February 28, 2007

America is Losing Popularity in the Muslim World, Except Where It’s Gaining

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here’s your buried lede of the week (actually of last week). On Februrary 21, the Times of London ran this headline…

Anti-American feelings soar among Muslims, study finds.
However, the poll being reported on didn’t justify the headline. Here are the raw numbers presented at the end of the online version of the article…
Percentage with unfavourable view of US in 2005 (all increased since 9/11 except where indicated):
  • Saudi Arabia: 79%
  • Jordan: 65%
  • Morocco: 49%
  • Iran 52%: (down from 63 in 2001)
  • Pakistan 65%: (down from 69 in 2001)
So unfavorable views of America are down in two of five countries surveyed – the smaller of which (Iran) has a population greater than the other three combined -- and below 50% in a third, but the headline is that anti-American feelings are “soaring”.

The Iranian numbers are fascinating. It’s fair to say that America is more popular in Iran than George W. Bush is popular in America. More importantly, America is more popular in Iran now than it was before the invasion of Iraq. Isn’t that a fact worth noting, and something that seriously mitigates the idea that anti-Americanism is soaring?

Finally, the article describes the motivation of the poll as follows..

Researchers set out to examine the truth behind the stock response in the West to the question of when it will know it is winning the war on terror.
Isn’t one possible interpretation of this poll that there are a large number of Sunnis currently less interested in the War on Terror than they are in having the U.S. help them (unwittingly or not) in a war against the Shi'ites and that America's attempt to play the role of an honest broker is winning at least some grudging support in Shi'ite-dominated Iran?

Democrats and Labor Leaders Quash Workers' Rights

Marc Comtois

According to GOP Minority Whip John Boehner:

Under the guise of “protecting” workers, a bill by House Democrats would strip American workers of the right to choose -- freely and anonymously -- whether to unionize. The misleadingly titled Employee Free Choice Act offers neither freedom nor choice, and will leave workers open to ugly union harassment, intimidation, and pressure that still persist today. The San Francisco Examiner called it “exquisitely Orwellian… anti-freedom, anti-democracy"...

The remarkable thing about the Employee Free Choice Act is the enormous amount of power over the lives of Americans it gives to Big Labor. No other group has the authority to simply draw up a few signatures in order to force others to start paying them money. But that is exactly what Democrats are giving their union buddies. By stripping workers of their right to a private ballot election, Democrats are raiding the wallets of and stripping away fundamental rights from American workers.

Boehner also offers up this useful analogy:
[I}magine it is November 2008 and community leaders all across America decide not to hold elections. Instead of heading into a voting booth like you always have, you’re told to show up at town hall and declare publicly -- in front of your neighbors and community leaders -- for whom and what you’re voting.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Well this is exactly what House Democrats are proposing for your workplace. Workers will no longer be able to express their wishes privately; their “votes” will be public for everyone -- union organizers, employers, co-workers -- to see.
Is this the progressives' idea of protecting workers' rights? They feel comfortable excoriating corporate fat-cats for initimidating workers who want to organize, but shouldn't they and the Democrats they support be intellectually honest enough to recognize that union bosses can be just as intimidating? Not just CEO's pull down six figures, my friends. Or do they just like to pay lip service to worker rights and think that passing "labor" laws are enough maintain their street cred of "fighting for the little guy"?

Currently, Anchor Rising is running an advertisement for a "virtual" March on Washington sponsored by The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which "co-chairs the Coalition for a Democratic Workplace, an organization that represents employers, workers, and activists who want to safeguard the protections of the secret ballot in workplaces throughout America."

We strenuously oppose H.R. 800, the “Employee Free Choice Act” and the unions who want Congress to legislate the end of secret ballot union elections and the safeguards they afford to working families.

Congress has begun working on this legislation and may vote on it as soon as the week of February 26.

Join a crowd of thousands without leaving your computer by writing a letter to your members of Congress and designing a “virtual you” to place on the Mall.

If you think that workers should have the right to a secret ballot, pay them a visit.

Why Flip-Flops are Valid Campaign Issues

Carroll Andrew Morse

Mickey Kaus provides the seeds of the argument that explains why flip-flopping is something not desirable in a political candidate. Kaus points out that you can’t really determine a candidate’s heartfelt position is the flip or the flop. Contrary to the way it is usually portrayed, it is just as likely that a candidate’s current position is his real one and the past position was the one chosen for political expediency than it is the other way around. Kaus uses former New York Mayor Rudolph Guilani as an example…

I'd forgotten a perverse set of facts that suddenly seems relevant: Hillary Clinton was almost certainly in favor of the 1996 welfare reform law while Rudolph Giuliani opposed it. ... That could mean Giuliani is more liberal than people realize…Or it could mean that Giuliani is more opportunistic than people realize and therefore more likely to reposition himself. ... My guess: Both, but definitely the latter. Giuliani was a genuine welfare reformer, after all. His opposition to the key reform bill, in retrospect, looks like a stunt to cultivate stature in the national press.
Here’s the problem opportunistic flip-flopping creates for voters. The incentives for politicians change after an election. Before an election, opportunities lie in getting the attention of undecided voters. Undecideds are undecided because they don't like anything they've seen so far, so one way candidates can appeal to them is by promoting "fresh", "exciting" new ideas. But after an election, new opportunities are going to lie with a different group of people, away from the voters, and in the direction of the existing power structure and the permanent bureaucracy that an elected official must work with on a day-to-day basis (see President George W. Bush and the No-Child-Left Behind Act).

If a candidate is an opportunistic flip-flopper, how is a voter to know which path a candidate will choose after he wins?

This dynamic is, at least, why we don’t have to worry about candidates like Hillary Clinton or John Edwards flip-flopping on domestic issues. During future campaigns, they’ll promise to bring you big bureaucratic government (liberal Dems try to win undecideds not through ideas, but by promising to give them more wealth through benevolently-managed bureaucratic programs). If a lib wins, he or she will be happy to work with those bureaucracies on strengthening their power.

By the way, this is post about flip-flopping in general and not any specific election that may be coming up in the next year or two, so it shouldn’t be interpreted as a statement of support or non-support for any particular candidate.

Where Your Contributions to the Rhode Island GOP Went

Carroll Andrew Morse

From a dishearteningly informative article from Mark Arsenault of the Projo

The Rhode Island Republican State Central Committee spent nearly five times as much in the 2006 election on consulting fees to people connected to the party than it gave to its own General Assembly candidates, who then failed to pick up any seats.

After providing more than $80,000 in cash and in-kind donations to its State House candidates in 2004, the state Republican Party provided cash donations totaling just $5,095 to a dozen legislative candidates last year, according to campaign finance reports. Those donations, coming three weeks before the general election, ranged from $270 to $500 per candidate.

Here’s Arsenault’s breakdown of the “five times” figure…
  • ”$8,300 in consulting fees to the Torrey Group, the firm of Jeffrey Britt, a consultant who advises Carcieri”.
  • ”$2,000 for consulting by Carcieri campaign worker Mark McKiernan”.
  • ”$2,000 for consulting by Adam Gabrault, whom a state party spokesman also identified as a former Carcieri campaign worker”.
  • ”$11,630 for legal work by Giovanni Cicione, a former U.S. House candidate who is currently campaigning to be chairman of the Rhode Island GOP”.
  • ”About $30,000 in fees paid last year to Darcie Johnston, a Vermont-based fundraising consultant who also worked for Carcieri and former U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee”.
  • ”$6,192 last August to the consulting firm Northeast Strategies”.
The article also has a reaction from “party spokesman” Chuck Newton…
“We spent too little on candidates and we spent too little on consultants that could do us some good….Do I think we overspent on consultants? No. Do I think we underspent on candidate support? Yes. Would loved to have done both, but we didn’t have the wherewithal.”

Newton said the party tried a new strategy in the last election cycle: hiring full-time staff to help oversee the campaign. “Those dollars to fund the full-time staff were not available for candidates,” he said. “What we chose to do is provide resources for candidates without putting money directly into their hands.” The staff, including Newton and field director Andrew Berg, recruited candidates, updated the party’s voter database, researched the voting records of incumbent Democrats, and developed campaign strategy, among other duties — all of which benefited Republicans running for local offices, Newton said.

It would be interesting to hear...
  1. From the current candidates for statewide Republican party officer postions, if they also believe that the consultant-heavy strategy was on the right track, just underfunded.
  2. From candidates and volunteer campaign staff from the previous election cycle, what benefit they saw from all of this consultant spending trickle down to them.

February 27, 2007

Iraq: Americans DO Want to Win, so Dems Backtrack

Marc Comtois

Yesterday, I asked if Americans had patience to see the war in Iraq through. Maybe they do, at least according to a poll published last week (which I missed):

"The survey shows Americans want to win in Iraq, and that they understand Iraq is the central point in the war against terrorism and they can support a U.S. strategy aimed at achieving victory," said Neil Newhouse, a partner in POS. "The idea of pulling back from Iraq is not where the majority of Americans are."

- By a 53 percent - 46 percent margin, respondents surveyed said that
"Democrats are going too far, too fast in pressing the President to
withdraw troops from Iraq."

- By identical 57 percent - 41 percent margins, voters agreed with these
two statements: "I support finishing the job in Iraq, that is, keeping
the troops there until the Iraqi government can maintain control and
provide security" and "the Iraqi war is a key part of the global war on

- Also, by a 56 percent - 43 percent margin, voters agreed that "even if
they have concerns about his war policies, Americans should stand behind
the President in Iraq because we are at war."

- While the survey shows voters believe (60 percent- 34 percent) that Iraq
will never become a stable democracy, they still disagree that victory
in Iraq ("creating a young, but stable democracy and reducing the
threat of terrorism at home") is no longer possible. Fifty-three percent
say it's still possible, while 43 percent disagree.

- By a wide 74 percent - 25 percent margin, voters disagree with the
notion that "I don't really care what happens in Iraq after the U.S.
leaves, I just want the troops brought home."

"How Americans view the war does not line up with the partisan messages or actions coming out of Washington," said Davis Lundy, president of The Moriah Group. "There are still a majority of Americans out there who want to support the President and a focused effort to define and achieve victory."

Add to this the fact that President Bush is still supported by a large majority of Republicans (75%), which will probably limit any of that magical "bi-partisan" support that any Democratic Iraq draw-down plan would hope to garner, and we can start to understand why the Democrats now seem to be retreating from any too-cute-by-half Iraq pullout plan.

February 26, 2007

Do Aldroids Dream of Inconvenient Hypocrisy?

Marc Comtois

Ya know, do they really have to make it so easy? (via Instapundit):

Last night, Al Gore’s global-warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, collected an Oscar for best documentary feature, but the Tennessee Center for Policy Research has found that Gore deserves a gold statue for hypocrisy.

Gore’s mansion, located in the posh Belle Meade area of Nashville, consumes more electricity every month than the average American household uses in an entire year, according to the Nashville Electric Service (NES).

In his documentary, the former Vice President calls on Americans to conserve energy by reducing electricity consumption at home.

The average household in America consumes 10,656 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, according to the Department of Energy. In 2006, Gore devoured nearly 221,000 kWh—more than 20 times the national average.

Last August alone, Gore burned through 22,619 kWh—guzzling more than twice the electricity in one month than an average American family uses in an entire year. As a result of his energy consumption, Gore’s average monthly electric bill topped $1,359.

Since the release of An Inconvenient Truth, Gore’s energy consumption has increased from an average of 16,200 kWh per month in 2005, to 18,400 kWh per month in 2006.

Gore’s extravagant energy use does not stop at his electric bill. Natural gas bills for Gore’s mansion and guest house averaged $1,080 per month last year.

“As the spokesman of choice for the global warming movement, Al Gore has to be willing to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, when it comes to home energy use,” said Tennessee Center for Policy Research President Drew Johnson.

In total, Gore paid nearly $30,000 in combined electricity and natural gas bills for his Nashville estate in 2006.
Aw, c'mon Drew? Al just has to use all o' that energy in his great, big mansion so he can power the global media campaign that is spreading the Truth to all of us poor, working- and middle- class, ignorant rubes? Dontcha see? And that's why he uses a private jet, too: so he can spread the word to the masses faster than he could by riding a bike! Really! Honest!

(h/t Philip K. Dick)

UPDATE: Al Gore has responded:

Vice President Gore’s office told ThinkProgress:

1) Gore’s family has taken numerous steps to reduce the carbon footprint of their private residence, including signing up for 100 percent green power through Green Power Switch, installing solar panels, and using compact fluorescent bulbs and other energy saving technology.

2) Gore has had a consistent position of purchasing carbon offsets to offset the family’s carbon footprint — a concept the right-wing fails to understand. Gore’s office explains:

What Mr. Gore has asked is that every family calculate their carbon footprint and try to reduce it as much as possible. Once they have done so, he then advocates that they purchase offsets, as the Gore’s do, to bring their footprint down to zero.

Ed Morrissey has a few cogent points to make about Mr. Gore's rebuttal:
Interesting that he doesn't dispute the numbers; he just tries a little misdirection instead.

First, the solar panels and the compact fluorescent light bulbs will certainly make a difference -- but the TCPR report looks at his electricity bill, which still indicates (a) a high level of usage, and (b) an increase since the movie's release. Solar panels generate electricity at the location, which should then decrease the amount of power he's buying from the utility. If it's still going up, there seems to be a serious management problem somewhere.

Second, as I mentioned above, purchasing offsets only means that Gore doesn't want to make the same kind of sacrifices that he's asking other families to make. He's using a modern form of indulgences in order to avoid doing the penance that global-warming activism demands of others. It means that the very rich can continue to suck up energy and raise the price and the demand for electricity and natural gas, while families struggle with their energy costs and face increasing government regulation and taxation. It's a regressive plan that Gore's supporters would decry if the same kind of scheme were applied to a national sales tax, for instance.

And basically, it doesn't address the issue of hypocrisy. If Gore and his family continue to increase their consumption of commercial energy with all of the resources they have at hand, then they have no business lecturing the rest of us on conservation and down-scaling our own use.

Glenn Reynolds is also skeptical on the carbon offsets idea. Again: it sure is nice that the wealthy do-gooders can afford unburden their enviro-consciousness without having to actually alter their actions, isn't it? How convenient.

Iraq: Do Americans Have Patience?

Marc Comtois

As Andrew's post highlighting the reporting of Rocco Dippo shows, the real story, "the view from the ground," is different than what we regular Americans are getting from the mainstream press. But that really is no excuse. As Mitch Lewis writes:

We cannot make decisions about this war based on fatigue, anxiety or self-interest. The stakes are too high for that. If the news is disturbing, don’t look at it until you can read it with your head instead of your gut. Eventually, find the courage to read beyond the “if it bleeds it leads” headlines. Choose to base your thinking on your intellect and will instead of on your weariness or fear. Choose to look beyond your own needs to the needs our nation and our world. As a nation, choose whatever strategy or course of action you think best achieves the greatest good and the members of the armed forces will execute it.
With very little effort, we could find blogs written by all sorts of Military Bloggers (millbloggers), including those who are blogging straight from Iraq or Afghanistan. They'll tell us what exactly is going on: the good and the bad. But even when bad things happen, they persevere. Even when they think that too many Americans are unable to do the same:

Here's a link to the Image Source

Too many Americans simply don't understand what it means to "see this thing through":

Why is it that the combat troops want to see this thing through, but the average American is tired of this war? What do you have to be tired of? Do you have any understanding of what it means to be truly tired? To patrol for hours in 120 degree heat wearing 100 pounds of kit? I'm sorry that watching images of Iraq on CNN has taxed you so greatly. No really, I am. That's ok, though, because I'm willing to share some of your load so that we can press on with the mission. Because that's what we do when we get tired.
Whatya think? Can you stand a few more "reruns" of the "War in Iraq" TV show? Can you handle "fighting" the war from that easy chair just a while longer? Apparently, the Democrats in the Senate--with their finger in the political wind--can't take it anymore. Well, given that they are political animals, can you blame them? No, you can't. They're listening to what most Americans are telling them, after all.

An Economic Development Project Acceptable to Rhode Island?

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the Providence Phoenix from two weeks ago, Ian Donnis quoted University of Rhode Island Political Science Chairwoman Maureen Moakley on Rhode Island’s tendency to reject development of all sorts…

For too long, Moakley believes, there has been a lack of vision and an excess of parochialism on economic development: “We don’t want a port, we don’t want a casino, we don’t want LNG in our backyard, or an airport runway extension,” she says, paraphrasing opponents. “If you look at Boston, and if you look at New York, how can you expect to develop sophisticated economic structures in a global environment under those kinds of restrictions? If we want to remain a pretty backwater, those are the consequences.”
How about this for an economic development project that everyone can get behind: a destination rail yard that would receive ethanol shipments from the Midwest. According to the Sioux City Journal, such a project is being considered for Rhode Island…
In eight years [Union Pacific] has seen a 515 percent growth rate in the ethanol area. The railroad's investment is an effort to make this expanding business efficient, largely through use of unit-trains of 75 or more cars of ethanol and/or distillers' dry grain from and to the same locations, with no car switching en route.

While the UP trackage is mostly west of the Mississippi River, it does serve Chicago, where many grain trains are switched to other railroads such as the CSX and Norfolk & Southern, for destinations on the East Coast. Those facilities are currently located in New York and New Jersey, with a UP yard in Dallas, Texas. New destination yards are planned for California, Maryland, Rhode Island and Florida…

The Wall Street Journal has more detail on the link between railroads and ethanol
Unlike gasoline, natural gas and oil, ethanol attracts water and other chemicals, so it can't be sent through the long-established pipelines that move those fuels. That means the ethanol industry has been forced into a marriage with the already groaning railroads....

Railroad executives say ethanol, though still a small part of their total freight traffic, promises to be a lucrative growth opportunity. Shipments of ethanol have nearly tripled since 2001 to about 106,000 rail carloads last year and are projected to increase to at least 140,000 in 2007, according to the Association of American Railroads in Washington. Each tank car has a capacity of 30,000 gallons....

After the corn is distilled into ethanol, it's mixed with a small amount of gasoline at the production plant before being shipped by train to a petroleum terminal, where it is blended with gasoline. Large petroleum terminals are accustomed to receiving their product by pipeline and then distributing locally by truck. Most terminals haven't developed the infrastructure of tracks, storage tanks and rapid unloading to receive ethanol by unit trains, says Kevin Kaufman, group vice president of agricultural products of BNSF's rail unit. Expanding is difficult because they are sometimes hemmed in by buildings, highways and bodies of water.

As of data retrieved today from the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, there is presently only a single ethanol filling station in the six New England States (Burke Oil in Chelsea, Massachusetts). The lack of ethanol pumps is at least partly the result of the lack infrastructure needed to transport ethanol here. (You know that Vermont would be all over ethanol, because of its reduced greenhouse emissions, if it was easily avialable, right?). Whoever gets the destination rail yard is going to become the central distributor of ethanol-based fuel for all of New England.

Let's hope that that the NIMBYs and the BANANAs ("build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody") don't start manufacturing excuses to stop a project that could be good for Rhode Island and, as it reduces our dependence on foreign oil, good for the nation.

Unions and Progressives: They May Agree to Vote Democrat, But Not on Much Else

Carroll Andrew Morse

Some local political analysts predict that the alliance between the unions and the do-gooder liberalism that dominates Rhode Island cannot last forever, because the interests of the two factions don't converge. Tom Coyne put it very succinctly describing last year’s General Assembly session on the (sadly dormant) Rhode Island Policy Analysis Website

The labor – liberal Democratic coalition that controls the General Assembly now faces an agonizing choice: The Rhode Island economy is in such tough shape that we can keep paying social welfare checks or public employee pension checks, but not both. Their old game is over.
In today’s Projo, Scott Mayerowitz adds another angle, reporting on how the divergence of interests extends beyond money…
Thousands of Rhode Islanders who qualify for food stamps don’t sign up for the program, and some advocates say the state isn’t doing enough to encourage them to enroll....

