June 29, 2007

DCYF's Problems: A Matter of Fiscal Priorities

Marc Comtois

The ProJo reports:

Rhode Island's Child Advocate Jametta O. Alston is pursuing class-action status on behalf of the 3,000 children now in state custody, aiming for nothing less than an overhaul of Rhode Island’s child-welfare system, which the suit portrays as overburdened and mismanaged.

“It’s beyond broken,” Alston said of the system. “It’s demolished. It doesn’t work.”

Rhode Island was the worst in the nation in the number of children abused and neglected while in state foster care in five of the six years between 2000 and 2005, according to the suit. “We beat Mississippi and Alabama,” Alston said. “Think about that.” {Note: the ProJo corrected this statement on Saturday to read "rate" instead of "number" of children--ed.}

Alston claims there are some very real problems going on at DCYF.
...caseworkers are laboring under “excessive caseloads”; the state places too many children in institutions, group homes and emergency shelters; and children are being “reunited” with parents who have abused them.
If her claims are true, then the children are being twice-victimized. It's a disgrace. As Alston wrote in the OCA's 2006 report, night to night placement shouldn't even be going on:
...DCYF provides the OCA weekly reports identifying children placed night to night. These reports indicate that more than two decades after the original lawsuit was filed, DCYF continues to rely on night to night placements. The reported total number of children placed night to night in 2006 is 234. The reported total number of night to night placement episodes for the 2006 year is 276...
Here's an idea: why not spend, say, $71 million on a facility to hold these poor kids instead of moving them around every night? Then again, maybe a central facility may not be the best idea. According to the same report, there have been problems at the Rhode Island Training School, too. And when the OCA tried to address them, well...
During 2006, the OCA, RITS, CPS [Child Protective Services] and Council 94, Local 314 of the American Federation of Federal, State and Municipal Employees (AFSME) met numerous times as the parties attempted to work out investigative protocols which protect the child’s and worker’s respective rights without compromising the integrity of the investigative process and without draining the limited workforce resources of RITS. All parties had a shared concern for the safety and wellbeing of the residents but each time it appeared that there was agreement on the protocols, Council 94 would subsequently object to the OCA’s participation in the investigation. This led the OCA to reevaluate the protocols and its proposal for protocols for future investigations.
However, in the end, the OCA, in the aforementioned 2006 report, requests that more workers and money be appropriated to address the various problems. I appreciate the motive, but I think the "fix" is wrong-headed and will only enable the same attitudes and--tell me where you've heard this before--structural problems that have gotten DCYF into this mess. Besides, this is exactly what the State has been doing.

From 2001 to 2007, the amount budgeted for DCYF went up from $195,121,687 to $290,358,510, an increase of 48.8%. However, despite the pleas of Alston and groups like the RI Poverty institute, the Enacted 2008 State Budget saw a reduction of expenditures for DCYF down to $232,749,891 (though that is still an increase of 19% over 2001).

We all want to help poor kids in troubled families, but throwing more and more money at the problems hasn't helped. Yet, neither does it seem logical to take away money, right? But looking at the overall DCYF budget doesn't tell the whole story. In fact, there is one area where the growth hasn't subsided at all: payroll.

In 2001, there were 875.9 FTE (Full Time Equivalent) positions whose salaries totaled $41,667,680, for an average salary of $47,571 per FTE. In 2008, there were 810 FTEs with a total salary component of $49,698,858, for an average of $61,357 per FTE. That's an overall average salary increase of 30% over 7 years. That's around a 4% increase per year (the inflation rate from 2001 to 2006 was around 2.5% and hasn't increased). Meanwhile, the total number of FTEs has decreased by 66 positions. How is such a reduction helpful to the workloads?

And the numbers really jump when the total payroll costs (salary and benefits), which more accurately reflect the real cost to government--and taxpayers, are used. By adding benefits (Retirement, Medical, Medical Benefits Salary Disbursement and FICA) to the previous calculations, in 2001 there was a total payroll cost of $55,574,096 or $63,448 per FTE. In 2008, there was a total payroll cost of $76,652,769, or $94,633 per FTE. That is a net loss of 65.9 jobs (-7.5%) between 2001 and 2008, but an increase in payroll of $30,515.55 per FTE (+49%).

OK, so which job salaries are increasing the most, right? I suspect we'd hear an argument that all the money is going to upper management and administrative positions. Let's take a look.

DCYF - Cost to Employ Comparison - Administrative
Position2001 Cost2007 Cost% Difference
Director, Dept. of Children, Youth & Families$118,719$145,95222.9%
Executive Director, Administration*$115,754$151,84831.2%
Administrative Assistant**$37,073$54,97548.3%
Deputy Director, (DCYF)---$110,906100%
Associate Director, Child Welfare---$132,968100%
Executive Assistant---$74,067100%

*Now called "Executive Director, Administration (DCYF)"
**Now called "Confidential Secretary"

The increases in these positions average in the 30% range (though the Secretary saw an increase of nearly 50%--hmm, maybe it's not just privatized secretaries who make out...). Plus, 3 new positions were created.

OK, let's compare the increase in the costs of employment for a few "in the trenches" positions between 2001 and 2008. By the way, I didn't cherry-pick these positions, folks. I simply went through and tried to find the positions with higher numbers of employees, figuring that they were the "average Jill or Joe" workers.

DCYF - Cost to Employ Comparison
Position2001 FTE2001 Cost2001 $/FTE2008 FTE2008 Cost2008 $/FTE$/FTE % Increase
Probation & Parole Counselor II34$1,775,898$73,995.7537$2,685,984$72,594.15-1.9%
Juvenile Program Worker121$4,327,711$35,766.20140$6,320,414$45,145.8026.2%
Casework Supervisor II54$2,912,108$53,927.9051$3,791,322$74,339.6537.9%
Child Protective Investigator67$3,308,487$49,380.4068$4,700,377$69,123.2040%
Social Caseworker II264$10,867,031$41,163.00233$13,280,321$56,997.1038.5%

Now, over the years, the total FTEs have gone up and down for some of these positions, but in most cases, the payroll costs to employ fewer workers have gone up. With this un-scientific sample, the average payroll cost of one position went down (negligibly), while the rest went up. And of those, 3 of the 4 saw increases closer to 40%.

It can be concluded that most of the (few) lost jobs occurred at the front-lines (the Social Caseworker II is a case in point) and it is no wonder that these workers--who deal day-to-day with society's hard-cases--feel like they're doing more than before. But they're certainly not doing it for less and their annual compensation has increased, generally speaking, on par or better than that of the DCYF administrators and managers.

I guess the question is this: would these employees--or their unions--be willing to sacrifice a portion of their "traditional" salary and benefit increases so that more people could be hired to help with the caseloads? Maybe tying state salary increases to cost-of-living increases or inflation would help. And, for sure, the benefits packages need to be overhauled. If only.

In summary, DCYF has very real problems, but these are rooted in the same structural inefficiencies that are affecting the entire State Government. Until these inherent structural problems--over-generous increases in both salary and benefit packages and much-needed administrative consolidation to name a couple-- are fixed, we will continue to shortchange both the end-user of government services and the people whose taxes pay for them.

I don't intend to demean or belittle the workers in the State's DCYF. They are harried and hassled and most still do their best to care for their charges. But there is only so much money that can be thrown their way. Unless something is done, the cost to employ them will continue to go up even as fewer of them perform more work. And no matter their heroics, there is only so much time in the day.

There can be no doubt that we need to fix these structural problems for the health of our government and State. We need to make the cost of employing all state workers cheaper, thus enabling the State to employ more of them to provide adequate services. But fixing our "structural problems" needs to be done for more than the well-being of the state. As the ongoing problems at DCYF illustrate, we need to do it to help our most vulnerable kids. They're our future, one way or another.

SOURCES: 2001 RI Budget Personnel Supplement; 2007 DCYF Personnel Budget Supplement; 2008 DCYF Personnel Budget Supplement

Truth: An Antidote to Sicko

Justin Katz

Having watched Michael Moore's latest bit of propaganda — Sicko, about the evil of American healthcare in comparison to saintly socialism — a bit more closely than is probably healthy, David Gratzer felt compelled to offer another view:

Consider, for instance, Mr. Moore's claim that ERs don't overcrowd in Canada. A Canadian government study recently found that only about half of patients are treated in a timely manner, as defined by local medical and hospital associations. "The research merely confirms anecdotal reports of interminable waits," reported a national newspaper. While people in rural areas seem to fare better, Toronto patients receive care in four hours on average; one in 10 patients waits more than a dozen hours.

This problem hit close to home last year: A relative, living in Winnipeg, nearly died of a strangulated bowel while lying on a stretcher for five hours, writhing in pain. To get the needed ultrasound, he was sent by ambulance to another hospital.

In Britain, the Department of Health recently acknowledged that one in eight patients wait more than a year for surgery. Around the time Mr. Moore was putting the finishing touches on his documentary, a hospital in Sutton Coldfield announced its new money-saving linen policy: Housekeeping will no longer change the bed sheets between patients, just turn them over. France's system failed so spectacularly in the summer heat of 2003 that 13,000 people died, largely of dehydration. Hospitals stopped answering the phones and ambulance attendants told people to fend for themselves.

No wonder, Gratzer observes, single-payer systems worldwide are beginning to make way for private healthcare, even as Western dead-enders push for the only fair system — one in which the wealthy can travel great distances and pay high prices for rapid service while the average shmoe is forced into compliance with Darwin's prescription.

Sheesh! What do we plebs think "privilege" means?

June 28, 2007

A Rooftop Doggycar to the White House

Justin Katz

There can't be any serious dispute that this is, well, odd:

Before beginning the [twelve-hour] drive, Mitt Romney put Seamus, the family's hulking Irish setter, in a dog carrier and attached it to the station wagon's roof rack. He'd built a windshield for the carrier, to make the ride more comfortable for the dog.

Then Romney put his boys on notice: He would be making predetermined stops for gas, and that was it.

The ride was largely what you'd expect with five brothers, ages 13 and under, packed into a wagon they called the ''white whale.''

As the oldest son, Tagg Romney commandeered the way-back of the wagon, keeping his eyes fixed out the rear window, where he glimpsed the first sign of trouble. ''Dad!'' he yelled. ''Gross!'' A brown liquid was dripping down the back window, payback from an Irish setter who'd been riding on the roof in the wind for hours.

As the rest of the boys joined in the howls of disgust, Romney coolly pulled off the highway and into a service station. There, he borrowed a hose, washed down Seamus and the car, then hopped back onto the highway. It was a tiny preview of a trait he would grow famous for in business: emotion-free crisis management.

However, although one shouldn't presume to hold Ana Marie Cox to standards of fairness or, really, journalism, it's conspicuous that her mention of the incident fails to note for Time readers the custom-built doggy windshield or to clarify that the excrement release appears to have occurred only once during the entire trip. Whatever the case, any dog-owner with presidential ambitions would probably do well to ensure that his or her pet has prime seating on long car trips, preferably with access to a window through which to stick its head.

A Firsthand Report on the President's Visit

Carroll Andrew Morse

Will Ricci, East Providence Republican City Committee Treasurer, National Federation of Republican Assemblies Regional Vice-President, and most importantly, frequent Anchor Rising commenter was able to attend today’s Presidential visit to the Naval War College in Newport. Will sends along his impressions, observations, and a photograph from the event...

Will Ricci: I had the opportunity to attend the President's address at the Naval War College earlier today as a guest of the Governor, with a handful of other local Republicans. The audience was heavily populated with Navy officers, with a great many guests from other countries. I was seated less than 50 feet away (about ten rows) directly in front of the President's podium. The program began a little late at about 11:15 am.

There was a funny moment right at the beginning, when the unseen announcer said, “Please welcome the President… of the Naval War College, Rear Adm. Jacob Shuford”. Everyone broke out in laughter. The admiral made some brief remarks and then quickly introduced the President, who then appeared on stage with Gov. Carcieri to the sounds of Hail to the Chief. After a long standing ovation, everyone was seated. Gov. Carcieri then delivered some welcoming remarks behind the Presidential podium (he looked comfortable there), and then the President dove right into his speech.

The speech was heavily focused on terrorism, with an emphasis on what's going on in Iraq right now. Much of it had to do with sharing information that the mainstream media doesn't like to cover, such as that we're winning! I won't go heavily into the substance of the speech, as I assume the local media will cover that ad infinitum. The President showed some very interesting maps and diagrams on the monitors behind him demonstrating the progress that we've made, both before and during the surge. All I can tell you is that he had the audience at his full attention for the entire speech, which lasted about an hour, and that he covered a considerable amount of detail. He was not using a teleprompter, and used his notes only sparingly. It made me feel pretty good that he had such a clear understanding of what is at stake in Iraq and elsewhere. He didn't make any gaffes or other "Bushisms." He came off as human, genuine, and very engaged.

After the speech ended, I think he surprised everyone by asking the audience for questions. They weren't planted questions. He stayed for about another 15 minutes or so and answered all sorts of questions ranging from relations with Great Britain and Columbia, to ongoing diplomatic efforts with North Korea, and the use of naval forces around the world in the future. He made an effort to single out Venezuela and Cuba as places of interest in this hemisphere, and made a comment which I think the media might pick up on regarding Fidel Castro. I believe it started with "when the Lord calls Fidel ... away" (not home). It got a few approving nods.

PS As for protestors, unless they were hiding, there were virtually none. We saw ONE protestor at the main gate coming in, and I believe three outside when we left. It was paltry in any case.

Your Growing State Government (Or, Fun with Numbers)

Marc Comtois

Well, with the budget passed, let's look at the damage. First, here's how much we held the line, broken out by major department (all % are rounded):

2007 to 2008 Expenditure Growth
General Government$1,409,253,153$1,421,934,563$12,681,4101%
Human Services$2,567,110,918$2,715,812,422$148,701,5046%
Education$1,848,828,527 $1,909,134,809$60,306,2823%
Public Safety$401,107,978$428,636,150$27,528,1727%
Natural Resources$99,809,385$92,311,600-$7,497,785-8%

That's an increase of 4% over last year. Still higher than inflation, but under 5% growth: a minor miracle in Rhode Island, right? Overall, the Human Services component contains the largest growth in actual dollars while Transportation has the highest growth as a percentage. Meanwhile, we're cutting state payroll...a little:

2007 to 2008 Change In Gov't Employees
General Government2,668.902,638.20-30.70-1%
Human Services42744219.6-54.40-1%
Public Safety3008.83054.645.802%
Natural Resources540.5530.4-10.10-2%

Um, maybe 6 jobs isn't really enough to consider a cut...

OK, enough of the B.S. Let's go back and see what the real deal is regarding the growth of the RI State government. (To foreshadow, it's freakin' unbelievable!)

2001 to 2008 Expenditure Growth
General Government$859,682,533$1,421,934,563$562,252,03065%
Human Services$1,804,551,076$2,715,812,422$911,261,34650%
Public Safety$270,414,341$428,636,150$158,221,80959%
Natural Resources$72,256,449$92,311,600$20,055,15128%

2001 to 2008 Change In Gov't Employees
General Government2,352.502,638.20285.70-1%
Human Services4734.44219.6-514.80-11%
Public Safety3193.63054.6-139.00-4%
Natural Resources621.5530.4-91.10-15%

So, over the last 7 years, we've reduced the State work force by 5% but the overall budget has increased by 49%. Now how did that happen?

Well, here's a list of those areas within each department whose 2008 budget allocation is both more than $5 million a year and has seen a greater than 40% increase over the last 7 years:

2001 to 2008 Change In Expenditures - "Hi-lights"
General Government
Business Regulation$8,417,007$13,135,623$4,718,61656%
Department of Revenue*$0$256,364,161$256,364,161100%
Human Services
Office of Health and Human Services**$0$6,578,965$6,578,965100%
Human Services$1,114,808,639$1,811,144,472$696,335,83362%
Elementary and Secondary$776,752,964$1,096,216,347$319,463,383-41%
Higher Education - Board of Governors$495,406,385$770,836,024$275,429,63956%
RI Council on the Arts$1,949,092$6,484,097$4,535,005233%
Higher Education Assistance Authority$14,002,560$29,350,404$15,347,844110%
Public Safety
Attorney General$15,538,842$23,903,316$8,364,47454%
Military Staff$10,260,851$24,960,095$14,699,244143%
E-911 Emergency Telephone System$3,500,541$6,030,052$2,529,511 72%
State Police$36,371,112$61,643,945$25,272,83369%
Office of Public Defender$5,264,386$9,746,784$4,482,39885%
Sheriffs of Several Counties***$8,767,198$0-$8,767,198-100%

*Didn't exist in 2001, created in 2006.
** Created by Gov. Carcieri in 2004 by Executive Order and given statutory authority in 2007.
***The Sheriffs were merged and consolidated at the State level in 2004 (I think).

Sources: 2001 RI Budget, 2007 RI Budget, House Budget Bill H5300.

ProJo's Perpetual Port Promotion: What Say You?

Marc Comtois

Another week, another pro-Port development editorial from the ProJo:

Port jobs pay exceptionally well and tend to be outsourcing-proof, since businesses must move goods to population centers, wherever they are produced. Further, the ports spin off other business, for which there is plenty of room at a place like Quonset Point, in manufacturing and services.

Rhode Island has an opportunity to develop a thriving port at Quonset Point, but Governor Carcieri and some other leaders have squelched it so far. The yacht-club set around Narragansett Bay did not want to share the water with a couple of big ships a week in the summer, even though this occurs without conflict in other parts of the country, where politicians better understand that new jobs are essential to a healthy state, providing the tax revenues to balance the budget and provide public services without, for instance, big budget deficits. And for that matter, the yachting season around here is not exactly year round.

It seems the height of foolishness that Rhode Island refuses to exploit its tremendous natural advantages as a strong site for a thriving port in the midst of the Northeastern megalopolis, but there you have it.

Though I wish otherwise, I don't think it's ever gonna happen. {Rank self-interest Alert! I work in the maritime industry.} I know a lot of people don't want a port for all of the known reasons--bay traffic, potential pollution, truck traffic, etc.--but they are countered by the economic arguments laid forth (often) by the ProJo. Keep in mind, it doesn't have to be a container port. It can be multi-cargo (cars, bulk and containers). There is a way to compromise.

For example, it looks like the current favorite plan for expanding T.F. Greene is an example of the sort of "90% solution" that may work (he said, holding his breath). A similar hashing out process could work when looking into a potential port in Quonset. It's time for some real cost-benefit analysis. Is their a way to have an economically successful port (ie; kinda big) that won't damage the "quality of life" of both the communities surrounding the port and the rest of Rhode Island?

June 27, 2007

The Root of Liberal Humor?

Justin Katz

This bit in Jay Nordlinger's latest Impromptus brought to mind Marc's recent comment that liberals do better at comedy:

And I am reminded of one of the reasons I fled the Left, many years ago: Personally, they were so mean — so nasty, so indecent. So full of mockery, ridicule, and scorn. I had to ask, "If the Left is the party of love and compassion, how come so many of them are such a**holes?"

We're talking generalities, here, of course. For one disclaimer, I'm not suggesting that I don't have my (ahem) liberal moments. It's at least arguable, however, that "mockery, ridicule, and scorn" are key spices in the comedic recipe and that Nordlinger's observation is not entirely without basis.

Since we're also talking impressions, rather than evidence, it occurs to me that perhaps the most unmean comedian of the last fifty years, Bill Cosby, has been making news for the past few of those years for his conservative-esque racial statements. Of course, Dennis Miller comes to mind as contrary evidence, although he's more of a libertarian (and for that, I need another "ahem").

That's All I Gots to Say 'Bout That

Justin Katz

Oddly, regarding the President's visit to Newport tomorrow, I find myself scowling not unlike a Democrat (Bushitler-types excluded). I'm relieved that I'll likely be working on the other side of town, but except for that consideration, I'll be just as happy to have him come and go, and I find that I mean from the White House as much as from Newport.

Immigration Anecdote

Marc Comtois

Strictly political "kudos" to the Democrats for making the ongoing immigration debate a Republican affair. The GOP has rent itself in two over the issue while the Dems have been able to sit back and grin. But the honeymoon may be over. A co-worker--this person is predisposed to Democrats, doesn't like Bush and is only mildly interested in politics (you know, your typical Rhode Islander)--told me this morning, "I didn't realize the Democrats were for legalizing illegal immigrants. Sheesh." Welp, probably too little, too late.

At this point, it seems a fait accompli that the omnibus Immigration Bill will be passed, even though there isn't even close to broad-based support for it. I wonder if the political class will suffer at the polls for this...or will their gambit pay off and this will be all forgotten by 2008, replaced by more pressing issues like health care reform or some newly defined crisis.

So Let me get this straight....

Marc Comtois

We're going to take a buyout and use future money from a tobacco settlement--money that was supposed to go towards anti-smoking education and help alleviate the pain and suffering of actual smokers (ahem)--so that we can, among other things, pay for some overtime that some sheriffs didn't work in the past, but that they should have had a shot at. Cool.

I Don’t Suppose We Can Blame This On a Lack of Local Ownership

Carroll Andrew Morse

From an unsigned editorial in today’s Projo

It is time to consider consolidating many more town and city services regionally. To that end, it might be time to revive Rhode Island’s four counties — Providence, Kent, Bristol and Washington (aka South County) to provide local services.
Um, what happened to Newport County?

June 26, 2007

RE: The AG and the Tobacky

Marc Comtois

Surprise! After some weird deliberation, AG Lynch went ahead and signed the bond authorizing grabbing tobacco money as per the GA. He will supposedly elaborate at 4:30 today. Summary: much ado about nothing...except some PR, I guess.

Wacky Tobacky

Carroll Andrew Morse

If there are restrictions on how money from the tobacco settlement can be used, many other states are acting as if they are oblivious to them…

Pennsylvania, from today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

[Governor Ed Rendell], a Democrat, wants to use $35 million a year from the state's $400 million annual tobacco settlement payment to make debt payments on a $500 million bond issue. The bond money would go for construction of biomedical research labs in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, State College, Hershey and other towns.
West Virginia, from today’s Charlestown Gazette-Mail
Exact numbers will be unveiled today on the impact an $807 million cash infusion will have on stabilizing the state’s critically underfunded teachers’ pension fund, a spokeswoman for Gov. Joe Manchin said Monday.

Manchin will announce this afternoon the finalization of the sale of $911 million in tobacco settlement bonds that went to market earlier this month.

The state sold the rights to roughly its next 25 years of annual payments from a 1998 settlement of a multistate lawsuit against the nation’s major cigarette manufacturers on June 14.

After putting $100 million into a required reserve fund and paying expenses for the various bond underwriters and bond counsel, initial estimates were that the state would net $807 million from the bond issue. By law, all the money will go to pay down a $4 billion-plus unfunded liability in the Teachers’ Retirement System.

Michigan, from a June 12 report from WZZM-TV (ABC 13)…
The Michigan Senate approved a measure today that would eliminate half of state government's budget deficit by selling part of Michigan's future tobacco lawsuit settlement.

The legislation will reach Governor Granholm's desk soon because it is part of an overall deal to balance this year's budget without a tax increase or funding cuts to public schools.

The bill would provide about 415 million dollars up front to help with immediate financial problems, but the state will give up its rights to what would be larger settlement payments due in future years.

Ohio, from the May 28 Canton Repository
The Republican-controlled Legislature appears poised to pass Gov. Ted Strickland’s plan for using Ohio’s tobacco settlement money to pay for the construction of new schools and create tax relief for elderly homeowners.

However, some senators have said they’d rather see the expected $5 billion go toward higher education, while others are concerned about how the Democratic governor’s plan would be administered.

Collecting the settlement in 40 years of installments would net the state an estimated $18 billion. But a lump sum payout through a process called securitization — where the state would sell the right to its future settlement payments to investors in return for an immediate influx of cash — would allow Ohio to speed up planned school construction.

Ohio would be the 19th state to take a lump sum; California, New York and Michigan are among those that have already used payments to plug budget holes.


It doesn’t seem like diverting the tobacco money to government operating expenses should be a legal problem under the existing settlement terms, as long as a small percentage of the money goes to "reserve funds" and "bond management expenses" (see the WV example).

The details we know about this story don't add up just yet.

