January 31, 2007

RI's State Legislature: the Guarantor of Customer Service!

Justin Katz

They've obviously got nothing worthwhile to do with their time:

Saying that Rhode Island consumers are being taken advantage of when they’re forced to pay surcharges for gift certificates, Rep. Stephen R. Ucci has introduced legislation that would prohibit businesses from charging any additional fees to gift cards or gift certificates.

“After certain regulations were put into place regarding the sale of gift cards, businesses started coming up with creative ways to make more money from consumers, including adding surcharges to gift cards,” said Representative Ucci, a Democrat who represents District 42 in Cranston and Johnston. “I really don’t see the rationale in having to pay a surcharge for a gift card that’s already been paid for in full, and this practice needs to stop.”

Why consumers can't simply refuse to buy gift cards with surcharges, if the practice is so unfair, Ucci doesn't explain. He is, however, fully within the spirit of the state legislature in trying to go the extra totalitarian mile on behalf of its constituents:

The legislation (2007-H 5105) builds upon current laws that prohibit all gift cards and certificates sold in Rhode Island, including prepaid long-distance calling cards, from coming with any strings attached, such as maintenance fees or expiration dates.

This is a small thing, I guess, but is it any wonder that businesses are leaving this state? The only thing that particular stores' take-it-or-leave-it gift certificate policies are "taking advantage" of is our mindless, greedy laziness.

Sometimes I can't shake the feeling that Rhode Island is run by all the nosy Uncle Steves up the street intent on proving that they really are important... self-appointed benevolent dictators of the neighborhood. "Gee, Bob, you shouldn't have to park in front of the neighbor's house. I'm going to get that out-of-state car towed away!" "What? There's an expiration on this gift certificate? Martha, get my gavel!"

Re: Governor Carcieri's Budget: Early Reporting

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here are some annotated excerpts of Governor Donald Carcieri’s explanation of his budget .

1. Cuts are necessary because, under the existing structure of Rhode Island government, spending is growing twice as fast as revenues…

Here is the problem we faced in putting this budget together. Although our revenues were projected to grow at the healthy rate of 4.3 percent, state spending was expected to grow by over 9 percent. In other words, we were scheduled to spend twice as much as we hoped to earn.

In my budget, I have reduced the growth rate in spending from that original 9% projection, to just over 3%, after factoring out a few one-time adjustments.

2. The decision not to pay social services benefits to illegal aliens -- who are not eligible for the programs by law -- is going to be more controversial than it should…

We will save over $11.2 million by improving the integrity of Rhode Island’s social service programs, primarily by implementing new federal requirements regarding the verification of every beneficiaries’ citizenship.
This is merely a decision to enforce existing laws. If proponents of benefits for illegal aliens don’t like it, then they should change the law (and also tell what taxes they are going to raise or what programs they are going to cut to pay for the additional benefits they support), not demand that the law go unenforced.

3. There are another $95,000,000 in budget cuts described in rather vague terms such as “administering a host of state programs more efficiently”, “redesign[ing] several state programs”, “better coordinating the services we are providing to clients” in multiple departments, and “using the state’s purchasing power to negotiate better deals for the taxpayers”.

The Governor describes several choices included in this $95,000,000 as “particularly difficult”…

First, we are reducing the eligibility in the child care subsidy program from 225 percent of the federal poverty level to 150 percent. We are also delaying a scheduled increase in state reimbursement rates for child care providers….

Second, we are reducing services being provided to young adults by the Department of Children, Youth and Families. Specifically, we will eliminate services to participants over the age of 17. DCYF currently serves young adults up to the age of 21….

Over the next several months, my administration will work with the General Assembly and the Judiciary to outline a set of alternative sentencing and community corrections options that will enable us to reduce the number of inmates by 500 from the currently projected levels. This reform will save taxpayers approximately $3 million next year, and many millions more in the future.

4. A reduction in direct expenditures by the state on operations and personnel account for another $24,400,000 budget cut…
We will save on personnel by privatizing food services and housekeeping at Eleanor Slater Hospital and the Veterans Home. Together, these measures will save $3.3 million and reduce the workforce by over 200 positions.

We will further reduce the entire state workforce by another 168 positions statewide through a targeted layoff, saving an additional $9.3 million. I have instructed my department directors to identify specific positions to be eliminated so that we can start the layoff process outlined in collective bargaining agreements immediately.

Seven statewide furlough days between this current fiscal year and next year will save another $10.8 million.

5. The Governor also discusses two primary areas where spending will increase. One is education aid to cities and towns…
Despite severe fiscal challenges, my budget will increase state aid for education by a total of $46.4 million, or 5.4 percent. Of that, $19.4 million is in direct school aid. That’s a 3 percent funding boost in unrestricted aid for every Rhode Island school system!
This too will be controversial; the urban communities will shriek at the idea of towns being treated as if their supposed to get some return on their tax dollars; don’t they know that their primary reason for existence is not to educate their own children, but to provide subsidies to the urban core?

6. The Governor also wants to direct a one-time infusion of tobacco settlement money towards capital transportation improvements…

We believe we can secure another $160 million through the sale of additional tobacco bonds. But let me be clear about one thing. These tobacco settlement proceeds may only be used for capital projects. My plan would not use a one-time infusion of tobacco money to pay for ongoing, or recurring programs that are part of the yearly operating budget. We must not use it to pay for expenses that we know we will have again next year.

Instead, we will use this money for one-time, nonrecurring expenses like road paving and bridge repair.

7. Finally, there’s no mention of any sort of pension or public-employee benefit reform in this budget. Some Rhode Island observers have described the state trajectory as headed towards an inevitable conflict between cutting public employee benefits or cutting social welfare programs. Is the decision that it will be the welfare programs that are cut starting to be made? (Or will the tobacco money end up being used to pay for operating costs and social welfare checks, pushing the decision one at least more year down the crumbling road?)

Governor Carcieri's Budget: Early Reporting

Marc Comtois

The Governor has just releases his State budget proposal for next year. Scott Mayerowitz of the ProJo chose to highlight the "several accounting tricks, one-time sources of revenue and other gimmicks to balance his tax and spending plan," (sheesh, no in-story editorializing there, Scott) and glossed over one major source of cuts (state workers). Ray Henry of the AP (via the Boston Globe) was more detailed in explaining the nature of those cuts:

Hundreds of state workers would be laid off and social spending programs would be slashed to close a $350 million budget deficit under a budget proposal released Wednesday by Gov. Don Carcieri.

The Republican governor's $7.02 billion spending plan also taps into the state's rainy-day fund to help close the gap. But it avoids tax increases and pumps money into education initiatives backed by Carcieri, a former math teacher, including expanding nursing programs and modestly increasing education assistance for cities and towns.

"The decisions contained in this revenue and expenditure plan were not easy ones to make, but they were made with careful consideration for the best interests of all Rhode Islanders," Carcieri wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

His budget staff justified cutbacks by warning that expenditures were projected to grow 9 percent for the 2008 fiscal year starting in July. Revenue was only projected to increase around 4.3 percent. By law, Rhode Island must pass a balanced budget.

State workers are among the groups hit the hardest. Carcieri's plan calls for saving $9.8 million by firing 168 state workers, both unionized employees and management. Carcieri's plan would also privatize the food service and housekeeping staffs at a state hospital and veteran's home, eliminating an additional 214 workers.

All nonessential employees would have to take three unpaid days off scheduled around the Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays, a move that he estimated would shave $4.8 million off the deficit...

And just like last year, the Governor is targeting both RIte Care and Child Care subsidies (I can hear the shrieking now).
As required by a new federal law, Rhode Island health officials will begin demanding more proof of U.S. citizenship, for example a birth certificate or passport, before allowing people to enroll in subsidized health care services.

Those changes could force an estimated 5,700 people off RIte Care, the state's insurance program for the needy, said Gary Alexander, the acting director of the Department of Human Services...

One of the larger social spending cuts would tighten the eligibility requirements for families that use state-subsidized child care programs, probably eliminating about 3,800 children from the program. Those children would largely come from families that already contribute some money toward their child care, Alexander said.

Of course, there's much more and a lot of it won't make many people happy. I don't like that the Governor has chosen to freeze the car-tax reduction, has proposed several fee hikes and I don't like the stop-gap measure of getting another tobacco settlement buyout. There's a lot to go over, and I'm sure we'll hear all sorts of whining from many quarters (including here). The lesson: don't spend more than you take in and you won't have to worry about "cuts." Now we ALL will have to make some sacrifices to pay for our fiscal largesse.

"You say, I only hear what I want to..."

Marc Comtois

Kate Brewster, executive director of the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College:

“This is not a State of the State,” Brewster said, “but a state of denial. There was no mention of thousands of working families who are struggling with stagnant wages and skyrocketing costs of living.”
Hmmm. From the Governor's State of the State Address:
No state can prosper without a growing economy! Without growing employment, increasing wages, and improved profits, tax revenues cannot grow. Between 2002 and 2006, Rhode Island ranked second in private-sector job growth among all New England states.

And we ranked first in job creation since the end of the national recession in 2001. This slowed considerably in the last year - but ebbs and flows are inevitable.

Our per-capita income is among the fastest growing, and our median family income is $61,000, the 11th highest in the nation.

In recent years, we have developed an aggressive strategy to create an innovation economy that will grow higher wage jobs, and help provide a better quality of life for all Rhode Islanders.

Last year, the General Assembly joined with me and the Science and Technology Advisory Council to invest $1.5M in collaborative research. This research will support our economic development strategy.

A major economic development success this past year was the move of Alexion.

With us tonight is Jim Rich. Jim is the Site Director for Alexion Pharmaceuticals in Smithfield. The company moved to Rhode Island from Connecticut when they purchased the former Dow Manufacturing facility in Smithfield. They will begin operations in the spring of 2008, and just received FDA approval to produce Soloris, which will treat a very rare blood disorder. Initially, they will employ 80 people. Join me in welcoming Jim and this wonderful addition to our biotech community.

There has been a great deal of conversation about Quonset lately. Eclipsed in that debate is some exciting news about developments happening inside the park:

* There are more than 150 companies located at Quonset, with nearly 8,000 employees
* In 2006, Quonset saw $26M in expansions and job growth. The new, world-class manufacturing facility built by Hexagon/Brown & Sharpe was a major addition to the Park

A recent exciting announcement is that NOAA is evaluating Quonset as the home port for the nation's first ocean exploration ship, the Okeanos Explorer.

Combined with the Graduate School of Oceanography, it's research ship, the Endeavor - and the Inner Space Center - the Ocean State will become the nation's leading center for ocean research. This will bring more jobs and investment to Rhode Island.

Economic development will be an untiring, and relentless focus of my administration.

Nope, no good news here. I mean, how could "working families" benefit from economic development that makes the state more attractive to business? Pushaw!!! Instead, from its all-good-things-must-come-via-the-government mindset, the Poverty Institute would like to see more taxes:

1) "Reform Tax Expenditures", which are "credits, deductions, exemptions, exclusions or preferential tax rates that reduce tax liability for selected firms or individuals."

2) "Revive the Corporate Income Tax"

3) "Broaden the Sales Tax"

4) "Rescind scheduled elimination of 5% tax on capital gain income"

5) "Freeze the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax Phase-Out"

Yes, I'm sure that "thousands of working families" would be very happy to see the car tax stick around and see the sales tax "broadened." And increasing the tax burden on business sure will help out with "stagnant wages," won't it? And, finally, some of those "skyrocketing costs of living" wouldn't have anything to do with Rhode Island's already heavy tax burden--that Poverty Inc...er... Institute would like to make heavier--would they?

{My apologies to a certain Brown U. alum with cat-eye glasses}

January 30, 2007

Baker and Hamilton Support the Surge…

Carroll Andrew Morse

…and, in fact, their Iraq Study Group document always has, according to this report from the Weekly Standard’s international affairs weblog

Earlier today, James Baker endorsed President Bush's plan to surge troops into Baghdad, as did Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the bipartisan Iraq Study Group with Baker. Baker told the Senate Foreign Relation Committee that "the president's plan ought to be given a chance . . . Just give it a chance." Said Hamilton, "If we can put this together there is a chance we can reasonably succeed. But we realize that is a very, very daunting challenge."

The Iraq Study Group's final report did recommend "a short-term redeployment or surge of American combat forces to stabilize Baghdad, or to speed up the training and equipping mission, if the U.S. commander in Iraq determines that such steps would be effective."

Our Warming Planet

Marc Comtois

I'd heard of the Medieval Warm Period (for a good, sensible analysis, I'd recommend "The Global Warming Two-Step" by William Tucker), but the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum was a new one to me until I received an unbidden issue of Inside Smithsonian Research in the mail the other day. In it was an article on how fossils hold clues to predicting how plants will respond to global warming. Here's a portion specifically concerning the PETM:

[Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History paleobotanist Scott] Wing is studying fossils from a sliver of time known as the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM, a geologic eyeblink when that warm, moist world of 55 million years ago grew even warmer. In just about 10,000 years, the basin’s climate went from Floridian to something more like southern Mexico.

"It was a global warming on top of an already globally warm situation," Wing says. Earth’s average surface temperature rose 4 to 8 degrees Celsius and stayed that way for the next 80,000 to 100,000 years...

Not only was the PETM a rapid change in climate, like the accelerated warming we are witnessing today, but the massive quantity of carbon (about 5,000 gigatons) that was released into the atmosphere during the past event "is roughly the same amount of carbon that we estimate humans are going to produce during the next 500 years by burning fossil-fuel reserves," Wing says.

...What caused the PETM? No one knows for sure, but one theory suggests that rising ocean temperatures, or perhaps an undersea earthquake, led to the melting of ice containing methane, which was trapped in sediments on the ocean floor. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas. Released into the ocean and atmosphere, it would have reacted with oxygen, producing still more greenhouse gases in the form of carbon dioxide and water vapor. Those gases may have set in motion the abrupt, worldwide warming, the effects of which Wing reads in the fossils he excavates in the Bighorn Basin. {italics mine}

Remember, one theory suggests and note the "perhaps"-s and "may"-s and general hedging language. But, all that being said, I can accept the reasonable argument proferred by the earlier-mentioned Mr. Tucker who cites the astrophysicist Nir Shaviv:
The truth is probably somewhere in between, with natural causes probably being more important over the past century, whereas anthropogenic causes will probably be more dominant over the next century. Following [the] empirical evidence... about 2/3's (give or take a third or so) of the warming should be attributed to increased solar activity and the remaining to anthropogenic causes.
To this, Tucker adds:
The others are S.K. Solanki of the Max Planck Institute and M. Fligge of the Institute of Astronomy in Zurich, who have done extensive research on solar activity and show that it corresponds very closely with temperature changes. In particular, their data explains the slight decline in temperatures from 1956 to 1970 -- a period that carbon-emissions advocates have a great deal of trouble in explaining.

Solanki and Fligge are generally acknowledged by both sides to be very objective chroniclers of the solar theory. Yet when I read one of their leading papers, I found this:

Since approximately 1975 the situation is clearly different...with solar irradiance showing a comparatively much more modest rise than air temperature....[U]nless the influence of solar variability on Earth is very strongly non-linear, at least this most recent temperature increase reflects the influence of man-made greenhouse gases or non-solar sources of natural variability.

Talkin’ Tax Cuts at the NRI Summit

Carroll Andrew Morse

Mona Charen was the first of several speakers over the course of the NRI Summit to offer up this important point: The United States is now at the point where about 50% of the population pays no income tax. Therefore, tax-cuts can no longer be the centerpiece of an effective national Republican platform, because half of the population has no taxes to cut. (Unless cuts in payroll taxes are put on the table).

This has some very practical implications for state politics in a place like Rhode Island. For instance, when Rhode Island Democrats talk about property tax-reform, are they really talking about reform, or is the real goal to shift even more of a tax burden to the upper 50% of the population, so that just half of the population is paying for all Federal and state services, and through education-aid and municipal aid funding formulas, for most local services too?

I should also note that, despite the concern about taxpayer demographics, there seemed to be very little enthusiasm for “big” ideas like replacing the income tax with a national sales tax. I’m not sure if that is because of concerns about politics or policy.

Newt Gingrich on Conservatism and on Iraq

Carroll Andrew Morse

The first speaker at the NRI Conservative Summit this past weekend was former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. The former Speaker offered a challenging take on the state of conservatism…

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich: Always talk personally first, historically second, and politically last. This is the number one problem with the consultant class. The get up every morning and read Hotline, and then they go to Drudge, and then they talk politics all day, and then because they have no idea what the average American thinks or does, they try to write a clever attack commercial because they haven’t got anything positive to say. That is fundamentally wrong.

What people want to know first is what are you going to do for me? This does not mean that you have to be for liberal bureaucracies. Freedom is one of things I am going to do for you. The right to have a work ethic and keep most of what you earn is something I want to do you for. The right to have larger take-home pay is something I want to do for you.

This is a fight over policies. Do you want policies that strengthen bureaucracies, or policies that strengthen entrepaneurs? Do you want policies that strengthen Washington, or policies that strengthen families? Do you want more choices for the cabinet secretary or more choices for the secretary back home? It’s very straightforward. It’s a policy fight.

People want to know, first of all, how are you going to make my life better? And at $3.00 a gallon for gas, they began to go maybe this Republican Congress isn’t working. When health prices rise up unendingly, in most cases faster than take home pay, they go maybe this isn’t working. When they see the Detroit School system graduate 21% of incoming freshmen on time and cheat 4 out of 5 children, they say on a practical level maybe this isn’t working. When they learn that an African-American male who drops out of school has a 73% unemployment in his 20s and a 60% likelihood and going to jail, at a personal level, it’s not working.

We don’t know how to talk that way, because we, frankly, came out of an ideological movement that was then transformed by a Hollywood actor who had been FDR Democrat. And so we sort of loved Ronald Reagan, but we didn’t study him.

This is not about ideology. Ideology is a process of thought designed to produce better results. The question is what are the results. And why aren’t we and the liberal Detroit arguing on the side of parents and their children against the machine that’s destroying them?

Totally different model. So just practice every day. What are you going say that’s personal first, historical second, and political last…

…and was strong and direct on the subject of the Iraq war, and the unacceptability of defeat…

NG: I had said as early as the fall of 2003 we had the wrong policy and had gone off a cliff. That did not mean I thought we should withdraw. It meant I thought we should get the right policy. We are at the edge of maybe getting the right policy with General Petraeus.

But Iraq is a mess. We have to start with that understanding. I never defend the mess in Iraq. What I do say is this. Everybody who believes that defeat is an easy alternative needs to explain the consequences of defeat.

We have tried weakness once before under Jimmy Carter. We had a 444 day hostage crisis in Iran. We had the American embassy burned in Pakistan. We had the American ambassador killed in Afghanistan. We had the Soviets invade Afghanistan and have proxy forces in Cuba, Mozambique, Angola, Grenada, Nicaragua and El Salvador. We had the Soviets financing over a million person demonstration in Europe. People forget how much anti-Americanism there was when Ronald Reagan was defending freedom and defeating the Soviet Union.

So we’ve tried weakness. We’ve tried weakness at home with liberalism. It got us 13% inflation and 22% interest rates. Some of you are old enough to remember when you had to know the last number of your car-tag to know which days you we allowed to sit in line to buy gasoline. Remember how the Carter administration and liberals had totally messed up. It’s perfectly appropriate for [Speaker of the House Nancy] Pelosi to appoint [Congressman Edward] Markey to head an energy committee because he represents precisely the values that destroyed the energy system last time. So we’ve done all this.

The debate has to be over Iraq in context. Tell me about the North Korean bomb. Tell me about Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Tell me about the public statements about defeating America from Chavez and Ahmadinejad. Now, in that context, tell me why you think a policy of weakness and defeat is a clever next step. And that doesn’t mean that we are in an easy place. I think we are in as hard a place as Lincoln was in 1862, I think we are in as hard a place as Franklin Delano Roosevelt was in 1942, and I think we had better figure out how to win, because sooner or later we are going to have to beat these people.

The Baker-Hamilton commission exactly reversed what we need to do. [Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin understood that the key to making peace with the Arabs was to be able to stop the Iranians. Baker-Hamilton said why don’t we invite the Iranians in to help us out with the Arabs. That is like saying if only Adolph Hitler had been friendly, Munich wouldn’t have been nearly as bad.

I think this is a serious moment in American history, and I think at some point in time we will run a real risk of losing 2 or 3 cities to nuclear weapons, and I think it’s a lot better to act now, before we lose a city, then to wake up an appoint a new 9/11 commission saying “gee, why didn’t we know”.

And how’s this for a bit of rabble-rousing…

NG: One of the things that would tempt me this fall would be the prospect of 7 or 10 or 12 dialogues next fall, with Hillary, because I don’t believe the left could survive an open, honest dialogue about the difference in values of the two systems.

January 29, 2007

Known Name, New Blog

Justin Katz

Providence Phoenix reporter Ian Donnis has ventured forth with a new Phoenix blog, Not for Nothing. He's been a great resource as a journalist, and I'm sure he'll continue to be so as a blogger, as well.

I can't help but note, however, this line from Ian's blog announcement:

Political activist Matt Jerzyk, a friend and occasional Phoenix contributor, has probably done more than anyone else to build the Rhode Island blogosphere.

I guess this characterization is true, inasmuch as Jerzyk is an insider bringing blogging to insiders, but then again, I've always thought that blogging is uniquely valuable mainly as a venue for the voices of outsiders. Be that as it may, I've a sense that Ian will tend toward integrity with respect to the distinction between bringing the outside in and pushing the inside out.

