March 31, 2007

What is Conservatism?

Mac Owens

The posts by Justin and Marc on Conservative Political Methods logically lead to the fundamental question: what, exactly, is "conservatism?" The problem here is the word itself: "conservatism" is concerned with "conserving," but conserving what?

Many years ago, the Nobel Prize Laureate (Economics) and dean of the "Austrian School" of economics, Friedrich von Hayek, wrote an essay entitled "Why I am not a Conservative." Many readers were puzzled because the Austrian School was always described as conservative. Hayek preferred the term "liberal" (as do I), but unfortunately for truth in packaging, that term was hijacked, at least in the United States, in the early twentieth century by social democrats. That meant in practice that conservatives could be portrayed as defenders of the (bad) old ways, who stood in the way of (good) progress.

The meaninglessness of the term "conservative" is best captured by the case of the Soviet Union. As Gorbachev moved to liberalize the USSR, the US press began to call the hard-line Stalinists who opposed him "conservatives." So Ronald Reagan was conservative and so were the hardline communists. What utter nonsense.

"Libertarian" doesn't solve the problem because it divorces action from principle.

I wish we could recover the word "liberal" from those who hijacked it. After all, it traditionally referred to those who were committed to "liberty." That's what I believe is worth conserving. Since the word is probably beyond saving, I now describe myself as a "Declaration of Independence" conservative. That's the best I can do. I want to conserve the principles of the American Founding.

But this doesn't please everyone who calls themselves conservatives. Right now over at "No Left Turns," the blog of the Ashbrook Center, there's a nasty row going on. The spark was a "podcast" of Harry Jaffa discussing the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. Defenders of the Old South denounced him as a neo-con "nutjob" and called Lincoln a left-wing tyrant comparable to Stalin, Hitler and Mao.

Well I am a son of the South who was raised in a Lost Cause household. I once believed that the South represented the essence of liberty, but one can only believe this by ignoring the institution of slavery, which constituted the basis of Southern society. My epiphany on road to Damascus occurred when I read the speech by Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, that he delivered in Savannah on March 21,1861. He never once mentions "states' rights" the term always invoked by defenders of the Old South, but he does spend a grat deal of time talking about African slavery, which is says is the natural result of the inferiority of the African race, and the "cornerstone' of the new Confederate Constitution.

The Old South is not what we should be defending. Until there is some fundamental agreement on principles, "conservatism" will continue to lack real meaning.

Britain and Iran

Mac Owens

Re the seizure of the British sailors and Royal Marines by the Iranians, Lord Nelson must be spinning in his grave. It is Nelson, after all who said, among other things, “Our country will, I believe, sooner forgive an officer for attacking an enemy, than for letting it alone” and “No Captain could do wrong by laying his ship along side the enemy.” The behavior of our ally in permitting the capture of 15 sailors and Royal Marines signifies that the Royal Navy no longer subscribes to Nelson’s signal at Trafalgar: “England expects that every man will do his duty.”

In 1757, the Admiralty court-martialed and executed Adm. John Byng for failing to “do his utmost” at the battle of Minorca. Perhaps the Royal Navy might want to re-visit this policy. Voltaire understood the point even as he satirized the Byng affair. In his novel, Candide, the hero observes the execution of an officer in Portsmouth and is told "Dans ce pays-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un amiral pour encourager les autres" ("in this country, it is wise to kill an admiral from time to time to encourage the others").

One expects more from a country that gave us such great naval victories as The Nile, Copenhagen, and Taranto. These victories represented the indomitable spirit of the British people. It was this spirit that permitted a small island to become mistress of the world. How the mighty have fallen.

Great Britain has been an invaluable ally in Iraq and elswhere, but we see here the wages of weakness. This should be a cautionary note for us. It is the sort of thing that happens to second rate powers.

The Fairness of New Media, or The Power of Jim Hummel's Pinky

Justin Katz

Not too long ago, public figures — beleaguered school superintendents, for example — could leverage print media and law enforcement procedures in order to manipulate public understanding of confrontations, much as North Kingstown Superintendent James M. Halley is doing in this Projo report:

Halley filed a complaint with the police Thursday alleging that Hummel, a senior reporter with ABC’s local affiliate, WLNE, struck him in the chest and tried to block him from entering the high school auditorium. The report was forwarded to Town Solicitor Terrence Simpson, who is expected to decide early next week what criminal charges, if any, grew out of the confrontation, Capt. Charles Brennan said. ...

In the complaint, Halley claims Hummel "jumped in front of him, bumping him and blocking his access to the door." He says the newsman "put up his left forearm and pushed against him, striking his chest and arm area" while holding his foot to the bottom of the door to block his entrance.

In the report, Halley also tells the police that he "advised [Hummel] that he was not authorized to be on stage." He said he wished to press charges, though he was not injured.

In the world of new media, also provided by the Projo, Internet-connected citizens can observe for themselves why it is an injustice even to deem it necessary to note that Superintendent Halley "was not injured." At most, Hummel's pinky lightly brushed Halley's jacket, a moment after Halley had attempted to push past the reporter, who asked, "you gonna knock me over?"

In the not too distant future, it won't only be reporters who wield the power of the archive, but any citizen with a video-capturing cell phone.

March 30, 2007

Re: Conservative Political Methods

Marc Comtois

Justin jumped in ahead of me on this one (hey, it happens with us non-coordinating bloggers). Here's a little more background. NY Times columnist David Brooks ($ required) started it off, and Andrew Sullivan, Ross Douthat and Jonah Goldberg have all weighed in thus far. The acute argument being had is between Sullivan and Douthat/Brooks. Brooks (and Douthat through his defense of the former) is advocating for a more populist/conservative Republicanism while Sullivan--who believes Brooks has sold-out to the Bush "christianist" neo-whatever--is arguing for smaller government and "liberty vs. power" / "security before liberty" conservatism. It's higher-level, political theory stuff and a good read (if you can get over Sullivan's Bush-paranoia hyperbole).

As Justin points out, it's Goldberg's observation that is probably most interesting and important, especially for Anchor Rising readers. It helps to explain why we Anchor Rising contributors--to differing degrees--identify ourselves more as conservatives than Republicans (if I may presume to speak for the others). It also explains why I suspect some RI Republicans may get frustrated with us from time to time. We genuinely believe that conservative ideas and solutions are better and are less inclined to forsake our ideals for short-term solutions. That isn't to say that we don't compromise, just that we are predisposed not to.

Brooks has apparently taken his cue from libertarian Tyler Cowen. Cowen believes that, while libertarian economic theory has largely triumphed--inflation and taxes are down since the 70s and economic freedom has been spreading worldwide--libertarians have to acknowledge that they have an epistemological problem:

Libertarian ideas...have...brought much bigger government. The more wealth we have, the more government we can afford. Furthermore, the better government operates, the more government people will demand. That is the fundamental paradox of libertarianism.
If less government is better and more efficient, if it does the job better, then it becomes more attractive to the average citizen. Cowen thinks libertarianism needs to become more "pragmatic" to deal with this problem by not rejecting big-government out of hand--it's what the consumers want!--and this is essentially what Brooks is saying, too.

Both Cowen and Brooks believe that the old "liberty vs. power" paradigm--in which power is equated to large, intrusive government--is outdated. From this, you can see them working toward a new justification for embracing old-fashioned, big government populism--though with conservative trappings. Brooks says as much:

Normal, nonideological people are less concerned about the threat to their freedom from an overweening state than from the threats posed by these amorphous yet pervasive phenomena [Islamic extremism, failed states, global competition, global warming, nuclear proliferation, a skills-based economy, economic and social segmentation]. The 'liberty vs. power' paradigm is less germane. It's been replaced in the public consciousness with a 'security leads to freedom' paradigm. People with a secure base are more free to take risks and explore the possibilities of their world.
Thus, according to this line of thinking, this new "security leads to freedom" paradigm makes a benevolent and big state necessary. As Sullivan points out, conservatism has always been concerned with the "security leads to freedom" paradigm, too. That's why conservatives generally support law and order and military spending. But that's not the type of security Brooks is referring to. No, he's talking more societal safety net stuff. Translation: so-called big government conservatism.

Which leads to a question. Where will we be as a nation if both conservatives and libertarian's join liberals and progressives in espousing their own bigger-is-better-and-we-know-best big-government programs? There really isn't any sort of conservative or libertarian tradition in that approach. But Brooks and Cowen seem to be sublimating their political principles for the sake of being politically attractive to the masses, so they're trying to redefine "conservatism" and "libertarianism" to appeal to more people. It's sort of ideology-by-poll. That's not to say that Republicans shouldn't go ahead an try to re-define themselves. I say, "have at it." But don't call it "conservative" (nor, I suspect, libertarian).

As Goldberg points out:

Where is it written that conservatives have to have new popular ideas? If we can't make our existing ideas popular, is it really so terrible that conservatism become unpopular? Or does conservatism have to become a de facto political party of its own, constantly churning out new ideas that will get swing voters to call themselves "conservatives" not by converting them to conservatism, but by converting conservatism into some rightwing progressive agenda?

...By all means conservatism needs to change because reality changes. But conservatives are the last people in the world who should be terrified at the idea that our ideas are momentarily unpopular...

Finally, its my contention that, despite what Brooks and Cowen believe, the "liberty vs. power" formulation is still appropriate and instructive. It has helped to describe events in the 1770s, 1830s, the 1930s/40s and the 1960s/70s. If there is one constant, it's that it's easier to grow government than to shrink it (and we know this all too well, don't we fellow Rhode Islanders?). With that growth, the government--often imperceptibly--grabs more power over the lives of everyday people. At the time, it may seem benign, even noble, but eventually it transforms into something more arbitrary and, yes, even heartless. Bigger isn't better and it's frighteningly impersonal. It's an old but apt joke: do you want all of the compassion found in the DMV making decisions about your Healthcare?

In other words, just because government may be more efficient now (debatable), doesn't mean it will always be so (hardly). If we are faced with the paradox that shrinking government has ultimately led to growing government again and that this is all very "pragmatic", then we will find ourselves--eventually--back where we were in the 1970s. In fact, as we Rhode Islanders know, some of us have never left. It may take longer, it may take shorter, but we'll get there.

It is up to conservatives (and libertarians) to remember their history and stand athwart it and yell "Stop!" Lean and efficient government can provide for the security of US citizens without having to penetrate so thoroughly into their daily lives. Large government is an abstraction that should be feared and watched. That is one of the missions with which conservatives and libertarians should concern themselves, regardless of which political party may oppose them.

Conservative Political Methods

Justin Katz

I'm with Jonah Goldberg on this one:

Ross writes that both Sullivan and Brooks "are aware that conservatism needs to be for something more than just supply-side economics." (Let's leave aside that "supply-side economics" is a term that should be laid to rest, having done its job over a quarter of a century ago). Sitting still, just beneath the surface, in this thought is the idea that conservatives need to have popular ideas, winning ideas, clever ideas in order to win the battle of ideas. ...

The conservative movement is not primarily nor even really secondarily about winning elections. Conservatives are about winning arguments or, if you prefer, winning hearts and minds. The Republican Party can be a useful tool in this regard, but it's an unwieldy and ultimately unreliable one. Personally, I think the GOP and conservatism have become too intertwined. This is good when it makes the GOP more conservative, but it's bad when it makes conservatism more like a political party.

Conservatives' political activism ought to entail finding truth and persuading others that they are correct. Yes, the politics of politics must be considered, but being right is the necessary foundation and overriding consideration.

The Lead Paint Trial -- And Maybe Lawyers Getting Sued?

Carroll Andrew Morse

With the exception of DuPont agreeing to roughly double its contribution to the Children's Health Forum as part of its let's-not-call-it-a-settlement out of the case, the Rhode Island lead paint trial hasn’t been much in the local news lately. However, the national business and legal communities are still keenly watching to see what happens next.

NL Industries, Millennium Holdings, and Sherwin-Williams were found guilty last year of creating a “public nuisance” because they sold lead paint. They will likely appeal the verdict to Rhode Island's Supreme Court. Grounds for appeal haven't yet been specified, but past statements by the defendants' lawyers and some recent legal analysis of the verdict suggest that an appeal will likely be based, at least in part, on the fact that the state never proved that the defendants sold more or less lead paint in Rhode Island than did any other manufacturer. The trial court, in fact, did not require the state to show that products sold by the defendants were the major source of the problem.

Jane Genova of the Law and More blog offers commentary from an unnamed “legal expert” on the likely outcome of an appeal. You might ask how an expert can analyze an appeal without knowing the grounds. The answer would be by knowing how Rhode Island works, regardless of the case...

It seems to them and to me that the RI Supreme Court likes to see gradual changes in the law and not those which could be interpreted as drastic. In general, this Court tends to offer narrow opinions in which it only decides the matters immediately in front of it. That's to say: This Court hasn't in the past used opinions to make broad social commentary.

However, the Court is likely to give deference to the RI legal community at large and considers standing and respect within that community to be very important. Sources say that the conundrum is this: The RI Supreme Court, according to past rulings and other statements, is not likely to be comfortable with Superior Court Justice Michael Silverstein's decision in this case. That's primarily because it is a broad expansion of the public nuisance legal concept. But, would the RI Supreme Court reverse this decision and risk contempt of the RI legal community? That's hard to say.

Also, as most of us lead paint watchers know, RI is an old boys network in many ways. If the state Attorney General and or Judge Silverstein has strong enough pull with the legal community at least it could mean that the RI Supreme Court justices bite their tongues.

Another grounds for appeal, one that might be more difficult for the old boy network to ignore, may be based on the state's argument during the trial that the number of new lead-poisoning cases per year in Rhode Island had become constant. The state argued this was evidence that the situation could not improve unless more active clean-up measures were undertaken. However, according to an extensive report on the history of lead paint related issues authored by Richard O. Faulk and John S. Gray and published by the Bureau of National Affairs (a privately-owned, legally-oriented publishing company), the state obtained updated evidence during the trial showing the number of new lead poisoning cases to be declining under existing remediation laws and regulations, but did not share this information with the court...
During the trial, the State and its experts relied on 2004 data to argue that Rhode Island’s lead-poisoning prevention programs had reached the limits of their effectiveness, that too many children still had elevated blood lead levels, and that elevated blood lead levels had ‘‘plateaued.’’

After the verdict was returned, the defendants complained about this argument for a fundamental reason – it was simply untrue. The truth is that there were 621 elevated blood lead levels in Rhode Island for all of 2005 (compared to 1,167 elevated blood lead levels in 2004), a drop of 47% from the previous year. The State knew these facts by not later than January 31, 2006 (during the trial) when Rhode Island’s Department of Health prepared a draft report documenting the 2005 numbers. Yet, after learning that the new 2005 data directly contradicted its theme of the ‘‘plateauing’’ of declining lead levels, the State still allowed its ‘‘special assistants’’ to continue claiming that a plateau existed. According to the defendants, this misrepresentation of facts is sufficient grounds for granting a new trial.

To compound the problem, neither the State nor its ‘‘special assistants’’ disclosed this relevant and critical information regarding the effectiveness of Rhode Island’s existing lead poisoning prevention program to the defendants after it became aware of the new data. The choice was made even though there was a discovery request seeking that very information. Defendants argue that the state breached its duty of candor to the Court and its Rule 26(e) duty to supplement its discovery responses. They claim that this undisclosed information was relevant to the heart of the issue in this trial -- whether a public nuisance exists in Rhode Island -- and was crucial to Defendants’ case.

To rebut this claim, the State and its special assistants claim that they were not obligated to supplement discovery because the Court ended discovery on May 30, 2005. Therefore, the State argues that the defendants were obligated to go to the judge to seek an order requiring the State to supplement its discovery.

And in a possible wild-card development, based on the many irregularities associated with this case (most notably, possible special treatment given to DuPont and the use of contingency-fee lawyers who are motivated to seek the most expensive remedy, not necessarily the most effective one) there is some loose talk beginning about the possibility of a Sherwin-Williams shareholder lawsuit against the state of Rhode Island and/or the Attorney General of Rhode Island and/or the contingency fee lawyers hired by the Attorney General...
What I would like to see for a change is a shareholder lawsuit against the State of Rhode Island for the financial harm we have suffered as owners. Our loss would be both the artificial stagnation of the stock price, the money spent on this litigation that cannot be used for corporate purposes or returned to us owners as a dividends or share repurchases and the time executives have spent on the litigation, not the selling of paint and coatings.
Jane Genova, again, quotes a "Wall Street expert" on whether a shareholder lawsuit could succeed...
I don't see a shareholder suit against the state of Rhode Island as likely. However, damages from an unconstitutional act such as a contingency-based-lawsuit can be addressed to the plaintiff firm of Motley Rice and to possible Rhode Island parties who deemed to benefit. This could be highly likely given the possible missteps of Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch in what I perceive as alleged preferential treatment of DuPont. I will add this: The state of Rhode Island has a major hurdle to get past the contingency issue. From that, there could well be an onslaught of litigation directed at Attorney General Patrick Lynch and the plaintiff law firm of Motley Rice.
It's not clear how likely a shareholder lawsuit really is, but it is clear that the chances of this all being resolved in a timescale of less than years is increasingly remote.

Re: Being Wary

Justin Katz

Not being as well educated on matters of taxation and school financing as Andrew, what strikes me about proposals that include school busing is the way in which progressive strategies wind up harming those whom they are ostensibly (cynically?) promoted as helping.

In constructing a society — an environment — in which individuals, families, and communities are able to improve their standing, perhaps the most critical component is predictability. If a family works and saves in order to buy a house in a higher-quality school district, it must be certain that its children will benefit from those schools. Similarly, if a community raises funds and passes legislation to improve its schools, it must be certain that its children will benefit from those improvements. This consideration applies regardless of the particular benefit being sought, whether it is scholastic or of the sort that is sometimes left unsaid for the benefit of tender sensibilities.

People will not strive if, having striven, they might lose by lottery what they could win by lottery while doing nothing. Moreover, those in the supposedly privileged group will cease to participate in and finance a local system from which they can find themselves randomly excluded or, worse, targeted for exclusion. And one or the other of these possibilities must be the case; either the students to be displaced will be randomly selected, or they will be chosen, probably with heavy consideration given to their particular stereotypes in a "socioeconomic diversity" index. As the more privileged students move beyond the system's reach, the burden of the new scheme will fall, as such burdens seem often to do, on families that are just beginning to achieve momentum.

The tragedy is that society could achieve its professed goals more smoothly, more organically, and more stably (albeit, perhaps over a greater period of time) by removing barriers and disincentives to advancement, rather than institutionalizing obstacles and backslides. We could ask for no better ballast for social progress than human nature (and, despite attempts throughout history, we cannot deny it, anyway). But one gets the impression that the progressive mind sees people not as individuals capable of self-determination, but as slaves shackled to their circumstances. At the least, they must be concerned that people who credit themselves with the progress that they've made in life will be less inclined to accede to the schemers' plans.

March 29, 2007

Re: Senator Tom Coburn’s Healthcare Reform Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

The inclusion of this item in Senator Tom Coburn’s national healthcare proposal

Keeping Medicaid on mission: The bill liberates the poor from substandard government care and offers states the option to provide their Medicaid beneficiaries the kind of health care coverage that wealthier Americans enjoy. The bill creates incentives for states to achieve private universal coverage for their population. The bill offers states the freedom to design the programs that serve their beneficiaries with the best care instead of the current, one-size-fits-all straitjacket.
…led commenter “mrh” to ask what “liberat[ing] the poor from substandard government care” meant.

John O’Shea of the Heritage Foundation provides the beginning of an answer…

In spite of Medicaid's hefty price tag, Medicaid patients find it difficult to access the health care system. Medicaid payment rates are considerably lower than physician payment rates under private insurance or even Medicare, in which physician payment is a recurrent problem. This has deterred physician participation in Medicaid. According to a 2003 Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MEDPAC) study, only 69.5 percent of physicians surveyed were willing to accept new Medicaid patients, substantially fewer than the number willing to accept new privately insured patients (99.3 percent), Medicare patients (95.9 percent), and even the uninsured (92.8 percent)....

Once Medicaid beneficiaries gain access to the health care system, they receive inferior quality of care compared to patients with private insurance.

For example, patients with non-ST segment elevation acute coronary syndromes (NSTSE ACS), a form of heart attack, benefit significantly from innovative therapeutic approaches, including early invasive management strategies. These measures have now been incorporated into the guidelines of the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. According to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine, however, Medicaid patients with NSTSE ACS were less likely to receive evidence-based therapies and had worse outcomes (including increased mortality rates) than patients who had private insurance as the primary payer. This study found that these differences in care and outcomes persisted after adjusting for clinical characteristics (associated illness), socioeconomic factors (education and income), and the type of center where patients received treatment. In other words, the most important predictor of treatment and outcome in the study was whether the patient had Medicaid or private insurance.

Plenty of references available in the original memo.

Election Reform

Marc Comtois

Both of these proposed election reforms seem like "no-brainers," don't they? Well, maybe not to everyone...(via ProJo's Michael P. McKinney)

Requiring voters to provide identification at the polls is either a needed safeguard against recent voter fraud or a way to disenfranchise minorities, the poor, elderly, disabled and the homeless from exercising their right to vote.

That’s how testimony played out before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday on the most heated of several bills that would make changes to state election laws.

The voter ID bill, whose prime sponsor is Rep. Susan Story, R-Barrington, split members of the committee and drew opposition from the state chapters of Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union among others...Cliff Montiero, president of the Providence branch of the NAACP, said the organization strongly opposed the bill. “We feel it’s the beginning of the poll tax,” he said. He added: “We do not want to put another burden on the people we are trying to encourage” to participate.

Another Story-sponsored bill drew more uniformly supportive testimony: It would end the option of simply voting for one party or the other in one stroke. She and others said when someone votes one slate but also votes for one candidate from another party, the voter may not realize it can disqualify that ballot.

As I and my fellow citizen/voters stood around the polling place last November--amidst some confusion regarding who should vote in which Ward and put their ballots in which machine--there was a general consensus that a voter-id seemed to make a whole lot of sense. Make the ID free and provide it to everyone. There's no poll tax, that's hyperbole. And removing the straight party ticket option is also past due. What do both have in common? They put more responsibility on the shoulder's of the voter by making the voting process slightly more inconvenient.

I think that being inconvenienced is a price the average Rhode Islander would be willing to pay if they knew that it mitigated against their vote being canceled out by that of red-state residing skinhead voting the straight party ticket for the Republican party?

March 28, 2007

Be Wary of the Regionalizers III

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at RI Future, State Representative David Segal (D-Providence) endorses Stephen Alves-style school regionalization, which goes beyond consolidating administration, and could involve sending students from schools in currently high-performing districts to schools in lower performing ones…

Pick up a few more tens-of-millions by consolidating the schools, with the added benefit of increasing equity and socioeconomic diversity, and it’ll be a new day for Rhode Island — we’ll be showing surpluses, as far into the future as we can see.
The view on regionalization described by Senator Alves and Representative Segal, as well as the general tenor of Rhode Island politics, should serve warning that some Rhode Island legislators are actively pursuing novel ways of allowing big cities to tap the property tax revenues from surrounding cities and towns, in this case by placing school funding for smaller communities under the control of urban-dominated regional authorities. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

The problem with Representative Segal’s call for “equity” is that Rhode Island’s state education aid formula is highly inequitable in a way that already benefits the urban core. Providence, Pawtucket, Central Falls, and Woonsocket all get over $6,000 per-pupil in state aid. Many of the smaller cities receive aid in the range of $2,000 - $4,000 per student, while towns like Barrington and East Greenwich receive less than $1,000 per student. You do have to admire the chutzpah of a State Rep from Providence who claims that this system can be made more equitable by giving an even bigger proportion of money to Providence!

There are several ways that strong regionalization might be used to manipulate the distribution of school funding further in favor of the cities, all in the name of equity...

  • A regional school authority could reduce funding to the non-urban schools under its jurisdiction and direct the money from the cuts to urban ones.
  • A regional school authority could force tax increases on the non-urban communities under its jurisdiction and spend the bulk of the additional revenues on urban schools.
Under either scheme, “equity” is code for transferring an increased share of tax revenue to the control of the urban education bureaucracies that are already doing the least with the most state aid. If these kinds of plans are not what Representative Segal is suggesting, then how else can he hope to achieve "equity"?

Actually, there is one other option…

  • A regional school authority could also make provisions for students -- and money -- from failing urban schools to go to the better schools within its district, effectively defunding the failing schools.
However, this would be a non-standard use of the term "equity" in the debate about school funding. Talk of "equity" is generally reserved for discussions of how to guarantee all geographic-monopoly education bureaucracies the same basic level of funding, regardless of the quality of education they provide.

But, ultimately, regionalization is not necessary for implementing a student-focused funding scheme, which can be better achieved through public choice and/or vouchers.

For a New Series: Pubs of Newport

Mac Owens

Anchor Rising is, of course, a political blog. Politics is serious business, but sometimes we need to remember the reason for engaging in politics: to defend what we hold dear. And one of the things I hold dear is a good pub. So with your indulgence, I intend, on occasion, to offer my observations on the pubs and eateries of my hometown, Newport.

I will start with my very favorite place in Newport: the Mudville Pub. The food is excellent, the beer is cold, the bartenders are friendly, and the waitresses are hot. One of the owners is Kevin Stachem, a member of PC's final four basketball team of the mid-70s, who subsequently played for the Celtics. He is always accessible to the patrons and is truly one of the friendliest people alive.

A pub with "Mudville" in its name must have something to do with baseball. Indeed, it is located next to historic Cardines Field across from the Newport Marriott. During the spring and summer, one can sit on the the screened-in deck on the right field line and drink a cold one (or more) while watching some pretty good baseball. Cardines field is the home of the Newport Gulls of the Cape Cod Summer League. Good stuff.

On Wednesday afternoons, the Mudville Pub is also the home of the world famous Mudville Study Group (MSG), an informal gathering of Naval War College students that I have been convening for the last decade and a half. The conversation is wide-ranging and a number of RI luminaries have made appearances, including the Honorable Frank Williams, Chief Justice of the RI Supreme Court, with whom I teach a War College elective on Abraham Lincoln; Jim Taracani of Channel 10; and Dyana Koelsch, a former investigative reporter for Channel 10, who teaches an elective for me at the War College.

Anytime is a good time at Mudville but my favorite times are: Wednesday afternoon/evening with the very gorgeous Melanie, followed by the very funny Mark; Friday evenings with Louie, the embodiment of the Irish bartender and one of the funniest people on earth; and Sunday afternoon with Mo (Maureen), who possesses the loveliest cat eyes and is the mistress of the Bloody Mary.

In fact, today is Wednesday, so I'll soon be off to a meeting of the MSG. Melanie, here I come.

The New Copperheads

Mac Owens

I recently remarked on the rhetorical similarities between the Civil War-era Copperheads, "the Peace Democrats" who went out of their way to obstruct the Union war effort, and today's Democratic Party.

Of course, rhetoric is one thing. Action to obstruct is another. With their recent vote to hamstring the authority of the president and his ability to prosecute the war in Iraq, the Democratics have assumed full Copperhead status by moving from the former to the latter.

Congress's action in this case is clearly unconstitutional. The principle that once Congress has funded a military force, that body has no further authority to direct or limit its deployment or employment, was established during the administration of John Adams and America's "Quasi-War" with France (1798-1801).

Unfortunately for the health of the Republic, Copperhead behavior has become institutionalized in today's Democratic Party establishment and among a disturbingly high proportion of that party's voters. With the honorable exception of Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT) and a handful of others, there is no faction within the Democratic Party that can counter the influence of today's Copperheads.

The members of Rhode Island's congressional delegation must be so proud of themselves. No doubt the ghost of Rep. Clement Vallandigham (D-OH), the arch-Copperhead and Confederate sympathizer, is proud of them, too. The Rhode Island delegation may not sympathize with our enemies in Iraq and elsewhere, but by their vote, they have given those enemies as much aid and comfort as Vallandigham and the other Copperheads gave the Confederate cause during the War of the Rebellion.

Frum: Progressives Looking Backward

Marc Comtois

David Frum makes some interesting points. First, about the resurrection about the ERA:

Back in the 1970s, ERA was defeated by a grassroots organizing campaign led by Phyllis Schlafly. Schlafly deployed many arguments against the ERA, and one of the most effective was that ERA would authorize same-sex marriage. At the time, this argument drove ERA proponents wild with fury. They denounced it as hysterical exaggeration, an attempt a common-sense bid for women's rights by attributing to it extreme consequences that would never be countenanced by an American court.