Re: Speculation

Justin Katz

It looks as if Andrew's speculation might have been correct:

Lynch, who must approve such bonding authorizations, complained that he is being rushed. The problem: the tobacco money comes with strings attached.

“It’s dramatically different from other bonds that I sign,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve had to look at a bond along those lines.”

As of yesterday afternoon, he said he and his staff had not had enough time to examine all the strings. ...

The state needs to be careful, Lynch said, because the tobacco companies, hoping to avoid paying some of that money, have begun challenging states that do not comply with the master agreement.

Lynch said he had no evidence that Rhode Island was not fulfilling its obligation under the pact, but he needs to be sure to avoid jeopardizing the funds the state needs for the coming fiscal year, and for additional money the state is expected to receive from the settlement further down the line.

There also appears to be a bit of ego fluffing involved, but it's not necessary to emphasize that to be disgusted. For one thing, I'm not sure how the General Assembly's inability to control its hand-out psychosis counts among "the societal costs of smoking." More broadly, though, from the presumptuous money grab, to the misappropriation of the funds, to the willingness to throw away hundreds of millions of dollars to get a quick infusion now, the whole thing — and the whole state government — stinks.

June 25, 2007

Re: Rampant Tobacco Speculation

Justin Katz

A few minutes ago, one of the local TV news anchors teased a segment on the tobacco money issue with the question, "How would the General Assembly balance the budget?" Because Lynch didn't emphasize potential, and because he could have examined the documents without a declaration about doing so, here's my speculation: Whether it was planned this way or not, Patrick Lynch might be lobbing the General Assembly an excuse to raise taxes.

I was going to add "or an excuse to cut spending," but I hit the "post" button accidentally before I'd stopped laughing.

Tobacco and the Budget. Or Not.

Carroll Andrew Morse

WJAR-TV (NBC 10) is reporting that...

Attorney General Patrick Lynch said Monday that he won't sign off on the General Assembly's plan to use tobacco settlement money to close the state's budget deficit.
(h/t Dan Yorke)

WPRO's Colleen Lima reporting that AG Lynch hasn't quite said he won't go along; he's said he has until 3 pm tomorrow to provide his required sign-off, and has not yet reviewed the legislature's plan to his satisfaction.

AG Lynch on with Dan Yorke. If the state does not meet certain requirements that come with the tobacco money, the state might lose some or all of it.

Yorke asks Lynch what the odds are that he won't sign off. Lynch answers "I don't gamble".


Because of developments in other states, Rhode Island’s chances of ever seeing money from the lead paint settlement have become 50/50 at best. If over the next year or two, Patrick Lynch becomes the Attorney General who lost both the lead paint money and the tobacco money (even though “lost” wouldn’t be a fair characterization in the lead paint case, but we’re talking about perceptions here), his chances at winning elective office in 2010 would be nil. So he’s going over the tobacco agreement with a fine-tooth comb, to make sure nothing that the General Assembly is proposing allows the tobacco companies to back out of the deal.

A Question for Froma Harrop about Michael Bloomberg

Carroll Andrew Morse

In Sunday’s Projo, Froma Harrop writes approvingly about recently-turned independent New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg…

He started out as a Democrat but turned Republican to run for mayor. He’s governed as a friend of labor, education, the environment and surplus budgets….

A year after 9/11, when Bloomberg raised property taxes rather than slash city services, the sclerotic right went into a war dance. Writing in the conservative City Journal, Steven Malanga accused Bloomberg of being “the defender of big government and the municipal workforce” and of committing “catastrophic errors” that would drive away businesses and rich people. The article was titled, “Bloomberg to City: Drop Dead.”

What the conservative wind-up dolls didn’t get is that taxes, wisely spent, can be an investment for the future. The devastating attacks had sent New York’s economy into a swoon, and sure, Bloomberg could have responded by laying off public workers who had kept the city’s soul together. He could have let things get shabbier.

But if the main qualification of a Presidential candidate is a willingness to raise taxes to pay for increased government spending, then what’s truly special about Michael Bloomberg? Aren’t all of the standard-issue Democrats seeking their party’s Presidential nomination promising to raise taxes to expand government as well?

Where Art Thou, Liberal Talk Radio?

Marc Comtois

One of the side conversations in the comments to my "Media Bias" post concerned the possible resuscitation of the so-called "Fairness Doctrine," which Sen. Diane Feinstein floated on FOXNews Sunday:

WALLACE: So would you revive the fairness doctrine?

FEINSTEIN: Well, I'm looking at it, as a matter of fact, Chris, because I think there ought to be an opportunity to present the other side. And unfortunately, talk radio is overwhelmingly one way.

WALLACE: But the argument would be it's the marketplace, and if liberals want to put on their own talk radio, they can put it on. At this point, they don't seem to be able to find much of a market.

FEINSTEIN: Well, apparently, there have been problems. It is growing. But I do believe in fairness. I remember when there was a fairness doctrine, and I think there was much more serious correct reporting to people.

Of course, the counter-argument is that--what is really going on--is that liberals don't like talk radio because they can't make it work for them. Just ask Jim Hightower or Mario Cuomo or, most recently, Air America: all failed to become the Left's version of Rush Limbaugh. Heck, Air America couldn't even make it in deep-blue Rhode Island!

I don't know why conservatives do better at talk radio. And I don't know why liberals do better at comedy, but they do. Witness Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. It's probably a deeper issue than business models or who controls what. Maybe it's a combination of temperament and style. Whatever it is, liberals will drive themselves crazy if they think they will be able to get total media saturation across the entire spectrum. Isn't 90% good enough?

For Those in Need of Comparison

Justin Katz

Michelle Malkin has republished photos of what actual non-separation of church and state looks like. Others have rightly emphasized the silence that this oppression inspires on the international stage, but given recent discussion around here, I'll make a tangential point:

Some Westerners apparently believe that allowing Christians to buck the secularist system within their own organizations or Christian leaders to explain how their religious beliefs apply to politics would unleash the demon evident in these images. I'd suggest that a look at the landscape as it truly is reveals that the evil actually inches forward with each new manacle placed upon the West's religious citizens. Heed George Will:

When the McCain-Feingold law empowered government to regulate the quantity, content and timing of political campaign speech about government, it was predictable that the right of free speech would increasingly be sacrificed to various social objectives that free speech supposedly impedes. And it was predictable that speech suppression would become an instrument of cultural combat, used to settle ideological scores and advance political agendas by silencing adversaries. ...

Some African-American Christian women working for Oakland's government organized the Good News Employee Association (GNEA), which they announced with a flier describing their group as "a forum for people of Faith to express their views on the contemporary issues of the day. With respect for the Natural Family, Marriage and Family Values.''

The flier was distributed after other employees' groups, including those advocating gay rights, had advertised their political views and activities on the city's e-mail system and bulletin board. When the GNEA asked for equal opportunity to communicate by that system and that board, they were denied. Furthermore, the flier they posted was taken down and destroyed by city officials, who declared it "homophobic'' and disruptive.

The city government said the flier was "determined to promote harassment based on sexual orientation.'' The city warned that the flier and communications like it could result in disciplinary action "up to and including termination.''

A scrawled "Oppressor" on the hood cast over the bound Christian or traditionalist's head must not be allowed to draw attention away from the hand that holds the whip — not the least because that hand may find it snatched away from its delicate grip.

June 24, 2007

Religious Freedom, Except When Denied

Justin Katz

Raising yet another sticky issue on the Sabbath, I note that Connecticut has decided that Roman Catholic hospitals may not behave as if the Roman Catholic faith is actually, you know, true:

Victim advocates cheered a recent bill requiring all Connecticut hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims, but Roman Catholic leaders see it as the beginning of a new national assault on religious freedom.

The bishops in this heavily Catholic but pro-choice state say the legislation, already signed into law by the Republican governor, could force Connecticut's four Catholic hospitals to perform what they consider chemical abortions.

Perhaps some charitable secularists will allow that Catholics might (kinda-sorta) take the women into account — paying some attention to their souls, as well as their health — but there's certainly a tendency to see the boundaries of religious freedom as ending where it might interfere with the reigning materialist worldview.

A Reminder That There Are More Important Things in Life

Justin Katz

The real-Earth geography of Middle Earth revealed. Given the necessary changes to the landscape since the Third Age, I'd say this is yet another argument against the Theory of Evolution.

Tempus Fugit, Tempers Figit

Justin Katz

Look. All I want is to be able to support my family. I don't claim to be perfect. I don't claim to have made a lifetime of sensible (or even reasonable) decisions. But looking around at the wealth squandered in this state, trying to squeeze bare-chested between the barbed stucco dams by which others have redirected all of the native opportunities to their own private ponds, I find that invectives that might otherwise seem outrageous are entirely applicable. Furthermore, damn it, I find it downright offensive when corruptive evil is cloaked under a silken gauze stained red from bleeding hearts.

I've little doubt that I'm working myself to an early grave and not a little fear that I won't manage to work that long. In order that public employees can retire to Florida at an age at which I fully expect to be desperate to figure out how to continue laboring despite a deteriorating body, in order that Charlene Lima can wear this smug smile on her plump face while cradling that atrocity of a state budget across the Senate floor, others must live with the knowledge that all of the bogus promises of a safety net will be an ephemeral currency should that heavy fiberboard shelf do more damage than just a bruise when it slips. So that trust-funded downy-bottoms might convince themselves that they are compassionate, others must watch as their representatives debate how long a dog may be left outside without access to a doghouse, rather than how long taxpayers can afford budget balancing by legerdemain.

Sometimes heated rhetoric can be counterproductive, and sometimes even considered writers can take a step too far — especially in the immediate medium of the Internet. In a place of such low indulgences and high corruption, however, we who object have quite a bit of leash before we've reason to feel ashamed of our biting commentary. In a land where dreams are born to die, those who lay awake listening to their children's fitful sleep as the household teeters in tenuous solvency must dispense with the fantasy that soft words are some kind of a talisman against hard times.

A translation... perhaps.

June 23, 2007

Political Date Rape

Justin Katz

Although some readers will surely see it as over-the-top rhetoric, I can't help but find something analogous to "dating violence" in the General Assembly's treatment of lower governments. To politically capitalize on a horrible murder, the state legislature has — without any argument or evidence that such legislation will do one bit of good — mandated actions by local school districts, even as it has reduced or flatlined its funding of them:

Named after a 23-year-old North Kingstown woman who was brutally murdered in fall, 2005, by her former boyfriend, the “Lindsay Ann Burke Act” will require every school district in Rhode Island to develop a model dating violence policy and a policy to address incidents of dating violence involving students. Each school district will also be expected to provide dating violence training to school staff who have significant contact with students, with such training to include basic principles of dating violence and warning signs of dating violence.

The bill also calls on each school district to incorporate dating violence education that is age-appropriate into the annual health curriculum for students in grades 7 to 12. That education, the bill says, should include defining dating violence, recognizing violence warning signs and characteristics of healthy relationships.

Hopefully our dutiful papa, the governor, will veto this advance. If not, or if the General Assembly overrides him, perhaps the towns will find it in themselves to tell our state's part-time oligarchy that no means no, especially if the would-be tyrants won't even pay for the proverbial dinner.

I changed the phrase "date rape" to "dating violence" within the body of this post in keeping with the conversation in the comments section. Please see that conversation for critical context.

It's as if They're Mocking Us

Justin Katz

You have to laugh so as not to cry:

The General Assembly has given final approval to two bills – (2007 - S0804A) by Senator Issa and (2007 - H6235) by Rep. Raymond C. Church (D-Dist. 48, North Smithfield, Burrillville) – to empanel a 15-member study commission to report back to the legislature early next year on the status of youth financial education in the state. The study group will include, besides three Senators and three members of the House, individuals such as the Commission of Elementary and Secondary Education, the General Treasurer, a member of the Society of Certified Public Accountants, a member of the Rhode Island Bankers Association and a high school and middle school teacher. ...

General Treasurer Frank T. Caprio, a longtime promoter of the RI Jump$tart Coalition and advocate for financial literacy, believes that “too many Rhode Islanders have become compromised due to record-setting indebtedness and all-time low personal savings. Government, educators, businesses, parents all play an important role in reversing today’s alarming personal financial trends through increases financial literacy.”

I move to amend any legislation resulting from this study such that members of the General Assembly will have to show improvements in their own financial literacy, as well.

June 22, 2007

Representative Gordon Fox, Providence’s Answer to Frank Williams

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the Projo’s statehouse bureau, even during a time of multi-year budget deficits, the Rhode Island legislature wants to take the idea of expanding government to ridiculously literal new heights…

Lawmakers want to explore expanding the State House.

Saying the seat of state government needs more, and larger, hearing rooms to increase public access to government, they voted to create a commission to study the issue. The brand-new idea was introduced as a resolution yesterday and voted the same day….

The proposal to expand the State House also came in at the last minute, but the sponsor, House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox, said the idea had been on his mind since he visited Tennessee during a National Conference of State Legislatures meeting, and was impressed by how that state had built modern office space around the edges of its State House without compromising the historic integrity of the building.

During hearings on bills, committee rooms often get so crowded that the Capitol Police must monitor the number of occupants and set up television monitors in hallways so the overflow crowd can watch.

Fox’s resolution creates a 12-member commission, composed entirely of lawmakers, to study expansion options and cost and report back to the General Assembly by May 15, 2008.

If Representative Fox is really concerned about the public’s access to government, how about starting by not cramming most of the legislature’s important business into the last week of the session. If hearings and floor actions were more reasonably spaced over the full six-months that are available, there would be more room on any given day for the public to attend. Then, if things were still too crowded, we could discuss options for physical expansion.

Of course, making things better for the public by improving the utilization of existing resources is not the way our legislature thinks. Their answer to every problem they see -- and a few that they’ve manufactured on their own -- is to take money away from the public and spend it! spend it! spend it!

Title and body corrected from the original version which referred to Representative Fox as a Senator.

Media Bias

Marc Comtois

I don't expect anyone was really surprised to learn that journalists open their wallets and donate to Democrats over Republicans by a 9:1 ratio. Well sweep me off my feet. In a trade where the panacea of "objectivity" is touted...well, these polls just don't help, do they?

But you know what? Bias isn't an inherently bad thing. We are obviously biased around here, but we say so. Besides, journalists file stories sans opinion all the time. But the MSM is so bent on keeping the un-biased charade alive that their preventing their reporters from donating to political parties. That's troubling:

...some major newspapers and TV networks are clamping down. They now prohibit all political activity — aside from voting — no matter whether the journalist covers baseball or proofreads the obituaries. The Times in 2003 banned all donations, with editors scouring the FEC records regularly to watch for in-house donors. In 2005, The Chicago Tribune made its policy absolute. CBS did the same last fall. And The Atlantic Monthly, where a senior editor gave $500 to the Democratic Party in 2004, says it is considering banning all donations. After MSNBC.com contacted Salon.com about donations by a reporter and a former executive editor, this week Salon banned donations for all its staff.
Again, they aren't doing this because they don't approve of the particular political leanings of their reporters. They just don't like getting called on it.
As the policy at the [NY] Times puts it: "Given the ease of Internet access to public records of campaign contributors, any political giving by a Times staff member would carry a great risk of feeding a false impression that the paper is taking sides."
Yeah, it's pretty difficult to determine which side the NY Times favors...Bah! (OK, sorry). That's the shell-game I'm talking about. I agree with Ed Morrissey:
Unfortunately, the reaction of these media outlets tends towards cover-up rather than openness. In that sense, they take a page from modern campaign-finance reform by trying to solve a problem through top-down suppression of political action rather than just opting for full disclosure....Why should journalists have to trade away their rights to political expression in order to work in the media? They are Americans, after all...it strips a fundamental right of political assembly and speech from a segment of American society. Regardless of how one feels about bias in the media, that approach is fundamentally wrong. Journalists should demand an end to those policies, and First Amendment activists should support them.
On the other hand, media organizations are within their rights to dictate the actions of their employees. Though it is ironic, isn't it? Those who champion and benefit from free speech have no problem suppressing it. Then again, I suppose it's a natural evolution from the idea--which the MSM has championed--that, somehow, campaign contributions don't really qualify as free speech.

June 21, 2007

Representative Steven Costantino: Chairman of the Bureaucracy-Is-Beautiful Caucus

Carroll Andrew Morse

Charles Bakst’s column in today’s Projo contains this item about House Finance Chairman Steven Costantino (D-Providence), generally considered to be the main architect of the House’s budget…

Interestingly, Carcieri hoped to spend $19 million more on school aid. But Costantino, looking for savings, wasn’t convinced such an outlay, spread over the various districts, would make much difference in quality.
But wait a second. During the budget debate, House Minority Leader Robert Watson (R-East Greenwich/West Greenwich) proposed amending the education funding article to redirect a $6 million increase in spending on state-level education bureaucracy into aid for local districts. Rep. Costantino and the Democrats rejected the Wastson proposal (13 Democrats did join the 13 House Republicans in voting for the amendment; see pages 117-118 of the June 15 House Journal for the amendment and the roll call tally).

So in Rep. Costantino's mind, $19 million in local education spending -- the spending closest to the classroom -- is an unimportant luxury, but a $6 million increase for centralized, remote bureaucracy is an untouchable necessity. Could Steven Costantino's philosophy that bureaucracy-is-beautiful, shared by many Rhode Island legislators, be a part of the reason why we pay so much for so little in terms of education in RI?

State Didn't Raise Taxes, Cities and Towns Will

Marc Comtois

Despite this year's budget deficit, the State Legislature commendably held the line on tax policy and forsake any marked increases. However, rather than look for deeper cuts in spending, they have decided to push off--or trickle down, if you will--the expense to the cities and towns that had, unfortunately, become accustomed to a regular increase in state aid, year after year. As a result, citizens need to re-focus on city hall as the source for higher taxes. And here they come:

•Video service tax: This proposal would apply a 3.5-percent tax on all charges for cable and satellite subscribers. At least 48 other states already have such a tax, according to Dan Beardsley, executive director of the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.

The tax would amount to an additional $1.75 for a customer with a $50 monthly cable bill. And it would provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to municipalities each quarter after being distributed based on population proportion...

•Real estate conveyance tax: This proposal would raise the tax paid by homebuyers.

Currently, they pay $2 per $500 of the sale price of the home. The amendment would boost that rate to $3.

•Water rates: Two municipal water-related bills could raise water rates for some 150,000 customers in the state.

One allows the five municipal water systems regulated by the Public Utilities Commission to earn a “reasonable rate of return” — essentially a profit — of at least 8 percent of its annual revenues. The other would prohibit municipal water providers from charging rental fees for fire hydrants to cities and towns.

I'm sure that's only the beginning. Of course, all of this is being done to prevent "cuts".
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedesian said that communities would use the money to rescue services now on the chopping block. “Unless we want to say, ‘OK, there will be no more recreation department, or we’re going to close our pools, or we’re not going to have ice rinks,’ you get to that point where something has to give.”
And it's always the stuff the kids use, ain't it? What about personnel? Or how about, in the future, "flat-budgeting" so that "flat-funding" doesn't hurt so much? Unsurprisingly, RIPEC and the Guv aren't so cool with this:
“It doesn’t guarantee property tax relief,” said Gary Sasse, who heads the business-backed Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. “And this doesn’t guarantee a penny will go to schools.”

“There are many ways that municipalities can balance their budget, such as controlling spending and attracting businesses into their community. However, plugging budget holes by using the General Assembly for special bills that increase taxes is not the way to solve the problems,” Governor Carcieri’s deputy chief of staff, John R. Pagliarini, wrote in a letter to Alves yesterday.

Then there is the ever-present temptation to turn to gambling to bail us out:
Meanwhile, the governor’s office acknowledged discussions had taken place in recent weeks about allowing the state’s gambling facilities, Twin River and Newport Grand, to stay open 24 hours. Legislators briefed on the proposal said the move could generate between $25 million and $30 million in new state revenue.
What's more addictive: gambling or the (potential) revenue it generates?

A Word from a Neighbor

Justin Katz

I can't imagine what I would do — or, more to the point, demand — if my little square of land turned out to be contaminated. My family would probably be moving into somebody's basement while we tried to figure out how to either save the property or extricate ourselves from ownership of it. Folks right down the hill from me have been facing just this situation for several years, now, so it's not merely hypothetical, but as the legal bills flow out of the attempt to force a company to pay for the clean up, the efficacy, as well as the principle, of doing so is becoming a serious question:

The battle over a contaminated Tiverton neighborhood and the cost of cleaning it up moved to the Rhode Island State House last night, where it was revealed that the tab for a Washington, D.C., law firm representing the state has risen to $777,000 — and climbing. ...

The Rhode Island Department of Environmental has traced the contamination to the former Fall River Gas Co., which allegedly dumped waste material in the area in the early 1900s. The company later became part of New England Gas, which was in turn purchased by Southern Union, a big utility company based in Houston, Texas. ...

Sutherland Asbill, which billed $355,000 in January and February, as previously reported, billed the state another $322,000 for March and April. Noting that the state has yet to receive the firm’s bills for May and June, Alves noted that the bills have been piling up at the rate of $200,000 a month and have likely already reached the $1 million range — with no clear end in sight.

Each month's bill is, by itself, over three times the $60,000 that the DEM was authorized to spend. Clearly, somebody in the line of command is under the impression that victory is certain, but American governmental types' recent transformation into big-wallet-seeking plaintiffs may be crossing into poorly considered territory.

Scarcely a Rhode Islander, no doubt, is not sympathetic to the plight of the affected families, and calls for some sort of well-defined fund to help them would likely draw impressive response; I'd probably contribute to a rattled cup, and if the state weren't on the verge of financial collapse, some of its resources would more readily be available to help. Attempting to enforce modern environmental standards on a company that bought a company that bought a company that violated those standards one hundred years ago, however, may be a no-victory endeavor.

If the state loses the legal battle, nobody has benefited but the lawyers; if it wins, a dubious precedent would have been set. Perhaps we'd be better off ensuring that all environmental regulations are updated to account for our more advanced scientific understanding and then turning our attention to lightening the burden of our darker past, rather than seeking live people in another part of the country to pay for the mistakes of our deceased neighbors.

June 20, 2007

Senator Montalbano’s Lawyer to Public: My Client’s Conflicts of Interest Are None of Your Business

Carroll Andrew Morse

This one is cute. The lawyer for Senate President Joseph Montalbano is arguing that requiring public officials to file any mandatory conflict of interest disclosure is unconstitutional. From W. Zachary Malinowski in today's Projo

[Max Wistow] has said that Montalbano’s failure to disclose the income was inadvertent, and he has raised several defenses against the other charges, including the assertion that the mandatory filing of disclosures of potential conflict of interest amounts to self-incrimination.
Senator Montalbano is the subject of eight ethics commission complaints.

Campaign finance reform laws have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that the government has a compelling interest in preventing “the appearance of corruption”. It will be interesting see if the political class is able to twist the law to protect a “right” of politicians to hide their conflicts-of-interest at the same time they've used it to limit the free speech rights of regular citizens.

And one other thing: if the best defense Mr. Wistow has is trying to suppress the evidence of Senator Montalbano’s conflict-of-interest problem, doesn’t that mean the evidence must be pretty strong?

Lincoln Versus the Courthouse?

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to Jon Baker in today’s Pawtucket Times, many Lincoln residents are not happy about the new courthouse planned for their town. The Lincoln Town Council has even taken steps to prevent it from being built at the currently proposed site...

"I'd like to see officials who are supporting this to face the public that's against (the courthouse)," [Lincoln Resident Ed O’Neil] said. "I'd like to see them defend their arguments. They're claiming they have the money to make a courthouse, but they're not putting any cash back into the school systems. They're not helping the cities and towns put more aid into education.

"This is a total disgrace to the state's budget," he continued. "They want to spend all that money on a courthouse we don't need and that nobody wants. The people of Lincoln will fight this."

Said former council member Dean Lees before the gathering at town hall: "It just wouldn't be prudent to build it in an educational zone. The town council has drawn a line in the sand, and the General Assembly still approved the funding for the Lincoln site ...Essentially, the council passed an ordinance prohibiting courthouses from being built near a residential and schools area. Then they passed a resolution to the General Assembly not to go forward with the funding, but it did it anyway."

During a break in the meeting, council member James R. Jahnz, a Democrat representing District 4, also made his feelings known.