Re: Another Brand is Proposed

Justin Katz

Marc notes the latest in modified conservatism, put forward by the Hudson Institute's John Fonte (director of the institute's Center for American Common Culture). The piece strikes me — to be honest — as the latest parry in the somewhat ridiculous battle over conservatism that the Republicans' ineptitude has ussured in — the latest attempt to declare, "my conservatism is the conservatism!" Fonte asks, "what stirs the blood?" And his answer is, essentially, nationalism.

Well, to each his own, I suppose, but I think Fonte greatly overestimates the degree to which the field of self-identifying conservatives is united in the prioritization of "American national cohesion." To me, conservatism represents a broad philosophy, describing a temperament and a strategy for deriving core beliefs. If that all boils down to my country's "right to concentrate [my] affections," then my first reaction is to assume that I've been played.

I will credit Fonte with creating a reasonable statement of principles under which conservatives of various stripes could unify. However, if in his construction he hopes to stack the deck in favor of his own colors, then I'd suggest that it is as doomed as any explicit and intellectual attempt to offer a universal conservatism that sublimates more precise — and therefore less encompassing — definitions.

The Dim Future for the Term Compassionate Conservatism Shouldn’t Doom its Underlying Idea

Carroll Andrew Morse

Marc's previous post on "civic conservatism" prompts me to give my report on the national-state of another conservative brand, "compassionate conservatism". It's finished as a political label, but it's rooted in better ideas than you might think.

At the NRI Conservative Summit, Professor Marvin Olasky, the individual probably most responsible for bringing the term “compassionate conservative” into mainstream public discourse, expressed disappointment with President Bush’s version of compassionately conservative social welfare policy. His complaint was that President Bush has invoked the term “compassionate conservatism” without implementing the underlying ideas on the scale that is necessary.

According to Professor Olasky, compassionate conservatism should involve a radical simplification (my term) in the way that government delivers social welfare benefits to its citizens. He named two specific examples: a) an expanded child tax-credit and b) vouchers that public aid-recipients could use to seek help from social service providers of their choice -- faith-based providers included. In contrast, President Bush’s big domestic initiatives, like No-Child-Left-Behind and Medicare part-D, have been attempts to reform and expand existing bureaucracies. Dare I say that on the homefront, President Bush has governed more as a “Rockefeller Republican” who believes that big bureaucracy works, if you just find the right set of managers, and not really as a “compassionate conservative” who believes that something is irretrievably lost when personal efforts to help one another are replaced with government regimentation?

Of course, many mainstream conservatives bristle at the suggestion that “compassionate” can ever be a proper qualifier for conservative, wary that the implication that there is something compassion-neutral about conservatism does more perceptual harm than the modifier heals. This unpopularity with conservatives, combined with compassionate conservatism’s association in the mind of the general public with President Bush and his in-the-thirties approval ratings has already settled the taxonomical argument -- “Compassionate Coservatism” as a defining paradigm is not going to catch on. This most emphatically does not mean that the merits of Professor Olasky’s ideas about the role of government in providing social services and individual opportunity should be dismissed.

Another Brand is Proposed: Civic Conservatives

Marc Comtois

John Fonte at NRO:

I am a civic conservative, a “civ-con.”

At the level of highest principle civic conservatism emphasizes the Unum in E Pluribus Unum and puts American national cohesion over any group interest. The intellectual origins of civic conservatism can be traced to George Washington’s Farewell Address.

Citizens by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.
As Washington scholar Matthew Spalding of the Heritage Foundation puts it: “Above all, the Farewell Address directs the American regime toward Union, or unity, rather than diversity. America must be something more than a league of states or regions, a collection of various groups and interests.”

In terms of contemporary policy, civic conservatism emphasizes the following principles: the equality of American citizenship; the learning of America’s history and values, properly understood; the imperative of assimilating immigrants patriotically into the American way of life (what we proudly used to call Americanization); and the indivisibility of American sovereignty.

The leaders of a serious civic conservatism would not simply rely upon “feel-good” personal stories or platitudes about “common values” and “living the American dream” as substitutes for policy. Instead, they would directly challenge the anti-assimilationist agenda of the past thirty years with the ultimate objective of “roll-back,” to borrow from the successful Jim Burnham-Bill Buckley-Ronald Reagan Cold War strategy. Like the old evil empire, the multicultural-“diversity”-PC machine is based on lies and riddled with “internal contradictions.” It, too, might crumble when confronted with real resistance...

Among the broad population, many so-called Reagan Democrats, as well as most average Republican voters, possess instinctive civ-con tendencies....Civic conservative issues are strongly supported by the general public, although often resisted by elites and special interests. They are an untapped source of strength for an articulate candidate who would internalize them and make them his own.

I think a lot of Americans long for a day when we're just, ya know, Americans and everyone can embrace a shared national culture and heritage. And by the way, that doesn't mean there isn't room for other group-based cultures, etc., it just means that those with a cultural heritage from other countries or groups should also embrace American culture as their own. An important and basic requisite for maintaining a strong nation is that it's people identify with a shared national culture and heritage. In short, that they "buy into it." If people continue to view America as only a place to make a buck and disregard the civic obligations that go with the financial (and civic) benefits, then America may indeed go the way of Rome.

Mitt Romney on Social Issues

Carroll Andrew Morse

I know. I’m not supposed to be posting anything on the 2008 Presidential campaign before June. However, I’m adding a codicil to my New Year’s resolution: I can make an exception when able to present primary-source material about a Presidential candidate (or someone with a Presidential exploratory committee) that adds to a discussion area already active here at Anchor Rising.

At the National Review Institute’s (direct quote from NRO-Editor-at-Large Jonah Goldberg: "Whatever that is") Conservative Summit held this past weekend in Washington D.C., Presidential Candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney gave a substantive address on his philosophy concerning the major issues in American politics -- limited and fiscally conservative government, healthcare, foreign policy, and social and life issues. Here's what Governor Romney had to say about gay marriage, abortion and stem-cell research...

Governor Mitt Romney: When I ran [for Governor of Massachusetts], there were a couple of social issues that were part of that debate. You probably know what some of them were.

One was gay marriage. I opposed then and do now oppose gay marriage and civil unions.

One was related to abortion. My opponent was in favor of lowering the age where a young woman could get an abortion without parental consent from 18 to 16…I, of course, opposed changing the law in that regard.

Another issue was the death penalty, I was for, [my opponent] was against.

Another was English immersion. For a long time, our state had bilingual education, where the schools or the parents get to choose what language their child is taught in. I said that’s just not right. If kids want to be successful in America, they have to learn the language of America. We fought for that, and by the way, I won that one, my opponent did not.

Now, as you know, after I got elected, Massachusetts became sort of the center stage for a number of very important social issues, one of them being gay marriage. I am proud of the fact that I and my team did everything within our power and within the law to stand up for traditional marriage. This is not, in my view and the view of my team, a matter of adult rights. We respect the rights of gay citizens to live as they wish and to have tolerance and respect and not be discriminated against. I feel that very deeply. At the same time, we believe that marriage is not primarily about adults. In a society, marriage is primarily about the development and nurturing of children. A child’s development, I believe, is enhanced by access to a mom and a dad. I believe in every child’s right to a mom and a dad.

Now, there’s one key social issue where I did not run as a social conservative, at least one. That was with regards to abortion. I said I would protect a woman’s right to choose an abortion. I’ve changed my view on that, as you probably know.

Let me tell you the history about that. Some years ago, when I was at the Olympics, I met a guy named Mark Lewis. He was head of our marketing there. He told me that he was a finalist for a Rhodes scholarship. I don’t know how far he got. His final interview was with a German interviewer and the interviewer said to him “Mr. Lewis, who is one of your political heroes?” and he said Ronald Reagan. The German had the predictable response -- *GASP*. He said how in the world can you square that statement with what Churchill said, which is that “a young person who is not a liberal has no heart?” Mark responded by repeating the last portion of that Churchillian comment, that “an older person who was not a conservative had no brain” and adding “I, Herr Doctor, simply matured early”.

On abortion, I wasn’t always a Ronald Reagan conservative. Neither was Ronald Regan, by the way. But like him, I learned with experience.

In my case, the point where that experience came most to bear was with regards to learning about stem-cell research. Let me tell you, there are so many different ways of getting stem cells. I was delving into that because my legislature was proposing new legislation that re-defined when life began. I think it’s interesting that the legislature thinks it has the capacity to make that determination. Our state had always said that life began at conception, but they were going to re-define when life began, so I spent some time learning (with, by the way, a number of people in this room who helped) about all of the different types and sources of stem-cells, not only adult stem cells and umbilical stem cells and stem cells from existing lines, but also surplus embryos from in-vitro fertilization. I supported all of those.

But for me, there was a bright-line when you started creating new life for the purposes of destruction and experimentation. That was somatic-cell nuclear transfer (or cloning) and also what’s known as embryo farming. At one point, I was sitting down with the head of the stem-cell research department at Harvard and the provost of Harvard University, and they were explaining these techniques to me. I imagined in my mind this embryo farming. Embryo farming is taking donor sperm and donor eggs and putting them together in the laboratory and creating a new embryo. If that’s not creating new life, then I don’t know what is. I imagined row after row after row of racks of these, created either by the cloning process or the farming process. At that point, one of the two gentleman said, “Governor, there’s really not a moral issue at stake here, because we destroy the embryos at 14 days”. I have to tell you, that comment and that perspective hit me very hard. As he left the room with his colleague, I turned to Beth Myers, my chief of staff, and said I want to make it real clear: we have so cheapened the value and sanctity of human life in our society that someone can think there’s not a moral issue because we kill embryos at 14 days.

Shortly thereafter, I announced I was firmly pro-life.

Now, you don’t have to take my word for it, by the way. The nice thing about being able to watch governors is you don’t have to look just at what they say, you can look at what they’ve done. Over my term, I had 4 or 5 different measures that came to my desk [concerning life issues] and on every single one I came down on the side of respecting human life. That didn’t make me real popular in the state. Remember, in Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy is considered a moderate….

In the next few days, I’ll have more from Mitt Romney on other issues, excerpts from Newt Gingrich and Jeb Bush on the meaning and future direction of conservatism and from Tony Snow on the Iraq Surge and the President’s new healthcare proposal, plus a whole lot of insights and opinions that I heard discussed at the conference that will bring you up-to-date on the state of conservatism…

January 27, 2007

Joe Klein Does Not Want to Take Away Your 401(k)

Carroll Andrew Morse

WASHINGTON D.C -- I am attending the National Review Institute's Conservative Summit this weekend, and will post some of the interesting views I am hearing at the beginning of next week.

However, I want to mention one item right away. In between panel sessions, I ran into Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein and had the chance to ask him if he meant to imply that 401(k)'s should be abolished or scaled back when he wrote in a Swampland blog-post from January 22 that "all benefits received from employers should be included in salary totals". Mr. Klein answered that he was not suggesting that 401(k)'s should be scaled back, but that there were other benefits that should be included as taxable salary to make the tax-code more progressive.

January 26, 2007

Kudlow: Follow the Money

Marc Comtois

Economist Larry Kudlow sites a story from the NY Times, which includes this bit:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday that union membership fell by 326,000 in 2006, to 15.4 million workers, bringing the percentage of employees in unions to 12 percent, down from 12.5 percent in 2005. Those figures are down from 20 percent in 1983 and from 35 percent in the 1950s...
Kudlow then observes:
Take a look at the high union states vs. the low union states.

The high union states—New York, New Jersey, Washington, etc—also happen to be high tax, slow growth, population losing, states.

On the other hand, the low union states—places like Utah, Virginia, and both Carolinas—are low tax, pro business, population growing states, with strong economic growth.

It tells you something, doesn’t it?

For more on the "population losing" part, check out this regional analysis by Michael Barone (and he really digs deep in this breakdown). Barone notes:
As for internal migration, people are voting with their feet against the East and California in droves. Here are the states with the biggest negative net internal migration:

Calif. 287,684
La. 241,201
N.Y. 225,766
N.J. 72,547
Ill. 68,661
Mich. 65,123
Mass. 49,528
Ohio 48,153

These tend to be states with high tax rates, high housing costs and aging industrial bases.

Here are the states with the biggest positive net internal migration:

Texas 218,745
Fla. 165,757
Ariz. 129,987
Ga. 120,953
N.C. 104,133
Nev. 53,105
Tenn. 50,383
S.C. 47,950

These tend to be low tax states, with booming economies. And mostly southern: the only western states are Arizona and Nevada. Indeed, the net internal in-migration into the Rocky Mountain states (268,607) is lower than the net internal out-migration from California (287,684).

Loughlin: RI GOP Must Do Better Articulating Fundamental Beliefs

Marc Comtois

We've talked A LOT about the direction of the RI GOP around here (scroll down to the bottom and start reading). Now State Rep. John Loughlin is wading in with his two cents. First, he thinks that everyone is spending too much time worrying about party structure and political tactics and "ignoring the fundamental question: What does it mean to be a Republican in Rhode Island?" His answer:

I believe that, simply put, Rhode Island Republicans share a set of core principles that deserve to be articulated in public discourse. While there are many differences on the specifics of policy, Republicanism, I believe, shares the following things, among others, that differentiate us from our Democratic colleagues.

Rhode Island Republicans believe in a limited government grounded in constitutional principles. We believe in the free-enterprise system and the encouragement of individual initiative. We hold dear the principles embodied in the U.S. Constitution, that the powers of government are derived from the consent of the governed, and the rule of law.

In Rhode Island, this means we stand in opposition to the expansion of government, and more importantly, in opposition to the growing burdens on individual prosperity cause by excessive taxation. That would put us squarely in opposition to the expansion of public-sector unions, and the creation of ever more publicly-funded “programs.” We believe that it is only through the expansion of economic opportunity in Rhode Island that all of us will enjoy greater prosperity.

So far, so good, and after a bit about the "ever-escalating tax burden and its ringleader, the real-estate property tax," he continues with his list:
Next, Republicans support the protection of individual liberty. In Abraham Lincoln’s day, that meant opposition to slavery. Rhode Island Republicans to this day continue to work for the equality, opportunity and rights of all citizens. This manifests itself in our opposition to special insider deals designed to enrich special interests.

Lastly, Rhode Island Republicans believe in protecting our environment. In the Ocean State that means an unbending commitment to preserving our surroundings. We know that a healthy environment and a sound economy are both essential to our state’s prosperity. We believe that by working together, we can preserve both our environment and our economy for current and future generations of Rhode Islanders. In Rhode Island we enjoy a very special and fragile beauty in our environment. We support the various land trusts and private-public partnerships whose mission is to encourage the protection and preservation of open space.

That's about right and probably a solid set of core values on which the RI GOP can rebuild. In fact, it's essentially what's been talked about around here for a couple months now (I guess Rep. Loughlin doesn't read blogs). For instance, after the election, I wrote a whole series on the question of rebuilding the RI GOP, which included both philosophical and tactical points and which received heavy, and fruitful, commentary.

One final note: I did notice that Rep. Loughlin clearly stayed away from including any position on social issues in his laundry list. Both Justin and I have written about this rhetorical hole before (Justin does it better, by the way) so I want belabor it. So, insofar as Rep. Loughlin is attempting to define those basic ideas on which a RI GOP coalition--made up of libertarians, moderates and conservatives--can agree (something Jon Scott has also done, incidentally), I would say he has made a good start. We'll see what happens in the coming months.

January 25, 2007

Closing an Independent Klaus With a Question Mark

Justin Katz

Even days later, I find Klaus's comments to my recent post dizzying. Sometimes — I'd suggest — the fact that every bit of evidence points to your conclusion, even those bits that are contradictory, is above all evidence that your conclusion is a priori.

In one breath, industrial manufacturing companies have it all over modern high-tech companies because they spread wealth more broadly:

And, did you realize that, at it's peak, GM alone employed almost a million people? And each well-paid GM worker could support another 5-10 others (merchants, bankers, dentists, etc.) And there were how many large industrial employers like that? That's a lot of $$ to spread around an economy.

Microsoft, OTOH, employs 40,000? Which situation creates more wealth for the whole economy?

In another breath, unions are the best thing since a hammer and sickle specifically for the reason that they enable workers' children to exchange their blue collars for white:

Another reason union membership peaked in the 50s, and wages continued to increase is that the economy was transitioning from a manufacturing-base to a service-sector based economy. Those blue-collar kids who grew up on the Mickey Mouse Club didn't go work in the factory like dad; they became white-collar workers.

In one breath, putting money in the hands of the government is a positive good:

Odd, though: there was a period in which the stagnation in wages was arrested and even reversed. During the Clinton presidency. You know, all those high taxes? But ol' George W comes along and cuts them taxes and the median wage starting going right back down again. And, btw, gov't revenues dropped. GWB is the only president who did not collect more in taxes than his predecessor.

In another breath, the unfair distribution of government largesse is mindblowing:

And the people looking for handouts could just as easily be corporations. Ever read the tax code? One hand-out after another. Ever hear of the sugar subsidy? Or the last agriculture bill? A $200B handout. It blows my mind that you quibble over a couple of bucks and swallow the billions given to corporations every year.

What's missing from all of this recitation of factoids is any sense of practicality — of functionality. Give the government $200 billion, and those who run the government will hand it out to the powerful, not the downtrodden. Mandate that it be given to the downtrodden and observe as a new species of elite parasites creates an unnecessary industry of middlemen.

The entire point of my previous post was to address such declarations as this, from Klaus:

A better solution is to raise the wages of the taxpayers. And that means their wages.

How do Klausians propose to do that? (Please reread the previous post before you answer, if need be.) This is the question that they will not answer any differently than would a clueless emperor: "Just make it so."

Klaus makes much of his comparison with the economic regime of the 1890s, but although I would never gainsay the importance of learning from history, such comparisons apply an antiquated lesson. For one thing, technology has vastly improved the ability of the working class to communicate, organize, and attract attention to their plight. For another, the equation of Microsoft with the industrial behemoths of the 19th century leaves me cold. As far as I've seen, nobody has suggested that Microsoft's position has given it leeway to force employees into inhumane circumstances. If we're talking human exploitation, I would have us keep a view of the fundamental differences between building a railroad and building the Internet.

But if we're talking strategies to leverage our representative democracy to distribute wealth more fairly, then I'd have us ponder the forces — much greater than government economic policy — that created the different monopolies. The nineteenth century in the United States was in many ways a giant push for geographic expansion and industrial advancement. To put it in ugly terms, it was in the public interest to consolidate resources and exploit workers who facilitated those ends.

As I've said, the Microsoft-style monopoly isn't remotely as oppressive, but the existence of underlying drivers beyond government policy still holds. Consider your own experience: why did you buy a Windows operating system (or Apple's version for elites)? The dominant reasons can be summed up as standardization and reliability. The functionality and compatibility of a Microsoft operating system is the same on the home PC as on the office workstation, and both have been through decades of public development.

To translate this observation into the socio-economic discussion at hand, the most beneficial area of focus for folks who'd like to leverage our shared government to blow the IT windfall more expansively should be on the causes of the market forces that have led to the current situation — standardization and reliability — not on demands that we pour more resources, directly and indirectly, into the public finance shell game.

P.S., Klaus, if you're measuring "full time" as 40 hours per week when you ask whether I'm "OK with the idea that someone can work full-time and not make enough to live on," then I'd reply that I have no choice but to be OK with it. My standard week is, by that measure, full-time and a half, but the weeks that I can earn what I need — with a mixture of white and blue collar work — are those during which I work double time. That is the reality of heading a five-person (plus dog) household in a state in which the rich who dominate the power structure exorcise their guilt by legislating handouts rather than handing out from their own stockpiles.

Let's boil it down, shall we? Isn't the liberal/progressive prescription for inequities pretty explicitly universal dependency?

The Political Situation in the Middle East

Marc Comtois

Dale Light offers a concise (and good) summary of the developing pan-Middle East political situation:

Already I am seeing analyses that say that the new middle-east lineup of Sunni states against Iran is vastly preferable to what existed before the Iraq invasion {for instance, here - MAC}. Suddenly the Sunni regimes are scared and need us to protect them from Iran. Our influence with them has never been greater. The New Republic thinks Bush just blundered into this favorable outcome, but others think that our diplomacy in the region has been aimed all along at dividing the region along sectarian and ethnic lines. Such a division undercuts pan-Islamist movements like al-Qaeda and the Iranian mullahs’ offensive, takes pressure off Israel, creates a broad Arab alliance supporting Lebanese independence, insures that OPEC won’t be agreeing on much of anything in the near future, counters Iran’s attempts to build an anti-American network of oil-producers, and gives the US [as opposed to the EU or China, neither of which can project a credible military force into the region] unprecedented leverage to influence regional development for decades to come. And don’t forget, Iraq will not be much of a threat to anyone anytime soon.

If we think of Iran, not al Qaeda, as the biggest regional threat in the future, and remember that ever since 1978 the “Islamic Republic” has been trying to forge an Islamist, anti-western, regional bloc that can use oil as an economic weapon, then the Iraq adventure makes one hell of a lot of sense. It is time to stop thinking about Iraq as a “war” to be “won” or “lost” and instead recognize that it is an essential part of a broader effort to remake the political, military, and economic map of the Middle East. It is this broader initiative, not the immediate military situation in Iraq, that really matters.

As Light further explains, this was the "neocon" vision all along and even some in the press and (sigh) the State Department are finally waking up to the realization that the Iraq War, ya know, really is just part of a bigger conflict. Read on for more.