Many eligible Rhode Islanders don’t think they qualify, think the application process is too cumbersome or simply can’t make it to state offices to enroll because the hours conflict with their jobs....

[Acting Director Gary Alexander] said the Department of Human Services has wanted to experiment with evening hours but that the state has yet to reach an agreement with the unions to allow different work hours.

Is it unreasonable to ask unionized public employees to be flexible and occasionally take the public good into consideration in return for the big pension checks they've been promised?

Baghdad: The View from the Ground

Carroll Andrew Morse

Firsthand reporting on the situation in Baghdad is being made continuously available by Rhode Islander Rocco DiPippo on his Autonomist website. Rocco bleeds red, white and blue, but he’s no Pollyanna. He calls it like he sees it and reports the good with the bad. For example, there was a lot of the bad in his February 12 report

So much for the peace and quiet in Baghdad. While I was at lunch today, three huge bombs exploded in the heart of Baghdad. The first one was hidden in a plastic bag and targeted a popular falafel restaurant. When it detonated, at least nine people were killed. Falafel restaurants are targeted by Islamic extremists based on the (il)logic that in Mohammed's day, there was no such thing as falafel, so it is therefore un-Islamic to eat it today…

Approximately thirty minutes after the first blast, two car bombs blew up almost simultaneously near the Shorja market district, collapsing a building and wrecking stalls and shops. Approximately fifty people were murdered in those explosions.

Fortunately, the good is more prominent in his more recent reports. First, U.S. forces are definitely on the offensive. Here’s a report with some analysis from February 15
During the evening, I went outside and watched our pilots drop signal flares in support of Stryker brigades who were conducting block-by-block, house-to-house searches of Baghdad's neighborhoods. They met little resistance, but confiscated a lot of small arms and ammo. That's mixed news -- what it likely indicates is that the militias and other crazies are laying low until sweep operations end.
…and another from just yesterday
A check of today's headlines earlier today showed only brief mention of the massive bombing raid that took place in a terrorist enclave in the Doura area last night. I'd never heard anything like it. About 9:00pm, while on the phone to the Autonomistress, my apartment was rocked by about 20 distant, but massive, detonations in quick succession. I knew immediately, from both the tone and number of the detonations, that it was US firepower in action. Halfway through the barrage, the electricity in my apartment went down. To my relief, I was able to contact some friends who live closer to where the bombs were being dropped and confirmed they were OK. Then I walked back to my office, climbed a ladder to the roof and scanned the horizon. I could see no fires or smoke, which, believe it or not, is sometimes the case when blast ordinance is used.
Most importantly, consistent with other reports becoming available, the U.S. offensive appears to have calmed Baghdad and maybe beyond, at least for the moment. Here are Rocco's observations and analysis from February 17
There was a dramatic countrywide decrease in violence yesterday. Baghdad experienced an enormous drop in the number of sectarian killings, bombings and shootings. Normally, the number of violent incidents reported in the city averages around 100 per day. Since the start of the recent security sweeps, that number has steadily dropped but on Friday, it plumetted to 38 reported incidents. Since I've been in Baghdad, that's the lowest total yet. May it get even lower.

I have no solid explanation why violence has also dropped dramatically in other parts of the country. However, I'll go out on a limb by theorizing that the Baghdad crackdown on militias, coupled with a surprisingly effective performance by the Iraqi Army, has sent a message to the murderers that their activities will no longer be tolerated. Behind the scenes, I think that the Bush Administration has threatened to end support for the corrupt Maliki government, and is successfully pressuring that government to end its implicit support for the Islamist Mehdi Army, Iran's proxy.

February 24, 2007

Sympathy for the Opposition, Respect for Its Rights

Justin Katz

Reacting to a comment of mine (in the conversation appended to a previous post) concerning the inevitable collision of the gay rights movement with certain fundamental freedoms, such as that of religion, Matt, of Unlikely Words, posting as MRH, writes:

Two very interesting cases. I'm going to have to think about my response a bit. I think your hypothetical invitation company ought to be free to refuse any customer they want, and I'll have to think a bit more about the Christian adoption agency.

In my view, these are two examples of groups that are indefensibly discriminating against homosexuals. From my own personal moral point of view, I have no sympathy for them if, in a hypothetical world where two men can get married, they are barred from such discrimination. In general, my sympathies attach more strongly to the victims of discrimination than to agents of discrimination. As a matter of law and policy, however, it's a bit more complicated, and I need to mull it over a bit.

My first response — said, given my appreciation for Matt's cordiality, with no intended slight — is: What a strange thing for the ostensible champion of liberty and tolerance in this exchange to say! I certainly have sympathy for those who desire same-sex marriage. I think they're wrong, and I think the factors that lead them to their conclusions are ultimately detrimental to them and to society, but I can assure readers that you would find me neither gloating nor joining any spontaneous parades were the traditional definition of marriage to be affirmed with the maximum solidity available in law. Above most issues, matters of love and family affect people very personally — and are bound up with their visions for the future — and for me to have a lack of sympathy for those whose conclusions I oppose would require me to believe that they are all lying about their motives and are, in fact, consciously striving for the downfall of our society. It is disheartening to think that the courteous and discoursive MRH might believe something equivalent from the other side.

My response to the expression of sympathy for "the victims of discrimination," rather than "agents of discrimination," is to wonder whether Matt's sympathies are applied on the basis of individual cases or he's speaking of victims and agents as class distinctions. If the former, one would expect his sympathies to cycle: The Catholics who are rebuffed for discriminating against homosexuals for purposes of adoption (to keep with the prior example) are, in turn, being discriminated against by the government in relation to the their ability to take private initiative in keeping with their beliefs about the most beneficial homes for children. If the latter, the application of sympathy — presumptuous in its assignment of roles — amounts to declaring a moral preference for homosexuals versus traditional Christians.

Either way, it oughtn't take but so much intellectual distance to realize that the struggle isn't between religious dogma and objective civil rights, but between two competing ideological worldviews with different understandings of what marriage, in its essence, is:

  • On one side is the romantic vision of two people drawn together by love and a desire for each other's intimate, usually sexual, company. (I've felt there to be evidence of this ethereal romanticism in the incredulity with which some proponents of same-sex marriage react to suggestions that polygamy could follow in the redefinition of allowable "soul mates.") Clearly, if this is the vision of marriage that one holds, and if one believes that homosexuals really do have these feelings in equal capacity to heterosexuals, then it is nothing other than invidious discrimination to deny them equal rights.
  • The other side incorporates a healthy dose of this romantic vision, but it is sublimated to the utility of marriage to bind the genders in biologically affirmed union and to tie generations in an historical thread of ancestry and progeny, often with religious underpinnings. If this is the vision of marriage that one holds, then homosexual relationships, whether they inspire approval or disapprobation, are simply not marriage, and to redefine marriage to include them would inevitably erode the institution's utility.

Understanding that a critical component of our argument is our claim to a right — through the democratic process — to help to determine marriage law, many who oppose same-sex marriage have striven to express our views in ways that discard diversions and murkiness. That our position remains inexplicable to many on the other side strikes me as an indication that they lack either the sympathy and tolerance to think through foreign arguments or the respect to make the effort.

February 23, 2007

Giovanni Cicione’s Turnaround Plan for the State GOP

Carroll Andrew Morse

In this week’s Providence Phoenix, Ian Donnis has 6 items from Giovanni Cicione’s 10 point plan for turning around the state Republican Party, if he is selected as chairman…

  • The state party needs a leadership team — not just a leader. There is too much for any one person to do alone and without the constant and energetic support of dozens of key players we will never create the structure required to put this state on a more even keel.
  • We need a fundraising plan and a fundraising team that work together to sustain the party.
  • Establish system within the party for monitoring and pursuing ethics and election law violations by Democrats. These charges are too often ignored, pursued on a shoestring, or not followed through.
  • Provide logistical support and voter ID information for all Republican candidates.
  • Clean up the voter rolls statewide — this is long overdue and we need to be vigilant. When dead people vote, they seem to be for Democrats.
  • Provide resources to reinvigorate city and town committee. Without active city and town committees we can’t get people excited about being Republicans.
  • A business plan with defined goals. Quantifiable targets and a responsible leadership tasked with meeting them.

  • School Choice: Today, Utah; Tomorrow, How About Providence?

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    The Sisto family school choice program reminds me of another news story that is not receiving the attention it should be getting. This fall, Utah will become the first state in the nation to implement a universal school-choice voucher plan. Here is a description of the program, from Dan Lips and Evan Feinberg of the Heritage Foundation

    The "Parent Choice in Education" Act will provide scholarships to assist families that choose to send their children to private schools. The scholarship amount varies between $500 and $3,000 depending on family income.

    All current public school students will be able to use a voucher to transfer to a private school. Among current private school students, only those who meet the income guidelines for the federal free and reduced school lunch program will be eligible to receive scholarships. Moving forward, all students entering kindergarten in 2007 and thereafter will be eligible to use scholarships to attend a school of choice. This means that by 2020 all children in the state will be eligible to participate.

    In order to admit students participating in the voucher program, private schools must meet a number of guidelines. For example, they must administer a nationally norm-referenced test, report individual test results to parents, and report school-wide performance results to the state government. Further, participating private schools must disclose information relating to teachers' credentials and the school's accreditation status. Schools also must have an independent auditor assess relevant information about the school's budget and accounting procedures and include this information in the school's application to the state....

    The program is structured to spare public schools a portion of the potential revenue losses that result from students transferring into private schools. When a student leaves a public school, the legislation requires the state to continue to supply that public school's district the portion of the per-pupil funding that is over and above the state-wide average voucher amount, and to continue doing so for a period of five years following the transfer or until the student was scheduled to graduate. Unfortunately, this will minimize the voucher program's competitive effect that might otherwise spur innovation in the public school system.

    Dave Talan proposed a plan similar to the Utah plan in his recent campaign for mayor of Providence. (Unlike Mr. Sisto, Mr. Talan thinks that school choice should be extended to everyone, not just his own family). Mr. Talan’s plan was a little more libertarian than the Utah plan, calling for a flat voucher amount, regardless of family income, and skipping the part where the public system keeps any aid associated with students who leave.

    Suppose we merged some of the features from the Utah plan into the Talan plan. Is there any reason it couldn’t work here?

    February 22, 2007

    Motivations for Employer Based Healthcare

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    I’ll admit to being surprised by the spirited defense of employment-based healthcare offered by commenters on this blog and in a few face-to-face discussions I’ve had. Mark Schmitt, writing just yesterday on the American Prospect’s weblog, adds an angle to this discussion not yet mentioned here, suggesting that many people prefer employer-based health insurance for the simple reason that they don't want the responsibility of choosing a health plan on their own…

    On the other hand, an immediate transition to an individualized system seems unrealistic, and also politically dangerous. Not only do you have to give up the dollars that employers are putting in, but you also lose their role in helping to navigate the choices in the system (as Bruce Vladek, former head of HCFA, once pointed out, people may say they want choices but they really want somebody in HR to tell them what to do)…
    There is also a more extreme view, expressed by Lord Douglas Jay, a member of the British Parliament in the 1940s. Lord Jay’s sentiment is rarely expressed in direct fashion today, but almost certainly exists in the minds of some healthcare reformers…
    Housewives on the whole cannot be trusted to buy all the right things where nutrition and health care are concerned. This is really no more an extension of the principle according to which the housewife herself would not trust a child of 4 to select the week’s purchases. For in the case of nutrition and health, just as in the case of education, the gentleman in Whitehall really does know better what is good for the people than the people know themselves.

    {Note from the blogger: Americanizing the end of the last sentence would translate to something like “the Department of Health and Human Services really does know better what is good for the people than the people know themselves.”}

    (Original quote taken from David Gratzer’s The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care).

    Whether it’s Mr. Schmitt’s soft view (people want someone else to make their insurance decisions for them), or Lord Jay’s harder one (people need someone else to make their insurance decisions for them), the implication is the same -- the debate about employer-based healthcare is more than a debate about economic factors, it is also a debate about government co-opting corporate bureaucracies in an attempt to engineer better lives for individuals.

    Is Mark Schmitt right? Do people support the employer-based system because, at some level, they want someone to help them choose their coverage, and not just because they are afraid that the employer-based healthcare system is the only non-directly government run system that can provide them with affordable coverage?

    People who believe there’s a better way to provide insurance than through the existing system need to know the answer to this question, so they will know if they need to make the case for a more open insurance market in terms broader than just fiscal and economic viability.

    '60's Era Campus Free Speechniks: Fought the Old Boss, became the New Boss

    Marc Comtois

    What happens when young co-eds "fight the power" and win a loosening of on-campus speech codes? Why, they seek to reimpose them when they become "the power." As Greg Lukianoff and Will Creeley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) explain in a campus free speech expose in today's Providence Phoenix (Via N4N):

    College administrators didn’t decide to start cracking down on student speech just because of Facebook’s popularity. Despite the fact that such institutions rely on free and open exchange to serve their societal functions, universities both public and private have been policing student speech for decades. While we do ourselves no favors imagining that there was ever a time in collegiate history that students’ rights were perfectly respected, the campus free-speech movement of the 1960s and ’70s was highly successful. The sad irony is that many from the generation that fought so hard for free speech in the ’60s and ’70s were the pioneers of speech codes and PC restrictions in the ’80s and ’90s and that we still see today.
    Yes, it's only "free speech" if they agree with it. Yet, there is a reason behind the speech codes: "In an attempt to prevent these claims, educational institutions have adopted a corporate risk-management posture." By this, they explain:
    ...speech codes are maintained by schools in no small part due to a deeply held fear of civil liability for harassment lawsuits arising from Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Title IX prohibits discrimination — including sexual harassment — in any education program receiving federal funding. Plaintiffs in meritorious sexual-harassment lawsuits stand to win large damage awards, and the sheer number of those suits has become quite significant. Even when the claim is truly frivolous, the cost of mounting a defense is substantial.

    If Charles Bakst Would Read Anchor Rising’s Coverage of His Columns, He Might Be Less Frustrated

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Projo columnist Charles Bakst is unhappy with Rhode Island’s new junior Senator…

    Whether you voted for Republican Lincoln Chafee — a perfectly good antiwar senator — or embraced the arguments for a Democratic Senate and went with Sheldon Whitehouse, you must be furious today.

    It’s late February and the Democrats — who promised that with Whitehouse’s election and a Senate majority they’d begin to change the world — can’t even pass a meaningless resolution to denounce President Bush’s troop escalation in Iraq.

    I told Whitehouse the other day that I’m angry and frustrated. He said I “absolutely” had the right to be.

    Actually, as someone who pays very close attention to politics, Bakst has little excuse to be frustrated with Senator Whitehouse. Candidate Whitehouse dramatically altered his position on Iraq during the course of the 2006 Senate campaign. It was not reasonable to expect that a candidate who couldn’t hold a coherent position would become a Senator who would take direct, meaningful actions.

    Democrats for School Choice…

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    …two of them, anyway. The two would be North Providence City Councilman (and Mayoral Candidate) John Sisto and North Providence School Committee Chairman Donald Cataldi. According to WLNE-TV (ABC 6) news reporter Jim Hummel, Councilman Sisto's grandson, who lives in Providence, has been attending school in North Providence. Hummel has a week's worth of video showing the Councilman picking up his grandson at his Providence home and driving him to a North Providence elementary school. (This being Rhode Island, Mr. Sisto uses a town-owned car to take of family business). Chairman Cataldi is quoted as saying he sees nothing wrong with the arrangement.

    Although the reporting on the story is first rate, it does not belong under the WLNE's "You Paid for It" banner. Providence receives about $7,000 per-pupil in state-aid, funded through taxes on all Rhode Island residents while North Providence receives only around $4,000 per-pupil. Most of Rhode Island, therefore, is actually contributing less to a student who enrolls in North Providence instead of Providence. To really make the deal work for everyone (except the city of Providence's ineffective education bureaucracy) all RI needs to do is compensate North Providence taxpayers by transferring a portion of the state aid associated with Councilman Sisto's grandson from Providence to North Providence.

    Councilman Sisto's explicit defense is that his grandson lives with him in North Providence, but his implict defense is more interesting and more compelling. Why should his grandson be forced to go to an inferior school, when a better alternative is easily available? The counter is that Sisto's grandson can’t attend school in North Providence because as a resident of Rhode Island, he is a serf, tied to the land that he tills for his lord… OK, maybe I went a bit over the edge there, but what exactly is the counter argument? Julia Steiny had an excellent column in the Projo from two Sundays ago noting how public schools seem more designed to instill compliance with authority than to provide an education. Isn't that also the message we're sending at the macro level, that it is more important for families to be compliant with geographic monopoly districting rules than it is to find the best education alternatives for their children?

    Finally, if Councilman Sisto and Chairman Cataldi think it's a good idea for a city councilman's grandson to be able to choose the public school his child goes to, shouldn't they be in favor of extending that right to every family in Rhode Island? If school choice is good for the families of our pols, shouldn't it be good for the families of regular citizens too?

    February 21, 2007

    Claims of Civil Rights to Aggrandize a Wealthy, Connected, Straight, White Male

    Justin Katz

    As brought to my attention by the Rhode Island Republican Assembly:

    In an unprecedented attack on the Rhode Island Constitution and with complete disregard to the citizens of Rhode Island, Attorney General Patrick Lynch has today, taken on the role of Lord and Master of the citizens of this state by proclaiming that "Rhode Island will recognize same sex marriages lawfully performed in Massachusetts as marriages in Rhode Island."

    He has proclaimed this recognition without the citizens of Rhode Island being given the right to vote on the matter as the citizens in other states have. He has also lifted himself above the Legislative and Executive branches of the State government which have passed no laws recognizing these Massachusetts “activist judges allowed unions”.

    This is a great miscarriage of justice and law by the individual that is charged with the responsibility of enforcing Rhode Island law and protecting our State Constitution, not Creating Laws and issuing Executive Decisions from the office of the Attorney General.

    Details from the Providence Journal's 7 to 7 blog add a little murk to the water:

    Lynch said his office took "great pains" to review state law before determining that legal out-of-state marriages don't contradict the state's public policy.

    "I’m saying there is no legal reason that a couple validly married in Massachusetts should be denied any basic rights in Rhode Island," he said. "That would be wrong."

    Lynch's opinion was issued in response to a recent request from the Board of Governor's for Higher Education. Three state employees had asked their personnel files to be changed to reflect their same-sex marriage status, according to board spokesman Steve Maurano.

    Unless I've missed something in Rhode Island law concerning the attorney general, his power does appear to leave room for him to be "forced to intervene" beyond rulings and statutes put forward by the legislative and judicial branches of Rhode Island state government. The AG's allocated modes of action are to prosecute, to investigate, and to advise. Nowhere are his interpretations deemed legally binding. When faced with civil rights violations, for example, the AG's recourse is to "bring a civil action for injunctive or other appropriate equitable relief" — that is, bring it to the courts.

    Like any lawyer/politician, however, Lynch has left himself (and 7 to 7 reporter Steve Peoples has perpetuated) an ambiguity cum escape clause. The Board of Governor's appears to have approached Lynch in his capacity as the state government's "legal adviser." But unless an adviser is a much different creature in the halls of government, it is not his role to decide that the "Board of Education was threatening to deny people basic rights" and declare, "I wasn’t going to wait." Rather, one would expect him to give the board his opinion, in confidence, and then to defend it against any lawsuits that might arise. Even beyond any question of whether the action that he did take represents a power grab, one must wonder how effectively he would defend a dissenting public board against a lawsuit concerning what he agrees to be "a basic civil rights issue."

