May 31, 2007

Fred Thompson Enters the Fray: Contender? Also-Ran? The Bees Knees? --Discuss

Marc Comtois

Former Senator and actor Fred Thompson has all but "officially" announced he will be seeking the GOP nomination for President.Politician-turned-actor Fred Thompson has been coy with audiences as he flirts with a bid for the Republican presidential nomination.

In an interview with USA TODAY, however, the former Tennessee senator not only makes it clear that he plans to run, he describes how he aims to do it. He's planning a campaign that will use blogs, video posts and other Internet innovations to reach voters repelled by politics-as-usual in both parties.

"I can't remember exactly the point that I said, 'I'm going to do this,' " Thompson says, his 6-foot, 6-inch frame sprawled comfortably across a couch in a hotel suite. "But when I did, the thing that occurred to me: 'I'm going to tell people that I am thinking about it and see what kind of reaction I get to it.' "To say the least, the reaction has been good amongst both the conservative base and Congressional politicians (taking on Michael Moore always helps).

So now, after resigning from 'Law and Order', Thompson has more openly set his campaign in motion. Here's a summary of his past political positions. He's already generated preemptive strikes from the left who are seeking to liken to him to Wesley Clark in '04. Not really.

OK, if you're sated, please discuss.

UPDATE II: Obligatory Buddy Cianci Post

Marc Comtois

Following up on previous updates, no word yet on what Buddy had for lunch...

Rhode Island Elementary and Middle School Test Results

Carroll Andrew Morse

State assessments of all Rhode Island public elementary and middle schools are available today from the Rhode Island Department of Education website. The final summary classifies each school as “high performing”, “moderately performing”, or as making “insufficient progress”, but the intermediate data presented suggests that the final classifications have more to do with some obscure bureaucratic criteria than with how well students are learning. For example, you can find schools rated as “high performing” even though less than half of their students are rated as proficient in math; some schools with less than one third of students proficient in math receive a rating of “moderately performing”

Last week’s Time Magazine article on the present and future of the No Child Left Behind Act helps explain some of the limitations of the testing system being used…

The do-or-die [adequate yearly progress] system creates perverse incentives. It rewards schools that focus on kids on the edge of achieving grade-level proficiency....There's no incentive for schools to do much of anything for the kids who are on grade level or above, which is one reason the law is unpopular in wealthier, high-achieving communities. And sadly, says [California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell], "NCLB provides no incentive to work on the kids far below the bar."
However, the real question here is why anyone ever thought that a bureaucracy-centered reform was going to do anything but encourage mediocrity or worse. When the main criteria that bureaucrats will be judged by is a paper evaluation of the systems they administrate, those bureaucrats have a powerful incentive to define success down and set the most modest goals they can get away with, so they can meet this year's goals with minimum risk and leave room for improvement next year.

If you don’t think that these kinds of perverse bureaucratic incentives are a significant impediment to education reform, in Rhode Island and elsewhere, then explain how a school with 32% of its students proficient in writing and 47% proficient in math can be classified as “high performing”.

UPDATE I: Obligatory Buddy Cianci Post

Marc Comtois

Just an update to Andrew's Buddy Cianci Post.....Update complete.

Hillary Clinton Brought up China, Not Me

Marc Comtois

Hillary Clinton recently gave a speech that included this line that made me go hmmmmm.

You know, people ask me all the time, "Why can't we get tough on China?" Well, the answer is, because China is one of our bankers. We're their debtor. How can we truly enforce trade laws against a country that manipulates it currency and puts us at an unfair advantage when our economic stability depends on China's massive loans to us every single day?
Yes, the Clinton's have sure shown they know how to get tough on China, haven't they?

Revised Airport Expansion Plan on the Table

Carroll Andrew Morse

From Matt Bower of the Warwick Daily Times

The airport corporation yesterday voted to study a plan that would expand the runway from its current 7,166 feet to 8,700 feet - a reduction from the 9,350 listed in previous proposals. That's under a modified version of the plan known as "Option B" - one of five plans that had originally been under consideration.

Still on the table is the original Option B, which would take the runway to the full 9,350 feet. The airport corporation also hasn't ruled out calling off runway expansion entirely. No other options are currently being considered.

If the airport corporation decides to go with the 8,700 foot extension, it would save $69 million on the overall program, $68 million in relocating Airport Road, Lurie said. Only 152 homes would be acquired, nearly cutting that acquisition in half. Commercial acquisitions would stay nearly the same, with 71 being acquired. The number of additional passengers would drop to 5.9 million, with 91 percent of the demand for nonstop flights to the West Coast being fulfilled.

There 8,700 foot extension and the 8,300 foot extension plans are similar - but only 79 percent of the demand for nonstop flights to the West Coast would be met, Lurie said. The number of additional passengers and commercial acquisitions would largely stay the same, and there would be 19 fewer homes acquired. The airport corporation opted not to pay for a plan to study the 8,300 foot extension option.

…and Cynthia Needham of the Projo
The scaled-back, 8,700-foot proposal would extend the runway to the south of the airport -- to avoid significant impact on the wetlands [to the north of the airport]. But instead of burying Main Avenue to create space for federally mandated safety zones at the runway’s edge, this plan calls for a graded runway, essentially, a runway that slopes up, so planes take off well above street level. It’s a creative way of adhering to federal safety codes, while fitting runways into congested areas. FAA officials cited several other airports in the United States with similarly constructed runways.

The state Airport Corporation voted last night to spend $500,000 to study the shorter expansion option. That analysis is expected to be completed in the fall.

The FAA says 8,700 feet is long enough to accommodate about 91 percent of planes that travel nonstop to the West Coast, including the Boeing 737-500 series, considered “the workhorse” of the industry and a preferred model for airline giants such as Southwest and United. Anything shorter than 8,700 feet would prevent that fleet from making the nonstop coast-to-coast trip, said Airport Corporation President Mark Brewer.

The second plan still under consideration is the sole remaining 9,350 proposal. That option calls for lengthening the runway to the north of the airport, thus relocating Airport Road and scooping up many houses in the Spring Green neighborhood. It also significantly impacts the Buckeye Brook.

Obligatory Buddy Cianci Post

Carroll Andrew Morse

No text. The title says it all.

Watch What (Rudy) You Wish For

Justin Katz

I've certainly been puzzled and somewhat distressed at some social conservatives' arguably impulsive support for Rudy Giuliani, but the Cato Institute's David Boaz thinks libertarians ought to be wary of that particular cult of personality, as well:

... Throughout his career, Giuliani has displayed an authoritarian streak that would be all the more problematic in a man who would assume executive powers vastly expanded by President Bush. ...

As a presidential hopeful, Giuliani's authoritarian streak is as strong as ever. He defends the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program. He endorses the President's power to arrest American citizens, declare them enemy combatants and hold them without access to a lawyer or a judge. He thinks the President has "the inherent authority to support the troops" even if Congress were to cut off war funding, a claim of presidential authority so sweeping that even Bush and his supporters have not tried to make it.

... In 1964, Barry Goldwater declared it "the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power." George W. Bush has forgotten that; Rudy Giuliani rejects it.

May 30, 2007

The Privileging of Elderly Unemployment

Justin Katz

The very first time I lost a critical portion of my income, I did look into the possibility of catching the edge of Rhode Island's safety net to keep my family from sinking further into the debt that continues to prevent our eyes from turning to the financial future. Now, I haven't even bothered to consider it, because I learned that having even the supplemental income of a part-time job reduces one's unemployment "benefits" to zilch. In his apparent drive to become infamous, Rep. Thomas Slater (Providence; guess the party) has successfully maneuvered through the House a privileging of one form of supplemental income:

Under current state law, Social Security benefits are considered "disqualifying income" for those filing for unemployment. In one instance, a woman recently told the House Committee on Finance, an unemployment benefit of $130 per week for which she was eligible was slashed to $6 because her Social Security benefits were counted against her.

Legislation was approved today by the House of Representatives to strike the "disqualifying income" provision of state law that is currently financially penalizing this particular category of the state's unemployed.

Sponsored by Rep. Thomas C. Slater (D-Dist. 10, Providence), the bill (2007 - H5296) will bar Social Security benefits from being considered "disqualifying income" when applying for unemployment. Rhode Island, one of only seven states that still counts Social Security benefits against unemployment, deducts half of the individual's Social Security benefit from the total of unemployment compensation.

"The current provision of state law is just flat-out wrong and unfair," said Representative Slater. "People work for years to become eligible for Social Security benefits. Receiving those benefits should not be a penalty when these individuals find themselves unemployed. This section of law can be financially disastrous to those people who are collecting Social Security but who also need to work and who lose their jobs."

To be honest, I was ultimately relieved back when I was denied the crutch of public handouts, and further consideration since then has led me to admit that a system would be ridiculous that strove to guarantee a level of income, rather than just a last-minute buffer from rock bottom. But even moderating this view, why is it that those receiving Social Security — most of whom aren't any longer supporting child-inclusive households, and who are more likely than the average not even to have mortgage payments — require enhanced protection from "financial disaster"? It would seem that, if anything, a handout of one kind is more properly counted against a handout of another kind than is income from productive labor.

Huh? No, let me rephrase: What?

Justin Katz

So Froma Harrop knows a "church-going... conventional housewife" from Houston who, reflecting on a picture of Dick Cheney with his two-mommies grandchild, thinks that — although she "is happy that her two young sons and baby girl have a daddy" — it would be nice to have a Mommy No. 2 to keep an eye on things while she goes off to have her hair done, and Harrop's concludes, from this, that "at least one battle in the culture war seems to be coming to a conclusion." Well, if that's the case, can we please stop pretending that there's no such thing as a slippery slope?

"If otherwise traditional folk smile on lesbian parenthood, can letting these parents marry be far behind?" There's the slope: artificial insemination, lesbian couple parenthood, same-sex marriage. Had one told the pioneers of the first that they were opening the door for the last, they'd have scoffed, probably with no little expression of umbrage, but it really isn't difficult to see where we're going from here. Harrop:

Long before many lesbian couples began to openly start families, there have been two-mommy households, only we didn’t call them that.

In traditional families, grandmothers often join the mothering team. Well-to-do households frequently hire nannies, who may do so much of the work that they become the de facto mother-in-chief. So Samuel Cheney is not breaking any new ground in having two women raise him.

The equation is of same-sex marriage with, essentially, three-parent households. How far behind is solemnizing — and I use that term loosely — those relationships? Indeed, it's difficult to tell whether Froma's pal "Joanna" finds attraction in a female spouse as an alternative or as a supplement. Bring in the daddies — whom we're all awfully "happy" to have stick around from time to time, whom we still need (like it or not) for "fixing the garage door," and whom even Harrop admits "impart different ideals" — and the notion of marriage as a coupling will seem quaint or even retrograde and bigoted.

It's difficult to articulate the depth of fallaciousness in Harrop's reasoning. From the comparison of an idealized lesbian relationship with a substandard heterosexual one to the unexplored elitist assumption that having another woman as one's significant other would somehow "ease the load" — as if it's manhood, not the requirements of supporting a family, that makes child-rearing one parent's allocated responsibility — apparently in Harrop's imaginings all lesbian couples share the privileges of the famous, wealthy one to which she is referring. Such so-called reasoning is, I fear, far too common in the general population.

Onward we go, down the slope of "what could it hurt." I can only pray that we won't lack the critical thinking ability to even ask, when the time comes, "How were we supposed to know?" I certainly won't be expecting a Froma Harrop column that addresses the likely consequences of her "I know a lady" approach to social engineering.

Expand Welfare Reform, Don't Raise Taxes

Marc Comtois

Instead of the predictable call for tax hikes, how about looking at things in a different way (h/t) :

Imagine a line composed of every household with children in the United States, arranged from lowest to highest income. Now, divide the line into five equal parts. Which of the groups do you think enjoyed big increases in income since 1991? If you read the papers, you probably would assume that the bottom fifth did the worst. After all, income inequality in America is increasing, right?

Wrong. According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study released this month, the bottom fifth of families with children, whose average income in 2005 was $16,800, enjoyed a larger percentage increase in income from 1991 to 2005 than all other groups except the top fifth. Despite the recession of 2001, the bottom fifth had a 35 percent increase in income (adjusted for inflation), compared with around 20 percent for the second, third and fourth fifths. (The top fifth had about a 50 percent increase.)

Even more impressive, the CBO found that households in the bottom fifth increased their incomes so much because they worked longer and earned more money in 2005 than in 1991 -- not because they received higher welfare payments. In fact, their earnings increased more in percentage terms than incomes of any of the other groups: The bottom fifth increased its earnings by 80 percent, compared with around 50 percent for the highest-income group and around 20 percent for each of the other three groups.

How did this happen?
Low-income families with children increased their work effort, many of them in response to the 1996 welfare reform law that was designed to produce exactly this effect. These families not only increased their earnings but also slashed their dependency on cash welfare. In 1991, more than 30 percent of their income was from cash welfare payments; by 2005, it was 4 percent. Earnings up, welfare down -- that's the definition of reducing welfare dependency in America.

But now consider that the next-biggest increase in income for the bottom group was from the earned-income tax credit (EITC), a program that, in effect, supplements the wages of parents with low incomes. In addition, most of the children in these families had Medicaid coverage and received free school lunches and other traditional social benefits. In other words, this success story is one of greater efforts to work more and earn more backed by government benefits to improve living standards and, as President Bill Clinton used to say, "make work pay."

This increase in earnings and total income by low-income families is the biggest success in American social policy of recent decades. So why not broaden it?

Yes, why not? The author, Brookings Institute senior fellow Ron Haskins, recommends a couple new policies:

1) Expand the work requirements tied to receiving food stamps and housing.

2) "[I]mprove...programs that help low-income workers such as child care and health care."

Haskins says this can be done by

[ending] earmarks, agriculture subsidies and ineffective programs such as Title I of the No Child Left Behind Act and used the money saved to increase support for low-income working families by expanding the EITC (especially for poor men who work full time), as well as child care and health-care coverage. Without increasing the deficit, Congress could augment the progress being made by low-income families, help them increase their standards of living and income mobility, and further strengthen the politics of personal responsibility. This should be an agenda on which Republicans and Democrats can unite.
Just a thought.

Today, the Sky is Blue. And the Rhode Island Poverty Institute Wants to Raise Taxes

Carroll Andrew Morse

Surprise! Kay Brewster, executive director of the Rhode Island Poverty Institute, calls for higher taxes in today’s Projo

State revenues -- taxes, fees and other income -- are the collective investments we make to create a quality of life in Rhode Island that we all enjoy and expect. These investments are essential to keeping our shorelines and beaches clean, protecting our communities with police and emergency workers, educating our current and future workforce, and keeping our neighbors from going hungry or homeless.

For years, Rhode Island has struggled with a revenue system that is not adequate to meet the demands of a modern state. It is time to shift focus from cutting services to enhancing Rhode Island’s revenue system, so that we have the funds needed to maintain the public structures we all rely upon.

Nowhere in the op-ed does Ms. Brewster mention that Rhode Island already has the fourth highest state/local tax burden in the nation. In fact, making the claim that it’s “time to shift focus…to enhancing Rhode Island’s revenue system” requires a large dose of historical amnesia. Government in Rhode Island has been “enhancing” its revenues for over a decade. In 1995, Rhode Island had the 12th highest state/local tax-burden. By 1998, Rhode Island had moved up to 8th and, by 2000, to 5th. Since 2005, Rhode Island has had the 4th highest state/local tax-burden in the nation.

Isn’t this steady growth in tax revenues relevant to an honest discussion on tax policy? Or do our state’s poverty advocates believe that given infinite resources, government will do infinite good, and therefore tax increases are always justified?

May 29, 2007

Left & Right Versus Big & Bland

Carroll Andrew Morse

When the publisher of National Review teams up with the president of The Nation (the magazine, that is) to write an op-ed, it's worth noting. In today's Los Angeles Times, Jack Fowler of NR and Teresa Stack of TN take a joint stand against the change in postal rates for magazines and other periodicals that will come into effect on July 15...

Magazine publishers are facing a radical postage rate restructuring that favors those with large circulations and transfers costs to small- and mid-circulation publications.

Past increases to periodical postage were applied fairly equally across all publications. But this time, things are drastically different — and potentially damaging to the diversity of voices that our founders strove to foster when they created the national postal system.

Our respective magazines — the Nation and the National Review — sit on opposite ends of the political spectrum and disagree on nearly every issue. But we concur on this: These proposed postal rate hikes are deeply unfair.

For this latest round of rate hikes, the U.S. Postal Service proposed a 12% increase that would have affected magazines more or less equitably. Then, in an unprecedented move, that plan was rejected by the Postal Regulatory Commission, the body responsible for setting rates. Instead, it approved a complicated pricing system based on a proposal by Time Warner Inc., the largest magazine publisher in the country. Rather than base rates on total weight and total number of pieces mailed, the new, complex formula is full of incentives that take into account packaging, shape, distance traveled and more....

How will small magazines that operate on the economic margins — yet have an outsized effect on public discourse — accommodate $500,000 (in the case of the Nation and the National Review) in additional postage expense? Will we be forced to cut back on reporting, raise our prices, reduce our staffs or our number of pages to stay afloat? For some titles, the change may prove fatal. It certainly will make it more difficult to start a new magazine, and publishing will be less competitive as a result.

Lincoln Chafee for General Treasurer?

Carroll Andrew Morse

From Ian Donnis at the Providence Phoenix's Not for Nothing blog...

While he remains undecided about his future political plans, Chafee told N4N this morning that the treasurer's office is among those he's considering, along with governor and mayor of Providence. "It's still a long way away," he noted.

The Message to Miss USA

Carroll Andrew Morse

A live audience in Mexico booed Miss USA during the interview portion of last night’s Miss Universe pageant. So there will be no lingering bad feelings between nations, let’s attempt to understand in the best possible light the message the audience was trying to deliver.

There will be a temptation to view the message as a selfish one…

Boooooooo....Miss USA, why should we have to live next to and take care of our own underprivileged citizens? Booooooo....We think someone else, namely your country, should take care of them for us instead,
…but the message may have been more altruistic…
Boooooo....Please Miss USA, tell your leaders to be humane. Booooooo....After all, much of our own country is a stinking hell-hole. It’s unconscionable that a great nation like yours could support policies that would force anyone wanting to leave to keep living in this dump. Boooooo....booooo.
This understanding of the potential atruism in the booing should help clear up any misunderstandings.

A Conservative Primer

Marc Comtois

Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, offers a primer on American conservatism. The intro:

The left prides itself on, and frequently boasts of, its superior appreciation of the complexity and depth of moral and political life. But political debate in America today tells a different story.

On a variety of issues that currently divide the nation, those to the left of center seem to be converging, their ranks increasingly untroubled by debate or dissent, except on daily tactics and long-term strategy. Meanwhile, those to the right of center are engaged in an intense intra-party struggle to balance competing principles and goods.

One source of the divisions evident today is the tension in modern conservatism between its commitment to individual liberty, and its lively appreciation of the need to preserve the beliefs, practices, associations and institutions that form citizens capable of preserving liberty. The conservative reflex to resist change must often be overcome, because prudent change is necessary to defend liberty. Yet the tension within often compels conservatives to wrestle with the consequences of change more fully than progressives--for whom change itself is often seen as good, and change that contributes to the equalization of social conditions as a very important good.

Berkowitz mentions Kirk's The Conservative Mind, Hayek's The Road to Serfdom and Strauss's Natural Right and History. Anyone looking to understand the foundation upon which the modern conservative movement is built should start there. According to Berkowitz, that includes a few college professors:
The varieties of conservatism are poorly understood today not only because of the bitterness of current political battles but also because the books that have played a key role in forming the several schools go largely untaught at our universities and largely unread by our professors. Indeed, perhaps one cause of the polarization that afflicts our political and intellectual class is the failure of our universities to teach, and in many cases to note the existence of, the conservative dimensions of American political thought.

UPDATE: In the comments, Andrew asked when, exactly, did Strauss enter the picture....I tried to answer, but Jonah Goldberg does better:

Peter Lawler asks whether it's really true that Kirk, Strauss and Hayek constitute conservatism's Big Three. That's a toughie and I think the folks with the most interesting answer to that question would be Hayek, Strauss and Kirk themselves. Isn't influence a more diffuse phenomenon? Lots more folks were probably directly influenced by, say, Tom Sowell, George Will and William F. Buckley than those Big Three, but Sowell, Will & Buckley were in turn deeply affected by them. Maybe the best way to think of Berkowitz's Big Three best represent three major themes in modern conservatism: Order (Kirk), Rights (Strauss) and Liberty (Hayek). Another interesting question might be: is that it? Or should Berkowitz have offered a Big Four or Five?

And Never the Two Shall Meet

Justin Katz

If you missed it last week, Daniel Henninger's Thursday column makes some interesting points:

It has been argued in this column before that the origins of our European-like polarization can be found in the Florida legal contest at the end of the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential campaign. That was a mini civil war. With the popular vote split 50-50, we spent weeks in a tragicomic pitched battle over contested votes in a few Florida counties. The American political system, by historical tradition flexible and accommodative, was unable to turn off the lawyers and forced nine unelected judges to settle it. So they did, splitting 5-4. In retrospect, a more judicious Supreme Court minority would have seen the danger in that vote (as Nixon did in 1960) and made the inevitable result unanimous to avoid recrimination. A pacto. Instead, we got recrimination.

From that day, American politics has been a pitched battle, waged mainly by Democrats against the "illegitimate" Republican presidency. Some Democrats might say the origins of this polarization traces to the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton. After that the goal was payback. To lose as the Democrats did in 2000 was, and remains, unendurable (as likely it would have for Republicans if they'd lost 5 to 4).

Politics of its nature is about polar competition. Opposed ideas should compete for public support. Withdraw all possibility of contact or crossover, however, and "politics" becomes just a word that euphemizes national alienation. That, effectively, is what we have now.

May 28, 2007

May 27, 2007

City Ethos in the Country

Justin Katz

From the Around Town section of The Sakonnet Times (emphasis added):

Theater Direct and Friends of the Arts in Tiverton (FAIT) are looking for singers and musicians to perform in a sultry, swinging cabaret to benefit arts enrichment programs in Tiverton. There are a few slots left for anyone wanting to perform with some of the best talent in the East Bay.

Why must a small town's theater group put on a sultry production to raise money for a worthy cause? Some folks might reasonably suggest (ahem) that the arts have been losing relevance to the society at large precisely because they are so thoroughly enamored with the sordid fare for which one once had to lurk the city streets. Frankly, I don't wish to see my fellow townsmen in sultry regalia, and I'm not so sure I want Tiverton arts programs to be thus enriched.

I sure hope that the slight chill this ad gives me results from misinterpreting the import of that acronym — FAIT — and unfairly suspecting that "swinging" is, on some level, meant to be a pun.

Which Will We Salvage?

Justin Katz

This is likely to be a very uncomfortable topic — prone to personal hostilities. Still, if my assessment has some basis in truth, it can only be for the best to put it out there in the light, rather than to endure a multiyear campaign season in which it is unmentionable. As entry, here's a comment from Jim, responding to my suggestion that a Republican president like Giuliani would be disastrous for the culture that makes the United States worth defending:

From a more pragmatic standpoint, if we don't take the correct stance on the spread of Islamofascism, we won't have the luxury of worrying about abortion, gay marriage, etc. ...

I do not care for Rudy's stand on gun control or abortion. But what he did in New York, and what I believe he will do to fight Islamofascism far outweigh those issues I don't favor in him.

Those angling for everything in a candidate usually end up with nothing.

Whatever the truth of his closing assertion, it disregards a whole range of objections to Rudy Giuliani to suggest that conservatives who oppose him are angling for everything. During the primary season, agreement on national defense can, and should, be mixed with something somewhat less than complete disagreement on social and cultural matters. The main problem with Giuliani is that he wouldn't represent a mere putting on hold of the conservative end of the culture war; at this juncture, he would represent a capitulation. Our bipartisan system would be repositioned as a choice between hawkish and dovish Democrats. It is this either/or sense between culture and defense that raises the uncomfortable, and likely contentious, question for conservatives: On which count is a temporary loss tolerable?

