October 31, 2006

Creatures of a Rhode Island Halloween III

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Coventry Courier tells the story of a woman laid to rest in West Greenwich in 1889, later mistakenly identified as a vampire...

The last and perhaps most widely known case of alleged vampirism in Rhode Island history is that of Mercy Lena Brown, buried at the Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Exeter....

On Jan. 17, 1892 Mercy, like so many others throughout early New England history, succumbed to consumption, or pulmonary tuberculosis- a devastating and highly contagious disease widely misunderstood by rural townspeople at that time....

Two years prior on May 31, 1889 a young West Greenwich woman named Nellie L. Vaughn also died at the young age of 19, a victim of pneumonia.

Unlike Mercy, however, stories casting Nellie as a vampire did not surface until 78 years after her death.

In 1967 a Coventry High School teacher told students the tale of a young woman who, after her death in the late 1800s at the age of 19, was accused of being a vampire. The teacher divulged little more information other than to say the woman was buried in an old cemetery off Route 102.

Accepting the story as an invitation, the youths set off to find her.

The Chestnut Hill Baptist Church is located off Route 102 in Exeter. And while their teacher was undoubtedly speaking of the cemetery behind that church, of Mercy Brown's resting place, the teens found another old cemetery off 102.

It was a cemetery that sits oddly out of place, guarded by a different white church and an aging stone wall.

Stepping within that wall and onto those sacred grounds they found something else. It was a gravestone that read, "Nellie L. Vaughn; Daughter of George B. and Ellen; Died in her 19th year, May 1889." And at the bottom of her headstone was inscribed, "I am waiting and watching for you."

The youths had found their vampire.

Fortunately for the sake of accuracy, there are reports that the deceased has returned to correct the record...
In 1993 a Coventry woman and her husband doing gravestone rubbings in the historical cemetery there, #WG002, heard a woman's voice repeating, "I am perfectly pleasant. I am perfectly pleasant."

The husband said he left the cemetery, never to return, with unexplainable scratches on his face.

His wife, however, did go back several months later where she happened to encounter a young, dark-haired woman who claimed to be a member of a local historical society. When their conversation shifted to discussion of Nellie Vaughn, the young woman became agitated and started repeating, "Nellie is not a vampire."

Shaken, the Coventry woman turned to leave and when she looked back to ensure the disturbed woman was not following her, she found the cemetery empty.

Creatures of a Rhode Island Halloween II

Carroll Andrew Morse

(With the help of some creative editing) here is the true story from the July 3, 2004 edition of the Block Island Times of the most recent sighting of a mythical sea creature that may live in the briny deep off of Block Island sound...

URI Oceanographer: "It was a monster"

On Thursday, June 24, Callum Crawford and Rob Fell braved the chilly ocean near Grace's Cove on an early-morning spearfishing expedition to secure a few striped bass for the dinner table....

They actually saw it from the shore: a blur of whiteness underneath the waves just beyond the break. The two waded back into the surf and, to their astonishment, found the coiled skeletal remains of an indeterminate undersea creature.

When unrolled, the remaining spinal column and skull reached a length of 18 feet....

In 1996, almost eight years ago to the day, local commercial fishermen Gary Hall and Jay Pinney pulled a similar looking and smelling thing to the surface. It became known as the Block Ness Monster and, after much fanfare, was lost to history in a mysterious carcass-napping....

Jay Pinney devoted much time and effort in determining the origin of the original Block Ness Monster, and was never satisfied with its identification as a basking shark. Pinney saw photographs of dead basking sharks that, to his eye, just didn't look like what he and Hall netted that day. "None of them had a beak that long or flat," he said. "Everyone had an opinion and no one was wrong"....

A team of scientists arrived on the 11:45 a.m. ferry Friday, June 25, and made for the 18-foot creature that by this time had been laid out on the stretch of beach between the ferry dock and the Old Harbor Bike Shop.

The group was led by oceanographers Jeremy Collie, Ph.D., and William Macy III, Ph.D....

But as of press time, we don't know with certainty what Crawford and Fell found in Graces Cove last Thursday.

Prof. Collie said on Tuesday that "If you imagine the fish intact, it was a very large fish." This echoes what he said when initially surveying the remains on Friday: "There was much more of this fish -- it was a monster. Well, maybe I shouldn't say that."

Creatures of a Rhode Island Halloween

Carroll Andrew Morse

One warning to the trick-or-treaters of South County tonight.

Recorded in the Bigfoot Field Researchers' Organization database has been a Class-A sighting from Charlestown of the creature known as Bigfoot...

It had been raining earlier with thunder and lightning mixed in. Now it was just raining. We were rounding a corner on one of the roads that paralleled the Indian Cedar Swamp and as we started downward, we noticed the road was obstructed by a large blown down oak tree, the tree had green leaves (this makes me think it was summer or the early fall) on it so it had recently come down, we guessed maybe in the storm earlier(possibly lightning).

The road was very narrow and the brush along the side of the road made it difficult to back the car around to turn around. The rain was falling but not heavy, the wipers were on, the headlights on the car were on as well.

As my mother turned the front end of the car the lights cast on the left side of the road where the tree had been broken off from its stump. We were maybe 1 1/2 car lengths from the stump. Beside the tall fractured stump stood what looked like a large white(yellow white) ape. It was maybe 6 to 7 feet tall, its hair was long, face flat, long massive arms, its head appeared to be without any neck, its chest was broad.

My mother and I froze momentarily (5 seconds, maybe 10) and the figure remained still, staring at us...

Is Pragmatism Enough for the Ideologically-Minded?

Marc Comtois

I'm burnt out on this year's elections, so it was by pure chance that I happened upon the tail end of the last debate between Senator Chafee and Sheldon Whitehouse last night. It's really become an election by and for syllogistic simpletons, hasn't it? Like most other Democrats, Whitehouse is running against BUSH. Like many Republicans, Chafee is running away from BUSH. That is really what their messages have become. Plus, both are bluebloods and to hear each tell it, the other is either corrupt and wishy-washy or inept and wishy-washy. You decide who is speaking about whom. I can't tell the difference anymore. Truth be told, I never could. What a choice...

But there is a difference between them, I suppose.

You see, if I were to take off my ideological lense and go all pragmatic on your a**es, I'd have to say that the "average Rhode Island voter" (whover she may be) would probably benefit more by sending Senator Chafee back to Washington. Tenured incumbents really do deliver for their constituents, after all. As much as fiscal conservative's hate to admit it, one persons "pork" is another's "special project" and multi-term incumbents are the most effective purveyors of pork. And most of their constituents won't take them to task for directing millions of dollars their way. In fact, and unfortunately, that's exactly what many folks think a politician's job is: to get other people's money to help improve our backyard.

Another related argument, and one made by Senator Chafee, is that having at least one Republican in our otherwise Democrat-dominated national political delegation is smart politics. That way, Rhode Island will always have at least one elected official who will be in the party in power in Washington, D.C. Hard to argue with the technical logic, though what benefit can be accrued is directly related to the ability of said politician to "deliver" the goods when his party is in power.

Based largely upon the aforementioned pragmatic reasons, I've narrowed my decision down to "No-voting" in the Senate race or voting for Senator Chafee. But is pragmatism enough? Aren't there any ideologically conservative justifications that can be summoned to legitmize supporting either Chafee or Whitehouse?

I've come to believe that, regardless of how this election turns out, any hope held by RI conservatives that we can somehow move the ideological ball toward us by electing or not electing either of these two candidates is unfounded. I believe that if Senator Chafee were to emerge victorious, he would be so politically tempered that it will be well-nigh impossible for anyone to beat him, whether in a primary or general election. That is bad news for conservatives.

By the same token, I believe that should Sheldon Whitehouse take the seat, the power of incumbency would serve him well and Rhode Islanders would get used to the idea of having an all Democrat delegation. Then there would be no turning back. Now, I suppose Mayor Laffey or even Governor Carcieri might have a shot in beating Whitehouse 6 years on, so maybe I'm being overly-pessimistic, but given the "navy blue" of the RI electorate (H/T: Maureen Moakley on the last Lively Experiment), I think my pessimism is justified.

Thus, electing either Chafee or Whitehouse will do nothing to help the conservative cause in RI in either the short or long term. Basically, we're screwed on this front, kids, and will be better served to look elsewhere for any conservative movement opportunities.

But back to the reality of the senate race. Like it or not, conservatives simply can't apply the standard set of ideological benchmarks to this race. If we're going to vote, we need to put ideology aside and vote based on other factors. For me, right now, I still don't know whether I'm going to swallow hard and vote for a liberal blueblood Republican or "check out" of the process and let the rest of the electorate decide who their (my) Senator is going to be. It will come down to me standing in the booth looking at that ballot and which decision will allow me to live with my conscience.

The Lynch/Darigan Inconsistency Continues

Carroll Andrew Morse

In today's edition, the Projo runs its dueling articles on Patrick Lynch and Bill Harsch, this year's candidates for Rhode Island Attorney General. Though other issues are discussed, each aricle devotes an ample amount of space to the Station fire and the Derderian trial.

On its face, Attorney General Lynch's description of the events leading to guilty pleas by the Derderains continues to be different from the version given by Judge Francis Darigan in his final sentencing statement. Here is Attorney General Lynch's description, current as of today, of how the final deal came about...

Lynch said that about 95 percent of the time, defense lawyers and prosecutors discuss and agree on terms and turn to a judge to approve the deal. But when that doesn't work out, there are other options. He said in some cases when the prosecution and defense can't agree, the judge can tell the defendant, if you plea to every count, I'll give you the following and the state can enter their objection. He said, That's what happened here.
Judge Darigan described a different process in his sentencing statement, which is as about an official a version as is possible...
This Court was well aware that all parties desired to conclude these cases without a trial. As the structure of theses (sic) cases and the issues for the trial became clearer and more crystallized, the Court began to share this opinion.

As the date for the trial approached, the Defendants clearly indicated to the Court and the Attorney General's Office that they wished to change their pleas.

It was at this time that the parties asked the Court if it would accept a change in the pleas and impose sentences to which the State, if it wished, could object.

What exactly did the "parties" -- which in legal terms usually refers to both sides prosecution and defense -- ask the court for, if it wasn't part of the AG's office agreeing to deal? (Also, it is interesting to note that both Judge Darigan and AG Lynch make a point to emphasize that the state reserved a right to object to the final outcome).

I can come up with three ways to reconcile the disparate versions...

  1. When Judge Darigan talks about the "parties" asking for the Court to accept a change in pleas, he is referring to some technical legal procedure that is different from what the plain English might indicate. (But then what was the state formally asking for?)
  2. Judge Darigan was horribly imprecise with his description of events, e.g. he said "parties" when he really meant "Defendants". (But then why tell us that the state reserved its right to object in the same sentence?)
  3. Patrick Lynch is telling a different version of events from what Judge Darigan experienced.

Meet Dorinne Albright, Candidate for State Representative

Carroll Andrew Morse

Dorinne Albright is running for State Representative in Rhode Island's 14th District (Cranston), which is currently represented by Senate Representative Charlene Lima. Anchor Rising recently had the opportunity to interview Ms. Albright on the why she is running and what she thinks of her opponent's recent performance in office...

Anchor Rising: What's motivating your run for office?
Dorinne Albright: I think that everyone needs a choice when they go to the polls. Charlene Lima ran unopposed last time. She's run unopposed a few times in the past. It's not a real election unless people have a choice. Whether I win or lose, at least I'm on there for the people that don't want to vote for her.

AR: What issues are most important to you?
DA: My biggest concern is taxes. I am a realtor and I see it in my business every day. People are losing their homes because they can't afford the taxes. Our legislators are wasting a lot of our money. They voted to unionize the daycare providers, which is basically making them state employees -- let's pay for their benefits; let's give them everything they want!

Daycare providers are independent contractors. As a realtor, I am an independent contractor. I'm not going to tell anyone they need need to pay for my health insurance and guarantee how much money I make. It was a risk I took when I decided to go into business for myself. The daycare workers need to run their businesses well and not rely on the taxpayers to support them.

AR: Your opponent, Charlene Lima, has been the House of Representative point-person on eminent domain reform. Any thoughts on this issue?
DA: Jim Davey had also proposed an eminent domain bill?
AR: ...his was much better...
DA: ...Yes! But hers was the one that started getting some action, because she is one of the Speaker's friends. As I understand it, it was her refusal to compromise on the bill that prevented its passage.

The realtors I know were really unhappy with what happened. They were pleased she was going to support it and that she was putting this forward to prevent people from losing their homes to private businesses. But when it came time to make compromises to get the bill to pass, it was her pride, her saying it's my way or nothing, that stopped action on the bill. So we got nothing. Sometimes you have to make compromises to get things done.

AR: Is there anything else you think people should know about your opponent?
DA: I think she has been a little duplicitous with a casino vote. She was quoted in the Journal as saying that Harrah's isn't going to be able to come in to do anything they want, because they would just get somebody else to do it instead. But after saying that, she turned around and voted against competitive bidding and she voted against the bill that would have prevented her as a legislator from working there and personally gaining from a casino. That's wrong.

I think it was 44-25 when they took the vote on the personal gain bill. We have very few people at the State House who are willing to stand up and say I want to do best for Rhode Islanders, and not myself. We need to start getting the people who are just looking out for themselves out of office.

AR: Last question. Running as a Republican isn't the easiest path to take into politics in Rhode Island. Why run as a Republican, and what does being a Republican mean to you?
DA: The biggest thing to me about being a Republican is the fiscal responsibility. We need to stop taking money out of taxpayers pockets, taking money away from people that are working hard to earn it and trying to get by, and saying let's give it to all these other programs and things we can't afford to be supporting. It's great to want to help people, but when you are hurting some people to help others, there comes a point where you just have to stop. We're driving businesses out of the state because we've got people involved with government saying they don't want anyone to be running a successful business and making money. But it's businesses that make money that provide jobs, that provide benefits to their employees and that build up our economy. We need to be working with them, not against them!

October 30, 2006

Arguing Against a Casino in a Soundbyte Culture

Justin Katz

Ah, well. I understand the choices that are unavoidably part of crafting a short news segment, but I can't say I'm thrilled with the soundbyte that BSR88.1 reporter Chris Gang chose from my 20 minute conversation with him for his piece on the casino question on Off the Beat. The argument I tried to present was as follows.

As usual, in this state, one gets the feeling that the interested parties haven't come forward with an honest proposition, but rather that we're merely seeing the public face painted on rank self interest. Throw in all of the other "only in Rhode Island" details, such as slippage and contentious debates about how long politicians have to wait before they can collect handouts, and the whole deal is just suspicious.

But the bottom line, even were everything completely ethical, is that Rhode Island is too small. This will become a central — perhaps defining — characteristic of the state.

To explain: I grew up in New Jersey, and I never understood the (sort of) primetime sitcom jokes about how urban and polluted the Garden State was until my father explained that most people judge New Jersey not by its suburbs and family beaches, but by the drive from the airport to New York City or to Atlantic City. Similarly, throw a large casino into the heart of Rhode Island, and the qualities that make this state genuinely attractive will recede.

The most recent pro-casino commercial that I've seen tacitly confirms this by emphasizing how significant supplying the casino can become to the Rhode Island economy. Personally, I don't want a casino to become significant to Rhode Island. If it's another thing to do (like Hai Lai or Lincoln park), fine, but as a Rhode Islander, I don't want it to become the thing to do.

Now, the most relevant argument from casino proponents is that a major casino would act as a draw — that visitors will explore the state, as it were. But who will visit this sort of destination? If it's night-trippers, as everybody I know has been every time they've gone to Foxwoods, then they're not interested in exploring the area. For example, if they haven't dined in their own area, they'll do so at the casino. If it's people seeking a casino vacation, then the resort casino is designed to keep them in the hotel gambling. Beyond gambling, food is there; shopping is there; shows are there.

The only people likely to leave the casino to explore Rhode Island's other attractions are those who've come with the intention of doing so. And even if the casino's lures to keep them in the building fail and they go out into the state, at the very least it will be true that some other hotel — a hotel located with the primary goal of providing access to Rhode Island — will have lost that business.

Sue Stenhouse Solves the Nation's Voter ID Quandry

Carroll Andrew Morse

The United States Supreme Court has ruled, at least temporarily, that states can require voters to show a photo-ID before proceeding to vote. As the Washington Post reported on October 21...

The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that Arizona may enforce a new state law requiring voters to show a photo identification card at the polls on Election Day this year....In its unanimous five-page ruling, the court did not decide whether the Arizona law was constitutional. Rather, it overturned a federal appeals court in San Francisco that would have blocked enforcement of the law until the opponents' suit could be decided.

Arizona, which borders Mexico and has seen a surge in migration in recent years, is one of several states that have recently enacted a photo-ID requirement in response to reports that illegal immigrants and other ineligible voters have been casting ballots.

Not everybody is happy with the Supreme Court's decision...
Opponents say that the ID requirement imposes an extra burden on minorities, the poor and the elderly, who are less likely than other citizens to have a driver's license, the most common form of state-issued photo ID. Opponents say that because states charge fees for photo IDs, requiring one to vote is tantamount to an unconstitutional poll tax.
Fortunately, there is a solution to the dilemma of using photo-IDs to discourage fraudulent voting that should be acceptable to reasonable people -- the solution proposed by Rhode Island Secretary of State candidate Sue Stenhouse.

Ms. Stenhouse proposes issuing every voter a photo-ID at the time he or she registers to vote, pointing out that many municipalities already issue photo-ID library cards. She believes that it wouldn't be difficult to apply the same technology to the voter registration process. If elected Secretary of State, Ms. Stenhouse would first test a voter photo-ID program in one community, then take it statewide...

The City of Warwick would serve as a test pilot site for the use of voters' credential cards. Currently, Warwick provides photo identification cards with barcodes for library patrons. Stenhouse is proposing that a similar card be issued to all qualified voters in Warwick to be used in the general election in 2010. Stenhouse would explore ways to expand upon voting standards mandated in the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA) that have begun to be implemented in the Secretary of State's Office. Legislation will be proposed in the 2007 General Assembly session establishing Warwick as a pilot site, and federal funds allocated through HAVA will be sought to pay for the equipment to be used.
Unless progressives want to start making the argument that the process of voter registration itself constitutes an undue burden, the Stenhouse solution should satisfy the concerns of all sides of the voter-ID debate.

Occasionally, even in politics, an idea just makes sense.

The Cost of Doin' Business in Rhode Island (Industry by Industry)

Carroll Andrew Morse

A study commissioned by the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research and carried out by Global Insight Inc. analyzed the cost of doing business in Massachusetts in nine different commercial sectors. The study is of interest to Rhode Islanders for two reasons: 1) Rhode Island was one of six states used for the detailed breakdown of the cost-of-doing-business for a comparison to Massachusetts and 2) the study's conclusion is different from the usual "Rhode Island is nearly worst in everything" you probably have grown accustomed to seeing when discussing the business climate in RI.

Since the study was focused on Massachusetts, basic results were presented in terms of how much more or less profitable a Massachusetts company would be be if it were located in another state. In two sectors, Rhode Island based businesses would do significantly worse than comparable businesses in Massachusetts...

  • A plastics manufacturing company in Rhode Island would be 58.8% less profitable than a comparable company in Massachusetts.
  • A precision metal manufacturing company in Rhode Island would be 59.6% less profitable than a comparable company in Massachusetts.
But in seven sectors, a RI-based company would be expected to do better...
  • A biotechnology manufacturing company in Rhode Island would be 16.8% more profitable than a comparable company in Massachusetts.
  • A financial services company in Rhode Island would be 31.1% more profitable than a comparable company in Massachusetts.
  • An aerospace/defense company in Rhode Island would be 50.0% more profitable than a comparable company in Massachusetts.
  • A software company in Rhode Island would be 26.4% more profitable than a comparable company in Massachusetts.
  • A semiconductor equipment company in Rhode Island would be 18.4% more profitable than a comparable company in Massachusetts.
  • A medical device company in Rhode Island would be 12.1% more profitable than a comparable company in Massachusetts.
  • A search and navigation instruments company in Rhode Island would be 46.5% more profitable than a comparable company in Massachusetts.
Thomas C. Palmer reports in today's Boston Globe on some of the interesting inferences, economic and political, being drawn from the Pioneer Institute report...
The cost of energy was one factor among the 10 making costs in Massachusetts higher than elsewhere, and little can be done about that in the short term. But a number of the other nine are subject to reduction through policy changes, the report suggests.

They include unemployment insurance, higher here than in four other states; municipal property taxes, where in biotech and finance sectors they were lower in three states; and corporate income taxes, where Massachusetts was the highest of all....

Stergios said Massachusetts businesses' high costs can be controlled. An efficient procedure for siting a liquefied natural gas facility would even lower energy prices in the long run, he said....

Dave Iaia, senior principal at Global Insight Inc. and author of the study, said executives gave two reasons for staying in Massachusetts: the pool of skilled and educated workers, and simple inertia.

"It's one ace in the hole, this pool of workers," Iaia said. "If we start driving them away, that's going to be a problem."

Mr. Iaia's analysis suggests that Rhode Island's education system may be so underperforming that it more-than-cancels out any economic advantages Rhode Island has over Massachusetts.

Two quick cautions about the results...

  1. One consistent advantage Rhode Island had over Massachusetts in the study was cheaper property costs/rents. If Rhode Island did become attractive to businesses, that gap would almost certainly close.
  2. Although RI has an advantage of MA in many industry sectors, it was frequenty a smaller advantage than the two states outside of the Northeast (North Carolina and Texas) that were analyzed.

October 29, 2006

... and on BSR 88.1FM on Monday Night

Justin Katz

I'll be part of a segment about the casino issue on the Brown Student Radio show Off the Beat, which airs tomorrow night at (I believe) 7:30 p.m. Those in the Providence area can tune in to 88.1 FM, but anybody the world 'round can listen to the live stream on bsrlive.com.

October 28, 2006

Anchor Rising on 10 News Conference this Sunday

Carroll Andrew Morse

I will be appearing on WJAR-TV's (NBC 10) 10 News Conference program this Sunday at 6:30 AM along with panelists Matthew Jerzyk of RI Future and Dan Yorke of WPRO-AM radio, along with hosts Jim Taricani and Bill Rappelye giving the alternative media's perspective on the current Rhode Island political scene.

October 27, 2006

Examining the Bond Issues: Index

Marc Comtois

Over the past week or so I've written on the Bond Issues that will be placed before RI voters on November 7. I'm not entirely clear on the positives or negatives of all of the questions, but the comments offered have helped to clarify my own thoughts. Since we've got a week+ to go--and because I generally like to wrap up a series of posts in such a way--I thought it'd be helpful to put all of the posts together in an Index (or would it be a Table of Contents?) so that those so inclined can take a look at them.

Examining the Bond Issues I : Higher Education

Examining the Bond Issues II: Transportation

Examining the Bond Issues III: The Zoo

Examining the Bond Issues IV: Recreation

Examining the Bond Issues V: Affordable Housing

It's Up to the Government of Iraq Now

Carroll Andrew Morse

A George F. Will thought about Iraq from the winter of 2004 seems increasingly prescient...

A manager says, "Our team is just two players away from being a championship team. Unfortunately, the two players are Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig." Iraq is just three people away from democratic success. Unfortunately, the three are George Washington, James Madison, and John Marshall.
At the moment, current Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki doesn't seem destined to be remembered by history as the George Washington of Iraq. This is from a Reuters report from this morning...
Al-Maliki told Reuters on Thursday his Shiite-led government could get violence under control in six months if U.S. forces gave them more weapons and responsibility.

He said police were having to share rifles but, with better American help, could bring respite from dozens of daily killings in half the 12-18 months the U.S. commander in Iraq says is needed before Iraqis can take full control.

Al-Maliki also said his priority was to suppress the insurgency and root out al-Qaida, rather than to disarm the militias.