    A further astonishing aspect of Lynch's declaration is that it comes at a time when the General Assembly has legislation addressing the matter on the table and the judiciary is grappling with a related question. Although same-sex marriage advocates have successfully framed the debate in the legalistic-sounding terms of whether the "marriages were validly entered into," and despite Lynch's decidedly nonlegalistic rhetoric, the state can deny the benefits of marriage if, as I've argued before, the relationship is simply not marriage according to Rhode Island law.

    On such fundamental matters of social construction, the people of Rhode Island have a right to a say. But since when have these false and manipulative "civil rights" advocates cared about disenfranchising anybody with whom they disagree?

    I caught a segment on this on the eleven o'clock news and it was clear that Lynch had already backed off the "I had to take action" stuff. Now if the rest of the news media and activist groups (I'm thinking mainly, but not exclusively, pro-SSM) would do the same, perhaps legal processes could flow as intended.

    The Baghdad Surge: Increasingly Unpopular With Elite Opinion Makers

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    In an unsigned editorial about some election that Senator John McCain would like to run in in 2008, the Projo editorial board rather casually throws out this sentence…

    [McCain] has backed the “surge” of troops into Baghdad even as most Americans are increasingly skeptical about it.
    It is unclear how the editorial board knows that the surge is becoming “increasingly” unpopular. According to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll, support for the surge has grown since it was announced by President Bush, though support is still not the majority position…
    Sixty-three percent of people surveyed oppose Bush's decision to send more troops, although support for the president's plan has risen in the past few weeks from 26 percent to 35 percent, according to an AP-Ipsos poll.
    Perhaps if the Projo subscribed to the AP, they would be able to keep their information more up to date. Oh, wait…

    Also, we shouldn’t forget to consider the opinion of Baghdad residents when trying to determine the overall popularity of the surge. This is from Mohammed Fadhil, reporting for Pajamas Media (h/t Mickey Kaus)…

    Al-Sabah reports that yesterday alone 327 families returned home and that the scene of vans loaded with furniture of refugees leaving Baghdad is no more. There were times when the average was around 20 a day. The 327 figure brought the total to more than 500 families across Baghdad.

    Al-Hurra TV aired a report on the story and interviewed some of the returning Baghdadis, one man said “those who returned earlier and saw the change in the situation called us and encouraged us to return, and I too will encourage the rest to come back”. The report showed those families asking the army to stay and not abandon their neighborhood, and showed the officer in charge giving his number to the locals so that they can contact him directly in case of emergency.

    I suspect the surge is popular with at least the 500 families mentioned above.

    Fight Global Warming through More Abortions?

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    I know the standard line is that abortion-rights supporters are pro-choice, not pro-abortion. Bill Clinton once famously said that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare”.

    I’ve found at least one person skeptical about the rare part. In an op-ed from yesterday’s Projo, John Seager argues that large numbers of abortions are necessary to prevent global warming…

    Globally, at least 350 million couples lack family planning services. Here in the United States, one-third of all births are unplanned. And the Bush administration’s family-planning failures, from its global gag rule against abortion to ideologically driven abstinence-only programs, contribute directly to millions of unwanted and unplanned births. If we could cut in half the number of unwanted births in the U.S. alone, we’d have about 5 million fewer births over 20 years.

    Family planning makes sense for people – and for our fragile planet….More people use more energy. If we had zero population growth, part of the global warming problem would, well, melt away.

    Mr. Seager is so seventies in combining his blame-America-first ideology with warnings of looming environmental disaster. The United States is 130th on the world fertility ranking list, already at a rate of 2.09 children-per-woman, meaning that our population has already stabilized (when every couple produces two kids, total population doesn’t grow).

    The most fertile European country is Albania at 132 (2.03 children-per-woman). The first West European country in fertility ranking is Iceland at 141 (1.92 children-per-woman). And to find a continental West European country on the fertility list, we have to drop down to France at 154 (1.84 children-per-woman, already helping advance Mr. Seager’s goals, by beginning to depopulate itself). Given these numbers, if Mr. Seager is serious about what he says, he needs to focus his efforts on the Third World and tell them they can’t be having so many kids, because they are causing global warming.

    (Related question: Anyone care to speculate on whether it’s a positive sign, or a sign of the apocalypse that Afghanistan is now 5th in fertility, at 6.69 children-per-woman?)

    February 20, 2007

    The Members of the "So What" Coalition

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Christopher Hitchens has an informative column in today’s Slate Magazine detailing various schisms within Islam. After describing the divisions, Hitchens then chastises “very hard-line right-wingers” for asserting that violence between the different sects is of no interest to the outside world…

    I have met a few very hard-line right-wingers who say: So what? If one lot of Islamists wants to slaughter another, who cares? It's very important to repudiate this kind of "thinking." Religious warfare is the worst thing that can happen to any society, and it now has the potential to spread to societies that are not directly involved....We cannot flirt, either morally or politically, with divide and rule.
    My question: is it fair for Hitchens to assign an attitude of indifference to Muslim-on-Muslim sectarian violence exclusively to “hard-line right-wingers”? Doesn’t “So what” accurately describe the Jack Murtha-Hillary Clinton attitude towards the people of Iraq that is fast becoming the mainstream Democratic position?

    February 19, 2007

    The Stop & Shop Strike: Important, Yet Just a Distraction

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    The issues in the looming Stop & Shop strike are all too familiar, centering on health benefits and retirement benefits. From Gregory Smith and Talia Buford in today’s Projo

    [Stop & Shop], based in Quincy, Mass., wants union workers to contribute to their health-care premiums and allow it to switch from an employer-paid pension fund to a 401(k) plan for new employees. [Union Official Jim Riley] said the employees would be willing to help pay the premiums if their health-care plan is improved.
    The big insurance companies must either sit back and laugh, or maybe just breathe a sigh of relief when they read a story like this, thankful that America’s employment based system of health insurance allows them to raise rates without improving the quality of their product, while deflecting all of the blame on to employers.

    Stop & Shop is not responsible for rising healthcare costs. Insurer decisions beyond Stop & Shop (or any employer's) control, motivated by over-regulation state mandates, are responsible for that. Neither are Stop & Shop employees unreasonable in objecting to being charged more for the same coverage. When insurance companies want to charge higher prices for the same product, consumers should have the right to do what they would do with any other type of product -- to look for a better deal from a different supplier and to take their business there when they find one. Stop & Shop employees don’t have that option. Because of the way that insurance law is structured, most employees of Rhode Island businesses don’t. We’re all locked into a single, employer-provided option for health insurance and told “take it or get nothing at all”.

    Stop & Shop’s management didn’t create the system that binds health insurance to employment, they are just trying to get along within it. That system, and not Stop & Shop's little corner of it, is what needs changing. State mandates should be relaxed, so that cheaper insurance policies are available. People should be given the option of high-deductible insurance plans and tax-free HSAs to cover their routine, recurring expenses. And individuals should be given the option of purchasing their health insurance from states where coverage is cheaper. These reforms could be combined in a way that would allow people to address their personal, medical needs without consulting with their employers.

    If these options were available, many Stop & Shop employees would be able to find an affordable health plan that suited them. Some might even see an increase in their take-home pay. And, as an additional benefit, we would skip over a whole lot of labor strife that does very little to resolve the heart of the healthcare issue, by taking employers out of a role they don't want anyway as middlemen between individuals and insurers.

    Will we ever see any interest from the left in the kinds of health insurance reforms that empower indivdual employees? Or are the forces in government and politics who should be labor’s allies more interested in managing the lives of employees, maybe even in just using them as a pathway to political power, than they are in giving those employees the tools they need to make their lives better?

    February 18, 2007

    Life as Cost/Benefit Analysis

    Justin Katz

    I suspect this is an argument we'll be hearing more and more as this century unfolds:

    "The potential scientific gains outweigh the objections."

    No doubt liberals and libertarians will join together in arguing that women have a right to sell their own eggs. But as the scientific promises move ever closer to immortality, can there be any doubt that creating an international market for the seeds of life will prove to have borne much more insidious fruits?

    February 17, 2007

    The Morality of Capitalism

    Marc Comtois

    Well, sometimes the self-generated posting just doesn't come easily, which describes my state over the last few days. So, that's when we bloggers revert to the excerpt-other-people's-writing-and-compile-and-synthesize tactic. (Well, it's better than nothing).

    I recently read this piece from Richard Karlgaard on Forbe's web site in which he wrote:

    Money (profit) is a tool. It is capital. Without capital there is no capitalism. Innovation starves. Prosperity weakens. Societies stagnate. God-given gifts wither. This is especially true for humanity's wonderfully zany outliers: artists, inventors, entrepreneurs. They need capitalism more than anyone.

    Money is good, therefore, because capitalism is good. It delivers the goods, literally, and better--broadly and individually--than does any other system...

    Bill Ziff, a successful magazine capitalist who died last year, spoke for most of us: "[Capitalism] is not in itself sufficient to create values. It depends on what human and religious values we, ourselves, bring to our affairs. Insofar as those values fail, we would all descend toward a lawless, inhumane, cutthroat society that will no longer harbor our civilization."

    ...Conservatives and liberals agree on little these days. But most agree on this: Capitalism works, but it is insufficiently moral. Conservatives--allow me to paint them with a broad brush--believe capitalism works best when it is spun with golden moral threads, when it weaves in those old values learned in church, charities, service clubs and the like.

    Liberals are more skeptical. They know capitalism will produce losers as well as winners. They feel the winners must be forced into helping the losers. Forced help hurts everyone, say conservatives. Redistribution discourages winners from producing and losers from trying...

    ...[Adam Smith] seemed to say two contradictory things. In The Wealth of Nations (1776) he wrote these famous words about self-interest: "It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages." This sounds like selfishness: Greed is good.

    But Smith never believed that. In his earlier book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Smith defined self-interest not as selfishness or greed but as a psychological need to win favor within one's society. Smith revised The Theory of Moral Sentiments after he wrote The Wealth of Nations. He did not change his belief that moral sentiments and self-interest are the same thing.

    To this, Samuel Gregg elaborates:
    Adam Smith’s reference to the “invisible hand” perplexes some, but is simply a metaphor for the idea that through allowing people to pursue their self-interest, unintended but beneficial social consequences for others will follow.

    As individuals pursue profit, they unintentionally add to the sum total of the wealth in society, unintentionally allow people from different nations to come to know each other, unintentionally promote civility and peace, unintentionally allow others to benefit from more and better jobs, and unintentionally contribute to technological development. None of this means that commercial society does not afford opportunities for people to act altruistically. Rather, it is precisely because increasingly large numbers of people in commercial society are able to accumulate sums of capital that exceed their immediate needs and acquired responsibilities, they begin to develop opportunities to be generous to others.

    Finally, a post dealing with "self-interest, rightly understood" (especially by me) can't go anywhere without that estimable Frenchman, de Tocqueville!
    In the United States hardly anybody talks of the beauty of virtue, but they maintain that virtue is useful and prove it every day. The American moralists do not profess that men ought to sacrifice themselves for their fellow creatures because it is noble to make such sacrifices, but they boldly aver that such sacrifices are as necessary to him who imposes them upon himself as to him for whose sake they are made....They...do not deny that every man may follow his own interest, but they endeavor to prove that it is the interest of every man to be virtuous...

    The doctrine of interest rightly understood...is as often asserted by the poor man as by the rich...The Americans...are fond of explaining almost all the actions of their lives by the principle of self-interest rightly understood; they show with complacency how an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist one another and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the state. In this respect I think they frequently fail to do themselves justice, for in the United States as well as elsewhere people are sometimes seen to give way to those disinterested and spontaneous impulses that are natural to man; but the Americans seldom admit that they yield to emotions of this kind; they are more anxious to do honor to their philosophy than to themselves...

    The principle of self-interest rightly understood produces no great acts of self-sacrifice, but it suggests daily small acts of self-denial. By itself it cannot suffice to make a man virtuous; but it disciplines a number of persons in habits of regularity, temperance, moderation, foresight, self- command; and if it does not lead men straight to virtue by the will, it gradually draws them in that direction by their habits. If the principle of interest rightly understood were to sway the whole moral world, extraordinary virtues would doubtless be more rare; but I think that gross depravity would then also be less common. The principle of interest rightly understood perhaps prevents men from rising far above the level of mankind, but a great number of other men, who were falling far below it, are caught and restrained by it. Observe some few individuals, they are lowered by it; survey mankind, they are raised.

    February 16, 2007

    About Those Buyouts...

    Justin Katz

    I tacked an addendum to a post on Wednesday putting forth the following hypothetical:

    What would be the cost to RI taxpayers if a married family with three 19–25 year old children all had public-sector jobs and piled their health insurance onto one plan, taking buyouts for the other four?

    Among other arguments, commenter Jake offered the following riposte:

    The answer to your hypothetical would be: significantly less than the cost of five separate health care plans

    Having no specific numbers, I could not reply and, truth to tell, assumed that he was correct. As luck would have it, Dan Yorke today posted a case-in-point test scenario that proves my assumption to have been hasty. The free "United Healthcare plan and dental and vision plans" given to Rhode Island's General Assembly members in 2007 are projected to cost taxpayers:

    • $5,664 for an individual plan
    • $15,820 for a family plan
    • $2,002 for not taking benefits

    So, using these numbers as more broadly representative, my hypothetical family of five public employees would cost:

    • $28,320 if each has an individual plan
    • $23,828 for a family plan plus buyouts
    • for taxpayer savings of $4,492.

    But, if the household has four people, the comparison would be as follows:

    • $22,656 if each has an individual plan
    • $21,826 for a family plan plus buyouts
    • for taxpayer savings of $830

    I'm sure you can see where this is going. For a three-person household:

    • $16,992 if each has an individual plan
    • $19,824 for a family plan plus buyout
    • for a taxpayer loss of $2,832 on the family/buyout plan

    And the typical husband/wife scenario is the kicker:

    • $11,328 for two individual plans
    • $17,822 for family plus buyouts
    • for a taxpayer loss of $6,494 (which is, you'll note, more than an additional individual package would be)

    So, in order for Rhode Island's buyout packages to not create a perverse incentive to cost taxpayers more, we must elect, appoint, or hire our government workers in packs of four or greater. Moreover, as private companies flee the state or are continually pinched in their payroll/benefits budgets (as will be the case, for example, if family premiums go up because health insurers are forced to include 25-year-old "children" as dependents), matters will only get worse.

    Of the 113 members of the General Assembly, 75 (or 66%) take the family plan, 24 (21%) take the waiver, and only 14 (12%) take the individual plans. There's a reason these numbers are so lopsided. Very few private sector jobs offer such cheap and all-encompassing healthcare plans, and even fewer will pay employees to go with somebody else's coverage.

    Biden to Introduce Legislation to Rescind the Authorization to Use Force in Iraq

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Senator Joe Biden plans to introduce legislation rescinding the President’s authorization to use military force in Iraq (h/t RI Future)…

    Thursday, Senator Joseph R. Biden, a Delaware Democrat who leads the Foreign Relations Committee, said he would work to repeal the 2002 war authorization vote in an effort to close down the war.
    Whether you agree with the action or not, this is on the Constitutionally strongest path that Congress has for removing our troops from Iraq.

    Unanswered questions at this point: As part of his bill, will Senator Biden include instructions to the executive to negotiate a formal surrender, to reduce the likelihood that our troops will come under attack as they withdraw if his bill is enacted? Or does he simply trust terrorists to honor a cease-fire he hopes to unilaterally impose?


    I was able to ask Andrew C. McCarthy, distinguished Federal prosecutor and National Review Online contributor, if Senator Biden’s proposal requires a Presidential signature to take effect. Congress is the sole branch of government charged with the power to declare war. Doesn’t that also imply that Congress has the power to un-declare one too?

    Mr. McCarthy believes, because the authorization to use force against Iraq was less than a formal declaration of war, that a rescission of that authority will not assume the force of law unless first signed by the President (or approved by a 2/3-majority override vote) …

    I think there is a pretty clear answer in the Iraq resolution context: the resolution is not a declaration of war, however similar the two may be. Resolutions are like other bills, they have to be submitted to the president to sign or veto. In fact, the Iraq resolution did not get the force of law until Bush signed it on October 16, 2002. Biden's proposed rescission resolution would also be like any other bill — in the unlikely event it ever passed both houses of congress, the president would have to sign or veto it.

    This would be an interesting question, though, if congress had formally declared war against Iraq. I believe we have only had five declared wars in American history, and congress has never tried to "un-declare" before. Since the constitution does not address recissions of declarations of war, I assume they would have to be treated like ordinary bills — i.e., they'd have no effect unless the president signed them or congress overrode a veto. But I confess that this is just an assumption — I don't know what would happen.

    If I may pick an important nit here, Congress has undeclared all of the declared wars in American history, by ratifying the peace treaties that ended hostilities. This fact serves reminder that once a war begins, it doesn't end until both sides agree, one way or another, to end it.

    The current Congress doesn’t seem to grasp this reality. They believe they can unilaterally declare that a shooting war is over, even while the enemy shows no inclination to stop fighting. But does anyone really believe that Islamists would react to passage of something like the Biden proposal by laying down their arms and pursuing their ends by peaceful means?

    Ultimately, measures like the Biden proposal, or cutting off funding to troops in the field, or imposing a troop cap -- all which seek to “end the war” by pressuring our own side while ignoring the existence of the enemy -- cannot end a war. They do nothing to make radical Islamists less likely to use violence to get what they want. Such measures can only force America into retreat and allow the enemy to advance.

    A Phantom Tradition

    Justin Katz

    An idea that I've seen floating around the ivory tower is that America is more of a symbol than a nation, meaning different things to different people. Thus, citizens with opposite ideologies can be equally patriotic — even nationalistic — because they cast their own goals and preferences as the True America. There's clearly something to the idea, applicable in some respects not only to America, but to the West more broadly, although in recent history it might be more obvious in its negative aspects — in the opposite ways in which America and the West are held in contempt by their own people, with some despising their hedonism and others despising their puritanism.

    The ways in which this quality of the Western personality manifests in debate are intriguing, and I noticed an example (not surprisingly) in the Corner's running discussion of Dinesh D'Souza's book (which links Western libertinism to the attacks of jihadists). Here's Andrew Stuttaford:

    Mark, as your last paragraph implicitly recognizes, for you to say that Dinesh D'Souza's argument that "America’s worthless porno-sodomite-lapdance culture is the root cause of jihad has one very big hole in it" is to be very, very kind indeed. Only "one very big hole"? Good grief. While I have little doubt that our (splendidly) hedonistic ways have contributed *something* to jihadist rage, any suggestion that they are the "root cause" of our current problems with extremist Islam is simply absurd. To take just one example, Mr. D'Souza should take a look at God's Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and The Hidden Root of Modern Jihad by Charles Allen, a first-rate historian of British India. It's an excellent account of the widespread Wahhabist trouble-making in the 19th Century Raj, a time, I believe, somewhat before the lapdance era that he so bemoans.

    And a bit later, here's Iain Murray:

    I suspect there’s a case to be made that modern Anglo-American society embodies traditional values of freedom seen in Chaucerian and Elizabethan bawdiness and that the sort of Puritanism Dinesh and supposedly the Wahhabis would approve of is actually distinctly untraditional.