With respect to social issues, how likely is it that our society would emerge from an era of compromised morality, in an internal bargain to defeat Islamofascism, with a zest to recapture lost moral ground? I'd say not likely at all. For one thing, our moral decline has proceeded as a gradual slide down that proverbial slope. At no point is the view from our current position frighteningly precipitous enough to drive us back up the hill; each progressive step appears less threatening than it had but a moment ago, and the firm ground that we've relinquished looks more arduous to recapture. Having defeated the terroristic armies of a perversion of religious morality, those who would then return our attention toward our own culture's imbalance in the other direction would face an even more daunting task than they do now.

With respect to national security issues, how likely is it that the liberal forces in our society will be able to keep their cover of American apathy in the face of further terrorist attacks? Again, not likely at all. The danger of this gamble is that it might take a horrific catalyst to disperse our daydreams about a vacation from history. We can be confident that Islamofascists will snap a branch that wakes Americans up before it is utterly too late, but the size and proximity of that branch may be terrifying to contemplate. We must also be wary of the world's changing while we are allowing our doves rein enough to brush the electric fence at the border of sanity. The longer the delay in defeating Islamic radicals, the greater the chance that other players' calculations will change, such that, when American society finally receives the shock that dispels the daydream, it may rise to discover that it is at war not just with terrorists, but with China or Russia or even Europe, too.

Yet, in compromising neither set of principles are we ensuring the other's victory. We might take the hawkish moderates' deal only to find that they are thwarted in their security conservatism and amplified in their social liberalism. On the other hand, we might back a social conservative — who, we oughtn't forget, would also be strong on defense — only to find him incapable of capturing the White House or, if he does, unable to achieve any of his goals in the face of the even more greatly exaggerated antipathy that he would inspire in the other side.

It would be uncharitable (to say the least) to charge me with a willingness to risk the deaths of millions in order to prevent homosexuals from getting married. Much more stands to be lost on the social end than that implies, and the other side of the equation isn't so certain. There must surely be social liberals who understand the evil that America is currently facing in the global arena, and if they were to make a similar assessment of social "progress" to mine, they would conclude that they can afford to put those issues on hold. The slope will remain for later sliding.

In the final analysis, I guess I'm just more sure that a Giuliani would defeat conservative principles than that Islamofascists will defeat America. Moreover, I'd suggest that Republicans have more to win than to lose by tying conservative social principles to their drive for national security. For one thing, it creates a more compelling whole to be fighting moral corruption — evil — in both its militaristic and libertine, amoral guises than it does to be fighting for our society's right to be morally bankrupt. If, however, we prove to be unable to overcome the political hostilities that pervade our nation — that is, if a thoroughly conservative Republican Party is unable to increase its share of the national government — I suspect that, as the politics play out, an awakening to our need for self defense would also stir our drifting moral sense.

Many would like to deny it, and that is certainly an easy thing to do, but these distinct goals are united in some nearly inarticulable way. Weighing thoughts intuitive as well as rational, I can only conclude that God will preserve a nation in which He is preserved. In contrast, a culture with undue faith in the infallibility of its own desires will find a way to destroy itself, mangling countless lives in the process.

May 26, 2007

A Lesson in Web Stats (Because Nobody Else Will)

Justin Katz

We could legitimately declare that Anchor Rising has had 94,250,358 hits, or 101,009 per day, over the life of the site, but that would be deceptive. I mention this because from time to time you'll see a site parading the fact that it's had x number of hits, and if that's all the information you're given, it's just about impossible to know what it really means. The main problem is that, in conversational usage, hits means page views, or (in advertising lingo) impressions, and some folks even take it to mean readers. With respect to the statistics that most Web page owners have concerning their sites, however, those are all different measurements:

  • Hits are typically the number of files downloaded, or even requests for files. So, if you were to click over to a page with 25 photographs, an audio file, and 50 design-related images (such as the various parts of the yellow line that traces Anchor Rising), then that one page view would count (including the actual html file) as 77 hits. If you accidentally close your browser and reload the page, then depending how much information your computer has cached (or saved on your hard drive for future reference), you might trigger that many more hits again.
  • Page views are more akin to what print media types track as impressions. That's the number of downloaded files with extensions that typically indicate full pages — such as .html or .php. So, even if none of the pictures on our hypothetical Web page come through, you would have counted as two page views. If you were to come to Anchor Rising, click to read the comments, and then make a comment of your own, your activity would count as four page views — the main page, the comment page, the preview page, and the reloaded comment page with your comment.
  • Visits are generally tracked according to page views with a given interval between them. Those four page views would count as one visit, but if you were to contemplate your comment for half an hour (or some other interval of time, longer or shorter) before making it, the two sessions would count as separate visits.
  • Uniques or sites are individual IP addresses and, although there are qualifications that I'll describe in a moment, might be thought of as the number of people reading the page in a given time period.

Of these four metrics, I've tended to keep the closest eye on visits, because as you can see, hits are next to meaningless from a real-people standpoint, and pages can be quickly racked up, but there is increased value to readers who come back several times a day. (There's also the possibility that different people are using the same computer, or even the same home network, thus counting as the same IP address.) For comparison purposes, however, using the same metric still isn't precise, because different software programs track visits differently.

For one thing, some track downloads of a particular picture. The colorful square on the bottom of our left-hand column is an example, and related statistics are based on the number of times that image is downloaded. Of course, if somebody is reading a text-only version of a page or has images blocked or has cached the image, he won't count. If the tracking service is hung up and the person manages to read everything he wants before it loads, that page view won't count, either. For this reason, some folks place the image at the tops of their html, to ensure that it gets counted; sometimes, though, delays can be considerable, so since we prefer your value as interested readers to your value as statistics, it's the very last thing that Anchor Rising offers to your computer.

Other tracking software works directly on the server, which is obviously more accurate. Even so, some count or don't count different extensions as pages, as opposed to files (such as .css style sheets). Some track visits every half-hour; others on the hour. Some appear to make adjustments that even I haven't cared to figure out. When looking at average-per-day statistics, some go back to the Web site's very first day, and others use only a certain period of time, such as a month or year. Thus, our average number of daily page views is currently 677 on the lowest of our four tracking systems, while it is 36,075 on the highest.

And then, even adjusting for all of this, the impression that one gets of a site's popularity has to be adjusted with reference to the computer behind each request. Every time Google checks to see what words we're using, that counts as traffic. Every time a spammer's bots probe our site for weaknesses, that counts. Every person who clicks over from a search engine to quickly skim a two-year-old post for relevance or to see a searched-for image in context counts. Every potential advertiser. Every person who's just trying to copy our html.

So, if you owned a Web site, which numbers would you use? When asked, I've always tried to offer a realistic estimate based on my general understanding of our statistics, even though I've realized that comparisons might therefore be unfair to us. Then again, something tweaks my conscience at the thought of taking credit for the "readership" of some automated computer program that downloaded a one-pixel JPEG image. Similarly, while I do not want people to underestimate our numbers, it would cross a line into a distasteful sliminess to deliberately lead them to exaggerated conclusions — or even to allow them to mislead themselves.

For these reasons — as well as to enable a concrete application of today's Web stat lesson — the following is an untweaked snapshot of our daily visits and page views using three different programs. (I've left out the high-end outlier, from which I derived the above eye-poppers.) For a little bit of extra context, our Web host appears to think that Webalizer is more accurate than AWStats. Site Meter is the software based on that colorful image on the bottom of our left-hand column.

Although it would be reasonable to simply go with the Webalizer data (which, I'm told, is the most popular statistics measurement online), for interviews and conversation, I usually give a rough average of Webalizer and AWStats. I'd note, though, when comparing with other types of Web sites, and even more so other types of media, that blog readers tend to be especially plugged in — in a variety of senses; there's also considerable difference even among blogs in the type of content they offer and in the way in which readers use them. That's why, for my own purposes, I concentrate on our readership trends (which are really the only information for which I use Site Meter at all), and on their basis, I've no reason to complain or to be coy:

Having little sense of what y'all might have thought before, I don't know whether any of this is surprising to you, whether in a good or bad way. From our perspective, we're more interested in having you come by because you're interested in what we have to say than because you think we're the happening conservative bloggers of the region.

May 25, 2007

A Nameless Brain

Justin Katz

In my haste to get up this morning's post before my foreman arrived on the jobsite, I messed up Mr. Cort's first name, and it occurred to me that it might be prudent to let it be known upfront, before I begin meeting more people from around Rhode Island, that I'm horrible with names. If I happen to mess up yours at any point in the future, please don't take it as a lack of interest.

To a more-than-normal degree, my grasp of language is based on sense, sound, and associations, as opposed to, say, definitions and images. Consequently, as I meet more people in life, I find those markers stumbling all over each other when it comes to names. So, for a reason that I haven't bothered to investigate, in the context of a beach-club political gathering, the sound of "Bob Cort" just seemed more correct, in my utterance on the fly, than that of "Hugh Cort." It certainly doesn't help that my daily activities keep my head spinning. (Although things may improve now that I don't have to remember the acronyms for every type of data storage technology...)

Jurassic Eden

Marc Comtois

My first thought was that it's things like this that provide the "smarter-than-thee" rhetorical ammunition for the ideological opponents of conservatism.

Two prehistoric children play near a burbling waterfall, thoroughly at home in the natural world. Dinosaurs cavort nearby, their animatronic mechanisms turning them into alluring companions, their gaping mouths seeming not threatening, but almost welcoming, as an Apatosaurus munches on leaves a few yards away....

For here at the $27 million Creation Museum...this pastoral scene is a glimpse of the world just after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, in which dinosaurs are still apparently as herbivorous as humans, and all are enjoying a little calm in the days after the fall. {ed.-link to museum added.}

I understand that it is a common rhetorical tactic to take an "extreme" example and portray it--whether overtly or not--as a normal characteristic of those with whom you disagree. In that sense, the Creation Museum is yet one more possible polemical dagger that can be aimed at the conservative heart. But that isn't such a big deal as is the degree to which such an entity will contribute to a lack of--or more generously, an improperly focused--scientific or philosophical sophistication amongst a goodly portion of religious Americans. If that seems condescending, I apologize. But if you aren't willing to accept that the earth is over 6,000 years old, then you'll find it hard getting people to take seriously whatever else you may believe, no matter how correct you are.

The Return of the Progressives Against Science Education

Carroll Andrew Morse

Actually, it’s doubtful that they ever left. Jim Baron of the Pawtucket Times notes that the members of the Campaign for Rhode Island’s Priorities, as they did last year, want to cut Governor Donald Carcieri’s science education initiatives out of the state budget in order to fund non-educational social service spending…

A coalition of social action groups, the Campaign for Rhode Island's Priorities, wants lawmakers to roll back a number of tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy, increase some other taxes and reduce or eliminate funding for charter school spending, science and technology education and information technology improvements. At the same time, it wants to see spending hiked for several human services programs and to preserve others now on the chopping block.
Specifically, the CRIPs want to save $3,000,000 by “postponing” implementation of the Governor’s Inspiring Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics program. But because the CRIP package does not address the structural nature of Rhode Island’s shortfalls, adopting its philosophy would likely require a "postponement" of the program that never ends in order to balance future budgets.

Here’s the description of exactly what the CRIPs would like to eliminate, as described in the Governor's budget proposal…

To support more efficiencies and better training in the educational system, the Governor’s plan includes previously approved funding of $15.0 million for technology over five years which would focus on “Inspiring Excellence in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)”. The Governor recommends funding for innovative technology to upgrade teacher training programs to better prepare teachers to inspire their students to excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Projects that qualify may include, but are not limited to, the Rhode Island Department of Education’s Comprehensive Education Information System and its rollout to school districts as well as specific funding to support teacher professional development in the use of innovative technologies or techniques, including our state’s teacher preparation programs. The “SMART” Classrooms Program will significantly upgrade teacher preparation facilities at Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island by infusing technology into our teacher training programs, creating a Center for Excellence in Mathematics, Science and Technology Education, and upgrading mathematics and science classrooms and laboratories.
According to their press release, CRIP membership includes the National Education Association of Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals, which would seem to put Rhode Island’s teachers unions on the side of science education cuts. Is it indeed the position of the unions that science education is the first area of the state budget where spending should be reduced in a time of fiscal crisis?

Finally, in the Pawtucket Times article, Ocean State Action director Karen Malcom calls the CRIP package “common sense”. Apparently, to Ms. Malcom, it is common sense that welfare spending takes priority over education. That explains why the members of CRIP are willing to increase taxes to spend on social services, but not to improve education.

The List that Surprises No One Who Lives Here

Carroll Andrew Morse

Just a reminder to those driving off to Memorial Day vacations this weekend; Rhode Islanders have made their annual appearance in the bottom 5 on GMAC Insurance’s list of worst drivers in the United States. From New York Newsday

The results of a recent driver survey released Thursday by GMAC Insurance seems to indicate they are - the average score by New Yorkers taking the written driver's license test was 71. The failure rate was 36 percent.

New Jersey, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and Rhode Island joined New York in the bottom five…

The survey gauges driver knowledge by using actual questions from Department of Motor Vehicle exams.

Alas, we know in our hearts that it’s true.

Frank Caprio Versus Wal-Mart

Carroll Andrew Morse

A critical ethics issue? Or a ploy by a potential gubernatorial candidate seeking some publicity that will boost his credibility with progressive voters who identify Wal-Mart with all things evil? Make the call yourself based on this Associated Press report, via

Rhode Island's state treasurer has asked federal regulators to investigate whether Wal-Mart Stores Inc. violated securities laws by not disclosing that the son of the retailer's chief executive works for a company that does business with Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart said there is no requirement under the law for a disclosure and no conflict of interest. Mona Williams, Wal-Mart's vice president of corporate communications, said the question is a "nonissue".

In a letter made public Thursday, Rhode Island General Treasurer Frank T. Caprio asked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate Wal-Mart. Rhode Island's state employee pension fund has substantial holdings in Wal-Mart shares through index funds that group large corporations, he said.

A Couple of Morning-After Thoughts

Justin Katz

Upon reflection, I was unfairly dismissive of Mayor Laffey's comments with respect to Giuliani. Rudy did wonderful things in NYC long before 9/11 made his a household name, but when it comes to the presidency, the social issues are a dealbreaker for me. A Republican president like Giuliani would be disastrous for the culture that makes the United States worth defending.

On the note of defense, a word about Hugh Cort. Inasmuch as his speech and conversation hammered on terrorism, somewhat to the chagrin of his campaign manager, I suspect that his desire is more to increase the profile of that issue than to promote himself, and for that I applaud him. His related Web site Stop Doomsday is certainly worth a look.

May 24, 2007

South County Straw Poll Results

Carroll Andrew Morse
Results from the Narragansett/South Kingstown GOP Presidential straw poll ($1 per vote, vote as many times as you want) are in…

Hugh Cort(*) 1,522
Mitt Romney 744
Rudolph Giuliani 634
John McCain 394
Fred Thompson 53
Newt Gingrich 36
Tom Tancredo 23
Mike Huckabee 16
Sam Brownback 12
Ron Paul 8

(*)Candidate Cort graced the citizens of Rhode Island with an in-person appearance at the event and, in the spirit of the evening, was very generous to the South Kingstown and Narragansett town committees.

Continuing Adventures in Narragansett

Justin Katz

Mayor Laffey (on chair) supporting Rudy Giuliani because, essentially, he saw 9/11 first-hand:


Andrew interviewing RI Republican Party chair Gio Cicione:


And here's the NBC reporter (Brian Crandall) whom we're scooping (and who declined my outstretched hand when I introduced myself to him a few minutes ago) doing the same:


And lastly, here're the straw-poll boxes for two Democrat candidates:



Hanging Chads
RI law #1234567 requires the collection of all hanging chads. Attorney Gen. Lynch will send them to Florida where ALGORE is demanding another recount of the 2000 election.

Vote for Hillary
To protect the identity of the giver, all donations will be SHREDDED. Please smile for the camera. You are now identified as A WITNESS in any future WHITE WATER trial.

One more personage; here's Ryan Bilodeau, of College Republican fame:


Getting Involved Again for the First Time

Justin Katz

The beautiful location of the South County Republican event that I'm currently attending isn't the best for my poor phone/camera, but pictures may be of interest as I begin a trial of involvement in local politics. Here's RI House minority leader Bob Watson speaking in favor of John McCain:


And here's Andrew chatting with Mayor Laffey on his way to the buffet table:


Now that I'm only working full-time, my new motto may be "feed me and I will be there." Stay tuned. (Hopefully for better pictures...)

Economics and Art

Carroll Andrew Morse

I don’t think Daniel Hunter’s theory of economics is going to play well with taxpayers. (Legislators, on the other hand, might be a different story.) From Brian C. Jones in this week’s Providence Phoenix

Beware of questions always asked about the arts in troubled budget times, [Daniel R. Hunter, borrowed from the Massachusetts Advocates for the Arts, Sciences and Humanities] warns. The challenge goes like this: “How can we fund the arts when we cannot fund domestic violence and shelters for the homeless”?….How can the arts advocates seek another $400,000 for the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts, on top of the $2.8 million it gets now, for more poetry, dancing, painting and storytelling, when grown women don’t even have a place to sleep?

Hunter answered his question during his earlier pep talk.

“There isn’t anyone in the arts community who doesn’t want to fund the homeless,” he says, explaining how the fault is not with competing causes, but with the question.

Hunter says: “You never hear: ‘How can you fund economic development, when you can’t fund the homeless?’ ”
The answer, of course, is that you need economic development -- by definition -- to create the resources needed to fund anything.

Sanjaya Sullying the Good Name of RISD...

Carroll Andrew Morse

....or is this something Rhode Island School of Design Students would be proud to be associated with, if it were true?

Apparently, there’s no truth to the rumor that American Idol’s Sanjaya was an performance art project created by a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. From KDVR-TV (FOX 31 in Colorado)….

The website, has obtained video that shows America Idol's Sanjaya Malakar explaining that his real name is Bill Vendall, a 25 year-old graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Sanjaya Malakar/Bill Vendall says he assumed the role of Sanjaya Malakar as part of a "human art project." He goes on to say that people "haven't seen the last of him," and even hints at possibly running for President of the U.S. someday....

At least where Sanjaya is involved, I’m extending my New Year’s Resolution about not posting on the Presidential Election to the year 4000.
....So is Sanjaya's claim on the video true?

Apparently, no.

After Wednesday's American Idol finale in which Jordin Sparks was crowned this year's winner, Sanjaya said of the video "That was just fun, I was just having fun. And I guess people believed me.”

Further debunking comes from a chat session hosted by the Philadelphia Inquirier
Just heard from Jaime Marland, a spokeswoman at the Rhode Island School of Design, and she tells me that there is no student named Bill Vendell.
The question is, is claiming that something is performance art when it isn’t in itself an advanced form of performance art?

The Financial Times on Walk-in Health Clinics

Carroll Andrew Morse

Eventually, the big international business papers are able to catch up to Anchor Rising’s coverage of an issue. Here’s the Financial Times on the movement towards in-store health clinics by companies such as Wal-Mart and CVS

Walk-in clinics represent one of the most advanced and aggressive attempts by US business and entrepreneurs to drive reform of the healthcare system.

This year hundreds will be opened in some of the US’s largest drugstore and retail groups, and thousands of clinics could be running in the next decade.

Advocates say the clinics will improve access to healthcare and reduce costs; that they will reduce more expensive visits to hospital emergency rooms; and that they will catch some illnesses before they become serious and costly. As a result, physicians will have more time for complex cases….

More than anything, however, the retail clinics show that business is pushing for change on its own without waiting for government. And walk-in clinics could do for US healthcare what low-cost Southwest Airlines did for the airline industry, by making healthcare better, faster, and cheaper.

Here’s the anti-clinic arguments presented in the article, which I’ll admit, I don’t find very convincing…
First, despite US business’s push to inject and increase consumer principles into healthcare, it is still unproven whether people understand how to shop for medical care like other products, or even whether they want to do so. Clinics also could be a controversial way for employers to push more health costs on to employees.

Second, retail clinics claim they will increase doctors’ business by referring new patients or allowing them to spend more time on higher-value tasks. But experts agree that they could be sapping high-margin, easy tasks like vaccinations from doctors’ businesses, and that clinics do not yet generate significant referral business to doctors.

Third, the clinics are for-profit businesses. Dr Osborn, of Illinois, says: “They’re not at this to increase doctors’ business; they’re in it to make money. That’s a smokescreen.”

Not to make too much of a direct comparison, but isn’t the philosophy that it’s OK to have a system that doesn’t really work as long as nobody makes money the philosophy that killed the old Communist bloc?

May 23, 2007

Mama Don’t Allow No Petroleum Cartels Around Here

Carroll Andrew Morse

I’m all for hawkish actions by the United States Congress, but this one seems a tad strange. From the Associated Press

Decrying near-record high gasoline prices, the House voted Tuesday to allow the government to sue OPEC over oil production quotas.

The White House objected, saying that might disrupt supplies and lead to even higher costs at the pump. The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is the cartel that accounts for 40 percent of the world's oil production.

"We don't have to stand by and watch OPEC dictate the price of gas," Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., the bill's chief sponsor, declared, reflecting the frustration lawmakers have felt over their inability to address people's worries about high summer fuel costs.

The measure passed 345-72. A similar bill awaits action in the Senate.

On the Judiciary Committee website, Congressman Conyers explains a few more of the details
My bill, the No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act of 2007 (“NOPEC”), enables the Department of Justice to take legal action against the OPEC nations. It does this by (1) exempting OPEC and other nations from the provisions of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act when acting in a commercial capacity; (2) making clear that the so-called “Act of State” doctrine does not prevent courts from ruling on antitrust charges brought against foreign governments; and (3) authorizes the Department of Justice to bring lawsuits in U.S. courts against cartel members.
Any legal experts out there want to take a stab at explaining exactly what remedies are available when you sue a foreign country in an American court for not producing enough oil?

Airport Expansion Update

Carroll Andrew Morse

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian is dissatisfied with the Green Airport runway expansion evaluation and planning process. From Matt Bower of the Warwick Daily Times

After reviewing the recent Environmental Impact Statement on the expansion of T.F. Green Airport, Mayor Scott Avedisian said he is not happy with the study.

Avedisian yesterday announced that the city has submitted a 73-page response to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) concerning the impact study, stating the city considers the study "incomplete and in need of improvement in data collection, independent narrative and comprehensive threshold assessment."

The city's response faults "the methodology used to determine the environmental, health, noise and air quality, traffic and community impacts" expansion would have….

Avedisian said the city strongly objects to the assessment that 350 families that would be forced out of their homes would easily find affordable housing elsewhere in the city, and questions the stated economic benefits brought on by expansion.

"There's nothing left here that's affordable and comparable. They can move lines around a map all they want, but to us those aren't lines, they're people," he said. "I don't believe it's rational or reasonable to assume that 350 displaced families will be able to find another place to live [in the city]."

…and John Howell of the Warwick Beacon
The public will get a closer look at the environmental consequences of five alternative plans to extend Green Airport’s main runway June 14 at a meeting held by the Federal Aviation Administration at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Originally scheduled for 6:30, a presentation will start at 5:30 so as to accommodate Mayor Scott Avedisian….According to a FAA press release, the agency and the consultants, Vanasse Hangen Bruslin, Inc. now have enough information to evaluate the environmental impacts and the feasibility of the five options, all calling for a 9,350-foot runway. Also, according to the release, the FAA has “worked closely with the federal and state agencies and the City of Warwick in preparing and reviewing the findings of the preliminary environmental impact analysis.”

“Working closely,” is not how Avedisian sees it. He said last week that the scheduling of the meeting came as a surprise, which, he added, should indicate how closely the FAA and the city have been working.

Peters apologized for lack of communication over the scheduling of the meeting, adding that both the FAA and VHB have kept city principal planner William DePasquale informed throughout the process....

Avedisian finds fault with the study in that it rationalizes that existing conditions are already degraded and any additional impacts would not be significant. He says that process “does not properly recognize the cumulative effects on the community”…. He says the city “demands, and deserves, a more comprehensive assessment of the existing and long term health, social and environmental impacts on our community beyond bare-minimum analysis.”

The Sufferers of Traffic

Justin Katz

I always try to remember, when stuck in traffic, that my predicament is often the result of a situation that far outweighs inconvenience. How many hours of commute time would one prefer to being personally involved in a situation such as this:

An off-duty Portsmouth police officer has been identified as the driver who struck a 15-year-old Portsmouth girl yesterday afternoon as she was running across East Main Road near Clements’ Market. ...

