing this up on a blog.
Lyrics after the jump.
World is closin' in on me
Don't know what to do
Can't see the big picture anymore
If there's even one to view
Wife keeps pushin' buttons
Spend all day starin' at a little screen
I'm feelin' invisible
The blues can't even find me
Wish I had a name for feelin' nothin'
Wish I still had my old address
Where anyone could come on over
And just put me in a mess
Now I'm tellin' everybody
When we'll be takin' our next breath
Blues can't even find me
Like we never even met
She cried all the way to Memphis
With the kids in back
And only me to talk it out with
Used to be like that
Now there's fifty people in the car
And the kids are grown
And I've heard her side fifty times
Talkin' on her cell phone
Now we're just so lonely
And there's no turnin' back
It's virtually impossible
But I can live with that
I wouldn't want in on this train wreck
Wouldn't wanna be on this last date
Now the blues can't even find me
All I know to do is wait
Now the blues can't even find me
All I know to do is wait
September 26, 2012
Things We Read Today (20), Wednesday
Mainly on media culpability and the economy: RIPEC's unquestioned report; skewed polls; the president's reportorial zombies; and the reluctance to invest in the economy.
Is This What It Comes To?
If we can chop this whole RI Congressional District 1 race (Doherty vs. Cicilline) down to a single sentence, does it get any more concise than this?
"He's dishonest" vs. "He's a Republican"And with that, some polls (paid for by the Democrats) claim that Cicilline is leading. That tells me that voters in this district think less of you for being a Republican than for not telling them the truth, or more specifically for not intending to mislead anyone intentionally. Really? That's what this comes down to?
When I see the commercials and hear the ads now, everything from the Cicilline camp is "He's a Republican! He'll side with the Republicans! He'll vote with the Republicans!" and the Doherty camp is doing their best to remind everyone of how many times David Cicilline hasn't been the most forthcoming with us. Doherty even showed it yet again just this week when he disproved the Cicilline claim that Doherty will eliminate Medicare and turn it into a voucher program and that he'll vote to cut Social Security. Yet again, Cicilline was not telling us the truth as Brendan Doherty offered his "iron clad" pledge to protect and support both Medicare and Social Security.
We still have about six weeks left, but that's what I boil this down to. Which is worse, being a Republican or being dishonest? Really Rhode Island? Are those polls correct that the Democrats are touting? The preference really is for a proven-untrustworthy Democrat over an honorable Republican?
And yet people wonder why our system of representation is broken.
Gay Marriage: Winning by Losing, or Something
[A] closer reading of the election reveals a more nuanced outlook — one in which same-sex marriage could have a better shot of passing the Senate in 2013 than widely recognized.The battleground is in the primary, and Donnis' observation that the pressure felt by McCaffrey this time around may affect his decision to block any such vote in the Senate going forward is a viable possibility. (Though I would note that McCaffrey's war chest, which is still pretty big, was offset by outside help from single-issue--gay marriage, pro-abortion--PACs). But Donnis also quotes Warwick Rep. Frank Ferri who says, in affect, the tide is turning and gay marriage could be passed in 2013. I have my doubts.
The outlook remains murky, to be sure, even for close observers of that chamber. But consider the following:
– Although McCaffrey beat Pisaturo with 53.3 percent of the vote, the margin dividing them (226 votes) was relatively close for an incumbent with a big war chest who hadn’t faced a challenger in some time.
So does McCaffrey, a potential sucessor to Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, want to face another such challenge? (He didn’t return a call seeking comment.) Pisaturo says she didn’t present herself as a single-issue candidate, yet part of the reason for backing her would fade away if the Senate backed same-sex marriage....
For her part, Pisaturo declines to make any predictions about the fate in the Senate of same-sex marriage legislation. She says it’s too early to know whether she’ll run again in 2014. (Pisaturo says, too, that jobs and the economy, and changing the culture of the Statehouse, were bigger issues in her campaign than same-sex marriage.).
A look at the historic election returns for McCaffrey's district in Warwick may provide some helpful context.
|Year||Primary||General||Diff.||Primay Opp||General Opp||Note|
*NOTE: "Governor" and "President" indicates election year coincided with a state- or national election. Opponent vote totals are in ( ) in respective "Opp" columns.
First, it's clear that the 2012 primary between McCaffrey and Pisaturo saw a higher level of turnout than all of McCaffrey's previous primaries. That's to be expected since he's run unopposed since at least 1996 (and possibly 1994, but there was no primary election data at the RI Board of Elections web site for that year). Also unsurprising is that the closest election McCaffrey had ever had--up to the 2012 primary--was the 1994 General Election contest--his first--when he beat his Republican opponent by 1300 votes. Since then? Smooth sailing until this year's primary.
One other item of interest is that, since 2000, McCaffrey has received more primary votes (when he's usually the only candidate running!) during years in which there is a gubernatorial primary (which are "off year" elections) in Rhode Island than during Presidential election years. I wonder if that is the norm statewide? Anyway, since 2002, he's run unopposed in every General election contest and has received anywhere between 7500-9700 votes. In the general elections when he did have a Republican opponent, he garnered 5,000-6,000 votes.
Where am I going with all of this? Well, based on historical numbers, lets say there are around 10,000 likely voters in the district. I think it's a safe assumption to make that the most vociferous and motivated gay marriage supporters (Democrats and unaffiliated) turned out for Laura Pisaturo in the Democratic Primary. In total, around 3,400 Democrats voted in the primary. Less than half of them (1,600) supported a gay marriage candidate.
According to Ferri, we are to believe that the 7,500 or so unaffiliated voters, who are mostly of the same socially conservative, pro-labor union mindset as McCaffrey (and include 1,800 or so Republican/Repulican-leaning unafilliated voters)--and don't include the hard-core gay marriage supporters who already supported Pisaturo in the primary--are on the cusp of pushing for gay marriage. I just don't think so.
In actuality, I don't think many care because it's not the most important thing on their radar right now. That would be the economy. Something our General Assembly should really be focusing on, not this stuff.
Things We Read Today (19), Tuesday
Believing the political worst of priests; spinning bad SAT results; the skill of being trainable; the strange market valuation in Unionland.
September 25, 2012
President Obama's Early Inklings of the Dependency Portal
In the battle of hidden video and archived recordings that is sure to characterize political campaigns during the digital age, audio emerged from a 1998 presentation by then-state-senator Barack Obama at Loyola University in Illinois. The statement that made headlines (at least on the center-right side of the media) was now-President Obama's belief in economic "redistribution" through the government.
Those who've been following the development, in the Ocean State, of what the Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity is calling a "dependency portal" may be more concerned about the context. Throughout the roughly twenty minutes prior to a question-and-answer period, Obama's talk exposes early indications of precisely the model of which the Center has been warning.
[Cough, Cough] Elizabeth Warren Also Represented an Eeeevil Corporation Against Coal Miners
Mass senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren purports to represent the little guy. Just ask her website.
Washington is rigged to work for those who can hire an army of lobbyists and an army of lawyers to get special deals. It isn't working for small businesses and middle class families. That has to change.
It's turning out, however, that she did not always do so. Hillary Chabot and Joe Battenfeld have the story in today's Boston Herald.
Warren represented LTV Steel in 1995, when she was a Harvard Law professor, aiding the bankrupt company’s bid to overturn a court ruling forcing it to pay its former employees and dependents $140 million in retirement benefits.
Warren was one of two LTV lawyers who wrote a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the appellate court decision siding with the coal miners, documents obtained by the Herald show. The high court never took up the case.
Warren was paid about $10,000 for her work, according to her campaign. The latest disclosure comes after the Herald reported that Warren defended an insurance giant against asbestos victims.
In other Elizabeth Warren news, Professor William Jacobson lays out in considerable detail on Legal Insurrection the potential problems with Elizabeth Warren not possessing a Massachusetts law license.
And Ms. Warren has just launched an ad addressing her own, undocumented claim of one thirty second Native American heritage and
defending herself from attacks suggesting that she claimed to be Native American in order to benefit from racial preferences in the legal profession.
Check out Ms. Warren's opponent here.
September 24, 2012
Things We Read Today (18), Monday
Many faces of big government: standardized tests; interest group buy-offs; government as marketing practice; and the United States of Panem.
Even a 100% Tax on Millionaires Wouldn't Close Federal Deficit
"Even if the government took all of the income earned by those who have an after-tax income of $1million or more, the amount of revenue generated would fall far short of eliminating the deficit."
Early voting is often promoted as a convenience for harried citizens. But it may be a bigger boon for candidates, enabling them to deploy money and personnel more efficiently as they work to corral votes as soon as possible.It might be convenient, but it just doesn't seem very smart. Who knows what could happen, right? Now, I could see maybe a day or two out (which, according to the story, is when a majority of "early voting" occurs), but even then, who knows? As we've learned though, maybe the problem isn't the "early" part of this sort of voting, it's the "mail-in" part.
"By encouraging our supporters to vote early, we can focus our resources more efficiently on election day to make sure those less likely to vote get out to the polls," said Adam Fetcher, an Obama campaign spokesman. "We've made early investments in battleground states, where we've been registering folks and keeping an open conversation going with undecided voters for months."
....Early voting can insulate a candidate against a damaging gaffe or negative news story in the closing weeks before election day. The disclosure of a decades-old drunk-driving charge against George W. Bush five days before the 2000 election may have cost him as many as five states, Rove, his chief strategist, later wrote. Late damage could be reduced this year, when more than 35% of the vote is expected to be cast early, compared with less than 15% in 2000.
But the dynamic works both ways. Early voting could mute the boost from a positive event — like a strong showing in this year's final televised debate on Oct. 22, only 15 days before the election.
September 23, 2012
Things We Read Today (17), Weekend
Returning RI to its natural state; RI as a playground for the rich; the gimmick of QE; the gimmick of digital records; killing coal/economy; when "Mostly False" means true.
But What About the Category Five Hurricane That Is Providence's Tax Burden?
When Mayor Angel Taveras took office, he discovered, very much contrary to the assertions of outgoing Mayor David Cicilline, that Providence's finances were a "category five hurricane".
Yesterday, in a Providence Journal article, Providence Finance Director Michael L. Pearis pulled down the hurricane flags.
“We turned a pretty significant thing around,” said Pearis, who was hired in late 2011. “I’m not saying there’s a pie in the sky, or a blue sky, but it’s not a Category Five anymore. It’s maybe a tropical storm, or just rain.”
No doubt, making the cuts and finding additional revenue
[Mayor Taveras] closed five schools, cut his salary, aggressively sought, and won, concessions from workers and negotiated larger voluntary payments from nearly all tax-exempt colleges and hospitals in the city
to stave off municipal bankruptcy was Job One. Mayor Taveras appears to have accomplished that, though the budget is still millions in the red. And certainly, it is a significant accomplishment.
But at the risk of appearing ungrateful or to want too much, is that where the effort ends?
Earlier this year, I pointed out that Providence's residential tax rate is the seventh highest and its commercial tax rate is the second highest in the country. In its own way, that's a category five hurricane. And remember that all of that revenue is in addition to the many millions supplied to the city every year from taxpayers around the state.
Let's review. Providence pretty much maxed out what it takes from its residents and businesses in property taxes. That still wasn't enough. Its spending, especially pension and retiree health care promises, started the city over a cliff. The current administration pulled the city back from the dive. But for Providence taxpayers, it's status quo ante the cliff: they are paying some of the highest taxes in the country.
Are those now frozen in place?
If Mayor Taveras were to say, I've done enough, let the next guy continue the job, that would be semi understandable. The problem with that, of course, is that two years remain on Mayor Taveras' term.
And let us not limit such questions only to Mayor Taveras. With state pension reform, Rhode Island's state budget was also pulled back from a cliff (though, in the absence of local pension reform, some municipalities are poised on the bankruptcy precipice). But assuming this reform stands up to legal challenges, what will our elected officials do to turn around Rhode Island's fifth highest combined state and local tax burden?
Who's Got the Power
Germany and Great Britain are further along the "green energy" path than we are.
On Friday, September 14, just before 10am, Britain’s 3,500 wind turbines broke all records by briefly supplying just over four gigawatts (GW) of electricity to the national grid. Three hours later, in Germany, that country’s 23,000 wind turbines and millions of solar panels similarly achieved an unprecedented output of 31GW.But Germany is even farther ahead than Great Britain and, well, they've got a problem.
Germany is being horribly caught out by precisely the same delusion about renewable energy that our own politicians have fallen for. Like all enthusiasts for “free, clean, renewable electricity”, they overlook the fatal implications of the fact that wind speeds and sunlight constantly vary. They are taken in by the wind industry’s trick of vastly exaggerating the usefulness of wind farms by talking in terms of their “capacity”, hiding the fact that their actual output will waver between 100 per cent of capacity and zero. In Britain it averages around 25 per cent; in Germany it is lower, just 17 per cent.It gets better:
The more a country depends on such sources of energy, the more there will arise – as Germany is discovering – two massive technical problems. One is that it becomes incredibly difficult to maintain a consistent supply of power to the grid, when that wildly fluctuating renewable output has to be balanced by input from conventional power stations. The other is that, to keep that back-up constantly available can require fossil-fuel power plants to run much of the time very inefficiently and expensively (incidentally chucking out so much more “carbon” than normal that it negates any supposed CO2 savings from the wind).
