October 31, 2005

The Democrats Like Alito, or They Did.....

Marc Comtois

The President has nominated Third Circuit judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court, by all accounts a jurisprudential conservative. Before the liberals start getting wound up, it's useful to recall that back in 1990, when he came up for a seat in the Third Circuit during a time when the Democrats controlled the U.S. Senate, he was unanimously confirmed by the Democrat-controlled Judiciary Committee. According to NRO's Bench Memos) Ted Kennedy said Alito has “a distinguished record” ... “[w]e look forward to supporting you.” Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said of Alito that he is “the kind of judge the public deserves — one who is impartial, thoughtful, and fair.” By all accounts what they said then still applies now. Let's keep this in mind in the days to come.

October 30, 2005

Solar Engineering at the Rhode Island School of Design

Carroll Andrew Morse

Does hearing the name Rhode Island School of Design make you think about cutting edge technology? Well, it probably should.

Last month, a team from RISD was one of 18 teams who participated at the Solar Decathlon on the mall in Washington D.C. Teams from 18 different universities built solar-powered houses -- yes, entire houses. The RISD team designed and constructed an 800 square-foot urban dwelling…

Intended as an urban dwelling that will work well as a row house, the team says it elicits adjectives such as "loft-like," "pure," "free-space," and "transformative," or just "very cool."
To make maximal use of space, the RISD design includes a garden on the roof
In an urban environment, where space is a premium and a yard almost unheard of, a roof garden brings tranquility and a sense of place to the house. The garden will have a series of planter boxes in which we will grow vegetables and herbs, as well as shade plants. This again reduces the solar load on the building and insulates the roof.
Not only is the house completely solar powered, but it is also provides power to an electric car…
Our entry takes the emerging practice of sustainable architecture to another level as the house will not only power itself, but will actually produce an excess of energy (used to power RISD's new electric car) with zero toxic emissions. We will not burn a single drop of fossil fuel to heat and cool the space.
The days when fossil fuels will be replaced by alternative sources of energy are closer than you think; they are that much closer because of the efforts of people like the RISD Solar Decathlon Team.

Free the Form Letters!

Carroll Andrew Morse

Senators and Congressmen frequently respond to inquiries about issues by sending out a form letter. Here are a few form-letter stories compiled from Instapundit's Porkbusters reporting. They show that sometimes form letters address the questions being asked, sometimes they don’t.

Stories like those relayed by Instapundit, combined with my own experiences investigating positions on issues, got me thinking: why shouldn’t legislators take advantage of technology and make their form letters more widely and easily accessible by posting their libraries of form letters on their official websites?

Form letters can often be a legislator’s most detailed public statement on a particular policy. Making them electronically accessible would help constituents stay informed, and help constituents ask relevant questions to their elected representatives. Interaction around the form letters, where everyone is working off the same text, would help take the deliberative part of “deliberative democracy” to a new level.

With these ideas in mind. I put the following questions concretely to Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation, and hypothetically to their 2006 challengers: Will you make your library of issue form letters directly available to the public via the interent. If not, why not?

A Conservative View of American Politics Today

Upon the withdrawal of Harriet Meirs nomination to the Supreme Court, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said: "The radical right wing of the Republican Party killed the Harriet Miers nomination. Apparently, Ms. Miers did not satisfy those who want to pack the Supreme Court with rigid ideologues."

Well, once again, Senator Reid doesn't know what he is talking about.

Rather, here is a more accurate "reid" of the conservative view of American politics today.

An editorial by Rod Dreher offers these comments:

...American conservatism is in crisis at the moment because the bizarre Harriet Miers nomination imposed a surreality check on the right, forcing us to consider just how much nonsense we had gone along with for the sake of party discipline.

Where to start? With the Lyndon Johnson-level spending? The signing of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance bill, which candidate Bush had denounced as unconstitutional? The race-preferences sellout in the University of Michigan cases?

There was also the cynical use of the federal marriage amendment, which the administration dropped after turning out the social-conservative vote in 2004. And grass-roots conservatives cite the president's intent to liberalize immigration policy with Mexico.

Then there is the Iraq quagmire, which, even if initially a worthy cause, has become a rolling disaster.

On top of this came the Katrina debacle, which further damaged conservatism's claim to competent governance.

Conservatives, consciously or not, looked the other way for far too long, mostly because we felt it important to back the president in wartime and because nothing was more important to the various tribes of Red State Nation than recapturing the Supreme Court. For the first time in a generation, a conservative Republican president and a Republican majority in the Senate made that dream a real possibility.

Whatever else Bush might fumble, we trusted him to get that right.

Instead, he gave us a crony pick of no special talents or discernible vision, except for love of Our Lord and George W. Bush, and support for racial preferences. This is what we drank the Rovian Kool-Aid for? The Miers selection was no isolated incident, but the tipping point in a series of betrayals...

A Washington Times article added these comments:

...The choice of Miss Miers was significant because, conservatives critics agreed, it caused some on the right to go public for the first time with their criticism of Mr. Bush, blaming him directly for a major decision he made instead of blaming it on White House advisers, administration aides or renegade Republicans in Congress.

"Withdrawing Miers put a Band-Aid on the rift," says George Conway III, a New York lawyer who is beginning to emerge as one of the new generation of conservative-activist leaders. "That rift now is healed and will be reopened only if he makes the same mistake twice -- then the Band-Aid will come right off."

"Miers was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back among conservatives," says Mr. Conway, who worked behind the scenes against President Clinton during the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky scandals.

He says some nationally prominent conservative leaders have privately dissented from most or, in some cases, all of the president's initiatives on a range of fronts. "It's a long, long list."

He says it includes expanding the federal government's role in education and the welfare state through Medicare drug benefits, encroachment on personal freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism, the decision to go to war with Iraq and what they see as mismanaging the war, not opposing the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance regulations, promoting a guest-worker program for illegal aliens and not fighting the principle of enforced diversity in the University of Michigan racial-preferences cases...

Many anti-Miers conservatives disagree on the desirability and purpose of a nomination fight.

"I think it is a bogus claim people in the press make when they say what the right wants is a fight about ideology," Mr. Conway says. "No. What we want is a good justice nominee but not a fight for the sake of having a fight. If it takes a fight to get a good justice, fine."

Horace Cooper, a former Bush Labor Department official who is now a constitutional law professor at George Mason University, supported the Miers nomination, and he now says a Senate confirmation fight could be useful.

"We need a certifiably conservative judge as Bush's choice so that the fight in the Senate provides that 'teaching moment' when we can explain to the nation what we mean by conservative and constitutionalist."...

Wanting a strong candidate for the Supreme Court, an "A" player and not an unqualified crony. Wanting a teaching moment, a moment to stand on principles carefully and rationally articulated to the American public. Being willing even to lose in the short run in order to take that principled stand. Acting based on the knowledge that, in politics, there is a need to stay on offense - even after a defeat - because there will always be future opportunities to win the battle. This is conservatism at its principled best.

Contrast that principled approach with the way the Democrats are handling the hot topic of special counsel Fitzgerald's investigation, as noted in this excerpt from a New York Times' editorial by David Brooks:

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald did not find evidence to prove that there was a "broad conspiracy to out a covert agent for political gain. He did not find evidence of wide-ranging criminal behavior. He did not even indict the media's ordained villain, Karl Rove," writes David Brooks in Sunday's NY Times.

"Leading Democratic politicians filled the air with grand conspiracy theories that would be at home in the John Birch Society."

"Why are these people so compulsively overheated?.. Why do they have to slather on wild, unsupported charges that do little more than make them look unhinged?

Brooks quotes from an essay written 40 years ago by Richard Hofstadter called "The Paranoid Style in American Politics."

Hofstadter argued that sometimes people who are dispossessed, who feel their country has been taken away from them and their kind, develop an angry, suspicious and conspiratorial frame of mind. It is never enough to believe their opponents have committed honest mistakes or have legitimate purposes; they insist on believing in malicious conspiracies.

"The paranoid spokesman," Hofstadter wrote, "sees the fate of conspiracy in apocalyptic terms -- he traffics in the birth and death of whole worlds, whole political orders, whole systems of human values. He is always manning the barricades of civilization." Because his opponents are so evil, the conspiracy monger is never content with anything but their total destruction."

Brooks summarizes: "So some Democrats were not content with Libby's indictment, but had to stretch, distort and exaggerate. The tragic thing is that at the exact moment when the Republican Party is staggering under the weight of its own mistakes, the Democratic Party's loudest voices are in the grip of passions that render them untrustworthy."

As this previous posting noted, the left is trying to frame this judiciary debate on false terms:

Implicit in the public debate about the upcoming Supreme Court nomination is the assumption by many on the left that any nominee by President Bush is going to be an activist from the right who will seek to undo the aggressive legislating done by the Court in recent years with an equally aggressive counter response. Such a belief reduces the debate to nothing more than a raw power struggle between competing interests. And it completely misses the real point of the judicial activism debate...

Those of us who believe in an original intent approach to judicial behavior believe that legislatures are the place where democratic processes should play out in order to build a public consensus on important policy matters. It takes time and it frequently seems like a messy, inefficient process. But, consider the horrible alternative we now live with: When the Supreme Court legislates on policy matters, it immediately stops any public debate before there has been sufficient time to develop a public consensus. As a result, their action immediately yields a polarization on the topic which, as the abortion issue has shown, makes reasoned debate and building a public consensus practically impossible. We have become a more divided society due to judges legislating from the bench.

Nothing would be more valuable for the American public than to see a very public debate between a principled conservatism and a paranoid, unhinged left.

As a small contribution to the public debate, here are some previous postings on the Supreme Court nomination process, with an emphasis on the proper role of the judiciary:

The Kelo Decision: When Private Property Rights are Eroded, Our Freedom is Diminished
Rediscovering Proper Judicial Reasoning
Relinking Constitutional Law & Jurisprudence to the Constitution
"The Supreme Court Has Converted Itself From a Legal Institution to a Political One"
How Original Intent Does Not Equal Conservative Judicial Activism
Are You an Originalist?
Judicial Activism: Commandeering the Public Debate & Violating the Founding Principles of America
Orrin Hatch: Don't Overstate "Advise and Consent"
Senator Santorum: Judicial Activism is Destroying Traditional Morality
"Restoration of Judicial Restraint Assists the Restoration of Good Will, Because Democratic Governance Gives Everyone Their Say"
The Ginsburg Precedent
Senator Schumer's Double Standard
Playing the Religious Bigotry Card, Again
Nothing But a Fishing Expedition
How the Left Blurs the Distinction Between Judging & Politicking
What is the Federalist Society?
U.S. Constitution: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust"
The Religious Bigotry Continues...In Full View, For All To See
Judicial Restraint 101

Here are two examples of how the Left views the same issues:

"We Are Going To Go To War Over This"
Viewing the Supreme Court Nomination Battle From the Far Left

Here are other postings on this site about the related issue of the judicial filibuster debate:

The Filibuster...Continued
The Injustice of Smearing A Fellow American For Political Gain
The Senate Judicial Filibuster: Power Politics & Religious Bigotry
Mac Owen's open letter to Senator Chaffee
Senator Mitch McConnell on the Judicial Filibuster
The Foolish Fourteen: An editorial by the former Dean of BU's Law School
A Power Line overview of the filibuster debate
Revisiting the Case for Janice Rogers Brown

October 29, 2005

Fashioning a New Elite, a Truer Sky

Justin Katz

Blogs are a marker of a new elite. More accurately, they represent one area in which the ways society works around elite structures must be reconceived.

That's the central theme with which I approached the annual professional development seminar of the Legislative Information and Communications Staff Section (LINCS) of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) as a speaker for a session addressing "Blogs: The Wave of the Future?" Along with RI Future moderator Matt Jerzick (he sat to my left) and Ric Cantrell, the organizer of a blog by the Utah Senate, I explained the significance of blogs to professionals who handle public information, media relations, and civic education services in state governments:

This summer, my wife took a part-time job as a waitress over in Tiverton, Rhode Island, in a restaurant that turned out to be somewhat of a summer hotspot. No reservations available; a two-hour wait every night throughout the season.

Sometime in August, one of my fellow carpenters mentioned that well-connected acquaintances of his — professional lobbyists — had pulled every string trying to get a table there, and it occurred to me that I would probably have a better shot at getting them in than all of the powerful people with whom they've worked so hard to develop networks.

Now imagine if there were a network for waiters, busboys, bouncers, or even roadies, concert security guards — all of those people who are very narrowly connected to something desirable. Individually, they're not powerful people; collectively, they'd have clout. Moreover, their network needn't be such that its capital would be consolidated in some sort of negotiating leadership, as is the case in unions. This, in a limited way, is how the blogosphere functions.

For a quick local example, in February 2004, Rhode Island's governor put forward a terrorism-related bill, which essentially would have updated state laws to factor in terrorists and weapons of mass destruction. Well, an existing network of mainstream media outlets, the ACLU, and ostensible "experts" (professors and such) flipped the switch, putting political pressure on the governor, and succeeding in getting him to withdraw the bill. Libertarian law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh, who is himself part of that network, initially contributed to the pressure.

I — just some nobody from Rhode Island — was interested enough in the issue to look into the claims and to read the bill, and I found that the breathless reportage exaggerated its language to such an extent that one might reasonably fling an accusation of falsehood. I wrote up a post for my blog, Dust in the Light, with an embedded picture of the Providence Journal's front-page story and pointed it out to Prof. Volokh. He modified his stance and included a link back to my blog, leading thousands of readers — interested readers, connected readers — to my argument. Subsequently, the Journal replaced the picture that I'd included with a blank image, and as I recall, they issued a correction.

In our small way, the emerging network of bloggers had offered a counterforce to an existing network of elites. Since this incident, that sort of activity — that role — has become a hallmark of blogs. Dan Rather's memo scandal perhaps being the most prominent example.

As it concerns you, in your role with state legislatures, the important lesson is that a local blogger now has the power to tap into national or international interest in an issue and bring that force into the mix for local concerns. The challenge for you is that it won't be enough simply to think of bloggers as another channel of media; they're not in it for money; they're more ideologically driven. But it won't be adequate, either, for you to handle them as, say, a special interest group, because they've got direct access to a broad audience, consisting not necessarily of fellow ideologues.

And now — as we at Anchor Rising discovered a couple of weeks ago — bloggers are also filling the role of experts in that old network. One of our writers, Carroll Andrew Morse, was recently interviewed for the six o'clock news to offer "the conservative side" for a report on national Republican ads against local Republican upstart Steve Laffey. Instead of a bow-tied professor behind a desk, viewers saw some guy whom the reporter met in a parking lot on his lunch break. In the case of Dan Rather, people who happened to know about typesetting contributed their expertise to the aggregate understanding; others spent their lunch breaks duplicating the forged documents on their own computers.

What it comes down to is that lawmakers are no longer dealing with a categorized and hierarchical field of players. Every constituent is a potential influencer and conveyor of news, and those who excel in that role will approach it from that perspective. In other words, they themselves will not turn to an established network of elites, but to their peers.

Among those peers, just as among blue collar service providers, will be somebody with an inside connection, as well as somebody with the wherewithal to put pieces together and somebody with access to an audience. One fortunate consequence of this new reality is that the best strategy for legislators to begin addressing blogs is to be respectful of and responsive to constituents. What blogs ultimately make palpable is the reality that legislators are also among citizens' peers.

The theme echoes more broadly. I recently heard it in the strains of the latest bit of D&G (that's "doom and gloom") to thud onto the conservative reading list. Writes Peggy Noonan:

Our elites, our educated and successful professionals, are the ones who are supposed to dig us out and lead us. I refer specifically to the elites of journalism and politics, the elites of the Hill and at Foggy Bottom and the agencies, the elites of our state capitals, the rich and accomplished and successful of Washington, and elsewhere. I have a nagging sense, and think I have accurately observed, that many of these people have made a separate peace. That they're living their lives and taking their pleasures and pursuing their agendas; that they're going forward each day with the knowledge, which they hold more securely and with greater reason than nonelites, that the wheels are off the trolley and the trolley's off the tracks, and with a conviction, a certainty, that there is nothing they can do about it.

Ms. Noonan is surely in a better position than I to judge whether this attitude drives the Western elite, but I can't help but wonder whether, similarly, she's more susceptible to elites' false conceits. Perhaps it isn't "the whole ball of wax" that's falling apart, but just the artificial system — long sensed to be untenable — by which the elites, the conceit-full Baby Boomer elites, have managed to secure the "grim comfort" that "I got mine."

Or perhaps we are headed toward "the next chapter of trouble," and it may be trouble from more than merely a limited perspective. But blogs are proving that, if the functional elites are too resigned to that trouble to lead our society through it, the underclasses now have the technology — and the faculty — to pick up the slack. Maybe the sky is falling only to reveal the truer sky beyond, and in its light, we will be better able to respond to the troubles with which life — and history — accosts us all equally.

Iraq, the War on Terror, & American Politics

A Wall Street Journal editorial today says this:

Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation took nearly two years, sent a reporter to jail, cost millions of dollars, and preoccupied some of the White House's senior officials. The fruit it has now borne is the five-count indictment of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the Vice President's Chief of Staff--not for leaking the name of Valerie Plame to Robert Novak, which started this entire "scandal," but for contradictions between his testimony and the testimony of two or three reporters about what he told them, when he told them, and what words he used...

...[Fitgerald] noted that a criminal investigation into a "national security matter" of this sort hinged on "very fine distinctions," and that any attempt to obscure exactly who told what to whom and when was a serious matter.