The militias referred to are the Shi'ite militias operating in Baghdad and the southern part of Iraq.

The combination of wanting more weapons, but not wanting to confront the militias is not promising. Maliki's statement suggests that his highest aspiration for the Iraqi government is building it up to the point where it shares power with Shi'ite militias. If this is the best Maliki has to offer, it will become increasingly difficult to convince America that there is any purpose in staying in Iraq much longer.

Ralph Peters expresses this idea in his New York Post column...

Our soldiers and Marines are dying to protect a government whose members are scrambling to ally themselves with sectarian militias and insurgent factions. President Bush needs to face reality. The Maliki government is a failure.

There's still a chance, if a slight one, that we can achieve a few of our goals in Iraq - if we let our troops make war, not love. But if our own leaders are unwilling to fight, it's time to leave and let Iraqis fight each other.

Peters has a specific idea about what getting tough means...
The first thing we need to do is to kill Muqtada al-Sadr, who's now a greater threat to our strategic goals than Osama bin Laden.
(Muqtada is the head of the Mahdi Army, Iraq's largest Shi'ite militia. Peters continues...)
We should've killed him in 2003, when he first embarked upon his murder campaign. But our leaders were afraid of provoking riots.

Back then, the tumult might've lasted a week. Now we'll face a serious uprising. So be it. When you put off paying war's price, you pay compound interest in blood.

We must kill - not capture - Muqtada, then kill every gunman who comes out in the streets to avenge him.

Another option comes from Max Boot (both Peters and Boot are experts on military affairs) writing in the Los Angeles Times...
There's another course short of withdrawal: reducing U.S. forces from today's level of 130,000 to under 50,000 and changing their focus from conducting combat operations to assisting Iraqi forces. The money saved from downsizing the U.S. presence could be used to better train and equip more Iraqi units. A smaller U.S. commitment also would be more sustainable over the long term. This is the option favored within the U.S. Special Forces community, in which the dominant view is that most American soldiers in Iraq, with their scant knowledge of the local language and customs, are more of a hindrance than a help to the counterinsurgency effort.

Make no mistake: This is a high-risk strategy. The drawdown of U.S. troops could catalyze the Iraqis into getting their own house in order, or it could lead to a more rapid and violent disintegration of the rickety structure that now exists.

Boot's plan would help get Prime Minister Maliki more rifles for his soldiers, but as Peters noted about his own call for an offensive, Boot's lighter, specialized force only works if implemented in conjunction with an Iraqi government determined to make itself into the sole legitimate governing authority in the country, and not just Iraq's biggest militia.

We have reached a point where how much of a commitment America continues to make towards Iraq will be largely determined by how much of a commitment the government of Iraq makes towards Iraq -- all of Iraq, not just a few favored sects.

Gasoline from Coal?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over the past few months, the Projo has been running an interesting series of energy-policy editorials. Today's editorial contained a reference to a possible new way to produce gasoline that I had never heard of before...

The coal in Illinois alone could make more energy than all the oil in Saudi Arabia. And the technology to turn coal into gasoline is well tested. The Germans used it extensively during World War II. And the technology to control emissions of the traditional pollutants from coal-burning electricity plants -- such as nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide, which cause acid rain -- is readily available.

What is still needed is a way to remove carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas, in large quantities.

Wallace Broecker, a climatologist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, says that pulling out the carbon dioxide is not difficult. It's already done in submarines and space shuttles. The tough part is doing it on a gigantic scale, which would be necessary if coal were to be turned into motor fuel in large quantities.

Mr. Broecker asserts that doing this would come at a cost, but a manageable one. He says that gasoline can now be produced from coal for from $40 to $45 a barrel. The cost of capturing and storing the carbon dioxide would raise its price by 20 to 30 percent. But with oil recently at over $75 a barrel, the gasoline produced from coal could be economically competitive.

The editorial calls to mind this famous (at least amongst energy-wonks) quote...
The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.
If you think the above quote came from someone like a venture capitalist trying to drum up investement for an alternative energy start-up, you'd be wrong! The quote is actually from Sheikh Zaki Yamani, a former Saudi Arabian oil minister, expressing concern that continually high oil prices would accelerate the process of alternative energy development and reduce the demand for (and therefore the price of) his country's oil.

This kind of concern among oil-suppliers, intensified when they start hearing people talking about making gasoline from coal, is almost certainly a large part of the reason we've seen a sharp and sudden decline in oil and gas prices over the last couple of months.

October 25, 2006

Having Their Commitment and Needing It, Too

Justin Katz

Mary Norton and Wendy Becker — both from the famously underprivileged professional class of college professors — have made substantial progress in their quest to disprove all of those same-sex marriage advocates who swore that judges would not be able to export the marriage policy that they (the judges) had created in Massachusetts. In a letter to the Providence Journal in which the couple responds to a letter to the same publication by Providence Roman Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin, they give some explanation as to their motivation:

We have been involved in a loving relationship for 18 years. We are raising two wonderful children who are growing up to be compassionate, inquisitive, and kind. We wanted to be married to provide our children with the legal protections they may need and provide our relationship with the security it deserves.

Being sufficiently charitable to see this paragraph as more heartfelt than a regurgitation of movement talking points, I find its thematic transition somewhat perplexing. The first sentence of this truncated quotation is presented as if to indicate that the women's relationship has been as committed as marriage for almost two decades, yet the last sentence insists that they require marriage in order to make their relationship secure.

I understand that proponents of pushing same-sex marriage through the judiciary find themselves having to maintain a careful linguistic balance. On one side, they must make an essentially moral argument in order to leverage the strength of civil rights sentiment. On the other, however, they must couch their goals in the language of cold law and civic interests; otherwise, it would be more difficult to hide the reality (and it is a reality) that they ought to be working through the legislative process. In their own effort to strike this balance, Norton and Becker only point the way to the public interest that both makes marriage crucial to public well-being and allows it to remain exclusive to oppose-sex couples without amounting to invidious discrimination.

If marriage is intended to encourage stability, then it is implicitly geared toward relationships that:

  1. would cause harm were they to end and
  2. are in danger of instability.

On the first point, the only circumstances that fall within the government's scope to care is when the end of the relationship would affect children. Yes, the public has an interest in encouraging mutual care, but not only is such a goal arguably beyond the boundaries of vagueness past which the government is simply meddling, but it also offers no justification for excluding relatives or those who wish to form groups of larger than two people.

On the second point, the targeted couples are plainly not those whose commitment is ensured even without the encouragement of the marital institution. And the only relationships into which children are likely to enter (bringing with them the overriding public interest) without a previously formed commitment are those in which the partners are capable of creating children through their own actions. A long-term couple that has gone through the process of adopting children is not likely to be under the same threat of insecurity.

The argument is well worth considering that non-procreative opposite-sex couples are allowed to marry and present no relevant distinctions from same-sex couples. (In this area, I agree with Bishop Tobin on matters of morality, but we apparently differ on how morality ought to affect and operate with the law and the legislative process.) The observation that ultimately undermines that argument, however, is that same-sex couples would inherently sever the link between marriage and procreation, while non-procreative opposite-sex couples do not.

Norton and Becker end their letter with a question that presumes too much: "What could the Church find immoral in protecting children and creating secure families?" Children are most protected by a culture with the confidence to insist that their creation — not a set of legal rights and privileges — ought to be inextricable from their families' security.

Busy Day

Carroll Andrew Morse

Consider this an open-thread on the day's multiple political headlines...

Build a Casino or a Research Facility? The Government Officially Says "Whichever"

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here's a fascinating factoid for the day and a point to ponder in the casino debate, from Michael Mandel et. al in Business Week (h/t Jonah Goldberg)...

What you may not realize is that the government's decades-old system of number collection and crunching captures investments in equipment, buildings, and software, but for the most part misses the growing portion of GDP that is generating the cool, game-changing ideas. "As we've become a more knowledge-based economy," says University of Maryland economist Charles R. Hulten, "our statistics have not shifted to capture the effects."

The statistical wizards at the Bureau of Economic Analysis in Washington can whip up a spreadsheet showing how much the railroads spend on furniture ($39 million in 2004, to be exact). But they have no way of tracking the billions of dollars companies spend each year on innovation and product design, brand-building, employee training, or any of the other intangible investments required to compete in today's global economy?

Machines and buildings were counted as future-oriented investment, but spending on education, training, and R&D was not. No attempt was made to judge the social utility of expenditures. For example, the $6 million cost of building the Flamingo Hotel, the Las Vegas casino opened by Bugsy Siegel in 1946, was tallied as an investment. But AT&T's funding of Bell Labs, where the transistor was invented around the same time, wasn't even included in GDP.

In other words, the government's system of economic statistics is likely to count a casino as a better investment than a new pharmaceutical research center, if the casino is in a big enough building!

Bill Harsch on What Can Be Done About the Station Fire, From This Point Onward

Carroll Andrew Morse

Bill Harsch, Republican candidate for Attorney General, has sent out a letter detailing actions he would take if elected with regards to The Station fire...

  • A complete review of the original state criminal case as well as the indictment and prosecution of all parties including town officials responsible for the events of February 20 , 2003;
  • The initiation of criminal prosecutions in conjunction with the US Attorney targeting those parties responsible for the violation of the guaranteed civil rights of the Station Fire victims [including the right to equitable enforcement of all public safety laws];
  • A reform of a broken plea bargain system which now favors who a perpetrator of crime knows rather than being based on what he or she has done wrong.
In his letter, Mr. Harsch tackles the question of "politicizing the death of the Station Fire victims" head-on...
In writing this letter I will surely be accused of politicizing the death of the Station Fire victims. To the extent that my voicing of what the law demands of the Attorney General's office will draw fire from those believing that the Station Fire prosecution is a closed subject, I will gladly take such risk knowing that your Attorney General must demonstrate leadership and competency in the quest to provide justice and protection for all Rhode Island citizens.

I am tired of being a victim of the continued incompetency and mismanagement of the Attorney General's Office - to the extent I know that most Rhode Islanders feel as I do - I believe the time for change is now.

State of Narragansett Bay

Carroll Andrew Morse

A detailed but accessible summary of Save the Bay's assessment of how conditions in Narragansett Bay have improved and declined since the year 2000 is available from the StB website (h/t RightRI)...

This edition shows that, despite considerable progress in some of the indicators, the Bay has declined slightly from an overall score of 4.5 in 2000 to a 4.3 today. The negative trend is driven by sharp declines of fish and shellfish resources, and a spreading area of low dissolved oxygen and unusually warm water temperatures creating a "dead zone" on the bottom.
Though the report labels some of its own recommendations as "strong and even controversial", its description of fish and shellfish depletion suggest that Narragansett Bay will not fully rebound (especially as a commercial fishing center) in the absence of changes to current environmental management programs.

October 24, 2006

Child Softener

Justin Katz

Two items that I came across this evening seem intrinsically, if subtly, related — even beyond the fact that they both deal with school children. The first is an email that Jonah Goldberg posted in the Corner:

My fourth grade daughter came home from school yesterday talking about how President Bush was about to sign a law that would allow the police to pull someone over, take them to jail and hold them indefinitely without being charged. I told her that I didn’t think that was true and that I would look into it. I follow current events pretty well, but I’ve missed the boat on this one. Can you point me to some articles on proposed changes to the writ of habeas corpus?

Of course, Anchor Rising readers will be aware that, as Goldberg follows up by mentioning, the daughter's teacher was almost certainly discussing the Military Commissions Act — which she clearly did her students the disfavor of distorting.

The second item is a column by Ed Achorn discussing further attempts to indirectly decalcify our already too sedentary children:

THERE'S SOMETHING profoundly sick about a society that aggressively markets sex and violence to children through addictive electronics, but won't let them play tag.

Maybe we should think about that.

Last week, in Attleboro, parents learned that Willett Elementary School Principal Gaylene Heppe's new playground rules included a ban on the classic children's game of tag, and other unsupervised "chasing" games such as touch football. The reason? She was worried about the risk of injury to children, and the potential liability to the school.

In games of tag, kids can get rough and slam into each other. One teacher from another community, speaking on a radio show last week, said the game of tag also raises concerns about "inappropriate touching" by 7- and 8-year-olds, leading to fears of sexual-harassment lawsuits!

Recess is "a time when accidents can happen," said Ms. Heppe.

Attleboro parents (with the help of national attention) responded so vehemently that the school has backed off some (for the time being). Still, I'd say it's past time for preemptive action against and concerted efforts to displace the deceivers and ninnies who wish to turn our children into malleable mush.

The ProJo's Naive and Logically Suspect Casino Endorsement

Marc Comtois

The ProJo's endorsement of a casino displays a willingness to believe everything good about the proposal and nothing bad. That alone makes it perhaps one of the most sophomoric endorsement I've ever read. Yet, even the naivete could be dismissed if the Journal's editorial board had seen fit to mention at least once in their endorsement that approving Question 1 meant amending the RI Constitution. They didn't. In their endorsement, the ProJo ignores one of the central points of contention in the entire casino debate: that approval of Question 1 hinges on changing the State Constitution. Thus, the endorsement becomes more than a display of naivete and can only be characterized as an irresponsible and disingenuous attempt to obfuscate.

In addition to the ProJo's silence on the fact that approving a casino hinges on changing the RI Consitution, their endorsement has at least 2 examples of naivete (or amnesia) and one huge display of bad logic. Together, I think these undercut the ProJo's argument for approving a casino.

Naive Example 1:

[A casino] would also provide substantial property-tax relief: Some of the revenue from the project would be dedicated to such relief, much needed in a state with among the country's highest such levies.
The conclusions are correct, but the problem is in the premise: how much revenue is going to be dedicated to tax relief? The ProJo asks that we just believe that the General Assembly will follow through. And when confronted with funding higher pensions and pet projects, they'll still follow through, right? Of course, the ProJo also isn't troubled by the vagueness of the amendment where it states that "a portion" will be devoted to property tax relief. What if $1 were put towards it? Wouldn't that still be Constitutionally legal?

Naive Example 2:

And the casino would increase state income- and sales-tax revenue, thus reducing pressure for rises in those taxes for Rhode Islanders. That, in turn, could make it easier to draw other business to the Ocean State.
Same problem as above. Ever hear of slippage?

Logical Fallacy 1:

Many people assert that Rhode Island must not have "a casino." Too late! The proposed project would be the third casino in the state. The casinos in Lincoln and Newport are big and well established, although, it is true, they function mostly as slot-machine palaces, without the (far-more-social) card and other gambling games that the West Warwick project would have.

As for gambling itself, Rhode Island and most other states have been deep into state-sponsored betting for years -- starting with the state lotteries established in the 1970s. To complain about yet another gambling venue seems a bit disingenuous at this point.

Hm. I never realized that card games were morally superior to slot machines because they were more "social." But back to the point. Here, the ProJo tries to justify changing the RI Consitution to allow for the building of a casino and expanding gambling through a rhetorical trick and an exercise in circular logic.

First, to equate the "gaming parlors" at Lincoln Park and Newport Grand to a casino is specious. I'll grant that the long term goal of the owners of each is to expand gambling at both sites, but that isn't what the ProJo is arguing. Right now, these two establishments aren't casino's and it's an improper comparison. Not all gambling is the same.

Second, and at the heart of the ProJo argument, is the use of the time tested "hypocrisy" argument in conjunction with the rhetorical strawman. The big question I have is this: How can I (and others) be "disingenuous" if we've never agreed with state sponsored casino gambling to begin with? Rhode Island voters have voted down casinos multiple times. The ProJo assumes that because--despite the efforts of anti-gambling people--we have state-supported gambling now, we must, ipso facto, support it's expansion. If not, why, it'd be hypocritical! (Is there anything worse than being a hypocrite?). People who support the lottery or slot parlors don't have to support a big casino. To them, a big casino is a step too far. In fact, it could be argued that this is the "moderate" approach to gambling. And doesn't the ProJo usually revel in being "moderate"?

But, according to the ProJo, gambling is gambling, right?

Aw heck, I give up. The ProJo has convinced me.

So I propose that we push for legalizing sports gambling in Rhode Island. Sports betting is popular (football pools, March Madness, etc.), very "social" and the state could generate a lot of revenue by taking a piece of the action via state-run sports books. Heck, every restaurant and bar could have one in the back room. This would make them more popular and increase traffic in places like Federal Hill!

And isn't it obvious that such a move would increase jobs?

It could also help make Rhode Island THE destination of sports gamblers worldwide!!!!! Think of the boon to the tourism industry?

And there's no slippage clause associated with sports betting that I'm aware of!

So, why not, ProJo? Why stop at a mega-casino? Let's make all gambling legal. Now is not the time for half-measures. All gambling is the same, after all, right? At this time we simply can't afford to be too moralistic or "too preachy". We need more cash for our politicians to spend in an honest and forthright manner and gambling is the quickest way. Let's profit from vice! It's the only practical solution to the state's financial problems, after all, and we're doing it already.

What's that? No? Now don't be a hypocrite....

UPDATE: Dan Yorke is reviewing a decades-worth of anti-Casino Editorial pieces by the very same ProJo. Like others, Yorke is asking, "What happened? Why the 180 degree turn?" A sample of past ProJo editorials as read by Yorke (with my quick summary):

"Just Say No to Casino" 1994 - Against the economics of it vs. other options.
"No Casino" November 6, 1994 - About the inherent corruption around casinos.
"Vote No in West Warwick" June 1999 - Money spent by RIers in a casino will go out of state.
"Allow Vote on Casino" - June 6, 2000 - A big casino will raise cost of public services (police, fire), hurt local businesses, hurt the quality of life and send $ out of state. But voters should decide.
"Put Casino to Vote" June 20, 2004 - Harrah's casino would hurt RI, create a net outflow of $ and potentially fuel corruption. But voters should decide.

You get the point.

Yorke thinks that there may be a Texas connection between Belo corp. (owners of the ProJo) and one of the companies that may be bidding on Harrah's. Hmm.

Still Tax Hell Rhode Island

Marc Comtois

"Rhode Island has the worst unemployment tax system, the worst property tax system, and the third worst individual income tax system." So says the Tax Foundation's latest "State Business Tax Climate Index" report (full report -> PDF). Also, Rhode Island ranks 48th in the Foundation's Individual Income Tax Index and 35th in both the Corporate and Sales Tax Indices. Put it all together, and RI ranks dead last, or first (depending on how you look at it). I guess we should be proud. We may be the smallest state, but we've got the largest overall tax burden! Yippee!

The Slippage Formula

Carroll Andrew Morse

One reason that the RIPEC casino study and the Rhode Island Building Trades casino study (links via Dan Yorke) come to different conclusions about the financial impact of building a West Warwick casino is that the Building Trades study assumes there slippage payments will only be made for two years after the opening of a new casino, while the RIPEC study assumes payments to Lincoln Park and Newport Grand will be required until the slippage clause expires. The analytical difference is that the RIPEC study assumes that the amounts guaranteed to Lincoln and Newport move upward on a yearly basis, while the Building Trades study assumes the amounts guaranteed are static.

From reading the law, I think the Building Trades interpretation is correct. This is the infamous slippage clause as expressed in Chapter 322 of the 2005 Rhode Island Public Laws...

(x) "Adjusted Base Year Net Terminal Income" means Lincoln Park's or Newport Grand's, as applicable, two (2) year average net terminal income during the twenty-four (24) calendar months ending on the last day of the calendar month preceding the opening of a new gaming facility increased by the change in the December Consumer Price Index All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) for the immediately preceding year published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States Government or its successor agency from the index for the December immediately preceding the opening of a new gaming facility, not to exceed three percent (3.0%) per year change in any year.

(y) "Slippage protection" shall mean: for any subsequent year (other than the first subsequent year occurring after the base year), whenever the net terminal income is less than the adjusted base year net terminal income, the blended rate shall be increased to that rate that would have eliminated the resulting adverse impact from that difference upon UTGR or NGJA. Provided, however, that for any subsequent year (including the first subsequent year) in which an amount equal to twice the first six (6) months' net terminal income for such subsequent year shall not exceed ninety percent (90%) of the adjusted base year net terminal income for such subsequent year, the aforesaid increase to the blended rate shall occur beginning in the seventh month of such subsequent year.

I think this says that if a new casino were to open in RI, the adjusted base year income for slippage payments would be calculated only one time, and not be adjusted upward for inflation on a yearly basis. Ten years after a new casino opened, the slippage guarantees to Lincoln and Newport would be calculated relative to their take from ten years prior plus a one-time adjustment for inflation, with no assumption that revenues to Lincoln and Newport would have increased each year.

October 23, 2006

One of the Reasons I've Determined to Bone Up on History

Justin Katz

Discussions about history that occur within the context of modern ideological debates are difficult the keep under intellectual control. With such a vast body of knowledge, factoids can contradict each other. But it is gratifying to find that one's general sense of things is not without basis.

On the matter of the United States' Christian heritage, I recommend Christopher Levenick and Michael Novak's summary of some rebuttals and arguments on the "yes, Christian" side. I also found this tidbit, related by Matthew Franck, to be interesting, as well as relevant to some recent debate here on Anchor Rising:

...after the death of his son Philip in a duel, Hamilton’s devotion revived. As Forrest McDonald writes in his 1979 biography: “His youthful faith had never entirely departed him, and the overt atheism of the French Revolution had rekindled his sense of the importance of religion. Now, in the wake of Philip’s death, he became as devout as he had been as a protégé of the Reverend Hugh Knox. In the spring of 1802 he went so far as to propose the formation of a political party to be known as the Christian Constitutional Society.”

A Happy Birthday Wish

Justin Katz

In his inimitable way, Mark Steyn addresses "the same old 40-year-old guff about 'overpopulation':

America is one of the most affordable property markets in the Western world. I was amazed to discover, back in the first summer of the Bush presidency, that a three-bedroom air-conditioned house in Crawford, Texas, could be yours for 30,000 bucks and, if that sounds a bit steep, a double-wide on a couple of acres would set you back about $6,000. And not just because Bush lives next door and serves as a kind of one-man psychological gated community keeping the NPR latte-sippers from moving in and ruining the neighborhood. The United States is about the cheapest developed country in which to get a nice home with a big yard and raise a family. That's one of the reasons why America, almost alone among Western nations, has a healthy fertility rate.

Cooperating with the Contemptuous

Justin Katz

I submitted my response to URI student Gabriel Lugo's hostile musings on American religion to the student paper of his school, The Good 5¢ Cigar, and Lugo (enlisting the help of a cowriter) replied a couple of weeks ago. Herewith, my further response.

Cigar readers will have to forgive me; as a humbled father of three who must work eighty-hour weeks to afford the king's ransom of a Rhode Island mortgage, I haven't the time that Gabriel Lugo has (much less he and a partner) to pore over research journals. Nonetheless, perhaps mere reason will suffice to make response.

I will take Mr. Lugo at his word that he has achieved hatelessness. (I, myself, cannot honestly claim to have managed such a state of grace, although I'm working on it.) Be that as it may, to the extent that Lugo is not hateful, he is certainly callous. He may have rationalized a moral imperative from humans' natural "propensity toward cooperation within a group," but his hostile language, mocking a majority of his fellow citizens (recall "the herd mentality" of those who believe in "invisible alpha males"), does not instill hope for that imperative's practice when it comes to cooperation between groups. Imagine the form of that same impulse in a person who has not conquered hate.

This is what I continue to find distressing: that Lugo fails to acknowledge the sheer diversity of the human race. If everybody would simply be and believe like me, he seems to suggest, then we could do without all those silly theistic faiths. But citing the mild behavior of members of the National Academy of Sciences is no proof at all, because not everybody can or will be made scientists. What is to be done with those who will not — or cannot — be "ingenious at improving [their] ethics"?