Thanks to a flood of subsidies unleashed by Angela Merkel’s government, renewable capacity has risen still further (solar, for instance, by 43 per cent). This makes it so difficult to keep the grid balanced that it is permanently at risk of power failures. (When the power to one Hamburg aluminium factory failed recently, for only a fraction of a second, it shut down the plant, causing serious damage.) Energy-intensive industries are having to install their own generators, or are looking to leave Germany altogether.Meanwhile, back in the U.S., 200 more coal-fired plants are being regulated out of existence. What will happen to our power grid "safety net" if this continues? Yes, some of that backbone capacity can be replaced with cleaner burning natural gas-fired plants or even nuclear (yeah, right). But probably not enough. So more, smaller generator packages, mostly of the fossil-fuel type, will be purchased by businesses and, one day, individuals, to guarantee that a constant flow of power is there. That will defeat the purpose of the green dream, won't it? Unless of course the next step is to make internal combustion engines illegal.
In fact, a mighty battle is now developing in Germany between green fantasists and practical realists. Because renewable energy must by law have priority in supplying the grid, the owners of conventional power stations, finding they have to run plants unprofitably, are so angry that they are threatening to close many of them down. The government response, astonishingly, has been to propose a new law forcing them to continue running their plants at a loss.
Unintended Consequences: Electronic Medical Records Enable "Gundecking"
Whoda thunk? (via the New York Times)
When the federal government began providing billions of dollars in incentives to push hospitals and physicians to use electronic medical and billing records, the goal was not only to improve efficiency and patient safety, but also to reduce health care costs.It's all in the number-coding apparently. And the ease with which health care providers can tag procedures or checks being performed--for good or ill. In the maritime industry that's called "gundecking".
But, in reality, the move to electronic health records may be contributing to billions of dollars in higher costs for Medicare, private insurers and patients by making it easier for hospitals and physicians to bill more for their services, whether or not they provide additional care....Over all, hospitals that received government incentives to adopt electronic records showed a 47 percent rise in Medicare payments at higher levels from 2006 to 2010, the latest year for which data are available, compared with a 32 percent rise in hospitals that have not received any government incentives, according to the analysis by The Times.....
Some experts blame a substantial share of the higher payments on the increasingly widespread use of electronic health record systems. Some of these programs can automatically generate detailed patient histories, or allow doctors to cut and paste the same examination findings for multiple patients — a practice called cloning — with the click of a button or the swipe of a finger on an iPad, making it appear that the physicians conducted more thorough exams than, perhaps, they did.
Critics say the abuses are widespread. “It’s like doping and bicycling,” said Dr. Donald W. Simborg, who was the chairman of federal panels examining the potential for fraud with electronic systems. “Everybody knows it’s going on.”
[S]ome critics say an unintended consequence is the ease with which doctors and hospitals can upcode — industry parlance for seeking a higher rate of reimbursement than is justified. They say there is too little federal oversight of electronic records.... As software vendors race to sell their systems to physician groups and hospitals, many are straightforward in extolling the benefits of those systems in helping doctors increase their revenue. In an online demonstration, one vendor, Praxis EMR, promises that it “plays the level-of-service game on your behalf and beats them at their own game using their own rules.”
The system helps doctors remember what they did when they successfully billed for similar patients, and ensures that they do not forget to ask important questions or to perform necessary tests, said Dr. Richard Low, chief executive of Infor-Med Corporation, which developed Praxis. “The doctor can use a chart the way the pilot uses a checklist,” he said.
But others place much of the blame on the federal government for not providing more guidance. Dr. Simborg, for one, said he helped draft regulations in 2007 that would have prevented much of the abuse that now appears to be occurring. But because the government was eager to encourage doctors and hospitals to enter the electronic era, he said, those proposals have largely been ignored.
“What’s happening is just the problem we feared,” he said.
September 22, 2012
TCC Announces 2012 Candidate Endorsements
The following arrived via e-mail earlier this afternoon. Yes, one of TCC's endorsed candidates for school committee is THE Justin Katz, Anchor Rising contributor extraordinaire and Managing Editor of the Ocean State Current.
Check out Tiverton Citizens for Change's website here.
Tiverton Citizens for Change are pleased to announce our candidate endorsements for the 2012 election. We followed a similar approach as in years past, beginning with letters sent to every candidate running for local office, and for State Assembly, District 70 (the only contested state seat). We considered responses to those requests as well as public service experience, voting record and public statements, skills and strengths, and commitment to personal integrity and respect. TCC remains independent and non-partisan, endorsing Democrats, Republicans, and Independents that demonstrate visible commitment to the town’s residents. For endorsement selection we focus on principles of transparency, taxpayers’ rights to good government, and reform.
We are proud of our endorsement record (over 90% elected) because it means voters have come to trust our message and our leadership team. It is important to note that TCC encourages all citizens to participate in local government, elected or volunteer, of any political party, because it makes us all stronger to have a healthy, professional debate about Tiverton’s future.
For Town Council, we endorse Jay Lambert, Joan Chabot, Nancy Driggs, David Nelson and Robert Coulter. These candidates have a clearly demonstrated track record of public service to Tiverton’s residents, and they will continue efforts to drive reform, hold down property taxes, bring sensible business development to the Industrial Park, and insure continued support for the FTR.
For School Committee, we endorse Justin Katz, Ruth Hollenbach, and Susan Anderson. These candidates represent Tiverton’s best chance to achieve excellence in education through reform, while promising never to cancel extracurricular activity as a means of meeting a budget.
For the Budget Committee, TCC backs Robert Gaw, Madeline O’Dell, Robert Hayden, John Martin and Jeffrey Sroczynski. This is a talented team focused on ensuring Tiverton’s budget process supports good government practices in an open, transparent approach.
John Perkins earns the endorsement for State Assembly District 70, as we believe he will best represent Tiverton against ever-growing state mandates imposed upon us all. We also welcome and support Tiverton’s new and third state senator, Chris Ottiano (District 11).
TCC’s core principles of good government focused on transparency and fiscal responsibility have not changed. These candidates running for election or re-election are highly talented and skilled members of our community genuinely dedicated to improving Tiverton’s future for all Tivertonians. We are committed to making our government work for you, and not the other way around.
And Dan Yorke Gets His Wish
For the last few days, WPRO host Dan Yorke has seemed exasperated any time the Congressional District 1 race comes up. He feels the Doherty campaign has had a flawed strategy by letting David Cicilline go around the state and tell seniors that Doherty will take away their Medicare. Cicilline says that Doherty sides with the Ryan Plan and will turn it into a voucher plan.
Dan Yorke's opinion on the response should by to have Doherty stand up and point blank tell everyone that he will protect Medicare and social security benefits, but a little more publicly and forcefully than he already has. It's almost become a running joke with Dan as each time the subject comes up, they even play some background music to a Meatloaf song.
With the main chorus being Dan's refrain, "I would do anything for love, but I won't do THAT" with that being taking away Medicare or social security benefits. Well Dan, you got your wish.
According to a news release from the Doherty campaign:
Brendan Doherty, candidate for Congress from Rhode Island’s First Congressional District will hold a news conference Monday morning in front of Memorial Hospital in Pawtucket to unveil his iron clad pledge to protect Medicare and Social Security benefits.There we have it. Two birds with one stone. Dan Yorke should now be a happy camper and the major Cicilline campaign strategy to date (scare seniors) seems to now be out the window.
Brendan’s opponent, David Cicilline, has used deceptive scare tactics to misrepresent Brendan’s positions which will protect Medicare and Social Security on into the future. Among other things, Brendan’s pledge includes his opposition to cutting Social Security and Medicare benefits.
Oh they'll switch gears. I'm suspecting that one new angle will be that Brendan Doherty wants to repeal Obamacare. But what's interesting there is that from what I've seen and read, he seems more interested in fixing Obamacare than just letting it languish on in its current state. One example is that Doherty has said he's opposed to is the $716 billion in cuts to Medicare. But yet, David Cicilline is in favor of that cut through his support for Obamacare. Rather than "working hard in Washington every day" like David Cicilline tells us he does, he just goes along for the ride with then-Speaker Pelosi, the author of "we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it."
What this is really going to come down to is which campaign the voters trust. We have on one hand, Brendan Doherty telling us what he would do if he's elected to Congress. On the other hand, we have David Cicilline telling us what Brendan Doherty would do if elected to Congress. It's a little bit of a he said/he said and we simply have to choose one side to trust. We need to figure out which one is telling us the truth. Brendan Doherty or David Cicilline? Hmm.
September 21, 2012
Charlie Hall Suggests a Third Alternative for the CD-1 Primary
Apologies that this is a little late ...
Things We Read Today (16), Friday
The narrative of the candidates; death panels and pension boards; the endgame of government debt; an enemies list.
Founding Philosophy on a Friday
From Matthew Continetti's review of The Founders' Key: The Divine and Natural Connection Between the Declaration and the Constitution and What We Risk by Losing It, by Larry P. Arnn:
An observer of contemporary American politics would assume that we have rights to just about everything—not only to those freedoms mentioned specifically in the Declaration, but also to an abortion, to marry a member of the same sex, and to food, housing, health insurance, transportation, and all the other accoutrements of a full and "equal" life. When most Americans talk about rights today, they are following the lead of our 32nd president, who told the Commonwealth Club in September 1932, "The task of statesmanship has always been the redefinition of these rights in terms of a changing and growing social order."
For the men who wrote the Declaration and Constitution, however, the rights we possess are antecedent to society. Our right to property begins with our bodily selves. We exist, and therefore have a right to life. We speak, and therefore have a right to speech. We think, and therefore have a right to conscience. We have hands that can work, and therefore have a right to the fruit of that labor.
Government does not redefine rights as history runs its course. The teaching of the Declaration and the Constitution is that human beings institute government to protect the rights they already possess by virtue of being. We do not have rights to goods that exist only in society, such as health insurance, college loans, and pensions, since the provision and redistribution of these material benefits can take place only after government is established, and would require the government to infringe on our natural, pre-social, corporal rights.
August Employment Data for Rhode Island and the Nation
Once again, the headline is that Rhode Island's unemployment rate fell another tenth of a percent, to 10.7%. And at least it's true, this month, that employment went up instead of down. (The past few drops in the unemployment rate were a result of people giving up their job searches, so they weren't counted in the statistics.)
But people continued to leave the state's labor force, and the employment increase wasn't exactly dramatic, giving the impression that our decline hasn't turned around, but has edged toward stagnation.
The Parent Rap
Let's lighten things up a bit....
The best part is they are totally believable as a couple and family, in all their dorkiness. Well done.
Campaign Flags of our Politicians
I posted about the new Obama poster that was an impressionistic version of the U.S. flag wherein the "O" replaced the field of stars and there were a few artsy-ish type stripes. You know the one.
September 20, 2012
Things We Read Today (15), Thursday
Issuing bonds to harm the housing market; disavowing movies in Pakistan and tearing down banners in Cranston; the Constitution as ours to protect; the quick failure of QE3; and Catholic social teaching as the bridge for the conservative-libertarian divide.
Brought to you by the Obama
for is America campaign:
"After he was elected, Mr. Obama allowed himself to believe in his own legend, cheered on by the hundreds of thousands of adoring supporters who thronged his inauguration, by the sheer magnificence of the swearing-in of an African-American president. It was as though he concluded that his election by itself changed the world and had fulfilled his promise of a postpartisan era." ~ New York Times editorial, September 6, 2012.
Providence Public/Charter School Idea Requires More from Everyone
Last week I called it "refreshing" when the news came out that Providence was looking to convert 9 public schools to public/charter hybrids. Some were understandably skeptical, but, as I responded, I was encouraged because the idea "indicates a change in mindset, even if a little bit, from the same ol'/same ol'."
Education maven Julia Steiny attended a meeting regarding the proposal--a "meet and greet" for the staffs of the 9 schools--and had her own observations, reminding us that "the whole point of the charter-school movement from its inception in the early 1990s [was] to encourage experiments and innovations that could spread back to the regular district schools. But the way history played out, charters and district schools felt pitted against one another, bitterly competing for resources, students and praise." She also described Providence School Superintendent Susan Lusi's three goals, chief among them being that "charters are characterized as being cohesive communities of parents, students and staff."
As Steiny concurs, noting that "since charter schools live or die on their ability to attract and keep students and families, they’re famous for being warm, welcoming places that parents prefer to the often-hidebound, district schools." So, to be successful, the people in public school buildings will have to embrace that sort of change. Steiny offers this anecdote:
So consider this little clash of cultures. Many of the Providence district attendees expressed a strong desire to improve their relationship with parents. One charter director conceded that involving urban parents is a super-tough job. So his teachers all visit their students’ homes before school opens in the fall, to meet or re-connect with the family and talk about their mutual expectations for the year.It's about more than just changing the model, it's about changing the attitudes of everyone. More will be asked of everyone. Is everyone willing to step up to the plate? We'll see.
A Providence teacher asked, “Who does these visits?” The Director enthused, “The classroom teachers. And giving the parents a business card, saying call me any time; this is my cell phone number, that creates a relationship that’s crazy powerful.”
“The teachers give out their cell phone numbers?” asked one. “Yeah,” said the Director. And there was an uncomfortable pause.
House Makes it easier for Buffet, billionaires to pay down Federal debt
The House of Representatives--on a bi-partisan voice vote--passed the "Buffet Rule Act", which allows anyone to voluntarily pay more in taxes.
Under the legislation, which would still need Senate approval, taxpayers could check a box on their taxes and send in a check for more than they owe to the IRS.
"If Warren Buffett and others like him truly feel they're not paying enough in taxes, they can use the Buffett Rule Act to put their money where their mouth is and voluntarily send in more to pay down the national debt, rather than changing the entire tax code to inflict more job-killing tax hikes on hard-working Americans," said Rep. Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who wrote the bill....Current law already allows taxpayers to send money to pay down the debt, but Republicans said that process is onerous. Under their new plan, taxpayers would have an easy option on their tax returns allowing them to pay more.
