September 30, 2005

An Experiment in Voter Initiative, Introduction part II

Carroll Andrew Morse

However, I want to kick off the discussion on voter initiative from a non-theoretical direction. I am going to propose a change in the law. At the end of its recent teachers’ contract negotiations, the Cranston School committee gave very short public notice before voting on the new contract and apparently didn’t make the exact terms of the contract public before the vote. Let’s build a safeguard into the law that makes contract approval procedures more reasonably transparent…

Here’s a draft of the change…

Amend section 16-2-9 (18) of Rhode Island’s general laws to add the following:

No school committee shall hold a binding vote on approval of a contract of any kind until at least seven (7) days after the exact text of the contract has been made available to the public. The town clerk shall be responsible for certifying the date and time when the exact text of the contract was made public.

Initial questions: Is the idea behind this change a good one. If so, does the proposed text implement the change properly?

If we decide that this is a reasonable good-government idea, let’s see how responsive the legislature is to making the change on their own. If they do implement something like this in response to public deliberations, maybe there is no need for voter initiative. But if a simple and reasonable change like this can’t make it to the floor, then RI does need voter initiative.

An Experiment in Voter Initiative, Introduction part I

Carroll Andrew Morse

Ironically, Rhode Island is one of the least “progressive” states in the nation, at least in terms of its direct democratic procedures. Rhode Island lacks either voter initiative, where laws can be passed by a direct vote of the people, or voter recall, where voters can recall public officials they are dissatisfied with. State Senator Marc Cote is the legislative leader of a drive to implement voter initiative in Rhode Island, a drive actively supported by Governor Don Carcieri.

The coming year will see many theoretical arguments for an against voter initiative. The initial argument against is that voter initiative is too easily manipulated by big money special interests. So far, this argument is unconvincing. Those making this argument have yet to explain how decisions made by hundreds of thousands voting by secret ballot are more susceptible to manipulation than are votes made by a few hundred who can be punished (losing committee assignments, losing committee chairmanships, etc.) for making the “wrong” decision.

I know that many conservatives oppose recall on principle. I am not sure if there is a “conservative” position on initiative. Over the coming months, we will find out…

The Republican "Economy Bloc" in the Senate

Marc Comtois

Robert Novak wrote of a successful rebuttal of a bi-partisan attempt in the U.S. Senate to spend more of our tax dollars under the auspices of "Katrina Aid."

The Senate was up to its old tricks Monday evening. It prepared to pass, without debate and under a procedure requiring unanimous consent, a federal infusion of $9 billion into state Medicaid programs under the pretext of Katrina relief. The bill, drafted in secret under bipartisan auspices, was stopped cold when Republican Sen. John Ensign voiced his objection.

The bill's Democratic sponsors railed in outrage against Ensign, a 47-year-old first-termer from Las Vegas, Nev., who usually keeps a low profile. But he was not acting alone. Ensign belongs to, and, indeed, originated, a small group of Republicans who intend to stand guard on the Senate floor against such raids on the Treasury as Monday night's failure. The group includes Sen. John McCain, who long has tried to wean Republicans from ever greater federal spending but attracted little support from GOP colleagues until recently.

Fear has enveloped Republicans who see themselves handing the banner of fiscal integrity to the Democrats. The GOP is losing the rhetoric war, even though Democrats mostly push for higher domestic spending, because Republicans, while standing firm against tax hikes, have also declined to cut spending. Fearing the worst in the 2006 and 2008 elections, Republican senators who would not be expected to do so are looking to McCain to lead the party back to fiscal responsibility.

The "emergency" Medicaid bill is a classic case of how government grows and spending soars. Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln, concerned by health problems of evacuees in her state of Arkansas, introduced a bill increasing Medicaid funds to the states. The Senate Finance Committee's Republican chairman, Chuck Grassley, and its ranking Democrat, Max Baucus, drafted the scaled-down, $9 billion substitute and marked it for quick passage. No hearings, no debate, no trouble.

Follow the link for the rest of the story, but you get the picture. Thankfully, there is still a small core of Senators willing to stop this sort of largess. Perhaps more Senators will join them in the future as they wake up to the fact that their political future depends upon it.

A Familiar Plot

Justin Katz

Somehow this bit of biography of the man who recently performed a "75-minute one-act, written by Howard Zinn, [that] engaged the audience by shedding light on the theories of philosopher Karl Marx" at the University of Rhode Island is almost too predictable to notice:

Jones is a high school teacher in New York and is a member of the International Socialist Organization. By traveling around the country, he hopes to expose the man behind the ideas that sparked a revolution.

Wonder what he teaches.

September 29, 2005

An Even Livelier Experiment, 9/29/05

Carroll Andrew Morse

As an experiment of our own, AnchorRising will be liveblogging responses to tonight’s installment of “A Lively Experiment”, Rhode Island public television’s public affairs roundtable (Channel 36, 7:30 pm). This is not intended as a comprehensive review of the program, but as a supplement helping to add ideas and insights to the existing dialogue. My brilliant insigts are in italics.

This week’s host-of-the-week: Susan Farmer

Issue 1: The American Express Building

Bob Watson is boring the viewing audience to death with an “it’s all about process” argument. Maureen Moakley is not bothered by the process so far, what’s happened so far is just a first step. Guy Dufault said legislative leadership couldn’t tell the Governor about their plans because the Gov would have went public because the Gov is a pressmonger. Isn’t the bully pulpit part of the executive’s job? Whatever the merits of buying the building, Dufault is killing Watson on the process issue.

Dave Layman chimes in about substance! Is buying the building a good idea or not? Why does the state government need premium real estate in the networked age? And should government be buying up “Class A” property. Moakley says citizens should have Class A property for interfacing with government.

Farmer adds that even if the state buys the building, it still has to lease the land the building sits on for something like $18,000 per month.

Issue 2: Voter Initiative

Dufault says its “stupidest idea I’ve ever heard” Doesn’t he favor a vote on gambling? Unions would press a minimum wage hike. People will vote themselves mandatory buisness-provided healthcare. It’s a boondoggle everywhere they’ve tried it.

Watson says RI wouldn’t need voter initiative if better ideas came out of the legislature. He doesn’t outright endorse it, but says that it should be looked at very carefully. Farmer points out that VI can prevent good legislation from getting lost in committee.

Moakley states that few politial scientists approve of VI. Interesting. I've never heard that before. She claims cliams that people with money win the voter initiatives, and that the Republicans shouldn’t pursue insitutional changes simply because they don’t have enough seats in legislature. Layman states that 34 states have VI, and most have not gotten rid of it. Laughs at the idea that VI invites manipulation by big money, isn’t that what we have already?

Dufault says VI bypasees the electoral process. A tad incoherent there, Guy. VI directly involves the electoral process. As Dufault and Watson start into a partisan back-and-forth about who has better ideas, it's time for the hook on this issue.

Issue 3: Disaster Evacuation Plans

Farmer says that when she was RI Secretary of State, the formal evac plan for RI was “drive to NH”. Moakley says “they’re” workng on a plan. Moakley adds that it’s understandable that they’re still working on a plan, given how fast events occurred. Haven't we known at least since 1938 that hurricanes pose a serious threat to RI? Watson mentions that Aquidnick Island poses major concerns. Layman adds the danger is not just weather, we need to consider response to terrorism. Moakely says we need less disjointed processes between local, state, and federal govts.

Farmer reads an e-mail: Dufault sucked as host last week.

Moakley: Too many giveways as part of disaster relief, in the form of no-bid contracts, exemptions from environmental regulations, etc.
Dufault: Hypocricsy that Gov supports general VI, but opposes vote on gaming. 88% want right to vote on Casino! Dufault's gone incoherent again, basically arguing we should have a vote on a casino, but nothing else.
Layman: Giving 250 billion to the corrupt Louisiana political system is a mistake. He’s got lots of facts to back up the corruption charge.
Watson: Too much secrecy in govenrment. Mentions film commission. Probably true, bland as butterscotch.

A Disaster Preparation Template

Carroll Andrew Morse

Peggy Noonan has an excellent article over at OpinionJournal, ostensibly about the government’s role in disaster response, but really about the government’s role in everything. Keep Noonan’s article in mind when reading anything about government disaster programs, like Wednesday’s Projo article on the state of hurricane preparation in Rhode Island.

Noonan points out a weakness intrinsic to any government program: Individuals in government get so caught up in the fact they have authority, they seek to apply that authority, whether it makes the situation better or not…

No one took responsibility, but there was plenty of authority. People in authority sent the lost to the Superdome and the Convention Center. People in authority blocked the bridges out of town. People in authority tried to confiscate guns after the looting was over.
I would extend Noonan’s argument to disaster preparation. The most effective way for government to prepare for a disaster is not for government to compel people to behave in a certain way. It is to most efficiently deliver the means and information that people need to help themselves.

This principle leads to a three part disaster management template…

1. Who and where are the people who cannot help themselves in an emergency? Do we have the resources and are we ready to get them out of harm’s way?

2. What mistakes are citizens preparing for a disaster likely to make? How do we deliver the information and resources that will help people preempt as many of their own errors as possible?

3. What good options are people preparing for a disaster likely to overlook? How do we deliver information about disaster response options that people are not likely to see on their own?

Pork Comparison of the Day

Carroll Andrew Morse

Imagine that the town of Smithfield made the following announcement…

Although revenues are stable, due to a cost analysis, funding will only be available for a few programs this year. We are closing down the school department, the police department, and the fire department, because the only programs we can afford are laying new bikepaths, acquiring conservation land, and funding several museums.
Would you think the government really had the costs right? Would you think the money was being well spent?

I am picking on Smithfield here because their FY 2005 general fund expenditures, as recommended by the Town Manager, are about $49,000,000 – about the same amount of RI highway bill funding that should be redirected to Katrina relief. For $49,000,000, Smithfield is able to fund its School Department (about $25,000,000), fire and police Departments (about $3,500,000 each), public works department (about $2,800,000), and almost everything else that municipal government does.

When spent by the Federal government, $49,000,000 gets you a few miles of bikepaths ($38,000,000), a big purchase of conservation land ($8,000,000), and a few other odds and ends.

Is laying a few miles of bikepaths really as expensive as running an entire town? How much would the bikepaths cost if Smithfield was buying them, instead of the Federal government?

This is the heart of the anti-pork argument. It is not just a philosophical argument about the proper role of government spending (although that is part of it). It’s the fact that municipal governments tend to spend money more carefully, at least when compared to the Feds. The Feds just throw money in a general direction, so that Senators and Congressmen can brag about how much money they brought home.

The long-term solution to this problem is to reduce the Federal tax burden, so that people can afford the local services they need.

September 28, 2005

Defeating the Logic of Pork

Carroll Andrew Morse

It would be a great disappointment if funds redirected from Rhode Island pork went to nothing more than paying for Louisiana pork. Unfortunately, this may happen (if Congress bothers to make any spending cuts at all). As Dale MacFeatters writes in today's Projo, Louisiana’s Congressional delegation, enabled by a willing Congress, seems to be using Katrina as an excuse for a shameless money grab…

[I]t calls for $40 billion in Army Corps of Engineers water-and-flood-control projects within Louisiana, including many that seem unrelated to hurricane protection....The Washington Post reports that the Corps provisions were ‘based on recommendations from a 'working group' dominated by lobbyists for ports, shipping firms, energy companies, and other corporate interests.’

Maybe grabbing as much money as they can when, even if it means exploiting tragedy, is simple Congressional reflex. But there may be something else at work here. Maybe Congress realizes that the quickest way to kill the Porkbusters Project is to attach all kinds of pork to Katrina relief and convince citizens that everyone is as greedy and shortsighted as the current Congress and that the only way to defend yourself is to do it to them before they do it to you.

I’m not that cynical yet. I still think that some of the money earmarked for civic luxuries in Rhode Island should be redirected to Katrina relief. But since federal money sent directly to New Orleans is as likely to be misspent it would have been before Katrina stuck, I am adding a condition to my call that $49,000,000 in Rhode Island highway bill earmarks be redirected to Katrina relief. Instead of focusing redirected funding on New Orleans, redirected highway pork should be focused on helping Katrina victims reestablish themselves wherever they are, whether or not they choose to return to New Orleans.

If the Porkbusters want to keep their momentum going, they need to get someone in Congress to sponsor a bill that directs aid towards individual Katrina victims and the communities that are helping them, not towards the corrupt governments and their cronies that helped create the disaster in the first place (something modeled on Senate Bill 1681, but with a wider scope) and make that new bill the focus of redirected funding.

Out Beyond Expectations

Justin Katz

David Wilcox and Nance Pettit's new CD, Out Beyond Ideas, puts to music mystic poetry from multiple religious traditions. My review, of sorts, suggests that they've uncovered and enhanced commonalities that underlie human societies, and that conservatives should look past the too-obvious backstory of the project to commonalities that ought to underlie our own.

September 27, 2005

Federal Pork's Dubious Return per Dollar Spent

Carroll Andrew Morse

One of the problems with looking through public budget numbers to identify wasteful spending is that the numbers become mind-numbing after a while. Is a $1,000,000 a lot to pay for something or not? How about $10,000,000? Or $100,000,000?

Here is an example. The Westerly Sun has a report on construction of a new police station in Westerly. The total cost for a new police station, according to the Sun, is $12,300,000. Sounds like a lot. However, a quick look at the RI highway bill earmarks shows that $10,000,000 has been budgeted for improving the Blackstone River Bikeway. It's hard to believe that building a few miles of bikepath really costs as much as building a police station.

When you see these kinds of numbers side-by-side, it becomes obvious that the people of Rhode Island would be better off if they had their federal tax burden reduced. When control of the money stays closer to home, communities can address their local needs instead of paying for premium-priced pork.

To see a list of $49,000,000 in highway pork suggested for redirection to more pressing needs, click here.

September 23, 2005

Where has Patrick Lynch been in response to Rhode Island’s Drunk Driving Problem?

Carroll Andrew Morse

When Patrick Lynch ran for attorney general in 2002, he told the people of Rhode Island (via the Providence Phoenix), that his background as a lobbyist – which included lobbying for clients in the alcohol business -- would be to the people’s advantage…

His experience at the General Assembly, Lynch says, will help him work for better laws.
Fast-forward to the present. Rhode Island has a drunk-driving problem. According to Sunday’s Projo, federal statistics show that Rhode Island has both “the highest percentage of alcohol-related fatal accidents in the nation for five years” AND “the second-fewest drunken-driving arrests in the nation (after Delaware) on a per capita basis” in 2003.

Some local law enforcement blame the discrepancy on loopholes in Rhode Island law. Yet despite the high number of deaths, the lax enforcement, and the loopholes in Rhode Island law...

The legislature has been largely inactive on the issue, to the frustration of police, other law enforcement officials and advocates against driving drunk.
On the issue of drunk-driving, Patrick Lynch has not delivered on his promise to use his lobbying experience to repair laws that poorly protect the public interest.

Taking Abortion Away from the Supreme Court

Marc Comtois

Though I think he's indulging in a flight of fancy (heck, I'm conservative in both my politics and my expectations), David Gelernter has a politically "radical" (and he offers, "conservative") proposal regarding the ever-present abortion debate. First, his reasoning:

The abortion issue is a catastrophic wound in U.S. cultural life. It has inflicted unending battles on American society ever since the Supreme Court seized control of the issue from state legislatures in 1973 — in one of the grossest power grabs American democracy ever faced.

Young people pondering U.S. democracy today might easily conclude that all really important laws must be decreed by the high court.

We could heal the abortion wound, end the battles and reaffirm the integrity of American democracy if we had the guts to use the Constitution's own mechanism for introducing big, permanent changes to American law. We should get Congress to propose and the nation to ratify a constitutional amendment.

As for specifics, Gelernter further opines and proposes:
Overturning Roe, moreover in the face of majority support, would be a spectacular gesture for the Supreme Court, which no longer likes making spectacular gestures.

How can democracy reassert itself given American political reality? Congress could propose, and the nation could ratify, a two-part constitutional amendment.

Part one would legalize abortion with suitable restrictions. Part two would nullify Roe and reaffirm that only Americans and their elected representatives have the power to make law in this nation. All courts would be implicitly instructed by this slap-in-the-face clause to butt out of law-making.

Obviously, pro-abortion liberals would gain if such an amendment were ratified. Anti-abortion conservatives would too — not in their fight against abortion, perhaps, but as Americans. They can live in a nation where abortion is legal and democracy is under a cloud, or a nation where abortion is legal and democracy has been resoundingly reaffirmed.

Abortion poses vitally important problems, but liberty and democracy are even more important. If we lose them, we lose everything — including all possibility of making things better in the future.

To pass a constitutional amendment is hard, but plenty have been approved in short order. . . . The ratification process would give conservatives a chance they haven't had for years, to make their case to a public that is empowered to act. If the amendment were ratified, which would be likely, abortion rights would at least be backed by the legitimate authority of the people instead of the usurped authority of the court. Democracy would have been vindicated. When the people finally have a chance to speak, this wound would finally have a chance to heal.

It seems to me that the chance that the Supreme Court would render itself moot on the question is low. Thus, the real question is: will the political class be willing to undertake such an effort, with or without the Supreme Court's abdication on the issue?

September 22, 2005

Senator Reed’s Vote Against Fiscal Transparency

Carroll Andrew Morse

Senator Jack Reed has voted against an amendment making government spending procedures more transparent.

Yesterday, the United States Senate approved a Congressional rules change. Presently, in an appropriations bill, only one house of Congress is required to specify the purpose and dollar amount of an “earmarked” project; the other House need only approve a total amount budgeted for all earmarks. If a similar rules change passes in the House, both houses of Congress will have to approve all specific earmarks.

You might think that a Senator who consistently favors high taxes (Senator Reed scores 17 out of 100 from the National Taxpayers Union, 10 out of 100 from Americans for Tax Reform) would also favor procedures that give close scrutiny to how that money is spent. Apparently, Senator Reed thinks differently.

Senator Lincoln Chafee voted in favor of the transparency amendment.

Land Speculation and the General Assembly

Marc Comtois

I had one of those "only in Rhode Island" moments this morning when I picked up the ProJo and read that the Democrat leaders of the General Assembly had secretly placed a bid on a prime piece of downtown Providence real estate for the purpose of expanding the bureaucratic office space.

House Speaker William J. Murphy and Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano confirmed last night having made the bid, on the General Assembly's behalf, to buy the former American Express building next to the train station for unspecified state use, which could include office space for the state's part-time legislators.

The two Assembly leaders went public after refusing initially to either confirm or deny having made a play for the building in the auction being conducted by the Rhode Island Public Employees Retirement System, under the supervision of a U.S. bankruptcy court judge.

In a statement issued last night in response to two days of questioning, Murphy and Montalbano cited the "significant rents" that several state agencies -- including the treasurer's office -- are paying to lease privately owned office space in Providence.

They said: "Moving these departments into a state-owned building would save the taxpayers money over the long term. Further, the bid helps to protect the state pension fund."

The third reason they cited for making a bid on the 135,110-square-foot, four-story building, with a two-level underground garage: with 150 parking spaces, "the property would help ease the parking situation faced by the public when visiting state departments or the State House."

Said Murphy in an interview: "We look at this building and this opportunity and say there are endless possibilities for the State of Rhode Island." Added Montalbano: "The focus is on the opportunity of acquiring the building. We didn't want to sit idly by and let the opportunity go by."

Governor Carcieri and former Democrat Governor Bruce Sundlun wasted no time in decrying the move.
"The idea that we should be buying a Class A, premium office building in downtown Providence for some unknown use is absolutely ridiculous," said Carcieri, ticking off his objections one after another. Among them:

"That's got a lot more potential for economic development. Bring a real business into the city. That will bring jobs with it and income taxes and corporate taxes, hopefully, and all those things. That's what it should be used for.

"The state doesn't need it. My gosh, we've got plenty of buildings we are looking at converting, rehabbing and so forth" at the state-owned Pastore complex in Cranston, "so I have no idea what they are thinking."

"Last time I looked, it's the executive branch that purchases property."

Finally, he said: "Here we are scrambling for money to do much more needy projects . . . [and] we are going to spend that kind of money? I see no sense in this whatsoever."

Added a "disappointed" Sundlun: "All that does is tell me why all of the arrangements that had been made and worked on -- for what, three years at least -- to acquire that Francis Street land are apparently going down the drain.

"Everything was going swimmingly and then all of a sudden, it closed off and I couldn't get a word out of Murphy . . . Other people talked to him on my behalf and he said, 'tell Bruce I love him, but I can't talk to him now.' "

I wonder if there's any other angle being played here?
After meeting Murphy for coffee at a Dunkin' Donuts in Warwick earlier in the day, Watson said: "I can confirm that I met with the speaker this afternoon and he confirmed that the General Assembly has submitted a bid for the building.

"I understand it is in and around $20 million . . . [and] the speaker hopes and expects to save money by consolidating agencies, such as the auditor general and perhaps other agencies that are, perhaps, leasing properties."

Watson said he had many questions, among them: how much money will be removed from the City of Providence tax rolls if the state buys the building. According to Capitol Properties, which owns the separate groundlease on the building, current city taxes on the land and building are $616,393.