    With this post, I'm not engaging the actual debate, but rather making a meta-rhetorical observation. And it's true that Murray goes on to point to the 18th century as more hedonistic than the 19th (the century that Stuttaford singles out for jihadist example). It's interesting, though, that, in the service of the same argument, Western hedonism is presented as both relatively new and essentially traditional.

    February 15, 2007

    To Build Hi-Tech Businesses, You Need a Middle Class

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Natalie Myers has an interesting article in this week's Providence Business News about some local business leaders hoping that hi-tech modeling and simulation becomes a boom industry in Rhode Island…

    Steve Swenson stands next to a plasma screen showing an unmanned air vehicle landing on an unmanned boat while skimming the ocean’s surface. The images are crisp and textured, reminiscent of a video game. He explains that this is one of OceanState Technology Corp.’s first jobs for a commercial client.

    Like so many modeling and simulation companies, OceanState gets most of its contracts from the U.S. Department of Defense. But Swenson said he’s trying to change that, because he sees the opportunity to leverage DOD investment on the commercial sector....

    The medical industry has huge growth potential as a market for modeling and simulation, as do insurance, finance, pharmaceutical, transportation, aerospace, homeland security and cognitive science, he said.

    As a result, Swenson led efforts to incorporate the region’s first trade association for the modeling and simulation industry in June last year. It’s called the New England Modeling and Simulation Consortium, and its goal is to draw attention to the region’s capabilities in that field to attract more funding from federal and commercial entities.

    The question begged by the article is why Rhode Island should be better for the modeling and simulation business than any other place? You need two essentials to run a successful simulation business…
    • Fast computers with lots of memory
    • A smart, educated workforce to develop and run the modeling software on the fast computers
    These days, no region of the U.S. has an advantage over any other in obtaining hardware and software, so if there is going to be something special about Rhode Island in this economic sector, it is going to have to be related to the people. Rhode Island’s advantage here supposedly lies in its proximity to a large number of universities that can provide the necessary workforce…
    One of New England’s great attributes is its high density of universities, Swenson said. “That’s why one of the NEMSC’s agenda items is working with local universities to try to introduce programs and curriculum that would help employers in this industry get the people that they need out of college,” he said.
    Here’s the problem. RI won’t be able to attract and retain the educated workforce that the modeling and simulation industry needs, if overall livability in RI stinks for the middle class. Those educated people who can run the modeling software are going to want their kids to be well-educated too. They won’t settle long-term in communities unable to combine affordable housing with good school systems.

    This means that a place like Rhode Island, which heavily taxes middle class paychecks, but provides little in return to middle class citizens (like good schools), is facing a permanent disadvantage in developing a hi-tech business base.

    Congressman Patrick Kennedy Wants to Expand Gambling in Rhode Island, Even Though He Is "Personally Opposed"

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Congressman Patrick Kennedy will seek to use Federal law to reverse the people of Rhode Island’s rejection of an Indian casino.

    But don’t worry. According to John E. Mulligan and Katherine Gregg, reporting in today’s Projo, Congressman Kennedy does not support the expansion of gambling in Rhode Island. He just favors allowing gambling to be expanded in Rhode Island, without the approval of the state legislature or the people. Hey, it’s his position, not mine....

    Nearly a decade after his first high-profile effort to free the Narragansett Indians from having to secure state and local voter approval before opening a gambling hall on their tribal land in Charlestown, U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy says he is ready to pick up where he left off.

    After meeting with tribal leaders and their lawyers in Washington this week, Kennedy said he will seek a congressional hearing on “the fairness” to the tribe of the so-called Chafee amendment that, in effect, made the Narragansetts abide by the same state gambling-approval laws as any commercial gambling operator….

    Spokeswoman Robin Costello said [Congressman Kennedy] personally opposes the expansion of gambling in Rhode Island and voted against the Narragansetts’ proposed West Warwick casino in November, but “he feels the Chafee amendment impedes the sovereign rights of the Narragansetts.”

    The Projo article also includes a sentence Rhode Islanders should get used to reading for the next six years…
    New U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse’s position is less clear.
    Mulligan and Gregg continue…
    Without a specific bill in front of him, spokeswoman Alex Swartsel said Whitehouse could not speculate on his position, but he opposes the expansion of gambling and that would “guide” whatever position he ultimately takes.
    Senator Whitehouse's position is remarkably similar to Congressman Kennedy's position. He is opposed to expanding gambling, but not necessarily to legislation that expands gambling. Huh? Maybe "I am personally opposed, but will take whatever position the special interest groups and the activists order me to take!" is on its way to becoming the official Democratic position on all issues. Or, noting that in the Projo article, Senator Jack Reed and Congressman James Langevin express unambiguous opposition to repealing the Chafee amendment, maybe the problem is that politicians from patrician backgrounds are more likely to disregard the wishes of the huddled masses they purportedly represent. Let the voter beware.

    If nothing alse, can we at least use this issue to dispense with the argument that voter initiative is bad idea because politicans are somehow immune from special interest influence that might sway the general public?

    February 14, 2007

    A Prankster in the RI Senate?

    Justin Katz

    I truly want to know the motivation behind proposed legislation such as this:

    Sen. John C. Revens Jr. (D-Dist. 31, Warwick) has introduced legislation that would extend private health insurance coverage to dependents up to the age of 25.

    The legislation, (2007 - S0327), targets individuals between the ages of 19 and 25 who are financially dependent but who are not in school full time. Under current law, insurers are only required to continue coverage for this age group if they are enrolled full time in school or have chronic disabling conditions.

    “Allowing insurers to stop providing coverage for individuals in this age group can be potentially devastating, medically and financially, for these people and their supporting parents,” said Senator Revens. “We all know the enormous price of supplemental health insurance coverage, which makes it impractical for most, and the other temporary catastrophic programs don’t pay for doctor visits or pharmaceuticals these 19- to 25-year-olds might need.”

    Is it naive dogooderism? Is it cynical vote buying? Is it backroom backrubbing? Is it self-interest? Or is it merely a practical joke? Because it seems to me that Rhode Islanders' representatives should be personally embarrassed and politically frightened to offer such bills.

    As is a recurring theme in Rhode Island government, there appears to be an assumption that the targeted parties — in this case, insurance companies — will simply eat the additional costs resulting from legislation. They won't. They'll pass the cost on to payers — whether that means the taxpayers who fund RI's lavish public sector benefits or the businesses that supply health insurance to their employees — probably by increasing family plans across the board.

    Although this might be news to those who've lived on the public dime their whole lives, in the private sector, businesses often pass additional family-plan costs directly on to their employees. Those companies that do cover employees' family plans will either cease to do so or find other areas of payroll/benefits in which to make up for the increased expenses. Whatever the case — and as is, again, a recurring theme in Rhode Island government — the upshot is that families struggling to get by in the leech-filled Ocean State, without public-union-bullied benefits or In Crowd largesse — will be the ones who bear the burden of ensuring that indolent young adults needn't worry about paying full price for prescription fungicides.

    In fact, the only rational basis that I can see for such a policy in Rhode Island is to create financial incentive for those young adults who are not indolent, but motivated and unable to support themselves in this state, from seeking opportunities elsewhere. But they'll leave eventually, Sen. Revens. Why don't we just pass legislation to encourage a healthier state economy?

    Here's a project for folks with more time to indulge in hypotheticals than I possess: What would be the cost to RI taxpayers if a married family with three 19–25 year old children all had public-sector jobs and piled their health insurance onto one plan, taking buyouts for the other four?

    Ah, the Brits and Their Unintentional Parody

    Justin Katz

    Somehow, two aspects of this brief story seem related, in a cultural sense. In one respect, it's notable that it should be newsworthy when prisoners depart unannounced from an "open prison." In another, it's notable that three robbers and a druggie should be declared "not dangerous" (with the caveat, of course, that "the public are advised not to approach them.").

    Hey Bush Haters: Just So's You Don't Miss It

    Justin Katz

    Well look what's among the news not fit to print:

    Even with spending control slipping a bit (up 6.4% in January 2007 compared to January 2006), the deficit is 57% lower through the first four months of FY07 than it was at the same time in FY06. I believe that merits a “Wow.”

    There is a very real possibility that the federal budget will be in a surplus situation when President Bush hands over the keys to the White House in January 2009.

    Not that liberals have to change their game plan, or anything. We all know it's fundamentally illusionist, anyway.

    February 13, 2007

    I don't know what's more depressing....

    Justin Katz

    ... that Anna Nicole Smith plays such a large role in these graphs, or that the 2008 election does. Anchor Rising is finally recovering from readers' hangover from the last election. Can't we all take some time to learn, consider, and argue matters more substantial than Playmates and political gamesmanship?

    Not Just Clean Elections, But Squeaky-Clean Elections

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Last week, advocates for “clean elections” held a rally at the Rhode Island state house. The term "clean elections" refers to a system of public financing for political campaigns, so far favored mostly by authentically idealistic liberal good-government types, intended to reduce the influence of money in politics. Ian Donnis of the Providence Phoenix proivdes a straightforward description of how the system would work…

    “Clean” candidates would need to collect separate $5 donations from individuals — 50 to run as a state representative, 100 as a senator, 2500 for governor, and 1000 for lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state or general treasurer — to qualify for public financing. These aspirants would have a specified amount of time in which to collect “seed money” in bigger donations, up to $100 each, ranging in total from $500 for House candidates, $1000 for Senate candidates, $90,000 for governor, and $36,000 for other general officers. Qualifying candidates would then get the following primary and general election amounts from a taxpayer-supported Clean Elections Fund: House ($8000, $12,000); Senate ($16,000, $24,000); governor ($1.5 million, $2.25 million); other general officers ($600,000, $900,000).
    I asked two Republican nuts-and-bolts guys (in other words, not bloggers or anything like that, but folks who actually do everything from collecting signatures to designing campaigns) what they thought of the clean elections proposal, and if they thought it would help or hurt their on-the-ground efforts. Even though they represent different wings of Rhode Island’s big-tent Republican party, their responses were strikingly similar. Here’s response #1…
    Anything that doesn’t remove PAC money will be worthless, as it will allow the unions to continue to control the money. I’m not sure if this does.
    Response #2 was a bit more detailed…
    At first this idea looks promising but in the end I am a bit skeptical.

    The small donor $5 requirements, i.e. 2500 individuals for Governor to 50 for House Rep will strengthen two types of entities, direct mail vendors and unions. Unions can quickly and effectively get union members to directly contribute $5. There are about 50,000 public sector union employees in RI. It will be quite easy for them to work this for their advantage. Republicans will have to go the direct mail route since the GOP doesn’t have grass roots organizations with large memberships in RI.

    On the side note of corruption, $12,000 for house and $24,000 for senate are good amounts for a race but the leadership of legislature can out raise and spend those amounts when needed. They will not need to participate in the clean election requirement...and it is the leadership where the corruption occurs.

    I find the last point of response #2 particularly compelling, because it coincides with something that I believe about the American political process, that the influence of money is less of a problem than is the dictatorial style in which many legislative chambers in he U.S. (including the U.S House of Representatives) are run. As such, you only need to "buy" a few politicians to take control of the legislative agenda.

    But back to clean elections. You could argue, I suppose, that Republicans should stop whining and get themselves better organized, but the problem is not that simple. Union organizations are of legitimate concern to both Republicans and to those honestly concerned about the undue effects of money in politics, whatever the source, because current campaign finance laws allow huge sums of money, aggregated from union dues and funneled through PACs, to be placed under the control of a very small group of leaders. Fortunately, there’s a fair change in the law that can level the playing field -- disallow unions from spending a member's dues on political activities, unless that member first gives his or her express permission. This reform, already implemented in several states, goes by the name of paycheck protection

    Labor organizations annually dump tens of millions of dollars into state and national politics. Unfortunately, workers often have no say in how the money is to be used. While paycheck protection does not take away a union’s right to spend dues on politics, it does something almost as bad in the eyes of union officials: it requires the union to get a member’s written permission before using his or her dues for political activity.

    The first paycheck protection law was adopted by Washington state in 1992. Since then, five other states have enacted various forms of the law. The measure is based on the common sense idea that no one should be forced to support political causes against his or her will.

    So how about this compromise for bringing together everyone concerned about the disproportionate effects that a small number of big-spenders can have on the political process: couple the "clean elections" proposal with the "paycheck protection" reform and create a comprehensive package of election reform. Advocate not just for clean elections, but for squeaky-clean elections! Any takers?

    Unions Would Have Stopped September 11!?

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Look, we all have bad days as bloggers. Some are worse than others. Matt Jerzyk of RI Future clearly steps over the line today…

    Today at 500pm there will be a big union rally sponsored by Council 94 AFSCME at Central Falls High School to oppose the privatization of school bus drivers expected to take place at the 600pm school board meeting....I am starkly reminded of the privatized and low-wage airport screeners who allowed hijackers onto the planes with knives and box cutters that they used to stab airline attendants and seize the planes. Put simply, you get what you pay for.
    The last sentence of the post is perverse. Is Mr. Jerzyk seriously arguing that September 11 would not have happened, if only airport security had been conducted by the kind of people willing to strand elementary school children on freezing cold days as a bargaining tactic? Or, if not willing to admit that abandoning the children is a bargaining tactic, then by people that are just plain incompetent? Either way, where’s the (positive) correlation between the unionization of the Central Falls bus drivers and any sort of drive to do their jobs well? There are non-union people who take pride in their work too, you know.

    Really, the problem is that because of short-sighted and self-interested leadership, you often don’t get what you pay for, once a union becomes involved.

    If, on the other hand, we could get Al-Qaida to organize itself under union rules, that might be a step forward. “My CBA says I only kill Jews and Christians. Now you want me to kill Shi’ites too? Take it up with my union rep…”

    Watching the Senate: Recapturing Charitable Giving

    Marc Comtois

    On the face of it, the concurrent efforts of Senate Majority Leader Paiva-Weed (PDF) and House Speaker Gordon Fox (PDF) to promote charitable giving by ex-pat Rhode Islanders is a good bit of pragmatic lawmaking:

    The legislation would prevent the state from considering a person’s charitable donations as evidence when determining for tax purposes whether that person’s primary residence is in Rhode Island. Many accountants and tax advisors discourage part-time Rhode Island residents from giving to charities out of fear that the donation could be used as evidence against them if the state ever challenges their residency.
    This is probably good for the state's charities, but it still doesn't get to the root-cause of the problem, now, does it? Instead of dealing with the "truth" of why so many Rhode Islanders move away, they are attempting to mitigate the effects of the "consequences." Just more evidence that, as Thomas Sowell would say, they aren't Thinking Beyond Stage One.

    Party of Death, Indeed

    Justin Katz

    It occurs to me that there's a gruesome consistency to Senator Joshua Miller's activities thus far. His first two acts in his first year as a public servant were:

    1. To promote abortion in his place of business
    2. To push forward legislation of symbolic opposition to further military action in Iraq.

    In the first case, he supports the death of innocent unborn children in the name of "choice." In the second case, he supports the death of innocent Iraqis in the name of '60s-nostalgic anti-Bushism.

    Governor Endorses Cicione for RI GOP Chair

    Marc Comtois

    Ian Donnis posted on his Not for Nothing blog yesterday that Governor Carcieri has endorsed Giovanni Cicione to be the next RI GOP Chair. According to Donnis:

    Cicione, a 36-year-old Barrington lawyer and GOP activist, told me this morning that he met with the governor about two weeks ago "and he's expressed his support for me running for the chairmanship." Cicione says as far as he knows, he's the first candidate to officially submit his name, and he is continuing to reach out to GOP city and town committees by sending copies of his two-page bio. "I'm not sure who else is serious [about running or] who is actively pursuing something," he said.

    After meeting with Carcieri in his State House office during after-hours, "I took the conversation as direct support of my candidacy, not just that I'm running," Cicione says.

    The Republican State Committee will assemble in mid-March to formally elect the new chair. "A month is a lifetime. You never know who else might put their name in," Cicione said in downplaying whether he is bound to become chairman. Still, barring the unforeseen, the governor's support means that this GOP activist has a virtual lock on the post.

    Small State, Global Culture War

    Justin Katz

    In part by the stark contrast to one of our newest state senators that it presents, Rev. Edward Wilson's defense of his parish school's lunch policy (which recently slipped across the national wires for its lunchtime behavior policy) is remarkable:

    At its frenzied peak, news coverage and commentary defaulted to cultural stereotypes of ruthless Catholic educators cracking down on defenseless children. Without checking the facts, a media and a culture conditioned to respond negatively to authority took for granted as inappropriate and foolish what was ultimately found to have been misreported and misunderstood information. ...

    Besides the obvious concern that I and many others have about today’s media juggernaut, I cannot help but wonder where our society has found itself. Basic good behavior appears more and more replaced with rash judgments, assumptions of wrongdoing and taking pleasure in often uncharitable perceptions of one’s neighbors. Moreover, it is ironic that while many have been worshiping for some time at the altar of technology, believing that new and faster communications systems will bring us all “closer,” just the opposite often happens.

    And that it is remarkable is more than a little frightening.

    February 12, 2007

    "And now, who has won?"

    Justin Katz

    With the intention of making reservations, I GoodSearched my way to Trinity Brewhouse's Web site, last night, but what I found there gave me reservations. I can only assert that I'm wary of slipping into the role of easily offended Catholic Christian, and my literary and artistic background gives me wide latitude to excuse, on grounds of merit, that which might otherwise be offensive.

    But still, there's a boundary at which I must acknowledge that, if I truly believe what I profess to believe, then such casual mockery of Christian ideas and symbolism cannot be casually shrugged off as clever marketing. Even before I was a Christian, as an intellectual, I would have insisted that ideas matter — that attitude toward others' beliefs matters — and so I sought to pursue the capitalist's protest of bringing my business elsewhere.

    My inclination to do no more than quietly shift plans was a function of my charitable interpretation that the pub's management had merely gone too far with a name that, as a corporate release states, "came directly from their proximity to the nationally renowned Trinity Repertory Company located next door," which derived its own name from the United Methodist Church in which it began performances. But I put quietude aside when serendipity brought the following Catholic League news release to my emailbox:

    Catholic League president Bill Donohue commented today on an event that is sure to rile most Catholics:

    “Roger Limoges, who works for the notoriously anti-Catholic front group Catholics for a Free Choice, will be speaking this evening at Trinity Brewhouse in Providence, Rhode Island. The event is billed as a party that ‘welcomes Catholics to a free choice celebration marking the 34th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.’ It is strange enough that only Catholics are invited to this event, but what is most disturbing is the fact that the owner of the pub, Joshua Miller, is a state senator. On the Trinity website is a picture of the Last Supper with various American celebrities substituting for Christ and the apostles.

    “Anyone who would throw a party celebrating the right to kill babies is bad enough, but when Catholics are invited to attend an event that features a speaker from an anti-Catholic organization, a line of decency has been crossed. That a sitting state senator would host such a party is even sicker.

    No doubt many who live in Cranston — the city formerly governed by Mayor Stephen Laffey, conservatives' great hope to unseat the liberal Republican Linc Chafee — and Warwick were unaware that they had voted for this Sweeney Todd of the Providence dining scene. No doubt many others — and many of the establishment's patrons — just don't care.

    Be that as it may, I make this public service announcement: Thanks to Senator Miller, the Providence Trinity moniker is no longer a parochial example of Christianity's quiet role in contemporary New England, but rather, it is another instance of mockery thereof in the service of the Church of the Left.

    The Echo in Crescendo

    Justin Katz

    I won't address John St. Lawrence's letter to the Providence Journal on the merits, because (frankly) finding them would require a creativity that I lack. I will, however, observe that such overt anti-Americanism seems to be in resurgence, lately. Is it that Democrats' recent successes have signaled the end of obligatory "sensitiveness" post–September 11? Or is it that the constant drumming of antiBushism has finally constructed a delusional common wisdom for America's dim bulbs? Or is it that I'm just noticing such missives more now that their representatives are that much closer to the levers of power?