This is by no means a new idea, or one that is original with me. It was very much a part of the rationale for going into Iraq during the runup to the invasion. Leading neo-con thinkers like Paul Wolfowitz talked about it extensively, and so did President Bush. Vice President Cheney talked frequently about the need “drain the swamp.” Iran was always part of the “Axis of Evil” that we were confronting.

Major elements of the military and intelligence communities, however, were never able to grasp this larger contextual argument. To them Iraq was just another traditional war. This blinkered thinking persists today. Journalists, too, have been slow to catch on. Some people at the State Department have understood what is going on, but many of these have felt that military activity was an impediment to, rather than a necessary element in the transformation. All of these have raised strong and persistent objections to administration policies and have been avidly listened to by a journalistic establishment that sees itself as an adversarial arm of government and by political partisans who have to tear down Bush in order to succeed.

Some journalists are finally beginning to recognize what has been right in front of their faces for years.

He cites this example in particular.

Incidentally, I think people have forgotten some important characteristics of the chain of events that led to the Iraq invasion. Here's one good, recent reminder that was inspired by a bit of anti-war triumphalism.

Summing Up Differing Approaches to Poverty

Marc Comtois

Nathan Smith at TCS daily offers this contrast between how President Bush and Sen. Jim Webb view the poverty question:

President Bush has proposed an array of policies that confront different aspects of real deprivation as experienced by the poor here and abroad: bad education, lack of legal status and fear of deportation, lack of health care and disease. Of course, also critical to poverty alleviation is the ongoing success of the US economy, which, as the president mentioned, has created 7.2 million jobs since the beginning of the current expansion. Jobs are both the best way out of poverty and, as presidential aspirant John Edwards has said, a source of "dignity and self-respect." By calling for a balanced budget in five years, without raising taxes, President Bush made a bid to preserve a business climate in which prosperity will continue.

While the president is interested in dealing with specific aspects of poverty and deprivation, he is not interested in the position of poor people relative to others. Senator Webb is. "When I graduated from college," remarks Senator Webb, "the average corporate CEO made 20 times what the average worker did; today, it¹s nearly 400 times." Or again, "Wages and salaries for our workers are at all-time lows as a percentage of national wealth." In each case, the statistic he cites is a ratio: the average worker's wages compared to those of the CEO; wages and salaries compared to national wealth. That the average worker is much wealthier in absolute terms than he was thirty years ago does not seem to interest Webb much: what matters is that his relative wealth has decreased.

In short, it's the rhetoric of class warfare and "envy" (Webb) versus the rhetoric of "altruism" (Bush). Read the whole thing for a further explanation.

Eminent Domain Reform is Back, But So Far, It’s Not Good

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island legislature has picked up right where it left off last session on the issue of eminent domain reform, with Representative Charlene Lima’s (D-Cranston) not-very-good bill as the leading candidate in the House. Here’s the main body of her proposed "reform" (H5079)...

37-6-13.2. Limitations on acquisition of land. – (a) Notwithstanding any provision of law to the contrary, no public corporation, municipality, quasi-state agency, state agency, or any political subdivision thereof, shall exercise their power of eminent domain to acquire private property for the purpose of conferring a private benefit or use for a particular private entity…
It is difficult to say that this law would mean anything at all, for two reasons…
  1. If the government declares that raising the tax-value of a property is the “purpose” of a taking, and that conferring a private benefit is just an means to an end, is that allowed or not?
  2. The inclusion of the “particular” modifier, as Representative Nick Gorham pointed out last session, does nothing but add confusion. Suppose the government takes a neighborhood by eminent domain, then splits the land between two condo developers. Or how about giving it to just one condo developer, whose project will eventually be purchased by multiple owners? Because benefits will eventually go to more than one “particular private entity”, is the taking allowed or not?
Under H5079, questions like these will ultimately have to be decided by the courts, even though insulating eminent domain questions from the possibility of overly-expansive interpretations by judges -- remember, the problem supposedly being addressed by this bill was created by judicial overreaching in the first place (Kelo v. New London) -- is supposed to be the central purpose of eminent domain reform. H5079 clearly fails to do what it needs to do.

January 24, 2007

President Bush's Healthcare Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

President Bush outlined a serious healthcare reform plan in last night's State of the Union. The President's plan is to replace the existing tax-exemption that applies only to money spent on employer-sponsored health insurance with a standard deduction that can be taken by any individual who purchases health insurance, regardless of employer or employment status.

1. Assuming the size of the deductions is reasonable, opposing this plan tantamount to saying "I oppose tax-breaks for individuals; tax-breaks should only be given to big corporations". And yet we will surely see this reaction from the usually anti-business left. In fact, we already do.

If libs can get past their knee-jerk "if Bush is for it, I'm against it" response to the entire universe, they will see that this plan addresses many of their complaints about Wal-Mart not providing insurance to enough of its employees. Under the Bush plan, for example, companies lose financial incentive to hire lots of part-time workers to avoid paying health benefits.

Arnold Kling of the Cato Institute systematically sums up and counters liberal reactions he has observed to the President's plan (h/t Instapundit)...

Since the President's plan was leaked, I have seen three complaints from the left.
  1. The tax break benefits the rich more than the poor.
  2. The tax break encourages people to leave employer-provided health plans and instead get health insurance on their own.
  3. The proposals encourage catastrophic health insurance rather than insulation.
In my view (2) and (3) are positive developments....As for (1), I fail to see the cause for alarm. Consider the status quo. An economist on the faculty at Princeton who receives generous health benefits from the University is able to enjoy them tax-free. So can the professor's secretary. But, as with all tax breaks, there is a vertical inequity -- the professor derives more benefit from the tax break than does the secretary. But today there is a horizontal inequity as well. A self-employed economist and a self-employed secretary get no tax break for obtaining comprehensive health insurance.

Now, if the President's proposal is enacted, the self-employed economist and the self-employed secretary will get a tax break....

My sense is that the hard left is going to dig in against the President's proposals. Too bad for the millions of people for whom health insurance is more expensive simply because where they work falls outside the corporate umbrella.

2. However, the biggest challenge to the President's proposal may not come from organized liberal shrieking, but from misunderstanding at America's apolitical center. Under the current system, employers do little more than choose the health plans that their employees will be allowed to spend their own salaries on. In spite of this, many individuals enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans are convinced that their employers are "giving" them something for nothing. When they hear about tax-code changes that will end the special status of employer based coverage, they will feel that the government is trying to take something away from them -- even though most will be able to to purchase same amount coverage with the same amount of money via an individual plan. Overcoming this perception will be one of the toughest challenges faced by Bush plan supporters.

3. To really make the Bush plan work, people must be allowed to buy insurance across state lines. Today's OpinionJournal article on the President's plan mentions that "the average employer-sponsored family plan runs about $11,500 annually". Even for someone in the top tax-bracket, a $15,000 deduction would pay for less than half of a $11,500 plan. But the $11,500 figure averages together nsurance costs in high-regulation, high-cost states (like Rhode Island) with insurance costs in low-regulation, low-cost states (like Idaho).

I poked around the "ehealthinsurance" website (as suggested by Anchor Rising commenter Emily Harding) and found that in some states, high-deductible insurance plans are available for a family of four in the range of $2,500 - $4,000. If people are given the freedom to escape from legislative mandates that drive the cost of insurance up, they should be able to find affordable coverage with the numbers the President is using.

4. Barack Obama was wrong in his post-SOTU interview with Charlie Gibson of ABC when he said there are no cost-controls in the President's plan (no link available). The cost-controls come from introducing transparency and choice into medical care, both of which are currently lacking in a system where an employer hands you a very complex health plan and tells you to "take it or leave it". Could Obama be confusing "cost controls" with "price controls"?

5. 'Tis not all praise I have for President Bush for proposing this plan. Here's my criticism: Why didn't he propose something like this when his party controlled both houses of Congress?

A New Year Brings More Ethics Violations

Marc Comtois

The ProJo reports:

The state Ethics Commission ruled yesterday that it is more likely than not that Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano intentionally violated the state ethics code by failing to report tens of thousands of dollars in income from West Warwick for legal work associated with the Narragansett’s failed casino proposal.

The commission decided behind closed doors that probable cause exists to pursue eight charges of “knowing and willful” ethics violations against Montalbano, D-North Providence, who easily won reelection to the state Senate’s top post three weeks ago.

And in addition to filing incomplete financial statements, the commission found it likely that Montalbano intentionally participated in Senate votes for which there was a clear conflict.

Montalbano “knew or should have known that his participation and vote… while also providing legal services to the town concerning property which abutted the proposed casino site, could implicate certain conflict of interest provisions contained in the code of ethics,” according to an investigative report released yesterday by commission prosecutors...

Aside from one of the charges, Montalbano doesn’t deny the basic facts in the prosecution’s case. Through his lawyer, he acknowledges collecting more than $86,000 in income from West Warwick since 2003 for legal work that included clearing the titles on two parcels of land near the proposed Harrah’s-Narragansett Indian casino. Voters rejected the casino plan in the Nov. 7 election.

Robert P. Arruda, the former head of Operation Clean Government, which brought the complaint, said after the hearing that there was clear evidence of a “substantial conflict of interest” as Montalbano “shepherded through” a bill that would allow voters to weigh in on the casino proposal.

Ho hum. Just another day in RI.

The President's Case for Winning in Iraq

Marc Comtois

To me, the most important portion of the President's SOTU last night was in his detailed description of what the nation has gone through since 9/11. It is a legitimate point that much of what he said last night could have and should have been said a year or three before now. And maybe it's too late to convince anyone, but, nonetheless, he did make a very clear case for why we must win in Iraq. We can't put our heads in the sand and wish it all away, folks. We either win in Iraq or we lose and deal with the consequences. (Read on for what is--to my mind--the most important section of the speech).

Iraq's leaders know that our commitment is not open-ended. They have promised to deploy more of their own troops to secure Baghdad -- and they must do so. They pledged that they will confront violent radicals of any faction or political party -- and they need to follow through, and lift needless restrictions on Iraqi and coalition forces, so these troops can achieve their mission of bringing security to all of the people of Baghdad. Iraq's leaders have committed themselves to a series of benchmarks -- to achieve reconciliation, to share oil revenues among all of Iraq's citizens, to put the wealth of Iraq into the rebuilding of Iraq, to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's civic life, to hold local elections, and to take responsibility for security in every Iraqi province. But for all of this to happen, Baghdad must be secure. And our plan will help the Iraqi government take back its capital and make good on its commitments.

My fellow citizens, our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options. We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance for success. Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq, because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching.

If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is the greatest ally -- their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America. To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy. Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq and to spare the American people from this danger.

This is where matters stand tonight, in the here and now. I have spoken with many of you in person. I respect you and the arguments you've made. We went into this largely united, in our assumptions and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field, and those on their way. {emphasis added}

And here is an extended excerpt of the "Iraq/War on Terror" section of the President's SOTU

For all of us in this room, there is no higher responsibility than to protect the people of this country from danger. Five years have come and gone since we saw the scenes and felt the sorrow that the terrorists can cause. We've had time to take stock of our situation. We've added many critical protections to guard the homeland. We know with certainty that the horrors of that September morning were just a glimpse of what the terrorists intend for us -- unless we stop them.

With the distance of time, we find ourselves debating the causes of conflict and the course we have followed. Such debates are essential when a great democracy faces great questions. Yet one question has surely been settled: that to win the war on terror we must take the fight to the enemy. (Applause.)

From the start, America and our allies have protected our people by staying on the offense. The enemy knows that the days of comfortable sanctuary, easy movement, steady financing, and free flowing communications are long over. For the terrorists, life since 9/11 has never been the same.

Our success in this war is often measured by the things that did not happen. We cannot know the full extent of the attacks that we and our allies have prevented, but here is some of what we do know: We stopped an al Qaeda plot to fly a hijacked airplane into the tallest building on the West Coast. We broke up a Southeast Asian terror cell grooming operatives for attacks inside the United States. We uncovered an al Qaeda cell developing anthrax to be used in attacks against America. And just last August, British authorities uncovered a plot to blow up passenger planes bound for America over the Atlantic Ocean. For each life saved, we owe a debt of gratitude to the brave public servants who devote their lives to finding the terrorists and stopping them. (Applause.)

Every success against the terrorists is a reminder of the shoreless ambitions of this enemy. The evil that inspired and rejoiced in 9/11 is still at work in the world. And so long as that's the case, America is still a nation at war.

In the mind of the terrorist, this war began well before September the 11th, and will not end until their radical vision is fulfilled. And these past five years have given us a much clearer view of the nature of this enemy. Al Qaeda and its followers are Sunni extremists, possessed by hatred and commanded by a harsh and narrow ideology. Take almost any principle of civilization, and their goal is the opposite. They preach with threats, instruct with bullets and bombs, and promise paradise for the murder of the innocent.

Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments, and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty. They would then be free to impose their will and spread their totalitarian ideology. Listen to this warning from the late terrorist Zarqawi: "We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams, and what is coming is even worse." Osama bin Laden declared: "Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us."

These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement. In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah -- a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken.

The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat. Whatever slogans they chant, when they slaughter the innocent they have the same wicked purposes. They want to kill Americans, kill democracy in the Middle East, and gain the weapons to kill on an even more horrific scale.

In the sixth year since our nation was attacked, I wish I could report to you that the dangers had ended. They have not. And so it remains the policy of this government to use every lawful and proper tool of intelligence, diplomacy, law enforcement, and military action to do our duty, to find these enemies, and to protect the American people. (Applause.)

This war is more than a clash of arms -- it is a decisive ideological struggle, and the security of our nation is in the balance. To prevail, we must remove the conditions that inspire blind hatred, and drove 19 men to get onto airplanes and to come and kill us. What every terrorist fears most is human freedom

-- societies where men and women make their own choices, answer to their own conscience, and live by their hopes instead of their resentments. Free people are not drawn to violent and malignant ideologies -- and most will choose a better way when they're given a chance. So we advance our own security interests by helping moderates and reformers and brave voices for democracy. The great question of our day is whether America will help men and women in the Middle East to build free societies and share in the rights of all humanity. And I say, for the sake of our own security, we must. (Applause.)

In the last two years, we've seen the desire for liberty in the broader Middle East -- and we have been sobered by the enemy's fierce reaction. In 2005, the world watched as the citizens of Lebanon raised the banner of the Cedar Revolution, they drove out the Syrian occupiers and chose new leaders in free elections. In 2005, the people of Afghanistan defied the terrorists and elected a democratic legislature. And in 2005, the Iraqi people held three national elections, choosing a transitional government, adopting the most progressive, democratic constitution in the Arab world, and then electing a government under that constitution. Despite endless threats from the killers in their midst, nearly 12 million Iraqi citizens came out to vote in a show of hope and solidarity that we should never forget. (Applause.)

A thinking enemy watched all of these scenes, adjusted their tactics, and in 2006 they struck back. In Lebanon, assassins took the life of Pierre Gemayel, a prominent participant in the Cedar Revolution. Hezbollah terrorists, with support from Syria and Iran, sowed conflict in the region and are seeking to undermine Lebanon's legitimately elected government. In Afghanistan, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces. In Iraq, al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam -- the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia -- and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.

This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we're in. Every one of us wishes this war were over and won. Yet it would not be like us to leave our promises unkept, our friends abandoned, and our own security at risk. (Applause.) Ladies and gentlemen: On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of this battle. Let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory. (Applause.)

We're carrying out a new strategy in Iraq -- a plan that demands more from Iraq's elected government, and gives our forces in Iraq the reinforcements they need to complete their mission. Our goal is a democratic Iraq that upholds the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security, and is an ally in the war on terror.

In order to make progress toward this goal, the Iraqi government must stop the sectarian violence in its capital. But the Iraqis are not yet ready to do this on their own. So we're deploying reinforcements of more than 20,000 additional soldiers and Marines to Iraq. The vast majority will go to Baghdad, where they will help Iraqi forces to clear and secure neighborhoods, and serve as advisers embedded in Iraqi Army units. With Iraqis in the lead, our forces will help secure the city by chasing down the terrorists, insurgents, and the roaming death squads. And in Anbar Province, where al Qaeda terrorists have gathered and local forces have begun showing a willingness to fight them, we're sending an additional 4,000 United States Marines, with orders to find the terrorists and clear them out. (Applause.) We didn't drive al Qaeda out of their safe haven in Afghanistan only to let them set up a new safe haven in a free Iraq.

The people of Iraq want to live in peace, and now it's time for their government to act. Iraq's leaders know that our commitment is not open-ended. They have promised to deploy more of their own troops to secure Baghdad -- and they must do so. They pledged that they will confront violent radicals of any faction or political party -- and they need to follow through, and lift needless restrictions on Iraqi and coalition forces, so these troops can achieve their mission of bringing security to all of the people of Baghdad. Iraq's leaders have committed themselves to a series of benchmarks -- to achieve reconciliation, to share oil revenues among all of Iraq's citizens, to put the wealth of Iraq into the rebuilding of Iraq, to allow more Iraqis to re-enter their nation's civic life, to hold local elections, and to take responsibility for security in every Iraqi province. But for all of this to happen, Baghdad must be secure. And our plan will help the Iraqi government take back its capital and make good on its commitments.

My fellow citizens, our military commanders and I have carefully weighed the options. We discussed every possible approach. In the end, I chose this course of action because it provides the best chance for success. Many in this chamber understand that America must not fail in Iraq, because you understand that the consequences of failure would be grievous and far-reaching.

If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure, the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. We could expect an epic battle between Shia extremists backed by Iran, and Sunni extremists aided by al Qaeda and supporters of the old regime. A contagion of violence could spill out across the country -- and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict.

For America, this is a nightmare scenario. For the enemy, this is the objective. Chaos is the greatest ally -- their greatest ally in this struggle. And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America. To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy. Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq and to spare the American people from this danger. (Applause.)

This is where matters stand tonight, in the here and now. I have spoken with many of you in person. I respect you and the arguments you've made. We went into this largely united, in our assumptions and in our convictions. And whatever you voted for, you did not vote for failure. Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq, and I ask you to give it a chance to work. And I ask you to support our troops in the field, and those on their way. (Applause.)

The war on terror we fight today is a generational struggle that will continue long after you and I have turned our duties over to others. And that's why it's important to work together so our nation can see this great effort through. Both parties and both branches should work in close consultation. It's why I propose to establish a special advisory council on the war on terror, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties. We will share ideas for how to position America to meet every challenge that confronts us. We'll show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory.

And one of the first steps we can take together is to add to the ranks of our military so that the American Armed Forces are ready for all the challenges ahead. (Applause.) Tonight I ask the Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next five years. (Applause.) A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer Civilian Reserve Corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them. It would give people across America who do not wear the uniform a chance to serve in the defining struggle of our time.

Americans can have confidence in the outcome of this struggle because we're not in this struggle alone. We have a diplomatic strategy that is rallying the world to join in the fight against extremism. In Iraq, multinational forces are operating under a mandate from the United Nations. We're working with Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Egypt and the Gulf States to increase support for Iraq's government.

The United Nations has imposed sanctions on Iran, and made it clear that the world will not allow the regime in Tehran to acquire nuclear weapons. (Applause.) With the other members of the Quartet -- the U.N., the European Union, and Russia -- we're pursuing diplomacy to help bring peace to the Holy Land, and pursuing the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security. (Applause.) In Afghanistan, NATO has taken the lead in turning back the Taliban and al Qaeda offensive -- the first time the Alliance has deployed forces outside the North Atlantic area. Together with our partners in China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea, we're pursuing intensive diplomacy to achieve a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons. (Applause.)

We will continue to speak out for the cause of freedom in places like Cuba, Belarus, and Burma -- and continue to awaken the conscience of the world to save the people of Darfur. (Applause.)

January 23, 2007

State of the Union Open Thread

Carroll Andrew Morse

I was going to write a high-snark-factor post about how nothing memorable has ever occurred in a State of the Union Address. However, I came across this Whitehouse webpage (the building, not the Senator; this is going to be really annoying for the next six years) which lists some impressive State of the Union moments…

  • 1823: James Monroe’s “Monroe Doctrine” speech.
  • 1862: Abraham Lincoln’s connects the Civil War to the emancipation of slaves.
  • 1941: Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s "Four Freedoms" speech.
In more recent memory, both Lyndon’s Johnson the Great Society (1965) and Bill Clinton’s declaration that the “era of big government is over” (1996) were announced in States of the Union. And, of course, in 2003, George W. Bush used the State of the Union to make his case for invading Iraq.

Still, I don’t think the country would lose too much if the State of the Union, especially in its modern laundry-list form, was delivered like it was between the years 1801 and 1912…

The third President, Thomas Jefferson, objected to appearing in person - saying it was too much like an imperial or king's speech, and for the next 100 years presidents sent a written message to Congress that was then read out for them.
It worked for Presidents Monroe and Lincoln, right?

Consider this post to be an open-thread on tonight's State of the Union. Insightful comments, witty comments, and even comments that spin like a vinyl 78-rpm recording of “Happy Days are Here Again” are all welcome, but crude or personally insulting posts will be deleted as soon as I see them.

The comments are open now!


Here's an incisive preview from Byron York of National Review...

...the official said the speech is about as long as previous SOTU's, as measured in words, but it should go more quickly because nobody expects there will be as much applause as in past years.

