December 31, 2006

Working Toward Education Reform

Marc Comtois

It being the end of the year, the ProJo produced a piece detailing the public policy goals of various Ocean State political leaders. Among the topics was education reform:

Lawmakers dole out more than $699 million in school aid to their home cities and towns, but it has been years since the state had a fixed formula for determining who gets what.

Since school costs are a major component of local property taxes, House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox said, there has to be a discussion of “what is adequate funding of education.”

Fueling the discussion will be a legislative study commission’s report on education financing, due March 1.

Fox expects it “will come with a high number of what you need per pupil to adequately educate a student,” and that will force discussion about a whole array of cost-saving issues “that people sort of whisper about, but really haven’t wrapped their arms around and tackled.” He cites as an example: how much can be saved by “regionalizing or centralizing” school purchasing.

“I don’t think you are going to see anything substantive coming this year based upon the timing of the report,” but “I think there is going to be enough information generated … where we will be remiss if we don’t begin those discussions.”

Does that mean the lawmakers are open to discussion about a single statewide teachers contact? “Absolutely.” A single health insurance contract? “Absolutely.” A further consolidation of school districts? “Absolutely,” Fox said.

Montalbano and Paiva Weed agreed it might be difficult to implement changes in the same year the report comes out, but they expect it to lead to action by 2008.

Asked about a statewide teacher contract, statewide health insurance contract for teachers and consolidation of school districts, they didn’t close the door, but Paiva Weed said, “Generally speaking, the executive branch has taken the lead on those issues.”

For his part, Carcieri also wants to continue to focus on education – but don’t expect him to head to lawmakers for much in that area. Instead, he plans to push officials at the Department of Education to implement more changes through their own rule-making procedures to – among other things – improve English skills, especially in the urban school districts.

He also envisions a closer link between the Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls school districts. Last session, he proposed and lawmakers rejected, a combined district. This time, the governor says, he wants “some type of cooperation.”

“Let me put it that way,” Carcieri said, “because when you talk about consolidation everybody gets nervous. But clearly the state’s got the biggest stake in all of those systems.”

But when it comes to consolidation, Montalbano, whose district includes a slice of Pawtucket, said: “I don’t see that happening this year.” Those districts “have very difficult populations to begin with,” he said.

Looks like a lot of talk and no action in 2007. Meanwhile, Julia Steiny writes about a new report, "Tough Choices or Tough Times," put out by The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. Steiny quotes specifically from the Executive Summary and also provides analysis regarding some of their proposals. The New Commission recommends more local control at the school level--though funding would still be dispersed, if more equitably, through the state. That would mean that teachers and parents would decide how money was spent and how to design the curriculum (so long as state and federal guidlines were followed). According to the report, however, the current system has inherent roadblocks that make any reform extremely difficult. That is why The New Commission is basically calling for a complete restructuring of our nation's education system. As Steiny concludes:
Opponents of site-based management and charter schools, which are self-managed, fret that autonomous school personnel might make a lot of horrible mistakes and crash the car. Too late. The car already crashed.

But as the report says, “The problem is not with our educators. It is with the system in which they work.”

Bureaucracies are great at organizing food service, transportation and back office functions. But they are no good at caring for kids.

In the end, the commission believes that applying a 19th century industrial mindset to the organization of schools in the 21st century is no longer tenable if the U.S. hopes to compete in the global marketplace. For Rhode Island, it's high time our Legislature come up with an equitable, student based funding structure. It's an attainable goal and will be the first step in much needed reform. It's also time for adults to put their egos aside and stop worrying about who controls what and how much and from where. The goal is to provide the best possible education system for our children. What adults "get" is secondary.

December 29, 2006

A 2007 New Year’s Resolution About 2008

Carroll Andrew Morse

One of my New Year’s resolutions is not to talk about the 2008 Presidential election until at least next June. But since the New Year hasn’t quite arrived, allow me a few observations…

1. If Barack Obama wants to run, it has to be now. If he waits, he will marginalize himself when he tries to position himself as a “moderate” or a centrist four-to-eight years from now, in spite of the heavily-liberal voting record that he will almost certainly have accrued.

Bear in mind that the last sitting Senator to win the Presidency (John F. Kennedy) was considered “inexperienced”, in Senate terms, when he decided to run. And consider the inverse formulation -- do you really believe that four/eight more years of the experience that has made Joe Biden the man he is today will somehow make Senator Obama a more attractive candidate?

2. During the initial stages of the campaign, it will be fascinating to watch most of the Democrats claim that they are really moderates (John Edwards has already started), while most of the Republicans will be stressing how they are either acceptable to conservatives, or are the “true” conservatives.

Republicans, at the national level, need to examine why they aren’t able to make more political hay in an environment like this. Is it poor organization? Or is the problem that (perhaps because of the liberal worldview that places politics before all else?) liberals can be counted on to energetically strongly support Democrats, no matter what positions they espouse (creating, by the way, the structural advantage that Democrats have in places that allow straight-ticket voting), while conservative-leaning voters are not energized unless they hear coherent ideas from the candidates they support?

3. John McCain has an uphill battle in front of him. 1) McCain-Feingold makes him unpopular with the new media. 2) His sudden enthusiasm for amnesty for illegal aliens is going to hurt him with the populist elements of the electorate. And make no mistake about it, populists are an important Republican constituency. Ross Perot’s peeling away of populists from the Republican party, for example, was what opened the way for Bill Clinton. 3) If McCain does assume frontrunner status for an extended period of time, his free ride with the MSM will be over. The relationship between Republican underdogs, which McCain traditionally has been, and the MSM is like the relationship between backup quarterbacks and sports fans. The #2 guy can be the most popular guy in town, until he has to start a few games…

4. Like many Republicans, I’m waiting to see what substance Rudolph Guiliani brings to the table. However, Guiliani’s “moderateness” is not necessarily a deal-breaker, if it turns out he really is a moderate (ala Gerald Ford) and not a liberal (ala Lincoln Chafee). In recent years, liberal Republicans have re-defined moderate bi-partisanship to mean “doing what the most liberal of Democrats want on every important issue”. This has opened a vacuum in the middle that could create a dynamic that someone like Guiliani (or McCain, if not for his other problems) could take advantage of. I’m not saying this is necessarily a good thing, just that it is.

Republican Rumblings

Carroll Andrew Morse

In this week’s Providence Phoenix, Ian Donnis provides a short political profile of Giovanni Cicione, who may be the first “official” candidate for state Republican chair…

Giovanni Cicione, a lawyer and Republican activist who paid his dues by running against US Representative Patrick J. Kennedy in 1996, has emerged as a leading contender to succeed Patricia Morgan as chairman of the Rhode Island Republican Party.

“I’ve spoken with a lot of people in the party leadership and made my pitch,” the 36-year-old Barrington resident told the Phoenix earlier this week. “I’m not sure it’s the most sensible thing to be doing. [But] I think the party needs a different kind of leadership and I think I can bring a lot to the table.”

Later in the article, Donnis notes that Mr Cicone declined to offer any specific criticism of outgoing Chairwoman Patricia Morgan. Hopefully, Mr. Cicone’s understandable reluctance to enumerate the faults of the current chair will not stop from elaborating in the near future on what he thinks will be “different” about the leadership he hopes to bring forth.

Donnis also quotes the Associated Press about a few high-profile names who are not interested in the Chairperson’s job, and reports on speculation about one other person who might be interested…

The Associated Press recently reported that Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian, losing secretary of state candidate Sue Stenhouse, and losing Cranston mayoral candidate Allan Fung are not interested in the position. Cicione says the only other name he has heard as a prospective candidate is that of Malcolm Maguire, who helped to raise funds for Cranston Mayor Stephen P. Laffey’s US Senate campaign. Maguire could not be reached for comment.

Press Distorts President Ford's Iraq Opinion

Marc Comtois

President Ford was interviewed by the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, but embargoed the interview until after his death. The portion of the interview that is getting the most play is where President Ford differed with the Bush Administration on the Iraq War. Specifically, portions of the interview are being excerpted and rehashed as news articles reporting that Ford had "had deep doubts about Iraq," and he "doubted justifications for the Iraq war." It is the various permutations of the latter characterization that reveals a disconnect between what the former president said and what the headline writers want to believe he said.

What the president really said about the Bush Administration's justifications for the Iraq War was:

"Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."
What Ford disagreed with was in Bush trying to justify invading Iraq based on WMD. From this can be inferred that Ford believed there were other justifications. And he said as much in an interview with Thomas DeFrank of the NY Daily News in May (also embargoed):
Ford was a few weeks shy of his 93rd birthday as we chatted for about 45 minutes. He'd been visited by President Bush three weeks earlier and said he'd told Bush he supported the war in Iraq but that the 43rd President had erred by staking the invasion on weapons of mass destruction.

"Saddam Hussein was an evil person and there was justification to get rid of him," he observed, "but we shouldn't have put the basis on weapons of mass destruction. That was a bad mistake. Where does [Bush] get his advice?"

So while President "Ford said he wouldn't have invaded Iraq..." in 2004, he had come to support it in 2006. And to characterize his belief as being that the "Reasons for Iraq War 'A Big Mistake'" is patently false. President Ford disagreed with the method of justification. That is different than saying the war itself wasn't justified. The press has taken a report that Ford opposed the initial invasion, conflated it with his disagreement in how the war was justified and come up with a story implying that he disgreed totally with the entire war, from stem to stern, Instead, President Ford was much more nuanced in his analysis. I thought the mainstream press liked nuance?

December 27, 2006

The Quiet Conservatism of President Ford

Marc Comtois

With the passing of President Ford, most people have, by now, been disabused of the notion that he was a perpetual klutz and have learned that, in fact, he was a two-time All-American football player at Michigan. Nonetheless, the role that history has cast him is as the man who pardoned Nixon. Yet, believe it or not, while conventional wisdom seems to be that President Ford was a centrist, he was a relatively conservative politician: not Reagan conservative, to be sure, but a sort of natural conservative. To today's conservatives, that may border on heresay, but there is some evidence to support this.

Most contemporary conservatives, no doubt, would agree with Robert Novak:

The failure of the Ford presidency was the reason Reagan became the first challenger since Roosevelt to threaten seriously the renomination of an incumbent Republican. His pardon of Richard Nixon is usually cited as the reason for Ford's unpopularity, but it went much deeper. He seemed to have no public purpose, and his presidency revealed no philosophy. A Republican president whose hero was Harry Truman has perception problems from the beginning. A career politician from Grand Rapids, Michigan, he appeared to share Henry Kissinger's belief that the declining West could not successfully compete with the Soviet bloc and an accommodation had to be found.

Reagan's grassroots popularity grew as the public perceived he would take a harder position against the Kremlin than the Republican president who declined to see Russian dissenter Alexander Solzhenitsyn because it might offend Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and undermine detente. But Reagan's clever and manipulative campaign manager John Sears pulled him away from such divisive issues in the interest of seeing him nominated by a united party. In the meantime, the Ford campaign pounded mercilessly against Reagan as unfit for the presidency. Ford disdained Reagan, and his attitude was spread throughout the president's campaign. The contempt for Reagan was palpable.

But perhaps the error is in characterizing the personal animosity between the Reaganites and the Ford supporters (including the Bushes, I might add) as reflective of wide gulf between governing philosophies. Instead, it seems more apt to view the political dispute as that between a nascent, revolutionary vision of conservatism (Reagan) and a more pragmatic, traditional conservate Republicanism (Ford). To be sure, today, Reagan's brand of conservatism has essentially triumphed, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Ford wasn't conservative at all. While Ford's foreign policy is what we would call "realist" (ie; George H.W. Bush/Jame Baker)--his belief in detente with the U.S.S.R. is usually given as an example--he did have some conservative moments (the Mayaguez incident) and his economic policy was essentially conservative (though he was no supply-sider).

George Will (via NRO) wrote a column 30 years ago (PDF) that helps to illustrate this latter point. According to the piece, Ford stymied the Democrat-led Congress:

Congress was going to rescue the nation's economy from Mr. Ford's "inhumane" concern with inflation. It was going to treat unemployment as the priority problem. To that end it ginned up a $6-billion bill to put 900,000 people on public payrolls. Mr. Ford vetoed it, and Congress failed to override.

Congress was going to codify in laws the trendy environmentalism which appeals to an intense minority of its constituents. To that end it passed a tough law restricting strip mining. Again, Mr. Ford vetoed. Congress failed to override.

The third and most intense humiliation for Congress came when the House gutted the energy bill prepared by Representative Al Ullman (D., Ore.)...[which] arrived on the floor with a steep gasoline tax and left with that and all other teeth pulled.

Perhaps most telling is Will's excerpting of a Business Week article on Ford:
Now [Ford's} Administration is preparing a domestic package that seeks to bolster his '76 candidacy with such diffuse issues as a strong defense posture, a tough anticrime program, a drive to aid business through tax reforms that assist in capital formation, and rnoves that would curtail government regulation of industry.

That means that, despite his serious split with conservatives. Ford at this point is running on little more than his basic conservatism. To complicate matters further, many of Ford's deeply felt convictions center on unabashedly probusiness stances that may be deflected by his political opponents into potent anti-consumer positions.

Now, this is not to say that Ford fits the definition of a contemporary conservative, but it is too simple to say he was a "moderate." Nor was he a tax-and-spender. He didn't have "the vision thing" and wasn't a revolutionary conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan. Instead, he was an honorable and gracious man who--much like the silent majority of the time--was a natural, traditional conservative. May he rest in peace.

Offering a Tribute to Ted

Donald B. Hawthorne

Ted was my English teacher in 1971-1972, my junior year in high school. And he was one of four teachers who, over the years, had a profound effect on my life.

A high school classmate told me two days ago that Ted had lung cancer and I called him yesterday for the first time in years.

This post is dedicated to offering a well-deserved tribute to Ted, to highlighting what made him such a special teacher.

It was in his class where I first read many of the great works of American literature. Prior to his class, my general attitude had been that reading literature was an utter waste of time. In particular, he introduced me to and I fell in love with Hemingway's writings.

But what changed my life forever was Ted's famous red ink "bleeding" all over our papers. As a straight A student, I was unaccustomed to receiving many critical comments on my school work. I still remember the shock when I received my first marked-up papers back from him.

Ted reminded me yesterday that he "bled" that red ink because he felt that he owed every student a thoughtful response to their hard work. As our school year together unfolded, I developed a deep appreciation for the advice contained in his written comments as he deconstructed my often pedestrian writing. The picture of our year together, however, would be incomplete if I failed to mention his simultaneous offering of verbal encouragement.

Ted is 81 years old now, having retired in 2005 after achieving the milestone of teaching for 50 years. Think of how many students' lives he was able to touch!

Ted was truly a remarkable teacher and I am only one of many former students who will always owe him a significant debt of gratitude. So, for all the guidance he thoughtfully offered in both red ink and the spoken word some 35 years ago, I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

December 26, 2006

Constructing the Common Knowledge

Justin Katz

Twice in the past few weeks, I've felt compelled to write to the Providence Journal regarding letters that appeared on its opinion page. Both letters dealt with the abstinence versus contraception education debate, and both cited specific "scientific" studies for the pro-contraception side. And in each case, my letter specifically addressed the study in question, explaining why the cited findings were wrong and/or erroneously removed from all-important context.

I've offered those explanations in this space before, so I won't repeat them, but what I find fascinating is that, thus far, the Projo has published neither of my responses, or others making similar points, and it occurs to me that it wouldn't be unreasonable to question whether a "common knowledge" isn't being consciously constructed (or, actually, reinforced). I'm not suggesting that the letters to the editor sections of American newspapers are a significant source of information and social cues in our culture; if anything, they're arguably the final stage of such information and cues through the media cycle. But as such, they illustrate all the more how these factoids — without reference to legitimacy or context — become evidence in an understanding of the world that, for must of us, is felt more than comprehended.

December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Donald B. Hawthorne

From the second chapter of Luke:

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. So all went to be enrolled, each to his own town. And Joseph too went up from Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of David that is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

Merry Christmas to all!

December 24, 2006

Christmas During War (revisited)

Marc Comtois

{Nota Bene: Two years ago I wrote this post offering some thoughts from soldiers and others concerning spending Christmas at war. I still believe it to be relevant today. Merry Christmas.}

With the current confluence of Christmas and our nation at war, I think it appropriate to mention a few noteworthy writings that deal with the topic. First is a recent column written by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo that details the Continental Army's Christmas in 1778. Despite the sense of desparation surrounding the cause of upstart colonies during that Christmas, the small, underfed and under-equipped army weathered that winter at Valley Forge under the leadership of George Washington and went on to help build a nation.

I also offer these poignant words written during the Civil War by Corporal J. C. Williams, Co. B, 14th Vermont Infantry, December 25, 1862:

This is Christmas, and my mind wanders back to that home made lonesome by my absence, while far away from the peace and quietude of civil life to undergo the hardships of the camp, and may be the battle field. I think of the many lives that are endangered, and hope that the time will soon come when peace, with its innumerable blessings, shall once more restore our country to happiness and prosperity. (source)
Equally as poignant are the words of Corporal John Ferguson of the Seaforth Highlanders, who noted the irony of a Christmas scene during World War I
What a sight; little groups of Germans and British extending along the length of our front. Out of the darkness we could hear the laughter and see lighted matches. Where they couldn't talk the language, they made themselves understood by signs, and everyone seemed to be getting on nicely. Here we were laughing and chatting to men whom only a few hours before we were trying to kill. (source)
Finally, I'd like to point you to a piece by W. Thomas Smith Jr. at NRO about the Christmas time Battle of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. (This is of particular significance to me as my great uncle Victor Comtois, a Lieutenant in the infantry (Yankee Division), died on Christmas Eve 1944 in Luxembourg during the pushback.)

With these stories in mind, I wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and hope that we all take the time to remember both the true reason for the season and to remember our brave men and women who find themselves in harm's way at this time. May God Bless America and may He protect our troops.