Under Republicans' legislation, the money would go directly toward reducing the debt.
September 19, 2012
Things We Read Today (14), Wednesday
Why freedom demands father-daughter dances; the U.S., less free; PolitiFact gets a Half Fair rating for its Doherty correction; and the mainstream media cashes in some of its few remaining credibility chips for the presidential incumbent.
Trying to "Push" Brendan Doherty Around
Isn't it so much fun when you get deep into campaign season and the mud is flying everywhere. Usually, the closer you get to election day, the muddier it gets. It seems we're seeing all the usual stuff flying around.
Now we're hearing about a poll where David Cicilline has magically made a 26 point gain since WPRI ran their poll earlier in the year.
Unfortunately, at the same time, we get reports of someone doing a push poll for David Cicilline. In case you're not familiar with a push poll (and don't want to click on the link) it is when a pollster asks questions that would seem to be a poll, but are instead intended to mislead a voter on a candidate. For example, I wonder what would be the results of a poll if someone were to ask voters:
- Would you vote for David Cicilline for Congress if his brother went to prison for theft?
- Would you vote for David Cicilline for Congress if he previously worked as a criminal defense attorney defending child abusers and drug dealers?
- Would you vote for David Cicilline if you found out that he hated puppies?
- Who will you be supporting in the upcoming Congressional election, Brendan Doherty or David Cicilline?
September 18, 2012
Revisiting April: Romney's Themes Were the Same
With the release of a "secret video" supposedly showing presidential candidate Mitt Romney exposing his inner thoughts to a bunch of rich people about the makers versus the takers in American society, I've been having a strange sense that I've heard such things before. And it isn't just that this is a common argument between left and right in U.S. politics.
Rather, I recalled Romney's saying something similar when he visited Rhode Island in April and spoke to an exclusive audience of hundreds of people and a full complement of media (liveblog).
Things We Read Today (13), Tuesday
Days off from retirement in Cranston; the conspiracy of low interest rates; sympathy with the Satanic Verses; the gas mandate; and the weaponized media.
Did They Just Set Up a Skating Rink in Hades? PolitiFact Changes a Ruling
As I just remarked via e-mail to GoLocalProv's Dan McGowan, I had almost wrapped up a stinging post this evening about PolitiFact's latest rating of a statement by Brendan Doherty. The post would have been entitled
Doherty Was Right; PolitiFact Is Wrong - Cicilline "Volunteer" Ramirez Not The Source of the Funds That Repaid His PEDP Loan
Alas, the world will never see that brilliant and hard-hitting post because it has now been pre-empted by a substantial "update" to the PolitiFact ruling that would have been its subject. A new preamble to the ruling summarizes. (Emphasis added.)
EDITOR's NOTE: On Sept. 16, 2012, PolitiFact Rhode Island rated as Mostly False a statement by Republican congressional candidate Brendan Doherty that was directed at U.S. Rep. David Cicilline. Doherty said: "The Providence Economic Development Partnership . . which you [Cicilline] chaired, loaned $103,000 in taxpayer funds to one of your campaign workers. The worker never paid back the loan." In light of additional evidence, we are changing our rating to Mostly True and providing this new analysis.
As the updated version of this PolitiFact ruling carefully states, the person and outlet who brought about this hitherto unthinkable change of a PolitiFact ruling is Dan McGowan at GoLocalProv with his story of August 30 - more precisely, the very good digging by Dan that preceded and comprised it.
Kudos to PolitiFact for being big enough to run a thorough correction.
Major congratulations to GoLocalProv's Dan McGowan for bringing about the correction with some excellent research.
A Tale of Two Incumbent Conservative Democrats
Conservative Democrat Senator Michael McCaffrey won his primary last week. Conservative Democrat Representative Jon Brien lost his primary last week. The difference: union support.
Both have stated they are against gay marriage. Both are (I believe) pro-life. Yet, the NEA, AFSCME, the local carpenters union and others endorsed McCaffrey. Brien lost to a firefighter with union support. Brien didn’t lose because he supported 38 Studios, he lost because he was a Democrat who regularly took on the unions and the unions turned out their vote in a low turnout primary election. That’s the way the game is played. On the other hand, McCaffrey had the support of the unions, who helped him stave off a challenge from essentially a single-issue (gay marriage) candidate who had outside funding that helped to bolster her campaign. Without union support, McCaffrey would have lost. Without union support, Brien did lose.
It’s a lesson that probably won’t be missed by that unique-too-Rhode Island species, the conservative Democrat. You can go against the liberal Democratic/progressive ideals on social issues and still win, so long as you don’t go against the unions.
September 17, 2012
The Board of Elections Needs to Assure Rhode Islanders that Every Vote Counts
Mutliple sources are reporting that William San Bento has ended the day with a one vote lead over Carlos Tobon in the District 58 (Pawtucket) Democratic primary for State Representative. Apparently four different recounts have produced four different results, with further recounts possible. According to the Associated Press...
...the final tally came down to a single mail ballot that was initially not counted.Ethan Shorey includes a short timeline of the multiple recounts in his coverage in the Valley Breeze.
Given that the election in Pawtucket could be decided by a margin as small as a one or two mail-in ballots --it was mail-in ballots that flipped the original election night result, from a 6-vote Tobon lead to a 3-vote San Bento lead -- has anyone asked the state Board of Elections for their accounting of how the mail-in votes seen in the Erasmo Ramirez surveillance video, as well as any other ballots that may have been obtained in the course of the related investigation (if there was a related investigation), were dealt with, and specifically whether any ballots from voters registered in District 58 were involved? As the result in District 58 is proving, no number of tainted (or suppressed) ballots should be too small for the Board of Elections to be concerned about.
Things We Read Today (12), Monday
Chafee shows his bond cards, Chicago exposes a metric discord, Rhode Island misses the skills-gap/business-cost lesson, QE3 misses the inflation nebula, and college majors miss the mark.
Rhode Island Politics: a Game That the State Can't Win
People periodically give me incredulous looks when I tell them I dislike politics. The campaign horse race is a roundabout annoyance of spin, and more importantly, it simply isn’t appropriate to view politics as a team sport. Depending on the level of government, thousands or millions of people’s lives are directly affected by the policies that result.
Note that I’m saying that the team-sport mindset is not merely inadequate or imperfect; I'm insisting that it is inappropriate. There’s just no such thing as an objective referee or rules. Imagine if, over the course of some major sporting event, the winning team were able to rewrite the rules in their favor. We'd rebel against that even when nothing more is invested than our ticket price for entertainment; how much more ought we to recoil from it in relation to our very communities!
Yet, sports may be the closest metaphor available for us to organize the idea of politics, with its mix of partisans and special interests in competition, into a form that we can get our heads around. Thus, WPRI's Ted Nesi comments, in his bullet-pointed Saturday column.
September 16, 2012
Intolerance and Lost Freedom in the U.S.A.
On Friday, George Will wrote about a photographer in New Mexico whom the government penalized thousands of dollars for declining to take pictures at a same-sex commitment ceremony. Meanwhile, a public school in Colorado has confiscated two sets of Rosary beads from a student, with disputed insinuations of gang activity and erroneous counts of the number of prayer beads on it.
Normally, I wouldn't mention these incidents for two reasons. First, they've become a bit too common to penetrate a to-write list in turbulent times, especially when each occurred so far away. Second, the culture wars extend beyond the scope of the Ocean State Current, in most of their manifestations.
It seems to me, though, that the environment in which such things are commonplace helps to explain why this dramatic photograph hasn't been plastered across news media of all sorts, rightfully becoming a subject of controversy and national soul-searching debate:
September 15, 2012
Delaying the Independent Auditor: A Misinterpreted Deadline and No Signed Confession Facilitate This Cicilline-Friendly Rating
Ah, the good times are so fleeting.
PolitiFact has rated one of the items on the Doherty campaign's Top 10 List of David Ciciline's Most Serious Deceptions. (Love the concept, by the way. Bad elected officials need to be called out and their official misdeeds highlighted.)
We decided to look at number four, which focused on the outside audit of Providence finances covering the final fiscal year when Cicilline was mayor. (We’ll be examining another item in Doherty's "top 10" separately.)
We quote from Doherty's news release attacking Cicilline: "INTENTIONALLY MISSED DEADLINES: You were also required to provide key information about city finances to an independent outside auditor. The deadlines were clear -- yet you missed them by months. You delayed providing that information until after you were elected to Congress."
[Link to the Top Ten list here.]
Why does PolitiFact gives this one a "Mostly False"?
Our mind-reading skills are limited, so we can't judge whether any delay was prompted by an intent to withhold information until after the Nov. 2, 2010, general election.
Gee, most of use can't read minds, either. One good way to judge "intent", however, is to look at the person's conduct and intent in related conduct. "Related conduct" might be, for example, Cicilline's stonewalling of the internal auditor. Most people, specifically including PolitiFact, agree that former Mayor Cicilline acted with bad intent when he dragged Providence's Internal Auditor James Lombardi to the point that Lombardi had to file a FOIA request to get the information he needed. Yet Mayor Cicilline acted with innocent motive when he dragged the independent auditor? That's extremely difficult to believe in view of the track record.
Further, PolitiFact's asserts that
even if every deadline had been met, the results of the audit would not have been released before the November election. Such audits are due at the end of the year, nearly two months after the votes are counted, a timetable noted in the very document the Doherty campaign cites.But that misses the point entirely. This GoLocalProv article correctly cites the far more significant, if unofficial, deadline.
The independent auditor for the city, James Wilkinson, of Braver PC, said the city turned in most of the documents needed for the report in early November—about a month late—and around the time of the election. He said it was the first time the city had been tardy since his firm took it on as a client four years ago.
"Early November"? Funny, Election Day 2010 fell on November 2. Was that about when the Cicilline administration released the information? Or perhaps they released it - almost as uselessly - on November 1?
Sure, the final audit by the independent auditor would not have been completed before the election. But had Mayor Cicilline released the information ON TIME, i.e., a month before the election, the independent auditor would have been in possession of the information to corroborate the internal auditor's findings before the elections. And information about the true fiscal condition of the City of Providence was the one thing that then-Mayor David Cicilline could not have floating around ... at least, not until after he had been successfully promoted away from the whole mess.
The sequester is an automatic budget enforcement mechanism triggered when the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction fails to enact legislation to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the sequestration period. Instead of simply passing appropriated funds to the agencies, the U.S. Treasury “sequesters” the difference between the cap set in the BCA and the amount appropriated.So don't believe the hype from government, contractors or others. There will still be more borrowed money for everyone. Ain't that just great?
Changes in spending from sequestration result in new budget projections below the CBO’s baseline projection of spending based on current law. The federal government would spend $3.62 trillion in the first year with sequestration versus the $3.69 trillion projected by CBO. By 2021, the government would spend $5.26 trillion versus the $5.41 trillion projected. Overall, without a sequester, federal spending would increase $1.7 trillion (blue line). With a sequester, federal spending would increase by $1.6 trillion (red line).
While the sequester projections are nominal spending increases, most budget plans count them as cuts. Referring to decreases in the rate of growth of spending as “cuts” influences public perceptions about the budget. When the public hears “cut,” it thinks that spending has been significantly reduced below current levels, not that spending has increased. Thus, calling a reduced growth rate of projected spending a “cut” leads to confusion, a growing deficit, and an ever-larger burden for future generations.
September 14, 2012
Things We Read Today (11), Friday
Being right about district 1 messaging; PolitiFact prepares for the election; what's a charter; being right about quantitative easing, First Amendment; and Bob Dylan says what he means.
09/14/12 - Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito - Roger Williams Law School
Justin writes live from a "fireside chat" with Supreme Court Justice Alito at Roger Williams University.
Mid-East Foreign Policy
More disturbing pictures (and story) from the Benghazi Consulate in Libya are here.
September 13, 2012
Things We Read Today (10), Thursday
Madness overseas and at home, lunacy in the Fed, the disconcerting growth of government, and the performance art of public-sector negotiations.
The Campus, the Embassy, and Brown University's Continuing Ban on ROTC
One immediate response to the murder of four American diplomats in Libya has been to call in the Marines, literally, to bolster security for US diplomats.
After an absence that dates back to the Vietnam War era, and 11 years to the day after 9/11, ROTC is finally returning to Harvard, Columbia, and Yale.Brown University is absent from the above list, the last Ivy League university not to allow ROTC on campus, according to a Wall Street Journal op-ed from last year.
In October of 2011, in the wake of the repeal of the ban on homosexuals openly serving in the military, Brown University President Ruth Simmons endorsed a report authored by a committee of administrators, faculty members and students that recommended against reinstating on-campus ROTC, but supported expanding opportunities for Brown students to participate in ROTC programs at other institutions. The report itself cited "discrimination" against transgender individuals as the primary substantive reason for not having an ROTC program directly on campus. President Simmons' letter of endorsement specifically mentioned 2 other substantive reasons, in addition to the transgender issue, that were "given by some for opposing reconsideration of Brown policy on ROTC": opposition to recent US military undertakings, and "a belief that the hierarchical approach of the military is antithetical to Brown’s open approach to learning, teaching and research".
Which brings us back to Libya, Egypt and now Yemen. The Marines providing security for US embassies in these places and others are making every bit as much of a contribution to sensible American engagement with the world as are diplomats, intelligence operatives, and other Americans on official business stationed abroad. Wherever military members are actively serving, their profession is not second-class relative to the civilian professions around them and should not be treated as such.