He said Murphy promised answers and also assured him "it would require approval of the General Assembly."

But Watson said his most significant question -- where would the money come from -- remains unanswered, and "I have yet to be convinced by anyone a part-time legislature requires additional office space."

As for the possibility of housing other non-legislative agencies in that building, Watson said: "we have a duly elected governor who can address those issues."

UPDATE: Watson was on with Dan Yorke this afternoon. Essentially, he repeated his concerns but, with some questioning by Yorke, the picture became a bit more clear. According to Yorke, and confirmed by Watson, the Joint Committee on Legislative Services has a $30 million block of cash that they keep rolling over every year that they can use when they want. As such, though Murphy indicated to Watson that the General Assembly would be consulted to approve or reject the purchase, the fact is that there is no legal reason for this to occur. According to Watson, there are also some Separation of Powers issues.

Yorke gave his impression that the offer by Murphy to bring in the General Assembly seems to have occurred only because the deal was found out. To this, Watson commented that, as he understood it, the bid has to close by the end of November. Since the General Assembly doesn't meet until January, he wondered, "How do we go about approving this?" Finally, Watson speculated that, given the Governor's position on the matter, how many members will feel comfortable dashing up to the State House to approve this purchase in November? By that time, heating oil prices are going to be rising and the appearance could be given that the Legislature is throwing the public's money around for the benefit and comfort of themselves.

September 21, 2005

Re: Chafee Wants Democrats to Select Republican Candidates

Justin Katz

That's an interesting circle the "Chafee forces" are hoping to square, Andrew. On one hand, they don't want anybody to believe that Laffey is electable. On the other hand, they want Democrats to cross over for the primaries in order to ensure the nomination of the Republican candidate who can (the Chafee folks believe) beat the victor of the Democrats' own primary!

I wonder if Laffey's advisers have developed any rough drafts of ads encouraging Democrats to cross over in the hopes of nominating the (supposed) least electable Republican.

Chafee Wants Democrats to Select Republican Candidates

Carroll Andrew Morse

That’s what the Washington Post says about Senator Chafee’s primary strategy…

Chafee forces will try to persuade Democrats to vote for Chafee on primary day.
So much for party building. Is the Senator going to do anything at all to appeal to Republicans in this state?

In search of an Honest Democratic Argument Against John Roberts...

Carroll Andrew Morse

...because you won't find one in Sunday's Projo from Democratic party chairman Howard Dean. Here is the start of what is supposed to be the substance of Dean's rant...

The consistent mark of Roberts's career is a lack of commitment to making the Constitution's promise of equal protection a reality for all Americans -- particularly the most vulnerable in our society. He has opposed laws protecting the rights of girls to have the same opportunities in sports as boys....

The case he is referring to, I believe, is NCAA v. Smith. Sports Law Blog has a short summary here...

[H]e successfully defended the National Collegiate Athletic Association ("NCAA") against a lawsuit by Renee Smith, a law school student who alleged that the NCAA, when it refused to allow her to participate in postgraduate intercollegiate volleyball, discriminated against her because of her sex.
The ruling in the case revolved around some technical issues about whether the NCAA itself is subject to Title IX regulations.

Now, ignore the fact that Roberts was representing his client's position. And ignore the fact that, in 1999, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed with the position advocated by Roberts. Which Neanderthal Supreme Court justice do you suppose wrote the opinion concurring with Roberts' position? The answer is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Following Howard Dean's reasoning, Ruth Bader Ginsburg opposes laws protecting the rights of girls to have the same opportunities in sports as boys.

Are the Democrats telling us that even Ruth Bader Ginsburg is too far to the right to be part of the mainstream? (Maybe the Democrats consider openly Marxist judges, like Rhode Island superior court judge Stephen Fortunato, to be the true representatives of the mainstream). Or are the Democrats telling us that they are not even going to bother with honest arguments against Judge Roberts and that they will say anything to obstruct qualified judicial nominees who don't have the right political credentials?

September 20, 2005

Milquetoast as Cocky Careerist

Justin Katz

Andrew is perspicacious to note, in a comment to the previous post, that the Chafee camp's talk of ending Steve Laffey's political career is disconcerting. Laffey may or may not be worth keeping on a list of potential Republican candidates, but this tough rhetoric — now used too frequently to be mere candid overstatement — is a strategic loser.

Most directly, such talk will make it more difficult for Chafee to gain the general-election votes of those who opposed him in the primary, assuming he makes it that far. His campaign may be correct that some percentage of us simply cannot be won over, but even if that is their calculation, it's difficult to see what (or whom) they stand to gain by posturing in the public square — political cap guns twirling around their fingers.

Especially spoken by and on behalf of a Senator whose political and policy image can most charitably be described as that of an amiable Ichabod, the language of a Brom Bones echoes phony. Not only does it put the lie to claims of inclusiveness, maturity, and evenness of temper, but it evokes the impression of a man made haughty by the proximity of his "friends." Worse, it makes the once-endearingly unadept Chafee (to adapt Patricia Morgan's characterization) sound a bit too confident in his mastery of the political game.

Projecting strength in that area makes conspicuous his failure to do the same when it comes to those aspects of his job that have more to do with leadership.

Chafee v. Laffey: Yorke Interviews GOP Nat'l Senate Committee Spokesman Nick

Marc Comtois

Following is a rough summary of Dan Yorke's interview with Republican National Senatorial Committee spokesperson Brian Nick.

First, Dan Yorke found it provocative that Elizabeth Dole personally tried to talk Steve Laffey out of running against Sen. Chafee. Nick explained that Dole told Laffey that the mission of the Senatorial Commitee is to protect incumbents. By that rationale, they will support Sen. Chafee. Above that, their data shows that the best way to keep a Senate seat and to keep the Senate in GOP hands is to keep Chafee, the incumbent, on the ballot. As such, worrying about a primary is not conducive to the priority they have put on re-electing Sen. Chafee.

Yorke then asked about why Laffey is regarded as a liability. To this, Nick answered that, first, since an incumbent is elected 85% of the time, incumbency is a lot more of a guarantee then having a wide open election. Second, as far as the issues break down, from their understanding of talking to both Chafee and folks in Rhode Island, Sen. Chafee fits the mainstream of where most Rhode Islander's are on the issues. Finally, putting someone on the ticket who is untested, has no understanding of Washington, D.C., no relationship with the Senate or the President and is simply not ready does not appeal to them.

Yorke asked if they had done any research on Laffey. Nick stated that Laffey was initially tough to read: he's raised taxes, but word of mouth had it that he's a conservative. Then there is a T.V. add that sounds like a John Kerry or Hillary Clinton demonizing the Republican's energy policy. To them, it seems like Laffey's people are focus grouping to find his niche.

Yorke joked that they should have figured out that the worst thing to do was to have Elizabeth Dole try to cajole the contrarian-by-nature Laffey into not running. That was the wrong M.O.

To this, Nick said that, though they knew that going in, they thought it possible he could be persuaded. He then offered that they had thought he could be persuaded to run for some of the other open RI political offices (Lt. Gov, State Treasure). Then, in an unsolicited aside, he stated that Chafee will have to beat Laffey in the primary and it'll be more expensive and more time consuming, but there'll be a certain amount of enjoyment in ending his [Laffey's] career before it started.

Picking up on this, Yorke asked why the animosity, to which Nick stated that they felt that Laffey didn't respect the privacy of the meeting with Dole and that, in general, he has handled things without a lot of respect.

Yorke replied that it seemed to him that this isn't just one of those go-through-the-motions-to-support-an-incumbent deal, but that this guy [Laffey] "has pissed you off." Nick responded that, "I can tell you this, has he been helpful to the overall agenda? No."

Yorke commented that they were getting a flavor of Laffey and that because he squeeled and violated protocol, they were going after him. Nick responded that, while Laffey does like to lecture people, we don't want to curse him and we will make sure Chafee is re-elected.

Yorke then asked about the Laffey "tax machine" add campaign and Nick explained how it came about. He added that, from his understanding, Laffey prides himself as being a fiscal conservative, but he [Nick] was pretty sure that, if you personally have raised taxes, you can't have anti-tax rhetoric and be persuasive.

Yorke responded that that may be true, but Cranston was in pretty dire straits. To this, Nick responded that, while that may be true, it is his contention that Laffey didn't need to raise taxes to the extent he did.

Yorke asked about Laffey's latest add concerning the price of oil. Nick then brought out what he obviously felt was a hammer. According to Nick, while Laffey says he's going to take on and stand up to the special interests, Laffey himself profited from oil and gas interests while he was in Memphis, TN. And now he promises to take them on.

Finally, Yorke asked if they were really "holding your nose a bit with Chafee" who has been a thorn in the side of the Bush Administration? Nick responded that, while it was an important point, we don't work for the Administration, we want what's best for the Senate majority. Sometimes those things aren't the same. Accordingly, Chafee as an independent Senator is admirable and politically smart and he's a valuable member of the caucus. Yorke mentioned Chafee's vote for Bush, Sr. in the last election and Nick responded that he's [Chafee] willing to speak his mind and take a stand and to speak for the people of Rhode Island.

There you have it. In essence, to the GOP Senatorial Committee, it's about keeping incumbents in office and maximizing the chance of maintaining a majority. If that means sacrificing ideology, so be it. Of course, it's not as if Mayor Laffey can be considered a "mainstream" conservative himself, given his recent ad campaign rhetoric! In short, it appears as if we RI conservatives should say "how-de-do" to Mr. Rock and Mr. Hardplace when it comes to the coming RIGOP primary.

*note: Minor text edits and cleaning up done @ 7:40 PM. MAC

UPDATE:This story in the Warwick Beacon has more on the links between Mayor Laffey and the oil industry, including the charges made by Nicks and the response from Laffey.

Some Perspective on ANWR

Marc Comtois

Everyone can read about the good and the bad of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Without further comment, and to add some "perspective," here is an image of the area in dispute.


Elite College Women Eye Motherhood

Marc Comtois

According to the New York Times:

Many women at the nation's most elite colleges say they have already decided that they will put aside their careers in favor of raising children. Though some of these students are not planning to have children and some hope to have a family and work full time, many others, like Ms. Liu, say they will happily play a traditional female role, with motherhood their main commitment.

Much attention has been focused on career women who leave the work force to rear children. What seems to be changing is that while many women in college two or three decades ago expected to have full-time careers, their daughters, while still in college, say they have already decided to suspend or end their careers when they have children.

"At the height of the women's movement and shortly thereafter, women were much more firm in their expectation that they could somehow combine full-time work with child rearing," said Cynthia E. Russett, a professor of American history who has taught at Yale since 1967. "The women today are, in effect, turning realistic."

Dr. Russett is among more than a dozen faculty members and administrators at the most exclusive institutions who have been on campus for decades and who said in interviews that they had noticed the changing attitude.

Many students say staying home is not a shocking idea among their friends. Shannon Flynn, an 18-year-old from Guilford, Conn., who is a freshman at Harvard, says many of her girlfriends do not want to work full time.

"Most probably do feel like me, maybe even tending toward wanting to not work at all," said Ms. Flynn, who plans to work part time after having children, though she is torn because she has worked so hard in school.

"Men really aren't put in that position," she said.

Uzezi Abugo, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania who hopes to become a lawyer, says she, too, wants to be home with her children at least until they are in school.

"I've seen the difference between kids who did have their mother stay at home and kids who didn't, and it's kind of like an obvious difference when you look at it," said Ms. Abugo, whose mother, a nurse, stayed home until Ms. Abugo was in first grade.

While the changing attitudes are difficult to quantify, the shift emerges repeatedly in interviews with Ivy League students, including 138 freshman and senior females at Yale who replied to e-mail questions sent to members of two residential colleges over the last school year.

The interviews found that 85 of the students, or roughly 60 percent, said that when they had children, they planned to cut back on work or stop working entirely. About half of those women said they planned to work part time, and about half wanted to stop work for at least a few years.

As Lee Harris might say, this confirms that there is something to be said for tradition. Uzezi Abugo's anecdotal evidence can be supported by others.

For instance, some actually consider being a stay-at-home Mom to be a "dream job," (gasp!). Also, Mary Eberstadt has given the topic a more scholarly treatment in her book Home-Alone America: The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes, which garnered a favorable review by F. Carolyn Graglia in the latest Claremont Review of Books. Graglia summarizes:

In her wonderfully insightful and eminently sensible book, Mary Eberstadt, a mother of four children who works from home for the Hoover Institution, sets forth evidence of the harm done to children by the maternal exodus responsible for the "Home-Alone America" she rightly deplores. Discussing many facets of children's lives, she may tell us what we already know, but she analyzes the subject with a fresh insight. She recognizes that her book violates a major taboo today about any discussion of "whether and just how much children need their parents—especially their mothers." This taboo seeks to protect working mothers from feeling guilty, and Eberstadt sensibly concludes her book by observing that those who "cannot choose otherwise," such as single parents, "have nothing to feel guilty about." As for those who do have a choice, perhaps the "continuing complaints about the guilt felt by absent mothers" may be "further proof of a social experiment run amok."

This social experiment is, of course, the mother-child separation required by the feminist notion that a woman's personal fulfillment requires her energetic participation in the workplace. Eberstadt calls defenders of this conceit "separationists": those who believe that women's freedom to work in the paid marketplace justifies separation from their children, and who refuse to consider whether the children and adolescents left behind by the adult exodus have suffered. She challenges a society, which only seems concerned with making it easier and cheaper for women to "combine work and family," to consider how small children actually experience being in daycare all day. She makes the very sensible point that the daycare debate is never about what it feels like for the infant and children in day care, but always about what the outcomes are in terms of personality development and cognitive ability. "The daycare proof," separationists believe, "is in the achievement pudding." Separationists, however, are often not around children, who, in their lives, have been made "someone else's problem."

This is more than another conservative hit-piece contra feminism. Eberstadt's examination of how children are affected by their mother's decision manifest their "personal fulfillment" in the workplace rather than the home is a worthy discussion. As Graglia, herself a stay-at-home Mom, continues:
Parental absence, [Eberstadt] demonstrates, is implicated in the savage behaviors of serial and teenaged killers and in increased feral behaviors ranging from elementary school violence to suicides (those born in the 1970s and 1980s are three to four times more likely to commit suicide than people of a comparable age who were born at mid-century). Parental absence is also implicated in the obesity epidemic among children, which occurred when adults were no longer around to police children's eating habits and when shorter periods of breast-feeding by working mothers deprived babies of the protection against obesity that breast-feeding affords. She connects parental absence to the explosion in the number of children diagnosed with mental disorders: depression rates in children have risen tenfold since the end of World War II and children in single-parent families are two to three times more likely to have emotional and behavioral problems. And parental absence is again implicated in the staggering increase in the number of children and teenagers diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and autism.

Eberstadt makes a powerful case that these disorders are overdiagnosed and that the psychotropic drugs used to treat them—which are so hard on the children, who are their harshest critics—are overprescribed. Prescription drug use is growing faster among children than among the elderly and baby boomers (Ritalin production increased more than 700% between 1990 and 2000). These drugs have been available for decades, but the revolution in their use began only in the 1990s. The reason, says Eberstadt, is that the too busy parents and teachers want to make children easier to deal with; "yesterday's children—which is to say today's adults—enjoyed the luxury of being considered 'normal' in ways that today's children increasingly do not." The parents of yesterday had a wider experience with their children and thus "a more expansive idea of child normality." Parents who spend less time with their children "find their behavior more problematic and in need of alteration." And so, encouraged by a psychiatric profession that refuses to consider a child's environment and believes that antisocial behavior stems only from an underlying disorder, parents acquiesce in what Eberstadt calls "the pharmaceutical outsourcing of childhood."

They also acquiesce in the ultimate outsourcing of specialty boarding schools, which arose, one operator explains, because of the breakdown in the family. Parents involved in messy divorces, bitter custody battles, and remarriages often send teenagers to these schools for behavior-modification through "tough love" and physical deprivation not because they are involved in drugs or crime or violence—as was the case with reform schools of yesteryear—but because "they were in the way of what adults needed or wanted to do."

These insights aren't really new. I grew up in the '80's and was inundated with movies about kids who were regarded by their parents as nothing more than trophies, better seen than heard or dealt with. In short, it seems to me that common sense indicates that there is a reason that women are Moms--and not merely another family revenue stream--and that it really is better for the kids if Mom can stay home. Having children used to mean that a certain amount of personal sacrifice went along with the bouncing bundle of joy. But in today's have it all society, too many try to have it all--the big house, big SUV, club memberships, high-paying dual incomes--at the expense of having a parent around for the kids. The Times article also portrayed an interesting disconnect between the mother's of these well-educated twentysomethings and the faculty and administrators at some of the institutions to which they attend. For instance, two examples were given of young women emulating their mothers in their attitude towards staying at home.
"My stepmom's very proud of my choice because it makes her feel more valuable," said Kellie Zesch, a Texan who graduated from the University of North Carolina two years ago and who said that once she had children, she intended to stay home for at least five years and then consider working part time. "It justified it to her, that I don't look down on her for not having a career."

. . . Emily Lechner, one of Ms. Liu's roommates, hopes to stay home a few years, then work part time as a lawyer once her children are in school.

Her mother, Carol, who once thought she would have a full-time career but gave it up when her children were born, was pleasantly surprised to hear that. "I do have this bias that the parents can do it best," she said. "I see a lot of women in their 30's who have full-time nannies, and I just question if their kids are getting the best."

Again, though anecdotal, the consternation among the academics that this attitude has engendered is telling (pun intended, btw). For instance,
For many feminists, it may come as a shock to hear how unbothered many young women at the nation's top schools are by the strictures of traditional roles.

"They are still thinking of this as a private issue; they're accepting it," said Laura Wexler, a professor of American studies and women's and gender studies at Yale. "Women have been given full-time working career opportunities and encouragement with no social changes to support it.

"I really believed 25 years ago," Dr. Wexler added, "that this would be solved by now."

Or how about:
"What does concern me," said Peter Salovey, the dean of Yale College, "is that so few students seem to be able to think outside the box; so few students seem to be able to imagine a life for themselves that isn't constructed along traditional gender roles."
Dr. Wexler's attitude hints at a sense of betrayal of a birthright given to these young women by she and her sisters. Dean Salovey seems to be unable to think outside of his own box in which success is defined only by dollar signs. They both come off looking like they think they know what's best for the young women. But wasn't the goal of feminism to provide equal opportunity and thus a better chance of true self determination for women, whether they want to climb the corporate ladder or stay at home and raise kids? Who are they to dictate the "why" and "how" of what makes a woman happy? Don't tell me they're being judgemental?

I'm sure some will argue that, "Well, of course, their rich kids, they'll marry rich guys. They can afford to stay at home." That is true. But we don't need all of the toys we think we do, no matter the size of our income. A family doesn't need two new cars, a 3000 sq. ft house and a 50" widescreen. These things are nice, but not essential. If a couple plans ahead properly, stashes a nest egg, and makes some sacrifices along the way, it is possible for the average middle-class couple to survive on one income while they bring up their kids. I know, my family is doing it now. Where there's a will--and the proper priorities--there is a way.

September 19, 2005

RI Supreme Court: Harrah/Narragansett Casino not Legal

Marc Comtois

Looks like it's back to the drawing board for Harrah's and the Narragansett Tribe as the RI Supreme Court has concluded that the latest casino proposal doesn't pass constitutional muster:

A bill that would allow the Narragansett Indians to open a casino on nontribal land does not pass constitutional muster, the state Supreme Court said in an advisory opinion today, responding to a request by legislators who crafted the bill.

In its opinion, the court said the measure fails to satisfy a provision of the state constitution that requires any lotteries in Rhode Island to be state-run.

Las Vegas-based Harrah's Entertainment and the Narragansett Indian Tribe are seeking to build a casino in Rhode Island, off their tribal lands in Charlestown. Lawyers presented oral arguments last month to a three-justice panel of the state's highest court.

The opinion said the legislation would leave the state Lottery Division without control over the proposed casino, including the types of table games played there and the extension of credit to gamblers.

Without direct authority over those parts of the operation, the justices wrote, "the state simply cannot in good faith be said to be operating the casino."

The justices note that the proposed legislation did give the state more power -- including the ability to direct daily revenue, set the odds of winning and determine the number of table games and video lottery terminals -- than a bill introduced last year. But they said it was not enough to comply with the state constitution.

"To summarize, we interpret the proposed Casino Act as granting to the Lottery Division the power to make decisions concerning many, but not all, operational aspects of the gaming enterprise," the opinion reads. . .

The tribe has tried for more than a decade to get approval to build a casino.

A year ago last August, the high court derailed a Harrah's-Narragansett casino proposal for West Warwick as it was headed to the state ballot after clearing the General Assembly and surviving a gubernatorial veto.

Responding then to an advisory opinion request from Governor Carcieri, the court said the casino legislation and referenda question ran afoul of a requirement in the state Constitution that all "lotteries" be state-operated.

To remove this legal barrier, the casino's legislative backers introduced a new version of the bill this year.

It recast the proposed West Warwick casino as state-operated, to be run by the Narragansetts and their chosen partner under a contract with the state Lottery Commission.