Illegal Immigrants and the Police

Carroll Andrew Morse

In a Projo letter to the editor published last Saturday, James Rowley commended Rhode Island state trooper Thomas Chabot…

On July 11, 2006, Trooper Thomas Chabot of the Rhode Island State Police, charged with the enforcement of the laws of the state and this country, stopped a van on Route 95 for a motor-vehicle violation and through the questioning of the operator of the van found that 14 illegal Guatemalan immigrants were in the van.

Trooper Chabot took them to the federal immigration authorities in Providence and turned them over.

There is a movement afoot in the US to make actions like those of Trooper Chabot illegal by prohibiting anyone but a Federal agent from inquiring about an individual’s immigration status. Mr. Rowley points out a very obvious flaw in this policy that hasn’t received enough attention, not-entirely rhetorically asking…
Did any of [the illegal immigrants] have criminal records in their own country that might have prevented their legal immigration?
Think about this for a moment. If an American citizen is stopped by police for a traffic violation, determining if that person is wanted for a crime in another state is considered fair game. But if it is a foreign citizen that is stopped, advocates of no-questions-about–immigration-status laws want to deny local authorities the ability to reliably determine if they are dealing with someone who has a criminal record or someone who is a fugitive in their home country.

It is true that it is a very small number of serious criminals that will be encountered in this way, but police are always operating under the assumption that they need to be vigilant against a few violent individuals who have a potential to do great harm to law-abiding citizens through extreme acts. Unfortunately, open-borders ideologues want to make it just a bit easier for that tiny criminal minority to wreak their havoc.

Does Joe Klein Want to Abolish Your 401(k)?

Carroll Andrew Morse

In a blog-post mostly about health care reform that includes some brief commentary on what President Bush will propose during tonight’s State of the Union address, Time magazine columnist Joe Klein drops this major bomb…

[President Bush’s] plan opens the door for a real negotiation on changing the current tax code in a more progressive way, which is to say: all benefits received from employers should be included in salary totals.
Of course, a common benefit provided by employers not presently counted towards an individual’s taxable salary total is contributions made to a 401(k) retirement account. Has Joe Klein just telegraphed that eliminating the tax-free status of 401(k)'s has become part of the left’s agenda to make the tax code more “progressive”? If not, then what else of significance could he be talking about?

January 22, 2007

Antiwarriors in Translation

Justin Katz

Such letters aren't usually (or now, to be honest with you) worthy of comment, but for some reason, this evening, I can't resist. To quote John Leistritz of Pawtucket:

President Bush’s so-called new strategy for the war in Iraq is actually more of the same — only it commits more U.S. troops to a region being devoured by a civil war. ...

I wholeheartedly support the efforts of Democratic leaders to move towards bringing troops home, and giving responsibility to the Iraqi people for their future.

And to translate:

I wholeheartedly support the efforts of Democratic leaders to once again diminish the global and domestic importance of the American military, allowing the Iraqi people to slip into a massively bloody civil war with certain repercussions for Western security. Now where did I pack those bell-bottoms?

Re: Observation of an RI Naif (and One from an RI Architecture Columnist)

Carroll Andrew Morse

In a post from last week, Justin offered up this piece of (literally) homespun wisdom…

During a telephone conversation with my Jersey Boy father last night, he said (paraphrasing), "Rhode Island is essentially a playground for the rich, and the rich don't need a middle class." The point being, I suppose, that circumstances in this state will have to go beyond intolerable — beyond the point at which any rational citizenry would insist on change — before change will even be conceivable.

The frightening thing is that the few native Rhode Islanders with whom I was able to share the commentary today replied, "Sounds about right."

David Brussat offered an interesting counterpoint in his Projo column from last Thursday…
RUMOR HAS IT that Arnold Schwarzenegger has bought two Westin condos for his daughters starting at Brown next fall.
It’s anecdotal at this point, but the fact that Da Governator is interested in buying a Westin condo is a reliable sign that some of Providence's new high-profile housing units exist within the realm of the “rich”. If we accept that, then Brussat's column is an argument that making cities into livable places requires upper and middle classes that work together...
The Westin expansion, the Masonic Temple hotel and the Waterplace condos cruise toward completion, promising almost 300 new apartments and almost 500 new hotel rooms downtown….

The year-round residents…set the tone of a place at night — and it’s the environment after dark that makes or breaks the vitality of a downtown. For all the good publicity reaped by Providence’s downtown “renaissance” over the past decade, its streets during the evening hours are still dead on most nights — albeit not as dead as in 1997.

Indeed, many nice new shops have opened and more are coming soon. But too many of these places close too early to help enliven downtown. Their window displays may be attractive, but a shop that closes at 6 or 7 not only adds little to the life of the street when needed most, but thwarts some another entrepreneur who might put the space to better use.

Could the difference in outlooks towards class dynamics be as simple as the difference between urban and seaside life (I don’t think most people would think of Providence as part of “the playground for the rich” aspect of Rhode Island), or is a more complex explanation needed?

Answering Klaus on The Meaning of Conservatism

Carroll Andrew Morse

Using this site’s readers as a surrogate for conservatives, commenter "Klaus" put forth this question about the meaning of conservatism…

My understanding is that the denizens of this site generally advocate low taxes, little or no gov't regulation of industry/commerce, and are opposed to any sense of redistribution of wealth.

Is that a fair and accurate statement?

The answer is that the statement is not accurate. Most conservatives would agree that low taxes and a government that does not involve itself in redistributing wealth are ideal, but there will always be areas where some regulation is necessary. The difference between a centrist conservative and a centrist liberal is that the conservative wants to give markets the benefit of the doubt wherever possible, while the liberal says that some things are “too important” to be left to markets, e.g. educating children, even if there is no evidence that strict government regulation of individual behavior, e.g. a geographic monopoly school system, does any good. To use another example, can you point to one mainstream conservative (or even one non-kooky libertarian) who advocates dismantling the SEC or repealing child labor laws?

In general, conservatives don’t believe that high taxes are a good thing in and of themselves; they believe that taxes should be collected to pay for the few things that government needs to focus on. The liberal view, on the other hand, rests on the assumption that given infinite resources, government will do infinite good. That is a much more ideological view of the world than the more pragmatic conservative view, which holds that power over others should be decentralized wherever possible, so that no small oligarchy can really mess things up for lots and lots of people.

The question back to Klaus is does he believe that there should be any limits on the power of government?

Finally, in posing his questions, Klaus opened with…

I would like to ask one question. If you can give me a satisfactory answer, I will never darken your doorstep again. How's that for incentive?
Even though I (and other AR commenters in the original post) have answered Klaus' question and helped set him straight, we really haven’t done it out of a desire to drive him away. Unlike progressives, conservatives do not expect a final ending to policy debates, where a cadre of enlightened expert bureaucrats will determine the perfect formula for running everyone’s lives. Conservatives expect that a dialog reflecting the rich diversity of human experience will always be necessary for determining the truth.

January 20, 2007

Cheap Pop or a Marriage of Concepts?

Justin Katz

Supporters of minimum wage increases (used here as an example issue) don't appear willing to discuss whether their policies would work, would achieve an increase in living standard for working families. Instead, they offer insults about heartlessness and declarations about what the working poor deserve. Their presumption, I guess, is that anybody so cold as to argue against giving disadvantaged families a little bit more must be offering specious arguments with the objective of funneling more money to The Rich and that, therefore, need not be acknowledged.

As it happens, I don't disagree with the principle that our society is morally obligated to work toward a state of affairs in which anybody who's willing to make an honest effort ought to be able to support a family. Indeed, to turn the tables, my observation is that those who would have the government dictate pay rates privilege sounding as if they want to help over actually doing some good. Consider a couple of comments to Marc's recent post on the issue. Scott Bill Hirst:

We need as Republicans to address nutrition and housing needs.We just can't oppose the Democrats agenda.A pro family GOP agenda must show that Republicans are indeed not the party of the rich.That the GOP has solutions for these human problems will enhance our party.


If the GOP is ever to overcome its stigma as party of the rich (which I don't necessarily believe anymore), it has to show its support for working families with some concrete proposals and action, instead of just throwing in the phrase "working families" for cheap pop when it fights abortion or gay marriage.

The cynicism of that closing jab illustrates the point. Maybe those aren't cheap pop issues; maybe they are, in fact, part of a concrete solution to the social ills that seem inevitably to repercuss among the poor and otherwise vulnerable. Commenter Ralph gets it right when he notes that Republicans' "plan for real assistance to working families" takes "the form of more reasonable spending and lower taxes." But it is, or ought to be, deeper than that.

The conservative solution also entails, as I've said, emphasis on more opportunity for education (in forms and environments that citizens feel best suit them, not that government feels best suit it) and policies that encourage and facilitate entrepreneurship. More broadly, it entails encouragement toward life choices that we know to be healthier and more conducive to a society in which everybody has a chance to thrive. And to reach those who've fallen beyond the reach of simple freedom and soft encouragement, conservatives suggest that government get out of the way of, and (when possible) assist, those who would conduct charitable enterprises, regardless of their degree of religious emphasis.

It's easy to sound big-hearted. It's also easy to score political points with people who think the world owes them something by giving them handouts instead of structure. But anybody who wants to do good in the world should have the minimal resolve and fortitude to discuss whether their plans will actually work, and whether we all need to make sacrifices — some manifesting as limits to our libertine freedoms — more fundamental than higher payroll bills for businesses.

January 18, 2007

More on Stem Cells

Justin Katz

Ramesh Ponnuru has been offering up clear-headed argumentation on the social conservative side of the stem-cell debate. Readers can follow the latest spat backwards from here, but I think this is a key paragraph:

President Clinton’s bioethics commission concluded that “the derivation of stem cells from embryos remaining following infertility treatments is justifiable only if no less morally problematic alternatives are available for advancing the research” (p. 53). More and more, it appears that such alternatives exist ...

Embryonic Research

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal steals some bases in its stem-cell–related editorial today:

But amniotic stem cells, though plentiful, may not be able to develop into the full range of cell types that embryonic stem cells provide. Because they are only a few days old, embryonic cells are extremely flexible in terms of what they might become. Adult stem cells, championed as a good-enough alternative by foes of embryonic-stem-cell research, hold promising but probably limited uses (for instance, helping repair bone fractures). Difficult to extract, they are taken from living people, and considered unlikely to help with complex ailments. Amniotic cells look better, but may still fall short of what embryonic stem cells can do. ...

Anthony Atala, the author of the study on amniotic fluid, has said it is “essential” that the National Institutes of Health make research dollars available for embryonic stem-cell research. He sees the amniotic-fluid approach as complementary to it, not as a replacement. For one thing, embryonic-stem-cell research is further along, and closer to being tested in humans. In moving toward possible cures, time is of the essence.

Firstly, it is imprecise to talk about "what embryonic stem cells can do." Embryonic stem cells are not doing anything, yet. They may be "closer to being tested in humans" than once they were, but they aren't there. Which leads to: Secondly, adult stem cells are being tested, even used, and have been for years.

I could be incorrect, but as I understand the biology, the adult stem cells are limited mainly in their ability to become only a handful of cell types, not in the practical applications that they could fill once they've been repurposed. But stem cells taken from different parts of the adult's body have different ranges, so they aren't, as a group, limited to the capabilities of any particular type.

About those "Civil Liberties" and the First Amendment

Marc Comtois

OK, I don't get it. Supposedly the Democrats want to safeguard you and me from violations of our civil liberties perpetrated in the name of the "War on Terror". But now it seems they're more than happy to restrict free speech. Earlier this week, it was revealed that they are pondering a return of the misnamed "Fairness Doctrine";

The Fairness Doctrine did not require broadcasters to present issues in a "fair and honest manner"; it required them to turn their stations into ping-ponging punditry if they allowed opinion to appear on the air at all. It created such a complicated formula that most broadcasters simply refused to air any political programming, as it created a liability for station owners for being held hostage to all manner of complaints about lack of balance.

Congress and the Reagan administration repealed the Fairness Doctrine in the mid-1980s, and it allowed a market for political opinion to flourish. It also revitalized the AM band...Radio stations could air local and syndicated talk shows without having to worry about metering time between differing viewpoints, allowing the station owners to reflect the market and their own personal preferences for politcal viewpoints.

Why would [Dennis] Kucinich want to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine and kill off the AM band and talk radio? Because his allies have proven less successful than conservatives at building a market for their broadcasts....Democrats aren't wasting much time in rolling back free speech now that they have the majority. Putting Kucinich in charge of domestic policy reform was no mistake on their part. They want to kill talk radio, and if they manage to hold their majority and win the White House in 2008, they just might do it. [More here].

Now we find out that they are actively trying to push through a law requiring the "registration" of bloggers (via Instapundit).
S.1 has been introduced in the Senate as "lobbying reform" -- which in this case means "First Amendment infringements." An amendment has been attached, which requires registration of bloggers with more than 500 readers, and who comment on policy issues. Violation would be a criminal offense.

I looked it up on the Library of Congress webpage (which is essentially unlinkable) and have attached section 220 in extended remarks, below. As the bill is reported, it appears to cover any "paid" grassroots lobbying, that reaches more than 500 people. But a blogger who receives contributions might be classed as a "paid" grassroots type. It looks like Congress wants to keep an eye on annoying people like Porkbusters. It may be significant that S.1 was introduced by Harry Reid, one of the Kings of Pork.

I wonder if the watchdogs on the Left are going to be up in arms over these "quashing of dissent" actions? Or is it OK so long as the Democrats are doing the quashing? What's next? Applying the "Fairness Doctrine" to bloggers? Maybe, just maybe.

The Reform of the Veterans Administration Hospital System is Not the Great Example of Government-Controlled Healthcare That Liberals Think It Is

Carroll Andrew Morse

I've seen a few blogospheric comments touting the reform of the Veteran’s Administration hospital system as an example of how strong government involvement in healthcare, maybe as strong as single payer, works well. The example doesn’t work for a very simple reason, illustrated below.

An article from the July 17 issue of Business Week does provide several metrics proving pretty conclusively that (high) quality patient care is available from the VA hospital system…

According to a Rand Corp. study, the VA system provides two-thirds of the care recommended by such standards bodies as the Agency for Healthcare Research & Quality. Far from perfect, granted -- but the nation's private-sector hospitals provide only 50%. And while studies show that 3% to 8% of the nation's prescriptions are filled erroneously, the VA's prescription accuracy rate is greater than 99.997%, a level most hospitals only dream about. That's largely because the VA has by far the most advanced computerized medical-records system in the U.S. And for the past six years the VA has outranked private-sector hospitals on patient satisfaction in an annual consumer survey conducted by the National Quality Research Center at the University of Michigan. This keeps happening despite the fact that the VA spends an average of $5,000 per patient, vs. the national average of $6,300.
Of course it wasn’t always this way. As Business Week reminds us…
To much of the public… the VA's image is hobbled by its inglorious past. For decades the VA was the health-care system of last resort. The movies Coming Home (1978), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), and Article 99 (1992) immortalized VA hospitals as festering sinkholes of substandard care. The filmmakers didn't exaggerate. In an infamous incident in 1992, the bodies of two patients were found on the grounds of a VA hospital in Virginia months after they had gone missing. The huge system had deteriorated so badly by the early '90s that Congress considered disbanding it.
So how was the system turned around? In the mid-1990s, a VA administrator by the name of Kenneth Kizer (a Clinton appointee, for those keeping score) implemented a broad-based series of reforms...
The VA was reinvented in every way possible. In the mid-1990s, Dr. Kenneth W. Kizer, then the VA's Health Under Secretary, installed the most extensive electronic medical-records system in the U.S. Kizer also decentralized decision-making, closed underused hospitals, reallocated resources, and most critically, instituted a culture of accountability and quality measurements. "Our whole motivation was to make the system work for the patient," says Kizer, now director of the National Quality Forum, a nonprofit dedicated to improving health care. "We did a top-to-bottom makeover with that goal always in mind."
And what is Dr. Kizer doing now, to continue make the system even better and build on his successes? The answer is nothing. After fixing the VA system, Dr. Kenneth Kizer was fired by Congress for not doling out enough pork projects to key legislators
Kizer, the turnaround's architect, was forced out in 1999 when Congress refused to reconfirm him after he closed hospitals in key districts.
Government Executive Online has more detail on Dr. Kizer's firing (technically, the Senate's decision not to renew his appointment; those who want to blame Republican Senators for opposing a Clinton nominee, get ready for a big disappointment)…
VHA also reflected another change in veteran demographics: the shift in population from North and East to South and West. Kizer's response was a resource redistribution plan called the Veteran's Equitable Resource Allocation (VERA) system. The system distributes operating funds among the agency's networks based on the number of veterans served. In its first year, VERA caused nine VISNs to lose some 1998 funding, while 13 gained. For example, VISN 3, in New York, lost $124 million, while VISN 18, in Phoenix, gained nearly $60 million.

VHA's shifts in focus and resources brought results. Staffing fell 11 percent between December 1994 and September 1998, while the number of patients treated per year rose 18 percent. Surgeries performed on an outpatient basis - increasing productivity and reducing deaths - rose from 35 percent of all surgeries to 75 percent from September 1995 to March 1998....

So Kizer is a hero, and VHA has been rewarded, right? Not in Washington.

In fact, after failing to win renomination in September 1998, at the end of his four-year term, and again in June 1999, at the end of a nine-month extension granted by Congress, Kizer withdrew from contention. By June, Kizer's VHA reforms had so angered legislators that they were lining up to threaten to place holds on his nomination if it ever escaped from committee.

Many legislators apparently couldn't stomach the process Kizer used to transform VHA into a patient-centered, effective and efficient health care system. Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., repeatedly took Kizer to task for considering closure of the nursing home and outpatient clinic at Fort Lyon, Colo., a location so remote that the VA facilities there must run their own sewer system and fire department....

Meanwhile, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., threatened to hold up Kizer's nomination because of hospital cutbacks in his state, which has seen reductions in veterans, and consequently in VA hospital beds and funding.

There wasn’t anything magical about “single-payer” that made the VA system work. Dr Kizer's reforms could be implemented in the existing hospital/insurance system (with an important exception or two, one of which is noted below), if there was a will to do so. The magic was that, for a little while, the top-priority -- the only priority -- in allocating resources in the VA system was quality of care. Unfortunately, as the VA is a government system, a systemic focus on regular people couldn't last. In fact, a focus on reform of patient care, instead of on the politically motivated redistribution of resources, could cost a successful administrator his job.

To be successful, hospitals need to be run by people who want to build successful hospitals, not by politicians who view the world as a giant jobs program and whose concern for the quality of care is secondary to their concern that some fat budget numbers exist that can be pointed to on election day, whether or not the money is being spent on quality healthcare. Healthcare in America will only become economical, rational, and just when people are free to choose the best doctors and hospitals available to them, free from undue interference from either the government, or from private insurance industry bureaucrats who have figured out how to manipulate the government.

One other note. The Business Week article also notes that one factor in the VA turnaround an immunity from some lawsuits tied to the VA's status as a government agency…

[VA] doctors don't have to worry as much about malpractice lawsuits, since government agencies are somewhat protected. That made it easier for the VA to go out on a limb in 2005 and institute a systemwide policy of apologizing to patients for medical errors -- an act of contrition rarely done in the private sector.
Are those who look towards the VA as model of healthcare reform willing to explore extending the tort immunity enjoyed by the VA to non-government hospitals?

Healthcare: Appeals Court Agrees That “Fair Share” Plans are Not Legal Under Existing Law

Carroll Andrew Morse

It’s been a few months since I've written about it…
Yet it’s back in the news…
And it’s important, with impact on a major policy debate…
So humor me, and pretend that it’s an exciting topic…

With this introduction…
Loyal Anchor Rising readers will know…
That it can only be…

[Dramatic pause]…
[Unorthodoxly long dramatic pause now bordering on campy]….

ERISA -- The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974!!!!

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a July lower court ruling striking down Maryland’s “fair share” health coverage law as illegal under the aforementioned Federal ERISA law. Fair share laws are state mandates requiring large companies either to provide health insurance to their employees or pay an additional payroll tax used to fund a state-managed healthcare plan. The courts agreed (as they always have) that the ERISA statute prevents states from regulating employer-provided benefits – any benefits, healthcare included -- any more stringently than the Federal government does.

The strikedown of the Maryland law may have immediate consequences beyond Maryland, potentially ripping the heart out of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s universal healthcare proposal for California. Without the tax on employers, the additional tax-increases on doctors and hospitals proposed in the California plan probably won’t be enough to pay for it. (By the way, I haven’t yet seen a satisfactory explanation of why ERISA doesn’t also doom Mitt Romney’s universal coverage plan for Massachusetts.)

In its coverage of the ruling, the New York Times mentions an interesting alternative to “fair share” laws that may have some cross-ideological appeal, because (at least in theory) it helps separate health care choices from employment…

Maryland lawmakers may also choose to rewrite the law, using an approach upheld in several other states that requires companies with uninsured workers to pay them higher wages that can be used for health care premiums, said Paul Sonn, deputy director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and an expert on fair share health care legislation.
I’d be interested to know if the law in these other states requires employers to pay their employees only what would have been spent on health insurance, of if it requires the pay increase to be enough to pay for an individual health insurance policy, which would be substantially larger. If the second case is true, then this is less a reform proposal than it is a backdoor attempt to force everyone into (and thus continue) America’s strange system of employment based health coverage. That would be a bad thing, as it would retard the building momentum for decoupling health insurance from the workplace.