Yet while trained military personnel are welcome as first-line defenders to help make civilized diplomacy possible in less-civilized parts of the world (in other words, there is no discernible advocacy for the non-deployment of military guards to US embassies on the grounds that the military is hierarchical and doesn't accept transgendered members), in the minds of some Brunonians, those who seek to serve in the armed forces are apparently not good enough to receive their military training openly on Brown's campus. Ironically, telling a group of people that they are worth having around when there's dangerous work that needs to be done, but that they should otherwise stay out of sight while at your exclusive club is the practice that embodies a truly malign hierarchical attitude. If Brown University is serious about advancing principles of diversity and egalitarianism, this is the acceptance of irrational hierarchy that must be rejected.
Providence Schools/Teachers: When all else fails....Charter
Refreshing (via ProJo):
Providence schools superintendent...Susan Lusi, together with Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith and School Board President Keith Oliveira, are promoting the idea of district-operated charters, which would give principals greater say over what happens in the classroom without sacrificing union protection for teachers....Trying something new is a start.
Given the us-versus-them attitude toward charter schools, Lusi was pleasantly surprised when nine Providence schools said they were willing to pursue charter school status....With so many schools under the gun to improve student achievement, Lusi knew she had to do something to shake up a system that has remained largely unchanged, despite wave after wave of reform.
“People don’t think they have permission to think outside the box,” Lusi said Tuesday. “Symbolically, this is a signal to think outside the box.”
Providence and many other districts, she says, have been trapped by the notion that school has to look the same in every building: 50-minute periods, a 6.5-hour day, 26 students per class. It doesn’t, Lusi says. There is no research that says that the old agrarian model of learning works. In fact, there is a growing body of research that says schools should fine-tune their instruction to meet the diverse ways students learn.
Providence has already begun to tinker with tradition. This year, most of the city’s high schools have a longer day. They have also adopted a class schedule with longer blocks of time. Some schools are toying with the idea of offering a Saturday academy or afterschool enrichment programs.
Lusi says charter schools do three important things that the district needs: create a school culture that is warm and welcoming, bring in partners with innovative ways of looking at teaching and learning, and attract additional resources. About $5 million in federal money is available for new charters.
We Made the Top 10 In Something!
Hooray! A Rhode Islander made it to the top ten!
(h/t Ian Donnis)
September 12, 2012
US Foreign Relations
I seem to remember back around the time of President Obama's inauguration, we were being told that President Bush had done great harm to the reputation of our country and that Obama would fix it. Obama would repair all the damage done with regard to US foreign relations. Am I creating a straw man? Here's one article from November 5, 2008 which indicates this thought:
"President-elect Barack Obama"—the phrase alone does more to repair the tarnished image of America in the world than any action George W. Bush might ponder taking in his final weeks of power. The very fact of a black president with multinational roots unhinges the terrorists' recruitment poster of a racist, parochial, Muslim-hating United States. It revives Europeans' trans-Atlantic dreams just as their own union seems to be foundering. It is bound to inspire reformers everywhere who seek to break through their own socio-political barriers. It revivifies America as a beacon of democracy—not through thumping arrogance and brimstone but, more elegantly and potently, by sheer example.Then after that, our new president toured around the world pointing out America's past "arrogance" and apologizing for past behaviors. The whole idea was that if the President would make nice with these other countries, then maybe they won't hate us so much and maybe they'll stop doing bad things to America.
Then there's September 11, 2012. In Libya, the US Ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens and three staffers were murdered by protesters. Stevens was working in the country to assist in the transition of power away from Muammar Gadaffi. He was working to help bring peace to the Libyan people when Libyan protesters killed him.
Additionally, in Egypt, protesters attacked the US embassy, tore down the US flag and set it on fire.
I guess at this point, I would ask how that whole "improving foreign relations" thing is working out? A US ambassador murdered on the job hasn't happened since the Carter administration. (h/t Marc)
So here we have a president who said himself that if he didn't turn the economy around in three and a half years, he'd be a one-term president. He hasn't turned it around, and in fact it is worse. So the whole domestic policy and economic policy area isn't working out too well for President Obama. One of the goals for him was to improve US foreign relations. That hasn't worked out so well either.
Domestic, foreign, economic. It seems President Obama has hit the failure trifecta.
Things We Read Today, 9
No deep theme, today, but bad British commentary, union priorities, stimulus as wishlist, the fame of Dinesh, and a response to Dan Yorke's Congressional District 1 analysis.
Nothing to See Here
Wendy Rosen, the Democratic challenger to Republican Rep. Andy Harris in the 1st Congressional District, withdrew from the race Monday amid allegations that she voted in elections in both Maryland and Florida in 2006 and 2008....State Democratic Chairwoman Yvette Lewis said an examination of voting records in Maryland and Florida showed that Rosen participated in the 2006 general election and the 2008 primaries in both states.
On a semi-related note: I arrived at my near-empty polling place (I was the only voter there at 5:30 PM) and informed them what party I was registered to. The pleasant poll worker then informed me that I could only vote in one primary. Huh. I wasn't aware I had a choice. She did ask for my ID, though.
*NOTE: I clarified because apparently my use of the indefinite article (or is it an indef. pronoun?---really not sure, truth be told--I'm rusty on the parts of speech!) "it" was taken by some to mean "voter ID" (I can see that) when I meant "election reform" in general. I guess tagging the post under the category "Election Reform" and touching on various topics that all broadly fall under said category wasn't clear enough. Especially if someone was looking to pick a nit.
RE: The Senate District 29 "Bellwether"
Just a follow up on yesterday's post regarding the Senate-29 Democratic primary race between incumbent Michael McCaffrey and challenger Lisa Pisaturo, which McCaffrey won by 6% in a low turnout election. A Pisaturo win would have undoubtedly been taken as a sign that the Rhode Island electorate was ready to embrace gay marriage. But what about a loss? It depended on the margin and turnout, I thought. Let's see. Dan McGowan played it straight:
The Senate Judiciary chairman [McCaffrey] got his first real challenge in years, but was able to hold off Laura Pisaturo, who had strong backing from the marriage equality group, Fight Back RI.David Scharfenberg:
Tonight's Democratic primaries were not kind to gay marriage supporters, who claimed just one of six key state senate races....After tonight, then, it is hard to see a significant change in the balance of power in a state senate where about half of current members are opposed to gay marriage, a third are in support, and the rest are in the toss-up category...The only consolation for advocates is that none of the races - with the possible exception of Pisaturo's challenge to state Senator Michael McCaffrey - can be read as a referendum on gay marriage, which was little mentioned on the campaign trail. Indeed, public polling suggests solid majority support for same-sex nuptials in Rhode Island, which bodes well in the long term.So the results weren't good for gay marriage advocates but that doesn't matter because only one race (McCaffrey/Pisaturo) really highlighted it....and polling! Okay. Bob Plain went with the "noble loss" theme:
While both Lauara Pisaturo, of Warwick, and Bob DaSilva, of East Providence, lost, they both had strong showings and only lost to powerful incumbents by a total of of less than 300 votes. That doesn’t speak well for Michael McCaffrey or Dan DaPonte, who beat them, both who are committee chairmen and are in the good graces of leadership. Their votes may not change on marriage equality because of the nail-biting victories (though DaPonte was on the fence) others may swing once they see that even powerful incumbents can be vulnerable.I'm sure they're a-scared now. Interestingly, Plain didn't talk much about how Pisaturo and the other hyped gay marriage candidates got substantial, late-in-the-game funding from what is essentially a one-man
Tim Gill, a reclusive technology magnate from the Centennial State, is the leading figure in a nationwide network of gay rights activists who have been funding state-level legislative races for years now in a bid to tip the balance on same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues. He recently poured $20,000 into a group called People for Rhode Island's Future that is backing six pro-gay marriage state senate candidates.Finally, Warwick Beacon reporter Kim Kalunian tweeted this from Pisaturo's concession speech:"fear and hate...put into people's minds on marriage equality" created a "backlash".
Conclusion? While six gay marriage supporting Democrats received funds from a single-issue Super PAC, only Pisaturo's race (and maybe DaSilva's) was actually a referendum on gay marriage. Their close losses prove that powerful, connected pro-union but socially conservative politicians--who rely on "fear and hate"--should be on the lookout next time around. Got it?
September 11, 2012
Things We Read Today, 8
Today: September 11, global change, evolution, economics, 17th amendment, gold standard, and a boughten electorate... all to a purpose.
Senate District 29: Bellwether....until it's not?
The local media and gay marriage advocates are tabbing Rhode Island Senate District 29 in Warwick as "one to watch" as a mini-referendum on gay marriage in the state. David Scharfenberg sums it up:
Laura Pisaturo, a lesbian lawyer who backs same-sex nuptals, is facing off against Senator Michael McCaffrey, a Warwick Democrat who opposes gay marriage and holds a critical post as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee has jurisdiction over the same-sex marriage bill. McCaffrey's re-election could have long-term ramifications since he is considered a possible successor to Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed.Ted Nesi is a good gauge on the local media's conventional wisdom:
One of the most closely watched races in the state. Gay-marriage supporters are gunning for Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Mike McCaffrey, another veteran accused of being out-of-touch with his district. Their candidate is Laura Pisaturo, a self-assured lawyer who’s become the face of Fight Back RI’s push to overthrow the Senate status quo. McCaffrey is clearly in some trouble, but he’s been around for a long time and has union support after sponsoring a bill to give teachers binding arbitration. The ground game will decide his fate, and that’s the strong suit of Pisaturo operative Ray Sullivan; are McCaffrey supporters energized enough to show up, particularly without much else on the ballot?While reliably progressive Bob Plain observes:
As the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, [McCaffery] and Paiva Weed have been close allies in their quest to keep gay couples from enjoying the same marital rights as others. Being popular with leadership doesn’t always translate to strength in the district and Warwick may well be ready for a change. Pisaturo enjoys the support of the progressive community and she’s been working hard to get out the vote. McCaffery, who sponsored the binding arbitration bill, has the support of the NEA. Some handicappers think Pisaturo could squeak out a victory; everyone seems to agree it will be close.My analysis is based simply on the fact that I live in the district. Both will run strong in their own neighborhoods (Hoxsie, Cole Farm & Conimicut for Mcaffrey; Governor Francis area for Pisaturo), but I think McCaffrey's support is deeper throughout the district than many pundits apparently (or want to) believe. He's a prototypical socially conservative, pro-union Democrat who mirrors his mostly working-class district.
While both Nesi and Plain mention that he has the support of the NEA (no word on AFT, though, which is the union that Warwick teachers belong to), McCaffrey also garnered support of several other unions--Rhode Island Council 94, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, Rhode Island Construction and Building Trades Council, Carpenter’s Union Local 94, International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 57. And believe me, Police and Fire will also support him. While McCaffrey's list of endorsements reads like an alphabet-soup laundry list of unions, Pisaturo's reads like a progressive's dream--National Association of Social Workers, Clean Water Action, Marriage Equality Rhode Island, Fight Back RI, The Victory Fund, Planned Parenthood Votes! and National Organization for Women.
Again, as his endorsements indicate, McCaffrey mirrors his district while Pisaturo is reflective of a socially liberal tablet that, to my experience, doesn't really exist in most of District 29. However, there is a "live and let live" attitude and, as in so many other districts, McCaffrey will need both union Democrats and non-affiliated "traditionalists" to come out. He can't count on any Republican cross-overs in a primary. Nonetheless, while it will come down to the ground game, in the end I think McCaffrey wins comfortably.
If McCaffrey loses or it's close (either way), then I think it will be because not enough voters were motivated in the primary (we'll be able to tell by turnout). Thus, a close Pisaturo win in a light-turnout primary won't strike me as any sort of groundswell endorsement for gay marriage, at least in this District. But it sure will be spun that way. On the other hand, if I'm right and McCaffrey wins comfortably, will this race still be considered the gay marriage bellwether that so many progressive have touted? Somehow, I doubt it.
How the Results of The CD-1 Primary Will Be A Win Either Way
Here's the way I see it.
If Anthony Gemma wins (and I think that's a bigger possibility than some people think), firstly, the state will be rid of a mendacious, duplicitous elected official (i.e., David Cicilline) who selfishly put his own political career far ahead of honesty and the best interest of the people he purportedly represented. Secondly - and this is the fun part - if Gemma wins, it will be a real poke in the eye to the RI Democrat Party, Gina Raimondo, Angel Taveras and everyone who soiled their own integrity and character by endorsing and politically embracing David "Cover-Up" Cicilline. By the way, if Gemma does win, wouldn't you love to be a fly on the wall as Democrats go crawling up to him afterwards? "Hey, good job, Anthony. I know I supported your slug of an opponent. But now, kumbaya, right???"
If David Cicilline wins, Brendan Doherty's chances of winning the general election - and, accordingly, the chances of the state to rid itself of a mendacious, duplicitous elected representative (i.e., David Cicilline) - are boosted considerably.
Whatever happens tonight, can't wait!
When it happened, I was sitting at work, much as I will be today. I had a wife, a 2 year old and a 1 year old. As it would turn out, I wasn't personally--directly--affected by the tragic events on 9/11. That puts me in the majority. Yet, like everyone, my life and that of my wife and young daughters was forever changed. Our innocence and naivete was lost. At least that's what we thought at that time. Yet, 11 years later, I think we are forgetting.