    Trying to Blunt the Impact of "Special-interest solons"

    Marc Comtois

    I thought it worth noting the item "Special-interest solons" from today's Political Scene column in the ProJo:

    [Rep. Douglas W.] Gablinske [D-Bristol]...recently asked the state Ethics Commission to address this question: “how full-time union employees, who are also legislators, are able to promote union interests through legislation.”

    In a letter to the commission, Gablinske said the answer the commission’s staff lawyer Jason Gramitt gave lawmakers at an ethics refresher course last month at the State House “was less than satisfactory to me.” (Gramitt’s answer at the time: “If they are just employees or there’s a class-exception that applies, the code as it is currently written in most cases will allow that kind of action.”)

    In his letter, Gablinske said: “It’s quite one thing for a mason or carpenter who happens to belong to a union and is also a legislator to be ‘class exempted’ when dealing with union/legislative conflicts; however, it is quite another when the sole purpose of the legislator is to promote ‘union legislative interests’ over the ‘general interest of the taxpayers.’ ”

    While both the Ethics Commission and the General Assembly have the power to tighten the code, “for objective reasons, I think it best the commission deals with it,” he wrote.

    Democrat Gablinske is raising a variation on a question Republican Governor Carcieri posed in a Sept. 20, 2006, letter to the commission. Carcieri suggested the adoption of clear ban on voting by a legislator “on any measure that affects a business or industry from which the legislator (or a member of his or her immediate family or business associates) receives more than a minimal amount of his or her income.”

    Carcieri did not focus on union employees alone. In his letter to the commission, he wrote: “Every year, paid union representatives vote on legislation — including the state budget — that directly impacts their employers. Criminal attorneys vote on changes to the criminal code. And insurance brokers vote on bills that would change how we regulate the insurance industry. Voting on a bill that directly impacts the person or business that is signing your paycheck is an obvious conflict of interest.”

    Gramitt late last week said he would give copies of Gablinske’s letter to the Ethics Commission members at their next meeting later this month and “they can decide whether they want to throw it into the hopper with the other things they are discussing regulation-wise …”

    Kudos to Rep. Gablinske for exercising a bit of good-government, watch-doggedness. Add him to the list of Democratic "solons" who "get it" (at least in this respect).

    On Seriousness and Incentives

    Justin Katz

    Although I'll resist the temptation to offer snarky comments about the qualities of "serious" columnists, I will acknowledge that they aren't apparent in Froma Harrop's lunge into the minimum wage debate:

    There is a conservative worldview that people who don’t make serious money aren’t serious people. Economic incentives are for entrepreneurs. For the low-of-wage, you put a bowl of nuggets on the ground and pat their heads.

    Longtime readers might have the general sense that I haven't found Harrop's powers of perception to be particularly impressive, but it appears that she has now confused the worldviews of conservatives and liberals! Condescending handouts and a general premise that disadvantaged people are constitutionally incapable of capitalizing on profferred opportunities are ideological markers of the Left. Contra Harrop, contriving regular increases in pay for sticking it out in the same menial, bottom-rung job — far from creating it — undermines incentive. In summary, as I've said recently, piecemeal minimum wage laws are precisely the scattered nuggets and pats on the head that Harrop laments, and any attempted push of such legislation past that point would be devastating.

    I'm left struggling for words to say about a columnist who could write the following:

    If business owners can’t make a decent profit paying their workers a minimum wage — that adjusted for inflation would still be lower than it was in 1969 — then perhaps, just perhaps, they shouldn’t be in business.

    Nevermind that, as I explained in the post just linked, beginning small businesses on razor-thin margins represents an escape from the rut of low-wage work, and knocking such businesses off the playing field will only ease the growth of megaglobalconglomerates. As is more often the case than I've interest in voicing, I find myself wondering whether the letters FROMA HARROP are some supremely clever acronym or anagram meaning "out of touch columnist" and can only opine that she is clearly too well paid.

    Ron Wyden Likes George W. Bush's Healthcare Proposal

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Senator Ron Wyden (Democrat from Oregon), a Senator with a creative healthcare plan of his own, wants to compromise and combine his proposal with President Bush's healthcare proposal. Michael Barone of U.S. News and World Report has the details…

    Bush's proposal in a nutshell is to end the preferential tax treatment for employer-provided health insurance....This decision has saddled us with a system in which health insurance has been tied to employment, with many perverse results. Healthcare is perceived as a free good, and consumers have no incentive to take costs into account....

    The biggest beneficiaries of the current system are high earners with employer-provided insurance. The biggest losers in the current system are low earners without employer-provided insurance. Health insurance experts on the left, right, and center have long called for ending the tax code's preference for employer-provided health insurance. But employers haven't wanted to lose the deduction, and politicians have flinched at the prospect of taxing voters on something they have been getting tax free. Bush has found a way out, by equalizing the tax treatment of health insurance wherever it comes from....

    [Senator Wyden] notes that we don't have employer-provided auto insurance; we buy that out of after-tax earnings. He argues that people should be able to buy health insurance as members of Congress and federal employees do, from an array of choices offered by private insurers. He's looking to make something of a political deal [with President Bush]. Republicans would get Bush's standard deduction and a private insurance market in which consumers would have incentives to hold down costs. In return, Democrats would get universal coverage, with subsidies for low earners to pay for coverage. As John Goodman of the free market National Center for Policy Analysis points out, additional revenues from those with policies worth more than $15,000 could be used to subsidize low earners.

    For conservatives and libertarians who may be turned off by the “universal coverage” part of the compromise, keep in mind that reasonable universal coverage schemes can be devised, if the goal is truly to provide insurance against major illnesses. It’s attempts by liberals, technocrats, and all-around demagogues to engineer a massive redistribution of wealth through the insurance system that creates problems, like big middle class tax increases that do nothing to improve the quality of care that taxpayers receive.

    It’s not clear from Barone’s article exactly what universal coverage scheme that Senator Wyden envisions as part of a compromise, but if its based on his original plan, it will lean more towards a mandate that individuals buy some kinds of insurance from the existing system than it will towards a single payer, total government takeover of healthcare.

    One other note: John Edwards, who is especially relevant to this debate for reasons I won’t expound upon, has positioned himself as the leading advocate for preserving the employer-based healthcare system.

    Details on the Bush plan available here.

    Details on the Wyden plan available here.

    How would you mix and match?

    February 11, 2007

    Growing Up from Google

    Justin Katz

    Glenn Reynolds notes another incident of the sort that, in aggregate, have led me away from Google when I, um, google:

    The Google property has recently banned the popular atheist commentator Nick Gisburne. Gisburne had been posting videos with logical arguments against Christian beliefs; but when he turned his attention to Islam (mirror of Gisburne's video by another user), YouTube pulled the plug, saying: 'After being flagged by members of the YouTube community, and reviewed by YouTube staff, the video below has been removed due to its inappropriate nature. Due to your repeated attempts to upload inappropriate videos, your account now been permanently disabled, and your videos have been taken down.'

    I've been using GoodSearch, which allows the user to designate a charity that will receive a donation with each use. My searches — which add up, between blogging, my editing job, and general inquisitiveness — benefit Food for the Poor (see ad at left), which has earned $37.85 through the search engine thus far in 2007. That mightn't seem like a lot, but according to the organization's calculations, it's enough to feed four or five families for a month.

    In contrast, using Google helps to supply free meals to employees with access to a swimming spa and free doctors onsite.

    Watching the Senate: Election Reform

    Marc Comtois

    The Senate appears to be willing to tackle a couple issues that certainly seem to foster political corruption. S 0283, proposed by Senators Gibbs, Bates, Cote, Blais, and Breene, would amend the currently defined procedure for voting:

    Each person desiring to vote shall, before receiving his or her ballot, state his or her name and residence, including that person's street address, if he or she has any, and shall present one form of identification that bears the name, address and photograph of the person desiring to vote or two (2) different forms of identification that bear the name and address of such person to the pair of bi-partisan supervisors, who shall then announce the name and residence in a loud and distinct voice, clear and audible. {New language in italics}
    Additionally, the same group of senators has also proposed a new non-binding referendum, S 0293:
    There shall be submitted to the qualified electors of the state of Rhode
    Island at the next general election for their approval the following non-binding referendum question: "Shall 'straight party master levers' and 'straight party computer ballot marks' and all programming equipment related thereto, be removed from all voting equipment?"
    Now, the first is clearly an idea whose time as come. As for the second, while I'd rather see the "straight party" thing go away now, I will give it to this group of senators for their willingness to put it before the voters. In fact, I'd say these senators, many of who also sponsored legislation on illegal immigration and charter schools, are some of the more forward-thinking in the senate. That being said, I'll pass final judgment when and if these measures are enacted.

    On the Same Text-Book Page as the Projo

    Justin Katz

    Just to offer a hear, hear to the Projo's editorial on education in RI:

    These proposed reforms are all excellent ideas. He also announced that he, House Speaker William Murphy, Senate President Joseph Montalbano, and representatives of labor, business, local government and other interests will work together to formulate what he called “Rhode Island’s 21st Century Education Plan.”

    That’s a start and consensus is fine, but it’s a safe bet that endless talk will only produce a mush of reform, pretty much protecting the interests of those whose power created the status quo. What is truly needed is a vocal leader who will go over the heads of the special interests and fight doggedly for the interests of students.

    Rhode Island needs to move aggressively toward practices that work well whenever they are tried: parental choice, competition between schools for students, rewards for the best teachers and accountability for the worst, contract language that allows administrators to manage and be held responsible for performance, and spending on benefits that is sustainable.

    The longer we stumble down our current path, the more's the shame that we all bear, particularly those who benefit financially from Rhode Island's corruptocracy.

    Watching the Senate: Illegal Immigration Relief Act

    Marc Comtois

    S 0271, proposed by Senators Maselli, Cote, Raptakis, and Felag, seeks to establish the Illegal Immigration Relief Act:

    It is hereby found and declared as follows:

    (a) That state and federal law require that certain conditions be met before a person may be authorized to work or reside in this country.
    (b) The unlawful workers and illegal aliens, as defined by this chapter and federal law, do not normally meet such conditions as a matter of law when present in the state of Rhode Island.
    (c) That unlawful employment, the harboring of illegal aliens in dwelling units in Rhode Island, and crime committed by illegal aliens harm the health, safety and welfare of authorized United States workers and legal residents. Illegal immigration leads to higher crime rates, subjects our hospitals to fiscal hardship and legal residents to substandard quality of care, contributes to other burdens on public services, increasing their cost and diminishing their availability to legal residents, and diminishes our overall quality of life.
    (d) That the state is authorized to abate public nuisances and empowered and mandated to abate the nuisance of illegal immigration by diligently prohibiting the acts and policies that facilitate illegal immigration in a manner consistent with federal law.
    (e) That United States Code Title 8, subsection 1324(a)(1)(A) prohibits the harboring of illegal aliens. The provision of housing to illegal aliens is a fundamental component of harboring.
    (f) This chapter seeks to secure to those lawfully present in the United States and this state, whether or not they are citizens of the United States, the right to live in peace free of the threat crime, to enjoy the public services provided by this state without being burdened by the cost of providing goods, support and services to aliens unlawfully present in the United States, and to be free of the debilitating effects on their economic and social well being imposed by the influx of illegal aliens to the fullest extent that these goals can be achieved consistent with the Constitution and Laws of the United States and the state of Rhode Island.
    (g) Provided, however, that this chapter shall not prohibit the rendering of emergency medical care, emergency assistance, or legal assistance to any person.

    Take this in conjunction with the action in House, and it looks like there may be some serious effort being put forward to stop illegal immigrants and the businesses that employ them from unfairly using the resources of the State. At least we can hope.

    UPDATE: I should have noticed earlier that S 0352 is the Senate version of H 3592 (referred to earlier), both of which seeks to put the pressure on employers to run background checks on prospective employees. I guess that's why they issue press releases.

    Watching the Senate: Charter Schools

    Marc Comtois

    It looks like the Senate is where momentum is building towards a decision on whether or not to allow more charter schools in the state. Right now, there are three bills on the table (that I've found, anyway). S 0238 was proposed by Senator Leo R. Blais (Deputy Senate Pro-Tempore) and simply seeks to revoke the current moratorium on the establishment of charter schools in the state by removing section (h) of the current law, which states:

    Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, the Board of Regents shall not grant final approval for any new charter school to begin operations in the 2006-2007 or 2007-2008 school year.
    Then there is the more restrictive S 0239, proposed by Senators Issa, Cote, Doyle, and Badeau, which seeks to amend that portion of the law and make the following exception:
    Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, the Board of Regents shall not grant final approval for any new charter school to begin operations in the 2006-2007 or 2007-2008 school year. except the board of regents may grant final approval for new charter schools to begin operations in the urban school districts of Providence, Woonsocket, Pawtucket and Central Falls in the 2008-2009 school year.
    Finally, there is the middle-ground proposal--S 0240--offered by Senators Doyle, Bates, Cote, Breene (Minority Whip), and Lenihan:
    Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, the Board of Regents shall not grant final approval for any new charter school to begin operations in the 2006-2007 or 2007-2008 school year in school districts that enroll less than nine thousand (9,000) students. The board of regents may grant final approval for new charter schools to begin operations in school districts that enroll nine thousand (9,000) or more students.
    Senators Doyle and Cote signed-on to both of the latter two proposals. Senator Blais, who represents a more rural district (Coventry, Foster, Scituate)--which probably doesn't meet the population requirement laid out in S 0240--is clearly concerned that all of Rhode Island's students and parents get the same opportunity as those in the more urban and populated districts. As for S 0240, it is written so that it will encompass many of the suburban districts as well as the so-called "urban core." Note that all of these are Democratic sponsored bills. Hopefully, this is a signal that, finally, something will get done to allow more charter schools in the state.

    Then there is the "however." S 0436, proposed by Senators Senators Connors (Deputy President Pro Tempore), Goodwin, and Maselli, seeks to amend the current Charter School Establishment law by adding:

    A charter public school shall recognize an employee organization designated by the authorization cards of sixty percent (60%) of its employees in the appropriate bargaining unit as the exclusive representative of all the employees in such unit for the purpose of collective bargaining.
    Currently, there is no provision in the law that specifically spells out whether or not a Charter school can be unionized if collective bargaining is permissible. This would "rectify" that situation.

    UPDATE: In the comments section, Andrew adds a very important point concerning the S 0436:

    "S0436 is even worse than you suggest. The bit about 'designated by the authorization cards' is a big change in the law hidden in some bland language. The authorization card provision, a.k.a. 'card check', eliminates the requirement that a union be approved by a secret ballot, meaning that at every step in the organizing process, union organizers and (possible future union officials) have access to a list of who supports them and who doesn't. This puts employees in the position of having to weigh whether they think unionizing is a good idea against the knowledge that union leadership -- not exactly famous for their protection of the rights of the minority and their toleration of dissenting opinions -- may hold a grudge, if a union is eventually approved."

    Let's just call S 0436 the "Charter School Unionization Act", then, shall we?

    February 9, 2007

    Marriage and Cynical Ballot Initiatives

    Justin Katz

    There's something disconcerting about the cynical use of the democratic process to make political statements, rather than advance a sincerely supported cause:

    An initiative filed by proponents of same-sex marriage would require heterosexual couples to have kids within three years or else have their marriage annulled.

    Initiative 957 was filed by the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance. That group was formed last summer after the state Supreme Court upheld Washington's ban on same-sex marriage.

    Under the initiative, marriage would be limited to men and women who are able to have children. Couples would be required to prove they can have children in order to get a marriage license, and if they did not have children within three years, their marriage would be subject to annulment.

    All other marriages would be defined as "unrecognized" and people in those marriages would be ineligible to receive any marriage benefits.

    Perhaps what's disconcerting is the treatment of social and civic institutions as stages for performance. Or perhaps what bothers me is that these artistes of the ballot haven't even the depth of understanding to put forward a bit of performance art that more truly captures the position of their opposition. If the "concept" is to present traditionalists' vision of marriage for public scrutiny, then the initiative ought to include a clause stating that any man and woman who parented a child would be instantly married — whether or not they were in a marriage on parole.

    Not that traditionalists think that such an approach would be the ideal marriage law, but having given up on gay lobbyists' ability and/or desire to comprehend the subtleties of our position, perhaps the best we can do is insist on a balanced caricature — one that at least raises usable questions.

    Watching the House: Statewide Teacher's Contract

    Marc Comtois

    The Governor mentioned it in his State of the State and Rep. Paul Crowley (D) seemed to support looking into it and now a group of GOP legislators have introduced a bill that calls for a statewide teacher's contract. H 5397 (sponsored by Representatives Loughlin, Gorham, Mumford, Moffitt, and Singleton) states:

    (a) Effective July 1, 2008, there shall be a uniform statewide teacher contract for purposes of the employment of newly hired teachers in any public school within this state. Said contract shall be prepared by the board of regents of elementary and secondary education, who shall conduct hearings throughout the state on the form and content of such contract prior to issuing a final form of such contract. The provisions of this contract shall include, but not be limited to:

    (i) The remuneration of such teacher for their professional services, including the rate of pay, the use, amount, and step, if any, used, as well as any incentives and/or other basis for merit-based pay;
    (ii) A requirement that said teachers who elect to participate in the teacher's retirement shall participate in a defined distribution plan as set forth in section 16-16-44 and shall not participate in a defined benefit plan system as provided for in Chapter 36-10.

    (b) Effective on July 1, 2008, all teachers newly hired by a public school district or system shall be hired using the uniform statewide teacher contract established pursuant to the provisions of this section...

    (c) No teacher employed by a school district prior to July 1, 2008 shall be subject to the uniform statewide teacher contract so long as that teacher remains continuously employed by the same school district...

    (d) The uniform statewide teacher contract shall be distributed to the various hiring authorities among the school districts in the state and shall be used thereby. Provided, that the decision whether to hire or terminate any new teacher shall remain with the local school district, and the use of the uniform statewide teacher contract shall not render the teacher an employee of the state. Any teacher hired using said contract shall remain an employee of the hiring authority.

    (e) Any school committee or regional school committee may, in its sole discretion, offer additional compensation or remuneration or other benefits in addition to what is provided for in the uniform statewide teacher contract, as an inducement to employment or continued employment of any certified teacher. Provided, such additional benefits, remuneration, or compensation shall not be subject to or a result of collective bargaining.

    There's more, but I didn't want too many eyes to gloss over!

    Once quick observation I had is about part (e). It gives communities the ability to pay more for teacher's if they so desire. In effect, this will open up a competitive market for teachers. On one hand, this seems to be a good thing insofar as it encourages competition for quality teachers, which, by extension, fosters the concept of merit pay. On the other hand, poorer communities will probably be unable to offer attractive incentives to lure teachers to their more challenging schools. Is suppose that the state could subsidize the teacher salaries of these poorer districts so that they could compete. Of course, then that could lead to salary escalation and the taxpayers would end up paying more. Maybe the free market wouldn't work? Not so fast.

    I think the trick is to turn this around a bit and remember that the students are the ones who are supposed to be the consumers and thus the beneficiaries of an educational free market. Thus, teacher merit pay and bonuses is only a halfway measure. To be truly complete, a true educational free market would also give students freedom of opportunity via school choice and vouchers.

    February 8, 2007

    Watching the House: Dogging the Privatization of State Services

    Marc Comtois

    H 5307, sponsored by Representatives Dennigan, Crowley, Rose, Naughton, and Church seeks to create more oversight when it comes to state spending on non-state employee services.