A quarter century later, we can see that Schlafly was absolutely right. In states with local ERAs, same-sex marriage advocates have often argued in court that the ban on sex discrimination required state courts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. That argument was accepted by the supremem court of Hawaii until overturned by a state constitutional amendment.

If this ERA movement goes forward, it will be curious to watch same-sex marriage advocates abruptly pivot from their past support for federalism and decentralization.

There's no slippery slope here! More from, er, Frum:
We've been hearing since November about the resurgence of the progressive left - the new enthusiasm, the new energy, the new organizations, the new commitment. Amidst all these exciting novelty, there is only one thing lacking: new ideas. The resurgent "progressive" movement is the most backward-looking political force since William Jennings Bryan tried to repeal the industrial revolution. Their big issues - a government healthcare monopoly! do away with secret union ballots! and now ... ERA! - date respectively to the 1940s, the 1930s, and the 1970s.

It's just bizarre to tune into blogosphere debates to watch freshfaced 20-somethings passionately champion, as if just invented, policy proposals that were old when their grandparents were young. If this is progressiveness, what would reaction look like?

Um, conservatism?

The Kidnapped Brits: RIP to Deterrence and Containment?

Carroll Andrew Morse

The British government’s lack of forceful reaction to the kidnapping of 15 of their sailors is becoming increasingly disheartening. In the first few days, it was possible to believe there were some low-profile, backchannel negotiations being conducted that might have resolved the situation quickly and quietly, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

This is what passes these days as a forceful reaction to state-sponsored hostage taking, according to CNN

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett also announced Wednesday that Britain would freeze all bilateral business with Iran until the 15 personnel were released.

"We are now in a new phase of diplomatic activity," Beckett told members of parliament.

If the current government of the UK doesn’t react in a more serious way very soon, they will seriously undermine the West's ability to carry out deterrence and containment based strategies against the government of Iran. There’s no deterrent shield when an enemy thinks you won’t fight back, and you can’t contain an enemy who knows that all he has to do is push to make you retreat. Failing to respond to aggression only encourages further aggression.

(And a question for Congressman James Langevin or any progressives who would care to answer; will they describe the kidnapping of British sailors as Iranian “escalation” of the war in the Middle East, or is escalation something only the United States can be guilty of?)

March 27, 2007

Senator Tom Coburn’s Healthcare Reform Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has introduced major healthcare reform legislation into the U.S. Senate. Kimberley Strassel had a short summary of the proposal in last week’s OpinionJournal

[Senator Coburn's proposal] would remove the subsidy corporations get for health care, and instead give the money to individuals--putting them in charge of their health expenditures. It would expand HSAs, and allow consumers to buy insurance from any state, thereby avoiding costly regulations. It would modernize Medicare, allowing workers to invest their payroll taxes into a savings account and control their care in their retirement years. It would free up the states to inject Medicaid with new flexibility and competition.
Senator Coburn’s website has a more detailed summary
Promoting prevention: The legislation will reform our rudderless and wasteful federal prevention programs and demand results and accountability. Five preventable chronic diseases – heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes – cause two-thirds of American deaths. Seventy five percent of total health expenditures are spent to treat these largely preventable chronic diseases. A sound prevention strategy will save countless lives and billions of dollars.

MediChoice tax rebates that will shift tax breaks away from businesses to individuals: Giving Americans a rebate check ($2,000 for individuals and $5,000 for families) to buy their own insurance will foster competition, improve quality and drive down prices. This provision will help put individuals back in charge of the health care, and help restore the doctor-patient relationship that has been severed by third-party government and health insurance bureaucrats.

Creation of a national market for health insurance: The bill would give Americans the right to shop for health insurance anywhere in America. Patients should not be forced to be pay for outrageously expensive health plans in states like New Jersey when they can save thousands by buying plans from companies in other states.

Creating transparency of health care costs and services: This Act requires hospitals and providers receiving reimbursements from Medicare to disclose their estimated and actual charges for all patients as well as the rates they are reimbursed through Medicare and Medicaid. This provision could allow patients to “Google” their doctor and comparison-shop for health care the way that they do for cars, computers, or other products and services.

Securing Medicare’s future by increasing choice and encouraging savings: The bill retains existing benefits but encourages true competition among private plans to hold down costs, a model already is working in Medicare’s prescription drug benefit. The plan would give Medicare recipients similar health care options available to Members of Congress and employees of Fortune 500 companies.

Keeping Medicaid on mission: The bill liberates the poor from substandard government care and offers states the option to provide their Medicaid beneficiaries the kind of health care coverage that wealthier Americans enjoy. The bill creates incentives for states to achieve private universal coverage for their population. The bill offers states the freedom to design the programs that serve their beneficiaries with the best care instead of the current, one-size-fits-all straitjacket.

Because, after 35 years, we've waited long enough....

Marc Comtois

...the Democratic Party brings you (drumroll please).....................................

The Equal Rights Amendment!!!

Liberal Democrats in the Senate and House plan to resume "the fight for women's equality" on Tuesday, when they reintroduce the Women's Equality Amendment.

Sens. Ted Kennedy (Mass.) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.) and Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Jerrold Nadler, both of New York, plan to join Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, in making the Tuesday afternoon announcement...The proposed amendment would affect issues ranging from hiring and wages to restrictions on women serving in military combat units...

"It's been a long, hard fight for women's equality," Maloney said Monday at the Women's Equality Summit hosted by the National Council of Women's Organizations in Washington, D.C.

"We've achieved a lot for women -- even in my lifetime," she said. "But we have not done enough.

"There is still a great deal of discrimination out there," Maloney argued, citing income disparity between men and women, gender-based "discriminatory clubs" and "gender-based hate crimes."

"Discrimination is real; it's out there," Maloney said. "They are constantly trying to roll [women's rights] back.

"It's never going to go away until we pass the women's equality amendment," she said.

Actually, I guess the wait has been since 1923. Congrats to the 'Crats for bringing up this crucial and pressing issue.

Look on Their Works and Despair

Justin Katz

Yeah, yeah, I know I'm a superstitious flatearther afraid of science and willing to impose my fear-based morality on others, but I'm beginning to wonder if our culture will be able to muster the fortitude to object to any scientific "advances." The latest:

Scientists have created the world's first human-sheep chimera - which has the body of a sheep and half-human organs.

The sheep have 15 per cent human cells and 85 per cent animal cells - and their evolution brings the prospect of animal organs being transplanted into humans one step closer. ...

The process would involve extracting stem cells from the donor's bone marrow and injecting them into the peritoneum of a sheep's foetus. When the lamb is born, two months later, it would have a liver, heart, lungs and brain that are partly human and available for transplant.

Are we just numb to this sort of thing at this point? Or do we live in a state of disbelief, as if the news were fiction? Or do we lack the imagination to envision the ways in which these trends can go horribly wrong, or the self-awareness to understand how the lines in the sand of our tolerance drift away with every gust of scientific presumption?

March 26, 2007

Cutting to the Totalitarian Chase

Justin Katz

As our esteemed legislators consider ways in which to dictate business practices (including a bill that would put a minimum duration on coupons), warn Rhode Island students that the flattering and charming seamen whom they meet at weddings may deceive and murder them, and ensure healthier diets, I can't help but wonder whether we oughtn't cut to the chase and send emissaries over to London in order to get us up to speed with the United Kingdom's methods:

In the UK there is approximately one surveillance camera for every 14 people and issues of invading civil liberties surround ever new development in our surveillance society.

... There is still some way to go before a "smart camera" can tell the difference between details such as a handshake and a punch, but Velastin believes they are not too far away.

"At the moment you can't get a camera that can do that, not in a meaningful way, but this is something we are working towards. In three to five years we hope to have a program that would identify from your walk whether or not you are carrying a gun," he told CNN.

Perhaps in five to seven years, these programs will be able to discern whether citizens have been consuming artificial trans fats by the way they lick their lips.

Buy Local, or Buy Cheap?

Marc Comtois

This snippet from the ProJo's Robert Whitcomb got me thinking:

This past Sunday’s Boston Herald detailed, in a story by Phil Restuccia, a growing movement of consumers and local businesspeople called Local First. This national group has organized 17,000 businesses around the country into 50 groups promoting their services directly to local shoppers, appealing to geographic loyalty and a sense of community. It’s kind of the “Small Is Beautiful” movement redux, or a cousin of the New Urbanism.

Founded by Massachusetts health-club owner Laury Hammel, the movement wants to strengthen community ties by keeping locally owned businesses in, well, business and in so doing to strengthen frayed community ties in anomie-ridden America.

The movement has gained considerable traction, but given Americans’ obsession with the low prices offered by national store chains whose stuff is made by cheap labor abroad, and the comfort factor for many consumers of national brands, you have to wonder how far this movement can go — as attractive as it is to affluent and urbane people in the Northeast. {Links added by me--MAC}

As the sole breadwinner of a family of four, I certainly have some "free-market" proclivities (ie; cheap=good!). Nonetheless, I also have always felt a certain--responsibility?--to frequent local, mom-and-pop or small businesses when I can.

But I wonder what a conservative economic theory would hold as being more, well, conservative. I think it safe to say that, generally speaking, if the quality of the product is the same, that a larger business--like the big box retailers--can offer the same product at a cheaper price. But is it--should it be--all about price?

In the short term, it's hard to argue against paying the cheaper price. But what about long term consequences? Should we promote buying local, even if it's more expensive, because it helps out our own micro (Rhode Island) and micro-micro (town or city) economy? I would think that buying local will help local business (wow, how insightful, huh?), the local economy and, yes, even local tax revenues. I suppose this is a micro-economic version of the argument for "Buying American."

I realize this is theoretical and that most people will go for the lowest price, but what do other conservatives think? In other words, quality of product being equal, does it make fiscally conservative sense to prioritize buying local?

Five Questions for Congressman Langevin

Carroll Andrew Morse

Congressman James Langevin's op-ed in Sunday's Projo explaining his vote in favor of a timetable for withdrawal of troops from Iraq could benefit from a few clarifications. Congressman Langevin says...

Despite calls by the Iraq Study Group for a new approach to the “grave and deteriorating” situation in Iraq, President Bush has proposed escalating military operations…
1. Does the Congressman believe that Iraqi insurgents have themselves escalated their war against the U.S, or does he believe that escalation is something that only the United States can be “guilty” of? If he does believe that radical Islamists have escalated the war, why is a counter-escalation not appropriate, unless he believes the only appropriate response to an enemy escalation is always retreat?

Congressman Langevin says...

The Iraqis’ problems no longer require a U.S. military solution. The underlying causes of violence are primarily political and must be addressed as such.
2. But committing extra troops to Baghdad has made the city increasingly livable for ordinary Iraqis. Shouldn't improving the living conditions of ordinary Iraqi citizens be recognized as a significant contribution to a political solution, or don't ordinary citizens matter in Congressman Langevin's view of politics? Does the Congressman accept the type of realist thinking that holds that politics is the process of elites making deals amongst themselves, regardless of the consequences for oridnary citizens?

3. A specific example of a political settlement that needs to be achieved in Iraq is an agreement on sharing of oil revenues. According to the BBC, a draft law has been prepared and is supposed to be finalized by May. Does the Congressman's belief that there is no legitimate role for the military in rebuilding Iraq mean that he believes that something like a settlement on oil-revenues would be more easily achieved if the strongest armed groups in Iraq were Iranian-backed Shi'ite militias and Al-Qaida-in-Iraq?

Congressman Langevin says...

Our military now finds itself in the middle of a civil war, and it is time to bring our troops home....The House voted last week on an emergency spending bill that would, for the first time, set a clear deadline to end U.S. combat operations in Iraq. As one who originally voted against giving the president authority to invade Iraq, I proudly supported this Democratic measure as the first real step to end the war.
4. When the Congressman says that the war in Iraq a civil war and he says that Congressional action can end the war, is he implying that he sees the U.S presence as the cause of the war, or promising more than he can deliver, or just guilty of sloppy reasoning?

5. Does Congressman Langevin endorse a blanket policy of never using troops in a civil war, meaning that he will not support the use of force in civil wars under any circumstances, including the genocidal civil war in Sudan? If this is the case, then what incentive does the central government in Sudan have to stop their attacks on the people of Darfur?

Democrats Hiding Earmarks?

Marc Comtois

The new Democratic Congress really is changing the way things are done in Washington, aren't they? I'll leave it up to the reader to define "change" (h/t) in John Fund's story:

Democrats promised reform and instituted "a moratorium" on all earmarks until the system was cleaned up. Now the appropriations committees are privately accepting pork-barrel requests again. But curiously, the scorekeeper on earmarks, the Library of Congress's Congressional Research Service (CRS)--a publicly funded, nonpartisan federal agency--has suddenly announced it will no longer respond to requests from members of Congress on the size, number or background of earmarks. "They claim it'll be transparent, but they're taking away the very data that lets us know what's really happening," says Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn. "I'm convinced the appropriations committees are flexing their muscles with CRS."

Indeed, the shift in CRS policy represents a dramatic break with its 12-year practice of supplying members with earmark data. "CRS will no longer identify earmarks for individual programs, activities, entities, or individuals," stated a private Feb. 22 directive from CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan...The concern now is that free-spending appropriations committees will use the new CRS gag rule to define earmarks downward. "We need CRS to continue its reliable reporting so we can save the taxpayers money," says Sen. [James] DeMint...

...CRS is merely being asked to continue providing objective data. If it can't do that, why do taxpayers shell out $100 million a year to employ its 700 researchers?

RI GOP Gets Executive Director

Marc Comtois

In his interview with Dan Yorke, RI GOP Chair Gio Cicione mentioned that he thought it would be a good idea for the party to have an Executive Director. And now it does (via ProJo's Political Scene column):

Cicione has hired Donna (DePetro) Perry — sister of radio talk show personality John DePetro, and former communications aide to Carcieri, former U.S. Rep. Ronald Machtley and the Republican National Committee — as the state GOP’s new executive director/director of communications. Her salary? TBA.

An anchor/reporter for WPRO News in the late 1980s and an on-air anchor/reporter for a 24-hour cable news channel in the New York/New Jersey area in the late 1990s, Perry also did a stint with the Women’s National Republican Club in Manhattan. Cicione also gave Andrew Berg, who has been a deputy to the Party, a new title: director of operations.

March 25, 2007

Copperheads, Then and Now

Mac Owens

While recovering from surgery recently, I had the good fortune to read a fine new book about political dissent in the North during the Civil War. The book, Copperheads: The Rise an Fall of Lincoln’s Opponents in the North, by journalist-turned-academic-historian Jennifer Weber, shines the spotlight on the “Peace Democrats,” who did everything they could to obstruct the Union war effort during the Rebellion. In so doing, she corrects a number of claims that have become part of the conventional wisdom. The historical record aside, what struck me the most were the similarities between the rhetoric and actions of the Copperheads a century and a half ago and Democratic opponents of the Iraq war today.

In contradistinction to the claims of many earlier historians, Weber argues persuasively that the Northern anti-war movement was far from a peripheral phenomenon. Disaffection with the war in the North was widespread, and the influence of the Peace Democrats on the Democratic party was substantial. During the election of 1864, the Copperheads wrote the platform of the Democratic party, and one of their own, Rep. George H. Pendleton of Ohio, was the party’s candidate for vice president. Until Farragut’s victory at Mobile Bay, Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, and Sheridan’s success in driving the Confederates from the Shenandoah Valley in the late summer and fall of 1864, hostility toward the war was so profound in the North that Lincoln believed he would lose the election.

Weber demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that the actions of the Copperheads materially damaged the ability of the Lincoln administration to prosecute the war. Weber persuasively refutes the view of earlier historians such as the late Frank Klement, who argued that what Lincoln called the Copperhead “fire in the rear” was mostly “a fairy tale,” a “figment of Republican imagination,” made up of “lies, conjecture and political malignancy.” The fact is that Peace Democrats actively interfered with recruiting and encouraged desertion. Indeed, they generated so much opposition to conscription that the Army was forced to divert resources from the battlefield to the hotbeds of Copperhead activity in order to maintain order. Many Copperheads actively supported the Confederate cause, materially as well as rhetorically.

In the long run, the Democratic party was badly hurt by the Copperheads. Their actions radically politicized Union soldiers, turning into stalwart Republicans many who had strongly supported the Democratic party’s opposition to emancipation as a goal of the war. As the Democrats were reminded for many years after the war, the Copperheads had made a powerful enemy of the Union veterans.

The fact is that many Union soldiers came to despise the Copperheads more than they disdained the Rebels. In the words of an assistant surgeon of an Iowa regiment, “it is a common saying here that if we are whipped, it will be by Northern votes, not by Southern bullets. The army regard the result of the late [fall 1862] elections as at least prolonging the war.”

Weber quotes the response of a group of Indiana soldiers to letters from Copperhead “friends” back home:

Your letter shows you to be a cowardly traitor. No traitor can be my friend; if you cannot renounce your allegiance to the Copperhead scoundrels and own your allegiance to the Government which has always protected you, you are my enemy, and I wish you were in the ranks of my open, avowed, and manly enemies, that I might put a ball through your black heart, and send your soul to the Arch Rebel himself.

It is certain that the Union soldiers tired of hearing from the Copperheads that the Rebels could not be defeated. They surely tired of being described by the Copperheads as instruments of a tyrannical administration trampling the legitimate rights of the Southern states. The soldiers seemed to understand fairly quickly that the Copperheads preferred Lincoln’s failure to the country’s success. They also recognized that the Copperheads offered no viable alternative to Lincoln’s policy except to stop the war. Does any of this sound familiar?

Today, Democratic opponents of the Iraq war echo the rhetoric of the Copperheads. As Lincoln was a bloodthirsty tyrant, trampling the rights of Southerners and Northerners alike, President Bush is the world’s worst terrorist, comparable to Hitler.

These words of the La Crosse Democrat responding to Lincoln’s re-nomination could just as easily have been written about Bush: “May God Almighty forbid that we are to have two terms of the rottenest, most stinking, ruin working smallpox ever conceived by fiends or mortals…” The recent lament of left-wing bloggers that Vice President Dick Cheney was not killed in a suicide bombing attempt in Pakistan echoes the incendiary language of Copperhead editorialist Brick Pomeroy who hoped that if Lincoln were re-elected, “some bold hand will pierce his heart with dagger point for the public good.”

Anti-war Democrats make a big deal of “supporting the troops.” But such expressions ring hollow in light of Democratic efforts to hamstring the ability of the United States to achieve its objectives in Iraq. And all too often, the mask of the antiwar politician or activist slips, revealing what opponents of the war really think about the American soldier.

For instance, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts and Rep. Charles Rangel have suggested that soldiers fighting in Iraq are there because they are not smart enough to do anything else. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois has suggested a similarity between the conduct of U.S. troops in Iraq and that of Nazi soldiers in World War II. His Illinois colleagues, Sen. Barack Obama, claimed that the lives of soldiers lost in Iraq were “wasted.” And recently William Arkin, a military analyst writing online for the Washington Post, said of American soldiers that they are “mercenaries” who had little business taking critics of the war to task.

The Copperheads often abandoned all decency in their pursuit of American defeat in the Civil War. One Connecticut Copperhead told his neighbors that he hoped that all the men who went to fight for the Union cause would “leave their Bones to Bleach on the soil” of the South. The heirs of the Copperheads in today’s Democratic party are animated by the same perverted spirit with regard to the war in Iraq. Nothing captures the essence of today’s depraved Copperhead perspective better than the following email, which unfortunately is only one example of the sort of communication I have received all too often in response to articles of mine over the past few months.

Dear Mr. Owens

You write, "It is hard to conduct military operations when a chorus of eunuchs is describing every action we take as a violation of everything that America stands for, a quagmire in which we are doomed to failure, and a waste of American lives."

But Mr. Owens, I believe that those three beliefs are true. On what grounds can I be barred from speaking them in public? Because speaking them will undermine American goals in Iraq? Bless you, sir, that's what I want to do in the first place. I am confident that U.S. forces will be driven from Iraq, and for that reason I am rather enjoying the war.

But doesn't hoping that American forces are driven from Iraq necessarily mean hoping that Americans soldiers will be killed there? Yes it does. Your soldiers are just a bunch of poor, dumb suckers that have been swindled out of their right to choose between good and evil. Quite a few of them are or will be swindled out of their eyes, legs, arms and lives. I didn't swindle them. President Bush did. If you're going to blame me for cheering their misery, what must you do to President Bush, whose policies are the cause of that misery?

Union soldiers voted overwhelmingly for Lincoln in 1864, abandoning the once-beloved George McClellan because of the perception that he had become a tool of the Copperheads. After Vietnam, veterans left the Democratic party in droves. I was one of them. The Democratic party seems poised to repeat its experience in both the Civil War and Vietnam.

The Democrats seem to believe that they are tapping into growing anti–Iraq War sentiment in the military. They might cite evidence of military antipathy towards the war reflected in, for example, the recent CBS Sixty Minutes segment entitled “Dissension in the Ranks.” But the Democrats are whistling past the graveyard. The Sixty Minutes segment was predicated on an unscientific Army Times poll, orchestrated by activists who now oppose the war. The fact remains that most active duty and National Guard personnel still support American objectives in Iraq. They may be frustrated by the perceived incompetence of higher-ups and disturbed by a lack of progress in the war, but it has always been thus among soldiers. The word “snafu” began as a World War II vintage acronym: “situation normal, all f****d up.”

Union soldiers could support the goals of the war and criticize the incompetence of their leaders in the same breath. But today’s soldiers, like their Union counterparts a century and a half ago, are tired of hearing that everything is the fault of their own government from people who invoke Gitmo and Abu Ghraib but rarely censure the enemy, and who certainly offer no constructive alternative to the current course of action.

The late nineteenth century Democratic party paid a high price for the influence of the Copperheads during the Civil War, permitting Republicans to “wave the bloody shirt” of rebellion and to vilify the party with the charge of disunion and treason. If its leaders are not careful, today’s Democratic party may well pay the same sort of price for the actions of its anti-war base, which is doing its best to continue the Copperhead legacy.

This piece first appeared on National Review Online on March 19.

March 23, 2007

As the ProJo goes...

Marc Comtois

The Providence Phoenix's Ian Donnis continues his ongoing coverage of the changes that are going on behind the walls of the Providence Journal. In his N4N blog, Donnis writes:

The shifts reflect ongoing cost cuts at the ProJo, which has been spared in recent years the kind of buyout taking place at the Boston Globe. That said, they still represent a downward trend in the substance of Rhode Island's biggest daily.

In an internal March 20 memo, ProJo publisher Howard G. Sutton cited the Providence Journal Company's No. 1 goal for 2007 as: "Achieve the 2007 Financial Plan while fully leveraging product and marketing investments and human and financial resources in order to grow revenues at rates that exceed market growth."

Donnis promises more in next week's Phoenix.

So why is this important, right? Well, it's apparent that the ProJo is sacrificing their overall depth of reporting for financial reasons. It's also been my personal observation (far from unique) that they also seem to have ceded local coverage to smaller, semi-weekly papers, like the Warwick Beacon, or smaller dailies, like the Warwick Daily Times (which has recently undergone an ownership change itself). These small papers with small staffs still manage to do a decent job of local reporting. And, I suspect, the ProJo recognizes that. Many has been the time when I've read a story in the Beacon or the Daily Times one day and seen it in the West Bay section of the ProJo on the next. (Let me stress that I'm not accusing the ProJo of anything like plagiarism or story-stealing. With limited local reporting resources they have to take their tips where they can get them.)

As Donnis' reporting reveals, the ProJo is also trimming back in other areas besides local reporting, with both staff losses and reassignments affecting their political, media and arts coverage. Put this all together and you have what appears to be the slow-bleed of a mid-market city's primary news and media driver.

For that is what the ProJo is in Rhode Island.

It's a mini-version of what the NY Times is to the national news outlets--and whether other media outlets will admit it or not--the ProJo sets the tone for what news is covered in this state, particularly by the TV and radio news outlets. Unfortunately, if the trend continues and the ProJo sacrifices reporting depth for the bottom line, it will also start to take on a generic feel.

The result will be that the ProJo will become the equivalent of a media "Big Box Store," offering the same, lowest-common denominator news that can be found in Syracuse or Billings or Flagstaff. By focusing on cost-cutting, the ProJo is only watering down their product. Yet, they are so focused on the bottom line--on running the paper from an accountants perspective and not a marketing perspective--that I really don't think they see the iceberg.

Here, the analogy to the NY Times also seems appropriate. Belo, Corp. (owners of the ProJo), if it was smart, should go to school on the Times, but it doesn't look like they will:

Advertising revenue at The New York Times Co. fell 6 percent in February on weaker performance in every category of newspaper ads, the company said on Tuesday.

Total company revenue from continuing operations fell 3.6 percent versus February 2006.

The results reflect ongoing trouble at the Times and other newspaper publishers as they try to stem an advertising loss as more readers spend their time online.

Monthly revenue figures are like snapshots rather than broader overviews of how publishers perform, but they often can cause sudden swings in their stocks.

Dallas Morning News publisher Belo Corp. said last month that it will stop providing monthly revenue reports, saying its interests "are in informing our shareholders of meaningful financial patterns."

Sigh. That's probably because of numbers like this:
At The Providence Journal, advertising revenue decreased 1.8 percent in December 2006 versus December 2005, with total revenue down 1.2 percent. Adjusting for the additional Sunday in December 2006, advertising revenue and total revenue declined about 9.1 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively. Online advertising revenue increased 50 percent on a reported basis in December 2006 versus December 2005 led by a 101 percent increase in online classified employment.
I don't think staff cuts or re-shuffling is enough to stop the financial bleeding. As I've said, maybe it's time for Belo and the ProJo to look beyond their business model and concentrate on the qualitative content of the news coverage they're delivering.

Yet, if the current trend continues and we are left with a Journal that offers shallow, generic reporting, the citizens of Rhode Island will have been done a grave disservice.

But there is a positive side to all of this. The ProJo has already opened itself up to losing news media market share to niche outlets (like Anchor Rising!) and Rhode Island may be ripe for new media to take the lead. But blogs like this one and are just some of the potential local niche fillers. For instance, promising new Rhode Island-centric news aggregation site--offers a variety of stories from all of Rhode Island's news outlets and blogs. The news media field is changing and the ProJo isn't keeping up. (Incidentally, their new web-design gets a thumbs-down from this quarter).

However, the fact remains that all of us "new media" types still rely on the dead-tree folks (and their on-line presence) to give us most of our information.

As such, before I dance on the ProJo's grave, there is a very important point to make. We bloggers don't have the time or resources to commit to in-depth or investigative reporting. We rely on the ProJo and other media outlets to provide us with the fodder for our bloviation. While it is true that some bloggers have gathered together to contribute original reporting on both national and international news; or that a single blogger can coordinate a "volunteer staff" to offer reporting on single story, I think that we're still a ways off from that here in the Ocean State. The success of the former ( relies on many bloggers contributing to one, central information depot. The success of the latter (Brown's own Josh Marshall) is attributable to being a full-time blogger and having a huge audience, which kind of go hand in hand.

Besides, I suspect that most bloggers prefer commentary over reporting--unless, of course, some benevolent benefactor would like to step forward and fund a full reporting staff of pleasant, if right-leaning, fellows? But I digress.

To conclude, I think it is in all of our interests for the ProJo to use it's market-leading resources to do a good job of reporting. It is the Rhode Island media Leviathan and should operate with a bit more noblesse oblige--a sense of duty to it's customers and community.

Then again, I'm just a blogger.

Easter Bunny Banned...But Is that Going Far Enough?

Marc Comtois

In the so-called "culture wars", this is low-hanging fruit:

The Easter Bunny was to have made a stop at a craft fair at the Tiverton Middle School tomorrow, appearing for photos with students as part of a fundraising effort sponsored by the school’s Parent-Teacher Council.

But Schools Supt. William Rearick called a halt to the use of the word “Easter” at a school event, just as the word “Christmas” is out of bounds in school publications and activities.

Instead of the Easter Bunny, the Parent-Teacher Council booth will offer photos with Peter Rabbit.

Similarly, Rearick said, he has told officials of the Tiverton Land Trust that a flier inviting children to an egg hunt cannot include the word “Easter.”

Rearick said he planned to review the proposed wording — which a Land Trust official said does not include the word “Easter” — before deciding whether students can take the flier home. Rearick said yesterday, “We’re trying to walk a fine line between promoting any religion” while permitting celebrations.