Let us stipulate that impeding a criminal investigation is indeed a serious matter; no one should feel he can lie to a grand jury or to federal investigators. But there is a question to be asked about the end to which the accused allegedly lied. The indictment itself contains no motive. And Mr. Libby is not alleged to have been the source for Robert Novak's July 14, 2003 column, in which Valerie Plame's employment with the CIA was revealed...

If this is a conspiracy to silence Administration critics, it was more daft than deft. The indictment itself contains no evidence of a conspiracy, and Mr. Libby has not been accused of trying to cover up some high crime or misdemeanor by the Bush Administration. The indictment amounts to an allegation that one official lied about what he knew about an underlying "crime" that wasn't committed...

On this much we can agree with Mr. Fitzgerald: These are "very fine distinctions" indeed, especially as they pertain to discussions that occurred two years ago, and whose importance only became clear well after the fact, when investigators came knocking. In a statement yesterday, Mr. Libby's counsel zeroed in on this point when he said, "We are quite distressed the Special Counsel has now sought to pursue alleged inconsistencies in Mr. Libby's recollection and those of others' and to charge such inconsistencies as false statements."...

On the answers to these questions hang a possible 30-year jail term and $1.25 million in fines for a Bush Administration official who was merely attempting to expose the truth about Mr. Wilson, a critic of the Administration who was lying to the press about the nature of his involvement in the Niger mission and about the nature of the intelligence that it produced. In other words, Mr. Libby was defending Administration policy against political attack, not committing a crime.

Mr. Fitzgerald has been dogged in pursuing his investigation, and he gave every appearance of being a reasonable and tough prosecutor in laying out the charges yesterday. But he has thrust himself into what was, at bottom, a policy dispute between an elected Administration and critics of the President's approach to the war on terror, who included parts of the permanent bureaucracy of the State Department and CIA. Unless Mr. Fitzgerald can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Libby was lying, and doing so for some nefarious purpose, this indictment looks like a case of criminalizing politics.

For a review of the chain of events in this whole episode, read The White House, the CIA, and the Wilsons: The chain of events that gave rise to a grand jury investigation. For more on Joe Wilson, read The Incredibles: The only debate about Joseph Wilson's credibility is the one taking place at the Washington Post and the New York Times.

This is part of a bigger and more important issue. Power Line has this to say: "The administration long ago gave up making the factual case to support the centrality of Iraq in the war on terroristm" and refers us to another Hayes article entitled A Spooked White House: The damage that has already been done by the CIA leak investigation, which notes:

There are other documents from Iraq that would help the American public understand the nature of the former Iraqi regime and why a serious war on terror required its removal. Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) documents currently stored in a warehouse in Doha, Qatar, as part of the Defense Intelligence Agency's document exploitation project are a case in point. Many of these documents, listed in a database known as HARMONY, have rather provocative titles:
Money Transfers from Iraq to Afghanistan

Secret Meeting with Taliban Group Member and Iraqi Government (Nov. 2000)

Iraqi Effort to Cooperate with Saudi Opposition Groups and Individuals

Order from Saddam to present $25,000 to Palestinian Suicide Bombers' Families

IIS Reports from Embassy in Paris: Plan to Influence French Stance in UN Security Council

IIS Report on How French Campaigns are Financed

Improvised Explosive Devices Plan

Ricin research and improvement

There are thousands of similar documents. Many have already been authenticated and most are unclassified. That's worth repeating: Most are unclassified.

Of course, nothing is more important than winning on the ground in Iraq. Demonstrating that we are killing terrorists and making steady progress on the political front will do much to blunt the criticism of the war. But if the White House refuses to challenge its critics, and refuses to explain in detail why Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, and refuses to discuss the flawed intelligence on Iraqi WMD, and refuses to use its tremendous power to remind Americans that Saddam Hussein was, in fact, a threat, then it risks losing the support of those Americans who continue to believe that the Iraq war, despite all of its many costs in blood and money, was worth it.

October 28, 2005

More on the Injustice of Pork

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the North Kingstown Standard Times, the Yorker Mill Dam in Exeter is another of Rhode Island’s dams in need of immediate attention…

If the Yorker Mill pond dam on Dorset Mill Road were to rupture, it would result in the loss of life and substantial property damage, according to state officials….

[David Chopy, supervising engineer in the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management] explained that there were three major components of a dam: the embankment that holds the water back (Yorker Mill's dam is earthen), the spillway which usually is a concrete opening that allows the water to pass through the dam without overtopping and a structure, usually a gate, that allows the water to drain out of the pond.

A gate is needed to be able to lower the pond so it can be inspected and if a storm were coming there would be additional capacity.

The Yorker Mill dam does not have a gate mechanism and its spillway is leaking. "The leaking spillway is why we consider it unsafe," said Chopy.

Chief Scott Kettelle, of Exeter Volunteer Fire Company No. One, said that the town was notified of the dam's condition six month ago, but on the morning of Oct. 15, the DEM realized work hadn't been done on it….

The information in the Standard Times story helps fill out another dimension of Rhode Island’s dam problem. Many of Rhode Island’s dams are privately owned. And in the case of the Yorker Mill Dam, the homeowner association responsible for funding dam maintenance hasn’t stepped up as fully as it should…
Bill Bivona, owns the dam and Dorset Mill, with his wife, Alice, as well as Tom Daven and Mary Kesler.

Bivona said that the engineering was complete and a permit was in place to begin reconstruction of the dam.

"That work should commence sometime in the next two or three weeks," he said. "Getting everything in order is a time-consuming process. The thing to note is we have been having a lot of difficulty getting an agreement from all the neighbors to fulfill their obligations to support this financially."

According to Bivona, it was in the deeds of all people with pond frontage to contribute equally for the repair and maintenance of the dam.

There were roughly 15 parties involved but only about a third of the people have made a contribution.

Bivona estimated the cost of the project at tens of thousands of dollars.

However, the people living around the Yorker Mill Dam are light-years ahead of the recipients of the $223,000,000 bridge to nowhere in terms of civic consciousness. The bridge to nowhere is being built in Alaska -- a state that levies neither a sales tax nor an income tax on its residents.

When our Congressional repsresentatives vote for Alaskan pork, they are voting for projects that the Alaskan government is unwilling to pay for with local money, while leaving people like their constituents in Exeter -- who pay their fair share to the state of Rhode Island in the form of income and sales taxes -- on their own for dam repairs.

Chafee Vote Against Refineries = Higher Gas Prices

Marc Comtois

While Senator Chafee deserves congratulations for opposing pork, he still appears to be tone deaf in matters related to energy policy. In short, if any link, no matter how tenuous, can be made that an energy policy proposal could "hurt" the environment, Senator Chafee will vote against it. Here's the story:

Senate Democrats, sensing what they hope will be an opportunity to blame Republicans for the high price of gasoline, voted in unison Wednesday in the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to help defeat a bill that would have streamlined the building of new refineries.

The eight committee Democrats won over liberal Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R.-R.I.), whose vote against Chairman Jim Inhofe’s Gas PRICE Act (S 1772) means Republicans will have to take other steps if they want to push a refinery bill through the Senate this year.

Inhofe (R.-Okla.) told HUMAN EVENTS he pleaded with Chafee to vote with the committee’s nine other Republicans on the measure because Democrats were opposing the bill for purely partisan reasons. In the end, however, Chafee sided with Democrats.

“I went to Lincoln Chafee,” Inhofe told HUMAN EVENTS in an exclusive interview, “and I said, ‘Lincoln, I know you’re from Rhode Island, and I know from time to time you have to cave in to these people because you’re in a tight election, but their motivation is to blame Republicans for something the Republicans didn’t do, and you’re a Republican.’”

Inhofe added: “In the next election, high gas prices will be one of the Democrats’ big campaign issues.”

Chafee’s spokesman, Stephen Hourahan, said the senator voted against the bill because he believed it weakened environmental standards, and didn’t address alternative fuels and fuel-economy standards. Despite these objections, Chafee offered no amendments.

Environmentalists opposed Inhofe’s bill for its provisions to expand refinery capacity, streamline refinery permitting and simplify so-called boutique fuel requirements. It also would have provided federal assistance for the construction of refineries on closed military bases, which could have been producing gas in about two years, Inhofe said.

But with Republicans unable to corral Chafee, Inhofe said the GOP reached out to three committee Democrats—Senators Max Baucus (Mont.), Hillary Clinton (N.Y.) and Barack Obama (Ill.)—all of whom faced pressure from home-state industries to vote in favor of the bill. Not one switched sides, however, resulting in a 9-to-9 stalemate on the bill.

Democrats, Inhofe said, are employing a strategy to defeat any measure that might reduce the cost of gasoline.

“The Democrats are all going to vote against it for one reason,” Inhofe said Tuesday as he scrambled to find one more supporter on his committee. “They want to make sure nothing happens to bring the price of gasoline at the pumps down, because that’s the issue they want to use for the elections next year.”

Inhofe said his measure was just one example. In the House, Rep. Joe Barton (R.-Tex.) barely won passage of a bill that encourages refinery construction. Not one House Democrat voted for the bill, which barely passed, 212-210, after arm-twisting several GOP moderates.

Inhofe’s observation about Democrats was confirmed Thursday when Senators Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.), Chuck Schumer (D.-N.Y.), Debbie Stabenow (D.-Mich.), Mark Dayton (D.-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D.-Ore.) engaged in demagoguery, accusing oil companies of raking in huge profits with little regard for the impact on consumers’ wallets. Democrats made the same arguments a day before at the committee meeting.

But regardless of the Democrats’ over-arching political strategy, it was Chafee’s vote that ultimately sank the bill. It was the second time this year Chafee’s opposition to a GOP-backed measure—he voted against President Bush’s “Clear Skies” air-quality bill—resulted in a deadlocked vote.

Hourahan, the senator’s spokesman, said Chafee was balancing the needs of his state when he cast his “no” vote on the Gas PRICE Act. Rhode Island has two shuttered military bases that could be used, although Hourahan said local opposition to such a plan was strong.

Even though Chafee is facing a Republican primary challenge, his opponent, former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey, has actually been running a populist-themed campaign. Laffey, whose spokeswoman didn’t return calls to HUMAN EVENTS, recently attacked oil companies for their huge profits.

“[Chafee] is a Republican who is running in the most Democrat state in the country,” Hourahan said. “Rhode Island is a very environmentally sensitive state, and we have people there who clearly would not have appreciated it if the senator had voted for this bill, which would have allowed two sites in Rhode Island to potentially have a refinery.”

Inhofe said Chafee had no excuse to oppose the bill.

“He sweats a lot,” Inhofe told HUMAN EVENTS. “He said, ‘I just can’t do that. I have to win that election. Right now I have a perfect record with the environmentalists.’ And I said, ‘This is different. This is Democrat vs. Republican. It has nothing to do with the environmentalists.’”

It appears that it doesn't matter to Senator Chafee if the new refineries would be built under stringent environmental standards. Sen. Chafee is more worried about his interest group rating on the environment then on the effect that the current restrictions on refinery capacity, and thus higher energy costs, have on his constituent's wallets.

AIDS Drugs or a Japanese Garden: Which would You Choose?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Senator Lincoln Chafee took an anti-pork stand on a Senate floor vote on Thursday. According to Mark Tapscott of the Heritage Foundation,

President Bush had previously asked Congress to appropriate $30 million for construction upgrades at the Center for Disease Control facilities in Atlanta, including the Japanese gardens. There was already $240 million in previously authorized but not yet spent funds for the construction program.

The House approved the $30 million sought by Bush but when the bill came to the Senate, Coburn noted that it had increased the appropriation to $225 million, which meant there would be half a billion dollars available if the Senate version of the bill became law.

Coburn, who is a physician, offered the amendment to move $60 million from the CDC construction program to the AIDS effort. Doing so would mean "we will have enough funding to make sure everybody with HIV in this country has the medicine they need to stay alive," Coburn told the Senate, according to the Congressional Record for Oct. 26, 2005.

Coburn also told the Senate that the transfer was needed because "while people are dying from HIV, they cannot get medicines under the ADAP program because we cannot fund it significantly. We have multiple states with people on waiting lists. We have multiple states that cap the available benefits. It is a death sentence to those people with HIV today."

The amendment to transfer funds from building a garden at upgrading CDC headquarters to providing AIDS drugs was defeated, 85 – 14.

Senator Chafee was one of the 14 Senators who voted to provide AIDS drugs. Senator Jack Reed was one of the 85 Senators who voted to build the Japanese garden upgrade CDC headquarters instead. I would like to hear Sheldon Whitehouse's and Matt Brown’s position on this vote. So far, their Senate campaigns have been marked by unwavering adherence to national Democratic party positions. Would it be party discipline over doing the right and sensible thing on this issue too?

Finally, last week I posed the question of whether Senators and Congressmen are aware of what they are voting for when they pass these giant, pork-ladern approrpriations bills. Tapscott’s account of the Japanese garden amendment provides evidence that the answer is a thundering “No”…

Coburn then noted that "the CDC has just completed a $62 million visitors center. I am asking for $60 million for people who have HIV, who are never going to get to the visitors center. I do not how we spent $62 million on a visitors center for the CDC but I believe that priority is wrong when people are dying from HIV and do not have the available medicines."

Sen. Specter then responded to Coburn by first claiming there was not Japanese garden spending at the CDC facility in Atlanta, but then upon being corrected by a staffer, acknowledging that "maybe there could be a less expensive exotic garden than a Japanese garden."


In an update to his original post, Tapscott wishes to clarify any confusion about the amounts involved...

Please note that the Japanese garden is part of a $60 million package of construction upgrades. The garden is NOT a $60 million garden. My apologies for the awkward wording when this post initially appeared earlier today. Being an editor, I should have caught that earlier.

October 27, 2005

The United Nations and the Internet

Carroll Andrew Morse

What do they mean, exactly, when they say the United Nations is trying to take over the internet? Bascially, they mean that at the next meeting of the WSIS, the WGIG may recommend replacing ICANN with a more direct authority over the 13 root name servers.

I explain in a bit more detail in my latest TechCentralStation column.

Cleaning up Cranston

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Elizabeth Seal in the Cranston Herald, it took the Cranston City Council eight hours to come up with this plan to help residents clean up the recent flooding in the city…

The council is now asking anyone with flood damage to pick up a claim form and file it with the city.
With that tough decision made, shouldn’t longer term infrastructure questions now be addressed? For instance…
The pump station [near Plainfield Pike] apparently failed during the storm and sent sewage backing up into many homes in that neighborhood.
Why did the pump fail? Is repairing the existing equipment enough to prevent the problem from recurring, or does new pumping equipment need to be installed?

The Answer Is...

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the American Prospect, Ezra Klein rhetorically asks…

After all, who hasn't called for Democrats to adopt "a coherent foreign policy" [or] "tolerance and common sense" on social issues…
The answer is Democratic Party national chairman Howard Dean.

Gaining Perspective When Experiencing Difficult Times

Donald B. Hawthorne

Sometimes things you really care about in life don't work out as planned, even when those things are special, world-class, and deserve only the best.

It hurts like hell when something like that happens. And when it does, it is hard to keep perspective.

Steve Jobs gave an amazingly insightful speech last June at the Stanford University commencement that talked about perspective. Video is here.

When I first started this posting, I tried to excerpt key parts of the speech. But there are so many good parts to the speech that I can only simply encourage all of you to read the whole speech.

Gaining Perspective When Experiencing Difficult Times

Sometimes things you really care about in life don't work out as planned, even when those things are special, world-class, and deserve only the best.

It hurts like hell when something like that happens. And when it does, it is hard to keep perspective.

Steve Jobs gave an amazingly insightful speech last June at the Stanford University commencement that talked about perspective. Video is here.

When I first started this posting, I tried to excerpt key parts of the speech. But there are so many good parts to the speech that I can only simply encourage all of you to read the whole speech.

Conservative Ideals Triumph In Miers Nomination

Marc Comtois

By now, most have heard that Harriet Miers has withdrawn herself from consideration for the Supreme Court (go here or here for more). While conservatives are relieved and are patting themselves on the back, there are many Republican party loyalists who are accusing them of being "extreme" conservatives and of ultimately undermining the President.

Despite what some have charged, this was not about insider/outsider, elite/non-elite, or anything else. It was about ideological conservatives holding the President to a higher standard. Simply put, with the confirmation of John Roberts as Chief Justice fresh in their minds, conservatives had expected President Bush to nominate another intellectual conservative to the Supreme Court. They had thought the days of Republican Presidents nominating "stealth" candidates who can "get along" were over. The nomination of Harriet Miers was a shocking disappointment and one that conservatives simply refused to accept.

Finally, this episode has illustrated that there is a difference between ideological loyalty and party loyalty, after all. In practicing and promoting the latter, the President and his supporters alienated those who prioritize ideals over political expediency. (This could serve as a lesson here in Rhode Island). As NRO's Jonah Goldberg wrote:

Party discipline matters because parties are supposed to stand for something. It's not clear what, if anything, Miers stood for. If hard feelings are the problem, imagine how much harder they would have been had she stuck it out? Besides, Party discipline is a two way street. It is smart for conservatives to be loyal to the President when the President is loyal to conservatives.

Yes, there is a little bitterness towards conservatives being expressed by party loyalists, but that will pass. Now it's up to the President to take his mulligan and drive the ball down the right side of the fairway. Then both groups, conservative ideologues and party loyalists, can unite behind him against the all-out assault that can be expected from the liberal establishment.

Begin v. Carcieri: The Failure of Campaign Finance Reform

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Board of Elections investigation into the funding of Donald Carcieri's 2002 gubernatorial campaign advertising continues. According to the subhead of Scott Mayerowitz's story in today's Projo,

Elections Board Chairman Roger N. Begin says special prosecutor H. Reed Witherby will have the power to subpoena records and to compel testimony.
The news, of course, is that the Governor Don Carcieri himself may be subpoenaed.