December 22, 2006

President '08: Looking at the GOP

Marc Comtois

I suppose we at Anchor Rising may as well start talking about the 2008 Presidential Race. For right now, focusing on the GOP side of things, it seems to be a McCain/Giulianni race with a little Romney--and even Gingrich!--movement here and there. McCain's chief appeal is his "independence" and his resolve on issues, whether he agrees with the most in the GOP or not. This makes him a stronger general election candidate than a primary. The same can be said about Giulianni, who has the requisite resolve on terrorism and war and a reputation as someone who will get things done, but his stand on social issues lay outside of the GOP mainstream.

Romney is socially conservative--if only relatively recently--but is an unknown quantity when it comes to foreign affairs and general "toughness." Then there is Gingrich, the man with strong ideologically conservative bona fides, but someone who will probably be unable to overcome his established negative reputation.

To my mind, probably the best (fantasy) candidate happens to be a Bush, Jeb Bush. Too bad about the name...As Ross Douthat explains, Jeb Bush, or someone like him (Catholic, big state governor), would probably be a solid bet to win for the GOP:

Nominating a socially-conservative Catholic, if one is available, has seemed like a no-brainer for the GOP for some time, and I'm slightly baffled why there isn't more effort on the part of the party elders to find one to unite around. It's not just that there's clearly a large bloc of persuadable Catholics that swings back and forth between the GOP and the Democrats depending on the political winds (something that isn't true of, say, Mormons and Evangelicals), it's that Catholicism has been mainstreamed in American society to an extent that Evangelicalism hasn't, really - just compare the number of Catholics in the journalism business to the number of born-again Christians - and so a Catholic candidate is immune to a lot of the slings and arrows that the media has sent George W. Bush's way over the last six years. For the Democrats, of course, nominating a Catholic is a dicier proposition, as Kerry demonstrated, because you run into the whole abortion quagmire. But the GOP doesn't have that problem; most voters already expect that it's going to nominate a pro-lifer of some sort no matter what, and so a Republican Catholic nominee doesn't have to try to split the difference between his Church and his core constituencies.

The trick, of course, is to find the right candidate. Figures like John Engler and Thompson never generated much momentum, for a variety of reasons, and while everyone swooned over Tom Ridge, he was pro-choice, which defeated the purpose, and of course he turned out to be a disaster on the national stage...Sam Brownback, of course, technically fits the bill (and may be thinking of his candidacy along these lines) but he's a convert, which is less than ideal, and a convert from an Evangelical culture that's he's still deeply enmeshed in, which is definitely less than ideal. My gut is that most Americans consider conversions kind of weird in general, which is one of the reasons that Evangelicalism is regarded with suspicion by the rest of American Christendom - it's a tradition that basically requires conversion, if only of the "Jesus changed my heart" variety. If you're going to convert and then run for President, I think's better to have done it for reasons that the lukewarmly religious understand, like the fact that your wife is a Catholic - which, of course, brings us to the most ideal Catholic Republican candidate of them all. Alas, Jeb . . .

There, now that I've gone on the record about who I'd like to see run (Jeb Bush), I'll focus from here on out on the actual candidates.

Understanding the Last-Minute Christmas Shopper

Carroll Andrew Morse

I predict utter mayhem -- even more so than usual – at the last-minute Christmas shopping scene this year. Certain insights I have into the mind of the last-minute shopper lead me to this prediction.

Here’s how (ahem, I’ve heard) the last minute shopper approaches the Christmas season. Sometime around Thanksgiving, he or she looks at the calendar and locks onto the last full weekend before Christmas day. The last-minuter then says to himself, “that’s when I need to finish my shopping by”.

Unfortunately, last-minute shoppers are not necessarily good shoppers. They’re not terribly efficient. They tend to wander a bit. They get easily distracted by things like TCBY stands at the Providence Place Mall. The result is that it takes them more time than they think it will to do their shopping. They can’t easily accomplish everything they need to in a single weekend.

Now, when Christmas falls on a Friday, the problem is not so bad. Shoppers unable to complete their missions on the last pre-Christmas weekend still have four days to spread themselves out over, so no one day of the final week before Christmas will be too bad.

It’s a little more difficult when Christmas falls on a Wednesday. Last minute shoppers have just two days of bonus time to pack themselves into.

But when Christmas falls on a Monday, there is no built-in margin for error, no last few weekdays to act as a safety valve. This means all of last minute shoppers, trying to do all of their shopping, for all of their friends and relatives, in just two days. The density of shoppers spikes. Madness rules the days.

In a marginally related announcement, my blogging will probably be light for the next day or two…

Re: Another One Bites the Dust

Justin Katz

Perhaps it's fanciful of me to wonder, but could Joe Scott's jumping parties be an indication that Republican "double agents" and Democrats-at-heart sense change in the minority air? When the Big Bad Right-Wing Extremists knock on the door, Republican liberals may feel more comfortable departing the straw house that is the RI GOP.

Little RINO, little RINO, let me in...

December 21, 2006

The Pursuit of Happyness

Donald B. Hawthorne

Yesterday we went to see the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness, based on Christopher Gardner's book of the same name.

I didn't know anything about the movie before viewing it or know anything about Gardner until the end of the movie, including that it was based on his life story.

Today, I found this interview with Gardner:

Washington Technology [WT]: When you were one of the working homeless in San Francisco, did you have hope that you would get out of the situation?

Gardner: We were homeless, we were not hopeless. There's a world of difference...

WT: To what do you attribute your rise to the top?

Gardner: My mother...I chose to embrace the "spiritual genetics" of my mom. We all understand genetics. You get your eyes from your dad, your mom's nose, there's nothing you can do about that. But your spiritual genetics you can choose, pick, embrace and commit to. That's what I did.

Though my mom had too many of her own dreams denied, deferred and destroyed, she instilled in me that I could have dreams. And not just have dreams but had a responsibility to make them reality...

...But I made a commitment to be world class at something.

WT: What important lessons have you've learned from your life experience?

Gardner: Man, I'm still learning. One is: The cavalry ain't coming. You've got to do this yourself...Another very important lesson is that baby steps count, too. As long as you are going forward. You add them all up, and one day you look back and you'll be surprised at where you might get to.

WT: What advice would you give people who are just starting out or who are trying to get ahead under difficult circumstances like those you experienced?

Gardner: Do something that you love. Whatever you're going to do is going to be tough enough. Find something that gets you so excited that the sun can't come up early enough in the morning because you want to go do your thing.

And you have to be bold because there will be folks who will say 'you can't' or 'you shouldn't' or 'why'? There is a certain boldness to saying 'Well, I really don't want to be a high-powered corporate lawyer. I'm really passionate about painting.'

One thing I do say to folks — and I don't put myself out here as somebody who has all the answers — but I do state the obvious when I say that no matter how much money is involved or no matter how easy it is for you to do, if you're not happy, you are nothing more than a slave to your talent and money. So be happy.

...You have to be committed, and you have to find something that you are passionate about.

And forget about money. I've learned that money is the least significant aspect of wealth. Do something that makes you happy and makes you feel good about yourself. Do something that makes you feel your work is significant and meaningful. If you just want to make money, that's a whole different trip. I can't help you with that.

WT: How does it feel having a film being made about your life experience?

Gardner: I'll tell you when I wake up. I now know the definition of surreal. On the first day of filming, I didn't know where they were filming. They took me to 555 California St., the Bank of America world headquarters building. At times when I was homeless, I used to sleep in that building. Nobody knew. I never told that to the writers and never discussed it with the producers.

Another day filming. We're going to film in Golden Gate Park. We're filming in a place where I used to take my son to teach him how to fly a kite. We had nothing else to do, no other form of entertainment, no money. I told no one that...

WT: What do you hope that people take away from your book and the film?

Gardner: The film is going to focus on one year of my life. That year being the toughest, darkest, scariest year of my life. Living with a baby tied on my back, trying to work. It can be done. But you have to make it happen. And no matter what, you have to cling to it like it's life itself, if that's what you really want to do.

WT: Do you think that people who make it to the top have an obligation to mentor others?

Gardner: I do it [but], not out of a sense of obligation. I went to some very successful business people when I was trying to open the doors of my company, and none of them would give me the time of day. I made a promise to myself and to God. I said, 'God, if you ever let me get to a certain level, I am not going to be like that.'

Just like anybody else, you've only got so many hours in a day, but as far as being available and accessible and have these relationships developing, I did something a number of years ago. I got involved with a program in Chicago that was designed to help young people get internships in the financial services business and learn the business at the exchanges, insurance companies, banks, money management firms, brokers.

The coolest thing in the world is walking up the street in Chicago, New York or San Francisco and having someone say 'Hey, you might not remember me, but thank you for helping me get in the business.'

WT: So that was a way for you to give back something?

Gardner: You know how mountains get moved? Everyone who can move a couple [of mountains], move a couple. Those who can move rocks, move rocks. Those who can move boulders, move boulders. That's how mountains get moved. If every one of us did everything we could, I believe we would be in a different world.

For more on Thomas Jefferson's ideas about the pursuit of happiness and the American Founding, go here and here.

Another One Bites the Dust

Carroll Andrew Morse

Bill Rappleye of WJAR-TV (NBC 10) is reporting that State Representative Joseph Scott (Charlestown/Exeter/Richmond) is leaving the Republican party and joining the Democrats.

Jeff Deckman’s Five Point Plan for Rebuilding the RI GOP

Carroll Andrew Morse

In Tuesday’s Projo, former Rhode Island GOP Executive Director Jeff Deckman proposed a five-point plan for rebuiliding the Republican Party in Rhode Island (h/t SusanD)…

  • Step One: The governor must take a strong leadership role in the re-organization of the party just as he did in his first two years in office.
  • Step Two: Recruit a chairman who understands the complexities of organizational design and the human dynamics that affect them.
  • Step Three: Build the organization bi-directionally — from the top down and from the grass-roots level up.
  • Step Four: Build coalitions with taxpayer groups and other reform-minded organizations.
  • Step Five: Focus the resources.
Mr. Deckman goes into specifics about each recommendation in his article.

‘Tis the Season For…

Carroll Andrew Morse

…year-in-review articles. Ian Donnis files his entry in this week’s Providence Phoenix

Imagine a year when the Narragansett Indians were energetically pitching a casino, cynical Rhode Islanders had plenty of reason to reinforce their jaundiced views, and state house Democrats maintained the upper hand over hapless Republican opponents without even breaking a sweat....

Yet whether the Dems’ politically advantageous position enables the state to deal any more effectively with its most serious problems, including a deficit pegged at more than $100 million, not to mention a long-term structural deficit and the perpetual to need to create more good jobs, remains to be seen.

December 20, 2006

Gambling Reservation

Marc Comtois

According to ProJo's 7to7 Blog:

The Narragansett Indian tribe is pursuing plans to build a slot parlor on its lands in Charlestown and has approached Rhode Island’s Congressional leaders about reversing a federal law that would block their efforts.

“We don’t want table games. We don’t want roulette. We want what the state has,” Chief Sachem Matthew Thomas said.

Thomas has requested a meeting with members of the state delegation about the Chafee amendment, a 1996 law that introduced by U.S. Senator John Chafee that bars the tribe from federal Indian gaming privileges on its 1,800 acres. {Hyperlinks added by me.}

In 1998, the Federal Court of Appeals upheld the Chafee Amendment, leaving the tribe no other option but to seek it's revocation. I'm not opposed to the Narragansetts having a casino on their land. It's their sovereign right, after all. Yes, I realize they bargained away some of that sovereignty, but they have every right to redress that mistake. And if they can get someone in the RI delegation to overturn the "Chafee Amendment," then more power to them.

Education Reform Proposals from the "New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce"

Carroll Andrew Morse

Time magazine’s cover story announcing the idiosyncratic choice of “You” as the 2006 Person of the Year is receiving the requisite amount of media and water cooler attention. However, the Time cover story on education reform from the previous week contains more ideas of substance likely to be remembered in the long run. In its reporting, Time summarized a number of recommendations put forth by a body called The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce. (I wonder what happened to the old commission?)

The first recommendation is quite radical…

  • Most kids should finish high-school-level work by age 16 and be prepared to tackle college or trade-oriented higher education. The commission proposes that the states introduce State Board Examinations, more rigorous and more thorough than most of today's state tests. Once a child passes the state exam — at 16, 17 or whenever — they could move on to higher ed. This change, the commission estimates, would free up some $60 billion in schools funds to be invested more wisely.
The next two recommendations have been around for a while, but are only slowly being tried due to opposition from, well, let’s call them “entrenched interests” (in other words, it’s not just the unions blocking these measures; municipal bureaucracies don’t want any big changes either)…
  • To attract high-caliber people into the teaching profession, a new career ladder should be introduced that raises pay for new teachers and includes rising rungs of merit pay. The report proposes to pay for these changes by phasing out today's lavish teacher retirement packages and moving toward benefits that more closely match those in private industry.
  • To introduce more competition, diversity and dynamism to the nation's schools, the commission proposes that schools be run by independent contractors — in some cases groups of teachers — who agree to meet requirements set and measured by the district or else lose the contract. Parents would choose the school their child attends.
After that, disappointingly, we hit the standard euphemism for raising taxes and/or cutting programs in communities with good school systems in order to further subsidize communities with failing school systems…
  • To equalize resources between rich and poor communities, the report recommends that school districts be directly funded by the state, receiving funds according to the needs of their student populations rather than the property taxes of the local community.
And two more recommendations round out the set…
  • All states would make high-quality pre-kindergarten programs available to all.
  • To enable workers of all ages to adapt to a rapidly evolving economy, the federal government would create tax-protected "personal competitiveness accounts" — "a G.I. Bill for our times," in the words of the report — that could be drawn upon for education and training at any point in life. At birth, the feds would deposit $500 per child into the account.
With it's focus on actual education reform, the New Commission program is the diametric opposite of the plans put forth by organizations like the National Education Association of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals who assert that in preparing the next generation for the future, the existing structure of public education needs little change and that education reform should be less of a priority than increasing spending on non-educational social services programs. With different factions beginning from such polar opposites, the question is how do we prevent education reform (if it hasn’t already) from following the path of energy policy reform – something oft-talked about where nothing serious is ever done?

Finally, let me express one concern about the New Commission. This is how Time described its composition...

The commission of heavyweights included four former cabinet secretaries, the president of the American Manufacturers Association, the chancellor of the California State University system, executives from Viacom Inc. and Lucent Technologies, and other government and education leaders.
Assuming that description is accurate, then the interests of teachers, business, and public bureaucracies all seem to have been well represented in the New Commission's work. But who was there to represent the interests of parents and students?

December 19, 2006

Autoesteemism in the Classroom

Justin Katz

In a comment to my post on sex education, Rhody points to another of those differences of understanding between conservatives and liberals that seem nigh impossible to resolve:

I think the best way to discourage sex before marriage is building kids' self-esteem and letting them know they don't have to give it up to feel good about themselves. And the same lesson can be applied to gay teens, too.

But "self-esteem" seems to be considered just as dirty a word in many conservative circles as "masturbation."

I'd say that "self-esteem" — that is, self-esteem trapped in quotation marks, as a buzzword — is rightly a dirty word among conservatives, because it indicates a mushy make-adults-feel-good dictum that the metaphorical fat kid in the class should never feel badly about himself. A more conservative approach toward a similar end would be for teachers, and other adults concerned about a particular student, to put forward the additional effort to help the child achieve such things as make him deserving of self-esteem. The difference is between banning competition so that nobody can lose and acknowledging that the possibility of loss is what gives value to success. Failure is never absolute, only context-specific, spurring the loser to find ways in which to succeed, perhaps by choosing other areas of competition.

But back to sex.

We're at an enigmatic time in cultural history, indeed, if the (I daresay) antiquated notion that young girls are consenting to sex in order, simply, to prove that they are desirable to males can coexist with a conviction that any sexual orientation is tangibly equivalent to any other (as for the purposes of defining marriage). If there is no substantive differentiation to be made between male-female sexual relationships and, say, male-male sexual relationships, then there is no justification for Rhody's sexist imagery when he muses that it might be better if "sexual excess went into towels instead of teenage girls." The construction exhibits an undeniably phallocentric understanding of who is ceding and who is claiming power.

It can no longer be taken for granted that girls, much less boys, believe that they are giving something up when they consent to premarital — even prematriculational — sex. The non-contingent "self-esteem" in the liberal arsenal does not apply, because liberals are defining sex as something natural and ordinary for both genders to pursue and perform, without requiring any substantial proof of worthiness on the part of potential partners (e.g., marital commitment).

For conservatives, in contrast, human worth is intrinsic, but self-esteem is contingent upon our assent to a higher behavioral norm than that expressed, for example, by the safe-sex-education assumption that abstinence is unrealistic. In religious terms, we are all of equal worth in the eyes of God, but the value that we perceive ourselves to have to Him is contingent upon our willingness to place our relationship with Him (especially through self-improvement) above our biological urges.

It isn't that children have something so valuable that we must puff up their self-esteem in order to enable them to hold on to it. Rather, by insisting that they not participate in the objectification inherent in teenage sexual desire, that they treat sex as something more than the mutual gratification of human objects, we teach them that they can achieve a state of being that justifies their holding themselves in high regard.

The Rhode Island Small Business Healthcare Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

In today’s Projo, Felice J. Freyer describes a new small business/individual health insurance blueprint unveiled yesterday by the Rhode Island Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner

Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island and UnitedHealthcare of New England are required, starting in May, to offer a “wellness health benefit plan” to individuals and businesses with 50 or fewer employees. The plan has to meet the state’s criteria and the average premium can’t exceed 10 percent of the average Rhode Island wage....