Under the aegis of House Speaker William J. Murphy, of West Warwick, the House voted to seek the court's opinion first this time, before voting.

Carcieri praised the court's opinion today, saying Harrah's had put forward an "unconstitutional scheme."

"For two years in a row, the Rhode Island Supreme Court has ruled the Harrah's casino legislation unconstitutional," the governor said in a statement. "I have said all along that this is nothing but a Harrah's casino. For the second time in a row, the Supreme Court has agreed with me."

I'd still feel better if the Governor hadn't hatched the pragmatic but ideologically inconistent plan of expanding Lincoln Park. Nonetheless, so long as we can keep the seemingly "painless" and get-rich-quick option of increased gambling revenue from the hands of our state politicians, the better chance we have of them pursuing other, more sound, avenues of economic development.

Of Hospitals and Bikepaths

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the New York Times, it costs $8,000,000 to refurbish a hospital in Najaf, Iraq (h/t Andrew Sullivan). According to the highway bill, it will cost $10,000,000 for "transportation improvements" to the Blackstone River Bikeway. Am I the only one who thinks there is something amiss with these relative amounts?

These kind of numbers really have to make you rethink the idea that Iraq is an unprecedented drain on American resources.

To see the complete list of Rhode Island highway bill earmarks, click here.
To see $49,000,000 in earmarked funds suggested for redirection to New Orleans, click here.

September 18, 2005

Judicial Restraint 101

Terry Eastland has written an article entitled Chief Justice Roberts: The distinction between law and politics that the Judiciary Democrats do not respect lies at the heart of Roberts's approach to judging, including these words:

On the final day of the Roberts hearings, Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois tried one last time: "If you've made one point many times over . . . the course of the last three days," he told the judge, "it is that as a judge you will be loyal and faithful to the process of law, to the rule of law." But "beyond loyalty to the process of law," he asked Roberts, "how do you view [the] law when it comes to expanding our personal freedom? . . . That's what I've been asking."

And so, in various ways, had Durbin's Democratic colleagues been asking about such matters--ones "beyond loyalty" to the rule of law. In response to Durbin, Roberts stuck to the point he had indeed made "many times over." Reframing the senator's question so as to reach the core issue, Roberts said, "Somebody asked me, you know, 'Are you going to be on the side of the little guy?' And you obviously want to give an immediate answer. But as you reflect on it, if the Constitution says that the little guy should win, the little guy is going to win in court before me. But if the Constitution says that the big guy should win, well, then the big guy is going to win, because my obligation is to the Constitution. That's the oath. The oath that a judge takes is not that 'I'll look out for particular interests.' . . . The oath is to uphold the Constitution and laws of the United States, and that's what I would do."

That exchange crystallized the fundamental difference between John Roberts and the eight Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Democrats believe a good judge will move "beyond loyalty" to the rule of law, if necessary, and seek to advance certain political outcomes--in Durbin's question, the expansion of personal freedom. Roberts dissents: He believes a good judge will distinguish between law and politics and stick resolutely to the law, regardless of the result...He'll not look out for "particular interests" because his oath obligates him to support not this or that interest but the Constitution and the laws of the United States...

There is unease among some conservatives as to how Chief Justice Roberts will turn out. Yet it must be said that Roberts has made emphatically clear his view that a judge must be restrained by the law--the rules, principles, customs, practices, and understandings that define it--and must not allow the law to be infused with the judge's own political views and personal values. In other words, the distinction between law and politics that the Judiciary Democrats do not respect lies at the heart of Roberts's approach to judging...

Roberts took care on numerous occasions to emphasize the importance of the distinction between law and politics as it relates to judging. For example, in response to Lindsey Graham's question about what the judge regarded as the biggest threats to the rule of law today, Roberts identified only one threat--the "tendency on behalf of some judges to take . . . [their] authority and extend it into areas where they're going beyond the interpretation of the Constitution, where they're making the law"--the province of elected officials. He observed: "Judges have to recognize that their role is a limited one. That is the basis of their legitimacy. I've said it before and I'll just repeat myself: The Framers were not the sort of people, having fought a revolution to get the right of self-government, to sit down and say, 'Let's take all the difficult issues before us and let's have the judges decide them.' That would have been the farthest thing from their mind."

The failure of the Judiciary Democrats to applaud comments like these, their evident desire to have justices and judges who go beyond any loyalty to the rule of law to advance "progressive" visions, demonstrates how far their party has traveled since the middle of the past century, when Justices Robert Jackson and Felix Frankfurter still sat on the Court. Jackson (whom Roberts admires, by the way) and Frankfurter sought to preserve the judiciary "in its established but limited place in American politics," wrote Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. in 1947...By the end of the Warren Court, political judging had become the norm for most Democrats. So it has been ever since, and so it is today that a nominee committed to judicial restraint like Roberts received the reception he did from the law firm of Leahy, Kennedy, Feinstein, Biden, Schumer, Feingold, and Durbin....

I hope, but am far from certain, that Chief Justice Roberts' central belief about the importance of judicial restraint will lead to the Supreme Court ceasing its recent legislating practices. What I do believe is that a strong belief about restraint has a greater chance of yielding that outcome than the activist views of leading Democrats.

Cutting the Fat: The New Porkbuster Site

Andrew has started the debate here in Rhode Island, asking why we are spending highway bill pork in RI at a time of national need in New Orleans.

In what is likely to be another example of how the blogosphere is changing politics, take a look at this posting from Instapundit about various bloggers looking for pork awarded their state in the recent highway bill, including Andrew's posting.

Instapundit extends the pork debate with this important additional posting, linking to this interesting porkbuster site from Truth Laid Bear that is the result of an idea developed by TLB and Instapundit. Congratulations to them for such a good idea.

So how do you think our Senators Chafee and Reed as well as our Congressmen Langevin and Kennedy will respond to this responsible idea of porkbusting?

Maybe we should ask each of them...

Same Old Story: Clinton is a Deceitful & Dishonest Man Who Has No Principles

This story shows the latest example of just how unprincipled a man Bill Clinton is.

Power Line has a strongly-worded response.

For a man who (i) had shady dealings with a range of Communist Chinese or their agents; (ii) passed up an opportunity to capture bin Laden when he was offered to the USA before 9/11; (iii) treated terrorism as a police action matter against which to lob a few cruise missiles; (iv) ran $300 billion budget deficits until the Republicans took over Congress in 1994 and reduced spending enough to yield surpluses; (v) took personal credit for the Cold War peace dividend achieved by President Reagan; (vi) decimated the US military after the Cold War; (vii) brought dishonor to the White House by his personal behavior; (viii) created the legacy of perpetual campaigning; and, (ix) took the techniques of personal destruction against political opponents to a unprecedented level, Bill Clinton certainly has chutzpah.

And he has no grace. That is why history will show him for what he is: a petty small-state governor whose personal charisma allowed him to reach heights where his lack of values then made him a spineless man who had to triangulate because he didn't have the backbone to lead like a real man.

Small and inconsequential to the long-term history of America. That will be his legacy as President - unless we let him succeed in his unilateral effort to rewrite history.

Not in our lifetime, Slick Willie.


JunkYardBlog has more.

Oblogatory Anecdotes also has more.

Rhode Island's Initial Pork-Reduction Goal should be at least $50,000,000

Carroll Andrew Morse

Looking over the specific projects listed in the highway bill, Rhode Island’s absolute minimum goal should be to redirect $50,000,000 of earmarked funds towards rebuilding New Orleans. This doesn’t mean that the total cannot be more, but $50,000,000 should be the minimum.

There is $49,000,000 available, just in bikepath funding ($38,000,000), plus a few other projects listed below.

I don’t want to come across as a Darth Vader conservative, suggesting that funding for anything green be eliminated. Rhode Island’s bikepaths and trails and parks are a tremendous quality of life resource. But they are a civic luxury. At a time when another American city needs help finding the resources for civic necessities, we cannot justify Federal funding for our civic luxuries.

Transportation Improvements for the Washington Secondary Bicycle Facility/Coventry Greenway/Trestle Trail (Coventry) $4,000,000
Transportation Improvements for the Northwest Biketrail/Woonasquatucket River Greenway (Providence, Johnston) $6,000,000
Transportation Improvements for the Blackstone River Bikeway (Providence, Woonsocket) $10,000,000
Transportation Improvements for the Jamestown Bridge Demolition--Bicycle Access/Trestle Span Demolition/Fishing Pier (N. Kingstown) $4,000,000
Acquisition of fee or easement, construction of a trail, and site improvements in Foster $1,000,000
Open space acquisition to mitigate growth associated with SR 4 and Interstate 95, by non-profit land conservation agencies through acquisition of fee or easement, with a match requirement of 50% of the total purchase price $8,000,000
Transportation Enhancements at Blackstone Valley Heritage Corridor $500,000
Restore and Expand Maritime Heritage site in Bristol $500,000
Transportation Improvements for the Colt State Park Bike Path $2,000,000
Construct trails and facility improvements within the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge complex $1,000,000
Completion of Washington Secondary Bike Path from Coventry to Connecticut Border $7,000,000
Completion of Greenway from Johnston to Providence $5,000,000

Senator Chafee: Is This How You Define Fiscal Conservatism?

Andrew has done a tremendous service by publishing the actual highway bill "benefits" to Rhode Island: $150 million of projects spread around the state.

Senator Chafee voted for the highway bill. Since one of his key campaign positions is fiscal conservatism, I thought it might be useful to do some math on the true cost of those state projects to Rhode Islanders.

The true cost of the highway bill projects is the hidden cost effect of the highway bill that our elected officials will never talk about: Rhode Island residents are paying a pro rata cost for every single project across the entire United States as the price for getting their highway bill projects.

Let's make some simplifying assumptions that have the effect of changing the precise numbers without changing the conclusion. Assume the number of taxpayers as a percentage of the total population is roughly the same across the fifty states. This allows us to simplify the analysis by using the population of the USA and of Rhode Island. Assume there are 1 million residents in Rhode Island. The highway bill was for $286 billion. Since there are just under 300 million Americans, the highway bill spends about $1,000 per American.

Therefore, the tax burden for Rhode Islanders from the highway bill equals roughly $1 billion ($1,000 per resident x 1 million state residents).

That $1 billion bought us $150 million of special projects. I am sure there are some hidden nuances in that pork-laden bill that will accrue to the benefit of Rhode Islanders. But, even if there are, remember there would have to be $850 million of nuances (a multiple of 5.67) just to get to tax payment breakeven for Rhode Island residents.

So, during the upcoming campaign, when Senator Chafee takes a photo opportunity with one of the highway bill projects and touts how he brought home the bacon for us, remember that Rhode Island residents will be paying as much as $6.67 per person in extra taxes for every $1 of projects proudly boasted about by Chafee.

Senator Chafee, is this how you define fiscal conservatism?

Since my family has five members, we are paying roughly $33 in extra taxes for that $1 of benefit. I can assure you that is not our definition of fiscal conservatism.

[You can read more about the highway bill here:

The Highway Bill: Another Example of Unacceptable Government Spending
The Highway Bill: "Egregious and Remarkable"
Tapscott: Has the GOP Lost Its Soul?
Has the GOP Lost Its Soul? Part II.]

Modern American Parenting: "Ill-tempered, ill-mannered, self-centered, joyless children spoiled by too many choices"

In an article (available to magazine subscribers) found in the September 26 edition of National Review, Meghan Cox Gurdon has written a book review entitled Where the Buck Stops:

...But once you read It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting Is Hurting Our Kids - and What to Do About It — and if you have children, you should read it — you may feel almost gleeful, as I did, to follow your own instincts instead of the honeyed rules of the parenting culture.

These rules pervade the bulk of current writing and thinking about child-rearing, and will be embarrassingly familiar to anyone who has spent time recently with children and their parents...

What is the creed? First, even if it means bending like a circus contortionist, parents must always "empower" children and "use directives sparingly" to avoid the crushing negativity of that awful word, "no." To "help our children make wise decisions in their lives," we must give even toddlers abundant choices: "Would you like apple juice, or orange juice? In the blue cup, or the red sippy cup? Do you want to sit here at the table, or — oh, you want to sit on the floor? Okay!"

Our behavior must reflect the understanding that building children’s self-esteem is the most important task of parenthood. We must assure our children that they are wonderful just the way they are ("our kids deserve to feel good about themselves," enthuses one expert quoted by Hart, "simply because they exist"). We must criticize only the behavior, never the child (who is, remember, wonderful just the way he is), and must reassure turbulent infants that their feelings, in the words of another expert, "are always okay — they are never right or wrong."

"“Feelings are never right or wrong?" Hart writes. "I’m going to go out on a limb here. I think Hitler’s hatred of Jews was wrong." She goes on: The "entire focus on feelings in the parenting culture is only about the appropriate expression of feelings. The focus is almost never on the feelings themselves, nor on the idea that some feelings are not okay or that some feelings may need to be reconsidered, because they’re a clue that our hearts are not okay, before they lead to unwholesome, dangerous, or malicious behavior."

When Betsy Hart writes "heart," she is talking about the soul, which, for too many children, she believes, goes neglected amidst all the parental straining to be fun, understanding, and non-confrontational.

"There’s no doubt that as religious influence has waned in this country, many parents are trying to fill a void in their spiritual life by vainly putting everything into the one thing that will live on after them — their kids," Hart argues. "So, each child is nurtured and protected and fawned over like a hothouse flower, when they are actually hardy little geraniums who need to be outside soaking up the sun. Even if being left out in the sun means they will experience a lot of wind and rain. After all, they need rain to thrive, too."

The result is a society awash in ill-tempered, ill-mannered, self-centered, joyless children spoiled by too many choices.

So, what to do? Betsy Hart’s book is not so much an egg-headed analytical treatise as it is a bracing pep talk from a wise friend, and the wisdom begins in the title: It takes a parent, not a Clintonesque village. Please, the author exhorts mothers and fathers, be parents: Be not afraid to assert your authority rather than cede it at the first childish howl, or at the first gasp of disapproval from the parenting culture.

Our job, she reminds us, is not to be our children’s friends, or facilitators, or self-esteem coaches; our job, for heaven’s sake, is to civilize the little savages, and we can hardly do that properly if we fear we will smash their self-esteem by denying them a choice in the juice they get for breakfast.


An interview with Betsy Hart follows here.

Is Rhode Island ready to step up for New Orleans?

Carroll Andrew Morse

One suggestion for finding funding to pay for the $200B reconstruction of New Orleans is to redirect funding allocated in the recently passed highway bill. Here is the list of projects earmarked for Rhode Island, straight from the text of the bill. Are Rhode Islanders -- citizens and Congressional delegation alike -- willing to step up and declare that they are willing to sacrifice some of these projects to help rebuild a decimated American city?

Transportation Improvements for the Apponaug Bypass $22,000,000
Transportation Improvements for the Washington Secondary Bicycle Facility/Coventry Greenway/Trestle Trail (Coventry) $4,000,000
Transportation Improvements for the Northwest Biketrail/Woonasquatucket River Greenway (Providence, Johnston) $6,000,000
New Interchange constructed from I-195 to Taunton and Warren Avenue in East Providence $7,000,000
Transportation Improvements for the Blackstone River Bikeway (Providence, Woonsocket) $10,000,000
Transportation Improvements for the Jamestown Bridge Demolition--Bicycle Access/Trestle Span Demolition/Fishing Pier (N. Kingstown) $4,000,000
Weybosset Street (200 Block) Streetscape and Drop-off Lane Improvement-Providence $750,000
Acquisition of fee or easement, construction of a trail, and site improvements in Foster $1,000,000
Open space acquisition to mitigate growth associated with SR 4 and Interstate 95, by non-profit land conservation agencies through acquisition of fee or easement, with a match requirement of 50% of the total purchase price $8,000,000
Replace Sakonnet Bridge$7,000,000
Transportation Enhancements at Blackstone Valley Heritage Corridor$500,000
Bury the Power Lines at India Point $2,500,000
Restore and Expand Maritime Heritage site in Bristol $500,000
Transportation Improvements for the Colt State Park Bike Path$2,000,000
Construct trails and facility improvements within the Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge complex $1,000,000
Improvements for the Commuter rail in Rhode Island $5,000,000
Transportation Improvements for the East Main Road in Middletown$5,000,000
Downtown Circulation Improvements Providence $2,000,000
Transportation Improvements for the Route 138 (South Kingstown) $4,000,000
Transportation Improvements for the Route 1 Gilbert Stuart Turnaround (N. Kingstown) $2,750,000
Rehabilitate and improve Rt. 138 from Rt. 108 to Rt. 2 $12,000,000
Improve traffic circulation and road surfacing in downtown Providence $5,000,000
Improve access to Pell Bridge in Newport $5,000,000
Completion of Washington Secondary Bike Path from Coventry to Connecticut Border $7,000,000
Replace Warren Bridge in Warren $11,000,000
Rehabilitation of Stillwater Viaduct in Smithfield $5,000,000
Completion of Greenway from Johnston to Providence $5,000,000
Replace Natick Bridge in Warwick and West Warwick$5,000,000

September 16, 2005

Do they Believe their own Spin on Laffey's Record?

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the Projo, both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Chafee campaign disapprove of Steve Laffey's fiscal policies as Mayor of Cranston. The Projo article, however, leaves a couple of questions unanswered...

To the National Republican Senate Committee and to the Chafee campaign: Does your disapproval of Steve Laffey's fiscal policies lead you to conclude that the people of Cranston would have been better off with Aram Garabedian, Gary Reilly, or John Mancini as their Mayor?

Also to the Chafee campaign: If you believe that Steve Laffey made poor fiscal decisions as Mayor of Cranston, why did you encourage him to run for statewide office?

September 15, 2005

Make-Believe Thinking About Drug Prices & Pharmaceutical Industry Economics

This posting responds to Steve Laffey's outlandish criticism last week of the pharmaceutical industry.

Originally part of an extended entry to this posting, the comments below - which represent counter-arguments to his suggestion that importing drugs from Canada would miraculously allow comparable patient care at radically reduced costs - were not sufficiently visible to readers. As a result, I am reposting a slightly modified version of my original comments here and deleting them from the original posting.

I have worked in the healthcare industry since 1983, spending most of my time since 1985 working in venture capital-financed startup companies. With that experience base, I found Laffey's words on drug prices - which you can read in the posting mentioned above - to be grossly misleading and grossly misinformed.

The Canadian Health System

The romantized - but fake - vision of simply importing inexpensive drugs from Canada in an effort to mimic their health system completely ignores the many grotesque failings of their socialist system discussed in an earlier posting entitled Canadian Supreme Court: "Access to a Waiting List is NOT Access to Health Care", including these highlights:

Canada is the only nation other than Cuba and North Korea that bans private health insurance...

"Access to a waiting list is not access to health care," wrote Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin for the 4-3 Court last week. Canadians wait an average of 17.9 weeks for surgery and other therapeutic treatments, according the Vancouver-based Fraser Institute. The waits would be even longer if Canadians didn't have access to the U.S. as a medical-care safety valve. Or, in the case of fortunate elites such as Prime Minister Paul Martin, if they didn't have access to a small private market in some non-core medical services...

The larger lesson here is that health care isn't immune from the laws of economics. Politicians can't wave a wand and provide equal coverage for all merely by declaring medical care to be a "right," in the word that is currently popular on the American left.

There are only two ways to allocate any good or service: through prices, as is done in a market economy, or lines dictated by government, as in Canada's system. The socialist claim is that a single-payer system is more equal than one based on prices, but last week's court decision reveals that as an illusion. Or, to put it another way, Canadian health care is equal only in its shared scarcity... Canada you wait for everything. North of the 49th parallel, we accept that if you get something mildly semi-serious it drags on while you wait to be seen, wait to be diagnosed, wait to be treated. Meanwhile, you're working under par, and I doubt any economic impact accrued thereby is factored into those global health-care-as-a-proportion-of-GDP tables. The default mode of any government system is to "control health-care costs" by providing less health care. Once it becomes natural to wait six months for an MRI, it's not difficult to persuade you that it's natural to wait ten months, or fifteen. Acceptance of the initial concept of "waiting" is what matters...

...[for single-payer health insurance systems] rationing by waiting is pervasive, governments overspend for the healthy and deny care for specialist and life-saving medical technologies to the sick, and leave health-care choices to bureaucrats rather than patients. Single-payer systems, in other words, often deny choice and access to the sick.

This denial and limited access also exists in market-driven systems...but at least sick patients in market-driven systems can explore options outside of rigid federal bureaucracies, as many Canadians do by coming to their neighbor to the south for care. The Canadian court decision debunks the myths that government systems offer equal access to care, that they offer a higher quality of care to all, and that a paternalistic government can take care of all of the people all of the time...

Preventing citizens from purchasing as much health care as they want and can afford under the pretext that it "wastes" resources needed to fund "free" health care presupposes that the state is the rightful owner of all wealth...

Further examples of the failings of the Canadian healthcare system can be found in a report entitled What goes into the cost of prescription drugs?...and other questions:

In British Columbia, some Canadians being treated with one effective medicine are switched to a substitute simply because the government health system mandates it. This can result in patient confusion, greater noncompliance, and a worsening of symptoms.