Look, it would be easy to get into a discussion over the fallacy that somehow referring to the Easter Bunny in school functions is a violation of the Establishment Clause in the Constitution. But the Catholic League is doing something better: showing the absurdity of it all by being absurd (via 7to7):
"It is unconscionable that in this day and age Supt. William Rearick would choose to honor a thief," Donohue said. "As every schoolchild knows, Peter Rabbit stole from Mr. McGregor's garden. To now hold him up as a role model to impressionable youngsters sends the wrong signal. At the very least, grief counselors should be dispatched to tomorrow's event."

Donohue continued: "There is also a more serious matter going on. The event smacks of sexism: Peter Rabbit had three sisters -- Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail -- and there is no historical record of them ever having committed a crime. So why were they passed over? Looks like the glass ceiling is still in place."

Donohue then urges "everyone to register their outrage" by e-mailing Rearick and providing his address.

All very clever. But I wonder if Rearick and the School Committee really meant to call him "Peter Cottontail"? They obviously don't know their Rankin/Bass productions!

If Emergency Room Overuse is Really a Problem, Why Aren't MinuteClinics Being Allowed?

Carroll Andrew Morse

For a while now, I have been hearing that the inefficient delivery of routine healthcare, especially through the over-use of emergency rooms, is a primary source of America's runaway healthcare costs. If this is true, CVS’ proposal to place “MinuteClinics”, staffed by a nurse practitioner, in a number of their stores, should at least an incrementally improve the existing healthcare system. Felice J. Freyer of the Projo described “MinuteClinics” in a Projo article from last year…

Say you've got a sore throat and you've heard that strep is going around. You're really busy at the office and want a quick answer on your health.

Then imagine you could just stop at the drugstore, where within minutes a nurse practitioner could give you a strep test -- and, if it's positive, a prescription for antibiotics. Which you could then buy at the selfsame drugstore.

Such convenience has obvious appeal for consumers.

Of course with this being Rhode Island and “MinuteClinics” being different from the established way of doing business in the state, there is an organized movement afoot to stop them from ever beginning operation here.

Allen Dennison, chairman of the Urgent Access Committee of Rhode Island Primary Care, had an op-ed in Sunday’s Projo arguing that Rhode Islanders already have access to all the urgent healthcare services they need. If they want improved access and convenience, well, they’re wrong to…

As to the issue of consumer convenience, the concept of the Urgent Care Center first arose in Rhode Island in 1975. According to the Web site of the Urgent Care Association of Rhode Island ( there are 20 Urgent Care Centers in Rhode Island, at most a 15-minute drive from anywhere in the state. Also, around the state, there are five Walk In Clinics that offer similar if simpler facilities with extended hours for the working sick who can’t get an appointment with their primary-care practice.
Five clinics with “extended hours” for a state with a million people. How dare Rhode Islanders think they might need anything more!

The immediate question that arises from this is why anyone in any business should be allowed to shut down a competing practice because it might attract people through increased convenience and better access. The fact that CVS thinks there's a market for MinuteClinics in Rhode Island implies that people will choose a facility other than an emergency room for simple medical needs, when another choice is readily available. Maybe there are problems with opening a clinic inside of a drugstore (what's the plan, for instance, for dealing with someone who thinks they can get a prescription for OxyContin right away, and is disappointed to find out that they can't?), but if Dr. Dennison really wants to help doctors and patients, shouldn't he be looking for ways to improve access to existing non-ER facilities, rather than shutting down any new alternative facilities before they open?

Having said all this, in a precise economic sense, I'm still not sold on the idea that emergency room overuse is a true driver of rising healthcare costs. Dr. Dennison bolsters my skepticism, when he admits that Doctors over-charge for simple procedures in order to subsidize other parts of their practice...

To put it frankly, simple visits make us money. The work required by the time-consuming complex patient, on the other hand, is poorly reimbursed by Blue Cross, United Health Care and Medicare.
I suspect, as Megan McArdle has suggested, that hospitals do the same thing: over-charge patients with simple problems and lots of insurance in order to subsidize uninsured patients and more complex cases. If so, then emergency room usage isn't really raising the cost of healthcare, it's only raising its price -- for those who are actually paying for it. A more rational insurance system than exists now, one that allows more people to participate by offering a range health savings accounts plus high deductible plans, is the needed beginning to more fairly allocating the costs of healthcare to patients who seek treatment.

Anyway, if Rhode Island politics plays out as usual, expect the lobbyists on Dr. Dennison's side to win, MinuteClinics to be stopped from entering RI, prices to continue to be inflated, urgent care access outside of emergency rooms to continue to be limited, and maybe the MinuteClinic system to eventually open branches in Attleboro and Seekonk.

Common Ground and Credit Where Credit Is Due

Carroll Andrew Morse

The liberal foreign policy worldview too often begins from an assumption that America is a problem needing to be solved by the rest of the world and that eveyone will be better off once America has been put in its proper place. As a corollary, liberals are often prone to dismiss repressive actions by other governments, when speaking out means criticizing governments with interests divergent from U.S interests.

Matt Jerzyk of RI Future deserves credit for not automatically succumbing to the temptation to automatically blame only America for all that is bad in the world. Mr. Jerzyk posted yesterday in support of a protest of a the Chinese ambassador's appearance at Brown University. The protest is in response to China’s continuing obstruction of United Nations action to protect the people of Darfur from the government of Sudan.

Let's hope that in the future, left and right can find other areas of common ground in the world beyond America's borders to defend classically liberal, humanitarian, and yes American values, without having to wait for people to suffer as badly as they are suffering in Sudan.

March 22, 2007

Zebra-crats: Simply Can't Change Their Stripes

Marc Comtois

Ed Morrissey commented (via email) to Glenn Reynolds:

Isn't it interesting that the Democrats -- who ran on an anti-corruption, anti-war platform -- now offer us a porked-up supplemental to fund the Iraq war?
And, also via Glenn, that noted conservative outlet USA Today joins in:
It's hard to say which is worse: leaders offering peanuts for a vote of this magnitude, or members allowing their votes to be bought for peanuts. These provisions demean a bill that, if enacted, would affect the lives of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the balance of power in the Middle East and America's long-term security.

The provisions also violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the new majority's promise to cut back on "earmarks" — provisions slipped into bills that direct your tax dollars to a specific locale or politically favored project.

Last January, as soon as Democrats took control of Congress, the House passed new rules designed to curb earmarks, which had exploded under years of Republican rule. Yet here they go again...

That last bit sounds sorta Reaganesque, dontcha think?

March 21, 2007

Teaching Moment of the Week #1: United Healthcare’s Profit Transfer

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Felice J. Freyer in today’s Projo, just about everyone in Rhode Island not on the United Healthcare payroll, including most of the state’s healthcare providers, Attorney General Patrick Lynch, and Governor Donald Carcieri, opposes United’s attempt to transfer $36.8 million from RI to their parent company in Minnesota...

United is seeking state permission to take out $36.8 million in “extraordinary dividends” — profits beyond the “ordinary” profits already taken. Although such permission has long been required, this year United’s request is being considered by the Office of the Health Insurance Commissioner and the Health Insurance Advisory Council, both created by a 2004 law....

An extraordinary dividend is defined as profits that exceed either 10 percent of the insurer’s surplus or the net income from the insurer’s operations in the previous year. Long-standing law requires insurers to win state permission for such dividends, but never before has the state sought public input on such a request.

Consider this story carefully, because it is a perfect illustration of how the healthcare mess faced by our country is NOT the result of impersonal and unstoppable macroeconomic forces, but of a strange system of government regulation maintained in this country out of inertia and not because it serves any public good.

Here’s what I mean. Current insurance laws, obviously, allow health insurers to conduct their business across state lines. Yet for individuals, similar activity is forbidden; individuals are restricted to their home states when spending money on health insurance. The restriction is not the result of any iron laws economic of necessity, but of political decisions made by the government.

If corporations have been given the freedom to pick and choose which states provide the best environment for the use of their resources, then why shouldn’t regular people be given the same freedom and be allowed to “transfer” a few thousand dollars to another state in order to buy a health insurance policy, if they can find a company in another state that better meets their needs? What legitimate purpose does the existing regulatory asymmetry between corporations and individuals serve?

House Democrats: Pork is OK if it's Anti-War

Marc Comtois

It didn't take too long to renege on that promise now, did it (H/T).

House Democratic leaders are offering billions in federal funds for lawmakers' pet projects large and small to secure enough votes this week to pass an Iraq funding bill that would end the war next year.

So far, the projects -- which range from the reconstruction of New Orleans levees to the building of peanut storehouses in Georgia -- have had little impact on the tally. For a funding bill that establishes tough new readiness standards for deploying combat forces and sets an Aug. 31, 2008, deadline to bring the troops home, votes do not come cheap.

But at least a few Republicans and conservative Democrats who otherwise would vote "no" remain undecided, as they ponder whether they can leave on the table millions of dollars for constituents by opposing the $124 billion war funding bill due for a vote on Thursday...

"The war supplemental legislation voted out of the Appropriations Committee last week was an exercise in arrogance that demonstrated the utter contempt the majority has for the American people and their hard-earned tax dollars," fumed Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.). "We are at war with a ruthless global terrorist network, yet the appropriators allocated hundreds of millions in funds to gratuitous pork projects."

Even some Democrats say the issue of Iraq has become far too heated to be conducive to vote-buying.

"The profile and urgency of this Iraq vote really doesn't lend itself to these kinds of side deals," said Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-N.D.)...

House Democrats: they were against pork before they were for it? Or is this more likely evidence of the plain fact that, as Jonah Goldberg writes, "Democrats can betray their base too."

Oh, the Ingratitude, Latest Chapter

Carroll Andrew Morse

Did you know that Rhode Island spends more than twice as much per pupil on special education students than on non-special education students? From Jennifer Jordan in today’ Projo

It costs about $22,893 a year to educate a special-education student in Rhode Island compared with $9,269 a year for a regular-education student.
Yet despite the fact that Rhode Island taxpayers are being more than generous towards special education, advocates for special education choose the rhetoric of conflict and division to describe how they feel about the support provided by Rhode Island taxpayers and Rhode Island government…
“Unfortunately in my experience, especially for this population of kids and their families, they’ve had to fight for everything they get for those kids whether the [services] are mandated or not”, [said Dawn Wardyga, program director for Family Voices, a family information and health center affiliated with the Rhode Island Parent Information Center]. “So it’s hard to enter into this with an open mind that the system will truly do what’s best for these kids and their families.”
The rhetoric of conflict is doubly worrisome coming from a leader of Family Voices, an organization’s whose “fight” last year included a decision to join the coalition supporting the elimination of Governor Carcieri’s science education initiatives from the state budget. Apparently, to Family Voices and the Rhode Island Parent Information Center, fighting for special education can mean fighting against non-special education.

It’s really Rhode Island’s non-special education students who have more reason than anyone to be skeptical that their state legislature and lobbying class are looking to do right by them.

March 20, 2007

Things Heard During the Cicione / Yorke Conversation

Marc Comtois

Here's a paraphrased run-down (though I've probably provided exact wording in a few cases) of Dan Yorke's interview with new RI GOP chair Gio Cicione. (Hopefully, Yorke will put the audio up on his site).

Cicione stated that the RI GOP needs to spread the word out about their ideals and they have to do it in a different way than the President will do it or than a politician in the Western or Southern states might do it.

Yorke re-stated his contention that the RI GOP needs to have a full-time chair and a paid staff and that they can't simply be content to run things like the Democrats. Cicione responded that he has proposed having an Executive Director--to professionalize that office--and agrees the RI GOP can't mimic the Democrats.

Cicione said the RI GOP has given up on unions and minorities and they need to address that.

Yorke said Carcieri is out of gas other than a solid fiscal mind and good character. He's not throwing the gauntlet down. The RI GOP needs a fighter.

Yorke pointed out that the budget has gone up every year under Carcieri. Cicione attributed that to lessening revenue streams, some intentional (like car tax and income tax reductions) and some not (like few corporate taxes). To this, Yorke asked if this was really part of the Governor's plan: to create a budget deficit so that the state would have to deal with cutting programs. Cicione didn't bite on that theory. However, on the subject of decreasing corporate taxes--alluding to the tax breaks given as business incentives--Cicione said he's opposed to extensive corporate welfare (in addition to excessive individual welfare).

Cicione talked about grass-roots and integrating town and city committee's into the fund raising process more. At this point, Yorke offered 2 points of advice concerning what he thought should be some goals for the RI GOP

First was to start a movement to eliminate partisanship in municipal elections (from Mayor on down) and he noted that partisan ideology has no impact on municipal politics--all of the complaints are the same, and rarely are they ideologically derived. Additionally, this would remove the incentive for a guy running for dog-catcher to be a Democrat because it gives him a leg-up in a one-party state. It would also take power--and resources--away from city and town committees.

Yorke's second suggestion was to stop allowing unaffiliated voters the ability to vote in party primaries. Yorke also sketched a financial plan and suggested that Cicione go to the National party to ask for money for party-building in addition to raising enough money in RI to set up a real party infrastructure.

Cicione responded that they needed institutional consistency and agreed that you can't short-change the local party workers. If you do, they'll leave you for someone else. However, Cicione is not as worried about not being a full-time GOP Chair so long as the team is big enough to share the burden. He also noted that being a full-time party operator takes you away from daily interactions with regular people.

Cicione wants to pass good laws. About 50 of the 3000 bills submitted every year are valid. He plans on putting up a "100 bad bills" campaign next year to highlight all of the time wasted by our legislature on bad or meaningless legislation.

Yorke asked if he's going to be an organizational guy or a bomb-thrower. Cicione said both (earlier he whacked Sen. Montalbano for patronage). Cicione explained that the RI GOP needed to be better organized, but they also can't let the sheer volume of political hi-jinx overwhelm them to the point that they let it pass by without comment. According to Cicione, the RI GOP needs to hit 'em every time.

ACLU et al: Stop Profiling...and by the way, Don't Enforce Immigration Laws

Marc Comtois

H 5237, promoted by the ACLU and the Rhode Island Civil Rights Roundtable and sponsored by Reps. Almeida, Diaz, Ajello, Handy, and Slater, will create the "Immigration Status Protection Act" and change the "Racial Profiling Prevention Act" of 2004. It is a true gem of self-contradiction. But I'll get to that.

First, though, as the ProJo reports (Amanda Milkovits), the hearing on this bill revealed that the police feel as if they've been double-crossed and aren't going to simply grin and bear it.

For years, local police chiefs and civil-rights activists have worked together on efforts to combat racial profiling. But in January, civil-rights leaders decided on their own to pursue legislation.

Among its key points, the bill would ban “pretext” traffic stops, forbid the police from searching juveniles without consent and ban the police from asking people about their immigration status except in extremely limited circumstances. The bill also would prevent the police from asking for passengers’ identification during routine traffic stops.

The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association says many of the bill’s measures would severely handicap police officers from properly doing their jobs. After weeks of trying to negotiate a compromise, the association has given up, calling the bill “a deal-breaker.”

The chiefs also say the bill flies in the face of federal law and rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court, and upsets the delicate balance between civil rights and public safety.

...McCartney, the Warwick police chief, said the chiefs association was blind-sided by the bill and ACLU report. After the bill was submitted, the Civil Rights Roundtable invited the police chiefs to negotiate. The chiefs declared an impasse after two months. “I told them at the third session, ‘You’ve put us in the position of being the bad guys and naysayers, but you people changed the playing field,’ ” McCartney said.

So, as if the contentiousness surrounding the profiling issue wasn't enough, the sponsors of the bill decided to also throw in some guidelines severely restricting the ability of police to identify and detain illegal immigrants. Or did they. I don't really know. You read this section of the bill and try to figure it out:

In section 12-28.1-2 of the bill, it states:

No state or local law enforcement officer or agency shall inquire of an individual, or seek documentation from him or her, about his or her immigration status, unless otherwise required by federal law or court order, or necessary to verify the immigration status of a person who is arrested for a felony and the officer or agency has reasonable grounds to believe that the person's status is in violation of immigration laws; provided, however, an arrestee's race, color, ethnicity or national origin shall not constitute reasonable grounds.
(b) No law enforcement officer shall use an arrest or criminal charge as a pretext for verifying the immigration status of a person.
And section 12-28.1-3
No law enforcement agency of the state of Rhode Island or of any political subdivision shall use agency funds, equipment or personnel for the purpose of detecting or apprehending persons whose only violation or alleged violation of law is that they are persons of foreign citizenship who are in violation of federal immigration laws.
OK, that means no RI funds, which doesn't exclude federal funds...but then
No law enforcement agency of the state of Rhode Island or of any political subdivision shall enter into an agreement with the federal government to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law pursuant to 8 U.S.C. section 1357(g) or any similar federal program.
The reference to 8 U.S.C. section 1357(g) is key because therein lies the ability of the Federal Government to make the type of deal with the State that this bill is trying to negate. In other words, they want to make it illegal for the State of Rhode Island to be able to make such a deal with the Federal Government. "Amnesty State" anyone? But back to the confusion...the real kicker, from section 12-28.1-5
Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prohibit any state or local law enforcement officer or employee from cooperating with federal immigration authorities as required by federal law.
Whaaa...? I'm not a lawyer, but...

Finally, there is this bit of self-interested law making on the part of the organizations (and lawyers) that are "looking out" for these constituents:

(a) Any individual who alleges a violation of section 12-28.1-2 may file a civil action for damages and any appropriate and equitable relief in superior court. The court may allow a prevailing plaintiff reasonable attorneys' fees as part of the costs. (b) An organization chartered for the purpose of combating discrimination, racism or of safeguarding civil liberties, or of promoting full, free or equal employment opportunities, may seek appropriate relief in a civil action against any police department for violating section 12-33 28.1-3, and may be awarded its costs, including attorneys' fees, for bringing such an action.

Harold Ford at Brown

Marc Comtois

Former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. (D) spoke at Brown last night. The ProJo (Scott McKay) reports:

Democrats from New England and other deep blue regions of the country must understand that their party cannot succeed in the South and West without acknowledging that many voters consider the party too far left on social and economic issues, said Harold Ford Jr., the former Tennessee congressman who is president of the Democratic Leadership Council, the coalition of centrist Democrats.

Ford, who lost a closely contested Senate race last year and is considered one of the leaders of a young generation of Democrats, told a Brown University audience yesterday that “there really is a perception that Democrats don’t understand mainstream values in the country.”

“Democrats have got to overcome this perception” to be more competitive in the South, the West and border states, Ford said.

...Yesterday, Ford talked about the need for students to get involved in politics and public policy and explained stances that would make it difficult for him to win a Democratic primary in New England, but resonate with more conservative Southerners.

Ford said he is opposed to gay marriage, gun control and supports school vouchers and charter schools alternatives to failing public schools.

“I love vouchers,” said Ford. “I like guns, I think people ought to be able to hunt.”

As is often the case with political figures whose roots are in the South or the black community, Ford spoke easily of his Christian faith, recounting how church attendance was required in his youth and describing Jesus Christ as his savior.

Ford also opposed the Bush Administration on the Iraq War and is in favor of splitting Iraq into separate Kurd, Sunni and Shia autonomous regions. Yet, mostly because of his views on social issues, he's considered a DINO (Democrat in Name Only) because he's simply not liberal enough for the majority of his party.

That being said, even if he is regarded by local progressives as a DINO, I wonder if he would win if he ran in Rhode Island? Given the alternatives this past election season, I certainly would have voted him over either of our two Senate candidates in '06!

Imagine the sort of rhetorical twists and turns that would have been displayed had it been a Ford v. Chafee election. Would it have been a case of any (D) is better than any (R)--or vice versa? Or would ideology--stripped of its traditional partisan alignments--have come front and center? It certainly would have been interesting. Maybe someday.

Education Spending or Education Results

Carroll Andrew Morse

Over at RI Future, Matt Jerzyk equates improving education in Rhode Island to increasing the amount spent on education in Rhode Island…

In an article about how a Rhode Island tech company was just bought by Microsoft, it is asserted that we need greater school spending not tax cuts to grow and attract business. After all, the creative economy needs those who can, in fact, think...
Actually, nothing in the Projo article cited by Mr. Jerzyk implies that greater school spending is the answer to improving Rhode Island’s poor educational performance. By now, only the economic determinists who dominate the contemporary progressive movement equate increased spending to education improvement, despite ample evidence that they shouldn’t.

You’re probably familiar with the statistics that show if all it took to produce education results was high levels of education spending, then Rhode Island would already be a top 10 state in education quality, but for the benefit of those who haven't reviewed the data in a while, let's go through it one more time. According to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s most recent survey of state education inputs and outputs (slow-opening PDF file), based on data from 2003-2004, Rhode Island ranks 35th in academic achievement. The next worst New England state is Maine at 18th. Is the problem lack of spending? Well, according to the ALEC report, Rhode Island was 9th in educational expenditures per-pupil, 9th in the average salary of instructional staff, and 9th in student/teacher ratio in the period studied. So if spending is the answer, why isn’t Rhode Island already 9th in educational achievement? What would infusing new money into the existing educational structure do that the old money hasn't?

Clearly, Rhode Island’s top-down educational bureaucracies don’t have a clue as how to spend education money in a way that produces a quality education.

But if Mr. Jerzyk and others of like mind really do believe total spending is the primary issue, they should be willing to consider a compromise. The state of Utah recently increased education spending by about $10 million dollars per year as part of their new statewide public voucher program. (AR on the subject here; Projo op-ed on the subject here). Would Rhode Island's progressives be willing to support implementation of a similar program here, if it would help them direct more money to education? Or do Progressives believe that maintaining strict bureaucratic control of public resources, rather than improving education results or even increasing education funding, should be the top priority of education policy?

March 19, 2007

Where Did Kennedy Get His OxyContin?

Marc Comtois

Last week, in regards to Patrick Kennedy's revelation that he had been addicted to OxyContin, I asked, "Wonder which doctor he had? Or was there more than one? Could he have been doctor shopping?"

Well, WPRO's Colleen Lima attempted to ferret out of Rep. Kennedy the who, where and how he got enough OxyContin to sustain his addiction. Here's a paraphrase of that conversation (as heard on WPRO's Dan Yorke Show):

Colleen Lima asked, "where were you getting the OxyContin?" and Kennedy replied that, "With respect to the substances, it really doesn't matter what substance it is, the fact remains as an addict you can replace any given substance with any other given substance. It's not material to the disease...There's a prurient interest in the type of drug...and that's part of the stigmatizing of the disease..."

Lima tried to put her question in context as to why it was important to know where he was getting it, pointing out that "There have been national investigations into doctor shopping" (ie; Rush Limbaugh--hey, didn't I mention that before?) and "somebody helped you, somebody enabled you" with this. To this line of questioning, Kennedy replied, "I'm not going to go into it."

OK, but maybe somebody should...and I suspect they will.

The Proof is in the Pudding: Americans DO Want "Those" Jobs

Marc Comtois

I had heard last week that the recently-raided M. Bianco plant in New Bedford had opened it's doors to applicants and that they were mobbed. As Mark Krikorian reminds, this is just another example that undercuts the claim that illegal immigrants do the jobs Americans won't do.

After the Swift meatpacking raids in Greeley. Colo., Americans lined up out the door of the hiring office seeking the newly freed-up positions. Then, after the Crider chicken plant in Stillmore, Ga., was cleared of its illegal aliens, "For the first time in years, local officials say, Crider aggressively sought workers from the area's state-funded employment office." And now, after the raid on a New Bedford, Mass., military contractor (that has caused such hyperventilation from the party apparat in the people's republic), guess what? Yup. Americans in that high-unemployment city are actually getting hired.
He links to this video, from New England Cable News (wish Cox gave us the option...). Watching the video, it becomes clear that--at least anecdotally--the people taking those newly-available jobs are members of the poor and working class minority community. (One gentleman even goes so far as to say--to paraphrase--that it doesn't matter if it's at the minimum wage, it's a job). These are exactly the people most hurt by illegal immigrants working at sub-standard wages. We all have to start somewhere, and by enabling illegal immigrants, those who claim to be advocates for the unemployed are actually doing them a disservice.

What Defeatist Media?

Carroll Andrew Morse

A reporter named Leila Fadel of McClatchy Newpapers paints a rather grim picture of the attitude of “many” Iraqis towards their new government. She quotes three people in her article, two who’d prefer that Saddam still be in power, and a third who envies “the people who die in one piece”. Based on that small sample, Ms. Fadel presents these conclusions to her readers…

As the fourth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq occurs Monday, many Iraqis, like [Iraqi poet Abbas Chaychan], are yearning for the time more than 1,400 days ago when Hussein's statue stood in Baghdad's Fardos Square....

Law and order -- even under a dictator who killed thousands and tortured many others -- was better than this, many said. Even those who are glad to see Hussein dead expressed a longing for more orderly times.

But wait a minute; an opinion survey of about 5,000 Iraqis conducted in February by a London-based polling firm called Opinion Research Business painted a much different picture of hearts and minds in Iraq (h/t Jonah Goldberg). Only about a quarter of 5,019 interviewees responded that they would prefer the return of Saddam Husein…
Despite the horrendous personal security problems only 26% of the country preferred life under the previous regime of Saddam Hussein, with 49% preferring life under the current political regime of Noori al-Maliki. As one may expect, it is the Sunnis who are most likely to back the previous regime (51%) with the Shias (66%) preferring the current administration.
The numbers suggest that Ms. Fadel's interviewees aren't speaking for a majority or even a plurality of Iraqis. It is more than fair to ask how legitimate journalism is being served when a minority, pro-dictatorial viewpoint is presented as the viewpoint of “many” Iraqis, while other attitudes more prevalent amongst the Iraqi populace are entirely ignored.

If this is the Future of Republican Economic Thought, then I’m Changing my Affiliation to Whig

Carroll Andrew Morse

Who says that Republican big-business types don’t care about income inequality? From Bloomberg News, via the Boston Globe

Inequality of incomes is the "critical area where capitalist systems are most vulnerable," [Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan] said yesterday in Washington at a conference on maintaining the competitiveness of US capital markets convened by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. "You cannot have a system that we have unless the people who participate in it believe it is just."
And Mr. Greenspan has the solution! All we need to do to even out incomes is depress incomes at the upper end of the scale, by allowing more immigration of skilled workers into the U.S…
Allowing more skilled workers into the country would bring down the salaries of top earners in the United States, easing tensions over the mounting wage gap, Greenspan said.

"Our skilled wages are higher than anywhere in the world," he said. "If we open up a significant window for skilled workers, that would suppress the skilled-wage level and end the concentration of income."

I don’t think Ronald Reagan, who appointed Mr. Greenspan to his original Federal Reserve term, would have gotten behind this one.

Two questions for your consideration…

  1. For the practically minded: If “inequality” is the concern, why not enforce existing immigration laws to tighten the labor market to increase wages at the lower end of the pay scale, rather than try to depress wages in the middle and at the top of the scale?
  2. And for the more theoretically minded: How is using immigration policy to control wages any less noxious than implementing direct wage controls?

ProJo: RI's "secretary-of-state wannabes"

Marc Comtois

A week and a half later, the ProJo concurs with us:

...the problems of Rhode Island are many, deep and largely unaddressed....state legislators lack both the time and the expertise to seriously consider the complexities of Iraq. Any resolution they might pass would be entirely predictable and totally ineffective: Does Rhode Island need a foreign policy? No. Rhode Island doesn’t even have an economic policy. While the legislators grandstand on things like Iraq, of course, they are not doing the hard work that lawmaking for the state requires. First things first.

Some will laugh at the pretensions of our little secretary-of-state wannabes. Others will cry out in anger, assuming that legislators who throw their hats into the foreign-policy arena are really throwing fairy dust in the eyes of their constituents, who might otherwise demand that they do the jobs they were elected for. We feel that both reactions are perfectly legitimate.

Take Note Liberals: Even Hillary Clinton Thinks Venezuela is On the Wrong Track

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the Associated Press, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York thinks American energy policy should be directed to undercutting governments that don't support American values -- like the government of Hugo Chavez of Venezuela...

[Hillary Clinton] pledged to promote energy independence and drew laughs from the crowd when she described replacing ordinary light bulbs with energy-efficient models and shutting off lights to conserve power.

"I turn off a light and say, 'Take that, Iran,' and "Take that, Venezuela.' We should not be sending our money to people who are not going to support our values," she said.

Does the fact that Senator Clinton has openly declared that she does not support Hugo Chavez's Bolivaran Socialism mean she should now expect to get the Joe Lieberman treatment from the netroots?