The new plan’s deductible will be about $500, with out-of-pocket costs capped at $3,000 — provided the enrollee signs a pledge promising to choose a primary-care physician, undergo a health-risk appraisal, either maintain a healthy weight or participate in weight-management programs, either remain smoke-free or participate in smoking cessation programs, and participate in disease-management programs if applicable. In the first year, subscribers will be asked just to promise these things; in the second year, they will have to prove participation.

Someone who didn’t want to sign such a pledge could still buy the plan but he or she would face a $3,000 deductible and out-of-pocket costs up to $6,000 a year.

The program's concepts are stunningly unoriginal, consisting of nothing more than…
  1. Price controls on the amount insurance companies can charge employees of small businesses, and
  2. Government regulation of individual behavior that will hopefully lead to individuals consuming less insurance.
Why didn’t someone think of this before; we can prevent healthcare costs from rising just by having the state order them to stop rising!

Seriously, there are at least 3 problems with the plan…

  1. A fixed-price formula divorced from actual costs of providing healthcare could eventually drive health insurers out of the state. There is recent precedent for this. An irrational regulatory structure forced most workers’ compensation insurers to pull out of Rhode Island in the early 1990s because they were required to pay out more money than pricing regulations allowed them to collect. There is no reason that the same thing couldn't eventually happen to health insurance.
  2. The partcular mechanism for implementing the “wellness” program sets a dangerous precedent. It is wrong for government to use its power to demand that interaction between individuals occur only on the government's terms. It is not hard to imagine a future where, for example, attendance at the sex-education program of the government's choice, chosen with as much political input as medical input, is made a pre-requisite of getting lower insurance rates on a family plan. (I chose the sex-education example because liberals, conservatives and everyone in-between should be able to envision a potential problem here.)
  3. Finally, it will never make sense to pay for “wellness” programs through an insurance-type system. Insurance assumes that many people pay into a pool of money, while only a few take monies out to pay for unexpected emergencies. But usage of "wellness" care will not be occurring on an infrequent, emergency basis. Ideally, the wellness program will be utilized by many people at regular intervals. This means that paying for wellness care through an insurance program will be always be less cost-effective than paying doctors for wellness care directly, sans any middleman. (Of course, if people start paying their doctors directly, they will never develop a sense that their visits to a doctor are a government-provided entitlement, making the government seem a little less powerful, creating an impression that strong-government advocates would prefer to avoid.)
This plan is an example of the government’s ability to take separate ideas which have individual merit and ruin them by putting them together in a way that focuses on increasing bureaucratic power rather than creating effective public policy. A better implementation of the "wellness" concept in the Rhode Island plan would be...
  1. Implementing some sort of community rating system, ala the Wyden plan, so people can buy insurance independent of their employer,
  2. Modifying the community rating system so that insurers can modify their rates based on certain types of behavior (participating in a wellness program, not smoking, etc.), and
  3. Creating health-savings accounts that people can use to pay for their routine and “wellness” care.
Through this set of proposals, you can provide wellness incentives and get individuals thinking about their own care, without invoking a government threat to deny medical access to those who do not behave "correctly".

We Don't Want No Civil War

Marc Comtois

When two factions (or more) within one nation decide to contend with each other with bullets and bombs instead of through the political process, we are told that there is a civil war. At least, that's the case in Iraq. Now if, say, two factions (Hamas and Fatah) in, say, the Palestinian territory also resort to the bullets and bombs approach to negotiation...well, it's not quite a civil war. (How could it be? After all, the U.S. isn't "occupying" their country). No, that fighting is just "gunbattles" and "clashes." And even though "[t]he fighting has renewed fears of civil war in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank," well, it isn't really a Civil War yet. (Via Instapundit)

December 18, 2006

Children of "Murphy Browns" Paying the Price

Marc Comtois

Dan Quayle was taken to task many years ago for his "Murphy Brown" speech, in which he said:

Ultimately however, marriage is a moral issue that requires cultural consensus, and the use of social sanctions. Bearing babies irresponsibly is, simply, wrong. Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this.

It doesn't help matters when prime time TV has Murphy Brown - a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid, professional woman - mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another "lifestyle choice."

I know it is not fashionable to talk about moral values, but we need to do it. Even though our cultural leaders in Hollywood; network TV, the national newspapers routinely jeer at them, I think that most of us in , this room know that some things are good, and other things are wrong...It's time to talk again about family, hard work, integrity and personal responsibility. We cannot be embarrassed out of our belief that two parents, married to each other, are better in most cases for children than one.

As Quayle said, we social conservative are often pooh-poohed as moralizing busy-bodies. But there's a reason why we care about such things as promoting traditional families. No matter that we can all point to specific, acute examples of imperfect "traditional" families--and there is no "perfect" family--conservatives believe that the basis for a sound family is having a parent of either sex. Dan Quayle voiced those beliefs 14 years ago and since then, many people--both liberal and conservative--have conceded that Quayle was right:
Ten years later, most anyone involved in child development agrees that two parents are preferable. He beamed while pointing out a recent New York Times headline that read "The Controversial Truth: Two-Parent Families Are Better."

In 1992, discussing illegitimacy was taboo. Most politicians had steered clear of the subject since 1965, when a then-obscure assistant secretary of labor by the name of Daniel Patrick Moynihan released a report linking poverty among black children to the prevalence of out-of-wedlock births. The report was denounced, and Moynihan was labeled a racist.

During the 1990s, the climate changed.

Due to a push by conservatives -- and some liberals -- and to a growing body of research, the subject of illegitimacy became legitimate.

Press coverage of the topic grew. And, as welfare reform emerged as a major policy priority in Congress, Democrats and Republicans agreed that the government needed to take concrete steps to reduce out-of-wedlock births. A 1993 Atlantic magazine cover story was titled "Dan Quayle Was Right." And later that year, Clinton declared, "I believe the country would be a lot better off if children were born to married couples."

"We finally removed the gag," says Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Rector has helped draft many family-formation provisions of Republican welfare reform bills in Congress. In the 1996 federal welfare reform law, Congress approved federal funding for sexual-abstinence programs and a bonus to states that reduce their ratios of out-of-wedlock births

Now, all of this expert opinion is fine and dandy, but a new set of voices is making themselves heard. The kids who have lived through the experience. Katrina Clark was one of those kids:
When she was 32, my mother -- single, and worried that she might never marry and have a family -- allowed a doctor wearing rubber gloves to inject a syringe of sperm from an unknown man into her uterus so that she could have a baby. I am the result: a donor-conceived child.

And for a while, I was pretty angry about it.

I was angry at the idea that where donor conception is concerned, everyone focuses on the "parents" -- the adults who can make choices about their own lives. The recipient gets sympathy for wanting to have a child. The donor gets a guarantee of anonymity and absolution from any responsibility for the offspring of his "donation." As long as these adults are happy, then donor conception is a success, right?

Not so. The children born of these transactions are people, too. Those of us in the first documented generation of donor babies -- conceived in the late 1980s and early '90s, when sperm banks became more common and donor insemination began to flourish -- are coming of age, and we have something to say.

I'm here to tell you that emotionally, many of us are not keeping up. We didn't ask to be born into this situation, with its limitations and confusion. It's hypocritical of parents and medical professionals to assume that biological roots won't matter to the "products" of the cryobanks' service, when the longing for a biological relationship is what brings customers to the banks in the first place.

We offspring are recognizing the right that was stripped from us at birth -- the right to know who both our parents are. {Emphasis mine.}

Clark continues, explaining the void left in her life by not having a father, even to the extent that, while her friends could get mad at their fathers for leaving them through divorce or infidelity, she didn't even have that option. Then:

When my mother eventually got married, I didn't get along with her husband. For so long, it had been just the two of us, my mom and I, and now I felt like the odd girl out. When she and I quarreled, this new man in our lives took to interjecting his opinion, and I didn't like that. One day, I lost my composure and screamed that he had no authority over me, that he wasn't my father -- because I didn't have one.

That was when the emptiness came over me. I realized that I am, in a sense, a freak. I really, truly would never have a dad. I finally understood what it meant to be donor-conceived, and I hated it.

Eventually, largely because she was afraid of not knowing valuable medical history, she went looking for her donor and was quickly rewarded by finding him. This quick match of her to her donor is rare, as she found out while discussing her situation with other sperm bank kids. She imparts to us what she has learned of the experiences of these other offspring:
My heart went out to those others, especially after I participated in a couple of online groups. When I read some of the mothers' thoughts about their choice for conception, it made me feel degraded to nothing more than a vial of frozen sperm. It seemed to me that most of the mothers and donors give little thought to the feelings of the children who would result from their actions. It's not so much that they're coldhearted as that they don't consider what the children might think once they grow up.

Those of us created with donated sperm won't stay bubbly babies forever. We're all going to grow into adults and form opinions about the decision to bring us into the world in a way that deprives us of the basic right to know where we came from, what our history is and who both our parents are...

The conclusion to her piece is heartwrenching.
As relief about my own situation has come to me, I've talked freely and regularly about being donor-conceived, in public and in private. In the beginning, I also talked about it a lot with my biological father. After a bit, though, I noticed that his enthusiasm for our developing relationship seemed to be waning. When I told him of my suspicion, he confirmed that he was tired of "this whole sperm-donor thing." The irony stings me more each time I think of him saying that. The very thing that brought us together was pushing us in opposite directions.

Even though I've only recently come into contact with him, I wouldn't be able to just suck it up if he stopped communicating with me. There's still so much I want to know. I want to know him. I want to know his family. I'm certain he has no idea how big a role he has played in my life despite his absence -- or because of his absence. If I can't be too attached to him as my father, I'll still always be attached to the feeling I now have of having a father.

I feel more whole now than I ever have. I love our conversations, even the most trivial ones. I don't love him, and I don't know if I ever will, but I care about him a lot.

Now that he knows I exist, I'm okay if he doesn't care for me in the same way. But I hope he at least thinks of me sometimes.

Me too.

December 17, 2006

Abstinence (If) Only Education

Justin Katz

As it happened, the Monday following a weekend during which my interest was piqued by a study making claims about, as the title states, "Explaining Recent Declines in Adolescent Pregnancy in the United States: The Contribution of Abstinence and Improved Contraceptive Use," Rhode Island Education Commissioner Peter McWalters announced that a particular abstinence-only curriculum had been approved for use in Rhode Island schools. That such a thing should be considered newsworthy illustrates how misleading it is to conduct effectiveness studies as if abstinence-only programs are broadly in effect. The Guttmacher Institute–affiliated authors of the "Recent Declines" study conclude:

Abstinence promotion is a worthwhile goal, particularly among younger teenagers; however, the scientific evidence shows that, in itself, it is insufficient to help adolescents prevent unintended pregnancies. The current emphasis of US domestic and global policies, which stress abstinence-only sex education to the exclusion of accurate information on contraception, is misguided. Similar approaches should not be adopted by other nations.

Given the paucity of broad and sustained abstinence programs, however, one might be justified in concluding that the obvious effectiveness of abstinence wholly accounts — without the benefit of any educational curricula at all — for the 6.4% decrease in teenage girls who'd recently had sex at the time of the Dept. of Health and Human Services' 2002 National Survey of Family Growth (PDF), as compared with the 1995 iteration (PDF), and the 9.5% decrease in teenage girls who'd ever had sex. In light of the overwhelmingly "safe-sex" approach of public school sex-ed programs and the sex-saturation of youth culture, it might be that abstinence's contribution is actually astounding, even were the study correct that, as the news hook alludes, "only 14 per cent of the drop [in teenage pregnancies] amongst 15- to 19-year-olds was linked to reduced sexual activity."

Of course, to evaluate the study's claims, one must understand what, precisely, is being said, and as a point of fact, it doesn't claim that "86 per cent of the decline in teenage pregnancy was due to improved use of contraception." Rather, the author-created "contraceptive risk index" (CRI) contributed 86% of the change in the author-created "pregnancy risk index" (PRI). The emphasis on the manufactured nature of these statistics is key, because closer inspection reveals that the authors aren't, in fact, measuring what they claim to be measuring.

In essence, the CRI reflects the effectiveness of sexually active teen girls' contraception; the PRI multiples that times the percentage of girls having sex. The 14% value is merely the effect of fewer girls' having sex on that last multiplication, which, as is proven when the findings lead to headlines claiming that "success of abstinence in cutting teen pregnancies is a 'myth,'" wildly distorts the reality. Interested readers can refer to the Addendum in the extended entry of this post for my mathematical proof, but the upshot is that the Guttmacher study fails to distill the effects of abstinence from the effects of contraception. In other words, the contraception side of the formula actually compounds improvements in contraception with improvements in abstinence.

More important is the pervasive mindset revealed in the fact that the authors don't approach saying "no" as if it were a form of birth control. The force behind opposition to abstinence-only programs, as habitually exhibited by the ACLU, for one, is a cultural movement that does not really believe that the safest, healthiest sex occurs within marriage; it believes that restricting sex to lifelong monogamous relationships is unrealistic and, therefore, that the act of setting such expectations is, itself, a central source of the harm that can come from sex. It believes that contraceptives and medicine will address diseases, with abortion culling any human lives with the audacity to mistake their creation as the actual purpose for sex. If the stigma attached to deviant and/or promiscuous sexual acts by us scolds can be stamped out, then humankind will be free to experience the sheer joys of our sexual essence.

Since this commentary is on the level of movements, it will not apply to any given individual, of course. Most of those who subscribe to the safe-sex, pro-abortion, anti-religion-in-the-public-square platform do so not out of intellectual conviction, but out of a vague dislike of authority, an affinity for sex, and a disinterest in complicated consideration of consequences more than one step removed from the policies that they end up espousing. For some portion, such as Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island affiliate of the ACLU, when he argues that teaching "abstinence until marriage" can "marginalize" homosexual students, equivalence between homosexual and heterosexual sex allows elision of the connection between sex and procreation, a goal for which the movement has long been striving.

That goal, as the movement has progressed and adapted to a society that is increasingly uneasy with its destination, has found its fruition in the cause of same-sex marriage. If marriage can be defined without reference to procreation, it can become merely another context in which to have intimate relations, only with the variations and trappings of marriage, and as such, it will cease to be the safest, healthiest context for sex. (Perhaps this is an example of progressives' handling the present as if it ought to conform with a future that they envision.)

The dividing line across this broad, rambling series of topics is between those who believe that sex is a behavior and those who believe that it is an activity. For one side, the goal is teaching children how to be responsible sexual beings; for the other, it is teaching them how to have sex safely. Those of a conservative bent will spot instantly the operative phrase — the fatal flaw — of the latter: "teaching them how to have sex." But rather than recoil from such instruction, we ought to absorb the correctly assessed need to openly address the minefield that puberty requires the young to cross.

What proponents of safe-sex education fail to consider — perhaps deliberately — is that abstinence education does not so much entail the provision of information (it's pretty straightforward, really) as the expression of encouragement. It's ridiculous on its face to offer analysis of five-hour programs' effects on the long-term lives of children. Safe-sex education, on the other hand, provides information — to be learned — on how to do particular things. Thus, the short-term curriculum format is more likely to have measurable results with such an approach. Of course, one of those results seems likely to be an interest in the things that the children now know how to do. (I recall the sense of passing opportunities imparted by the unused condom handed to me in a high school classroom, branding its message on the leather of my wallet.)

Too often, in imparting such knowledge, decreases in sexual activity — versus decreases in STDs and pregnancies — are not treated as a continual goal. Rather, they are handled as temperance might be among alcoholics in a land with no non-alcoholic beverages but water — instructing the audience to fail well, rather than to recover. If abstinence were handled, intellectually, as a form of contraception, then there wouldn't appear to be this supposedly unrealistic all-or-nothing religious/moral statement of waiting until marriage.

The reason the unbelievable 14:86 ratio in the Guttmacher study caught my interest is that I firmly believe that safe-sex education encourages sex, and that it therefore carries an inherently greater risk of pregnancy, especially as comfort levels increase. In contrast, it seems to me that truly encouraging abstinence could make those who slip feel more pressure to do so safely. The objective, for those who would formulate an optimal policy for public education, should be frank discussion of the biology — and the options — surrounding sex, but consistently and persistently within a context encouraging abstinence.

Studies suggest the counterintuitive finding that even a single pledge of abstinence can have significant effects on teenagers' behavior. Imagine the results were adults to succeed in overcoming the failure of imagination and personal restraint that prevents them from offering children a mature and maturely sustained vision of their sexuality.

When analyzing which behavior category (abstinence or contraception) contributed more to changes in the PRI, the study's calculations heavily favor the CRI side of the measure, which is why the attributions (14% and 86%) come out so lopsided, despite improvements on both counts.

Because, as the authors are hopefully now learning, percentages have a tendency to distract one from the actual calculations in effect, consider the analysis in fractions, instead. If we designate "n" for the total survey population, then the number of girls who had sex within the three months prior to the study ("sexually active" girls) can be represented as follows:

And the number of sexually active girls using a particular form of birth control can be represented thus:

Therefore, the CRI is calculated thus (with 1/F representing the failure rate for the particular form of birth control):

Finally, the PRI renders thus:

As you can see, a decrease in sexual activity benefits both factors, whereas a decrease in contraceptive risk benefits only the CRI. A decrease in both compounds the benefit to the CRI side.

(As I hope would go without saying, I welcome corrections to my rusty algebra.)

December 16, 2006

How come every time the Phoenix does a Web Redesign…

Carroll Andrew Morse

…they make the Providence section just a little harder to find? Are you paying attention, Adam Reilly of the Boston Phoenix? Here’s at least one blogger encouraging an established media organization to make its web content a little more visible to help facilitate an open and robust civic discussion between old media, new media, and readers. Give people the chance to spot Ian Donnis’ latest, without having to click through two words of 8-point text, rendered in a powder blue font against a white background, buried in the middle of the Phoenix’s crowded top-level page.

Also, the new web design of the Projo is not great. News stories should have a much more prominent position on the website of a newspaper.