This election year I've heard the Bush Administration referred to derisively as one that brought us "two wars". Lumping Afghanistan, which not so long ago was considered "the good war", with Iraq, the supposed "bad war". In Afghanistan we directly responded to those who had attacked our nation by killing innocents in cold blood. When did it become a bad war, one that was lumped in with the supposedly really "bad war"? Probably when politicians thought they could score some partisan points by tapping into America's war fatigue. Americans aren't a patient people. Many think we've lost our way in Afghanistan. We beat the Taliban and Bin Laden is dead. Isn't it time to come home? Except the Taliban is back and who knows what they'll do when we leave. There's no easy answer and it's ugly. We don't like ugly, so we ignore it. Unless it's a convenient talking point. But we're still there and our men and women are fighting and dying. There doesn't seem to be a clear end game anymore. We owe our warriors that much, at the very least.
While we sent our fighting men and women off to war, we vowed to buckle down on the home front. We made sacrifices to be more secure. To be sure, not everyone was keen on such sacrifice: we were reminded that the loss of freedom for the sake of security wasn't worth it. It probably isn't, but many--perhaps most--Americans will take security over freedom. Now? Now we have a government security force inhabiting our airports that seems more like a jobs retention program bent on enforcing politically correct searches rather than actually protecting us from those who would do us harm. They put on a good show of keeping us safer. But is the cost of admission worth it?
And what about Ground Zero? It seems like if it had all happened in the 1940's or '50's, we'd have had something bigger and bolder built there by now. Instead the project is stalled mid-construction. All after a years-long debate over what to do with the site. Nike's "Just Do It" motto used to seem like one appropriate to America in general. Now it's more like "Can We Do It? Or Will it Offend Someone?"
My kids know of 9/11, but there's no way their generation will ever be able to conceptualize the tragedy. It will be a piece of history, like Vietnam was for us Gen Xers, and it will end up being a heavily politicized piece of history, at that. Again, like Vietnam. Nuance will be lost, the role of contingency in well-meaning, if flawed, intentions instituted through policy will be glossed over as we assign black hats and white hats to our American politicians. We could very well lose sight of the fact that there actually was an evil that brought this to our shores. They made the choice to kill innocents. We didn't "bring this on ourselves", they brought it to us. And we gave it back the best we could.
What have we learned from all of this? That when roused we will kick your ass if you screw with us. But we'll also turn to, or allow, government--often with good intentions--to impose more barriers and inconveniences on us for the sake of security. We've learned that the public has little stomach for drawn out conflicts. That is probably a good thing as it raises the bar higher before we again enter into war. But it also is worrisome that, after we are committed, too many people may conclude that the reality show called "war" had a good run, but now it's time for it to be cancelled whether the plot lines had been tied up or not.
Maybe forgetting is a good thing. Maybe, as 9/11 becomes lumped in with Pearl Harbor or even "Remember the Maine", our nation will revert to a more innocent time. Perhaps even a more prosperous time. But hopefully not a more naive time. Danger is always out there. We have to be on the lookout. That, I hope, is at least the one lesson we never forget.
Note Delivered Ten Years Later
We saw bumper stickers and signs that proclaimed "Never Forget", but of course as time goes on, people do. Those that were too young to remember any part of it will just look back at it like the moon landing for me. It's just something they hear the older people talk about and what they seen in video. Some towns even choose to not particularly do anything special for this day, today September 11. But I hope to do what I can to keep people aware of the horrible events that happened eleven years ago today.
One example is this article about a note that was delivered to a family ten years after the tragedy occurred.
Randy Scott was working in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 on the 84th floor. That floor was in the impact zone of the second plane and for years, his family had assumed he was killed instantly and never suffered.
Then in August of last year, his family received word of a note that was traced back with DNA analysis of a blood spot on the note. The note read:
"84th floorWe've seen the impact on video, we've seen the burning buildings. I think we all assumed that those on the floors that were hit died instantly. Not all of them did. Many suffered needlessly. It's those innocent people included in the 2,977 who died that we need to remember and honor on this day.
12 people trapped"
Eleven years ago this morning, the weather was very similar to today's.
"Governor Lincoln Chafee has called for a statewide moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. on Tuesday, the 11th anniversary of the attacks. He has also ordered flags to be flown at half staff" -- 9:03 a.m. -- 9:43 a.m. -- At 9:57 a.m., eleven years ago, Islamist terrorists lose the initiative in the war they started -- 10:03 a.m.
September 10, 2012
Things We Read Today, 7
Today it's debt and gambling, from bonds to pensions to entitlements, with consideration of regionalization, ObamaCare, and campaign finance.
Schools Closed Tomorrow -- Seriously?
Maybe this is more of a venting post but why in the world are the schools closed tomorrow? Simply because it's an election day? Because some schools get used as polling places? I still don't get it. The middle school I attended was used as a polling location, more specifically the cafeteria. Rather than canceling school, we were encouraged to bring lunch from home and eat in our classrooms that day. The cafeteria was still available to purchase lunch, but instead of going there, they'd deliver boxed lunches, to be eaten in the classroom. That doesn't work anymore?
Now I'm not one of those parents who sees the school system as free child care and gets irate every time the school closes for any reason. I'm fortunate and those situations don't affect me the same way as they do for others. But this just seems like a terrible reason to close the schools.
My current town's school system started the year the Wednesday before Labor Day, and I was thrilled. I think this is a very smart move. Some in my town disagree and think school should never start before Labor Day. The way I see it, this is the time of the year when everyone is interested and engaged, not in mid to late June when everyone's tired, and the days are warming up. I'd rather they start in late-August and get out in early June than push it back. We'll get more quality educational days that way. Taking a day off for the elections just pushes the final day closer to the summer. It just feels like it can't be that easy for the teachers and the students to really get any good momentum going into the start of the year when these sorts of things happen, taking a day off so soon. And for what? The polls are open until 8 pm, so all the school staff will be able to vote. I just don't get it. We should be making every possible effort to keep the kids in school not looking for an excuse to take a day off. We should be prioritizing education over convenience of polling centers.
Teacher Walkouts in Chicago, Conspicuous Details
The Chicago Tribune is reporting that 25,000 public-school teachers are picketing, rather than teaching, today. The details are a bit distant from Rhode Island for a finely tuned analysis, but it's fair to say that the union is not fighting a political class on the verge of right-to-work legislation. A significant political emphasis on "labor peace" can just mean that the goalposts move.
In this case, Chicago school district administrators are saying that they offered 16% raises over four years. The union is complaining about health benefits, teacher evaluations, and job security.
Taking a long-term view, though, the key sentence in the entire story, by reporters Noreen Ahmed-Ullah, Joel Hood, and Kristen Mack, may very well prove to be the one that I've emphasized in the following paragraph:
September 9, 2012
When DON'T You Have First Amendment Rights?
Ok, this one drives me crazy. I see it over and over. It's with the First Amendment to the US Constitution and most people believe it simply means (among other things) that they have free speech to say anything they want. Period. Except that's not really what it says or what it means. Let's quote it:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.Really the part that I'm referring to is the first five words, "Congress shall make no law." That means that the US government may not pass a law that will restrict your free speech. That does not mean that your speech can't be restricted by a non-government entity. That does not mean you could come into my home, start spouting off about something and claim "First Amendment rights" when I tell you to shut up.
I see this all the time, but here's another example in a letter that NFL player Chris Kluwe wrote (warning: much of the language is "adults only") to a local pastor who'd responded to another NFL player's support for same sex marriage.
As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first, the VERY FIRST Amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom. By using your position as an elected official (when referring to your constituents so as to implicitly threaten the Ravens organization) to state that the Ravens should "inhibit such expressions from your employees," more specifically Brendon Ayanbadejo, not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, you also come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain. What on earth would possess you to be so mind-boggingly stupid? It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person's right to speech.A local pastor is using his position as a pastor and as an elected official to put pressure on a professional sports team to espouse his own views is not a violation of the First Amendment. It's lobbying. It's politics. It may be slimy. But it has nothing to do with the First Amendment.
Similarly, I see this all the time, whether it's on Facebook when someone vents or expresses their opinion on something that someone else disagrees with and I've the the response as "Hey, I have First Amendment rights to say it!" Sorry pal, the First Amendment isn't in play here.
Also similarly, employees might speak out negatively against their employer and when the employer tries to respond, I've seen the employee claim First Amendment rights. Sorry, doesn't apply. Read the first five words.
Exorcising the Totally Non-Political Song Stuck in My Head
Thanks to Marc, this song has been on my mp3 player for better than a year, and it just happened to come up in the shuffle while I was making my morning Internet rounds. And I suspect I'll have a hard time watching the presidential horse race over the next couple of months without its coming to mind.
So as to ensure that others are similarly afflicted:
Things We Read
Today This Weekend, 6
First, scroll down and read Monique's postings on Rep. Spencer Dickinson. Then...
The topics of hope and hopelessness pervaded this weekend's readings, from absurd labor rules in schools, to the likely outcome of Make It Happen, to Spencer Dickinson's insider view, and then to Sandra Fluke.
Rep Dickinson’s “Report” From Smith Hill – Part 3 of 3: “The legislature is designed to perpetuate itself and its privileges, and to cover up problems.”
Following is Part Three of the five page letter that Representative Spencer Dickinson (D-South Kingstown) sent in the last few days to constituents to make the case for voters to choose him over his Democrat challenger in Tuesday's primary. (Part One. Part Two. Full letter as a PDF.) Beyond partisanship, the letter is a valuable insight both for District 35 and around the state because it offers an eye-opening and disturbing first hand report into the workings of the Rhode Island General Assembly.
So where is the problem?
The problem is with our speaker and the system he employs. A careful observer of our Rhode Island house would note that our representatives are not so much legislators as electors. What they do is select from among themselves the smartest person in the room to be speaker. Then they sit back and allow the speaker to be a dictator.
There are dissenters, but a program of fear and vindictiveness is designed to minimize their number. The others understand they are expected to go along. And many are able to do this. The representatives who sat at my right and left voted invariably - invariably - with the speaker. l also know that what they think sometimes does not match how they vote. At times this can be hard for them, but there are rewards.
The model of speaker as dictator shows itself in the way the committees operate. A lot of what you see on Capitol TV and in the Committee rooms is nothing more than show business. Testimony is taken in front of a camera and sometimes there are questions. There is continuity of testimony but there is little continuity of listening. Members come and go during the meeting. Chair and co-chair seamlessly hand control of the meeting back and forth. But few members hear a continuity of arguments pro and con. They don't bother because it doesn’t matter. There is no deliberation. They will not participate in determining the bill’s disposition.
Committee rooms have become studios and there are TV cameras all over the building. The one place where there is no camera is the speaker’s office when he is talking to a lobbyist. That’s where a camera is needed because that’s where the deliberation takes place and that's where the decisions are made. Weeks or months after a hearing, bills come back to a Committee for a vote. While the hearings may take hours, the meetings where we vote typically take only a couple of minutes. Once there is a quorum, the votes are called in quick succession, usually with no discussion. None needed. The speaker has made his decision. The members are more than happy to go along. But if the speaker is truly the smartest man in the building, why is there a problem?
The problem is that it does not work. The system that has evolved in the Rhode Island legislature is not a functioning model for problem solving. The legislature is designed to perpetuate itself and its privileges, and to cover up problems.
Consider the facts:
- The economy is bad. We are typically first in and last out of a recession.
- The housing market is bad. People can't move to new opportunities.
- We have the second highest unemployment rate.
- We are consistently rated 50th in business friendly environment. - We are at or near the bottom in percentage funding of our state university. - The U.S. Public Interest Research Group ranks us 50th in the condition of our roads and bridges. - Our legislative grant program can’t account for hundreds of thousands of dollars given to the Institute for Sport at URI. The State Police are investigating. - The 38 Studios disaster. Fifty million of your tax dollars gone and we’re on track to run that number up to over a hundred million. - And the legislature has not been called into session to take action to cut our losses.
Over the years that all this has been developing, Gordon Fox has moved up from finance committee chair to majority leader to speaker. Under his leadership, our legislature is dysfunctional. One-man rule. Show-business committee hearings. Lack of participation and deliberation. The problem is our speaker and the majority of legislators who will support him in anything he wants to do.
You have a choice in this election. You can vote for someone who has no state pension, no state contracts, no relative working for the state, and who takes orders only from you.
Or you can vote for Kathy Fogarty who will be counted on to do whatever the speaker wants because her husband pulls in over $100,000 of your tax dollars and whose number one job is to keep me out of the legislature and provide the speaker with her vote.
The good news is that there are about twenty house members who want nothing for themselves and who hope to transform the way the house does business. These are the people I look forward to serving with. After the primary, we will count again and see if that number has grown. If it has, the different direction we are looking for may not be too far off.
Thank you for reading this, and thank you for your participation. I know that the decision that all of you make will be a wise one and I look forward to learning what it is.
Rep Dickinson’s “Report” From Smith Hill – Part 2 of 3, Redistricting: “the Speaker had identified three [Democrat] representatives whom he was determined to prevent from being re-elected.”
Following is Part Two of the five page letter that Representative Spencer Dickinson (D-South Kingstown) sent in the last few days to constituents to make the case for voters to choose him over his Democrat challenger in Tuesday's primary. ( Part One. Full letter as a PDF.) Beyond partisanship, the letter is a valuable insight both for District 35 and around the state because it offers an eye-opening and disturbing first hand report into the workings of the Rhode Island General Assembly.