The girl was in “bad shape” in the middle of the night, but Swanberg does not know her current condition at Hasbro Children’s Hospital. The state police have not named the girl...

The girl was not in a crosswalk, Swanberg said.
Mooney has not been charged in connection with the accident.

Robert Whitcomb Hits the Big Time with Cape Wind

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Providence Journal’s Robert Whitcomb may think that running the editorial page of a daily metropolitan newspaper is already a big-time job. However, today, he really hits the big time -- a link from Instapundit, who previews Whitcomb's new book titled Cape Wind : Money, Celebrity, Class, Politics, and the Battle for Our Energy Future on Nantucket Sound (co-authored with Wendy Williams).

From the Publisher's Weekly blurb provided at

This well-reported assessment of democracy manipulated by powerful federal, state and local insiders, and other not-in-my-backyard shenanigans surrounding plans for a wind farm five miles off Cape Cod, is certainly upfront about its bias. Williams, a former journalist-in-residence at Duke University, and Whitcomb, editorial page editor of the Providence Journal, jauntily champion the cause of energy entrepreneur Jim Gordon's "bold idea" to plant 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound—a project still snared in a regulatory maze as this peppery account went to press. The authors decry what they call fear-mongering by Gordon's well-funded opponents (2005 contributions: $3.3 million) and are particularly peeved by the obstructionism of Sen. Ted Kennedy, whose behind-the-scenes maneuvering is highlighted, as are the fulminations verging "on the incoherent" by environmentalist Robert Kennedy Jr.—normally an outspoken opponent of coal-powered energy generation and a vigorous supporter of alternative energy sources. The Kennedys' stubborn opposition is shared by such moneyed neighbors as Listerine heiress Bunny Mellon and coal, oil and gas magnate William Koch, who are depicted as plutocratic bullies in this rambunctious, unsparing dissection of ruling-class abuse.

Scattered Thoughts

Marc Comtois

A few scattered thoughts....

Was anyone surprised to hear that class-warrior John Edwards charged UC Davis $55,000 to give a speech....on poverty?

According to a recent study, the less religious a university professor is, the more likely it is that they'll blame American for the world's problems.

It's Jordin

Hustler porn king Larry Flynt considered the Rev. Jerry Falwell a friend. Writes Flynt, "My mother always told me that no matter how repugnant you find a person, when you meet them face to face you will always find something about them to like." Hm. A lesson for partisans everywhere?

Wood bats over aluminum.

I must not be a true Rhode Islander: I could care less about what's next for Buddy.

Economic States of Being and Forces of Nature

Justin Katz

Kiersten Marek offers what might be thought of as the social worker's response to Friday's cris de coeur, and I'm not sure she's understood my complaints or my worries. Most starkly, as I explained in the comments to my post, I do not blame Rhode Island's politico-economic environment — much less the people who take advantage of it — for the loss of my Massachusetts job. That would be, as Kiersten notes, "ridiculously flawed." Rather, I blame it, first, for requiring me to go out of state for work after college and, now, for making dim my prospects for continuing to earn at my already inadequate level. Note that I mentioned my job mainly as context for my mood, referring to recent news as the subject to which I was responding.

The "wild idea" with which Kiersten closes her post represents less stark of a misunderstanding, but perhaps justifying more umbrage for that:

... try spending a year working in the social services. You would probably need to work two jobs in order to make the money you were making in construction, but many people do this. This would give you the opportunity to learn about the struggles of people who end up using social services, and see how many of them, like you, want our economy to work so that they can be successful. It might be a life-altering experience that will help you appreciate a fuller range of the human experience. Or, if it turns out that all you find are a bunch of indolent leeches on the system, it will make great fodder for a book.

I realize that folks of a liberal social service bent like to think that it is merely a heartless lack of familiarity that leads conservatives to take the positions that they do, but on the basis of what presumption does Kiersten conclude that I, one, have never had occasion to know people who've found it necessary to turn to public resources and, two, do not take the wellbeing of such people into account when formulating my concept of how our society ought to structure its economy? Putting aside my expectation that a year of social service work would actually require me to work three jobs — and contrary to the lack-of-empathy thesis — I'm quite certain that my conclusions would remain the same: mainly, that attempts to manage the economy for their benefit and to ease the experience of unemployment cause broader harm than good, particularly to the class of people whom such attempts are intended to help.

Kiersten admiringly quotes commenter Klaus's vilification of the Market (his cap, not mine) as if it were a burdensome, avaricious beast created by Ronald Reagan. But market pressures exist more as forces of nature than as a man-made machine for drawing wealth to the wealthy. It is convenient for those who have built an ideology out of wishful insistence that society can stamp out inequities to characterize the market as a conscious actor manipulating the economy to the detriment of the poor, but it clouds comprehension to mock its "infallible wisdom" and to suggest, for example, that it "has decided to stop allocating capital to construction and to put it elsewhere." Capital is flowing elsewhere, and the alternative to "the 'creative destruction' of capitalism" is not "creative management," but slow deterioration and a deflation of creativity, as capital and innovation both evaporate from the stagnant pool.

There are two ways to read Kiersten's suggestion that social services users "want our economy to work so that they can be successful," and the distinction between them is instructive. The reading that would evoke encouragement from me would be that they want our economy to work [comma] because that would make it possible for them to become successful. The second reading — which, I suspect, more people accept subconsciously than would declare it — is that they want our economy to work in such a way as to ensure their success. Being a diverse species, however, with a multitude of variegated talents and inclinations, it is necessary that a system that favors a particular set of qualities would disfavor people who do not possess them. A basic premise of capitalism is that we all benefit maximally if we privilege hard work, ingenuity, and a willingness to adapt.

For simplicity's sake, consider one step that we might take in a serious attempt to prevent capital from flowing too easily away from construction workers: increasing their value by requiring a certain degree of expertise and certification. (As I've previously explored, Rhode Island goes above and beyond with this strategy.) From the point of view of plumbers (to pick a trade), the benefits of a rigid apprentice-journeyman-master process are well worth the hassle; the speed with which competition can arise is retarded, so they can charge more for their necessary, often emergency, services, and their industry cannot respond but so rapidly to increasing demand, so there's less excess capacity when demand lightens. By the same token, however, the trade will not usually be accommodating as much of the workforce as it is able. In other words, those unfortunate souls who find themselves out of work and uncertified have less ability to take advantage of the opportunities that exist in their area. The education industry provides perhaps the most full illustration of this dynamic, with arduous procedures for procuring and maintaining certification and unionized protection of jobs once procured.

As a carpenter, I have to admit that the trade was once much more complicated. More intricate knowledge was required to build a window and chisel a run of molding than is now involved in installing either. Particular muscles and techniques required more development to hand-nail and crank screw than to work the triggers of nail and screw guns. And room for this slow developmental process was made necessary and possible by the lower speed of both information and competition. Just so, the full panoply of technological advances ought to give upstarts and innovators a stronger hand in the market. It ought to be becoming easier to change fields, not more difficult.

Klaus writes with scorn about companies' ability "to react nimbly to changes in the Market," but even if we allow him to ignore the reality that all workers are reliant on the health of their employers, we cannot ignore the fact that, to the extent that current employees are entrenched, workers in general are less nimble. And in the larger view, a less nimble workforce creates an environment in which large companies can become more exploitative. For one thing, raising salaries in a closed field, such as education or master plumbers, does not have the same upward effect on salaries in general, because employers don't have to compete as immediately with other industries for the best workers.

See, my worldview does not hold that people are "indigent drags" (much less Kiersten's rephrasing, "indolent leeches"), as if it were some sort of state of being. Rather, I'd argue that we are providing them with that role to play. Moreover — partly in tandem, partly as a consequence — we are making it more difficult for them to exit that role and, thereafter, to climb well beyond its gravity.

Yes, as a moral matter, as well as a calculated investment, our society ought to provide a safety net for those whose lives take harmful turns. Yes, our public constructs have a role in ensuring that those with privileged access to and control over capital do not abuse their resources to lock others out. But as technology increases individuals' access to information and opportunities for networking and production, government interference will be increasingly likely to create advantages for incumbents than to assist outsiders. Less light, after all, can pierce murky glass and wind labyrinthine halls.

May 22, 2007

Imagining Conversations with God About Political Necessity...

Justin Katz

Commenter Rhody gets to the heart of liberal/Democrat Catholics' rationalizations with respect to what their faith is supposed to encompass and what their politics are supposed to require:

When a Catholic is elected to public office, he or she is representing everyone in the district, not just Catholics (the crucial distinction JFK made). If a Catholic has trouble making that distinction, maybe he or she ought not to run for office.

I believe Harry Reid makes the distinction, realizing that he is representing people other than Mormons, as does Congressman Ellison(IIRC) in Minnesota who represents constituents who don't share his Muslim faith. On the Republican side, Arlen Specter seems cognizant he represents gentiles.

Separation of church and state is a great advance the American government created by our founding fathers made over the British model. Does Carlin believe separation of church and state should go the way of dial-up? ...

I get a laugh out of the contrast to 40 years ago. When JFK ran, Republicans were afraid he'd tear down the separation of church and state. It seems it's conservatives who want to knock that separation down today, and enjoy seeing Bush and Rove use the Vatican as an ideological enforcement agent (the Catholic Church I grew up in was not obsessed with abortion and gays to the exclusion of other social justice issues).

Catholic Democratic candidates should not be intimidated by this argument. Neither should Rudy Guiliani.

I mean no slight to Rhody, with this, but his thoughts with respect to the separation of church and state resonate as evidence of liberals' inability to make critical distinctions in the face of ideological necessity. As I understand the record, the core objection that Kennedy faced — sifted and iced with an unhealthy dose of anti-Catholicism, to be sure — was that the hierarchical nature of his Church would, in essence, give the Pope a permanent office in the White House. That favorite understanding of hostile Protestants leaves out precisely the realm of religiously informed individual conscience and personal accountability that liberals now wish to characterize as contrary to the principle of separation.

Especially within a Church that considers its ecclesiastical structure to have been instituted by God and to be indispensable to an understanding of His will, politicians who claim that dire matters of conscience such as abortion must be handled in accordance with their constituents' wills, and not their own, are either:

  • Misrepresenting their beliefs to their constituents


  • Compromising their beliefs and perpetuating utter evil for their own personal gain.

If you do not believe that which your Church emphatically teaches, then your professed religion is a lie. If you believe that your position requires that you suppress your internal revulsion at evil acts that are popular with your constituents, then I humbly suggest that your soul would have better odds with a whore's more honest labor.

Escape from Aquidneck

Justin Katz

Just as I came up on the traffic, I heard a radio report of a serious accident on East Main Road in Portsmouth, so I turned around and switched over to West Main. Well, this is what I encountered there:


The question is: Did WPRO mix up East and West, or is this just what happens when there are only two roads to accommodate so many people? If the latter, what an apt metaphor for life in Rhode Island.

I just heard an update that part of East Main is actually closed down. Guess I just haven't gotten to the merging traffic yet.

National Maritime Day

Marc Comtois

As the resident maritimer (KP, '91), I'd be remiss if I didn't take note that today is National Maritime Day. Besides, one would think that denizens of the Ocean State would be at least mildly interested. (Though the idea of the sea as anything other than an avenue for pleasure craft or something to "keep clean" is probably as maritime as most RI'ers get). Anyway, here's the President's 2007 National Maritime Day proclamation and a link to, a great spot to read up on the contributions made by the U.S. Merchant Marine during war time. Fair winds and calm seas...

Senator Mel Martinez’s Unbelievable Message

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to CNN, Florida Senator Mel Martinez is trying to reassure Republican voters skeptical about the substance of the comprehensive immigration reform package by telling them it will be good politics for their party

On CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer Sunday, [Senator Mel Martinez] said immigration "could be the saving of the Republican Party, frankly. And to do nothing would be the wrong thing for the American people."
In other words, pass this bill, and you’ll see the same shift of support to the Republican party that you saw follow No-Child-Left-Behind and Medicare Part D.

That’s the message rank-and-file Republicans are hearing, even if Senator Martinez doesn’t realize that it’s the one he’s delivering.

The Yearly Ritual of Proposing a Sales Tax Expansion

Carroll Andrew Morse

In an addendum to his original post, Marc noted that the House bill to extend that sales tax to almost every business transaction in the state is likely to die a quiet death today. (Currently, most services are exempted from the Rhode Island sales tax). Allow me to offer a quick footnote on this matter.

Every year for the past several years, Representative Thomas Slater (D–Providence) and a changing cast of co-sponsors have proposed a sales-tax expansion similar to this year's proposal. The 2006 version of the bill was H6930. The 2005 version was H6025. And there are other tax-increase proposals introduced to the General Assembly as annual rituals. For instance, for each of the past three years, Reps. Slater (again!), Grace Diaz (D-Providence) and Joseph Almeida (D-Providence) have introduced a bill that would remove the sales tax exemption for daily newspapers (H5228 [2007], H6990 [2006], H5531 [2005]).

These proposals have never gone anywhere in past years, and even with the deficit troubles faced by the state, they probably won’t be going anywhere this year.

There is, however, one significant difference between this year’s version of the sales tax expansion and the previous years’ version that is worth noting. The 2005/2006 sales-tax bills called for extending the sales tax ONLY to medical and legal services, while the current bill would expand the sales tax to every service BUT medical and legal services. I wonder if Representative Slater got a few more lawyers to sign on to his broaden-the-sales-tax coalition by promising to tax everyone but them!

Economic Impact of Illegal Immigration

Marc Comtois

Now that the Senate has slowed down the "amnesty" process a bit (phew!), perhaps they will be able to thoughtfully examine the economic impact of allowing massive numbers of low-skilled immigrant workers into this country (whether they're here illegally or not). This isn't to say that we shouldn't allow such workers in, only that we shouldn't allow so many--and we certainly shouldn't do so by enabling illegal entry by "looking the other way."

It is often argued that the American economy relies on low-skill immigrants--illegal or not--who can be paid a low wage to perform the "jobs Americans won't do." What is left unsaid is that these workers effectively hold down the wages of American citizens, as this study {PDF} shows.

• By increasing the supply of labor between 1980 and 2000, immigration reduced the average annual earnings of native-born men by an estimated $1,700 or roughly 4 percent.
• Among natives without a high school education, who roughly correspond to the poorest tenth of the workforce, the estimated impact was even larger, reducing their wages by 7.4 percent.
• The 10 million native-born workers without a high school degree face the most competition from immigrants, as do the eight million younger natives with only a high school education and 12 million younger college graduates.
• The negative effect on native-born black and Hispanic workers is significantly larger than on whites because a much larger share of minorities are in direct competition with immigrants.
• The reduction in earnings occurs regardless of whether the immigrants are legal or illegal, permanent or temporary. It is the presence of additional workers that reduces wages, not their legal status.

Further, this study examines the specific impact that that low-skilled, non-native laborers have on African-American workers. Another argument is that we need these low-wage, low-skill (illegal) immigrant workers in our fields so that we Americans can pay low prices for such things as apples and lettuce. I've gotta admit that this one always made sense to me. But I may be wrong.

One of the most frequently asked questions is what would happen to US food prices if legal and unauthorized farm workers were not readily available. It is important to emphasize that most of the flexibility in the farm labor market is on the demand, not the supply side. For example, when wages increased in the past, farmers responded by producing food with fewer workers, not by inducing more Americans to do farm work. Generally, substituting capital (machines) for workers reduced food prices.

In order to determine how much raising farm worker wages would affect food prices, we have to know: (1) the farmer's share of retail food prices, as well as; (2) what share farm worker wages and benefits are of farmer revenue or costs. For most fruits and vegetables, wages and benefits paid to farm workers are about one-third of a farmer's costs. Thus, farmers who get about $0.16 for a $1 pound of apples, and $0.19 for a $1 head of lettuce, have farm-worker costs of 5-6 cents on a typical $1 retail item of produce.

If a 40 percent farm-worker wage increase were fully passed on to consumers, and if there were no farm productivity improvements in response to higher farm wages, the 5-6 cent farm labor cost of a pound of apples or a head of lettuce would rise to 7-8 cents, and the retail price would rise from $1 to $1.02-$1.03.

A large increase in farm wages translates into a small retail cost increase because: (1) farm labor is a third of farmers' costs; and (2) farmers receive only a fraction of the retail price of food. For a typical 2.5-person consumer unit, a 40 percent increase in farm worker wages that led to a three percent increase in retail fresh fruit and vegetable costs would increase the spending of a typical consumer unit by $9 a year, raising expenditures from $301 to $310.

For more information: (

Finally, this study explains the cost-benefit of having a low-skilled, non-native work force:
In FY 2004, low-skill immigrant households received $30,160 per household in immediate benefits and services (direct benefits, means-tested benefits, education, and population-based services). In general, low-skill immigrant households received about $10,000 more in government benefits than did the average U.S. household, largely because of the higher level of means-tested welfare benefits received by low-skill immigrant households.

In contrast, low-skill immigrant households pay less in taxes than do other households. On average, low-skill immigrant households paid only $10,573 in taxes in FY 2004. Thus, low-skill immigrant households received nearly three dollars in immediate benefits and services for each dollar in taxes paid.

A household's net fiscal deficit equals the cost of benefits and services received minus taxes paid. When the costs of direct and means-tested benefits, education, and population-based services are counted, the average low-skill household had a fiscal deficit of $19,588 (expenditures of $30,160 minus $10,573 in taxes).

At $19,588, the average annual fiscal deficit for low-skill immigrant households was nearly twice the amount of taxes paid. In order for the average low-skill household to be fiscally solvent (taxes paid equaling immediate benefits received), it would be necessary to eliminate Social Security and Medicare, all means-tested welfare, and to cut expenditures on public education roughly in half.

Understanding of the fiscal consequences of low-skill immigration is impeded by a lack of understanding of the scope of government financial redistribution within U.S. society. It is a common misperception that the only indi­viduals who are fiscally dependent (receiving more in benefits than they pay in taxes) are welfare recipients who per­form little or no work, and that as long as an individual works regularly he must be a net tax producer (paying more in taxes than his family receives in benefits).

In reality, the present welfare system is designed primarily to provide financial support to low-income working families. Moreover, welfare is only a modest part of the overall system of financial redistribution operated by the gov­ernment. Current government policies provide extensive free or heavily subsidized aid to low-skill families (both immigrant and non-immigrant) through welfare, Social Security, Medicare, public education, and many other ser­vices. At the same time, government requires these families to pay little in taxes. This very expensive assistance to the least advantaged American families has become accepted as our mutual responsibility for one another, but it is fis­cally unsustainable to apply this system of lavish income redistribution to an inflow of millions of poorly educated immigrants.

The Coming Summer in Iraq

Marc Comtois

Word is that Iran is getting ready to finance and run a major offensive in Iraq this summer in and effort "to tip a wavering US Congress into voting for full military withdrawal."

Tehran's strategy to discredit the US surge and foment a decisive congressional revolt against Mr Bush is national in scope and not confined to the Shia south, its traditional sphere of influence, the senior official in Baghdad said. It included stepped-up coordination with Shia militias such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Jaish al-Mahdi as well as Syrian-backed Sunni Arab groups and al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, he added. Iran was also expanding contacts across the board with paramilitary forces and political groups, including Kurdish parties such as the PUK, a US ally.
Meanwhile, the Iraqis are preparing for just such an eventuality. Perhaps the most important development is political, here at home. Former Democratic Senator Bob Kerrey, Vietnam War veteran and member of the 9/11 Commission, has written an important editorial in today's Wall Street Journal.
American liberals need to face these truths: The demand for self-government was and remains strong in Iraq despite all our mistakes and the violent efforts of al Qaeda, Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias to disrupt it....Much of Iraq's middle class has fled the country in fear.

With these facts on the scales, what does your conscience tell you to do? If the answer is nothing, that it is not our responsibility or that this is all about oil, then no wonder today we Democrats are not trusted with the reins of power....The key question for Congress is whether or not Iraq has become the primary battleground against the same radical Islamists who declared war on the U.S. in the 1990s and who have carried out a series of terrorist operations including 9/11. The answer is emphatically "yes."

This does not mean that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11; he was not. Nor does it mean that the war to overthrow him was justified--though I believe it was. It only means that a unilateral withdrawal from Iraq would hand Osama bin Laden a substantial psychological victory.

Those who argue that radical Islamic terrorism has arrived in Iraq because of the U.S.-led invasion are right. But they are right because radical Islam opposes democracy in Iraq....Jim Webb said something during his campaign for the Senate that should be emblazoned on the desks of all 535 members of Congress: You do not have to occupy a country in order to fight the terrorists who are inside it. Upon that truth I believe it is possible to build what doesn't exist today in Washington: a bipartisan strategy to deal with the long-term threat of terrorism.

The American people will need that consensus regardless of when, and under what circumstances, we withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. We must not allow terrorist sanctuaries to develop any place on earth. Whether these fighters are finding refuge in Syria, Iran, Pakistan or elsewhere, we cannot afford diplomatic or political excuses to prevent us from using military force to eliminate them.

More on Illegal Immigration Bill

Donald B. Hawthorne

Illegal Immigration Bill Timing Delayed:

Senate leaders agreed Monday that they would wait until June to take final action on a bipartisan plan to give millions of unlawful immigrants legal status....

Thomas Sowell
Newt Gingrich
Jonah Goldberg
Michelle Malkin
Michelle Malkin
Michelle Malkin
John Fund
Michael Barone
Wall Street Journal
Washington Times

May 21, 2007

Immigration Follies

Carroll Andrew Morse

1. If America’s leaders really want to create a political culture where comprehensive immigration reform (aka “mass amnesty”) is received more warmly than it has been so far, they need to prove that they can run the government without steadily diminishing the quality of services accessible by the regular folks who play by the rules and ultimately pay the bills. Glenn Reynolds has touched upon this idea…

More than hostility to illegal immigrants, I think a lot of the backlash is driven by the sense that Washington insiders don't really value what ordinary law-abiding people do by way of living their lives and, you know, abiding by the law.
Right now, the Washington elite is offering this deal to the country: Business will get a regularized supply of cheap labor. Democratic pols will get more voters. In return, ordinary people will get an increased strain on the already buckling systems that they rely on and/or pay for in areas like education, health care and social services.

Could the increased strain turn the buckling into a full-scale collapse? The answer from the political class seems to be "who cares”; “our job is to take care of our special interests”; “it’s someone else’s job to worry about regular citizens”. That is not much of a deal for the regular citizens.

2. The expressed motivation noted by Don for removing requirements that illegal immigrants pay back taxes before becoming eligible for amnesty is especially troubling...

A provision requiring payment of back taxes had been in the initial version of a bill proposed by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat. But the administration called for the provision to be removed due to concern that it would be too difficult to figure out which illegal immigrants owed back taxes

"It is important that the reformed immigration system is workable and cost efficient," [White House spokesman Scott Stanzel] said. "Determining the past tax liability would have been very difficult and costly and extremely time consuming."

So our government officials looked at a problem, weighed the needs of bureaucracy against the needs of the larger society, and decided the needs of the bureaucracy were more important. Contrary to what Queen Padme Amidala may have tried to tell you, this is how democracies die.

End Ethanol Tariffs and Subsidies, Says Da Governator

Carroll Andrew Morse

Isn’t California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger expressing the right basic idea about ethanol policy in this report from Reuters

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said on Friday he wants markets to set policies on low carbon fuels, and called for eliminating subsidies and tariffs related to ethanol.

"We need to take down the barriers we have created," Schwarzenegger said at a symposium on low carbon fuels at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab in Berkeley, California.

The United States, he said, subsidizes domestic corn-based ethanol and imposes a 54-cents-per-gallon tariff to limit cheap ethanol imports from Brazil.

"It makes absolutely no sense. It's crazy, and it's definitely not in the best interest of the customers," said Schwarzenegger.

However, Reuters adds this mystifying sentence into its story…
He did not offer specific alternatives to the tariffs and subsidies, but said the market should be allowed to come up with the best solutions after targets are set by governments like California's.
Um, why does there have to be an alternative to removing a tariff and/or ending a subsidy? And couldn't we remove the state-mandated “targets” too, and really let the market set the price?

(Actually, a case can be made that government subsidies which help develop the infrastructure for distributing ethanol-based fuels remove legacy barriers-to-entry into the market and thus serve a legitimate purpose. However, government need not subsidize the production of the ethanol itself ).