    (a) All state expenditures by any state department for non-state employee contracts, legal services, consultant fees, business services, fees paid to temporary workers or individuals who are not employees of the state of Rhode Island shall submit to the budget office and finance committees of the house and senate a report containing the following information:

    (1) Efforts made to identify qualified individuals or services within state government;
    (2) Outline the rationale for not using state employees or services;
    (3) Factors used in choosing a non-state employee or firm; and
    (4) Results of requests for proposals for services or bids for services.

    (b) The reports shall be in writing and available electronically to the budget office and the house finance and senate finance committees within one month of the expenditure.

    And H 5315, proposed by Representatives Lima, Coderre, Slater, San Bento, and Wasylyk seeks to do the same for private companies who are bidding to perform previously state-run services. In a nutshell:
    Prior to the closure, consolidation or privatization of any state facility, function or property, the director of administration or his or her designee, shall conduct a thorough cost comparison analysis and evaluate quality performance concerns before deciding to purchase services from private vendors rather than provide services directly.
    These look like responsible, good-government proposals...but, since it is Rhode Island, one can't help but think they really are Part (A) and (B) of an unofficial "State Employee Job Protection Act of 2007." Or am I just way too cynical?

    The Unspoken Definition of Civil Unions

    Justin Katz

    As a general rule, I think it best that legislators resist penning bills if they find themselves writing around the thing or quality that motivated them to put pen to statehouse stationary in the first place. Consider the proposed legislation (PDF) to which Marc linked earlier.

    It defines "marriage" as "the legally recognized union of one man and one woman," but it offers no similar definition for civil unions (e.g., "one man and one man, or one woman and one woman"). Stumbling along with the unspoken left unsaid, the bill goes so far as to forbid women from civil uniting with female relatives and men from doing so with male relatives (just as current RI law forbids men from marrying female relatives and women male), but if opposite-sex couples can enter into civil unions — which is nowhere forbidden in the proposed legislation — then people could civil unite with relatives of the opposite sex.

    This oversight (as I'm reasonably confident it is) relates to the reason that I've long stressed that my potential support for civil unions applies only if they are drawn out in the law without reference to marriage. Both those who support and those who oppose civil unions ought to be in favor of requiring that the public debate address what, exactly, is being sought and what qualities suggest particular rights and privileges.

    Watching the House: "Fair Share Health Care Report"

    Marc Comtois

    I honestly don't know what to make of H 5331--proposed by Representatives Amy Rice, Eileen Naughton, Peter Lewiss, Donna Walsh, and Edith Ajello (Deputy Majority Leader)--which seeks to require that all businesses that employ more than 1,000 people create and submit a "Fair Share Health Care Report."

    On March 30, 2007, and annually thereafter, an employer shall submit on a form and in a manner approved by the director:

    (1) The total number of employees of the employer in the state as the last date of the third quarter in the previous calendar year as determined by the employer on an annual basis;
    (2) The employer's definition of full and part-time employee;
    (3) The number of employees that are full-time and the number of full-time employees eligible to receive health insurance benefits;
    (4) The number of part-time employees and number of part-time employees eligible to receive health insurance benefits;
    (5) The amount spent by the employer in the previous calendar year on health insurance costs in the state; and
    (6) The percentage of payroll that was spent by the employer in the previous calendar year on health insurance costs in the state.
    (b) The director shall adopt regulations that specify the information that an employer shall submit under subsection (a) of this section. The information required shall:
    (1) Be designated in a report signed by the principal executive officer or an individual designated by the principal executive officer to perform this function; and
    (2) Include an affidavit under penalty or perjury that the information required under paragraph (a) of this subsection was reviewed by the signing officer; and was based on the officer's knowledge and does not contain any untrue statement of a material fact or omit a material fact necessary to make the statement made not misleading and is true to the best of the signing officer's knowledge, information, and belief....

    And it goes on and on. It also requires the Director of the Department of Labor and Training (who will administer the program) to report to the General Assembly, Governor and Health Commissioner on all of these facts. It sounds nice and fair....but it also seems rather onerous, too. On the face of it, it looks to me like more bureaucratic red tape for RI business to cut through. Doesn't look like yet another example of how our Democratic legislators innately distrust business? Instead of reaching for more oversight on a failing system, why don't these legislators spend some time trying to come up with new ideas?

    Watching the House: Adjusting the Political System

    Marc Comtois

    As if the whole Rhode Island system of disaffiliating and re-affiliating doesn't allow for enough shenanigans, H 5320, proposed by Representatives John DeSimone (Chair of the House Separation of Powers Committee--sheesh) and Peter Wasylyk want to make it even easier. Howe? By reducing the time between disaffiliating and re-affiliating from 90 to 29 days: Here's the pertinent portion:

    Any person who has designated his or her party affiliation pursuant to section 17-9.1-23 may change the designation on or before the twenty-ninth (29th) day preceding any primary election for which the person is eligible.
    Why not just propose that we go to a completely open Primary system, fellas?

    On the other hand, this sounds like common sense to me: H 5328 (proposed by Representative Donald Lally) seeks:

    The removal of residence by an elected or appointment member of a ward committee from the ward from which he or she has been elected or appointed shall constitute his or her resignation from the city or ward committee.
    Sounds fair to me.

    Watching the House: Different Perspectives on Illegal Immigration

    Marc Comtois

    Then there is H 5367 (Proposed by Representatives Peter Palumbo--Deputy Majority Leader, Stephen Ucci, Joe Trillo, Raymond Church, and Arthur Corvese) which seeks to create "THE ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION RELIEF ACT". The purpose of which is:

    This chapter seeks to secure to those lawfully present in the United States and this state, whether or not they are citizens of the United States, the right to live in peace free of the threat [of] crime, to enjoy the public services provided by this state without being burdened by the cost of providing goods, support and services to aliens unlawfully present in the United States, and to be free of the debilitating effects on their economic and social well being imposed by the influx of illegal aliens to the fullest extent that these goals can be achieved consistent with the Constitution and Laws of the United States and the state of Rhode Island.
    Read it all. It holds both illegal immigrants and those who employe accountable. Meanwhile, H 5392 (Proposed by Representatives Jon Brien, Douglas Gablinske, Arthur Corvese, Palumbo, and Timothy Williamson--Senior Deputy Majority Leader) puts the onus completely upon the employer side of the equation. Technically, it is an attempt to get Rhode Island to get in line with the "Basic Pilot Program Extension and Expansion Act of 2003", which extended the Federal employment eligibility verification program. Note that both bills were sponsored by Palumbo and Corvese, which may indicated that they will eventually be consolidated. At least I hope so. The problem with the second bill is that it, in essence, appears to hammer employers but leave alone the illegal immigrants themselves. That is only a half-way measure.

    Watching the House: Civil Unions

    Marc Comtois

    Representatives Paul Crowley, Elaine Coderre (Deputy Majority Whip), John Patrick Shanley, Donald Lally, and J. Russell Jackson have proposed H 5356, which seeks to establish legal Civil Unions in Rhode Island.

    15-3.1-2. Requirements. – For a civil union to be established it shall be necessary that the parties to a civil union satisfy all of the following criteria:

    (1) Neither party shall be a party to another civil union or marriage.
    (2) Upon application to the town or city clerk for the town or city where at least one of the parties resides the clerk shall issue a civil union license. A copy shall be retained by the town or city clerk, and the department of health, division of vital statistics,. At least one party shall sign the application attesting to the accuracy and truth of the application.
    (3) The civil union must be certified by a legally authorized person in accordance with this chapter within sixty (60) days from the date of issue. Within ten (10) days of the certification, the person performing the certification shall return the civil union certificate to the office of the town or city clerk where the license was issued. The department of health, division of vital statistics shall also maintain a copy of the certificate.
    (4) If the civil union is not certified within sixty (60) days from the date of issue the license shall become null and void. 15-3.1-3. Person authorized to certify civil union. – Civil unions may be certified by an authorized person and in accordance with section 15-3-5.

    15-3.1-4. Prohibited civil unions. –
    (1) A woman shall not enter into a civil union with her mother, grandmother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, brother's daughter, sister's daughter, father's sister or mother's sister.
    (2) A man shall not enter a civil union with his father, grandfather, son, grandson, brother, brother's son, sister's son, father's brother or mother's brother.

    15-3.1-5. Restrictions as to minors and incompetent persons. – A civil union license shall not be issued when either party to the intended civil union is:
    (1) under eighteen (18) years of age;
    (2) under a mental incapacity; and/or
    (3) under a guardianship, unless express written consent is given by the legally appointed guardian.

    15-3.1-6. Benefits protections and responsibilities of parties to a civil union. –

    (1) Parties to a civil union shall have all the same benefits, protections and responsibilities under law as are granted to spouses in a marriage.
    (2) A party to a civil union shall be included in any definition or use of the terms "spouse", "family", "immediate family", "dependent", "next of kin", and other terms that denote the spousal relationship.
    (3) Parties to a civil union shall be responsible for the support of one another to the same degree and in the same manner as prescribed under law for married persons.
    (4) Laws regarding domestic relations, including annulment, separation and divorce, child custody, support, property division and maintenance shall apply to parties to a civil union.

    It's marriage by another name. I get the sense that it's intended to be a preemptive, "moderate" solution to the looming Gay Marriage debate here in Rhode Island. It may stand a chance in the House, but I don't think it'll fly in the Senate.

    Watching the House: Stop State Employee Insurance Buyouts

    Marc Comtois

    While some are privileged enough to get regular emailings from the General Assembly, the rest of us can still keep an eye on the Bills being proposed in either the Senate's or the House's daily proceedings. Now, even if most of the legislation proposed by the the Republican delegation stand about as much chance of getting through committee as I do throwing down a dunk, it's still nice to dream.......

    By highlighting some of their proposals, I hope to show that they're generally pointing in the right direction--and hopefully encourage them to keep up the fight. For instance, there's H 5380 (Proposed by Representatives Richard Singleton, Victor Moffitt, Nicholas Gorham--Minority Whip, John Loughlin, and Bruce Long--Deputy Minority Whip), which wants to amend a certain portion of the current State law dealing with State employee insurance by inserting the following language:

    No person in the service of this state whose spouse also is in the service of this state or its municipality shall be eligible for any health insurance benefits or any other payment in lieu thereof if they are receiving health insurance benefits from their spouse.
    In other words, no more buyouts. After all, why should they be rewarded for not double-dipping into already generous state health benefits? The purpose of the benefits are to be insurance, not a salary-increasing device via a non-participation reward.

    The Continuing Saga of the People Who Are Driving Our State into a Ditch Believing That They Are the Ones to Solve Additional Problems

    Justin Katz

    Here's another one:

    “The Rhode Island High School Dropout Prevention Act of 2007” (2007 - H5351) makes it the responsibility of the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary education to work in collaboration with local school districts and the Department of Higher Education to implement strategies to lower the state’s dropout rate.

    “Rhode Island has plenty of work to do to keep our kids in school,” said Representative McNamara [(D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston)]. “This problem is not specific to Rhode Island, but the facts and figures on dropouts from our schools are not a proud moment in Rhode Island education. Even as we see an upswing in performance test scores around the state, we are still losing the battle with a lot of our children, who at too young an age are being allowed to walk away from an education that could make their lives so much better in the future.”

    I'd suggest that, in a state in which even the brightest, most ambitious students are compelled to seek their opportunities across the border, the solution to this particular problem is more fundamental than tracking truants and formulating programs to push students to even higher levels of (what appears to be) useless education. Motivating the hard cases — and the not-so-hard cases — requires that they see examples of success throughout their everyday lives, and the common theme of that success must be personal initiative, not personal connections and collective advantage-taking.

    The more targeted programs the establishment creates, the more money it will funnel into an inefficient, failing system at the expense of the dynamism that would better resolve our state's difficulties in the first place.

    Senate Democrats Continue to Silence Dissenting Opinions on the Iraq War (and Continue to Assert Their Right to Do So)

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    1. If you read far enough into John E. Mulligan’s column in today’s Projo on the Iraq war resolutions, you will get beyond the sound bytes and into the actual substance…

    After a long buildup, the Iraq debate stalled Monday when the Democrats refused to accept a GOP procedural plan for taking up Republican Warner’s resolution of opposition to Mr. Bush’s plan — which was expected to command a strong bipartisan majority. The Democrats balked because the GOP procedure called for a vote on Republican Gregg’s measure to state opposition to cuts in the spending that supports the troops in the war zone.
    If the Democrats feel that a vote on the Warner resolution is so important, and that it will pass, then why can’t they compromise and allow a vote on Senator Gregg’s proposal too?

    2. The most surreal moment in the ongoing debate over the various Iraq resolutions comes courtesy of Rhode Island’s newest U.S Senator…

    [Senator Sheldon Whitehouse] responded by devoting his first Senate floor speech to the issue, charging as the debate wound down Tuesday night that the Senate had been “silenced by parliamentary maneuver.”
    Does it make sense to claim you’ve been “silenced” on a topic, when you’re making a speech on that topic in the legislative chamber of the most powerful country on earth, and that speech gets reported in your home state’s major daily newspaper the very next day? Sadly, Senator Whitehouse's bizarre claim that the Senate has been silenced shows how deeply the Democrats have internalized the idea that their right to criticize the President somewhow also implies that their own positions must never be challenged.

    3. Finally, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is wrong when he says, according to an indirect quote from Mr. Mulligan, “that that argument in Congress is about how best to win the war”. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has publicly stated that victory in Iraq is not her objective…

    It's not a question of victory. It is a question of how we bring a solution to what is in Iraq. Victory has become a diminished option under the policies of President Bush and the implementation of those policies.

    February 7, 2007

    Full-Day Kindergarten Comes at a Price

    Justin Katz

    While announcing legislation that would "require all public schools systems in the state to provide full-time kindergarten programs," Sen. Christopher B. Maselli of Johnston offers this bit of manipulative rhetoric:

    “It’s incredible how quickly we, as a state, can commit to spend money on new motor vehicle offices and prisons, but we argue about the cost of providing the best educational programs for our youngest children,” said Senator Maselli. “We know that there are positive relationships between full-day kindergarten and later school performance. We know that expanded early learning programs helps with early identification of special needs or learning deficits, which can help children succeed and reduce long-term costs for special and remedial education. And yet the only thing we seem to care about is cost.”

    The manipulation comes in the complete removal of any context. Among the RI districts that don't already offer full-day kindergarten, for example, is North Providence — a district with 3,533 students in the last year for which all relevant data is available, each of whom claimed $11,883 that school year (PDF). That's a total cost — to the people of North Providence, Rhode Island, and the United States — of $42 million. Every year. Is it really all that incredible that Rhode Islanders might evince some reluctance to push that number closer to the half-a-billion mark?

    Moreover, consider that, as Maselli's own press release acknowledges, some districts offer full-day kindergarten, but with low participation. It may be the case that some place restrictions on enrollment, but it is certainly the case that different districts perceive different needs among their constituents and have different priorities for their resources. Under a mandatory order to provide full-day services, a school would have to pay a teacher whether one student shows up or 20 do. As the above-linked bar chart on school expenditures shows, $6,880 of the $11,883 per-pupil cost in North Providence goes to "instruction."

    Why does the return on investment calculation have to be done in the statehouse? In a state facing systematic financial crises, one straightforward method of controlling costs is to allow local groups to decide that particular programs don't make sense for them.

    Maselli may or may not be seeking to direct more of the funds over which he has partial control toward privileged parties, but the message that Rhode Islanders ought to send is the same either way: stop compounding the money that we are required to spend to advance the consolidation of power in your monolithic and special-interest-controlled government body.

    DePetro and Yorke: Can they be Happy Together?

    Marc Comtois

    When I read that WPRO had dropped morning host Dave Barber, my first thought was that they must have hired someone new. The only question was: who? Too early for Buddy...Arlene? Now we know, as reported by both the ProJo and Phoenix, former WRKO and WHJJ host John DePetro has joined the WPRO fold. The move makes sense insofar as WPRO probably wants to strengthen its claim as the region's top local talk station, especially since WHJJ has gone a different way. Of course, the big question is: How is this going to play with Dan Yorke? As most political addicts know, they don't exactly have a history of getting along.

    UPDATE: For the record, Yorke mentioned on his show (around 3:55 PM) that his official reaction to the DePetro hiring was "No Comment."

    Does this Count as the So-Called Politicization of Science?

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    From a local Oregon television station, via Drudge...

    In the face of evidence agreed upon by hundreds of climate scientists, George Taylor holds firm. He does not believe human activities are the main cause of global climate change.

    Taylor also holds a unique title: State Climatologist....

    In an exclusive interview with KGW-TV, Governor Ted Kulongoski confirmed he wants to take that title from Taylor. The governor said Taylor's contradictions interfere with the state's stated goals to reduce greenhouse gases, the accepted cause of global warming in the eyes of a vast majority of scientists.

    “He is Oregon State University's climatologist. He is not the state of Oregon's climatologist,” Kulongoski said.

    Taylor declined to comment on the proposal other than to say he was a "bit shocked" by the news. He recently engaged in a debate at O.M.S.I. and repeated his doubts about accepted science.

    In an interview he told KGW, "There are a lot of people saying the bulk of the warming of the last 50 years is due to human activities and I don't believe that's true." He believes natural cycles explain most of the changes the earth has seen.

    February 6, 2007

    I Laughed When My Mother Warned Me About DWC in NJ

    Justin Katz

    By DWC, I mean "driving while conversing." In New Jersey, you see, talking on a non-hands-free cell phone while driving an automobile is a ticketable offense. Apparently, South Kingstown Senator V. Susan Sosnowski thinks that's a swell idea:

    Citing the many dangers associated with talking on a cell phone while driving, Senator V. Susan Sosnowski has again introduced legislation that would prohibit drivers from using a non-hands-free cell phone while operating a motor vehicle.

    “Talking on a cell phone while driving is just plain dangerous, and is the cause of thousands of car accidents a year,” said Senator Sosnowski (D-Dist. 37, New Shoreham, South Kingstown). “Unless we prohibit this practice, innocent people will continue to be injured or killed on our roadways.”

    The bill (2007 - S0094) would make exceptions for public safety personnel, such as firefighters, police officers and ambulance operators. Also, any motorist who needs to make an emergency phone call to a 911 operator, hospital, physician’s office or health clinic, fire department, police department or ambulance company would be allowed to do so under Senator Sosnowski’s legislation.

    Any individual charged with using a cell phone while operating a motor vehicle could be fined up to $100. However, the fine will be waived for a first time violator if he or she obtains a hands-free accessory for the phone.

    I haven't time to look into the vaguely referenced "recent University of Utah study" that represents the sole evidence that such a law is needed, but I wonder: How much have accidents increased since the widespread use of cell phones? And how much will forbidding actual conversations help when such things as dialing are not covered by the law?

    I also wonder whether I'll have to go to the Supreme Court to find out whether I can check my email on the phone. On the one hand, the legislation (PDF) provides:

    An operator of a motor vehicle who holds a hand-held mobile telephone to, or in the immediate proximity of, his or her ear while such vehicle is in motion is presumed to be engaging in a call within the meaning of this section.

    On the other hand, the proposed language includes this catch-all:

    Except as otherwise provided in this section, no person shall engage in any activity not related to the actual operation of a motor vehicle in a manner that interferes with the safe operation of such vehicle on any highway.

    So much for disciplining the kids to "pipe down back there."

    Readers may notice that this post is the first under the brand new topic "Under the Government's Wing," which I've increasingly desired, now that I'm receiving RI state legislature press releases.