"During our last council meeting (May 17), we added an amendment to the zoning ordinance not allowing courthouses in that particular area ... I really think that, especially with a state budget as tight as it is, schools are going to be given limited funding. That's something the town must be aware of. The scales of justice are being weighed upon the backs of Lincoln's residents."

However, given the current Rhode Island legislature's view that the job of local officials is to carry out legislative mandates and court orders rather than govern in the best local interests of citizens, it’s not clear that local objections will have any impact.

June 19, 2007

Re: GOP Poll Talk: Thompson in the Lead...or not

Carroll Andrew Morse

Here's a quick addendum that Republican political junkies might find interesting to Marc's post showing Rudy Giuiliani and Fred Thompson in a statistical dead heat : a major X-factor in the campaign dynamic is that Mitt Romney still has the lead in New Hampshire and Iowa polls. Most recently, a New Hampshire poll conducted after last week’s Republican debate had Romney 28%, Giuliani 20%, McCain 20%, and Thompson 11%.

However, with the compressed primary schedule this year, there is some question as to whether early primary/caucus wins will provide the same amount of bounce they have in previous years.

GOP Poll Talk: Thompson in the Lead...or not

Marc Comtois

The trend is clear. Fred Thompson has all of the momentum in the GOP race.

There’s change at the top in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson earning support from 28% of Likely Republican Primary Voters. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani attracts support from 27%. While Thompson’s one-point edge is statistically insignificant, it is the first time all year that anybody but Giuliani has been on top in Rasmussen Reports polling. A week ago, Thompson and Giuliani were tied at 24%.

It remains an open question as to how Thompson will hold up once he actually enters the campaign and has to compete directly with other candidates. To date, he retains the allure of the new kid in town while GOP voters already know the things they don’t like about the others. Still, Thompson’s rise to the top provides a telling measure of how the other GOP hopefuls have failed to capture the imagination of the party they hope to lead.

It looks like Thompson was helped by Rasmussen not polling on Newt Gingrich (who had garnered 7% last time).

Or maybe the trend isn't clear:

On the Republican side, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has managed to hang on to his first-place position through most of 2007, but has a somewhat weaker level of support today than earlier this year. His current 28% of the vote is at the bottom of the support range seen for him since January....A stiff battle for second place in the Republican race is now underway between veteran candidate Sen. John McCain and newcomer Fred Thompson, the former senator who only recently formed an exploratory committee to start raising funds and who has yet to formally announce his candidacy. Support for Thompson has nearly doubled since Gallup's last poll, from 11% in early June to 19% today. McCain is now at 18%.

On the Republican side, Gallup asked Republicans and independents who lean Republican to name their preference if the choice for the Republican presidential nomination narrows down to Giuliani and Fred Thompson -- the first Giuliani-Thompson face-off Gallup has measured. A slight majority of Republicans (53%) pick Giuliani while 41% choose Thompson. This 12-point lead for Giuliani is slightly greater than the nine-point lead he has among the full field.

June 18, 2007

Stacking the Bidding Deck Against a Revolution

Justin Katz

As much as I encourage our readers to come up with brilliant political reactions to instances of our state government's corrupt insanity, I'm not prepared to be sanguine about the midnight amendment's (PDF) effects. According to a plain reading of the text, here's how the in-house group that may potentially be privatized (read, the union shop) must be handled to construct the baseline bid:

  1. Document the current costs.
  2. Subtract overhead and other costs that would remain after privatization.
  3. Prepare a statement of work and quality expectations.
  4. Prepare a "best practice" cost estimate taking into account any belief of current "employers and their supervisors" that they "could perform the work more efficiently" and including "any innovations" that could be incorporated.

Now here's the list for potential private contractors:

  1. Compare private companies with the "best practice" estimate, which is based on an optimistic view of future work, not actual experience and historical data.
  2. Specifically search for "areas where bidder's costs appear artificially low."
  3. Add the costs of "contracting, including monitoring vendors for accountability."
  4. Add any "new program costs."
  5. Add the cost of health insurance for all employees (covering families), with a minimum penalty of 10% to salary costs if this information is not included.

Under normal circumstances, the opposition might be content to complain that the union workers can offer up their optimistic estimate of future efficiency, while private companies must be scrutinized for numbers that have the potential for proving "artificially low." In Rhode Island, however, we are fortunate enough to have even more egregious things to complain about. Compare, for example, item 2 from the first list with items C and D from the second list. If our state government currently has infrastructure to "monitor" the progress of projects, and if these costs will continue with a private vendor, it would seem that the cost would be subtracted from the union bid, but added to the private company bid.

On a political stage — and let's not ignore that the legislature has (contrary to separation of powers) reserved for itself a right to administrative veto — this comparison might prove so broad as to include any instances in which the administration slightly retools its processes, with the expense being subtracted from the union bid (on the grounds that the cost will continue) but added to the private bid (on the grounds that it's a new cost). In this vein, consider the following verbatim provision of the new amendment/bill:

To be considered competitive (eligible for a possible contract), vendor bids must come in at least ten percent (10%) below the in-house cost estimate. This "conversion differential" adjusts for transition costs and the costs associated with starting up or closing down during conversion to purchase of service or in event of the need to bring services back in-house.

Remembering (again) that the legislature is reserving "the right to review any final program decision," one wonders why this "conversion" is necessary if all new costs must be enumerated and added to the private company's bid. The answer is that the union's representatives in the legislature wish to stack the deck.

They've done the same with health insurance: If one of the ways that a private company would save us — Rhode Island taxpayers — money is by utilizing its employees only partially for our services when they aren't needed full time, the entire cost of their mandated family health insurance would be added to the bid. For hypothetical instance, some rubber stamper in the company's legal division, who spends a total of two hours per week scanning relevant documents, costs the private company 1/20th of his salary to provide our public service, but his entire health insurance costs must be included in the bid. If the legislature wants to ensure that all employees are insured, that's one thing, but why on Earth must a bidder include costs that may not actually translate into the bill they send the state in their bid? As a consumer of their services, I just want to know how much it is going to cost me.

And as a final kicker — as if citizens teeth haven't been sufficiently bashed in by this bit of oligarchical gerrymandering — Ms. Union Whore Lima has thrown in the following:

Before any final awards are granted, affected parties must have an opportunity to appeal the final decision. Affected parties include recipients, and their families of the affected public program, state employees and their representative organizations and bidders. Appeals shall not apply to questions concerning awards to one contractor in preference to another or the decision to keep the service in-house.

Take a moment to choke on that last sentence. Although I'm reluctant to rely on Ms. Lima's grasp of the English language, a plain reading of this paragraph allows all state employees to appeal any privatization plan, but nobody in the state has a right to appeal the decision to maintain in-house (read, union) services.

This, dear reader, is the sort of legerdemain that rises to the level of justifying revolution. It is the sort of thing that ought to inspire we who've our eyes open to walk from door to door explaining it to our neighbors — in the hopes that they are not all too corrupt, apathetic, or stupid to exact a political price for supporting the legislation.

Reader Mike points out that the language of the bill was changed somewhat for inclusion in the budget (PDF). It is important to note that some of the language is different in significant ways:

  • The 10% price advantage given to the unions has been changed such that the savings from privatization must be "substantial."
  • Whereas the in-house "bid" was initially required to "eliminate" overhead and other costs that would remain, it now must "include" them.
  • Appeals are still limited to "program recipients, state employees and their representatives," but the decision to keep a program in-house is no longer barred from appeal.
  • The language laying out the General Assembly's review rights has been softened to decrease the implication that it has a veto.

Although my cynicism about the Rhode Island government is such that I wouldn't be surprised to see these provisions work their way back into the text before all is said and done, I must admit that the language, as it currently stands, is significantly different. I would, however, note that:

  • Judges will likely look to legislative history when trying to figure out what a "substantial" savings might be.
  • The General Assembly still gets a review, which would seem mere symbolism if there isn't an implied right to step in.
  • One would assume it unlikely that state employees would appeal the decision that they may keep their jobs, and program recipients can be targeted by ads (of a sort that is already familiar) and campaigns warning them of catastrophic loss should the programs be privatized.
  • The initial bill gives a clearer view of what it is that our (quote, unquote) representatives would like the law to accomplish.

This is Progressivism: When Government Makes Bad Decisions, Make Government More Powerful!

Carroll Andrew Morse

Matt Jerzyk of RI Future offers these long-term recommendations in response the Rhode Island House’s decision to REDUCE -- not level-fund -- statewide education aid…

  • Consolidate and merge school districts to some smaller level (perhaps five districts).
  • Eliminate the funding of schools by property taxes and fund them solely through the state.

Two immediate thoughts in response…

  1. These suggestions are a perfect example of how contemporary liberalism/progressivism views just about everything in terms of government not being powerful and centralized enough. Progressives accept this dogma so uncritically, even after local governments have been forced into a tough position by the bad decisions of a bigger and more remote branch government, the progressives still want to make the remote branch of government more powerful -- and make the local branches of government more remote!
  2. Specifically with regards to the second point, if we did end up funding schools 100% through the state, what arguments would there be against a full-on public choice program, where money is not allocated according to either a funding formula or legislative whims, but according to the choices that parents make about what schools they want to send their kids to?

    San Francisco, population 750,000, runs a successful public school choice program. If Rhode Island was reorganzied into one or even five mega school districts, why couldn't we put something similar together for the population of about 1,000,000 here?

The Always Exciting Topic of Capital Gains Taxes

Carroll Andrew Morse

Projo business columnist Neil Downing points out that Rhode Island’s capital gains tax debate tends to get over-simplified to the point of inaccuracy. The oft-discussed phaseout (that the House has voted to delay this year) applies only to long-term capital gains, i.e. profits made from selling assets held for five or more years. Tax rates on the sales of assets held for periods shorter than 5 years are not changing at all. Downing summarizes the rules…

Short-Term: If you’ve held the asset for 12 months or less, the gain is generally treated as ordinary income, such as salary or wages. So it generally gets taxed at the usual Rhode Island income-tax rates, as high as 9.9 percent....

Medium-Term: If you’ve held the asset for more than 12 months, but less than five years, you generally pay a maximum Rhode Island tax of 5 percent if you’re an upper-income taxpayer, 2.5 percent if you’re a lower-income taxpayer....

Long-Term: If you’ve held the asset for more than five years, you currently pay tax at a maximum rate of 1.67 percent if you’re an upper-income taxpayer, 0.83 percent if you’re a lower-income taxpayer.

Under current law, these long-term rates will drop to zero starting in January, said Peter L. Chatellier, president-elect of the Rhode Island Society of Certified Public Accountants.

But the other capital-gains tax rates won’t change, said Chatellier, partner in Braver P.C., a regional accounting firm with an office in Providence.

A 2001 report from the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council offered this rationale for eliminating the long-term capital gains tax...
Capital gains tax relief is the single most important tax reform initiative before the General Assembly during this session – critical to the development of clusters of new economy industries, many of which rely on stock options to create competitive compensation packages. Phase-out of the tax would help the state begin to build a critical mass of the entrepreneurs and investors who serve as magnets for new economy business development, and increase our competitiveness within the Boston Metro – while benefiting a wide spectrum of Rhode Islanders across industries and income levels as the demographics of investment continue to expand.
...and, according to the 2006 Business Incentives Report from the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, Rhode Island already offers a complete capital gains exemption for stock options in specific industries...
Rhode Island grants complete personal income tax exemption for capital gains or ordinary income that result from the sale, transfer, or exercise of qualified or non-qualified stock or options for employees in software industries (defined by SIC codes 7371, 7372, 7373).
If it works for one industry, why shouldn't it work for others? Why not extend the captial gains exclusion to all industries (by eliminating the tax on long-term captial gains) and make RI a more attractive place for any small company that wants to locate here and stay awhile?

New Jersey Supreme Court Rejects the Public Nuisance Rationale in Lead-Paint Suits

Carroll Andrew Morse

In a decision that likely will have ripples reaching Rhode Island, the State Supreme Court of New Jersey has ruled that lead paint manufacturers cannot be held liable for lead-paint clean-up costs under “public nuisance” laws. If NJ municipalities want to take lead-paint manufacturers to court, they must do so under the rules of product liability law, which involve a substantially higher burden of proof. The Philadelphia Inquirer has the details…

The court said municipal and county officials can't sue paint manufacturers, which included DuPont Co. of Wilmington and Sherwin-Williams Co. of Cleveland, for creating a public nuisance with their lead-based coverings. Another defendant was American Cyanamid Co., which now is owned by Wyeth, the Madison, N.J., pharmaceutical company.

"Were we to find a cause of action here, nuisance law would become a monster," the state justices said in a 71-page opinion....

The court determined that the towns and counties failed to identify a special injury that could be compensated. It said the claim was essentially a product-liability issue, and falls under the state Product Liability Act, which excludes coverage for exposure to toxic material.

The New Jersey suit was among a number of cases filed by U.S. cities and states over lead-paint damages that have been thrown out. The Missouri Supreme Court ruled this week that St. Louis officials couldn't use the so-called nuisance theory to sue manufacturers over the costs of dealing with the paint.

But a Rhode Island jury ruled last year that Sherwin-Williams, NL Industries Inc. and Millennium Holdings L.L.C. were responsible for cleaning up problems created by their products. It was the industry's first such loss.

Richard Faulk, who has researched and written extensively on the subject of lead paint and lead paint law, offers this brief synopsis of the ruling…
The crux of the holding is the Court’s conclusion that the conduct of the defendants, who manufactured and sold a product which was legal at the time of its distribution, is not the type of conduct that “creates” a public nuisance. Instead, the nuisance is only “created” when the premises become dangerous through “deterioration and poor maintenance by the purchasers.”
Now, legal laypeople (like me) may be wondering how much impact a New Jersey ruling ultimately has on the affairs of Rhode Island. After all, the United States is a Federal system, where the different states are allowed to set their own legal rules. However, two explanations have already been advanced as to why the NJ ruling may impact the resolution of the RI lead paint case. One explanation comes via Jane Genova's Law and More blog, from a source identified only as a "brandname plantiff attorney"...
NJ courts have national standing on issues of strict liability doctrine. Prominent jurists such as William Brennen have sat on that court. In addition, the fundamental issue in this ruling is public nuisance. In MO, it was proof of causation or product ID. Since the plaintiff law firm Motley Rice has been involved in the NJ case, this can be construed as a significant blow to the firm's influence going forward. Also, the decision represents the end of the road for this issue in NJ. There is no where further to go.
As New Jersey goes so goes the nation (at least when it comes to product liability jurisprudence)? That’s not exactly confidence-inspiring proof of the rationality of our legal system.

A second, broader explanation comes from Mr. Faulk, who argues that the New Jersey court’s ruling is rooted in legal principles so fundamental, they date back to the Magna Carta and the structure of common law itself…

In New Jersey, as in Rhode Island and many other states, the legislature and regulatory authorities have allocated the primary responsibility for detecting and preventing lead risks to property owners. In Rhode Island, the trial court flatly ignored the impact of these mandates from other branches of government, holding that they were irrelevant to the “common law” remedy sought by the State. In New Jersey, however, the Supreme Court paid careful attention to the legislative mandates and properly recognized that their requirements were essential considerations in evaluating the scope and meaning of the remedy being pursued… Although the “common law” may have its sources solely within the judiciary, the people have increasingly imposed policies that regulate its discretion. These began as early as the Magna Carta and have proceeded through the industrial revolution to mature into today’s complex legislative and regulatory environment. The impact of these mandates cannot be ignored, as they were in Rhode Island, merely because a court is faced with a “common law” cause of action.
Law and More has more analysis here and here.

Monday Poll Filler: Clinton Not Looking Good

Marc Comtois

A little slow around here this morning. Here's a conversation starter:

It is a paradox of the 2008 presidential race. By a wide margin, several polls show, voters want a Democrat to win — yet when offered head-to-head contests of leading announced candidates, many switch allegiance to the Republican.

In a Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll conducted earlier this month, this dynamic was most clearly evident with Senator Clinton.

When registered voters were asked which party they would like to win the White House, they preferred a Democrat over a Republican by 8%. But in a race pitting Mrs. Clinton against Mayor Giuliani, a Republican, the former New York mayor was favored by 10%.

Mrs. Clinton's showing against Mr. Giuliani was the starkest example of how the general Democratic edge sometimes narrows or vanishes when voters are given specific candidates to choose between.

The poll also showed Mrs. Clinton trailing when matched against two other Republicans — Senator McCain of Arizona and a former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney.

It's really not a mystery, though, is it? The Democrats' generic message--which relies heavily on egalitarian sounding idealism--is appealing to a majority of the electorate. But, when Hillary Clinton is offered up as a candidate, the average voter is confronted with a candidate who became a multi-millionaire as the wife of a baggage-laden, career politician. Not exactly a model of feel-good, "everyman" equality.

June 16, 2007

RE: House Budget Vote...Upon Further Review

Marc Comtois

In my previous post, I focused on the possible/probable drawbacks of Rep. Lima's midnight budget amendment that implemented an extensive review and appeal process before any privatization of State government services. Commenters to the post have looked at it from a different angle and may have been able to chicken soup out of chicken...

Commenter "brassband" was the first to see some positives for the Governor:

Here's my advice to Rep. Lima -- Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.

Rep. Lima and the House Leadership have given the Governor a tremendous opening here.

If I were in the Carcieri Adminstration, I would advise the Governor to embrace this proposal and issue the following statement:

"The House has provided us with an excellent first step toward a framework for large-scale privatization of state services. I am today instructing the Department of Administration to commence the sixty-day study period for ALL STATE SERVICES, so that we may begin to do what the Rep. Lima's bill suggests, and compare the cost of providing these services in-house with bloated union contracts, or go out to private industry which might produce considerable savings.

I thank Rep. Lima and the House Leadership for providing this road map toward efficient privatization."

This was seconded by "Will":
"She probably doesn't even realize some of what the language of the amendment actually allows the governor to do."
And "Greg":
Am I reading it wrong or does this bill give the Governor an excuse to get into the underwear drawer of every tiny department in the state and study their efficiency under the guise of 'studying the merits of privatization'? I mean, if the Gov is going to see if it's feasible for a private firm to do a job, he'll have to know exactly how well the PUBLIC employees are doing it, right?
Kudos, fellas. You may just be right. Whether the tradeoff is worth it or not, I suppose we'll find out.

House Budget Vote: While You Were Sleeping....

Marc Comtois

The ProJo covers most of the angles regarding last night's budget debate, but I couldn't find anything about the "amendment" (Article 42-RELATING TO PRIVATIZATION OF STATE SERVICES) that Rep. Charlene Lima proposed at midnight. In actuality, it was a full-fledged bill that Rep. Lima explained she had been trying to bring to the floor for 10-15 years. Last night, the House Democrat Leadership allowed her to attach it to the budget at the 11th hour. According to Lima, speaking on the House floor, this was a better method because this way her bill couldn't be vetoed on its own. The text of the original bill: H5315 states:

Prior to the closure, consolidation or privatization of any state facility, function or property, the director of administration or his or her designee, shall conduct a thorough cost comparison analysis and evaluate quality performance concerns before deciding to purchase services from private vendors rather than provide services directly.
(b) The director of administration shall, at least sixty (60) days prior to issuing requests for bids or proposals, complete the...process
Then it lays out the process to be followed. Given the recent stories about the State's recent troubles with privatization or private contracts, this sounds like a fair enough idea, but Rep. Bruce Long (R) rose up to oppose bringing the measure up in this fashion: at midnight with no opportunity for review.

Also, Rep. Robert Trillo (R) proposed (tongue firmly planted in cheek) an amendment applying the new law to both State and local municipal jobs, arguing that if it's so important and such a good idea that it needs to be passed right now--at midnight with no opportunity for closer scrutiny--then the House should pass along the same "benefits" to everybody. Trillo's move cause some debate regarding parliamentary machinations. Fun for all...

All of the debate gave Rep. Nick Gorham (R) the time to delve into the bill, where he found something he thought worthy of pointing out on the floor:

Before any final awards are granted, affected parties must have an opportunity to appeal the final decision. Affected parties include recipients, and their families of the affected public program, state employees and their representative organizations and bidders. Appeals shall not apply to questions concerning awards to one contractor in preference to another or the decision to keep the service in-house....Violation of any of the above contracting procedures shall be considered a grounds for appeal. Decisions on appeals shall be made by an independent arbitration process. (d) Parties shall have a minimum of three (3) weeks after the initial cost comparisons are available to initiate an appeal. No contracts shall be awarded or services converted to vendors if an appeal is pending. All detailed documentation supporting the cost and quality comparisons shall be made available to directly affected parties upon request, when the initial decision is announced. If the documentation is not available at that time, the initial appeal shall be extended by the number of days to equal the delay. (e) The appeals procedure must be independent and objective and provide for a decision within thirty (30) calendar days of receipt of the appeal.
As Rep. Gorham summarized, apparently the law would allow any state worker whose job was about to privatized the ability to appeal the decision in state courts. In short, this would further tie the Governor's hands if he tried to privatize state jobs, as he has proposed doing in the current fiscal crisis.

Rep. Long continued to return to the fact that the proposal may have merits, but he just thought that passing it at midnight with little scrutiny was a bad idea. Then House Speaker Gordon Fox got up and played the "emotion card," explaining that this was about the state workers and their families who are scared and that the House needs to do something "right now, tonight" to alleviate those fears. He also said that he had spoken to the Governor and that they could go back and fix some things after the fact. (Cough cough).

As expected, after about 45 minutes of debate, the amendment passed.

Another Rhode Block to government reform had been put in place.

June 15, 2007

Taking A Moment to Appreciate A Man Finding His Greatness

Marc Comtois

OK, Jonah Goldberg at The Corner linked to this performance by a "bloke" named Paul Potts on the UK's "Britain's Got Talent" reality TV show. Usually I don't get into that stuff (which is why I'm probably a little late to this story), but I followed the link. Before reading on, I'd recommend you do the same. Here it is again.

For some reason, even though Goldberg had kind of prepped me for something cool or big, I was still blindsided by the performance and, well, touched. I couldn't really explain why. My immediate thought was that it was probably because, like most people, I'm a sucker for the underdog story. And Potts was certainly an underdog going in.

Watching the video, you can see the doubt on the judges faces when he says he's going to sing opera. The lead in to his performance shows him to be very insecure. We've seen this setup before, right? The music starts and the audience awaits for what seems the inevitable crash and burn.

And then he starts to sing.

Tingles up the spine and a lump in the throat.

Even after seeing the judges and crowds reaction and hearing Simon Cowell saying that Paul Potts was exactly the type of talent he had hoped he'd find when he'd conceived of the show, I still couldn't quite grasp why Potts' performance struck me so.

Then I read this email that Goldberg received today, by somebody was able to put it into words much better than I.

Jonah – I came into work this morning, ran through my email, signed payroll, ran out to rake a couple of employees over the coals, went back to the office, pulled up NRO, and clicked on the Corner. That’s when I ran across your post about Paul Potts. The video came up and there’s this dumpy guy with bad teeth. Then he started to sing. Now, I’m not an overly emotional person, but halfway through I realized I was crying. Haven’t done anything like that in many, many years, and I wondered, as I dried my eyes, how in the world his singing could have caused such a strong reaction in me. The video has been on a loop in my head ever since, and I think I’m ready to make a guess.

His expression before he begins to sing is that of a man resigned to disappointment. Even when he smiles, his eyes convey a profound sadness. He has been a nobody all his life. He, and perhaps only he, knows he has greatness inside of him, but he is obviously a humble man, massively insecure, afraid of rejection, unsure of himself outside the cocoon of anonymity. But you get the feeling he also knows that this may be the one chance he gets to escape the cocoon, and as he begins to sing, you can see him fighting down his fear. I think that is the wellspring of the emotion that pervades his performance. He is fighting against a life of obscurity. By the song’s end, what was an average Joe has stepped up, beaten back his fear, and broken through. In those few seconds, he put the void behind him, and his life will probably be changed forever because he called up the courage at that moment to show what he was really made of. We saw greatness, long denied, finally being born.

It was one of the most heroic things I’ve seen in a long time. My deepest thanks to you for posting it. Truly inspirational. –

I agree.

And now you all know that I'm a freaking ol' softy.

Oh, incidentally, Potts has made the finals--here's the performance. Of course, he's already won, but I think he'll actually win this thing, too.