Nor does it "support the hypothesis that a religious society does not equate to a moral one" to note that the United Nations thinks "highly secular societies such as Norway and Sweden" are swell places to live. Apart from the inherent subjectivity of such lists, the populations of those nations are drastically less diverse, and their health, as Lugo describes it, may be transitory. According to the CIA World Factbook, in Sweden, there are more people over 64 than under 15; there are more people dying than being born. The country's meager population growth derives entirely from immigration, and some quick research from the Statistics Sweden government agency confirms that a sizable percentage of immigrants do not hail from "highly secular societies."

A similar, albeit less dramatic, analysis can be performed within the United States, with secular states and segments of society leaning toward the Scandinavian predicament. Moreover, intra-U.S. comparisons highlight a correlation that arguably precedes the one between religion and "dysfunction" on which Lugo relies: the correlations between religion and "dysfunction" separately with lower income. The question that Lugo and his cowriter (or at least their sources) suppress is whether religion improves lives within groups that are, for other reasons, more prone to dysfunction.

Discussion of these matters becomes quickly mired in fundamental differences of worldview, but the particular markers of dysfunction that Lugo notes, such as divorce, abortion, and the repercussions of sexual license, merit consideration of their source. Which segment of society has been pushing for liberalization in these areas? In contrast, which segment has been resisting the codification of libertinism in the law? In this respect, the correlations that Lugo cites may prove nothing more than that the detrimental consequences of secularization disproportionately affect those outside of the elite that initiates the changes.

Those elites may be inclined to scoff that religion correlates with poverty and ignorance, but such scoffing would elide an important realization: Among those who lack the capacity for or interest in an intellectual construction of beliefs, morality will necessarily be conveyed in religious terms — in terms of faith — even if those terms derive from a science book. How will Lugo's logicomorality compare with traditional religion when people inclined toward less considered behavior take it as their creed?

Moreover, how will its adherents address a world in which, despite the narrowly conclusive logic, fellow citizens say, "Fair enough, but we still want the Ten Commandments in the park and an opposite-sex definition of marriage"? We've evidence of the mechanism that they'll employ: forcing their beliefs through the courts, trampling what remains of democracy in our nation. And we've reason to fear that, if one as unhateful and considered as Mr. Lugo is inclined to lapse into hostile language, then there will be others inclined to lapse into hostilities of a more visceral sort.

Happily, as an intellectually inclined convert to Christianity, I believe theism to be internally rational (not to mention true) if only one has answered "yes" to the basic question of God's existence, for which either possible answer ultimately relies on faith. As I suggested in my previous letter, the relevant arguments are laid out plentifully in Western literature for those intellectuals able to leave aside their irrational biases sufficiently to read with a willingness to understand.

Mr. Lugo, in particular, might find it edifying to adopt a frame of mind that accepts that, as with civilization, so with religion. That "primitive people," as he fashions them, misunderstood and misapplied revelation means only that they represented a stage of development of, not the full expression of, religion. Their religion must be seen in context of what they would have been — and more importantly, would have become — without it. The fact that with religion they became us should minimize intellectuals' stigma against sharing a worldview with the less sophisticated of our day.

October 22, 2006

Deriving Quality in Life

Justin Katz

In response to my reaction to Froma Harrop's column on population growth, reader Barry comments:

As a math teacher who often has to explain exponential growth, I appreciate Froma Harrop's explanation of the perils of population growth, even though it makes both conservatives and liberals uneasy. The US population has more than doubled since I was born, and it is growing at a rate that will double again in about 70 years unless something changes. We have already seen the warning signs with 300 million people: loss of open space, ugliness spreading, congestion, depletion of some resources that make us more dependent on foreign sources, and more. What will things be like if the US reaches 600 million, well within the lifetime of those born now? Wishful thinking will not make the mathematics go away. It is clearly in our self interest to slow the growth of human population, and we can do this now without coercion just by making family planning available to all the world's couples who seek this but do not have the information or resources to use it.

Far be it from me to argue the mechanics of exponential growth with a math teacher, but it mightn't be as imprudent to wonder whether the principle actually has the political implications that accompany his calculations. My thoughts keep coming back to Social Security. If our population growth is so out of control, why is this federal pyramid scheme lurching toward insolvency?

According to U.S. Census historical data (PDF), the population of the United States was 76 million in 1900, 150.7 million in 1950, and 281.4 million in 2000. In 2050, the bureau projects (PDF), it will be 419.9 million. A few quick calculations show that the rate of population growth is slowing — from 98% during 1900–1950 to 49% during 2000–2050. Granted, the latter period will require a dramatically larger number of actual people to achieve that dramatically lower growth rate, but I question the wisdom of intentionally retarding a trend that is decreasing on its own.

Back to Social Security: According to that Census projection, 21% of 2050's 420 million people will be over the age of 65 (compared with 12% in 2000). The fewer the new citizens arriving (in one way or another) before that date, the higher that percentage will be. How will that affect our elusive quality of life? On its FAQ page, the Negative Population Growth organization to which Harrop approvingly refers simply, if humorously, punts on the matter of Social Security:

There is no denying that Social Security's viability requires some tough decisions. But adding scores of millions of new workers would at best postpone, not solve, the Social Security problem–and at an enormous cost in resource depletion and environmental damage. Rather, we should see the aging of America as an opportunity to begin transitioning to sustainability.

What a marvelously noncommittal phrase, "transitioning to sustainability"! When it comes to quality of life, it appears that the choice may be between lessening traffic on the way to work or managing ever to retire. Or maybe we just have to give the failed organizing principle of socialism another try.

Reading through the FAQ, one discovers markers of the underlying ideology behind the impulse to control the population of the United States, nicely consolidated in the essay on Darwinism with which it answers the plain question of "What is NPG's view of abortion?":

All successful species, [Darwin] said, have the ability to bear more young than their environment can support. This enables species to recover from food-short periods and it enables the best adapted to expand and fill new environmental niches when the opportunity presents. ...

That excess fecundity is central to the population dynamics of living creatures. ... The Darwinian controls, imposed in part by our destruction of the ecosystem, will stop the growth.

Seen in that light, family planning is perhaps the most fundamental advance in the human condition. ... Family planning is not just something that we are entitled to practice for our own purposes. It is something that the Earth itself badly needs, to escape the damage of continued human population growth. It is essential to the preservation of ecological balance in the face of a species grown far too successful. ...

Such foresight is good in theory, but it may not be sufficient in practice. The common good is probably the last thing on people's minds when they are making love, and abortion may be necessary, for the good of the woman and of society, when contraception is not practiced. In the United States, there is one induced abortion for every three live births. ...

The very idea of family planning is not very old, and the idea of tying it to social ends is a new one in human experience. We are far from knowing how to do it. Until we have learned, abortion plays a role as the final resort for women who don't want children or can't raise them. And Roe vs. Wade provides the legal framework to reconcile it with other societal goals.

I've elided many statements that would lead to worthwhile discussions, but the blending of Darwinism with environmentalism and a suspicion of human fertility, leading to a conclusion about the necessity of abortion, points to a defining belief: that humankind can, and should, micromanage itself toward an ideal set by an intellectual elite.

On the problem of Europe and Japan's having "too few working people to support the elderly," for example, the group suggests that "a reversal of population growth... offers those countries the opportunity to decide what population size is best for them." Simple as that. "If they decide a larger size is better suited for them, they can raise their fertility back to replacement level or increase immigration." Never mind that generations may have to suffer through such adjustments; never mind whether people (or which people) will reproduce on command; never mind that the immigrant solution can change a nation's culture irreparably.

What begins with Harrop's simple suggestion that "300 million is too many Americans" turns out, with very little research or thought required, to be quite a bit more complicated. Harrop and NPG may respectively dismiss concerns about our economic health as merely a desire for "100 million new customers" that "benefits business interests," but one cannot leave economic well-being out of discussions of quality of life. One also cannot ignore the dangers of the civilized world's leading by example on this count; the population of the Muslim Middle East, it's worth noting, grew 300% during the latter half of the last century.

The essential dividing line of the modern world may be between those who believe that quality of life derives from experience of it, as created, and those who believe that we can fine-tune our society to achieve a self-determined self-interest. The line isn't exactly between theists and secularists, but it's close. And it must be a cold realization for those in the latter group that their own prophet Darwin might point out that Nature selects for fertility and therefore for worldviews that celebrate it.

It doesn't take much discernment to name the cosmic force that achieves its ends by disrupting nature and corrupting faith. It doesn't take much consideration to realize that even well-intentioned social engineering can go horribly awry. And it doesn't take much imagination to envision the frightening strategies that may replace population-growth scare tactics when the fecund fail or decline to get with the program.

October 21, 2006

Scalia on the Supreme Court & Social Issues

Donald B. Hawthorne

Supreme Court Justice Scalia:

Deeply controversial issues like abortion and suicide rights have nothing to do with the Constitution, and unelected judges too often choose to find new rights at the expense of the democratic process, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said Saturday.

Scalia, during a talk on the judiciary sponsored by the National Italian American Foundation, dismissed the idea of judicial independence as an absolute virtue. He noted that dozens of states, since the mid-1800s, have chosen to let citizens elect their judges.

"You talk about independence as though it is unquestionably and unqualifiably a good thing," Scalia said. "It may not be. It depends on what your courts are doing."

Scalia added, "The more your courts become policy-makers, the less sense it makes to have them entirely independent."

Scalia, a leading conservative voice after 20 years on the court, said people naturally get upset with the growing number of cases in which a federal court intrudes on social issues better handled by the political process.

"Take the abortion issue," he said. "Whichever side wins, in the courts, the other side feels cheated. I mean, you know, there's something to be said for both sides."

"The court could have said, 'No, thank you.' The court have said, you know, 'There is nothing in the Constitution on the abortion issue for either side,'" Scalia said. "It could have said the same thing about suicide, it could have said the same thing about ... you know, all the social issues the courts are now taking."

Scalia said courts didn't use to decide social issues like that.

"It is part of the new philosophy of the Constitution," he said. "And when you push the courts into that, and when they leap into it, they make themselves politically controversial. And that's what places their independence at risk."

Justice Samuel Alito Jr., the newest member of the Supreme Court, agreed that "the same thing exists, but to a lesser degree, with the lower courts."...

Later, Scalia observed, "It so happens that everything that is stupid is not unconstitutional."

Why is the approach of allowing social issues to be resolved by appropriately messy democratic processes, instead of imperial judges, so difficult for people to understand and accept?


In response to Bobby's first comment, the posting entitled Moving Beyond Loyalty to the Rule of Law Mixes Law & Politics describes a different view of the judiciary's role and contains a wealth of further links to other postings that elaborate further:

...That exchange crystallized the fundamental difference between John Roberts and the eight Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Democrats believe a good judge will move "beyond loyalty" to the rule of law, if necessary, and seek to advance certain political outcomes--in Durbin's question, the expansion of personal freedom. Roberts dissents: He believes a good judge will distinguish between law and politics and stick resolutely to the law, regardless of the result...

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

In addition, from Rediscovering Civility and Purpose in America's Public Discourse:


Many of these aggressive attempts by liberal fundamentalists to redirect societal practices have been done through a hyperactive judiciary. It has been going on for enough decades now and, with our weak knowledge of history, many Americans do not appreciate how judicial activism is a relatively recent phenomenon, it violates the governmental principles upon which our nation was founded, and it has an insidious effect on the relationship between the government and the governed.

Chief Justice Warren Burger elaborated on this in the 1982 case of Plyler v. Doe:

The Constitution does not constitute us as "Platonic Guardians" nor does it vest in this Court the authority to strike down laws because they do not meet our standards of desirable social policy, 'wisdom,' or 'common sense.'...We trespass on the assigned function of the political branches under our structure of limited and separated powers when we assume a policy-making role.

Subsequently, Justice Antonin Scalia reinforced this point in his dissent in the 2003 case of Lawrence v. Texas:

The Court has taken sides in the culture war, departing from its role of assuring, as neutral observer, that the democratic rules of engagement are observed.

In the case of West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette nearly 70 years ago, Justice Felix Frankfurter also emphasized how judicial activism is contrary to American principles of government:

As a member of this Court, I am not justified in writing my private notions of policy into the Constitution, no matter how deeply I may cherish them or how mischievous I may deem their disregard. The duty of a judge who must decide which of two claims before the Court should prevail, that of a State to enact and enforce laws within its general competence or that of an individual to refuse obedience because of the demands of his conscience, is not that of the ordinary person. It can never be emphasized too much that one's own opinion about the wisdom or evil of a law should be excluded altogether when one is doing one's duty on the bench. The only opinion of our own even looking in that direction that is material is our opinion whether legislators could in reason have enacted such a law...

When Mr. Justice Holmes, speaking for this Court, wrote that "it must be remembered that legislatures are ultimate guardians of the liberties and welfare of the people in quite as great a degree as the courts..." he went to the very essence of our constitutional system and the democratic conception of our society. He did not mean that for only some phase of civil government this Court was not to supplant legislatures and sit in judgment upon the right or wrong of a challenged measure. He was stating the comprehensive judicial duty and role of this Court in our constitutional scheme whenever legislation is sought to be nullified on any ground, namely, that responsibility for legislation lies with legislatures, answerable as they are directly to the people, and this Court's only and very narrow function is to determine whether within the broad grant of authority vested in legislatures they have exercised a judgment for which reasonable justification can be offered...

This is no dry, technical matter. It cuts deep into one's conception of the democratic process...

In his book entitled The Uncivil War: How a New Elite is Destroying our Democracy, David Lebedoff offers an explanation about the intent underlying the push for judicial activism:

Many who loudly insist on the appointment of activist judges describe themselves as political "activists," as well. But how can one possibly endorse both judicial and political activism, unless, of course, political activism has come to mean something different from what the label implies? One who believes in judicial activism can be a political activist only if he or she no longer views political activity as directed toward the achievement of majority support. If one believes that the point of politics is to see that society does what is "right," regardless of what the public thinks or wants, only then can these two forms of activism indeed be reconciled.

Lebedoff then discusses the eventual consequences of judicial activism:

As those of one political philosophy or another seek to write their own notions into law, with no restraint from themselves or the public, the immigrant wisdom of Justice Frankfurter may be recognized at last for what it really is: a timeless warning that if consent of the governed is not our goal, it will become our memory.

In their book entitled Democracy by Decree: What Happens When Courts Run Government, Ross Sandler and David Schoenbrod note how judicial activism undermines government accountability to the citizenry:

Democracy by decree undermines accountability of government to the voters. Democratic accountability is, in our constitutional scheme, not an unalloyed good. The framers of the U.S. Constitution recognized that a democratically accountable government may reflect bigotry or be inattentive to the people's needs or rights that they should have. For that reason, the Constitution includes rights and authorizes Congress to enact statutes necessary to ensure that state and local government honor them. These are rights, not aspirational goals dressed up as rights.

As long as rights are honored, everything else, including how the rights are honored, is a question of policy to be left to elected officials. The Constitution and its state and local counterparts set up the ground rules for how policy should be made. These ground rules are designed with careful attention to the potential faults of people and those they elect. The guiding principles are division of power and accountability.

Division of power is required because of distrust of both the people and those whom the people elect. Power is divided, first of all, between those who are empowered to govern and those who are governed. Those who are governed retain the power to vote the elected out of office. The power of those who govern is further divided many ways - between the federal government and the states, and within each level of government among the legislature, the executive, and the courts. Inherent in the whole scheme is that elected officials should bear the responsibility for the key policy choices and must retain the power to change policy.

Although the system is far from perfect, democracy by decree makes it worse. It does not substitute the dispassionate rule of judges for the rule of politicians. Decisions by controlling groups are politics in a different form. By hiding ordinary politics behind the robes of judges, democracy by decree makes government less accountable and therefore less responsive. Judicial reason does not supplant politics. Instead, the courts become political.

It is only through the "messiness" of a reasoned public discourse that a broad societal consensus can be achieved on major issues. Judicial activism short-circuits that process, to the detriment of our democratic institutions and habits.

A New Blog on the RI Scene (from a distance)

Justin Katz

Four student journalists from the University of Richmond (no, Rhode Islanders, that's Richmond, Virginia,) are covering the '06 Senate race in our little ol' state at Rhode Island Senate Central: Voices in the 2006 Senate Election.

Another "Huh?"

Justin Katz

From Froma Harrop:

Another reason for the silence [about addressing population growth] is that population has gotten mixed up in the abortion issue. Some abortion foes insist that that Roe v. Wade has produced a sharp population decline. Of course, there isn't a population decline. Population is surging, and even native-born Americans are replacing themselves. The United States is not Europe, where birth rates have fallen to troubling levels (and where, incidentally, the rates of abortion are far lower).

Huh? I've read pretty broadly on abortion, and I don't believe that I've ever come across an abortion foe who made such a point. Does Harrop's "'population' folder" date back to the '70s or something?

I agree with her that "the thorny immigration debate" accounts for some of the reluctance to discuss population growth. I'd say there's also an amply justified reluctance to start putting solutions such as one-child policies on the table. (I've always wondered, by the way, at Western feminists' lack of right-to-choose ire at forced abortions in China.)

Maybe I'm Missing Something...

Justin Katz

... but could somebody explain what this paragraph — from a letter to the Providence Journal concerning same-sex marriage — is supposed to imply:

The First Amendment protects the bishop's right to express his opinion as it protects the rest of us from his opinions. At least it should.

October 20, 2006

The Intraconservative Debate Kicks into Gear

Justin Katz

Over in the Corner, Kathryn Jean Lopez takes up the call of pro-Republican conservatives:

You'd just be a punk (I'm just borrowing Mona's reader's word ) if you actually care about issues like activist judges, abortion (today there is still not a ban on partial-birth abortion, still held up in court), marriage, but stay home on Election Day. ...

Yes, earmarks suck. And I'm not defending Republican congressional performance across the board by any stretch. But not only are we at war but we have core domestic societal issues that are not going away. Don't expect matters to get better under Democratic leadership. Don't kid yourself about the impact of staying home or protest voting. As Mona notes, largescale Republican losses will not be interpreted as simply conservative frustration over spending (and Internet gambling?).

Perhaps it is indicative of time's acceleration as I age, but I simply can't rev myself to feel as if a two-year, or even four-year, or even six-year election cycle is of dire consequence. With the War on Terror, Social Security, Immigration, and the whole slate of Culture War issues, the best we can hope for — the best we should hope for, especially when the "we" is conservatives — is gradual, long-term change. Democrat victories will not be decisive on any of these matters, but continued Republican control will arguably be dilatory. It is a legitimate, and as-yet unrebutted, conclusion among conservatives that a short-term loss may be in our long-term interests.

I say "unrebutted," but Lopez and Mona Charon do make allusion. Here's Charon, from a post with the telling title "But What Will the Pundits Say Later?":

And yet, of course, though many bitter conservatives may do just that, the post-election analysis — assuming a big Democratic win — will be "rejection of the Iraq War," push back against Bush's war on civil liberties, blah, blah. Few will interpret the results to mean Republicans and the Bush White House disappointed the base by failing to hold the line on earmarks.

Personally, I'm much less concerned about what the pundits will say than what the Republicans will believe, and I think they're much too shrewd to miss the effect of party-base attrition. Circumstances may differ in other states, but in our home state of Rhode Island, a Chafee victory will stand as evidence that he does not need to court conservatives in order to win. A Chafee loss due to "bitter conservatives," however, will carry the lesson that, while Republicans may not win significantly in this state, they sure as Sheldon aren't going to without our votes.

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds provides further evidence that American bipartisan democracy has progressed from "least bad" voting to "least nauseating" voting:

As I mentioned before, the Republicans don't really deserve my vote -- though as Bob Corker hasn't been in Washington that's not really his fault -- but nonetheless the Democrats have blown it again. Not long ago I was thinking that a Democratic majority in Congress wouldn't be so bad; but the sexual McCarthyism from the pro-outing crowd, coupled with the Dems' steadfast refusal to offer anything useful on national security, has convinced me that they just don't deserve a victory with those tactics. That's not Ford's fault, either, really. But I just don't think the Democrats are ready for a majority right now. We'll see how many other voters agree.

Writing from the land of Chafee/Whitehouse, I have to admit a certain envy of those choosing between Corker and Ford. However, perhaps it is because I believe our Democrat in the race would be so spectacularly uninspiring that I'm inclined to respond to Reynolds' opinion that "the Democrats are [not] ready for a majority right now" by saying, "exactly."

The healthiest outcome, of course, would be for the Democrats to undermine the Republicans' ability to stray so far toward political self-interest by returning to representative sanity. That the Democrats actually appear to moving away from this wide open field, running the political race with two left feet, as it were, suggests that their understanding of the current landscape — of the world, of reality — is fundamentally flawed. Given the long-term nature of just about every issue currently facing us, I'm not sure it wouldn't be worth letting them drive for a few years in order to inspire more sober minds to refocus.

Distorting the Military Commissions Act II

Carroll Andrew Morse

Alas, another Rhode Island blogger has lost herself in the progressive fever-swamps because of the Military Commissions Act. Now Sheila Lennon of the Projo?s Subterranean Homepage News is claiming that the Military Commissions Act can be used to prevent American citizens from petitioning for a writ of Habeas Corpus...

Yes, anyone can not (sic, I think Ms. Lennon meant "now") be "disappeared" at the pleasure of the President. This abrogation of the most basic right to challenge the legality of your detention is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court must overturn it.
Her fears are based on Keith Olbermann's inaccurate MSNBC rant against the MCA. But despite Olbermann's delusions, it is not true that the MCA means that anyone can be made to disappear at the pleasure of the President, because...
  1. The MCA does not apply to American citizens.
  2. Everyone -- even aliens -- detained under the MCA has an express right to be represented by a defense counsel of their own choosing. This is from section 949c of the MCA...
    (3) The accused may be represented by civilian counsel if retained by the accused, but only if such civilian counsel
    (A) is a United States citizen;
    (B) is admitted to the practice of law in a State, district, or possession of the United States or before a Federal court;
    (C) has not been the subject of any sanction of disciplinary action by any court, bar, or other competent governmental authority for relevant misconduct;
    (D) has been determined to be eligible for access to classified information that is classified at the level Secret or higher; and
    (E) has signed a written agreement to comply with all applicable regulations or instructions for counsel, including any rules of court for conduct during the proceedings.
  3. And nothing in the MCA prevents someone improperly detained under the MCA from challenging the claim (with the help of his or her defense counsel) that he or she is not an American citizen in a regular civilian court, outside of the MCA system.
Furthermore, Ms. Lennon's claim that the MCA is unconstitutional makes no sense. As Adam J. White explained in the Weekly Standard, all that the MCA does is restore the scope of Habeas Corpus to the scope established in the 1950 case of Johnson v. Eisentrager, a precedent ignored by the Court its 2004 Rasul v. Bush ruling. Because you disagree with something doesn't make it unconstitutional. What exactly is the argument that the Supreme Court was "wrong" in interpreting existing Habeas Corpus statutes one way in 1950, but "right" when interpreting them differently in 2004?

I hope liberals are beginning to realize how much the hysteria over the MCA undercuts the claim that they are the reality-based community. But there is always hope! If bloggers like Ms. Lennon would pay more attention to the right-blogosphere, they would be less likely to make such gross errors of fact.

The Sounds of Silence

Marc Comtois

I've so thoroughly checked out of the current RI Senate race that I didn't even realize there was a debate last night. Ah well....the ProJo has it covered.

I suppose no one can really be surprised that the conservatives hereabouts have taken, at best, lukewarm interest in a race between Patrician "A" and Patrician "B" in which both try their hardest to show how unconservative (ie; "anti-Bush") they are.

Patrician "A" owes his current electoral viability to the political groundgame orchestrated by the advisors of the President he currently castigates. Meanwhile, Patrician "B" offers no really new ideas and has basically chiseled his whole campaign down to the core theme that a vote for his opponent is a vote for BUSH. It's politics as a game of "I know you are but what am I?" It's certainly not a debate over political ideas and is really all about winning political power for its own sake. That's fine, but it's not very interesting to me. But, heck, if you're interested, feel free to comment.