March 17, 2007

Al Gore, Working in A Zinc Mine and Going Down Down

Marc Comtois

Al Gore = fish in barrel (via Glenn Reynolds):

Al Gore Jr. received more than $500,000 in royalties from the owners of zinc mines who held mineral leases on his farm near Carthage, Tenn. Now the mines have a new owner and are scheduled to reopen later this year.

Before the mines closed in 2003, they emitted thousands of pounds of toxic substances and several times, the water discharged from the mines into nearby rivers had levels of toxins above what was legal.

State environmental officials say the mine has had a good environmental record and there is no evidence of unusual health problems in the area.

But the mine's reopening again raises concerns about threats to the environment.

Find out more about how Gore became connected to mining, what's happened at the mines through the years and what the former vice president is asking the new owners to do in the Sunday Tennessean and at

Stay tuned.

Hey, wait a sec...are there such things as Zinc offsets?

UPDATE:Here's the link to the Sunday piece. Big headline, but--after press inquiries--VP Gore dashed off a letter:

Last week, Gore sent a letter asking the company to work with Earthworks, a national environmental group, to make sure the operation doesn’t damage the environment.

“We would like for you to engage with us in a process to ensure that the mine becomes a global example of environmental best practices,” Gore wrote.

Victor Wyprysky, the company’s president and chief executive officer, did not respond to requests for comment on the letter.

The letter was sent the week after The Tennessean’s Washington bureau posed questions to the former vice president about his involvement with the mine.

And further down:
In its last year of full operation in 2002, the Gordonsville-Cumberland mines ranked 22nd among all metal mining operations in the U.S., with about 4.1 million pounds of toxic releases. The top releasing mine, Red Dog Mine in Alaska, emitted about 482 million pounds that year. In 2002, Smith County ranked 39th out of more than 3,000 U.S. counties for lead compound releases and 21st for cadmium releases, according to tallies by Scorecard, a Web site run by environmentalists that compiles federal data.

Even Gore noted in his letter that, according to Scorecard, “pollution releases from the mine in 2002 placed it among the ‘dirtiest/worst facilities’ in the U.S.”

There are some who see hypocrisy:
[N]ow that the mine is reopening and Gore’s status as an environmentalist has grown, some of Gore’s neighbors see a conflict between the mining and his moral call for environmental activism.

“Mining is not exactly synonymous with being green, is it?” said John Mullins, who lives in nearby Cookeville. A conservative, Mullins welcomes the resumption of mining for the benefits it will bring the community. But he says Gore’s view that global warming is a certainty is arrogant and that by being connected to mining, Gore is not “walking the walk.”

And some who don't:
Earthworks president and chief executive Stephen D’Esposito said Gore’s involvement with mining doesn’t bother him “in any way, shape or form.”
“We are going to have mining. The question is doing it in the right place and the right way,” said D’Esposito, who has not studied the Carthage mines.
But here's the problem for Al Gore, as explained by Glenn Reynolds:
That said, it's not clear that Gore himself has done anything wrong, though he's clearly made money from a project that's pretty environmentally unfriendly. But this will add to the perception that Gore's green talk is hypocritical, I suspect. As I've noted below, if you adopt a quasi-messianic posture, people will judge your actions very differently than if you do not.

UPDATE II: {See extended entry}.

Mr. Gore is going (back) to Washington to testify before both houses of Congress. Sounds like it could be interesting (according to Drudge:

Proposed questions for Gore, which are circulating behind-the-scenes, have been obtained by the DRUDGE REPORT -- question that could lead Gore scrambling for answers!

Mr. Gore: You have said several times that we have 10 years to act to stave off global warming. Was that 10 years from the first time you said that or 10 years from now? We just wanted to get a firm date from you that we can hold you to.

Mr. Gore: How can you continue to claim that global warming on Earth is primarily caused by mankind when other planets (Mars, Jupiter and Pluto) with no confirmed life forms and certainly no man-made industrial greenhouse gas emissions also show signs of global warming? Wouldn’t it make more sense that the sun is responsible for warming since it is the common denominator?

Mr. Gore: Joseph Romm, the executive director for the Center for Energy and Climate Solutions, has said we must build 700 large nuclear plants to stave off climate change. Where do you stand on the need for nuclear energy?

Mr. Gore: Do you think the earth is significantly overpopulated and that is a major contributor to your view of climate change. (If yes, what do you think is a sustainable population for the planet?

"Wilson, Plame and all that."

Marc Comtois

Over at the OSB, I've put up a post putting yesterday's testimony by Valerie Plame in context. Included is an informative reminder that, at first--while attempting to protect their own journalists against charges of publishing sensitive national security information--many mainstream media outlets tried to convince the Justice Department that Plame's identity was well known. (Guess it depends who's bacon is being fried, huh?) Also of some help would this timeline (via NRO), which the author contends shows that it was really Wilson who revealed the now infamous details of who and what his wife (Plame) did (with some help from Richard Armitage). This whole thing is a good example of how, once a narrative has been established, new facts often don't change what people think. Though some do.

Mr. Wilson was embraced by many because he was early in publicly charging that the Bush administration had "twisted," if not invented, facts in making the case for war against Iraq. In conversations with journalists or in a July 6, 2003, op-ed, he claimed to have debunked evidence that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger; suggested that he had been dispatched by Mr. Cheney to look into the matter; and alleged that his report had circulated at the highest levels of the administration.

A bipartisan investigation by the Senate intelligence committee subsequently established that all of these claims were false -- and that Mr. Wilson was recommended for the Niger trip by Ms. Plame, his wife. When this fact, along with Ms. Plame's name, was disclosed in a column by Robert D. Novak, Mr. Wilson advanced yet another sensational charge: that his wife was a covert CIA operative and that senior White House officials had orchestrated the leak of her name to destroy her career and thus punish Mr. Wilson.

Also, the Rome Sentinel (in upstate New York) has a good three part series (via American Thinker) on the whole matter: the web of incompetence, the web of deceit, and 3) the web of politics.

The Attorneys: How a "Scandal" Can Become a Scandal

Marc Comtois

I've already asked, "How is Firing Government Attorneys a 'Scandal'?" Well, it ain't. I agree with Andrew McCarthy:

The politicians on Capitol Hill theatrically castigate the politicians in the administration for making political decisions about political appointees based on political considerations. The politicians in the administration reply, “That would never happen,” before conceding that it precisely happened … without their knowledge, of course. And the political press is aghast.
Thus, was the "scandal" born. But, thanks to the by-now expected political ineptitude of the Bush Administration, the "scandal" has been turned into a scandal. To boil it down:

1) The Administration had every right to fire those attorneys, no matter what. Even if it looked vindictive and partisan, that's politics.
2) The Administration tried to say that they were being high-minded. But instead of simply stating that these attorneys "serve at the pleasure of the President," there was some effort to denigrate the performance of those fired. Stupid. As McCarthy said on Boston's Michael Graham show (to paraphrase), these are highly motivated lawyers, wouldn't you think they'd fight back?
3) Which brings me back to the title of the first post. The only controversy is in the way that the Administration has failed miserably to deal with this.

The Democrats and press alleged scandal over the initial act. In my opinion, there was no scandal. No matter who brought it up--the White House or the AG--or why or whatever. It was politics. It ain't purty, but it's still legal. But now, instead of just playing it straight and/or being surprised that the Democrats and the press would take them to task for just about anything they do, the Bush Administration was caught off guard. Now hearings are in the offing and the made-up "scandal" has become one in actuality. Nice job.

ADDENDUM:: Incidentally, to some of the commenters to the last post: you see how--as a story changes and more information comes out--a position can also change? (Even if it that change may be a bit too nuanced for some.) I'm the first to admit that I have politically and ideologically based biases. But once initially formed, they aren't static and locked in for all time. How about you?

Immigration Debate To Heat up Locally

Marc Comtois

Ian Donnis at N4N:

It should make for riveting television when WPRO-AM talk-show host Dan Yorke and blogger-political activist Matt Jerzyk square off on immigration on 10 News Conference at 6:30 AM this Sunday. (A few disclosures: I'm a weekly guest on Yorke's show, and Jerzyk is an occasional Phoenix contributor.)

Jerzyk and Yorke have been engaged in a tiff since Jerzyk made a recent post responding to some of Yorke's assertions about the New Bedford immigration bust.

Considering how George W. Bush is in his second term, you have to laugh when conservatives blame liberals for shortcomings in the nation's immigration policy. That said, both immigrant advocates and immigration critics seem united in their belief that the staus quo leaves a lot to be desired. Since immigrants have long made for convenient scapegoats, the hard part is stimulating a dialogue that promotes light, rather than just heat (if not outright misinformation).

Should be interesting. One point though: I don't think many conservatives are blaming just liberals--President Bush has certainly gotten his fair share of criticism. Any conservative criticism of the actions of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation in the aftermath of the recent New Bedford raid is because they seem more concerned about playing up the plight of exploited illegal immigrants over an entirely legal (if somewhat mishandled) raid. As the ProJo editorializes, the law enforcement officers were simply doing there job--upholding the law. None of this means that conservatives are letting the President off the hook for his predisposition to amnesty.

March 16, 2007

Was anyone "shocked" to hear that ...

Marc Comtois

...our own Rep. Patrick Kennedy was hooked on OxyContin? (Video Here)

Probably not.

Wonder which doctor he had? Or was there more than one? Could he have been doctor shopping? {Oh yes, this link is intended to be "ironic"}.

Will the media care?

Or are we just supposed to feel bad for poor Patrick and his battle against the same old "demons"?

Just wondering.

OK, to be fair, the Ambien sleep-driving incident may have not been his fault. But, if that was the only reason for the accident, then why the next-day check-in to rehab? Oh, that's right, because maybe mixing Ambien and alcohol (much less OxyContin) ain't exactly the best thing.

How is Firing Government Attorneys a "Scandal"?

Marc Comtois

So the Bush Administration fires 8 lawyers and somehow this "scandal"is the next Watergate? Please. I agree with Mike Gallagher on this one:

[T]o read today’s papers, all the political controversies in our nation’s history combined don’t add up to the earthquake of a scandal that is rocking our world: the Bush Administration was involved in the firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

I’d love to be a fly on the wall of a high school social studies class when a student timidly raises his hand and says to the teacher, “Um, Miss Smith – if President Clinton can fire all 93 U.S. attorneys for obvious political reasons, why can’t President Bush?”

Oh but it is different. Just ask the CBS News blog, who are setting it all straight by, for instance, pointing to this explanation:
Although Bush and President Bill Clinton each dismissed nearly all U.S. attorneys upon taking office, legal experts and former prosecutors say the firing of a large number of prosecutors in the middle of a term appears to be unprecedented and threatens the independence of prosecutors.
And, according to CBS legal analyst Andrew Cohen
What is different about this current episode is that a Republican White House sought to replace Republican-appointed federal prosecutors mid-stream who were by all accounts doing precisely what they had been asked to do. We now know, from last week’s testimony, why in some cases this was so and the answers we got make it clear that the reasons were not high-minded or lofty.
I'm glad the unbiased media is on the case. So, to dismiss someone, the Executive Branch must do so for only high-minded or lofty reasons? So much for executive privilege. I'll throw up another Clinton example: remember the Travel Office? OK, it may not rise to the same level. And, as NY Sen. Chuck Schumer points out, "U.S. attorneys have always been above politics, and this administration has blatantly manipulated the U.S. attorney system to serve its political needs." Hmm. What about this?
...the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, which is Manhattan, which is a big post, was a Chuck Schumer protégé, and he was there for five or six years. If there was somebody else prior to him, then this guy who was Schumer's protégé was second. He was there for a number of years. A Chuck Schumer protégé was the US attorney for the Southern District of New York. They finally got a new guy in there -- I don't know, a year and a half, or two years ago -- a man by the name of Mike Garcia, finally a Bush appointee after four or five years of his administration, and Schumer now has the audacity to say that US attorneys have always been above politics?
Of course not. And that's what this really is about. Politics. It's not illegal, it's not a crime. It's pure political opportunism. That's it.

UPDATE: Incidentally, I'm not saying that the Bush Administration has handled this well, it hasn't. But the fact of the matter is that these Attorney's "serve at the pleasure of the President." Heck, as Linda Chavez points out, one of the U.S. attorneys President Clinton fired was in the middle of investigating Dan Rostenkowski for mail fraud. Again, this is nothing more than an attempt to make "illegal" anything that you oppose politically (or, more precisely, anything you can claim with righteous indignation to be unseemly). By calling for investigations, the Democrats are simply hoping that--a la Scooter Libby--the investigations themselves will trip up someone so that a real crime can be prosecuted. Washington politics, ya gotta love it.

Expanding the Echo Chamber

Marc Comtois

The NY Times has decided that the choir shouldn't be charged for their sermons (via Instapundit):

The New York Times is opening up access permanently to TimesSelect to all students and faculty who have .edu e-mail addresses beginning on March 13.

“It's part of our journalistic mission to get people talking on campuses,” says Vivian Schiller, senior vice president and general manager at “We wanted to open that up so that college students and professors can have a dialogue.”

Well, at least one side of the dialogue will be pretty well covered.

Re: RI GOP Elects New Leadership

Carroll Andrew Morse

In addition to Giovanni Cicione being elected Rhode Island GOP Chairman last night, John Robitaille of Portsmouth was elected First Vice-Chair, Karen Salvatore of North Kingstown was elected second vice-chair (becoming the only candidate not endorsed by the state party’s nominations committee to win a leadership position), Robert Coupe of Cranston was elected party secretary, and Marc Tondreau of Lincoln was elected treasurer.

RI GOP Elects New Leadership

Marc Comtois

Out with the old, in with the new.

By a unanimous voice vote, Republicans at their state convention last night elected 36-year-old Barrington lawyer Giovanni Cicione as party chairman, replacing Patricia Morgan.

“I will work to make our party, once again, the party of unity,” Cicione said in a statement handed out to the media....“I urge you to remember our greatest asset is unity, our greatest weakness is internal division,” Cicione stated. "Our party is the party of reform. We were the champions of separation of powers. Pension reform was our idea….We believe government is at its best when it governs least. Local control and open processes work best. Our opponents favor government that intrudes into every aspect of our lives and economy. They impose over-reaching regulations that are then governed by so many layers of bureaucracy, they escape scrutiny and accountability.”

He also pledged to concentrate on recruiting good candidates, especially female candidates. “I will be announcing in the days to come a slate of prominent women in our party who will co-chair this effort that we will call the WE CAN project” — which stands for the Women and Elections Candidate Project.

To any convention attendees: who else was (s)elected to the new RI GOP leadership? Apparently the ProJo didn't find that newsworthy.

Promoting New Healthcare Ideas in South Kingstown

Carroll Andrew Morse

Liz Boardman has a report in this week's South County Independent on a presentation given to the South Kingstown Republican Town Committee by Sean O’Donnell and Roland Benjamin on “Consumer Driven Health Plans”, i.e. health savings accounts combined with high-deductible insurance. Ms. Boardman provides a straightforward example of how CDHPs work…

Under CDHPs, employees put pre-tax dollars into a special savings account. Their employers match at least a portion of that amount. The employee uses the money to pay a relatively higher deductible, but any costs above that are fully covered by the plan.

For example, an employee with a $2,000 deductible would contribute $1,000, and his employer would add the other $1,000. If the employee has a chronic illness, such as asthma, he would likely spend his $2,000 on maintenance drugs and doctor’s visits, but he would cap out after $2,000 and not pay any additional costs…

Using a CDHP system, Benjamin told the group, LFI was able to hold the cost of health insurance steady after several years of near double-digit increases with traditional plans.

Among other benefits, South Kingstown Republican Town Chairman Dave Cote sees CHDPs as a possible way of relieving the fiscal crunch on Rhode Island’s cities and towns…
Coté said the GOP would be holding workshops about CDHPs around South Kingstown and statewide. “The end result, we hope, would be the students benefiting by infusing the savings back into school programs and extracurricular activities, like languages, sports and gifted programs,” he said.

March 15, 2007

Re: Is Rhode Island a Welfare Draw?

Justin Katz

The poverty advocates' stratagem of legerdemainically misleading the public about Rhode Island's welfare system by focusing on TANF numbers has been repeated for years. It caught my attention back in 2004, and assuming that they still apply, some of my points from then may serve to supplement Andrew's posts (here and here).

TANF dollars aren't the only cash handouts available in Rhode Island:

SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, is a federal program that provides monthly cash payments to people in need. SSI is for people who are 65 or older, as well as for blind or disabled people of any age, including children. ...

The state of Rhode Island adds money to the federal payment. The single payment you get in the beginning of each month includes both the federal SSI payment and your supplement from Rhode Island.

Rhode Island adjusts TANF payments based on other income less than other states do (from my old post):

The folks not included in this analysis are those who have some form of other income. To understand why this matters, consider what looks to be the comparable program in Massachusetts. ... That single mother of two will, indeed, receive $633 per month in Massachusetts if she doesn't live in subsidized housing. However, her income (after certain deductions) is directly subtracted. So, suppose she gets $200 from some other source. In Massachusetts, her monthly cash gift would be $433, with $633 remaining her monthly income.

In Rhode Island, on the other hand, her base benefit would be $554, and the first $170 of additional income isn't counted. Moreover, the cash benefit is only reduced $1 for every additional $2 of income. For the woman making $200, that would result in a $15 reduction. So, this same woman who was capped at $633 in Massachusetts would take home in Rhode Island: 554 + 200 - 15 = $739. And in fact, the percentage of those who benefit from FIP who are working rose from 13.7% in 1997 to 21.3% in 2003, which has been at least part of the reason for [the decrease in Rhode Island expenditures for cash assistance.]

But the real bloat is in child care and healthcare, which helps to explain the difficulty in tracing the degree to which RI's welfare system draws the poor to our state:

In fact, all Rhode Island households earning no more than 225% of the federal poverty level are eligible for child care subsidies, with copays ranging from $0 to $48 per child per week. For a family of four ... that means annual income of $42,413. According to the U.S. census, the median household income in Rhode Island for 2000 was $42,305. Rhode Island apparently considers half of its families to be "low income."

From a taxpayer point of view, it's also interesting to note that, to encourage child care providers to accept poor children, they get fully paid healthcare. And healthcare opens a whole 'nother stack of taxpayer bills. Every family receiving cash payments from the government is eligible for it. Every family with income up to 185% of the federal poverty level ($34,873 for a family of four) is eligible. And every child under 19 and pregnant woman with household income of 250% FPL is eligible. If the household makes less than 150% FPL, the insurance is free, otherwise there are relatively tiny monthly payments of $61, $77, $92.

One mild adjustment to Andrew's reference to the five-year limit for TANF: That's the limit that the federal government puts on the program, but states may opt to shorten it.

Is Rhode Island a Welfare Draw? Part 2: Some Statistics

Carroll Andrew Morse

The benefit policies that according to critics of Rhode Island's welfare system are drawing people to Rhode Island in search of public assistance came online in 1997, when the old Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) program was replaced at the Federal level by Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). States also had to change their welfare policies in order to comply with the new Federal rules. In Rhode Island, the required changes were implemented through what is called the Family Independence Program (FIP).

1997 was a watershed year with respect to social welfare policies in Rhode Island for another reason. The beginning of FIP marked the end of a decade-long run of the poverty situation in Rhode Island being consistently better than in the rest of the country. According to Census Bureau statistics, the 1996 poverty rate in Rhode Island was 80.3% of the national rate. That marked only the second time since 1985 that poverty in Rhode Island had risen to greater than 80% of the national rate (the other bad year was 1992, when poverty in RI was 83.8% of the national rate). From 1997 onward, the poverty rate in Rhode Island has never dropped below 80% of the national poverty rate. Complete data is available in the table below.

The most recent statistics tell an even more interesting tale. In 2002, poverty in Rhode Island suddenly rose by 14.6% over the previous year, bringing the poverty rate in Rhode Island to 90.9% of the national rate. The spike was not a one-year anomaly. Since 2002, poverty in Rhode Island has never dropped below 90% of the national rate. The years between 2002 and 2005 mark the only time since 1980 where Rhode Island's poverty rate has exceeded 90% of the national poverty rate for four consecutive years. (The second worst stretch in recent history would be the three consecutive years over 88% between 1982 and 1984.)

Now remember: 2002 was an important year in the annals of welfare reform, as it was the fifth year following the original implementation of TANF. TANF was supposed to limit an individual’s eligibility for direct cash assistance to five years, but until last year, Rhode Island had been skirting this regulation by not counting time spent collecting aid through TANF-related programs in other states against eligibility in Rhode Island.

Putting this all together, what the Census Bureau data shows is that at the same time that some welfare recipients would be confronting the possiblity of losing their direct cash assistance because they had exceeded their eligibility time limits, there was a sustained increase in the number of poor people living in Rhode Island, where the TANF five-year time limit was being interpreted much more loosely than in the rest of the country.

Are those who believe in the importance of a robust and effective societal safety net willing to attribute this trend to pure coincidence, and not consider the possibility that Rhode Island may be in need of some long-term solutions for bringing its poverty rate down to more historically normal levels?

Here is the Census Bureau's data on the poverty rate in Rhode Island, and in the U.S. in general...

Year US
Poverty Rate
Poverty Rate
RI Rate
as Pct of US Rate
1980 13.0% 10.7% 82.3%
1981 14.0% 11.7% 83.6%
1982 15.0% 13.3% 88.7%
1983 15.2% 14.5% 95.4%
1984 14.4% 12.8% 88.9%
1985 13.6% 9.0% 66.2%
1986 14.0% 9.1% 65.0%
1987 13.4% 8.1% 60.4%
1988 13.0% 9.8% 75.4%
1989 12.8% 6.7% 52.3%
1990 13.5% 7.5% 55.6%
1991 14.2% 10.4% 73.2%
1992 14.8% 12.4% 83.8%
1993 15.1% 11.2% 74.2%
1994 14.5% 10.3% 71.0%
1995 13.8% 10.6% 76.8%
1996 13.7% 11.0% 80.3%
1997 13.3% 12.7% 95.5%
1998 12.7% 11.6% 91.3%
1999 11.9% 10.0% 84.0%
2000 11.3% 10.2% 90.3%
2001 11.7% 9.6% 82.1%
2002 12.1% 11.0% 90.9%
2003 12.5% 11.5% 92.0%
2004 12.7% 11.5% 90.6%
2005 12.6% 12.1% 96.0%

A couple of observations/comments/questions…

After the bad years of 1982-1984, there was about a decade where poverty in Rhode Island was significantly less than poverty in the rest of the country. Is there anyone who was around back then who knows what was happening? (Paging Chuck Nevola…) Is there something that happened in the mid-1980s (and, by the way, 1985 would be the year that Edward DiPrete replaced Joseph Garrahy, and Joseph Paolino replaced Buddy Cianci; were either of them known for changing the social welfare policies of their predecessors?) that we could learn from?

Brien's Bill A No-Brainer

Marc Comtois

Woonsocket Rep. Jon Brien's bill (which AR took note of here) requiring Rhode Island businesses to utilize the Feds “Basic Pilot Program” to determine if an employee can work in the U.S. legally is a good idea. In a hearing on it yesterday, Brien explained:

Brien said he is trying to reflect his constituents’ wishes to do something about illegal immigration “because the federal government is failing us.”

“I’m not a racist; I’m not a xenophobe,” said Brien. “I’m merely taking the wishes of the people of my district and trying to carry them forward.”

Brien said the Basic Pilot Program “is easy. It’s free — it doesn’t cost anything. It requires an Internet connection.” He said the verification cannot be used retroactively, and cannot be used during the hiring process to screen employees.

“Its goal is to ensure the work force is a legal work force, going forward. That’s it,” said Brien. “The point of the bill is that if you’re going to come to work in the state of Rhode Island, you must do so legally.”

The bill was also supported by WHJJ talk host Helen Glover:
“The federal government is dropping the ball here,” said Glover...“We are a land of laws and I am angered that we even have to go through this … At a time when there is a state budget deficit, we need to make sure there is employment for the people who are legally here.”
Not all agree, though. Here is a litany of their justifications for opposition:
Amy Vitale, program coordinator for the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the ACLU “strongly opposes this bill,” in part because of the reported inaccuracy of the government database upon which the program depends...

Rep. Joseph S. Almeida, D-Providence, said he feels that the bill, and others introduced this session on the illegal-immigration issue, “are anti-immigration bills” aimed at all immigrants, whether legal or illegal...

Rep. Grace Diaz, D-Providence, expressed her opposition, arguing that the mandate would place a financial burden on the small businesses she represents in the Washington Park and South Side areas...

Sen. Harold M. Metts, D-Providence, argued against the bill, saying that “anti-illegal” has come to mean “anti-immigration, period.”

...Sen. Juan Pichardo, D-Providence, called the bill on the Basic Pilot Program “part of a package of legislation that I believe is very divisive in our state and our community … people are getting angry to the point where they get to use the words ‘hate’ and ‘racist.’ ”

To sum up, while a few opponents believe Brien's bill is inconvenient, their real dislike is based on their conflation (purposeful or otherwise) of immigrant and "illegal immigrant." Added to that is their belief that a desire to uphold the law is really just closet racism. Well, they're wrong.

March 14, 2007

Ocean State Blogger--The Return

Marc Comtois

After a 10 month hiatus, I decided to slap a new coat of paint on my ol' Ocean State Blogger site and bring her back, but with a new mission. Originally, OSB was my solo blog in which I posted about things in much the same way I do here at Anchor Rising. The new OSB will be a blog about "things that make me go hmmm" (to quote Will Smith--yikes.) What does that mean? Well, think a really obvious rip-off of this guy, and you've got it figured out. The primary goal is personal--I want a web-based suppository of all of the things that have heretofore resided in a "Raw Material" bookmark on my browser. In essence, I'm going to live-blog the creation of my own topic-based research library. If you're into that, feel free to stop by.

Airport Expansion: Impacting Real People and Real Communities

Marc Comtois

I've taken a bit of flack, including a charge that I've lost credibility on economic development issues, over my last post discussing the impact of the T.F. Greene airport expansion proposals (more on it here, here). In it, I took ProJo columnist Ed Achorn to task because I thought that (to quote from a follow-up comment of my own) his "comment implied that this was only a mere runway expansion and that a bureaucracy or insiders or whatever were holding it up. In truth, it's real people who value their quality of life. If they lose the argument, well, so be it. But for Achorn to so cavalierly dismiss them rankled me."

According to some expansion proponents, it's apparently either all or nothing. Your either for economic development or your against it. It's all black and white, you see. And if all you see when looking at airport expansion is dollar signs being put into the state's economy, I would imagine that it is black and white. Especially if you or your community is not affected.

The most aggressive of the proposals put forward so far seem to be too hard on the City of Warwick. {Update: thanks for the map, Andrew. Here are maps of the actual proposals--MAC}. Others, while less detrimental to the city, may not result in sufficient economic growth to justify a smaller expansion. What if the best course is to stand pat? These are the questions that I and many other Warwick residents want to have answered before a decision is made.

While it may be an economic boon to the State, the City of Warwick isn't so lucky. Losing 200-350 homes worth of property taxes (that the State isn't obligated to compensate) while at the same time picking up a net gain in infrastructure costs (water and sewer, trash collection, roads, etc) doesn't bode well for the pocketbooks of those who choose to reside in Warwick. There are also aesthetic changes that will occur, like increased pollution, the loss of wetlands, noise, extension of fenced-off airport property. I know, not very "conservative" of me to bring up some of this stuff, is it? Apparently, it's not very "progressive" of me either.

Look, I know the arguments. The airport has been there forever, so people who live or move to Warwick should have known that expansion was a possibility. They should have known that the State was thinking about planting LAX in the middle of an 80,000 person suburb. If it is really so bad, then current Warwick residents could just move. Besides, the State will pay them good money for their homes and they'll move elsewhere and everything will be fine. They should just get over it and move on. That about sums it up, right?

I guess that, for some people, it is easy to simply pick up and leave a community in which they've either lived their whole lives or have put down roots and made new friends and joined community organizations. Perhaps this is because no one worries about maintaining a "community" anymore. Not really. Pat of this may be because fewer people join community organizations or associations for the sake of making things better. The result is that fewer people have a real stake in the community in which they reside.

Thus, we can all just live in our McMansions and not talk to our neighbors (unless we need something), so one house is as good as any other and one neighbor is just as nondescript as another. As for the kids, well, they can make new friends in a new school--they're all the same. But for some people, it's a lot harder to just write off all of that time and money they've spent trying to help and better their community. And if that is what ultimately happens, there's a good chance that they will move on to the next city or town, but newly jaded and less likely to lend a hand. In today's throw-away society, I fear that we're also throwing away the already dying sense of community, too.