"Can a Catholic Be a Democrat?"

Marc Comtois

Former RI Senate Majority Leader and CCRI Professor David Carlin (D, Newport) has written a new book, Can a Catholic Be A Democrat. Here's a summary:

When author David Carlin was a young man, it was scandalous for a good Catholic to be anything but a good Democrat. In the pews, pubs, and union halls of America's cities, millions of poor European immigrants and their children pledged allegiance to the Church of Rome and the party of FDR. All that changed in the 1960s, with the rise of a new kind of Democrat: wealthy, secular, ideological....So complete this transformation has been that we no longer speak of a natural alliance between Catholics and the Democratic Party. Indeed, Carlin here asks whether today it's even possible to be both a faithful Catholic and a Democratic true believer....On issues of human life, sex, faith, morality, suffering - and the public policies that stem from them - the modern, secularist Democratic Party has become the enemy of Catholicism; indeed, of all traditional religions. Carlin shatters the excuses that Catholic Democratic politicians employ in a vain attempt to reconcile their faith and their votes, and then, with what he calls the "political equivalent of a broken heart," he examines his own political conscience. As a faithful Catholic and a Democrat approaching his seventieth year, must he now leave the party he's called home since birth? David Carlin's arguments challenge all religious Democrats to ask themselves the same question.
Here's a review.

Jim Baron on the Rhode Island Ethics Commission

Carroll Andrew Morse

Jim Baron has an excellent column in today’s Pawtucket Times describing the unusual mix of powers held by the Rhode Island Ethics Commission…

Unique in our otherwise balanced-power government, the ethics commission has soup-to-nuts authority on all things dealing with the behavior of public officials.

It has the power to write ethics law on a par with the legislature. Like a street cop, it can bring a complaint of its own volition if it sees something it deems unsavory. When a complaint is brought to it, the staff takes the job of detective -- investigating and ferreting out possible wrongdoing. If the investigators think they find something, the commissioners act as a grand jury, determining if the accusation has merit to go forward. Then the staff prosecutes, building a case to make at a trial-like adjudicative hearing. The commission acts as both judge and jury during that process, conducting the hearing then deliberating and passing judgment later on. If that judgment is guilty, they are also the executioner, assessing and collecting the fine or meting out other punishment. Oh yeah, they also act as bureaucrat, collecting and filing financial disclosure statements.

However, according to Baron, the commission is not all-powerful; it cannot grant the jury trials that former Senate President William Irons and current Senate President Joseph Montalbano have asked for…
One thing is clear: The ethics commission can not grant Irons' request for a jury trial. It doesn't have the mechanism to summon or empanel a jury. So the commission has to either deny the demand for a jury or agree to transfer jurisdiction of the case to the Superior Court. And nobody can tell me for sure whether the commission is legally able to transfer jurisdiction on a complaint brought to it.

A Sense of Unfairness

Marc Comtois

In a story about how essentially all of the immigration reform bills proposed in the RI General Assembly have stalled, Rep. Richard Singleton (R, Cumberland) gets to the heart of the matter. Most people simply think that giving illegal aliens a pass and rewarding them from not abiding by our laws is simply unfair.

One of Singleton’s bills — to prohibit the children of illegal immigrants from attending public schools in Rhode Island — contravenes federal law, and Singleton said he’s well aware of that. He said he introduced the measure in hopes that the Assembly would pass it and the ACLU would bring a court challenge that would go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in a reversal of the current policy on a national level.

“I think it’s incredibly unfair,” Singleton said, “that people can come here, break into our country, sneak in during the middle of the night, and the American taxpayer is expected to educate their children. I think that’s wrong, given the fact that we’re all struggling to pay taxes that cover the cost of education.”

Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children

Donald B. Hawthorne

Ann Althouse discusses a New York Times article entitled Putting the Skinned Knees Back Into Playtime in which a popular recent book, The Dangerous Book for Boys, is mentioned.

David Elkind writes these words in the Introduction to his new book, Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children:

Children's play - their inborn disposition for curiosity, imagination, and fantasy - is being silenced in the high-tech, commercialized world we have created. Toys, about which children once spun elaborate personal fables, now engender little more than habits of passive consumerism. The spontaneous pickup games that once filled neighborhoods have largely been replaced by organized team sports and computer games. Television sitcoms and movie CDs have all but eliminated the self-initiated dramatic play that once mimicked (and mocked) the adult world. Parents...regard play as a luxury that the contemporary child cannot afford.

Over the past two decades, children have lost twelve hours of free time a week, including eight hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities...

The psychological consequences of the failure to engage in spontaneous, self-initiated play are equally serious and equally worrisome...there is little time for exercising their predisposition for fantasy, imagination and creativity - the mental tools required for success in higher-level math and science...

In regard to the role of play in child development, I always assumed that children used play to nourish their cognitive, social, and emotional development. But I never made an effort to articulate how play contributes to healthy development at successive age levels. I now appreciate that silencing children's play is as harmful to healthy development (if not more so) as hurrying them to grow up too fast too soon...

A number of months ago, I came across an article entitled The Importance of Play published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The press release related to the article notes:

A new report...says free and unstructured play is healthy and - in fact - essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.

The written in defense of play and in response to forces threatening free play and unscheduled time...

Whereas play protects children's emotional development, a loss of free time in combination with a hurried lifestyle can be a source of stress, anxiety and may even contribute to depression for many children...

The report reaffirms that the most valuable and useful character traits that will prepare children for success come not from extracurricular or academic commitments, but from a firm grounding in parental love, role modeling and guidance...

Still, many parents...worry they will not be acting as proper parents if they do not participate in a hurried lifestyle...

Oh, if you only knew...

(H/T: Instapundit).

May 20, 2007

The Illegal Immigration Bill

Donald B. Hawthorne

The Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007.

More on how to read/comment on the bill.

Anybody want to guess on how many senators will have read this bill closely before the public debate starts early in the new week?

With H/T to Instapundit and thanks for NZ Bear for the good work in making this bill so accessible to all of us. Now, may it experience a rapid legislative death.

More on the illegal immigration issue here, here, here, and here.


Thanks to Power Line for more on the heated exchange between Senators McCain and Cornyn - plus some insights into particularly important deportation and enforcement provisions in prior and current bills. (H/T Michelle Malkin.)

Hugh Hewitt's writes these words to his friends at Power Line: "The bill's indifference to terrorism is stunning."

Hewitt's opinions on the draft bill are here. In that link, he writes:

There are so many problems with this bill that it should not be introduced in the Senate absent a period of open hearings on it and the solicitation of expert opinion from various analysts across the ideological spectrum. Even were it somehow to improbably make its way to the president's desk, if it does so before these problems are aired and confronted, the Congress would be inviting a monumental distrust of the institution. There is simply too much here to say "Trust us," and move on. The jam down of such a far reaching measure, drafted in secret and very difficult for laymen much less lawyers to read, is fundamentally inconsistent with how we govern ourselves.

More information leads over at The Corner. National Review editors have this to say.

Rich Lowry weighs in.

The U.S. has now constructed .286 percent of the 700 miles of fencing on the southern border provided for in 2006’s Secure Fence Act. That is sufficient for a bipartisan group of senators to want to effectively declare this brief national experiment with immigration enforcement effectively over.

Enough with the harsh exclusionary measures! Two miles of fencing out of 700 passed by Congress on a border stretching 1,952 miles is a milestone that should mark our departure to the next phase of immigration policy — a sweeping amnesty of illegals and an increase in legal immigration. Thus, another confirmation of the iron rule of the nation’s immigration politics: No matter how discontented the public is with our broken immigration system, the political elite’s answer is always higher levels of immigration...

Heather Mac Donald shares these thoughts:

...Its key feature is rather that illegal aliens, according to press reports, can immediately have their illegal status wiped away with a temporary-residency permit, available virtually upon demand. That’s it. The rest is noise...There is no ambiguity about the effects of amnesty. Everywhere they have been introduced—including in Europe—they have brought in their train a new flood of illegals. This latest bill will do the same.

Kathryn Lopez has some initial reactions.

And, Just In Case You Weren't Already Upset Enough...Part 2

Donald B. Hawthorne

Discussing the illegal immigrant tax issue highlighted in an earlier post, Mark Steyn - once again - says it better than anyone else:

I always thought the requirement in last year's bill was pretty sweet: You had to pay two out of three years' back taxes. Most legal Americans would love that deal: Pay any two years of tax and we'll give you the third for free!

But the President obviously concluded that even this was insufficiently appealing. Which gets to the heart of the problem. Whenever folks use this "living in the shadows" line, they assume that these 12-20-30 million people all have a burning desire to move out of the shadows and live under the klieg lights of officialdom. But, in fact, if you wanted to construct the perfect arrangement for modern life, it would be to acquire:

a) just enough of an official identity to be able to function - open bank accounts, etc - and to access free education and health care; but

b) not enough of an official identity to attract the attentions of the IRS and the other less bountiful agencies of the state.

The present "undocumented" network structures provide this. For these Z visas to "work" (in Washington terms), they have to be attractive enough to draw sufficient numbers out of "the shadows". Right now, "living in the shadows" is a pretty good deal. Somerset Maugham famously called Monte Carlo a sunny place full of shady people. Undocumented America is a shady place full of sunny people.

Instead of attempting to draw the undocumented out of the shadows, it might be fairer to allow the rest of us to "live in the shadows", too. My suggestion is that, on the day this bill comes into effect, all 300 million US citizens and legal residents should apply for a Z visa.

More Mark Steyn here.

And, Just In Case You Weren't Already Upset Enough...

Donald B. Hawthorne

Another disgusting piece of information about the US Senate bill on illegal immigration trickles out:

The Bush administration insisted on a little-noticed change in the bipartisan Senate immigration bill that would enable 12 million undocumented residents to avoid paying back taxes or associated fines to the Internal Revenue Service, officials said.

An independent analyst estimated the decision could cost the IRS tens of billions of dollars.

A provision requiring payment of back taxes had been in the initial version of a bill proposed by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat. But the administration called for the provision to be removed due to concern that it would be too difficult to figure out which illegal immigrants owed back taxes.

The dropping of the back-tax provision was not made clear in the announcement of the immigration reform proposal on Thursday. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, speaking in reference to illegal immigrants seeking legal status, said, "You've got to pay your taxes." He did not state whether he was referring to back taxes, future taxes, or both.

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel, asked in a telephone interview yesterday to clarify Chertoff's remark, said it referred only to future taxes.

"It is important that the reformed immigration system is workable and cost efficient," Stanzel said. "Determining the past tax liability would have been very difficult and costly and extremely time consuming."

Stanzel stressed that immigrants would be required to pay a fine of up to $5,000 if they want to apply for a green card to become a legal resident, although that fine is not for failure to pay taxes.

Laura Capps, a spokeswoman for Kennedy, said a provision for requiring back taxes was in Kennedy's original bill and that Chertoff called for it to be removed. "Chertoff thought it would be too challenging to accurately determine the amount of an applicant's back taxes," she said.

Administration officials said many illegal immigrants do not get paychecks that can be audited, making it difficult to determine tax liability...

What if, in the spirit of being "cost-efficient," all law-abiding citizens of America decided that paying their taxes was just too "difficult and costly and extremely time consuming" to do? Would we be given the same break that illegal immigrants - who have already broken laws to get into our country - could now receive with nothing less than the blessing of the Federal government? Of course not!

This bill is a slap in the face to all those legal immigrants who played by the rules to come into the United States. It is a slap in the face to all those immigrants who are still trying to enter the United States legally. And this latest news is nothing less than a slap in the face to all law-abiding citizens who pay their taxes and only ask that others be held to the same standards of fair play.

Why does the Bush administration choose to provide law-breaking illegal immigrants with an additional economic reward for their bad behavior? How could that ever build further respect for the rule-of-law in America?

This is a what happens when the public debate on a major bill is rushed before the bill itself is written and publicly available.

And this latest news brings us right back to the big-picture issues and why a lousy illegal immigration bill is worse than no bill at all.

More reactions here.

Fred Thompson sums it all up:

Most Americans know that we have an illegal immigration problem in this country, with perhaps as many as 20 million people residing here unlawfully. And I think most Americans have a pretty good idea about how to at least start solving the problem - secure our nation's borders...

I'd tell you what was in the legislation, but 24 hours after the politicians agreed the bill looked good, the Senate lawyers were still writing what may turn out to be a one thousand page document. In fact, a final version of the bill most likely will not be made available to the public until after the legislation is passed. That may come five days from now. That's like trying to digest an eight-course meal on a fifteen-minute lunch break...

The fact is our border and immigration systems are still badly broken. We were reminded of this when Newsweek reported that the family of three of the men, arrested last week for allegedly plotting to kill American military personnel at Fort Dix, New Jersey, entered the U.S. illegally more than 20 years ago; filed for asylum back in 1989, but fell off the government's radar screen when federal bureaucrats essentially lost track of the paperwork. Wonder how many times that's been replicated?

Is it any wonder that a lot of folks today feel like they're being sold a phony bill of goods on border security? A "comprehensive" plan doesn't mean much if the government can't accomplish one of its most basic responsibilities for its citizens -- securing its borders. A nation without secure borders will not long be a sovereign nation...

We should scrap this "comprehensive" immigration bill and the whole debate until the government can show the American people that we have secured the borders -- or at least made great headway. That would give proponents of the bill a chance to explain why putting illegals in a more favorable position than those who play by the rules is not really amnesty.

May 19, 2007

If I Go, There Will Be Trouble; If I Stay, Will It Be Double?

Justin Katz

As I said, leaving Rhode Island is certainly an option, but it's one that comes with costs that I'm not sure I can manage. I've also been inclined to stick it out and fight adversity. As do many Rhode Islanders, I've got a bit of thinking to do.

As a pretty basic assumption, the place to start is likely with my hometown, and that leads to a fundamental question of the way things work in this state: How much of a difference does one's town actually make when it comes to livability? We speak often of the state and the top-down imposition of doom (not to be overly dramatic), but what is left to the individual towns to accomplish, and how much opportunity exists to manage salvation upward?

Simply Irresponsible

Donald B. Hawthorne

Forget for a minute the philosophical and policy objections to the new illegal immigration bill before the US Senate.

Consider how the Senate debate on this enormously important matter is being rushed, as noted by Senator DeMint:

The Senate is scheduled to begin debate on the immigration plan this Monday, and yet we still haven’t seen the bill. In fact, we’re hearing the bill has not even been completed. This issue is far too important to jam into a couple days. It would be irresponsible for Congress to pass a long, complicated immigration bill that it knows very little about. Americans expect us to take our time and get this right.

As we understand it, this plan will grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants by allowing them to permanently stay here without ever having to return to their home countries. This can be fixed, but it will take time and there is no way the Senate can responsibly complete this debate in one week.

Those words follow these comments by Senator DeMint one day earlier:

I hope we don't take a thousand page bill written in secret and try to ram it through the Senate in a few days. This is a very important issue for America and we need time to debate it.

But the little we do know about the bill is troubling. According to reports, the bill contains a new 'Z Visa' that allows those who entered our country illegally to stay here permanently without ever returning home. This rewards people who broke the law with permanent legal status, and puts them ahead of millions of law-abiding immigrants waiting to come to America. I don't care how you try to spin it, this is amnesty.

The Senator has also written this thoughtful op-ed piece.

Surprise: Budget Crisis due to Overspending

Marc Comtois

Nothing new to us.

Overall, the State of Rhode Island spent $4.53 billion in 1998, a figure that includes federal money and is adjusted for inflation. The governor has outlined a conservative spending plan for 2008 that will cost taxpayers $7.02 billion — an increase of 54.8 percent over the last decade.

The governor’s office largely blames the General Assembly for the current fiscal crisis.

“Year after year, the governor has proposed reforms designed to bring state spending into line with underlying revenues. Year after year, defenders of the status quo hold rally after rally at the State House to condemn the governor’s budget plans. Year after year, the General Assembly acquiesces to the demands of the unions and the advocates. And year after year, because we haven’t made the tough decisions, the budget deficit grows bigger and bigger,” Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said.

Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport, dismissed the criticism.

“That’s a simplistic approach,” she said. “No comment.”

Um. I don't think it's really that simplistic, Senator. Though your "No comment" is...and it speaks volumes.

May 18, 2007

I've Had It

Justin Katz

This week, I lost over a third of my income owing to a corporate layoff. I can't blame the Massachusetts research company for which I've worked for nearly a decade, because it is just trying to do what it deems necessary to survive, and to be honest, I welcome the opportunity to reshuffle the deck. In that shuffling, however, I will certainly be doing some cost/benefit analyses with regard to remaining in Rhode Island. My wife's large local family precludes my going far, but crossing a border could go a long way, especially in light of the news that recent Anchor Rising posts have reported.

Yeah, I'm in a foul mood because I just lost a job, because my construction boss is shoving his crew toward a vacation-mansion deadline that can't be met, because it's raining, and because this is all happening on my birthday. But this comment by Rep. Savage — a Republican, mind you — is the kicker:

... we want to maintain strength and integrity of our social and educational programs...

To begin with, the "integrity" of our social programs is nil. We pay people abundantly — more than just about every other state — to be indigent drags on local society. Our "social programs" are an invitation to sloth. Our "social programs" are a vote-buying scam for Democrats (for which our Republicans lust). In short, our "social program" is to kill the society.

And our "educational programs" are mainly an artery tapped for public union leeches. Any legislator who wants to invoke the "strength and integrity" of our children's educational system must in the same breath express whether he or she is talking about teachers' compensation or about the infrastructure and programs that are available to our children.

In short, I guess what I'm saying — as Anchor Rising's resident wordsmith — is screw the "strength and integrity of our social and educational programs." What about my integrity as a voter, as a home owner, and as a provider for a family that includes three potential Rhode Island children? What about my ability to even make ends meet in this state?

Talk to me Mr. or Mrs. State Legislator, because whether or not you want to admit it, you exist in this state, if not by my vote, then by my willingness to stay put and cover the bills that you accrue like a drunk with an open tab on Friday night. Let me put it simply, so that even you will understand: Cut spending, and do not raise taxes. It really isn't that difficult for the rest of us to move, and the truth is that I can continue to badmouth you no matter where I live.

"Stealth" Tax Increase?

Marc Comtois

Dan Yorke has called attention to this piece of legislation--Brought to you by Reps. Slater, Naughton, Diaz, Almeida, and Lima--which amends the current RI Sales tax code to read:

A tax is imposed upon sales at retail in this state including charges for rentals of living quarters in hotels, rooming houses, tourist camps, all services with the exception of medical and legal services, and all food and all clothing over one hundred fifty dollars ($150) at the rate of four and one half (4.5%) percent of the gross receipts of the retailer from the sales or rental charges; provided, that the tax imposed on charges for the rentals applies only to the first period of not exceeding thirty (30) consecutive calendar days of each rental.
For "clarification", the explanation is:
This act would reduce the state sales tax rate from the current 7% to 4.5%, and would include medical and legal services, as well as food and clothing items sold for more than $150, as taxable services and items.
So, the apparent idea is to broaden the scope of the sales tax while sweetening the proposal with a reduction in the actual rate. Talk about moving the deck chairs on the Titanic....

The language of the bill is a little confusing, but Yorke points out that legal and medical services are actually exempted. Rep. Joseph Trillo (R, Warwick) called Yorke and confirmed this and said the only reason medical services are exempted was to provide cover for the 26 lawyers in the House who've thoughtfully exempted themselves from the expanded taxation.

Yorke and Trillo said they will be looking into organizing people to protest the bill by showing up at the House Finance Committee hearing on Tuesday, May 22 at 1:00 PM. Stay tuned.

ADDENDUM: I do know that two Senators--Warwick Democrats McCaffrey and Walaska--have proposed reducing the sales tax to 6% and have also proposed that the EXEMPTIONS be expanded and NOT the tax, as their colleagues in the House would have. Here's another piece of Senate legislation seeking to do the same thing. I assume (hope?) they'll be reconciled in Committee. Wonder which tax philosophy--House or Senate--will prevail?

UPDATE: (5/21/2007) Dan Yorke has reported that the state sales tax "reform" discussed above is dead on arrival according to his sources.

Representative Jack Savage on Education Aid & Tax Increases

Carroll Andrew Morse

At last night's East Providence GOP event, I had the opportunity to talk with State Representative and House Finance Committee member Jack Savage (R-East Providence) and turn Anchor Rising’s attempt to read the tea leaves with regards to the state budget deficit into a few concrete questions…

Anchor Rising: Some recent comments made by public officials seem to indicate that eliminating the Governor’s proposed 3% increase in education aid is a part of the plan for closing the state budget deficit? Is that the legislature’s plan?

Representative Jack Savage: I would say that, although certainly we want to maintain strength and integrity of our social and educational programs, everything is on the table.

With education, it is very possible that it will be level funded at last year’s level. We may not have the funds to do the 3% increase, which would be approximately 20 million dollars. That’s certainly an area which we are looking at to further reduce our deficit.

AR: No one who’s follows Rhode Island politics believes that tax-increases are ever completely off of the table. Is there any talk at the state house about specific types of tax increases?

JS: I think that’s a general type of conversation. I really don’t think that’s going to happen. Everyone is well aware of the fact that we are already so highly taxed, in all areas.

There may be increases in fees and licensing, those types of increases, but I really don’t think, though I could be wrong, that there will be an increase in sales tax or income tax. At least I’m hoping not. I hope we can find other ways to close the gap.

East Providence GOP Holds The First Republican Presidential Straw Poll of the Season

Carroll Andrew Morse

The East Providence Republican City Committee held a fundraiser last night where State Representatives Jack Savage and Susan Story, City Councilman Robert Cusack, School Committee member Steve Santos, and State Republican Officials Jon Scott, Dave Cote and Donna Perry all spoke to the assembled crowd about issues and Republican prospects for the future. Councilman Cusack and Committeeman Santos, in particular, emphasized their experiences showing that Republican candidates for local offices can be successful when they get out, pound the pavement and talk sensibly about local issues.

Another highlight of the evening was Rhode Island’s first straw poll for Republican Presidential nominee. Former State GOP Chairwoman Patricia Morgan made a pitch for Rudolph Giuliani and Current State College GOP Chairman Ryan Bilodeau made a pitch for Mitt Romney. Votes cost $1 and multiple voting was allowed (actually encouraged). The results were...

Mitt Romney 96
Rudolph Giuliani 30
John McCain 28
Newt Gingrich 15
Mike Huckabee 12
Fred Thompson(*) 6
Tommy Thompson 1

(*As an undeclared candidate, Thompson wasn’t originally in the poll, but as the event started, the East Providence GOPers made a command decision to scratch Ron Paul and give his slot in the proceedings to Thompson)

Please note I’m being very precise in the title to this post. I’m only noting that the straw poll was a “first”, not that it was “representative”!

Hide Your Wallets, D.C. Dems are Coming....

Marc Comtois

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell writes:

While most of the media were busy covering the latest developments on the Iraq funding bill or the bipartisan immigration proposal, congressional Democrats on Thursday quietly passed a budget creating the framework for the largest tax increases in American history...

Everyone takes a hit. Forty-five million working families with two children will see their taxes increase by nearly $3,000 annually. They’d see the current child tax credit cut in half — from $1,000 to $500. The standard deduction for married couples is also cut in half, from the current $3,400 to $1,700. The overall effect on married couples with children is obvious: Far from shifting the burden onto the wealthy, the Democratic budget drives up taxes on the average American family by more than 130 percent.

Seniors get hit hard too. Democrats like to crow that only the richest one percent of Americans benefit from the stimulative tax cuts Republicans passed in 2001 and 2003. What they rarely mention is how much seniors benefited from those cuts in the form of increased income as a result of lower taxes on dividends and capital gains. More than half of all seniors today claim income from these two sources, and the Democratic budget would lower the income of every one of them by reversing every one of those cuts.

Heritage also has some analysis on the Senate Budget--most of the tax increases are because the Senate is going to simply let the Bush tax cuts expire--and more here:
With federal spending surging above $24,000 per household per year, the incoming Democratic majority of Congress promised to restore fiscal responsibility in Washington. Instead of paring back the growth of government, however, Congress came to agreement in conference on a budget resolution that:

* Raises taxes by $721 billion over five years, and a projected $2.7 trillion over 10 years, or more than $2,000 per household;
* Includes 23 reserve funds that could be used to raise taxes by hundreds of billions more;
* Increases discretionary spending by nearly 9 percent in FY 2008 and does not terminate a single wasteful program;
* Completely ignores the impending explosion of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid costs; and
* Creates rules that bias the budget toward tax increases.