January 15, 2007

Observation of an RI Naif

Justin Katz

I don't know whether it was something that he'd recently read or a memory sparked by something that I said, but during a telephone conversation with my Jersey Boy father last night, he said (paraphrasing), "Rhode Island is essentially a playground for the rich, and the rich don't need a middle class." The point being, I suppose, that circumstances in this state will have to go beyond intolerable — beyond the point at which any rational citizenry would insist on change — before change will even be conceivable.

The frightening thing is that the few native Rhode Islanders with whom I was able to share the commentary today replied, "Sounds about right."

Not surprisingly, the context for my father's explication was my continued interest in staying in this state. My reply, when whittled down to its essence, was that I find a certain attraction to contributing to the thorn, the buzz, the hiss, the whiff of truth that this playground comes at an unacceptable cost.

Remembering Dr. King

Marc Comtois

In remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., take some time to read his "I Have a Dream" speech. Also, there are quite a few pieces extolling the inherent conservatism (and Republicanism) of Dr. King. For instance, the Heritage Foundation held a lecture in 1993 concerning "The Conservative Virtues of Dr. Martin Luther King" and posted a piece about "Martin Luther King's Conservative Legacy" last year. Then there is a new piece by Francis Rice explaining "Why Martin Luther King Was Republican." Finally, Andrew Busch responds to some criticism he received on an earlier piece he had written on Dr. King and Conservatism.

I suppose it could appear as if I'm overly-politicizing here. Yet, my intention is to present the conservative viewpoint on Dr. King in hopes of showing that he did indeed speak to--and for--all Americans.

January 14, 2007

What Conservatives Ought to Explain to Working Families About Minimum Wages

Justin Katz

Although I can't recall any particular instances of his using it, except when helping me with my homework, I associate the phrase "think it through" with my father. It has always seemed, I suppose, to summarize a particular approach to the world — almost a philosophy — that he emphasizes.

Not to leap too quickly from general philosophy to economic specificity, but the phrase comes to mind now because I wish people would apply the principle to the issue of the minimum wage, which is in the news of late. The most recent example in the media is the accusation of Nancy Pelosi's hypocrisy, upon the House of Representatives' voting to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour (or about 41%). Not to single him out, but in a comment to Marc's post on that story, Scott Bill Hirst writes:

I support an increase in the minimum wage. ... I do not believe the GOP needs to be a puppet of organized labor but it needs to reach out to working class Americans more. Serious issues of affordable health care and affordable housing are issues that put great financial pressures on Rhode Island households and need to be adequately addressed in our state.

I am still a Republican and Republicans need to facilitate addressing their positions on these issues. We need to look at imports and the respective policies of those countries on how they treat labor.

"Thinking through" the minimum wage brings to the fore the superficial, cynical, and injurious nature of this sort of "reaching out." As I noted in the comments, conservatives and Republicans ought to concentrate on explaining to working families that market forces confound efforts to force-raise wages, often to the detriment of those ostensibly intended to benefit.

Businesses Will Do as Business Requires

First consider the issue from employers' perspective: a business that suddenly finds itself having to pay 41% more for low-end, unskilled labor will have to find that money somewhere else in the budget. In the fantasy land of progressives, perhaps companies would shift resources from the higher ends of their payrolls, but in the real world, isolated excesses aside, those jobs pay better for a reason. More likely, companies will decrease their low-end employment, shifting their tasks either up the pay scale or to technology.

They will also increase their prices. Doing so may push smaller companies past the threshold of being able to compete, ceding the field to category killers (such as Home Depot) that bring economy of scale to their business models. In industries with captive customer bases (e.g., retail), these companies can pass increased costs on to consumers almost as a matter of course. In other words, the cost of goods — often essentials — will go up for everybody, including those at the minimum wage, as well as those who were just barely getting by before. In industries that aren't as tied to particular locations (e.g., high tech), companies that raise their prices too high will lose their ability to compete with firms elsewhere or will have to move elsewhere, themselves.

So, to sum up the effects of aggressive minimum wage hikes from the employers' point of view:

  1. Fewer employees at the low end of the pay scale
  2. Additional work for those higher up the pay scale
  3. Higher prices
  4. Fewer small companies
  5. Fewer big companies operating locally

Workers Will Go Where the Money Is

To consider the issue from the perspective of employees, I'll draw from my own experience of jobs that required roughly the same level of prior experience (i.e., very little), estimating current pay ranges:

  • Music store clerk: very simple, low stress, few discomforts, no danger, not strenuous, $5.30–6.50
  • Laborer in seafood retail: very simple, low stress, moderate discomforts, low danger, strenuous, $7.00–9.00
  • Laborer in construction: very simple, moderate stress, significant discomforts, high danger, strenuous, $10.00–12.00

(Note that these pay ranges are purely for argument's sake; they don't have to be but so accurate.)

Although I'm simplifying the dynamic involved, there are direct and clear reasons that each form of low-end work has to, or can get away with, paying employees at the relevant rate. Jobs that are more difficult, dangerous, and strenuous have to pay better to attract employees from jobs that are more comfortable. If the music store must now pay employees $7.25 to hang out and watch the register, then the seafood store is going to have to up the ante to find laborers. If the seafood store breaks the $10.00 mark, the construction company is going to have to maintain the margin of remuneration. If laborers approach the wages of carpenter's helpers, then they aren't going to want to begin investing in tools and attention unless that rung moves higher, too, and if carpenter's helpers begin earning at a rate similar to carpenters, then the latter aren't going to take on more responsibility. And so on and so forth, throughout the economy.

Thus, costs rise for companies throughout the pay scale, and prices inflate to cover them. Plainly put, the pay scale just shifts, without an increase in the buying power of anybody involved. And in a globalized economy — with technology always threatening to replace human workers, if there's sufficient incentive for companies to invest in it — it shifts toward a ledge of layoffs and bankruptcies.

A Wage to Die By

In New England, government-types have been toying with the more insidious idea of a "living wage," which, in Norwalk, CT, means "115% of the poverty threshold for a family of four," currently $11.05 (via RIFuture). In Providence, the heated debate is over $11.97 per hour (or $10.19 with healthcare). I use the word "insidious" for four reasons:

  1. The idea that salaries should be determined starting with the worker, rather than the work to be done, while sounding like a compassionate approach, takes no account of the market forces that have made capitalism such a powerful system — and a force for good. We might as well just divvy up the nation's capital and allow people to do whatever work they want (except jobs that nobody wants, and we'll, I don't know, take turns at those), which everybody except deluded socialists understands to be an unworkable fantasy. The first indication that this is true is that any sort of "living wage" proposal is necessarily so unrealistically above the current minimum wage.
  2. The formula for determining a "living wage" carries implicit social engineering. Just the idea that a single 40 hour per week should be forced to be sufficient for a "family of four" brushes away layers of social and cultural input and creates incentives that are deleterious to social and cultural well-being. The incentives emphasize the single person. If a single person can, working even the lowest-level job, earn at the rate that a family of four needs, then there will be fewer families of four. There will be less motivation to form marital unions, and the motivation for advancement that a family naturally provides will begin to seep from our society. Alternately or simultaneously, the policy will create a perpetual inflation machine, as the prices of goods and services increase in response to what families will initially see as disposable income.
  3. These proposals (being unrealistic for a realm in which market forces apply) tend to focus on employees of the government or organizations that do business with the government. And when the government has to come up with more money, it doesn't raise prices in the hope that customers will still find its deals attractive; governments raise taxes, taking the money they need by force of the law, taking from those who make the minimum wage in the private sphere as well as those who were just barely getting by before. As far as organizations that do business with the government are concerned, mandating pay rates that simply won't work in the private sphere creates bifurcated industries, in which the majority of companies are locked out of government work, while the smaller playing field and limitless revenue flow keep the prices that the taxpayers dish out absurdly high.
  4. Giving government industry such an imbalanced edge in the job market drains the private sector — the home of entrepreneurship and innovation — of talent, often (I'd say) luring those who might make the greatest contributions, given the push of necessity, into a static complacency.

The Conservative's Advice

Something is clearly wrong when we've reached the point of treating the government more as an employer than as a shared resource. There are activities that government structures are best positioned to undertake; driving the economy is not one of them. Neither is micromanaging employment relationships.

Well-intentioned people who want to help working families — as opposed to "reaching out" to them — should be able to discern, while considering the likely effects of forcing up the minimum wage, the place in which influence would best be applied: getting them past that low-end, clerk/laborer slot by opening up opportunities, not other people's wallets. I've gone on too long to explore them, here, but two areas for action toward that end are education and entrepreneurship, with the emphasis on the latter.

One difficulty with education, as a means toward broad social advancement, is that it will tend to mean advancement across industries. The college-educated laborer will not be inclined to return to the construction site and will not generally recoup his investment of time and money if he does. In contrast, manipulating government policies in such a way as to encourage small businesses — making the leap from employee to business owner more plausible in a world of Big Box stores, category killers, and multinational corporations — would harness Americans' natural drive to succeed and make every ground-floor job in every industry just a first step in each worker's quest to increase his or her own minimum wage.

For more on the living wage movement, see this May 2006 post by Don Hawthorne.

January 13, 2007

Alas, Block Island is Too Close (and Probably Too Expensive) For a Shot at International Glory

Carroll Andrew Morse

I know this kind of thing happens in James Bond movies, albeit usually involving more ambitious goals, but I didn’t think it could happen in real life (h/t Drudge)…

Swedish file-sharing website The Pirate Bay is planning to buy its own nation in an attempt to circumvent international copyright laws.

The group has set up a campaign to raise money to buy Sealand, a former British naval platform in the North Sea that has been designated a 'micronation', and claims to be outside the jurisdiction of the UK or any other country….

The "island" of Sealand, seven miles off the coast of southern England, was settled in 1967 by an English major, Paddy Roy Bates. Bates proclaimed Sealand a state, issuing passports and gold and silver Sealand dollars and declaring himself Prince Roy.

When the British Royal Navy tried to evict Prince Roy in 1968, a judge ruled that the platform was outside British territorial waters and therefore beyond government control.

The British government subsequently extended its territorial waters from three to twelve nautical miles from the coast, which would include Sealand, but Prince Roy simultaneously extended Sealand's waters, claimed that this guaranteed Sealand's sovereignty.

I hope this doesn't give anyone in Rhode Island strange new ideas for siting a casino...

January 12, 2007

RE:Should Democrats be Criticized for their No-Plan Iraq Plan?

Marc Comtois

Of course, as Linda Chavez points out, there was a time when they did have a plan for staying, too:

Democrats were early to recognize the threat of sectarian violence in Iraq and have consistently been skeptical of democracy taking hold in Iraq in an atmosphere of uncontrolled violence. For much of the war, prominent Democrats were in the forefront of arguing we needed more troops in Iraq, and the president was the one resisting, claiming that his generals assured him they had the resources they needed.

When he was the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., told USA Today, "If it requires more troops in order to create the stability that eliminates the chaos . . . that's what we have to do."

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., went even further. "A number of us have been sounding this alarm. We have to face the fact we need a larger active-duty military," she told the Fox News Channel in May 2004.

Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., began calling for more troops in 2003 -- and he argued that we would need to stay in Iraq for several years. In April 2004, Sen. Biden told Jim Lehrer on PBS, "We don't have enough troops there." And he argued, "It's going to take at least three years to train up an Iraqi police force, it's going to take that long or longer to train an Iraqi army. The truth of the matter is there is no security but U.S. security, a few Brits, a few Spaniards and a few Poles. It is the United States of America."

So why have the Democrats suddenly changed their tune?

So now that the President has asked for more troops, these same Democrats are opposed. Why? I think we know, don't we?

Pelosi: Raise the Minimum Wage! (Er, Except if it Affects a Company in my District)

Marc Comtois

Heh. Something fishy is going on:

House Republicans yesterday declared "something fishy" about the major tuna company in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco district being exempted from the minimum-wage increase that Democrats approved this week.

"I am shocked," said Rep. Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican and his party's chief deputy whip, noting that Mrs. Pelosi campaigned heavily on promises of honest government. "Now we find out that she is exempting hometown companies from minimum wage. This is exactly the hypocrisy and double talk that we have come to expect from the Democrats."

...The bill also extends for the first time the federal minimum wage to the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands. However, it exempts American Samoa, another Pacific island territory that would become the only U.S. territory not subject to federal minimum-wage laws.

One of the biggest opponents of the federal minimum wage in Samoa is StarKist Tuna, which owns one of the two packing plants that together employ more than 5,000 Samoans, or nearly 75 percent of the island's work force. StarKist's parent company, Del Monte Corp., has headquarters in San Francisco, which is represented by Mrs. Pelosi. The other plant belongs to California-based Chicken of the Sea.

"There's something fishy going on here," said Rep. Patrick T. McHenry, North Carolina Republican....A spokeswoman for Mrs. Pelosi said Wednesday that the speaker has not been lobbied in any way by StarKist or Del Monte.

Yes, it's all just one big coincidence!!!

And golly gee, I was quite surprised to discover that this was missed by those who were going to be "holding the Dems accountable" and wouldn't just "monitor" (cheerlead) them as new bills went through the House and Senate. (Well, maybe they'll get around to it eventually). To help 'em along, perhaps they should also read this from the Saipan Tribune:

Democrats have long tried to pull the Northern Marianas under the umbrella of U.S. labor law, accusing the island's government and its industry leaders of coddling sweatshops and turning a blind eye to forced abortions and indentured servitude.

Samoa has escaped such notoriety, and its low-wage canneries have a protector of a different political stripe, Democratic delegate Eni F.H. Faleomavaega, whose campaign coffers have been well stocked by the tuna industry that virtually runs his island's economy.

Faleomavaega has long made it clear he did not believe his island's economy could handle the federal minimum wage, issuing statements of sympathy for a Samoan tuna industry competing with South American and Asian canneries paying workers about 67 cents an hour.

The message got through to House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller, D-Calif., the author of the minimum wage bill who included the Marianas but not Samoa, according to committee aides. The aides said the Samoan economy does not have the diversity and vibrance to handle the mainland's minimum wage, nor does the island have anything like the labor rights abuses Miller claims of the Marianas...

...But in American Samoa the tuna industry rules the roost. Canneries employ nearly 5,000 workers on the island, or 40 percent of the work force, paying on average $3.60 an hour, compared to $7.99 an hour for Samoan government employees. Samoan minimum wage rates are set by federal industry committees, which visit the island every two years...

When StarKist lobbied in the past to prevent small minimum wage hikes, Faleomavaega denounced the efforts.

“StarKist is a billion dollar a year company,” he said after a 2003 meeting with StarKist and Del Monte executives. “It is not fair to pay a corporate executive $65 million a year while a cannery work only makes $3.60 per hour.”

But after the same meeting, Faleomavaega said he understood that the Samoan canneries were facing severe wage competition from South American and Asian competitors.

Department of Interior testimony last year before the Senate noted that canneries in Thailand and the Philippines were paying their workers about 67 cents an hour. If the canneries left American Samoa en masse, the impact would be devastating, leaving Samoans wards of the federal welfare state, warned David Cohen, deputy assistant secretary of the interior for insular affairs.{emphasis added)

Faleomavaega understands that it makes economic sense to pay a lower wage and keep all of those jobs on his island instead of forcing a higher wage on employers who may then move the jobs elsewhere. I guess "sweat shops" aren't "sweat shops" when "market forces" are just too strong to impose a higher minimum wage in a Democrat's district.

Yup, this looks exactly like the sort of hypocrisy they claimed they'd be on the lookout for. Can't wait to see 'em in action!

Should Democrats be Criticized for their No-Plan Iraq Plan?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Garance Franke-Ruta of the American Prospect’s weblog misunderstands David BrooksNew York Times column on the Iraq surge. Here's Ms. Franke-Ruta’s criticism of Brooks first…

I had to read this column a couple of times before I could get what exactly David Brooks was trying to say, but as far as I can make out he's mad at the Democrats for not having yet figured out a way to save America from Bush's lies and folly, despite the fact that the president ignores everything they and many members of his own party say. Brooks is also mad at Democrats for not coming up with a strategy for staying in Iraq that's different from the president's strategy for staying in Iraq, when that's not, in fact, what they want to do.
But Brooks does not criticize Democrats for not coming up with an alternative plan for staying, he criticizes them for not presenting a convincing plan for withdrawing
The liberals who favor quick exit never grappled with the consequences of that policy, which the Baker-Hamilton commission terrifyingly described. The centrists who believe in gradual withdrawal never explained why that wouldn't be like pulling a tooth slowly. Sen. Joe Biden, who has the most intellectually serious framework for dealing with Iraq, was busy Wednesday, at the crucial decision-making moment, conducting preliminary fact-finding hearings, complete with forays into Iraqi history.
But the case for withdrawal is prima facie convincing, you say? Then why haven’t the Democrats convinced themselves of it yet? If withdrawing from Iraq is what the Democrats want to do, as Ms. Franke-Ruta implies, then why haven’t they re-introduced the Kerry or Reed-Levin amendments or, even more directly, rescinded the authorization to use military force in Iraq, now that they control the Congress?

It is fair to characterize the position of many anti-war Democrats within government as wanting to create conditions that will force the US to surrender in Iraq, but take no responsibility for it, and that is the position that is bothering David Brooks.

RE: House Dems Like Earmark Reform. Senate Dems? Not so much...

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here are few notes on Marc’s earlier post on Senate Democrats trying to kill the earmark reforms passed by the House of Representatives. Rhode Island Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse both voted against the reform package.

It appears that Senator Whitehouse, as feared, sees himself less as a representative of the views of ordinary Rhode Islanders, and more as a Rhode Islander whose job is to go-along-to-get along with the elite governing culture in Washington D.C.

Senators James Webb and John Tester voted in favor of serious earmark reform, so the vote was not simply a matter of freshmen Senators having to obey the established party leadership. Maybe there really is something to the idea of the new Democrats being more conservative than the old-guard of the party. And if I wasn’t voluntarily embargoing any commentary about the 2008 Presidential election until June, I would note that Barack Obama voted in favor of earmark reform, while Hillary Clinton did not. (New Democrats being more conservative than old-line leadership again?)


The strong version of earmark reform has been approved, so the paragraph below no longer applies. Details available in Marc's post immediately below.

{Be aware: the new disclosure rules have not passed the Senate yet; the vote taken yesterday was only on whether to table a final vote on the reform or not. Democratic Majority leader Harry Reid is going to try to offer an alternative proposal, which according to Senator Tom Coburn (via the Associated Press), would have required full disclosure on only 534 of the 12,852 earmarks in Senate bills last year.}

House Dems Like Earmark Reform. Senate Dems? Not so much...

Marc Comtois

Ah yes, see how much has changed! Looks like the House Democrats earmark reform bill is being supported by most Senate Republicans and a few Democrats....but the heartiest opposition is being put up by Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (via Glenn Reynolds). TPM Muckraker has one report and Andy Roth at the Club For Growth kept a running commentary on the goings on. Roth also posted a follow-up, which included this bit:

Senator Jim DeMint offered strong reform to the most egregious spending abuses in Congress-a proposal that was sponsored by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and that passed the House just last week. After trying, and failing, to kill the DeMint proposal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Ted Kennedy and other Democrats used stall tactics to delay a final vote. Ultimately, the Senate was forced to postpone it.
I had heard that some local "new media" outlets sympathetic to the Democrats were starting up some countdown or something to track all of the "change" that was going to happen. (Funny, I checked them out and haven't seen anything about this yet. Maybe they'll get around to it. That is, of course, once they work out how to frame it as a positive for "their side.")

Which gives me an opportunity to offer a little advice for those new to the porkbusting/earmark reform movement in particular. You're either "all in" by going after anyone of either party who is a roadblock to said reform or you're not "in" at all. That means that you really, truly have to hold people accountable, even if, you know, you really, really like them, and all. So, yes, you actually have to put the pom-poms down every once in a while and throw a "boo" and "hiss" their way. Or you can just keep being a Party cheerleader.

Then, of course, maybe some Democrats supported earmark reform only because it was the GOP running Congress, right? Nah.....couldn't be that.

UPDATE: Looks like Senator Reid has acquiesced (via CFG quoting a Congressional Quarterly $$ article):

After losing a critical floor vote Thursday and scrambling in vain to reverse the decision, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., found the spirit of bipartisan compromise more to his liking Friday morning.

Reid offered an olive branch to Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., agreeing to embrace his amendment to a pending ethics and lobbying overhaul (S 1) with some modifications. DeMint’s amendment, which Democratic leaders tried but failed to kill on Thursday, would expand the definition of member earmarks that would be subject to new disclosure rules.

[...] Reid admitted Friday that he was caught off guard when nine Democrats and independent Joseph I. Lieberman voted against his motion to table, or kill, the DeMint amendment. His effort failed, 46-51.

[...] Friday morning, a chastened Reid said, “Yesterday was a rather difficult day, as some days are. We tend to get in a hurry around here sometimes when we shouldn’t be. Personally, for the majority, we probably could have done a little better job.”

DeMint, who was flabbergasted Thursday by Reid’s maneuvering to change the outcome of the vote, was happy to accept the compromise Friday.

“DeMint has been happy to work to come to a bipartisan compromise that solidifies the reforms done by [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] and House Democrats,” said DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton.

Congrats to those on the left, right and center who held Reid's feet to the fire. Maybe next time, when such hypocrisy becomes readily apparent, even more folks from across the political spectrum will chime in!