UPDATE: Chuck Nevola is a more intrepid man than I and has more analysis here.

Examining the Bond Issues V: Affordable Housing

Marc Comtois
Question 9: Affordable Housing Bonds

Approval of this question will allow for the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed $50,000,000 for affordable housing.

Project Costs - $49,800,000 in principal w/ $37,035,819 in Interest (6% over 20 years) plus approximately $349,000 in issuance costs. TOTAL: $87,184,557. {Source PDF}.

Do we need affordable housing? Most people, including both gubonatorial candidates, say yes.
Urging voters to pass the measure, Republican Governor Carcieri and his Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Charles Fogarty, were among more than half a dozen speakers at the kickoff for Vote Yes On 9, a campaign to support Question 9 on the November ballot.

"The goal of Question 9 is to jump-start the construction of affordable housing," said Armeather Gibbs, chief operating officer of the United Way of Rhode Island, who emceed the event from the back porch of a newly renovated affordable house on Douglas Avenue.

Housing advocates say the $50 million would help Rhode Island to leverage some $450 million in federal housing subsidies and private loans, helping to create up to 2,000 affordable houses, condominiums and apartments over four years.

There are many economic and moral cases to be made for approving this bill (go here as a starting point). But the question must be asked: should current Rhode Island (and federal) taxpayers be asked to foot the bill? What factors contributed to this crisis and how do we correct them so that the problem doesn't continue? Basically, this isn't a housing shortage issue as much as it is a tax issue.

There can be little doubt that the governmental policies of "Tax Hell" Rhode Island carry a large amount of blame for the housing pinch. RI's past tax policy helped convince many manufacturers to move out of state, taking their relatively well-paying jobs with them. The service jobs that have filled the void don't measure up. To make matters worse, RI's high tax reputation scares businesses in growing sectors, such as technology or pharmaceuticals, that may offer higher paying jobs.

If young or median-income earning people continue to move out of state, it will only make the fiscal problems--both in RI government and for average RIers--worse. Of course, that may be exactly what is needed before RI politicians and the voters who continue to enable them wake up to the fiscal reality that the current high tax burden is untenable. In short, this bond question asks that RI taxpayers subsidize a problem that was caused because of a bad tax policy.

The politicians are asking us--the taxpayers--to bail them out for their fiscal mistakes instead of getting to the root cause of the problem: they have to lower the tax burden in the state and make it more attractive to businesses. More businesses will make a more competitive job market with higher wages resulting. Subsidizing affordable housing is a case of treating a symptom and not the actual illness. It would be nice to do what we can to alleviate the symptom, but I fear that doing so will allow our politicians to get away with not treating the illness that caused it.

October 19, 2006

The Word About Rhode Island Is Out, All Over North America

Carroll Andrew Morse

As I was putting together the previous item on Beacon Mutual, I stumbled across a book titled The Politics of Automobile Insurance Reform: Ideas, Institutions, and Public Policy in North America by Edward Lascher. I'm not sure if its table of contents should make Rhode Islanders laugh or make us cry...

  1. Introduction: Why We Should Care about the Politics of Automobile Insurance Reform
  2. Explaining Policy Choices: Pressure versus Ideas
  3. The Profiteering Story and the Pogo Story
  4. Reform Enacted: Pennsylvania
  5. Reform Stymied: Rhode Island
  6. Different Reform Regimes: Ontario
  7. The Parliamentary System Difference
  8. Conclusion: Learning from Automobile Insurance Reform

The Beacon Mutual Indictment: If Practicing Favoritism is a Bad Thing, Why Did the Legislature Want to Make it Easier To Do?

Carroll Andrew Morse

In today's Projo, Lynn Arditi and Mike Stanton report on the indictment of David R. Clark on charges of conspiracy and insurance fraud in connection to his role at Beacon Mutual, Rhode Island's state-established workers' compensation insurer...

A Rhode Island grand jury yesterday indicted a former top executive of Beacon Mutual Insurance Co. on charges of conspiracy and insurance fraud....Revelations earlier this year about unfair pricing practices and preferential treatment of some of the state's big businesses tainted Beacon, which recently has been trying to regain the confidence of state political leaders and the business community.
The word that keeps recurring in the description of the crime that Mr. Clark is charged with is "favoritism"...
The Beacon executives referred to in the indictment are "paid enormous sums of money to protect the public's interest," [Attorney General Patrick Lynch] said. "This is a betrayal of trust [involving] favoritism that has caused injury directly to small businesses across Rhode Island"....

The Giuliani report, released in April, found evidence that Beacon gave breaks to some large companies with policies of more than $10,000....The Giuliani report also found that Beacon executives maintained a VIP list of about a dozen companies, some of which received favorable treatment that resulted in lower workers' compensation rates....

The two counts of insurance fraud, which Lynch said involved "favoritism" of certain policyholders, include one count of insurance fraud and another count of conspiracy to commit insurance fraud....

But if there is agreement that favoritism in the insurance business is a bad thing (whch I think there is), then why in the past year was the legislature trying to rewrite the law in a way that would have made Beacon Mutual's ability to practice favoritism substantially easier -- perhaps even making favoritism legal?

The excerpts that follow are from Senate Bill 2009, sponsored by Senators Roger Badeau (D-Woonsocket/Cumberland), Dominick Ruggerio (D-Providence), Frank Ciccone (D-Providence), David Bates (R-Barrington/Bristol), and John Revens (D-Warwick), which would have established Beacon Mutual as an independent non-profit corporation. The bill was passed by the full Senate last year, but failed to pass the House. In these excerpts, the "corporation" and the "fund" both refer to Beacon Mutual.

1. Maybe I'm reading too much into this first point; however, the current law governing Beacon Mutual requires them to have a "protocol" for imposing higher rates on individual companies deemed to be risky...

(3) Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the fund may establish and apply a premium surcharge protocol. The protocol shall provide for higher premium and surcharge payments by insured who present higher than normal risks within a class, including the ability of the fund to assess from time to time a premium surcharge of up to three (3) times its applicable premium rate, as it deems appropriate to further the public purposes set forth in this act...
The legislature wanted to remove from the law the language requiring a formal and consistent protocol for setting surcharges...
(4) Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, the corporation may establish and apply a premium surcharge of up to three (3) times its applicable premium rate for policyholders who present higher than normal risks within a class.
With the protocol requirement removed, wouldn't the rule be the rule that anything goes, so long as it could be slipped past the Director of Business Administration?

2. The old law made no mention of being able to offer discounted workers compensation policies. The new law, however, would have allowed Beacon Mutual to grant discounts, again without legally mandating a consistent process...

The corporation may also establish and apply discounts to the policyholders who present lower than normal risks within a class.
If this new version was in effect, wouldn't Mr. Clark be able to offer a defense based on the fact that the law expressly gives Beacon the discretion to offer lower rates to preferred customers?

3. Beacon wasn't going to be required to use the same "uniform classification system" for setting rates that other workers' compensation insurers operating in Rhode Island would be required to...

The corporation shall not be required to adhere to the uniform classification system or uniform experience rating plan required under section 27-7.1-9.1 in effect from time to time after the approval by the director of the department of business regulation of the corporation's own classification plan, experience rating plan, manuals, schedules and rules...
Section 27-7.1-9.1 of Rhode Island law sets up the uniform classification system that all workers compensation insurers in Rhode Island (at the moment) have to use...
Sec. 27-7.1-9.1 (c) Every workers' compensation insurer shall adhere to the uniform classification system and uniform experience rating plan as submitted to the director and which is presently in effect. The experience rating plan shall be the exclusive means of providing prospective premium adjustments based upon measurement of the loss-producing characteristics of an individual insured.
What was the intended purpose of establishing two sets of rules, one for Beacon, and one for everyone else? Wouldn't this allow for the possibility of Beacon hardwiring favors for their friends into a specialized classification system?

The questions are 1) Would the "favoritism" that David Clark is accused of practicing still be illegal if the legislature had gotten its way on Beacon Mutual in this past session and 2) Is there be some valid public policy purpose for the apparent loosening of Beacon Mutual's rate setting procedure, or this case of the legislature looking to give an advantage to their friends?

The Harsch Anti-Corruption Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

Republican candidate for Attorney General William Harsch has released his four-point plan for attacking public corruption if elected Attorney General...

  • The formation of a Public Corruption Unit within the Attorney General's Office.
  • Stiffer penalties for public officials convicted in corruption cases.
  • Creation of a Joint Commission on Election Fraud with the Secretary of State's Office.
  • The implementation of an anonymous Public Corruption Tip Line.
This is the third set of specific policy proposals that Mr. Harsch has released as part of his campaign.

Mr. Harsch has also proposed a plan for increased oversight of public utilities...

  • The addition of at least (1) assistant attorney general to the Attorney General's Consumer Division
  • 2 special assistant attorneys general with specialized education and experience to prosecute and/or intervene on both the state and federal level in those regulatory matters that impact the day to day life and expenses of Rhode Islanders such as PUC rate hearings, health insurance rate filings [Blue Cross/Blue Shield] at the Department of Business Regulation (DBR), general casualty insurance rate increases at Business Regulation, bank merger hearings (DBR), as well as hearings on regulated trades who may be preying on the public ( contractors, plumbers, electricians, travel agents, etc).
  • A dedicated support staff of accountants, economists, paralegals, and Investigators
  • The retention, where necessary, of qualified attorneys and other experts to supplement prosecution through the development of the following programs:
    1. An Attorney General Recruiting Program from law schools and business schools
    2. An Attorney General Work Experience Program to establish a permanent and ongoing work-experience program with local law schools to have law students (at no cost) support white collar, regulatory and other prosecutions within the Attorney General's office
    3. Implementing a lawyer volunteer program composed of retired attorneys, judges and prosecutors willing to donate time to help in complex or larger cases - similar to SBA retired business consultant program
  • The establishment of a community-based Regulatory Steering Committee to take measure of local business and consumer concerns such as possible provider abuse as in the case with Beacon Mutual.
...as well as a plan to strengthen Rhode Island's registered sex-offender program...
  • Improve the accessibility of Rhode Island's Online Sexual Offender Database.
  • Amend the Sexual Offender Notification Guidelines to provide more accurate information regarding the home and employer address of registered offenders.
  • Introduce an online educational initiative to help parents protect their children from online sexual predators.
  • Make it harder for convicted sexual offenders to avoid registration as Level II and Level III offenders.

Harsch to Board of Elections: Lynch's Campaign Finance Reports are Incomplete

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Edward Fitzpatrick in the Projo, Attorney General Candidate Bill Harsch has complained to the state Board of Elections about incomplete campaign finance reports filed by current Attorney General Patrick Lynch...

J. William W. Harsch, the Republican candidate for attorney general, yesterday sent a complaint to the state Board of Elections, accusing Democratic Attorney General Patrick C. Lynch of failing to fully report employment and/or address information for about 43 percent of those who have contributed to his campaign since 2003....

Harsch cited a state law requiring that campaign-finance reports contain the name, address and place of employment of each person or source that contributes more than $100. Harsch's campaign coordinator, Tom Shevlin, said Lynch's campaign omitted employer and/or address information for 922 contributions dating to January 2003.

The Projo provides some examples of donors who provided incomplete information...
  • Charles A. Blixt, who donated $250 to Lynch in December 2005, as general counsel/executive vice president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco.
  • J. Russell Jackson, who donated $1,000 in December 2005, as a lawyer who has represented Anheuser Busch as a partner in the Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom law firm.
  • Peter H. Cressy, who donated $250 in December 2005, as president and CEO of The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, an industry advocacy group.
  • Brennan Dawson, who donated $250 in December 2005, as senior vice president of The Tobacco Institute, which represents major cigarette manufacturers in the United States.
Attorney General Lynch disputes that he has failed to comply with campaign finance laws...
Lynch said it's "humbling" that thousands of people have donated to his campaign since 2003. "We've recorded every contribution that we've received and comply with every applicable campaign-finance law," he said. "My opponent's latest attack is just a desperate attempt to bring life to his stagnant campaign in the last 21 days."
But Rhode Island law is pretty direct on this matter. The relevant section is section 17-25-7(a)...
17-25-7 Contents of reports to be filed by treasurers of candidates and committees. -- (a) Each campaign treasurer of a candidate, each state and municipal committee of a political party, and each political action committee shall keep accurate records and make a full report, upon a form prescribed by the board of elections, of all contributions received by it in excess of a total of one hundred dollars ($100) from any one source within a calendar year, in furtherance of the nomination, election, or defeat of any candidate or the approval or rejection of any question submitted to the voters during the period from the date of the last report, or in the case of the initial report, beginning on the date of the appointment of the campaign treasurer for state and municipal committees and political action committees and on the date a person becomes a "candidate", as defined in Sec. 17-25-3(2) for individual candidates. The report shall contain the name and address and place of employment of each person or source from whom the contributions in excess of one hundred dollars ($100) were received, and the amount contributed by each person or source. The report shall be filed with the board of elections on the dates designated in Sec. 17-25-11. The campaign treasurer of the candidate, or committee reporting, shall certify to the correctness of each report.
We can argue about whether these laws are good things or not, but it seems silly for an Attorney General to be arguing that he is complying with the law when he clearly isn't.

And isn't the office of Attorney General an office that should be filled by someone who pays attention to the details?

October 18, 2006

Requiring a Moral Excuse for Due Diligence

Justin Katz

The comments to my most recent post on same-sex marriage rapidly branched off into discussion of a Westerly Republican politician who is, apparently, homosexual. Having not researched the man for myself, I won't presume to offer analysis; I'll merely explain that the initial question posed by a commenter, Bryan, was: "How can a man who lives with his male lover properly represent all of the values that I feel so strongly about." Thus inspired to investigate, Bryan (and others) have discovered multiple questionable items in the politician's past, such as frequent party switching, audience-specific dishonesty about his sexual orientation, and even a possible lie about having been in the World Trade Center on September 11.

Again, until I've had a chance to do the research, I'm not going to comment further on the specifics. A more broadly applicable question has emerged within the discussion, however, and it's certainly one worth consideration. From commenter Rhody:

If somebody hadn't raised a red flag over his being gay, would any of this other stuff (the party registrations, 9-11, etc.) have ever come out? Just curious.

If conservatives like Bryan start giving hetero candidates the same level of scrutiny (and raising red flags on legitimate issues), something positive will emerge from this debate.

Perhaps it's my recidivistic naiveté, but I find it to be a curious notion that, while it would be unnotably legitimate for, say, a Republican to plumb the background of any given Democrat, it is somehow dubious of a citizen to do the same on the basis of significant moral and social disagreement. In the latter case, he who makes the inquiry opens himself to accusations of bigotry and intolerance; in the former case, he is merely pursuing political interests. Funny that raw political interests should be considered less suspect than an honest difference of opinion.

The reason, it seems to me, is that those who would make sexual orientation a protected class even when it comes to political disagreement do not wish to permit that opinions can differ. (And, of course, any number of current issues could be substituted for homosexuality.) But perhaps that's yet another advantage of our political system: We can do political battle within the system without bringing irreconcilables into every debate and every vote.

Furthermore, perhaps that's yet another indication of why our political system — particularly in Rhode Island — is currently so corroded and viciously polarized. In a healthier system, political (rather than ideological) opponents would ensure that every candidate's background is plumbed, both in primaries and in general elections, thus allowing "innocent" investigation by those on both sides of the ideological divide.

Healthcare Forum, Part 2: Where Universal Coverage Can Never Work

Carroll Andrew Morse

To understand why universal coverage won't work for a certain segment of healthcare delivery, consider a fictional extension to your auto insurance policy. You are given the option of buying "gasoline insurance". Instead of paying for what you buy when you go to a gas station, you will pay a premium at the beginning of each week. In return for buying into the program, you can put up to $36 of gasoline into your car per week at any participating gas stations (after paying a $1 deductible).

The flaw in this system is obvious. If everybody puts their full allotment of gas into their cars each week, everyone will end up paying more than 35 dollars for 35 dollars' worth of gas; everyone will have to pay for the cost of their gas plus the administrative costs of running the gas insurance program. Savings under this program are only possible if a large number of people consistently use less than their allotment of gas, but people who consistently use less than their allotment are unlikely to stay in the program.

The point is that insurance doesn't work as a way for paying for something that is frequently used. I don't think that that is too controversial a starting point...

Now, move to an example closer to healthcare. Consider dental insurance. Do you believe that everyone should visit their dentist twice a year for a cleaning? If so, for the same reason that it makes no sense to pay for gasoline through insurance, it makes no sense to pay for routine dental care through insurance. If everybody goes for their twice-a-year cleanings, paying for those cleanings through insurance offers no advantage over paying the dentist directly. Everybody's dental premium could be dropped by the cost of two cleanings, people could use the premium savings to to pay for their cleanings, and everything would stay about the same (except of course for the insurance companies, who would lose out).

The dental example is very relevant; many current healthcare proposals involve using preventative medicine and regular check-ups to catch problems early when they are easier to correct. And if we are talking about regular, recurring care, just like with dental cleanings, it makes more sense to pay the provider directly (maybe with the help of a health-savings account) rather than through an insurance program. If preventative medicine is to be an important part of the public healthcare system, the design of that system must assume that everyone uses their full allotment for wellness care and check-ups and, therefore, that paying providers directly will be as effective and as efficient as paying them through insurance.

I still don't think I've said anything too controversial. However...

What about the person that can't afford the costs regular dental cleanings or wellness check-ups? Doesn't the government have a responsibility to provide for them somehow? Isn't that the real purpose of universal health coverage?

Certainly if you believe that preventative medicine is an important part of the healthcare system, providing for regular care for the poor is a concern, but it is not a question of how to offer universal healthcare insurance, but a question of how to offer healthcare subsidies. The difference, you ask? In an insurance system, everybody who is covered pays into the system. In a subsidized system, only some pay into the system based on their "ability to pay"; people towards the upper end of the of the ability-to-pay scale pay for both their own care and for the care of the people with less ability-to-pay, while people at lower end of the scale pay for only a fraction (down to 0%) of their own care. (Michael Kinsley discusses some of the differences between insurance and subsidies in this Slate magazine article).

But the fact that some people need subsidies to pay for regular, recurring careis not a reason to put everyone into a uniform, government-run universal system for delivering it. There is no medically justifiable reason to force people to spend their healthcare dollars in a certain way just because they are also the ones who are covering the costs of subsidies for others. If there are private insurance plans, or HSA's, or direct fee-for-service plans that are preferable to the government plan (and experience shows us that there almost certainly will be better plans than the government plan -- unless the government creates regulations to make them impossible) then why shouldn't people be free to choose those other options for themselves?

Some people will provide an ideological answer to this question. They believe that everyone should be in the same system to make everything fair, or to remove a stigma of receiving subsidized payments, or because they believe that government programs are inherently superior to private ones. These are all terrible rationales for using universal health insurance to provide subsidies for wellness care. Once the designers of the healthcare system make anything other than delivering the best possible care using existing resources their top priority, it is unlikely that the system will deliver the best possible care.

If people are serious about providing regular wellness and early-intervention medicine to as many people as possible, it cannot rationally be done through a "universal" insurance system. This is the realm where health-savings accounts will be most effective. The insurance system should be reserved for accidents and illnesses and major costs that are truly unforeseeable.

Carcieri/Fogarty III: Open Thread

Carroll Andrew Morse

Anchor Rising readers are invited to use the comments section of this post to give their own real time reactions to tonight's Rhode Island Gubernatorial debate between Donald Carcieri and Charles Fogarty (WPRO 630AM, The Dan Yorke Show @ 4:45 pm).

Insightful comments, witty comments, and even comments that spin like a original Mercury astronaut undergoing initial training are all welcome, but personally insulting or crude posts will be deleted as soon as I see them.

The comments are open now!

Healthcare Forum, Part 1

Carroll Andrew Morse

On Monday, I attended a candidate's forum sponsored by the Rhode Island Health Center Association. Federal candidates Lincoln Chafee, Jon Scott, Rod Driver, Sheldon Whitehouse, Patrick Kennedy and James Langevin; and state candidates Don Carcieri, Reginald Centracchio, Charles Fogarty and Elizabeth Roberts all gave answers to questions about health care asked by moderator Bill "Rap Man"(*) Rappleye of WJAR-TV.

Felice J. Freyer reported on the forum in the Projo. The tone of her article suggests that, taken as a whole, she wasn't exactly blown away by the answers to the questions that she heard...

Given impending cuts in Medicaid on the federal level, Channel 10 (WJAR) political reporter Bill Rappleye asked, would you use state money to fill the gaps, or would you prefer to increase fees or limit eligibility in a state-run health program for the poor and disabled....

Of the 10 candidates at the Rhode Island Health Center Association's annual meeting, only one or two (depending on how you take their answers) would go on record favoring either of these unpopular options.

Governor Carcieri, a Republican who is running for reelection, said he has appointed a team to look for ways to save money in Medicaid....Rodney Driver, an independent running for U.S. House in the second district, against U.S. Rep. James Langevin, favored having the state make up any federal losses in Medicaid funding. The state can do this by cutting back on waste, fraud and abuse within the budget, Driver said.

The other candidates did little more than decry the Medicaid situation. Medicaid, which is financed jointly by the state and federal governments, is a growing portion of state budgets as medical costs increase and the number of uninsured people grows.

There were few specific, direct answers to any of the three questions posed to each candidate....

Mr. Freyer quotes Sheldon Whitehouse's call for universal coverage of some sort...
It's a system that is screaming out for reform....We simply have to get universal coverage.
Former Attorney General Whitehouse wasn't the only Democrat at the forum who supports a so-called universal solution. Congressman Langevin and Senator Roberts both mentioned the goal universal health care in their responses. Congressman Kennedy talked about healthcare as a moral problem. And Lieutenant Governor Fogarty has put forth a proposal for mandatory health coverage for all Rhode Islanders as part of his campaign.

The unanimity on universality may be the cause of the lack of specifics that Ms. Freyer decries, at least on the Democratic side. Democrats invoke "universal health care" like the words themselves are a magical incantation that will solve the problem. (To be fair, Congressman Langevin does have specific ideas about extending the health plan offered to Federal employees to all citizens, and Lieutenant Governor Fogarty has put forth a plan similar the Massachusetts mandatory-coverage plan that is detailed in its implementation, if not in how it will be funded). But when Sheldon Whitehouse, or Patrick Kennedy, or Elizabeth Roberts use the term "universal", we don't know quite what they mean, because universal coverage can mean many different things...

  • At one extreme, universal coverage could mean a single-payer, government run system where government insurance is the only health insurance allowed and supplemental insurance is made illegal.
  • At the other end, universal coverage could also mean a government run system as a base, with people allowed to purchase additional coverage from a private system. (I think, for example, this is what a country like Australia does).
In our current political system, it is hard to envision programs based on either of these ideas being run well. The first idea is based on the assumed effectiveness of healthcare rationing -- the government needs to reduces the quality of health coverage for some people in order to obtain the resources necessary to provide coverage to others. This kind of central planning has a long history of not working.

The second idea, while blunting the effects of rationing in theory, would most likely lead to a system with some people being stuck in a poor-quality government program, others paying for better quality private coverage, and a never-ending political tension for new "funding formulas" to transfer more resources into the government program. In short, government would do to health care what it's done to public education over the past forty years.

The important thing to bear in mind is that the mixture of public and private in any healthcare reform is not a "detail that needs to be worked out", it is a choice that needs to be made up front. Politicians who favor universal care need to be honest with the public about exactly what they are proposing...

(*)I'm just reporting how the hosting organization referred to their esteemed moderator.

Distorting the Military Commissions Act

Carroll Andrew Morse

(UPDATE: The first paragraph of this post has been modified to reflect RI Future's timely correction of their original post.)

Over at RI Future, they are attempting to propagate the progressive fever-swamp fantasy they repeated the erroneous assertion (since corrected) that the Military Commissions Act affects the right of American citizens to petition for a writ of Habeas Corpus. As we've explained here and here in detail, it's not true. The MCA applies only to aliens, not citizens.