Despite the apparent conventional wisdom, conservatives--me included--don't necessarily privilege economic concerns over less measurable, and thus more aesthetic, factors, such as the quality of life in a community. Perhaps I'm falling prey to a predisposition that romanticizes the idea of a community. Yet, if so, it is rooted in my own experience. A real community is built on personal relationships, of groups of people joining together to make their neighborhoods--and the city or town as a whole--a better place for their families. That includes supporting such things as economic development, which can help to ease the tax burden on families, which, in turn, will allow them to devote more time (and money) to their families and communities. Yet, the by-products of economic development can also have a negative impact.

I support airport expansion, but only if it is done with forethought and with the goal of achieving the best cost/benefit ratio (and that means more than just dollars) possible. To bring up very real concerns about the burden that a particular community will bear so that the State as a whole may benefit--to ensure that any negative impact is either acceptable or manageable--is both fundamentally conservative and economically smart. The discussion going on now in Warwick is over where, exactly, is the point at which the economic benefits of economic development begin to be outweighed by the negative impact that will be felt by the city. As this discussion continues, it's not too much to ask that Warwick residents receive at least a little forbearance from their fellow Rhode Islanders. After all, it is they who are being asked to sacrifice a portion of their community--both property and personal relationships--so that the rest of the State can become more prosperous.

Pre: Airport Expansion

Carroll Andrew Morse

To help understand the options being considered for an airport runway extension, here is a link to a map of T.F Green Airport and the surrounding neighborhoods, courtesy of Mapquest.

Is Rhode Island a Welfare Draw? Part 1: Some Background

Carroll Andrew Morse

A spate of recent op-eds and news stories have challenged the idea that Rhode Island’s welfare policies create incentives for people from other states to move to Rhode Island in search of public assistance. Brian C. Jones of the Providence Phoenix has claimed the idea of Rhode Island as a welfare magnet is as credible as the idea of Bigfoot. Angel Tavares wrote in a February 18 Projo op-ed that it is “common sense” that “high housing costs and lack of job opportunities…would dissuade poor people from finding our state attractive”. And in Sunday’s Projo, Scott Mayerowitz quoted Rhode Island College Poverty Institute Executive Director Kate Brewster as saying that it is “common sense” that Rhode Island’s housing costs would keep people from moving here.

Part of the argument against Rhode Island as welfare magnet is that no one piece of silver-bullet evidence exists proving that it is so. Mayerowitz’s article goes into some detail on this subject…

While arguments rage on both sides of the issue, there is very little information to prove or disprove that there is a large influx of the poor because of Rhode Island’s welfare programs....

“While there is anecdotal evidence, there is no hard data,” acknowledges Carcieri’s spokesman, Jeff Neal.

The only RI data source that officially tracks information on out-of-state origins of welfare recipients is a survey administered to public assistance applicants by the state’s Department of Human Services, but that survey only covers only one of the state’s major poverty programs…
Applicants are asked if they have lived out of state in the last 90 days and, if so, where. Gary Alexander, acting director of the state Department of Human Services, said he doesn’t have enough staff to verify whether the applicants are telling the truth. So Alexander said he is skeptical about the limited data collected. The state does not ask similar questions on applications for subsidized child-care or for RIte Care.
Other critics of the survey's reliability have pointed out that there are incentives for applicants not to answer DHS questions honestly, as current eligibility rules require the rejection of applicants who have spent five years on public assistance in other states.

Jones and Tavares both go beyond the survey data, suggesting that a sustained reduction in the number of people receiving direct cash assistance from the government runs counter to the idea of an influx of assistance-seekers into Rhode Island. Can RI be considered a welfare magnet if the total number of people receiving welfare has dropped by about 50% in a ten year period?

However, the reduction in caseload is not unique to Rhode Island; it is a nationwide phenomena (Jones notes this; Tavares doesn't) resulting from the welfare reform policies enacted during the Clinton administration. In 1996, the last full year of the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, government was helping about 4,500,000 families by means of direct cash assistance. Today, the total number of families receiving direct cash assistance is down to 1,800,000, thanks to the reformed Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program which began in 1997. (For those interested in the history and results of welfare reform, Kay Hymowitz has an excellent article on the subject in the Spring 2006 issue of City Journal).

But in Rhode Island, the reduction in direct cash assistance has not led to a reduction in total welfare spending. Monies no longer being spent on traditional welfare programs have been re-directed, almost dollar for dollar, into subsidized child-care. Rhode Island has gone from spending a combined $135 million in 1997 on cash assistance and child care (14% to child care) to spending $146 million on the combined programs today (54% to child care). [Source: page 18 of the Poverty Institute's Starting RIght Child Care Report from March 2006].

Yet, according to numbers reported by Mayerowitz, while the spending level has increased slightly, the number of recipients has decreased drastically…

Ten years ago, there were 61,770 people receiving cash assistance in Rhode Island. Today — after a series of changes in the program as part of the national welfare-reform movement — there are 33,000 Rhode Islanders receiving cash assistance.

During that period, the welfare spending has shifted toward more subsidized child-care and health care. In fiscal year 1997, 6,066 people were on the state’s child-care rolls. Last year, that grew to 12,704. In that same period, spending on RIte Care nearly quadrupled.

Add the numbers of cash-assistance plus child care recipients together, and you find that the number of recipients of aid has dropped from 67,836 in 1997 to just 45,704 recipients in 2006 -- all while the total cost of the programs has gone slightly up. The increase in spending is because the size of the child-care subsidy per recipient has doubled, from about $3,100 per recipient in 1997 to about $6,200 per recipient today.

This dynamic is a perfect illustration of why taxpayers are rightly skeptical of bureaucratic poverty programs. Protecting the size of budgets seems to be at least as important a goal as delivering effective aid. If, by some combination of luck, skill, and circumstance, Rhode Island was able to reduce the number of people needing child care and/or direct cash assistance to 30,000, would the state’s poverty advocates still insist that it is absolutely necessary to spend $150 million dollars on whomever is left?

Still, this is all an aside to the question we started with: Is there any evidence that people from other states are coming to Rhode Island specifically to collect public assistance. To try to answer that question, we have to see if there are any other data sources available...

March 13, 2007

Happy Sunshine Week, West Warwick!

Carroll Andrew Morse

Mike Stanton of the Projo picks up the story of a possible non-town employee seeking to draw a town pension in West Warwick. The scope of the story is broadening to include Thomas Iannitti, the acting chairman of the State Board of Elections and the director of West Warwick’s senior center (which is not part of the town) since 1986, as well as the ongoing Federal corruption investigation in Rhode Island…

A federal corruption probe of the Rhode Island State House has branched out into the town of West Warwick, home to powerful Senate Finance Chairman Stephen D. Alves.

Officials confirmed yesterday that West Warwick’s finance director and the town pension board’s secretary appeared on Thursday before a federal grand jury in Providence.

Federal investigators also have subpoenaed records regarding various financial dealings in town, including contracts with Alves’ employer, UBS Paine Webber, to help manage West Warwick pension funds.

The Journal has previously reported that Alves, an investment adviser, is among seven politicians under investigation as part of a wide-ranging State House influence-peddling probe dubbed Operation Dollar Bill.

The probe, which began with former state Sen. John A. Celona, who recently reported to federal prison after pleading guilty and agreeing to cooperate, has also focused on Senate President Joseph A. Montalbano. The Journal reported last fall that the FBI has questioned West Warwick officials about title work that Montalbano did for the town, and Alves’ role in Montalbano’s hiring.

Yesterday’s disclosures came as a result of a stormy meeting of the town’s pension board, during which two vocal critics of Alves and the town attacked the pension application of the longtime director of the West Warwick Senior Center, Thomas Iannitti.

As a result of these various controversies, West Warwick officials are having a hard time getting into the spirit of this year's “Sunshine Week” in government (March 11-17)…
[West Warwick Resident Tom Jones] also said that he understood that the FBI has questioned officials of the pension board. Members denied that, but acknowledged that the board’s secretary, Chris Payette, has been questioned.

With Jones pressing for more details, Town Manager Wolfgang Bauer interjected that federal investigators had asked town officials to keep the FBI’s inquiries “confidential.” That prompted board officials to decline to discuss the matter further.

Afterward, town Finance Director Malcolm Moore declined comment when asked about being questioned by federal investigators. However, town officials confirmed that he and Payette appeared before the grand jury last week....

The question of whether Iannitti is a town employee is a confusing one. [West Warwick Resident Alan Palazzo], who has waged a year-long battle to obtain town records regarding Iannitti’s pension, said that he was initially informed by Joseph Pezza, the board’s lawyer, that Iannitti was an employee — only to be contradicted later by the town’s lawyer, state Rep. Timothy Williamson.

The town has blocked access to the records Palazzo requested.

Greene Plans Involve More than "Mere" Runway Expansion

Marc Comtois

In an otherwise good piece explaining the reason why Mississippi just got a new Toyota car plant and Rhode Island did not, ProJo columnist Ed Achorn writes:

Its culture of NIMBYism (Not In My Backyard) is so bad that the state must engage in a prolonged struggle merely to extend the main runway at the airport, a crucial engine of business.
Well, that airport is in MY backyard (though my home isn't in any danger) and, as the ProJo reported on Saturday, the plans involve a lot more than "merely...extend[ing] the main runway."
If the main runway at T.F. Green Airport is expanded, it will swallow at least 204 houses, up to 53 businesses and dozens of acres of wetlands, according to a draft summary of a Federal Aviation Administration report released yesterday, examining the consequences of expansion.

Expansion would also increase noise pollution and cut the city’s tax base by as much as $2.2 million a year. On the flip side, it is predicted to generate $138 million in business revenue within the next 13 years...

Depending on which, if any, option is ultimately selected, the draft summary shows the following:

•204 to 339 houses would be taken

•10 to 32 acres of wetlands would be taken

•6 to 53 businesses would be displaced

•36 to 60 houses would experience such an increase in the level of noise that they would become eligible for a volunteer land-acquisition program

The FAA has not ranked any one alternative above another, saying it does not plan to choose a preferred scenario until the summer.

But the release of the consequences summary yesterday signals the beginning of what is expected to be a protracted battle between expansion critics — many of them at the city level — and the FAA.

“No matter what you do, there will be adverse effects,” Mayor Scott Avedisian said. “All the options will encroach on different parts of the city.”

Warwick’s principal planner was more forthright. “Whatever alternative you look at, you are devastating either neighborhoods and family homes, or destroying wetlands,” said William J. DePasquale. “It seems like the impact of all this expansion is disproportionately set on the community.”

City officials say they’ve known for years what expansion would do to their community. They expressed frustration yesterday that the FAA is only now recognizing those impacts.

Believe me, I realize that there are long-term economic benefits to be had by expanding the airport, but at what price? The airport already bisects Warwick and most of the proposed plans would only make it worse, which would be detrimental to the quality of life in the community--my community--as a whole.

Yes, I know that (to paraphrase) the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one, but here is the fundamental problem: why is the State hellbent-for-leather on putting an international-quality airport in the middle of a suburban community? The fact that the State chose to develop it's major airport there in the first place belies Rhode Island's historical penchant for having a lack of foresight. Unfortunately, at this time, there is really no other plausible choice for making it possible for Coast-to-Coast or international flights via Rhode Island. (Quonset, for instance, has it's own problems and I don't see any way that our cash-strapped State could possibly build a new airport).

At the very least, the citizen's of Warwick deserve a chance to weigh-in on the plan they favor the most (see the extended entry) should this inevitable "march of progress" proceed. If the State is insistent on expanding the runway, then they are stuck dealing with a community that is wary of losing even more of it's identity via what amounts to a large scale exercise of eminent domain. How would Achorn respond if the same thing was happening in his town?

As reported by the ProJo, here are the five options for expanding the main runway:

•Extend the main runway mostly to the south. It would require that Main Avenue be tunneled under the runway, but would not require relocation of Airport Road to the north. It would require taking a substantial number of houses in the Greenwood area, and some commercial areas at the corner of Post and Airport roads. It would also have substantial impact on the Buckeye Brook wetlands.

•Extend the main runway mostly to the north. It would require moving Airport Road, but not Main Avenue, as well as taking many houses in the Spring Green neighborhood, and would impact Buckeye Brook.

•Extend the runway both north and south, requiring tunneling Main Avenue under the runway and moving Airport Road, but would not affect the Buckeye Brook wetlands to the north and would take some houses in the Greenwood neighborhood.

•Extend the runway primarily south, to avoid moving the east end of Airport Road. It would not affect the Buckeye Brook wetlands, but would require tunneling under Main Avenue and taking some houses in Greenwood.

•Extend the runway both north and south. This alternative requires less relocation of Airport Road and limits effects on wetlands. It would require tunneling under Main Avenue and taking some houses both north and south of the runway.

Time to End "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"

Marc Comtois

I have to confess that I haven't really put a lot of thought into "Don't ask, don't tell," over the last few years. Now, comes this story about General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff:

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Monday that he supports the Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" ban on gays serving in the military because homosexual acts "are immoral," akin to a member of the armed forces conducting an adulterous affair with the spouse of another service member.

Responding to a question about a Clinton-era policy that is coming under renewed scrutiny amid fears of future U.S. troop shortages, Pace said the Pentagon should not "condone" immoral behavior by allowing gay soldiers to serve openly. He said his views were based on his personal "upbringing," in which he was taught that certain types of conduct are immoral...

Charles Moskos, a military sociologist at Northwestern University who was instrumental in helping the Pentagon craft the "don't ask, don't tell" law, said it is unusual for a top commander to use morality as a justification for the policy. But he said he has repeatedly heard enlisted members use that reasoning when opposing gays in the military.

"With the enlisted, it's a question of cohesion, but morality is something they always bring up," said Moskos, who declined to comment specifically on Pace's remarks.

I respect General Pace's personal feelings on the matter and Moskos brings up the reason for which I've tended to support the current, "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Now, however, I think that "Don't ask, don't tell" has served its purpose. It was useful because it served as a pragmatic bridge between two different military generations. The older generation of officers, like Pace, understandably call on their personal experience and collective belief that having homosexuals in the ranks is disruptive to overall morale. They know that they would have been uncomfortable working alongside homosexuals and project this onto today's fighting men and women.

Today's soldiers, sailors and marines have grown up in a different time. I certainly don't have any particular insight into the attitudes of today's enlisted or officers. However, I think it's safe to say that they reflect the attitudes of their Gen X / Gen Y generation, who have grown up in an era of total exposure to homosexuals and the gay lifestyle. Thus, I think that most simply don't think it's a big deal to work with or be around homosexuals. They've probably done it already and their non-military peers do it every day.

Is the military a different entity than society in general? You bet. That is why "Don't ask, don't tell" was such an important policy. It was in no way an ideologically pure way to deal with the real issue, but it bought the military some time to acclimate itself to the broader cultural change in attitude towards homosexuals.

In a different time, African-Americans and Japanese-Americans had to prove their patriotism and fighting ability in a segregated military environment. Gay men and women also want to serve their country and, once they prove (if they haven't already) that they can do the job, I think that straight men and women in the military will accept them within their ranks.

Addendum: Incidentally, I agree with Pace on the adultery point. As Jonah Goldberg so eloquently put it, we don't "need to 'liberate' our troops so they can be free to boink other men's wives and other women's husbands," whether they're gay or not, I'd add.

Avedesian Put's Union Crossing Guards on Notice

Marc Comtois

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian has told the city's crossing guards that their contract may not be renewed. Instead, the city may (finally!) put the contract out to bid. But...

The nonrenewal notice does not mean the municipal crossing guards will be replaced with private ones. Rather, it opens the door for one of two outcomes: either the city will negotiate a new contract with the guards — as opposed to letting the old contract roll over for another year—or it will solicit bids from companies interested in the job.
Well, at least the option is now available. Not like last year when the contract was allowed to simply roll-over. And this is a good point:
Even if Warwick ultimately decides to keep the municipal crossing guards, [Warwick City Council member Robert A.] Cushman said, notifying the union of a possible nonrenewal puts the city in a better bargaining position.

“To be honest, I think it will give the administration the leverage to negotiate a better deal,” Cushman said.

This indicates a change of tack for Avedesian.
Prior to sending that nonrenewal letter, the mayor had argued in favor of keeping the municipal guards, saying city employees are easier to monitor and make a better security presence at schools. He has also questioned the extent of the much-discussed savings, noting that what the city might save in salaries for private guards, it could lose in unemployment payments for the municipal guards.
Now that he's gone this far, I hope the mayor follows through.

Scientists to Gore: "Cool the Hype"

Marc Comtois

The NY Times reports:

“I don’t want to pick on Al Gore,” Don J. Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, told hundreds of experts at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. “But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data.”

Mr. Gore, in an e-mail exchange about the critics, said his work made “the most important and salient points” about climate change, if not “some nuances and distinctions” scientists might want. “The degree of scientific consensus on global warming has never been stronger,” he said, adding, “I am trying to communicate the essence of it in the lay language that I understand.”

Although Mr. Gore is not a scientist, he does rely heavily on the authority of science in “An Inconvenient Truth,” which is why scientists are sensitive to its details and claims.

Criticisms of Mr. Gore have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists like Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind. A few see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. Many appear to occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, seeing human activity as a serious threat but challenging what they call the extremism of both skeptics and zealots.

Kevin Vranes, a climatologist at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, said he sensed a growing backlash against exaggeration. While praising Mr. Gore for “getting the message out,” Dr. Vranes questioned whether his presentations were “overselling our certainty about knowing the future.”

Typically, the concern is not over the existence of climate change, or the idea that the human production of heat-trapping gases is partly or largely to blame for the globe’s recent warming. The question is whether Mr. Gore has gone beyond the scientific evidence.

Seems like I saw something along these lines last week...Remember, none of this is about denying climate change. Rather, it is about putting brakes on the hype and not falling for Gore's rather reductionist "it's all humans' fault" thesis.

Here's more scientific skepticism (from the article):

Some of Mr. Gore’s centrist detractors point to a report last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that studies global warming. The panel went further than ever before in saying that humans were the main cause of the globe’s warming since 1950, part of Mr. Gore’s message that few scientists dispute. But it also portrayed climate change as a slow-motion process.

It estimated that the world’s seas in this century would rise a maximum of 23 inches — down from earlier estimates. Mr. Gore, citing no particular time frame, envisions rises of up to 20 feet and depicts parts of New York, Florida and other heavily populated areas as sinking beneath the waves, implying, at least visually, that inundation is imminent.

Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician and political scientist in Denmark long skeptical of catastrophic global warming, said in a syndicated article that the panel, unlike Mr. Gore, had refrained from scaremongering. “Climate change is a real and serious problem” that calls for careful analysis and sound policy, Dr. Lomborg said. “The cacophony of screaming,” he added, “does not help.”

So too, a report last June by the National Academies seemed to contradict Mr. Gore’s portrayal of recent temperatures as the highest in the past millennium. Instead, the report said, current highs appeared unrivaled since only 1600, the tail end of a temperature rise known as the medieval warm period.

Roy Spencer, a climatologist at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, said on a blog that Mr. Gore’s film did “indeed do a pretty good job of presenting the most dire scenarios.” But the June report, he added, shows “that all we really know is that we are warmer now than we were during the last 400 years.”

Other critics have zeroed in on Mr. Gore’s claim that the energy industry ran a “disinformation campaign” that produced false discord on global warming. The truth, he said, was that virtually all unbiased scientists agreed that humans were the main culprits. But Benny J. Peiser, a social anthropologist in Britain who runs the Cambridge-Conference Network, or CCNet, an Internet newsletter on climate change and natural disasters, challenged the claim of scientific consensus with examples of pointed disagreement.

“Hardly a week goes by,” Dr. Peiser said, “without a new research paper that questions part or even some basics of climate change theory,” including some reports that offer alternatives to human activity for global warming.

Geologists have documented age upon age of climate swings, and some charge Mr. Gore with ignoring such rhythms.

“Nowhere does Mr. Gore tell his audience that all of the phenomena that he describes fall within the natural range of environmental change on our planet,” Robert M. Carter, a marine geologist at James Cook University in Australia, said in a September blog. “Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change.”

In October, Dr. Easterbrook made similar points at the geological society meeting in Philadelphia. He hotly disputed Mr. Gore’s claim that “our civilization has never experienced any environmental shift remotely similar to this” threatened change.

Nonsense, Dr. Easterbrook told the crowded session. He flashed a slide that showed temperature trends for the past 15,000 years. It highlighted 10 large swings, including the medieval warm period. These shifts, he said, were up to “20 times greater than the warming in the past century.”

Getting personal, he mocked Mr. Gore’s assertion that scientists agreed on global warming except those industry had corrupted. “I’ve never been paid a nickel by an oil company,” Dr. Easterbrook told the group. “And I’m not a Republican.”

Biologists, too, have gotten into the act. In January, Paul Reiter, an active skeptic of global warming’s effects and director of the insects and infectious diseases unit of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, faulted Mr. Gore for his portrayal of global warming as spreading malaria.

“For 12 years, my colleagues and I have protested against the unsubstantiated claims,” Dr. Reiter wrote in The International Herald Tribune. “We have done the studies and challenged the alarmists, but they continue to ignore the facts.”

March 12, 2007

Jon Scott's Statement on the Special Operations Fund

Carroll Andrew Morse

2006 Republican First-District Congressional Candidate Jon Scott has issued a statement on the recent revelations about Dave Rogers’ Special Operations Fund Political Action Committee. Here is Mr. Scott's literal bottom line…

I call upon the Special Operations Fund to return donations and to cease further use of Mr. Rogers’ name in their efforts. It appears that what they have done is not illegal but, given the large number of elderly donors and the small percentage of disbursements to candidates, it is certainly immoral. I have always had the utmost respect for Dave Rogers and support him in any efforts to make this right, but it must be made right.
The complete statement is available in the extended entry.

2006 RI First District Congressional Candidate Jonathan Scott, who ran against Patrick Kennedy as the Republican nominee in the last election cycle, has issued the following statement on the “Special Operations fund”, Dave Rogers, and Christian Winthrop.

“Because I have been fielding questions from the public about my predecessor and the recent story by Mark Arsenault in the Sunday Journal which revealed questionable practices at the Special Operations Fund, I thought that it would be appropriate to issue a formal statement.

As the Republican Party’s choice to challenge Patrick Kennedy in 2006, I was disappointed to learn that solicitations had been made on Mr. Rogers’ behalf though his Political Action Committee, implying that he was in fact still a candidate for the First District seat. The perception that Rogers was still in the race and that he had plans moving forward to 2008 may have been a factor in our nationwide fundraising struggles. Mr. Rogers was a strong candidate with a storied background and wide name recognition throughout the country. If he furthered the perception that he was still in the race, I have no doubt that it had an impact on those who might have donated to our campaign otherwise.

We had very little interaction with the Rogers 2004 team during the 2006 cycle. I met with both the candidate and Mr. Winthrop as it was my custom to speak with each of my predecessors, including Kevin Vigilante, who ran the closest of any Republican to Representative Kennedy.

Mr. Winthrop never worked for our campaign and was never offered a position with our campaign. This includes the timeframe after he severed ties with the Spencer campaign in New York.

I am concerned by the situation at the Special Operations Fund and believe that the story is symbolic of why working folks are turned off by the political process and why we need serious campaign finance reform. I am quite certain that Mr. Winthrop and his partner in Florida were not the first to segue from a serious and well-run Congressional campaign into a questionable Political Action Committee. I do not believe that one Party has a monopoly on the methodology. It is regrettable that the general public will shy away from political involvement because of a perception that special interests and insiders control the process. In a world of 100-million-dollar Presidential campaigns, our neighbors feel disconnected from their government.

I had plans to start a PAC with the expressed purpose of recruiting and supporting working class Rhode Islanders for Republican General Assembly and City/Town Council seats. I hope that the allegations against the Special Operations Fund do not impede those efforts, as I believe that the political process must be made available to everyone, regardless of their occupation or financial status.

Finally, I call upon the Special Operations Fund to return donations and to cease further use of Mr. Rogers’ name in their efforts. It appears that what they have done is not illegal but, given the large number of elderly donors and the small percentage of disbursements to candidates, it is certainly immoral. I have always had the utmost respect for Dave Rogers and support him in any efforts to make this right, but it must be made right.

Open Thread: 2008 Presidential Election

Carroll Andrew Morse

Sensing undeniable interest in the subject, despite any ironclad vows I may have taken, I will offer an open thread for observations and analysis concerning the 2008 Presidential election.

March 11, 2007

Another Reflection

Donald B. Hawthorne

Building on several earlier postings of reflections here and here, the final throes of unpacking tonight led to the discovery of a quote by the famous portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh cut out of an old Sunday newspaper edition of Parade Magazine - of all things! - from my high school years over 30 years ago, a quote which has had a place on a bulletin board where I have lived for many of the years since then:

Can he recognize a person's extraordinary qualities right away? Is greatness visible?

"Intuitively you sense that you are in its presence," Karsh answers, "but I cannot tell you how. At times, you can tell by someone's conversation and compassion. But not all great people are articulate or verbal enough to express it. Nevertheless, you feel that it's there.

"But I have found that great people do have some things in common. One is an immense belief in themselves and in their mission. They also have great determination as well as an ability to work hard. At the crucial moment of decision, they draw on their accumulated wisdom. But above all, they have integrity.

"I've also seen that great men are often lonely. This is understandable, because they have built such high standards for themselves that they often feel alone. But that same loneliness is part of their ability to create. Character, like a photograph, develops in darkness."

Disappointing Rogers

Marc Comtois

The ProJo reports:

With written pleas for cash to help put “hard-charging, fearless, battle-tested Republican veterans in the U.S. Congress,” they raised more than $415,000 in the 2005-06 election cycle.

Two percent of that money went to federal candidates: a total of $9,000 in two years.

In that same time period, Rogers and Winthrop paid themselves $144,000 from their fund, mostly in “political consulting” fees...

The Special Operations Fund spent more than $300,000 in the last cycle on the mechanics of raising money, including: $111,000 on postage; $76,000 on printing and production; $19,000 on payroll taxes and fees; $6,700 on acquiring donor lists.

So, $9,000 for candidates. And none of them were in Rhode Island!
All the money went to Republicans running for Congress, including Representatives J.D. Hayworth of Arizona and Rob Simmons of Connecticut. The fund gave $250 in September 2005 to U.S. Senate candidate John Spencer, the Republican challenger to Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. Winthrop worked for Spencer on that campaign.

In 2006, the fund made six political contributions totaling $6,250. By far the largest was $5,000 on March 17 to Don Stenberg, a Republican running for U.S. Senate in Nebraska. He did not win his party’s nomination.

In all, the PAC contributed a total of $3,000 to nine U.S. House candidates and $6,000 to five U.S. Senate candidates in the last cycle.

As a guy who supported Rogers in the past, I find this all very disappointing. While I realize that there are complicated campaign finance issues that apply, is it still too much to ask for someone of Rogers stature to have focused his energy on local candidates?

March 10, 2007

Applying Laws of Gravity to Deep Space

Justin Katz

In response to my post on RI's education problems, Klaus makes the following request and commentary:

... could you please explain to me again how eliminating the teachers' unions would improve education? I mean, I'm just a stupid socialist (according to a lot of commenters here), so could you big, bright conservatives please enlighten me?

Because, if I understand Free Market Theory, if you drive down the wage paid, you drive down the number and quality of applicants.

And do not attempt an explanation unless you address that question. It is the very heart of the proposed solution.

On the one hand, eliminating the union eases the tax burden, which is a positive.

But if you end up with teachers who really aren't competent enough to do anything else, the end result is to cut our own throats by reducing the quality of teachers even more.

The simple answer to the opening question is that free market dynamics do not apply in situations that do not count as free markets. To take the point to an extreme, it would be ludicrous of a dictator to declare that he is raising the salaries of his staff (consisting of family and partners in crime) in order to attract the best candidates. The roles are filled at his pleasure. He does not compete with other employers. And his staff cannot negotiate under the presumption that they are free to leave. Moreover, to the degree that candidates compete for positions within the dictator's government, the competition is centrally over their ability to please the dictator, not to perform the functions of a particular job, and if they are able to do the former, they need not fear repercussions for failing at the latter.

In a heavily unionized system, in which it is difficult to dismiss low-quality teachers, or even to allow them to fall behind in pay scale, the free market relationship between salary and quality is nearly reversed. The more comfortable the job and the better the compensation, the less likely that teachers who are not particularly adept at their jobs and/or not particularly interested in teaching, of itself, will make way for better qualified and more passionate candidates. Indeed, the more attractive their seats, the more vehemently they will guard them.