    Progress Despite Uniformity?

    Justin Katz

    Credit (applause, even) where it's due:

    Bills will be introduced in the Rhode Island Senate and House of Representatives that would prohibit the employment or harboring of illegal aliens in Rhode Island.

    To be introduced in the House by Rep. Peter G. Palumbo (D-Dist. 16, Cranston) and in the Senate by Sen. Christopher B. Maselli (D-Dist. 25, Johnston), “The Illegal Immigration Relief Act” declares that the unlawful employment or harboring of illegal aliens harms the health, safety and welfare of authorized workers and legal residents.

    The bills make it unlawful for any business entity to recruit, hire or continue to employ an unlawful worker within the state. Complaints would be investigated by the Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation, which would have the authority to request identity information from a business for any persons alleged to be unlawful workers. Businesses failing to provide such information or which actually employ an unlawful worker would have their business license suspended for 30 days and impose a fine of not more than $500 for a first offense. A second violation would carry a license suspension of up to one year, and any subsequent violation would be a permanent loss of operating license. A third violation would be a felony with a punishment of imprisonment of up to two years and a fine of up to $3,000.

    Businesses or individuals knowingly harboring an illegal worker by renting or leasing a dwelling unit in the state would face action by the Office of the Attorney General, with a potential punishment of up to one year in jail and a fine of between $500 and $1,000 for each adult illegal alien being harbored. A subsequent violation would be a felon, with punishment including imprisonment of up to three years and a fine a up to $5,000.

    And check this out:

    The legislators said they also intend to draft legislation to reform the state’s welfare system, which has long been seen as attracting illegal aliens to the state. Representative Palumbo and Senator Maselli said they want to ensure that Rhode Island distributes welfare support only in the amount appropriated by the federal government.

    I may have become too cynical, but I can't help but muse that proposing legislation is relatively cost-free. If a political party begins to fear that its malignant dominance of the government is threatened by general awakening to reality, it could buy some time by feigning to address the issues that promise to be its undoing. I could be wrong, but we'll see whether these bills go anywhere.

    Boy, Without that Weekly Hamilton, We'd Be Sunk!

    Justin Katz

    According to a press release, RI House Speaker Tempore Charlene Lima is continuing her quest to save Rhode Island's "working families" one quarter at a time:

    House Speaker Tempore Charlene M. Lima today introduced legislation that will continue her mission to raise the minimum wage for Rhode Island’s working men and women.

    The bill would raise the minimum wage to $7.75 as of January 1, 2008, and $8.00 as of January 1, 2009.

    Last year, Representative Lima spearheaded an effort to increase the minimum wage in Rhode Island. Her legislation, which was enacted into law, raised the minimum wage from $6.75 to $7.10 as of March 1, 2006 and $7.40 as of January 1, 2007. Representative Lima said she hopes that this second minimum wage bill will continue to help the working men and women of our state.

    The most important part of the legislation, said Representative Lima, will be the provision that, beginning on January 1, 2010 and occurring each January 1st thereafter, the minimum wage will be automatically adjusted by the Department of Labor and Training to maintain employee purchasing power by increasing the minimum wage rate by the rate of inflation.

    “My legislation will help workers who are struggling to make ends meet in a difficult economy,” said Representative Lima. “The democratic philosophy has always been to help hard-working men and women, rather than cater to wealthy corporations and big business. Therefore, my question to opponents of an increase in the minimum wage is quite simple: Do you feel that the average working men and women in our state deserve a modest raise for their hard work?”

    I actually have two questions for Rep. Lima:

    1. How do you keep a straight face while claiming that another $10 per week every year will help low-paid Rhode Islanders keep up with a market in which "rents... have increased nearly 47 percent and the average price of a home has increased almost 66 percent since 1998"?
    2. Do you really believe that Rhode Island's "average" is at the minimum wage level?

    These piecemeal minimum wage laws are little more than ineffective gestures on behalf of people who aren't, as Lima suggested during last year's debate (as I recall), "the backbone" of the Rhode Island economy. And a more dramatic wage law would be devastating to that economy. So, Charlene, why don't we get past the easy posturing and figure out what is truly holding this state — and, disproportionately, its working families — down?

    Who Pays More Taxes?

    Marc Comtois

    Every once in a while--usually somewhere within a long screed extolling the virtues of a more socialistic America--the rhetorical point has been brought up that politically Democratic states pay more taxes than politically Republican states (who, by extension, benefit by getting more tax dallars). Well, the Tax Foundation has done some deep digging and has broken down the taxes paid on the Congressional District level. They provide detailed findings and promise even more soon. In the meantime, here is their summar (via Barone):

    Overall, Republican districts have an average effective rate of 11.1%, and districts represented by Democratic members also have an average effective rate of 11.1%. Overall, Democrats tend to represent disproportionately the very low-taxpaying districts, as well as a large share of the very high-taxpaying districts. For example, Democrats represent 29 of the top 50 taxpaying districts, while they also represent 43 of the bottom 50 taxpaying districts.

    Eureka! Overtaxation leads to Unintended Consequences

    Marc Comtois

    Editorializing about the "Charitable Conundrum," the ProJo provides this bit of evidence that some Democrats may (finally!) be learning about basic economic principles:

    The opening years of the 21st Century have not been happy ones for many nonprofits in Rhode Island. High taxes have driven many rich people away from the state, for at least more than half of the year, and with them went the charitable dollars that are crucial to helping our neediest citizens and maintaining the region’s quality of life.

    Matters were made worse by a 2001 state Supreme Court ruling that found that charitable giving could be used to determine residency for tax purposes. Since then, accountants have been advising their clients who live more than six months of the year in Florida or other low-tax states: If you don’t want to be taxed as if you live in Rhode Island, don’t give a cent here.

    Thus, we highly commend Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed and House Majority Leader Gordon Fox for filing legislation to address this problem. Under their bills, no longer could Ocean State tax authorities use charitable gifts as a weapon against the givers.

    It is encouraging to see these State House powers demonstrate such a grasp of reality. They have apparently come to realize that in a free society where people are allowed to live where they want, slapping more taxes on people does not always generate more tax revenue — it may merely prompt the well-off to take their money elsewhere, often to Florida and other Sunbelt venues but also to such lower-tax states in our region as New Hampshire — and, yes, Massachusetts. The apparent decline in charitable giving in Rhode Island underscores the law of unintended consequences.

    Ah yes, the "law of unintended consequences"--something that too many liberals can't seem to grasp. That is why they continue to call for higher taxes on business and individuals to fund their pet programs. It never occurs to them that people will eventually get sick of it and take action to lessen their tax burden and keep more money in their own pockets. Like move away.

    For example, in a perfect liberal world, we could tax all corporate profits, say, 50% (yes, I know they'd probably really prefer closer to 100%, but this is just an example). So, if a company made $1 million, well, cool! The state would get $500,000. Awesome! But wait, what if the company decided they couldn't afford this because--surprise--they wanted to keep more of their money? (It is their money, too. Not the government's). Such a high tax rate would be a big enough disincentive to convince the company to relocate to, say, Massachusetts. So now, that 50% tax rate is applied to one less company. And 50% of $0 is still $0. RI wouldn't get anything and all of those programs would be underfunded! Bad company! How dare they want to keep their own money! So, how can we keep companies (or people, for that matter) from moving?

    Simple, have a competitive tax rate. It doesn't even have to be less than our neighbors, just close enough to be competitive. (But if you really want to attract business, you make it less). And, to paraphrase my comment made on an earlier post, it is better for working families if the state becomes more business friendly and tax-competitive. As more businesses come, they compete with each other for RI workers and maybe even attract out of state workers. This increased competition for workers would translate into higher wages. This would lead to higher taxable incomes and, thus, higher revenue. The end result? A broader tax base with steadier revenue from more workers making more money working for more companies. And all of that money could be used to help out those who are less fortunate.

    The theory really is that simple. So why can't liberals grasp this? Despite all of their protestations of being intellectually superior, they continue to betray a particular ignorance of basic economic theory, don't they? Instead, their first response is always to tax and tax and tax, paying no heed to the aforementioned "law of unintended consequences." But it takes some time to get the word out the RI is now business friendly. That's why the State has been offering tax incentives to businesses who want to relocate here. Remember, RI has a reputation to overcome. That won't happen overnight.

    What Happened to the Non-Binding Iraq Resolution

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    To fully understand what happened in yesterday’s U.S. Senate non-binding Iraq resolution vote, you need to understand that other Iraq resolutions, in addition to the anti-surge resolution, are awaiting Senate action. Here's the full set, as described in USA Today...

    • One opposes the president's plan to increase troop numbers in Iraq.
    • A second offers qualified support for the increase.
    • A third opposes cutting funds for troops.
    The Democrats want to make the second and third resolutions in the above list disappear without a vote. The Republicans are using a filibuster to refuse to allow a vote on the resolution opposing a troop increase, unless votes are also held on the other two…
    [Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell] said he's willing to allow a vote on [the anti-troop increase] resolution provided he wins two concessions: a requirement that it get 60 votes to pass, and a vote on the resolution opposing cuts in funding for troops. That resolution is sponsored by Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H.

    [Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid] objected because McConnell's demands set up the possibility that the Senate would have been on record as opposing cuts in funding for the troops, but not the president's policy.

    That would "divert attention" from a Senate vote on the troop buildup, Reid said.

    Apparently, in the Orwellian framing of the Democratic party, open debate can only occur if opinions not approved by the majority party are first suppressed!

    Senator Reid is not yet giving up, according to the Associated Press...

    Following a procedural vote Monday that sidetracked a resolution on the war, Democrats said they would eventually find a way to put each senator on record...
    How about this for a compromise. Allow a vote on all three resolutions. If Democrats are so sure are on the right side of the issue, in any conceivable sense, then why be afraid to let positions they oppose be brought to a vote?

    One other point worth considering: Is Senator Reid’s position that public debates must sometimes be suppressed because they might “divert attention” really the attitude you want from the leader of the party that will be confirming the next Supreme Court justice?

    February 5, 2007

    By the Way

    Justin Katz

    I'd just about given up on it, but I thank the Providence Journal for publishing my letter regarding false adolescent-pregnancy research findings. For a more detailed version, see here.

    Ocean State as Rubber Room

    Justin Katz

    You know I'm in a state of hopeless nonchalance when I use the word "alas," but: Alas, I must admit that Robert Haiken of Warwick has put his finger on it:

    The problem is no longer with the legislature. It is with the voters who keep sending the same people back to the legislature. We are reminded of that old definition of insanity — keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result.

    Nothing will ever change.

    Behind the scenes, we here at Anchor Rising indulge in deep conversations about the underlying causes of "Rhodapathy." I'm a little reluctant to admit that the obvious seems always to resurface:

    • Too many people feel personally connected, whether:
      • They really are, or
      • They merely know a guy who knows a guy whose daughter plays soccer with their nieces.
    • Too many people are on the take, whether:
      • They are receiving ludicrous benefits through the state's union culture, or
      • They are receiving ludicrous payouts as part of the state's welfare programs.
    • Too many people are ideologically bound to the status quo, whether
      • They have to vote Democrat as a matter of psychotic compulsion, or
      • They have to keep the statehouse pure blue because they dislike George Bush.
    • Too many people can't muster the interest to change things, whether
      • They're working so hard just to keep afloat that they can't spare the effort, or
      • They're trapped in our peculiar fatalism that takes pride in accepting that this is just the way things are, here.

    But I thank Mr. Haiken for his reminder that we can't just insist that a corrupt system change itself. We have to boot the folks who make it corrupt.

    February 4, 2007

    Talking Budget: Is Compromise in the Air? (Or is it just talk?)

    Marc Comtois

    {N.B. Here at Anchor Rising, we watch (or TiVo) the local Sunday morning shows so you don't have to. Here is a transcript of this morning's Channel 12 Newsmakers, hosted by Steve Aveson and also features Ian Donnis of the Providence Phoenix (who has a little more, here). I've offered a few (very few) comments of my own in italics}.

    Rep. Steve Costantino - Chair, House Finance Committee
    Rep. Paul Crowley, Newport - Deputy Chair, House Finance Committee

    Steve Aveson (SA) - [As far as the budget], we're in a tough spot...we've hit the wall.

    Steve Costantino (SC) - We have hit the wall. And if we were to pass this budget as is, putting aside whether there are some valid issues in the budget or not, the first day of July, 2009, we will have a $379 million deficit. So, although this budget is balanced, it really does very little in terms of looking at the structural problems we have with the budget. You can't grow budgets at a certain level when your revenue is growing at a different level. And that's pretty much where we are right now. Our revenue numbers are not sustaining the expenditures. So there has to be complete analysis of this budget. There are too many one time fixes in the budge, and when you have a one time fix, remember, you've lost the ability to use it in the out-years. So, if you have a $50 million, one time revenue item, you don't have that in the next year. So now you have to find it and if you don't have it terms of revenue growth, you have to go deeper in the expenditure side.

    SA - In some degree, the Governor and you are kind of speaking the same tone. We've got problems, we've gotta solve the problems and we've got some specific ideas in mind. Paul, just give us the long view, after almost 27 years in the General Assembly, how is it that you think we get to this point today...

    Paul Crowley (PC) - I think it's basically that...We have a very hard time, when the revenues are coming in, to get people to accept the fact that there is a limit to what government can do. And when there's money to be spent and programs can be expanded, like in good programs like RIte Care for young children, it's hard to say, well, someday there's going to be a limit as to what we as a state with a population of only a million people, how much revenue we can produce and how much government we can support. That's an argument that people don't want to hear. So it keeps kinda growing each year, each year and then finally, we hit the wall. Now, I think, what my great concern is that, not only are we facing this revenue issue--we're facing the issue of government growing--but we're also facing a significant change in our state's population. We're going to become an older state, so that all those people that have worked in this economy are going to become retirees of this economy. So it's going to become a different kind of state and we better deal with that and question from the local level--not just the state level, from the local level--how much government can we afford, what can we ask them to do and how can we make it more efficient.

    SA - Steven...what do you like...about the Governor's tone...

    SC - I think there is a seriousness and a commitment to get the budget to where it has to be so in the out years we've made some movement in terms of fixing this. Ultimately, for the quality of life to improve in Rhode Island you have to have a health state government. We can put all the P.R. on certain ideas and certain programs but ultimately people have to feel that living in this state is worth living in this state. We have a beautiful state. There's no doubt about it. But you can't have a situation where too much of someone's disposable income is going to government that cannot be supported. Ultimately, that affects the quality of life. So I think in terms of the tone, I think there's a willingness to work on these long term issues....what the specifics are...there may be some differences...

    Ian Donnis (ID) - Steven, you say there's a willingness to work on these long term issues, but these budget problems haven't come out of the sky. State spending has grown at twice the rate of inflation for more than ten years. Why has it taken the state so long to come to terms with this?

    SC - Well, I think Paul hit on it very well. There are some programs that are growing disproportionally to the revenue [stream], but these are programs that are near and dear to Rhode Island citizens. RIte Care, Education, in education in the last few years is growing even higher than some of the human services programs. So it gets difficult to make some of these choices because you are affecting--on the short term--some of the services. But ultimately, I think what I said before--and I'm not to say that the General Assembly hasn't participated in this--but it's been for well-intended reasons. We now have to look at what's the long-term effect of some of these programs. What's the long term effect of some of our tax policies. Because this isn't just an expenditure side issue, it's a revenue side issue.

    ID - Paul, one of the areas targeted by the Governor is state subsidized child care. Proponents would say that this childcare is crucial for helping people to get out and work if they're on the economic margins. Does it make sense to target this program for cuts right now?

    PC - I think you have to look at it. You have to look at every, single program. [If you] take any program off the table, we're not going to be able to resolve this issue. But that's not a bad place to start and let me give you [an] example. When we started to build the child day care system to put people back to work, well, we didn't just build the simplest--you known, a couple of people watching a couple of kids at home--we built a system that guaranteed that the kids would be in safe environments, protected then people came in and we had benefits and decent pay for the people doing the work. So our system...grew horizontally and vertically. It encompassed a lot of children and became very expensive. It's a very good program, but the question is sustainability. Can this tax base sustain that program. So that's the very difficult question that we're going to have to be facing.

    SA - Paul, your words earlier that there sounds to me like an invitation to the taxpayers to recognize that their going to have to change their way of relating to the government. The governor suggest that, Steve seems to be saying that as well. What about the message that the governor suggests, that for the next four months there be an unpaid work day. That's saying to union workers or state workers "you're going to have to shoulder part of this burden." Is that going to resonate? Is that a good idea? Is that the right way to send a message to all the taxpayers of Rhode Island?

    PC - I think one of the union leaders came out just recently and said, "No, not us." But I think everybody has to be at the table. Our public sector employees at the state and local level are well compensated, they've got excellent health care packages and they have terrific retirement programs. To say that we're going to get into this situation and that we can't be touched is not realistic. I think we also need to look at an issue like aid to education. You know, we just can't simply say that the key is to give more money. We have to look at the educational structure and if the Governor talks about the idea of consolidation of school districts, he's got to roll up his sleeves and come to the table and say I want to work in it. I happen believe on that. He finally said, "Let's talk about a state teacher's contract." Well, let's not just talk about it Governor, let's assign the Board of Regents to come up with a model for a contract, let's make it a date certain to get this thing off the ground. The savings we would make in those areas today are probably not going to accrue for another two or three years. But if we don't start today, then the problem just keeps getting bigger, and bigger and bigger. So there's gotta be the committment governor, we'll work with you but we've gotta see you at the table with your sleeves rolled up saying, "I'm gonna do the work."

    SA - $46 million added to the budget for education is an investment in the future. The governor says that that's going to bring a great return. Moving 500 prisoners...is another issue...


    I must say that I'm encouraged by the "tone" of the discussion. If Constantino and Crowley are any indication, it seems like the Legislature may have finally gotten the message that the RI Government can't keep spending like drunken sailors. Now for two quick observations: 1) Rep. Constantino made a point of mentioning that the GA also needs to look at the revenue side (not just the expenditure). Be on the lookout for tax increases. 2) OK, what's up with Crowley's throwing-down-the-gauntlet attitude towards the Governor? As if the Governor hasn't tried to propose education--and other cost-saving--reforms before? It sounds like Crowley is trying to shift the perception away from who really has shown initiative (the governor) on this issue by saying that something along the lines of "talk isn't enough." Well, that's true, but until now the Governors been talking but it's been the folks in the General Assembly who haven't been listening. Crowley makes the same challenge to the Governor in the next segment, too.


    SA - Whoever the leader is, it's their job to throw up big ideas, to challenge...and then the worker bees have to make it come true. What do you say to the governor? Rally back to what we were talking about the state workers. I mean, during the break you were saying Steve that the Governor's kind of got to be engaged with that...

    SC - In terms of the whole state worker issue. Ultimately, how I would deal with this is, you bring the unions in, you say you're going to have to share some of this pain. And in fact, if we've hit the wall, we've gone to the extent that we can go to in trying to resolve this budget problem. We need to go deeper. We need you to come to the table to participate in this. Some of these ideas we're talking about, whether they're the furlough days, and some of these issues. We need you to be involved in this and start that give and take. Now, ultimately, maybe you don't get there and maybe there isn't agreement. But at least there's a process by which they've been engaged and at least you can say you've brought them to the table and either they bought in or they didn't buy in. I'm not sure that give and take has happened previously to this budget.

    SA - Paul, have past governors done a better job of that?