And while we're on the subject, is there anybody on the progressive left willing to join the long-term campaign to help bring about the right of citizens in North Korea or Iran to petition their own governments for Habeas Corpus, or do the progs regard those issues as "none of our business"?

October 17, 2006

Examining the Bond Issues IV: Recreation

Marc Comtois

Two for the price of one:

Question 7: Fort Adams State Park Recreation and Restoration Bonds

Approval of this question will allow for the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed $4,000,000 for improvements to the Fort Adams State Park in Newport.

Project Costs - $3,984,000 in principal w/ $2,962,865 in Interest (6% over 20 years) plus approximately $28,000 in issuance costs. TOTAL: $6,974,764. {Source PDF}.

The ProJo says no and thinks that the City of Newport and private groups should step up to the plate on this one. I'm not very familiar with the technicalities of state vs. municipal funding, but, given that Fort Adams a "State" Park, I don't know if this is possible. I'll have to assume it is.

Question 7: Department of Environmental Management Bonds

Approval of this question will allow for the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed $3,000,000 for the Local Recreation Development Program.

Project Costs - $2,988,000 in principal w/ $2,222,149 in Interest (6% over 20 years) plus approximately $21,000 in issuance costs. TOTAL: $5,231,073. {Source PDF}.

The ProJo opposes it for sound reasons: its really all for local projects to benefit individual communities--something this bond and the Fort Adams have in common--and the administration of the funds is a mystery. Besides, as emphasized by the ProJo:
....maybe without the handout from the state, school committees and other negotiators would drive better bargains with their unions.

Examining the Bond Issues III: The Zoo

Marc Comtois

Help the Animals...but wisely!

Question 6: Roger Williams Park Zoo Bonds

Approval of this question will allow for the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed $11,000,000 for improvements to the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence.

Project Costs - $10,956,000 in principal w/ $8,147,880 in Interest (6% over 20 years) plus approximately $77,000 in issuance costs. TOTAL: $19,180,602. {Source PDF}.

Noting that the zoo is Rhode Island's most visited attraction, the ProJo supports this bond, despite some questions regarding the zoo's administrative apparatus.
Several years ago, the Providence parks superintendent, Nancy Derrig, retired after a controversy involving irregular administrative methods meant to insulate the park from a municipality that regarded the zoo's admission fees as a convenient cash cow. Clearly, the zoo (and the park) are what they are now because Ms. Derrig took risks to protect them from city politics.

Today, this has changed. The city pays the Rhode Island Zoological Society to run the zoo, which no longer has much administrative contact with the city -- or with its most logical alternative parent, the state. The arrangement seems a bit too unmoored from responsible authority for so important a civic institution.

.... The money's disbursement would be administered by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, which would funnel it through the city bidding process into contracts to carry out the zoo-expansion program designed by the Zoological Society.

In spite of the zoo's unsettled administrative status, we support the bond issue, which would help fund its $35 million plan to upgrade existing exhibits, to create new ones and to boost its research facilities...

Approval of the bond issue would create momentum to give the zoo to the state, which can exert oversight and serve as a responsible parent for one of Rhode Island's -- and, indeed, southeastern New England's -- greatest treasures. So please vote yes on Question 6.

My family has a season pass to the zoo and visit frequently. It hasn't been the same since the polar bears died, but renovation is underway and it is still an enjoyable experience. It also generates $13.5 million annually for the state. I'm not crazy about having the DEM administer the money by "funnelling" it through the "competitive" bidding process. Also, this bond is only a portion of the money required, according to The Rhode Island Zoological Society:
In addition to money from the $11-million bond issue, zoo officials hope to finance the project with $4 million already secured from a 2004 bond issue and $20 million in private donations.

Officials said $6 million in private donations has already been raised.

The RI Zoological Society believes these improvements are necessary to maintain the "bang for the buck" that the state gets from the zoo. However, it strikes me as more fiscally responsible to shore up the few leaks in the zoo--get more polar bears!--rather than embarking on a grand and expensive reimagining of the zoo. Use the already appropriated bond money and the private donations to deal with the top priorities. Save the wishlist--and the taxpayer dollars--for a more propitious time. If you want to help the zoo out, donate!

Examining the Bond Issues II: Transportation

Marc Comtois

Ah yes....what would an election ballot be without the prerequisite Transportation Bond.

Question 5: Transportation Bonds:

Approval of this question will allow for the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed $80,000,000 to match federal funds, provide direct funding for improvements to the state’s highways, roads and bridges; $7,000,000 to provide funding for commuter rail, and $1,500,000 to purchase and/or rehabilitate buses for the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority’s bus fleet.

Project Costs - $88,145,000 in principal w/ $65,553,399 in Interest (6% over 20 years) plus approximately $600,000 in issuance costs. TOTAL: $154,316,666. {Source PDF}.

As the ProJo editorial in support of this measure stated, the state will receive $394 million in federal matching funds if the bond issue is approved. (Remember all of that "pork" talk?) After detailing how the money would be spent (195 relocation, pothole filling, etc.) the ProJo editorial also concluded that "Rhode Islanders should have little hesitation about the wisdom of approving this bond sale. To reject it would be a false economy."

It certainly rankles to spend so much on roads, year after year. The bottom line is that transportation bonds seem to always pass. Sometimes I vote for them, sometimes I don't. Does the state need to maintain its transportation infrastructure? Of course. But what would happen if we didn't approve these bonds? I don't know. Has it ever happened? I await the wisdom of the commenters!

October 16, 2006

Celebrating Pope John Paul II

Donald B. Hawthorne

Pope John Paul II was elected Pope on this day in 1978.

This posting contains links to many articles about him:

John Paul II, Requiescat in pacem

Two additional postings about Pope John Paul II:

Follow Me: John Paul II Roused Us From a Lethargic Faith
A Poignant Reflection on John Paul II

A Fundraising Pitch

Carroll Andrew Morse

When we started Anchor Rising, we decided early on that we wouldn't take issue positions or endorse candidates as a group. As a corollary to that, we generally don't make pitches for campaign contributions for particular candidates. With about three weeks left in this election cycle, however, I'm going to put forth a generic campaign pitch.

Nobody who is not a professional fundraiser likes talking about money in politics. But when you need to reach thousands of people in a municipal constituency, or ten thousand people in a General Assembly district, or twenty-thousand in a State Senate district, or seven-hundred thousand in a statewide election in order to make a case for why you should be elected, going door-to-door to and meeting people face-to-face can only take you so far. Things like direct mailings and advertisements in community papers -- tangible items costing tangible money -- need to be a part of the process of a candidate getting his or her ideas out.

Though it seems late in the day, donations can still be meaningful in this election cycle. A little extra money might make the difference between a half-page ad and a full-page ad in a community weekly, or an extra round of mailings, or even getting an ad on to radio or TV. So if there is a candidate that you would like to see elected, but don't think that your neighbors have heard enough about him or her, there's a good chance that that candidate might still be able to make good use of a campaign donation. And if you are concerned that campaign money you give might not be well spent, don't be shy about asking a candidate what the money will go towards before signing the check. Candidates with a shot at winning will have definite ideas about where they will be spending their money and what ideas they will be talking about.

Examining the Bond Issues I : Higher Education

Marc Comtois

Question 4: Higher Education Bonds:

Approval of this question will allow for the State of Rhode Island to issue general obligation bonds, refunding bonds, and temporary notes in an amount not to exceed $65,000,000 for the construction of a new college of pharmacy building at the University of Rhode Island and $7,790,000 for renovations to the former Department of Children, Youth and Families facilities at Rhode Island College.
Project Costs - $72,498,840 in principal w/ $53,916,745 in Interest (6% over 20 years) plus approximately $500,000 in issuance costs. TOTAL: $126,923,278. {Source PDF}.

The ProJo explained many of the physical justificiation for this expenditure on expansion. As Andrew noted in a previous post, Rhode Island ranks 46th in the nation in higher education spending. Having state of the art research facilities such as those proposed at URI will (hopefully) translate into economic development within the state. Brown University and many other colleges nationwide (MIT, Duke, etc)--in addition to being centers of higher learning--are also viable economic engines unto themselves.

The 128 loop in Boston became a technology Hub largely because of its close proximity to so many research universities with new workers churned out every year. By having such a substantial pool of pharmacists at URI, the state could benefit by being more attractive to pharmaceutical companies and could also obtain research grants from private industry. Such research could be translated into new products coveted by the pharmaceutical industry. Thus, investing in improvements to the URI school of pharmacology can net the state of Rhode Island long term economic benefits.

The argument can be made that pharmaceutical companies should be tapped to pay for the URI facilities. The problem is: they won't. They'll send their attention to another state that will foot the bill.

Economic development is a multi-faceted endeavor. Making higher education more attractive to outside economic interests via a short term investment can translate into many practical benefits--higher employment, better paying jobs, etc.--that will help our perpetually sluggish economy. It's not a quick fix--like a casino--but it will be a very signficant brick in building a more solid foundation for Rhode Island's 21st century economy.

My Conclusion: YES ON 4.

The Projo is Missing the Point on the Darigan Decision

Carroll Andrew Morse

The unsigned editorial in Sunday's Projo concerning Judge Francis Darigan's role in the Derderian/Station fire plea deal shows no cognizance about what the general public finds disquieting about it...

Under our system, defendants have a right to plea-bargain before a trial with prosecutors, a judge has the power to approve or reject such deals, and to impose sentences, and the public has no right to a full-blown trial. That system generally works reasonably well to protect the innocent and secure justice.
The editorial board's implication is that the Attorney General negotiated a deal with the defense which Judge Darigan then approved. But if the 3 sides involved (prosecution, defense and judge) all agreed that this is what happened, there would be no controversy surrounding the Judge's role.

The controversy exists because there is no agreement on a common version of events. The Attorney General insists that Judge Darigan accepted a plea and imposed sentences while negotiations were still ongoing between prosecution and defense, the defense says the final sentences were taken directly from a proposal made by the AG's office and Judge Darigan has suggested that both the Attorney General and defense asked him to end the process and impose sentences.

So, depending on whose version of events the Projo editorial board had in mind when they wrote their editorial, they are either saying that a) they don't see an accountability problem when a life-tenure judge overrules the prosecutorial judgment of an elected law enforcement official and negotiates a plea on his own or that b) they don't believe the Attorney General's description of events, and they do believe that Judge Darigan acted only after the AG gave some form of consent to the deal.

Harsch and Lynch Agree on Three Debates

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Edward Fitzpatrick in today's Projo, Attorney General Candidates Patrick Lynch and Bill Harsch have agreed upon a schedule of three debates...

  • Friday, October 20, WPRO-AM (The Dan Yorke Show)
  • Sunday, October 22, WPRI-TV (CBS 12)
  • Sunday, November 5, WJAR-TV (NBC 10)

October 14, 2006

To Baghdad Without Virgil

Justin Katz

Over on the Autonomist, Rhode Island blogger D. Alighieri is seeing the reality in Iraq for himself. So far, he's put up video of his bounce in Jordan and a first impression of Baghdad:

Yesterday, a car bomb exploded a few miles from here. I watched the black plume boil towards the sky.

This place is surreal. And very edgy.

In an exercise in empathy, I'm reminded of a pillar of smoke that I noticed in the distance yesterday morning as I crossed the Newport Bridge on my way to a Jamestown construction site. It is surreal merely to imagine such proximity to war and inspires prayers of safe passage for those who needn't pretend.

How Sue and Jill's Wedding Affects... the Knights of Columbus?

Justin Katz

This latest of a string of similar stories from Canada over the past few years ought to be taken into consideration as the individual steps toward Rhode Island's undemocratic importation of same-sex marriage are taken:

In 2003 [the Knights in Port Coquitlam, B.C.] discovered that their hall had been rented by a lesbian couple to celebrate their wedding. But as Catholics the Knights followed Catholic teaching and the Church opposes same-sex marriage. They offered to find another hall for the couple, pay for its rental and also for new invitations to be printed: Sorry for the bother and all that and I'm sure you understand.

Not quite. The couple in question decided to take their oppressors to the provincial Human Rights Commission, who ruled last year that the women should be compensated for "undue hardship." Representatives of the complainants said that the punishment was too mild and that they intended to appeal the ruling.

Which only goes to prove that those silly old Neanderthals who oppose gay marriage are being fanatical when they say that their rights are being questioned. ...

The fact is that no priest, rabbi or imam is going to be forced at bayonet-point to perform a gay wedding. That, however, has never really been the issue. As one of the leaders of the gay community said to me on television, "We'd never demand that someone conduct a ceremony, but if they oppose the law I do think we should question their charitable status."

In response to some comment box sarcasm from Jay, perhaps I should elaborate on what is actually wrong — even insidious — about this sort of "progress."

The extreme idealization of anti-discrimination that has become fashionable, particularly on the Left, undermines what is perhaps the most fundamental principle required to ensure a civil, pluralistic, and free society: that differences can and should be addressed, perhaps resolved, in realms other than government as much as possible. It is a thinly veiled totalitarianism, indeed, that insists that citizens are entirely free, as long as their public behavior accords with the reigning belief system.

Jay's sarcasm is a wonderful example of the sort of non-government pressure that can be brought to bear in the social sphere as an effective means of phrasing an issue so as to encourage social change toward a particular worldview. Of course, Jay's specific commentary is also a wonderful example of the perils of wielding such rhetoric: when it is expressed in terms of social pressure, rather than legal reasoning, one can reasonably wonder whether its proponents actually believe in freedom at all.

Whitehouse Supports Carcieri?

Justin Katz

While running errands on my way home from work yesterday afternoon, I heard Sheldon Whitehouse explain to Dan Yorke's radio listeners that balance between the parties is important in the federal government (from part 2 of Yorke's streaming audio):

... right now the Republicans have a monopoly on power in Washington. They do not provide any significant check on George Bush and his administration. They're trying to create what is essentially an accountability-free zone down in Washington for George Bush's policies. And it's the most partisan and toughest, meanest group you've ever seen. And the only way — you know, for six years people have had a chance to have them listen to other ideas, or to have them come and work with the Democrats on solutions to problems, but when they have all the power, and they don't want to listen, and they don't want to work with people, there's only one way back. And that's to make sure that the institutions of government in Washington are balanced, and in fact that there's some Democratic aspect to this.

One very disappointing observation about Whitehouse's performance — especially in context of the broader Democrat message — is that the Democrats are not asking why American voters have taken all majority power away from them. Oh, you get the standard allusions to fear-mongering on the part of the Republicans, but that only emphasizes the absence of any admission of the responsibility that an active opposition party inherently must claim. It only emphasizes that the Democrats are essentially fear-mongering in turn, with, as Yorke pointed out, the Republicans as the villains.

He may do so only out of necessity, but at least Chafee is willing to discuss the trends and shifts within his own party and explain where he sees his role as being. The fact that the Democrats won't even hint at the possibility of evaluating their own trends and shifts explicitly to "bring voters back" within their fold — nevermind correcting problems within their own party — is worrisome.

My second observation of Whitehouse's appeal to the distribution of power is that, in taking up such a message, Rhode Island Democrats are walking a very fine line. To the extent that it has merit with respect to the federal government, it has at least an equivalent degree with respect to our state government. If they succeed at implanting that principle — that mode of political thought — in voters' minds, they will undermine Charlie Fogarty's campaign for governor.

Personally, I think that would be a positive development; for Rhode Islanders, Governor Carcieri's loss would be much more damaging than Senator Chafee's.

October 13, 2006

Spending Priorities in Rhode Island

Carroll Andrew Morse

An unsigned editorial in today's Projo (drawing on a Rhode Island Public Expenditures Council study) repeats the kinds of numbers Rhode Islanders are all too familiar with...

  • "Rhode Island spends significantly more per person on government than the national average ($7,077 vs. $6,493, in 2004, the most recent numbers available)".
  • "Should Rhode Island be content with poorly performing public schools when it is one of America's leaders (eighth per capita) in spending on elementary and secondary education?"
  • "Should the Ocean State...be satisfied to rank a lowly 42nd in per-capita spending on parks and recreation?"
  • "According to 2004 statistics, the Ocean State spent $150 per capita in cash assistance for welfare recipients -- third highest in America -- compared with the $71 national average. Meanwhile, it ranked fourth in Medicaid vendor spending."
  • "Similarly, Rhode Island spent more on fire protection -- $206 per capita -- than any other state. The national average was less than half that, $97.
  • "Rhode Island ranked 46th in per-capita highway spending. (To some extent that may reflect the state's 50th rank in size.)"
  • "The state also ranked 46th in per-capita spending on public higher education."

October 12, 2006

Theocrats, Moral Relativism & The Myth of Religious Tolerance, Part VI: The Alleged Theocracy Threat - Valid or a Tool to Limit the Public Debate?

Donald B. Hawthorne

The previous posting in this series ended with these words:

A discussion about the meaning of "reason" becomes important as reason offers a tool to enable a pluralistic society to have substantive discourse about what belongs in our public square.

A previous posting entitled Respectful Competition: A Basic Requirement for a Healthy Democracy clarified the meaning of a vibrant discourse in our society:

A healthy democracy does not require blurring political differences. But it must find a way to express those differences forcefully without anathematizing people who hold different views.

As a first step toward discussing the meaning and significance of reason, this posting asks whether the current propensity for some to use the theocracy label in our public debate amounts to anathematizing religious people in an attempt to stifle one side of the debate in our public square.

Jonah Goldberg made these comments this week in Liberal Paranoia:

...Ross Douthat surveys the scare literature demonizing "Christianists," "theocons" and "Christocrats" - people who were under the impression that they were actually law-abiding, tax-paying, patriotic American citizens who happen to subscribe to the Christian faith. Little did they know they're actually all about rounding up infidels and torching the Constitution...

Ross Douhat is the associate editor at the Atlantic Monthly and he has written a book review entitled Theocracy, Theocracy, Theocracy which includes these arguments:

This is a paranoid moment in American politics...

Perhaps the strangest of these strange stories, though, is the notion that twenty-first-century America is slouching toward theocracy. This is an old paranoia...

To understand what, precisely, the anti-theocrats think has gone so wrong, it’s necessary to understand what they mean by the term theocracy. This is no easy task...the clout of institutional religion is at low ebb in American politics...

...as National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru put it, in an essay written amid the "values voter" hysteria of 2004:

It may be instructive to think about the wish list of Christian-conservative organizations involved in politics...Nearly every one of these policies—and all of the most conservative ones—would merely turn the clock back to the late 1950s. That may be a very bad idea, but the America of the 1950s was not a theocracy.

...But if you’re committed to the notion that religious conservatives represent an existential threat to democratic government, you need a broader definition of theocracy to convey your sense of impending doom...

All you need are politicians who invoke religion and apply Christian principles to public policy.

If that’s all it takes to make a theocracy, then these writers are correct: Contemporary America is run by theocrats. Of course, by that measure, so was the America of every previous era. The United States has always been at once a secular republic and a religious nation, reflexively libertarian and fiercely pious, and this tension has been working itself out in our politics for more than two hundred years...But there’s no way to give an account of American history without grappling with this tension...

Yet this is a history that the anti-theocrats seem determined to reject...

...this strict-separationist interpretation of world history frees the anti-theocrats from the messy business of actually arguing with their opponents...

A Christian is...allowed to mix religion and politics in support of sweeping social reforms— but only if those reforms are safely identified with the political Left, and with the interests of the Democratic party...

Sometimes it’s argued that what sets the contemporary Christian Right apart from previous iterations of politically active religion isn't its Christianity per se but its unwillingness to couch argument in terms that nonbelievers can accept—to use "public reason," in the Rawlsian phrase, to make a political case that doesn’t rely on Bible-thumping. As a prudential matter, the case for public reason makes a great deal of sense. But one searches American history in vain—from abolitionist polemics down to Martin Luther King’s Scripture-saturated speeches—for any evidence of this supposedly ironclad rule being rigorously applied, or applied at all.

And besides, religious conservatives do, frequently and loudly, make arguments for their positions on non-theological grounds...

What all these observers point out, and what the anti-theocrats ignore, is that the religious polarization of American politics runs in both directions. The Republican party has become more religious because the Democrats became self-consciously secular...

So the rise of the Religious Right, and the growing "religion gap"...aren’t new things in American history but a reaction to a new thing: to an old political party newly dependent on a bloc of voters who reject the role that religion has traditionally played in American political life. The hysteria over theocracy, in turn, represents an attempt to rewrite the history of the United States to suit these voters' prejudices, by setting a year zero somewhere around 1970 and casting everything that’s happened since as a battle between progress and atavism, reason and fundamentalism, the Enlightenment and the medieval dark.

The tragedy is that so many religious people have gone along with this revisionism...

There is no single Christian politics, and no movement can claim to have arrived at the perfect marriage of religious faith and political action. Christianity is too otherworldly for that, and the world too fallen. But this doesn't free believers from the obligation to strive in political affairs, as they strive in all things, to do what God would have them do. And the moments when God’s will is inscrutable, or glimpsed only through a glass, darkly, are the moments when good-faith arguments between believers ought to bear the greatest fruit...

In today's America, these arguments are constantly taking place...But they are increasingly drowned out by cries of "theocracy, theocracy, theocracy" and by a zeal, among ostensibly religious intellectuals, to read their fellow believers out of public life and sell their birthright for the blessing of the New York Times.

More excerpts from the article are contained in the Extended Entry below.

In another posting, Rediscovering Civility and Purpose in America's Public Discourse, a quote from T.S. Eliot defines the connection to and importance of religion in our public discussions:

As political philosophy derives its sanctions from ethics, and ethics from the truth of religion, it is only by returning to the eternal source of truth that we can hope for any social organization which will not, to its ultimate destruction, ignore some essential aspect of reality. The term "democracy"...does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike - it can easily be transformed by them. If you will not have God, you will pay your respects to Hitler and Stalin.

Reason, therefore, offers us - as members of a pluralistic society - the opportunity to discuss the connections between political philosophy, ethics and religion as we seek to better understand our American and Western Civilization heritages and apply their teachings to our habits as citizens of this great country.

Earlier postings in this series can be found here:

Part I: The Difference Between Religious Freedom and Religious Tolerance
Part II: Are We Hostile Toward or Encouraging Religious Belief?
Part III: Consequences of Excluding Religion from the Public Square
Part IV: Moral Recovery via Rediscovering the Meaning of Words
Part V: Recovering the Meaning and Implications of Religious Freedom


This is a paranoid moment in American politics...

Perhaps the strangest of these strange stories, though, is the notion that twenty-first-century America is slouching toward theocracy. This is an old paranoia...But the fear of theocracy has become a defining panic of the Bush era, reaching a fever pitch in the weeks after the 2004 election, when a host of commentators seized on polls suggesting that "moral values" had pushed the president over the top...

Later, more cool-headed polling analysis suggested that the values explanation was something of a stretch: The movement of religious voters into the GOP played a role in Bush’s victory, but the uptick in his support between 2000 and 2004 seems mainly to have reflected national-security concerns. Still, these pesky facts didn’t stop Garry Wills from announcing the end of the Enlightenment and the arrival of jihad in America, or Jane Smiley from bemoaning the "ignorance and bloodlust" of Bush voters in thrall to a fire-and-brimstone God, or left-wing bloggers from chattering about "Jesusland" and "fundies" and plotting their escape to Canada.

The paranoia hasn’t yet burned down to embers. The term theocrat has become a commonplace, employed by bomb-throwing columnists, otherwise-sensible reporters, and "centrist" Republicans...

To understand what, precisely, the anti-theocrats think has gone so wrong, it’s necessary to understand what they mean by the term theocracy. This is no easy task...the clout of institutional religion is at low ebb in American politics. No prelate wields the kind of authority that Catholic bishops once enjoyed over urban voters, no denomination can claim the kind of influence that once belonged to the old WASP mainline, and the evangelical Protestantism that figures so prominently in anti-theocracy tracts is distinguished precisely by its lack of any centralized ecclesiastical government...