Budget Deficit? Pushaw! We need a new Courthouse!

Marc Comtois

After all the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the budget....and the tone deaf Legislature still approved the freakin' courthouse in Lincoln (as reported by Dan Yorke). I guess I understand, I mean, what kind of dent could a measly $71 million put in a $300 million deficit, right? Um.....

Republican Budget Amendment Preview

Carroll Andrew Morse

Jim Baron of the Pawtucket Times has a preview of the some of the amendments that House Republicans will offer during today’s floor session on the state budget…

The House Republican Caucus - tiny but feisty, and even pugnacious when they think the need arises - wants to amend the state budget to increase school aid, slice social service programs, scuttle plans for a northern Rhode Island Courthouse, and restore tax reductions for business....

The Republicans' top priority, Minority Leader Robert Watson said, is to "restore education funding, at the very least to the governor's level, without tax increases." Several of their prepared amendments - not all of which will even get introduced during tonight's debate - aim to do just that.

"I think even the governor agrees that a 3 percent increase is insufficient, but 0 is worse," Watson said, referring to the $19 million Carcieri recommended in his budget to give an across-the-board increase in state aid to all school districts....

A proposed amendment authored by Warwick Rep. Joseph Trillo would allow school districts to abolish some contracts and force the unions to renegotiate them.

Another amendment would cut 3 percent from the bottom line of the Executive Office of the Department of Health and Human Services, allowing the department to decide how the cut should be distributed.

Go Ahead. Make My Father's Day.

Justin Katz

What better preparation for the arbitrary holiday celebrating fathers could there be than to goad readers into explaining why fathers don't matter? Or, more specifically, why children don't need mothers and fathers. The Wall Street Journal offers the opportunity:

A growing body of research offers new insight. Fathers can have a distinct impact on children beyond that of mothers, and in many cases without regard to the fact that they often spend less time with their kids, researchers say. Specifically, dads' early play and the way they talk to their toddlers are emerging as special "father functions" that have a particular and lasting effect. ...

... men have a tendency to behave differently with children. ... Fathers tend to engage kids in more rough-and-tumble play, for example. Researchers say this can have a powerful positive impact on children, fostering curiosity and teaching them to regulate emotion and enjoy surprises. ...

A 2004 study by Catherine Tamis-LeMonda at New York University and others found a link between fathers' warm, stimulating play with their 2-year-olds and better language and cognitive skills in the children a year later, independent of mothers' behavior. The effect endures into adolescence. Dads who play with toddlers in stimulating and encouraging ways tend to have children with healthier relationships at age 16, surpassing mothers' effect, says a 2002 study in the journal Social Development.

... Dads also tend to handle misbehavior differently, stressing real-world consequences. Where moms might say, "If you misbehave you're in trouble with me," dads more typically say, "Knock it off...nobody will like you, you'll never get a job" if you behave that way, Dr. Pruett says. Such fathering may reduce teen delinquency. In a 2006 study led by Jacinta Bronte-Tinkew of Child Trends in Washington, D.C., close, supportive fathering was linked to less teen risk-taking and delinquency.

There's more detail in the article, as well as in the accompanying video, in which the article's author offers the following salient advice to fathers:

Take good care of your marriage. Study after study shows that strong marriages yield less depressed mothers, more positive parenting, and in the long run children who do better.

Those who don't believe that children deserve to be raised by their own mothers and fathers typically have a variety of responses. Some simply decline to believe that the extent to which one can generalize about such things is sufficient to stand as evidence in constructing public policy. Some focus on other family types and assume some damage to them if society upholds a different ideal. Some declare that preferences against discrimination override all other considerations.

But history proves — even families within the scope of every single American's acquaintance prove — that the ideal of a mother and a father living their entire lives in faithful bonds of matrimony and shared parenthood is feasible. Studies show that it is desirable. Plain ol' rational thought brings understanding, if one takes a few steps away from the cult of homogenizing equivocation, that having a model of the ideal is healthy even for families of different forms. Why must we pretend that there is no ideal? Can it be healthy for a society to behave as if privileging one type of relationship is demeaning to all others? How can it be invidious discrimination to insist that there be room to differentiate between relationships that are undeniably different?

Maybe my fatheresque qualities jar in our feminized society, but it seems to me that a healthier society would offer a firm, but warm, suggestion that those who are insecure in the face of a foreign ideal ought to suck it up and find affirmation in doing the best they can in their own circumstances. There's more than a metaphor in the observation that our society's cultural risk-taking and delinquency, suggestive of disconnection from a father, will have consequences that only growing up can ease.

RE: Immigration Bill Coming Back After the Fourth of July

Marc Comtois

As Andrew posted, the Immigration Bill will be coming back. Charles Krauthammer can't understand why the damn thing has to be so complicated (via NLT):

The reason comprehensive immigration reform remains in jeopardy, despite yesterday's partial resuscitation, is that it is a complex compromise with too many moving parts and too many competing interests....There is only one provision that has unanimous support: stronger border enforcement. I've seen senators stand up and object to the point system, to chain migration, to guest workers, to every and any idea in this bill -- except one. I have yet to hear a senator stand up and say she is against better border enforcement.

Why not start by passing what all sides say they want?

Yeah. There are some Senators who aren't buying the "new tone" coming from the White House, which is promising $4.4 billion "in immediate additional funding for securing our borders and enforcing our laws at the work site."
Sen. Jim DeMint (R.-S.C.) is unconvinced the $4.4 billion expenditure would rally public support for the bill...., “If all they do is start spending money, that’s not going to convince anybody. We all know that the federal government spends lots of money and doesn’t get much done....What they are doing is that they are holding the things that need to be done hostage for amnesty. There is no reason we need to grant permanent legal status to illegal aliens before we have a secure border, before we have a worker ID and before we have a legal program that works.”

Republican candidate for President Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif) noted, “The Department of Homeland Security has almost a billion dollars on hand now for the border fence and road and lights and sensors.”

On October 26, 2006, President Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, authored by Hunter, to authorize the construction of a 2,100 mile fence along the U.S. border with Mexico.

“So, they’ve had the last seven months to build the border fence,” Hunter said in a phone interview. “The border fence, as I wrote it, is a double fence with a border patrol road in between and they’ve only built one layer eleven miles long to date.” {emphasis added}

Krauthammer has probably hit on why there is such a reluctance to build the fence; and it's wrongheaded:
Why am I so suspicious about the fealty of the reformers to real border control? In part because of the ridiculous debate over the building of a fence....Instead, we are promised all kinds of fancy, high-tech substitutes -- sensors, cameras, unmanned aerial vehicles -- and lots more armed chaps on the ground to go chasing those who get through.

Why? A barrier is a very simple thing to do. The technology is well tested. The Chinese had success with it, as did Hadrian. In our time, the barrier Israel has built has been so effective in keeping out intruders that suicide attacks are down more than 90 percent.

Fences work....[but] [t]he final argument against fences is, of course, the symbolism. We don't want a fence that announces to the world that America is closed. But this is entirely irrational. The fact is that under our law, America is indeed closed -- to all but those who, after elaborate procedures, are deemed worthy of joining the American family. Those objecting to the fence should be objecting to the law that closes America off, not to the means for effectively carrying out that law.

They haven't even progressed on the single easiest measure for border enforcement that is current law. Why should we believe them now?

Immigration Bill Coming Back After the Fourth of July

Carroll Andrew Morse

From today’s New York Times

Senate Democratic and Republican leaders announced on Thursday that they had agreed on a way to revive a comprehensive immigration bill that was pulled off the Senate floor seven days ago.

The majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, and the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said they expected the bill to return to the floor before the Fourth of July recess.

In a joint statement, Mr. Reid and Mr. McConnell said: “We met this evening with several of the senators involved in the immigration bill negotiations. Based on that discussion, the immigration bill will return to the Senate floor after completion of the energy bill.”

The immigration bill, ardently sought by President Bush, would make the biggest changes in immigration law and policy in more than 20 years.

I wish that the national Republican establishment had been this tenacious in pushing the President’s Social Security reform and/or healthcare reform proposals, but repairing the dangerously unsustainable regulatory and tax systems used by the general public doesn’t seem to instill the same sense of urgency in the national Republican party as does taking care of the needs of the cheap-labor business lobby.

June 14, 2007

SignGate: Ciccione v. Yorke & More

Marc Comtois

RI GOP Chair Gio Cicione went on the Dan Yorke Show to defend himself and the RI GOP regarding the now infamous "1,000 Worker layoff" sign. Yorke's position is that the sign provided the unions with an excuse--or added weight to their rhetoric--that the Governor was unfeeling and "gleeful" over impending State Worker layoffs. Yorke's larger argument is that the state GOP isn't coordinating well with the Governor and that Cicione should be focusing solely on party-building and nothing else.

Cicione said he isn't always going to coordinate with the Governor. He also stated that the unions would be beating up on the Governor, anyway--sign or no sign. As for the party-building angle, Cicione said that he's doing that, too, and that these sorts of political battles help to "brand" the RI GOP.

Yorke then entered sarcasm mode and stated that Cicione was obviously smarter than he and the Governor and anyone else who found SignGate to be a bad move.

In the end, Yorke correctly noted that there is a difference between governing and politics and that Cicione was engaged in politics at the expense of the Governor's attempt to govern.

And so it goes...

All of this amid calls for Cicione's resignation and for a "recall" of the Governor.

UPDATE: Incidentally, Cicione stated that we've been seeing a decrease in the number of state workers for a few years now, to which Yorke responded that we've never seen 1,000 cut. Here's some numbers:

Year / State Work Force / Difference
2001 - 18,502
2002 - 18,239 ( - 263 )
2003 - 17,921 ( - 318 )
2004 - 17,623 ( - 298 )
2005 - 16,890 ( - 733 )
Total Reduction of 1612 State Jobs

SOURCE: Dep't of Labor and Training - "Quarterly Census of Employment & Wages Data Tables"

Presumably, there were more in 2006, but these are the latest stats I could find. Don't forget, this occurred via natural attrition such as retirement and relocation, etc. The Governor isn't talking only about layoffs. (Which makes the GOP sign inaccurate, btw).

OK, here's more fun with numbers. As the State Work force as declined, their wages have increased.

Year / Total Wages / Difference
2001 - $779,920,202
2002 - $830,627,091 ( + $50,706,889 )
2003 - $831,316,689 ( + $689,598 )
2004 - $853,435,289 ( + $22,118,600 )
2005 - $846,633,861 ( - $6,801,428 )
Total Increase of $66,713,659 in wages paid....to 1612 fewer State Workers.

That is why reducing the State workforce--both union AND non-union--is one feasible solution. Another is to reduce the amount of money/benefits (total compensation) paid. Remember, private corporations are faced with this dilemma all the time.

Rasmussen: Majority Favor "Enforcement Only" Immigration Plan

Marc Comtois


Sixty-nine percent (69%) of voters would favor an approach that focuses “exclusively on securing the border and reducing illegal immigration.” Support for the enforcement only approach comes from 84% of Republicans, 55% of Democrats, and 69% of those not affiliated with either major party.

Overall, just 21% are opposed to the enforcement-only approach.

Victor Davis Hanson explains the public mood:
Millions of fair-minded white, African-, Mexican- and Asian-Americans fear that we are not assimilating millions of aliens from south of the border as fast as they are crossing illegally from Mexico.
I think many Americans would even be willing to give those illegal immigrants currently in the U.S. a pass--yes, amnesty--if they could trust that the government would really make the border more secure. But they don't trust the political class. Thus, the majority of Americans are having a Jerry Maguire, "show us the money" moment. The politicians have to prove they are serious about controlling illegal immigration. The message is this: earn our trust by fixing the border, then we can talk about reforming the current system.

Mass. Legislature Rejects Vote on Gay Marriage Amendment

Marc Comtois


Massachusetts lawmakers voted Thursday to block a proposed constitutional amendment that would have let voters decide whether to ban gay marriage in the state.

The narrow vote was a victory for gay marriage advocates and a devastating blow to efforts to reverse a historic 2003 court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

MORE: Via the Boston Globe:
A proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was defeated today by a joint session of the Legislature by a vote of 45 to 151, eliminating any chance of getting it on the ballot in November 2008. At least 50 votes were needed to advance the measure.

The vote came after House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, Senate President Therese Murray, and Governor Deval Patrick conferred this morning and concluded that they have the votes to kill the proposal.

The three leaders - along with gay rights activists - spent the last several days intensely lobbying a dozen or more state representatives and state senators who had previously supported the amendment but signaled that they were open to changing their positions.

Because fewer than 50 of the state's 200 lawmakers supported the amendment, it will not appear on the 2008 ballot, giving gay marriage advocates a major victory in their battle with social conservatives to keep same-sex marriage legal in Massachusetts.

Opponents of gay marriage face an increasingly tough battle to win legislative approval of any future petitions to appear on a statewide ballot. The next election available to them is 2012.

I heard somewhere this morning that both Republicans and Democrats were reluctant to have a Gay Marriage Amendment proposal on the 2008 ballot. How courageous. I guess democracy and the popular vote are only popular if you think you'll get the results you want.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue, the voters of Massachusetts should have been allowed to weigh in on the issue (and the poll numbers were close, if I recall). Now they'll have to take whatever solace they can from voting against the legislators who denied them.

Americans United for Suppressing Religious Speech

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to a Mike McKinney entry on yesterday’s 7-to-7 blog, a group called Americans United for Separation of Church and State has called for an Internal Revenue Service investigation of the Diocese of Providence because of Bishop Thomas Tobin’s letter published in the Rhode Island Catholic criticizing Republican Presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani's position on the issue of abortion. From the Americans United press release

The Internal Revenue Service should investigate the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence, R.I., for opposing Republican presidential candidate Rudolph W. Giuliani, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

In a June 13 complaint to the IRS, Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, writing in the diocesan newspaper, Rhode Island Catholic, appears to have violated federal tax law by attacking Giuliani and stating that he “would never support a candidate who supports legalized abortion”....

Americans United’s letter to the IRS noted that federal tax law forbids non-profits to use organizational resources to support or oppose candidates for public office. In a revenue ruling scheduled for issuance June 18, for example, the IRS states that leaders of non-profits endanger their organization’s tax-exempt status by making “partisan comments in official organization publications"....

The rather casual assumption that publishing a newspaper equals partisan political activity raises a number of significant questions…
  1. If the form of Bishop Tobin’s missive had been a Projo op-ed instead of a Rhode Island Catholic op-ed, would the organization still believe an IRS investigation was necessary, or does Americans United take the position that religious newspapers are second-class media organizations with fewer rights than secular newspapers?
  2. The Belo Corporation, though not a non-profit, is also not a political action committee, and therefore not allowed to use organizational resources to support or oppose political candidates. Does this mean that Americans United also believes that mentions of political candidates on the editorial pages of Belo newspapers (such as the Providence Journal) should be treated as partisan political activity, or, does AU believe, again, that religious organizations have fewer rights than non-religious organizations to express themselves through the free press?
  3. One of the most controversial provisions of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform package is the ban on any organization, save for certain types of PACs, from engaging in political advertising that mentions the names of political candidates 60 days or less before an election. Since Americans United for Separation of Church and State believes that the publishing of a religious newspaper should be treated as political activity subject to campaign finance laws, do they also believe that Diocesan Newspapers should be banned from making any mention of political candidates' names in the 60 days before an election? Or do they believe that getting some form of prior government approval of the content of their newspaper before publishing would be enough to satisfy the law?
Finally, let me offer a crass political note to Mayor Giuliani and his supporters: There is a potential mini-sister Souljah moment forming here, if Mayor Giuliani takes a stand against Americans United for Separation of Church and State's pro-censorship position towards religious organizations, even as he continues to disagree with the content of the speech that AU would like to suppress.

Separation of What and State?

Justin Katz

I get the feeling that people (like Peter O'Connell of East Greenwich) who would get incensed at this paragraph, from a story about Philadelphia's declaring itself the City of Brotherly Love and fetal massacre:

Cardinal Justin Rigali, the spiritual leader of hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholics in the region, immediately responded with a rebuke urging "people of good will," as he put it, to reject the "divisive and erroneous label."

... would hardly blink at this one:

Planned Parenthood helped Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown draft the resolution. Other council members pressed her to withdraw it, but she refused.

The report explains that the resolution has "no practical implications," but some government officials apparently believe that it is never pointless to proclaim fidelity to the Church of Choice and its gruesome sacrament.

Gerrymander for Fun!

Marc Comtois

For your lunchtime fun....

The Re-districting Game

Practice Gerrymandering for fun and political profit!

Actually, it's a neat little game that shows the average guy and gal how a lot of elections are pre-determined by legislative redistricting. Have fun!

State Department of Transportation to be Investigated by State Police

Carroll Andrew Morse

Governor Donald Carcieri has asked the state police to begin an investigation into the state’s Department of Transportation contract staffing practices. From Mike Stanton and Katherine Gregg in today’s Projo

Governor Carcieri yesterday asked the state police to “begin a preliminary review” of the way business has been conducted by the state Department of Transportation…

Bottom line: the now-infamous $102,858 typist was not an isolated case.

And the 145.99-percent markup the DOT was paying Vanasse Hangen Brustlin to provide that typist to an in-house traffic-monitoring center was by no means the highest of the “overhead” rates the DOT has been paying its consultants.

Responding to a public-information request filed a month ago, the DOT earlier this week acknowledged paying “overhead” rates that add anywhere from 65.94 percent to 210 percent to the bills it has been paying private companies for their staff engineers, draftsmen, technicians and typists.

With pay levels averaging $84.73 an hour (including the guaranteed overhead and profit payments), the state, for example, is paying one consulting company — in the middle of the pack — the equivalent of $176,238 a year for each of the engineers and technicians doing wind and traffic studies on a Pawtucket bridge.

One of the highest overhead rates, 201 percent, goes to Plangraphics, a Frankfurt, Ky., company that billed the state for what is broadly described in DOT records as a “plan library archival numbering system.”

The way the Plangraphics contract worked: the company would bill the DOT $260,656 for its direct labor costs and then, more than twice that — $549,203 — for overhead and $90,613 on top of that for profit. (For reasons that went unexplained yesterday, a $76,260 slice of the company’s $900,473 authorized contract went to the DOT’s construction-scheduling consultant, the Plexus Corp.)

One of the lowest rates, 65.94 percent, goes to Cataldo & Associates, the company that made headlines earlier this year for putting 11 retired DOT construction supervisors on its payroll doing the same kind of work they had been doing on state road projects — while drawing pensions. That practice was eventually nixed by the state retirement board.

At least we now have a plausible answer as to why the percentage of Rhode Island’s bridges that are "functionally obsolete or structurally deficient” is one of the highest in the country.

June 13, 2007

Rudy Almighty

Justin Katz

Is it me, or is there something similar in the eyes of the following two pictures (both from the ad-cycling page to which Marc links)?


The picture at right is, of course, from the new neo-Noah film Evan Almighty, and given Rudy's famous social liberalism (as well as my selective cropping), I can't help but chuckle at this possible caption for the picture at left: "Three?"

Some of you will get it; some won't...

Giuliani's "Twelve Commitments"

Marc Comtois

OK, I suppose it would appear that I've been flakking for Fred Thompson, so, in the spirit of encouraging debate, here are Rudy Giuliani's just-announced "Twelve Commitments" (via Powerline):

Rudy’s Twelve Commitments are based on the principles of giving people more freedom, more power, and more responsibility over their own lives, while protecting our nation, strengthening our economy, and improving the quality of life.

“I believe America solves its problems best from strength, not weakness, and from optimism, not pessimism,” Giuliani said. “My Twelve Commitments are a promise to this generation and generations to come that we will keep the American dream alive. I believe it’s the kind of leadership and common sense accountability the American people need in Washington.”

Mayor Giuliani will travel the country this summer to detail each of his Twelve Commitments.

The Twelve Commitments:

1. I will keep America on offense in the Terrorists’ War on Us.
2. I will end illegal immigration, secure our borders, and identify every non-citizen in our nation.
3. I will restore fiscal discipline and cut wasteful Washington spending.
4. I will cut taxes and reform the tax code.
5. I will impose accountability on Washington.
6. I will lead America towards energy independence.
7. I will give Americans more control over, and access to, healthcare with affordable and portable free-market solutions.
8. I will increase adoptions, decrease abortions, and protect the quality of life for our children.
9. I will reform the legal system and appoint strict constructionist judges.
10. I will ensure that every community in America is prepared for terrorist attacks and natural disasters.
11. I will provide access to a quality education to every child in America by giving real school choice to parents.
12. I will expand America’s involvement in the global economy and strengthen our reputation around the world.

UPDATE: More elaboration here.

Providence Superintendent Evans' Plan

Marc Comtois

I'll readily admit that I don't know much about the state of Providence schools other than what I get from the news, but it seems that Providence Superintendent of Schools Donnie Evans has some good ideas.

Evans announced a series of new initiatives that address his strategic plan, Realizing the Dream, which calls for improving student achievement, creating safe, caring schools, improving public trust and making sure that school programs are cost-effective.

The new programs include:

•Opening more alternative schools for students who aren’t making it in a traditional setting. This fall, the school department opened a small alternative high school for ninth-graders who were in danger of dropping out. Evans will now hire a consultant to develop a charter-school prototype, with the goal of opening at least one alternative school in September 2008.

“Unfortunately,” Evans said, “our dropout rate is 29 percent. In addition, too many students fail or find themselves suspended or expelled because our schools didn’t motivate them or otherwise meet their academic or social needs.”

•Adopting school uniforms in all elementary and middle schools. According to Evans, research shows that in schools where uniforms are required, behavior problems decline and students are more likely to identify with their school. Although not a mandate, Evans said he will strongly urge every principal to implement school uniforms.

•Creating a district call center to improve communication between parents and staff, including expanded translation services for families who don’t speak English as their first language.

•Introducing reading classes and adding 20 reading teachers at the middle school level. Five of the district’s seven middle schools are classified by the state as in need of improvement. In January, state education Commissioner Peter McWalters told Evans to come up with a plan for improving the district’s lowest-performing schools or face possible state intervention.

•Introducing a new math curriculum for struggling students in elementary and middle school, as well as offering a new algebra readiness program for eighth-graders in low-performing schools.

Evans also said that he was forming a couple of task forces to find out why special-education students and students with limited English proficiency continue to be the lowest achievers in the district. “I have enough experience,” Evans said, “to know that we can and must do much, much better.”

Evans is concerned that his plans will be limited by the reduction in school funding included in the recent budget, however. And negotiations are ongoing over the Providence Teachers' contract. Perhaps some savings could be found there?

Carcieri Says "No" to Extension of Chief Justice's Fiefdom

Marc Comtois

Rhode Island Chief Justice Frank Williams made headlines a few months ago for his smackdown of Governor Carcieri's idea of across the board cost-cutting as "draconian." Well, the Governor is waving a bloody steak in front of the Judicial lion again:

Governor Carcieri is criticizing legislators for authorizing up to $71 million in borrowing for a new state courthouse in Lincoln when the state is trying to close a $300-million budget gap.

“Governor Carcieri does not support building yet another brand new courthouse at this time,” Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said yesterday. “State officials are working to deal with the largest budget crisis in recent memory. The solution to that crisis involves a myriad of proposed budget cuts that will affect thousands of Rhode Islanders. We simply cannot afford to pay for another shiny new state office building.”

Neal noted the new Kent County Court House, which cost $60 million, opened last August, and the new Traffic Tribunal courthouse, which cost $21.8 million, opened in January. “In the last two years, the judiciary has already opened two new, expensive courthouse buildings,” he said. “I think we can wait a few years before we open a third.”

Heck, not even Lincoln wants it. Chief Justice Williams didn't comment (though, as in the past, I'm sure he'll have something more to say), but a spokesman...
...said Williams “still thinks it is important to build a Blackstone Valley courthouse for all of the reasons we’ve been citing all along.”

The courthouse would “better serve the 12 communities of the Blackstone Valley, where there has been significant population increase in the last several years,” Berke said. “Now, people from those communities have to come to Providence, where parking is a problem. And the other major factor is aimed at decongesting the Garrahy Judicial Complex” in Providence.

Berke noted the initial spending on the project would be deferred a year. “The chief justice appreciates the governor’s concerns about the state’s deficit but still feels it is important that this project go forward at some point,” he said.