And if the folks at the the Pawtucket Times, the Kent County Daily Times, the Warwick Daily Times and most of the other Journal Register newspapers could contact the staff of the Woonsocket Call to learn how they mastered the technique of inserting blank space between paragraphs, that would be nice too.

December 15, 2006

Carcieri Confirms: Morgan Out as RI GOP Head

Marc Comtois


During his interview with WPRO's Dan Yorke last night (audio not up yet), Governor Carcieri confirmed that current Rhode Island Republican Party Chair Patricia Morgan would be stepping aside. Let the speculation begin.

UPDATE: ProJo 7to7 confirms:

Patricia Morgan said today that she won't seek another term as the head of the state Republican Party.

"I really have enjoyed being a chairman," Morgan said, noting that she believes she's the longest-serving GOP leader in state history. "It's been challenging at times, it’s been frustrating, but I do think I’ve made a difference – and that’s my legacy to the party."

The decision to step down, Morgan said, was made "in concert with the governor" during a closed-door meeting at the State House last Friday.

By tradition, Governor Carcieri would make the decision on whether Morgan, 56, should stay or whether the GOP should turn elsewhere for leadership as it tries to rebound from widespread losses in the November elections.

In an interview with The Journal last month, Morgan said she would like to be reappointed to the post she held for the past four years. Today, she refused to say why she changed her mind.

"It's time to move on," she said. "I loved being chairman, I loved meeting all the people and helping to build the organization. It’s been a great experience. But maybe it’s time to let someone else have that experience."

Morgan will lead the Rhode Island Republican Party until March, when the state party will elect a new chairman.

WPRO is reporting this as well. Apparently, Gov. Carcieri said that Morgan came to him to offer her resignation, something that Morgan wouldn't confirm to WPRO. Interesting.

Preventing Point Street Overpass Cost Overruns: A Lesson in the Legislature's Minority-Sponored-Bill-Auto-Table-Function

Marc Comtois

The ProJo reports that Warwick State Rep. Peter Ginaitt is upset about cost overruns on the Point Street overpass project.

Ginaitt said he was troubled by a Dec. 4 article in The Providence Journal reporting that the overpass project’s cost has grown more than 75 percent and that it is more than two years late. He demanded an explanation from James R. Capaldi, director of the state Department of Transportation.

Dana Nolfe, the DOT’s communications director, said that Capaldi met with Ginaitt Wednesday and that the department will explain the project’s background to him in writing.

“We need to tighten the rules on the construction industry,” Ginaitt said, perhaps by adding standards to make sure the low bidder for a project can build it on time and within budget.

In his press release on the matter, Ginaitt further explains:
Besides requesting a full accounting of this issue from Director Capaldi, Representative Ginaitt urged the DOT chief “to have a process in place to evaluate these projects more thoroughly to avoid such a situation, and to rebuild the confidence of the taxpayers to secure their support for years to come.”
But as ProJo reporter Bruce Landis explains, the idea of having such a "process in place" is not a new one:
Legislation that would have imposed federal standards on state contracting and required that the state take contractors’ past performance into account in awarding contracts were filed by Republicans in both houses of the Democratic-dominated General Assembly last legislative session, but both bills died.
For example, House Minority Leader Robert Watson submitted H7681, AN ACT RELATING TO PUBLIC PROPERTY AND WORKS -- STATE PURCHASES, to the House Transportation Committee in February of this year. The act would have "provide[d] that state purchasing laws are consistent with laws applicable to federal funding sources, and that contracts are awarded on the basis of specific standards of responsibility." In short, "low bidder" would be only one of the criteria, and not necessarily the most important. The ability to perform the work on time and within budget would be just as important. Watson's bill was referred to the House Finance committee and "Scheduled for hearing and/or consideration" on 05/17/2006.

Guess what? It got considered right off the edge of the table. Such is the fate of minority-sponsored legislation in a one party state. Maybe this year, should Rep. Watson re-submit the legislation, Rep. Ginaitt and some of his fellow Democrats will back the measure, or at least help get it out of committee.

December 14, 2006

Senator Ron Wyden's Universal Health Coverage Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon has announced a universal health coverage plan that he intends to introduce in Congress next year. Here’s how the Los Angeles Times describes it…

Wyden's plan would require employers to continue contributing toward the cost of health coverage, but it would get them out the business of directly providing insurance and limit their exposure to double-digit annual inflation in healthcare costs.

In the first two years of the plan, employers who now provide coverage would be required to directly pay workers what they were spending on insurance.

It sounds like free marketers and libertarians might actually be able to rally around the Wyden plan in years one and two. However, for some reason, after year two, Senator Wyden wants to stick employers back in between individuals and their health insurance…
Thereafter, most companies would pay the government a healthcare contribution that resembles a payroll tax.
If you can successfully decouple insurance from the workplace for two years, then why does it need to be recoupled at a later date? The payroll-tax provision sounds more like something intended to make the government’s tax collection job easier, or to increase government influence over the healthcare choices that individuals make or, if you really want to be cynical, to make people believe that government is giving them something for free, when they are really buying it with their own hard-earned money, more than it does something intended to improve the delivery of healthcare.

Regardless of that concern, the idea of giving people the resources they need to choose their own health insurance, rather than having employers choose their insurance for them, is a solid starting point. Here's the rest of the outline of Senator Wyden's plan, according to the Times

Using the money from their employers, individuals would be required to purchase private insurance policies through state purchasing pools. Benefits would be keyed to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Standard Plan available to federal workers. Workers would not have to pay higher income taxes because of the employer contribution.

The uninsured would also have to buy coverage, but premiums for the poor would be fully subsidized by the government, and middle-class families with incomes up to $80,000 for a family of four would be eligible for help on a sliding scale.

Premiums from individuals and contributions from employers would be collected by the government through the tax system and distributed to insurers. Once enrolled, individuals would be covered until retirement. Seniors in the Medicare program would not have to make any changes.

A fuller description of the plan is available from Senator Wyden’s official website.

In short, the concept of the Wyden plan is really quite simple (as are most health insurance plans, contrary to what you may have been told. As Ronald Reagan once said, "There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers.")…

  1. Change the insurance system so that people within a state are pooled together and can buy health insurance, regardless of who their employer is,
  2. Require individuals to purchase a mandatory minimum level of health insurance, while allowing insurance companies to sell more coverage to people who are willing to spend more, and
  3. Create a new healthcare entitlement for people below a certain income level.
The messy part of analyzing a bill like this one will be untangling the mess of regulations and tax arcana whose effects need to be considered, as well as sorting through (and trying to remove) provisions intended to regulate individual behavior and directly control prices not relevant to facilitating an effective market for health insurance.

Oh, and where is the money for that new entitlement going to come from?

Habeas Provisions of the Military Commissions Act Upheld, But Narrowly

Carroll Andrew Morse

Judge James Robertson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (a Clinton appointee, for those keeping score at home) has upheld the section of the Military Commissions Act relating to the Habeas Corpus rights of foreign nationals held as unlawful enemy combatants by the government of the United States, at least in certain narrowly defined circumstances. The Judge ruled that Congress has authority to establish Habeas Corpus procedures for foreigners captured and held outside of the United States that are different from those that must be applied otherwise. In the ruling, however, Judge Robertson emphasized that he was only addressing cases where the petitioner was neither an American resident, nor within the US when apprehended, nor being held within the United States…

As the government argues in its reply brief, his connection to the United States lacks the geographical and volitional predicates necessary to claim a constitutional right to habeas corpus. Petitioner has never entered the United States and accordingly does not enjoy the “implied protection” that accompanies presence on American soil....

My ruling does not address whether and to what extent enemy aliens may invoke other constitutional rights; I find only that the Suspension Clause does not guarantee the right to petition for habeas corpus to non-resident enemy aliens captured and detained outside the United States.

Judge Robertson’s use (creation?) of the “geographical and volitional predicates” criteria does leave the door open for a future court to apply Constitutional Habeas Corpus protection to non-citizen residents of the United States, including illegal aliens.

In another part of the ruling, Judge Robertson discussed whether moving Habeas Corpus jurisdiction out of the normal Federal court system constituted a suspension in and of itself. I didn’t understand whatever point the Judge was trying to make…

Congress’s removal of jurisdiction from the federal courts was not a suspension of habeas corpus within the meaning of the Suspension Clause (or, to the extent that it was, it was plainly unconstitutional, in the absence of rebellion or invasion…)
So the MCA was either 1) not a suspension of Habeas Corpus and therefore constitutional or 2) an unconstitutional suspension of Habeas Corpus. It's safe to say that we knew, going in to the case, that the MCA was either constitutional or it wasn't. How does re-stating this fact provide information that might be useful for this case or future ones?

Finally, I’m uncomfortable with the Judge's blithe statement that the events of September 11, 2001 did not constitute an invasion…

Neither rebellion nor invasion was occurring at the time the MCA was enacted,
…but that the events of December 7, 1941 clearly did. In discussing the suspension of Habeas Corpus that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor as one of the four Habeas suspensions in American history, Judge Robertson tells us…
All four congressionally authorized executive suspensions [of Habeas Corpus] occurred during times of indisputable, and congressionally declared, rebellion or invasion.
If the point the Judge is trying to make that there is a difference between the full-out declaration of war that followed Pearl Harbor and the “authorization to use military force” that followed September 11, then the Judge may have a compelling point, but that only explains "congressionally declared", not "indisputable". By including "indisputable", the judge is injecting his personal opinions of the motivations and capabilities of violent international organizations into his ruling on a point of law. That goes beyond the role of a judge.

A Washington Post report on the ruling is available here.

McCaffrey's Three Year Plan for Iraq

Carroll Andrew Morse

Retired General Barry McCaffrey, Adjunct Professor of International Affairs at the United States Military Academy, and who has toured Iraq several times since the overthrow of Saddam Husein, doesn't think any plan centered on reducing U.S Forces in Iraq to a small number of advisors as quickly as 2008, as suggested by the Iraq Study Group, will serve American or Iraqi interests. Here's what General McCaffrey wrote in Wednesday's Washington Post on what he believes that America's last shot in Iraq should consist of...

Our objective should be a large-scale U.S. military withdrawal within the next 36 months, leaving in place an Iraqi government in a stable and mostly peaceful country that does not threaten its six neighboring states and does not intend to possess weapons of mass destruction....

First, we must commit publicly to provide $10 billion a year in economic support to the Iraqis over the next five years. In the military arena, it would be feasible to equip and increase the Iraqi armed forces on a crash basis over the next 24 months (but not the police or the Facilities Protection Service). The goal would be 250,000 troops, provided with the material and training necessary to maintain internal order.

I think the suggestion here is that a national Iraqi army, with a true Iraqi national identity, needs to be the strongest armed group in the country, if anything else is going to succeed. General McCaffrey continues...
Within the first 12 months we should draw down the U.S. military presence from 15 Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), of 5,000 troops each, to 10. Within the next 12 months, Centcom forces should further draw down to seven BCTs and withdraw from urban areas to isolated U.S. operating bases -- where we could continue to provide oversight and intervention when required to rescue our embedded U.S. training teams, protect the population from violence or save the legal government.

Finally, we have to design and empower a regional diplomatic peace dialogue in which the Iraqis can take the lead, engaging their regional neighbors as well as their own alienated and fractured internal population....

Let me add a note of caution regarding a deceptive and unwise option that springs from the work of the Iraq Study Group. We must not entertain the shallow, partisan notion of rapidly withdrawing most organized Marine and Army fighting units by early 2008 and substituting for them a much larger number of U.S. advisers -- a 400 percent increase -- as a way to avoid a difficult debate for both parties in the New Hampshire primaries....

We need fewer advisers, not more -- selected from elite, active military units and with at least 90 days of immersion training in Arabic.

Note that this statement places the well-respected General McCaffrey at odds with the also well-respected Eliot Cohen, who believes that increasing the number of advisors in Iraq is a critical element of success. The General provides a hint as to why he thinks that increasing the number of advisors will not be effective...
Iraqi troops will not fight because of iron discipline enforced by U.S. sergeants and officers. That is a self-serving domestic political concept that would put us at risk of a national military humiliation.
Read the whole thing, for the rest of General McCaffrey's thoughts on why he thinks this plan is America's best way forward.

December 13, 2006

Barry Goldwater: Father of American Centrism!?!?

Carroll Andrew Morse

National Review’s new political reporter Jonathan Martin has an article on “the GOP and its Northeast problem” in the print edition of this week’s magazine. Students of conservative history, as well as history buffs in general, may find this summary of some analysis from Dante Scala, a professor of political science at St Anslem’s College in New Hampshire, of particular interest…

There are those who belong to what [Scala] calls the party’s liberal Rockefeller wing, as embodied most recently by [Senator Lincoln Chafee]. They probably won’t ever come back to the GOP, but their numbers are small enough that they won’t be missed. Then there are those who belong to what Scala calls the Goldwater wing. These are traditional Republican voters who have been turned off not just by the party’s cultural conservatism, but also by its mismanagement of crises from Baghdad to New Orleans, and have abandoned the GOP even though it is more in synch with their small-government convictions. With the right message, and the right messenger, and a bit of Democratic over-reaching to remind them why they used to pull the Republican lever, these lapsed libertarians can be brought back into the fold.
Ponder this point for a moment before moving on.

And then…

…ask yourself, if you had a time machine, how rewarding it would be to go back to the day after the 1964 Presidential election and show Barry Goldwater that he shouldn't worry about his landslide defeat, because his name and ideas would not become associated with a fringe moment in history, but with future generations of centrist swing voters who make thoughtful choices at the polls! (I’ve also encountered this attitude on the anecdotal level. I’ve had at least one liberal friend tell me that the GOP needs to get back to its reasonable Goldwater roots if it wants to be successful). Who says the U.S. is not a fundamentally conservative country!

Sec. State-Elect Mollis Fined for Election Violations

Marc Comtois

Only in Rhode Island, right? That the incoming Secretary of State, Ralph Mollis--you know, the general officer who is responsible for running clean elections--and one of his flunkies have been fined for violating campaign laws is quite an accomplishment, even in the RI political theater in which caricature has become reality.

The Ethics Commission yesterday fined North Providence Mayor A. Ralph Mollis $3,000 for violating the state ethics code during his successful campaign for secretary of state.

The commission also fined John E. Fleming Jr., Mollis’ longtime chief of staff and campaign chairman, $500. Both settlements, negotiated with the commission staff, stemmed from a mailed solicitation for campaign contributions that went to some North Providence town employees...

The charges against Mollis, who takes office in January, and Fleming stemmed from a campaign fundraising mailing in June that went to 1,468 persons, including 132 municipal employees, according to the settlement documents.

After the commission approved the settlement, Mollis said that “I wanted to put this behind me” and not dispute a complaint before the commission while in office.

Mollis said that the mailing was “obviously in violation” of the ethics rules. He said the fundraising letter was read to him before it was mailed. “I said, ‘Great idea — send it,’ ” Mollis said. “I should have known that list included town employees.”

And these are just the violations of the letter of the law. In case you forgot, it was Mollis's name that appeared so prominently on those fake ballot campaign fliers that were handed out (often within 50 feet of) at polling places on election day. Then there was the RIPTA employee who emailed campaign info for Mollis from a RIPTA computer. Or how about the campaign contributions from a known mobster? Or possibly using political connections to intimidate a local business owner to remove a campaign sign supportive of a Mollis political opponent? I think there's a pattern...

December 12, 2006

Thinking Out Loud about Media Consolidation

Marc Comtois

Musicians have been opposed to media consolidation and, as the recent firing of Arlene Violet shows, local on-air talk-show talent may have cause for concern, too. And while the personal concerns of those who are directly affected would seem understandable, what about those of us who are the consumers of the resulting "watered down" product?

I don't like the idea of all radio stations playing the same 40 songs by Britney or Christina or 50 Cent or of all talk radio becoming national. Instead of formulaic diva ballads, 120 beats/sec synthpop or gangsta rap (with conspicuous bleeping!) assaulting my ears no matter where I turn my radio dial, I'd like a little variety. I think that most over-18 Americans feel the same. But let me back up.

Country music icon George Jones echoes my pattern of thinking on this:

"I'm not against companies making money," said country music great George Jones, who said he and his fans have suffered under tighter radio playlists that he says are often determined by a relative few with little knowledge of country music history.
But there are those that say that consolidation actually keeps smaller stations viable:
Bayard Walters, past chairman of the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters, said many small-town radio stations are operating and viable today because of consolidation.

Many of those stations provide opportunities for new and local artists, as well as local content like news, weather and traffic, he said.

Walters argued that there are 11,000-plus commercial radio stations nationwide. The biggest five companies own 2,000 of those, while the next 20 only own 1,000 stations. There are a greater number of licensees today than there were in 1972, he said.

"There are those that say broadcasters don't do enough, but what is the balance in presenting local and new music versus what the public seems to indicate what it wants to hear through ratings and purchases?" he said. "It does not seem to me that the license says, 'Market for free the music of whomever wants to be on the radio.'"

According to this political typology test, I come out as an "Enterpriser," so it would seem that I'd be all for unfettered capitalism, including consolidation. I'm willing to concede that there is a chance that the concerns about it are over-blown. Today's technology--like iTunes or Yahoo Music and the like--enables the end-user to discover alternative music from almost every genre. (Some of these, such as Yahoo, even make suggestions based on individual listening tendencies--smart technology that certainly enhances the consumers listening experience by offering more variety). So maybe media consolidation isn't so much of a concern when it comes to the music we listen to. But what about talk radio?

As I mentioned, Arlene Violet comes to mind immediately, but what about the affect that consolidation has on competition within a local market? For instance, for a few years, 790 The Score (WSKO) was the only sports talk station in town. But through consolidation, the owners of Boston powerhouse sports talk station WEEI was able to convert one of its stations in the Providence market and bring Boston sports talk to Rhode Island.