Witherby has already found (as a prosecutor, not as the final judge in the matter) that the First Amendment and federal law are not relevant, and made several findings related to technical financial issues concerning money transfers. So what is left that may require subpoenas? According to the initial report issued by Witherby, further investigation relates to section 17-25-10.1(c) of Rhode Island law...

Expenditures made by any person in cooperation, consultation or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, the candidate's authorized political committees, or their agents shall be considered to be a contribution to the candidate.
Witherby and the Board of Elections must determine what constitutes "cooperation, consultation, or concert". Having to answer this question shows everything that is wrong with campaign finance reform law.

According to Witherby's report (which provides an excellent primer on the current state of campaign finance reform), campaign finance related speech restrictions have been justified because...

the [Supreme] court reasoned that while both contribution and expenditure limits implicate First Amendment freedoms of speech and association, limitations upon contributions impose a relatively minor burden upon speech and associational rights, and the governmental interests in preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption are stronger in the case of contributions than they are in the case of independent expenditures.
By this standard, campaign finance reform has already failed.

Earlier this week, the campaign of Senator Lincoln Chafee was asked if they approved of advertisements being run by the National Republican Senate Committee on their behalf. Here is their answer...

Citing federal campaign-financing rules barring any coordination between his own campaign and the national-financed ad campaign committee, Chafee also would not say if he had discussed these concerns with the national committee.

His campaign manager, Ian Lang, said: "The senator has had no interaction with the NRSC about these ads, nor can we by law.

Senator Chafee's answer shows how low the standard for "cooperation, consulation, or concert" may be. If Chafee had told the NRSC that he didn't like the ad, and another was run in its place, would the new ad be considered the result of "cooperation, consultation, or concert"? In the case of Governor Carcieri, could a fact-checking inquiry like "are you still planning that big audit", or even the sharing of basic information like "we're planning to run an ad this week" be considered coordination?

A great many conversations between our elected leaders and their supporters are now potential violations of the law. That is a huge burden on associational rights. Perversely, the law can be interpreted to mean that you may not be free to spend money to support a political candidate if you actually take the time to interact with that candidate.

If the standard for "cooperation, consultation, or concert" turns out to be as low as it seems, than changes to the current incarnation of campaign finance law are needed to protect our basic political freedoms of association and speech.

October 26, 2005

Owens: Keep Posse Comitatus As Is

Marc Comtois

Mac Owens (a contributor to this site) has a column up over at National Review explaining both the history of the Posse Comitatus Act, which defines the line between the militia (or National Guard) and U.S. military, and why it shouldn't be changed despite the recent events surrounding Hurricane Katrina.

The Lieutenant Governorship and Voter Initiative

Carroll Andrew Morse

I think voter initiative is a good idea. The usual objection -- that voter initiative gives undue influence to money in politics -- is not any more relevant to voter initiative than it is to the rest of the political process.

However, I also believe that it is a mistake to view political reform purely in terms of procedural reform. Procedural reform, by itself, does not create sound policy. Unless there is strong, honest political leadership, procedures, by themselves, will not guarantee that the government process is used for the benefit of the people. Fortunately, the current election cycle provides the people of Rhode Island with a chance to implement better lawmaking procedures AND to elect a leader who is willing to use those procedures for the public good.

Here is the synergy: Rhode Island’s voter initiative movement should also back a candidate for lieutenant governor who declares his or her willingness to take on the role of the people’s legislator.

Now wait a second, you may be asking yourself; hasn’t this website posted volumes on the subject of the worthlessness of Rhode Island’s lieutenant governorship? That is true. And that is the beauty of the situation! Since the job doesn’t have very many well-defined duties, the lieutenant governor is free to define the position largely as he or she wants.

1) Whether or not voter initiative passes next fall, the LG could set up a process to help citizens introduce bills at the state house. The LG would take the ideas that people have, use the resources of the office to research the technical and legal aspects of bills, and help find a legislative sponsor for citizen-created bills.
2) The LG could set up a transparent system for tracking bills. Because the LG is not beholden to the legislative leadership, he or she would be free to be honest about what the legislature is trying to kill without allowing a vote.

Finally, as an added bonus, running for LG as the people’s legislator will provide a stark contrast with LG candidate Elizabeth Roberts, who has already stated that she believes that minimal citizen involvement in lawmaking is something to be desired.

And Sen. Elizabeth Roberts, likely Democratic lieutenant governor nominee, has "grave" concerns [about voter initiative]. "Issues are decided in somewhat of a policy vacuum," she says, with voters apt to make decisions without considering all the ramifications.

Divided and Conquered by the Insurance Industry

Carroll Andrew Morse

From Tuesday's Pawtucket Times...

The tentative contract agreement, reached in private talks conducted well below the public radar, besides the 3 percent pay increase would change no other contract language, including the current lack of a health coverage co-pay.

School Committee Chairman Alan Tenreiro confirmed those details Monday night.

Addressing the lack of a co-pay provision, Tenreiro cited city teachers' relatively low pay compared to other school districts around the state and likely union backlash, among other factors.

From Tuesday's Warwick Beacon...
Mayor Scott Avedisian has advanced a proposal that would give teachers retroactive pay increases for the last two years without requiring the School Committee to seek a substantial additional appropriation and a supplemental tax increase....

In his letter Avedisian says the City Personnel Department arrived at a $1.55 million cost for each year of the two-year deferral. He says if a co-payment for health care was also part of that package the deferred cost would drop to $728,654 for each of the years.

How is it that insurance companies successfully duck most of the ire centered on expensive and/or poor health care coverage? As is seen in the two examples above, insurance companies have convinced employers and employees to fight with one another over the ever-declining cost/quality ratio of the insurer's product. The insurer's choices to raise prices or to reduce or expand coverage are treated as immutable.

The ultimate solution to this problem is breaking the strange system of over-regulated corporate socialism that has evolved in this country for distributing health care. There is no law of nature that says health insurance can ONLY be purchased, at a reasonable rate, through an employer. Instead of being presented with one take-it-or-leave-plan through your employer, people should be able to shop from different insurance companies for the plan that suits them best.

October 25, 2005

Scott Avedisian to Run for Mayor of Warwick

Carroll Andrew Morse

I just came from Scott Avedisian's very well-attended big announcement.

Citing his record of building up budget surpluses, helping to stimulate $400M in private development, helping to make Warwick the 20th safest city in the nation, and working with non-profits on health care and human services issues, and saying that the Mayor's office is the place where he feels he can do the most good on the issues most important to him -- health care, the environment, creating a pro-business environment, and human services delivery -- Mayor Avedisian announced that he will seek a fifth term as Mayor of Warwick.

Pacing Around a Disturbing Theme

Justin Katz

My latest FactIs column, "The Premises of the Culture of Death," ponders a theme upon which I can't quite land my finger. Something about things not meaning what they mean in pulsing cultural conversation that lacks substance.

This, by the way, is my final FactIs column. I'm very grateful to the folks who produce the 'zine for giving me the opportunity, and for doing so with such consistent courtesy and encouragement. But timing is as it is, and the need to prepare my house (and household) to accommodate another child in the spring — as well as the need to support that house (and household) — will leave me unable to devote sufficient time to a regular, polished, deadlined column.

When Ideology and Politics Collide

Marc Comtois

David Sirota is the co-chairperson of the liberal Progressive Legislative Action Network and has written about what he dubs "Partisan War Syndrome" and how it is negatively affecting the political prospects of the left. In short, Sirota writes about how partisanship and political opportunism--the anything to get Bush syndrome, as it were--has eclipsed ideological steadfastness in the Democrat party, which is weaker for it. In his conclusion, he explains the importance of ideology over what some would call "pragmatic" politics:

Make no mistake about it - we cannot expect political parties to resist Partisan War Syndrome. In fact, we can expect parties to actively spread it. Just like corporations exist only to make money, political parties exist solely to win elections, no matter how opportunistic and partisan they have to be.

But while it may be acceptable for politicians and parties to exhibit cynical, conniving, convictionless behavior, it is quite alarming for the supposed idealistic "ideological" foot soldiers supporting them to operate in the same way. The former has elections to think about. But the latter is supposed to be about broader movements that are larger than just the next November. And without the latter, the best-run, best-funded party in the world will always emanate a self-defeating image of standing for nothing.

This, in part, explains why the Democratic Party emanates such an image today: It is not only the spineless politicians in Washington who have no compass, but also a large and vocal swath of the base that lacks ideological cohesion as well. The politicians are, in a sense, just a public representation of that deeply-rooted lack of conviction. Put another way, looking at the typical evasive, jellyfish-like Democratic politician on the nightly news is like putting a mirror up to a growing swath of the grassroots left itself.

Why should this be troubling to the average progressive? First, it is both soulless and aimless. Partisanship is not ideology, and movements are not political parties - they are bigger than political parties, and shape those parties accordingly through pressure. As much as paid party hacks would argue otherwise, the most significant movements in American history did not emanate from the innards of the Democratic or Republican Party headquarters, and they did not come from groups of activists who put labels before substance: They spawned from millions of people committed to grassroots movements organized around ideas - movements which pushed both parties' establishments to deal with given issues. Without those movements transcending exclusively partisan concerns, American history would be a one-page tale of status quo.

Second, even for those concerned more about electoral victories than ideology, this Partisan War Syndrome that subverts ideological movements ultimately hurts electoral prospects. Today's Republican Party, for instance, could not win without the corresponding conservative ideological movement that gets that party its committed donors, fervent foot soldiers and loyal activists. That base certainly operates as an arm of the GOP's party infrastructure - but few doubt it is fueled less by hollow partisanship, and more by their grassroots' commitment to social, economic and religious conservatism.

We err if we dismiss his insight simply because he is liberal (Sun Tzu anyone?). It seems to me that there are some obvious parallels between Sirota's characterization of the national Democrats and our own Rhode Island GOP in the context of the current Senate campaign. That being said, conservatives in Rhode Island face the prospect of choosing the more conservative (or less liberal) of two candidates who appear to be moderate within the context of the national GOP.

One issue that has been discussed frequently hereabouts, is whether supporting the apparently more conservative candidate (Laffey) on the micro (Rhode Island) level will ultimately help or hurt the conservative movement on the macro (national) level. Will pragmatic politics waged and won on the local level--ie; the safe approach of re-electing the aggravatingly moderate incumbent Chafee--really safeguard the conservative ideological movement nationally, or can conservative ideology be fought for and won on both levels by electing the "insurgent" Laffey?

The former path is a circle and will lead to where RI Republicans are now: with a perception that Rhode Island is full of "go-along Republicans" who pick the safe route because it offers a safer play for keeping the U.S. Senate in Republican (ie; more conservative) hands. So while it may not do much to further the conservative cause within Rhode Island, it will vouchsafe conservatism nationally. Choosing the other path will align the RI Republican base with an ideologically closer candidate, though he may be less likely to win in a statewide election. Many believe such an outcome will lead to a Republican loss in the general election and a Senate turned over to the Democrats (ie; more liberal).

While the big "IF" is whether the more conservative Laffey can translate statewide or not, a less-voiced question is: will Laffey's campaign for a national political office translate into an upswing of conservative representation at the state or local level? In other words, will he have "coattails" within RI? Past elections have indicated that Sen. Chafee doesn't. Should conservatives be more or less concerned with the the national or local political scene? What has support for the national conservative movement garnered RI conservatives? Instead of looking for a top-down solution, is the solution really to be had from the bottom up?

Charles Bakst on the Subject of Pork

Carroll Andrew Morse

Charles Bakst misses an important part of the anti-pork argument in today’s Projo.

One could argue that tax cuts stimulate the economy, and better that you keep your money than the government waste it. My point is: Tax cuts, like pork-barrel politics, are an important issue, or could be, if the candidates want to have a meaningful dialogue about these things and if voters will pay attention.
The argument against pork is not just that “you get to keep your money”, it is that money spent by local government tends to be more rationally and efficiently spent than money spent by a remote Federal government. When the Feds control spending, you end up with things like $11,000,000 allocated for bike paths in Coventry, while nothing is allocated for the repairing the Tiogue Dam in Coventry, which would cost “just” $600,000 to fix. Here’s another example, from Amanda Milkovits in the Projo…
The Slack Reservoir in Smithfield and Johnston, where the 19th-century earthen dam was used to help control the river for the mills has been deteriorating. About a million gallons of water leak from the dam each day.

If the dam breaks, the water would cascade through the village of Greenville, across Route 44, through more than 50 homes and businesses, said Mark Barnes, president of the Slack Reservoir Association.

"It would be quite the mess," Barnes said.

Faced with $400,000 in repairs, the association members have appealed at meetings in Johnston and Smithfield, and among their neighbors to raise money.

So far, they've raised half the money, from Johnston, their members, and the state, thanks to the aid of Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr., D-Smithfield, Barnes said.

They drew up their own emergency action plan to notify and evacuate people downstream, and gave the plan to the local emergency management director. They've had guidance from the DEM, which has trained the association members how to monitor the dam, Barnes said. They check it every day, he said.

Maybe a small fraction of the $5,000,000 being spent on the greenway from Johnston to Providence would be better spent on dam repair.

Bakst speculates that...

Myself, I'm not the largest believer in pork. But if there's any to be had, have some here, no? I imagine most voters see it that way...
I think it's a huge leap to assume the most people would have warm and fuzzy feelings about pork if they knew exactly what their money was being spent on. Do the residents of Coventry or the members of the Slack Reservoir Association really want to be highly taxed so they can pay for bikpeaths, bridges to nowhere in Alaska, or rainforests in Iowa, while their basic infrastructure needs are ignored?

Let people keep their money locally, so they can have more control over spending it. Give the citizens of this country federal tax relief, so people like the members of the Slack Reservoir Association can have the resources they need to repair their dam.

Putting Senator Chaffee In Context: Economic Issues

Marc Comtois

Project VoteSmart is an indispensible tool for analyzing the voting records of our politicians. The problem with the site is that there is no analysis (yet) offered for the political challengers of incumbents. Thus, though there is plenty of data on Senator Chafee, there is nothing on Mayor Laffey. Nevertheless, using PVS's data, there are two primary ways to do an analysis. First, and more difficult, is to look at each vote on each bill, do all of the background reading and come to some conclusions. The second is to rely on interest group ratings, filtered by their own stated goals, and derive some conclusions. I've taken the easy way out.

I thought it might be helpful to present Senator Chafee's ratings on various topics within the context of his peers. As such, I've selected representative Senators from across the ideological spectrum and compared their ratings to Senator Chafee's. I believe this will allow us to gage the Sen. Chafee's relative degree of "conservativeness" both regionally and nationally as well as within the context of the overall ideological spectrum. My "ciphers" were selected based on name recognition and because I think most people have an idea as to where they think these individuals lie along the ideological spectrum (I think there may be surprises as to how "moderate" some Democrats really are!). They are: Ted Kennedy (D-MA) as a Liberal Democrat, Joe Lieberman (D-CT) as a Moderate Democrat, Olympia Snowe (R-ME) as a Moderate Republican, John McCain (R-AZ) as a "Maverick" Republican and George Allen (R-VA) as a Conservative Republican. I've also included the ratings of Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) for a local comparison. The first topic deals with economic issues.

Economic Issues (Budget, Spending and Taxes)

According to PVS, "ratings indicate the degree that each elected official supported the interests of the organization in that year." I've linked to the web sites of the interest groups and put the relevant rating year(s) in ().

National Taxpayers Union (2004): "Seeks to reduce government spending, cut taxes, and protect the rights of taxpayers."

Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy -- 15
John F. "Jack" Reed -- 17
Joseph I. Lieberman -- 14
Olympia J. Snowe -- 51
John S. McCain -- 77
George Felix Allen -- 67

Lincoln D. Chafee -- 49

American Shareholders Association (2004):""American Shareholders Association was founded to give a voice to people like you in the public policy debates that impact your savings and investment. With so many decisions being made in Congress affecting your investments, now is the most important time to stand up and be heard. We are here to fight for you and your investments."

Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy -- 10
John F. "Jack" Reed -- 10
Joseph I. Lieberman -- 10
Olympia J. Snowe -- 80
John S. McCain -- 90
George Felix Allen -- 90

Lincoln D. Chafee -- 70

Americans for Tax Reform (2004):"ATR opposes all tax increases as a matter of principle. We believe in a system in which taxes are simpler, fairer, flatter, more visible, and lower than they are today. The government’s power to control one’s life derives from its power to tax. We believe that power should be minimized."

Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy -- 10
John F. "Jack" Reed -- 10
Joseph I. Lieberman -- 10
Olympia J. Snowe -- 70
John S. McCain -- 90
George Felix Allen -- 95

Lincoln D. Chafee -- 60

National Tax Limitation Committee (2003-2004):"NTLC'S mission is to create a political and economic environment in which you--the individual, productive citizen--can enjoy the opportunity to excel, maximize your choices and enjoy the fruits of your labors free from an intrusive, coercive government."

Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy -- 0
John F. "Jack" Reed -- 8
Joseph I. Lieberman -- 3
Olympia J. Snowe -- 73
John S. McCain -- 80
George Felix Allen -- 90

Lincoln D. Chafee -- 63

Citizens for a Sound Economy (2003-2004):"Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE) is hundreds of thousands of grassroots citizens dedicated to (1) free markets and limited government, and (2) the highest level of personal involvement in public policy activism. Through recruitment, training, and political participation, CSE has become an army of activists committed to improving the well-being of American consumers through common-sense economic policies."

Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy -- 0
John F. "Jack" Reed -- 7
Joseph I. Lieberman -- 7
Olympia J. Snowe -- 50
John S. McCain -- 57
George Felix Allen -- 86

Lincoln D. Chafee -- 36

Women's Action for New Directions (WAND) and-WILL (2003-2004):"WAND was founded in 1982 as Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament. With the end of the cold war, we became Women's Action for New Directions, and have been dedicating our energies to redirect federal budget priorities away from the military and toward human needs."

Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy -- 98
John F. "Jack" Reed -- 99
Joseph I. Lieberman -- 51
Olympia J. Snowe -- 54
John S. McCain -- 27
George Felix Allen -- 7

Lincoln D. Chafee -- 55

My Two Cents: While most of these groups could be considered conservative/libertarian, the one obviously liberal group also rates Sen. Chafee "in the middle." In short, it should be no surprise that Sen. Chafee is moderate-to-conservative on fiscal issues. He is essentially a fiscal conservative, but with the important caveat that he holds the base-line budgeting, "zero-sum game" perspective that the government has to "pay" for tax cuts by restricting spending. But, for a conservative, this isn't as troubling as the reverse: that increases in spending must be subsidized by higher taxes. The preference should always be to restrict spending. As Andrew and the Porkbusters project has revealed, Senator Chafee had a chance, but failed, to excercise such fiscal restraint.

Doesn't Look like the Promised Party-Building has started Just Yet

Carroll Andrew Morse

Another item of interest from the Political Scene column…

So why did White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. cancel a GOP fundraiser scheduled last Friday in Rhode Island?

State Republican Party Executive Director Jeffrey Deckman said Card was called to Camp David to be with the president.

But there might be more to the story.

Last Monday, Mia Caetano, head of the Rhode Island Young Republicans, sent out an e-mail "PLEASE ATTEND!" to members of her group.

"We need more people to addend this event!! The White House has been calling to see how many people are coming," she wrote. "If we don't have a good showing at this event it will be embarrassing!"

Two days later, party Assistant Executive Director Andrew Berg sent out an e-mail to the young Republicans saying that anyone who wanted to see Card could come for free.

The event at the airport Sheraton was $75 a person, $125 for a couple, or $1,000 for a private reception.

Deckman said attendance had nothing to do with the cancellation.

"As of Wednesday at noon we had more than 130 committed and we had more coming," he said, saying that was above the target they had set. "When you are doing fundraisers like this you typically have a lot of late responses. It's just a typical push."

Deckman said the event was more than just about raising money.

"It's about building community," he said, explaining the push to get young Republicans.

If there was an attendance problem, I wonder how much had to do with a reluctance of the Republican rank-and-file to contribute money to a state party that largely ignores their wishes. Also, if there was an attendance problem, I might suggest that it is evidence that you’re not going to have much success building a Republican community if CONSERVATIVES NOT WELCOME is part of your core message.

Don Carcieri’s Incredible Wisdom on the Problem of the Lieutenant Governor’s Position

Carroll Andrew Morse

Remember, you read it here first. This is Governor Don Carcieri on the Lieutenant Governor’s post, from the Political Scene in yesterday’s Projo…

But Carcieri said he thinks [the Lieutenant Governorship] would have more value if the state Constitution were changed to allow the governor and lieutenant governor to run as a team on the same ticket. "This would enable the governor to entrust the lieutenant governor with more official duties, and to better share the burden of running the executive branch," he said.
This is yours truly, from last May…
Lieutenant Governor, on the other hand, is not much of an opportunity in Rhode Island. The problem is structural. In any system where the Gov and the Lieutenant Gov are elected separately, the Lieutenant Gov becomes reduced to a not-very-bully pulpit. The Gov can’t vest too much power in an office that might be held by the opposition.

October 24, 2005

Responses to the Anti-Laffey Ad Campaign

Carroll Andrew Morse

In today’s Projo, Katherine Gregg has an excellent roundup of responses to the National Republican Senate Committee’s negative ad campaign against Steve Laffey. A few quick points…

1. Let’s give credit to State Republican Chairwoman Patricia Morgan for acknowledging that not everything is justified in defending Chafee’s seat…

But Morgan said she viewed the first of the two ads, especially, as a personal attack on Laffey, which she considers an unfair tactic that is counter to the kind of campaign she associates with Chafee.
2. I don’t think that Professor Larry Sabato’s analysis is cognizant enough of the facts on the ground…
But seasoned campaign watchers across the country see other clear -- if risky -- strategies emerging in the national GOP's early entry into the '06 Rhode Island Senate race.

"They have to find a way to knock Laffey out fairly early so Chafee can consolidate his own base to take on a strong Democratic challenger," suggests Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics.

I’m not sure, in this scenario, what base there is to be consolidated. If the establishment tries to knock Laffey out with a purely negative campaign, and Senator Chafee makes no appeal whatsoever to the Republican base, then there is a strong possibility that the base leaves the U.S Senate portion of the ballot blank if Chafee is the general election candidate.
3. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the ads show either how badly campaign finance reform has been implemented, or what a bad idea it is to begin with, or maybe both. I believe the Chafee campaign is being sincere when they say things like…
Citing federal campaign-financing rules barring any coordination between his own campaign and the national-financed ad campaign committee, Chafee also would not say if he had discussed these concerns with the national committee.

His campaign manager, Ian Lang, said: "The senator has had no interaction with the NRSC about these ads, nor can we by law." But when asked the same question directly, Chafee said: "I try not to cross any of these boundaries." Then: "Don't jump to any conclusions."

Thus, we see the result of campaign finance “reform” -- out-of-state-money delivering an out-of-state-message gains the overwhelming advantage in local campaigns. How is that reform? Wouldn’t we be better off if political parties could give money directly to candidates, so they could unambiguously take their message to the people?

October 22, 2005

Do Lincoln Chafee and Patrick Kennedy Even Know What they’ve been Voting On?

Carroll Andrew Morse

In close association with Zachary Mider’s story on the Tiogue Dam, Saturday’s Projo has two stories where Senator Lincoln Chafee and Congressman Patrick Kennedy give reasons for a supposed lack of Federal funds in Rhode Island.

Senator Chafee blames the “problem” on tax cuts. That explanation doesn’t work. Federal money is here in Rhode Island. In one case, it’s even headed to the right town. It’s just being spent on the wrong things by federal officials too detached to know about Rhode Island's real problems and concerns.

$11,000,000 has been allocated for bike paths in or near the town of Coventry, as part of the $152,000,000 of Rhode Island highway pork. Tax cuts don’t explain why $11,000,000 has been allocated for Coventry's bike paths, but nothing has yet been allocated for repairing Coventry's Tiogue dam.

This is what Senator Chafee has to say about the bill that allocated the $11,000,000 bike paths…

"In the meantime, there are many worthwhile projects and in the grand scheme of things, it is not a significant part of the budget….

I'll just say that I am looking out for Rhode Island and listening to the town managers and mayors who I reach out to before the appropriation process starts each year."

Would Senator Chafee like to name names here? Which town managers and mayors asked him to fund bike paths, but to ignore dams?

Representative Kennedy has a similar conceptual problem. This is his explanation for the lack of flood relief resources in Cumberland…

Kennedy's office has already drafted a letter to President Bush stating that federal funds are crucial to ensuring that the state fully recovers from the flooding, but the congressman said there's no guarantee federal money will come…

Asked if being a blue state, in a time when there are many red states in need of Washington's help, will hurt Rhode Island, Kennedy was blunt.

"I don't think it will hurt us," he said. "But if we had been a red state it certainly would help."

The problem is, there is big Federal money coming to Rhode Island. $38,000,000 is coming to the state of Rhode Island in the form of bikepaths, $152,000,000 in total highway pork. The problem is not lack of funds. The problem is spending priorities. The Federal government is taxing big, then spending big on premium-priced bikepaths and bridges to nowhere, leaving people too financially drained to save what they need for essential infrastructure and disaster relief.

Final Wilma Update, Maybe

Carroll Andrew Morse

Greetings to readers from outside of New England! These updates are targeted to the concerns of New Englanders, and the times and events cited may not be relevant to hurricane preparations elsewhere. Please consult the National Hurricane Center for the most up to date nationwide information.

The latest run of the GFDL now has Wilma safely out to sea by the time it arrives this far north. The National Hurricane Center doesn’t mention New England in its 5AM discussion, and the TV weather guys (and gals) seem confident that -- after Florida -- there’s no threat to the mainland US. The projected storm track has been accelerated, so just in case, be aware of…

Projected Entry into the North Atlantic: Monday Evening
Projected Arrival at New England Latitudes: Early Wednesday Morning

UPDATE (Saturday, 6:00 PM):

Hmmmm. The NHC keeps accelerating the forecast track. They still aren't mentioning any New England scenarios in their latest discussion, but it doesn't seem like it takes much deviation from the forecast for Wilma to bring tropical storm force winds over Cape Cod, or even Rhode Island.

Projected Entry into the North Atlantic: Early Monday Afternoon
Projected Arrival at New England Latitudes: Tuesday Afternoon

October 21, 2005

Quick Hurricane Wilma Update

Carroll Andrew Morse

Greetings to readers from outside of New England! These updates are targeted to the concerns of New Englanders, and the times and events cited may not be relevant to hurricane preparations elsewhere. Please consult the National Hurricane Center for the most up to date nationwide information.

At least one computer model (GFDL) is now predicting that Wilma passes directly over Cape Cod, probably at tropical storm force. This prediction is the outlier. The other predictions, and the National Hurricane Center official forecast track, have Wilma passing far to the east of New England, safely out to sea.

I will reiterate my warning: don’t be deceived by fact that Wilma has been near-stationary while off of the coast of Mexico. After the storm crosses Florida and enters the North Atlantic, it will be only 24-36 hours before it reaches New England latitudes. Hopefully, at New England latitudes, Wilma will also be at Mid-Atlantic longitudes, but just in case, be prepared to prepare.

The forecasters will know much more in about a day and a half, after Wilma moves off of the Yucatan peninsula and back into the ocean.

Projected Entry into the North Atlantic: Early Tuesday Morning
Projected Arrival at New England Latitudes: Mid-Wednesday Morning

Conservatives Aren't "Whig"-ing Out

Marc Comtois

If you find yourself stuck inside while the rain falls this weekend, and you feel like reading a historical critique of an attempt to link modern conservatism to that of the short-lived Whigs of the antebellum era, then head over to Spinning Clio, settle in (perhaps with some coffee!) and have a read.

You can’t Ride a Bike on a Path that’s Under Water

Carroll Andrew Morse

Given the choice of repairing a rickety dam, or building a bikepath, which would you choose? If your name was “The Federal Government”, you would choose the bikepath.

According to an article by Zachary Mider in today’s Projo, local, state, and federal officials are concerned about the state of the Tiogue dam in Coventry…

A crowd of lawmakers inspected the aged gatehouse and spillway at the Tiogue Lake dam this morning, highlighting concerns about the safety of the dam after last week's downpours…

The dam is one of six in Rhode Island identified by the state Department of Environmental Management as "high hazard" and in need of repair.

Town officials applied for the grant this spring, worried that a large amount of water could overwhelm the gatehouse and spillway and cause the lake to flow over the earthen dam. If the dam failed, a wall of water could rush down the Pawtuxet River, which flows through West Warwick, Warwick, and Cranston.

Senator Lincoln Chafee is looking into helping Coventry get the grant money. Make special note of the amount needed for repairs…
U.S. Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee, R-R.I., raised and lowered the century-old wooden gate that controls the level of the 219-acre lake, then pledged to press the Federal Emergency Management Agency for a $465,000 grant to improve the gatehouse and spillway.
While Coventry is scrambling to find funds to repair the dam, the Feds are sending money towards Coventry in another form. The highway bill earmarks contain $11,000,000 for bikepaths in the vicinity of Coventry...
Transportation Improvements for the Washington Secondary Bicycle Facility/Coventry Greenway/Trestle Trail (Coventry) $4,000,000
Completion of Washington Secondary Bike Path from Coventry to Connecticut Border $7,000,000

The total amount for Rhode Island bikepaths in the highway bill is $38,000,000. Could Senator Chafee, Senator Reed, Representative Kennedy, or Representative Langevin explain why the federal government is spending a total of $38,000,000 on bikepaths in Rhode Island when we have dams that are falling apart because of lack of funds? Is there, as a first step, some way to reallocate Federal funds so we can spend some of that $11,000,000 already headed to Coventry on repairing dams? After all, you can’t ride a bike on a path that’s under water.

How Rhode Island's Senate Delegation Spent their Thursday...

Carroll Andrew Morse

Yesterday was a busy day for Rhode Island’s Senate Delegation. Here’s the quick summary. As always, there's more commentary to follow...

1. Senator Reed was the primary sponsor of an amendment that would have allocated an additional $3,100,000,000 for “unanticipated home energy assistance needs”. The amendment was defeated 53 in favor, 46 opposed. (There is apparently a Senate rule saying that certain budget measures require a 60-vote majority to pass).

2. Senator Chafee presided over a Foreign Relations committee hearing on the subject of "U.S. Foreign Policy, Petroleum, and the Middle East". (If you click on the title link at the top of the hearing announcement, you can see streaming video of the hearing.)

3. Finally, both of our Senators ended up voting against the Coburn amendment to redirect funding from the “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska to the Twin Spans bridge in Louisiana destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The amendment was defeated, 15-82. I wonder if Senator Reed has any comment on Senators like Ben Nelson or Thomas Carper, who voted against home heating assistance, but for preserving the bridge to nowhere on the same day?

Wilma Update

Carroll Andrew Morse

Greetings to readers from outside of New England! These updates are targeted to the concerns of New Englanders, and the times and events cited may not be relevant to hurricane preparations elsewhere. Please consult the National Hurricane Center for the most up to date nationwide information.

Wilma is still lingering in the Gulf of Mexico. Most computer models (may take a few seconds to load, link via StormTrack) are not forecasting a direct hit on New England, and the intensity forecast is “only” for tropical storm strength by the time it reaches New England latitudes. Still, this is a highly uncertain forecast, and the storm is expected to move quickly Northward once it crosses Florida and enters the North Atlantic.

Projected Entry into the North Atlantic: Early Tuesday Morning
Projected Arrival at New England Latitudes: Mid-Wednesday Morning

October 20, 2005

Senators Reed and Chafee on the Bridge to Nowhere

Carroll Andrew Morse

I just called the Washington offices of Senator Reed and Senator Chafee to ask about their position on the Coburn amendment, which reallocates funding from Alaska’s $223,000,000,000 $223,000,000 “bridge to nowhere” to the rebuilding of bridges destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

The staffers were very polite and professional, but both offices informed me they couldn’t share the Senator’s position until after the vote was taken.

Is this really how deliberative democracy is supposed to work? Aren’t public officials supposed to make their positions on issues, well, public?


An aide to Senator Reed just returned my initial call and informed me that she will find out what she can.

Rhode Island’s Senators: They were in Favor of Raising the Minimum Wage before they were Against it.

Carroll Andrew Morse

If I understand the news stories and the roll call votes properly, Senators Jack Reed and Lincoln Chafee both voted in favor of and against raising the minimum wage – on the same day.

Senators Reed and Chafee voted in favor of a bill sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy that would have raised the Federal minimum wage to $6.25 an hour. The bill failed, 47-51. Then, Reed and Chafee voted against a bill sponsored by Senator Michael Enzi which would have raised the Federal minimum wage to $6.25 an hour. The bill failed, 42-57.

According to the Associated Press, the difference between the two bills is that the Enzi bill would “provide tax and regulatory relief for small business, permit tips to be credited in complying with minimum wage hikes, and expand the small business exemption from the Fair Labor Standards Act” in a way that the Kennedy bill wouldn't.

Senator Reed’s vote appears to be simple party politics. Vote for a Democratic sponsored proposal, vote against a Republican one.

Senator Chafee’s vote is a tad harder to explain. Chafee abandoned the usual gang of Republican liberals – Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Arlen Specter, George Voinovich – who voted for the Enzi increase, and joined a coalition of Democrats and mostly-Southern state Republicans(?) to vote down the Enzi increase.

I’m not sure if the Enzi exceptions are good ideas or not. I do know that our national politics shouldn’t be motivated by two sides trying to hang the “You voted against the minimum wage!!!” tag on one another.

Hurricane Wilma Update

Carroll Andrew Morse

Greetings to readers from outside of New England! These updates are targeted to the concerns of New Englanders, and the times and events cited may not be relevant to hurricane preparations elsewhere. Please consult the National Hurricane Center for the most up to date nationwide information.

Projected Entry into the North Atlantic (off Florida coast): Early-Monday Morning
Projected Arrival at New England Latitudes: Mid-Tuesday Morning

The National Hurricane Center is continuing to stretch out the time that Wilma spends in the Gulf of Mexico. They are NOT slowing down the speed of the storm once it enters the North Atlantic.

Again, I emphasize that the forecast does not yet imply that Wilma is likely to strike Rhode Island (the 5AM discussion didn’t mention New England at all), BUT if we wait until the storm enters the North Atlantic before starting any preparations, we will have only 24-36 hours to do everything we need to do, IF the storm turns in our direction.

October 19, 2005

Keeping an Eye on Hurricane Wilma

Carroll Andrew Morse

Greetings to readers from outside of New England! These updates are targeted to the concerns of New Englanders, and the times and events cited may not be relevant to hurricane preparations elsewhere. Please consult the National Hurricane Center for the most up to date nationwide information.