...The real danger, the anti-theocrats suggest, is an ecumenical theocracy that would install a right-wing Mere Christianity as its established religion, subject unbelievers to discrimination, and enshrine the Mosaic code as the law of the land...

There’s certainly room, after thirty years of culture war, for an informed and evenhanded critique of Christian conservatism...

...as National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru put it, in an essay written amid the "values voter" hysteria of 2004:

It may be instructive to think about the wish list of Christian-conservative organizations involved in politics. They would generally prohibit abortion, and perhaps research that destroys human embryos. They would have the government refuse to accord legal standing to homosexual relationships. They would restrict pornography in various ways. They would have more prayer in the schools, and less evolution. They think that religious groups should be able to participate in federal programs without compromising their beliefs. They would replace sex education with abstinence education. They want the government to promote marital stability...Nearly every one of these policies—and all of the most conservative ones—would merely turn the clock back to the late 1950s. That may be a very bad idea, but the America of the 1950s was not a theocracy.

This reality poses no particular problem if you simply disagree with religious conservatives about abortion or gay marriage or prayer in public schools. But if you’re committed to the notion that religious conservatives represent an existential threat to democratic government, you need a broader definition of theocracy to convey your sense of impending doom. Which is why the anti-theocrats often suggest that it doesn’t take mullahs, an established church, or a Reconstructionist ban on adultery to make a theocracy. All you need are politicians who invoke religion and apply Christian principles to public policy.

If that’s all it takes to make a theocracy, then these writers are correct: Contemporary America is run by theocrats. Of course, by that measure, so was the America of every previous era. The United States has always been at once a secular republic and a religious nation, reflexively libertarian and fiercely pious, and this tension has been working itself out in our politics for more than two hundred years. It's often been a mixed blessing, giving us Prohibition as well as abolition, Jesse Jackson as well as Reinhold Niebuhr, the obsession with free silver as well as the zeal for civil rights. But there’s no way to give an account of American history without grappling with this tension—and with the role played, for good and ill and sometimes both, by religious reformers from Jonathan Edwards all the way down to Jerry Falwell.

Yet this is a history that the anti-theocrats seem determined to reject. The Christian Right isn’t just bad for America because of its right-wing misapplication of religious faith, they suggest—it’s bad for America because any application of faith to politics is inevitably poisonous, intolerant, and illiberal...

In addition to casting religious conservatives as mullahs, proto-fascists, and agents of American decline, this strict-separationist interpretation of world history frees the anti-theocrats from the messy business of actually arguing with their opponents. From sex education and government support for religious charities to stem cells and abortion, it’s enough to call something "faith-based" and dismiss it. Indeed, reading through the anti-theocrat literature, one gets the sense that the surest way to judge if a political idea is wrong, dangerous, or antidemocratic is to tally up the number of religious people who support it.

Except that nobody really believes this line. Just a few weeks before he announced that a "Christian politics" was a contradiction in terms, Garry Wills was in the New York Review of Books celebrating the role of the clergy in the civil rights movement and wiping a nostalgic tear from his eye as he declared that "there was a time, not so long ago, when religion was a force for liberation in America." After years of blasting any religious encroachment on the political sphere as a threat to the Constitution, the New York Times editorial page awoke to find Cardinal Roger Mahony advocating civil disobedience by Catholics to protest an immigration bill—and immediately praised the cardinal for adding "a moral dimension to what has largely been a debate about politics and economics."...

A Christian is allowed to entertain such doubts, in other words, and allowed to mix religion and politics in support of sweeping social reforms— but only if those reforms are safely identified with the political Left, and with the interests of the Democratic party.

There are ways to avoid this contradiction, but none of them are particularly persuasive. Sometimes it’s argued that what sets the contemporary Christian Right apart from previous iterations of politically active religion isn’t its Christianity per se but its unwillingness to couch argument in terms that nonbelievers can accept—to use "public reason," in the Rawlsian phrase, to make a political case that doesn’t rely on Bible-thumping. As a prudential matter, the case for public reason makes a great deal of sense. But one searches American history in vain—from abolitionist polemics down to Martin Luther King’s Scripture-saturated speeches—for any evidence of this supposedly ironclad rule being rigorously applied, or applied at all.

And besides, religious conservatives do, frequently and loudly, make arguments for their positions on non-theological grounds...

Again, perhaps today’s Christians are too comprehensive in their political aims; religious involvement in politics is acceptable, this argument runs, so long as it takes place on an issue-by-issue basis, but the more sweeping the goals, the stronger the whiff of theocracy...

Except that it’s hard to imagine anything more sweeping than Martin Luther King’s dream for a Sermon on the Mount–style revolution in the South. King was a single-issue activist, in a sense, but his issue was the mystic renovation of an entire society...

So maybe it’s not the issues, but the actors—the Christian Right’s narrow base of supporters, for instance, and its identification with a single political party, both of which contrast unfavorably with the supposed ecumenism and bipartisanship of the civil rights movement. This is the argument of Sullivan, among others; he admits that "the civil-rights movement was indeed a fundamentally religious phenomenon, but . . . it was also multi-denominational and included Democrats and Republicans. Its core religious principle was non-violence, and it drew enormous inspiration from Gandhi. It included Jews and Muslims, Catholics and Protestants, atheists and agnostics. And it never, in King’s time, became a vehicle for one political party to win elections."

There’s a great deal of confusion here—the Religious Right is nothing if not multidenominational, for one thing—but also a grain of truth. No religion-infused movement can afford to be used by a political party as a way to gain votes and nothing more. That’s how the Democrats have used the Al Sharpton / Jesse Jackson–era civil rights establishment and, sadly, how the GOP has often used the Religious Right. But this is less of a danger to the nation’s self-government than to the integrity of religious witness...

But any idealistic movement has to risk such compromises if it intends to leave the mountaintop and make a difference in the valley below. It’s telling that the obvious alternative, the purer-than-thou Christian quietism suggested, at times, by writers like Balmer and Wills, was often urged on believers by segregationist clerics in the civil rights–era South...But every moral crusade in American history has ultimately become intertwined with one or both of the political parties—because political parties are how movements get things done...

What all these observers point out, and what the anti-theocrats ignore, is that the religious polarization of American politics runs in both directions. The Republican party has become more religious because the Democrats became self-consciously secular, and the turning point wasn’t the 1992 or the 2000 elections but the putsch of 1972, when secularist delegates—to quote Phillips, quoting Layman—suddenly "constituted the largest 'religious' bloc among Democratic delegates." Yet having noted this rather significant fact, Phillips sets it aside and returns blithely to his preferred narrative, which is the transformation of the GOP into America’s first "religious party." But that’s not what happened at all—or rather, it's the second half of the story, the Republican reaction against the Democrats' decision to become the first major party in American history to pander to a sizable bloc of aggressively secular voters.

This was very much a strategic electoral move on their part...At the time, pursuing a coalition of younger voters, minorities, and affluent suburbanites seemed a better bet than trying to hang on to socially conservative voters, especially given that all the energy in the party seemed to be coming from the Left. But it required the Democrats to identify with a segment of the population—self-identified secularists and nonbelievers—that has grown rapidly over the past three decades and grown more assertive along the way. Which in turn has alienated the devout plurality of Americans and left the Democratic party stuck just shy of majority status for the better part of a generation.

So the rise of the Religious Right, and the growing "religion gap"...aren’t new things in American history but a reaction to a new thing: to an old political party newly dependent on a bloc of voters who reject the role that religion has traditionally played in American political life. The hysteria over theocracy, in turn, represents an attempt to rewrite the history of the United States to suit these voters' prejudices, by setting a year zero somewhere around 1970 and casting everything that’s happened since as a battle between progress and atavism, reason and fundamentalism, the Enlightenment and the medieval dark.

The tragedy is that so many religious people have gone along with this revisionism...

Garry Wills is half-right: There is no single Christian politics, and no movement can claim to have arrived at the perfect marriage of religious faith and political action. Christianity is too otherworldly for that, and the world too fallen. But this doesn’t free believers from the obligation to strive in political affairs, as they strive in all things, to do what God would have them do. And the moments when God’s will is inscrutable, or glimpsed only through a glass, darkly, are the moments when good-faith arguments between believers ought to bear the greatest fruit.

In today's America, these arguments are constantly taking place—over issues ranging from abortion to foreign policy; over the potential, and potential limits, of interfaith cooperation; over the past and future of the Religious Right. But they are increasingly drowned out by cries of "theocracy, theocracy, theocracy" and by a zeal, among ostensibly religious intellectuals, to read their fellow believers out of public life and sell their birthright for the blessing of the New York Times.

Jeff Szymanski Versus Dirty Politics in Providence

Carroll Andrew Morse

Jeff Szymanski, Republican candidate for State Representative in District 7 (Providence), alleges that someone is trying to get him fired from his job for daring to run against an incumbent legislator. Mr. Szymanski thinks he knows who the someone is -- the incumbent herself, Representative Joanne Giannini. The following is from a Szymanski campaign press release...

Szymanski alleges Giannini wrote a letter to his high school principal that attempted to have him fired. Though the letter was typewritten, the envelope was hand written. Szymanski obtained Giannini's nomination papers from the Secretary of State's office to compare her handwriting with the letter. "Everyone who has seen the papers and letter side by side says they're a perfect match", he noted.

The letter began with, "I am a parent of one of the students at Walpole High School, Walpole, Ma. I am very concerned about one of the teachers at Walpole High School." It went on to say that "Mr. Szymanski is unjustly influencing our young people on gay marriage" and that "he is using our children to promote his gay agenda in Rhode Island." It also stated he "uses students in political advertising." It was signed "Concerned Parents of Walpole High School". (There is no such group, Szymanski said.)

Szymanski said the letter, which was also sent to the Governor of Massachusetts, is utterly without any merit. The letter was postmarked in Providence, which was Giannini's first mistake in pretending to be a Walpole parent, he added. Second, "no parent would write such a lengthy first sentence stating where they live."

Third, "Giannini has never sat in on any of my classes. If she had, she would know that my campaign has absolutely no part in my lessons" Szymanski said. Fourth, Szymanski noted that the 'gay agenda' comment is perplexing, as he and Giannini both share the same position on gay marriage. (They both favor civil unions.)

"My campaign's focus has always been about tax relief, getting rid of corruption, creating jobs, and reforming education. Gay marriage isn't a main concern of people when I go door to door." Lastly, in response to the use of students in advertising, Szymanski noted he was quite proud to display on his website a classroom photo of he and some students from a scholastic competition. "It's no different than any other typical candidate's photo of himself at his job or with seniors or neighborhood folks. Teaching is what I do."

Szymanski turned all of the evidence over to the Providence Police Department in July. The Department and the Attorney General's Office are still investigating what, if any charges, can be filed. "Joanne Giannini has failed the public trust by sending a letter with only one intent- to get me fired." Though the letter is riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors, Szymanski affirmed its deadly serious purpose.

"Thank goodness I have been in Walpole for some time and have built a stellar reputation for excellence in and out of the classroom. If I had been a first year teacher, my principal would have been right to let me go on the spot, citing the need to eliminate any controversy", he said. (Szymanski has taught in Walpole since December 2001.)

"In the end, my principal and I chuckled about the letter. Only after this incident did he fully understand what I had been telling him for some time-that Rhode Island politics is exceptionally dirty and that political machines will stop at nothing to keep control in Providence."

Represenatative Giannini may indeed be nervous about the upcoming election because she is tied to former Senator John Celona and the events that led to the Roger Williams hospital corruption trail, and her version of events doesn't match Celona's. According to Mike Stanton of the Projo...
Giannini contradicted Celona's account of a lunch they had at Camille's Roman Garden in 1999 with Driscoll. Celona testified that Driscoll, unhappy with Giannini's sponsorship of legislation opposed by the hospital, directed him to warn the lawmaker to back down, or face retribution from voters in her district who worked at the hospital.

Giannini said that Celona did tell her that one bill would hurt tax-exempt institutions, and was "a bad bill." But she said that he never pressured or threatened her and described the luncheon as primarily a "social gathering." Driscoll did voice surprise that Giannini had supported one bill, but was not critical or threatening, testified Giannini.

Over the last few days, we've been discussing some national-level civil liberties issues here at Anchor Rising. But when it comes down to the final analysis, who should someone like Jeff Szymanski be most worried about: the National Security Agency wiretapping his phone, the President of the United States declaring him an enemy combatant, or a corrupt urban political machine willing to destroy his livelihood in order to keep him out of politics?

A Note on Rejected Comments

Justin Katz

We've had enough readers email to ask why their comments have been rejected that it's worth offering a preemptive explanation.

Since we're constantly inundated with automatically generated comment spam, we employ a variety of solutions to cut down on the amount. One solution is to close down comments and trackbacks after a certain period of time. Another is to compare comments to a list of suspect phrases and URLs.

Because our list of banned text allows a limited number of entries, the challenge for us has been to ban the broadest phrase without capturing words that readers might legitimately write. Unfortunately, as we've recently discovered, this challenge is made all the more difficult, because the software doesn't differentiate between punctuation and spaces.

If a comment of yours to one of our posts is rejected, a flashing red error message will appear that will end with the suspect text. A case in point:

Your comment could not be submitted due to questionable content: Host Com

In this case, the problematic series of letters is "host com," as in "host communications," because "host.com" is banned.

I've plans to change our software, but there are no fixes that are simple enough for me to implement quickly. And I simply haven't had the time to take the care necessary for a more integral — and therefore more perilous — set-up. In other words, the option, for the time being, is between living with the occasional error in comment rejection and risking a complete collapse of Anchor Rising's software that I haven't the time to fix expediently.

I apologize for any inconvenience, but I've had to choose the former.

October 11, 2006

Casino Opponents: Strange Bedfellows

Marc Comtois

Harrah's is spending $106,000 a day and still can't move the poll numbers. Rhode Island College's Bureau of Government Research and Services has released a poll that indicates 56% of likely voters oppose the casino, 33% support it and 10% are undecided. This is in line with the Brown University poll last month that had it 55% against to 36% for. All that money and no movement. Why? According to Darrell West

"All these millions are being spent on an electorate where 90 percent of the people have already made up their minds," West said. "They don't seem to be getting a lot of bang for their buck."

West said people tend to make up their minds early with "hot button" issues such as gambling, abortion and gay rights. Those undecided at this point are the least likely to vote, he said.

I think he's right. Which is why Harrah's and Chief Sachem Thomas are trying to undermine the credibility of Save Our State--and it's titular head former Gov. Lincoln Almond--by questioning who is supporting SOS in the hope of casting them as hypocrites. In a letter written by Thomas to Almond (PDF provided by Dan Yorke), Thomas "exposes" the owners of Newport Grand, Lincoln Park, Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods as those--out of state gambling interests all--who have put money into SOS. True, but I don't think that Thomas' tactic will work.

The bottom line is that many people oppose the casino for different reasons. Other casinos and gaming establishments don't want competition. The same goes for many other businesses like restaurants and concert halls like PPAC or "The Dunk." Theirs' is opposition based on economic self-interest.

Then there are those who oppose it because it smacks of a "special deal" and insider politics. They also think they state could get a better deal with competitive bidding. I'd call these the good (or smart) government types.

Finally, there are those who oppose it because they simply think that gambling isn't a good thing, much less something to be relied upon for funding state programs. These are generally "casino conservatives" and even a few "nimbys".

In general, these groups may not agree on many other issues. In fact, most of these small businesses, good government folks, "casino conservatives," and nimby's would probably oppose any expansion of gambling in Rhode Island--even if the beneficaries would be their current (temporary) allies from the other gaming companies. These gaming companies may have the money, but the other groups that oppose Harrah's have most of the votes. They joined together based on their opposition to Harrah's. That doesn't mean that they will stay together forever, much less past November 7th.

Dan Yorke has postulated that there will be a full-fledged casino at Lincoln Park within the next few years. Maybe, maybe not--but one thing for sure is that many of Lincoln Park's current allies against Harrah's will turn around and fight just as hard against Lincoln Park should it try to expand its gaming footprint. Politics is about coalition building after all. As the issues change, so will the coalitions. It's not hypocritical--it's politics.

Thus, I think that Chief Thomas' hypocrisy allegations have neither exposed anything new nor will they change many minds. As the aforementioned polls indicate, the position of the electorate has chrystalized already and most people are opposed to a Harrah's casino. During the course of this debate, the disparate groups who oppose the Casino have become well acquainted with those with whom they've jumped into the Save Our State bed. And they rightly regard the relationship that they've developed with each other for what it really is: a one night stand, not a marriage.

October 10, 2006

The Military Commissions Act & American Citizens

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. How does the Military Commissions Act of 2006, recently passed by Congress, impact the right of American citizens to petition for a writ of Habeas Corpus?
In a word (two actually), it doesn't. Here is the first line of the act after the definitions are finished...

(a) Purpose- This chapter establishes procedures governing the use of military commissions to try alien unlawful enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States for violations of the law of war and other offenses triable by military commission.
Most of what follows in the bill is part of the chapter defined above. Nothing in the bill applies to American citizens.

2. So what's the controversy?
Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman wrote a Los Angeles Times column where he said the MCA "authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants" and hold them indefinitely...

BURIED IN THE complex Senate compromise on detainee treatment is a real shocker, reaching far beyond the legal struggles about foreign terrorist suspects in the Guantanamo Bay fortress. The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison.
But since the MCA applies only to aliens, Professor Ackerman is wrong. His column can only be described as hysterical.

3. Bruce Ackerman is a Yale law professor. You are a yahoo-blogger. Why should anyone listen to you?
Because even Bush-bashers who don't like the MCA very carefully parse their language to exclude American citizens from the discussion when lamenting its passage. Here's Senator Patrick Leahy commenting on the bill...

And I agree with more than 30 former U.S. Ambassadors and other senior diplomats, who say that eliminating habeas corpus for aliens detained by the United States will harm our interests abroad, and put our own military, diplomatic, and other personnel stationed abroad at risk.
And here is Andrew Cohen, speaking very carefully in his Washington Post blog...
There will be a whole new class of residents who can be thrown in jail by the President and have to stay there indefinitely without ever having to face charges or get a trial.
Note that Mr. Cohen is careful to say residents, not citizens.

And there are other honest liberals, like Columbia Law Professor and Findlaw columnist Michael C. Dorf, who think that the MCA stinks, but don't write about a suspension of Habeas Corpus rights of American citizens in their criticism of it.

4. What might have led Professor Ackerman to believe that the MCA applied to citizens?
I can only speculate. The definitions section of the bill does contain language that includes a rather vague designation of "unlawful enemy combatant" that could apply to citizens?

`(1) UNLAWFUL ENEMY COMBATANT- (A) The term `unlawful enemy combatant' means--

`(i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces); or

`(ii) a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.

But the bill also gives an express definition of alien...
`(3) ALIEN- The term `alien' means a person who is not a citizen of the United States.
Nothing that follows in the MCA allows someone who is not both an "unlawful enemy combatant" and an "alien" (see question 1 above) to fall under its jurisdiction. In other words, even if the President designates me as an unlawful enemy combatant, nothing in the MCA applies to me because I am not an alien.

5. So where does that leave the state of law regarding American citizens who participate in terrorist attacks against the United States?
Right in the same place we were before the MCA was passed, in a tug of war between the President and the courts, with Congress hiding from the issue.

There has been one case of an American citizen being designated an enemy combatant while on American soil, the case of Jose Padilla, who was arrested in Chicago in 2002 and detained as an enemy combatant.

As Michael Dorf explains, the not-entirely-clarifying results of the case have been an Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the President had the power to hold [Padilla] in military custody and the Supreme Court declining to hear a Habeas Corpus appeal filed by Padilla. The Supreme Court declined taking the case because the government transferred Padilla to civilian custody during the appeal process, rendering the question Habeas Corpus moot and leaving the fundamental question of Habeas Corpus rights unresolved.

The way our system of government is supposed to work, it is Congress' responsibility to pass a law that clears up this ambiguity. Until they do, it will continue to be treated on an ad-hoc case-by-case basis by the courts.

Carcieri/Fogarty II: Open Thread

Carroll Andrew Morse

Apologies that I didn't get this post set up sooner. Anchor Rising readers should feel free to use this thread to give their reactions to the WHJJ 920 AM gubernatorial debate between incumbent Donald Carcieri and Charles Fogarty on today's Arlene Violet show.

Question for the Projo Editorial Board: Is the Goal to Fix Healthcare, or is Fixing Healthcare the Excuse to Strengthen Government?

Carroll Andrew Morse

For the last several weeks (at least), the Providence Journal editorial board has been strongly advocating for implementation of a "universal health care" system. Here is an example from the October 3 Projo...

Until the United States puts everyone in the same risk pool (say, by extending Medicare to all), the situation will only worsen as the cost of increasingly high-tech medicine soars. That's especially so because those who have health insurance often ignore the cost of treatment; since they're not paying for most of it, they often overuse the medical system, injecting even more waste and expense.

The big question now is what percentage of middle-class voters who are losing health insurance will prove the critical mass that brings in a variant of the universal coverage and wide risk pool of other developed nations.

Here's another from September 30...
A national universal health plan is, of course, the logical solution to America's chaos of private insurance, state health plans, and federal programs. Every other large industrialized democracy has a national health system, as opposed to the rather barbaric U.S. "system."
I am not a big fan of universal health care proposals. The health care crisis we face now is the result of excessive government regulation that separates people from having any influence on the form that their health insurance takes. Individuals are presented a very limited package of options through their employer once a year and are told to take-it-or-leave it. There are no serious alternatives allowing people to pay for better quality or seek lower costs, if they don't like the narrow range of choices they are given.

Imagine if we sold automobiles like we sold health care. Once a year, you would be given the choice to buy a car, but the only car you could buy would be a fully loaded BMW. If you couldn't afford it, too bad; buying a Ford Escort or a Chevy Cavalier would be illegal as per regulations set by the legislature. And if you didn't decide to buy your car at the beginning of the year, you couldn't buy one until next year. Under these circumstances, we would almost certainly face an "automobile ownership crisis", but it wouldn't be a market failure, it would be a regulatory failure.

However, there is one circumstance where I might be persuaded to support a statewide universal health care experiment, a proposal by economist Arnold Kling published in TCS Daily in response to Markos Moulitsas' argument that libertarians should vote Democrat...

What I propose is that Democrats promise to support one major libertarian experiment. In exchange for Democrats agreeing to support this experiment, libertarians would agree to vote for Democrats.

The experiment that I have in mind is school choice. If Democrats would instead prefer an experiment with voluntary investment accounts substituting for Social Security, that is an acceptable alternative. But for now, let us work with school choice...

Traditional Democrats may say, "If we are willing to give libertarians an experiment, what do we get in return? Do we get a chance to experiment with our policies?"

I would welcome experiments with socialist policies, provided that they are only experiments. That is, the policies must be evaluated, and if they are found to have failed, they must be abandoned.

For example, I would welcome an experiment in which four or five diverse states adopt single-payer health care. My guess is that if people were to experience single-payer health care for ten or fifteen years, that would provide powerful evidence that it is a bad idea for the United States.

I think most people can agree upon the basis of Professor Kling's challenge; our society is facing a number of crises rooted in the fact that certain of our systems, like the systems for delivering health insurance, or social security, or public education, were designed under assumptions that no longer hold true. They need to be changed and changing them will require a choice to move in either a more socialist or more libertarian direction.

Given all of this, here is my question to the Projo editorial board: will you consider the idea that it makes sense to try a number of different paths towards public policy reform and call for something like a voucher system in education or individual Social Security accounts to accompany your call for universal health care, or rather than fixing broken systems, is the top-priority of the reforms you seek pressing individuals into state-controlled collectives wherever possible?