In one aspect, this is good for the consumer. As the #1 rated sports talk station in the nation (if we're to believe WEEI's promos), WEEI brings a high quality product to the market. The deeper pockets helps the station provide fans with regular access (via interviews) to high profile sports peronalities like the coaches and players of the Patriots and the Red Sox. This is something a smaller station, like WSKO, can't do.

However, where WSKO does shine is in it's coverage of local sports, specifically college athletics (PC, URI and Brown). Sports talk on WEEI is almost totally dominated by the Big Two (Red Sox and Patriots), a reflection of the Professional Sports mentality that permeates the Boston sports culture. While The Score does a good job of covering pro sports, it's willingness and ability to cover the teams of Rhode Island's colleges sets it apart and gives its "brand" a quality different than WEEI. Nonetheless, the jury is still out as to whether this is enough to keep it viable.

Which brings me back to Arlene. Just like WSKO can cover local college sports better than a Boston station, local talk show hosts are familiar--and can deal more intelligently--with local issues. This is something (almost by definition) that national hosts can't and won't do. I guess the question is whether markets the size of Providence (and smaller) can have more than one viable, local option. Dan Yorke has obviously won the ratings war, or WHJJ wouldn't have made the move to fire Arlene. (While Yorke is certainly a good local host, WHJJ also has themselves to blame for making the disastrous turn to Air America, which killed their ratings across the board. Ironically, Violet had the most successful show throughout the Air America experiment.) I think Yorke is popular enough locally so that he doesn't have to worry about WPRO making a similar move as WHJJ and, as the only remaining local option at 3 PM, he stands to benefit from WHJJ's move. (Rhode Islanders--like most New Englanders--are notoriously provincial, after all!)

In the end, I understand the economic benefits that media consolidation generates for station owners. I'm also willing to concede that there may be some benefits acrued by the consumer of media, but I still have doubts that "it's all good." Maybe I'm being pretentious about aesthetics or maybe my concerns are a manifestation of my left-handedness/right-brain, artsy-fartsy sympathetic side coming through, but I can't help but think that more options would be better all around. Of course, maybe I don't know what the hell I'm writing about, either. I'm sure you'll let me know.

No More Earmarks...For Now

Marc Comtois

Apparently, the newly-elected Democrat controlled Congress is putting a kibosh on earmarks (via The Insider). So sayeth Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.), soon-to-be-chairmen of the Senate and House appropriations committees:

There will be no Congressional earmarks in the joint funding resolution that we will pass. We will place a moratorium on all earmarks until a reformed process is put in place. Earmarks included in this year's House and Senate bills will be eligible for consideration in the 2008 process, subject to new standards for transparency and accountability. We will work to restore an accountable, above-board, transparent process for funding decisions and put an end to the abuses that have harmed the credibility of Congress.
Though I must confess to being a bit skeptical that Robert "King-o-Pork" Byrd is behind this proclamation, it is a good sign, nonetheless. We'll have to see whether or not this moratorium on "invisible" pork will dampen the overall pork spending or if the pork will still be there, just out in the open. Regardless, no earmarks is a good start.

UPDATE: Jordan J. Ballor at Acton confirms my "pessimistic hopefulness" (to coin a non-sensical phrase) that it isn't all about earmarks. According to Citizens Against Government Waste:

“There are three parties in Washington: Democrats; Republicans; and appropriators,” CAGW President Tom Schatz said. “Democrats should expect any serious reform efforts to meet stiff opposition from appropriators who have no qualms about breaking party lines, or the bank, to keep their pork.”

Based largely on CAGW’s annual Congressional Pig Book, the pork profiles chronicle members’ exploits with pork totals, examples, quotes, and voting record.

“It remains to be seen whether Democrats will be better behaved than the Republicans, who presided over an explosion of earmarks and spending. One fact is certain: A suspension or reduction of pork-barrel spending would constitute a remarkable break from tradition for either party,” Schatz concluded.

The aforementioned "Pork Profiles" include these numbers on Byrd (whom CAGW calls "The King of Pork") and Obey. Like I said, ending earmarks is good. But it doesn't look like these fellas are too concerned about porking it out in the open.

Impressions of the Iraq Study Group Report: the Projo vs. Eliot Cohen

Carroll Andrew Morse

Today's Projo includes an unsigned op-ed on the Iraq Study Group report. The op-ed praises consensus, largely for its own sake…

The commission, with no particular political axes to grind, declared that U.S. policy is not working and the situation is grave and deteriorating....

In any event, we hope that the commission’s rigorous report will act as a catalyst for rapid improvements on the ground in Iraq, and a rough consensus on Iraq policy in Washington.

However, writing at OpinionJournal, Eliot Cohen, Professor of Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, argues that consensus arrived at for its own sake means largely nothing…
[The Iraq Study Group] is a group composed, for the most part, of retired eminent public officials, most with limited or no expertise in the waging or study of war. It consists of individuals carefully selected with an eye to diverse partisan and other irrelevant personal characteristics. These worthies, with not one chairman but two (for balance, of course), turned to several score experts known to disagree vehemently with one another about the best course of action to be pursued in Iraq.

Some of the commission members and their advisers cordially detest the president and his administration and opposed him and his war from the outset; others were equally passionate in their defense of both the man and the conflict. And yet this diverse group [the Iraq Study Group] had an overwhelming mandate, from the beginning, to produce a consensus document...There is something of farce in all this, an invocation of wisdom from a cohesive Washington elite that does not exist, a desperate wish to believe in the gravitas and the statecraft of grave men (and women) who can sort out the mess in which the country finds itself.

The are also some interesting substantive contrasts between the two articles...

The Projo rejects the idea of sending more troops to Iraq and says the emphasis should be on building up Iraqi forces…

It is probably too late politically — here or in Iraq — to try to stabilize the situation through an increase in the total number of U.S. troops. Americans are quite sick enough of the war already, and the damage done after we invaded Iraq with bad planning and far too few people to secure the country has been too great to be readily fixed now with many more U.S. troops.

Thus we have the commission’s suggestion that the focus should be on training and equipping Iraqi forces to take over more of the duties now performed by U.S. troops. This would be done by embedding 10,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops with the Iraqis for training, up from 3,000 now.

Professor Cohen says, if I may paraphrase, "no duh" to building up Iraqi forces; building Iraqi forces is already the core of our offical mission, so what’s new there? He then goes on to say that we cannot choose between buiding up indigenous forces and maintaining a strong combat presence, we must do both…
The ISG argues that American forces should shift to developing Iraqi security forces and backing them up, which is more or less the course we are on now. It talks of milestones for Iraqi performance, as if Iraqi benchmarking were more a problem than Iraqi will, and Iraqi will more the problem than Iraqi capability. It suggests announcing our own planned redeployments without considering the most obvious consequence, which is that Iraqis of many political hues will decide that the Americans are leaving…We cannot build the Iraqi security forces without a substantial combat presence. Nor is the problem merely one of training, as Iraqi corporals driving around in pickup trucks without functional radios might have sourly pointed out, had they had the chance to talk to a Study Group member.
The Projo editorial completely skips over the ISG recommendations on entering negotiations with Iran and Syria. Given the high-profile of this section of the report, it’ is safe to take the editorial board's silence as meaning they do not believe that more intense negotiations with Iraq's hostile-to-the-US neighbors will be useful for fixing Iraq.

Professor Cohen, of course, is much more direct on the subject…

In a public document of this kind, euphemism and imprecision abound. The U.S. needs to give "disincentives" to Syria and Iran: But the real question has always been whether we are willing to use a variety of overt and covert means--from bombing insurgent safe houses to sabotaging refineries, from mining harbors to supporting their own insurgents--to do so. And, in fact, the report mentions no means for squeezing either country.

True, as James Baker irritably noted at the press conference releasing the report, the U.S. talked to the Soviet Union during the Cold War. But as the U.S. did so it also bankrupted the U.S.S.R. in an arms race, undermined its client governments in Eastern Europe by supporting Polish labor unions, and killed its soldiers by providing surface-to-air missiles to Afghan guerrillas. Real pain, and not merely tough talk sweetened by a bucket of goodies, paves the way for successful negotiations with brutal opponents.

Finally, since Professor Cohen does not like the direction of the ISG report, he provides some constructive suggestions of where he thinks its emphasis should have gone…
What we need in Iraq is not a New Diplomatic Offensive (capitals in the original) so much as energy and competence in fighting the fight. From the outset of the Iraq war much of our difficulty has stemmed not so much from failures to find the right strategy, as from an astounding and depressing inability to implement the strategic and operational choices we have nominally made.

This inability has come from things as personal as picking the wrong people for key positions, in the apparent belief that generals are interchangeable cogs in a counterinsurgency machine. It has come from an unwillingness or inability to grab the bureaucracy by the throat and make it act--which is why, three years after the insurgency began, we still send soldiers out to risk roadside bomb attacks in overweight Humvees when there are half a dozen commercially available armored vehicles designed to minimize the effects of such blasts. It is why--although the government has declared long before the ISG issued its report that training the Iraqis is Job One--we still embed fewer than a dozen American advisers in an Iraqi battalion when the right number is three to five times that many.

December 11, 2006

So We're Running In the Red? Let's Spend Spend Spend!

Marc Comtois

Hm. I thought the RI State government was losing money this year. According to this ProJo piece, I'm left to conclude that the General Assembly believes in deficit spending (H/T Dan Yorke for reminding me!) :

At a time when financial constraints have forced other arms of state government to talk about widespread layoffs, the closing of group homes and the release of hundreds of prisoners, General Assembly leaders are proposing a 14-percent increase in their own spending.

The lawmakers are planning to hire at least nine more staff and raise their own spending ceiling from $32.2 million this year to $36.8 million during the year that begins next July 1, according to a spending plan submitted to the governor last month.

The increase reflects the same 3-percent raises for Assembly staff that most other state workers expect next year. But the lawmakers do not pay a share of their health insurance premiums, as others state workers do. And they do not need state Budget Office approval to spend what they want.

Exactly what the lawmakers plan to do with that extra $4.5 million is not clear from the filing signed by House Speaker William J. Murphy, chairman of the five-member Joint Committee on Legislative Services.

But here’s a hint.

In a Nov. 9 letter apprising Governor Carcieri of the Assembly’s plans, Murphy acknowledged that the lawmakers are still rolling multimillion-dollar surpluses forward from one year to the next.

In addition to the $32.2 million they budgeted for themselves this year, he indicated, they expect to have an additional $2.9 million actually available for spending.

As he explained it, a big chunk of that money — $2.2 million — was earmarked a year earlier for legislative grants “that were not processed” before that year ended.

Late Friday, House spokesman Larry Berman released this statement from Marisa White, director of the Joint Committee on Legislative Services: “The budget request reflects the legislature’s projected needs for the 2008 fiscal year. It remains to be seen what the ultimate budget will be after the Finance Committee conducts its review process.”

Well, lookee here! Didn't get around to "processing" those grants last year? Why not...those palms didn't need anymore greasing? So the solution is to spend those grants instead of putting that money toward the shortfall?!!

UPDATE: Yorke asks: What other $13,000/year position entitles you to free health care? First caller was a Teamster who said he got free healthcare. As a former member of an AFL-CIO affiliated union, I received "free" health care, too. It was provided by the union to which I belonged, not my employer, which I believe is S.O.P. Did I mention that I also paid some pretty significant dues for the "privilege" of being in said union? I wonder how much of that money went to my "free" healthcare?

Baron Dazzled by MoveOn

Marc Comtois

Jim Baron writes:

...when I heard there was a [] meeting scheduled at a home in Barrington last week, I thought I would sit in and see what it was all about.

The meeting, replicated in living rooms all over the country on the same night -- the national MoveOn organization claims 7,000 people at meetings in 350 cities, which divides into about 20 people each, which was about the number of folks at Sam and Pat Smith’s house on Tuesday -- was billed as a "Mandate for Change."

The idea, Sam Smith explained, was to "remind Congress members why they were elected." MoveOn likes to take at least a little credit for nationwide Democratic sweep in November and, Sam noted, "the progressives we sent to D.C. need support to carry out the agenda."

Ideology and issues aside -- I was there to observe these folks clinically, as a lab technician observes subjects of an experiment, and the content of their discussions were not as important to me as the fact that the discussions were happening -- I was pretty impressed and heartened that meetings like this could be taking place in living rooms across America in 2006. If there were another group, nationwide or local, similar to this one espousing conservative values and issues, that would be equally exciting.

Um...Mr. Baron....over here! (Now, to continue...)
This was a working meeting of individuals -- not a pre-existing group with an agenda, like a labor union, a parent-teacher organization or a religious group -- people who came together with the express purpose of participating in the political process. It was not a cocktail or dinner party where a political discussion happened to break out.
Yikes...that's being a bit naive. "[N]ot a pre-existing group with an agenda"? Before a bunch of people get together to make a labor union, are they a pre-existing group? Howsabout a group of parents in a nascent PTO? In fact, Baron's last comparison, a religious group, may come the closest to describing what they are. These folks worship at the altar of liberal progressivism (and some at a sub-altar of anti-Bushism). In reality, they are nothing more than a grassroots PAC for the Democrat Party. That is their agenda: first, elect Democrats, second make sure that said Democrats act appropriately liberal and progressive. They are as ideological--and thus have an agenda--as any labor union or PTO or religion.

But Baron was apparently emotionally MovedOn:

Covering state government in general, and the General Assembly in particular, you can get a little bit jaded about the way politics works. Watching these sincere people gather in a living room in Barrington to try to convince their public officials to pay attention to people rather than lobbyists or contributors can restore your sense of the possible in politics.

My first thought: We need these people, or some like them, to keep an eye on the Statehouse.

I'd venture to bet that most of those "sincere people" uniformly voted Democrat last election, putting back in power all of those in the RI Statehouse whom Baron seems to think need their feet held to a fire. In actuality, the watchdogs for whom Mr. Baron yearns are to be found hereabouts and in places like Common Cause and Operation Clean Government. Those are also groups of like-minded citizens.

The folks who make up MoveOn are to be congratulated for their participation. But they neither represent anything new nor anything particularly unique in the history of this country. Abolition, the temperance movement, labor organization: all came about because individuals sought change via a grassroots movement. These small, localized efforts morphed into larger efforts driven by larger groups. Eventually, someone was bright enough to bring these disparately led groups together. That's what the founder's of MoveOn did.

Baron's MoveOn meetup group is just an example of a local chapter of a larger national organization getting together. Like a Cub Scout pack meeting--nothing more, nothing less. Let's not deify them just yet, OK?

December 9, 2006

Vigilance in Smithfield

Marc Comtois

The ProJo reports:

Federal terrorism officials and Rhode Island authorities converged this week to arrest an Indian citizen enrolled in a Smithfield tractor-trailer training school who was trying to obtain a commercial driver’s license and permit to haul hazardous materials.

The man, Mohammed Yusef Mullawala, of Jamaica, N.Y., is being held in federal custody for overstaying his student visa. State police Maj. Steven O’Donnell said that after two days of truck-driving classes, Mullawala’s behavior was suspicious enough to prompt school officials to contact the Department of Homeland Security late last month.

“His behavior was consistent with terrorist-type activity,” O’Donnell said. “He showed no interest in learning the fine art of driving a tractor-trailer. He had no interest in learning how to back up.”

Kudos to the people at the Nationwide Tractor Trailer Driving School in Smithfield for their vigilance. They may have averted a tragedy and, at the least, they took a person here illegally off of our highways.

December 8, 2006

Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, 1926-2006

Carroll Andrew Morse

A truly great American was lost to us yesterday.

A Statehouse Christmas -- or is that a Statehouse Holiday Celebration?

Carroll Andrew Morse

And while we’re on the subject of Christmas-themed posts, Jim Baron of the Pawtucket Times says if you’re going to put a Christmas tree up at the statehouse, then call it a Christmas tree. I couldn't possbily add anything to Mr. Baron’s final line…

It was quite a sight watching the lighting of the official Statehouse Christmas tree last Frid...

Oops, no, it wasn't the official Statehouse Christmas tree, according to the governor's office. It wasn't a Christmas tree at all. It was a holiday tree.

A holiday tree? What the hell is a holiday tree?

A holiday tree is a bit of yuletide political correctness designed to let one eat one's cake and have it, too.

We get into this silly folderol every year, squabbling about Christmas and its secular versus religious connotations, so there is no need to rehash the whole argument here….

But golly gosh, if you are going to have a big decorated tree in the middle of the building at Christmas, you should at least have the gumption to call it a Christmas tree.

Then again, denying the obvious is something governments do all the time. Chalk it up to force of habit.

A College Republican Christmas

Carroll Andrew Morse

To help usher in the Christmas season, the University of Rhode Island College Republicans are inviting people to a Christmas card party, where they will be preparing messages of Christmas cheer to be sent to members of the American Civil Liberties Union…

In response to the war on Christmas by radical leftist organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), members of the University of Rhode Island College Republicans will be facilitating an event for U.R.I. students to send Christmas Cards to members of the ACLU. Students will have the opportunity to write Christian themed Christmas cards to the ACLU, wishing them a very Merry Christmas, and reminding the leftist organization of the true meaning of Christmas. The event is free, and cookies and hot cocoa will be served.

The ACLU has attacked Christmas on the local level in the last several years, claiming the city of Cranston, R.I., erected holiday religious displays along with secular displays in violation of the so-called "separation of church and state." The students hope that these efforts combined with those of students across the country will help the ACLU respect Christmas as one of the most commonly celebrated holidays of the United States.

Chairman Ryan Bilodeau blasted the ACLU, saying, “The ACLU advocates freedom of speech, but fails to apply that right to everyone. They are so out of the mainstream, that they are stifling people from celebrating the only actual reason for the season. Contrary to the tenets that leftist organizations like the ACLU promote in their lawsuits, we want to students of URI, and namely the ACLU themselves, to know that Christmas is, in fact, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.”

The event will be held on Monday, December 11. Further details available here.