Congress’s budget resolution is consistent with the Democratic majority’s budget agenda so far. In just a few months in Washington, the Democratic Congress has tacked $21 billion in unrelated deficit spending onto the Iraq war emergency bill; passed a $7 billion farm bailout—without any offsets—that violates the majority’s own pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules by adding new mandatory spending;[1] and waived its own PAYGO rules in order to add new mandatory spending as part of a bill to expand the House of Representatives.[2] Coming on the heels of these initiatives, Congress’s irresponsible budget resolution is hardly a surprise.

President Bush has vowed to veto the Democratic budget.

Illegal Immigration Bill: The Bush/Kennedy Bill is a Disaster in the Making

Donald B. Hawthorne

Another U.S. Senate bill on illegal immigration, another disaster in the making.

Michelle Malkin is doing her usual good work summarizing thoughts and reactions about the Senate's new bill. See here and here. (And now here.)

Sometimes there is no need to invent new thoughts when prior thoughts say it all:

This morning's publication of an Open Letter about immigration by leading conservatives prompted me to re-read a draft posting I had last edited on May 26. Here is that late-May posting:

Now that we have the Senate and House going into conference with the objective of negotiating a final bill out of two very different bills, it is worth taking a step back and asking ourselves: What are the big issues in this illegal immigration debate? In other words, what policies and values are at stake as those negotiations begin and where should we go from here?

Let me begin with an analogy:

Think back to when you were in elementary school. Remember the occasional kid who would not play by the rules? Now, in most cases, peer pressure corrected their aberrant behavior. But sometimes it did not. And, without the presence of teachers or school aides to adjudicate the situation, a bully could get away with uncivilized behavior and disrupt the peaceful actions of kids who were simply trying to play by the rules.

Now recall how you felt if you or your friends were taken advantage of: The bully was being unfair. Playing fair - by playing by the rules - is a key principle of American life. It is why we don't like cheaters - in school, on the ball field, in business or in politics.

Whether we will play fair with illegal immigration concerns defines the core issue of this debate.

What the American people get - and many of the Washington politicians from both parties do not get - is that we understand this Senate bill is amnesty for lawbreakers. For corporate lawbreakers and for illegal alien lawbreakers. This bill rewards all of them for breaking the law by relieving them of any consequences for their past illegal actions. And it is no less troubling that the structural incentives of the bill will ensure future behaviors are equally reprehensible. All of this is unfair and wrong.

The Senate bill fails to codify a sense of fair play - aka the rule-of-law in legal terms - into public policies that enhance our ability to live together peacefully as a society. It is actually worse than that because it makes future societal conflict more likely.

These initial points also clarify what are NOT the big issues here. This is not about being racist or hating minorities, no matter how hard some amnesty advocates will push that shtick. All you have to do is read the postings on this blogsite, from well before the illegal immigration issue moved front-and-center, to know that many of us who are agitated about illegal immigration come from families that marched with and were outspokenly supportive of the noble cause led by Martin Luther King, Jr. And because this is a rule-of-law issue, it is also not a civil rights issue.

The American people see through all the moral preening by various parties and have cut to the heart of the matter. Under the status quo, they observe:

The government passes laws they have no intention of enforcing and grants benefits to people who have not earned them.

Businesses are willing to break the law in order to get cheap labor and increase their profits.

Unions are looking for easy marks to recruit for membership, thereby increasing their power.

Both political parties are willing to ignore serious and unresolved policy issues so they can maximize their chances of attracting more Hispanics to their respective parties.

Radicals - like many who organized the May 1 rallies - are promoting an anti-American vision of separatist identity politics completely disconnected from the Founding principles of our country.

Mexico is in political disarray, has an economy that does not generate enough jobs, and threatens to sue our country just for protecting our border.

Illegal immigrants (and many of their advocates) are effectively saying "I am here so deal it with it on my terms."

Broadly speaking, there are national security, economic and cultural issues at stake here and none is being addressed with any rigor. The American people understand that a failure to deal effectively with any of the three issues diminishes the quality of our country's life - and could even threaten its existence over time.

There are three specific policy issues at the center of this debate:

American sovereignty: Will we set our own laws about immigration as a country or will we let illegal aliens or foreign countries drive our laws?

Rule of law: Will we enforce fairly the laws on our books, thereby ensuring a consistent - and not corrupt - application of those laws?

Assimilation - Becoming an American citizen is an honor, not a right. We want all citizens to share that sense of honor. So, what does it mean to be an American citizen and how will immigrants be taught American history and the uniqueness of the American experiment in ordered liberty?

So where do we go from here? I would suggest several key points:

We need to transform immigration processes from dishonest to honest practices. The only way we will get to that point is if we first skewer the moral preeners and drive the debate to a focus on both the 3 broad issues (national security, economic, cultural) and the 3 specific policy issues (American sovereignty, rule-of-law, assimilation) mentioned above.

There is a consensus about the need for enforcement, both at the border and with employer compliance. We should begin there and do that right.

There is not a consensus on what to do next and the worst thing we can do is force another law onto the books that either makes no sense or will not be enforced. There is an analogy with the abortion issue. This country became polarized because the Supreme Court acted in a way that pre-empted a national debate from occurring, from allowing a broad consensus to develop. In its current form, this Senate bill is likely to lead to a similar outcome. The issues won't go away; the passions will not diminish. But the debate will be stopped dead in its tracks and that will only polarize the country. There is much to discuss and we should conduct a reasoned debate at the national level about immigration issues - such as how to deal with the existing illegal aliens in our country, guest worker strategies, and so forth. If we did that, a national consensus would emerge. None of us would likely prefer every outcome but the odds are we could find a way to policies that are generally acceptable to most Americans.

My personal hope is that a more limited bill comes out of conference and we can then conduct a thoughtful public debate on how best to do the right thing and keep America strong. We owe nothing less to our children and to the future of America.

For more readings on the topic:

Identifying Four Core Issues Underlying the Immigration Debate
More Misguided Thinking From RIFuture & State Legislators on Illegal Immigration
Does The Rule Of Law & A Sense Of Fair Play Matter Anymore? The Debate About In-State Tuitions For Illegal Immigrants
Jennifer Roback Morse: Further Clarifying What is at Stake in the Illegal Immigration Debate

Ware the Innovators Among the Invaders

Justin Katz

Walter E. Hussman Jr., publisher of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, wants his fellow newspaperati to stop caving to the urge to give away news content for free:

News has become ubiquitous, free, and as a result, a commodity. Anytime you are trying to sell something that becomes a commodity, you have lost much of the value in providing that product or service.

Not many years ago if someone wanted to find out what was in the newspaper they had to buy one. But not anymore. Now you can just go to the newspaper’s Web site and get that same information for free. ...

Exacerbating the problem with free news was the decision by the newspaper industry, which owns the Associated Press, to sell AP copy to such news aggregators as Yahoo, Google and MSN. These aggregators created lucrative news portals where the world could get much of the news that was in newspapers. So readers could now get free news not only on newspaper Web sites, but also from portals and aggregators that had a chance to monetize the content, most of which was created and financed by the newspaper industry.

Although he does make the effort to contrast his online strategy with that of a comparable newspaper, he doesn't appear to have an intricate sense of the different pressures that various news corporations face based on specialty and market. And as is probably typical of isolationist voices in any situation, he also doesn't seem to have considered that, to outside competition, any piece of the industry's pie is more than previously held, even if the same amount would be an unacceptable loss of share to incumbents. If, for example, the AP had followed Hussman's industry-sector protectionism and refused to sell its content to news aggregators, somebody else would have utilized modern technology to collect that news for any high-tech upstarts that were willing to pay for it.

If every newspaper restricted its online offerings to subscription-based access, it's easy to imagine a new type of blog-like innovation that would have aggregated summaries of dead-tree news stories in every market around the world. Considering that even a little supplemental income would represent an increase for hobbyists, perhaps Anchor Rising would have participated. At least now, blogs and the like tend to send readers to mainstream media sites for more than blurbs that are essentially teasers.

Hussman cites the Wall Street Journal Online's 931,000 paying subscribers (without noting that the free content available via OpinionJournal has helped to make the Journal a major link-magnet). He touts his own paper's success with "a Web site that complements, rather than cannibalizes, our print edition." He doesn't, however, acknowledge the unique role that the Journal has played in the news industry, as almost a trade publication, or at least a unique voice amidst the homogeneity of the old-time media. Moreover, he doesn't explore what his own paper might be doing differently with respect to the content that it offers than other papers or what differences may exist in the competition that it faces locally.

Without a doubt, the Internet is still such an undefined market that organizations can come up with a wide variety of strategies for dealing with it, adjusted for their own strengths and weaknesses. We'll see which succeed and which fail as things evolve, but I'm quite sure that even Mr. Hussman Jr. would not like the results were his peers to circle the wagons rather than mingle with — and help to direct — the invaders. Those companies that have been courting the new, free paradigm may be diverting a mob that would otherwise overwhelm even the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in its niche.

May 17, 2007

Understanding Domestic Liberalism

Carroll Andrew Morse

One common bond connecting the different pieces of the liberal domestic agenda together is the belief that people must accept that they will be forever be paying more and more to the government to receive less and less. Consider the major domestic issues facing the United States right now…

  • Education: Liberals see nothing odd when continuing tax-increases greater than the rate of inflation are needed just to preserve the existing system (hello, Portsmouth, Cranston, and East Providence, for starters). Neither school choice as a more rational way for allocating resources, nor the weak correlation between education spending and education outcomes is worth discussion.
  • Healthcare: Liberals generally favor a government takeover of the healthcare system a) so they can provide universal coverage by increasing the price of healthcare without improving the breadth of services available to the people doing the paying and b) so they can use the power of government to control costs by limiting treatments.
  • Retirement security: Liberals do not believe that changes in the basic structure of social security should be considered. They believe that government will always be able to shore-up the existing system by raising taxes and/or reducing benefits by tinkering with cost-of-living adjustments and moving up the retirement age.
Besides too readily incorporating the idea that paying more to receive less is somehow the norm, the central ideas that comprise the domestic liberal agenda share a second feature in common. They are all based on an assumption that centralized, bureaucratic systems should be the first choice to solve a problem -- if a strong, central bureaucracy can’t deliver a better solution than exists now, then it’s obvious (to liberals) that no system can!

The fact that contemporary liberalism, when addressing the three biggest domestic issues of the day, combines an affinity for centralized bureaucracy with an uncritical attitude towards social systems that deliver ever-diminishing returns is no coincidence. It is the natural result of the version of liberal ideology than came into being in the 1960s and 1970s…

  • Tenant #1: America is experiencing an inevitable historical decline. Sure, America had a good run for about 300 years or so, mostly because of favorable geography, a lack of hostile neighbors and good luck. But that part of history is now over. Paying more to receive less will be the norm for the foreseeable future.
  • Tenant #2: Average people can’t be trusted to deal with the ramifications of the great decline, so their lives need to be directly managed by government as much as is possible. It is only the elites within government who possess the necessary wisdom to properly cushion people from the effects of America's shrinking role in history.
Once you understand this basis of contemporary liberalism, as an added bonus, you can also understand the core difference between liberal Democrats and liberal Republicans (now called “moderates”), a difference in belief about how you get people to follow the leadership elite…
  • Liberal Democrats tend to believe that people will not follow, unless they are directly paid off directly in some fashion. That’s why (historically), Democrats have tended to be more tolerant of corruption than Republicans.
  • Liberal Republicans, on the other hand, tend to believe in their own ability to convince people that they are the natural leaders of society. They believe they can make a compelling argument that they’re the managers who will make big government work for everyone.
That's where we are right now. Is there anyone out there willing to make a case for an optimistic version of American liberalism -- in their policy choices and not just their rhetoric?

There's more than one way to raise a tax.

Justin Katz

This letter to the Projo, which links to, makes a point worth hearing:

In Rhode Island public schools are funded by a combination of state-supplied money and funding generated by cities and towns via property taxes. Unfortunately, in Rhode Island we rely too heavily on the property tax to fund our schools.

The second problem with Rhode Island's property-tax laws is their impact on existing homeowners. In 2006 the General Assembly enacted a new limit on property-tax levies, limiting levy growth from the present 5.25 percent to 4 percent by 2013. Unfortunately, this law does nothing to limit individual property assessments. So even if a city does not increase its property-tax rate, your property taxes will go up every time your property is "re-evaluated."

On a Technocultural Curve

Justin Katz

The Providence Journal's recent editorial on technology and the cultural slide has an outdated ring to it:

Computers are "extending" our intelligence through a panoply of electronic devices. But whether we are creating anything of more value is debatable. We spend more and more of our lives hitting computer keys but not more time thinking, and the general level of culture does not seem to be rising — indeed it seems to be sinking into an attention-deficit-disordered world wherein, to paraphrase Henry Ford, history has become "bunk."

As I see it, the actual culprit behind the Projo's complaints is the television, and computers — and high-tech in general — are undoing some of the damage done. In years past, for instance, we bloggers and blog readers would have had no outlet for direct interaction to matters of politics and society encouraging us to mold the items rushing past us into debate-grade arguments. Around the jobsite, my young coworkers — who used to quote inane movies back and forth — are discussing strategies for advancing in open-ended videogames — some taking as their objective the building of entire civilizations, others remaining less edifying, but still involving transnational interactions and a sort of cybermaturity that comes with building a successful identity and orchestrating long-term plans.

As for the culture, overall, I'd say that things have been sliding for so long that it's difficult to tell whether the curve is continuing, leveling, or even beginning to turn up a bit. A crassness developed prior to the computer era on which leeches such as pornographers have better been able to capitalize. Technology also offers, however, an opportunity to decrease the passivity in the activities of the young and old alike. If in the format of a game, children can create, record, and mix music, for example, it might draw out their own unique qualities, whereas their elders' MTV merely layered corruption upon their gasping souls.

May 16, 2007

Sowell on the Difference in First Principles, or Assumptions

Marc Comtois

Thomas Sowell:

If no one has even one percent of the knowledge currently available, not counting the vast amounts of knowledge yet to be discovered, the imposition from the top of the notions favored by elites convinced of their own superior knowledge and virtue is a formula for disaster...what the political left, even in democratic countries, share is the notion that knowledgeable and virtuous people like themselves have both a right and a duty to use the power of government to impose their superior knowledge and virtue on others.


If no one has even one percent of all the knowledge in a society, then it is crucial that the other 99 percent of knowledge -- scattered in tiny and individually unimpressive amounts among the population at large -- be allowed the freedom to be used in working out mutual accommodations among the people themselves.

These innumerable mutual interactions are what bring the other 99 percent of knowledge into play -- and generate new knowledge.

That is why free markets, judicial restraint, and reliance on decisions and traditions growing out of the experiences of the many -- rather than the groupthink of the elite few -- are so important.

Re: Warwick City Council Rejects $1 Million in Budget Savings

Marc Comtois

Dan Yorke just had Warwick City Councilman Steve Merolla on to talk about why the City of Warwick has eschewed an additional $1 million in cost-savings by deciding to stay with Blue Cross/Blue Shield instead the cheaper United Healthcare as manager of the City's employee healthcare plan. (The "manager" distinction is important--Warwick pays its own claims, the healthcare provider only administers it. That means a claim rejected by the provider can be appealed to the City, which can decide to pay it anyway).

Merolla stated there were many city employee union members in attendance at the meeting and they made it clear they would be unhappy if United was chosen. Merolla himself was threatened by someone in the gallery at the meeting (he's filed a police report). It's Merolla's belief that this intimidation was a factor in why the majority of the City Council ignored the recommendation of it's own, appointed consultant and voted to stay with BC/BS and cost the City of Warwick nearly $1 million.

Finally, Yorke asserted that BC/BS is bought an paid for by unions. Currently, there are three union members on the BOD, including Chairman of the Board, Frank J. Montanaro, President of the Rhode Island AFL-CIO.

Pelosi Bucks 185 Year Old House Rule, Stifles Debate

Marc Comtois

Yup, they sure are changing things down there in D.C. Drudge reports:

After losing a string of embarrassing votes on the House floor because of procedural maneuvering, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has decided to change the current House Rules to completely shut down the floor to the minority.

The Democratic Leadership is threatening to change the current House Rules regarding the Republican right to the Motion to Recommit or the test of germaneness on the motion to recommit. This would be the first change to the germaneness rule since 1822.

In protest, the House Republicans are going to call procedural motions every half hour.

House Minority Whip John Boehner's reaction:
“This is an astonishing attempt by the majority leadership to duck accountability for tax-and-spend policies the American people do not want,” Boehner said. “The majority leadership is gutting House rules that have been in place for 185 years so they can raise taxes and increase government spending without a vote. House Republicans will use every tool available to fight this abuse of power.”

Last November, House Democratic leaders promised the most open, ethical Congress in history:

“[W]e promised the American people that we would have the most honest and most open government and we will.” (Nancy Pelosi press stakeout, December 6, 2006)

“We intend to have a Rules Committee ... that gives opposition voices and alternative proposals the ability to be heard and considered on the floor of the House.” (Steny Hoyer in CongressDaily PM, December 5, 2006)

The rules House Democrats are seeking to change have not been changed since 1822.
Republicans have already achieved significant legislative successes on the House floor with 11 consecutive “motion-to-recommit” victories that exposed flaws and substantively improved weaknesses in underlying Democrat bills. But rather than living by the same rules which have guided the House of Representatives for 185 years, Democrats are proposing to change the rules in order to game the system and raise taxes and increase spending without a House vote. What are House Democrats afraid of?

Here's more about the Motion to Recommit.

Is the Time Right for Cross-District Choice?

Carroll Andrew Morse

RI Future contributor Te boldly comes out in favor of including cross-district choice in the discussion of how to improve primary and secondary education in Rhode Island…

Reforms like the cross-district choice plan former Providence School Board Member Julia Steiny proposed in a Projo article last week deserve a closer look. The plan would tie funds to students, not districts. Receiving schools would have to accept students so their student body approximated the state’s demographics. (Massachusetts and Vermont already have similar programs in place.)

School choice may be no silver bullet, but hand-wringing about how it will destroy our public schools just isn’t productive. The demand is there: in Providence, the Paul Cuffee Charter School has a 9% acceptance rate — lower than most Ivy League universities. And with a citywide dropout rate above 30%, you don’t have to be a cynic to recognize the system is broken anyway.

One possible model for a public choice plan is the system used by the San Francisco Unified School District since 2001. Lisa Snell described the program in a Reason Magazine article published last year…
Imagine a city with authentic public school choice -- a place where the location of your home doesn’t determine your child’s school. The first place that comes to mind probably is not San Francisco. But that city boasts one of the most robust school choice systems in the nation....

In San Francisco, [a] weighted student formula gives each school a foundation allocation that covers the cost of a principal’s salary and a clerk’s salary. The rest of each school’s budget is allocated on a per student basis. There is a base amount for the “average student,” with additional money assigned based on individual student characteristics: grade level, English language skills, socioeconomic status, and special education needs. These weights are assigned as a percentage of the base funding. For example, a kindergartner would receive funding 1.33 times the base allocation, while a low-income kindergartner would receive an additional 0.09 percent of the base allocation. In 2005–06 San Francisco’s base allocation was $2,561. Therefore, the kindergartner would be worth $3,406, and the low-income kindergartner would generate an additional $230 for his school....

San Francisco’s system produced significant academic success for the children in the district. Miraloma Elementary…has seen test scores for second-graders in English language improve from 10 percent proficient in 2003 to 47 percent proficient in 2005....Such gains have been made throughout the school district. Every grade level in San Francisco has seen increases in student achievement in math and language arts, and the district is scoring above state averages. (Fifty percent of San Francisco seventh-graders were proficient in language arts in 2005, compared to 37 percent proficiency statewide.) Even high schools, the most intractable of all schools, appear to be improving....

These gains have been made even as students who used to be excluded from standardized tests are increasingly being tested. In the last year of Superintendent Bill Rojas’ administration, 1998–99, only 77 percent of the district’s students in the tested grades were included, with kids who were deemed likely to bring scores down left out whenever possible. In 2003–04, 98 percent of students in the tested grades were included.

Readers prone to experiencing a gag reflex whenever the word “choice” is mentioned in a sentence containing the word “school” should take note of two things…
  1. San Francisco isn’t exactly known as a bastion of right wing, Milton Freidmanesque free-market philosophy, and
  2. Though I’m not endorsing public choice specifically for this reason, a couple of other communities that have implemented public choice programs have seen a growth in public school enrollment at the expense of private schools. From Ms. Snell's article…
    In Seattle, the public school district has won back 8 percent of all students from the private schools since implementing the new system. In Edmonton, where it all began, the public schools are so popular that there are no private schools left. Three of the largest private schools voluntarily became public schools and joined the Edmonton district.

Bi-Partisan Call to Raise Inheritance Tax Threshold

Marc Comtois

Kudos to State Rep's Carol Mumford (R, Scituate/Cranston) and Peter Kilmartin (D, Pawtucket) for today's op-ed in the ProJo in which they propose raising the Rhode Island inheritance tax threshold from $675,000 to $1 million.

Protection of assets acquired over a lifetime, coupled with a desire to leave the next generation a small inheritance, now preoccupies the middle class. Once the purview of the rich seeking to preserve their inheritances, tax planning is now causing middle-class people to vote with their feet...

Small-business owners and farmers, who are bound to Rhode Island, do not enjoy the luxury of this choice. Most businesses in this state are small operations employing fewer than 10 workers. Many are family-owned. When the owners die, their children who inherit are faced with financial dilemma. They must either sell the business to pay the inheritance tax or borrow an exorbitant amount of money to keep the business family-owned. These are the choices that hamper small Rhode Island businesses from growing one generation to the next.

They also make a good point about how the children of farmers are faced with paying an "exorbitant amount" of taxes to keep the farm or sell to developers. Additionally, to add a bit of irony, Mumford and Kilmartin point out that:
[A] strange dance occurs with groups wishing to preserve open space. These groups, financed with state and local tax dollars, move to purchase the development rights, so that crucial open space can be preserved and inheritance taxes can be paid.

Wouldn’t it be better to allow the families to continue farming from one generation to the next? It is shortsighted to collect inheritance taxes with one hand, and with the other to pass out state dollars to purchase development rights.

The same burden is imposed upon those who inherit long-held family cottages on the coast. And they continue:
In the best of all worlds, Rhode Island would eliminate the inheritance tax altogether.

If the tax were eliminated, median family income in Rhode Island would certainly rise. Small-business owners would be able to make long-term decisions knowing the next generation would profit. Small business could grow into a Rhode Island big business, employing far more than the current number of fewer than 10. The frugal members of the middle class who have amassed a small estate through hard work and a growing real-estate market would not be chased away. Family farms could remain family farms.

Would these problems completely disappear if the inheritance tax threshold were raised to $1 million? No, probably not, but it is a good beginning!

I'd think that if the House Whips for both parties are on the same page, legislation has a good chance of passing.

Taking High Taxes and Underfunded Pensions to a Whole New Level

Carroll Andrew Morse

The budget disgrace
of Mike Napolitano.
A case for recall.

Not only did Cranston Mayor Michael Napolitano propose a FY 2008 budget that asked for a maximum tax-increase while offering no funding increase to the school system, but according to a Cranston Herald letter-to-the-editor from former City Finance Director Jerome Baron, the proposed budget also underfunds Cranston’s pension system…

The city’s pension for this year ending June 30, 2007, is properly funded at $21,723,021. The actuarially required amount for next year goes down by over $900,000 and continues to go down every year. Despite the huge Napolitano tax increase, the mayor is “under-funding” the pension budget by $1.7 million above and beyond the legitimate savings of more than $900,000. This is a giant step backward toward the ill-advised funding method of pay-as-you-go, under which instead of decreasing each year, the pension contribution will increase each year until 2024 when it will total over $26 million instead of the $19 million that would have been required if the responsible policies of the last four years had continued. The taxpayer will pay an additional $7 million in that one year alone, and get absolutely NOTHING in return.
So if Cranston is underfunding its school system AND its pension system, where’s all the money going?

And if anyone from the state GOP is reading this, I’d like to propose this message campaign for the 2008 election season: "Mayor Michael Napolitano: The leadership you get when you pull the straight party Democratic lever."