As we began our second year, the big agenda item was redistricting. Looking at the final maps, it was clear that the Speaker had identified three representatives whom he was determined to prevent from being re-elected. One was Rene Menard, a retired Woonsocket firefighter, who, though lacking a law degree, may be one of the best lawyers in the building. His great uncle was speaker, and Rene has served for 22 years. He cannot be bought, is fearless on the floor, and reads every bill. He finds and points out embarrassing defects in what comes out of Committee, and often forces amendments, corrections and delays.
The second was Bob DaSilva, a Pawtucket police officer who lives in East Providence. While he is an imposing man, in many ways he seems just like any other legislator. Anyone can stand up and speak, to voice an opinion, explain a viewpoint. But Bob is different. He has a gift. While Bob is talking, people actually begin to change their minds. This is a threat to the speaker that has caused him embarrassment on a number of occasions. The speaker needed to get rid of these two, not just to take them out of the equation, but to show his power and to set an example. To teach a lesson to other legislators.
The third person on the list of examples, people who had to go, and whose defeat would put fear into others, was me. While I am not happy with the treatment, I am proud and flattered, as a freshman legislator, to be in the company of Rene Menard and Bob DeSìlva.
At first the plan to get rid of me was a simple one. Mike Rice had voiced his intent for a rematch with me just hours after the last primary was over. He had lost the primary because he had let down his guard. Now he believed he could do better. It was no secret that he was in communication with the speaker's office and hoped for some key assistance.
When the possibility of a challenge showed itself, I had no problem with it. It's a free country. He was entitled to a rematch.
As the redistricting issue began to be considered in the fall of 2011, it appeared to me that it would have little impact. My district, District 35, had an excess of about 600 residents. The neighboring district, District 34, was lacking about the same number. Federal law required moving the line to balance the population. Since there were no special problems in neighboring districts, the answer was simple. The first map prepared by the consultant reflected that. It moved the line to shift 600 people. I saw Map A, was not surprised, and took on a false sense of security.
In spite of the usual jokes about gerrymandering, the fact is that federal law does not allow moving district lines for the sole purpose of achieving a specific political outcome.
Recent Rhode Island history provides an example. In 1982, there was no election for the Rhode Island senate. Incredible but true. A court suspended the election, the senators were held over for half a term, and a special election was held the following June.
This happened because senate leader Rocco Quattrocci wanted to rid himself of a troublesome young senator, Richard Licht. He instructed the redistricting consultant, Kimball Brace, the same consultant who thirty years later provided this year’s redistricting, to design a district which would prevent Licht's return. Licht had the resources for an expensive lawsuit. He sued and he won.
This time the goal was to eliminate me. Mike Rice’s candidacy was the vehicle. Mike was a known quantity. He had said he would fully support the speaker. Mike was a good candidate but he needed a boost. The change of 600 people, in the part of the district where Mike had not done well, just wasn't enough. He needed the kind of redistricting that was intended to bring about a political result.
Brendan Fogarty works for the speaker. You and I, as taxpayers, pay him over $85,000 a year plus a $22,000 health care package. He does not come cheap. He has an office in the basement of the state house and a title that belies the fact that most of the representatives have never heard of him.
So when a skilled hand was needed to redesign District 35 to assure Mike Rice's victory in a primary, Brendan was more than available. He did the job, carving out 3,000 people who populated the area where Mike had not done well.
Unfortunately, with the cutting out of a large block of unfriendly voters, Mike’s house was also not in the district. No problem, a little zigzag to put the house back in the district took care of that. A masterful job. I think it would be accurate to say that starting around that time or earlier, Brendan’s primary responsibility in the speaker’s office was making sure I did not come back. If you agree with that outcome, you probably think your tax dollars and mine are being well spent.
As he has done so many times before, the speaker called in the votes of his loyal followers, they went along, and the redistricting bill passed. A special token from our colleagues for Dasilva, Menard and myself. The hardest part for me was the realization that even if I survived, I had years ahead of me working in a room with people for whom I have such low regard. This was particularly hard when I thought back to my earlier days in politics when the leaders had a different kind of integrity. Their word was gold and they made sure the rest of us learned to treat each other with respect.
The plan to replace me with Mike lasted six or eight weeks and then it began to look as though it wouldn’t work. I don’t know what role Brendan Fogarty played in making the speaker aware that the plan was weak. But soon the chief of staff, who had made the deal with Mike Rice, was dispatched to knock on Mike's door and tell him the bad news. Mike would not be running. Kathy Fogarty was a stronger candidate. She would run instead. Rice was not happy but he didn’t have much choice.
Kathy Fogarty is a serious candidate. She is smart and she has spent years on the town council. Brendan is a skilled campaign manager. They have put together some credible local endorsements. Her chances of winning are good.
Rep Dickinson’s “Report” From Smith Hill – Part 1 of 3: “the [Speaker’s] chief of staff was a political operative who considered everything of value to be under his control”
Representative Spencer Dickinson (D-South Kingstown) faces a Democrat challenger in this Tuesday’s primary. In the last few days, he mailed out a five page letter to some, or possibly all, of his constituents, making the case for voters to choose him over his challenger, Councilwoman Kathy Fogarty, at the polls on Tuesday. (Full letter as a PDF.)
While I don’t agree with much of Rep Dickinson’s political philosophy or voting record and Anchor Rising does not customarily offer an extended writing by a Rhode Island Democrat, Rep Dickinson’s letter is quite valuable inside District 35, around the state and beyond partisanship because it offers an eye-opening, first hand report by a Democrat into the workings of the Democrat controlled General Assembly. It confirms the iron political fist that close observers have strongly suspected that the Speaker of the House wields on legislation and provides a fascinating and disturbing behind-the-scenes look at exactly how and why one particularly important legislative matter – redistricting – played out.
For those reasons, I am posting Rep Dickinson’s letter, broken into three parts of unequal length and with added titles for easier reading. The second and third parts will go up an hour and two hours from now respectively. Without further ado …
Two years ago I asked you to send me to Providence to deal constructively with some issues we all knew were troubling the state.
Now, as I ask for your vote again, I have to report that what l found was very discouraging. The culture of the state house and the problems I encountered were far worse than I thought. What follows is a long letter. To those who read it, I hope it will be of value.
You will learn my story, and you will read things that you don’t see in the newspaper. I will lay the cards on the table, and I will tell you the truth. Not a pretty picture. If, when you’re done, you think there's something that I have missed, or if there is something else you would like to know, then call me. We will talk, and I will answer your questions.
Shortly after I was elected, I was put under intense pressure to support Gordon Fox for re-election as speaker of the house. I had expected some solicitation, but I was surprised by the desperate intensity I was hearing. Having served with four speakers in an earlier career, I thought I knew how the speaker’s office worked. I was surprised to learn that some things are very different now.
I knew that Brendan Fogarty worked for the Speaker. What I did not know, and what Brendan did not tell me, was that he could do nothing on his own, even in district politics, without approval of the speaker’s chief of staff, and that everything had a political price. When I asked Brendan for the favor of stepping aside and allowing me to appoint my own district nominating committee, I viewed him in his capacity as South Kingstown [Democrat] party chair. I did not know that the chief of staff was a political operative who considered everything of value to be under his control.
In my previous time in the legislature, there was never any suggestion that an elected representative would take orders from or negotiate politically with a paid staff member. l was surprised when the chief of staff told me, with Brendan listening, that there was no need for me to talk to Brendan, because Brendan took his orders from him. I was honestly a little embarrassed for Brendan when I heard this. l had thought the question of the district committee could be resolved between the two of us.
By that time, I had already agreed to support Gordon Fox for speaker. I had done this on the advice of friends, and had asked for nothing in return.
I was soon surprised to learn that this was not enough. Much more was going to be expected. I had been operating under the belief that I was working for 14,000 constituents. My compensation was to be $14,000 a year and the satisfaction of knowing I might have accomplished something. Nothing else. No title, no special office space, no job for a relative, no legal fees or contracts thrown my way.
I was prepared to work on issues, build trusting relationships, and find consensus in solving problems. What I was not prepared to do was take orders from an unelected staff member, or anyone else for that matter. I soon saw that I had to make that clear, and I did. Though I did not know it at the time, I think my future relationship with the leadership was defined at that moment.
Some of you may or may not agree with my votes, but I can tell you that with regard to the important ones, they are well-informed and thoughtfully considered. In the case of the pension reform bill, I attended every briefing, every conference, every hearing available. I met with the treasurer’s staff, and with the treasurer herself. On my own initiative, I developed an amendment which was my perception of what a middle ground compromise would look like.
In my first year, 2011, I supported the overwhelming majority of the bills presented to us. There were two or three notable exceptions. These exceptions were not well-received. Even worse, as l was told later, was my willingness to propose workable alternatives or to stand up and advocate for them. The speaker is accustomed to getting what he wants and does not comfortably tolerate dissent.
Cicilline and the "Locked Out" Auditor - PolitiFact Does the Right Thing And Doesn't Shield Him Behind a Technicality
Alright, alright, I'll say it! Much as it pains me to admit it in view of their unfortunate record on so many other ratings, PolitiFact did a very good job rating an important and inaccurate statement that David Cicilline's made during the WPRO Dem primary debate Tuesday night.
Below is my transcription of the exchange, which starts at around minute 6:50, with the statement rated by PolitiFact in bold. Kudos to both Anthony Gemma and WPRO's Bill Haberman for eliciting this ... development.
Gemma: "... The fact of the matter is, that he locked out the City Auditor. So, why would you lock out the City Auditor ... when you're not trying to hide something? ..."
Haberman: "Congressman, that auditor issue has come up a lot."
Cicilline: "That is absolutely false. The auditor was not locked out. And so ... that is absolutely untrue."
An important component of David Cicilline's 2010 congressional bid consisted of a protracted campaign of cover-up and deception about both the fiscal condition of the City of Providence and the steps that he had taken to close a budget gap.
The largest component of this campaign, of course, was then-Mayor Cicilline's deliberate, repeated mischaracterization as to the financial status of the city; i.e., Providence is in "excellent fiscal condition". But critical to that lie ... er, mischaracterization, was a months-long systematic repression, indeed, concealment, of information - information about public dollars and public expenditures, let's remember - that could contradict his rosie statements.
Then-Mayor Cicilline delayed the independent audit of the city by waiting until right around Election Day 2010 to release the requisite information to the auditing firm, thereby ensuring that unhelpful information would not come out until after the election.
And prior to that, then-Mayor Cicilline had refused to give to Internal Auditor James Lombardi (it was widely reported that Lombardi had been locked out of his city computer, a report that I had echoed; this has turned out not to be true) critical data about the true fiscal condition of the city, thereby preventing the release of such information. Mr. Lombardi - incredibly - had to file an Open Records request to obtain this information. (Mr. Lombardi was able to compile and release his report about two weeks before the election and, of course, for many weeks prior, John Loughlin had been talking, at every opportunity and microphone, about the real fiscal condition of the city. But both of these loud alarms proved too late, mainly because Cicilline-infatuated media chose to ignore them.)
As a function of gauging the accuracy of Cicilline's statement of Tuesday night
That is absolutely false. The auditor was not locked out. And so ... that is absolutely untrue.
PolitiFact spoke to the Internal Auditor, James Lombardi, and learned the following.
Lombardi now says that he was never locked out of his computer. His computer access to city financial records was never canceled, he said, because he never had such access in the first place.
Nor was he ever physically locked out of his office or anywhere else where he tried to get records.
That would mean Cicilline is correct in the strictest sense of the phrase "locked out."
But you can still be figuratively locked out if you are denied access to something you're legally entitled to. ...
Lombardi, whose complaints about his inability to get information from the mayor's office go back to 2004, told us that in this case the problem wasn't that he was denied the information. The problem was the timeliness of the responses he was getting.
A key issue was whether the city's reserve fund -- sometimes called the rainy-day fund -- was being severely depleted. City records show that on Jan. 11, 2010, Lombardi had requested copies of all authorization forms transferring money in and out of the reserve fund in January 2010, which the Cicilline administration was tapping because of its budget problems. ...
He did not get the information until October 2010, according to a report he filed with the City Council. That's nine months.
When we asked the Cicilline campaign about the delay, spokesman Eric Hyers said "there was absolutely not any plan to delay him, to do anything secretly or to stonewall him."
Hyers said Lombardi "had access to whatever he needed. He oftentimes had very unrealistic expectations as to what the turnaround time should be and how soon he should be provided with certain information. At times he assumed that City Hall officials were his own personal staff; they had their own jobs to do."
Hyers said "this constant tug of war over what he was entitled to and when he should have it was not unique to 2010. It started several, several years ago."
We saw two other examples. ...
Really? Anything less than a nine month delay to obtain financial information is a "very unrealistic expectation"?
PolitiFact wasn't buying it, either. They could have gotten hung up on "locked out" but, instead, focused on the actions and intent of David Cicilline. Good for them. (Oooch, ouch, the pain ...)
Former Providence Mayor David Cicilline said that the internal auditor for the city "was not locked out" of access to the city's finances.
The auditor now says that he was not locked out in the usual sense of the word.
But there's a fine line between being locked out and stonewalled.
Cicilline's spokesman emphatically says that "neither of those happened."
But the record shows that Lombardi faced many months of delay in getting information he was entitled to by the City Charter. He was forced to use the state’s open records law to get information and waited months for it.
And key information -- that Cicilline had been tapping the rainy day fund -- wasn’t provided until October 2010, after Cicilline’s primary victory. ...
The auditor was not locked out in the strictest sense. But the inability of the internal auditor to get information that might have led to a timely disclosure of the city's serious financial problems had the same effect.
Because the statement contains some element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression, we rate it Mostly False.