December 7, 2006

Toward a New Direction in Rhode Island

Justin Katz

Among the qualities that I love about Rhode Island is its size. For some Americans, for example, attending an event across their state requires a plane and a hotel. Rhode Islanders can traverse theirs without even stopping for gas. One can get to know this state; it's manageable.

Of course, its manageability is also its great vulnerability. Entrenched powers, with their short-sighted self-interest, have been managing it right into a hole. So much is this true, it increasingly seems with each passing election that the only reasonable response is to give up on electoral politics. Between Rhode-apathy and the habitual voting practices — most notably those of voting Democrat and of granting the state government permission to grab new money for worthwhile expenditures that ought to have been included in its general spending — it is tempting to dismiss the system as unfixable.

So, many of us have begun to think it necessary to look for ways to work outside of the system, and here the state's size emerges again as a wonderful quality — in terms of both effectiveness and opportunity for experimentation. Many of us have also begun to think that the way in which to implement the conservative approaches that can save this state is through the very conservative principle of community activity, the conservative ethos of open and plain discussion of facts, and the classically liberal application of universal freedoms. To put it into a credo: we must give everybody a forum in which to discuss matters of concern to us all, within the context of plain recitation of stubborn facts and honestly assessed principles, at the most basic levels of society.

One such, newly implemented, experiment is Bill Felkner's Parents' Forum for the Chariho School district. On the index page, the Web site offers links to more information than the average parent will have time or inclination to peruse. Perhaps more importantly, Felkner has set up a message board, in the form of a blog, through which parents can discuss matters of mutual interest. I encourage those to whom the site applies to participate, and those to whom it does not to pursue similar strategies.

The movement to push Rhode Island toward healthier societal construction will by necessity incorporate many roles, and it is crucial that we remember that, especially in this state, local involvement can have far-reaching effects.

Liberal Social Engineering Summed Up

Justin Katz

Jonah Goldberg notes that "New York City’s Board of Health unexpectedly withdrew a proposal yesterday that would have allowed people to alter the sex on their birth certificates without sex-change surgery." Astonishingly, it turns out that such a policy would not only cause confusion but might even be abused, for example, by male inmates wishing to be moved to female prisons. I think City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas R. Frieden neatly sums up the great unspoken post facto thought of liberal social engineers everywhere:

“This is something we hadn’t fully thought through, frankly.”

Admission is the first step to recovery.

Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and Conspiracy Debunking

Marc Comtois

For those so inclined, I've put up a longish piece (WARNING: excessive scholarliness may induce drowsiness) over at Spinning Clio that touches on Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and conspiracies about each. (Though it is mostly about debunking the Pearl Harbor conspiracies.)

Re: NYC Bureaucratic Heroes: Spare the Trans-fats, Save the World

Carroll Andrew Morse

In what may come as encouraging news to New York City resident Kathy Ramirez, the London Evening Standard reports that even if a McDonald’s opens nearby, it is possible not to eat at it.…

McDonald's is closing its outlet in a town known for quality food and healthy, local produce.

The fast food chain in Tavistock, Devon, simply wasn't being used enough by locals.

So after seven years struggling to make ends meet in a town that has won many accolades for the quality of its food, McDonald's will finally shut up shop on Saturday.

McDonald’s couldn’t compete with other restaurants in Tavistock because of a community campaign called EatWise

Members of the Tavistock EatWise Eat Local campaign have launched a Database which forms a major component of the ongoing objective linking food producers to food consumers....

The EatWise database allows the public to submit reviews which Mr Taylor says could result in a longer-term benefit of offering local residents and visitors an Internet reference point for food shops, local pubs, hotels and restaurants.

The EatWise campaign, led by community group Tavistock Forward, was set up as part of the town's bid to win the WMN's Best Local Food Town competition. Tavistock was awarded the prestigious accolade and given extra points for its "energy, enthusiasm, and commitment".

This little tagline associated with the EatWise campaign indicates that it may be a model for those with crunchy-con sympathies
Fast becoming recognised as a haven for those wishing to escape from modern society's pre-occupation with uniformity, blandness and speed, Tavistock has much to offer those in search of something special in the way of culinary experiences.
Do crunchy-con skeptics see any downside in a program like this?

Finally, Tavistock v. New York City provides us with an interesting case study in government regulation v. voluntary civic association. Are there any arguments that what happened in Tavistock would have better been done by government coercion, except maybe from the perspective of government officials, who prefer to force others to do the real work of presuasion and change, rather than taking it on themselves?

Chafee/Bolton/Republican Party Footnote

Carroll Andrew Morse

For those still unconvinced that the national Republicans were as clueless as they seemed in this past election cycle, one convincing piece of evidence comes from syndicated columnist Robert Novak. Unbelievably, the White House was surprised by Senator Lincoln Chafee’s intransigence on confirming John Bolton as United Nations Ambassador...

The fecklessness at the White House in managing Bolton's nomination is exemplified by the feeling there to the end that Chafee could be brought along. Having poured money into Chafee's Rhode Island Republican primary campaign against a conservative challenger, Bush in private is furious over betrayal by the maverick Republican. Chafee's fellow GOP senators believe that if he were re-elected, he would have permitted Bolton's name to go to the Senate floor. Quirky to the end, Chafee says the Democratic election victory is reason to block Bolton.

Thanks, Arlene

Donald B. Hawthorne

Today is Arlene Violet's last day on 920 WHJJ.

I had the pleasure of being on her show a number of times in the last year or so - to discuss education issues - and I want to thank her for her graciousness to me during those times.

Thanks, Arlene, for the last 16 years and best of luck in whatever you do next.

Here are some of the posts we discussed on the show:

For a high level look at the strategic questions in education, read Bringing a New Strategic Focus to the Education Debate and Empowering Our Children to Live the American Dream Demands School Choice.

For a more indepth look at the education debate, read The Moral Imperative for School Choice: The Complete Posting.

We also discussed the earlier East Greenwich teachers' union contract dispute and some statewide education issues.

December 6, 2006

What's Wrong with the Baker Commission Report

Carroll Andrew Morse

I haven't had time to fully digest it yet, but I can already tell you about a basic problem with the Iraq Study Group's report, which is full of statements like this one (page 50)...

The Study Group recognizes that U.S. relationships with Iran and Syria involve difficult issues that must be resolved. Diplomatic talks should be extensive and substantive, and they will require a balancing of interests.
Of course, to implement a balancing of interests, you first have to determine what the interests of your adversary are. To get a sense of what the Iranian government views as its long-term interests, we can start with this Agence France-Presse story (via Breitbart) on a speech delivered today by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ...
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has warned Western leaders to follow the path of God or "vanish from the face of the earth".

"These oppressive countries are angry with us ... a nation that on the other side of the globe has risen up and proved the shallowness of their power," Ahmadinejad said in a speech in the northern town of Ramsar, the semi-official news agency Mehr reported Wednesday.

"They are angry with our nation. But we tell them 'so be it and die from this anger'. Rest assured that if you do not respond to the divine call, you will die soon and vanish from the face of the earth," he said.

So, in a nutshell, the government of Iran sees its primary national interest as helping to eliminate from the face of the earth any Western nation that has not properly responded to its radical vision of God's call. Now, can someone explain to me exactly how one goes about "balancing" this interest against anything else? Should the US adopt a policy of allowing the Iranian government to annihilate just a few (but not all) Godless Western countries, so long as the US receives some concessions from Iran first. Would that satisfy the balance-of-interest advocates out there?

In the end, the Baker commission recommendations are likely to be quicky forgotten because any plan that proposes dealing with ideologically driven expansionist power by seeking "stability" is destined to fail (see Neville Chamberlin). When one side is working for stability, while the other side is looking to expand, the expansionist side will continue to expand, as the stabilizers continue to seek stability. That means that the expansionists win.

Froma Harrop Gets Fiscal Conservatism Right

Carroll Andrew Morse

Without enough people noticing, liberals have mostly succeeded in redefining the term fiscal conservatism from its original meaning of "we must be extremely cautious about spending public funds" to something along the lines of "we must raise taxes high enough to pay for unlimited government spending". Froma Harrop deserves credit for not falling for the switch. In today's Projo, Ms. Harrop reminds people that a real fiscal conservatism begins with controlling the spending side of the equation...

Anger over Washington's spending orgy was especially strong around Denver, Philadelphia and other formerly Republican suburbs. They went blue in the last election, but their voters haven't signed on any dotted lines with the Democratic Party. If Republicans run Schwarzneggerian candidates who promise both stem-cell research and spending discipline, they could win those districts back.
Last week, we saw Ms. Harrop embracing free market principles for half of a column; this week she is touting controlling spending as half of a program for Republican success. Can an entire column on the sensibility of free markets and smaller government be far behind!?

New House Intelligence Committee Chairman Presses for More Troops to Iraq

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here's a short news item that can be pondered as readers peruse the much-awaited release of the report from the Iraq Study Group. According to Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball of Newsweek, the incoming Democratic Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee favors sending more troops to Iraq...

In an interview with NEWSWEEK on Tuesday, [Congressman Silvestre Reyes] pointedly distanced himself from many of his Democratic colleagues who have called for fixed timetables for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Coming on the eve of tomorrow’s recommendations from the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton commission, Reyes’s comments were immediately cited by some Iraq war analysts as fresh evidence that the intense debate over U.S. policy may be more fluid than many have expected.

“We’re not going to have stability in Iraq until we eliminate those militias, those private armies,” Reyes said. “We have to consider the need for additional troops to be in Iraq, to take out the militias and stabilize Iraq … We certainly can’t leave Iraq and run the risk that it becomes [like] Afghanistan” was before the 2001 invasion by the United States.

Congressman Reyes' position is a direct result of the liberal inability to develop any position on the War on Terror. Without the benefit of a coherent strategy that he and his political allies believe in, the Congressman is left with the stark choice of pretending the War on Terror doesn't exist or pressing ahead from our current position.

It's good to see that there are still a few honest Democrats who realize that pretending it doesn't exist is not an option. However, I'm not quite sure that the ISG has come to this realization...

NYC Bureaucratic Heroes: Spare the Trans-fats, Save the World

Marc Comtois

OK, I'll admit that I'm glad that there is a smoking ban in restaurants (though bars...I'm not so sure), but NY City is taking this too far. Banning trans-fats?

...New York has planted a flag on what could be the next front in community health wars.

It is becoming the first city in the country to ban all restaurants from using artificial trans fats, while requiring hundreds of eateries to post food calorie counts right on their menus.

City health officials created the unprecedented new requirements Tuesday. Restaurants will get a grace period to make both changes, but by mid-2008, Dunkin' Donuts will have to find a substitute for the 3.5 grams of trans fat in its Boston Kremes and tell customers up front that the snacks contain 240 calories.

But the city's gigantic food-service industry has opposed parts of both new rules, and some restaurant companies have hinted that they might challenge them in court...

The city's health commissioner, Thomas Frieden, said the changes will help fight the twin epidemics of obesity and heart disease. Trans fats, listed on food labels as partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, are believed to be harmful because they wreak havoc with cholesterol levels.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who banned smoking in bars and restaurants during his first term, said the changes could save lives.

"We're not trying to take away anybody's ability to go out and have the kind of food that they want in the quantities that they want, but we are trying to make that food safer," he said.

Pretty soon, Mayor Bloomberg and his administration will soon be requiring all people to walk around in those inflatable sumo wrestling outfits so that they won't get bumps and bruises, thus making them safer. There are multiple problems with this lunacy. First is the short-term economic impact on restaurants:
...some restaurant cooks have worried about tinkering with tried-and-true recipes. Concerns have been raised about whether there is enough trans-fat-free cooking oil on the market to supply the city's thousands of friers...

...Big fast-food companies had complained about the calorie provision, too, saying it would clutter menu boards with health data already available on fliers, charts and Web pages...

...Frieden acknowledged that finding substitute ingredients for baked goods will take experimentation.

"There are real challenges for certain products," he said.

Menu changes cost money, food could taste worse and the prices could rise because of a trans-fat-free cooking oil shortage. Quick, head for the futures market! Second is the fact that, well, cooking oil with trans-fats is legal:
"This isn't over," said Dan Fleshler, a spokesman for the National Restaurant Association, which represents the industry. "We don't think that a municipal health agency has any business banning a product the (U.S.) Food and Drug Administration has already approved."
Finally, well, I just can't set this up:
Kathy Ramirez, a 26-year-old New York mother who takes her toddler to McDonald's every week, approves of New York's new restaurant rules.

"It's hurting us, all this fat, but the kids really like it," said Ramirez, pointing to 3-year-old Amber, who had just finished her dinner. "It would be better to know what we're getting."

Hmm. You take your toddler to Micky D's every week, you know the food is full of fat and your happy that the government is stepping in to let you "know what [you're] getting." Instead of making healthier choices on your own, your perfectly happy to let the government do it for you. BaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaBaaaaaaaaaaaa.

December 5, 2006

My Personal Experience with Organized Labor

Marc Comtois

I just discovered that the leaders of the union to which I once belonged were indicted under RICO in September and that their trial is underway.

Michael and Robert McKay have been living on borrowed time. Respectively, president and treasurer-secretary of the American Maritime Officers, the McKay brothers, aged 59 and 56, rigged elections, stole funds, obstructed justice, and orchestrated illegal campaign contributions. At least that’s what the Justice Department has been alleging in a criminal racketeering suit against the pair. Belatedly, the trial began on Tuesday, November 21.

The McKays have an unusually difficult hurdle to clear in order to convince the jury of their innocence: testimony by a longtime friend, now ex-friend, David Merriken, who’d run the union’s employee benefit plans during the latter part of the Nineties. Merriken for nearly a year had worn a hidden wire to work at AMO headquarters in the Broward County, Fla. community of Dania Beach. Federal investigators believed the McKays had been stealing from the 4,000-member national union, buying off local politicians in the process. Merriken was the feds’ inside man. With some 200 taped conversations in their possession, prosecutors are confident the charges will stick in what is expected to be a six-week trial.

(South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 11/19/06; McClatchy Tribune-News Service, 11/21/06).

Yes, way back when, I was a member in good standing of the American Maritime Officers union. In particular, I voted in the 1993 election in which Mike McKay took over. Amongst the rank and file there had long been rumors of shenanigans at the top levels and I don't think that I knew one person who admitted to voting for McKay, but he still won. Now all of the rumors seem to have been proven true.

As a former union member, I appreciate the role they play as a check on corporate America. Within reason. However, I suppose this is enough proof for some as to why I seem to take a generally negative view of unions and am especially distrustful of their leadership. It's not a good feeling when you know that your mandatory union dues (and pension funds!) go to financing union fat cats and to supporting political candidates with whom you disagree--and you have no say in the matter. Too much centralized, unaccountable power for my taste. Perhaps the McKay-led AMO is an anomaly--and I certainly hope so--but I'm not too confident. That ship has sailed.

The University of Rhode Island and the Cutting Edge of Ethanol Research

Carroll Andrew Morse

Because many estimates concerning the efficiency of ethanol-based fuels put forth in the 1970s and 1980s were based on an assumption that ethanol would be primarily derived from corn, ethanol developed a reputation that has been hard to shake for being inadequate as a gasoline replacement. However, with technological improvements in agricultural and refining techniques, the development of ethanol sources beyond corn and, of course, rising conventional oil prices, ethanol’s reputation as an alternative energy cul-de-sac is no longer warranted. Brazil, for instance, has weaned itself off of foreign oil using ethanol produced from domestic sugar cane.

Here in America, Professor Albert Kausch of the University of Rhode Island’s Cell and Molecular Biology Department is leading research into how to efficiently produce ethanol and transportation fuel from a crop known as switchgrass

“Switchgrass is a native plant of the tall grass prairies. It grows 12 feet tall in one season and produces 10 tons of plant material an acre, more biomass per year than most other plants,” said Albert Kausch, a University of Rhode Island plant geneticist on the cutting edge of switchgrass research. “I’m confident my lab can make it produce 20 tons an acre using the tools and personnel we have right now”....Kausch is a world leader in developing transgenic grasses, having spent 20 years genetically modifying turf grasses, rice and corn.

“There are several impediments to the process of converting switchgrass to ethanol that would make unaltered switchgrass commercially unprofitable,” Kausch said. “We are working with professors at Brown University, for instance, to create better enzymes that will degrade cellulose into sugars for a more efficient conversion to ethanol.”

Kausch is now genetically engineering switchgrass that is both sterile and resistant to herbicides, and he has a long list of other traits he hopes to improve as well, including drought tolerance, salt tolerance and cold tolerance. He expects to have test plots of the genetically modified plants on the URI campus within two years, and he hopes the first varieties will be in commercial production by 2011.

Here is the proverbial bottom line...
Kausch has launched Project Golden Switchgrass at the University of Rhode Island, which he hopes will develop “the variety of enhanced switchgrass that everyone needs.” He said that native switchgrass grown commercially today could produce ethanol for approximately $2.70 per gallon, but by genetically improving a number of plant traits he believes the production price could get as low as $1 per gallon.
I’m not sure that it is from the same analysis that Professor Kausch cites, but an article from the Winter 2001 edition of Issues in Science and Technology (a journal published by the National Academy of Science, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine) broke down a $2.70 price for ethanol in detail and compared it to the cost of gasoline, adjusting for the fact that ethanol is not quite as efficient as gas. The $1.50 per-gallon price for gasoline used in the analysis seems almost quaint by today’s standards…
The refinery gate price of gasoline is about $0.80 per gallon; transportation, storage, and retailing add about $0.40 per gallon; and taxes raise the price at the pump to roughly $1.50 per gallon. Producing cellulosic ethanol costs about $1.20 per gallon (1.80 per gallon, gasoline equivalent, since ethanol has two-thirds of the energy of a gallon of gasoline). Assuming that the per-gallon distribution costs are the same for ethanol and holding total tax revenue constant, ethanol would sell for $1.80 per gallon at the pump. However, this is equivalent to $2.70 per gallon in order to get as much energy as in a gallon of gasoline.
Conspiracy theorists should now convene with free-marketers to ponder this question: If $2.70 per gallon is the price where conventionally produced gasoline loses its economic advantage over ethanol, is it mere coincidence that gas prices have settled down into a range just below that?