One need only look at the pitiful pay of private schools to see that competent teachers are driven to their vocation for its own sake. Disproportionate compensation packages that are freed from market forces and that are studiously disconnected from proven ability are certain to draw those whose competency is mainly in manipulating the system.

Cocoon Your Kids

Marc Comtois

James Lileks (via Glenn Reynolds) thinks he needs to have a talk with his daughter:

Something’s wrong with my daughter. There’s not a single cartoon character on TV that doesn’t exactly mirror her own experience, and she doesn’t seem bothered by it. But she should. We’ll have to have a talk.
After he surveys the relative merits of several animated thespians with relation to their ability to serve as proper role models, Lileks wraps up with a discussion of Winnie the Pooh and the fact that Disney may be addressing his faux problem by replacing Christopher Robin with a girl.
I don’t mind that they’ve introduced a girl into the 100 Acre Woods, and as the father of a daughter I fully support the addition of female characters with whom my daughter could identify. But I know how I’d feel if I had a young boy. There are 100 acres. There’s not room enough for both?
This relates to something my wife and I were discussing the other day. Kids TV, for the most part, ain't so great. Now, I'll be the first to admit that we have a pretty tight rein on what we allow our kids (they're both under 8) to watch. In fact, we really don't let them watch that much TV at all (though I'm a little more lax...what Dad isn't?)

Violence is a no-no, end of story, but then there are the "situations."

Quick, name a major animated Disney (or Pixar) movie where one or more parent isn't absent, dead, dying or doomed? Or where there isn't one extremely bad, nightmarish character who will scare the beejesus out of your younglings? Not many (if any--btw, I'll take suggestions!). Live action movies aren't much better (though Mary Poppins is certainly a favorite in our house) and many shows and movies also feature a missing parent or some sort of back-story tragedy.

And these are rated "G"?

As we've brought up our children, we've always wondered why there is such a rush to expose kids to complicated, adult situations. Why rush them into the world of adults, with its sexual innuendos and snarkiness and love of "irony"? Why turn innocence into cynicism so quickly? So they can be "cooler" and "hipper" and "wiser" than all of the other 7 year olds on the block?

I'm not saying everything has to butterflies, rainbows and ponies. Heck, my kids love the stuff on Animal Planet (obviously not including attacking animals, etc.) or Zoboomafoo, Zoom, Fetch! or Hi-5 (and once, when they were younger, The Wiggles). And as they get older, it's easier to find appropriate stuff on TV. But once in a while they'd like to see a nice movie or TV show (animated or not) about a family that involves some sort of non-violent, non-tragic plot (that means no lost or dying pets!). And a little slapstick is also much appreciated (especially by my youngest). Even kids who can't "identify" with such a story about a (gasp) traditional, nice, well-adjusted family might enjoy it. Maybe they'd be inspired to try to, one day, have a family just like the one they saw on the screen. And wouldn't that be nice?

As my wife and I concluded, there is such a desire to create entertainment featuring characters to whom today's kids can relate, that we seem to have stopped providing positive--if somewhat idealistic--examples of good kids and parents and the families they comprise. Held hostage by a fear of hurting a child's self-esteem, we've unintentionally (maybe?) limited their exposure to the traditional, well-mannered family because we're either too worried they won't be able to "relate" or concerned we may insult them somehow. Thus, we've projected onto them our own adult conceptions about what is "realistic" and helped steer them down the path towards relativism and cynicism. How sad.

I wish it weren't so, but I doubt that the situation will change anytime soon. In the end, we can only control what our own kids watch (if anything).

Now, I'm sure there are some out there thinking, "Sheesh, this guy's living in a freakin' Fantasyland." Well, I'm not. But I try to make sure that my kids are. They will have plenty of time to grow up and learn about the "real world." Meanwhile, my wife and I are going to try like hell to keep your kids in the cocoon as long as we can. We think they'll thank us for it in the end.

March 9, 2007

What Brings Conservatives and Progressives Together?

Marc Comtois

Those who read Providence Phoenix editor Ian Donnis' Not for Nothing blog have learned that Ian is a certified baseball nut (heck, he made a category for it on N4N). Today, Ian points to a ProJo piece about how some Providence residents are outraged that the city is unilaterally doing away with a baseball field in favor of a dog park. One of those resident is former GOP candidate for Providence Mayor Dave Talan. Ian comments:

Adding insult to injury is how this location is quite close to the place where professional baseball began in Providence.

As a longtime participant in the Providence Coed Softball League, I've been struck by how the condition of Collier Field, near the Bonanza Bus Terminal, hardly corresponds with what might reasonably be expected from Cicilline's improved City Hall. The grass is often overgrown in the summer, the field is poorly maintained, and infield flooding makes it generally unusable for a day or two after a heavy rain. Maybe it's false nostalgia, but veteran umpires say Collier was better kept during the Buddy era. I do know this: the diamonds at Pawtucket's vastly superior Hank Soar Complex are the softball equivalent of playing at Fenway Park, while Collier might be akin to a rock-strewn lot in Cartagena.

Aahhh can even bring conservatives and progressives together.

Dems Offer Up Pullout Plans....But to Where?

Marc Comtois

The Democrats in the House and Senate are expected to debate fresh, new Iraq withdrawal plans next week.

The Senate bill requires a "phased redeployment" of forces from Iraq with the goal of a complete withdrawal of combat troops by March 2008.

"The troops should not be policing a civil war," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said at a press conference to announce his chamber's plan.

That's a familiar refrain. OK, what about Speaker Pelosi?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said her chamber's measure, which accelerates the timetable for a pullout if the administration fails to certify that Iraq has met certain benchmarks for progress, will be attached to the nearly $100 billion in supplemental spending that President Bush is seeking this year for fighting in Iraq and in Afghanistan.

"Our bill calls for the redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq so that we can focus more fully on the real war on terror, which is in Afghanistan," the California Democrat said.

The House bill calls for U.S. troops to start pulling out of Iraq by March 2008 and complete the withdrawal within 180 days, or by September -- less than two months before the elections for president, the House and a third of the Senate.

Did you catch that? "Our bill calls for the redeployment of U.S. troops out of Iraq so that we can focus more fully on the real war on terror, which is in Afghanistan."No mention of bringing the troops home. Does this mean the troops won't be coming home? Are they going to go to Afghanistan? Maybe.
The bill also shifts more resources into the war in Afghanistan, where Democrats say the real war on terrorism should be fought to prevent the resurgence of the radical Islamic Taliban movement and the al-Qaeda terrorist network that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

"This bill takes giant steps toward putting resources into that war, a war that is unfinished and nearly forgotten by the administration," Pelosi said in announcing the proposed legislation...

[Rep. David R.] Obey said the House bill "will essentially redirect more of our resources to the war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, fighting the right war in the right place against the people who attacked us and who are giving al-Qaeda sanctuary."

Don't get me wrong, I support their committment to fighting the Taliban. But does the anti-war Democratic base know about this?

Biofuel Pact = Latest Bush Conspiracy!!!!

Marc Comtois

Well, silly me, here I thought that the Biofuel Pact that will be signed by President Bush and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva would be viewed as a good thing. Here's what I thought would be the main storyline:

President Bush sees the new agreement with Brazil on ethanol as a way to boost alternative fuels production in the Americas and get more cars running on something other than gasoline....

Bush says he wants to work with Brazil, a pioneer in ethanol production for decades, to push the development of alternative fuels in Central America and the Caribbean. He and Silva also want to see standards set in the growing industry to help turn ethanol into an internationally traded commodity.

The first portion of the above excerpt is the first paragraph of the AP story. The second paragraph is much farther down and leads into a discussion of tariff's. But in between, the AP devotes space to the conspiracy theory that Bush really wants to CONTROL THE FLOW OF ETHANOL IN AN OPEC-LIKE CARTEL!!!!!

UPDATE: Hit the "Continue reading" link below to view the middle--and tone setting--portion of the AP story (removed from above) in full. And it looks like many enviro's in this country were for ethanol before they were against it (via Glenn Reynolds). Why the change? C'mon, you know...if the President is for it.....

UPDATE II: More here from WaPo (via this NRO post--which offers one conservative's reason for why ethanol isn't the way to go). From the WaPo:

The environmental organization Greenpeace issued a statement complaining that whatever environmental benefits ethanol would produce in reducing greenhouse gases pale in comparison to those that would be attained by a cap on carbon emissions, which Bush opposes.

"The U.S. government must take a giant leap forward quickly in order to make the necessary steps to combat global warming," said John Coequyt, an energy specialist with the group. "An aggressive focus on ethanol, without a federally mandated cap on emissions, is simply a leap sideways."

It's that "nothing is ever fast enough...we're all gonna die!" attitude that gives me pause.

:Demonstrators upset with Bush's visit here worry that the president and his biofuels buddy, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, really have visions of an OPEC-like cartel on ethanol.

While Bush's nemesis in Latin America, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is using his vast oil wealth to court allies in the region, Bush is sealing the deal Friday on an ethanol agreement with Brazil where nearly eight in 10 new cars run on fuel made from sugar cane.

Call it ethanol diplomacy.

Brazil is the first stop on Bush's eighth trip to Latin America, which also includes visits to Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. On his 45-minute ride from the airport to his hotel on Thursday night, Bush's motorcade sped by a dozen or so gas stations where drivers in this traffic-clogged city can pump either gasoline or ethanol.

Bystanders gawked at Bush's limousine, but only a few people waved. Anti-American sentiment runs high in Brazil, especially over the war in
Iraq. Bush missed the demonstrations earlier in the day protesting his visit.

Riot police fired tear gas and beat some protesters with batons after more than 6,000 people held a largely peaceful march through the financial district of Sao Paulo. About 4,000 agents, including Brazilian troops and
FBI and U.S.
Secret Service officers, are working to secure Bush's stay in the city that lasts about 24 hours.

Undeterred by protests, Bush says he's on a goodwill tour to talk about making sure the benefits of democracy — in the form of better housing, health care and education — are available to all Latin Americans, not just the wealthy.

He's visiting a community center in a neighborhood where the ultra rich live in close proximity to the desperately poor. U.S. companies have donated equipment to the center where Bush plans to highlight programs to give poor and disadvantaged youth a way forward in life.

In Latin America, however, Bush's trip is widely viewed as a way for the president to counter the influence of Chavez, the populist ally of Cuba's
Fidel Castro, who has led a leftward political shift in Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia and Nicaragua.

To taunt Bush, the Venezuelan leader will speak at an "anti-imperialist" rally in a soccer stadium on Saturday in Buenos Aires, Argentina, about 40 miles across the Plate River from Montevideo, where Bush will meet Uruguay's president, Tabor Vazquez.

While in Sao Paulo, Bush also will visit a fuel depot, operated by a subsidiary of the state-owned Petrobras, where about 100 trucks come and go daily.

Some protesters, carrying stalks of sugar cane, protested the ethanol agreement, which is being formally signed by officials with the State Department and the Brazilian foreign ministry. The demonstrators warned that increased ethanol production could lead to social unrest because most operations are run by wealthy families or corporations that reap the profits, while the poor are left to cut the cane with machetes.

"Bush and his pals are trying to control the production of ethanol in Brazil, and that has to be stopped," said Suzanne Pereira dos Santos of Brazil's Landless Workers Movement.

The White House dismisses talk that the ethanol agreement between Bush and Silva is aimed at setting up an "OPEC of Ethanol" cartel led by Washington and Brasilia.

Yup, I guess because that "War for Oil" isn't going as planned, now President Bush is going after ethanol. It's soooooo obvious!

A State of Child Abuse

Justin Katz

Every time I come across such news as this, I wonder what it's going to take to get people incensed:

... a new report by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called “Leaders and Laggards,” analyz[es] the performance of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report found that four New England states — Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut — rank among America’s top six in terms of their public schools. A fifth, Maine, fares very well, ranking 16th overall.

The performance of only one New England state is dismal: Rhode Island, which ranks 16th from the bottom, despite consistently finishing near the top in taxpayer spending per student. ...

This report confirms what many others have found. It is the umpteenth warning that Rhode Island is failing its students and undermining its economic prospects. Teachers unions have their place, but clearly politicians have allowed the unions’ special interests to take precedence over the needs of students — with the results shown above. A radical change is necessary. Parents and taxpayers must demand it, and political leaders must come forward to lead it, putting students first.

I realize that a phalanx of special interest groups marches in the minds of state legislators, but I have to believe that Rhode Islanders, even public union Rhode Islanders, even (perhaps) legislators, have strong reactions to such results. There are just too many obstacles between those reactions and the political guillotine.

The first question to answer, especially among such citizens as make up Anchor Rising's audience, is: Why on Earth can't the Republican Party mount an opposition campaign despite the state's clear faults? Perhaps it would do well to stop pretending that it's a political party and approach the eternal campaign as if it were a political action group. Stop trying to play the game and begin promising to make heads roll.

March 8, 2007

One Conservative's Climate Change Confessional

Marc Comtois

OK, prompted by some comments to my recent post on our frigid February and by a ProJo letter to the editor which asked:

:Please provide the names of just two skeptics who work in the field of climate science and who have been published in respected peer-reviewed journals. Help me to escape the intellectual manacles that those “environmental clubs” like the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have duped me into accepting as good science.
I thought I'd explain where I currently stand on "Global Warming" (or Global Climate Change, for those of you who prefer that term).

First, I think that it's been conclusively proven that the Earth has warmed over the past 100 years.

Second, I also think it's been shown that the Earth's temperature regularly fluctuates. Which means...

Third, I don't believe that we should simply accept that today's warming is strictly due to anthropogenic (fancy, scientific sounding way of say "it's humans' fault") causes. (For instance, CO2 levels may have been higher in the past than previously believed).

For instance, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (here's a grain of salt to go with the IPCC, btw) recently downgraded humans' impact on the environment (though they said we are still more to blame than anything else). Nonetheless, there is, indeed, a scientific consensus that says that mankind needs to shoulder the largest amount of blame.

A well-publicized review by Naomi Oreskes--cited often by Al Gore--illustrated the breadth of the anthropogenic-as-cause consensus. However, some scientists have refuted both the methodology and the results of Oreskes paper. Unfortunately, you won't find their papers "published in respected peer-reviewed journals" because--they assert--they've been blackballed by leading scientific journals.

Two of the world's leading scientific journals have come under fire from researchers for refusing to publish papers which challenge fashionable wisdom over global warming.

A British authority on natural catastrophes who disputed whether climatologists really agree that the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity, says his work was rejected by the American publication, Science, on the flimsiest of grounds.

A separate team of climate scientists, which was regularly used by Science and the journal Nature to review papers on the progress of global warming, said it was dropped after attempting to publish its own research which raised doubts over the issue.

The controversy follows the publication by Science in December...[by] Dr Naomi Oreskes, of the University of California, [who] analysed almost 1,000 papers on the subject published since the early 1990s, and concluded that 75 per cent of them either explicitly or implicitly backed the consensus view, while none directly dissented from it.

Dr Oreskes's study is now routinely cited by those demanding action on climate change, including the Royal Society and Prof Sir David King, the Government's chief scientific adviser.

However, her unequivocal conclusions immediately raised suspicions among other academics, who knew of many papers that dissented from the pro-global warming line.

They included Dr Benny Peiser, a senior lecturer in the science faculty at Liverpool John Moores University, who decided to conduct his own analysis of the same set of 1,000 documents - and concluded that only one third backed the consensus view, while only one per cent did so explicitly.

Dr Peiser submitted his findings to Science in January, and was asked to edit his paper for publication - but has now been told that his results have been rejected on the grounds that the points he make had been "widely dispersed on the internet".

Dr Peiser insists that he has kept his findings strictly confidential. "It is simply not true that they have appeared elsewhere already," he said.

A spokesman for Science said Dr Peiser's research had been rejected "for a variety of reasons", adding: "The information in the letter was not perceived to be novel."

Dr Peiser rejected this: "As the results from my analysis refuted the original claims, I believe Science has a duty to publish them."

Dr Peiser is not the only academic to have had work turned down which criticises [sic] the findings of Dr Oreskes's study. Prof Dennis Bray, of the GKSS National Research Centre in Geesthacht, Germany, submitted results from an international study showing that fewer than one in 10 climate scientists believed that climate change is principally caused by human activity.

As with Dr Peiser's study, Science refused to publish his rebuttal. Prof Bray told The Telegraph: "They said it didn't fit with what they were intending to publish."

Prof Roy Spencer, at the University of Alabama, a leading authority on satellite measurements of global temperatures, told The Telegraph: "It's pretty clear that the editorial board of Science is more interested in promoting papers that are pro-global warming. It's the news value that is most important."

He said that after his own team produced research casting doubt on man-made global warming, they were no longer sent papers by Nature and Science for review - despite being acknowledged as world leaders in the field.

As a result, says Prof Spencer, flawed research is finding its way into the leading journals, while attempts to get rebuttals published fail. "Other scientists have had the same experience", he said. "The journals have a small set of reviewers who are pro-global warming."

Concern about bias within climate research has spread to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose findings are widely cited by those calling for drastic action on global warming.

In January, Dr Chris Landsea, an expert on hurricanes with the United States National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, resigned from the IPCC, claiming that it was "motivated by pre-conceived agendas" and was "scientifically unsound".

This is why I'm not ready to buy consensus. It's easy to have one when you exclude the work of those whose research indicates otherwise. But it's more than a "conspiracy theory" that gives me pause. I also blame the cows.

More seriously, there is also convincing research pointing to another cause. The sun. Both Danish climatologist Henrik Svensmark (Danish National Space Centre) and Israeli astrophysicist Nir Shariv are pointing to the Sun as a major cause. (I know, sounds kind of weird to actually blame the sun for warming the Earth). According to the story detailin Svensmark's research:

Henrik Svensmark...believes that the planet is experiencing a natural period of low cloud cover due to fewer cosmic rays entering the atmosphere.

This, he says, is responsible for much of the global warming we are experiencing.

He claims carbon dioxide emissions due to human activity are having a smaller impact on climate change than scientists think. If he is correct, it could mean that mankind has more time to reduce our effect on the climate.

The controversial theory comes one week after 2,500 scientists who make up the United Nations International Panel on Climate Change published their fourth report stating that human carbon dioxide emissions would cause temperature rises of up to 4.5 C by the end of the century.

Mr Svensmark claims that the calculations used to make this prediction largely overlooked the effect of cosmic rays on cloud cover and the temperature rise due to human activity may be much smaller.

He said: "It was long thought that clouds were caused by climate change, but now we see that climate change is driven by clouds.

"This has not been taken into account in the models used to work out the effect carbon dioxide has had.

"We may see CO2 is responsible for much less warming than we thought and if this is the case the predictions of warming due to human activity will need to be adjusted."

Mr Svensmark last week published the first experimental evidence from five years' research on the influence that cosmic rays have on cloud production in the Proceedings of the Royal Society Journal A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. This week he will also publish a fuller account of his work in a book entitled The Chilling Stars: A New Theory of Climate Change.

A team of more than 60 scientists from around the world are preparing to conduct a large-scale experiment using a particle accelerator in Geneva, Switzerland, to replicate the effect of cosmic rays hitting the atmosphere...Mr Svensmark's results show that the rays produce electrically charged particles when they hit the atmosphere. He said: "These particles attract water molecules from the air and cause them to clump together until they condense into clouds."

Mr Svensmark claims that the number of cosmic rays hitting the Earth changes with the magnetic activity around the Sun. During high periods of activity, fewer cosmic rays hit the Earth and so there are less clouds formed, resulting in warming.

Low activity causes more clouds and cools the Earth.

He said: "Evidence from ice cores show this happening long into the past. We have the highest solar activity we have had in at least 1,000 years.

"Humans are having an effect on climate change, but by not including the cosmic ray effect in models it means the results are inaccurate.The size of man's impact may be much smaller and so the man-made change is happening slower than predicted."

Shariv--independently--came to essentially the same conclusion:
Dr. Shaviv reconstructed the temperature on Earth over the past 550 million years to find that cosmic ray flux variations explain more than two-thirds of Earth's temperature variance, making it the most dominant climate driver over geological time scales. The study also found that an upper limit can be placed on the relative role of CO2 as a climate driver, meaning that a large fraction of the global warming witnessed over the past century could not be due to CO2 -- instead it is attributable to the increased solar activity.

CO2 does play a role in climate, Dr. Shaviv believes, but a secondary role, one too small to preoccupy policymakers. Yet Dr. Shaviv also believes fossil fuels should be controlled, not because of their adverse affects on climate but to curb pollution.

"I am therefore in favour of developing cheap alternatives such as solar power, wind, and of course fusion reactors (converting Deuterium into Helium), which we should have in a few decades, but this is an altogether different issue." His conclusion: "I am quite sure Kyoto is not the right way to go."

And there are more potential causes, in addition to Solar Activity, there are Milankovitch Cycles and "large Igneous provinces." In other words, there's a whole lot more to consider.

And this is where I come down. I'm all for reducing pollution and insofar as that includes reducing our CO and CO2 and methane, I'm all for it. But I don't think that the current hysteria that blames humans is justified nor that we should be devoting so many resources to stave of the current, hip and trendy version of impending Armageddon.

In a nutshell, we should keep researching--which means being open-minded about alternative theories--but should do so with a little humility (it ain't just us causing the change) and be pragmatic and fiscally sane in our approach.

Rhode Island's Universal Education Improvement Mantra: "More"

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Philip Marcelo of the Projo, leaders from a number of Rhode Island's smaller cities and suburbs (Cumberland, Johnston, Lincoln, Cranston, Scituate, North Smithfield, Smithfield, and Portsmouth) have made some reasonable sounding proposals for relieving the pressure on local school budgets. Two of the proposals would have an immediate impact…

The coalition proposes exempting school buildings from the state’s stricter fire-code regulations and repealing state special education regulations that are more restrictive than federal guidelines.

“Reducing state mandates doesn’t cost anything. It can be done with the stroke of a pen and would help these communities greatly,” [Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena] said. “Do we really need to have sprinklers in all our schools when most students are trained to go right out the door when a fire alarm goes off?”

Another proposal is a structural government reform that could have a long-term effect in helping municipalities exercise fiscal restraint…
[Cumberland Mayor Daniel McKee] said the coalition will advocate for changing the “school governance model.” One measure would require school districts to tell municipal administrators what the anticipated fiscal impact on a community would be to a proposed labor contract.

That report, called a fiscal note, would be reviewed by a municipality’s chief financial officer prior to the contract’s finalization and would avert problems some communities face with soaring healthcare costs.

But there’s one other proposal which, given the current fiscal and economic climate, is completely infeasible...
The coalition is also looking for a state aid formula that would give suburban and urban ring communities the same amounts of state aid they received last year and propose, over time, a gradual boost in the percentage of school department budgets the state covers.

“In 1992, when the state aid formula was changed, the logic of supporting urban districts made sense,” McKee said. “Today that is not the case, and we are quickly becoming communities in need.”

In other words, the small cities and the suburbs are adding their demand for “more" to the urban core's continuing demand for “more”. When everyone is demanding “more”, restructuring the funding formula provides no solution. Only a fundamental change in the way that government spends money will solve Rhode Island's education funding problem.

One other point worth noting: the fact that municipal leaders, who presumably have a contact or two inside the state house, believe that obtaining “the same amounts of state aid they received last year” is a priority, combined with the fact that House finance chairman Steven Costantino said earlier this year that compromises in the education arena might be necessary, strongly suggests to me that the legislature may be considering whacking state education aid as a means of balancing the budget.

Building Permits in Rhode Island: We’ll Slow You Down Because We Can

Carroll Andrew Morse

Benjamin Gedan has an article from yesterday’s Projo describing the long wait times involved in getting a building permit approved in Rhode Island. The Rhode Island Builder’s Association believes that the current delays are neither reasonable nor legal…

In an attempt to speed up the permitting process, the association has sued nine cities and towns, arguing that the glacial pace of municipal decision-making violates state law and deprives landowners of their property rights. The defendants include Warwick, Cranston, Lincoln, West Warwick, North Kingstown, Cumberland, Newport, North Providence and Woonsocket....

The lawsuit cites permit applications that were under review for as long as 19 months. The result, the association says, has been a steady decline in development throughout the state.

From 1999 to 2006, the number of building permits issued statewide declined by nearly 40 percent, from 2,600 to 1,600, according to the association. Though the period saw a weakened housing market, the number of permits dropped even in times of strong housing demand.

Two questions arise from this story…
  1. I’ve seen affordable housing programs touted as big progress because they will add about 500 new units to the state housing pool. Given the numbers discussed in Gedan’s article, wouldn’t streamlining the permitting process also be an easy (and maybe even better) way to help relieve the housing crunch, if around 1,000 units per year are being lost to permitting delays? (Or is there perhaps an element of snob-zoning involved in the decline in permits?)
  2. Is there any reason not to look at these permitting delays as an indicator that Rhode Island has developed a public service culture that is overtly hostile to individual initiative, i.e. activities not fully controlled by Rhode Island officials are not activities regarded by Rhode Island officials as important.

Refocusing on Afghanistan

Marc Comtois

The situation in Afghanistan is complicated:

In the sixth winter since the US-led ouster of the Taliban government, the radical Islamists are making a comeback. Their bold confidence was apparent last week, when a suicide bomber killed 23 outside an air base during Vice President Richard Cheney’s visit there.

There are many factors. But citizens..., the Afghan government and key NATO commanders agree on this: The use of force is sometimes excessive and errant. In Afghanistan’s tribal society, a single death - no matter if NATO labels it “enemy” - can create scores of sworn foes. And NATO, like the Taliban, has killed hundreds...

While troops go after Taliban fighters...that’s not a priority for ordinary Afghans; they are frustrated by insecurity and lawlessness, which they blame on a corrupt and inept government whose police extort, threaten and make them feel less secure.

Kinda sounds like Iraq, no? Above all else, the average Afghani wants security and they don't care who provides it--Coalition forces, the government, the tribe, or the Taliban. Unfortunately, with some of our Coalition partners refusing to fight the Taliban, more of the burden has fallen on the U.S.

Some, like Frank Rich (via N4N) , have complained that the Bush Administration has been distracted by Iraq and has lost sight of who our real enemies--those who helped perpetrate 9/11--are: Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The recent rise in Taliban/terrorist activity seems to support Rich's point of view, but there are two reasons for why the situation might look worse--right now.

The first is that weather is a very real factor in planning military strategy. A suicide bomber or small cell can operate nimbly--regardless of weather--and then escape into the snow-covered mountains. Not so a heavy military detachment. In fact, this year is very much like last year: the Taliban and Al Qaeda made noise in the late winter and were gearing up for a spring offensive. Meanwhile, the Coalition also geared up (including a few soldiers that were originally ticketed for Iraq) to face them head on. This included taking preemptive action to undermine Taliban plans and attacking their reinforcements. This week, Coalition forces launched Operation Achilles to counter the Taliban's recent activity. (As the offensive began, Afghan forces caught a Taliban leader who tried to escape by dressing up in a Burqa--I guess women are second class unless you need to hide by dressing up as on).

Thus, the Taliban "military" isn't faring so well. Which brings me to the second reason for why things may look worse to Rich and others--right now. The Taliban, having failed militarily, have switched to a media-centric strategy:

The Taliban are talking less about their field forces, which took a big beating last year, and are off to an equally dismal start this year, and are emphasizing suicide bombers instead. While the Taliban have been using suicide bombers a lot more, they have not changed the military situation. The Taliban are still unable to take back control of anything. What the suicide bombers have done is made more Afghans anti-Taliban. That's because most of the casualties from these attacks are Afghans, often women and children....A new tactic is to use a suicide car bomber against military convoys, and follow it up with gunfire. If you do this in a town, with lots of civilians around, you can claim that the civilians were killed by the panicked gunfire of the foreign soldiers. This sort of thing is popular with local and foreign journalists. It doesn't have to be true, just plausible, and Taliban publicists know how to run with that kind of story. The Taliban may not be able to handle foreign troops, but they are masters when it comes to manipulating foreign journalists....Because of their failures last year, the Taliban are backing off the troop unit angle, and moving back to terror attacks and hustling journalists.
As they've learned from Iraq, bombs and bodies are effective propaganda and can undermine the will of many in the West, who simply aren't used to guerrilla warfare and have "grown up" with conflict fought at 15,000 feet. This is true even if while the local population increasingly rejects those who direct the bombings.