Re: Preliminary School-Financing Plan (or "The Coming Train Wreck")

Carroll Andrew Morse

I don’t see how the education funding report that Marc just noted fits with all that's come before into a sustainable plan for the future.

We know that officials from both urban and suburban communities seem to have convinced themselves that the purpose of new state education “funding formula” is to provide a bigger share of aid to their communities. They can’t all be right.

We also know that the state is in a $450 million dollar budget hole for next year. As a result, the legislature is apparently seriously considering flat-funding education aid. The deficit is structural, meaning it’s going to be there next year and the year after, unless there is a either a fundamental restructuring of programs to reduce costs, or a tax increase that will push Rhode Island towards becoming the most highly taxed state in the nation.

Lately, the legislature has been averse to tax-increases.

But according to Jennifer Jordan's Projo article, even though it can’t afford a simple 3% increase in education aid this year, the legislature is moving forward with a proposal that would increase the state's share of spending on education and maybe increase education spending overall.

It adds up to three obvious possibilities for the near future of Rhode Island…

  1. The legislature is now being pulled in so many contradictory directions, it’s going to get paralyzed and change nothing.
  2. There’s a honking-big tax increase being planned.
  3. One set of communities is going to grab a whole bunch of state aid away from another set of communities and hide it under layer upon layer of formulas and bureaucracy and tax-shifts, in the hope that the communities losing funding won’t notice until it is too late.
Have I missed any possibilities?

Preliminary School-Financing Plan

Marc Comtois

Here are the highlights of the preliminary Statewide School-Financing plan as proposed by a special advisory group:

[T]he 14-member group, which included state Commissioner of Education Peter McWalters, Timothy C. Duffy, president of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, Marcia Reback, president of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers, and Will Van Horne of the business-backed Education Partnership, made the following recommendations:

•The financing formula should be “weighted” to allocate additional money for the neediest students. The cost of educating a special-education student, therefore, would be twice the base amount, or a figure close to $20,000 a year. The cost for low-income students would be 1.75 the base amount if they receive free lunch, or around $17,500, and 1.25, or $12,500, if they receive reduced lunch. The cost to educate students at career and technical schools would also be budgeted at 1.25 the foundation cost, and the cost to educate English-language learners would be 1.2 times the base amount.

“We don’t yet know exactly what the weights should be because those more sophisticated systems to determine weights don’t exist yet,” McWalters said. “But don’t abandon the idea of weights, because it is fundamental to the idea of fairness.”

•The formula should ensure a base amount per student to every district, regardless of how wealthy it is, and should not take away state money a district is currently receiving.

•The formula should be evaluated for periodic “mid-course corrections” and should be phased in over several years, as the state gradually takes over more education costs.

There is also another panel that is looking into how to pay for all of this. However, apparently they've been waiting to get a better idea of what the formula would be and the costs associated before figuring out how to pay for it. That's when it gets interesting!

Ethics Complaint Round-Up

Marc Comtois

An update on the status of two old and one new ethics complaints, both reported by the ProJo's Bruce Landis. First the new, from the ProJo's :

State Sen. Frank A. Ciccone III yesterday denied parts of the ethics complaint filed against him the day before and said that one element of it, his failure to disclose his union jobs in an Ethics Commission filing, was an oversight.

Ciccone, a Providence Democrat, was the target of a complaint filed by Operation Clean Government President Arthur C. “Chuck” Barton III the day before accusing him of sponsoring legislation favoring his union, not disclosing that source of income, and potentially benefiting unionized employees by participating in a legislative investigation of the Carcieri administration’s hiring of temporary workers.

Ciccone said he has two paying union jobs, one as a field representative of Local 808 of the Rhode Island Laborers International Union and another as business manager of the local. He acknowledged that he omitted them from his last two years’ financial disclosure reports, which are intended to let the public detect conflicts of interest among public officials.

“I made a mistake,” he said. “It was inadvertent.”

Sounds familiar....Which brings us to an update on two "older" cases. First, in case you forgot:
[Senator President Joseph] Montalbano is accused of violating the ethics code by failing to report tens of thousands of dollars in income from West Warwick for legal work associated with the Narragansett Indians’ failed casino proposal there. He’s also accused of participating in Senate votes when he had a clear conflict of interest.
Montalbano also claimed it was an "oversight", and has decided to take the unprecedented step of asking for a jury trial instead of a hearing in front of the state Ethics Commission. Well, they're not going for it.
[T]he commission and its staff wrangled for more than an hour yesterday with Montalbano’s lawyer, Max Wistow....Commission prosecutor Dianne L. Leyden said Wistow was merely trying to delay the case and the hearing, scheduled for June 5 and 6. She opposed the jury trial demand, and said the commission doesn’t have the legal authority to hold one even if it wanted to.

The commission’s independent legal counsel, Kathleen Managhan, agreed that the state Constitution and state law don’t provide for Ethics Commission jury trials, but she said the commission can rule on whether an accused official has a right to one.

If officials accused of ethics violations were regularly tried before a judge and jury, and not the commission, it would take away the commission’s greatest power, the job of enforcing the Code of Ethics, which is given to it in the state Constitution.

After Leyden repeatedly accused Wistow of using “delaying tactics,” Wistow said that he doesn’t think it’s his job to help make the process run smoothly. “It’s not my place to make things easier for the prosecution or even for the commission,” he said. To the contrary, he said, “I have a sacred obligation to my client to make things as difficult as possible for the prosecution.”

That approach appeared to annoy some commission members. James C. Segovis objected to “this fractured use of English” and, a few minutes later, said of what went on yesterday, “It’s an abuse of our time and our process.” George Weavill Jr., another commission member, remarked that “a lot of what Mr. Wistow has raised has been smoke and mirrors.”

“I‘ve apparently antagonized two members of the commission,” Wistow said a few moments later. He said he had only been trying to assert Montalbano’s rights.

Finally, the ProJo's Landis also reports that former Senate President William Irons, "accused of breaking the ethics laws by using his office for financial gain and by voting on pharmacy legislation where he had a substantial conflict of interest," is trying to go the "jury trial" route. Now, why do you suppose this novel idea is being suggested? Unfortunately, I'd say that the lawyers for both Irons and Montalbano are confident that they can confuse the average citizen juror enough to get an acquittal. I expect that they won't confuse the Ethics Commission so easily.

May 15, 2007

Warwick City Council Rejects $1 Million in Budget Savings

Marc Comtois

Pah! Who needs $1 million?

Before a room packed with apparently health-coverage-minded municipal employees, the Warwick City Council voted 5-4 last night against giving United Health Care the city's health care contract - even though a switch to United Health from current provider Blue Cross would have saved the city a significant amount of money.


A recent city-commissioned study found the school district and municipality would save a combined $885,000 in the first year of a three-year contract with Blue Cross, as compared to the rate the city has been paying up until this point. But United offered the city even more aggressive pricing, and the study pointed to a $1,807,000 savings that could be realized after a switch.

The study also called attention to questions about the quality and scope of United's offering, as compared to that of Blue Cross - leading the Warwick Personnel Department to recommend a switch to United, but only for a one-year contract.

Council members voting against United last night said they didn't believe United's coverage would be comparable to what Blue Cross already provides.

Voting against a switch to United were council members Helen Taylor, Donna M. Travis, John DelGiudice, Bruce Place, and Raymond E. Gallucci. Voting for the switch were Council President Joseph J. Solomon and members Robert Cushman, Steve Merolla and Charles J. Donovan Jr. {emphasis added}

It's not worth trying for one year? Really? Not worth $1 million? And concerning that difference in coverage:
“The only area that United has a notable deficiency is in their number of specialists/ancillary providers,” this report adds. Blue Cross has approximately 1,136 primary care physicians compred with United’s 987 — a total of 10 percent fewer doctors.

But a review of claims submitted by Warwick employees found that 96 percent commonly used providers were in both networks, according to Cornerstone. To help ease the transition for the small percentage of patients who would lose network access to their doctors, the report recommends a six-month transition period where the city funds any out-of-network claims at an in-claim rate.

'Course, I suppose if I was able to vote on what health care plan I wanted for myself, I'd go with the status quo, too....

The Consequences of Growing Up During the Vacation from History

Marc Comtois

Michael Barone observes that George Bush has done a poor job of selling the Republican party--and by extension, conservatism--to the under-30 crowd. For instance, Barone writes, "when Bush's call for [reforming Social Security] was opposed by Democrats, the response of young voters seemed to be, 'Whatever.'" Barone explains why:

My sense when I look at what young voters tell pollsters is that they assume that everything is going to be just fine if things roll along pretty much as they are. They have grown up in an era, lasting nearly 25 years now, when we've had low inflation coupled with economic growth 95 percent of the time. They may grouse about gas prices or paying off college loans, but they're able to get jobs that mostly pay pretty well and often are more interesting and less backbreaking than the vaunted factory jobs of the past.

They have grown up in an era when personal choices that were stigmatized as immoral not so long ago are accepted and even respected. You can live with your girlfriend or boyfriend before you get married; you can be gay -- nobody is going to give you a very hard time...

The one issue on which young people seem dissatisfied with things as they are is the military conflict in Iraq -- that would be with the exception of most of the young people who have served there and who are re-enlisting at higher than projected rates. The attitude of those without military ties seems to be: If we just get out of Iraq, if we just get rid of George Bush, then everything will be all right. We won't see suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices on our television screens; we won't see mass demonstrations by Europeans and Muslims against us; we won't have all this controversy and bitterness in our partisan politics.

Today's 21-year-old was 3 when the Berlin Wall came down; his or her parents were born well after World War II. Unlike people who lived through the experience of 1914-1918 or 1939-1945, they have no reason to draw the conclusion that everything can -- and sometimes does -- go terribly wrong.

Yet, the younger generation aren't necessarily to blame for having a skewed perspective of what is "normal." They grew up during a decade of peace and prosperity. Perhaps, in a way, it's akin to those who look back to the post-WWII 1950's longingly. During both the 1990's and the 1950's, America was basking in the glow of international triumph and a surging economy. But in the background, the seeds of a new conflict were sown and began to grow. Many adults didn't see the new threat on the horizon--or didn't take it seriously enough. Heck, many still don't. So how can we be surprised when many of our youth don't either?

New House Budget Means Higher Taxes

Marc Comtois

The Heritage Foundation has done an analysis of the new House Budget crafted by the Democratic majority in Washington and concluded that it means higher taxes across the board. Their reasoning:

The House leadership has proposed to increase spending over the next five years. Given the leader­ship's avowed commitment to paying for spending increases, tax revenues will have to rise. Which taxes will have to rise is unclear, as budget resolutions are notoriously short on details. However, the failure of House leaders to include any language addressing the expiring Bush tax cuts of 2001 through 2004 indicates that they could intend to end these tax cuts.[1] This, in turn, means that the House leadership could be allowing American taxpayers to assume a large and expensive tax increase upon the expiration of these tax cuts.

The House budget resolution has the potential to cost the average American taxpayer an additional $3,026 in taxes. In addition to the increased tax bur­den, Americans could also see their personal income decrease by an average of $502 dollars due to a weaker economy. Moreover, the budget resolution could dam­age employment growth, causing about one million fewer jobs to be created, and has the potential to damage economic output by over $100 billion nationally. The average cost of the House budget resolution to each congressional district amounts to the potential loss of 2,284 jobs that would have oth­erwise been created and a loss in economic output by an average $240 million.

The culprit for these negative impacts is higher taxes. Many economists believe that higher taxes, particularly on capital, cause the level of private investment to fall, thereby slowing productivity improvements and weakening the earning capac­ity of households. Wages and business earnings, which are closely tied to productivity, would fall as well.

Again, the budget resolution does not contain a detailed tax plan. However, the resolution also is silent on the most important tax policy change since 2001: the expiration of the tax law changes from 2001 through 2004 over the next four years. This paper presents estimates of the potential impact that allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire would have on Americans.[2]

Here's how--according to their calculations--Rhode Islanders would be affected:


Should All Rhode Island School Departments Be Budgeting for a Zero State Aid Increase?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Woonsocket Mayor Susan Menard has submitted a city budget that assumes a slight decrease in state education aid compared to last year. From Kia Hall Hayes in Saturday’s Projo

Mayor Susan D. Menard submitted a $115.7-million budget yesterday that calls for a 3.85-percent tax rate increase — only the third tax hike in the mayor’s 12-year administration.

“In my 12 years as mayor this is the most difficult one I have had to put together,” Menard said yesterday, citing a decrease in state aid and increases in fixed costs such as state pension contributions, health care and debt service….

Menard has budgeted for a $100,000 decrease in state aid for schools and level funding in general revenue sharing from the state.

“I can’t tell you how the General Assembly is going to balance the state’s mess,” Menard said.

And Douglas Hadden of the Pawtucket Times reports that city officials in Pawtucket are also expecting the legislature to reduce and maybe eliminate the Governor’s proposed 3% increase in state education aid…
With legislative leaders struggling to reduce a projected $360 million state budget deficit, the question increasingly seems to have become not whether something has to give, but what.

How much of the city's projected boost in state aid could be threatened remains unclear, but a cut of some kind appears increasingly likely. "There's a good chance - I'm not saying it's definite - but there's a good chance that could happen," acknowledged City Clerk Richard Goldstein, who is the Doyle administration's lobbyist on Smith Hill.

Goldstein said he first heard such talk from Daniel Beardsley, executive director of the League of Cities and Towns, at a meeting a few weeks ago, and proceeded to relay the news to key city officials.

Beardsley's message about the local aid levels budgeted by the governor was that "it doesn't look like we're going to get it," Goldstein related. "I've also heard it up at the Statehouse, that we shouldn't plan on it, don't plan on it."

If there was ever any doubt about how the legislature plans to modify the Governor’s budget, there isn’t anymore; the plan is to reduce spending on education to protect spending on social welfare programs and state government operations.

Is this the strategy the citizens of Rhode Island want to see implemented?

May 14, 2007

Rhode Island Getting Ready for Ethanol

Carroll Andrew Morse

A Worcester Business Journal story on the expansion of the Providence & Worcester Railroad (including P&W receiving new automobiles "for the first time [in] the company's history" for transport to New England dealerships via the port at Davisville) hides the news with the most potential long-range impact at the bottom of the page…

P&W is also working on an agreement with "a major fuel provider" that [company president P. Scott Conti] would not name, to bring ethanol into an underused Providence yard the company rehabilitated to bring in the corn-based fuel additive.

"We all drive our vehicles, and we pump gas into them," Conti said, and in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, that gas contains ethanol.

Ethanol is also thought to have potential as an alternative to fossil fuels.

"You look at ways to grow. These opportunities don't come along each and every day, but when you see one, you try to capitalize on it," Conti said.

I hope I’m not revealing anything that is supposed to be secret about the unnamed partner, but a company called Aventine Renewable Energy announced last year that it was working with the Providence & Worcester rail line to develop an improved ethanol delivery network for the Northeast…
Aventine Renewable Energy Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AVR), a leading producer, marketer and end to end supplier of ethanol, today announced additions to its existing terminal network footprint....

Aventine has also recently contracted for significant rail and waterborne terminalling capacity in Providence, RI. The terminal facility in Providence will be provided by Motiva, a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and Saudi Aramco, and will be served by CSX Transportation via an interchange with the Providence and Worchester Railroad Company. This terminal will provide streamlined logistical infrastructure for ethanol supply for the emerging Rhode Island and nearby Boston area markets.

This is a story to keep an eye on, because as the price of gas climbs towards $4.00 a gallon, more and more businesses are going to decide that investing in the permanent infrastructure needed to provide ethanol as a fuel is a good risk to take. And once an ethanol distribution network is built that parallels our nation's petroleum distribution network, and bunches of flex-fuel vehicles capable of using both primarily-ethanol and parimarily-gasoline fuels come into use, foreign oil suppliers will have to compete directly with ethanol producers when setting prices.

This will be an unprecedented upheaval in the economics of transportation fuel that will change the politics of energy -- and oil in particular -- in ways that will never be reversed.

Re: Now Here's an Interesting Development

Carroll Andrew Morse

Warwick Daily Times editor Louis C. Hochman summarizes…

For those of you who are keeping track, at this point we've got new media (Anchor Rising) commenting on old media (the Warwick Daily Times), which was reporting on how new media (RIFuture, and later Anchor Rising) commented on old media ([Dan Yorke's] show)…
…and editorializes on the chain of the “varied and sometimes seemingly self-contradictory” responses to the Dan Yorke/Scott Avedisian kerfuffle…
It's a credit to both Katz and Jerzyk (both of whom participated in our coverage as sources) that they've been able to turn an insensitive comment by an often-abrasive talk show host into an intelligent discussion on the responsibilities of media, Internet-age, transistor-age and printing-press-age alike. It's just too bad our local Imus-of-the-moment didn't put quite as much thought into what he had to say.

May 13, 2007

All the Glory of Motherhood, with None of the Sleepless Nights?

Justin Katz

Perhaps this is an annual reality that I've just been slow to notice, but my parish priest phrased the traditional blessing of mothers during the closing of today's Mass as a general blessing for women. He alluded to the pain and regrets that some childless women might feel at having never had the ability or opportunity to beget children but went on to address women qua women, as if there were no meaningful distinction among them. Compassion notwithstanding, it seems to me that there are two possible implications to thus spreading the honor of Mother's Day:

  1. Underlying our comforting words, we still understand that mothers are in some respect more worthy of honor than non-mothers — in a Catholic view, more completely fulfilling the role of woman — but shy away from reminding excluded women of that understanding, in which case it would seem that we are emphasizing it all the more.
  2. We really don't think that motherhood adds anything to womanhood, in which case it would seem that we are belittling women who've done all of the extra work and made all of the extra sacrifices and commitments by offering their due plaudits to anybody with the same physiology.

Recollection suggests that past versions of this concession have emphasized women who've "taken on the role of mothers" for other people, even if they were not so in the biological or even adoptive sense. That's reasonable, I'd say, because it acknowledges an ideal and does not penalize women for having faced hardships in achieving it.

Perhaps the priest just overstated with his extemporaneous blessing, but I'm not sure that our culture, in general, is as apt to make these distinctions as it ought to be.

May 12, 2007

Helping Whom Live Where

Justin Katz

Somebody asked me, the other night, what I would do about the housing affordability problem, and to be honest, I didn't have much of an answer. I guess I'm not at the point, yet, of having comprehensive understanding of or prescriptions for every important issue, and housing is still one of those for which I've mainly reacted to specific developments based on an inchoate sense and general principles.

In constructing a notion of what we, as a society, should actively do about affordable housing — and to avoid creating an invisible barrier to communication between people with different approaches — it seems advisable to divide our thinking into two perspectives:

  • Helping a particular family to afford housing
  • Increasing housing for such families

On the first aspect, there's a degree to which acknowledging society's developmental history requires us to admit that, as difficult as it is, sometimes families just have to pull up stakes and find that place in which both housing and opportunity exist. If we increase assistance to those who are being priced out of the system, we increase their threshold for sticking it out rather than moving where they could live more comfortably (and productively).

We also keep the pay rates of low-end, but necessary, workers artificially low. The market mechanism might not be wholly adequate, but if store clerks (say) are forced to move out of the system, then there will be fewer around, and stores will have to pay more per clerk, thus increasing the ease with which they can pay for housing.

Permeating this all is the fact that providing sufficient subsidies to make a difference in as expensive a housing market as Rhode Island's will increase the burden on families across the spectrum, including those (such as mine) that are just barely able to afford the housing that they've managed to acquire. So, for the side of the question that seeks to help particular families to afford housing in Rhode Island, the not-surprising solution that I would offer is to implement some variation of the conservative, free-market panoply of policies that, in essence, seeks to help families to afford higher standards of living because they can afford higher standards of living, not because their neighbors can afford to subsidize higher standards for them.

In other words, help low-income families to become less-low-income families. Help them to start businesses. Reduce the barriers and regulations that constrain career ventures. (For example, as far as I know, my 2005 observation that Massachusetts's licensing laws will produce twice as many master plumbers in about a decade as Rhode Island's still stands.) And as another approach, make their housing dollars go farther by decreasing costs and fees for building, renovation, and, perhaps most glaringly, property taxes.

As far as direct government investment in resolving housing problems is concerned, however, I think we're better off concentrating on the second perspective, and it isn't sufficient to mandate percentages of "low income housing," not the least because that engenders hostilities and divisions — building housing for those people because we have to, rather than because we have an opportunity to. Instead, our focus should be on thinking creatively about ways in which to encourage the development of housing that is more likely to be of the sort that we need, such as zoning to encourage the placement of apartments on top of businesses and garages. We must consider the flip-sides of health-related regulations, such as the percentage of property that must be put aside for septic systems and the number of bathrooms that can feed into each.

Indeed, the most appropriate area for local and state governments to invest in housing is the expansion of utilities (such as sewer systems) so that building is less expensive and easier precisely where it is more likely to be of benefit to lower-income families — that is, in out of the way and densely populated areas. (This, of course, would involve an easing of the mandated costs associated with public construction activities.)

To my experience, though, Rhode Islanders are reluctant to allow their neighbors' property to become multifamily lots. They dislike the prospect of construction disrupting their daily lives. And they darken at the idea of development in open areas — even if they only drive down that road once a year to get their Christmas trees.

Now Here's an Interesting Development

Justin Katz

I'm not sure what its significance is, but a Warwick Daily Times story, by Matt Bower, on the Yorke/Avedisian kerfuffle places the story largely in the context of blogs and their commenters:

Matt Jerzyk, administrator of the generally liberal RIFuture blog,, said he wrote a post the next day expressing his outrage that the media was staying silent about Yorke's comments, rather than holding him accountable and taking him to task. ...

"Anytime we get over 20 comments on a post, it's considered a pretty hot issue. A lot of people were weighing in with their opinions on the matter," he said. ...

When Mark Comtois from the generally conservative AnchorRising blog,, got wind of Jerzyk's post, he wrote a blog entry of his own asking whether or not bloggers have a responsibility regarding the comments on their blogs. ...

Justin Katz, administrator for AnchorRising, said bloggers need to be careful about spreading rumors that they may have heard.

"I think Matt's outrage is ludicrous and it's bizarre to believe that outing someone - the idea that that could affect someone politically and adversely is bizarre," he said. "The leftists see an opportunity to silence a voice that they want out of the media. It's almost as if we're requiring gay politicians to have a stance on [their own] gayness, which raises issues for concern."

Katz said there's value to the area in which public figures' lives aren't spelled out and scripted.

"I think there's a humanity lost if we start requiring a checklist of what we're allowed to say about each other," he said.

The fact that the story centers on a blog debate puts blogs in the position of being generators of news. That, of itself, isn't particularly unique at this point, but the number of commenters whom Bower quotes strikes me as a new development — almost as if blogs can become a repository for quickly available and easily quotable man-on-the-street reactions.

Frankly, I'm not altogether sure that such a thing would be a healthy development. One doesn't often read news stories in which the reporter writes, "One person I stopped on the street said X. Some guy sitting at a table outside the local coffee shop thought Y." (I'd categorize separately lazy/suspicious constructions such as "some people feel.") With an abetting blogger, anonymous commenters — perhaps each pretending to be multiple different people — can now generate the impression of a movement within minutes and reach a large audience of not-necessarily-tech-savvy print news readers within days. Just look at the upshot in this particular case: Matt and a bunch of nicknamed commenters manufactured some outrage, and now a print media source has given their production old-media credibility. Here's a well-lubricated chute for the creation of political avalanches out of a little spit and froth.

On the other hand (or perhaps on the same hand, I suppose), this dynamic clearly presents people a channel through which to discuss matters — such as the evolving significance of politicians' sexuality and society's reaction thereto — but have felt it improper to raise on a public stage for quite some time. Perhaps there is grounds for faith that free expression and a growing reward for participation are ultimately beneficial, despite opportunity for abuse.

The relevant page at RI Future appears to be unavailable for the time being. It may be some sort of technical glitch, but until Matt resolves it, here's the Google cache.

The original post is back up, and the only thing that I can spot that's changed from the cached version is that comment #27, by Mike, has been deleted. It read as follows:

Oh, Matt-everyone, and I mean everyone, in Warwick has known he was gay for years. I don’t think he’ll be running to the courthouse to file a defamation complainyt. LOL.