Do I detect a slight backing off, there? Regardless, spare me the pity party about the people who have to travel "all the way to Providence". And if congestion at the Garrahy complex is such a problem, why don't we just funnel them over to the Taj Ma-Williams Courthouse in Warwick?

What's he Smoking? Er.....

Marc Comtois

So, I read the story in today's ProJo about the ongoing budget battle and came across this:

“This isn’t a Democratic budget by any means. This is a Republican budget. Let’s face it,” said Tom Slater, D-Providence, who did not sign the petition and said yesterday he wasn’t aware of it. “I would never have set up a budget like this.”

Then why did he vote for it in the House Finance Committee meeting last week?

“Because it’s a give-and-take process. If you want items, you have to give up items,” he said, declining to be more specific.

And the first thing I wondered was, "What is this guy on..." Then I remembered.

UPDATE: Commenter MRH writes "The medical marijuana crack seems a bit harsh..." and commenter Will adds, "I agree. Slater is just a plain old idiot, not a drug addict." I've responded, but here's more...I admit, the post does approach the line. (That's me, ever the provocateur!) And I did consider whether or not I should post it in the way I did. But then again, what's wrong with a little irreverence every now and then?

June 12, 2007

Worse than Flat Funding II: Mounting Evidence that Many Cities and Towns Are Facing an Unexpected Education Cut

Carroll Andrew Morse

A chart available on the Rhode Island Department of Education website gives a line-item breakdown of the state education aid allocated to each Rhode Island city and town. Here’s East Providence's allocation as an example…

GENERAL AID$21,572,539
TOTAL FY 2007 AID$26,762,254

The FY2007 number from the RI DOE report that matches East Providence's FY2007 local aid amount in the legislature’s budget is not the “General Aid” figure from the list above, but the “Total FY2007 Aid” figure, which includes group home aid.

Every community that received group home aid in 2007 is having their state education aid reduced by exactly their FY07 group home allocation. So, unless all Rhode Island group homes are being shut down (or unless a separate appropriation exists elsewhere in the budget that provides for group-home-related education costs), the legislature’s budget contains true cuts in education funding that go deeper than just canceling the hoped-for increases.

A true cut explains how East Providence went from facing a $2.9 million deficit in the May 30 Projo to facing a $3.7 million deficit in today’s Projo, most of the difference being the $630,000 cut by the legislature from EP’s total education aid.

It looks as if the Mayor of Providence, whose budget has already been criticized for not funding “tens of millions” dollars worth of city-employee raises, must now find an additional $3.1 million dollars in lost state funding, just to reach flat-funding for his city employees in FY08.

Although the Warwick Beacon reported today that the Warwick school system is $1.1 million in the hole because city officials were counting on a 3% increase that will not be coming, the true deficit in Warwick is closer to $1.5 million, because of a $360,000 cut in Warwick's education aid from last year (again, unless group home funding is being compensated for in some as-of-yet undiscovered area of the budget).

And so on, and so on, and so on…

I know that Rhode Island law says that the state must reimburse cities and towns for their group home costs...

16-64-1.1(a)(3) -- Each city or town shall receive state education aid in an amount equal to the number of group home or other residential facility "beds" in that community multiplied by a per pupil rate, subject to appropriation, intended to reflect the average cost per pupil based on the blend of regular education and special education students in group homes as derived from figures supplied on June 30 of the reference year as defined in section 16-7-16(11).
Is it possible, however, that the legislature has reduced the “general aid” to each city or town containing a group home, thus reducing total funding to those communities, without reducing the on-paper funding connected to the group homes?

GOP Pres '08 Watch: Fred Thompson Running Strong

Marc Comtois

Two polls for your commenting pleasure. First, LA Times/Bloomberg (reg. req'd.) indicates Thompson trails Rudy Giulianni by 6 points:

Republicans antsy for a conservative standard-bearer in the presidential race have begun to rally behind Fred Thompson, propelling the former Tennessee senator to within hailing distance of the lead for the party's nomination, a new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg Poll has found.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani holds first place in the survey, with support from 27% of the Republicans and independents who said they plan to vote in the party's 2008 primaries.

But Thompson, an actor who played a prosecutor on NBC's "Law & Order," runs just behind, with 21%. Indications are he will join the race within the next month.

Then Rasmussen reports that Thompson and Giulianni are tied:
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has to share his spot atop the field of Republican Presidential hopefuls this week. The newest face in the race, former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson, is now tied with Giuliani. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds each man earning support from 24% of likely Republican Primary voters. A week ago, Giuliani had a six percentage point lead over Thompson, 23% to 17%.
Meanwhile, McCain is falling fast and Romney can't seem to get over the 12% hump. Is this the Thompson peak? Or will he pick up momentum as lesser candidates drop out (as Newt Gingrich has done....before he even entered!)?

Legislature Manages to Get Governor Carcieri and NEA On Same Side

Marc Comtois

Thanks to the "flat-funding" (or maybe not) of education that is included in the House's budget plan, Governor Carcieri and the NEA find themselves on the same side of an issue.

Carcieri spokesman Jeff Neal said....“There is no doubt...that Governor Carcieri has grave concerns about the House Democrats’ short-sighted plan to balance the budget by raising taxes, using one-time revenue sources and shortchanging local schools.”

Teachers’ unions have also come out swinging against the Assembly’s spending plan, which eliminates a 3-percent across-the-board increase in state education aid. Legislative leaders have called on the unions to shoulder some of the burden by renegotiating existing contracts.

The National Education Association reacted with a $10,000 radio advertising campaign urging the Assembly to rescind Senate bill 3050, passed last year, which lowered the maximum annual increase to a community’s tax levy to 5.25 percent this year and will reduce it one-quarter percent per year until 2013. Senate Majority Leader M. Teresa Paiva Weed, prime sponsor of the tax-cap bill, said through a spokesman that there are no plans to repeal the act.

I doubt the Governor thinks repealing Senate bill 3050 is a good idea, either. Meanwhile, Education Commish Peter McWalters invokes the "perfect storm":
“It’s the perfect storm we have all talked about,” said Peter McWalters, Rhode Island’s commissioner of education. “Districts are really struggling right now, because they can’t go back to their tax base and ask for more money. The legislature did warn them again and again (not to count on a 3-percent increase), but that doesn’t change their dilemma.”

Some of the rising school costs are tied to teacher contracts, but some stem from factors beyond district control, McWalters said, such as high-cost special education and out-of-district transportation.

“This perfect storm is a conscious decision on the part of the legislature saying to communities you have to go reopen your [teacher] contracts,” he said. “But realistically, can you do that all at once with 36 separate districts?”

But perhaps the solution will come from the courts (surprise!)
State law requires communities to provide “an adequate education,” according to Department of Education spokesman Elliot Krieger, and allows school committees to file complaints in the Superior Court when they believe they have been shortchanged. School advocates such as Tim Duffy, head of the Rhode Island Association of School Committees, said he expects the lack of state aid to prompt several court challenges this year.

Let's Hope Our Senators Didn't Sleep Through Econ 101

Mac Owens

I've been on the road for a couple of weeks, so I'm only now catching up. This piece ran in the Newport Daily News of 30 May. Of course, the title is wishful thinking.

By the way, I believe gasoline prices will drop from their high point at the end of May. The last couple of weeks vindicate this view. But the underlying market dynamics--increased demand for petroleum and petroleum products driven by the growth of the Chinese and Indian economies and the continued growth of our own--mean that the overall trend will be toward rising prices.

Let’s Hope Our Senators Didn’t Sleep Through Econ 101

US gasoline prices have surged recently to an average of over $3.00 a gallon. Some energy analysts are predicting that the price will reach $4.00 a gallon later this summer when demand for gasoline normally peaks.

At times like this, the natural, if misguided, impulse of politicians is to “do something.” One of those “somethings” in this case is to legislate against “price gouging.” And sure enough, the House of Representatives recently passed legislation that would make gasoline “price gouging” a federal crime. The Senate is considering similar legislation: On May 8, the Senate Commerce Committee reported to the floor a “fuel economy” bill (S. 357) that includes an amendment offered by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that would do the same.

“Anti-gouging” legislation is problematic on at least three levels. First—good intentions aside—“anti-gouging” legislation is a form of government price fixing, which will interfere with the ability of the market to efficiently allocate scarce resources. As any freshman economics student can tell you, the market sets the price of a commodity by equilibrating supply and demand. If the government sets a maximum price that is lower than the one established by market forces, the result is a shortage—the quantity of the commodity demanded at the lower price exceeds the quantity supplied at this price. If passed and implemented, this legislation will ensure that less gasoline is available while simultaneously guaranteeing that consumers will demand more of it.

The fact is that a rise in the price of a commodity is the market’s way of causing consumers to ration that commodity while attracting new supplies. This was what happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Higher gasoline prices in the South resulting from the widespread damage to refineries attracted fuel supplies from other regions, both inside the United States and from overseas, eventually driving prices back down. Had “anti-gouging” regulations been in effect at the time, it is very likely that these supplies from outside the region would not have arrived, making a bad situation much worse.

The reason for this is the consequence of the bill’s second problem: its overly subjective language. Subjectivity is hardly a rational basis for establishing criminal liability for refiners, suppliers, or independent gas station owners. “Anti-gouging” legislation increases the uncertainty of those who supply and distribute energy, serving as a disincentive to those who would otherwise redirect resources into an area affected by an event such as Katrina because of the distinct possibility, indeed likelihood, that a supplier responding to market forces could be charged with “price gouging” and subjected to legal action.

Finally, the legislation is unnecessary. As long as gas stations provide motorists with price information, which they do—to the tenth of a cent—on large signs, “price gouging” is difficult, if not impossible.

The fact is that gasoline prices differ locally for a number of valid reasons. For instance, widely varying federal, state, and local taxes and environmental regulations contribute to substantial differences in the price of a gallon of gasoline from one locale to another. A price might be higher in one place than another because of regulations that mandate the use of expensive additives, for example the federal requirement to add ethanol to gasoline in certain places. Such regulations also tend to “fragment” the gasoline market, for example mandating the use of "reformulated gasoline" (RFG) in certain areas of the country, making it difficult if not impossible for suppliers to shift gasoline stocks efficiently from one part of the country—or even one part of a state—to another. But the Stupak and Cantwell bills open the door to criminalizing normal price variations.

So what has caused the recent spike in gasoline prices? The consensus among industry analysts is that it reflects the effects of the seasonal increase in demand for gasoline on the one hand and the fact that refinery capacity lags behind demand on the other. There are currently no refineries being built in the United States.

The capacity problem has been aggravated by accidents and unplanned shutdowns at the time of the year when refineries shift production from heating oil to gasoline. One reason for the recent rash of shutdowns is that refiners deferred scheduled maintenance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to keep operating. Now they have to deal with the resulting maintenance backlog.

As the Senate considers “anti-gouging” legislation, let’s hope our RI senators didn’t sleep through Econ 101. Let’s also hope they will examine the historical record of government interference in the market, which demonstrates that the unintended consequences of well-meaning legislation usually make the problem worse.

June 11, 2007

Rep. Crowley Asks Some Good Questions

Marc Comtois

State Rep. Paul Crowley of Newport commends the special commission that has recommended a new school-funding formula, but has some questions:

Does it make sense to invest millions of additional dollars in a system that has remained structurally unchanged?

Do we need, and can we afford, more than 35 school districts to educate about 120,000 students?

Where will the new money come from, given the glum projections for growth in state revenue?

How can the formula be “predictable” when the greatest expense, teacher compensation, will continue to be made by local school-committee members who have shown little ability to control contract growth and expansion of benefits?

How much of the new money would simply be needed to fulfill existing contract/retirement commitments?

What would encourage the General Assembly to invest new dollars in education when every effort at reform has been a protracted battle with either the teachers unions, school committees or both?

To apply a new formula and hundreds of millions of new dollars to the existing system of public education is akin to continuing to drive a clunker before replacing the worn-out brakes. At first glance the clunker may look nicer, but would you really rely on it to meet your daily transportation needs?

Good questions, all.

Caprio: Lay Off 1,000 Non-union State Workers

Marc Comtois

In case you missed it, State Treasurer Frank Caprio told Dan Yorke last Friday afternoon that he thinks that the quickest and easiest way for the Governor to lay off 1,000 state workers would be to focus on the non-union employees. Caprio added that non-union employees make up 1/3 of the state work force and that they are primarily higher salary workers. Additionally, Caprio also explained that these non-union workers are automatically given the same benefits that unions have obtained at the bargaining table. However, since they are non-union, the Governor has the ability to change their benefit packages without having to go through formal renegotiations.

Caprio is probably correct regarding the higher salaries of non-union employees because--and I'm only guessing--I suspect that these workers would fall into the administrator/manager types. His is also a pragmatic approach toward quickly reducing government outlays. However, there is also little doubt in my mind that he's trying to play this both ways by trying to take the focus off of union workers. Like it or not, our budgetary problems are too big to ignore unionized state employees. If 1/3 of the state work force is non-union, then who comprises the other 2/3s?

June 10, 2007

Worse than Flat-Funding?

Carroll Andrew Morse

I'm not 100% sure what to make of this just yet, but according to the specific numbers in the House budget plan (H5300, Article 21, substitute A), many Rhode Island communities will get less education aid, in terms of absolute dollars, than they did last year. Here are exact numbers from the text of the bill…

Community Education Aid
FY 2007
Education Aid
FY 2008 (prop.)
Change From
2007 to 2008
Barrington $2,599,526 $2,599,526 $0
Bristol-Warren $20,498,190 $20,228,190 -$270,000
Burrillville $13,779,743 $13,539,743 -$240,000
Charlestown $2,002,838 $2,002,838 $0
Central Falls $43,313,036 $43,313,036 $0
Chariho $398,334 $398,334 $0
Coventry $20,075,081 $19,955,081 -$120,000
Cranston $35,580,911 $35,460,911 -$120,000
Cumberland $13,257,009 $13,257,009 $0
East Greenwich $1,949,761 $1,844,761 -$105,000
East Providence $26,762,254 $26,132,254 -$630,000
Exeter-West Greenwich $7,661,019 $7,256,019 -$405,000
Foster $1,416,463 $1,416,463 $0
Foster-Glocester $5,729,861 $5,729,861 $0
Glocester $3,213,847 $3,213,847 $0
Hopkinton $6,241,352 $6,241,352 $0
Jamestown $531,908 $531,908 $0
Johnston $10,915,364 $10,615,364 -$300,000
Lincoln $7,403,268 $7,283,268 -$120,000
Little Compton $368,810 $368,810 $0
Middletown $10,497,116 $10,077,116 -$420,000
Narragansett $1,897,159 $1,897,159 $0
Newport $11,796,080 $11,316,080 -$480,000
New Shoreham $106,345 $106,345 $0
North Kingstown $11,986,005 $11,986,005 $0
North Providence $13,232,872 $13,142,872 -$90,000
North Smithfield $4,834,237 $4,714,237 -$120,000
Pawtucket $66,858,559 $66,003,559 -$855,000
Portsmouth $6,250,042 $6,130,042 -$120,000
Providence $193,974,756 $190,824,756 -$3,150,000
Richmond $6,188,615 $6,188,615 $0
Scituate $3,407,183 $3,407,183 $0
Smithfield $5,668,568 $5,428,568 -$240,000
South Kingstown $10,428,698 $10,173,698 -$255,000
Tiverton $5,932,058 $5,932,058 $0
Warwick $37,626,000 $37,266,000 -$360,000
Westerly $6,843,077 $6,843,077 $0
West Warwick $20,440,547 $20,440,547 $0
Woonsocket $47,616,613 $47,016,613 -$600,000
In Governor Carcieri’s original proposal, the FY2008 aid number was 3% greater than the FY2007 number for every community except for Central Falls (which got an 8.25% increase), so if there’s an appropriation elsewhere in the budget that offsets these losses, it’s something that wasn’t in the Governor’s proposal, and something that the legislature hasn’t provided any clear details to the public on.

Anybody have any idea what’s happening here?

June 8, 2007

It's Official: City and Town School Departments Will Be Flat-Funded

Carroll Andrew Morse

From Andrea Panciera of the Projo's 7-to-7 newsblog...

The head of the House Finance Committee early this afternoon revealed some of the panel's proposals to deal with the state's budget crunch.

Among them are...

"Level funding" the total amount of education aid to cities and towns, which means eliminating the 3 percent education-aid increase across the board that [Governor] Carcieri's budget had called for.

State Workers Learning About Life in the Private Sector; One Way or Another

Marc Comtois

Governor Carcieri (via ProJo)

I am fully aware that I am placing the burden of resolving our state’s financial future on the shoulders of our employees....But my responsibility is to the average Rhode Island taxpaying families who put me here. I must act on behalf of all our citizens, and must fix this now for the sake of our children and grandchildren’s future.
And from the Governor's press release:
State personnel costs have nearly doubled in the last ten years, increasing from $900 million in FY 1998 to a projected $1.6 billion in FY 2008.

According to the Governor, the total benefit cost for an average state employee (making $58,148 per year) will be $51,186 in FY 2008, or 88 percent on top of salary. As a result, the total compensation for an average state employee is $109,334.

By comparison, the average benefit overhead being paid by private companies in New England is 29 percent, or 59 percent lower than what the state is paying. Not taking account of the difference in the length of the workweeks, the average state employee is receiving almost $34,307 more in benefits than those in the private sector.

Referring to this dramatic disparity, Governor Carcieri noted: “This is not fair to average Rhode Island taxpayers. We cannot afford to be that out of line with what is being paid in the real world.”

Unfortunately, state government doesn't believe it has to live in the real world. Somehow, the belief has crept into the Rhode Island mindset that a State job is a safe job. Never fear, no layoffs will occur. That's not what happens in the real world, folks. Just ask people who work in the private sector.

Dell to Layoff 8,000 Employees
Motorola Calls In More Layoffs (7,500)
IBM to cut 1,315 jobs in U.S.
Circuit City to Cut More Than 3,500 Jobs
More Ford layoffs

Unfortunately, state union representatives haven't gone far enough in negotiations. The Governor said (to paraphrase) "to the union reps, negotiation means giving a little bit now for the promise of more in the future; all in an effort to wait it out until I'm outta here." The Governor has had it with this tactic. So have the taxpayers.

So this is the wake up call. I have compassion for state workers; it doesn't seem fair. They thought they were all set. But private sector workers learned long ago that the days of working in one place for 30 years are over. In a perfect world, maybe it would be nice to work in a unionized, industrial economy. But we don't. (In fact, that world didn't really last that long...)

This is the world we live in. Workers in the private sector deal with these uncertainties every day. Don't misunderstand me: I don't take some sort of morbid delight that state workers are now "sharing the misery." What I'm saying is that they had it good and just didn't seem to realize it.

And now that the party is over, don't blame the Governor. He's been warning about the perils of budgetary inflation since he was elected. Blame the General Assembly who--until this year--have failed to deal seriously with the problem. Or blame the union leaders who wouldn't budge in negotiations and then went screaming to the media that it's the Governor who wasn't playing fair. It's this same leadership that, time and again, would only reluctantly give an inch--and then only for the promise of getting back a couple more inches down the line. And all they while they failed to do a good job of explaining to the rank and file the economic realities that they and the state faces. It was easier to just blame the Governor.

To forestall this kind of layoff, they should have played it smarter and conceded a few points. You know what they are: privatize pensions, change the medical co-pay/co-share, limit the salary increases. But no. They wanted what they had comin' and were too stubborn to realize that taking a smaller across, the board hit in the short term would save jobs down line.

Thanks to their bull-headed approach, we have the looming layoffs. But rest assured, the leadership won't be losing their jobs. Nope, that sacrifice will be paid for by the average state worker.

Just like in the private sector, right?

Incentives Do Drive Human Behavior

Donald B. Hawthorne

Rhode Island has an economically unsustainable infrastucture problem, a problem only magnified by a lack of will to face and fix the problem.

In discussing its troubled status, Ed Achorn writes about how There’s no sense in driving out R.I.’s taxpayers and offers these concluding words:

There is one thing everyone should remember: Whatever opinions are offered on these pages, the laws of economics will keep on functioning. However the advocates wish people would behave, humans will keep on responding to incentives. If the politicians persist in hiking taxes, they will keep on driving out wealth creators and pumping up deficits. Just you watch.

As has been said before on this blog, we have two choices: Either deal with economic reality or it will deal harshly and on its own terms with us. The latter outcome will be most painful to those who can least afford it - while many others simply pack up and leave the state. The view from the other side of the Massachusetts-Rhode Island state border looks like an increasingly wise decision, which says more about Rhode Island than it does about Massachusetts.

So, even if you once deeply loved - say, a place like Rhode Island - there is something both sad and liberating about realizing it is possible to let go of years of insane behavior like we see in the state. And if we are honest with ourselves, we realize it is the underlying incentives created by an unbending status quo which gets us to that tipping point of driving changes in our behavior, of packing up and leaving.

The Cultural Consequences of Offering Endless Quantities of Meaningless Praise

Donald B. Hawthorne

In a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled The Most-Praised Generation Goes to Work (subscription required), Jeffrey Zaslow writes:

You, You, You -- you really are special, you are! You've got everything going for you. You're attractive, witty, brilliant. "Gifted" is the word that comes to mind.

Childhood in recent decades has been defined by such stroking -- by parents who see their job as building self-esteem, by soccer coaches who give every player a trophy, by schools that used to name one "student of the month" and these days name 40.

Now, as this greatest generation grows up, the culture of praise is reaching deeply into the adult world. Bosses, professors and mates are feeling the need to lavish praise on young adults, particularly twentysomethings, or else see them wither under an unfamiliar compliment deficit.

Employers are dishing out kudos to workers for little more than showing up...

Certainly, there are benefits to building confidence and showing attention. But some researchers suggest that inappropriate kudos are turning too many adults into narcissistic praise-junkies. The upshot: A lot of today's young adults feel insecure if they're not regularly complimented.

America's praise fixation has economic, labor and social ramifications. Adults who were overpraised as children are apt to be narcissistic at work and in personal relationships, says Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University. Narcissists aren't good at basking in other people's glory, which makes for problematic marriages and work relationships, she says.

Her research suggests that young adults today are more self-centered than previous generations. For a multiuniversity study released this year, 16,475 college students took the standardized narcissistic personality inventory, responding to such statements as "I think I am a special person." Students' scores have risen steadily since the test was first offered in 1982. The average college student in 2006 was 30% more narcissistic than the average student in 1982.

Praise Inflation

Employers say the praise culture can help them with job retention, and marriage counselors say couples often benefit by keeping praise a constant part of their interactions. But in the process, people's positive traits can be exaggerated until the words feel meaningless...

But many young married people today, who grew up being told regularly that they were special, can end up distrusting compliments from their spouses...

Workers under 40, he says, require far more stroking. They often like "trendy, name-brand merchandise" as rewards, but they also want near-constant feedback. "It's not enough to give praise only when they're exceptional, because for years they've been getting praise just for showing up," he says...

In fact, throughout history, younger generations have wanted praise from their elders. As Napoleon said: "A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon." But when it comes to praise today, "Gen Xers and Gen Yers don't just say they want it. They are also saying they require it," says Chip Toth, an executive coach based in Denver. How do young workers say they're not getting enough? "They leave," says Mr. Toth...

Young adults aren't always eager for clear-eyed feedback after getting mostly "atta-boys" and "atta-girls" all their lives, says John Sloop, a professor of rhetorical and cultural studies at Vanderbilt University...

At the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, marketing consultant Steve Smolinsky teaches students in their late 20s who've left the corporate world to get M.B.A. degrees. He and his colleagues feel handcuffed by the language of self-esteem, he says. "You have to tell students, 'It's not as good as you can do. You're really smart, and can do better.'"

Mr. Smolinsky enjoys giving praise when it's warranted, he says, "but there needs to be a flip side. When people are lousy, they need to be told that." He notices that his students often disregard his harsher comments. "They'll say, 'Yeah, well...' I don't believe they really hear it."

In the end, ego-stroking may feel good, but it doesn't lead to happiness, says Prof. Twenge, the narcissism researcher, who has written a book titled Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable than Ever Before. She would like to declare a moratorium on "meaningless, baseless praise," which often starts in nursery school...