September 8, 2012
Campaign Endorsements Are Stupid
This is the crazy time of the year again when the politicians come to your door with their smiles and palm cards and ask for your vote. You see their ads in the paper and their yard signs scattered around town.
Another thing you see is endorsements for every race from President all the way to Town Council and School Committee. "The North Rumsticktonville Democrats endorse Bill Smith for Town Council!" Oh really? I never would have guessed that the town Democratic party would endorse the Democrat. And yes, I'm fully aware that the Republican parties do the exact same thing and that is equally silly. Just as when we see candidates touting that they are the "endorsed candidate" in the race when they have a primary. How'd that whole endorsement thing work out for Jim Bennett about ten years ago when he was running for Governor and had a primary against a little-known businessman named Carcieri? We've seen similar things happen in other races since then. The endorsement sometimes means very little to the voters.
I think it's great that the voters often reject these endorsements. It shows that they can think for themselves, which really leads me to wonder, does anyone care about endorsements when they're in the voting booth? I mean, how do I choose between the candidate that Willie Mays and Kim Kardashian want me to vote for or who Vince McMahon and Pat Sajak prefer? Do these sorts of endorsements actually work on anyone? If not, then what's the point?
I can understand it when an advocacy group like Fight Back RI or RIILE lists their endorsements. That sort of information can be helpful to a single-issue voter. But with the rest of these endorsements, who cares? If someone is going to vote for Candidate X simply because Mayor Y supports the candidate, I'm not so sure that person should really even be voting.
Before you head to the polls on Tuesday, please do your own research, find out about each of the candidates on the ballot. Use a sample ballot for your district and learn about each of the candidates. If you're going to take the time to vote, please also take the time to know who you're voting for and voting against, and at least have a good reason to vote for them. Do it for Kim Kardashian.
Abolition by Merger of the Board of Governors for Higher Education: Explain Again Why We're Doing This?
At the last minute and with zero public notice or input (this session, anyway), the General Assembly in June rushed through a merger of the state's Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Governors for Higher Education into an 11-member Board of Education.
After days of questioning by the Providence Journal (great follow-up, guys) as to why this was done, G.A. leadership finally responded by citing their frustration at
the failure of the state’s schools to adequately prepare students for college
which they believe can be fixed in part by forcing
K-12 and higher education to work more closely together.
But setting aside the larger matter that perhaps the problem of inadequately prepared Rhode Island college freshmen cannot be traced to a lack of cooperation between the K-12 and higher ed systems, where is the explanation as to exactly how the de factor elimination of the Board of Governors for Higher Education would improve the state's K-12 academic achievement?
Yesterday's GoLocalProv article reporting that the
Merger of Education Boards May be Placed on Hold
is an excellent opportunity to revisit this ill-advised legislation.
Believe me, that I find myself in agreement with the NEARI
While the pressure to postpone the merger is believed to be coming from higher education side, National Education Association government relations director Patrick Crowley said his organization believes the legislation should be re-examined.
on a point of education policy has given me pause. And, of course, following upon their maneuver last September to extend in-state college tuition to illegal aliens, which was completely unacceptable in principle, budgetarily and quite likely legally, I have quite a dim opinion of the current Board of Governors for Higher Education.
Despite these reservations, I find myself far from satisfied with the proffered explanations for the merger of the two boards and quite concerned about its likely fall-out. The consensus seems to be that most of the attention and efforts of the newly created board will go to the K-12 side of their purview. But this would de-emphasize higher ed. Is that wise when one of the weaknesses hampering economic prosperity in the state is a lack of workers with post-secondary skills in certain areas?
Is it possible that the real reason for the abrupt passage of this legislation goes back to that decision last year by the B.G.H.E. to give in-state tuition to illegal aliens? If so, lots of people are certainly with you on that point. However, wouldn't abolishing the B.G.H.E. just end up punishing innocent bystanders - i.e., RI colleges and, ultimately, college students - rather than the responsible party? Not to mention failing to redress the wrong itself ...
September 7, 2012
Things We Read Today, 5: Make It Happen Edition
Having done little reading while participating in the RI Foundation's Make It Happen RI conference, I used my end-of-day column for reflection.
Is There a Young, Rhody Reaganite?
Interesting observation from Jean Kaufman:
Traditionally, conservatives have distrusted Republicans from blue states. The usual path to election for a blue-state Republican has been the RINO road. It seemed to make sense, too, for candidates to think that the way to appeal to the Democrats and independents necessary to win an election in a blue state would be to position oneself only somewhat to the right of the left.Chris Christie, Paul Ryan & Susana Martinez are few examples of conservatives from "blue" states who have succeeded politically. It's still to be seen if they can translate that success on a national level, but here's why Kaufman thinks they may have a chance:
Ronald Reagan...presented himself as a conservative rather than a moderate, and yet was able to attract Democrats and moderates. Reagan appealed to voters in his state [California], and later very successfully at the national level, by being personally compelling while at the same time articulating his conservative beliefs in a clear and convincing manner. That combination was remarkably persuasive.
Reagan...had no immediate heirs. George H.W. Bush, his vice president, was personally and ideologically quite different. So it is not insignificant that the current crop of conservative leaders-in-the-making were children or young adults during the Reagan years. Unlike those who cut their political teeth before Reagan was president, they didn’t think moderation was necessary for success. They saw for themselves that it was possible to stick to conservative principles and yet remain a viable candidate in a state that was not fundamentally conservative, and then to succeed at the national level. In a metaphoric sense, they are Reagan’s children.
A conservative who has managed to get elected in a blue state or district has a distinct advantage over others who have followed the more traditional red-state route to Republican prominence. In a more Darwinian struggle for political existence, only the most charismatic, nimble, and appealing minds and personalities among conservatives would be able to win, swimming against such a strong tide without sinking. This background is exactly what a conservative would seem to need in order to prevail on the national level in a country that features slightly more registered Democrats than Republicans, as well as a growing number of independents.
I'll Ask Again: Better Off?
What is 4:1? The ratio of people who stopped looking for jobs as compared to those who found one in August.
– Nonfarm payrolls increased by only 96,000 in August, the Labor Department said, versus expectations of 125,000 jobs or more. The manufacturing sector, much touted by the president in his convention speech, lost 15,000 jobs.
– Since the starts of the year, job growth has averaged 139,000 per month vs. an average monthly gain of 153,000 in 2011.
– As the chart at the top shows, the unemployment rate remains far above the rate predicted by Team Obama is Congress passed the stimulus. (This is the Romer-Bernstein chart.)
– While the unemployment rate dropped to 8.1% from 8.3% in July, it was due to a big drop in the labor force participation rate (the share of Americans with a job or looking for one). If fewer Americans hadn’t given up looking for work, the unemployment rate would have risen.
– Reuters notes that participation rate is now at its lowest level since September 1981.
– If the labor force participation rate was the same as when Obama took office in January 2009, the unemployment rate would be 11.2%.
– If the participation rate had just stayed the same as last month, the unemployment rate would be 8.4%.
– The Labor Department also said that 41,000 fewer jobs were created in June and July than previously reported. The change in total nonfarm payroll employment for June was revised from 64,000 to 45,000, and the change for July was revised from 163,000 to 141,000.
– The broader U-6 unemployment rate, which includes part-timer workers who want full-time work, is at 14.7%.
Barack Obama's Policy Goals
During his acceptance speech at last night's Democratic National Convention, President Barack Obama presented a set of policy goals (and related achievements) that would be his focus, if reelected President...
I'm asking you to rally around a set of goals for your country - goals in manufacturing, energy, education, national security, and the deficit; a real, achievable plan that will lead to new jobs, more opportunity, and rebuild this economy on a stronger foundation. That's what we can do in the next four years, and that's why I'm running for a second term as President of the United States....Two of the questions about policy goals are the same for the incumbent as they were for the challenger: are these things that government should be doing, are these things that government can be reasonably expected to do. We'll modify the third question slightly, and ask where both change and continuity can be seen, relative to the incumbent's first term. (Actually, that's probably the right question to ask a challenger too).
We've opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration in the last three years, and we'll open more. But unlike my opponent, I will not let oil companies write this country's energy plan, or endanger our coastlines, or collect another $4 billion in corporate welfare from our taxpayers. We're offering a better path - a future where we keep investing in wind and solar and clean coal; where farmers and scientists harness new biofuels to power our cars and trucks; where construction workers build homes and factories that waste less energy; where we develop a hundred year supply of natural gas that's right beneath our feet. If you choose this path, we can cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone....
For the first time in a generation, nearly every state has answered our call to raise their standards for teaching and learning. Some of the worst schools in the country have made real gains in math and reading. Millions of students are paying less for college today because we finally took on a system that wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on banks and lenders....and together, I promise you - we can out-educate and out-compete any country on Earth. Help me recruit 100,000 math and science teachers in the next ten years, and improve early childhood education. Help give two million workers the chance to learn skills at their community college that will lead directly to a job. Help us work with colleges and universities to cut in half the growth of tuition costs over the next ten years....
Terrorist plots must be disrupted. Europe's crisis must be contained. Our commitment to Israel's security must not waver, and neither must our pursuit of peace. The Iranian government must face a world that stays united against its nuclear ambitions. The historic change sweeping across the Arab World must be defined not by the iron fist of a dictator or the hate of extremists, but by the hopes and aspirations of ordinary people who are reaching for the same rights that we celebrate today....And while my opponent would spend more money on military hardware that our Joint Chiefs don't even want, I'll use the money we're no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and put more people back to work - rebuilding roads and bridges; schools and runways. After two wars that have cost us thousands of lives and over a trillion dollars, it's time to do some nation-building right here at home....
Independent analysis shows that my plan would cut our deficits by $4 trillion. Last summer, I worked with Republicans in Congress to cut $1 trillion in spending - because those of us who believe government can be a force for good should work harder than anyone to reform it, so that it's leaner, more efficient, and more responsive to the American people. I want to reform the tax code so that it's simple, fair, and asks the wealthiest households to pay higher taxes on incomes over $250,000...And I will never turn Medicare into a voucher. No American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies. They should retire with the care and dignity they have earned. Yes, we will reform and strengthen Medicare for the long haul, but we'll do it by reducing the cost of health care - not by asking seniors to pay thousands of dollars more. And we will keep the promise of Social Security by taking the responsible steps to strengthen it - not by turning it over to Wall Street.
September 6, 2012
Things We Read Today, 4
Today, I touch briefly (for me) on long-term vs. short-term recovery, who's better off, RI's long spiral (and potential for quick resurgence), and the significance of different ballot types in Cicilline-Loughlin.
It's OK, you can break up with him.
Government Surplus Wasn't the Problem; It's the How That Matters
In his daily flurry of tweets, WPRI reporter Ted Nesi linked to an interesting article by Joe Weisenthal in Business Insider. Weisenthal's conclusion is that the government surpluses of President Bill Clinton's second term were, themselves, the cause of the late '00s' economic bust:
The bottom line is that the signature achievement of the Clinton years (the surplus) turns out to have been a deep negative. For this drag on GDP was being counterbalanced by low household savings, high household debt, and the real revving up of the Fannie and Freddie debt boom that had a major hand in fueling the boom that ultimately led to the downfall of the economy. ...
So while Clinton will be remembered nostalgically tonight, for both the performance of the economy and his government finances, they shouldn't be remembered fondly.
As if for authority, Weisenthal prints a PNG image of an economic formula (in a special formula font, even), but then he and his economist sources proceed to assert causation where there was only a temporary correlation in the parts of the equation during the Clinton era.
Slow Adjustment to the Teacher Union Machine Continues in Chariho
This video by Evan Coyne Maloney succinctly presents a critical part of the small-government, free-market perspective on one of Rhode Island's most intractable difficulties:
The machine by which teachers' unions turn public dollars into union-organization profits and political patronage is clear and unambiguous. One could argue that the process is for the better, for one reason or another, but Coyne Maloney accurately follows the money.
Seen Last Night at the Democrat National Convention
(H/t Helen Glover for the idea).
September 5, 2012
Things We Read Today, 3
Today's short takes address misleading labeling at the DNC, misleading fact-checking, fading national competitiveness, and the September 10 mentality.
|Under President Obama…||Jan-09||Today|
|National Debt||$10.6 Trillion||$16 Trillion|
|# Unemployed||11.98 million||12.8 million|
|# Food Stamp Users||31.98 million||46.7 million|
|Oil (Europe), barrel||$41.22||$113|
|Oil (Texas), barrel||$38.57||$95|
|Sugar (raw), lb||$13.09||$19.34|
Everything is higher....except median income.
(Sources after the jump)
Introducing the Concept of Agenda
A good example of the questionable utility of political debates arose during the Congressional district 1 primary debate on WPRO, last night. Only the most plugged in voters will have any inkling of what statements are true and which are spun to falsehood — let alone the context in which the facts were playing.
Trying to square his calls for bipartisan cooperation with his attempts to make his race about a "radical Republican agenda," as moderator Bill Haberman put it, Congressman David Cicilline (D, RI) said:
The reality is that there are big differences between what the Republicans, led by the Tea Party, are trying to do to our country, and they have an agenda that is really reflected in the Paul Ryan budget passed in the House...
The political posturing is secondary to my purposes, here. Rather, what's interesting is the contrast with the Democrat-led Senate, which has not passed a budget since April 2009. Such a budget would certainly include items that partisans could criticize; it would probably include items with which Cicilline did in fact go on to tar Republicans.
Chariho Starts Down the Path Blazed by East Providence
In early 2009, finding itself at the end of its fiscal and negotiating rope, the East Providence School Committee "unilaterally" set the new terms of employment for teachers.