Marc Comtois

The U.N. insiders who organized are pretty happy that their target has resigned. As Jim Barron's indicates, there can be little doubt that Senator Chafee's refusal to support the nomination of John Bolton to the U.N. was the unsurmountable hurdle. And that is something of which Chafee is quite proud:

Chafee's opposition to Bolton as a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee "was what made it not happen," said Chafee spokesman Steven Hourahan. "Without his vote in committee, it wasn't going to go."
Hourahan said Chafee was "very comfortable" with his decision to effectively remove Bolton as ambassador. He said it was "clear that the the American people sent a message," in the November election that they were unhappy with Bolton's confrontational style and the Bush administration's foreign policy...

"Mr. Bolton did not demonstrate the kind of collaborative approach that I believe will be called for if we are to restore the United States' position as the strongest country in a peaceful world," the senator said. "This would be an appropriate time to choose a nominee who has a proven ability to work with both sides of the political aisle, a history of building strong international relationships and a reputation of respect for the institution of the United Nations."

Of course, others disagree and Bolton did accomplish a few things over his short tenure. Even the anti-Bolton folks admit that Bolton was effective in the Security Council. But it was his work in the General Assembly that raised so many hackles inside the U.N., especially Bolton's "incendiary rhetoric."

Take, for example, this item from a list of supposed Bolton missteps:

In one instance of the incendiary rhetoric that has become a hallmark of Bolton’s Ambassadorship he inaccurately called sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers – a serious but limited problem that the U.N. must address – a "rampant practice." He speaks regularly of a “culture of inaction” at the U.N. and, contrary to Secretary of State’s and President’s message, has discussed reform as a U.S.-led initiative. He went as far as to say that the U.S. effort to reform the U.N. “could be like the irresistible force meeting the immovable object." One of Bolton’s speeches was so inflammatory that the Associated Press, which covered the event, entitled its article, “Bolton Blasts U.N. ‘Sex and Corruption.’” In May 2006, he even told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the U.N. could use “a gale of creative destruction.”

Bolton Effect: Other nations viewed such statements as examples of U.S. arrogance and made it more difficult to achieve important reforms at the U.N.

If it's from Bolton, it's arrogant, but if "incendiary rhetoric" is uttered against the Bush Administration by some mid-level bureaucrat or an ex-President, then he's be speaking "truth to power." Of course, why do I bother. On one hand, the anti-Bolton, U.N. insiders say that Haditha and Abu Ghraib are "morally abhorrent and make America less safe"--which is true--and imply that such activity is widespread and all but encouraged by the Bush administration with statements like:
Abuse in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, U.S. foreign policy, and Bolton's heavy-handed diplomacy have left the U.S. more isolated in the UN than perhaps ever before.
But on the other hand, they downplay sexual abuses perpetrated by U.N. peacekeepers by calling it a "limited problem." Really?
The United Nations is facing new allegations of sexual misconduct by U.N. personnel in Burundi, Haiti, Liberia and elsewhere, which is complicating the organization's efforts to contain a sexual abuse scandal that has tarnished its Nobel Prize-winning peacekeepers in Congo.

The allegations indicate that a series of measures the United Nations has taken in recent years have failed to eliminate a culture of sexual permissiveness that has plagued its far-flung peacekeeping operations over the last 12 years. But senior U.N. officials say they have signaled their seriousness by imposing new reforms and forcing senior U.N. military commanders and officials to step down if they do not curb such practices.

"The blue helmet has become black and blue through self-inflicted wounds," Jane Holl Lute, a senior U.N. peacekeeping official who heads a U.N. task force on sexual exploitation, told a congressional committee investigating allegations that U.N. personnel participated in rape, prostitution and pedophilia in Congo. "We will not sit still until the luster of that blue helmet is restored."

The reports of sexual abuse have come from U.N. officials, internal U.N. documents, and local and international human rights organizations that have tracked the issue. Some U.N. officials and outside observers say there have been cases of abuse in almost every U.N. mission, including operations in Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Kosovo.

Nah, not widespread at all...

The U.N. insiders and anti-Bolton folks didn't like Bolton because he tried to wade in and change the way things are done in the U.N. Any figure that looks to shake things up will mostly succeed in shaking up the people who've benefitted from the status quo. They'd rather write never-to-be-implemented policy papers and never-to-be-enforced resolutions than actually do anything. Bolton may have been brusque, but he willingly tried to work within the system to change it.

In the end, it seems like the Chicago Tribune put it best:

[Bolton's] track record apparently didn't matter much in Washington. Bolton's close-minded? Turns out it was his critics who fit that bill.
Here are some of Bolton's accomplishments as compiled by Deroy Murdock:

* Bolton and France’s ambassador led the Security Council to approve a unanimous resolution to end last summer’s Hezbollah war on Israel. While America should have encouraged Israel to eradicate Hezbollah once and for all, Bolton successfully executed his orders to stop the combat and authorize U.N. peacekeepers.

* Bolton assembled an international coalition that blocked the bid of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s Marxist strongman, to join the Security Council. This anti-authoritarian alliance survived 47 ballots. An eventual compromise helped moderate, pro-American Panama fill that spot.

* Bolton arranged the Security Council’s first deliberations on Burma’s human-rights abuses. “The time has come for the suffering of the Burmese people to end and for democratic change to begin,” Bolton said September 29.

* Bolton properly belittled the new Human Rights Council, a forum where Cuba and Zimbabwe lecture civilized nations on how to treat their citizens. He compared this unit’s creation to “putting lipstick on a caterpillar and calling it a butterfly.”

* Bolton invited actor George Clooney and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel to brief the Security Council last September on Arab mass-murder of non-Arabs in Darfur, Sudan. “Every day we delay only adds to the suffering of the Sudanese people and extends the genocide,” Bolton said. He engineered the Security Council’s approval of 22,500 U.N. peacekeepers in Darfur. Bolton continues to pressure Sudan’s government to accept these personnel atop the 7,000 African Union soldiers already on site.

* Bolton persuaded the Security Council to pass a resolution denouncing Iran’s uranium enrichment program and demanding that Tehran halt its atomic hanky-panky.

* Bolton, with the help of China’s and Japan’s ambassadors, negotiated unanimously adopted Security Council resolutions condemning North Korea’s July 4 missile test and penalizing its Columbus Day A-bomb blast.

* Bolton has won plaudits from his peers.

“I enjoy working with him,” Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters November 14. “Professionally, he’s capable. He’s effective,” Wang added.

“He is having a definite impact,” Romanian Ambassador Mihnea Motoc told the Los Angeles Times’ Maggie Farley. “Others wish they could do things the same way.”

“He has an agenda, and he’s pursuing it with a conviction that is uncommon here,” said Algerian Ambassador Abdallah Baali.

One secret of Bolton’s success may be “shot-clock diplomacy.” He twice has taken the Security Council to New York Knicks games at Madison Square Garden.

“It’s fun for two or three hours,” Ambassador Wang told the Associated Press. “We think of nothing but sport.”

* This “bully” was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

December 4, 2006

Justice Stephen Breyer, No Friend of the First Amendment

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here is Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, not really making a whole lot of sense as he discusses how he interprets the Constitution, on Fox News Sunday

If the text is clear, you follow the text. If the text isn't clear, you have to work out what it means. And that requires context.

The freedom of speech. Do you know what it means? Basically. But you don't know its entire content, and it doesn't tell you itself. Those words, "the freedom of speech," "Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech." Neither they, the founders, nor those words tell you how to apply it to the Internet.

This is a flawed example of whatever point Justice Breyer is trying to make, since there is nothing unclear about applying the principle of freedom of speech to the Internet. Written articles are speech, whether they are distributed on newsprint or via the Internet. Video and audio recordings are speech, whether they are transmitted over a broadcast network or over the Internet. And Congress is Congress, whether it is trying to regulate a newspaper, a television station, or the Internet. Ergo, Congress should pass no law abridging the freedom of speech on the Internet.

So on what basis does Judge Breyer believe that the rules for the Internet should be different from the rules for any other speech-transmission medium?

The First 2008 Prognostication

Carroll Andrew Morse

John J. Miller provides a very early take on the 2008 Senate Races in today’s National Review Online. Here’s what he says about Rhode Island…

“Bring back Linc!” It’s a slogan that precisely nobody is chanting, though someone is sure to suggest that senator Lincoln Chafee, allegedly a Republican, try to rebound from his defeat last month. Those within earshot should yawn. Democratic senator Jack Reed is safe.
Though it is too early right now to be talking about the public phase of a political campaign, a serious Republican party would be starting its candidate recruitment and fundraising activities for the 2008 Federal races very soon. However, recruiting candidates has not been something that the state party has shown much recent interest in (see the 2nd Congressional district this past year for an example). Anyone running for state Republican chair needs to answer the question of how they intend to change this.

RI Approves Abstinence Education

Marc Comtois

Heritage of Rhode Island has overcome intitial objections put forward by the RI Dep't of Education and has received approval to implement it's "Right Time, Right Place" abstinence education program in RI's schools. The key concession seems to be that the "only" of the heretofore proposed "Abstinence-only" program has been dropped.

“Heritage’s ‘Right-Time, Right-Place’ curriculum offers positive information that will empower our teens to take control of their lives,” [Lidia] Goodinson said at the event that Heritage sponsored to commemorate World AIDS Day yesterday.

“This abstinence program can only help our present situation and help brighten our children’s futures,” she said.

Heritage says its program is intended to supplement, rather than supplant, current HIV/AIDS instruction in the public school system. Heritage instructors provide abstinence-only sex education only in the presence of regular classroom teachers responsible for teaching the broader curriculum required of local schools.

The group operates on an invitation-only basis, offering about 5 hours of instruction, down from the 6½ hours that the instruction lasted when the program was first introduced. {Unfortunately, the Journal's story, despite this clarification, referred to it as an "abstinence-only" program later in the piece.}

This study shows that abstinence education works, while this study disputes the effectiveness of abstinence only. (Again, note the difference). Given that Heritage's program is only part of a broader sex-ed program, protestations from the ACLU ring a little hollow:
But the Heritage program still emphasizes marriage as the only safe setting for sex, and that tends to marginalize not only gay and lesbian students but also children being raised by gay and lesbian parents, Steven Brown, executive director of the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, said.

The Heritage program also tends to understate the effectiveness of condoms as a form of contraception and means of protection against sexually transmitted diseases, Brown said.

For both reasons, Brown said, the ACLU is drafting a letter to McWalters expressing concern that the program has been approved.

This seems like carping to me. The ACLU was initially concerned that this would be an abstinence only program, and now their moving the goalposts. Besides, it seems a bit ironic that the ACLU is arguing that Heritage's program discriminates against Gays and Lesbians because it emphasizes that marriage is the only safe setting for sex when the ACLU is also arguing that Gays and Lesbians should be allowed to marry. So where does their objection go if their latter goal is accomplished?

Regardless, it seems like the program will go forward and all options will be put on the table for our kids. So, through compromise, RI students will have it reinforced that abstinence is the only method of pregnancy prevention that "works every time it's been tried."

Bob Walsh Needn’t Worry: Bloggers are Reading his Articles, Even When Projo Editors Can’t be Troubled To

Carroll Andrew Morse

I post to defend the honor of Rhode Island chapter of the National Education Association's Executive Director Robert Walsh. This is the headline of his op-ed that appeared in Sunday's Projo

Robert A. Walsh Jr.: Straight-party option serves R.I.
Yet beneath the headline, the op-ed makes no claim of the sort…
Second, [Edward Achorn] implied that public-employee unions encouraged people to vote a straight Democratic ticket. This, too, is inaccurate, as almost every Rhode Island union that represents public employees, including the National Education Association Rhode Island, supported candidates from both parties, and often took positions in non-partisan local races, which would not be included when voters "pulled the lever" for one party or another.

Therefore, encouraging straight-party ballot voting would have been counter-productive to the expressed views of these organizations.

The second excerpt almost certainly represents Mr. Walsh’s actual view, the discrepancy resulting from the journalistic practice of having someone different from an article's author write its headline.

However, it may be possible to blame Mr. Walsh just a wee bit for the fact that Projo staffers apparently assume that NEA officers will automatically be advocates for straight-ticket voting.

Citizens with Full Names of a Unique Nature Unite!

Carroll Andrew Morse

Somehow the fact that Illinois Senator and potential 2008 Presidential contender Barrack Obama’s middle name is “Hussein” became a minor story this weekend. (I think Maureen Dowd is to blame).

In the spirit of bi-partisanship, let me state that I believe that worrying about whether someone’s middle, first, or last names fits into certain transient social conventions is the height of narrow-mindedness and a symptom of a culture, perhaps an entire society, in decline.

December 2, 2006

The Iraq Study Group: Deserving of Scorn & Contempt

Donald B. Hawthorne

Recent days have brought a series of powerful editorials on the Iraq Study Group. This post presents 5 of them, none of which looks favorably on the Group's report. Be sure to read McCarthy's piece at the end.

John Podhoretz on Witless Wisdom: Baker's Worthless Iraq Advice

Yes, it's been quite a week for the 10 members of the Iraq Study Group, the committee formed last spring to offer recommendations on a path forward in Iraq.

They had a wonderfully invigorating leak session the other day with The New York Times, which was the first recipient of the group's key top-level save-America recommendation. Co-chairmen James...Baker and Lee...Hamilton didn't even bother to pretend to brief the president or key lawmakers first.

The president could wait his turn. After all, this is the Iraq Study Group we're talking about here, buddy. Even the mighty Times was probably kept waiting for its leak, since the only person who could not be kept waiting was Annie Leibovitz, celebrity photographer nonpareil.

As Dana Milbank reports in The Washington Post, on Monday the group's "co-chairmen, James Baker and Lee Hamilton, found time . . . to pose for an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot for Men's Vogue."

The value of Annie Leibovitz's pictorial scoop might have been reduced somewhat when the president scornfully consigned the Iraq Study Group to the ash-heap of history yesterday with a single dismissive sentence during his press conference in Jordan: "This business about 'graceful exit' just simply has no realism to it whatsoever."

Baker, Hamilton and their crew of old Washington hands...are recommending a "gradual pullback" of American troops but without a timetable. That basically translates into a nice, long, slow defeat...

As one of the study group's members told the Times yesterday, "We had to move the national debate from 'whether to stay the course' to 'how do we start down the path out'."

This is the consensus view of the Iraq Study Group, which is very proud that it reached consensus.

Its members also reached a consensus view that Depends is a really fine brand of adult diaper, and that they love reruns of "Murder, She Wrote."

You perhaps note that I am writing with extreme disrespect toward the Iraq Study Group. That's because its report is a scandal and an embarrassment; it's flatly immoral to seek to make or guide policy in this fashion.

Look, if its members believe the war is lost, they should say so. They should bite the bullet and advocate a pullout of American forces sooner rather than later.

If its members could not actually achieve consensus on that point...then it was simple vanity on the part of the Gang of 10 that led to the creation of a "consensus" document that split the difference.

There's no way to split the difference, unless you're hurrying off to have your mug immortalized by Annie Leibovitz and want to bang down the gavel so you can get plenty of time to get hair and makeup done.

America and its allies are either going to win this war or we're going to lose. We will either conclude our military actions in Iraq with terrorists and insurgents dead or fled and an imposition of civil order in the country by its elected government, or we will turn tail and leave the place in chaos and ruins.

What's even more appalling, if true, is the group's other key recommendation - which is that America should try to find answers to its problems through an international conference that would include Syria and Iran.

What do Syria and Iran want more than anything else in the world? To see an American defeat in Iraq. To see an America so crippled that they can work their will in the Middle East without fear of retribution...

...that's Baker for you. Give him a problem and he'll tell you your best hope of solving it can be found in sucking up to an Arab dictator...

...there's not much that even James Baker can demand of Israel that Israel's not already willing to give. Except maybe Jerusalem. Yeah: Israel can give up Jerusalem, and in exchange, Iran and Syria will leave Iraq alone.

Please stop laughing at the doddering old fools now. It's disrespectful.

This is an extremely dire situation. Half-measures will be disastrous, whatever form they take - and that's not true only of the Baker-Hamilton "graceful exit" disaster. Continuing as we're going would also constitute a half-measure with disastrous results as well.

The president treated the Baker half-measures with the contempt they deserved. But he will deserve precisely the same level of contempt if he doesn't champion a plan for victory immediately.

Robert Kagan & William Kristol on A Perfect Failure: The Iraq Study Group has reached a consensus

...The "wise men" who counseled Lyndon Johnson during Vietnam and the members of the Kissinger Commission who tried to reshape Ronald Reagan's Central American policies did not sit for Annie Leibovitz in the middle of their endeavors. Nor did they hire a mega-public relations firm to sell their recommendations (supposedly intended for the president) to the public at large, as Baker and Hamilton have done.

But we think the chairmen's self-promotion and big-time product marketing are perfectly understandable. They have to do something to distract attention from two unpleasant facts.

The first is that after nine months of deliberation and an unprecedented build-up of expectations that these sages would produce some brilliant, original answer to the Iraq conundrum, the study group's recommendations turn out to be a pallid and muddled reiteration of what most Democrats, many Republicans, and even Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officials have been saying for almost two years. Thus, according to at least six separate commission sources sent out to pre-spin the press, the Baker-Hamilton report will call for a gradual and partial withdrawal of American forces in Iraq, to begin at a time unspecified and to be completed by a time unspecified. The goal will be to hand over responsibility for security in Iraq to the Iraqis themselves as soon as this is feasible, and to shift the American role to training rather than fighting the insurgency and providing security. The decision of how far, how fast, and even whether to withdraw will rest with military commanders in Iraq, who will base their determination on how well prepared the Iraqis are to take over. Even after the withdrawal, the study group envisions keeping at least 70,000 American troops in Iraq for years to come.