Canadian patients are often denied easy access to certain medicines that, for them, would have minimal side effects, because the government requires that they must first endure therapy with the "cheaper," potentially less-effective medicines. Only when serious side effects appear - sometimes requiring hospitalization, for example - does the government allow the more efficacious drug to be prescribed.

Canadians wait, on average, seven months longer than Americans for new medicines to be approved by their government regulatory agency. Even after a medicine is approved, patients wait an average of five to 13 months longer before the medicine is put on and reimbursed by each province's formulary...

Canada ranks third-from-last in the developed world on the availability of medical technology, according to the OECD...

Is this the healthcare world we aspire to for all American citizens?

Adverse Macro Impact of Price Controls

In an article entitled The High Price of Cheap Drugs, John Calfee writes about the effect that price controls have had on innovative research, including the loss of jobs:

...Those price controls prevent innovative pharmaceutical firms from reaping free-market rewards anywhere but in the United States. That is one reason why the world pharmaceutical industry, which 20 years ago was mostly based in Europe, has largely relocated to the United States. American manufacturers now account for 7 of the top 10 worldwide best-selling medicines, and 15 of the top 20. This reflects a large and growing disparity in research and development expenditures. In 1990, European pharmaceutical firms outspent American firms on R&D by approximately 8billion euros to 5 billion euros ($7 billion to $4.3 billion). In 2000, U.S. firms outspent European firms by 24 billion euros to 17 billion euros ($20.9 billion to $14.8 billion). Even traditional European firms, notably GlaxoSmithKline and Novartis, have moved many of their most essential operations to the United States. After years of looking the other way, the European Commission is sufficiently alarmed by these trends to propose relaxing price controls in order to rejuvenate its pharmaceutical industry, especially the biotechnology sector...

Are we willing to pursue drug price controls in America and accept the resulting loss of jobs and innovation?

Drug Importation

As to the drug importation issue, David Frum frames the big-picture issue in this August 11, 2004 posting (no longer accessible on web) at his NRO blogsite:

...drug re-importation is a cheap and cynical non-solution to a real problem: the unfairness of asking Americans to pay the whole cost and more of new drugs while the rest of the world pays less. But it’s no kind of answer to cut prices in the US: In that case, innovation could disappear entirely. The answer is to share the cost more widely within the developed world – an answer that US trade negotiaters are beginning to press hard. So here’s the real question for [any politician] on drug prices: Will he stand up for American pharmaceutical-makers – and global pharmaceutical-users – by calling for a fair sharing through trade of the costs of innovation?...Or does he just want to score points now – at the price of denying Americans access to potential drugs of the future?

Are we going to hold our politicians accountable when they use cynical ploys to pander for votes? Are we willing to push for more equitable trade policies regarding drug pricing outside the United States?

Calfee adds his comments on drug importation from Canada:

...[Politicians] think this is competition and free trade at work. The fact that a group of Canadian or European bureaucrats would be setting drug prices for the entire U.S. economy seems to elude them. What would this law actually do? For one thing...might not get the low prices they want even if Congress passes their law. Prices won't drop in the United States unless foreign drugs really will be imported in large volumes. Importation from Canada alone won't do the trick because the Canadian market is tiny, about 5 percent of the U.S. market in terms of revenues. When Canadian pharmaceutical wholesalers ask Pfizer, Merck, and their competitors to ship them 10 times the usual volumes of Lipitor and Zocor and other blockbuster drugs, with the obvious intention of shipping them right back to the United States, any manufacturer with a decent regard for its shareholders will refuse. Why sacrifice billions of dollars in U.S. sales to maintain sales in a market one-twentieth the size? If that were the end of the story, events would follow a simple course. Canadian authorities, who understand the importation logic as well as anyone, would have to reassess their price ceilings or leave their citizens short of the best pharmaceuticals. At some point, it would become clear that Canadian drug importation would not bring the low U.S. prices its advocates want, although it might put a good number of patients at risk if importation--including importation of counterfeits--were to ramp up before prices adjusted. Prices in Canada, meanwhile, would rise...

Drug Safety

The second report referenced above includes these words:

...according to the Acting FDA Commissioner in July 2004, the FDA found evidence of a Canadian Web site advertising "Canadian generic" drugs, when in fact it was selling fake, contaminated and substandard versions of three commonly prescribed medicines. In addition, the FDA has identified drugs being imported into the U.S. arriving from unreliable sources in such places as the Bahamas and Pakistan. Media reports have found that some Canadian pharmacies are now shipping drugs from all over the world, including Belize, Israel, India, Chile, New Zealand, Ireland and Great Britian. So a drug that a consumer assumes is coming from Canada, may in fact originate anywhere in the world.

According to Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh: "Canada cannot be the drug store of the United States."...Additionally, Diane Gorman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Health Canada, said "the Government of Canada has never stated that it would be responsible for the safety and quality of prescription drugs exported from Canada into the United States..."

Calfee also discusses the risk of increased importation of counterfeit drugs:

...pass a law so that drugs shipped to Canada or Europe or South Africa can be imported into the United States for sale at foreign prices. The law would leave the Food and Drug Administration with almost no authority to check the safety of these imports. Wholesalers would have to do their own testing, but pharmacies and "qualifying individuals" (who could resell to others) would face no such requirement. This bothers the FDA...

Are we willing as a society to tolerate the greater human risk and higher economic costs resulting from use of counterfeit drugs by patients?

Long-Term Impacts

Calfee then notes how there are two eventual scenarios that arise from price controls and importation issues:

Two scenarios could play out, one bad and the other worse.

In the first scenario, drug manufacturers would again simply refuse to ship huge volumes of drugs to small foreign countries in order for the drugs to be shipped back and cripple profits at home, where the drugs were invented. If that happened (and I think it would), our European friends would probably have a political fit. They would face the prospect of either going without American drugs or raising their own price ceilings--and with them the costs of their fiscally strapped socialist health care systems. From their point of view, the importation plan would be a clever way to force U.S. drug prices on Europeans. They would want very much to prevent that. An international demand for drug price controls in the United States (not just in Europe) would become a centerpiece of international diplomacy. And we might cave in, pushed by the same politicians who want importation.

In scenario two,...importation would rapidly escalate to massive volumes from Canada and Europe, maybe from South Africa and elsewhere. The process would resemble the "parallel trade" now engulfing European drug markets as products with Greek or Spanish labels flow to patients in Germany and Britain. Drug prices would drop here, limited only by fears of counterfeiting, dilution, or inadequate storage. Wholesalers, pharmacies, managed care organizations, and other large-volume dealers would feel intense price pressure from the imports, and the U.S. pricing structure would gradually collapse...

Either way, price controls would end up suppressing innovation here, just as they have done abroad. It is one thing for the Canadians and Europeans to free-ride on American R&D, but we can't free-ride on ourselves. The system that gave us the drugs the whole world wants would be hobbled...The market would understand with perfect clarity that the days of free-market rewards for high-risk-high-payoff research were over. The implications for future drug research are both obvious and depressing...

Are we willing to live with either of these outcomes in America?

Myths About Prescription Drugs

Robert Goldberg writes about Ten Myths about the Market for Prescriptions Drugs, including these excerpted thoughts:

Myth No. 1: American Spend Too Much on Prescription Drugs. Per dollar spent, drugs offer a better return on health care spending than virtually any other health care option. Using prescription drugs often reduces or eliminates the need for costlier health care services. One recent study found that every dollar spent on drugs is associated with a $4 decline in spending on hospitals...

Myth No. 4: Drug Prices Are Higher in the United States than in Other Developed Countries. Drug prices in the United States are not very different from prices in other developed countries. Using accurate pricing information, health economist Patricia Danzon has found that drug prices in Canada, Germany, Switzerland and Sweden are higher on average than prices in the United States. When "purchasing power parity," a means by which economists attempt to compare the price of goods in different countries, is considered, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has found that Americans spend less per capita per year on drugs than do people in Germany or France and only slightly more than those in Canada and Italy - yet the other countries have controls. (Go here for another verification of this point.)

Myth No. 5: Americans Could Reduce Their Drug Costs If They Paid the Same Prices as People in Less-Developed Countries. Critics of the U.S. system complain that consumers can buy drugs in Mexico for less than half their cost in the United States. Prices for the same drugs do differ in different countries, but Americans cannot get the newest drugs at Mexican prices for a simple reason. The research and development required to ready a drug for production can cost millions of dollars and take many years, but the cost of actually manufacturing a drug is usually small. Because manufacturers have discretion about pricing, the price may be close to production costs in poorer countries, which could not otherwise afford the drug, and higher in wealthier countries - more accurately reflecting the drug's value to patients. If all patients paid the lower price, there would be no money for research and development and no new drugs...

Myth No. 7: Price Controls Can Reduce Drug Spending. Attempts to drive down drug costs through price controls have two unintended results: (1) they encourage increased consumption of drugs and (2) they lead to the consumption of inferior drugs. Many European health systems with price controls spend more on drugs per capita than the United States spends, but Americans use newer and more appropriate medications. That is one reason Americans spend less time in hospitals when they are sick and have a higher quality of life than do Europeans...

Myth No. 9: We Can Have Price Controls without Rationing Drugs. If federal price controls for pharmaceuticals were adopted, an increase in consumption of pharmaceuticals would be inevitable and the government would then try to control the increase. That is what happened with erythropoietin (EPO), which is used to reduce anemia in kidney dialysis patients. Medicare, which pays for drugs for kidney dialysis, put a price control on EPO in 1994, rationed the amount patients could get and refused to cover patients with healthy blood cells above a certain level...

Price controls represent not a mere extension of market pressure but a fundamental shift in values. Controls substitute a political process for the marketplace. For controls to work, individuals must be forced to adhere to governmental and bureaucratic decisions. This allows a few "experts" to decide what pharmaceuticals millions of physicians, pharmacists, medical researchers and patients "deserve" - and at what prices.

Finally, Did You Know?

That spending on drugs accounts for less than 11% of every healthcare dollar, of which branded drugs are about 7% and generic drugs are about 4%? That hospital care totals about 31% of every healthcare dollar, physician services about 22%, and nursing homes about 9%?

That studies show treating conditions with new medicines instead of older medicines increases drug costs but significantly lowers non-drug spending?

That developing a new drug takes 12-15 years and costs over $800 million?

That, on average, only five of every 10,000 compounds investigated are tested in clinical trials and, of those five, only one is ever approved for patient use?

That, on average, only three of every 10 prescription drugs available to treat Americans generate revenue that meet or exceed average R&D costs?

That pharmaceutical companies spend 20% of their revenue on research & development efforts for new drugs, equal to over $34 billion in 2003 alone and slightly over 10 times what they spent on direct-to-consumer advertising?

We need leaders who truly understand the economics of developing new drugs. If they stay ignorant, then we risk implementing policies which will lead to Americans losing access to innovative new drugs and losing the freedom we currently have to pursue the medical care we want.

And, if you needed any further evidence that the government is the last entity we want interfering with the marketplace, then reread this posting and share it with the next friend that whines about how the government should do something about the number of citizens lacking health insurance. Remind them that the government created the problem in the first place.

Our public debate and the ensuing public policies would improve if leaders did not go about promising economic benefits while simultaneously claiming the benefits can be realized without any costs.

Such suggestions are nothing less than a form of economic make-believe. In the end, if you won't deal with economic reality, then it will deal with you - on its own terms.

Inviting a More Balanced Debate About America's Energy Policy

I wrote the words in this posting in response to Steve Laffey's criticisms last week of the oil industry. It was originally part of an extended entry, which did not give the policy issues sufficient visibility. As a result, I am re-posting the portion on energy issues below, with some minor modifications, and deleting them from the original posting:

I have been away from the oil industry for a long time now. My specific work experience in the industry included working in the Energy Department of The Morgan Bank in the summer of 1980, working for Aramco in Saudi Arabia during the summer of 1981, and working for ARCO during 1981-83 where, among other things, I had the privilege of playing a meaningful role in a $100 million joint venture financing of the Kuparuk pipeline on the North Slope of Alaska.

When I was at ARCO, we were one of the leading companies at the time in exploring alternative energy, including solar. If there was a chance to make profits in alternative energy, ARCO and the other oil companies would have been all over the opportunities. But it never happened - and oil was priced around $40/barrel back then in the early 1980's.

If there were new technologies that could really create new profitable sources of energy, then the investment community or the oil companies would have funded them. Ask someone how many billions of dollars Union Oil invested - and lost - in oil shale technology years ago. At $60-70/barrel, that funding may now open up and that would be a positive benefit of the higher oil prices. It certainly would be a more efficient way to develop new resources than having a bunch of Senators pass legislation that they then hand off to nameless bureaucrats to regulate from Washington, D.C. Consider this example of what they have already done to us in the past.

My point is that we do need to deal with energy issues but simply blaming the oil companies is a shallow and tired argument. I list a series of questions throughout the rest of this posting on energy issues. I don't agree with pursuing all of the answers to those questions but politicians will only be taken seriously when they show the courage to tackle many of the questions. Citizens also cannot complain about $3/gallon gas and then be stridently opposed to pursuing changes to the status quo. (And this posting is not about excusing unreasonable Big Government or Big Business actions such as this latest Tom DeLay story.)

An earlier posting entitled The Geopoliticization of World's Oil & Gas Industry points out that there are geopolitical trends in energy that are beyond the power of the oil companies to control and adversely affect oil prices: can't be said that the free play of supply and demand ever set prices in the oil market. But we are now seeing an even more profound uncoupling of the oil industry from anything resembling the model characteristics of market economies. Governments rather than traditional commercial enterprises are increasingly taking control. And those governments often have interests quite hostile to ours...

Russia and China are using state-owned companies that are not bound to profit-maximize to achieve their long-term goal of weaving a web of relationships that will stand them in good stead in any diplomatic confrontation with the United States. Whether America can continue to rely on its private sector to provide us with comparable clout is no longer certain. After all, when companies that have to maximize profits compete with companies that seek to maximize national influence and power, the latter will engage in projects that the former simply cannot...

Note in that article how Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, China, and Russia are all using oil as a de-facto weapon in international relations.

Also beyond the control of the oil companies is the increasing demand for energy products by booming economies in China and India and how their increased demand has tightened the supply of oil available for the rest of the world - and further raise oil prices.

If oil supplies are so tight, is anyone willing to expand domestic oil exploration efforts or build new nuclear power plants?

The tightness on the supply side is further explained in this Washington Times editorial which notes the ongoing and increasing shortfall in refining capacity, with the resulting impact on prices:

The fact that gasoline prices have soared while crude oil prices have stabilized strongly suggests that today's bottleneck in the evolving energy crisis has less to do with the total supply of crude oil and much more to do with current refining capacity. The petroleum reserve could be emptied; but if refinery capacity is not available to process the crude into gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, heating oil and other petroleum products, then the extra crude emptied onto the market will have little impact on the ultimate price of gasoline and other fuels...

U.S. refineries have become increasingly temperamental because they have been around for a very long time. In fact, we haven't built a new refinery in more than 25 years. Yes, existing refineries have undergone significant expansion over the years as others have been shuttered, but many of them are more than 30 years old...

Beyond more frequent breakdowns and fires, America's pre-Katrina refinery problem was further apparent from the rising level of refined petroleum products that have been imported in recent years. Since 1995, imported petroleum products have nearly doubled, rising from 1.6 million barrels per day to more than 3.1 million for the first half of 2005...

As long as America continues to consume 25 percent of the world's oil, the least we can do is become self-sufficient in refining it.

Is anyone willing to build new refineries here in America?

Another article says:

We all know that the last new refinery in the US was built in 1976, and that many small refiners are forced to shutdown because capital improvements are not economic given RFG requirements.

This is partly due to NIMBY in the US, and is exacerbated by the patchwork RFG requirements and boutique gasolines: if there was a standard blend, we could simply buy more gas from refineries in places like the Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Jamaica and (in the near future) Cuba. We wouldn't necessarily need new refineries on mainland US soil - but the boutique fuels make such projects more risky than they otherwise would be.

Reducing the number of blends required would ease short-term local spikes caused by localized refinery and pipeline outages (which will happen, random as they might be), and would encourage more refinery construction in the Caribbean, which would add some excess capacity (which is currently zero in the summer), thus dampening non-localized (nationwide) summer supply crunches.

Is anyone willing to build new refineries in their home state? Is anyone willing to eliminate boutique gasolines, which were often done in pursuit of lessening environmental emissions?

Yet another article states:

...major factors that determine pump prices, such as the cost of crude oil, are not under the direct control of Congress. Oil industry lobbyists have been pressing Congress to take action on one issue they claim Congress could have some influence over: the capacity of the United States to refine crude oil. Even if the cost of crude oil falls and other factors affecting gas prices improve, the U.S. cannot increase its ability to refine crude oil into gas that can fuel the nation's cars, trucks, jets, and heaters, unless new refineries are built or existing ones are expanded. Industry representatives have been asking Congress to help increase the economic viability of the refining industry by changing and simplifying environmental regulations. Industry critics, however, argue that energy companies actually benefit from tight refinery capacity and that environmental regulations are not a major cause of current energy problems.

The United States currently has 149 refineries producing 16.9 billion barrels-84 percent of U.S. consumption- per day. No new refineries have been built since 1976, and over 170 have stopped operating since then. Many refineries are operating at over 95 percent capacity, which can be harmful to facilities and reduce the flexibility of the industry.The geography of refining facilities and transportation routes also poses challenges to energy supplies...

EIA has reported that tight refinery capacity contributes to price volatility, while its effects on actual prices are negligible. However, EIA does contend that U.S. refining capacity will need to be expanded in order to keep pace with growing gasoline demand. Refining industry representatives often argue that complicated, stringent environmental regulations and an inefficient permitting process imposed on refineries are largely responsible for the high cost of doing business, leading to tight refinery capacity.

Industry officials argue that the cost of refining could be lowered, and that increased refining capacity is necessary for the long-term energy independence of the U.S. They claim that simplifying environmental regulations will lead to an increase in the number of refineries that are built because of decrease in the cost of refining, which will ultimately lead to lower gas prices for consumers. If oil consumption continues to rise in the U.S., the nation will have to import increased amounts of expensive refined oil rather than refine it at home.

According to the American Petroleum Institute (API), a medium size refinery may need to comply with a half a million federal environmental requirements each year in addition to local and state regulations. There are at least fifty federal air programs that apply to refineries including the New Source Review of the Clean Air Act. Regulations affect emissions of pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, particulates, volatile organic compounds, and benzene. API reports that in 2002, refinery operators had about $5.4 billion in environmental expenditures, defined as costs that would not have been incurred if environmental issues had not been considered by the industry. Industry lobbyists say that the complicated network of regulations, coupled with an extensive permitting process, causes potential investors to choose to put their money other places, and this is why no new refineries have been built in nearly thirty years... noted by Senator Jeff Bingaman (DNM), there is no "silver bullet" that will solve the problem of high gas prices. There is no doubt that refining companies spend billions to comply with environmental regulations. Whether the regulations are the cause of tight refining capacity depends on who is consulted. If the cost of refining could somehow be reduced, it is uncertain whether savings of energy companies will necessarily fall back into the pockets of consumers.

Is anyone willing to lessen environmental requirements for US-based refineries?

While America dithers on adding refining capacity, Saudi Arabia is responding to market conditions:

...Saudi Arabia is responding to calls for refinery capacity increases with a multi-billion dollar investment programme. As well as its status as the biggest oil producer in the region, Saudi Arabia also ranks as the largest refiner in the Middle East and is a growing exporter of refined products particularly liquefied petroleum gas and naphtha. Multi-billion dollar refinery expansions will make this growing capacity increasingly important to global oil markets.

Apart from rising oil prices global energy markets are also facing a shortage of refined products due to an almost total embargo on new refineries in the US and Europe because of strict environmental rules. Pressures have increased due to the year on year increase in world demands for oil especially from China and India...

Over the last two decades, Saudi Aramco has developed from principally an oil and gas producer to an integrated company with significant refining, shipping and distribution assets. The process has been led through a diversification and integration of operations via strategic joint venture alliances with leading refining and marketing companies in a variety of markets.

As a result, the company is a major participant in four refining and marketing joint ventures located outside the Kingdom...

The article also talks about how China is the world's second largest importer and Saudi Arabia is their main foreign oil supplier.

This graph highlights the tightness of worldwide refining capacity.

For a more indepth and complete report, go here for information on the demand for petroleum products, refining capacity, effects of product specifications. The report reinforces how worldwide demand is growing, there is a shift toward lighter products, concern over environmental considerations - especially sulfur - has spread worldwide, excess refining capacity worldwide has essentially disappeared and there will be a need for significant new refineries, building new refineries takes years, reduced sulfur requirements has increased competition and price premiums for sweet crude oil as well as changes to refinery processing equipment, and how tighter product specs in the US will make it more economic to ship oil products to the Far East instead of the US.

We cannot complain about prices or our lack of energy independence unless we have first agreed to make the hard choices necessary to increase our available supply of energy resources or gain our independence as a country.

Instead of simplistically blaming the oil industry, true leaders would engage in a reasoned and substantive public debate about the various alternatives so support can begin to coalesce around choices which represent an informed consensus for our society.