This is from the 11 AM discussion of Hurricane Wilma from the National Hurricane Center

Those funny strings of letters, like GFS, NOGAPS, ECMWF, etc. are the names of different computer models that predict the storm track. The forecaster looks at all the different models, and then uses his judgment and experience to make the official forecast.

Here’s the map of the current forecast track. According to the forecast, there is still a strong possibility that Wilma will stay out to sea (from a New England perspective). But look how quickly the storm moves from the Carolina coast (projected Sunday morning) to the New England coast (projected Monday morning).

Why am I bringing this up now? A short time ago, I proposed a disaster preparation template. One question to be addressed was…

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?
A major danger associated with Wilma is that people may not realize how quickly a hurricane can move up the Atlantic coast. On Sunday morning, they may hear that the storm is off the coast of North Carolina, assume that they still have 3 or 4 days to prepare (especially after the behavior of Ophelia, which meandered off of the Mid-Atlantic coast for several days), and wait too long to evacuate.

Local weather forecasters and emergency authorities need to make clear the necessity of planning around Wilma’s forecast track as soon as Wilma passes into the North Atlantic.


5PM update from the National Hurricane Center says there is great uncertainty in Wilma’s forecasted track…

The uncertainty makes it all the more important for Rhode Islanders to be aware of Wilma’s position. Once the storm crosses Florida and enters the North Atlantic, whenever it does (current forecast is Sunday afternoon), it may only be 24-36 hours until it moves up here.

Eminent Domain in Rhode Island II

Carroll Andrew Morse

In 2005, at least 3 bills relating to the government’s power of eminent domain were introduced to the Rhode Island General Assembly…

The strongest measure was House bill 5242 sponsored by state representatives Raymond Church (D-Burriville/North Smithfield), Al Gemma (D-Warwick), and Charlene Lima (D-Cranston). H5242 would have added a new chapter to Title 37 of Rhode Island’s General Laws, restricting the government’s power of eminent domain. It’s more legalistic than Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey's version, but seems to move the law in the right direction -- restricting use of eminent domain to property taken for true public use. (The bill does contain at least one interesting loophole. The bill says eminent domain can be used to transfer property to a private entity, so long as “the property remains subject to public oversight, following transfer to a private entity”. Is this setting up an exception, perhaps, for the taking of land for the creation or expansion of gambling facilities?)

The bill was referred to the Judiciary committee and died there, without a vote ever being taken.

It is doubtful that the Rhode Island House killed the bill because it sincerely wanted to study the issue before acting. Representatives Victor Moffitt (R-Coventry), Nicholas Gorham (R-Foster/Coventry/Glocester), Charlene Lima (D-Cranston), John Savage (R-East Providence), and Carol Mumford (R-Cranston/Scituate) introduced House bill 5116, which would have created a commission to study eminent domain issues. The House also killed this bill -- without a vote -- by sending it to the Judiciary committee, then ignoring it.

The House did unanimously approve one action. The day after the Kelo decision, they passed a resolution (House bill 6636) asking Congress to amend the Constitution to "more fully protect and guarantee private property rights and to nullify the Kelo decision". But, given the other two bills which died in committee, the resolution was little more than a cynical attempt to provide political cover to the legislature's defense of the status quo – where government can seize your property if they think they can increase its assessed value. 5242, a bill that would actually prohibit Kelo-like property seizures, was sitting there in committee, waiting for action, but completely ignored when 6636 was passed. The Rhode Island legislature could have changed the law, but chose not to. Apparently, the state’s Democratic leadership and the Juidiciary committee chairman (Representative Robert Flaherty (D-Warwick)) were not interested in providing better protection to Rhode Island’s citizens.

If the people of Rhode Island really want action on the subject of eminent domain, it looks like they are going to have to act through voter initiative.

October 18, 2005

Laffey Gets More National Attention: Is the NRSC Meeting its Intimidation Objective?

John Miller has an article entitled Is Laffey the Best Medicine? Meet the Pat Toomey of 2006 about Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey's campaign for the U. S. Senate, which includes these points:

...The National Republican Senatorial Committee is so concerned about Laffey that it’s already running a negative-ad campaign against him on television — and spending scads of money to protect the incumbency of a GOP senator who has talked openly about quitting the party and who also refused to vote for President Bush last year in what he called a “symbolic protest.” In fact, it’s a virtual certainty that the NRSC is right now committing more of its resources to beating Laffey than it is to beating any single Democrat.

Laffey...doesn’t call himself a conservative — "I'll let others come up with the labels" — but consider: He’s pro-life, supports the Bush tax cuts and the war in Iraq, and says he would have voted to approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement. "We need to simplify the tax code and get rid of corporate welfare," he says. As a critic of Bush’s Social Security proposals, a foe of oil drilling in the Arctic, and an enthusiastic supporter of solar panels, Laffey wouldn't be the most conservative member of the Senate. But it’s not as though Chafee, whose lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is a pathetic 41, is competing for that honor.

Earlier this year, before Laffey was a declared candidate for the Senate, national Republicans encouraged him not to run against Chafee. GOP chairman Ken Mehlman called. So did one of Karl Rove’s operatives. "They claimed that they weren’t interested in defending Lincoln Chafee," says Laffey. "But they talked about party building and suggested that I run for lieutenant governor. In Rhode Island, the job of lieutenant governor is to ride a bicycle around the state and wait for the governor to die. I wasn’t persuaded. And now these 'party builders' are spending thousands to defeat me, a Republican."...

A central theme of the NRSC’s anti-Laffey campaign is that the mayor is a tax-and-spend liberal. To be sure, Laffey has raised taxes. But he insists he had no choice...

The city certainly needed some financial discipline. Cranston’s bond rating was worthless — the lowest in the country...To balance the books, Laffey hiked taxes, cut the budget, and took on the unions. "We had to do all these things," he says. "There was really no other option except bankruptcy."

Laffey can expect to spend plenty of time explaining to Rhode Island Republicans why tax increases were a necessary part of the mix. At least he’ll be able to cite Chafee’s record of voting to rescind the Bush tax cuts. He’ll also point out that Cranston’s bond rating has been restored to investment grade and its unions have finally encountered a negotiator who isn’t beholden to them.

Yet the unions still seem to have a few friends. The NRSC’s latest attack on Laffey actually takes their side in a dispute. "Laffey spent thousands on spy cameras to spy on employees," says the ad, suggesting that Laffey is some kind of sinister control freak. What the NRSC doesn’t bother to explain is that Laffey’s tactics caught members of the Teamsters, Local 251, literally napping on the job. This Cranston controversy, properly understood, isn’t about the act of taping snoozers but rather the inactivity of sleeping workers.

...As one Rhode Island blogger puts it, "If Laffey does defeat Chafee in the primary, the Democrats don't have to waste any money developing new ads. They can just go on the NRSC's site and use theirs."

You can read all this site's RI Senate '06 race postings here, including some criticisms of Laffey, of Chafee and - most certainly - of the NRSC.

This is starting to get interesting, isn't it?


Ed Achorn of the ProJo comments on the NRSC's negative ads and possible ramifications on Chafee's campaign.

Offering the "Conservative Opinion" on the Evening News

Justin Katz

This announcement comes after the fact, but I wanted to mention that Andrew was interviewed for the 6:00 news on WJAR NBC 10 regarding the latest anti-Laffey attack ad. The report was replete with a screen shot of this very page, and stands as evidence that Anchor Rising is beginning to have exactly the effect that we'd all intended from the start.

I'll keep an eye out for streaming video of the report.

Summing up the Rhode Island GOP Debate Over Laffey/Chafee '06

Marc Comtois

Andrew's last post about the negative ads against Mayor Laffey has been commented upon by an assortment of Republicans. Some support the Mayor, others bemoan the willingness of the National Republican Party to interfere at the primary level--and on the side of the more manifestly liberal of the two candidates at that--while others think the rank and file should accept the dictates from the party bosses and do nothing that might damage party unity.

I think re-posting some snippets of the commentary generated by Andrew's post will provide an indication of the tension between those who tend to support the more-conservative Mayor Laffey and those who, even if reluctantly, are siding with "establishment" Republicans and, by default, Senator Chafee.

Anchor Rising contributor Don Hawthorne made the point that

These Senate people have only one principle: sustaining their power base, even if that means being devoid of any policy principles or vision for America. . .

Now, imagine if the Republican Senate leadership spent their money going after liberal Democrats who thwarted - among other things - the timely appointment of judges in the Senate.

And they wonder why we have no respect for their "foreign money" here in Rhode Island?

Will Ricci, of GOPUSA, also chimed in with his disgust:
I've been a member of the RNC since the week of my 18th birthday. While the RNC and the NRSC are technically different organizations, I know that they are close enough at the hip, that I can consider them related. They both get marching orders from the White House. I have not yet renewed my RNC membership for this year, because of shenanigans like this. As for all the other solicitations from the RNC and related entities, and I assure you, I receive many, I've been promptly shredding them, because I'm just fed up with all of it. However, I'm going to take Andrew and Don's idea under advisement going forward, since considering the volume of mail that I'm still getting, they may not have gotten the hint from me yet. I'm not giving money to the national Republicans so that they can work against good members of this party who aren't part of their little elitist club. I give money to them to fight Democrats, not Republicans! I'm sorry to have to do it, but sometimes principle needs to come before politics.
These "confessions" made by Will prompted "citizenjane" to comment:
If you all are so disgusted with this, why don't you start a letter-writing campaign to the NRSC and threaten to disaffiliate from the party and encourage others to do the same if they do not stop these ads.
To which Will responded
While I understand your sentiments, disaffiliating from the GOP is a non-starter. We're not going to be driven from the party by people like that. I'm registered as a Republican, because I am a conservative, and conservatives are more likely to win office being Republicans. Lincoln was a Republican, Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican, and Ronald Reagan was a Republican (after he was a Democrat for a while). . . That being said, I think the biggest threat would be to their wallets. Witholding money to the national party and letting them know why you're witholding it seems to be a good starting point.
But "citizenjane" was seconded by "Anthony," who also seemed to think it incumbent upon Republicans to stop debate and rally behind the National Party's chosen candidate:
If you don't believe in what the RNC and NRSC are doing, maybe you should leave the Republican Party and form a Conservative Party as was done in New York.

Attacking the GOP simply because it is trying its hardest to retain a Senate majority is counterproductive. I understand people may disagree with the decision, but the GOP has made a decision. The time for trying to change that organizational decision in this race has long since past.

The pseudonymous "Robert" echoed Anthony's views
The NRSC is following a formula they feel is successful, and probably has been in the past around the country. And that is come out attacking, before a challenger can get started.

They have millions of dollars, that they are going to put behind this race, as proven already. And Chafee is at the top of their list of seats to retain. Face it, Republicans in RI have a Senate seat we don't deserve. Its the bluest state in the country, and the NRSC considers this seat priceless. They will do whatever to keep it and if murder was legal, the NRSC would do its worst.

And "Rex Manning" took the macro view and rather pessimistically observed that
Electing a conservative from Rhode Island (which by the way Laffey has admitted that he is not) is totally impossible. While Chafee may not even be close to a true conservative, he votes with the President almost 80% of the time while his counterpart Senator Reed only votes with the President 65% of the time. It's the lesser of two evils and we need to keep the Senate.
That is essentially the debate that is going on in the Rhode Island GOP. It includes ideological conservatives, Laffeyites, party loyalists, and political pragmatists, but mostly it's a debate between ideological conservative who lean towards the more-conservative Mayor Laffey and those who think only Senator Chafee, or liberal Republicans in general, can get elected in a Rhode Island general election for U.S. Senate in 2006. The former group thinks the time for change is now. The latter group thinks supporting Mayor Laffey is too much of a gamble and risks the future political viability of the Rhode Island Republican party.

Finally, and curiously, it should be noted that nowhere have I seen a rabid defense of Senator Chafee (other than perhaps in the columns of the ProJo's M. Charles Bakst). Instead, those who support Chafee seem to do so based on his electability. So, in the end, the only group that seems to be unrepresented the internal RIGOP debate are self-proclaimed, outright supporters of Senator Chafee.

October 17, 2005

Here Comes Anti-Laffey Ad #2

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza has a preview of the next anti-Laffey ad being run in Rhode Island by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Here is Cillizza’s description of the content…

The narrator says Laffey used taxpayer dollars to soundproof his mayoral office and spent ‘thousands on spy cameras to spy on employees.’

‘Bizarre...but the joke's on us,’ the narrator says, adding that Cranston had the highest property taxes in the state under Laffey and that Laffey raised taxes twice. ‘Tax and Spend Steve Laffey ... Nobody's laughing now,’ the narrator intones at the ad's close.

The constant barrage of negative advertising now presents two dangers to the Republican establishment. One is that the voters of Rhode Island will be turned off. A second danger, however, is that national fundraising will begin to suffer if the NRSC continues its practice of opposing Steve Laffey more strongly than it opposes any Democrat. This is from an e-mail received by National Review Online

For the past year or so, I've been sending the solicitation envelopes back with nothing in them but a note like this:

NOT ONE MORE DIME!! We do not donate our hard-earned money to the RNC so you lot can waste it financing the campaigns of squish candidates, working to defeat good conservatives in primaries, or to continue a cycle of begging us for more money to be used for more such nonsense. NOT ONE MORE DIME until RNC starts supporting conservative candidates. Meanwhile, we are sending donations directly to the campaigns of candidates we believe are worth supporting.


Don reminds us that Laffey himself has openly talked on CNN about the use of cameras in city investigations. Katherine Gregg provides some factual background on the “Tax and Spend” moniker in today’s (10/18) Projo.

Once again, talk of Chafee vs. Laffey instantly becomes talk about Laffey. This is not promising for an incumbent.

The State of Eminent Domain in Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

You’ve probably heard of Kelo v. City of New London. This is the “eminent domain case” where the Supreme Court ruled that a city government can force you out of your home and sell it to someone else -- if the someone else claims that they can increase the tax-revenue generated by the property.

Note the title of the case. It’s Kelo v. City of New London, not Kelo v. State of Connecticut. If a local government can take property, a local government can restrict itself from taking property, right?

Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey thinks so. This past summer, Mayor Laffey introduced a resolution to the city council prohibiting the City of Cranston from engaging in any Kelo-like property seizures. Here is the active part of the resolution…

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the City shall not exercise its power of eminent domain upon private residential property and transfer it to a private developer for the purpose of improving tax revenue or expanding the tax base or for the purpose of economic development.

NOW, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Mayor and City Council urge that the General Assembly enact legislation that the cities and towns of Rhode Island cannot exercise the power of eminent domain upon private residential property and transfer it to a private developer for the purpose of improving tax revenue or expanding the tax base or for the purpose of economic development.

The Cranston City Council was not 100% sure that Mayor Laffey's resolution was a good idea. Several councilmen thought that eminent domain policy was a state matter, not a local one. And, when addressing the state level, the council weakened the Mayor's proposal. They changed “enact legislation” to “form a study commission and/or enact legislation”. According to the minutes of July’s meeting of the Cranston City Council…
Council Vice-President McFarland stated that she does not support this Resolution for a number of reasons. One being, Representative Charlene Lima for the past two years has tried to pass this type of legislation….

Councilman Livingston stated that he feels there should be a study commission on the State level.

Councilman Lanni stated that this Resolution is a good idea, but it should be done at the State level and this issue needs further study.

On motion by Councilman Fung, seconded by Council Member Fogarty, it was voted to amend this Resolution as follows: last paragraph, second line, after the words “General Assembly”, add “form a study commission and/or”.

The Cranston City Council should clarify exactly what they believe needs study. Are there circumstances where they think eminent domain seizures for the purpose of increasing tax revenue are justified? And what are Councilman McFarland’s other reasons for opposing this measure, beyond saying that somebody else should do it for her?

The City Council minutes add one other interesting tidbit…

In March of this year, Representative Mumford asked for a study for eminent domain and Representative Lima recently introduced another legislation regarding this. There are three legislations currently pending that have not made it through the House of Representative.
If the House of Representatives won’t pass a law banning seizure of people’s homes for the purposes of increasing tax revenue, we may have found another reason why the citizens of Rhode Island need voter initiative as an alternative way to pass laws that are in their own best interests.

Here is the text of the resolution as introduced to the Cranston City Council by Mayor Laffey. I don’t there would be an objection if the citizens of Rhode Island wanted to use this as model for encouraging action in their own cities and towns.

Resolved, That

WHEREAS, the state law grants the City of Cranston the power of eminent domain to condemn property for any public purpose; and

WHEREAS, the Mayor and the City Council believe that the exercise of the City’s power of eminent domain should be balanced with the State and Federal Constitutional protections of private property; and

WHEREAS, on June 23, 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court in its decision in Kelo v. City of New London, found it permissible under the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution for a municipality to seize residential property and transfer it to a private developer in order to promote economic development, and

WHEREAS, the Mayor and the City Council respectfully disagree with the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of “public use” in the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the City shall not exercise its power of eminent domain upon private residential property and transfer it to a private developer for the purpose of improving tax revenue or expanding the tax base or for the purpose of economic development.

NOW, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Mayor and City Council urge that the General Assembly enact legislation that the cities and towns of Rhode Island cannot exercise the power of eminent domain upon private residential property and transfer it to a private developer for the purpose of improving tax revenue or expanding the tax base or for the purpose of economic development.

October 14, 2005

Happy 95th Birthday to UCLA Basketball Coach John Wooden!

Donald B. Hawthorne

I grew up in Southern California during the 1960's and 1970's, a time of unbelievable sports team performance in the greater Los Angeles area.