Of course, the cache is short 50-some comments from the actual post, so who knows what else Matt might have deemed inappropriate in that range. Other comments make it clear that Mike had other posts, and their disappearance is particularly peculiar, given comments to this post. I'd be curious what Mike might have said to become erased from the page that was more worrisome, from a blogger's standpoint, than comment 46.

May 11, 2007

Is the Interstate Voting Compact Unconstitutional?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Not exactly. There are, however, potential Electoral College ramifications for states that choose to participate.

The Interstate Voting Compact is an attempt to bypass the Electoral College and elect the President of the United States through a direct popular vote. A state legislature signing on to the compact agrees to disregard the choice made by its own state’s voters in a Presidential election and allocate the electoral votes under its control to the winner of the national popular vote. For example, had Rhode Island been a party to the compact in 2004, Rhode Island’s four electoral votes would have been given to national popular vote winner George W. Bush even though a majority of Rhode Islanders cast ballots for John Kerry.

This scheme is acceptable under Article II of the U.S. Constitution which gives state legislatures carte-blanche authority to choose their state’s Presidential electors…

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
But does this really mean that the power of state legislatures to choose the President is absolute? Hypothetically, state legislatures might decide to cut voters entirely out of the process. A legislature could mandate, for example (and not entirely inconceivable in Rhode Island), that its electors vote for the nominee of the Democratic party, no matter the result of the vote at any level. Would this too be legal?

Under Article II, the answer is yes. However, any system that bypasses a state's voters brings another section of the Constitution into play. Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment also has something to say about electing Federal officials, President included…

Section. 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such State.
In extreme cases, this means that if no citizen votes are counted in a Presidential election process, then no citizens are counted towards a state’s total representation either; a state that ignores its citizens when allocating its electors loses representation in the Electoral College -- and possibly in the House of Representatives.

The problem with the Interstate Voting Compact is that it abridges the right of state voters to choose their Presidential electors nearly as egregiously as an ignore-the-voters-completely scheme does. To understand this, consider some other systems acceptable under the letter of Article II. The Rhode Island legislature could decide to allocate Rhode Island’s electoral votes according to the decision of a 10 member blue-ribbon commission of experts chosen in a nationwide search. But then the right of Rhode Islanders to select their Presidential electors would have been completely abridged and the Fourteenth Amendment would mandate that Rhode Island lose representation.

How about a hybrid system for choosing Presidential electors? The people of RI would get to cast ballots for their Presidential preference. A national blue-ribbon commission would also get to make a selection and the choice of the blue-ribbon panel would be awarded a certain number of “bonus” votes in the final tally -- perhaps more bonus votes than there are voters in Rhode Island! But since the wishes of Rhode Islanders would now be only one factor (and perhaps a very minor factor) in choosing Rhode Island’s Presidential electors, the right of Rhode Islanders to choose their Presidential electors would have been abridged, and the Fourteenth Amendment would mandate that Rhode Island lose representation.

The Interstate Voting Compact is no different from the above scheme, except in the size of the commission being used to award the bonus votes. Under the terms of the compact, every Rhode Islander’s voice in choosing Rhode Island’s Presidential electors is diluted by a factor of about 300. According to the Fourteenth Amendment, Rhode Island’s representation must be reduced correspondingly.

The exact nature of the reduction in representation is open to some interpretation. Here are a few possibilities…

  • A state abridging the right of its citizens to choose its Presidential electors by joining the interstate voting compact could lose Electoral College representation in terms of its citizens counted towards the House of Representatives, but since no state can drop below one Rep, no state could be reduced below a minimum of 3 electoral votes.
  • "Representation" in Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment could also be interpreted to directly apply representation in the Electoral College, so a state joining the interstate compact could conceivably forfeit all of its electoral votes.
  • "Representation" could be taken to apply to representation in the Electoral College and the House of Representatives, so states joining the compact could have both their electoral votes and their number of Representatives reduced.
Whether opponents of the Electoral College like it or not, the Constitution mandates that Presidential electors are to be chosen by individual states (Article II) by a democratic process involving the people within those states (Amendment XIV). To reduce the voice the voters within any state have in choosing their Presidential electors by including factors from out-of-state is to abridge the Constitutionally specified value of their votes, which the Fourteenth Amendment states cannot be done without penalty.

On Wednesday, the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee voted to hold a bill that would have Rhode Island join the Interstate Voting Compact for further study.

Budget looks worse, Usual Suspects Scream for Higher Taxes

Marc Comtois

It turns out that the budget cut proposed by Governor Carcieri won't go far enough, so what is the solution? The ProJo's Steve Peoples went to the usual suspects:

“There’s no easy fixes. The programs that all Rhode Islanders support are in danger,” said Ellen Frank, senior economist at Rhode Island College’s Poverty Institute. “If you don’t look at revenue, you’re not going to solve the problem.”

Frank, like Guillette and Karen Malcolm, the head of Ocean State Action, pointed to the state’s tax system, especially the capital gains tax (set to be phased out next year at an estimated cost of $25.4 million), the historic tax credit (the state will distribute credits worth an estimated $82.5 million this year — the cost will likely come next year) and the television and film credit ($10 million).

The governor, no surprise, isn't about to accept higher taxes as a solution. Hopefully, the leadership in the General Assembly won't cave, either. It's a spending, not a revenue, problem.

May 10, 2007

Re: RI Future Hyperventilation

Justin Katz

Give me a break.

I realize that progressives don't want to lose one of their weapons for public assassination, but must we continue pretending that anybody on either side of the aisle actually thinks being gay, of itself, is political poison — especially in Rhode Island? (Not so ironically, one suspects that those politicians who might actually suffer some loss of support for being homosexual — i.e., right wingers — would be somewhat less likely to fall under the protection of liberal outrage.)

I guess we should send out a memo that Rhode Island's leftists believe that every politician must have an official position on whether or not he or she is out. Then perhaps people who must be in the public spotlight for hours each day can at least be blamed for telling on-the-record secrets.

Righteous Indignation and a Blogger's Responsibility

Marc Comtois

The left-side of the local blogosphere is atwitter with calls to fire WPRO's Dan Yorke for an assertion/information he let slip during his show. (I won't repeat the comment, you can find it on your own.) However, what I did find interesting was that a similar assertion had been made in the comments section (the last one) of one of the righteously indignant blogs almost exactly two years ago. It raises an interesting question: if it's not OK for Yorke to publicly assert something, regardless of whether or not it's common knowledge, what responsibility do we as bloggers have to ensure that our anonymous commenters don't do the same? Or does anonymity confer a mantle of plausible deniability for us?

I know that we at Anchor Rising let our commenters have a pretty free reign, but we have, in the past, removed comments that have made assertions that we would consider un-provable or distasteful. As part of the "new media" bloggers need to keep an eye out for such things in their comments section. I'm not trying to be holier-than-thou, after all, there are probably still a few "hearsay" comments floating around our comments sections, too. As named bloggers who have "ownership" of these sites, we are responsible for what is asserted by anonymous commenters on our blogs. Thus, it behooves us to reign in the "gossip" to help strengthen our position as "serious" news/commentary outlets. The trick is to do it without scaring away people. (I know, we've had this discussion before).

Update: For those interested in blogger-navel gazing, I posed a shorter version of this as a comment over at RI Future (comment #40), to which I've received a response (#44) and have replied (#50).

The Wind as Landscape

Justin Katz

With the release of Cape Wind, a book co-authored by the Projo's Robert Whitcomb, about rich and influential people, ostensibly with socially appropriate environmental consciousnesses, and their fight to kill an environmentally friendly energy project involving water-based windmills, the example on the grounds of the Portsmouth Abbey that I pass twice a day caught my attention more than usual today:


Maybe there's something in human nature that wind-driven motion sooths, but whatever the reason, I think it would add to, rather than detract from, the scenery if there were more of them around — whether waving to passing commuters or appearing as dots in the waterviews of the hoity-toity.

Am I Being Too Optimistic...

Justin Katz

... or does it seem as if things are starting to roll, just a bit:

Denouncing as "outrageous" the 145.99-percent markup the state has been paying a private company to staff the traffic-monitoring center across the street from the State House, Governor Carcieri yesterday initiated an inquiry into "all state contracts that involve the retention of professional services."

He also announced that the company, Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, had agreed after a telephone call yesterday from state transportation director Jerome Williams to slash its overhead-and-profit rate to 22.5 percent for those among the 36 workers doing largely "administrative" tasks — including the "typist" for whom the state had been paying the company the equivalent of $102,858.

Saying he was unaware of the VHB staffing contract until it was brought to light by The Providence Journal this week, Carcieri said he has now asked Gerald Aubin, the former deputy Providence police chief who heads the state Lottery, to lead a task force charged with finding out whether any other "similarly outrageous arrangements might exist in other departments of state government."

The governor said he had asked Aubin "to review all these contracts to determine if the state is paying similar overhead rates in any other instance, to compile a comprehensive list of these contracts and their costs, and to determine what, if any, work would better be performed by state employees."

Not to assume too much about a man whom I don't know, but I get the impression of faux cluelessness from this:

Asked yesterday for comment on Carcieri calling for an investigation of professional-services contracts, Sen. J. Michael Lenihan, the East Greenwich Democrat leading the Senate inquiry, said:: "Well quite honestly, it's an absurd situation. It merits investigation.

"I guess my question is, whatever the role of the federal government in terms of mandating this kind of thing, didn't somebody have the common sense somewhere along the line to say — 'Wait a minute. This is absurd.' — and call it into question. Apparently that didn't happen."

It didn't happen because government employees in Rhode Island — including those whom we elect — see their role as ruling the state, not representing the interests of its citizens. The real question is whether enough of those citizens will wake up before too many flee to avert catastrophe.i

May 9, 2007

What to Do About Economic Perversity

Justin Katz

I agree with the Providence Journal that it is "perverse" for the CEO of a health insurance company to make one-and-a-half times the entire payroll of a 2,000-employee hospital. Considering how often Republicans and conservatives are saddled with the ideological blame for these supposed excesses of the free market, that admission may surprise some readers. We're not talking an ideological paradox — or even run-of-the-mill self-contradiction — though.

Such stark comparisons should actually lead one to question whether we're seeing evidence of capitalism unbound or capitalism unwisely bounded. The fundamental differences between modern economic philosophies (e.g., between Keynesianism and supply-side economics) sometimes seem to come down to conflicting opinions about how to get the rich to keep their money moving (e.g., as corporate profits or as private income) — indicating a general understanding that those who control wealth will tend to try to take as much as possible for themselves. It is reasonable to suggest, therefore, that the encouragement of competition is perhaps the most effective means of placing natural, market-driven limits on the amount of wealth that it is reasonable for the rich to siphon away from productive ends. Try to grab a $100 bill from somebody, and he'll hold it out of reach, dodge left, dodge right, and run you in circles; offer somebody else a profitable opportunity while the first guy is hoarding his cache, and that $100 bill might not be so difficult to liberate.

The healthcare industry is plainly not an example of a free market, what with regulations, coverage dictat's, and the insurer/customer relationship's being all tangled up with the customers' unrelated careers. as much money as $124 million might be, throwing it away is apparently not a competitive handicap in the face of high barriers to entry and high costs of doing business once a company has entered the industry.

So no, I don't support a system of such gargantuan inequalities. I support a system in which competition puts the avaricious in danger of eating themselves.

Re: Sarkozy

Carroll Andrew Morse

There has been much media and internet speculation on the subject of whether incoming French President Nicolas Sarkozy could become France’s version of Ronald Reagan. But isn’t a comparison to Richard Nixon equally, if not more, valid…

  1. Domestically, just like Nixon, Sarkozy was clearly the law-and-order candidate.
  2. In foreign policy, the analogy is less perfect, but like the Richard Nixon of the Vietnam era, Sarkozy’s promise is to help his country, shaken by some foreign policy missteps and unsure of its place in the world, develop better relations with a superpower that no one expects to go away any time soon.
The point is, you can be for the things Sarkozy represents without being a conservative revolutionary. Even in economics, Sarkozy isn't proposing anything radically new as much as he is proposing adopting policies that have helped other developed countries grow faster than France for the past three decades.

But even if Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel aren’t going to be updated versions of Reagan and Thatcher, the fact that French and German electorates have chosen the unabashed pro-American candidates a fact worth noting. The downside to the observation is the ray of hope it gives to Socialists in Europe and elsewhere -- they might begin to experience more electoral success if they ever decide to drop their reflexive anti-Americanism!

The State of “Direct Teacher Centered Instruction”

Carroll Andrew Morse

I was reading an article in the current issue of City Journal by Sol Stern about the state of Catholic Schools in general and of New York City’s Rice High School in particular when I came across these sentences that startled me a bit…

When I went unannounced into classrooms [at Rice High School], I encountered teachers standing at the front of the class and students working quietly at individual desks, aligned in straight rows. (This method of direct, teacher-centered instruction is, of course, anathema to progressive educators, but it surely works.)
Any of the teachers, students, or parents in the audience have any idea what Stern is talking about, and/or any comments on the state of “direct, teacher-centered instruction” in the state of Rhode Island?

May 8, 2007


Marc Comtois

The election of center-right Nicolas Sarkozy as president of France prompts Ralph Peters to observe, "I never thought I'd see it in my lifetime." Election of a real reformer, that is. More:

Sarkozy is the first top-level French politician who openly accepts that the United States possesses virtues from which France might take a lesson. While Sarko's attraction to things American can be overstated - he sees our system's deficiencies, too, and won't always agree with our foreign policy - he'll be a leader who examines issues on their merits, not on the basis of shopworn Left Bank slogans.

What's striking about this victory is Sarkozy's bluntness. Instead of mumbo jumbo about la gloire, he speaks frankly about the mess in which France finds itself.

Peter's also provides a few quotes from Sarkozy's book, "Testimony," to provide a window on the man's policies:
* "The best social model is one that creates jobs for everyone, and this is obviously not ours since our unemployment level is twice as high as that of our main partners."

* "I admire the social mobility of American society. You can start with nothing and become a spectacular success. You can fail and get a second chance. Merit is rewarded."

* "France is no longer the country that comes up with new ideas."

And Sarkozy offers some hard truths to those Americans who mindlessly praise the imaginary social justice and "better" quality of life in a France they know only from privileged vacations that tend to avoid the Muslim slums and collapsed industrial areas:

* "The French have never spoken so much about justice while allowing so much injustice to prevail . . . The reality of our system is that it protects those who have something, and it is very tough on those who don't."

* "France has been discouraging initiative and punishing success for the past 25 years. And the main consequence of preventing the most dynamic members of society from getting rich is to make everyone else poor."

* "It is hard to exaggerate the damage done to France by the 35-hour workweek. How can anyone think that you're going to create wealth and jobs by working less?"

* "Thirteen percent of retired women live below the poverty line, and a further 25 percent are barely above it . . . The unemployment rate for unskilled workers is 15 percent . . . It is 22 percent for those under 25 and nearly 40 percent for low-skilled youth who live in [immigrant ghettos]."

Froma Harrop also weighs in, and cogently observes:
A conservative, Sarkozy has summoned the French to work harder and longer, but one has to understand the context. The French can work harder and longer without working particularly hard or long, by our standards, anyway.

Changing Demography of the US Electorate

Marc Comtois

Michael Barone in the Wall Street Journal:

It has become a commonplace to say that population has been flowing from the Snow Belt to the Sun Belt, from an industrially ailing East and Midwest to an economically vibrant West and South. But the actual picture of recent growth, as measured by the 2000 Census and the census estimates for 2006, is more complicated.... What I found is that you can separate [population centers] into four different categories, with different degrees and different sources of population growth or decline. And I found some interesting surprises.
By far, the biggest population losers are the "Coastal Megalopolises"
Americans are now moving out of, not into, coastal California and South Florida, and in very large numbers they're moving out of our largest metro areas. They're fleeing hip Boston and San Francisco, and after eight decades of moving to Washington they're moving out. The domestic outflow from these metro areas is 3.9 million people, 650,000 a year. High housing costs, high taxes, a distaste in some cases for the burgeoning immigrant populations--these are driving many Americans elsewhere.

The result is that these Coastal Megalopolises are increasingly a two-tiered society, with large affluent populations happily contemplating (at least until recently) their rapidly rising housing values, and a large, mostly immigrant working class working at low wages and struggling to move up the economic ladder. The economic divide in New York and Los Angeles is starting to look like the economic divide in Mexico City and São Paulo.

I would have thought that Providence would fall into the "Coastal Megalopolis" category. Not so:
The fourth category is what I call the Static Cities. These are 18 metropolitan areas with immigrant inflow between zero and 4%, with domestic inflow up to 3% and domestic outflow no higher than 1%. They seem to be holding their own economically, but are not surging ahead and some are in danger of falling back. Philadelphia makes the list, and so do Baltimore, Hartford and Providence in the East.

Surprisingly, some Western cities that boomed in the 1990s are in this category too: Seattle (the tech bust again), Denver, Portland. In the Midwest, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Columbus and Indianapolis are doing better than their Rust Belt neighbors and make the list. In the South, Norfolk, Memphis, Louisville, Oklahoma City and Birmingham are lagging enough behind the Interior Boomtowns to do so. Overall the Static Cities had a domestic inflow of just 18,000 people (.048%) and an immigrant inflow of 2%. Politically, they're a mixed bag, a bit more Democratic than the nation as a whole: 52% for Kerry, 47% for Bush.

Not losing, but not gaining. All in all, Barone concludes:
Twenty years ago political analysts grasped the implications of the vast movement from Rust Belt to Sun Belt, a tilting of the table on balance toward Republicans; but with California leaning heavily to Democrats, that paradigm seems obsolete. What's now in store is a shifting of political weight from a small Rust Belt which leans Democratic and from the much larger Coastal Megalopolises, where both secular top earners and immigrant low earners vote heavily Democratic, toward the Interior Megalopolises, where most voters are private-sector religious Republicans but where significant immigrant populations lean to the Democrats. House seats and electoral votes will shift from New York, New Jersey and Illinois to Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona and Nevada; within California, House seats will shift from the Democratic coast to the Republican Inland Empire and Central Valley.

Fort Dix Terror Plot

Marc Comtois

A quick point about the Albanian terrorists who were arrested for plotting to wreak havoc at Fort Dix. They were initially discovered because of the vigilance of a local video store owner:

On or about January 30, 2006, a representative of a retail store informed officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") that an individual had brought a video to their store to be duplicated into a digital video disk ("DVD"). That DVD depicted conduct--recorded as having occurred on January 3, 2006--that the store representative described as disturbing. FBI agents reviewed the DVD in question. The DVD depicted 10 young men who appeared to be in their early twenties shooting assault weapons at a firing range in a militia-like style while calling for jihad and shouting in Arabic "Allah Akbar" ("God is Great"). The FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force ("JTTF") immediately commenced an investigation into the activities of the men depicted in the DVD.
We need to remember that--whether or not we want to or not--we may one day find ourselves thrust onto the front line of the war on terror. Be ready.

Farewell, Rocky Point

Marc Comtois

As the last remnants of the Rocky Point Amusement Park are demolished and removed, one wonders if it would have survived longer had it maintained a look more like this:

Now, there will be a discussion over how much to develop and how much to devote to open space. Time marches on.

May 7, 2007

A Whitecastle on the Hill

Justin Katz

Given some recent upgrades in my technology, I thought I'd make a practice of taking pictures as I wander about the state and uploading them, with commentary as appropriate — all at the speed of blog! So herewith, Sheldon Whitehouse's understated summer cottage, which I put in (my own) political context back before the election:


No doubt this is where the senator will commune with all of his important constituents.

May 6, 2007

Combatting Those We Can't Understand

Justin Katz

With the news of Russia's slow slide back toward totalitarianism and Rocco DiPippo's observations about life in Iraq prior to the troop surge, I find myself baffled by those who seek not just power, but oppressive power. Writes Rocco:

Before the troop surge began, my friend Nabil's brother-in-law, a resident of Jordan, was shot in the head while he was visiting Baghdad for a week to help with Nabil's wedding plans. He was killed by a terrorist simply for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

A month prior to that event, Nabil and his parents fled their long-time home when they received a note, wrapped around a 9mm bullet, commanding them to leave their neighborhood in 24 hours or be killed. (Based on what had happened to some of those in Nabil's neighborhood who had ignored similar threats, he knew that he and his family had half that time to gather up a few possessions and leave, if they wanted to live.)

Oh, we can empathize with the various factors that we imagine contribute to a willingness to terrorize and oppress. If the Virginia Tech killer had been a bit more charismatic — we might be tempted to think — he could have been a Hitler or Saddam. But if he had possessed such qualities, the triggers of his atrocity wouldn't have existed and, if he lusted for power (rather than just acceptance), he would have been drawn to those means to power that our society has made to be more efficient and less personally perilous, such as politics, business, and even entertainment.

We can also understand that poverty and economic hopelessness can spur one toward desperate measures, and we can imagine ourselves, in such a state, being wooed by organized revolutionaries. But our society has generated organizations for assistance and political advancement. Moreover, we emphasize the power of information and communication over that of militarization.

We can even understand that, in nations that lack an established democratic rule of law, one has no guarantee that relaxing one's grip on power will not send it slipping into the hands of even more (or at least conflicting) tyrannical forces. But one would expect people in such predicaments to see how much more stable the general power structure is under a free, constitutional regime. (Pakistan's Musharraf comes to mind.) No doubt, being the faction that introduces democracy to a previously totalitarian society is a dangerous, courageous endeavor, but when the United States — and all of Western society (tentatively) — takes an interest, shouldn't that represent an opportunity? To be sure, certain factions will find that they are disadvantaged when it comes to the United States' affections, but the groups of which I'm thinking — those that oppose the West and the reformers whom Westerners woo — don't tend even to consider overtures.

With interest, experience, and time, we can indeed construct a theoretical model of the drivers and boundaries of anything from atomic particles to psychotics, but models are far removed from intuitive understanding. It is one thing to conclude that, in order to deal with insurgents, one must take certain steps. It is another to assess "what would work on me if I were an insurgent." That such a distinction exists at all appears to be a matter of some doubt along certain lines in Western Society.

The missing component, put another way, is the realization that oppressive, terroristic mindsets in other cultures sprout from different branches of human nature's development than the West. This is not to say that Western civilization is immune to similar follies, but that other cultures' versions exist under rules of law (writ large) that are parallel, not subordinate, to our own. Terrorists will not "come to their senses," because their senses are different, and Westerners' refined aversion violence and preference for talk and political maneuvering is not a reasonable predictor of our enemies' behavior.

Of course, some Westerners would object even to my calling hostile groups "enemies." One such, no doubt, would be Dr. Brian Alverson of Barrington, whose fortuitously timed letter to the Providence Journal expresses precisely the mentality that I've been describing:

What the Republican Party doesn't want Americans to realize is there is, in fact, no true war on terror. Terror is not a burly beast aggressor out there. Terrorism has been going on for millennia.

The implication, here, is that people commit acts of terrorism, and if we focus on people rather than actions, we can come to understand them, as Alverson continues:

What our Republican leaders have done is create a world-wide distaste for America, especially among extremist groups. More people want to hurt innocent Americans than ever before, and this is due mostly to our aggressive foreign policy.

One can understand (the train of thought goes on) why these poor people would lash back at America and Americans, and with that understanding, we can construct a solution:

A vote for the majority of Republican candidates is a vote for a continuation of foreign policy that puts our children in harm's way, and increases the likelihood of foreign terrorists on American soil.

The solution, in other words, is to scale back our "aggressive" foreign policy — leaving those whom American interference would turn into terrorists to themselves and, when it's necessary to interact with them, doing so as we do here in the West, with communication and politics. The first question that arises is what we should do when they don't keep to themselves — whether their expansionism amounts to direct attacks (as on 9/11) or to encroachment on our interests overseas. The next, trickier question is whether we have some responsibility to intercede in their affairs when notes begin appearing, wrapped around bullets, in family mailboxes.

As long as America protects either innocents or just its own interests, it will raise the ire of the oppressors of the world, and if it does not offer such defenses, those same would-be tyrants will read its inaction as opportunity. There's a strange gray area of ignorance lingering between our cultural guilt about imperialism, colonialism, and worse practices and our willingness to believe that other cultures have surely reached our degree of refinement. That we have built barriers and controls around human nature does not mean that it does not run more wildly among others.