Attorney General Candidate Bill Harsch

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to a letter sent out by the Campaign Committee to elect Bill Harsch, Harsch's campaign for Attorney General is motivated by some very specific complaints against current AG Patrick Lynch...

Justice is not a privilege reserved for elite politicians, high-priced lobbyists, union bosses, and corporate fat cats. Justice is a right to which all Rhode Islanders are entitled.

Patrick Lynch's tenure as Attorney General is a paltry record of justice delayed and justice denied. Just consider the facts. The health and safety of Rhode Island's children are threatened by the weakest sex offender registration laws in the country, while Patrick uses his office as a billboard to proclaim the "wisdom" of Spider-Man. Our roadway safety is compromised by the highest rate of drunk driving incidents in the country, while as our chief law enforcement officer Patrick accepts thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from liquor interests. John Celona's prosecution and the related investigation into corporate corruption in our halls of government is quietly left to the federal government, while as our constitutional guardian of justice Patrick takes no action against his former lobbying clients, such as CVS. Need we mention how Patrick has ignominiously bumbled and fumbled his way through the Station Nightclub Fire investigation?

The people of Rhode Island do not merely deserve better. We deserve equal justice!

We need Bill Harsch as our next Attorney General. Bill Harsch will bring a refreshing commitment to justice for all Rhode Islanders to the Attorney General's office. Bill will not be beholden to any special interests, family relations, or political alliances. Bill is an experienced attorney and public servant whose dedication to preserving our rights and liberties by ensuring open, honest, and efficient government, and aggressively enforcing the criminal and civil laws of our state without regard for the race, wealth or political connections of the parties concerned, is unimpeachable.

We know Rhode Island can be a better place. We know justice can, must, and will be done. We know, with your help, Bill Harsch can win this election. Join us in this endeavor. Please support Bill Harsch for Attorney General.

Can You Define Exactly What Actions Were Authorized by Roe v. Wade?

Hadley Arkes recently published an editorial entitled Reversing the Tables: Still time for Republicans to seize the hearing moment, in which he wrote:

...Dianne Feinstein affects a reasonable style — and then, without strain she attributes to the Nazis a religious passion and connects them then with other people, among us, animated by religious conviction. She likens Nazis in Germany to serious Christians in America — and from the Republicans comes no word of reproach. Once again, the party has taken the strategy of going into the clinch: Offer praise to the nominee, insist that we respect the intellect of Roberts, and confirm him without political sniping. But nothing is done to expose the emptiness of the arguments offered by most of the Democrats — and lay the groundwork then for a Republican counterattack.

A Teaching Moment?

...I suggested a quick two-step for making the issue of abortion work against the Democrats, and with that step, virtually bringing the attacks to a stop...

Even a deft nominee might have difficulty in converting the exchanges into a conversation that would draw out the questioners and expose them to serious embarrassment...

...But what if the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee did not let [Kennedy and his ilk] slide away from his embarrassment on...the most vexing issue of all, the matter of Roe v. Wade?

In the course of an exchange, as questions are posed, he or the Republicans on the committee could point out that even lawyers are often confused about the meaning of Roe. One friend, at a leading law school in the country, found that only 5 of the 25 colleagues she polled could give an accurate account of Roe. If they could be drawn into this question, Senators Leahy and Kennedy might be tempted to draw on the reigning clichés of the day and say that Roe established the right of a woman to choose an abortion in the first three months of her pregnancy. But Judge Roberts could decorously correct them. What Roe and its companion case (Doe v. Bolton) established was the right to order an abortion throughout the entire length of the pregnancy for any reason at all. It could be ordered even at the point of birth if a woman would suffer distress — some strain on her "mental health" — if that choice were denied her. Is that what the senators would have Judge Roberts affirm? If so, they would be demanding, loudly, in public, a position that is supported by only 22-24 per cent of the country. That is not how most people understand the "right to abortion."...

But in holding back, as they must, they give John Roberts the chance to draw, even gently, this first critical admission: that even the pro-choicers will concede that there are instances in which abortions would be unjustified, and could rightly be forbidden. With that first step in place, it is simply a matter of pivoting to the second step, which finally puts the problem away. Judge Roberts could quickly — and decisively — note that he may not say more: For him to pronounce, right then, on the restrictions that are justified or unjustified is virtually to invite the legislation, and the litigation, that he would be asked later to judge. End of story, end of exchange. And the end, perhaps, of the subject of abortion in these hearings.

It Depends What Your Meaning of "Settled" Is?

Unless the Democrats want to press Roberts on what he could have meant when he pronounced the issue of abortion as "settled." I myself have argued for years that the holding in Roe was indefensible at the moral root, and as John Roberts said, in a brief of 14 years ago, that the decision finds no basis in the text or history of the Constitution. And yet, as a matter of prudence I too could sign on to the notion that Roe could be considered settled law, for the public has evidently come to believe that something of that decision deserves to be sustained. It turns out also that a large portion of people in the country, even "educated" people, seem to believe that the overturning of Roe would mean that the Court had rendered abortion illegal in all parts of the country. Under those conditions, the prudent course could be to avoid setting off a panic and treat Roe as settled in some way for the moment. And as it turns out, Roe could be overruled, in effect, in a series of cases, without the need to pronounce it overruled. As we have seen in the surveys, the support for "abortion rights" peels away as we move, case by case.

At this point, Republicans could weigh in and offer some telling help. They might ask Judge Roberts whether the decision in Roe v. Wade "settled" anything, or even said anything, about these kinds of questions, which continue to arise in litigation:

A legislature accepts the "freedom to choose," but insists that a woman use the form of abortion more likely to bring forth the child alive. Is the right to abortion a right to be separated from an unwanted pregnancy, or a right to insure the death of the child? In 1976, in the Danforth case, the Court deflected one attempt, of a legislature, to encourage the abortion that was not lethal. But was this matter ever addressed in Roe, and might the problem not be posed again?

If a child survives a "live-birth" or an induced abortion, is there an obligation to sustain the child? Or is the right to abortion the right to an "effective abortion" or a dead child? One federal judge held that the child, in this setting, was not protected by the law; but Congress, in 2002, decided it was — and no Democrat voted in opposition (the Born-Alive Infants' Protection Act).

In the classic understanding, an action taken out of ignorance is not a voluntary action. May a legislature act to insure that the decision to abort is not taken out of ignorance, or that a woman is not coerced into the decision? For some it has made a difference to know that there is a beating heart, or that the child is sucking and moving her tongue. Is there anything in Roe v. Wade that bars the authorities from providing this information, or even asking a woman what she wishes to know about the state of the child she is carrying? Or for that matter, is it incompatible with the "right to choose" that a woman be required to learn something more about the surgery she is choosing when she is ending another human life?

No surgery in this country can be performed on minors without the consent of their parents, except of course for abortions. If a legislature insists that the parents are informed, or that they are available to offer help with medication, does Roe v. Wade actually say that the decision must always be left in the hands of strangers who are judges, rather than the family? Could Congress forbid the taking of a minor across the lines of a state for the purpose precisely of evading these restrictions, which are still compatible in principle with the "right to choose" abortion?

Judge Roberts could honestly report that none of these matters is taken up in Roe, and none of them is foreclosed by any principle of "choice" articulated in that decision. None of them, therefore, is part of any law "settled" by Roe v. Wade. Just what part is settled will have to be left to judgment of the Court, as the problem is played out case-by-case...

The critical turn in the law may come if Justice Roberts helps to flip the decision that struck down the laws on partial-birth abortion in the states...If that is done, the Court will be saying, in effect, that it is in business now to consider anew this long chain of cases offering restrictions of various kinds on abortion. What would follow then is a long line of cases, moving in small steps, with the Court upholding one restriction after another on abortion, each one modest, each one regarded by the public as plainly reasonable. When that happens, the regime of Roe v. Wade will have come to an end, without even the need to pronounce it over.

Here is another editorial on Roe v. Wade.

The Religious Bigotry Continues...In Full View, For All To See

A new editorial entitled The JFK Question: Sens. Specter and Feinstein impose an unconstitutional religious test has these words about the confirmation hearings for John Roberts:

...we appear to be traveling in the wrong direction. Article VI of the Constitution prohibits a religious test from being imposed on nominees to public office. The clause was motivated by the experience of Catholics in the Maryland colony and Baptists in Virginia who had been the targets of Great Britain's two Test Acts. These infamous laws of intolerance sought to prevent anyone who did not belong to the Church of England from holding public office. The Test Acts did not say that Catholics could not hold office; the bigotry was more subtle. Officials questioned would-be public servants to determine whether they believed in particular tenets of the Catholic faith.

While questioning John Roberts on Tuesday, Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter asked: "Would you say that your views are the same as those expressed by John Kennedy when he was a candidate, and he spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September of 1960: 'I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.' "

Hours later, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California made it worse: "In 1960, there was much debate about President John F. Kennedy's faith and what role Catholicism would play in his administration. At that time, he pledged to address the issues of conscience out of a focus on the national interests, not out of adherence to the dictates of one's religion. . . . My question is: Do you?"

How insulting. How offensive. How invidiously ignorant to question someone like Judge Roberts with such apparent presumption and disdain for the religion he practices. The JFK question is not just the camel's nose of religious intolerance; it is the whole smelly camel.

Outrage over this line of questioning was ecumenical. In his new blog,, Jeff Ballabon of the Center for Jewish Values posted this from the Senate's hallways:

I mean how grotesque is it that the Left feels free to indulge openly in half-century-old religious prejudice? This is not some crazy person standing outside with a rusty hanger--it is a United States Senator in her official capacity on national television. And this is no off-the-cuff blurt--these questions are excruciatingly researched and drafted and worded and reviewed and approved and choreographed by teams of liberal lawyers and advisors both on her staff and off. She--the senator who keeps harping at this hearing that her concern is the protection of people of faith--thinks an obnoxious question born of religious bigotry is legitimate because it was posed in 1960?

Non-Catholic Christians also spoke up. Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America issued this statement:

It is precisely this kind of anti-Christian religious litmus test that many Americans find deeply offensive. . . . Feinstein is dipping her toe into the very ugly, muddy waters of religious bigotry. America's Founding Fathers considered religious beliefs to be an asset, even essential to public officeholders. Sadly, Sen. Feinstein apparently believes the opposite of those wise men to whom we owe gratitude for our free and strong country.

Catholic leaders were stunned...Mr. Cella drew distinctions:

Of the two Senators remarks, Senator Feinstein's were the most disturbing because she referred to the Catholic faith as 'dictates.' It shows her callous insensitivity and ignorance of the teachings of the Catholic faith...

The JFK question has no place in a Senate confirmation process. The Constitution says so...

...John Roberts will be only the 11th Catholic (out of 109 justices) to serve on the Supreme Court in its 215-year history. But his confirmation may be a historic first. It marks the introduction, on the record, of a constitutionally prohibited religious test for a Supreme Court nominee. We are going in the wrong direction.

This issue was also discussed in an earlier posting.

An Even Livelier Experiment

Carroll Andrew Morse

As an experiment of our own, AnchorRising will be liveblogging responses to tonight’s installment of “A Lively Experiment”, Rhode Island public television’s public affairs roundtable (Channel 36, 7:30 pm). This is not intended as a comprehensive review of the program, but as a supplement helping to add ideas and insights to the existing dialogue.


They just said their good-bye to Steve Kass (Kass is leaving to become Don Carcieri's communications director).

Topic 1: According to all 4 panelists, Steve Laffey has no chance. Because he is he is too conservative for the electorate (Lila Sapinsley) and becasue the electorate is too conservative for him (Dave Layman). As has been the case so far, most of the Laffey/Chafee discussion quickly becomes a Laffey discussion. Is this a good thing for an incumbent Senator?

Topic 2: Credit to Roger Begin; he wants tougher controls against voter fraud. Most panelists agree. Maureen Moakley has some reservations.

Topic 3: Roberts confirmation. Sapinsley, a Chafee Republican is strongly behind Roberts. Will Senator Chafee's support be as strong?

Begin: We need a climate in this state that does not alienate successful people. This is Begin's second major break with Dem CW. Is he planning to run for something? Or are you free to say what you want when you're not running for anything?
Sapinsley: Pays tribute to Kass, but adds that Don Carcieri is too conservative!
Layman: Tribute to Kass.
Moakley: State legislature shouldn't repeal gas tax. The country needs to find energy alternatives instead.

September 14, 2005

Racial Disaster

Justin Katz

In "Katrina and the Media's Demand for Racial Division," I note that Hurricane Katrina seems to have undone some of the good that came from the evil of September 11 by rejuvenating racial divisiveness as a focus of conversation. Depressing. Sickening. Discouraging. And yet there's hope if only we can find the patience to let the unimaginative among us think matters through... ideally without further catastrophes for precipitation.

Drinking the Kool-Aid

Tom DeLay declares there is no fat left in the federal budget:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said yesterday that Republicans have done so well in cutting spending that he declared an "ongoing victory," and said there is simply no fat left to cut in the federal budget. Mr. DeLay was defending Republicans' choice to borrow money and add to this year's expected $331 billion deficit to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief. Some Republicans have said Congress should make cuts in other areas, but Mr. DeLay said that doesn't seem possible.

"My answer to those that want to offset the spending is sure, bring me the offsets, I'll be glad to do it. But nobody has been able to come up with any yet," the Texas Republican told reporters at his weekly briefing.

Asked if that meant the government was running at peak efficiency, Mr. DeLay said, "Yes, after 11 years of Republican majority we've pared it down pretty good."

Congress has passed two hurricane relief bills totaling $62.3 billion, all of which will be added to the deficit...

Some Republicans wanted to offer an amendment, including cuts, to pay for hurricane spending but were denied the chance under procedural rules.

"This is hardly a well-oiled machine," said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican. "There's a lot of fat to trim. ... I wonder if we've been serving in the same Congress."

American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene said federal spending already was "spiraling out of control" before Katrina, and conservatives are "increasingly losing faith in the president and the Republican leadership in Congress."

"Excluding military and homeland security, American taxpayers have witnessed the largest spending increase under any preceding president and Congress since the Great Depression," he said...

DeLay and his gang are drinking some serious Kool-Aid that only gets served up to people who spend too much time in Washington, D.C. and, thereby, lose touch with economic reality.

This posting extends the arguments made here and here.

How can these people talk and keep a straight face?

Senate Roundup II

Carroll Andrew Morse

State Republican chairwoman Patricia Morgan says the $500,000 in national support for the state party will go for "party building". The Projo, on the other hand, quotes a letter saying that the money is designated for furthering the campaign of Senator Lincoln Chafee...

A letter to the Republican National Committee signed by party leaders last night says the state leaders "approve any and all pre-primary financial assistance and in-kind aid the RNC may choose to provide in furtherance of the U.S. Senate campaign of Senator Lincoln Chafee."
But a spokesman for Senator Chafee is on record as saying that the Chafee campaign is not interested in national money. This is from the Warwick Beacon...
As for reports that the national GOP will withhold $500,000 in campaign funds from Rhode Island if the Senate race results in a Republican primary, Hourahan said that would be a great shame and would harm many state and local-level Republicans seeking office in 2006.

“It would be a huge opportunity [if the state got the money],” Hourahan said.

That being said, Hourahan also said the Chafee campaign had no intention of taking a dime of that money, should it come through anyway.

Is someone in the Republican party of Rhode Island going to tell people what is really going on?

Senate Roundup I

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here's Sheldon Whitehouse's response to the Brown University Senate preference poll...

Meanwhile, yesterday, the Whitehouse camp chose to focus on Chafee's 3-point "downslide," since the last Brown poll in June had him leading Democrat Whitehouse with 41 percent of the vote, and now it is 38 percent.
Attention Whitehouse Campaign: The same poll shows a 10 to 11 point drop in support for your own efforts. Do you think that a 10 point drop is more or less significant than a 3 point one? (And wouldn't that have been something worth pointing out in the Projo article?)

September 13, 2005

Is Laffey vs. Chafee Really a Battle Between Visionary Principles & a Reactionary Establishment? Unfortunately Not.

There are numerous aspects of Steve Laffey's personal life history that many of us can relate to and all of us can respect. He is a living embodiment of the American Dream, achieving great things through the liberty found in America combined with getting a great education and then working hard.

If you read his announcement speech from last week, how can anyone not respond favorably to his working numerous jobs as a kid, earning a scholarship to a fine college like Bowdoin and becoming the first member of his family to go to college, attending a great business school at Harvard, and working his way up to be President of Morgan Keegan while still in his 30's? All in all, it is a wonderful human interest story.

No less impressive is what he has started to accomplish in Cranston. He took a city on the verge of bankruptcy and led a meaningful change effort by publicly telling the truth about numerous independently verifiable problems, such as the crossing guard fiasco. He did step on the toes of some powerful interest groups and helped elevate those issues to statewide visibility. He was bold and many of us have admired his actions.

Now, I previously wrote why I think so little of Senator Chafee and the state Republican party. As a Republican myself, it would be a kind understatement to say I find many of the party's leadership and their actions to be unimaginative and disappointing. I find it easy to respect a principled liberal, even if I thoroughly disagree with their policy preferences. What I don't respect is vacillation and that is Senator Chafee's trademark on a number of key issues.

That posting also stated that I thought it was a mistake - for different reasons than the Establishment has pushed - for Laffey to run against Chafee for the U.S. Senate seat. I thought it was a mistake for two reasons.

First, while he has started a turnaround in Cranston, the job is not complete. As a business executive myself who has led 6 successful turnarounds over the years, I believe the turnaround in Cranston will only be complete when there are significant and more permanent structural changes to Cranston's financial future. Laffey deserves huge credit for stabilizing a wildly unstable mess and saving the town from bankruptcy. But can anyone say the turnaround is truly complete? Are the public sector union contracts across all aspects of Cranston materially different from when he first took office - so the past cannot repeat itself when some spineless politicians take his place? Are those contracts sufficiently different now so that the initial property tax increases he imposed can be rolled back? I don't think so and that is why I thought one serious option he could have acted on was to stay and finish the turnaround. At the same time, I can also understand why his ambition might drive him to think bigger than Cranston.

Second, he could have thought bigger than Cranston by running for Treasurer. That would have played to his work experience and allowed him to focus on the brewing public pension financial disaster at both the state and national level. I lived in California when Jerry Brown became Secretary of State in the post-Watergate world of 1974 and turned what had been a sleepy position into one with national visibility. He was governor four years later in 1978 and a presidential candidate by 1980.

That being said, now that Laffey has opted for the U.S. Senate race, I read his announcement speech with great anticipation.

At first I was not disappointed. His speech hit a number of highly relevant and hot issues - such as outrageous public sector union demands, corporate welfare for the sugar industry, the excessive highway and energy bills, and a complete lack of spending restraint in general - that I have written about over the last year and are either linked together in a recent posting entitled Rancid Pork Leaves a Bad Taste in Your Mouth or contained in postings entitled Has the GOP Lost Its Soul? and Economics 101: Never Underestimate the Incentive Power of Marginal Tax Cuts.

We do need a more vigorous public debate about these issues, all of which center on the core question of what role government should play in our society - including how the size of government grows ever larger and, therefore, more subject to capture by special interests due to its fundamentally misguided structural incentives.

And I thought the Laffey campaign slogan of "The smallest state in the Union will have the strongest voice in Washington" was wonderfully clever.

But I found key portions of his speech to be troubling. Laffey's speech contains words that no informed or business savvy person would say - unless he was pandering for votes. That possibility is most disappointing because it suggests opportunism - not principled behavior - is driving the Laffey campaign.

[Full disclosure: I have worked in the healthcare industry since 1983, spending most of my time since 1985 working in venture capital-financed startup companies. I worked briefly in the energy industry during 1981-1983, with a 1981 summer job in Saudi Arabia working for Aramco and then worked for ARCO in the USA during the subsequent two years.]

Here are the healthcare-related words from Laffey's speech that bothered me:

The senior citizens of Rhode Island are paying twice the price for prescription drugs that seniors pay in Canada for the exact same prescriptions. And yet, our seniors are banned from buying cheaper medicine in Canada and Medicare is prohibited from negotiating for cheaper drugs through group buying. Why? Because the big drug companies have a financial strangehold on the politicians in Washington keeping prices high...while 2/3 of our seniors, like my parents, cannot afford their medicine because they depend on social security checks as their primary source of income...

In 2006, we need to set our own concrete goals for progressive ideas to come to fruition...ideas like offering Americans lower prices on prescription drugs as low as those offered to the rest of the world...

Someone needs to stand up and fight when the drug companies won't let our seniors buy their prescriptions from Canada at a discount price...

Those words are nothing less than pure demagoguery. See this separate posting for specific counter arguments.

Here are the energy-related comments from Laffey's speech that bothered me:

Look at what's happening with gas prices and energy policy. The car companies have the technology today to make cars with double the gas mileage, but they won't do it. So America stays dependent on Saudi Arabian oil, with tragic consequences when we don't have to. We have the technology to design alternative energy solutions today. What we lack is the political will to do it...

Our lack of an energy policy today is a crisis on par with these challeges America has faced over the last seven decades...