January 11, 2007

Can't We Even Pretend There's an Opposition Party in the RI Legislature?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Commenter “Greg”, in his inimitably direct (and sometimes frightening) over-the-top style, posed this question about the Providence Phoenix last week…

I don't understand why this site gives that oversized porn and pot advertisement this much ink.
An answer can be found in this week’s Phoenix, where Ian Donnis goes a little further than the rest of the MSM in reporting an important detail about the opening of the 2007 session of the General Assembly…
During the opening day of the House session, Representative Carol Mumford (R-Scituate) offered a poetic ode to Rhode Island politics, saying, “Sometimes it’s a contact sport, sometimes it’s a blood sport, but it’s our sport — and we love it.” But when she then nominated House Minority Leader Robert Watson (R-East Greenwich) for speaker, Watson promptly withdrew his name.

Asked whether he did this because of concerns that some Republican representatives might have voted for Murphy, Watson parses the question, saying the GOP decided to send “a cooperative signal.” He adds: “That is not to say that Republicans wouldn’t prefer a Republican speaker, but the numbers do the talking.”

The problem with Minority Leader Watson's answer is that numbers have done the talking in every General Assembly session since at least World War II, yet the Republicans have at least most of the time managed to put up a candidate for speaker. If the party cannot organize themselves for the first, simple, predictable vote of a legislative session, how can they be expected to organize themselves in a way that will have any impact on real legislation?

And how in good faith can the state GOP ask candidates to run against incumbent Democratic legislators, while at the same time their leader in the legislature isn’t willing to put his name forward in a contest that takes no effort and costs him nothing?

(One other note for Greg. Anchor Rising is a blog. We don’t give anyone ink. We give them electrons.)

The President’s Iraq Gambit

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. In case you missed it in the MSM reporting, there is a definite timetable in the President’s Iraq speech

To establish its authority, the Iraqi government plans to take responsibility for security in all of Iraq's provinces by November.
This implies that the President is counting on Iraqi army and national police force training to be completed in a little under a year.

2. To achieve the training goal, the President is ordering an increase in the number of American advisers embedded directly into Iraqi units…

In keeping with the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, we will increase the embedding of American advisers in Iraqi Army units, and partner a coalition brigade with every Iraqi Army division. We will help the Iraqis build a larger and better-equipped army, and we will accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, which remains the essential U.S. security mission in Iraq.
I know of at least one respected military affairs analyst (Barry McCaffrey) who thinks an effective Iraqi army can be built up an in about a year, but that it should be done with fewer but more specialized advisers than we are currently using. I know of another respected military affairs analyst (Eliot Cohen) who thinks that increasing the number of advisers is a necessary step forward in building up effective Iraqi forces. Obviously, President Bush has chosen the path suggested by Cohen.

3. The goal in building up the national Iraqi army, beyond the obvious goal of creating a force that can provide physical security, is to create a powerful, respected and even feared institution within Iraq that possesses a truly national identity…

The Iraqi government will appoint a military commander and two deputy commanders for their capital. The Iraqi government will deploy Iraqi Army and National Police brigades across Baghdad's nine districts. When these forces are fully deployed, there will be 18 Iraqi Army and National Police brigades committed to this effort, along with local police. These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations -- conducting patrols and setting up checkpoints, and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents.
The subtext here is that it's time to give up on the existing local police forces, who have demonstrated that they can’t really be counted on to do anything useful, and probably make the situation worse, and place primary responsibility for local policing in the hands of the national government.

The premise is that stability can only come to Iraq when a national army or national police force capable of instilling a sense of discipline and professionalism and national (versus sectarian) pride into its members becomes the institution that attracts the best, most motivated potential soldiers from the pool of Iraqi males. Right now, that's not happening. Too many young Iraqi men find joining a local militia or working with a foreign terror cell more rewarding than working with the national government. The President is gambling that the beginnings of an Iraqi national army/national police force that commands more respect than Iraq's sectarian militias and attracts more and better recruits than the militias can be created in under a year, despite everything that has gone wrong over the past three years.

Like many others, my impression of the President’s speech is that is was actually pretty good (not great), but would have been even better if delivered two or three years ago.

The Iraq Surge and the Democrats' Non-Solutions

Marc Comtois

Like Rich Lowry, I think that the President's new Iraq plan ("the Surge") is "better late than never." And that applies to more than just changes in the military operations side of things and includes such "hearts and minds" actions as giving ground commanders more walking around money and the implementation of an Iraq Oil Trust (a Glenn Reynolds favorite). Ralph Peters, a frequent critic of the way that the Iraq war has been waged, is willing to give the new plan a chance. In particular, he points to signs that, finally, Iraq President Maliki may be serious about the bi-partisan militia disarmament (ie; even Shia militias, like that of Maliki's fellow Shia Moqtada Al Sadr, will be told to disarm or else). But Peters warns that there are more obstacles to winning than just the militias, insurgents and terrorists:

And there's going to be another major problem that will require great fortitude on the president's part: Destructive fighting lies ahead in Baghdad, and the international media is going to blame us for every broken window and every Iraqi with photogenic wounds. We'll be accused of atrocities and wanton destruction, and the press corps will trot out the Vietnam-era cliché about "destroying the village in order to save it."

Our troops can stand up to any enemy. But I'm not as certain President Bush can withstand the onslaught of an enraged media - and any prospect that we might be turning the situation around will certainly enrage them. Media pressure will work through our allies, too.

Senator Joe Lieberman supports the President's new plan as does Rudy Giulianni. Both called on a scaling back of the partisan bickering that has so characterized the Iraq War, with Giulianni stating, “Success or failure in Iraq is not a matter of partisan politics but a matter of national security. All Americans should be hoping, praying and offering constructive advice for the success of our troops in Iraq and for those Iraqis seeking to create a stable and decent government," and Senator Lieberman writing:
I know there are deep differences of opinion about what the President has proposed tonight. In the coming days and weeks, we should undertake respectful debate and deliberation over this new plan. But, let us also remember that excessive partisan division and rancor at home only weakens our will to prevail in this war...At the moment, we and our Iraqi allies are not winning in Iraq and the American people are understandably frustrated by the miscalculations, the lack of progress, and the daily scenes of violence and casualties. But, make no mistake - defeat in Iraq would result in a moral and strategic setback in our global struggle against Islamist extremists who seek to strike our interests and our homeland...

Tonight, the President did not take the easy path, but he took the correct and courageous course. We are engaged in a world-wide struggle against Islamist extremism, and Iraq is now the central front. It is a dangerous illusion to believe that we can depart Iraq and the inevitable killing fields and terrorist violence will not follow us in retreat - even to our own shores. That is why it is right and imperative that we recommit ourselves to success in Iraq. Weakness only emboldens our enemy, but united resolution will make our nation safer for generations to come.”

Yet, unsurprisingly, Democrats (and some Republicans) plan to oppose the plan, many for mainly partisan reasons. Yes, many Democrats believe it's time to pull out and let Iraq stand on its own. Sounds good, and I wish it were true, but I don't think that anyone really believes that the Iraq military or government is up to the task quite yet. Unfortunately, mostly the Democrats seem to want to "criticize Bush without taking any responsibility" as the Wall Street Journal writes today (via NLT).
So the Democrats want the political mileage of opposing the troop increase rhetorically. What they don’t want is to take responsibility for their own policy choice. Meanwhile, their rhetoric will only serve to reassure the jihadis that sooner or later Democrats will force a U.S. withdrawal.
And Victor Davis Hanson adds:
After listening tonight to Wesley Clark, Dick Durbin, Tom Vilsack, Nancy Pelosi, etc. I still can't for the life of me learn what they want to do. Not one will support Ted Kennedy's cut-off of funds. Apparently the party line is that we can't win, but we're afraid to pull out in case we do, and so we will equivocate as we watch the battlefield and make the necessary rhetorical adjustments just in time. Just what we saw in the past Reid/Biden/etc. call for the surge, then huff/puff when they got their wish. Apparently the shame of 1974-5 cut-offs apparently still haunt the entire party.
And much of the Democrat (and some Republican) carping may be because so many are trying to position (insulate?) themselves for their 2008 political campaigns (Presidential and other).
But what Mr. Bush didn't refer to in his 2,900-word speech is what the media have been chewing on the past several days: the political implications of this proposal here at home.

First off, polls showed that the wave that washed the congressional Democrats into power was due in large part to the war in Iraq. In response, Democrats will be holding week after week of hearings on the war.

Democrats also been mulling over legislation that would actually have some teeth — from threats to cut funding for more troops to an idea that Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy proposed Tuesday: forcing a congressional vote any time the president wants to increase the number of troops.

That's easier said than done, however. So in the meantime, the newly emboldened Dems are eager to get Republicans on the record on Iraq, not just to have the upper hand now — but for the next election as well.

For instance, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid indicated he's going to bring a non-binding resolution to the floor next week that says the Senate disagrees with sending more troops to Iraq. If it's non-binding, what's the point?

"If there is a bipartisan resolution saying, 'We don't support this escalation of the war,' then the president's going to have to take note of that," Reid told reporters.

That's one reason. But it will also put the 21 Republican senators who are up for re-election in 2008 on the spot, giving those who vote against it an opening for their opponents next year.

In fact, four of those senators are on the record already saying they're not fans of the troop increase: Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Gordon Smith, R-Ore.; and John Warner, R-Va.

The ripple effect of the president's proposal is also evident in the nascent 2008 presidential race, with the liberal group MoveOn.org going as far as running a TV ad in Iowa and New Hampshire next week against yet-to-announce candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz...Meanwhile, the Democratic candidates and candidates-to-be have been trying to out-sound bite each other with criticism of the Bush plan.

Former Sen. John Edwards has even gone so far to label the president's plan "the McCain Doctrine" — a dig at the presumed Republican front-runner.

So I'm left to believe that, for too many politicians, even during war, it's just "politics as usual." The President may have a new plan, but the Democrats are still reading from their Election-winning script--move the goalposts and carp at every move and look for any partisan political edge they can get--and some nervous Republicans are running for political cover instead of supporting the President.

Again, I say this because I have yet to see a clear, realistic, alternative plan from the naysayers. The President went out of his way to listen to "all sides," and still it's not enough. But now we have the final surge and the President is staking his legacy on its success. This is a last chance for Maliki and the Iraqi's to put up or shut up. If they fail then Iraq will be a weakened, near-failed state ripe for exploitation by radical jihadists. Failure in Iraq will endanger our own security, whether people want to put their head in the sand and ignore it or not. Hyperbole? No. The situation has happened before. Remember Afghanistan?

Mac Owens on "The Surge"

Marc Comtois

Via NRO:

The president’s speech was adequate. He said the right things. The question of course is whether or not the plan he outlined can be implemented.

In terms of substance, the president’s plan is not so much a true innovation as an adaptation to the changing circumstances in Iraq. Until February of last year, our operational strategy in Iraq — “clear, hold, build” — seemed to be working, because the main problem in Iraq was the Sunni insurgency centered in al Anbar.

But when Sunni extremists destroyed the Shia mosque in Sammarah, sectarian violence exploded, especially in Baghdad. American and Iraqi troops had to redeploy to confront the new threat, and in doing so, the gains that had been achieved in the war against the Sunni insurgents were lost.

The plan outlined last night is a response to these changing conditions. The main reason for the so-called surge is to provide enough troops to provide security for Baghdad while regaining the initiative against the Sunni in al Anbar.

Will it work? That depends on two factors: the Iraqi government and the Congress. The fact is that most deaths in Iraq today are the result of attacks by Shia militias against Sunnis. But until now, these Shia militias have been off-limits. That has to change, and President Bush put Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on notice that this is the case.

Congress is another matter. The Democrats, who would rather see Bush lose than the United States win, can be expected to make life miserable for the president and his approach. Hopefully, the Democratic majority will limit itself to rhetorical opposition, since they have no alternative except withdrawal and defeat. The worst case would be for the Democrats to do what a precious Democratic majority did: cut off funding for the war and leave the Iraqi people to the tender mercies of both Sunni and Shia extremists.

We can only hope that they will be deterred by the recognition that our abandonment of South Vietnam remains the single most shameful act in the history of U.S. foreign policy. So success will depend on whether or not shame is a part of the makeup of the new congressional majority.

January 10, 2007

The President, the Congress, and War Powers Under the Constitution

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Congress shall have power…To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water; To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years; To provide and maintain a navy; To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces…

-- Constitution of the United States of America; Article I, Section 8

The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States…

-- Constitution of the United States of America; Article II, Section 2

In a televised address to the nation tonight, President George W. Bush is expected to call for a "surge" of troops into Iraq. Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, among others, opposes a surge, and wants Congress to pass legislation forbidding any increase in troop levels in Iraq. Our nation is about to embark on what could become a very contentious debate concerning the degree to which Congress can make tactical military decisions once a shooting war is underway.

1. Let’s dispose of two extreme poles right away. By the letter of the Constitution and by custom, Congress has the power to do more than simply fund the military and declare war. Consider for example, issues like base-closings or weapons-system acquisition. Congress has never in history said to the executive branch, here’s the money for the army, spend it any way you want. But there are limits to how far Congress can use its power “to make rules for the regulation of land and naval forces”. Does anyone think that Congress had a legitimate right to say in 1944, “We don’t think that landing you're planning for Omaha beach this week is a good idea; the weather is too bad, so we’re cutting off funds for any operations except a landing at Utah beach next week”? Commander-in-Chief is more than a ceremonial title.

2. However much latitude the President has to act in his role as Commander-in-Chief during peacetime, he has even more during a declared war. That’s part of what a declaration of war fundamentally is, a broad grant of authority from Congress to the President, instructing him to use all resources available to defeat a foreign enemy, hopefully as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This separation between who declares a war and who carries it out is part of the genius of the American constitutional system. The Founders designed most government processes not to be efficient, but to slow things down. However, the Founders also realized that there would be circumstances -- most notably confronting violent foreign powers -- when decisions would have to be made faster than the deliberative process of Congress would allow. So they created a mechanism (the declaration of war) by which Congress could temporarily increase the power of the executive and made it clear (by designating the President Commander-in-Chief) that the executive was solely responsible for certain decisions until the war was done.

3. Furthermore, the Iraq War Resolution of 2002 explicitly gave the President wide latitude in prosecuting a war in Iraq...

The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and Appropriate in order to--
(1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and
(2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.
4. Trying to limit troops now would seem to be in contravention of the broad grant of power that Congress already gave the President in 2002. Can Congress contradict itself like that? Legalistically, yes. They only need to write one of those “notwithstanding any other legislation” clauses into a future bill that limits troop deployment or funding.

5. More importantly, the Iraq war resolution can be overridden by subsequent legislation because an "authorization to use military force" is something less than a full-out declaration of war. Congress cannot simply undeclare a war after declaring one. Wars can only end when both sides mutually agree to stop fighting, sometimes with one side surrendering to the other. The same is not true of an “authorization to use force”. An authorization to use military force can be rescinded without a surrender occurring or a treaty being signed.

6. This is good news for the anti-war folks. The distinction between a declaration of war and an authorization to use military force gives them the out they are looking for. The anti-war crowd wants to force what is in effect a surrender, but not accept responsibility for it. Because war was never formally declared, at least in a legal sense, that is an option. Without doubt, Congress has the authority to rescind the authorization to use force, without having to deal with the other side in the conflict. That’s why a proposal like the Reed-Levin proposal, which seeks not to place limits on achieving an objective, but to change the objective, has never been controversial on Constitutional grounds

7. But while the authorization to use force against Iraq remains in effect, Congress is on shaky ground, both legally and morally, trying to make tactical decisions about how to prosecute it. Congress’ power to declare war and to regulate land and naval forces was not intended to allow Congress to send troops into combat, then deny them certain options, even if conditions change. For the reasons outlined in point 2, the Constitution specifically places decisions about prosecuting a war outside the reach of Congress, and in the hands of a Commander-in-Chief in the executive branch who can (and is expected to) react more quickly.

Within our American Constitutional system, the legal and moral course for anti-war Democrats in Congress to pursue is ending the war, i.e. rescinding the authorization to use force against Iraq, and not to pursue measures that allow the war continue but might make it unwinnable.

Democrats 9/11 Commission Bill: Both Less and More Than Advertised

Marc Comtois

So, the 100 Hours continue and Speaker Pelosi has gotten her 9/11 Commission legislation through. And though some may think that every one of the 9/11 Commission prescriptions were included (the necessity or wisdom of implementing them all is another discussion), apparently, that's really not the case (via The Corner).

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, who held a hearing Tuesday as the Senate prepared for its version of this bill, noted that one major recommendation — not in the House measure — was strengthening Congressional oversight of intelligence and counterterrorism efforts. “We found it a lot easier to reform the rest of the government than we did to reform ourselves post-9/11,” Mr. Lieberman said. “That’s unfinished work.”
The relevant portion of the 9/11 Report to which Lieberman refers begins here (and I've excerpted it in full in the extended entry, below.

Finally, Speaker Pelosi's 9/11 Commission Legislation contains language making it possible for the federal employees of the TSA to unionize.

The 9/11 commission did not address union rights or personnel rules but urged improvements in airport screening operations. AFGE [American Federation of Government Employees] maintains that collective bargaining rights help smooth agency operations because labor-management contracts provide a structure for addressing employee issues, including job performance.

Peter Winch, an organizer with AFGE, said the union had asked Democrats to put bargaining rights for TSA screeners "on the agenda for the first 100 hours." He continued, "It does not make sense to keep these employees from collective bargaining rights when other Department of Homeland Security employees have those rights."

The TSA has said that collective bargaining is not appropriate for airport passenger and baggage screeners because of their national security mission and because the agency requires the ability to make personnel staffing changes rapidly in response to threats. In the law creating the TSA, Congress left it to the Bush administration to determine such issues as union rights for screeners.

The Bush Administration also provided an example:
As an example, officials pointed to the foiled United Kingdom airline bombing plot in August, when new procedures for screeners were put into place immediately.

"This flexibility is a key component of how the Department of Homeland Security, through TSA, protects Americans while they travel," the statement said.

Then there is this point made by Senator Joseph Lieberman's office:
"Other security personnel like customs agents and the Border Patrol have the right to collective bargaining, and that has not impaired their ability to protect American security."
OK, fine. But isn't this really just an "earmark" by another name? The original legislation that allowed this potential TSA unionization had previously stalled in committee (granted, GOP controlled congress) and NONE of this 100 hour legislation is being debated in--or passed through--committee. Heck, to the victor go the spoils and all that, but for the Democrat led Congress to reward one of their key constituencies--a federal employee union--under the cover of national security smells like business as usual to me.

Here is the full portion of the 9/11 Report that calls for a change in the structure of Congressional oversight.



Strengthen Congressional Oversight of Intelligence and Homeland

Of all our recommendations, strengthening congressional oversight may be among the most difficult and important. So long as oversight is governed by current congressional rules and resolutions, we believe the American people will not get the security they want and need.The United States needs a strong, stable, and capable congressional committee structure to give America's national intelligence agencies oversight, support, and leadership.

Few things are more difficult to change in Washington than congressional committee jurisdiction and prerogatives. To a member, these assignments are almost as important as the map of his or her congressional district.The American people may have to insist that these changes occur, or they may well not happen. Having interviewed numerous members of Congress from both par-
ties, as well as congressional staff members, we found that dissatisfaction with congressional oversight remains widespread.

The future challenges of America's intelligence agencies are daunting.They include the need to develop leading-edge technologies that give our policy-[pg.420]makers and warfighters a decisive edge in any conflict where the interests of the United States are vital. Not only does good intelligence win wars, but the best intelligence enables us to prevent them from happening altogether.

Under the terms of existing rules and resolutions the House and Senate intelligence committees lack the power, influence, and sustained capability to meet this challenge.While few members of Congress have the broad knowledge of intelligence activities or the know-how about the technologies employed, all members need to feel assured that good oversight is happening.
When their unfamiliarity with the subject is combined with the need to preserve security, a mandate emerges for substantial change.

Tinkering with the existing structure is not sufficient. Either Congress should create a joint committee for intelligence, using the Joint Atomic Energy Committee as its model, or it should create House and Senate committees with combined authorizing and appropriations powers.

Whichever of these two forms are chosen, the goal should be a structure--codified by resolution with powers expressly granted and carefully limited--allowing a relatively small group of members of Congress, given time and reason to master the subject and the agencies, to conduct oversight of the intelligence establishment and be clearly accountable for their work. The staff of this committee should be nonpartisan and work for the entire committee and
not for individual members.

The other reforms we have suggested--for a National Counterterrorism Center and a National Intelligence Director--will not work if congressional oversight does not change too. Unity of effort in executive management can be lost if it is fractured by divided congressional oversight.

Recommendation: Congressional oversight for intelligence--and counterterrorism--is now dysfunctional. Congress should address this problem.We have considered various alternatives: A joint committee on the old model of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy is one. A single committee in each house of Congress, combining authorizing and appropriating authorities, is another.

· The new committee or committees should conduct continuing stud ies of the activities of the intelligence agencies and report problems relating to the development and use of intelligence to all members of the House and Senate.

· We have already recommended that the total level of funding for intelligence be made public, and that the national intelligence program be appropriated to the National Intelligence Director, not to the secretary of defense.[pg.421]

· We also recommend that the intelligence committee should have a subcommittee specifically dedicated to oversight, freed from the consuming responsibility of working on the budget.

· The resolution creating the new intelligence committee structure should grant subpoena authority to the committee or committees. The majority party's representation on this committee should never exceed the minority's representation by more than one.