That both Afghanistan and Iraq are a different kind of war than America is used to--guerrilla campaigns that require more than just military success--explains why it is hard to explain if or how or why America and its allies are winning. Regardless of whether or not you view Iraq as "Bush's war of choice" and Afghanistan as "the good war," the fact remains that the strategy in both is remarkably similar: Clear / Hold / Ensure Security / Rebuild. That means aggressively killing bad guys and showing the Iraqi and Afghani troops how it's done. It looks like it's working in Iraq (so far) and it has worked in the past in Afghanistan. I think if more big-time media stars, like NBC's Brian Williams, were to go to Iraq or Afghanistan and call attention to the changing situation, then a change in perception would follow.

It's March 2007, not November 2006. Isn't it about time that we update the storyline?

Addendum: Many of the links in this post are to Strategy Page. Here is an index of their 2007 Afghanistan stories. It's very nuts-and-bolts military stuff and is helpful in getting wartime tactical and strategic "metrics" as well as a military--vice a strictly political--view of the situation.

Democrats Settling on an Iraq Plan

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the Associated Press, House Democrats have decided where they will finally make their stand on the Iraq War…

House Democratic leaders intend to propose legislation requiring the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the fall of 2008, and even earlier if the Iraqi government fails to meet security and other goals, congressional officials said Wednesday night….

Democrats familiar with the emerging legislation said the bill would require President Bush to certify that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was making progress toward providing for his country's security, allocating its oil revenues and creating a fair system for amending its constitution….

The legislation also calls for the Pentagon to adhere to its standards for equipping and training U.S. troops sent overseas and for providing time at home between tours of combat.

At the same time, it permits Bush to issue waivers of these standards. Democrats described the waiver provision as an attempt to embarrass the president, but their effect would be to permit the administration to proceed with plans to deploy five additional combat brigades to the Baghdad area over the next few months.

The author of the story opines that this is finally the tough stand on Iraq that Democrats have promised…
The legislation is expected on the floor of the House later this month, and would mark the most direct challenge to date the new Democratic-controlled Congress has posed to the president's war policies. As such, it is likely to provoke a fierce response from the administration and its Republican allies in Congress.
…but that’s just a bit of rah-rah partisan boosterism that somehow found its way into a news story. Since the President has publicly stated that he expects the Iraqi government to be responsible for security throughout all of Iraq by November of 2007, this legislation will have little impact on the President’s chosen course of action. Still, if some MSM make-believe about how Congressional Democrats have finally gotten tough is what it takes to get the Democratic leadership on board with trying to win the war in Iraq, then that's a net positive for the country.

Democrat Senator Introduces Tax Cut Legislation

Marc Comtois

Warwick Sen. Michael McCaffrey has introduced (S 0159) legislation to lower the state sales tax from 7% to 6%. As McCaffrey points out, the 7% rate was originally put into place to help the state bailout from the credit union crisis in the 1990's. Now that it has served its purpose--all of the money has been paid back--it's time to go back to 6%. The legislation will also "reduce the excise tax paid annually by the owners of motor vehicles, boats, airplanes and trailers (excluding mobile homes), from 7 to 6 percent." Here's more:

"The 7-percent sales tax was not meant to be a permanent change. The 1-percent increase in the early 1990s was necessary to pay back the depositors affected by the credit union crisis. Now those debts have been paid, so the reason no longer exists. It's unfortunate enough Rhode Island taxpayers got stuck with the bill for the credit union bailout, but it's wrong to continue charging taxpayers for it after those debts are long gone," said Senator McCaffrey....

He said the high tax rate can hurt businesses in Rhode Island, particularly since the state is so small that it is not very difficult for shoppers to take their business to other states. Massachusetts' sales tax is 5 percent, while Connecticut charges 6 percent. New Hampshire has no sales tax at all.

Senator McCaffrey acknowledged the state's current budget deficit, but said it doesn't help the state's fiscal health to continue putting Rhode Island's environment for businesses and shoppers at a disadvantage by setting the sales tax at a rate higher than that of neighboring states.

"Besides, the state made a promise to taxpayers, and you can't expect to build trust in government if that government breaks its promises," said Senator McCaffrey, who serves as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Kudos, Senator.

March 7, 2007

"Weather story that's not topping the news"

Marc Comtois

After receiving our most recent gas bill from National Grid--and picking my wife up off of the floor--I thought back and realized that, "Gee, February was a pretty cold month." Don Surber (Via Glenn Reynolds) calls this the "Weather story that's not topping the news." He links to several stories, here's one example:

It was the coldest February since at least 1989 (18 years) and possibly 1979 for the nation as a whole, and the month is expected to rank between the 8th and 15th coldest in 113 years of national records. National precipitation trended up 134% over last year with snowfall up 60% over last year. Tornadoes and severe weather were also up with 89 during the month vs only 12 last year. Gasoline prices trended up 6% vs last year and were at the highest levels since middle September.
As Surber notes, "They have politicized the weather. None of the coldest February stories mention climate." Well, don't forget Don that there is a consensus that says that the earth is getting warmer because of human activity. All the cool--er, warm?--scientists say so.

New Bedford Illegals

Marc Comtois

The raid on the Michael Bianco leather plant in New Bedford is making national headlines. There can be no doubt that the company's illegal actions were reprehensible:

The plant’s owner, Francesco Insolia, and managers “knowingly and actively” recruited increasing numbers of illegal workers to meet demands of multiple Department of Defense contracts since 2001. In 2004, the company received an $82-million defense contract, according to allegations in the affidavits filed in support of search warrants executed yesterday. More than 500 people work at the Bianco plant.
And, despite the emotional testimonials of illegal workers being broadcast nationwide, we can't forget that they are here illegally. In fact, embedded in the intended-to-be heart-wrenching anecdotes about the workers and their children is evidence of why we should be concerned:
Advocacy workers rushed to the scene to deliver prescription medications for detained plant workers who have chronic conditions, such as diabetes and epilepsy.

Acting on information that most of the detained workers were women, the advocacy group representatives said they were working through New Bedford public school authorities and contacting day-care centers and private day-care operators, to ensure that children would be safely retrieved.

“Our main concern is for the children,” said Helena Marques, executive director of the Immigrants Assistance Center. “My concern is that a lot of people [arrestees] are women, and they have children. We are trying to get information to the schools and day-care centers.”

How did illegal immigrants get prescription drugs? Why are the children of illegal immigrants enrolled in public schools? Yes, I have compassion for their plight. Yes, they were victimized--and aided and abetted--by a despicable company (not to mention the Social Services sector and their advocates). But they are still here illegally and they've broken the law.

And how many of those jobs could have employed American citizens, including a few Rhode Islanders? There were a few bills proposed in the House this session, but H5367 has been "held for further study" in committee (H 5392 is still in committee).

UPDATE: Commenter Rhody reminds me of something I forget to include:

What I want to know is: how the @#$% did a government contractor which employs illegal immigrants (and treats them in ways that, to put it mildly, explain why we have unions in America) get away with this as long as it did? The heads which need to roll are not confined to this factory's walls.
Thanks Rhody, you've got that right!

Abortion Failed, Woman Keeps Kid and Sues for "Child-rearing costs"

Marc Comtois

Talk about cognitive dissonance. That's about all I can say (via NRO) about this story:

A Boston woman who gave birth after a failed abortion has filed a lawsuit against two doctors and Planned Parenthood seeking the costs of raising her child.

he complaint was filed by Jennifer Raper, 45, last week in Suffolk Superior Court and still must be screened by a special panel before it can proceed to trial.

Raper claimed in the three-page medical malpractice suit that she found out she was pregnant in March 2004 and decided to have an abortion for financial reasons.

Dr. Allison Bryant, a physician working for Planned Parenthood at the time, performed the procedure on April 9, 2004, but it "was not done properly, causing the plaintiff to remain pregnant," according to the complaint.

Raper then went to see Dr. Benjamin Eleonu at Boston Medical Center in July 2004, and he failed to detect the pregnancy even though she was 20 weeks pregnant at the time, the lawsuit alleges.

It was only when Raper went to the New England Medical Center emergency room for treatment of pelvic pain in late September that year that she found out she was pregnant, the suit said.

She gave birth to a daughter on Dec. 7, 2004.

She is seeking damages, including child-rearing costs.

Why did she keep this previously unwanted child?

Who Cares What the RI Legislature Thinks About Iraq?

Marc Comtois

Perhaps if House Democrats would refrain from debating utterly non-Rhode Island related "legislation" such as H 5340, a House Resolution "RESPECTFULLY REQUESTING THE UNITED STATES CONGRESS TO OPPOSE PRESIDENT BUSH'S PLAN TO INCREASE US TROOPS IN IRAQ," then they wouldn't have to put the pedal to the metal in June. (Of course, that's assuming they don't like shoving all of the legislation down our throats with little chance for review). Besides, does it really matter what the Rhode Island Legislature has to say about Iraq? Well, for those who wake up every day and drink a tall glass of hubris (Reps. Crowley, McNamara, Naughton, Shanley, and Lewiss), I guess it does:

WHEREAS, The initial war plans for Iraq had a preliminary American invasion force of about 130,000 soldiers and Marines, which would drop to 30,000 to 50,000 by the end of 2003; and

WHEREAS, As of mid-November 2006, there were approximately 152,000 United States troops deployed to Iraq; and

WHEREAS, In his State of the Union Address, President Bush affirmed his commitment of more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq; and

WHEREAS, This policy of "escalation" is simply the wrong answer to the situation in Iraq at this time; now, therefore be it

RESOLVED, That this House of Representatives of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations hereby urges the United States Congress to oppose President Bush's plan to increase United States troops in Iraq; and be it further

RESOLVED, That this House urges the Congress to support a plan to redeploy American Troops currently serving in Iraq and seek a political resolution to the internal Iraq conflict; and be it further

RESOLVED, That the Secretary of State be and he hereby is authorized and directed to transmit duly certified copies of this resolution to the Rhode Island Congressional delegation.

Setting aside the total lack of perspective with regards to the first "WHEREAS" concerning initial troop estimates vs. reality (apparently, they've read somewhere that pre-conflict troop estimates are always accurate and never change as the situation changes.) And temporarily setting aside the aforementioned fact that it is a total waste of time. (Newsflash: no one gives a darn what the freakin' RI Legislature thinks about foreign affairs. Get over yourselves). The reality in Iraq is quickly bypassing their "RESOLVE"s, but they don't realize it because, like so many politicians, they have already made up their minds on Iraq--facts be damned--and are still sticking to the November 2006 script. What a wonderfully static way to look at the world.

The Mainstream Media has also been following the same template, which is why NBCs Brian Williams should be given credit for going to Iraq to see things for himself. And he's beginning to realize that the Conventional Wisdom in the U.S. doesn't reflect the reality in Iraq.

In an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, Williams observed:

Today, the message that we`re prepared to report tonight on "NBC Nightly News" is this kind of tale of two wars.

I`m fresh from, you know, weeks of putting together "NBC Nightly News" and televising this debate in Washington, a lot of members of Congress saying we should be out now.

And today, we literally airlift into a place like Ramadi, where they are so proud of the latest city block they say they have been able to "peacify." They have been able to forge an agreement with the local religious leaders and knock al Qaeda one city block further away from the center of town.

They are so involved in the battle. Many, many soldiers told me today the local people are so worried they`re going to leave cities like Ramadi and Hit. That`s the war they know.

And they say very politely, they can talk all they want in D.C.; we`ve got to enforce the policy, the job we`re here to do.

And, according to Williams, the effect is already being felt:
Well, I`ll tell you. It`s in its early stages and with - if you mention the so-called surge, you have to talk about it in tandem with this new policy of these small outposts, these - what they are really is glorified police stations.

We saw it today in Ramadi. There is patently no way a few weeks ago we could have stood outside an armored vehicle and had a conversation as we did today in Ramadi.

They have changed policy there. The war has changed.

Is it better? That`ll be for other people to judge. But it is already being felt here, that is, the increase in troops. The first ones are already here.

There`s a huge field behind us they are clearing for the 3rd Infantry, for their next tour of duty here. And so, we`ll have to wait and see. It`s on a continuum.

But, again, the combination, with this change in policy - getting out, decentralizing, going into the neighborhoods, grabbing a toehold, telling the enemy we`re here, start talking to the locals - that is having an obvious and palpable effect.

Williams, who was touring Iraq with Lieutenant General Ray Odierno, also offered this report (link is to MSNBC video, transcript from here. All via A Second Hand Conjecture):
“This is what the General heard today about how warmly the locals now view the Americans.”

U.S. Army Colonel John Charlton: "They do not want us to leave. They want to see the police come through.”

U. S. Army Lt. Colonel Charles Ferry: “The people here are very glad to see us. They are very hesitant still because they're not sure if we're going to stay. They want us to stay.”

Voice of Odierno?: “That's the issue.”

Ferry: “That's the whole deal. If we stay down here and to keep beating down the insurgents."

Brian Williams, to one or more of the officers: “You just said, 'They don't want us to leave.' That's the tenth time today I've heard that. I've got to go back to the States and do a newscast that every night has another politician or 12 of them saying, 'We have got to get out of that godforsaken place.'”

Odierno: "They can talk about policy, okay, and that's what they have to do back there. My mission right now is to provide protection for the Iraqi people so this government can grow."

NBC correspondent Richard Engel also added:
Some say they [insurgents] are just waiting to see how long the U.S. will stay and how long this surge will continue. It was obvious, the U.S. announced the surge, they said where the U.S. troops were going and the militia decided they fought the U.S. two-and-a-half years ago, didn't have a lot of success. They decided this time they're going to wait it out, see if political pressure in the U.S. can help them win this time.
Williams wrapped up the report:

Brian Williams: “And General, you and I heard sentiments we don't often hear today, the U.S. commanders quoting the Iraqis: 'please don't leave us.' And a lot of the U.S. fighters there today said they didn't want to leave this fight, they are dedicated to it.”

Retired General Wayne Downing: “Brian, every single one of them, I ran into a lot of officers and NCOs that I served with -- every soldier that I ran across today I asked him: 'How do you feel about what's going on, what do you know about what is going on back in the states?' And without exception -- this was spontaneous, especially when you start talking to PFCs and Spec 4s, they're going to tell you the truth, no party line. Very proud of what they're doing. Very, very dedicated. Many of these guys, Brian, are back here on their second and third tours. These are one-year tours. Extremely well trained and very professional.”

It's amazing how the story changes when the media actually makes an effort, isn't it? Does it sound to you like the President's plan isn't working? As I said, reality is eclipsing the November 2006 template, but the Democrats in the RI House are too fixated on making rhetorical political hay to realize it. And their meaningless and ideologically self-indulgent resolution runs contra to what the troops on the ground believe. Finally, as they get their jones by "taking a stand," they lose valuable time that should be spent addressing the very real fiscal crisis that is facing our state.

March 6, 2007

Re: Warning to Dan Yorke

Justin Katz

Maybe Sen. Alves is trying to save money and improve the average education that students receive by pushing wealthier children into private schools.

School quality is a critical factor that parents consider when purchasing homes, so those with the means are likely to have the same emphasis on choosing better schools if it turns out that the kids are going to have to travel, anyway. Thus, the wealthier town's schools will have more room for poorer kids, and the poorer town's schools will have fewer students among whom to divide its resources.

Hey, it's win-win... until those motivated parents realize that Rhode Island has merely offered them additional incentive to pack up and ship the family to a more sane state.

Warning to Dan Yorke: Be Wary of the Regionalizers

Carroll Andrew Morse

Dan Yorke of WPRO radio (630 AM) had Senate Finance Committee Chairman Stephen Alves (D-West Warwick) on his show yesterday to discuss the Rhode Island budget shortfall. As part of a long-term plan for bringing fiscal stability to the state, Senator Alves proposed regionalizing Rhode Island's school districts into 5 county-level school systems. Now, maybe I’m making too much of one example, but when the Senator mentioned that East Greenwich residents might have to get used to sending their kids to schools in West Warwick as part of his plan, I think he provided an unintended insight into what he believes the real benefits of regionalization to be.

Senator Alves' example, after all, seems to have things backwards. Someone thinking rationally about maximizing the state’s education resources should be developing ways to move students in the direction opposite of the Senator's suggestion, from the troubled school system, to the better one. But moving East Greenwich students to West Warwick does make sense if you assume that providing the best education possible to Kent County students is less of a priority than finding new sources of revenue (namely East Greenwich’s property tax money) that can be used by West Warwick, regardless of how wisely the money is spent. This, sadly, would be Rhode Island politics-as-usual, where budget debates have long focused on delivering new monies to municipal education and social welfare bureaucracies that have maxed out their existing revenue sources and are demanding "more". School regionalization will become an extension of the same old battle over a stagnant or shrinking pie, unless it can be carried out with some creativity.

So here’s some creativity. If statewide regionalization is to occur in Rhode Island, it should, at a minimum, be coupled with open choice within the public system, where parents can send their children to a public school they choose, and funding is allocated to a particular school based on the number of students that choose to go there. In other words, if Kent County gets regionalized, let parents, and not Stephen Alves, choose whether their children go to school in East Greenwich or West Warwick. And some real creative stuff, like vouchers, public scholarships and increased use of charters, should be considered too. This kind of open choice, more so than a regionalization plan, is the funding formula that will improve the quality of education in Rhode Island in a fiscally responsible manner.

CRIP's Proposal to Close the Rhode Island Budget Deficit

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here’s the package of tax-increases proposed by the “Campaign for Rhode Island Priorities” for closing the state budget deficit

  • Stop the elimination of the 5% capital gains tax scheduled for 2008. Massachusetts, which eliminated its own capital gains tax suffered so badly, and fell so far behind in meeting the needs of its people, it rescinded the law and now tax long-term gains at 5.3%.
  • Close abusive corporate tax loopholes.
  • Broaden the sales tax to reflect our changed economy by taxing selected services such as golf, marina and fitness memberships.
  • Eliminate sales tax exemptions for luxury items like private aircraft.
  • Freeze the alternative flat tax – an entitlement benefiting only 13,119 of the wealthiest Rhode Islanders. When fully phased in, the flat tax will cost Rhode Island as much as $73 million!
  • Place a moratorium on ‘06 tax legislation that artificially limits the ability of cities and towns to meet their own needs – in the face of stagnant state support to cities and towns for education
  • Impose a tax on the capital gains from short-term land sales. This legislation exempts owner-occupied homes but targets short-term investors that flip properties for large profits, driving property rates and rents out of reach for many Rhode Islanders.
  • Implement ‘06 legislation that sets up a state office of revenue policy analysis.
Some comments, in no particular order…
  1. The overall philosophy of proposing nothing but tax-increases to balance the budget is flawed. It says Rhode Island taxpayers should accept paying more to receive the same failing education system and social welfare programs they always have. RI has already fallen behind in “meeting the needs of its people”. Pouring money into the same fiscally irresponsible and failing programs won’t fix the problem.
  2. The description of Governor Carcieri’s proposed education increases as "stagnant" tells you where the priorities of this group really are. The Governor has proposed a 3% increase in education aid to all cities and towns. That’s only stagnant if you believe that the smaller cities and towns should be slow-bled of their resources, so that the urban core can get a bigger percentage of state subsidies each year.
  3. On a related note, the call to lift the local property tax caps is code for demanding that the smaller cities and towns raise their property taxes so that more state money generated from sales and incomes taxes will be available for transfer to the urban core. Someone remind me what the towns get out of this deal?
  4. I don't know much about capital gains tax-policy, but I’m not sure there as much logic behind the capital gains tax proposals as there is visceral hostility to the concept of profit. I'm assuming the short-term land sales tax would apply to cases where someone buys a property, improves it value, and then sells it without ever moving in. Isn't that a good thing, in terms of the property-tax revenue from the improved property eventually captured by the city or town -- and in terms of the quality of life in the neighborhood where the property is improved? Isn't CRIP basically saying they want to keep property taxes low by keeping property values low by discouraging the improvement of substandard housing? Is there anyone familiar with the ins and out of capital gains who'd like to chime in on this (and/or the long-term capital gains proposal in the CRIP plan)?
  5. Finally, it would be nice if CRIP could add some numbers on how much revenue they expect each of these proposals to generate.

Starve the Budget Beast

Marc Comtois

To no one's surprise, the various "advocates" who have taken up permanent residence at the State House pleaded with lawmakers to accept their solution to the budget shortfall: either raise taxes or stop any scheduled tax cuts:

Freeze the so-called “tax-cut-for-the- rich” in its tracks before state government loses tens of millions of dollars.

Halt the phaseout of the capital gains tax before the state loses millions more.

And then extend the state’s sales tax to “luxury items,” such as airplanes; boat moorings; fitness, golf and country-club memberships; medical and legal services and any single article of food or clothing that costs more than $150. And slap a new tax on land speculators who make big money buying and quickly reselling real estate at inflated prices.

Ahhh yes, nothing like pulling the good ol' class warfare card. Unfortunately, it seems like--this time at least--the House rules have changed and that trump card has been devalued:
But the notion of raising taxes to plug a projected $354-million revenue-spending gap this year and next drew a cool reception from key Democratic lawmakers interviewed after yesterday’s news conference — and outright opposition from Republican Carcieri.

House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox was non-committal, saying: “I recognize the need for long-term planning regarding budgetary matters. However, I will refrain from commenting on the specific proposals that were raised today because they all have to be viewed in the context of the overall state budget.”

House Finance Chairman Steven M. Costantino said he would consider proposals for reining in the state’s expensive historic tax-credit program, but would not look favorably on any proposal to halt the long-promised capital gains tax phase-out or revoke the new opportunity lawmakers gave the state’s wealthiest taxpayers last year to reduce their income taxes by paying an alternative flat tax...

The tax cut was not linked — as its predecessors had been — to the creation of a specific number of new jobs. But it was pitched to lawmakers — and enthusiastically embraced by House Democratic leaders — as a way to both keep and bring “major decision-makers” to Rhode Island who would produce jobs.

Given how concerned the legislature remains about jobs, Costantino, D-Providence, said he would be “afraid to touch that right now.”

The "advocates" are all about short-term thinking. They want "their" money--including an already-spent annual increase, of course--and they want it now, to heck with the long-term repercussions. For their part, it appears as if some State House Democrats are finally looking beyond meeting the short-term needs of one of their valuable constituencies. For his part, the Governor would not budge:
A statement issued late yesterday by [the Governor's] office said: “Fundamentally, Governor Carcieri believes we must cut spending so we can cut taxes. By contrast, this group’s only answer is to increase Rhode Island taxes so we can also continue to increase state spending. Unfortunately, the ‘Coalition to Raise Your Taxes’ continues to cling to the mistaken belief that we can tax and spend our way to good fiscal health.”

“Like every Rhode Island family,” spokesman Jeff Neal said, “state government must begin to live within its means. A family cannot increase its spending by 8 or 9 percent each year if their household income is only going up by 4 or 5 percent. Similarly, state government cannot continue to increase spending by 8 or 9 percent a year if our underlying revenues are only growing by 4 or 5 percent a year.”

According to the story, written by the ProJo's Katherine Gregg, the coalition "also proposed lifting the newly lowered cap on how much the cities and towns can raise their own taxes each year." But, as Gregg pointed out, "That too promised to be a hard sell." Indeed:
The state is firmly committed to enforcing the new 5.25-percent tax levy cap, but also acknowledges that some details have not been worked out. Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed, one of the key sponsors of the tax cap, which passed last summer, called the tax relief act a work in progress and stressed that the state is committed to helping municipalities work through all their questions.

Despite that assurance, many local officials were left shaking their heads yesterday. They cited the burden of the new levy cap and said they think it was implemented too quickly and without addressing state aid to education and other key factors that affect municipal spending.

“Were my questions answered? No,” said Suzanne McGee-Cienki, chairwoman of the East Greenwich School Committee. “I applaud the state effort to try to control property taxes, which have increased so significantly, but I question as to whether they’ve really gotten to the root of why taxes have continued to go up, and I also don’t think that they studied all the implications the cap will have on school departments and communities.”

Perhaps the General Assembly has finally realized that they have to rein in the spending. One way to do this is by implementing laws that force they and others to do so. The property tax ceiling will be felt on the municipal level, for sure, and there seem to be some valid concerns regarding the acute issue of education spending. But, that aside, the limit on how much property taxes can increase will help limit the growth of local government. But it will take more than just starving these budgetary bear cubs. Rhode Island needs to starve the she-bear, too. Hopefully, the legislature agrees: it's time to starve the Beast. To do so, they need to follow the advice of McGee-Cienki and get "to the root of why taxes have continued to go up." Here's a hint: payroll.

In Allentown, Not So Crazy About Card Checks

Marc Comtois
Well we're waiting here in Allentown
For the Pennsylvania we never found
For the promises our teachers gave
If we worked hard
If we behaved

So the graduations hang on the wall
But they never really helped us at all
No they never taught us what was real
Iron and coal
Chromium Steel

And we're waiting here in Allentown
But they've taken all the coal from the ground
And the union people crawled away.

So goes a portion of Billy Joel's '80s hit "Allentown", a working man's song about how life was changing in a union town. With the news that the House of Representatives has passed the "Employee Free Choice Act", which really seeks to strip away the right of workers to vote up or down on unionization via secret ballot and requires a so-called "card check," Joel's song came to mind. For the heck of it, I thought that, instead of me rehashing (and here and here) why this was so wrong, it might be worth finding out what the local newspaper of a union town--like Allentown--had to say. The Morning Call of Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley is the Allentown hometown newspaper. After editorializing that "[i]t was a cynical and misleading vote, one that was more about politics than it was about helping workers," the paper explains:
Union leaders say employer intimidation contributes to this decline. They cite statistics that workers who try to organize fellow employees stand a one-in-five chance of losing their jobs. They complain about employers hiring consultants who specialize in pressuring workers into not supporting unions. It happens.

However, the solution this legislation proposes would replace one form of coercion with another. In doing so, it does away with one of democracy's most hallowed tools to preserve freedom of choice — the secret ballot. In its place, it would allow unions to organize workplace simply by getting a majority of employees to sign authorization cards — the so-called card check. In place of a boss leaning on a worker not to vote for the union, it puts face-to-face peer pressure from a labor organizer to unionize. Pressure can work both ways, and without the protection of privacy, workers could subject themselves to harassment, or worse, from just another source. It happens.

This isn't the way to make the workplace fair. The National Labor Relations Act already makes it illegal for employers to bully their workers into not supporting unions. There are legitimate questions about whether the act's enforcement provisions are adequate to protect workers' rights. In fact, the Employee Free Choice Act would give the National Labor Relations Board more power to penalize employers when they fire workers for trying to organize — something that gets to the heart of labor's concern. Paired with a secret ballot, it would allow workers to vote according to who they think made the better case — labor or management.

The union bosses and their Democratic friends have sought to use legitimate concerns about the shortcomings of the NLRB as an opportunity to strengthen their control over the rank and file--both current and prospective. As the Call's editorial staff wrote, this was indeed "cynical and misleading." And entirely unsurprising.

March 5, 2007

Chafee Talks Future: His and Avedesian's

Marc Comtois

File under "Moderates on the March": Providence Phoenix editor Ian Donnis spoke to Lincoln Chafee and got a couple interesting tidbits out of him:

During one of Lincoln Chafee's last news conferences as a US senator, he faced the inevitable questions about his political future. Noting how he had bought a home near Brown University, the Republican joked that he would run in 2010 to be the mayor of Providence.

Was Chafee serious?

Currently ensconced at Brown's Watson Institute, Chafee last week told me, "I'm very happy doing what I'm doing." Asked if he was gravitating toward running for mayor of Providence, he says, "This is all four years away. It's way too early."

Political junkies have been intrigued by the possibility of a rematch, for governor, between Chafee and Steve Laffey, his 2006 GOP primary opponent. Chafee's response to another question, however, suggests that this may not be in the cards.

Asked what he thinks Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian will do in 2010, Chafee says he expects his mayoral successor to "probably run for governor." Chafee went so far as to say, "At this stage, I'd encourage him to think about [running for] governor." Avedisian, who served as a Senate page to the late US Senator John Chafee, has close ties to the Chafee family, as well as to some Democrats, including Lieutenant Governor Elizabeth Roberts. Chafee says a primary between Avedisian and himself "will not happen, from my perspective."

...Running for mayor might seem counter-intuitive for Chafee. Then again, he retains considerable goodwill, would run well in a number of neighborhoods, particularly the East Side, and he could be the first Republican since Buddy Cianci to have a good shot of taking City Hall.

Stay tuned, sports fans.