Someone needs to stand up and fight when the oil companies get huge subsidies while we do nothing to reduce our dependence on foreign oil and we're stuck paying more than $3.00 for a gallon of gasoline...

See this separate posting for specific comments on energy issues.

Laffey's comments fail to address the complete set of issues that matter to working people in Rhode Island in a balanced, factual manner.

Here is my point of view:

Corporate welfare programs lobbied for by Big Business are nothing more than a hidden tax on working people that benefits only the few and powerful. Such taxes are unfair and unjust. But, as bad as they are, it would be unreasonable to focus just on the corporate welfare programs.

The ever-increasing regulatory burdens imposed by Big Government are at least as big a problem as they perpetuate the power of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats who impose unilateral costs on companies. Such burdens then show up as some combination of higher product prices to consumers or lost jobs due to the stifling of private sector innovation - both of which represent additional hidden taxes paid for by working people. Such taxes are also unfair and unjust.

The Establishment, consisting of Big Business and Big Government, has an incentive to propagate the growth of government. Why? Because such growth leads to more assets to tap into or control for their benefit. It provides the Big Business lobby with an incentive to pursue more corporate welfare programs and the Big Government lobby with an incentive to pursue more government regulation of both our economic and personal lives. All of which leaves the working people of America with less freedom: less financial freedom due to higher taxes and higher prices plus fewer opportunities to live the American Dream due to lower economic growth.

Unfortunately, Laffey's words have confirmed that the Laffey vs. Chafee race is not a battle between Principles and the Establishment. With little use for the philosophically unmoored Establishment and its utilitarian focus on maintaining power, my greatest wish continues to be for a leader who, driven by empirically-based principles, stands up and tells the truth. Laffey's comments, particularly about the drug industry, don't tell the truth and amount to nothing more than an unprincipled pandering for votes. He is a smart enough man to know better and that means his ego is not under control. His words, if implemented, would lead to nothing less than a long-term policy fiasco.

But, even more importantly, this isn't just about Laffey and his individual candidacy. My larger concern is that the failing status quo of the Establishment will become even more entrenched should they successfully swat down his candidacy - and his words have given them further ammunition to do just that. That further entrenchment will only magnify over time the hidden costs paid for solely by the working people of Rhode Island, adversely impacting the ability of many to realize the American Dream.

So all of us are still waiting for the first U.S. Senate candidate - from either party - to show the will to stand up for the hard-working taxpayers across the state by truly challenging the status quo of the Establishment.

The Most Recent Brown University Senate Preference Poll Says…

Carroll Andrew Morse

…either that the race is extremely unsettled or that Rhode Island hates everyone. According to the results of the September 10-11 poll every Senate candidate has lost support since June. Both Democratic and both Republican candidates have lost support in every hypothetical general election matchup asked about. Who says that politics is a zero sum game!

Lincoln Chafee did best by losing least. Whether facing Sheldon Whitehouse or Matt Brown, Chafee’s support declined by only 3 percentage points since June. Steve Laffey lost 7 points in a hypothetical matchup with Sheldon Whitehouse, 4 points in a matchup with Matt Brown. The Democrats’ loss of support was more dramatic. Both Whitehouse and Brown lost 10 to 11 points of support no matter who the hypothetical opponent was.

Given that the campaign has been a fairly low-profile fund raising and endorsement seeking affair so far, with no momentum changing individual gaffes or system-wide scandals, I am at a loss to explain why everyone has lost support since June. Anyone have any ideas?

Here’s the full results, arranged to highlight the field-wide loss off support.

Lincoln Chafee’s support versus…
…Matt Brown declined 3%, 44% to 41%.
…Sheldon Whitehouse declined 3%, 41% to 38%,

Steve Laffey’s support versus…
…Matt Brown declined 4%, 30% to 26%,
…Sheldon Whitehouse declined 7%, 32% to 25%.

Sheldon Whitehouse’s support versus…
…Steve Laffey declined 10%, 45% to 35%,
…Lincoln Chafee declined 11%, 36% to 25%.

Matt Brown’s support versus
…Steve Laffey declined 10%, 40% to 30%,
…Lincoln Chafee declined 11%, 29% to 18%.

A Snapshot of Senator Chafee's Problem

Carroll Andrew Morse

If you want a snapshot of why Senator Lincoln Chafee is facing a primary challenge, you can find it in this quote (from Jim Baron's Pawtucket Times article) from the Senator…

So having had a hand in starting Laffey's political career, Chafee said, "I will take great satisfaction in ending it."
He repeated the sentiment on Friday evening’s WJAR 6-o’clock news story about his visit hurricane barrier, when asked about the Laffey challenge.

Now ask yourself, or better yet, ask Senator Chafee the following questions. Did the Senator take great satisfaction in ending the political career of Robert Weygand, his 2000 election opponent? If the Senator wins the Republican primary, will he take great satisfaction in ending the political careers of Sheldon Whitehouse or Matt Brown?

To the best of my knowledge, when facing a Democrat, the Senator has never publicly described his challenge as ending his opponent's political career, nor has he declared that ending a Democratic opponent's political career will give him great satisifaction. Senator Chafee would never display the level of personal animus he has shown towards Steve Laffey, a fellow Republican, towards a liberal or a Democrat, yet he somehow still expects unquestioning Republican support.

September 12, 2005

Has the GOP Lost Its Soul? Part II

John Fund has written a powerful editorial entitled Hey, Big Spender: FDR and Truman made cuts when crises demanded it. Why won't Bush?. Here are some highlights:

With almost no debate and with precious few provisions for oversight, Congress has passed President Bush's mammoth $62 billion request for emergency Katrina relief. House Speaker Denny Hastert says the final total will "probably [be] under the cost of the highway bill" that Congress passed last month with a pricetag of $286.4 billion.

Despite such sums, there are few calls for offsetting cuts in other programs, apart from antiwar opportunists who see in Katrina a chance to undermine the Iraq effort. Last week Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma asked White House Budget Director Josh Bolten if he planned to continue to pursue budget reductions the administration had already proposed in its January budget. Mr. Bolten said he "didn't have time" to worry about that.

All this leaves Mr. Coburn and other budget hawks wondering what has happened to what might be called "the Republican wing of the Republican Party." "The president could exercise leadership by insisting that we set priorities and offset the cost of Katrina relief by making changes elsewhere," says Mr. Coburn. "Sadly, we don't have that leadership."...

Families hit by any disaster realize they have to reassess their situation and change their circumstances. There was a time when the nation acted the same way. After Pearl Harbor, the country sprang into action to win the war against Japan and Germany. But it realized that the old way of doing things wouldn't do. Dramatic changes in government policy resulted.

After Pearl Harbor, it's generally known that Franklin D. Roosevelt dramatically expanded the bite of the federal income tax so that, in the words of one tax professor, it "spread from the country club...down to the railroad tracks and then over to the other side of the tracks."

Less well known is FDR's decision to slash nondefense spending by over 20% between 1942 and 1944. Among the programs that were eliminated entirely were FDR's own prized creations. By 1944, such pillars of the New Deal as the Civilian Conservation Corps, the National Youth Administration and the Work Projects Administration had been abolished. In 1939 those three programs had represented one-eighth of the federal budget. Roosevelt and the Congress of his day knew what to do in an emergency.

Indeed, FDR chose to begin the reordering of budget priorities long before Pearl Harbor. In October 1939, one month after Hitler invaded Poland, Roosevelt wrote Harold Smith, his budget director, ordering him to hold budgets for all government programs "at the present level and below, if possible." The next month he told Smith that "the administration will not undertake any new activities, even if laudable ones." He told reporters the next year that his policy would be to cut nonmilitary programs to the bone. He kept his word. Between 1939 and 1942, spending for nondefense programs was cut by 22%. Everyone realized that no matter how popular or politically entrenched a program, the nation's priorities had to change.

Harry S. Truman acted with equal decisiveness after the Korean War began in 1950. In just one year, Truman and a Democratic Congress cut nonmilitary spending by 28%.

But the attitude of the nation's political leaders changed after the beginning of the Great Society in the 1960s. Lyndon B. Johnson told advisers he could deliver "both guns and butter" and proceeded to avoid any hard choices between his favored domestic programs and the Vietnam War. Between 1965 and 1974, the fighting in Vietnam led to a 57% hike in defense spending. During the same period of time, nondefense spending also surged, nearly tripling over the same period.

Mitch Daniels, Mr. Bush's former budget director and now the governor of Indiana, says, "We rightly remember the dismal consequences, both economic and fiscal, of the refusal to make hard choices back then." They included inflation, which led to by foolhardy wage-and-price controls. The 1970s became a decade of economic stagnation under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

Mr. Daniels proposed the country make hard choices after the 9/11 attacks, urging spending restraint. In a speech in 2001, he noted that "to the average citizen, shifting resources when priorities change makes simple common sense. When the new priority is the survival of Americans, the cause is even more obvious, a straightforward matter of battle stations vs. business-as-usual." But Mr. Daniels was thwarted by both a White House and Congress who paid lip service to spending restraint but never practiced it. Total federal spending is now up 20% in real terms since 2001...

...I fear that the White House and Congress have decided instead to throw money at the ravaged Gulf Coast and ignore the example of FDR and Truman...

This posting builds on an earlier posting entitled Has the GOP Lost Its Soul? with its many links to other postings.

John Roberts Confirmation Hearings

Marc Comtois

The hearings for Chief Justice-in-waiting John Roberts begin today and can be seen and heard via C-SPAN beginning at 11:30 AM. As C-SPAN "warns," however:

On Monday, the multi-day Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge John Roberts begin. They are expected to last all week. First, will be a series of opening statements by the eighteen members of the Senate Judiciary Cmte. These should take up most of the afternoon.
So get your hip-waders ready. For his part, Senate Judiciary member John Cornyn has outlined three things he's going to be looking for throughout the hearings.
Will my colleagues misuse the term "judicial activism"?

Will my colleagues ask Judge Roberts questions they know he cannot answer?

Will my colleagues accuse Judge Roberts of being an extremist?

Cornyn elaborates on all three, so it's worth reading the piece.


Here is the text of Judge Roberts opening statement. Here is a substantive selection from his statement:
Judges and justices are servants of the law, not the other way around. Judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them.

The role of an umpire and a judge is critical. They make sure everybody plays by the rules.

But it is a limited role. Nobody ever went to a ball game to see the umpire.

Judges have to have the humility to recognize that they operate within a system of precedent, shaped by other judges equally striving to live up to the judicial oath.

And judges have to have the modesty to be open in the decisional process to the considered views of their colleagues on the bench.

Mr. Chairman, when I worked in the Department of Justice, in the office of the solicitor general, it was my job to argue cases for the United States before the Supreme court.

I always found it very moving to stand before the justices and say, "I speak for my country."

But it was after I left the department and began arguing cases against the United States that I fully appreciated the importance of the Supreme Court and our constitutional system.

Here was the United States, the most powerful entity in the world, aligned against my client. And yet, all I had to do was convince the court that I was right on the law and the government was wrong and all that power and might would recede in deference to the rule of law.

That is a remarkable thing.

It is what we mean when we say that we are a government of laws and not of men. It is that rule of law that protects the rights and liberties of all Americans. It is the envy of the world. Because without the rule of law, any rights are meaningless.

President Ronald Reagan used to speak of the Soviet constitution, and he noted that it purported to grant wonderful rights of all sorts to people. But those rights were empty promises, because that system did not have an independent judiciary to uphold the rule of law and enforce those rights. We do, because of the wisdom of our founders and the sacrifices of our heroes over the generations to make their vision a reality.

Mr. Chairman, I come before the committee with no agenda. I have no platform. Judges are not politicians who can promise to do certain things in exchange for votes.

I have no agenda, but I do have a commitment. If I am confirmed, I will confront every case with an open mind. I will fully and fairly analyze the legal arguments that are presented. I will be open to the considered views of my colleagues on the bench. And I will decide every case based on the record, according to the rule of law, without fear or favor, to the best of my ability. And I will remember that it's my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.

September 11, 2005

Laffey vs. Chafee: Ideals or Power?

Marc Comtois

The senate race between Laffey and Chafee offers a rare opportunity for the Rhode Island Republican party--both its leadership and, especially, the rank and file--to define itself. For decades now, the "traditional" (elected) Rhode Island Republican seems to almost pathologically belong to the "can't-we-just-get-along" club. They smile and wink and get gut-punched by the Democrats to which they respond with an "aw, shucks" and keep smiling and winking. The leadership of the RIGOP long ago seems to have given up hope of real, statewide political strength. Instead, they too-often seem happy to continue playing their role of Washington General-like foil to the dominant, Globe-trotting Democrats.

With this sort of mindset, it must seem to them well-nigh a miracle that they have managed to maintain a U.S. Senate seat. They've played it safe and won a small piece of the pie. Now is not the time to risk it! Instead, they want to trot out the prevent defense and hold on to what they've got. Despite the perception, this tactic actually does work in football, but it often fails in politics.

Why don't they support Steve Laffey's candidacy? Partly it's because he's not one of "them", the establishment RIGOP, the whole handful of them who have led Republicans to the Governorship and not much else. (As an aside, we shouldn't forget that Gov. Carcieri was the outsider when he ran for, and won, the Governorship). Partly its because Steve Laffey seems like too big of a risk and they don't think he can win statewide. I have also expressed some of those same doubts (here and here). A smidgen of dislike can also be thrown in as many probably just don't like the Steve Laffey "act." But I think the largest reason as to why the don't support Steve Laffey is because he isn't their kind of Republican.

Nationwide, conservatives generally support Republicans because, on a broad range of issues, Republicans tilt towards those values held by the average conservative voter. Much of the leadership of the RIGOP does not hold conservative ideals (if Sen. Chafee's record is any indication of what a traditional RI Republican believes) and seems to routinely attempt to distance itself from the conservatives within its ranks.

For instance, in a recent airing of PBS-RI's "Lively Experiment", former Lt. Governor stated that Laffey was drawing support from the "extreme right-wing" (I saw it myself, no link to a transcript, but I'll keep looking). Does that sound like a Republican amenable to party-building and fraternity by embracing the entire spectrum of Republican voters? And in the coming months, don't let them fool you with the soon-to-be oft-parrotted reference to Laffey's property tax hike in Cranston, either. Sen. Chafee is one of those Washington baseline budgeteers who thinks its a matter of course that tax-cuts have to be "paid for" and regularly receives mostly poor grades on tax issues.

It is ironic that 50%-Linc will be supported by the conservative Bush Administration that think it needs him to maintain the Republican Senate majority. They will do everything to keep Chafee in, which will include supporting a candidate against the wishes of their conservative (albeit relatively small) base in the Ocean State. It is the ultimate example of being on the wrong side of the ledger in political economics. Thus, RI conservatives have been left with a choice: standing up for political ideals in their state or striving to maintain national political power at their own continued expense?

Right now, many believe that a vote for the candidate with more conservative ideals, Steve Laffey, could result in a two-fold loss of Republican power: Rhode Island Republicans could lose a national voice and the National GOP could lose the U.S. Senate altogether. Yes, it is possible Steve Laffey could win in a statewide election, especially if he continues to emphasize the "populist" (as he did the other night) in his populist/conservative message. Nonetheless, even if he doesn't stand a snowball's chance in Hades, Rhode Island conservatives will have been heard by bucking the establishment and sending Laffey on to the general election. Many ask: But what would be the purpose? The answer is: to find out who or what the RIGOP is going to be.

In the end, sending Laffey past Chafee to face a Democrat challenger may be nothing more than a romantically noble, and ultimately doomed, cause. Perhaps Rhode Island Republicans won't see another of their own in the national delegation for decades. Yet, despite all of this and whatever the outcome may be, RICons will have made a statement about what they think the RIGOP should be and they will have forced the "establishment" to do the same.

The RIGOP needs to be shaken up and to find a direction. The political tactics used by the RIGOP over the last few years have not worked, if they existed at all. Wimpering under the table for scraps doesn't make a party stronger--it barely keeps it alive and gives it false hope for more of the same. This sort of milquetoast Republicanism has failed in Rhode Island.

If nothing else, I hope that the coming debates will help RI Republicans decide the kind of party they want. I hope, like me, they will see that it's time to heed a paraphrase of Robert Frost's advice and take the road never traveled: the one that leads to a RI Republican party with conservative ideals at its core.

Here Comes the Establishment

The Washington Times has this story about Mayor Laffey's primary challenge against Senator Chafee:

White House adviser Karl Rove and Senate Republican campaign chairwoman Elizabeth Dole tried to discourage the mayor of Cranston, R.I., from running against the party's liberal Sen. Lincoln Chafee next year, but to no avail.

Now Stephen Laffey, a former investment banker who announced his candidacy Thursday, is the target of a National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) broadside that accuses him of sharply raising property taxes on his city's residents...

Meanwhile, Republican strategists have compiled a report showing that the mayor has raised property taxes substantially in his city. While the senator opposed Mr. Bush's tax cuts, Republican officials say Mr. Laffey's hands are not clean on the tax issue, either.

In a still-undisclosed research report titled, "The Laffey Tax Machine," the NRSC says that "one of the first official duties as mayor was to raise taxes 12.8 percent, approximately $490 for a home valued at $150,000."...

The NRSC report, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, said the Laffey "tax hike was on top of an 11.5 percent increase property owners had already seen that year."

"Adding in Laffey's supplemental tax, Cranston homeowners' taxes were 25.8 percent higher than the year before."

But Mr. Laffey defended his actions Friday, saying the city had "the lowest bond rating in the United States."...

Voters rewarded his actions by re-electing Mr. Laffey last year with 65 percent of the vote in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 2-to-1.

Mr. Chafee made it clear last week that he is going to make Mr. Laffey's property-tax increases a major issue in the campaign.

"The sole reason for the change in Cranston's financial fortunes is Laffey's unprecedented tax hikes. Some Cranston taxpayers have seen their tax bills double due to Laffey's stewardship," Mr. Chafee said.

Media Bias at the Individual Level

Justin Katz

I'm not picking sides, but a short Providence Journal bulletin by Scott MacKay turns an on-air spat between two talk radio hosts into a lesson in the methodology of media bias:

WPRO talk-show host Dan Yorke and John DePetro, a former Rhode Island talk-radio host, got into an on-air spat yesterday after DePetro showed up uninvited at a show Yorke was hosting in West Warwick, wrested a live microphone from Yorke and made derogatory comments that were broadcast on air.

The tussle started after Yorke made comments criticizing Cranston Mayor Stephen P. Laffey for having DePetro as master of ceremonies for Laffey's Thursday announcement that he will challenge U.S. Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee in the Republican primary next year.

In contrast to direct quotes from WPRO's director of operations and news, David Bernstein, that the incident was "a DePetro out-of-his-mind experience," MacKay offers no explanation from DePetro's side. For that matter, he doesn't even report what Dan Yorke's critical comments were. Furthermore, the fact that the particular broadcast was "designed to raise donations of items and money for victims of Hurricane Katrina" is related in context of DePetro's "charg[ing] over to Cardi's Furniture store," without any indication that Yorke's attack — whatever it may have been — might have been a similar impropriety.

The story's lede perfectly captures the thrust of the subsequent text, with a splash of metaphor:

John DePetro, angry about comments made on Dan Yorke's radio program, storms into a live show to benefit hurricane victims and briefly takes over the microphone.

DePetro "storms" into the hurricane benefit in response to vague "comments" made by somebody.

Again, I'm not picking sides, nor would I claim that this represents important news. (Although the Providence Journal saw fit to run the headline on the main page of its Web site yesterday.) The slant could be an indication of a larger political tug-of-war, or it could just be local inside-media stuff. Either way, however, we who participate in Rhode Island's limited — but hopefully burgeoning — alternative media do well to be aware of who allies with whom.

Roe v. Wade

In a 2002 editorial entitled Roe v. Wade at 25: Still Illegitimate, Michael McConnell wrote:

...Roe v. Wade is the most enduringly controversial court decision of the century, and rightly so. Rather than putting the issue to rest, the court converted it into the worst sort of political struggle--one involving angry demonstrators, nasty confirmation battles and confrontational sound bites. With ordinary politicians, who are masters of compromise, out of the picture, the issue became dominated by activists of passionate intensity on both extremes of the spectrum.

...The Constitution stands for certain fundamental principles of free government, and there are times when the courts must intervene to make sure they are not neglected. But when judges act on the basis of their own political predilections, without regard to constitutional text or the decisions of representative institutions, the results are illegitimate.

The reasoning of Roe v. Wade is an embarrassment to those who take constitutional law seriously, even to many scholars who heartily support the outcome of the case. As John Hart Ely, former dean of Stanford Law School and a supporter of abortion rights, has written, Roe "is not constitutional law and gives almost no sense of an obligation to try to be."

The court's reasoning proceeded in two steps. First, it found that a "right of privacy" exists under the Constitution, and that this right is "broad enough to encompass a woman's decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy."...

But the right of privacy is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. Various judges, according to the court, had found "at least the roots of that right" in the First Amendment, in the "penumbras of the Bill of Rights," in the Ninth Amendment or in the "concept of liberty guaranteed by the first section of the Fourteenth Amendment." This vague statement is tantamount to confessing the court did not much care where in the Constitution this supposed right might be found. All that mattered was it be "broad enough" to encompass abortion.