The grounds for hope materialize with the realization that we can understand others through our shared humanity — and all of the good and evil that give humanity its character. We've a long history to examine of falling before the devil's whispers, and he whispers to us yet. To reformulate my statement above, we can observe how our enemies heed him, and we can model their likely behavior. The difficulty comes in understanding why they are deceived by certain of his lies, and in believing that he may deceive us through our own compassion and empathy.

May 4, 2007

I’m Guessing It’s Not Going to Be a Quiet End to the Legislative Session This Year

Carroll Andrew Morse

Jim Baron of the Pawtucket Times, on Governor Donald Carcieri’s response to the RI Senate’s Government Oversight Committee hearings into his adminstration’s temporary-staff policies…

An uncharacteristically tough-talking Gov. Donald Carcieri lambasted the Senate Government Oversight Committee Thursday, accusing its members of "abusing...manhandling...berating and harassing" administration staffers during hearings and making demands for information that are bringing the operations of the state purchasing division to a halt.

Moreover, Carcieri threatened to sic the Bureau of Audits and even the State Police on legislators who may have exerted "inappropriate influence" over the awarding of past contracts and to make public, by posting on the Internet, a log of any calls legislators make or have made to the administration requesting that a certain company win a state contract or a constituent get a state job….

Carcieri said the purchasing division of the DOA is "currently at a virtual standstill" because department officials have spent approximately 500 hours identifying, locating, retrieving, photocopying, collating and delivering "over 10,000 pieces of paper" to the committee. "It is my understanding that the committee hasn't even bothered to open many of the boxes of paper we have provided. Every hour expended to respond to the committee's requests is an hour that an employee is not performing their usual duties."

There is also a concern that we will not be able to close the state's fiscal books by the end of June," he said. "I cannot allow state government to grind to a halt in order to accommodate these many voluminous document requests"…

Carcieri suggested two remedies. He said if the committee wishes, he would instruct DOA "to give Senate and Senate staff unfettered access to all of the purchasing documents in the state's possession" that are not being used as part of an active procurement. "You and your staff will be allowed to inspect the documents personally, determine what is of interest to your committee and make any necessary photocopies.

"If your committee is unwilling to make that effort," Carcieri told Lenihan, "I will hire an outside copying firm to photocopy every document related to state purchasing from 2002 to 2006 in order to provide them to the committee as quickly as possible." That, he estimated would cost taxpayers $400,000 to $600,000….

Katherine Gregg of the Projo, on the same subject…
While denying that he was seeking to divert attention from the Senate’s inquiry into his administration’s use of a private company, Smart Staffing Service, to supply hundreds of state workers, Carcieri said in an open letter to J. Michael Lenihan, the chairman of the Senate Government Oversight Committee: “It appears that committee members are less interested in seeking facts than they are in scoring points in the media. I can no longer allow this harassment of hard-working state employees to continue.”

He accused the lawmakers of “abusing,” “manhandling” and “verbally berating” state workers at their public hearings. He also accused the committee of creating “chaos within state government” and jeopardizing the year-end close of books with “its voluminous inquiries”….

But Carcieri said: “I cannot allow state government to grind to a halt in order to accommodate these many voluminous document requests. I also cannot allow these hearings to be used as a vehicle for abusing hard-working state employees.… That is not acceptable.

“I understand that committee members may have political problems with me as governor. That’s fine. But that cannot be used as an excuse to manhandle department employees,” he said.

And Steve Peoples of the Projo, on $80 millon in expected revenue that Rhode Island won’t be receiving this year…
The state probably won’t receive $80 million of anticipated revenue in the coming fiscal year from American International Group — the insurance giant that agreed last year to pay various states and investors more than $1.6 billion in restitution and penalties for filing false financial statements.

Rhode Island is due to receive the largest share of the settlement — nearly $100 million, including interest. State officials, thinking they were moving conservatively, projected revenues of $80 million in May from the settlement.

Yesterday they learned they would probably receive nothing in the next fiscal year.

“It is my opinion that the AIG settlement will enter long and protracted [litigation] in the next four to six months. We don’t expect the revenue for 2008. We’re just at a standstill at this point,” said A. Michael Marques, director of the state Department of Business Regulation.

School Vouchers: An International Success Story

Marc Comtois

From The Economist:

Few ideas in education are more controversial than vouchers—letting parents choose to educate their children wherever they wish at the taxpayer's expense. First suggested by Milton Friedman, an economist, in 1955, the principle is compellingly simple. The state pays; parents choose; schools compete; standards rise; everybody gains.

Simple, perhaps, but it has aroused predictable—and often fatal—opposition from the educational establishment. Letting parents choose where to educate their children is a silly idea; professionals know best. Co-operation, not competition, is the way to improve education for all. Vouchers would increase inequality because children who are hardest to teach would be left behind.

But these arguments are now succumbing to sheer weight of evidence. Voucher schemes are running in several different countries without ill-effects for social cohesion; those that use a lottery to hand out vouchers offer proof that recipients get a better education than those that do not.


Opponents still argue that those who exercise choice will be the most able and committed, and by clustering themselves together in better schools they will abandon the weak and voiceless to languish in rotten ones. Some cite the example of Chile, where a universal voucher scheme that allows schools to charge top-up fees seems to have improved the education of the best-off most.

The strongest evidence against this criticism comes from Sweden, where parents are freer than those in almost any other country to spend as they wish the money the government allocates to educating their children. Sweeping education reforms in 1992 not only relaxed enrolment rules in the state sector, allowing students to attend schools outside their own municipality, but also let them take their state funding to private schools, including religious ones and those operating for profit. The only real restrictions imposed on private schools were that they must run their admissions on a first-come-first-served basis and promise not to charge top-up fees (most American voucher schemes impose similar conditions).

The result has been burgeoning variety and a breakneck expansion of the private sector. At the time of the reforms only around 1% of Swedish students were educated privately; now 10% are, and growth in private schooling continues unabated.


More evidence that choice can raise standards for all comes from Caroline Hoxby, an economist at Harvard University, who has shown that when American public schools must compete for their students with schools that accept vouchers, their performance improves. Swedish researchers say the same. It seems that those who work in state schools are just like everybody else: they do better when confronted by a bit of competition.

RE: That 10 Person Discussion Last Night

Marc Comtois

If you're interested in reactions to a certain 10 person discussion held on a cable TV outfit broadcast from the Gippers book-den, here's a roundup. And if you're interested in the one guy who wasn't there, well, here's some reading for you. Feel free to discuss, below!

May 3, 2007

RI Senate Approves Moving Presidential Primary to February 5

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Rhode Island Senate passed the bill to move Rhode Island’s Presidential primary date up to February 5th. Katherine Gregg of the Projo has the early calendar…

At least 23 states — with more than half the country’s population — have shifted or are considering shifting their presidential primaries or caucuses to early February, right after Iowa (Jan. 14), Nevada (Jan. 19), New Hampshire (Jan. 22), and possibly South Carolina and Florida (Jan. 29) kick off the process.
However, take that Florida date with a grain of salt. According to the Associated Press (via, the national parties have taken steps to make sure that no one new can move ahead of the February 5th national primary…
National Republican and Democratic leaders have said they will take away delegates to the nominating conventions if Florida moves its primary earlier than Feb. 5. The Democratic National Committee has said a candidate who campaigns in Florida for a primary earlier than Feb. 5 will be ineligible for receiving any of the state's delegates.
Now there’s a truly bi-partisan measure that I can support!

Senator Whitehouse: The Biggest Problem in Iraq is the Iraqi Government

Carroll Andrew Morse

To absolutely no one’s surprise, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has taken on the role of leading advocate for a foreign policy of punishing allies and ignoring enemies. From Charles Bakst in today’s Projo

Whitehouse told me that unless Iraqi leaders see that the United States is serious about withdrawing troops, “They’re perfectly happy to have us there keeping the police for them, spilling our blood for them, spending millions of dollars … It’s just extremely frustrating to have the president fight with us … rather than go and raise hell with the Iraqis. And I think the strongest way he can raise hell with them is say, ‘Look, guys, this party is over unless you get serious. We’re going in a new direction.’ ”
Contra Senator Whitehouse, the real frustration lies in having a Congress that wants the U.S. government to be fighting against the imperfect but legitimate government of Iraq, instead of fighting against terrorists.

May 2, 2007

Iraq: We Win, They Lose

Marc Comtois

Here is the boilerplate from We Win, They Lose, a coalition of bloggers who seek to impress upon Congress that, no matter what history--revisionist or otherwise--you want to believe about the Iraq War, we need to be in it to win it.

The Cicilline Budget Address

Carroll Andrew Morse

For those who missed Providence Mayor David Cicilline’s annual budget address last night, here’s the abbreviated version: We need to raise taxes on the rest of Rhode Island to provide more money for Providence. The Mayor essentially touted a plan to reduce property taxes while raising income taxes that has long been popular in progressive circles.

Mayor Cicilline attempts to use the flatness of the property tax to justify the proposed tax-shift…

A senior couple with a retirement income of 35,000 dollars a year who own a home valued at $250,000 pay about $300 a month -- that’s over 10% of their income in property taxes.

On the other hand, a wealthy working couple making $200,000 a year and who own a $500,000 home pay about $700 a month, which is just 4% of their income.

But if the Mayor really sees his city's property tax system as the problem, there are in-community solutions that can be explored. Some Rhode Island communities freeze the property tax amounts that senior citizens are required to pay. Some states determine the tax liability of properties based on their assessed values at the time of purchase, protecting long-time, fixed-income residents from constant tax increases. Another possibilty would be exempting a certain amount of property value, say the first $50,000 of the value of a residential home, when determining tax liability. None of these solutions are perfect. But Mayor Cicilline isn’t interested in investigating their pros and cons anyway; his interest lies solely in finding a way to grab money from the rest of Rhode Island that can be spent on Providence, an option that will require either a statewide tax increase or service cuts in other Rhode Island cities and towns.

Simple mathematics dictate that…

  • A revenue neutral plan (where overall income tax collection is raised by the amount exactly matching a property tax cut) cannot deliver to Providence a bigger share of state aid than the city receives now unless other communities have their revenues reduced and are forced to cut services.
  • An income tax hike bigger than a property tax cut (making Rhode Island’s fourth highest tax-burden in the nation even worse) is needed to increase Providence's share of state aid without forcing service cuts elsewhere.
(This math, incidentally, is why a Cicilline-for-Governor campaign faces an uphill battle. Higher taxes on everyone to increase subsidies to Providence isn’t a platform plank that is going to win a lot of votes outside of Providence.)

I don’t think we’re yet at the point where shutting down the rest of Rhode Island in order to increase funding to the urban core is getting serious legislative consideration. Rhode Island State Senate Majority Leader Teresa Paiva-Weed, for instance, has recently stated that she sees the goal of a new state education aid funding formula as providing more aid to “second-tier” urban and suburban communities. But if we do reach the point where plans to increase Providence's already generous share of state aid begin to take shape, a fundamental issue of governance comes into play.

The Providence school system already receives about 2/3 of its funding from state sources. Already, everyone in Rhode Island is paying for Providence, but only the government of Providence – and its appointed school committee – decides how the money is spent. If the state of Rhode Island is going to be paying for 70% to 80% or more of the Providence school budget, an oversight authority with a substantive role in budget matters representing the interests of the broad base of Rhode Island taxpayers who will be paying for Providence’s schools will need to be created.

The government of Providence doesn’t have the right to tell the people of Rhode Island that their place is to just pay and go away.

In Johnston, Unions Help Alleviate Budget Crisis

Marc Comtois

The ProJo's Mark Reynolds reports:

The town's police officers and many of its municipal workers have made concessions that will ease financial pressures on the taxpayers, officials said yesterday.

Without the unions' help, the town would have been responsible for budgeting an extra $349,000 to pay for contractually mandated raises and other provisions during the fiscal year that starts July 1, according to Mayor Joseph M. Polisena, who is shepherding an effort to cut costs and eliminate more than $7 million in debt over the next several years.

Polisena had reached out to the unions and asked them to give up pay raises in light of the town's dire economic situation.

"They have truly stepped up to the plate to help our town and the taxpayers," Polisena said at a Town Hall news conference. "Today, I say to our residents, 'When you see a police officer, when you come into the building and see municipal workers, thank them.'"

The municipal workers agreed to give up a 2.9-percent raise this fiscal year - an expense of about $171,000 - and accepted 1.5-percent raises in the final two years of their newly extended contract. Meanwhile, each police officer ceded $2,250 in allowances that pay for new uniforms, cleaning for uniforms, and various firearms expenses.

In turn, the town agreed to lend the unions some additional stability and security by extending their contracts another two years.


Reforming DCYF

Marc Comtois

A special commission put together by the Governor to look into ways to reform DCYF has handed in its report.

The report’s primary recommendation is to reform how the DCYF cares for children in its custody. According to the review team, the DCYF served 11,329 children last year, about 9,000 at any point in time. Of these, 1,210 were in residential care, including the Rhode Island Training School. “Residential expenses will account for approximately two-thirds of the department’s expenditures,” the panel wrote. “Thus, 13 percent of DCYF’s clients are consuming 67 percent of its budget.”

...the review team urged the DCYF and “external stakeholders,” such as the Family Court, to agree on a plan to limit residential placements, to develop “appropriate alternatives,” and to eventually reduce the number of beds in the system. Jane Hayward, state director of health and human services, said lower-cost alternatives could include placing children who have behavioral or medical problems with specially-trained foster parents. Or keeping children at home or in foster homes and using outside services from the community to meet their needs, she said.

The review panel also called for: resolving an ongoing bottleneck in foster care licensing; renegotiating union contracts to include flex work time; inclusion of DCYF caseloads in the state’s twice-annual caseload estimating conference; working to have fewer children sentenced to the Training School, when less restrictive environments would do; and better management of overtime expenses.

Housing a child at the Training School costs $98,000 / year, so there must be some way to reduce the cost or, at least, the amount of kids being sent there. This is just the first step in reform. Let's see what roadblocks get thrown up along the way.

ProJo Looks At '06 Voting Discrepencies

Marc Comtois

Paul Edward Parker of the ProJo investigated the voter rolls and found some discrepancies.

The Board of Elections — which oversees the counting of votes — says 392,884 voters cast ballots in the Nov. 7 general election.

The secretary of state’s Elections Division — which oversees the state’s Central Voter Registration System and tracks who voted in which elections — counted 387,952 voters in the same election as of Jan. 16. In a new tally Monday, that number had risen to 390,340.

That leaves 4,932 ballots that were cast without a voter voting — or 2,544, depending on which number you use from the secretary of state.

The Providence Journal began examining the results of the November election this spring, after reporting last fall that the names of nearly 5,000 registered voters in Rhode Island appear on a federal list of dead people. The Journal sought to find out whether any of those dead people voted.

The newspaper’s review found no evidence of systematic fraud by people casting ballots in the names of voters who had died. But it did find a voter tracking system susceptible to error that could throw into doubt the results of close elections.


Robert Kando, executive director of the Board of Elections, attributed the discrepancies to errors in how voter tracking information was entered into the secretary of state’s computer system. “I don’t have the slightest inclination there was ballot stuffing.”

Kando said that comparing the number of votes cast to the number of voters who checked in at each precinct is not part of the process of declaring the results of an election. “We certify winners without doing that. That doesn’t mean we don’t validate our system by examining that.”

Feeling confident? You can find the numbers for your town here.

Bilodeau Elected as New State College GOP Head

Marc Comtois

According to a press release issued by the RI GOP, URI College Republican Chair Ryan Bilodeau has been elected as the new head of the College Republican Federation of Rhode Island. Comments to this post hinted that a change was afoot within the RI College Republican ranks. From the outside, it would appear as if the majority of College Republicans are now more inclined to engage in the confrontational campus politics that the previous leadership found so abrasive.

May 1, 2007

RI Senate Voting on Various Election Reform Bills

Marc Comtois

Perhaps I should say "election change"...? Today, the RI Senate is supposed to discuss and vote on:

S0020 - "This act would reduce the waiting period required for disaffiliation with a political party from 90 days to 29 days."

S0760 - " individual cannot file a declaration of candidacy for more than one elected public office, either state or local, in the same election cycle and the filing of a declaration thereby withdraws any previously filed declarations for an elected public office, either state or local, in said election cycle."

S0740A - "...move the primary date for election of delegates to national conventions from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February beginning with 2008 and every fourth year thereafter."

S0725 - "...limit political party committees from contributing more than $25,000 to any group of candidates as opposed to present law which limits such amounts to any one candidate. In addition, it would limit it to one thousand dollars ($1,000) the maximum allowed contribution that a political party committee can make to any candidate more in any one calendar year."

S0189 - "...prevent employees of local canvassing authorities from serving on local canvassing boards."

Stay tuned...

Reported death of al-Qaeda in Iraq leader?

Mac Owens

The reported death of Abu Ayyud al-Masri is still unconfirmed, but the firefight in which he was allegedly killed illustrates a change in Iraq that has been little noticed until recently: the deepening antipathy of the Sunni tribes of al-Anbar province toward the foreigners of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

There were reports of red-on-red” battles in the Sunni triangle as early as 2005, but the real shift began in the summer and fall of 2006 when a substantial majority of Sunni sheikhs in al-Anbar began to defect from their previous alliance with AQI. Bing and Owen West described the sheikhs’ defection in The Atlantic recently and even the New York Times reported the security improvements in al-Anbar resulting from the change in attitude and behavior by the Sunni sheikhs.

This is a positive development. Intelligence tips from the Sunni concerning AQI operatives and operations have been on the increase for some time and this event suggests that this trend will continue. The number of policemen has increased exponentially from a year ago. The Bush "surge" deserves some credit but AQI has brought most of this on itself by the barbarity of its attacks on Sunni civilians.

But as positive a development as it is, we need to realize that the fact the sheikhs have abandoned their alliance with AQI and are cooperating with the Iraqi government and the Americans doesn’t necessarily adumbrate a permanent situation. The long-term attachment of the Sunni of al-Anbar to the Iraqi government depends a great deal on the actions of the latter.

Success Amongst the Sunnis

Carroll Andrew Morse

The New York Times calls it a "new dynamic" (h/t Rich Lowry)…

The turnabout began last September, when a federation of tribes in the Ramadi area came together as the Anbar Salvation Council to oppose the fundamentalist militants of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia....

For all the sheiks’ hostility toward the Americans, they realized that they had a bigger enemy, or at least one that needed to be fought first, as a matter of survival.

The council sought financial and military support from the Iraqi and American governments. In return the sheiks volunteered hundreds of tribesmen for duty as police officers and agreed to allow the construction of joint American-Iraqi police and military outposts throughout their tribal territories.

A similar dynamic is playing out elsewhere in Anbar, a desert region the size of New York State that stretches west of Baghdad to the Syrian and Jordanian borders. Tribal cooperation with the American and Iraqi commands has led to expanded police forces in the cities of Husayba, Hit, Rutba, Baghdadi and Falluja, officials say.

But those who have been paying attention know that the dynamic is not entirely new. The Sheiks didn’t decide, four years after the invasion of Iraq, that they could instantly trust the Americans in their midst. They made their decision only after observing years of dangerous and thankless work done by American soldiers and civilians to improve the lives of oridnary Iraqis. And after close and direct contact with both sides, the Sheiks decided that the future offered by America was better than the one offered by Al-Qaida.

The surge is working, not just because of extra manpower in Iraq now, but because it builds on the foundation created by those who were gutting it out in Iraq at the same time many at home were declaring that there was no hope at all. And just as it would have been a mistake then, it would be a mistake now for Congress to forsake the civil society of Iraq, to abandon the work that has been done to build it up so far, and to bolster the position of those who would destroy it.

GOP Convention in town

Marc Comtois

Spotted in Providence - Both members of the RI GOP!


OK, just kidding (maybe?).

Charles Bakst on Election Reform

Carroll Andrew Morse

Choose for yourself which one of Projo columnist Charles Bakst’s thoughts on election reform is worse.

  • Bakst opposes requiring photo-IDs at the polls…
    Without more evidence than I know of that voter fraud is a genuine problem, [Secretary of State Ralph Mollis] courts heartache by raising the prospect of requiring a photo ID at the polls. The idea will engender ill will and suspicion among disabled, elderly, or minority Rhode Islanders who now lack such cards and would find it inconvenient, or insulting, to have to acquire one.
    In other words, we have to wait until voter fraud occurs before we do anything -- even though we already know how we would improve the system if massive fraud were to occur. It’s like saying a dam might break, and we know how to make some improvements that will improve its strength, but since it hasn't broken yet, there's no need to do anything right now!

    There is a serious dose of the soft-bigotry of low expectations built into the anti-photo ID argument; if voter registration cards that include a photo are issued during the standard voter registration process, then why should disabled, elderly, or minority Rhode Islanders be more insulted than anyone else who registers to vote? And on top of that, shouldn't suspicions held by law-abiding individual citizens towards a lax process that can be easily gamed count for anything in our civic culture, or do you have to declare yourself as a member of an identity politics-focused interest group to have a voice in these matters?

  • And then, for something completely different…
    A bold step would be to find a way to deter candidates from hurling slime at one another, or at least improve the public’s ability, now nearly nonexistent, to sort through it.

    Negativity and distortion especially plague races for higher office. One candidate runs an attack ad, the foe retaliates with a response ad yelling “Liar!” and the arms race is on. People decide one candidate is as bad as the other and throw up their hands.

    Let’s see Mollis & Co. propose a vehicle, some kind of legally constituted arbitration tribunal, to which candidates aggrieved by a particular ad or exchange of ads could turn and obtain a judgment as to whom is telling the truth. Maybe retired Supreme Court justices could sit on it.

    Would this panel have an ability to impose penalties? If so, there’s a real first amendment problem with the government potentially punishing people for the content of their speech.

    But penalties or not, ask yourself this question: who would ultimately be responsible for disseminating the findings of Bakst's panel to the public. The answer, of course, is the media -- the media that is already capable, on its own, of explaining the truth, falsehood, and nuances of the political and policy issues arising during a campaign.

    Whether he meant it or not, Bakst's implication is that mainstream media credibility has slipped to the point where the MSM now needs the voice of government behind it in order to make statements during political campaigns that will be trusted.

    This idea of forming a Ministry of Truth to monitor political campaigns needs to be filed under the category of "things not entirely thought through".

Fatherland, Socialism or Death

Carroll Andrew Morse

In honor of today’s worldwide May Day celebrations, I present to you the slogan of the Western Hemisphere’s leading socialists, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban Leader Fidel Castro…

"We will triumph. Fatherland, socialism or death."

Senate ‘06 Footnote: FEC Says Matt Brown Did Nothing Illegal

Carroll Andrew Morse

From Kate Bramson of the Projo’s 7-to-7 blog

The Federal Election Commission says that the Democratic Party in three states did not break federal campaign contribution laws when they gave money to Rhode Island U.S. Senate candidate Matt Brown last year.

The Democratic Party in Hawaii, Maine and Massachusetts funneled a total of $25,000 to Brown, who was then Rhode Island’s Secretary of State, in December 2005. He was seeking the Democratic Senate nomination.

The non-scandal (and Brown’s non-reaction to it) effectively ended former Secretary of State Brown’s U.S. Senate campaign.

Cynics will be tempted to say that this proves that campaign finance laws work exactly as intended by making political fundraising rules too onerous to be survived by candidates who are not incumbents or challengers hand-picked by party leadership.

Utah Voucher Plan on Hold

Carroll Andrew Morse

The Utah voucher plan for funding public education is being challenged under a provision of Utah law that permits the voters to repeal laws via referendum. From the Salt Lake City Tribune

Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert on Monday declared a referendum petition drive to overturn Utah's school voucher law "sufficient," meaning the law is on hold until the public votes on a repeal.

Herbert's office verified 124,218 valid signatures among more than 131,000 reportedly submitted to county clerks this month by Utahns for Public Schools, a group of voucher opponents made up mostly of parents, teachers and school administrators…

The petition drive shelves Utah's new Parent Choice in Education Act, which provides public tuition assistance to help parents transfer their children to private schools.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has suggested he'll put the referendum on the February 2008 Western States Presidential Primary ballot because that is the nearest funded election. It would cost $3.5 million to hold a statewide vote during a special June election or November's municipal general

Huntsman probably will announce the election date during a special legislative session he intends to call in mid-May, spokesman Mike Mower said. The session will enable legislators to amend state law, which currently allows referendum elections in only June or November.