Here was the lineup:

Los Angeles Rams under Coach George Allen and Chuck Knox. The Fearsome Foursome on defense. Dick Enberg was the announcer. They were consistently big regular season winners, winning at least 10 games per year (in a 14 game season) for 9 of the 12 years between 1967-1978 - and then falling apart in the post-season at Green Bay, Minnesota or Dallas.

Los Angeles Lakers with Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, and Gail Goodrich. Chick Hearn was the announcer. They always won big, reaching the NBA Finals 9 times between 1962-1973. Once to the Finals, they lost 6 times to the dreaded Celtics and 2 times to the Knicks. Won the NBA Championship in 1972 in a year when they won a then record 33 games in a row. To be followed a decade later by Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Coach Pat Riley and ShowTime when they played in another 9 Finals between 1980-91, winning NBA championships in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988.

Los Angeles Dodgers under Manager Walt Alston with Sandy Koufax, Maury Wills, Don Drysdale. Small ball offense, tight defense and awesome pitching. Later, in the 1970's, the infield of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes, Bill Russell, and Ron Cey. Won the World Series in 1959, 1963, and 1965; played and lost in 1966 and 1974. When they created the National League West, finished 1st or 2nd every year between 1970-74 except for one year. Alston had 19 winning seasons and 7 pennants in his 23 years as manager, winning 2,040 games - the 7th highest of all time. Vin Scully was the announcer.

USC football coached by John McKay with multiple Heisman Trophy winners like Mike Garrett, Charles White, Marcus Allen, and the infamous O. J., winning 4 national championships in 1962, 1967, 1972, and 1974 - with Coach John Robinson winning another one in 1978.

UCLA football coached by Tommy Prothro with Heisman Trophy winner Gary Beban.

Equally successful but less visible programs included USC baseball coached by Rod Dedeaux (11 national championships, including 7 between 1968-1978)and UCLA track coached by Jim Bush (5 national championships, coached 21 Olympians, and had an 88% meet winning percentage).

But, even with all those stars, UCLA basketball under Coach John Wooden stood out. Here are some stats:

UCLA's basketball program has the international reputation of being No. 1. There is a major reason for that his name is John Robert Wooden, who announced his retirement after the 1974-75 season (his 27th campaign) as the Bruins' head coach with the winningest record in all of the sport's history...

Wooden concluded his 40 years as a head coach that season and his 885-203 overall career win-loss record (a percentage of .813) is unequaled. A large part of that success was at UCLA. In 27 years as Bruin coach, his teams registered 620 wins, and only 147 losses while earning far more national honors than any other university.

Under Wooden, UCLA won an unprecedented 10 NCAA championships, including seven consecutive (1966-73). Included in the string is one of the most amazing win streaks in all of sports, 38 straight NCAA tournament victories.

In addition, there is the all-time NCAA consecutive winning-streak record of 88 games over four seasons, which included consecutive 30-0 seasons in 1971-72 and 1972-73. UCLA also won 149 of 151 games in Pauley Pavilion during his Bruin tenure.

John Wooden is the only coach to compile four undefeated seasons of 30-0 and his Bruin teams captured 19 conference championships (the record of which Wooden is most proud).

Coach Wooden is the first person to be inducted into the National Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and coach...

Born in Martinsville, Indiana on October 14, 1910, Wooden attended high school there and won all-state prep honors in basketball three consecutive years, leading Martinsville High to the Indiana State title in 1927 and runner-up in 1926 and 1928.

At Purdue University, he won letters in basketball and baseball his freshman year and later earned All-American honors as a guard on the basketball team from 1930-32. He captained Purdue's basketball teams of 1931 and 1932 and led the Boilermakers to two Big Ten titles and the 1932 national championship...

Yet, even with all that success, Wooden was about more than just winning basketball games. It was who he was as a man, too. Small things like his ritualistic affection for his wife at games, e.g., rolling up the program in his hands and then turning to look at her in the stands before every tipoff. Even more importantly, it was the values and life skills he taught his players - and the influence he had on many others who saw him in action from a distance.

Coach is celebrating his 95th birthday today. ESPN had a marvelous story today about John Wooden, the man and the coach. Also check out the Photo Gallery on the site with its 25 pictures and some wonderful comments about Wooden.

They broke the mold after making John Wooden. Coach is one-of-a-kind. God bless you John Wooden. You have truly made a difference in many peoples' lives and that made you a hero we looked up to. Happy birthday!

October 13, 2005

Preparing for a Flu Outbreak III

Carroll Andrew Morse

Nick Schulz has an article up at TechCentralStation that answers the basic questions about what is required to mount a comprehensive response to an avian flu outbreak. As I suspected, there are several steps that can be taken to increase our ability to rapidly produce vaccines in an emergency.

On Withdrawing Miers

Marc Comtois

Peggy Noonan has called for President Bush to withdraw his nomination of Harriet Miers (or for Ms. Miers to withdraw herself). While she believes such a move doubtful, she does offer a forecast of what would happen next.

The White House, after the Miers withdrawal/removal/disappearance, would be well advised to call in leaders of the fractious base--with heavy initial emphasis on the Washington conservative establishment--and have some long talks about the future. It's time for the administration to reach out to wise men and women, time for Roosevelt Room gatherings of the conservative clans. Much old affection remains, and respect lingers, but a lot of damage has been done. The president has three years yet to serve. That, I think, is the subtext of recent battles: Conservatives want to modify and, frankly, correct certain administration policies now, while there's time. The White House can think of this--and should think of it--as an unanticipated gift. A good fight can clear the air; a great battle can result in resolution and recommitment. No one wants George W. Bush turned into Jimmy Carter, or nobody should. The world is a dangerous place, and someone has to lead America.
The fear among conservatives (at least this one) is that in an attempt to avert a partisan political fight over a conservative judge with a paper-trail, he has instead instigated a political fight between he and his base and may have broken the last, crucial bit of the covenant he had with conservatives. Without this political base, how will George Bush accomplish the rest of his agenda for his final term?

October 12, 2005

On Being "Well Informed"

Justin Katz

My latest column, "Speaking Past an Oppressive Template," remarks on the difficulty — in motivation and in practice — of being "well informed," and the accompanying difficulty of communicating.

RE: Steve Laffey: “I will never run as an independent”

I like a lot of the answers Andrew describes Steve Laffey as saying at a recent meeting. I also think Laffey is a serious man with many talents, unlike his opponent. With that viewpoint, I want to continue to push on some of Laffey's policy views because I think they still need work.

I would like to hear more about his views on the appropriate role of government. They sound good at a superficial first glance but I am not sure they hold up to greater scrutiny. What makes any of us confident that the government can do many things better than the private sector - or should even try?

More specifically, it is a far different day from Teddy Roosevelt when government was much smaller and the bully pulpit was useful in no small part because it didn't come with a federal government that already controlled 20% of the nation's GDP. It also didn't come with the issuance of tens of thousands of pages of government regulations written by nameless, faceless bureaucrats in Washington, D.C. who have no accountability to taxpayers while they keep churning out regulations without having to live with any of the real-world consequences of their actions.

Bottom line, there is already a lot of government intervention in the economy, most of which only makes problems worse. We need to be cautious about assuming the federal government is focused solely on the public interest. I will accept the interstate highway system idea as a good one from 50 years ago but would like to hear what other specific ideas are appropriate for federal government intervention today. The just-referenced posting provides specific examples of how many of the problems that have been used as a rationale for government intervention were first created or magnified by prior government intervention in the economy.

As a 22-year veteran of the life sciences industry, I found Laffey's answers on the drug industry to be uninformed and still not making sense.

First, the era of "me-too" only drugs is old news and meaningless to the policy debate of today. Me-too drugs were newly developed and approved drugs that showed largely equivalent therapeutic efficacy to drugs already on the market. There was a time when the nth beta blocker drug could make it to the market. Not any more because the formularies that determine reimbursement won't cover most me-too drugs.

Second, the phrase of me-too drugs can be used too loosely to lump all drugs in one therapeutic category into one large bucket. However, to do so would be to say that any new drug in an existing therapeutic area that showed differentially better efficacy should not be developed.

Third, the new era of molecular medicine is taking our rapidly expanding understanding of disease at the molecular level and focusing drug discovery and development on the biological activity and endpoints of disease and not just clinical endpoints used in past decades. This has already led to a number of what are called targeted therapeutics (e.g., Herceptin, Velcade, Gleevac, Iressa) because it is increasingly possible to target sub-populations of people with a given disease for therapeutic intervention. Take the breast cancer drug, Herceptin, as an example. Herceptin works for about 25% of the women with breast cancer, the ones where a particular gene is upregulated. There is a test that can determine if a woman has that upregulation. If so, she gets the drug. If not, the drug will be ineffective and she won't get a prescription for it.

Ongoing breakthroughs in the biological sciences are already beginning to transform drug discovery and development. This is expected to change the pharmaceutical industry model from one focused on blockbusters to what one expert called "mini-blockbusters" based on targeted populations where efficacy for that sub-population has been shown in prior clinical trials. I certainly hope Mayor Laffey isn't suggesting that the federal government can regulate that evolution better than industry.

Fourth, I didn't see any mention in Andrew's posting about importing drugs from Canada. I have previously noted that is a flawed idea and, hopefully, Laffey won't continue with that line of thought. The same posting also notes that everyone likes to focus on the cost of drugs without ever considering the highly relevant economic benefits derived when drugs reduce hospitalizations or time away from productive work in the marketplace.

All these critiques aside, I would now like to see Senator Chafee come before the same group and talk with the same level of seriousness and specificity across the same broad range of issues as was covered by Mayor Laffey in his speech.

Steve Laffey: “I will never run as an independent”

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island chapter of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies was kind enough to invite me to their October meeting. Their guest was Cranston Mayor and Rhode Island Senate candidate Steve Laffey, who made a short speech, then took questions from the attendees.

The initial tone of the Laffey campaign has caused some consternation among conservative Rhode Islanders. These are the less-than-conventionally-conservative themes Mayor Laffey chose to emphasize in the opening section of his campaign announcement

I’m running for the United States Senate because the smallest state in the Union needs the strongest voice in the Senate:

To fight the big drug companies,

To fight the other special interests that have corrupted our tax code and have hurt the hard working taxpayers of Rhode Island,

And to fight the big oil companies.

The NFRA members who asked questions didn’t back down from challenging Mayor Laffey to reconcile his campaign message with a principled conservatism. And Mayor Laffey didn’t back down from answering.

Laffey provided a conservative basis for his progressive (as in Teddy Roosevelt) Republicanism: when governing, problems, people, and organizations must be treated as they really are. He doesn’t view oil companies, or drug companies, or even unions(!) as bad or evil, but as focused on their bottom lines, as they should be. The role of the government is to prevent any one single interest from allowing too narrow a focus to hurt the city, state, or country as a whole.

His favorite example of this is the interstate highway system. Though no single business in America would have built it, building it was good for the all of the nation’s businesses. Therefore, it was the proper role of the government to build it.

When asked about his views towards the oil industry, Laffey explained that energy policy is the country’s number one national security issue. He believes that America must develop alternatives to foreign oil, and that government needs to do a better job of creating the proper incentives so that this will happen.

I asked about the drug companies. He explained that drug companies too often abuse the protections afforded by patent law. They develop “Me too” drugs – drugs that perform the same function as existing drugs, but modified just enough to warrant a new patent. Laffey believes that the government needs to restore the balance in patent law that has been lost between the profits of an innovator and the public good that results from innovation.

Mayor Laffey gave direct and detailed answers to all policy questions asked. On immigration policy, he believes closing off the border is not feasible, so the country should adopt a well-regulated, well-enforced temporary immigrant policy and that, in the long term, the best way to stop illegal immigration is to help Mexico join the First World. On abortion, he is pro-life, allowing for certain exceptions, but would place no absolute litmus tests on judges. On the 2nd amendment, he believes that the constitution protects individual gun ownership, but that states have the power to regulate the sale and possession of firearms. On free trade, he supports free trade in principle (pro-NAFTA, CAFTA, etc.), but doesn’t believe that free trade trumps national security or humanitarian concerns. (As a bonus to libertarians out there, he approvingly cited Milton Friedman.)

I came away from the meeting convinced of Steve Laffey's conservative bona fides, as well as his seriousness towards public service.

October 11, 2005

Preparing for a Flu Outbreak II

Carroll Andrew Morse

A Projo editorial reports that the Senate has approved about 4 billion dollars “for vaccine development, among other things” in anticipation of a possible avian flu outbreak. The appropriation was attached as an amendment to this year’s defense appropriation. Senator Reed was one of the sponsors of the amendment.

Here is the breakdown of the spending...

Stockpiling of antivirals and necessary medical supplies $3,080,000,000
Global surveillance relating to avian flu $33,000,000
Increase the national investment in domestic vaccine infrastructure including development and research $125,000,000
Additional grants to state and local public health agencies for emergency preparedness, to increase funding for emergency preparedness centers, and to expand hospital surge capacity $600,000,000
Risk communication and outreach to providers, businesses, and to the American public $75,000,000

The numbers beg a few reasonable questions…

1. How much of the $3,080,000,000 is wasted if the outbreak doesn’t occur this year? I know we need to be ready with a response to what could be an immediate crisis, but…

2. Wouldn't we better off investing more in the “domestic vaccine infrastructure” so we can quickly produce lots of vaccines, once we know exactly what we are dealing with if an epidemic begins? Given that flu strains mutate, spending $3 billion for today, but only $125 million for tomorrow doesn’t seem entirely rational.

3. $600,000,000 of taxpayer money is returned to local communities for emergency preparedness. But where would that money have gone in the absence of the present crisis? Back to local communities? I doubt it. This item is an argument for reducing the federal tax burden so that people can afford the local services they need.

4. $33,000,000 for “Global surveillance relating to avain flu”; $38,000,000 for bike paths in Rhode Island alone. Do I have to explain the problem here?

Lowry on Miers Nomination: Hypocrisy, Double Standards & Contradictions

Rich Lowry nails some of the big issues surrounding the Harriet Miers nomination to the Supreme Court.

Lowry begins with these words:

The nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is foundering, but President Bush is confident that she will be confirmed. Bush thus displays a touching faith in the power of hypocrisy, double standards, and contradictions to see his nominee through. The case for Miers is an unholy mess, an opportunistic collection of whatever rhetorical flotsam happens to be at hand.

I would encourage you to read the whole editorial. Then read how Laura Bush is parroting the same words as her husband.

Second-rate is still second-rate, regardless of gender. No matter how hard the Bush administration tries, Harriet Miers is no Roberts, no Luttig, etc. Simply Bush league on this one. What a disappointment.

October 9, 2005

Preparing for a Flu Outbreak

Carroll Andrew Morse

The numbers don’t make sense to me. On the one hand, I’m reading about a government report that says an outbreak of avian flu could kill about 2 million people and cause irreparable social disruption…

"Social unrest occurs," the plan states. "Public anxiety heightens mistrust of government, diminishing compliance with public health advisories." Mortuaries and funeral homes are overwhelmed.
I'm also reading that the government is buying vaccine to prepare for an outbreak. I keep seeing $100,000,000 reported as the amount spent on vaccine doses, but that, at best, $100,000,000 protects 20 million people -- less than 10% of the population – and that is the optimistic estimate.

Here is where I get confused. The government reports that the limited number of available vaccine doses plays a major role in the “social unrest”, as people riot to get the scarce vaccines, and those unable to get vaccinated refuse to leave their homes. So, given the potential harm, why not spend more on vaccines? $100,000,000 is not a lot of money in Federal government terms. This year, the Federal government will spend $49,000,000 -- about half of what has been reported for avian flu response -- for bike paths and conservation land in the state of Rhode Island alone.

I’ll let somebody else write the theories about how this is a government plot to decrease the surplus population and try to come up with a rational theory of why the government is attempting to prevent the apocalypse on the cheap. Maybe the spending on avian flu vaccines is only twice the spending on Rhode Island bike paths because the Feds realize there is a good chance, in any one year, an avian flu vaccine will never be used. If I understand properly, flu strains mutate from year to year. A vaccine against H5N1, the strain of flu causing worries today, might be worthless against an outbreak next year. Therefore, you have to hedge your bets, and not blow all your resources in any one year, because the big outbreak may not happen until next year.

To understand if this is the case, and to develop a more effective response to flu epidemics, the body politic needs to understand the answer to the following questions. What is the bottleneck in the vaccination production process? How can we prepare to work around the bottleneck in an emergency? Would building more production facilities help? Are there existing industrial facilities that can be rapidly converted to vaccine production in an emergency? Is there a problem with obtaining raw materials? What can we buy now to speed up our ability to produce vaccines in the future?

With the answers to these questions, we can start to determine if the relatively small amount spent on flu vaccines makes sense, or if it is another case of misplaced spending priorities.

October 7, 2005

Campaign Finance "Violations" = Partisan Political "Gotcha!"

Marc Comtois

So, it's Friday before a long weekend and we learn that it may be, possibly, potentially, likely that the RI GOP may have possibly violated campaign finance laws.

A Board of Elections special prosecutor announced today that the state Republican party potentially violated elections laws when it used money from the national GOP to pay for advertisements in support of then-candidate, now governor, Donald L. Carcieri in his 2002 campaign.

In his long-awaited report, H. Reed Witherby said that by accepting money from the national committee -- which was used solely on a state campaign -- it appears that the state party violated two provisions of Rhode Island law.

Witherby recommended that the board forward the matter to the attorney general for civil prosecution. Elections Chairman Roger N. Begin said the board will meet again in about three weeks to consider the recommendations made in the report.