· Four of the members appointed to this committee or committees should be a member who also serves on each of the following additional committees:Armed Services, Judiciary, Foreign Affairs, and the Defense Appropriations subcommittee. In this way the other major
congressional interests can be brought together in the new committee's work.

· Members should serve indefinitely on the intelligence committees, without set terms, thereby letting them accumulate expertise.

· The committees should be smaller--perhaps seven or nine members in each house--so that each member feels a greater sense of responsibility, and accountability, for the quality of the committee's work. The leaders of the Department of Homeland Security now appear before 88
committees and subcommittees of Congress. One expert witness (not a member of the administration) told us that this is perhaps the single largest obstacle impeding the department's successful development.The one attempt to consolidate such committee authority, the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, may be eliminated. The Senate does not have even this.
Congress needs to establish for the Department of Homeland Security the kind of clear authority and responsibility that exist to enable the Justice Department to deal with crime and the Defense Department to deal with threats to national security.Through not more than one authorizing committee and one appropriating subcommittee in each house, Congress should be able to ask the secretary of homeland security whether he or she has the resources to provide
reasonable security against major terrorist acts within the United States and to hold the secretary accountable for the department's performance.

Recommendation: Congress should create a single, principal point of oversight and review for homeland security. Congressional leaders are best able to judge what committee should have jurisdiction over this department and its duties. But we believe that Congress does have the obligation to choose one in the House and one in the Senate, and that this committee should be a permanent standing committee with a nonpartisan staff.

January 9, 2007

The Face of the Phoenix

Justin Katz

An unsigned editorial on thephoenix.com (from which I've borrowed that picture) takes the oh-so-tolerant position that disagreement with its opposition to allowing Massachusetts' citizens to vote on same-sex marriage is simply ugly bigotry:

Bigot is, to be sure, a nasty name. But what would you call someone who denied women or blacks the right to vote? Or said to women and African-Americans, or even to recently naturalized citizens, that, sure, you can vote, but your vote will count as only a fraction of that of a man or white people or those born in this nation. That is the difference between supporting civil unions or full marriage rights.

All these years of arguing this issue, and I continue to be flabbergasted by the nonchalance of (on average) wealthy white liberals as they manacle their fashionable crusade for gay marriage to the true horrors of racial discrimination. Have they no shame? Have they no twang of conscience whispering in their "cannot stop the march of time" ears that they are betraying to all who care to observe that their obsession with the white hood is not a legitimate fear, but a fetish? How gladly they'll don it, if given the excuse.

The New Congress Encourages Automatic Tax Increases to Pay for Unlimited Spending Increases

Carroll Andrew Morse

The new Democratic-led Congress has passed so-called pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules that require new spending or new tax-cut legislation to be approved by a 3/5 majority, if the Federal budget deficit is projected to increase because of it. Pay-as-you-go, however, is a misnomer. The Federal budget will continue to increase on autopilot under the House’s version of PAYGO rules. The trick is hidden in the dense prose of this amendment to House rule XXI…

7. It shall not be in order to consider a concurrent resolution on the budget, or an amendment thereto, or a conference report thereon that contains reconciliation directives under section 310 of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974 that specify changes in law reducing the surplus or increasing the deficit for either the period comprising the current fiscal year and the five fiscal years beginning with the fiscal year that ends in the following calendar year or the period comprising the current fiscal year and the ten fiscal years beginning with the fiscal year that ends in the following calendar year.
The problem is that annual spending increases in programs like Social security, Medicare, and Medicaid -- the programs at the heart of the American fiscal crisis -- are approved in a concurrent resolution on the budget that does not make any “changes in law”. Amounts spent on these programs are determined by formulas written into already-passed laws. Entitlement spending will thus continue to grow without limit under PAYGO rules.

PAYGO is not about fiscal responsibility. It is about political cover, intended to allow Congressional Democrats (and the 48 Republicans who voted with them) to say they have no choice under House rules but to vote for individual pieces of legislation that increase taxes. Don’t believe it. Congress had a choice when it voted for PAYGO and it chose a fiscally profligate set of operating rules.

What could have been done instead? Well, if Congress was truly in a fiscally conservative mood, they could have done the obvious -- amend PAYGO to include automatic entitlement increases. Brian Riedl and Alison Acosta Fraser of the Heritage Foundation suggest this extension to PAYGO …

Congress would set multi-year spending targets for entitlement programs covered by PAYGO. If OMB projects that spending will exceed these targets, the president would have to submit reform proposals as part of the annual budget request, and Congress would have to act on those proposals. A similar trigger for Medicare spending was included in the 2003 Medicare prescription drug legislation, and expanding the concept could help Congress address current entitlement spending growth.
Finally, Mr. Riedl and Ms. Fraser also serve reminder that PAYGO-syle rules of any form can only go so far in promoting fiscal responsibility, because fiscal responsibility is more than reducing deficits; it is also choosing to control spending…
PAYGO also focuses on only the budget deficit, rather than the size of government. A strong PAYGO would ensure that new or expanded programs are balanced with other spending cuts or tax increases, but it would not prevent the government from taking a steadily larger share of citizens' paychecks. PAYGO would allow escalating entitlement program costs to push the size of the federal government to nearly 50 percent of GDP by 2050. PAYGO would also promote the expiration of all Bush tax cuts and force millions of Americans to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax. As a result, tax revenues would rise from the historical average of 18.3 percent of GDP to a record 23.7 percent by 2050.

James Davey: Life Does Go On, Even When You’re Not Being Taxed to Death

Carroll Andrew Morse

Former State Representative James Davey sends Rhode Islanders a civic-postcard (actually a letter-to-the-editor in the Projo) from his new home in North Carolina…

In a Jan. 3 story, Cranston Fire Chief Richard Delgado was quoted as saying, in response to Mayor Michael Napolitano’s possible proposal to cut all departments’ spending by 5 percent, that: “It’d be very difficult. We’re down to bare bones.”

I suggest Chief Delgado contact the Cary, N.C., fire chief for suggested cost-saving measures. Cary has a population of 110,000 compared with Cranston’s 80,000, yet Cary’s fire department budget is 60 percent less, at $15.4 million, compared with Cranston’s $24.6 million.

Of course, the fact that there are no public-sector unions in North Carolina is a major reason Cary’s costs — and taxes — are much lower than Cranston’s….I also compared the police budgets. Cranston’s, including the animal control function, is $17.7 million. Cary’s, including the animal control function, is 15 percent less, at $15.4 million. How does Cary do it and still be acclaimed as one of the 10 safest cities in America for six years in a row?

Projo columnist Edward Achorn gives his thoughts on Representative Davey’s letter in today's paper...
Which state is more interested in serving the common interest, rather than the special interests? Which state is drawing in the middle class? Which is losing middle-class taxpayers? Which state is creating more jobs? Which is attracting more tax-paying retirees?

One doesn’t require an advanced degree in economics to answer those questions.

The problem with Rhode Island government has never been a lack of tax dollars. It’s governance. Until the state is better governed, its middle-class citizens will confront strong incentives to leave, in spite of all the things they love about this delightful and beautiful state.

January 8, 2007

Canada Makes it Official: Heather Can (legally) have 2 Mommies and a Daddy

Marc Comtois

Back in October, I posted, and Justin elaborated (and I further elaborated) about a NY Times story ("Gay Donor or Gay Dad")on the the inherent difficulties and consequences of having 2 lesbian women and a male sperm donor (and possibly his partner) all seeking to press a claim on the parenthood of a child. Yet, these were informal (ie; not legally recognized) relationships. Canada has taken the next logical step from legalizing same-sex marriage to sanctioning a legalizing tripartite parental scheme. Now, in Canada, Tommy has two mommies and a daddy--the judges said so. As Stanley Kurtz writes:

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the court held its ruling until just after Canada’s conservatives failed to reverse judicially imposed same-sex marriage in parliament. Now we know how long after the secure nationalization of same-sex marriage it can take for further radical changes to emerge: about a month...We’ve got a clear instantiation of the slippery slope here.

January 6, 2007

Seems to Me that Mrs. P Ought to Take Her Husband Aside and Explain to Him What a Fool He Is.

Justin Katz

Via ("beautifully put") Andrew Stuttaford, from the Pub Philosopher (emphasis added):

Having a history degree, she also knows that the world could not have been made in 4004 BC and she has studied enough science to know that much of what is written in the Bible cannot possibly be true. ...

We are drawn to religion by our feelings rather than our thoughts. The sense that, for all our clever inventions, there may still be things that humans will never know and the desire to hedge our bets just in case keeps many of us from declaring ourselves to be atheists.

With respect to the phrase I've italicized: has this guy no clue what God's capabilities are supposed to be? Has he no ability to see beyond his modernist filter?

With respect to the second quoted paragraph, I can only say, "uh, no." Mr. Philosopher has apparently not met any of those many converts (usually to Catholicism, to my experience) for whom religion is, above all, an intellectual exercise. (Personally, if I may confess it, here, it is more often my intellect that corrects my feelings toward religion.)

And as for the "hedging bets" thing, what sort of God does this fellow think us to believe in? Apparently one who rewards superficial fealty to Him, rather than frank openness — a strange preference for a God who is reputed to know our every thought.

But I suppose all may be forgiven when one's audience is mainly looking for folksy confirmation of its superiority.

Slot Revenue Keeps Going Down, but Budget Never Does

Marc Comtois

Looks like the slot-machine revenue panacea isn't working out too well.

For the first time since video-slot machines were introduced in 1993, both Lincoln Park and Newport Grand are taking in substantially less money than they did the year before.

This could have dramatic consequences for the state, which is already struggling with a $105.1-million shortfall this year and a potential $254-million deficit next year. The state gets about 60 percent of every dollar gamblers lose at the two slot parlors. Only the sales and personal income taxes bring in more revenue.

Apparently, Senate President Montalbano realizes it's time to look elswhere for budget relief:
“We’re always looking for new revenue by way of economic development. But I don’t think it’s anybody’s agenda to expand gambling in Rhode Island,” Montalbano said. “The less we rely on it, the better it is for us. But it’s a fact of being able to fund all of the programs we need to fund. It is our third-largest source [of income] right now.”
I suppose we could try to solve the problem by finding a way to raise more "revenue." But how come no one talks about reducing the the need for more money...you know, budget cuts?

RE: Scrap the Middle Schools?

Marc Comtois

A couple days ago I mentioned about how--and why--many urban school districts are doing away with middle schools and going to a K-8 model. Apparently, Providence is looking to head in the same direction, as indicated by Mayor Cicilline:

Addressing the challenges facing the Providence School District will not be easy, [Mayor Cicilline] said, and will require a commitment from the entire community on behalf of Providence’s youth...the City is about to embark on a plan to transform Providence schools into 21st-century learning environments, with recommendations imminent for a district-wide facilities plan that features K through 8th grade neighborhood schools and smaller, more personalized high schools.

January 5, 2007

Foreshadow of Serious Earmark Reform?

Carroll Andrew Morse

I may have to give the new Congressional Democrats some credit. During the past election, I commented several times on this June 2006 statement by Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia…

”When I become chairman [of a House appropriations subcommittee], I'm going to earmark the sh** out of it,” Moran buoyantly told a crowd of 450 attending the event.
Well, according to Andy Roth of the Club for Growth, Congressman Moran's Democratic peers have denied him his anticipated chairmanship (h/t Instapundit). According to the new House Appropriations Committee website, Congressman Moran was 10th in Appropriations seniority, while 12 subcommittee chairmanships were available, indicating that the Democratic leadership actively decided to skip him over. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio (5th in seniority) and Ed Pastor of Arizona (12th in seniority) were also passed over, and Robert Kramer of Alabama (15th in seniority) would have been next-in-line for a subcommittee chairmanship, had not one been given to the very junior Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida (36th in seniority).

For those Rhode Islanders who are curious, Congressman Patrick Kennedy ranks 16th in Appropriations seniority.

January 4, 2007

Needed: A Eugenics Program for Public Policies

Justin Katz

You've likely come across the notion that a society that rejects a governing morality will require laws to fill the void. Well, have you noticed that those whose societal aspirations run against the grain of traditional morality are often quick to treat all objections — even mere expressions of concern — as if they are arguments for government restrictions? Two nights ago, for example, I posted a response to John Derbyshire's thoughts on eugenics in which I did not presume to suggest how the tricky circumstances of the future ought to be handled, and somehow I've apparently taken a leadership role in a movement to ban "genetic-intervention procedures."

As much as I'm kindly inclined toward some of those who make such arguments, it seems to me that there's a petulantly played rhetorical trick involved. Paraphrasing: "You have moral objections to eugenics? You're going to be isolated on this one. Good luck making it illegal! And if you do, good luck hunting down those who seek treatments in other countries! I'll choose freedom, you autocratic moralist!"

There's some irony in the fact that my leading concern was that government involvement in eugenics is inevitable to the extent that the technology is successful. It's mighty big of Mr. Derbyshire to accept "a permanent underclass [as] the price of liberty" — as if he'll be the one paying it — but there are surely not enough voters of similar mind to make Derbyshire's acceptance more than just symbolic. The post of his to which I initially responded treated "***STATE-SPONSORED*** eugenics programs" as a legitimate concern, and my point has been that such programs will have too much moral and practical gravity for state sponsorship to remain in distant orbit.

I'd also note that I don't use "underclass" as a marker of moral stain on a society (as do liberals), but as an actual and threatening category within that society. I would, in fact, concede that we would have a moral responsibility to help those whose families are under threat of perpetual deficiency, but there would also be a strong public interest case to be made for doing so. Arguably, those unable to afford, or comprehend the benefit of, eugenic technology are precisely those whose children require it most — and with respect to whose children society would benefit from it most. More extremely, would Derbyshire be willing to pay the price of liberty if it were the underclass's violent rejection of a system that is rapidly and inexorably locking them out? And once the public interest is ceded in such a matter, we've opened the door to creeping micromanagement.

That is not to say that I believe invidious government involvement to be the only peril of eugenics; as a society, we ought to fully vet various other aspects before advancing, or choosing not to do so (a process that is not well served by quick resort to heated anti-theocrat rhetoric). Consider an argument of which Derbyshire and others seem fond: that "the ordinary kind of mate selection we humans have been engaging in for the past 100,000 years" is not substantially different from eugenics. One needn't delve into the various ways of differentiating between the two to unearth a difficulty: Characterizing mating (for most intents and purposes, marriage) in these terms, it's possible to see divorce as the remedy for errors in judgment. What would be the remedy when parents feel they've erred in concocting their children's qualities? If we're in the realm of consumer freedoms, how do we translate the well-understood concepts of returns, exchanges, and customer service? Would government involvement be justifiable — even necessary — in that area?

As is observable in the comments to my previous post, proponents of science's march into the realm of science fiction aren't shy about acknowledging the possibility of unintended consequences... and passing them right by. Morality serves a purpose, however, and through discussion of its implications, we can address unpleasant complexities before we rush headlong into the brier patch.

In his own follow-up to John Derbyshire, Ramesh Ponnuru writes:

It is nice to see Derbyshire setting aside his admonitions against attempting to apply logic to human affairs, even if he is only setting them aside selectively. (That’s why he’s in a stand-off with Justin Katz. Derbyshire suggests that it’s pointless for Katz to raise objections to eugenics, since people are going to practice it whatever he says. When Katz points out that people are going to practice it collectively, too, Derbyshire falls back on . . . the force of the arguments he will make when that day comes.)

Here's the relevant paragraph from Derbyshire:

Speaking as a small-government conservative, I'd like to think that we—we, the people—are able, through our democratic process, to deny the invention of bogus "rights" and new kinds of government transfer payments. I would certainly agree we have not been very successful at such denying in recent years. That, however, is a negative phenomenon that I deplore. To premiss public policy on the worst expectations of our political processes is to abandon all hope. If some technological advance leads to demands for new "rights," let's resist those demands, as conservatives should. That's what we're here for. That's one of the fights we fight.

Perhaps I'm stabbing at subtleties, but I'm not so sure that Derbyshire believes that his future arguments will have much practical force. If memory serves, he sees these battles more as categorical necessities for conservatives than as strategies for optimal outcomes. In short, unless I'm misreading him, all he's really pledged is his intention to voice futile opposition.

Road Trippin’ With the Rhode Island Statehouse

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here’s an interesting idea proposed by Rhode Island House Speaker William Murphy in his opening address to the 2007 legislative session…

Transparent process, open inquiry, public debate. That is what marked this body’s earliest beginnings, and let me close by sharing a plan for restoring that reputation to the House of Representatives as it exists today.

The fact is, for many Rhode Islanders, the State House can be perceived as an intimidating or inaccessible place and its workings can seem confusing.

To ensure that we are bringing as many voices as possible into government, and creating a legacy of openness, transparency, and responsiveness, I am announcing today an initiative to break down the barriers for every-day Rhode Islanders to make their voices heard, participate in government debate, and better understand what we do.

We call it “Project Open House.”

Through “Project Open House,” every standing committee of the House of Representatives will hold a hearing at a site around the state during their normal course of legislative business.

The bills before the committee will be posted in advance, as they are now, and citizens with interest or concerns will be encouraged to come testify, or simply listen and learn.

“Project Open House” will turn community centers, libraries and public schools into mini State Houses for the day. I look forward to officially opening the first hearing next month, and to making these field hearings an important part of the House of Representatives’ next chapter.

Though Project Open House is mostly symbolic in nature, it does represent a step in the right direction. A more far reaching step, however, would be to have House committees post their minutes, especially amendments to bills and vote tallies, in a publicly available electronic format.

The staff people at the Rhode Island General Assembly already do an excellent job of providing timely, online information about floor actions. It shouldn’t be difficult to extend the systems and processes they've already developed to include committee activity too.

In praise of the inherent conservatism of Motherhood

Marc Comtois

With all that has been going on here in Warwick regarding the mycoplasma outbreak, I need to give public recognition to my wife. When we were informed that the schools throughout the city were shutting down for the rest of the week, my gracious spouse refrained from telling me, "I told you so," though she had every right to do so.

You see, she had kept our own kids out of school since Tuesday, reasoning that it was better to be safe than sorry. She figured that, given the rather ambiguous nature of the assurances uttered by our public health officials, that the conservative (and safe) course of action would be to wait a week for "them" (government officials) to figure out what exactly was going on. I, on the other hand, thought she was overreacting, based on what those very same officials were saying and some of my own "expert" research at WebMD, eMedicine and Wikipedia (heh).

Nonetheless, I did defer to her based on the well-established and scientifically proven fact that wives--especially those who are also mothers--are always right. Whether you want to call it mother's intuition or the she-bear protective instinct, events have borne out her intial suspicions. Never again will I question her instincts when it comes to the safety of our children. "The hand that rocks the cradle; Is the hand that rules the world"?

Yes. And my wife definitely has "hand."

A Tale of Two Speakers

Marc Comtois

On January 5, 1995, Newt Gingrich was elected Speaker of the House, the first Republican to do so in 40 years.

Newt Gingrich took the Capital by storm today like many of the generals he has studied -- before dawn, with a plan and with an eye on history.

As he achieved his longtime dream of becoming Speaker of the House, his method was also characteristically Newtonian -- expansive, buoyant, heavy on the symbolism and a bit disjointed.

His plan included, typically, a symbolic act of defiance. In the weighty moments just before he was elected the first Republican Speaker of the House in 40 years, Mr. Gingrich slipped away from the throngs like an outsider and spoke as a guest on a radio call-in show.

During the program, Mr. Gingrich sat with his helmet of gray hair cuffed by a big headset beneath a wartime poster of Winston Churchill that declared "Deserve Victory!" and took shots at the mainstream media and the Democrats. Then he strode onto the House floor and delivered a generously bipartisan acceptance speech to thunderous applause from his fellow House members and visitors from the other side of the Capitol, including Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, the new majority leader, and the other side of the aisle, like Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts...

Mr. Gingrich's big day began at a little after 6 in the morning when he arrived at the Capitol. It was to extend until at least midnight tonight because he wanted to be sitting in the Speaker's chair to gavel to a close the longest opening day in House history.

In between, the House, now his House, with 230 Republicans at his command, passed a flurry of bills to revamp internal House rules. The point was to signify the end of the imperial era, when Congress held itself above the laws of the land, and the beginning of a new era of openness. Not only were many of the day's activities open to television cameras, but the House voted to abide by the laws that it imposes on everybody else.

After grabbing a cup of black coffee and a banana at a take-out store, Mr. Gingrich arrived at the Capitol for interviews with all the morning network news programs as well as a morning drive-time broadcast interview with The Associated Press. He then attended a prayer service at St. Peter's Church...

Mr. Gingrich said that when he stepped out on the balcony [of his new office] today for the first time, on what was a crystal-clear morning, he was filled with "the sense of being part of history and part of the romantic myth of this country." {NY Times, January 5, 1995, p.A23}

Ah yes, remember the "coup" of 1994, led by Generalissimo Gingrich and his cohort of nast, mean conservative Republicans? But never fear, the true heir has been crowned! The Queen has arrived!!!
"We have waited over 200 years for this time to come," Mrs. Pelosi said on the eve of her selection as speaker, a position that makes her second in line to the presidency after Vice President Dick Cheney.

"We will not just break through a glass ceiling, we will break through a marble ceiling," she said. "In more than 200 years of history, there was an established pecking order -- and I cut in line."

After calling herself "the most powerful woman in America," Mrs. Pelosi flexed her right muscle like a weight lifter to much applause at an event yesterday titled a "women's tea."

"All right, let's hear it for the power," she screamed as the jubilant applause continued.