    PC - Yes, I've served with quite a few of them and the one that probably did the best job--and not on just these kinds of issues but in terms of being engaged in government--was Bruce Sundlun. He said--we had a plan to renovate the airport--he said the renovation's no good, we're going to build a new one. He would pull legislators off the floor, and even though he had a Democratic leadership and sometimes the Speaker might complain (he'd say, "Governor, I'll talk to my people, not you.") He'd say, "No, I'm the governor, I talk to whoever I want." He would roll up his sleeves and be completely engaged. That's what I want to see from this governor. When he talks about being the education governor, say, "Fine Governor, you control the Board of Regents now. A lot of the reforms you want to do, you can do through the Board of Regents. Call a meeting, talk to your Chair, and say I want to get these things done." But I want to see that from the Governor. I want to know that every week when we're up there--the Finance Committee, working on this stuff--that he has people at those meetings, at those hearings and he's coming up and he's talking to us after the meeting and saying, "OK, here's what we heard, what do you think? What can we do together?" He's gotta be completely engaged or we're not gonna make a dent in this thing that we have today. {Sorry, I've got to interject...First point: would they really listen to what the Governor has to say? Second, missing in Crowley's Sundlun example is the fact that the Governor is of a different party than the majority of the Legislature. In fact, he's basically the only Republican up there. Can you imagine what the Dems in the Legislature would do if the Governor acted like Sundlun and pulled them off the floor? Again, Rep. Crowley is challenging the Governor, as if the Governor hasn't tried to work with them before. Seems like a lot of his bluster should be turned towards those who haven't been willing to listen to anything the Governor has proposed in the past. Now that he has been shown to have been correct in his predictions, they are trying to imply that he just wouldn't work with them, that's why we're in the current budget crisis. Please. Regardless, I hope the Governor calls his bluff and makes sure that the public is informed on the tone and direction that any budget "dialogue" takes.}

    SA -Steven, tobacco futures, dipping into the rainy day fund, insurance reserves, selling property...those are a lot of big ideas. Tackle one of them?

    SC - Well, the commonality of all of those ideas--and I would say this, there may be some of those we'll have to concur with because we don't have any choice--but the commonality is they're one time fixes. And tobacco securitization, in this proposal, isn't as bad because it's talking about going to capital and the infrastructure for the state...bridges, state roads, hospitals...Some of these other one time fixes basically just make the problem worse. Whatever you use once, you don't have in future years. So you have to find it in future years and if you can't find it in future years then you have to dip even deeper into government services and what we're paying for.

    ID - ...Celona...7 other elected officials and companies, your thoughts...?

    (No earth shattering revelation other than, gee, "it's sad" and Rep. Crowley stressing that, just because they are all legislators, they don't necessarily know each other or what others are doing.)

    SA - Final statement...this is tough times. What do you think is going to happen, how do you think we'll prevail ultimately? What's the biggest compromise?

    SC - I believe probably the biggest compromise will probably be in the education arena and probably some of the human services programs. I think ultimately there probably aren't going to be many compromises this year. I think it's going to be a situation where we finally have to put a budget together that deals with the out years. So I don't see many, many compromises this year. There may be some in education, some in human services--maybe to not go deep into child care--but if I don't do that, I have to find the money somewhere else so we might have to share some of that burden over some other human services programs. But ultimately, we need to pretty much get a budget that is healthy for the citizens of Rhode Island in the future.

    Despite my annoyance with the attempt by Rep. Crowley to try to shape this as the fault of the Governor because he wouldn't play nice-nice with the GA, I've at least taken away from this that both he and Rep. Costantino recognize that the state of the state is dire indeed. Let's see if their actions end up lining up with their rhetoric. I sure hope so.

    February 2, 2007

    Panic on the Right?

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Here’s Republican pollster Frank Luntz, as quoted by syndicated columnist Robert Novak (via Townhall, h/t Instapundit)…

    "The Republican message machine is a skeleton of its former self," Luntz told me. "These people have no idea how the American people react to them."

    Luntz sees a disconnect between Republicans and voters that projects a grim future for the party. That contradicts what House and Senate Republicans are saying to each other in closed party conferences. While Luntz views 2006 election defeats as ominous portents, the party's congressional leaders see only transitory setbacks and now dwell on bashing Democrats....

    "The Republican Party that lost those historic elections was a tired, cranky shell of the articulate reformist, forward-thinking movement that was swept into office in 1994 on a wave of positive change," Luntz wrote. He went on to say that the Republicans of 2006 "were an ethical morass, more interested in protecting their jobs than protecting the people they served. The 1994 Republicans came to 'revolutionize' Washington. Washington won."

    And here’s former Clinton political consultant Dick Morris as quoted by the Washington Examiner (h/t Drudge)…

    No matter what happens, the situation in Iraq will “assure that the GOP gets massacred in 2008 congressional elections.” In 2010, the Republicans will take back the Congress — “Hillary will give Republicans the same gift she gave them in 1994” — and they’ll win the presidency in 2012, but thanks to demographic shifts favoring Democrats (namely the rising Hispanic and African-American populations), “that will be the last Republican president we’ll ever see.”
    Before the 2006 elections, you could find Republican strategists talking about how demography was going to guarantee a Republican majority into the future, since more babies are born in red states than in blue ones. Now, we’re seeing a wave of contrary predictions, ala Dick Morris, forecasting that Republicans are doomed to become nothing more than a regional party. That’s quite a switch in prognostication, more than should be discernable from the results of a single election. Either someone was wrong before, or someone is wrong now (or I suppose, everyone has been and continues to be wrong, all of the time!)

    One thing seems pretty clear to me at this stage; Morris’ prediction stands a much better chance of coming true, if the National Republican Party continues its current strategy of totally writing off blue states in the northeast without a fight.

    So who do you think is over-reacting, and who’s taking the long view?

    Post-Celona: Who are the Suspect Seven?

    Marc Comtois

    Sounds to me like there may be a few nervous lawmakers up on the Hill:

    Shudders, dread, curiosity — and what several lawmakers called sadness — permeated the State House yesterday amid warnings by the state’s top federal prosecutor that the John Celona influence-peddling scandal had already spawned “active” corruption investigations against seven other politicians and seven corporations.

    “Is this as extensive as Plunder Dome?” asked WPRO radio host Ron St. Pierre in a reference to the infamous Providence City Hall corruption probe that sent former Mayor Vincent A. Cianci Jr. to federal prison.

    “It’s bigger,” U.S. Attorney Robert Clarke Corrente responded during an on-air interview yesterday morning.

    Yikes! And who could be involved?
    Wandering in and out through the day, in a building where gossip and speculation are viewed as valuable commodities, State House denizens traded their lists of potential targets, which included lawmakers past and present and other prominent names in the political community.

    “I know most of the people mentioned have been in the Senate,” said Fox. Still, “it does weigh on you — we are all human beings — who those seven politicians are. Obviously, everyone is speculating. But I have no idea who they may be, whether they are current, former or what. Or even if they are General Assembly members.”

    But I'll bet that they're probably all Democrats. If I'm wrong, I'll say so, but the basic demographics of RI's political system would lead even the most naive, unpolitical citizen to figure that out. But we'll see.

    Sociology, Liberalism, and Freedom

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    Wilfred McClay has a fascinating essay in today’s OpinionJournal on the subject of the future of sociology. Despite the apparently wonkish subject matter, McClay makes several observations that cut right to the heart of America’s domestic policy debates. Here’s the most important…

    As Nathan Glazer has put it, [Seymour Martin Lipset] had a lifelong interest in how societies, guided by their histories, "set limits for their development that are difficult to transcend."

    Those words express one of the abiding themes of the "old" sociology: how the stubbornness of social forces circumscribes what is possible for us as individuals. Around every man, said Tocqueville, a fateful circle of freedom is drawn, beyond which that man ceases to be free. Such an observation is unwelcome in a culture that values the free individual above all else and imagines that all things should be possible.

    McClay’s observation is provocative, because I don’t think people (including perhaps Mr. McClay himself) fully realize how tightly contemporary liberals want to constrict the circle of freedom that Tocqueville describes, despite the fact that they believe in their hearts that they stand for the opposite.

    The liberal attitude towards individual freedom has devolved into a belief that people should have freedom to behave as libertinely (or not) as they choose within their homes and in their personal lives, but beyond that, basic human interactions should be heavily regulated. Here’s my usual list of examples…

    • Liberals believe that government, not parents, should pick the school a child goes to, i.e. liberals fiercely oppose reforming geographic monopoly school systems through the use of charter schools, vouchers, etc.
    • Liberals believe that the practice of medicine should be socialized, so the government has a final veto on what treatments patients are allowed receive from their doctors. (That's how "cost-control" works in a government-run universal healthcare system.)
    • Liberals believe that government should take a large part of a person's paycheck and place it in a compulsory retirement plan, rather than giving employees maximal control of their own retirement resources.
    The widespread skepticism on the left towards freedom-in-practice, while purporting to support freedom-in-its-ideal, is what has led the social issues like gay marriage and an uncompromising position on abortion (for partial birth abortion, against parental notification, etc.) to their prominent places in the liberal agenda. Since liberals are only willing to take a stand for individual freedom within a very narrow realm of the personal, they make that stand as doggedly as they can.

    I think a large part of the polarization and the nastiness of our politics results from liberal inability to resolve the contradiction between their beliefs and their rhetoric with regards to individual freedom. Since they can’t resolve the contradiction, they settle for yelling real loud.

    February 1, 2007

    Of Patriots, Pole Stars and Polemics

    Marc Comtois

    It was clear to me that in his piece on "Civic Conservatism" that Fonte was emphasizing civic conservatism (or American Patriotism or American Nationalism) as a "glue" that both holds the various types of conservatism together and can serve as an appealing ideological template with which to sway many independent or (ironically) non-ideological voters. As my post demonstrated, I agreed with this formulation for what it was. (His response to my post--which I didn't see until Justin posted it--concerning how there should be an emphasis on American culture over that of the "other" is fine because I assumed that prioritization, even if I didn't spell it out).

    Justin's critique of Fonte and his subsequent clarification can stand on its own. Now, to be honest, I initially took Justin's use of the word "nationalism" to mean that of the European variety, but concluded that my initial reaction was due to my recent experience as a MA History student (in which one is continually exposed to the history and historiography of the what's, how's and why's of the European brand of nationalism). Eventually, knowing Justin, I figured out that he was talking about the sort of American Nationalism that Fonte later described and equated with American Patriotism in his emailed response to Justin.

    It never ceases to amaze me how one word and the assumptions made on how it is being used can lead to so much confusion among those who would otherwise agree. Thus, I can see how Fonte apparently made the same assumption about Justin's use of "nationalism" as I initially did. But an argument over "nationalism" and "patriotism" wasn't really Justin's main point, anyway, as Justin has since explained. (But it is something I'd like to focus on for a bit. See the extended entry--below--for my digression).

    Back to the point. Patriotism is fundamentally an emotional response, which is why it "stir[s] the blood." Ultimately, Justin agreed with this (though he called it nationalism), but wanted to stress that the real "oomph" behind the conservative movement needs to be more than a reliance on emotion-based patriotism. A patriot also must understand why he feels the way he does when he sees the flag and hears the National Anthem. Conservatives understand that we aren't patriotic "just because..." Rather, we are patriotic because we have learned and are continually reminded of the particular American philosophy, culture, and history that comprise and enable our shared American ideals. Indeed, behind the emotion is a whole lot of reason.

    As Fonte wrote:

    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.
    I agree that those general principles would be palatable to a variety of Americans. Yet, "civic conservatism" is really only the skin of the body conservative. The meat and bones are the conservative philosophy and the conservative interpretation of American culture and history.

    Many Americans agree viscerally with the tenets of Fonte's "civic conservatism," but they can't explain why. Most American's are good people who don't want to hurt or "impose their values" on others. Because of this, self-doubt about why they hold the values they do can creep in if they are confronted with unfounded and unpleasant charges of racism or bigotry. And such charges would surely be hurled their way if they say they support "Americanization" and "the equality of American citizenship." Unable to defend their position, they will revert to their inherent "niceness" and go along to get along.

    Average folks need to know that what the believe to be true and good really is. They need to know the "why." Otherwise they'll be shamed into abandoning the ideals and mores that they feel in their bones to be true. That is why it is incumbent on conservatives to explain that philosophy and history have shown that "Americanization" and "the equality of American citizenship" are beneficial to society and are meant to help all of its people. Simply saying "just because" isn't enough.

    In the end, while I recognize the value of Fonte's "civic conservatism," I agree with Justin that conservatives shouldn't rely too much on it's appeal for it's own sake. Weightier essays in support of the agreed upon bullet points need to be at the ready so that a firmer traction can be established in the uphill battle against philosophical, cultural and historical naivete.

    Here's my digressive dissertation on nationalism and patriotism.

    I don't think that Justin intended to imply that the "blood and soil" nationalism was the sort that Fonte was talking about in his original piece. But more importantly, he didn't even come close to trying to make the delineation between American Nationalism and American Patriotism that Fonte seems to think he was implying.

    Thus, Fonte's assertion that "Those who attempt to distinguish between American "patriotism" and American "nationalism" (which has never been blood and soil based, but philosophical, cultural, and historical)---play the game of an anti-patriotic impulse" strikes me as unjustified and hyperbolic. If anything, Justin was clearly equating the two, just like Fonte.

    In fact, I'm the one who has a problem with Fonte's formulation. Why would an "attempt" at such a distinction--like, say, a good-faith, scholarly one--betray "an anti-patriotic impulse"?

    I think there have been some rather clear-cut cases of European-style nationalism--or at least similarities--in American history. Know-Nothings especially, and portions of the America Firsters platform come to mind and I know there are others. (In fact, I'd wager that quite a few paleo-cons could be considered Nationalistic in the European sense, which Fonte finds so distasteful). I don't think that if I were to attempt to distinguish between these types of American Nationalists and American Patriots (rightly understood) that I'd be "play[ing] the game of an anti-patriotic impulse," do you? In fact, wouldn't it be patriotic of me to point out the difference?

    Frankly, I don't think I've really ever heard a purposefully positive equating of American Nationalism and American Patriotism. Thus, I don't agree with Fonte's point that "American nationalism has traditionally meant support for the heritage of Washington and the Founding Fathers, of Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan." In fact, even if Fonte's definition is correct, usually people are trying to show there is a difference. For instance (sub. req'd), in this piece that tried to equate the two, the author begins by observing that:

    Nationalism is a dirty word in the United States, viewed with disdain and associated with Old World parochialism and imagined supremacy. Yet those who discount the idea of American nationalism may readily admit that Americans, as a whole, are extremely patriotic. When pushed to explain the difference between patriotism and nationalism, those same skeptics might concede, reluctantly, that there is a distinction, but no real difference. Political scientists have labored to prove such a difference, equating patriotism with allegiance to one’s country and defining nationalism as sentiments of ethno-national superiority. In reality, however, the psychological and behavioral manifestations of nationalism and patriotism are indistinguishable, as is the impact of such sentiments on policy.
    Now, perhaps my time spent in the ivy halls of academia have skewed my perception, but I really think that Americans don't like being called nationalists and prefer to be considered Patriots (especially in New England).

    My Apparent Problem with the Pole Stars of American History

    Justin Katz

    Somewhere in the hazy period Tuesday between leaving work early at lunch time and leaving Hasbro Children's Hospital around 8:00 p.m., I read John Fonte's emailed response to Anchor Rising's commentary on his recent piece about "civic conservatism." For most of the remainder of that day, the part of my brain not preoccupied with other things thought that Mr. Fonte must surely be right that I had let slip thoughts in which I don't actually believe or of which I had been blissfully unaware. Now that I've reread my comments and his, I'm not entirely sure how I transformed into a sneering anti-patriot in his eyes. He writes:

    On Marc Comtois comments.

    I pretty much agree with everything he wrote. I would only emphasize that the ethnic-based or "other" group culture that Americans possess should be subordinate to the overall American civic culture and to political loyalty to the United States.

    On Justin Katz comments.

    First, I don't suggest that "my conservatism is the conservatism." What I do suggest is that "civic" conservatism is deeply rooted in American conservatism and can be a unifying force. In a National Review cover story on June 2, 2003 I called this civic conservatism--"patriotic conservatism"--and described this tendency as glue that unites most (not all) conservatives. I am not describing a universal conservatism, I am talking about an American conservatism. Without American patriotism and an American nation there is no American conservatism that makes sense. Mr. Katz apparently has a problem with George Washington's Farewell Address ("to concentrate one's affections"). Also, he apparently has a problem with traditional American patriotism, given his sneering reference to "nationalism." Well American nationalism has traditionally meant support for the heritage of Washington and the Founding Fathers, of Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan. Those who attempt to distinguish between American "patriotism" and American "nationalism" (which has never been blood and soil based, but philosophical, cultural, and historical)---play the game of an anti-patriotic impulse. An American conservatism that is devoid of Washington and Lincoln, is not an "American" conservatism that is recognizable to most Americans.

    I apparently misread the degree to which Fonte believes that civic conservatism is somehow more fundamental than other conservatisms, and for that I apologize. In his paragraph:

    True, most conservatives are fusionists, supporting limited government, traditional values, and strong national defense. But what stirs the blood?

    I guess I mistook the "stirs the blood" phrase as applying to "most conservatives," not just the handful who are more exclusively civic conservatives. Be that as it may, while I agree with George Washington's prioritization, with respect to patriotic feelings, of the American nation over "local discriminations," I disagree with the prioritization — implicit in Fonte's categorical coinage — of the civic over the social, economic, and philosophical. If American patriotism centers around the "philosophical, cultural, and historical," not the geographical, then conservatism ought to stir the blood based on those ideas.

    I used the term "nationalism" not to invoke the bogeyman of Europe's bloody, sectarian history, but to give an objective category to Fonte's policy suggestions. If they are to be the policies under the "Civic" heading in American Conservatism's platform, wonderful, but if they are to be conservatives' leading edge, then I doubt that hearts and minds will be forthcoming. I support completely, for example, "the patriotic assimilation of immigrants without apology," but I wonder how a person, let alone a movement, that is stirred less by culture than by national patriotism can argue with any force for a particular culture that those immigrants ought to be assimilated to.

    The New York Times Says the US Should Ignore Its Enemies and Punish Its Allies. But That’s Nothing New.

    Carroll Andrew Morse

    To paraphrase Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, liberals have a distressing tendency to believe that the proper course of American foreign policy should be to punish allies and ignore enemies. Do you think that’s too harsh? Well, here’s the New York Times editorial board arguing for just that concept, explaining how America needs to ignore the actions of Iran while ratcheting up threats against the current government of Iraq in order to make progress in the Middle East (h/t Jonah Goldberg)…

    We have no doubt about Iran’s malign intent, just as we have no doubt that Mr. Bush’s serial failures in Iraq have made it far easier for Tehran to sow chaos there and spread its influence in the wider region. But more threats and posturing are unlikely to get Iran to back down....

    Iran certainly is helping arm and train Shiite militias. But the administration is certainly exaggerating the salutary effect of any cutoff as long as these militias enjoy the protection of Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. If Mr. Bush is genuinely worried — and he should be — he needs to be as forceful in demanding that Mr. Maliki cut ties to these groups and clear about the consequences if he refuses.

    No “threats and posturing” against the Iranians, sayeth the Times. After all, they’re the enemy. Apparently, “forceful” demands with “clear consequences” are only appropriate against an ally!

    This is not to say the Maliki government shouldn’t be held accountable for actions (or non-actions) that make the situation faced by ordinary Iraqis and by coalition forces in Iraq more difficult. But shouldn’t a rational American foreign policy be at least as hard on the government that openly says it wants to destroy us as it is on the government that is an ally, at least nominally? If not, then what’s the incentive for anyone to sign on as an American ally?