Zaslow's article generated quite a bit of reactions, which led him to write a subsequent article entitled In Praise of Less Praise (subscription required):

...[M]anagement consultant Jerry Pounds...built a lucrative career advising companies on ways to praise employees, especially younger ones, who grew up bombarded with soccer trophies, parental applause and stroking at school. Mr. Pounds figures he trained 50,000 supervisors, encouraging them to pass out cartloads of prizes, plaques and praise-engraved knickknacks.

Then several nurses who received toasters as incentives told him they were insulted. "I got into nursing to care for patients," one said, "not so I'd be rewarded with toasters."

Mr. Pounds says he came to some realizations: Unearned praise is condescending and destructive, incentives become entitlements and "we've ruined our kids" by celebrating mediocrity.

Mr. Pounds contacted me in response to my recent Weekend Journal article...The article drew attention from bloggers, talk-radio hosts, and a slew of emailing readers. Advice was sharp:

Rain on their parades: Many argued that to counterbalance our praise culture, young people need reality slaps. David Dumpe, a professor at Kent State University, now begins each semester by asking students: "How many of your parents raised you by saying you can be anything you want to be?" Two-thirds raise their hands, he says. He then asks: "Do you realize that's a bunch of baloney?"

In Iowa, a teacher tells incoming seventh-graders: "Your entire life you have heard from parents that you are wonderful -- the center of the universe. It's not true. You are not wonderful. You are one of many." In part because of his refreshing bluntness, this teacher is beloved by students, a colleague writes...

Maintain perspective: One reader pointed me to a storied moment in the career of conductor Otto Klemperer. He never praised his orchestra, until one day, pleased with a rehearsal, he uttered a curt "good." His stunned musicians burst into applause. The conductor tapped his baton on his music stand, silencing them. "Not that good," he said.

Ban fake back-patting: Mr. Pounds argues that people "know when they're being worked," and if a supervisor is a jerk, giving him training in meaningless-praise techniques will only lead underlings to consider him a jerk with new tricks. "People want to know how they're doing," he says. "Don't sugarcoat it. Just give them the damn data."...

Your kids are on to you: Readers wrote about soccer leagues that don't keep score to avoid hurt feelings; so the kids keep score in their heads. And parents have to pay "trophy fees" before sports seasons even start. Kids know these trophies are bought and not earned.

Several readers sent me dialogue from the 2004 animated film "The Incredibles." There's a scene in which the superhero mom tells her son, "Everyone's special!" The boy mutters: "Which is another way of saying no one is."

June 7, 2007

Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children, Part II

Donald B. Hawthorne

Continuing the conversation begun in an earlier post, Rediscovering Traditional Unstructured Play for Children, here are excerpts from a related Wall Street Journal article (subscription required) entitled Helping Overbooked Kids Cut Back:

...Written about and discussed for decades, the problem of overscheduled children still looms large. Many parents keep children busy believing that stimulating activities will aid their development; the pattern is most marked among 9- to 12-year-olds. But the trend has gone too far, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in January in the journal "Pediatrics"; kids need more time for free play and family togetherness. Resolving the issue can require some artful life-balancing skills...

The signs of overload are often more subtle: overtiredness, irritability, falling grades, anxiety or obstinacy. As a recovered overbooker myself, I can attest that it can cause anxiety. My kids, now 16 and 19, say they've forgiven me for signing them up for too much stuff in elementary school. But I now know that it sometimes stressed them out...

Some parents fear they'll inadvertently stunt their child's potential. Jane Istvan had her son Sam, 8, drop year-round soccer and just do baseball this spring, to preserve two hours a day for family time. But she worries: "What if Sam could have been a fantastic soccer player," and by curbing his activities, "I'm screwing him up?"

Others fear their kids will be ostracized. At the school Beth Blecherman's 8-year-old son attends, kids who don't play organized sports are sometimes excluded from playground games. But after noticing that large-group activities made her son anxious, Ms. Blecherman, Palo Alto, Calif., is cutting out team sports anyway, and he's happier for it, she says.

How do you decide what activities to keep and which ones to cut? It's wise to take a measured approach...Alvin Rosenfeld, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and author of "The Overscheduled Child," recommends dividing activities into two groups -- those you regard as essential, such as religious school, and those seen as optional. Schedule the first group, and allow the child to select from the rest, he advises.

Ask yourself, "What activities make my child glow?" says Kenneth Ginsburg, author of the American Academy of Pediatrics article. "What does she get excited about?" I found keeping kids in activities they don't enjoy won't lead them to continue that pursuit -- no matter how much you hope they will. Instead, heed your child's inner motivations. Ideally, says Dr. Ginsburg, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, they'll seek becoming "a richer, more balanced person" over resume-building or fueling parental pride.

Teaching Our Children to Fear

Justin Katz

I'm not just being a contrarian when I say that I have concerns about this legislation:

The Rhode Island Senate has approved legislation creating the “Lindsay Ann Burke Act,” an effort to protect those most vulnerable to dating violence by calling on schools to provide dating violence education for middle school and high school students.

Named after a 23-year-old North Kingstown woman who was brutally murdered in fall, 2005, by her former boyfriend, the “Lindsay Ann Burke Act” will require every school district in Rhode Island to develop a model dating violence policy and a policy to address incidents of dating violence involving students. Each school district will also be expected to provide dating violence training to school staff who have significant contact with students, with such training to include basic principles of dating violence and warning signs of dating violence.

The bill also calls on each school district to incorporate dating violence education that is age-appropriate into the annual health curriculum for students in grades 7 to 12. That education, the bill says, should include defining dating violence, recognizing violence warning signs and characteristics of healthy relationships.

It's obvious that schools ought not tolerate date rape and ought to be vigilant that the potential for it is not developing among students. It's so obvious that, as a simple matter of government principle, I'm not sure that the general assembly has established a need for its involvement, much less the requirement that strapped school budgets make way for the development of policies and curricula. There isn't even any indication that the legislators have looked into the effectiveness of such programs.

As a more general social consideration, I wonder whether the extent to which we're teaching children to be suspicious of one another isn't unhealthy, in itself. I do think that schools should ensure that the kids who spend so much time within their walls understand that they are places of refuge, with resources available if they feel they've nowhere else to go in response to problems, but it seems to me that enumerating the possible villains will tend to decrease kids' capacity for trust and comfort with others. Must we turn every adolescent dating adventure into even more of a drama than it already is? Must we taint the childhoods of all because some of them may have bad — even dangerous — experiences and we just have a feeling that lesson plans might decrease the number of those incidents?

Drunk on Antiseptics

Justin Katz

I was at a loss to choose a category for this curious bit of information — which I originally thought to be typical email-forward spam — but it seems like something worth knowing about:

Just wanted to send you a quick email and warn you about using hand sanitizers wtih your young kids. We have been using that with Sydney in place of hand washing for convience sake. Today she told me she was going up to her room to get a toy, while I was downstairs feeding Griffin, and after taking longer then it should I called for her. When she didn't answer I knew she was up to something and the bathroom door was closed. She got into the hand sanitizer and had ingested some of it. There wasn't a large amount missing from the bottle but I could smell it on her breath.

Within approx. 10 min. she was all glassy eyed and wobbly in her feet. As the minutes passed, she continued to get worse and got to the point where she couldn't even stand up or walk, it was awful!!

I called poison control immediately and they told me to take her to the ER right away due to the alcohol level in hand sanitizers. As we were driving there her speech became slurred and harder to understand and her eyes looked awful. They admitted her and did urine and blood tests and it turns out that her blood alcohol level was .10 — which is legally drunk. It turns out that the hand sanitizers (Purell) have 62% alcohol in them and the dr. compared it to her drinking something that is 120 proof.

And here I thought I'd come up with the worst possible abuse of the stuff when I've used it to clear my sinuses.

How to Defuse a Rabble Rouser

Justin Katz

Go beyond addressing his concerns before he's even asked. It also helped to quell my ire that it took over two hours for the Tiverton zoning board to get to the matter of renovations to the school next to my house last night. While I waited, I was able to peruse the project plans and blueprints, and it seemed as if the architecture firm had seen me coming.

The number of parking spaces will be decreasing, but so will the number of students (with many going to newly renovated schools in their own neighborhoods). Inasmuch as I think it possible, the school design plans will discourage people from parking in front of my house. But beyond that, the section of the building that is closest to my property, its broken windows looming as much of the view from my bathroom window, will be reduced to a single floor. If the object had been to lower the aesthetic and practical effects of the school on my property as much as possible, I don't think that much more could have been done. In addition, the hazardous materials within the existing school have been assessed and will be removed appropriately.

So, as happy as I was, last night, I returned home from the long meeting with the frustration of he who must look elsewhere for a fight. From what I hear, there's a school committee meeting next week...

Governor Carcieri's Big Proposal, Cntd.

Carroll Andrew Morse

Governor Carcieri being interviewed by Dan Yorke (WPRO 630 AM)...

The Governor says that the legislature's plan to use tobacco money to plug the deficit is bad for 2 reasons...

  1. Using a one-time windfall for operating expenses leaves you with the same problem again next year.
  2. The original plan for the tobacco funds (highway, I think) brings in a 4 to 1 Federal match. The legislature's plan brings in nothing.

The Governor is not sure if the leadership in the legislature will buy into his plan or not. He doesn't know if they have the courage to defy the unions.

The state has a contractual right to re-open negotiations on certain aspects of state employee benefit strcture (but not salaries). If no agreement is reached, it goes to arbitration.

The Governor says that up until a week ago, the legislative leadership was telling him that they wouldn't be using the tobacco money to cover operating expenses. Apparently, they changed their minds.

RE: Governor Carcieri's Big Proposal

Marc Comtois

Here's the full 7to7 blog post Andrew mentions, below:

Governor Carcieri this afternoon laid out a plan to "solve the state's budget crisis" that includes seeking legislation to freeze all state wages at current levels and cutting 1,000 state employees.

Carcieri said the employee reductions would save taxpayers $26 million in fiscal 2008 and another $40 million the following year.

The state is projected to be in a deficit at the moment. Carcieri says his plan today aims at making "fundamental reforms" to avoid future budget problems.

The governor's proposal, which is being announced now at a State House news conference, also calls for:

-- Renegotiating the health-care plan used by state employees by increasing the co-pays those employees would have to make at doctors' visits, emergency room visits and for prescription drugs.

-- "Putting out to bid every state service that could possibly be performed more efficiently by the private sector." The governor will form a Competition in Government Task Force to review services where that could possibly work.

Carcieri "ruled out" using proceeds from the sale of tobacco bonds -- the state's share of tobacco settlement.

"Being well run means having a government that delivers quality service at a price our taxpayers can afford, and which is sustainable over the long-term," Carcieri said in remarks prepared for delivery. "That is not the case today."

The move comes preemptively as Democratic legislative leaders prepare to release their state budget proposal tomorrow.

Sounds like the Governor doesn't like what he's seeing coming out of the Legislature and that he's resolved it's nut-cutting time. Signal: "Enough pussy-footing around."

MORE: Governor will be on Yorke's show at 5 PM. Back to you Andrew....

MORE II: Yorke is reporting that apparently the Governor tried to talk to both Speaker Murphy and Majority Leader Montalbano about this proposal but that they balked. So I don't want to hear anything about the Governor "legislating by press conference" or not talking with the Democrats. He tried, they didn't want to. Remember, this is a two-way street.

Governor Carcieri's Big Proposal

Carroll Andrew Morse

WHJJ's (920 AM) Helen Glover is reporting that Governor Donald Carcieri has proposed closing the state budget deficit by cutting 1,000 state jobs.

Communications Director Steve Kass is on with Glover now. Reductions will be achieved through a combination of attrition, retirements, and privatization.

Kass just mentioned that state employees are expensive because of the benefits and that changing to private-sector-style packages would save $500,000,000 per year, without any layoffs. I wonder, is this the real endgame?

7-to-7 is reporting that the Governor's proposal involves an across-the-board wage freeze, as well as layoffs.

Dan Yorke (WPRO 630 AM) opened his show by playing the Governor's afternoon press conference. Overhead, as a percentage of salary of a RI state employee, is 88%. For a typical New England private sector company, the overhead is 29%. For a typical unionized New England private sector company, it's 38%. (And, by the way, for a contracted state employee, it's 22.5%, the Governor throws in.)

According to Yorke, the Governor believes he can implement a workforce reduction on his own (is that a settled legal question?). However, a wage freeze or any other change in state employee benefits requires action by the General Assembly. Benefit changes would have to be renegotiated.

On Lame-Duckedness

Marc Comtois

Brian C. Jones over at the Phoenix (via N4N) has a story on Governor Carcieri, the focus of which is a question: is the Guv already a lame duck? At the heart of the problem is the budget and the perception that Governor Carcieri doesn't play well with others and somehow it's all the Carcieri's fault. Just ask Robert L. Carl Jr., "the tough-talking administrative chief under Carcieri’s GOP predecessor, Lincoln C. Almond."

“I think the state is in big trouble, because we are not creating lots of new jobs, lots of new opportunities,” says Carl. “I don’t think we’ve made much progress.”

The former aide says the legislature — and many others in public life, himself included — may share some of the blame with Carcieri. {Gee, ya think?} However, Carl says, it’s happening “on his watch. If you run for office, part of the reality is you’re responsible if you win.”
Well, that's true. And Carl goes on to talk about how divisive the Governor is. As if it's a one-way street.
Although Carcieri has succeeded in trimming state employee payroll costs where others had failed, Carl says: “He did it at what short- and long-term cost? What’s the cost of having your employee base lose confidence in your leadership? What’s the cost of having people antagonistic to the administration, and who spend all their time in fear and worry?”
And what, exactly, was the alternative? Leave 'em alone and keep 'em happy? That's worked so well...The reason the don't like the Governor is because he actually did something. Of course they're pissed! They're losing money and benny's. I understand their point of view, but it needs to be done. But that resentment has morphed into distrust, which is why they've interpreted anything the Governor has said or proposed regarding reducing the government payroll as an "attack." Example "A", George H. Nee of the local AFL-CIO:
“What bothers a lot of us is that there’s been this constant drumbeat of, you know, just attacks and denigration of the state workforce, and this playing one group off the other,” says Nee....Nee contrasts Carcieri’s style with that of another former governor, Bruce Sund¬lun, who came into office in 1991 while facing a severe budget crisis. Sundlun actually went to AFL-CIO headquarters to ask for suggestions. Out of that, says Nee, came “Sundlun days,” in which workers gave up some immediate pay for later benefits when conditions improved.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Carcieri try to do that early in his term only to be laughed out of the room? It's no wonder that he concluded that the local unions wouldn't be amenable to any further requests and decided to take it over their heads and, using the bully pulpit, go directly to the people. But he's asked again in the most recent session, and again, the union has essentially said "no way." (Though, as Jones writes, "The state and the unions are in secret negotiations about the current budget, which no one, at the time of this writing, would discuss in detail.") So, Carcieri continues to "denigrate" the unionized state workers:
The governor says he has a new study showing just how expensive personnel costs are: the average state worker’s salary is $58,000, and pension, health-care, and time off bring the figure to $95,000. “All I’m saying is that we can’t afford it,” Carcieri says. “That’s sort of the campaign I’m on, if you will: to make sure that is understood.”
Additionally, even though the NEA's Bob Walsh seems pessimistic--“I think it’s hard to get the type of reform he likes to talk about without involving people on the front lines”--and Marcia Reback (Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals) thinks the Guv is a do-nothing--"“Governor Carcieri has played no role in advancing the state aid to education formula development, unless he has played a role behind the scenes”--that ain't so.
As to “big picture” education reform, he’ll soon be naming an overseer of a “21st Century Education Commission” he mentioned in his State of the State message. It will include three working groups to look at consolidation or cooperation among the state’s 36 school districts, the unique needs of urban schools, and teacher pay and quality.
The truth is, the Governor has been battling "The Entrenched" since day one and they've been counter-attacking tooth and nail and still lobby hard for more money from the cash-strapped state.

In a perfect world we'd have enough revenue to fund the sort of safety net everyone in this state seems to want. (Whether or not that would be a plus is a debate for another day...) Surrounded by uncooperative politicians and interest groups, the Governor has been left to make the difficult choices on his own.

ADDENDUM: When asked about his proposed cut in services for orphans at 18 (vice the current 21), the Governor offered some perspective.

“My brother at 18 went to Vietnam,” the governor replies.

“There are lots of young people at 18 years old that are going into the military or serving, and he went to Vietnam,” Carcieri says. “People have to make decisions. And I understand, you know, life often isn’t exactly the way you’d like it.”
Generations have know this to be true. It's called growing up. It's about time more of the adults who claim to be leading this state do the same thing.

The Wobbling Immigration Compromise...

Carroll Andrew Morse

...and can someone with some insight into the Democratc mind explain Sheldon Whitehouse's voting pattern to me?

The Associated Press is reporting that the Senate’s version of a comprehensive immigration reform bill is in trouble because of an amendment passed late last night

A fragile compromise that would legalize millions of unlawful immigrants risks coming unraveled after the Senate voted early Thursday to place a five-year limit on a program meant to provide U.S. employers with 200,000 temporary foreign workers annually.

The 49-48 vote came two weeks after the Senate, also by a one-vote margin, rejected the same amendment by Sen. Byron Dorgan. The North Dakota Democrat says immigrants take many jobs Americans could fill.

The reversal dismayed backers of the immigration bill, which is supported by President Bush but loathed by many conservatives. Business interests and their congressional allies were already angry that the temporary worker program had been cut in half from its original 400,000-person-a-year target.

The amendment is potentially a poison pill because it alters the fundamental balance of the immigration compromise between our nation’s business and political elites. The deal is supposed to be that business gets cheap labor in return for Democrats getting new voters. However, the business lobby and their Republican clients (or is it the Republicans and their business lobby clients?) will be less inclined to support this bill if the Senate reduces the amount of cheap labor made available without reducing the number of potential new voters eligible to traverse a “path to citizenship”.

Senator Arlen Specter has indicated that the amendment may be amended in some way to restore the previous compromise, so this is far from over.

On the local front, Senator Jack Reed voted with most Democrats in favor of the five-year limit on the guest worker program, i.e. to create new voters for his party without giving business the expanded cheap labor pool that it wants. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was one of the 11 Democrats who voted against the amendment. The always-alert Mickey Kaus notes that Senator Whitehouse’s vote on this is a flip-flop, as he voted in favor of virtually the same amendment on May 24. (A cynic would ask what the Kennedy machine offered Senator Whitehouse in order to get him to change his vote.)

Finally, both Democratic Presidential frontrunners in the Senate voted in favor of the amendment, bolstering the theory that this may be intended by some Dems to kill a bill that is tremendously unpopular in the country...

A Rasmussen Reports poll conducted Monday and Tuesday night found that just 23% of voters now support the bill while 50% are opposed,
...without taking direct responsibility for it. Seeking ways to take action without taking responsibility does seem to be standard Democratic party operating procedure in this session of Congress.

Text of amendment that Senator Whitehouse voted for on May 24…

At the end of section 401, add the following:

(d) Sunset of Y-1 Visa Program--

(1) SUNSET--Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, no alien may be issued a new visa as a Y-1 nonimmigrant (as defined in section 218B of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as added by section 403) after the date that is 5 years after the date that the first such visa is issued.

(2) CONSTRUCTION--Nothing in paragraph (1) may be construed to affect issuance of visas to Y-2B nonimmigrants (as defined in such section 218B), under the AgJOBS Act of 2007, as added by subtitle C, or any visa program other than the Y-1 visa program.

Text of amendment that Senator Whitehouse voted against on June 6…
At the end of section 401, add the following:

(d) Sunset of Y-1 Visa Program--

(1) SUNSET--Notwithstanding any other provision of this Act, or any amendment made by this Act, no alien may be issued a new visa as a Y-1 nonimmigrant (as defined in section 218B of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as added by section 403) on the date that is 5 years after the date that the first such visa is issued.

(2) CONSTRUCTION--Nothing in paragraph (1) may be construed to affect issuance of visas to Y-2B nonimmigrants (as defined in such section 218B), under the AgJOBS Act of 2007, as added by subtitle C, under the H-2A visa program, or any visa program other than the Y-1 visa program.

See the important differences!

June 6, 2007

Legislature's Budget Coming on Friday

Carroll Andrew Morse

Friday is the day the legislature’s version of the state budget will be unveiled, according to Steve Peoples of the Projo’s 7-to-7 blog

Ending weeks of speculation on Smith Hill, legislative leaders have announced their plan to unveil the 2008 budget.

The release is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday in House Finance Committee Room 35 in the State House basement.

The committee posted the meeting at 2 p.m. today, as 48 hours notice is required for all public meetings. If the schedule goes as planned, legislators will review the budget article by article Friday afternoon.

The process can take as little as a couple hours or can run through the night. Once approved by the committee, there is a mandatory seven-day waiting period before the full House can vote on the budget.

While you’re waiting with baited breath for the legislature's plan, for some light reading, check out this report on the fiscal health of the states compiled by the National Governors' Association (h/t the WPRO-AM news department)…
Most states continue to experience stable financial conditions in fiscal 2007. This has been due in large part to continued revenue growth that has exceeded budgeted expectations. As a result, many states have been able to absorb persistent and mounting spending pressures in areas such as health care, infrastructure, education, employee pension systems, and employee benefits….

Although most states continue to experience stable fiscal conditions, a handful of states have not been so fortunate. Three states were forced to make midyear budget cuts totaling approximately $170 million in fiscal 2007.

Guess who was one of the three states unable to pay for everything it had budgeted for?

If Rhode Island is facing continuing shortfalls when the rest of the country is booming, what’s going to happen in a time of national-scale economic slowdown, if the structural causes of our fiscal problems haven't been addressed?

Whitehouse: No Z-Visas for Illegal Felons Equates to Torture

Marc Comtois

In the ongoing immigration debate in the Senate, Sen. John Cornyn introduced an amendment banning felons from obtaining Z visas. Our own Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse rose up in opposition to Cornyn's attempt at common sense, as Michelle Malkin reports:

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (who?) is blabbering on about the due process rights of illegal aliens. Now he's equating torture and rendition with the Cornyn amendment to ban felons from getting Z visas. Whitehouse: "There they go again." Accuses GOP of violating "bedrock principles" of American law. {link to "rendition" added by me-ed.}
Yes, it's surely within the spirit of American law to allow someone who has been convicted of a crime while in this country illegally to be allowed to stay and, eventually, become a citizen.

MORE: Cornyn's amendment was an attempt to close some loopholes in the omnibus Immigration Reform Bill.

“The question I put to my colleagues is this: Should Congress permanently bar from the U.S. and from receiving any immigration benefit: suspected terrorists, gang members, sex offenders, felony drunk drivers, and other individuals who are a danger to society?,” Sen. Cornyn said. “I hope that every Senator would answer this question with a positive response.

Sen. Cornyn’s amendment also closes the loophole in the pending bill that allows legalization of those illegal immigrants who have violated court ordered deportations, or absconders.

“Unlike the first half of my amendment, this is not a technical correction. In other words, the decision to legalize this population of illegal immigrants was not an oversight by those who drafted this ‘compromise’ legislation,” Sen. Cornyn said. “Their decision was that Congress should allow exceptions for individuals who are illegally in the United States in defiance of a court order, as well as those individuals who have previously been deported from the United States pursuant to a court order and have again reentered illegally. I could not agree with this decision and I believe every member of the Senate should make clear where they stand on this matter. Congress has determined that each of these crimes is a felony. The laws are on the books, and we must make sure they are enforced.”

According to Malkin, "Cornyn amendment fails. Vote: 46-51." Sen. Ted Kennedy's alternate amendment (which he claims addresses Cornyn's concerns about the worst felons) has passed. The difference: Kennedy doesn't consider a lot of what he calls "garden variety" crimes (ignoring deportation, using fake IDs) serious enough to disqualify someone from obtaining a Z Visa while Cornyn did.

Is a School Secretary Administration or Instructional Support?

Carroll Andrew Morse

Chariho school board member (and Rhode Island College iconoclast) Bill Felkner has an interesting op-ed in today’s Projo expressing concern that some of the information being produced to meet No-Child-Left-Behind requirements isn’t reliable…

The Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) uses the Teacher Certification System to tabulate the types and numbers of employees at every Rhode Island public school. This information is sent to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), located within the U.S. Department of Education, and compiled for every public school in the country.