However, Witherby was not able to come to any conclusion about whether the Carcieri campaign and the party violated another section of the law limiting how much a state party can give to a candidate. For that violation to have occurred, Witherby said, there needs to be proof that the party and the campaign cooperated on the ad. He suggested that the board further investigate the relationship between Carcieri and the party.

Ah yes, since he couldn't really find anything conclusive in his investigation, he recommends further investigation...presumably until something is found. To this, RIGOP Chair Patricia Morgan has responded:
“We have received a copy of the Special Counsel’s report, but cannot comment specifically until we have thoroughly reviewed it.

“This is, of course, only the report of a consultant to the Board of Elections, not a legal finding. Our own legal advisors have drawn quite different conclusions, and we will respond formally in the appropriate forum.

“That being said, we believe this entire investigation seems most designed to generate publicity than deal with substantive campaign finance issues.

“The complaint is three years old. It was made in the midst of an election campaign by William Lynch, the chairman of the RI Democratic Party. If pursued in state courts, the case would be prosecuted by Chairman Lynch’s brother, RI Attorney General Patrick Lynch. The catalyst is the RI Board of Elections, a majority of whom are Democrats. And the only place where one can find all of the reporting on the issue in a single place is on the website of the state Democratic Party. All this should say something about the nature of this issue and the way in which it is being pursued.

“If the Board of Elections chooses to pursue action in the courts, the Rhode Island Republican Party will vigorously defend itself.

“I want to be as clear as humanly possible here: all of the actions by the Party or its representatives in this circumstance were legal and entirely consistent with both state and federal campaign statutes.

“We are confident that a fair legal hearing will support this view,” said Morgan.

Well, I wouldn't be quite so confident as Morgan. Nonetheless, the whole episode certainly smells more of partisan politics than any noble cause. [For the record, I'm not a big supporter of campaign finance reform to begin with].

October 6, 2005

Voter Initiative: Some Basic Theory

Carroll Andrew Morse

Charles Bakst comes firmly out against voter initiative in today’s Projo. He quotes Charles Fogarty, Elizabeth Roberts, and Sheldon Whitehouse as also opposed. (Is anyone surprised that Sheldon Whitehouse believes that lawmaking is solely the province of the elite?) All of the arguments expressed in the article are, in a very old sense, philosophically conservative, as are most arguments against voter initiative.

The basic argument against voter intiative is that we already had a set of institutions and procedures for making laws. They may not be perfect, but any attempt to create any new institutions and procedures might make things worse, so we should just stick with the system we already have. That is the original conservative argument, exactly the argument that was made against the whole idea of representative government; sure the king gets things wrong sometimes, but an elected parliament might get things even more wrong, so let’s stick with the system we already have.

Bakst offers this alternative to the supporters of voter initiative…

Former Supreme Court Justice Robert Flanders, who chairs the coalition helping Carcieri and Cote, says, "We need voter initiative and referendum as a safeguard to allow the people to be heard when the normal processes of legislative and executive actions don't work."

I say: Make them work, by making your case better or by electing better officials.

Bakst’s challenge is not entirely unreasonable, but there is a problem -- a problem that no state legislature, nor the United States Congress has been able to solve.

Legislative leaders are quite adept at using procedural tricks to kill bills without forcing their party to express a position. A bill gets referred to a committee (chaired by a legislator who was chosen for his or her loyalty to the leadership) and then it vanishes. No vote on the bill is ever recorded. This is what happened to separation of powers in Rhode Island for several years running – it was sent to committee and never came back, so that it could be killed without anyone having to openly oppose it.

This leads to a reasonable question for the opponents of voter initiative: if you don’t believe the people can make good decisions on laws when the text is directly in front of them, how do you expect them to make good decisions about their legislators when the information is incomplete due to parliamentary chicanery? Or do you think it’s always sufficient to run government on the George W. Bush/Harriet Miers “trust me, I’m the leader” model?

Conservatives and PETA Unite!

Carroll Andrew Morse

Is there a conservative case to be made for Pawtucket’s ban on feeding stray cats? There must be a way to deal with this problem that doesn’t criminalize what people quietly do on their own front porches.

This is an insult to Jim Rice

Carroll Andrew Morse

This started off as an oh-so-serious post. In today’s OpinionJournal, Peggy Noonan endorses the idea of fixed terms for Supreme Court justices…

I find myself lately not passionately supporting or opposing any particular nominee. But I'd give a great deal to see Supreme Court justices term-limited. They should be picked not for life but for a specific term of specific length, and then be released back into the community. This would involve amending the Constitution. Why not? We'd amend it to ban flag-burning, even though a fool burning a flag can't possibly harm our country. But a Kelo decision and a court unrebuked for it can really tear the fabric of a nation.
After agreeing with Ms. Noonan’s reasoning, I was going to go ahead and add another idea of my own -- there’s something profoundly anti-democratic about a system that can allow the deaths of its rulers to influence the shape of the law.

To help make my argument, I went to look up some facts on how frequently Supreme Court Justices die in office. I found a website called Oyez that seemed to have the information I needed. Eventually, I learned that the death of a Supreme Court Justice while in office is not as common today as it was in the past.

However, on the way to discovering this fact, I noticed that every Justice’s page at Oyez has a link labeled “baseball” on the side. It turns out that Oyez assigns a most similar baseball player to every justice in the history of the court. Some of them make sense, e.g. John Marshall = Babe Ruth. Some of them are just bizarre, like Steven Breyer = Jim Rice. I don't get that one.

If you are a political geek and a sports fan, and you have some free internet time today, you might find the comparisons interesting. Or not.

October 5, 2005

Will Matt Brown Renounce his Democratic Leadership Council Affiliation?

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Democratic Leadership Council is a group that seeks to promote moderate views within the Democratic party. They don’t maintain a formal membership list, but they list Rhode Island Senate candidate Matthew Brown as one of their “New Democrats”.

Last week, the DLC issued a dispatch rejecting the policy of withdrawal from Iraq...

A failed state in Iraq would destabilize the entire region, hand our jihadist enemies a major victory and result in a devastating blow to our national security credibility and interests. But the right course now is neither to give the terrorists a victory by withdrawing, nor to continue Bush's failed policies.

This is directly at odds with Matt Brown’s stated position

Last week you said withdrawing our troops from Iraq would be 'a terrible signal to the enemy' and you again refused to set a timetable for withdrawal. That’s wrong.
Brown’s position is closer to what the Democratic Leadership Council calls that of the non-interventionist left, who believe that "because America is strong, it must be wrong".

Given that Brown rejects the moderate Democratic position on America’s most pressing foreign policy issue, shouldn’t Brown renounce his DLC ties? Or is he unwilling to sacrifice a potential source of insider endorsements on account of mere policies and ideas?

Raising the Bar: Expecting Greatness From Our Political Leaders

In a comment to a previous posting, Will writes:

...what's important here is the need to address the substance of the problems mentioned herein, and not just attack the messenger. Ignoring problems doesn't make them go away. All it usually does is lead to greater problems down the road.

That comment directly relates to the points raised in previous postings about a lame, stupid, and condescending ad on behalf of Senator Chafee and some ridiculous comments by Mayor Laffey.

We need to raise the bar and expect more from our political leaders. And that leads to three quotes about political greatness and statesmanship from Steven Hayward's new book entitled Greatness: Reagan, Churchill, and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders.

Hayward quotes James Bryce from his book entitled The American Commonwealth about why raising the bar is important:

A democracy, not less than any other form of government, needs great men to lead and inspire the people.

A 1897 quote from Winston Churchill speaks to what really matters in a leader:

In politics a man, I take it, gets on not so much by what he does, as by what he is. It is not so much a question of brains as of character and originality.

Finally, Hayward himself makes this point:

What is greatness, especially political greatness? In three thousand years we have not surpassed the understanding of Aristotle, who summed up political greatness as the ability to translate wisdom into action on behalf of the public good. To be able to do this, Aristotle argued, requires a combination of moral virtue, practical wisdom, and public-spiritedness...One must know not only what is good for oneself but also what is good for others. It is not enough merely to be wise or intelligent in the ordinary IQ-score sense; in fact, Aristotle goes to great lengths to show that practical wisdom "is at the opposite pole from intelligence." One must have moral virtue, judgment, and public spirit in a fine balance, and these traits must be equally matched to the particular circumstances of time and place.

In the upcoming 2006 U.S. Senate race, all of us in Rhode Island should raise the bar and demand more from all candidates.

Let's demand that they run races focused on debating policy issues and convincing us how their policy preferences benefit the public good.

And then let's vote for the candidate who best shows signs of political greatness by the strength of their practical wisdom, character and originality.


Here are some further excerpts from Hayward's book:

Greatness, especially political greatness, carries a whiff of political incorrectness...

In place of greatness, today we have mere celebrity, best exemplified by...People magazine...

Greatness is ultimately a question of character. Good character does not change with the times: it has eternal qualities. Aristotle connects the honor that accrues to the magnanimous person with the virtues of friendship. This suggests that it is always within our grasp to cultivate the virtue of greatness as individuals, even if circumstances - crises - do not call forth the need for political greatness on the highest level...

The tides of history and the scale of modern life have not made obsolete or incommensurate the kind of large-souled greatness we associate with Churchill or Lincoln or George Washington...yet the cases of Churchill and Reagan offer powerful refutation to the historicist premise that humans and human society are mostly corks bobbing on the waves of history...Why were Churchill and Reagan virtually alone among their contemporaries in their particular insights and resolves? The answer must be that they transcended their environments and transformed their circumstances as only great men can do, and thereby bent history to their will..

Can there be another Churchill, or another Reagan? The answer is plainly yes, though we must note that the greatness of statesmen is seldom recognized in their own time. Typically we only recognize greatness in hindsight...

Leo Strauss took the death of Churchill in 1965 as the occasion to remind his students that "we have no higher duty, and no more pressing duty, than to remind ourselves and our students, of political greatness, of human greatness, of the peaks of human excellence. For we are supposed to train ourselves and others in seeing things as they are, and this means above all in seeing their greatness and their misery, their excellence and their vileness, their nobility and their triumphs, and therefore never to mistake mediocrity, however brilliant, for true greatness."

Contemplating on the example of Churchill and his influence on Reagan gives us confidence that even though the mountaintops may be often shrouded in fog, we can still tell the difference between peaks and valleys.

Comparing these inspiring words about political greatness with either the stupid NRSC ad attacking Laffey or Laffey's ridiculous comments about the pharmaceutical industry drives home the point that the bar in this U.S. Senate race is far too low.

Shall we "train ourselves and others to see things as they are..." and aspire to greatness?

If so, then we must develop zero tolerance for the mediocrity that currently pervades this Senate race.

The Pro-Pork National Republican Senatorial Committee

Marc Comtois

Andrew Roth at the Club for Growth has framed the National Republican Senatorial Committee's attack on Steve Laffey as evidence that they have taken a "pro-pork" position.

Clearly the folks at the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) are paying no attention to blogger demands that the party structure help bring about fiscal restraint in Congress.

They are running a TV ad AGAINST an anti-pork, fiscally conservative Republican challenger to an incumbent who voted against the Bush tax cuts and had the second lowest score among Republican senators in the most recent National Taxpayers Union rating of Congress (PDF). The NRSC is in full attack mode against a candidate who has made pork a key issue.

What is the message here?

Clearly, if you are an incumbent, they don’t care how you vote on spending or the Bush tax cuts. If you challenge an incumbent in a primary, they don’t care how good you are on tax and spending issues. Instead, they will ATTACK you.

Don, Andrew and I have all commented on the ad already, and Andrew has been in the vanguard of the Porkbusters movement (and Don has chimed in, too). There can be little doubt that the core principle held by the NRSC is that they'll do anything to save their own bacon! [via Instapundit]

October 4, 2005

RIGOP Dissension II: Further Illumination

Marc Comtois

I noted earlier that there was some dissension in the RIGOP as two local GOP committees had called for RIGOP leader Patricia Morgan to step down. Well, the comments to the original post have provided further illumination and are worth highlighting.

First to comment was the anonymous "Robert," who had some unkind things to say about Scott Bill Hirst:

Unfortunately, I happen to know Scott personally. Hirst does nothing to help the party. He is always bringing it down, in any way he can. I find him very destructive to a party that is on the move.

Get over it!!!

When everyone sees the fruits of the 1/2 mill. on Election Night in 2006 maybe he will shut his mouth.

If he put half his energy towards the Democrats in this state, instead of always attacking his own party, we wouldn't be such a small party.

Will Ricci, Rhode Island editor of GOPUSA responded with:
"Robert," I also happen to know Scott personally. Although I can attest from firsthand experience that Scott can be a bit quirky at times, his heart is usually in the right place. Scott is currently noncommittal regarding who he supports in the US Senate race. One thing that I think it very important here is that this isn't just Scott Bill Hirst venting (and I believe he would have every right to do so), as it is a considerable segment of the party at large which is sick of blindly playing "follow the leader" and not seeing any good come about as a result. To be perfectly honest, I don't care who leads the party, as long as they are providing real leadership and not more excuses for repeated failure.

I think one of the reasons why our party is in the mess that it's in, and has been in for a very long time, is that the leadership of the party generally doesn't reflect the views and attitudes of the rank and file members of it. This is not particular to RI, it is quite common nationwide. The RNC itself (this may surprise some libs) is not a conservative organization. Their willingness to sell out principle for political expediency time and time again reflects that. Unfortunately, too many within the RI Republican Party are "sheeple." People that are all too willing to do what they are told, in order to get some perceived benefit from it, or more often than not, because they fear retribution.

As for the $500,000.00 worth of in kind assistance (it's not cash!) from the RNC for "party building," if it actually ends up being used for party building, instead of "Chafee building," I will be a very happy camper (and I'd guess, the Laffey camp would be, too). Your hope is based on trust; trust needs to be earned. I'm much more concerned about the long-term health of the RIGOP as a viable alternative to the Democrat Party here, than I am about the fortunes of Sen. Chafee. A little over a year from now, the RIGOP will still be around. However, I absolutely believe that there will be a new senator representing us in DC (don't underestimate Laffey, as it appears the NRSC already has!).

Also joining the fray was "Jim," who provided further insight into Morgan's specific charges against Mayor Laffey.
I found this paragraph in the Chariho Times article rather puzzling: "Morgan stated she finds it ironic that when Laffey ran for reelection in Cranston as the mayor, he received the endorsement, and money from the state party that his opponent wasn't extended. In Morgan's opinion, it's only now that the system is working against him that he sees it as corrupt".

Patricia Morgan seems to continue to have a big problem with the truth. As finance chair for the Laffey mayoral campaigns, I am in a position to know whether money came in from the RIGOP, as Morgan supposedly claims. Also, as a member of the RIGOP executive board, I would have knowledge of any endorsements that took place. Furthermore, these things are easily verified through campaign finance filings and meeting minutes.

Oddly, I have no recollection of either of Morgan's contentions having happened. In fact, after a quick review, I found no money coming in from the RIGOP to Steve Laffey. But, I did see how Steve Laffey gave the maximum contribution of $1000 to the RIGOP, each year over the last few years.

Does this woman even think before she talks?? Are you beginning to see the pattern here?

A Blue State Resident explains why Conservatives are Unhappy with the Miers Nomination

Carroll Andrew Morse

The conventional wisdom regarding RI Republicans is that they don’t believe they can win big, so they focus their efforts on winning an occasional office and on making deals to blunt the power of the majority. The CW holds that these modest goals are the rational response to insufficient numbers and institutional weakness. The nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court makes me wonder if this picture has confused cause with effect.

The national Republican party of George W. Bush does not have a problem with tiny numbers or institutional weakness. The President is supported by a sizeable base that wants conservative judges. The President’s party has a 55 seat Senate majority, 52 of whom have been reliable votes on judicial nominations. Yet despite these advantages, the decision to nominate Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is strangely analogous to the kind of decision the overwhelmed RI Republican party would make – a less than ideal compromise, based on a fear of having to defend conservative ideas, that has the primary virtue of being acceptable to the opposition in the legislature.

The parallel behavior of a weak state party and a strong national party suggest that problem in RI, and in other blue parts of the country, is not that institutional weakness leads Republicans to settle for watered down ideas. It suggests that the problem is that Republican unwillingness to stand up for their ideals leads to institutional weakness.

The Attack Ad on Laffey: Just Plain Lame, Stupid & Condescending

This ProJo article and Marc's and Andrew's earlier postings (here, here, here) talk about the attack ad on U.S. Senate candidate Steve Laffey by the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Laffey's response.

Here is an excerpt about the ad from the ProJo article:

Yesterday the exchange escalated with the GOP committee's broadcast of the 30-second attack on Laffey. As an announcer asks, "Have you seen this guy Steve Laffey?" the ad shows an image from Laffey's own kickoff ad of last month. The voice says that the "same Steve Laffey" who criticized oil companies once "ran a company selling oil industry stocks on Wall Street. Profiting from offshore oil drilling. The oil companies made a fortune. Steve Laffey made a fortune."

As the spot returns to the clip of Laffey pledging to "stand up to special interests," a graphic technique drips "oil" over the screen, including Laffey's image. The announcer concludes, "Slick. Steve Laffey. Laughing all the way to the bank."

Well the NRSC must think that we Rhode Islanders are all a bunch of stupid yahoos to run such a lame and condescending ad.

Steve Laffey previously was President of Morgan Keegan. As a securities firm, Morgan Keegan offered investment banking services for many segments of the American economy - including the energy industry. Which is why the following was said:

Laffey's spokeswoman, Robin Muksian-Schutt, said it's true that his company worked on stocks from the oil industry -- and many other industries as well.

But she said Laffey's company worked on transactions from many industries -- not just oil. "That was his job," she said.