Even assuming a right of privacy can be excavated from somewhere, anywhere, in the Constitution, what does it mean? The court avoided defining the term, except by giving examples from previous cases. The trouble is, counterexamples abound. The federal "right of privacy" has never been held to protect against laws banning drug use, assisted suicide or even consensual sodomy--just to mention a few examples of crimes that are no less "private" than abortion. It is impossible to know what does and does not fall within this nebulous category.

Even assuming that there is a right of privacy, and that its contours can be discerned from the court's examples, surely it must be confined to activities that affect no one else. It would be an odd kind of privacy that confers the power to inflict injury on nonconsenting third parties. Yet the entire rationale for antiabortion laws is that an abortion does inflict injury on a nonconsenting third party, the fetus. It is not possible to describe abortion as a "privacy right" without first concluding that the fetus does not count as a third party with protectable interests.

That brings us to step two in the court's argument. Far from resolving the thorny question of when a fetus is another person deserving of protection--surely the crux of the privacy right, if it exists--the justices determined that the issue is unresolvable. They noted that there has been a "wide divergence of thinking" regarding the "most sensitive and difficult question" of "when life begins." They stated that "[w]hen those trained in the respective disciplines of medicine, philosophy, and theology are unable to arrive at any consensus, the not in a position to speculate as to the answer."

According to the court, the existence of this uncertainty meant that the state's asserted interest in protecting unborn life could not be deemed "compelling." But this leaves us with an entirely circular argument. The supposed lack of consensus about when life begins is important because when state interests are uncertain they cannot be "compelling"; and a compelling state interest is required before the state can limit a constitutional right. But the constitutional right in question ("privacy") only exists if the activity in question does not abridge the rights of a nonconsenting third party--the very question the court says cannot be resolved. If it cannot be resolved, there is no way to determine whether abortion is a "right of privacy."

In any event, the court's claim that it was not resolving the issue of "when life begins" was disingenuous. In our system, all people are entitled to protection from killing and other forms of private violence. The court can deny such protection to fetuses only if it presupposes they are not persons.

One can make a pretty convincing argument, however, that fetuses are persons. They are alive; their species is Homo sapiens. They are not simply an appendage of the mother; they have a separate and unique chromosomal structure. Surely, before beings with all the biological characteristics of humans are stripped of their rights as "persons" under the law, we are entitled to an explanation of why they fall short. For the court to say it cannot "resolve the difficult question of when life begins" is not an explanation.

It is true, of course, that people honestly disagree about the question of when life begins. But divergence of opinion is not ordinarily a reason to take a decision away from the people and their elected representatives. One of the functions of democratic government is to provide a forum for debating and ultimately resolving controversial issues. Judges cannot properly strike down the acts of the political branches that do not clearly violate the Constitution. If no one knows when life begins, the courts have no basis for saying the legislature's answer is wrong. To be sure, abortion is an explosive issue...But the Supreme Court made it far more so by eliminating the possibility of reasoned legislative deliberation and prudent compromise.

It is often said that abortion is an issue that defies agreement or compromise. But if the polling data are correct, there has been a broad and surprisingly stable consensus among the American people for at least the past 30 years that rejects the uncompromising positions of both pro-choice and pro-life advocates. Large majorities...believe that abortion should be legally available during the early months of pregnancy. There is also widespread support for legal abortions when the reasons are sufficiently weighty (rape, incest, probability of serious birth defect, serious danger to the mother's health).

But only 15% believe that abortion should generally be available after the first three months, when the fetus has developed a beating heart, fingers and toes, brain waves and a full set of internal organs. Majorities oppose abortions for less weighty reasons, such as avoiding career interruptions. Even larger majorities (approaching 80%) favor modest regulations, like waiting periods and parental consent requirements, to guard against hasty and ill-informed decisions...Most Americans would prohibit particularly grisly forms of the procedure, like partial-birth abortions.

These opinions have persisted without significant change since the early 1970s, and are shared by women and men, young and old alike...If the courts would get out of the business of regulating abortion, most legislatures would pass laws reflecting the moderate views of the great majority. This would provide more protection than the unborn have under current law, though probably much less than pro-life advocates would wish.

The Supreme Court brought great discredit on itself by overturning state laws regulating abortion without any persuasive basis in constitutional text or logic. And to make matters worse, it committed these grave legal errors in the service of an extreme vision of abortion rights that the vast majority of Americans rightly consider unjust and immoral. Roe v. Wade is a useful reminder that government by the representatives of the people is often more wise, as well as more democratic, than rule by lawyers in robes.

9/11: A Vivid Memory of a Horrible Day

We all have vivid memories of where we were on September 11, 2001.

On that fateful morning, my wife was in surgery at Rhode Island Hospital and I was sitting in the waiting room when the morning television programs switched to viewing the World Trade Center buildings with the then-unconfirmed story that a plane had hit one of the towers.

With a view of only the North Tower from the television camera's midtown angle, all of us sitting there saw - live - a second plane fly in from the right side of the television screen and not continue to be visible on the left side of the screen. It had hit the South Tower.

Our thoughts and prayers go out again to all of the families who lost loved ones on that horrible day. And our thanks go out to those many Americans who joined in numerous efforts to save lives and take care of the injured and grieving.

We salute all of you with pride, gratitude, and a commitment to never let your memory, bravery and acts of kindness be forgotten.

On this fourth anniversary of that horrible day, we can only benefit from rereading some key speeches (here, here) that remind us how we are engaged in an ongoing war against a treacherous enemy who seeks nothing less than our country's demise.

Unfortunately, we also face some domestic foes whose actions (here, here, here, here, here) are misguided and dangerous because they fail to accept the enormous evil of an enemy which has been attacking and killing American citizens for much longer than just the last four years.

Addendum: Thanks to Greg Wallace, here are some other special links commemorating 9/11: The Blue State Conservatives, American Digest, Winds of Change.

Here are numerous links from Michelle Malkin.

PoliPundit has more. Follow the many links at the bottom of the posting.

Rancid Pork Leaves a Bad Taste in Your Mouth

The domestic spending habits of the Republican Congress were criticized in an earlier posting about the Chafee-Laffey race.

Previous postings (here and here) discussed the outrageous spending contained in the recently passed highway bill.

Another posting discussed how actions by the small, but powerful, sugar lobby go against the interest of average Americans.

The energy bill was another pork-laden feast that recklessly spent even more of our hard-earned monies.

There has also been no lack of criticism on this blogsite of the outrageous demands by public sector unions where pension benefit demands alone (see here and here) have numerous states and towns across America facing financial ruin.

And now the ProJo highlights a pork-laden water bill.

All of these deals - that benefit a few to the detriment of the many - are examples of an ever increasing diet of rancid pork that makes the body politic sick.

September 10, 2005

Lessons From Hurricane Katrina: Regaining a Sense of Historical Perspective on What Works in America

As the political fallout from hurricane Katrina unfolds, there is plenty of griping about the performance of the federal government as well as the performance of the Louisiana state and New Orleans local governments.

For a moment, forget about all that endless bickering and focus on the many relief efforts now underway and the good that they will end up doing. Efforts like those of the Salvation Army or the Red Cross.

Those efforts lead us back to these famous words by a long-ago observer of America, Alexis de Tocqueville:

Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing companies, in which all take part, but associations of a thousand kinds, religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive. The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they found hospitals, prisons, and schools. If it is proposed to inculcate some truth or to foster some feeling by the encouragement of a great example, they form a society...

Whenever at the head of some new undertaking, you see the government in France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.

As you see the many heroic efforts by individuals and groups (see here for just the financial contributions) in response to the devastation caused by Katrina, remember that such efforts have been a strong trait of Americans since the early years of our country. Also, do not forget that these wonderful efforts were initiated voluntarily and organized successfully without any centralized planning effort by government agencies. The efforts, including their spontaneous creation, are at the core of what has made America great.

Now contrast those efforts - which have garnered only praise and appreciation - with the numerous examples of incompetent behavior by governmental agencies. Andrew has highlighted such examples in two recent postings (here and here).

Yet, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, many Americans hold on to the erroneous belief that complex situations can only be addressed by governmental agencies.

This profoundly misguided worldview ignores the appalling incompetence of government, which occurs because of the underlying incentives that drive government action.

Some of the longer-term consequences of relying extensively on government are highlighted in this bluntly worded article by Robert Tracinski of The Intellectual Activist, which a friend sent me last Thursday:

It has taken four long days for state and federal officials to figure out how to deal with the disaster in New Orleans. I can't blame them, because it has also taken me four long days to figure out what is going on there. The reason is that the events there make no sense if you think that we are confronting a natural disaster.

If this is just a natural disaster, the response for public officials is obvious: you bring in food, water, and doctors; you send transportation to evacuate refugees to temporary shelters; you send engineers to stop the flooding and rebuild the city's infrastructure. For journalists, natural disasters also have a familiar pattern: the heroism of ordinary people pulling together to survive; the hard work and dedication of doctors, nurses, and rescue workers; the steps being taken to clean up and rebuild.

Public officials did not expect that the first thing they would have to do is to send thousands of armed troops in armored vehicles, as if they are suppressing an enemy insurgency. And journalists--myself included--did not expect that the story would not be about rain, wind, and flooding, but about rape, murder, and looting.

But this is not a natural disaster. It is a man-made disaster.

The man-made disaster is not an inadequate or incompetent response by federal relief agencies, and it was not directly caused by Hurricane Katrina. This is where just about every newspaper and television channel has gotten the story wrong.

The man-made disaster we are now witnessing in New Orleans did not happen over the past four days. It happened over the past four decades. Hurricane Katrina merely exposed it to public view.

The man-made disaster is the welfare state....

What explains bands of thugs using a natural disaster as an excuse for an orgy of looting, armed robbery, and rape? What causes unruly mobs to storm the very buses that have arrived to evacuate them, causing the drivers to drive away, frightened for their lives? What causes people to attack the doctors trying to treat patients at the SuperDome?

Why are people responding to natural destruction by causing further destruction? Why are they attacking the people who are trying to help them?

...the informational phrases flashed at the bottom of the screen on most news channels--gave some vital statistics to confirm this sense: 75% of the residents of New Orleans had already evacuated before the hurricane, and of the 300,000 or so who remained, a large number were from the city's public housing projects. Jack Wakeland then gave me an additional, crucial fact: early reports from CNN and Fox indicated that the city had no plan for evacuating all of the prisoners in the city's jails--so they just let many of them loose. There is no doubt a significant overlap between these two populations--that is, a large number of people in the jails used to live in the housing projects, and vice versa.

There were many decent, innocent people trapped in New Orleans when the deluge hit--but they were trapped alongside large numbers of people from two groups: criminals--and wards of the welfare state, people selected, over decades, for their lack of initiative and self-induced helplessness. The welfare wards were a mass of sheep--on whom the incompetent administration of New Orleans unleashed a pack of wolves.

All of this is related, incidentally, to the apparent incompetence of the city government, which failed to plan for a total evacuation of the city, despite the knowledge that this might be necessary. But in a city corrupted by the welfare state, the job of city officials is to ensure the flow of handouts to welfare recipients and patronage to political supporters--not to ensure a lawful, orderly evacuation in case of emergency...

What Hurricane Katrina exposed was the psychological consequences of the welfare state. What we consider "normal" behavior in an emergency is behavior that is normal for people who have values and take the responsibility to pursue and protect them. People with values respond to a disaster by fighting against it and doing whatever it takes to overcome the difficulties they face. They don't sit around and complain that the government hasn't taken care of them. They don't use the chaos of a disaster as an opportunity to prey on their fellow men.

But what about criminals and welfare parasites? Do they worry about saving their houses and property? They don't, because they don't own anything. Do they worry about what is going to happen to their businesses or how they are going to make a living? They never worried about those things before. Do they worry about crime and looting? But living off of stolen wealth is a way of life for them.

The welfare state--and the brutish, uncivilized mentality it sustains and encourages--is the man-made disaster that explains the moral ugliness that has swamped New Orleans. And that is the story that no one is reporting.

Some of Tracinski's points are reinforced and expanded on by Noemie Emery in this article:

...The reason New Orleans slid so quickly from civilization into Third World conditions was that it was pretty much a Third World city already, and didn't have too far to go. In its violence, in its corruption, in its reliance on ambience and tourism as its critical industry, in its one-party rule, in its model of graftocracy built on a depressed and crime-ridden underclass that was largely kept out of the sight and the mind of vacationing revelers, it was much more like a Caribbean resort than a normal American city. Its crime and murder rates were way above national averages, its corruption level astounding. The latter was written off as being picturesque and perversely adorable, until it suddenly wasn't, as it paid off in hundreds of buses--that could have borne thousands of stranded people to safety--sitting submerged in water, and police either looting or AWOL.

In 1831, Alexis de Tocqueville defined a long set of traits that made Americans "different," and that remain today just as valid: Americans are restless, inventive, pragmatic, entrepreneurial, socially mobile, and so future-oriented they are ready and eager sometimes to let go of the past. None of these things defined what once was New Orleans; in fact, that poor destroyed city played them in reverse: It was socially static, fairly caste-ridden, non-entrepreneurial (read hostile to business), and wholly immersed in its past, to the point where its main industry is marketing ambience and nostalgia. "New Orleans's dominant industry lies not in creating its future but selling its past," wrote Joel Kotkin in the Wall Street Journal's "Tourism defines contemporary New Orleans's economy more than its still-large port, or its remaining industry, or its energy production. Although there is nothing wrong, per se, in being a tourist town, it is not an industry that attracts high-wage jobs; and tends to create a highly bifurcated social structure. This can be seen in New Orleans's perennially high rates of underemployment, crime and poverty." New Orleans, in short, was the place you went to take a vacation, not to prosper in life and start a family, much less start a business. This lack of opportunity, or the upward ladder of social mobility, is perhaps one reason so many evacuees felt they were breathing fresh air when they landed in Houston, and are deciding to make it their home.

Let us look now at Houston, for it is the second city in this cosmic drama, and one in which Tocqueville would feel right at home. Like so many cities in the Sunbelt, it is expanding, entrepreneurial, based on the future, and the place where the "much celebrated American can-do machine that promises to bring freedom and prosperity to less fortunate people" comes roaring to life. "In 1920, New Orleans's population was nearly three times that of Houston," says Kotkin. "During the '90s, the Miami and Houston areas grew almost six times as fast as greater New Orleans, and flourished as major destinations for immigrants...These newcomers have helped transform Miami and Houston into primary centers for trade, investment and services, from finance and accounting to medical care for the entire Caribbean basin. They have started businesses, staffed factories, and become players in civic life."

It is now no surprise that Houston is the place where in days they built a new city in and around the Astrodome, that has taken in 25,000 refugees from New Orleans, and is planning to feed, house, employ, and relocate most of them. Houston is the place where the heads of all the religious groups in the city--Baptists and Catholics, Muslims and Jews--came together to raise $4.4 million to feed the evacuees for 30 days, and to supply 720 volunteers a day to prepare and serve meals. If New Orleans was where the Third World broke through, Houston was where the First World began beating it back, and asserting its primacy...

Therefore, what are some of the lessons that can be learned from Hurricane Katrina?

Certainly one lesson is the ongoing danger of incivility in our public discourse about important policy issues, a topic addressed by Edwin Feulner in this speech:

...In short, once people begin disregarding the norms that keep order in a community, both order and community unravel, sometimes with astonishing speed.

Police in big cities have dramatically cut crime rates by applying this theory. Rather than concentrate on felonies such as robbery and assault, they aggressively enforce laws against relatively minor offenses — graffiti, public drinking, panhandling, littering.

When order is visibly restored at that level, the environment signals: This is a community where behavior does have consequences…

Now all this is a preface. My topic is not crime on city streets, rather I want to speak about incivility in the marketplace of ideas...

What we’re seeing in the marketplace of ideas today is a disturbing growth of incivility that follows and confirms the broken windows theory. Alas, this breakdown of civil norms is not a failing of either the political left or the right exclusively. It spreads across the political spectrum from one end to the other…

Those…examples…come from elites in the marketplace of ideas. All are highly educated people who write nationally syndicated columns, publish best-selling books, and are hot tickets on radio and television talk shows.

Further down the food chain, lesser lights take up smaller hammers, but they commit even more degrading incivilities…

…Once someone wields the hammer — once the incivility starts — others will take it as an invitation to join in, and pretty soon there’s no limit to the incivility…

This illustrates the second aspect of the broken windows theory: Once the insults begin flying, many will opt out…

This is the real danger of incivility. Our free, self-governing society requires an open exchange of ideas, which in turn requires a certain level of civility rooted in mutual respect for each other’s opinions and viewpoints.

What we see today I am afraid, is an accelerating competition between the left and the right to see which side can inflict the most damage with the hammer of incivility. Increasingly, those who take part in public debates appear to be exchanging ideas when, in fact, they are trading insults: idiot, liar, moron, traitor.

…civility isn’t an accessory one can put on or take off like a scarf. It is inseparable from the character of great leaders…

Incivility is not a social blunder to be compared with using the wrong fork. Rather, it betrays a defect of character. Incivility is dangerous graffiti, regardless of whether it is spray-painted on a subway car, or embossed on the title page of a book. The broken windows theory shows us the dangers in both cases.

But those cases aren’t parallel in every way, and in closing I want to call your attention to an important difference. When behavioral norms break down in a community, police can restore order. But when civility breaks down in the marketplace of ideas, the law is powerless to set things right.

And properly so. Our right to speak freely — and to speak with incivility, if we choose — is guaranteed by those five glorious words in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law ....”

And yet, the need for civility has never been greater. Our nation is divided as never before between the left and the right. We are at loggerheads on profoundly important political and social questions. Civilization itself is under barbaric attack from without.

Sadly, too many us are not rising to these challenges as a democratic people…

Rather than helping to reverse this decline, the rising chorus of incivility is driving out citizens of honest intent and encouraging those who trade in jeering and mockery…

If we are to prevail as a free, self-governing people, we must first govern our tongues and our pens. Restoring civility to public discourse is not an option. It is a necessity.

Who will begin the restoration of civility?…

Another lesson to be learned is the importance of voluntary charity instead of coerced charity, as noted in these modified thoughts from an earlier posting:

Coerced "charity" via government taxation has several corrosive effects:
  • First, it incentivizes citizens to relinquish all personal responsibility to care for or get involved in supporting the needy in their community. After all, "the government" is responsible for doing that.
  • Second, it assumes that a distant bureaucrat can better judge how to structure the policy designed to meet the true needs of our neighbor whom he has never met. This is the knowledge/information problem raised over the years by both Hayek and Sowell.
  • Third, the problem in the second example also leads to higher economic costs due to more ineffective programs, continued propagation of such poor policies, and the ability for the programs to be affected by remote sources of power whose self-interest can often be anything but truly helping the needy neighbor.
  • Fourth, coerced charity also harms the recipient of the charity, because appreciation will soon be replaced with a feeling of entitlement, and the person has less of an incentive to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.

On the other hand, voluntary charity draws people in through the formation of associations who are willingly bound by the same altruistic purpose. Such voluntary associations end up developing a refined sense of moral responsibility at the individual and group levels. And by teaching people to care and receive the joy and satisfaction that only comes from giving personally, people are touched in emotionally and spiritually powerful ways - and will be more likely to continue to reach out to others...

At a practical level, workers at a local charity will likely either know that neighbor or know people who knew the neighbor personally - allowing them to have valuable information which could determine what would be the most effective course of policy-related action.

To paraphrase Michael Novak on the question of social justice, we need to take the time to build up these voluntary associations that de Tocqueville wrote about in the early years of our nation's life. Our society will be stronger and more free as a result. And more good things will happen over time.

FEMA Wasting the Bravery and Dedication of Providence Firefighters II

Carroll Andrew Morse

Further evidence, this time from a group of Indiana firefighters, that firefighters sent by the city of Providence to assist in Katrina relief will not be put to good use…

"Our job was to advertise a phone number for FEMA," said Portage Assistant Fire Chief Bill Lundy. "We were going to be given shirts and hats with a phone number on it and flyers, and sent to shelters, and we were going to pass out flyers."…

"There was almost a fight," said Portage Assistant Fire Chief Joe Calhoun. "There was probably 700 firefighters sitting in the room getting this training, and it dawned on them what we were going to be doing. And then it got bad from there."

Lundy and Calhoun's first task was an eight-hour course on sexual harassment and equal opportunity employment procedures, Rogers reported. Neither firefighter would be involved in technical rescues of trapped people or any of their other specialties.

Apparently, the Federal government is not satisfied with having turned its own response to emergencies over to a bunch of paper pushing bureaucrats. Now they want to reach down to the local level, take individuals ready and willing rescue others away from their calling, and make them push paper too. FEMA must be abolished.

September 9, 2005

An Airing of Weaknesses

Justin Katz

It seems to me, Don, that the well-poisoning of your closing question elides precisely the benefit of a Laffey run for U.S. Senate. Tweak your perceptive hypothetical of a primary-free Chafee's positioning:

While sitting on the sidelines eating popcorn, Chafee would have been able to size up his opponent, research weak points, and come out swinging after the Democratic primary.