When Mrs. Pelosi tried leaving the podium, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Connecticut Democrat, asked her to stay.

"There is so much love and warmth that's in this room today and that's because of the new speaker," Mrs. DeLauro said. "And that tells you about what the future is all about in the House of Representatives."

Yesterday's event was part of three days of festivities to mark the historic moment. Later, Mrs. Pelosi and special guests dined at the Italian Embassy.

Today will be the official vote by her colleagues installing her as speaker, followed by a "swearing-in celebration concert" in the Great Hall of the National Building Museum.

Tomorrow will feature an "open house for the People's House," a nod to Democrats' professed commitment to the common man. For the rest of the day, Mrs. Pelosi will celebrate her roots with a visit to a statue of her late father, former Baltimore Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro, and later the dedication of a Baltimore street to Mrs. Pelosi.

But wary of accusations of arrogance, Democrats have included other, less celebratory events. Those include a Mass yesterday at Trinity University in remembrance of "the children of Darfur and Katrina and a prayer service this morning at St. Peter's Catholic Church to honor the troops." {emphasis added}

Note the difference in tone as expressed by the actual Speakers-to-be. Gingrich "was filled with 'the sense of being part of history and part of the romantic myth of this country.'" Pelosi referred to herself as "the most powerful woman in America" and exhorted "All right, let's hear it for the power" to her followers. Methinks, despite the protestations to the contrary, that the "imperial era" has returned.

Phillipe and Jorge and the Conservatives, Part 2

Carroll Andrew Morse

Two more comments about the Phillipe and Jorge column from this week’s Providence Phoenix.

1. In commenting on conservatism in general, Phillipe and Jorge do express strong approval of market-based ideas…

When will we acknowledge that the free market system is not a panacea, but an excellent path with limits? Those shortcomings include health-care, education, mass transit, and environmental safety (although environmental sanity can become profitable in certain respects).
Most conservatives would agree with the “excellent path with limits” sentiment (it’s generally libertarians who want to reduce limitations on capitalism to a bare minimum, despite the consequences).

But with regards to their specific counterexamples, how exactly do P&J reach the conclusion that education represents a market failure? A better case can be made for the opposite; higher education is run on a much more free-market basis than primary or secondary education. Does anyone seriously suggest that higher education would improve if we replaced the existing colleges and universities with the geographic monopoly system we use for K-12?

2. P&J also express less than approval, but definite sympathy, for a certain strain of conservative thought…

Many of the thoughts recently expressed about Gerald R. Ford’s presidency remind your superior correspondents of just how dangerously far to the right this country has veered. We’re not talking about the small government/fiscally prudent right that we can understand and respect, even if we frequently disagree with it. This is the totalitarian right of Bush and the neo-cons.
Now, P&J’s characterization of limited government conservatism suggests that its opposite would entail support for big government and fiscal imprudence, correct? But that’s probably too simple…

…or is it? Here is Rhode Island’s newest United States Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse, as described in John Mulligan's article from today’s Projo

On the Budget Committee, [Senator Sheldon Whitehouse] said he expects to see tension between the principle of “paying as you go” and the need for more spending on social programs. He took a wait and see stance on how to resolve that dilemma.
So Senator Whitehouse has decided there is a need for more spending, even though it won’t fit within the current budget and he knows that the country is running deficits.

Isn't this an obvious case of wanting to combine fiscal imprudence with big government?

Phillipe and Jorge of the Providence Phoenix: Where the Liberals are Moderates, and the Moderates are Conservatives and the Democrats Have Imagination!

Carroll Andrew Morse

During the 2006 election cycle, I chided Providence Phoenix News Editor Ian Donnis about his labeling of Senator Lincoln Chafee as a moderate, despite a voting record and issue stands that were demonstrably liberal. I attributed the labeling choice to the fact that a garden-variety liberal might actually seem moderate to someone who spends his typical day with Phoenix staffers. Exhibit A in support of the assertion that the overall Phoenix political scale some Phoenix staffers use a political scale that is leftward-shifted comes from this week’s Phillipe and Jorge’s column on former President Gerald Ford. Any historian or political writer will tell you that President Ford was the archetypal Republican moderate. Through the filter of the Phoenix Phillipe and Jorge, this of course means that President Ford was a conservative…

Bob Woodward’s interviews revealed Ford as a traditional conservative Republican who was appalled by the hard-right swing of his party….

The Bush administration’s incompetents have no vision. They are tone-deaf to real progress and imaginative thinking. Despite his conservative leanings, Jerry Ford seemed to have a far more open mind….

Inequity is here, and the path of tax cuts for the rich, and eat sh** for the poor and middle classes, is the status quo. Jerry Ford was a conservative who knew better. Where are his likes today?
The Phoenix's P&J's usage of conservative to mean moderate and moderate to mean liberal raises the question of what the ProPho staff means when they use the term liberal who they actually consider to be liberal. A bit of insight on this comes from today's Tracy Breton Projo article on retiring Superior Court Judge Stephen Fortunato. Judge Fortunato is open believer in Marxism who says he’d prefer to be described as a “leftist” and not a “liberal”. So, when you hear the Phoenix someone prone to describing moderates as conservatives describe someone as a liberal, pencil-in Marxist or leftist in your mind.

Seriously though, this labeling stuff does matter. Labeling choices in political writing are the canaries in the coal mine, warning when other perceptions of a political writer might be a bit off. The important perception in this weeks P&J’s column in need of some serious critical scrutiny, more subtle and important than the ideological taxonomy, is the idea that the contemporary Democratic party agenda is somehow based on "imaginative thinking". Look at the Democratic agenda on the most important domestic issues facing the United States…

  • The Democratic agenda on retirement security is raising social security taxes and cutting social security benefits for future retirees.
  • The Democratic agenda on healthcare reform(*) tends towards raising taxes to fund a government takeover of the current healthcare system, then, once in control, cutting benefits to contain costs.
  • The Democratic agenda on improving education is raising taxes and/or cutting programs in suburban areas to subsidize failing urban schools (and in the case of Rhode Island, also raising taxes to pay for increased non-educational social-services spending).
Imagination is not required to raise taxes to pour money into programs based on 50 and 100 year old assumptions that no longer hold, nor to argue that the inevitable march of history dictates that people simply have to accept paying more to receive less. Where exactly is the imaginative thinking in the Democratic agenda?

(*)I'm not including Senator Ron Wyden's universal healthcare proposal which I have recently written about in the unimaginative category, but it's not a mainstream Democratic position.


I’ve been counter-chided (politely and fairly) by Ian Donnis, who suggests that Anchor Rising has demonstrated enough familiarity with the Rhode Island political scene & RI media outlets to realize that Phillip and Jorge are opinion columnists whose choice of conventions has no bearing on the Phoenix’s news reporting.

Mr. Donnis is correct. I wouldn’t attribute a position to “the ProJo” or the New York Times; I would specify the “ProJo Editoral Board”, or the name of a specific columnist. It was unfair of me in the above post to attribute any positions to the Providence Phoenix staff as a whole, and I've corrected the original post to remove my mistake.

January 3, 2007

Education Reform Suggestion: Scrap the Middle Schools?

Marc Comtois

In his innaugural address, Governor Carcieri vowed to reform our current education system. As Maggie Gallagher reports, maybe getting rid of "middle schools" entirely is one worthwhile goal.

According to the New York Post, almost 50 of the city's 220 middle schools have closed in the last two years, part of a plan to move back toward the old K-8 grammar school model. New York City is joining Baltimore, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, among other urban school districts.

Why did this take the "experts" so long? Many parents can tell you: If an otherwise decent school district has a problem school, it's going to be the junior high. And even high-functioning middle schools can be a problem for the students in them.

After a miserable two years in junior high school, for example, my niece entered high school in Oregon this fall. We all breathed a sigh of relief. A straight-A student, she was never in any academic trouble, but the social horrors of junior high school for this graceful, outgoing teen left us all stressed on her behalf. The level of peer-generated torture suddenly dropped considerably.

Apparently we are not the only ones. The most striking research result of our middle-school mania is that American early adolescents are unusually miserable, according to international survey data.

"Folks have been aware, in achievement terms, that what happens in the middle grades is disappointing," Douglas J. MacIver, a principal research scientist at Johns Hopkins University's Center for the Social Organization of Schools, told Education Week. "But I don't think they realized how stressed middle-school students are."

...This June, Pittsburgh closed seven middle schools and doubled the number of K-8 elementary schools. One advantage of the K-8 model is that it tends to spread the potentially problematic middle-graders around...Brent Johnson, a former principal in Pittsburgh, credits his school's performance...to the fact that he has between 100 and 500 fewer middle-graders to deal with than the average middle school. About half his sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders have been in the school since kindergarten, making relationships with teachers, administrators, and their "buy-in" to the school culture more likely. The K-8 model tends to keep parents more attached and involved, too, another plus for the model, according to the Rand Corp. study.

Plus, when kids stay in grade school, they tend to stay "younger, longer," reports a Long Beach, Calif., principal, and that's been my experience, too. I didn't pick a Catholic grade school for my younger son because of the K-8 structure that most Catholic schools retain, but I immediately noticed the benefits. Same kids, same principal, same parents for eight years -- it does build community. And maybe it's a "kibbutz effect," but kids who have been in class together since kindergarten seem less eager to launch into the distracting peer torture of premature dating games.

"It turns out the onset of puberty is really a bad reason to try to move kids to another structure and to another school altogether," the Rand report's primary author, Jaana Juvonen, told Education Week.

Another bad idea from ed school hits the dust.

I know that Julia Steiny, for one, has written extensively on the perils that middle schools can pose to our pubescent progeny. I realize that the current infrastructure of our school districts probably wouldn't support such a change, but I wonder if educators in RI would concur with this, at least conceptually?

Some Questions (Answered) About the Wyden Healthcare Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

Kari Chisholm of “Stand Tall for America”, a web-based effort founded to promote Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s universal healthcare plan, answers a few questions about the Wyden plan put forth by me in the comments section of the Virginia Progressive blog. (The Wyden Plan is a federal proposal different from the Rhode Island small business health insurance plan, a state-level proposal also introduced last month). My original questions are in bold. Mr. Chisholm's answers are in italics.

The Wyden Plan begins from the radically simple notion of decoupling health insurance from employment. For the first two years, Senator Wyden is proposing that employers increase the wages and salaries of their employees using monies originally allocated for the purchase of group health plans. Employees would use their pay increases to purchase individual health insurance policies. Changes in the tax code and insurance regulation would be enacted to make individual insurance purchases feasible. That's all good. However, after year two, Senator Wyden wants to begin paying for his system through a payroll-style tax. That's not so good. The post-year two payroll tax was the subject of my first question…

1. The plan, as I understand it from the Los Angeles Times summary, has people directly buying their own insurance in years 1 and 2. Why not keep with this system after year 2 and let people spend their own healthcare dollars (perhaps through a HSA) into the future? After taking employers mostly out of the mix for two years, what’s the motivation for shoehorning them back in?

People will buy their own insurance long after years 1 and 2. That’s the crux of the plan. Employers will be out - forever. After year 2, employers will pay a per-person contribution to the health care system - that roughly approximates to 25% of the cost of health care. This cuts the cost of health care for those responsible folks who have been paying for it until now; while getting a contribution from the cheapskates (Wal-Mart and friends.)

(Me again: But employers aren’t out if they are required to pay a new tax. This new tax means that after year two, most individuals will experience a sudden drop in the amount of healthcare they can afford per-hour of work. In years one and two, people will spend a certain percentage of their incomes on healthcare. After year two, across-the-board pay-cuts will be needed to pay for the new tax, even though healthcare costs will likely remain about the same. Workers won’t get as much healthcare per dollar collected by the government as they were getting per dollar paid to them directly because much of the new tax-stream will be going to subsidize healthcare for the poor. For most folks, a better solution than a payroll tax would be to allow tax-breaks for individuals and employers for monies paid into HSAs, and to allow individuals to take tax-breaks for purchasing high-deductible insurance.

Now, if you want to argue that we need a better subsidized healthcare system for the poor in this country, that is a perfectly legitimate argument, but it is a separate argument from how to provide health insurance to people that could afford it already, if not for the strange system of health insurance regulation that currently exists in America.

2. How much of the supposed cost savings comes from price controls enforced by “keying” rates to Blue Cross? Price controls tend to have adverse consequences. Is this covered in the Lewin report somewhere?

There aren’t price controls in the system. There are some administrative cost controls, and otherwise the savings come from the increased fluidity in the market. As individuals are able to shop, we’ll see the end of double-digit inflation.

(Me again: There may not be overt price controls in the system, but given recent local history, some of us hardy Rhode Islanders have to be skeptical about a government program that includes granting a particular insurance company special status. The government has a tendency to make some very heavy-handed regulation -- including backdoor price controls -- a condition of continuing that special staus. And some early supporters of Senator Wyden's plan (like Ezra Klein of the American Prospect) openly admit they like the plan because they see it as a good first step towards ever-increasing regulation of healthcare into the future...

That said, any sort of coherent, national structure opens the door to serious cost containment mechanisms down the road.
If Mr. Klein doesn't mean price controls and rationing when he talks about "serious cost containment mechanisms", then what does he mean?)

3. Is a modification of the community rating system, where people who take advantage of preventative care and routine check-ups get lower rates (if there is really merit to these programs, individuals utilizing these programs should incur lower cost in the future, right?) something that should be considered?

I’m not fully versed on it yet, but there will be some sort of premium reductions for people who participate in wellness and prevention programs. Certainly, if you don’t smoke, you’ll get a premium reduction.

(Me again: I would urge designers of the plan are considering a health-savings account component to pay for the wellness/prevention programs. If a large number of people are utilizing wellness and preventative care, then both doctors and patients benefit by dealing with one another directly, instead of through an insurance company.)

Rhode Island Isn't Big on Reinvention

Justin Katz

So Rhode Island is hemoraging its young and ambitious citizens. That's not really news, but its mention gives us an excuse to consider our state in broad terms.

Any state-sized entity will have a broad middle for which life simply goes on — with more or less difficulty — whatever the trends along the all-important margins. But as a general proposition, it strikes me as characteristic of Rhode Island to enable policies that drive out the young and the entrepreneurial, while attracting those who will surely be state-dependent (i.e., welfare recipients, in one form or another). As a matter of simple logic, then, it follows that the movers and shakers who remain will be those who've found a way to capitalize on the ill health of the state, whether directly or indirectly. That would seem likely to result in a self-reinforcing downward spiral.

According to University of Rhode Island economist Leonard Lardaro:

With our budget deficits, the fact that our population is declining and the fact that we know our tax and cost structure is not competitive, Rhode Island needs to reinvent itself. This is not the time for piecemeal answers.

So what do you think? How about we "conserve" huge swaths of land, dictate a $10 per hour minimum wage and non-discrimination rental status for felons, layer regulations (as opposed to, say, consumer choices) on healthcare by government fiat, and finance our legislators' progressive education? Okay, fine. You drive a hard bargain, but we'll keep allowing public-sector employees (such as teachers) to unionize.

If that's not a formula for success, then I'm not a native Rhode Islander...

January 2, 2007

Science Makes Babes of Us All

Justin Katz

The wonders that modern science is promising in the very near future (really, so near we can touch it, honest) seem so bright that they impart such sparkling innocence that even constitutional pessimists fail to see obvious dark sides. One such, John Derbyshire, writes:

If you don't like eugenics, you are not going to like the 21st century. "Eugenics" became a scare-word because of ***STATE-SPONSORED*** eugenics programs, which were indeed a horrible idea—especially in the 1920s, when promoters of eugenics had very little idea what (as a matter of technical biology, I mean) they were talking about. State-organized anything is pretty dubious. We're conservatives; we know that.

Private, commercial eugenics is here, though. It already has a foot in the door, & pretty soon it'll be sprawled on your living-room couch. My children (probably) and my grandchildren (certainly) will practice eugenics. Why would they not? The desire to have smart, healthy, good-looking offspring is wellnigh universal. If parents can get assurance of such an outcome for a few thousand bucks, why should they not purchase that assurance? In a free country, how will you stop them? And why would conservatives or libertarians want to stop them? "Eugenics" has become such a scare-word that we'll probably have to re-name the process to avoid all the shrieking and skirt-clutching; but it will be eugenics just the same.

Just how long does Mr. Derbyshire believe we'll be able to deny a state-sponsored "right to eugenics" for those who cannot afford a few thousand bucks? (Per child, remember. The picture is compounded by the tendency of such folks to have more children.) Surely even small-government conservatives (if I may indulge in a redundancy) would have reservations about allowing the free market to create a permanent underclass — one with fruits borne within a single short generation.

I've little doubt that Derb is correct that I'm not going to like the 21st century. It does not make for an auspicious beginning that high-profile conservatives have so abandoned the notion of a higher morality that they cannot believe otherwise than that "objections [to eugenics are] so abstract & theoretical [that] it would be hard to get anyone to care about them." Gone, apparently, is the societal stigma against attempting to play God. We're so advanced, nowadays, that we're well beyond such ancient precautions. Really, we'll get it right this time — when the stakes are such that we cannot afford to get it wrong. Honest.

Big, big oops: in the brackets of that last Derbyshire quotation, I at first used "euthanasia" rather than "eugenics." That was some very substantial and stupid mistyping on my part, and I apologize for having made the error, not the least because it distracts from what I believe to be a strong point. I can only plea for your belief that simple intellectual honesty and a sincere interest in truth, rather than victory, keep me from playing deliberate games of that sort. I suppose the best I can do, after owning up to the mistake, is to take it as reminder that I have to be particularly careful now that I've gotten in the habit of finishing up my customary 12-hour workday before blogging.

Massachusetts Pols End Up Listening to the People

Marc Comtois

In the end, the Massachusetts Legislature ignored governor Duval Patrick and decided to listen to the voters--or perhaps the Massachusetts Supreme Court--and voted to allow a vote on a State Constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Lawmakers in Massachusetts, the only state where gay marriage is legal, on Tuesday voted to advance a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, a critical step toward putting the measure the 2008 ballot.

The proposed amendment, which would define marriage as between one man and one woman but ban future gay marriages, still needs approval of the next legislative session before it can go onto the ballot.

The vote Tuesday in the constitutional convention came without debate, immediately after Senate President Robert Travaglini officially opened the joint session.

Earlier in the day, Gov-elect Deval Patrick had met with Travaglini and House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi to urge against a vote, calling it a "question of conscience." He said the proposed amendment was the first time the amendment process was being used "to consider reinserting discrimination into the constitution."

But the state Supreme Judicial Court ruled last week that lawmakers' had shirked their constitutional duties in November by recessing instead of voting on the proposal.

The supporters of the amendment collected signatures from 170,000 people in an effort to get the question on the ballot.

The amendment would need to be approved by 50 member of the current Legislature and 50 members of the new Legislature before going to voters on the 2008 ballot. On Tuesday, 61 lawmakers backed moving the measure forward, compared to 132 opposed.

The Rope They'll Hang Us With

Justin Katz

I know the dollar amount is minimal, and I'm not even sure that I'd make any blanket policy suggestions, but something just seems wrong with making taxpayers cover expenses for this:

Rhode Island sent three state lawmakers to Washington, D.C., last month for a conference put on by the Center for Policy Alternatives.

Rep. Edith H. Ajello, D-Providence; Rep. Arthur Handy, D-Cranston; and Sen. Juan M. Pichardo, D-Providence; attended the three-day conference Dece. 8 to 10 at the Capitol Hilton. Seminar topics included same-sex marriage, mortgage foreclosure laws and predatory lending, stem-cell research and divestment from Sudan.

Also part of the trip was a day-long seminar put on by Catholics for Free Choice, in conjunction with the Center for Policy Alternatives. Besides abortion rights, discussion topics included preventing pregnancy through age-appropriate sex education in schools, Ajello said.

Ajello described the Center for Policy Alternatives as "A progressive organization that works on public policy issues at the state level, providing information and model legislation on this range of issues." She said she didn’t come back with specific bills she plans to file, but rather that the conference provided an opportunity to consider ways to frame the issues during discussion back in Rhode Island.

Again, the cost — just under $500 per person — is insignificant in its effect on the state budget, but implementation of the CPA's agenda would be much less benign. Indeed, my negative reaction to the trip is more a moral one... against making us finance the processes of our own state's demise. It seems especially wrong given that the CPA makes is frighteningly comprehensive guide to undermining a society available online for free.

January 1, 2007

Should Old Admonitions Be Forgot

Justin Katz

I wish I were confident that we will soon reach a time when sentiments the likes of this, from Mark Steyn, can safely be ignored as repetitive:

Many of us think about the long-term shifts necessary to win this struggle: euthanizing the United Nations and overhauling other malign and anachronistic institutions. Fat chance. Mustaf Jama's express check-out [with the wanted murderer escaping England via a major airport by dressing as a Muslim woman] is the perfect parodic reductio of "security": The state is willing to inflict pointless bureaucratic discomfort and inconvenience on everyone else, but the demographic group with the most links to terrorism gets to go through the fast-track VIP channel.

I'm afraid that it's much more likely that fretting over this well-aged topic will soon seem to be remarkably prescient. In the meantime, at least we can enjoy the dry humor with which our Cassandra serves up his frank truthfulness:

The "international community" has reacted in the usual ways [to Ethopia's military invasion of Somalia]: calls for immediate cease-fires so that an ineffectual U.N. force of peacekeepers can go in and enjoy their customary child sex with the locals while propping up the Islamists.


Carroll Andrew Morse

Happy New Year!