October 9, 2006

Patrick Ducks Debates…

Carroll Andrew Morse

…you pick the last name.

Edward Fitzpatrick of the Projo reports on Attorney General Patrick Lynch’s last minute bail-out from a debate with challenger Bill Harsch scheduled for WLNE-TV (ABC 6)…

[Bill Harsch] last week accused Lynch of backing out of what would have been their first on-air debate — on a Channel 6 (WLNE) news program, ABC6 on the Record, hosted by Jim Hummel. The program was taped Thursday, with only Harsch present, and was set to air Sunday morning, Harsch campaign coordinator Tom Shevlin said…

Lynch’s campaign manager, Andrea Iannazzi, responded by saying, “Attorney General Lynch will absolutely be debating his opponent. We are not dodging anything.”

She said Lynch has received more requests than he can accommodate, but his campaign will review those requests and schedule debates soon.

Iannazzi said Lynch did not back out of the Channel 6 appearance. “Unfortunately, the attorney general had a prior commitment,” she said, adding that Lynch attended a ceremony paying tribute to police officers killed in the line of duty.

Shevlin said Lynch was offered the option of taping the program Thursday or Friday.

Given what the public saw in the Attorney General’s handling of the Derderian trial, maybe the Lynch campaign is telling the truth when they say “we’re not dodging debates; we’re just too disorganized to prepare for one!”

Meanwhile, Patrick Kennedy has still agreed to only a single PBS debate, and not responded to challenger Jon Scott’s suggestion that Congressman Kennedy’s traditional public-access cable debates be moved to a more high-profile venue. Congressman Kennedy (quite rationally) is employing a “the less people see of me, the more likely I am to win” strategy.

Ducking debates, however, leaves the Congressman free from having to explain how he and his party’s plan to raise taxes and spending as soon as they get into office. This is from John E. Mulligan in today’s Projo

Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy would expect some share in the power to set legislative priorities in the next Congress, pushing his signature health-care issues onto the House ``to do'' list.

Democrats collectively would launch investigations into the war in Iraq, stifle the Republican campaign for tax cuts, and press for freer spending on an array of domestic programs.

Note 1: Since much of the near-term fiscal is debate about renewing temporary tax cuts enacted over the past five years, support for “stifling the Republican campaign for tax cuts” is support for tax-increases.

Note 2: If you don’t like the description of the Democratic agenda as campaign for “freer spending”, send your complaints to Mr. Mulligan, not me. And if Congressman Kennedy is not a supporter of freer spending, the best way for him to clarify that position is to make some unscripted appearances, i.e. debates, where he can explain his position on fiscal issues. (Of course, since the Congressman voted against earmark transparency and is a close ally of the Virginia Congressman who stated that he wants to earmark the sh** out of appropriations bills, it is possible that Congressman Kennedy would prefer not to face any unscripted scrutiny on the subject of free spending).

North Korea Tests Nuclear Bomb

Carroll Andrew Morse

The North Korean government is claiming it tested a nuclear bomb last night. Here is the Washington Post report on the claim…

North Korea declared on Monday that it had conducted its first nuclear test, asserting a claim to be the world's newest nuclear power and drawing strong international condemnation.

The South Korean government informed officials in Washington that an explosion occurred at 10:36 a.m. local time. Minutes later, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency announced the test, calling it "a historical event that has brought our military and our people huge joy."

The United States Geological Survey has confirmed a seismic event occurring on the Korean peninsula at the time of the claimed nuclear test…
The U.S. Geological Survey registered a "seismic event" of magnitude 4.2 at 10:35 a.m. Monday local time (9:35 p.m. Sunday EDT) 240 miles northeast of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, said Amy Vaughan, a geophysicist at the agency. She said the event occurred 45 miles north of the North Korean town of Kimchaek.

Russia's defense minister said the reported test was equivalent to between 5,000 tons and 15,000 tons of TNT, the Associated Press reported. That would make the blast possibly as powerful as the atomic bomb dropped by the United States on Hiroshima in World War II, which was equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT, the news agency said. Although the United States and Asian countries said they had registered a seismic event, Russia said its monitoring services had detected a nuclear explosion, but no radiation.


There’s growing speculation circulating around the blogosphere that the North Korean test was a dud, either a deliberate fake, or a bomb too small to be considered significant. Instapundit is providing a catalog of interesting links. As Matt Druge likes to say, “developing”…

October 7, 2006

Amish Grace

Donald B. Hawthorne

Thanks to John Podhoretz and Peter Robinson on The Corner for the link to Rod Dreher's beautiful words entitled Amish faith shines, even in tragic darkness:

Is there any place on earth that more bespeaks peace, restfulness and sanctuary from the demons of modern life than a one-room Amish schoolhouse? That fact is no doubt why so many of us felt so defiled – there is no more precise word – by news of the mass murders that took place there this week. If you're not safe in an Amish schoolhouse ... And yet, as unspeakable as those killings were, they were not the most shocking news to come out of Lancaster County this week.

No, that would be the revelation that the Amish community, which buried five of its little girls this week, is collecting money to help the widow and children of Charles Carl Roberts IV, the man who executed their own children before taking his own life. A serene Amish midwife told NBC News on Tuesday that this is normal for them. It's what Jesus would have them do.

"This is imitation of Christ at its most naked," journalist Tom Shachtman, who has chronicled Amish life, told The New York Times. "If anybody is going to turn the other cheek in our society, it's going to be the Amish. I don't want to denigrate anybody else who says they're imitating Christ, but the Amish walk the walk as much as they talk the talk."

I don't know about you, but that kind of faith is beyond comprehension. I'm the kind of guy who will curse under my breath at the jerk who cuts me off in traffic on the way home from church. And look at those humble farmers, putting Christians like me to shame.

It is not that the Amish are Anabaptist hobbits, living a pure pastoral life uncorrupted by the evils of modernity. So much of the coverage of the massacre has dwelled on the "innocence lost" aspect, but I doubt that the Amish would agree. They have their own sins and tragedies. Nobody who lives in a small town can live under the illusion that it is a haven from evil. To paraphrase gulag survivor Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the line between good and evil does not run along the boundaries of Lancaster County, but through every human heart.

What sets hearts apart is how they deal with sins and tragedies. In his suicide note, Mr. Roberts said one reason he did what he did was out of anger at God for the death of his infant daughter in 1997. Wouldn't any parent wonder why God allowed that to happen? Mr. Roberts held onto his hatred, purifying it under pressure until it exploded in an act of infamy. That's one way to deal with anger.

Another is the Amish way. If Mr. Roberts' rage at God over the death of his baby girl was in some sense understandable, how much more comprehensible would be the rage of those Amish mothers and fathers whose children perished by his hand? Had my child suffered and died that way, I cannot imagine what would have become of me, for all my pretenses of piety. And yet, the Amish do not rage. They do not return evil for evil. In fact, they embody peace and love beyond all human understanding.

In our time, religion makes the front pages usually in the ghastliest ways. In the name of God, the faithful fly planes into buildings, blow themselves up to murder the innocent, burn down rival houses of worship, insult and condemn and cry out to heaven for vengeance. The wicked Rev. Fred Phelps and his crazy brood of fundamentalist vipers even planned to protest at the Amish children's funeral, until Dallas-based radio talker Mike Gallagher, bless him, gave them an hour of his program if they would only let those poor people bury their dead in peace.

But sometimes, faith helps ordinary men and women do the humanly impossible: to forgive, to love, to heal and to redeem. It makes no sense. It is the most sensible thing in the world. The Amish have turned this occasion of spectacular evil into a bright witness to hope. Despite everything, a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

October 6, 2006

Carcieri/Fogarty I: Open Thread

Carroll Andrew Morse

Anchor Rising readers are invited to use the comments section of this post to give their own real time reactions to tonight's Rhode Island Gubernatorial debate between Donald Carcieri and Charles Fogarty (WNAC-TV, FOX 64 @ 8:00 pm).

Insightful comments, witty comments, and even comments that spin like a perfect Tom Brady spiral heading towards some receiver you may or may not have heard of are all welcome, but personally insulting or crude posts will be deleted as soon as I see them.

The comments are open now!

The Military Commissions Act and the Writ of Habeas Corpus

Carroll Andrew Morse

An attorney by the name of Adam J. White had an article in yesterday's Weekly Standard where he explained how the Military Commissions Act passed by Congress last week affected the right to petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus. Here's the outline of his explanation...

  1. The Constitution establishes the right of American citizens to petition the courts for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, i.e. the right of American citizens to have the courts determine if they have been unlawfully imprisoned.
  2. Congress has the power to extend Habeus Corpus rights to a wider population than American citizens by statute, which it has done at various times in its history.
  3. In the 1950 case Johnson v. Eisentrager, the Supreme Court ruled that statutory extensions to Habeas Corpus "did not extend habeas relief to alien military personnel held overseas" (Mr. White's description).
  4. In the 2004 case Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court ignored its own Eisentrager precedent and ruled that statutory extensions of the Writ of Habeas Corpus did extend habeas relief to foreign combatants being held at Guantanamo Bay.
  5. Part of Congress' purpose in passing the Military Commissions Act was to restore the scope of Habeas Corpus to what had been established by the Supreme Court in Eisentrager.
In the end, the Military Commissions Act was a response to the Supreme Court's inconsistent interpretation of a Congressional statute, not an improper attempt to alter a fundamental Constitutional right.

In case you were wondering, all four of Rhode Island's Congressional Representatives; Senators Jack Reed and Lincoln Chafee, and Congressmen James Langevin and Patrick Kennedy, voted against the Military Commissions Act.

How Cox Cable Can Defend Its Monopoly, Rhode Island-Style

Carroll Andrew Morse

Timothy C. Barmann of the Projo has been reporting that Verizon is trying to enter the Rhode Island cable TV market. This is from yesterday's paper...

Verizon Communications has cleared a significant hurdle in its plans to offer cable television service in Rhode Island by reaching an agreement with the state that lifts the requirement that Verizon build its own public-access studios, as other cable providers must do....

Cox Communications, which has the most to lose by Verizon's entry in the cable business, did not raise any objections to the waiver agreement.

Here's the strategy I think Cox should follow to fend off the Verizon threat. Cox should propose amending the state constitution so that the rights to operate a cable TV company in Rhode Island are limited to one and only one comapny, a company that must be based in Atlanta, Georgia.

This strategy makes as much sense as amending the state constitution to allow the state to grant the right to operate one and only one destination casino that must be located in West Warwick, RI.

October 5, 2006

Andrew Lyon For General Treasurer, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

Anchor Rising completes our interview with Andrew Lyon, Republican Candidate for the office of Rhode Island General Treasurer. Mr. Lyon wants to make sure people know what the General Treasurer's job is not?

I think a lot of people think that the General Treasurer just goes down to the bank, puts some money in, and gets a deposit slip. It's really a lot more involved than that. The General Treasurer is very important to the fiscal well-being of the state of Rhode Island.
Mr. Lyon continues his answer to the previous question about the role of the General Treasurer really does, and the power that the Treasurer?s office has to affect all of Rhode Island?

Andrew Lyon: The General Treasurer sits on the state investment commission. One of the problems with the current boards is there are too many politicians sitting on them. Politicians sitting on investment boards, acting as financial advisors, is not a good thing. That's one thing I would change. We don't need people who are owed political favors sitting on our investment boards or advisory commissions. What we need to do is something like Governor Carcieri did four years ago with the big audit; come in, review the operation of the treasurer's office, check all of the investment advisors, review everything. And we have to change our investment asset allocation.

As the next General Treasurer, I can cure two problems at the same time. If we can identify companies that want to come into Rhode Island, companies that are fiscally sound and are run with good management, we might be able to invest in them, if they come to Rhode Island, through the state pension fund. By helping new companies get a foothold in Rhode Island, we'll add jobs, we'll have more wages being paid, and the people receiving wages will pay state taxes. That additional revenue will help reduce the tax-burden, whether its property tax, income tax, or sales tax -- maybe we can even get rid of the excise tax as promised year after year -- while providing enough money to pay for our social programs.

The problem in Rhode Island right now is the high tax burden and mismanagement of the state offices, excluding the Governor. In the state of Rhode Island, our government is controlled by the General Assembly. It's a one-party system. Now, you've got the wealthy leaving the state with their money because of the high taxes. People graduating from our fine universities and colleges are unable to find a well-paying job and unable to afford a home, so they're leaving.

The welfare rolls are growing. Rhode Island is one of the most generous states with welfare in the country. We're ranked either fifth or sixth. Meanwhile, the middle class gets squeezed with taxes to pay for the benefits. Now we're going to ask the middle class to make up the unfunded liabilities. The bill has come due and we have to face how we plan to pay it.

Anchor Rising: We've had an initial start to pension reform passed in Rhode Island in the last year or two. A good start, or not enough?
Andrew Lyon: You have a good plan proposed by the Governor and some members of the General Assembly, but you have other members of the General Assembly, backed by the unions, who don't like the plan. The union members put a nix on it, so the plan didn't go through in its original form. It's a good start, but we need to do more. I commend the Governor and, giving kudos where they belong, praise the current General Treasurer for going along with the Governor in realizing that pension reform was necessary. But we need to do more.

AR: In what other areas would you make changes in what the General Treasurer's office is doing?
AL: I think we need to make the victims unit a little more accessible. We also need more timely reports from the General Tresurer's office. The General Treasurer's is mandated by law to produce reports within six months year of the fiscal year ending. Mr. Tavares' 2001, 2002, and 2003 were all 18 months late. As far as I know, The 2004 report probably just came out. 2005? Forget it. Who knows where it is. His excuse was that they were updating all of the computer systems. The reports have to be done on time, so the people of Rhode Island have some transparency and know where their money is being invested.

I would change the discount rate. The discount rate in Rhode Island is 8.25%. The national average is 8.05%. In layman's terms, the discount rate is the expected rate of return on investments. What experts say is that a discount rate that is higher than 8.05% indicates someone trying to downplay their unfunded liabilities -- so we might be in worse shape than fourth, though you can't go much lower. The unfunded liability are equivalent to 96% of the state budget. That spells disaster.

I think Mr. Tavares could have done a better job of picking investment advisors. And I think he should have taken my advice, and changed his asset allocation as market conditions changed. Any good investment advisor will change his asset allocation as conditions change. If the market is going down, you get more conservative. If the market is going up, you get more aggressive. Mr. Tavares hasn't done that over the last eight years. That's the reason why our unfunded liability is fourth worst. I don't blame the current Treasurer for our liabilities being greater than our assets, that is happening to a lot of state and private pensions. But we don't have to be near the bottom.

We have an older workforce in Rhode Island. They?re going to be retiring soon. As more people start taking their benefits, we'll have fewer people paying in. What's being done about this? Has the Treasurer informed the public about this? Do we need to consider having the workers paying into the pension system pay more? Do we need to shut off the current system and change over into a new pension plan, perhaps a defined contribution plan?

We have some very generous benefits for our state workers, and we don't have a huge tax base in the state of Rhode Island to pay for them. Maybe things would be different if our taxes were low, we had more people that wanted to live here and we had more people paying into the state coffers, but we don't. People are leaving Rhode Island, because of the excessive tax burden and it's a recipe for disaster.

AR: What are your qualifications for the General Treasurer's office?
AL: I am hoping that the people of Rhode Island will take a look at my seventeen-plus years of experience, compared to that of my opponent, and see that they have someone in Andrew Lyon with the right experience for the job. I've worked in Chicago, Boston, and New York. Currently I am an assistant vice president at a major bank here in Rhode Island. I am used to analyzing investments. I'm used to making decisions based on analysis and financial data. I've been making sound judgments for banks and financial institutions for seventeen years. I want to apply that experience for the benefit of state of Rhode Island. I love it here. My wife loves it here. My family loves it here. We need to make sure Rhode Island is sailing in the right direction, and I want to be a part of that.

AR: Your opponent (State Senator Frank Caprio) got on TV early, but has been running mostly a feel-good campaign that?s light on issues. What would you like to say about your opponent?
AL: From what I know of Mr. Caprio, he is a good person and a good family man. But he?s been in the General Assembly -- the same General Assembly that has created our problems with high taxes and political corruption -- for fifteen years. His brother is a State Rep.

Mr. Caprio, I believe, is a family attorney. He's been running ads since last November or December. I look forward to meeting him, debating him, shaking his hand and getting to know him a little bit. It's always good to have a friendly rapport with your opponent. I expect a good, clean campaign.

What I'm going to focus on my experience, my ideas, and why I'm more qualified than my opponent. My opponent is not the current Treasurer, so he can't be blamed for the current deficiencies. But my goal is to make sure that the people of Rhode Island have a clear choice between a political insider without any financial or banking experience and myself.

I'm not a political insider and I have the right qualifications to be General Treasurer. Rhode Islanders need to make a decision about who they trust more. Hopefully, they will look at me and see that I have the experience that Rhode Island can trust. We'll see what happens on November 7.

Reading the Fine Print on Healthcare

Justin Katz

When one brushes away the rhetoric, one finds the contradictions beneath.

In one post, RIFuture notes Charlie Fogarty's new healthcare plan, which, I discovered after wading through the usual political policy mire, will be funded in part as follows:

Rather than spending state tax dollars on tax cuts for the wealthy few, high-priced consultants and lawyers, and tax breaks for out-of-state corporations, I will set state spending priorities that focus on reforming our health care system.

Yet in another post, RIFuture crows about Inc.com magazine's poor rating of Governor Carcieri's performance, which rating comes with the following explanation:

After years of haggling, Carcieri and the Democratic-led general assembly agreed in 2006 on a set of tax reforms that, while not exactly comprehensive, are a good start—including an alternative flat tax that will lower the effective top income tax bracket to 5.5 percent from 9.9 percent over five years.

Presumably RIFuture's Matt Jerzyk wouldn't agree with Inc.com that Fogarty's healthcare plan would undo a "good start" of Carcieri's. Be that as it may, according to Inc.com, businesses "in the Ocean State face some of the highest [tax] rates and most complicated requirements in the country." According to Fogarty's plan description, he would make "large corporations who do not provide health insurance pay their fair share."

As is all too common in this state, Fogarty is attempting to sell voters some charitable-sounding rhetoric that, if actuated into policy would drive businesses — and jobs and tax revenue — out, increase the burden on those who remain, and, on top of it all, force more people onto the publicly funded segment of his healthcare plan. As for where those funds will come from, we'll just have see whom politicians promise to "just make" pick up the tab.

We'd be better off if the average citizens of Rhode Island would at long last make politicians provide us our fair share of representation.

October 4, 2006

Theocrats, Moral Relativism & the Myth of Religious Tolerance, Part V: Recovering the Meaning and Implications of Religious Freedom

Donald B. Hawthorne

The previous posting in this series noted how moral relativism leads to words losing their meaning, thereby impoverishing the public discourse and making genuine consensus on important issues difficult, if not impossible. It also suggested that moral recovery was possible by calling for it with direct language.

As a first step toward eliminating that lack of meaning, the same posting identified four crucial questions and addressed the first question about whether moral truths exist and belong in the public square.

The second question noted that there is a lack of agreement on the meaning of religious freedom and reason.

It is impossible to have a reasoned public discourse over the proper role of religion in the public square if we do not share a common understanding about the meaning of religious freedom. The impact of no common ground means the public discourse often descends into an ahistorical mumbo-jumbo from secular left fundamentalists warning about the alleged threat from theocrats. The left's actions have the effect of stripping the public square of religious practices or habits as attempts are made to block religious or religion-inspired people and practices from playing any role whatsoever in the public square. These behaviors have created a backlash and new assertiveness from the religious right in recent times.

The purpose of this posting is to offer a broad definition of religious freedom, which can be found in the Extended Entry below, and reflect on some of its implications for all of us.

After reading the thoughts below on the meaning of religious freedom, several striking thoughts arise from the document:

First, it provides greater insight into the higher purpose that is at the heart of why religious freedom is so important: With the personal responsibility and free will that arise from the dignity of man is the moral obligation and sense of duty to pursue truth and abide by it as it becomes known. That provides a challenge to each of us: Do we accept as our personal duty, the obligation to pursue truth and abide by it as we achieve new understandings? (Note: Commitment to that course of action does not require a particular religious belief. It does require a dedication to being men and women of virtue.)

Second, there are profound implications that follow once that pursuit is engaged: Frequently our public discourse is an unpleasant mixture of some people questioning whether there is any truth at all while others are presenting beliefs as if they have already reached truth in its final form. It is these people - called fundamentalists of the left and right, respectively - who often dominate the public debate to our society's detriment. In contrast, the alternative view expressed below suggests the practice of religious freedom is a process with milestones achieved along the way - but not an end. That concept is completely ignored by secular left fundamentalists who prefer to rely on the use of scare tactics that equate any religious belief with religious fanaticism in order to achieve a near ban on religious expression in the public square. Yet an ongoing process also implies a lack of final closure in understanding truth, which should result in a greater spirit of humility accompanying the ongoing pursuit by religious people.

These conclusions lead us back to another point from the previous posting: The dominant struggle in our society today is over the meaning of freedom, in this case understanding the implications of religious freedom in our society. Once we have this freedom, how do we pursue truth and talk constructively to each other about it given that we live in a pluralistic society made up of people with differing religious beliefs?

Let's assume most people share a common goal of living together successfully and with meaning in a civil society. For that to happen, we have to be able to talk to each other, to have a substantive discourse. But it cannot be based upon the requirements that the existence of moral truths be denied, that religious beliefs be excluded from the public square, or that everyone be required to hold similar religious beliefs.

George Weigel put this issue in perspective when he wrote about Pope John Paul II:

Building the free society certainly involves getting the institutions right; beyond that, however, freedom's future depends on men and women of virtue, capable of knowing, and choosing, the genuinely good.

That is why John Paul relentlessly preached genuine tolerance: not the tolerance of indifference, as if differences over the good didn't matter, but the real tolerance of differences engaged, explored, and debated within the bond of a profound respect for the humanity of the other...

John Paul II was teaching a crucial lesson about the future of freedom: Universal empathy comes through, not around, particular convictions...

It is in this context that a discussion about the meaning of "reason" becomes important as reason offers a tool to enable a pluralistic society to have substantive discourse about what belongs in our public square. That discussion of reason shall be the topic of the next posting in this series.

Earlier postings in this series can be found here:

Part I: The Difference Between Religious Freedom and Religious Tolerance
Part II: Are We Hostile Toward or Encouraging Religious Belief?
Part III: Consequences of Excluding Religion from the Public Square
Part IV: Moral Recovery via Rediscovering the Meaning of Words


Let's begin with a general definition of religious freedom:

…[Religious] freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such ways that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.

It is the dignity of each human being, discovered by faith or reason, which is why religious freedom is important:

…the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself…whose exigencies have come to be are fully known to human reason through centuries of experience...

This underlying dignity of humans is based on several factors:

…in accordance with their dignity as persons-that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility…

With that personal responsibility and free will comes a moral obligation to seek the truth and abide by it once it is known:

…that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth...

...every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience...

What is the best way to conduct this search for truth, to do it in a way that builds understanding in a civil society?

Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth.

(This approach raises a related issue about the role of reason, especially for those who do not hold explicit religious beliefs. A subsequent posting will explore that important issue further.)

The discovery of truths takes on significance when the truths then form the basis for acts of conscience:

Moreover, as the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that men are to adhere to it.

On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience...It follows that he is not to be forced to act in manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious...

Yet, the social nature of man affects how religious beliefs are expressed, that it is important that there be both public and private expressions:

The social nature of man, however, itself requires that he should give external expression to his internal acts of religion: that he should share with others in matters religious; that he should profess his religion in community. Injury therefore is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society, provided just public order is observed.

...Government therefore ought indeed to take account of the religious life of the citizenry and show it favor, since the function of government is to make provision for the common welfare. However, it would clearly transgress the limits set to its power, were it to presume to command or inhibit acts that are religious.