To say that this is not a new idea is an understatement. Donald Rumsfeld and top military officials have from the beginning of the occupation three years ago aimed to do precisely what the Baker-Hamilton group now recommends...

...As Democratic senator Jack Reed noted, the group's recommendations repeat "what some of us have been saying for a while."...Despite efforts to make it appear otherwise, then, the real recommendation of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group is "stay the course." For this we waited nine months?

One of the more striking aspects of the Iraq Study Group's report is that these recommendations are clearly not anyone's idea of the right plan...One commission source declared, "We reached a consensus, which in itself is remarkable." "Everyone felt good about where we ended up," said another. We're happy for them. But reaching consensus among the 10 members of the group was presumably not the primary goal of this exercise. The idea was to provide usable advice for the Bush administration that would help it move toward an acceptable outcome in Iraq. In that, the commission has failed.

There is another problem for Baker, of course, which justifies the money the commission is spending to hire the Edelman public relations firm. It is that the Baker commission report is, as the press likes to say, dead on arrival...

As for Baker's other significant and more original recommendation--that the United States hold direct talks with Iran and Syria to get their help in Iraq--Bush nixed that idea, too. In Estonia last Tuesday, the president said, "Iran knows how to get to the table with us, and that is to do that which they said they would do, which is verifiably suspend their [uranium] enrichment programs." This the Iranians have steadfastly refused to do, of course. As for Syria, Bush continues to accuse Syria, rightly, of trying to retake control of Lebanon by means of assassination and support of terrorist violence. He gave no indication that he was willing to begin direct talks with Syria on Iraq.

It's not as if the Baker commission has accomplished nothing, however. Although its recommendations will have no effect on American policy going forward, they have already had a very damaging effect throughout the world, and especially in the Middle East and in Iraq. For the Iraq Study Group, aided by supportive American media, has successfully conveyed the impression to everyone at home and abroad that the United States is about to withdraw from Iraq. This has weakened American allies and strengthened American enemies. It has exacerbated the problems in Iraq, as all the various factions in that country begin to prepare for the "inevitable" American retreat. Now it will require enormous efforts by the president and his advisers to dispel the disastrous impression that the Baker commission has quite deliberately created and will continue to foster in the weeks ahead. At home and abroad, people have been led to believe that Jim Baker and not the president was going to call the shots in Iraq from now on...

Yet there is one "power broker" that still matters: the American public. Unfortunately, and dangerously, the president appears to have largely lost their confidence. Certainly, the election results were a strong signal that Americans are unhappy with the war in Iraq. At the same time, we were struck by exit polls that showed the public was equally concerned with a too precipitous pullout from Iraq, suggesting the American people know quite well what is at stake in the war there. Many Americans, it would seem, are still open to a plan for Iraq that has a chance of working--if the president acts soon. If not, no matter how strong a position he has constitutionally, he will not be able to sustain his Iraq policy...

The Editors of National Review on One for the Wastebaskets

The Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG) is turning into a parody of bipartisan commissions. Such commissions are often driven by their own internal dynamics rather than by any connection to the real world. So it is that the ISG has apparently blended a Republican option to keep fighting in Iraq with a Democratic option to adopt a timetable for withdrawal by next year, and come up with a recommendation of withdrawing American combat troops (perhaps to their Iraqi bases) on a non-specified timetable. If this is so, any costs of distributing the report should be saved by printing it and then immediately depositing it in the nearest wastebaskets.

It shouldn’t be surprising that five Republicans and five Democrats sitting around a table can’t come up with any ready solutions to Iraq. First, there are genuine, deep divides between the two parties that can’t be bridged by a few elder statesmen, no matter how exalted or well-meaning. Second, there are no ready solutions, at least not in the sense of magic bullets that wouldn’t already have occurred to people much more expert in military strategy and Middle Eastern affairs....

This is just a dressed-up surrender in Iraq. As soon as the U.S. began such a redeployment, the security situation would worsen and the political environment would further deteriorate...

The U.S. needs to fight more in Iraq, not give up. That means sending more troops to Baghdad. Yes, we should be training more Iraqi units and embedding more American troops with those units, but there is no substitute in the near term for more U.S. troops on the ground. Only we can stabilize Baghdad, and only a better security situation there can provide the conditions necessary for the kind of political progress that might turn the war around.

The apparently risible recommendation of the ISG has a silver lining, however. It will make it easier for President Bush to politely dismiss its findings, and — we hope — do what’s necessary to try to save Iraq.

Thomas Joscelyn of the Claremont Institute on The New Know-Nothings

There is much talk these days about the possibility of the U.S. entering negotiations with Iran and Syria. The thinking goes that both regimes could be enticed into stabilizing post-Saddam Iraq as part of some "grand bargain." Foreign policy gurus ranging from those sitting on the much-heralded Baker-Hamilton Commission to Henry Kissinger to the incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have argued for this course. Unfortunately, their advice is grounded in a dangerous ignorance of our terrorist enemies...

...In no way do Tehran's interests and American interests in Iraq, or anywhere else in the world, "converge." Below I have included two pointed examples of just how far off base this thinking is. The prospect for negotiations is not very high since our foreign policy establishment simply does not have a very good understanding of those they seek to negotiate with in the first place.

Myth #1: Iran and America both want "stability" in Iraq, therefore we have common interests.

The desire for negotiations with Iran (and Iran's terrorist ally, Syria) is driven by a false premise. America's foreign policy elites have concluded that since an unstable Iraq may have ripple effects throughout the region, then Iran wants to quell the violence in favor of long-term stability. The chaos plaguing post-Saddam Iraq is not good for either Tehran or America, the thinking goes, so we should be able to reach common ground in this regard.

This makes no sense for a variety of reasons.

First, Iran certainly wants long-term stability in Iraq, but only as long as the Iraqi Shiites are inculcated with the same virulent anti-Americanism as that espoused by Tehran's mullahs. That is, Tehran's vision of a "stable" Iraq is not consistent with U.S. interests...

Thus, just because both nations have an interest in stability it does not mean that "stability" is defined in the same terms.

Second, Iran is directly fomenting short-term instability in Iraq and killing American-led forces as well as Iraqi civilians...

But Iran is not just "exploiting" the violence for its own gain; Khomeini's heirs are openly fomenting it. It is no secret that a substantial portion of the improvised explosive devices (IED's) killing our soldiers and Iraqi civilians are coming from Iran...

Iran is not only feeding the insurgency advanced IED technology, it is also supplying a steady stream of suicide bombers...

It is also not a secret that the Iranians are arming, funding, and training the Shiite militias that are the cause of so much havoc in the first place.

Why would anyone, therefore, assume that Iran wants "stability" in Iraq the same way America does? In fact, the more realistic view is that Iran is wagering short-term instability is enough to make American-led forces leave, thereby providing the mullahs with an opportunity to spread their influence and to create an Iraq under their sway.

Myth #2: Iran's relationship with al Qaeda needs clarification. Corollary Myth: The Shiites of Iran could not possibly work with the Sunnis of al Qaeda because of ideological differences...

...Iran and Iranian-backed terrorists aided al Qaeda's rise, trained bin Laden's suicide bombers, and have assisted al Qaeda in a variety of ways. The al Qaeda operatives in Iran are not "detained" in any meaningful sense, they are simply being sheltered.

It is widely believed that Iran and al Qaeda could not possibly cooperate due to ideological differences. The historical enmity between Shiites and Sunnis, we are told, is insurmountable. Therefore, Iran—the premiere state sponsor of terrorism for decades—and al Qaeda—the vanguard organization of Islamist terrorism—could not work together against their common enemies.

This misunderstanding has no doubt influenced the current calls for negotiations with Iran...In reality, Iran and Iranian terrorist proxies, like Hezbollah, have had an ongoing relationship with the main constituencies of al Qaeda going back decades...

Here is the bottom line: the Foreign Policy Establishment that is calling for negotiations with Iran does not have a good (or any?) understanding of Iranian behavior. This is particularly troubling because Iran is the foremost sponsor of terrorist enemies around the world. Is it reasonable to think that these folks could successfully carry on negotiations with the mullahs?

I wouldn't bet on it.

Andrew McCarthy in Can We Talk? Well, we can, but we shouldn't

This is a war of will. If we lose it, the historians will marvel at how mulishly we resisted understanding the one thing we needed to understand in order to win. The enemy.

In Iraq, we’ve tried to fight the most civilized “light footprint” war of all time. We made sure everyone knew our beef was only with Saddam Hussein, as if he were a one-man militia — no Sunni Baathists supporting him, no Arab terrorists colluding, and no Shiite jihadists hating us just on principle.

No, our war was only with the regime. No need to fight the Iraqis. They, after all, were noble. They would flock to democracy if only they had the chance. And, once they hailed us as conquering heroes, their oil wealth would pay for the whole thing … just 400 billion American dollars ago.

This may be the biggest disconnect of all time between the American people and a war government.

In the wake of 9/11, the American people did not care about democratizing the Muslim world. Or, for that matter, about the Muslim world in general. They still don’t. They want Islamic terrorists and their state sponsors crushed. As for the aftermath, they want something stable that no longer threatens our interests; they care not a wit whether Baghdad’s new government looks like Teaneck’s.

To the contrary, Bush-administration officials — notwithstanding goo-gobs of evidence that terrorists have used the freedoms of Western democracies, including our own, the better to plot mass murder — have conned themselves into believing that democracy, not decisive force, is the key to conquering this enemy.

So deeply have they gulped the Kool-Aid that, to this day, they refuse to acknowledge what is plain to see: While only a small number of the world’s billion-plus Muslims (though a far larger number than we’d like to believe) is willing to commit acts of terrorism, a substantial percentage — meaning tens of millions — supports the terrorists’ anti-West, anti-democratic agenda.

Islamic countries, moreover, are not rejecting Western democracy because they haven’t experienced it. They reject it on principle. For them, the president’s euphonious rhetoric about democratic empowerment is offensive. They believe, sincerely, that authority to rule comes not from the people but from Allah; that there is no separation of religion and politics; that free people do not have authority to legislate contrary to Islamic law; that Muslims are superior to non-Muslims, and men to women; and that violent jihad is a duty whenever Muslims deem themselves under attack … no matter how speciously.

These people are not morons. They adhere to a highly developed belief system that is centuries old, wildly successful, and for which many are willing to die. They haven’t refused to democratize because the Federalist Papers are not yet out in Arabic. They decline because their leaders have freely chosen to decline. They see us as the mortal enemy of the life they believe Allah commands. Their demurral is wrong, but it is principled, not ignorant. And we insult them by suggesting otherwise.

Democratizing such cultures — in anything we would recognize as “democracy” — is the work of generations. It is a cultural phenomenon. It is not accomplished by elections and facile constitution writing … especially, constitutions that shun Madisonian democracy for the State Department’s preferred establishment of Islam and its adhesive sharia law as the state religion.
Elections, in fact, play to the strengths of Islamic terrorists. Jihadists are confident, intimidating, and rigorously disciplined. They are thus certain to thrive in the chaos of nascent “democracies.” Consequently, it should be unsurprising to anyone with a shred of common sense that terrorist organizations are ascendant in the new governments of Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

So now comes James Baker’s Iraq Study Group, riding in on its bipartisan white horse to save the day. The democracy project having failed, this blue-ribbon panel’s solution is: Let’s talk.

Let’s talk with our enemies, Iran and Syria. Let’s talk with terror abettors as if they were good guys — just like us. As if they were just concerned neighbors trying to stop the bloodshed in Iraq … instead of the dons who’ve been commanding it all along.

Someone, please explain something to me: How does it follow that, because Islamic cultures reject democracy, we somehow need to talk to Iran and Syria?

What earthly logic that supports talking with these Islamic terrorists would not also support negotiating with al Qaeda — a demarche not even a Kennedy School grad would dare propose?

There’s none.

When I grew up in The Bronx, there were street gangs. You mostly stayed away from them, and, if you really had to, you fought with them. But I never remember anyone saying, “Gee, maybe if we just talk with them ...”

Nor do I remember, in two decades as a prosecutor, anyone saying, “Y’know, maybe if we just talk with these Mafia guys, we could achieve some kind of understanding ...”

Sitting down with evil legitimizes evil. As a practical matter, all it accomplishes is to convey weakness...

The democracy project tells Islamists that we don’t understand them — or care to try understanding them. The “let’s talk” gambit confirms that we’re not just studiously ignorant; we’re ripe for the taking.

For our own sake, we need to respect the enemy. That means grasping that he’s implacable, that he means us only harm, and that he must be subdued, not appeased. Negotiating with such evil is always a mistake, for any accommodation with evil is, by definition, evil.

Rejecting the democracy project is about respecting the enemy. Declining to talk to the enemy is about respecting ourselves.


Donald B. Hawthorne

As occurred last February during a previous cleanup, another cleanup now allows me to pass along an excerpt from an article and two other quotes which I discovered during tonight's effort:

Patti Davis, President Reagan's daughter, wrote A Daughter's Remembrance: The Gemstones of Our Years on the occasion of his death in 2004:

...My father was always more accessible when he was teaching his children through stories...

My father was a shy man; he wasn't demonstrative with his children. His affection didn't announce itself with strong embraces of dramatic declaration. We had to interpret it. Like delicate calligraphy, it required patience and a keen eye, attributes I had to acquire. I was not born with them.

Eventually, I grew beyond the girl who wanted more from her father than he was able to give. I began to focus on the gifts he gave me...You content yourself with moments; you gather them, treasure them. They are the gemstones of the years you shared...

...My father belonged to the country. I resented the country at times for its demands on him, its ownership of him. America was the important child in the family, the one who got the most attention. It's strange, but now I find comfort in sharing him with an entire nation. There is some solace in knowing that others were also mystified by him; his elusiveness was endearing, but puzzling. He left all of us with the same question: who was he? People ask me to unravel him for them, as if I have secrets I haven't shared. But I have none, nothing that you don't already know. He was a man guided by internal faith. He knew our time on this earth is brief, yet he cared deeply about making his time here count. He was comfortable in his own skin. A disarmingly sunny man, he remained partially in shadow; no one ever saw all of him. It took me nearly four decades to allow my father his shadows, his reserve, to sit silently with him and not clamor for something more...

Francine Klagsbrun wrote these words in Married People: Staying Together in the Age of Divorce:

Acceptance is a prerequisite for intimacy, and from acceptance grows trust. You trust another to accept you for yourself and, once accepting, not to betray that trust.

And, finally, there is this quote from the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship:

Costly grace is the gospel which might be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it cost a man his life, and it is grace, because it gives us the only true life...

[Cheap grace] is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate....

December 1, 2006

Appealing to the Parenting Class

Marc Comtois

Yuval Levin has written a piece that is getting some attention around the web. In it, he identifies what he calls the "parenting class" as being the new group to whom politicians will need to appeal:

The worry of middle- and lower-middle-class families arises from a genuine tension between the two things they most eagerly strive to do: build families and build wealth. That tension, and the disquiet it causes, is especially acute for parents. Indeed, Americans in the middle class and what used to be called the working class would be better conceived of today as the parenting class. Their concerns and aspirations are no longer focused on their standing in the workplace, as they were when our political vocabulary was coming of age, but on balancing the pursuits of family and prosperity.

The members of the parenting class do not live on the edge of poverty. But they are anxious about their ability to meet their high aims, like affording a decent college for their children, getting the most from their health care dollar, and (in our increasingly older society) meeting the needs of their aging parents.

This is the anxiety of a successful capitalist economy filled with individuals who want to lead good lives. It is an anxiety produced by the kind of society conservatives seek to promote. It therefore calls for a response from the right, from those who share the aspiration to balance families and free markets...this aspirational anxiety should be the focus of a conservative domestic policy agenda, and the lens through which conservatives understand their challenge in the coming years.

He has his own ideas as to how conservatives can address the concerns of this group. It's well worth the read.

Give Locally, it's More Effective

Marc Comtois

I posted a couple weeks ago about Arthur Brooks' findings that conservatives are more charitable than liberals. Last night, John Stossel (via Karen Woods) looked into whether or not we are "Cheap in America" and found that it was a myth. Working off of this, Woods draws a couple conclusions:

Bureaucracies, government ones and even big charity ones (national or international), just don’t do as good a job as private, local donors and charities; and (2) Americans are truly more generous than any other people on the planet--no matter their means. Rich and poor alike give generously...

So one point is clear, defensible, and should motivate that worthy end-of-year giving: Charity does it better. Private donations are more substantial and yield more positive effects on the givers and receivers than any government effort. Volunteerism, direct involvement with those in need, is extremely powerful and productive.

There’s a second, equally critical point, interestingly not in the sites of the “more government money to fight world poverty” campaigns: effective giving. Give to organizations that transform people’s lives and communities.

Woods continues on, but the short and sweet of it is that it's a more effective use of your money and time if you give to local charities.

Global Warming at the US Supreme Court

Carroll Andrew Morse

For those interested in the “global warming” case (Massachusetts v. EPA) heard by the Supreme Court on Wednesday (which Rhode Island is a party to), Jonathan Adler of the Volokh Conspiracy has been compiling links on the media coverage, the Supreme Court has already posted the official transcript of the oral arguments, and the legal briefs filed in the case are available from the Community Rights Council website.

In one sentence, the case is not directly about the science of global warming, but about whether a) states can sue a Federal agency to force it to enact regulations in areas where they have not been granted express authority by Congress and b) whether anyone has the standing to sue for damages for the broad, collective effects of something like “global warming”. Expect the Court’s four liberal justices to rule that “Statutory mandates on executive branch agencies should be interpreted very broadly in places where we agree with the policy outcomes”, the four conservative justices to say that “Congress must grant specific authorization to a Federal agency before it can act”, and Anthony Kennedy to be the swing vote.