School employees are divided into eight categories: teachers, instructional aides, coordinators, guidance counselors, library/media specialists and supports, district administrators and supports, school administrators and supports, and student support services and other supports.

Can you imagine how beneficial this information could be? You could compare your district with the best in the country, and set your goals accordingly. But in a recent school-board meeting I learned that this simple yet powerful comparison is impossible....For example, the NCES reports that the Chariho District has 74 guidance counselors but the administration contends that the number is only 10. But if you move the remaining 64 employees to the support category, the analysis is still useless because some schools include secretaries in their support category (which we categorize as administrators).

The Chariho administration has investigated the Teacher Certification System and found social workers and psychologists listed as administrators, found single employees counted three times and even identified employees on the lists who had “retired, transferred or resigned.”

If we included the dead, I would think we were looking at the voter registration rolls.

On March 27, the Chariho School Board was presented with an e-mail from Edward Giroux, the director of the Office of Network and Information Systems at RIDE, that said, “It’s obvious that the information is incorrect.” According to Chariho Regional School District Superintendent Barry Ricci, RIDE has also said that it has “no faith that the reports for any of the districts are accurate.”

Mayor Giuliani Responds to Bishop Tobin, Sort Of

Carroll Andrew Morse

At last night’s Republican Presidential debate televised on CNN, Wolf Blitzer asked Mayor Rudolph Giuliani about Bishop Thomas Tobin’s criticism of his position on abortion.

The joking and laughter at the beginning of the excerpt concerns a lightning strike that interfered with the Mayor’s answer…

Wolf Blitzer: Mayor Giuliani, there was some news here today. A Catholic bishop in Rhode Island said some words about your position on abortion, suggesting that it was similar to Pontius Pilate's personal opposition to Jesus Christ's crucifixion, but allowing it to happen anyway. How does that make you feel when you hear words like that from a Catholic bishop?

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani: Well, Catholic bishop -- any religion (inaudible).

WB: That's the lightning that's having an effect on our system.

RG: I know.


I guess I'm here by myself.

Look, for someone who went to parochial schools all his life, this is a very frightening thing that's happening right now.


But the reality is I respect, you know, the opinion of Catholic (inaudible) and religious leaders of all kinds. Religion is very important to me. It's a very important part of my life.

But ultimately, as (inaudible) been in public life most of my life and taken oaths of office to enforce the law, I've got to make the decisions that I think are the right ones in a country like ours.

And my view on abortion is that it's wrong, but that ultimately government should not be enforcing that decision on a woman.

That is my view that I -- I consult my religion. I consult my reading of the Constitution. I consult my views of what I think are important in a pluralistic society, and the reality that we have to respect the fact that there are people that are equally as religious, equally as moral, that make a different decision about this, and should government put them in jail?

Another Quick Fix is In

Marc Comtois

All in all, just another (temporary) thumb in the dike...:

Lawmakers likely will have $102 million more revenue to balance the budget than previously thought, thanks in part to House Bill 6473 (PDF), which authorizes the state to raise $195 million from the sale of tobacco settlement bonds....The move essentially fills a hole created last month when state leaders learned they would not receive an expected $100-million settlement from the insurance giant American International Group.

...Rachel Miller, director of the advocacy group RI Jobs with Justice, react[ed] to news of the tobacco settlement plan. “But even if it creates solutions for this year, we’re still going to face this problem next year.”

...Gary S. Sasse, head of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, echoed Miller’s concern that the state was again turning to a one-time revenue fix to fill a structural deficit only expected to grow in the coming years.

“To the extent that we use the tobacco settlement to balance the budget…we continue a practice that has gotten us into trouble,” he said. “We’ve been too dependent on non-recurring revenues.” He noted the irony of using a one-time budget fix (the tobacco bonds) to fill another that fell apart (the AIG settlement).

Ah. The tobacco settlement, the gift that keeps on giving to our government.

How's that anti-smoking campaign going?

Into the Abyss or the Same-but-Different?

Justin Katz

There's an attraction, among older folks, to validating what the kids are doing. Nobody wants to become the modern version of that fuddy-duddy whom they mocked as children, but there's a risk of overlooking important considerations as one rushes to be cool about the modern-day Walkman, the latest music, or newfangled manifestations of the recklessness of youth. The case in point is Jason Fry, in his Wall Street Journal Real Time column on the "New Generation's Public Disclosures" (note that "After Net kids" is a generational coinage, not a group of specific young'n's):

What do you do when you realize how public your online life is? You could retreat into anonymity and try to ensure you leave no trace online -- but increasingly there's something odd about a person who seems to leave no Google trace. You could try to scrub your online image, getting rid of the things you'd rather not have people see and/or taking steps to elevate what you do want people to see in search results. But that generally doesn't work.

Or you could say "So what?" and accept that every aspect of your online life is out there for people to find and judge as they will. (Note I'm not talking about personal information like Social Security numbers -- that's a whole nother column.) You could decide that if some people then judge you poorly based on one aspect of that online life, that's their problem -- a decision that will help you develop the thicker skin we all need in a changing world.

That's the strategy the After Net kids have pursued -- not consciously, but because it's the only world they've ever known. Will it cost some of them jobs? Undoubtedly -- but not for much longer. Because it's their worldview that will win the day as they assume the positions of authority vacated by people my age. The ones who'll struggle? Here's betting it'll be Before Netters like me, with our weirdly sterile Google lives that begin in middle age and our old-fashioned skittishness about online embarrassment and criticism.

I wouldn't say that this is a trend that requires those who are concerned about it to do something, but to declare that we oughtn't warn the After Netters about the dangers of their public personae is to lead them away from a sober assessment of the world in which they live. Perhaps there is nothing that can be done to stop the technological advances in question — even if there were reasons to make the attempt — but it is odd that a man who" ould argue such a thing doesn't seem to realize that human nature and diversity of behavior will persist, as well.

One can easily sketch a mental image of the rebellious youth who lets it all hang out — prudent public image be damned. One can also easily sketch the overly primped and primed youth whose public image is so clearly concocted that one suspects an underlying truth that he or she feels a need to hide. But most kids will fall between these extremes. In other words, integral to his conclusion that "Before Net guy running HR" (turning away applicants associated with beer bong photos) will one day be replaced by "an After Netter with an old MySpace page of her own" (ensuring that reckless use of the Internet will cost kids jobs "not for much longer") is the flawed assumption that the former's lack of MySpace translates into a lack of sympathy and that the latter will not only have her own MySpace page, but one broadcasting keg stands or the like.

I rather expect middle-of-the-spectrum kids to grow into adults who use reasonable judgment in categorizing applicants, who will continue to be judged in keeping with the quality of their own apparent judgment. Therefore, kids in proximity to digital video cameras ought to be prepared to ensure that their behavior is such that they are confident in saying "so what" to those who might point it out in the future.

That all said, I'm more concerned about a possibility that Fry misses altogether. The article that he cites reports that one "fourth of human resources decision makers said they had rejected candidates based on personal information found online," but MySpace drunkenness is only an example. Although it isn't mentioned, another example of online personal information could be opinions on political, cultural, or religious issues. One HR respondent admitted to rejecting an applicant based on activities that "did not fit ethically" with the company. Who knows to what that refers, in this instance, but it could just as easily be participating in pro-life marches as biting the heads off squirrels. In other words, judgment could be passed based not on what you did, but on what you believe.

Over years of office evolution, random ideological challenges at the water cooler could become a thing of the past. Opportunities could diminish to meet people who have different cultural personae through related employment personae. The Internet's primary function is to accelerate our access to information, and that includes qualities of personality as well as facts and figures. Whether or not fretting over the consequences makes me a fuddy-duddy, I worry that we haven't reached a sufficient level of general respect and capacity for intellectual distance in order to avoid self-stratification as the collection of personal information outpaces the development of personal empathy.

I humbly suggest that encouraging everybody to post multimedia clips of their youthful indiscretions as Internet-speed first impressions would be a foolish way to remedy discrepancies between the pacing of relationship formation and the aggregation of biographical data.

June 5, 2007

Advancing the SSM Conversation

Justin Katz

Matt from Unlikely Words makes an excellent point in response to my most recent post on same-sex marriage, excellent because it advances a conversation that tends toward talking past one another:

The statistics don't enter into it. Even accepting the claim (which I don't doubt) that many or even most married couples have children isn't an argument that marriage must be procreative. It's just an argument that it generally is. I accept the descriptive claim that marriages tend to involve procreation. I reject the normative claim that marriage is fundamentally procreative.

To avoid the deterioration into non-communication, I won't move on without insisting that I've never claimed that marriage must be procreative. My argument is against undermining the link between parenthood and marriage, whereby couples planning to have children get married and couples having sex understand that pregnancy comes with a unified set of responsibilities within a marital household. It is inherent in my promotion of a certain vision of marriage that I believe it to be what we make it, and since we have free will, we can make it what we want. Indeed, inasmuch as advocates for same-sex marriage insist that it is a matter of civil rights, they are the ones dictating a definition of marriage, which gets to the heart of their efforts to subvert our society and effectively disenfranchise people who disagree with them.

In the public debate over marriage, the two definitions that matter are not the "descriptive" and the "normative" (although procreative marriage is normative to the extent that it describes the norm, which it does), but the cultural and the legal, and in a democratic society, the latter ought to conform with, or at least not interfere with, the former, unless broader principles that the society prioritizes — such as equality — are thereby violated. That is why it is important to understand what marriage is in practice: because there are two ways in which we can know how to balance the various beliefs, interests, and priorities of our fellow citizens, by their actions and by their votes (with a footnote that the voice of those who profess to "speak for" our nation, such as artists in various media, decreasingly represents its people).

If actions (as interpretable through statistics) and votes confirm that marriage is procreative, then it isn't invidious discrimination (i.e., in violation of the type of discrimination that our society considers overriding of other principles) to assert that homosexual relationships do not qualify. (As individuals, of course, homosexuals are free to enter into marriage as currently defined.)

Proponents of same-sex marriage who argue anything more than a preference that our understanding of marriage ought to change are claiming a supernormative definition — a moral one — and are thereby promoting essentially a religious belief. The irony is that I have no problem with their seeking to have that belief established in the law; we ought to be able to form our government, in democratic fashion, such that it doesn't conflict with our beliefs, and theirs are free to compete in the social and legislative spheres. Contrary to progressives' affinity for insisting that laws cannot be based on citizens religious convictions, this is how religion should interact with government, and it is in that spirit that I offer my defenses of traditional marriage.

Bishop Tobin Critical of Mayor Giuliani

Carroll Andrew Morse

In the Rhode Island Catholic (until recently, the Providence Visitor), Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Diocese of Providence offers a stinging criticism of Republican Presidential Candidate Rudolph Giuliani (h/t RI Future). The Bishop makes a general moral argument against taking the “personally opposed but publicly in favor” position that Mayor Giuiliani has taken with regards to abortion rights…

Rudy’s public proclamations on abortion are pathetic and confusing. Even worse, they’re hypocritical.

Now, this is what we get from Rudy as he attempted to explain his ambiguous position on abortion in a speech at Houston Baptist College earlier this month: “Here are the two strong beliefs that I have, here are the two pillars of my thinking . . . One is, I believe abortion is wrong. I think it is morally wrong . . . The second pillar that guides my thinking . . . where [people of good faith] come to different conclusions about this, about something so very, very personal, I believe you have to respect their viewpoint. You give them a level of choice here . . . I’ve always believed both of these things”….

Rudy’s explanation is a classic expression of the position on abortion we’ve heard from weak-kneed politicians so frequently in recent years:

“I’m personally opposed to but don’t want to impose my views on other people.” The incongruity of that position has been exposed many times now. As I’ve asked previously, would we let any politician get away with the same pathetic cop-out on other issues: “I’m personally opposed to . . . racial discrimination, sexual abuse, prostitution, drug abuse, polygamy, incest . . . but don’t want to impose my beliefs on others?”

Why is it that when I hear someone explaining this position, I think of the sad figure of Pontius Pilate in the Gospels, who personally found no guilt in Jesus, but for fear of the crowd, washed his hands of the whole affair and handed Jesus over to be crucified. I can just hear Pilate saying, “You know, I’m personally opposed to crucifixion but I don’t want to impose my belief on others.”

Okay, let’s ask Mayor Giuliani to think about his position for a minute.

Hey Rudy, you say that you believe abortion is morally wrong. Why do you say that, Rudy; why do you believe that abortion is wrong? Is abortion the killing of an innocent child? Is it an offense against human dignity? Is it a cruel and violent act? Does it harm the woman who has the abortion? And if your answer to any of these questions is yes, Rudy, why would you permit people to . . . kill an innocent child, offend human dignity, commit a cruel and violent act or do harm to the mother? This is in the name of choice? Huh?

…as well as reminding Catholic politicians that their status as public figures confers them no special right to ignore Church teachings on this, or any, issue. In fact, it's just the opposite…
Rudy’s preposterous position is compounded by the fact that he professes to be a Catholic. As Catholics, we are called, indeed required, to be pro-life, to cherish and protect human life as a precious gift of God from the moment of conception until the time of natural death. As a leader, as a public official, Rudy Giuliani has a special obligation in that regard.

In The Gospel of Life, Pope John Paul made the obligation to defend human life very explicit:

“This task is the particular responsibility of civil leaders . . . No one can ever renounce this responsibility, especially when he or she has a legislative or decision-making mandate.”

And more recently, the Bishops of the United States wrote: “If a Catholic in his or her personal or professional life were knowingly and obstinately to repudiate [the Church’s] definitive teaching on moral issues, he or she would seriously diminish his or her communion with the Church.” (Happy Are Those Who Are Called to His Supper, p. 11)

Rasmussen: Fred Thompson in Second

Marc Comtois

According to Rasmussen:

With former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson taking his first formal steps towards a Presidential run and the immigration debate creating challenges for Arizona Senator John McCain, the race for the Republican Presidential nomination has an entirely different look this week.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) remains on top, but his support has slipped to 23%. That’s down two points from a week ago and is his lowest level of support all year. Earlier, Giuliani had consistently enjoyed support in the mid-30s. That was before Thompson’s name was added to the mix and before Giuliani stumbled on the abortion issue in the first GOP debate of the season.

Thompson, who just formed an exploratory committee and is the newest face in the race, immediately moved into second place. With 17% support, he is within six points of the frontrunner. That’s closer than anybody has been to Giuliani in 20 consecutive weekly polls. Thompson is also competitive in a variety of general election match-ups with potential Democratic nominees.

Among men, Thompson earns 21% support while Giuliani attracts 20%.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is the top choice for 15% of those likely to vote in a GOP primary. That’s little changed from the last couple of weeks and keeps him a single-point ahead of Arizona Senator John McCain who is preferred by 14%.

Has he peaked before he's even formerly entered the race? We'll see.

UPDATE: Pew also polled and says "Thompson has broad potential appeal among Republican voters."

June 4, 2007

I've Had It... With What? or
I've Always Been a Troublemaker, so Why Stop Now? or
Learning the Laffey Lesson

Justin Katz

After a bit of consideration, I'm not so sure I've the resources to up and leave Rhode Island. There's an ire that rises when one feels trapped, but at the same time, brawling has its attractions, and a couple of community items have recently led me to believe that there's another path to take than that which leads across the border.

Item 1 is a certified letter that I received regarding construction and renovations to the school next to my house. It seems the Connecticut architecture firm that is handling the project needs a special use permit and a variance, the former given only the esoteric explanation of zoning ordinance numbers and the latter to allow "less than required parking spaces." Inasmuch as my street becomes a parking lot for the school already (not to mention a smoking section for the tobacco-free property), I'm curious, to say the least, what the plan is. Per the law (I assume), the petition for these waivers is available for public examination:

Said petition is now on file in the Building/Zoning Department at the Tiverton Town Hall and may be examined during regular office hours, 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. then 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Who gets a full hour for lunch anymore, especially one so rigid that the office is officially closed during that siesta? Second, how are interested parties supposed to view the petition when it is available only during hours when most people are working? The letter mentions that "interpreter services [are available] for the hearing impaired," and that the "location is handi-cap accessible," but it seems to me that the most disadvantaged class, when it comes to dealing with the town hall, is that of the occupationally employed.

Item 2 is a report in the Sakonnet Times:

After getting off to slow start, voters at Tiverton's financial town meeting Wednesday night eventually flew through and approved a $39.86 million town budget for next year that will raise property taxes by 62 cents per thousand dollars of value, from $9.62 to $10.24. The budget voters approved was unchanged from that recommended by the budget committee.

It took almost as long to assemble a quorum as it did to approve the budget. At 7 p.m., the announced "official" start time, nothing happened. Town officials noted that another area newspaper had published a start time of 7:30. The weather was ominous, with storm warnings and threats of a tornado watch being broadcast. "The storm isn't helping," said Town Council President Louise Durfee. ...

Next year's $39.86 million budget is 7.5 percent higher than last year's. After accounting for all other revenue from the state and non-tax miscellaneous sources, the amount needed to be raised by local property taxation is $26.9 million. Some of that total will be raised by taxes on tangible personal property, but the bulk will derive from real estate taxes at the newly established $10.24 per thousand rate. ...

Town meeting attendees voted the budget item by item, in a series of over 44 separate votes, for schools, debt service, fire, police, town council, public works, library, Board of Canvassers, town sergeant, Town Hall, and many other. The total approved for schools was $24.59 million, and for the town or municipal side of the town budget $15.27 million.

They voted item by item and everything passed. True, some objections were made, including an attempt at salary protection by a union council president and a reasonable suggestion to shut street lights off at times and reduce the $125,000 expense for them. (Apparently, doing so would actually cost more money "because of contractual obligations with the electrical supplier," although I note that the one on the corner of my property works only sporadically, anyway.) Of course, even if our streets remained totally dark, we'd have reduced the budget by only 0.3%. In other words, in response to an ever-increasing budget, the only notable suggestion to save money would have, if possible, probably not even saved taxpayers a tenth of a percent of their bill.

Given the movement of social and, well, most issues upward to the state and federal levels, like the vast majority of people, my druthers would be for municipal government to operate more or less invisibly — just keeping things running — but clearly, my civic activity has to become more extensive than writing for Anchor Rising, if only to play the part of rabble rouser and get my fellow townsfolk to begin thinking of local budgets and projects as debatable things. As my first adventure in town government, I'll be attending the public hearing on the school construction this Wednesday, and — assuming it's there — my second order of business will be to thank my civil servants for keeping the building open late enough for a working stiff like me to actually find out what my taxes will be funding on the other side of my fence.

In all of these endeavors, I'll be applying what I took to be the "Laffey Lesson" of the last election: Partly by virtue of our being correct in our policy prescriptions, even those of us who are of an ideological minority in Rhode Island can have a direct effect at some level of government and, in threatening the stability of those who stand above us, at higher levels, as well. Officials to the right of this state's to-the-left center cannot afford to face split votes, and an openness, among conservatives, to creative destruction may help us to spread our ideas, en route to increasing our impact, even if we have to spell "destruction" with a capital D in our districts.

Kirk's (Russell, not Captain) Ten Conservative Principles

Marc Comtois

Apropos of nothing--er--except conservatism, here's a conservative lesson for the day. Why, you may ask? Well, every once in a while we need to be reminded, don't we? So, please open your primer to Russel Kirk's Ten Conservative Principles. (Regarding the post title, maybe I should try to come up with Captain Kirk's own list...or not).

First, Mr. Kirk's explanation of "conservatism."

Being neither a religion nor an ideology, the body of opinion termed conservatism possesses no Holy Writ and no Das Kapital to provide dogmata. So far as it is possible to determine what conservatives believe, the first principles of the conservative persuasion are derived from what leading conservative writers and public men have professed during the past two centuries....

The attitude we call conservatism is sustained by a body of sentiments, rather than by a system of ideological dogmata. It is almost true that a conservative may be defined as a person who thinks himself such. The conservative movement or body of opinion can accommodate a considerable diversity of views on a good many subjects, there being no Test Act or Thirty-Nine Articles of the conservative creed.

In essence, the conservative person is simply one who finds the permanent things more pleasing than Chaos and Old Night. (Yet conservatives know, with Burke, that healthy “change is the means of our preservation.”) A people’s historic continuity of experience, says the conservative, offers a guide to policy far better than the abstract designs of coffee-house philosophers. But of course there is more to the conservative persuasion than this general attitude.

In fine, the diversity of ways in which conservative views may find expression is itself proof that conservatism is no fixed ideology. What particular principles conservatives emphasize during any given time will vary with the circumstances and necessities of that era. The following ten articles of belief reflect the emphases of conservatives in America nowadays {circa .

Here is Kirk's list (follow the link for lengthier explanations):

First, the conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. - "A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society—whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society—no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be."

Second, the conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. - "Conservatives are champions of custom, convention, and continuity because they prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know. Order and justice and freedom, they believe, are the artificial products of a long social experience, the result of centuries of trial and reflection and sacrifice."

Third, conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription. - "...that is, of things established by immemorial usage, so that the mind of man runneth not to the contrary. There exist rights of which the chief sanction is their antiquity—including rights to property, often. Similarly, our morals are prescriptive in great part."

Fourth, conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. - "Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity....Human society being complex, remedies cannot be simple if they are to be efficacious. The conservative declares that he acts only after sufficient reflection, having weighed the consequences. Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery."

Fifth, conservatives pay attention to the principle of variety. - "They feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life, as distinguished from the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems."

Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability. - "Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent—or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things."

Seventh, conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. - "Separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all. Upon the foundation of private property, great civilizations are built. The more widespread is the possession of private property, the more stable and productive is a commonwealth. Economic levelling...is not economic progress. Getting and spending are not the chief aims of human existence; but a sound economic basis for the person, the family, and the commonwealth is much to be desired."

Eighth, conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. - "In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily. Some of these functions are carried out by local political bodies, others by private associations: so long as they are kept local, and are marked by the general agreement of those affected, they constitute healthy community. But when these functions pass by default or usurpation to centralized authority, then community is in serious danger....A central administration, or a corps of select managers and civil servants, however well intentioned and well trained, cannot confer justice and prosperity and tranquility upon a mass of men and women deprived of their old responsibilities."

Ninth, the conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. - "Knowing human nature for a mixture of good and evil, the conservative does not put his trust in mere benevolence. Constitutional restrictions, political checks and balances, adequate enforcement of the laws, the old intricate web of restraints upon will and appetite—these the conservative approves as instruments of freedom and order. A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty."

Tenth, the thinking conservative understands that permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. - "The conservative knows that any healthy society is influenced by two forces, which Samuel Taylor Coleridge called its Permanence and its Progression. The Permanence of a society is formed by those enduring interests and convictions that gives us stability and continuity; without that Permanence, the fountains of the great deep are broken up, society slipping into anarchy. The Progression in a society is that spirit and that body of talents which urge us on to prudent reform and improvement; without that Progression, a people stagnate.

Therefore the intelligent conservative endeavors to reconcile the claims of Permanence and the claims of Progression....The conservative, in short, favors reasoned and temperate progress; he is opposed to the cult of Progress, whose votaries believe that everything new necessarily is superior to everything old.

Change is essential to the body social, the conservative reasons, just as it is essential to the human body. A body that has ceased to renew itself has begun to die. But if that body is to be vigorous, the change must occur in a regular manner, harmonizing with the form and nature of that body; otherwise change produces a monstrous growth, a cancer, which devours its host. The conservative takes care that nothing in a society should ever be wholly old, and that nothing should ever be wholly new. This is the means of the conservation of a nation, quite as it is the means of conservation of a living organism. Just how much change a society requires, and what sort of change, depend upon the circumstances of an age and a nation."

"The great line of demarcation in modern politics, Eric Voegelin used to point out, is not a division between liberals on one side and totalitarians on the other. No, on one side of that line are all those men and women who fancy that the temporal order is the only order, and that material needs are their only needs, and that they may do as they like with the human patrimony. On the other side of that line are all those people who recognize an enduring moral order in the universe, a constant human nature, and high duties toward the order spiritual and the order temporal."