The need to profess religious beliefs in a community means that an important part of the meaning of religious freedom involves clearly defining the freedom of religious communities themselves:

The freedom or immunity from coercion in matters religious which is the endowment of persons as individuals is also to be recognized as their right when they act in community. Religious communities are a requirement of the social nature both of man and of religion itself...

Provided the just demands of public order are observed, religious communities rightfully claim freedom in order that they may govern themselves according to their own norms, honor the Supreme Being in public worship, assist their members in the practice of the religious life, strengthen them by instruction, and promote institutions in which they may join together for the purpose of ordering their own lives in accordance with their religious principles.

Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered, either by legal measures or by administrative action on the part of government...

Religious communities also have the right not to be hindered in their public teaching and witness to their faith, whether by the spoken or by the written word.

Here are some suggestions on proper ways to introduce religious practices:

However, in spreading religious faith and in introducing religious practices everyone ought at all times to refrain from any manner of action which might seem to carry a hint of coercion or of a kind of persuasion that would be dishonorable or unworthy, especially when dealing with poor or uneducated people...

In addition, it comes within the meaning of religious freedom that religious communities should not be prohibited from freely undertaking to show the special value of their doctrine in what concerns the organization of society and the inspiration of the whole of human activity. Finally, the social nature of man and the very nature of religion afford the foundation of the right of men freely to hold meetings and to establish educational, cultural, charitable and social organizations, under the impulse of their own religious sense.

As part of the overall definition of religious freedom, the family plays an important role:

The family, since it is a society in its own original right, has the right freely to live its own domestic religious life under the guidance of parents. Parents, moreover, have the right to determine, in accordance with their own religious beliefs, the kind of religious education that their children are to receive. Government, in consequence, must acknowledge the right of parents to make a genuinely free choice of schools and of other means of education, and the use of this freedom of choice is not to be made a reason for imposing unjust burdens on parents, whether directly or indirectly. Besides, the right of parents are violated, if their children are forced to attend lessons or instructions which are not in agreement with their religious beliefs, or if a single system of education, from which all religious formation is excluded, is imposed upon all.

We all own the challenge of ensuring religious freedom is present across a society:

...the care of the right to religious freedom devolves upon the whole citizenry, upon social groups, upon government, and upon the Church and other religious communities, in virtue of the duty of all toward the common welfare, and in the manner proper to each.

Government also has an important role in effecting religious freedom in a society:

The protection and promotion of the inviolable rights of man ranks among the essential duties of government. Therefore government is to assume the safeguard of the religious freedom of all its citizens, in an effective manner, by just laws and by other appropriate means.

Government is also to help create conditions favorable to the fostering of religious life, in order that the people may be truly enabled to exercise their religious rights and to fulfill their religious duties, and also in order that society itself may profit by the moral qualities of justice and peace which have their origin in men's faithfulness to God and to His holy will...

...government is to see to it that equality of citizens before the law, which is itself an element of the common good, is never violated, whether openly or covertly, for religious reasons. Nor is there to be discrimination among citizens...

Another important issue is the manner in which religious freedom is exercised and its impact on others in the community:

The right to religious freedom is exercised in human society: hence its exercise is subject to certain regulatory norms. In the use of all freedoms the moral principle of personal and social responsibility is to be observed. In the exercise of their rights, individual men and social groups are bound by the moral law to have respect both for the rights of others and for their own duties toward others and for the common welfare of all. Men are to deal with their fellows in justice and civility.

Furthermore, society has the right to defend itself against possible abuses committed on the pretext of freedom of religion. It is the special duty of government to provide this protection. However, government is not to act in an arbitrary fashion or in an unfair spirit of partisanship. Its action is to be controlled by juridical norms which are in conformity with the objective moral order. These norms arise out of the need for the effective safeguard of the rights of all citizens and for the peaceful settlement of conflicts of rights, also out of the need for an adequate care of genuine public peace, which comes about when men live together in good order and in true justice, and finally out of the need for a proper guardianship of public morality.

These matters constitute the basic component of the common welfare: they are what is meant by public order...

The decision to embrace religious belief is a personal one, the exercise of which is an expression of freedom:

…man's response to God in faith must be free: no one therefore is to be forced to embrace the Christian faith against his own will...The act of faith is of its very nature a free act...

Here is a summary overview thought:

A sense of the dignity of the human person has been impressing itself more and more deeply on the consciousness of contemporary man and the demand is increasingly made that men should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by a sense of duty. The demand is likewise made that constitutional limits should be set to the powers of government, in order that there may be no encroachment on the rightful freedom of the person and of associations. This demand for freedom in human society chiefly regards the quest for the values proper to the human spirit. It regards, in the first place, the free exercise of religion in society...

So where do these valuable thoughts come from? The Vatican II statement on Religious Freedom. It is a document which provides everyone with a broad framework for thinking about all facets of religious freedom, bringing meaning to many words and, thereby, enriching the public discourse.

Appeals Court Temporarily Reinstates Warrantless Wiretapping

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Associated Press is reporting that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has lifted a lower court stay on the National Security Agency's "warrantless wiretapping program", formally called the Terrorist Surveillance Program. This circuit court ruling allows the program to operate while the appeal of the original stay is being considered...

The Bush administration can continue its warrantless surveillance program while it appeals a judge's ruling that the program is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday....

The program monitors international phone calls and e-mails to or from the United States involving people the government suspects have terrorist links. A secret court has been set up to grant warrants for such surveillance, but the government says it can't always wait for a court to take action.

This is one of the easier-to-comprehend issues associated with civil liberties and the War on Terror. It is purely a matter of definition. Should electronic communication crossing the border be treated according to the rules that govern the executive branch's domestic powers or the rules that govern its international powers? Or, as Mark Steyn wrote a few weeks ago...
If the U.S. government intercepts a call from Islamabad to London about a plot to blow up Big Ben, it can alert the Brits. But, if the U.S. government intercepts a call from Islamabad to New York about a plot to blow up the Chrysler Building, [should that be] entirely unconstitutional?

In lifting the injunction against the program, the Court listed the criteria that must be considered, without any additional explanation...

In considering whether a stay pending appeal should issue, we balance the traditional factors governing injunctive relief: (1) whether the applicant has demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other interested parties; and (4) where the public interest lies.
Also according to the Associated Press, the suit was based on balancing the necessity of preventing terrorist attacks versus journalistic inconvenience...
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the program on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say it has made it difficult for them to do their jobs because they believe many of their overseas contacts are likely targets. Many said they had been forced to take expensive and time-consuming overseas trips because their contacts wouldn't speak openly on the phone or because they didn't want to violate their contacts' confidentiality.
If you don't like that characterization of the original suit, send your complaints to the AP.

Libertarian Dissonance: Who?s Right, the Daily Kos or the Wall Street Journal, and Does It Matter?

Carroll Andrew Morse

This week, "Kos" (Markos Moulitsas), uber-blogger of the left-blogosphere, argued in a Cato Institute's monthly electronic journal that the Democratic party is the natural home for voters who believe in individual liberty...

It was my fealty to the notion of personal liberty that made me a Republican when I came of age in the 1980s. It is my continued fealty to personal liberty that makes me a Democrat today.

The case against the libertarian Republican is so easy to make that I almost feel compelled to stipulate it and move on.

Of course, Kos is wrong. Consider some of the America's biggest domestic challenges, and the potential solutions that maximize personal liberty...
  1. Improving the Quality of Education: Public School choice, charters, and vouchers
  2. Retirement Security: Inidividual retirement accounts
  3. Healthcare: Health-Savings Accounts, Decoupling health insurance from the workplace
  4. Political Participation: Repeal campaign finance limits on free speech.
Is there any doubt which party supports the liberty-maximizing solutions, and which opposes them?

As many commenters to the original article have noted, the centerpiece of Kos' "libertarianism" is increased government regulation of private business, which is not libertarian at all, with some paeans to issues like flag-burning added on. (Combining attitudes on flag burning with campaign finance reform is as enlightening an illustration of mainstream Democratic thinking on individual liberty as there is: the government should leave individuals free to engage in symbolic, isolated acts, but as soon as individuals want to take actions that might influence the larger society, then it's regulate-to-the-max!)

However, Kos' attempt to redefine a political phiosophy as its opposite is not the point. He freely admits he is an activist, not an intellectual. The more interesting point is that as an activist, if he thinks libertarians are worth courting, he must believe there's substantial voting bloc of them out there.

However, a Wall Street Journal editorial that appeared the day after Kos' article hinted (unintentionally) at the opposite. The Journal suggests that the Republican leaders don't believe that there are enough voters in the electorate who believe in individual freedom to make liberty-maximizing solutions to domestic problems political winners...

Social Security reform was never going to be easy, and Mr. Bush's war-driven decline in job approval meant he couldn't move any Democrats. But that still doesn't excuse such prominent Republicans as Tom Davis (Virginia) and Roy Blunt (Missouri) for resisting their President's reform effort behind the scenes. So frightened were they that they never even brought the subject up for a vote.

Perhaps the most puzzling abdication was the GOP failure to do anything at all on health care. The window for saving private health care from government encroachment is closing, and both business and workers are feeling the pinch from rising costs. Yet Republicans failed to make health-care savings accounts more attractive, failed to let business associations offer their own health plans, and failed even to bring to a vote Arizona Congressman John Shadegg's bill to avoid costly state mandates by letting health insurance be marketed across state boundaries.

Add to the Journal's despair the fact that President Bush allowed the No-Child-Left-Behind act to be turned from a potentially-meaningful school choice plan ito an increased layer of centralized regulation and that he signed of campaign finance reform act of 2002, and it's hard to make the case that the Republicans have done their part in advancing an agenda of individual liberty.

Accepting that the WSJ and the KOS are reliable windows into their respective sides? political thought, it seems that an agenda of individual liberty doesn't have a home in either political party right now. America has one party (the Democrats) so committed to an agenda of centralizing government power, it has talked itself into believing that government regulation is freedom! We have the other side (the Republicans) that doesn't believe that many Americans really support individual liberty, and has resigned itself to the inevitable adoption of a collectivist agenda. How will liberty prevail in this environment?

October 3, 2006

When the Snakes Do the Talking

Justin Katz

They sure teach the kids to string their thoughts together at the University of Rhode Island. Consider Gabriel Lugo's letter to the URI student paper, The Good 5¢ Cigar, apologizing for mistakenly "paint[ing] the author's person with the same irrational beliefs" as some fundamentalist Christians whom that other student had, in a limited way, defended. Writes Lugo:

In a world presided upon by the monopoly of evidence, rational thought and logical honesty, it is our duty to challenge these messengers of hatred, misinformation and intolerance. Let us not forget the power wielded by some of the fundamentalist religious groups in this nation. Belief in invisible alpha males, flying deities, talking snakes and magical apples of knowledge has a profound effect on political landscape of the United States of America. Forty-four percent of the electorate share the conviction that an omni-benevolent Superman will return to Earth in our lifetime and bring forth the Endtime. One need not be a prophet of doom to see the effects that this herd mentality will have on the only remaining Superpower.

Inadvertently, to be sure, Lugo has fleshed out in language the reason that many a rational and honest person is justified in fearing the palpable effects of disbelief in that venerable "omni-benevolent Superman" who presides over us all. He may not believe in "talking snakes and magical apples of knowledge," but Lugo's passive voice raises equally troubling questions: With what species of judgment and enforcement does his tripartite monopoly preside upon the world? How much tolerance is due those whom Mr. Lugo apparently hates?

I fear for Gabriel that he may, someday, depart from academia only to discover, among the variegated masses of his fellow citizens, that some exist who are respectable, even admirable, and intelligent, and yet who ascribe to the "herd mentality" that his pack has taught him to hunt. What will be his reaction when he finds that the easy prey abounding is not so simple a matter to devour and, worse, that the herd stubbornly insists that it has a right to shape its society and government?

The University of Rhode Island would offer such as Gabriel an incalculable service for his money by throwing in his path some selections from the vast library of Christian thought that are not so plainly dismissable. Whether a secular American university is still capable of challenging its students to such an unthinkable degree is another troubling question.

The Trust of Children

Justin Katz

Via a predictably political RI Future post, I came across this even more predictably political DailyKos post:

You do not abuse the trust of children. If you find out about the possible abuse of children, you have a duty to stop it. A duty. An imperative. An oath. All those words that men say, and seldom, apparently, mean.

Because sexual abuse ruins lives forever. What happened to Foley came full circle, from molested victim to predator himself. And now new children are involved, and new lives have been affected, forever.

That is why you do not abuse the trust of children. That is why it was so very important, when the red flags were raised, from 2001 onwards, from 2003 onwards, from 2005 onwards; you have a duty to do more than the most minimally possible nothing.

Perhaps it's my scandal fatigue again that hears tones of disgustingly cynical political posturing in Kos's post, but it's rich, nonetheless, to hear preaching about abusing the trust of children from the representatives of the party of easy divorce and easier abortion.

Foley: The Political Sitcom's Season Premier

Justin Katz

For more than a year, now, I've been directing conversations with my politically-interested friends toward an issue that has concerned me as one who has found (very) modest success as a socio-political writer: my growing disinterest in the political debate du jour.

A prominent experiential example: I used to check the Corner two to five times per hour. Now, although I don't believe that the quality of the writers or the written has gone down, I find myself increasingly surprised at the topics that the punditentia is discussing. At this moment, two-and-a-half hours and roughly 3,000 words worth of Corner posts are about Mark Foley.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan, another must-read during the days of the Bronze Age of blogging, who once lanced from his chariot the idea that the Catholic Church's pedophilia scandals had anything whatsoever to do with homosexuality (what's the difference between pedophilia and ephebophilia, again?) is casting about such rhetoric as this:

But closeted gay men are particularly vulnerable to this kind of thing. Your psyche is so split by decades of lies and deceptions and euphemisms that integrity and mental health suffer. No one should excuse Foley's creepy interactions; they are inexcusable, as is the alleged cover-up (although we shouldn't jump to conclusions yet about who knew what when). But there's a reason gay men in homophobic institutions behave in self-destructive ways.

Or think of it another way: what do the Vatican and the RNC have in common? Here's one potential list: entrenched homophobia, psychologically damaged closet cases, inappropriate behavior toward teens and minors ... and cover-ups designed entirely to retain power.

Here's the thing about politics — at least for me: when it begins to feel like a game, it also begins to feel like callous and even malicious manipulation. Maybe I'm just suffering from scandal fatigue... do we really need two or three per primetime season?

Random Thoughts

Marc Comtois

I haven't posted much lately, mostly because of real world "busy-ness" with work and family. One result of all of this activity is that ideas and thoughts flitter across the mind only to leave again, half-resolved. However, the benefit of a blog is that these things don't have to remain that way. So, if you'll indulge me, here are a few random thoughts.

The GOP is walking a fine line in the whole Foley affair. If you run along the moral high ground, the fall is farther and faster. By this point, I've come to expect the worse from any Congressional majority. The GOP has blown many opportunities to implement an overall, conservative program of government. They have offered a few scraps here and there, but only when pushed (Border fence, PorkBusters). Instead, it seems as if keeping power for its own sake has become more important to the GOP leadership. Now, that's a very cynical view....especially because....what exactly do Democrats offer for an alternative? Elect them because they want the power so that they can, well...what exactly? Have the power themselves?

By the way, Patrick Kennedy should really refrain from commenting on the moral failure of anyone, shouldn't he? For that matter, Democrats lecturing anyone on covering up the pecidillo's of politicians should check the mirror. Sheesh.

It's almost election time and Bob Woodward has a new book out. Whoda thunk?

On principle, I'm opposed to gambling for mostly moral reasons and good ol' fashioned Yankee thriftiness. I've also said (ad naseum) that the biggest addicts to casino gambling are the legislators who get addicted to the revenue generated by it. Thus, I hope that if we deny the General Assembly revenue, they won't find new ways to spend it. Therefore, maybe I'm on the wrong side of this casino issue. If it is true that the state will lose revenue if a new casino is approved, wouldn't that mean that the legislature would have less money at their discretion (especially with slippage)? If that's the case, shouldn't I support the casino in the belief that the legislature will "starve"? In an ideal world, probably. But if there's one thing we can count on, the General Assembly will never hesitate to raise "revenue" via increased taxation.

And there's also no doubt that very few of us will experience "property tax relief" thanks to a casino. Somehow, I don't think the General Assembly will allow such a "trickle down affect" to occur.

I don't think anyone, other than possibly the Derderian's, is happy with the outcome of the Station non-trial. What a complete tragedy.

A couple lighter notes:

If you've ever worked in one, you'll appreciate The Office. I wonder what Joseph Campbell would say about some of those archetypes? (By the way, Dwight makes the show, for me).

Why did people ever put linoleum (or carpets) over hard wood floors? A quest for modernity, I suppose....but now I've gotta pay for the more aesthetically pleasing "hardwoods throughout the house" look with both $ and sore muscles.

No Red Sox in October: kinda weird. And I don't think it's going to get better next year.

Paying for Gambling Slippage

Carroll Andrew Morse

Scott Mayerowitz of the Projo gives a concise explanation of the "slippage" formula that applies to Rhode Island's existing gambling facilities...

The deal the state struck with Lincoln Park protects it through 2020; Newport Grand is protected through 2015.

The slippage clause takes the average revenue at each facility in the two years prior to a casino opening [in Rhode Island] and assumes that income there should grow each year by inflation. If revenues drop below that figure, the state has to make up the loss.

The slippage clause was one of two incentives for Lincoln Park and Newport Grand operators considered by the General Assembly in 2005. The other was a deal in which the percentage of revenues paid by Lincoln and Newport would automatically drop if the legislature allowed a new casino to operate in Rhode Island at a lower tax-rate.

In a Projo letter to the editor, State Representative Larry Ehrhardt argues that while the slippage clause remains in effect, the only fiscally sane way to authorize a new casino in Rhode Island is to make the new casino owners directly responsible for the slippage payments...

Since the future is unknowable, the only way the state can protect itself would be to require Harrah's to take full responsibility for the slippage payments to Lincoln and Newport. Deputy Finance Chair Paul Crowley stood and reinforced my remarks, by agreeing that any new operator must be required to take that risk.
From the other side of the aisle, Representative Gordon Fox also believes this is an idea worth discussing...
If this vote should pass, nothing prevents a discussion with the casino, with Harrah's, that if there is slippage . . . that they make it up," Fox said last week.
However, given the language of the current version of the casino amendment, it may not be that simple. Could the real reason that casino supporters are so intent on specifying property-tax relief in the constitution be to block the legislature from being able to make a casino owner take responsibility for slippage payments? In other words, if the General Assembly tries to pass legislation (if the current casino amendment passes) making Harrah's directly responsible for payments to Lincoln and Newport, would Harrah?s (and their lawyers) say "sorry, can't be done". "The Constitution says any revenue you collect from us can only go towards property tax-relief"?

We've now got at least two questions that should be asked if a casino debate happens:

  1. If circumstances work out so that Harrah's and the Narragansetts end up taking huge profit checks at the same time their business is driving the state in the shortfall, will their response be "sorry, a deal-is-a-deal". "We got ours, and budget shortfalls are your problem", or is there a contingency plan?
  2. Do Harrah's, the Narragansetts, Tim Williamson, Stephen Alves, William Murphy and/or any other casino supporter that would like to chime in agree or disagree that the current language of the casino amendment allows the state to hold Harrah's directly responsible for slippage payments?

October 2, 2006

Did Judge Darigan Short-Circuit the Derderian Trials on His Own, or Did the Defense And the Attorney General Ask Him To?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Up until Friday, the quasi-official narrative of the disposition of the Derderian trial was that all sides wanted a plea deal, but could not agree on a sentence. Becoming frustrated with an impasse in the negotiations (and perhaps with some confusion within the Attorney General's office), Judge Francis Darigan directly negotiated a sentence with the defendants, over the objection of the Attorney General, in return for a nolo contendre plea.

However, in his formal sentencing statement on Friday, despite taking "full and total responsibility for the acceptance of these pleas and for the sentences which will be imposed on the Defendants", Judge Darigan described a process different from the quasi-official line. Here is the relevant part of Judge Darigan's statement (via The Dan Yorke Show's document archive)...

This Court was well aware that all parties desired to conclude these cases without a trial. As the structure of theses (sic) cases and the issues for the trial became clearer and more crystallized, the Court began to share this opinion.

As the date for the trial approached, the Defendants clearly indicated to the Court and the Attorney General's Office that they wished to change their pleas.

It was at this time that the parties asked the Court if it would accept a change in the pleas and impose sentences to which the State, if it wished, could object.

In legal parlance, "the parties" usually refers to both sides, the prosecution and the defense. If that is the meaning here, something different from a judge taking it upon himself to negotiate with the defense in order to resolve a case is being described. Instead, we have both sides -- Attorney General and Defense -- asking Judge Darigan to step in and end the case.

There is the qualifier -- Judge Darigan says that the State retained a right to "object" even after they asked him to impose a sentence. Does that mean that when the Attorney General's office asked Judge Darigan to impose a sentence, they thought they were retaining the right not to accept a deal (but if they were worried that they would not like the Judge's decision, why ask the Judge to step in in the first place?) or does retaining the right to "object" simply mean that the AG's office remained free to express displeasure with the sentences imposed by the Judge (but why does the AG's office need the permission of the Judge to express their opinion after a case has been decided?).

Despite Judge Darigan's attempt to lay out the provenance of this ruling in detail, it is still unclear whether he believed he was acting in concert with both parties or in concert with just the defense at the time he decided on a sentence.

The Station Fire Prosecution: Blaming the Foam Manufacturer for the Station Fire Was a Desperation Defense

Carroll Andrew Morse

On his WPRO-AM website, Dan Yorke has posted the state's sentencing recommendation in the Derderian brothers case. The sentencing memo casts serious doubt on whether defense efforts to shift the blame to the foam-manufacturer were at all credible. The prosecution investigated this issue thoroughly and would have made the case that no evidence supported the claim that fire-retardant foam had been ordered, but a different product was shipped...

When the Defendants bought the Station, they bought both the assets and the liabilities of the business. One of the nightclub's liabilities was its eroding good will in the residential neighborhood that abutted its location on Cowesett Avenue. For years, neighbors had complained to the authorities about the way the club had been run, including, but not limited to, the amount of noise that emanated from the club....

The Defendants visited the closest and most vocal neighbor shortly after purchasing The Station. In an effort to ease the neighbor's concerns and complaints, the Defendants offered to buy him an air conditioner so that, even when it was warm, he could keep his windows closed, thereby reducing the amount of noise that he actually heard from The Station. The neighbor declined the offer.

During the same visit, which took place on the deck of the neighbor's house, the neighbor casually informed the Defendants that he worked for a company that sold polyurethane foam. At the time, the neighbor was involved almost exclusively in the sale of such foam for use as packing material to protect products during shipping. The neighbor nevertheless offered his thoughts about sound deadening options, including the fact that foam had sound deadening qualities.

Documents show that soon after the visit to the neighbor?s house, Michael Derderian purchased the highly flammable polyurethane foam that line the south and west walls of The Station from the foam company for which the neighbor worked. The investigation of the fire revealed, and the trial evidence would have shown, that no person from or on behalf of the company from which Michael Derderian bought the foam every made any representations to Michael Derderian about the flammability of the foam. Indeed, the evidence shows that neither the neighbor nor any other person at the foam company with whom Michael Derderian may have dealt ever told him that the foam was fire retardant. Sadly, and conversely, it is equally true that none of these individuals ever advised Michael Derderian that the foam was not fire retardant.

Most significantly, as it relates to the counts on which the Defendants are about to be sentenced, Jeffrey and Michael Derderian never asked for objective proof that the foam that they bought and installed was flame resistant or otherwise satisfied the Rhode Island Fire safety Code...

The memo suggests that Michael Derderian received the harsher of the two sentences because he was the one who made the actual decision to purchase the foam.