In due course, their decision was upheld by Superior Court.
Now the Chariho School Committee finds itself in a similar position with the teacher contract that expired five days ago. So, even as it prepared to enter into mediation with the NEA RI following upon eight months of negotiations, the Chariho School Committee
decided that until a new collective agreement has been signed, salary increases as well as other provisions in the expired contract -- bonuses for longevity and for teachers with advanced degrees, for example -- will be suspended.
"Other provisions" including specifically the step increases. Chariho teachers are not taking this sitting down.
The National Education Association-Chariho has filed a complaint with the Rhode Island Labor Board, accusing the Chariho School Committee of breaking the law in not honoring teachers’ scheduled salary increases. NEA-Chariho says it will also file a complaint with the Rhode Island Department of Education.
The old contract, which expired Aug. 31, contains a salary schedule of 12 “steps” or levels of pay. Salaries for 2012 for the district’s 342 teachers ranged from $38,564 at step one to $75,600 for teachers at the highest level, step 12.
On Aug. 21, after eight months of bargaining, the school committee decided that until a new collective agreement has been signed, salary increases as well as other provisions in the expired contract -- bonuses for longevity and for teachers with advanced degrees, for example -- will be suspended.
Chariho correctly points out that there is no contract in effect.
“That contract expired on Aug. 31, so there is no contract,” countered Chariho Superintendent Barry Ricci, who is also a member of the district’s negotiating team. “The school committee decided that everyone was going to freeze in place salary-wise, until the contract was settled.”
September 4, 2012
Things We Read Today, 2
Today's quick(ish) hits touch on:
- Partisanship as evidenced by Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow, and Nick Gillespie.
- The libertarian-conservative divide and this year's election.
- Ed Fitzpatrick's one-way love of fact checking.
- The dependency nation as an existential threat.
Mail-In Ballots: Completed With a Number Two Pencil. And It's A Problem.
Last week, Anchor Rising spoke to two people at the RI Board of Elections with regard to the requirement that mail-in ballots be completed with a pencil, not a pen.
Gregg McBurney, Program and Planning Specialist for the RI BOE, advised that mail-in ballots must be completed with a number two pencil because the BOE employs an optical scan reader, similar to that used for standardized tests, which tabulates the votes on the ballots by "seeing" the lead marks.
Additionally, Mr. McBurney pointed out that, if the voter makes a mistake in filling out the ballot and accidentally does not vote for his preferred candidate, the ballot does, in fact, contain the instruction that the voter must contact the BOE to arrange for a replacement ballot. Mr. McBurney stated that, if the voter merely erases his erroneous vote and then correctly marks the ballot for his candidate, there is a danger that the scanner will read this as an overvote (i.e., a vote for more than one candidate in the race) and the ballot would not be tabulated but would be kicked out for manual review.
However, in a separate conversation, BOE Executive Director Robert Kando confirmed that it is possible to erase an erroneous vote sufficiently so that the scanner would not see that mark and not kick it out as an overvote.
Now, let's go back to that video released by the ProJo a week ago Saturday. On it, we see a man offering to sell to a Gemma campaign operative mail-in ballots made out for Anthony Gemma and stating that he had (allegedly) done so in a prior election for the Cicilline campaign.
Many of the ballots purportedly came from senior high rises. We have yet to learn whether these were legitimate ballots cast by real voters. If they were, we have to wonder, minimally, how Mr. Ramirez was so sure that the votes on those ballots were cast for "his" candidate ... and how he was able to confirm this to his "client", the campaign for which those votes were cast. Mail-in ballots are supposed to be completed and then promptly sealed in an envelope to be mailed to the Secretary of State's office. Were all of the ballots that Mr. Ramirez handed to the Gemma operative NOT actually sealed into envelopes upon completion?
Think of how easy it would be for a "runner" to either get the voter not to seal the envelope or to place the ballot in a new envelope that he had printed ... after he had spent a minute "correcting" the ballot with an eraser and his own number two pencil.
In a post last week, I was, of course, joking when I tweaked the Gemma campaign for seeming to be unaware of technology - the mimeograph machine - from forty plus years ago. It is now clear that the technology of almost the same vintage currently utilized by the Rhode Island Board of Elections to tabulate votes is not at all a joking matter.
An upgrade to the state's mail-in ballot technology is overdue. It doesn't have to be a huge upgrade; just from a scanner that reads pencil marks to a scanner that reads pen marks.
Rhode Island's election system is vulnerable to monkey business on several fronts. It time to close off those "opportunities". Voter i.d. was a critical first step. An erasable ballot that is not immediately fed into a vote tabulator is the next order of business.
Rhode Island at the DNC: Illustration of a Potential Future
In a Providence Journal Political Scene article about his speech to the Democrat National Convention, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee had this to say about his experience in office:
Now I’m in a governor’s chair, trying to get the economy going, and it’s not, click, turn a switch. This is hard work and it takes time ... and the policies that we inherited [make it harder].
One would think, from this statement, that Rhode Island's economy is edging its way back from the brink, but it is not — certainly not in terms of employment. A new study of the numbers from the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity shows that, not only is Rhode Island second worst nationally in unemployment, and not only is it the second farthest from its prerecession peak employment, but it leads the country in continuing to lose employment.
September 3, 2012
Things We Read Today, 1
One thing I've learned, in years of blogging, is to be wary of proclaiming new regular features. Yet, I've been finding myself at the end of each day with a browserful of tabs of content on which I'm inclined to comment.
So, as interest and time allow, I'll publish quick-hit posts containing commentary that is somewhere between a tweet and a full-on blog post.
Leaning Against the Privileged Place of Investments
Readers shouldn't be surprised to hear that I'm largely in agreement with Peter Ferrara's "Obama's Accelerating Downward Spiral for America," but he happens to voice one bit of center-right common wisdom with which I have growing disagreement:
There is no secret or magic as to how to turn around these declining incomes. Increased investment in business expansion and start ups increases demand for labor, which drives up wages. That investment buys new tools and capital equipment for workers, making them more productive, which provides the cash flow to increase wages.
Increasing investment results from reducing the tax rates on investment, which enables investors to keep a higher percentage of what they produce, increasing incentives for investment.
My resistance to this suggestion — notwithstanding Ferrara's positioning of it as a statement of the obvious — has three sides.
"We've Heard it all Before..."
....and are you better off?
September 2, 2012
Unemployment: Thinking Out Loud
Here in Rhode Island, we're one of the few states to still be increasing the unemployment numbers. We're currently at 10.8%, and second highest in the nation. Making matters even worse, the number of jobs available is also in decline.
We have many people looking for work and fewer jobs available for them to take. Meanwhile, these people are getting help from the state in the form of unemployment insurance. The unemployed are people receiving a few hundred dollars a week for up to 47 weeks now. It's certainly not a good situation.
Meanwhile in the midwest, North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country, somewhere between 2.9% and 3.0% due to an oil boom. The same article mentions:
North Dakota, the state with the nation's lowest unemployment rate, capped a decade of economic prosperity with dramatic population growth in its biggest cities. Fargo added nearly 15,000 residents to hit a record population of 105,549, the Census Bureau reported Wednesday. Its fast-growing neighbor of West Fargo added an additional 11,000 residents to reach a population of 25,830.Hmm, business booming, low unemployment rate and the population grows? Wow, interesting how that works. Let's see if we can work something out here that is mutually beneficial to Rhode Island, to the unemployed and to the states who need workers.
Picking numbers, let's say that on average, the unemployed in RI are collecting $300 a week for the maximum 47 weeks. That's more than $14,000 the taxpayers are covering for each person.
Keep in mind here, I'm not blaming the unemployed or stating anything negative about them. The plan I'm about to mention is 100% voluntary and no one is forced to take part. It's more trying to set up a win-win for everybody.
Let's incentivize the unemployed to go where the jobs are. If you're unemployed and have more than $5,000 remaining to your possible unemployment benefits, we will pay you $5,000 to move out. We will basically pay the moving expenses for the unemployed to go elsewhere, along with the counseling for which states have the highest need, such as North Dakota. When a person would like to take advantage of this program, we track them with their social security number, as joining this program eliminates them from any further unemployment benefits in the state of Rhode Island. They are bought out.
Again, this is completely voluntary. It's just another program that people can take advantage of if they choose to, and they can only take advantage of it if they are eligible for RI unemployment benefits.
We see that the job numbers in RI are decreasing and we're not seeing any great signs of the unemployed being able find jobs quickly. When there is a mismatch between supply and demand, you work to balance the two. Aiming for increased demand (jobs) has not worked, and this would work on the other end, reducing the unemployed (supply).
Incentivizing people to go where the jobs are will reduce the number of people looking for work and reduce the strain on the state's unemployment insurance budget.
Against Incentivizing Cooperative Strategic Workarounds with Comprehensive Market-Driven Measurables
At the risk of repeating myself, I have to opine that one of Rhode Island's core economic challenges is the frequency of sentences like this:
To position Rhode Island to compete successfully for jobs and investments, a new public/private economic-development partnership should be designed to implement an integrated economic-development strategy that focuses on business retention and expansion, cultivates new business startups, supports a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, develops market-driven workforce solutions to help grow the middle class, creates a robust research capability to help make better investment and policy decisions, develops a comprehensive manufacturing strategy, aligns state capital programs with economic-development strategies, develops best-in-class business information and knowledge exchanges, provides the highest level of customer service, builds on its regional economic-development assets and actively manages Rhode Island’s image and reputation in the marketplace.
Admittedly, I've been known to write a Melvillian paragraph from time to time, but I always try (at least) to make my endless sentences go somewhere. At a minimum, there should be some humor in there, or a rest-stop of wordplay to persuade the reader that it's worthwhile traveling on — perhaps rereading with justified suspicion that something worth catching might have been missed. But that's 109 words, a full four inches of Saturday Providence Journal column space, of the sort of technocratic jargon that leaves working self-starters rightly convinced that the underlying message is: "You're not included."
(Yes, I measured.)
September 1, 2012
Rev. Rich Takes a Stand Against Small Children
Back when the Episcopal/Anglican Church was finding itself fraught with international internal turmoil over the appointment of an openly and actively homosexual bishop in New Hampshire, Catholic writer and blogger Mark Shea predicted, as an aphorism, that the organization would gradually turn toward the promotion of homosexuality. I always considered that a plausible, but not inevitable, course of the future.
After crossing an intellectual line, human organizations have a tendency to correct for excess, to transform into something unrecognizable, or to fade into non-existence. Shea's prediction was of the second category, but either of the other two (or even other variations of the middle one) remain possible for the Episcopal Church.
Rev. Timothy Rich, a relatively new rector at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in East Greenwich gives some evidence that Shea's prediction has certainly not been negated. Previously, it's interesting to note, Rich worked very closely with the aforementioned homosexual bishop, Eugene Robinson, as an assistant and Canon in New Hampshire.
During a summer in which Boy Scouts of America affirmed its policy of excluding "open and avowed homosexuals," Rev. Rich determined to investigate whether his church had any connection with the group. It turned out that a local Cub Scout pack mainly boys aged six to eleven uses the church for meetings.
The fifty boys involved are a bit young for the policy to have much effect, and Cub Master Jeff Lehoullier indicates that Pack 4 would do nothing to actively enforce the rule, even if it applied to pre-adolescent children. And who's to say but that by the time these actual flesh-and-blood children nearest Rich's flock reach the age of Eagle Scout, the organization won't have changed its view?
But Rich has some modicum of power, and he feels he must use it to "take a stand" against a national organization with which the church under his authority has a very limited, indirect relationship. That his action might have an adverse effect on dozens of the community's children and that, by his action, he appears to be the one propagandizing a culture-war position beyond their ken is a secondary consideration.
If radical rectors are to force a change in Boy Scout policy from the outside, thousands and thousands of children will have to be thus harmed and made to feel dirty and excluded by adults who ostensibly hold offices of respect in their community. Rich insists that, when it comes to the individual boys, he "support[s] them and applaud[s] their efforts," but apparently, when more than one of them gather together, they must be cast out and scorned.
No doubt, he's flattered by the media attention (his humble claims notwithstanding), and no doubt many people whose opinions he values highly have figuratively and literally slapped him on the back. The rest of us ought to question the motives and assumptions behind the movement of which he's made East Greenwich a part.
I realize that a good portion of readers don't find discussion of scripture all that persuasive, but some further thought on this matter led me to an observation that definitely merits mention.
While reading comments on the East Greenwich Patch article on this issue, a phrase from the Bible came to mind: "Let the children come to me."
It's from Matthew 19, and the expanded passage is worth consideration.
Just before the disciples attempt to prevent the children from approaching Jesus, He has been explaining that the Old Testament permission to divorce should not apply to His followers because, "from the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female'... For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh."
The disciples object that the teaching is so hard that "it is better not to marry." And Jesus suggests that some are "incapable" of marriage. Some translations of the Bible have Jesus referring to such people as "eunuchs."
Again, I realize that not everybody assigns spiritual weight to the Bible, but I would think that a Christian preacher would be inclined to do so. And this passage has many layers of profundity, all ultimately reinforcing a traditional view of marriage. The man and woman become "one flesh," and then the children come forward. Nobody should attempt to "separate" what God has joined, meaning the husband and wife, and then the disciples attempt to separate the children from Jesus, who in Catholic theology is the bridegroom of the Church.
In some practices, Episcopal theology differs substantially from Catholic, but it seems to me Rector Rich should contemplate this passage deeply, as should the members of his church.