Smoke Shop Trial Moved to Providence

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the Projo's 7-to-7 blog, Superior Court Justice Joseph Rodgers has ordered the Narragansett Smoke Shop Trial moved from South County to Providence citing better use of "juduical resources". In Saturday's Projo, Katie Mulvaney described the complete argument made by the Narragansetts for changing venue...

While arguments may focus of practical issues, the defense’s petition recounted the tribe’s troubled history in Washington County, namely the massacre of 1,000 Narragansetts and Wampanoags at the Great Swamp during King Philip’s War of the Colonial era. It details legal struggles between the tribe, the state and Charlestown over the Narragansetts’ 1,800 acres.

“What is abundantly clear from this history is that there have been long, consistent and very public disputes between the Town of Charlestown and the Narragansett Indian Tribe over the past 30 years,” the tribal members’ lawyers wrote. “Virtually every legal dispute, including the smoke shop raid, has centered on the issue of Narragansett Indian sovereignty and the use of Narragansett reservation lands in Washington County.”

The totality of the Narragansetts' position is that the people of South County are good enough to live near their casino, but not good enough to sit on a jury.

Cote Withdraws, Supports Cicione

Marc Comtois

According to frequent AR commenter Scott Bill Hirst, Dave Cote has withdrawn his candidacy for State GOP Chair and asked fellow Republicans to support Gio Cicione. Awaiting additional confirmation.

UPDATE: Off the top of his broadcast, WPROs Dan Yorke mentioned that Cote pulled out around noon today.

More on the RI GOP’s 2006 Spending Priorities

Carroll Andrew Morse

In response to Mark Arsenault’s report on the money spent by the Rhode Island Republican party on consultants, commenter Sean Gately responds that Giovanni Cicione was paid from so-called “soft money” that could not, by law, have been given to state candidates. Campaign finance records confirm this fact, reporting that Mr. Cicione was paid nothing from the state central committee account.

However, because of the arcane structure of campaign finance laws, there is more to the soft money story that needs some discussion and maybe some explanation as we head into the GOP leadership election. Over the course of 2006, the substantial sum (by RI Republican state-level fundraising standards) of $40,471.65 was transferred from the state party committee to the federal party committee. That’s $40,471.65 that could have been made available to local candidates, but was directed elsewhere.

Most of that $40,471.65 was spent on what would be classified as “overhead”, i.e. salaries for party staff, office overhead, etc. On the surface, these were reasonable expenditures. For instance, the Federal account cut the RI GOP communications director (Chuck Newton) his paycheck, even though he had both federal-level and state-level responsibilities (all duly noted on the campaign finance reports). To allow Mr. Newton to work on state issues, by law, part of his salary must come from state funds. Even if the $40,471.65 had not been transferred from the state to the Federal party, a good chunk of it would have been paid out to party staff directly through the state party committee anyway.

However -- and I want to be absolutely clear that I am not alleging corruption here; I am alleging poor spending choices which the incoming Republican party leadership must improve upon if it wants to start winning elections -- in this same year that the Federal party committee sucked $40,471.65 out of the state party account, it also spent $17,602.90 on “catering” and “meals” over just four occasions and another $24,256.96 on Comfort Inn hotel rooms. Again, technically these were soft-money Federal expenditures, not available to state candidates, but if the Federal committee could afford to blow $41,859.86 on catering and hotel rooms, did it really need to take all of $40,471.65 away from local candidates who could have used additional funding for communicating directly with voters?

It seems that if the party had spent a little less lavishly on the Senate race (or found a few more deep-pocketed national donors to make-up the difference), the Rhode Island GOP could have approximately quadrupled the money it contributed to state-level candidates, and still had enough to pay a fair portion of the joint Federal/state overhead from state funds. The lack of support for local candidates was more than a simple matter of lack of funding, but a conscious decision that local races were not important.

Imagine if the CVS CEO Served in the Legislature...

Marc Comtois

Douglas Gablinske, a Bristol Democrat, wrote a spot-on piece this weekend:

As a private person, Rhode Island resident, taxpayer and small-business owner, I have wondered about something for years: How can state legislators who are full-time business agents of unions write, promote, and move legislation through the General Assembly, yet not be in violation of the ethics law?

Now, as a recently elected legislator myself, I wish to shine a bright light on this issue and seek a logical answer to this obvious question. It is incredible to me that this flagrant conflict of interest has been allowed to go on for as long as it has, right under our noses.

These union business-agent legislators may do a good job of representing their constituents. However, their livelihood is derived from representing their membership. Faced with a choice of voting for what is in the best interest of their constituents or in the best interest of union members and their legislative agents’ paychecks, these union representatives find their integrity challenged.

Wouldn’t it stand to reason that their compensation is increased to the degree that they are successful in promoting the unions’ interests? After all, that’s their job! So, while the union members benefit, as do their business agents also working as legislators, taxpayers take it on the chin.

Gablinske further explains that such behavior is considered unethical when applied to a private (ie; non-union) individual who accepts money from business (John Celona), and asks:
If it is wrong for him [Celona] to do so, as is obvious to everyone, why isn’t it wrong for the union business agents, who are paid hefty salaries to basically promote their memberships’ interests through legislation? The conflict is as obvious as the nose on your face.
He also pleads with his fellow Rhode Islanders to realize that this practice is neither normal nor acceptable in other states and that we shouldn't tolerate it either. Finally, he explained that "my obligation is to the taxpayer first." Unfortunately, the same can't be assumed about the union business agents. Today, the ProJo echoes his call for a change and provides some enlightening numbers:
Several legislators get big salaries from public-employee unions who have a huge and direct financial interest in the actions they undertake in the State House — unlike mere members of unions, who are not as directly dependent on unions for money. Sen. John Tassoni (D.-Smithfield) is the $88,549-a-year business agent of Rhode Island Council 94, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). Senate Majority Whip Dominick Ruggerio (D.-North Providence) receives $176,070 in “salary/benefits” per year from the New England Laborers’ Labor-Management Corporation Trust. Branches of the Laborers’ union also employ Senators Paul Moura (D.-East Providence) and Frank Ciccone (D.-Providence). (Those branches declined to report their hired legislators’ salaries.)

It is extraordinary that the Ethics Commission has ignored this glaring conflict for so long. “Sometimes unnatural things become natural because they go on for so long,” Mr. Gablinske noted. “The conflict is as obvious as the nose on your face.”

Indeed. In some other posts I've made the point that "Big Labor" and "Big Business" are more similar than not, especially "at the top." Additionally, the total membership of Council 94--the largest public employee union in the state--easily rivals the total amount of employees working for many of Rhode Island's largest businesses. How comfortable would voters be if the the CEO, CFO and a couple Vice Presidents of CVS were elected to the General Assembly? Not very. And what if they happened to sit on various committees in which their votes (and presence--and cash?) could influence bills that could impact their business? Would that pass the smell test? Didn't think so. The negatives sure seem obvious, huh? So isn't it time for Rhode Islander's to insist that the same ethics rules apply to the unions--especially tax dollar supported, public employee unions--as they do to "regular" big business?

March 4, 2007

RI GOP Nominating Committee Endorses Cicione to be Chair

Marc Comtois

Following the Governor's lead, the RI GOPs nominating committee has also endorsed Giovanni Cicione for GOP Chairman. More:

Cicione has been active in statewide Republican politics for more than a decade, first in city and town GOP committees in Providence, Cranston and Barrington, and in 2002 as a candidate for Congress from Rhode Island’s First District. In 2006, he was the Republican National Committee’s paid state legal counsel, handling legal matters related to the 2006 primary and general elections, including the organization of the Party’s poll watch and voter identification efforts.

At its Saturday meeting, the Committee also endorsed John Robitaille of Portsmouth as First Vice Chair; Matt Wocjik of Cumberland as Second Vice Chair; Robert Coupe of Cranston as Secretary; and current state Treasurer Marc Tondreu for a second term in the Treasurer’s post.

Among the candidates considered by the GOP Nominating Committee were David Cote of Wakefield, Robert “Gunner” Kenny of Providence, and Tammy A. Turcotte-Raposa of Warwick, all nominees for state chairman; Mia Caetano-Johnson of Warwick and Joseph B. White of North Kingstown for First Vice Chair; Karen Salvatore of Saunderstown and William R. Jasparro of No. Scituate for Second Vice Chair.

The party’s state central committee will meet on Thursday, Mar. 15 at the Radisson Airport Hotel in Warwick to elect a new slate of officers. The meeting, scheduled for 7:00 pm., will involve Republican town chairs and central committee delegates from all 39 Rhode Island cities and towns.

Looks to me like the committee essentially went for "Governor's men" in all of the positions. I'm not a party-wise guy by any means, but it seems to be an indication that the party is going to be governor-centric. Whether that's good or bad? Don't know, though it certainly has seemed as if there had been some reluctance amongst the long-time insiders to embrace Mr. Carcieri.

March 2, 2007

RI GOP Leadership Race: Governor Carcieri Publicly Endorses Gio Cicione

Marc Comtois

Via N4N comes news that Govenor Carcieri has issued a press release endorsing Gio Cicione as RI GOP Chair:

“Giovanni Cicione has played an active role in the Rhode Island Republican Party, and I am confident that he has the experience and the energy to continue building the party in the state,” Governor Carcieri said. “He is a well-respected attorney who is known for his sharp intellect and a keen understanding of politics and policy.

“Gio and I share a vision of a Republican Party that is a vital, active and inclusive organization that reaches out to diverse communities throughout Rhode Island,” Carcieri continued. “We also both strongly believe that a two-party system would be healthy for our state’s future. Like me, Gio is dedicated to uniting the party, to raising money, to growing the ranks of Republicans in our state, and to fielding candidates who offer our citizens a real choice in whom they elect to represent them.”

“I very much respect the experience and enthusiasm demonstrated by other candidates for this position,” Carcieri said. “And I appreciate their willingness to take on this important role.”

"That said, I strongly support Giovanni Cicione to lead the Rhode Island Republican Party,” Carcieri concluded.

Talk about it HERE. (Well, OK, you can comment here if you want.)

UPDATE: Saturday's ProJo story about the Governor's endorsement also gives details about the other candidates:

Four Republicans expressed interest by the close of business yesterday and will be interviewed by the party’s nominating committee this morning. The committee will pass along its recommendations to the full convention, which is set to vote March 15.

Aside from [Gio] Cicione, the chairman candidates include Dave Cote, chairman of the South Kingstown Republican Town Committee; Robert “Gunner” Kenny, a Providence man active with the state party in recent years; and Tammy Turcotte-Raposo, a member of the Warwick Republican Town Committee.

Cut Fees, Save Money

Marc Comtois

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian has made the seemingly counter-intuitive proposal of cutting beach fees to increase city revenue. To be more succinct, the proposal is meant to save about $12,000. Now, why would cutting fees save money?

The mayor said he recommended the action after department directors reviewed ways to cut expenditures and it was found that revenues don’t come close to covering the cost of running the seasonal program.

The action means the city will hire five less summer employees, college students chosen for city jobs through a lottery. The fees implemented in 1995 are $2 per car for residents and $3 for nonresidents. There are also seasonal passes of $10 for residents and $20 for non-residents.

“When we looked at the figures, it just no longer logically made sense to keep this in place,” Avedisian said, noting that last year’s revenues were approximately $12,000 and personnel and other costs totaled around $24,000.

I wonder how many other revenue "generating" programs actually take in less revenue than that required to pay the salaries and benefits of those who collect said fees?

OPEN FORUM: RI GOP Leadership Races

Marc Comtois

OK, here you go. I know that the conversation has started around here already, so this Forum is an attempt to centralize the discussion about the upcoming RI GOP leadership races. State your case, keep it clean and try to stay away from innuendo. Have at it.

At CPAC, Focus Shifts to Congress

Marc Comtois

This week is the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. (Andrew went last year). It appears that these active conservatives, disgruntled with the current crop of Presidential candidates, are turning their eyes towards Congress:

Conservative leaders, who are gathering in Washington today for the first Conservative Political Action Conference meeting since the Republican Party's electoral defeat last year, acknowledged in interviews that it will be difficult to reclaim control of Congress. But faced with a pack of GOP presidential contenders with spotty conservative credentials, the party's fiscal and social conservatives say they are making a special effort to reclaim power on Capitol Hill to hold the next White House in line.

"For years, the party was completely president-centric, and put all their efforts into keeping the presidency," said Grover Norquist , president of Americans for Tax Reform. "But going into 2008, it's going to be equally important to pick up the House and Senate. Now, people recognize you can govern from either body," not just the White House, Norquist said.

Paul Weyrich , president of the Free Congress Foundation, said the party's top-tier presidential candidates -- including Arizona Senator John McCain, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani , and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney -- are too liberal for many conservatives.

"If we can't play a role in the presidential [election] , then at least let's elect some senators and congressmen. Maybe we can play a role in Congress," Weyrich said.

Bill Lauderback , executive vice president of the American Conservative Union, agreed: "2008 is not just about the White House. It's about maintaining conservative principles within the public policy debate," he said.

Norquist's point about national Republicans being president-centric is also applicable here in Rhode Island. The RIGOP, if nothing else, has been a governor-centric party. Perhaps, with new leadership, this will change.

March 1, 2007

Union Intimidation Tactics: An Extreme Example

Marc Comtois

So far, I've posted on how the Democrats in the House have attempted to remove the ability of workers to vote via a secret ballot if they want to unionize and how most workers dislike union card checks, which is the "approved alternative" of the House Democrats and their Labor Boss buddies. One area of contention seems to be over just who, exactly, intimidates workers more: unions or companies. As my last post indicated, it seems that most of the company-sponsored intimidation is anecdotal. Additionally, according to the poll I cited, "[o]ver 92 percent of union objections to employer misconduct during organizing elections in 2005 were either withdrawn or, upon investigation by the NLRB, dismissed."

Now, an Anchor Rising reader has emailed me some documents that provide an example of the types of intimidation tactics in which one particular union engaged during an organizing campaign. According to this source:

[T]he attached is quite “interesting” regarding the lengths to which union organizers will go.

It is an employee bulletin board notice that the National Labor Relations Board ordered posted at the trucking company Overnite Transportation facilities. The Teamsters agreed to this as part of a stipulated agreement (also attached) settling charges against the Teamsters, which at the time were attempting to organize Overnite.

By no means is this Teamster activity representative of union pressure during organizing drives, but “less extreme” union pressure certainly is: from fraud (telling employees that signing the card is only so that the union can mail information to the employee’s house) to nagging (many employees sign the cards simply to get the pro-union employees to stop bothering them) to subtle intimidation (groups showing up at employee’s houses seeking signed cards) to more shall we say “unsubtle” intimidation.

Here is a PDF detailing the settlement and here is a PDF containing the actual posting. Here's a sample of some of that "unsubtle" intimidation, which was subsequently prohibited in the postings:

WE WILL NOT brandish or carry any weapon of any kind, including, but not limited to, guns, knives, slingshots, rocks, ball bearings, liquid-filled balloons or other projectiles, sledge hammers, bricks, sticks, or two by fours at or near any picket line, handbilling effort, rally or in any vehicle engaged in ambulatory picketing of any Overnite vehicle or following the private vehicle of any Overnite employee.

WE WILL NOT use or threaten to use a weapon of any kind, including but not limited to guns, knives, slingshots, rocks, ball bearings, liquid-filled balloons or other projectiles, picket signs, sticks, sledge hammers, bricks, hot coffee, bottles, two by fours, lit cigarettes, eggs, or bags or balloons filled with excrement against any non-striking Overnite employee or security guard in the presence any Overnite employee.

WE WILL NOT damage, threaten to damage or attempt to damage any vehicle or equipment owned or operated by Overnite, its employees or security guards, by any means or manner, including but not limited by slingshots, rocks, ball bearings, liquid-filled balloons or other projectiles, knives, picket signs, sticks, sledge hammers, bricks, bottles, two by fours, eggs, or paint, or by tearing off mirrors, windshield wipers or antennas, or breaking windows.

WE WILL NOT disable or attempt to disable vehicles owned or operated by Overnite, by any means or manner, including but not limited to disconnecting or otherwise severing air brake lines, padlocking doors, spraying substances in or otherwise jamming locks, stealing keys, puncturing radiators, cutting hoses or door cables, flattening tires or throwing, placing or otherwise spreading any nails, screws, star nails, jack rocks or similar devices capable of puncturing tires on any road surface.

WE WILL NOT endanger or impede the progress of or harass any non-striking employee or any employee of a neutral person doing business with Overnite, while he or she is operating a company vehicle or his or her own personal vehicle, by forcing or attempting to force him or her off the road, blocking, delaying or limiting his or her access to or passage on any road, swerving toward, driving recklessly near, tailgating or braking abruptly in front of him or her, impeding his or her progress by speeding up and slowing down, driving at speeds below the legal minimums while in front of him or her.

WE WILL NOT endanger or impede the progress of or harass any non-striking employee or any employee of a neutral person doing business with Overnite, while he or she is operating a company vehicle or his or her own personal vehicle, by jumping on vehicles, by attempting to open the doors of vehicles, by throwing paint on windshields, by using mirrors, laser pointers, spot lights or flash photography in the eyes of drivers, or by obstructing the view of drivers by holding picket signs over the windshields of vehicles.

That's just Page 1. To re-emphasize what the e-mailer wrote: by no means is this typical union behavior. But it is a documented example of how far some union's will go to organize a workplace. And it's exhibit "1A" of why secret ballots need to be maintained. And don't forget, secret ballots also protect the worker from their employer, too. I simply fail to see how removing such a fundamental right as the secret ballot can help workers.

Public Pensions: Not Just for Public Employees Anymore (in West Warwick)?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here’s what you might think is a simple question. Should a non-town employee be eligible to receive a town pension? If the town involved is West Warwick, the answer is not comprehensible.

Tracy Proulx of the Kent County Times has the whole story…

On April 17, 2006, [West Warwick Resident Alan Palazzo] submitted an APRA (Access to Public Records Act) request to the town seeking information regarding a pension authorization and contribution for a person who he said he believed was not a town employee.

Palazzo received a letter from Joseph Pezza, the pension board's attorney, stating that his request was denied based on Rhode Island General Laws 38-2-2(4)(i)(A)(I). That law exempts items such as information regarding personal finances, welfare, employment security, and similar matters from being considered public records.

Palazzo said he filed a complaint with the attorney general's office, stating that the documents he requested properly fall within R.I. General Law 38-2-2(4)(i)(A)(II). That law states that "pension records of all persons who are either current or retired members of the retirement systems ... shall be open for public inspection."

But contrary to what Mr. Pezza may believe, Section I of R.I. General Laws 38-2-2(4)(i)(A) is clear that certain information about public employees is to be made available to the public…
For the purposes of this chapter, the following records shall not be deemed public:

(A)(I) All records which are identifiable to an individual applicant for benefits, client, patient, student, or employee, including, but not limited to, personnel, medical treatment, welfare, employment security, pupil records, all records relating to a client/attorney relationship and to a doctor/patient relationship, and all personal or medical information relating to an individual in any files, including information relating to medical or psychological facts, personal finances, welfare, employment security, student performance, or information in personnel files maintained to hire, evaluate, promote, or discipline any employee of a public body; provided, however, with respect to employees, the name, gross salary, salary range, total cost of paid fringe benefits, gross amount received in overtime, and other remuneration in addition to salary, job title, job description, dates of employment and positions held with the state or municipality, work location, business telephone number, the city or town of residence, and date of termination shall be public.

At the very least, West Warwick has to release the dates that Beneficiary X was a town employee (or state that he or she never was), his or her salary range at the time of employment, and the amount spent on fringe benefits for this person. And that’s before we get to the exception in section II mentioned by Mr. Palazzo…
Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, or any other provision of the general laws to the contrary, the pension records of all persons who are either current or retired members of the retirement systems established by the general laws as well as all persons who become members of those retirement systems after June 17, 1991 shall be open for public inspection. "Pension records" as used in this section shall include all records containing information concerning pension and retirement benefits of current and retired members of the retirement systems established in title 8, title 36, title 42, and title 45 and future members of said systems, including all records concerning retirement credits purchased and the ability of any member of the retirement system to purchase retirement credits…
On top of the compliance problems, there appears to be some confusion within West Warwick municipal government about Beneficiary X's exact employment status. Mr. Pezza says Beneficiary X currently is a town employee...
Pezza confirmed that the person Palazzo was inquiring about was currently a town employee and gave information regarding how the pension plan was formed. Since the person was considered a town employee, the attorney general's department determined that the records were public and "must be disclosed."

The department found that the town "violated the APRA by not disclosing the reasonably segregable portions of the June 11, 2001 letter," which was the document Palazzo was requesting. The attorney general's office allowed the town 10 business days from the date of the finding (Feb. 15) to respond to Palazzo

However, according to West Warwick Town Solicitor Tim Williamson, the situation is more complex…
Williamson said, even though Pezza stated that the person was a town employee, he is not. Williamson said the person was not paid by the town and did not receive town benefits, but he is taking part in the town pension plan. He said the person has been enrolled in the pension system since 1987, and was an employee of the town in 1991 and 1992, but is not a current employee of the town.
Is it common practice to let non-town employees participate in town pension plans? If so, I may head down to city hall and see if I can find a good deal for myself.

Mr. Williamson and Mr. Pezza obviously aren’t on the same page, but their common position seems to be that it is possible for someone to be considered a town employee for purposes of participating in a pension plan, but not considered a town employee with respect to public scrutiny laws. That’s nuts, even by West Warwick standards.

Anyway, where we are now, apparently, is with the West Warwick Town Clerk saying he doesn't have to go along with the law or with what the Attorney General has said (i.e. release the records)...

Yesterday, Palazzo received a letter from Town Clerk David D. Clayton. It read, "Please be advised that the Town of West Warwick will, at this time, be holding in abeyance the above referenced opinion from the Rhode Island Attorney General."
The Kent County Times editorializes on the subject here.

Workers Don't Like Card Checks

Marc Comtois

In the comments section of my recent post on the so-called "Employee Free Choice Act", MRH contends:

This isn't as black and white an issue as you're making it seem. I'm sympathetic to the argument that, in general, secret ballots are a good thing. However, in practice the kind of secret balloting used to certify a union takes months or years to complete, during which time management has significant time and opportunity to intimidate workers against joining the unions.

Under a card check system, a union can be certified much, much quicker.

From everything I understand, management intimidation is far, far more prevalent than union intimidation, so that's why most labor advocates are in favor of this.

Commenter Tom W. offers a fine riposte (so read it!), but perhaps this poll (thanks Andrew) will also help MRH make up his mind. Here's the conclusion (follow the link for more detail):
Labor activists argue that card check is needed to protect workers' free choice as to whether to join a union. But workers themselves disagree. Overwhelming majorities of both union and non-union workers oppose the card-check system. Contrary to anecdotal stories of employer abuses, most union members believe the current election system is fair. Workers do not want the government to force them to reveal their choices to anyone and want the right to keep their votes private. Unrepresentative anecdotes from labor activists are not enough to counter the fact that workers choose private-ballot organizing elections, not card check.
There's more, and none of it indicates that the majority of union workers want to have the "Free Choice" of publicly proclaiming their personal decisions on union-related issues.

Here are some of the numbers taken from the poll:

- According to a Zogby poll, 71 percent of union members believe that the current private-ballot process is fair, versus only 13 percent who disagree. Fully 78 percent of union members favor keeping the current system in place over replacing it with one that provides less privacy.

- Over 92 percent of union objections to employer misconduct during organizing elections in 2005 were either withdrawn or, upon investigation by the NLRB, dismissed.

- The government found substantiated evidence of employer abuses in less than 1 out of every 200 elections held.

- By more than a 3 to 1 margin, non-union workers say that they do not want to belong to a labor union.

- Fully 89 percent of Americans believe that a worker's ultimate choice should be kept private and not made public information...

- A recent McLaughlin poll indicates that 79 percent of Americans oppose card check legislation that would end private-ballot elections. About 66 percent of union members agree and think that companies should never be allowed to skip private-ballot elections before they recognize a union.

David Cote Running for State GOP Chairman

Carroll Andrew Morse

David Cote, Chairman of the South Kingstown Republican Town Committee, has formally declared his candidacy for State GOP Chair…

If the RIGOP is to succeed with its mission in 2008, it must be run like a business.

As a Director of one of the largest technology corporations in the world with responsibility for $500 million in annual revenue, a 24 year veteran of the high tech industry, and a graduate of Seton Hall University with a Master of Business Administration, I have experience of how to run the RIGOP like a successful business where appropriate.

My vision for the RI GOP is the product of my success as Chairman of the South Kingstown Republican Town Committee. Before I became Chair of SK GOP in 2005, it was inactive. The Committee regularly failed to generate a quorum for meetings, and its fundraising numbers were insufficient.

Today, the SKGOP is the fastest growing Republican Town Committee in Rhode Island. It is the second largest RTC in RI by total numbers, and the largest by monthly attendance. Fundraising was up by more than 400% after my first term. This could only have been achieved by uniting the existing members and successfully recruiting new members.

My vision for the RI GOP is also the product of my experience as a Republican candidate for public office and an elected official in Rhode Island in 2002. Having successfully run for elected office as a Republican, I am aware of the challenges faced by Republican candidates in Rhode Island.

Finally, my vision for the RI GOP is the product of my experience as Secretary of RI GOP since 2005. As an officer of the RI GOP, I have seen first hand the needs of candidates across the State of Rhode Island.

This diverse and complete background of experience provides me with a uniquely qualified perspective for leading the RI GOP to success in 2008.

In conjunction with his announcement, Mr. Cote has released a detailed plan describing what he would like to accomplish as chair…

In the simplest of terms, the mission of the Rhode Island Republican Party is to elect more Republicans in Rhode Island. How this mission is most effectively carried out is a function of the following components:
  • Fundraising
  • Candidate Recruitment
  • Message Development
  • Resource Allocation
Following is our vision for fulfilling the mission of RI GOP to ensure its success in 2008. We highly recommend a team approach with two experienced leaders that have the ability to represent the Republican Party to the media or otherwise when the other is unavailable. David Coté and Joseph White represent the best combination of such a team.


  1. Reach out to existing and prospective high level donors for direct personal solicitation by the Chairman. Prospective donors should be selected based on their affiliation with business networks, government reform networks, and other networks inclined to support the RI GOP platform.
  2. Grow the Finance Committee / Anchors component to maximize the benefit of well connected RI GOP supporters.
  3. Solicit the support of Republican elected officials in Rhode Island and beyond, the Republican National Committee, the Republican Governor’s Association, the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, and other groups that may be able to offer speakers, headliners and other avenues for attracting donors to the party and to fundraising events.
  4. Maintain a consistent direct mail and email solicitation effort of the existing RI GOP house file and targeted prospecting lists.
  5. Investigate standard options available to State Political Parties that allow for raising money from areas outside of Rhode Island.
Candidate Recruitment
  1. Number one is the support of local GOP grassroots committees. Unite local GOP’s to achieve our Republican defined common objectives.
  2. Identify districts with vulnerable / narrowly elected Democrat incumbents for focus of candidate recruitment efforts.
  3. Hold regular meetings with party leaders in vulnerable Democrat districts to solicit their assistance with candidate recruitment and focus their recruitment efforts.
  4. Conduct candidate training sessions to demonstrate the Party’s commitment to recruited candidates and to maintain close contact with their campaigns.
Message Development
  1. Focus on the Republican Party’s fundamental principles of fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, and limited growth of government (Refer to recent RIGOP Platform).
  2. Respond immediately to the media on everyday events that violate our core Republican platform.
  3. Support Governor Carcieri’s policies and defend his efforts to reform government and remove the status quo.
  4. Lead the way on issues important to the Governor in which he is determining the pulse of both our citizens and elected officials.
  5. Build on the recent RIGOP platform to create an identity for Republicans in Rhode Island. Expand to recruit organizations that naturally would fit with the Republican Party such as tax groups, government reform groups, etc.
  6. Conduct polling research to refine points of communication for Republican candidates in targeted districts.
  7. Coordinate all legislative races to ensure they stay on-message through the election season.
  8. Create a plan to reach out to unaffiliated voters and fiscally conservative Democrats.
  9. Create a plan to reach out to local clergy and their members.
Resource Allocation
  1. Provide direct and in-kind financial support to targeted Republican candidates who demonstrate campaign viability.
  2. Serve as a foundation of support to help Republican candidates benefit from the growing use of technology with direct voter contact.
  3. Function as a clearing house to Republican candidates for direct voter contact resources, including strategy, printing, media, etc.
  4. Coordinate human resources / volunteers to targeted races in the final days of the election cycle.
  5. Discuss and define methods of using funds to support Republican Candidates.