Immigration, Markets and Progressive Taxation

Carroll Andrew Morse

Oppose "comprehensive" immigration reform and you’re helping bring Hillary Clinton to power argues Wall Street Journal editorial board member Daniel Henninger, writing in last Thursday's OpinionJournal

The massive migrant flows across the states described earlier--into the private industries of construction, restaurants, agriculture, food-packaging, hotels, health and landscaping--is irrefutably the result of powerful, lava-like free-market economic forces.

No matter how principled conservatives may think themselves on this issue, the fact remains that at crunch time they sent the market to the back of the southbound bus. Sounds much like the extra-market case their opponents make for the Kyoto Treaty. It also sounds like an argument for sending a $2,000 contribution to Hillary Clinton, so the country can be run by people who truly believe in managed economies.

But, as the Projo editorial board suggests in their Saturday paper, more than market-based forces are driving immigration into the U.S...
In 2004, Rhode Island spent over $87 million educating the children of illegal immigrants, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That number is surely higher now and almost matches the surprise $90 million hole in the fiscal 2008 budget.

Several other states and localities, frustrated by the federal government’s incompetence, timidity and inaction, have passed their own laws to reduce illegal immigration within their borders. Some of these efforts have apparently shown success with reports of taxpayer savings. Contrary to myth, most illegal immigrants pay little in taxes.

(Actually, I’m not sure the figure of $87 million is an official Department of Education estimate; I believe it comes from a Federation for American Immigration Reform study which combines demographic data from the Census Bureau and the Immigration and Naturalization Service with per-pupil spending data from the Education Department). Still, whatever the exact number, the Projo editorial board's view of immigration more accurately describes reality than does Henniger's market-only view.

Low skill immigrants are drawn to America because a) the market will provide them with jobs and b) the government will provide them with American-quality public services c) while asking for very little in return in terms of taxes. Point c) is decidedly not the result of market forces; it is the result of our government's policy of progressive taxation. Currently, about 50% of the U.S. population pays no Federal income tax at all. And since the RI income tax piggybacks on the federal income tax, a large number of Rhode Islanders pay no state income tax either. Combine mass immigration of low skill labor with this hyper-progressive tax system, and you increase the number of people entitled to government services and benefits, without creating the matching increase in revenue needed to pay for the services being used.

Are comprehensive immigration advocates honestly promising that government can sustain the existing quality of its public programs as people are added to the system faster than revenues are? Or do they simply believe that the costs associated with new arrivals can always picked up by increasing the progressivity of the tax code, i.e. by jacking up the taxes on the people already here?

To be fair, I suspect Daniel Henninger and the WSJ editorial board would propose a simple solution to this problem -- flatten out the tax code. However, until a flatter tax code becomes a reality, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to discuss immigration purely in terms of market forces. As for progressive supporters of immigration reform, they want a hyper-progressive tax code, mass immigration, and an expansive welfare state all at the same time. Unfortunately, a rational, sustainable system cannot embody all three.

Detroit Says: Thank You Rhode Island, For Showing Us How to Run a Charter School

Carroll Andrew Morse

The title above is not snarky or ironic. At least as far away as Detroit, Rhode Island is famous for its charter schools, according to nationally syndicated columnist Neal Peirce

In 1999, Doug Ross and his colleagues made an outrageous "90-90" promise. In 2007, they would graduate at least 90 percent of ninth-graders going through their brand new University Preparatory Academy, an inner-city charter school [in Detroit]. And 90 percent would go on to post-secondary education.

Next week, as the 128-student senior class marches in red and black robes across the stage of Detroit's Opera House, receiving their diplomas and calling out the name of their college or trade school, the promise will be fulfilled. The graduation rate is expected to be 95 percent; of those, the college enrollment rate will likely be 100 percent....

[Ross and University Academy Co-Founder William Beckham] were personally angered by the short shrift for kids being offered by Detroit's big factory-like, assembly-line schools — a mirror, they believed, of auto plants time-warped in Henry Ford-era production methods. Unable to manage quality on a student-by-student basis, overburdened by expensive central bureaucracy, the system, says Ross, inevitably turned out an "astounding number of lemons."

Surveying what did work for inner-city students, Ross and Beckham decided to emulate Rhode Island's now-famed MET schools, especially their focus on "one student at a time," individualized learning plans and internships with businesses or nonprofits — a way to build on each child's interests and give him or her exposure to the "real" world.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Rhode Island’s legislature was interested in building on Rhode Island’s successes with innovative education programs too? Lifting the current moratorium on opening new charter schools would be a reasonable place to start.

A 2005 Projo editorial has more details on the the Met School...

When the Met School, in Providence, opened in 1996, there was no high school quite like it, not here, not anywhere. But now there are 24 in such places as Sacramento, Indianapolis and Detroit, all modeled on this unusual institution, which Newsweek magazine calls one of the six best innovative schools in America....The Met is neither a charter school nor a Providence public school. It is a public school funded by the state.

The Met is an alternative school, to say the least. It does without the standard structure of classrooms and periods blocked out hour by hour. There are no classrooms at all in the traditional sense. Instead, each student has an individual learning plan based on his or her interests. Teachers guide them and follow their progress. "I want them to know how to study something really in depth," says [Dennis Littky], the school's larger-than-life director.

What looks like a loose kind of education really isn't. The students must rigorously follow a course of study. Taught communications and reasoning skills, the adolescents present themselves and their ideas in a polished way. And no one seems bored. The Met has the highest attendance rate in the state.

The Met does not cherry-pick gifted students. The student body is chosen by lottery, with 75 percent from Providence and the rest from other parts of the state. Many come from poor households. More than 80 percent of the students qualify for federal meal subsidies. The student body is 40 percent Hispanic and 30 percent black.

It costs the state around $12,000 a year to educate a Met student. This is close to the Providence figure, but is a far better deal because of the extraordinary results.

Over 94 percent of the Met students graduated last year (versus 57 percent in the Providence schools). Every graduate was accepted at college -- a higher college placement level than at Barrington High School.

State Employees Health Insurance Contribution Going Up...

Marc Comtois

...and I guess we're supposed be happy about it? (Via ProJo's Political Scene):

On July 1, the worker’s share of the premium cost will rise. For union workers, this was spelled out in the contract; for nonunion workers, a notice went out to each agency’s human resources department three weeks ago, and the agencies are in the process of notifying affected employees.

Workers who earn more than $75,000 a year will now pay 15 percent of their premium cost, up from 11 percent. Factoring in the increase in the price of the plan, that means each worker will pay $871 a year for individual health, dental and vision coverage, and $2,435 a year for family coverage. Because the premium also increased, that’s an increase of $741 in what an employee in this income bracket will pay for a family plan this year.

Workers who earn less than $75,000 a year will go from paying 9 percent of their premium to 12 percent. The state also has a separate category for workers making less than $35,000, for family plans only. Those workers currently pay 6 percent, and will pay 8 percent — or $1,299 a year — starting July 1.

Across all categories of state employees, roughly one-fourth have individual plans and three-fourths have family plans, said Susan Rodriguez, deputy state personnel administrator for benefits.

OK, OK. Maybe I'm just grumpy, but I can't help it...come talk to me when they're throwing $10,000 a year at their family medical plan.

June 1, 2007

Rhode Island Elementary and Middle School Test Results: Charter Middle Schools are Amongst Providence’s Best

Carroll Andrew Morse

According to the testing results provided by the Rhode Island Department of Education, two of Providence’s top three middle schools (out of nine total) are charter schools, the Times2 Academy, and the Paul Cuffee school. Times2 and Paul Cuffee both have over half of their students proficient in reading and over one-third proficient in math. Objectively, those don’t seem like great numbers, but only one other middle school in the city (Nathanael Greene, the only Providence middle school -- charters included -- to get to 50% proficiency in math) met both of these criteria. In fact, no Providence middle schools, other than the three listed above, reached either 40% proficiency in reading or 30% proficiency in math.

Whether it's more charters like Times2 and Paul Cuffee, or a public choice program that allows schools like Nathanael Greene to increase the number of students they reach (and makes other schools say we'd better start doing whatever they're doing), reforms rewarding schools that work are absolutely necessary to improving education in Rhode Island.

Another Argument for In-Store Health Clinics

Carroll Andrew Morse

In an op-ed in today's Projo about CVS' proposed network of in-store health clinics, Joann Fitzpatrick (a retired editor for the Quincy Patriot Ledger) argues that much of what appears to be a healthcare "crisis" is really the result of an inflexible system that poorly aligns available resources with people's needs...

Our confusing, overpriced health-care system needs a lot of changes and high on the list is flexibility. That means flexibility in the attitude of health-care providers — including medical professionals and insurers — and in the delivery of health care. Too often patients must negotiate a labyrinth of rules and requirements just to see a doctor for a simple ailment....

[CVS MinuteClinics] answer the needs of working families and of those who don’t necessarily have a primary-care physician, or insurance. For a parent, taking a child with a sore throat or cough to a clinic rather than a busy pediatrician’s office can mean the difference between being an hour late for work or missing half a day. For a twenty-something without a personal physician, having a rash looked at and treated for $59 is the cost of a few drinks at a downtown bar....

Consumers need to become their own advocates for good health care. We can’t expect everyone to navigate insurance rules and increasingly complex modern medicine with ease. But consumers should be seeking value for their health-care dollar as much as they do with grocery bills.

Maintaining a Light Hand Now to Avoid a Heavy Hand Later

Justin Katz

Before the paragraph devolves into raving, commenter Greg asks a valid question worthy of an answer:

How can we be for a small, non-intrusive government when we tell people that we won't acknowledge their relationships because they don't insert Tab A into Slot B like the rest of us do? And what does it matter to the fabric of society? Except creating a new excluded class. What's the matter? We didn't learn from the lessons of the Civil Rights movement? We aren't tired enough of being tarred as 'racist' now we have to be 'anti-gay', too? Hell, let's just take back the right to vote from the women while we're at it!

A supra-issue strategic principle for conservatives is that it is more effective, more moral, and more in line with individual liberty to offload as many of the cultural controls that are necessary for a healthy society to other mechanisms and institutions than government. Just so, the culture of marriage has been leveraged to ensure that those children born of men and women's natural interactions are raised in the healthiest possible environment and that families develop into organic chains of support. Undermining the link between parenthood and marriage — whereby couples planning to have children get married and couples having sex understand that pregnancy comes with a unified set of responsibilities within a marital household — will increase the intimacy with which the public is compelled to become involved in individual lives. Think of the development of nannyism in the schools, from detailed sex-ed and lifestyle exploration to in-school counseling and self-esteem peddling. Think of court-determined custody and visitation rights and the financial scrutiny involved in child support. Think of the whole collection of social programs needed, in part, to compensate for the worse than average delinquencies of the bastard class. (It's relevant to note a reference that I heard on NPR yesterday morning to the "marriage gap" between wealthier families that build stable households and poorer families that are more prone to out-of-wedlock births and divorces.)

Some readers are likely thinking, in accord with arguments made in the past, that, whatever the history of marriage, it is no longer a fundamentally procreative institution, making it unfair to exclude homosexuals. Apart from the simple consideration that, in practice, marriage certainly is still a fundamentally procreative institution, the fact of a cultural drift into detrimental habits does not suggest that we should cut off the possibility of recovery. To write the opposite-sex nature of marriage — and therefore its procreative essence — out of the law would likely push us further from a usable non-governmental shaper of culture and would certainly hinder us in reconstituting a social order in which the government needn't be an absent, but never silent, member of every family.

ProJo's Broad anti-Blog Brush

Marc Comtois

In "The blogosphere bog," the ProJo editors use the recent controversy about Katie Couric's ghostwritten blog as a jumping off point to damn the entire 'sphere. Much of what they say is true:

[T]he Internet, with its fluidity, lack of sourcing, misleading sourcing, problematic (or nonexistent) dating and vulnerability to manipulation is a veritable Great Dismal Swamp of error, lies and self-promotion that make the National Inquirer read like a corporate-earnings page in The Wall Street Journal.

That may be one reason why as all the world threatens to get “wired,” the knowledge quotient of mankind can’t outrun the misinformation supply. Anyway, as for blogs, don’t think that they’re necessarily written by whoever’s name runs over them.

First, I'll set aside the irony that the negative example supplied is that of an MSM "professional" journalist behaving badly--not an amateur blogger or website. Their argument may have been more effective if they would have headed over to Wikipedia looking for bad entries.

Nonetheless, why the "a few bad apples ruin the whole bushel" approach by the editors?

Apparently, it's because they want to make sure that we remember that "the bulk of news still comes from...those dusty old things called newspapers." That's debatable. Their own allusion to Couric serves to bring TV into the picture as a hefty source of the "news." The Internet, too--liveblogging and Internet-only news sources such as Drudge, Breitbart and PajamasMedia--deliver original and usually accurate content. Yes, there is a lot of chaff out there on the Internet and in the blogosphere, but not all are alike. Just like, to use the ProJo equation, the ProJo doesn't equal STAR.

Look, most blogs do what we at Anchor Rising do--use MSM content as a conversation starter. So, yes, bloggers do need "the papers"--and by extension the rest of the MSM like the ProJo or (ahem) CBS--to provide us with content for our insightful commentary. [Tangentially, I wonder how many newspapers have enjoyed an increase in (albeit non-paying) readership thanks to inbound links from blogs?] Anyway, the newspaper--well, their online editions--are important to us bloggers. That is why I've made the point in the past that we need a strong ProJo for the overall health of the news business in this market.

Maybe they should focus a little more on their own content and reportage and less on taking over-broad potshots at us amateurs toiling in the wilds of the 'sphere.

And by the way, ProJo, thanks for the content that enabled another blog post.

Laffey Laying Groundwork for Governor in '10

Marc Comtois

Ian Donnis has a story in this week's Phoenix on former Cranston Mayor Steve Laffey and what he's up to.

Laffey, a member of the local steering committee for Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign, has been turning up at GOP events in recent months, including a May 24 joint fundraiser of the South Kingstown and Narragansett Republican town committees. Even more significantly, after being stunned by his eight-point loss to Chafee last fall, the preternaturally confident Laffey is poised to get a two-fer with the scheduled publication in September of Primary Mistake: How the Washington Republican Establishment Lost Everything in 2006 (and Sabotaged my Senatorial Campaign).
FYI, Justin and Andrew were at the South County GOP event and spoke with Mayor Laffey, who appeared to be in his element, standing on a chair and hawking for Rudy Giulianni. As for that book, don't hold your breath for any scathing attacks on local GOPers. According to Ian:
“According to one operative in the conservative wing of the party, the mayor has been very shrewd not to burn many local bridges in his book as his gaze becomes fixed on the governor’s office,” says a local Republican. “Instead of the local cast of characters you might expect outed, look for [former Republican National Committee chairman] Ken Mehlman, [former White House chief of staff] Andy Card, and the NRSC [National Republican Senatorial Committee] to be singled out as sacrificing principles for party. And what would any, ahem, great contemporary political opus be without a reference to Karl Rove?”
Ian also discusses Laffey's "peculiar place in Rhode Island’s political universe" and sought comments from some of Rhode Island's big-time political pundits. Here's Darrell West:
“The natural office for him would be the governor’s office in 2010....It will be an open seat election, so he doesn’t have to worry about taking on an incumbent. The GOP doesn’t have a deep bench. He has a personality that is better suited for the executive than the legislative branch.” And since his politics are in line with those of Governor Donald L. Carcieri, West says, Laffey is not too conservative to win a statewide election in Rhode Island.
Here's Laffey friend and WPRO morning show host, John DePetro:
“...if you’re the Republican Party, you can’t not have a guy like that in your starting lineup....The Republican Party can’t just be Mayor Avedisian and Governor Carcieri. The two [conservative and moderate] sides have got to find a way to make it work.”
Saving the best for last, Donnis interviewed Andrew Morse, some conservative blogger....
While conservatives have sometimes been put off by parts of Laffey’s rhetoric, Andrew Morse, a founding contributor to the conservative blog Anchor Rising, writes in an e-mail interview, his financial experience and mayoral record could be a good fit for the governor’s job.

And as Morse notes, there’s a wider view among Rhode Islanders that “RI has gone as far as it can go with one-time revenue fixes and tinkering with existing programs. They believe it’s going to take someone willing to rock the boat more than a little and make major changes and in areas like pensions, healthcare, and education to move Rhode Island towards a prosperous and sustainable future. Laffey has never shown any fear of rocking the boat, and has ideas in all of the major policies areas. These will be major assets to a gubernatorial candidate in 2010.”
Gee, Andrew, I hope you're right about the last part!

See, Here's the Thing About Evolutionary Argumentation

Justin Katz

It is not my intention, herewith, to offer a supporting addendum to Sam Brownback's New York Times piece about evolution, although I think his gist is surpassingly reasonable. Rather, in reading the discussion of that piece in the Corner — which I'm sure is, or might as well be, playing out in various venues across the country — it seems to me that an important point is being missed.

To begin, John Derbyshire (amidst a collection of phrases that followers of the debate will recognize as puffed feathers) offers the following explanation of his scientist response to Brownback's scientific understanding (all emphases in original):

The problem with this position is, that you need to observe — or at least, darn it, hypothesize — some mechanism that stops the micro before it goes macro. (Not to mention that you have to posit some mechanism, other than macro-evolution, for the origin of species... But leave that aside for the moment.)

Take, for example, allopatric ("different homeland") speciation. You have a population of living, sexually-reproducing organisms, all belonging to the same species (i.e. able to mate with each other). You observe variations within the population. You further observe, watching across several generations, that some variations (red hair, schizophrenia) are heritable in whole or part, some (appendectomy scars) are not heritable at all.

Now you divide your population in two: Population A and Population B. You separate them geographically. (Hence "diferent homelands.") You observe that A and B have different "menus" of heritable variation (A has more redheads, B more schizophrenics). You further observe that A's and B's environments are different — A's is hot and dry, B's cool and wet.

You sit back and observe for a few thousand generations. Yep, microevolution goes on. A changes, B changes. Because they started out with different menus of heritable variations, and because environmental pressures in the two places are different, they change differently. They diverge. A thousand generations on, the two populations look and behave differently from each other. Ten thousand generations on, they look and behave way differently. Orthodox biology ("Darwinism") says that eventually they will be so different, they can no longer interbreed. Speciation will have occurred. A and B are now two species.

Under Brownbackian evolution — micro yes, macro no — this can't happen. They can't go on diverging. They can only get so different, no more. The divergence must slow down and stop. But... what stops it? What's the mechanism?

The accumulating Corner posts (here, here, here, here, here, and here) get all the way to a philosopher's suggestion that "unless we can make a convincing case that the choice is not between relativism or dogmatism, more and more people will reject the former and embrace the latter," but at no point does anybody address what the average person will find objectionable (even if unarticulatedly so) in Derbyshire's explanation. How is it — why is it — that hot/dry versus cool/wet conditions ought to be expected to transform hair color and psychosis into biological differences so vast that sperm and egg will no longer function together? An equatorial African human being can still, as far as I know, mate with an Eskimo, and yet chimpanzees would be schtupped to no avail.

Now, I'm absolutely positive that there's a very clever and ever ready response that I haven't the time, just now, to read with the merited attention, but my experience leads me to predict that the back and forth would — not unlike the hypothesis of "micro yes, macro no" — merely change the terms of the debate, without substantially altering the beliefs of those involved. I'm not saying that those beliefs are stubbornly unreachable, but taking the discussion to the boundaries of my comprehension, I've always found the assumption (e.g.) that it's just so darn logical for environmental factors to change organisms in more and more dramatic ways to dominate the details. Meaning that the details appear proposed mainly to illustrate how the assumption could be true.

To some degree, this is just how science must function. "So far, x has provided predictive information with respect to question y, and if we were able to prove that it functions also as X, then we could explain Y, or even Z." Perhaps what's so frustrating about the whole dispute is that rational religion functions in much the same way, just with a broader class of considerations. "Yes, but the way in which I understand 7 has a certain relevance to question y, and given millennia of compelling thought about numbers (and your certainty that X proves the whole effort to have been misdirected), I'm going to insist that there is something of 2 in Z, regardless of the alphabet." I'm not one to disclaim science's ability to explain the world in which we live, but to the extent that it smuggles in a philosophical materialism, one must risk accusations of creationism to state with certainty, as Brownback does, that "man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order." Simply put, there is a form of comprehension distinct from scientific thought without which no understanding of the world is complete.

Julian Baggini, the aforementioned philosopher, writes the following in the piece to which Derbyshire and Jonah Goldberg tread in their conversation:

Richard Rorty, for example, argues against Truth brilliantly, and it is far from clear that he is simply wrong. The problem is that he does not concede as unequivocally as he should that in practice his theories usually leave the world more or less as it is. Rorty believes as much as anyone else that the Holocaust happened more or less as described in history books, he just refuses to use an allegedly outmoded vocabulary of truth to say so. It is not quite fair to call his refusal in such contexts a pose, but it is certainly not quite what it seems.

Ironically, like many left-leaning intellectuals, Rorty thinks that denying objectivity and truth is politically important, as a way of liberating people from the ways of seeing the world promoted as the Truth by the powerful. However, it turns out that Rorty and his ilk seriously misjudged what happens if intellectuals deny truth stridently and frequently enough. Far from making liberal openness more attractive, such denials actually make it appear empty, repugnant and weak compared to the crystalline clarity and certainty of dogma.

Stepping back from the glint of ivory, one can see that the masses do not, in their ignorance, cling to dogma because the academics have left them no middle ground. Those academics aren't making liberal openness seem "empty, repugnant and weak" — language that inherently buys into the academics' elevation of power as the driving force of all human behavior — but that they make it seem wrong, or at least so unbelievable that those who profess it don't actually behave as if it is true.

Such declarations, for all their dogmatic certainty, merely resonate all the more loudly as the bunk that they are. The more monolithic the proclamation, the more apparent it is that the intellectuals, at some point en route to their PhDs, underwent an amputation of the intrinsic human sense that that which has been created likely has a creator, that the miraculous appearance of deliberateness, joined with a longing for and feeling of purpose, is at least suggestive of deliberate purposefulness.

Too often, the purpose of denying truth appears to be the otherwise unjustified allowance of preferences that "the world promoted as the Truth by the powerful" would treat as suspect. Too often the attacks on certainty give the impression of a strategy to promote the power of those who specialize in obscurity. "You're deluded," they say, "in thinking that there's any objective truth, so you should indulge my various urges and subscribe to my political solution to the world's ills, all perpetuating a system that allows me to make a comfortable living explaining why boogers are actually lint when removed from my naval, while you toil in the fields." They are clever enough to prance around any old Truth that might be mentioned, and they insist that the rest of us must be able to reassert those Truths in a way acceptable to them. Otherwise, we are merely retreating to the comfort of certainty, and if we begin to think that a society that devotes its resources to meaningless nonsense could use some reworking, we're reactionary barbarians lashing out at our own insecurities.

Without drawing too close of a comparison between academics defending a philosophy and scientists defending a theory, this leads us back to suspicion of evolution. I don't think it necessarily indicates a "new position" to which "creationists have retreated" to wonder why the burden is on believers (who often would scoff at being called creationists) to explain why humidity wouldn't eventually make a sperm and an egg incompatible. Derbyshire does a bit of weaseling of his own when he assumes that the unlimited capacity of heritable tendencies and "environmental pressures" to change a species is so obvious that it cannot be questioned without the development of an alternative mechanism that is science-like in its exclusion of anything that is not materialistic.

Layer on enough environmental pressures, and the environment begins to look more like an oven that a wildfire, and heritable tendencies more like ingredients than random minerals. Indeed, mutations and unique natural events begin to give the impression of stirring. Thus we arrive at Brownback's bottom line:

If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

Even Goldberg argues that this sets up a "strawman... saying that if you believe in anything more than 'microevolution' you're buying into a cold, godless, materialistic universe," but that attributes more weight to Brownback's positive argument than appears to be intended. The question that he's answering is why he would raise his hand when asked whether he did not "believe in evolution." His explanation is that he believes in evolution as a natural process of relatively minor differentiation, but not (as the question is often meant to imply) as a way for all life to have developed under the indifferent eye of randomness. Anything between must be specified — although the discussion is not likely to fit in an opinion column, much less a debate — so that the believer has the opportunity to specify where the proposed pressures do not appear sufficient to change the very character of the creature and where the mechanisms have begun to give the impression of design.