To drill down on the sheer stupidity of the ad's argument, consider these questions: Is the NRSC saying it doesn't accept the important market-making role of investment banking firms in the American economy? Do they want to return us to the days when investment deals had limited distribution and were typically only offered to wealthy people with the right personal connections? Why is the NRSC ridiculing the important role banks play in allocating investment capital that creates jobs in all segments of the American economy and for Americans at all economic levels?

And in response to all this, Senator Chafee said:

Chafee said in an interview yesterday that, although he had nothing to do with it, the ad aired by Dole's committee is a "legitimate" jab at Laffey's "hypocrisy."

So we have a lame, stupid and condescending attack ad that holds no substantive meaning to anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the banking industry and/or an appreciation for the role investment banking firms play in allocating capital across a free-enterprise capitalist economy. And we have a Senator who wants to convince us that lame, stupid commentaries should be taken seriously by his constituents. How condescending.

Another example of how Senator Chafee is so impressive.

And we don't need a bunch of outsiders talking down to the people of Rhode Island.

More Dissension in RIGOP Ranks

Marc Comtois

According to this Chariho Times story, there is some dissension bubbling from below in the RIGOP, and, unsurprisingly, Mayor Laffey is involved.

Members of the South County Republican Coalition and the Hopkinton Republican Town Committee, two local republican organizations voted no confidence in the state party leader Patricia Morgan. Both groups are asking for her resignation.

The votes stem from dissatisfaction with the way a Republican State meeting was conducted on Tuesday September 13. The results of the meeting brought in $500,000 from the National Republican National Committee.

It is the contention of the two groups that Morgan and her fellow speakers used deception to garner a favorable vote. In order for the Republican National Committee to grant monies to state parties, party leaders must sign a letter to approve acceptance of the money. . .

Hopkinton resident Ernie Cormier, who is a member of the Hopkinton Town Committee, affirmed that he voted no confidence in Morgan because he felt she hoodwinked Republicans at the meeting. "The money brought in as a result of that meeting is going to be used to reelect Senator Chafee and that was not represented by Morgan, or the other speakers," said Cormier. Cormier stated that the issue is not specifically about Laffey, but about the bettering of the Republican Party.

Ken Mott, another member of the Hopkinton Republican Town Committee also stated that he was unhappy with the manner in which the meeting was held, and as a result, submitted a no confidence vote on Morgan.

Robert Manning, a known Laffey supporter and the Rhode Island Representative to the Republican National Convention who was also required to sign off on the measure said that he would if the voters presented him with a mandate. Manning stated that because there was a 4-1 vote in favor of accepting the money, he felt obligated to sign off on the measure. Manning refused to comment on whether or not he believed the meeting was handled in an honest manner. "I'm not going to give you an opinion on that, I'm the Republican Party's elected representative to the RNC, I'll let the delegates answer that," he said.

Morgan said that she doesn't intend to resign, although she takes the fact that Republicans are unhappy with her seriously. She said that the actual no confidence votes were politically inspired. In Morgan's opinion, Scott Bill Hirst, who has served as a Republican on Hopkinton's Town Council, has a personal vendetta against her, and is thereby leading the charge for her to step down.
Hirst is a member of both the Hopkinton Republican Town Committee, and the South County Republican Coalition.

"Scott Bill Hirst is behind this, he is very upset that he wasn't chosen as a delegate to the national convention two years ago and he's taken it very personally," said Morgan.

Morgan gave an assurance that the $500,000 will be used to benefit all "endorsed" candidates, from the senatorial candidate, down to the candidates for local school committees. When asked if the money will be used to benefit Chafee at Laffey's expense, she stated, "sure it will".

Morgan stated she finds it ironic that when Laffey ran for reelection in Cranston as the mayor, he received the endorsement, and money from the state party that his opponent wasn't extended. In Morgan's opinion, it's only now that the system is working against him that he sees it as corrupt.

Morgan stressed the fact that the money will be used to strengthen the Rhode Island GOP as a whole. "We're going to hire a director of voter identification, a communications director and a director of voter registration," stated Morgan.

Hirst said although he is no fan of Morgan, the situation is not the result of a vendetta, but of irresponsible leadership on her part. "She has a credibility problem, at least in some people's opinions, especially as far as the delegate issue...I think last Tuesday was particularly stupid in the way that meeting was handled," said Hirst. "If this was just a personal thing with me, why are all these other people going along with it".

What a soap opera.

National GOP Going After Laffey III

Carroll Andrew Morse

The National Republican Senate Committee has debuted the first television ad against Steve Laffey. It is a negative ad, a personal attack on Laffey. It is unusual for an incumbent -- almost unheard of for a popular incumbent -- to go negative this early.

A popular incumbent generally prefers to pretend that his opponent doesn’t exist. The early ad blitz from an incumbent, or from a presumptive frontrunner for an open seat, is usually a fuzzy, feel-good campaign -- lots of bright colors and images of the candidate smiling and interacting with the people. The candidate wants to build positive name recognition, define himself as the good guy in the race, and start building support amongst voters who pay a little attention to politics, but are not political junkies. Also, an incumbent (or early frontrunner) generally doesn’t want to help his challenger gain any name recognition of his own.

Three years ago, Don Carcieri very effectively used warm and fuzzy advertising to begin his successful gubernatorial campaign. Patrick Kennedy has done the same with his Nuala Pell ads, creating a reservoir of good feeling that a challenger like Dave Rogers finds difficult to overcome.

The choice to go negative right away tells us that the Chafee people think they’re already in trouble. They don’t believe that seeing the image of Lincoln Chafee will make people want to vote for Lincoln Chafee. They don’t think that talking about the things that Chafee has done as Senator is going to sway many voters in his favor. It is clear that the Chafee campaign, or at least Chafee’s hired guns, don’t believe their own rhetoric about Lincoln Chafee as the right fit for Rhode Island. If they did, they would want to talk about their own candidate at this stage in the campaign.

October 3, 2005

Rhode Islanders for Miers Launches Campaign

Marc Comtois

I just received a missive regarding potential SCOTUS Justice Harriet Miers and thought it worthy to place before our fine readership. (Which, I'm sure, was the ultimate goal of the senders). The jist of the email was to call for a fair confirmation process, similar to that just completed in the case of Justice Roberts. But there was also some talk of Ms. Miers qualifications

Steering Committee member Joseph B. White stated, “President Bush has once again put forth an extremely capable nominee who embraces mainstream principles of social tolerance, privacy and homeland security. With a career founded on community service, she carries the heart, the passion and the intellect that our nation has come to expect from its Supreme Court justices.”

“Ms. Miers has real-world experience,” said Steering Committee member Fain Gildea. She continued, “Her background as a trial attorney is comforting and the fact that she served as the first female president of a large Dallas law firm and later as the first woman elected president of the state bar is inspiring.”

Steering Committee member Lloyd Monroe added, “Associate Justice Nominee Harriet Miers will bring important practical experience to the Supreme Court earned outside of the bench. Miers, like Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, also has experience in local and state government through her service on the Dallas city-council and later as presiding officer over the Texas Lottery Commission.”

Um... I wouldn't get too carried away with the Lottery stuff if your aim is to endear Miers to conservatives, guys! Setting that aside, the organization does offer some useful points regarding her practical, extra-judicial experience.

National GOP Going After Laffey II

Marc Comtois

As mentioned earlier, the National Republican Senate Election Committee has launched an ad campaign against Cranston Mayor and Senate challenger Steve Laffey. Laffey has responded. After remarking upon the "head-scratcher" that the national GOP would spend money to attack him instead of Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, Laffey turned to the specifics of the ad:

Let me say a word about the ads. If you look at my TV ad, the only thing I speak out against regarding oil companies is the billions of dollars in tax breaks that the Washington politicians give them. I have never raised any objection to people having the freedom to own stock in oil companies. And I think Americans should have the freedom to drive whatever kind of car they choose. The thing that I do strongly object to is when Washington politicians like Lincoln Chafee vote in favor of billions in tax breaks for the oil companies costing Americans BILLIONS of dollars.

Let’s take a look at the record. I have owned oil company stocks, and so has Lincoln Chafee (and so too, by the way, has Sheldon Whitehouse). So, as I see it, we’re pretty much the same on those counts. Here’s the big difference. I have never voted to give billions in tax breaks to the oil companies, and on June 28th of this year, Lincoln Chafee voted for the Senate Energy Bill which gave $2.8 billion in tax breaks to oil and gas companies while they’re already making record profits. And here’s another big difference -- I have never taken any campaign contributions from oil companies, and Lincoln Chafee has taken tens of thousands of dollars, including thousands from Exxon Mobil and Halliburton.

Now, you tell me what’s worse, a guy whose family has an SUV because he has five kids, two dogs, and a cat, or a guy like Lincoln Chafee who voted to give billions in tax breaks to the oil companies and pockets tens of thousands in campaign contributions from them.

Here’s what I want to do. Instead of hiding behind the negative attack ads from his cronies in Washington, why doesn’t Lincoln Chafee join me in a debate on the issues right here in Rhode Island? I read recently that the Senator decided to move back to Rhode Island this year so he could campaign for reelection. Well, that’s just fine. Back in Rhode Island we’re always happy to see the Washington politicians who are supposed to be representing us. I challenge Senator Chafee to call on his Washington allies to stop polluting Rhode Island with their negative ads.

And I challenge Lincoln Chafee to a series of debates. I’ll debate him at any VFW hall, any coffee shop, or any bowling alley in Rhode Island. And if it will make him feel more comfortable, I’ll even debate him at the yacht club of his choice.

The serious point here is that whether it’s on energy policy, or tax policy, or a host of other issues, Lincoln Chafee and I have real differences. The people of Rhode Island will be much better served if we have a series of debates on the issues rather than seeing a year’s worth of negative TV ads from Washington political bosses who don’t know a thing about Rhode Island.

Politically, it's a decent response, though the references to Halliburton and ExxonMobil is nothing but a gratuitous political play for those who think all big business is bad...and probably won't vote for Laffey anyway. It's a hand he continues to play and one that may really give him no political benefit. Nonetheless, I did smirk at the mention that Senator Chafee actually decided to reside in Rhode Island during this election! (Dan Yorke doesn't call him the Senator from Virginia for nothing). Regardless of Laffey's ploy of calling for Lincoln-Douglas debates, to which I doubt very much Chafee will agree, we should all prepare to be assaulted by "vicious attack ads" from both sides for the next 12 months. It will make for some interesting theater, no doubt. Of course, as Yorke keeps mentioning, there is still no guarantee that Laffey will actually run in the Republican primary. . .

Who is Harriet Miers?

Marc Comtois

As most know by now, President Bush has nominated now-former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Immediately, two memes have sprung up. One is that the President followed the "Cheney template," by which it is meant that he ended up nominating the individual he had originally tapped to lead the search committee for that particular position. The second meme, and the one with more partisan legs, is that the President is guilty of "cronyism." Meanwhile, the debate over Miers rages on in the blogosphere, with many conservatives (here, here, here, here, and here) disappointed. This doesn't mean that liberals are giving her a pass, however, as there is too much to be gained ($$$) by ginning up opposition to anyone whom the President would have tapped. (Of course, many are particularly gleeful over the GOP infighting).

I don't know enough about Miers to make a judgement right now, but the criticism seems to hinge on the fact that she's never been considered a top legal mind (she's never been a judge, actually) and the the President could have simply done better. In fact, most of the conservative criticism is of the President, not of Miers herself. For instance, Rush Limbaugh stated that this choice seemed to be "made from weakness" and not strength and one conservative blogger says he's "done with President Bush" over this choice. There are a few (and here) conservatives who find the pick a good one, but, as can be seen, they are distinctly in the minority. Some think that the President is pulling a "rope-a-dope." If that is the case, then Glenn Reynolds prediction that the nomination is already in trouble is all part of some Roveian master plan.

I think some of conservative disappointment is a result of trying to fit a real person, Miers, into the template many have of what, to them, is the ideal conservative SCOTUS judge (in whatever permutation each individual conservative has constructed said person). Especially as she comes on the heels of the nearly-unanimously welll-regard John Roberts. Simply put, they think that the President could have nominated a better-qualified, more clearly conservative--and just as confirmable--person to the SCOTUS. Perhaps the President's close, personal relationship with Miers has clouded his judgement of her qualifications. However, as with most things, should Miers indeed be confirmed, it will take a few years to determine whether or not she was appropriate for the position.

And yet, maybe this is really the crux of the matter: no one is comfortable with the proposition of a candidate surrounded by so much uncertainty assuming a lifetime seat on the highest court in the land. For conservatives who voted for George Bush under the premise that he would select both respected and conservative judges to the court, the Miers pick is disappointing and unsettling. Simply put, conservatives feel as if they've been let down and, concomitantly, that they may not have cast their presidential vote for the type of candidate, George Bush, whom they thought. Maybe the confirmation hearings will clear things up and Miers will emerge as a solid, intellectual conservative.

I have my own doubts that will happen. These are based on her relatively short resume and by my own first impressions of her that I had while I listened to her accepting the nomination this morning. To me she sounded both nervous and overwhelmed. In short, she was not-ready -for-primetime. I know public speaking ability has little to do with one's judicial expertise, but her shaky performance and lack of judicial experience give me pause. Now, I know former Chief Justice Rehnquist was never a judge and that Sandra Day O'Connor was really a politician with a limited judicial resume, but I still think there were many qualified judges (and others) to choose from. The president and his people, including VP Cheney, are telling conservatives to "trust us." I'll try, so I'll reserve judgement until the confirmation hearings.

*A cynic might say that by then I will have talked myself into approving of Miers. Perhaps, but hopefully the fact that I'm aware of this very human tendency to seek equilibrium with one's ideological cohort will mitigate such a thing happening "automatically." Unless it already has, which is why I'm leaning towards doubt along with most of the rest of the conservative blogosphere.

National GOP Going After Laffey

Marc Comtois

Kudo's to the Senescent Man for getting it out first that the National GOP Senate Election Committee is ramping up the attack ad machine (here's the press release and link to video) against Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey. Here's the text of the ad:

ANNCR: “Have you seen this guy Steve Laffey?”

AD: “I’m Steve Laffey…”

ANNCR: “In his TV ads, he complains about oil companies… But he’s the same Steve Laffey who ran a company selling oil industry stocks on Wall Street. Profiting from offshore drilling. The oil companies made a fortune. Steve Laffey made a fortune. Now Laffey says he will . . .”

AD: “. . . stand up to the special interests.”

ANNCR: “Slick. Steve Laffey. Laughing all the way to the bank. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is responsible for the content of this ad.”

According to today's ProJo Political Scene column:
A spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee said late last week that "the NRSC is going up with a substantial ad buy" today.

While details were still under wraps last week, spokesman Brian Nick said that the 30-second spot would match his record as the onetime president of a Memphis, Tenn., investment banking firm up against the image he portrays in his own ads.

Stay tuned.

In his own ads, Laffey promises to "stand up to the special interests" responsible for record high gas prices, and stand apart from both the Republicans and Democrats who aren't "doing a thing about it."

The Senate campaign committee has had a prominent voice in past Rhode Island races, most notably the 1996 contest between the then-state treasurer Nancy Mayer , a Republican, and three-term Congressman Jack Reed for the U.S. Senate. Democrat Reed won despite a blizzard of Republican ads denouncing him as that "ultra-liberal Jack Reed."

This time around, the GOP campaign committee is taking sides in the primary fight between Republican Laffey and the Republican incumbent he wants to unseat, U.S. Sen. Lincoln D. Chafee .

TSM (The Senescent Man) leaves no doubt as to whom he supports and thinks the national GOP may be backing the wrong horse on this one:
I can understand Chafee arguing about Laffey's flaws, and conversely, Laffey complaining about Chafee, but for a national Republican heirarchy to come down on Laffey - what do they do if he wins? What then? And the funny thing is, it's already happened a couple of times. Governator Arnold in California was not on the top of the ticket in the eyes of the Republican heirarchy, and they had to eat crow. They must enjoy a good bowl of crow.
TSM also reminds us that, much like stock speculation, the past performance of the Brown University poll doesn't necessarily indicate future results.
Chafee faces a stiff challenge against Laffey, despite his coming across as what some call "rough around the edges." Yes, a recent Brown University poll has Chafee out ahead, and by a sizeable margin - this is the same poll - conducted by the same Brown professor and supported by the same mainstream media darlings - as the one that had Democrat Myrth York beating now Republican Governor Donald Carcieri by 10 points. Carcieri actually ended up beating York by about that same percentage.
TSM also believes that Laffey's newfound populism doesn't undercut his previously established conservative bona fides. While that may be true, the Mayor's willingness to play the "independent card" still seems to me like sheer political opportunism. There is little doubt Laffey is more conservative than Chafee, but I wonder how much of his conservatism he is willing to sacrifice at the altar of populist rhetoric. Conversely, how far right (or left?) will Chafee have to move to be re-elected? Perhaps the distance that each drifts from their previously established core philosophies will indicate to Rhode Island Republicans which each values more: principals or power.

October 1, 2005

Anti-War Protests: How the MSM Doesn't Tell the Whole Truth

Here is an interesting story on a San Franscisco anti-war march, where the local MSM's photo and article most certainly did not convey the whole story.

In the past, the MSM could push their political agenda and get away with it. Now, thanks to bloggers, more complete and accurate news is getting out to American citizens. And that means very different stories are being told.

H/T to Power Line.

The same issues of incomplete, and therefore misleading, disclosures by the MSM also showed up in the coverage of Cindy Sheehan's activities and words - about which others have now begun to tell a more complete story.