A primary race with a rumbler like Laffey will undoubtedly expose Chafee's weaknesses (even more than the Senator has managed to accomplish simply by being in view of the public in a post–9/11 world). Of course, one should offer the passing disclaimer that citizens benefit whenever candidates' weaknesses are exposed, but that byproduct of a primary race is even more valuable for Rhode Island Republicans: No matter who wins the primary — or the election, for that matter — the political calculus will have become less of a factor in our state.

One thing that Laffey has shown successfully as mayor of Cranston is that Rhode Island needs to be shaken up a bit. If that means that we have to fall to form with another Democrat in a key government position for the time being, at least we on the right will have the opportunity to offer a different vision without a might-as-well-be-a-Democrat Republican blurring our voices with the mild morphine drip of political power that he represents.

Outrunning the Laffey-Train

Senator Chafee finds himself in a very awkward position: As Andrew noted on Thursday, Cranston mayor Stephen Laffey announced his intentions to run for his U.S. Senate seat in 2006. Unfortunately for Chafee, this is going to be a very tough pill to swallow for many reasons.

First, without having to face a primary, it would be very likely that Chafee would have had a sizeable cash advantage over his Democratic challenger because of the potentially heated race between Sheldon Whitehouse and Matt Brown. While sitting on the sidelines eating popcorn, Chafee would have been able to size up his opponent, research weak points, and come out swinging after the Democratic primary. However, in facing arguably Rhode Island's third most recognizable figure, even if Chafee wins the primary, he will do so with much less money in the bank. Yet, that isn't even Chafee's biggest concern.

More troubling for Chafee will be the waltz he will be forced to learn. I do mean waltz. Laffey, considered a hero to many hard-line and progressive RI Republicans, is far more to the right than Chafee on many issues. So, while Laffey runs a balanced budget/immigration friendly/pork killing campaign, Chafee may be forced to move toward him on issues that RI Republicans have chided him about for years in order to stem the Laffey-train. However, even if he does this successfully, Chafee would then need to drift back toward the left in order to beat his Democratic challenger. And I don't know if he can do that and keep the respect and trust of Rhode Islanders, his most valuable political resources.

As a Rhode Islander for the last ten years, I can't remember a Republican primary as compelling as this one will be. The ultimate question: will we look back at the Senate 2006 race as a watershed moment for Chafee — who solidified his power base — or a moment when an opportunistic challenger allowed his hubris to cloud his judgment with dire consequences to the political futures of both himself and the Rhode Island Republican party?

Senator Chafee's first response to the Challenger

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the Pawtucket Times, Jim Baron has Senator Chafee’s early response to Mayor Laffey’s announcement. The article displays the Senator's lack of political instinct which has culminated in his facing a primary challenge. Here is an example, in the Senator's own words…

"He [Laffey] bashed Republicans as much as he bashed Democrats. He is distancing himself from the party."
This doesn’t work to advance the Senator’s interests on any level. In terms of the Republican base, it is a lost cause for Senator Chafee to claim that he is more Republican than anyone, especially Steve Laffey. And pointing out that Mayor Laffey is as willing to bash Republicans as well as Democrats can only increase Laffey’s appeal to the independents who will largely decide the outcome of the primary.

Also, conventional wisdom holds that Senator Chafee possesses the temperate persona compatible with the political culture of Rhode Island, as Edward Achorn phrased it, the “personal qualities of moderation, restraint and noblesse oblige that Rhode Islanders often associate with a senator.” Yet noblesse oblige is nowhere to be found in a quote like this…

So having had a hand in starting Laffey's political career, Chafee said, "I will take great satisfaction in ending it."
Once again, the Sentor undercuts what is supposed to be his strength, his moderation and restraint having vanished in the face of a challenger.

September 8, 2005

It’s official

Carroll Andrew Morse

Steve Laffey is running in Rhode Island’s Republican primary for the office of United States Senator.

His message is going to be, what a very long time ago -- turn of the century long-ago -- would have been called Progressive Republicanism. In his announcement speech, the theme was fighting big drug companies, fighting special interests (he gave the specific example of sugar subsidies), and fighting big oil companies. He tied the national security of the United States to developing alternative energy sources and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

He also has a theme that is going to mesh well with what some would call his outsized personality: the smallest state in the union needs to have the strongest voice in Washington.

It is quite clear that Mayor Laffey is going to be a formidable candidate in both the primary and, should he win, in the general election.


Here is the full text of Mayor's Laffey's annoucement.

Is FEMA Wasting the Bravery and Dedication of Providence Firefighters?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Six Providence firefighters are traveling to Atlanta to aid in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort, in response to a call put out by the Department of Homeland Security

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security sent an urgent message this weekend looking for 1,000 two-person teams of firefighters to volunteer in the storm-ravaged states.
The specific phrasing of “two person teams” suggests that Providence’s firefighters won’t be involved in front line search and rescue efforts, which is no doubt where they want to be. Instead, FEMA wants to use firefighters for “community relations”. This is from FEMA spokeswoman Mary Hudak…
"The initial call to action very specifically says we're looking for two-person fire teams to do community relations,"
And what do community relations involve? The Salt Lake Tribune, from which the above quote was taken, doesn’t paint a very complimentary picture…
Many of the firefighters, assembled from Utah and throughout the United States by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, thought they were going to be deployed as emergency workers.

Instead, they have learned they are going to be community-relations officers for FEMA, shuffled throughout the Gulf Coast region to disseminate fliers and a phone number: 1-800-621-FEMA.

On Monday, some firefighters stuck in the staging area at the Sheraton peeled off their FEMA-issued shirts and stuffed them in backpacks, saying they refuse to represent the federal agency.

Why use firefighters, some of the bravest, most highly trained and motivated individuals a city can send, for “community relations”? The answer is, of course, is bureaucratic. FEMA wants to use firefighters because they’ve already had background checks.
But Louis H. Botta, a coordinating officer for FEMA, said sending out firefighters on community relations makes sense. They already have had background checks and meet the qualifications to be sworn as a federal employee.
If this story of this abuse of resources by the Federal government is true, then it is not enough to fire Michael Brown. FEMA quite clearly serves very little purpose, cannot be saved, and should be disbanded.

How Thoroughly Typical

Andrew has just posted the results of the vote on the Cranston teachers' union contract. [Read the first comment to that posting for an interesting perspective from someone who attended the meeting.]

Steve Stycos, a School Committee member, was quoted in the referenced ProJo article as saying that board did not have sufficient information about the cost of the contract.

How thoroughly typical. And how absolutely improper.

A contract extension came up when I served on the East Greenwich School Committee. The union had voted to accept that contract extension before the School Committee had even discussed the contract terms for the first time. Former Superintendent Jolin had unilaterally gone out and struck the deal without a full Committee discussion in advance. Then, when we did meet to vote on it, the school administration provided zero information on the cost of the contract - and expected us to vote immediately to approve the contract.

And that is why I voted against the contract extension - which, it turns out, awarded 9-12% annual salary increases to 9 of the 10 job steps, required a zero co-payment on health insurance premiums, and provided a rich cash buyback (worth $6,800 last school year) for those employees who did not use health insurance.

We are overpaying for underperformance across all of Rhode Island. It is critical that these games involving spineless politicians and bureaucrats as well as far-too-powerful public sector unions stop for the good of all the working people and retirees whose hard-earned monies fund these extravagent actions.

No more rides on the gravy train.

Cranston Teachers’ contract passes, 5-1

Carroll Andrew Morse

Combining today’s Projo story with the current list of members of the Cranston school committee, the following vote on the city of Cranston’s teachers’ contract can be inferred…

Voting For: Deborah C. Greifer (Ward 2), Andrea Iannazzi (Ward 6), Anthony J. Lupino (Ward 4), M. Gordon Palumbo (Citywide), Michael A. Traficante (Ward 5)

Voting Against: Steven A. Stycos (Ward 1)

Not Present: Paul H. Archetto (Ward 3)

According to the Projo, the contract will require $1.8 million in budget cuts this year...

According to figures released last night, the contract this year will cost nearly $1.8 million more than is allotted in the budget, but board members said they will find a way to squeeze that figure from their $115-million budget and vowed they will not overspend.

September 7, 2005

T-Minus 23 1/2 Hours or so to the BIG Laffey Announcement

Carroll Andrew Morse

Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey has a big announcement planned for tommorrow. Here's the announcement of the announcement, from a flier sent around by the Mayor...

Mayor Stephen P. Laffey has a really BIG announcement to make. Repeat: Really "BIG" Laffey announcement. And he wants YOU to hear it!
Perhaps Mayor Laffey has learned what's inside of the hatch on Lost. Can anyone think of other possibilities? For those interested in attending, here are the particulars...
September 8, 2005. 5:15 Doors open. 6:00 PM (sharp!) Mayor's announcement. Knights of Columbus Hall, 1047 Park Ave., Cranston.

No Refugees in America

Carroll Andrew Morse

I explain why in my current TechCentralStation column.

September 6, 2005

Cranston Teacher's Contract to be Voted on Wednesday

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Cranston School committee will be holding a “special meeting” (that term is taken right from the heading of the public announcement) where the new teacher’s contract will be approved. Here is the heading from the agenda.








Here is the agenda item referring to the contract.

NO. 05-9-6 – RESOLVED, that the agreement between the Cranston School Committee and the Cranston Teachers’ Alliance, Local 1704, AFT, as recommended by the Superintendent, be approved.
As best as I can tell, no copy of the text of the contract is electronically available at this time.

September 5, 2005

Fire Michael Brown

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over the coming months and years, America must deal with three separate though interrelated failures that combined to create the New Orleans disaster.

1. The failure to properly evacuate New Orleans before the storm.

2. The failure to immediately evacuate the shelters of last resort, e.g. the Superdome and the convention center, after it was known that the levee had broken.

3. The failure to provide basic relief to the shelters of last resort while their evacuation was being organized.

The first two failures were basically local and/or state government failures. But the third was clearly the responsibility of FEMA. FEMA failed to carry out its most basic mission; get to an emergency first, and get people what they need so they will be alive to take advantage of more permanent fixes being organized by the rest of society. FEMA had the resources to collect and deliver supplies to the evacuees awaiting rescue. Their inability to do so greatly contributed to the rapid deterioration of the situation in New Orleans.

It won’t help prevent future repeats of the first two failures, but firing Michael Brown as head of FEMA would be a reasonable step towards preventing future instances of the third.

September 3, 2005

Blame before relief? I don't think so.

President Bush made his way to Louisiana and surrounding states to view the devastation firsthand, but many are questioning why it didn't happen earlier. Why did the President fly by on Wednesday, but not actually tour the leveled cities?

That is a sound question, and whether we're Republicans, Democrats, or anything else, we expect our President to bring strength and hope in horrific situations. Liberals chomped at the bit after Katrina, waiting with bated breath as they looked to expose the President as uncaring, aloof, and on vacation. Many Web sites published photos of the President playing a guitar the day after the hurricane — not noting the context, but who cares about minor details like that when the desire is to spin, manipulate, and self-propagate?

The fact remains, however, that the relief effort just wasn't getting the job done. People were hungry, dying, getting shot at, and in many cases being raped. Can you imagine being a young woman who had just lost her husband, trying to keep your children as more than memories from the past? And then you walk into a putrid bathroom only to have some thugs try to play spin the bottle with your exhausted body. Unfortunately, there were such women, and authorities just didn't have the manpower to do anything about it. Begin the blame game...

Democrats blamed the President, the mayor of New Orleans blamed everybody and succinctly stated that all who could help should "get your a** over here," and even Republicans took shots at FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. So whose fault is it?

At this point it doesn't matter, in my opinion. When people are able to get a meal, a shower, and some rest, then we can talk about where to cast blame. To be clear, someone must be held accountable for this mess. If 9/11 showed us what can go right with emergency services, Katrina is showing us what can go terribly wrong. But before we start throwing stones, let's make sure we don't forget the tens of thousands of lives forever altered by Hurricane Katrina.

Welcoming Don Roach

Justin Katz

Anchor Rising welcomes Don Roach to its contributors list. Don is a graduate from Brown University and a resident of Providence. His blogging efforts began — and continue — at Black, White, Left, & Right.

September 2, 2005

Happy Labor Day

Carroll Andrew Morse

Blogging will most likely be light over the Labor Day weekend as we celebrate the end of summer and rest up for a fall that promises to be interesting and challenging for Rhode Island and the nation.

Here again is Instapundit’s list of hurricane relief links , for those looking for places to contribute to relief and recovery from Katrina.

And here is an example, from Hugh Hewitt, of the kind of creative thinking that will allow the US to quickly recover from this disaster by refusing to accept that Americans should ever be treated like Third World refugees. If our leaders don’t realize this, then it’s time for new leaders.

A Sequence of Plans

Justin Katz

My latest FactIs column, "When Plan B Becomes Plan A," suggests that something is awry when a drug that requires a prescription for low concentrations is on track for over-the-counter status in higher concentrations. Of course, Plan B is a "birth control" pill; such does sex — and the consequences thereof — skew Western minds.

September 1, 2005

Reflections on Chafee, Laffey, Party Politics & the Future of Rhode Island

The many comments in response to recent postings such as:

Insanity brought on by Laffey-phobia
Chafee Power Play by the National Republican Party?
Laffey, Chafee, Charlie, and the Outsiders
National Republican Contributions to RI
Laffey and the Lieutenant Governorship
Senator Chafee can settle the $500,000 Question
Achorn's Wisdom on Chafee/Laffey - What's Right I
Achorn's Wisdom on Chafee/Laffey - What's Right II

have confirmed that passions run high on the question of whether Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey should run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Lincoln Chafee.

I believe the question is a proxy for the more strategic question about what direction the Republican Party should take in Rhode Island. That leads to an even more significant question about what should be the appropriate response to the failing political status quo in our state. There are many subcurrents to this latter question and elaborating on them - and relating them to the Laffey/Chafee debate - is the purpose of this posting. These two strategic questions should be the focus of the public debate, not the posturing within a largely irrelevant state political party.


Many of us consider the crossing guard debacle, first brought to the public's attention by Mayor Laffey, to be the galvanizing and defining event that showed the embedded political corruption here in Rhode Island. For that effort, I tip my hat to the Mayor and believe all residents owe him a debt of gratitude.

Some people claim the Mayor's style is too aggressive. I doubt anyone would disagree that his is an aggressive style. But that is not the point.

The real question is whether his style has been an appropriate response to the situation at hand when the political environment consists of a mix of spineless politicians and bureaucrats facing off against powerful public sector union demands.

During and since my time on the East Greenwich School Committee, I have seen how willing the teachers' union is to play power games to win outlandish compensation terms - even if they have to mislead residents and make our children suffer to achieve that end.

The problem across Rhode Island is that these public sector unions are not reasonable people and cannot be dealt with anything less than blunt words and actions. We are now paying the price for years of accommodation to them: An outrageous tax burden on all Rhode Island residents.

But there is a larger issue of fairness and justice at stake here:

...this debate is about more than current taxation levels and today's family budgets. It is about freedom and opportunity for all -- and family budgets in the future. The greatness of our country is that people can live the American dream through the power of education and hard work.

High taxation and mediocre public education create a disincentive for new-business formation in Rhode Island. That means fewer new jobs, and less of a chance for working people to realize the American dream. It also means people have an economic incentive to leave the state -- and the ones who can afford to do so will continue to leave.

Unfortunately, the ones who cannot afford to leave are the people who can least afford the crushing blow of high taxation and mediocre education. The status quo dooms these families to an ongoing decline in their standard of living. That is unjust.

The unions have political power on their side today. They will, no doubt, win some short-term battles. But, like all those clinging to untenable economic models, they are on the wrong side of history and will lose the war over time. The only question is how much economic pain they will inflict on the state's residents along the way.

We are at a crossroads in Rhode Island. If we tackle issues now, a turnaround with only some pain is possible. If we delay, we will doom multiple generations of working families and retirees to further tax hell and a reduction in their standard of living. That is wrong.

These are fundamental issues that get to the heart of what direction our state will go in the future. Will young people be able to realize the American Dream if they stay in Rhode Island? Will retirees be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors and have an adequate lifestyle in their twilight years?

Since the public sector suffers from misguided incentives due to a lack of market forces, the bold exercise of political power is the only way to challenge the status quo and bring about meaningful change. Such efforts take guts and there is certainly no excess of such moxie among our politicians and bureaucrats.

So, yes, Mayor Laffey's style is aggressive. It is also the only way to effect real change in a corrupt and ineffective public sector. And it will take many more Mayor Laffey's for us to see real change become more than an occasional event.


With all that said, I personally find the Mayor's style to be more about himself than I would prefer to see. I think he would be more effective in the long run if he toned down some of that behavior. I will also predict that his ability to retain his natural aggressiveness, while simultaneously toning down the overt ego displays, will determine whether he can be an effective politician at more than a Cranston or small state level. To reinforce this point, consider what Peter Wallison wrote about Ronald Reagan:

...Reagan was more interested in the success of his ideas than in his own place in history. On his Oval Office desk was a sign: "There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn't mind who gets the credit." For Ronald Reagan this was more than a motivational aphorism; it was a personal credo. It allowed him to forego debilitating concerns about his personal legacy and to focus exclusively on gaining acceptance for his ideas. In his farewell address to the nation, he said, "I won a nickname, 'The Great Communicator.' But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: It was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things."


By contrast, I find Senator Chafee to be an uninspiring Senator who vacillates between doing thoroughly odd things - like his vote in the 2004 Presidential election - and toeing the party line. His candidacy reminds me of the well-known phrase from The Sound of Music said by one of the von Trapp family children as Maria teaches them the song Do-Re-Mi: "...but it doesn't mean anything..." Nothing about Lincoln Chafee stands out as meritorious.


The actions of the national Republican party establishment to support Chafee feel like the phrase "he may be a [you fill in the word], but at least he is our [you fill in the word]." And that leads to the topic rarely discussed but in desperate need of public debate: Has the GOP Lost Its Soul? If you follow the links at the bottom of that posting, the magnitude of the problems with the Republican Congressional leadership becomes even more clear. Power has led them to spend our hard-earned monies like the Democrats used to do when they were the majority party in Congress. It is nothing less than pathetic, enhanced by the President's unwillingness to veto their outlandish spending. What a collapse from the heady days of the Contract with America when the national Republican Party offered American voters a distinctive vision by standing for something positive in domestic policy.

Finding additional people with Mayor Laffey's backbone is the real political party development challenge in Rhode Island. I find the state Republican party's focus on party discipline, in its attempt to pre-empt the possible competition between two radically different policy viewpoints, to be revolting. "Discipline to what?" is the better question for a party that unfortunately stands for nothing noteworthy or worth fighting for. These current practices will never transform it out of what amounts to a permanent minority status in Rhode Island.

We need leaders who paint in bold colors, not pastels.


What is the big deal if Senator Chafee loses in 2006? It might diminish the Republican’s power in the U.S. Senate. But since they have not distinguished themselves, some competition for majority control might force Republicans to return to offering meaningfully different policy alternatives to the Democrats. If they cannot do that, they deserve to lose their majority status.

I do not think Mayor Laffey should run for Chafee's U.S. Senate seat - but not for the reasons put forth by Laffey's opponents or the Republican Party establishment. Prior to returning to Cranston, Mayor Laffey was a highly successful top business executive - serving as President of a large regional securities firm while still in his 30's. Serving as Mayor of Cranston, particularly during its recent troubled years, gave him another executive leadership opportunity and played to his strengths. Being in the U.S. Senate is a completely different role and runs counter to everything that defines Laffey. It is a clubby atmosphere where no one person is expected or allowed to stand out much and where toeing the party line is often more important than standing firm on matters of principle. That is the reason that few Senators go on to be elected President; it is simply not a breeding ground for executive leadership. As a business executive myself, I think Mayor Laffey would be bored and frustrated by the role. He is too impatient to want to be stuck in a dead-end job.

Similarly, I think it would be a total waste of time for him to run for Lt. Governor of Rhode Island. It is a position of little significance or importance and would not allow him to display his executive leadership skills. It is utterly ridiculous - but not surprising - for the state Republican party to attempt to cajole Laffey into running for this position.

I believe he should either stay on as Mayor of Cranston to bring about further change or run for the State Treasurer's office where Paul Tavares has shown the ability to bring important issues like pension reform into the public debate. The pension crisis is far from over (see here, here, here, here, here) and it is both a state and national issue that will only get worse before it has any chance of getting better. The job would give Laffey a forum for leading a statewide public debate in conjunction with Governor Carcieri while also giving him a forum for contributing to the national debate on the issue.

At the same time, Laffey should take a larger reform message across the entire state and build the first real network of people committed to fixing the failed political status quo in Rhode Island. If he passes that test of leadership – which will require dealing with his previously mentioned weakness – Laffey will be in tremendous shape to run for Governor in 2010 and could be on his way to even bigger things over time.

Donating to Katrina Relief

Carroll Andrew Morse

Hi folks. We've just recovered from our first major bout with "technical difficulties" (not storm related). However, before you go on to read wisdom about Rhode Island politics that you can't get anywhwhere else, please visit Instapundit's list of options for donating to hurricane Katrina.